Review: The Mostly Invisible Boy

Published by INtense Publications on 25th April 2020

This is a brilliantly fast-paced, action-packed adventure set in a wonderfully imagined forest society, brimming with intrigue, danger and humour which kept me engrossed throughout.

Eleven-year-old Casey Grimes tries really hard to be noticed by his classmates at Vintage Woods Middle School, but there’s a reason he’s ignored:  he’s invisible to them – most of the time!  

When exploring the local forest, Casey discovers an ancient oak tree with a hidden fortress in its branches.  He brings his younger sister, Gloria, for a sleepover in the oak … and discovers a stranger, Luciana West who can see the siblings.  The oak is a forgotten sentry tree which marks the boundary between the human world and Luciana’s world, a world which protects humans from monsters. 

Luciana warns them against entering her forest home, Sylvan Wood but, determined to discover more about this new and compelling world, they follow her … and promptly find themselves fighting off terrifying creatures, but this does not stop these intrepid siblings from venturing further into Sylvan Woods where they discover the most incredible forest society …

The civilian children must hide their identity as they find themselves drawn into a war against monsters who have returned to Sylvan Woods after a hundred years.  Will they be able to help their new friends defeat the frightening Butcher Beasts, and save both worlds? 

I really liked the dichotomy between science and magic, and how this has divided the Sylvan society over the years as many have forgotten the old magic.

The world-building is incredibly rich and immersive, taking the reader into a wondrous natural, wild world where people live in the trees, attend a school where monster-fighting classes are held, where sentry trees protect the boundaries between worlds and where frightening monsters lurk. 

Casey is a really likeable protagonist.  He is determined, adventurous and courageous, and is looking for a sense of belonging.  I love the relationship between Casey and his little sister, Gloria which is full of playfulness, kindness and support; it is so wonderful to see this positive relationship between siblings.  I also enjoyed the growth of the friendship between Luci, who has her own secrets, and Casey as they learn to trust each and accept each other.

This is an fun, exciting adventure with a fascinating, action-packed plot. The ending gives me high hopes that there will be further adventures for Casey and his new friends.

Thank you to the author for sending me an e-copy in exchange for my honest opinion.

Review: Agent Zaiba Investigates The Poison Plot

What a wonderfully fun and engaging read for younger fans of mystery with plenty of action, clues to follow and supportive friendships.  I’m certainly looking forward to introducing my class to Zaiba and her friends, and think this is a perfect addition to any school library.

Zaiba is eager for the start of her school summer fete as she has been given the responsibility of organising a detective trail, and is hoping to find potential recruits for the newly formed UK branch of The Snow Leopard Detective Agency.  This is an agency run by her aunt Fouzia in Pakistan. 

There is only one thing better for Zaiba than running her own detective trail, and that is the discovery of a real-life crime.  She soon finds herself in the perfect position to investigate a crime when her new Headteacher, Mrs Goremain, is poisoned during the very competitive baking competition.   There are many suspects, but who is the culprit and what could the motive be? 

I loved how Zaiba and her friends used their sleuthing skills to follow clues and track down and eliminate suspects.  There is such a clever sprinkling of clues throughout for eager young mystery readers to follow their own trail towards discovering the guilty person. I can just imagine a younger me having my own detective journal and keeping a record of clues as I discover them as I read.  I can definitely see a class or group of friends planning their own detective trail using the handy advice at the end of the book.

A good detective was nothing without her friends and family.

Zaiba is a delightful young girl, and a fantastic role model:  confident in her detective capabilities, intelligent and quick-thinking and super motivated.  I really enjoyed her warm relationship with her family, immediate and extended, which is incredibly positive; their mutual pride in, and respect for, each other is wonderful.  Zaiba’s best friend Poppy and her brother Ali are also members of the Detective Agency, and I loved how all three worked together to track down clues and support each other.  Zaiba also welcomes her cousin Mariam into the group, but will Mariam welcome her friendship?

The full-page illustrations by Daniela Sosa are absolutely delightful and complement the story beautifully, and will be enjoyed by young readers.  There are also some great extras at the end of the book including an extract from Zaiba’s favourite author, Eden Lockett, Code Breakers and, my favourite, a recipe for Zaiba’s Dad, Hassan’s prize-winning Cardamom and Lemon Loaf Cake.  I’m not much of a baker, but I’m trying this!

This is a fast-paced, clever and super enjoyable mystery which is just perfect for younger readers who I have no doubt will enjoy following, and joining in, with the UK branch of The Snow Leopard Detective Agency’s latest case. 

Thank you to Charlie and Little Tiger for an early copy 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: Damaris Young
Cover Illustration: Kelsey Buzzell
Published by: Scholastic

Favourite Sentence from Page 11:

“Would you stake your life on it?”

This book in three words:

SPINE-TINGLING, FRIENDSHIP, COURAGE

This was one of my absolute favourite reads from last year. I loved the fact that it had a pet goat as I had one as a child too!

The Switching Hour is an absolutely captivating, spine-tingling read imbued throughout with an underlying sense of danger in an environment of stifling heat, inspired by the landscape of Southern Africa.  The writing is exquisite and lyrical and took me on the most incredible journey of fear, awe and heartbreak, but also let me see the incredible bravery and strength of others in the face of seeming hopelessness and abject loss … this really is a story to be devoured in a single sitting. 

You can read the rest of my review here.

I was beyond excited to see that Damaris’ second book, The Creature Keeper is due to be published in November, and I absolutely can’t wait to get my hands on it. And it’s just in time for my birthday!

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 didn’t get very far with The House on Hoarder Hill last week, so I’m going to finish it this week. On audio, I’m listening to The Secret Garden which was one I loved as a child.

I have finished three audio-books and three physical books this week. I absolutely loved Back Home (thanks to Rachael at Bellis Does Books for the recommendation) which follows Rusty’s journey into settling back into life in England after being evacuated to America during the Second World War. She is an incredibly sympathetic character and has to go through a lot, but I love how she stands up for herself, and the relationship which she develops with her mother as they re-connect. It was fascinating to see how the War changed women’s perspectives on their roles. I also finished The Jumbies which I am reading for an online Book Club. I was meant to leave some for the final week, but I couldn’t resist finishing at the weekend. I’ve never read a book with Caribbean folklore, and I absolutely loved it. I really enjoyed the friendship between the children, the depiction of the jumbies is just the right amount of scary, and Corinne, the main protagonist, is brilliant. I loved the earth-magic, and will definitely be looking to pick up the next book in the trilogy. I have also read (and reviewed) 44 Tiny Secrets which is a very cute lower middle-grade about 44 pygmy mice who help Betsy improve her piano-playing in order to impress her parents. She learns great lessons around the importance of honesty and being true to yourself. I’ve also read Agent Zaiba Investigates: The Poison Plot (review posted tomorrow). I also listened to New Kid which is graphic novel. I really enjoyed this book which challenges stereotypes and explores friendship. Jordan, who enjoys art, moves to a new private school where there is not much diversity. The story follows his attempts at settling in and finding new friends at this prestigious school whilst being true to himself. I think this story addressed racism really well and called out examples such as a teacher continually referring to a black boy by another black boy’s name and assumptions made due to race. Finally, I listened to the audio-book of A Boy Called Bat which I really enjoyed. It is about a young autistic boy who wants to keep the baby skunk which his veterinarian mother brings home. It gives a wonderful insight into Bat’s life for younger middle-grade readers, and has the most wonderfully heart-warming ending. I’m going to get the book for my class.

I’m now on summer holiday, and I’m SO looking forward to sinking into these two over the next week – can’t wait!

Review: Umbrella Mouse to the Rescue

Published by Macmillan Children’s Books
Published on 23rd July 2020
Illustrated by Sam Usher

Umbrella Mouse to the Rescue is the simply stunning sequel to The Umbrella Mouse.  This is an action-packed WWII animal adventure imbued with tremendous courage, friendship and hope in the face of terrible peril, betrayal and mistrust.  It was an emotional roller coaster of a story, both heart-warming and poignant, as I followed Pip and her friends on their dangerous mission.

Four weeks after the events of The Umbrella Mouse, French Resistance group Noah’s Ark have been left with physical and emotional scars including grief at the loss of some of their friends.  Courageously, Pip decides to continue to fight with Noah’s Ark, led by the indomitable Madame Fourcade, who agree to undertake a new assignment which requires them to meet a white mouse in the catacombs beneath the streets of Paris to help the human Allies in the liberation of the city.

This does not, of course, mean that Pip is leaving behind the Umbrella she has carried with her from her home in London and which is both a constant reminder of her childhood with her family, and a painful reminder of her terrible loss:  Pip still intends to fulfil her mission of taking it to a new life in the Umbrella Museum in Italy.  This has just been put on hold whilst she continues to fight with Noah’s Ark.

When a friend they thought they had lost returns, he brings them a dire warning:  they are being hunted by the Milice, who fight for the Axis powers, and who want revenge on Pip who has become a symbol to unite the French Resistance fighters.  They must escape the terrifying Butcher Birds and make their way through occupied territory to join in the liberation of Paris …

So begins an enthralling action-packed adventure, filled with the constant threat of danger, with astonishing revelations, with bravery overcoming fear, which sees Noah’s Ark fighting for their survival against terrifying new and old enemies. Will they be able to fulfil their mission of helping the human Allies liberate Paris, or will they be thwarted by a determined and cruel foe?  Will new friendships lead to trust or betrayal?

I absolutely adored Pip who despite her diminutive size and understandable fear and grief, radiates a great deal of courage and tenacity.  She has found a new family in Noah’s Ark, a family who she clearly loves.  Pip is willing to take great risks to protect and defend them, even when that threatens her own safety.  She is clever, noble and loyal and determined to do all she can to fight for a freedom she completely believes in:  a perfect symbol of hope to unite the Resistance in their final efforts to liberate their country.  Pip is an incredibly endearing and sympathetic character which made my heart ache for her when she experiences feelings of guilt and grief.  I just wanted to reach out to her and hug her, so I’m glad that she good friends, old and new, to support her and care for her.

The reality of war is portrayed through the eyes of the animals, through their interactions and experiences, in a way that makes this period of history accessible to younger readers.  Whilst there is heart-break, grief, cruelty and destruction, there is also bravery, hope, friendship and heroism.

Sam Usher’s gorgeous illustrations are scattered throughout the story: they portray the characters perfectly, and really capture their personalities, just as I imagine them from the story.

This is a powerful and vividly told story which has at its centre the strength of friendships and the constancy of courage despite the cruelty of war with THE most heart-warming ending which is a perfect tribute to a brave little mouse!

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

20 Books of Summer: Book 7

Because reading is magic!  It can transport us into other worlds or allow us to understand our own better.

The Mask of Aribella is a magical kaleidoscope of wonder, mystery and intrigue which absolutely enthralled me as I wandered through the streets and environs of Venice with Aribella and her friends, completely and utterly fascinated by the incredible events which unfold.  It is safe to say that this story kept me on the edge of my seat, gasping at revelations, and taking a deep breath of relief at the truly heart-warming ending. 

Aribella lives with her lace-maker father who has never stopped mourning the loss of his wife ten years previously.  She worries about her father, but also enjoys escaping from her unhappy home to help her friend, Theo at the fish markets in Venice.  Confronted by another boy, who makes nasty comments about her family, she discovers a latent power which has been revealed on the Eve of her thirteenth birthday.  When angered, flames burst from her fingertips …

This is not a secret which she can hide, and leads her and her family into danger. Her father is imprisoned in the dungeons beneath the Doge of Venice’s palace, and Aribella escapes with Theo on his fishing boat.  When they are attacked by a frightening force, they are rescued by a masked man who reveals that Aribella is a Cannovacci, a person with hidden powers.  He takes her to a seemingly dilapidated palazzo where Aribella’s life changes forever as she embarks on a mission to save Venice from a great evil emanating from the Island of the Dead which threatens to destroy the city …

The story-telling is dazzling as the reader is taken on a magical journey where secrets are revealed, revelations astound and danger is abundant.  I was intrigued by how the layers of the story would unravel to reveal its truths and, oh my, I was not disappointed.  This story is fast-paced, action-packed and gloriously intricate:  it kept me completely spellbound throughout.  

I found the premise of Cannovacci with their diverse powers, controlled by wearing a mask which chooses them utterly fascinating.  The descriptions of the masks were gorgeous, and I loved how each mask matched to its owner’s abilities.  Aribella’s mask fitting was not what she had expected as, instead of gaining a beautiful new mask, she is chosen by a previously used, ugly mask … Aribella must learn to harness the power of this mask as she begins her training.

Caring about others doesn’t make you weak, it makes you strong.

Aribella is an incredibly sympathetic protagonist.  She has lost her mother at a young age and lives with her depressed father.  When she discovers her power, she is scared of Theo’s reaction.  However, he is a loyal friend who supports her and she in turn protects and helps him when he is in danger.  I loved that she formed such firm friendships with Fin and Seffie, two other Novices, who help her feel a sense of belonging, and ensure that she is not facing her mission alone.  Aribella is kind-hearted and courageous with an inner strength and determination that helps her face difficult situations. 

This is a superb story of the strength to be gained from friendship and the importance of being true to yourself with the most gorgeous heart-warming ending which was just perfect. 

Review: 44 Tiny Secrets

44 Tiny Secrets is a gorgeously charming, heart-warming and humorous story that will entrance younger readers with both the words and illustrations. 

Despite practising the piano, Betsy Bow-Linnet, the daughter of famous concert pianists, just cannot play very well which would be fine if it weren’t for the fact that she has overheard her mother saying that her lack of talent was ‘a Terrible Disappointment’.  Hearing this makes Betsy put herself under pressure to become better at playing and, with her Grandad’s support, she practises every day whilst her parents are away.

On their return, she summons up the courage to play for them at a dinner party.  She feels proud of herself as she is note-perfect, but this proves not to have been good enough when she finds herself being harshly criticised in the gossip column of The London Natter

Feeling isolated from her family, Betty finds a letter addressed to her from a stranger which offers to help make her next performance incredible, just so long as she keeps the method behind her success a secret …

The ‘Method’ for improving her playing is the cutest – and rather naughty – collection of 44 African pygmy mice … will Betsy be able to keep her secret and make her parents proud, or will the truth unfold?

Don’t waste your time on something you don’t love.

This is a wonderful story, told in an engaging and humorous manner, about being true to yourself, and about finding your own talents, rather than trying to live up to others’ expectations.  

I adored the relationship between Betsy and her Grandad.  He is all sorts of wonderful:  kind, loving, patient and encouraging.  She clearly loves and trusts him.  I really felt for Betsy when she overheard herself being referred to in a negative way as she didn’t have the talent of her famous parents – it really shows how much words can hurt, and how they can affect decisions.  Betsy finds herself trapped in a lie which leads to the revelation of some incredible truths …

The story illustrations by Ashley King are absolutely gorgeous.  I loved the mix of the many shades of green which add vibrancy: a perfect complement to the story. In fact, the whole feel of this book is special with the inclusion of coloured pages, a range of fonts, and chapter heading images.  I have no doubt that it will be a treasured addition to many young readers’ book collections.

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

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!

Aleja was a girl so hungry for adventure that sometimes she found herself in strange places. Tonight she was prowling the rooftops of Sevilla when she should have been sleeping, having stuffed a pillow under her bedsheets back home.

Any ideas?

This has only just been published, but I managed to find an early release copy last weekend, so just had to add it to my TBR. The picture doesn’t do the cover justice – it is stunning! A book about female pirates, and a girl who loves reading – how could I not grab this one???

Goodreads Synopsis:

Aleja whiles away her days in her family’s dusty tavern in Seville, dreaming of distant lands and believing in the kind of magic that she’s only ever read about in books. After all, she’s always being told that girls can’t be explorers. But her life is changed forever when adventure comes for her in the form of a fabled vessel called the Ship of Shadows. Crewed by a band of ruthless women, with cabin walls dripping with secrets, the ship has sailed right out of a legend. And it wants Aleja. Once on board its shadowy deck, she begins to realize that the sea holds more secrets than she ever could have imagined. The crew are desperately seeking something, and their path will take them through treacherous waters and force them to confront nightmare creatures and pitch-dark magic. It will take all of Aleja’s strength and courage to gain the trust of her fellow pirates – and discover what they are risking everything to find.

MG Takes on Thursday

his 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: Alastair Chisholm
Cover Illustration: Dan Mumford
Published by: Nosy Crow

Favourite Sentence from Page 11:

The opposite wall was less than an arm’s reach away; it was like living inside an egg.

This book in three words:

SPACE, FRIENDSHIP, SECRETS

I love watching science-fiction and reading fantasy. I think this is partly because there isn’t a lot of science-fiction in middle-grade, but that seems to be changing. Orion Lost is what I call a proper old-fashioned science-fiction story, and I mean that in a good way!

 The story opens with the Earth ship, Orion, sending out a distress signal. Immediately, I was intrigued and desperate to find out what the fate of the ship was; however, the story then very cleverly moves away from this scenario and takes the reader through the events which led up to the distress signal being sent, and beyond. 

This story is brimming with twists, danger, fast-paced action and perfectly timed revelations. The writing is superbly immersive, creating a believable space setting and technical language; a complex and exciting plot; and, engaging characters who are anything but perfect.  The children are resourceful, resilient and gutsy, and learn that there is a real strength in believing in yourself, in the bonds of friendship and in working together to overcome seemingly insurmountable odds. 

You can read more in my review: Orion Lost

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!

20 Books of Summer: Book 6

The Time of Green Magic is a wonderfully magical story that captured me wholeheartedly as two families blend in an enchanting old house that holds its own secrets.

Eleven-year-old Abi’s life changes irrevocably when her Granny Grace leaves her to go to Jamaica after her Dad meets and marries Polly who has two boys, Max and Louis.  Abi struggles to feel comfortable in Polly’s home and to adapt to having two stepbrothers which is hardly surprising as she has been brought up by her father and Granny after the death of her mother. The family are forced to move and find themselves falling in love with an old ivy-covered house next to a churchyard … and so the magic begins …

Sometimes, Abi, you have to believe in magic.

Abi clearly has a deep love of reading which transports her imagination to the world of the book she is reading, but she didn’t expect to taste salt on her fingertips and feel water on a book about the ocean.   Is there a magical connection between the house and books living in more than her imagination? 

Not long after moving into his new home, six-year-old Louis, who adores animals, finds an unusual visitor which both terrifies and fascinates him.  Where has this creature come from, and does it pose a threat to the family? 

I really enjoyed the realistic portrayal of family life as the children adapt to living together.  There is jealousy, arguments and misunderstandings, but there is also the bonding that happens as time passes, as shared memories are created, and the family settle together into this new life.  Each of the children have their own issues:  Max has fallen out with his best friend Danny; Abi feels jealous of the attention that her father is giving to his stepchildren; and, Louis is keeping secrets. 

Louis eventually reveals his secret visitor to Abi; it was so heart-warming to see that she believes her young sibling and treats him with such tenderness.  Abi makes a startling discovery about the visitor’s origins, a discovery that leads to a journey into the distant past …

There is magic in this story:   the magic of story-telling and imagination, and the magic of family, connected through shared experience in a new home. 

This is a gorgeously heart-warming story of family and home, a perfect blend of reality and magic.