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 Pádraig Kenny
Illustrated by Edward Bettison
Published by Macmillan Children’s Books

Favourite Sentence from Page 11:

Uncle Enoch had described this to her as: ‘The place where we are created, where we sleep before birth. A place we have no memory of, but which haunts our dreams.’

This book in three words:

MONSTERS, FRIENDSHIP, FAMILY

I posted my first ever review on my Blog on 11th April 2019, and it was for Pog by Pádraig Kenny (review here) which I absolutely loved, so I was very keen to pick up and read The Monsters of Rookhaven and am only sorry that I waited nearly five months to read it!

This book is, quite simply, an incredible read which captured me from the opening line (Mirabelle was in the garden feeding bones to the flowers ….) and transported me into a world filled with gothic delight, marvel and monsters. Mirabelle and her monster family are separated from the human world by a glamour which becomes torn, allowing two orphaned children, Jem and Tom, to discover their existence. Jem and Tom are escaping their own monsters having lost both their father and mother and run away from an abusive Uncle.

The monster Family are brilliantly realised: a diverse group who are born from the Ether (a concept which I found utterly fascinating and led me to some of my own reading) and live together as a family, looking out for each other, protecting each other and allowing each other the room to explore and grow. The Twins can walk through walls, Uncle Bertram and Uncle Enoch can shapeshift, Odd can travel through portals, and Aunt Eliza – that’s just plain creepy! Mirabelle doesn’t seem to have any special ability, except that she doesn’t need to eat or sleep. And then there is Piglet who I found to be one of the most fascinating characters I have ever encountered in middle-grade, an entity that engenders both fear, respect and love in others, someone who needs to be locked away, but who opens others to their own feelings and truths and in so doing experiences for himself the depth of emotions from anger to grief to love. I also adored Uncle Bertram who, despite his monstrosity, is engendered with such innocence that my heart ached for him.

I really enjoyed the friendship between Mirabelle and Jem as they learn to open up to each other, trust and offer strength and support when needed. There are secrets, twists and revelations in this story that kept me enthralled, but I don’t want to say more for fear of spoilers.

I found the whole aspect of time and place fascinating: the images and mention of spheres, the portals Odd uses to travel to other times and places, Piglet’s plane of existence, and a twist in the story. The story is set shortly after the end of the Second World War which has encroached on the lives of the villagers who have lost family members and had injured members return. One of those suffering is Freddie who has lost his brother in the War and, whilst dealing with his own grief, he also feels the pain of his father withdrawing from him as he fights his own battle with grief. This provides a perfect storm for an evil that is hunting the Monsters of Rookhaven to seek its own path to them …

This story certainly questions who, and what, the real monsters are, and how humans can have their fears and uncertainty manipulated and turned into hatred through malicious intent. One of the central themes in this story is the pain caused by grief and loss of loved ones and how the sharing of grief can bring people closer, and help to heal.

The illustrations by Edward Bettison are stunning and cover both partial and full page spreads. Some of the drawings are rather chilling, and perfectly complement the darker elements of the story, whilst others depict wonderful images of the mansion and village.

I would highly recommend this story to anyone who enjoys high-quality, emotive, thought-provoking fantasy. I was so pleased to learn that there is going to be a sequel to this story later this year. I will definitely be getting it – and reading it – as soon as it is published.

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’ve just finished a book, but this will be the next one I’m picking up!

I’ve finished listening to the audiobook of The Good Bear on BorrowBox. I really enjoyed this one which was both heart-warming and poignant. The Norwegian setting at Christmas was wonderful. I really enjoyed reading about the contrast in Christmas traditions. Thea wants to be a writer, and is hoping to connect with her father again through sharing her passion for writing when she visits him and his new family. She is also hoping that he will get her a much-coveted typewriter, but instead she is given something much more practical: some snow boots! Thea doesn’t bond with her father as easily as she had hoped and there is a distance between them, and an awkwardness with his new family, that drives her out into the snowy woods … and to making a life-changing discovery. She finds an old bear and makes a connection with him that she cannot find with her father. Will Thea be able to save her bear when he is in danger from the townspeople? This is a gorgeously told story that deals with hurt, the struggle to bond and form new relationships as well as fulfilling your dreams and the joy to be found in the natural environment.

Although I hadn’t been intending to, I felt drawn to read The Monsters of Rookhaven which absolutely blew my mind! This is such a clever, insightful story that has me asking questions and thinking about it long after I’ve finished, much to my poor husband’s bemusement! I have got more to say about this one soon but, be warned, most of my thoughts on it are not quite coherent!

I’ve also finished The Abbey Mystery which is due to be published in April. I read this with a real feeling of nostalgia as the author so brilliantly captures the Georgian society in which Jane Austen lived and wrote about, and it brought me back to my early teenage years when I devoured Jane Austen novels. I think Jane is now one of my new favourite characters! I’m currently writing my review for this one, and will post slightly closer to publication.

I was very excited to receive an early review copy of this one as I wasn’t expecting it! It is due for release at the start of March so I thought I’d read it next!

What are you reading? Have you read any of these?

Review: Look Out, Leonard!

Written by Jessie James
Illustrated by Tamara Anegon
Published by Dorling Kindersley on 4th March 2021 (paperback)

Leonard and his shrew family are moving to a new home in another part of the forest with a long journey ahead of them. Very sensibly, Mrs Shrew asks them to hold on to each other’s tails so they don’t get lost. What could possibly go wrong? Unfortunately, poor Leonard, who does not have the best eyesight and perhaps doesn’t pay as much attention as he could, finds himself in trouble when he accidentally catches the wrong tail! Finding himself separated from his family, he certainly needs to look out as he catches an assortment of different tails in his efforts to be reunited with his family. When his family find themselves in trouble, will Leonard be able to save them?

The illustrations are absolutely gorgeous in a range of bright and bold colours, celebrating the diversity, life and movement of the forest. They also brilliantly capture the personalities of the shrews and other animals.

This is such a wonderful story which is uplifting, joyous and invites its young readers to engage with the text as they look at different ways of saying ‘Hello’, practise counting, answer questions and spot a range of animal tails! It celebrates difference as Leonard is not quite like the other shrews: his name doesn’t begin with ‘S’, he doesn’t say ‘Hello’ in the same way and he wears glasses BUT he is curious and has a sense of adventure and perseveres to prove himself an accidental hero! All the way through the story, the reader is left feeling encouraged that Leonard will be reunited with his family.

The text is easy to follow, chatty and humorous with lots of questions, description, alliteration and repetition which will have young readers wanting to join in, especially with the refrain: Look Out, Leonard! The text is also playful with large, bold text interspersed with the main text.

The final page includes some factual information about the Southeast Asian Shrew. I especially liked discovering that, whilst they have excellent hearing and smell, they have poor eyesight – that explains Leonard!

This is a perfect book for children of 3-5 years who will enjoy both the engaging text and the bright, bold images and I have no doubt will be repeating ‘Look Out, Leonard’ with great glee!

Thank you to Dorling Kindersley for an early copy in exchange for my honest opinion.

Top Ten Tuesday

This is a weekly meme now hosted by That Artsy Girl Reader.  This week’s theme is Purple, Yellow, and/or Green Book Covers (in honor of Mardi Gras, which is today!). I’ve had a look at my bookshelves and chosen a range of Green, Yellow and Purple books that I haven’t read – yet!

These are all books I am really excited to read, but my TBR is just ridiculous! Have you read any of these? Which would you recommend?

Review: The Dragon and Her Boy

The Dragon and her Boy is a brilliantly exciting, fast-paced adventure set in a past London, brimming with peril, intrigue and humour, that enthralled me throughout. 

The gutterling friends and tumblers, Stick, Spud and Sparrow, who we previously met in Tiger Heart, are separated when there is a commotion beneath the streets during an unnatural Great Heat.  Could their disappearance have anything to do with a terrifying figure seen by Stick, a figure from his past? 

The other children who are surviving on London’s streets sense that something is wrong in the City, and tell Stick about a strange woman who is taking children.   Determined to find his lost friends, Stick finds himself beneath the streets of London, and face-to-face with … a dragon!  A rather irascible, easily offended dragon – the last of her kind – who has become stuck in an underground tunnel after running away from grave danger.  AND she’s just brilliant – and rather partial to a little flattery – and crumpets!

Discovering that they have a common enemy, the dragon and Stick join forces and embark on an incredible adventure to rescue Stick’s friends and each other; an adventure that sees them form a wonderful bond of friendship; and, an adventure that sees Stick confront terrors from his past.  Their friendship is filled with wonderful repartee, trust and a need to protect each other.  Stick is incredibly courageous, thinking about others before himself and facing up to his fears in order to save both old and new friends from someone who has caused him great pain in the past. 

This is a fantastically fast-paced adventure, brimming with danger, revelations and intrigue:  a real page-turner.  The bonds of friendship between the gutterling children, who have become a family, are incredibly touching which leads to some poignant moments, but also a real sense of hope as they are determined to work together, despite the risks they have to take, to help each other.  I really enjoyed the language used between the children and felt this helped me become part of their world.  The author has included ‘Stick’s Guide to Gutterling’ in the Author’s Notes which I found fascinating.

This is a story that will take you on an incredible adventure, an adventure filled with daring and danger, with truths unfolding, with courageous hearts and heart-warming friendships.  Truly glorious storytelling!

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

WWW Wednesday

I’ve just started The Abbey Mystery (slightly later than I had intended to as I got distracted by another recommendation). I’m just about to start The Good Bear on audio.

I’ve read four books this week. Leo’s Map of Monsters is the start of a series for younger readers, and was a really fun read which I enjoyed. Leo lives behind a wall to protect the villagers from dangerous creatures in the forest.  On their ninth birthdays, the village children are given an assignment to match their talents.  Leo loves reading and writing so is convinced that he will join his friend at the Record Office.  However, when he opens his assignment, he discovers two words:  TOP SECRET.  He is immediately whisked away by the Village Chief, Gilda to meet the person he has been assigned to:  The Guardian.  Leo finds himself discovering the secrets of the forest, and learning that his assignment is to protect the villagers from monsters – and monsters from the villagers!  Will Leo be successful in his first mission:  to save the village from an enraged Armoured Goretusk who is heading in their direction?  Leo learns that he is braver than he thinks, and makes a wonderful friend in Starla, a rather cute flying monster. 

I listened to the audiobook of The Silent Stars Go By after seeing it recommended by Lily. This story is set after the First World War, during the Christmas period.  The vicar’s young daughter, Margot, has had a child out of wedlock to her fiancé Harry who went to war and was reported missing in action.  Feeling that she had no other choice, she gave up her child, James, to be adopted and raised by her parents.  Margot has come home to spend Christmas with her family, and meets with Harry again who has survived the war.  My heart went out to Margot as she is forced to make choices because of societal ‘norms’ of the time and as she goes through the almost unbearable anguish of being close to her son, but not being able to treat him as such.  This is a beautifully written, and heartfelt story, that I was completely immersed in. 

I also read an e-book of The Dragon and her Boy on NetGalley. I requested this book as I had really enjoyed the author’s previous book, Tiger Heart. This story is based around one of the children from that story, Stick, who meets a dragon under the streets of London. I really enjoyed the story which was fast-paced and exciting. The dragon is just brilliant! I will be posting my review within the next few days.

Finally, I DEVOURED Storm over a couple of days after Rachael recommended it. I read late into the night and was up at 5:30am to read some more before going to work. OMG!! What can I say? I only knew one thing about this book, and am so glad that I hadn’t even read the synopsis. So much in this story led me in unexpected directions. The voice of the main character, Frances, is captured brilliantly, and made it such a brilliant, flowing read. I don’t want to say anything about the plot as it was just so wonderful to go into this book ‘blind’ and I think it made it even more enjoyable. I absolutely can’t wait to read the author’s next book, Starboard. Thank you so much Rachael for telling me to read this – I ABSOLUTELY loved it!

I think I’ll probably read A Wolf for a Spell next.

What are you reading? Have you read any of these?

Six for Sunday

The February theme for Six for Sunday, hosted by A Little But a Lot is Read it and weep! and today’s prompt is for Books with red covers. I’ve had a look at my bookshelves and chosen six books with red covers that I haven’t yet read, but all of which I’m excited to get to!

Have you read any of these? What did you think?

Review: 44 Tiny Acrobats

44 Tiny Acrobats is the second book in this gorgeous series for younger readers, starring 44 adorable and mischievous pygmy mice, and the wonderful Bow-Linnet family:  full of warmth, humour and adventure, this will be sure to keep children entertained throughout – and probably wanting their own little acrobat! 

It is the start of the Christmas holidays, and Betsy and her Grandad are continuing the family tradition of Christmas Decoration Day.  However, Betsy is quick to realise that her beloved Grandad is not his usual cheery self:  could this be something to do with the circus which they can see on the common near their home? 

After one of her mice gets injured, Betsy takes it to the vet and, on the way home, cannot resist buying a ticket to Fry & Sons Circus of Wonders.  Betsy is absolutely mesmerised by the acts who perform and feels a pull towards circus life, a life that drew her Grandma too.  Trouble ensues when the mice escape which leads to an encounter with the circus Ringmaster, Mr Fry who demands that she makes amends, so Betsy finds herself and her acrobatic troupe of pygmy mice agreeing to perform, but can she keep her secret from her family? 

This is a wonderful story taking the young reader on an exciting adventure with an element of danger that is sure to keep pages turning.  Will Betsy be able to outwit the terrible Ringmaster, Mr Fry, who is determined to have her acrobatic mouse troupe perform, with or without her? 

Betsy is the most wonderful, kind-hearted young girl:  courageous, independent and determined.  She finds herself in a tricky situation, trying hard to do the right thing whilst not upsetting others and feeling guilty over the choices she makes.  She does have help from the magnificent magician, Enid the Splendid who is kind and supportive, and who has some of his own wrongs to right.

I loved the warm relationship between Betsy, her parents and her Grandfather.  Even though she feels she has to keep her secret from her family, she is doing so in order not to hurt them and as she feels a responsibility to put right a mistake she has made.  The message that her family is there for her, to protect and support her is a wonderful one, and I really enjoyed seeing other sides of her family – especially her Dad!

The story illustrations, in a range of shades of red, by Ashley King are absolutely stunning, and really bring the characters to life, showing the warmth and humour in the story perfectly.

This is a perfect book for young readers to enjoy with endearing characters, plenty of action and humour, and wonderful messages of friendship and family. 

Thank you to Charlie Morris and Little Tiger for providing me with a review copy in exchange for my honest opinion.

First Lines Fridays

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!

Fear sank its jaws into Zima as she recognized the smell of magic. She pressed her nose to the ground and sniffed again. Like moonlight and decay – it burrowed into her nose, slippery and sinister. She shook her head and huffed to clear out her nostrils. A shiver rippled through Zima’s silvery-gray fur. She knew what the smell meant. The witch was nearby.

Any ideas?

I couldn’t resist this one as I’ve heard some wonderful things about it: wolves and Baba Yaga – what’s not to love?

Goodreads Synopsis:

The Girl Who Drank the Moon meets Pax in this fantastical tale of a wolf who forms an unlikely alliance with Baba Yaga to save the forest from a wicked tsar. Since she was a pup, Zima has been taught to fear humans—especially witches—but when her family is threatened, she has no choice but to seek help from the witch Baba Yaga. Baba Yaga never does magic for free, but it just so happens that she needs a wolf’s keen nose for a secret plan she’s brewing… Before Zima knows what’s happening, the witch has cast a switching spell and run off into the woods, while Zima is left behind in Baba Yaga’s hut—and Baba Yaga’s body! Meanwhile, a young village girl named Nadya is also seeking the witch’s help, and when she meets Zima (in Baba Yaga’s form), they discover that they face a common enemy. With danger closing in, Zima must unite the wolves, the witches and the villagers against an evil that threatens them all.

Have you read this one? What did you think?

WWW Wednesday

I haven’t actually started either of these yet, but I’m going to be later this evening and tomorrow morning. I really enjoyed Tiger Heart by Penny Chrimes so, when I saw this on NetGalley, I was eager to read it. I’ve seen lots of wonderful recommendations for The Silent Stars Go By so I reserved it on BorrowBox and it has now become available. It will be keeping me company on the drive to and from work over the next while.

This week I finished reading The Ocean Squid Explorers’ Club which is the most fun, imaginative adventure. The world building is brilliant. I am taking part in a Blog Tour later in the month, so will post my review then. I also read 44 Tiny Acrobats which is an adorable read for younger children. I am currently writing my review and hope to post it tomorrow – depending on how late I finish work! I also finished Uki and the Swamp Spirit which I absolutely loved. This is such an incredible adventure series that feels like a classic quest. The main characters, Uki, Jori and Kree have a wonderful bond and are such a brilliant, and brave, team. The ending has left me desperate for the next book for very different reasons than I had anticipated! Finally, I finished listening to The Light Jar which was amazing. For so much of the book I was on edge as I just didn’t know what to expect. It is such a cleverly written story with a wonderfully sympathetic character in Nate who I adored. I definitely need to read more books by Lisa Thompson as I really enjoyed the writing style in this one.

I have been sent a proof of The Abbey Mystery which is being published on 23rd April. I love Jane Austen’s books, so am really looking forward to a mystery with a young fictional Jane. I love the cover of this one too.