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!

Number 14 Darlington Road in Bloomsbury, London, looks like a perfectly ordinary townhouse – at first glance anyway.

Any ideas?

I have absolutely adored all of Abi Elphinstone’s books, so was very excited to have been approved to read Saving Neverland on NetGalley.

Goodreads Synopsis:

Number 14 Darlington Road, looks like a perfectly ordinary townhouse – at first glance, anyway, but magic is good at hiding . . . when it’s waiting for the right person to discover it . . . Martha Pennydrop is ten, and desperate to grow up. But growing up is a tricky business. It means turning your back on imagination, fun and magic, because those were the things that led to the Terrible Day when something awful nearly happened to Martha’s younger brother, Scruff, which would have been All Her Fault. But when Martha and Scruff discover a drawer full of mysterious gold dust in the bedroom of their new house – along with a window that’s seemingly impossible to close – it’s the start of an incredible adventure to a magical world: Neverland! The Pennydrop’s new house used to belong to another family – the Darlings – who once visited this world themselves. Now Peter Pan is back, and in need of their help. Neverland is in the icy grip of a terrible curse – cast long ago by Captain Hook. And only Martha and Scruff can save it . . . A reluctant Martha and excited Scruff are swept off to Neverland and into the company of the Lost Kids. But when Scruff is kidnapped, Martha must rediscover all the imagination, magic and belief she has buried deep inside herself for so long, to save him – and Neverland itself.

WWW Wednesday

I’ve just started reading Libby and the Highland Heist and am loving it!

I’ve finished my re-read of The Midnight Hour which I really enjoyed. I love the alternative Victorian London setting and the myriad Night Folk. Emily is a wonderful main character (with plenty to say) who has a lot to learn about her family – and herself! I’m looking forward to picking up the next one, The Midnight Howl. I also listened to The Little Match Girl Strikes Back. I enjoyed the themes of empowerment and fighting back, and liked Bridie as a strong, courageous character. This story is based on real life events and learning more about the lives of the factory workers was sobering. I’ve also finished Emba Oak and the Terrible Tomorrows which I really enjoyed – adventure, humour and wonderful characters. I will be posting my review shortly.

This one isn’t out until April next year, but I was lucky enough to be sent a proof copy, and it sounds like a brilliant spooky read, so I’m hoping to read it next.

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

Review: The Chestnut Roaster by Eve McDonnell

Written by Eve McDonnell
Cover illustration by Holly Ovenden
Internal Illustrations by Ewa Beniak-Haremska
Published by Everything with Words

The Chestnut Roaster is an unforgettable, mesmerising historical fantasy which swept me into late 19th century Paris and into a gripping, dangerous and exciting adventure that completely captivated me.

Twelve-year-old Piaf was born on All Fools Day with a rare ability, both a gift and a burden:  she can remember everything since the day she was born by unlocking memory boxes in her brain.  She remembers that her twin brother Luc is ill, suffering from memory loss, and has been in a Parisian hospital for over a year.  She remembers that the man who tries to snatch her from her chestnut roaster stall could not possibly be the relative he claims to be.  And she remembers the year, 1887, that everyone else in Paris has forgotten …

Could this man be the child snatcher who has taken 20 gifted children over the past year, children whose disappearances seem to have been forgotten?  When this dangerous, determined villain sets his sights on Piaf and her ability, she finds herself plunged into the depths of Paris’s underground twin, the Catacombs, with her brother Luc.  Will the twins be able to foil the memory thief’s plans before he takes years of memories from Parisian citizens?  Will they discover the whereabouts of the taken children and reunite them with their families?  And could the disappearance of these gifted children be linked to the missing memories?

What an absolutely incredible adventure:  atmospheric, dark, thrilling and utterly unputdownable.  Fast-paced, short chapters kept me turning the pages, telling myself ‘just one more chapter’ but that was never enough.  I loved being taken on a journey through the Parisian streets and through the underground catacombs which felt so real, exploding with sights, sounds and smells – and a few ‘jumpy’ moments!  I was on the edge of my seat as I didn’t quite know who the twins could trust which kept me on tenterhooks as did the incredible twists and revelations, one in particular which left me stunned, but which was just perfect!  An adventure as intricate and magical as the gorgeous leaf-skeleton map that the twins follow on their journey against time through the Parisian underground …

Piaf is the most wonderful young girl who I absolutely adored.  Her name means ‘sparrow’ which suits her perfectly; she is tiny and goes almost unnoticed; and, she finds it impossible to keep still, constantly fidgeting.  On the inside, she is a giant, filled with courage, determination and empathy – even if she doesn’t always see this herself! Piaf sees her ability as a burden whereas her brother, Luc sees it as a gift.  He may have no memory of events and people beyond the current day, but he retains his knowledge of books and poetry and is a font of knowledge. The bond between the siblings is so gorgeous, offering comfort and support, and working as a team when faced with danger and fear and the need to help others.

The double-page illustrations by Ewa Beniak-Haremska are absolutely stunning, and capture the mystery and intricacy of this superb story perfectly.  I really enjoyed reading the information about the illustrations at the end of the story which made me take a further look. 

A breath-taking, magical adventure:  a story of loss, survival, and the strength of friendship, family and self-belief.  This is a story that firmly deserves to be warming readers’ hearts and minds on a cold autumnal evening, and is one I can highly recommend for readers of 9+.  C’est inoubliable!

Thank you so much to Mikka at Everything With Words for providing me with an early copy in exchange for my honest opinion.

November anticipated children’s book releases …

It’s time for my November anticipated children’s book releases – a mixture of continuations of books in series I’ve loved, new books by favourite authors, and new-to-me authors whose books have caught my attention.

I’ve taken each synopsis from the Waterstones website.

Directly below was a sight none of them had ever seen before – a kind of spiral, with glowing ruby-red lights that curved outwards like tentacles. In the middle was a dark circle, inky black. It had the look of a really, really deep well. Ursula and her friends are in a race against time. The Collector has taken Stella captive, and is hungrily snatching up all the beautiful places of the world in her snow globe prisons. She needs to be stopped, but first they must find her. To aid them in their quest, the explorers seek help from new allies, including a Pirate Queen, with a ghost ship that can defy time and space, and then take to the skies in a galaxy fairy rocket. But their journey is fraught with danger, as the future of the planet hangs in the balance. Escape into a sensational world filled with space moles, sea goblins and giant sharks, all covered with a sprinkling of moon dust!

The Guardians of Magic disappeared ten years ago, leaving the Kingdom of Thrynne in the icy grip of a powerful sorceress. Most people have fled in desperate search of warmer lands, escaping the Ice Monsters that roam the streets. Meanwhile, young Tiggy Thistle lives hidden and safe with a kindly Badger until the day she meets one of the crafty Stiltskin brothers and she has to run from her happy home. So begins Tiggy’s quest to find Zam, Phoebe and Bathsheba – the lost Guardians and their beautiful Cloud Horses – the only people, she believes, who can save Thrynne from the curse of endless winter.

Alfie Wright? Alfie Wrong, more like. Alfie has never really fitted in anywhere – he doesn’t have any friends, and even his mum seems embarrassed of him. So when he’s evacuated to a farm in rural Devon run by kind old Aunt Bell and her gentle giant of a son, Alfie can’t believe his luck. The War seems a long way off, and among the cows and pigs and geese Alfie’s happier than he’s ever been – especially when he makes friends with one of the local boys, Snidge. But Snidge, for all his friendliness, is not all he appears. And the mystery that surrounds him seems to be connected to the Midwinter Burning, an annual ritual held at the Standing Stones, high up on the cliffs. Aunt Bell says it’s all just a bit of harmless superstition, but when Snidge goes missing, Alfie finally discovers who his friend really is – and relives the true horror of the legend…

There is nothing more dangerous than magic…  Eleven-year-old Erskin is used to danger; she lives in the shadow of Mountainfell, a place of wild creatures and dangerous magic. When the most powerful and deadly creature of all – the fearsome cloud dragon – snatches Erskin’s sister away, Erskin must face her greatest fear and journey onto the mountain to bring her back. A terrible power is stirring, and it is up to Erskin to save both her family and her home.

When Lucas and Ruby find an abandoned trunk covered in snow, Lucas says there’s bound to be a body inside. Ruby laughs but what if he’s right? Nervously she starts to open it, and immediately wishes she hadn’t. From that moment on, they’re drawn into a thrilling mystery, one that they have to solve before the falling snow smothers all trace of wrongdoing…

It’s Christmas, and eleven-year-old Lolli must return to London and break a promise she made to herself – to never again step foot in the Victorian historic house in Spitalfields managed by her family. There, Lolli must face up to what she saw in the house several years ago and make things right for two ghosts – one friendly and one decidedly not – opening her guarded heart to people in both the living and twilight worlds.

Red is a rare red dragon who lives with his Mag and Dag in a world where dragons and Uprights are sworn enemies. Then Red meets his first Upright, a girl called Lou, who is nothing like he had imagined: she’s smart, and funny … and kind! As the pair become friends, Red learns that not only can the two species live in harmony – but maybe it’s his destiny to bring them back together.

When their magician grandpa is imprisoned in a snow globe, Hedy and Spencer – with cousins Jelly and Max – go in search of a magical way to free him in the final instalment of the House on Hoarder Hill trilogy. The Spellbound Tree is the source of all magic, but to find it the talented children must fight their way through the catacombs of Paris, with the help and hindrance of ghosts and monsters … The thrilling, fantastical finale in the Hoarder Hill trilogy!

Forbidden to leave her island, Isabella dreams of the faraway lands her cartographer father once mapped. When her friend disappears, she volunteers to guide the search. The world beyond the walls is a monster-filled wasteland – and beneath the dry rivers and smoking mountains, a fire demon is stirring from its sleep. Soon, following her map, her heart and an ancient myth, Isabella discovers the true end of her journey: to save the island itself.

When Jarell discovers that the fantasy world he is obsessed with doodling is actually real, he is launched into an incredible adventure. Ulfrika, the land of his ancestors, is in trouble and he is the hero they need. In this second book, he must return to Ulfrika to prevent the rise of the sorcerer Ikala. Kimisi takes him to the court of the river goddess and they strike a deal. If they help her by finding a cure for a terrible curse, she will give them the Iron Crocodile for the staff of Kundiata. The path ahead will not be easy. A dangerous foe lies in wait for them in this Underwater Kingdom…

Have any of these grabbed your interest? Do you have any other suggestions for November new releases?

WWW Wednesday

I am having a re-read of The Midnight Hour as I want to read the second book and, whilst I remember that I really enjoyed the first one, I need to refresh the details!

I finished Journey Back to Freedom which is such a powerful true-life story with some hard-hitting moments – another wonderful addition to the dyslexia-friendly Barrington Stoke collection. I have also finished listening to QueenSlayer and, oh my goodness, it was just brilliant although there were times I was so angry about what was happening to Kellen. I have one more to listen to but will save it for after half term. I also read The Chestnut Roaster over the weekend which I absolutely loved. I will be posting my review shortly.

I’m hoping to read Emba and the Terrible Tomorrows next.

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

Review: Operation Nativity

Written by Jenny Pearson
Cover and inside illustrations by Katie Kear
Published by Usborne

What a majestical read!  Operation Nativity is the PERFECT Christmas adventure brimming with heart and humour, with family and friendship and with the magic of Christmas.  I am a huge fan of Jenny’s books and have devoured and loved them all, but I have to admit that this one is my favourite.  I’m already bursting with excitement to share it with my class in the run-up to Christmas.

Oscar’s family have been invited to spend Christmas with his paternal grandparents on their huge country estate in Hampshire, Barlington Hall.  They arrive late at night in their campervan and, whilst Oscar may be ready for sleep, his little sister, Molly, is now wide awake, singing ‘Little Donkey’ on repeat.  So both children hear the noise outside, see the bright flash of light and spot something flying off the roof and landing in the sheep field.  Thinking that Santa might have arrived early, Molly wants to investigate.  What they discover is not the man in a big red suit, but one with a halo and wings! 

The Archangel Gabriel’s Christmas announcement has gone spectacularly wrong:  he’s 2000 years ahead of time and in the village of Chipping Bottom rather than Bethlehem!  And a shepherd, a wise man, the actual Mary and Joseph, and possibly a donkey, have crash-landed with him.  If he doesn’t find them and take them back to Bethlehem, then Christmas will not exist – and neither will Oscar and Molly.

No big deal! After all, Gabriel can just use his powers to …  well, he could – if his powers were working.  Instead, he needs help from Oscar and Molly to find the others and so Operation Christmas is born, and the race to save Christmas commences …

And what an unforgettable, exciting race it is:  action-packed, hilarious, joyous and bursting with Christmas spirit!  There are so, so many hilarious encounters which made me laugh-out-loud, that gave me that much-needed feeling of cosiness inside and a few that brought tears.  Have you heard the one about the angel, the wiseman and the turkey in a bathroom? What about how baby Jesus might have had a racoon-pirate puppet as a gift rather than myrrh?  Sheer, sparkling, tears-running-down-your-face genius level perfection!   

As if a mission to make sure the first Christmas takes place isn’t enough, there’s also the performance of the year to take part in:  the Cuthbert-Anderson Family Nativity, run with military precision by Grandmother who is determined to outdo her nemesis, Mrs Tadworth.  This is a family tradition and this year’s performance is all the more poignant as Grandfather is unwell.  The relationship between Oscar’s paternal grandparents is really touching as their love for each other shines through. I adored the celebration of Christmas traditions such as carol singing, mince-pie making and the togetherness of family at this magical time, a time to believe in the impossible which is summed up perfectly by Molly:

There was a man hiding behind that talking sheep.

And that brings me to Molly and Oscar who I absolutely adored.  Molly is just gorgeous with a real innocence and honesty that leads to much hilarity as Oscar tries to stop her revealing their secret whilst her family (luckily) don’t believe her! She enjoys dressing in a wonderful range of costumes that causes much confusion for their visitors from the past.  Oscar is such a kind-hearted, sensitive, funny and observant boy who clearly loves his family and enjoys the excitement of the festive period even though he wasn’t quite expecting to be in charge of saving Christmas!  He has a wonderfully warm relationship with his grandfather who helps him to believe in himself.

The illustrations which are included in my proof copy are brilliantly lively, humorous and expressive and complement the story perfectly.  I can’t wait to get a final copy so that I can enjoy all of the wonderful illustrations.  I also just have to mention the gorgeously festive chapter headings which perfectly encapsulate the humour in the story.

Operation Nativity is a heart-warming, hilarious and endearing celebration of the magic of Christmas, an absolute must-buy Christmas read guaranteed to become a family tradition.

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

WWW Wednesday

I’m currently listening to Queenslayer and am so glad that Reichus and Kellen are together again – one of my favourite partnerships ever (has to say that or Reichus might have had one of my eyes out!). This series is so full of action, politics and quick-wit, but its the characters I adore so much. I took a bit of a break from The Second Sight of Zachary Cloudsley not because I wasn’t enjoying it, but because I was too exhausted in the evening to read it, but I’ve started it again and I’m really enjoying it. In school, I’m reading alongside the children when they’re reading from their chosen books. I’ve chosen Journey Back to Freedom which tells the true story of Olaudah Equiano who was captured and enslaved at the age of 11, but became a member of the abolition movement. This is a powerful story which is heart-breaking, but also shows Olaudah’s resilience and determination to gain his freedom.

I finished Soulbinder which is the fourth book in the Spellslinger series. Kellen is hoping to find a cure for the shadowblack and finds himself at the Ebony Abbey where, instead of finding a cure, he finds others who are living with the shadowblack, but his people want to annihilate them. I don’t think I’ve ever met a character who has to endure so much, do so much that I should disagree with, but who I am completely invested in. I also read Hatty and the Battle of the Books which was a very quick read, and just gorgeous as it involved fighting to save the school library whilst healing broken friendships. Finally, I absolutely devoured Operation Nativity which is my favourite Jenny Pearson book. I absolutely LOVED this and will definitely be reading it to my class. I’m writing my review and hope to post it by the end of the week.

I loved Elsetime by Eve McDonnell and am hoping to read her second book, The Chestnut Roaster, next.

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

Review: The Twig Man

Written by Sana Rasoul
Cover Illustration by Alexandra Artigas
Cover Design by Anne Glenn
Published by Hashtag Press

The Twig Man is a spine-tinglingly chilling, dark read which absolutely gripped me from the ominous warning in the opening, and kept me enthralled throughout:  an edge-of-your seat, page-turning adventure brimming with danger, excitement and just the right amount of horror to keep readers shivering with equal amounts of delight and fright.

Eleven-year-old Ari lives in Hanging Hill on the outskirts of the woods, woods which he blames for the loss of his best friend and sister, Lana.  Whilst his parents, the locals and the Police all think that Lana chose to leave a year ago, Ari knows differently.  He is convinced that his sister would never leave him behind and believes that she has been taken by the Twig Man, a monster in the woods who has been taking children for years. 

When Ari chases a strange black cat into the woods, he meets Timmy who whispers that the Twig Man has awoken.  Can Ari find the courage to face the terrifying monster and bring his sister home, or will the Twig Man take his next victim, the young boy who dared to wake him?

Oh my spooky goodness!  This is one of the most atmospheric, eerily creepy middle-grade horror books I’ve read – and I loved it!  I can only manage to ride rollercoasters if they’re in the dark and then I find them both scary and exciting and that is exactly the feeling reading this darkly mysterious adventure left me with.  I felt inexorably drawn towards the darkness in the woods alongside Ari and Timmy, feeling their fear, determination and courage as they fight against a monster who extends his control over the plants, insects and animals of the woods to deliciously frightening effect.

I loved the twists and revelations and the sharp edge of danger nuanced with hope.  The depiction of the Twig Man is just perfect:  scary, dangerous and seriously creepy, an urban myth come to life and looking for revenge. His essence permeates the mystery and insidiously reaches towards Ari, drawing him ever closer, closer to both terrible danger and to the incredible truth.

I really liked the friendship which develops between Ari and Timmy.  Timmy is the first one who believes Ari when he tells him that his sister did not run away, and the boys, despite some arguments, develop a mutual bond of trust and support.  Neither are used to having friends and navigate the path together whilst dealing with the never-fading threat from the Twig Man, prepared to face him together.

This is THE most perfect spine-tingling, spooky adventure to read on a dark evening with the lights definitely on!  A story of friendship, sibling bonds and hope in the face of danger, darkness and a deadly threat that is guaranteed to send shivers down your spine.  Thrillingly perfect for readers of 9+.

Thank you to Hashtag Press and NetGalley for providing me with an e-ARC in exchange for my honest opinion.

Review: The Tale of Truthwater Lake

Written by Emma Carroll
Cover Illustration by Daniela Jaglenka Terrazzini
Published by Faber Children’s Books

The Tale of Truthwater Lake is a gripping time-slip adventure which blends the past and the near-future perfectly in a story of enduring friendship, courage and resilience. 

It’s summer 2032 and 12-year-old Polly is living with the consequences of climate change where temperatures regularly exceed 42 degrees leading to a curfew where she and her older brother, Joel are stuck inside their small flat in Brighton.   Unable to sleep due to the heat, she discovers her brother going for a night swim and, although she is not a confident swimmer, she goes too, leading to a situation which both of them are keen to escape from … and escape they do … to their Aunt Jessie’s eco-house in Exmoor which looks on to Truthwater Lake.

Due to the excessive heat, Truthwater Lake is drying up, revealing the remains of the old village of Syndercombe which was flooded in the early 1950s to make a reservoir to supply water.  Drawn to the sight of the old church under the water, Polly swims towards it, her feet touching the roof tiles … and finds herself in a past time where she is Nellie Foster.

Nellie, unlike Polly, is an avid swimmer and dreams of swimming the English Channel.  She is also going to have to leave her village as it is being flooded to make a reservoir.  Can Nellie fulfil her dream before her village is lost?  I loved being swept into Nellie’s exciting challenge, as she, her best friend Lena and new friend, Nate work together to make history. 

This is such a brilliant, timely and thought-provoking story that completely absorbed me as I followed the friends plans for their Channel swimming challenge, the drowning of a village, and Polly’s discoveries in her present … such incredible secrets revealed … and the most wonderful heart-warming ending.

Whilst this is a story mostly set in the past, the part set in the near-future feels prescient, and will open up lots of opportunity for discussion about climate change.

This is a mesmerising tale, masterfully told:  a tale of truth, friendship and change.  Perfect for readers of 9+.

Thank you to Bethany Carter and Faber & Faber Limited for an early copy in exchange for my honest opinion.