author: Lindsay Galvin
illustration: Gordy Wright
Chicken House (7 January 2021)
It’s been a few years since young Sym Covington left behind his ordinary life to become Cabin Boy and fiddler onboard Charles Darwins’ ship, the Beagle. Sym now finds himself on the adventure of a lifetime, exploring the incredible creatures of the Galapagos Islands. When a sudden, aggressive storm explodes over them one day, Sym is cast into the sea, separated from the rest of the ship. He is now alone; stranded on a near-barren island, struggling to survive and to work out how to make it back to the Beagle. Within this islands’ harsh environment, with its’ volcano rumbling, threatening to erupt, Sym discovers help in the form of a most unusual creature; a creature of myth and legend, so it seems. This is a discovery that could change the world…and make Sym a fortune. But, if he reveals it to the world, it could result in the extinction of a legendary species. There is one man who could help him, but he’s busy writing a book….
Based on real events of the past, this is an extraordinary story that brings to life a past time of exploration and adventure. Every page, every description paints the time, location and characters that you immerse yourself in the book, believing every moment. Sym is an easy character to relate to. Glimpses of his past life are scattered throughout, making him seem real. In fact, Sym and all the other characters are named after real people that set off on this voyage, adding a genuine quality that makes you want to find out more of the actual history. You really feel for Sym; his sense of adventure, his struggles on the volcanic island, his friendship with what he believes to be a new and different type of lizard…his astonishment as he discovers the truth and his feelings of responsibility towards the discovery. And I must mention the illustrations. The little ink drawings used as chapter headings, the glorious cover, the lovely endpapers with bits from Origin of the Species and the simple map charting the Beagles’ voyage create a wonderful, textural quality, making this something quite special. (I do love a map!) Inspiring curiosity and the wonder that lies in possibility, an effortless blend of history, adventure and the vividly imaginative…wonderful; just wonderful. https://www.chickenhousebooks.com/books/darwins-dragons/
SONG OF THE FAR ISLES
author: Nicholas Bowling
Chicken House (1 July 2021)
Orans’ home is on the small Far Isle of Little Drum, where music is an integral part of every aspect of their lives. Music defines who they are and how things were, are and will be. Each islander has a birth instrument and a life song; and the loved ones who have passed, the ghasts, the ancestors linger to hear the music…acting as the soul of the community. But when the Red Duchess arrives from the mainland, she threatens the very existence of that soul with strict new orders of absolute silence. All music is banned and to enforce this, all of the islanders birth instruments are seized. Oran hears the old tale of an ancient instrument, the whalebone cithara and its’ power to manipulate hearts, she knows this is the answer to their prayers. Oran sails off with her best friend, the ghats Alick on a dangerous quest winding through the isles to find it, play it for the Duchess and change her mind.
Oh my, what a stunning book! From the moment you catch sight of the beautiful cover (illustrator: Olga Baumert) you know this is something special. The gloriously built world set in a mythical past time is infused with the sense of music, it’s pure expression of feelings and life. The story moves with a dream-like pace, ebbing and flowing with the seas surrounding the Far Isles and, suddenly jolting us back with a twist here, a turn there…all in the midst of song. The inclusion of a map to guide us and a page explaining the “Nine Instruments of the Chorus” help us to perceive and understand this world with Oran. And she is a fascinating character; bold, brave, determined; frustratingly defiant and whose impetuous nature leads to some nail-biting episodes of daring and danger. Best friend Alick, who died a few years previous and now keeps watch over Oran gives us a keen eye both into Orans’ true nature and the world of the ghasts. The Bard, Orans’ teacher and an elusive character is the epitome of the trickster witch; kind and supportive on the one hand and suddenly wicked as she turns Orans’ efforts to her own ends. The islanders, pirates, the court all weave around each other in a gripping telling of the tale. It is a story that builds a desire in the reader to find their own birth instrument, know their life song and fill their part of the world with music. A perfect book to read together; thrilling, glowing, unique…it literally sings. https://www.chickenhousebooks.com/books/song-of-the-far-isles/
THE MONSTER SPOTTERS’ HANDBOOK:
VOL 1- MONSTER SOUP
author/illustrator: Matt Cherry
Firefly Press (24 June 2021)
When Edwin Spook is handed the old, mysterious copy of the Monster Spotters Handbook; an honour passed down through the generations by his grandfather, Edwin discovers that he is the very last of the Monster Spotters. An incredible, beyond belief world of monsters opens up before him. But as he ventures into the night to see what he can see, Edwin makes a shocking discovery…he’s not the only “last of…” out there. The Duke, the last of the Monster Catchers is scooping up monsters to add them to his one and only World’s First-ever Living Monster Museum. And what’s more, he has his sights set on four very special monsters; the Oober Beast, the Bogspotter, the Star Statue and the Frozen Yomp; each one representing the values of the monster world: heart, knowledge, trust and soul. And each one an ingredient in Monster Soup! It is up to Edwin, and Edwin alone to travel across the globe (and into the night sky), outwit the dastardly Duke, destroy the museum and free the trapped monsters…but will he be too late?
The hidden world of monsters is at your beckon call in this quirky, imaginative and very, very funny adventure. The reader is tossed headlong into the story from page one with fast-paced action, surprising tools of the trade and an unexpected understanding of monsters and their environment. Edwin is a great character; friendly, curious, quick-witted and, yes, a total novice in the field of monster spotting. With a lot to learn, he takes on his quest with vigour and determination. His grandfather doesn’t make a huge number of appearances in the tale, but his presence is felt throughout, and you can feel the interest and encouragement provided by this important relationship. A generous helping of black-and-white sketch-style drawings fill the book, revealing the journey, strange creatures of every nature and dramatic, hilarious atmosphere of madcap antics and a lot of heart hidden within. You’re going to love the Monster Spotters Handbook and who knows….it may spark interest in a new hobby…. (Brilliant book for reluctant readers, by the way.) https://fireflypress.co.uk/books/the-monster-spotters-handbook/
WHEN THE SKY FALLS
author: Phil Earle
Andersen Press (3 June 2021)
1941: Joseph arrives on the railway platform to chaos, smoke and a overwhelming sense of the war that is raging all around him…and inside himself. Joseph is filled with anger and hurt. He has been shipped off to London; this place of constant threat of bombers tearing through the skies; by his grandmother to live with Mrs F; a hard-faced, gruff woman with no fondness for children, or much else, as far as Joseph can see. Her only loves are the rundown zoo she owns and Adonis, its’ powerful silverback gorilla. The weeks pass and the picture of an uneasy life and its’ many secrets unfold. A bond deepens between Mrs F, Joseph and the gorilla. But if the bombers hit the zoo and set Adonis rampaging free in the war-torn city, will they be able to end the life of the one thing they truly love?
A finely-honed, insightful narrative paints the landscape 1940s London with the constant threat of terror raining down from the skies and acts as a precise echo of the inner landscapes of our hero, Joseph. This is a boy left as scarred by the war as the city itself. His life has been shattered; he feels alone and unwanted and now, he is sent to the most dangerous place to be at this time; bullied at school, looked at with suspicion and having nothing except a gruff woman who doesn’t really want him and a terrifying silverback gorilla. The bond that grows between Joseph, Mrs. F and the silverback is built cautiously amid the chaos, giving time to understand the remarkable similarities in the events that have coloured their lives. In the bids for daily normality, the moments of quiet interrupted by sudden eruptions of bombing raids and the uncertainty of life itself, understanding and compassion wafts up among the shock and grief. And there is heart…so much heart. A powerful, vivid, raw, moving story, inspired by real events, this book is simply extraordinary. Just read it; your perspective will be changed. https://www.andersenpress.co.uk/phil-earle-marks-10-years-and-20-books-as-an-author-with-brand-new-title-when-the-sky-falls/
author: M.G. Leonard
Walker Books (3 June 2021)
Twitch lives with his mum, three chickens, four pigeons (two adult, two squabs), swallows that nest in his bedroom and has a real passion for birdwatching. It’s the first day of summer holidays and Twitch barely made it off the school grounds without being force-fed a worm by a school bully. Thank goodness for that man, Billy, a stranger who’s come to town for a bit of birdwatching himself. Twitch is heading off to his secret hide in Aves Wood. But when he arrives, Twitch finds the police are everywhere. A convicted robber has broken out of prison and they think he’s hiding out in the wood, looking for his loot. The whole town is buzzing about it. Then there’s two young girls creeping about in the woods? All Twitch knows for sure is that it will take all his birdwatching talents to outwit Robber Riley. But can he do it on his own? Fortunately, Twitch has more friends than he knew….
With a powerful (but not overbearing) message about being true to yourself, friendship and the importance of connection with the natural world, Twitch is an intriguing, lively adventure that captures the heart straight away. Twitch is a great character with genuine “role-model” traits. He is gentle, understanding, clever and kind. And brave; very, very brave. Twitch embraces the way he stands out; his differences and is happy to be exactly who he is. Very clever, though sometimes naive, he takes the time to listen and to observe. In fact, all the characters, be they human or avian, stand out, owning their own personality, talents and place in the puzzle that is this expertly constructed story. It not only fires the imagination, but ignites wonder about life in the bird world. There is mystery, conflict, nail-biting action, moments of quiet reflection, danger, acts of unexpected heroism…and pigeons. Excitement, courage, curiosity all wrapped up in a pitch-perfect plot…what else could you ask for? The first in a series from the author of the most excellent Battle of the Beetles series…I absolutely loved Twitch! https://www.walker.co.uk/Twitch-9781406389371.aspx
THE SWALLOWS’ FLIGHT
author: Hilary McKay
Macmillan Childrens Books (27 May 2021)
Erik, a boy in 1930s Berlin has become famous in his school for the weirdest things. Now, he’s famous for buying flies. Hans is of course willing to enter into this unusual preoccupation. The two become firm friends as they watch Eriks’ young swallows grow and fly away over the rooftops. But this is a decade of many changes. Erik and Hans could never imagine that one day, they too will soar high in the skies. But over England, risking their lives in a war that casts a dark shadow over the entire world. Meanwhile in England, Ruby lives over a small shop in Plymouth. Kind and painfully shy due to the unusual birthmarks on her face, she is at the mercy of her nasty, jealous brother. Through Clarry, she finds a penfriend in Clarrys’ niece, Kate who lives in a noisy, busy, loving home in Oxford. Fragile and cosseted due to constant illness, when Ruby and Kate meet, they find that in spite of their differences, friendship grows strong between them. As the 1930s wear on, Ruby and Kate find themselves facing a danger neither could have imagined, while dear Clarry and her fellow, Rupert secretly work for peace…and a better world.
In the companion novel to The Skylarks’ War, McKay takes the separate lives of these children and wraps them in and out of each other with a seamless grace in the backdrop of growing unrest and developing war. Each of children face a range of personal tragedies and triumphs, revealing their similarities, regardless of where they are from. Their lives are not so different. And then, the world rushes in with all its’ noise and conflict. The impact becomes undeniable and each character rises, using the strengths hard won from past experience to meet this new challenge. Hans and Erik stand to remind us that not all Germans supported the Nazi efforts; some of them were caught in fear of their own lives. Ruby struggles with the frustration and attitudes she faced as a child, only to realise how brave and bold she actually becomes in her teenage years. And poor, sickly, weak Kate emerges as the strongest of them all, in ways she could only ever dream of. The tale develops quickly, but with incisive and glorious detail. The writing is superb, flowing, glowing. The Swallows’ Flight deserves to take its’ place on the shelf as a classic of the numerous WW2 stories available to young readers. Eloquent, compelling, triumphant….simply beautiful. https://www.panmacmillan.com/authors/hilary-mckay/the-swallows-flight/9781529033335
PAGES & CO: TILLY AND THE MAP OF STORIES
author: Anna James
illustrator: Paola Escobar
HarperCollinsChildrensBooks (1 April 2021)
When a man comes into Pages & Co. bookshop looking for a book, he suddenly can’t remember it…at all. It’s not the first time it’s happened. And wandering into the pages of a book seems to become a thing of the past for Tilly and Oskar. They aren’t even sure it wasn’t just a dream. The world is changing and not in a good way. It seems the Underwoods are exerting more and more control over bookwandering. And they still have Tilly firmly in their sights. Her mother, Bea smuggles Tilly out of the bookshop and sends her and Oskar off to America on a search for the legendary Archivists to save bookwandering….at least that’s the plan. Wandering through the layers of Story, Tilly and Oskar find themselves encountering dangers they could never have imagined, teaming up with a quite unexpected, yet very familiar face and ultimately taking on the biggest threat to stories there has ever been. They will need all the courage, quick-thinking and cleverness they can muster…along with some favourite fictional friends.
This series keeps getting better and better! The third in the series, there is all the magic, mystery and delight of books and stories as before, but it expands into the very essence of stories, themselves. The action and drama is nonstop, woven into the tale with the right amount of humour and revelations of the meaning that stories hold in the world. The reader can see Tilly grow in her understanding of her ability, becoming stronger and more assured in herself and willing to fight for the very existence of stories. Her utter belief in the fabled Archivists and determination to find them, to make them help is heartening. And we see Oskar come into his own, now. His his ability to navigate the strange lands and situations the pair get themselves into with confidence and tenacity is amazing. And with the appearance of Shakespeare, Fitzgerald, Jane Austen, Sherlock Holmes, we find a more developed and exciting layer coming into the idea of bookwandering. The central themes of friendship, loyalty and a celebration of all things bookish are still there. In fact, they are more present and more necessary than ever before. And the adventure….just wow! Imaginative, original, engaging and just wonderful. More of this world, please. (You do need to read them all…but why wouldn’t you?) https://harpercollins.co.uk/products/pages-co-tilly-and-the-map-of-stories-pages-co-book-3-anna-james?variant=32653194788942
CRATER LAKE: EVOLUTION
author: Jennifer Killick
Firefly Press (20 May 2021)
It’s been five months since Lances’ Year Six class stepped off the coach and right into the school trip from hell; five months since he and his friends fought off an alien invasion that had waited centuries upon centuries to emerge, saving humanity from a fate worse than death. Now in their hometown of Straybridge, Lance, Katja, Chet, Ade and Big Mak have all struggled with the transition to secondary school and, separated…they barely speak anymore. But things have gone very strange in Straybridge. There’s been an explosion at the University, a mysterious creature is on the loose, the whole town is under strict curfew and Lances’ mum is acting seriously weird since she began decorating the Christmas tree. Cut off from all outside help, Lance and his friends must find a way to get over their differences and, with new friend Karim along for the ride, tackle an old enemy straight from their nightmares. That’s right. They’re back, bigger and more evil than before. Whatever you do….Don’t. Ever. Fall. Asleep.
Get ready for another compelling, eerie, thrill-packed adventure. Crater Lake Evolution is everything the first installment (Crater Lake) was…and more. Rocket-fast pacing, ingenious and completely unexpected twists, the referencing of real science that weaves through this sci-fi, horror plot; all of this creates a book that you simply cannot put down. There are moments poignant, personal interaction between the characters as they try to repair their friendship and reunite. And they do….they really do. With heart, humour and determination, an even tighter bond of friendship is created, their weaknesses turn into strength and, with quick thinking, on-the-spot planning and the well-earned ability to believe the impossible is actually the most plausible in this situation, they outwit both the authorities of Straybridge and the aliens to save the day. Explosions, infection, destruction, isolation…and a good smattering of laughs; this is darkly hilarious, fabulously frightening, taut, gripping, with a strong emphasis on teamwork, loyalty and listening to your inner voice… and trusting your friends. They’ve got your back. Brilliant! (ages 10+) https://fireflypress.co.uk/books/crater-lake-evolution/
RUMAYSA: A FAIRYTALE
author: Radiya Hafiza
illustrators: Rhaida El Touney & Areeba Siddique
Macmillan Childrens Books (1 April 2021)
For as long as she can remember, beautiful Rumaysa has been held captive by the evil witch; locked in a remote tower guarded by an enchanted, thorny wood where she is forced to spin straw into gold. The witchs’ greed knows no bounds, as she demands more and more gold. It is a harsh, lonely existence and Rumaysa has only her books and dreams to keep her company. Until one day, she accidentally drops her hijab out of the small tower window. And suddenly, Rumaysa has a plan. Escaping through the window, Rumaysa flees, seeking her real mother and father and discovering her magical powers along the way. Her adventures take on a grand, liberating scale as she teams up with Cinderayla and Sleeping Sara, battles her way out of enchanted forests and entering the dragons’ lair. But will Rumaysa ever find her home? Who knows? That flying carpet she’s on has ideas of its’ own!
This combining of three classic tales takes a glorious journey through a reimagined world that gives more than we could ever ask for. Even in her dark moments, Rumaysa is determined to take charge of her plight. No helpless, hopeless princess, this one! She is bold, clever and beautiful…so stand back and watch her go! With loads of heart, the story takes us on Rumaysas’ adventures, where she not only triumphs at every turn, but grabs the hands of her new fabulous friends, helping them stand up and take charge, as well. Blending cultures and fairytales, the book is filled to the brim with excitement, danger, twists and turns; laugh-out-loud dialogue and instantly lovable characters. Seamlessly flowing between one tale and another, Rumaysa: A Fairytale is bold, witty, enchanting, glistening and very, very funny. https://www.panmacmillan.com/authors/radiya-hafiza/rumaysa-a-fairytale/9781529038316
MORGANA MAGE IN THE ROBOTIC AGE
author: Amy Bond
Chicken House (7 January 2021)
Morgana Mage lives in a magical woodland village away from the teaming technology of the city. As a young witch, she’s not taking to her magic lessons very well…but ROBOTICS! She knows that is where her talents will accel! And when she gets her chance to be part of the city for herself, she jumps at it. She knows she will be shunned and despised due to an ages old rivalry. Magic and technology are simply incompatible and the two communities hold each other in the highest suspicion. Morgana gathers her courage and takes the bold leap anyway, heading off for the city school. Her obvious grasp of science and technology quickly gain her a new friend, Jonathan…another outcast, but for a very different reason. The other students and the teachers want nothing to do with her. Just like at home, where she is ostracised for entering city life. It’s spirit-breaking to be different in two separate worlds. But when a powerful new threat raises itself from a forgotten experiment, both worlds stand at risk. As the adults argue among themselves, Morgana must bring together friends old and new and learn to harness her magical powers to fight back.
In a story that is packed with action and friendship, we also have a powerful message about letting go of preconceived ideas and suspicion. It not only combines magical fantasy with science-fiction, but it does so by adding a new twist to each, encouraging a different approach; a different way of seeing. Morgana is a wonderful character; bold, curious, open to new experiences and with a quick, agile mind. She is vulnerable, sympathetic and willing to take a chance on being herself, even when it gets her in trouble. Her ability to see beyond the typical, take people (and robots!) as they are and try new things, even if it’s a bit rash, is infectious. As we journey along with Morgana, our own eyes open to unique and unusual possibilities. Clever, witty, inventive and fun; what a delicious adventure! https://www.chickenhousebooks.com/books/morgana-mage/
BRAND NEW BOY
author: David Almond
illustrator: Marta Altés
Walker Books (5 November 2020)
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
author: Katherine Rundell
cover illustration: Mary-Alice Harel
Bloomsbury Childrens’ Books (28 May 2020)
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.
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)
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)
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)
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.
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)
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)
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.
THE TEN RIDDLES OF EARTHA QUICKSMITH
author: Loris Owen
Firefly Press (10 September 2020)
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)
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.
DEATH SETS SAIL : A Murder Most Unladylike Mystery
author: Robin Stevens
Puffin Books (6 August 2020)
“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!
author: Jean-Claude Mourvelat
Andersen Press (6 August 2020)
“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)
“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)
“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)
“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.
author: Eloise Williams
Firefly Press (1 May 2020)
“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)
“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)
“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.
author: Jennifer Killick
Firefly Press (19 March 2020)
“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)
“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)
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)
“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)
“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)
“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.
author: Ross MacKenzie
Andersen Press (6 February 2020)
“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.
author: Katherine Orton
Walker Books (7 November 2019)
“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)
“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)
“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)
“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.“
Yanka was found beside a bear cave as a baby…she was found by her foster mother, Mamochka who bundled her home and raised her as her own. She grew into a fine, strong girl. At twelve and a half years, she is stronger than everyone in the village. But not everyone is kind and accepting about Yankas’ unusual capabilities. Some stare and point when they think she isn’t looking; some whisper and laugh behind her back. Yanka wishes she was as strong on the inside as she is on the outside. She wishes she knew her real parents; who they were, where they came from. Yanka wishes she knew why and how she can understand the voices of the animals and why the bullfinch keeps calling, “Yanka the Bear! Come back to the forest! You belong here!” While recovering from an accident, Yanka makes a shocking discovery and she flees the only home she has ever known. As she runs through the forest, she embarks on a journey beyond any she has ever imagined. She travels away from the village, across the frozen river and into the snowy mountains…beyond…far beyond to the smouldering volcano home of the most dangerous, destructive thing in the forest; the dragon Smey. It is a journey that leads to discovery, of Yankas’ story, where she came from, who she is; but most important of all, how to decide who she wants to be.
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)
When 11-year-old Abigails’ widowed father Theo combines families with his new wife Polly and her two boys, Max, 13 and Louis, aged 6, Abi is less than pleased. Max is bad-tempered, clearly with a chip on his shoulder and Louis, who immediately adores Abi and tries too hard to gain her love back. And he has no sense of privacy, invading her space at every available moment. And her beloved Granny Grace has moved back to Jamaica, leaving Abi feeling a new loneliness, in spite of the letters they frequently exchange. A new home with room for them all is desperately required. Finding an old, unusual house they can just about afford; if Theo takes extra shifts at the hospital and Polly resumes travelling for work; they find the extra space where they can have a bit of peace. But it isn’t long before Abi, Max and Louis, discover strange things happen when they are alone in their eerie, ivy-covered home. Their busy parents, struggling to keep them all afloat, see nothing amiss. But Abi, reading alone, finds herself tumbling deep into books, quite literally. She emerges from The Kon-Tiki Expedition to discover the book damp, salty; a flash of green wing speeds past and a mysterious seashell is left behind. Max, older, more determined to be realistic and keep himself apart from the others, starts to see shapes in the shadows that simply cannot be there. Young Louis summons a startling feline guest through his bedroom window, who grows at an alarming rate; too quickly and aggressively for him to keep secret and manage alone. He needs Max and Abi’s help, even if he can’t see it himself. Can they find out where the mysterious creature has come from and, more to the point how to get it back there before tragedy occurs?
A beautiful testament to blended families, changing times 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 and family life. The sense of a rapidly shifting personal world and the struggle to grasp at it while still holding onto their own selves is portrayed through each of the childrens’ eyes with sympathy, understanding and genuine voice. The descriptive quality of McKay’s writing vividly paints images of their lives, separately and together, while wrapping the story around the reader with cosy, warm comfort…but not too much comfort. As the plot develops, you are pulled through with an unsettling fascination; moved with emotion and empathy. And what a story it is! Full of wonder, impossibility, and the textures of both imagination and the mostly-happy chaos of family life combine to create something that is truly memorable. Wise, quietly powerful, full of heart and feeling…and irresistibly magical. 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)
“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)
“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)
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.