#ReadingIrelandMonth21: The Storm Keepers’ Battle by Catherine Doyle

Published by Bloomsbury 04/03/2021

The wonderful blogger Cathy at 746Books.com is hosting #readingirelandmonth21 and for my first contribution I present a review of The Storm Keepers’ Battle, a brilliant #MiddleGrade fantasy set on a small island off the West Coast of Ireland and written by a hugely talented Irish author, Catherine Doyle. I hope that you enjoy this post and do check out the many others posted under the #readingirelandmonth21 banner.

The final instalment of Catherine Doyle’s Storm Keeper trilogy is one of my most anticipated books of 2021 and I was delighted to be approved to read an eARC on NetGalley.

The story continues days after Fionn Boyle’s confrontation with the dark force that threatens his ancestral island home of Arranmore, a wild, storm-battered and beautiful island off the west coast of Ireland, related in book two, The Lost Tide Warriors. 

‘Fionn Boyle was sure of two things:

One, he was full of an ancient, rippling magic that could explode from him at any moment. Two, he had absolutely no idea how to control it.’

This story is MG Fantasy at its finest. A cast of brave and loyal friends who support Fionn through his doubts and difficulties; a sarcastic older sister who comes through for her brother when it really counts; a terrifyingly evil foe and hugely importantly, the island itself. For me it is the sense of place which makes this book and indeed the entire trilogy stand out. The deep magic which pervades Arranmore, with its hauntingly magical locations such as the Whispering Tree, Cowans Lake and even Morrigan’s lair on Black Point Rock all appear utterly authentic and resonate with bone-deep ancestry and connection to the land. I think this can only be achieved by a masterful author who knows and feels that same connection to place.  On the island of Arranmore…

‘If it sounds impossible, then it’s probably true’

As evil sorceress Morrigan sends out her brothers, Brendon the Brutal and Aldric the Silent to capture new recruits for her army of soul stealers, the inhabitants of Arranmore led by Fionn and his family and friends battle against time to locate their own sorcerer, Dagda, to lead the fight against her. The story captures twelve-year-old Fionn’s battle against his own self-doubt and sense of inadequacy for the role which has been thrust upon him. The humorous teen banter between Fionn, his sister Tara and friends Sam and Shelby, contrasting with their fierce loyalty to each other in the heat of battle is deeply moving. The closing chapters of the story held me enraptured as I sat up far too late into the night to finish the book.

This is a perfect finale to one of the best Middle Grade series that I have read and I highly recommend it to all confident readers of 10+

I am grateful to NetGalley and Bloomsbury for granting me access to an eARC ahead of publication and I will be buying a physical copy, hoping that I can find a signed one on sale, to join the other two in the series on my bookshelf.

Image created by Cathy at 746Books and used with permission

Review: The Miracle on Ebenezer Street by Catherine Doyle

Cover image by Pedro Riquelme, published by Penguin Random House/Puffin Books

This is the book that everyone should find in their stocking this Christmas! Catherine Doyle’s reworking of A Christmas Carol sparkles with Yuletide magic and is served with a dusting of her trademark lyricism and charm.

This story overflows with magical and mysterious characters as it recounts the tale of George Bishop, a ten year-old whose world was drained of colour three years previously when his mother died in a car accident on Christmas Eve. Since then, his father Hugo has immersed himself in his work running the family property empire and has banned all references to Christmas. As they approach their third monochrome Christmas without beautiful, kind, artistic Greta, the prospects look grim. Or so it would appear, until George’s grandmother takes him on a clandestine trip to the Winter Wonderland and leaves him to explore Marley’s Christmas Curiosities at the end of a row of wooden huts. In this enchanted space, with its myriad attractions, George is drawn to the shelf labelled “last minute miracles” and discovers a snow globe which inexplicably contains a heart-breakingly familiar snowman.

As anyone familiar with A Christmas Carol would expect, visits to Christmas Past, Christmas Present and Christmas Future follow, as the snow globe grants George his three miracles. Without wishing to give away any plot spoilers I will just note that these wondrous journeys in the company of fellow travellers such as oil portraits and purple reindeers will make you laugh and cry in equal measure. Moments of great hilarity such as Elf-on-the-shelf Tricksie halting mid-miracle to perform an audit segue seamlessly into Aunt Alice whispering to her late sister in a scene that will cause eyes to leak.

The characters are all beautifully realised, from six year-old cousin Clementine with her loudly joyful ability to see magic around her; Hugo whose grief has caused him to shut all colour from his and his son’s lives and George whose longing for family and home drives the narrative. My favourite of all was Nana Flo, the perfect grandmother; warm and wise with an Irish twinkle in her eye, she wears “mystery like a cloak” and is always “happy to conspire at short notice”.

In summary, I absolutely love The Miracle on Ebenezer Street and wholeheartedly recommend it to everyone, independent readers from 9+, and parents, carers, grandparents, teachers and librarians to read aloud to younger children. Teenagers studying A Christmas Carol for GCSE are also likely to enjoy this thoroughly modern reworking of the story and can amuse themselves finding the clever references sprinkled throughout. Catherine Doyle has written a remarkable story which celebrates the colour, beauty, hope and love of Christmas.

I read somewhere that this book had been commissioned to mark the publisher Puffin’s 80th anniversary and Charles Dickens’ 150th anniversary and feel that it’s timing this year is perfect. With many families facing this Christmas grieving for a loved one, this tender, poignant story might just help children to feel that they are not alone in processing the memories of Christmas past whilst trying to rekindle the hope that we all wish for at this time of year.

Let your heart be your compass, it will show you the way”.

I am most grateful to #NetGalley and Penguin Children’s Books for allowing me access to an electronic copy of the book in exchange for an honest review. The hardback version was published on 1st October 2020 and I hope that the image above gives some idea of the beautiful cover artwork created by Pedro Riquelme.

Review: The Lost Tide Warriors by Catherine Doyle

Lost Tide Warriors

Tick, tock, tick, tock; time is running out for the Stormkeeper!

Returning to Arranmore, the wild and magical island that remembers everything, is such an all-consuming experience that I barely noticed the two long journeys, on one of the hottest days of the year, during which I devoured this book.

Fionn has taken over the role of Stormkeeper from his granddad, Malachy Boyle, but he is struggling under the weight of responsibility to the islanders, desperately seeking to find and control his magic and haunted by the constant, tormenting refrain of the evil Sorceress Morrigan inside his head. The winter solstice approaches and with it Morrigan’s promise that she will rise again to spread her evil reign across the world. When the ferries begin arriving at the harbour filled with dead-eyed Soulstalkers, Fionn realises that he must face his destiny despite his insecurities, but who can he trust to assist him?

Time is also running out for Malachy Boyle, as his candle burns down and his memories are lost to the encroaching darkness of Alzheimer’s. The bond between Malachy and Fionn is the central core of this magnificent book, perfectly summarised when Fionn asks his grandfather how he manages to be so brave in the face of a final battle with Morrigan’s army of Soulstalkers,

“Because I love you more than I fear them, Fionn.”

In the sequel to The Stormkeeper’s Island we learn more of the mythology of Arranmore, as Fionn and his friends, Sam and Shelby, and family, burn Malachy’s candles in their quest for a strategy to defeat Morrigan. In the face of opposition from arrogant and domineering Elizabeth Beasley, Fionn races against time to search for the Tide Summoner, a magical conch shell which will call the Merrows, a fearsome army of ferocious sea creatures. Can he harness his magic and overcome his uncertainties in order to battle the blackest evil. Will he learn that he cannot work alone and realise the power of cooperation and teamwork against a seemingly indestructible enemy? 

Conjured with lyrical beauty by an author of true majesty, this story is simply breath-taking.  It is heart-warming and heart-breaking in equal measure, tissues are required!! Through the voice of Malachy Boyle the book overflows with wisdom, but allies this with a self-deprecating humour so that profound truths are accompanied by phrases like, “another fridge magnet.” This is one of those books that seeps deep into your heart and causes your eyes to leak.

I am deeply grateful to Scott Evans @MrEPrimary and the team at Bloomsbury Children’s Publishing for organising the inaugural Primary School Bookclub Live event with Catherine Doyle. It was an amazing experience to hear her talking about the real island of Arranmore, her family’s stories and the inspiration behind the Stormkeeper quartet. I cannot wait for book 3 to be published!

 

This is #Book7 in my #20BooksofSummer challenge hosted by Cathy at 746Books.