Lollipop and Grandpa's Back Garden Safari - Penelope Harper and illustrated by Cate James

Back gardens have never been this exciting! Lollipop and Grandpa are intrepid explorers, always on the lookout for the next adventure! It’s often just the two of them against the world in their expeditions, armed only with ham sandwiches and imagination. In this book they set out on an exciting expedition in the back garden where they encounter Chimpan-trees, a Hippo-potta-compost and even a Croco-logus. They’re prepared for action, but will Lollipop and Grandpa make it back home safely?

I was given this book a little while ago and I completely fell in love with it. The story is charming, imaginative and heart-warming. It's great for kids who want to have some adventures in their garden or in the park - instead of a boring patch of grass, they can discover a world full of danger and scary creatures like the Chimpan-trees or the Croco-logus. Any corner of the garden can transform into a scary creature and there really isn't a peaceful place to eat ham sandwiches!

The illustrations by Edinburgh-based illustrator Cate James are simply fantastic. They're very stylish and evocative and play on textures as well as colour. The font is really easy to read and Penelope Harper's story is well-paced, funny and an amazing springboard for children's imagination. 

This is an adorable book for grandparents to read to their own little explorers and this is the start of an amazing picture book series about Lollipop's adventures with her Grandpa. Thumbs up from me!

Lollipop and Grandpa's Back Garden Safari, by Penelope Harper and illustrated by Cate James | 2012 | Phoenix Books | Age 3 to 5 | Gift

Black Arts - Prentice and Weil - Book Launch and thoughts on the book

A couple of weeks ago, I attended the book launch of Black Arts written by Andrew Prentice and Jonathan Weil. We were invited to Nightjar in Old Street and, after getting slightly lost *cough*, I luckily spotted Darren from Book Zone for Boys in front of the entrance!

The bar definitely fitted the atmospheric feel of the book and we were served Edwardian cocktails which were slightly stronger than expected, having a bit of an effect on the crowd. I chatted with the other two bloggers in attendance, Darren and Liz from My Favourite Books, as well as met Conrad Mason (author of The Demon's Watch). There were some speeches from David Fickling (Publisher), Simon Mason (Editor) and the authors. They were all incredibly entertaining and I haven't had such fun at a book launch in a while. It was great to hear from David and Simon what caught their eyes in the story and how much they believed in it. Then the authors talked, explaining how the idea for the book started a little while ago and how it evolved. They also stressed the importance of writing with one voice. They were hilarious!

THE cocktail

The authors during their speech

The cake!


Summary from Amazon:
Elizabethan London: a teeming city of traders and thieves, courtiers and preachers, riff-raff and quality, cut-throats - and demons. When scrunty Jack the 'Judicious Nipper' picks the wrong pocket at the Globe Theatre, he finds himself mixed up in an altogether more dangerous London than he could have imagined - a city in which magic is real and deadly.
An outbreak of devil-worship has led to a wave of anti-witch fervor whipped up by the Elect, a mysterious group of Puritans recognizable from their red-stained right hands, led by the charismatic Nicholas Webb, a growing power at Court. Rumour has it that he wants to purge the city entirely and build a New Jerusalem. Jack has his own reason for hating him: he saw him kill his mother.
Helped by Beth Sharkwell the Thief Princess of Lambeth, Kit Morely the Intelligencer and Dr Dee the Queen's Wizard, Jack pits himself against Webb's Puritans. But this is no straightforward struggle. Things are not as they seem. In fact, ever since his encounter with Webb, there has been something wrong with Jack's vision. He keeps seeing things. Demons.
Black Arts is the first in a series of thrilling time-travel adventures, each bringing the past to glorious life, as Jack and his companions hurtle from one epic struggle to the next.


After talking to both the authors and to Darren who had loved the book, I was really excited about reading it. The story is absolutely amazing, the atmosphere becomes quite nearly a character in itself and the plot is spell-binding. 

The story of Scrunty Jack, nipper extraordinaire turned dangerous witness for the religious groups fighting for the control of London, is amazing. On one side there are the witch, wizards and others, on the other a group of Puritans led by Nicholas Webb. After getting an eye and a hand in contact with a magic powder, Jack can see and feel London under a new light, or rather, see it as it truly is.

I haven't felt so strongly about a book in a long time, it has elements of historical fiction, of social history (Charles Dickens/Victor Hugo style), but also of adventure and magic/horror/fantasy. The story is very rich and it is so brilliantly balanced that you never feel overwhelmed. There's just the right amount of thrill, historical hints and fantasy to keep you reading until the very end.

The story is very dark and I think teens will love it. It definitely reminded me of when I was a teen and devoured horror books all the time (I am still scarred now by some of the stories I read), so it's definitely a must read if you're into this type of books.

Before starting the book, I did wonder how a story written by two people could work and not feel like there were "two" voices talking, but Black Arts doesn't feel that way at all. I can see how the two authors have been able to bring so much to the story without the storytelling being affected. 

The cast of characters is very colourful and they all have a lot of depth so it's quite interesting to start the book with an opinion of one character and finish the book with another. I *adore* Beth Sharkwell, I can't wait to read more about her.

I truly cannot recommend this book enough. If you love dark settings, strong characters and a fascinating story, you will love this book.

Here is the chill-tastic trailer for the book:

The authors have done a great Q and A on the David Fickling Blog, check it out here!

All photos courtesy of Harriet Venn - thank you!!