Book Review

MG Monday: The Lost Journals of Benjamin Tooth & The Windvale Sprites by Mackenzie Crook.

middlegrademonday

Middle Grade Mondays on Juniper’s Jungle feature books aimed at 8 – 12 year olds, or younger. This week, The Lost Journals of Benjamin Tooth and The Windvale Sprites by Mackenzie Crook are both featured.

These two books are companion novels. The Windvale Sprites was published in 2011, and The Lost Journals of Benjamin Tooth was published in 2013.

LJoBTOne day I will be remembered as the greatest scientist that the world has ever known and so it is my duty to mankind to record my thoughts that future generations are able to study the progress of a genius.

I am eleven years old.

These are the recently discovered journals of Benjamin Tooth: alchemist, inventor and discoverer of the Windvale sprites. They chronicle his journey of scientific discovery from pompous boy to mad old man in his pursuit of the sprites on Windvale Moor. The sprites hold the key to eternal life, and Tooth is determined to capture it.

I read this book first, though I had been assured that it didn’t matter which order you read the books in. I chose to go chronologically – this book is set before The Windvale Sprites and so that made more sense to me.

I enjoyed the first part of the book very much. Benjamin Tooth is an engaging character, a young lad focused on science and his mission to excel in his scientific pursuits. Sadly, as the book progresses and Benjamin gets older I found him harder and harder to like, and found that I cared less and less about what happened to him. A couple of times I actually found myself wishing some great harm would come to him. I’m fine with characters not being likeable, but Benjamin was the sort of dislikable that made me consider putting the book down and not carrying on.

The journal format makes this book a quick read, this probably helped me to keep reading. When the sprites make their first appearance I found I was instantly taken by them – they’re an interesting creation and Benjamin’s observations of them are fascinating. I would have loved to read more about them and their society rather than his attempts to trap them.

WindvaleSpritesWhen a storm sweeps through the country, Asa wakes up the next day to find that his town is almost unrecognisable – trees have fallen down, roofs have collapsed and debris lies everywhere. But amongst the debris in his back garden Asa makes an astounding discovery – the body of a small winged creature. A creature that looks very like a fairy. Do fairies really exist?

Asa embarks on a mission to find out. A mission that leads him to the lost journals of local eccentric Benjamin Tooth who, two hundred years earlier, claimed to have discovered the existence of fairies. What Asa reads in those journals takes him on a secret trip to Windvale Moor, where he discovers much more than he’d hoped to…

Having not enjoyed The Lost Journals of Benjamin Tooth that much, I picked up The Windvale Sprites with a little trepidation. I quickly realised though that I was enjoying this far more, and this stayed the case for the entirety of the book.

This book is set in the modern day, the main character Asa also comes in contact with the sprites Benjamin Tooth had discovered and ends up finding Benjamin’s journal and using this as his guide to discovering more about the sprites. There are sections of text that are direct copies of the text from the journal – I liked revisiting this and seeing it through Asa’s eyes. Many of the issues I’d had with Benjamin were expressed by Asa – this reconfirmed by belief that these books have a real value in talking about science and the ethics of scientific investigation.

I really enjoyed the contrast between the two books, and I do think looking back at the two books I feel a little more kindly towards The Lost Journals of Benjamin Tooth if I considerate in its context as part of a pair of companion stories. I’m glad I read the books this way around rather than in the order in which they were published. Both books are illustrated by the author, these add a lot to both stories. Overall I found these books to be an interesting and thought provoking experience though maybe not one I’m going to be in a great hurry to repeat.

The Lost Journals of Benjamin Tooth and The Windvale Sprites are published by Faber & Faber in the UK. Whilst I was provided with a review copy of the book all of the opinions expressed are my own.

Book Review

Book Review: Shadow of the Wolf by Tim Hall.

ShadowOfTheWolfA world of gods and monsters. An elemental power, rising. This is Robin Hood, reborn, as he has never been seen before…

Robin Loxley is seven years old when his parents disappear without trace. Years later the great love of his life, Marian, is also taken from him. Driven by these mysteries, and this anguish, Robin follows a darkening path into the ancient heart of Sherwood Forest. What he encounters there will leave him transformed, and will alter forever the legend of Robin Hood.

Robin Hood. I think we all have our personal connections to the legend of Robin Hood, to one of the many versions of it whether it involves talking foxes or men wearing tights. That this book promised to “alter forever the legend of Robin Hood” was enough to grab my attention, when it started getting excellent reviews from bloggers I really trust I knew I absolutely had to read it.

The opening sections of the book introduce Robin and Marian to us, and allow us to spend time with them in order to really get to know them. Twists and turns then pull the characters in different directions with only some overlap, it is here that the action begins to pick up, and then build and build. There’s no shortage of action within the book, it’s well paced and gripping. I think that the slightly slower, quieter, opening to the book works brilliantly well – I felt so connected to the characters as a result and cared so much about how each twist and turn affected them.

Whilst I enjoyed the opening sections of the book I did find myself wondering about the fantasy elements I’d been expecting. These don’t actually kick in until partway through the book, but when they do they’re utterly captivating. Seeing the way these elements grow and evolve throughout the book, and how they affect Robin in particular is fascinating. I think that however much I loved the characters (and believe me I did) it’s seeing how this continues to progress that has me most excited about the fact there are two more books to come.

I really enjoyed these versions of both Robin and Marian, both of them are really strong characters yet they have their flaws ensuring they feel very real. Robin is beset by challenges throughout the book, from being alone at such a young age to much more physical challenges later in the book. Despite all of these he remains focused and driven, he has his goal and keeps pushing at it when I think many would have given up. Marian is present through much of the book, though for large chunks this is through Robin’s drive to find her. When she is present on the page she’s a fascinating character, her presence of mind and planning skills in particular are admirable.

Along with Robin and Marian, various other familiar characters from the Robin Hood legend make appearances in this story. Most notable of these are Will Scarlet and of course the Sheriff of Nottingham. This Sheriff is every bit as cruel and evil as we expect him to be and then some. This book does not shy away from the blood thirsty nature of this cruelty, there are some scenes that made my fairly cast iron stomach turn. That said, they fit the book perfectly and absolutely form a key part of the narrative.

Reading this book completely took over my day. I sat down with my copy first thing in the morning, planning to read a couple of chapters with my morning tea before getting on with all the things I’d planned. Next thing I knew my tea was cold, I’d read 100 pages and was mentally moving things off the day’s to do list to make sure I could finish reading that same day! I took a couple of shortish breaks when I wanted to let some of the book’s action sink in a little but each time was itching to pick the book up and get on with it!

This is a brave, bold re-telling of the Robin Hood story. I absolutely loved it, I’m going to spend the time waiting for the second book trying to persuade as many people as I can to read this one. Strongly recommended!

Shadow of the Wolf is published by David Fickling Books in the UK. My copy of the book is one that was passed on to me by another blogger, thank you Caroline!

Book Review

MG Monday: Archie Greene and the Magician’s Secret by D.D. Everest.

middlegrademonday

Middle Grade Mondays on Juniper’s Jungle feature books aimed at 8 – 12 year olds, or younger. This week, the focus is on Archie Greene and the Magician’s Secret by D.D.Everest.

ArchieGreene1Archie Green receives a mysterious present on his birthday. Deep within an ancient wooden box he finds an old book, written in a language he doesn’t recognize. With the book comes a Special Instruction – Archie must travel to Oxford to return the book to the Museum of Magical Miscellany.

Soon Archie will meet family that he never knew he had, and discover the world of the Flame Keepers – a community devoted to finding and preserving magical books.

But the magical book under Archie’s protection is dangerous, and dark spirits hunt it out. With the help of his cousins, Archie must do everything he can to uncover the book’s hidden powers and save the Flame Keepers from evil.

Welcome to a wonderful, magical world where bookshelves are enchanted, librarians are sorcerers and spells come to life.

The synopsis for this book was winning me over rapidly and then I hit that last line. Enchanted bookshelves? Sorcerer librarians? This was a book I knew I had to read!

The opening chapters work really well to draw the reader in. The very first one makes only a little sense, but in that way that makes you want to keep reading so you can find out what on earth is going on. The focus then shifts to Archie, the main character, and the action really begins. Within a short space of time there’s a bit of humour, plenty of intrigue, and a mini catastrophe – I was hooked and I think anyone trying to read this at bedtime to a young audience will be met with cries of “one more” at the end of each chapter!

Archie Greene’s world is a fascinating one. Like all magical worlds there are some things that feel a little familiar, but there’s also so very much that feels fresh and new. The world building itself feels pretty effortless, the information is threaded throughout the book – definitely an advantage of having a main character who is new to the world. One of the things that I really loved was how rooted this book is in the history of world. The Great Library of Alexandria features heavily, and historical figures such as John Dee get referenced thoroughly.

Archie himself is a character I liked a lot. He makes some slightly questionable choices throughout the book, but these are always for good reasons – he genuinely believes he’s making the best decisions. There’s no doubting that he’s a brave character, there are some really nice discussions on what being brave and courageous actually means. That said, he is only as good a character as he is as a result of the characters around him. His two cousins in particular, Bramble and Thistle, are a vital component of the book and whilst Archie’s grandmother gets very little on page time her presence is felt throughout the book.

This is an adventure story at heart, and this element is well executed. The pacing of the book is good, it keeps the reader’s attention and many of the chapters end in such a way that you want to just see what happens next. I liked the way the book was believable despite being set in a magical version of our lives. Everything makes sense within the context of the book’s world, and the history that it draws upon.

It would be very easy to be immediately a little dismissive of this book. An adventure story, set in the world of magic and enchantment, featuring a young lad who becomes welcomed into the world he didn’t know existed on his birthday. So far so familiar, right? Well yes, but to approach this book in this manner would mean missing out on a really good story set in a world I personally want to visit right now. I think I’d be an excellent addition to the team at the Museum of Magical Miscellany… now where do I find the application form?

Archie Greene and the Magician’s Secret is published by Faber Children’s in the UK. Whilst I was provided with a review copy of the book all of the opinions expressed are my own.

Book Review

Book Review: Ruin and Rising by Leigh Bardugo.

RuinAndRisingThe capital has fallen.

The Darkling rules Ravka from his shadow throne.

Now the nation’s fate rests with a broken Sun Summoner, a disgraced tracker, and the shattered remnants of a once-great magical army.

Deep in an ancient network of tunnels and caverns, a weakened Alina must submit to the dubious protection of the Apparat and the zealots who worship her as a Saint. Yet her plans lie elsewhere, with the hunt for the elusive firebird and the hope that an outlaw prince still survives.

Alina will have to forge new alliances and put aside old rivalries as she and Mal race to find the last of Morozova’s amplifiers. But as she begins to unravel the Darkling’s secrets, she reveals a past that will forever alter her understanding of the bond they share and the power she wields. The firebird is the one thing that stands between Ravka and destruction—and claiming it could cost Alina the very future she’s fighting for.

This is the third book in the Grisha trilogy, I reviewed the second book Siege and Storm here. This is not going to be the longest or most detailed review – being the final part of a triolgy a lot of the book is action filled or just needs to be discovered by the reader for themselves. I went into this book knowing barely anything about it and was pleased I did, I don’t want to stop anyone else having the same experience.

Ruin and Rising opens with a prologue that sets the scene really well, before jumping back to show us where our main characters now are. The book begins just a little after the end of Siege and Storm allowing the characters to gather themselves a little – I felt that this played out well, it was close enough that I didn’t feel like I’d missed seeing anything I’d have wanted to see but moved on enough that the plot could get going again quickly. It had been nearly a year since I’d last visited the world of the Grisha, I was pleased with how easy it was to fall back into it. There are some really big plot elements that need to be concluded, these are all dealt with over the course of the book with only minimal new significant plot elements introduced. I liked this, and was almost always pleased with how things played out.

One of the central elements of this book is the relationship between Alina, our heroine, and various other characters. Since getting to the end of this book I’ve discovered quite a lot of readers are unhappy with how some of these relationships worked out – I have to say that I personally don’t agree with these readers. I think it’s really interesting that lots of people can read the same series and all take something completely different from it, it’s impossible to say that any way of thinking is right or wrong – it’s such an individual thing. All I can say for sure is that I was very content with the way the various relationships were resolved, it worked absolutely right for me.

The world that Leigh Bardugo has created for this trilogy is an interesting, rich one. I loved getting to know more and more about it with each book. I’m really pleased that her next pair of books are going to be set in the same world (see the story here), I certainly want to spend more time there!

Ruin and Rising is published by Indigo in the UK. My copy of the book is one I purchased myself.

Book Review

Recent Reads: Wanderer by Roger Davenport and Bone Quill by John and Carol E Barrowman.

A round up of some of the books I’ve recently read.

Wanderer by Roger Davenport. Sky Pony Press.
WandererHere in a vast lost valley, society has split into two: the Wanderers, who team together to battle against the elements and each other in the harsh world of the desert, and those who live in the pyramid-city of Arcone, whose closed environment and tightly controlled society enable them to maintain a more civilized existence in the face of an environmentally devastated planet. Conflict is inevitable…

Kean is a Wanderer, adopted into a team that has protected him since he was a child. Essa lives with her parents in the pyramid, and chafes at the mental and physical restrictions the government enforces to protect its people. But when a rogue Wanderer plans an attack on the city to gain its resources for his people, Kean and Essa’s paths collide with an impact that will alter their lives forever.

This book was a really interesting read. Initially it grabbed my attention, then for a few chapters I didn’t feel like I was quite getting it, and then I settled into it and it flowed well.

As post-apocalyptic YA fiction goes this is pretty standard fare. The contrasts between the ‘haves’ and ‘have nots’ are pretty stark, though for me at times the author held back a little in this respect. The ‘haves’, living comfortably within Arcone have some pretty despicable attitudes and operating practices. At times the reader has to put two and two together to realise how awful they can be – I felt sometimes the would have benefited from some of these aspects being spelt out a little more explicitly, this would add weight to them and allow the reader to really stop and examine the society (and in some respects compare it to our own).

I particularly enjoyed the sections focusing on the ‘have nots’ living in the wilderness outside Arcone. Their world is harsh, and challenging, I found it fascinating and would have gladly read lots more about it. I really liked the way this society of outcasts had formed a structure with rules, customs and routines. I cared more about this group of characters, particularly Kean.

Overall this was a good read, I’d definitely have liked a bit more from it, but I certainly enjoyed it.

Bone Quill by John and Carol E. Barrowman. Buster Books.
BoneQuillIn this thrilling sequel to Hollow Earth, Matt and Emily must stop someone from unleashing an army of mankind’s worst nightmares.

In the Middle Ages, an old monk used his powers and a bone quill to ink a magical manuscript, The Book of Beasts. Over the centuries the Book, and the quill, were lost.

Twins Matt and Emily Calder are Animare – just like their ancestor, the monk. The things they draw can be brought to life, sometimes with disastrous consequences. Now Matt and Em are being watched -hunted – because only they can use The Book of Beasts and the bone quill to release the terrible demons and monsters their ancestor illustrated.

And someone is tracking down the lost Book of Beasts, page by page, and reassembling it. Matt and Emily have no choice: They must get to the bone quill first… before somebody gets to them.

I really enjoyed the first book in this series, Hollow Earth so had high hopes for this book. Sadly by the end of the book I was sad and frustrated.

The beginning of the book worked really well for me, there is a quick recap of what has already happened in the story, and to help even more there is a glossary of some of the terminology used within the story. The adventure aspect of the book is also just as strong, there’s plenty of excitement and the scenes zip past quickly. A time travel element is added to the plot, whilst this did end up leaving me with unanswered questions it did bring some great scenes and ideas to the book.

Where the book did completely let me down was in the treatment of Em, the female twin. In the first book she played an equal part to the two main boys, something I was entirely refreshed by – too often the girl in such trios is in the background doing all the work and getting none of the credit. Sadly she did not receive such good treatment in this book, instead she is absent for a good proportion of the book and ends up virtually a damsel needing to be rescued. The final, major sequence of the book actually can be boiled down to the males doing and the females feeling.

I’m so sad about this, the very thing that made me so impressed with Hollow Earth was the thing that made this book such a disappointment. I will read the final part of the trilogy in the hope there’s some redeeming factor, but I’ll be going in to it with greatly reduced expectations.

Book Review

Recent Reads: The Dance of the Red Death by Bethany Griffin and Siege and Storm by Leigh Bardugo.

A round up of some of the books I’ve recently read. These books are both the second in series, there will be spoilers for anyone who hasn’t read the first books.

imageThe Dance of the Red Death by Bethany Griffin. Indigo.
Bethany Griffin continues the journey of Araby Worth in Dance of the Red Death—the sequel to her teen novel Masque of the Red Death.

In Dance of the Red Death, Araby’s world is in shambles—betrayal, death, disease, and evil forces surround her. She has no one to trust. But she finds herself and discovers that she will fight for the people she loves, and for her city.

Her revenge will take place at the menacing masked ball, though it could destroy her and everyone she loves…or it could turn her into a hero.

With a nod to Edgar Allan Poe, Bethany Griffin concludes her tragic and mysterious Red Death series with a heroine that young adult readers will never forget.

This is the second half of the duology that began with The Masque of the Red Death, a book that I really enjoyed. I was really pleased to see that it picks up the story immediately from the end of the first book, this worked well both to grab my attention and to pull me back into Araby’s world.

I found that even though it was about a year since I had read the first book I very quickly remembered who everyone was and how the world worked. Griffin wove reminders neatly into the text so that I never felt like information was there purely to recap the first book. I know that this is always a challenge with sequels, I personally feel this could be held up as an example of it being done well.

There’s plenty of action in this book, but I particularly loved the quieter moments nestled in between the big scenes. Spending time with the characters, seeing their quiet interactions, made me really feel connected to them, and invested in their story. I was going to list a couple of examples, but even now as I start to think there are too many to include.

I was really satisfied with the conclusion to the story. It’s neat without feeling too neat, there’s no magic wand waving, no pretty ribbons and bows, just a believable ending with hope.

imageSiege and Storm by Leigh Bardugo. Indigo.
Darkness never dies.

Hunted across the True Sea, haunted by the lives she took on the Fold, Alina must try to make a life with Mal in an unfamiliar land. She finds starting new is not easy while keeping her identity as the Sun Summoner a secret. She can’t outrun her past or her destiny for long.

The Darkling has emerged from the Shadow Fold with a terrifying new power and a dangerous plan that will test the very boundaries of the natural world. With the help of a notorious privateer, Alina returns to the country she abandoned, determined to fight the forces gathering against Ravka. But as her power grows, Alina slips deeper into the Darkling’s game of forbidden magic, and farther away from Mal. Somehow, she will have to choose between her country, her power, and the love she always thought would guide her–or risk losing everything to the oncoming storm.(less)

I have to start this by admitting to being a bit of an idiot. This is the second book in Leigh Bardugo’s Grisha trilogy, I adored the first book Shadow and Bone and so put off reading this sequel for a while – scared it wouldn’t live up to my hopes. I was, naturally, entirely wrong and my hopes were entirely satisfied.

The book picks up the story a short while after the events at the end of Shadow and Bone, there’s a brief bit of breathing space to allow the reader to reconnect with Alina and Mal before the tension and action ramps up again. This then continued throughout the book, big bit of action followed by time to regroup before the next big action. I really liked this, it built a real sense that there was something big coming.

I liked the way Alina and Mal’s story and relationship develops throughout the book, it continues to be challenging for the two characters – something I don’t feel I get to read enough of in books. It was really nice to see characters from the first book revisited and developed alongside the introduction of new characters. There are three significant new characters, I loved them all and was really glad to get to know them – the intriguing Sturmhond most of all.

When the aforementioned something big does play out it’s brilliant, and thrilling, and entirely compulsive reading. I was so gripped by it that I read it far too quickly and then went back and read it again at a sensible pace so I could take every last detail in.

I’m so excited for the third and final Grisha book, this time I will be dropping everything to read it as soon as I have a copy in my hands.

Book Review

Book Review – The Adventures of Tooki: The Secret of the Stones by Jamie Courtier and Vicky Kimm.

Tooki An exquisitely illustrated and enchanting adventure story that will capture the heart and the imagination and show us that nothing is what it seems and anything is possible.

When Tooki loses his way in a snowstorm, he is cold and afraid and all alone; but in this moment of great danger, Tooki’s fortunes are about to change for there is an unexpected kind of magic waiting just where he least expects to find it.

I was completely taken by the synopsis of this book, it sounded like it would be a lovely read. I’d only previously read one graphic novel aimed at the 7+ age group before I picked up this book so I was curious to see how it would work.

The book is lovely, and warm, and lots of fun. It tells the story of the Tufties, at the beginning of the book they are preparing for the winter and their annual migration from their stone circle – they complete their harvest, and as the seasons begin to change far too rapidly they make a hurried departure for their winter home in the lowlands. Tooki, our hero, becomes separated from the rest of the Tufties and discovers some of the secrets of the stone circle.

The story is very simple, yet very clever – it covers quite a lot of ground in a very accessible manner. It would give plenty of opportunities for discussion, both in terms of how individuals relate to one another and in broader concepts too. There’s a great sense of adventure to the book, I liked how the line was clearly drawn for what was okay and what wasn’t – there are moments of peril and great emotion, but these are kept in check to make it entirely suitably for the young intended audience. Tooki and Obo (another key character) are both really engaging, I found that I warmed to them instantly and wanted to know more about them and their lives.

The art in the book is wonderful. The first double spread of the book introduces all of the Tufties – 20 in all, I loved how individual each one of them was. This was mirrored by the closing pages which contain a similar roll call for the Shuffleys, another tribe who feature heavily in the book, this time there are 23 characters, and again all very individual. The colours used really help to give the sense of the weather, and the season – I particularly found I began to feel cold when I was reading the section of the book set in a rather fierce snow storm! There’s plenty to take in from the illustrations, I read the book twice and found I spotted all sorts of different things on my second read through!

The book closes with the suggestion there may be further stories to come, I really hope this is the case – I want more adventures from Tooki and Obo!

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Tomorrow I will be hosting a fantastic two part interview with Jamie and Vicky all about this book. Please do drop by to hear all about the book and how it came to be – the answers are fascinating!

The Adventures of Tooki: The Secret of the Stones will be published by Walker Books on 5th September 2013. Whilst I was provided with a copy of the book to review all opinions expressed are my own.