Blog Tour (Review & Guest Post): Our Castle by the Sea – Lucy Strange (Designed by Helen Crawford-White)

our castle by the sea
‘Tinged with twists at each turn of the page… it reads like a classic that willingly compels you to want more of it with every word.
With Our Castle by the Sea, Strange has created something very special.’


Rating: ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐

Title: Our Castle by the Sea
Author: Lucy Strange (@theLucyStrange)
Designer (Cover & Inside): Helen Crawford-White (@studiohelen)
Publisher: Chicken House (@chickenhsebooks)
Page count: 336
Date of publication: 3rd January 2019
Series status: N/A
ISBN: 978-1911077831

Perfect for Year 5 and Year 6.

#3Words3Emojis:
1. Lighthouse💡
2. War 🛩️
3. Family 👨‍👩‍👧‍👧


England is at war. Growing up in a lighthouse, twelve-year-old Pet’s world has been one of storms, secret tunnels and stories about sea monsters. But now the clifftops are a terrifying battleground, and her family is torn apart. This is the story of a girl who is small, afraid and unnoticed. A girl who freezes with fear at the enemy places ripping through the skies overhead. A girl who is somehow destined to become part of the strange, ancient legend of the Daughters of the Stone…


Review: Mystery, adventure and intrigue combine with characters you can’t help but care deeply about.

The prologue to this gripping narrative opens in 1931 where we are introduced to our protagonist Petra – small and so very young at this time – recounting her own experience of her father retelling her family an ol’ folktale of the Daughters of Stone. An ancient myth of monsters that according to Petra is ‘much, much more‘ than it appears to be told and she may be right in thinking this…

Flashing a little further forward to 1939, we find Petra having to increasingly partake in wartime rituals as the threat of invasion looms closer to the Kent coastline and the lighthouse where she lives. Camouflaging the lighthouse green, the event of evacuation and the wearing of ghastly gas masks are all described in the most emotionally-skilful of manners. From the realisation that the impending threat of war is just around the corner or rather, over the cliff face to the heart-wrenching moment that Petra’s parents realise they may have to lose her for the greater good, Our Castle by the Sea really will ensure that its readers see the impacts and consequences of war in a way that will resonate with them – both young and old. So much so that after reading this, the first thing I did was pass this on to my grandmother and grandfather, of whom he himself was evacuated from North London to Wales during World War Two.

For me, the storyline starts to really come into its own as Mutti, Petra’s mother becomes a source of suspicion due to the fact that she is German: this being a familial side to wartime historical fiction that is rarely covered in children’s literature. As sidewards glances and a sense of hostility is rising along with the emergence of family secrets and the shunning of her mother in public becoming more prevalent, Petra becomes only all too aware that her family could be falling apart at its very seams. This reaches a clattering crescendo when Mutti is taken away and forced to live imprisoned in exile in an internment camp.

The demons of doubt begin to forge deeper in Petra’s mind when newspaper headlines, government acts on treason and mysterious letters appear leaving Petra in a state of emotional turmoil. Seeing her gutsy sister, Mags – who for me, is one of the standout characters – and her father entangle themselves in a swathe of secrets of their very own, Petra has no-one to turn to but herself.

With a turn of phrase and a sense of metaphor that makes the most ordinary of feelings and emotions come wildly alive in the reader’s mind, Lucy achieves what all writers are wishing for: a long-lasting connection to their readers. A book that many – and certainly I – will not forget. If this is your first read of a novel by Lucy, I am sure that you’ll be returning to her for many more.

With its links to Dunkirk, Spitfires, Hurricanes and ration books, you may think this book is a typical tale of wartime experience however think again because with Our Castle by the Sea, Strange has created something else entirely and something very special indeed. Suspense and drama set against the backdrop of WWII tinged with twists at each turn of the page. It reads like a classic that willingly compels you to want more of it with every word.


‘Tinged with twists at each turn of the page… it reads like a classic that willingly compels you to want more of it with every word.
With Our Castle by the Sea, Strange has created something very special.’


Historical Fiction for Young Readers – Five of My Favourites
by Lucy Strange

Lucy Strange author pic 2017 (by Claudine Sinnett).jpgOne of the best things about writing historical fiction is that you are never working on a blank canvas: the chosen period provides a richly detailed background – the context for the powerful tale that will be depicted with brighter brushwork in the foreground. I love the challenge of weaving my own stories through a fabric of historical fact (if you’ll forgive the change of metaphor) – it adds layers of conflict and excitement to the narrative, especially when the historical period is already a tense and dangerous one.

My new novel, Our Castle by the Sea, is set at the beginning of the Second World War. There are, of course, already so many wonderful children’s books about this time (Carrie’s War, Goodnight Mr Tom, Blitzcat, The Book Thief, The Machine Gunners and The Boy in Striped Pyjamas to name just a few), but when a story presents itself as needing to be told, there is often very little a writer can do about it. This is how I felt when I first read about the British internment camps for ‘enemy aliens’, the tribunals and categorisation processes, and Churchill’s ‘Collar the Lot’ policy. My central character is twelve-year-old Petra Zimmerman Smith who lives in a lighthouse on the white cliffs of Kent with her unpredictable big sister, her English father and her German mother. When the war begins, and it becomes clear that there is a traitor in the village, the local community turns against Petra and her family, but can her beloved ‘mutti’ really be to blame?

I love reading historical fiction as well as writing it. I think the genre has so much to offer younger readers: the thrill of the past being suddenly and vividly present; the opportunity to explore lost and faded worlds through the eyes of sympathetic characters; the jolt of emotion when you realise that the story you are reading is based on something completely true. Here are some of my favourite recent additions to the canon of historical fiction for children and teenagers . . .

Beyond the Wall by Tanya Landman, 2017

After maiming her master, slave girl Cassia is forced to run away. Her only hope for freedom – and life itself – lies in the wild lands to the north, beyond Hadrian’s Wall. Landman’s 2015 novel Buffalo Soldier won the Carnegie Medal with a moving story of bravery set during the American Civil War. Her unique brand of original, fast-paced and visceral historical fiction frequently explores the darkest times of cruelty, violence, prejudice and powerlessness in human history. 

The Buried Crown by Ally Sherrick, 2018

Ally Sherrick’s historical fiction for children provides an accessible and entertaining portal into British history, venturing through realms of archaeology, espionage and political intrigue. The Buried Crown is a Second World War story about a young evacuee’s adventures as he attempts to save Anglo-Saxon treasure from the clutches of the Nazis. Sherrick’s 2016 novel Black Powder is a gripping, twisting tale based around the Gunpowder Plot and was the winner of the Historical Association Young Quills Award.

Secrets of a Sun King by Emma Carroll, 2018

This beautifully framed mystery takes us from 1920s London back to ancient Egypt – Secrets of a Sun King is a wonderfully thrilling adventure through time. I love Carroll’s books, particularly her gothic novel Strange Star inspired by the life of Mary Shelley, and her Second World War story Letters from the Lighthouse which was nominated for the Carnegie Medal. Dubbed ‘the Queen of Historical Fiction’, Carroll’s novels are a gift to teachers and a joy for bookworms.

Bone Talk by Candy Gourlay, 2018

An established and highly respected children’s author, Gourlay has recently ventured into the genre of historical fiction with her stunning new novel Bone Talk. Shortlisted for the Costa Children’s Book Award, this moving coming-of-age tale takes place in the Philippines where Gourlay grew up. Set at the turn of the century, it explores sophisticated themes such as colonialism and identity, and seeks to redress the balance of Western-dominated narratives in historical fiction.

A Skinful of Shadows by Frances Hardinge, 2017

Frances Hardinge is a writer I hugely admire. By blending historical fiction with elements of magical realism and fantasy, she creates a genuinely extraordinary reading experience. A Skinful of Shadows is a strange, dark tale set during the English Civil War, but with the most brilliant supernatural twist. Hardinge’s brilliant 2015 novel The Lie Tree famously won the Costa Book Award. If you haven’t yet read a Frances Hardinge book, you have the most wonderful treat in store.


OUR CASTLE BY THE SEA by Lucy Strange out now in paperback
(£6.99, Chicken House)

Find out more at www.chickenhousebooks.com
and follow Lucy Strange on Twitter @theLucyStrange


Big thanks to Laura Smythe, Lucy and all at Chicken House for inviting me to share my thoughts on this beautifully-written book as part of the Our Castle by the Sea blog tour!

Extra thanks to Lucy for her guest post highlighting five of her favourite children’s historical fiction novels that I think should be on everybody’s to-be-read (TBR) piles.

  Mr E 

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