One of the best things about the school holidays is a chance to catch up on my towering to read pile. There are so many brilliant middle grade books being released in May that it was difficult to know where to start. All of the books on the blog today have been vying for my attention for different reasons. Some are by authors that I really love, others are debuts that I heard raved about on Twitter and one if the first children’s book for a renowned crime author. What they do have in common is that they are all entertaining and engaging reads that I highly recommend you to try if you’re on the look out for new middle grade adventures.
The Maker of Monsters – Lorraine Gregory
I am a huge fan of Lorraine’s debut, ‘Mold and the Poison Plot,’ so it was with great anticipation that I started to read, ‘The Maker of Monsters,’ and I’m pleased to say that this surpassed my high expectations. Brat is a lonely and desperate boy who knows no kindness and love, trapped on an isolated island at the mercy of a cruel master who forces him to take care of a menagerie of vicious creatures. The only highlight in his terrible life is the unexpected friendship with two of his masters creations, Tingle and Sherman. This unlikely trio are forced to overcome their fears and venture out into the real world when a catastrophic incident means that only they can help prevent a terrible tragedy. Lorraine has a talent for creating characters that you can’t help but fall in love with and are desperate for them to overcome their fears. At the heart of this marvellous tale is the power of kindness and friendship to inspire and transform you in the darkest of times. Her world-building is exceptional creating a highly visualised setting that she brings to life magnificently. Filled with bravery and heart, thrills and danger, this story is an absolute joy from start to finish.
With Vashti’s debut, ‘Brightstorm,’ we saw that she was capable of delivering a story of truly epic proportions,’ and ‘Wildspark,’ delivers this winning formula once again. She takes us on a journey to the mind-blowing world of Medlock where nothing is quite what it seems. Prue is devastated by the untimely death of her brother and feels trapped on the farm with her parents who are numb with grief. A chance encounter with a stranger gives her the opportunity to change her fate when she accepts an apprenticeship meant for her brother. Prue with her own mission in mind, has a chance to heal her family if only she can learn to harness Medlock’s incredible new technology. I was completely entranced by Vashti’s phenomenal imagining of this world where the impossible is made possible. A sensitive exploration of grief and an insight into how easy it is for divisions to be created in society, this is thoughtful storytelling at its best. Superb characterisation meets incredible storytelling in this breath-taking adventure.
We Won An Island – Charlotte Lo
Once in a while a book comes along at just the right time and gives you the very thing you need and for me, ‘We Won An Island,’ did just that. Charlotte’s debut novel is a wonderfully uplifting read that filled my heart with joy! Luna’s family is in crisis, her dad is depressed and her family is threatened with her eviction for failing to pay the rents. So when she spots a competition from a benevolent billionaire to win his island, she thinks this is the perfect way to save her family. But winning the competition is not the instant solution she thinks it will be. Island life turns out to have it’s own challenges and things don’t go exactly to plan. Cue one secret festival which is bound to win over the locals and help bring dad out of the depths of his grief. I loved the wildness and freedom of island life that was reminiscent of stories I adored growing up. You can’t help but get attached to Luna and her family and are cheering from the side lines desperately hoping for a happy ending. Charlotte deftly mixes humour and heart in this fun-filled and thoughtful tale.
Spies in St. Petersburg – Katherine Woodfine, illus. by Karl J Mountford
After the last successful but explosive mission in Paris, Katherine cunningly left the reader on a unexpected cliff hanger that demanded to be resolved. And finally after what seems like an eternity to ardent fans like myself, Sophie and Lil are back in a brand new Taylor and Rose adventure, ‘Spies in St Petersburg.’ Despite having great success working for the Secret Bureau Lil feels like she’s being kept at arms length and not being told exactly what’s been going on with Sophie. Frustrated she decides to take matters into her own hands and sets off for Russia determined to undercover the truth of Lil’s whereabouts. She soon finds herself caught up in a web of lies unsure of who to trust. I adore nothing more than returning to the world of Sophie and Lil. Katherine’s writing is exquisite, her attention to detail is second to none. I can’t write this review without a shout out to Karl J Mountford whose illustrations are just sumptuous and stunning as ever. With a dramatic and thrilling climax, I was left broken by another heart-breaking cliff hanger. Katherine has delivered another compelling and magnificent mystery, that is bound to delight her fans.
The Secret Starling – Judith Eagle, illus. by Kim Geyer
Judith Eagle’s debut, ‘The Secret Starling,’ is an old-fashioned romp of an adventure (in the very best of ways) full of plucky children and dastardly grown ups that thoroughly charmed me. After the death of her parents, Clara is sent to live with her cold guardian in a bleak and miserable home, regimented by controlling and dull routines. Life drags by until one day most unexpectedly Clara is abandoned by her uncle, left alone with a bundle of cash to survive by herself. The arrival of a boy called Peter and his cat Stockwell opens up a whole new world of joy and laughter for Clara. But the discovery of an old ballet shoe under the floorboards sparks a whole heap of questions that will change her life forever. The 70s setting gives this book a delicious retro feel which I particularly enjoyed and Kim Geyer’s beautiful illustrations capture the period perfectly. Wonderfully compelling, this timeless mystery is filled with intrigue, excitement and surprising revelations. The truly satisfying ending will leave readers with a huge smile on their faces.
A Girl Called Justice – Elly Griffiths
‘A Girl Called Justice,’ is the first foray into children’s fiction for adult crime writer Elly Griffiths. When I first opened my tuck box (excellent marketing by Quercus) this book certainly caught my attention. For me it ticked all the boxes, murder, mystery and boarding schools – what’s not to love? Highbury House Boarding School for the Daughters of Gentlefolk is a far cry from the traditional jolly boarding school filled with tales of fun and midnight feasts. Justice – who is used to being home schooled – is shocked to discover this world of hideous brown uniforms and impossible to understand hierarchy amongst the girls. Luckily Justice is more interested in discovering the truth about the death of one of the maids than ingratiating herself with the popular girls. But when Justice starts to get close to the truth, she unravels a whole host of secrets that puts her and everyone else in terrible danger. Smart, sassy and oh so clever this is a genuinely captivating story for lovers of mysteries. I can’t wait to get back on the case with Justice, a heroine you can truly admire!
Thank you to Egmont, Faber, Nosy Crow, OUP, Scholastic and Quercus for my gifted copies of these books in an exchange for an honest review. You can order or pre-order these books online by clicking on their titles or from any good bookshop.