#MGTakesOnThursday – A Sprinkle of Sorcery

#MGTakesOnThursday was created by Mary over at Book Craic and is a brilliant way to shout about some brilliant MG books!

To join in, all you need to do is:

  • Post a picture of the 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.

A Sprinkle of Sorcery by Michelle Harrison, cover art by Melissa Castrillon, interior art by Michelle Harrison, published by Simon and Schuster

This is the second book about the Widdershins sisters – Fliss, Betty and Charlie – and it’s a series I can’t recommend highly enough.

You can read my review of book one, A Pinch of Magic, here and their most recent adventure, A Tangle of Spells, here.

The sisters make for perfect protagonists – each markedly different to each other, squabbling in a supremely sisterly way, but all fiercely loyal and protective of each other.

Which is lucky, because when Charlie is kidnapped, it’s up to Betty and Fliss to save her.

This is an adventure story like no other – with more than a pinch of magic (see what I did there?!) this is also part ghost story, part piratical adventure, part quest.

As with all the books in this series, it draws exceptionally well on fairytale, myth and legend and their unwritten rules and tropes. Enchanted objects, an old crone who can help or hinder, wells and wishes come face to face with lost islands, fearsome pirates, maps, old sea tales and treasure hunters.

It is a story with love, loyalty and family writ large against a fast-paced, spooky, magical and hugely exciting adventure.

If you don’t know these books yet, you need to add them to your pile pronto.

My favourite quote from page 11:

“Set upon bleak, drizzly marshes and overlooked by a vast prison, Crowstone wasn’t a place people came to unless they had to.”

This book in three words:

Sisters. Pirates. Magic.

A Tangle of Spells

I was lucky enough to request and be approved to read an early copy of this from the publishers on netgalley in exchange for an honest review. However, I also bought my own finished copy and all views and opinions are my own.

A Tangle of Spells by Michelle Harrison, cover art by Melissa Castrillon, interior art by Michelle Harrison, published by Simon and Schuster

This is the third book following the Widdershins sisters – Fliss, Betty and Charlie – and we join them as they move out of The Poacher’s Pocket (family home and pub) with their father and Granny, and sail across to Pendlewick to set up home there.

However, despite its sunshine-and-light exterior, something’s wrong in Pendlewick.

Between their crooked new home (adorned with salt, silver coins and secrets), The Hungry Tree that no-one dares venture near, sinister-sounding Tick Tick Forest, whispers of witches and a blanket ban on talk of magic (after all, “magic and trouble go hand in hand”) the sisters find themselves once again caught up in a web of witchcraft and danger.

I love this series.

I may have definitely left it way too long between books one and two, but it’s been wonderful to read A Sprinkle of Sorcery and A Tangle of Spells back to back (I only wish I’d gone back to reread A Pinch of Magic first!) If you’ve not yet read the others – start at the very beginning! My mini review of A Pinch of Magic is here.

It’s lovely to see how the three sisters have grown and their relationship strengthened following their previous adventures, while at the same time they haven’t changed a bit and remain the chalk-and-cheese, ever-bickering, doggedly loyal trio they’ve always been.

Each reader will no doubt have their own favourite sister; I think though that pipe-smoking, whiskey-sipping (OK, whiskey-downing) Granny has to be my favourite character throughout this series though. Tough, real and utterly believable, she’s just such a comforting presence in her own no-nonsense way.

I also really like the way the three stories all draw on folktales, superstition and magic but in such very different ways. Each has a different setting, feel and twist to it… But I think this might just be my favourite yet – it is packed to the crooked rafters with witchcraft, charms, superstitions and spells.

Take the eeriest elements of your favourite fairy tales and you have the flavour of this book. It is wonderfully, darkly atmospheric and the imagination and realisation of the world and its magic are second to none; I can’t share my favourite things with you for risk of spoiling them for you, but I will just say that amongst many things here, a particularly cobweb-filled room will linger in my imagination for some time to come.

Magic aside (well, sort of, just momentarily), there is (as there is in all the books) a tangible sense of urgency, danger and tension too that will draw in the fantasy-fearing, adventure-lover and win them over too! The rescue attempt is so exciting and I loved how it took us back to the girls’ first adventure too.

The baddies are brilliant. And that is pretty much all I can say on the matter in order to avoid spoiling the story for you. But they’re malevolent and menacing in all the best ways, with a power and influence that’s terrifying.

This is a truly outstanding magical adventure. Overflowing with fairytale and folklore, hearsay and local legend, witchcraft and wiles, not to mention the fantastic Widdershins family, it had absolutely everything I could have wanted in a book and I completely devoured it.

I am BEYOND THRILLED to hear…theres going to be another Widdershins adventure and it cannot come soon enough!

#MGTakesOnThursday – The Valley of Lost Secrets

#MGTakesOnThursday was created by Mary over at Book Craic and is a brilliant way to shout about some brilliant MG books!

To join in, all you need to do is:

  • Post a picture of the 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.

I’m so glad to be joining in with #MGTakesOnThursday again. It’s ages since I’ve managed to do it, but I’m determined to join in more regularly again this year.

My choice today seemed like a good one, as its the first book I’ve read this year out of choice. It should also have been Children’s Book of the Month at work…well, it technically is CBOTM at work but I’m not there to rave about it, so this seems like a good place to do that instead!

The Valley of Lost Secrets by Lesley Parr, audiobook read by Iestyn Arwel/physical copy illustrated by David Dean, published by Bloomsbury

I love a wartime children’s book and this has shot into my favourites.

We join brothers Jimmy and Ronnie as they are evacuated from Islington in London to Llanbryn, a small village in the Welsh valleys.

Jimmy is set on protecting, comforting and reassuring his little brother, but as they settle into life in the valley, it’s Jimmy who struggles with homesickness and his sense of loyalty and belonging.

The story is centred on the mysterious discovery Jimmy makes when he finds a skull in the hollow of a tree, but it’s really about so much more than that – bullying, belonging, friendship and family; home and change and growth; the ways in which we judge, treat and label others as well as the ways we can show patience and care and offer chances for them to bloom.

There’s some absolutely fantastic characters in this – Ronnie is joyous, Jimmy complex, the Evanses utterly hateful (honestly they had my blood boiling!). I loved Florence (and by extension Phyllis and Ieuan) and I think maybe Alun Thomas was my favourite of all.

The way the mystery of the skull is underpinned by a bigger mystery closer to home in the Thomas household was so well done – the way it built subtly then wove seamlessly in.

The richness of the setting and the history and culture of it were gorgeous to read, utterly transporting me. Lesley Parr mentions David Almond as a favourite author at the back of this and that really shows through – there are unmistakable echoes of his talent for capturing a place and its community in this.

I listened to the majority of this on audiobook and the narration was perfect – exactly how being read aloud to should be; I too was taken straight to the heart of this little village.

I loved that the president of the Mining Institute was Mr Bevan and that one of the most important, yet seemingly minor, characters was Aneurin, or Nye. Surely a tip of the hat to the NHS legend Nye Bevan who came from a Welsh mining village himsrlf. I’d love to know for certain if this was intentional, but I feel it must have been, surely?

I also loved the details and small extras in the illustrations – the way the chapter headers developed through the book and the secret message too.

Everything about this book has been beautifully crafted and carefully considered. It’s a stunning piece of storytelling set off beautifully by its illustration, design and/or audiobook narration.

I’m so, so excited already to see Lesley Parr has a new book, also set in Wales, this time post-WW1. I absolutely cannot wait. Til then, I’m off to listen to Every Valley by Public Service Broadcasting on repeat.

My favourite sentence from page 11:

I can feel the place swallowing is up – my little brother, all the others and me.

This book in three words:

Family. Home. History.

Believathon 3 – Orion Lost

I was lucky enough to receive a free copy of this in exchange for my thoughts on it. All views and opinions are my own.

Orion Lost by Alastair Chisholm, artwork by, published by Nosy Crow

This was my choice for Believathon prompt The Shadow – Read a book first published in 2020.

Spaceship Orion is taking a crew from Earth to settle and start a new colony in space. However, when one of its ‘jumps’ goes wrong, all the adults are stuck in their sleeping state and it’s up to a crew of children, who don’t always see eye to eye, to try and get a badly damaged ship past space pirates, unknown alien (Videshi) ships to safety.

Things become more complicated when the children gradually realise something’s amiss, but can they get to the bottom of it and put it right?

I’ll be honest, I’m not a sci-fi fan and this did not sound like my cup of tea at all and, despite knowing lots of fellow bookish people had loved it, I wasn’t really looking forward to it.

But I thought it was BRILLIANT. One of the most unique and original MG books I’ve read in recent years.

Whatever my personal reservations, I had been pleased to see a slice of Sci-fi entering the MG world as it felt like there was a real gap to fill and, although I’m no expert, I thought this filled that gap splendidly.

It was full of technical details and language that fans of the genre/space will appreciate, and that give it a sense of authenticity and authority. But, and it’s an important but, its cleverly done so that total newcomers to the genre who don’t speak science (ie me) could not only follow what was happening, but become completely immersed and invested in it.

The characters, and their relationship with each other – particularly the difference, conflict and contrast between Beth and Vihaan – had a lot to do with this. There was a really good mix of personalities which worked really well together and Beth was a particularly likeable and believable main character (and also a handy way to get my head round the more technical aspects of the book as they were explained to her too!)

I really liked the way Beth and Vihaan showcased between them the qualities of a good leader, and the way the novel examined what this was and the balance it needed.

What I also really enjoyed about this book though was the perfectly plotted mystery that gradually developed, subtly at first, creeping up on us a little clue at a time, until we reached a hugely tense and dramatic climax.

Although I did have a couple of correct inklings early on, I didn’t come close to piecing the whole thing together and it really kept me guessing the way the best mysteries do.

I’ll probably never be a true sci-fi fan, but I would absolutely jump on the next novel from Alastair Chisholm so if that counts as being converted, consider me a convert! This was great!

Believathon 3 – The Mask of Aribella

I was lucky enough to receive a free copy of this in exchange for my thoughts on it. All views and opinions are my own.

The Mask of Aribella by Anna Hoghton

This was my choice for Believathon prompt The Chain – Read a book with a colourful cast of characters, and it was certainly an excellent choice for that prompt!

Our main character, Aribella, discovers she can shoot fire from her fingertips and, after narrowly escaping the Palace guards after they raid her home and arrest her dad, finds herself taken in by fellow Caannovaccis – masked Venetians who protect the city using their special powers – speaking to animals, walking through walls, reading minds and/or stars and moving or creating objects with their minds…and more. So, yes, colourful!

Honestly, I was a little uncertain going into this. I thought it might be a bit superhero heavy for me, but it wasn’t at all. There’s enough to hook a superhero fan but it doesn’t feel like a typical superhero story.

Instead it’s more of a mystery with a dash of history and a dollop of magic and fantasy thrown in for good measure. And that is right up my street!

The setting of Venice is wonderful. In a serendipitous turn of events, I started this just as I was coming to the end of Katherine Woodfine’s Villains in Venice, which had already seen me captivated by the city, but it was here that I was truly transported there and enamoured by it.

Anna Hoghton’s writing is rich in detail and steeped in the history of the place and its culture and customs. I couldn’t get enough; I was ready to jump straight on a plane!

The characters themselves are likeable and their powers bring a good mix of the light-hearted and the dramatic. There’s some unfortunate sleepwalking mishaps, singed tablecloths and uncommunicative cats, but there’s also a strong message of believing in yourself and some tense and exciting saving of the day.

The mystery element of the book is perfectly plotted and paced too. There’s plenty of intrigue, secrets and uncertainty along with creeping doubts and wariness about just which characters to trust and what was really going on.

As an adult who’s familiar with the genre, I did figure out a fair bit of it, but even so there were things I didn’t see coming and I really liked the way the ‘hows’ and ‘whys’ and ‘whos’ were gradually revealed.

A thoroughly enjoyable mystery adventure, with an exciting and original slant in its masked protectors, this has strong messages of friendship, courage and being yourself and embracing your differences.

Peapod’s Picks – Mouse and Bear

We are still reading A Pipkin of Pepper, and The Tiger Who Came to Tea has made a reappearance in our bedroom reads, but two new books in the post have also edged their way into Peapod’s oh-so-slow-to-change bedtime book basket!

One of these is Ross Collins’ There’s a Mouse in My House, which we were delighted to see picks up where There’s a Bear on My Chair leaves off and we’ve been reading them back to back each evening.

For those of you who may not be familiar with the first book, we’ll start there. ‘There’s a Bear on My Chair’ sees an increasingly frustrated mouse desperately trying to get Bear off his chair.

Peapod especially loves seeing Mouse up the ladder giving Bear his nastiest glare (mostly because he loves a ladder..!) and when Mouse calls him a “stinky bear” which he finds hilarious.

In the end, our exasperated rodent gives up and leaves. Bear, clearly feeling smug to have won the battle of wills, also decides he can now get up and head home, only to find that perhaps he’s not won after all..

We rejoin this pair as an outraged Bear tries to boot out his unwanted lodger. I loved how some of the scenarios reflect some of those in the first book to an extent but are different enough to not feel like a repeat (important when you’re reading one after the other night after night!)

The ending is just what you’d want and is definitely Peapod’s favourite part of the book (along with the leaky bath and “cheerio” which he delights in joining in with!)

It’s a wonderfully warm and joyful way to leave this troubled twosome, referring back to the very start of book one in such a pleasing way.

These books are a brilliant example of what a really enjoyable picture book should be. It’s such a seemingly simple concept, but it works so well – bouncing, rhyming text, great characters (and a great relationship between them) and expressive illustrations all combine to create a lively, funny read with enough humour for the adults reading it to appreciate too, and buckets of visual humour too of course.

It’s a classic case of the picture being worth a thousand words telling, as the way Bear and Mouse are feeling towards each other is so clear throughout and we clearly see their exasperation building as we read towards the showdown(s)!

Ross is a big favourite in our house and this newest outing is no exception. Lots of fun.

Peapod’s Picks – Too Much Stuff

We are still reading A Pipkin of Pepper, and The Tiger Who Came to Tea has made a reappearance in our bedroom reads, but two new books in the post have also edged their way into Peapod’s oh-so-slow-to-change bedtime book basket!

The first of these is ‘Too Much Stuff’ by Emily Gravett, who I’m such a big fan of.

We’ve written before about Tidy which we love and Too Much Stuff returns to the woods with some familiar faces (I love Badger’s cameo in this!) but this time our main characters are Meg and Ash, a pair of magpies building a nest and preparing for their eggs to hatch.

In a move that will have parents everywhere smiling (they don’t call it nesting for nothing!), our pair start to fret about what their hatchling will need, each finding more and more ‘stuff’ their chicks just can’t do without, until their nest is lost under it all and one final addition might just be a step too far…

Just as Badger’s battle to balance his love of order and cleanliness with his natural wild surroundings saw us reminded – subtly and gently – about our impact and reliance the world around us, Too Much Stuff just as gently reminds us of quite literally that – the amount if stuff we buy, use and importantly throw away.

It’s a call to consider before we consume, and to reuse, recycle or pass on what we’re done with.

Of course, it’s also just a very funny story with a wonderful cast of characters! Reminiscent (but essentially very different from) Oliver Jeffers’ Stuck, it’s a hilariously daft scenario filled with warmth and such a pleasing resolution.

The addition of the vintage style magazine adverts in the end papers is glorious – funny and astute and perfectly delivering the message of the book.

They’ll raise a smile with adult readers and would be absolutely brilliant to focus on and use alongside the book in schools too, especially as a way of bringing picture books to slightly older readers.

It has everything you want in a story – drama, excitement, humour, warmth, friendship, a message that’s carefully woven into it and the gorgeous illustrations you’d expect from Emily Gravett.

Fairytale Revolution

I was lucky enough to request and receive copies of these free from the publishers in exchange for an honest review.

There are, let’s be honest, a plethora of fairytale retelling, reimaginings and reworks out and coming out at the moment.

But I was instantly drawn to these thanks to their gorgeous artwork and design. All but one – Cinderella Liberator (which uses carefully selected classic Arthur Rackham images) – are illustrated beautifully by Laura Barrett.

They all use a minimal colour palette and silhouette style to great effect. It really gives them that classic fairytale feel, even when depicting more modern scenes and activities, as in Blackman’s Blueblood.

They really complement the stories well, bringing a rustic charm to Duckling, humour and environmental contrast to Hansel and Greta and a fresh, contemporary feel to Blueblood.

The use of the silhouette style also ties them in beautifully with the traditional illustrations used in Cinderella Liberator, which I adore.

I really loved reading about how the illustrations used were carefully selected from Rackham’s originals too to reflect the inclusive, empowering messages of this retelling.

All have a polished finish and stylish design that give them that special quality you want in books to gift or treasure.

The tales are all twists in the originsls to greater or lesser degrees. I was intrigued to see what these authors more used to writing for adults (with the exception of Blackman) would do as they turned their hand to children’s tales.

Interestingly, it was Malorie Blackman’s Blueblood that felt the ‘oldest’ of the collection; a take on the dark take of Blackbeard and his locked room of dead wives, here we see Nia taking vengeance on known bullies, abusers and misogynists by marrying them and forbidding them access to her study. Of course, their controlling natures mean it’s only a matter of time before they venture down there…

This definitely has the darkest themes of the four, being more suited to older children who will better grasp its message and ideas.

It cleverly addresses some complex, important and challenging subjects – domestic violence, misogyny and murder and questions. The moral dilemma it poses of the victim taking revenge becoming the wrongdoer, for example – can this be excused? Where are the lines drawn?

I certainly loved this aspect of it, though I have to be honest Blackman’s writing is rarely my cup of tea (I know! I’m in the minority!) and this is quintessentially her, so if you’re a fan of her books you’ll love it and as a take on fairytales that teens can also get their teeth into this is perfect.

Jeanette Winterson’s take on Hansel and Gretel by contrast probably felt the youngest of the four, with much pantomime caricaturing, silliness and word play. With its fast-pace, humour and bordering-on-the-ridiculous, almost spoof-like baddies, I can see this going down a treat with young fans of Pamela Butchart or similar big, bold early chapter books.

Gretel here is Greta, with more than a nod to Greta Thunberg as the tale takes us on an environmental tour de force looking at deforestation, plastic waste, consumerism and our love of processed/fast/sugary foods over the planet.

The witch is, of course, not the villain we expect and there’s a dose of Helen Oyeyemi’s Gingerbread in her tale, which I enjoyed.

Overall, while I liked elements of this and the idea behind it, I didn’t love it. However, I suspect a younger reader would!

Kamila Shamsie’s Duckling is probably the tale that stays truest to its original form. Rather than huge changes, twists and reworking, this is all about emphasis and viewpoint.

While the original Ugly Duckling focuses on fitting it (or not), on ‘finding your crowd’ as it were, Shamsie’s take on it is instead about being different, being proud of it, accepting it – and accepting others who are. It is less about being around those who accept you for looking the same (or vice versa) but finding a place among those who accept you as you are, for you.

The stork, the Grand Old Duck and the Mother Duck are excellent, thought-provoking characters bringing depth and subtly raising themes of being an outsider, peer pressure and standing up for what’s right even when that’s hard to do.

I love that this story does not shy away from how gruelling and difficult Duckling’s life is made because of her difference and her unwillingness to bend; she is kind, she she is helpful, she is friendly, but she is not a push over. She is herself and stays true to this even when deserted, bullied and alone.

This is a story of hope and ultimately of togetherness, and a retelling I felt worked really well.

Rebecca Solnit’s take on Cinderella – Cinderella Liberator – was definitely my favourite of the series. I loved it.

It keeps the essence of the original brilliantly but brings it up to date – getting rid of the outdated royal marriage and focusing instead on finding friendship, creative outlets and ways to be our best or truest selves.

The writing style is wonderful and there were SO many passages I loved, that felt important and moving and poignant and empowering for any reader – on love, on self, on beauty, on help, on kindness…on dresses with big pockets.

And it’s this realism and humour that prevents it being preachy, saccharine or twee. There’s a lightness of touch and a perfect blend of magic, the familiar and observant humour that all comes together to create a thoroughly enjoyable tale.

At the end of the book (indeed at the end of all the books) is a piece by each author on their inspiration, on how and why they wrote these tales the way they did and I found Rebecca’s fascinating, giving a weight and context to the tale that made me love it even more.

Overall, this is a great new series of beautiful books, each of which will appeal to different readers in different ways. My favourite was undoubtedly Cinderella Liberator, but the beauty of this range is that each author brings something different so there really is something for everyone!

Believathon 3 – A Clock of Stars: The Shadow Moth

I was lucky enough to receive a free copy of this in exchange for my thoughts on it. All views and opinions are my own.

This was my choice for Believathon prompt The Crown – Read a book set in an alternate world to our own, but it fits a couple of other rooms too, notably The Flash of Lightning – Read a book which incorporates folktales.

A Clock of Stars: The Shadow Moth by Francesca Gibbons, illustrated by Chris Riddell, published by Harper Collins

First things first – just look how gorgeous this book is! And it has all the added extras that make a physical book, especially a hardback one like this, feel really special – a map (have I mentioned before maybe just once or twice how much I LOVE a map in a book?!), an illustrated cast of characters and a gorgeous, classy cover under its equally appealing, magical jacket, not to mention the fantastic illustrations throughout.

When people moan about the price of physical books or buying hardbacks, it’s books like this one that highlight why its worth it. This is a beautiful object to hold and read, to keep, to return to and treasure, and you’re drawn into the story’s magic as soon as you see it.

Which is a wonderful thing, because let me tell you this story’s magic is truly something.

With echoes of Narnia (I know, everyone is saying that but I can’t help it – it’s true) and the traditional fairytales we all know, more than a sprinkling of the Slavic, plus a dose of modern life in our main characters, their sibling rivalries and their feelings towards mum’s new man, this is a fabulous start to a new fantasy MG series.

With dark forests inhabited by monstrous Skret, mysterious doors in trees, a soothsaying clock, moths as guides and keys, a lonely crown prince and a villainous queen-to-be…not to mention a wizened royal advisor, a brawny hunter (with more than a touch of Disney’s Gaston about him!), tall castle towers, quests, rivalries, a huge wooden dragon… and of course treasures, tricks, treason and traps – this is a book fizzing with fairytale know-how, characters and traditions that still somehow manages to be completely it’s own tale.

And what a tale.

Sisters Imogen and Marie follow a moth through a secret door in a tree deep in the gardens of Mrs Haberdash’s tea rooms (incidentally, how great is the name Mrs Haberdash?!)

Stepping out into another world they find themselves facing imminent danger from the shrieking beasts that are terrorising a city locked up from dusk, their houses covered in Skret bones and skulls in an effort to deter them.

What a setting to step into! It felt steeped in history and you just knew it had a tale or two to tell. I loved the description (and visual depiction!) of the bone clad buildings locked and silent – slightly chilling, suggestive of strange customs and traditions and ultimately very atmospheric and mysterious.

Luckily – as bells chime ominously for night fall, beasts bay and with not a soul in sight – the girls are whisked into the safety of the castle by Miroslav, the lonely prince who lives there with his uncle, who has reined since Miro’s parents were killed. He agrees to help them find their way home but of course this is easier said than done…

What follows is a tale of two halves (well, more really…even though that’s impossible) We see Imogen and Marie desperately trying to find a way home, with hot-headed, bossy, big sister Imogen reflecting on her relationship with Marie and with their mum as she does, and growing so much as a person too.

But we also see Miro’s story. Miro himself is a great character. At first seeming obvious and straightforward, we realise there’s a complexity to him and his story over time (likewise his uncle who is nowhere near as likeable but proves that there’s more to people than the traditional storybook good and evil).

As the children enlist the help of hunters, avoid royal guards and befriend ckockmakers and as they journey deep into the forest to face the Skret, we also find out the story of his town, Yaroslav, and the nearby forest, its divisions and troubles.

We hear about the forest-dwelling Skret, the way they turned on the town and the way monsters aren’t always those who at first appear monstrous. We’re told the fable of Sertze Hora – the heart of the mountain – sacred to them and to the balance of life in the forest. We see the disparity between the city’s ‘native’ mesto and the lesni who have fled the forest that was their home (I loved the tree houses!) as its now longer safe and sought sanctuary in the city, only to find it prejudiced against them.

All of these are bound together in the children’s quest bringing depth to the tale and questions, thoughts and observations on human nature, togetherness and society that are just as relevant to us in the here and now as in a make-believe, storybook town.

Meanwhile, there’s also a witch’s prophecy and a spectacularly despicable ‘spare mother’ to consider (including a brilliant Snow White-esque scene).

Anneshka is a character and a half and I loved to hate her. She is the perfect wicked villain of the piece with the hapless King’s ear and beauty on her side (of course). She is utterly brilliant and I loved how her tale ended here (I can’t say anymore for fear of spoilers!)

And I can’t possibly leave out the one-eyed clock maker and his mysterious clock and other creation. SO GOOD! He may only be on the sidelines, but I’d put money on us seeing more from him in future books… If The Miniaturist made clocks in children’s books…

And in all of this, there’s a humour and an energy and a sense of adventure and exploration and a heart that keeps everything from feeling too dark dangerous, that brings a moth-like glimmer of hope to the doom and gloom and despair, that reassures us of the glorious small comforts of home despite the homesickness and new-found freedoms.

It keeps us grinning and has our hearts in our mouths as the children swoop off on velecours (giant birds), and race toboggan-style helter-skelter down an icy mountain path. It reminds us of the joy and warmth of home and family and friendship.

In short, I loved this. It was imaginative and real. It drew heavily on fairytale and folkloric tradition and created something unique and exciting. It was a story of courage, both bold and public, and quiet and personal.

It was exciting and adventurous and I absolutely cannot wait for book two!

Believathon 3 – Storm

I was lucky enough to receive a free copy of this in exchange for my thoughts on it. All views and opinions are my own.

This was my choice for Believathon prompts The Torn Page – Read a book with supernatural elements and The Spilled Ink – Read a book with ghosts in it, though it fits the prompts for a couple of other rooms too.

Storm by Nicola Skinner, illustrated by Flavia Sorrentino, published by Harper Collins

Firstly, if you’re not sold on that striking cover, then allow me to share with you the even more gorgeous end papers and cover-beneath-the-cover (which I only found when Peapod started reading this. He hates dust jackets!)

Simply stunning. And they set the bar pretty high for the book.

But let me tell you, it more than does them justice.

I had no idea what this was about; it was a total surprise and not at all what I expected from that cover but something I was excited about – it felt really DIFFERENT!

And it was.

Frankie has just woken up. One hundred years after she died in an unforeseen tsunami that hit her village. And she’s as angry now as she was when she was alive.

Frankie’s always had a temper. And now she’s dead, there’s even more to get angry about.

I could not figure out how this would work or where it would go, but oh my goodness it is SUPERB.

How anyone can take family and friendship issues, a poltergeist and supporting cast of ghosts, a villainous ghost hunter and his downtrodden ghost-seeing son, throw in some astute, wry and thought-provoking social commentary and come up with a children’s book that isn’t ridiculous or farcical and doesn’t find itself pulling too far in one direction or another is unbelievable.

Or it would be if Nicola Skinner hadn’t pulled it off masterfully here.

This is quite simply one of the best children’s books I’ve read in recent years. And from someone who doesn’t really read contemporary or funny books, I don’t say that lightly.

I loved so much about this – the blend of real life and supernatural happenings; tough issues and gross, funny or spooky goings on; heartache and humour. The balance in it all was spot on.

It takes some really hard topics and emotions and addresses them brilliantly. It feels more blunt than many books, but that’s not to say it lacks sensitivity, it just doesn’t shy away from death or the often ugly nature of the human condition. Yes, it’s dark at times, it pulls no punches, but it’s also full of heart and incredibly moving.

And Frankie’s voice feels perfect too. Anger, guilt, sorrow, frustration, anxiety, confusion, uncertainty, and moments of happiness, warmth and fond memories – she runs the gamut of emotions, and always with a cracking sense of humour, realism and poignancy.

Honestly, I can’t tell you how much I rated this. It feels so fresh, so unique, so utterly original and written in such an engaging, observant and understanding way.

I can’t wait to go back and read Bloom and to see what Nicola has in store for us next.