Guest Post

Blog Tour: Mirror Magic by Claire Fayers

Mirror Magic author Claire Fayers 

Mirror Magic is a middle grace fantasy about a world which is like ours, and yet unlike ours. It is about a girl called Ava who shares a connection with a Fair Folk boy. 

I am delighted to take part in the blog tour, and to welcome author Claire Fayers to my blog. 

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If William the Conqueror had Magic

Claire Fayers

Mirror Magic imagines a world exactly like our own but with one big difference – magic exists. Fairy mirrors connect us to the Unworld where the Fair Folk have promised to provide magical goods and services to anyone who asks.

The story starts in 1842, when most mirrors have stopped working and only one small town on the border of Wales and England still has access to the Unworld. The Wyse Weekly Mirror (expertly designed by Jess at Macmillan Children’s Books) gives an insight into daily happenings in the last town of magic.

But what of other time periods?

What would newspapers look like if, for example William the Conqueror had magic (and newspapers).

 

William the Conjuror Sets Sights on England

Inhabitants of southern England are today being urged to remain calm amid rumours that William, Duke of Normandy, is planning an invasion of the Kent coast.

Normandy is well known for its enchanted apples and it is feared that Duke William has singled out Kent as suitable land for an extension of his vast orchards.

Williams denies this. “The people of Normandy have a great fondness for Kent,” he said, speaking from his castle. “Many of us enjoy visiting in the summer months.”

Many French people have indeed been seen in Kent, measuring fields and complaining about the quality of the local cider.” Tourists or invaders? King Harold of England has so far declined to comment except to say he is aware of the situation.

 

Stamford Bridge Army ‘An Illusion’

The Norman army camped near Stamford Bridge in the north of England has proved to be a fairy illusion.

The deception was discovered too late for King Harold who had already marched all his forces north to meet the threat.

Meanwhile, a large number of tourists have arrived on the south coast from France and set up camp outside Hastings. “We are definitely not an army,” said William of Normandy, polishing his armour.

 

Harold Defeated at Hastings

Harold is dead. Long live King William of England.

After a fierce battle of arms and magic, King Harold has been defeated at Hastings. Harold, who was tricked into taking his army north, conjured a fairy road to travel back, but the journey exhausted his men and by the time they reached the Norman invaders, they were relying on magical energy potions.

Because of this, Harold insisted on keeping his magic mirror with him in the thick of battle. This proved his undoing when a stray arrow pierced the glass and Harold lost control of the Unworld. Witnesses report thick mist flowing from the broken mirror across the field of battle, turning the grass foul shades of orange and purple. Harold led a final, desperate charge at William’s mirror, but the Norman archers were ready and the king died under a hail of arrows.

 

Huge thanks to Claire Fayers for your wonderful post and to Karen Bultiauw for organising the blog tour. Mirror Magic is available from 14th June.

 

 

 

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Middle Grade Reviews

Review: Mirror Magic by Claire Fayers

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Extract:

‘…Mirrors are usually passed down from father to son, but they don’t have to be. It is said that the original conjurors had some fairy blood in them, which was why they could use the mirrors, and that ability runs through families.’ 

(Mirror Magic by Claire Fayers. P29.)

birdSynopsis:

Wyse is the only town left in Britain with a connection to the magical Unworld. Ava and her brother Matthew are forced to return to Wyse following the death of their father. The once magical town is no longer so magical, and it is under the control of Lord Skinner. What does Lord Skinner want? Why is he so interested in Ava Harcourt?

Ava looks into a magical mirror and meets Howell, who lives in Unwyse in the magical Unworld. Howell is the only one of the Fair Folk without magic. It seems he is doomed to a life of drudgery until the sinister Mr Bones takes a special interest in him.

What is the connection between Lord Skinner and Mr Bones? Ava and Howell race to discover the truth and save the magic which connects the two worlds.

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Review:

An enchanting middle-grade fantasy. I love the setting: 1852, a town on the border between England and Wales, which happens to be the last place in Britain with a connection to the magical Unworld. I loved that premise that reflections are something more than what we see in the mirror. That conjurors can bring magical mirrors to life and use them to communicate with the Unworld.

There are several mysteries set up early on in the story: what happened that Ava’s father cut ties with the magical world? Is the mark on Ava’s face really left over from measles? Why have the magical mirrors stopped working? Who is Mr Bones and why does he want The Book? The answers are all connected in a way which is not immediately apparent, and I love how the story affects people on both sides of the mirror.

The world building is sublime. From fairy-tat gift shops to the mirror station, it feels as if Claire Fayers has visited her world rather than invented it. I loved how the magical setting fitted neatly in with British history. Some people reckon The Industrial Revolution killed the need for magic, for example, and magic is developing alongside industrial progress.

The book of magic which Ava and Howell must protect has a mind of its own. It can see into the future. Words appear on its pages, sometimes warning the characters of imminent danger, at other times spouting about novels which have not yet been written or events which will happen in 60 years. It is a witty, snarky book. Excerpts from the book appear at the head of each chapter, and I imagine they will cause young readers great hilarity.

I enjoyed this story very much. It is a must for fans of James Nicol and Abi Elphinstone. A real gem.

 

Thanks to Karen Bultiauw and Macmillain Children’s Books for my copy of Mirror Magic. Opinions my own.

Uncategorized

Review: Kat Wolfe Investigates

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Extract:

Kat put down her smoothie. ‘That’s the worst ever crime in Bluebell Bay – A stolen pumpkin?’ 

‘It wasn’t just any pumpkin,’ said Margot defensively. ‘It was a County Fair prize-winning, record-breaking pumpkin.’ 

(Kat Wolfe Investigates, P71, Lauren St John.) 

 

birdSynopsis:

Strange things are happening in Bluebell Bay. 

Following a break-in at their London flat, Kat Wolfe and her mother move to Bluebell Bay on the Jurrasic Coast. Kat’s Mum takes a position as the local vet, Kat gets the pet of her dreams and she is able to set-up as a pet sitter in return for some pocket money. Best of all, Bluebell Bay is supposedly crime-free. Nothing has happened since the theft of a prize pumpkin.

Then a local man and parrot owner Ramon disappears. Kat reckons something terrible has happened but only ‘incorrigible’ Harper Lamb takes her seriously. Their investigations bring them to the attention of several people, including Kat’s estranged Grandfather, the Minister Of Defence. 

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Review:

Kat Wolfe starts a new series from the wonderful Lauren St John. I have enjoyed her books for a number of years. Like Enid Blyton, Lauren St John matches young detectives with animal companions to memorable settings. Her stories always come to a rewarding conclusion. She is my go-to for a middle-grade mystery binge-fest. 

Kat Wolfe has all the winning qualities of the earlier books. Kat Wolfe and Harper Lamb make a fearless female team, and a cast of supporting characters has been established. I particularly loved Edith, the grudgingly-retired librarian, and Kat’s grandfather Lord Dirk Hamilton-Crosse.

I enjoyed the case of the missing parrot-owner. What appears to be a straightforward mystery turns into something deeper and more complex. Apparently disparate events come together into something huge. Without any spoilers, I loved the answer. It is topical and thought-provoking. Lauren St John’s novels always teach me something about the world. 

Animals play a big part in the book. There is Tiny, who is half Savannah-cat, a horse called Charming Outlaw, Bailey the parrot, Toby the dog, Hero the rescue cat and Eva the capuchin. As a cat-whisperer and lover of animals, I loved the messages about respect for animal friends. Lauren St John’s books more than any other recognise the difference between treating animals as pets and respecting pets as animals. Kat allows Tiny to come to her, she knows Charming Outlaw is frisky because he needs lots of exercise and she liberates Bailey from his cage. Over and over we see Kat respecting the animals as living creatures and I want to give this a double thumbs-up. 

If you’re looking for a solid mystery story, look no further. I look forward to further adventures from Wolfe and Lamb. 

Picture Book Reviews · Picture Books

Blog Tour: Four things I liked about The Adventures Of Eric The Spider

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Eric is scary, he’s hairy and he is a whole load of fun.

The Adventures Of Eric The Spider is a self-published picture book which follows Eric through three short, rhyming adventures. The first story introduces Eric, the second sees him go camping where he is forced to confront the great outdoors, and the final story follows him on his birthday. 

Here are some of the things I like about the book:

  • The illustrations are bold, bright and full of character. I particularly like the spiders. The illustrator has clearly spent time observing how spiders move. 
  • I like spiders. As a kid, I often felt like the odd one out, and I also felt bewildered by other people’s reactions to harmless critters. This story puts the reader on Eric’s side. I hope it will help some young readers to respect spiders for what they are. 
  • Eric gets into some humorous predicaments. Spiders are much smaller than humans, so there is scope for situations which would not be possible with a human character. 
  • The short sections offer high reward to less confident readers.

 

Thanks to Faye Rogers PR for my copy of The Adventures Of Eric The Spider. Opinions my own.

Disney

Disney: Favourite Villain Songs

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Think of your favourite Disney songs and odds are at least one of them is a villain song. Disney are brilliant at exploring the darker side of human experience. Most of the songs here are as equally about the protagonist’s temptations as they are about the villain. A good villain song should be catchy, it should tap into the dissastisfaction most of us feel at some point and it should give us a clue about how the story is going to pan out. The songs I’ve chosen, without fail, tell us about the villain’s agenda. I love the music, the animation and how they reveal more about the characters. 

Here are my five favourite Disney villain songs.

 

  • Poor Unfortunate Souls

Sea Witch Ursula agrees to give mermaid Ariel legs so she can live ashore with her prince. End of the story? It’s only the beginning. Poor Unfortunate Souls is where Ursula reveals the catch. Ariel must give up her voice and get true love’s kiss within three days, or forfeit her soul to Ursula for all eternity. This is one of the best Disney villain songs. It is totally relatable – who hasn’t felt they will waste away if they don’t achieve their greatest desires? The more Ursula insists her service is practically sainthood, the more obvious is becomes she knows exactly what she is doing. She is the archetypal snake-oil merchant, profiting from other people’s misery.

 

  • Be Prepared

Scar plans to overthrow his brother King Mufasa and murder his young nephew Simba. He raises an army of hyenas, promising they will never go hungry if they help with his plan. In this song he incites the hyenas into actions. It is pretty dark as Disney goes, not least because it shows how a political leader can rouse the masses into action. Scar doesn’t respect his hyena army – he openly insults them – but he knows they are integral to his campaign.

 

  • Friends On The Other Side

The theme of the song is very similar to Poor Unfortunate Souls. Prince Naveen believes his problems will be solved by money and connections. He wants to marry a rich girl. Dr Facilier offers Naveen a transformation, but the outcome isn’t quite what he expected. Instead of making him wealthy, Facilier and his demonic friends turn Naveen into a frog.

While trippy animation introduces us to the demonic friends, Dr Facilier’s voice remains steady. He manipulates Naveen in the same easy way Ursula manipulates Ariel.

 

  • We Are Siamese

A pair of cats cause trouble and are only prevented from disturbing a baby by puppy Lady. This song is the epitome of understatement. The cats sing about their finer qualities in the same breath as they plan trouble. Their refined manners act as a perfect mask. When Lady chases the cats away from the baby, the cats pretend to be victims and Lady is sent out in disgrace.

 

  • Mother Knows Best

Rapunzel wants to leave the tower. Mother sings a nursey-rhyme style song about all the terrible things which might happen outside the tower. This is another relatable song – every young person is forced to confront the fact that their parents can’t solve everything. The song shows us what happens if we don’t get past those feelings. Mother is loving and protective to an extent which is creepy. The sickly-sweet tune contrasts with clips which make mother look totally spooky. 

 

Do you have a favourite Disney villain song? Any characters without an anthem who totally need one? Let me know in the comments below.

Middle Grade Reviews

Blog Tour: Across The Divide by Anne Booth

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Extract:

‘You can use something to symbolize something else. You can wear a flower and somehow it makes you think about someone getting killed. Except maybe we are too used to the image of poppies now, and don’t really think about what they mean anymore.’

(Across The Divide by Anne Booth. P78.)

birdSynopsis:

Olivia’s Mum has always had a thing about pacifism. She has embarrassed her daughter before by turning up at school with a box of white poppies. Olivia wishes Mum would keep quiet. They live in an army town, and lots of people find Mum’s ideas offensive.

Now school wants to open a cadet unit. Olivia feels torn between her veteran soldier grandfather and her pacifist mother. Worse than that, her friend Aidan refuses to join on the grounds of pacifism, and everyone at school takes sides.

When Mum is arrested following a protest, Olivia is sent to stay with her Dad who is renting a cottage on the island of Lindisfarne. There she has time to think over her torn friendships and to find out about the strange boy in an overcoat who she keeps seeing around the island.

birdReview:

This had so many story lines I loved. There is the story of Olivia’s debate about school. The mystery of William, the strange boy who stays at Lindisfarne Castle. The other story I liked was the relationship between Olivia and her Dad. Olivia’s parents were teenagers when she was born and she has been raised by her Grandparents and her Mother. Dad went away to uni and never looked back. Now Olivia is 14 and Dad is ready to be a parent. I thought the story was fair to both Olivia and Dad. I felt able to empathise with the scenario from both perspectives.

The themes of division and loyalty felt relevant to the current political climate. The novel looks at propaganda, freedom of speech and how quickly our political beliefs divide us. It focused a specific issue – whether cadet units should be attached to schools – and showed how people in a community can turn against one another and resort to propaganda and hatred instead of reasonable debate.

I liked how the contemporary story was more important than the time-slip. Olivia’s brush with the past allowed her to look at the present in a different way. An enjoyable and thought-provoking novel which made me want to seek out more from the author.

 

Thanks to LauraSmythe PR for organising the blog tour and for my ARC. Opinions my own.

 

 

Young Adult Reviews

Blog Tour: All Of This Is True by Lygia Day Penaflor

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Synopsis:

A young boy lies brain-dead. The press are having a field-day, linking his story to a bestselling YA author and the gatherings she held at her Long Island home. Three teenagers sell conflicting stories to the press as each of them tries to unravel the events of the past month to make sense of what happened to Jonah, and their friendship with writer Fatima Ro.birdReview:

Your next binge-read. Think One Of Us Is Lying, throw in some observation of human psychology and three conflicting opinions. All Of This Is True brings the epistolary novel right up to date, with interviews, recordings, group chats and emails.

Who was Jonah before he came to prestigious private school Graham? What happened between the four teenagers and bestselling author Fatima Ro? Why is Jonah brain-dead? These questions are set up early on and I promise you won’t stop reading until you have the full picture.

This story is interspersed with extracts from Fatima Ro’s novel The Absolution Of Brady Stevenson. By the end of the story, Brady feels as real as any of the other characters. The result is we feel we know Jonah. This raises some interesting debates. It is difficult to discuss this in any detail without spoilers, but whatever we feel about Brady, we know nothing about Jonah. If we draw a conclusion from fiction, should we necessarily apply it to real life? This is one of the questions posed by the novel. 

Did Fatima Ro use the teens? My mind isn’t made up. She certainly didn’t think through the possible consequences if Jonah was identified. More interestingly, the media which vilify her is keen to profit from the same story, to the extent that the overarching voice in this narrative is not Jonah, or Miri, or Penny or Soleil or Fatima (who, incidentally, is barely more than a teen herself.) It is the voice of the interviewers.

A fast-paced and intriguing read. I recommend reading in as few sittings as possible to keep track of the different voices, and to allow the story to build.

 

Thanks to Lucinda for organising the blog tour. Opinions my own.