Middle-Grade Books

BRAND NEW BOY

author: David Almond

illustrator: Marta Altés

Walker Books (5 November 2020)

ISBN: 9781406358087

When a new boy, George joins the class, everyone can see that he’s a bit strange. But that’s okay; everyone is a bit weird in their own way. But George is friendly, brilliant at maths and football and that’s what matters to Dan, Maxie and Louise. But when Louise sees his ear fall off in class and Dan gets a hold of Georges’ strange food requirements for tea, something doesn’t seem right. And George is always followed closely by Miss Crystal and her notebook, and Eden Marsh in his shiny black van. The truth about George is even stranger than anyone would believe…and much more sinister.

In a story about friendship and belonging, Brand New Boy pushes the boundaries out that bit further and makes the reader think about these things, while entering the world of typical, ordinary kids with a refreshing childlike vision. Dan, Maxie and Louise are bold, cheeky, imaginative, quick, are full of nonsense and are very interested when something, or someone unusual appears. As they befriend George and the reasons behind his strangeness start to unfold, these kids take it on personally. Exercising great empathy and understanding, Dan, Maxie and Louise concoct a plan to give George true freedom. The book is irreverent and poses some very big questions about AI and technological advancement. There is a very tongue-in-cheek view of authority figures and following the rules, like all of Almonds’ books. Be prepared, there is a truly bittersweet ending. With themes of compassion, acceptance, and what it means to be human, Brand New Boy is utterly charming, warm and thoughtful…and also very funny. https://www.walker.co.uk/Brand-New-Boy-9781406358087.aspx

ROOFTOPPERS

author: Katherine Rundell

cover illustration: Mary-Alice Harel

Bloomsbury Childrens’ Books (28 May 2020)

ISBN: 9781526624802

Everyone thinks that Sophie is an orphan. There were no other female survivors from the shipwreck which left baby Sophie floating in the English Channel in a cello case, but Sophie remembers seeing her mother wave for help. Her guardian, Charles tells her it is almost impossible that her mother is still alive, but that means still possible. You should never ignore a possible. So when, as she nears her 12th birthday, the Welfare Agency threatens to send Sophie to an orphanage, she and Charles make a decision. They flee to Paris to look for her mother, starting with the only clue she has – the address of the cello maker. Dodging the French authorities, she meets Matteo and his network of rooftoppers – urchins who live on the rooftops of Paris. Together they scour the city for Sophie’s mother before she is caught and sent back to London, and most importantly before she loses hope.

Rooftoppers 2013

What an exceptional book! Beautifully written, crafted in a most imaginative way, Rooftoppers is a truly unique and spell-binding story. The central character, Sophie, most deservedly takes her place alongside other children’s books heroines, such as Matilda and Pippi Longstocking, as a bold, intelligent and strong character filled with hope and belief. The relationship between Sophie and Charles is at once touching, heartfelt and amusing. Matteo is exceptional, acting as a wonderful challenge and support for Sophie, while providing a fascinating companion story that gives rich understanding and empathy. As the story progresses, the characters develop, becoming more tangible, more personable and fully-human. The settings and storyline are textural and evocative, descriptively revealed with a genuine appreciation for time and place. The pacing is pitch-perfect with a genuine sense of the journey taken by our characters. This book is absolute gold-dust, completely deserving of every accolade it’s already received. Originally published in 2013, I was beside myself with joy at this new edition. I can’t recommend Rooftoppers highly enough and encouraged both children and adults to read it. This is one I return to again and again. Quite possibly the best book I’ve ever read. Stylish, memorable, exciting…. simply amazing! https://www.bloomsbury.com/au/rooftoppers-9781526624802/

THE IMPOSSIBLE BOY

author: Ben Brooks

illustrator: George Ermos

Quercus Childrens Books (11 June 2020)

ISBN: 9781786541048

Oleg and Emma invent a new classmate, Sebastian Cole. But when they sneak off to their secret den, an impossible surprise is waiting for them. A cardboard spaceship is standing where they normally sit and emerging from it is…Sebastian Cole. Sebastian isn’t like their other classmates at all, with his satchel that produces everything from ice cream to a three-man pop-up tent. As Sebastian enters their world, so do many other impossible things; a goat wreaking havoc in the school, an array of snowwomen patrolling the streets at night and sinister shiny vans of crow people looking for Sebastian. It seems the Institute of Unreality will stop at nothing to capture and erase him from the world. Oleg and Emma join forces with the school’s cowboy gardener, an imprisoned scientist and the rest of Year 6 to protect Sebastian … but will they be too late?

This is a book that highlights the possibilities that lie in imagination and wonder. Original, funny and covering a wide range of emotions and issues, it is filled with adventure, suspense and heart. The characters spring from the pages full of life and reality. Sebastian himself shines by encouraging the others to accept and embrace differences and the possibility of the impossible. The fast pace of the unfolding adventure contains moments for the reader to absorb and reflect. In doing so, there is real scope to understand how each episode, each person connects and builds to a very satisfying, warm, magical conclusion. A fantastic book for Christmas-time…or any time. Simply a wonderful book. (Originally reviewed for Inis Magazine; Childrens Books Ireland)

LORI and MAX and the BOOK THIEVES

author: Catherine O’Flynn

Firefly Press (8 October 2020)

ISBN: 9781913102357

Lori, with her keen eye and incisive detective skills is sitting in her classroom at New Heath Primary School. She picks up her pencil and gets ready to write in her detective notebook…todays’ date and “nothing to report.” With a sigh, Lori has to admit things have been pretty quiet since she saved bestfriend Max from kidnapping. And she is itching for a real mystery to sink her detecting teeth into. Suddenly, everything turns on its’ head. First, Maxs’ new phone is stolen and they find themselves taking on a gang leader. Then Max has to move (again) and her dog, Fang has to come live with Lori. (This does not make her happy.) Fang unearths a buried lunchbox, which leads to a mystery involving information about Loris’ long-lost parents, a missing antique book and a crooked antique dealer who happens to be Grans’ hero. It’s all go in New Heath!

This follow-up to Lori and Max is filled with more adventure, friendship and intrigue, making this a wonderful child-detective story along the classic lines of Nancy Drew mysteries. Lori is a clever, funny character and her observations lend a genuine sense of irony and humour to the day-to-day lives of those around her. It seems nothing escapes her view. Max is full of heart and hope. As the multiple mysteries mount up and the girls devise an undercover operation that could place them in real danger, present social issues are raised such as poverty, knife-crime, criminal gangs and mental health, but in way that is non-threatening, engaging and sincere. This brings a contemporary, believable feel to the story. But it is the sense of friendship between the two girls that drives the tale and makes it sing. Together, they are unstoppable! Exciting, gripping, genuine and just wonderful! https://fireflypress.co.uk/books/book-thieves/

THE MIDNIGHT HOWL

authors: Benjamin Read & Laura Trinder

cover illustration: Hannah Peck

Chicken House (3 September 2020)

ISBN: 9781912626878

Emily is beside herself when her parents agree to let her back into the Midnight Hour- a secret Victorian London frozen in time, home to magic and monsters and a world she is a part of. But when Emily discovers that magic is leaking out into the contemporary London, she must work out why and how. She knows it has something to do with her; umm, difficult, shape-shifting Pooka relatives. Between them and a strange, terrifying haunting, it seems an impossible task. If Emily can’t figure out what’s going on, it may mean the end of the midnight world…forever.

The Midnight Hour

Filled with monsters from your worst nightmares and situations from your wildest dreams, The Midnight Howl takes us back to a well-imagined fantasy world with a plucky heroine with heart, cleverness and a gob that just doesn’t stop. Typical family scenarios such as preparing for a new sibling, negotiating parental restrictions and healing old family wounds form a background to a thrilling adventure/mystery. Just when you think you have a grip on what’s happening, the plot twists and drives the story in a new, unexpected direction. This is one that really keeps you on your toes. I do recommend reading its’ predecessor, The Midnight Hour first for a better understanding of all the elements of the story…and besides, it’s just brilliant. Quirky characters, lots of heart, nonstop magical action and really rather spooky…you will love it! https://www.chickenhousebooks.com/books/midnight-howl/

PAGES & CO: TILLY and the LOST FAIRYTALES

author: Anna James

illustrator: Paola Escobar

HarperCollinsChildrensBooks (2 April 2020)

ISBN: 9780008229917

Tilly Pages’ life changed when she discovered that she is a bookwanderer. She can travel inside books and talk to the characters she meets there. After wandering through books, rescuing her long lost mother and uncovering Enoch Chalks’ evil plot, you’d think things would be looking up for Tilly. But her mother can’t seem to settle back into ‘real life’ and a new scandal is brewing at the Underlibrary. When fairytales, the most pure and unpredictable of stories, start leaking book magic and causing havoc in the world, Tillys’ skills are really put to the test. While on a winters’ visit to Paris, Tilly and her best friend Oskar take the leap into the land of fairytales only to discover that stories are all mixed up, characters are getting lost and weird plot holes are opening without warning. Can Tilly work out who, or what, is behind the chaos so everyone gets their happily-ever-after?

The second in the Pages & Co series, this takes us on another magical journey that will send bookworms of all ages to places and times they have always dreamed of going. It is a book-lovers’ dream. Tilly is a brilliant main character; bold, adventurous, quick-thinking with exceptional book knowledge and an imaginative streak that allows her to come through the trickiest situations. Oskar is the perfect best-friend and foil for her; creative, inventive and a steadying influence. Central themes of friendship, loyalty, difference and a celebration of all things bookish bubble up through an incredible adventure. With a nod towards the true nature of fairytales, it is simply magical and leaves you wanting more. (Fortunately, the third in the series; Tilly and the Map of Stories is out now…I’m off to buy it now! ) https://www.harpercollins.co.uk/9780008229917/pages-and-co-tilly-and-the-lost-fairy-tales-pages-and-co-book-2/

THE MONSTERS OF ROOKHAVEN

author: Pádraig Kenny

illustrator: Edward Bettison

Macmillan Childrens Books (17 September 2020)

ISBN: 9781529054705

Mirabelle has always known she is a monster; of that there is no doubt. Even though she does not appear to have a particular “talent”, unlike the rest of her monstrous family. When the glamour protecting their home from the human world is torn, and an orphaned brother and sister stumble into their lives, suspicion and fear are replaced by friendship and caring. Mirabelles’ world becomes one she can share. But as the siblings enter Rookhaven, they bring something else with them; something far more dangerous and threatening than the mere humans could ever be. It all becomes quite clear that real monsters aren’t just the ones you can see. Real monsters lurk in the darkest recesses, waiting for their chance to poison the heart and the mind.

Spinning a web of gothic-style adventure, this is, at its’ heart, a story of family and friendship woven through a very unique version of the classic monster tale. It grabs the attention in the very first sentence and compels us along through an intricate world of unusual characters and richly textured landscapes until the very last page. Each character is drawn with an expert hand, full of life (or after-life, as the case may be) and nuance. One character, Piglet sits in the depths of this story; a monster locked away for years; very “dangerous”. But his danger is not what you imagine it could be. The plot builds steadily with many twists and turns along the way that lead us to places we wouldn’t dream of entering and leave us with unexpected emotion and understanding. The illustrations scattered through the book add to the mystery and atmosphere with their stark silhouettes and fascinating detail.  And the adventure is thrilling. We merge into the building drama standing alongside Mirabelle, Jem and Tom, but we are always looking for the nearest exit…and never wanting to leave. Gripping, imaginative, thought-provoking, exciting and incredibly spell-binding.

https://www.panmacmillan.com/authors/padraig-kenny/the-monsters-of-rookhaven/9781529031492

THE TEN RIDDLES OF EARTHA QUICKSMITH

author: Loris Owen

Firefly Press (10 September 2020)

ISBN: 9781913102319

Kip Bramleys’ life has been shattered since the strange accident which took his sister from them and robbed his mother of her memory. But when he unexpectedly receives a enigmatic message, delivered by a beetle-shaped drone (that seems to be breathing!), that’s all about to change…dramatically. Kip has been selected to attend Quicksmiths’ Academy of Strange Energy; a rare invitation given to very few children who have demonstrated unique gifts and abilities. Before long, Kip is chasing riddles and solving puzzles, set on a bizarre treasure hunt set 400 years ago by Eartha Quicksmith, a mysterious genius with a foresight that enabled her to see into a time in the future when dark forces would gather to control and manipulate strange scientific energies for their own purposes. And the only thing that can stop them is a hero with the unique capability to solve the cryptic clues she has left behind. That time is now. That hero is Kip. But he will need all the help he can get.

An exciting and fascinating debut novel, this takes you into a world that stretches imagination and possibility. A world of puzzles, riddles, friendship, danger and incredible adventure opens up within these pages and demands that the reader ‘think outside the box.’ Kip is a wonderful character; very intelligent, extremely curious and battling his own insecurities and fears while trying to fit in. When he enters Quicksmiths’ Academy, he sees the possibility of actually belonging somewhere, in spite of the challenges he faces there; a place where his “weirdness” doesn’t mark him as an outsider and he is encouraged to explore possibilities, no matter how unlikely they may seem. The plot is filled with twists and turns that keep the reader guessing. This is indeed a strange new world; inventive, imaginative, intelligent, full of mystery and humourous mayhem. The first in a new series; it’s simply wonderful. https://fireflypress.co.uk/books/ten-riddles/

MY LIFE AS A CAT 

author: Carlie Sorosiak

Nosy Crow (3 September 2020)

ISBN: 9781788006088

Leonard has never had a name, or a best friend…or a body for that matter. He comes from a very different galaxy. Yes, Leonard is an alien. In his home galaxy on each beings’ three-hundredth birthday, every alien gets the chance to spend one month in the body of an Earth Creature. And Leonard is very excited to try being a human. He was supposed to live life as a forest ranger in Yellowstone National Park; out in the wilds, taking other humans on hikes and tours from his isolated cabin. But there was a mix-up as he was arriving. He’s not in Yellowstone. He’s not a forest ranger. Leonard isn’t even human. Leonard is a stray cat. And he’s stuck in a tree during a horrible storm far, far away from where he was supposed to be. But fortunately for Leonard, he meets a young human named Olive. Together, they set out on a journey to get back to his home. That is, if he still wants to get there…Full of heart and humour, this is an adventure that simply sings. Leonards’ observations on life as a cat (much to his dismay) add a unique point of view into what it means to be human and how we relate to the world and the creatures we share it with. It’s filled with animal and sea life facts, the oddness of our beautiful world and how we act and react to others. It’s family life with all its’ challenges, triumphs and disappointments. It’s intelligent, insightful and very, very funny. With characters that are believable and expressive, this story feels more like you’re living it than reading it. Charming, moving, exciting and genuine; you will laugh at loud and shed a few tears.
https://nosycrow.com/product/my-life-as-a-cat/

DEATH SETS SAIL : A Murder Most Unladylike Mystery

author: Robin Stevens

Puffin Books (6 August 2020)

ISBN: 978021419809

“Daisy Wells and Hazel Wong are in Egypt, where they are taking a cruise along the Nile. They are hoping to see some ancient temples and a mummy or two; what they get, instead, is murder.Also travelling on the SS Hatshepsut is a mysterious society called the Breath of Life: a group of genteel English ladies and gentlemen, who believe themselves to be reincarnations of the ancient pharaohs. Three days into the cruise their leader, Theodora Miller, is found dead in her cabin, stabbed during the night. It soon becomes clear to Daisy and Hazel that Theodora’s timid daughter Hephzibah, who is prone to sleepwalking, is being framed. And within the society, everyone has a reason to want Theodora dead…

Daisy and Hazel leap into action and begin to investigate their most difficult case yet. But there is danger all around, and only one of the Detective Society will make it home alive…”

Thrilling, clever and exceptionally well-crafted; the last in the Murder Most Unladylike series does NOT disappoint on any level. It has the atmosphere of the mysterious Egyptian landscape and its’ past, the drama and intrigue of a classic murder mystery and the adventurous appeal of a ‘boarding school’ story. The subtlety and nuance as each layer of events is peeled back, the twists and turns and the pure theatre of the whole thing makes it as compelling a story as I have ever read. The nod back to Agatha Christie and Sherlock Holmes novels is evident, and none the less fascinating for it. And the shocking twists (yes, there are at least two) as we near the end will leave the reader gasping for breath and trust me, if you have been along with the girls for the series, you will shed a few tears. It is sad to bid goodbye to these two brilliant, intelligent and bold young detectives, but all good things, as they say. I whole-heartedly recommend you read them all, again and again. But this one…wow! Utterly, utterly marvelous!


JEFFERSON

author: Jean-Claude Mourvelat

Andersen Press (6 August 2020)

ISBN: 9781783449699

“When Jefferson the hedgehog goes to his local hairdresser’s, he’s shocked to discover the barber lying dead on the floor. Falsely accused of the murder, Jefferson goes into hiding in the human kingdom with only his friend Gilbert the pig to help him clear his name. But can the two hunt down the real killer before it’s too late? And how is the murder connected to the fight for animal rights?”

A murder mystery with a difference, this book is filled with action, accusations and presumptions, plot twists and big reveals that bring a real understanding of things not being what they seem. With an insightful nod to the plight of animals in a human world and hints of environmental/ecological concerns, Jefferson takes the reader on a thrilling and chilling chase, unveiling its’ secrets bit by bit. Its’ characters are painted with a depth and imagination that allow the reader to really understand them, coming to grips with the feeling behind the story and gaining a genuine sense of friendship and camaraderie. A well-crafted tale, there is an abundance of multi-layered humour, from clever irony and word-play to near slapstick; interjected at just the right moment to light up the darkness. Quirky, funny, dramatic and revealing; a magical rocket-ride that is entertaining and touching at the same time.


ANNIE LUMSDEN: The Girl From The Sea

author: David Almond

illustrator: Beatrice Alemagna

Walker Books (6 August 2020)

ISBN: 9781406377590

“My mother says that all things can be turned to tales. I thought she meant tales like fish tails, but I was wrong. She meant tales like this, tales that are stories. But this tale of mine is very like a fish tail too… Annie has never been like the other girls. Her mam tried sending her to school when she was small, but Annie couldn’t seem to make words or numbers stick. She prefers instead to be swimming in the sea, or sunbathing on the shore at Stupor Beach, her head full of tales. She should have been a fish, her mam always tells her, and Annie knows the truth of it. Then a stranger who comes to town is struck by the beauty and the wonder of her, and Annie Lumsden realizes that perhaps she really is half a creature from the sea.”

A dream-like tale from one of the most magnificent storytellers of our times, this is a story of a very unique girl with gentle references to dyslexia and difference. Annie herself is a wonderful character, loaded with feeling and curiosity about the world, its’ stories and most of all, herself. It’s gently rolling text reveals the tale of her origins and guides her with comfort to understanding her identity. The exquisite illustrations wrap themselves around and through the book, teasing the rhythm and texture onto the page.Annie Lumsden… reads like a fable and easily becomes part of the readers consciousness, causing a shift in perception (much like many of Almonds’ other books and in particular, Skellig.) It is haunting, ebbing and flowing like the tides that create it. Gently humourous, astoundingly insightful and utterly enchanting; Almond never disappoints and this is one not to miss..at any age. 

THE WILD WAY HOME

author: Sophie Kirtley

Blooomsbury Childrens Books (9 July 2020)

ISBN: 9781526616289

“When Charlie’s longed-for brother is born with a serious heart condition, Charlie’s world is turned upside down. Upset and afraid, Charlie flees the hospital and makes for the ancient forest on the edge of town. There Charlie finds a boy floating face-down in the stream, injured, but alive. But when Charlie sets off back to the hospital to fetch help, it seems the forest has changed. It’s become a place as strange and wild as the boy dressed in deerskins. For Charlie has unwittingly fled into the Stone Age, with no way to help the boy or return to the present day. Or is there … ?
What follows is a wild, big-hearted adventure as Charlie and the Stone Age boy set out together to find what they have lost – their courage, their hope, their family and their way home.
Fans of Piers Torday, Geraldine McCaughrean and Stig of the Dump will love this wild, wise and heartfelt debut adventure.”

An intrepid time-flip story that will keep you on the edge of your seat; this is a debut full of wonder and heart. With elements of such fabulous books as Stig of the Dump by Clive King, David Almonds’ Skellig and The Last Wild by Piers Torday, the reader is catapulted into the ancient past, where Charlie finds that, while things are very different, the important things remain consistent. Charlie is driven by fear and worry for his new baby brother; Harby, the stone-age boy he finds is desperate to help his baby sister. Both are lost and alone, trying to get home, dealing with loss and struggling with responsibility as well as suspicion. It is this emotional impact that drives the story through its’ seamless, fast-paced, nail-biting plot. The surrounding environment is well detailed, offering a true, textural sense of time(s) and place, adding to the urgency, and sometimes exhaustion felt by both main characters as they come to build understanding and friendship. A beautifully rendered tale that speaks of courage, heartbreak, hope, family and homecoming.


THE SHORT KNIFE

author: Elen Caldecott

Andersen Press (2 July 2020)

ISBN: 9781783449798

“It is the year 454AD. The Roman Empire has withdrawn from Britain, throwing it into the chaos of the Dark Ages. Mai has been kept safe by her father and her sister, Haf. But when Saxon warriors arrive at their farm, the family is forced to flee to the hills where British warlords lie in wait. Can Mai survive in a dangerous world where speaking her mother tongue might be deadly, and where even the people she loves the most can’t be trusted?”

This gripping historical fiction reveals a time of division and conflict 1600 years ago and begs questions of identity, loyalty and human endurance; questions that are still, maybe even more pertinent today. Mai is a stunning character; quick-witted, clever and determined. She navigates through a harsh life with lethal danger at every turn. Her character grows and changes, rapidly taking in knowledge and information and learning when to fight and when to bide her time. But all the while she maintains a sense of what it means to be herself. The landscape and history are rolled out in detail that is full of texture that gives a believable portrait of the Dark Ages, its’ conflicts and its’ people. The tale is a glorious coming-of-age battle, showing that while history moves forward, the nuances of growing up remain starkly similar regardless of the times we live in. Intriguing, compelling, realistic and sharp, you will hang on to every word. 


WILDE

author: Eloise Williams

Firefly Press (1 May 2020)

ISBN: 1913102180

“Being different can be dangerous. Wilde is afraid strange things are happening around her. Are the birds following her? Is she flying in her sleep? Moving to live with her aunt seems to make it all worse. Wilde is desperate to fit in at her new school, but things keep getting stranger. In a fierce heatwave, in rehearsals for a school play telling the old, local legend of a witch called Winter, ‘The Witch’ starts leaving pupils frightening letters cursing them. Can Wilde find out what’s happening before everyone blames her? Or will she always be the outcast?…. And can she break the curse of a witch called Winter?”

A beautifully written, fabulously crafted story of mystery, history and belonging; Wilde is a tour-de-force of magical realism. Told in a first-person voice that is genuine and truly believable, the story builds with a deliberate pace that holds the reader firmly within its pages. Wilde herself is a wonderful character. Bold, determined, conflicted and clever, she seeks only to be ‘normal’, to fit in. But she discovers that winning the acceptance of those with suspicious minds is a near impossible feat…when you, like it or not, stand out. First, she has to accept herself. Atmospheric descriptions set a scene of increasing tension as her own story, and that of the witch called Winter, play out and old fears and truths are revealed. The background of Witch Points’ long and troubled history adds an evocative note, causing the reader to wonder; to think of the impact the past has on our present actions and how we justify the things we do. But it is the thread of family and friendship, of being and belonging that binds the tale and speaks of seeking, understanding and togetherness. Brave, gripping, magical and utterly wondrous.


ROXY & JONES: The Great Fairytale Cover-Up

author: Angela Woolfe

Walker Books (7 May 2020)

ISBN: 9781406391374

“A hilarious modern fairy-tale mash-up set in a world in which witches are real, magic is real and fairy tales are not only real … but recent history.
Once Upon a Modern Time, in the city of Rexopolis, in the Kingdom of Illustria, lived twelve-year-old Roxy Humperdinck, half-sister to Hansel and Gretel (yes, THE Hansel and Gretel, not that she knows it). Enter Cinderella (“Call me Jones”) Jones, who most definitely does NOT want to marry ghastly Prince Charming and is far too busy hunting for lost relics of the Cursed Kingdom. But now she needs Roxy’s help. And Roxy’s about to discover the truth about her world and her family: that witches are real, magic is real and fairy tales are not only real … but recent history.”

An off-the-wall, wacky modern fairytale, this book is both gripping and hilarious. In what seems to be a series of casual mishaps and coincidences, the reader is catapulted into an unlikely journey, full of weird revelations about the stories we know and love, quirky characters both old and new and twists and turns that keep us on our toes. A sinister plot is being carried out by villains; other villains are trying to foil it for even more sinister reasons of their own and to save the day, we are introduced to two sassy, bold heroines trying their best to stay under the radar. Crafty, clever and full of spark, Roxy & Jones are a heart-warming, fun-loving duo that find themselves navigating a mystery that can’t be beat. Fast-paced, funny and a brilliant adventure…you’ll never look at fairytales the same way again.

ROBIN HOOD: Hacking, Heists and Flaming Arrows

author: Robert Muchamore

HotKey Books (20 April 2020)

ISBN: 9781471408618

“You can’t go far without a quick brain and some rule-bending in a place like Locksley. After its vast car plants shut down, the prosperous town has become a wasteland of empty homes, toxic land and families on the brink. And it doesn’t help that the authorities are in the clutches of profit-obsessed Sheriff of Nottingham, in cahoots with underworld boss Guy Gisborne.
When his dad is framed for a robbery, Robin and his brother Little John are hounded out of Locksley and must learn to survive in the Sherwood forest, stretching three hundred kilometres and sheltering the free spirits and outlaws. But Robin is determined to do more than survive. Small, fast and deadly with a bow, he hatches a plan to join forces with Marion Maid, harness his inimitable tech skills and strike a blow against Gisborne and the Sheriff.”  

In this thoroughly contemporary take on the old legend, Muchamore gives us dazzling, relatable characters, furious action scenes and a vivid picture of a world filled with greed, desperation and lawlessness. The plot is very fast-paced, barely leaving time to breathe between scenes. The story is tense and fascinating, with dark humour and intriguing twists that alleviate the tension in just the right moment. Each character is displayed with a complexity and nuance that allows them to quickly leap off the page. The “good guys” aren’t always noble and shining; they are willing to do whatever it takes to achieve their aims. The “bad guys” reveal a few glimpses of humanity that prevent them from becoming flat, one-note villains, though their motives are clear and despicable. While aimed at an audience of 10-14 years, this is one that any age will really get their teeth into. Dramatic, edgy, intelligent and sharp, a most worthy addition to the Robin Hood legend. Can’t wait for the next installment.


CRATER LAKE

author: Jennifer Killick

Firefly Press (19 March 2020)

ISBN: 9781913102203

“Who is the mysterious bloodstained man who stops their coach? Why is no one around when Lance and the rest of Year Six arrive at the brand new Crater Lake activity centre? But this is just the beginning of the school trip from hell; a fight for survival that sees five pupils band together to save their classmates from an alien fate far worse than death. But whatever happens, they must Never. Ever. Fall asleep! “

Packed full of the right kind of creepy, nonstop action and characters to which everyone can relate, this is one book you can’t put down. The blend of sci-fi horror and fast-paced energy pulls you along on a roller-coaster race against time where the impossible becomes reality. Within it’s pages, a nice touch of trust, friendship, personal conflicts and a sense of empathy are subtly developed while the mystery and tension build to a brilliant ending. Killick displays good use of realistic dialogue, genuine voice and humour that allows each character to come to the fore at exactly the right moment. There is a moment near the end where Lance shares his particular weakness; one that explains much about his personality ‘quirks’; encouraging the others to open-up as well, tightening bonds and spurring them all on to make their weaknesses their strengths. She knows her audience well. This is one of those books that can grab the attention of even the most reluctant readers and create desire and encouragement to read more. Get ready for a spine-tingling adventure in the vein of the Goosebumps stories! Fast-paced, gripping, cleverly written; Crater Lake is amazing! Read it now!


THE PEAR AFFAIR

author: Judith Eagle illustrator: Kim Geyser

Faber & Faber (5 March 2020)

ISBN: 9780571356851

“When Penelope Magnificent’s awful parents tell her they’re taking a trip to Paris, she surprises them by begging to go along.
Nell is usually content to avoid her money-obsessed father and her fashion-focussed mother, but Paris holds something very dear to her… her old au pair Perrine – Pear – lives there. Pear used to write to Nell every week promising to come to her rescue but recently the letters have stopped…
Arriving at her parent’s posh hotel, Nell is determined to find Pear… but no one has seen her at her last known address, and no one seems to want to tell her anything about Pear’s whereabouts.
Luckily she befriends the hotel bellboy who introduces her to the world of tunnels underneath the city, and together they set out to find Pear, whilst uncovering an extraordinary mystery of their own…
Black and white chapterhead illustrations bring this story to life.”

In a well-plotted mystery, this book fully engages the reader from page one. It grabs hold instantly, taking you along on a raucous ride that twists and turns with a fluidity that is head-spinning. Nell, and in fact all the tunnel-dwelling children, are fabulous, intriguing characters; each clever, thoughtful and well-drawn, making for highly relatable good-guys. And the baddies are utterly despicable! Parisian food takes centre stage in the drama, when the full depth of an ingenious, diabolical scheme is revealed. As the mystery deepens and the plot thickens, all the senses (and the heart) are set on edge with possibility and tension. Outstanding pacing, just the right amount of danger; thoroughly riveting and entertaining.
(Original review can be found in Inis Magazine, issue 60, out online 1 July 2020) 


THE FARAWAY TRUTH

author: Janae Marks

Chicken House Books (5 March 2020)

ISBN: 9781912626380

Zoe Washington never met her father, who was sent to prison right before she was born.

When she receives a letter from him on her twelfth birthday, it’s a huge surprise. Zoe’s mom always told her that Marcus was a liar, a monster, but he sounds … nice. Zoe starts to investigate the crime – and the deeper she digs, the more she doubts the conviction. Is her father innocent? Or is he a liar? Zoe is determined to find out … 

This is such an intriguing book that explores big issues in a gentle way. Racism, social injustice and emotional prejudices are seen through the eyes of the young protagonist, Zoe as her world is turned on its’ head and she fights to understand these things that have had an impact on her life, though she never really realised it. There are some nice side-stories to the main theme; family dilemma with its’ secrets, struggles with friendship are neatly woven in and parallel Zoes’ search for her fathers’ story in satisfying and evocative storytelling. With a smooth, flowing pace, the tale is fascinating, gripping the reader and encouraging them to become part of the story and reflect a bit. Told in the first person, there is a strong, sincere voice that touches both heart and mind. Clever, heartfelt and full of little surprises. 


THE HOUSE OF ONE HUNDRED CLOCKS

author: A M Howell

Usborne (6 February 2020)

ISBN: 9781474959568

“Helena and her parrot, Orbit, are swept off to Cambridge when her father is appointed clock-winder to one of the wealthiest men in England. There is only one rule: the clocks must never stop.
But Helena discovers the house of one hundred clocks holds many mysteries; a ghostly figure, strange notes and disappearing winding keys… Can she work out its secrets before time runs out?”

Beautifully crafted descriptions of 19th century England, an eerie household and the ticking and clanging of the multitude of clocks within its walls set the scene perfectly for a tale of friendship and courage to stand up against authority with the feel of a classic, historical mystery novel. With nuance and grace, it navigates through the many twists and turns, secrets and lies as the friendship between Helena and Florence unfolds and together they find the strength to fight for their families and for themselves. The character of Katherine Westcott adds an intriguing villainous element with her flamboyant hats, quick and sharp wits and care-free, determined outlook. She isn’t exactly wrong, just too extreme and heartless in her deeds. The image of Orbit flying and swooping, his bright-coloured feathers lighting up a grey, dismal setting evokes a sense of joy and hope throughout. The story pulls you through on a fascinating adventure as timelessness meets time limits; deep, sorrowful loss meets the inevitable march of time, superstition meets science, giving a vision of how things were and how they had to change. Captivating, fast-paced, utterly charming with a keenly felt sense of friendship, family ties and time.


HERE IN THE REAL WORLD

author: Sara Pennypacker

cover illustration: Jon Klassen

Balzer & Bray (4 February 2020)

ISBN: 9780063001329

“Ware can’t wait to spend summer “off in his own world”—dreaming of knights in the Middle Ages and generally being left alone. But then his parents sign him up for dreaded Rec camp, where he must endure Meaningful Social Interaction and whatever activities so-called “normal” kids do. On his first day Ware meets Jolene, a tough, secretive girl planting a garden in the rubble of an abandoned church next to the camp. Soon he starts skipping Rec, creating a castle-like space of his own in the church lot. Jolene scoffs, calling him a dreamer—he doesn’t live in the “real world” like she does. As different as Ware and Jolene are, though, they have one thing in common: for them, the lot is a refuge. But when their sanctuary is threatened, Ware looks to the knights’ Code of Chivalry: Thou shalt do battle against unfairness wherever faced with it. Thou shalt be always the champion of the Right and Good—and vows to save the lot. But what does a hero look like in real life? And what can two misfit kids do?”

Here In The Real World is a song dedicated to those who live life with a different point of view; to the introverts, the individuals. Ware is a bit of a mystery and a frustration to all those around him; misunderstood and frequently discounted as someone who just doesn’t fit in; filled with a dreamy, artistic nature. Jolene is quite different; skeptical, tough and secretive. While the two clash, the find that they develop an unlikely bond and support system, accepting each other into their lives in spite of themselves. The story speaks of building something beautiful among ruins, of striving for something more. A sumptuous world of dreams and hope comes into being, and even when it doesn’t last, it shows a flexibility; an ability to continue forward and find another way. The description of Wares’ perspective and how it creates a tangible ‘thing’ and the determination to protect it takes the reader into the story convincingly, alongside characters that are realistic and recognisable. We feel every action and emotion; the physical work of building a dream and the anger and fear at its’ imminent destruction. We have a clear view of the garden and the building of the castle. An adventure to make the ordinary world extraordinary and to be who you really are, Here In The Real World is quietly glorious and graceful. I loved it.


THE THREADS OF MAGIC

author: Alison Croggon

Walker Books (5 March 2020)

ISBN: 9781406384741

“An atmospheric and riveting fantasy adventure, perfect for fans of Frances Hardinge and Cornelia Funke.
Pip lives on his wits in the city of Clarel. When he pickpockets the wrong man, he finds himself in possession of a strange object – a heart in a silver casket. What’s more, the heart seems to be trying to communicate with Pip, and the royal officials who lost it will stop at nothing to get it back. Pip has unwittingly broken an ancient spell, and his theft will have far-reaching consequences for the whole city. As the ancient war between the Spectres and witches of Clarel reignites, the heart prepares to seek revenge for all it has suffered… Alison Croggon conjures a rich, immersive world with brilliant and memorable characters in this captivating story of loyalty, courage and friendship.”

Alison Croggon (author of the phenomenal Books of Pellinor series) has woven a mesmerising story, the like of which I have been longing to read. With flowing, lyrical writing and complex world-building, you are thrown into a world of sinister schemes, impossible possibilities and ancient enchantments come to life. Fantasy? Oh yes; but every word is completely believable and fully real as it tells a story of loyalty, sacrifice and bravery. The setting of the story is so expertly described that the reader moves fluidly through, envisioning each space to such extent that it is filled with sights, sounds, smells. Each character is well-rounded; the heroes are indeed heroic, but very flawed. The ‘bad guys’ are full of evil and maliciousness, but there is also something…likable(?), understandable(?) about them. The whole book vibrates with a dark, delicious tension relieved by bits of humour sprinkled here and there before tossing the reader back into the fray. Its’ pace is pitch-perfect. It pulls on the readers’ heart while causing you to think and see; really see; at the same time. Vivid, compelling, utterly, utterly magical.


EVERNIGHT

author: Ross MacKenzie

Andersen Press (6 February 2020)

ISBN: 9781783448319

“Thousands of years ago, the Evernight came to the Silver Kingdom and turned everything to darkness and chaos. It was only defeated thanks to the skill and bravery of the Witches. But now the Evernight is about to return, released by the evil Mrs Hester, and the only spell that might stop it is lost, deep below the great city of King’s Haven.Then orphan Larabelle Fox stumbles across a mysterious wooden box while treasure-hunting in the city’s sewers. Little does she realise she is about to be catapulted into an adventure, facing wild magic and mortal danger – and a man who casts no shadow .”Dark and consuming, Evernight is an imaginative tale that does not let go. From the very first page, it weaves its’ way into the reader, exposing a vividly described, unique world of witches and magic, orphans, chancers and kings. The surrounding sea and the use of water in general throughout the plot adds a sense of rhythm and a strong element of mystery and danger. This story could not have taken place anywhere other than a port town. The characters are beautifully drawn, alive with varied personality and idiosyncrasies that allow the reader to believe in them whole-heartedly. Lara is fabulously bold and audacious, full of spark and emotion while still maintaining a touch of naivety. It is her journey; she owns it and faces it with all the vigor, conflicting feelings and courage, even if that courage is born out of exhaustion. As the story unfolds, you are carried away with it. It’s darkness, its’ chaos, its’ complexities and nuances make this an adventure that clutches at you, returning once you’ve put it down to haunt you in your dreams. Brilliant, gripping, thrilling and filled with friendship and heart.

NEVERTELL

author: Katherine Orton

Walker Books (7 November 2019)

ISBN: 9781406385182

“A snowy adventure, set in the wilds of Siberia, full of magic and wonder.

Born in a Soviet prison camp, Lina has never seen the world outside until the night she escapes with her best friend, Bogdan. As the pair journey across a snowy wilderness, they are pursued by a vengeful sorceress and her pack of shadow wolves. The children will need every ounce of courage – and a whisper of magic – if they are to survive…”

Katherine Orton has created a world that swims effortlessly between the realistic historical past and a magical space that sits just beyond our vision. With echoes of old folktales of spirit animals, haunted landscapes and Baba Yaga, a new folktale of eerie enchantment, hard-earned reconciliation and the unique gifts and abilities of a young girl emerges. The stark reality of life in a prison camp is brilliantly juxtaposed with the mysterious, yet harsh world outside its’ walls and both stand as a metaphor for the influence of fear and restriction on the human spirit. The determination of the children and the strength of hope against all odds reveals a possibility of achieving the impossible. The plot twists and turns with surprising events that drive the reader deeper into belief in something…other. And the sheer sparkle and shimmer of magic that infuses itself throughout the story makes this a completely extraordinary book. Filled with characters that will seep into your imagination and take up residence there. A dark and dazzling bewitchment lies within these pages. Nevertell is the perfect book to curl up with on cold, wintry evenings. https://www.walker.co.uk/Nevertell-9781406385182.aspx

MALAMANDER (The Legends of Eerie-on-Sea)

author: Thomas Taylor

Walker Books (1 May 2019)

ISBN: 9781406386288

“Herbert Lemon, Lost-and-Founder at the Grand Nautilus Hotel, knows that returning lost things to their rightful owners is not easy – especially when the lost thing is not a thing at all, but a girl. No one knows what happened to Violet Parma’s parents twelve years ago, and when she engages Herbie to help her find them, the pair discover that their disappearance might have something to do with the legendary sea-monster, the Malamander. Eerie-on-Sea has always been a mysteriously chilling place, where strange stories seem to wash up. And it just got stranger…”

Malamander plays on the ancient myths of things that lurk in the icy seas and haunt our dreams and legends. And it does so brilliantly. Combining this notion with a stirring missing persons investigation, it engages young readers from the very first page. The atmosphere of a creepy seaside community filled with odd characters and spooky happenings is painted with range and texture, as the plot and its’ pitch-perfect pacing develop. You can feel the fog, taste the salt in the air and have no doubt that danger is lurking around every corner. But it also rings with humour and empathy. The desire to uncover, not only the mystery but the misunderstanding of the creature itself is infused throughout the tale. Herbie and Violet are great foils and support for one another as they display a burgeoning friendship and genuine sympathy without becoming overly-sentimental. Their personalities and voices ring strong and true and shine brightly above and never fail to outwit the array of adult characters surrounding them. Quick-thinking, friendship and real tenacity combine to make this a riveting, quirky story that you will love. Gripping, magical with shivers down your spine in all the right places, fiercely imaginative and darkly funny; just read it. https://www.walker.co.uk/Malamander-9781406386288.aspx

THE VELVET FOX (The Clockwork Crow #2)

author: Catherine Fisher

Firefly Press (3 October 2019)

ISBN: 9781913102081

“After rescuing Tomas from enchantment, orphan Seren Rhys is enjoying her first summer at Plas-y-Fran. But as autumn arrives, it brings with it a mysterious new governess who seems intent on drawing Tomas away from Seren and his family….Dangerous figures from a bewitched toy carousel stalk the house, and fearing the worst, Seren calls on her old friend, the clockwork crow, to help her.”

This welcome return to Plas-y-Fran is as enchanting, gripping and eerie as its’ predecessor, The Clockwork Crow. Fishers’ gift for story-telling and lyrical writing weaves a tale that consumes. The location, its’ residents and all that happens has an urgent, tangible that wraps around the reader and transports back in time and across a magical veil. There is all the suspense, emotion and just the right amount of humour to keep the story from slipping fully into a nightmare. Rather, it is a dream, an echo that sinks into your imagination and calls to you, entreats you to join in. Fantastic, bold, and courageous Seren is utterly marvelous, once again. The mystical creatures have real texture and personality, making them utterly believable. Once again; unusual, intriguing and thoroughly magical. In short, I loved everything about this book.  https://fireflypress.co.uk/books/the-velvet-fox/

THE GIRL WHO SPEAKS BEAR

author: Sophie Anderson

Usborne (5 September 2019)

ISBN: 9781474940672

They call me Yanka the Bear. Not because of where I was found – only a few people know about that. They call me Yanka the Bear because I am so big and strong.

Found abandoned in a bear cave as a baby, Yanka has always wondered about where she is from. She tries to ignore the strange whispers and looks from the villagers, wishing she was as strong on the inside as she is on the outside. But, when she has to flee her house, looking for answers about who she really is, a journey far beyond one that she ever imagined begins: from icy rivers to smouldering mountains meeting an ever-growing herd of extraordinary friends along the way.”

Oh my! This book is simply wondrous! The writing simply flows across the page. Throughout the novel, we are treated to marvelous stories from Anatoly, the wandering storyteller who visits Yanka and Mamochka, fascinating her and urging her to think deeply. And each tale he tells is a mirror to the events of her life and pulls us along through the book in a way that allows us to lose the walls around us and enter into Yankas’ world more fully. There is an element of ‘shape-shifting’ in the book, which stands as an excellent metaphor for how Yanka (and all of us) must change and adapt to the environment and moment we find ourselves in, all the while leading on to discoveries and to understanding. Wonderful characters abound throughout, and there’s even the reappearance of the Yaga House, which delighted me no end. The extraordinary cover and vignette illustrations within the pages are beautiful and evocative, giving us just enough information to paint the scenes fully in the imagination. And there’s a map, dear reader!!! (Just in case we get lost in the book and need to find our way home.) All in all, this nuanced, creative story is everything you could want in a book. Compassionate, exciting (nail-biting at times), enchanting and filled with hope, love and belonging. It’s one I’ll return to again and again. https://usborne.com/browse-books/catalogue/product/1/14542/the-girl-who-speaks-bear/

THE TIME OF GREEN MAGIC

author: Hilary McKay

Pan MacMillan (5 September 2019)

ISBN: 9781529029543

“Abi and her two step-brothers, Max and Louis, find that strange things happen when they are alone in their eerie, ivy-covered new house. Abi, reading alone, finds herself tumbling deep into books, while Louis summons a startling guest through his bedroom window. Even Max has started to see shapes in the shadows . . . Their busy parents see none of it – but Louis’ secret visitor is growing too alarming to keep secret, and he finds he cannot manage without Max and Abi’s help. Can they find out where the mysterious creature has come from – and how to get it back there?”

A beautiful testament to blended families, understanding and the power of stories, books and pictures, The Time of Green Magic sings. Alive with characterisation, the reader is taken on a journey through a moment in time where three children are learning the intricacies of relationship.The descriptive quality of McKay’s writing vividly paints a picture and wraps the story around the reader with cosy, warm comfort…but not too much comfort. You are pulled through with suspense and fascination; moved with emotion and empathy. And what a story! Full of wonder, impossibility and the textures of both imagination and real family life combining to create something that is truly memorable. Wise, considerate, and simply wonderful. https://www.panmacmillan.com/authors/hilary-mckay/the-time-of-green-magic/9781529019247

THE GARDEN OF LOST SECRETS

author: A.M. Howell

Usborne (13 June 2019)

ISBN: 9781474959551

“October 1916. Clara is sent to stay with her formidable aunt and uncle in the grounds of a country estate. Clara soon discovers that her new surroundings hold secrets: a locked room and a hidden key and a mysterious boy who only appears in the gardens at night.Clara has a secret of her own too – a terrible one about her brother, fighting in the war. And as the secrets turn to danger, Clara must find the courage to save herself, and those around her… But can Clara face up to her secrets and a war she’s desperate to forget?”

Ripples of such classic gems as Toms’ Midnight Garden and The Secret Garden run through a story that is simply beautiful and stands as a classic in its own right. Evocative and atmospheric, it takes the reader back to the WW1 time, and paints a picture of wonder, mystery, melancholy and hope. The descriptive writing evokes the times and surrounds with a texture and vision that allows the reader to actually see the garden; taste the fruit, feel the sogginess in the ground and the roughness of tree bark, hear the not-to-distant rifle fire. And the story itself is wonderful! With a pace that rises and falls in an almost magical rhythm, it takes the reader on a journey filled with feeling, mystery and excitement. Every character is written beautifully; we get to know them; really know them. In Clara, there is a real vision of her confusion, anxiety and determination to be brave, to face facts and to discover the truths no one wants to tell her. There is great relief and satisfaction in learning that the truth is actually not near as bad as the image fear has painted. Lyrical, heartfelt, thoughtful, brave and wonderful…just wonderful. https://usborne.com/browse-books/catalogue/product/1/14794/the-garden-of-lost-secrets/

THE HOUSE WITH CHICKEN LEGS

author: Sophie Anderson

Usborne Publishing (5 April 2018)

ISBN: 9781474940665

“All 12-year-old Marinka wants is a friend. A real friend. Not like her house with chicken legs. Sure, the house can play games like tag and hide-and-seek, but Marinka longs for a human companion. Someone she can talk to and share secrets with. But that’s tough when your grandmother is a Yaga, a guardian who guides the dead into the afterlife. It’s even harder when you live in a house that wanders all over the world . . . carrying you with it. Even worse, Marinka is being trained to be a Yaga. That means no school, no parties–and no playmates that stick around for more than a day.
So when Marinka stumbles across the chance to make a real friend, she breaks all the rules . . . with devastating consequences. Her beloved grandmother mysteriously disappears, and it’s up to Marinka to find her–even if it means making a dangerous journey to the afterlife.”

Based partly on the stories her own grandmother told her as a child, Anderson has built a vivid fairytale that is timeless, evocative and a quiet, heartfelt adventure. The personal attachment to this world of Eastern European folk tales and memories of her grandmothers’ house, memories of those who have passed, feelings of lifes’ celebration and times’ steady march add an element of intimacy and comfort, combating the remoteness that often rears its’ head in books of this nature. The plot is steady pulls the reader on an amazing journey, not just across the landscape, but through the inner world of life as well. Imaginative, enlightening, quietly humourous and adventurous and thought-provoking; this book promises so incredibly much and does not disappoint. A story to last a lifetime.

THE GIRL WHO DRANK THE MOON

author: Kelly Barnhill

Picadilly Press (24 August 2017)

ISBN: 9781848126473

Every year, the people of the Protectorate leave a baby as an offering to the witch who lives in the forest. They hope this sacrifice will keep her from terrorizing their town. But the witch in the forest, Xan, is kind and gentle. Xan rescues the abandoned children to deliver them to welcoming families on the other side of the forest, nourishing the babies with starlight on the journey. One year, Xan accidentally feeds a baby moonlight instead of starlight, filling the ordinary child with extraordinary magic. Xan decides she must raise this enmagicked girl, whom she calls Luna, as her own. To keep young Luna safe from her own unwieldy power, Xan locks her magic deep inside her. As Luna approaches her 13th birthday, her magic begins to emerge on schedule–but Xan is far away….

This book is absolutely brilliant! With expert character development and world-building, Barnhill gives the readers a fairytale that is both haunting and uplifting. It deals with the cost of secrets and lies, the importance of joy and belonging and the lengths and depths to which someone will go for love. Weaving together several plot lines, it seamlessly creates a poetic, exquisite fantasy that is moving, in fact heart-rending and completely unforgettable. The Girl Who Drank The Moon is the very essence of magic.