Middle Grade Reviews

Review: Where The World Turns Wild by Nicola Penfold.

Review: Where The World Turns Wild by Nicola Penfold.

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Extract:

I know it’s autumn because it’s the end of October and I am eight weeks into Year Eight, but there are no leaves to colour and fall and in our crowded, clean city the cold never really penetrates too much. The breaks go up if it’s windy, the canopies if it rains.

And every morning I’m waking from my dreams of an altogether different kind of canopy of branches and leaves, and I think I can’t stand it anymore. Another day in this city.

(Where The World Turns Wild by Nicola Penfold. P32.)

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Synopsis:

Juniper and Bear live in one of the two remaining glasshouses – the only spaces where plants are allowed within their city. Everywhere else is grey and enclosed. Like a prison. This is how it has been ever since a virus was unleashed to kill humans and save the wild. Juniper is afraid that if her little brother Bear doesn’t calm down, he will end up in the institute. A place from which nobody comes out.

When scientists discover that the siblings’ blood holds the secret to surviving in the outdoors, their lives are endangered. They are left with no choice but to run. They set out for Ennerdale, the half-remembered home of their infancy.

The wild is a beautiful place but it is also a brutal one. It is a place where survival plays out on a daily basis and every living thing is in some danger. Not to mention the drones that follow them from the city. With so much up against them, will they ever make their way home?

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Review:

Dystopia is back and it is tackling bigger themes than ever before. It is also reaching out to a younger audience.

Where The World Turns Wild asks one of the deepest and darkest questions of our time: is sacrificing humans the only way to save the world? If, as an individual, you were given a choice between mankind and life itself, which would you choose? Juniper lives in a world where, fifty years before, a group took the fate of the world into their own hands, and the only humans to survive are the ones who live in enclosed spaces with barely any contact with nature. Children are taught to fear the wild and only the ones born with immunity to the virus can go outside. More to the point, Juniper reckons the ReWilders – the group who spread the virus – did the right thing. It is a view that could get her locked up for life.

It is a massive theme for an older middle grade or teen audience. It is also a question they must surely ask themselves in theory. Because if we don’t change the way we live soon – very soon – it will be too late to save the planet. Juniper knows the ReWild was extreme and that terrible things happened because of the virus. She also knows every living being was going to die if it didn’t happen.

Juniper and Bear are wonderful characters. They are children of nature trapped inside an unnatural city. They remind us that nobody who has seen trees and valleys and life would ever choose an artificial world. This is the other big theme in the book. There are people who have grown up inside cities and have barely seen the world outside. They are complacent about wildlife because they do not know it. This is a sad reflection of our own world. Growing up in London, I met people who stuck their fingers in their ears – literally – if anyone told them what was in their fast food milkshake. What had been sacrificed in the world for their beef burger to exist. They simply couldn’t imagine the damage, or the parts of the world that were being damaged, sufficiently to care. Books provide a safe space to face up to such attitudes. Being challenged can be scary, but books like this allow us to challenge ourselves and come to our own conclusions.

Bear and Juniper are also searching for their parents. Their travels across the landscape are inspiring and terrifying in equal measures. As a reader I wanted them to be safe, but I also wanted them to survive in the wild, because the thought of them going back to that city was terrible.

I also felt a personal connection to the story as a born Londoner who now lives in Cumbria. As much as I miss certain aspects of London, I remind myself how I used to feel returning there after visits to Cumbria. I used to miss the wide open skies and birds and green space so badly that it hurt.

With a fantastic premise and strong characters, Where The World Turns Wild has got the book world talking. It is beautifully written and it is up there with the greatest outdoor journeys of children’s literature. Read this.

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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.

Middle Grade Reviews

Review: Pages & Co – Tilly And The Lost Fairytales by Anna James.

Review: Pages & Co – Tilly And The Lost Fairytales by Anna James.

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Extract:

She looked around, searching for the source of the smell, and was surprised to see, through the window, that the train was running through a deep, dark forest. Tilly was sure there weren’t any forests of this size within a twenty-minute train ride of north London, and yet there it was. The trees seemed to crowd in on every side, as if they were trying to reach inside the train with their spindly branches. 

(Pages & Co – Tilly And The Lost Fairy Tales by Anna James. PP. 99 – 100.)

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Synopsis:

Following the disappearance of Enoch Chalk, whose antics caused Tilly and her friends no end of trouble, a new Head Librarian is appointed at the Underlibrary. Melville Underwood’s policies restrict the movements of adult Book Wanderers, and ban children from the practice altogether.

Tilly is alarmed by this appointment but she has other things on her mind. Her Grandmother has forbidden her from book wandering altogether, but strange things are happening with fairy tales and Tilly wants to explore. Should she listen to her Grandmother, or to Gretchen – a lady she meets in Paris whose view is that book wandering should be completely unrestricted.

Feeling the pressure to pick a side, Tilly must figure out the best way forward to protect the beloved stories from the mysterious changes.

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Review:

The sequel to Pages & CO – Tilly and The Book Wanderers is here, and it lives up to the first story. This series turns the magic of reading into a literal world where people can wander in and out of stories and a hidden library monitors their movements and the security of the texts. It is also a brilliant fantasy and the second book sees a new antagonist and a sense of sides building and action brewing.

What is the same? The same sense of a secret bookish community, the references to sweet treats (which adds to the book nostalgia because some of the best children’s classics contain heavy references to food) and the same world of book wandering and underlibraries. We meet some new characters, including the ambiguous Gretchen, and visit some new places (both real and in the bookscape, so to speak).

The story was more complex in that it didn’t move exactly as I predicted. First we were introduced to the new Head Librarian and then the action moved away to Paris and to the fairy tales which Tilly first read and later explored as a book wanderer. I loved how the threads came together and especially the growing sense that something wasn’t quite right within the fairy tales.

Oskar comes out of himself too and claims a bit more of the spotlight. We meet his family in Paris which gives us a deeper insight into Oskar’s life. He’s a wonderful role model as a boy character because he is arty and gentle as well as practical and kind. It is clear that he doesn’t want to let Tilly take all the credit for their adventures, and quite right too.

Tilly is on her own mission too. She wants to know more about the Archivists, god-like beings who most book wanderers stopped believing in long ago.

Pages & Co has gained fans of all ages. It is the perfect nostalgia-fest for adult readers, who want to recapture that sense of being lost in the world of stories for hours on end. Child readers have taken to the series too, and I can’t imagine a more magical way to get acquainted with the classics. It is like an invitation to young people to join the world of reading and stories.

Tilly And The Lost Fairy Tales is a treat to read and it has made me excited about where the series is going.

 

 

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

Review: The Switching Hour by Damaris Young

Review: The Switching Hour by Damaris Young

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Extract:

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

(The Switching Hour by Damaris Young. P15.)

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Synopsis:

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

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

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

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Review:

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

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

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

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

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

A haunting and memorable debut.

 

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

Middle Grade Reviews

Review: Rumblestar by Abi Elphinstone

Review: Rumblestar by Abi Elphinstone

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Extract:

The dust around Casper shifted and seemed to glitter in the half-light and it was then – in that hushed moment – that the Extremely Unpredictable Event occurred. 

The key Casper was holding now looked altogether different. Without the layer of dust covering it, he could see that it was not simply a dull lump of metal anymore. It was silver and in its base there was a turquoise gem, which was glowing. 

(Rumblestar by Abi Elphinstone. P23.) 

 

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Synopsis:

Casper Tock is allergic to adventure. He lives by a timetable and believes in solid evidence and facts. It is the shock of his life when, first he stumbles into the magical world of Rumblestar and then he is told it is his job to save the world.

Utterly Thankless has lived in Rumblestar all her life. She’s a bottler-in-training, learning to contain the magic which creates weather. Life hasn’t been the same for Utterly since the terrible thing which she refuses to talk about.

Now the evil harpy Morg is awakening and her magic is once more a threat to the magical Unmapped Kingdoms. Can Casper, Utterly and their dragon friend Arlo work together to save the world from Morg and her Midnights?

A magical quest from the master of fantasy Abi Elphinstone.

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Review:

A harpy trapped in a void, a magical grandfather clock and a series of secret worlds where the weather is produced and sent to Earth. No writer should be able to pull all that off in one story, but Abi Elphinstone does so not only with ease but with apparent relish. She’s the kind of storyteller who seems to have a magical bag full of ideas which she ties together into brilliant narratives.

Rumblestar is the first book in the Unmapped Chronicles series, although the prequel Everdark was published on World Book Day. It helps to have read this, as the events of the story are referenced, although it is not strictly necessary.

Landscape always plays a part in Elphinstone’s world, from the Scottish Highland forests and rivers of the Dreamsnatcher trilogy to the icy lands of standalone novel Sky Song. For the first time, Elphinstone has invented her own lands to great effect. The Unmapped Kingdoms are where weather is invented. Each land is responsible for a different weather family, and Rumblestar is where the weather is processed and transferred to the world we know. Casper Tock’s world.

Rumblestar felt like something from Diana Wynne Jones. It is both a place where people live and work, and it is also the central part of a magical system. Reading this story made me feel as if I’d had my eyes shut to an important truth about our world, or maybe just that I should be searching for magic hidden just out of sight. This is the kind of story which makes readers believe that life is big and incredible, and that imagination is a powerful asset on our journey.

There was also an environmental message – one desperately needed given the current crisis. This was not invasive but it is important for readers to start thinking and caring about our world.

A book which is part fairytale and part breathtaking adventure. Another hit from Abi Elphinstone which will leave her readers dreaming of magical worlds.

 

 

 

Young Adult Reviews

Extract from The Burning by Laura Bates.

Burning Blog Tour (1)

Extract from The Burning by Laura Bates.

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Some books are worth celebrating. The Burning is such a book. I was delighted to be invited to take part in the blog tour because feminist narratives are something I feel strongly about. 

The Burning is about witch hunts historical and current. It is about a girl who moves escape her past but finds she can’t outrun her problems. Anna is the victim of social media shaming. To escape her feelings, she throws herself into a school project and finds out about Maggie, the victim of a 16th Century witch hunt.

The book is fantastic in every way and I am so pleased to share an extract with you. 

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Extract:

Hairbrush. Tampons. Toothbrush. Toothpaste.

The front door opens with a shudder and an ominous creak. Dark blue paint cracks and peels above a tarnished
brass knocker.
Deodorant. Watch. Shoes.
‘Come on,’ Mum pants, heaving two bulging suitcases over the threshold and into the dark hallway.
I’m a list-maker. Lists give me grip. You can hold onto a
list. Doesn’t matter what’s on it. Today it’s everything I had to remember to pack at the last minute. The things I couldn’t put in the car last night because I’d need them this morning. The list has been helping me to breathe. Like a spell to ward off evil. I’ve been chanting it under my breath since I woke up and I haven’t been able to stop. Because, as long as I keep repeating the things I need to remember, somehow I can distract myself. Pretend that I’m not really walking out of my bedroom for the last time. Not really stepping into a car loaded with everything we own. Not really driving past the
park where I fell off my bike for the first time. Not watching the swimming pool where I trained three nights a week disappear in the rear-view mirror.

Hairbrush.
Passing the chippy.
Tampons.
The library.
Toothbrush.
The pet shop where I bought my ill-fated iguana. RIP, Iggy Poppet.
Toothpaste.
But now we’re here. And even the list isn’t powerful enough to blot out the new house in front of me.
I hesitate. Somehow, stepping through the door will make it real. I look back to the car, parked a little way down the street, its doors standing open, more luggage and overstuffed bin bags threatening to spill out. Through the back window, I can see a tatty box labelled anna’s room: diaries, photographs, dad’s books.

Nothing left to go back to go back to anyway. I take a deep breath, adjust the bulky cat carrier under my arm and step inside.

The hallway has a musty smell, its whitewashed walls and wooden ceiling beams lit by one naked bulb. The removal van which whisked away most of our earthly belongings the night before we left has arrived before us and piles of labelled boxes teeter precariously on all sides. Mum’s already bustling through into the big, airy kitchen, which also serves as the living room. There’s one of those big Aga cookers radiating
warmth and our new brick-red sofa, still covered in protective
plastic sheets.

A massive old fireplace dominates the room, empty but framed by a handsome wooden mantelpiece. I empty my pockets, shoving my journey rubbish on top of it. Soggy
Costa cup. Crumpled crisp packet. Half a Mars bar. It looks a bit less imposing now.

Gently, I set down the cat carrier and one very grumpy black cat unfurls out of it like a puff of smoke, letting out an indignant yowl to tell me exactly what he thinks of being
cooped up in the car for so long.

‘Sorry, Cosmo,’ I whisper. I bend down to ruffle his soft fur with my fingertips, craving the comfort of his familiar warmth, but he turns tail with an angry hiss and disappears
through the kitchen window into the back garden. I sort of wish I could follow him.

I shrug off my jacket and half slump onto the crackling, plastic-covered sofa. ‘Don’t even think about it!’ Mum warns.‘We’ve got hours of unpacking ahead of us and the car’s not
even empty yet.’

Suddenly the trees outside shake with a gust of wind, causing an eerie, shrieking moan that sounds like it came from the bones of the house itself. I try to sound sarcastic instead of freaked out. ‘Are you sure this place is fit for human habitation?’

We only looked round the house once on a rushed, blustery weekend at the end of March, driving up from home and haring round Scotland in a whirl, viewing five or six different properties a day, each less inspiring than the last. At the last minute, we squeezed in an extra stop in a tiny fishing village called St Monans, where Mum instantly fell in love with the quaint, crooked streets and peaceful old harbour lined with
pastel-coloured cottages.

 (From The Burning by Laura Bates.) 

 

The Burning by Laura Bates is out now (paperback £7.99, Simon & Schuster). Thanks for my gifted copy of the book, and for supplying this extract as part of a promotional blog tour. Opinions remain my own.

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

Extract: Charlie And Me by Mark Lowery

 

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Earlier this year, I read a special book about a pair of brothers with a strong bond. 

Charlie And Me follows Martin on a journey of a lifetime. Martin sneaks out of the house and travels across the country with the biscuit tin and his little brother Charlie. They are visiting the site of a beloved holiday.

A holiday where something happened. 

With everyone back to school, the guys at Piccadilly Press thought it would be lovely to share extracts from this uplifting and warmhearted book. 

Have a great school year, everyone, and keep reading. birdA few years ago, Mum told me I was the best big brother in the world. It was cool of her to say so, but I don’t see it like that. Charlie’s a right laugh, but he can be like a lost kitten sometimes – bumbling through life all confused and unaware of what’s going on around him. It’s not like I’m a good person or anything. I just have to help him out.

Still, Charlie doesn’t always want me to help him. He likes to do things his own way. Mum says he’s a free spirit, but I’d call him a loony. In the nicest possible way of course.

Even when he was a baby he was like that. It took him ages to learn to walk, but he never let it hold him back. He used to do this strange lop-sided crawl – the walrus flop, Dad called it – which was surprisingly fast. One time when he was nearly two, Mum put him in his travel cot (aka ‘The Cage’, because it was the only way to keep him still) and nipped upstairs to do something.

When she came back down ten minutes later, he’d disappeared. The front door was open. She thought he’d been snatched and she ran outside in a blind panic. And there he was – walrus-flopping across the road, cars slamming on their brakes and swerving out of the way.

Trying to piece together what’d happened afterwards, Mum reckoned he’d been bored so he’d bitten his way through the seam of the plastic mesh wall of the travel cot. Then he’d yanked the sides apart to make an escape hole, walrus-flopped across the lounge, somehow opened the front door and made a break for it.

Then there was the day when he was four and he decided he didn’t like his eyebrows. He said they were freaking him out. So, being Charlie, he shaved them clean off with Dad’s razor. There was blood everywhere. He looked like he’d been attacked with a potato peeler.

And how about when he played the innkeeper in the school nativity play? We still watch the film of it every Christmas. He only had one line to remember – ‘Sorry. No room at the inn.’ – but this is Charlie we’re talking about. After telling Mary and Joseph that they could stay in the honeymoon suite (who knows where he got that from?) and that the donkey could have its own room, he pulled the baby Jesus out from under Mary’s dress, held Him up by His ankle and announced: ‘Behold! The King of the shoes!’ On the film you can almost hear the teacher slapping her forehead off-screen as she says, ‘It’s King of the Jews. And put Him back – you’re a day early.’