Friday 14 June 2024

Our Latest Middle-Grade reads

Oof! It's been well over a month, if not two, since we last posted a review - sorry about that! But even when life gets busy (really busy!), it doesn't mean we've stopped reading. While I'm taking a moment to breathe and play catch-up, here are some middle grade stories we've been enjoying:

Magicalia by Jennifer Bell

Link to publisher
Published by: Walker, 2nd May 2024

In three words: Magical creatures, Danger

I read Jennifer Bell's The Uncommoner's series in 2018 and, for me, it was the best fantasy series I'd read since Harry Potter.  I was wowed by its endless imagination, the immersive world-building and the way it made me feel. So, when I was given the opportunity to read Magicalia, courtesy of NetGalley, I jumped at the chance. Although very different in style to The Uncommoners, Jennifer Bell's imagination and world-building once again leaps from the cover...

Bitsy leads a normal life...or so she thinks until, one day, she finds a scary magical creature in her house. Then her dad is kidnapped and Bitsy and her friend Kosh are plunged into a magical world where beasts called magicores can be conjured by different emotions. Now Bitsy must come to terms with her new powers as a conjurer and travel the globe on a terrifying search for the truth. Where is her dad and why has he been taken?

This is a magical world which exists alongside our own and one which is exciting, vibrant and dangerous! We're plunged into the story at a breath-taking pace, meeting all sorts of characters and creatures, whilst slipping through secret doors that lead to different places around the world. If that isn't enough to make your head spin, then there's a dark and dangerous villain, riddles and puzzles to solve and betrayal around every corner. Who can Bitsy and Kosh trust?

Magical fantasy for middle-grade readers never ceases to take my breath away. The standard is so exceptionally high and this novel reaches for the stars. It takes something really different to stand out and this does - it's pure imagination come alive. Rather than offering a take on a dragon or a unicorn story, Jennifer Bell literally makes up her own creatures, inspiring readers to hopefully let go of their inhibitions and do the same when it comes to creativity. I don't think there's going to be many boundaries as to where the next book takes us - but if you want to buckle up for a wild ride, then you're going to be guaranteed magic and adventure in bucketloads.

TideMagic:The Many Faces of Ista Flit by Clare Harlow, cover by James Mountford

Link to publisher
Published by: Penguin, 2nd May 2024

In three words: tides, magic, monsters

If you're looking for a story that's equally gripping but slightly  slower in pace and darker in tone, then TideMagic is a great book to choose. Perfect for confident readers and for fans of Hana Tooke, it offers a very unique take on magic in a strange but immersive world...

In the dark, misty alleyways of Shelwich, magic rises and falls with the tide. Ista Flit has one goal - to use her power of changing faces, which the tide has bestowed on her, to find the truth behind her dad's disappearance. But when other vanishings begin to occur, there appears to be only one explanation: the grilks! Drawn into a web of lies and deceit and forced to steal, Ista joins forces with Nat and Ruby - children who are also searching for their loved ones - to solve a mystery that leads them to old theatres and caves. But will Ista find her father and will she be able to free herself from the nets she's become entangled in. 

This story is so hugely atmospheric, I swear I could smell the salt of the sea as I was reading it. The narrow, cobbled and misty streets, which are a very familiar sight in my home county of Cornwall, are the perfect setting for this grim and gritty mystery which builds like a rising tide. There's suspense, tension and intrigue as well as some brilliant twists and turns. Plus, the magic is eerie and unsettling but also fascinating. 

Ista Flit, with her ability to change faces, is a great character - troubled, alone and determined. I also loved the supporting characters of Nat and Ruby, each with their own distinct characters, and the relationship that develops between them is both entertaining and touching. For me, though, the grilks steal the show. They give this novel its creepy vibe and a very different type of villain. With no real clue as to where the next book in the series is going to lead, I'm very keen to find out.

Twice Upon A Time by Michelle Harrison, illustrated by Natalie Smillie

Published by: Simon & Schuster, 11th April 2024

Link to publisher

In three words: Murder, Mystery, Time

This is the moment where I admit that I have never read a Michelle Harrison novel, even though I have had A Pinch of Magic series sitting upstairs for a long time! Therefore, again, I jumped at the chance to read and review this new release. Expecting something magical, I was surprised to find that this is actual a murder mystery novel (my favourite) with a very slight twist that gives the story a very clever USP...

The Morrow twins, Merry and Spike, are less than impressed when they find out they're spending their summer in a dusty old house. But they soon discover, that the house is the setting of an unsolved disappearance. With the mysterious event still hanging heavily over the household and its residents, Merry and Spike decide to investigate using their secret skill: manipulating time. But is time something you should mess with?

This reminded me of Robin Steven's series, The Ministry of Unladylike Activity, and Bella Bright and The Ghost Game by Carolyn Ward. Although it's not a spooky story as such, there are definitely creepy elements to the storyline and the setting is hugely atmospheric. It has the feel of a very traditional murder mystery; old houses, mournful residents, moorlands and a strange and tragic happening, but Michelle Harrison has combined it with something fresh and new. And for anyone may be feeling dubious about complicated time travel or confusing narratives, don't worry! The time element is simple but very effective. 

The novel is well-plotted and kept me guessing to the end, although there are clues along the way to pick up on. There's also a great mix of characters and I enjoyed the fact that the twins were very different and therefore distinguishable. Whether there will be a sequel, I'm not sure, but this could easily become a series; following the twins as they solve other mysteries using their skill. Watch this space!

Gargoyles: Guardians of the Source by Tamsin Mori

Link to publisher

Published by: UClan, 4th April 2024

In three words: Gargoyles, Protectors, Magic, 

Again, I have to admit to not having read Tamsin Mori's Weather Weaver series (where have I been) but the concept of a story about gargoyles was too good too ignore. Combined with the incredible front cover, which made myself and my son snap to attention, we dived in straight away...

 Callen's dad has always been secretive about his past. So when they move into his childhood home, Callen is shocked to find that it's a huge boarded-up mansion, covered in gargoyles that's practically falling down. But there's also something dark and unsettling about the house and when a grumpy gargoyle comes to life in front of Callen, he begins to learn all about the mansion's dark but magical history. As Callen makes friends and discovers their secrets, something sinister is brooding in the shadows. Can Callen befriend the gargoyle Zuriel and find out the truth about his dad's past?

We loved the imagination of this book. Again, with old, dusty mansions, overgrown gardens and magical creatures, it was immediately atmospheric and the gargoyles had us gripped. Fierce and wild, with a raw and dangerous power that matched Aslan from The Chronicles of Narnia, you can just tell that these creatures, and the series itself, is going to grow in darkness and power. In this first instalment, Tamsin Mori has set the groundwork for a big name it! It already feels quite epic in scale and you can tell this is an author who knows her world. 

We loved the setting, the characters and the mystery. Callen was hugely likeable and relable as a main character, making mistakes and having to learn from them. It also felt very realistic that his burgeoning friendships didn't develop too quickly. This is a corker of an adventure with a great dose of darkness which transported me back to those awesome adventures of He-Man and She-Ra with high stakes, high action and big baddies. It's perfect for both genders but definitely one to grab the boys.

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Our Latest Middle-Grade reads

Oof! It's been well over a month, if not two, since we last posted a review - sorry about that! But even when life gets busy (really bus...