Review: The Forever Court by Dave Rudden

I have been eagerly awaiting this, the second book in the Knights of the Borrowed Dark trilogy, and am happy to say that I thoroughly enjoyed reading it. Thanks to the lovely folks at Puffin Books for sending me a copy to review!

30287713The Forever Court (Knights of the Borrowed Dark #2)

Dave Rudden

Puffin Books (2017)

Fantasy, 10+

Denizen Hardwick is getting used to his new life, as much as anyone can get used to a world of magic and shadowy monsters, that is. He is training hard to become a Knight, and struggling to control the swirling mass of magic in his mind. The fire wants to find a way out, but Denizen must remember the Cost that comes with using his powers, a price paid in iron. Then, the Knights of the Borrowed Dark are summoned to a meeting of the Forever Court, the higher powers among the monstrous Tenebrae. For Denizen this also means seeing Mercy, the Endless King’s daughter, for the first time since he saved her (and the world) and confronting his feelings for her…

With the same mixture of beautiful writing, exciting plot and strong characters that made me love Knights of the Borrowed Dark, this was a gripping and exciting read. I have a lot of love for Denizen, Rudden’s anxious bookish protagonist, and his voice (not to mention his repertoire of frowns) was even stronger in this sequel. I also feel that the relationship between Denizen and Vivian was explored very well in this book, the complexities for both of them in being reunited and trying to deal with their complicated past. The characters in the book are all nuanced and multi layered, and I enjoyed getting to know them better here.

The romance between Denizen and Mercy was sweet and endearingly awkward. Their interactions, and Simon and Denizen’s banter lightened the mood of the book which certainly has its dark and creepy moments.

Rudden’s language is lyrical, and there were many times where I stopped just to admire the way he phrases things. Things like:

Not beautiful in the way a human could be beautiful – no, this was a sparse and terrible kind of beauty, a beauty like that of the island, the kind of beauty that wanted you dead.

Or:

Dublin, however, was a liar of a city.

 I love reading books set in places I know, and it’s great seeing familiar parts of Dublin in the KOTBD books. There are some fantastic scenes in this book set in the Long Room at Trinity College Dublin, as can be seen on the cover. Large scale fight scenes such as the one in the Long Room show Rudden’s skillful writing of exciting action sequences, but he is equally adept at conveying Denizen’s more contemplative and conflicted moments. My one criticism was that I found myself getting confused with the who’s who of the Croit family at times. However, overall this was an exciting read and a very satisfying sequel.

As there is quite a bit of darkness in these books, as a bookseller I would tend to recommend them for readers aged 10/11+ but teens and adults will also enjoy this gripping and beautifully told fantasy adventure.

Review: Miraculous Miranda by Siobhán Parkinson

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Miraculous Miranda
Siobhán Parkinson
Hodder Children’s Books (2016)
Miranda has a big imagination, and an inexhaustible curiosity about the world around her. She always wins Word of the Day at school, and she loves language and books. She writes stories about a fantasy land she has named Magnanimous, the capital of which is Splendifirous, a city with silver gates and giraffe guards. When Miranda’s writing seems to cause some small miracles, she wonders if she can create a miracle for her sister Gemma, who is seriously ill.

Miraculous Miranda is a simply marvellous book. Miranda herself is utterly charming, with her love of phrases like ‘that is the thing with life’ and her matter-of-fact approach to everything. Even the miracles are laid out in a table to be examined and classified. The family dynamics, particularly Miranda’s relationship with her grandmother, are handled with sensitivity and Parkinson creates a book that is both moving and funny.

It is also a very beautiful book, the illustrations by Karen Radford work beautifully with the story and the design and typesetting are appealing.

Parkinson has written a number of brilliant books for children and young adults (Sisters…No Way! and Something Invisible are two of my favourites) and with Miraculous Miranda she proves once again that she is one of Ireland’s best writers for young people.

 

Louisa (of Books Upstairs), Siobhán Parkinson and illustrator PJ Lynch at the launch of Miraculous Miranda

Review: Knights of the Borrowed Dark by Dave Rudden

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Cover image from Goodreads

 

Knights of the Borrowed Dark

Dave Rudden

PenguinRandomhouse, 2016

Fantasy/Adventure, 10+

Denizen Hardwick is an orphan with no information about his origins. He loves reading about heroes, but he certainly doesn’t want to be one. When he is whisked away from Crosscaper Orphanage to meet an aunt he didn’t know existed, Denizen finds himself deep in a shadowy and dangerous world, more terrifying that anything he has ever imagined. Denizen must decide whether he will join the Knights who fight against the Tenebrous, monsters that emerge from the darkness. The Knights wield great power, but this power comes at a terrible cost…

Looking back, it had been a mistake to fill the orphanage with books.

I was hooked from the very first line of this book. The narrative voice is wonderful – just a touch of wryness, and vivid descriptions of the settings. Knights of the Borrowed Dark is an exciting read with a magic and a mythology that has been cleverly and carefully crafted. The world Rudden has created is rich and compelling, with The Cost being a particularly  striking feature of the magic. The monsters are spine-crawlingly creepy. The Clockwork Three are  unique and memorable creations, each terrifying in their own way. Personally, I thought the woman in white was the scariest, and I defy any reader not to shudder when they read the section that begins:

The woman in white was eating light bulbs.

Denizen is a bookish hero that young readers will easily identify with. He is quite an anxious character, and is understandably reluctant to dive into this dangerous new world. He’d much rather read about it instead. Denizen is not a natural hero, and this makes his bravery all the more impressive. He choses to be courageous, to join in the fight against the darkness. He is also wonderfully snarky and has a whole collection of frowns.

The No.13 Questioning Frown was replaced by the No.8 – the I Am Missing Something Important Here, Which Is Unfair Because It Concerns Me.

There is a whole host of wonderful supporting characters. One of my favourites was Darcie, the seer of the group, but all the Knights had intriguing back stories and added to the tale. There is a lot of darkness and violence in this book, but ultimately Rudden shows how with courage, darkness can be overcome.

Rudden is a wonderful addition to the realm of children’s literature, and I know that fans of Rick Riordan, JK Rowling and Derek Landy will love Knights of the Borrowed Dark. This is a cracking fantasy adventure that readers young and old will enjoy.  I can’t wait for the sequel.

Review: Seeds of Liberty by Claire Hennessy

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Seeds of Liberty – Three Battles for Independence

Claire Hennessy

Poolbeg, 2014

Historical Fiction, 10+ 

It is the eighteenth century, and revolutionary ideas are spreading – The Boston Tea Party in 1773, the French storming the Bastille in 1789 and the Irish Rebellion of 1798. Seeds of Liberty is divided into three parts, each told from the point of view of a young character caught up in revolutionary events in Boston, Paris and Wexford respectively. Each story is told in a diary format, allowing the reader see through the protagonists eyes as they witness, and take part in, historic events and grapple with ideas of revolution, liberty and nationhood.

While this book has a lot of information about life in the eighteenth century, it also tells three very memorable and engaging stories.The protagonists ( Jack, Catherine and Robert) are likeable and strong, and their curiosity about the turbulent times in which they live makes this historical period very accessible for readers. Their accounts capture the excitement and danger of the changes happening around them, while often being very moving. This is an educational and enjoyable read, one that makes history vivid for the reader. Derry Dillon’s illustration for the cover is bright and eye-catching, and highlights the dramatic events in the book. Highly recommended for history buffs aged 10+.

Claire Hennessy is an Irish author who has written many contemporary YA novels (Stereotype is one of my favourites). Seeds of Liberty is her first foray into historical fiction. She is also the new childrens editor for Penguin Ireland. Check out her website here.

#ShareAPuffinBook Goodnight Mister Tom by Michelle Magorian

I was delighted to be asked to take part in #ShareAPuffinBook, the campaign around a group of classic children’s books re-released by Puffin this month. The titles include Charlotte’s Web, A Wrinkle in Time, Stuart Little and many more! The book I selected to re-read and write about was Goodnight Mister Tom, Michelle Magorian’s touching novel set in Britain during World War Two.

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The Review

Goodnight Mister Tom tells the story of William Beech, a young evacuee sent to live with the reclusive Tom Oakley in a small village in the English countryside. William is frightened and timid, but with Tom’s gentle care he learns to be happy, to make friends and discovers he is good and talented. But then William’s old life makes an unexpected return – will he see Mister Tom again? And will he stay the same changed, happy boy?

This is a very moving tale, about love, friendship and learning to be yourself. I love how much both William and Tom grow throughout the tale, and the village of Little Weirworld is full of memorable characters. The relationship between William and Tom is incredibly touching as they both learn to embrace their talents, and to love. This relationship is probably my favourite thing about the book; I would even say it is one of my all-time favourite book relationships! William’s transformation is handled very well – Magorian writes the character in a very sensitive manner, showing how he changes gradually. She also deals with the context skilfully, evoking a sense of life in wartime Britain without overloading the reader with information and history. It was wonderful to read this book again, it was a very emotional experience! I don’t think it’s possible not to be moved by the highs and lows of this tale – very highly recommended.

Check out an extract from Goodnight Mister Tom here: 1Goodnight Mister Tom extract

The Extras

These new Puffin editions have extra material for readers to enjoy. In Goodnight Mister Tom this includes a glossary of some of the terms used in the book – such as wireless and Andersen shelter – as well as a quiz, facts about World War Two, recipes and more! This extra material not only adds to the reader’s understanding of the context of the book, but also provides some fun activities related to the book.

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Thank you to Puffin Books for the invitation to join the project, I really enjoyed returning to Goodnight Mister Tom and I am delighted to see these wonderful classic titles being brought to a new audience!

Review: Finding Fortune – Pippa Goodhart

The blog has been a bit slow lately, but I’m working on more reviews and hopefully some more art content. I know it’s summer, but I started an internship last week and things have been busy!

This is a book I read a while ago, it’s a really interesting read with lots of adventure and a fantastic setting. I also love the cover, it is beautifully designed and really captures the atmosphere of the book.

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Finding Fortune

Pippa Goodhart

Catnip, 2013

Adventure, Historical Fiction 10+, 12+

When Ida’s father decides to go to Klondike and join in the gold rush, she is determined to go with him and avoid the boarding school her stern grandmother is trying to send her to. She plans to stow away, and join her Fa on his great adventure. Together they undertake long voyages, cross treacherous mountain passes and begin the seemingly impossible task of finding their fortune.

This is an interesting historical read, exploring an exciting time period. The fact that Ida, a young girl, was involved in the gold rush is also of interest. The book makes it very clear that places like Klondike were considered unsuitable for ladies. It is also a very atmospheric novel – the icy winters are chilly, and the cramped condition of the ship uncomfortable. The close relationship between Ida and her father was enjoyable to read, and there was also a good cast of supporting characters such as Ida’s strict grandmother (‘I am tolerably well, but not as well as I look, you know’), and their Klondike neighbours, young couple Nathan and Carrie. However, I felt the ‘bad’ characters were far too obvious, and their actions were often predictable. The changing between the third person narrative and Ida’s letters in the first person also jarred at times. However, overall this was an engaging historical read, with a convincing sense of adventure, hardship and danger. Finding Fortune will appeal to fans of books like Eva Ibbotson’s Journey to the River Sea.

 

Review: After Iris by Natasha Farrant

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After Iris

Natasha Farrant

Faber 2013

10+/12+

272 pages

A mix of transcripts of Bluebell’s video diaries and her written diary entries, this is a moving tale of a family dealing with loss. It has been three years since Blue’s twin sister Iris died, and her family is still coming to terms with Iris’ absence. Their parents seem to be more interested in their careers than their children, leaving Blue and her siblings in the care of their au pair Zoran. Flora rebels, dying her hair pink, Jas and Twig just want their family back together, and Blue is lost. With no one to talk to, she turns to her diary, documenting the life of her mad family.

This is a touching read, with memorable characters and plenty of emotion. I loved the combination of transcripts and traditional diary entries, it made for a very different format and conveyed Blue’s love of film-making very well. The characters were wonderful – I loved Flora’s dramatic flair and her pink dreadlocks, and the Babes were both sweet and entertaining. Poor Zoran was another memorable character, he had a lot to put up with in looking after the Gadsby children. He was a very likeable character, and I loved his hidden talent and his caring nature. I also loved the quirkiness of this book – such as the scenes with the pet rats! Blue was a strong protagonist, and her diaries allow the reader connect with her thoughts and emotion. She is easy to connect with, and it was her voice and her growth throughout the novel that made it such a compelling and moving read. I read the whole book in one sitting, and I am sure this funny and touching read will appeal to many readers.  I can’t wait to read the next instalment of Blue’s diaries – Flora in Love.

Review: Liar & Spy by Rebecca Stead

I’ve been off the radar for a while, but expect plenty more posts soon! I’m just back from a trip to London in which we visited lots of art galleries and the Globe theatre, and I have lots of pictures to share with you all. Also I’ll be posting about the Mountains to Sea Book Festival which is on next week – check it out if you’re looking for bookish things to do! And now for the review:

Liar & Spy

Genre: Mystery/Adventure/Contemporary
Age Group: 10+
Release Date: 8th August 2013

When Georges and his family move to an apartment block, he meets Safer, an eccentric new friend who ropes him into a Spy Club. They are watching Mr X, a mysterious man who always dresses in black and carries large suitcases. Safer is convinced he’s up to no good. As well as the shady Mr X, the apartment block is filled with such characters as Candy (Safer’s sweet-obsessed little sister) and the interrupting moo kid. When he’s not learning the secret ways of spies, Georges is dealing with bullying at school. He tries to take his mum’s advice of seeing all these moments as little dots that make up a bigger, brighter picture, but it isn’t always easy. And sometimes those little dots mean a lot, and you have to stand up for the now…
Rebecca Stead writes beautifully, and in Liar & Spy she creates a quirky and fun story that also has some very serious and moving themes. The story is filled with interesting characters, not only those in the apartment block, but also restaurant owner Yum Li whose unique fortune cookies contain messages like ‘Why don’t you look up once in a while? Is something wrong with your neck?’ and Bob Who Draws, Georges’ sort-of friend in school who wants to rearrange the alphabet.
I enjoyed Stead’s first novel When You Reach Me, but I felt Liar & Spy was even better, both entertaining and memorable. With references to a Seurat painting, and messages written in Scrabble tiles, I couldn’t help but love this book!

Review originally for LoveReading4Kids – check out the other reviewers’ thoughts on Liar & Spy here.

Review: The Mirror Chronicles: The Bell Between Worlds by Ian Johnstone

This is the cover of the proof copy/ARC - isn't the 'Quiet Please' great?

This is the cover of the proof copy/ARC – isn’t the ‘Quiet Please’ great?

Genre: Fantasy/Adventure

Age Group: 10+/12+

Published: June 2013

When Sylas is called into a world known as the Other by the giant Passing Bell, his life is changed utterly. Removed from a dull existence of running errands for his uncle, enlivened only by his daydreams, he is transported into an adventure of unbelievable proportions. In this new world, magic is everywhere, but so is danger. Hunted down by hounds, and pursued by evil sorcerers, Sylas must discover who he is and what he can do. He and his new friends must find the strength to save both worlds, and discover the truth behind The Glimmer Myth.

This is a gripping fantasy adventure, with some truly excellent world building. I found it a bit slow at the beginning (with the exception of the fascinating Shop of Things), but once Sylas reached the world on the other side of the mirror, I was enthralled. The descriptions of magic are fantastic, and both worlds are vividly imagined. Sylas is a strong protagonist, but there is a whole host of wonderful characters such as his fiery sidekick Simia, the mysterious Mr Zhi, and conductor of nature Paiscion. The tale itself is well plotted and gripping, with lots of detail and plenty of twists. There are some questions left unanswered at the end of the book, and I eagerly await the next instalment of Sylas’ adventures.

Reviewed for LoveReading4Kids. Check out what the other reviewers thought here.