Book reviews: Twenties glamour, a fashion fable and a mixed-up mollusc

A Sky Painted Gold by Laura Wood
A Sky Painted Gold by Laura Wood

Get lost in a dreamy Cornish romance, visit an off-the-wall boutique, dive into a comical comic collection, and help an octopus find a new pair of underpants in a sunshine collection of summer books for children.

Age 13 plus:

A Sky Painted Gold by Laura Wood

These long summer nights are the perfect time to lose yourself – and your heart – in the dreamlike landscape of Laura Wood’s gorgeous debut novel… a coming-of-age romance inspired by F. Scott Fitzgerald’s 1920s bestseller The Great Gatsby.

Wood, an academic, writer and winner of the Montegrappa Scholastic Prize for New Children's Writing, is a fan of both Georgette Heyer’s ultra-romantic Regency novels and the county of Cornwall, and both these influences shine through this atmospheric and excitingly glamorous story.

Growing up in her sleepy Cornish village in 1929 and dreaming of being a writer, sixteen-year-old Lou Trevelyan has always wondered about the grand, sprawling Cardew House built on an island which is separated from the mainland by a cobbled causeway.

The Georgian mansion has stood empty, abandoned and sadly neglected for years but after finding a broken window latch, Lou has been secretly wandering through its faded rooms, reading books from the dusty library and daydreaming about what it would be like if it was full of people.

Then, out of the blue, the owners of the house arrive for the summer – the handsome, dashing brother and sister, Robert and Caitlin Cardew. There are whispers in the village about Robert’s wild lifestyle and his glittering band of bright young things, and when she finally meets the siblings, Lou is suddenly swept off her feet and into a world of moonlit cocktail parties and glamour beyond her wildest dreams.

But as she grows closer to Robert and Caitlin, Lou must decide whether she is abandoning her own ambitions… and if there are dark secrets lurking at the heart of the golden Cardew family?

Wood brings an almost elegiac elegance to this beautifully written and heart-meltingly romantic story which stars a handsome but flawed hero and a lonely, spirited teenage girl, grounded in her middle-class background but eager to fly to higher and more sophisticated ground.

There is so much to enjoy in this seductive, magical story… a stunning backdrop, an enchanting cast of characters, a warm friendship between Lou and Caitlin, and a gorgeous love affair that unfolds on a slow but fiery fuse.

A timeless tale of young love…

(Scholastic, paperback, £7.99)

Age 9 plus:

The Polka Dot Shop by Laurel Remington

Lawyer-cum-author Laurel Remington, originally from California, tickled everybody’s taste buds with her Secret Cooking Club novels, a delicious concoction of cupcakes, cool blogging adventures and a sprinkling of first love.

And now this clever writer – with her natural empathy for young people and contemporary family issues – has stitched together another fabulous story with an entertaining focus on fashion, friendship and first crushes.

When Andy’s school announces a new no-uniform policy, her classmates are over the moon… but her heart sinks. All she wants is to dress like everyone else, but her mum is the owner of Eliza’s Emporium, a rundown and quirky vintage boutique so she’s bound to look – well – different.

And true to form, mum’s idea of Andy’s perfect school outfit is a pink Hello Kitty T-shirt with the rubbery white stuff on the face peeling off, a pair of black leggings ten centimetres short of Lou’s ankles and a pink jacket made of a fake fur that feels like ‘matted Barbie Doll hair.’

But when Andy finds a gorgeous bag full of designer goodies in the shop’s storeroom and her mum heads off to visit relatives, she suddenly has the chance to make some eye-catching changes. Can she learn to actually love vintage, and help transform her mum’s shop into something truly special?

The Polka Dot Shop is a dream read for all young fashionistas with clothes of every colour and style, designer labels, and some truly outrageous outfits taking centre stage in a fun and well-designed story that shows how real makeovers go so much deeper than clothes.

With a delightfully authentic cast of characters, some gritty real-life issues, and a fun, engaging and thoughtful storyline, The Polka Dot Shop looks set to be the perfect fit for middle-grade readers.

(Chicken House Books, paperback, £6.99)

Age 8 plus:

The Phoenix Colossal Comics Collection: Volume 1

Dive into this raucous collection of thrilling, exhilarating and laugh-out-loud funny comics from everybody’s favourite publication… The Phoenix.

A collection of various comics taken from issues of The Phoenix comic, this brilliant compendium gathers together humorous, informative, action-packed and brain-teasing stories in one magical, mega-comic book with 200 pages and a bounty of fantastic colour illustrations.

The increasingly successful The Phoenix Presents series is published by David Fickling Books in partnership with The Phoenix comic and offers fantastic, action-packed stories from epic tales to one-off adventures.

And The Phoenix Colossal Comics Collection is a sort of book-style buffet table, allowing kids to dip in and enjoy a taster of in-house favourites like Bunny vs. Monkey, Evil Emperor Penguin, Squid Squad, Looshkin and Trailblazers which feature among the many super-charged and super-funny comic strips.

They are the work of top Phoenix authors like Chris Riddell, Jamie Smart, Jess Bradley, Laura Ellen Anderson, Robert Deas, Joe List and Dan Boultwood.

This inspired collection provides the unique experience of reading a great comic or magazine... but with loads more material and in overdrive. So get ready for an edge-of-the-seat intergalactic adventure, a penguin mastermind set on world domination, the maddest, most hilarious cat in the world… and a very special carrot!

(David Fickling Books, paperback, £9.99)

Age 5 plus:

Press-Out and Decorate: Flamingos, Llamas & Other Cool Things Illustrated by Kate McLelland

Keep your home ‘cool’ this some summer with a fun and fashionable activity book brimming with colour and magic.

This innovative and exciting board book features press-out decorations in the shape of everybody’s hot favourites… flamingos, llamas, pineapples and cacti.

Nosy Crow’s spiral-bound board book, illustrated with Kate McLelland’s fabulously detailed line drawings, features 20 stunning designs, each intricately decorated with bright turquoise foil on every page and ideal for children of all ages to decorate.

Simply press out each piece, colour it in if the fancy takes you, and then slot them together to make super cool llamas, tropical flamingos, and on-trend cacti and pineapples.

Perfect for adorning any part of your home, these sparkling decorations are simple to take apart and press back into the book for easy storage, ensuring that they will give pleasure for years to come.

Ideal for children to make on their own, or as a shared project with parents, these eye-catching, decorations will put creative youngsters in turquoise blue heaven!

(Nosy Crow, hardback, £9.99)

Age 3 plus:

The Girls by Lauren Ace and Jenny Løvlie

After ten years in publishing, award-winning publicist Lauren Ace is starting a new chapter and turning her talents to writing her own stories!

And this extra special debut picture book packs a resonant and inspirational message for youngsters just embarking on the adventure of life and with beautiful, heartfelt illustrations by Jenny Løvlie to complete the picture, The Girls is a work of words and art.

We are told that behind every successful woman is a tribe of women who have her back. They are the ones that pick each other up when they have fallen down, the ones that tell you anything is possible. They are friends, partners, role models and family.

And when four very different little girls – Sasha, Lottie, Alice and Leela – meet under an apple tree, they form an unshakable bond that grows as they their share secrets, dreams, worries and triumphs.

Of course, there are times when jokes and laughter turn to cross words and tears but they know how to say sorry and learn from the falling out. As the years pass, the girls become teenagers, falling in love and sharing new experiences, but they remain rooted together. As they lay the foundations of their future, they work, marry and even move away but whatever lies ahead, they know they will always be the best of friends.

The Girls is a cleverly conceived and quietly powerful book which champions female friendship in a beautiful, poignant and original way, inviting little ones to grow with the characters, and showing the passage of time as they mature from four typical little girls into four strong, resourceful women.

Løvlie’s lovingly imagined illustrations are fresh and appealing and are the perfect match for Ace’s warm and wise words, creating a stunning harmony between words and pictures, and an outstanding picture book.

(Caterpillar Books, hardback, £11.99)

Age 3 plus:

Octopants by Suzy Senior and Claire Powell

Everything is going swimmingly for a little octopus until he tries to find a pair of underpants that fit!

Youngsters will be laughing at the deep end as they follow the adventures and misadventures of a mixed-up, muddled-up mollusc in a joyously playful picture book from the perfect pairing of author Suzy Senior and illustrator Claire Powell.

The perfect pants are hard to find for someone shaped like an octopus. Could a pair of Octopants be just what he needs? Why not dive in and see? There are bobble hats for barnacles, all-in-ones for urchins, slipper-socks for eels and even water wings for whales... will Octopus ever find a pair of pants to fit, or will he finally know his legs from his arms?

Senior has a wonderful way with words and her funny, exuberant and clever rhyming romp leaps into glorious life alongside Powell’s vibrant, vivid and superbly colourful cartoon-style illustrations.

Underwater underwear doesn’t have to be pants!

(Little Tiger Press, hardback, £10.99)

Age 3 plus:

Supertato: Veggies in the Valley of Doom by Sue Hendra and Paul Linnet

Supertato and his gang of veggies pals are off on a treasure hunt but danger is always at boiling point for the most a-peeling veg in the supermarket!

Supertato, the superhero potato with his eyes firmly fixed on the bad guys, is now one of our most popular picture book stars, with the first title in the series selling over 75,000 copies and kids racing to get their hands on his tasty, mishmash adventures.

The chippy hero’s comical, calorie-consuming adventures amongst fridges, friends and foes are cooked to perfection by Sue Hendra and Paul Linnet, the formidable duo who created Barry the Fish with Fingers, Norman the Slug with the Silly Shell and Nobot the Robot with No Bottom.

In their latest adventure, a night-time game of hide-and-seek turns into an epic treasure hunt when Supertato and the veggies face fearsome foes, the impassable Cactus Canyon and the dangerous Valley of Doom. Will our heroes ever make it through a perilous quicksand to treasure aisle… and will their arch enemy, Evil Pea, have the last laugh?

Big, bold and bright illustrations help this funny, fast-moving and deliciously wicked adventure come to the boil as Supertato plays out of his skin when the chips are down only to find that Evil Pea has popped up with the biggest surprise of the day!

One serving of Supertato always leaves little ones hungry for more…

(Simon & Schuster, paperback, £6.99)

Age 3 plus:

Blue Monster Wants It All! by Jeanne Willis and Jenni Desmond

Having everything you want isn’t all that it’s cracked up to be… just ask this little blue monster!

Jeanne Willis and Jenni Desmond, the top team that created the award-winning picture book The First Slodge, go for broke in this clever, cautionary tale about a spoilt little monster who learns the hard way that money can’t buy you happiness.

What do you get for the monster who has everything? Blue Monster loves new things, so much so that he soon tires of his old mum, old dad and old baby sister and sets of with a bag of money from his old granny to start a new life. Before long, the monster who hates anything old hat has bought a fancy new hat, a shiny submarine, a fabulous funfair and a paradise island all of his own. But Blue Monster is still not happy! So just what will it take for him to realise there are some things that money can’t buy?

This brilliant book is a fun, original and dynamic way to introduce little ones to the dangers of materialism and to help them understand the priceless value of family love and affection.

Desmond’s fantastic gallery of illustrations, which range from high energy to soulfully evocative, are paired with a delightfully mischievous story from Willis to create an entertaining and educational picture book which celebrates the joys of family and friendship.

A classy and classic story that is perfect for school, nursery or home.

(Little Tiger Press, paperback, £7.99)