Book review: Chase away the winter blues with Macmillan Children’s Books

Put a sparkle into the dark days of February with some exciting winter warmers from Macmillan Children’s Books.

By Pam Norfolk
Monday, 3rd February 2014, 9:00 am

First to hit the road is Hello! London, a push, pull and slide ride through the streets of the capital, followed closely by a trip to Africa for some anarchic monkey antics and then a dark journey into a Hitchcock-style teen thriller.


Stella by Helen Eve

Sign up to our daily newsletter

Is it a romance, is it a psychological thriller, is it a school drama… or perhaps a rare and clever hybrid novel with an addictive brand of darkness simmering at its murky heart?

Decide for yourself if you dare… Helen Eve’s debut teen odyssey, billed as Gossip Girl meets Pretty Little Liars, gives centre stage to the sort of schoolgirl that we all loved to hate… wealthy, powerful, manipulative, popular and oh so dangerous.

‘She’s like the moon… you know how it controls the tide and makes people act weird? That’s Stella. People can’t help themselves around her. She’s a force of nature.’

Seventeen-year-old Stella Hamilton is queen bee in the buzzing hive of Temperley High School. The exclusive mixed boarding school is her realm where everyday rules seem to have gone by the board. Leader of a maliciously exclusive elite group, she is surrounded by adulation, and envied and lusted after in equal measure.

Stella is also in the final stage of a ruthless, five-year campaign to achieve what she believes is her rightful destiny – finding love with her equally popular male equivalent and triumphing as Head Girl on election night.

In complete contrast, new girl Caitlin Clarke has until now lived a quietly conformist life in New York. But her parents’ marriage has collapsed and she has been sent across the Atlantic for an English boarding school education, only to discover that at Temperley, the only important rules are the unwritten ones.

Acceptance means staying on the right side of Stella Hamilton but not everyone is happy to be under the Hamilton rule and fighting the system means treading the same dark path as Stella. If new girl Caitlin puts a foot wrong, it’s a long way down…

There is menace galore in this gripping coming-of-age tale which shines a spectacularly perceptive light on rivalry, relationships, back-stabbing and betrayal, and has more twists and turns than the notoriously rocky road to adulthood.

Eve is a powerful new voice in teen fiction and this creative and compelling thriller, with its strong cast of characters, explosive plot twists and shocking denouement, will leave sassy teenagers chomping at the bit for more.

(Macmillan, paperback, £6.99)

Age 7 plus:

Monkey Madness: The Only Way is Africa by Anna Wilson

No-one does animal magic better than Anna Wilson, author of a what seems like a library of children’s books featuring a whole host of four-legged friends.

From the Puppy Love and Kitten Kaboodle books to the ever-popular Pooch Parlour series, Wilson seems to have a gift for words and a wonderful way with animals.

Not content with domestic breeds, she has now set her sights on some monkey mischief and in the sequel to the acclaimed Monkey Business, we meet up again with best friends Flo and Felix who just can’t help getting caught up in outlandish adventures.

In The Only Way is Africa, we join Felix as he gets ready to go on an African safari. He can’t believe his luck when Dad announces he is going on a business trip to Africa and is taking the family with him.

But Flo, Felix’s best friend in the whole world, is absolutely furious that Felix is going to see so many amazing animals without her. Felix is determined to prove his friendship but Flo sets him a horribly difficult task – he must bring her back a baby monkey!

In Africa, Felix makes a new friend called Mo who reminds him of someone but he just can’t think who. With her brilliant knowledge of African wildlife, Mo assures Felix she will definitely be able to help him catch a baby monkey and win back Flo’s friendship.

After all, when you are surrounded by amazing animals in the middle of the wilderness, what could possibly go wrong?

With Andy Rowland’s quirky illustrations and the chance to go ape in Africa, this is just the kind of monkey business that youngsters can’t resist!

(Macmillan, paperback, £5.99)

My Big Fat Zombie Goldfish: Fins of Fury by Mo O’Hara

Youngsters are falling hook, line and sinker for Mo O’Hara’s tales of My Big Fat Zombie Goldfish, a series which is proving the perfect catch for even the most reluctant readers.

The third book in the series serves up the same madcap mix of comedy, mystery and adventure and there is the added bonus of two laugh-out-loud stories for the price of one.

When Tom tried to save Frankie, his pet goldfish, from certain death at the hands of his evil-scientist big brother Mark, Frankie accidentally became a zombie goldfish with incredible hypnotic powers.

He might be one fierce fish, but he’s a great pet to have on your side when your big brother’s hobbies include wedging you in the dog flap and generally trying to take over the world.

When Tom and his best friend Pradeep take Frankie on a camping adventure, they discover something seriously fishy going on in the woods and, for once, it’s nothing to do with Frankie. Could rumours of an escaped big cat on the loose mean the zombie goldfish has finally met his match?

And in story two, something seriously weird is going on with Mark. He’s actually being nice and as if this wasn’t worrying enough, Frankie has been kidnapped! Can Tom and Pradeep rescue their amazing goldfish before it’s too late?

Lively illustrations and a quirky text design make these books highly accessible and appealing to children learning to read alone. My Big Fat Zombie Goldfish stories are full of exuberant fun and irrepressible humour, and ideal for children who like books with plenty of bold, eye-catching pictures.

(Macmillan, paperback, £4.99)

Age 2 and under:

Hello! London by Marion Billet

Climb aboard, take a seat and let your little ones start exploring the sights, landmarks and wonders of lovely, lively London.

Campbell Books, an imprint of Macmillan Children’s Books, have given their colourful collection of ‘busy books’ a bright, bold new look which connects perfectly with a child’s eye view of the world.

Interactive, innovative and refreshingly contemporary, all these ‘play’ books have a child-centred sense of fun and are gently educational, proving to be just as much at home in the toy box as they are on the bookshelf.

From books on wheels to books that make sounds from a roar to a splat, they are ideal for inquisitive fingers and curious minds. And there is an impressive range of new designs from busy books and noisy books to play books and buggy buddies, and some special books for Easter and Mother’s Day.

Hello! London is a sturdy board book packed with big, busy pictures and plenty of fascinating detail to search out and discuss. Little hands can turn the London Eye, open and close Tower Bridge, take a ride on the Tube and discover who lives at Buckingham Palace.

The push, pull and slide mechanisms are easy to use and allow toddlers to join in all the big city adventures. Whether you are looking for an action-packed virtual tour of London or a way to share memories of a first visit, there could be no better way to learn, look and travel.

(Campbell Books, board book, £9.99)