Category Archives: Children’s literature

Review of KINDLE Ebook The Mysterious Howling – Book 1 of The Incorrigible Children of Ashton Place by Maryrose Wood #Brainfluffbookreview #TheMysteriousHowlingbookreview

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This series was recommended to me by the Cap, of Captain’s Quarters, whose quirky book blogging site regularly uncovers true gems. It was Cap who pointed me in the direction of the glorious Lockwood & Co series, one of my all-time favourite reads of the decade, never mind the year, so when Cap suggested this offering, I scurried off to track it down…

BLURB: Found running wild in the forest of Ashton Place, the Incorrigibles are no ordinary children: Alexander, age ten or thereabouts, keeps his siblings in line with gentle nips; Cassiopeia, perhaps four or five, has a bark that is (usually) worse than her bite; and Beowulf, age somewhere-in-the-middle, is alarmingly adept at chasing squirrels. Luckily, Miss Penelope Lumley is no ordinary governess. Only fifteen years old and a recent graduate of the Swanburne Academy for Poor Bright Females, Penelope embraces the challenge of her new position. Though she is eager to instruct the children in Latin verbs and the proper use of globes, first she must help them overcome their canine tendencies.

As you can probably tell from the blurb, there are aspects of this book which are very much tongue in cheek, but as with all the best exponents of parody, that doesn’t prevent Wood from serving up a cracking story. I love Penelope Lumley, who epitomises all those undaunted, intelligent governesses who featured so markedly in 18th and 19th century literature.

As she travels to Ashton Place, filled with ideas of teaching the children Latin and geography, she instead discovers they are being housed in a barn, filthy and afraid. Never mind about Latin – they cannot speak at all. Questions about what exactly they are doing running wild in the woods surrounding Ashton Place have to be put on hold as Penelope tackles the business of getting them to eat and drink without making a mess, and teaching them the basic phrases all good mannered children need to know. I love the kindness and empathy she demonstrates – as well as the fact that she clearly loved her time at the Swanburne Academy of Poor Bright Females and very much misses the companionship of her fellow students and her beloved mentor.

I’ve seen comparisons with Lemony Snickett’s series, but there isn’t the sharp-edged darkness here that runs throughout A Series of Unfortunate Events, unless the first book is very much a sheep in wolf’s clothing. As far as I’m concerned, this is another series that is too good to leave to the children, and I’m delighted to report that I’ve just got hold of the second book in the series. Highly recommended for children of all ages who appreciate both the enjoyable story and humour, most of which is clearly aimed at those of us considerably older than the nine-years-old and upwards this book has been written for.
9/10

Review of KINDLE Ebook The Rithmatist by Brandon Sanderson #Brainfluffbookreview #TheRithmatistbookreview

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I’d just finished a rather intense read and was away on a weekend break, so I wanted something a bit lighter. Browing through my Kindle, I came upon this offering and dived right in. I’m so glad I did…

BLURB: More than anything, Joel wants to be a Rithmatist. Rithmatists have the power to infuse life into two-dimensional figures known as Chalklings. Rithmatists are humanity’s only defense against the Wild Chalklings. Having nearly overrun the territory of Nebrask, the Wild Chalklings now threaten all of the American Isles. As the son of a lowly chalkmaker at Armedius Academy, Joel can only watch as Rithmatist students learn the magical art that he would do anything to practice. Then students start disappearing—kidnapped from their rooms at night, leaving trails of blood. Assigned to help the professor who is investigating the crimes, Joel and his friend Melody find themselves on the trail of an unexpected discovery—one that will change Rithmatics—and their world—forever.

I was looking for a school adventure with a bit of a difference, but to be honest, I hadn’t expected too much of this one, so was absolutely delighted when it delivered a really enthralling read with a fabulous premise. In this alternate fantastic world, Rithmatists are those who are able to attack and kill using chalk drawings. Their chalklings are able to strip the flesh from bones, cause fires and destroy. Sanderson’s straightforward, flowing prose quickly drew me into this world, where Joel is obsessed by the geometric designs that will keep the chalklings at bay.

Joel is a scholarship student whose rather blinkered approach to his studies means that he is regularly in trouble with his tutors. And while he isn’t necessarily bullied or hassled (which I liked, because it made a very nice change), neither is he ever invited home during the holidays to stay at the families of the rich and powerful. Being the son of the school cleaning lady means he isn’t well connected enough.

I liked his lack of self pity, as he deals with this dynamic, and his rather spiky character. The supporting cast are also well done – there is a pleasing mix of adults, so that while some are not particularly sympathetic or kind, there are a number who are all of those things. But the relationship that rolls this lovely story forward is his friendship with Melody. While Joel would give anything to be a Rithmatist, Melody hates her gift as it forces her into a life she resents and fears. Not surprisingly, this dynamic creates a lot of sparks between these two and I loved that it wasn’t a relationship that ever settles down into something easy and straightforward. She is also a strong, vibrant character with a flair for the dramatic and a tendency to draw cute unicorn chalklings.

As for the story – well, that’s a doozy! I had, of course, realised the identity of the antagonist creating all the havoc and kidnapping the promising young Rithmatists, until it became apparent that I’d got it completely wrong… The pages flew by as I was gripped by the plot, desperate for Joel and the kindly professor to succeed.

While the main puzzle is solved, the conclusion clearly sets this one up to be followed by another book, which so far hasn’t seen the light of day. It’s a real shame – and I’m glad I didn’t know the second book hadn’t appeared before I tucked into this one, or I might never have started it. And if I hadn’t done that, then I would have missed out on one of my most entertaining, quirkily clever reads of the year so far. Highly recommended, even if the second book isn’t available…
10/10

Sunday Post – 20th October, 2019 #Brainfluffbookblog #SundayPost

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This is part of the weekly meme over at the Caffeinated Reviewer, where book bloggers can share the books and blogs they have written.

This has been a turbulent week weatherwise, with torrential downpours punctuated by bright spells of weather and over Thursday night and Friday, there were also a couple of thunderstorms. So it’s been hard to get washing dry outside, however the upside is that it is still mild for the time of year and we have also had some lovely rainbows.

I’ve been continuing with my Aerobics and Pilates classes and am gradually getting a bit fitter and less exhausted during and after the sessions. On Wednesday evening, I managed to make Writing Group which was lovely. I hadn’t been for a month and it was great to catch up with everyone and also get some valuable advice on the opening of Mantivore Warrior.

On Thursday, Sally came over and we started work on her second book. Editing is always such an intense business – I looked around twice and the day had gone, though I was absolutely shattered, to the extent that I spent part of Friday morning sleeping because when the alarm went off, I was just too tired to move. When I got up, I felt much better, but this week I must try to get to bed at a reasonable time as I’ve backslid badly. I needed to be sharp, as we collected the grandchildren on Friday after Oscar’s football practice – it was lovely to spend time with them again and catch up on their lives. Yesterday, we had a gathering of the clan at my sister’s flat. My parents and my sister’s sons and daughter-in-law travelled down to view her prospective new home and she also invited the four of us along. So ten of us, plus Darcy – Mum and Dad’s poodle – sat down to a delicious homemade curry lunch in with all the trimmings, while we provided the apple pudding in her compact flat. It was wonderful to catch up with everyone, who we hadn’t seen since David and Hannah’s wedding. For once the weather behaved and we were able to see my sister’s new home in brilliant sunshine and admire the views of Arundel Castle from her driveway.

I am still in the throes of the first draft of Mantivore Warrior and will be writing about my decision to include an extended flashback in tomorrow’s blog post.

Last week I read:

The Hidden Gallery – Book 2 of The Incorrigible Children of Ashton Place by Maryrose Wood
Thanks to their plucky governess, Miss Penelope Lumley, Alexander, Beowulf, and Cassiopeia are much more like children than wolf cubs now. They are accustomed to wearing clothes. They hardly ever howl at the moon. And for the most part, they resist the urge to chase squirrels up trees. Yet the Incorrigibles are not entirely civilized, and still managed to ruin Lady Constance’s Christmas ball, nearly destroying the grand house. So while Ashton Place is being restored, Penelope, the Ashtons, and the children take up residence in London. As they explore the city, Penelope and the Incorrigibles discover more about themselves as clues about the children’s–and Penelope’s own–mysterious past crop up in the most unexpected ways…
I really enjoyed reading this second book in this series, though perhaps not quite as much as the first one. However, I am looking forward to finding out some answers to the thicket of questions surrounding the children and where they came from…

 

Blue Angel – Book 2 of the Ordshaw series by Phil Williams
Waking on an unfamiliar floor, Pax is faced with two hard truths. A murderous government agency wants her dead – and monsters really do exist. What’s more, her body’s going haywire, which she desperately hopes isn’t a side-effect of her encounters in the city’s tunnels. To survive, and protect Ordshaw, she’s got to expose who, or what, is behind the chaos – and she can’t do it alone. But with only the trigger-happy Fae to turn to, Pax’s allies might kill her before her enemies do…
This is the sequel to the quirky urban fantasy tale, Under Ordshaw and as Williams is releasing the third book in the series very shortly, I wanted to catch up before I fell further behind. Review to follow.

 

How To Fight a Dragon’s Fury – AUDIOBOOK 12 of the How To Train Your Dragon series by Cressida Cowell
The Doomsday of Yule has arrived, and the future of dragonkind lies in the hands of one boy with nothing to show but everything to fight for. Hiccup’s quest is clear…but can he end the rebellion? Can he prove himself to be king? Can he save the dragons? The stakes have never been higher, as the very fate of the Viking world hangs in the balance!
Very annoyingly, somehow I started listening to Book 11 in the series and switched into this, the final book without realising until near the end… Which was just amazing. I found it very emotional and uplifting – a truly epic fantasy written for children and yet also engrossing for hundreds of adult fans too. Review to follow.

 

First Flyght – Book 1 of The Flyght series by S.J. Pajonas
Vivian Kawabata can’t wait to claim her privileged destiny. But when the heir to the family agricultural empire finds her bank account empty while shopping for expensive shoes, she’s horrified to discover that her own brother has financially stabbed her in the back. To stand a chance of restoring her rightful place in the universe, the honest and rule-following Vivian may have to break a few intergalactic laws.
I thoroughly enjoyed this first book in a space opera adventure about a young woman struggling to earn enough to keep the family business after the betrayal of her shifty and shiftless brother. Vivian is an enjoyable heroine and I will be definitely reading more of her adventures. Review to follow.

My posts last week:

Review of Lady of Magick – Book 2 of the Noctis Magicae series by Sylvia Izzo Hunter

Friday Faceoff featuring Alien by Alan Dean Foster

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of Doing Time – Book 1 of The Time Police by Jodi Taylor

Review of AUDIOBOOK The Empty Grave – Book 5 of Lockwood & Co series by Jonathan Stroud

Teaser Tuesday featuring Empire Games – Book 1 of the Empire Games series by Charles Stross

Reblog – Alvin and the area Alert to Literacy Efforts – Monday Memories

Authoring Annals 4 – Tweaking the Outline – Mantivore Warrior – Book 3 of The Arcadian Chronicles series

Sunday Post, 13th October 2019

Interesting/outstanding blogs and articles that have caught my attention during the last few weeks, in no particular order:

Thursday Doors – Cottage Update https://jeanreinhardt.wordpress.com/2019/10/14/thursday-doors-cottage-update/ I followed the previous posts Jean published on the massive restoration of this cottage with interest – so these pics showing the completion of the project were a delight.

How to Train Your Editor Brain https://writerunboxed.com/2019/10/18/how-to-train-your-editor-brain/ Anyone who has attempted to complete a major writing project will know that finishing the first draft is just the start – it’s the editing which makes the difference between a well written, polished read and a muddled mess…

What Counts as Reading? https://emeraldcitybookreview.com/2019/10/what-counts-as-reading.html I thought this article was interesting in that it made me stop and consider my own assumptions on the subject. What do you think?

Waterford Walls 2019 https://inesemjphotography.com/2019/10/13/waterford-walls-2019/ And this is just a joy – what a wonderful way to bring art and beauty into an urban environment and why isn’t every town and city in the land also following this example?

Alvin and the area Alert to Literacy Efforts – Monday Memories https://powerfulwomenreaders.wordpress.com/2019/10/14/alvin-and-area-alert-to-literacy-efforts-monday-memories/ Yes… I know I also reblogged this during the week – something I hardly ever do, but I didn’t want anyone to miss this uplifting, amazing post…

Thank you for visiting, reading, liking and/or commenting on my blog – I hope you have a wonderful week.

Review of AUDIOBOOK The Empty Grave – Book 5 of the Lockwood & Co series by Jonathan Stroud #Brainfluffbookreview #TheEmptyGravebookreview

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It took me a while to summon up the courage to listen to this slice of Lockwood & Co’s adventures, because it’s the last book in the series – and I so very much didn’t want the awesomeness to end…

BLURB: Five months after the events in THE CREEPING SHADOW, we join Lockwood, Lucy, George, Holly, and their associate Quill Kipps on a perilous night mission: they have broken into the booby-trapped Fittes Mausoleum, where the body of the legendary psychic heroine Marissa Fittes lies. Or does it? This is just one of the many questions to be answered in Book 5 of the Lockwood & Co. series. Will Lockwood ever reveal more about his family’s past to Lucy? Will their trip to the Other Side leave Lucy and Lockwood forever changed? Will Penelope Fittes succeed in shutting down their agency forever? The young agents must survive attacks from foes both spectral and human before they can take on their greatest enemy in a climactic and chaotic battle.

As is apparent from the blurb, this isn’t a series you can easily crash into. As each of the stories, while standalone for each of the mysteries they pose, adds another piece of the puzzle that Lockwood and his young associates are struggling to solve – what caused the Problem in the first place, some fifty years ago. Why did ghosts suddenly take to infesting the world of the living, causing fear, havoc and so many countless deaths?

By now, I am thoroughly at home with Lucy, the main protagonist whose dry humour leavens the creepier moments, and her companions – the dashing young Anthony Lockwood, clever, spiky George, precise and poised Holly and acerbic Kipps – not to mention Flo Bones and the Skull, who Lucy carries about in a rucksack in a jar. While this apparently a children’s book, there are plenty of moments that are genuinely creepy – sufficiently so that when my grandson was listening, he decided that he’d rather hear them during the day rather than when he was trying to get to sleep. In my opinion, this series is definitely more suited to the eleven to fifteen age-group, though this rather picky granny absolutely loved it.

There is a layering in the characterisation, a real sense of poignancy when dealing with Lockwood’s loss of his family and a depth of scene setting and worldbuilding that is a solid delight throughout. While I loved the Bartimaeus series, I’ve enjoyed Lockwood & Co even more, given those footnotes got a bit annoying halfway through.

As it is the final book in the series, there isn’t much to say that won’t immediately lurch into Spoiler territory – but don’t start at The Empty Grave, please do begin with the first book, The Screaming Staircase. Right now, I wish I had a timeturner so I could give it a twist and begin allll over again. I’m feeling drained and a tad emotional… the way you do when a world has sunk its hooks right into your heart and you know that even if you reread the story, you can’t ever experience it in quite the same way again. Highly recommended for everyone and an outstanding ending to an outstanding series.
10/10

Sunday Post – 13th October, 2019 #Brainfluffbookblog #SundayPost

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This is part of the weekly meme over at the Caffeinated Reviewer, where book bloggers can share the books and blogs they have written.

It’s been another busy week. Last Sunday evening we had a microwave mishap. Himself wanted to defrost a delicious apple pudding he’d made with the apples from my daughter’s garden the week before, but instead of defrosting it for ten minutes, it was on full power. The plastic container was set alight and I awoke to the whole house filled with thick choking smoke… Thankfully, Mr Google provided the answers to the urgent question – how do you get rid of the stench of burnt plastic? As well as dumping the microwave, we were boiling lemons, washing down all surfaces, cleaning the carpets, burning scented candles and filling containers with distilled vinegar. And by Wednesday, it was nearly gone so that I was able to teach Tim safely.

I attended Pilates again on Wednesday and on Thursday, I looked after Baby Eliza on my own for the first time as my daughter and her partner celebrated his birthday together. We had a lovely day – she is a real sunshine baby. I took a couple of pics, but it was the only time she was shy and so I put the camera away and just played. Though I felt it the following day! Every joint ached as trudging up and down stairs with her was a whole lot harder than it had been fourteen years ago with her teenage sister – where do the years go? On Saturday, I joined my sister as she measured up her new place for furniture and discussed new colour schemes for when she moves in.

On the writing front, I’m making good progress with Mantivore Warrior – I’m going to be blogging about that tomorrow. And I have now completed the editing pass on Mantivore Prey, which I am planning to release on 30th November.

Last week I read:

The Rithmatist – Book 1 of The Rithmatist series by Brandon Sanderson
More than anything, Joel wants to be a Rithmatist. Rithmatists have the power to infuse life into two-dimensional figures known as Chalklings. Rithmatists are humanity’s only defense against the Wild Chalklings. Having nearly overrun the territory of Nebrask, the Wild Chalklings now threaten all of the American Isles.

As the son of a lowly chalkmaker at Armedius Academy, Joel can only watch as Rithmatist students learn the magical art that he would do anything to practice. Then students start disappearing—kidnapped from their rooms at night, leaving trails of blood…
This one has been hanging around on my Kindle for far too long – it was a cracking read. I hope the second book will be written at some stage. Review to follow.

 

Bringing Stella Home – Book 1 of the Gaia Nova series by Joe Vasicek
The New Gaian Empire is crumbling. An undefeatable enemy from the outer reaches is sweeping across the frontier stars, slagging worlds and sowing chaos. Soon, they will threaten the very heart of civilized space. James McCoy never thought he would get caught up in the Hameji wars. The youngest son of a merchanter family, he just wants the same respect as his older brother and sister. But when the the Hameji battle fleets conquer his home world and take them away from him, all of that is shattered forever. No prisoner has ever escaped from the Hameji alive, but James isn’t going to let that stop him. He’ll do whatever it takes to save his family-even if it means losing everything in the process.
This is one I picked up during the last promo sale run by Book Funnel I participated in. I thoroughly enjoyed this kidnap adventure played out within a space opera setting. Review to follow.

 

The Mysterious Howling – Book 1 of The Incorrigible Children of Ashton Place by Maryrose Wood
Found running wild in the forest of Ashton Place, the Incorrigibles are no ordinary children: Alexander, age ten or thereabouts, keeps his siblings in line with gentle nips; Cassiopeia, perhaps four or five, has a bark that is (usually) worse than her bite; and Beowulf, age somewhere-in-the-middle, is alarmingly adept at chasing squirrels.

Luckily, Miss Penelope Lumley is no ordinary governess. Only fifteen years old and a recent graduate of the Swanburne Academy for Poor Bright Females, Penelope embraces the challenge of her new position. Though she is eager to instruct the children in Latin verbs and the proper use of globes, first she must help them overcome their canine tendencies.

But mysteries abound at Ashton Place: Who are these three wild creatures, and how did they come to live in the vast forests of the estate? Why does Old Timothy, the coachman, lurk around every corner? Will Penelope be able to teach the Incorrigibles table manners and socially useful phrases in time for Lady Constance’s holiday ball? And what on earth is a schottische?
Recommended to me by the Cap from the excellent book blogging site, Captain’s Quarters, I was immediately swept up into this enjoyable, quirky adventure. Review to follow.

 

Starship Alchemon by Christopher Hinz
Far from Earth, the AI-guided vessel Alchemon discovers a bizarre creature whose malignant powers are amplified by the presence of LeaMarsa de Host, a gifted but troubled Psionic.The ship is soon caught in a maelstrom of psychic turbulence that drives one crewmember insane and frees the creature from its secure containment. Now Captain Ericho Solorzano and the survivors must fight for their lives against a shrewd enemy that not only can attack them physically, emotionally and intellectually, but which seeks control of their sentient ship as a prelude to a murderous assault on the human species.
I was delighted to be approved for an arc of this intriguing space opera adventure featuring an alien encounter in deep space, which never seems to end well. Review to follow.

 

Sherlock Holmes: The Definitive Audio Collection narrated by Stephen Fry
Ever since he made his first appearance in A Study In Scarlet, Sherlock Holmes has enthralled and delighted millions of fans throughout the world. Now Audible is proud to present Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes: The Definitive Collection, read by Stephen Fry. A lifelong fan of Doyle’s detective fiction, Fry has narrated the complete works of Sherlock Holmes – four novels and five collections of short stories. And, exclusively for Audible, Stephen has written and narrated nine insightful, intimate and deeply personal introductions to each title.
I’ve finally completed this listening marathon, interspersed with other audio treats to further prolong this absolute pleasure – all 71+ hours of it… It would have gone on for another 70 hours, if I’d had my way… Review to follow.

 

My posts last week:

Review of Lent by Jo Walton

Friday Faceoff featuring Jamaica Inn by Daphne du Maurier

Can’t-Wait-Wednesday featuring Body Tourists by Jane Rogers

Teaser Tuesday featuring Starship Alchemon by Christopher Hinz

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of Giver of Stars by Jojo Moyes

Sunday Post, 6th October 2019

 

Interesting/outstanding blogs and articles that have caught my attention during the last few weeks, in no particular order:

Update: Recent Science Fiction Acquisitions No. CCXXVI (Philip K. Dick, Tanith Lee, Paul Park, Gorden Eklund, and Poul Anderson) https://sciencefictionruminations.com/2019/10/05/updates-recent-science-fiction-acquisitions-no-philip-k-dick-tanith-lee-paul-park-gordon-eklund-and-poul-anderson/ I often pop by this fascinating site – the covers on many of these books are simply amazing…

10 of the Best Poems for the Weekend https://interestingliterature.com/2019/10/05/10-of-the-best-poems-for-the-weekend/ This is also a regular favourite of mine – I often swing by here to discover poems or books I haven’t yet encounters, along with thoughtful, readable analysis of them.

The Magic of Swamps https://mctuggle.com/2019/09/26/the-magic-of-swamps/ I’m a tad late in catching up with this one, but I just loved these pics of a wonderful, wonderful place…

Halloween: Tricks & Treats for Learning https://wandaluthman.wordpress.com/2019/10/07/halloween-tricks-treats-for-learning-4/ I’m in the privileged position of being able to teach one-to-one and harness a student’s own enthusiasms and interests as opportunities for learning, so I know how brilliantly it works.

Writers Injuring Characters https://jaceybedford.wordpress.com/2019/10/08/writers-injuring-characters/ Jacey Bedford, successful author of the Psi-Tech trilogy, makes a valid point in this thoughtful article…

Thank you for visiting, reading, liking and/or commenting on my blog – I hope you have a wonderful week…

Review of KINDLE Ebook Changeling – Book 1 of the Sorcery and Society series by Molly Harper #Brainfluffbookreview #ChangelingBookReview

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This was one added by Himself, who is also a sucker for great school stories including magic – but would I also like it? This was quite important as I’d selected this read for a very long train journey…

If 14-year-old Cassandra Reed makes it through her first day at Miss Castwell’s Institute for the Magical Instruction of Young Ladies without anyone discovering her secret, maybe, just maybe, she’ll let herself believe that she really does belong at Miss Castwell’s. Except Cassandra Reed’s real name is Sarah Smith and up until now, she lived her whole life in the Warren, serving a magical family, the Winters, as all non-magical “Snipes” are bound by magical Guardian law to do. That is, until one day, Sarah accidentally levitates Mrs. Winter’s favorite vase in the parlor…

I very much enjoyed Cassandra/Sarah’s journey. She is a gutsy, cheerful character with lots of can-do energy – this story lacks the darkness of the Harry Potter series as Sarah has loving parents. While she initially finds it difficult to come to terms with ignoring her family and fitting into the world of the Guardians, she nonetheless accepts the situation and works hard alongside Mrs Winter to behave as her long-lost niece. The way their relationship gradually grows from a fear-based, resentful mess into mutual respect, trust and even affection is well depicted.

It doesn’t hurt that there are regular dollops of humour that leaven the darker aspects of the story, such as the bullying. I also really liked the fact that Cassandra was initially overwhelmed and silenced by the poisonous bully by considerations of social conventions and needing to fit in – it made her far more realistic than those intrepid souls who stoutly refuse to go with the flow. Harper is good at showing unfurling friendships without lapsing into sentimentality and I particularly liked how Cassandra gradually finds her feet at the upscale school after initially feeling adrift and isolated.

I didn’t see the twist coming, though I immediately realised how the antagonist was operating the moment the reveal came – and I was also pleased that I understood and to some extent, could sympathise with this character, who had also suffered injustice in their lives.
All in all, this was a well plotted, enjoyable magical children’s school adventure that pulled me into the world. Himself and I are keen to find out what happens in the next book, Fledgling. Highly recommended for fans of magical school adventures.
9/10

Review of AUDIOBOOK The Whispering Skull – Book 2 of the Lockwood & Co series by Jonathan Stroud #Brainfluffaudiobookreview #TheWhisperingSkullaudiobookreview

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I loved Stroud’s Bartimaeus series – so tucked into the audiobook version of the first book, strongly encouraged by The Cap, who loved The Screaming Staircase – see my review here – to find it a joy. So it was only a matter of time before I treated myself to this, the second book in the series…

BLURB: In the six months since Anthony, Lucy, and George survived a night in the most haunted house in England, Lockwood & Co. hasn’t made much progress. Quill Kipps and his team of Fittes agents keep swooping in on Lockwood’s investigations. Finally, in a fit of anger, Anthony challenges his rival to a contest: the next time the two agencies compete on a job, the losing side will have to admit defeat in the Times newspaper. Things look up when a new client, Mr. Saunders, hires Lockwood & Co. to be present at the excavation of Edmund Bickerstaff, a Victorian doctor who reportedly tried to communicate with the dead. Saunders needs the coffin sealed with silver to prevent any supernatural trouble. All goes well-until George’s curiosity attracts a horrible phantom…

That is as much of the blurb as I’m willing to share – but I would say that if you have encountered this book without having yet had the pleasure of reading The Screaming Staircase, then don’t go any further. This is a complex, layered world and Stroud has designed these books to build on the narrative arc, therefore you’ll miss far too much that is important if you crash midway into this series. And yes… I regularly crash midway into series, so when I say ‘don’t’ I mean it.

This alternate contemporary world, where if someone dies violently or in unhappy circumstances, their ghosts can linger and at their most lethal, kill those unfortunate to encounter them. Adults and most children cannot see or sense these dangerous spirits, but a handful of children gifted, or cursed, with the ability to see, sense or hear these ghosts are employed by agencies to help neutralise them. Anthony Lockwood, George Cubbins and Lucy Carlyle are three such teenagers, who prefer to work on their own instead of being directed by adults who can no longer take part in the really dangerous part of the work.
Artefacts which are strongly associated with a death can be possessed by one of these dangerous spirits. The authorities charged with trying to find a solution to The Problem, as this sudden widespread haunting is called, are keen to possess all such artefacts – but there is also a thriving black market in such objects. Lockwood & Co are aware of the fact, but when the job they are working on ends in sudden chaos and danger, they are charged to track down a particular artefact. Though it rapidly becomes apparent that this is a very dangerous undertaking.

However, the threat of death is never far away in this job, anyway… Stroud’s vivid, darkly threatening world once more pulled me in and Katie Lyon’s narration, while not quite as brilliant as Miranda Raison, is still gripping and effectively portrays Lucy’s first person viewpoint. I would add that as well as being genuinely creepy in places, Lucy’s sharp-edged observations are also very funny. All in all, this series is turning into one of the highlights of the year to date and I’m thrilled to discover that I have the other three audiobooks just waiting to be read. Lucky, lucky me!
9/10

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of NETGALLEY arc The Forgotten Palace: An adventure in Presadia by Luke Aylen #Brainfluffbookreview #TheForgottenPalacebookreview

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I can’t lie – once again it was the cover with that amazing dragon’s eye peering through the castle window that sucked me into requesting this one. Much to my surprise, this year I seem to have read a number of children’s books – would I enjoy this one?

BLURB: Deep in the heart of Presadia’s Great Forest lie many secrets, including the ancient ruins of a once-magnificent palace. A chance encounter with a bedraggled stranger and the discovery of broken shards of a magical mirror lead Antimony, an unusually tall dwarf, on a journey of discovery.

The blurb continues for another couple of paragraphs, busily letting drop a number of plotpoints I think would be better for the reader if they encountered them in the book, rather than waiting for them to happen. I like fourteen-year-old Luke, who is unusually tall for a dwarf with a flair for problem-solving and design and impatiently waiting for his beard to start growing. It was a refreshing change to find he comes from a close-knit community and has a loving mother who provides staunch support throughout, rather than the classic child protagonist without any positive adult in his life.

I did struggle a bit at the start of the book, even though I’m very used to being tipped sideways into adventures owing to my habit of crashing midway into series. Unhelpfully, neither Amazon, Goodreads, or the cover give any indication of the previous book The Mirror and the Mountain where we follow the fortunes of two children who have fallen through a portal into this medieval-type society. My advice would be to get hold of the first book before embarking on this one, as while I did sort out what was going on before it spoilt the story for me, I’m an experienced reader. It wouldn’t be fair to expect a youngster to pick their way through the various references to previous events and characters that they never meet.

Once I gathered exactly what was going on, I was able to relax into the story. Aylen writes an old-school epic fantasy, where Good and Evil are personified by the characters within the story and adventures are there to test their mettle.

I did like the way all the different races came together to rebuild the palace, despite the evident tensions between them. I would have liked a bit more discussion on how the task would provide all those toiling to rebuild it with protection and shelter, rather than focusing on how much the King wanted it rebuilt so he could fix the land. While this is clearly epic fantasy, there were times when the emphasis on the grand ambitions of peace and renewal gave this book a slightly old-fashioned feel and I’m intrigued to find out how today’s modern youngsters react to it.

That said, I enjoyed the characters and the story and would recommend it for independent readers from ten/eleven years old and upward – the battle scenes might be a bit too gory for younger readers. The ebook arc copy of The Forgotten Palace: An adventure in Presadia was provided by the publisher through NetGalley in return for an honest opinion of the book.
8/10

Review of AUDIOBOOK How To Seize a Dragon’s Jewel – Book 10 of How To Train a Dragon series by Cressida Cowell #Brainfluffbookreview #HowToSeizeaDragonsJewelbookreview

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I can’t claim that I haven’t been warned – David Tennant, the narrator of this series, has repeatedly told us at the start of the last few books that this series would be getting darker. Nevertheless, I am a bit shaken at just how bleak Hiccup’s outlook has become – suddenly the nasty bullying he received at the hands of Snotlout during Gobber’s pirating lessons seems cosy…

BLURB: The Dragon Rebellion has begun, bringing the Vikings’ darkest hour upon them. Hiccup has become an outcast, but that won’t stop him from going on the most harrowing and important quest of his life. He must find the Dragon’s Jewel in order to save his people… but where should he begin? Don’t miss Hiccup’s most dangerous adventure yet!

Hiccup is now thirteen years old, alone and living on his wits as he is being hunted by both Furious, the dragon leading the rebellion against the Vikings, and his arch-enemy Alvin the Treacherous. Well… he’s not entirely alone. Hiccup has his riding dragon, Windwalker, and of course, naughty little Toothless, his common-or-garden dragon and an ancient frail small dragon, who is currently trying to teach Toothless manners… Right now, the jokes that Toothless provides still had me chuckling aloud – but there were times, too, when I wanted to weep. I’m a granny whose read faaar too many books to be reduced to tears by a comedic coming-of-age series about Vikings and dragons, surely? Apparently not.

The characterisation, worldbuilding and above all – the plotting of this series is a masterclass in how it’s done. Cowell once more swept me up into Hiccup’s madcap, OTT world where every single character has a Dickensian immediacy that pings off the page. And in this book, for the first time, we get to meet Hiccup’s mother, Valhallarama. One of the things I love about this series is that while inevitably the children are the ones with agency, the adults aren’t unduly belittled. Hiccup’s relationship with both his parents is complicated – but particularly in this book, I loved the tenderness and genuine love that is depicted by both parents and the boy, even if they didn’t understand each other.

This one has left the story on a cliffhanger, but even so, I haven’t plunged immediately into the next book. Never mind that it’s a children’s book – I needed a break, albeit a short one, before once more immersing myself into Hiccup’s action-packed, emotional story.
10/10

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of Netgalley arc Keep Calm and Carry On, Children by Sharon K. Mayhew #Brainfluffbookreview #KeepCalmandCarryOnChildrenbookreview

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It won’t be a surprise if I mention that it was the title that first attracted me to this offering – we see this WWII catchphrase all over the place, these days. But when I realised this was an adventure about two young evacuees, I immediately requested it.

BLURB: Eleven-year-old Joyce and her little sister hide in their bomb shelter during the German Blitz on London, during World War II. After nights of bombing, it’s decided that they’ll join the over 800,000 children who’ve already been evacuated during Operation Pied Piper. They board a train not knowing where they’re going or who will take them in.

I loved this one. It starts with Joyce and Gina in 1940 enduring a succession of terrifying air raids that severely damage their home and kill neighbours. Their parents reluctantly decide they have no choice but to send the sisters off to the country, taking part in the huge operation to rehouse vulnerable youngsters for the duration of the war. Told in Joyce’s viewpoint, the train journey is told in vivid detail as friendships are formed and one small boy gets left on the train when his sister gets off.

By the time I’d read to this stage, I couldn’t put the book down until I discovered where the girls ended up – would they be separated? This was Joyce’s personal nightmare – both girls were filthy, having had nights spent in underground shelters and no water for washing. As they wait anxiously to discover who will claim them, to look after the girls for the rest of the war, I felt my stomach tighten. I know only too well that it was a complete lottery – while many children were cherished and cared for, some ended up in households who regarded them as unpaid labour, or worse. So where Joyce and Gina end up?

This is a gripping read that covers all aspects of being an evacuee, with an extra adventurous brush with black marketeers after the style of an Enid Blyton escapade to add extra spice to this historically accurate story. I would like to think that this book is used in primary school classrooms during a WWII topic – there are all sorts of aspects of this story that merit discussion. Highly recommended for any child interested in WWII. The ebook arc copy of Keep Calm and Carry On, Children was provided by the publisher through NetGalley in return for an honest opinion of the book.
9/10