Review policy

I am very happy to review any novel that fits in with the theme of this blog: novels aimed at 9-14 year olds, preferably with a fantasy/ speculative world setting. However, I will make clear in the review that I was sent the book by the publisher and I will write my honest opinion. Please feel free to contact me via Twitter or Facebook, or fantasticreads at gmail dot com.

Saturday, 19 April 2014

#ReadUKYA- Sawbones by Catherine Johnson


Catherine Johnson is one of my favourite writers. Author of Brave New Girl and Nest of Vipers, she writes fantastic novels for young people, many set in multicultural London both contemporary and historic. 

This wonderfully creepy tale is the story of Ezra McAdam, a mulatto boy, the apprentice of an anatomist. He is an intelligent boy, eager to learn all he can from his master. However, events take a sinister turn following the dissection of a corpse who has injuries that don't seem easily explained away, and Ezra's comfortable life becomes precarious. When he meets up with Loveday Finch, who is convinced that her conjurer father was murdered, it becomes positively dangerous, with all leads seeming to end up at the Ottoman embassy. 

I enjoyed every minute of reading this book. London of 1792 leapt off the page, with its smells, noise and dangers. The scientific advances of the time are well explained, and the interlocking plots added intrigue and interest for me, with the political and trade links between England, France, Turkey and Russia coming to life. I cared about Ezra and Loveday, and exclaimed so much that my partner has read it too, and recommended to the YA librarian at the library where he works. I was delighted to discover that Catherine is writing a sequel, and I can't wait to read it. 

This post is to link to the Read UKYA weekend. To find out more about Young Adult novels by UK-based authors, have a look at the UKYA and Project UKYA blogs. We have some fantastic authors here who should be celebrated!

Friday, 3 January 2014

Seasonal reads 11: Claude on the Slopes by Alex T Smith


Alex T Smith's  Claude is a small, plump dog in a jumper and beret (under which he keeps the most extraordinary things, much like Mary Poppins does in her carpet bag) whose best friend is a sock, Sir Bobblysock. They live with Mr and Mrs Shinyshoes, but once they head for work, Claude and Sir Bobblysock have extraordinary adventures!

In this, his latest adventure, Claude wakes up in a loud sort of mood. The day before he had exuberantly visited the library, but discovered that his one man band outfit is unwelcome there, so had been very quiet. So he decides to get some fresh air- and discovers that it has snowed. He and Sir Bobbysock follow whooshing people on sledges and skis to the Snowy Mountains' Winter Snow Centre. Here they play with snowballs, sledge (and Sir Bobblysock investigates Apres Ski) but Claude learns that Outdoor Voices are not always good to use Outdoors...

I love these books. I love the nostalgic warmth and wit of the illustrations- my friend Princess of VP said that they remind her of the illustrations for Anatole the Mouse- and I love the affection with which Alex T Smith writes about his characters. If you haven't met Claude yet, then do seek them out. They would be great to read aloud to 5+, and a good reader of 6+ should enjoy reading them independently.

Thursday, 12 December 2013

Seasonal reads 10- Yeti and the Bird by Nadia Shireen


Lonely Yeti lives in the forest. One winter's day, he finds a little bird lost on her migration south. He takes her home and looks after her, and the two friends have fun together, until it is time for her to leave. A sad Yeti lets her go, but discovers that his kindness to Bird has made the other forest animals less scared of him, so he has lots of new friends- and Bird comes back to visit now and then.

This lovely book has vibrant, colourful winterscapes, and would be a fantastic read on a cold winter's bed time. The language is adventurous- it's one to read to children rather than them reading for themselves, I think. I particularly liked "Every evening, the friends sang sad, sweet songs together, which soothed the forest to sleep." I have bought this for some small people in my life, and hope to make a Yeti finger puppet from felt, and a pom pom bird, with the four year old, like these.these.

Sunday, 8 December 2013

Seasonal reads 9- Breadcrumbs by Anne Ursu

Image: Walden Pond Boks

10 year old Hazel has just gone through some difficult changes in her life- her father has left her mother, she has had to move to a new school, where she doesn't fit in, and her mother needs her to take greater responsibility for herself.

As the snow falls, she and her best friend, Jack, talk about superheroes and supervillains, play fantasy games based on their reading, and make plans to go sledging. However, at the same time, a magical mirror gets broken, and in a playground accident, Jack gets a piece in his eye. The shard travels to his heart, making him cold and careless. He forgets about his plans with Hazel, and arranges to sledge with some boys who tease her in class. On arriving at the hill, he sledges by himself, in defiance of neighbourhood rules. On the hill, he meets a mysterious woman, who is in a sleigh pulled by wolves. She tucks him in her sleigh, kisses him on the forehead, and takes him into the woods.

Hazel is badly hurt by Jack's behaviour, but on hearing from one of the boys that he has gone into the woods with a strange woman, she resolves to go after him. On the journey she encounters wolves, a woodsman, a woman who wears the skin of a swan, and other characters from traditional tales. However, the imagination and knowledge of fantasy fiction that has earned Hazel mockery at school and got her into trouble for daydreaming allows her to navigate the difficult journey through the woods and face not only danger, but the knowledge that whether we want to or not, we must accept that change is inevitable.

This wonderful book was a joy to read; a bookish 9-12 year old will delight in encountering references to Hans Christian Anderson's fairy stories, Wolverine, Narnia, The Hobbit, A Wrinkle in Time and When I Meet You, amongst others. I'd have adored reading this to my class, and guiding them to the texts referenced in it. This would make an exciting blogging project with Year 5 or 6, I think. Unfortunately this book doesn't have a UK publisher, but it could be easily ordered from your local bookshop for not much more than buying it online.

Wednesday, 5 June 2013

Reading habits

Following Scott PackBig Green Bookshop and Maggie Bob's lead, I'm going to write briefly about how, when, why and where I read.
1. I read anything and everything. Literary fiction, crime (though not gory; see below), horror (as above), romantic fiction, Science Fiction, Fantasy, historical , cookery books, even though I don't cook much: everything.
2. Books with a lot of graphic violence/ sexual violence, particularly against women, I find very difficult to read. Particularly rape as character development: see a lot of urban paranormal. Ugh.
3. I read anywhere and everywhere, except on the loo (eww) and on buses (make me travel sick). I feel a bit anxious if I don't have at least one book on the go. 
4. I mostly read paperback books, bought from physical shops. It depresses me that so many high streets are just betting shops, charity shops, pound shops and "cash converters". I'm the same with music- I support record shops. Use them or lose them and live in clone-town.
5. I don't judge you if you read differently from me. Reading should be pleasurable, fun and enhance your life. It shouldn't be like eating this bowl of twigs and dust that I'm chewing because it's good for me. 
Now, what are your reading habits? 

Monday, 13 May 2013

In praise of Violet Baudelaire

This post is part of Playing By The Book's I'm looking for a book about... carnival. This month the theme is Inventors and Inventions.


Violet Baudelaire, the oldest of the Baudelaire siblings, is 14 in the first of Lemony Snicket's A Series of Unfortunate Events. She is the greatest inventor of her age, having won her first inventing competition at 5, having invented an automatic rolling pin. Throughout the series, whenever threatened with their evil guardian, Count Olaf, Violet ties her hair back to keep it out of her eyes and uses her skill as an inventor to rescue them. She ingeniously uses materials to hand to create her contraptions: for example, in  The Bad Beginning she uses picture wires and torn clothing to create a grappling hook to climb a tower and rescue baby Sunny.

If you haven't read A Series of Unfortunate Events, then you have a treat ahead. They are incredibly funny, with a deadpan style with very formal language, and sardonic authorial comment. I think it would be great fun to read them with children and create inventions with household objects.

Tuesday, 26 March 2013

The Lewis chessmen


As a girl, one of my favourite things to do was to visit the British Museum. I loved the slightly creepy horror of the Egypt room (too many illicit viewings of horror films!) but my heart has always belonged to small things- Japanese netsuke, for example or the Lewis chessmen. Museums were far less interactive and child friendly in the 70s, but the Lewis chessmen were perfect- at child eye height, you could see things that adults couldn't- the pompous expression on the Bishop's face, the tired droop of the Knight; the Queen with her hand to her face. They're wonderful objects. I could almost feel their smooth weight in the palm of my hand.

So I was delighted when two books recently featured the chessmen. The wonderful Francesca Simon of Horrid Henry fame's Sleeping Army is the story of Freya, living in an alternate version of Britain, where Christianity is a minor cult, and Viking beliefs are the mainstream religion.


Freya is caught between her warring, divorced parents: her mother is a priestess of the Viking religion, and her father, who has lost his job, is a security guard at the British Museum. Owing to a mix up, one night he has to take Freya to the museum with him, where, bored, she blows Heimdall's horn, and brings the statues to life. A brother and sister, Alfi and Roskva, Snot the Berserker and Sleipnir the eight legged horse. Together they end up in Asgard, only to find it horribly altered: the gods are dying, and Freya must go on a journey to save them. If she fails, she will be turned into a chess piece herself. On the way they meet giants, Loki the trickster god and travels to the Underworld. Freya is a believable protagonist: hardly heroic at times, she is definitely not the outdoor type, but grows into her role as the leader of a quest. I really enjoyed this, and recommend it to children 8+.


All the Doctor wanted was a game of chess. But he arrives on an island at the top of Scotland just at the wrong time: a mysterious fire that burns on top of the water is coming closer to the island, and a ship full of Vikings is transporting a princess to an unwilling marriage with a very unattractive King, and an island people with no way of defending themselves from either. And to top it all, the salt water seems to be playing havoc with the TARDIS.

This is a great adventure. If you know Jenny Colgan's romance novels, you'll know that she's a very funny writer with a great talent for deft characterisation, and she captures the whimsical and capricious nature of the Eleventh Doctor, as well as his love affair with humanity. Here he is without Amy and Rory, and rather lonely- and in keeping with the television series, has an affinity with a child. The Princess and Viking subplot is great too, and balances nicely with the Doctor's lone state. Although this is not marketed for children, I think a confident Who fan of 11+ would love this book.