Middle Grade Reviews

Review: Frostfire by Jamie Smith

Review: Frostfire by Jamie Smith

Extract:

Sabira jumped at the sound, for there was no one but the three of them there. Except, of course, there was another as well, hanging around Tserah’s neck.Her fraction of the mountain god. Her frostsliver.This was the first time it had spoken to Sabira – they rarely talked to anyone they were not bonded with.‘Thank you, I think,’ said Sabira, looking at Tserah, for the cleric’s senses were shared with her bonded frostsliver. Tserah smiled and touched her hand to the blue glow in her clothes.

.They all seemed to have such confidence in her. It scared Sabira. Her life had been full of uncertainty and it was hard to believe that now would be different. She turned to face the last stretch of the path, the glacier clouded by fog. For a moment, she stood still, gathering her courage. This was it. This was where she followed in the footsteps of every Aderasti that had come before . . .and the footsteps of her brother, Kyran. She blinked away a tear. She didn’t feel ready at all. Sabira took her first step.

 

Synopsis:

At fourteen, Aderasti children are tested for the honour of bonding with a Frostfire – a fragment of ice with great power. A year after her brother goes missing, Sabira begins her journey up the mountain to bond with her Frostfire, but her plans are disrupted by an avalanche.

In order to survive, Sabria must face natural and man-made disasters and face up to the truth about what happened to her brother. A story of survival and heroism.

 

Review: 

Snuggle up under a blanket and enter Sabira’s icy world.This book for me was all about the journey. The landscape felt so real that Icould her every footstep and see every cloud of breath hanging in the frozen air.

 This story will be hit with fans of Frozen. Five years on from release, the original audience is getting bigger and looking for more complex wintery-stories. Frostfire holds the same magic of glaciers and tribes and mythical beings, but it has an edge – this is no harmless landscape. The very first sentence tells us that The mountain had murder in mind and this summarises the tone of the story.

Sabira is a tenacious heroine and also a realistic one. She is uncertain about her destiny. Even when she is chosen for the great honour of bonding with the Frostsliver and takes on the quest, she has other ideas of where she wants her life to go. We bond with her because she sees dreams beyond the walls of her village and her head isn’t turned by the offer of a prestigious future.

There is more than one opposing force in the story. Both human greed and natural disaster get in Sabira’s way, and there is more out on the mountain than she has ever realised. The political backstory gives us a sense of a world beyond Sabira’s borders and we know there are people who will go to great lengths to take the Frostslivers for themselves.  

If you like highly-developed fantasy worlds and epic quests this is the story for you. A heroine who must face a journey and decide who she wants to become. The descriptive-writing is so strong it will leave goosebumps on your arms.

 

Thanks to Chicken House Books and Laura Smythe PR for my copy of Frostfire. Opinions my own. 

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Blogmas 2018 · christmas · Middle Grade Reviews

Review: The Truth Pixie by Matt Haig And Chris Mould

Review: The Truth Pixie by Matt Haig And Chris Mould

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Review: The Truth Pixie by Matt Haig And Chris Mould

Once upon a time, a little pixie was cursed to always tell the truth. Always – even when it might be insulting. Every single social situation goes wrong and Truth Pixie is about to give up when she is confronted with Aada – an unhappy child who wants to know if things get better. Truth Pixie is terrified because all she can tell is the truth …

A rhyme which will speak to anyone who has ever been afraid or had a difficult time.

Matt Haig is an author who has written and spoken about his experiences with mental health. He is an advocate for changing attitudes towards mental health, particularly towards eradicating the stigma and giving mental and physical health equal priority.

Aada is the character in the story who appears to need a comforting fib. Her Dad is out of money, they will be forced to move from their house and Gran is terribly ill. Aada is going to lose friends as a result of her situation. Most people would tell Aada it’s all OK – but the difficult truth is, it isn’t. Lying won’t change Aada’s situation and it won’t make her feel better in the long-run. I related to this. I can’t bear it when someone dies and the news is drawn out into a string of false hope and comfort. The only way to deal with something so huge is to hear it. It will be terrible. It will be dire. Telling people otherwise will never, ever change this. 

Truth Pixie has the right words because, just as Aada is about to face a dark time, better times will come again. There will be times when life feels impossibly wonderful and times when it feels unbearable. This is the unfortunate truth of the human experience … and knowing it can make the dark times bearable.

The Truth Pixie is a character from the Christmas stories by Matt Haig and Chris Mold. Hearing this message from a familiar character will add an extra-dimension because it associates positive approaches to mental health with existing works. If characters from these stories have bad mental health moments, it reassures the reader that these experiences are normal and manageable.

The Truth Pixie is an open, honest rhyme which will help anyone facing a difficult time. It will also make people who are a bit too honest for their own good feel better, and give them confidence that just as the truth can be difficult, sometimes it can be the best policy.

 

Thanks to Canongate Books for my copy of The Truth Pixie. Opinions my own.

Middle Grade Reviews

Review: City Of Ghosts by Victoria Schwab

Review: City Of Ghosts by Victoria Schwab

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Extract:

I’ve seen people on TV – ‘ghost whisperers’ – talk about crossing over, connecting with the other side like it’s flipping a switch or opening a door. But for me, it’s this – finding the part in the curtain, catching hold of the fabric, and pulling.

Sometimes, when there’s nothing to find, the veil is barely there, more smoke than cloth and hard to catch hold of. But when a place is haunted – really haunted – the fabric twists around me, pulling me through. 

(City Of Ghosts by Victoria Schwab. P13.)

birdbreak Synopsis:

Cass can see through the veil which separates the living from the dead. She’s also best friends with a ghost, Jacob, who has been by her side since he saved her life. If that wasn’t weird enough, her parents are obsessed with ghosts, even though they can’t see them at all.

When Cass’s parents start filming a new TV show, the family relocate to Edinburgh – one of the most haunted places in the world. When Cass meets a girl who shares her gift, she realises how much she doesn’t know about the veil, like what she’s supposed to do there and how dangerous some ghosts can be.birdbreakReview:

If you like ghost stories but don’t want your spirits to be totally bad, this is the book for you. Victoria Schwab (AKA VE Shwab) is one of the best-known YA authors of recent years. Her fantasy novels have attracted a dedicated following. This is the first book of hers I have read, and my immediate impression was that it was written by a fluent and confident storyteller. The story hooked me and I read it in one evening. It was hard to put my finger on exactly why except it was exceptional storytelling. Every chapter opening, every plot point grabs the reader in and keeps them turning the pages.

Cass survived a near-death experience, and since then she has been able to see the veil which separates the living from the undead. She’s also been followed by Jacob – a ghost who has broken all convention and come out into the living world. I loved the constant tip-toeing the pair do around the subject of death. That one of them is living and the other dead is a sensitive issue between the friends. As a survivor, Cass is constantly aware of herself as a living thing. Her experiences were explored with sensitivity and insight.

Edinburgh was the perfect setting for a ghost story and I am excited to think there might be more stories set in other cities around the world. The book really got into the history and folklore of Edinburgh. I love it when stories inspire interest in real places.

There is a ghost causing trouble in Edinburgh, and I did enjoy that story, but what I loved more was the setting – the many ghosts Cass encounters behind the veil and their different stories. I hope we’ll learn more of Jacob’s story. I loved the details about his character, like how he has Cass turning the pages of comic books for him so he can keep up his hobby from beyond the grave. Jacob is incorporated in a clever way – instead of talking in dialogue, Cass hears his thoughts in her head. This makes Jacob feel more otherworldly, for all that he likes the same things as most modern children.

A great start to a new series full of ghost-hunters and creepy historical stories. This would be perfect for any tween or younger teen with a touch of gothic. I look forward to seeing where Cass and her family travel next.

 

 

 

Middle Grade Reviews

Review: Knights And Bikes by Gabrielle Kent

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Extract:

‘The knights who left decided that the treasure was cursed. They wanted to return it, but one night the whole castle just disappeared without a trace.

No one knew what happened to it, or the knights, or their pile of treasure. I reckon they all fought each other to little pieces, then they rotted and their eyes fell out and now their skellingtons guard the treasure from anyone who comes looking for it.’

(Knights And Bikes by Gabrielle Kent. P23.)

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Synopsis:

Penfurzy Island is the best home in the world. There’s a scrapyard, a tor and a not-so-busy caravan park where Demelza lives. When another girl appears in the middle of the night, Demelza is determined to prove that exciting things do happen on Penfurzy, starting with the legend of the Penfurzy Knights and their missing treasure.

Then Demelza’s Dad makes a terrible announcement: he is going to sell the caravan park.

Can Demelza, her new friend Nessa and Honkers the goose find the treasure in time to save the caravan park? Who is Nessa anyway, and what is she doing on Penfurzy? Action and adventure and foam swords abound in this Retro-adventure.

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Review:

Remember the games you played between five and eleven-or-so? The ones where you and your friends could take on anything with a weapon (be it a toy sword, invisible ray-gun or silly string), transport (skateboard, bike or scooter) and a pinch of imagination. Knights And Bikes conjures up those games in a way which will make adult readers nostalgic. The best part of all? The Penfurzy Knights are real.

I loved the realistic setting. Lots of quest narratives are about children taken out of the ordinary. Children with special powers or equipment or all-powerful mentors. Nessa and Demelza are ordinary kids with a slice of attitude. They know they can do anything if only they pedal the fastest.

The story is set in the 1980s – a move which will be popular with many parents of current middle-grade readers. Novice writers are often told that children aren’t interested in the recent past. The advice is not to lose sight of modern childhood in favour of your own. I’ve always found this a pity – children are generally receptive and open to stories set in other periods of history and I think it is important for children to be able to place their special adults on a timeline and to understand what made their childhoods different.

I also liked that the nostalgia wasn’t rose-tinted. The bad (see the chain-smoking worker) is shown alongside the brilliant.

Knights Of is a brand-new publisher whose list for 2019 is looking very exciting. They are on a mission to publish voices which are underrepresented in children’s publishing, and they’ve already found some fabulous and exciting stories. Knights And Bikes was longlisted for the Blue Peter award and I’m we’ll hear more from this publisher in the near future.

 

 

Middle Grade Reviews

Review: Secrets Of A Sun King by Emma Carroll

Review: Secrets Of A Sun King by Emma Carroll

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Extract:

How uncanny that Professor Hanawati had guessed that something awful was going to happen to him. It made me more scared for Grandad too, because the letter confirmed that the curse really did exist. So why, after all these years, had it started up again? And what was wrapped in linen, in the bottom of the jar? 

(Secrets Of A Sun King by Emma Carroll. P45.) 

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Synopsis:

London, 1922. Everyone’s talking about Harold Carter, the famous explorer who is closing in on the site of Tutankhamun’s tomb. At the same time, an Egyptologist dies after bursting into flame.

When Lilian’s Grandad is taken ill, she finds a package from the very same Egyptologist addressed to her Grandfather. Inside is an incredible object which holds a story … and possibly a curse.

Lil and her friends set out on an extraordinary journey to return the package to the place it belongs.

birdbreakReview:

Another triumph from the master of historical fiction Emma Carroll. Some authors have a strong signature. You would know you were inside one of their books even if their name wasn’t on the cover. Emma Carroll is such a writer. From the first word, it is as if you are listening to a storyteller who is relaying the words just for you.

As in Carroll’s other novels, the story looks for a deeper truth. The story we all know about the discovery of Tutankhamun’s tomb was written by the English press – the story of triumph at the last minute and undiscovered treasure ripe for the picking. Even back in 1922, there were concerns in Egypt about Carter’s treatment of the site. Secrets Of A Sun King explores this story from a sideways angle. Lil’s quest – to discover her Grandfather’s connection to the package and to do whatever it takes to keep him alive – hooks the reader. It is as the story unfolds that the themes get deeper.

We also hear Tutankhamun’s story – a scroll found by Lil and her friends tells how the young king died. Hearing this story from Tutankhamun’s sister brings him to life in a way which has rarely been explored. There are many fact files on the young king but the stories around his tomb – the expedition narratives – sometimes mask the fact he was a child and a human being with thoughts and feelings of his own.

Emma Carroll is one of the finest middle-grade writers working today. Her stories go from strength-to-strength and her empathy with people throughout history couldn’t be clearer. Highly recommended.

 

Enjoyed this? Check out Letters To The Lighthouse by the same author. 

Middle Grade Reviews · Picture Book Reviews · Picture Books

Review: The Legend Of Sally Jones by Jakob Wegelius

 

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Review: The Legend Of Sally Jones by Jakob Wegelius

About a hundred years ago, a gorilla was born. On that night, gorilla elders prophesied that she would meet with many misfortunes … So begins the story of Sally Jones, heroine of last year’s big hit The Murderer’s Ape. Sally’s journeys take her from Istanbul to Borneo to New York. Her run-in with an infamous jewel thief begins a series of unfortunate events which continue until Sally finds her home on The Hudson Queen.

sallyjones2Sally Jones was possibly my first choice for an origin story. She’s a feminist icon – a skilled engineer, proficient writer and not someone who submits to capture. It was lovely to see her life-story and to learn why she became so fiercely loyal to Koskela, and to find out how she came by her name.

One of the delights of The Murderer’s Ape was the line-drawings. The Legend Of Sally Jones is something between a graphic-novel and a picture book. It plays to Wegelius’s style, and the effect is like looking at cigarette cards. The key moments and turning points of Sally’s life are captured and when you’ve read through once it is as great a pleasure to flick through and pick out individual illustrations.

This book is all about atmosphere – if you love the steam-boats and expeditions and shady characters of 1900s adventure-books, this one is for you. A delightful companion which could be read before or after reading its sister-story.

 

Thanks to Pushkin Press for my copy of The Legend Of Sally Jones. Opinions my own.

Read more about Sally Jones in  The Murderer’s Ape

Middle Grade Reviews

Review: The Girl, The Cat And The Navigator by Matilda Woods

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Extract:

It was a big decision: four whole months at sea. It would be dangerous and wet. It would be cold and windy. And maybe she would fall overboard and drown. But it would, without a doubt, be an adventure, and she had always wanted to go on one of those. 

(The Girl, The Cat And The Navigator by Matilda Woods. P72.) 

birdbreakSynopsis:

Oona Britt dreams of a life at sea. She has always wanted to join a ship’s crew and go in search of a mysterious and mythical creature called the Nardoo. Only one thing stops Oona from joining her father’s ship.

Girls don’t go to sea.

It was a major disappointment that Oona was a girl – her father had hoped for a strong and adventurous boy. Oona is desperate to prove herself to her father. She stows away on a ship and sets sail for an adventure, where she proves time and again that she can handle anything the world throws at her.

birdbreakReview:

Meet Oona – she’s bright, she’s bold and she can do anything she sets her mind to. Oona’s whole future is altered in one instant, the moment when she is born and turns out to be a girl. Her father ends the celebrations and mourns for the child who would have sailed beside him.

This may be a fairytale world of Nardoos and cats with nine lives, but it tells a story which is very real. Studies have shown that even those of us who think we are liberal differentiate by gender. We speak to babies in different tones, offer them different toys and talk about different subjects with them. By the time they are old enough to think for themselves, their idea of gender-roles is entrenched.

Yet girls can have adventures too.

I loved the tone of the story – it reads like a fairytale or a bedtime story, yet the adventure is solid and it leads to a satisfying conclusion. The prose is so beautiful it demands to be read out loud and the world is so magical and so unique that it is conjured in our minds. Welcome to a place where wrecked ships are turned into buildings and sea-shells are used to tell fortunes. Where mythical sea-creatures have been known to fly. Where cats hold memories of the ships they sailed in their previous nine lives.

Oona is a brilliant heroine who sees through the nonsense she is told. She’s a great role model and will hopefully give readers the courage to question the messages they receive – conscious and subconscious messages.

The adventure already feels like an old-favourite. There is something timeless about the story, except it says something which relates to the present and the future. Set sail and see how wide the world can be.