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.

MG Takes on Thursday – Strangeworlds

#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.

The Strangeworlds Travel Agency by L.D.Lapinski, cover art by designer Samuel Perrett and illustrator Natalie Smillie, published by Hachette

I know everyone else read this forever ago. It has sat in my TBR patiently being the next read then for one reason and another having to wait just one book longer for so long. But I’ve finally read it and loved it, so it seemed a good time to remind those of you who have read it of how ace it is and bring it to the attention of anyone who may have missed it!

I’ll be honest, this was one of those books I always intended to read and desperately wanted to like, but really wasn’t sure I would…well I needn’t have worried! I loved it.

The world building and magic system are incredibly imaginative and unique.

The characters are very likeable and feel fresh and a bit different while still being relatable and recognisable.

And the way the adventure twists, the pace increases, the tension grows and the plot, as they say, thickens is excellent.

Flick has just moved house. Before we go any further, I want to take a moment to say I was really impressed with the portrayal of Flick’s family. There was a depth and realism often missing in MG as parents are divided between doting, absent/disinterested or dead.

Her parents are absent in a lot of ways – they work early morning/late night shifts and she has a baby brother who of course requires a great deal of their time, but she is loved and cared for; they attend her parent’s evenings and plays, do things as a family and worry about her. It felt really refreshing to see real parents that kids will relate to.

But I digress… they’ve just moved house and Flick is exploring her new surroundings when she finds a very strange, old travel agency.

Inexplicably drawn to it, her yearning for adventure is about to be more than fulfilled as what she’s stumbled upon turns out to be a rather more magical travel agency than most.

With suitcases leading to different worlds, this begins as a hugely enjoyable exploration of some fantastic places. With bouncy floors, food fights, tree houses and a sweet shop that makes Wonka’s look dull these worlds are an absolute treat to visit.

Fans of Abi Elphinstone’s Unmapped Chronicles or Jessica Townsend’s Nevermoor – you need this in your life. Every bit as wonderfully imaginative.

However, there is also a mystery to solve, a tentative friendship to form and a world(s) to save.

This does start slowly. But it really works. It picks up pace like a snowball down a hill, with more and more being revealed as we go. By the end, there’s vanishings, captures, escapes and injuries, and we’re left on tenterhooks with time of the essence, blind faith, hope and luck getting us through.

An inventive, exciting and wondrous adventure. I cannot wait for the next book!

My favourite quote from page 11:

“‘Don’t Lose Your Luggage,’ Jonathan snapped. ‘That’s Rule Number One…'”

This book in three words:

Magic. Travel. Adventure.

The Lost Tide Warriors

I was lucky enough to request and receive a copy of this from the publishers in exchange for an honest review. All views and opinions are my own.

The Lost Tide Warriors by Catherine Doyle, cover art by Bill Bragg, lettering by Patrick Knowles

I loved the first book in this series, The Storm Keeper’s Island, was ridiculously excited when this arrived in the post last July(!!) then did my usual trick of letting time escape me, life take over and TBRs languish and before I knew it it was over six months later and I still hadn’t read it!

I’m pleased to say I’ve rectified that now. Doubly pleased to say it was every bit as good as I’d hoped it would be. We rejoin Fionn struggling to use his magic and suffering from nightmares in which Morrigan appears to be getting closer and closer to returning.

When ferries full of Soulstalkers begin to arrive, the islanders of Arranmore become increasingly impatient and anxious with Fionn’s apparent lack of action.

As the islanders prepare to take Morrigan’s army on themselves, Fionn is convinced he can find the Tide Summoner and use it to call the Merrows to their aid.

With the help of both family and friends, Fionn must try to save Arranmore from Morrigan’s Return.

This is another book (like recent read The Highland Falcon Thief) in which I was really pleased to see that, while the kids get to do the bulk of the adventuring and day-saving, the adults around them are not dead/MIA/useless but actively supportive and helpful in what’s going on.

Indeed, family plays a key role in the story and the relationships between Fionn and his grandfather and his sister, Tara, feel every bit as real as they did in the first book. Though shown with plenty of warmth and humour, Catherine doesn’t shy away from the disagreements and personality clashes that are inevitable in close relationships and her characters feel all the stronger for it.

Similarly, the end of the book leaves us in no doubt about the strength of their family bonds and their ability to eclipse quarrels and differences. This is an especially sad event, but Catherine deals with it so, so well and the way we are prepared for it gradually through the book was excellent too.

As well as family, themes of friendship and belonging are also explored. It was good to see Shelby feature prominently and grow in confidence over the book (and I have my suspicions and hopes we’ll see more from her brother, Bartley in book 3…) Both she and Fionn, and their friendship, will be a comfort to those who’ve struggled with self-doubt or worried about their place in the world. And completing their friendship group, upbeat and optimistic Sam was a perfect foil to Fionn’s seriousness and a really welcome addition.

As they work against the clock to find a way to defeat Morrigan and her army again, we are asked to contemplate the nature of responsibility, pride and asking for help as well as the idea of gifts vs skills and talents manifesting in different ways. I especially liked the way we saw this through tales of past Storm Keepers, all of whom had different skills and strengths.

This is a fantastic follow up to book one. With Storm Keeper’s Island very much doing the groundwork – setting the scene, introducing us to Arranmore and its inhabitants, and detailing the wonderfully unique candle magic system – Lost Tide Warriors is able to get straight into the action. And it does.

With disturbing dreams and an invasion of hoardes of vacant but menacing Soulstalkers almost immediately, a reappearance of some utterly dark and despicable baddies, betrayals, mistrust and in-fighting aplenty plus a truly, truly brilliant battle scene this is full of excitement, danger and tension from the off.
As with the first book, it is breathtaking in its depiction of the island and its atmosphere – I came away weather beaten and exhilarated. And it is steeped in history and mythology thanks to Catherine’s knowledge and love of Irish folklore.

You probably could, just about, read it as a stand alone book, as the recap was enough to refresh my rusty memory and gives enough for a new reader to understand what’s going on. However, this is also a book which will leave you desperate for the next so if you haven’t read book one start there so you don’t miss a minute!

WWW Wednesday 3/4/19

WWW Wednesday is hosted by ‘Taking on a World of Words’ every Wednesday’:

What are you currently reading?

The Apprentice Witch by James Nicol

I mentioned last week how I’d chosen to read the e-book of this (from the library) on my phone so I can read in bed without waking Peapod!

It’s been a perfect choice for these overnight reading and feeding sessions. It’s fairly short (I should finish it in the next couple of nights, if not overnight tonight) and an easy read that maybe won’t be in any of my ‘Top….’ lists but is nevertheless very, very enjoyable.

Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix by J K Rowling, read by Stephen Fry.

I’m still really enjoying the Harry Potter audiobooks and this is one of my favourite books in the series. Mostly because it makes me so angry (Dolores Umbridge especially, but Cornelius Fudge and Percy Weasley, I am also looking at you!) but also because of The Order itself which is filled with some of the best people. (How under-rated is Lupin in the series?!)

Rumblestar by Abi Elphinstone

I feel so lucky to have been sent a proof of this, I have been looking forward to it for ages having read her books and, though I’m only a chapter in, it is well and truly living up to expectations! Magical!

I’ve got the proof version, but the real cover (designed by Carrie May and Jenny Richards) was revealed on twitter last week and it’s stunning. I’m a big fan of a map in a book and this has that feel on the cover.

As an Abi Elphinstone aside, I found out this week that she has a picture book coming out in late October too! How flipping exciting!

What have you just finished reading?

Gingerbread by Helen Oyeyemi.

I don’t even know where to begin trying to talk about this book! It was fantastic, in both senses of the word. I’ll be reviewing it (as best I can!) this week or next, in the meantime I’ll leave you with the knowledge that it was excellent but with the advisory note to redd it in big chunks if you csn – it’s much easier to follow than if you’re only managing little snippets at a time!

What are you planning on reading next?

I’ll definitely be continuing with Harry Potter on audio. I’ll be starting Half Blood Prince this week.

I’m going to read the next Apprentice Witch book – A Witch Alone – as an overnight ebook too!

It’ll be a while before I finish Rumblestar, so I don’t know what physical book will be next. I have an absolute stack to get through! Scavengers by Darren Simpson and the final installment in Alice Broadway’s Ink Trilogy, Scar, are both hig on the list though.

Having finished Gingerbread, I’d also really like to find time (hahaha, I know!) to read some of the adult fiction titles sat patiently waiting on my shelf too, but I have no idea yet how I’ll manage this!

Have you read any of these?

What are you reading at the moment?

WWW Wednesday 20/2/19

WWW Wednesday is hosted by ‘Taking on a World of Words’ every Wednesday’:

What are you currently reading?

Monsters by Sharon Dogar.

I’m still chipping away at Monsters. I have mixed feelings on this one but I definitely want to see it through to the end.

Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets by J K Rowling, read by Stephen Fry.

I’m nearing the end of Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets on audiobooks too…which is disastrous as Prisoner of Azkaban isn’t available for another 2 weeks…! As you can tell. I’m still really enjoying these!

What have you just finished reading?

Flights of Fancy – Children’s Laureates

I thought this was a lovely book – perfect for aspiring writers, illustrators, creatives everywhere. I’ll post a full review this week.

Little Bird Flies by Karen McCombie

Amy at Golden Books Girl recommended this and I’m so pleased she did as I might not have picked it up otherwise and I loved it. With a remote, rural, historical setting it felt do well rooted and it was such a joy to read – I really liked the writing style. I’ll be reviewing it soon.

What are you planning on reading next?

I’ll definitely be listening to Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban as soon as its available. In the meantime I might give something else a go but I’m not sure what yet…

I’m just about to start The Closest Thing to Flying by Gill Lewis too which I have high hopes for.

Have you read any of the books here?

What are you reading at the moment?

New Year’s Resolutions Book Tag

I often read tags like this and think they’d be fun to do but never do them, so they’ll be sporadic but as and when I can I’ll be throwing them into the mix!

Today’s is taken from Golden Books Girl, Amy – you can see her answers here!


1. An Author You’d Like To Read That You’ve Never Read

So many! There are a lot of authors/books I feel I should have read but haven’t – this is a big reason I’m going to try and read more classics this year! From a recent conversation though, I’ll say MG Leonard.

2. A New Book You’d Like To Read

There’s lots of books out this year I’m excited for – the new Five Realms (Podkin) book by Kieran Larwood, the second Wild Folk book by Sylvia Linsteadt for starters. New Jess Butterworth and Abi Elphinstone…

But the book I’m most excited about is Circle by Mac Barnett and Jon Klassen! (You can read my thoughts on the first two books in the trilogy here).

3. A Classic You’d Like To Read

One of my reading goals this year is to read more classics, both adult and children’s (I’m looking forward to the children’s more!).

I have the new Lauren Child illustrated Mary Poppins so I think I’ll start with that. I also have Patrick Ness’ ‘And The Ocean Was Our Sky’ which is a new take on Moby Dick, so I’d quite like to read the two together.

4. A Book You’d Like To Re-Read

I’ve been meaning to re-read the Harry Potter books for AGES! So those! I’d like to re-read Discworld (and read those I’ve not read) too – I can’t see that happening this year, but who knows!

5. A Book You’ve Had For Ages and Want To Read

So many! The Bear and the Nightingale by Katherine Arden or Alice by Christina Henry maybe. Or, I haven’t had it for ages but Marcus Zusak’s Bridge of Clay has been on the shelf for longer than I’d have liked.

6. A Big Book You’d Like To Read

Hmm. I’m not sure about this one. Can I say Bridge of Clay twice?! Or I have Carlos Ruiz Zafón’s Labyrinth of the Spirits waiting too.

7. An Author You’ve Previously Read and Would Like To Read More Of

I’d like to read the rest of the Murder Most Unladylike Series by Robin Stevens, as well as the Emma Carroll books I’ve not yet read.

8. A Book You Got For Christmas and Would Like To Read

I didn’t get any 😭😭 No one wants to buy a bookseller books! I do have some book vouchers to spend though – I’ll be getting a hardback set of Harry Potter.

9. A Series You Want To Read From Start to Finish

Leigh Bardugo’s Six of Crows or Shadow and Bone. I read her fairytale collection ‘The Language of Thorns’ and loved it but haven’t read her novels yet.

10. A Series You Want To Finish That You’ve Already Started

The Ink trilogy by Alice Broadway.

11. Do You Set Reading Goals? If So, How Many Books Do You Want To Read in 2018?

Yes, although I don’t get too worked up about meeting them – it’s always nice to reach my target but I won’t binge or speed read to do it. Ultimately, I’d rather enjoy a book than rush through it. This year I’m hoping for at least 75. I’d like to reach 100 but we’ll see!

12. Any Other Reading Goals?

You can read my post on this year’s reading goals here.

Have you read or are you looking forward to reading any of the same books as me? What are you hoping to read this year?

WWW Wednesday 21/11/18

Hosted by ‘Taking on a World of Words’, every Wednesday is ‘WWW Wednesday’:

It feels like it’s been an age since I’ve done a WWW post – probably because it has been! Although I’m managing to read with Peapod here, I’m not reading anywhere near as much. Before I’d read on my commute to and from work, so a good 30mins minimum each way plus in bed at night. Now I’m lucky if I can snatch ten minutes during the day, so everything is taking me SO much longer to get to – which is frustrating when I have so many books I’m desperate to read! But let’s face it – he’s worth it.

What are you currently reading?

Well…nothing! I need to make a start on something new. I seem to have been saying Wundersmith is next for months, so maybe that…

What have you just finished reading?

I loved this! Its one of those books that just felt absolutely spot on and had me grinning from ear to ear. Picklewitch is as joyous as her name sounds. Full review will follow, but I can’t wait for the next of Picklewitch and Jacks’ adventures!

I’m a huge Lauren Child fan too and my review for her new Hubert Horatio book is here.

This arrived earlier in the week – I’m going to post a full review as part of our Book Advent in December but for now I’ll just say this – it’s wonderful!

What are you planning on reading next?

I only ever read one book at a time, but am considering breaking that ‘rule’ in order to start Wundersmith and read one (or more!) of these too – as they’re very different and a fair bit shorter too I’m pretty sure it would work…

Do you ever read more than one book at a time? Have you read any of the books here? What are you reading at the moment?

The Beasts of Grimheart

When the first Five Realms book, The Legend of Podkin One-Ear, was announced as Children’s Book of the Month way back in June 2017 I wasn’t sure. But, as it was Book of the Month, I read it anyway and I am SO GLAD I did!

I was absolutely hooked from the get go and book two, The Gifts of Dark Hollow, was just as good (so good that I forgot to take it to work with me mid-read so bought it again on my lunch break as I couldn’t wait to keep reading!) and left me waiting with bated breath for this one:

As with the first two, both the cover (Fernando López Juárez) and interior (David Wyatt) illustrations are stunning and perfectly matched to the book. The cover had me so excited about what this installment would bring and felt so in keeping with the story so far, while David Wyatt’s soft pencil sketches inside are full of detail and atmosphere.

The story itself picks up where The Gifts of Dark Hollow left us:

The bard and and his young apprentice Rue are taken to Spinestone, the temple warren of the bonedancers. It is here that the bard is ordered to retell the tale that has got him in so much trouble . . . and so to the next instalment in the astonishing tale of Podkin One-Ear . . . Podkin, Paz and Pook once again find their home under threat, but this time they are ready to fight!

It is, like the first two books, told through the tales of this travelling bard, which is inspired and works wonderfully. The majority of the book is his telling of Podkin’s ‘legendary’ adventure, we are simultaneously told his story through odd chapters set in the present day.

The old characters are back and there are some interesting new faces too – I particularly liked meeting the Guardians, I thought they were so imaginatively described and Pook’s counterpart Pocka made for lots of fun (I can’t help but wonder if we haven’t seen the last of him just yet either…) I loved reading more about the Bonedancers too and David Wyatt’s illustration of them was spot on.

The relationship between the three siblings – Podkin, Paz and Pook – has always been well-depicted with plenty of humour and warmth, and it is lovely to see how Podkin, particularly, is growing and changing with each book. And, of course, there’s the rest of the old gang too. There’s a part of the book that describes the rabbits from Dark Hollow as:

“…a tatty lot…made up of all sorts… Every colour of fur, every length of hair and shape of ears… It would be easy to look down on them… But Podkin believed they had something no other tribe had… Every rabbit was welcome at Dark Hollow, no questions asked.”

and, alongside the strong, positive message of inclusion and togetherness that is evident both here and throughout the books in general, it’s this quality that endears the group to me – Crom, Brigid, Mish and Mash…not to mention Podkin, Paz and Pook of course!

The world-building in the series as a whole is fantastic, and this instalment is no exception. I’m always completely transported to the centre of the action, whether that be a warm and busy warren, the bonedancer’s temple or the heart of the forest.

There’s a particularly well-written battle which pulls no punches and makes no attempt to hide the sorrows and losses of war. It’s quite a skill to depict a battle in this way – on the one hand exciting and nail-bitingly tense, on the other senseless, confusing and sad, and all the while remaining firmly age-appropriate

This series has it all – magic, adventure and folklore, as well as danger, humour and hope by the bucketload. If you haven’t read it yet, start with book one (The Legend of Podkin One Ear)- you’ll be clamouring for more as soon as you’ve finished! And if you have read the first two, you’ll be as enthralled as ever by book three. Personally, I’m already getting impatient for book four!

Thanks to Faber Children’s for my copy.

WWW Wednesday: 24/10/18

Hosted by ‘Taking on a World of Words’, every Wednesday we ask and answer the 3 W’s:

What are you currently reading?

Another one I’ve been mega excited to read, it’s the 3rd in the Five Realms series – if you haven’t read them, you absolutely MUST! Only just started this, but I’m already right back in it.

I’d forgotten bits of the last book and I read a bit that had a recap/reminder of something and actually gasped out loud on the bus in a ‘oh my god, I’d totally forgotten that – I’m even more excited to see what happens now’ kind of way!

What have you just finished reading?

I loved this as much as I knew I would! Kiran Millwood Hargrave is one of my favourite authors and this more than lived up to my expectations! I love how her books are so clearly he’s but also incredibly different from each other. This is a great winter read – hot drink and a cosy corner at the ready before you begin!

What are you planning on reading next?

I can’t wait to read Wundersmith, SkyCircus, Snowglobe…so much MG! But I also have some shorter chapter books to read.

And it’s only a week til Halloween, so surely I should read something spooky?!

Do you have any spooky book suggestions? Have you read any of the books here? What are you reading at the moment?

The Lost Magician

I was offered a copy of The Lost Magician for review (thanks to Hachette Kids) and how could I resist with a cover like that?! Courtesy of Ben Mantle, it has a wonderfully magical feel and is a perfect match for the story inside.

IMG_20180910_102533

An ode to the world of Narnia:

1945. They have survived the Blitz, but when Simon, Patricia, Evelyn and Larry step through a mysterious library door, it is the beginning of their most dangerous adventure yet.

I didn’t know about the connections to Narnia when I got this, but as I started reading I was taken back to the first time I read The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe and the countless times I stepped into my grandma’s wardrobe (complete with *fake* fur coat) hoping it would lead me through to a snow-covered Narnia (and imagining it had when it invariably didn’t!).

As in The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe, the story centres around four siblings who unwittingly find themselves key to saving the land they’ve stumbled upon.

As with the original four, here too are four very distinct personalities and everyone will have a different favourite. Personally, I loved Larry and Grey Bear. Evelyn will go down well as a female science fanatic, and Simon’s dyslexia (undiagnosed because of the time period) proves an interesting perspective and its nice to see it represented in a book about books.

Cleverly reimagined, this uses the Narnia stories as its base and leaps off into an entirely new world, albeit one with a war raging – mirroring the one the children have left behind and posing some interesting thoughts, ideas and talking points on that theme.

First we meet the Reads (pronounced ‘red’) and Unreads. The Reads are storybook characters, and I’m sure I’m not alone in feeling a little buzz of excitement as some very well-known and well-loved characters were described, introduced and alluded to.

However, trying to destroy the Reads are the Unreads, led by the White Queen inspired Jana (and yes, she is every bit as icy cold and merciless!) The Unreads represent facts, truth, information and data. Brilliantly imagined and described, they turn what could easily have become a nostalgia-fest right into something original and altogether less cosy, with futuristic robots, vehicles and buildings. They provide a great balance to the comforting idea of the Reads.

And ultimately, that is a key theme of the book – balance and compromise; of needing and benefiting from differences – as is the idea that stories are not just entertainment and diversion, but that despite seeming to be the complete opposite of fact, they too teach us things, help us to learn and develop and bring about change and progress.

Books, adventure, battles and magic – it’s an exciting and modern take on ‘The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe’ and the perfect homage to libraries, librarians and all things bookish!