Thursday, April 18, 2024

A Tempest of Tea by Hafsah Faizal


Spendthrift is an innocent tea room by day and by night a den for vampires, where they can enjoy a different sort of tea and indulge in all sorts of vampire behaviour

Protagonist Arthie and her companion Jin, who is like brother to her, face the closure of the tea room. The reasons behind it are sinister and they have a battle to keep it open. We have some chapters from Arthie’s point of view and some from Jin’s. A third character, Flick   also has chapters to herself:  she has been under house arrest and is sufficiently rebellious towards her mother that the young adult reading this will be pleased. She is a forger and aids Arthie and Jin with her talent.

There is much violence and bloodshed – perhaps quite appropriate for a novel that has vampires in it.

The ending is disheartening but it does leave the story open for a sequel.

The book, in hard back, is 335 pages long. At the front there is a map of White Roaring, the town where the adventure is set. There are also pictures of documents, perhaps some of the ones that Flick forges. The text is blocked and uses a serif font.

The novel is divided into three parts. The chapters are short, particularly in the third part and this helps to maintain pace and tension.       

Find your copy here 

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Sunday, February 18, 2024

Dim Sum Palace by X. Fang



Liddy’s family are planning a visit to the Dim Sum Palace the next day. Liddy dreams of following a delicious smell and ending up at a sumptuous palace where she is made in to a dumpling and almost eaten by the Empress. However, the grand lady realises just in time that Liddy is there and then the two of them share the feast. Within the dream, Liddy falls asleep and is carried back to her own bed. The family visit the Dim Sum Palace the next day; it’s just an ordinary restaurant in an ordinary street. But the food is delicious.    

This is a conventional picture book in that more story is put into the pictures. In particular there are some interesting illustrations of the kitchen at the palace in the dream, the street in the town in real life and the actual Dim Sum Palace. These are all very busy pictures with a lot that the child and adult might discuss.

The end papers show all sorts of Dim Sum treats.  It is an education and the book is likely to make you hungry.

There is a little bit of a joke for the grown-ups; they will no doubt know what a real Dim Sum Palace looks like and may smile at the little girl’s expectation.

The text is printed in a serif font which has difficult ‘a’s and ‘g’s.  This is reasonable as the text will most likely be read by an adult.  The font size is large so reading glasses may not be needed.  


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Friday, December 1, 2023

Happiness Seeker by Jennifer Burkinshaw


Allie goes on a school trip to Grange-Over-Sands with its fast moving tide and quicksands can be a treacherous place. She is there with her classmates and two of their teachers. Some students including Allie are working on plays they are writing.  Others are studying the geography of the area.

There are all the normal issues that teens such as these face; Finn is her best friend but he is also on intimate terms with Allie’s nemesis Courtney.

Allie meets Maren who knows Morecombe Bay well   - he is involved in modern slavery and has to collect cockles illegally.  We have a little romance here.

Allie tries to help by reporting the illegal traders to the authorities but it is too late for Maren; they get wind of what is going on and flee.  

Courtney misunderstands Maren and makes a bad decision about him. She realises her mistake and tries to make amends but this involves her and Finn crossing the sands. And Courtney gets stuck.  There is then a race against time. Allie stays with Courtney whilst Maren and Flinn go in opposite directions to find help. Finn does not make it, despite being a strong swimmer.

Help comes for the two girls; they both survive.  

Maren disappears.

This is a very well written novel which will engage the reader emotionally. Jennifer Burkinshaw also provides maps and photos of the setting.              

Sunday, November 26, 2023

Totally Deceased by Sue H. Cunningham


Jess wakes up to find she has had a heart transplant … and the ghost of Tilly, whose heart she has received, is haunting her.

Tilly needs to find out why she was murdered and to put a few things about her inheritance straight.  Jess, who is still recovering from major surgery, has to help her and puts her own life at risk in other ways as well.

The girls are totally different. Jess is ordinary and lives in Manchester. Tilly is very rich and has an expensive flat in London – and is also into Swiss bank accounts, posh shoes and boarding school.  

There are many surprises however. Tilly is very involved with a charity that supports disadvantaged children. Cousin Georgie is not the good friend she thought she was - and the rather boring headteacher of her school is much more of a friend than she imagined.     

Only Jess and Tilly’s granddad can see Tilly – so there are many hilarious scenes where Jess appears to be talking to herself. Ear buds are the answer; they make her look as if she is on her mobile.

More humour comes out in the contrast between the two girls. They gradually get to understand each other better.  

They manage to get Tilly’s money back to where is should be and Tilly makes sure that Jess will be all right.  Tilly is then able to move on. And Jess finally has her heart to herself and can complete her recovery.

Thursday, October 26, 2023

Leila and the Blue Fox by Kiran Millwood Hargrave and Tom de Freston


Leila and her mother are refugees from Syria.  Leila lives with her aunt and cousin in England.  Her mother works away from home. Leila doesn’t realise that her mother does this in order to support them all and thinks it’s because she does not want to spend time with Leila. Their big adventure shows Leila that her mother is really the loving parent she wished for.  

Leila joins her mother for the summer. Her mother is tracking the journey of a blue fox, Miso that has trekked over 2000 miles across the Arctic. This part of the story is based on a true event. A fox that the scientists called Anna covered over 2000 miles in seventy-six days.

Miso  gets into trouble and becomes trapped on a thin ice-floe. Leila, being the smallest in the team, rescues her. There is a moral dilemma here: should humans who are observing nature interfere in nature? They do anyway but this only leads them into further trouble: they stray into a territory for which Leila’s mum does not have a visa and where Leila isn’t even registered as being on the ship.  

Leila, Matty and Britta have created a Twitter account for Miso. Support for Leila and her mum from Miso’s Twitter followers and the help of a good lawyer get them out of trouble. However, it is traumatic for them; it brings back memories of their former escape from Syria.  

Leila and her mum are eventually returned unharmed. Miso finds a mate.      

Leila’s story and Miso’s story are intertwined.  We have both points of view.

There are some blue monochrome illustrations throughout and even some transparent overlays. This a beautiful and very tactile book.

The text is quite dense, blocked and in a serif font with difficult ‘a’s and ‘g’s. There is a note about Anna the fox at the end of the book and a short bibliography of Millwood and de Freston.  

Thursday, September 21, 2023

Full Metal Alchemist: The Valley of the White Petals by Makoto Inque and Hiromu Arakawa



teen, lower secondary, Key Stage 3, ages10 -13, adventure, manga-related, fantasy, Inque Makoto, Arakakwa Hirmou, society,  

The white petals referred to in the title are from the flowers that Leaf grows. He offers them as a gift to Ruby who comes from the same village as him. Leaf is one of the weaker inhabitants of Wisteria, a town that is hidden at the bottom of a steep cliff.   Colonel   Mustang has ordered brothers Edward and Alphonse to go and investigate.

The Colonel’s methods are a little unorthodox: he has emptied their bank account of cash as a way of making them get in contact.

Edward and Alphonse Elric are Alchemists and have bodies made of metal. Their overall mission is to regain their own true bodes.

At Wisteria they meet Ruby who is convinced of the goodness of Mr Raygen who rescued her and who rules over all life in Wisteria. It seems idyllic in many ways but there are those who live on the cusp, such as Leaf.  There is a system of “equivalent exchange” which ultimately means that those who can’t work starve.

The brothers eventually show Raygen as he really is. He doesn’t really care about the people and he likes to control them.  They must obey. Once he has gone the people of Wisteria are freed to think for themselves.  Ruby and Leaf are reconciled.

This is a fast-paced adventure with pleasing character development and plenty of tension. It is based on the manga stories of Hirmou Arakakwa and indeed features a few manga-style illustrations.

It is 221 pages long, with blocked text in a serif font that includes difficult ‘a’s and ‘g’s. It has a friendly afterword from the author.                   

Saturday, September 9, 2023

The House of Serendipity: Sequins and Secrets by Lucy Ivison and Catharine Collingridge



Myrtle Mathers is a very skilled seamstress. She is the daughter of a tailor.  But when her father dies her mother has to sell the shop and goes to live with a relative who owns a farm.  Myrtle goes into service.

Slyvie Catrwright is one of the daughters in the big house and has a talent for drawing haute couture clothes.

Myrtle and Sylvie become a team. First of all they design and make a superb dress for Sylvie’s sister Delphine.  Then they become involved with Agapantha Portland-Prince who wants to wear trousers for her coming-out ball and also wants to disguise herself as a man so that she can go on an exotic adventure.

It almost all works but a misunderstanding about a tiara leads to Myrtle getting the sack. However, the girls’ designs are taken up by Hollywood, leaving the story open for another adventure.

The story is 267 pages long in blocked text with a classic serif font though it is double-spaced.

There ae several beautiful dress designs in the text and there is a pair of scissors underneath each page number.

At the end of the book we are treated to the opening pages of the next story.  There is also a note from the author. There are instructions for how to make glamorous headbands there are recipes for afternoon tea and Shirley Temple mocktails. Usborne provides some  “quick links” where you can access more dress designs, photos, videos and more activities.  

A Tempest of Tea by Hafsah Faizal

2024   Spendthrift is an innocent tea room by day and by night a den for vampires, where they can enjoy a different sort of tea and indulg...