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. 

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