Dungeon Critters by Natalie Riess and Sara Goetter

I’m a huge fan of First Second, as they publish some of the best graphic novels for kids. My favourite kids graphic novel, Jen Wang’s The Prince and the Dressmaker, is published by them, as well as Best Friends and Real Friends by Shannon Hale and LeUyen Pham. I ordered Dungeon Critters, by Natalie Riess and Sara Goetter, for my school library just because it sounded fun and the cover looked cool. After reading it though, I can say it’s so much more than that. In fact, it almost knocks The Prince and the Dressmaker off its top spot, it’s that great.

The Dungeon Critters are a tight-knit gang of animals who go on adventures together. There’s Juniper (or June) the dog, Rose the cat, Prince Chirp the frog and Goro the snake. Between them they have magic, brute strength and cunning to help them fight for what’s right. After defeating a necromancer, an invitation discovered in his belongings leads the Dungeon Critters to The Baron’s ball. The Baron is Prince Chirp’s life-long arch nemesis and Chirp knows that he is up to no good. The gang decide to crash the party and look for clues. With their fancy disguises and fake identities they go to the ball, but Juniper gets mistaken for royalty. She keeps The Baron distracted while the rest of the gang search The Baron’s mansion. With proof in hand that The Baron is up to something, and The Baron’s mansion in flames, the gang head off in search of answers. Just as they start to get some answers, Prince Chirp is summoned back to the palace for ‘The Event’ that his parents are hosting. While at the palace disaster strikes and Juniper is arrested and put on trial. Friendships are tested as members of the Dungeon Critters find themselves on opposite sides of the trial. It is then up to their friends to uncover the truth and help their friends when they need it the most.

I absolutely adore Dungeon Critters! Everything about it is wonderful, from the story and the characters to the humour and the artwork. Everything gels together perfectly to make a graphic novel that is hilarious, action-packed, super-sweet and full of diverse characters. You can tell, even before reading about their process at the back of the book, that Natalie and Sara worked closely together to combine their storytelling talents to create this book. The story flows really nicely throughout the book, as does the artwork. I laughed so hard while reading this book! Natalie and Sara’s comedic timing is spot-on and there are puns galore.

I loved every one of the characters, whether they were the heroes or the villains. They all have a lot of depth to them and history that is revealed throughout the story. Rose and Juniper obviously have some history together (as you can see from the first part of the story) and you discover more about their relationship as the story progresses. There is a fierce rivalry between Prince Chirp and The Baron and its fun to watch this play out. The standout character for me is Goro. He is a gentle giant who is always there when the gang need him, but he’s sensitive too. I loved learning more about him and his boyfriend, Horseboy. I laughed so hard though when the gang’s stuff gets stolen and Goro has to borrow a teeny, tiny shirt.

The artwork is completely stunning, from the character designs and the colouring, to the way that the story flows on the page. Every character, from the main ones to the minor ones (who might appear just once) has its own personality. They’re all really expressive too, so it’s easy to tell their emotions and intentions. The colouring also helps to set the tone and highlight emotions. I like the way that the colours used help to draw your eye in a particular direction, especially when there is a lot happening on a page. Another thing I really like about the colouring is the way that light has been used to throw shadows on faces, whether that is to show villainous intent or determination.

It is the layout of the artwork and the flow from one panel to the next that really makes this graphic novel stand out for me. Natalie and Sara use lots of different layouts throughout the book and your eye is drawn to different parts of the page each time you turn the page. Some spreads have a background image, with lots of smaller panels layered over the top. Another spread might have one thread of the story happening in the background of the page, with another thread of the story playing out in panels down the side. One of my favourite sections of artwork is when Rose and Chirp are setting off the booby traps under The Baron’s mansion. Chirp effortlessly jumps and dives through the lasers, while Rose (being a cat) sees the lasers and tries to pounce on them.

I seriously love Dungeon Critters! I hope Natalie and Sara have more ideas up their sleeves because I need more of the Dungeon Critters in my life. I think I would probably read anything that Natalie and Sara create together.

Dungeon Critters is great for ages 9+ and would be a great addition to a primary, intermediate or high school library. It’s also a must read for any adult who enjoys a graphic novel with magical adventures and a whole lot of laughs.

The Hatmakers by Tamzin Merchant

Imagine if clothes could affect your mood or change aspects of your personality. A hat could give you a confidence boost, give you a dash of bravado, help you sleep or fall in love. In Tamzin Merchant’s enchanting debut middle grade book, The Hatmakers, clothes have these magical properties and their creators are highly valued craftspeople.

Cordelia is part of the Hatmaker family. For centuries her family have been the creators of the headpieces worn by the British royal family. They use their skills to create hats that keep the monarchs level-headed, improve their concentration and help them negotiate peace. They use materials from plants, birds, and insects to create their masterpieces. The Bootmakers, Cloakmakers, Glovemakers and Watchmakers also create their masterpieces, that come together to form the Royal Garb. While the clothes have power individually, they are more powerful if all of them are worn at the same time. However, a rift between the families has left them untrusting of each other. The Hatmakers work their magic, not only for the royal family, but for anyone who needs a special hat to improve their life. When Cordelia receives word that her father’s ship has been wrecked and he is missing, she knows that he can’t be dead. She knows that she needs to ask the king to send a ship to find him. The King, however, is acting rather strangely indeed. It is hoped that a special hat will return the king to normal, but when this doesn’t work, the king’s advisor, Lord Witloof, suggests a holiday by the sea might help and puts Princess Georgina in charge. Cordelia knows that she must convince the princess to send a ship to find her father but every attempt to ask for her help is thwarted. Meanwhile, each of the Maker’s houses are broken into and their precious materials, needed for making their creations, are stolen. Cordelia is accused of being the thief and so she sets out to discover the true thief. She uncovers a plot that will set England at war with France, and when the rest of her family are imprisoned, it is up to Cordelia and her friends to foil the plot and save her family.

The Hatmakers is tantalisingly good! From the moment I picked up this book I was captivated by its magic and I didn’t want to put it down. Tamzin takes us back to a time to a London filled with horse and carts, Lords and Ladies, scruffy orphans and lavish palaces. While it seems familiar, it is also a London filled with magic, where clothes can make a person who they wish to be. As with all magic there is a dark side to this creation of garments, and one particular outfit will make your skin crawl. There are plenty of twists in the story to keep you guessing, with many of the characters not who they first appear to be.

There are so many things I loved about this book. Tamzin is a gifted storyteller, whose words wrap you up in a comforting blanket. I became immersed in her story as soon as I started reading and the language that she uses paints a vivid picture of her world. The idea of clothes being created, with special ingredients entwined in them and added to them to give them certain properties, is just amazing. It is fascinating to read the descriptions of Cordelia’s aunts and uncle creating the different aspects of the hats. Cordelia is left in charge of the hat shop in one part of the story and she knows that she is not allowed to create new hats. However, she has several customers who come in to the shop needing specific hats. This was my favourite part of the book, as Cordelia creates hats for them (even though she knows she shouldn’t) and the hats have unexpected consequences. Two young men, who need a hat to help them win a pistol duel, get hats of a different kind, and an actor gets more than a cure for stage fright. I love the idea of food being a kind of magic too. The Hatmaker’s Cook suggests that food is a kind of magic because it ‘can heal all manner of maladies.’

Tamzin’s glossary at the back of the book adds even more to the story. The glossary is fascinating and lists the ingredients that are ‘most potent and valuable for apprentice hat makers.’ Each ingredient is named, with a description of what it looks like or where it comes from, and what property it possesses. The Sicilian Leaping Bean ‘gives the wearer a sense of levity and gladness of heart,’ the Feather of the Athenian Owl ‘can be used for cleverness, concentration and contemplation,’ and Mellow Daisies ‘promote a happy-go-lucky attitude and a sunny outlook.’ I could imagine a faded, leather-bound book filled with these descriptions and drawings of the ingredients for identification.

Paola Escobar’s cover and internal illustrations are like the ingredients added to the Hatmaker hats. They give the book an extra magical quality. Paolo’s cover illustration invites you in to the world of the Hatmakers and his internal illustrations give you glimpses of the characters and the events of the story. I love that Paolo has even topped the Hatmaker house with giant hats.

The ending perfectly wraps up the story but leaves the promise of more adventures to come. I’m already dying to get back to the world of The Hatmakers and find out what happens next.

The Strangeworlds Travel Agency by L.D. Lapinski

At a time when countries have their borders shut and travel has pretty much been shut down, thankfully we still have books to transport us to different places. The Strangeworlds Travel Agency by L.D. Lapinski is a book bursting with worlds for readers to explore. In the first book in L.D. Lapinski’s new series we meet Flick and Jonathan Mercator and discover the wonders of the Strangeworlds Travel Agency, where you travel to different worlds through suitcases.

Felicity (or Flick as she prefers) has just moved houses and towns. Sure, she has her own bedroom now, but her parents are still as busy as ever and she gets dumped with her baby brother when she would rather have time to herself. While exploring her new town she discovers a dusty and dilapidated shop with a tired sign saying ‘The Strangeworlds Travel Agency.’ When she steps inside she discovers a dusty space filled with dozens of suitcases, stacked in slots on the walls. While exploring the shop she meets Jonathan Mercator, the custodian of The Strangeworlds Travel Agency. After Flick displays a special magical ability, Jonathan invites her to join The Strangeworlds Travel Agency. Flick soon discovers the joys and dangers of travelling to other worlds through the suitcases at Strangeworlds, and Jonathan asks for her help. Jonathan’s parents were also custodians of Strangeworlds, but after his mother died, Jonathan’s father was distant. Jonathan’s father has been missing for a couple of months and Jonathan has been looking for him, with no luck. Jonathan and Flick set off for the City of Five Lights, where they hope to find some answers to the disappearance of Jonathan’s father. When they get to the City of Five Lights though, something is wrong with this world. People and places are disappearing and The Order of Thieves have set a plan in motion that could not only destroy Five Lights but also put all of the worlds in the multiverse in danger. Jonathan and Flick get split up and must do everything they can to navigate the dangers of this world and save their own.

The Strangeworlds Travel Agency is an action-packed, multi-dimensional adventure, filled with magic and tinged with a hint of darkness. I love the idea of travelling to other worlds through suitcases and the complexities of this (having to make sure you pull the suitcase into the world with you so you can get home). L.D. Lapinski has made the idea of multi-dimensional travel feel fresh and exhilarating. Much like time travel, travelling to different dimensions is never as straight-forward as you at first think, and L.D. Lapinski has explored this well. The story becomes quite twisty as it progresses and the mix of the travelling between worlds and Flick’s abilities make the story quite complex. You get to the end of the story feeling like you have just scraped the surface of multi-dimensional travel and there are quite a few questions for L.D. Lapinski to answer in further books. We don’t really know what has happened to Jonathan’s father or what Flick can do with her abilities. There are so many possible worlds for L.D. Lapinski to explore in future books and we’ve only seen a handful in this book.

L.D. Lapinski’s characters are complex and relatable. Different aspects of Jonathan and Flick’s personalities have been explored in this book, but there is more to uncover. While we know what Flick’s life has been like before she stepped into the Strangeworlds Travel Agency, she is quite a different person by the end of the story. She used to be unsatisfied with her quiet life but now it is full of magic and adventure that she couldn’t have imagined. By the end of the story Flick is just starting to understand her abilities, so there is more for her to explore about herself. Jonathan is quite a mystery at the start of the story, and while we get to know more about him, I don’t feel like we have the full story. He has obviously been affected by losing his mother and then being abandoned by his father, leaving him not very trusting of people. He keeps secrets from Flick and this affects their relationship. I’m looking forward to seeing how their relationship develops in further books.

Natalie Smillie’s phenomenal cover draws you in and invites you to jump into a Strangeworlds suitcase. Natalie shows readers that they’ll experience an out-of-this-world adventure, filled with treasure, strange creatures and unusual lands. Kids are sure to be drawn to this book on the shelves.

I’m desperate to get back to The Strangeworlds Travel Agency and dive into some more suitcases! Luckily I don’t have to wait too long as the second book in the series, The Strangeworlds Travel Agency: The Edge of the Ocean, is due out in April.

The House at the Edge of Magic by Amy Sparkes

Occasionally you come across a book that makes other people give you funny looks. This is because you are grinning madly or chuckling to yourself while you read and those around you, whether they be family or strangers, think you are a little bit mad. Sometimes a book is just so funny and clever that you can’t help but grin and chuckle while you read it. Amy Sparkes’ The House at the Edge of Magic is one of these books and I had a smile on my face from start to finish.

Nine is an orphan pick-pocket whose home is The Nest, a hideaway in the city run by the nasty Pockets. Nine and the other children steal valuables and bring them back to Pockets, who allows them to live in his stinking Nest. Nine’s only glimmer of happiness comes from her regular trips to the dilapidated library, run by the librarian Mr Downes, who lets her take books to read. Nine’s life changes dramatically one day when she steals a house-shaped ornament. When Nine has escaped those chasing her she inspects the ornament and lifts the tiny door-knocker, causing the tiny house to become life-size. When she steps inside she meets a group of unusual characters who desperately need her help. There is Flabberghast (High Wizard, Chair of the Tea Tasters Committee, and World Hopscotch Champion, 1835), Eric (the troll housekeeper) and Dr Spoon (the kilt-wearing, scientist spoon). A curse has been put on the house by a witch and none of them (apart from Nine) can leave the house. If that wasn’t bad enough, the toilet is never in the same place (and sometimes has teeth), the library won’t stay ordered and when they try to make tea they get transformed into strange creatures. Only Nine can help them break the curse, and in doing so, she will get a way out of her horrible life on the streets. They must all work together to solve the clues and break the curse.

The House at the Edge of Magic is an incredibly enjoyable story, that is brimming with magic and imagination. I knew from the stunning cover (by Ben Mantle) and the blurb that I was going to love this book and Amy Sparkes cast a delightful spell over me as I read. I laughed so much reading it, whether it was the conversations between the characters or the many hilarious ways that the house has been cursed. My favourite part (and the bit that had me laughing hardest) is when Nine goes to make tea for the first time. Every time they try to touch the handle to the tea cupboard, each of the characters get transformed in some ridiculous way, like their skin turning blue, their legs turning into springs or becoming an oversized yellow spotty teapot. There seemed to be no end to the different cursed rooms in the house, from the library with its vicious flying books to the cellar containing the ‘Sometimes Dead.’

Amy’s characters are wonderful and their personalities bounce off each other in hilarious ways. I don’t think I could pick a favourite character because they’re all so delightfully odd. Flabberghast is quite eccentric and is the one who is most frustrated by the curse on the house. He is dying for a cup of tea and would really like the library to just stay tidy and ordered. Eric is a sweet troll who just wants to make sure everyone is OK. He loves his feather duster and cooks what he can for his friends. Dr Spoon is a bit mysterious as you never quite know what he is creating in his room with all the explosions. Nine has had a hard life and hasn’t known friendship, so when she discovers the house and the wizard, troll and spoon inside, she can’t believe that magic is real and that this house exists. If she helps this band of oddballs she will be able to escape her miserable life and have riches beyond her wildest dreams. I love the decision that she makes at the end of the story, leaving it open for more adventures in The House at the End of Magic.

The House at the End of Magic would be an amazing read aloud for Years 4-6 and it is sure to have them all laughing and begging for ‘just one more chapter!’ There is something in the story to entice all sorts of readers, whether you like magic, laughs, mystery or great characters. I certainly can’t wait for more adventures with Nine, Flabberghast, Eric and Dr Spoon.

Dragon Mountain by Katie and Kevin Tsang

Dragons are so hot right now. Tui T. Sutherland’s Wings of Fire series is one of the most popular series in my school library and they get spread by word of mouth. Dragons are fascinating so it’s no wonder that authors write stories about them and kids want to read stories about them. One of the things that I love about dragon stories is the weaving of the mythology with fiction. Katie and Kevin Tsang do this so well in their new book, Dragon Mountain. They take the mythology of dragons and weave it in to a fresh story that is exciting and magical.

Billy Chan isn’t excited about going to summer camp in the mountains of China. He’s been given the chance to attend Camp Dragon to help improve his Mandarin and learn more about his Chinese heritage but he’d rather be back in California enjoying the waves. At Camp Dragon he meets Dylan, Charlotte, and Ling-Fei. They’re four very different kids who will become part of something bigger than any of them could have imagined. On a camp activity they discover an entrance in to the imposing mountain that stands over the camp. It’s in the mountain that they discover that dragons aren’t just mythical creatures. They are real and they need Billy and his new friends to help save both the human and dragon world. The kids agree to help the dragons and become bonded with them. They must travel to the dragon world and stop the Dragon of Death from being freed and bringing destruction to the world.

Dragon Mountain is an action-packed adventure, filled with magic, superpowers and dragons. It’s a fantastical start to a series that had me hooked and needing to know what would happen next. It ends on a real cliff-hanger that made me so thankful that we only have to wait until March next year for the next instalment. Like the bond between the kids and their dragons you feel connected to the characters and are right there beside them.

The cover (illustrated by Petur Antonsson and design by Tom Sanderson) is an absolute stunner! It screams ‘PICK ME UP!’ I love the contrasting colours of the dragons against the orangey-red background. I also love that it shows how different each of the four dragons are. I keep switching between which one I would like to be bonded with but I think it would be Buttons.

Dragon Mountain would be a great read aloud for Year 5/6 because it will keep everyone engaged and begging their teacher to keep reading. I know that this is going to be such a great series and I can’t wait to find out what happens next.

Avis and the Promise of Dragons by Heather McQuillan

Dragons are creatures of myth, but imagine if there was a dragon in your neighbourhood. This is exactly what Avis discovers when she takes a job as a pet-sitter for the local ‘witch.’ Heather McQuillan introduces us to Avis and Humbert the dragon in her latest book, Avis and the Promise of Dragons.

Avis is having a hard time at home and school. The school bully, Drake, is making her miserable and her dad and brother have changed since her mum left and shacked up with an ex-All Black. A ray of light appears in her life just when she needs it – Dr Malinda Childe. Avis dreams of working with animals and Dr Malinda offers her a job as her pet-sitter. These are no ordinary pets though. These pets are special and unusual and Avis makes a promise to keep them a secret. This isn’t the only promise that she will make over the course of a weekend and soon Avis finds herself bonded to mythical creature. A mythical creature that just happens to love chocolate. If Avis is to keep her promises she will need to shake her brother and father out of their funk because she is going to need their help.

Avis and the Promise of Dragons is a magical adventure that you want to gobble down, like a dragon with a block of chocolate. Heather takes a story of a family who have fallen apart and throws a mischievous dragon into the mix. There is lots packed into the story, from family issues and bullying to conservation and the impact of the media. Avis’ Dad is a broken man after Avis’ Mum walked out on her family to start a new life with ex-All Black Aaron Miller. He takes little notice of what is happening with his kids, instead wallowing in his self-pity. Avis’ brother Bruno hides away in his room constantly, eating rubbish food and just generally being unpleasant. Avis is the only one in the family who is showing any responsibility, but she is also bearing the brunt of Drake the bully’s torment. The pet-sitting job for Dr Malinda gives her something positive in her life. The dragon coming in to her life helps to mend her family too.

Heather will make you wish you had a dragon all of your own. I really liked Heather’s take on the dragon myth and how her little dragon evolved. This dragon may love chocolate but but he’s certainly not sweet. Humbert is a wild creature who could burn you if you don’t keep your promises. He needs more food than just chocolate and will gobble up a dove or twenty when he’s hungry.

I loved Avis and the Promise of Dragons. It would make a fantastic read aloud for Years 5/6 as it will have the kids hanging on every word.

Heather McQuillian has just been announced as the University of Otago College of Education Creative New Zealand Children’s Writer in Residence Fellow for 2021. Congratulations Heather! I look forward to reading what you create during your time in Dunedin.

Monty’s Island series by Emily Rodda and Lucinda Gifford

After publishing dozens of books it is safe to say that Emily Rodda knows her audience. She has written for all ages and across different genres. Her latest series, Monty’s Island, is aimed at younger readers and it is so much fun. It will have kids wishing they lived on the island with Monty and his friends.

There are two books in the series so far with more to come. Scary Mary and the Stripe Spell introduces us to Monty and the cast of characters who live on Monty’s Island. There is Tawny the lion, Bunchy the elephant who likes magic, Sir Wise the owl, Clink the pirate parrot, Marigold the human and owner of the Island Cafe, and of course Monty. Their life on the island is peaceful. Monty’s days are filled with scavenging treasures from the beach and joining his friends at the Cafe. One day The Laughing Traveller warns Monty that the terrible pirate Scary Mary is on her way to their island. Bunchy’s magic and a mysterious magic wand combine to cause some trouble so it’s up to Monty and his friends to put things right and try and trick Scary Mary.

The second book in the series, Beady Bold and the Yum-Yams, has just been released, and it’s another brilliantly funny adventure. It’s Bring-and-Buy Day, that exciting time when Monty and his friends meet Trader Jolly to get the supplies they need. However, it’s not Jolly that arrives, but Beady Bold. Beady is tricky and sneaky and suddenly Bring-and-Buy Day is no fun anymore. Beady brings the Yum-Yams, a mysterious plant that creates havoc. Luckily Monty and his friends come up with a plan to deal with the Yum-Yams and Beady Bold.

With the Monty’s Island series Emily Rodda and Lucinda Gifford have created stories that hook readers with adventure, humour and a wonderful cast of characters. They’re stories that are perfect for newly independent readers to read themselves or to read aloud to 5-8 year olds. I’ll be recommending them as a read aloud for my Year 1-3 teachers as they’ll grab the kids straight away and have them begging for the next chapter. Kids will have favourite characters (I really love Bunchy) and will want to read more of their adventures throughout the series. The stories are illustrated inside and out by Lucinda Gifford whose illustrations are the perfect match for Emily’s stories and make the characters come to life. A lot of thought has gone in to the design of the series too, with bright, fun covers that will jump off the shelves.

The Allen and Unwin website also features some cool printable activities to tie in with the book, including some colouring sheets, and there are videos of both Emily Rodda and Lucinda Gifford reading the books.

Monty’s Island is my favourite new series for younger readers and I can’t wait for more adventures with Monty and his friends.

Max and the Millions by Ross Montgomery

What kid hasn’t pretended there are microscopic people living microscopic lives right under our noses?

In Max and the Millions Ross Montgomery takes readers in to the tiny world of Floor that the Blues, Reds and Greens call home. They are at war for the control of Floor but little do they know there is something much bigger that could mean the end of their civilisation. Demon is coming and he is bringing his vacuum cleaner! There is one person who can save them and his name is Max. Although Max needs hearing aids to hear it is his ability to lip read that helps him to communicate with these microscopic people and help them when they need it the most.

I absolutely loved Max and the Millions! Ross Montgomery had me captivated from the first page. The story cast a spell on me and I couldn’t stop thinking about what might happen next. There is lots of action, both in Max’s world and in the land of Floor, as the story switches between the points of view. There is also a touch of mystery as you are trying to figure out what happened to the School caretaker, Mr Darrow, and where the people of Floor have come from.

I loved the characters, both good and bad. Max is a loveable character who you routing for the whole way. Mr Pitt on the other hand is a character that you love to hate. He is delightfully horrid and is willing to do anything to get what he wants. It is deliciously satisfying what happens to him in the end.

I was sad to say goodbye to Max, Sasha, Luke and Ivy but I can’t wait to push this book in to the hands of young readers at my school. It’s perfect for fans of M.G. Leonard’s Beetle Boy.

Interview with Leanne Hall

Today I’m excited to be joined by Leanne Hall, author of the incredible This is Shyness and a magical new book for younger readers, Iris and the Tiger.  I have loved all of Leanne’s books and I highly recommend them.  You can read my reviews of This is Shyness, Queen of the Night and Iris and the Tiger here on the blog.  Leanne joins me today to answer my questions about her new book, her inspirations, and writing for kids and teens.  Thanks Leanne!

9781925240795

  • What inspired you to write Iris and the Tiger?

The very beginning came about from joining two dots. I had a random, uninvited phrase running through my head – `Iris, spider, tiger’ – for months, and I didn’t know why! At the same time, I wanted to write a story where Surrealist paintings come to life. I mashed the two ideas together, and Iris was born. I really wanted to write a fun, adventurous, odd adventure for middle readers that focussed on art and friendship.

  • Iris’s Aunt Ursula lives on an estate in Spain. Why did you decide to set the story there?

I needed to send Iris far, far away from Australia. France and Spain both had very strong traditions of surrealism, but a lot of books are set in France! Spanish culture was more of a mystery to me, and I enjoyed researching it. After watching Pan’s Labyrinth I thought the Spanish woods looked truly magical, and slightly scary.

  • Your love of art shines through in the story.  What are your favourite pieces of art?

I do love art! Whenever I’m stuck for ideas I wander around galleries, daydreaming! I have a Pinterest (https://www.pinterest.com/lilymandarin/iris-and-the-tiger/) where I keep all my visual inspiration for Iris and the Tiger. If I had to pick a favourite, today I would go for `Creation of the Birds’ by Remedios Varo. Elna’s owl costume for the Surrealist Dinner Party came from that painting.

  • Can you paint like Ursula and James? 

Sadly, no! Oh, how I wish I could paint and draw, but I really cannot (trust me, I’ve tried).

  • What is one thing that you would like to inherit from your family (i.e. a piece of jewellery, a knick-knack, or a sprawling estate in Spain)? 

Of course, a grand country estate would be great! But I have actually inherited something lovely – the engagement ring box that my grandmother’s ring was in. It’s not worth anything, but it’s very precious to me. I’ve kept it since I was a child, it’s a little piece of history.

  • Your first two books were for young adults.  How did you find it writing for a younger audience?

A lot of fun and, much to my surprise, not very different than writing for young adults. I just had to hold the hormones and salty language!

  • What is it about writing for children and young adults that appeals to you?

I think stories for these age groups are simply more fun, more dramatic, more intense and less pretentious. I like the freedom and immediacy of writing for kids and teens, and I feel I have greater permission to give voice to my craziest thoughts.

  • How do you approach a story? Do you plan it out or just see where an idea takes you?

I never used to be a planner, but after writing three books in very circuitous ways, I am trying to plan a bit better, to save myself all the endless restructuring. I’d say I currently sit halfway between `plotter’ and `pantser’.

  • Who are your favourite authors?

Difficult question for someone who is both a writer and a bookseller! I have just discovered Hilary T Smith, and I adore her writing. I’ll stop there, because otherwise I’ll have to give you a list of my Top 100 favourite authors.

Iris and the Tiger by Leanne Hall

I’m a huge fan of Leanne Hall’s first two YA novels, This is Shyness and Queen of the Night.  They are weird and wonderful stories that have haunted me since I first read them.  When I heard that Leanne had a new novel coming out, aimed at younger readers I was very excited.  I knew she would bring the same magic to a story for younger readers as she did for teens.  Reading the blurb I got a tingle of excitement and when I started reading I knew it was going to be a very special story.  I got completely wrapped up in Iris and the Tiger and I know you will too.

9781925240795Twelve-year-old Iris has been sent to Spain on a mission: to make sure her elderly and unusual aunt, Ursula, leaves her fortune–and her sprawling estate–to Iris’s scheming parents.

But from the moment Iris arrives at Bosque de Nubes, she realises something isn’t quite right. There is an odd feeling around the house, where time moves slowly and Iris’s eyes play tricks on her. While outside, in the wild and untamed forest, a mysterious animal moves through the shadows.

Just what is Aunt Ursula hiding?

But when Iris discovers a painting named Iris and the Tiger, she sets out to uncover the animal’s real identity–putting her life in terrible danger.

I absolutely loved Iris and the Tiger!  Leanne Hall enchanted me with her tale of magic and mystery.  It is a really unique and refreshing story with plenty of excitement to keep you reading.  There is something in this book for everyone – art, magic, mystery and wonderful characters.

Iris’s mission from her parents, to get in her aunt’s will, becomes her search to discover the mysteries of her aunt and her sprawling estate.  From the moment that Iris arrives Aunt Ursula’s estate in Spain, she knows that there are strange things going on. According to her parents her aunt is near death but she looks young and full of energy.  Iris sees things in her aunt’s mansion and out in the grounds that she can’t explain.  The mansion, Bosque de Nubes, is full of surreal paintings by Iris’s Uncle James, who died many years ago.  One of these paintings is called Iris and the Tiger but Iris can’t find it anywhere in the mansion.  She sets out to uncover the mystery of the painting and find the real tiger that she is sure is lurking somewhere on the estate.

Aunt Ursula’s estate is brimming with a mysterious magic.  There are all sorts of weird and wonderful things that Iris and her friend Jordi discover while exploring her aunt’s estate.  There is a monster car, tennis-playing sunflowers, shoes with a mind of their own and a ghostly dog.

I love Leanne’s characters and there are plenty of interesting ones in this story.  Iris is my favourite because she knows there is magic out there and she goes in search of it.  She stands up for what she believes is right, especially when she knows that her parents are wrong.  Aunt Ursula is shrouded in mystery and you just know that there is something weird about the other people who live and work at Bosque de Nubes.

If I hadn’t read one of Leanne’s books before and knew that I loved them, the stunning cover would be enough to make me want to pick it up and read it.  Sandra Eterovic’s cover illustration is the perfect match for the book and really draws the reader in.  I love how each of the paintings on the cover relate to the story.

The ending of the book is so perfect and made me want to go right back to the start and read it again.  Grab a copy of Iris and the Tiger and get lost in Leanne’s magical story.