Review: Malamander by Thomas Taylor

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Welcome to the mysterious seaside town of Eerie-on-Sea, a desolate place in the winter months where the sea mist hides a multitude of secrets! 

This book sinks its fangs and claws into you and will not release you until the final page. It is populated by a cast of wonderfully inventive characters, the descriptions of the town alongside the perfect map mean that you can picture every wind-battered location and the story has more twists and turns than an eel racing through the brine. On top of the mystery, the book is written in a playful style, breaking the fourth wall in a manner that reminded me of Lemony Snicket. The author, Thomas Taylor, has obviously had great fun with the names he has used for his cast and the buildings which feature heavily in the plot, all of which add to the enjoyment of reading.

The action begins in the Grand Nautilus Hotel where the town’s adopted son, Herbert Lemon, found as a boy in a crate of lemons, works as the hotel’s “Lost-and-Founder”. He has a small cubbyhole in the hotel’s Reception and a large basement room full of one hundred year’s worth of lost property. He is a steady, honest, reliable twelve year-old, described in his own words thus:

.“ Now, you’ve probably worked out by now that I’m not a Quick, Herbie, jump kind of guy. I mean, it’s not as if there’s much need for jumping and exclamation marks in the daily life of a lost property attendant.”

In contrast, bedraggled Violet Parma, bursts through Herbie’s basement window in the middle of a storm, swiftly pursued by the monstrous Boathook Man. She is on a quest to search for her lost parents who left her at the hotel twelve years previously and disappeared, leaving only their shoes on the pier and their luggage in the room with their infant. Fearless and determined in pursuit of clues to her past, Violet is reckless, spontaneous and perceptive.

As the partnership of these two protagonists develops throughout the adventure Herbie’s character exhibits hidden courage, he finds his inner strength and their loyalty to each other is heartwarming. On their mission they encounter Lady Kraken, the ancient hotel proprietor with her fantastic cameraluna; Jenny Hanniver owner of the Eerie Book Dispensary and a Mermonkey; Mrs Fossil of the Flotsamporium; Dr Thalassi who keeps his surgery in the ancient fort-museum; slimy Mr Mollusc; terrifying Boathook Man and famed local writer Sebastian Eels. As hints are dropped and confidences prised from the town’s inhabitants it becomes increasingly difficult to know who can be trusted.

It appears that each of the town’s inhabitants has some connection to the legend of the Malamander, a mythical sea creature said to haunt the wreck of the HMS Leviathan, which reveals itself in the mouth of the bay at low tide. As secrets are uncovered the veil of suspicion as to who might have been responsible for the disappearance of Violet’s parents shifts as unpredictably as the rolling sea mist. The tension is almost unbearable and drives the reader to pursue clues as intently as Violet and Herbie. 

I cannot say any more about the plot as I fear I will give away spoilers, but I can honestly say that this is a hugely entertaining and gripping story which I highly recommend to anyone from 10 years-old and upwards. As an added bonus, you will learn the technical terms for creatures which become dormant in the summer and for fossilised dinosaur poo! I believe that the second book in the series is due to be published in May 2020, and I certainly will not be leaving it lost in the middle of a TBR stack as I did with this one!

Review: Magical Kingdom of Birds The Snow Goose byAnne Booth

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This is a wonderfully gentle story, perfect for children from the age of six who love magical, fairy adventures and have an interest in the natural world.

Firstly, the book itself is irresistible with its seasonably scarlet cover featuring the titular snow goose, embellished with just the right amount of glitter to appeal to its intended readership. The 117 pages are beautifully illustrated by Rosie Butcher, which together with the font size make this book ideal for newly confident readers.

The story begins with Maya enjoying the company of her big sister Lauren, who has newly arrived home from university. They are preparing for Christmas, enjoying building a snow goose in the fresh snowfall and looking forward to a visit from two of Lauren’s university friends. When they go inside to warm up, Maya notices that the “Magical Kingdom of Birds” her special colouring book  is open in her bedroom, with a picture of a snow goose waiting to be coloured.

Only Maya is aware that this book, inherited from her mother, transports her to the Magical Kingdom of Birds as she colours the pictures. Once there she helps Princess Willow and a talking magpie named Patch to foil the wicked plans of Willow’s uncle, Lord Astor. This time Maya finds herself sitting beside a lake, in a wintry landscape, which is covered with magnificent white and blue geese. Princess Willow appears and explains to Maya that the geese are waiting for the Silver Snow Goose to arrive, bringing the first snows of winter, and then leading the Winter Festival before guiding the flock in their migration south. However, it appears that Lord Astor has kidnapped the Silver Snow Goose and it will take a great act of bravery to rescue him and ensure that the noisy gaggle of geese are safely lead to their winter feeding grounds.

As the adventure unfolds, the courage and teamwork of the geese is explored and an incredible amount of knowledge about these awesome birds is provided quite seamlessly as a natural part of the story. The loyalty and community spirit of the birds is inspirational to Maya and the lesson “to find your own way and listen to your heart” is presented in a non-preachy way. I loved the fact that Maya’s physical disability does not prevent her showing courage and contributing her skills and ingenuity to the rescue mission.

At the end of the book there is a factual section presenting a great amount of interesting information about snow geese; this is followed by an introductory chapter to another Magical Kingdom of Birds adventure, The Silent Songbirds.

I thoroughly enjoyed this delightful story and highly recommend it to readers of 6+.

 

With thanks to OUP Children’s Publishing for providing me with a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

 

 

Review: The Lost Magician by Piers Torday

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In this wonderfully imagined reworking of The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe the door to the library is the entry to a magical world,

where story characters lived for real, undiscovered facts battled to gain attention, words caused earthquakes.”

The four Hastings children; Simon, Patricia, Evelyn and Larry (permanently attached to Grey Bear) have been sent away from their bomb-damaged home in London at the end of WWII to stay with a friend of their grandmother, Professor Diana Kelly. Unwittingly, they have become a part of her “Magician Project”, secretive research to find an end to human conflict…using the most powerful magic available!

Everyone familiar with the narrative of The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe will recognise the story arc: the children arrive at a beautiful, old Manor House, they are left to explore independently, the youngest child (Larry) finds a secret portal into a magical world and his older siblings accuse him of fantasising! However, following a raid on the house by special forces who are investigating the Professor’s top secret project, all four children find themselves in the magical library, and discover the battle between fiction (The Reads) and fact (The Unreads) in the Kingdom of Folio.

I have to admit to being a little worried, when I first saw publicity for this book, that it might ruin one of my own favourite childhood stories. However, the finely-honed imagination of Piers Torday has produced an exquisite re-working of the original with a library and books and words as the focus of the magic. The children’s individual characters are brought to life with absolute authenticity and the battle between good and evil in Folio had me turning pages faster than a futuristic flying car can cross a fairy tale landscape. Every so often I had to back-track to fully appreciate the stunning power of Piers Torday’s beautiful writing; metal doors swing open “with hydraulic formality” and smile at his humorous asides – when Larry is asked by an incredulous Tom Thumb what he learns in school, he replies “grammar mostly!”

As with all the best children’s books, this one contains a message of hope and ultimately, I think,  it is a book about the power of love, recognising our imperfections and celebrating our common humanity.

Highly recommended for all readers of 9+.

This is #Book9 in my #20BooksofSummer challenge hosted by Cathy at 746Books.

Review: Bloom by Nicola Skinner

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What a breath of fresh air! This is an amazing debut novel from Nicola Skinner with a mysterious plot which bursts into life and blooms with appreciation of the natural world.

In a corner of the grey concrete town of Little Sterilis there sits a literally, and metaphorically, broken home. Our reluctant heroine, Sorrel, lives with her mother in a house where the leaking taps seem to be crying and the “curtains were constantly pinging off their rods in some desperate escape mission.” The only way that Sorrel can cope with the sadness of her life is to be the best behaved pupil in her school, with boxes full of good behaviour certificates to prove the point. Her school Grittysnit Comprehensive perfectly mimics the town; a grey building containing pupils wearing grey uniforms, the Headteacher, Mr Grittysnit’s mantra is “May obedience shape you. May conformity mould you. May rules polish you.”

This ghastly man’s latest plan is to allow the school’s most generous benefactor, Mr Valentini the local construction magnate,  to concrete over one of the last remaining green spaces in the town, the sports field, and construct a new examination hall. He has also introduced a new competition in the school to encourage the pupils to conform to his ideal of good behaviour, which Sorrel is determined to win at all costs – even risking her friendship with intelligent, scientific, rebellious Neena.

However,  one evening a mini earthquake on Sorrel’s patio reveals a packet labelled “Surprising Seeds” and a mysterious voice begins talking to Sorrel. These manifestations eventually throw “the normal order of things upside out and inside down.” Firstly, in a town where gardening has ceased to exist, Sorrel and Neena have to track down Strangeways Garden Centre, where the down-at-heel owner, Sid gives them advice along with an old gardening trowel previously owned by Agatha Strangeways. An ancient book discovered in the school library named “The Terrible Sad History of Little Cherrybliss” and written by Agatha, brings the history of their town to light, and the sowing of the seeds has hilarious and unconventional results.

This book is an absolute riot of amusing wordplay, celebration of the natural world and a storyline that rampages faster than the bindweed in my vegetable patch. The friendship between Sorrel and Neena is brilliantly crafted, with their different personalities and motivations leading to misunderstandings and falling out in a very realistic way. I loved the image of Sorrel reflecting on a childhood photo of herself playing in a netted “soft play” centre under harsh electric lights and comparing this with Agatha’s childhood, playing outside in the meadows and the river. This is a thoroughly enjoyable book, with a school setting that anyone can relate to, accompanied by a dash of magic which highlights the joy of nature and green spaces, the need to embrace the wild and to protect the living world. A highly recommended book for anyone of 9+

 

This is #Book5 in my #20BooksofSummer created by Cathy at 746books.com

 

Review: A Witch Comes True by James Nicol

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In the third and final installment of the Apprentice Witch series life has changed markedly for Arianwyn; the war in the Four Kingdoms is over and her father has returned home injured but alive. However, when Arianwyn visits him at St Morag’s Military Sanatorium in Kingsport, she realises that fighting in a war has changed him and that he is finding it hard to adjust to her being a responsible grown-up rather than his little girl. She is also surprised to find that he met a Urisian witch whilst away, and a photo of the meeting seems to show the witch infected with hex.

Even more troubling is an encounter with her old foe Gimma who appears to be more firmly in the grip of the hex, and who is being guarded at her house by a member of The Council of Elders. But who is guarding her, and can they be trusted.

As Wyn returns to Lull to magically assist in the town’s Yule celebrations further mysteries abound, a seam of magic which is visible to humans as well as witches, the news that her mentor Miss Delafield is being posted to a distant location and the appearance of different “quiet glyphs” which she has to catalogue.

This charming story holds the perfect blend of magical creatures ( frost phoenixes,  maudants and nitherings), friendships, family relationships, danger, kidnapping, bravery and tension. Throughout, Wyn’s character shines through, with her dedication to doing the right thing in perilous and confusing circumstances. The supporting characters are perfectly realised, from friends Sallie and Colin, to Sergeant Gribble trying to readjust to civilian life and pompous Mayor Belcher, who generally expects Arianwyn to work miracles.

I heartily recommend this series: The Apprentice Witch, A Witch Alone and A Witch Comes True to everyone who appreciates magical adventure with a delightful protagonist who personifies resilience, perseverance, loyalty and bravery.

 

This is #Book1 in my #20BooksofSummer an annual event hosted by 746 Books which runs from 3rd June until 3rd September, with the aim of clearing 5, 10 or 20 books from your tbr stack