‘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.

‘The Raven’s Tale’ – Cat Winters

Cat Winters is one of those authors who seems to delight in the macabre and unusual…I’ve enjoyed every one of the novels by her that I’ve written, and this is another hit in my mind.

Seventeen-year-old Edgar Poe counts down the days until he can escape his foster family—the wealthy Allans of Richmond, Virginia. He hungers for his upcoming life as a student at the prestigious new university, almost as much as he longs to marry his beloved Elmira Royster. However, on the brink of his departure, all his plans go awry when a macabre Muse named Lenore appears to him. Muses are frightful creatures that lead Artists down a path of ruin and disgrace, and no respectable person could possibly understand or accept them. But Lenore steps out of the shadows with one request: “Let them see me!”

Following the life of Edgar Allan Poe, this is clearly based on meticulous research but with a wonderfully macabre style that pays homage to Poe’s writing.

Poe at seventeen is about to head to university. He wants to write, but is discouraged by his foster father. Poe tries to ignore his dark muse, Lenore, but we see him struggle with his passions and interests as he adjusts to life as a student. Spiralling debts burden him and Poe cannot bear to abandon the one thing that gives him pleasure though it leaves him open to criticism.

For those familiar with his writing/life I imagine this will add another rich layer, but it’s a fascinating story regardless.

Thanks to NetGalley for allowing me access prior to publication and to Cat Winters for her quirky imaginative style being let loose on such a rich topic.

‘Monsters’ – Sharon Dogar

1814: Mary Godwin, the sixteen-year-old daughter of radical socialist and feminist writers, runs away with a dangerously charming young poet – Percy Bysshe Shelley. From there, the two young lovers travel a Europe in the throes of revolutionary change, through high and low society, tragedy and passion, where they will be drawn into the orbit of the mad and bad Lord Byron.
But Mary and Percy are not alone: they bring Jane, Mary’s young step-sister. And she knows the biggest secrets of them all . . .
Told from Mary and Jane’s perspectives, Monsters is a novel about radical ideas, rule-breaking love, dangerous Romantics, and the creation of the greatest Gothic novel of them all: Frankenstein

Thank you to NetGalley for providing me access to such a complex and fascinating read.

Some of the stories surrounding Frankenstein are well-known, and I admit to finding the book at its most absorbing when it focused on the events of this time. However, in this we have an imagined account of the life of Mary Goodwin, her lover Percy Bysshe Shelley and a character I’d never heard of – half-sister Jane/Claire.

Initially the book felt slow in approach. A meticulous and, at times, off-putting focus on the build-up to the relationship between these evidently fascinating characters. There’s a clear sense of the time and beliefs around these characters being brought to life. It was definitely interesting to see how their lives may have intertwined and linked.

While the story was fascinating, I found myself intensely irritated by Shelley and the selfishness with which he acted. The attempt to show his appeal and positive traits is clear, but it didn’t quite succeed.

‘Girls Made of Snow and Glass’ – Melissa Bashardoust

A feminist re-imagining of the Snow White tale and, though a little slow to draw us in, it was a beautifully told story.

We’re told this story from alternating perspectives – Mina (a girl whose heart is made of glass and who’s shunned by everyone because of her magician father) and Lynet (a princess made of snow who is destined to rule, but who wants nothing more than to be loved) – and this allows us to develop an understanding of each character, lending a subtlety to their portrayal that I felt was intriguing.

Initially it takes a bit of time to establish the time-frame for each character. Mina, however, becomes stepmother to Lynet and it was lovely to see how they learn to trust themselves and each other.

I was a little unsure of my feelings towards this initially, but as the characters come into their own I was rooting for each and hoping for a better outcome than that which seemed inevitable.

‘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…

‘Slayer’ – Kiersten White

A Slayer is born into every generation…for people of a certain age, you know what’s coming next…and this is the start of what can best be described as a Buffy spin-off series.

Athena and Artemis are twins. When we first meet them they are young girls, caught up in a fire and only one of them is saved. We only see this event through the eyes of the mysterious Hunter figure. Someone who we know is close to the girls, someone who wants to carve out their place in history by destroying a prophecy and someone that we only hear from periodically throughout the book.

Much of the book focuses on Nina (as Athena prefers to be called) learning that she has – after the hellmouth was closed – been given the power of a Slayer. She’s not happy about this as it goes against everything she believes in as a healer. She takes it upon herself to start investigating the appearance of demons, kill the odd hellhound and generally get caught up in all manner of strange events. All while suffering angst over her crush on old friend Leo, now returned as her watcher.

There’s no escaping the obvious love and respect for her source material that White has. There’s numerous references to events fans of the show will remember, and some wonderful characters/dynamics. I was struck by the action of the novel, and couldn’t help but laugh out loud at some of the moments.
There were also moments of exquisite sadness. You’ll know them when you come to them, and the ending certainly had me cheering for our Slayer. Not quite Buffy…but something new, and something exciting.

Thanks to NetGalley for letting me read this in exchange for my thoughts.

‘The Wicked King’ – Holly Black

Picking up after the events of book one, we are in a difficult situation for Jude. She has power over Cardan as she waits for the appropriate time to put her brother Oak on the throne. However, she realises that her action will put her in conflict with many people, including Madoc.

Throughout this book the focus is on power and what people will do to attain/retain it. There’s no escaping the fact that everyone’s plotting, and nobody seems to be telling the truth about their plans.

As we watch Jude try to keep a grip on events it was clear that she’s quite enjoying the power she has acquired. It’s never totally clear whether she’s got her end-goal in sight or if the boundaries are changing.

There’s many dramatic moments here: unexpected betrayals, fighting, secrets revealed and even passionate moments. What is definitely the case is that the closing moments of this were of the definite jaw-dropping in their audacity type, and it all looks very exciting for part three.

‘Children of Blood and Bone’ – Tomi Adeyemi

Is it possible to be scared of reading a book because you’re worried about being disappointed?

It’s sat on my bookshelf for months, I’ve picked it up a couple of times and each time not felt I’m up for it. All around me I’ve seen people raving about it, and felt I should be reading it but not wanted to start. More fool me.

Though some of the plot details lag, as we learn more about Zelie and Tzain we realise that their quest to restore magic to their world will be fraught with danger.

From Zelie’s training to the final moments when she claims her place, this was a fantasy story like no other. Zelie is a strong character, not without her flaws, but she faces her challenge with true grit. She is up against it, faces her fears and even continues when many would have crumbled.

Alongside Zelie, we have Inan and Amari- the prince and princess who have been raised to fight, to fear magic and who sense that things don’t have to be the way they’ve been led to believe. Each of them has to fight prejudice – both their own, and that of others.

It wasn’t until I got to the end and read the author’s note that I read about the symbolic role of this book. Fighting for your spirit, fighting against prejudice and the reckless slaughter of innocents…how did I not get that as well as a great fantasy story this was also a book about race?

Amongst the final lines of the novel are the words: We are all children of blood and bone. All instruments of vengeance and virtue. It sent shivers down my spine and I am excited to see where book 2 goes.

‘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.