Hello everybody! Today, I’m going to be sharing my latest batch of reviews, which are themed around the sea, the sky and the sand this time, in honour of summer. Onto the post!
Skyborn by Sinéad O’ Hart (recieved from the publisher in exchange for my honest review)
I can’t believe it’s been almost 4 years since the Eye of the North was released, but I was a huge fan of that when I read it in 2017, so I was very excited indeed when it was announced that Sinéad’s new release was a prequel, focusing on Thing back when he was known as Bastjan, and lived in a travelling circus that has fallen on hard times financially. A mysterious man named Dr Bauer offers to be their benefactor in exchange for a mysterious box that belonged to Bastjan’s mum, it’s up to Bastjan, his circus family, runaway Alice and her plucky dog Wares to keep it safe and work out what is really is and how to make things right. Thing was probably my favourite in the Eye of the North (although I really loved Emmeline too!!), so it was lovely to learn more about him and his background even though so much of it was heartbreaking. The father-son relationship he has with the circus’s strongman Crake is just gorgeous and perfect, and I also loved the way his friendship with Alice developed. The adventure is so exciting and fast paced, with interesting magical elements and amazing, cinematic descriptions of everything. Finally, there a few little Easter eggs about the Eye of the North in here that made me smile so much, which is lucky really as the ending made me shed quite a few tears, even though I know how Thing’s story really ends.
When the Sky Falls by Phil Earle
I’ve only read a couple of Phil Earle’s previous titles, but after this was recommended to me by a friend with excellent taste and it was announced as Waterstones’ CBOTM for June, I absolutely had to add it to my basket. This is the story of Joseph, who is sent to London during world war 2 to stay with the initially rather standoffish Mrs F, who is in charge of a rundown zoo, and shooting its prize gorilla Adonis should he escape during an air attack. Joseph is really struggling when we meet him, and for quite a bit of the book, between his family troubles and his undiagnosed dyslexia that has made teachers and pupils alike label him stupid, even though he’s amazing at maths. I was so angry during some of this because of the extremely unfair way Joseph was treated at school, but loved that he had Syd and Mrs F looking out for him, even though he wasn’t always sure they were. I also loved the bond that developed between him and Adonis, which shows how huge an impact an animal can have on your life, even though most people don’t befriend a silverback gorilla. It was also interesting, although also heartbreaking, to learn how tough life would have been for animals during the war, as it’s something I’ve only seen explored in one book before. The ending absolutely broke my heart, so maybe buy some tissues with your copy of this, but it’s a very moving, powerful read for upper middle grade audiences.
Wave Riders by Lauren St John
A new Lauren St John book is always a highlight of my bookish calendar, so I needed to pick Wave Riders up pretty quickly after I got my hands on it. It’s the story of twins Jess and Jude, whose lives are turned upside down after their guardian Gabe mysteriously vanishes and their yacht is wrecked, meaning they and their dog Sam (who is a darling, just FYI!), have to go to England and live in the stately home of the strange couple who are very keen to take them in. First of all, I think I have to mention how much I loved the twins. They’re very different in terms of hobbies and interests, but their bond us so lovely and I just wanted the best for both of them all the way through. The supporting cast are hard to talk about without spoilers I guess, but a special mention definitely goes to Jude’s school librarian, and the less kind characters made this such an engrossing read. The mystery took so many fascinating twists and turns and I definitely didn’t predict anything, andi just had such a brilliant time reading Wave Riders. In fact, it reminded me so much of being 10 years old and falling in love with Kidnap in the Caribbean for the first time, so I can’t recommend it enough whether you’re a longtime fan of Lauren’s like I am or you’re completely new to her work and looking for a good place to start.
Malibu Rising by Taylor Jenkins Reid
I’ve become a huge Taylor Jenkins Reid fan over the past year, so I’ve basically been counting down to the release of this, and it didn’t let me down. It focuses on the Riva family in two different timelines; the present takes place on the day of the annual family party which we are told in the prologue will end in flames, and the past is about the rather complicated love story between Mick and June Riva. The Riva children (who are adults when we meet them) are: Nina, a surfing supermodel, Jay, a competitive surfer, his almost twin Hudson, a photographer, and Kit, the baby of the family who is just working out who she wants to be. I loved both timelines and watching the story unravel was so fun, especially as things get more and more dramatic and intriguing as the book progresses. I also loved the characters; all four siblings won my heart, I felt so so sorry for June and I loved to hate Mick, although to be honest I kind of pitied him as well for being so self absorbed and unwilling to care for his family when they needed him, but being there when he needed them. Reading about the party was SO much fun, and given the 80s is like my favourite decade I absolutely adored all the references, especially the Brat Pack ones!! A book about a party and the lives of a family has no right to be this gripping, but it’s absolutely bloody unputdownable!
Between Sea and Sky by Nicola Penfold (recieved from the publisher in exchange for my honest review)
I really enjoyed Nicola Penfold’s debut Where the World Turns Wild, and after reading her second, she’s going to be an auto-read author for me from now on, I reckon. This one is a dual narrative story about a world changed forever by severe natural disasters, focusing on Pearl, who lives on a sea farm and will do anything to protect her illegal sister, and Nat, who comes to stay at the farm for the summer with his researcher mum. He brings with him a secret could change their whole world, and Pearl and Clover agree to help him even though they’re risking everything, including their relative safety from government control. All three of the main characters are so interesting and well fleshed out that they felt real to me, even though their world is very different to ours right now, although of course that could change if steps aren’t taken to remedy the climate crisis. The secondary characters are also fantastic, I especially liked Tally and Nat’s mum Sora. The way Nicola combines very realistic dystopian futures with hope and nature and light is the best I’ve ever seen it done, and Pearl’s religion/faith is another thing I loved about this. The worldbuilding is just amazing, and I can’t wait to read Nicola’s next book, which I believe is set in the Artic. There are some twists and reveals towards the end that had me absolutely hooked, and I think the ending was a perfect balance between not being neatly tied up in a bow and hopeful for the future.
The Secret Detectives by Ella Risbridger
This was originally on my TBR for a different post I’m planning, but a few trusted friends told me I’d love it, and they couldn’t have been more correct. I’ve been a huge fan of Ella’s for years; I loved her various columns for the Pool, her story in the Make More Noise anthology was incredible and I admire her so much as a person generally, so I was thrilled the Secret Detectives was basically my ideal book. It’s kind of loosely inspired by the Secret Garden, specifically the journey to England, but rather than Mary we have Isobel Petty, who is one of my new favourite characters ever. I found myself relating to her hugely at so many points (especially in her dislike of most people), and I also loved Sam and Lettie, who form the rest of their detective agency. What are they investigating, you ask? Isobel and Sam witness someone being pushed overboard, and although they have no idea who it was, they immediately start detecting. That was something else I loved about this; not only do they have to work out whodunit, but also who was murdered in the first place. The reveal and conclusion were fantastic, I adored the mail ship setting, and I was just in love with this by the time I was 3 chapters in. If you’re a fan of Robin Stevens or Katherine Woodfine, this is an absolute must read, and although I don’t think it’s very likely, I’d absolutely love about 10 books with these characters.
Children of the Quicksands by Efua Traore (recieved from the publisher in exchange for my honest review)
I’ve been intrigued about this since it won the Chicken House prize last year (or possibly the year before? COVID has really messed with my memory), so I was very excited to finally pick it up! It’s the story of a girl named Simi who is sent to stay with her estranged grandmother in a remote Nigerian village named Ajao for the summer while her mum goes on a work trip to London. Soon after she arrives, strange things start to happen that seem connected to a local legend regarding the goddess Oshun, and Simi is caught up in trying to help fix things. I absolutely loved learning more about Nigerian culture and the way of life there, and of course expanding my knowledge about the orishas, especially Oshun, and I loved the story about Layo and Adunni. Simi is a great character and I loved her determination to help the lost children, no matter the personal cost, and her friendships with Bubu and Jay were lovely. My favourite relationship in the book, though, was that which she shared with her grandmother Iyanla. There’s a kind of mystery about why Simi’s mum left Ajao and never returned or talked to Iyanla again, and I loved seeing that unravel while Simi and Iyanla bonded. If you want to feel completely immersed in a country that isn’t written about nearly enough, given how amazing a setting it was for this, I’d highly recommend picking this up soon.
Shipped by Angie Hockman
This has been on TBR since before it even came out (I’m actually pretty sure I preordered it?), and it was such a fun romcom read. It’s about coworkers Henley and Graeme, who are up for the same promotion at the travel company they work for, as they’re sent on a company cruise together to get ideas for their presentations which will determine who gets the digital marketing manager position. The chemistry between Henley and Graeme is fantastic, and the enemies to lovers trope isn’t one of my favourites if I’m honest, but the way it’s executed in this is amazing. There are so many cute moments, but some special favourites were the snorkel scene, and the section where they have returned from the cruise and Graeme is supportive and lovely. I also loved that it discussed more serious topics like ecotourism and domestic violence, while being incredibly uplifting as a whole. Basically, this gave me all the fuzzy feels and the way basically every plot thread was wrapped up was just perfect. Very excited to see what Angie Hockman writes next, and if you’re a fan of the Hating Game, this absolutely needs to be on your TBR!
Shipwreck Island by Struan Murray
I read the first book in this series a couple of months ago and thought it was brilliant, so I’ve been desperate to get to the sequel ever since. It follows Ellie and Seth as they travel away from the Enemy’s City to a seemingly idyllic island, but when they’re caught up in a power struggle and their past starts catching up to them , they realise they may not really be in paradise. As with the first book, it’s basically impossible to describe the things I loved about this without spoilers, but I’ll try. The worldbuilding is absolutely incredible, and I loved how much more we learnt in this book, some of which was very shocking. The characters are all so amazing, but Ellie is undoubtedly my favourite. She is so clever and compassionate, and something that meant a lot to me while reading this is that she now uses a walking stick. I don’t want to get on my soapbox, but I firmly believe we need more disabled rep in middle grade, and as a walking stick user who has never seen a character with one who wasn’t either a villain or elderly, it was one of my favourite parts of the book. Seth goes through some really interesting things in this and it was great to learn more about his past lives, and there are some stellar supporting characters as well. Molworth and Viola were great fun, Loren was a brilliant antagonist, the Enemy is possibly even more terrifying than it was in book one, and Kate is such a complex, masterfully written character. This is an unputdownable fantasy/dystopia, and if you love classic middle grade fantasy, you need it in your life. After THAT ending, I need the next book like right now, so its release really can’t come soon enough.
The Edge of the Ocean by L.D Lapinski
I read and enjoyed the first book in this series last year, but this one is definitely my favourite so far. It follows Flick, Jonathan and new addition Avery to the world of the Break, which is slowly dying, after thy receive a summons from the pirate queen Nyfe Shaban. Flick and Jonathan have always had brilliant banter as duo, but Avery just took my enjoyment of this to a whole new level. I loved what she brought to the table and her relationships with Flick and Jonathan, and I’m shipping her and Flick so, so much. The side characters in this one are fantastcialy memorable too, Nyfe is such a brilliant pirate queen, I loved Burnish and the mer queen was so regal and captivating. I loved the worldbuilding of the new world, and learning more details about the Strangeworlds Travel Agency and its history. The hints at an overall series arc have me so intrigued, but the plot of this also works really well as a standalone even if you haven’t read book one, in my opinion. The epilogue was absolutely edge of your seat stuff with all its twisty reveals, and that last line has ensured I’ll be picking up book three as soon as I can.
Beach Read by Emily Henry
I saw so many people raving about this last year so I’ve no clue why I’ve taken an age to read it, but let me just start this review by saying it deserves every bit of praise it’s been lavished with. It’s about a writer named January, whose father has just died, moving to his hometown in a bid to come to terms with the revelation that he was unfaithful to her mum, and get over her writer’s block in time to deliver a new manuscript. But then she meets her neighbour, her old college rival Gus Everett who is also a writer, albeit a literary fiction one, and they make a bet: whoever writes a novel in the other’s genre sooner, wins, and soon a really special relationship develops between them. The chemistry between January and Gus is just off the scale from the very start. This is quite a slow burn romance and I was desperate for them to get together all the way through. I loved their research trips, their You Belong With Me style of note writing, and their bickering. I loved the small town vibes and the subplots about January and Gus’s lives before meeting each other, and the side characters were basically all absolutely delightful. The discussion of the importance of women’s fiction (which I, like January, think is a ridiculous term), also made my heart sing. I absolutely can’t wait to pick up You and Me on Vacation now!!
Tristan Strong Punches a Hole in the Sky by Kwame Mbalia
This is part of the Rick Riordan Presents imprint, and I don’t think a single book from it has let me down so far. Tristan Strong Punches a Hole in the Sky is about a boy named Tristan, who is struggling with the grief of his best friend dying and is sent to his grandparents’ home in Alabama, when he ends up punching a hole in the MidPass and becomes embroiled in trying to get the trickster god Anansi to fix the hole he’s made. I loved learning so much more about African American legends and the famous figures within it (I’d only heard of Brer Rabbit before), and I loved the way Kwame Mbalia depicted them. Gum Baby talking about herself in the 3rd person really made me laugh a lot, and I loved John Henry and Brer Rabbit’s roles in the story as well. More than this, though, I loved the contemporary element of this as well. I wanted to just give Tristan a hug so many times throughout this because he’s just so lovely. The way this book tackles toxic masculinity and sends the message that mental illness isn’t a sign of weakness, and asking for help is brave, is incredibly important and will help a lot of people, I think. I can’t wait to continue with the series!
Thank you so much for reading! Have you read any of these books? What did you think? Are you planning to add any to your TBR after reading this post? I’d love to hear in the comments!