Posted in children's fiction, fantasy, review

Tunnel Of Bones – Victoria Schwab

“You are my best friend. In life, in death, and everything else in between.”

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Blurb: “Trouble is haunting Cassidy Blake . . . even more than usual. She (plus her ghost best friend, Jacob, of course) are in Paris, where Cass’s parents are filming their TV show about the world’s most haunted cities. Sure, it’s fun eating croissants and seeing the Eiffel Tower, but there’s true ghostly danger lurking beneath Paris, in the creepy underground Catacombs.”

The sequel to City Of Ghosts sees protagonist Cassidy Blake doing more ghost hunting, but this time things are getting even more dangerous. The series as a whole gives me immense Coraline vibes and does a fantastic job of balancing the mystery and downright creepiness of the situations. Unlike its predecessor, Tunnel Of Bones takes place in Paris which feels like a breath of fresh air, and also opens up ghostly happenings to the rest of the world which I only hope continues with future books.

Victoria Schwab has a fantastic talent for descriptions and visuals. She weaves aspects together in such a way where they are detailed, unique and incredibly distinctive. Everything just clicks together and fits perfectly.

Of course, every book needs a menace to overthrow and in this one, it’s a pretty nasty poltergeist. The mystery and tension around him is unbearable at many points and he defies everything that both Cassidy and the reader has learned about how the veil world works so far.

The absolute gem of this story is Cassidy and Jacob’s relationship and how it continues to grow and flourish. Their lives are so woven and interconnected and I have so many fears for the future. But for now, I will enjoy the wonders of their friendship.

Tunnel Of Bones shows that Victoria Schwab continues to grow as an author and is one that we are very, very lucky to have.

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Posted in children's fiction, review

A Pocketful Of Stars – Aisha Bushby

“I sit back and wait for magic to happen. But this isn’t a fairy tale, and princesses don’t wake up after kisses.”

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Blurb: “Safiya and her mum have never seen eye to eye. Her mum doesn’t understand Safiya’s love of gaming and Safiya doesn’t think they have anything in common. As Safiya struggles to fit in at school she wonders if her mum wishes she was more like her confident best friend Elle. But then her mum falls into a coma and, when Safiya waits by her bedside, she finds herself in a strange alternative world that looks a bit like one of her games.”

[AD – Gifted]

[Note: I am friends with the author but this in no way affects my review of this book]

A Pocketful Of Stars is the debut Children’s fiction book from Aisha Bushby who many will know from her short story in the BAME anthology A Change Is Going To Come. 

Safiya is an avid gamer and addicted to Studio Ghibli films. She’s forced to deal with failing friendships, an inability to stand up for herself, and the fact that her mother is in hospital. When she begins to have strange dreams involving a younger version of her mother in Kuwait, she becomes obsessed with trying to piece everything together in the hopes of her mother waking up.

Children are not exempt from bad things happening to them and having a serious topic, the possibility of grief, at the forefront of a book is something I really can see helping children who find themselves in similar situations. The house in Safiya’s dreams is crumbling and appears to build itself up which every “clue” from her mother’s past that she uncovers. The whole experience is described through the metaphor of a game where the player has to work through the levels by solving the mysteries in order to get to the boss level which is presented as a locked door which her grown up mother is behind. Safiya becomes unable to focus on anything but working out what the next piece is by trawling through her mother’s flat in the hopes of finding something she doesn’t even know she’s looking for. Grief and the possibility of loss is something that leaves people feeling completely helpless, willing to do anything to feel like they can shift the tide and fix things in some way. For Safiya, she feels it’s building up this image of a past life as she begins to see the younger version of her mother outside of dreams. Through this “game” she learns more about her mother’s history and how they are far more alike than she previously thought.

I adore books that have a magical element to them but it’s not entirely clear whether the magic is real or not. It leaves so much to be explored through interpretation and I think it will be exciting to see what other readers take away from the story.

Aisha Bushby has an amazing way of using visuals to illustrate her points. From the video game metaphor, to describing intense emotion as “party poppers in my chest.” It’s a collection of images I would have never thought up on my own but just completely fit every single time.

A Pocketful of Stars is beyond any words I could possibly use to describe it. I wish I could hand out bottles full of the emotions I had upon finishing because words just cannot do this book justice.

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Posted in children's fiction, review

The 1,000 Year Old Boy – Ross Welford

“Would you like to live forever? I am afraid I cannot recommend it. I am used to it now, and I do understand how special it is. Only I want it to stop now. I want to grow up like you.”

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Blurb: “Alfie Monk is like any other nearly teenage boy – except he’s 1,000 years old and can remember the last Viking invasion of England. Obviously no one believes him. So when everything Alfie knows and loves is destroyed in a fire, and the modern world comes crashing in, Alfie embarks on a mission to find friendship, acceptance, and a different way to live…which means finding a way to make sure he will eventually die.”

The 1,000 Year Old Boy poses the interesting question to the reader of “what would you do if you could live forever but don’t want to any more?” I’ve read so many books over the years that feature immortal characters but never one where the individual really battles with the prospect of giving it up.

The story is told through two perspectives: A 1000 year old boy called Alfie and an 11 year old boy called Adrian. Naturally, Alfie speaks like he’s lived for a thousands years. He’s reserved and mature, speaking with a lilt of sadness. Whereas Adrian is sarcastic and has naivety flowing through his narrative. The use of this format works wonders for the plot as the reader gets an insight into Alfie’s past and how he tackles the modern day, while also getting to see how Alfie looks and acts on the outside through Adrian who doesn’t know him. I listened to the audiobook, narrated by Chris Coxon and Luke Johnson, which only added to this distinction.

The side character of Roxy swiftly became my favourite. She is bold, courageous and smart. She reminded me so much of Hermione from the Harry Potter series as she often comes up with plans or points out things missed by Adrian and she was just an absolute joy to read. I imagine if I read this book as a child, she would be the character I’d look up to the most.

The 1,000 Year Old Boy has the regular amount of humour expected from Ross Welford’s work. But it is also littered with sadness as tragic events mean that Alfie has outlived everyone he’s ever known and loved. It’s a heartbreaking read and incredibly understandable that Alfie was trying to find a way to end his mortality by tracking down one of the last life pearls.

This is a tale about facing difficult decisions, learning to do what’s right, and finding friendship in unexpected places.

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Posted in children's fiction, fantasy, review

Percy Jackson & The Sea Of Monsters – Rick Riordan

“Family are messy. Immortal families are eternally messy. Sometimes the best we can do is remind each other that we’re related for better or for worse… and try to keep the maiming and killing to a minimum.”

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Blurb: “Starring Percy Jackson, a “half blood” whose mother is human and whose father is the God of the Sea, Riordan’s series combines cliffhanger adventure and Greek mythology lessons that results in true page-turners that get better with each installment. In this episode, The Sea of Monsters, Percy sets out to retrieve the Golden Fleece before his summer camp is destroyed, surpassing the first book’s drama and setting the stage for more thrills to come.”

The Percy Jackson series is one that I’ve gone back and forth on for the longest time because my knowledge of Greek mythology is limited very much to musical numbers from Disney’s Hercules. Just over a year ago I listened to the first installment on audiobook and thoroughly enjoyed it. So it feels only right to finally make my way back to this world under the same format.

It’s not often in these kind of stories that the protagonist becomes my favourite characters, but I absolutely adore Percy. He has the right kind of fight and stepping up to the legacy of his father who is a literal Greek god, along with having these perfect moments of sarcasm when he finds himself in ridiculous situations. I think a lot of this has to do with Jesse Bernstein’s narrations which really do wonders for bringing him to life.

I continue to marvel at the way this world has started to branch out and flesh out the surrounding characters while also giving Percy that room to feel a little lost: he may know who his father is now, but that doesn’t mean his father wants to be around him. When Percy has the opportunity to solve the problems in Camp Half Blood by going on a quest to the sea of monsters, of course he puts himself forward for it. Naturally, any place called the “sea of monsters” is not a fun walk in the park and I loved seeing all the different threads that Rick Riordan filtered into this story.

I loved seeing the alliances start to build and the rivalries that I can see causing a lot of problem in the future books as everyone was trying to track down this fleece that could restore Camp Half Blood to its former glory.

The only part where I really struggle with these books is my lack of knowledge when it comes to Greek mythology. While brief explanations are given, I still find it hard to keep track of everything. I also feel that if I knew a lot about the subject I would get a lot more out of this series. However, that doesn’t stop me finding this world compelling enough to venture on, no matter how scared I am about what might be waiting around the corner.

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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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