#MGTakesOnThursday: Shadowghast by Thomas Taylor

Cover image by George Ermos, published by Walker Books UK

This is a weekly meme started and hosted by @marysimms72 on her brilliant Book Craic blog which I urge you to read. Also, please check out all the other posts and Tweets with the #MGTakesOnThursday tag, you will be sure to find many fantastic recommendations!

If you love books written for an MG audience and wish to take part, the steps to follow are:

  • Post a picture of a front cover of a middle-grade book which you have read and would recommend to others with details of the author, illustrator and publisher.
  • Open the book to page 11 and share your favourite sentence.
  • Write three words to describe the book
  • Either share why you would recommend this book, or link to your review.

Author: Thomas Taylor

Illustrator: Cover – George Ermos, internal – Thomas Taylor

Publisher: Walker Children’s Books

Favourite sentence from Page 11: 

Do you remember your first Ghastly Night?

p11

This book in three words: Thrilling Shadowy Mystery

This is the third adventure in the Eerie-on-Sea mysteries, and like the two previous books it will take your breathe away as you race through the pages. Thomas Taylor’s storytelling definitely has that sprinkling of magic that compels the reader to “drop everything and read” … and not let go of the book until it is finished. I love the fact that each new book in this series adds another layer to the hinterland of folklore associated with the tourist-free, winter months of the storm-lashed holiday resort.

It is All Hallows’ Eve, which in Eerie-on-Sea, the sinister seaside town steeped in mysterious secrets, is known as Ghastly Night. Long term residents Dr Thalassi and Mrs Fossil usually perform an idiosyncratic re-enactment of the legend of Mayor Bigley, The Puppet Master and the Shadowghast, but this year a troupe of professional magicians have rolled into town to perform the story in the town’s crumbling theatre which clings to the end of the pier. Unsettlingly, the glamorous magician Caliastra claims to have knowledge of Herbert Lemon’s background and might be offering him the chance of a new life outside the Lost-and-Foundery of The Grand Nautilus Hotel.

With best friend Violet Parma casting doubts on the veracity of Caliastra’s claims; the mysterious disappearance of Jenny Hanniver, Vi’s guardian and the owner of The Book Dispensary; and glimpses of the Shadowghast in the misty alleyways, this story plunges readers into The Netherways beneath the town in search of answers. Herbie and Vi agree that:

A problem shared isn’t a problem at all. It’s an adventure.

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Join the two young protagonists, along with talking cat Erwin and clockwork companion Clermit on this thrilling adventure to reveal the truth amongst the shadows and uncover the real Puppet Master. This is genuinely one of those books that will appeal to all readers of 8/9+ to either read independently, or enjoy as a class or bedtime story, for the pure thrill of a supremely entertaining mystery story.

You can read my reviews of the first two books in the series, Malamander and Gargantis. Whilst it is not necessary to read all three books in order, I would suggest that it will increase your enjoyment of the series to do so. The fourth book, Festergrim, is due for publication in September 2022 and a short extract is available at the end of Shadowghast.

Halloween 2021

Books featuring ghosts, magic, monsters, vampires and witches for readers of 4 -14

For anyone heading out to a bookshop or the library this weekend, here’s a brief guide to a range of books for primary and early secondary school children to enjoy on these dark autumn evenings! There are many others out there, but these are all stories that I have read over the past year, although some might have been published prior to 2021.

Winnie and Wilbur and the Bug Safari – Valerie Thomas and Korky Paul

The Winnie and Wilbur series is laugh-out-loud funny as Winnie constantly gets herself into a fix when her magic goes wrong! This story will transport youngsters back to warm summer days as Winnie finds herself in the middle of insect mayhem! Suitable for age 4+

Midnight Magic – Michelle Harrison and Elissa Elwick

Fun, rhyming adventure with a magical kitten. An early reading book with delightful illustrations, short chapters, warmth and humour. The first in a series that will captivate youngsters of 5+

Isadora Moon Goes to a Wedding – Harriet Muncaster

Isadora Moon, half fairy-half vampire, is bursting with excitement at the prospect of being a bridesmaid at Aunt Crystal’s wedding, but will the day survive naughty cousin Mirabelle’s magical interventions? This gorgeously illustrated, short-chapter story is engaging and entertaining and additionally contains recipes and craft activity ideas. Perfect for ages 6-8.

Sam Wu is NOT Afraid of the Dark – Katie and Kevin Tsang, ills Nathan Reed

With comic book style graphics throughout by Nathan Reed, lovely characters and sharp plotting, the Sam Wu series totally fulfils the “read for pleasure” criteria that encourage a love of reading. As Sam embarks on a camping trip, he is not sure what to be most afraid of…aliens, werewolves, vampire bats, bears or just THE DARK! Recommended for ages 7+

Leo’s Map of Monsters – Kris Humphrey and Pete Williamson

Nine year old Leo learns that his Assignment for the next two years is to become a Guardian and protect his fenced, medieval-style village from the monsters that roam the land beyond TheWall! An exciting, illustrated, short-chapter series that will appeal to Beast Quest fans of 7+

A Girl Called Justice: The Ghost in the Garden – Elly Griffiths

The third adventure in this MG Mystery Series sees Justice Jones investigating the disappearance of a classmate against a backdrop of the ghostly presence of Grace Highbury haunting the corridors and grounds of Highbury House Boarding School for the Daughters of Gentlefolk. Cracking mystery adventure for readers of 8+

The Monster in the Lake – Louie Stowell and Davide Ortu

The second adventure of young wizard Kit, brilliantly illustrated by Davide Ortu, sees her and her friends investigating the strangely disrupted magic in the local town. All clues point to the lake…but what is lurking in its depths and can the three friends put things right? Packed with fun for readers of 8+

Vlad the World’s Worst Vampire – Anna Wilson and Kathryn Durst

Vlad’s mother, Mortemia, constantly tells him that he is a disgrace to the Impaler family name…what will she do if she finds out that he has been secretly attending human school and has even made a best friend there? A funny and charming story that shows young readers that being an excellent best friend is more important than being a perfect vampire! Suitable for readers of 8+

Agent Zaiba Investigates: The Haunted House – Annabelle Sami and Daniela Sosa

The third outing for Agent Zaiba and her young detectives from the Snow Leopard Detective Agency finds the team investigating mysterious and ghostly occurrences at Oakwood Manor. Can Zaiba’s team uncover the real culprit and dispel the rumours of ghostly Jinn? Readers of 9+ will enjoy this “cosy crime” investigation.

Lightning Falls – Amy Wilson, ills Rachel Vale and Helen Crawford-White

A glittering and magical tale featuring life-like and friendly ghost characters, making it suitable for readers of 9+. Superb plotting, immersive descriptions and a lovely tale about family in all its forms.

Victoria Stitch Bad and Glittering – Harriet Muncaster

Sumptuously illustrated and brilliant storytelling from multi-talented Harriet Muncaster are sure to engage readers of 9+ in this tale of magical “Wiskling” twin sisters, Celestine and Victoria Stitch. A story of forbidden magic, envy, betrayal and ultimately the bonds of sibling love.

Everdark – Abi Elphinstone

The introductory book to the Unmapped Chronicles series sets up an immersive world run by magic, controlled by an imaginative range of magical creatures which has come under threat from the corrupting dark magic of Morg, an evil harpy. A series that will absorb and delight readers of 9+

Gargantis – Thomas Taylor, ills George Ermos

“When Gargantis wakes, Eerie quakes” Eerie-on-Sea is literally cracking apart in the second instalment of this brilliant series and it’s up to Herbert Lemon and his loyal friend Violet Parma to investigate the fearsome monster, Gargantis, who is stirring out in the bay! Fast moving, ferocious plotting fro anyone of 9+

The Ghost Garden – Emma Carroll, ills Kaja Kajfež

Spookily atmospheric story set in a country manor house in the summer of 1914, this novella from Emma Carroll is published in dyslexia-friendly format by specialist publisher Barrington Stoke. Perfect for readers from 10 through to secondary school age.

The Hungry Ghost – HS Norup

An incredible story that blends Chinese tradition with modern day sensibilities. Set in the cosmopolitan city of Singapore, this beautiful story weaves Western and Eastern attitudes to grieving and treasuring memories of the dead and is a powerfully moving read for anyone of 10/11+

Strange Star – Emma Carroll

An imagined tale of the creation of the Frankenstein story by Mary Shelley in 1816. The plot moves between Somerset village life and the grand surroundings of the Villa Diodati on the shores of Lake Geneva; epic storytelling, fabulous characters and a feminist slant make this my all-time favourite Emma Carroll title, recommended for anyone of 10+

Frost Hollow Hall – Emma Carroll

Yes, I know this is the third Emma Carroll book on my list, but as well as being labelled “The Queen of Historical Fiction” Emma really does have a talent for gothic atmosphere. In her debut novel she produced a ghost story, which at one point in the tale, genuinely made the hairs on the back of my neck stand up! I would not give this to anyone of a nervous disposition, but for KS3 readers of 11+ it is guaranteed to send shivers down the spine.

Dracula – retold by Fiona MacDonald, ills by Penko Gelev

Finding myself pushed for time to complete a reading of the original novel by Bram Stoker for one of my book groups, I reached for this graphic novel version from one of my children’s bookcases. It is an accessible introduction to the Dracula story, which certainly remains faithful to the major plot points and atmosphere of the source text. Perfect for teens, dyslexic readers and adults who leave insufficient time to fully read classic novels!

Review: Johnny Ball Undercover Football Genius by Matt Oldfield, illustrated by Tim Wesson

Cover illustration by Tim Wesson, published by Walker Books on 03/06/2021

This funny and entertaining story from Matt Oldfield, who is well-known for his Ultimate Football Heroes biographies, is sure to be a hit among football-loving primary school children. The seamless link-up play between storytelling, match reports and relentless humour will ensure that young readers are engrossed in Tissbury Tigers’ league challenge right to the final whistle.

Johnny Ball is a nine-and-three-quarter year-old football genius, who has progressed from managing his primary school team’s cup triumph, to becoming the assistant manager of local league team Tissbury Tigers. His ascent is not without its problems. The first of these is the star striker of his new team – Danny Ball, his teenage brother! Danny has “demandz”, the most problematic of which is that he doesn’t want his team-mates knowing that the new master tactician is in fact his little brother. The sibling relationship is portrayed with a great deal of humour, realism and heart and will be very relatable to young readers. Johnny’s attempts to go undercover and hide his true identity are hilarious, especially with the presence of an over-excitable mum on the touch line!

Despite these difficulties, it is not long before Johnny’s footballing brain has identified the one weak point in the Tiger’s line-up, the immobile and inept right-back, Craig Crawley, son of the team manager. Johnny has to use every last wattage of his maverick light-bulb-moment powers to constantly innovate new tactics as he attempts to lead his side to the top of the league table. Will Johnny be able to shake up the title race with the most radical tactics since a certain Frenchman replaced beer and Mars Bars with mineral water and broccoli? Can he cause the greatest upset since a team of locals became the first British side to lift the European Cup? You’ll have to get your hands on a copy of Johnny Ball Undercover Football Genius to find out!

Probably unusually for a middle-aged librarian, I have actually been a football fan all my life, thanks to a football-loving Dad, and I thoroughly enjoyed this story. It gave me many moments of recognition of time spent watching school football matches, made me laugh out loud and reminded me of the enjoyment of the sport in its purest form. I loved the way that Johnny showed remarkable resilience combined with kindness towards his players. The importance of teamwork to build success was a wonderful thread running through the story. I also admired the silky skills of illustrator Tim Wesson, whose artistry brings the on- and off-pitch action to life throughout the book. Additionally, I think it will be a heartening read for those children who are not necessarily the most skilful participants to realise that there are other ways to enjoy sport. In my opinion, this is a book likely to leave Key Stage 2 readers “over the moon”!

I am most grateful to Walker Books for supplying me with a review copy ahead of publication on 3rd June 2021.

Review: The Awesome Power of Sleep: How Sleep Supercharges Your Teenage Brain written by Nicola Morgan

Cover illustration by Thy Bui, published by Walker Books

We spend, on average, one third of our lives asleep! However, most of us give very little thought to this process until it causes us problems. This wonderfully informative book, written by award-winning author Nicola Morgan, explains with perfect clarity the science of sleep and presents workable strategies to help achieve our 7-9 hours per night.

The book begins by taking us on a journey through the science of sleep, explaining sleep architecture, the physiology of the sleeping brain and current scientific theories about the reason for sleep. You will learn about the 2012 explanation of the glymphatic system, circadian rhythms and the function of the suprachiasmatic nucleus – don’t be put off by the vocabulary it is all explained thoroughly. The changes that take place during the teenage years are addressed in a reassuring manner so that teenage readers will recognise and be able to deal with sleep issues they may be experiencing. The author is very careful to explain which issues may require a consultation with a GP. With the change in all of our life styles caused by the shutdown of our normal social interactions it is a highly appropriate time for this book to be published as the many enforced hours inside our houses have probably caused a greater disruption to sleep patterns than at any time in recent memory.

After explaining the necessity of sufficient sleep for good mental health, for learning and exams which are obviously an incredibly important aspect of teenage life, through to explaining the current theories about dreaming, Nicola Morgan never patronises her readership. Instead, she explains complex scientific content with great clarity, precision and reassurance.

The final chapters of the book introduce strategies to aid readers to achieve the desired number of hours of nightly sleep. This includes improving the physical environment of bedrooms, useful strategies for the evening wind-down routine, advice about screen-usage and when to turn off your devices, and strategies to use during periods of wakefulness in the night. 

Nicola Morgan is clearly an author who knows her teenage audience extremely well. The inclusion of self-test quizzes and checklists throughout the chapters make this an engaging and interactive read, ensuring that the information is processed and absorbed to consolidate its usefulness. As someone who reads many academic papers as part of my day-job, I highly applaud her ability to distil advanced scientific evidence and theories into such a readable and engaging format.

All of the information presented in this book is backed up by evidence-based science and there is a comprehensive list of resources at the end of the book providing links to reliable sources of further scientific and health-based information. I am passionate about the provision of reliable health-related content to individuals and will be adding this book to my recommended reading list for a project I am working on. Although it has been aimed at teenagers, I would encourage parents of teenagers and indeed any adult with sleep-related concerns to read it.

Another aspect I loved about this book is that the author makes it quite clear when the science is inexact and points out that there may be different schools of thought about particular issues. I think it is really important for young readers to understand that science is constantly developing and testing new ideas and that often there is not an exact answer and instead we have to critically analyse the current evidence and make educated choices.

I am most grateful to NetGalley and Walker Books for approving my request to read The Awesome Power of Sleep: How Sleep Supercharges Your Teenage Brain.

Advent Review: Where Snow Angels Go written by Maggie O’Farrell, illustrated by Daniela Jaglenka Terrazzini

Cover image by Daniela Jaglenka Terrazzini, published by Walker Books UK

This book is such a thing of beauty that it would make a wonderful Christmas present for any child and is destined to become a future classic. The illustration on the cover gives you a hint of the sumptuous detail within, as the angel’s outline on the extreme left welcomes you into a story which has a modern fairy tale feel.

The story itself concerns Sylvie, a girl of probably eight to ten, who is awoken suddenly in the night to find a snow angel in her bedroom. This proves troublesome for the rookie snow angel who is on his first mission and is supposed to remain invisible to the child he protects! Sylvie is a very inquisitive girl and persuades the snow angel to tell her far more than he ought! I don’t want to reveal too many of the details here as I wouldn’t want to ruin your enjoyment of Maggie O’Farrell’s spell-binding story telling.

This is her first children’s book and I certainly hope that there are many more to follow. Anyone familiar with her novels will recognise the absolute pinpoint clarity with which she writes and I am delighted that she has not compromised her choice of vocabulary or uniquely descriptive style in creating a story for a younger readership.

As we share stories with children throughout the Advent season this is definitely one to add to your repertoire. The themes of love, wishing to protect your loved ones and remembrance are all particularly poignant this year and the combination of exquisite writing, illustrated so perfectly by Daniela Jaglenka Terrazzini, makes this a book to continually revisit.

I am most grateful to Toppsta and Walker Children’s Books for my review copy. As proof of my wholehearted recommendation, I have already purchased further copies to give away.

#20BooksOfSummer Book 4: Gargantis by Thomas Taylor

Gargantis cover image by George Ermos, published by Walker Books Ltd

I have fallen rather badly behind with my blogging schedule this summer as I have had to spend a lot of “holiday” time sorting out my school library to ensure that it is ready for use under new guidelines from September. Fortunately I know that the #20BooksOfSummer challenge hosted by wonderful Cathy at 746.books.com is very flexible and forgiving, so I will be doing my best to review 10 books before the end of the month.

Gargantis was the #PrimarySchoolBookClub choice back in June but I would have read it anyway as I loved the first book in this series, Malamander, so much (you can read my review here).

Once again the author, Thomas Taylor, takes us back to the seaside town of Eerie-on-Sea where Herbert Lemon the lost-and-founder at the Grand Nautilus hotel is about to encounter another mysterious and ominous stranger. Deep Hood, as he becomes known, leaves a mysterious mechanical hermit crab and a sense of impending upheaval on Herbie’s counter, before disappearing into the blackout. This book immediately serves up two things I adore in a mystery adventure – a map and a head-first plunge into the action.

The town of Eerie-on-Sea is cracking apart, metaphorically and literally, in the face of a violent tempest. Old tales have resurfaced of St. Dismal, the first fisherman of Eerie-on-Sea and the current fishermen, described as having “beards that you could hide hedgehogs in” are heard to mutter his prediction “Gargantis wakes, Eerie quakes” When the local beachcomber Wendy Fossil is dragged into the hotel, tangled in fishing nets and clinging to a strangely shaped glass bottle, inscribed with ancient Eerie-script, Herbie finds himself at the centre of a dispute over the ownership of this piece of lost property. In trying to decide on the competing claims of Wendy, the fisherfolk led by fearsome Boadicea Bates, teenage outcast fisherman Blaze Westerley and museum director Dr Thalassi, Herbie finds himself drawn to “The Cold, Dark Bottom of the Sea”; the only book he has ever had prescribed from the Book Dispensary.

I do not want to reveal any more plot details as this is a book that propels the reader through so many twists and turns at such an inescapable pace that you just need to plunge in and allow it to envelop you. The ferocious action will leave you gasping for air as if you too have been consumed by “The Vortiss” and you join Herbie and Violet in their quest to untangle the relationship between Eerie-light and Gargantis. Oh, and when you reach the centre of the book you are in for a chart-topping treat!

This book is bursting with fantastic characters, from Boudicea with her “wiry black mane that probably eats hairbrushes for breakfast to Blaze who overcomes everyone’s low expectations of him to fulfil his uncle’s dreams. Herbie is such a wonderful protagonist, constantly having to overcome his deep-seated fears to face his destiny, often as a result of his best friend, Violet Parma’s impulsive actions. They make a thoroughly believable partnership and this story left me longing for more detail on Herbie’s mysterious origins.

I highly recommend this perfectly crafted adventure for everyone of 9/10+ and with its cliff-hanging chapter endings, be prepared to read more than one chapter at a time if you are reading aloud as a class-reader or bedtime story!

Image created by Cathy at 746books.com and used with permission

Review: Malamander by Thomas Taylor

IMG_3187

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: Louisiana’s Way Home by Kate DiCamillo

louisiana way home

This is a first person narrative, told in the original and quirky voice of 12 year-old Louisiana Elefante as she writes her story in a notebook, just in case anyone is wondering what happened to her. It is written in an interesting style, of short sentences and short chapters which leave you almost as breathless as Louisiana when her lungs get “swampy”.

It starts with her setting off on a 3am road trip with her Granny, heading to Georgia from Florida in order to outrun the “sundering curse” which is on the heads of their family. The adventure starts to go wrong from the start as they run out of petrol and then Granny is struck by terrible toothache. Louisiana’s recount of her exploits as she takes the wheel of the car to drive her Granny to the nearest town in search of a dentist is quite hilarious. It becomes apparent as they reach town, that Granny and Louisiana live by their wits, and Granny is not the most trustworthy individual.

I don’t want to give any plot spoilers, but there is quite a shocking plot twist about half-way through the book. Louisiana reacts by writing the following in her notebook:

“But here is the thing: it did not feel to me like the earth was moving infinitesimally. It felt like it was hurtling and jerking its way through a lonely darkness.”

Fortunately, Louisiana has met a local boy called Burke Allen, someone so kind that “if you ask him for something he will give you two.”  While Louisiana is questioning who she is, Burke is the son of Burke Allen and the grandson of Burke Allen. He and his family are completely certain of who they are, and they represent absolute kindness. Along with the Reverend Obertask they teach the eponymous heroine that “we all at some point have to decide who we want to be in this world.”

I really enjoyed this story, it is the first book by Kate DiCamillo that I have read and I can see why she is a prize winning author, the interesting writing style was utterly believable as the thoughts of a 12 year-old trying to find her place in the world. The plot twist that I mentioned earlier could upset younger readers; this book should probably be shared with an adult with whom the story can be discussed. An interesting story for mature readers of 10 and above.