‘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.

‘Legendary’ – Stephanie Garber

First of all, I loved Caraval and thought it would be hard to top. Second, I have fallen in love a little (okay, a lot) with this world and can’t wait to see where Garber takes it.
It’s fine.
Legendary was – dare I say it – better than Caraval, but for different reasons.
Once again, we’re plunged into a world full of mystery and intrigue. This time round we had some familiar faces, but it remains a world where we’re never quite sure what is real and what is game.
Tella is determined to play Caraval this time. She has a friend helping her, and is determined that the price she will be asked to pay for this help will be worth it. What she has to work out during the game is just who/what is precious to her, and whether or not she is prepared to pay the price asked of her.
There’s lots of twists and turns. There’s hints of awful things to come. But there’s also hope.
Much as I wanted a neat tidy ending, it actually sets things up to be a very interesting finale.

‘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!

‘Select Few’ by Marit Weisenberg

After rejecting the cult-like influence of her father’s family, Julia moves into a fancy hotel in downtown Austin. But she finds herself alone except for her boyfriend, John–and her fears. Once again she’s suppressing her abilities, afraid her family will come for John when they find out he’s been developing abilities of his own in her presence. The FBI is also keeping a close eye on Julia hoping she can lead them to her father, Novak, as he’s wanted for questioning in his former assistant’s death.

With tensions high, Julia and John agree to go separate ways for the summer, paving the way for Julia to reunite with Angus, fellow outcast. Together they set out on a road trip to California to find Julia’s mom and a way into Novak’s secret underground world. Along the way Julia will learn the Puri perhaps aren’t the only humans evolving into something different. . . and that maybe she’s the leader her people have needed all along.

This book has to be read after ‘Select’ but we pick up events quickly and are soon reminded of the situation Julia has placed herself in.

Having chosen to leave her family, life is difficult for Julia. Hiding out in a hotel, with people hunting her father, Julia is desperate for answers but also needs to avoid doing things that could mean any of Novak’s visions come true.

Though she loves John, her worries for what could happen to an outsider dominate the early stages of the novel. This becomes more concerning as John seems to be developing his own special talents.

Initially a little slow, there’s a lot of focus on Julia trying to get answers to questions about herself, her family and what might happen in the future. There’s a rather dramatic closing section, but the possibilities for the future are exciting and I’m intrigued to see where this goes next.

Scheduled for release in October 2018, I have to thank the publishers and NetGalley for allowing me to read an advance copy of this.

‘Dead Girls’ by Abigail Tarttelin

When her best friend Billie is found murdered, eleven-year-old Thera – fearless and forthright – considers it her duty to find the killer. 
Aided by a Ouija board, Billie’s ghost, and the spirits of four other dead girls, she’s determined to succeed. The trouble with Thera, though, is that she doesn’t always know when to stop – and sometimes there’s a fine line between doing the right thing and doing something very, very bad indeed.

I was fortunate enough to receive an advance copy of this, and it is definitely a book to recommend. I was rather stunned to get comment on my Goodreads feedback from the author, and can’t resist posting her comment below.

This is a book that really should come with some kind of trigger warning as it explores topics that are hard to read about (sexuality, mental health, paedophilia, rape and murder) and I’d hate for someone to pick this up without some fore-knowledge of the content. However, it also forces us to confront some of our assumptions about children, sexuality and gender issues in a way that cannot – and really should not – be ignored.

Our narrator, Thera, is eleven when her best friend, Billie, is murdered.
We are placed firmly in Thera’s head and we follow the girls on their last night together as they play in their seemingly idyllic rural home. But Billie never makes it home and we watch as Thera learns of her friend’s disappearance.

For reasons that she reveals as we follow her story, Thera blames herself and comes to believe that she has to avenge her best friend’s murder. The girls have experimented with a ouija board, and Thera has a fierce intelligence that is cultivated by her family but which is feared by her peers (though they can’t articulate it). When Thera becomes convinced that dead girls are talking to her and Billie’s spirit is guiding her to find the murderer, it’s hard to decide the extent to which we trust this narrator.

This is a character that is firmly straddling the adult and child worlds: with a wide vocabulary and very adult turn of phrase one moment, and then very innocent and naive the next. While I think this is deliberate, and it forces us to consider how we treat children of this age and the way they are influenced by events around them, it occasionally grates. Like many adult readers will probably be, I was not entirely comfortable hearing the characters’ views on sex and sexuality (though I found it realistically presented). However, I do think that the novel raises some crucial issues surrounding how we talk to our children about how they present themselves and the potential harm we may be doing to our children in trying to shield them from some of the less pleasant aspects of life.

There was a rather confusing element to the story that does become clear towards the end, but I was stunned by the direction in which this went. Dark, utterly gripping and very very scary.

In response to my feedback on Goodreads, Tarttelin posted: I was so pleased to see an early reader “getting” where I was going…Although I appreciate it can be tough reading, I wanted to try talking about this!

‘The Smoke Thieves’ – Sally Green

A princess, a traitor, a hunter and a thief. Four teenagers with the fate of the world in their hands. Four nations destined for conflict.

Four key characters, and we switch perspectives so it can seem slow on occasion. However, the story puts in place a promising idea for the next part in the series.
We are introduced in turn to Tash (a young demon-hunter who risks her life every time she goes out), princess Catherine (a young girl forced to marry someone she’s never met), March (a servant who is determined to avenge the suffering of his people) and the bastard son of the prince, Edyon (a common thief).

It takes some time for us to work out what’s going on, and the crux of the story isn’t revealed until very near the end so it could leave some readers a little disappointed. I felt it took time to establish the voices of the different characters, and the mix of viewpoints inevitably left me feeling they weren’t as fleshed out as I’d have liked.

That said, the world is reasonably presented and there is plenty here to get your attention. The rather obvious love triangle seems unnecessary – I’d hope Catherine will come into her own as the series continues – and I remain unconvinced by the attempts to depict a relationship that is not heterosexual. However, the premise of the story and some of the secondary characters more than make up for the areas that don’t seem so successful.