Posted in children's fiction, review

City Of Ghosts – Victoria Schwab

“I have one foot in winter and one in spring. One foot with the living, and one with the dead.”

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Blurb: “Cassidy Blake’s parents are The Inspectres, a (somewhat inept) ghost-hunting team. But Cass herself can REALLY see ghosts. In fact, her best friend, Jacob, just happens to be one.”

Schwab continues to build her incredible writing career by not putting too many eggs in one basket: From Adult Fantasy to Young Adult Supernatural and now Children’s Fiction, it really does seem like she can turn her hand to anything. City of Ghosts has the author’s usual flare and incredibly world-building that makes so many readers pick up her new books, no matter what they are, and with a large portion of the story being set in Edinburgh, where Schwab partly resides, it feels very familiar.

Sadly, there’s been a fair amount of criticism that the book is too “simple.” While the storyline is very focused and streamlined, it’s important to remember that the target audience is children. But, as you will have gathered from my blog, that doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy them.

The protagonist, Cassidy, can see ghosts and has been able to ever since she was rescued from death by her ghost friend Jacob. She is also able to temporarily enter the Veil (the ghost world) if she finds herself in the place where somebody died. But even in her own world she feels the tap-tap-tap of someone on the veil the same way other may experience a chill when walking through a known haunted place. The world building is just incredible. It’s easy to distinguish when she in the respective world and the building pressure not to stay in the veil for too long.

I found it really interesting to have a duo at the forefront of a story where one of them is a ghost and it sets up interesting questions for the sequel. Jacob is connected to both worlds and to Cassidy which of course makes them best friends, and he accompanies her on every adventure delivering the typical wit you’d expect from a sidekick. The big, almost joke throughout the story is that Cassidy’s parents can’t see ghosts, don’t believe in them but also make money from writing books about them; which extends to a TV show and becomes the reason they temporarily move to Scotland. Whereas Cassidy can see and interact with ghosts but doesn’t want to write about them and, because of her age, when she accidently addresses Jacob when others are around, it’s simply put down to her “talking to an imaginary friend.”

Of course, every good story needs a villain. Enter the Raven In Red (who I won’t delve too much into because spoilers). She is quite simply terrifying and gave me heavy Coraline vibes. She helped build to an epic and equally terrifying conclusion and, as regular readers know all too well, Schwab makes the best villains.

There’s a few culture references made to things like Peter Pan and Harry Potter which were nice to see and made the story feel more centred in our world. I did have a few issues reading as my copy had a few formatting issues so I’m not sure if it’s a batch problem or just issues with my copy, but it did take me out of the book a few times.

Ghosts galore, incredible world building, City of Ghosts is a fantastic addition to the children’s fiction shelves.

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Posted in children's fiction, fantasy, review

Harry Potter & The Chamber of Secrets | Illustrated Edtion – J.k.Rowling & Jim Kay

“The chamber of secrets has been opened. Enemies of the heir, beware.”

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Blurb: “The Dursleys were so mean and hideous that summer that all Harry Potter wanted was to get back to the Hogwarts School for Witchcraft and Wizardry. But just as he’s packing his bags, Harry receives a warning from a strange, impish creature named Dobby who says that if Harry Potter returns to Hogwarts, disaster will strike.”

Harry Potter and The Chamber of Secrets has always been a weird book in the series for me: it was the first one I read when I first discovered the series as a child, reading it and not realising it was actually a sequel, but as I’ve grown up, it has firmly become my least favourite in the series. However, like many I’ve found that the illustrated editions have added an extra bit of magic to a much loved series.

In terms of the story itself, I really do appreciate this one for the insights into Hogwarts history. Readers start to learn more about how the magical school came to be and the darkness linked to Slytherin house, along with the very start of how Voldermort started to look into dark magic. It’s also littered with many signs of what is to come in future books.

My favourite characters are Lockhart and Colin Creevey.  Lockhart is the ridiculous extravagant new Defense Against The Dark Arts teacher and loves nothing more than talking about himself and all his brilliant accomplishments. One of my favourite scenes is when he sets a test in class which is all about him. Colin Creevey is an excitable first year Gryffindor student, obsessed with the famous Harry Potter. He always seems to pop up at the worst times but I imagine that if I was a character in this world, I’d probably be exactly like him.

In terms of the illustrations, I wasn’t as blown away with the contents like I was with Philosopher’s Stone. I thought it was a clever technique to have some pages black with white text to emphasise the darkness in places like Knockturn Alley but outside of that, I didn’t give the illustrations the attention they truly deserve. It also seemed like there were a lot more pages of just text compared to the last one and I except this will definitely continue and grow as the illustrated version turn on the longer books in the series.

Sadly, this is still my least favourite Potter book, but it doesn’t make it any less magical.

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Posted in children's fiction, fantasy, review

Nevermoor: The Trials Of Morrigan Crow – Jessica Townsend

“There it was. The truth she kept squashed down, something she could ignore but never forget. The truth that she and every cursed child knew deep in their bones; had tattooed on their hearts: I am going to die on Eventide night.”

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Blurb: “Enter the Wundrous world of Morrigan Crow and Nevermoor – the most fantastical children’s release of the year.Morrigan Crow is cursed. Having been born on Eventide, the unluckiest day for any child to be born, she’s blamed for all local misfortunes, from hailstorms to heart attacks – and, worst of all, the curse means that Morrigan is doomed to die at midnight on her eleventh birthday. But as Morrigan awaits her fate, a strange and remarkable man named Jupiter North appears.”

The Trials of Morrigan Crow was, by all accounts, a book I should have loved. It has everything I adore: magical places, clever twists, adventure and competitions. But something didn’t quite gel with me.

Morrigan Crow is a cursed child, blamed for all manner of ridiculous things that happen in her town from the weather to someone making a bad batch of marmalade. As a result of this, her family hates her because they’re constantly forced to pay compensation for Morrigan’s supposed involvement in minor town mishaps. There’s a hilarious scene where Morrigan is forced to write apology letters to everyone she’s wronged in the town.

The first part of this story was so well done as the reader is given enough time to get to know Morrigan, her life and her negative family dynamic before she is whisked off to the magical world of Nevermoor by the mysterious Jupiter North. This whole section was brilliantly action packed and I grew to really love Morrigan as a character. But once the story shifted to Nevemoor, everything came to a screeching halt. Jupiter North simply abandoned Morrigan and took the excitement with him.

I found it very difficult to ground myself in the world and a lot of characters are just thrown at the reader to the point where I found it hard to keep track of who was who. Normally the prospect of trials fills me with glee – it’s a trope I can really get behind – but I didn’t feel it was the best way to explore this brand new world. Towards the end of the book I even started skimming several pages at a time, and often giving side-tracked by something outside of the book, just hoping it would all pick up at the end.

I don’t know if my issues with this stemmed from having read a really good book prior to this and I was in a bit of a slump without realising, but I just didn’t get on with this book like I thought I would.

It seemed to have all the potential and a good start but not enough to power through to the end.

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Posted in children's fiction, fantasy, review

Brain Freeze – Tom Fletcher

“I had eaten WAY too much ice cream WAY too fast, and we all know what happens when you do that… BRAIN FREEZE.”

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Blurb: “Izzy’s grandpa was an ice-cream man, and he used to tell the BEST stories. There was the one about giving a 99 Flake to a pharaoh in Ancient Egypt – and another about feeding fab lollies to a hungry T.Rex. But what if they weren’t just stories? What if his blue ice-cream van had a secret magic of its own?”

When I saw that Tom Fletcher was in the line-up for this year’s World Book Day it was an absolute no-brainer that I was going to pick it up. Despite being painfully biased towards this individual, each story he’s churned out has been jam-packed full of such creativity and imagination that I knew Brain Freeze would be no different.

Unlike his previous books, this short story sees the protagonist going off on an adventure solely on their own which I thought was an interesting route to take in this ice cream themed, time travel adventure. But as the story progresses, the reader sees the Brain and Tummy become personified into characters of their own; providing their own form of narrative to push the plot onwards. I found this aspect quite funny as the Brain steers Izzy to where she needed to go (sometimes pointing out the obvious) while all Tummy talked about was… well… food.

Fletcher always adds a bit of depth to his stories, which can sometimes be surprising to see in a story aimed at Children. There’s a very sad element to this story and the route of Izzy’s love for ice cream comes from a place of wanting to keep the memory of a loved one alive; something I think anyone who’s lost someone can relate to. Even in a fun little adventure story, there was that grounding that rounded off Izzy’s character and made her feel real.

As usual, an honourable mention needs to go to Shane Devries who, once again, provided that extra bit of magic and humour with his illustrations.

My only issue with Brain Freeze was more of a personal one. I don’t often read first person books and this was the first of Fletcher’s stories to take that form and I just feel that the story would have worked better in a more aerial view.

Brain Freeze is clever, magical and will leave you hungry for a big bowl of ice cream.

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Posted in children's fiction, discussion

Thoughts On World Book Day

When I was a child, World Book Day was like an extra Christmas day for me. I took that token as if it was the most important gift bestowed upon me and picked out the book I wanted as if the fate of the entire world rested on my tiny shoulders.

Sadly, gone are the days when I am eligible for those magic tokens, but it doesn’t stop me, at the age of 24, making sure I buy at least one book from the line up every year. (I mean, they’re £1 each. How could I not?!)

So, when March 1st rolled around, I ventured out into the snow (yes, snow. England’s weather certainly took an interesting turn) and went to make my selections for the year. Here’s what I bought:

Brain Freeze by Tom Fletcher

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Blurb: “A little girl discovers that eating ice cream from her grandfather’s old ice-cream truck gives her the power to travel through time.”

If you’ve been a long time reader on my blog or watch my videos you won’t be surprised in the slightest to see that I picked up Tom Fletcher’s book. Despite being incredibly biased, I’ve always found his stories to be fun, witty and just downright enjoyable. So Brain Freeze was a no brainer for me.

Paddington Turns Detective And Other Funny Stories by Michael Bond

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Blurb: “Nothing is ever straightforward when Paddington is involved. Whether he is attempting detective work, helping to sail a boat or performing magic, ordinary things have a habit of becoming quite extraordinary!”

I have a confession to make… I’ve never read any Paddington Bear stories. Or seen the films. I know, I’m a mess of a reader but with this collection of fun stories making it onto the list, I can’t think of a more wonderful way to get started.

Oi Goat! by Kes Gray and Jim Field

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Blurb: “Frog turns stylist in this boisterous picture book, making all the animals put on their glad rags for World Book Day. But will everyone be as fashion forward as Frog?”

If you haven’t heard about the Oi! picture book series, then you’re seriously missing out. It’s a hysterical rhyming series about animals sitting on other animals and I think they’re utterly brilliant. So again, it was a no brainer to add this one to my picture book collection.

And there you have it! That’s what I picked up for World Book Day!

Did you grab anything?
Do you have any amazing memories to do with World Book Day?

Let me know!

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Posted in children's fiction, fantasy, review

Percy Jackson And The Lightning Thief – Rick Riordan

“The real world is where the monsters are.”

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Blurb: “Percy Jackson is a good kid, but he can’t seem to focus on his schoolwork or control his temper. And lately, being away at boarding school is only getting worse—Percy could have sworn his pre-algebra teacher turned into a monster and tried to kill him. When Percy’s mom finds out, she knows it’s time that he knew the truth about where he came from, and that he go to the one place he’ll be safe. She sends Percy to Camp Half Blood, a summer camp for demigods , where he learns that the father he never knew is Poseidon, God of the Sea.”

I have attempted this series before in the past and never really got on with it. It’s something that’s always pained me a little as I’ve seen how many readers seem to adore Riordan’s work. So after much contemplation, I decided to give the Percy Jackson series again. But this time on audiobook.

The story follows a troubled boy called Percy whose life is turned upside down when he discovers that he is a demi-god, and later, the son of Poseidon. He is then taken to a place called Camp Half-Blood a summer camp/safe haven for kids of the Greek Gods. When Zeus’ famous lightning bolt goes missing, Percy’s father is accused, causing Percy to go on a mission to absolve his father of the accusation.

I’m glad I decided to go for audiobook format for this one as the narrator, Jesse Bernstein really took on the character of Percy; I felt like I was listening to him telling this story and I was utterly invested. So much so that it’s hard to remember what my previous issues were with this adventure. I was gasping, laughing and groaning in fear throughout the chapters and even breathed a sigh of relief when it was all over and I could finally relax.

I think my big apprehension with this series is that I don’t really have an interest in Greek mythology and I will admit that I did get a little confused at some of the history. But I persevered.

It was so brilliantly action-packed and I didn’t know what could be waiting around the next corner. All I can say is that Percy is a very unlucky kid.

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Posted in children's fiction, contemporary, review

Wonder – R. J. Palacio

“My name is August. I won’t describe what I look like. Whatever you’re thinking, it’s probably worse.”

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Blurb: “August (Auggie) Pullman was born with a facial deformity that prevented him from going to a mainstream school—until now. He’s about to start 5th grade at Beecher Prep, and if you’ve ever been the new kid then you know how hard that can be. The thing is Auggie’s just an ordinary kid, with an extraordinary face. But can he convince his new classmates that he’s just like them, despite appearances?”

Wonder is another one of those books that I’ve heard about on and off over the past few years but never really had any desire to delve into it… until I saw the trailer for the film adaptation.

The story follows ten year old August Pullman who has been living with a facial disfigurement from the day he was born. He’s been home-schooled but his mother can only teach him so much and decides to enrol him in fifth grade as August will not be the only new kid starting. August battles through stares, whispers and outright abuse while gaining true friends along the way.

I expected Wonder to be a really sad read – and in a lot of ways it is – but overall it’s a touching, uplifting book. Seeing August’s best friend Jack Will stand up for him reminded me about the importance of good friendships, and a girl called Summer actively sitting with August in the cafeteria highlights the effect that just being kind can have on someone’s day.

The book is told through different narratives: August, Jack Will, Viv (August’s sister), Miranda (Viv’s friend) and Julian (Viv’s boyfriend). Each perspective allows a different insight into what it means to be August or associated with August and really works well in showing the overall bigger picture as well as the scale of August’s influence. However, I did often find these jarring and that they disrupted the flow of the story. I also felt that Julian’s perspective wasn’t needed as he hadn’t been with Viv for that long.

Jack Will was the stand out character for him. He is a symbol of a true good kid and, while he made mistakes, his heart was really in the right place and I would love to read more about him.

If you’re looking for a book to lift your spirits and remind you of the good things in this world, make sure you pick up Wonder.

Wonder is…well… a wonder.

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Posted in children's fiction, fantasy, review

The Creakers – Tom Fletcher

“What makes all the creaks, and clangs in your house? It isn’t the cat, or your dog, or a mouse. Those noises are made by mysterious creatures. Read on if you dare and you might meet… the creakers.”

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Blurb: “Do you ever hear strange, creaking noises at night? Ever wonder what makes those noises? Lucy Dungston always did. Until, one morning, Lucy discovers that all the grown-ups have disappeared – as if into thin air. Chaos descends as the children in Lucy’s town run riot. It’s mayhem. It’s madness. To most kids, it’s amazing! But Lucy wants to find out the truth. Lucy lost her dad not long ago, and she’s determined not to lose her mum too. She’s going to get her back – and nothing is going to stop her… except maybe the Creakers.”

The children of Whiffington wake up one morning to find that all the parents have gone missing. But not only that: they’re all having nightmares about strange creatures hiding under their beds.  Lucy Dungston, having already lost her father, takes it upon herself to not only get her mother back, but the other kids’ parents too.  Her mission takes her into the dangerous world of Woleb where everything is backwards.

One of my favourite things about The Creakers is the little fourth wall breaks in between certain chapters in which the narrator temporarily stops the story in order to check how the reader is feeling. For example: “Blimey! How are you doing? That was a bit intense, wasn’t it?” This little addition was just an extra bit of humour which I think would work brilliantly if this book was read aloud to a group of children.

The backwards ways of Woleb were just perfect and left me having many revelations along with Lucy as she attempted to navigate her way around the new world.

Another personal favourite of mine was the character of Norman Quick – a young boy scout who wears his badges with pride. He even has a camouflage one though he can’t remember where he put it on his sash!

The Creakers is a fantastic, slightly scary, story that teaches the importance of working together and accepting those different to yourself.

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Posted in children's fiction, review

The Polar Bear Explorers’ Club – Alex Bell

“She never got tired of looking at maps and globes, and as far as she was concerned, a compass was just the most beautiful thing in the whole entire world.”

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Blurb: “Join Stella Starflake Pearl and her three fellow explorers as they trek across the snowy Icelands and come face-to-face with frost fairies, snow queens, outlaw hideouts, unicorns, pygmy dinosaurs and carnivorous cabbages . . .When Stella and three other junior explorers get separated from their expedition can they cross the frozen wilderness and live to tell the tale?”

The story follows a girl called Stella Starflake Pearl who has a pet polar bear. Her dad is an explorer of the Icelands and she wants to be one too. But there’s one catch – girls are not allowed to be explorers. After much convincing, Stella is given the opportunity to prove herself by going on an expedition and, if successful, she will be given a place in the Polar Bear Explorers’ Club.

In The Polar Bear Explorers’ Club, the reader is thrown into an icy world of pure brilliance and never-ending magic as Stella is paired up with boys from her club as well as the others to make new discoveries. While the world is all-consuming and well put together, I did find myself getting lost quite a lot and having to re-read pages to get a sense of where the characters were in the world. It was one of the few times where I really did wish that there was a map at the front of this book. Sadly there wasn’t and I feel that let the book as a whole down a lot.

I like that there were many different explorer clubs: Polar Bears, Ocean Squid, Desert Jackal and Jungle Cat; all with their own rules. It allows that room to connect more with the world as readers can look at a glossary at the back of the book and see which club they’d most likely fit in.

There were plenty of magical twists on aspects that already exist in our world such as frostbite (a rather scary bit I must admit), however, I find it hard to be invested in a book and enjoy the story if I can’t really place where the characters are. For mainly that reason, this book fell just a bit too flat to me.

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Posted in children's fiction, discussion, lgbt, romance, young adult

Favourite Books Of The Year 2017

Another year has slipped by and it’s time to sit back and reflect on the reading year. I’ve frequently said that 2017 was a bad year for me in terms of quality rather than quantity. I read a lot of books that just left me feeling a big deflated and didn’t think about again once I put them on a pile to be donated to one of my local libraries. I feel that this is reflected in the minimal number on the list. But that in no way should diminish the spotlight on the ones I mention as they deserve all the love and praise in the world. So let’s get into it:

The Upside Of Unrequited by Becky Albertalli 

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The story follows a girl called Molly who really wants a boyfriend but feels that no one will ever love her because she’s a big girl and so she must settle for her list of unrequited crushes.

If you’ve been following me at all over the past year, you will know that I simply cannot stop talking about this book. It has pansexual, bisexual, jewish, fat and anxiety representation but it’s all weaved into the story in such a way that none of it feels like it’s there just to tick boxes. I’ve not connected to a book like this in such a long time. It made me feel valid in terms of body issues and the way my anxiety can be a real hinderance at times and it was nice to see a grown  bisexual woman represented in a Young Adult book. It felt like this book was giving me a hug and telling me that I am valid. If you’re interested in a full review, you can read it here.
Noah Can’t Even by Simon James Green 

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This book is about a boy called Noah who just wants to be a normal sixteen year old boy and decides he’s going to cement this by kissing the beautiful Sophie at a party… but he ends up kissing his best friend Harry instead.

I came across this book because of an interview Amber from themilelongbookshelf did with the author. Simon pointed out the lack of British LGBT books which really got me thinking about how I actually couldn’t name any myself, which is what pushed me towards picking up a copy. There’s been a lot of discussion about YA books where the characters feel “too old” and Noah Can’t Even really feels like reading a story about a teenage boy. The internal monologue is embarrassing and cringy, but my gosh it’s downright hilarious. There were some parts of this book that had me laughing to myself for days after I’d finished it. I’m even laughing now writing this thinking about some of my favourite moments. If you’re interested in a full review, you can read it here.

The Christmasaurus: Musical Edition by Tom Fletcher 

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All William Trundle wants for Christmas is a pet dinosaur… and it just so happens that the elves at the North Pole have discovered a dinosaur egg. A wondrous turn of events leads to a truly magical Christmas Eve adventure.

I was in two minds about whether to include the musical edition on this list as, while it is a re-release, the original made it onto my list of favourites in 2016. But then I figured, I shouldn’t deny myself small pleasures and also this is my list therefore I make the rules. There are honestly not enough words to describe how brilliant this story is. It’s festive, magical and heart-warming and I shed many tears again, even though I knew what happened. If you’re interested in a full review you can find that here and my comparison review of the two editions can be found here.
The Thing About Jellyfish by Ali Benjamin 

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The story follows a twelve year old girl called Suzy who finds out her best friend, Franny, has died. The cause of death doesn’t make sense to Suzy as her friend was an incredibly good swimmer so she struggles to understand how drowning could be the cause. Through a school trip to an aquarium she learns about jellyfish and comes to believe that one type in particular was the real culprit. She starts learning everything she can about jellyfish and looks into experts who can help prove her theory to be correct.

This book punched me right in the heart… several times… just to make sure it hurt enough. In these pages, the reader sees a girl facing her own mortality for the first time and trying to cope with the death of a loved one for the first time and it’s utterly heartbreaking to read. But I feel it’s something we can all relate to: searching for rational answers to something as unpredictable and -at times- nonsensical as death.

I’ve not been this affected by a book since I read The Book Thief but I think it’s finally found some competition.  Again, if you’re interested in a full review, you can find it here

And that concludes my favourite books of the past year! Here’s to another book-filled one!

Happy Reading!

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