‘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.

‘Embassy of the Dead’ – Will Mabbitt

A story with humour, for fans of Skullduggery Pleasant.

This is the first in a new series that promises to be great fun and, I hope, a great hit with readers.

Jake find himself on the wrong end of a meeting with a spirit. He takes possession of a box – and, without thinking, opens it. Inside is a severed finger. For Jake it’s also the start of a rather surreal adventure.

Jake finds himself hunted by employees of the Embassy of the Dead, and in his quest to avoid being sent to the Eternal Void he ends up befriending a Possessor, communing with the dead and doing all he can to keep his life.

Slightly tongue-in-cheek and this looks like the first in an interesting series. Thanks, NetGalley, for putting me on to something new for younger readers.

‘The Burning Maze (Trials of Apollo 3)’ – Rick Riordan

The formerly glorious god Apollo, cast down to earth in punishment by Zeus, is now an awkward mortal teenager named Lester Papadopoulos. In order to regain his place on Mount Olympus, Lester must restore five Oracles that have gone dark. But he has to achieve this impossible task without having any godly powers and while being duty-bound to a confounding young daughter of Demeter named Meg. Thanks a lot, Dad.

With the help of some demigod friends, Lester managed to survive his first two trials, one at Camp Half-Blood, and one in Indianapolis, where Meg received the Dark Prophecy. The words she uttered while seated on the Throne of Memory revealed that an evil triumvirate of Roman emperors plans to attack Camp Jupiter. While Leo flies ahead on Festus to warn the Roman camp, Lester and Meg must go through the Labyrinth to find the third emperor—and an Oracle who speaks in word puzzles—somewhere in the American Southwest. There is one glimmer of hope in the gloom-filled prophecy: The cloven guide alone the way does know. They will have a satyr companion, and Meg knows just who to call upon. . . .

Accompanied by Meg and the amazing Grover – and a few more friendly faces – Lester is continuing his quest.
Without giving away too many details, our intrepid characters find themselves facing a lot of mythical creatures, tangling with gods, challenged by a labyrinth and desperately trying to avoid being killed by a particularly unpleasant Roman emperor and those working for him.
From the beginning we have what we’ve come to expect. While I laughed out loud at moments, there was a growing awareness from Apollo of humanity and what it means.
Can’t wait for the next instalment!

‘The Dollmaker of Krakow’ – R.M. Romero

Karolina is a very special doll. Once a seamstress in the Land of Dolls she had to leave her country behind when rats invaded and started to destroy the once peaceful land simply because they could. She and her friend, Fritz, journey across their land to a place where they have been told a spirit resides who can send them to a place where their heart will be safe. A dangerous journey, but one they feel compelled to make.

We first meet Karolina when she awakens in the toy shop owned by Cyril Brzezick, the Dollmaker of Krakow. A private man, Cyril is shocked to discover that he has brought this doll to life. Slowly, they learn to trust each other.

Set against the backdrop of events in Poland in 1940 it is inevitable that we have to read about intense hatred and prejudice. We watch as Cyril befriends Josef and his daughter, Rena, only to have their friendship taken away because they are Jews. Throughout these events Karolina is by Cyril’s side…right until the end.

For readers of 9 upwards I think this will be a great book to introduce some of the issues linked to WWII. Inevitably, it’s upsetting to see the hatred experienced by Josef and Cyril because of their religion or refusal to follow Nazi orders. I think the blending of historical and magical is a perfect mix. What happens to these characters is awful, but there’s glimpses of humanity that reduced me to tears.

A beautifully presented book, with wonderfully depicted characters (even the nasty ones) and I can’t wait to see how others feel about it.

‘A Spoonful of Murder’ – Robin Stevens

What a delight this latest instalment of Hazel and Daisy’s adventures was. Thank you, Robin Stevens, for the story and I only wish it could have lasted longer.
This time round the girls are in Hong Kong when Hazel is called back after the death of her grandfather. As we come to expect, the girls are soon caught up in another mystery when Hazel’s new brother is kidnapped.
There’s a number of suspects – father’s business partners, old friends and even ex-servants – and the girls get to carry out some daring deeds as they investigate the crime.
As always with this series there is a wonderful sense of the relationship between the two girls and the ease with which they investigate these strange events. What I particularly loved in this book was getting more of a sense of the character of Hazel, and gaining an insight into her sense of alienation while learning a little more of her cultural background.
The depiction of Hong Kong was exciting and I think marks a real shift in the series. It was lovely to see Hazel coming into her own a little, and Daisy placed in the role so often assigned to her partner.
Another fantastic adventure.

‘The List’ – Patricia Forde

I’m finding it increasingly hard to not be too dismissive of books marketed as middle-grade simply because I’m so far away from the target age of the intended readership. Sometimes, a story comes along that just carries you away regardless of age and though this wasn’t quite there it was a story that I can see appealing to many readers.

John Noa (obvious parallels) is not a man we know much about until later on in the story. However we are told that he is the founder of the new community, Ark, and that he has made many changes to this new society to help them adjust to this future world. He’s no genial gentleman though – his actions throughout the story hint at a steely determination and a willingness to do anything he deems necessary to carry his plans to fruition.

The focus on words is what drew me, and it’s an obvious link to want to feel for the main character Letta whose job is to record the few words prescribed as permissible to use under List. Far too young to be placed in the position she is, her refusal to turn her back on an injured boy leads to some dangerous meetings that have her questioning everything she’s been led to believe.

Throughout, there were many echoes of other well-known stories but I don’t think this is a problem per se. My main issue with the plot was that it was quite predictable and that we never seemed to get a fully-developed sense of the world/people in it.

‘Shadow Weaver’ – MarcyKate Connolly

Emmeline has a skill, one which terrifies those around her. She can talk to Shadows, and manipulate them to her own purposes. Since she was little this has been a source of comfort to her, though it scares everyone in her house. When her family prepare to let her be taken to the mysterious Lady Aisling who says she can cure such children, Emmeline believes she has to run.

We follow Emmeline on her adventure as she journeys away from her home. She meets Lucas, a young man with his own talent. The question, however, is who can Emmeline trust?

I had suspicions throughout the story and there’s no getting away from the fact that you get what you are expecting. In spite of the reader probably guessing that Emmeline will be betrayed in the worst possible way, the story is well-told and I think younger readers will empathise with Emmeline’s situation.

Thank you NetGalley for sending the advance copy in exchange for my review.

‘Mistletoe and Murder’ – Robin Stevens

Daisy Wells and Hazel Wong return…and I can’t fault it. I’ve got rather a soft spot for these two, and i’m pleased to say that Mistletoe and Murder offers more of what I love about this series. This time the girls go to spend Christmas with Daisy’s brother, Bertie. Unfortunately, the girls’ habit for getting involved in murder and mayhem continues apace as they find themselves embroiled in another investigation.

The relationship between the two is somewhat akin to Holmes and Watson, and there’s a certain charm in the recreation of 1930’s Cambridge. I also admit to having a bit of a soft spot for the Christmas setting which creates a fairly cosy feel for a book involving a number of deaths.

In case you hadn’t grasped this yet, I love these books and this is yet another great addition to the series. I liked the involvement of our second Society, though I fear Alex and George’s involvement is going to cause issues later.