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The Demon Notebook

The Demon Notebook
Written by Erika McGann
Price: £7.99
Recommended age: 11+

When I was about 13, my friends and I tried to raise a spirit in the school basement one lunchtime. The scariest thing that happened was being caught by our French teacher, although she was scarier than any demon – and demons don’t give detention either. The heroines of Erika McGann’s book are even less lucky, however, as their own attempts result in one of their group, Una, being taken over by a demon who seems intent on carrying out each of their failed spells, no matter how silly – or dangerous. The girls must band together with the local Old Cat Lady and their (thankfully more sympathetic) French teacher to stop the demon before someone gets killed. But how can they fight their own friend?
The Demon Notebook taps into the ongoing interest in YA fiction for all things supernatural, and succeeds in creating a story with likeable characters, plenty of dramatic tension and even some humour as Grace discovers that the school heartthrob was far more attractive when he wasn’t bewitched into total adoration. It may lack the intensity of some other fiction of this kind, but I look forward to seeing what McGann writes in the future.

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Nosy Crow leaps the digital divide

Independent publisher Nosy Crow has beaten the pack to offer a unique way to bundle digital content with print books. When readers (or their parents) scan the QR code on the inside of all of Nosy Crow’s forthcoming paperback picture books (using their smartphone, or a tablet or an iPod touch), a free high quality reading, complete with music and sound effects, is streamed to their device. If they want to keep the reading on their phone, they can download them from iTunes, Amazon or Google, enabling them to listen without a 3G or Wi-Fi connection. It’s only a matter of time before the rest of the publishing world catches on…

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Eight Keys

Eight Keys
Written by Suzanne LaFleur
Price: £6.99
Age: 9-12

This second book from US author Suzanne LaFleur has, at the time of writing, just been nominated for the Red House Children’s Book Award 2013, and it is a nomination well-deserved. LaFleur’s tale of that tricky transition between schools at age 11 struck a real chord with me, as I’m sure it would with many other parents of children the same age.
But Elise’s story is rather different, for she lives with her Uncle Hugh and Aunt Bessie: her mother died when she was born and her father a few years later. So when the school bully makes Elise the target of her aggression, and she begins to question her friendship with the sweet boy Franklin, who has been her best friend forever and now seems to be a part of her past she would rather leave behind, she misses having parents to make sense of it all. Until she discovers the first in a series of eight mysterious keys that just might help to bring her parents back to her.
Eight Keys tackles the issues of bullying, death, fitting in and growing up in a beautifully written and well-measured book that inspires and offers a real sense of understanding to this coming-of-age tale.

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Meet the Weirds

Meet the Weirds
Written by Kaye Umansky
Illustrated by Chris Mould
Price: £5.99
Age: 8-12 (reading age 8)
*Dyslexia friendly*

Meet the Weirds is the first in a reissued series from dyslexia-friendly publishers Barrington Stoke, with Weird Happenings and Wildly Weird to follow. The fantastically Dickensian-named Pinchton Primm has his orderly life with his Primm parents disrupted when a new family move in next door, complete with stunt woman mother, investor father, chip-cooking Gran, and the three Weird children: Otterly, Oliver and Frankly (not to mention Ginger, the black cat). However weird the Weirds might be, they start to have a surprising effect on the whole Primm family – even Mrs Primm (who reminds me of no-one more that Harry Potter’s Aunt Petunia) begins to fall under their spell. I love the humour of this book, ably aided and abetted by Chris Mould’s wonderful drawings, and look forward to reading the two sequels – if only to find out what is making that noise, and what is it with that houseplant??

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Alien Schoolboy’s Z-A Guide to Earthlings

Alien Schoolboy’s Z-A Guide to Earthlings
Written by Ros Asquith
Price: £6.99
Age: 7-10

I haven’t read any of the previous books in Ros Asquith’s successful Letters from an Alien Schoolboy series – but after reading this book, I plan to.
Alien Schoolboy’s Z-A Guide to Earthlings does what it says on the tin, offering an alien perspective on humans in a handy, easily digestible format (which does, after all, run from A-Z so as not to confuse us poor earthlings too much). And it is hilarious. From the descriptions of camping as “a cruel holiday ritual”, the point of which is “for the tent to blow away and everyone to drown” to a definition of diets as “instructions about how to eat a slice of lettuce instead of a cow”, I laughed all the way through, stopping only to read parts of it to my children, especially the section on gods (“elephants and little fat men”) and homes, with the fantastic illustration of a bedroom that looks like a war zone – or my daughter’s room.
Wry, sharply observed and constantly amusing, Asquith’s take on human life as observed from the outside holds a mirror up to the absurdities of our daily existence, and the reflection is far stranger than anything that might come from outer space.

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The Girl Who Fell Beneath Fairyland and Led the Revels There

The Girl Who Fell Beneath Fairyland and Led the Revels There
By: Catherynne M. Valente
Price: £9.99
Age: 7-77
Release date: 17 January 2013

You know what it’s like when you read an absolutely brilliant book, and you can’t wait for the sequel – but there is a little part of you that almost doesn’t want to read it in case it’s not as good as the first one? That is exactly how I felt embarking on The Girl Who Fell Beneath Fairyland and Led the Revels There, the sequel to Catherynne M. Valente’s award-winning, New York times bestselling, and my own favourite book of the whole of last year, The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making.
First up, the plot. You really do have to have read the first book for this one to make sense, so it is a sequel in the true sense of the word. Having returned to Nebraska after her adventures in Fairyland, September’s life is quiet – too quiet, punctuated only by an undercurrent of anxiety over her father, still absent at war. So when magic comes bouncing across the prairie in the form of a man-wind and a woman-wind in a rowboat, she chases after them with little thought of the consequences, only to fall straight back into Fairyland. But a lot has changed since her last visit, with her own shadow up to mischief, and although she finds both her old friends and some old enemies, no-one is quite as they seem this time around.
So is it as good as its predecessor? The Girl Who 2 (for the sake of brevity) shares the same luscious language, engaging characters (the coats have to be among my favourites) and fabulous storylines as the first book. September is as wonderful as before, but her friends are different and (without giving away too much of the plot) I was disappointed not to read more of them. That said, the changes in them are fascinating and the lovely Aubergine, the characters in the tea-house and Glasswort Groof are worthy additions. The Girl Who 2 acts as a reflection to the previous book in many ways, and if some of the colour is lost in September’s foray through Fairyland-Below, then the mystery and the darkness add a whole new dimension.
In short, if you loved the first book as I did, I’m fairly sure you will love its sequel too. And if you haven’t read the first book, the comparisons to The Wizard of Oz and Alice in Wonderland are well-deserved without ever being derivative. Personally, I’m hoping for a third… after all, the most important things comes in threes and sixes, and I think six volumes is too much to hope for.

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Red House Children’s Book Awards

It’s been an amazing year for children’s books, with some fantastic new releases for all ages. Have you read a book that you think deserves an award? If so, pop on over to the Red House website to vote for your favourite.

Here’s the shortlist to get you started:
Books for Younger Children

Welcome to Alien School – Caryl Hart and Ed Eaves (Simon and Schuster)
Can You See Sassoon? – Sam Usher (Little Tiger Press)
Spooky Spooky House – Andrew Weale and Lee Wildish (Picture Corgi)
Dog Loves Drawing – Louise Yates (Jonathan Cape)

Books for Younger Readers

Operation Eiffel Tower – Elen Caldecott (Bloomsbury)
The World of Norm: May Contain Nuts – Jonathan Meres and Donough O’Mally (Orchard)

Gangsta Granny – David Walliams and Tony Ross (Harper Collins)

Books for Older Readers

Eight Keys – Suzanne La Fleur (Puffin)
The Power of Six – Pittacus Lore (Razor Bill/Penguin)
The Medusa Project: Hit Squad – Sophie McKenzie (Simon and Schuster)

You’ve got until 27th January to vote, and the website is http://www.redhousechildrensbookaward.co.uk

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My So-Called Life

My So-Called Life
Written by Joanna Nadin
Price: £6.99
Recommended age: 13+

So, for the last time for a few weeks at least, I am delving in to a back catalogue of books from school reading lists, books I love and haven’t read for ages, and – in this case – a book I just plain wanted to read, despite the fact that it has been out for ages.
Not to be confused with the US TV series of the same name (as I did – most mortifying!), Joanna Nadin’s books about Rachel Riley (there are six to date, and Joanna just tweeted me that she is in the planning stages of a new one) offer a fantastic heroine, an Adrian Mole meets Bridget Jones for a new century but funnier, and far ruder. Her boring, middle class life in the backwater that is Saffron Walden (punctuated by visits from her hilarious, Spar-bag wielding grandparents from Cornwall) is just too normal to be borne, and Rachel dreams of lesbian experiences on Brighton beach, and gangsters and ASBOs in London. In the meantime, she misses much of what is going on under her nose: her grandfather is having an affair with his care worker, her best friend’s Mum is a sex therapist who asks her to pass ‘the Rabbit’ onto her Mum for testing, and her other best friend… is he gay, or is there something else going on?

Rachel is a fantastic heroine, and I loved her and felt sorry for her in equal measure; but it is the minor characters that really star in this book, from the outrageous (Thin Kylie and Fat Kylie), the funny (the aforementioned Cornish grandparents and their obsession with Cornish discount outlet Trago Mills were my absolute favourites), and the tragic and aptly named Sad Ed. And don’t even get me started on the dog.
Hugely recommended if you haven’t read this series already; just one word of warning – it is rude, so parents and teachers may like to read a few pages in first to know exactly what is being discussed. But I can’t wait to read the rest!

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