MG Takes on Thursday

This is my new weekly meme celebrating amazing middle-grade books. I hope others will enjoy taking part in this too!

How to take part:

  • Post a picture of the front cover of a middle-grade book which you have read and would recommend to others with details of the author, illustrator and publisher.
  • Open the book to page 11 and share your favourite sentence. 
  • Write three words to describe the book.
  • Either share why you would recommend this book, or link to your review.

This week, I’m celebrating …

Written by Maria Kuzniar
Cover Illustration by Karl James Mountford
Map and interior illustrations by Sophia Watts
Published by Puffin Books

Favourite Sentence from Page 11:

Bullies were like wolves: they travelled in packs and would pick your bones clean.

This book in three words:

ADVENTURE, MAGIC, FAMILY/FRIENDSHIP

The Ship of Shadows absolutely gripped me from start to finish:  it is brimming with magic, excitement, danger, twists and revelations, but also with strong female characters, teamwork and friendship.

Aleja is a young book-lover who dreams of adventure and exploration, of following her heart to discover all there is to see in the world.  One day, a rather unusual ship arrives in her home harbour city of Sevilla, and Aleja soon finds herself aboard the ship with a band of strong female pirates.  She’s been waiting all her life for just such an adventure … and what an adventure it becomes as she fights creatures of legend and hunter pirates; discovers her own rather unique friend; and explores both real and legendary cities in a quest for a legendary item that may change the course of her life and that of the crew …

The world-building is stunning and absolutely immersed me in the wonderful port cities of Sevilla and Tangier, in the lost city and, of course, the Ship of Shadows itself which is a real treat for the imagination.   This magical pirate ship is a wonderful character within the story and has so many secrets and surprises to discover that it kept me mesmerised throughout.  Learning the history of the Ship was utterly fascinating, and I would so love a guided tour although perhaps staying in port!

This is an action-packed, breath-taking and dangerous adventure that kept me eagerly turning pages, but it is also a story of a group of fierce, brave and diverse women:  women who stand up for themselves and for each other; stand up to an oppressor; and who bond in the trust and loyalty gained from friendship and family.

If Aleja is to become part of this family, she must earn the trust and respect of this pirate crew.  I really enjoyed the development of Aleja’s friendship with Frances who is rarely without cake, who is not averse to a little theft and who tells wonderfully embellished stories. I also enjoyed her friendship with a rather unique creature who I hope is still with her in the next book in this fantastic series.

I’d love if anyone who wants to give this meme a go would comment in the comments box and include a link to your post so I can visit, comment and find some great middle-grade recommendations. If you do create a post and are on Twitter, and would like to share your post, please use the hashtag  #MGTakesOnThursday so I can find it, read it and share it!

Review: Anisha Accidental Detective: School’s Cancelled

Anisha Accidental Detective:  School’s Cancelled is the second book in this delightful series, which can be read in any order.  This is an incredibly fun, warm and clever mystery which is perfect for younger readers who will become immersed in the antics of these schoolchildren – laughs guaranteed – and in Anisha’s truly wonderful family. 

Anisha – who loves science and wants to meet an astronaut – is understandably excited about her school’s big announcement:  the National Schools Science Fair is being held at her school with the winning team getting a trip to the National Space Centre where they will meet an astronaut.  Anisha’s team is one of two representing her school with their volcano project.  Of course, her best friend Milo is working with her as is their new friend Govi who is new to the school, and finding it hard to settle in. 

Disaster strikes when Anisha’s chances of having her dream fulfilled are ruined when her team is banned from taking part in the Fair after their volcano explodes, causing the school to be closed due to a foam flood!  Anisha is confident that her team are not to blame, so who has sabotaged their chances of winning at the Science Fair?

Anisha and her best friend Milo, with the help of his pet rat Ralph, decide to investigate the mystery of the exploding volcano to clear their names and reveal the culprits.  Who would want to sabotage their chances and why?  Will they be able to clear their name before the Science Fair takes place?

The mystery that unravels is fantastically fun, clever and action-packed, with plenty of laugh-out-loud moments. Anisha identifies possible culprits, undertakes some clue-spotting and finds help from unexpected sources.  The plot is very cleverly structured to keep the reader intrigued as they follow Anisha’s sleuthing brilliance!

I must give a shout-out to the super fun school staff names, perfectly matched to their roles:  Miss Bunsen, Mr Helix, Mr Bristles to name a few.  I also really liked the inclusion of the footnotes to explain some of the Indian food that Granny Jas cooks – yet another reason to love her!  And thank you Granny Jas for the Paratha Recipe – I’ll have mine with green chillies!

Anisha is an incredibly likeable, kind-hearted young girl.  The author’s writing style captures her voice perfectly:  likeable, friendly, confident and chatty. However, she is not averse to Year 6 peer pressure as she feels she needs to hide her intelligence from her classmates.  I also loved the insight into Anisha’s Indian family, and the warmth of their relationships, from her yoga-loving mum to her party-throwing Aunt Bindi but, most of all, her Granny Jas who I absolutely adored.  She is incredibly supportive of Anisha, believing her immediately when she gets into trouble at school and encouraging her be herself and be proud.  Such a brilliantly positive message for any child! 

Lots of gorgeous, expressive illustrations are included which are certain to capture the interest of young readers as is the appealing layout with use of capitalisation and bold text.

This is a delightfully refreshing, modern-feeling mystery, with some great twists and plenty of laughs, that I have no doubt will gain an army of young fans. 

Thank you to Usborne and Fritha Lindqvist for a review copy in exchange for my honest opinion.

WWW Wednesday

I’m listening to the audiobook of The Last Paper Crane which is beautifully written – incredibly powerful and poignant with such inspirational and strong characters. My heart is aching for Ichiro and Keiko. I think this is one I will buy as well and re-read. I’m also reading The Key to Finding Jack which I’m really enjoying. The close bond between Jack and Flick is beautifully written and I sense that Jack may not quite want to go along with the future his father has planned for him. I’m really looking forward to finding out what has happened to him after the earthquake and also to explore more about Flick’s writing.

First Class Murder: I really enjoyed this murder mystery aboard The Orient Express.  I love following Daisy and Hazel’s sleuthing.  I’m not sure I’ve met a character quite like Daisy before – is she a product of her times and place in society?  Hazel is definitely standing up for herself more, and I loved that her father is proud of her and ready to give her a little more freedom.  The Detective Society cases are such classic murder mysteries and are solved with great deduction skills by the girls.  I’m already looking forward to Jolly Foul Play!

Emily Knight:   I am …  AND Emily Knight:  I am… Awakened: This was a really fun and quick YA contemporary fantasy series.  Emily Knight, now 13, is left in the care of godparents after her father goes to look for her missing brother and her mother dies.  Emily is rich and famous and draws negative attention to herself in order to try to get her father’s attention.  Her father is a famous Warrior with special powers and Emily has inherited her own powers.  She is in danger of hurting others as her powers, including fireballs, are unleased when she is angry.  She is sent to the school her father went to, rather reluctantly, where she makes some new friends.  The first book in the series which sets up the story:  Emily settling into school, despite some problems; making friends; developing her powers; with a few twists along the way!  The second book explores Emily’s growing relationships, her strengthening powers as well as the threat from Neci (a dangerous Warrior) who intends to destroy the Warriors, and who has previously killed two of the most powerful five.  I’m looking forward to reading the next book Emily Knight:  I am … BecomingThis series give me X-men vibes!

The Ship of Shadows: I’ve had this one on my TBR since publication and as was August’s Primary School Book Club winner, I wanted to read it before the online chat on 31st August.  I really loved this story which is full of action, danger, twists and revelations as we follow Aleja, who wants to follow her dream of becoming an explorer and having amazing adventures, aboard the MOST magical, fascinating pirate ship, the Ship of Shadows.   I may well have more to say on this later in the week!

Anisha Accidental Detective: School’s Cancelled: I really enjoyed this warm, fun-filled mystery for younger readers which I think children in my class will love. Review to be posted in next few days.

I’m hoping to read Grimm in paperback and listen to Orphans of the Tide on audiobook.

What have you read this week? Have you read any of these?

Review: The Humans

This absolutely stunning marvel of a book is a MUST have for any primary school library shelves, but I have no doubt it will not remain on the shelves for long as eager young minds will definitely want to get themselves poring over the fascinating words and illustrations for hours of informative entertainment …

BLURB

This book showcases the greatest achievements of ancient civilisations, peoples and iconic figures from history. From the Nubians to the Native Americans, and the Akkadians to the Aztecs, our predecessors have pioneered a plethora of wonderful and wacky inventions, technologies and practices. They’ve constructed monumental buildings and sprawling cities, created languages, modes of transport, art, medicines, music, stories, myths and more.

Let’s delve into the past and discover what humankind accomplished in the centuries and millennia since the first civilisations were formed …

I must admit I am somewhat in awe of the quality of this book. It is a large, very tactile, hardback whose front cover immediately captured my interest as did the stamped images on the bright yellow end-papers which I immediately wanted to start matching to the associated ancient civilisations!

The Humans starts with some introductory pages tracing human evolution, showing a map of homo sapiens movement throughout the world and a definition of the Stone, Bronze and Iron Ages. This gives context for the ancient civilisations explored …

and what an incredibly diverse range of civilisations are explored, extending through all continents from Africa to The Americas. The contents page directs readers to each civilisation which is usually included on either a single or double page spread although a few like The Egyptians, The Sumerians, The Ancient Chinese, The Ancient Greeks, The Native Americans and The Romans have slightly more coverage. I also really liked that each continent had its own introduction, giving information about the timeline of human evolution for that continent. It can be really difficult for children to place events in history so this, along with the timeline at the end of the book, is really helpful.

Each page of this book gives lots of clearly explained, fascinating facts interspersed with truly wonderful illustrations and maps which complement each other perfectly, and create a brilliantly engaging layout, a real feast for eyes and mind. There is also a Where in the World? globe which places each ancient civilisation which I found really useful. The layout makes this an endlessly engaging book which is easy to follow. I have no idea how the author makes decisions as to what to include, but I absolutely loved the scope of the information included from the large scale (such as The Great Wall of China) to the minutiae (such as the uses of umbrellas).

Below is an example page which demonstrates perfectly why this book will be loved by children who will learn many interesting and fascinating facts, after they can draw their eyes away from the brilliant illustrations. I love the fusion of text and images and, as a teacher who loves double-page spreads to showcase children’s work, this is a perfect example of how to do it!

This book is perfect for primary school children as it gives a brilliant introduction to many of the civilisations covered in the curriculum in an amazingly appealing format as well as introducing children, and adults, to less well known ancient civilisations. Simply stunning!

Thank you to Charlie and Little Tiger for an early review copy in exchange for my honest opinion.

Review: The Midnight Swan

The Midnight Swan is the final part in this utterly enchanting trilogy and follows The Clockwork Crow and The Velvet Fox, both just as mesmerising as this book.

Seren and Tomos are enjoying the excitement of exploring the Summer Fair when Seren is drawn into a dark alley with an unmanned stall from which she acquires a small metal casket painted with the face of a black swan and the enticing message:  If you can open my closed lid, your heart’s desire inside is hid.  She takes this home to her tutor, who is trapped in the body of a Clockwork Crow, in the hope that opening it may help him find his human form again. 

As soon as the Crow sees the box, he knows it is the work of the Tylwyth Teg who are intent on causing dark mischief amongst humans, but also knows that it may provide the key to breaking the enchantment which has been cast over him.  He finally tells Seren and Tomos the truth of how he became enchanted, and it is worth having waited three books for!

So begins a dangerous journey by the children and the Crow to break the enchantment, a journey which sees Seren making a terrifying bargain, and which sees the Crow unleashing his own magic as they journey into an enchanted land to enter the Garden of the Midnight Swan, but will any of them have their heart’s desire met, or will the renowned trickery of the Fair Folk thwart them?

This story is beautifully atmospheric and lyrical, perfectly capturing the allure and danger of the Tylwyth Teg as they gate-crash Lady Mair’s Midsummer Ball, and offer enticing, but perilous, bargains.  The underlying sense of danger and urgency is palpable as Seren, Tomos and the Crow are drawn inexorably towards the Midnight Swan.

I adored the characters in this book.  Seren is a wonderfully kind-hearted and courageous girl who is prepared to make selfless sacrifices for those she loves.  She is desperate to belong in a family, and has doubts as to whether she is still welcome in Plas-y-Fran.  The Crow is absolutely brilliant!  He is cantankerous, rather rude and boastful yet also endearing as he is hiding behind a façade, feeling fearful, but trying not to show it. 

The Midnight Swan transported me into a magical world of enchantment, excitement and danger, and completely enthralled me with its evocative atmosphere, heart-warming relationships and sense of other-worldly mystery.

Thank you to NetGalley and the Publishers, FireFly Press, for an e-ARC in exchange for my honest opinion.

MG Takes on Thursday

This is my new weekly meme celebrating amazing middle-grade books. I hope others will enjoy taking part in this too!

How to take part:

  • Post a picture of the front cover of a middle-grade book which you have read and would recommend to others with details of the author, illustrator and publisher.
  • Open the book to page 11 and share your favourite sentence.
  • Write three words to describe the book.
  • Either share why you would recommend this book, or link to your review.

This week, I’m celebrating …

Written by Jessica Townsend
Illustration by Beatriz Castro
Published by Orion Children’s Books (an imprint of Hachette)

Favourite Sentence from Page 11:

Morrigan plastered a very large smile on her face and gave him two thumbs up.

This book in three words:

MAGIC, WONDER, FRIENDSHIP

I have no idea why I’ve left it so long to read this one as I loved Nevermoor.  It has been sitting on my TBR for far too long, so I decided to pick it up and read it before the next book, Hollowpox:  The Hunt for Morrigan Crow is released in October.   

I absolutely devoured this incredible story over the weekend.  It’s a long middle-grade (404 pages) but worth absolutely every minute of reading time.

Morrigan is now a member of the Wundrous Society and hopes to have found a place where she belongs, but this proves not to be the case as Wundersmiths are feared by the Society and she is looked upon with suspicion by most of those who know her talent.  In an attempt to control Morrigan, she is not allowed to take many classes and indeed must learn about the terrible history of past Wundersmiths. 

When some members of the Wundrous Society go missing, Morrigan is determined to find and save them … but is she being manipulated by an old enemy for his own purposes?  Is wunder something to be feared, or will she be able to control it and use it for good?

The world-building is phenomenal and really immersed me in this wondrous world.  I would so love to visit the Deucalion for one of Frank’s legendary events and meet Fenestra, ride on the Brolly Rail and wander around Wunsoc.

This story is exhilarating, brimming with action, tension and some dark moments.  I loved the relationships between Morrigan and her patron, Jupiter who believes in her goodness, and with her loyal friend Hawthorne who adds some lightness to the darker tone of some of this story.

Wundersmith absolutely epitomises the wonder that comes from a story that immerses the reader in an incredible reading experience, and transports them into a world which they don’t want to leave behind.  I’m now absolutely ready for Morrigan’s next adventure …

I’d love if anyone who wants to give this meme a go would comment in the comments box and include a link to your post so I can visit, comment and find some great middle-grade recommendations. If you do create a post and are on Twitter, and would like to share your post, please use the hashtag  #MGTakesOnThursday so I can find it, read it and share it!

WWW Wednesday

I’m almost finished reading First Class Murder and am really enjoying it. I’m loving seeing how the friendship between Daisy and Hazel is developing, and also Hazel’s relationship with her father. The fact that the murder takes place aboard The Orient Express is an added bonus! It’s such fun to watch the girls find and eliminate suspects. I’m also listening to the audiobook of The Last Paper Crane which is one of the most powerful stories I’ve heard. There is so much emotion conveyed in a matter of fact, almost stark way that makes it even more heart breaking.

I really loved The Haunting of Aveline Jones which is a brilliantly atmospheric and spooky read, perfect for autumn (my review). I’ve had Wundersmith on my TBR since the paperback came out so thought I’d read it before Hollowpox is released in October. It was amazing – absolutely loved the world-building and following Morrigan’s first term at the WunSoc even if I did feel really sorry for what she had to put up with! I read Northern Lights through a mixture of listening to the audiobook, reading a paperback and doing both together! I had tried to read this years ago, but couldn’t get into it! This time, however, I loved it! Lyra is such an amazing character – I loved how strong she is, how determined and clever. Finally, I read The Midnight Swan which is the final book in the Clockwork Crow trilogy. I really enjoyed it and found it a perfect ending to this series. I will try to post my review soon.

I didn’t get around to reading The Key to Finding Jack this week as Wundersmith sneaked in instead! I’m going to pick it up next and will hopefully find time to read Grimm which sounds like a rather intriguing mystery, set in Scotland which is an added bonus.

Review: The Haunting of Aveline Jones

What an absolutely superbly spine-tingling story!  The Haunting of Aveline Jones is a satisfyingly chilling, tension-filled and eerily atmospheric story, and is the perfect read for a cold, dark evening – if you dare! 

Aveline Jones has been sent to the seaside town of Malmouth on the Cornish Coast to stay with her Aunt Lilian whilst her mother visits her Grandmother who is unwell.

Aveline is a booklover who has a predilection towards those of the spooky kind – you know, the kind that keep you awake at night or, even worse/better, wake you up in the middle of the night!  After visiting the most wonderful dusty old second-hand bookshop, she buys a book of folklore about local ghosts and phantoms. 

Aveline finds the name of the previous owner, Primrose Penberthy, written in the book and, on further investigation, discovers that she went missing over 30 years previously.  She is determined to find out what happened to her, to not let her be forgotten and to unearth the truth behind the last story in the book which has been crossed out … a booklover’s nightmare!

So begins a riveting mystery, laden with masterfully balanced tension and a sense of foreboding which creates a tightrope of suspense, orchestrated perfectly to send shivers down your spine.  Is there any truth in a local almost forgotten ghost story? Why are scarecrows placed outside homes in the lead up to Halloween? 

I am in awe of how enticingly the eerie atmosphere has been portrayed through the senses:  a seaside town in winter, stormy weather, crashing waves, child-like scarecrows, scratching noises, unexpected occurrences and sightings, shocking revelations, the threat of danger … this is definitely a story that made me jumpy and read some parts from behind my fingers, and I loved it for being able to do that! 

Aveline is a wonderful protagonist who shows great courage, determination and strength despite her understandable fear.  She is intent on solving the mystery surrounding the disappearance of Primrose, and feels an affinity with her as she learns more and more about her.  I loved how the relationship between Aveline and her Aunt Lilian changed during the course of the story, from one of tentativeness and awkwardness to closeness and warmth.  I also enjoyed Aveline’s growing friendship with Harold who despite his scepticism about ghosts and irritating her at times, proves an ally in her investigation. 

I have to give a special mention to the bookseller, Ernst Liberman, who is a wonderfully warm, eccentric character, kind-hearted with a wealth of bookish knowledge, who utters the lines that are very close to my heart … “ … Books are the most precious thing in all the world …” 

The cover and inside illustrations by Keith Robinson are stunning and complement the spooky vibe of this story perfectly.

This is an absolutely perfect middle-grade read for those who like the frisson of fear, the eerie atmosphere and the build-up of tension that are all part of a thrilling ghost mystery story … it gave me delicious reading chills. 

Thank you to the NetGalley and the publisher for an e-ARC in exchange for my honest opinion.

Blog Tour: The Beast and the Bethany

Thank you so much to Dave at The Write Reads for inviting me to be part of this blog tour, to the publishers, Egmont, for sending me a physical proof in return for my honest opinion and to the writer, Jack Meggitt-Phillips, for giving me a few hours of very satisfying reading time!

Written by Jack Meggitt-Phillips
Illustrated by Isabelle Follath
Published by Egmont Books
Release date: 1st October

Review

This is a deliciously dark, wickedly witty and heart-meltingly warm story, which I gulped down in a very satisfying single sitting.  Excuse the bookish burps! 

Ebenezer Tweezer is youthful in appearance and, if he does say so himself, really rather handsome, BUT he’s approaching his 512th birthday!  What magic is this?  Well, he is kept in this youthful state by a magical elixir given to him by the beast in his attic.  The beast also vomits – yes, sorry, vomits – up all sorts of presents to keep Ebenezer in the lavish lifestyle to which he has become accustomed. 

And the price?  Why, nothing more than becoming a willing servant, ready and able to serve the beast any food it desires.  Which is all very well when it demands, say, a rare singing parrot, but what about a plump, juicy child?  Eternal youth versus child sacrifice?  To be fair, Ebenezer does try to protest, but honestly, it’s no contest for this egotistical, vain fellow.  One plump, juicy child coming up with the proviso that she’s horrible and truly deserving of being the beast’s next meal.

And what a child he finds!  Bethany “Bog Off” lives in an orphanage and amuses herself by tormenting the other children.   She’s horrible, nasty and mean, and just PERFECT for the beast’s next meal.  But, are Ebenezer and the beast ready for what Bethany has to offer?

This is a completely unputdownable treat of a book which is brimming with fast-paced chaotic action, hilarious battles of will and plenty of heart-warming and poignant moments too.  I dare anyone not to be desperate for a second helping!

I really enjoyed the changing dynamics of the interactions between Ebenezer and Bethany which sees them both tentatively reaching towards friendship, and seeking redemption in order to become good people, even if they’re not quite clear what ‘good’ constitutes, but together there is hope for both. 

My heart went out to Bethany who has been sent to an orphanage run by the uncaring Miss Fizzlewick after the loss of her parents who she barely remembers.  She doesn’t know what family is, yet is desperate for a sense of belonging.  Then along comes Ebenezer who, whether he knows it or not, is lonely and in need of a friend and a moral compass.  Each is just what the other needs.

And what can I offer up in defence of the beast?  Nothing, absolutely nothing.  Well, alright, maybe, just maybe, it feels a little inferior about its looks, but that really is no excuse for those eating habits and that demanding attitude!

This is such a cleverly layered story with important messages relating to themes of the fear of aging/death, overcoming loss, greed, the ability to empathise, honesty and the misuse of power. Its also ferociously funny, terrifically twisted and delightfully dark. 

The proof I have does not have complete illustrations but those that are included complement the book perfectly:  lively, expressive and whimsical. I’m looking forward to buying a finished copy so I can see all the illustrations.  

The Beast and the Bethany has everything I love in a captivating story – sharply observed wit, wonderful characters and interaction, an imaginative plot, and just that je ne sais quoi that utterly charms the reader.  I can’t wait to share this with my class!

Jack Meggitt-Phillips

Jack Meggitt-Phillips is an incredibly exciting new talent. He is an author, scriptwriter and playwright whose work has been performed at The Roundhouse and featured on Radio 4. He is scriptwriter and presenter of The History of Advertising podcast. In his mind, Jack is an enormously talented ballroom dancer, however his enthusiasm far surpasses his actual talent. Jack lives in north London where he spends most of his time drinking peculiar teas and reading PG Wodehouse novels.

Isabelle Follath Isabelle is an illustrator who has worked in advertising, fashion magazines and book publishing, but her true passion lies in illustrating children’s books. She also loves drinking an alarming amount of coffee, learning new crafts and looking for the perfect greenish-gold colour. Isabellelives in Zurich, Switzerland.

First Lines Friday

First Lines Fridays is a weekly feature for book lovers hosted by Wandering Words. What if instead of judging a book by its cover, its author or its prestige, we judged it by its opening lines?

  • Pick a book off your shelf (it could be your current read or on your TBR) and open to the first page
  • Copy the first few lines, but don’t give anything else about the book away just yet – you need to hook the reader first
  • Finally… reveal the book!

There were two men in the graveyard, under the stars. Both were very tall and unnaturally thin, and wore black suits and long black coats. They walked through the oldest parts of the church grounds among overgrown weeds and tombstones so decayed that the names of those buried beneath had been lost forever.

Any ideas?

I’ve been reading some spooky middle-grade stories recently and want to try to add to my collection and this one seems like a great addition. I think I’m going to make October my month long readathon for spooky books!

Goodreads Synopsis:

Are you brave? When mysterious Amelia Pigeon turns up at Kirby’s bedroom window in the dead of night, this is the question she asks him – immediately before they tumble into a world of ancient malevolent spirits who have torn their way into Kirby’s sleepy seaside village. Ross MacKenzie weaves a world of magic and adventure, which twists and turns magnificently and will keep thrilled young readers guessing right to the end.