Friday 31 March 2023

The Boy Who Saved A Bear by Nizrana Farook

Link to publisher


Published by: Nosy Crow, 6th April, 2023

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With another stunning front cover, the fourth book is this gorgeous series is released on Thursday. Yet again, this is a story perfect for animal lovers, lovers of adventure and those who enjoy tales of strong bonds between animals and children.

When Nuwan tries to prove himself by taking over his brother's job of delivering books, he finds himself in big trouble. Having accidentally thwarting the plans of some ruthless thieves, he now needs to put things right and stop the thieves from catching him. But when he stumbles into the cave of a rumoured vicious bear, things take a terrifying turn. Can Nuwan form an alliance with a wild animal? And, if he can, will he just be leading the bear into grave danger?

Set on the same fictional Sri Lankan island as all the other stories in this series, Nizrana Farook weaves another adventurous tale that places wild animals at its centre. Although the main characters develop a bond with these creatures, Farook ensures that respect is always key to the story: the child characters learn to respect the wildness of the animal and readers are made aware of the dangers and persecution facing them. Meanwhile the animals themselves are portrayed as having all the emotions and fears that we do, with the wish of being left to thrive in their natural habitat. This is certainly true of Karadi, who is an awesome, funny and endearing character who reminded me of Gentle Ben but perhaps with a bit more of an edge. 

But that is only one strand of the story. As Nuwan inadvertently crosses some ruthless criminals, he becomes embroiled in a race against time as he journeys across the island, trying to outwit them. Here, the setting and the adventure become centre stage, with high stakes and obstacles galore. These are not just animal stories, that are animal-action stories, pairing a thrilling adventure with a equally edgy wild beast and giving us a glorious insight into life on different parts of the island. 

So, if you fancy something cosy, comforting and heart-warming but with a bit of a bite, this is definitely a series worth checking out. 

A big thanks to NetGalley and Nosy Crow for allowing me a review copy. The Boy Who Saved A Bear is out on 6th April 2023 and is available to pre-order. 

Wednesday 15 March 2023

More Middle Grade Fantasies to get excited about...

Spellstone by Ross Montgomery

Link to publisher

Published by: Walker Books, 4th May 2023

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Middle grade fantasy is on fire at the moment and this is no exception. With supremely confident writing and world-building from Ross Montgomery, it has a plot that pulls no punches, a spine-chilling villain and a literally explosive ending...

Evie can't work out why no one notices her. But a strange encounter with a man called Wainwright changes everything. Soon, she is she's being pulled from her home to become the leader of a secret order of magicians. But Evie knows nothing about magic, let alone having the capability to track down and destroy an object that holds all the evil power from the past. Problem is...she's the order's only hope.              

This novel starts fast and gallops at a terrific pace towards a breathtaking finale of good versus evil. It's a 'chosen one' quest but with an eclectic group of characters and original stand-out concepts such as smoke men, dream-walking and fortress 99. What I found particularly interesting is that Ross Montgomery combines old magic with modern, resulting in a gripping read. 

Evie is relatable everyday character and easy to root for as she navigates her new magical and rather adult-dominated world. Her burgeoning relationship with the other magicians, especially Rish, is endearing and I particularly loved the character of Alinora. 

What makes this a winner though, for me, is the 'no holds barred' edgy storytelling. Ross Montgomery doesn't beat around the bush and directs the story straight towards the dark and dramatic. In the acknowledgements, I noticed he called it a 'not quite trilogy' and I'm intrigued to find out what that means for what comes next...

A big thanks to NetGalley and Walker Books for allowing me a review copy. Spellstone is available to pre-order and is released in May.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                     Onyeka: Rise of the Rebels by TolΓ‘ Okogwu

Link to publisher

Published by: Simon and Schuster, March 2nd 2023

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The sequel of Onyeka and the Academy of the Sun is out and offers yet another grippingly pacy read with lots of twists and turns. As we begin to see more of the wider world of Nigeria and meet more characters, Onyeka finds she is battling her own feelings as much as anyone else...

After discovering the truth behind the Academy of the Sun, Onyeka and her friends are on the run. But where can they go and who can they trust? Will the serum her aunt administers allow her to use her Ike whilst curing her sickness? And can she track down her mum and Dad and find a way to defeat Dr. Doyinbo?

With the set-up established in book one, TolΓ‘ Okogwu launches us straight in to dramatic action, allowing us to pick up where we left off. Yet, as Onyeka and her friends face huge amounts of uncertainty, there's internal fractures to overcome too - within Onyeka herself and between her friends. I particularly enjoyed the banter between the group, the use of Pidgin English and Zarah and Adanna are great characters to watch. 

Perfect for fans of superhero stories and those who have enjoyed Amari and the Night Brothers, Onyeka's power really comes into its own in this story. More in tune with her hair and power, there are some high octane superhero scenes held together by the bonds between family and friends. I loved the father figures in the novel and, after a unexpected ending, I'm keen to know whether there will be a third in the series. Onyeka is a relatable yet kickass feminine lead and it would be great if there was more to come. 

A big thanks to NetGalley and Simon and Schuster for allowing me a review copy. 

Thursday 9 March 2023

Young Fiction is on a roll...

 WOW! Young fiction - my favourite age-group to read - is really on a roll at the moment. With the launch of another fabulous new series, a re-launch of an old series and another spin-off of the immensely popular Isadora Moon, there is plenty for the 5+ age-group to enjoy. 

Princess Katie's Kittens by Julie Sykes, Illustrated by Sam Loman

Link to Waterstones

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Published by: Templar, 30th March 2023

Originally published in 2012, this new edition of Princess Katie's Kittens: Pixie at the Palace is as cute as cute can be. Told in a dual narrative which tells the story from both Katie and Pixie's perspective, it is perfect for cat-lovers and readers who have enjoyed Unipiggle and other princess stories. 

When Katie finds a box of abandoned kittens in the woods, she is determined to help them by raising them at the palace. But when Pixie goes missing, can she find the weak kitty in time to save him? And will her mum and dad allow her to keep them?

This is a gentle but engaging story which uses the dual narrative to create tension and high stakes. Katie's kind nature and love for the kittens is balanced with Pixie's curiosity and determination to help his sisters, unaware of the danger he is in. Katie, perhaps, is a slightly stereotypical princess but knows her own mind and is set on doing the right thing, allowing readers to explore themes of caring for animals, friendship and finding compromises. With each story in the series focussing on a different kitten, there is definitely lots of fun to come. 


Honey's Hive by Mo O'Hara and Aya Kakeda

Link to Coles bookshop

Published by: Anderson Press, 6th April 2023

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This new series, penned by Agent Moose author, Mo O'Hara and illustrated by Aya Kakeda is a busy, buzzy and brilliant read which left us wondering why a young fiction series about bees has not been done before. With action, humour and a cast of loveable, whizzy characters, it's definitely going to be a firm favourite in our household. 

Honey is in a sticky situation. It's time for her to work out which job she's most suited to within her hive...except Honey doesn't want a boring job, she wants adventure. 

But when the hive falls under attack, Honey and her friends have to flee with their Queen. With the Queen unable to travel far, can Honey find them all a new home...and fast?

This is a super clever concept which combines highly engaging fiction with fascinating factual information. Not only is Honey a fun and relatable character as she tries to find her place in the hive and be true to herself, but readers will learn lots about the hierachy of the hive, why bees swarm and the waggle dance. 

Although the story is relatively short, there's plenty of action packed into the pages. From rides in lifts to nasty encounters with wasps to a very funny, food-orientated fly, it's the story itself that will ultimately fly off the bookshelves. With strong eco-themes, educational learning and emphasis on teamwork and friendship, this book is buzzing with reasons to get stuck in. 


Emerald and the Ocean Parade by Harriet Muncaster

 Link to publisher

Published by: Oxford University Press, 2nd March 2023

With Isadora Moon and Mirabelle remaining hugely popular, prepare to meet a new character living in the same world as Isadora. Emerald and the Ocean Parade takes us under the waves to meet a young mermaid (whose sister once had an encounter with Isadora herself) who is getting used to being part of the royal family...

The Ocean Parade is approaching and Emerald is worried that things are going to be very different this year. Instead of hanging out with her friends and enjoying the stalls, Emerald is now part of the royal family and expected to join in the royal parade. But with lots of rules and expectations, can Emerald find a way to fit in and be herself at the same time?

Although this is a brilliant fantasy set-up with wonderful two-tone illustrations and a fun cast of sea-characters, what is particularly clever about this series is that it is full of relevant themes for young readers. Emerald's parents are separated and the plot focusses on the challenges she faces settling into her new blended family, who just happens to be royal. Exploring the need for understanding and compromise, Harriet Muncaster writes with sensitivity and positivity, acknowledging that while such change can be very tricky to manage, it can also bring with it new and exciting things too. 

Setting these themes underneath the umbrella of an ocean parade brings fun, celebration and action to the story as well. From choosing a headdress, to riding in a dolphin-pulled carriage, Harriet Muncaster immerses us in a totally captivating world that I'm sure we'd all like to be part of. Perfect for the 5+ age-group, it's a fabulous addition to the Isadora Moon series. 

What's new in middle grade?

 When it comes to middle grade novels, we have been absolutely spoiled for choice over the last few months. So much so that our to-be-read p...