blog tour · Middle Grade Reviews

Blog Tour: The International Yeti Collective by Paul Mason. Illustrated by Katy Riddell.

Blog Tour: The International Yeti Collective by Paul Mason. Illustrated by Katy Riddell.

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Extract:

‘But now there were only nineteen left and the story behind that was drummed into every youngling. How one of Earth Mother’s children abandoned her slabs – the one called human. And now, many cycles later, she didn’t even look like a yeti at all.’ 

(The International Yeti Collective by Paul Mason. P16.) 

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Synopsis:

Ella is on an expedition in the Himalayas with her Uncle Jack, a television explorer. When they set out, Ella thought the goal was to shoot a nature documentary, but it soon becomes clear that the trip is centered around the question of whether or not yeti exist – and it seems Uncle Jack’s intentions are not entirely honorable. 

Tick is a young Yeti whose questions keep leading him to trouble. When he leads the documentary party to the door of the cave, his sett is forced to abandon their home, leaving the ancient Yeti slabs behind. 

If the slabs are deciphered, it could endanger Yeti all over the world, which would be a disaster for the ecosystem, of which Yeti are the guardians. Can Tick and Ella overcome their fears of one another and work together to recover the slabs before it is too late? 

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Review:

Imagine if the ecosystem had a network of secret guardians, whose role was pivotal for the survival of the planet. Welcome to The International Yeti Collective – the fantasy story of the year, and an idea which you will wish could be true. In this story, those guardians are under threat, and with them the wellbeing of our planet. 

Enter Tick – a hapless but loveable Yeti, and Ella. Like the very real children who give up their spare time to raise awareness of the issues faced by our planet, Ella is a small person with shedloads of determination. She doesn’t always realise this, but just by being decent and having the right ideas she is well ahead of many of the grown-ups around her. 

Environmental themes are long overdue in children’s fiction. Teaching children the science is important so that they understand the stark choice humanity must face, but teaching them a love for the planet and a determination to help is even more important. Their generation may be the very last with a say in this issue because if we don’t act in the next few years, it will simply be too late to make any meaningful change. What I love about The International Yeti Collective is its heart. It is a great, entertaining story, but it also shows how much empathy with our fellow creatures means. 

This is also a story with tribes – and we all love a good tribe, faction, house or another fictional sorting. The different Yeti tribes live around the world and care for different aspects of the eco-system. I am torn between four or five tribes, based on places and creatures I love, and activities I might be good at. In this instance there is no ‘better’ tribe because the key here is balance – every one of these natural places needs help, and the more we can do the better. 

As part of the blog tour, I was given a beautiful map that shows the locations of the different Yeti tribes. It also comes with a handy guide explaining real-world issues these tribes are facing today. 

 

Lou Nettleton - Yeti Map

Lou Nettleton - Yeti Tribes 1

Lou Nettleton - Yeti Tribes 2

Lou Nettleton - Yeti Tribes 3

Lou Nettleton - Yeti Tribes 4

 

Thanks to Little Tiger Press for inviting me to take part in this promotional blog tour, and for my copy of the book. Opinions my own.

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blog tour · Middle Grade Reviews

Blog Tour: The Ghouls Of Howlfair by Nick Tomlinson.

Blog Tour: The Ghouls Of Howlfair by Nick Tomlinson.

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Extract:

‘The town motto?’ said Molly. ‘I think so. It’s only a short motto, but it’s in code, and to crack the code you need to understand about five different mythologies. I had to read about fifty books.’

‘So what does it mean?’

‘It means If Howlfair falls, the whole world falls.

(The Ghouls Of Howlfair by Nick Tomlinson. P29.)

 

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Synopsis:

The Howlfair tourist board would like everyone to believe it is the spookiest place around, and nobody is buying it, but behind the painted boards and the funny costumes, something seriously creepy is lurking.

Molly Thompson is forever in trouble. The last thing she needs on her hands is another investigation. Then an elderly lady dies at the guest home where Molly lives, and her ghost leaves a message which Molly can’t ignore. Howlfair is in trouble from an evil which is set to rise.

Together with her friend Lowry, Molly sets out to uncover the mysteries of her local town against the backdrop of a Mayoral election. The only trouble is everyone and everything is starting to look suspicious.

A seriously spooky mystery adventure.

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Review:

Imagine a sleepy little tourist town where trouble is brewing. This setting had me hooked because it reminded me straight away of Penelope Lively’s middle-grade novels. Little places which are easy to forget, mind-numbingly boring to grow up in … and crammed with history and stories. That is what I love most about The Ghouls Of Howlfair. As well as uncovering something spooky, the main character Molly realises how rich Howlfair is in hidden legends.

I love it when mystery stories include fantasy or supernatural elements. In the past couple of years, there have been two or three stories that have done this well, and I am always excited to see a merge of genres. In Howlfair, most people think the spooky stories are past their sell-by date, but Molly is a budding historian and she knows there is truth in some of the old records.

Molly investigates everything, but she isn’t classically brave. She’s bookish and awkward and loves her cat Gabriel more than anyone in the world. I loved having a character who wasn’t an obvious hero. In real life, we all have different traits and personalities, but we are all capable of making different choices and rising to the occasion. All the characters in this story felt realistic, and this made them more memorable.

With Halloween coming up, lots of people will be looking for a scary story. This was honestly more frightening than I thought, with seriously creepy ghouls and very casual references to death and the macabre. The storyline itself is hilariously fun, and the backdrop of the sleepy town balances out the scary to make for a brilliant tale. I can see this being popular with humans, ghouls, ghosts, and monsters as Halloween approaches. Just be warned – read this with the light on!

 

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Thanks to Walker Books UK for inviting me to take part in this promotional blog tour. Opinions my own.

Middle Grade Reviews

Review: Trouble In New York by Sylvia Bishop. Illustrated by Marco Guadalupi.

Review: Trouble In New York by Sylvia Bishop. Illustrated by Marco Guadalupi.

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Extract:

His first scoop. He carefully folded the note and placed it back on the desk, before putting his fingers on the keys of the typewriter and hammering out

By Jamie Creeden

It looked just as good as he had always imagined it would. 

(Trouble In New York by Sylvia Bishop. P42.)

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Synopsis:

Paperboy Jamie Creeden loves the news. His biggest dream is to be a reporter for the Morning Yorker. He is given a chance to visit the paper’s offices, and on the same day the paper reports an actress missing. Jamie sees his chance to investigate and is drawn into a world of underground criminals and strange events.

Together with Eve, whose family owns the Morning Yorker, and Rose, whose father has been affected by recent events, Jamie tries to solve the mystery before another journalist takes his scoop.

Will Jamie still want to be a reporter when he uncovers the truth?

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Review:

I recently read The Secret Of The Night Train, Sylvia Bishop’s middle-grade mystery published in 2018, and fell in love with her playful yet intelligent style. It was a pleasure to have her latest novel to hand, and I am impressed with how she has built a mystery around a topic issue. Set in the 1960s, at a time when television news is causing a threat to print journalism for the first time, Trouble In New York is a mystery with themes that are relevant in the present day.

Jamie is a great character – he is driven so much by his interests and ambition to become a reporter that at times he forgets all else. He wants to be a good friend, and his morals are in the right place, but getting to a story before adult journalists and winning a competition for young reporters is the central focus of his life. He has read The Morning Yorker every day for practically as long as he can remember. He would trust every word it says.

A trip to the offices suggests things aren’t as rosy and brilliant as they first seem. The workers in the office are male, white and from the same privelleged backgrounds. They think it is a good joke that a paperboy can imagine himself in the same role, and their interest in journalistic values only reaches as far as their next pay packet. It is one of these slacking journalists who gives Jamie his chance to investigate a real story. Except doing so puts Jamie into a whole lot of danger – and also puts him on the scent of a real story.

The trio of main characters has a wonderful dynamic as a group. They each have strengths and flaws in their personalities, and it feels as though the writer has had huge fun writing the different characters’ responses to the same situations. All three are faced with questions about their futures – Eve is expected to live up to family values and expectations, Rose wants to be a firefighter to prove she can be brave, and Jamie reckons he would do anything to become a reporter. Their learning and growth are wonderful, and they make a great team.

This will feed the appetite of mystery readers, while the deeper questions the book explores make it a good choice for readers who are less familiar with the genre. The trio of memorable characters would make this a fabulous first in a series, although Sylvia Bishop has written so well in different settings that I look forward to finding out where her next story is set.  

 

Thanks to Scholastic LTD for my copy of Trouble In New York. Opinions my own.

 

Middle Grade Reviews

Review: The Time Of Green Magic by Hilary McKay

Review: The Time Of Green Magic by Hilary McKay

Time Of Green Magic

Extract:

The cat thing sunk down, deep and heavy on the bed. The night air from the window was cold, but the cat-thing was warm, and Louis found himself wishing it would purr. 

‘Iffen …’ he murmured, and found the cat-thing’s eyes on his, a direct golden gaze that went straight to his astonished, worshipping soul. 

(The Time Of Green Magic by Hilary McKay. P51.) 

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Synopsis:

Abi is happily growing up with Dad and Granny Grace. Then a chance accident brings Dad together with Polly. Granny Grace moves away, Dad and Polly marry and Abi is forced to share her life with stepbrothers.

Then the family moves to the ivy-covered house, and strange things start to happen.

Abi tumbles into books, Max notices strange things lurking in dark corners, and Louis summons a wild animal into his bedroom. Unless the children come together, they will be unable to change things. Can they figure out where the strange creature came from and send it back?

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Review:

Abi prefers life when it is quiet. She likes to hide away and read, which is pretty difficult with a small step-brother she never asked for grabbing at her stuff. But, over time, an understanding emerges between Abi and Louis. They’ve seen things in the strange new house. Things which should be impossible.

The ivy-covered house is up there among the most memorable of magical houses in children’s literature. It is subtle magic, yet it is one which reflects the children’s’ internal struggles and eventually brings them together. I was especially touched by Louis’s longing for a granny just like Granny Grace, and Abi’s difficulties in sharing the people in her life. Divorce narratives once read like tales of woe. This story is more subtle. It hints at hurt and anger but also shows love and new friendships and recognition which grows over time as new connections grow between the people involved.

The other star of the story is Iffen, the wild cat Louis summons into his bedroom. Exactly what species is he? Where does he come from? Readers will enjoy posing theories as the mystery grows.

Hilary McKay’s writing is a joy. The sentences and words are crafted to perfection so that it is impossible not to whisper certain parts aloud. The experience of reading was almost like listening to a storyteller because the words were beautiful and the story kept me hanging on at every twist and turn.

A gentle and lyrical story from a  master storyteller. This is a wonderful book about the bonds between families, and what it takes to shape them.

 

Thanks to Macmillan Children’s Books for my gifted copy of A Time Of Green Magic. Opinions my own.

Middle Grade Reviews

Review: Under Earth by Ellen Renner

Review: Under Earth by Ellen Renner

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Extract:

‘He’ll try to dazzle you with riches and promises! Keep your wits about you, Niece, and meet me in the Merry Whale in a five-day when the sun is six hands risen above the sea.’ (Under Earth by Ellen Renner. P29.)

 

Synopsis:

Storm’s duties as a Weather witch are getting real. She must give up her identity as a female, sail with the fleet and remain loyal to Yanlin. Her first big test turns out to be the trading island of Bellum. Bellum’s wealth is tightly controlled by a collective called the Pact, who shower Storm with gifts and attention, but it is apparent that the Pact want something of Storm’s powers in return.

The more Storm sees of Bellum Town, the more questions she has. Why are there children in poverty when there is so much wealth on the island? Why are there no local artisans? And what does the Salamander – the great, god-like spirit of fire which wants her dead – have in store for Storm?

As Storm pieces together the evidence, she learns more about her own magic. About the reason she was chosen by the other three Elementals.

 

Review:

Under Earth follows on from Storm Witch, a middle-grade fantasy which won my love in 2018. Storm lives in a world where great god-like beings rule over earth, air, water and fire. Three of these Elementals have chosen storm for a mission. The fourth, the Salamander of Fire, has tried to kill her – and will try again as it tries to upset the balance of the world and gain power. Storm knows she has been chosen as a Weather witch but not why. This story follows her as she comes to terms with what she must accept and sacrifice in order to fulfill her role.

It also introduces a new part of the world. Bellum Island is one of the wealthiest nations, yet the majority of its money is hoarded by an elite group of families. Other citizens are barely recognised as such. They are treated as second-rate people. As scavengers and slackers and a complete drain on the island’s resources. What is more, traditional skills are at an all-time low. The island no longer produces things of its own. All of its wealth is in trade. Bellum may be beautiful on the surface, especially to a guest of the Pact, but at its heart, its values are rotten to the core.

Similarities between Bellum and current-day Britain are striking. This book explores political crisis from the angle of trade and international relations, both concepts which too many adults ignore when talking about Brexit and austerity.  While these are deep subjects, they are woven into the story in such a way to provide rich details without slowing the pace. The main question for the readers is will Storm be tempted away from her home in Yanlin? Or forced?

There’s also her ongoing fight with the Salamander. This is something I loved about the series from the start. Think Moana. Think of a sea-based world where knowledge of the Gods remains to varying extents, but where everyone knows the origin stories. That’s Storm’s world too. Fire has always been held in check by Earth, Air and Water, but now it is making a bid for greater power. The consequences, if it breaks free, could destroy the world.

The ending has left me desperate for the next installment. It also linked back to those themes of austerity in a touching way. There is something about Storm which makes her different from every ‘chosen one’ you can think of. I can’t say more without spoilers, but I found this side of the story touching and brilliant.

Under Earth moves the story along while living up to the magic of Storm Witch. I am already waiting to get my hands on the third volume. Great stuff.

 

Thanks to Nosy Crow LTD for my copy of Under Earth. Opinions my own.

Middle Grade Reviews

Review: The House Of Light by Julia Green.

Review: The House Of Light by Julia Green.

The House Of Light

Extract:

He was shivering. His feet were bare. His clothes torn. She was sure he hadn’t eaten for a long time. But he seemed intent on moving the boat. He rocked it back and forth, loosening it from the snow and sand. He lifted it up from one end, and with a deft shove he flipped it right over. He must be much stronger than he looked. He began to push the boat away from the dunes, away from her, down the beach.

(The House Of Light by Julia Green. P32.)

 

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Synopsis:

Bonnie and Granda live quietly together, keeping to themselves and following their own interests in spite of all the regulations and rules from the authorities. One day, Bonnie finds a battered old boat on the beach. When news comes that the Border Guards are searching for a boy, Bonnie decides to find him first.

Ish has travelled a long way. He is cold and hungry and alone in the world. He needs shelter but keeping him safe is a criminal offence. As Bonnie and Ish talk about art and borders and people who pass through the island, Bonnie begins to wonder if there is a place out there where she can be free to live without fear of regulations. Would she be brave enough to search for such light?

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Review:

In a sea of divisions, hatred and narrow ideas, it can be difficult to know where to look for the light. Children are currently faced with news stories about global crises and politicians who shut these out to focus on their own agenda. I remember, as a child, being frightened about what 9/11 meant. Goodness knows how today’s children feel.

This masterful novel offers readers a safe space to think about these issues. It is also a story of empathy and friendship. From the moment I saw the boat, I wanted the owner to find shelter. To find people who cared. Julia Green creates powerful images which draw us in long before we know the details.

Bonnie is aptly named. She lives in a time of tight controls, where obedience and conformity are enforced, but she has been taught other values. About art and empathy and places far away. She drinks the world in, combing beaches and singing with Granda and dreaming of a time when people were free to see other parts of the world. She is a vessel of all the beautiful things which are less valued under the regime she lives in.

Her outlook is beautiful. It offers hope because so long as someone remembers these values, they are not lost. They can return.

This is a novel of our times, but it is also a novel of nature. Of outdoors. Julia Green’s books make me want to get out an explore as much as any nature biography. Her descriptions conjure the setting so well that becomes real, and the story is peppered with facts which would make anyone hungry to explore. Her books remind everyone that nature is miraculous and out there discover.

Although the themes of this story sound bleak, Julia Green is a masterful writer, and the main feelings which the reader would take away are hope. Hope and a sense of wonder at the beautiful things which are out there to find. At the difference one small person can make. This is children’s literary fiction at its finest. A beacon of light and a beautiful story.

 

Thanks to Oxford University Press for my gifted copy of The House Of Light. Opinions my own.

Middle Grade Reviews

Review: The Switching Hour by Damaris Young

Review: The Switching Hour by Damaris Young

Switching Hour

Extract:

‘Until the rains arrive,’ Granny Uma said, ‘you must come home before the Switching Hour. No one is safe from Badeko the Dream Eater at night, no matter how fast you think you can run.’ 

(The Switching Hour by Damaris Young. P15.)

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Synopsis:

Everyone knows about Badeko. He creeps into house and steals away children to devour their dreams. When he has finished feasting on them, the memory of their existence disappears from their loved ones, who then suffer from terrible grief known as The Sorrow Sickness.

Amaya knows the rules. Every night she locks the door to protect herself and her little brother from the sorrow sickness. Then one day she loses her temper and in the aftermath, she forgets to lock the door.

Her small brother is taken, except Amaya determines to bring him back. With the help of her pet goat Tau and new friend Mally, Amaya sets out to find the Badeko’s nest.

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Review:

When a talented storyteller begins a tale, it creates a feeling in the reader. Something like a shiver, except they are so hooked that they sit still. This is the feeling I had whilst reading The Switching Hour. I knew from the first page that I was in the hands of a talented author.

The story also centres around climate issues, which have never been more relevant given the climate emergency which threatens life on our planet. Amaya lives in an extreme climate, and the terrible creature which steals children from their homes was awoken by drought. The community desperately awaits the rains which will send Badeko back to sleep. This is the first time I have seen a tale about a creature awoken by climate crisis, and yet it felt like something I knew inside my heart. As if the story is already playing out around us and the author told it in the very best way.

On a personal note, Amaya’s grief for her mother was told in a real and beautiful way. As a twenty-something who has just undergone the same loss, I related to much of what Amaya felt. That desperate fear that I will forget details about my mother, and that I am not doing as she would want in any given situation. Bereavement and loss is not only a thing that happened at some point in time. It shapes a person’s reactions and thoughts and emotions ever after. The Switching Hour shows this to perfection.

The story feels like a folk tale not only because of the forest and the fantastical creature but because it tells a story of our times and poses a question: do we want this to happen?

The Switching Hour is not only a strong concept, it is told with language so beautiful it gets under the skin. This is storytelling. This is what a good book looks like.  

A haunting and memorable debut.

 

Thanks to Scholastic Children’s Books for my gifted copy of The Switching Hour. Opinions my own.