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.

WWW Wednesday

I’m continuing to listen to the audiobook of Back Home which I’m really enjoying, although my heart goes out to Rusty who has returned to England after being evacuated to America. The way she is treated in the boarding school is shocking, but she seems such a strong character. I can completely see why she wouldn’t want to view England as home, and why she’d want to go back to America. I’m just starting to read The House on Hoarder Hill which is the 8th book in my 20 Books of Summer Challenge.

My intended reading went out the window this week! I finished reading The Mostly Invisible Boy which was a magical, action-packed adventure set in a wonderfully imagined forest community. I will post my review shortly. I normally read middle-grade, but this week I read a young adult and an adult book. I love reading stories with myths/legends/fairytale elements so I loved The Twisted Tree which is a dark, creepy tale influenced by Norse mythology. Martha has had an accident at her grandmother’s home and has lost the sight in one eye, but has gained the ability to tell a person’s emotions by touching their clothing. When she goes to her grandmother’s home to find out more, she discovers that her grandmother is dead, and meets Stig who has broken into the home. As Martha discovers more of her grandmother’s past, strange and terrifying occurrences take place which leads her towards the fulfilment of a family legacy as the line between living and dead weakens. I also read The Nickel Boys which absolutely blew me away. It is such a powerful story that shocked and angered me, but the ending completely wrecked me. There is much to rage over in this story, but it is also a testament to survival, endurance and redemption. I have immediately ordered The Underground Railroad.

I’m hoping to get to Agent Zaiba Investigates: The Poison Plot next, although I also really want to catch up on reviews!

Review: The Unadoptables

Published by Puffin Books
Illustrated by Ayesha Rubio
Published on 23rd July 2020

The Unadoptables is a truly charming read, brimming with adventure, mystery and friendship in a wonderfully atmospheric 19th century Amsterdam.  Amidst the danger, suspicion and fear, there is also humour, warmth and hope which makes this a not-to-be-missed delight which I couldn’t put down.

The strict Rules of Baby Abandonment at the Little Tulip Orphanage, Amsterdam are unceremoniously broken when five babies are abandoned over the course of five monthsLotta, Egbert, Fenna, Sem and Milou are each abandoned in an item which links to their particular talents of sewing, storytelling, engineering, cooking and art.

Twelve years later in 1892, these children are firm friends who are living a hard life in the Orphanage run by the cruel, severe and menacing Matron, Elinora Gassbeek who is not interested in the welfare of the children, but in lining her own pockets. 

The children have been dubbed ‘the unadoptables’ until the arrival of a potential adopter at the Orphanage.  Meneer Rotman is a sugar merchant looking for an heir, but it is obvious this sinister, dangerous man doesn’t like children, so why does he want to adopt all five friends?

Milou’s sixth sense warns her of danger, and she is proved correct!  The lives of her and her friends are in terrible peril, and they must escape or risk a fate even worse than that of living in the Orphanage. 

The friends make a daring escape from the Orphanage into a wonderfully evocative and richly described Amsterdam with its canals, bridges and surrounding countryside where they find themselves on an incredible adventure to find Milou’s parents who she is convinced never meant to abandon her … life-like puppets, clockwork artisans, labour ships and cruel villains make this an truly unforgettable read.

This story is an intricate and thrilling tale of danger, discoveries and twists as Milou and her friends fight to stay one step ahead of the authorities and Rotman.  They work brilliantly as a team, using their resourcefulness and ingenuity to strive to outwit both.  At the same time, they search to uncover the mystery surrounding Milou’s family. 

The five children are wonderfully sympathetic characters who I adored.   They are each other’s family and have a close bond steeped in love, friendship, trust and loyalty.  Milou is brave with a real sense of justice and is protective of her friends, feeling a responsibility towards them.   She is also quick-witted, determined and lives with an enduring sense of hope.   All of her friends have individual talents, linked to the items which were left with them as babies.  The children are incredibly resourceful, and supportive of each other, and make perfect use of their talents, as they make a new life away from the orphanage.  Will these talents help this found family work together to thwart some menacing villains and discover the truth of a lost family?

The Unadoptables is an absolutely spellbinding story of the strength to be gained in family, friendship and hope when faced with danger, despair and loss … a truly mesmerising story.

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

20 Books of Summer: Book 5

Oh my goodness – I loved this story so much.  The historical context is brilliantly drawn, and gives a fascinating insight into the lives of the passengers aboard The Titanic, all with stories to tell, places to go and lives to live … which makes what happens all the more heart-breaking.

The story is told from the dual viewpoint of 12-year-old Bertha, who is excited to be going to America to join her father, and 14-year-old Johan who is homesick and lonely and not at all keen to join his father.  Bertha boards as a second-class passenger whereas Johan is in third class; the differences between these groups is brilliantly portrayed. 

As Johan is boarding, a red-haired man drops a piece of paper as he rushes aboard, which Johan picks up.  Inside is what appears to be a treasure map and a tiny, silver key.  Determined to make his fortune so that he can have the rest of his family join him, Johan is keen to find someone to help him decipher the writing …

Luckily for him, Bertha has decided to start The Collyer-Watt Detective Agency with her new friend, Marjorie.  Chance soon finds Johan and Bertha meeting and he reluctantly asks her to help him.  Bertha, of course, is excited by this case and sets out to help him track down the missing treasure which may not be at all what they expected, but may open their eyes to treasures beyond price …

The Collyer-Watt Detective Agency also has another mystery to solve, this one involving the rather suspicious Mr Collyer and his two young sons.  What secrets is he hiding?  Why is he so reluctant to let his children talk to Bertha? 

Then the unthinkable happens … the unsinkable ship hits an ice-berg.  The description of the passengers and crew’s reaction is so powerful and so heart-breaking … I could feel the uncertainty, the panic, the fear as they realised the ship was sinking and that there weren’t enough life boats …

Bertha is a strong-willed, independent young lady who is determined to solve the cases she has taken on, even if this leads her to into places she should not be.  She does not conform to society’s expectations of her, and is keen to seek greater freedoms in America.  Johan is an incredibly sympathetic character.  He suffers from terrible seasickness and is miserable on board, yet he fights against this in order to find the treasure which he hopes will offer him a different life, and the chance to be reunited with his mother.    

I was truly fascinated by the insight into life aboard The Titanic from the segregation of passengers to the conditions they lived in to the way different groups of people were treated when the worst happened.  I loved the author’s afterword which details what happened to some of the surviving passengers.

This is a truly engrossing historical fiction, a perfect blend of historical context and mystery. 

First Line 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!

LIGHTNING STRUCK, and a brilliant white light bloomed, illuminating the night sky outside Lucely Luna’s bedroom window. Four hours had passed since her bedtime, but the thunderstorm outside kept her wide-awake.

Any ideas?

I discovered the wonderful Rocketship Bookshop through Twitter recently, and couldn’t resist making a few purchases which arrived today. I’ve been wanting this one for a while as it sounds like exactly the kind of book I will love – and the cover is just gorgeous!

Goodreads Synopsis:

Coco meets Stranger Things with a hint of Ghostbusters in this action-packed supernatural fantasy.For Lucely Luna, ghosts are more than just the family business. Shortly before Halloween, Lucely and her best friend, Syd, cast a spell that accidentally awakens malicious spirits, wreaking havoc throughout St. Augustine. Together, they must join forces with Syd’s witch grandmother, Babette, and her tubby tabby, Chunk, to fight the haunting head-on and reverse the curse to save the town and Lucely’s firefly spirits before it’s too late. With the family dynamics of Coco and action-packed adventure of Ghostbusters, Claribel A. Ortega delivers both a thrillingly spooky and delightfully sweet debut novel. 

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 Michelle Harrison
Cover Illustration: Melissa Castrillon
Published by Simon & Schuster

Favourite Sentence from Page 11:

Set upon bleak, drizzly marshes and overlooked by a vast prison, Crowstone wasn’t a place people came to unless they had to.

This book in three words:

MAGICAL, SISTERHOOD, WITCHY

A Sprinkle of Sorcery is the absolutely irresistible, and most welcome, return to the Poacher’s Pocket and the lives of the Widdershin sisters and their wonderfully crotchety, straight-talking, protective Granny.  This unforgettable, thrilling adventure captivated me just as much as my introduction to these incredible girls in the equally amazing A Pinch of Magic.  I’m lucky enough to have signed copies of both of these books.

I am in awe of Michelle Harrison’s imagination and skill in writing this story:  hidden islands of legend, will-o-the-wisps in different guises, pirates, witches and a sprinkle of sorcery.  The strong bond between the sisters is such a strength of this book. The Widdershin sisters epitomise strong bonds of sisterhood: they may have their arguments and disagreements– what sisters don’t? – but, what really stands out, is that they look out for each other and love each other sincerely and deeply. 

You can read my full review of this magical story here: A Sprinkle of Sorcery

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’m just about to start reading The Mostly Invisible Boy which I have been sent for review by the author. I am also listening to Back Home by Michelle Magorian which I’m loving . I’m also reading The Jumbies for the Middle Grade Marvels reading group. I’ve read the first 11 chapters and am loving it. It’s quite creepy and I found it interesting that it revealed quite a lot at the start which makes me rather intrigued as to where the story will go next.

I finished listening to the audiobook of Louisiana’s Way Home from Borrowbox. Oh my goodness, it was fantastic. There are some very poignant moments in the story, but there is also hope. Louisiana is a wonderful young girl who I was rooting for from the start. She is both vulnerable and strong and her raw, honest telling of her story is both heart-breaking and uplifting. I also read The Time of Green Magic and The Mask of Aribella which are Books 6 & 7 of my 20 Books of Summer Challenge. I will post my reviews soon. I don’t often read Young Adult, but I saw an author on Twitter recommending Pet so I thought I’d get a copy. It’s a really stunning, thought-provoking read which tackles the issue of ‘monsters’ who are hiding in plain view, more difficult to find as the city of Lucille is supposed to have purged itself of all forms of monsters in society. One day, Jam unwittingly unleashes a creature from another dimension who she names Pet. It is intent on ridding the city of a monster hiding in her friend, Redemption’s house. Both terrifying and awesome, the narrative absolutely gripped me. It really is a brilliant read, and I’m so glad I picked it up.

I’m hoping to read Agent Zaiba Investigates: The Poison Plot and the 8th book for my 20 Reads of Summer, The House on Hoarder Hill.

20 Books of Summer: Book 4

Published by Simon & Schuster on 23rd July Illustrated by Mark Chambers

What a wondrously exhilarating, heart-warming adventure!  Sparkling with excitement, exploration, danger and discoveries, Echo’s action-packed adventures completely enthralled me, and I can’t wait to go adventuring with her again. 

Echo doesn’t feel that she belongs in Lockfort City and yearns for a life of adventure which is a problem as she has been told that nothing exists beyond the City walls … until the night the rather eccentric Professor Mangrove Daggerwing sails his airship into her life and shares a map … and so begins the adventure she has been waiting for, an adventure to find her mother with nothing more than a hairpin with a wolf’s head and a belief that her mother did not abandon her as a baby.

Echo finds herself sailing to Port Tourbillon with her best friend, Gilbert (who happens to be THE most adorable lizard), the rather timid Prince Horace who sneaks aboard the sky-ship and the Professor.  Tracking down her one connection to her mother, Echo soon finds herself on the run from the Queen’s Guards, making new friends and in search of the infamous Black Sky Wolves sky-pirates.  Her search leads to danger, incredible discoveries and new beginnings … and I just have to mention the carnivorous plants!

The world-building is absolutely superb from the uniformity of Lockfort and its people to the riot of colour and rich diversity that is Port Tourbillon to the old-fashioned and delightful sky-ship which really made me want to join the adventure … even if I am afraid of heights.  I’d love to have tea on a hammock, but I might have to say no to the squibnuts!

I absolutely adored Echo.  She has an adventurer’s soul:  determined, curious and courageous with a sense of justice and a kind heart.  Gilbert, her lizard, is a loyal, helpful and intuitive companion who she has an almost telepathic connection with.  I never thought I’d say this, but I want a Gilbert! I also really liked Horace who adores books and is fascinated by butterflies.  He may not be a typical hero, and is a rather reluctant adventurer, but, when it matters most, he proves himself to be a loyal friend who is braver than he believes and shows that words can be just as important as actions when it comes to courage.  The friendship between Echo and Horace is brilliant:   they may bicker and argue but, when it matters, they always look out for each other.

This is an unmissable, action-packed adventure into an exciting immersive world that kept me entranced throughout. I have been seeing some of the wonderful illustrations by Mark Chambers which will be in the final version of the book, so am keen to purchase a copy when it is published.

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