The Dead World of Lanthorne Ghules by Gerald Killingworth

Welcome to the Dead World of Lanthorne Ghules – a place just on the other side of the door, a grey place with a dreadful secret. A boy called Edwin stumbles from our shiny world into this twilit one in search of something very precious to him. The only person who can help him is Lanthorne Ghules, a frightened boy his own age who is trying to escape the horrifying old ways.

Compelling and sinister, this is a tale of jealousy and friendship, loyalty and resilience. Despite Edwin’s ambivalent feelings towards his baby sister, when she is kidnapped by the Ghules he overcomes his jealousy in order to rescue her. With the help of Lanthorne, his only friend on the other side of the door, he escapes from the rotten and rotting Ghules with baby Mandoline who still screams determindley whenever he approaches her.

Readers who enjoy Lemony Snicket’s Unfortunate Events series and the Spiderwick Chronicles by Holly Black will relish the morbid and moribund in this story. Ideal for readers of 9 and above.

Wilde by Eloise Williams

Being different can be dangerous. Wilde is afraid strange things happen around her. Are the birds following her? Moving to live with her aunt seems to make it worse. Wilde is desperate to fit in at her new school. But There is a fierce heatwave, and in rehearsals for a school play telling the local legend of a witch called Winter, ‘The Witch’ starts leaving pupils frightening curse letters. Can Wilde find out who’s doing it before everyone blames her? Or will she always be the outsider?

This book thrilled me from beginning to end. Never predictable, always challenging preconceptions and name dropping Robin Steven books into the bargain. I just couldn’t put it down until I reached the final chapter! It’s an easy read if you are a confident reader and pacy, Wilde swings from emotional high to emotional low, peril to paradise within a chapter and the reader is carried along with her. I didn’t like the character of Wilde very much at the beginning and I felt the witchy happenings were a bit unbelievable but as I became more engaged with the story and learned more about the other characters in the book, I grew to like her. I’m sorry there was not more detail on Mae who I also thought was an interesting character or Dorcas, who was my number one suspect at the beginning of the story (yes I’m a cynic who can’t believe any character just wants to be friends with nothing in return!). Having said, there is a lot of potential in the book, the characters and the ‘world’ they inhabit to create several sequels and even a couple of prequels. I also totally got the sense of place, and could perfectly imagine the Welsh forest and waterfall with the higgeldy piggeldy streets of houses and the magical atmosphere.

If you like magic and mystery, friendships and family you will love this story…I can’t wait to read more about the World of Wilde!

Evernight by Ross MacKenzie

Thousands of years ago, the Evernight came to the Silver Kingdom and turned everything to darkness and chaos. It was only defeated thanks to the skill and bravery of the Witches. But now the Evernight is about to return, released by the evil Mrs Hester, and the only spell that might stop it is lost, deep below the great city of King’s Haven.

Then orphan Larabelle Fox stumbles across a mysterious wooden box while treasure-hunting in the city’s sewers. Little does she realise she is about to be catapulted into an adventure, facing wild magic and mortal danger – and a man who casts no shadow.

Although I enjoyed the world building in this story I was very disappointed by the characterisation. I wanted to feel emotionally invested in Lara and Joe but I didn’t. The plot is intense, compelling the reader to turn the pages and find out what happens next. But I didn’t feel moved or heartbroken or fearful for any of the characters. It felt a little bit as if I was in a computer game: avoiding the enemies, leaping from one peril to the next and saving the world but really, I didn’t care a jot! The most interesting part of the book I found was the toshers’ relationship with Old Hans the pawnbroker /antique dealer. I felt there was a side story here with room for development. Similarly there was a strong bond between Lara and Joe which seemed to be glossed over, particularly in relation to Joe’s Grandma.

There was also a back story about Lara’s mum and dad, which was very briefly and speedily covered toward the end of the book to account for events leading to the denouement. It had been hinted at earlier in the story but I felt that there should have been more revealed, earlier in the story, to flesh out Lara’s character and help link the threads between her, Joe and Mrs Hester and the White Witches. Mrs Hester also had a back story which was alluded to but which was intriguing but never really followed up in any great detail.

In fact, I’d say with a bit of work and a good editor, this would make an intriguing and compelling YA book. At the moment, rather than being a good middle grade fantasy romp it feels like neither one or the other. Too much blood and darkness for pre- secondary, and not enough depth and challenging content to keep the interest of 13+. I finished the story feeling dissatisfied and disappointed, which is a shame as I thoroughly enjoyed MacKenzie’s The Nowhere Emporium series. Perhaps this is an indication of the author wanting to branch out into more adult material? Or perhaps we are being primed for a series of pre-quells.

However having said that, it is still a good story for fantasy loving 10 year olds and the cover is beautiful to look at. I suspect many will be drawn in by the glorious shades of blue on the jacket and be hooked into Larabelle’s world of sewers and toshers, witches and hags.

New Kid by Jerry Craft

Jordan wants to go to a specialist art school but his mum insists he tries the local high first and dad is going along with it. On the first day he gets a lift with another student Liam who has been allocated as his guide around the school. He makes friends with a couple of kids and despite getting lost a few times he generally enjoys school but one or two characters challenge his usually calm temperament and he uses his sketchbook as a release putting all his anger and frustration into his drawings. His biggest challenge though comes from his form tutor who cannot seem to tell the few ethnically diverse students apart.

This is such a great book to introduce the concept of unconscious racial bias. Jordan is a multiethnic child in a school of predominantly white students. He wants to be treated the same as everyone else but he is either treated as ‘special’ because of his skin colour or verbally abused by other students and staff. In fact he proves guilty of racism himself, in a small way, when he attempts to bond with one of the few other ethnically diverse boys iWn school only to find that despite both being darker skinned, they have nothing in common.

There is a lot of warm gentle humour in the telling of the challenges Jordan faces and the muted colour double page spreads interspersed with the occasional cartoon pencil sketches by Jordan himself make this an easy read. Jordan’s parents are reassuringly normal and suitably different from each other to provide a counterpoint to Jordan’s own perception. His friendships too begin by being influenced by his desire to fit in, but a conversation with his grandfather helps him to see that everyone’s differences can make life more interesting and that there is a space for all his friends, new and old, in his life.

Deeplight – Frances Hardinge

I love this story. I’m on chapter 25 and already profoundly moved, puzzled, fearful and emotionally invested in the lead character. Part of me cannot bear to read on in case what I fear happens comes to fruition. Another part of me wants to find out and hopes that he becomes the better part of himself. I love the clever intertwining of oceanic myths and sea monsters with the truths of marine biology to create an undersea world of fantastical leviathians. I love the zoomed in focus of the small archipelago where Hark lives which seems so large and all encompassing until you come to the realisation, at the same time as he does, that it is just a small part of a huge world of continents and oceans. Most of all, I love how this is so easy to read and compelling and lyrical while at the same time containing challenging concepts, multilayered characters and adrenaline fuelled perilous adventures.s

The gods of the Myriad were as real as the coastlines and currents, and as merciless as the winds and whirlpools. Then one day they rose up and tore each other apart, killing many hundreds of islanders and changing the Myriad forever. 

On the jumbled streets of the Island of Lady’s Crave live Hark and his best friend Jelt. They are scavengers: living off their wits, diving for relics of the gods, desperate for anything they can sell. But now there is something stirring beneath the waves, calling to someone brave enough to retrieve it. Something valuable. Something dangerous. 

On the jumbled streets of the Island of Lady’s Crave live Hark and his best friend Jelt. They are scavengers: living off their wits, diving for relics of the gods, desperate for anything they can sell. But now there is something stirring beneath the waves, calling to someone brave enough to retrieve it. Something valuable. Something dangerous.

Nothing is quite as it seems, and when the waves try to claim Jelt, Hark will do anything to save him. Even if it means compromising not just who Jelt is, but what he is . . .

The Skylarks’ War by Hilary McKay

If you are looking for a challenging read for 9+ that has all the language and big ideas that you’d expect from a year 6 novel but without the graphic horror, traumatic emotional content and badly behaved children then this is it. McKay has written a classic novel for children in the way that classics used to be written. In the days of Enid Nesbit, L.M. Montgomery, Susan Coolidge and this kind of writing was the standard fare for children. Now we are in the era of lazy dialogue, speech bubbles and accompanying cartoon illustrations. This is the nature of language, it evolves and we adapt with it. The highly visually literate centennial generation accept this type of literature as the norm. But those of us who were born pre- 1977 remember the long sagas of the Bastables, Anne Shirley, Katy Carr and the March girls. The Skylarks War is almost a step back in time to the warm pudding and roast dinner comfort of those old classics.

Except that it is also not that at all. The First World War is the backdrop to most of the storyline with objective anecdotes and calm accounts given in much the same way as the heroine Clarry conducts herself throughout most of the story.  McKay captures perfectly the halcyon days of youth during summer holidays when all the worries that beleaguer children are left behind. The character of Rupert, the fun loving, warm hearted cousin contrasts dramatically with the cold, unfeeling and petulant nature of Clarry and Peter’s father. The strength of character portrayed in Clarry has the reader rooting for her from beginning to end and may draw more than a few tears from the reader.

This may not be the book for everyone, I’m wondering how I would sell this to the centennial generation. It is nostalgic and indulgent and immersive and requires concentration, curiousity and persistence to reach the end. However, as  a work of allegorical storytelling providing a snapshot of a middle class family’s life before, during and after the First World War it is a classic in the making. It is also a masterpiece of relationship building and the impact of characters relationships with each who other. Whether it is a book written for children is a matter for debate and as with all books, ultimately in the hands of the reader!

Clarry and her older brother Peter live for their summers in Cornwall, staying with their grandparents and running free with their charismatic cousin, Rupert. But normal life resumes each September – boarding school for Peter and Rupert, and a boring life for Clarry at home with her absent father, as the shadow of a terrible war looms ever closer.

When Rupert goes off to fight at the front, Clarry feels their skylark summers are finally slipping away from them. Can their family survive this fearful war?

Some Places More Than Others by Renée Watson

I want to share this book with you because I feel like crying and I haven’t finished the last chapter yet. It’s a good cry not a sad one, because this is a story about families. It’s about how families fall out and alienate each other unintentionally but somehow love brings them back together and they forgive each other and move on. It was also an education reading it because the characters in the story are all African Americans and there are many references to famous people of colour. I have to confess to being very poorly educated about African American history, though I do know all the obvious people through my love of reading stories such as: Harriet Tubman, Dr Luther King Jnr, Langston Hughes…but I learned the names of some political movers and shakers who I’d not heard off.

I had to “google” them to find out why they are so revered by Black African Americans. But I was glad I did and I will be pleased to read more children’s books like this that introduce modern cultural references from all ethnic groups and lifestyles in the contemporary world and that educate and inform without being didactic. The most valuable learning experience I had was the one I shared with Amara and her cousins when their grandfather took them to see a mural (real or a storytelling device? I don’t know, but I kind of hope it’s real and if I ever visit New York I want to see it!) where grandfather offers them a dollar for every person they can name: a great way to introduce Black American people of significance in an incidental way through the grandfather’s sense of pride. They also visit a restaurant where all the dishes on the menu are named after black legends, a great idea which I also secretly hope exists. But the heartbreaking part of this story is the voice of the main character who I could relate to despite coming from a different country, culture and background..the problems her family face, the struggles they cope with all meant something in a small way. That’s the sign of a good story, when you can relate, when you are routing for that character regardless of how much or how little you have in common. Don’t read it to learn, read to enjoy and maybe shed a tear..and maybe you’ll learn something along the way too.

All Amara wants for her birthday is to visit her father’s family in New York City – Harlem. She can’t wait to finally meet her Grandpa Earl and cousins in person, and to stay in the brownstone where her father grew up. Maybe this will help her understand her family – and herself – in a new way. But New York City is not exactly what Amara thought it would be. It’s noisy, crowded, confusing, and her cousins can be mean. Plus her father is too busy working to spend time with her and too angry to fix his relationship with Grandpa Earl. Amara can’t help wondering, even if she does discover more about where she came from, will it help her know where she belongs?

A Stone Sat Still by Brendan Wenzel

This is a beautifully poetic timeline of the many uses of a stone. It shows a stone from the perceptions of various wildlife and their habitats to the passing of time and changes in the environment. The stone is central to each double page spread in soft watercolour and textured collage style illustrations which reflect the theme of each page. A subtle soothing tale of the unchanging things in an ever changing environment, with great potential to share with 7 year olds in Year 2 and above when talking about inference.

With thanks to @AbramsChronicle for a copy of the book to review.

Secret Suffragette by Barbara Mitchelhill

Daisy is twelve years old and longs to become a nurse like her hero Florence Nightingale. Instead her life consists of looking after her younger sister Lily and her twin baby brothers, trying to focus at school and sneaking out to suffragette marches which her father does not approve of. When her mother is caught up in the civil unrest and arrested, her father loses his temper and barrs her from the house. Instead mean Great Aunt Maude is persuaded to look after the children and Daisy fears she will have to leave school and get a job to help out. Despite this and missing her mother she is determined to support the suffragettes believing that they are fighting for poor families like her own as much as for women’s rights and she finds the protests quite thrilling. As with all Barbara Mitchelhill’s novels there is much incidental pre-war historical detail throughout the story. The plot is pacy with plenty of nail biting cliffhanging endings to chapters. The characters are well rounded and sympathetic, even when making poor decisions. We can understand why Daisy’s father refuses to accept his wife’s point of view even if we know it to be a mistake. Daisy’s involvement with the suffragettes is perfectly pitched for the age she is, and while it might stretch credibility when the family find themselves a new home, job and friends it is all in the context of the tale. Though Daisy carries out some reckless tasks as part of her role in the Suffragettes movement and does spend a few hours in a prison cell, there is nothing sensationalist or unduly traumatic about her experience. Neither is the movement trivialised with plenty of background information about the conditions women and poor families worked and lived in at the period of time in which this story is set. This is an easy read which is emotionally charged and requires some maturity to fully appreciate the content. Recommended for 10 years and above.