A dark mystery, a daring dog and cats galore by various authors - book reviews -

Take a thrill ride through the streets of Edinburgh, join a dog in search of the good life, enjoy feline mishaps and mayhem, and uncover an army of fascinating sea creatures with a dazzling array of children’s books to keep lockdown boredom at bay

Friday, 3rd April 2020, 12:48 pm
Updated Friday, 3rd April 2020, 12:50 pm
The House of Hidden Wonders
The House of Hidden Wonders

Take a thrill ride through the streets of Edinburgh, join a dog in search of the good life, enjoy feline mishaps and mayhem, and uncover an army of fascinating sea creatures with a dazzling array of children’s books to keep lockdown boredom at bay.

Age 8 plus:

The House of Hidden Wonders

Sign up to our daily newsletter

The i newsletter cut through the noise

Sharon Gosling

Do you dare to enter the dark and dangerous streets of Victorian Edinburgh?

Carlisle author Sharon Gosling takes middle-grade readers on a thrill ride into the murky miasma of Edinburgh’s Old Town in her thrilling new novel which pits a feisty orphan girl against some powerful and callous foes.

Atmospheric adventures don’t come better than The House of Hidden Wonders, an all-action mystery set in the tunnels beneath the streets of Scotland’s ancient capital city and featuring prominent historical figures like author Arthur Conan Doyle and Dr Sophia Jex-Blake, Scotland’s first female doctor.

Orphan girl Zinnie and her sisters, Sadie and Nell, live in the shadowy tunnels beneath Edinburgh’s Old Town. They keep out of the way of the authorities and remain undetected… until rumours of a ghost bring unwanted visitors into the caverns they call home.

Among them are a young medical student Arthur Conan Doyle, who is keen to investigate, and MacDuff, the shady owner of Edinburgh’s newest attraction, the House of Wonders. Caught up in a web of intrigue, ghostly goings-on and cruel, underworld villains, courageous Zinnie is desperately seeking answers. But how can she discover what secrets lie in the House of Wonders whilst also protecting the sisters she holds so dear?

Gosling’s enthralling adventure celebrates the strong bonds of family, female ingenuity and their struggles to break down gender barriers, as well delivering an entertaining and enlightening historical odyssey which explores some of the period’s great pioneers.

The House of Hidden Wonders’ enchanting cover and map are provided by illustrator Hannah Peck and there are also two beautiful, hand-crafted linocut print illustrations by the author… the first time her art has been featured in a book.

(Stripes, paperback, £6.99)

Age 7 plus:

Level Up: Beast Battles

Tom Nicoll and Anjan Sarkar

Imagine being trapped inside your favourite video game! Popular children’s author Tom Nicoll returns with his brilliant high-octane adventure series, Level Up, which delivers an exciting technological twist with every action-packed story.

Young gamers are downing their consoles to follow the escapades of daredevil video-game obsessed Flo who has discovered that virtual reality isn’t as much fun when it’s not so virtual. And this time, Flo and her best friend, Max, get more than they bargained for when they find themselves INSIDE their favourite games!

Flo and Max are stuck in the hugely popular Critter Clash, where teams of creatures battle to become champions in epic arenas. They need their own players that they can coach to victory but the game is about to start and their options are limited. Will they be able to find a team powerful enough to defeat an impressive range of opponents and send the friends back to the real world?

There are laughs, mishaps and all-out action on every page of this exhilarating story which has all the much-loved hallmarks of Nicoll’s eye for comedy and energetic storytelling.

Anjan Sarkar brings to life fearless Flo and long-suffering Max, her partner in virtual adventure, and all the weird and wonderful characters they meet along the way.

The perfect book to get reluctant readers on game with the joys of real-time reading!

(Stripes, paperback, £5.99)

Age 6 plus:

Mulan: Disney Animated Classics

Adapted by Lily Murray

Enjoy a classic fairy tale as you have never before seen it!

Mulan is the stunning new title in Disney Animated Classics, a sparkling series from Studio Press with each book presenting an enchanting retelling of Walt Disney’s eternally popular films as seen through the animator’s eye.

These beautiful hardback books with their premium cloth binding, ribbon marker to match the cover, gold foil stamping and illustrated endpapers, make the perfect gifts for all those who have been spellbound by the magic of Disney’s famous animated classic films.

The series includes Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, Sleeping Beauty, The Little Mermaid, Dumbo, Aladdin and now Mulan, some of the best-loved films of all time and family favourites for over eighty years.

Relive the star-dusted magic through Lily Murray’s retelling of the classic animated film, accompanied by paintings, story sketches and concept art from the original Disney Studio artists. Also featured is a foreword by Paul Briggs, a director at the Walt Disney Animation Studios.

And when the story is finished, youngsters can turn to the back of the book to learn more about the artists who worked on the memorable animated film.

These sumptuous books, full of atmospheric retellings and fascinating illustrations, are perfect for both Disney fans and young collectors.

(Studio Press, hardback, £12.99)

Age 5 plus:

Captain Whiskers

Jeremy Strong and Matt Robertson

Cats in the bath, cats in the cupboards, a hundred cats everywhere!

Feline fun and furry fiascos are the order of the day in a laughter-filled adventure from award-winning Jeremy Strong, the master of comic writing for children, and talented illustrator Matt Robertson, in the latest super-readable Little Gem from innovative publisher Barrington Stoke.

The Little Gems series brings together leading authors and illustrators, and a host of clever design and finishing techniques, to create easy-to-read books in a chunky format ideal for little hands, and with some extra reading, jokes and activity fun hiding inside the jacket flaps.

Everyone in Jack’s class has a pet, but all Jack has is his little brother Freddie. And little brothers don’t make very good pets. But when Jack meets The Man With The Top Hat and his lovely cat Mrs Wilson, he is about to get the pet he has always wanted… and many, many more!

Whether your child is a new, struggling, reluctant or dyslexic reader, Strong’s wonderful, big-hearted Little Gem story could be just what they are looking for. Robertson’s gallery of bright, colourful and suitably anarchic illustrations are the perfect foil for a story full of mishaps, mayhem and animal magic.

(Barrington Stoke, paperback, £6.99)

Age 4 plus:

Paolo, Emperor of Rome

Mac Barnett and Claire Keane

It’s all very well living in Rome… but Paolo the dog has never once tasted la dolce vita!

Mac Barnett, the multi-award winning US author noted for his entertaining and educational children’s books, puts his imagination into overdrive as he takes us on a thrilling whirlwind tour of the Eternal City in the company of a daring dachshund in search of freedom.

And readers – both young and old – cannot help but be bowled over by this uplifting and stunning picture book which comes complete with a gallery of visually exciting, atmospheric illustrations from Claire Keane who worked at Walt Disney Feature Animation for ten years.

Paolo feels trapped. Though he lives in Rome, a city filled with history, fountains, food, music and freedom, he is confined to a hair salon on the Via Torino. Paolo dreams of the sweet life but all he gets is an occasional whiff of liberty at the salon door. And then, one day, the door is left open and he quickly escapes. And soon Paolo is throwing himself into the city, finding marvels and adventure at every turn. What could be better than the wonders of Rome… the ruins, the food, the art, the opera, and, of course, the cats!

Paolo, the big-hearted dog whose story shows that even the smallest among us can achieve great things, is guaranteed to win an army of fans as he heroically strikes out alone across the city, squares up to his enemies, graduates to be leader of the pack, and saves the lives of a group of nuns.

Brimming with bravado, wry humour and wisdom, Paolo is a joy to read… and proof that every dog really does have its day!

(Abrams Books for Young Readers, hardback, £12.99)

Age 3 plus:

Curious Kids: Bugs and Minibeasts

Jonny Marx and Christiane Engel

Some things caw, some things soar… and some others go splish and splash!

Get ready to uncover an army of fascinating sea creatures in this ingenious book just made for curious young minds. From crabs and fish to dolphins, turtles and seahorses, learn all about these cute characters as they pop up from each page.

Christiane Engel’s fun and intricately detailed illustrations explore the amazing sea world with rich textures and bright, jewelled colours that can’t help but catch a child’s eye while Jonny Marx’s narration is packed full of fascinating facts to engage children with the wonders of the natural world.

With delightful pop-ups that bring to life flying fish, noisy seagulls, stinging jellyfish, sensational seahorses, and beautiful coral reefs, this is an innovative and exciting introduction to what lies beneath the sea and on the shore.

Nature, discovery and entertainment in one beautiful pop-up book.

(Caterpillar Books, board book, £10.99)

Age 2 plus:

Calm Down, Zebra

Lou Kuenzler and Julia Woolf

A joy to read aloud and a visual feast of colour…

There is so much to relish in Lou Kuenzler and Julia Woolf’s riotous, raucous picture book which puts words, colour and creative freedom firmly in the frame.

This glorious celebration of colours, patterns and rhyme is the latest work from the talented team that brought young readers the wonderful Not Yet, Zebra, and is guaranteed to win the hearts of all little mischief-makers.

Annie said to the animals, ‘Let’s help baby Joe.

He’s learning his colours, which he doesn’t yet know.

I’ll paint pictures of you – please line up for me.

If I use the right colours then Joe will soon see.’

Stripy sheep, a blue orangutan and spotty penguins? Everyone’s favourite, enthusiastic zebra is back, eager to get in on the act as Annie tries to teach her little brother Joe about colours. But although things don’t turn out quite the way she imagines, together they make the world a brighter and more beautiful place.

There are giggles galore in this enchanting picture book which puts fun into reading, fires up young imaginations, adds colour to storytelling, and has a very sparkly surprise hidden inside the pages!

(Faber & Faber, paperback, £6.99)

Age 2 plus:

The Crow and the Peacock

Johanna Fernihough

Birds of a feather carry important messages in a soaraway story about searching for happiness.

Author and illustrator Johanna Fernihough’s rich, fable-inspired picture book delivers subtle lessons about identity, happiness and freedom as we follow a crow’s quest to discover the happiest bird in the world.

On his journey, Crow encounters a softly cooing dove, an elegant swan, and a much-loved cockerel before finally meeting a peacock, locked in a golden cage. Crow is in awe of the creature’s magnificent bejewelled tail… and believes this must be the happiest bird of all. But when Crow discovers the peacock’s wish to fly free, he realises who was the happiest bird all along.

Eye-catching, vivid colours and bold, distinctive design add an extra layer of magic to a story that will capture the imaginations of young readers and help them understand that happiness may not come from how you look, but how you feel.

A happy landing for a high-flying story!

(Oxford University Press, paperback, £6.99)

Age one plus:

Bear Shaped

Dawn Coulter-Cruttenden

When Jack’s beloved teddy bear goes missing, it leaves a hole in his heart that he fears will never be filled.

Acclaimed illustrator Dawn Coulter-Cruttenden uses both her artistic and writing skills on this beautifully sensitive debut picture book which puts the currently running World Autism Awareness Week into a powerful focus.

Bear Shaped is an inspiring story of love, loss, and learning to let go, and was inspired by the true story of autistic Jack and his beloved Bear which was a bridge to the world around him. When Bear went missing, Jack’s dad sent out a tweet that went viral as his son’s story touched the hearts of people around the globe and sparked a campaign of compassion to find missing Bear.

Jack and Bear are the best of friends. Jack loves Bear because he makes him feel brave. But one day Bear disappears and Jack suddenly feels all alone. Word soon gets around that Bear is missing and Jack starts to receive kind messages from strangers all over the world. Then the toy bears start to arrive. Though the bears start to heal Jack’s sadness, none of them are Jack’s bear. Perhaps there is something Jack can do with them to help the other people with bear-shaped holes…

Bear Shaped – a gentle story brimming with Coulter-Cruttenden’s gorgeously emotive illustrations – is a celebration of the kindness of strangers as they help Jack to slowly come to terms with the bear-shaped hole in his life.

A picture book that will be loved and treasured…

(Oxford University Press, paperback, £6.99)

Age one plus:

Tim Hopgood’s ABC

Tim Hopgood

Let little ones discover our wonderful world with a joyous first alphabet book from author and illustrator Tim Hopgood.

A is for… Acorn, B is for… Butterfly, C is for… Cloud. Turn the pages of this beautiful introduction to the alphabet and the beauties of nature, and as an added surprise, discover the letter Y mirror to see You!

Lavishly illustrated in a full kaleidoscope of colour by Hopgood, the bright, busy pictures reveal the immense diversity of the natural world and provide an entertaining first lesson in the concept of the alphabet.

(Oxford University Press, board book, £6.99)

Age one plus:

Bee: Nature’s tiny miracle

Patricia Hegarty and Britta Teckentrup

‘Every plant and flower you see

Was given life by one small bee’

The bee – one of nature’s unsung heroes – takes a starring role in this striking peep-through board book from Patricia Hegarty and award-winning illustrator Britta Teckentrup.

Bees are dying in unprecedented numbers and yet many people are unaware of the magnitude and significance of the crisis. Bee tells the story of this miraculous little creature as it journeys from flower to flower, gathering nectar, harvesting flowers and spreading life on our planet.

Little ones will love turning the pages of this gorgeously produced book to watch the wonder of nature unfold.

Hegarty’s lyrical, rhyming text helps little ones to understand the miracle of pollination while Teckentrup charts the bee’s amazing journey with a peep-through hole and brilliantly colourful and expressive artwork.

Simply bee-eautiful!

(Little Tiger Press, board book, £6.99)