I was lucky enough to request and be approved to read an early copy of this on netgalley in exchange for an honest review. All views and opinions are my own.

Grow by Luke Palmer, cover art by unknown, published by Firefly Press

There are a growing number of books exploring race and racism and/or extremism. For the most part, these are set in fairly multi-cultural areas and tell the stories at those suffering from prejudice, from racist behaviour and attitudes. And rightly so – they are important stories which need to be heard.

However, I was intrigued by this one coming at the issue from a slightly different angle. Set in a predominantly white British area, Grow is Josh’s story. Struggling to cope after his dad’s death in a terrorist attack, he finds himself targeted by white supremacists and is slowly sucked into a terrifying world of bullying, intimidation and fear.

The characters were really well drawn and I thought the way we are able to gradually learn more about their backgrounds and individual stories was so skilfully done, and so much of this opened up a plethora of other discussions and themes too.

At no point do you feel for the white supremacists targeting Josh, but the book does allow us to consider what has brought them to this point.

Likewise, Dana’s story is so hard to read, but so important and so sensitively told – both implicit and hard-hitting at the same time. The way it ties into the main plot works well too.

This was a really compelling but difficult read; there were so many points at which I was desperate for Josh to realise what’s going on/do something about it but it’s all too clear he won’t/can’t because of how angry or scared or stuck or ashamed he feels.

Indeed, Josh’s emotions were brilliantly depicted and never has the phrase emotional roller-coaster felt so apt.

On the surface Josh is coping well with his dad’s death, but underneath the grief is still raw and he’s unable to process it. Easily turned to anger and blame, we see him spiral through negative emotions which are fuel to the white supremacists’ grooming fire.

His growing realisation that what he’s involved with is wrong is perhaps the hardest to read – the sense of having nowhere to turn, of desperately wanting it to stop but feeling powerless and/or too scared to try to stop it.

And with good reason – there is real menace from the gang he finds himself caught up with, and the way they find a way into Josh’s life is insidious – it’s clear to see just how easy it is for this sort of thing to happen.

This is a bit pf a slow burner, but it’s characters are deep and the plot believable because of it. There’s a great twist at the end too. While I did see it coming, it took me a long time and I thought it was clever and brings an added level of tension to the closing chapters.

I also really liked the way nature and growth were used, through Dana and Josh’s Grandad’s gardening, both symbolically to reflect Josh’s journey, but also for the wider message of the benefits nature and the outdoors can have.

Overall, this is a moving book that will make you think. With themes of grief, loss, mental health, racism and pressure as well as thought-provoking social commentary, it’s one that should have a place in every secondary school library.

My Name is River

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. All views and opinions are my own.

My Name is River by Emma Rea

I didn’t know anything about this before reading, except that it looked a bit wild and I liked the title, but I wasn’t disappointed.

Dylan’s family farm has been sold to BlueBird – a huge, multinational pharmaceutical company and he’s devastated.

Floyd’s dad has disappeared with his younger brother on a work trip (for BlueBird) to Brazil.

Dylan and Floyd know each other from school but aren’t really friends. Now though, they join forces to go looking for answers to their problems.

With some inspired forged letters, signatures and perfectly pitched excuses and plans Dylan and Floyd are off to Brazil while their parents think they’re at camp and school think they’re sick at home. It’s a classic and will ignite children’s imaginations fantastically – what child hasn’t dreamed up madcap plans like this?!

Two young boys travelling to Brazil in secret to save their family and farm when neither speaks the language or knows anyone there or anything about where they’re going – it should be the most ridiculous, unbelievable plot to never make it to a book BUT it’s just brilliant!

This book has it all – friendship and family; adventure, peril and humour; the environment and a fantastic setting; power, class and poverty; other countries, cultures and ways of life…

Dylan and Floyd make a great pair of very loyal and likeable protagonists, but when they’re joined by Lucia it’s she who steals the show! With her passion for learning, an impressive sense of determination and self-belief and a love of languages that is matched only by her flamboyant and fantastic use of English words and phrases. She is a star.

There is a thoroughly detestable baddie in one of those we-can-see-it-coming-before-the-characters-can roles which works perfectly and makes for a very enjoyable and gripping read. There is, however, an element of mystery about what exactly they are doing which means we’re hooked and kept guessing til a dramatic reveal at the end!

The book addresses environmental and social issues as well as looking at our similarities and differences with others, helping readers to explore and consider the way we treat our planet, each other and what it means to be a global citizen.

The settings on the book are well-drawn and immersive, again helping the reader to both feel in the midst of the action but also to really see the contrasts – from the Welsh farm to Manaus’ busy streets to the slums to the lush Amazonian rainforests (particularly vivid in their description).

This is a book that crossed genres and covered wide themes, and will have wide appeal. A hugely enjoyable, funny and moving adventure with a love of the natural world and the importance of seeing our place in the wider world woven through it. I can’t wait to see more from this author.


The Ten Riddles of Eartha Quicksmith

I was lucky enough to request and be approved to read an early copy of this on netgalley in exchange for an honest review. All views and opinions are my own.

The Ten Riddles of Eartha Quicksmith by Loris Owen

Kip is lonely and miserable at school. His sister is missing and his mother in a care home after a lightning strike.

Then a mysterious invitation that appears in the form of a puzzle to be solved leads him to Quicksmiths College of Strange Energy and he is offered a place there, where the finest and most creative minds are nurtured and new ideas and discoveries abound.

Indeed, there are endless clever and imaginative inventions and possibilities in this unique and well thought out world. From the useful to the fun, from the important to the novelty, there is so much to delight and wonder at – young readers will love it and it should be a huge source of inspiration to any budding scientists or inventors!

There’s real scientific and futuristic flare with wormholes, slipstreams and skimmies (flying hover board type devices), GENI (think Alexa but less invasive and WAY more capable), Quickets (electronic currency) and the use of technology.

This really set it apart from many other children’s fantasy adventures, which often have a more historical or rustic feel (which I absolutely love, but it is good to see something doing it differently!)

Once at Quicksmiths, Kip is soon part of a school wide race to find the Ark of Ideas and Secret Study of genius scientist and founder Eartha Quicksmith by solving a series mysterious riddles left hundreds of years earlier.

I really enjoyed this part of the book. While I did find the first part of the book a bit slow and a bit over the top at times, the latter part really picked up the pace and brought a much better sense of purpose and excitement to the story.

And I really loved the added intrigue of the riddles and seeing the characters working through them and how they’re solved; there is huge appeal in this book for any young (and not so young) puzzle lovers!

And it was great to see the sense of camaraderie and team spirit as the characters used their individual strengths and interests to work together and support each other.

The ending came with a brilliant twist and has been left ripe for a sequel, which I look forward to reading if/when we get it!

I’ll be honest, there were elements I was less keen on – I felt like it was all trying a bit too hard at times and I felt the first half could have been less wordy and much pacier. There were certain aspects of some characters speech that grated on me, though I suspect that’s personal taste, and honestly I just couldn’t get on with Professor Steampunk at all.

BUT none of this prevented me from really enjoying it as a whole and in the second half I absolutely couldn’t put it down wanting to see them solve the next riddle each time!

I’d definitely recommend this and it was great to see sci-fi and girls/women in STEM meet the popular fantasy adventure style quest so well. The use of riddles and technology was inspired and messages of respect, democracy, aspiration, teamwork and valuing variety and individuality shone out.

The Clockwork Crow and The Velvet Fox

I was lucky enough to request and receive a copy of The Clockwork Crow from the publishers in exchange for an honest review.

I bought my own copy of The Velvet Fox straight after finishing it!

Opinions and views are all my own.

The Clockwork Crow and The Velvet Fox by Catherine Fisher, cover art

I requested The Clockwork Crow based solely on that gorgeous cover and title – I’m a sucker for a pretty book, but knew from the look of it that it was likely my sort of thing despite not knowing anything else about it!

And I still didn’t really know what it was about when I started it. Which is unusual for me. But it has such an atmospheric and mysterious opening that I was immediately drawn in and gripped.

Alongside a feel of classic children’s fiction, there’s a wonderful sense of other-worldly magic afoot, and the dark, cold, winter timing of book one and the changeable beginnings of autumn in book two both suit it perfectly.

Seren is travelling from the orphanage she’s lives at for years to a new home with her godfather in Wales. She has high hopes for a warm welcome and an adoptive family she’ll feel part of.

However, when she gets there, it’s eerily quiet, shut up almost, and only a skeletal staff remain to maintain the place and take care of her – the Lord and Lady are in London it transpires, and as for their son Tomos…why will no one speak of him? And where is he?

Having found herself in charge of a strange package at the station, upon arrival she opens assembles a rather shabby clockwork crow, but as with so much else – it’s not as it seems and it soon becomes apparent that it’s not just a mechanical bird, but an enchanted, and rather crotchet one. But its also the only ally Seren has as she sets out to discover what’s going on…

Well, I finished the first book and began the sevond immediately! In The Velvet Fox, we see Seren once more confronting the Fair Family, who have found their way into Plas y Fran and seem to have everyone but her under their spell. Can Seren and Crow outwit them a sevond time?

Seren was immediately likeable and the Crow was just brilliant – think Cogheart’s Malkin, or Rumblestar’s Bartholomew – arrogant, grumpy, sharp and prone to exaggeration, but with a heart of gold really! He makes the perfect companion for Seren’s quest, adding plenty of humour and a dash of blunt realism (which is quite something for an enchanted, talking, clockwork bird!). There’s also a fantastic ‘supporting cast’ – all of whom feel well fleshed out and likeable.

I loved so much about these books – the setting, the historical feel and especially the way they used folklore and tradition.

There seem to be many books at the moment which twist, draw on or spin off fairytales; this is no bad thing in my book, I love it!

But, while this book does do that – there are flavours, echoes and whispers of many familiar fairytales in here, especially in The Velvet Fox – it was also refreshing to see these books drawing on more of the folkloric side of things – the tales of faery folk, ill omens, superstitions and charms etc.

I really liked seeing the faeries depicted as sinister tricksters in keeping with old tales and beliefs and it gave the books a really dark edge without making them scary or off-putting for younger readers.

Indeed, the faery folk made for an terrible and impressive foe, and The Velvet Fox especially has both a truly detestable villain in the firm of Mrs Honeybourne, who is from the Delores Umbridge school of sweet smiling baddies and the brilliantly sly Fox himself.

Overall, short but perfectly formed, this is a magical and atmospheric pair of books, with elements of classic children’s stories, traditional oral tale telling and a dose of humour too. Wonderful – and a perfect December read!