Tuesday 20 February 2024

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 pile is about to topple over and our list of previews on NetGalley has us scheduled until the summer. If we could have a super-power, it would absolutely be the gift of reading faster. Still, we've been busy making headway and so let's get cracking with some new and upcoming releases:

The Clockwork Conspiracy by Sam Sedgman

Link to publisher
Published by: Bloomsbury, 1st February 2024
In three words: Time, villains, mystery

We jumped at the chance to review this book. Firstly, because the author is Sam Sedgman, who penned the fantastic Adventures On Trains series with M.G Leonard, and, secondly, because of the fantastic title. The words 'Isaac Turner Investigates' also suggests that this is going to be a series and, after loving this first instalment, that makes us really happy. 

Isaac Turner's dad is the horologist in charge of Big Ben. But when he mysteriously disappears, Isaac's world is thrown into utter confusion. How could his dad vanish from the belfry and why has he left behind a cryptic clue? With the help of a new friend, Isaac solves a series of puzzles which leads him across London in what is literally a race against time.

If you enjoyed Adventures on Trains, then you will absolutely not be disappointed by this new novel. It is seamlessly and smoothly written with a super-cool, sophisticated plot. On a personal note, I was slightly worried about being bamboozled by the concepts of science and time, and although I did struggle to keep up in places, it never interfered with my enjoyment of the novel because the plot is so fast-paced and engaging. Sam Sedgman's explanations are fascinating and his knowledge of the topic is superb - something which only enhances the delivery of the story. 

If clocks are not of particular interest to you, don't worry. There are high stakes, a huge amount of peril and some very ruthless villains to contend with. The characters are big, bold and memorable and the ending is highly ingenious and tense. Sam Sedgman has made trains and now clocks exciting, dynamic and the backdrop for absolutely brilliant drama. 

Yesterday Crumb and the Tea Witch's Secret by Andy Sagar
Published by: Hachette, 15th February 2024
In three words: Tea, cake, witchery

If you're after something more fantastical then the final instalment of The Yesterday Crumb series is out now. This has been a firm favourite over the last two years because Andy Sagar takes a wild and ruthless adventure, mixes it with tea and cake (and the wonderful Miss. Dumpling) and makes it feel completely cosy...

Yesterday Crumb and her friends are on an overwhelming mission - they need to find a way to defeat her father, Mr. Weep, before he storms the world of the living with his army. But as they search for allies, a mysterious flower seems to be turning people against them and freezing their hearts. Yesterday must find the courage to face a terrifying fight...but does the answer lie in a pot of tea?

Never mind the fact that Yesterday battles with the ruler of The Land of the Dead or visits giants or is faced with her worst nightmares, this story will warm you from the inside out. We couldn't get enough of the tea magic and wanted Yesterday to make a new brew on every page. The characters are wonderful - Madrigal has become a particular favourite and it was great to see Miss. Dumpling back in the fray, but Pascal stole our hearts - and it was refreshing to see Yesterday explore her flaws as well as heandr strengths. 

The series finishes with some unexpected twists and turns, taking us to new places in the world. There's certainly never a dull moment, the pace is swift and the imagination is joyful. Watch out for the meeting of the tea shops - it's brilliantly visual and beautifully created. We only wish we could visit them.

The Artezans by L.D. Lapinski
Published by: Hachette, 29th February 2024
In three words: Magic, dreams, nightmares

From the author of The Strangeworlds Travel Agency, Jamie and Stepfather Christmas comes a brand-new fantasy series about finding your magic. 

Edward and Elodie Crane belong to a magical family but are they magic themselves? For the past 400 years, magic has been fading with only a few powerful gifts remaining. 

But as Edward's magic is gradually revealed, much to his relief, he embarks on a journey into the land of dreams... until the dreams start morphing into nightmares. Now everything Edward hoped for is being challenged - can he work out what is happening before the nightmares become real?

There are a lot of magical middle grade novels out there but, yet again, L.D Lapinski has found a unique angle that has a strong backstory. Magic in this world has been dwindling, a mystery which needs solving in itself, and then the magic takes us into the realm of dreams and nightmares, which again offers a slightly different USP. Add in strong themes of family, identity and belonging - a topic that is highly relatable to the target readership, if not readers of any age - and you immediately get the sense that something big is about to unfold. 

L.D Lapinski's world-building is rich and imaginative, with the world of nightmares giving the story a dark, sinister and rather unsettling edge. We really enjoyed exploring the different types of magic and the unpredicatable plot kept us guessing. We also really liked that Edward was a underconfident, rather anxious character who desperately wanted to explore who he was and what he had to offer. We're looking forward to seeing what unfolds next...

A big thanks to NetGalley and to the above publishers for allowing us a review copy. All of these books are available to buy or pre-order now. 

Monday 19 February 2024

What's new in chapter books and graphic novels?

My son is now deep in the realm of searching for books he wants to read independently and chapter books and graphic novels are always a great option for him because they are short, accessible and very often funny. Although we have read together since he was tiny and he's enjoyed a wide range of picture books, chapter books and middle grade novels, building up his own reading has been more of a challenge. Reading for pleasure and enjoyment is, for us as a family, the most important thing and so we're starting this round-up with something he loved:

Pablo and Splash by Sheena Dempsey

Link to publisher

Published by: Bloomsbury, 18th January 2024


Graphic novels are a great way of engaging reluctant readers and, after barely reading any graphic novels in my forty-something years, I have discovered a real love for them too! All of the ones we have read so far, including DogMan, Agent Moose, Bumble and Snug and Pea, Bee and Jay have been incredibly clever and hugely funny and this was no exception:

Pablo and Splash are the best of friends and totally different. Pablo likes his life in the Antarctic but Splash wants change and adventure! Fed up of the freezing weather, Splash persuades Pablo to go on holiday with him. But a series of unexpected events leads them on a time-travelling escapade to the dinosaur age instead. Was life in the Antarctic really that bad?

This is the first in a series of adventures for Pablo and Splash and we found them to be instantly loveable. If you're after a laugh-out-loud adventure that's fun and very silly then you've found the perfect pair of penguins. The illustrations are fab, the plot is twisty and turny and the humour is spot on for younger readers, whilst also appealing to anyone who fancies a giggle. Graphic novels really are the dream combination of words and pictures - exciting, unintimidating and totally page-turning.

The Dog Squad by Clara Vulliamy

Published by: HarperCollins, 18th January 2024


Perfect for dog lovers, this is the second in a really lovely series about dogs and journalism. It may seem like an odd combination but it really works! Penned by Clara Vulliamy, author of the Dotty Detective and Marshmallow Pie books, it's a simple but gentle story with a great twist. 

When Eva and her friends take Wafer to a whippet racing competition, Eva is super proud of her pet. But something is amiss - some underhand cheating is going on and Eva smells a new story...

We really loved the characters in this series. Wafer, of course, is star of the show but Eva and her friends have a lovely dynamic. The author creates an ominous sense of peril with some grumpier characters and there is also an element of mystery which Eva must uncover if she wants to write her story. This is great for anyone who prefers 'real-world' stories. Eva's love for her pet, Wafer, is really relatable and the books fit really well into the pet genre that is really popular with chapter book readers, whilst also offering a new and specific angle. 

The Magician Next Door by Rachel Chivers Khoo, illustrated by Alice McKinley

Link to publisher

Published by: Walker Books, 7th March 2024

If you're looking for something more fantastical, then this is the book for you. As with Rachel Chivers Khoo's first chapter book, The Wishkeeper's Apprentice, this has the magical and traditional feel of the stories I used to read as a child. With a magician and giants and spells going wrong, it is packed full of imagination, joy and delight. 

Ten year old Callie is struggling to settle into her new life in the mountains after living a life in London. But when a magical house crashes into her garden, Callie is pulled into an urgent mission. 

Winnifred, the owner of the house, has lost her precious Wanderdust and if Callie can't help her find it, then her house is in terrible danger. But soon Callie learns that she might be the reason for the Wanderdust going missing in the first place.

This story deals with big and relatable issues, such as grief, moving house and old and new friendships. And yet Rachel Chivers Khoo wraps these themes up in a captivating and immersive story that crackles with magic. The result is a rollercoaster ride of imagination, adventure, peril and emotion. There are high stakes and urgent missions at the same time as Callie is coming to terms with her past, present and future. However, none of it felt too heavy because there's a great balance of light and dark, humour and sadness mixed with a huge dose of imagination. 

There's a fabulous nod to folklore and famous stories too - giants, houses falling out of the sky, woodland and pixies all remind me of those old classics. And yet there's something incredible fresh and contemporary about the story too as well as a dynamic and exciting energy. 

Princess Katie's Kittens: Ruby and the Royal Baby by Julie Sykes, illustrated by Sam Loman

Published by: Piccadilly Press, May 9th 2024


The fifth book in this series is just as delightful as the others and this time it is Ruby's turn to have an adventure. The last of the five kittens finds herself getting into trouble as she explores the wider world around her...

The Queen is having a baby! Katie is over the moon that she is going to be a big sister again and she and her friend, Becky, launch themselves into preparing for the new arrival. 

But it's not long before Ruby the kitten interrupts their plans by unintentionally causing mischief and mayhem. The Queen isn't happy either... Will Ruby be allowed to stay? And can Katie fix everything before the baby is born?

Told in a dual perspective which cleverly switches between Katie and Ruby, these stories are perfect for encouraging independent reading. The chapters are short, the illustrations are delightful and there are strong themes of family, friendship and how to care for animals.  We really liked how some factual information is always woven into the text and, in this story there's a gentle warning about introducing cats to babies.

The 'princess' aspect of the series is also very appealing and adds another layer of specialness to the concept. Despite this, however, Katie and her family still feel very relatable to readers.

A big thanks to NetGalley and all the above publishers for allowing us review copies of these new and upcoming chapter books. All these books are avaiable to purchase or pre-order.

The Lighthouse at the World's End: The fourth and final instalment

  Link to publisher Published by: Walker Books, 4th April 2024 In three words: Marvellous Magical Mayhem! Written by Amy Sparkes, illustrate...