Posted in children's fiction, fantasy, review

A Tale Of Magic – Chris Colfer

Magic was outlawed in all four kingdoms – and that was putting it lightly. Legally, magic was the worst criminal act a person could commit, and socially, there was nothing considered more despicable.”

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Blurb: “Fourteen-year-old Brystal Evergreen has always known she was destined for great things–that is, if she can survive the oppressive Southern Kingdom. Her only escape are books, but since it’s illegal for women to read in her country, she has to find creative ways of acquiring them. Working as a maid at her local library gives her the perfect excuse to be near them and allows her to sneak a few titles home when no one is looking. But one day Brystal uncovers a secret section of the library and finds a book about magic that changes her life forever.”

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The best-selling author of the The Land Of Stories is back with another magic filled series. I found Chris Colfer’s previous to be hit and miss so it’s nice to get some refresh with something brand new.

While The Land Of Stories relied on classic fairy tale characters, A Tale Of Magic doesn’t which makes it wholly original to what readers have seen before from Chris Colfer. The story takes place in a kingdom where women are very restricted in what they are able to do, and where they are able to go to the point where when Brystal is given the opportunity to leave it is a relief. The world is expertly built and does a fantastic job of showcasing Colfer’s talents; every location the reader is taken to is vivid and distinctive. Brystal is a strong lead and I’m interested to see what her arc will be throughout the books. It’s so easy to get behind her as her magic begins to manifest and she pushes for more rights.

However, in terms of story I just didn’t really connect with it. I feel in places it was just a bit too long, given it’s the first in a series and there’s a lot of set up. I did have times when I found myself distracted or skim reading to get through some chapters.

A bold effort from Chris Colfer and I am intrigued to see what he comes up with next.

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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 discussion, review

Is The Creakers Musical Edition Worth It?

Following the success of The Christmasaurus Musical Edition, of which my review can found here, Tom Fletcher continues this new tradition of pairing music and his children’s fiction with the creation of The Creakers Musical Edition. 

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The children of Whiffington wake up one day to find that all of the adults have disappeared. While they take this wonderful opportunity to run rampant, no longer confined by rules, eventually the novelty wears off. The protagonist, Lucy, is determined to find out what happened to all the parents and her investigation leads to the discovery of a ghastly world under her bed belonging to monsters called “the creakers.”

The book comes in with a CD which is stuck on the other side of the front cover’s hole (don’t worry, removing it for use doesn’t’ affect the visual of the cover as there’s an inside page which fills in the gap with the same image!). You simply puts this CD into whatever device they wish to use and begins to read. As you travel through the story, little prompts appear at the side of the page which indicate when it’s time to play one of ten tracks.

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The format itself is quite simply brilliant because it combines the two things Tom Fletcher is really good at: writing and music. For existing readers, it’s a way to reread with an additional element breathing new life into the story. For new readers, it’s a way to enjoy the book in an elevated way.

Initially, it can feel like ten songs is a bit excessive but the gaps between them are just big enough that you get invested in the characters on their own and when a musical number rolls around it’s a exciting surprise.

So, is The Creakers Musical Edition worth it? Absolutely. It’s such a unique experience that both adults and children can enjoy together. However, I do prefer The Christmasaurus Musical Edition but this is purely down to the fact that I get more excited about the prospect of christmas than the prospect of monsters hiding under my bed.

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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, 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, contemporary, review

The Thing About Jellyfish – Ali Benjamin

“Some hearts beat only about 412 million times. Which might sound like a lot. But the truth is, it barely gets you twelve years.”

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Blurb: “After her best friend dies in a drowning accident, Suzy is convinced that the true cause of the tragedy must have been a rare jellyfish sting–things don’t just happen for no reason. Retreating into a silent world of imagination, she crafts a plan to prove her theory–even if it means traveling the globe, alone.”

I stumbled across The Thing About Jellyfish in my local library and picked it up because it sounded familiar. After reading the blurb, flicking through it and reading the first page it became clear that this odd sense of familiarity was misplaced. However, the first page captivated my attention, so I checked it out and set off on a new adventure.

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.

Back when I read The Book Thief by Markus Zuzak, I was completely overwhelmed with emotions and ever since then I’ve said I didn’t think I’d find a book that would match when I experienced when reading that. Dear reader, I think I’ve finally found some competition. The writing style in The Thing About Jellyfish is utterly beautiful and has a sense of broken innocence that feels like listening to the story of a real person.

This is a story that anyone who’s experienced loss can relate to. Death is a horrible thing that we’d rather not think about until we have to face it head-on, and when that happens it’s very hard to accept. Suzy is unable to believe that her best friend could drown when she was such a good swimmer and refuses to accept that sometimes things just happen. She stops talking after hearing the news and isolates herself which almost makes it easier for her to work on her new obsession. She wants to find a reason that fits better than the one she’s been given and it’s honestly heartbreaking to read. Here you have a twelve year old girl faced with the reality of her own mortality for the first time.

The format flits between past and present and in the former scenes the reader starts to build up a picture of the friendship Suzy and Franny share. These aspects showcase the difficulty of growing up and it’s where Suzy starts to appear as a bad person at times. It’s a struggle to support her actions but this is makes her flawed and just adds more humanity to her character.

I didn’t expect to learn so much about Jellyfish but, as the title suggests, the book is littered with all the different facts that Suzy learns on her quest for the truth.

The Thing About Jellyfish is fundamentally a story about grief, loss and how to cope with it. Oh, and of course Jellyfish.

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Posted in children's fiction, fantasy, review, Uncategorized

The King Of Average – Gary Schwartz

“No one had any cause to give James a second thought and that’s the way he liked it.”

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Blurb: “James isn’t the world’s greatest kid, but he’s not the worst, either: he’s average! When he decides to become the most average kid who ever lived, James is transported to another world where he meets Mayor Culpa, a well-dressed talking Scapegoat who recruits him to become the new King of Average.”

*This book was sent to me by the publisher in exchange for an honest review*

The story follows a boy called James who is completely average. His grades are average, his aspirations are average, his life is average; even his name is average. His mother hates that he will never achieve great things, but James has other ideas: he will be the most average person that’s ever lived.  This leads him into the Realm Of Possibility where his adventures with a scapegoat, an optimist, and a pessimist take him on a quest to be the new King of Average.

This world is so cleverly put together. From the Kingdom of Average to Dullsville, to the Sea of Self Doubt and Disappointment Bay, it’s practically impossible not to laugh out loud or crack a smile at some of the witty inclusions to the world. James constantly fights with himself over doing things to help others that may violate the conduct of being average and reaches points in the narrative he has to tackle what the right course of action is based on what he’s seeking.

What I really love about this story is James approach to perceptions of himself. His mother is quite mean to him and he could take that to heart in a bad way but instead he chooses to embrace himself and sets out to be the best at being… well… not the best and I think that’s a wonderful message to give to children.

I only wish this had been a bit longer because the transition from the “real world” to the Realm of Possibility was far too quick. James’ average life is set up and before you have a chance to find your feet you’ve already moved on.

Overall, this is a fun, light read that’s bought to put a smile on your face.

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Posted in children's fiction, contemporary, review

928 Miles From Home – Kim Slater

“Daydreaming is cool because you don’t have to work out a fool proof plan of how you’re going to do stuff or wrestle with the problems that might come up. You can just flash-forward to the good bits.”

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Blurb: “Fourteen year old Calum Brooks has big dreams. One day, he’ll escape this boring life and write movies, proper ones, with massive budgets and A-list stars. For now though, he’s stuck coping alone while his dad works away, writing scripts in his head and trying to stay ‘in’ with his gang of mates at school, who don’t like new kids, especially foreign ones. But when his father invites his new Polish girlfriend and her son, Sergei, to move in, Calum’s life is turned upside down. He’s actually sharing a room with ‘the enemy’! How’s he going to explain that to his mates?”

Calum Brooks loves writing screenplays but he never puts them down on paper. He lives on a tiny estate in Nottingham where nothing interesting every happens so thinks his dreams of becoming a screenwriter for those big blockbuster movies are a waste of time. At school, he’s fallen in with the wrong crowd and while he doesn’t actively take part in the bullying, he still stands back and watches. The common recipient of the taunts from his friends is a polish boy called Sergi. But when Sergi and his mother move into Calum’s home, things are about to take a turn.

Calum is a character I think anyone can relate to at some point in their lives. We’ve all been brought up knowing what is right and wrong, that bullying is unacceptable and what to do if we see if happening. In theory, that seems obvious and easy to do. But in reality, it can be a lot harder to find your voice. Calums friends are the school bullies and, while he claims he doesn’t actively bully anyone, he stands back and watches while the group dish out unwanted attention to unsuspecting students. While he acknowledges that he knows this behaviour isn’t right, he’s afraid of speaking up in case that attention falls on him.

Kim Slater has always made an effort to slip important topics into the narratives of her stories: her previous book A Seven Letter Word features the protagonist’s friend being the victim of islamophobia. 928 Miles From Home takes into account our current political climate which at first I thought might be too heavy for a children’s book but quickly realised it makes perfect sense to include. The popular victim of choice is a boy called Sergi who is polish. He receives all manner of stereotypical hate that can be expected and with experiencing this and listening to stories from his own father, believes that people like Sergi are here sponging off society. It can get very intense to read at times but that’s the point of it: it needs to make an impact.

A character I didn’t expect to see play as much of a role as she did is Amelia who lives on a narrowboat. She and her family move around a lot on her boat and settle in places for a period of time before they are moved on. As Calum starts to build an unwilling friendship with her, his racial biases start to merge when he makes comments about Sergi that are interchangeable with her life and doesn’t understand why she takes some of them to heart as she’s “different to Sergi.”

It is the range of the characters that really are what make this story so amazing to read, mainly because a lot of them exist today and I can even identify some of them in my own life. It highlights the importance of educating yourself, not taking things at face value, and that not saying anything can be just as harmful as being the one doing it.

The narrative flits between prose and short screenplays with the latter being used to showcase hypothetical situations or events in the way Calum believe they took place. This shows hi creativity and adds the undertone of him not believing he’s good enough.

There are so many different elements to this story in addition to the ones I’ve focused on and it just leaves me in awe with every book Kim slater writes.

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