Friday, 6 July 2018

Book Review: The Secret Seven: Mystery of the Skull by Pamela Butchart and Enid Blyton ★★★★☆

The Secret Seven Mystery of the Skull

Enid Blyton’s beloved series The Secret Seven is back with a brand new adventure, Mystery of the Skull, based on Blyton’s original intrepid sleuth septet and written by Pamela Butchart.

I loved The Secret Seven and The Famous Five as a child and raced through all of the books, some more than once. With the exception of Roald Dahl’s books, no other books had such an enduring impact on my life. To this day, decades after I read them, I can still fondly remember sharing afternoons with the characters playing in copses full of tall grass and wild flowers or exploring old abandoned quarries and discovering hidden tunnels.

I would move on to the The Adventure series by age 10 or so, firmly choosing it as my favourite of all Enid Blyton’s series but it was The Secret Seven that started it all. This summer, 55 years after the final Secret Seven book was written, Hodder Children's Books hope to gain a whole new audience and are releasing the first ever official addition to the world of The Secret Seven.

Mystery of the Skull begins two weeks into the summer holidays when Janet and Peter return home from a fortnight with their gran. Peter discovers a skull in his bedroom and calls an urgent meeting of the Secret Seven. Where did the skull come from? How did it land up in Peter’s bedroom? And most importantly of all, what does this have to do with the new hotel down the road and its secretive proprietors?

With ample servings of sandwiches and cake, several moonlight adventures and significant levels of danger, this new adventure is a welcome return to a world that I never thought I’d visit again.

At first I was concerned that the book would feel dated, being that the originals were set in the 50s and 60s, or that the book would be obviously modernised but I was impressed to note that neither is the case. There is no obvious technology in the book but nothing to suggest that it couldn’t be set in the modern era either, making it accessible to a new generation of readers.

The Secret Seven Mystery of the Skull coverI don’t think this book (and others that I expect to follow in the series) will appeal as a children’s / adult crossover in the same way as the Harry Potter books have but it will appeal to the original fans of The Secret Seven and I think the innocence and simplicity of the story would be perfect for new readers aged 7 to 9.

For transporting me back to the world of my childhood and for a very clever story indeed, I give The Secret Seven: Mystery of the Skull by Pamela Butchart and Enid Blyton an excellent four out of five stars and would recommend to fans of Enid Blyton and to young readers. I will certainly be looking out for any new additions to the series.

★★★★☆

The Secret Seven: Mystery of the Skull is published by Hodder Children’s Books and will be released on 12 July 2018. It is available for pre-order using the link below.

I received an electronic copy of this book from Netgalley for the purposes of this review. All opinions expressed on this site are always my honest and true opinion and are not influenced by the receipt of a review copy.

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Saturday, 23 June 2018

Book Review: Ashley Herring Blake's Devastating 'Girl Made of Stars' ★★★★★

Girl Made of Stars Ashley Herring Blake

There is an old idiom: be careful what you wish for, it might just come true. A week ago, I was imploring people on Twitter to suggest a book that would be devastating and consuming. Somehow Ashley Herring Blake’s Girl Made of Stars rose to the top of my to-read pile and it was everything I wished for. The result? I’m crying my eyes out, torn to pieces by a book that is beautifully written and utterly life-changing.

I want to say so much about this book but it all feels awkward. In the opening pages, I felt that Girl Made of Stars was going to be a bit too much high-school-drama, too little ingenuity. I was wrong. In a similar strain, how can I describe this novel in a way that will draw the reader in, convince people that they need to read it? Words fail me but that is probably because I still can’t see properly through the tears.

Mara and Owen are as close as twins can get, so when Mara’s friend Hannah accuses Owen of rape, Mara doesn't know what to think. Can her brother really be guilty of such a violent act? Torn between her family and her sense of right and wrong, Mara feels lost, and it doesn’t help that things are strained with her ex-girlfriend, Charlie. As Mara, Hannah, and Charlie come together in the aftermath of this terrible crime, Mara must face a trauma from her own past and decide where Charlie fits into her future.

Girl Made of StarsGirl Made of Stars is a novel about rape and sexual assault. It is about loyalty and belief, about the choices people make when both survivor and perpetrator are known to them. It is a story about numbers, how all of us know someone who has been attacked, how we probably know someone who has attacked someone else and how so many of us are carrying burdens of shame from our childhoods. Perhaps this is why this book has affected me so much, for I too have a story to tell.

This is the thing about Girl Made of Stars, it is a story for the #MeToo era but it doesn’t feel as if someone over there is telling their story. It feel intimate and painful, raw and unflinchingly real. As if this is happening to your best friend or as if your brother has been accused of rape.

Girl Made of Stars is published by HMH Books for Young Readers and I can definitely see this book making its way on to school curricula. It is a powerful book that will open up discussions about consent and sexual assault, as well as healing and the aftermath of abuse. I discovered this book on the Mock Printz book club on Goodreads and could definitely see this book being in line for the Michael L Printz award and other accolades.

For giving me exactly what I wanted in terms of devastation and consumption but also for telling an incredible, life-changing story, I give Girl Made of Stars by Ashley Herring Blake a superb five out of five stars and would highly recommend to anyone seeking superior literary fiction.

★★★★★

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Saturday, 16 June 2018

Book Review: Nicky Singer's Astonishing 'The Survival Game' ★★★★★

The Survival Game Nicky Singer

Have you ever read a book in one breath? Have you ever drawn a sharp intake of air in the opening pages and then held it right until the end, barely able to move or tear your eyes away from the devastation on the pages in front of you? This is what it felt like when I was reading Nicky Singer’s post-apocalyptic The Survival Game.

The Survival Game is one of those rare novels. Beautifully written, it is a book that will drag you along through every emotion possible as you try to fathom how devastatingly plausible the entire story is.

Our protagonist is 14-year-old Mhairi, a girl who has travelled alone from the Sudan and is making her way across Britain to her home in Scotland. Except that it might not be her home anymore; the world as we know it consists of closed borders and checkpoints, each country cutting itself off in the face of catastrophic environmental devastation and global human migration. This is our world a mere 30 years in the future and it is not pretty.

Mhairi owns nothing except the clothes on her back, a gun with no bullets and her papers that prove her right to be in Scotland. All she needs to do is to keep heading north and she will eventually get there, to her home.

“Today I wonder if this is what home is: walking somewhere where you don’t need a map. Where the landscape is laid in your heart”

Her position is precarious for this is a world in which crimes or misdemeanours result in years deducted from your predetermined time on this earth and the very last thing anyone should be doing is picking up an illegal ‘alien’ on their travels. Except that this is exactly what Mhairi does when she meets a mute child and puts her entire journey in jeopardy.

The Survival Game Nicky Singer coverWhat follows is a battle between the will for survival and the basic human qualities of love and morality because what is the point of survival if we don’t live our lives right?

The Survival Game is an astonishing story of survival, meaningfulness and morality in a world pushed to the brink by global shortages. It is also a book about layers and details, so meticulously researched that you will find yourself appreciating every bite of food you take and every, single drop of water.

I give The Survival Game by Nicky Singer a superb five out of five stars and predict that this will be among my top five books of 2018.

★★★★★

The Survival Game is published by Hodder Children’s Books and will be released on 26 July 2018. It is available for pre-order using the link below.


I received an electronic copy of this book from Netgalley for the purposes of this review. All opinions expressed on this site are always my honest and true opinion and are not influenced by the receipt of a review copy.

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Monday, 7 May 2018

Tomi Adeyemi's Superb Debut 'Children of Blood and Bone' ★★★★★

Tomi Adeyemi Children of Blood and Bone

It was hard to escape the hype surrounding Tomi Adeyemi’s Children of Blood and Bone. In January I began to notice mention of the novel exploding all over Goodreads and by March posters of the book were plastered all over the London Underground. I knew I had to read it.

Tomi Adeyemi’s debut novel is set in the fictional West-African kingdom of Orïsha. It is a kingdom bereft of magic due to the brutal efforts of the King to eradicate magic and kill all maji. Zélie Adebola remembers a time when magic and joy existed in Orïsha but she also remembers the night when her village burned, her mother murdered and her father left devastated. For years, Zélie has trained in secret to become a warrior but everyone knows that the best way to keep safe is to avoid the king’s guards and not, for example, inadvertently rescue a princess and become a target.

Yet Zélie does assist the Princess Amari in her escape from the King’s guards and the repercussions are extreme, setting in motion a set of events that will lead to a quest to bring back magic in Orïsha.

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Told through the eyes of Zélie, Princess Amari and the crown prince Inan, Children of Blood and Bone offers an impressive depth of character development and insight into the motivations behind both the King and Inan’s behaviour. It is not difficult to choose sides though for Adeyemi is not shy to tackle some of the most pressing issues of our time including genocide, racial discrimination, persecution, slavery and tyranny. This is what sets the novel apart from others in the genre and having focused a lot of my reading on topics such as genocide, I was impressed (and horrified) with the detail regarding conflicts and massacres in the book.

The structure of Children of Blood and Bone follows a familiar young adult fantasy formula in terms of the discovery of magical abilities followed by a quest, battle and cliff-hanger leading towards an obvious sequel. I felt that this was the only thing that let the book down but I did not let it detract from my rating due to the complex issues covered and depth of characterisation of several of the lead characters.

Tomi Adeyemi Children of Blood and Bone coverMost importantly, Children of Blood and Bone is riveting and unputdownable and I enjoyed every single word of it. The book is the first in the Children of Orïsha series and I will definitely be reading the full series. Not that I have a choice; with respect, Ms Adeyemi, that cliff hanger was pretty unforgivable.

There is talk of the book being turned into a film by the producers of Maze Runner. I hope that isn’t the case – the Maze Runner books were fabulous and I adore Dylan O'Brien but the Maze Runner films were the worst film adaptation since Vampire Academy. On the other hand, I hope that the hype continues to grow because I would like to see this novel translated into as many African languages as possible. It is about time that children in the vast continent of Africa had a hero they could relate to and this book and Marvel’s Black Panther are a good place to start.

I give Tomi Adeyemi's Children of Blood and Bone a superb five out of five stars and recommend it to lovers of magic, fantasy and superior young adult fiction.

★★★★★


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