reviews 10 – 14 Middle/Secondary continued Wonderscape HHHHH

Jennifer Bell, ill. Paddy Donnelly, Walker, 352pp, 9781406391725, £7.99 pbk

When Arthur started on his walk to school the last thing he expected was to encounter a garden of exploding gnomes, but that is what happened to him and two girls from his school, Ren and Cecily.

her dramatic birth, readers will be drawn into a story full of feeling, black humour, and constant, surprising changes of direction. Frankie was born on a beach in the middle of a storm and, according to her parents, has been raging ever when a terrifying natural wipes out

Frankie’s whole

since. So disaster town,

Everything would

have been fine if they had not gone into the abandoned house in search of a dog that seemed to be trapped in there. Before they know what is happening they find themselves trapped and then they appear to have been transported onto a sailing ship manned by a crew of robots. Things become even stranger when they encounter the captain of the ship, and he turns out to be Isaac Newton. The explanation for all of this is that they have somehow been transported four hundred years into the future and are now in an ‘in-reality’ adventure game. Not only do the trio have to work their way through various levels to find a way back home, but they also have to try and solve the mysterious disappearance of one of the game’s founders. During their travels they find themselves being helped by a variety of heroes from both the past and the future; they also discover how to work together and gradually form a strong friendship. All of this helps them face the various challenges in the game and solve the mysteries they find, not least how to get home. This is a really great story for the older

middle grade reader. It is fast paced, full of action and has a group of young people who find themselves on a quest. There is a feel that this is a mix of films such as West World mixed with a variety of gaming worlds, many of which will be familiar to the young readers. The characters themselves are from differing backgrounds and despite attending the same school they do not really know each other. So this experience is also about learning to accept people who are different, being able to work as a team and also being able to share. One of the really important lessons that the young people learn is that they can achieve thing if they want to; it gives them a sense of ambition, so that they want to learn and do something worthwhile with their lives. This can be as an eco- warrior, scientist, artist or anything they put their minds to and it is a lesson that we should all take on board. Whilst we are not all natural athletes, or musicians we can all find something that we can succeed at. This is a rollercoaster of a ride for the reader and is fantastic for both boys and girls. MP

Midnight’s Twins HHHH

Holly Race, Hot Key Books, 432pp, 978-1471409165, £7.99 pbk

Holly Race’s debut novel is a complex, inventive fantasy adventure that builds suspense and holds our attention

including Frankie and her family, it seems inevitable that Frankie will carry on raging, refuse to follow the accepted death protocols and enter a new existence as a poltergeist, the angriest type of ghost there is. When Frankie wakes up one hundred years after the tsunami to find her home invaded by tourists her anger begins to stir and is captured by an unscrupulous and cruel ghost hunter who uses his son to trap Frankie and other ghosts into working on his ghost train.

It is only when

as much through its examination of its

characters’ inner motivation and

self-understanding as it does through scenes of action and perilous heroism. Fern King’s mother died when Fern and her twin brother Ollie were just babies. Her death was sudden and unexplained, at least in this world; we readers know that she was actually killed in a dream mirror world to our own and by a terrifying monster. Fern too wakes up in this strange world when she turns fifteen, by which point she has been scarred both physically and emotionally by bullies who can sense her otherness. She has also become estranged from Ollie who she thinks betrayed her when she needed him most and resents him too for his easy popularity. In Annwn, the dream world, however, she finds that despite her best efforts she’s not an outsider and becomes part of a very special community. Trained to be a knight and to protect dreamers in their vulnerable state, she experiences the joy and peace that comes with finding both your place and something worthwhile to do. Unfortunately, Annwn is still in

danger from the foe who destroyed Fern’s mother: interestingly, a politician in the real world, with a powerful ability to enthrall his followers, even though there is no substance whatsoever to his promises. The world of Annwn will intrigue

fans of fantasy and Race does well to create an original setting for her story while also drawing on a range of myths and legends. In Fern, Ollie and their friends and rivals too she has created a set of characters whose thoughts and feelings will matter as much to readers as do their magical abilities. This is book one in a trilogy and Race is an author to watch. AR

Storm HHHH

Nicola Skinner, ill. Flavia Sorrentino, HarperCollins, 416pp, 978 0 00 829532 5, £12.99 hbk

From the first page of this original novel, when Frances Frida

Ripley, aka Frankie, recounts the tale of

Frankie learns to harness her strong emotions in a positive way, combining anger with love and compassion, that she is able to set the other ghosts and her friend, Scanlon, who is also exploited by his manipulative father, free and join her beloved family. This is an original, astonishing,

and gripping novel that is hard to categorise. It has an unforgettable and feisty central character in Frankie, and it deals with dark themes of loss, grief, and anger in a blackly humorous way. The cover, inside illustrations and use of large, bold page-filling fonts to express feelings work very well with the text to capture attention. This is not a novel for the faint-hearted, but it is poignant, funny, and unexpected and, importantly, it allows its complex central character to experience strong emotions and to express them and set them free.

All in all, a powerful,

thought-provoking, and empowering book for 9+ readers. SR

The Thirteenth Home of Noah Bradley


Amber Lee Dodd, Scholastic, 306pp, 978 1 407189 44 4, £6.99 pbk

“I was only twelve but I’d already lived in twelve

different homes,” Noah

tells us. That is, if you count a tent, a camper-van, a trailer, a houseboat and a range of other accommodations from Inverness to Cornwall. Unfortunately, those homes were prone to sudden collapse, being blown away in a gale and sundry other modes of demolition, with the family forced to relocate elsewhere. That meant Noah changing schools frequently and anyone knows the only way to survive a new school is to fit in. If that means hanging out with the Jocks, then do it, even if you’re not much good at sport; or, if the place to be is the Drama Club, sign up for the School Play. Whatever it takes. Just don’t get noticed. That’s the advice Noah tries to give

his 8-year-old brother Billy, for whom life is particularly tough because he’s had so much trouble coping with hearing difficulties. Being one of the in-crowd goes against Billy’s grain. He’s very bright in a lateral kind of way – which

doesn’t help when it comes to fitting in. Billy’s most at ease with Arnold, his ferret; they’re inseparable. Noah feels a fierce responsibility to look out for Billy and their loving relationship is one of the mainsprings of this novel. They both like their new home at

18, Verity Place. This time, they think things could be different. Noah also likes his school; he’s made three good mates and even likes one of the teachers. Mum and Dad love the house too, though lately they’ve been arguing a lot and Noah knows why. It’s The Curse of the Bradleys. The novel starts with the story of the

Curse – a four page Prologue telling, in the manner of a traditional tale, an old story of a family whose greed in developing their property, abusing the earlier generosity of others, had led to a magical curse being laid upon them. The family is condemned to be forever rootless,

catastrophe falling upon

“any place they came to call home.” The only solution to these recurring crises would depend upon the family uniting – but exactly what this means is not clear from the tale. Down the ages, Bradley homes

have been subject to disaster after disaster, prefaced each time by the arrival of the terrifying black birds of the north. That’s why Mum and Dad are arguing – how best to face the Curse and give their boys a settled life. The elevated language of the ancient tale doesn’t last. Amber Lee Dodd plunges readers into a swift- paced story, mingling everyday school life with wild magic encompassing towering tides, raging fires, wind, lightning and rampaging herds of wild animals on the one hand and malign elderly grown-ups on the other. Noah’s Year 8 neighbour, Neena Kapoor, gets drawn into the action too; Noah’s been horrible to her at school, but soon she becomes the best friend he’s ever had. Both Noah and Billy learn what they need to learn. Despite the magical melodramatics, Dodd keeps her prose down-to-earth and comic in spirit. Regrettably, there are unusual numbers of proofing errors and some confusing

factual inconsistencies.

Even so, the plot is a straightforward read, since Dodd doesn’t employ time shifts or switches of narrator as the story hurtles about the country. Young readers should enjoy the adventurous ride,

which doesn’t The Short Knife HHHHH

Elen Caldecott, Andersen Press, 400pp, 9781783449798, £12.99 hbk

Mai knows little of the world beyond the confines of the farm where she lives with her father, Tad and her older sister, Haf. She is safe – but the world has changed. The Roman Empire which had for so long provided the framework of their lives has gone – now it is the turn of the Saxons. The arrival of three warriors sees the destruction of the farm and forces Mai and her family to flee. Mai must

Books for Keeps No.243 July 2020 29 spare some

graphic violence in disposing of the chief mischief-maker. GF

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