New reviews: November reads big book blog

novermber reads

I’ve enjoyed some great books from the TBR pile over the last month.  Here are five of my recommended reads this month featuring magical adventures, suitably wintry landscapes, a haunting war time tale and a funny blend of story and science.

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The Clockwork Crow by Catherine Fisher

When Seren Rhys is given a newspaper parcel by a stranger late at night in a freezing Victorian train station, she has no idea what trouble it contains. She is heading for a new life in the remote country house of Plas-y-Fran. But when she gets there the happy Christmas she hoped for turns out to be an illusion.  Armed with a talking bird who might not be telling the truth,  a magical snow globe and her own indomitable courage, Sereb sets off on a perilous midnight journey into an enchanted world of snow and stars to bring happiness back to Pas-y-Fran.

A wonderful adventure story, The Clockwork Crow has mystery, magic and a marvellous heroine! Seren is no stranger to hardship having been raised in an orphanage, but just when she thinks her life will finally get easier, she is thrown headlong into a mystery adventure.  Seren’s new home is full of sadness and she is determined to find out why with the help – albeit somewhat reluctantly – of her new friend, a talking mechanical bird.  A page-turning narrative keeps you in suspense right till the end, with a few sinister and darkly magical moments that make you hold your breath.  I thoroughly enjoyed this story and the characters featured in it – especially Seren’s cantankerous companion! The Clockwork Crow is well-deserving of it’s recent short listing for the Blue Peter Book Award and a great new fantasy story to add to your bookshelf.

Find out more at www.fireflypress.co.uk. With thanks to Firefly Press for sending me this book to review.

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The Girl, the Cat and the Navigator by Matilda Woods

Curious, pin-bright Oona Britt dreams of setting sail with her ship’s captain father for a life of excitement on the wild waves.  She has read stories of a magical creature – the Nardoo – who swims through the stars at night, and stows away on a whaling boat the Plucky Leopard for an adventure full of myths and marvel among the ice-caps.  But her time on the storm-tossed sea is fraught with danger – there’s a mutinous crew, a sabotaging ship’s cat called Barnacles and a hungry creature of the deep awoken after a long sleep….

This is a captivating story about kindness and courage, family and fortune, all rolled into one marvellous adventure.  Oona makes a delightful heroine who you instantly warm too especially when you realise what a hard life she has had as the unwanted daughter of a family with seven children. She takes matters into her own hands as she stows away on her father’s ship and her pluck and courage are not disappointed as the adventure begins. Wonderful descriptions bring a thrilling and magical world instantly to life with beautiful illustrations by Anuska Allepuz. Reminiscent of a classic fairytale where the heroine never gives up hope and finally finds where she belongs, and where the villains get their comeuppance, The Girl, the Cat and the Navigator is a story to be treasured.

Find out more www.scholastic.co.ukWith thanks to Scholastic for sending me this book to review.

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White Feather by Catherine and David McPhail

The First World War is over, but for Tony there is little to celebrate. His brother never returned from no man’s land. To make it worse, Charlie died not as hero but was executed as a coward. Grief-stricken Tony refuses to believe that his brother was a traitor and he is pushed to the edge in his dark quest to uncover the horrifying truth.

White Feather is a haunting reminder of the horror faced by all those involved in World War One. Published in time for the Armistice centenary, this powerful middle-grade story portrays the journey of Tony as he desperately seeks the truth about his brother.  His mother refuses to accept Charlie’s death and her mental health deteriorates.  As Tony begins to uncover the truth, it is clear the impact of the war reaches even beyond his imagination and experience.  White Feather deals with many issues of the war – conflict, grief, desertion, shell shock – and challenges readers to think from a wider view about who was affected and how far reaching the consequences of war can be.  An accessible read, the simple narrative will help everyone who reads it understand why it is so important we remember the sacrifices made by so many, not just for the centenary but for always.

Find out more www.barringtonstoke.co.ukWith thanks to Barrington Stoke for sending me this book to review.

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Frostfire by Jamie Smith

Chosen for the honour of bonding with a frostsliver – a fragment of the sentient glacier that crests her icy home – Sabira embarks on the dangerous pilgrimage to the top of the mountain. But when a huge avalanche traps her on the glacier and destroys the pass, Sabira is determined to find another way home. In order to survive, she must face up to the merciless mountain – but there are dark and fiery secrets hiding in its depths …

Frostfire is a fabulous fantasy debut creating an utterly believable world with a brave new heroine at its heart. Bonding with a frostsliver is the highest honour that only a few of the Aderasti people are chosen for. The frostsilver becomes a symbiotic part of the chosen person and opens their eyes to the power of the frost fire.  We meet Sabira as she takes her first step toward her destiny but it’s not as straightforward as it seems.  Through flashbacks we discover she has already lost her brother to the mountain and that the world she knows is on the verge of collapse.  As the story unfolds, it is clear the dangers are not just on the mountain but inside it too and Sabira must prove her worth using all her strengths to overcome them.  A thrilling adventure, told with heart and creating a frightening and beautiful world of ice, snow and mysterious sentient beings, Frostfire will keep you hooked until the final page.

Find out more at www.chickenhousebooks.com. With thanks to Chicken House for sending me this book to review.

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Al’s Awesome Science Blast Off by Jane Clarke illustrated by James Brown

It’s the twins’ birthday and Al is researching new ways to blast off his time-machine capsule into space. Trouble is, his experiments with balloons, marshmallow catapults and bottle rockets are just a little bit messy! Soon, the birthday party has taken on a rather explosive twist and trouble is brewing with Al’s nosy neighbours.

This is the third book in the science-based series featuring Al and his twin sister Lottie and Einstein the dog. A brilliant blend of science and story, these books are a great way to introduce scientific concepts to young readers as well as keep them entertained with hilarious stories.  Blast Off features a whole host of characters, from the twins’ friends to Precious the neighbour’s unfortunate cat, who gets caught up in the fun, and her owners Mr and Mrs Good.  Laugh-out-loud moments are brought to life by James Brown’s fantastic illustrations as Al investigates how rockets actually work.  Throughout there are ideas to help readers explore and try out the experiments themselves. I love that Al is never put off by the mishaps and mayhem he creates- as he says “I’m a scientist and scientists NEVER give up!”.  A great fun read to add to this fantastic science adventure series.

You can read guest blogs by the author and illustrator of this series here.

Find out more at www.fivequills.co.uk. With thanks to Five Quills for sending me this book to review.

 

 

New review: Gaslight by Eloise Williams

Gaslight is the second novel by Eloise Williams, published by Firefly Press.  Eloise grew up in Wales and studied for a masters in Creative Writing at Swansea. She also worked in the theatre and studied drama. Gaslight is set in Victorian Cardiff and gives a wonderful insight into life behind the scenes in a Victorian theatre, as well as a cracking adventure!

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Gaslight by Eloise Williams

I was found at the docks in Cardiff, lying like a gutted fish at the water’s edge. All Nansi knows is that her mother disappeared on the day she was fished out of the docks. She can’t remember anything else. Now, with no family to turn to, she works for Sid at the Empire Theatre, sometimes legally, sometimes thieving, trying to earn enough money to hire a detective to search for her mother.

Everything changes when Constance and Violet join the theatre. Nansi is forced to be part of Violet’s crooked psychic act.  But it’s Constance who is keeping the real secrets. Nansi is about to learn that her world is even more dangerous that she realised. Can she save her mother? Can she save herself?

Nansi’s life at the Empire Theatre is hard and fraught with danger.  With the vile Sid being her ‘father’ figure – something he constantly reminds her of – she has no choice but trust him and all his schemes, just to keep a roof over her head and the hope of finding her mother alive.  Nansi’s only comfort is her friendship with an orphan called Bee, who is more like a younger sister to her. Nansi is fiercely protective of Bee, determined to try and make her life easier.  With no memory to help her, Nansi is without clues to her mother’s disappearance and it’s only when the new arrival Constance takes up residence in Nansi’s room, that it appears that her trust in Sid is truly misplaced. The mystery surrounding her mother’s disappearance starts to unravel.   What follows is a dangerous and thrilling adventure to find the truth- and avoid disappearing herself on the way!

A wonderful Victorian romp with echoes of Dickens, Gaslight is a thoroughly enjoyable read. The narrative unfolds at a good pace and the setting is vividly described, creating a deliciously dark picture of a life in Victorian Cardiff.  From the grimy streets to the spotlit stage, the atmosphere positively draws you in. I loved Nansi; she is bold and brave and doesn’t allow her fears to get the better of her.  She’s exactly the sort of heroine I loved reading about when I was a girl! She holds on to the hope of finding her mother and this is carried throughout the novel, even when she’s at her lowest ebb. Her relationship with Bee is lovely and I love that the author weaves the joy stories can bring into their lives.  Scary and gritty at times the cast of characters includes thieves, mudlarks and even an evil asylum proprietor.  As the plot thickens, the brilliant storytelling takes you on a thrilling journey, with twists galore.  The added interest of life in a Victorian theatre and the intrigue behind the scenes ensures Gaslight will entertain all readers!

Postscript…I think my favourite character must be the maid at the end…called Dilly!! Thank you Eloise; very happy to have inspired the name (as I discovered through the wonder of Twitter!)

Watch the book trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SEfQGT_-EYw

Find out more at www.eloisewilliams.com and www.fireflypress.co.uk. Follow Eloise on Twitter @Eloisejwilliams .

With thanks to Firefly Press for sending me this book to review.