Hello everybody, and welcome to my other favourites list that I mentioned the other day! Like with last year, I loved a lot more MG books than in other age categories, so this is a VERY long list because I just wanted to talk about all of them, and I’ve read more books this year so of course it follows that this one is even lengthier. Onto the post!
Swimming Against the Storm– it feels so fitting that this was my first five star of the year, because Jess Butterworth is one of my favourite writers right now and I think she’s amazing. This one is set in Louisiana and focuses on two sisters trying to save their swampland home from a tropical storm (and later their lives). Jess is an amazing writer in a lot of ways, but my favourite things in here were definitely the relationship between Eliza and Avery and her vivid, descriptive writing that creates one of the best settings I’ve ever read.
Against All Gods– I can’t really say very much about the specific plot of this because it’s the fourth and final installment of a series, but it focuses on a young carer named Elliot whose life has become entwined with the Greek gods. They’re hilarious reads, but also have so much heart- there are parts of this one that are really difficult to read and I don’t see how anyone can pick them up and not feel awful for Elliot. Every single book has been phenomenal, honestly, and this was a really fitting send off.
Willow Moss and the Lost Day– this book was SO much fun. It’s a fantasy about a world where all magical people have their own unique skill, and specifically a young witch named Willow Moss who thinks her power for locating lost things is useless, until a powerful witch turns up on her door demanding that she helps to find last Tuesday, because it is missing and the world hangs in the balance. It’s such a great concept, Oswin is one of the best animal companions ever and the twist at the end totally caught me off guard (and made me cry!!). Can’t wait for the sequel in a few months.
Mo, Lottie and the Junkers– I would read anything for Jennifer Killick (see the fact that I plan to read Crater Lake even though I’m a MASSIVE wuss), which is how I came to read this sci-fi and fall in love with it. It’s about Mo and Lottie, who have just become part of the same blended family and have to investigate some rather strange goings on that are seemingly connected to their sinister new neighbours. As with all Jen’s books, it’s really funny and the mystery is great and Mo and Lottie have excellent banter. Something different to her others that I really loved, though, was the way it’s written- it’s like they’re transcripts of recordings and it’s really unusual and fun.
The Star Spun Web– I adored the Eye of the North back in 2017 and I loved Sinéad’s second book even more. It’s about an orphan named Tess who goes to live with a mysterious man after he turns up at her orphanage claiming to be her long lost guardian, and what happens when she has to stop him from carrying out his dangerous plans. It’s an absolutely cracking read- the science and fantasy elements can be complicated but they all just make sense and the action is fast paced and wonderful and the characters are amazing, particularly Tess. I REALLY want a sequel for this.
When We Were Warriors– if you don’t know by now that I love Emma Carroll, I’d be surprised, but in case you’re new here, Emma Carroll is a queen and I am yet to read anything by her that I don’t think is perfect. This is a collection of short stories that focus on life during World War 2- one takes place at Frost Hollow Hall, another returns to the characters of Letters to the Lighthouse and the final story is about entirely new characters. My favourite was the first one on account of the fact returning to Frost Hollow Hall is one of the most special literary experiences I think I’ve ever had but they were all brilliant and I thought the way Emma links them all was so clever.
The Last Spell Breather– this book is a debut, and honestly I couldn’t have guessed that if I’d not known going in, because it’s kind of amazing. It follows an apprentice spell breather named Rayne- who lives in a world where words are quite literally magical- as she accidentally damages her mother`s spell book and must embark on a quest in order to save her village as a result. The world is so interesting and layered and unique, I loved Raine an awful lot and Frank was the BEST. I had such a wonderful time reading this, and I’m so intrigued to read more from Julie in the future.
A Pocketful of Stars– this is another debut, this time by Aisha Bushby! I’ve been dying to read her full length debut since she wrote Marionette Girl for A Change is Gonna Come in 2017 and this didn’t let me down- it’s such an interesting, unique story about a girl who discovers her mum’s past via a virtual reality after she falls into a coma, whilst also navigating relatable friend dramas and changes to her life. It’s beautifully written, with vivid settings and a wonderful main character in Safiya. Team Tigerheart for life 💜
Wildspark– I LOVED Vashti’s debut Brightstorm, so I was both nervous and excited for this unrelated second novel. It’s amazing; the best way I can describe it is that it’s like the absolute best bits of His Dark Materials and Harry Potter combined, but it also has it’s own wonderful story to tell about a girl named Prue who moves to the City to join the “Ghost Guild”- a group of secretive inventors who capture spirits and place them inside mechanical animals. The worldbuilding can only be described as sublime, the characters are all wonderful and multilayered and the concept is just incredible.
Anna at War– I feel like this hasn’t been one I’ve talked about enough from this list, and I’m annoyed with myself for that because it’s about an area of history that deserves so much more consideration, at least in MG. I feel like there are barely any books about the effects of WW2 on Germany and German people, and this fills that gap so beautifully. It’s about a girl named Anna who is part of the Kindertransport scheme and I just loved that it talks about things like Kristallnacht and what happened to German Jews even before war broke out. I also loved the plotline involving the spy, and can I just take this opportunity to mention that Anna is kind of epic.
Spies in St Petersburg– I always enjoyed the Sinclair’s Mysteries, but like I said last year I feel like the Taylor and Rose spinoff series is just incredible. I don’t feel like a lot of authors could pull off 17 year old characters in middle grade but these work perfectly, and it also gives them such crossover appeal- they’re definitely ones I’d recommend to people just trying to get into MG for the first time (on this note, my dad loves them so much that he stole this one from my holiday TBR so he could read it before me!!). This time the action takes place in St Petersburg, which Katherine Woodfine conjures as amazingly as she does with all of her settings, it was great to see Sophie and Lil together more and I LOVED seeing Carruthers so much, I’m kind of a huge fan now. And the mystery was fabulous, but this is Katherine Woodfine so that goes without saying, really! That cliffhanger was VICIOUS though. I need the next one immediately please.
I, Cosmo– if you don’t already know, this is my absolute favourite book of any age category or genre in 2019 and honestly, quite possibly any year. It’s narrated by the loveliest elderly Golden Retriever named Cosmo and as someone who loves golden retrievers (and has two) it was just really special read. I wept solidly throughout because I was so overcome with my love for Cosmo and his humans, but also laughed and smiled a lot. I need more MG from Carlie IMMEDIATELY please.
The Garden of Lost Secrets- I have read some really incredible historical fiction this year, and this debut was phenomenal. I don’t think I’ve said this in a while, but WW1 home front is one of the periods I find most interesting, so this book was always going to be one I loved, really but it was still nice to have that confirmed! It is the story of a girl named Clara as she goes to stay with her aunt and uncle in the midst of the first world war, and the mystery she becomes embroiled in there about who is stealing fruit from the gardens of the estate her relatives work on. I know that sounds a bit random, but it’s so compelling and I cared very deeply indeed about the characters and this plot. It reminded me of reading Frost Hollow Hall for the first time, and if you know me you’ll know that’s not something I say lightly.
Begone the Raggedy Witches/The Little Grey Girl– I’m so glad I finally got to these this year, because I’ve wanted to since before the first was published. They’re about a girl who must journey into a fantasy world ruled by a tyrannical queen with her family after her dad is kidnapped, and they’re amazing. The first is an exciting, well written fantasy, but in the second book it’s really different from a lot of fantasy and it’s fascinating.
Top Marks for Murder– my love for Hazel Wong and Daisy Wells knows absolutely no bounds, and I adored their 8th murder mystery, which is set back at my beloved Deepdean School for Girls. My girls were as perfectly imperfect and amazing as they always are, I loved their dorm mates being involved in the case again, and the mystery is one of the cleverest Robin has written to date (and ALL her mysteries are insanely clever, so that’s not a backhanded compliment). It also features Inspector Priestly again, and while I do acknowledge that I shouldn’t fall in love with fictional detectives who are far too old for me, I do not care, and I’m obsessed with him. This was just perfection all round.
Girl 38– this was the book of all these that I could never have predicted would be on here, which isn’t to say I thought I’d hate it; I just didn’t think it would affect me emotionally as much as it did. This is the story of a girl named Kat, who is having a really difficult time due to toxic friendship, as she meets her neighbour Anja and learns about her past- specifically what happened to her and her best friend during World War Two. Like I mentioned with Anna at War, I’m really interested in the Holocaust/the period leading up to it’s impact on places that were not Britain so I loved the past timeline, and the present timeline honestly kind of broke me because Julian’s storyline is just heartbreaking and I loved him. If you’ve read this, this might sound weird based on Kat’s role in that but I did also really love her- shes frustrating but you also completely understand her and why she does what she does. Such a clever, moving book.
Under Earth– I loved Storm Witch last year and this sublime sequel follows our heroine Storm, who is the new weather witch of Yanlin, as she sets sail with their fleet to Bellum Town, a much richer island with sinister secrets who are desperate to use Storm`s power for themselves. Storm is a fascinating character and her development in this gave me life, to be honest, because I love that she’s starting to learn how to use her power in a way that benefits her, and the world is one if my favourites, possibly ever. Reading these feels like reading books that I’ve waited my whole life for without ever realising, which sounds ridiculous but is honestly true.
Alex Sparrow and the Zumbie Apocalypse– I’ve been reading Alex Sparrow since either just before or just after the release of book one, and they’re just so much fun. Alex and Jess are both hilarious and their friendship dynamic is even funnier, I love their slightly unusual superpowers and the mysteries they’re involved in as a result and they’re just an absolute JOY to read.
The Girl Who Speaks Bear– I loved the House with Chicken Legs last year and didn’t think this could possibly be better even though everyone told me it was, and past me was SO WRONG. First of all, this has Mousetrap, and he is one of the most sensational animal companions ever- I was honestly hyena laughing at this at points (I have quite a hyena laugh in general, which used to bother me but I have now embraced), and I also thought the structure was phenomenal because I generally get very bored of stories within stories but the folk tales in this fit seamlessly around Yanka’s story and tie into it and are really necessary, which I can’t say about a lot of similar books. Also, I related so much to her difficulty accepting her height (not so much the strength, but definitely the height!) and if I’d read this book when I was a child or honestly even a couple of years ago, it would have made me feel so much less alone with that.
The Somerset Tsunami– of course I have two Emma Carroll books on this list! Would I even be me if I didn’t? This is about a girl named Fortune, who is sent away to try and find work (masquerading as a boy, obviously, because girls couldn’t do anything as outlandish as work in the 1600s 😱) after someone in her community is accused of being a witch. I loved Fortune (Emma writes amazing heroines, so this wasn’t a massive surprise), the people in the house she finds work in are all very interesting in different ways and I love the adventure she gets swept up in following the tsunami. Also, Dr Blood is one of the best villain names ever, I think we can all agree.
Explorers on Black Ice Bridge– this is one of my favourite series ever, and this third installment sees my beloved Explorers journey to Black Ice Bridge in order to find a way to save Shay and his shadow wolf after the events of Explorers on Witch Mountain. I ADORE the characters in this beyond anything I can put into words and the character development from book one has been amazing to see, I love how they feel both gentle and incredibly high stakes and the magic is just so very magical and special and I love this world and the creatures within it. I honestly don’t know how I’m going to cope when they aren’t a thing anymore, because their release every year is a huge highlight of my bookish calendar.
The Star Outside my Window– this was one of my last books this year, and one of the most memorable. It’s about two children who go and live in a foster home after losing their mum, and their quest to have a star named in her honour. It’s so well done- it utterly broke my heart but also has so much hope in it, and is different to anything I’ve ever read about domestic violence in the past. Onjali is so talented, honestly.
What have your favourite middle grade reads of 2019 been? Have you read any I’ve mentioned, or are you thinking of picking any up? I’d love to hear in the comments!