The Trumblebuggins: a book for getting boys to read?

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This evening, I was talking to some friends about the danger of young boys being “reluctant readers”. We were discussing children’s books over a beef and beetroot stew, lovingly (if somewhat messily) prepared by the Falcon Berger elves.

After the meal, one of my friends mentioned that she thought The Trumblebuggins - one of our earlier titles – was a good book for getting boys to read, due to the humour and subject matter (namely, naughty children and their hijinks at school).  The Trumblebuggins was our second title, very much in the same vein as Roald Dahl and David Walliams.  Uniquely for a Falcon Berger title, it has anarchic illustrations peppered throughout (drawn, in fact, by the same elves who put the stew together).

This seems like a good time to mention The Trumblebuggins, because the author – Harry Ladd – is putting the finishing touches to the manuscript for a sequel, called The Trumblebuggins Meet Their Match.

It occurred to me that we have a lovely website for the first book, where you can learn all about the terrible Trumblebuggins children – including newspaper cuttings and hair-raising school reports – which we haven’t previously linked to. If you’re interested and want to learn more, it’s right here.

To welcome in the New Year, an update from Philip Threadneedle

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Happy New Year everyone! Click here to read the latest from the blog of Philip Threadneedle. In this update, he talks about his latest book – the third in his series of space adventure stories – and a planned fourth instalment called Race to Planet Earth, which will conclude the riproaring adventure.

$0.99 e-book – must-have for Potter fans!

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Milton Strange and the Astral Projector, a must for Harry Potter fans

Well, we think it’s a must-have – but we might be biased. Still, for less than the price of a cheese sandwich, why not take a gamble?

Milton doesn’t know much about Castle Cryptic, but finds himself drawn there all the same.

He thinks it’s a summer camp for gifted children. Instead, it’s a world of spells and riddles, run by magicians who work to protect us all. Their allies include Sir Marmaduke Wax – who runs a secret library in Oxford – and the Knights of the Moonlit Chamber, who beam themselves through space and time using the radio telescopes at Jodrell Bank.

Becoming a junior researcher there, Milton spends much of his time in a dark projector room, viewing strange scenes from nowhere on Earth. At the same time, his friend Margaret learns how to talk to trees – and the trees talk back. They inform her of a heinous plot in another world, with dire consequences for our own. In the wake of this revelation, Milton and his new friends go up against sorcerers and saboteurs, hoping to avert disaster before it’s too late…

Milton Strange and the Astral Projector is now available for Kindle, at the recession-busting price of 99 cents.

New website!

We’ve been working on a new website which went live today, and we hope that you find it as stylish as we do! Check out falconberger.com to see the new design. We’ll soon be redirecting the old site to that one, and also (when we get chance) changing the layout and design of this WordPress blog to give us a more coherent web presence.

In other news, at the request of the author, we’ve made some very light changes to the text of The Astronaut’s Apprentice. Think of it as a sort of “1.5th Edition”. We’re hoping to get book three of that series to market in late August 2013.

On a similar note, I know that Harry Ladd has also been busy writing his sequel to The Trumblebuggins, but that will take longer to publish as it needs to be illustrated throughout.

That’s all for now. Hope you’re all well!

Important information about City of Meteors by Philip Threadneedle

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We’ve just realised that, due to an embarrassing admin error at Falcon Berger Towers, some copies of City of Meteors have been sold without the last minute corrections that were made during proof-reading.

The affected copies contain a small number of typos, and are missing a couple of last minute tweaks that the author wanted to make to the dialogue.

A surprising number of novels make it to press with errors (including books by big name authors!), but we’re obviously still annoyed with ourselves. Luckily, our books are print-on-demand titles, so it’s not like we printed hundreds of copies with the mistakes! City of Meteors is currently unavailable while we correct the errors and send new files to the printer.

If you want to check yours, have a look at page 161. Among other things, the affected copies have she goaned in annoyance rather than she groaned.

We strongly recommend you hold onto these copies, as they may be worth something one day!

Also, rest assured we will triple check book three in the series – which is called The Richest Man on Mars - before it goes to press later this year.

New covers for The Astronaut’s Apprentice!

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We’ve decided to bite the bullet. We’re taking the two Astronaut’s Apprentice books off the market for a short period, in order to re-release them with new and (we hope you’ll agree) improved covers. The turnaround is likely to be a couple of weeks.

For those who are interested, this is why. For starters, we do all our design work in house, and we think we’ve just improved a bit since 2010. When City of Meteors was being developed, we felt hamstrung by the fact that we had to match the established style of The Astronaut’s Apprentice. Part of the problem is, we wanted a different colour for each title, but suitable colours weren’t exactly jumping out at us. Because the elements (UFOs, asteroids, etc.) don’t have outlines – just a very light drop shadow – you have to find a shade that a) contrasts strongly enough with everything else, but b) is neutral enough not to clash horribly with anything, c) fits the muted theme of the series, and d) is actually a nice colour. It turns out that it’s surprisingly difficult to find colours like that, and the problem only got worse with The Richest Man on Mars. We got a provisional cover ready, but deep down we weren’t that happy with it.

The idea behind the original Astronaut’s Apprentice cover was to make it look like everything was a paper cutout (the end result didn’t quite match that vision, partly because we ended up with glossier stock than planned). We’ve decided to go for something completely different this time. So, without further ado – and bearing in mind that these might change when we see the proofs – here are the new covers for the series so far, including the forthcoming third book.

A new cover for The Astronaut's Apprentice

A new cover for City of Meteors

The cover for The Richest Man on Mars

The original covers are still available to view down the left hand side of this blog. What do you think? Are these the big improvement we hope they are…?

Milton Strange, and other plans for early 2013

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I’m going to keep this short – it’s nearly bedtime after all – but today is a very exciting day. I’m pleased to announce that the first quarter of 2013 will see the publication of Milton Strange and the Astral Projector, by first time author “Merlin” Mackinnon, as a lush Falcon Berger paperback. This is a fast-paced (but incredibly detailed) fantasy novel, set at a magical research facility on the coast of England.

The following image shows what the cover will probably look like. As with our previous book covers and illustrations, it was made using the brilliant – and free – Inkscape software.

Cover of Milton Strange and the Astral Projector

Cover may be changed before publication

The premise is that our world is one of many that make up the Multiverse. Of the others, some are friendly and some are hostile, but all can be seen and even visited using a magical invention called the Astral Projector.

That isn’t our only plan for 2013. A brand new space adventure for Bradley and Grandpa – book three of this growing series by Philip Threadneedle – is expected in late February. It’s called The Richest Man on Mars, and we think it’s the best one yet.

Lastly, we’re going to be releasing Kindle editions of our existing catalogue, starting with The Trumblebuggins by Harry Ladd.

That’s all for tonight. Hope you’re enjoying 2013!

Book review: BEAVER TOWERS by Nigel Hinton ★★★★★

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This is going to be a blast-from-the-past style review.

Originally, Beaver Towers was a trilogy of books published during the Eighties. We got Beaver Towers, The Witch’s Revenge, and Run to Beaver Towers – which, in a baffling act of rebranding, was later reprinted as the much duller-sounding Beaver Towers: The Dangerous Journey.

These books were very dear to me – among my all-time favourites, in fact – and over a decade later, Nigel Hinton added a fourth book to the series, which was called Beaver Towers: The Dark Dream (an even worse and more boring name, in my opinion, than The Dangerous Journey). I haven’t read that one, but I’m craving a re-read of the original three, and can feel an Amazon “quadruple whammy” coming on!

The subject of this review is the original novel, simply titled Beaver Towers. For me, it’s one of the very best fantasy novels for the under nines. It has all the elements you could hope for. Firstly, it has a brilliant “set-up”, transporting the hero (and the reader) from the real world to one of fantasy. Philip is flown across the sea by a dragon kite, which has been summoned by a quirky old beaver sorcerer called Mr Edgar. It may sound silly, but in the author’s capable hands – and bearing in mind the tender years of the target audience – it works almost as well as a certain more famous wardrobe!

The book also has talking animals (including the very hilarious Baby B) and a brilliant villain called Oyin. The story builds to a tense confrontation, which thrilled me as a child and is bound to thrill children today. It’s just over a hundred pages long, so even reluctant readers may get drawn in and manage to finish it.

It’s brilliant to see that these books are still in print. Recommended!

Book review: GANGSTA GRANNY by David Walliams ★★★★

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(Originally, I was going to have a separate blog to post book reviews, but the idea never really took off. So, from time to time, I’m going to pick a book that I read recently and give it a full five star review here. The books won’t necessarily be new releases because I’m just going to follow my reading habits. Hopefully the reviews will still be of interest. Enjoy!)

Kudos to David Walliams for this fresh, funny book!

Style-wise, it channels a lot of Roald Dahl – but instead of wallowing in nostalgia, the author brings the format bang up to date, name-checking (or spoofing) modern British staples like Strictly Come Dancing, Heat magazine, “nail technicians”, and real life crime books. The result is a delightful blend of old and new: comforting and fresh at the same time.

To give a brief overview of the story, Ben hates having to visit his smelly, cabbage-obsessed Granny. All that changes when he discovers that she used to be an international jewel thief. Fascinated by her stories, he collaborates with her on a plot to pull off the most daring heist of all time.

Although it’s very good, it’s not quite perfect. The pace seems slightly slow at the beginning; there’s a major-seeming subplot about dancing (with lots of comic potential) that ultimately gets rushed out of the way; and while the flatulence humour is a fine example of the form, it won’t appeal to everyone.

However, I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend this. Without wanting to ruin the surprise, it also has an unexpected (but well-executed) bittersweet depth to it.

All in all, Gangsta Granny is a nice little gem (with spot-on illustrations from veteran Tony Ross) and I expect it to delight children and parents alike.

Children’s books about witches (part three)

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In the excitement of getting (and blogging about!) our books in Waterstones, I completely forgot that I’d started a roundup of kids’ books about witches. So, nine months late, here’s part three.

First of all, I want to talk about a series that will (I think) be familiar to many Brits of my age – but not necessarily in print form! Simon and the Witch by Margaret Stuart Barry is about an unlikely pair of friends: a sensible schoolboy and a misbehaving witch. Despite her advanced years, the witch is clearly the more immature of the two. For instance, when she’s hospitalised with German measles, she commandeers the trolleys and gets the patients to compete in races.

She’s also an incurable show-off. When she makes the English Channel vanish, she only agrees to make it reappear on the proviso that she will be featured in the evening news. She also gatecrashes a Hallowe’en party with a posse of relatives, so they can introduce the fake witches to real magic.

The series stretched to at least eight books that I know of, including my own favourite, The Witch V.I.P.  In that late entry, the Witch took over Simon’s school, sending all the teachers home and ordering lunch at ten thirty.

Like many of my childhood favourites, Simon and the Witch is very episodic. Because of that, the stories transferred very well to the small screen. In 1985, a chapter was adapted for a BBC anthology series called Up Our Street - and two years later, Simon and the Witch got a series of their own, totalling twenty-five episodes.

I don’t have very clear memories of the TV show – but I do remember having a couple of the paperbacks, and they were very well-thumbed editions indeed! I hope fans of the show checked out the books, because I know that they gave me a lot of pleasure.

The second book I want to talk about is from a later era. The Witch Trade, by Michael Molloy, was published in 2001. It was one of the books I bought when I was rekindling my love of children’s literature. I made my choice based purely on the magical-sounding names in the blurb on the back: Captain Starlight – Benbow the albatross – and Sir Chadwick Street, flamboyant Master of the Light Witches!

The story opens in the seaside town of Speller. The only children there are Abby, who lives with her aunt and uncle, and her friend Spike, who was found abandoned on the beach as a baby. Their adventure starts when they learn that Speller is populated by Sea Witches, and that all the other children were kidnapped by evil Night Witches. Worse, the Night Witches have begun to devise a powerful weapon, which – the heroes fear – could prove decisive in their long-standing rivalry.

Unfortunately, the Illustrious Order of Light Witches aren’t the most dynamic bunch of heroes, as we learn at one of their quarterly meetings.

Excellent. First item on the agenda: financial report.”

The treasurer stood up and said, “Our finances are much the same, Master.” He reached into the pocket of his overcoat and placed a few bank notes and two handfuls of loose change on the table. “At this precise moment we have about seven pounds and twenty-eight pence in our possession.”

The Master leaned forward. “And how do you think the Night Witches are doing?”

“We estimate they had a good three months, Master.”

“How good?”

“I understand they made more than two billion pounds.

The resulting story is a tale of secret caverns, fantastical submarines and Antarctic adventure, with excellent illustrations by David Wyatt throughout. The book was published by The Chicken House, which was founded by the man who signed JK Rowling. Molloy’s work is cut from a lighter kind of cloth than Harry Potter was, and it isn’t as believable – partly, I think, because it’s such an imaginative tour de force that you can feel the author having fun with you – but it’s a funny and colourful example of the genre. If you or your children enjoy it, you’ll be pleased to hear that it spawned two sequels: The Time Witches and The Wild West Witches.

Well, that’s it for my series on witches. I hope you get chance to check some of these titles out!

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