Hello everybody! Today, I’m going to be reviewing all the books I read in April! Onto the books!
Welcome to my young adult portion of reviews for the month of January. If you want to read the MG post, you can find it here. Onto the books!
Today, I`m going to be reviewing all of the middle grade books I read in January. Usually, I don`t read as much as I have this month (or don`t review a few as I wouldn`t rate them higher than 3 stars, my personal cut off for what I do and don`t review), but aside from a few DNFs early on in the book, I enjoyed all of the 20 books I got through this month. I thought 20 reviews in one post might be a bit much, so I decided to split them into middle grade and young adult posts (the YA one will be here in a few days!). Without further ado, onto the books!
The Snow Angel by Lauren St John
What a way to kick off my reading year the Snow Angel was! I`ve been a huge fan of Lauren`s work for years, and I thought this book was reminiscent of the White Giraffe series due to it having the same setting, but was also unique enough to stand out and feel very different. It is about Makena, who lives with her parents in South Africa until tragedy strikes and her life changes forever. From cruel relatives, to life in a slum, to having to begin again in Scotland, my heart was absolutely breaking for Makena during this book, and I cried more than once reading it. However, there are some beautiful, joyful moments too, such as the concept of having three magical moments every day, the friendship of Makena and Snow, and both when Makena discovers the foxes, and the mountains, of her new home. I also thought the ending was perfect for the story, and I very much recommend this if you enjoy contemporary MG with a hint of adventure. 4.5/5
How to Catch a Witch by Abie Longstaff
While I initially struggled to get into this, I definitely enjoyed the 1st book of Abie Longstaff`s middle grade series. It`s the story of Charlie, who moves to a new area and finds out that magic may be real after all, when she becomes embroiled in preventing quite a sinister plot. I really liked the way the book handles magic (it was very easy to understand but also interesting and had a logical system, which is something I like to see) and I thought Charlie was a relatable, interesting main character. I particularly appreciated the fact that she has a stammer, which seemed to be sensitively tackled (though I don`t have a stammer so can`t speak fully to that), as I can`t recall ever having read that even though it`s fairly common, and I was happy it didn`t prevent her from participating in the magic, and in fact is an asset. The other main character Kat, was also excellent. Finally, the book reminded me a bit of the World of Wishes series by Carol Barton, which was one of my absolute favourites when I was in the target age group, which was lovely, and I`ll definitely be picking up How to Bewitch a Wolf at some stage to go on another adventure in Abie`s world. 4/5
Rubies and Runaways by Janine Beacham
If anything, Rose Raventhorpe`s second adventure is even better than her first. I absolutely love the dry, witty narrative tone and I think that Rose is a really excellent heroine who is a great detective and glorious in the way she stands up for herself against what people expect of her (e.g in this book, she may have to marry her stuck up horrible cousin Herbert, and her retaliations/reactions to this) made me giggle more than once. As well as `Ghastly Herbert`, in this book Rose must investigate where a missing orphan is. The mystery is well plotted and paced, and I would never have guessed the exact outcome. The secret society of butlers continued to be a really cool concept well executed, and I love how their presence feels so natural to the stories, and the characters it allows to be part of them are brilliant (I particularly adore Bronson). I`m very much looking forward to reading Hounds and Hauntings at some point hopefully soon. 4.5/5
Sky Song by Abi Elphinstone
From the prologue till the last page, Sky Song captured me and took me to the magical kingdom of Erkenwald, which is under the rule of the evil Ice Queen, as young heroes Eksa and Flint attempt to rescue the kingdom from the queen`s plan to take over completely. The characters, Flint and Eksa, and also Flint`s little sister Blu, were wonderfully endearing characters who I wanted to succeed in their quest desperately, and the animal companions (particularly Pebble the fox) were so sweet and The Ice Queen, though not loveable, was a sinister, chilling villain. The book itself is excellently paced, and I was always eager to read on, and as previously mentioned the best way to describe it is simply magical. 4.5/5
The Light Jar by Lisa Thompson
After enjoying last year`s the Goldfish Boy, I was surprised that I liked Thompson`s 2nd novel even more. This is the story of Nate, as he and his mum move to a cottage in the country to escape his mum`s abusive partner Gary, but when his mum doesn`t return from shopping, Nate must navigate a few days on his own, aside from a few unexpected friends who involve him in a mystery linked to the past of the cottage. Nate was such a lovely character and I was so sympathetic to everything he went through, and the flashbacks to his life with Gary were so emotional, and showed that domestic violence isn`t always the stereotypical physical portrayal. I also really liked both of the other plot threads; the mystery, in which Nate hunts for a mysterious treasure with Kitty, who lives nearby and the magical realism of the imaginary friends, which had really intriguing, well done worldbuilding, and isn`t a thing I`ve seen done often. The ending was incredibly heart-warming, and I`m already looking forward to seeing what Lisa Thompson does next. 4.5/5
I Swapped my Brother on the Internet by Jo Simmons and illustrated by Nathan Reed (received from publisher in exchange for an honest review)
While I wasn`t sure this was my sort of thing, I thought it was absolutely excellent younger middle grade. It`s about what happens when Jonny swaps his older brother Ted on new website Sibling Swap, and gets a few more brothers than he bargained for. There are a variety of bizarre new brothers, ranging from merboys to monarchs to meerkats, and I thought the concept was really clever, and imagine this idea would be even more relevant to those with siblings of their own. I think my favourite scene had to be those with Henry the 8th as they were laugh out loud funny in places, and I would highly recommend this book. There was also a mystery element to the plot, which I totally (and shamefully, for a mystery fan) didn`t pick up on over who ran Sibling Swap, and I was rather surprised at the outcome of that. I highly recommend this if you enjoy some funny middle grade and are looking for something that`ll give you a giggle. 4.5/5
The Curse in the Candlelight by Sophie Cleverly
The 5th in the Scarlet and Ivy series was as gothic and mysterious as ever, as new pupil Ebony McCloud arrives, and seems to have an unnatural influence over both pupils at Rookwood and the staff. I still loved both of the twins, but funny, feisty Scarlet is my favourite for sure, and I`m so glad we now have a dual narrative that includes both the twins so I can have both perspectives. Another interesting point of this was that the relationship between the twins and their friend Ariadne was further explored, and it felt like a realistic scenario of not knowing how to fit in with each other and the tensions that could cause, and also touched on the idea of giving people a second chance. The mystery itself was also rather creepy, and I had no idea what would happen till almost the very end (I am far too easy to fool with mystery books, even though I read loads of them!), which kept me hooked. If you want spooky and creepy MG mysteries with a hint of possible magic that still have a sense of humour, these are the books for you. 4.5/5
Here Comes Hercules by Stella Tarakson and illustrated by Nick Robertson (received from publisher in exchange for my honest review)
While I didn`t dislike this, and enjoyed it for the most part, it didn`t quite fully meet my expectations. First, I did like main character Tim as I thought he was sweet and smart, and rather capable, and I always enjoy stories where mythology and modern day meet. This introduced some more basic aspects of Ancient Greece too, so it would be good to introduce readers from the age group to the concept before learning many of the actual myths. Another aspect of the book I thought was fun was that Hercules wasn`t as heroic or helpful as expected, and some scenes showing this were really humorous, so I do wish there had been a few more of these. However, I found some parts of the story, for example Tim`s mum`s job, unrealistic, and I thought the ending was a bit too abrupt, but I look forward to trying the sequel Hera`s Terrible Trap.3.5/5
The Mystery of Me by Karen McCombie and illustrated by Cathy Brett (received from publisher in exchange for an honest review)
This was my first Karen McCombie novella, but it won`t be my last. Somehow, she managed to pack in her trademark combination of humour and heart into a very small amount of pages, in telling the story of Ketty. Ketty has just had brain surgery, and this is the story of her returning to school and regaining her memory. As someone with some experience of this scenario myself, I thought it was spot on in capturing how overwhelming and exhausting and downright terrifying the whole thing is. I also really liked Ketty and seeing the world through her eyes for a while, and I thought Otis, who makes a special point of looking out for her, was lovely. I didn`t expect the twist that comes quite near the end at all. Cathy Brett`s illustrations also add to the book and made me like it even more, particularly the last image we see. 4.5/5
Amelia Fang and the Barbaric Ball by Laura Ellen Anderson
This book was quite different to my expectations of it, but I still liked the story as a whole. It`s about Amelia Fang, who lives in a fictional world called Nocturnia, as her family are arranging the Barbaric Ball and manage to draw out the king and his son from their palace for the first time in years. Amelia was an enjoyable heroine, her friends Florence and Grimaldi were both very distinct and unique, and the supporting characters such as Amelia`s family or butler Woo were great too. My favourite character was most certainly the adorable pumpkin Squashy, who is taken by the rather unpleasant prince and must be rescued, and Laura`s illustrations were absolutely wonderful and helped me visualise all these characters and like them even more. The story also took a few unexpected turns, particularly with regards to revealing more about the prince and why he`s been so unkind since meeting Amelia and her friends, and I`m intrigued enough by the twist that I`ll be reading more of Amelia`s stories as they are released. Finally, I thought the worldbuilding of Nocturnia was extremely clever as it not only subverts typical story conventions but also includes some adapted pop culture references which I smiled about when I found. 4/5
Wed Wabbit by Lissa Evans
In a gloriously imaginative tale, Lissa Evans transports Fidge to the world of her sister`s favourite books, after Fidge`s frustration with sister Minnie`s toy Wed Wabbit ends in disaster. In the world of Wimbley Woo, Wed Wabbit is now a dictator, and to find her way back home, Fidge must work with irritating cousin Graham, a toy elephant and a tiny carrot toy who thinks it`s a doctor, as well as negotiate Wimbley Woos and avoid the wrath of Wed Wabbit. The world is entirely unique, really does feel like the sort of thing a young child like Minnie would be obsessed with, and the tasks they must undertake themselves were exciting to follow along with. I thought Fidge was a brilliant heroine, and I was surprised that by the end Graham had really grown on me too, and the character development was subtle but very apparent. The toys were a sheer delight, particularly Dr. Carrot, and their journey was so fun to be part of. The humour in this, particularly at the beginning, also hugely appealed to me, and I found myself chuckling more than once. If you`re looking for a world like nothing you`ve read before, and want to have a surreal experience with a great group of characters, Wed Wabbit is the book for you. 4.5/5
The Nowhere Emporium by Ross Mackenzie
I read this when it first came out, but had forgotten about it. After this reread, I can`t see that happening again. I was drawn into orphan Daniel`s world straight away, and became more intrigued still when he stumbles into a rather unique world on the run from his bullies, and soon a delightful magical adventure ensues. Daniel`s new mentor Mr Silver is very mysterious, so I adored the flashback sections that allow the reader to piece together his past before Daniel, and his new friend Ellie do. The story revolves around the Nowhere Emporium, which is essentially a collection of incredible magic rooms, which Daniel is now assisting Mr Silver in running, as things start to go suddenly wrong. I thoroughly enjoyed the characters, the plot was perfectly paced and kept me utterly hooked (to the point where I read it in one glorious gulp over a Sunday afternoon) and the worldbuilding was quite honestly exceptional. All in all, I loved this a whole lot and I can`t wait to get my hands on the upcoming sequel the Elsewhere Emporium soon! 5/5
Thank you so much for reading! What did you think of these books, if you`ve read them? Have you got any on your TBR? Let me know down in the comments or on Twitter @GoldenBooksGirl
Today I`m going to be sharing my reviews for November and December. I haven`t read as much as I`d have liked over both, but I have been rereading for most of December so it`s not too bad. Onto the books!
The Fabled Beast Chronicles series by Lari Don
While I initially found this series harder to get into than the Spellchasers trilogy, by just the 2nd book I was absolutely immersed in the story of Helen, a talented fiddler, as her life becomes entwined with the fabled beasts when a centaur turns up at her house and asks her to heal him and their subsequent thrilling adventures. I thought Helen was an amazing heroine; strong, capable and independent, and I loved getting to know the fabled beasts. My particular favourites were Sapphire the dragon and Yann the centaur, but I also enjoyed getting to see more in depth how most of the species lived and their customs through excellent worldbuilding over the course of the quartet. I really hope Lari Don has another middle grade fantasy series of some sort coming soon, as she`s a master of them. 4.5/5
A Place Called Perfect by Helena Duggan
In her debut novel, Helena Duggan tells the story of Violet as she moves to the unusually perfect town Perfect, and her journey of realising that all is not as it seems. There is a sense of sinister foreboding from the off, and the tension increases gradually until I was absolutely glued to the book towards the end. Alongside the mystery plot of working out what`s gone wrong with the town and who`s behind it, I liked the friendship between Violet and Boy a lot, and them as individuals, and the secondary characters (good and evil alike) jumped off the page. On that note, the worldbuilding was so well done that I felt as if I were actually in Perfect with the characters, and the multi layered backstory was fabulous. I`m not sure where this will go in the sequel, but I`ll definitely be reading to find out. 4.5/5
The Polar Bear Explorers` Club by Alex Bell (illustrated by Tomislav Tomic)
Alex`s first foray into the middle grade genre is, in my eyes, is an example of MG at its very finest. It tells the tale of Stella Starflake Pearl, who longs to be an explorer, as she sets off with her adopted father Felix on her first expedition and ends up separated from the main group along with the three other children of the voyage. I absolutely adored the group dynamics, and each character. Beanie was particularly delightful (he is quite possibly one of my new favourites of all time) but I also liked wolf whisperer Shay (I want to whisper with animals, please), Stella was an excellent leader, and it was so interesting to see how initially hostile Edward developed over the course of their journey. I also fell in love with the different animals and magical creatures the group encounter over the book (except, of course, the baddies) and loved how the book moved from one magical incident to another fluidly and always furthered either the relationships or plot. In case it`s not clear, I was completely obsessed with this book from beginning to end, and I have my fingers very tightly crossed for a sequel (or ten). 5/5
Undercover Princess by Connie Glynn
While I had expected to adore this book, it didn`t quite live up to my expectations. The writing style wasn`t especially to my taste, and I struggled to get to grips with the overcomplicated mystery plot, which never felt entirely linked to me. However, there were also parts of the book I enjoyed more. I liked the main trio, especially main character Lottie herself, and the friendships they strike up, as well as the unique and interesting system of monarchy, and getting to see both the dangerous and glamourous aspects of this. I also liked the ending, which was genuinely surprising and will probably lead me to pick up the second in the series at some stage after it`s released. 3.5/5
The Miseducation of Cameron Post by Emily Danforth (received from the publisher in exchange for my honest review)
I went into this book with no idea of what it was going to be like, except knowing that it focused on Cameron Post as she grew up in a rural area in the 80s and explored her sexuality as a lesbian. I really liked Cameron as a character as I thought she was resilient, sometimes funny in her narration and strong, while also being flawed, and I also liked some of the secondary characters, especially those she meets during the 2nd half of the book after her aunt takes the drastic action alluded to in the blurb. Another thing I found interesting about the book, although it was a minor inclusion, was that Cameron`s aunt has neurofibromatosis (the condition I`m believed to have, albeit not the type it`s suspected I personally have and she experiences it very differently), which I was quite emotional to see represented in a book for the first time. However, there were also several aspects of the book I really struggled with. I found the first half of the book, which is rather long at almost 500 pages, incredibly slow to the point where I was close to DNFing, and I found the prose too “purple”. Overall, this was a book I learnt quite a lot from, but it wasn`t my cup of tea. 3/5
The Ghost Light by Sarah Rubin
I see very little buzz around the Alice Jones mysteries online, but I`ve thoroughly enjoyed both instalments so far. This book tells the story of Alice, who lives in Philadelphia, as she becomes in another mystery, this time involving sabotage and scary accidents at a local theatre. I love what a clever, independent heroine Alice is, and the colourful characters who surround her from her lovely journalist dad to arrogant film stars starring in the seemingly cursed, haunted play. I also thought the conclusion to the mystery was interesting as I only partially guessed the culprit, and there were several surprises. I did, however miss the presence of Sammy from the Impossible Clue, and thought the book felt quite different in tone too, but overall I think these are definetely underrated and I’d like a few more in the series. 4/5
The Secret Hen House Theatre by Helen Peters
After having this recommended to me, I decided to pick it up and give it a go. I found it initially quite hard to get into and connect with narrator Hannah, but I soon did and was swept up in this contemporary middle grade tale of a girl trying to save her family`s farm from being sold when the landlord bumps up the rent, while also putting on a play. It has the same whimsical, modern classic feel that Natasha Farrant captured in the Bluebell Gadsby series, and it features a large group of siblings. I loved that things weren`t perfect between the family in the slightest but they were still always there for each other and the gentle humour sprinkled throughout the book. I worried desperately about the characters till the end as there were so many twists when I thought they were nearing a happy ending, though I did love the one they eventually got. 4.5/5
Hole in the Middle by Kendra Fortmeyer
After seeing an excerpt from this book, I knew I wanted to read it, but the reality was very different to what I`d imagined. I didn`t find the book anywhere near as funny as I`d hoped, though I did find the plot of Morgan`s treatment for the hole in her torso interesting. I also liked the romance between her and Holden, as despite it being an odd addition after their initial reaction to one another they shared some lovely moments. Another element of the plot I enjoyed was the way the media treats Morgan, and finally the dysfunctional relationship between Morgan and her mother. I was less keen on the aspects previously mentioned, Morgan`s narrative style and the rather abrupt ending. 3.5/5
Rocking Horse War by Lari Don
After loving both the Spellchasers trilogy and the Fabled Beast Chronicles, I had high expectations for Rocking Horse War and it delivered. While I initially struggled to get into it, and I hadn`t realised for some reason it was set historically, I was very intrigued by Pearl`s story of waking up one morning and discovering her troublesome triplet siblings gone. She becomes tangled up in mysterious magic, and must battle to take the triplets home. I liked Pearl a lot; she was so determined and focused, and never gave up. Another thing I thought was great was that we got to see the impact of the first world war on a family, which isn`t especially common but I find fascinating. Finally, as always, Lari Don`s worldbuilding and magic system was exceptionally well done, particularly as we are learning more about it along with Pearl gradually so it never feels like an infodump despite the small page count. 4.5/5
The Many Worlds of Albie Bright by Christopher Edge
This was a lovely read, and I`m so glad I finally picked it up. It tells the story of Albie, whose mum has just died, and his experiment with quantum physics to try and find a universe she`s still in. It was a slice of life style format where we see a few hours in the lives of Albie`s counterparts (my personal favourite of which was Alba) and I found it such an original, clever idea. I also thought that Albie was a really sweet character, and unusually for me I actually grasped most of the science and never found it to overwhelm Albie`s journey. I definitely want to read more from Christopher Edge in 2018. 4.5/5
Brightstorm by Vashti Hardy (received from the publisher in exchange for my honest review)
Vashti Hardy`s debut is so incredibly special, and I can`t wait for everyone to be able to read it. It`s about twins Arthur and Maudie as they set off on a skyship adventure and attempt to clear their dad`s name of stealing fuel from another ship on his last expedition. I absolutely loved the twins, and their relationship with one another, and I thought the secondary characters added to the story marvellously. The thought wolves, especially gentle, noble Tuyok were simply incredible, and more than one part of this book left me breathless and in tears because I fell so hard for this world and these characters. Another addition I liked hugely was that it championed STEM, and I was impressed with it tackling disability, a real rarity in fantasy worlds, with Arthur only having one arm. I guessed a twist or two but I still had quite a few surprises, and after the conclusion I`m already desperate for the sequel. 5/5
The Christmasaurus by Tom Fletcher (illustrated by Shane Devries)
I`ll admit I was pretty sceptical going into this, seeing it`s by a celebrity author, but the overwhelming praise in the bookish community and shiny, pretty gold cover convinced me to pick it up, and I`m really glad I did. It`s the story of William Trundle as he faces ableist bullying at school until he receives a magical (and unintentional) Christmas gift from Santa that changes his life. I really liked William as a character, and the way his disability is portrayed, and I also had fun getting to know the multi layered secondary characters. Shane Devries` illustrations were a fantastic addition, and the book zips along at a great pace. My absolute favourite bit of this book, though, was the superb worldbuilding of the North Pole, which made this a truly magical read and I think children would adore it. 4.5/5
Sky Chasers by Emma Carroll (received from the publisher in exchange for my honest review
Having been excited for this book since the day it was announced, I was absolutely thrilled when it came through my door. I was gripped by the story of Magpie, a young orphan/pickpocket living in France as she becomes unexpectedly involved in a bid to become the first country to fly a hot air balloon. Emma Carroll`s writing is as beautiful and lyrical as ever, and never falls down the trap of going too far with this in favour of advancing the plot. I also adored Magpie as a character as she was so brave, clever and really deserving of the happiness she finds by the end, as well as her friend Pierre and the incredibly sweet animals; Coco, Voltaire and Lancelot. I got through this in two sittings despite having very little time to read at the time, as I couldn`t wait to see what would happen next. I`m so excited for Emma`s next book already! 5/5
Thank you so much for reading! Have you read any of these books? What did you think? Are any on your TBR? Let me know in the comments or on Twitter @GoldenBooksGirl!
Hello everybody, and welcome to day 22 of blogmas! Can you believe how close the big day is now?!
Today I’m going to be speaking about my favourite middle grade books of 2017, and since they all are MG, my top 3 books overall of the year.
Onto the books! (And I’ve included a few more than 10, whoopsies! 🙈😂)
Who Let the Gods Out/Simply the Quest by Maz Evans- I’m in love with this modern take on Greek mythology, which tells the story of young carer Elliot Hooper as the Greek gods crash into his life and he becomes embroiled in trying to remedy the escape of daemon Thanatos. As well as the original take on this, I also adore the way this series mixes humour an heartbreaking moments in the best way imaginable, I can’t wait for parts 3 and 4 of Elliot’s journey over the next year or so.
Beetle Queen by M.G Leonard– In my opinion, these books are future classics. The idea, of ultra-intelligent beetles and an evil fashion designer scientist villain who wants to use them to take over the world is something I never thought I’d enjoy, but they have made me love beetles (except for endlessly creepy earwigs). It’s about Darkus Cuttle as he finds his own beetle and many others, and determines to save them from aforementioned awful villain Lucretia Cutter.
Fly Me Home by Polly Ho-Yen– this is Polly Ho-Yen (writer of my favourite standalone MG of all time the Boy in the Tower, for any new readers) and I thought this, the tale of immigrant Leelu and her family, and their problems blended with a gorgeous magical realism element was stunning. I read it in about one sitting when I was feeling ill one day and I can’t recommend it highly enough. After a few rereads I think this one may be very close to my heart too.
Spellchasers trilogy by Lari Don – this is the best (completed) trilogy I’ve ever read, and it’s about a group of young people coming together to try and lift their respective curses. I thought the plot was original, the magic system and worldbuilding were exceptionally good and I thought the main characters were excellent, and I liked that they developed over the course of the books. The construction of the trilogy as a whole was my favourite thing though, since each book had a separate plot but that some arcs weren’t resolved till book 3, which worked well.
The Guggenheim Mystery by Robin Stevens– this book was written to celebrate the 10th anniversary of Siobbhan Dowd’s London Eye Mystery, and I thought it was a pretty perfect follow up. I thought Robin was both faithful to the original and put her own spin on it, and it was truly a delight to see Ted Spark and the world through his eyes again. This books sees Ted solving a New York mystery at the Guggenheim museum with big sister Kat and cousin Salim.
Nevermoor by Jessica Townsend – I anticipated this book for so long that I started to worry it wouldn’t live up to my expectations. If anything, it exceeded them. This was clever, original and witty, with characters I could get behind and admire and love (and in the case of villains/baddies hate) and I thought the plot was perfectly paced in telling of cursed child Morrigan navigating the Trials of the Wondrous Society which will save her from certain death if she gains. This really did remind me of Harry Potter in terms of the imaginative, well described worldbuilding and I’d also recommend it for fans of the Uncommoners books for this reason.
The Polar Bear Explorers Club by Alex Bell– this was magical from beginning to end in each and every way. It’s about a group of young explorers on an Artic adventure full of magical creatures, family and friendship, and I absolutely loved the characters (especially Beanie). I also loved the way this book shows and celebrates the importance of kindness above all else. Roll on the next book in what I’ve heard is a series!
And now for my top 3 of the year overall…
Prisoner of Ice and Snow by Ruth Lauren– this is a wintry adventure book that tells the story of glorious, brave heroine Valor as she attempts to save her wrongfully convicted sister Sasha from prison. The worldbuilding of Demidova is incredible, I loved the writing style and the ensemble cast is excellent. It was like nothing I’d ever read before.
Being Miss Nobody by Tamsin Winter– I raced through this in a morning, desperately invested in the story of selective mute Rosalind finding a voice to stand up to bullies through her blog. I cared about each and every character a huge amount, it felt so realistic that I felt as though I could really know these people and I experienced a rollercoaster of emotions from elation to crying. I thought the emdomg was perfect; hopeful but not tied in a neat bow as suited the story, and I can’t wait for Tamsin’s next book.
Running on the Roof of the World by Jess Butterworth– This is the story of Tash and Sam, who live in China-occupied Tibet, as they journey to India to find the Dalai Lama in an attempt to save Tasha parents from the soldiers. It’s gorgeously written in a way that invokes every sense, the friendship between Sam and Tash is lovely and I fell utterly in love with the animal companions. Gripping, emotional and beautiful, and has never quite left my mind since I read it.
*Note- after writing this post I read a magical, wonderful book called Brightstorm by Vashti Hardy, which I’m adding in as an extra in the general favourites (my top 3 are too fab to be changed!). It’s a glorious adventure books about twins called Arthur and Maudie as they set off to find their missing father and clear his name from the crime he’s been accused of. It feels like a future classic, and I can’t wait for everyone to read it when it comes out in March. I’m making it joint 3rd with Prisoner of Ice and Snow 😊 (cheating a bit, I know. But its way too good not to!)
Thank you so much for reading! What have your favourite middle grades of 2017 been? Are any books on our lists the same? I’d love to get some recommendations down in the comments!
Today, I’m finally sharing my reviews for the month of October, except for the couple of books I didn’t enjoy. Without further ado, onto the books!
The Curse of the Chocolate Phoenix by Kate Saunders
In this return to the magical world we first visited in the Whizz Pop Chocolate Shop, Kate Saunders sends Oz, Lily and Caydon on a new adventure to protect Britain from magical terrorists. Even though the chocolate shop and magic related to chocolate didn`t feel as prominent in this instalment, I still really enjoyed what we did see of it. In addition, I found the time travel element of the plot really confusing and ended up a bit lost for part of the book. However, I feel that the real strength of these books is the characters as there is a really likeable main trio and I liked all of them individually as well as their dynamic as a team. I also thought new character Silver was an excellent addition and she actually ended up becoming my favourite of the children. I wasn`t just as keen on the villains in this book in comparison to first, but they were still suitably scary, and Alba was especially sinister. My absolute favourite characters had to be Demerara the cat and Spike the rat who were so sweet and funny. 3.5/5
Vlad the World`s Worst Vampire by Anna Wilson, and illustrated by Kathryn Durst
In this utterly lovely younger middle grade book, we follow Vlad, a young vampire who is struggling so much with his vampiric studies that he decides to give human school a go instead, with some interesting results. This was really gentle but also well paced; it was a one sitting read for me mainly due to its length (between 150 and 200 pages), but also because I was so immersed by Vlad`s world I didn`t want to put it down. The book`s humour also appealed to me- I was chuckling constantly. Vlad`s fabulous pet bat Flit was the source of much of this; he was totally hilarious. Finally, Kathryn Durst`s illustrations added so much to my already extremely positive view of this book as they truly brought the story and the characters to life. I couldn`t have been more overjoyed when I discovered a few days later that there`s going to be a sequel in a few months! 4.5/5
Countless by Karen Gregory
In her important and topical debut, Karen Gregory tells the story of Hedda, a teenage girl with anorexia as she falls pregnant and her life changes as she calls a truce with the disorder (which she calls `Nia`) for the duration of her pregnancy. While I can`t speak for the accuracy of the anorexia portrayal myself, it came across as well researched and realistic, and also gave insight into Hedda`s mind and how the disorder can manifest in a sensitive way. It also never felt sensationalised. Hedda was a wonderful, brave character who I definetly sympathised with throughout the novel. I loved how much she developed throughout and became a very different person for her baby. I actually found this true of all the characters, for example Hedda`s family (who I found frustratingly unsupportive at times, and were excellently portrayed as it shows not all people who face challenges like this have a support system). Considering the book takes place over a long period of time, this seemed true to life. Another thing I found interesting in this book was that we actually got to see Hedda have her baby and adjust to life as a mum, which I don`t remember ever seeing before in a book about a teen pregnancy. The only thing I`d have liked slightly more development in was what led Hedda to develop anorexia as it was only briefly touched on but I would have been interested to Finally, the ending broke my heart in some ways but also put it back together in others, and I liked the hopeful note on which we left Hedda a lot. I`m looking forward to seeing what Karen Gregory writes next. 4/5
The Spellchaser Trilogy by Lari Don
In this middle grade fantasy/magical realism trilogy, Lari Don tells the story of Molly, a girl who has been cursed into shapeshifting into a hare, as she meets other cursed characters and works with them to reverse the curses. First of all, the worldbuilding is phenomenal. It`s well explained and detailed, but never info dumps, and I adore the magic system and idea of curses being so important to so many magical groups. The characters were also well developed and really interesting. My personal favourites were Beth the druid and Atacama the sphinx, but I rooted for all of them (except the horrible baddies!) in lifting their curses and beyond. The plot of the trilogy worked fabulously as well; it was never predictable and I loved all the shocks and surprises that the team faced, and it`s the best constructed trilogy I`ve ever read. There was a standalone plot to each book that kept me interested, and also longer threads interwoven throughout, which weren`t resolved till book three and therefore, made that very satisfying. 5/5
Wizards of Once by Cressida Cowell
In her first book after the end of the How to Train Your Dragon series, Cressida Cowell tells the story of Wish and Xar, who are from opposing warring tribes, as they meet and go on an adventure together. I found it incredibly slow paced and considered DNFing more than once, but it did pick up slightly in the second half, and I also enjoyed the construct of the mysterious narrator. I also found the main characters quite difficult to connect to, particularly Xar, although I did love a few secondary characters rather a bit (namely Caliburn and Squeezjoos). Another high point was Cressida Cowell`s stunning illustrations. I especially adored the wolf drawing, which is around page 116 I think. I doubt I`ll be continuing with this series, but I`m thinking about giving How to Train Your Dragon a chance as it sounds fantastic. 3/5
Editing Emma by Chloe Seager
In her laugh out loud hilarious debut, Chloe Seager introduces us to Emma, a 16 year old who has just been `ghosted` by her sort-of-boyfriend Leon, as she dips her toe back into the dating pool in a bid to improve herself, while also tackling friendship drama and family problems. I found this similar to the humour in the Electra Brown series by Helen Bailey (which I adored), and I snorted more than once. I adored the characters in this huge amounts. Emma was such a relatable main character, but I also loved her best friend Steph and madcap mum. The only thing I found slightly difficult was the short chapters as it was slightly jarring as it was hard to tell where I`d left off, but as this was such a fast paced, fun read and I got through it in a few sittings it wasn`t too big a problem! I can`t wait to see what Emma gets up to in book two… . 4.5/5
Nevermoor by Jessica Townsend
In a dazzling debut novel, Jessica Townsend writes the story of cursed child Morrigan Crow, as her predicted date of death arrives and she is saved by enigmatic Jupiter North and taken to the magical land of Nevermoor to compete in trials for a place in the Wundrous Society. I was gripped from the first page and constantly desperate to read on throughout due to the perfect pacing, and I thought the worldbuilding was utterly exceptional. I loved getting to know Nevermoor and its customs, and I especially enjoyed the Christmas scenes. Though I guessed the conclusion to the mystery of the book partially, there were still some shocks and twists I hadn`t anticipated, and it`s left me so excited to see where the story will go in the next book. Finally, the characters were also incredible. I loved Morrigan, who was a heroine I could get behind absolutely, her mentor Jupiter and his many eccentricities and her friends Hawthorne and Jack. My very favourite, however, was undoubtedly Fenestra the Magnificat, who was so feisty and funny and fabulous. I`ve been anticipating this book eagerly for around a year, and it didn`t let me down. A future classic for sure, in my opinion. 5/5
The Witch`s Kiss by Katharine and Elizabeth Corr
From the very first page of this, I was intensely invested in Merry and her story. Merry is a teenage witch who isn`t very interested in powers, as she becomes embroiled in protecting her town from a terrible magical danger and falls in forbidden love while trying to defeat the enemy. The standout thing in this for me was the sibling relationship between Merry and Leo; they felt realistic and never overly mushy, but also have each other’s` backs no matter what. I also loved the blend of contemporary and fantasy, as well as the dual timeline (I was equally interested in both time periods, which I`m not usually), and this doesn`t feel quite like anything I`ve ever read before. I did get slightly muddled during the very fast paced climax, but I liked the resolution and overall, I really enjoyed this. 4.5/5
The Witch`s Tears by Katherine and Elizabeth Corr
In this excellent sequel to the Witch`s Kiss, we see Merry on a new adventure when her gran goes missing and odd, dangerous events begin to take place, and she has to work out what`s going on, while also trying to fit into a coven and deal with other issues. I found it very different in tone to the first book, and if anything I actually preferred it as it read more as a mystery with fantasy/contemporary subplots to me, and I adore mystery books. I also liked how much the characters, especially Merry`s wonderful big brother Leo, changed and developed, and that even though this was mainly a different story we still saw the effects of book one on their lives. I enjoyed getting to see new characters too, and I love Finn in particular. After THAT ending, I`m dying to get my hands on book 3, and if you love any of the genres I`ve mentioned that I think this books fits into, I strongly recommend you pick them up. 4.5/5
The Eye of the North by Sinead O` Hart (received from publisher in exchange for an honest review)
In this mesmerising, magical adventure, we meet Emmeline and follow her on her journey to the North to rescue her kidnapped parents. The characters in this book are amazing. Emmeline`s sidekick Thing was so sweet and such a good friend, and I adored him, and I thought that the other main secondary character Sasha was wonderful too. Emmeline was one of my favourite heroines in ages, possibly of all time; I saw a lot of similarities between us and I thought she was just an imperfect heroine trying her very best, which I love. I really liked being able to see all the characters when they weren`t together at some points, even though some of the switches were quite sudden. The world was all-enveloping, and I felt like I was journeying alongside the characters. I want my own ice horse immediately, though I wouldn`t like to run into the super sinister villains that O Hart has created. I`m so very hopeful for a sequel someday soon, particularly after an event in the climax that made me cry buckets and the lovely ending. 4.5/5
The Midnight Peacock by Katherine Woodfine
In the fourth and final book of the series, we see Sophie and Lil attend a Winter Ball to solve a mystery there, and finally discover the identity of the notorious Baron. It was fast paced and most intriguing, and it was wonderful to see snippets of Christmas at Sinclair`s Department Store, which made me feel really festive even though I read it in October. It was also fun to see how all of the main quartet have grown and changed since The Clockwork Sparrow, and I loved that many of the minor characters were brought back in this book too. Woodfine`s writing continued to be as elegant as ever and brought her world to life, and made me want to jump into it in many places. Finally, I thought the conclusion of the series`s arc of the Baron was phenomenal, and there were some gasp-worthy moments in the last few sections of the books (which are split into parts, with titles, and each new one has a stunning Karl James Mountford illustration to signify it). 4.5/5
Goodybe Perfect by Sara Barnard (received from publisher in exchange for an honest review)
In my opinion, Sara Barnard`s third novel is her best to date, which I didn`t think I`d say as a huge fan of both Beautiful Broken Things and A Quiet Kind of Thunder. It`s the story of Eden as her best friend runs away with her boyfriend (her music teacher). I found it interesting to read about a teacher-pupil relationship from the point of view of a friend, as I haven`t seen this before, and I love Barnard`s character focused writing, that keeps me completely hooked even though the plot isn`t full of action. I devoured Goodbye, Perfect in a single afternoon. Eden was a glorious main character. She was so misunderstood in places and I was behind her all through the book. I found living in her head for a few hours amazing; and some scenes (such as those with Bonnie`s mum) really made me laugh. I also adored some of the side characters, in particular Eden`s sister Valerie and her boyfriend Connor (I loved that their relationship was prominent, but didn`t go through any issues. I can`t remember seeing anything like that in another book). In short, this book was stunning in every way imaginable and made me go through so many emotions in a relatively short amount of pages, and I highly recommend picking up a copy come February. 5/5
The Rise of Wolves by Kerr Thomson (received from publisher in exchange for an honest review)
In a lyrical, exciting middle grade mystery/contemporary, Kerr Thomson tells the story of Innis, a boy who lives on Nin in Scotland as he decides to try and jump the Bonnie Laddie`s Leap in order to become Laird of Nin and not have to move due to his grandfather`s deteriorating health, while also trying to work out why there are wolves on the island and why they`re so interested in him. I thought Innis was a lovely, yet still flawed, main character and I felt really sympathetic towards him when things were tough. I also enjoyed his friendship with Kat (who was such a fabulous character in her own right; a very strong female), and how his relationship changed throughout with moody, mysterious Lachlan Geddes, who is somehow linked with the wolves. I felt like I learnt some new things from this (namely about the history of Nin and wind turbines) and I`m an absolute sucker for island settings, so I was guaranteed to fall in love with this book). The only thing I`d have liked was for the book to have continued on a little longer after the end, but I suppose it had to end somewhere 😉 . I`ll be seeking out the Sound of Whales soon! 4.5/5
Today, I’m hugely excited to have Ruth Lauren, who wrote one of my favourite reads of this year, here for an interview.
Let’s get started!
Hi Ruth! Thank you so much for agreeing to an interview; welcome to Golden Books Girl
It’s my pleasure, thanks so much for having me!
1. Can you please describe Prisoner of Ice and Snow in 5 words for anyone who hasn`t read it?
Prison Break meets Frozen
2. What inspired you to write the book? Had you always envisaged it as a series, or did you originally plan for just one book?
The idea began when I was watching Prison Break with my son. I wondered what that kind of story would be like if it was about two young sisters instead (and then if it were set in a fantasy land where I could add all sorts of interesting challenges and twists).
I actually only planned a standalone, but every publishing house interested in the story wanted a sequel, and once I started thinking about what might happen to Valor and Sasha next, I knew they were right.
3. The world of Demidova is so vivid and layered. How did you go about your worldbuilding? Were there any high points or challenges during this process?
You’re so kind, thank you!
I wanted a very cold, snowy, frozen world where the elements themselves could cause problems for the characters and bleed through into every part of the planning Valor has to do to try to break her sister out of prison.
Once the setting was fixed in my mind, the details had to reflect the landscape—the animals that inhabit it, the clothes the people need to wear, the food they might be able to access. My editor was brilliant at helping me think about other aspects that add to making the world feel real—like special celebration days in the city, the history of the prison and the geography involved with surrounding lands and how they might impact on the story.
I drew on elements of the Russian landscape and traditional clothing but I also wanted to create a matriarchal world where only women can rule and where they often have positions of power. I wanted the sisters to inhabit a world where they don’t have to struggle or overcome (at least not in this aspect) and it would never occur to them that those positions weren’t open or available to them. They see women in every role in the book—from ruler to doctor to prison guard to hunter. That was a really important part of the world to me.
The whole experience was actually one big high point (or at least it feels like it in retrospect). Prisoner is very different from anything I’d written before and it was a lot of fun to write.
4. Your heroine Valor, is so brave and I really sympathised with her throughout the book, even if I didn`t agree with her decisions. Who would you say your top three heroines are?
Ok, I’m cheating a little bit here.
TV: Buffy, Jessica Jones, Lisa Simpson
Books: Katsa (Graceling), Feo (The Wolf Wilder) and Katniss Everdeen
5. Alongside Valor is a variety of other prisoners who form a fabulous ensemble cast. Which character of these is your favourite?
I have a soft spot for little Feliks, but Katia is my girl.
6. What`s your writing process like? Do you have any unusual habits or quirks?
I really don’t! Just outlining, trying to write 1k a day when I’m drafting, and wondering how people who listen to music when they write can possibly concentrate.
7. If you could have written any book by another author, what would it be and why?
I would love to steal The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern for my own. Or anything by Laini Taylor or Kristin Cashore or Katherine Rundell. Their imaginations feel so much bigger than my own and I know I could never write anything on the scale that the first three do or with the inimitable style that Katherine Rundell does.
8. Finally, before our quickfire round, can you let anything slip about the sequel to Prisoner of Ice and Snow, Seeker to the Crown?
Seeker picks up right where Prisoner left off and with Princess Anastasia now missing, Valor is plunged straight into another exciting mission. More crossbow, more icy danger, and I don’t want to say too much, but a certain monarch may vanish leaving Demidova in chaos . . .
Hogwarts house- I have no idea!
Favourite flavour of ice cream– Salted Caramel
Animal you`d most want to turn into?- Cheetah
City/country you most want to go on holiday to that you haven`t yet? Florence, Italy
Favourite season of the year?- Spring
Thank you so much to Ruth for answering my questions, and Emily at Bloomsbury for setting the interview up!
Hope you’ve enjoyed this post everyone! I’d love to hear what you thought if this book if you’ve read it!