Friday, 26 March 2021

Stuart Atkinson - Guest Post - “I Submit! I Submit!”(Maja’s Dragon) Mr. Ripley's Enchanted Books

Good morning - all aliens and dragons are welcome. Today, we have a guest post from Stuart Atkinson, who is a frustrated martian from Kendal. He is in the process of that stomach-turning event that all authors go through to get their stories published - SUBMITTING a novel to Agents. So calling all agents, calling all agents, you really do have the power to move earth and stars (in the literary sense) and secure this book. 

This is a great post if you are about to go through a similar process yourself. Equally, for those who have been through the process, you may have some tips that you can share with others through this post or social media. We all look forward to your thoughts and comments.  Thank you all for reading and enjoy your day. 

“I Submit! I Submit!”

In the centre of a large empty hall, with tables and chairs stacked up against its walls, a group of people is seated in a circle. One stands up hesitantly, searching the faces around him for understanding and compassion. They smile back at him reassuringly, feeling his torment. They’ve all been there. They know the pain he’s going through. After taking a deep breath he speaks.

“My name is Stuart Atkinson… I’m a writer… and I’ve just submitted my novel manuscript to Agents…”

I’m what’s popularly known now as a science writer. I’ve had ten children’s astronomy books of my own published and worked on dozens more as a consultant and editor. I love teaching kids about space in print almost as I love standing in front of a jabbering, gremlin-like horde of them at the front of a classroom and teaching them in person. But I’ve always wanted to write fiction – to be what my mum and many of my friends call “a proper writer” - and last March, as the Covid tsunami began to roll around the world I decided I’d finally do it: I’d write my novel.

So instead of baking banana bread and living on Zoom I spent the previous year doing just that. It was hard finding quality writing time when I wasn’t either writing features for astronomy magazines and websites or working long shifts at a Care Home, first fighting to keep the virus outside its walls and then trying to save as many lives as possible when it finally breached our defences, but I kept at it, I wrote for a year and, contrary to everything I’d heard, I enjoyed it! I built a world I loved and populated it with characters I looked forward to spending time with. I was amazed by the way they had somehow developed and grown when I was away from them. I loved writing my novel! Where was all the weeping and wailing I’d been warned about?

Then the Editing began, and the weeping and wailing began. 

I sought advice from two trusted writing friends and was told my beloved, work-of-genius MS had too many characters and its descriptions were too detailed. Oh, and one more thing: I had to lose 30,000 of its 100,00 brilliant words, cutting it by a third. 

I was aghast. I had thought editing would be done with a scalpel - a nick here, a small cut there - but they were telling me I had to fire up a chainsaw and attack my story like it was an overgrown garden or a diseased tree. But I trusted them and their honesty so I did it. I removed some of those characters I’d fallen in love with; they just… vanished from the world I had created as if I’d gone back in time in the TARDIS and killed their grandparents. I hacked away at dialogue and descriptions like Indiana Jones trying to find a lost temple in an overgrown jungle. And it hurt. I resented every tap of the Delete key.

But they were right. When I read it back, v9 of my MS was better. It was as if my original story, fat and bloated with double decker word-burgers and drunk on its own grandeur, had been taken into Rehab on a stretcher and come out leaner, sleeker and fitter, with all its fat trimmed away, eating salad. 

But now it was time to take the next step. Writing the novel had been hard, but I knew that having finally reached publishing Base Camp I couldn’t just sit in my tent and listen to the wind howling outside. I had to go out and set off for the mountain.

It was time to Submit To Agents.

I took another two months preparing. Ignoring the disapproving glares of my cat I spent hours going through the Children’s Writers and Artists Yearbook like I used to go through the toy section of my mum’s catalogue as a kid, circling the Agents I wanted to approach; with bookshops shut I spent even more hours online, researching which Agents represented the writers who wrote stories like mine; I put out appeals on social media asking for recommendations; I wrote, re-wrote and re-wrote again my synopsis, covering letter and three line “elevator pitch”. I did everything They say you have to do if you’re to even have a chance of getting an Agent to read the second paragraph of the first of your three sample chapters…

Eventually, I was done. Everything was in place. I couldn’t put it off any longer.

I took a day off work and set aside the whole day just to submit my MS to Agents. That sounds very grand but it essentially involved just writing and sending lots of emails, attaching my “submission package” to them, checking everything was just right again and again before taking a deep breath and hitting Send. 

And it was terrifying. My story was out there now. It didn’t belong to me anymore; other people were going to read it. I actually felt slightly ill. But it was done.

Now the waiting. Most of the Agents I submitted to warned that a response would probably take “up to 12 weeks” – which seems like a long time to me but that’s just the way it works – so I’ve started writing another novel; I can’t just sit here waiting for replies to come in, I’ll go mad…

Speaking of replies, I don’t expect replies from all the Agents I submitted to. Past experience suggests perhaps 2/3 will get back to me, which is frustrating (and rude, I think) but it’s a comfort to know that any day now an email will drop into my Inbox from an Agent gushing about my story, asking me if they can have an exclusive read of the whole manuscript and letting me know that my sample chapters excited Steven Spielberg so much he wants to buy the film rights. That’s what happens next, right?

Wish me luck!

Stuart Atkinson - “Maja’s Dragon” out on submission. 

"A Cat’s Guide to The Night Sky” If you look up at the sky on a dark night, what do you see? There's a whole universe staring back at you. In the company of Felicity the cat, discover the phases of the moon, the constellations, and how to spot the Northern Lights and the Milky Way. You can buy HERE

Wednesday, 24 March 2021

Tim Tilley - Harklights - Book Review - Mr. Ripley's Enchanted Books


Looking into this book cover is like looking into the star-lit future. Harklights will be published on 13th May 2021 by Usborne Publishing but it needs mentioning early so you can pop it on your pre-order list now. The author and illustrating duties are both by Tim Tilley, who has accomplished a dual spectacular from the illustrative and narrative point of view. A former Winner of the Joan Aiken Future Classic prize, Tim has now made his foray into a middle-grade fantasy where he will be noted for a truly reflective story. The proof copy is gorgeous but, of course, is missing some of the illustrations so I'm really looking FORWARD to seeing them in the finished copy. 

The story feels like a Dickensian tale that meets the Borrowers with an environmental overtone. I thought it really worked and loved every minute of this book. In fact, I read it in virtually one sitting. It all begins at Harklights which is an Orphanage and Match Factory. All the children work for an old tyrant called Old Ma Bogey which is a fantastic name for a character. All the characters have new names to reflect the factory. Wick is one of the unfortunate characters who lives in this dark and dreadful place. They really are dire living conditions where the children work tirelessly with no way out. However, one day something happens out of the ordinary, a bird drops something beyond belief - a tiny baby in an acorn cradle.

From this point forward, the narrative takes on a wild turn of magical events that are both imaginative and captivating. Wick dreams of escaping but as midnight chimes he is visited by the Hobs (miniature protectors) and the guardians of the forest outside the factory. His dreams come true and he escapes on a magical tree stag where he finds happiness and love like he has never known. If this was a HAPPY fairytale the story would end here. However, that would not do as Old Ma Bogey woman has something else to say. With wickedness, a shotgun, and the willful destruction of the forest she leads us down a path that will leave you shivering with fear and trepidation as the story further unfolds. 

This is a thrilling tale about the importance of looking after nature and the environment. It has a moralistic view of future innovation vs mankind's greed and cruelty. This heartwarming story is about family, friendship, and a message filled with hope. The amazing setting has a sparkling, magical theme that is not overly used. The only thing to ask is: are you ready to strike that match to pursue a fantasy bonfire that you will want to escape into? If so, then what are you waiting for? This is a story I would fully recommend - it's a real treat.

Monday, 22 March 2021

Annelise Gray - Circus Maximus: Race to the Death - Interview with Mr. Ripley's Enchanted Books


Enter the arena and welcome twelve-year-old Dido, who dreams of becoming the first female charioteer, at the great Circus Maximus. The book Circus Maximus: Race to the Death has already been published by Zephyr Books on 4th March 2021. It is set in Ancient Rome and has both historical and strong female character interests. 

I'm delighted to have a brilliant interview with Annelise Gray below to find out more about this intriguing book. We really hope you enjoy this as much as we did and that both the book and setting come alive for you as you read this Q&A. If you have already been fortunate to have read this book then we would love to know your thoughts. Equally, please get in touch if you have any questions. Otherwise, thanks for reading and have a great day. 

1.When and where did you get the idea to write Circus Maximus: Race to the Death?

The inspiration was seeded when I was a quiet child with an obsession for pony adventure stories. My favourite was Enid Bagnold’s National Velvet, which is about a girl called Velvet Brown who wins a horse in a raffle and dreams of riding him to victory at the Grand National. The idea proper for Circus Maximus: Race to the Death came to me about six years ago when I was watching a Formula One race on TV. I was thinking about the lack of female drivers and suddenly had the image of my main character Dido. I envisaged her as a cross between Velvet Brown and Lewis Hamilton – a brave, scrappy girl, living in ancient Rome and hoping to break into the all-male world of chariot racing. It took me several years to really commit to writing the book though – I was very busy with my teaching job. In the end though, Dido kept calling to me and I knew I had to go back.

2.How would you describe the story to potential readers?

An action-packed, mystery-laced historical adventure about a girl, a horse and an impossible dream…

3.Dido dreams of becoming the first female charioteer. When writing her character, how did you inject realism into it? What do you think it would be like to be a girl in Roman times?

It’s a very hard question to answer, just because we know so little, relatively speaking, about the experience of being a girl in antiquity. Women’s voices are almost entirely absent from the Roman literary record – what we know about them is framed in terms of the ideal expected from them by society. So I find it hard to say what it was like to be a girl in Roman times other than that if you were to take me back there in a time machine and ask me to live as one, I’m pretty confident I’d hate it – the lack of freedom and education for a start, as well as the expectation that you live according to the rules made by the male members of your family. One thing that might make it bearable is if you had good friends and there is some evidence for close female friendships in Roman society – something which incidentally, Dido lacks for much of the book. She is an outlier, really, able to live outside the usual societal norms for a number of reasons. The first of these is her age - she’s only twelve when we first meet her, just shy of the typical age for marriage. Another is her class - her father Antonius is a trainer and ex-charioteer, which placed him a long way down the social pecking order and the usual hierarchies might not have mattered so much in that world, which allows Dido the leeway to run wild around the stables where Antonius works at the beginning of the book. Having said that, being a charioteer was most definitely not an acceptable ambition for a girl and both Antonius and Dido know that and accept it (very reluctantly in her case).

4.What kind of research did you do to recreate ancient Roman times? How accurate have you been with the history of this time period?

I have a PhD in Classics and I used to work as a research assistant to authors and TV companies on books and dramas about the ancient world. So although I was keen to avoid the book feeling like a history lesson disguised as a novel, achieving a high standard of historical accuracy was important to me, particularly when it came to conjuring up the world of chariot racing. For that, I drew on a wide range of sources to create as authentic a portrait as possible, including accounts by Roman writers which give us a taste of what it was like to be in the crowd watching a race and the fanatical behaviour of some of the supporters. One of the latter was the Emperor Caligula, who features as a character in my book and really was an obsessive fan of the Green racing faction, as I describe him. Images from ancient art give us our best idea of how the chariots were designed and what the charioteers wore, while we also have inscriptions which tell us the names and colours of the horses and the career statistics of the best drivers. Other sources such as Roman recipe books helped to paint a picture of the sights, tastes, colours and smells of Dido’s world. 

5.Are there any Roman facts that you know that people might be less familiar with?

In terms of the events described in the book, I think readers might be surprised by the echoes between modern and ancient sporting culture. The most successful charioteers were huge celebrities in Rome. People would follow them around the city and even Emperors could get obsessed – Nero is supposed to have cut his hair in the same style as his favourite racing driver. There was a healthy trade in sporting merchandise and you hear about people buying clothes for their children in the colours of their favourite team.

One of my absolute favourite morsels of evidence that I came across when researching Race to the Death was a chariot games token that was found in the grave of a young girl. It evokes such a powerful image – the idea that maybe this girl loved watching the races and her family buried it with her as a keepsake of a happy day. 

6.This is your debut book, what was the writing process like for you?

Race to the Death is my first children’s novel although it’s not the first book I’ve had published. About ten years ago, I wrote a non-fiction account of the women of imperial Rome and a few years after that I wrote a crime novel set in the Roman Republic (both for the adult market and written under the name Annelise Freisenbruch). But the writing process was different for all three books. For this one, I had to learn a new craft. I took plenty of wrong turns along the way and it was a long process, but I also found it a joyful and satisfying experience overall because I finally felt as if I was writing in my true author voice after many years of trying to figure out what that really was.

7.I believe you might be writing another book connected to this one. What have you learned from writing the first book that may help you write the second? 

I am indeed in the process of writing the second in the Circus Maximus series, which will cover the next chapter of Dido’s story. I didn’t really contemplate writing a sequel until I’d finished Race to the Death. Two things I’ve learned are not to include a character unless they have a job to do moving the story forward (several got cut during the edits of Race to the Death) and also to really think about the emotional journey for the characters and try to express that on the page. I didn’t include enough of Dido’s inner voice in earlier drafts of the book and my amazing editor Fiona helped me draw that out.

8.I'm a massive fan of a hardback book. What do you most appreciate about the production of the book?

My publisher, Zephyr, takes great pride in producing books that are beautiful to look at as well as read. I fell in love with the cover as soon as they showed it to me. It’s designed by Levente Szabo and I adore the sense of yearning and aspiration in the way the Dido figure is looking at the Circus in the distance, but also the atmosphere of danger and darkness in it. The little hints of gold are also exquisite, they weren’t there on the proof copy and were the most gorgeous surprise when I took delivery of the final book.

9.During this pandemic what has helped you through any difficult times?

I am incredibly lucky to live in a beautiful, rural part of England and being able to go out for big walks in the open countryside definitely helped my sanity. I’ve found writing extremely difficult at times over the last year – almost tortuous. Cooking is always therapeutic for me and I’ve blithely and willingly sacrificed my waistline for my sense of well-being. Whatever the day throws at you, it’s helpful to know there’s a nice meal, a little glass of wine and a good TV show to watch at the end of it.

10.Could you share some of the favourite books that you own?

I’ve already mentioned that the book which inspired Circus Maximus: Race to the Death more than any other is National Velvet by Enid Bagnold. I am embarrassed to confess that I removed the copy from my school library when I was about ten and I have never given it back. It’s sacred to me. 

Probably my favourite fiction title of all time is I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith. More than any other book I can think of, it absolutely captures the uncertainty, idealism and heartache of growing up, all of which I identify with hugely.

My desert island book though is actually How to Eat by Nigella Lawson. I bought my copy when I was at university and just learning to cook. It’s incredibly tatty now and covered in food stains. But I read it and re-read it like a novel. (Favourite recipe of many: the chocolate puddings on page 187. Eat ‘em and weep).

Friday, 19 March 2021

Guest Post: Matthew Wainwright - Expectation vs Reality - Out of the Smoke - Mr.Ripley's Enchanted Books


Welcome to our second guest post. The first was by Philip Womack talking about his forthcoming Young Adult book WILDLORD which will be published this October. The second post (below) is by Matthew Wainwright and talks about his debut book OUT OF THE SMOKE being published in a national pandemic. It's a brilliant post about facing a new set of realities. Thank you Matthew for taking the time to write this post. 

If you fancy reading this brilliant book and want to support the author and small publishing company then you can purchase a copy from Waterstones HERE
Equally, you can order it from your local independent bookshop which will perhaps encourage more bookshops to stock it. Thank you for reading and we hope you all have a great day. 

Debuting in Lockdown: Expectation vs Reality

Every aspiring author dreams of landing a publishing deal. For many of us it’s our entire reason for existence. We can spend so many hours daydreaming, picturing how it will happen and building up the moment in our imagination, that when it finally comes there is usually an alarming jolt as expectation violently collides with reality.

For me, this jolt was twofold. Firstly, my deal was not with a Big Five publishing house, was not for a six-book series, and was not attended by a nationwide publicity campaign. Instead (and probably in common with most authors) I signed with a small independent label, for a single book, with the expectation that I would shoulder at least some of the responsibility of spreading the word about it.

And actually, this was fine. I was excited about the prospect of talking to people, drumming up support, and whipping up a bit of excitement. I have a background in graphic design, and was looking forward to flexing some pixels on social media and beyond. Being with a smaller publisher meant I had more direct contact with my editor and more editorial input; I was even allowed the opportunity to design my own cover (for better or worse).

But then the second jolt hit. On the 23rd of March 2020 England went into a national lockdown, closing schools and bookshops across the country and, in one fell swoop, cutting off the two main avenues I had been counting on to carry the bulk of my publicity. My book was due for release at the end of October, so it seemed likely things would be open again by the time it was ready to land in people’s hands, but it was still a huge blow to my pre-publication timetable.

To cap it all, this was my publisher’s first foray into YA novels, and they spooked a little. Not enough to pull the book, but enough to scale back the release to two stages: an initial limited release in October as planned, online and to selected bookshops who already stocked their titles; and a later, wider release once things had calmed down.

At first this seemed like a killing blow. I had been looking forward to walking into Waterstones and seeing copies of my book on shelves, and somehow my success or failure as an author was bound up in this image. Having a limited release, especially being largely online, felt fake, as if I wasn’t a ‘real’ author. I was afraid that poor sales and a lack of publicity would put my publisher off the idea of pursuing further titles. The dream had soured.

I swallowed my disappointment. After all, what else was there to do? I redoubled my efforts online, firing up Photoshop and running a cover reveal on Instagram over the course of two weeks in the summer, as well as teasing extracts of the book along with the gorgeous chapter header illustrations. I shelled out some of my own cash to promote Facebook and Instagram posts, encouraging people to preorder from the publisher and Amazon, and the response was encouraging. Not overwhelming, but enough to make me think that maybe there was still hope.

October came around. I received my first author copies, and held (and smelled!) my own book for the very first time, feeling a muted thrill of the heady excitement I had long dreamed about. Preorders were not staggering, but still respectable, and my publisher was happy. Reviews began to trickle in, and they were universally good. Everything had gone about as well as could be expected.

And there, I think, is the point: the release of my first book was not an earth-shattering moment, but then it was never going to be. Reality can never live up to expectation; things are never as incredible or dreadful as we think they are going to be. Sometimes life takes us by surprise, but it’s surprising precisely because it happens so rarely. I was always going to be a very small fish thrown into a very large sea, and sink or swim I was unlikely to make very large waves. Releasing in lockdown gave me a reason to temper my expectations and ration my hope. Even very small things, the fewest words of praise or encouragement, felt incredibly precious to me. Every win was a big win, because the odds were suddenly so astronomically high.

Since October my publisher has gradually begun to cast their net wider. We’re reaching out to schools, and I’ve begun to develop a pack of learning resources. Home educators have been a surprising customer base, and word of mouth has done what it does best in that community. I have one virtual author visit booked in for the Easter holidays, and a handful more pencilled in with various schools for when “things get better”. My daughter dressed up as one of my characters for World Book Day, and the headteacher at her school emailed me to thank me for the copy he received in the post. My old primary school tweeted about how they looked forward to having me in. Small things, but each one of them precious and beautiful. The bookshops are still closed (for now), but that’s fine with me. I’m concentrating on building relationships with teachers and home educators, and I know that things will progress in their own time.

Now I look back on it, I realise my expectations had never been realistic — I had been dreaming the dream, rather than visualising the future. Had I not released in lockdown, I might have been immensely disappointed with the exact same things I have come to cherish: the small messages of thanks, the gradual outreach to schools, the slow accumulation of feedback.

This was not a disaster: it was merely an alternative. As it stands, I am probably a happier author for it.

Thursday, 18 March 2021

Conrad Mason - The Girl in Wooden Armour - Book Review - Mr. Ripley's Enchanted Books

When you are looking for a ray of sunshine then a new book by Conrad Mason is just the tonic. The Girl In Wooden Armour will be published on 1st April, 2021 by David Fickling. The book cover illustration is amazing; I have been recently informed it's been produced by the talented illustrator George Ermos (one of my favourite illustrators). It certainly enticed me and made me want to dive in straight away. After reading other books by Conrad Mason, I have a certain expectation of what to find. This did not fail but it lived up to my expectations in different ways. 

The story is about sorcery, witchcraft, and possibly a warrior or two. It's very dark and essentially is a middle-grade fantasy horror story. Conrad Mason appears to be stretching his fantasy wings and going into new territory.  Just like the main character in the book (Hattie), he is strapping on his wooden armour and getting ready to do battle with the readers' mind. It's a plot about a family that has secrets and a very unusual granny. 

One day Hattie gets a mysterious letter calling for help so she and her younger brother Jonathan visit her granny for the first time in years. The plot thickens and the veil of an ancient evil is cast over the reader as the characters launch into their adventure. At this point, this is not what I was expecting; I was looking for pirate swashbuckling and some spilled grog. However, what we get is a very strange place called Brokewood-on Tandle (a great name for a place) and an all-action-packed narrative that will be loved by all armchair readers. 

Unfortunately, Granny has disappeared and a dark shadowy place called the Un Forest is introduced. I really liked Un Forest and would have loved to have seen this explored in more detail. It had so much potential for the plotline and is what reading is all about - being transported to an imaginary world with mystery, mayhem, and madness. Nevertheless, we escape into a sinister world of scary monsters who are lurking around every corner (some of which would fit nicely into a Darren Shan novel). They are very imaginatively written and definitely sent shivers down my spine. Empathy is another element that has been injected into the story. It faces issues that many of us might be feeling at the moment: loneliness, sadness, and losing a loved one.  

This is a great book with many twists and turns. It doesn't have a set agenda instead it is about good quality storytelling that will grip you and captivate your fantasy brain. It has a courageous female heroine who will be adored regardless of gender or age. It's a thrilling read with a dynamite ending to capture readers and light up their imaginations. 

Monday, 15 March 2021

Philip Womack - Guest Post - Wildlord - Published by Little Island - Mr Ripley’s Enchanted Books

Thanks for joining us today. It's brilliant to be able to welcome Philip Womack to Mr. Ripley's Enchanted Book blog. His guest post will be talking about one of his up-and-coming book 'Wildlord'. Philip has really sold his new book to me. Hopefully, in October 2021, this will also be on your list and we will be in a time when we have more freedom to browse books. I'm already imagining walking back into a lovely bookshop to buy this book.  I'm now wondering what the book cover will look like and how the story will pan out.  
Thanks for reading - we hope your interest has also been piqued. If you have any more questions please get in touch. 

My work in progress isn’t, strictly, a work in progress; since, as I write, I have all but finished the final edit. It’s called Wildlord, and it’s my first ever teen novel, for readers of 13+, and will be published in October 2021 by Little Island.

A new book is always an excitement. We launch our carefully composed fictions out into the world, hoping that they will find readers, that they will enchant and enthrall. I have always written about magic; principally because, as a child, I was always much more drawn towards the worlds of fantasy than I was to anything set in the real world. Reading in and of itself is a branch of magic: we never, as adults, are able to read in the way that we did as children. I have always tried to write novels that are as immersive as those books I fell into as a child, curled up in the library or in my room, oblivious to the world outside.

Magic in fiction is also a way of thinking about power, and so what it means to be a teenager growing into an adult. Wildlord is about a sixteen-year-old boy, Tom, who receives a strange message from his Uncle James, inviting him to stay on his Suffolk farm. Without giving too much away, Tom decides to go. Only what he finds there isn’t a conventional farm at all, but something that exists on the boundaries between reality and other worlds. 

Every book I’ve written has brought its own challenges, its own glorious stretches when everything seems to be going well, its own periods when nothing seems to work. But that didn’t happen with Wildlord. I loved writing it, from early scribblings to final quibblings about word choices. I began it in 2017, just after I’d finished writing The Arrow of Apollo, a novel for 10+ set in the legendary Greek and Roman world, which was published in 2020.

 It might seem a bit of a leap from the shadowy, quasi-historical world of my ancient heroes, to a teenager with an iPhone and a laptop in 2021. But the themes are constant: how young people work with and against their parents; how they slot into the generations; the rules they must navigate to become adults. 

Where The Arrow of Apollo moved around the Mediterranean sea, Wildlord has a much smaller setting: an Elizabethan farmhouse, Mundham Farm.  The building seems to extend and grow and shift, subject to mysterious powers. There is a strong sense of wildness, of being on the edge of civilisation. 

The inhabitants of Mundham Farm are an ill-assorted bunch, and I had enormous amounts of fun pitching them into difficult (and deadly) situations. Mundham Farm is a nexus of powers, and Tom finds that there are stranger powers stalking the outskirts. These beings want to invade: and Tom has to stop them. But he finds himself thrown into an impossible conundrum, and what he thinks he knows is upturned and overturned almost every day. He finds solace in the woods, and in the diaries of a 19th-century rector’s daughter, which help to give him the key to solving his problems.

Wildlord is about finding a place for yourself in the world, as much as it is a magical story full of tension, danger and drama. It's also, in a way, about history and time. I hope it will find readers of all ages, and encourage them to think about the spaces in between, about the gaps between childhood and adulthood, and about love, friendship and family.

Saturday, 13 March 2021

The Best New Children's Book Picks US - March 2021 - Mr. Ripley's Enchanted Books


Laura Amy Schlitz (Author), Julia Iredale (Illustrator) - Amber and Clay - Published by  Candlewick (March 9, 2021)

The Newbery Medal–winning author of Good Masters! Sweet Ladies! gives readers a virtuoso performance in verse in this profoundly original epic pitched just right for fans of poetry, history, mythology, and fantasy.

Welcome to ancient Greece as only genius storyteller Laura Amy Schlitz can conjure it. In a warlike land of wind and sunlight, “ringed by a restless sea,” live Rhaskos and Melisto, spiritual twins with little in common beyond the violent and mysterious forces that dictate their lives. A Thracian slave in a Greek household, Rhaskos is as common as clay, a stable boy worth less than a donkey, much less a horse. Wrenched from his mother at a tender age, he nurtures in secret, aided by Socrates, his passions for art and philosophy. Melisto is a spoiled aristocrat, a girl as precious as amber but willful and wild. She’ll marry and be tamed—the curse of all highborn girls—but risk her life for a season first to serve Artemis, goddess of the hunt. 

Bound by destiny, Melisto and Rhaskos—Amber and Clay—never meet in the flesh. By the time they do, one of them is a ghost. But the thin line between life and death is just one boundary their unlikely friendship crosses. It takes an army of snarky gods and fearsome goddesses, slaves and masters, mothers and philosophers to help shape their story into a gorgeously distilled, symphonic tour de force. 

Blending verse, prose, and illustrated archaeological “artifacts,” this is a tale that vividly transcends time, an indelible reminder of the power of language to illuminate the over- and underworlds of human history.

Kate Alice Marshall -  Our Last Echoes - Viking Books for Young Readers (March 16, 2021)

In 1973, the thirty-one residents of Bitter Rock disappeared. In 2003, so did my mother. Now, I've come to Bitter Rock to find out what happened to her--and to me. Because Bitter Rock has many ghosts. And I might be one of them.

Sophia's earliest memory is of drowning. She remembers the darkness of the water and the briny taste as it filled her throat, the sensation of going under. She remembers hands pulling her back to safety, but that memory is impossible--she's never been to the ocean. 

But then Sophia gets a mysterious call about an island names Bitter Rock, and learns that she and her mother were there fifteen years ago--and her mother never returned. The hunt for answers lures her to Bitter Rock, but the more she uncovers, the clearer it is that her mother is just one in a chain of disappearances. 

People have been vanishing from Bitter Rock for decades, leaving only their ghostly echoes behind. Sophia is the only one who can break the cycle--or risk becoming nothing more than another echo haunting the island.

Veronica Mang - The Case of the Missing Cheeta (Secret Spy Society) - Viking Books for Young Readers (March 23, 2021) 
The first book in a highly illustrated new chapter book series about three delightfully mischievous young girls and some of the most enigmatic women in history who worked as spies.

It's a dark and stormy night when three sleuthing little girls get pulled into a web of mystery. They have mistakenly uncovered a secret society of some of the most famous female spies in history. A glamorous spy named Josephine Baker enlists the girls to find out who has kidnapped Chiquita, her precious pet cheetah. Do the girls have what it takes to become spies themselves? 

Debut author-illustrator Veronica Mang has created a playful pastiche full of masters of disguise, martial artists, codebreakers, and double agents in the first of this new illustrated chapter book series. Secret Spy Society: The Case of the Missing Cheetah introduces young readers to three delightfully mischievous girls and some of the most enigmatic and unforgettable women in history.

Jaclyn Moriarty - The Stolen Prince of Cloudburst - Published by Levine Querido (March 23, 2021) 
Esther is a middle child, in her own mind a pale reflection of siblings who are bright, shining stars. Her mother doesn't show the slightest bit of interest, no matter what Esther does. Still, she's content to go back to school, do her best, hang out with her friends, and let others take care of things.

But her best friends aren't AT school when she gets there. Why didn't they tell her they wouldn't be coming back? Why were they silent all summer? But stuff like that happens. And it's bad luck that her new teacher makes Esther the butt of all kinds of jokes. Mrs. Pollock is rumored to be an ogre—and maybe she IS one. Could be.

Then things go from unfortunate to outright dangerous. The mountains surrounding the school—usually sparkling with glaciers and lakes, alive with Faeries, and sheltering a quaint town with really great bakeries—are now crowded with Shadow Mages, casting a noticeable pall, and clearly—to Esther—signifying something very dark and threatening. As the people she might have depended on to help are either strangely absent or in hiding, it's left to ordinary, middle-child Esther ("just Esther") to act. But she'll have to burst out of the box of mediocrity she's been but in, and do something absolutely extraordinary.

Patrick D. Pidgeon -  Creeples! - Published by Greenleaf Book Group Press (March 9, 2021)
Let's just come right out and say it . . . stranger things do happen at Aberdasher Academy of Science
We re talking weird science, with fantastical consequences such as a slithering colossal Mongolian Death Worm, clashing medieval Bog People, an ambushing Ayia Napa sea monster, and a ravaging mythical beast, just to name a few!
Desperate to raise funds to save their favorite teacher's Genomic department from closing, Johnny ''Spigs'' Spignola, Theresa Ray ''T-Ray'' Rogers, and Pablo ''Peabo'' Torres team up to launch a crowdfunding lab experiment, but hastily use a mysterious DNA serum that astonishingly creates six pint-size, magical humanoids--the students affectionately call Creeples--who unleash mystical mayhem and campus chaos.
But even more shocking, a startling mystery emerges for these intrepid teens. Their noble but foolish actions uncover a shadowy insider's evil plan to gain demonic supremacy from the academy's hidden powers of ancient sorcery and the Creeples unwittingly stand in the way!

Thursday, 11 March 2021

Julian Sedgwick (Author), Chie Kutsuwada (Illustrator) - Tsunami Girl - Book Review (Mr. Ripley's Enchanted Books)

Hello and welcome (こんにちは、ようこそ)  to Mr. Ripley's Enchanted Books. This has been a very emotional and poignant book review.

A huge earthquake and Tsunami struck Japan at 2.46pm on March 11, 2011. It devastated towns and changed the landscape forever whilst also triggering nuclear meltdowns in Fukushima. The world watched helplessly as a triple disaster unfolded and the chaotic struggle to contain the world's worst nuclear disaster since Chernobyl took place. Ten years later and the story of Tsunami Girl by Julian Sedgwick is born. Published by Guppy Books in March 2021 the book will finally spread its wings and soar into the world. 

The book was inspired by the people, memories, and the author's visits to Odak, Minamisōm, Japan. The book is a three-year culmination of research and writing about the unseen crisis. It's a story to remember, savour and reflect upon. Just like petals falling from a Skura tree, this story showers the reader with a poignant and heartfelt story. It has both dark and light flowing throughout the narrative. 

The book is part story and part manga (a comic art form traditionally developed in Japan from scrolls dating back as far as the 12th century). The manga illustrations have been wonderfully created by Chie Kutsuwada and are used to weave in the imaginary element of the story alongside the written reality. They particularly introduce and follow the super-hero character in the imaginary world (Half Wave) who is bound by Yuki's own manga creation which is very much linked to the back story. The character is pulled together in a quirky quality that I associate with watching a Studio Ghibli film, both of which I really love. 

The narrative follows shy 15-year-old, Yuki Hara Jones, who finds herself caught up in the Earthquake and Tsunami whilst visiting her Grandpa. The story centers around both Yuki and her amazing Grandpa, who is an award-winning adult Manga artist. Back in England, she finds herself reliving the tragic events that unfolded on that unimaginable day. You'll find yourself walking a tightrope of emotions as you follow Yuki and the relationships between her English family in Cambridge (England) and her Japanese family as she attempts to heal herself by revisiting the disaster zone with the help of her friend Taka. 

This is the most thought-provoking story that I've read for a long time. It made me feel so emotional that it really swept me off my feet and stirred many thoughts. It was almost like looking over the edge of the cliff and free-falling into the foamy sea. The story is about place/time, pain, loss, friendship, and finally finding one's self again. It charts the struggles in the aftermath and how life was viewed differently as a result of such devastation. It's about not only the importance of memories but also after being in such a dark place trying to find the light and courage once more to make life a full experience and as rewarding as it can be. 

The way to best describe this book is as one massive Hanabi (花火) firework display as it sparkles, pops, and fizzes on the brain. A fluttering ghost story (Yami Shibai) delivers the yin and yang punching into the plot with a beating heart. The encounters and the feelings of the characters have been masterfully written. I view the story with sadness but also have fond memories from the special moments within. One day I hope to take a journey to Japan and, as a result of this book, will remember the people who lost their lives as well as those who were left behind to deal with the devastation. 

The story has been very well researched and written. It really is a very fitting tribute to one of the biggest natural disasters to happen in our lifetime. I'm sure that many people as they read this book will feel and view things differently but that's why I particularly love books like this. There is certainly no other book like this available to buy at the moment so I really would recommend that you read this. I would be particularly interested to know your thoughts on this amazingly well-published book. Thank you for reading and have a great day.

If you also fancy a doubled signed copy of the book. Here is the link to do so!

Monday, 8 March 2021

*BOOK COVER REVEAL* Between Sea and Sky by Nicola Penfold (Mr.Ripley's Enchanted Books)


Good morning and what a wonderful start to the Monday morning we have. Today, on Mr. Ripley's Enchanted Books, we get to show off the brilliant book cover artwork for Nicola Penfold's second book Between Sea and Sky. It's always such a special and privileged opportunity to get to present the unveiling of such wonderful artwork and design. This is a brilliantly bold cover that is both eye-catching and in keeping with the author's first book (Where the World Turns Wild). The book cover has been designed by Pip Johnson (Senior Designer at Little Tiger Group) whilst the illustrator of the cover artwork is Kate Forrester. I think both have done an amazing job in making me want to pick up the book and find out more. 

I can tell you this book is a middle-grade standalone novel full of thought-provoking ecological themes. It is due to be published by Stripes Publishing on the 8th July 2021. Below is a brief synopsis for you to consider and, hopefully, this will encourage you to support these wonderful people and pre-order a copy. 

In a near-future where a series of environmental disasters has left much of the country underwater, Pearl lives on a floating oyster farm with her father and younger sister, Clover. Following her mum’s death several years earlier, Pearl refuses to set foot on land, believing her illness was caused by the poisons in the ground. Meanwhile, Clover dreams of school, friends and a normal life.

Then Nat comes to spend the summer at the sea farm while his scientist mum conducts some experiments. Leaving behind the mainland, with its strict rules and regulations, he brings with him a secret. But when the sisters promise to keep his secret safe, little do they realize that they may be risking everything...

Monday, 1 March 2021

The Best New Children's Book Picks March 2021 Part Two - Mr. Ripley's Enchanted Books


Hannah Foley - The Spellbinding Secret of Avery Buckle - Published by Floris Books (18 Mar. 2021) 

Part-girl, part-cat, Avery Buckle has always known she's a little different (after all, her tail is a bit of a giveaway). What Avery doesn't know is that she is the only one who can uncover a forgotten magical secret and bring back a great lost wizard. Teaming up with shape-shifting best friend Low, and with help from her witch guardians, Avery is plunged into a haphazard world of shadowy monsters, bewitched libraries and flying bicycles. Grab your enchanted tandem bike and hold on tight! Wildly inventive and packed with fantastical thrills, The Spellbinding Secret of Avery Buckle is a warm and quirky whirlwind of an adventure, full of magical heart.

Gemma Fowler - City of Rust - Published by Chicken House (4 Mar. 2021)

An out-of-this-world sci-fi adventure for a new generation!

Railey dreams of winning the drone races with her bio-robotic gecko friend, Atti. But when a bounty hunter crashes their biggest race yet, the pair are forced to flee to the feared Junker clans who mine the rubbish orbiting the Earth.

Rescued by a couple of Junker kids, they discover a danger bigger than anything they'd imagined - but can three kids, a gecko and an ancient computer save the world against the huge trash bomb (and its power-crazed creator) threatening to destroy the world?

The fun, original and thrilling middle-grade debut from Gemma Fowler.  

Rachel Delahaye (Author), George Ermos (Illustrator) - Mort the Meek and the Ravens' Revenge - Published by Stripes Publishing (4 Mar. 2021)

The first in a wickedly funny new series about an aspiring pacifist in a brutal kingdom!
On Brutalia violence is a way of life. Ravenous ravens circle overhead, monstrous grot bears cause chaos and the streets are bulging with brawls. But Mort isn’t like the other islanders – he’s determined to live peacefully. His struggle is made even tougher when the cruel queen appoints Mort as Royal Executioner. No one has challenged the royals and lived to tell the tale. Can Mort keep his head and outwit the queen? 


Laura Wood (Author), Ellie Snowdon (Illustrator) - The Animals of Madame Malone's Music Hall - Published by Barrington Stoke (4 Mar. 2021) 

Summer by the seaside with Gran isn't exactly what Callie expected. Instead of sunshine and ice cream, she's stuck helping Gran's drama group save their local theatre. Worst of all, they've asked her to star in their play. But when she goes exploring backstage, Callie stumbles into an altogether different world - another theatre, run by a wise fox and her troupe of talking animals. And the strangest part of all? Callie's set to play the lead in their show too. Forced to face her fears will Callie be up to the challenge of saving Madame Malone's Music Hall? A cast of creative creatures take centre stage in this theatrical Barrington Stoke debut from Blue Peter Book Award shortlisted author Laura Wood. Particularly suitable for struggling, reluctant or dyslexic readers aged 8+