Tag Archives: middle grade fiction

Book Review: Stargazing for Beginners by Jenny Mclachlan

Published 6th April 2017 by Bloomsbury.

32021893Goodreads Synopsis: Science geek Meg is left to look after her little sister for ten days after her free-spirited mum leaves suddenly to follow up yet another of her Big Important Causes. But while Meg may understand how the universe was formed, baby Elsa is a complete mystery to her.
And Mum’s disappearance has come at the worst time: Meg is desperate to win a competition to get the chance to visit NASA headquarters, but to do this she has to beat close rival Ed. Can Meg pull off this double life of caring for Elsa and following her own dreams? She’ll need a miracle of cosmic proportions…

My Review: I’ll admit I’m one to judge a book by its cover. Though I hadn’t read any of McLachlan’s books previously, I was really drawn to this. How beautiful is it?! Anyway, I’m glad I did decide to give it a go because this is now definitely up there in my favourite reads of 2017 so far.

Stargazing for Beginners tells the story of Meg, an teenage aspiring Astronaut, who is hesitantly entering a competition to go to Houston. Just two weeks away from her competition, Meg’s mother suddenly leaves for a humanitarian cause, rendering Meg in a difficult situation, juggling school, her aspirations and her baby sister. It’s a crazy concept, but I absolutely adored it. I became really emotionally invested in the story; I didn’t expect to become so attached.

I cannot fault McLachlan’s characterisation at all: it’s fantastic. Every person in the book felt so real to me, from Meg and her quirky family members to the pupils at her school. I particularly loved reading about Meg developing a relationship with her baby sister, in light of her mum leaving. So much of this book was unexpectedly poignant and beautifully written.

One of the things I loved most about Stargazing for Beginners is it’s portrayal of feeling like an outcast at school. Meg sticks out, being overly passionate about science and labelled a geek. She’s such a relatable character, appealing to read about for anyone who’s ever been through the horrible experience of Secondary school 🙂 It was really moving to see Meg develop a network of friends over the course of the story. And, of course, it was fantastic that one of those friends was portrayed with Cerebral Palsy, a physical disability affecting movement. Disabled characters seem to be pretty underrepresented, particularly in terms of genuine portrayals – so this was really awesome to see.

Stargazing for Beginners has such a wide appeal. Its themes of family and space are written about so wonderfully, it’s hard not to fall in love with the story. I tend to read books with darker or slightly older themes, so I wasn’t sure how much this would appeal to me, but I fell in love with it. The story is so uplifting and touching, I can’t imagine that any kind of reader would dislike it.

Overall, I would definitely recommend Stargazing for Beginners. It’s perfect for anyone, of any age, looking for a feel-good read. Witty, moving and memorable, this is bound to sweep you up as it did with me. Having really enjoyed this, I’m very excited to see what McLachlan writes next!

My Rating:

I received a copy of Stargazing for Beginners via the publisher, in exchange for a review. In no way at all did this affect my thoughts.

Book Review: Fish boy by Chloe Daykin

Published February 28th 2017 by Faber & Faber.

32490590Goodreads Synopsis: Billy is a lonely boy. He’s obsessed with swimming in the sea, which is where he goes to wash his problems far, far away. Thanks to his mum’s mystery illness, his dad has been forced to work extra hours to make ends meet, so Billy locks himself away with David Attenborough films, and ponders the magic of nature. Meanwhile at school, bullies mercilessly seize on Billy’s ‘otherness’ and make his life as miserable as possible – but then new boy Patrick Green, with “fingers like steel, strength of a bear”, joins Billy’s class. And when a mackerel swims up to Billy’s face, blows bubbles into his Vista Clear Mask goggles and says: Fish Boy – Billy’s whole world changes.


My Review: A lot of people know I’m totally one to judge a book by its cover – this is a prime example! I loved the gorgeous cover artwork for this book, and it intrigued me about the story – so I eagerly requested to review it. I’m really glad I did – it’s nice to dip back into Middle Grade fiction again, and this was great.

Fish Boy follows Billy, a boy estranged from other children his age, who bully him. Between that and his mother’s illness, his only solace is swimming in the sea – and that’s where he meets the fish that starts talking to him, which opens him up to a strange new world with his new friend.

What I found really unique, and perhaps the best bit about Fish Boy, is the ambiguity of the whole story. Is it literal – does Billy really find talking fish, who talk to him and seemingly become his new friends? Or is Billy’s surreal swimming experience his brain’s coping mechanism; a distraction from the world around him? I really loved trying to read between the lines of this book. It’s a very layered story, and that’s why I think readers of all ages can enjoy it – they can take away whatever message they want.

Fish Boy combines some heartbreaking, relatable issues with a touch of magical realism that makes for a very unique story. It touches on bullying, how it feels to be different, and also the experience of having a parent who is ill, and what that entails for your family. I found it really touching and moving in places, particularly with the family themes. I loved the close family Daykin has constructed at the centre of this book – they’re wonderful to read about.

Billy’s voice is strong and authentic, and I really enjoyed his perspective while reading. I think it was especially a great narrative to explore family issues through. The friendship between the protagonist and a later character, Patrick, is very bizarre and entertaining – their dynamic was really fun and something that I’m sure readers will adore.

Fish Boy is a bizarre book. There is no avoiding that. It did take me a few pages to get into it, and I can’t say I was a hundred percent engaged in it the whole way through. It’s incredibly weird at points! A couple of things didn’t make much sense to me – it took me a lot of thought after reading to understand what the magical fish thing was about – but I do think it’s still a book with a lot of appeal to those who like similar things – who says that strange is a bad thing?

Overall, I definitely recommend this, especially to middle grade readers who are looking to read something new, with echoes of David Almond and Patrick Ness’ A Monster Calls (except this one is a bit less sad!). Fish Boy, albeit a bizarre story, is imaginative and incredibly original. It touches on themes of family, friendship and what it means to be human, with just the right amount of surrealism.

My Rating:

three

I received a copy of Fish Boy from the publisher, in exchange for a review. In no way at all did this affect my thoughts.

Chasing Danger Blog Tour: Sara Grant on her Writing Process

Amystery-at-the-ice-hotel-1bout the book: After surviving a pirate attack in the tropics, teens Chase and Mackenzie escape to an exclusive resort in the Arctic Circle. But just after they arrive, suspicious accidents begin to occur. It seems like someone’s trying to scare away the guests. When the accidents turn deadly, it’s up to the girls to figure out whodunit … before they become the next victims. This holiday’s going to be killer!
 —
SARA GRANT ON CHASING DANGER
The idea
The idea for this Chasing Danger mystery was inspired by my trip to a real ice hotel in 2009. From the moment I arrived, I knew that this would be a great location for murder and mayhem. (Yeah, that is what I think about when on holiday, but only the fictional kind.) When I started planning the book, I simply grabbed a big pad of Post-it notes and started writing all the amazing things I experienced and imagined could happen at this snowy, secluded spot in the Arctic Circle: runaway dog sleds, dead bodies in blocks of ice, getting lost in a blizzard, an amazing Northern Lights show, falling through the ice of a not-so-frozen lake, snowmobile chases, etc…The book really wrote itself.
My process 
Because this is a second book in a series, I already know my main characters – Chase, Mackenzie and Ariadne – inside and out. I know how they will react and also how I want to develop the mega-story that bridges the first four books I’ve outlined for Chasing Danger. I’m a planner. I want my mysteries to have lots of twists, turns and surprises, and to do that, I need to plan out everything in advance. I plot all the Post-it notes from my brainstorming on a
timeline. Then I fill in any gaps and connect all the dots. This is usually a page or two of bullet points. Next I break the action down chapter-by-chapter. I carefully chart the rollercoaster of action and surprises. I wrote a 9,000 word storyline for Mystery at the Ice Hotel. At this stage I look for how I’ve scattered my clues and hints. I double-check my pace and make sure I’ve tied up all my plots and subplots. When I’m satisfied with the storyline, I send it to my editor. She will give me feedback on the big picture at this point. Once we are both happy, I’ll start writing the book.
The story isn’t set in stone. As I write, it evolves and changes from the original storyline. I always write several drafts before I send it to my editor again. The great thing about a series is that by the end of writing one book I already have loads of ideas for the next. And one of the fun things about Chasing Danger is that I reveal the location for the next adventure at the end of the current book. And luckily for me, there are endless exotic locations for Chase, Mackenzie and me to explore.
 —
About the author: Sara writes and edits fiction for children and teens. Her new series Chasis6y0egcg-1ng Danger is an action-adventure series for tweens. Dark Parties, her first young adult novel, won the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators Crystal Kite Award for Europe. As a freelance editor of series fiction, she has worked on twelve different series and edited nearly 100 books. Sara was born and raised in Washington, Indiana. She graduated from Indiana University with degrees in journalism and psychology, and later she earned a master’s degree in creative and life writing at Goldsmiths College, University of London. She lives in London. http://www.sara-grant.com

Book Review: Time for Jas by Natasha Farrant

Related Posts: Book Review: After Iris |  Book Review: All About Pumpkin

Published 18th August 2016 by Faber and Faber.

29361182Goodreads Synopsis: Bluebell and her siblings are beginning a new school year. Suddenly everyone is freaking out. Twig has taken up violent team sports, poor Jas is being bullied by the ghastly Cupcake Crew and Blue has a big decision to make.

There are fights and crying fits. Halloween parades gone wrong and secret graffiti artists. Confusing friendships and life-changing choices. But there is also laughter and above all, there is love – and that’s what being a family is all about.

My Review: I’ve adored The Diaries of Bluebell Gadsby series from the start, and was so excited to read this latest title. I think this is actually the last book, and I’m really sad to see this series coming to a close – the story of Bluebell and her family has been such a lovely story to follow!

The main thing I love about this whole series is the format in which the books are written – it’s half in Bluebell’s physical diary entries, and half written as transcripts of her filming, as she’s a budding documentary filmmaker and watches her family through her camera lens. I adore the switching styles, and it brings such a unique perspective to the story – it feels fun, refreshing and energetic.

It actually felt incredibly nostalgic to be revisiting the Gadbsy family again, as it’s been a while since the last book! They’re such a chaotic bunch of people, and it feels like I know them. I’ve never loved a fictional family so much. In this book, I loved how Farrant takes the time to explore how each of the children develop as they start a new year at school. Each of them is grappling with a new challenge – from Jas facing bullying, to Flora starting a drama school far away. If this is indeed the last book, I’m going to miss reading about them so much.

Farrant has squeezed so many important topics into this story – from family and peer pressure, to scary big changes. There’s also of course still the overhanging grief of Bluebell’s lost twin sister, which has been talked about throughout the series. In this book, the theme of grief isn’t as prominent – Blue addresses her sister a couple of times and it was really emotional to see how she’s developed and changed her life. Oh my god these characters feel so real.

The events in the book were really cute and heartwarming. I love how Farrant writes about some really emotional stuff whilst still managing to keep it upbeat, hopeful and hard not to smile at. It may have been just because I haven’t read this series in a while, but nothing completely blew me away – that’s not to say it wasn’t a great read at all, which it was. It was so enjoyable (and a lovely break from my boring A Level reading!) but not something that massively moved me.

Overall, Time for Jas was a really enjoyable read – perfect for middle grade readers as well as readers of younger YA. As with the rest of the series, it touches on many interesting and complex themes, and is simultaneously really engaging and funny too. I highly recommend this, and the whole series, if you haven’t yet gotten around to it! The Diaries of Bluebell Gadsby are undoubtedly one of the most heartwarming and loveable series out there.

My Rating:

three and a half

I received a copy of Time for Jas from the publisher, in exchange for a review. In no way at all did this affect my thoughts.

Book Review: All About Pumpkin by Natasha Farrant

The Diaries of Bluebell Gadsby #3 | Read my review of book one, After Iris, here

Published September 2015 by Faber.

24321595Goodreads Synopsis: It’s the summer holidays and Flora has gone off with Dad to the exotic set of his new film and Mum is at home having a much-needed rest with baby Pumpkin. Bluebell, Twig and Jas have been sent to stay with Grandma at Horsehill in the countryside.

With Grandma keen that the children get as much fresh air as possible, they are sent off on bikes to go wild swimming and befriend the boys next door. With so much freedom, they can’t help but get into trouble, and Grandma doesn’t seem to be as capable as looking after them as she should be…

My Review: I’ve been a fan of Natasha Farrant since the first book in this series, After Iris – so I was really excited when I was offered the chance to review the third title, especially as it’s being published in the new cover style that the whole series is being re-modelled with. Isn’t it pretty?!

Like the previous two books in the series, All About Pumpkin is half transcripts from Bluebell’s filming, and half diary entry. I love the format so much, and I always say that when I’m talking about these books – I just think it’s such a good idea, and Farrant writes both formats so brilliantly! The film transcripts are so much fun, and always very witty.

In this instalment of the series, the latest member of the family, Pumpkin, has been born – and he’s taking up everybody’s time. Bluebell’s dad and eldest sister are in New Zealand, and unable to cope, her mum sends her and her younger siblings off to their grandma’s so she can cope with just the new baby – but inevitably, being the Gadsby family, things always end up going a little wrong.

I honestly can’t find the words to describe how much I love the Gadsby family, and these books – each one has a completely fresh-feeling, fun plot. Natasha Farrant is leading the way in children’s fiction – her books are so entertaining, and I love escaping into the fictional family’s antics for a while so much. Although the Bluebell Gadsby books have their fair share of emotional bits, there’s an equal amount of hilarious moments – Farrant has got the balance of the two perfect. I also really enjoyed the way that Farrant explored the Gadsby family in All About Pumpkin, as I feel like it put a lot of focus on the younger siblings, like Jasmine, who is so loveable.

Overall, I really enjoyed All About Pumpkin – it was actually the one book that managed to get me out of a month-long reading slump! It’s such a joy to revisit these characters, and I’m really looking forward to the next in the series – they feel like such timeless classics and I love to read them no matter what mood I’m in. I really recommend All About Pumpkin, and all three books so far if you haven’t tried them yet – as they’re just such fantastic reads, no matter what genre or age category you usually might stick to.

My Rating:

four

I received a copy of All About Pumpkin from the publisher, in exchange for a review. In no way at all did this affect my thoughts.

Book Review: Jonny Jakes Investigates the Hamburgers of Doom by Malcom Judge

Published June 2015 by Curious Fox.

25726092Publisher’s Synopsis: Meet Jonny Jakes, undercover reporter for banned school newspaper The Woodford Word. Nothing will stop his pursuit of the truth. Not teachers. Not parents. Not double detention.

When a new head teacher arrives halfway through term, Jonny smells a rat. Teachers handing out sweets? All-you-can-eat hamburgers? He’s determined to get to the bottom of it, because Jonny Jakes investigates the same way he eats his hamburgers: with relish.

My Review: I haven’t read many middle grade books so far this year – so when I was emailed about this book, I jumped at the chance! Also, if the title is THE HAMBURGERS OF DOOM, there is no way I’m missing out on reading it.

I can definitely see why this first book in the Jonny Jakes Investigates series is one of Curious Fox’s leading titles of 2015. It ticks all the boxes for a brilliant children’s book, and more. From the witty illustrations of the characters, to the hilarious dialogue and fictional school setting, it was a delight to read!

The story opens with an introduction to Jonny Jakes, the mastermind behind his school’s newspaper, which has been garnering a lot of attention with its many articles mocking the headmaster. When a mysterious new head teacher turns up, Jakes is determined to get the first scoop on it, but he finds out that it’s not just any old head teacher. It’s an alien, and matters are about to get a whole lot more complicated – because despite his nice personality, is this alien headmaster up to something wicked?

The plot felt like a classic story, though original, and I can tell this is going to be a very popular book with younger readers. I did not expect to laugh as much as I did. The plot is a hilarious blend of Sci-Fi and school drama.

The voice of Jonny Jakes is undoubtedly one of the best child narratives I’ve read in a long time. There was just something about the voice, how the diary entries by Jonny were written – it felt so realistic and I loved it! I’m confident Jonny Jakes has the potential to be one of those iconic book characters children are going to grow up loving.

The dialogue was sharp-witted and I loved the relationships between all of the characters. I didn’t expect to become so attached to such brilliant characters in this book, either!

Overall, I was really pleasantly surprised with The Hamburgers of Doom. A quite frankly ridiculous story about a schoolboy reporter investigating evil hamburgers and an alien headmaster… t’s a fantastically silly read that’s bound to make you giggle a little bit, no matter what your age. I enjoyed it a lot more than I anticipated. I think it’ll appeal to a lot of reluctant young readers, too. I’m really looking forward to seeing more from this series!

My Rating:

four

I received a copy of The Hamburgers of Doom from the publisher, in exchange for a review. In no way at all did this affect my thoughts.

365 days of WONDER

I was sent a copy of 365 Days of Wonder from the publisher, Random House, last week! I wasn’t expecting it, but I’ve been really interested in it since I heard it announced. However, it’s not the kind of book I can review in terms of the plot, or the characters, etc… This is a (beautiful!) collective book of precepts, quotes and inspirational things – a page for each day of the year.

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Wonder by R J Palacio (read my review here) is about a boy called Auggie, who has a cranial facial disorder, starting middle school – and it documents his first friendships and hardships there. His English teacher, Mr Browne, is in love with Precepts – motivational quotes etc – and asks his students, including Auggie, to mail him their own precept on a postcard over a school holiday. The precepts mentioned in the book were all really powerful and inspirational!

RJ Palacio, the author, received lots of postcards from readers and fans with their own precepts written on them – and over a hundred of them were selected along with some famous icon’s quotes, and were all combined to create 365 Days of Wonder. 

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365 Days of Wonder is such a beautiful book! Every single page is different, but all of them are vibrant and gorgeous. There are typed precepts, handwritten ones, and occasional pictures. It’s such a beautiful book, whether you’re just flicking through it, reading it all in one go, or doing what the title suggests and reading a precept a day (for a year!).

IMG_0515A lot of the precepts reflect the world of Wonder so beautifully, like the one above. Though it is quite expensive as it’s a hardback, I do recommend checking out a copy upon release – if you loved Wonder, its spin-off novella The Julian Chapter, or if you’re just looking for a really pretty gift book. I’m now keeping my copy on my desk – to read a precept a day (:

[You can also check out and reblog these photos on my Tumblr book blog :)]

I received a copy of 365 Days of Wonder from the publisher, in exchange for a review. In no way at all did this affect my thoughts.