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!

The boy growled, dropped to all fours and took one end of the stick between his teeth.  The dog at the stick’s other end – a hefty Alsatian with long ears – bared its gums and slobbered.

Any ideas?

I’ve seen lots of good reviews about Scavengers and just recently spotted it on my local Waterstones shelves, so took it from their shelf to add to mine!

Goodreads synopsis:

Landfill has lived his whole life as a scavenger, running with wooflers, swimming with turtles and feasting on fresh gull. Old Babagoo has always looked after him, on one condition – follow his rules. Never come looking Outside. Never rise above the wall. But despite the dangers, Landfill longs to see Outside. And some rules are made to be broken.

Review: I, Cosmo

Publisher: Nosy Crow
Publication Date: 1st August 2019

Spoiler/Not Spoiler:  Cosmo does not die, so now you can enjoy his wonderful story.

I, Cosmo is a ‘woof-tastically’ heart-warming story, full of life, heart and humour which will appeal to any dog-lover, adult or child.  Telling the story from the perspective of Cosmo, the 13-year old family golden retriever, is genius!  The tone is conversational and authentic:  I can really imagine that this is exactly how a dog sees himself within a loving family.  Cosmo is wise, humorous, devoted and loves ‘doggedly’.  I’ll let Cosmo explain the last one himself:

“There is a word I’ve learned in my twelve years:  doggedly.  It means “with persistence and full effort.”  Humans attribute this to a dog’s stubbornness – our refusal to give up chewy sticks, the way we freeze in the doorway when it rains.  But really, it’s the way we love, with our whole hearts, no matter the circumstance.  I vowed to protect Max – and my family – doggedly, for the rest of my life.

Cosmo has been bought as a puppy by the family, shortly before the birth of their first son Max, who has a heartfelt bond with Cosmo, each being the other’s champion and best friend.  One of the aspects which really engaged me in this story was how Cosmo reminisces about his life with his family, recalling many humorous and heart-warming moments.  This makes the family break-down in the ‘present’ of the book all the more poignant.   Cosmo is told by the children’s Uncle Reggie to: “Protect their hearts.” And he does so, with all his heart.

I fell in love with Cosmo for a two main reasons: his devotion and sensitivity towards his family, and especially to Max, which is wonderfully depicted; and, his sharp, witty observations which permeate the story, lending it many humorous moments.

Humans can learn many lessons from Cosmo’s honesty and wisdom, and from his love of old movies and dancing!  Indeed, dancing is pivotal in his attempt to save his family and avoid separation from Max.  The courage, perseverance and devotion shown by Cosmo, despite his own afflictions due to age, is genuinely touching.

My favourite quote, which I think will resonate with many is:

…I do believe that, with the right human by your side, it’s possible to leap fearlessly into the unknown.”

Will Cosmo, with his dancer’s soul, be able to save his family?  Will he become a movie star?  Will he remain with Max, his best friend?  Will he defeat his nemesis the sheepdog?  So many questions, so wonderfully answered in this exceptional story, with the most uplifting, hopeful ending. Just perfect!

Thank you to Nosy Crow for an ARC in exchange for my honest opinion.

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’m currently reading The Frozen Sea by Piers Torday.  I requested this via NetGalley and was very excited to be approved.  I loved The Lost Magician and am looking forward to finding out what happens!

I’ve now started my summer holidays, so I’ve been able to do more reading than I usually would.  This week I have read:

Malamander by Thomas Taylor: This was such a wonderfully atmospheric read, full of mystery rooted in a great legend.

The Girl Who Drank the Moon by Kelly Barnhill: This has been on my TBR pile for a while and it was definitely worth the wait. A dark fantasy which completely captured me in its magical quality.

A Girl Called Owl by Amy Wilson: I loved Snowglobe so was eager to read this one. It was such a beautiful, fantastical story – and wintery! Review pending.

The Space We’re In by Katya Balen: I requested this one via NetGalley. It is being published on 5th September. This is told from the viewpoint of a ten-year-old boy with a younger autistic brother – raw and very emotional.

I hope to read The Land of Roar by Jenny McLachlan, The Last Spell Breather by Julie Pike and The Secret Dragon by Ed Clarke, and maybe another one from my #20BooksofSummer.

Top Ten Tuesday

This is a weekly meme now hosted by That Artsy Girl Reader.  This week’s theme is a freebie! I have been enjoying so many fantastic middle-grade books this year which feature witches, whether as main characters or side characters, that I’ve decided to go for my top 10 ‘witchy’ books! I’ve included both books I’ve read and ones I’ve got on my TBR pile which I’m really looking forward to.

These are part of a trilogy which sees Mup’s Mam taking her into a rather terrifying world of witches to rescue her father, who has been kidnapped by them in order to entice her back to Witches Borough . The second book sees her Mum expected to rule over the Borough and the best depiction of a ghost I’ve ever read! Incredibly powerful story-telling. I can’t wait for the final instalment!

The Widdershin sisters are just amazing, trapped by an ancient curse and making use of three magical objects to help them escape it. I can’t wait for their next adventure!

Willow Moss is born into a family of witches, but does not have the most powerful gift: she has the ability to find lost things. When a whole day goes missing, the incredible adventure begins.

Arianwyn Gribble is my favourite good witch in middle-grade. Despite being an apprentice witch, she is sent to the town of Lull to take on the role of town protector – and what a good job she does! I’ve read The Apprentice Witch and have A Witch Alone on my TBR.

There are both good and bad witches in this dark fantasy which really reminded me of my love of fairy-tale witches: both the evil, nasty sort and the good, kind-hearted ones.

The Northwitch is a side character in The Eye of the North, but she is an incredible character who filled me with awe and left me slightly terrified!

This is on my TBR and I’m so looking forward to it. The magical system sounds amazing and I’ve really got to meet the fox!

After reading The Girl Who Drank the Moon, I have decided to move this one up my TBR. It was written before it, but I think it might have Xan who I loved from The Girl Who Drank the Moon

Review: The Girl Who Drank the Moon

Published by Piccadilly Press
Cover Illustration by Yuta Onoda

This is a wondrously dark fantasy which is a symphony of gorgeous story-telling and lyrical imagery which completely entranced me as the magic within unfolded like a kaleidoscope of lightness and darkness. 

In the Protectorate, people live in a perpetual state of sorrow with the awful burden of knowing that a child will be sacrificed to the witch in the cursed forest each year in order that their community will be protected for another cycle.  What the people don’t know is that the witch is not a child-eater, but saves each of the children from certain death.

Xan, the kind and caring witch of the forest, rescues each child and feeds them starlight to sustain them on the long journey to the Free Cities where they are welcomed and brought up as the Star Children.  However, things do not go quite according to plan when she saves Luna, who becomes enmagicked when she is accidentally fed moonlight, a powerful source of magic which is both wonderful and dangerous.

Luna is adopted by Xan and her two companions, Glerk, the wise and gentle Swamp Monster and Fyrian, the humorous Enormous Dragon – who is the size of a dove!  All three love and protect Luna, who is mischievous, curious and energetic, and she in turn adores them.  But her magic threatens to become such a danger to herself and others that Xan has no choice but to lock her magic deep within her, until she turns 13, when her magic begins to re-emerge …

The narrative has multiple viewpoints, but mainly switches between Luna’s story and Antain’s story.  He is the Elder-in-Training who, at the demand of his despicable, power-hungry Uncle, the Grand Elder Gherland, carries Luna into the forest on the Day of Sacrifice, a horror so unbearable that her mother is driven to madness and locked up in the Tower presided over by Sister Ignatius, who has her own secrets and needs.  Filled with guilt and determined to stop the cruelty of the sacrifice, Antain begins to dig deeper into life in the Protectorate …

All the elements of this story fit together like the pieces of a glorious, intricate jigsaw puzzle which, once they are brought together, creates a story of so much depth, beauty, pain and release.  The themes are deeply rooted and profound:  the craving for power at the expense of humanity; the manipulation of the weak by the powerful; the inherent strength in good people to effect change; forces of nature, spirituality and magic; and, the power of hope to overcome grief and sorrow.

I love the way the chapters are named and start with ‘In Which …’ to give a flavour of the content … it’s almost like breadcrumbs are being laid in a trail to entice the reader to follow … should they dare!  I also enjoyed the italicised interludes which leant a deeper understanding to the main story.

This is a beautifully dark and intricate story of the deep protective love and loyalty within family, with magic at its heart, which certainly cast a spell over me.

Review: Malamander

Published by Walker Books
Publication Date: 1st May 2019
Cover Illustration: George Ermos
Author & Interior Illustrations : Thomas Taylor

I was completely mesmerised by the wonderfully old-fashioned, timeless quality of this story which had a Victoriana feel, and a truly exceptional cast of characters.  The mysterious atmosphere is perfectly realised with the winter setting and rolling sea mist, just perfect for hiding, and revealing, secrets at exactly the right moments.

Herbert Lemon is the Lost-and-Founder at the Grand Nautilus Hotel, and he prides himself on being rather good at his job.  However, his life is about to take a rather dramatic turn … when he finds himself face-to-face with a girl who is being chased by an enraged man with a boathook for a hand! 

Because I’m lost … and I’d like to be found.

Violet Parma is looking for her lost parents, and she needs Herbie to help find them.  They went missing from Eerie-on-Sea, leaving her abandoned as a baby at the hotel 12 years previously.  What happened to them?  Does their disappearance have anything to do with the legend of the feared Malamander? 

Rather reluctantly, Herbie agrees to help solve the mystery … and what an adventure it takes them on.  Violet is prescribed a book by the rather creepy Mermonkey at the Book Dispensary which sets them on the trail of the local legend, but they are not the only ones seeking its treasure …

In a place like Eerie-on-Sea, legends can sometimes have a little more … bite.

There is an abundance of tension, danger and fast-paced action as the children race to solve the clues they find before a cast of deliciously nasty characters including Boathook Man, who is much more than he appears, thwart them.  I love the fact that the reader is never quite sure who is a friend and who is a foe, as secrets are revealed and more mysteries appear.  As they get tantalisingly closer to the truth, I was completely swept into the legend … and willing it to be true.  The mixture of present, past and legend fascinated me … and the reveals are just astonishing!

If the impossible is possible anywhere, it’ll be possible in Eerie-on-Sea.

Herbie and Violet are fantastic protagonists who complement each other brilliantly.  Herbie’s background is something of a mystery as he was found washed up on the beach in a crate of lemons.  He is rather cautious and deliberate in his actions whereas Violet is much more adventurous, feisty and daring.  They are both brave and look out for each other, regardless of the danger and fear. 

I have to mention the wonder that is the map of Eerie-on Sea and the splendiferous place and character names:  Mrs Fossil’s Flotsamporium, The Whelk & Walrus Pub, Lady Kraken, Mr Eels:  just brilliant!

Malamander is a truly glorious read which completely hooked me, and reeled me into a world which I definitely want to visit again. 

Review: Anna at War

Publisher: Nosy Crow
Publication Date: 4th July 2019

This story is both an incredible testament to the bravery and resilience of a German refugee during the Second World War, and a good old-fashioned adventure which completely absorbed me and, I am not ashamed to admit, led to heartfelt tears.  Any children’s book that can capture and affect me so deeply is a real credit to the depth, honesty and power of the writing.

The Second World War is studied by many children in Year 6, so I loved the way this story started in a Year 6 class with the children being asked if they knew anyone who lived through the war.  Daniel did and, when he spoke to his Grandmother, he probably wasn’t expecting mention of MI5! 

There aren’t many of us left, and it would be a shame if our stories died with us.

This is the heart-breaking, but ultimately uplifting, story of Daniel’s Grandmother, Anna Schlesinger, who travelled to England from Germany before the outbreak of the War on the kindertransport in order to escape from the cruel and terrifying persecution of the Jewish community by the Nazis.  This persecution is compellingly described and made me appreciate the terror that Anna carries with her throughout the story.  She locks images she can’t deal with in a box locked away in her mind.

Once Anna arrives in England, she is taken by her new foster parents to their family farm in Kent, and a new life begins.  The family, including their two children Molly and Frank, are friendly and welcoming and Anna finds herself settling into her new life, despite the worry for her parents and her nightmares … until the war comes to Kent!

An injured British soldier is hiding in the hayloft, desperate to visit his ill mother … but is he who he appears?  Anna makes a terrifying discovery that makes her nightmares real.  Will she be able to overcome her genuine fear to thwart a plan to cause possibly insurmountable damage to Britain’s war with Germany?  So begins Anna’s incredible tale of courage, daring and determination to help the war effort which sees her involved in a dangerous web of intrigue.

Anna is such a wonderful young protagonist who could easily have been destroyed by her horrific experiences in Germany, but instead she chooses to honour her mother and father by making the most of the opportunities she is given, and by making them proud of her.  She is kind, loyal and courageous despite her heartache and fear, but also reacts in a totally believable way to the prejudice and betrayal she is faced with after the outbreak of war with Germany.  

Threaded throughout this powerful story are themes of loss, sacrifice and prejudice which are just as pertinent to today’s society as they were during the Second World War.  These would make for some fantastic discussion in any Year 6 classroom. 

What can I say about the ending of this story?  It is fair to say that I closed this book with tears streaming down my face, tears of both sorrow and release.  This story is truly inspirational:  heart-breaking in places, but also full of hope that adversity can be overcome, and that goodness will shine through in our darkest moments.

Thank you to Toppsta and Nosy Crow for a copy in exchange for an honest review.

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 still dreams about them sometimes.  Nightmares that leave him wide-eyed and gasping, with fears sixty years old pounding fresh through his blood.

I read The Legend of Podkin One-Ear earlier this year and really thought it was amazing.  I can’t believe I haven’t read this yet – there’s just so many amazing middle-grade books I want to read!  Goodreads synopsis:

The bard tiptoes out of his room, the crow-dream still echoing in his head, making him twitch at imaginary creaks of iron wings . . .

The bard must leave Thornbury. It is not safe for him to stay. Rue, his new apprentice, travels with him – keen to learn his trade – and hear the next instalment in the legend of Podkin One-Ear . . .

Podkin and his fellow rabbits have been sheltering in Dark Hollow after their battle with Scramashank. Paz tends to the rabbits with sleeping sickness; Crom meets with the war council . . . Podkin has nothing to do! Frustrated, Podkin goes exploring and discovers an abandoned underground chamber. Armed with the Gift of Dark Hollow, Podkin learns to moonstride, and Paz is rewarded with a magical gift of her own.

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’m still reading Malamander as I took a break from it to read a book I won on Toppsta.

I recently finished Anna at War by Helen Peters which I won on Toppsta. Oh my goodness, this was a fantastic book which I got up at 6:00am to finish this morning. The story is full of courage, strength and sacrifice – and I absolutely sobbed at the ending – incredible story telling! Review coming shortly

As I’m now off on summer holiday, I’m hoping to get a LOT more reading done! I’m going to read two more from my #20BooksofSummer. This will complete the half I’ve chosen from middle-grade, and then I’ll be moving to YA/Adult reads. I’m also going to read The Space We’re In which I was approved to read via NetGalley.

Review: The Dragon in the Library

Published by Nosy Crow
Publication Date: 6th June 2019
Illustrated by Davide Ortu

Stories are their own magic.

I completely and utterly adored this magical, humorous, action-packed adventure, which is also a celebration of the power of books and libraries to cast a spell over the reader. I’ve been spellbound by books ever since I was a child, relishing the opportunities they provide to allow me to travel to other worlds and to go on adventures with the characters.  And, goodness, I really loved this adventure!

Kit is a bit of a tomboy, enjoying the great outdoors, getting muddy and climbing trees, so it is not surprising that she wants to explore outside – even if it is a cemetery –  with her best friends, Josh and Alita, on the first day of their summer holidays rather than accompany them to their local library. 

Although this book is set in a library, Kit, unlike her friends, is definitely not a fan of books, and feels completely out of place in Chatsworth Library.  She can think of nothing worse than having to read aloud.  Sage advice is given by the librarian, Faith:

No one starts off good at everything.  You get good by doing.

Faith Braithwaite, who is rather more than she appears, is determined to find the perfect book to hook Kit.  This small detail succinctly encapsulates the importance of librarians. Kit makes an incredible discovery whilst checking out a book that changes her life in the most extraordinary way. 

What follows is a magical, action-packed, exciting adventure, suffused with humour, as the children must work together to thwart the evil corporate bad guy, Hadrian Salt, who is a deliciously nasty villain, determined to close down the library.  Does he really just want to add to his corporate empire, or does he have a more sinister reason for buying the library?

The magical system in this story is truly wonderful, and very clever.  I loved wandering and exploring with Kit and her friends.  Of course, as the title suggests, there is a dragon – and an adorable dogon – in the library. 

The children in this story are great friends who support each other wonderfully, and find that they are stronger when they work as a team. 

The illustrations are gorgeous, and really complement the story-telling.  I especially enjoyed the drawings of Hadrian Salt!  And the final image of Kit brought a very warm smile to my face – another win for reading!

Dragons, books, libraries, plucky heroes, magic … the recipe for the perfect book to engage any young reader and those who may not be quite so young, but still remain eager to escape into an exhilarating, magical story.