MG Takes on Thursday – Songs of Magic

#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 cheating again this week (is there even a week when I don’t?!) and I’ve picked two books:

A Darkness of Dragons and A Vanishing of Griffins, Books one and two in the Songs of Magic trilogy by SA Patrick. Cover art by George Ermos. Published by Usborne.

I had A Darkness of Dragons waiting for an embarrassing amount of time. The only good thing about this is the fact that it meant I could go straight onto A Vanishing of Griffins when I finished it. (Only now I’m left desperate for book three with at least a year to wait!)

I love (almost) any book which draws on fairy or folk tales, so I was really drawn to the way this used the story of the Pied Piper as its base. And it works so well – all at once we have a brilliant take on a classic tale; a fantastically dark, powerful and mysterious villain; and a unique and believable magic system.

Our main characters – Patch, Wren and Barver – make an interesting and loveable central trio who find themselves suddenly and unexpectedly thrown together, but quickly develop strong bonds and an unshakeable loyalty.

Together, they set out to find and stop the villainous Piper, but each with their own journey to make too. The way in which their individual stories unfold and develop is woven into the main plot expertly, and with so many twists and unexpected turns, just when you think they’ve reached their goal, another obstacle appears, another mission is required or another chain of events set in motion.

No quest would be complete without a whole host of interesting characters met along the way, and that is certainly the case here – from noble to untrustworthy to those you can’t quite place; from sorcerers to witches to pipers in hiding and cut-throat pirates; from respectful and respectable elders to power-hungry leaders to, of course, a seemingly unstoppable enemy.

This is a fantastic adventure series, with breathtaking journeys through some well-imagined and depicted places (I am especially intrigued about where our story will pick up in book three!) Full of magic, friendship and excitement – highly recommended!

My favourite quote from page 11 (of A Darkness of Dragons) :

He thought for a moment, but all that came was that terrible, dark wall through the forest, one step after another with no end. His eyes widened.” I don’t even remember my own name!”

These books in three words:

Magic. Quest. Adventure.

#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!

Mini Monday: 7/1/19

Kicking off 2019 with three snowy books (maybe it will bring the actual snow!)*

*The last of these reviews is a tweaked and slightly expanded version of one from WWW Wednesday last week – you can always skip it if you saw it first time round!

First up…

There’s a Yeti in the Playground by Pamela Butchart

Illustrated by Thomas Flintham

It’s snowing and Izzy and friends are hoping they’ll all be sent home early. But then they hear weird noises in the playground, and find a big footprint in the snow… And that’s when they know! There’s a YETI in the playground and it’s HUNGRY!

The young readers in work LOVE these books and it’s easy to see why with plots, plans and action aplenty – not to mention huge dollops of humour that adults will love too.

As a former infant teacher, so much of this made me properly laugh out loud – both supremely silly and totally believable at the same time! Anyone who’s ever been in a school will find plenty of familiar faces, recognisable rules and everyday events here, but bigger, bolder and funnier!

Snow, survival skills and being stuck in school – not to mention a seriously stinky scent! This is observational humour at its best – larger than life and laugh out loud!

Thanks to Nosy Crow for my copy.

The Missing Barbegazi by H. S. Norup

Cover design by Anna Morrison

Tessa knows that the Barbegazi exist because her beloved grandfather told her about them. So she sets out to prove to her family and friends that her grandfather wasn’t just a confused old man. But Tessa realises that uncovering the truth carries great responsibilities.

This was set on the ski slopes of Austria and is a great example of an author really knowing and loving their setting. It’s clearly well-loved territory, fondly described with little touches of the familiar that help to paint the picture for those of us who have never touched a ski!

Likewise, I enjoyed the fact that it was written from both Tessa and Gawion’s perspectives and the addition of the pages from the guide to Alpine elves was a really interesting and unusual way to add background information and detail.

With themes of friendship, loss and trust as well as protecting the environment and knowing when to keep a secret, this is a story of unlikely allegiances, cunning plots to foil the bad guy, wintry landscapes and daring late night escapades this is a great adventure, perfect for fans of Lauren St John’s Kat Wolfe Investigates or Jess Butterworth’s When The Mountains Roared.

Thanks to Pushkin for my copy.

Snowglobe by Amy Wilson

Cover illustration by Rachel Vale

Clementine discovers a mysterious house full of snowglobes, each containing a trapped magician. One of these is Dylan, a boy who teases her in the real world but who is now desperate for her help.

So Clem embarks on a mission to release Dylan and the other magicians, unknowingly unleashing a struggle for power that will put not only her family, but the future of magic itself in danger.

I finished reading this on Christmas Day. I think this is the first Christmas Day I’ve managed to read since I was little! It was lovely (even if I did have to read stood up!) and the magical feel of this book was perfectly suited to it!

I really enjoyed the characters of Ganymede, Io and Clem especially and the way strong emotions are portrayed and played out through the magic of the book worked really well.

But what I really loved were the magical elements of the book and the world building – so imaginative and exciting.

I thoroughly enjoyed it and I’m still marvelling at the Snowglobes and the setting – at the worlds within a world within a world. The whole concept was such a unique idea and brilliantly described – so tangible and memorable. It made me want to go in and explore!

Thanks to Macmillan for my copy.

Have you read any of these – what did you think?

What are your favourite wintry or snowy books?