‘Tunnel of Bones’ – Victoria Schwab

Having survived her trip into the veil last time, Cassidy’s parents are – understandably – concerned for her welfare. They urge her to take care, but this is Cassidy Blake so we know things aren’t going to remain settled.

This time round the family are visiting Paris for their show. Unfortunately, Cass disturbed the spirit of a young boy who starts to cause trouble for her. After her usual attempts to help the spirit move on fail, Cassidy realises she has to do more.

The quest to work out how to remove the poltergeist ensures Cassidy encounters some unexpected events and finds herself seeing a very different side to Paris.
We have the usual account of her parents’ show but I loved that we get to learn a little more about Jacob.

The story was well-paced and just the right side of scary. What I particularly enjoyed was the ending, with the mysterious figure causing a very unusual reaction in Cassidy which – I’m hoping – we’ll be told more about in book 3.

‘The Frozen Sea’ – Piers Torday

Scheduled for release in early September 2019, this sequel to The Lost Magician picks up the Narnia vibe so prevalent in that story. Ever since I read The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe as a child I loved the idea of another land waiting to be discovered. To have such a land ruled by Readers…combining the two best things…a recipe for a great story.

Even if you haven’t read book one this story makes sense and captures the imagination perfectly.

Jewel is often singled out for being different to her peers. When we first see her being chased out of school by those bullying her, we know just how desperate she is to find her place in the world. Stumbling into a mysterious bookshop, Jewel finds herself reading an unusual atlas – one that seems to bring the world around her to life. Before we know it, Jewel and her hamster Fizz have been transported to Folio and are assigned a mysterious quest.

The links to book one are explained clearly, which keeps new readers up to date. One of the original four has found their way back to the world of Folio and set in motion a chain of events with potentially dire consequences. Jewel is charged with helping rescue her aunt Evie.

So begins a series of adventures and Jewel’s knowledge of stories stands her in good stead to navigate this scenario. Naturally, we learn some not wholly unexpected news and Jewel learns plenty about herself.

Framing the story of Jewel’s adventure are the mysterious excerpts from official documents suggesting there’s more to come in this story.

Great fun, capturing perfectly the power of imagination.

‘Jemima Small Versus the Universe’ – Tamsin Winter

Jemima Small is a big character. She has so much going for her – kind, loyal, knowledgeable – but in her mind these count for little. This is because Jemima is overweight. For years she has had peers ridicule her, mock her size and basically try to destroy her confidence.

When we first meet Jemima it’s hard not to feel sympathy for her. Whatever your view on the best way to support children with health issues, nobody should have to put up with the comments she experiences. When Jemima and some of her schoolmates are put into what becomes known as Fat Club, it’s hard to see where this will go.

Yet this book has a really positive message. There’s no quick fix. Some of it is hard work, and most of it is about adjusting your mental outlook. You won’t satisfy everyone, and sometimes it’s about finding other things to occupy your time with.

Set alongside the exploration of weight/body image is the set-up of a competition to enter Brainiacs. Jemima does, as we expect, get through and it was great to see knowledge and the acquisition of it seen as a positive thing.

‘Jinxed’ – Amy McCulloch

Lacey Chu is a fantastic engineer. She harbours dreams of working for MONCHA, a leading firm behind the concept of the baku – robotic companions that also act as phones. Unfortunately, it looks like her dream will fall at the first hurdle when she’s not accepted at the special school linked to the company.

With her dreams seemingly in tatters Lacey is not thinking straight when she tries to rescue her best friend’s baku and ends up finding something that many people are looking for. A heap of scrap metal, she thinks, but when she gets back to her workshop Lacey realises it’s a baku like no other.

Over the summer she does her utmost to get it working. In a kind of fantasy fulfilment, things work just fine and suddenly Lacey finds herself heading to the school and getting caught up in stuff she only dreamt of.

While this was set in North America, the whole concept and the battling felt like Pokemon had been brought to life and given personalities. That in itself was great fun, and the dynamics between Lacey and her new-found friends was entertaining. However, not everything is as it seems and there are definitely people suspicious of the skills Lacey and her baku exhibit.

I enjoyed this so much I’ve already pre-ordered Unleashed as I cannot leave this not knowing who on earth is behind what happened at the end. I also wonder whether we’ll learn a little more about the mysterious Mr Chu.
Huge thanks to NetGalley for putting me onto this one.

‘Top Marks for Murder’ – Robin Stevens

A welcome return to Deepdean. A murder witnessed from afar becomes the focal point for the Detective Agency this time around, but they are up against it as nothing is quite what it seems.

Daisy and Hazel are changing (as you’d expect) and the setting echoes the sense of growing turmoil. They have a rather predictable response to returning to school and finding things have changed a little in their absence, but quickly things settle into their usual routine.

Their friend witnesses a murder so the girls decide to investigate. Nobody is found, so as parents descend on Deepdean for the anniversary celebrations the girls decide to monitor things carefully. It’s not long before they have witnessed an actual murder, so the race is on to learn exactly who is behind this crime.

We have the usual red herrings and a bit of sidetracking with other events. All too soon, though, the girls piece things together and end up solving the crime.
The usual great fun, and it’s lovely to see the characters growing and developing. I love this series!

‘Can You See Me?’ – Libby Scott and Rachel Westcott

Can You See Me? is a definite one to recommend.

We focus on the story of Tally, a young girl just starting Year Seven. She tries very hard to be ‘normal’ and to fit in but doesn’t always find it easy because she is autistic. While her experience might not be the same for everyone, it certainly offers a glimpse into her life and offers the reader a chance to walk in her shoes a while. However, it goes beyond sharing just her experience as an autistic child; focusing on how many of her peers also feel about the experiences they face.

I loved the authentic feel to Tally’s voice, and the perceptive comments about how those around her react to her/her ‘meltdowns’ and the quirks that make her who she is.

A great cross-over read for primary/high school students.

‘The Land of Neverendings’ – Kate Saunders

The stories I remember loving when I was younger were those where the real work exists in a shadowy form, and a more vibrant place becomes the reality for the characters.

In this charming story, Emily is coming to terms with the death of her sister. She misses her terribly, so when old toys start to come to life around her Emily is more than happy to investigate this world more carefully.

With the help of her older next door neighbour, Ruth (whose teenage son died unexpectedly), Emily tries to work out how to get to the world of Smockeroon and save the toys from the spread of unhappiness.

Definitely one I want to read with my youngest son, and I’m looking forward to seeing what he makes of it.

‘Bridge to Terabithia’ – Katherine Paterson

Jess Aarons’ greatest ambition is to be the fastest runner in his grade. He’s been practicing all summer and can’t wait to see his classmates’ faces when he beats them all. But on the first day of school, a new girl boldly crosses over to the boys’ side and outruns everyone.
That’s not a very promising beginning for a friendship, but Jess and Leslie Burke become inseparable. Together they create Terabithia, a magical kingdom in the woods where the two of them reign as king and queen, and their imaginations set the only limits.

Unbelievably this is not a book I remember reading, I vaguely recall one of my children watching a movie version and yet I feel I knew exactly what to expect.

Some of the elements of this are not going to mean much to younger readers now. I can’t imagine many who’ve experienced the freedom of playing outside for hours without a parent hovering over them. There are probably few who’d be happy with the idea of creating their own world.

In spite of these issues, this is a lovely story about dealing with children on the cusp of growing up and coming to terms with loss and friendship.

It’s brief which does mean some of the nuances that could flesh out the characters were missing, but it’s still one of those stories that will make you smile to remember childhood friendships and to relish the power of the imagination.

‘Who Let the Gods Out?’ – Maz Evans

Elliot’s mum is ill and his home is under threat, but a shooting star crashes to earth and changes his life forever. The star is Virgo – a young Zodiac goddess on a mission. But the pair accidentally release Thanatos, a wicked death daemon imprisoned beneath Stonehenge, and must then turn to the old Olympian gods for help. After centuries of cushy retirement on earth, are Zeus and his crew up to the task of saving the world – and solving Elliot’s problems too?

This has been popping up on a range of feeds commenting on how much primary school students are loving this. My eight year old was keen, but I said I’d read it first.

Well, what great fun!

Elliott Hooper is not your typical hero. However, it looks as if he’s going to be the one charged with saving the world.

After a rather unfortunate mishap involving Virgo crashing into Elliott’s barn, he gets caught up in a riotous adventure involving a range of Gods and a quest to collect four stones.

Along the way we get introduced to a range of great characters. There’s a potentially upsetting story-line featuring Elliott’s ill mother and money problems, and some very funny moments with the queen.

Having finished this I’ve ordered part two and am looking forward to seeing what my son makes of this series. Pretty sure ‘Epic Bosh’ is going to find its way into conversation soon…

‘Ghost Boys’ – Jewell Parker Rhodes

Our narrator, twelve year old Jerome, is another voice to add to the list of young black boys killed because of their race.

Bullied in school, Jerome is a good kid who tries to do the right thing. He befriends new boy Carlos, even though it looks like it will bring him problems. He could never predict just how serious these will get.

When the school bullies start picking on Carlos one lunchtime he pulls out a gun. It’s a toy, but realistic enough to scare them off. Wanting to give his new friend thanks for the support, Carlos offers Jerome the toy to play with. Jerome’s decision to take it, and go out on the street to play with it, costs him his life.
The killing of Jerome at the hands of a white police officer happens early on. We’re spared the worst details, but the subsequent preliminary hearings tell us enough to know this was an unjustified action, probably an act brought about by prejudice and totally avoidable.

Jerome’s story is told in two timeframes. The flashbacks to record the last moments of his life and what led to that point, and the present now he is dead.
He can be seen by the daughter of the man who shot him. This allows the author to examine attitudes to race and to raise some of the pertinent issues linked to cases such as this throughout history. Rhodes introduces her readers to names that will, sadly, be all too familiar to many.

A quick read that should resonate with readers, though the sense of injustice and anger you’re likely to feel as you read the book – and the knowledge that it’s not likely to change – is infuriating. Nobody should live their life like this. Nobody should have to experience this horror. Nobody should let such attitudes continue unchallenged.

Given to me by our school librarian this is a great book for younger readers who are, perhaps, not quite ready for the more developed political stance of books such as The Hate You Give.