Hello everybody! So, despite my good intentions back in March, I haven’t done very well with posting reviews since then, but I’ve finally got my act together and written some up for some of the magical middle grades I’ve read in the last few months, because I feel like magical worlds are excellent escapism at the moment and I really enjoyed all of these. And hopefully this time I’ll actually get better at this and start posting reviews again, because I’ve read so many AMAZING books recently and I really want to talk about them more. Onto the post!
The Clockwork Crow by Catherine Fisher
This is the story of an orphan named Seren who is sent to stay in Wales with distant relatives she doesn’t really know much about, and what happens when she arrives and discovers that things are not at all as they should be. She also receives a mysterious package on the journey, and the whole thing is just full of mystery and intrigue, which kept me turning the pages very quickly so I could find out what was actually going on ! I thought Seren was a brilliant character- I adored how brave and resourceful she was – and the Clockwork crow itself was hilarious, I loved him. The Welsh setting was fab as well, and I also really liked the way the book depicts the fae; it was really interesting. Really the only thing that brought this down from a 5 star for me was the fact that it’s so short- I think it would have been even better if the pace was a bit less breakneck and there was more of it. That said, I’ll absolutely be getting hold of the sequel at some point. 4.5/5
The Secret of Platform 13 by Eva Ibboston
Every time I read an Eva Ibbotson book, I am instantly reminded why I really need to read more Eva Ibbotson. If you’ve read anything by her, you’ll understand what I mean when I say that there’s something really special in the way she writes; they’re absolutely amazing, well paced stories, but they’re also endlessly comforting and you just know there’s going to be a perfectly happy ending. This one is about a magical world connected to ours by Platform 13 at King’s Cross, but this passageway only opens up once every nine years ago. The last time it did, the kingdom’s prince was kidnapped, and now a rescue mission has been launched to recover him this time. However, the prince has become spoilt and rich and doesn’t want to go home at all! This is so sweet, with so many lovely characters (and some fabulously nasty ones as well), and it really made me giggle at a lot of points. It’s also full of Eva Ibbotson’s trademark messages about being kind and doing your best, and if you need a book to lift your spirits right now, I don’t think you could go wrong with this. 4.5/5
Nevertell by Katherine Orton
This is the story of a girl named Lina, who was born in a Soviet prison camp and has never known anything else, as her escape from the camp with her best friend Bogdan is further complicated by the fact a pack of shadow wolves and a dangerous sorceress are tracking them across the country. I don’t think I’ve ever read a book set in this time period before, but it was so interesting (although obviously heartbreaking) to learn more about how brutal and difficult and unjust it was. I also thought the magical twist to the tale was really interesting, and while I can’t give away what it is there’s a brilliant plot twist towards the end as well that I thought was fantastic (and I really wish I had seen it coming!). I also really liked the characters, and while I know it wasn’t necessarily the most realistic, I liked the ending a lot too. 4.5/5
The Mask of Aribella by Anna Hoghton (recieved a copy from the publisher in exchange for my honest review)
I wanted to read this as soon as it got announced, and even though it ended up being a bit different to what I’d expected, I thoroughly enjoyed it. This book plunges pretty much straight into the plot, which sees a girl called Aribella discover she has magical powers and join a society of mask-wearing heroes who have their own unique gifts. I loved the characters in this so much, with Seffie and Rodolpho being particular faves, as well as Aribella herself. I also adored the plot itself and how cleverly constructed it was; I honestly didn’t want to put this down while I was reading it. The world in this is definitely my favourite thing about it though, and I mean that in a few senses. The Venice setting is absolutely gorgeous, and even though it’s quite a dangerous place to be in the narrative, it still made me want to go there and see it for myself! And the worldbuilding in terms of the fantasy was just amazing… it was so detailed and original and interesting; I’d love to know what my mask would be like now, in much the same way I wonder what I’d do if I ever entered the Wizarding World. This is an absolutely brilliant fantasy adventure that I really hope is the first of many books by Anna Hoghton, and I’d be so excited if I heard there were more in this world specifically! 4.5/5
A Most Improper Magick by Stephanie Burgis
This was the first book I read in 2020, and it was a really fun way to start off my reading year. I’ve always enjoyed the Stephanie Burgis (her fabulous Dragon series, which I highly recommend!) I’ve read in the past but as those were published later than this, it was really interesting to see where she started out and I’m looking forward to working my way through the rest of the trilogy. It’s about a girl called Kat, who decides that she wants to save her sister from having to marry a man she does not love, and in the process discovers her magical powers, which are inherited from her deceased mum. It took me a while to get into this as I found it quite slow to get started but once the plot gets going, it’s brilliant, and the relationship between the three Stephenson sisters (Kat, Elissa and Angeline) is another huge highlight of the book. They all have very different personalities and ideas about what’s best for the family, but their love for each other is so clear and their banter is great fun. I also really enjoyed how interesting a character their stepmum is, and I’m definitely looking forward to getting to the sequels to find out more about the magic system as well! 4/5
The Vanishing Trick by Jenni Spangler (recieved a copy from the publisher in exchange for my honest review)
In her debut novel, Jenni Spangler tells the story of an orphan named Leander, who is entrapped by a villainous woman named Madame Pinchbeck when he trades a precious object and she turns it into an enchanted cabinet. He then discovers that she has done this to other children when he meets Felix and Charlotte, and it soon becomes clear that they’ll have to free themselves before one of their cabinets vanishes forever. I loved Leander so much- I wanted to give him hugs and tell him everything would be alright so much as I read this, and I adored both Felix and Charlotte as well, and their backstories being revealed quite slowly over the course of the book made me like them more and more as it went on. I very much did not like Madame Pinchbeck however- she was such a horrible, but absolutely brilliantly written villain and I loved to despise her throughout. I also thought the concept of her magic was really unique and interesting, and I loved how this was executed as well, and while I obviously can’t say what happens because it’s a pretty big spoiler, I don’t think the ending could have been more perfect; it made me cry reading it. This was such a great read, and I’m so looking forward to reading more from Jenni in the future! 4.5/5
If you’re interested in the Mask of Aribella, I hosted a lovely post from Anna about friendship for her blog tour back in January.
Also, if you’d like to hear more about the Vanishing Trick, I was lucky enough to interview Jenni as part of her blog tour, and you can read that here.
Do you have any recommendations for books that fit in this category? Are you planning to pick any that I’ve included here? I’d love to hear in the comments!