Review: Skeleton Keys: The Unimaginary Friend

Published by Stripes Publishing
Illustrated by Pete Williamson
Published on 17th September

The Unimaginary Friend is a delicious treat of a story, wrapped up in Guy’s wonderful, humorous story-telling and Pete’s spectacular, Gothic-like illustrations which complement the story perfectly:  a book to be savoured – or devoured – in one sitting. 

‘Ol Skeleton Keys may be a little scary on the eyes, even though he’s a  rather dapper chap, but goodness, is he THE most marvellous creation of a brilliant imagination.  Which is just perfect, as this is a story wholeheartedly celebrating the power and wonder of the imagination. 

Imagine if what we imagined could become unimaginary, no longer trapped in our minds, but joining us in the real world:  what a brilliant concept!  Mr Keys became unimaginary many years before the story he shares with the reader.  He is a fantastically engaging character – a real gentleman of bones with a set of keys for fingers which open portals to other places– using old-fashioned language and creating new vocabulary in a playful and clever way.  Fantabulant! 

And strange things can happen when the imagination runs wild.

Skeleton Keys introduces us to ten-year-old Ben Bunsen on his tenth birthday.  Ben’s family moves around a lot which has made it difficult for him to form real friendships.  But he does have an imaginary friend, the Gorblimey, who is always there for him – in his imagination.  After a disastrous birthday party, Ben imagines the Gorblimey into existence.  At last, he has a best friend, of a rather nervous and fearful disposition, but one who is prepared to protect Ben.

Enter Skelton Keys!  He has felt ‘The Twitch’ that warns him a dangerous unimaginary friend is on the loose, and he is on a single-minded mission to send it to Oblivion.  Unfortunately for Ben, the unimaginary he has set his keys on is the gentle, nervous and kind-natured Gorblimey!  Could Skeleton Keys have made a mistake, even though his Twitch is never wrong? 

So begins an incredibly fast-paced, fun-filled adventure with just the right amount of delightful scariness … an adventure brimming with secrets to be unravelled, danger to be overcome and unimaginary friendships to enjoy.

There is just so much for young readers to enjoy in this story which is perfect for 7-9 year olds.  I’m definitely a fan of ‘Ol Mr Keys and am really looking forward to the next time he shares one of his stories. 

Review: Guardians of Magic

Written and Illustrated by Chris Riddell
Published by Macmillan Children’s Books
Publication Date: 19th September 2019

This is an absolute magical treasury of a story which I utterly adored, from the wonderfully delightful characters to the interweaving of fairy tales into the fabric of the story.  The illustrations are truly stunning and completely captivated me as I journeyed through this richly-drawn world, meeting the most fantastic characters, and becoming caught up in their lives and stories.

Following a wish upon the legendary cloud horses, each of the Guardians of Magic finds a magical item which has been specially made for them in order to help them protect the magic of Thrynne from those who seek to destroy it.

The Guardians, Zam, Phoebe and Bathsheba live in different towns in Thrynne, each of which has its own problems, from mafia-like rats to tree-destroying Tin men to giant-slaying princesses …

Each of the Guardians becomes displaced from their home for different reasons linked to their magical items and happenings in their towns, but I won’t delve into this any more for fear of spoilers.  Eventually, they find refuge and a home in the Tumbledowns – a place which collects people who don’t fit in elsewhere – where they come together to hatch a plan to protect the ancient magic …

I adored all three Guardians who are extremely likeable, brave, resourceful and determined to protect the magic of the Forever Tree.  I loved that they wished on cloud horses:  the granting of their wishes leads them on an action-packed, magical adventure which unites them in friendship and a shared path as Guardians of Magic

The homage to fairy tales throughout this gorgeous story is just brilliant.  I loved how familiar characters took on lives outside their tales, and were often represented in a completely different light to what a reader might imagine. 

The heart of this story relays important messages related to the need to protect the natural environment from destruction, to fight against prejudice based on preconceived notions, and the importance of finding a place where we can belong.

The Cloud Horses are the creation of dreams – I can’t wait to see where their adventures with the Guardians leads them next.  Oh, and don’t we all want our own cloud horse … just a little more wishing and believing in magic should do it!

This is a superbly enchanting and heart-warming adventure which is perfect for readers of 8+.  I’m very much looking forward to introducing it to my class who I know will be just as entranced by the characters and adventure as I was.

Thanks to NetGalley and the publishers for sending me an e-ARC in return for my honest opinion. I loved it so much that I have also bought a hardback copy for myself.

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!

He came out of nowhere , a man in the smoke. He was nothing more than a shadow at first, a smudge of black in the grey. But as he loomed closer, he grew bigger, became more solid. My heart was a drum.

Any ideas?

I’ve had this one on my TBR for a while. I must admit, this opening has re-captured my attention, so I think this one will be moving into my Believathon prompts for ‘A book with real life issues’ or ‘a strong sense of friendship.’

Goodreads synopsis:

First the accident, then the nightmares. The shadowy thief steals all the colours from Izzy’s world leaving her feeling empty and hopeless. Will her new neighbour and a nest full of cygnets save Izzy and solve the mystery of the colour thief? A heartwarming story about families, friendships,school, nature, hope and self-confidence.

After a frightening car accident, Izzy’s mum is in a coma. Her family is in pieces. Her best friend at school has dumped her. And her nightmares are haunted by a shadowy man stealing all the colours from her world. She’s trying so hard to be brave, but Izzy thinks everything is her fault. Then she meets her new neighbour, Toby, paralyzed after a skateboarding accident, and together they find a nest of cygnets who need rescuing. Particularly the odd one out, called Spike. Will saving Spike save Izzy? Will she and Toby solve the mystery of the colour thief and bring hope and happiness back to Izzy’s life? Written with insight, compassion and empathy – an authentic story about real life and how to survive it.

WWW Wednesday

This is a meme hosted by Taking on a World of Words.  It asks three questions:

1.      What are you currently reading?

2.      What did you recently finish reading?

3.      What do you think you’ll read next?

I’ve been reading a lot of fantasy recently, so thought I’d try an historical setting for my current read. I’ve got very good vibes about this one!

I’ve finished Guardians of Magic which is just gorgeous, with the most fantastic illustrations. The Little Fir Tree was a nostalgic read for me as I love Hans Christian Anderson fairy tales, although this one had a happier ending! OMG! I absolutely adored The Last Spell Breather. It has everything I love about fantasy: fantastic world-building; characters who make an incredible journey through their emotions; and, one of the BEST magical systems I’ve ever read!

I adored The Train to Impossible Places, so I’m really looking forward to reading this one: love the intriguing title and the gorgeous cover!

Six for Sunday: Autumn Feels

The October theme for Six for Sunday, hosted by A Little But a Lot, is Autumn Feels and today’s wish is for:  Books you’d take on an Autumn walk.  As an adult, I love going for walks in the crisp autumn air when the leaves are changing colour. I also love sitting down to a hot drink and a sweet treat afterwards!

When I was a child living in the heart of the countryside, I loved spotting woodland creatures on walks so, in homage to this, I’ve based my choices on middle-grade fantasy books with animals I would love to spot … although admittedly, some from a distance – and if I was visiting another country!

The Last Spell Breather by Julie Pike. I started this last night and am already engrossed in it. I intend to spend my afternoon finishing it.

I loved The Clockwork Crow and have the newly released The Velvet Fox on my TBR. I’m really looking forward to reading it.

I’ve been looking forward to this one for ages as I love Amy’s writing. Snowglobe and A Girl Called Out were both magical reads, and I have no doubt I’ll love this too. It’s not due to be released until 17th October, but I manged to get a sneaky copy yesterday from my local bookshop.

I read this at the start of the year, and absolutely adored this tale of a very brave rabbit who so rightly deserves his legendary status! I can’t believe I haven’t managed to read any of the next three in this series yet – but I do have them all in my bookcase!

This is another book I read at the start of this year, by one of my favourite authors. It also has one of the best opening lines I’ve ever read: Once upon a time, a hundred years ago, there was a dark and stormy girl.

I’ve completely and utterly fallen in love with Sophie’s two books, The House with Chicken Legs and The Girl Who Speaks Bear. Both are steeped in Slavic folklore, and have strong female protagonists whose discoveries as their story unfolds are incredible. Sophie’s writing style is just magical … completely immersing the reader in these wonderful tales.

Review: The Little Fir Tree

Published by Frances Lincoln Children’s Group
Publication Date: 1st October

This gorgeous story is based on the original tale by Hans Christian Anderson.  The vibrant palette and richness of the illustrations are stunning, and evocative of a simple appreciation and celebration of the wonder and beauty of the natural environment as they immerse the reader in images of forest and woodland creatures. 

The story is told from the viewpoint of a little fir tree who is unhappy with his life deep in the forest.  He sees older, bigger trees being cut down and taken away, and longs to find his place in the world, to have a sense of purpose …

Don’t wish your life away, little tree.

Eventually, the little fir tree gets what he has spent his life wishing for as he becomes part of a family’s festive celebrations.   However, his new-found purpose may not be all that he had expected …  

This story conveys an important message: to appreciate the beauty in the natural world around us, and to cherish what we have rather than wishing our lives away with things that may not fulfil us as much as we thought they would.

I love how children’s stories, no matter how seemingly simple, convey important wisdoms, and this story does just that.

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

Review: The Wind Reader

Published by Inspired Quill
Published on 28th September 2018

From the opening pages, I was completely captured by this character-driven story of political intrigue in a richly imagined fantasy setting where there are very apparent divides in society.

When Mountain Fever strikes, 15-year-old Doniver finds himself quarantined on Rin, separated from his mother and young sisters in the Uplands who he is desperate to return to, following a tragedy at sea which sees him lose his father, a man who instilled a sense of honour in him.

The rock solid center of a man is his honour, Doniver.  You lose your honour, you lose yourself.

Doniver is a deeply sympathetic character:  a survivor, full of grit and determination, battling with feelings of guilt and shame as he fights to survive and maintain his sense of self-worth amidst the hardships of street life. 

Trapped and alone on the perilous streets of Rin, he meets two other street kids, Jarka and Dilly who befriend him.  I loved the honesty and depth of their developing friendships, forged out of the deprivation faced on the streets and the need for human connection.  Even though their friendships were sorely tested, the sense of loyalty they had towards each other was incredibly moving. 

Jarka introduces Doniver to a way to survive, a way to earn money to stave off the desperate hunger he experiences and a way to provide for his new-found friends.  In order to earn his keep, he feels compelled to pretendto be a wind reader by telling fortunes through a windbox.  This deception causes him a real moral dilemma as lying costs him a loss of honour, but it is necessitated by a basic human desire to survive. 

Wind-reading also puts him in the path of Prince Beran of Rinland, a meeting which puts him in very real danger … and propels him inexorably into a viper’s nest of political intrigue and religious persecution which makes this a real page-turner of a book which kept me engrossed as I journeyed with Doniver through the murky workings of court politics …

This story explores the almost impossible choices which are necessitated by misfortune and harsh deprivation, but which also celebrates the power of friendship and loyalty, and the strength inherent in honour and bravery.    

Thank you to the author, Dorothy A Winsor and Inspired Quill for sending me an e-ARC of this book in exchange for my honest opinion.

Review: The Magic Story Shop

Published by Oneworld Publications
Published on 3rd October (UK)
Illustrated by Florentine Prechtel
Translated by Ruth Ahmedzai Kemp

I really enjoyed this gentle story which has at its heart themes of friendship and family.  This would be a perfect read for children of 7+.

The story is written in the wonderfully talkative style of Clara who must say goodbye to her best friend, Lottie as she is moving to another town with her mum due to a difficult family situation.  Of course, the best friends do not want to be parted and where better to hide out than their favourite place:  Mrs Owl’s Story Shop.  The bookshop is a special and magical place to Clara, who is a real bookworm, and this is where she goes to try to help her come to terms with her best friend’s absence.

Having to say goodbye to your best friend feels like a broken heart.

The owner of the bookshop, Mrs Owl, is just wonderful:  she is full of wise advice, has a kind heart and is nurturing.  She is ably assisted by her rather unusual companions:  a rhyming cat called Gustaf and a very grand mirror called Mr King who is incredibly perceptive.  Both can be understood by Mrs Owl and Clara, and they offer plenty of humour throughout.

Clara’s family really look out for her, trying to cheer her up and involving themselves in events at the bookshop.  Of course, no matter how much they try, Clara can’t help missing Lottie. Things get worse when she goes back to school:  will she ever be able to accept that not having her best friend doesn’t mean that she can’t give others a chance?

As well as having to come to terms with Lottie’s move, Clara also needs to help Mrs Owl who is having some problems of her own at the bookshop, problems that could result in its closure.  I loved both the use of the bookshop as a location through which a lot of the action occurs, and its importance to the community. I also enjoyed how some reading stereotypes are overturned.

This is a perfect read for any child coming to terms with a best friend moving away, any child who enjoys the magic of books, or any child who just wants to read a wonderfully feel-good, uplifting story with heart-warming character.

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

Review: The International Yeti Collective

Published by Stripes Publishing
Publication Date: 17th October
Illustrations: Katy Riddell

I absolutely loved this heart-warming, action-packed adventure with its wonderful wisdom and messages around the strength to be gained from friendships and teamwork. 

Ella is spending her holidays with her famous Uncle Jack whilst he is on an expedition to find the elusive Himalayan yetis for his new TV show.  But surely yetis are just legendary creatures? Not at all!  That’s just what they want us to believe.  They are very much a collective of the most wonderful creatures living all over the world, with the best naming system EVER which I completely loved:  Tick (he with no time to waste); Plumm (she sweet on the outside with hard centre); and, Nagg (he who pesters) to name but a few!

Tick is a youngling yeti whose deep-set and completely understandable curiosity about humans gets the better of him, so he finds himself visiting Ella’s camp.  Unfortunately, his visit does not go unnoticed … and the whole yeti way of life is soon under threat!  Whilst Uncle Jack is determined to expose the existence of yetis to the world, kind-hearted Ella, who has an affinity with animals, begins to question his decision, and fears she may have put the yetis in danger … but is it already too late to help them?

Banished from his sett for breaking the ancient laws, Tick stumbles upon the knowledge that the humans are hunting them.  He must warn his sett of the danger they are in … and so begins a fantastic fast-paced adventure with Tick and his friends in a race against time to stop irrefutable evidence of their existence being exposed to the world. 

The journey is full of danger, risk, humour and incredible courage.  Existing friendships are deepened and new ones are formed along the way through the re-emergence of the International Yeti Collective as they must work together to save their way of life, a life very much tied to the preservation of nature.  I loved the themes of friendship and teamwork, and how the yetis are stronger united and working together than apart. I also adored the detailed description of the yeti world which I found completely fascinating from the fungusatory to the knowledge set down in the ancient slabs.

Tick is a wonderful character who seeks to redeem himself after inadvertently endangering the yeti way of life.  Despite his feelings of guilt, shame and fear, he is honest and brave enough to admit his mistakes, take responsibility for his actions and undergo incredible risks in his efforts to save the yetis from exposure to the human world.  He also has the strength to trust in Ella when the other yetis are sceptical that any human can be trusted. 

This is a wonderful, heart-warming story, perfect for readers of 8+ who I have no doubt will enjoy discovering more about the secret yeti communities hidden from us humans! 

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

Review: The Gilded King

Published 25th June 2018

Thank you to Dave at #TheWriteReads for introducing me to this series.

I have a ridiculous amount of positivity towards this book which I loved for many reasons related to characters, world-building, intricate and meaningful plot development and, of course, vampires! 

I quickly became utterly engrossed in the world created by Jaffrey, a world of Red and Blue:  one hidden behind walls where humans serve and feed the ruling vampire class (Nobles), and the other a world to be feared, but by whom?  Could it offer the humans a means of escape from their servitude to the Nobles if only the human inhabitants of the Blue can overcome their fears of what may lie outside their imprisonment, if only they are prepared to question what they have been led to believe …

I loved the dual narrative, with the story alternating between that of the vampire Cameron and a young Server in the Red, Julia.  Both their narrative arcs are fascinating and I especially loved how cleverly they were woven together without the need for them to ever really completely entwine.

Cameron has lived for over 1000 years, his soul tortured by the loss of someone who he once held dear, someone whose loss he blames on himself. His search through the centuries to find her leads to him wandering the Red following any clues for fear of losing hope … and the last shreds of his humanity.  He is joined in his search by Felix who seems to know more about vampires than he should.  I loved the slow burn of the developing relationship between Cam and Felix.  Cameron’s search leads him to make a startling discovery which may very well threaten the very existence of his species …

Julia lives in the Blue, desperate to gain freedom from her fear, a freedom she imagines can exist in the Red, but too frightened to face the terrors that may await her in the land beyond the imprisonment of the Blue.  Unlike her friend, Claudia, she does not hold some romantic notion of falling in love with a vampire and becoming immortal herself.  Until, that is, she becomes the Attendant to Lucas, a young vampire, who turns all that she thought she knew about herself on its head.  I couldn’t help but love the romance of their developing relationship, with Julia fighting against her attraction, but unable to resist “the Pariah of the Blue”. 

I found the exposition of the sociological, political and historical context threaded throughout the story fascinating and, whilst I’m very tempted to discuss it, I’m only going to mention it in passing as it is so cleverly woven into the fabric of the story that I don’t want to spoil the enjoyment of the questions it raises, and revelations it makes, as readers discover it for themselves.

Guilt, revenge, danger, betrayal, friendship, love … this story has it all in spades.  It was one hell of a read which I devoured voraciously.  I’ve since bought The Silver Queen, so that I can continue the story.