Saturday, 24 October 2020

Our Spooky October Round-Up

 October is the perfect month for getting cosy and maybe...a little bit spooky. With a whole host of magical and creepy new releases on offer across all the age-groups, we have been completely spoilt for choice this year and we still have plenty to sink our teeth into before Halloween itself.

Below are a round-up of our favourites so far. These stories range from being pure magic to deliciously funny and 'gross' to totally terrifying. Which ones will you go for?

Midnight Magic by Michelle Harrison and Elissa Elwick

Link to author site
Published by: Little Tiger Press, October 2020

👍👍👍👍👍

Perfect for children whose reading is just taking off, Midnight Magic is a short, magical chapter book written in verse by author Michelle Harrison, who is well-known for her magical middle grade books. 

Midnight is a kitten unlike others in her family. Born at the stroke of midnight, she has the power to cause all sorts of magical mayhem. But when she is abandoned by her mum and siblings for being different, Midnight sets out to find where she really belongs, with lots of  fun adventures on the way. 

My seven year old daughter loved Midnight's antics. She insisted on reading the story herself and felt a huge sense of achievement when she reached the end. With beautiful full-colour illustrations by Elissa Elwick, this is the perfect read for cat-lovers and wannabe witches alike. Trixie and her family are an adorable match for midnight and the broom is simply hilarious. Pure, pure magic in a kitten sized package. 

Zombierella: Fairytales Gone Bad by Joseph Coelho and Freya Hartas

Link to Waterstones

Published: Walker Books, September 2020
👍👍👍👍

Also written in verse, this chapter book is short but for those with stronger stomachs. It is a fairy tale gone bad indeed; gruesomely gross, hilariously funny but with a surprising amount of heart too, especially at the end. 

Cinderella is as miserable as miserable can be, thanks to her awful, fake stepmother and sisters. But, when she slips on the stairs and dies as the result of a cruel prank, the Shadow of Death revives her. Now, undead Zombierella has three days to go forth and seek revenge on those who took her life. But will she win her prince too?

This is a hugely imaginative retelling, perfect for this time of year. It's dark, gothic tone is peppered with humour and there are some fab accompanying characters. Lumpkin the horse, the mushroom carriage and the autumnal ball-gown add to the fantastic twist in this well-known tale but be prepared if you are squeamish! - Garish and gory things lurk, especially poo at the top of the stairs!

Again, this chapter book is accompanied by magnificent full-colour illustrations which pop with a vivid vibrancy. As a result, the expert touch of Freya Hartas makes this tale as alive as Cinderella is dead...or undead. 

Fingers crossed there will be more in the Fairytales Gone Bad series. If you're looking for a darkly funny and icky read, this is the one for you!


The Haunting of Avaline Jones by Phil Hickes

Link to The Book Depository

Published: Usbourne Publishing, September 2020

👍👍👍👍👍

Moving into middle grade territory, this novel by Phil Hickes has the fear factor. What begins as creepy soon turns into full on terror! But, wow, if you can handle it, this is a mightily good debut. 

When ghost-lover Aveline Jones goes to stay with her Aunt in Cornwall during October half-term, she stumbles upon a book with a mysterious history. The book of ghost stories previously belonged to a girl who disappeared in inexplicable circumstances. Can Aveline get to the bottom of what happened to her? Or, with the book in her possession, is something...or someone... coming for her too? 

This spooky story is packed with atmosphere and intrigue right from the get go. Book loving Aveline, with her fixation on the supernatural, makes a great protagonist but I loved the supporting characters too, especially awkward Aunt Lilian. There were parts of the story that I felt could have been explored a little more, especially Aveline's burgeoning friendship with Harold, but this was balanced by the effectiveness of keeping the word count low, making for a short, snappy, spine-tingling read, perfect for a wild stormy evening.

I adored Phil Hickes' wild-weather, deserted seaside town setting which was instantly made creepy by the presence of the child scarecrows. The plot centres around a traditional, terrifying ghost story but with the added potency of an unexplained disappearance. However, when strange things start happening to Aveline, events escalate quickly towards a heart-stopping conclusion. 

This really isn't for the faint hearted. It's a mini horror movie in book form - vivid, terrifying but hugely refreshing. Phil Hickes has created a tale that feels both traditional and contemporary and very eclectic. This is superb story-telling.


Sticky Pines: The Bigwoof Conspiracy and The Thing at Blackhole Lake by Dashe Roberts

Link to publisher
Published by: Nosy Crow, Feb 2020 and Sep 2020

👍👍👍👍👍

If you're a middle grade reader looking a fun, spine-tingling but slightly more bonkers tale than the one above, then look no further than this brilliant, sci-fi series by Dashe Roberts. Set in the isolated, American town of Sticky Pines, this is a place where very strange things happen indeed.

Bigwoof Conspiracy: When people in Sticky Pines begin to go missing, Lucy Sladan is determined to proof that BigWoof creatures are involved. After all, she and her new friend Milo have seen them with their own eyes! But things get stranger when her precious evidence is destroyed and Milo's dad, the new owner of the local sweet company, throws a carnival. Soon inexplicable, supernatural things are happening all over town. Can Lucy get to the bottom of what's happening or is she completely out of her depth?


The Thing at Black Hole Lake: No longer friends with Lucy, Milo takes a trip to Black Hole Lake only to find something terrifying lurking under the surface. Meanwhile, Lucy is continuing with her own search for the truth about Sticky Pines, which leads her to the same spot. Soon both children are in grave danger. Will they survive the adventure?

These larger-than-life, spine-tingling books are bursting with fresh originality and laugh out loud humour. Lucy, the spunky, out-spoken protagonist is in hot pursuit of anything that whiffs of the supernatural and she certainly finds it. Sticky Pines is saturated with strange occurrences which become more bizarre with every page-turn and readers will find themselves just as thirsty for the truth as Lucy is. 

Thanks to Mr. Fisher, I really enjoyed the rocky friendship between Lucy and Milo and Milo's torn loyalties. The dialogue is sharp and witty and the weird and wonderful supporting cast are hilarious, particularly The Other Mrs. Stricks and Mandy Millepoids. In fact, the whole experience of Sticky Pines is weird and wacky and deliciously enjoyable. This is a must for fans of Crater Lake and Stranger Things.

The Ghost of Gosswater by Lucy Strange
Published by: Chicken House, October 2020
👍👍👍👍👍

Beautiful and haunting, this is a much gentler ghost story than The Haunting of Avaline Jones. Set in the lakes in 1899, it is a story of love and treachery and the unearthing of truth. 

Lady Agatha Asquith's privileged world changes with the death of her father. Told by her cruel cousin Clarence that she is not an Asquith at all, she is cast out of her family home, Gosswater Hall, to live with a man who claims to be her real father. But the Asquith spirits are restless and at the turn of the century a ghostly girl appears to guide a bewildered Aggie towards the truth about who she really is. Can Aggie crack the mystery of her past so she can find her future identity? And who exactly is the ghost?

This is the first novel by Lucy Strange that I have read and I was spellbound by the beauty of her storytelling. Within the first few pages, I felt like I was standing in Agatha's shoes and was completely swept up in her story. I adored the richness and complexity of all the characters-Thomas, Bryn, Sexton Black, Clarence and Old Moll-but this was truly Aggie's journey and, for me, she shone as bright as the ghost. 
   
The ghost, herself, did not feature as heavily in the story as I expected and yet remained ever-present. She was the key to the mystery that stayed just out of reach until the end. The plot was fabulously twisty with a satisfying end and cousin Clarence- a darker, more slavering hound than his canine companion, Brutus-made for a deliciously terrifying villain. 

The novel was pacey with high stakes throughout and Aggie's bold and fiery decision-making drove the story brilliantly. Tempering the savagery of her encounters with Clarence and Sexton Black was her heart-warming friendship with Bryn and the burgeoning relationship with her father. The lakeside setting was hauntingly vivid and the tale was both gripping and chilling, but not because of the ghost. 
There are definitely spine-tingling, spooky moments throughout the text but the threat remains rooted in the real world. Will Aggie defeat evil Cousin Clarence and find out who she is? I recommend finding out.

Spooky, magical stories really seem to be in their element at the moment. The standard of what we've been reading has been exceptionally brilliant, resulting in a fantastic October for us. Have you been reading and enjoying any other books in this genre? If so, we'd love you to let us know! 
Happy Halloween and happy reading! 

Monday, 5 October 2020

A Chapter Book Round Up

 Phew! What a busy month September has been. We've gone from months of trying to fill the hours with books and home-learning to back-to-school routines, lunchboxes and a smattering of clubs. As a result, our blog has slipped behind. 

What I did notice, when looking back over our recent reviews, is that I have neglected a write-up of chapter books. This was not my intention as chapter books are my favourite type of children's book and the age-group that I am now actively reading to my children. In fact, a year ago, I blogged about the trouble we were experiencing transitioning from picture books to chapter books.

Happily, we have made masses amount of progress. Myself and my five year old son have had a chapter book on the go, alongside picture books, for most of this year. And, with a steady supply of brilliant new chapter books coming in, even my seven year old reluctant reader is jumping on board. We even have a queue lined up and they are loving the ownership of choosing the next book to read from a selection. 

So here are some of the chapter books we have been sharing and enjoying together. Please also bear with us as we have a sizeable backlog. This means there are many more books we are sure will be brilliant but having got around to reading yet. 

A Hat Full of Secrets by Karl Newson and Wazza Pink
Link to Waterstones

Published by: Little Tiger , October 1st 2020 👍👍👍👍

 This beautifully illustrated, full-colour book is the perfect step up from picture books. Only a few thousand words in length, it tells a charming story about Henry, a boy with a secret.

When Henry doesn't know what to do with his secret, Grandpa gives him a hat to keep it under. But, Grandpa's hat is already full of secrets and it's time they were discovered.

The visual tags given to the secrets in this story worked well. The anecdotes were very sweet and there was a fun, surprise at the end when the readers learn what Henry's secret it. It allowed me to open up a discussion with my little ones about 'secrets' and when a secret may be okay to keep. 

This book would also make a lovely gift for an independent reader who is just taking off. My son loved it!


Horace and Harriet by Clare Elsom

Link to Amazon

Published: OUP Oxford, 2018 👍👍👍👍👍

Published a couple of years ago, there are now at least four books in this series and we would definitely read them all. Horace and Harriet is a perfect series for 5-7's and again was very popular with my son. We also loved what an original but simple concept this was and how the author/illustrator has had great fun with it.

Harriet is astonished when the statue in the park comes alive. Fed up of being pooped on by pigeons and covered in graffiti and litter, Horace is determined to find a new home. But when he makes himself comfortable in Grandad's shed, Harriet needs to find him somewhere more suitable... before her mum finds out. 

This is a super, funny story with brilliant characterisation. Horace's larger-than-life antics cause endless trouble for Harriet, which Horace is oblivious to. But, as the story shapes into a heart-warming tale of friendship and community, it's clear that this pair are a match made in chapter book heaven. 


Unipiggle by Hannah Shaw

Published by: Usbourne 👍👍👍👍

This series, also perfect for 5-7s, is beautifully produced and, as advertised on the front cover, full of shiny, colour images. It's a fun, fantastical adventure story, packed with action and drama and a short but satisfying length. Unipiggle, of course, is the main attraction and his ability to turn everything his horn touches into chocolate is an exciting bonus. 

Princess Pea is desperate for an adventure and so embarks on a journey around Twinkleland. As they uncover an out-of-control dinosaur, Princess Pea and Unipiggle must race to save their home town and the palace. 

For me, the dragon and the dinosaur together created a bit of confusion. However, not for my son! He loved this adventure and found the dinosaur very funny. Unipiggle's solution to Twinkleland's dinosaur problem is fun and one that all children will surely love. There were some great supporting characters in this story and everything you want from a magical chapter book: unicorn pigs, rainbows, dragons, dinosaurs and chocolate. Enough said!

The Naughtiest Unicorn and the Spooky Surprise

by Pip Bird and Dave O'Connell

Link to Harbour Book Shop

Published: Egmont, 1st October 2020

👍👍👍👍

This latest book in The Naughtiest Unicorn open series is our current read and has a strong, spooky opening. My son absolutely loves these books and is a huge fan of Dave, Mira's lazy, greedy, parping unicorn.  

Mira spends her holidays at Unicorn School, where each pupil is assigned their very own unicorn. However, when Mira wound up being partnered with Dave, he was far from the perfect partner she'd dreamed of and bonding proved tricky. However, now the pair are inseparable and have had all sorts of magical adventures together. When a mysterious stranger arrives at Unicorn School during Halloween, strange things start to happen. Just what is going on?

The cover is a spooky, Halloween delight, fabulously designed by Dave O'Connell. However, whilst myself and my daughter were immersed immediately into this book, my five year old son was more timid about the spookiness of it and has now ordered me to read it after school and not before bed. Whilst he is particularly sensitive about scary things, it hasn't stopped him wanting to read the whole thing because he knows it will end up being an hilariously funny Halloween treat, with Dave undoubtedly being the star of the show. 

These books are light-hearted, magical and fantabulous fun and a great family read. 


Scribblewitch: Magical Muddles (Book 2) by Inky Willis

Link to Hive bookshop

Published: Hachette, August 2020

👍👍👍👍

I absolutely fell in love with the first book in this series and my daughter fell in love with the second. This is the author/illustrated chapter book that really got her attention and although she pretended she wasn't listening at the beginning, by the end she was asking for it to be read.

When Molly discovers a paper witch called Notes in her pen pot, her life at school changes forever. Notes is lovable and mischievous and determined to help Molly with her troubles, even if her 'help' doesn't always go to plan. 

When Molly's best friend, Chloe, moves to a new school and makes new friends, Molly is devastated. Can she keep Chloe as a friend or is she gone for good?

Set purely in school, this is an adorable series where text and illustrations go hand in hand. Notes’ distinct writing voice is both catchy and charming and Molly makes for a very relatable main character  with her try-hard, easily distracted, bad-decision making personality. 

I felt that book two featured Notes less than book one and focused more on Molly's friendship dilemma. Molly's decisions take centre stage as she battles with her emotions over losing her best friend. However, Notes is both wise and hilarious in her supporting role and the spelling bee is great fun. There's a lovely heart-warming ending with a fun, spelling twist and the power of friendship truly prevails. My son loved Captain Purrkins and the pencil toppers and there are some great, flourishes of detail which magically brings this story to life. 


Boot: The Creaky Creatures by Shane Hegarty and Ben Mantle

Link to Waterstones

Publisher: Hachette, September 2020

👍👍👍👍

As with Scribblewitch, Boot is aimed more at the 7-9 age-group. Crusty Creatures is the third book in the series but the first I have read to my son and he just about coped with it. It was such fun to be back with this adorable robot again and I agree with the comparisons that Waterstones make to Toy Story. Any avid fans of Woody and Buzz should definitely give this series a go.

In this third instalment, Boot and his robot friend Noke are taken by surprise when they discover a city park full of creaky robot creatures. But when they discover that Coffee Lady plans to destroy the park and build a cafe instead, Boot and Noke must join forces with brother and sister, Jordan and Melody and find a way to save the precious green space. 

As with the previous two Boot books, I thoroughly enjoyed this story but found that I missed some of Boot's robot friends (Red, Gerry and Rusty), who don't feature as heavily in this plot. However, there are a lot of new faces to get to know and my son absolutely loved the creaky creatures, especially the dinosaur and the hypnotic hamster. A lot of the story focuses on Boot feeling broken and struggling with his emotions, which made a good platform for discussing emotions and feelings with my five year old. 

Coffee Lady made for an enjoyable baddy and the name stuck very clearly with my little one, who named her as one of his favourite villains. The story has an important eco message and bags of warmth and heart to go with it! Boot is a truly adorable character and I can see him having many more adventures in future. 

Anisha, Accidental Detective: School's Cancelled!
by Serena Patel and Emma McCann


Published: Usbourne, September 2020

👍👍👍👍👍

Sitting on the border between chapter books and middle grade, Anisha, Accidental Detective is a brilliant mystery series full of humour, fun and friendship. This second book in the series is easily as good, if not better than the first because re-visiting Anisha and her loveable, crazy family felt a little bit like going home. 

When Anisha and her friends, Milo and Govi are chosen to participate in the science fair with their volcano project, they are thrilled. Anisha has her sights firmly on the prize...until their volcano is sabotaged in spectacular style! Now their team are not only in big trouble, they are disqualified from the science fair altogether. But Anisha smells a rat! Can she and her friends, with the support of Granny Jas and a high school Vlogger, get to the bottom of who has set them up?

This is an easily accessible, laugh-out-loud read with big-hearted characters, an intriguing plot and a bold and satisfying ending. Anisha may be a reluctant detective but she is perfect for the role. The mystery side of the plot is greatly enhanced by Anisha's wonderful and chaotic family, making it an all round cracking read. The style and tone is fresh and contemporary and I particularly enjoyed the vlogger's role in the story. 

Family is a recurring theme which sits firmly at the root of this series. Blended families, extended families (and the love, trouble and complex emotions which accompany them) are explored beautifully by Serena Patel and I'm sure this is a family that readers are going to love for the duration of this series.

So if you are a mystery lover, science lover or simply a fun lover, then this is a book for you! 

Friday, 18 September 2020

UPCOMING RELEASE: The House At The Edge of Magic by Amy Sparkes and Ben Mantle

 

Published: Jan 7th 2021 by Walker Books
👍👍👍👍👍

Heads up everyone! There is magical middle grade and then there is magical, MAGICAL middle grade! And, if you like a generous helping of humour and quirkiness sprinkled in amongst that magic then this is the book for you. In fact, this book is so magical that it should come with a warning:
Don't pick up if you don't believe in magic - for it will change your whole life.

Nine is desperate to escape her life as a pickpocket. Forced to steal in exchange for shelter, she has nothing she can call her own. But, when a tiny ornament falls from a lady's purse, Nine steps into a whole new world of impossibility.
As the ornament transfigures into a cursed house, full of magic and mystery, Nine is offered a deal. If she breaks the curse that has entrapped the strange and rather ridiculous residents inside, then she will receive a reward that will buy her freedom. But someone is watching! And, if Nine does break the curse, can she walk away from the house at the edge of magic?
 
This book is a magical Oliver Twist, full of characters that are as memorable and as loveable as the Dickens classic. That is where the similarity ends, however, for this read is far more magical than your average novel set in the nineteenth century. Crackling with spark and intrigue and humour, it is guaranteed to make you laugh your socks off and bust away those January blues. I mean, the cover says it all!

The characters are fabulous! From the moment Nine, a down and out, lonely and defensive protagonist, steps into the house, she finds herself in the company of a housekeeping troll, a rather incompetent wizard and a fierce Scottish spoon with a sword. The dynamics between all of them are simply hilarious and the pacey and hugely entertaining plot brings out the absolute best in all of them. I particularly loved the tea-cupboard scenes which shows off the extent of Amy Sparkes' fantastic imagination.

There's more! As well as a deliciously sinister and mischievous villain, there are puzzles to solve and a ticking clock. And just when you think the author can't possible pack anymore in, a skeleton falls out of the closet. But with family secrets piling up, can Nine uncover the truth about the curse?

The humour and quirkiness in this novel is balanced beautifully with warmth and heart. I adored the relationship between Nine and Eric whilst Flabberghast and the witch, with their entertaining but edgy banter, are akin to Merlin and Madam Mim from Disney's Sword in the Stone. Nine will resonate with readers as being a character who thinks she knows exactly what she wants, but who really needs a whole dose of love and it is her emotional journey that steals your heart at the end. 

For a middle grade, this is an easily accessible novel. It's slightly shorter length is perfect for reluctant readers but never fear- it is packed full of potency. There's literally not a dull moment in the tale. The storytelling is as captivating as a spell and by the time the sequel comes around, it will be like going back to have tea with old friends. 

To sum up in three words; this is a comfy, quirky, fantabulous read. It's the novel I wanted to read as a child and I have no doubt that my children are going to love it!

The House At The Edge of Magic is released on 7th January 2021 and is available to pre-order. A massive thanks to Amy Sparkes and Walker Books for allowing me to read the proof. 

Friday, 11 September 2020

The Leaf Thief by Alice Hemming and Nicola Slater

 

Link to publisher

Published by: Scholastic, September 2020

👍👍👍👍👍

Everyone who knows our family is aware of how much we love the change in season from Summer to Autumn. Hot chocolates, marshmallows, golden, crunchy walks and cosy stories are all on the agenda and this new seasonal release has to be one of our favourite picture books this year. 

Someone is stealing Squirrel's leaves! As he wakes up every morning to find more and more missing, his anger gets the better of him. Who is the culprit? Is it mouse? Woodpecker? Bird? Or is it someone or something rather more expected for the time of year? 

There's nothing not to like about this story. Squirrel makes for a great and amusing main character, brimming with personality. Bird's calm but waning patience provides the perfect antidote to Squirrel's panic and the glinting, copper-leaf cover and illustrations by Nicola Slater are visually stunning. 

With a lot of recent releases being in rhyme, it felt refreshing to read a book in that is not only written in prose but is mainly dialogue. Don't get me wrong, we LOVE rhyme in our family, particularly my autistic daughter who prefers memorising a text over the struggle of reading. However, it reminded us how great it is to have a balance and so much character is delivered through this dialogue that it is, without doubt, a book you will want to read again and again. My daughter certainly does!

This is a cleverly written autumnal story- perfect for teachers, toddlers and even tweens. It is as definitely as popular here with the adults of the house as with the kids. This is crying out to be read with cosy covers, a log fire and a creamy drink. Happy Autumn everyone!

Tamarind and the Star of Ishta by Jasbinder Bilan

 

Link to publisher

Published by: Chicken House Books, September 2020

👍👍👍👍👍

I nearly didn't get past the front cover of this novel. It has to be the most stunning book cover of 2020, right? And, it's even more beautiful in the flesh. Even after finishing the story, I'm still staring at it.

I'm ashamed to say that Jasbinder Bilan's debut novel Asha and the Spirit Bird is still sitting on my TBR pile. However, after the opening of this novel was published on the Chicken House website, I knew I wanted to dive straight into this one. And, trust me when I say that the story inside is as beautiful as the cover. 

Tamarind hopes that visiting her ancestral home in India will lead to answers about who her mother, Chinty, really was. But when she arrives, Chinty is shrouded in lost and hidden memories that no one will talk about. As Tamarind steps into a magical garden, she is guided towards a secret presence- a mysterious girl called Ishta. But who exactly is Ishta and why does she keep disappearing? In order to find the truth, Tamarind must follow a golden monkey, a glowing ring and unlock the hearts of her loved ones. 

This is a beautifully told story about grief, family tensions and hope that is laced with magic. It is set against the breath-taking wilderness of the Himalaya and is full of vivid imagery which brings every sense to life. It combines everyday family reality with the extraordinary - emeralds and stars, legends and spirits. It sears through the pain of grief and explores the raw emotions we feel when we lose a loved one and wish to remain close to them.

Tamarind is a fabulous character, full of questions and depth. Her desire to uncover the truth and identity of her mother overrides her nervousness at being left with family she's never met and makes her strong and fierce. Her difficulties with fitting in and adjusting to new foods is relatable and heart-warming and the book's other characters compliment her perfectly; Arjun allowing her to be soft and vulnerable and the shockingly aggressive Sufia bringing out the tiger within. 

Actually, Sufia and Nani are both great characters in their own right. Both show the complexities and deep impact that grief can have on an extended family. It reminded me very much of a similar, but less magical story, I read recently. Bauble, Me and the Family Tree by Jenny Moore, is also a story which explores the lasting effects of losing a family member. Set firmly in the UK, it reminded me that whatever country or culture we may belong to, families experience the same struggles all over the world and it's unity which essentially sees us through. 

The story and the setting are truly intoxicating. This is not a fast, dynamic read but a magical and enthralling meander through a garden and wilderness thronging with personal and mythical history. It's shorter length is perfect for a cosy, weekend read and it left me itching to read Asha and the Spirit Bird. 

*The Waterstones Exclusive offers an extra short story at the back of the book. 

Friday, 4 September 2020

UPCOMING RELEASE: The Ten Riddles of Eartha Quicksmith by Loris Owen


 Link to publisher

Published by: Firefly Press, 10th Sep 2020

👍👍👍👍👍

In my humble opinion, Firefly Press have turned out some of the best middle-grade books of 2020. So, when I got the opportunity to review The Ten Riddles of Eartha Quicksmith via Netgalley, I jumped at the chance. 

How glad I am that I did. This is everything that I would have wanted in a book as a young reader; mystery, adventure and...puzzles!

When squirl-drawing Pip Bramley is sent a cryptic invitation by a beetle drone, he doesn't realise that he'll soon be embarking on a new life at Quicksmiths School of Strange Energies. Soon, he and his new friends are embroiled in a race against time to solve the ten riddles of the legendary Eartha Quicksmith in order to locate the long hidden 'Ark of Ideas'. Pip desperately hopes that it may be the key to healing his mum. But there are others determined to beat him too it. 

Riddles may be hard to solve but they must be even harder to write and set-up. Loris Owen does an amazing job of keeping the characters and the readers on their toes with brilliantly seeded puzzles that are challenging, clever and unbelievably imaginative. The plot is pacey and completely immersive and I love how this book takes so many middle-grade classics -boarding school, friendship, long-hidden secrets- and turns them on their head to give a fresh, original feel. The boarding school teaches pupils about 'Strange Energies' - science not magic (although there is a definite magical quality to the story), the four friends are all gifted and talented, and their clever inventions places the historical aspect of the story hand in hand with the future. 

Pip is a great protagonist; likeable, easy-going but with a strong motivation to soak up everything he learns at Quicksmiths. His partnership with the amusing Albert works brilliantly and Leela and Timmi, along with Mowl and Pinky, complete the group nicely. Pip's past is sad, but in a slightly different way to those we have encountered in other MG stories, and his family history evokes a lot of emotion and investment in the story. Thag is the typical school bully, targeting Pip's group at every turn, but there's a good twist at the end. 

For me though, Eartha Quicksmith and her riddles are the star of the show here. The unravelling of the riddles is spectacular. With giant globes and secret studies, ominous clockwork knights and pirate ships shaped out of dust, it did remind me of the first Harry Potter book where the three main characters race to find the philosophers stone. 

There are a lot of awesome extras in this novel too, too numerous to mentions. Scaleface, the mysterious Prowler, doesn't feature much in the story but enough to create just the right amount of fear. Then there are the Skimmis, the curious teachers, the wormholes...it's just packed with excitement and imagination. I would have liked to read far more descriptions of the food, cooked by Chef Garibaldi, as what was mentioned sounded deliciously unusual. 

The set-up implies that there is probably more to come from this very talented author and welcome that with open arms. The standard of middle-grade this year has been astounding and this is right up there with the best. 

The Ten Riddles of Eartha Quicksmith is released on Spetember 10th 2020 and is available for pre-order. A big thanks to Firefly Press and Netgalley for giving me the chance to review. 

Wednesday, 2 September 2020

My Name Is River by Emma Rea

 

Link to publisher

Published by: Firefly Press, 2020

👍👍👍👍👍

I have to admit that when I saw the front cover of this book, I massively misjudged it. Despite being set in one of my favourite settings, the Amazon, I thought I was in for an easy-going, rather light-hearted read. 

How wrong I was! Emma Rea tells a thrilling tale which doesn't pull any punches when it comes to high stakes, nail-biting tension, desperate danger and ruthless adults. What's more it tackles tough and very relevant issues about child poverty and the devastation humans can wreak on the world's precious, natural habitats.

Dylan is distraught when he discovers his beloved family farm is being sold to large, international pharmaceutical company, Bluebird. But when he discovers that Floyd, a boy from his school, has a close connection to Bluebird and needs help, a crazy plan starts to form. While the rest of their class go on a Geography trip, Dylan and Floyd secretly fly to Brazil to find answers. But their plan soon goes disastrously wrong when Floyd is kidnapped and Dylan finds himself lost and alone on the streets of a favela. Can street kid Lucia, with her puppy and thesaurus, help him pull off a rescue plan deep in the Amazon?

I loved the ambitiousness of this plot, which is mainly set in the fascinating jungle wilderness of South America. Dylan was a great main character who felt very real. His love and loyalty towards his family and home was endearing and gave him a motivation which was bursting with heart. It was refreshing that he didn't enjoy or do well at school but was a confident, head-strong boy who revelled in his love of the outdoors. I adored his unique ability to see what flowed through other character's veins, which gave him an uncanny insightfulness rather than magical qualities. 

However, as much as I loved Dylan, it was Lucia who truly stole my heart with her big heart, her quirky, humorous language (all thanks to her precious thesaurus) and her general exuberance for life despite having nothing and no one, except for her Great Dane puppy. To have a pair of characters so fired up with hope and determination and ambition made this story hugely unique and enjoyable - to the point that one night I found myself too enthralled to go to bed.

Miss. Crassy and her henchman, Anton, were the antipathy of Dylan's loving family and Mac; cruel, ruthless and powerful grown-ups who were prepared to go to shocking and rather brutal lengths to protect their vile secrets. Through them, the positive and empowering ambition of Dylan and Lucia was flipped on it's head to show how deadly it can be when coming from a place of greed not love. The protagonists' pure motivation meant we were rooting for them from the first to last page. 

I could probably spout on all day about this novel but if you are looking for a fantastically written, high impact tale which will challenge readers to think and feel all kinds of big emotions about issues that need to be thought about then this is it. It encourages all of us to speak up for what we are passionate about (although not perhaps by putting ourselves in such extreme danger as Dylan and Floyd) and I can see it being a fantastic novel for teachers to use in the classroom to enhance curriculum topics and initiate discussion. Simply a must read!

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