Middle Grade Reviews

Review: Pog by Pádraig Kenny

Review: Pog by Pádraig Kenny

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Extract:

There was an enchantment laid here. Deep and powerful. One that the tall folk had never suspected. It was an enchantment so strong they had even built their house around it without knowing. 

(Pog by Pádraig Kenny. P27.) 

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Synopsis:

Everything has changed since Penny’s Mum died. Dad is pretending to be fine, David’s anger is close to the surface and they’ve moved to a whole new house in the middle of a forest.

And there is a strange creature creeping about in the dark.

Pog is one of the First Folk. He guards the house from more sinister creatures who feed on the memories of its occupants. It has been many years since his Grandfa died, but Pog still wants to make him proud.

With the strange creatures multiplying inside the house, David and Penny will need Pog’s help if they are going to save the goodness in the world.

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Review:

David is hurting, Dad is clammed-up and pretending to be fine and Penny feels as if too much has changed too soon. Pog is a sensitive story about grief which shows how it affects people in different ways. Pog’s own sense that he still needs to please his grandfather takes the story away from the raw grief that Penny’s family are feeling in the immediate aftermath of a death into the way that bereavement can affect us years later.

As a story about loss it couldn’t be any better.

The creatures which Pog fights reminded me of dementors. Not in their physical shape but in their haunting talent for sucking the memories from their victims. This isn’t about loud battles. It is as much about emotional fights as physical.

As in ET, this is a story about a visitor who helps a family adjust to their new circumstance. I adored Pog. He’s two feet tall, furry and from a magical race of guardians. His connection with the children is touchingly real and he is able to empathise with their emotions.

Like all the best fantasies, Pog is a story which is grounded in the real world. With a theme which is relevant to everybody, this has the timeless feel of an instant hit.

 

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

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Middle Grade Reviews

Blog Tour: Galloglass by Scarlett Thomas

Blog Tour: Galloglass by Scarlett Thomas

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About Galloglass

Love fantasy adventure and magical schools? 

Welcome to the World Quake series, about a group of magical students who are pitted against a secret organisation called The Diberi who are bent on destroying the universe. This is the fantasy trilogy I dreamed of as a kid, with a female protagonist at the centre, magical books, and dragons. 

Galloglass sees Effie imprisoned, Wolf on a journey to find his missing sister and Neptune the cat faced with the disappearance of all the other cats. It also sees the raised as the Diberi threaten to destroy the universe. 

I am delighted to have an extract here from the second chapter and will be hosting a giveaway over on my Twitter account. Do keep an eye out and check back for a full review later on. 

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Extract from Chapter 2 of Galloglass by Scarlett Thomas. 

Euphemia Sixten Bookend Truelove, known as Effie, had been in the Otherworld since the end of school. Time worked differently there; three days in the Otherworld (they
called them moons) only took 57.3 minutes of Realworld time,
which meant it was always possible to slip off for a long weekend
there if you had an hour to spare.
But it took M-currency – also known as lifeforce – to stay in the Otherworld. People from the Realworld couldn’t store very much of it, and Effie’s seemed to run out particularly quickly. So she always had to leave too soon.
Today (in Otherworld time) Effie had woken up early in the large, comfortable bed in her lovely light room in Truelove House. This room always had fresh linen and clean towels, unlike in her Realworld home in the suburbs of the Old Town, where if Effie wanted anything cleaned she had to do it herself, and where it never got fully light at this time of year anyway. She’d looked at her watch – it told the time in both worlds – and
calculated that she’d have to leave the Otherworld by early evening if she wanted any chance of being back in the Realworld in time for supper.
But there was still a whole Otherworld day to enjoy, and Effie was going to spend it in the nearby town of Froghole with her cousin Clothilde. She was sure she’d have enough lifeforce for that.
As usual, the morning was warm and bright. After eating the lavish breakfast that Bertie the maid brought for her – a massive bowl of creamy porridge with maple syrup and fourflower jam, and soft toasted muffins with peanut butter, banana, chocolate chips and marshmallows, and a pot of tea – Effie dressed in the blue silk jumpsuit that Clothilde had made her. She brushed her hair and scraped it into a slightly more tidy ponytail than usual. Then she put on the long necklace that held a vial of deepwater that her friend Maximilian kept topped up for her. She didn’t have to put on the golden necklace that held her Sword of Light, because she never took it off. She’d stopped
wearing her Ring of the True Hero lately, because it seemed to drain her in ways she didn’t understand. She’d threaded it on a string to wear around her neck, but she usually didn’t even bother with that.
Soon there came a knock at the door, and her cousin’s voice.
‘Are you ready?’ Clothilde asked.
‘Nearly,’ said Effie. She took her wooden caduceus from where it was propped against the wall and used her magic to shrink it to the size of a hairpin. She admired the two snakes wrapped around it, and the wings carved into it. It had been a gift from
her Otherworld cousin Rollo. She tucked it into her hair at the back. ‘But do come in.’
Clothilde entered the room. She was wearing a long, flowing dress in one of the Otherworld colours that was close to what we would call yellow. It was something like summer parties and pale marzipan and the middles of soft cakes all mixed into one.
‘So, are you very excited about going to Froghole?’ Clothilde said.
‘Yes,’ replied Effie, grinning.
‘And getting your consultation at long last?’ Clothilde raised
an eyebrow.
‘Double yes,’ said Effie. ‘I mean, I don’t think they’re going to tell me that I’m not a true hero-interpreter but . . .’
‘It’s good to have it confirmed,’ said Clothilde. ‘And there’s your shade, of course. I guess you’ll already know all about it. I know what you’re like with The Repertory of Kharakter, Art & Shade. You must have read it fifty times by now.’ Clothilde
smiled. ‘Do you already know what you think you are?’
Effie shook her head. ‘No. I heard that if you find out too much about the shades in advance it can distort the results of the test. So it’s all still a complete mystery to me. I’ve saved that part of the book for after today.’ She smiled. Clothilde squeezed Effie’s arm gently. Effie knew how excited Clothilde was for her. It was so wonderful having someone who understood her so well.
In all the time she’d been visiting the Otherworld, Effie had still not actually been to an Otherworld town. People kept meaning to take her, but Pelham Longfellow – the other traveller who regularly visited Truelove House – was always being called away urgently to investigate ‘the Diberi situation in Europe’, and Clothilde couldn’t leave the Great Library for very long. But today, at long last, it was finally going to happen.‘And you’ll be getting your Keeper’s mark as well,’ said Clothilde.
‘I know,’ said Effie. ‘I can’t wait to be able to help you all in the Great Library. To be actually allowed to go in, and—’
‘Oh no!’ Clothilde suddenly put her hand to her mouth. ‘We’re supposed to do a sort of official induction in the Great Library before you get your Keeper’s mark. I can’t believe I
forgot. I think it’ll only take five minutes. We’ll do it before we
go. Is that all right?’
‘OK,’ said Effie. But somewhere nearby the sun seemed to go behind a cloud. It wasn’t that Effie was scared of the Great Library exactly – she wasn’t afraid of anything – but the last time she’d been in there she’d almost died.
‘I’ll go and get my things and wait for you downstairs,’ said Clothilde.
Effie found Clothilde in the entrance hall, carrying a large wicker basket that seemed to be full of tissue paper and colourful striped boxes. Her cousin now put these down and
took from around her neck the brass key that opened the Great
Library.
‘Ready?’ asked Clothilde.
‘Yes,’ said Effie, frowning slightly. ‘Definitely.’
‘Are you sure?’
‘Yes.’
‘Is something wrong?’
Effie shook her head. She couldn’t lie and say no out loud. She couldn’t tell Clothilde about the slight headache that had just started. Was it because she was remembering what had happened last time she’d been in the Great Library? Or did it mean that she was running out of M-currency? Effie blinked and tried to put it completely out of her mind. Lexy had once told her that something between 90 percent and 100 percent of
pain was in the mind. Which meant you could control it – if you knew how. The first step was not believing in it, apparently. The wooden panelled doors to the Great Library were just underneath the large sweep of the grand staircase that went up to the gallery, where Effie’s room was, and the doorway leading to the staircase to Cosmo’s private study. Clothilde approached with the key. Effie gulped silently. Would it be like it had been
before?
‘All right,’ said Clothilde. ‘You first.’
‘Really?’ said Effie.
‘We’re not going very far in,’ said Clothilde. ‘I just want to map your version of the Great Library onto mine, so that we can go together in future. While you’re being initiated it will help you to go into my version until you build up enough strength to go to your own. Eventually we’ll be able to merge our versions in order to be in there together. And then you’ll be able to visit your version on your own too. Does this make any kind of sense
at all?’
‘Yes.’ Effie nodded. ‘I think so.’ She already knew that the Great Library was in a different dimension and in order to become real here it had to be sort of folded down into three
dimensions. Everyone did this in their own way, which meant the library looked different to each person who went in. Generating the library took lots of lifeforce. That was only one of the reasons it was dangerous.
Clothilde opened the door.

 

Middle Grade Reviews

Review: The Middler by Kirsty Applebaum

Review: The Middler by Kirsty Applebaum

The Middler

Extract:

I knew all the kids in our town. Been at school with them since I was knee-high. None of us had hair that colour. And none of us would hide on the wrong side of a town boundary. Not ever. 

She was a wanderer. 

(The Middler by Kirsty Applebaum. P23.) 

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Synopsis: 

Eldest go to camp to fight for their countries. Everyone knows they deserve all the glory. All the attention. Everyone knows never to leave the town boundaries and everyone despises the wanderers, who live outside the town and refuse to give their eldest up.

Maggie is a middler. She’s fed up of being overlooked to her eldest brother Jed. When she meets Una, a wanderer girl who lives beyond her town’s boundaries, Maggie sees an opportunity to finally get some attention. The trouble is she makes friends with Una before she can hand her in.

Una and her father force Maggie to question everything she ever believed to be true.

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Review:

Anyone who came of age through the height of YA dystopia knows about the special kids – the ones sent off to camp or the Capitol. The ones join a new faction. The Middler focuses on the younger siblings who are left behind and it tells the same story of corruption and bravery from a new and wonderful angle.

Maggie is a wonderful character with a distinctive worldview. She’s convinced that the elders have it all. Fame, glory and special attention. It isn’t until her brother Jed and his friend Lindi are sent away that Maggie begins to question this stance. I loved this realistic child’s eye view. Kids Maggie’s age often have a strong sense of right and wrong, fair and unfair. Equal or nothing. Seeing this in a dystopian setting was particularly effective because when Maggie’s eyes are opened her personal beliefs are shattered in a big way.

Dystopia isn’t the first genre I think of when I talk about Middle-Grade (books marketed at roughly 8 – 12 year-olds) but Kirsty Applebaum shows how effectively it can be done. By keeping the action away from the worst of the conflict, and focusing on the friendship between Maggie and Una, Applebaum proves that dystopia can be written for pre-teens.

As an adult reader, I loved the tone. The children in Maggie’s world sing childish rhymes which are loaded with propaganda and darkness and the story was like that. So gentle and innocent on the surface but with so much depth in every chapter.

An exceptional work which left me with the same feeling I get when I read our greatest children’s writers. Kirsty Applebaum is clearly a talent and she’s one to watch out for.

 

Thanks to Nosy Crow Books for my gifted copy of The Middler. Opinions my own.

Middle Grade Reviews

Review: Cloud Boy by Marcia Williams

Review: Cloud Boy by Marcia Williams

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Extract:

I am not happy and neither are the clouds. Harry says they often reflect his mood and today they certainly reflect mine. 

(Cloud Boy by Marcia Williams. P15.) 

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Synopsis:

Harry Christmas and Angie Moon are best-friends. Practically twins because they were even born on the same day. They spot clouds together, and do drawings and spent lots of time in their treehouse. 

Then Harry’s head starts hurting and it won’t go away.

Soon Harry is in hospital receiving lots of treatment. Angie records all his feelings in his diary. The ups and downs and how it feels to watch his best friend slowly fade away.

Meanwhile, Angie’s gran shares the letters she wrote as a prisoner in Changi. Learning about Grandma’s past gives both Harry and Angie a story to focus on. 

A story of friendship and courage told in diary form. 

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Review:

Being a friend and building close relationships is the best thing in the world. It also means opening ourselves to the possibility of loss. Angie is faced with that predicament, but she shows what it means to be a friend all the way through a life-threatening illness. 

I loved the set-up. Harry and  Angie’s friendship is based on a range of shared interests and things they have always done together. It reminded me how deep childhood friendships went. They were everything. As a big a part of your world as siblings or animal companions. Remember those friendship necklaces and bracelets where you wore a half each? Childhood friends are like a part of us. 

Do not read this without tissues. Angie’s emotions as she watches her best friend’s health deteriorate are profound. At times she writes only very short messages in her diary, but those messages show how silence sometimes speaks louder than words. 

Is this strictly about cancer? I would say it is very much about the experience of being a friend to someone who is very ill. This is explored with sensitivity and while Harry is the centre of everyone’s world, Angie’s diary is a place where she can explore her own emotions. 

 A moving and memorable story with characters you will not easily forget. Smile and cry with Angie and explore what it means to be a true friend. 

 

Thanks to Walker Books UK for my copy of Cloud Boy. Opinions my own.

blog tour · Middle Grade Reviews

Blog Tour: The Great Animal Escapade by Jane Kerr

Blog Tour: The Great Animal Escapade by Jane Kerr

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Extract:

Mr Jameson sounded like a man worried about his business. About the money he would lose if anything went wrong. 

(The Great Animal Escapade by Jane Kerr. P42). 

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Synopsis:

Danny has settled into his new home at Belle Vue Zoo and he loves working with the animals and living with the Jamesons. Not everybody is so impressed with the zoo. The Reverend Eustace Threlfall campaigns for the zoo’s closure, and when the animals start escaping, it only gives credibility to his campaign. Danny discovers that the locks have been broken on purpose and he comes under suspicion himself as the boy who once lived on the streets.

Meanwhile, Danny’s father has returned and the news reaches the park that gang leader Frank Scatcherd has broken out of prison.

Can Danny untangle the mystery of the animal escapade, or is it time to move on from Belle Vue and the people he thought were his friends?

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Review:

Jane Kerr’s debut in 2017, The Elephant Thief, remains one of my favourite books which have reviewed for BookMurmuration. (It was also one of the earliest and published before I moved to WordPress). I was delighted to hear about the sequel and had high expectations. I am delighted to say the second book lived up to the first.

Danny may have settled into his new home, but his past as an orphan on the streets of Edinburgh hangs over him like a shadow. He has lived with the Jamesons but they have never officially adopted him and suspicion still falls on Danny faster than it does on other people. Added to that is the uncertainty about his past. Who his parents are and where he belongs. This informs his character and the question set up in the early part of the story is whether Danny belongs at Belle Vue.

As in the first book, we desperately want things to work out for Danny. His heart is in the right place. He cares for the animals in the park. In the first book, we were firmly on the side of Belle Vue over its cruel competitor, but this book acknowledges that even the best entertainment parks still paved the way for animals to be brought to the UK away from their natural habitats and treated as a source of entertainment. Danny sees beyond that, caring for the animal’s needs and seeing through to their different personalities. He is also a great friend to Hetty, who is having difficulties of her own.

With the Reverend outside the walls of park stirring up distrust and fear and the man who introduces himself as Danny’s father first creeping around at night, there is a dark tone to the mystery. As in book one, we don’t get a handle on everyone’s motives straight away and that makes the outcome more satisfying.

This could be read as a standalone – you don’t need to understand anything more than that Danny came to the park after life on the streets where a gang ruled – but I would recommend reading book one first. Aside from anything else, that is double the adventure but it also shows how Danny came to bond with Maharajah and Hetty.

A lovely return to a favourite fictional world and an insightful look at the zoos and entertainment scene of the 1800s.

 

The Great Animal Escapade by Jane Kerr is available now from Chicken House Books (Paperback, £6.99).

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

Middle Grade Reviews · teen

Review: Halo Moon by Sharon Cohen

Review: Halo Moon by Sharon Cohen

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Extract:

I may never sleep again until I find a way to warn the people six thousand kilometres away of a catastrophe that is certain to happen.

(Halo Moon by Sharon Cohen. P90.)

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Synopsis:

Halo Moon loves watching the stars in her Yorkshire village. Nothing ever happens, but Halo loves walking the moor and going to the library with her new friend Pedro. Then a stranger appears and tells them that a catastrophe is going to endanger the lives of everyone in the village.

Ageze digs up a stange device from the ground near his home in Ethiopia. It appears to be an ancient fortune teller, and with a little help Ageze is able to use it to make accurate predictions. When it tells him that a great disaster is going to occur thousands of miles away, Ageze knows it is duty to change the course of fate.

Can Halo help Ageze in time to change their destiny?

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Review:

A group of friends, a strange fortune-telling instrument and a disaster which could affect the lives of many people. With that formula, it was always going to be gripping. What I didn’t realise was I would be hooked ages before by the characters and their day to day lives.

Halo loves her home. Even if she isn’t the wealthiest, even if there isn’t much to do other than go to the library. She is struggling to be a good friend to Jade, the perpetual show-off whose behaviour is only getting worse in light of her parents’ potential separation. Halo prefers to spend time with her new friend, Pedro, a boy who is new to the village and shares her interests. Then there is Ageze, who lives miles away, the son of middle-class parents with high aspirations. Ageze wants to be a good son, but he also knows he must help the strangers whose lives are in peril. To do this he must break a lot of rules.

Their daily lives wind on until they come together. Not everybody wants to listen to Ageze, but Halo is able to look past his status a ‘stranger’. This exploration of how we can live apart but be connected by the same fate an interesting theme.

It was lovely to see a small Northern village as the main setting. The UK can be very Londoncentric (I speak as somebody who grew up in London) and many people in and around the capital know little about what the rest of the country looks like. When Ageze finds out how far it is from Heathrow to Halo’s village, he doesn’t see it as the same defeat that somebody in the UK would. He works out logically how many days it would take at x miles per day and sets off. It was refreshing to see a character stand in London and feel they are close to being in the North.

The writing is superlative and the story rolls along. A brilliant adventure about friendship, bravery, and shared experiences.  

 

Thanks to Querces Children’s Books for my gifted copy of Halo Moon. Opinions my own.

 

Middle Grade Reviews

Review: She Wolf by Dan Smith

Review: She Wolf by Dan Smith

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Extract:

‘What happened here wasn’t any kind of destiny; it was murder, and no one expects you to avenge it. Not even your Gods.’

(She Wolf by Dan Smith. P46.)

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 Synopsis:

Viking girl Ylva washes up on the frozen shores of Northumbria, but her mother is killed. Ylva swears to avenge her memory as the Gods decree and sets out into the wild with her wolf Geri.

The land is wild, but it is not only the wolves that Ylva has to fear. She must also work out whether she can trust Cathryn and Bron, the Saxons who offer her shelter.

An epic tale of trust and the truest forms of bravery. 

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Review:

An epic historical adventure which reminded me of the works of Rosemary Sutcliff. Viking attitudes towards revenge were examined in a way which was both sensitive to the time period and relevant to the modern day.

Ylva’s quest for vengeance begins with her certainty, as a Viking, that it is her role. This is the only narrative she has ever heard and it is how her people live. In fact, as she discovers, it is how other tribal people live during the same time period. Cathryn begs Ylva not to go in search of vengeance, but she is set on it. The examination of the motives behind revenge and the use of religious belief to justify it was fascinating. It is also a lesson which might be relevant to much smaller scale problems. Sometimes, no matter what wrong someone has done us, the best thing is to let that be the last bit of damage.

It was great to see a narrative about fights and the quest for justice centered around girls. Although there are male characters, there are female warriors in the story with the same bloodthirst and ideas about vengeance. Girls need to believe they have a decision about when to pick a fight and to know that often the bravest thing you can do is turn away. 

It was also great to see a novel about Vikings in Britain, and especially to see one with both Viking and Saxon characters. Too often these stories are told through a lens which favours one or the other so that even if there are characters of other nationalities, they are cast as antagonists and enemies. Life was more complex than that and it is important to understand that things are never so black and white.

This novel was all about setting, from the mounds of snow to the wolves howling through the pine trees. It is the kind of setting which you feel beneath your skin and imagine with every sense.

If you like adventure or want to know more about the time period, add this to your TBR pile.

 

She Wolf is available now from Chicken House Books, priced £6.99.

Many thanks to Chicken House Books and Laura Smythe PR for my gifted copy. Opinions my own.