May 2021 review round-up book covers
Book Reviews

Libraries 4 Schools 2021 Review Round-Up 2

Welcome to our most recent review round-up, where we take a quick look at just some of the books you might like to add to your school or personal bookshelves. And what a great selection we have for you!

First off, we’re zooming into the past, with Francesca Simon’s Two Terrible Vikings.

Two Terrible Vikings Review Round-Up

Well known for the Horrid Henry series, Simon has created two new and equally memorable characters, the Viking twins Hack and Whack, who pride themselves on being “the worst Vikings in the village”.

We follow their non-stop, mischievous escapades as they raid (*cough*steal*cough*), loot, and track a troll, together with their friends Twisty Pants and Dirty Ulf, their pet wolf cub Bitey-Bitey, and the goody-goody Elsa Gold-Hair. Their daring and mischievous escapades are all captured brilliantly in the vibrant illustrations of Steve May. With its fast pace, and quick to read stories, it’s a sure hit for young readers.

Next, we come bang up to date with a tale of technology, or rather the loss of it.

The Day the Screens Went Blank Review Round-Up

Have you ever wondered what would happen if all technology suddenly, inexplicably stopped working?

This is exactly what happens in Danny Wallace’s The Day the Screens Went Blank, rudely interrupting film night one Sunday evening in the Bobcroft household. Everyone assumes it will be sorted by the morning, but it isn’t and even worse – there’s no saying when it will be.

With no internet, mobile signal or Sat-Nav, Stella and her family set off on what becomes a hilarious road trip to rescue Gran.

I found myself eager to see what happens next as the story races along, aided by Gemma Correll’s side-splitting illustrations (particularly of Mr Bobcrofts’s often challenging encounters with the great outdoors!). It also left me wondering at times who exactly the adults were in this situation, her parents, or Stella herself!

As well as being incredibly funny, it also made me realise how much we rely on technology: from knowing the time of day and accessing your calendar, to finding your way around and paying in shops. Quite a sobering thought really!

From technology to machinery, we’re off to the wonderfully fresh and unusual world of Inventia in Harley Hitch and the Iron Forest by Vashti Hardy.

Harley Hitch and the Iron Forest Review Round-Up

It’s the first day of term at Cogworks, and young inventor Harley is determined not to get into trouble. But when new boy Cosmo Willoughby makes her late, her chances don’t look good.

Despite the rocky start, Harley and Cosmo become friends and she takes him into the forest to collect cogs. Iron Forest is very different; here the mechanical parts and tools that keep Inventia going literally grow on trees. But when Harley and Cosmo find an unknown rippling fungus, which quickly spreads and leaves the plants ash white and dying, Inventia and all their technology comes under threat. The fungus must be stopped and Harley decides she’s the one to save the forest…or is she?

Harley’s headstrong nature contrasts well with Cosmo’s more cautious one, making them a great team. I loved the way the characters interact, and the whole concept of technology growing on plants – and her robo-dog Sprocket, of course!

Full of explosions, giant slugs and runaway robots, this frenetic and clever STEM adventure is a pleasure to read, packed with wonderful characters and inventions. I loved illustrator George Ermos’ map of the Valley of Forgetown (always useful!), and particularly liked the ‘Cogworks Botanical Guide to the Iron Forest’ with illustrations of the plants, their Latin names and what they produce. All around, it’s an incredibly inventive read!

We’re back in the real world now for Bethany Walker’s Chocolate Milk, X-Ray Specs and Me, although that doesn’t mean that everything is perfectly normal!

Chocolate Milk X-Ray Specs and Me Review Round-Up

Freddy is a trusting soul, and sees nothing unusual in his parents leaving him with Grandad to go farm sprouts in Outer Castonga, or the fact there is no internet connection there and the postal service is useless. Or the strange lady who moves in next door, or his parents’ “special gardening equipment” in the shed (which he has been told NOT TO TOUCH).

Not a diary in the traditional sense, the story is told via letters and postcards between Freddy and his parents, and emails and texts between people (including Dr Alpha Betts, criminal mastermind) who are taking a great deal of interest in the remaining Spicer household in Bond Lane.

The correspondence is hilarious, especially the emails of the strange lady and Dr Alpha Betts, though I can’t say exactly why without giving too much away! The characters are intriguing in a way that draws you in, and although Freddy is naïve, you can’t help but love him. The book being made up of small “snippets” keeps the story moving at a cracking pace, and the designs of the different types of communications with Jack Noel’s illustrations make it feel visually unique.

Now, if only his parents would get home in time for his birthday and stop the regular delivery of SPROUTS Freddy’s life would be complete…or it would with some decent chocolate milkshake. I think we can all agree on that!

The next book certainly is a diary, and is also the first in a new series.

Accidental Diary of BUG Review Round-Up

Families and friendships come in all shapes and sizes and The Accidental Diary of B.U.G. by Jen Carney covers quite a few! When Billie turns her “incredibly depressing SPELLINGS jotter” into an “incredibly handy STAY-AWAKE DOODLE DIARY”, she opens the door on her funny, thoughtful, and often light-hearted life at school and home.

We get to meet Layla (her 100%#BBF), annoying Patrick North, Janey (the new girl in class), and Billie’s two mums, as well as follow her investigation into a stolen purse.

I loved her ‘Biscuit Laws’ as I know I follow a few myself, and I can’t wait to try out Mum S’s Chocolate Bums (*snigger*) recipe in the back of the book. The book is full of crazy doodles, lists and diagrams, biscuit jokes and much, much more.

Billie is the kind of crazy friend everyone should have, and I really look forward to catching up with her again soon!

When children stay with relatives in books, it’s often a prelude to some mysterious, hilarious or dangerous adventures, and that is certainly the case in this wonderful story by Kelly Ngai and Mikki Lish.

House on Hoarder Hill Review Round-Up

In The House on Hoarder Hill, Hedy and her younger brother Spencer are staying with Grandpa John, a retired stage magician in his slightly spooky house on – you guessed it – Hoarder Hill. The house is full of objects that their Grandpa has collected and ‘locked away for good reason’, which they’re firmly told not to touch.

But when cryptic messages start appearing, Grandpa John’s statement of “no magic is performed in this house, strictly tricks only” rings hollow, and Hedy starts to wonder if their long-missing Grandmother who vanished into thin air could be the source.

The whole story ripples with magic and strange characters who are not always what they seem, such as a talking stag’s head and a talking bear rug, and many other surprising and dangerous things that may well have had good reason to be locked away! Hedy’s bravery in the face of mystery makes her a compelling protagonist.

Spooky without being scary, it’s a whimsical and fantastical romp that can be enjoyed by kids of all ages, though we’d recommend 9 and up.

We’re off to stay with another relative, in this cracking tale that is not for the faint-hearted, and certainly not to be read at Halloween if you live near the sea!

Haunting of Aveline Jones Review Round-Up

It’s October in The Haunting of Aveline Jones, and the eponymous Aveline goes to stay with her prickly Aunt Lilian in the village of Malmouth on the Cornish coast. Although she loves ghost stories, she already finds the near-deserted village, the cry of the gulls and the biting wind creepy enough without the strange scarecrow-like figure leaning against the wall by her aunt’s house.

With nothing to read, Aveline picks up a copy of ‘Ghosts and Phantoms of Dorset, Devon and Cornwall’ in a second-hand bookshop; a book whose previous schoolgirl owner disappeared without a trace 30 years before, and whose last story has been defaced.

So starts Aveline’s investigation into the secrets of the missing schoolgirl, together with Harold, the nephew of the bookshop owner. Aveline and Harold make a good pair, the former being plucky and determined to get to the bottom of the mystery, while the latter is intrigued by the mystery but sceptical of the supernatural.

Phil Hickes constantly ratchets up the tension with an oppressive atmosphere and the feeling that the village hides a sinister secret, and the few illustrations (such as the scarecrow-like figure) are delightfully unsettling. Each chapter opens with a quote from the missing girl’s diary, which adds to the sense of foreboding running through the book. A very creepy and satisfying read!

Finally, we would like to thank Usborne Books for giving us the opportunity to read an advance copy of The House of Serendipity: Sequins and Secrets, the first in new series by Lucy Ivison, due to be published in June.

Sequins and Secrets Review Round-Up

We’re transported into a post-WWI world of parties, glamour and wonderful, sometimes daring clothes, where we meet two girls who want more out of life than their worlds offer them.

Sylvia lives in Serendipity House with her parents the Duke and Duchess. Her life is mapped out for her, but she has no intentions of following the societal conventions of debuting, and settling down to a life of leisure; rather, she wants to design clothes.

Myrtle meanwhile has no choice but to go into service at Serendipity House after her father’s death, and looks to be stuck there for a long time. Although she has very little from her previous life, she does still have her sewing machine, and a stylish Chanel-style dress she made herself.

When Sylvia’s sister’s excitement for the upcoming débutante ball is dampened by her distress at her horrendous ball gown for the event, something needs to be done. Can two girls from very different social classes stitch something together and save the day?

A wonderfully entertaining read with two strong, determined female characters. Unusually, each chapter is told alternately by the girls, enabling us to see the world and what happens from two very different perspectives.

I found the illustrations of the clothes (including some amazingly fine details) by Catharine Collingridge in the proof copy quite enchanting, but I must say I am looking forward to buying a copy in June to see the missing designs!

That’s it for this round-up, we’ve no doubt that something from the list will have caught your eye! If you want to see even more books published in the last year, you can check out our first round-up at And don’t forget to come find us on Twitter at to let us know what you thought of the books in this issue!