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.

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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.

 

 

Middle Grade Reviews

Review: The Last Chance Hotel by Nicki Thornton

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Extract:

Seth carried the dessert carefully through the kitchen. He had added a finishing touch of slices of plump, fresh apricot and placed the whole perfect confection ready in a bowl of ice to keep it at the correct temperature. He checked that the label which read For the special delight of Dr Thallomius was in place and held his creation out to Tiffany as they arrived at the lobby, where Mr and Mrs Bunn were hovering anxiously. birdSynopsis:

Seth Seppi is the downtrodden kitchen boy at The Last Chance Hotel. Since his father disappeared, Seth has slaved away in the hotel’s kitchen. He is bullied by the owners, the horrible Bunn family, not least their daughter Tiffany.

A magical gathering takes place at the hotel, and a prominent magician is murdered. Seth is the main suspect – except he is innocent. He must solve the mystery and clear his name, but the hotel holds strange secrets. Magical secrets …

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Review:

Imagine Dumbledore was murdered in a closed-room mystery. Throw in a spooky hotel, a downtrodden kid, and a talking cat and you have the makings of a brilliant story. I love the mix of magic and murder-mystery.

The murder-mystery is set-up Agatha Christie style. A series of suspects arrive at the hotel, the murder takes place in a locked room, and the suspects are investigated before the mystery is solved. I loved the solution. I had a shrewd idea who had dunnit, but there is so much more to the story, and the answer completely satisfied me.

I adore the setting – the remote hotel and the magical company. This isn’t in-your-face, solves-all magic. It is subtler and spookier. Think strange shadows and mysterious books. I’m a sucker for secret societies and I enjoyed learning more about Dr Thallomius and his cronies.

I liked the wide cast of characters, from the miserable Bunns to Dr Thallomius to Angelique with her magical cane and a few secrets of her own. Seth has been pushed around by the Bunns for so long that he doesn’t know his own worth. I love how he developed across the story until he was able to see a future outside the LCH kitchen.

A good mystery with a touch of magic. Highly recommended.

 

Thanks to Chicken House Books and Jazz B for my copy of The Last Chance Hotel. Opinions my own.

Middle Grade Reviews

Blog Tour: Curse Of The Nomed by BB Taylor

Curse of the Nomed

 

Extract:

You were meant to get lost. You were meant to feel nervous about making new friends. At no point did anyone mention the freaky Headmaster and mass army of zombie-like students. 

(Curse Of The Nomed by BB Taylor. P10.)

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Synopsis:

Nora, Jacob and Stefan are late for their first day at Nomed Academy. They reckon they will be in trouble for missing assembly. Turns out trouble is an understatement. They witness the other pupils being put into a trance by the headmaster. The same trance which holds all the pupils and teachers at Nomed Academy.

This is no ordinary school. The headmaster is actually the Ancient Egyptian god Sett, and he is a danger to all the pupils. The only way to stop him is to find The Book Of Life which is held in an underground vault.

The adventure has just begun.

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Review:

A short and lively adventure about a less-than-normal day at school. 

This story began with a competition aimed at children. Five groups of children pitched their story ideas, for the chance to see them written and illustrated by professionals. This story is the result. 

One of the core ideas of the competition was to write a story about the transfer to secondary school which promotes mental health awareness. I am delighted to see this issue raised because I think the difficulties some children face can be overlooked. The lovely thing is the story doesn’t spell the issues out, but the characters all have conflicting thoughts and feelings about their new school. 

I enjoyed the adventure through the labyrinth. The children encounter obstacles from quicksand to sphinxes and face up to their own internal conflicts. 

Although this was described as YA, I would suggest it is suitable for children of 6 or 7 upwards. As well as being an enjoyable adventure, it would make a lovely starting point for conversations about secondary school transfer.

 

Thanks to Faye Rogers PR for organising this blog tour, and for my e-copy. Opinions my own.

Middle Grade Reviews

The House With Chicken Legs by Sophie Anderson

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Extract:

My House has chicken legs. Two or three times a year, without warning, it stands up in the middle of the night and walks away from where we have been living. It might walk a hundred miles, or it might walk a thousand, but where it lands is always the same. A lonely, bleak place at the edge of civilization. 

(The House With Chicken Legs by Sophie Andersen. P7.) 

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Synopsis:

Marinka’s house has chicken legs. Marinka dreams of a normal life, where she stays in one place long enough to make friends, but that is impossible. Her grandmother is Baba Yaga. It is her job to guide spirits from the world of the living to the next work. Marinka is destined to become the next Yaga, and follow in her grandmother’s footsteps.

Marinka sets out to change her destiny, but her house has other ideas.

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Review:

This book appeared on my Twittersphere sometime last year. It sounded intriguing. How can you not be intrigued by a house with chicken legs?  Now I have read the story, I can confirm it is more than cute or intriguing. It is one of the best fairytales I have ever read and is going on my list of ultimate middle-grade novels.

I fell in love with the world straight away – a world where the newly dead are comforted by a spirit guide who listens to their stories and feeds them up for the journey ahead. I loved the idea of a child caught between respect for these traditions, and tedium at the lack of living companions. I loved the jackdaw and the fence of bones and the traditional dinner. It was a world I could imagine with all my senses.

We know straight out what Marinka wants. She wants friendship, and routine, and all those other things people who live in normal buildings have. She ventures into the world of the living in a bid to change her destiny. Her story will resonate with anyone who has ever wondered whether their future is set in stone.

The other big theme is mortality. It is lovely to see a children’s book about death which is not centered around the death of one person. Death is the one inevitability, and yet it is something we are uncomfortable talking about. This book will open up conversation about appreciating the people around us, and living our lives in the moment.  

 Sophie Anderson’s writing is beautiful. From the opening words, My House Has Chicken Legs, you will be drawn into the story’s spell. A masterful debut, and a wonderful piece of work.  

 

Louise Nettleton

Middle Grade Reviews

Review: The Fox Girl And The White Gazelle by Victoria Williamson

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Extract:

‘I will call you Hurriyah,’ I say softly to the fox in Arabic, and then in halting English I add, ‘I will … call you … Freedom.

I do not know why I have chosen that word out of all the many more suitable ones I could have picked. I only know that it is her name. And it is also a wish for her future.

(The Fox Girl And The White Gazelle by Victoria Williamson. P56.)birdSynopsis:

Caylin feels completely alone. She steals food and money from other children and hasn’t been able to wash her clothes for weeks. She can’t tell anyone in case they separate her and Mum.

Reema feels lost in a new country. Her home in Syria is miles away, and Scotland will never feel like home. There is a new language to learn, a little sister to protect, and a brother who has been missing since the family was forced to leave him behind.

Caylin and Reema are not obvious friends, but when a wounded fox appears with her cubs, the girls come together to protect her and find they have more in common than they thought.

A beautiful story of friendship and hope.

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Review:

The Fox Girl And The White Gazelle is a beautiful story about people coming together and discovering they have more in common than they realise. They support each other, and together they are capable of more than they are alone.

Caylin feels a conflict between being liked and taking money to do the shopping. She puts on a tough-girl act but is embarrassed by her lisp. Reema wants her little sister to share her memories of pre-war Syria and is fed-up of people making assumptions about her culture. Both Reema and Caylin felt like real people. It didn’t surprise me to learn that Victoria Williamson has taught children from similar backgrounds, or that she researched her characters’ backgrounds.

The narrative is shared between Reema and Caylin. I was pleased they both got a voice. We see their initial suspicions of each other and

I love how nature brings the children together. The fox, like the children, has struggled at times to survive. She is misunderstood – an animal in a city where nature is often unwelcome. Her story is told through a series of poems, which also reflect the girls’ experiences.  

While the story of the fox is simple, it is used to explore some complex emotions and experiences, and the result is beautiful. It is a story of friendship and tolerance and would be a lovely book for promoting empathy.

 

Louise Nettleton

Thanks to Kelpies and Victoria Williamson for my review copy. Opinions my own.

 

 

Middle Grade Reviews

Reviews: New books for younger middle-grade readers

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Arlo, Mrs Ogg and The Dinosaur Zoo by Alice Hemming

Maverick Arts Publishing

Headteacher Mrs Weebly says Class 4X are unruly, disobedient and downright unteachable. When yet another teacher leaves, Mrs Weebly gives 4X an ultimatum – one more incident and there will be no end-of-term-party.

Then Mrs Ogg arrives, and she is unlike any teacher 4X has had before. She takes them on a trip to the zoo, except it is no ordinary zoo. It is a dinosaur zoo.

A lovely chapter book which reminded me of Mr Majeika. A class of children comes together under the leadership of a less-than-normal teacher. This will be popular with children who dream of having an adventure instead of an ordinary school day. I love the illustrations and design.

 

img_5701Dino Wars – Rise Of The Raptors by Dan Metcalf

Maverick Arts Publishing

The dinosaurs have won the war.

Adam Caine lives in Bastion – a city of bunkers which is home to human survivors and peace-loving dinosaurs. He has his friends accidentally activate and old biological weapon. It is up to them to find four energy-giving crystals to stop the weapon from destroying every dinosaur on the planet.

Problem is, there are dinosaurs to fight too.

An intriguing dystopia for the very youngest readers. This would be lovely for newly confident readers who are ready for a more involved plot. Although I have read similar quest stories, I was impressed by how suited this was to younger middle-grade readers. The main characters make a great team, and I love the set-up and backstory.

 

 

img_5710Rose’s Dress Of Dreams by Katherine Woodfine

Little Gems (Barrington Stoke)

Rose dreams of beautiful dresses. Dresses made of whipped cream, and butterflies and woven starlight. Nobody understands about Rose’s dresses. They say such things are impossible. Then Rose meets the Princesse de Conti and is given a chance to make the dress of her dreams.

A book so beautiful it feels as if it has been sprinkled in fairy-dust. This is a gentle fairy tale, inspired by the real-life story of Marie Antoinette’s favourite dressmaker. I love the descriptions of material and dresses. If you loved the Tailor of Gloucester for its taffeta and silk twist, you will adore this.

 

img_5707McTavish Goes Wild  by Meg Rosoff

Barrington Stoke

Where will the Peachy family go for their holiday?

Betty Peachy wants to go camping, and Ma knows the perfect place, but Pa Peachey, Ollie, and Ava show no interest in the great outdoors. It is up to rescue dog McTavish to bring the family together so they can enjoy their holiday as a family.

Rescue dog McTavish watches as the holiday unfolds. One disaster follows another until the family is totally fed-up. This has a lovely, light sense of humour. There are running jokes throughout the story, such as Ava’s obsession with philosophy.  The reader becomes familiar with these jokes until they feel like part of the family. McTavish is the underdog who is wiser than the humans. We know the solution rests with him.  

 

img_5704Mummy Fairy And Me by Sophie Kinsella

Puffin Books 

When Ella’s Mummy says the magic word marshmallow, she turns into Mummy Fairy. 

Mummy’s Computawand does all sorts of amazing things, but sometimes the spells go a little bit wrong. Like conjuring up a cow instead of a pint of milk, or giving the cleaning things a mind of their own. When the spells go wrong, fairy-in-waiting Ella comes to the rescue. 

This is a cute and relatable fantasy. It shows how, for a young family, everyday chores can become havoc. I think lots of parents have wished at times for a magical wand, never once thinking that magic might make things a thousand times worse. I love the mini-me Mummy-and-daughter team. 

Thanks to Maverick Arts Publishing, Barrington Stoke and Puffin Books for sending copies of the books to review. Opinions my own.