blog tour · Young Adult Reviews

Blog Tour: The Sky Weaver by Kristen Ciccarelli.

Review: The Sky Weaver by Kristen Ciccarelli.

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Extract:

‘There’s no need to be unkind.’ The Death Dancer’s mouth bent up at the sideas she moved towards Safire. ‘Now, what’s behind that scarf you don’t want me to see?’ Safire took a step back, but those quick fingers snagged her sandskarf. The girl tugged it free, revealing Safire’s face.

(The Sky Weaver by Kristen Ciccarelli. P. 65-66). 

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Synopsis:

Safire is now a soldier. She maintains the peace of Firaard – but there is one criminal she can’t catch. 

Eris, a pirate and known thief, is known as the Death Dancer. She has a reputation for evading capture made possible by her magical spindle, and the ability it gives her to vanish and reappear at will. She can evade everyone … except the pirate who holds her captive. 

Safire and Eris are thrown together when they are united by a common mission – to find Asha, the last Namsara. As they spend time together, they realise they may be bound by more than a common goal and that their fates may be inextricably entwined. 

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Review: 

The Last Namsara was one of the first major releases I was offered as a book blogger back in 2017. It is hard to imagine now that before it arrived I had little idea how phenomenally good it would turn out to be. Think dragons and fearless heroines and a story linked to its world’s mythology. Now the trilogy concludes with The Sky Weaver. 

The story is centered around two characters. Pirate Eris has a deadly reputation and a strange skill that enables her to vanish and reappear anywhere else at will. Safire, familiar to readers of the first book, is now a soldier and catching Eris becomes her own personal mission. Then the pair find themselves on a common mission – to find the last Namsara Asha. 

It is a classic enemies-to-lovers storyline which promises to be a great yarn from the beginning. The early chapters make it seem impossible that the pair could ever find anything in common, but that is what makes this trope so timeless. It tells the eternal truth that sometimes we can work together in spite of insurmountable differences and that in doing so we can find previously unimagined common ground. 

Both girls narrate. Seeing Safire as a protagonist will be a big draw for established fans of the series because she was the character who was both of the incredible court world and an outsider – or the relatable insider. It is also interesting, having seen her root for and protect Asha, to see Safire begin from a position of distrust and enmity.

As in previous books, a myth is built up alongside the main story. No spoilers – readers of the series will know that clues about the main story can be found in these myths – but this time the myth is about Crow and The Fisherman’s Daughter. 

Now that the trilogy is complete, I look forward to reading the three books together. The overlap of characters and plotlines between them is fascinating and confirms Ciccarelli as a strong and ambitious storyteller. 

 

The Sky Weaver was provided as part of a promotional blog tour. Opinions remain my own. Thanks to Gollancz for my copy.

blog tour · teen · Young Adult Reviews

Blog Tour: Mother Tongue by Patricia Forde.

Blog Tour: Mother Tongue by Patricia Forde.

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About Mother Tongue.

The new dictator of the Ark – a society which exists in a world destroyed by Global Warming – wants to silence speech forever. People with fewer words are less able to argue back. Letta is a wordsmith. It is her job to keep words safe and to pass them on to the next generation. Letta and her followers are fighting back by forming hedge schools, and passing words on to those children who are willing to risk their security to learn. 

Then the babies start to go missing. 

This is high on my list of recent dystopia. We are now ten years on from The Hunger Games and it is important that young adult literature reflects the issues and discussions of the current day. Mother Tongue picks up on the disparity in society between those who have access to books and writing and words in childhood, and those who don’t. It shows a world where language education is purposely limited to all but a ruling minority. 

It is terrifyingly close to the bone. Children’s Laureate Cressida Cowell has highlighted statistics that show that children on free school meals are twice as likely to go to a school without a library. And adult education, which once enabled people to sit A-Levels through night classes, or attend university without getting into major debt, has been reduced to the bare minimum. The result is a lack of social mobility and a society willing to support those who appear to have knowledge

Letta is a fantastic protagonist. The dystopia of ten years ago featured lots of characters whose anger was shown as a strength. Letta is contemplative, doubting of herself but firm in her resolve. Her strength comes from a rounded mix of qualities. 

I am delighted that author Patricia Forde has written a post about the power of words. Thank you Patricia for your time, and to Little Island Books for arranging this opportunity. 

Mother Tongue is available now from Amazon, Waterstones and good independent bookshops.

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The Power of Words by author Patricia Forde. 

Stick and stones can break my bones but words can never hurt me.

This was a song we sang in the playground as children. Even then I think we knew it was untrue. The bruises and wounds caused by the sticks and stones healed, and before they healed, everyone could see the marks and sympathise. The words that hurt us left no visible mark and elicited no sympathy, but buried deep inside us, they festered.

Words matter. Words can hurt. Words can heal. Words can empower. Words can divide.

So said the President of Ireland, Michael D. Higgins, in his inauguration speech at the beginning of his second term in office. Through words, we can share our ideas, change people’s minds, support or destroy our fellow human beings.

Looking at history, we can trace the power of words, through the speeches of great orators. Who can forget Nelson Mandela’s famous speech where he said that he would die for that which he believed in?

I have fought against white domination and I have fought against black domination. I have cherished the ideal of a democratic and free society in which all persons live together in harmony and with equal opportunities. It is an ideal, which I hope to live for and to achieve. But if needs be, it is an ideal for which I am prepared to die.

Mandela’s words echoed the earlier words of Martin Luther King in his most iconic I have A Dream speech.

I say to you today, my friends, so even though we face the difficulties of today and tomorrow, I still have a dream. It is a dream deeply rooted in the American dream. I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: ‘We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal.’

In my novel The Wordsmith and its companion book Mother Tongue, John Noa, leader of Ark, has rationed words. People are only allowed to choose from  a list of five hundred words on pain of death. The words on the list are mostly practical. There are no words for emotion: no belief, no hope, no love. No words to persuade, no words to properly interrogate, no words to raise a rebellion. John Noa knew the power of words. In The Wordsmith Letta, the young protagonist, asks Noa to include the word hope on the list but Noa refuses. Noa knew that to encourage hope was to encourage the possibility of change.

Harvey Milk was the first openly gay man to be elected to public office in California. Throughout his political career he was a committed activist for gay rights and became famous for his Hope Speeches.  This is an extract from one of them:

Without hope, not only gays, but those who are blacks, the Asians, the disabled, the seniors, the us’s; without hope the us’s give up. I know that you cannot live on hope alone, but without it, life is not worth living. And you, and you, and you, and you have got to give them hope.

We are the only species that can plant ideas in one another’s heads and we don’t even need a scalpel. Today, Donald Trump has weaponised words. He talks about illegal immigrants infesting America. Immigrants are referred to as dogs and criminals. He uses words to belittle women and to divide people. Words are his weapons. But words can be used for good or ill. For  Greta Thunberg, a young Swedish activist, words are also weapons – weapons that might save the planet. Speaking at a United Nations summit recently she denounced world leaders for their inertia when it came to climate change.

How dare you! You have stolen my dreams and my childhood with your empty words. … The eyes of all future generations are upon you. And if you choose to fail us I say we will never forgive you. We will not let you get away with this. Right here, right now is where we draw the line.

 

You could almost see people in the chamber duck as the shrapnel from her speech ricocheted off the walls around them. Words are dangerous. That is why powerful people have always feared them.

I will leave the last word to Winston Churchill, a man who had many faults but who knew much about power and much about language.

You see these dictators on their pedestals, surrounded by the bayonets of their soldiers and the truncheons of their police. … Yet in their hearts there is unspoken—unspeakable!—fear. They are afraid of words and thoughts! Words spoken abroad, thoughts stirring at home, all the more powerful because they are forbidden. These terrify them. A little mouse—a little tiny mouse!—of thought appears in the room, and even the mightiest potentates are thrown into panic.

 

Young Adult Reviews

Review: D.O.G.S by M.A. Bennett

Review: D.O.G.S by M.A. Bennett

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Extract:

But because everything was so smooth, and easy, and obstacle-free, I didn’t even question what was going on, or realise I was skipping into the forest as innocently as Red Riding Hood in Hoodwinked. 

Pretty dumb, really. 

The first sniff I had that something dark was going on was when I got the second act of The Isle Of Dogs. 

(D.O.G.S by M.A. Bennett. P74.) 

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Synopsis:

A year on from the events of the Justitium hunt and Greer is focused on getting top marks in her final exams to secure a place at Oxford. Drama students at S.T.A.G.s are responsible for putting on the end of year play, and Greer has taken the role of director. She isn’t certain on which play to perform until an old manuscript is pushed beneath her bedroom door. It is the first act of The Isle Of Dogs,  a work by Ben Jonson hasn’t been seen in over 400 years. It also contains some striking parallels to the social division she has witnessed at STAGS.

Her decision to cast the play puts her relationship with Shafeen on hold, but it may have wider consequences too. As further acts appear, the play leads Greer back towards the Order Of The Stag, and to the place she thought she would never visit: Longcross Hall.

But why does she still question whether Henry might be there? That particular ghost from her past was supposed to be laid to rest over a year ago …

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Review:

STAGS was a triumph of 2017 which both hit the awards list and gathered a legion of fans. My first words when I closed the book were ‘MA Bennett knows how to tell a story’. My second question was ‘Did she mean to write a five-act structure?’ (The author answered this during a Twitter chat. Yes, she did, and to tremendous effect.) When it was confirmed that MA Bennett was the penname of an established writer – and one who studied Shakespeare’s work at masters level – I was not in the least bit surprised.

The influence of historical writers on Bennett’s work comes to the front of the second story, as Greer stages the first playing of The Isle Of Dogs in over 400 years.

This real play saw Ben Jonson imprisoned and almost executed, and this fact is the basis for the events of D.O.G.S. MA Bennett imagines what might have caused Elizabeth the First to react so violently against Jonson’s work in a fictional version of the play. Greer receives this a single act at a time, pushed under her door by a mysterious stranger.

Every act draws her deeper into a world she thought she had left behind.

New characters keep the series fresh. The de Walencourt twins, Cass and Louis, are difficult to read – are they different to the rest of their family, or does the same privileged ambition run through their veins? Ty Morgan a complete star. She’s the new ‘outsider’ to the gilded world of S.T.A.G.S, but she’s sure as heck not going to be made an outsider by the established trio. Ty’s storyline challenges everything readers have come to expect from black characters in secondary roles. Think just about every half-term film from the late 90s or early 2000s. Think about the stereotype of the black best friend. Ty smashes that role to smithereens. There’s also a new staff member whose motives are hard to figure.

D.O.G.S did everything I hoped for. It wasn’t a repeat of S.T.A.G.S, but it built on the themes of social division and an ingrained class system and developed our knowledge about the Order Of The Stag. It brought back familiar locations but allowed us to explore them in new ways, and from new angles. D.O.G.S is as addictive and compelling as its predecessor. MA Bennett sure knows how to write stories which bite.

 

Thanks to Readers First and Hoy Key Books for my gifted copy of D.O.G.S. Opinions my own.

Middle Grade Reviews · teen · Young Adult Reviews

Blog tour: Earth Swarm by Tim Hall.

Blog tour: Earth Swarm by Tim Hall.

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Extract:

Each one was about the size of a small car. And they were clearly metallic – all hard edges and dull gleaming surfaces. Yet at the same time – these machines – they were so lifelike. They flew with an undulating motion, like that of a fly. Their wings were a greenish blur at their sides. Each had a pair of reddish orbs, like compound eyes. 

(Earth Swarm by Tim Hall. P82.) 

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Synopsis:

A swarm of killer drones has descended on London.

Hal Strider wishes his Dad had a little bit more family time. Like any time. But there’s been a lot going on at Starr-Strider Biomimetics, especially since Tony Daeger turned up. That’s when the secret plans began. When the drones attack London, leading to mass evacuation and widespread panic, Hal realises they were built by his father’s company. And now his Dad is nowhere to be found.

Hal and his sister Jess are determined to prove their father’s innocence and to save the city, but they are up against machines which never stop, police officers who don’t want to listen and seven million people in panic. They also have something which the person responsible really wants. Perhaps Hall can figure out the truth with the help of the incredible, free-flying girl Sky, but they are up against a deadly enemy and time is running out.

A spectacular new Sci-Fi series suited to fans of Mortal Engines. 

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Review:

Everyone remembers where they were the day the drones struck.

Although the drones themselves are the stuff of Sci-Fi, the story is made relatable by the atmosphere. A historical news story is breaking, like 9/11 or days after Princess Diana died. The drone attack marks a transition in recent human history. The mass exodus, too, feels very much news footage from recent years although the setting is changed. Now it is Londoners whose homes are under siege. Earth Swarm is the sort of story which asks the reader to face big questions. What would it take to provoke such movement of people in the West? Should Capitalism and the quest for money put humanity at risk?

It is also a compelling adventure.

Even at the start, before we see the drones, Hal Strider’s life seems pretty exciting. He’s a trained pilot whose flying skills would be the envy of most adults. The range of aircraft and gadgets made me think of Thunderbirds. This story begins with a wealthy boy and his techy toys. Hal’s character goes far deeper than that, and his desperate longing to spend more time with his Dad will be relatable to young readers whose parents have no choice but to work overtime.

The drones themselves are like something from a horror film. There are masses of them and nobody knows who is at the controls or what their agenda is. Short passages at the end of some chapters offer the reader a drones-eye view of the action and drip feed information about what the drones are capable of. This increased my anticipation as I was reading the main action because my knowledge of what the drones could do felt incomplete, but I was given enough each time to feel that they were hiding some pretty mega technology.

And it turns out the clue is in the name. SWARM. Emphasis on the WAR.

This is a fast-paced adventure with high stakes, and I am delighted to see a children’s book centered around drone technology. Not so long ago, drones brought UK airports to a halt and raised big questions about how such basic air technology was able to invade the airspace. In my opinion, there are so many grey areas about drones which have yet to be explored, and these grey areas are the perfect place to find stories.

While this is aimed at a teen or older middle-grade audience, it has crossover appeal and huge potential to evolve into a series. The story explores the lengths to which people will go for personal gain, and how increasingly-sophisticated technology is putting us at risk from these individuals. It is also a fast-paced and convincing adventure.

The drones have arrived. Could they be our downfall?

 

Thanks to David Fickling Books for my copy of Earth Swarm. Opinions my own.

Young Adult Reviews

Review: The Paper & Hearts Society by Lucy Powrie

Review: The Paper & Hearts Society by Lucy Powrie

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Extract:

The two sofas and coffee table had been pushed to one side and laid out in a pile on the floor was a crumpled bonnet, a waistcoat, a long and voluminous dress and a very large top hat. 

Cassie had clocked them at the exact moment Tabby had. ‘I’m not dressing up,’ she said, backing away. ‘No way. And my allegiance lies with the Brontë sisters and only the Brontë sisters. I won’t go messing about with Jane Austen.’ 

(The Paper & Hearts Society by Lucy Powrie. P55.)  

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Synopsis:

Tabby may have left her hometown, but there’s no escaping Jess. Not when she’s still sending insults via Instagram and not when the bad memories are replaying in Tabby’s head.

Then Tabby sees a poster for a local teenage book club. Making new friends wasn’t top of Tabby’s agenda, but there’s something about Olivia, Cassie, Henry and Ed which draws Tabby back. Even with Cassie being awkward.

Maybe it’s the doughnuts, or banter, or the Jane Austen-themed dance parties. Or maybe it’s Henry himself, and the feeling that there’s something real.

When Jess starts targeting her new friends, Tabby is left with a choice – own up or keep everything which is going on a secret. And just hope that it stops.

The contemporary novel for bookish teenagers which everyone has been waiting for.

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Review:

Welcome to the Paper & Hearts Society – a space where teenagers can discuss books, graze on chocolate and basically not be afraid to be themselves. Many bookish teenagers dream of finding the place where they belong, and their people, and the great thing about the Paper & Hearts Society is it provides a model which could be replicated up and down the country. A notice in the library or school corridor. Some snacks, a wish list of themes and an agreement that all books are great books. Lucy Powrie, who has been part of the online community for many years, knows everything there is to know about helping bookworms to socialise.

Finally, there is a novel which shows bookworms as something more than readers. The characters in this story have places they want to go and friendships beyond their book group, which makes them perfect role-models for teenagers. Reader is too often shown as a personality type when all kinds of people love to pick up a book.

Aside from anything else, this is pure bookish escapism. From Harry Potter marathon nights to Jane Austen Dance Parties and a road trip around bookish landmarks of the UK, this will give teenage bookworms great ideas for things to do, and it is a mega-nostalgia trip for anyone who grew up with a copy of Ariel in their school bag. Or Rebecca. Or Great Expectations.

Tabby’s personal storyline spoke volumes to me and will be a comfort to socially-awkward teenagers. At the start of the novel, Tabby is desperate to be worthy of her old friend Jess’s time, even though Jess has been unkind and manipulative. Tabby’s desperation leads her to say things she doesn’t mean in a bid to live up to Jess’s standards. Then Tabby meets people who treat her as a friend and suddenly her real personality shines through. It can be difficult as a teenager to accept that being liked isn’t about meeting someone else’s standards. The story nails the teenage emotional experience, which is hardly surprising given the author was a teenager throughout the writing process.

A brilliant YA novel which reinforces a sense of belonging and opens a whole world of books to read and places to visit. Lucy Powrie writes with gentle humour and empathy towards her characters and references literature as though she is talking about old friends. I look forward to reading the next book in the series and cheering on the Paper & Hearts Society as it grows.

 

Check out Lucy Powrie’s BookTube channel  and blog 

 

Young Adult Reviews

Review: The Wicker Light by Mary Watson

Review: The Wicker Light by Mary Watson

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Extract:

Between the twine and hair are fingernail cuttings. 

This must be one of Laila’s spells. 

Even though I don’t believe in magic, it’s difficult not to connect this horrible thing with the strange way she died. It feels like Laila doomed herself, accidentally cursed herself, and died. 

(The Wickerlight by Mary Watson. P63.) 

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Synopsis:

Living in Kilshamble was supposed to bring Zara’s family back together after her parents came close to divorce. Instead, with the death of her sister Laila, it tore them apart.

Zara isn’t buying that her sister’s death was an accident. Not when she was obsessed with all things magic. Not when there’s a strange conflict in the village between rival groups, a conflict which regularly escalates to violence.

Investigating Laila’s death brings Zara into contact with David, the troubled boy who isn’t beyond redemption. David’s family are searching for a lost family heirloom which holds far more than a sentimental value?

Is it possible Laila’s quest for magic took her out of her depth? As Zara searches for answers, she finds herself drawn dangerously close to the conflict between two rival magical groups: judges and augers.

A compelling mystery novel and companion to The Wren Hunt.

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Review:

Thriller meets folklore in the second book of this extraordinary series. Imagine a world where Earth magic still exists in hidden pockets. There are two different approaches, one which is elemental and practiced by Augers, another which relies on order and is practiced by Judges. The factions who practice these related magics are part of a centuries-long civil war which centres on the Irish village of Kilshamble. This much was established in book one. Starting off two months after the events of The Wren Hunt, this story changes the camera angle to see the village through the eyes of an incomer and non-magical inhabitant.

Unlike her late sister Laila, Zara’s never believed in magic. Following in her sister’s footsteps brings her into contact with the augers and judges and puts her own life in danger. It also brings her closer to David – the Judge boy who is supposed to kill and injure on his father’s orders.

Think Capulets and Montagues in a Celtic setting. It is brooding and teenage and at the same time, these teenagers have never had a chance to be children. They’ve been shaped for war since birth.

The question of which faction killed Laila and why relates to the events of The Wren Hunt. Snippets from Laila’s diary head every other chapter and lead to a climax in a way which kept me up into the small hours. It was wonderful to read a thriller which linked into a wider fantasy plot. This merging of genres opens new ways of telling stories and Kilshamble is a setting which is at once filled with magic and grounded in the everyday.

Alongside the story of Judges and Augers is the story of Zara’s family. Her father has been caught having affairs, and Zara desperately wants her family to stay together. They’ve already undergone one huge change, moving to Kilshamble, and she’s afraid that if her parents divorce she will have to South Africa with her mother. Despite everything which has happened, Zara wants to remain in Kilshamble. The magic her sister loved is rich here and this is where Zara feels close to Laila. This is a story of grief, change and moving into new stages of life. Both Zara and David know what they want already, but owning it is another question.

Having read The Wickerlight, I am desperate to return to The Wren Hunt and to remind myself of some of the contexts of the magical dispute. Everything which takes place in these books feels as though it is grounded in something deeper, something centuries-old, as if a seed planted many years ago has grown into twisting thorns. I look forward to continuing the story when the next book comes.

A story of a feud and the young people who grow as a result of the battles. It is a haunting tale which will remain on your mind long after you close the pages.

 

Thanks to Bloomsbury Publishing for my gifted copy of The Wickerlight. Opinions my own.

Young Adult Reviews

Review: Alex In Wonderland by Simon James Green

Review: Alex In Wonderland by Simon James Green

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Extract:

I could have bought another bag of candyfloss with my last pound instead of wasting it on this massive disappointment. I shook my head, beating myself up about how Wonderland gets you every single time, like everyone who walks in has ‘sucker’ written on their foreheads.

(Alex in Wonderland by Simon James Green. P51.) 

 

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Synopsis:

Socially awkward teenager Alex is used to life being disappointing and he’s resigned himself to another summer of total nothing. Then he gets a job at the local amusement arcade, Wonderland, and makes friends with the kids who work there. He even develops a crush on a boy with the perfect dimples – a boy who is horribly in love with a girl.

Mysterious and threatening notes start appearing around Wonderland, a park which is already under the shadow of debtors. Alex and his friends Ben and Efia start vow to save Wonderland and to bring it into the 21st Century.

Who could be guilty of the notes? Will Alex ever get a boyfriend or is he a lost cause? A hilarious contemporary novel which follows one summer in the life of a teenager.

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Review:

Roll up, roll up for another summer of boredom in a run-down seaside town. At least, that’s what Alex is expecting, but putting himself out there and making friends leads him into an adventure. Albeit an adventure which involves a tatty flamingo suit, a banged head and chasing after another hopelessly unavailable boy.

Alex is the socially awkward kid most bookworms relate to – or remember being. He’s painfully aware of his every mistake, every blunder, and he lives in fear of the next social slip-up. It was lovely to see a book which really explored how it feels to navigate the world in this constant state of fret. Too many YA characters appear impossibly sorted. We’re rooting for Alex to have his moment, but more than that we want him to find the right guy.

The arcade mystery was great fun, with a wide cast of characters who could have been responsible. As equally as I wanted Alex to get his guy, I hoped Wonderland would be saved. Wonderland is very much like Alex. Quirky, mildly embarrassing, and sometimes perceived as ridiculous but a place which has brought many people great happiness. Why would anybody want another identical development, even if it is sleek and attractive?

It is difficult to talk about the mystery solution without too many spoilers, except that it fits too perfectly with the rest of the story. There’s more too it than that, though, and Alex comes away happier and more confident which seemed like the most important thing.

A wonderful summer read which shows how friendship and excitement can be found in the least wonderous of places. Add this to your reading pile and prepare for a wave of nostalgia. Being a teen sucked, but wasn’t it magical? Another hit from talented writer Simon James Green.

 

Thanks to Scholastic UK for my gifted copy of Alex In Wonderland. Opinions my own.