The Girl With The Dragon Heart

The Girl with the Dragon Heart

Stephanie Burgis

Bloomsbury

Review by Nina

Wow! This is a wonderful, magical, thrilling adventure – a compelling sequel to The Dragon with a Chocolate Heart. In that first book, we were introduced to Aventurine, a dragon cruelly cursed by magical hot chocolate. Silke, the street girl who guides Aventurine plays second fiddle in the ‘Chocolate Heart’ but in this book she is determined to tread her own path and tell her own story. And what a story! It all centres on an awful secret that Silke and her brother Dieter have hidden for years. Silke’s secret is her motivation for getting into the Royal Palace and solving a great mystery. At the heart of this secret is the fairy kingdom of Elfenwald and its evil king and queen. As baddies, these two are wicked, scary, horrid and terrible – Stephanie’s characterisations are brilliant!

What I love about both these books is diving in and feeling a part of the world. It’s a magical city with a medieval flavour – the narrow backstreets of numerous districts, the market stalls, castle walls and riverbank camps – Stephanie Burgis builds the world using all the senses, enveloping the reader with the sights, sounds and smells (mostly chocolatey!) so that you really feel in the midst of the action. Add in fairies, goblins and dragons and this is a fantasy you will not want to miss. I highly recommend this book for age 8 and up.

From the Press Release…

Once upon a time, in a beautiful city famous for chocolate and protected by dragons, there was a girl so fearless that she dared to try to tell the greatest story of all: the truth.

Silke has always been good at spinning the truth and storytelling. So good that since arriving as a penniless orphan, she has found her way up to working for the most splendid chocolate makers in the city (oh, and becoming best friends with a dragon). Now her gift for weaving words has caught the eye of the royal family, who want to use her as a spy when the mysterious and dangerous fairy royal family announces it will visit the city. But Silke has her own dark, secret reasons for not trusting fairies…

Can Silke find out the truth about the fairies while keeping her own secrets hidden?

From the author of the magical The Dragon with a Chocolate Heart comes a second magical adventure perfect for fans of Cressida Cowell and Cornelia Funke.

About Stephanie

Stephanie Burgis is a dual citizen of the US and the UK and lives in South Wales with her husband and their children. The Girl with the Dragon Heart is Stephanie’s second novel for Bloomsbury. Follow Stephanie on Twitter or visit her website.

The Girl with the Dragon Heart is published on 9 August in paperback. Big thanks to Bloomsbury for our review copy – buy yours at your local independent bookshop or Hive.

The Train to Impossible Places

The Train to Impossible Places: A Cursed Delivery

P.G. Bell

Usborne

Review by Noah

Mirror Magic

Mirror Magic

Claire Fayers

Cover Illustration by Becka Moor

Macmillan Children’s

Review by Noah

Mirror Magic is Claire Fayers’ third book and a departure from the Accidental Pirates series. I loved both of those books but Mirror Magic is absolutely wonderful – it will bring you close to tears and full of joy and happiness. The story, set in a kind of Victorian wonderland, will have you riveted to every page as you learn of the mysteries of disappearing enchanted items. Wyse is a border town and the last remaining place where fairy magic works. The town has a connection to the ‘unworld’ where magic reigns. This is pure escapism as Claire takes us on a fabulously imaginative adventure to worlds within worlds – full of charm, a touch of danger and a lot of mischief!

My favourite character was Mrs Footer, the source of many hilarious episodes in the book – I don’t think I’m giving too much away if I say that she is turned into a dog quite early in the story. I loved the way that Mrs Footer mimicked and mirrored the emotions of the characters.

With this third book and next year’s Stormhound (previewed at the back of Mirror Magic), Claire Fayers is cementing herself as an entertaining and absorbing author. This is her best book yet – a brilliant read and totally awesome!

 

As part of the Mirror Magic Blog Tour, we met up with Claire to make a video. You can view that post here.

Thanks to Karen and Macmillan for sending us a copy of Mirror Magic. It is in shops now! You can buy it from Hive or better still, from your local bookshop.

You can follow Claire Fayers on Twitter, or visit her website

Run Wild

Run Wild

Gill Lewis

Barrington Stoke

Review by Nina and Daddy

Nina and I read this fabulous story from Gill Lewis over 4 nights. On finishing the book, I was met with a barrage of questions: What’s a cormorant?; Are there still wolves in the UK?; Where did you play when you were younger?; How many types of beetle are there?

In response, we checked out some YouTube videos, visited a local heronry, and I reminisced about the patch of common land outside my parents’ house where I would climb trees, build dens and concoct stories.

We also bought the book The Ways of the Wolf by Smriti Prasadam-Halls and Jonathan Woodward (published by Wren & Rook, an imprint of Hachette) which is a brilliant and beautiful complimentary non-fiction title endorsed by the UK Wolf Conservation Trust.

If Gill Lewis’ aim is to encourage future generations to engage with themes of conservation; to connect with (and be inquisitive about) nature; to think about the wild spaces in their communities, then Nina is proof that she has succeeded.

The story of Run Wild centres on the pairing of brave and adventurous school friends Izzy and Asha. Banished from the local skate park by the Skull Brothers, they are forced to find their own place to play and practice their tricks. This new place is a rundown and off-limits gasworks. It is in this brownfield space that the young girls learn to take risks, to explore, discover new things and connect with the wild. It is in this space that they meet an injured wolf.

The characters then face a dilemma – do they try to help the wolf themselves or do they seek help for the wolf and reveal their secret and special hideout? This quandary brings them closer to the Skull Brothers and they work the problem out together. There is an especially compelling chapter where the children face-up to their headteacher and as Izzy is pleading with Mrs Stone you can hear every child in the land urging adults everywhere to “remember what it feels like to be running wild”. The book is a passionate argument not just for the rewilding of nature but for connecting children to the wild too. See this manifesto from The Wild Network, set up to remove the barriers to #wildtime:

Whilst the rewilding of children is a part of the story, the rewilding of nature is at it’s core. According to the charity Rewilding Britain, it is all about “bringing nature back to life and restoring living systems”. The charity signs up to several principles acknowledging that “people, communities and livelihoods are key”. Rewilding is a choice of land management – it relies on people deciding to explore an alternative future for the land and people. Thus the brownfield site of the old gasworks is at the centre of a bitter battle.

Barrington Stoke promise a series of special school events on the publication of Run Wild and finished copies will be in Barrington Stoke’s super readable typeset on off-white pages. This is a brilliant partnership that has got us really excited.

Run Wild is engaging, compelling and brilliantly written; as a storyteller, Gill Lewis should be cherished and revered. The message of ‘Run Wild’ is important, nay, essential and should be filed next to The Lost Words (Jackie Morris and Rob Macfarlane) and The Promise (Nicola Davies) as enchanting books with significant and important themes.

 

Thanks to Barrington Stoke for sending us a copy of Run Wild. It is published on July 15. You can buy it from Hive or better still, from your local bookshop.

You can follow Gill Lewis on Twitter, or visit her website. The book is endorsed by the charity, Rewilding Britain (who have a website and a twitter account). You should also check out The Wild Network.

Ariki and the Giant Shark

Ariki and the Giant Shark

Nicola Davies (illustrated by Nicola Kinnear)

Walker Books

Review by Daddy and Nina

Any book that starts with a map gets a thumbs up from us. You know you’re in for a fantastic adventure, and Nina heartily approves.

In this new short chapter book (142pp) from Nicola Davies we are introduced to the feisty and compassionate Ariki; a heroine of the Pacific Ocean, more at home diving through coral and swimming with the fish than playing on land with other children.

This is a wonderful story that educates as it entertains. As we have come to expect from the zoologist storyteller, Davies’ narrative is informative with descriptions of the reef, the wildlife and geography of the island rooting the story in fact. Helpful analogies allow us to picture the exotic creatures – Nina particularly enjoyed the one about each shark’s tooth being as big as a man’s hand.

And so we learn about malu, nihui and the giant shark of the title, Wahine (a Hawaiian and Mãori word for woman); but we are never distracted from the absorbing tale of how Ariki strives to protect and shelter the creature that the majority of the island fears.

It is through this human story that we are given hope. Because when the adults are running scared, reaching for their spears and gathering armies of men, the children of the island are the ones who demonstrate true humanity and compassion.

Illustrations by Nicola Kinnear adorn the pages inside and out adding real character to the host of island inhabitants, lovingly framing the text and adding to the drama.

This is the first in a series for Ariki and we can’t wait to dive in to the next one!

 

Thanks to Nicola Davies for sending a copy of Ariki and the Giant Shark. You can buy it from Hive or better still, from your local bookshop.

You can follow Nicola Davies on Twitter, as well as the illustrator Nicola Kinnear.

The Infinite Lives of Maisie Day

The Infinite Lives of Maisie Day

Christopher Edge

Nosy Crow

Review by Noah (age 10) with Mummy Worm

Terrifying and terrific science educates as much as it entertains.

A few weeks ago we took Christopher Edge on a very long car journey. It was one of the most interesting car journeys we’ve ever been on – one which expanded our minds and took us to other dimensions. We’d heard so much about his ‘science’ novels, and the Albie Bright audiobook was out-of-this-world amazing. Imagine our keenness and delight, when we were invited to review Edge’s new story, The Infinite Lives of Maisie Day.

10 year old Noah was drawn in by the ‘familiar world’ story of gifted Maisie, also 10, struggling to make sense of her relationship with her big sister. He was more fascinated by the terrifying science bits and keen to share his new found understanding of “dark matter” with his confused Mother (who decided to read the book for herself to understand what her very intelligent-sounding son was going on about!) Mum enjoyed feeling (temporarily) super-intelligent too and anticipates some impressed stares from her Mummy friends as she and Noah discuss the authenticity of the plot’s ability to anchor familiarity in its setting, whilst at the same time enabling the space-time distortion to feel weirdly authentic.

There comes a point in the story, a very powerful and crucial point, where the mystery begins to unravel and things start to change, heading towards a resolution – this is Noah’s favourite part. The vivid descriptions of optical illusions such as Escher’s never ending staircase chill as much as they thrill. The alternate universe and the superb and frighteningly convincing explanation of events make this a unique book from a unique author – Noah has never read anything like it, nor has Mum, hence its huge appeal. This really is a book you must pick up and you won’t want to put down.

With its challenging concept, engaging plot, endearing narrator and satisfying conclusion, The Infinite Lives of Maisie Day is a “boss read”. Noah would recommend it especially to anyone in Year 6 or Year 7 who enjoys thrilling heavenly stories!

 

Thanks to Nosy Crow for sending a copy of The Infinite Lives of Maisie Day. You can buy it from Hive or better still, from your local bookshop.

You can follow Christopher Edge on Twitter, as well as Matt Saunders who designed the cover.

We were part of the Maisie Day Blog Tour – you can read a Q and A with Christopher here.

Mamgu’s Camper Van

Mamgu’s Camper Van and the Knights in Shining Armour

Wendy White

Gomer Press

A charming short story from the writer of St David’s Day is Cancelled

Review by Nina (Age 8)

St David’s Day is Cancelled is my favourite book. Ever. So I was really happy when I heard that Wendy White had written a new book. Mamgu’s Camper Van is lots of fun; it’s short and I read it in an hour.

Mamgu and Betsi Wyn get the camper van out of hibernation but it doesn’t seem to be working properly! They finally get it going and take it out for a spin to a castle. It’s a heartwarming adventure story that children in Year 2 and Year 3 will love. I think Mum should read it to Kit (my little brother), because he would love it too.

I really liked all the Welsh words that Wendy White used – castell, diolch, da iawn, Ych a fi! – it gave the book a definite Welsh feel! I also loved the pictures: Helen Flook’s illustrations made the story come to life – the colourful front cover is especially good.

I would recommend this book for children up to 8 years old and am looking forward to reading more by Wendy White soon.

 

Thanks to Gwasg Gomer for sending us a copy of Mamgu’s Camper Van. You can buy it direct from Gomer or, from your local bookshop.

You can follow Wendy White on Twitter, as well as the illustrator Helen Flook.

A Whisper of Horses

A Whisper of Horses

Zillah Bethell

Piccadilly Press

Reviewed by Simon (Daddy Worm)

Last year, I fell head over heels in love with The Extraordinary Colours of Auden Dare, Zillah Bethell’s second MG-flavoured book with Piccadilly Press. Bethell is a master of storytelling; her narrative style is effortless; the plot lines are inventive and clever; her characters feel so authentic they could be members of your extended family. A Whisper of Horses was her first novel for children and was given a paperback release in January.

At this moment in time, it’s not possible for me to like another book more than Auden Dare, but A Whisper of Horses is another fantastic read. Similar to Auden Dare, it’s also set in the future. I’m not sure if Bethell approves of her books being called “dystopian” (adj. relating to or denoting an imagined place or state in which everything is unpleasant or bad, typically a totalitarian or environmentally degraded one); I believe in America they refer to them as “futuristic adventure fantasy” – possibly a more fitting description although Bethell’s imagined future is run by a controlling government adept in propaganda. The future in ‘Horses’ is certainly environmentally degraded: there have been big changes in the landscapes caused by poisonous gases – the sky is a different colour and many indigenous plants have been killed. The language has evolved too – the names of places mutated into strange phonetic versions of towns, cities, rivers and landmarks we think we know. Serendipity, our main character, lives in the walled city of Lahn Dan where a caste system is strictly enforced and controlled by The Ministry.

Before her mother died, Seren was given a clue to the existence of horses (thought now to be extinct) and she vows to escape the city and embark on a quest across ‘Grey Britain’ in search of these beautiful and elusive creatures. The now clichéd quote from Arthur Ashe about the journey being more important than the destination rings true as Serendipity’s road-trip brings new friends, learning, peril, understanding, resilience, realisation. And these virtues are bestowed on the reader too as one finds oneself questioning society, class, the role of technology and democracy. This is not a journey without danger – this is a pursuit as Serendipity is hunted by the lawmakers who are desperate to stop her from achieving her goal – but why?

A Whisper of Horses is a thoroughly enjoyable read with an enthralling story and one that makes you ponder and contemplate too. I particularly enjoyed the relationships in Auden Dare and the same is true here – Seren’s friendship with Tab, her companion on the journey, is rich and warm and discerning.

So this seems to be no cure for my Zillah Bethell fascination (bethellitis?), and I’ve left it some time before posting this review to be sure that I’m compos mentis. Bethell is such a glorious writer I want to stand on top of my space-age pod-home and shout it out to this oppressed and inhumane world.

 

Thanks to Zillah for sending a copy of A Whisper of Horses. You can buy it from Hive or better still, from your local bookshop.

You can follow Zillah Bethell on Twitter, as well as Matt Saunders who designed the cover shown.

Storm Wake

Storm-Wake

Lucy Christopher

Chicken House

Reviewed by Mummy Worm

For me, reading is escapism. The world around disappears and I’m immersed in the world created by the author.  It took a few pages longer than usual to sink into Lucy Christopher’s Storm-Wake but this is no criticism. The lyrical phraseology sparked more curiosity and my attention was held by the language as much as the narrative. Storm-Wake is a visceral experience. It is nothing short of magic when you smell, taste, see the hallucinogenic effects of the island’s stormflowers!

Delightful homage to Shakespeare’s Tempest rolls in and out of Christopher’s novel. I enjoyed the reimagining of Miranda as Moss, especially her relationship with bewitched Callan and the island (which is as alive as its inhabitants). Pa was an equally fascinating reimagining of Prospero.  Moss’ battle with whether to admire and love, or resent and fear the man who raised her, grounds her transformation from compliant little girl to questioning teenager most effectively. Secrets, mysteries and magic spiral through each page of narrative but the familiar detail of the modern world and the brutal reality of Moss’ early childhood – and eventually the arrival of the two boys – reveal that the dream-like island is a trap and not a refuge. Escape will be far from easy.

So I “cried to dream again” after finishing Storm-Wake and anticipate further readings will enchant as much as the first.

 

Storm-Wake is Lucy Christopher’s fourth novel published with Chicken House. Born in Wales, but widely-travelled, she lives in Cardiff and is Senior Lecturer on the MA in Writing for Young People course at Bath Spa University. She is a Branford Boase Award winner and has been shortlisted for the Costa and Waterstones Book prizes. You can follow Lucy on Twitter and find more information at her website.

We are extremely grateful to Lucy for the copy of Storm-Wake which was given in exchange for this review. You can buy Storm-Wake on Hive, or better still, at your local independent bookshop.

The House with Chicken Legs

The House with Chicken Legs

Sophie Anderson

Usborne

My house has chicken legs. Two or three times a year, without warning, it stands up in the middle of the night and walks away from where we’ve been living.

The House with Chicken Legs has been garnering lots of praise since proof copies found its way into the hands of readers just before Christmas. Booklover Jo called it “the most accomplished debut”, whilst The Bookseller described it as “utterly magical and highly original” and countless enthusiastic authors including Claire Fayers, Stephanie Burgis and Kiran Millwood Hargrave have used words such as “spellbinding”, “beautiful” and “full of heart”.

So can 10 year old Noah add any superlatives to the list? Well he’d like to start with “fascinating, gripping and really cool!” At the heart of his fascination is the Chicken House itself, borne of the Russian folktale of Baba Yaga but reimagined for the 21st Century. The Yaga House is a house that can walk, changing location whenever it wants to, without warning. Noah tells me it can also grow things – “really cool” does this justice! The Yaga House has a purpose though – it holds the gate through which the dead must walk in order to complete the circle of life. Baba Yaga, our heroine’s grandmother, makes food for the dead to give them a good sendoff.

This lifestyle is far from ideal for Marinka, a complex lead character who comes across as bold and daring but has insecurities. She feels like she’s trapped in the house with no future and no friends; she has no opportunities to build relationships or put down roots because the house keeps moving on. But she is destined to be a Yaga herself and is struggling to accept this destiny. The rebellion of youth does not sit well with this transient life.

Swansea-raised Anderson has written a lyrical and emotional debut; rooted in folklore but completely contemporary. As Marinka struggles with the circle of her own life, we get to explore human themes of friendship, purpose, contentment, life and death. Noah says “It sounds like it’s going to be a gloomy book about death but actually it’s not – you can really empathise with Marinka.”

The book should be in shops come May 3rd and if Sophie Anderson is interested in more praise, then she should know that Noah has placed The House with Chicken Legs next to Sky Song (Abi Elphinstone) in his top reads of 2018 so far.

 

Thank you to Usborne for providing a review copy of the book in exchange for this review.

You can buy The House with Chicken Legs from Hive or better still, from your local bookshop.

Follow Sophie Anderson on Twitter or visit her website which includes some super resources to go with the book.