Pony Camp Chaos by Nina Carberry, illustrated by Nuno Alexandre Vieira

Reading for the kids during the summer holidays

It’s summer holiday time for the kids – the secondary schools are already on their break and primary schools are out soon, so this week I’m looking at some recently published children’s books by Irish publishers. For the adults, there’s a marvellous anthology of short stories about the weary and pot-holed journey of finding true love.

Kids Corner

Something’s about to Blow Up, Sam Blake, Gill, €12.99

For the teenage/YA crowd who have been out of school for a while now, Sam Blake’s new novel is an absorbing adventure, the second of her Raven’s Hill School novels. When an explosion in the school’s chemistry lab leaves six girls injured, the first theory is that it’s an experiment that went badly wrong. But when the gardaí launch their investigation, they suspect the explosion was caused by a bomb. But who would put a bomb in an exclusive private secondary school? Who were they targeting? And why?

Sam Blake, aka Vanessa Fox O’Loughlin, is the founder of the Writing.ie website and also The Inkwell Group and Murder One. She has a string of successful adult thrillers to her name and has been shortlisted for the Irish Crime Novel of the year three times. Her first YA thriller, set in the same school, was shortlisted for the Great Reads Award and Teen and YA Book of the Year. In this, her second Raven’s Hill book, along with a ripping yarn she tackles issues relevant to teens, like social media and toxic relationships. Highly recommended for the secondary school kids.

Pony Camp Chaos, Nina Carberry, Gill, €13.99

When Nina Carberry isn’t riding racehorses or engaging in political campaigns for a Fine Gael seat in the European elections, she’s writing children’s books. Pony Camp Chaos is her second book in the Rowan Tree Stables series, and it gallops off on another lively adventure for pony-lovers Grace and Aaron. Here the two friends who would not ordinarily be friends, but are united in their love of horses, are helping out at summer holiday camp in the stables and they’re being kept busy. When a pregnant mare goes into labour and the foal gets stuck, it’s up to this pair to get to the vet on time. But there’s always trouble and obstacles to be overcome for Grace and Aaron. Will they make it to the vet and be able to save the mammy and her foal? Beautifully illustrated by Nuno Alexandre Vieira, who’s also a children’s author, it’s a great adventure for kids of ages 7+.

Evil Duck and the Feather of Fortune, Chris Judge, Gill, €12.99

A full colour graphic novel for the 6+ age group, this is gorgeously presented and a rollicking riot. In Ducklin’s fair city, where the ducks are so pretty, you’ll find twins Eddie and Flo, who discover a mysterious chamber in their Grandad’s attic. Inside the chamber, unknown to the twins, is the frozen Evil Duck, who’s been on ice and therefore harmless for decades. But when he’s accidentally defrosted and subsequently escapes from the attic, let’s just say there’s feathers flyin’. Especially when he gets hold of The Feather of Fortune, a deadly instrument of destruction in the wrong hands. It’s up to Eddie and Flo, with the help of Fearless Frank, to save the world. But not without much ado and a lot of hilarious mishaps along the way. Illustrated by the author and lavishly praised by Eoin Colfer, David O’Doherty and Sarah Webb, this is a winner.

Chasing The Shy Town, Erika McGann, Little Island, €9.99

Young Senan has been observing the Shy Town in the distance, through his binoculars at home. He sees that it’s a sweet village on a hilltop, with winding streets and red and yellow rooftops. He meets his new next-door neighbour Joshua and tells her about Shy Town. He also tells her that Joshua is a strange name for a girl. Joshua informs him that Senan is a strange name for anybody! Senan and Joshua decide to visit Shy Town, along with Senan’s grandmother in a past-its-heyday wheelchair, but when they reach their destination, they discover that all is not as it seems. The town’s real name is Perfection and its citizens are constantly exhausted in keeping it perfect. It’s up to the three visitors to convince the people of Perfection that nothing is perfect and it’s a mug’s game to strive for perfection. An engaging story, beautifully illustrated by Toni Galmés, it’s for the 6+ market with a special eye out for anxious kids.

Adult Fiction

Old Romantics, Maggie Armstrong, Tramp Press, €16

This book might not gain traction with the women who fell in love in their Leaving Cert year and married their beloved shortly after college and have never loved another since (they do exist). This anthology of connected short stories with love – and not just romantic love – as the mortar that binds them, is rather for those who have kissed frog after frog in the hope of finding a fulfilling, mature, committed and enduring relationship. And then never finding it, not least because they may have been somewhat lacking in maturity themselves. It’s a chronicle of growing up and growing fed up, of finally being a mother, at huge emotional cost, of losing a beloved parent and the hole it leaves in a life, even an adult life, it’s about plodding wearily on.

It’s also very funny, though the humour is black as tar and twice as sticky. There are scenes in these stories that make the reader both squeal in the delight of identification, and at the same time squirm in excruciating recognition, recalling their own misadventures in the Land of Finding Mr Right. And that’s not to mention the myriad compromises our protagonist makes in settling for Mr Half-Right. A sparkling debut, honest and revealing, hilarious and utterly true.


A reminder that the Hinterland Festival is on next weekend, 27-30 June in Kells. Just sayin’. Again. Don’t miss it. You can get the full skinny and book your tickets at hinterland.ie.

The Galway Film Fleadh takes place from July 9 to July 14 and is the place to be for film buffs. See galwayfilmfleadh.com for details.