Hello everybody! Today, I have my newest batch of reviews for you, which all have the names of a character in the title this time. There was originally going to be at least nine books, but one of the things I started was so not to my taste that I had to make it my first DNF of the year. Sad times 😭. Anyway, onto the post!
Danny Chung Does Not Do Maths by Maisie Chan and illustrated by Ahn Cao
This has been sitting on my TBR since my lovely local bookseller with impeccable taste recommended it, especially since Maisie also lives pretty close by, and I also wanted to read it because of the super-relatable title. It’s a middle grade contemporary about a boy named Danny Chung, who gets the shock of his life when his Chinese grandmother Nai Nai suddenly arrives, and he has to share a room with her since she now plans to live with him and his parents in the flat about their takeaway restaurant. The book mostly focuses on Danny adjusting to this new feature of his life, and his slow-growing bond with Nai Nai, and it’s such a good time of a book. The relationship that eventually forms between Danny and his grandmother is just the absolute loveliest thing; I always forget how much I like inter-generational relationships till I see them in media and this is one of the cutest I’ve read I think. It seems to much be Maisie’s thing as well, given the amazing Nanny So-Kim in her short story for the Very Merry Murder Club. It’s also a VERY funny story, the bingo scenes being the most hilarious of all. And I have to admit, the maths portion of the plot was also very enjoyable, especially hearing about the presentations at the end. I’m very much looking forward to Maisie’s second book, due out in June, Keep Dancing Lizzie Chu, which of course features another intergenerational relationship!
Eva Evergreen and the Cursed Witch by Julie Abe
I loved the first book in this series last September, and I’ve been dying to pick this up ever since, so I was thrilled to finally be able to get to it. It is quite a different vibe from the cosy, small town fantasy of book one, as it follows Eva as she tries to save her mother from a curse and her entire realm from the constant, ever-worsening Cullings that are killing many people and leaving behind untold destruction. That said, overall it was still a super heartwarming, lovely read and I can definitely see Julie Abe becoming a real favourite author of mine. Eva only has a pinch of magic, but she is so kind and just and determined to make her world a better place that she is just the perfect heroine; kind of the anti Chosen One, but also just the best. I was so thrilled Charlotte and Davy made an appearance as well, and it was lovely to see such a different side to Eva’s rival. Also, properly meeting Queen Alliana in the early part of this book has made me SUPER CURIOUS about her backstory, so I was delighted to realise that Julie’s next middle grade is a prequel story focusing on how Alliana became queen, which will presumably also allow us to see Eva’s mum Nelalithimus in her younger day. And I’m also very much looking forward to her first YA book, the Charmed List!
Onyeka and the Academy of the Sun by Tolà Okogwu (recieved from the publisher in exchange for my honest review)
When I got the email offering me a proof of this, I genuinely squealed because I was so excited and it really was such an excellent read. It follows a girl named Onyeka, who discovers that her hair has telekinetic powers and she is a Solari- part of a Nigerian group of superheroes- and this book sees Onyeka travel to the Academy of the Sun to meet others like her and also try and find out what happened to the scientist father who vanished when she was little. I love a magical school setting and this book was no exception; the worldbuilding and magic system is really cool, and I loved the high-tech, superhero vibes of the Academy, and the fact that Nigerian culture and customs are kind of weaved in was also amazing. The friendships are so strong and special, especially the one Onyeka strikes up with her roommate, who she gets off to a very rocky start with! I think this did a really good job of setting up the world and the overcarching story for the series to come, and I’ll definitely be joining Onyeka and the other Solari on their next adventure.
Jummy at the River School by Sabine Adeyinka (recieved from the publisher in exchange for my honest review)
This is the story of Jummy (short for Jumoke), who is about to start at the River School, located near the famous Shine Shine River. When she gets there, she is horrified when her best friend Caro arrives not as a pupil but as a maid for cruel Matron, and she immediately resolves to try and get her a place in the school with the help of her new friends. I love a boarding school setting and this one is great- I loved learning about what going to boarding school in Nigeria is like, and I really appreciated that this has conversations about class and wealth and taboo topics like periods, which just isn’t a thing you see in more old-fashioned stories of this type and it just made this seem much more modern. I absolutely loved Jummy and her fun loving nature, and with the exception of some unpleasant Limpopo (or Limpopo wannabe) girls, everyone she meets is so great and I loved literally all of them for who they are. Is this the start of a series? Because I would absolutely be here for more of the more diverse and socially just Malory Towers vibes, but it’s also a very satisfying standalone so I really can’t tell.
Skandar and the Unicorn Thief by A.F Steadman (won an advance copy in an Instagram giveaway)
This was one of my most anticipated releases of the year, and it definitely did not disappoint, because it’s such an epic fantasy tale. It follows a boy named Skandar who lives in a slightly different version of our world, where unicorns are bloodthirsty and deadly, and Mainland children are tested every year to determine whether or not they get to travel to the Island to bond with one and train at the Eyrie to become a unicorn rider in the Chaos Cup. Skandar is an incredible hero, even though he doesn’t really think he is, and I LOVED the friendships he makes within his quartet, especially as all of the characters are such interesting people in their own right. The setting and worldbuilding were just phenomenal; I loved spending time on the Island and learning about unicorns and I honestly didn’t want to leave when I finished the last page. Also, I don’t want to give any spoilers but there is a twist in this that I REALLY wanted to happen because it’s one of my favourite things that can happen in a book, but I wasn’t sure if it would be too dark so I was THRILLED that it went there. I think it’s going to add a really interesting dynamic to the relationship between Skandar and the Weaver, who is our villain in this book and presumably will be our villain as the series continues. Speaking of the next book, I need in my life as soon as humanly possible, because it just gave me Nevermoor/Amari/Fireborn kind of vibes, in that I think it’s going to be such a blockbuster series in the 2020s.
Grandpa Frank’s Great Big Bucket List by Jenny Pearson and illustrated by David O’ Connell (recieved from the publisher in exchange for my honest review)
This is Jenny Pearson’s 3rd book, and I know this is a big statement but hear me out, I think it might be her best yet. It’s about a boy named Frank Davenport, named after his father and his father’s father, who ends up inheriting a huge sum of money to look after his estranged grandfather Frank Sr Sr, which he decides should be spent on a bucket list to help him “live his best life”. In typical Jenny Pearson fashion, absolute chaos ensues including many unplanned dips in a duck pond and being chased by a loan shark company, but also a really gorgeous, heartwarming relationship develops between Frank junior and Frank senior, and I think it’s that unlikely, intergenerational friendship that really makes this book shine. Don’t get me wrong though, it’s absolutely hilarious to the point I was audibly giggling, and there are so many jokes I had to read again because I just thought they were so funny, and the wry, witty writing style is just the best, especially as it’s written as Frank (junior) reflecting on all these events and how he should have done some things differently. That said, while the ending was heartwarming, it was also so bittersweet and one certain thing sucker punched me and made me cry, so just be warned it might do the same to you!!
Fig Swims the World by Lou Abercrombie (recieved from the publisher in exchange for my honest review)
I am honestly quite ashamed that it is has taken me until now to read this, because I was sent a copy at the beginning of 2020 right before the first lockdown, and even though I did want to read it very much, I just somehow completely forgot. But as you may have seen on Twitter, I am doing the cover reveal for Coming Up for Air, and so when I had this post planned anyway, it just seemed like fate for me to finally read Fig Swims the World. And it really was worth the wait! It’s the story of Fig, who decides to set herself a New Year’s Resolution of learning to swim, and not only that, but swimming the world by completing a list of 30 iconic open water swimming routes. Fig is such a determined and brilliant heroine to follow, in the vein of Harriet from Geek Girl or Anna from the It Girl, and I really adored the supporting cast too. This post could have been subtitled the one with intergenerational relationships, because we have not one but TWO (three if you count Maud!) in here, and mirror twins Sage and Myrtle and so supportive and lovely and kind. Fig’s best friend Stella is another excellent human, and their word games brought me immense joy, AND even taught voracious reader me some new words!! Which doesn’t often happen to me nowadays! Mubla is… a Lot but I think she does have her kids’ best interests at heart, and her little brother Jago the child genius is an utter delight. And Dab Dabs is precious, despite !! I can’t wait for you all to see the cover of Lou’s nex book on Monday, and of course to read it soon.
Toby and the Silver Blood Witches by Sally Doherty
This is Sally’s debut, and it follows a young career named Toby who is looking after his mum, who has ME. His life suddenly goes a bit bonkers when he finds a witch in his attic, claiming her niece’s life is in terrible danger and he is the only Earthen she can trust, and more witches turn up to help. I loved Toby so much- he kind of reminded me a bit of Elliott from Who Let the Gods Out? in how much he loved his mum, but also found being a carer incredibly difficult, and honestly there were parts of this where my heart just broke for him. But I think the fact that Sally does herself have ME means it’s a much more nuanced portrayal of disability than you would see in a lot of books, and his mum elicited so much sympathy and empathy from me as well, because I understand what it’s like to not always be able to leave the house or depend on someone else helping you so you can do things able-bodied people find very simple. The worldbuilding was incredibly fun and I loved this take on witches where they live in the sky, and I’m really excited to explore more of it as well. This is a really sweet, pretty cosy kind of fantasy and I’ll definitely be picking up the second book in the series, even if Sally decides to go with Dungeons of Wizards instead of Wizards of Wildhaven as the title!
Thank you so much for reading!! Have you read any of these books? Or are they on your TBR? If I was going to do a post like this again, which books would you recommend I check out? I’d love to chat in the comments!!