Hello everybody! Today, I’m going to be actually reviewing some of the incredible books I’ve read this year, which I keep trying to do better at and utterly failing in the process. It would be really hard to catch up on all the ones I haven’t at this point, so although there are others I’ve really loved recently, these are just some of the middle grades that I particularly wanted to recommend that I haven’t enough or at all (and hopefully, one day, I will manage to have talked about everything I haven’t yet, given I read some of these in December and have been meaning to review them ever since). Onto the post!
Where the World Turns Wild by Nicola Penfold (recieved a copy from the publisher in exchange for my honest review)
If you know me, it might come as a surprise that I loved this given how picky I am when it comes to dystopian books, but I thought it was such an incredible debut and I’m so glad I read it. This takes place in a world where climate change activists released a virus that wiped out a lot of the human race, and the majority survivors now live in sterile cities with strict rules rather than in the wild; it was a really interesting idea to explore what life would be like in a world like this. It focuses on siblings Juniper and Bear, who must journey to reunite with their parents in the wild after it’s discovered that their being born there makes them immune to the virus and the rulers of their city want to use their blood to provide everyone else with this too, regardless of the consequences for them. Juniper and Bear have such a beautiful sibling relationship, and it was one of the best parts of the book for me. I also loved how fast paced it was- both in the city and in the wild- it didn’t let up for a minute and I couldn’t put it down. Overall, it struck a beautiful balance between this bleakness and hope for the future of this world, and the bittersweet ending was just perfect.
Little Bird Lands by Karen McCombie (recieved a copy from the publisher in exchange for my honest review)
I’ve been a fan of Karen McCombie for as long as I can remember- I grew up on her Ally’s World and Stella Etc books and they’ve shaped me so much (I’m fairly sure Rowan is the reason why I’m obsessed with tattoos and scared of fire, just for a start) so every time I get to read a new book from her it’s really special to me, and I’ve loved seeing her move in a new direction in the last few years with historical books. The Little Bird series takes place in the 1800s, and follows the Scottish family of a girl named Bridie, when they are forced to emigrate from their small island home to America due to a cruel new laird taking over. The first book showed us life on the island, while this one shows what things are like when they get to America, and I thought it was so clever to structure the series in this way- not only does it ensure the books are never repetitive in any way, but it means we get to see what things would have been like in both Scotland and in the US during this time period, which I haven’t really in any other book/series. It was wonderful seeing them all make a new life for themselves, and while I did miss some of my favourite characters from book one during some of this, I loved the new additions of Dr Spicer and Easter, who are both favulous female characters. I also adored a certain reveal in this that I can’t spoil- as I’ve said before they have a complicated past, and it’ connected to that, and I thought it was both an excellent twist and a great way to further link the two books and tie up all the loose ends; this was a really satisfying second book, and while I’m sad there won’t be more in some ways I do think this was the perfect ending. Overall, this is brilliant and now we’ve said goodbye to Bridie and her family I can’t wait to see what Karen does next, because I’m sure I’ll love it just as much as everything else she’s done.
Willow Moss and the Forgotten Tale by Dominique Valente and illustrated by Sarah Warburton
I started this book the day before the UK went into lockdown, and in that very scary, uncertain time it was such a comforting hug of a book for me, and I’ll always be deeply grateful to it and to Dominique for that; I put off finishing it for days because I was so desperate to cling to the lovely world in its pages. It’s the second book in the Starfell series, and as the title implies it follows a young witch called Willow Moss, and this installment sees her try to the ways in which her life has changed as a result of her adventure in the first book, and also try to remedy the fact that her magic power of finding lost things has went awry just as a friend desperately needs her help. I think Willow is such a lovely heroine, it’s just impossible not to love her, and her pet kobold Oswin is honestly one of my favourite fictional animals EVER- he’s hilarious! The ensemble cast is fantastic too- some particular faves are Moreg Vaine and Feathering the cloud dragon. I also adore the world of Starfell and it was wonderful to explore some new parts of it and learn more about its magic and history in this installment. I’m so excited that there are still at least two books to come in the series, and I’m so looking for to returning to this utterly magical place already.
Voyage of the Sparrowhawk by Natasha Farrant (recieved a copy from the publisher in exchange for my honest review)
If you’ve been reading this blog for a while, you might remember that the Children of Castle Rock by this author was one of my favourite books of the last few years. I’ve been so excited for another book by her, and this didn’t let me down- it’s another spectacular Blyton-esque tale. It’s set shortly after the end of the first world war, in 1919, and focuses on two children named Lotti and Ben, who go on the run together in Ben’s boat the Sparrowhawk; she to escape life with her oppressive aunt and uncle and reunite with the grandmother who mysteriously vanished from her life after her parents died, he to find his brother who was a soldier that is believed to be dead. Lotti and Ben are wonderful characters and I couldn’t have loved either of them any more, and I was so fond of their teacher Clara and the many wonderful dogs in the story too. On the other hand, I loathed Lotti’s aunt and uncle; they were such a nasty pair, and I hated the way her uncle in particular tried to crush her spirit and make her less headstrong and determined and herself. They were excellently written. Their adventure in crossing the Channel is so exciting, and as with Children of Castle Rock I loved the unusual third person narration and sense of humour throughout. I just loved this; Natasha Farrant writes books that are just so exactly my taste and I’m dying for her next one already.
The Thirteenth Home of Noah Bradley by Amber Lee Dodd
I was so excited to pick this up when I got to it, because not only did I love Amber’s first two books, I had been told by a friend that this book could actually have been written for me, which was obviously deeply intriguing (the main reason for this being I’m terrified of most birds, and convinced they are cursed, but a character who is hard of hearing like I am in Billy was another huge draw). So, the book is about a boy named Noah who as the title suggests has lived in thirteen homes, because his family need to keep going on the run due to the black birds that terrorise them and prevent them from settling down anywhere as the result of a curse placed on their ancestors. I really loved the magic in here- it was so interesting- and the way the plot relating to this unfolds is great, there was a twist I wasn’t expecting and I thought it was so clever! The characters are another definite highlight- none of our main trio of Noah, Billy and Neena are perfect, but that’s what made them feel so realistic and made me love them so much. The way the book blends the fantastical elements with the contemporary elements is great too, and it felt very balanced between them which I enjoyed. I also really like the way Amber Lee Dodd depicts what life at school is often actually like, and shows how difficult it can be for anyone who’s in any way “different”. This is a great read, and I’ll definitely be picking up whatever Amber writes next because all her books to date are wonderful, and she just keeps getting better.
Echo Quickthorn and the Great Beyond by Alex English and illustrated by Mark Chambers (recieved a copy from the publisher in exchange for my honest review)
I keep describing the general vibe of this as being a bit like Tangled but with more pirates, and honestly if that doesn’t sell you on it immediately I don’t know what will! However, I’ll go on, just in case you need a bit more convincing. It’s the story of a girl named Echo, who has been raised in the palace as a ward of the king, and the journey she sets off on to find her mother, after the arrival of a man from another land makes her realise everything she knows about the world she lives in is untrue. It takes place in a completely different world from our own and the worldbuilding is amazing, I loved all the different places within it and the steampunk feel it had. I also really liked the characters, particularly Echo and Horace. Their tentative friendship is a really interesting relationship, and I loved seeing how it changed as the book went on. Echo’s lizard Gilbert was an absolute delight as well, and there’s also a stellar cast of supporting characters. The pirates in particular were amazing! I also loved a certain twist in here that I hadn’t expected, and I’m so glad there’s going to be more in the series because there’s still so much I want to learn about these characters and their worls. This book is so much fun, and one you absolutely need to pick up if you love a good bit of adventure!
The Faraway Truth by Janae Marks (recieved a copy from the publisher in exchange for my honest review)
This is the only contemporary book in this post, and the reason for that is the journey the main character Zoe goes on- both literally and metaphorically- to free her seemingly wrongfully accused father from prison after they start exchanging letters, is definitely worthy of being called an amazing adventure, plus I absolutely HAD to talk about it because it’s one of the best things I’ve read all year. Zoe is a wonderful character, and I loved her so much- she’s so ambitious with her dream of being a pastry chef, and so loving and kind to those around her. I was absolutely rooting for her, in every way. I also really liked Trevor, particularly once we got to know him better, and Zoe’s entire family is amazing- especially her grandma and her biological father Marcus, though. Her relationship with Marcus was so beautiful- I loved the way they build up such a connection and rapport through their letters by discussing food and music- them talking about macaroni cheese made me crave it so much while I was reading! The plot is so well paced and I loved the writing style, I honestly don’t think I put this down while I was reading! Another, much more important thing to note is that a huge theme in the book is that systemic racism, particularly the fact that Black men are imprisoned for crimes they didn’t commit an abhorrent amount, and it’s such an important read for this reason as well; I really hope that people, particularly the target audience, pick it up and learn more about this issue and see what an impact it can have on those who are wrongfully accused and their families. I was so shocked when I finished this and realised it was a debut, because based on how amazing it was I was expecting the author to have a huge back catalogue. I absolutely can’t wait to pick up whatever she writes next, because I loved this so much.
The Key to Finding Jack by Ewa Jozefkowicz (recieved a copy from the publisher in exchange for my honest review)
I adore mystery books and I love contemporary as a genre too, so I knew I was pretty much guaranteed to love this story about a girl who starts searching for the mysterious “S.F” when her brother Jack leaves a key for them when he goes backpacking to Peru, and subsequently vanishes after an earthquake hits, particularly as the author’s 2019 release was one of my favourites of last year. Flick’s a lovely protagonist- her bond with Jack is really special and seeing her learn more about him via meeting the many different SFs who are part of his life was so heartwarming. I also liked Kira a lot, and I enjoyed the format of moving from SF to SF a lot. I did work out who they really were quite quickly, but I think younger readers might take a bit longer and it didn’t take away from my enjoyment even slightly! Something else I thought was great was Flick’s mystery story for school being such a big part of the book; I don’t always enjoy things like that in books, but here it was really well done and I liked how it linked a bit with the main plotline, plus it was really interesting in it’s own right! This has definitely cemented Ewa as an author I love at the moment, and I’m really hoping to pick up her debut- the only one of hers I haven’t read so far- someday soon.
The Extremely Inconvenient Adventures of Bronte Mettlestone by Jaclyn Moriarty and illustrated by Karl Mountford James
This book isn’t quite like anything else I’ve ever read, and I wasn’t sure I’d even like it based on the synopsis. Instead, I fell completely and utterly head over heels for it. It’s about a girl named Bronte who lives in the kingdom of Gainsleigh with her aunt Isabelle and the Butler, whose absentee parents are killed by pirates, and the journey she must go on to visit each of her ten other aunts due to the instructions in her parent’s will, and the fact that they’ve been written in faery cross Stitch, meaning Gainsleigh will be destroyed should she not follow their wishes. Bronte is an amazing character, and I absolutely adored her style of narration- the humour was brilliant, and it made the book so thoroughly enjoyable. I also loved how different her many different aunts were (I think my favourites were Sue, Sophy and Alys) and the weird and wonderful variety of characters she got to meet on her adventure as well as them. The world was also really interesting, but by far my favourite thing in the book was the plot. Everything was so perfectly paced- it never lingered too long on one aunt, or took you away before you got to know one fully- but more than that, everything fit together and made perfect sense, which meant it came to an immensely satisfying conclusion that simultaneously wrapped up the story beautifully and left plenty of scope for the upcoming companion book. I am SO happy I get to back to this world in the sequel this autumn! I very definitely will not be leaving that one so long after release to pick up!
Have you read any of these? What are your thoughts on them? Or have you read anything else that you’d especially recommend? I’d love to hear in the comments!
3 thoughts on “Reviews: Amazing Adventures”
This is a fantastic collection of books. I’ve got/read most of them. I adore Oswin too – my favourite animal character ever! I completely agree about Bronte – I don’t think I’ve ever read a book quite like it – and I’m really looking forward to the next one.
I’m so glad you enjoyed Where the World Turns Wild, I was hopeful you would. And yes, the Starfell books are comforting hugs, I agree!
Lots here still sat on my shelf too though 🙈 Need more hours in a day!