Friday 14 April 2023

Dandy The Highway Lion by Stephanie Sorrell

Published by: Chicken House, 2nd March 2023


One of our favourite reads of 2023 so far, Dandy, The Highway Lion by Stephanie Sorrell, illustrated by Roxana de Rond and published by Chicken House is wonderfully old-fashioned storytelling. Taking me back to my own childhood favourites such as Mary Poppins and Peter Pan, with a dose of The Tiger Who Came To Tea mixed in, this 1920's novel, set in London, is an absolute delight. 

Ben and Hattie are struggling to adjust to their new life in London. But when they meet a gentlemanly lion in the park called Mr. Dandy Paws, an unlikely friendship blooms between them. But Dandy is a highway lion on a mission and soon Ben and Hattie are caught up in dangerous adventure whilst trying to avoid a Private Investigator who is determined to sniff out the identity of the highway lion and bring him to justice.

For me, this immediately had the feel of a timeless classic with a larger-than-life character at its centre. Debonair Dandy leaps off the page with flair and panache - a loveable rogue (or he is?) who develops an endearing and rather humorous friendship with two young children. Naturally Ben and Hattie are over the moon at landing a lion as a best friend because what child wouldn't want a lion as a best friend?

However, Dandy isn't the only stand-out character by any means. Leonard is a brilliant, sheepish sidekick while Dandy's bear friend will melt your heart. We loved Miss. Postlethwaite's plain but dogged determination which complimented Dandy's flamboyance and posed a permanent lingering threat similar to a unmoving grey raincloud.

Despite being a fun, roguish adventure, Stephanie's Sorrell's novel tackles big themes. In the same way Dandy sits at the centre of the story, so does animal welfare. Not only does Sorrell hold humans to account over their treatment of wild creatures, she raises a discussion around animals kept in captivity, one that the animal characters contribute to through their voices on the page. Sorrell shows rather than tells, allowing readers to draw their own conclusions on the subject but the result is hugely thought-provoking and there is a great twist at the end. This is magical realism at its best - perfect for adventure lovers, animal lovers and those drawn to the dangerous enigma of highwaymen. 

Tuesday 11 April 2023

Lost on Gibbon Island by Jess Butterworth, illustrated by Rob Biddulph

Link to publisher

Published by: Hachette, 13th April 2023


We loved the Animal Adventure Club young fiction series by Jess Butterworth but this is the first of her middle grade books we've read. Rich in setting, detail and drama, Jess Butterworth sticks firmly with the theme of animal conservation in the wild and explores the very concerning topic of gibbon smuggling in Cambodia...

When Lark Taylor finds herself stranded on a desert island with no one but a baby gibbon for company, her fight for survival becomes brutally real. But soon Lark has more than surviving on her mind as she begins to put the pieces of what happened to her together. Will Lark find her missing companion and get off the island? And can she put a stop to what is happening to the gibbons?

Told in diary format, which makes Lark's experience of being stranded so vivid that you feel like you're there with her, this is a story which unfolds before the readers eyes. With scorching sun, stinging jellyfish and a lack of water to contend with, Lark has to use her instinct and wits to stay alive whilst solving the mystery of why the boat she was on sank. 

Lark is a strong and determined character but her fear and vulnerability of being stranded alone is portrayed beautifully by Jess Butterworth. The first half of the novel, which is illustrated by the fabulous Rob Biddulph, is essentially Lark's solo adventure - alone and afraid with only adorable Goldie for company. Yet, the story is anything but boring, flowing from the Lark like a river as she encounters and overcomes obstacle after obstacle. In the second half of the novel, the mystery comes more to the forefront, building to a dramatic and dangerous climax that took my breath away. The setting is richly imagined and the descriptions of the flora, fauna and animals on the island are wonderfully detailed. 

Woven throughout Lark's story is also the story of Goldie and the gibbons. Raising awareness of human crimes against nature, it explores the danger of smuggling rings and the difficulty in stopping such activity. Heartbreaking and honest, it's a powerful read for the classroom and yet inspires hope within the reader that there is still time to act and people who want to help. On the other hand, however, there's no sugar-coating of the situation Lark finds herself in and I loved the truthfulness of her account which will keep readers gripped. 

So, if you are after a survival story with animal welfare at its heart, this is a book for you. Wild yet wonderful, this has definitely made us want to read more of this author's work. 

A big thanks to NetGalley and Hachette for allowing me a review copy. Lost on Gibbon Island releases tomorrow, 13th April 2023. 

Nic Blake and the Remarkables by Angie Thomas

Link to publisher

Published by: Walker Books, 4th April 2023


If you're into magic, werewolves, vampires or dragons then this new series from Angie Thomas, author of the YA novel The Hate U Give, is perfect. With a dark, edgy and ominous atmosphere right from the get-go, Nic Blake and the Remarkables, with its twisty-turny plot and shocking revelations planted all the way through, is storytelling that will keep you on the edge of your seat. 

Nic Blake is desperate to become a powerful Manifestor like her dad - although her dad keeps putting off teaching her the gift. But when a face from her past unexpectedly turns up, Nic is faced with a series of shocking truths. 

With her dad being accused of a crime she can't believe he committed, Nic is plunged into a terrifying and dangerous quest. To prove her dad's innocence she must hunt for a magical tool she's never heard of in a remarkable world she knows very little about. But with some very dodgy characters on her tail, does she have any chance of finding it in time? And what is Nic's role destined to be in this remarkable world?

Although all of the elements in this novel have essentially been written about before, Angie Thomas has taken up the mantle of this very popular 'magical quest' fantasy genre and created an immersive 3D world that will excite and enthrall fans of Skandar and the Unicorn Thief, Amari and the Night Brothers and Onyeka: The Academy of the Sun. I particularly loved the dark mood which takes the novel to the borderland of horror and the fact that the family drama is as equally as strong as the fantasy elements, giving the story a powerful and personal drive. 

The pages are packed with fabulous characters and settings. From Cocoa, Nic's baby hellhound, to Uncle Ty, her unpredicatable author godfather, to Hairy Junior the shapeshifter to Dee Dee, the devil's daughter, there's a brilliant balance between the cute and the dangerous as Nic struggles to know who she can trust. As if this isn't enough, Angie Thomas has grounded the novel in African American history and folklore, interweaving factual accounts of African American slavery and the civil right's movement with fiction. This gives the novel authenticity and depth as well as raising awareness of the history of the setting and allowing readers an insight into how African Americans were treated. 

The epic ending is not to be spoilt. However, Angie Thomas has set-up what is going to be a incredible trilogy with an outcome that is impossible to predict. Turning the 'chosen one' scenario on its head, I cannot wait to see what happens next in this world and what lies in store for Nic Blake and her friends and family.

A big thanks to NetGalley and Walker Books for a review copy. Nic Blake and the Remarkables: The Manifestor Prophecy is available to buy now.

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