Middle Grade Reviews

Review: Darkwhispers by Vashti Hardy.

Review: Darkwhispers by Vashti Hardy.

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Extract:

As sunset bloomed in the west like coloured ink spreading in water, Arthur and Maudie stood with Felicity and Gilly at the aft end of the sky-ship taking in the view of hills, rising and falling like gentle waves, criss-crossed with farm fields and woodland patches will full, blousy trees. It felt good to be under the wide sky again.

(Darkwhispers by Vashti Hardy. P86.)

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Synopsis:

The Brightstorm twins are back for another adventure. Arthur and Maudie witness a burglary by their nemesis Eudora Vane. The very next day, Eudora announces a search for the missing explorer Ermitage Wigglesworth – the person whose house she has burgled.

Arthur, Maudie, and Harriet Culpepper are convinced that the search is a cover for something else. What could Eudora Vane want in the legendary Eastern Isles?

The Eastern Isles are almost impossible to find and hold many secrets of their own. The twins are separated for the first time in their lives in a territory which they hardly know. Will they be reunited? Will they work out what Eudora is up to in time?

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Review:

A spectacular, high-flying sequel to hit adventure novel Brightstorm. This is perfect for readers who dream of big, daring adventures. With skyships and jungles and magical continents, Darkwhispers builds on the legacy of the first book as an exciting and intelligent story about exploration.

Arthur and Maudie are separated for the first time and this allows us to know them better as individuals. We see Maudie’s vulnerabilities and Arthur’s desperation to live up to his brilliant sister. Grief for his father causes him difficulties, and at times people write off his reactions as being grief based. Arthur’s emotional narrative plays a strong part in the story and he grows as a character. 

The new settings are as memorable as the old, and there are some new creatures, not least the Darkwhispers of the title.

There is not only a love for geography in these books but complete and heartfelt respect. The worlds are brought to life with care and detail. It feels as if Vashti Hardy must have visited them to give the reader such a clear picture. Her worldbuilding offers questions about our own world – could we invent power sources that do no harm to the environment? Are the other animals around us more intelligent than we give them credit for?

Vashti Hardy has confirmed herself as an exceptionally strong storyteller. Her narrative is told with a confidence that allows her imaginative ideas to soar. I look forward to reading whatever she writes next and hope that there will be a return to Arthur and Maudie’s world.

 

Thanks to Scholastic UK for my copy of Darkwhispers. Opinions my own.

Middle Grade Reviews

Review: A Sprinkle Of Sorcery by Michelle Harrison.

Review: A Sprinkle Of Sorcery by Michelle Harrison.

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Extract:

Betty took it, her heart beginning to beat fast again, but this time it was with excitement rather than with fear. She unfolded the paper carefully, but even as she did so she knew it was a map. Hand-drawn in black ink, with a decorative nautical star in the corner. 

(A Sprinkle Of Sorcery by Michelle Harrison. P72.) 

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Synopsis:

The Poachers Pocket is on the market and Betty Widdershins is desperate for her family to leave Crowstone. Then, one night, the prison bell tolls, and a mysterious girl arrives on the doorstep, accompanied by marsh wisp.

Willow escaped the prison island with her mother. Her father has been imprisoned for a crime he didn’t commit. Then Charlie is kidnapped in Willow’s place, and the people who have her aren’t even who they claim to be.

The clue to freeing her, and saving Willow’s family, lies in an old map, a secret island, and a folk tale about three brothers.

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Review:

The Widdershins are back. Their pinch of magic this time is matched by a folk tale about three brothers who were faced with a sprinkle of sorcery. With escaped prisoners, pirates and a magical island, this has all the ingredients of a fantastic tale.

Betty Widdershins takes Willow in at a great cost. Her own sister, Charlie, is kidnapped, and their granny is endangered by the same people who take Charlie. This constantly challenges Betty, as she battles with her consciene and the ultimate question – should she give up one child to guarantee the security of another? It is impossible to stop turning the pages as the stakes for everyone get higher and higher.

This exceptionally popular series introduces some new characters. There’s the ethereal Willow herself, who washes up in the night like a Dickensian waif. She’s tougher than she first appears, though, and this is what offers hope that the injustice that sees her father in desperate trouble will be reversed. Then there is Sniff. Sniff is introduced halfway through the book. He’s a pirate, right, tough as they get … except there’s more to Sniff’s story, too, than it first seems. There are also cats. Cats in all their glory.

Alongside the main story runs a folk tale about three brothers: Fortune, Luck, and Hope. Initially, it builds like any moralistic narrative. Fortune blunders his choices, valuing wealth over the right things. Luck has kinder values, but the wrong approach. Then things get interesting – because fairytales, as every reader knows, have at least some basis in real events, and real events are tied to specific locations.

This understanding of the relationship between place, narrative and real events underpins the series. Harrison’s Essex marshes begin with the real Essex marshes and a real folktale. Where that story originated from, of course, is left to speculation. The tales of the Widdershins sisters read exactly like that imaginative narrative. That if three magical sisters once lived on an island in the Essex marshes, then maybe they owned three magical objects … and with Harrison’s confident storytelling, it is possible to believe that those sisters are real people.

Michelle Harrison’s adventures promote a sense of wonder in the world. They are not only excellent narratives, but they leave the reader ready to embrace life and all the adventures it holds. A Sprinkle Of Sorcery is a triumph, and the Widdershins sisters are already listed among the greatest families of children’s literature.

 

Thanks to Simon and Schuster UK LTD for sending a proof copy ahead of publication. Opinions my own.

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Review: The Good Hawk by Joseph Elliott.

Review: The Good Hawk by Joseph Elliott.

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Extract:

She’s right, it is the Fourth. It’s the one chime we are taught to listen out for. All of the fourths – from all around the wall – are being struck over and over again; I’ve never heard them all ringing at the same time before. 

(The Good Hawk by Joseph Elliott. P81.) 

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Synopsis:

Agatha is a hawk. It is her job to patrol the sea wall to protect the boats on the water. When she makes a big mistake, and people question her right to be there, she determines to prove that she is capable of doing her job.

Jamie has been made an Angler against his wishes. He is afraid of the sea, afraid of the boats, and not at all happy about his arranged marriage to a girl from another clan.

When the clan us attacked and the survivors taken prisoner, Jamie and Agatha escape together. They come up with a plan to help their clan but first they must travel through the deserted mainland – a country decimated years ago by dark shadows and terrible magic.

Jamie and Agatha learn all sorts about themselves along the way, but they are not the only ones with secrets.

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Review:

Enter an Ancient Scotland ravaged by plague and dark shadows. Jamie is filled with anxiety about his future. Agatha has Down’s Syndrome and is fed-up of other people underestimating her abilities. When their clan is betrayed in a brutal scene (think demons who rip the heads straight off their quarry), Jamie and Agatha team up to rescue the survivors who were imprisoned and taken away on boats. Together they travel across the land and meet other people including a tribe of bull-herders who are interested in Agatha’s incredible empathy with animals.

With high stakes and an intriguing setting, this makes for a strong adventure.

This is a book with strong characters. Agatha and Jamie share the narration and it is impossible not to want to know what happens to them later down the line. It is a sign of a good character when you care as much about whether they get what they originally wanted (ie Agatha wants to return to her job as a sea hawk) than about whether they sort the massive obstacles in their lives (you know, like those terrifying shadow demons). Think Moana. Who cares whether she beats the coconut pirate things when we so badly want her to accept her inner-Voyager. The Good Hawk is definitely one of those stories. The adventure was strong but I cared especially about Agatha and Jamie who felt so very real.

Ancient Scotland is a fascinating and underexplored setting. Many readers have been excited to see a book for young people set in the world of clans. There has been a middle grade series in the USA and a couple of children’s films, but aside from those the first story to come to mind is by Rosemary Sutcliff and was published over 50 years ago. Joseph Elliot shows the beliefs and ways of life of different clans and tribes and this makes the world vivid and memorable.

Be warned: the attack scenes don’t shy away from detail. Think heads torn from bodies and characters we’ve connected with in grave peril. This doesn’t detract from the story and is used to make the action more real but some readers might prefer to know this in advance. 

With fantastic scenes and strong character building, The Good Hawk is set to be a talked-about adventure.

 

Thanks to Walker Books Ltd for my copy of The Good Hawk. Opinions my own.

Middle Grade Reviews

Review: The Mask Of Aribella by Anna Houghton.

Review: The Mask Of Aribella by Anna Houghton.

The Mask Of Aribella

Extract:

Something pale was emerging out of the mist behind the boat, behind Theo. Something so strange and so terrifying that it looked as if it had come right out of a nightmare, with two dark eye sockets and a face that gleamed, white as a bone … A human skull floated in the mist, detached from everything.

The dead have risen. 

(The Mask Of Aribella by Anna Houghton. P39.) 

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Synopsis:

On the eve of her thirteenth birthday, Aribella discovers that she has a secret power. She can shoot magical flames out of her fingertips. Venice is not a place to stand out and the strange incident is witnessed by none other than the Doge himself. Afraid for her safety, Aribella runs away.

Then she witnesses a skull-like spectre rising from the Island Of The Dead.

Rescued by a secret organisation that exists to protect Venice, Aribella sets out to learn about her own unique magical skills.

However, Venice is in danger and the attacks must be stopped before the Blood Moon.

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Review:

Venice is a setting beloved by writers of literary fiction and I am delighted to see it appear in a middle grade fantasy. The history of Venice – its art and architecture and gondolas -lend rich material to fiction. Anna Houghton has used this to brilliant effect, weaving in mask makers and the waterways and the infamous Island Of The Dead. She has also created a very secret society of her own.

Aribella’s powers mark her out as a Cannovacci – someone with magical talent whose duty is to protect and guard Venice. Like the best fictional societies it is rich in traditions. Every member wears their own unique mask, messages come in through the mouth of a stone lion and their secret hiding place is known as the Halfway Hotel. I was able to get into both the world and think that it offers younger readers an exciting introduction to Venice.

There are other kinds of secrets too, darker ones, that keep the plot rolling along and the reader guessing.

Aribella is a wonderful character, determined to get past the grief that has overshadowed her family life for so long. Her friends play a big part in the story too, both her non-Cannocacci friend Theo and her new friend Seffie. The conflict between her old and new life, and Theo’s acceptance of Aribella’s new role, all make a rich emotional narrative.

Middle grade fantasy is really having a moment and this will be perfect for readers who love the genre. It is also very much about friendships and family, so it would make a lovely introduction to the genre for readers who prefer contemporary fiction.

An exciting narrative from a new voice in middle grade fantasy.

 

The Mask Of Aribella is available from Chicken House Books now. RRP £6.99

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

Middle Grade Reviews

Review: Shadows Of Winterspell by Amy Wilson.

Review: Shadows Of Winterspell by Amy Wilson.

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Extract:

There’s a magical boundary, just at the point where our fence divides the garden from the green marshland that leads to Winterspell, and the creatures in the forest don’t cross it, but sometimes I hear them at night, faint whispers of parties, the clamour of hooves, the high-pitched call of fierce, flying things. 

(Shadows Of Winterspell by Amy Wilson. P8.)

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Synopsis:

Stella is lonely and she is tired of hiding. She has lived in fear of Winterspell Forest for too long, kept safe from its shadows by her ghost Nan’s rules. Now Stella is determined that she is putting herself out there. And that begins with going to school.

Unfortunately, she happens to pick just the sort of school her Nan would be afraid of – one where students with any hint of magic share special lessons in Fae history and craft once a week after school. It is here that Stella first hears the legend of The Lost Prince and realises that there is more to her own family story than her Nan ever let on.

The darkness which holds Winterspell was created by Stella’s father, the Shadowking, and only Stella can release the forest from its hold.

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Review:

Amy Wilson, the author of three previous novels, is back with another lyrical fantasy. Her work has impressed me over the years for its understated magic systems and its clear attention to language. Winterspell is no different.

The other thing which Wilson’s novels have held in common is that the protagonists often have a complex relationship with school. They rarely shun education and learning, but often don’t quite fit inside the system. This book is a little different in that Stella desperately wants to go to school. She loves making friends and socialising but her right to access this is complicated by her family history and the fae politics of Winterspell. Wilson’s work shows that fitting in can be a challenge but by being unafraid we can gain so very much from other people.

While the magic of this world was more conventional than in, say, A Faraway Magic, Wilson used it to create something very much her own. This is a world of faeries and centaurs and sprites. It is also a world held under the shadow magic of a raging king.  Throughout the book, Top-Trumps style card pages help the reader to keep track of the different inhabitants of the forest and to compare their different magical powers.

Friendship and family play an important part in the story. My favourite character this time was Nan, who has lingered as a ghost to raise her grandchild. From the very first page, I cared deeply about Nan’s connections to the world and wanted to know whether she would remain beyond the story to continue raising her grandchild. I am currently grieving for my mother and I forever berate myself for not meeting my mother’s standards in day-to-day tasks. So often I know what she would say without thinking. It made the idea of being raised by a ghost not only relatable but intriguing.

The language in this book is, as ever, rhythmic and beautiful. It feels as if the story itself is a form of magic that conjures the world of Winterspell into being.

An exciting and beautiful story. Amy Wilson’s work continues to be imaginative and creative and every new novel is a treat.

 

Thanks to Macmillan Children’s Books for my copy of Winterspell. Opinions my own.

Middle Grade Reviews

Review: Frostheart by Jamie Littler

Review: Frostheart by Jamie Littler

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Extract:

My parents are out there somewhere, Ash reassured himself. I have to find them. And I have to find out who I am – who the Song Weavers are. I can’t do that from behind Stronghold walls. If there really is a Song Weaver Stronghold, I have to find it. That’s where I belong. 

(Frostheart by Jamie Littler. P117.) 

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Synopsis:

Out in the frozen lands live a group of tribes cut off from the rest of society and at the mercy of the monsters which lurk under the Snow Sea.  

Ash has never known his parents. He was left with the Fira hunters as a baby and doesn’t know where he originally came from. When an accident reveals that Ash is a song weaver – a person capable of powerful and ancient magic – Ash and his Yeti guardian are expelled from the tribe.

Together they board the Frostheart – an explorer’s sleigh with a crew whose mission is to unite the tribes. Can they help Ash find his family, or will he fall foul of people who would use his magic?

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Review:

Enter a new fantasy world populated with yeti and explorers and mysterious monsters. If you like quests and stories of exploration from authors like Abi Elphinstone and Vashti Hardy then you will love this. It has all the tropes of a good fantasy and wonderful world-building.

This story is set in the years after the world has undergone an environmental crisis. Old technology is prized by scavengers and archeomekologists, while strange creatures known as Lurkers rise to the surface of the snow to wreak their anger on humans. Living in this world is Ash. He has a strange and greatly feared power which seems to have some sort of connection to the Lurkers. He is on a quest to find his long lost parents and his only clue is the old rhyme they used to sing to him which speaks of a Song Weaver Stronghold.

This is a story full of strong characters, from Ash himself to Tobu his wise and grouchy guardian, and Shaard the enigmatic scholar and outcast. Ash’s friend Lunah stands out as one of those characters you remember for life. She has enough energy and enthusiasm for six people, and the kind of voice which is infectious. However much she kids with Ash, it is clear that Lunah is someone to trust.

Middle-grade fantasy is one of the main genres which helped me develop a love of children’s literature and it is a genre I aspire to write in. Frostheart is a solid story set in an intriguing world. I finished wanting to know more about certain elements of Ash’s world. This to me is the sign of a good fantasy.

Jamie Littler has a background as an illustrator and has made his debut as an author/illustrator with this wonderful story which is illustrated all the way through. I am delighted to see a book for older middle-grade readers so heavily illustrated. This confirms my belief that books for older readers benefit from illustration.

If you are looking for a magical and snowy world to get lost in this winter, you can’t do better than Frostheart. Climb aboard the sleigh and let Jamie Littler’s storytelling and illustration sweep you away.

Middle Grade Reviews

Review: Beyond Platform 13 by Sibéal Pounder. (Eva Ibbotson).

Review: Beyond Platform 13 by Sibéal Pounder. (Eva Ibbotson).

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Extract:

Lina dragged her feet along the platform, and then she saw her, just up ahead – a teenager in bright blue boots. Lina watched as a man rudely barged into her. But then the most peculiar thing happened: he bounced off her as if she were nothing but bones and magic. The teenager turned and mouthed something at the man. Something that looked a lot like –

‘HAG!’ Lina shouted.

And then everything went black.

(Beyond Platform 13 by Sibéal Pounder. (Eva Ibbotson). P7.)

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Synopsis:

Lina wishes her parents would see magic as something more than a fairy tale which their daughter will soon outgrow. Lina just knows there are magical creatures in the world – like Odge, the hag who finds Lina at Vienna Central Station.

Odge is on a mission. Mist has been taken over by harpies. Many of the magical creatures have been expelled and the royal family have been forced into hiding. The gump – the portal which allows people from the ordinary world into magical one – is about to close, and if the harpies are not defeated before then it will be years before the citizens of Mist have another chance to return.

Meanwhile, the little furry creatures known as mistmakers are not well and it is their magic which protects the island.

Can  Lina help Odge and her friends to heal the mistmakers and defeat the harpies before the gump closes? A whole new adventure in the world created by Eva Ibbotson in The Secret Of Platform 13 begins.

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Review:

When I was nine my school librarian placed a book into my hands. ‘You’ll really enjoy this one’ she told me. It was The Secret Of Platform 13 by Eva Ibbotson. I enjoyed it so much that, when a certain Platform 9 and ¾ started to gain more attention later in the same year I told everyone smartly that Platform 13 was already quite magical enough thank you very much. I remember dreaming about Eva Ibbotson’s world in the playground and sneaking the book outside to read it during my lunch break.

The original book is the story of a missing prince who disappeared into the human world nine years ago. It is about a rescue party, led by a wizard and a certain ogre called Odge, sent to find him before the gump closes for another period. In Beyond Platform 13 Odge returns older and wiser as a key player in a rebellion group whose aim is to overthrow the usurping harpies. Except, instead of finding the person she is sent out into the human world to discover, Odge brings back Lina – a young girl with a big imagination and a suspiciously fluffy backpack.

With high stakes and an impossibly short about of time to oust the harpies, Lina and Odge have their work cut out. Luckily they are helped on all sides – by Prince Ben, and a ghost rat named Magdelena and Netty Pruddle the hag who is prepared to risk her life going undercover as a handmaid to the harpy Queen herself.

Lina is a lovely character. She is the child with such a big imagination that the ordinary world simply doesn’t feel good enough. She doesn’t think she can possibly belong in a world of school and work and nine-to-fives and tax returns and absolutely no witches or warlocks at all. Anyone who has ever banged hopefully on the back of an old wardrobe or checked the doormat on their eleventh birthday can relate to her. As much as she wants to remain with her parents, her heart belongs in a more magical place altogether. This theme carries through the book and the conclusion Lina comes to is beautiful. Belonging and being in a physical place can be two very separate things. This is not only relevant to the modern-day, but it pays tribute to Ibbotson who came to Britain as a child refugee from Austria.

Sibéal Pounder was the perfect choice to write the next story in Ibbotson’s world. Pounder too develops rich and complex worlds, and like Ibbotson, her magic has something of a lighthearted touch. Pounder’s stories, like Ibbotson’s, deal with serious subjects like war and revolution while maintaining a kind of playfulness and an awareness of the line which a seven or eight-year-old would be too afraid to cross. They never underestimate the reader- quite the opposite, in fact – but they narrate the tale in a way which is entertaining and exciting to young readers. Pounder is the perfect successor to Ibbotson and she has done the world justice in this new tale.

A magical story for readers of all ages. Whether this is your return to Mist or an introduction, it will capture your imagination in the same way that Ibbotson’s work held mine almost twenty years ago.

 

 Thanks to Macmillan Children’s Books UK for my copy of Beyond Platform 13. Opinions my own. 

Middle Grade Reviews

Blog Tour: Nevertell by Katharine Orton.

Blog Tour: Nevertell by Katharine Orton.

 

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Extract:

What she pulled out looked like a beaded necklace with a pendant attached – except, instead of a pendant, it was some gnarled old piece of wood, or stone. It was rough, pockmarked and warm. It shimmered in the dim light – like the snow did, sometimes, in the moonlight. She’d never known a stone do that before. 

(Nevertell by Katherine Orton. P41.) 

 

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Synopsis:

Eleven-year-old Lina has never seen life beyond the prison camp where she has grown up. She is used to seeing people on the verge of starvation and to the cruelty to the guards, including Commandant Zima who is rumoured to be her father. Then Lina joins an escape party and is followed by her best friend Bogan.

Lina has one mission – to survive the journey and find the grandmother she has never known.

Beyond the camp is a snowy Russian wilderness and a hint of something magical. Stories of a vengeful sorceress with a pack of shadow wolves are rife, but such stories are dangerous in Soviet Russia. Is there any truth to them? If so, does this sorceress have the power that the stories claim?

A lyrical tale about survival, friendship and the power of magic.

 

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Review:

Occasionally you open a book expecting it to be one thing and find out it is a totally different story. And that actually the story you never expected was a valuable and magical experience. This is how I felt about Nevertell. From the cover I predicted something akin to Sky Song but with a real-world setting. Instead I found a historical novel with magic so subtle it is closer to magical realism. A lyrical tale about the power of stories and magic against real-life atrocities.

Lina and Bogdan are the only children in a Soviet labour camp. Lina was born there. Bogdan looked older and stronger than his age and was brought in with his parents. The scenes in the work camp are sensitively told and only show what is relevant to Lina and Bogdan’s story. The thing which will stay with me is the suspense. Katherine Orton creates an atmosphere in which the reader, as well as the characters, constantly expects an attack from the Secret Police, or from the criminals who are part of Lina’s escape party.

Svetlana the sorceress is like no ice queen you have ever met before. Yes, she has the same trappings – a cape and a palace of ice guarded by a great animal – but the emotional truth of her story and her conflicting nature make her a different and extremely complex character.

Lina is conflicted about what she needs to do most – escape and find the grandmother she never knew or return to the camp to help her mother who was left behind. To choose her path she must first learn about the world outside the camp and the secrets of her own past.

It is lovely to see a story where the genres merge. Does this belong closer to Emma Carroll in categorisation or is it more Abi Elphinstone? Or next to a lyrical writer like Amy Wilson. In the end, the category doesn’t matter. It is the story that counts, and this is a tale with rounded characters and rich and beautiful writing. Follow Lina and Bogdan on their journey and find out the deepest truth about fairy tales and imagination.

 

Q&A with Katherine Orton – 

 

Q. In Lina’s world fairy tales are dangerous and telling them can result in the death penalty. Can you explain her feelings when she is first confronted with them? Why did you want to explore this conflict?

A. It’s not quite as harsh as the death penalty, but fairy tales are forbidden – and Lina is as sceptical as everyone else at first. One character called Old Gleb who’s with Lina in the prison camp she was born in believes in spirits and the supernatural, and people have always just dismissed him. But Lina soon comes face to face in the most dangerous way possible with things she thought could only exist in fairy tales – and it shakes her whole world. Not that she has time to be too shocked, or even afraid: her main concern is to survive.

I wanted to explore this because I actually discovered via an amazing book called Inside the Rainbow, and the foreword by Philip Pullman, no less, that fairy tales of the magical variety really weren’t supposed to be told to children in the Soviet Union at one point. It got me wondering about who gets to decide what’s real and what’s not, why it matters, and even how the beings of a magical world might react to such a decision. That was what truly sparked Nevertell into life. (No one was ever put to death over it as far as I know, though, thank goodness).

Q. Magic in your world ranges from spirit-like shadow wolves to magical plants. What sort of magic was the most fun to imagine and write?

A. I truly loved the wolves. But the idea of being able to grow plants with willpower and with touch… I think that was probably my favourite to both imagine and write. I wanted to be a gardener myself at one point (along with a whole load of other things – paramedic, stained glass window maker, archaeologist. The list goes on…) so it’s something that speaks to me. Imagine having that connection with the natural world, and also having such a useful skill! Just think what someone could do for people with that ability, how they might affect the world. And that’s something Lina definitely begins to think about as the story goes on.

 

Q. Your title, Nevertell, refers to something Lina hears whispered by a spirit. What does this word hint at?

 I think that might be telling, haha! Let’s just say that it refers to a few different things. The truth about what happened between the spirit – a ‘shadow’ as they’re known in the book – and the sorceress, Svetlana, who’s been so fanatical about pursuing Lina and her best friend, Bogdan, without us really knowing why. But it’s also a reference to this idea that fairy tales aren’t allowed, and to the reasons that might be.

Q. What sort of challenges did you face in writing an ice queen?

A. I found it hard to make her scary enough at first, because to be totally honest I sympathised with her in lots of ways! (I know that sounds slightly worrying for an ice queen…). But once I’d realised that her character needed work, I had ridiculous amounts of fun making her really fierce and cold and terrifying. And getting her to do some really awful things, of course.

Q. You have mixed fantasy with a story about a very difficult piece of history. What do you think fantasy can offer in terms of telling these very real stories?

A. Fantasy, I think, is a powerful tool for making sense of the world. We start out as children learning through play and I don’t think that ever really stops – or at least I don’t believe it ought to. To me, fantasy is a safe place in which to process very real ideas and feelings, to learn, experiment, stretch our minds and foster emotions. This balance only works of course alongside sound, careful and respectful research into the real aspects of the story, however, and that’s something I took seriously, so I hope I was able to manage the balance.

Q. Your story has a strong sense of suspense and keeps the readers turning the pages. How did you create this in your writing?

A. Firstly it’s great to hear that you felt that. I think I just asked myself what I would want to read, and the answer was: something exciting. So I put a lot of thought into how to achieve that, and then went back over the drafts (and so did my editors!) to tighten it and to look for places where I could ramp up the tension even more. Ending the chapter at a really tense moment was something I enjoyed doing a lot. It felt a bit cheeky. I just kept asking myself, what would make this more exciting? What would make me want to keep reading?

Thank you for having me on your blog, Louise, and for your brilliant questions!

Kat

 

My copy of Nevertell was gifted by Walker Books LTD as part of a promotional blog tour. Opinions remain my own. Thanks to Katharine Orton for your time and wonderful answers.

 

 

Middle Grade Reviews

Review: The Fowl Twins by Eoin Colfer

Review: The Fowl Twins by Eoin Colfer

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Synopsis:

If history has taught us one thing it is that wherever there is trouble, there is also a Fowl.

Myles and Beckett Fowl have a lot to live up to. Their brother Artemis is a super genius whose many adventures with the fairies brought him to fame, until he finally became a scientist and went to Mars. Fortunately the Fowl Twins aren’t feeling the pressure. Myles is an even greater genius, and Beckett speaks multiple languages including dolphin and troll. He also has gummy sweets to cheer himself up.

Unfortunately, their famous family has gained lots of attention in the past. There are people who would use Myles and Beckett to get at another group entirely – the fairies. Like sister Jeronima, the nunterrogator, and Lord Teddy Bleedham-Drye the notorious faerie hunter.

What will happen when a troll, two Fowl children, a non-magical Pixel, a nun and a murderous Lord get entangled in the same business?

Mayhem. Fowl style.

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Review:

Eoin Colfer is back with a new series set in the world of Artemis Fowl. The new stories will focus on Artemis’s little brothers, Myles and Beckett, and this first adventure suggests they are about to steal the limelight. It all begins shortly after the boys’ eleventh birthday, when they befriend a troll who is on the run from known faerie-killer Lord Teddy Bleedham-Drye.

What happens next establishes the first bonds between the twins and the faerie realm.

The boys are both strong characters. Myles is eleven going on fifty-five. He dislikes childish nonsense, phrases which are not strictly logical and being bested by his elder brother Artemis (noted space scientist and three times a PHD). Beckett embraces childhood, relaxation time and opportunities for jokes. He is made interesting my his love of nature – he has a bond with every living thing, animal, faerie or otherwise – and an intuitive grasp of non-human languages. He also pretends not to understand his brother just to keep a healthy balance. Neither boy is driven by criminal activity like the young Artemis, because the Fowls have put criminal genius behind them for good. Almost. Possibly.

The faeries are well represented too. Lazuli is a Pixel who works for LEP. She’s unusual in that her magic has never woken up. Like Holly Short before her, Lazuli is unafraid to break the rules, especially if it means helping a faerie in danger. Like Whistle Blower the toy troll (so named by Beckett because he squeaks) who is at the centre of the entire commotion.

One of the most interesting characters in the story isn’t human at all. NANNI is the AI system designed by Artemis (with a little input from Myles) to look after the twins, who communicate to her via Myles’s hi-tech glasses. NANNI has greater depths than anyone has realised and looks set to become as big a character as the twins themselves.

What makes the book for me is Colfer’s masterful narration. His prose has such skill about it that as a reader you relax into it, confident that however improbable the actions of a scene there is no doubt that Colfer has all the threads of the story in hand. And possibly some amazing tricks alongside them. As an aspiring author I was especially taken by the balance of action and narration – this is one of those things which everyone strives to perfect and the wonderful thing about learning from this story is that Colfer’s narrator is so clearly having fun.

Artemis Fowl was one of the major book series of my millennial childhood. Think faeries meets gadgets meets criminal genius. The twins are more hyper, less prone to criminal intent and happier to roll with events than their elder brother, which gives the book a different tone to the original series.

These are the Gen Z Fowls and everyone – devoted readers and new, older and young – will be delighted to meet.

 

Thanks to Riot Communications and Harper Collins Children’s Books for my ARC of The Fowl Twins. Opinions my own.

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.