Who Let the Gods Out by Maz Evans

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Book seen here with terrifying Easter Bunny

“It began on a Friday, as strange things often do.”

Who Let the Gods Out

Elliot’s worries are very much grounded in the real world. His mum isn’t well and whilst Elliot is trying to hold everything together, the money problems keep coming. If he doesn’t find £20,000 in exactly one week they will be turfed out of their farm for good with nowhere to go.

But sometimes life surprises you with a bolt from the blue.

(Or a constellation.)

Possibly the last thing Elliot was expecting to land in their cowshed was Virgo: a young immortal from Elysium, on Earth to deliver ambrosia to a prisoner kept by the Gods near his home. Specifically, under Stonehenge. Thrown together by fate, they join forces but when the delivery goes wrong and the pair accidentally release Thanatos, diabolical Daemon of Death, things get a bit dicey. With the whole of the human race under threat, it’s time to get the big guns involved. Enter Zeus and a cast of Gods like you’ve never seen them before.

MG Roller Coaster

Who Let the Gods is a substantial MG roller coaster of an adventure.  It’s a big story- over 350 pages- and is packed full of action and humour. It’s properly roll around on the floor can’t get your breath funny. The characters are varied and hilarious. For example:

Charon the ferryman crossing passengers over the river Styx is genius, a kind of London cabbie:

“Right-o, we’ll take the Severn- the Wye’s murder this time of day.”

And Zeus, retired for the past 2000 years. An ageing Lothario, schmoozing mortal women and having a blast:

“…he was rather surprised to find Zeus in a badly fitting light-blue tuxedo with a frilly shirt, holding a cheese and ham vol-au-vent. The long white hair was there, albeit badly slicked back with hair gel. And it wasn’t a strapping chest bursting out so much as a gigantic belly.”

Then there’s Sisyphus, who I’m pleased to report has a lisp. Thithyphuth.

I’ll leave you to discover the episode with Her Maj the Queen; sufficed to say it’s rather surprising!

Reader Response

Whether it’s a main character or a brief encounter, the attention given to reader response is second to none. This is why I’d love to teach it and see those reactions first hand. If I were sharing this with a class, I’d have a whale of a time. I’d be going all out with drama, role play, anything to get the children up and enjoying the pure joy Who Let the Gods Out gives. Fun and learning, together at last!

Who Let the Gods Out is the first part of a series and I’m very much looking forward to the next book, out in the summer.

 

 

 

 

 


The Secret of Nightingale Wood by Lucy Strange

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” I stared into the dark mass of trees ahead, and my imagination ambushed me with nightmarish creatures- slavering wolves, whispering tree-demons, long-fingered witches… Every part of me was alive with fear now- my fingers, my skin, my lungs…

And then a sudden, desperate shriek pierced the night like a needle.

I froze. An owl? But it sounded almost human…

I turned back to look at the house- and stifled a scream.”

Hope House

It’s 1919 and twelve year old Henrietta Abbott (Henry) and her family have just moved to Hope House. Her brother Robert’s recent death has caused deep grief for all that knew him and through Henry we see the repercussions. Mama becomes ill, Father leaves indefinitely to work abroad but Henry remains with baby sister ‘Piglet’ in the care of Nanny Jane and Mrs Berry the cook. Mama’s getting no better and Henry has a bad feeling about Doctor Hardy, who seems to have a plan all of his own in regards to her remaining family…

Nightingale Wood

As she watches and listens, Henry begins to unveil the secrets of Nightingale Wood and Hope House- but sometimes your mind can play tricks on you. Is she seeing shadows of the past or things as they really are? Prepare for a storytelling masterpiece. The quote I’ve included above illustrates this perfectly: for writing to take you into the woods at night then reveal that the home you’ve come from is the source of the fear you’ve been expecting is a brilliant way of playing with narration. As for Henry, she’s a delight. A strong spirit with the ability to learn from her own  misconceptions. A heroic soul.

Everything you’ve heard about The Secret of Nightingale Wood is true: it’s completely as wonderful as they say it is. Suitable for readers aged nine years plus but I’d recommend it equally to adults as children, I have to say. I enjoyed the intertextuality throughout the story, and the relationship Lucy Strange creates between The Secret of Nightingale Wood and children’s books that Henry would have enjoyed at the time. Young independent readers will have the extra pleasure of being able to explore Henry’s favourite writers as she mentions them in the text. I think this is just wonderful- what a way to continue getting to know a character!

Utterly Gorgeous!

This is historical fiction with a pinch of psychological thriller, enticing and captivating. I was torn between greedily rushing to discover the outcome and taking my time over some of the most gorgeous prose I’ve read in ever such a long time. It was a good problem to have! The Secret of Nightingale Wood is an utterly gorgeous book.


The Apprentice Witch by James Nicol

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app-w-2

Missing!

Apologies first. I would usually start a post with a quote from the book. Also, I wish this were a better picture. Unfortunately, I can’t include a quote or take a less blurry photo because my copy of The Apprentice Witch was last seen doing the rounds of my Year Six class about two weeks ago. I don’t expect to see it any time soon, or possibly ever. But the approval of ten year old children is a wonderful thing and better than any review I can write!

Arianwyn

When Arianwyn fails her witch’s evaluation- the only one of her cohort to do so- all she wants to do is run away as fast as possible. However, as this isn’t really an option, Arianwyn waits while her fate is decided by her grandmother (a respected elder) and Director Coot, head of the Civil Witchcraft Authority. Arianwyn will, it seems, become an apprentice witch with the chance to be re-evaluated in six months time. In the meantime, she will be posted to Lull: a remote village on the outskirts of the great wood crying out for a village witch, qualified or otherwise. And so her new chapter begins and a new world is introduced to lucky readers aged 9 years plus.

Book Induced Insomnia

The Apprentice Witch is a riveting read and hopefully just the beginning of our visits to Arianwyn’s world. This is a great story with so much for the reader to discover, and with the tantalising promise of adventure still to come. It simply bursts with magic, excitement, and the best and most varied cast of characters I’ve read for a very long time. I was totally absorbed and read into the early hours with that wonderful feeling of inability to put the book down and go to sleep.

Children will find this an easy book to connect with. There’s a compelling warmth and a lot of love coming through here that make it all the more special for the reader.

In thinking this I was reminded of the words of Ursula Le Guin, another splendid fantasy writer:

“The book is what is real, You read it, you and it form a relationship, perhaps a trivial one, perhaps a deep and lasting one. As you read it word by word and page by page, you participate in its creation.”

The Apprentice Witch invites children to experience a wonderful world as it unfolds and develops and that feels very real to me. A book bound to inspire a life long love of fantasy fiction.

 

 


The Great Chocoplot by Chris Callaghan

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Extra credit goes to those who can see the whippet's nose in this picture. Chocolate & dogs shouldn't really mix...

Extra credit goes to those who can see the whippet’s nose in this picture. Well spotted!

” ‘In six days there will be no more chocolate in the world…ever!’

That’s what it said on The Seven Show.

Jelly had nearly reached the next level of Zombie Puppy Dash, but hearing this made her plunge the pink puppy into a huge tank of zombie dog food.”

The Great Chocoplot

The Great Chocoplot by Chris Callaghan is a real winner for children seven years plus who like their stories on the lively side.

Both truly funny and imaginatively written, it’s going to tick the boxes for so many readers out there, and maybe even create a few new ones. This is another example of the kind of cracking (sorry) books coming from Chicken House at the minute and if you haven’t already, you should check out their range. Immediately. Well, in a minute.

Chocopocalypse!

After the announcement on The Seven Show that the chocopocalypse is quickly approaching, Jelly (yes I know, it is an awesome name isn’t it?) and her Gran put their heads together to try and get to the bottom of it. Obviously, plot-wise, there aren’t many things as potentially devastating as no more chocolate ever, but with Gran and Jelly on our side we unravel a wonderful mystery of global impact played out with local heart.

We take Jelly to our hearts straight away. On the surface she’s a regular girl from an ordinary family living in a normal town just like yours, but we all know really that there’s no such thing as ‘average’ or ‘ordinary’ and everyone is unique and special. Jelly is sparky, clever and a joy to read about.

Shout Out to all the Grandparents

A big shout out has to go to Gran: a caravan-dwelling, headphone-wearing, scientific icon for our times in my opinion, and Jelly loves her. I also loved Grandad, who we don’t meet as he is no longer with us, but who is described in such a beautiful way. I like this. It’s a little detail that will mean a lot to a lot of children.

Kids who’ve previously enjoyed the stories of Frank Cottrell-Boyce, Roald Dahl and David Walliams are going to click with The Great Chocoplot straight away; others will be drawn in by Sandra Navarro’s fabulous cover and will stay for the ride. A true Books-a-Go-Go book of glory and a feast of fun for young ‘uns everywhere!

 


Darkmere by Helen Maslin

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darkmere done

” And then, at last, there it was, high above us on the hillside. Just like the picture on the postcard- with turrets and a shroud of ivy- but now in high definition with sound and movement. The dark trees swayed all around it, the windows flashed in the sunshine and the sea made a constant hushing on the air. I could see the clock tower right at the front- time frozen for ever at five past twelve. It was Leo’s castle.

Our castle!”

Waiting…

I’ve been saving Darkmere by Helen Maslin up for MONTHS. Since seeing Helen at Waterstones Birmingham a while back, Darkmere has intrigued me, so I decided there and then to squirrel it away for my summer holiday. I say summer holiday, but it would be more accurately described as the best part of a week spent in a tent, on Exmoor, under questionable weather conditions.

Reading a spine-chilling Gothic thriller with no mobile signal, whilst a thin layer of polyester separates me from who knows what? Sounds great!

Darkmere

Family pile Darkmere Castle has recently been inherited by private school kingpin Leo, who plans to spend all summer there partying with his friends. Amongst the guests is our Kate (I am claiming some sort of ownership here on behalf of us all as she is fabulous: cool, clever and also mentions trying to have hair like Debbie Harry, which recommends her highly in my book).

Kate is new to the school, not rich by any means and looks different to the other girls. Leo has been nothing but friendly since she arrived- notably more than friendly outside a nightclub one night- and he invites her along.

Darkmere Castle is totally off the beaten track, I’m imagining it in the craggiest reaches of Cornwall. Unfurnished and uninhabited for years but with the bones of grandeur clear to see, Darkmere is the perfect spooky holiday destination for teenagers in a book!

The mood is thrillingly ominous and the pace exhilarating. We’re away from school and at Darkmere in no time, ready for whatever adventures it may bring.

Secrets

Once there, the summer really begins and Kate learns more about Darkmere’s dwellers both past and present. In the present, Leo’s other guests are all charismatic in different ways, but for me the best thing about them is that as a group they brought that all too familiar sense of edginess I remember from being their age.

The sense that anything could happen.

From the past,  we are treated to discovering even more from original inhabitant Elinor through Maslin’s dual narrative. Elinor is alleged to have placed a curse on the castle and all future male heirs back in the early 1800s, so this is good stuff we need to know.

Soon enough, strange things begin to occur and the castle starts to reveals its secrets. You will be utterly hooked. Just don’t forget to breathe.

And Sorry

Apologies to my husband, who was ignored for hours on end during our holiday as I obsessed over Darkmere. Sufficed to say, I absolutely loved it and would give it a big thumbs up for readers of 13 years plus, and particularly to any adults (especially if they’re fans of Daphne Du Maurier’s Rebecca) who are after an excellent and all-consuming summer read.


Beetle Boy by M.G. Leonard

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“Dr Bartholomew Cuttle wasn’t the kind of man who mysteriously disappeared. He was the kind of man who read enormous books at the dinner table and got fried egg stuck in his beard. He was the kind of man who always lost his keys, and never took an umbrella on rainy days. He was the kind of dad who might be five minutes late picking you up from school, but he always came. More than anything else, Darkus knew his dad was not the kind of father who would abandon his thirteen year old son. “

beetle boy done

Face First into Adventure

Beetle Boy by M.G. Leonard is a stonkingly good debut, best recommended to readers of 9 years* plus. The extract above is the first paragraph of Beetle Boy, and what a start! Clearly M. G. Leonard isn’t messing around with this, shoving us face first head long into adventure with the chance of peril. Marvellous!

For the next three hundred or so pages/ few hours, I was thoroughly involved in finding out where indeed Darkus’ scientist dad had vanished to and what on earth it had to do with Baxter and the other beetles. Baxter, you see, is a large and friendly rhinocerous beetle who appears shortly after Darkus goes to live with his Uncle Max and seems to adopt the boy as his own. Apparently super intelligent, Baxter communicates easily with Darkus and it isn’t long before together they’re working to solve the mystery of the missing dad. With the support of Virginia and Bertoldt (who are the sort of friends everyone should have: fiercely loyal and more than a bit quirky) the investigations begin.

Beetlemania

I’m recommending Beetle Boy as something refreshingly different for young readers. I really enjoyed the scientific thinking at the heart of this book; it’s so great to have a really cracking MG book to recommend to kids who are into science, particularly one that’s also very funny and action-packed too. I’m sure teachers and librarians are going to embrace it for the same reasons. I loved that this book had me in bits with worry every time a beetle was in danger and that I was constantly checking the Entomologist’s Dictionary at the back for definitions. (Notes on phonetic pronunciations of terms listed would have been even better though, as a bit of a helping hand for those reading aloud.) Also, I must briefly mention Lucretia Cutter, a character of dubious intent, both intriguing and repelling in equal measure who you need to meet soon.

Beetle Boy is sure to go down a storm with kids- just don’t expect to communicate much with them for a few days, it is over 300 pages long after all! A sequel is also in the pipeline, which will make lots of children (and adults too) very happy indeed.

Beetle Boy by M.G Leonard is a riveting read for keen bookworms. Expect Beetlemania to ensue forthwith.

* I can see from M.G. Leonard’s website that children as young as six have enjoyed Beetle Boy- that’s pretty impressive reading! Bright sparks who are younger than my 9 years recommended age should definitely give it a go!


Old School: The Glass Bird Girl by Esme Kerr

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The Glass Bird Girl by Esme Kerr

glass bird

 

Boarding Schools Are Back!

I was less of a fan of Enid Blyton’s boarding school series, more of an obsessive. There was a significant part of my childhood spent reading the St Clare’s and Malory Towers books straight through from start to finish, panic about it all ending and immediately have to start straight over. It was marginally less stressful than it sounds. Oh, I just couldn’t leave Bill to gallop over the fields towards school with her brothers and Clarissa (on horses- not like Miranda Hart does it) unseen, nor not enjoy Darrell’s ‘glint’ one more time. And that awful spoilt Gwendoline Lacy! What a frightful little beast! I have very fond memories.

I grew up with not even the slightest desire to go to boarding school, but loved these books. It saddened me a bit to see Enid Blyton go out of fashion quite to the extent she did, so am now delighted to see really great authors proud to be associated with her brand of fiction. Esme Kerr is almost certainly one of these writers: The Glass Bird Girl is full of sneaky references to the Malory Towers series. We have a Sally, an Alice, even a head girl called Helen Greyling and I’m sure there must be more. This will mean something to the more Blyton’d amongst you.

Best of Both Worlds

The Glass Bird Girl isn’t set in the forties or fifties, but Kerr cleverly gets the spirit of this time by making certain adjustments. Edie is our Darrell to all intents and purposes, but comes to Knight’s Hadden Boarding School in quite a different way. We meet Edie a month in to living with her aunt, uncle and awful cousins. Previous to this, she lived with her beloved Grandmother who sadly went blind and was no longer allowed to care for her, hence the new arrangements. Life is miserable with her cousins, to say the least, and Edie decides to leave…

Another chapter opens with Edie’s cousin Charles, an art dealer, talking to his client (a Russian prince) in opulent Mayfair surroundings. Charles learns that the prince’s daughter Anastasia (also his god daughter) is having a tricky time at school. Something is not right: her belongings are going missing and her father is concerned about it. Anastasia is obviously unhappy. What is needed is someone, another girl, to go in and watch over her, and the prince is prepared to pay for the right girl to do the job should Charles know of anyone…

Charles and Edie’s paths cross, of course Edie takes on the role of secret school girl spy and her advetures begin. Why do Anastasia’s things keep going missing and how can Edie guarantee staying at the school long enough to find out? It’s all rather thrilling in a gloriously traditional British way. Attending Knight’s Hadden is like going back in time. No one is allowed to use mobile phones and there are turrets, which seems pretty conclusively old-fashioned to me. When Mrs Fotheringay (head teacher and owner of extremely forties surname) makes notes on pupils, it’s in a book rather than on a computer. The girls go to tea rooms, not Starbucks. When cars are mentioned, I can’t have been alone in picturing an Austin saloon rather than a Volkswagen Passat. Don’t be mistaken though in thinking this has all been done before though: the story is original and full of mystery and intrigue. Children (probably girls) from nine up* who read Robin Steven’s mystery books will definitely love it, and adults who enjoyed Enid Blyton’s school books probably will too.

GGGG A ripping, wizard and gorgeous read!

*Be aware if you are buying for sensitive children, there is a rather unpleasant incident in the first chapter where Edie’s vile cousins kill her pet fish. Might be worth skimming this first and seeing what you think, but if necessary it can be skipped without too much trouble so don’t let this put you off.