Magical kingdoms, a Welsh fantasy and ghostly tales by various authors - book reviews -

The Extremely Inconvenient Adventures of Bronte Mettlestone
The Extremely Inconvenient Adventures of Bronte Mettlestone

Follow a brave girl on her mission of mystery, meet a robot ready to break the rules, enjoy Halloween thrills with a master of horror, share adventures with a deaf girl, and go exploring in a haunted house in a dazzling collection of half-term books.

Follow a brave girl on her mission of mystery, meet a robot ready to break the rules, enjoy Halloween thrills with a master of horror, share adventures with a deaf girl, and go exploring in a haunted house in a dazzling collection of half-term books.

Age 8 plus:

The Extremely Inconvenient Adventures of Bronte Mettlestone

Jaclyn Moriarty and Karl James Mountford

Imagine a world made up of magical kingdoms… and that you are on a mission to unlock their mysteries!

Australian writer Jaclyn Moriarty, the prize-winning author of novels for young adults, uses her vivid imagination, storytelling skills and love of language to unleash a thrilling, epic adventure full of fantasy, fun and wickedly clever wordplay.

The Extremely Inconvenient Adventures of Bronte Mettlestone is her first book for younger readers and it’s a witty and wonderful tale starring a ten-year-old girl and her quest to visit all her ten aunts to discover the fate of her parents.

Steeped in the dark atmospherics and wry humour of Lemony Snicket, full of intriguing clues and conundrums, and with the vibrant, graphic-style illustrations of Karl James Mountford to bring Bronte’s daring exploits to life, the book has all the perfect ingredients for middle grade readers.

Bronte Mettlestone is not too bothered when she learns that her parents have been killed by pirates. They both ran away to have adventures when Bronte was a baby and she barely even remembers them. She has been raised by her Aunt Isabelle, with assistance from the Butler, and has spent a pleasant childhood of afternoon teas and riding lessons.

Now, however, her parents have left detailed instructions about what Bronte must now do in their will (instructions that, annoyingly, have been reinforced with Faery cross-stitch, which means that if she doesn’t complete them, terrible things could happen).

Bronte must travel to the different kingdoms alone, delivering gifts to ten other aunts… a farmer aunt who owns an orange orchard, a veterinarian aunt who specialises in dragon care, a pair of aunts who captain a cruise ship, and a former rock star aunt who is now the reigning monarch of a small kingdom.

But as she travels from aunt to aunt, Bronte encounters an Elvish football match, solves a case of mistaken identity and learns to ride a dragon. Soon she suspects that there might be more to this journey than the simple delivery of treasure… although she little suspects that she will have to play such a big part in the extraordinary events that follow.

Expect dragons, witches, whisperers and water-sprites as the insouciant Bronte embarks on an adventure to discover if her parents really were killed by pirates at sea.

Moriarty’s story – classic in its style but with a deliciously contemporary twist – is rooted in the strong ties of kinship, the power of words, the bravery of one inspirational girl, and the giant steps we must take in order to come of age.

Funny, quirky, and clever, this outrageously entertaining story will have youngsters already counting down to the next instalment, The Slightly Alarming Tale of the Whispering Wars, due to be published in autumn next year.

(Guppy Books, hardback, £12.99)

Age 9 plus:

Dork Diaries: Spectacular Superstar

Rachel Renée Russell

Nikki Maxwell, Queen of the Dorks, is back for more adventures full of dorky dramas in this amazing fourteenth instalment of the blockbuster, bestselling Dork Diaries series.

Nikki and her BFFs Zoey and Chloe are the giggling, gossiping stars of Rachel Renée Russell’s much-loved series which chronicles the daily dramas of the 14-year-old’s life inside (and outside!) school, and is celebrating its tenth anniversary this year.

Russell, a US lawyer who prefers writing children’s books to legal briefs, also illustrates the fabulous Dork Diaries, filling Nikki’s entertaining meanderings with drawings, doodles and comic strips. There are an amazing 45 million Dork Diaries books in print worldwide… proof that Russell is in perfect communion with her middle grade readers.

The books were inspired by Russell’s own middle school experiences as well as those of her two daughters, Erin and Nikki. Elder daughter Erin assists with writing and Nikki helps with the illustrations.

In this latest outing, Nikki Maxwell and her bandmates are looking forward to an awesome time on tour as the opening act for the world famous Bad Boyz! The only downside is that Nikki’s frenemy, MacKenzie Hollister, has weaselled her way on to the tour as a social media guru.

Nikki is determined to stay out of MacKenzie’s way to avoid any drama, but then she learns that MacKenzie is going to be her room-mate. Total disaster! Will Nikki survive her dream tour as it quickly goes from awesome to awful?

Friendship, fun and boyfriend gossip… what more could a girl want?

(Simon & Schuster, hardback, £12.99)

Age 9 plus:

The Velvet Fox

Catherine Fisher

Embark on a thrilling adventure, full of Welsh-flavoured magic, folklore and fantasy, with Catherine Fisher, an acclaimed poet and children’s author who lives in Newport.

The Velvet Fox is Fisher’s exciting sequel to The Clockwork Crow, which was shortlisted for the Blue Peter Book Award and winner of the Tir na N-og Welsh Children’s Book Award, and delivers the same addictive brand of chills, thrills and masterful storytelling.

After rescuing Tomos from enchantment, orphan Seren Rhys is enjoying her first summer at Plas-y-Fran. But as autumn arrives, it brings with it a mysterious new governess who seems intent on drawing Tomos away from Seren and his family.

Dangerous figures from a bewitched toy carousel stalk the house and, fearing the worst, Seren calls on the clockwork crow to help her. But can he reach her in time, and will Tomos be able to escape the magical creatures threatening to ensnare him, led by the Velvet Fox?

Expect darkness, sorcery, full-throttle adventures, and a big helping of fun as Welsh wizardry proves once again to be utterly bewitching!

(Firefly Press, paperback, £6.99)

Age 9 plus:

The Last Human

Lee Bacon

A robot who has never questioned the rules, a human who shouldn’t exist, and a journey that will change everything…

American author Lee Bacon’s through-provoking and heartwarming middle grade novel challenges young readers to consider just what it means to be human in a world that is now full of screens, robots and technological devices.

The Last Human, Bacon’s first novel to be published in the UK and soon to be an animated film, imagines a world now ruled by machines after humans became extinct thirty years ago.

Twelve-year-old robot XR_935 is just fine with no humans. Without humans around, there is no war, no pollution, no crime, and every member of society has a purpose. Everything runs smoothly and efficiently. Until the day XR discovers something impossible… a twelve-year-old human named Emma.

For its whole life, XR has been told that humans were evil and that the world is better without them but Emma doesn’t seem evil. In fact, she seems scared and now she needs XR’s help. Emma must embark on a dangerous voyage with an unlikely new friend and two other robots in search of a mysterious point on a map. How will they survive in a world where rules are never broken, and humans are not supposed to exist?

Bacon blends humour, adventure, themes of prejudice, friendship and acceptance, and moments of heartfelt emotion in a clever, compelling story that explores the complexity of being human through the objective eye of a robot.

(Piccadilly Press, paperback, £6.99)

Age 8 plus:

Seven Ghosts

Written and illustrated by Chris Priestley

As Halloween draws ever nearer, get your goosebumps well and truly raised with seven ghostly spine-tingling tales from the master of horror Chris Priestley.

The award-winning author of the Tales of Terror series and the hugely popular and award-winning Mister Creecher, Priestley is also a talented artist and illustrator, and his cartoons have been published in The Independent as well as other national newspapers.

Seven Ghosts, featuring a multi-narrative story and lots of hair-raising horror, comes from innovative publisher Barrington Stoke and is produced in a super readable format especially suitable for struggling, reluctant or dyslexic readers.

Jake and the other finalists in a writing competition have been invited to stately house, Grimstone Hall, for a tour like no other. As their guide leads them through grand rooms, hidden nooks and magnificent grounds, they hear the stories of seven ghosts who haunt the halls.

But strange shapes and shadows follow Jake as he journeys through the house and with each tale that Jake hears, he begins to feel more uneasy. All is not as it seems and soon Jake will discover that old ghosts have been stirred up and something is very, very wrong…

Priestley’s atmospheric, black and white illustrations are the perfect accompaniment to super scary stories brim full of chills and thrills!

(Barrington Stoke, paperback, £6.99)

Age 7 plus:

Harriet Versus the Galaxy

Samantha Baines

Just because you can’t hear very well doesn’t mean that you can’t save the planet!

Harriet Versus the Galaxy is a hilarious and heartfelt debut novel from multi-award winning, hearing aid-wearing, comedian, actor and author Samantha Baines who is determined to put deaf youngsters firmly at centre stage in her stories.

Baines, who first experienced hearing loss three years ago, is an Ambassador for Action on Hearing Loss and the British Tinnitus Association, and champions representation of the deaf to raise awareness of this ‘invisible disability.’

This exciting intergalactic adventure starts at home with Harriet, who has moved in with her Gran and discovered that her hearing aid can do more than she ever bargained for. It all started when she found an alien in her room and learned that her family secretly work for a secret agency.

Harriet is the Earth’s first line of defence as the only one who can understand the invaders and she must save the day for the intergalactic SAS agency with her new non-binary friend Robin. Her hearing aid certainly helps her understand aliens from across the universe… if only she could understand her own feelings.

Full of warmth and humour, Harriet Versus the Galaxy – beautifully illustrated by deaf artist Jess Maria Flores – is a tale of friendship, empowerment, disability and one little girl’s fight to save the planet.

(Knights Of, hardback, £12.99)

Age 5 plus:

The House of Madame M

Clotilde Perrin

If you go down to the woods today… you’ll find a haunted house!

Enjoy the scares and dares of Halloween with a fabulous, interactive book that lets youngsters explore every dark nook and cranny in the thrilling, chilling home of the strange and shadowy Madame M.

There’s creepy fun, hidden jokes and spine-shivering surprises to uncover in a super, large-format, lift-the-flaps book from talented French illustrator and author Clotilde Perrin who has published over thirty books, including the international lift-the-flap bestseller Inside the Villains.

The House of Madame M comes from Gecko Press, a lively independent publisher of ‘curiously good’ children’s books based in Wellington, New Zealand, which prides itself on championing eclectic stories, rich in language and illustration, and with a strong ‘heart factor.’

And this entertaining book is certainly full of exciting innovation as youngsters are invited to step into the house of Madame M, with a warning to be as quiet as they can, and to be very, very careful as they explore the hallway, living room, kitchen, bathroom and bedroom. Each room is full of surprises to make even the bravest shiver. Are we in the house of an ogre, a witch or something else altogether?

Children will love lifting the flaps, pulling the tabs, reading the hidden jokes, and finding what lurks in the wardrobe, behind the door, and tucked under the furniture in a book full of humour, rich detail and atmosphere.

A brilliant box of tricks for all the family!

(Gecko Press, hardback, £16.99)

Age 4 plus:

The Adventures of Moose and Mr Brown

Paul Smith and Sam Usher

Comedy is all the fashion in an inventive and beautifully creative picture book from international fashion designer Sir Paul Smith and star illustrator Sam Usher.

This exciting and artistic duo have stitched together The Adventures of Moose and Mr Brown, a cleverly produced, laugh-out-loud story of animals, travel, design, and finding inspiration in the most unlikely of places.

Smith is renowned for his creative spirit and this delightful debut children’s book, the first in a new and exciting series, features a cast of curious and charming characters, inspired by toys that he has owned for many years.

Mr Brown is an international fashion designer who meets Moose on a plane travelling to London. Moose is distraught as he has lost his twin brother Monty who got on the wrong plane. Mr Brown agrees to help Moose track down Monty, and in return, Moose helps bring even more inspiration to Mr Brown’s business. They travel around the world, helping other animals with their designs, including slippers for sloths, parkas for penguins and scarves for giraffes, while looking for Monty. Will Mr Brown and Moose find Monty before Mr Brown’s big catwalk show?

Usher’s vibrant, colourful and characterful illustrations capture all the exuberance and spirit of adventure that mark out Smith’s captivating story about the joys of friendship and the power that comes from using your creative talents.

(Pavilion Children’s Books, hardback, £12.99)

Age 3 plus:

Beaver’s Big Adventure: A Journey Home

Magnus Weightman

Inspired by becoming a father, architect and urban designer Magnus Weightman uses his love of architecture, drawing, nature and travel for an enchanting, rhyming picture book which aims to nurture every child’s dreams of exploring and adventure.

Beaver has big dreams so one day he makes himself a sturdy boat and heads off on a big adventure to explore the world. Down the river and over the rapids he goes until he’s far from home, but when he gets lost along the way, he starts to wonder how he will get back. Fortunately, Akita the dog offers to help Beaver find his way home and together they take off in in a hot-air balloon to travel the globe and look for Beaver’s home.

Packed with jaunty rhymes and wonderfully detailed pictures of animal houses from around the world, this clever colourful book is brimming with fun, friendship and fascinating facts about different animal habitats.

Ideal for discussing environmental themes with young children, the book also includes a world map and charts Beaver’s amazing global journey.

(Five Quills, paperback, £6.99)

Age 2 plus:

Sea Lights

Ruth Symons and Carolina Rabei

‘At night we sail over the inky black sea,

me and my dad, in our little red boat.

We cast out our nets, and we wait in the dark,

and the star light shines above us.’

Follow the journey of one little girl and her father as their fishing boat comes back home….

Little ones will love to turn the pages and watch the night sky light up in this gentle, heartwarming book that was just made for bedtime reading.

Clever paper engineering makes object appear to ‘light up’ on every spread, from the roaming beams of the lighthouse and the warm yellow lights of the fishing village to a firework display seen through the window of a warm and cosy bedroom.

With Ruth Symons’ lyrical, repetitive text and the richly detailed art of The Ride-by-Nights illustrator Carolina Rabei, coupled with the love between a father and his child, this twinkly tale will have toddlers feeling sleepy in no time.

And with a sumptuous silver foil cover, and the gorgeous light and shade atmospherics of dark winter nights, this is the perfect Christmas gift.

(Templar Publishing, hardback, £12.99)

Age 2 plus:

Oi Puppies!

Kes Gray and Jim Field

The exciting team of writer Kes Gray and illustrator Jim Field are up to their wonderful word tricks again as they play puppy love with a new rhyming extravaganza.

The bestselling, multi-award-winning creators of Oi Frog!, Oi Dog!, Oi Goat! and Oi Duck-billed Platypus! will have children laughing their socks off as they join in the fun of a riotous romp starring a cast of out-of-control pups who simply refuse to sit still.

A masterclass in the absurd, this clever, comical picture book stars our familiar friend Frog and the long-suffering Dog who is looking after some puppies. Well, quite a few puppies, actually, and none of them will sit! Not even on guppies, like they’re supposed to. Puppies are far too busy being puppies to sit but they’re getting a little out of hand. Luckily Frog has got a cunning idea and it involves a ‘seating’ plan built on rhyme…

With increasingly outrageous word combinations on each page and a gorgeous gallery of Field’s bold and amazingly expressive illustrations to enjoy, youngsters will be joining in the rhymes, laughing out loud and begging for more the moment the last page has turned.

Comedy capers for all the family!

(Hodder Children’s Books, hardback, £12.99)

Age 2 plus:

Iguanas Love Bananas

Jennie & Chris Cladingbee and Jeff Crowther

Take a fun lesson in rhyming words, foods and animal names with a clever, comical picture book from debut author duo, Jennie and Chris Cladingbee.

Did you know that cheetahs like fajitas, iguanas love bananas, kangaroos love vindaloos, albatross scoff candy floss, tufted puffins like blueberry muffins and cockatiels like jellied eels? Lots of animals are going bananas for their favourite foods, causing havoc and confusion to everyone around them! Can anything stop them?

The Cladingbees ingeniously inventive rhyming story comes with tray-loads of quirky food and a host of familiar and unfamiliar creatures which will have little ones poring over both words and pictures.

Jeff Crowther provides a gallery of gloriously colourful, richly detailed and characterful illustrations which help to cook up a storm of chaos, comedy and captivating creatures.

(Maverick Publishing, paperback, £7.99)