Tag Archives: Middle Grade Fiction

New reviews: Fabulous Fantasy Fiction (with a bit of sci-fi too!)

I realised as I was planning some middle-grade reviews, that a whole host of them were fantasy and or sci-fi based. So today I’m sharing five of the best I’ve read in recent weeks, available now (and would make great gifts for the middle-grade readers in your life!)

The Ten Riddles of Eartha Quicksmith by Loris Owen has an intriguing title and equally intriguing plot. A debut middle-grade novel and the first in a new series, this is an exciting race-against-time adventure telling the story of Kip Bramley and the Quicksmiths College of Strange Energy. Kip receives an invitation to join the College and finds himself drawn into a world of chasing riddles and solving puzzles to find the mysterious Ark of Ideas. Dark forces are working against Kip and his friends, with a combination of science and magic creating a thrilling adventure. The Ten Riddles of Eartha Quicksmith is totally inventive and utterly entertaining, and is very likely to be the next BIG series on your bookshelf! Published by Firefly Press with a dedicated website at www.quicksmiths.com

The Griffin Gate by Vashti Hardy has all the hallmarks of Vashti’s signature steampunk, fantasy style and atmospheric illustrations by Natalie Smillie. Featuring the story of Grace, whose family are wardens of the Griffin map invented by her Grandmother, and use it’s teleport technology to protect the people of Moreland. Grace, a brave and determined heroine, can’t join them on their missions yet as she is too young but one day, responds to a distress call and finds herself transported to a remote village, where treachery seems afoot! With her mechanical bird Watson by her side, Grace courageously embraces the adventure and readers are treated to an exciting tale, full of fantastic characters, set in a world they’ll wish they could visit! Published by Barrington Stoke, this is first in the series and a dyslexia-friendly, accessible read.

The Thing in Black Hole Lake by Dashe Roberts is the second book in this fast-paced sci-fi series, set against the backdrop of the strange town of Sticky Pines. After the events of The Bigwoof Conspiracy the two central characters, Lucy and Milo, are no longer friends. But this doesn’t stop them being drawn into another sinister adventure together, when Milo discovers a frightening creature at Black Hole Lake whilst on a trip with his father. With Lucy continuing to investigate the strange history of Sticky Pines and Milo trying to find out just what lurks beneath the water, they’re bound to need each other’s help! The question is, will they realise how important friends really are and rekindle their friendship? A perfect balance of weird, scary and mysterious with lots of humour to lighten the mood, this adventure will have you laughing out loud and gripping the edge of your seat! Move over Mulder and Scully, the new kids are on the block! Published by Nosy Crow.

Donut the Destroyer by Sarah Graley and Stef Purenins is a lively graphic novel with an unlikely heroine at its heart, who lives in a world where everyone is born with a special ability which they can choose to use for good or evil. Donut is an unlikely heroine, because she’s is born into an infamous family of villains – the Destroyers! But unlike the rest of her family, she wants to use her powers for good, much to the annoyance of her best friend, Ivy. And when Donut enrols in the Lionheart School for Heroes, Ivy is determined to persuade Donut to change her mind – no matter what. Even if it means using her villain powers against Donut and her new friends! Fun, full of humour and super-heroic deeds with some nasty villains thrown in, this is a great read for graphic novel and fantasy fans and will leave you with a big smile on your face. Published by Scholastic.

My Life As A Cat by Carlie Sorosiak is the brilliant, heart-warming tale of Leonard, a 300 year old alien who mistakenly ends up in the body of a cat. He should have been a park ranger! All aliens from his home galaxy get the opportunity to spend a month in the body of an Earth creature. But something goes wrong and Leonard ends up as a cat. Miles from where he needs to be to get home, Leonard is adopted by a young girl, Olive, who is a little lost herself. Together, they embark on a journey of discovery and soon find out what is means to be human, the reality of true friendship and just how precious life is, even when you feel (or are) out of place! Leonard is a wonderful protagonist and his cat-behaviour is absolutely spot-on. A delightful, funny and well-observed story, My Life As A Cat has wonderfully positive messages about what home really means. Published by Nosy Crow.

With thanks to Barrington Stoke, Firefly Press, Nosy Crow and Scholastic for sending me these books to read and review. They will be going to very good homes via my local food bank.

BLOG TOUR: Moonchild: Voyage of the Lost and Found by Aisha Bushby illustrated by Rachael Dean

It’s the final stop on the blog tour for the first in a magical new middle-grade series, inspired by the Arabian Nights. Beautifully told and full of imagination, Moonchild: Voyage of the Lost and Found by Aisha Bushby illustrated by Rachael Dean will transport you to a world of wonder!

We all have our stories. And if we feed them, some may grow all the way to the moon…..Magic has always been part of twelve-year old Amira’s life, even though her world frowns on it. When a mysterious storm begins to rage and Amira’s magical cat companion goes missing, she decides to set sail. An extraordinary adventure awaits – one that will change Amira’s life forever…..

Aisha lives on board a dhow with her sea witch mothers and her jinn, a magical cat called Namur. They only visit the land to make their living selling tonics in the souks and buy supplies. Amira has spent all her life at sea so when her mothers tell her she is old enough to go to the souk, she cannot wait. Amira’s magical ability – to read people’s emotions through her sense of smell – is somewhat overwhelmed as she navigates the stalls and helps her mother. Little does she know a chance encounter with a boy called Leo, who also has a jinn in the form of a magical goldfish, will start to unravel the mysteries Amira has been pondering. Not least why Namur, who usually only appears when Amira is angry, has been visible ever since a dangerous storm arrived on the Sahir Penninsula. So begins the most marvellous but dangerous adventure, leading Amira to discover the truth about her magic and rescue her beloved jinn.

Moonchild: Voyage of the Lost and Found is a captivating tale, drawing you in to Amira’s world. Magic and mystery abounds with each page a discovery in itself, featuring beautiful descriptions, heartfelt emotions and fantastic characters. The use of emotions and how we deal with them is present throughout, shining a light on the importance of accepting how we feel. I loved the Arabian Nights-inspired narration and invitations to accompany Amira as she embarks on her quest to find her jinn and the truth she so desperately seeks. Each character has a story to tell, embedding a sense of myth throughout and the narrative cleverly intertwines these stories to create a tapestry of adventure.  Accompanied by wonderful illustrations bringing Amira and her world to life, Moonchild will transport you to a place so full of enchantment you won’t want to leave!

With thanks to Egmont for sending me this book to review and inviting me to participate in this blog tour. Don’t forget to check out the rest of the blog tour!

BLOG TOUR: Return to Roar by Jenny McLachlan illustrated by Ben Mantle

Come and join a marvellous adventure in Return to Roar! Today is the final stop on the blog tour for this brilliant new book by Jenny MacLachlan and illustrated by Ben Mantle, taking us back to the Land of Roar with twins Rose and Arthur. It’s not always that a sequel is as good as the first in a series, but this one definitely is – you will not be disappointed! I’m delighted to share my review and even more excited to share a Q & A with author Jenny McLachlan!

Twins Rose and Arthur are so excited to be going back to Roar, their magical world of dragons, ninja wizards and anything else they can imagine! But then the twins receive a message from arch-enemy Crowky. WHAT’S IN THE BOX? The Box contains the things that scare the twins the most. If Crowky gets hold of it, he could use it to conjure up Rose and Arthur’s worst nightmares and destroy Roar….FOREVER.

In Return to Roar, Rose and Arthur are spending half term with their Grandad – at least that’s what their parents think! But Grandad knows better and he’s more than happy for the twins to ‘stay’ with him and travel back to Roar through the magic portal – the Z-bed in the attic! Little do they know, there’s an even bigger adventure than last time awaiting them – bigger than flying on dragons, catching unicorns and swimming with merfolk. Before they know it, Rose and Arthur are doing battle again with evil villain, a terrifying scarecrow called Crowky, who is determined to destroy Roar forever! Rose, Arthur and their friends, Wininja the wizard and Mitch the Mermaid must travel to The End and find The Box before Crowky – and a new fearsome villain – wreaks havoc on their imaginary world – and their home too!

Return to Roar is a storytelling delight, celebrating the wonder of imagination and the power of friendship. With great character development, brilliant new faces to meet and places to visit, along with some really heart-warming themes, it makes a fantastic sequel to Land of Roar (review here). Rose and Arthur have become closer now they’re a bit older and their support for each other – with a bit of healthy sibling rivalry – is great to see. The inhabitants of Roar are fantastic and make you want to join the fun. In amongst the adventure and excitement, there is a subtle theme of how to deal with bullies running through the narrative and some really wonderful moments of compassion and kindness. All in all, Return to Roar is a wonderful read, with brilliant illustrations throughout capturing the action. If I were you, I’d get your hands on a copy now – don’t miss your chance to visit Roar!

Jenny McLachlan was kind enough to share some insights into writing Return to Roar so read on to find out more!

How did you find travelling back to Roar?! Was it more difficult than the first visit?It was actually! I had no problem describing Roar and stepping back into Arthur’s shoes, and it was absolutely brilliant meeting Win and Grandad again, but there is quite a lot going on in the plot: Rose has a secret, the children go on a treasure hunt across Roar, and I introduce two new characters. It’s all go!

There’s some fantastic new places to visit and characters to meet in Return to Roar. What was your inspiration for them? ike ALrthur, I’m a big fan of Frozen Planet and this inspired The End. I’ve got a beautifully illustrated book that accompanied David Attenborough’s series and I spent a lot of time gazing at it! Mitch is inspired by lots of my favourite females: my daughters, my sister, my mum. She was probably the character that appeared most fully formed in my head. Some characters require a bit of work, others seem to have always existed. Mitch was just waiting to be written down. In fact, she was originally in The Land of Roar – I think I was very keen to include her! – but I took her out to save for the sequel.

Crowky is back and badder than ever – he makes a great villain and surely belongs in the children’s fiction villains’ hall of fame! Who is/are your favourite villain(s) in children’s fiction? I really love properly scary villains. I think my favourite villain in children’s fiction is probably Miss Trunchball. I took my daughters to watch the musical Matilda! when my youngest was only six. You should have seen her face when Miss Trunchball appeared! It was touch and go for a moment, and I wondered if we were going to have to make a speedy exit, but she wasn’t going anywhere! I found Moon-Face in The Far-Away Tree very scary, although I don’t think he was supposed to be. I wonder if he inspired Crowky…

I love Mitch the Mermaid – what a great character – (who also happens to have lots of tattoos)! If you were going to have any tattoos what would it be and why? Writing Return to Roar did involve a fair amount of tattoo Googling so I have given this some thought! I would have a beautiful fox somewhere I could always see it – my arm? I love foxes. I did wonder if I could ever get Mitch’s map tattoo . . . it’s quite big though. I don’t think I’m brave enough!

You draw on Rose’s experiences with her school friends – and you show real compassion in her actions right at the end. Why did you include this theme in the story and what do you hope readers will draw from it? I, like a lot of people, experienced some bullying at school. When it happens it’s absolutely terrifying. I can completely understand why it would scare Rose so much, and also why she would keep it a secret from Arthur. I really didn’t enjoy the first three years at secondary school. It felt like an unsafe place. Some days, I felt like Rose did when she was being chased by Hati. It’s very difficult to stand up to bullies. I didn’t want to offer a glib solution to Rose’s problems, but I did want her to, ultimately, triumph. If there is one thing I would like readers to draw from Rose’s experience it would be to start listening to that voice inside. The one that, when you know you are being spoken to unkindly, says, this isn’t right, and rather than keeping quiet about it, speaks out.

Thank you for participating and I cannot wait to read Book 3!

Find out more at https://jennymclachlan.com/ and https://www.benmantle.co.uk/.

With thanks to Egmont for inviting me to participate in this blog tour and sending me this book to review. Don’t forget to check out the rest of the blog tour!

New reviews: last reviews of 2018!

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This week’s reads include five great titles to add to your TBR shelf.  Three fantastic middle grade accessible reads published by Barrington Stoke and two moving middle- grade wartime dramas; one set in World War One (published by Scholastic) and one focused on World War Two (published by Firefly Press).  These great books form the last of my book reviews for 2018 as I’ll be taking a book review break over December – but still reading of course!

race to the frozen north

 

Race to the Frozen North by Catherine Johnson

When orphan Matthew Henson ran away from his violent stepmother to find a new life in the big city, no one could have predicted that he would become the first man to reach the North Pole.  A little luck and a lot of hard work led to a life of adventure on the high seas and in the Arctic, but back home in America his achievements were ignored due to the colour of his skin. 

Based on a remarkable true story, Race to the Frozen North sheds light on the amazing achievements of Matthew Henson and his lifetime’s journey to the North Pole. I had never heard of him before reading this story – and I expect I am not alone in this. The prejudice he faced prevented him being recognised as the first man to the North Pole and he lived with this knowledge for many years until times began to change and he finally received a Polar Expedition Medal. But in many ways Matthew’s achievements go way beyond reaching the North Pole – he overcame hatred, poverty, endless prejudice and fear to achieve his dream of living a life of adventure. The friendships he did make through hard work and a desire to learn were strong and true. Brilliantly told, Race to the Frozen North is a story all would benefit from reading, celebrating an incredible unsung hero.

Find out more at www.barringtonstoke.co.uk

flight

Flight by Vanessa Harbour

Austria 1945.  After losing his family, Jakob shelters with Herr Engel in a rural stables, where they hide the precious Lipizzanner stallions they know Hitler wants to steal.  When a German officer comes looking for Jakob and finds the horses, Jakob and his guardian know they must get the stallions to safety, but the only way is straight through Nazi territory. Joined by Kizzy, an orphan Roma girl, the three must guide the horses across the perilous Austrian mountains.  Will they reach safety? What will be waiting for them the other side?

The opening scene of Flight immediately sets the tone of this wartime story – tense, heart breaking, and full of bravery. Jakob’s care for the beautiful Lipizzanner horses and his determination to save them even in the face of murderous Nazis, is truly admirable.  His relationship with his guardian, the grouchy but kind Herr Engel, is touching and the introduction of a third character, Kizzy, creates a brilliant dynamic to the relationships at the heart of the story.  Wartime dramas such as Flight show how awful the brutal regime that stole the freedom of so many really was, but also captures the bravery and hope that kept the Nazis from succeeding.  A really gripping read that doesn’t stint on the dangers faced by Jakob, Herr Engel and Kizzy, Flight will keep you hooked till the final page.

Find out more www.fireflypress.co.uk

anty hero

Anty Hero by Barry Hutchison illustrated by Tom Percival

Ant might seem to have an odd attraction to insects, and it’s weird that he doesn’t know anything about footie, but these aren’t the strangest things about him by a long way. What really sets him apart is what’s hiding behind the ginormous sunglasses that he refuses to ever take off.  When his science teacher catches a glimpse behind the oversized green lenses, Ant is in grave danger. Can his friends Zac and Tulisa, along with an army of tiny helpers, save the day?

Quirky and original, Anty Hero is an engaging story featuring an unusual hero and bugs galore, with great black and white illustrations capturing the action. When Zac realises he’s not the weirdest kid in school any more he’s a bit relieved but also finds a friend in the new boy, Ant.  However, his relief is short lived when Ant accidentally reveals his true identity in a science lesson. So begins a daring rescue to save Ant from their somewhat maniacal science teacher Mr Dawkins and his son – the class bully – Ray.  Zac and fellow classmate Tulisa, find they’re braver than they realise and that friends come in all shapes and sizes in this funny, bug-filled tale!

Find out more at www.barringtonstoke.co.uk

 

evies war

Evie’s War by Holly Webb

On the cusp of World War one, in the seaside town of Whitby, Evie and her family are touched by tragedy when Evie’s younger brother Alexander dies unexpectedly. But when the threat of war turns into a reality and Evie’s older brother David enlists in the army, their mother is truly heartbroken. And as the family does their best to contribute to the war effort, they also struggle with the sacrifices each of them are forced to make. 

Brilliant storytelling shows the true heartache and difficulties faced by one family throughout World War 1.  Instantly creating empathy in the reader from the very first page and as the story unfolds, Evie’s War deals with so many different aspects of the impact of war, from death and bereavement to separation of family, food shortages, cowardice, bombings, to the use of animals in war.  It also is a story of growing up, starting a new school, making friends and coping with a grieving mother.  Evie makes a warm and strong central character, for whom you feel much sympathy as she navigates life, supporting her younger sister Kitty and helping look after the family home, in particular her dogs Max and Brandy.  You’ll need a box of tissues when you read this book which is both heart-breaking and uplifting.  Published in time for the Armistice Centenary, Evie’s War will help children understand the true heartache and horrors of war at the same time as reassuring them of the power of family, love and hope.

Find out more at www.scholastic.co.uk

dog

The Dog that Saved Christmas by Nicola Davies illustrated by Mike Byrne

Christmas is a nightmare for Jake. He hates the bright lights, all the noise and the disruption to his routine. But everything changes when he finds a lost dog. He names her Susan and adopts as his own. Jake and Susan form a special bond that helps him cope with the things that usually stress him out. With Susan around maybe there’s a chance that this Christmas will be one the whole family can enjoy.

A really touching story that highlights Christmas isn’t always as welcome as we might think for some children.  Jake is a child on the autism spectrum and finds lots of things difficult to cope with, but especially when there are lots of changes. So instead of being excited about the lights, the tree and more freedom, Jake hates it.  The story shows just how hard this is for his whole family and when Jake finds a special friend in the shape of Susan the stray dog, they are all delighted that he feels so much better.  But when his real owners come to take her home, Jake is back to being totally unsettled with everything.  I won’t spoil the ending, but The Dog that Saved Christmas really does make you think – and shows how magical the relationship between a dog and their owner can be.  Therapy dogs are becoming more common in many schools because they can have such an amazingly positive impact on the children they work with – and of course this is felt by the families of those children too.  The Dog that Saved Christmas is a really warm-hearted tale featuring lovely illustrations and sharing an important message of inclusivity and understanding.

Find out more at www.barringtonstoke.co.uk

With thanks to Barrington Stoke, Firefly Press and Scholastic for sending me these books to review! 

 

Book of the Month: The Afterwards by A.F.Harrold illustrated by Emily Gravett

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The Afterwards by A.F.Harrold illustrated by Emily Gravett

Fact: Ember and Ness are best friends. There’s nothing more to say about it. It is what it is.  It is what it will always be.  Ember and Ness.  Then Ness dies.  It is sudden and unexpected and leaves Ember completely empty. How can this be?  When Ember finds a way into the Afterworld, she determines to bring Ness back.  Because that’s what friends do isn’t it? They help. They rescue each other. They never give up. Ember and Ness. That don’t change.. 

Sometimes you read a book and it is really hard to put into words what it has made you think, how it has made you feel and the way it has touched your heart.  This is absolutely the case with The Afterwards for me.  Moving, compelling, original, scary, humourous, dark and utterly poignant. A.F.Harrold has a way of writing that is totally thought-provoking whether it be a poem, a recalled memory, a funny story or this – a beautiful portrayal of death and grief.

If you have ever lost someone you love you will know the pain this causes, the hurt and disbelief and the thought that somehow you must be able to find them or get to them in some way.  Just to have one more conversation, one more final hug, one more moment with this person who was yours.  The Afterwards brings this and more to life, through a wonderful alignment of words, the power of story and incredible illustrations by Emily Gravett.  This isn’t just a book for children; this is a book for anyone who has ever lost someone that they love. It is a must read and the most memorable book I have read in a very long time.

With huge thanks to Bloomsbury for sending me this book to read and review.  Find out more at www.bloomsbury.com