Book review: Ghastly goings-on and amazing adventures with Macmillan

As the leaves turn to red and gold, it’s time to enjoy a multi-coloured selection of exciting new reads from Macmillan Children’s Books.

By Pam Norfolk
Thursday, 1st October 2015, 10:00 am
Ghastly goings-on and amazing adventures with Macmillan
Ghastly goings-on and amazing adventures with Macmillan

Leading the way is Children’s Laureate Chris Riddell with the gorgeous, glittery new book in his hugely popular Goth Girl series featuring the laugh-out-loud mishaps of adorable Ada Goth of Ghastly-Gorm Hall.

Top team Julia Donaldson and Lydia Monks also make a welcome return with the highly anticipated sequel to a fantastic picture book, a unique collaboration of leading artists create a dazzling drawing book, crime writer David Baldacci brings us a thrilling teen fantasy adventure and a cow climbs a tree to prove there is more to life than chewing grass.

Age 7 plus:

Goth Girl and the Wuthering Fright by Chris Riddell

Hang out the blue bunting because gregarious Goth girl Ada is back… in the third eye-catching book from children’s favourite author and illustrator Chris Riddell.

With its glittering leaves and skulls ornamentation, sparkling blue page effect and velvety smooth cover, Goth Girl and the Wuthering Fright is a gift for kids in every sense of the word.

This gorgeously packaged book is full of Riddell’s lively and lovely black and white illustrations, and follows the adventures of Ada Goth of Ghastly-Gorm Hall in the sequel to Goth Girl and the Ghost of a Mouse and Goth Girl and the Fete Worse Than Death.

Christmas is coming to Ghastly-Gorm Hall but Lord Goth is not one to be distracted by snow and twinkly lights. He has organised a Literary Dog Show and his daughter Ada cannot wait. Famous faces will be flocking from far and wide with their canine companions to compete in the show and the esteemed judges are in place to make their choices.

Sir Walter Splott is preparing his Lanarkshire Lurcher Ivanhoe, Plain Austen is preening her Hampshire Blue Bloodhound Emma and Homily Dickinson and her Yankee Doodle Poodle Carlo are raring to go. Ada is particularly looking forward to the event because her best friend, Emily Cabbage, is back from school and has brought three friends with her, the Vicarage sisters, Charlotte, Emily and Anne, all aspiring novelists.

But there’s something strange going on at Ghastly-Gorm… mysterious paw prints in the snow, howls in the night and some suspiciously chewed shoes. Can Ada and her new friends work out what’s going on before the next full moon?

With pampered pups, oodles of poodles, some brilliant literary allusions, more than a few witty words and a bit of rollocking rugby, there is plenty here to keep all members of the family amused and entertained.

And when the last page has turned, there’s a teeny, weeny surprise tucked into the back cover!

(Macmillan, hardback, £10.99)

Baby and toddler:

The Cow Who Climbed a Tree by Gemma Merino

Sometimes the simplest of stories carry the cleverest of messages.

Writer and illustrator Gemma Merino works some real animal magic in this warm and wonderful picture book that pays homage to the spirit of adventure and the power of possibility.

Tina isn’t like the other cows. She believes that the sky is the limit, that everything is possible. But her sisters aren’t convinced and when Tina tells them she has climbed a tree and met a dragon, they decide that her nonsense has gone too far. Off they go into the woods to find her… and soon discover a world of surprises!

The old adage ‘nothing ventured, nothing gained’ is beautifully articulated here for the very youngest of children. Merino’s superbly expressive and detailed illustrations catch both the eye and the heart in a richly atmospheric, thoughtful and funny picture book.

(Macmillan, paperback, £6.99)

Baby and toddler:

Walter’s Wonderful Web by Tim Hopgood

Now here’s a brilliant board book to get your little ones in a spin!

Meet Walter, a lovable little spider with a gift for spinning shapes, and the new superstar hero of award-winning picture book creator Tim Hopgood.

Why make an ordinary web when you can make one that is extraordinary? Determined little spider Walter can’t seem to spin a perfect web. Whoosh goes the wind as it blows each web away whether it’s a square, a triangle, a rectangle or a diamond! But one thing Walter can spin is spectacular shapes and one day he spins the most spectacular shape of all. It’s better than perfect… it’s a truly wonderful web made up of every shape he can think of.

With its bold and colourful illustrations, Walter’s Wonderful Web is the perfect introduction to shapes for babies and the last pages feature a simple question section to enforce knowledge and recognition of the shapes featured in the book.

It’s shaping up to be a firm favourite…

(Macmillan, board book, £5.99)

Age 2 plus:

What the Ladybird Heard Next by Julia Donaldson and Lydia Monks

Two of the best-known names in children’s books are on top form in the fabulous follow-up to the hugely successful What the Ladybird Heard, which has sold over a million copies worldwide.

The ladybird and her farm animal friends have a clever new plan as crafty crooks Hefty Hugh and Lanky Len get out of jail and head back to the farm with another cunning scheme to cause trouble. They have been stealing eggs from the fat red hen but now they are setting their sights higher and are planning to steal the fat red hen herself! Fortunately the quiet, clever ladybird is on their trail, and she and her farm animal friends have a plan of their own.

Donaldson and Monks deliver another raucous, rhyming, ribald feast of mayhem, muck and misadventure with the feisty farmyard animals, two feckless foes, a mysterious bird and a very clever ladybird. Youngsters will love joining in the fun, and the rhymes, as the hapless thieves meet an animal team that is more than their match.

The book comes complete with a gorgeously glittery eye-catching cover and there’s the added fun of spotting the sparkly ladybird on every page. With slapstick action, animal noises, and a mysterious Snuggly Snerd bird, What the Ladybird Heard Next is destined to become yet another classic in the Julia Donaldson and Lydia Monks collection.

(Macmillan, hardback, £11.99)

Age 5 plus:

Draw it! Colour it! Creatures

Take over 40 of the world’s best-loved artists and illustrators, ask them to devise a simple but ingenious drawing book for all the family to enjoy… and you get the amazing Draw it! Colour it! spectacular.

Who could resist the chance to draw and colour a gallery of wonderful creatures with the help of award-winning artists and children’s books illustrators like Axel Scheffler, Emily Gravett, Chris Riddell, Benji Davies, Marta Altés, Sara Ogilvie, Rob Biddulph and Tim Hopgood?

The theme of the book is creatures and each page is packed with monkeys and monsters, dinosaurs and dragons, big cats and little cats… and everything in between! Jump from scary to silly to simply stunning with every page you turn, then sharpen your pencils and join in to complete the pictures.

Colour in the pictures, draw your own monstrous monsters, copy the illustrations, use your own imagination to complete pictures and draw a bird by using a real feather!

This is the ideal book for aspiring artists and fans of children’s illustration who want to have a go themselves. With 120 fun-filled pages, there is plenty of room for parents to get stuck in too and there won’t be a dull moment on rainy days and holidays.

An exciting and inspirational book for children who love to draw, made by people who love to draw.

(Macmillan, paperback, £10)

Age 9 plus

Young Sherlock Holmes: Night Break by Andrew Lane

Andrew Lane’s outstanding Young Sherlock series reaches its gripping conclusion in a story that is high on both action and drama.

Five years after we first met the teenager who grew up to be the world’s most famous detective, Lane’s riveting adventure stories, endorsed by the Conan Doyle Estate, still have an irresistible appeal.

Author, journalist and lifelong Sherlock Holmes fan, Lane’s series imagines Holmes as a cerebral but authentically sceptical teenager. In Night Break, Sherlock’s mother has died, his father has disappeared in India and his sister is acting strangely.

The Holmes family seems to be falling apart, and not even brother Mycroft can keep it together. But while Sherlock is worrying about all of this, a man living nearby vanishes in his own house while Sherlock and Mycroft are visiting. Where did he go, and what is the connection with a massive canal being built in Egypt? The answer will rock the world, and could finally break up the Holmes family.

A stunning and brilliantly plotted dénouement to a sensational series…

(Macmillan, hardback, £12.99)


The Keeper by David Baldacci

King of crime David Baldacci turns his talents to fantastic fantasy adventure again in The Keeper, the scintillating sequel to his instant bestseller and award-winning YA fantasy debut The Finisher.

Star of the show is Vega Jane, a girl whose thrilling quest takes her beyond her known world into a dangerous realm full of magic.

Vega Jane was always told no one could leave the town of Wormwood. She had been led to believe that there was nothing outside but the Quag, a wilderness filled with danger and death. And she fell for the story… until the night she stumbled across a secret that proved that everything she knew was a lie.

Now Vega and her best friend Delph must find a way to make it across this terrifying land of bloodthirsty creatures and sinister magic. But the Quag is worse than Vega’s darkest imagining. It’s a living, breathing prison designed to keep enemies out and the villagers of Wormwood in. The Quag will throw everything at Vega. It will try to break her, it will try to kill her, and survival might come at a price that not even Vega is willing to pay.

Using his enviable literary skills and natural talent for drama and visual excitement, Baldacci unleashes a hurricane of action and adrenalin in a blistering new chapter for Vega that will take enthralled fans to breaking point.

Readers are drawn inexorably into a strange and dangerous world, willing the intrepid Vega to stand up to her enemies and survive the next deadly challenge.

A powerful thriller from a master storyteller…

(Macmillan, paperback, £7.99)

Survivor by Tom Hoyle

Survival is the name of the game in the exhilarating new thriller from an author who has made an addictive mix of action, danger and nail-biting suspense his trusty trademarks.

Tom Hoyle’s debut Thirteen wowed a new generation of teenagers and the sequel Spiders more than matched the excitement generated by a writer who conjures up thrillers with a brilliant twist.

In the real world, Tom Hoyle is the pseudonym of a North London boys’ school headmaster whose mission is to write books that that even the most reluctant readers in his English class would want to pick up. In the teen book world, he’s a growing sensation.

Here we find life looking pretty rosy for 16-year-old George Fleet. After saving a baby from a toxic fire, he is hailed as a hero. ‘Saint George’ is his nickname in the press, journalists are flocking to speak to him about his bravery and selflessness and he has even bagged a gorgeous girlfriend. And if that wasn’t enough, George suddenly gets the ultimate reward… the trip of a lifetime to Australia, an opportunity to take the final place in the Ultimate Bushcraft group adventure holiday.

Before he is even on the plane, the drama starts to unfold for George and his new friends. A fake gun is planted in his luggage and his friend Matt is surreptitiously fed nuts when everyone knows he is allergic to them. But then things start turning even nastier when one of their tour guides is found dead. Is it just an accident, or has somebody got a serious and deadly grudge against them? Is anybody safe? And when you are stuck in the Outback with someone who has murder on their mind, to what lengths would you go to survive?

Top marks for a brilliant and intriguing story, brimming with tension and more than a little darkness…

(Macmillan, paperback, £6.99)

Fans of the Impossible Life by Kate Scelsa

Prepare to laugh, smile and cry as debut novelist Kate Scelsa takes us on an unforgettable journey with a girl, her gay best friend, and the boy who is in love with both of them.

This captivating and profound story about complicated love and the friendships that have the power to transform people forever is one of the best accounts of love, loss and growing up that you will read this year.

Along the way, Scelsa reveals both the magic – and the terror – of finding friends who truly see the person you are and the person you are trying to become.

Sebby seems to carry sunlight around with him. Even as life in his foster home starts to take its toll, Sebby and his best friend Mira together craft a world of magic rituals and impromptu road trips designed to fix the broken parts of their lives.

Mira is a chronic fatigue syndrome sufferer and vintage dress enthusiast. She is starting over at St Francis Prep. She promised her parents she would at least try to pretend that she could act like a functioning human this time, not a girl who can’t get out of bed for days on end and who only feels awake when she is with Sebby.

Jeremy is the painfully shy art nerd at St Francis who has been in self-imposed isolation after an incident that ruined his last year of school. When he sees Sebby for the first time across the school lawn, it’s as if he has been expecting him. As Jeremy finds himself drawn into Sebby and Mira’s world, he begins to understand the secrets that they hide in order to protect themselves, to keep each other safe from those who don’t understand their quest to live for the impossible.

Scelsa gives us a beautiful, emotional and memorable portrayal of the kind of teenage friendships that burn hot and bright, resonating with all those people out there who have ever felt a little bit different to their peers.

(Macmillan, paperback, £7.99)

Tonight the Streets are Ours by Leila Sales

A teenage girl’s voyage of self-discovery plays out with compelling drama in Leila Sales’ dazzling new novel.

Tonight the Streets are Ours is a heart-warming and intriguing story about the hazards of falling for someone you haven’t actually met yet.

Seventeen-year-old Arden Huntley is recklessly loyal. Taking care of her loved ones is what gives Arden purpose; it makes her feel like she matters. But she is tired of being loyal to people who don’t appreciate her, including her needy best friend and her absent mum.

When Arden stumbles upon a blog called Tonight the Streets are Ours, the musings of a young New York City writer named Peter, it feels like she has finally found a kindred spirit. So when Peter is dumped by the girlfriend he blogs about, Arden decides to take a road trip to see him.

During one crazy night in New York, filled with parties, dancing and music – the type of night when anything can happen, and nearly everything does – Arden discovers that Peter isn’t exactly who she thought he was. And maybe she isn’t exactly who she thought she was either.

Revel in humour, outrageous adventure and some hard-hitting truths as Sales shows us the light and dark sides of teenage romance.

(Macmillan, paperback, £6.99)