Review: The Griffin Gate

I was so excited to learn that Vashti Hardy was writing a new dyslexia-friendly series for Barrington Stoke.  I have adored all of Vashti’s middle-grade books, Brightstorm, Darkwhispers and Wildspark and, of course, was eager to get my hands on a copy of The Griffin Gate as soon as it was published.  It was so worth the wait!  What a start to this exhilarating new series! 

13-year-old Grace Griffin comes from a family of Wardens started by her Great Grandma who invented the Griffin Map, a technologically advanced map linked by portals to all the towns and villages in Moreland so that people can ask for help if they are in need.  The Griffin family protect the people by teleporting to where they are needed when they are alerted to problems through the map. 

What an amazing job!  Grace thinks so, but unfortunately, she is a warden-in-training, not allowed to be a fully fledged warden until she is 15 so she is banned from taking part in family missions. 

Some rules are made to be broken.

Grace feels she is ready to take part in missions and, when the opportunity arises, she finds herself teleporting to a village in need of help from the Wardens but, once there, she finds she has a greater problem to deal with than she was expecting … will Grace and her trusty mechanical raven, Watson, be able to overcome the peril they find themselves in, and return to Copperport with mission accomplished?

This is such an exhilarating, exciting, fast-paced story with some brilliant twists and revelations, a mystery to be solved and monsters to be defeated.  I am so glad there’s going to be more adventures for Grace …

I adored Grace who is a feisty young girl, determined to prove herself just as capable as her older brother, Bren.  Although her impulsive nature leads her into trouble, it also leads to an amazing adventure.  She is clever, courageous and resourceful ably assisted by her faithful mechanical raven, Watson.  Oh my!  Watson!  Grumpy, sarky, straight-talking, but with a heart of gold:  just the kind of friend that is needed when trouble comes calling …

The illustrations by Natalie Smillie are absolutely wonderful and so expressive, complementing this world and its characters perfectly.

This is such a wonderful story which introduces an incredible new world with some fascinating technology; a determined young girl; and, a family who come to accept that ‘Some rules are made to be broken’This is one of those stories that warms your heart, draws you into its enchantment and takes you on an exciting adventure … perfect for readers of 8+, and one I’m very happy to be recommending to my class.

YA Review: Witch

Published by Zephyr Books on 1st October

Witch is an incredibly powerful and deeply emotional story that held me enthralled from the opening pages. 

Evey and her younger sister Dill witness the brutal murder of their mother by the local witchfinder and his men.  Evey makes a promise to avenge her mother’s death by killing the men.  Leaving her nine-year-old sister with their Aunt, she seeks vengeance alone.  However, she soon finds herself with a new friend, the local Lord’s daughter, Anne and together they embark on a dangerous mission, a mission which will see them forging unbreakable bonds and taking courageous risks to seek vengeance.

This is a heartfelt story about the strength, courage and determination it takes to right wrongs, to re-dress the balance of nature.  A story of delving deep into your inner psyche and finding yourself, of self-belief and finding a transformative power within … a story of fury, of healing, of magick.

It is also a story of friendship, family, betrayal and fear encapsulated in a deep-rooted magick which is at the heart of the story.  Those in positions of power seek to use and control the women who can channel the magick for political gain, but they also fear, and are suspicious of, these women so seek to destroy. 

The raw grief, pain and anger which is tearing the sisters apart is heartbreakingly portrayed.  I found the complicated relationship between Evey and Dill a real strength of the narrative.  There is deep love, but also jealousy and brutal honesty caught up in their relationship with magick, their mother and each other.  They both have admirable inner strength and incredible reserves of courage.  They suffer, they endure, but they rise above their persecution.  The other main female in the story, Anne, has also suffered great loss at the hands of men, and is empathetic, kind-hearted and courageous.  I really enjoyed the friendship between her and Evey.

Overall, this is a deeply atmospheric, rich and emotive story which is both heart-breaking and uplifting.

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

September Wrap-Up

Well, what a month September has been! Back to school with my new class and new routines! It’s been so fantastic to be with a class again, teaching them in person rather than on-line BUT it is so very exhausting which has affected my reading this month. I have loved sharing so many new books with my new class and recommending books to each child. They are loving our class read, The Land of Roar, which I’ve almost finished with them. I have been trying hard to get all work completed during the week, so I don’t work at weekends which has been mostly successful so far.

Books I’ve read:

I’ve read 14 books this month which includes 9 physical books, 2 e-books and 3 audiobooks.

Physical books:

I bought The Ship of Shadows, The Missing Barbegazi and The Children of Swallow Fell. The others were sent on behalf of publishers in exchange for honest reviews.

e-books:

I read After the War on Borrowbox and I downloaded Witch to my Kindle after being approved on NetGalley.

audiobooks:

I listened to all of these on Borrowbox. They are all very different but very, very good and highly recommended.

Books I’ve bought:

I’ve treated myself to quite a lot of books this month even though it might take me a while to get round to reading them! 1st October was a huge publication day, but a lot of the books published then could be picked up slightly earlier so I didn’t wait! I’ve just counted, and I bought 17 books this month. I really need another bookcase as I buy books faster than I can read them!

NetGalley:

I’m trying hard not to request too many books on NetGalley. My Feedback Ratio is currently at 88%. I have 4 books to read on my NetGalley shelf although I have wished for Amari and the Night Brothers by B.B. Alston so fingers crossed, but not holding out much chance I fear! Books currently on my NetGalley Shelf to read:

Physical books sent by publishers/review sites for review:

I’ve read and written reviews for all of these now, apart from The Incredible Record Smashers which I just received this week.

Reviews posted:

  1. The International Yeti Collective – Shadowspring
  2. Skeleton Keys The Legend of Gap-tooth Jack
  3. Grimm
  4. Emily Knight I am … Becoming (Blog Tour)
  5. The Key to Finding Jack
  6. The Ship of Shadows (MG Takes on Thursday)
  7. Anisha Accidental Detective: School’s Out
  8. The Humans
  9. The Midnight Swan

Completing my September Wrap-Up makes me realise I maybe got more reading and reviewing completed than I thought I had which I’m really pleased about. Roll on a good October reading month!

How has your reading month been? Have you read any of these?

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 Abi Elphinstone
Published by Simon & Schuster

Favourite Sentence from Page 11:

Because friendships, and all the complicated emotions and unpredictable feelings that came with them, had proved to be nothing other than disastrous for Casper in the past.

This book in three words:

WONDER, FRIENDSHIP, ADVENTURE

I absolutely love the Unmapped Chronicles series. There is something very magical about Abi’s writing which envelops you completely in her glorious worlds with the most brilliant characters, narrative and settings.

Casper Tock is living in Faraway (our World), which is being devastated by very unusual weather conditions.  He is trying to escape from school bullies when he inadvertently unlocks the way to Rumblestar, one of the Unmapped Kingdoms, which is being threatened by an old enemy. 

There he meets the irrepressible, and brilliantly named, Utterly Thankless who promptly arrests him … and shortly after rescues him.  And so begins their incredible adventure into The Beyond where they meet magical creatures including the delightfully creepy drizzle hags and the kind-hearted, new-age snow trolls. 

Their daring mission to attempt to save both their worlds is full of fast-paced action, tension which ebbs and flows with magical ease interspersed with humour and the realisation of a deep friendship.

This is a real marvel of a story:  an enchanting read, brimming with adventure, nuggets of wisdom and a testament to the power of friendship.  

You can read my full review here.

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: Jungledrop

Jungledrop is an exhilarating, magical adventure brimming with action, excitement and warmth which is set in a stunning glow-in-the-dark rainforest.  It is the second book in the Unmapped Chronicles series after the equally superb Rumblestar:  I was so pleased to be briefly reacquainted with one of the characters from it – just like meeting an old friend!

There is nothing endearing about the Petty-Squabble parents who are intent on building their empire with no regard whatsoever for the feelings of others, including that of their children.  Their twins, Fox and Fibber, have been brought up to abide by the family motto:  Do not be afraid to stamp all over other peoples’ feelings.  And that is exactly what they do – they are rude, unkind and nasty – especially towards each other as sibling rivalry is encouraged by their parents.  And yet?  I felt sympathy for them from the beginning which is a testament to the quality and depth of the writing. 

Fibber and Fox are the product of their upbringing and have shielded themselves from hurt and the absence of love by building walls and battling against each other to earn their parents’ approval.  This leads to jealousy, mistrust and, well, just plain nastiness towards each other, yet there are glimmers of hope that, deep down, they have better attributes than those they display openly, but will they ever have the courage and strength to reveal what they have hidden deep inside?

I must admit that the twins are not typical heroes, but their opportunity to save not one world, but two soon arrives when they find themselves taking the Here and There Express train to the Unmapped Kingdom of Jungledrop where they meet a young Unmapper, Iggy Blether and his intuitive and rather intrusive parrot, Heckle who repeats what people are thinking, not what they are saying – brilliant and insightful!  Iggy shares the imminent destruction of Jungledrop by the evil harpy Morg and her Midnight minions, and reveals to the twins that the fate of both their world (the Faraway) and Jungledrop lies with them …

So begins an incredibly exciting action-packed adventure with our reluctant and unlikely heroes as they journey through the awe-inspiring jungle in a daring and dangerous quest where they strive to save Jungledrop.  An adventure where they travel on magical unicycles, meet golden panthers, navigate with a Flickertug map and so, so much more that truly astounded me and left me in awe of both the story-telling and the world-building. 

The world-building is absolutely incredible, a symphony for the imagination, with a master conductor who immerses the reader in the wonders of a richly imagined world:  sights, sounds, flora and fauna all blend perfectly from the glow-in-the dark rainforest to the swiftwings, golden panthers and gobblequick trees. 

Will the twins be able to work as a team, open themselves to new friendships and trust in each other, or will betrayal, rivalry and suspicion destroy any chance of success as they navigate a perilous quest to defeat Morg and overcome their own inner fears?

Fibber and Fox’s emotional journey and transformation is beautifully portrayed and really accentuates the importance of both self-belief and having others believe in you, in treating others as you would want to be treated.  The powerful messages scattered throughout the story are incredibly uplifting and heart-warming. 

To be kind is to be strong.

Jungledrop is an absolute must-read: a heart-warming magical fantasy that swept me into an incredible, action-packed adventure in a sumptuously rich world, and kept me enthralled throughout and left me, as always, in awe of Abi’s sheer story-telling brilliance! 

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

WWW Wednesday

I’m currently listening to The Ghost’s Child by Sonya Hartnett on Borrowbox. I am loving this story about 75-year-old Matilda who is visited by a boy. She then begins to tell him the story of her life. I think this one is going to bring tears! I’m just about to start The Griffin Gate by Vashti Hardy. I’ve loved her books for slightly older readers, so am really looking forward to this one which is published by the wonderful Barrington Stoke.

I have finished listening to Bloom which I absolutely loved. It is such a quirky story with a good deal of humour and warmth. I loved the environmental message. I’ve also read The International Yeti Collective Shadowspring and Skeleton Keys The Legend of Gap-Tooth Jack, and have managed to post my reviews! I also read The Children of Swallow Fell which was not at all what I was expecting, but I really enjoyed it. The writing is so wonderful and also swept me into its magic. I loved the theme of re-generation and nature.

I have just bought a LOT of books as I wanted to support as many of the authors as I could who are releasing books on 1st October, so I have a lot of choice this month. I’ve decided on Molly Thompson and the Crypt of the Blue Moon as I loved the first book in this series so much.

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

Review: The International Yeti Collective: Shadowspring

I loved the first book in The International Yeti Collective and the second one, Shadowspring is just as wonderful.  It is an action-packed, touching and incredibly satisfying read that left me longing for another yeti adventure. 

Just like in the first book, I loved the yeti naming system which definitely brought smiles and giggles – so very, very clever!  This would be brilliant to try with a class of children – and their teachers if brave enough!

Tadpole is a youngling yeti of the Greybeards sett which is led by her mother, Shipshape.  They are getting ready to welcome the first Gathering of the 19 yeti setts in many, many years; however, they worry about whether the representatives of the International Collective can travel to them using the underground waterways as their home, Shadowspring’s water supply is rapidly diminishing.  Does this have anything to do with the unusual tremors that they are experiencing?

Tadpole’s Grandfather, Snowdrift, has died, but Tadpole still communicates with him and, when her mother is in need of help, Snowdrift offers Tadpole a solution, a solution that leads to him meeting Henry Wetwood …

Henry has been sent to Halbrook Hall boarding school where he hears tales of the legendary Greybeards.  Whilst out on a tramp up the local mountain, he finds himself in danger … and meets Tadpole …

So begins a wonderfully warm and action-packed adventure -and friendship- as Tadpole and Henry learn to trust each other, as they seek to solve the dilemma of the diminishing spring water supply, and as they face a threat to the Greybeards existence …

The friendship and acceptance which develops between Tadpole and Henry is wonderful as they take risks to protect each other and show great courage in the face of danger.  Neither is afraid to break the rules in order to make a difference and stand up for what each believes is right. 

This story has a clear environmental message about the need to preserve, respect and protect our natural resources, and the harm caused to wildlife by plastic pollution and trophy hunting, all issues which are handled sensitively through looking at them from the perspective of the yetis and a young boy attuned to his natural environment. 

The full-page illustrations by Katy Riddell are just glorious, and brilliantly capture the personalities of these wonderful characters and their new friend, complementing the story perfectly. 

Shadowspring is a delightfully warm-hearting adventure which is a brilliant continuation of this gorgeous series, perfect for readers of 8+ who I am sure will be just as captivated as I was by these Greybeards, protectors of the environment.

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

Review: Skeleton Keys The Legend of Gap-Tooth Jack

The Legend of Gap-Tooth Jack is the third tale from the genius that is Guy Bass … I mean, Skeleton Keys.   Dark, spooky and hilarious with the most brilliantly playful use of language, this is an absolutely delicious delight that will immediately disappear from my class library into the hands of an eager child as soon as I can get the obligatory plastic dustjacket on it!  And I’m sure it will spend very little time on the shelf if its predecessors are any indication of popularity!

Ol’ Mr Keys, in his own inimitable style, is back for another fantabulous tall tale of the unimaginary … and this time he’s unravelling the truth behind the legend of Gap-tooth Jack, and what a splediferous treat of a tale it is …

Skeleton Keys has felt the twitch of an unimagining and as is his duty, he has come to investigate in seven-year-old Kasper’s abode. Kasper has unimagined an IF, Wordy Gerdy, a ghoul-girl, and a ghost writer who can use her pen to re-write reality with disastrous consequences …

Luckily, Mr Keys can call upon his rather scary, rather rude -sorry, incredibly rude – unimaginary partner-in-adventure, Daisy (she of the backwards head) to help deal with any shenanigans thrown at him by Wordy Gerdy, but things don’t quite go according to plan … and Mr Keys finds himself without his keys, and stuck in his own past … trying to avoid the person who imagined him into being, for fear of ending the universe!  No problem for someone as fantabulously ingenious as Mr Keys.  All he has to do is hide, and let Daisy do the work …oh, if only it was that easy …

Rather than finding Wordy Gerdy, Daisy finds herself being knocked over by a young, daring pickpocket, Gap-tooth Jack, and the rest, as they say, is history … or rather, a fabulous story filled with monstrous clowns, daring thefts and ripe aromas. Daisy is incapable of keeping a low profile, and is soon reunited with her partner as they give chase to Gap-tooth Jack … and uncover more than they ever expected. Will ‘Ol Mr Keys and Daisy be able to thwart Wordy Gerdy, retrieve his fantabulant keys, and return to reality?

This story is brimming with exquisite excitement, twists galore, oodles of danger, stomach-aching hilarity, an adorably rude (with hidden depths of kindness – very well hidden!) invisible girl, a perfectly polite skeleton and an unforgettable legend.  What more could anyone possibly imagine? 

The illustrations by Pete Williamson are absolutely perfect, and really capture the heart of this explosion of the imagination, although my clown phobia has not been helped!

I have it on good authority from my class that this series is endlessly entertaining and I have no doubt that Gap-Tooth Jack will be just as popular.  Thank you, Mr Keys, … strange things can indeed happen when imaginations run wild, and there is nothing better for a teacher than seeing children engrossed in such fantastic stories!  I’m so excited that there will be another adventure with the fantabulous Mr Keys …

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

Review: Grimm

Grimm is an incredibly enjoyable story brimming with action, humour, a reluctant but brave hero, wonderfully eccentric characters, sinister occurences, a mystery to solve – and a curse!  Oh – and rats!  I hope that this has whet your appetite as this is a story to devour in a single sitting! 

Eleven-year-old Rory McKenna’s life is forever changed when he unwittingly becomes the marketing genius for Zizz Cola.  His success draws attention from the eccentric, and feared, owner of the sinister Hotel Grimm which overlooks the town. When a letter arrives summoning him to a meeting, he dare not refuse … for fear that he will meet a fate on par with, or worse than, some of the unfortunate former residents …

When he visits the hotel, he is charged with the task of rebranding Hotel Grimm in order to attract guests.  He is rather surprised by the owner of the Hotel, Granville Grimm who may not be quite what he has been branded by the town newspaper, The Chronicle.  Will Rory be able to improve the Hotel’s reputation in time to save it from closure?  Has its owner been misjudged by the town which so fears him, or will Rory become the next victim of Hotel Grimm?

This is such a clever, insightful story which was full of brilliant twists, revelations and family secrets that kept me completely intrigued as I uncovered the history of Hotel Grimm – and what an incredible history is revealed!   The messages around treating others fairly, honesty, media influence and not pre-judging others were brilliantly interwoven into the story. 

I really liked Rory who is determined, tenacious and courageous when needed.  He is willing to admit his mistakes and learns that honesty may well be the best policy.  I loved his relationship with his housebound Grandfather who he clearly adores.  I also really liked Bonnie, a wheelchair user, who is bright, helpful, astute and kind-hearted.  Rory and Bonnie’s friendship is warm and honest.

This is a thoroughly engrossing and perceptive mystery which completely immersed me in its pages … and I LOVED the ending! 

Thank you to the author, Mike Nicholson, for providing me with a copy in exchange for my honest opinion.

Blog Tour: Emily Knight I am … Becoming

Written by A. Bello
Cover Illustration by Alexandra Artigas
Published by Hashtag Press

Thank you to Helen Lewis, Literally PR and Hashtag Press for inviting me to be part of the Blog Tour for this wonderful book, and for providing me with a paperback copy in exchange for my honest opinion.

My Review:

As soon as I was invited on the Blog Tour for the third book in the Emily Knight series, I read the first two books, Emily Knight:  I am and Emily Knight I am … Awakened so I was eagerly anticipating the third book.

Emily Knight I am … Becoming can be read as a standalone BUT, I would definitely recommend that you pick up the other books too!  The first book would suit 9-12 year olds whereas this one is better suited to slightly older readers.

I really enjoyed this fast-paced contemporary fantasy which is brimming with danger, excitement and super powers:  expect the unexpected as secrets are exposed, powers are controlled and heroes fight back …

15-year-old Emily Knight is finally reunited with her father and brother, Thomas and Lox.  Thomas is the renowned leader of the legendary Five Warriors who has spent the last eight years trying to find his son Lox who had joined forces with Neci, a powerful adversary who has her own reasons to hate all warriors and wage a battle to see their annihilation.   

Will the remaining Warriors and their elite newest teenage members be able to defeat Neci and her army of followers before she destroys them all?  So begins an electrifyingly gripping story as Emily and her friends find themselves pitted against the full force of Neci and her army, forced to use both their ingenuity and their new-found and growing super powers to confront their nemesis …

I really enjoyed the dynamics of the friendships and fledgling romances between Emily, Michella, Wesley, Jason and Julian which felt authentic and relevant to today’s teenagers even though these teenagers have super powers!  The friends all attend the Osaki Training School to learn how to use and control their powers.  Whilst there, they learn the importance of friendship and teamwork, supporting each other despite the dangers they face.

The friends each have their own unique powers, including healing, telepathy, telekinesis and teleportation, but will these be enough to protect society and each other from a determined and relentless foe?  Will they be able to find and exploit her weakness before it is too late?

Emily is a brilliant character:  it is so wonderful to see diverse characters at the forefront in this story.  She is courageous, determined and fierce, and is incredibly protective of her family and friends.  Emily has not had her father or her brother in her life for many years, so they have to learn to re-connect as a family again.  Not only does she have to handle these sometimes-strained relationships, but she also has to train hard to be ready for a war with Neci.  She handles these pressures from inside and outside with great resilience and tenacity, surrounded by friends who are willing to put themselves in danger to protect and support her.

Emily Knight I am … Becoming is an explosively exciting addition to this fantastic series, and I am definitely looking forward to seeing Emily grow even more in the next book. 

About the Author:

Abiola Bello

A. Bello is an award-winning author and publishing entrepreneur, born and raised in London, where she still lives and works. In2018, Abiola was named ‘Trailblazer of the Year’ by London Book Fair. Abiola wrote her first novel at the age of eight–when she fought monsters and dragons on a daily basis–and experienced her first taste of ‘being published’ after winning a school poetry competition at the age of 12. Seeing her words in print fuelled a passion for writing that remains to this day. The first incarnation of the Emily Knight story can be traced back almost 20 years; Abiola wanted to fill the gaping hole in children’s fiction for an inspirational, strong, black, female, young protagonist. This ‘gap’ in publishing remains in today’s publishing world despite continued calls for more BAME authors and diversity within characters and plot lines. She is the founder of The Lil’ Author School and co-founder of The Author School (short listed for The Great British Entrepreneur Awards 2016 and celebrating its fifth birthday in 2020). A. Bello is regularly asked to contribute to the media; she has been featured in About Time Magazine, Cosmopolitan, Female First, Daily Mirror, BBC1XTRA, The Bookseller, The British Blacklist, Melan Magazine, London Post, and many more. Abiola is also a regular at literary festivals and gives talks to children in primary and secondary schools, as well as to young writers and people wishing to get into the publishing business.

Links:

Website: https://www.a-bello.com/

Twitter: @ABelloWrites

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/abiolabello/

Check out the rest of the Blog Tour below: