Review: Nevertell by Katharine Orton

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I opened this book on a wind-whipped station platform and was instantly whisked to the frozen landscape of Siberia. This book is infused with magic, in both content and writing; it is an extraordinary debut by Katharine Orton. The first half of the book is completely compelling and I just could not bear to put it down for even a moment.

A whisper hung in the air. It felt as if it had grown there, like a piece of fruit, rather than having been spoken.”

From page one you find yourself plunged into the desolate, bone-chilling environment of a Siberian labour camp overseen by cruel Commandant Zima, where the main protagonist, Lina, has spent her entire life. However, on this particular night, she finds herself part of an escape plot, set up by her formidable mama Katya. In the company of Old Gleb, Alexei the Butcher and tattooed gang member Vadim, she exits the camp whilst Katya distracts the guards with a poker game. Someone else has followed the escape party from the camp, but is it an enemy or a friend?

Katya is renowned for her skill at gambling, but has she risked too much this time? Sending her daughter into a fierce Siberian ice storm, with the goal of travelling to Moscow in search of her grandmother, the odds appear to be against success even before the howling of the ghost wolves begins…

This story combines elements of Russian fairy tales with a fast-paced adventure where the courage of Lina and her best friend Bogdan will be tested to the limits. The plot twists and turns like the snowflakes caught in the harsh northern winds, as they encounter friendship, danger and dark magic in the form of the man-hunter, Svetlana, and her legion of shadow creatures. Can hope and kind hearts, aided by a magical necklace given to Lina by Katya, overcome the bleakness, despair and cruelty of life in a police state? You should read this gripping tale, ideal for readers of 10+,  to find out.

If you enjoy this story, I highly recommend that you read The Wolf Wilder by Katherine Rundell, Sky Song by Abi Elphinstone and The Way Past Winter by Kiran Millwood Hargrave. If you have not already done so.

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.

Review: Rumblestar by Abi Elphinstone

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You can judge a book by its cover! The dazzling cover illustration by Carrie May, with its title picked out in gold, reflects the brilliance of this author’s imagination, as once again we are invited into an alternative reality created by Abi Elphinstone.

From the opening lines of the prologue I was gripped by the magnificent story-telling. Firstly a quick re-capping of the events of “Everdark” and then into the Rumblestar adventure where we are introduced to timid, bullied Casper Tock, who gets through life relying on timetables and “to do” lists. He has become expert in hiding from the entitled bullies at his boarding school, but slipping inside the case of a grandfather clock one afternoon causes an “ Extremely Unpredictable Event” to occur!

He finds himself arrested by a small, impulsive girl called Utterly Thankless and taken to Rumblestar where the “marvels” containing all the wondrous ingredients required to write the weather scrolls for The Faraway (earth) are being destroyed by dark forces. When Utterly realises that she has mistakenly identified Casper as the criminal, the two of them have to escape the castle accompanied only by Arlo, a miniature dragon, in order to save Rumblestar from the “Midnights” controlled by Morg the Harpy. Their epic adventure leads to encounters with cloud giants, drizzle hags, snow trolls and storm ogres as they seek to destroy the sinister Midnights who are threatening the very existence of Rumblestar and all the Unmapped Kingdoms and consequently The Faraway.

As their quest unfolds these two hugely appealing protagonists have to overcome their deepest fears and exhibit inner reserves of bravery and selflessness, aided by some of the magical creatures they encounter. The change in their characters seems entirely organic and believable as their friendship develops.

This is honestly my “Book of the Year” so far and I can’t wait to put it into the hands of our many Abi Elphinstone fans in the school library! Her ability to conjure imaginative worlds, populated by incredible, but simultaneously believable, characters knows no bounds. You can guarantee that reading this book will bring hours of pleasure, and cause you to reflect on the true meaning of wealth, the destructive nature of greed and the hope that is conjured when people behave courageously.

A must-read for everyone over 10 years-old!.

With thanks to Toppsta.com  who provided me with a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Review: Everdark by Abi Elphinstone

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When you set sail in an Abi Elphinstone book there is no looking back; you are swept along on a whirlpool of imagination that will leave you reeling.

This short book, published for World Book Day, is the start of a new series: The Unmapped Chronicles. It takes you into a brilliantly realised world, where all the magic that nourishes the Unmapped Kingdoms, and eventually flows into our world (The Faraway) emanates from a Phoenix. Every five hundred years the Phoenix dies to be replaced by a new Phoenix,  but at the start of this story it becomes clear that something has gone terribly wrong with “The Rising”. Dark magic releases nightdaggers which turn the Unmappers in the kingdom of Crackledawn into paralysed shadows, except for one solitary eleven-year-old, on whom the fate of the Unmapped Kingdoms and consequently, The Faraway, now rests…

The unlikely heroine of this tale is Smudge “whose mind had a sideways quality to it”. She is a figure of ridicule at school and doesn’t seem to fit the mould of the Sunraiders and Sunsmiths of her kingdom. She is a character with whom the reader immediately empathises, and in my opinion is destined to become an inspiration for dyslexic children. She does not hesitate to pursue the sinister winged figure  that she spotted flying across the moon in place of the Phoenix, and rushes down to the harbour to set sail for Lonecrag to catch the harpy. As she jumps aboard the dhow formerly owned by the legendary explorer Nefarious Flood, she is joined by an enchanted white-faced monkey named Bartholomew, the unexpected hero of the story.

Together they embark on a gripping adventure, featuring sea witches, ogre-eels, rock goblins, silver whales and enchanted forests. Smudge’s friendship with Bartholomew develops as they confront mortal peril. The encouragement that she receives from her simian shipmate enables her to draw on all of her “curiosity, courage and self-belief” in confronting her evil foes.

I adored this book with its message to “believe in the what ifs and the just maybes of the world.” I recommend it to all children of 9 and above, and I cannot wait to read the next installment in the series: Rumblestar.

 

I would like to make a plea to the  publishers to please, please, please re-print this book with a bigger font, ideally open dyslexic, so that it can be easily read by an audience for whom its message will be immensely inspiring.

The Apprentice Witch by James Nicol

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This is the first book in a charming magical fantasy series featuring Arianwynn Gribble who has spent her entire life wishing to follow her mother and grandmother, and become a witch. However, on the day of her evaluation ceremony she feels a growing sense of unease, matched by the wet, gloomy weather, and instead of the silver star of a fully-fledged witch she leaves the ceremony with the dull bronze badge of an apprentice. Thanks to the intervention of her grandmother, who happens to be a member of the Council of Elders, Arianwyn is sent to complete her apprenticeship in the small town of Lull.

The author, James Nicol, has created a very believable character who is constantly trying her best, but battling with self-doubt and occasionally creating some sticky situations – in particular when dealing with snotlings! The magical world in which Arianwyn exists is populated with a fascinating range of magical creatures and spirits, with witches helping the humans to fend off dark magic using glyphs to create their spells and charms. Arianwyn also has to deal with familiar situations such as a mean former classmate and a pompous, self-important mayor, which require quiet common sense rather than magical solutions. She is such a sympathetic character that you are drawn into her story and hoping that her determination and courage will prevail and enable her to discover her inner “true light”.

In this book you will discover a menagerie of magical and spirit creatures, including crawlers, snortings, staggets, a moon hare, a night ghast and perhaps most significantly Estar, an injured feyling who is helped by Arianwyn.

Central to the story is the mystery of an unknown glyph and the fate of Euphemia, the previous witch who inhabited the spellorium in Lull. She disappeared 40 years previously, and Arianwyn discovers that this may be linked to the dark glyph, which she sees prior to every terrible event in her life, starting with her mother’s death.

I would recommend this book for children in Year 3/4, who are looking for a substantial, enjoyable read, maybe moving on from The Worst Witch series. It is beautifully written, exciting but not too dark so highly suitable for children who might find other magical fantasy series too scary.

If you enjoy this, then look out for the next book in the series: A Witch Alone

Review: The Train to Impossible Places by P.G. Bell

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Jump aboard the Impossible Postal Service’s rather unusual train for a rip-roaring journey around the five corners of the Union of Impossible Places on a quest to save the Union from a would-be dictator!

The story begins dramatically when Suzy is awoken by strange metallic sounds, creeps downstairs to find railway lines under construction in her hallway and almost becomes “ the worst  type of incident it’s possible to be” on the aforementioned lines!

Her adventure with Fletch the engineer, J.F. Stonker the driver of the Impossible Postal Express, Wilmot the Postmaster and Ursel the bleached-blonde, brown bear, departs from here. Realising that somehow Suzy has avoided the remote enchantment that was supposed to keep her asleep while the steam train took a shortcut through her home, the trolls have no choice but to allow her to join their late-running train!

Suzy, we are informed very early in the book, loves physics, so the meta-dimensional engineering that Fletch has performed on her hallway to accommodate a huge steam locomotive is fascinating to her, although she does not appreciate his description of “fuzzics” – in her mind physics cannot be fuzzy. She has more surprises in store when she learns that gravity is one of “the more gullible forces” and can be tricked by ingenious troll-engineering to allow the Impossible Postal Express to perform some amazing manoeuvres on its mission to deliver post to any corner of the Union!

It is apparent that Wilmot is extremely nervous about the fact that his first delivery is running late, unfortunately the recipient is the unforgiving Lady Crepuscula in the ominously-named Obsidian Tower. When Wilmot appoints Suzy to be his deputy in order to avoid delivering the parcel himself, and she does not follow his orders to the letter, a frantic chase across the Union ensues. Suzy has learned of a plot that imperils all of The Impossible Places; can the combination of her problem-solving skills and the unstoppable Troll Post outwit the dastardly scheme?

I’m trying hard not to give away the plot, but this action-packed story will introduce you to the wonders of Trollville, Neuroglobes, fusion bananas, the incredible Hazardous Environment Carriage, some ghostly, storytelling explorers, and an unusual spy service controlled by the Curator of the Ivory Tower, Lord Meridian.

The world-building in this book is stunning, the cast of characters are absolutely fantastic and the plot is so brilliantly constructed that it could be the work of the fabulously inventive trolls. Underneath the thrilling machinations of the story there is an array of interesting scientific ideas and a reflection on the control and abuse of information. I adored the central character, Suzy Smith, with her courage, enquiring mind and love of physics and think that P.G. Bell has written a classic fantasy adventure, which is beautifully illustrated by Flavia Sorrentino. I simply cannot wait for the next book in the series to be published.

If you  enjoy The Train to Impossible Places as Much as I did, you may also want to try Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone by J.K. Rowling, Sputnik’s Guide to Life on Earth by Frank Cottrell Boyce; The Cogheart Series by Peter Bunzl and The Cosmic Atlas of Alfie Fleet by Martin Howard.

Clockwork by Philip Pullman, illustrated by Peter Bailey

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If you are looking for a spooky short-story which is plotted with the precision of a Swiss watch, then this is the book for you!

The story begins in an inn, in a small town in Germany in the days when clockwork was the precision engineering of choice. On a dark, snow swept night a cast of characters has gathered for food, company and to hear the latest tale from Fritz, the local storyteller, renowned for his ghost stories. Philip Pullman describes the scene with such exquisite detail that you can smell the spicy sausages, feel chilled to the bone as the inn door opens and detect the hairs on the back of your neck standing to attention as the tale of Prince Otto and his son Florian commences.

What follows is a marvellous gothic fairy-tale featuring Karl the lazy apprentice clockmaker; the sinister Dr Kalmenius, reputed to be “the cleverest man in Europe”, Sir Ironsoul, a lethal clockwork knight and kind-hearted Gretel, the innkeeper’s daughter.

The narrative ticks on as relentlessly as the second hand on the town clock, bringing each character in the story to their appointed final position. As it unwinds the reader will discover the importance of a warm, kind heart and that all actions have their consequences.

This particular edition of the book is beautifully illustrated throughout with black and white drawings by Peter Bailey which add greatly to the classic fairy-tale feel of the story. I also love the author’s comments which accompany the illustrations; Philip Pullman is the absolute master of his craft. Recommended for Key Stage 2, although if you are easily scared, wait until you are in Year 5 or 6 before reading.

Review: Beyond the Odyssey by Maz Evans, illustrated by Aleksei Bitskoff

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The third book in the WLTGO series is a tense, exciting and heart-wrenching tale which will leave you breathless, quite possibly a little red-eyed and desperate to get your hands on the final book in the series.

Elliot Hooper bears the weight of the world on his thirteen-year-old shoulders. Following a tip off from the dastardly duo of his neighbour Patricia Porshley-Plum and her new sidekick, Mr Boil, the “authorities” have been on a home visit to Home Farm. He can no longer hide his mother’s dementia and there are plans afoot to take her into care, find a guardian for Elliot and therefore allow Patricia to get her greedy hands on the farm.

Aside from his mortal woes, Elliot remains a target for Thanatos, the Daemon of Death, his evil sibling Hypnos (Daemon of Sleep) and their ruthless mother Nyx; all of whom want him dead once he has gathered all four chaos stones for them.

Accompanied by Zeus, Virgo (who increasingly resembles a mortal teenager after she discovers electronic games) and a strangely helpful Hypnos, Eliot embarks on a dual quest to discover the Water Stone and Panacea’s Potion which he has been told can cure any illness. The Water Stone ruby is hidden on the Island of the Cyclopes and in the absence of Pegasus and Hermes, transport in this story is provided by the travel company owned by Odysseus, Don’tcAIR, motto: you cut prices, we cut corners!

Cue a story brimming with jokes and fast-paced action. However, it is not all fun this time. You can sense Elliot’s increasing desperation on every page and this book presents a moving portrayal of family love. Be prepared for leaky eyes and have tissues to hand as you read. Bravo Maz Evans on another supreme piece of writing, as before illustrated by Aleksei Bitskoff.

An exceptional book for ages 9 and above, make sure that you have read the first two in the series before reading this book: Who Let the Gods Out and then Simply the Quest.

Review: Simply the Quest by Maz Evans, illustrations by Aleksei Bitskoff

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A fast-paced, magical adventure filled to the brim with jokes which also contains deeply poignant moments as a young carer looks after his seriously ill mother and learns the story of his absent father.

The second instalment of the Who Let the Gods Out series begins with twelve year old Elliot Hooper still dealing with the pressures of sharing Home Farm with an unruly and unpredictable bunch of Greek gods and his mother Josie, whose dementia symptoms are getting progressively worse.

The constellation Virgo, who crashed onto Elliot’s farm in the first book is desperate to reclaim her kardia from the Zodiac council and have her immortality reinstated. To achieve this she is told that she will have to embark on a quest to save the mortal realm from the chaos that Thanatos has promised to wreak, and prove herself to be a hero. Fortunately, this coincides with Elliot’s next Chaos Stone challenge – to retrieve the Air Stone, or as mortals know it, the Duke of Devonshire Emerald, which is now housed in a vault of The Natural History Museum.

After consulting retired heroes, Hercules, Theseus and Jason, and gathering a few artefacts to help them, Elliot and Virgo embark on their quest. This requires a short stop at a Buckingham Palace barbecue, where once again, the Queen proves her supreme powers in a hilarious action sequence. Will our two would-be heroes have the abilities to outwit not just evil brothers Thanatos and Hypnos, but also their utterly terrifying and tyrannical mother, Nyx?

I loved this book. At one point in the story Hercules tells Elliot and Virgo that heroes need “courage, heart and wisdom” and in my opinion this book has these qualities in abundance. I am utterly in awe of the author, Maz Evans’ skill in writing a humorous book which is such an engaging read for children whilst at the same time portraying the dark voices inside Elliot’s head as he struggles to look after his mum, cope with newly discovered information about his dad and bear the weight of responsibility for the Chaos Stones. Upper KS2 readers will enjoy reading this perfectly paced story independently and there are plenty of asides to entertain adult readers; my personal favourite being that the wife of the ineffectual, weak headteacher is called Lilith! As if this wasn’t enough, have a quick flick through the book and enjoy the animation of the page illustrations by Aleksei Bitskoff.

Make sure you read Who Let the Gods Out? first.

Next, look out for Beyond the Odyssey.

Review: A Witch Alone by James Nicol

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Things are not looking good in The Four Kingdoms. The war against the Urisians in the North of Veersland continues; sightings of dark spirit creatures are shooting up and a hex is spreading through the land. Can the 11,000 witches under the command of the Civil Witchcraft Authority help to defeat the dark forces?

The second book in the Apprentice Witch series by James Nichol, starts with Arianwyn Gribble accompanied by her best friend Salle enjoying a well-deserved break in the city of Kingsport. She is celebrating her new status as a newly qualified witch, enjoying the diversions of the city and being pampered by her grandmother. However, the tranquility of her holiday does not last long.As she watches a parade outside the palace, the grand occasion is attacked by a host of  winged grippets. Arianwyn uses her skills to help fight off the attack and is subsequently summoned by the High Witch and sent on a secret, under-cover mission to retrieve the Book of Quiet Glyphs, which means a swift return to Lull.

Arriving back at the Spellorium after a long and tiring journey Arianwyn has no idea of the trials to come. The following morning she does not even have time for breakfast or to open the huge stack of post before an endless queue of customers arrives, requesting magical remedies to fend off dark creatures which are plaguing the town. She has to rely on her own intuition and her grandmother’s copy of A Witch Alone: A Manual for the Newly Qualified Witch to deal with the spirit creatures she encounters as the mission proceeds.

James Nicol has created a wonderful character in Arianwyn, you just can’t help empathising with her. I think it’s because she is so unsure of herself, always questioning whether she is doing the right thing, rushed off her feet but trying so hard to meet the (sometimes absolutely unreasonable demands) of the townsfolk to the best of her ability. You are absolutely on her side when she occasionally snaps at someone who just won’t give her a break! On top of this he manages to convey the feeling that Arianwyn knows there is something very special hidden within her and that at some point she will find the confidence to use her unique ability to summon undiscovered glyphs.

This is a top quality magical adventure, beautifully and imaginatively written (I love the way that spells are performed as glyphs). The peril is well judged to create an exciting story, but not one that will give young readers nightmares. The cover and inside illustrations are by Daniela Terrazini – much to my delight there is a map of Lull inside the front cover (I have adored maps inside books since reading Milly, Molly, Mandy a ridiculously long time ago). I highly recommend A Witch Alone to everyone from Year 4 and above, I hope it will leave you excited to find out what will happen in the recently published, final book of the trilogy: A Witch Come True.