Rainbow Grey by Laura Ellen Anderson

I am a HUGE fan of Laura Ellen Anderson! Her Amelia Fang series was the first series of books that my daughter and I had a shared obsession with. I had listened to a couple of the Amelia Fang audiobooks myself and loved them, and I suggested to my daughter that we listen to one on the way to school one day. She absolutely loved listening to them and we got to the stage where we were quoting lines from the books to each other. It felt a little like our own secret club, because no one else in our family knew what we were going on about. When we finally listened to the last book in the series, Amelia Fang and the Trouble with Toads, we were both sad that we wouldn’t have any more adventures with Amelia, Squashy, Florence, Grimaldi and Tangine. They are the BEST audiobooks because Zoe Thorne perfectly captures the characters with her voices. My daughter told me that I couldn’t read the books aloud, after we had listened to the audiobooks, because ‘your voices don’t sound the same dad.’ Like so many other fans of Laura’s books, I was incredibly excited when she announced she was writing a new series, called Rainbow Grey. It feels like I’ve been waiting a long time for Rainbow Grey (especially when I was seeing people in the UK getting the most beautiful early copies of the book, with rainbow sprayed edges!). Thankfully, Rainbow Grey has now arrived in NZ! Over the past week I’ve been reading Rainbow Grey aloud to my daughter and we have been enthralled.

Ray Grey lives in the Weatherlands in the City of Celestia. The Weatherlands are responsible for creating the weather for Earth. The Sun Weatherlings look after the great Sunflower in the sky that provides light and warmth for humans, and there are Snow, Rain and Wind Weatherlings who use their magic to give Earth its weather. Ray’s friends, Droplett and Snowden, both have weather magic but Ray has none. Ray wishes she had magic and longs for adventure, like her hero, Earth explorer La Blaze Delight. Ray gets more than she bargained for though when a map in an old book sends her off on a forbidden trip to Earth. Ray and her friends discover a crystal which unleashes a power that hasn’t been seen in the Weatherlands for centuries. Suddenly, Ray has more power than she ever imagined was possible. Where there is great power though, there is always someone wanting that power for nefarious means. Someone Ray thought was her friend becomes her enemy and they will stop at nothing to take Ray’s new-found power. With the help of her friends and family, Ray will have to defeat this new enemy in order to save Earth from destruction.

I absolutely LOVE Rainbow Grey! This is a book bursting with magic, imagination, humour and heart. It is twisty, nail-biting, funny and completely brilliant. Every time we would read this book together, I found myself saying ‘let’s just read one more chapter,’ because I didn’t want to put the book down. There are some real cliff-hanger endings, where you can’t possibly stop! We were both hooked and couldn’t wait to dive back in to it again.

Like all of Laura’s stories, you immediately click with the characters and they feel like your best friends. Ray is incredibly determined, never giving up on what she believes in, and she is very brave. Snowden is clever and always looking for solutions to the conundrums that him and his friends find themselves in (and he loves drizzle pickle sandwiches!). Droplett is sassy, very good at puddle-porting, and will stand up to anyone who is mean to her friends. Ray, Snowden and Droplett make an amazing team and they always have each other’s backs. You feel like you are right there beside them as they try to save the world. The situation gets pretty tense towards the end and we ended up biting our nails, wondering how they were going to get through.

The thing I love most about Laura’s stories is the humour and this book radiates humour. The humour is there in the names of the characters (La Blaze Delight and her pigeon, Coo La La, is just one example), it’s there in the dialogue and in the illustrations, and it’s there in the events of the story. There are so many parts that made us laugh, like knicker-nadoes, exploding cloud-cats, and people being called thunderbum-faces.

Laura Ellen Anderson’s cover is amazing, with Ray’s rainbow hair swirling through the title. If I didn’t already automatically buy a new Laura Ellen Anderson book I would certainly be picking this one up to read. Laura has such a recognisable illustration style, and one of the things I love most about her illustrations is that every character looks different. Each of the different types of Weatherling has a different style of dress. Droplett has her raincape and has tight-fitting clothes (good for puddle-porting), whereas Snowden has snow-white hair, gloves and a scarf. I especially love La Blaze’s style.

Laura wraps up the story nicely, but gives us a tantalising glimpse of what is to come in the epilogue. Both my daughter and I will eagerly await the sequel and there will be squeals from both of us when it is published. I can say with confidence that Rainbow Grey is a FANTASTIC read aloud, for ages 6-10. It is one of those stories that would be particularly good as a family read aloud, if you have a range of ages to cater for.

Dragon Kingdom of Wrenly by Jordan Quinn and Ornella Greco

So many kids love dragons. Tui T. Sutherland’s Wings of Fire series has seen a surge of interest in dragon stories at my school in the last couple of years, especially when the graphic novel adaptations (illustrated by Mike Holmes) were released. Some of my readers want to be reading Wings of Fire but they’re a bit too hard for them at the moment, so I’m always looking for slightly easier dragon stories for them. A new series of graphic novels about dragons has just started this year, called Dragon Kingdom of Wrenly, and it’s perfect for those younger or less-confident readers.

In The Coldfire Curse we meet Ruskin and his friends. Ruskin is a young scarlet dragon, who is the pet of the prince of Wrenly. He lives a pampered life, with his own lair and all the food and toys a dragon could ask for. Cinder is a young dragon from the island of Crestwood, whose father has been struck down by the coldfire curse. Cinder ventures to the castle in search of help from the king, but only finds Ruskin. Cinder tells Ruskin about the legend of the scarlet dragon and he agrees to come with her to help her father. With the help of Cinder’s cousin, Groth, the three young dragons set out to break the curse and save all of Wrenly.

In the second book, Shadow Hills, Ruskin hears of a firestorm heading towards Wrenly, which will rain fire from the sky. The only thing that can stop the firestorm are lava rocks, which can absorb the energy of the storm and disintegrate it. The lava rocks are only found on Crestwood, so Ruskin returns to the home of his friends, Cinder and Groth. The witch-dragon Villinelle tells the friends that it is only the enchanted lava rocks in the Shadow Hills that will stop the firestorm, so this is where they head. They soon discover why it is called the Shadow Hills. They are given the enchanted lava rocks by the dragons of Shadow Hills, but they are soon stolen. All hope of saving the kingdom seems lost. Only Ruskin’s mysterious powers will be able to help.

The Dragon Kingdom of Wrenly series is full of enough action, adventure and magic to keep any young dragon fan entertained. The pacing is steady and there is a bit of mystery to each story, so readers will want to keep reading to find out what happens. The stories are broken up into chapters, so there are some good places to pause for less confident readers. They’re great stories to hook younger readers (7-9 year olds) on fantasy and adventure stories, because there are elements of those types of stories, without being too heavy on detail. The illustrations are bold, while also being not too detailed. All of the dragons have unique characteristics, with the younger dragons appearing smaller and younger, and the older dragons appearing weathered and wizened.

With each new story in the series we start to get more of a picture of Ruskin’s powers and how it is that he might fulfill the prophecy of the scarlet dragon. The friendship between Ruskin, Cinder and Groth also develops, while the truth of who the villain might be is still hidden away.

I have loved the first two books in the series and will be looking out for the next in the series (book three and four are also out now). I can’t wait to introduce the series to the kids at my school. I know these books will be snatched up quickly and will spread like wildfire.

The Memory Thief by Leonie Agnew

Leonie Agnew is one of my favourite New Zealand authors because each of her books is so different. Leonie can write funny stories, stories about kids standing up for what they believe in, and stories with touches of magic and darkness. Leonie’s latest book, The Memory Thief, is unlike anything I’ve read before and I can’t stop thinking about it.

Seth is a troll. By day he is frozen in stone, but after the sun goes down he comes alive. His home is a suburban park, surrounded by an iron fence. Iron burns Seth, so he can’t leave the park. He can’t eat normal food, but keeps his hunger at bay by eating the memories of humans. The only one who understands life as a troll is Celeste, the other troll who lives in the park. One night, however, Seth meets Stella, a girl who lives beside the park. Stella becomes the closest thing to a friend that Seth has ever known, but their relationship changes when Seth confesses his secret. Stella has a lot of painful memories that she would rather forget, and she forces Seth to eat them. With each bad memory that Seth takes, both him and Stella change. Seth realises that he has caused so many troubles taking memories and that only he can put it right.

The Memory Thief is an amazing story that captivated me from start to finish. It is a story infused with imagination, wonder and magic. This is an ancient kind of magic though, that feels more dark than exciting. I loved every minute of this story, but I also feel haunted by it, days after finishing it. It is one of those stories that you keep thinking about and want to keep coming back to. Seth and Stella are complex characters, who you are constantly trying to figure out as the story progresses. Like a troll eating a memory, Leonie gives us tantalising details about the characters to keep us wanting more.

Leonie’s reimagining of trolls is fresh and brings them in to the present day. The trolls in Leonie’s story eat the memories of humans, turn to stone during the day and wake at night, and live in a city park. Seth and Celeste are both trolls who live in the park, but they have different outlooks. Celeste has no qualms with eating the memories of humans, whereas Seth doesn’t want to hurt anyone by taking memories. He knows that he has to take memories to stave off his hunger but he doesn’t like doing it. Seth gets forced to take Stella’s bad memories, which make him sick and starts to change him. Seth doesn’t remember much about his past, which adds to the mystery of the story. How did he come to be living in the park? Has he always been a troll?

Kieran Rynhart’s cover is absolutely stunning! It is the best New Zealand children’s book cover that I’ve seen for a long time. Kieran has perfectly captured the tone of Leonie’s story and brought her characters to life. The cover has a haunting feel to it and draws you in. I especially like the composition, with Seth staring out from the middle of the cover, and the way that his eyes catch the light. Kieran has also created some atmospheric illustrations that are spread throughout the book, and the trees and gate of the park weave around the chapter headings.

The Memory Thief is one of those New Zealand books that will have worldwide appeal and I hope it gets published far and wide. It would be a great read aloud or class novel for Years 6-8.

Lightfall: The Girl and the Galdurian by Tim Probert

I love children’s graphic novels that have some real depth to them, both in story and illustration. Graphic novels like the Amulet series by Kazu Kibuishi and This Was Our Pact by Ryan Andrews tell you a fantastic story, with gorgeous art, but you know that the story you’re reading is only a small part of the world. The first book in Tim Probert’s new graphic novel series, Lightfall, is one of these graphic novels. The Girl and the Galdurian is one story from Irpa, but Tim’s world is so detailed that you know there is much more of this world to explore. This first book has me hooked and desperate for book 2.

Bea lives deep in the heart of Irpa, with her adopted grandfather, Pig Wizard. Their home is Salty Pig’s Tonics and Tictures, where people come to buy remedies and elixirs. Pig Wizard is old and forgetful, so he must leave reminders for himself everywhere. Luckily he has Bea to help him, and she gathers ingredients that he needs from the land around them. While gathering ingredients in the woods one day Bea meets Cad, a member of the Galdurians, a race thought to be long-extinct. Cad is looking for Pig Wizard in the hopes that he can translate an ancient scroll, so he follows Bea back to Salty Pig’s. When they arrive they discover that Pig Wizard has left to perform a duty that he has neglected. Bea and Cad go in search of him. Along the way they meet some interesting characters who both help and hinder them. There is also a sinister presence that is stepping out of the shadows and there is something they are desperate to get their hands on.

I love everything about The Girl and the Galdurian, from the story and the characters, to the artwork and the design. Tim has both written and illustrated the story, so the text and illustrations are seamless. The story flows really well, cutting smoothly between Bea and Cad’s journey and the other, darker thread of the story. It is a beautifully designed and produced graphic novel, with thick, quality paper and vivid inks (its smells of quality too). Bea and Cad are lovable characters, who already feel like your best friends by the end of the book. I would follow them anywhere.

Tim’s fantasty world of Irpa is richly detailed. You feel like Bea’s story is just scratching the surface of what is going on in this complex world. As this is the first book in the series, we learn bits of details about Irpa and its history, but there feels like there is so much more to explore in future books. I love the details that Tim puts into the illustrations. These details tell you things about the world, without explicitly explaining what they are or what they mean. As you’re reading you’ll see creatures in the background or ruins of a building poking through the ground.

Tim’s illustrations are sublime! He takes us through a variety of landscapes throughout the story and my mouth dropped open in awe at the different landscapes he has created. I would love to have prints of some of the bigger panels all over my house. Tim’s battle scenes are also epic, especially when they involve giant crabs. I also love the colour palette that Tim has used, which highlights the difference in the light of Irpa. The wordless scenes, with the sinister creatures, are quite creepy, and set the tone for the story.

I can’t wait to introduce the kids at my school to this graphic novel. I know that it is going to be incredibly popular, especially with those kids who love Amulet. It’s a similar epic fantasy story, set in a world that is rich in detail. This is a must-have for primary and intermediate school libraries. I am desperate for the second book and I know kids will be queuing up for it too.

Girl Haven by Lilah Sturges, Meaghan Carter and Joamette Gil

I love that there are more and more children’s graphic novels being published with LGBTQ+ characters and themes. It’s important for our kids to be able to see themselves in books, no matter what their identity. These graphic novels don’t just appeal to kids who are trans or queer though. One of my favourite graphic novels is The Prince and the Dressmaker and it is one of the most popular graphic novels with the older children at my school. The themes of discovering your identity and being the person you truly feel you are, resounds with all readers. Girl Haven is a fantastic new graphic novel from Oni Press, which deals with gender identity and sexuality in a way that older children can relate to.

Three years ago, Ash’s mom, Kristin, left home and never came back. Now, Ash lives in the house where Kristin grew up. All of her things are there. Her old room, her old clothes, and the shed where she spent her childhood creating a fantasy world called Koretris. Ash knows all about Koretris: how it’s a haven for girls, with no men or boys allowed, and filled with fanciful landscapes and creatures. When Ash’s friends decide to try going to Koretris using one of Kristin’s spell books, Ash doesn’t think anything will happen. But the spell works, and Ash discovers that the world Kristin created is actually a real place with real inhabitants and very real danger. But if Koretris is real, why is Ash there? Everyone has always called Ash a boy. Ash uses he/him pronouns. Shouldn’t the spell have kept Ash out? And what does it mean if it let Ash in?

Girl Haven is such a cool story! It is an inspiring story about being the person you want to be, wrapped up in a fantasy adventure. The story is full of fun and adventure, but Lilah and Meaghan also make you think about gender identity and how society makes you fit in to one box or another. The characters are diverse, representing cisgender, transgender and nonbinary people, and different sexual orientations. I think this is an important book that will help children who are confused about their identity. It will help them to see that they are not alone, and that it is important to have people around you who understand and support you.

The story mainly focuses on Ash’s journey to acceptance. Ash didn’t realise that the place his mum talked about and wrote about was actually a real place. He knows that Koretris is a haven for girls, so it is confusing when he is able to get in, along with his friends who are all girls. Ash has always felt like he was supposed to be a girl and has wished that something would happen to turn him into a girl. Coming to Koretris gives Ash the chance to become the person he’s always wanted to be. Junebug, Eleanor and Chloe are all great friends to Ash, and I love that they all identify differently. Anybody reading this graphic novel will be able to find someone to relate to. Something that really resonated with me was the idea of every person being a story and that ‘a boy is one kind of story, a girl another kind. And they are but two of many stories.’

Meaghan Carter’s illustrations bring the world of Koretris to life, from the Rabbits of the Reeds to the candy people of Sugar Valley, and the dreaded Scourge. Meaghan has drawn Ash in such a way that he looks androgynous, but as his friends say, he ‘looks really cute in that dress.’ Meaghan’s illustration style is similar to Molly Ostertag and Gale Galligan, so anyone who likes their style would like Girl Haven.

Girl Haven is one of my favourite children’s graphic novels this year and I will be recommending it to kids and adults alike. It is a must-have graphic novel for intermediate and high school libraries, and I know it will be incredibly popular. If you have loved The Prince and the Dressmaker, Witch Boy, Dungeon Critters or Snapdragon, you’ll love Girl Haven.

The Strangeworlds Travel Agency: The Edge of the Ocean by L.D. Lapinski

I absolutely loved the first book in L.D. Lapinski’s The Strangeworlds Travel Agency series. A story about travelling to different worlds through suitcases is my kind of story (you can read my review here). After Flick and Jonathan’s first adventure, I was desperate to go back to Strangeworlds and see where they went next. The second book in the series, The Edge of the Ocean, has just been released and it was everything I hoped for, and more.

After arriving back home quite late from her adventure in the City of Five Lights, Flick is in a whole heap of trouble with her parents. She is grounded for the whole of the summer holidays. After bumping in to Jonathan in the supermarket Flick comes up with a plan to get back to Strangeworlds. Jonathan receives an urgent summons from Pirate Queen Nyfe, so Jonathan and Flick travel to the world of The Break. This is a world of ocean and islands, pirates and mer-people, but it is shrinking by the day. Magic is being taken from their world and bits of it are breaking off and disappearing. Queen Nyfe has summoned Jonathan in the hope that he can help the inhabitants of The Break escape before it is too late. When the suitcase is stolen from Flick they know that they need to retrieve it, otherwise no one will escape this world. Flick, Jonathan, and Avery must figure out how to save everyone, from the inhabitants to their ships, using just a small suitcase.

The Edge of the Ocean is a brilliant sequel, that adds depth to the story arc, while being a rip-roaring, page-turner of a story in its own right. It’s a story of a rescue mission, filled with adventure, mystery and magic. Like any rescue mission there are risks but Jonathan, Flick and Avery do anything they can to alleviate these. One of the things I loved most about the first book was Jonathan and Flick hopping through suitcases to show Flick new worlds. I was worried that there wouldn’t be much of this in this book, but I wasn’t disappointed. They still visit plenty of worlds while trying to find a new home for the inhabitants of The Break.

L.D. Lapinski ensures that her cast of characters is diverse and I really like that. Her characters are unique and interesting, and I love how you learn something new about them with each book. Jonathan is transgender, which was hinted at in the first book. I don’t think it is explicitly stated that he is transgender, but L.D. Lapinski has talked about this in interviews. It is also hinted, in this book, that Jonathan is gay (he has a slightly embarrassing interaction in the supermarket with a guy he knows from college). Flick develops feelings for Jonathan’s cousin Avery in this book (Avery feels the same) and it’s possible that their relationship could develop in the next book. I love the way that these details about the characters are just part of who they are, rather than it being explicit that they’re transgender or gay. There will be readers that hugely identify with Jonathan or Flick because of their identity and those who just love the characters because they’re brave, adventurous and funny.

Families are an important part of this book too. Flick’s family were scared and worried when she when she returned late from the City of Five Lights in the first book, and they ground her to keep her at home. Flick is then conscious that she can’t do the same thing again and let them down. Jonathan has been looking for his missing father for months, with no sign of him. The Pirate Queen gives him some information that leaves him distressed. Flick and Jonathan are themselves a little family, as they are part of the Strangeworlds Travel Agency, and Jonathan’s cousin, Avery, joins them on this adventure. Without giving spoilers, there are also some intriguing family connections revealed in this book.

The ending of The Edge of the Ocean was incredibly exciting and made me desperate for the third book. I can’t wait to see where L.D. Lapinski takes us next!

The Year of Skulduggery

I’ve been a fan of Skulduggery Pleasant right from the start. I’ve eagerly awaited each new book, and when I got to interview Derek Landy in person in 2010 I thought all my Christmases had come at once. As a long-time Skulduggery Pleasant fan 2021 is a pretty exciting year for me. The penultimate Skulduggery Pleasant book, Dead or Alive (book 14 in the series), is due out in April, along with a World Book Day short story, Apocalypse Kings. Most exciting of all though is The Skulduggery Pleasant Grimoire coming in May.

The information on the HarperCollins website describes The Skulduggery Pleasant Grimoire as this:

An unmissable paraquel to the internationally bestselling Skulduggery Pleasant series, The Skulduggery Pleasant Grimoire is at once a thrilling recap of the books so far, a reference guide to characters, and a treasure-trove of bonus content.

As the Skulduggery Pleasant series nears its end (again), relive the adventure in this lavishly illustrated compendium of all things Skulduggery. Featuring a unique run-down of the books so far, it also includes an invaluable reference tool for the dizzying cast of characters, as well as bonuses, surprises, and a dark story all of its own. The Grimoire is an essential book for any Skulduggery fan.

As someone who was obsessed with the first sequence of nine books (and has still enjoyed the later sequence), this Grimoire sounds AMAZING! When I’ve been reading the second sequence of books (books 10 and onwards) there have been times when I’ve had to use the Skulduggery Pleasant wiki (an excellent resource – https://skulduggery.fandom.com/wiki/Skulduggery_Pleasant_Wiki) to refresh my memory about certain characters and events. The Grimoire will bring all of that information about characters and events in to book form. It will hopefully be a great way to get new readers interested in the series too. It is a long series, full of BIG books, and there is a huge cast of characters (with some of the best names in children’s fiction), so it will be great to have this book to refer to.

Derek Landy revealed the cover and a little more info about the book on Twitter yesterday:

I can’t wait to get my hands on it!

Check out the covers and blurbs for the two other Skulduggery Pleasant books coming next month.

Skulduggery Pleasant: Apocalypse Kings – releasing in NZ in April

Three ancient gods are freed from their prison with only one desire: to destroy the planet and everyone on it.

To save us all, Skulduggery Pleasant and Valkyrie Cain must go undercover in a Dublin school. Skulduggery has to blend in with the teaching staff, while Valkyrie has to pass for an ordinary schoolgirl. Above all else, no matter what happens, they both must act completely and utterly normal.

Keep an eye on My Best Friends Are Books in April for your chance to win 1 of 5 copies of Apocalypse Kings.

Skulduggery Pleasant: Dead or Alive – releasing in NZ in April

Skulduggery, Valkyrie and Omen return in the 14th and penultimate novel in the internationally bestselling Skulduggery Pleasant series – and their most epic test yet… In a matter of days, the world will change.

Billions of lives will be wiped away in a final, desperate search for the Child of the Faceless Ones — she who is destined to bring about the return of humankind’s ancient overlords.

To prevent this, Skulduggery Pleasant and Valkyrie Cain have one last – terrible – option: the assassination of Damocles Creed. With protests stirring in the magical city of Roarhaven, with riots and revolutions on the horizon, Valkyrie must decide who she wants to be: the hero who risks everything for a noble ideal, or the killer who sacrifices her own soul for the fate of humanity.

The decision must be made, and time is running out.

The Hatmakers by Tamzin Merchant

Imagine if clothes could affect your mood or change aspects of your personality. A hat could give you a confidence boost, give you a dash of bravado, help you sleep or fall in love. In Tamzin Merchant’s enchanting debut middle grade book, The Hatmakers, clothes have these magical properties and their creators are highly valued craftspeople.

Cordelia is part of the Hatmaker family. For centuries her family have been the creators of the headpieces worn by the British royal family. They use their skills to create hats that keep the monarchs level-headed, improve their concentration and help them negotiate peace. They use materials from plants, birds, and insects to create their masterpieces. The Bootmakers, Cloakmakers, Glovemakers and Watchmakers also create their masterpieces, that come together to form the Royal Garb. While the clothes have power individually, they are more powerful if all of them are worn at the same time. However, a rift between the families has left them untrusting of each other. The Hatmakers work their magic, not only for the royal family, but for anyone who needs a special hat to improve their life. When Cordelia receives word that her father’s ship has been wrecked and he is missing, she knows that he can’t be dead. She knows that she needs to ask the king to send a ship to find him. The King, however, is acting rather strangely indeed. It is hoped that a special hat will return the king to normal, but when this doesn’t work, the king’s advisor, Lord Witloof, suggests a holiday by the sea might help and puts Princess Georgina in charge. Cordelia knows that she must convince the princess to send a ship to find her father but every attempt to ask for her help is thwarted. Meanwhile, each of the Maker’s houses are broken into and their precious materials, needed for making their creations, are stolen. Cordelia is accused of being the thief and so she sets out to discover the true thief. She uncovers a plot that will set England at war with France, and when the rest of her family are imprisoned, it is up to Cordelia and her friends to foil the plot and save her family.

The Hatmakers is tantalisingly good! From the moment I picked up this book I was captivated by its magic and I didn’t want to put it down. Tamzin takes us back to a time to a London filled with horse and carts, Lords and Ladies, scruffy orphans and lavish palaces. While it seems familiar, it is also a London filled with magic, where clothes can make a person who they wish to be. As with all magic there is a dark side to this creation of garments, and one particular outfit will make your skin crawl. There are plenty of twists in the story to keep you guessing, with many of the characters not who they first appear to be.

There are so many things I loved about this book. Tamzin is a gifted storyteller, whose words wrap you up in a comforting blanket. I became immersed in her story as soon as I started reading and the language that she uses paints a vivid picture of her world. The idea of clothes being created, with special ingredients entwined in them and added to them to give them certain properties, is just amazing. It is fascinating to read the descriptions of Cordelia’s aunts and uncle creating the different aspects of the hats. Cordelia is left in charge of the hat shop in one part of the story and she knows that she is not allowed to create new hats. However, she has several customers who come in to the shop needing specific hats. This was my favourite part of the book, as Cordelia creates hats for them (even though she knows she shouldn’t) and the hats have unexpected consequences. Two young men, who need a hat to help them win a pistol duel, get hats of a different kind, and an actor gets more than a cure for stage fright. I love the idea of food being a kind of magic too. The Hatmaker’s Cook suggests that food is a kind of magic because it ‘can heal all manner of maladies.’

Tamzin’s glossary at the back of the book adds even more to the story. The glossary is fascinating and lists the ingredients that are ‘most potent and valuable for apprentice hat makers.’ Each ingredient is named, with a description of what it looks like or where it comes from, and what property it possesses. The Sicilian Leaping Bean ‘gives the wearer a sense of levity and gladness of heart,’ the Feather of the Athenian Owl ‘can be used for cleverness, concentration and contemplation,’ and Mellow Daisies ‘promote a happy-go-lucky attitude and a sunny outlook.’ I could imagine a faded, leather-bound book filled with these descriptions and drawings of the ingredients for identification.

Paola Escobar’s cover and internal illustrations are like the ingredients added to the Hatmaker hats. They give the book an extra magical quality. Paolo’s cover illustration invites you in to the world of the Hatmakers and his internal illustrations give you glimpses of the characters and the events of the story. I love that Paolo has even topped the Hatmaker house with giant hats.

The ending perfectly wraps up the story but leaves the promise of more adventures to come. I’m already dying to get back to the world of The Hatmakers and find out what happens next.

The Strangeworlds Travel Agency by L.D. Lapinski

At a time when countries have their borders shut and travel has pretty much been shut down, thankfully we still have books to transport us to different places. The Strangeworlds Travel Agency by L.D. Lapinski is a book bursting with worlds for readers to explore. In the first book in L.D. Lapinski’s new series we meet Flick and Jonathan Mercator and discover the wonders of the Strangeworlds Travel Agency, where you travel to different worlds through suitcases.

Felicity (or Flick as she prefers) has just moved houses and towns. Sure, she has her own bedroom now, but her parents are still as busy as ever and she gets dumped with her baby brother when she would rather have time to herself. While exploring her new town she discovers a dusty and dilapidated shop with a tired sign saying ‘The Strangeworlds Travel Agency.’ When she steps inside she discovers a dusty space filled with dozens of suitcases, stacked in slots on the walls. While exploring the shop she meets Jonathan Mercator, the custodian of The Strangeworlds Travel Agency. After Flick displays a special magical ability, Jonathan invites her to join The Strangeworlds Travel Agency. Flick soon discovers the joys and dangers of travelling to other worlds through the suitcases at Strangeworlds, and Jonathan asks for her help. Jonathan’s parents were also custodians of Strangeworlds, but after his mother died, Jonathan’s father was distant. Jonathan’s father has been missing for a couple of months and Jonathan has been looking for him, with no luck. Jonathan and Flick set off for the City of Five Lights, where they hope to find some answers to the disappearance of Jonathan’s father. When they get to the City of Five Lights though, something is wrong with this world. People and places are disappearing and The Order of Thieves have set a plan in motion that could not only destroy Five Lights but also put all of the worlds in the multiverse in danger. Jonathan and Flick get split up and must do everything they can to navigate the dangers of this world and save their own.

The Strangeworlds Travel Agency is an action-packed, multi-dimensional adventure, filled with magic and tinged with a hint of darkness. I love the idea of travelling to other worlds through suitcases and the complexities of this (having to make sure you pull the suitcase into the world with you so you can get home). L.D. Lapinski has made the idea of multi-dimensional travel feel fresh and exhilarating. Much like time travel, travelling to different dimensions is never as straight-forward as you at first think, and L.D. Lapinski has explored this well. The story becomes quite twisty as it progresses and the mix of the travelling between worlds and Flick’s abilities make the story quite complex. You get to the end of the story feeling like you have just scraped the surface of multi-dimensional travel and there are quite a few questions for L.D. Lapinski to answer in further books. We don’t really know what has happened to Jonathan’s father or what Flick can do with her abilities. There are so many possible worlds for L.D. Lapinski to explore in future books and we’ve only seen a handful in this book.

L.D. Lapinski’s characters are complex and relatable. Different aspects of Jonathan and Flick’s personalities have been explored in this book, but there is more to uncover. While we know what Flick’s life has been like before she stepped into the Strangeworlds Travel Agency, she is quite a different person by the end of the story. She used to be unsatisfied with her quiet life but now it is full of magic and adventure that she couldn’t have imagined. By the end of the story Flick is just starting to understand her abilities, so there is more for her to explore about herself. Jonathan is quite a mystery at the start of the story, and while we get to know more about him, I don’t feel like we have the full story. He has obviously been affected by losing his mother and then being abandoned by his father, leaving him not very trusting of people. He keeps secrets from Flick and this affects their relationship. I’m looking forward to seeing how their relationship develops in further books.

Natalie Smillie’s phenomenal cover draws you in and invites you to jump into a Strangeworlds suitcase. Natalie shows readers that they’ll experience an out-of-this-world adventure, filled with treasure, strange creatures and unusual lands. Kids are sure to be drawn to this book on the shelves.

I’m desperate to get back to The Strangeworlds Travel Agency and dive into some more suitcases! Luckily I don’t have to wait too long as the second book in the series, The Strangeworlds Travel Agency: The Edge of the Ocean, is due out in April.

The House at the Edge of Magic by Amy Sparkes

Occasionally you come across a book that makes other people give you funny looks. This is because you are grinning madly or chuckling to yourself while you read and those around you, whether they be family or strangers, think you are a little bit mad. Sometimes a book is just so funny and clever that you can’t help but grin and chuckle while you read it. Amy Sparkes’ The House at the Edge of Magic is one of these books and I had a smile on my face from start to finish.

Nine is an orphan pick-pocket whose home is The Nest, a hideaway in the city run by the nasty Pockets. Nine and the other children steal valuables and bring them back to Pockets, who allows them to live in his stinking Nest. Nine’s only glimmer of happiness comes from her regular trips to the dilapidated library, run by the librarian Mr Downes, who lets her take books to read. Nine’s life changes dramatically one day when she steals a house-shaped ornament. When Nine has escaped those chasing her she inspects the ornament and lifts the tiny door-knocker, causing the tiny house to become life-size. When she steps inside she meets a group of unusual characters who desperately need her help. There is Flabberghast (High Wizard, Chair of the Tea Tasters Committee, and World Hopscotch Champion, 1835), Eric (the troll housekeeper) and Dr Spoon (the kilt-wearing, scientist spoon). A curse has been put on the house by a witch and none of them (apart from Nine) can leave the house. If that wasn’t bad enough, the toilet is never in the same place (and sometimes has teeth), the library won’t stay ordered and when they try to make tea they get transformed into strange creatures. Only Nine can help them break the curse, and in doing so, she will get a way out of her horrible life on the streets. They must all work together to solve the clues and break the curse.

The House at the Edge of Magic is an incredibly enjoyable story, that is brimming with magic and imagination. I knew from the stunning cover (by Ben Mantle) and the blurb that I was going to love this book and Amy Sparkes cast a delightful spell over me as I read. I laughed so much reading it, whether it was the conversations between the characters or the many hilarious ways that the house has been cursed. My favourite part (and the bit that had me laughing hardest) is when Nine goes to make tea for the first time. Every time they try to touch the handle to the tea cupboard, each of the characters get transformed in some ridiculous way, like their skin turning blue, their legs turning into springs or becoming an oversized yellow spotty teapot. There seemed to be no end to the different cursed rooms in the house, from the library with its vicious flying books to the cellar containing the ‘Sometimes Dead.’

Amy’s characters are wonderful and their personalities bounce off each other in hilarious ways. I don’t think I could pick a favourite character because they’re all so delightfully odd. Flabberghast is quite eccentric and is the one who is most frustrated by the curse on the house. He is dying for a cup of tea and would really like the library to just stay tidy and ordered. Eric is a sweet troll who just wants to make sure everyone is OK. He loves his feather duster and cooks what he can for his friends. Dr Spoon is a bit mysterious as you never quite know what he is creating in his room with all the explosions. Nine has had a hard life and hasn’t known friendship, so when she discovers the house and the wizard, troll and spoon inside, she can’t believe that magic is real and that this house exists. If she helps this band of oddballs she will be able to escape her miserable life and have riches beyond her wildest dreams. I love the decision that she makes at the end of the story, leaving it open for more adventures in The House at the End of Magic.

The House at the End of Magic would be an amazing read aloud for Years 4-6 and it is sure to have them all laughing and begging for ‘just one more chapter!’ There is something in the story to entice all sorts of readers, whether you like magic, laughs, mystery or great characters. I certainly can’t wait for more adventures with Nine, Flabberghast, Eric and Dr Spoon.