Book reviews: Aliens, time travel and chicken nuggets keep boredom at bay

Book your kids a busy summer holiday with a sparkling collection of sunshine reads to while away wet days, travel days and those long, hot evenings.

Aliens, time travel and chicken nuggets keep boredom at bay
Aliens, time travel and chicken nuggets keep boredom at bay

Age 8 plus:

Help! I’m an Alien by Jo Franklin

Being different is something to celebrate!

And that’s just what warm-hearted author Jo Franklin does in the first book of what promises to be a hilarious new comedy series featuring a trio of madcap school friends whose antics will have young readers laughing all the way to the last page.

Franklin, who writes funny, feelgood stories for 8-12 year olds, likes to give centre stage to tomboys, geeks and misfits… youngsters who might not normally be the heroes in children’s books.

Daniel Kendal is different – different to the other Kendals anyway. After all, he’s the only one with brown hair and (mud) brown eyes, and what’s more he is taller than his family, his friends and probably everyone else in the entire world. Big sister Jessie, who is ruled by her Random Mood Generator, has made it clear just how different Daniel is by explaining that he is in fact an alien abandoned on Earth and kindly adopted by her parents.

Daniel is confused. Aliens don’t exist – except in movies – and they usually have tentacles, crazy black eyeballs or telescopic necks. What can he do but turn to his two friends, Freddo who loves crisps and Gordon the Geek, for help to return to his home planet. But when things don’t quite go according to plan, Daniel has to decide whether he is an alien or a human after all.

Franklin’s own freewheeling sense of fun transfers perfectly to the page, making this anarchic, crazy, hilarious adventure one of the most entertaining books you will read this year.

Infused with the warmth of friendship and families, this brilliant comedy act is just the opener for what promises to be a middle grade must-read series.

(Troika, paperback, £6.99)


The Potion Diaries: Royal Tour by Amy Alward

A classic-style fairy tale with a delicious modern twist… Amy Alward is back with the second book in her magical The Potion Diaries teen adventure series.

Old and new are in perfect harmony in these gorgeous stories about a girl who has the powers of an ancient alchemist and must mix together special potions to solve mysteries and undertake life-saving missions.

Since winning the Hunt and saving her new BFF, Princess Evelyn, Sam Kemi has been royally busy. But with TV interviews, working in her family’s potion store and preparing to join Evelyn on her world tour, Sam still hasn’t had time for a real date with Zain, her new boyfriend and former rival. And now someone has tampered with Sam’s grandad’s mind and she is the only one who can unlock his memories – memories that contain the key to the most powerful potion in the world and one which people would kill for. So Sam must swap dresses, princes and palaces for dragons, centaurs and caves in her quest to save her grandad (and everyone else)…

Refreshingly different and packed with excitement, this is nostalgic romance and adventure with an enchanting twist.

(Simon & Schuster, paperback, £7.99)

Age 11 plus:

Model Under Cover: Dressed to Kill by Carina Axelsson

High fashion and high drama are the talk of the town again as undercover detective and model Axelle Anderson gets to work on a deadly catwalk catastrophe.

Axelle, who doubles as a top model and secret stylish sleuth, is the glittering, glamorous creation of real-life former catwalk model Carina Axelsson who is half-Swedish and half-Mexican and grew up in California.

Dressed to Kill is the fourth book in this fashionably fabulous series which features adventures in the world of lip-gloss, sky-high heels and bitchy back-stabbing.

The last thing hot new model Axelle expects to find at a photo shoot is a top stylist dead on set. But as a high-heeled, runway-ready secret sleuth, she is just the girl to solve the mystery of who poisoned Elisabeta. With gorgeous Sebastian by her side, Axelle plunges into a world of dirty rumours, sparkling jewels and high-speed chases to track a ruthless killer. Could this be Axelle’s most dangerous investigation yet?

Fun, fashion and foul deeds…

(Usborne, paperback, £6.99)

Age 9 plus:

Through the Mirror Door by Sarah Baker

Get ready to escape… into a thrilling mystery that looks set to become a modern classic.

Sarah Baker’s remarkable time-slip debut novel is a seductive blend of romance, intrigue and the supernatural, moving between the mystique of the past and the prosaic realities of contemporary life, and delivering a cracking adventure story.

Set in a crumbling French holiday home and harnessing the exciting atmosphere of legendary books like The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, Through the Mirror Door conjures up an amazing story world filled with danger, memorable characters and breathtaking action.

Since a terrible accident, orphaned Angela has been alone and living in care. When her long-lost aunt and uncle, along with cousins Kitty and Fliss, invite her to join them on a holiday in France she is immediately suspicious. They have never visited her once in the home even though she was supposed to go and live with them, so why have they turned up out of the blue?

Angela is told that this is her chance to be part of a family again, only if she promises to behave herself. But in France, secrets lie in the walls of Maison de Noyer and the forbidden rooms draw Angela into strange and frightening visions. Soon night-time footsteps, flickering candlelight and shadows in windows lead her to Julien, a sick boy who desperately needs her help. To save him Angela must discover the truth about what happened in the house all those years ago… and face the terrible secret of her own past.

An inspiring tale of survival, friendship and love, this is an enchanting debut from an exciting new children’s author.

(Catnip, paperback, £6.99)

Age 9 plus:

The Chicken Nugget Ambush by Mark Lowery

Food-obsessed Roman Garstang is back and is hungry for more fun!

The Chicken Nugget Ambush is the second laughter-packed Roman Garstang Disaster from born-and-bred Prestonian Mark Lowery who now lives and teaches in Cambridge, and is fast becoming a much-loved children’s author with his funny, anarchic books.

With its hilarious schoolboy one-liners, madcap antics and irreverent humour, this series dishes up lots of dodgy jam doughnuts and a huge helping of giggles.

Roman has a sweet tooth and lives for jam doughnuts but now his mum has banned him from eating them. Disaster! A class trip to Farm View outdoor survival centre is one thing, but can Roman Garstang survive a chicken nugget-only diet? There are only three issues: 1. With Darren Gamble as his new ‘BFF’ how can Roman make friends with funny, cool girl Vanya? 2. Roman will be sharing a tent with Kevin, otherwise known as ‘The Pukelear Missile,’ for three whole days. 3. Will he find a way round his mum’s instructions for a strict chicken nugget-only diet? It’s time to put his new survival skills to the test…

Side-splitting escapades from the master of revels…

(Piccadilly Press, paperback, £5.99)

Age 9 plus:

The King’s Revenge by Philip Womack

The final book in Philip Womack’s exhilarating The Darkening Path trilogy reaches its thrilling conclusion in The King’s Revenge.

This acclaimed fantasy series, which took Robert Browning’s poem Childe Roland To The Dark Tower Came as its starting point, has brought us haunting adventures exploring love, courage, fear and friendship.

Simon and Flora are in the land of the Broken King in search of their siblings but nothing in this landscape is what it seems. Now that the Broken King’s trap has been sprung, nobody can pass between the three worlds and everything is beginning to decay. Simon and Flora are facing a dangerous journey that will test them to their limits. They must travel to the home of the Threefold Goddess but perils beset them on all sides. Will they be able to reach her, discover what has gone wrong and save all three worlds from dying?

Using the age-old traditions of good and evil, cause and consequence, trial and retribution, Womack uses his classical knowledge in what has been a truly magical series which explores powerful themes and is full of unforgettable and spectacular visual imagery.

(Troika, paperback, £6.99)

Age 9 plus:

A Message to the Sea by Alex Shearer

Anyone could send a message but when the sea started writing back to you, that was special… and even a little terrifying.

Alex Shearer’s moving story of love, grief, hope and miracles follows one boy’s battle to come to terms with the death of his father.

It's been a year since Tom Pellow’s dad was lost at sea. He was a sailor and Tom also finds himself drawn to the vast ocean… it holds so many possibilities, dangers and secrets. After hearing a song on the radio, Tom decides to write a message in a bottle and throw it out into the sea, to ‘cast his bread upon the waters.’

He doesn’t really expect to hear back but Tom keeps writing anyway, sending messages out on the tide and searching the waves for a reply. One day he finds one. It’s a letter that seems to be from a ghost, deep down in Davy Jones’ Locker, and the writer has a shocking answer to Tom’s question. But if Tom’s dad didn’t perish at sea, where is he?

Shearer handles a difficult, poignant topic with sensitivity, warmth and a deep understanding of a child’s bewilderment and need for answers.

(Piccadilly Press, paperback, £6.99)

Age 9 plus:

The Hero’s Tomb by Conrad Mason

The ever-inventive Conrad Mason’s rip-roaring fantasy adventure series, The Tales of Fayt, hits a new high in a magical odyssey featuring piratical goblins, bizarre creatures and some unlikely heroes.

The last place any creature from Port Fayt would want to visit is Azurmouth, capital city of the League of Light, sworn enemies of the goblins, elves and trolls of Fayt. But that’s where Joseph Grubb – half-boy, half-goblin – is heading, in search of his father. All he has with him is his native wit… and a wooden spoon.

Soon the Demon’s Watch are in hot pursuit, anxious to bring back their friend, and eager to sort out one or two other bits of unfinished business. However, no one is prepared for the sheer wickedness of Azurmouth, a gang of shapeshifters takes a fancy to Jospeh’s wooden spoon and Shady Jeb is discovered running a griffin bile farm. And up at the House of Light, the Duke of Garran plots to exterminate demon spawn everywhere. The stage is set for a thrilling, and totally unexpected, finale at the Hero’s Tomb…

Mason’s soaring imagination takes flight in this spectacular last chapter of what has been a terrific series. Brimming with drama, atmosphere, heroics and dazzling characters, this is entertaining children’s fiction at its very best.

(David Fickling Books, paperback, £7.99)

Age 7 plus:

Bunny vs Monkey: Book 3 by Jamie Smart

On your marks, get set, go… Bunny and Monkey are back, and chaos is guaranteed!

The Phoenix Presents series, published by David Fickling in partnership with The Phoenix comic, is going from strength to strength and much of that success is due to the genius of the extraordinarily talented illustrator Jamie Smart whose ingenious, comic strip Bunny vs Monkey books are causing giant laughter waves.

Book Three sees the arch rivals on a fun-filled foray into the woods where Bunny and his friends are battling Monkey in increasingly crazy and hilarious ways.

It’s quiet in the woods today and isn’t it lovely? But what’s that noise… wham, ker-thwump! It’s Bunny and Monkey fighting with all sorts of crazy inventions… The Helliphant, The Stench, A Carrot. And now something else has arrived in the woods, something new and it’s called ‘hew-mans’…

Hilariously comical and ingeniously addictive, these high-energy stories were just made for fidgety readers who like their books to come with plenty of pictures and loads of laughs. Madcap antics for a new generation of action kids.

(David Fickling Books, paperback, £7.99)

Age 7 plus:

Lost Tales by Adam Murphy

And also from the much-loved Phoenix Presents series comes a glittering comic strip collection of wondrous tales from around the world.

Youngsters will love delving in these mesmerising, forgotten folk tales from around the world, all beautifully illustrated by the highly accomplished comics artist Adam Murphy.

In the land of the Mi’kmaq, there lived an invisible warrior who longed to be seen, in the Punjab, there lived a poor hermit who had repudiated riches and in Brazil, there lived a lonely princess who yearned for a playmate.

From every corner of the world, Lost Tales presents a vivid array of enchanting myths, fables and legends that are centuries old but have been brought back to life through the magic of comic-style storytelling.

With its compelling narrative and inspirational illustrations, this is the ideal gift for readers young and old.

(David Fickling Books, paperback, £8.99)

Age 7 plus:

They Didn't Teach THIS in Worm School! by Simone Lia

Little ones will be wriggling with laughter when they dig into this quirky, comical story about a worm on a rollercoaster journey of survival.

Marcus is a worm. He likes the colour brown and he likes mud because it’s brown. He also likes digging holes in the mud-brown earth. Laurence is a scruffy, fat bird who looks like a chicken but thinks he’s a flamingo. Laurence wants to gobble up Marcus for breakfast, but the worm surprises him by greeting him with the words ‘Good morning!’

Marcus tries to keep the conversation going to avoid being eaten and soon it is going in a very unexpected direction. The thing is Laurence seems to think he’s a flamingo (and Marcus knows he is definitely NOT) and soon Marcus is on a journey to Africa where Laurence believes he can finally be happy.

Packed with brilliantly offbeat illustrations, comic artists Lia’s tale of soaring adventure, wily tricks and unlikely friendship is just made for adventure-loving kids.

(Walker Books, hardback, £8.99)

Age 3 plus:

The Greedy Goat by Petr Horácek

Well I’ll eat my hat… here’s a naughty goat who finally bites off more than she can chew!

Award-winning author and illustrator Petr Horácek works his special animal magic on this beautiful picture book story of a greedy little goat with an irresistible taste for mischief.

Goat has had enough of eating grass. She wants to try something different so she has a nibble at the dog’s food, a slurp of the pig’s potatoes, a bite of a pair of shoes and even a munch at the farmer’s pants. But things go terribly wrong and when she falls ill, Goat learns the hard way that maybe goats aren’t supposed to eat everything!

Horácek really knows how to put the fun into storytelling but he also knows how to touch our hearts and the adorable, cautionary tale of greedy Goat has a clever message hidden among the seductive words and pictures.

(Walker Books, hardback, £11.99)