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Tilly and the Lost Fairy Tales – Anna James

NOTE: this review was done on an electronic version of the novel, kindly provided by the publisher through NetGalley.

This is the second book in the Pages and Co series. This magical middle grade (8+) follows Tilly, and her friend Oskar as they ‘bookwander’. Which is to travel into books and have adventures, interacting with characters and having a generally wonderful time. Imagine being able to have a picnic with Mole in Wind in the Willows, or escape from the Red Queen in Through the Looking Glass.

Tilly lives in her grandparents bookshop and they try to protect her from the dangers of book wandering and slowly introduce her to the Underlibrary, who are responsible for looking after and maintaining stories.

This sequel was inevitable given the dangling plot threads and impending danger in the first one. This story spins off in a whole new direction with intrigue, adventure and a foray into the current political climate and the rise of uninformed, hysterical leaders who only want to act for their interests. Possibly the first middle grade book I’ve read with an allusion to Brexit and far right nationalism!

As before, this is nostalgically and beautifully written, harking back to the heady days of great friends and fun adventure by an author who equally loves books and the bookish world. It maintains a middle grade level of danger, along with likeable characters and a sense of expansion for the fictional world James has created.

There are twists and turns and getting lost in a good book will never feel the same again. The only downside is this is very much a middle book, so it widens and deepens bookwandering, without providing a firm conclusion to anything, so is the very definition of leaving you wanting more. More of everything including the wonderful illustrations by Paola Escobar.

A brilliant wintry read with a chunk of the book taking place in a close to a Christmas setting. Really lovely.

PS, in case you missed it, here’s a link to our Reviewer, Emily’s review of the first in the series…

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Malamander – Thomas Taylor


A creepy atmospheric tale for 8-12 year olds.

Set during the off season of a seaside town, it tells the delightfully odd tale of Herbie Lemon a Lost and Found specialist in the local hotel in Eerie-On-Sea. He has a mysterious back story (for book 2 I hope!!).

His ordered world is turned upside down when Violet Parma arrives with a special case, her parents were lost and she wants them found.

Set against the backdrop of a museum with bizarre exhibits, a book dispensary where a mysterious mechanical musical statue dispenses not the book you want or know, but the one you need.

The writing is sharp and action packed and the characters are dynamic and driven. You will attach to them, and find yourself wanting to visit – in winter of course.

Excellent stuff, can’t wait to see the further adventures of Lemon and Parma…

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Starfell: Willow Moss and the Lost Day – Dominique Valente

May 2nd sees the release of one of Rogan’s Books most anticipated junior reader books so far this year. Starfell is the first in (hopefully) a long series of books set in a magical world full of witches and exciting funny creatures. We first read this back in November last year, with no cover picture or illustrations and we knew it would be special.

We think every character is gorgeously named, from the endearing Essential Jones to the unfortunate Calamity Troll, Feathering the Dragon and the ever unsteady Nolan Sometimes. Best of all is Oswin. Who is a monster. And DEFINITELY not a cat.

It’s a vividly imagined whimsical adventure with action, drama and very funny puns, ending with a literal, then emotional bang. Young readers will adore this new world packed with invention, and will come away spellbound.

We can’t wait for everyone else to have a read. In January we got our hands on a proof copy for review, and our lovely reviewer, Emma (10) has written a brilliant piece for us all.

Young Willow finds herself going on an unpredictable adventure with evil and mystery around every corner. She must travel afar with Moreg Vaine (a powerful witch who is known to eat children with pickled ginger!) to find out who took the missing day and why? (like who would want Tuesday for their collection). 

She meets a wide range of people, creatures, and a bloodthirsty dragon who isn’t really bloodthirsty! From flying brooms to hilarious dragons, this book has bucketfuls of laughs, A few handfuls of adventure and a pinch of mystery! 

My personal favourite character was Feathering. He was amusing, fun and just a pleasure to read about. He is rather silly, a bit like every humorous character every book just needs to have. But behind all his silliness he has a heartbreaking tale, about an egg  that didn’t hatch. It made me cry, it was that sad! 

You could of asked a thousand authors to tell this story, but none would have told it better than Dominique Valente. Dominique has a real talent, Starfell is nothing like any book that I’ve ever read, and that is what makes the book exciting. If Dominique had a secret magic power, it would probably be the power to write witty and unpredictable books!! I cannot wait to see what she comes up with next!

5 stars!

Thanks Emma!

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The Clockwork Crow by Catherine Fisher

Now this one is very good. The Clockwork Crow is the perfect way to call back to children’s books of the past.

In a story that is reminiscent of old fashioned mystery stories, sort of The Snow Spider by way of Jane Eyre and Rebecca – this story has everything. Mysterious strangers on train platforms, clockwork magical creatures suffering from magical curses, Welsh mythology, locked attic nursery rooms we’re forbidden from entering and suspicious servants in a spooky mansion.

The story centres on Seren who has had a tragic time, losing her parents then her guardian. We join her at a spooky deserted train station on her way to live with the godfather she’s never met, his wife and her son, at a remote house in Plas-Y-Fran. After a chance encounter with a weird stranger in the waiting room she is left with pieces of a clockwork bird with a jewelled eye – and a warning not to put it together.

The house she ends up at is deserted apart from some not-so-friendly staff, and the brother she was desperately hoping for seems to have vanished in mysterious circumstances – which appears connected to why she is not allowed in certain locked rooms in the house….

This has the right blend of spooky gothic chills and fairy tale (and Fairy Folk) elements with a feisty investigative main character, who is given enough agency to not feel like she is being swept through a story.

It’s impossible to believe how few pages this story is told in. The prose is economical, but poetic in places and Seren’s experiences are beautifully realised. This could easily become a future classic, and is a lovely standalone story (although I would totally read a series of stories of a young girl and her gothic, talking, cursed, clockwork crow solving mysteries and battling the supernatural across Wales…)

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Pages & Co: Tilly and the Bookwanderers – Anna James

Today’s review is a magical book for 8-12 year olds with magical adventure, books and a girl who lives in a bookshop!

Here is a review from a Rogan’s Reviewer, Emily (10).

Pages and Co is the story of an 11 year old girl who can travel inside books. She lives in a bookshop in London with her grandparents. The story begins when Tilly loses her best friend and ends with her imprisoning a villain with her new comrade! As well as books this story is packed full of friendships, mysteries and cake.

Pages and co by Anna James is an absolutely brilliant book for any book-lover and is full of so many plot twists it’s extraordinary! Especially at the end (but I won’t spoil it for you). I wish I could book wander like Tilly and Oscar, my only question is what would happen if you book wandered into this book? Would you be able to book wander into the books in the book? I loved how it referenced so many other books, but it would only make sense if you have read them all, luckily, I had read most of them. I loved all the little details like the necklace with the bee charm that Tilly and her mum both wear, and how the opening scene begins with Tilly spilling potatoes everywhere. The two characters I loved the most were Amelia, the librarian and Anne of green gables.

I would recommend this book to children aged 5-105.

I would rate it 10/10!

And I would just like to say one more thing: that the author of this book is an absolute genius.

                             

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How to Rob a Bank – Tom Mitchell

This was a little treat of a book, it’s a funny relatable book about a fifteen year old boy. It doesn’t try to be an allegory, there are no dragons or chosen ones. It’s all the better for it. After hearing the author talk about this book, he said that there is a gap from the ages of around 12 – 15 where readers are lost – and from our book selling experience it’s mainly boys.

This book is the antidote to that. It’s a book that’s purely for reading and enjoying. There is no metaphor or lesson, it’s literally about a boy, Dylan, who accidentally burns his prospective girlfriend’s house down with a knock off scented candle – and he decides to try to rob a bank to pay her back for his mistake.

Super cool movie-style book poster? Check!

There is a lively and engaging secondary cast of characters, his sister Rita is gloriously self involved about the whole situation and his mum and dad are very well drawn and funny. Some of the set pieces are hilarious, especially an incident involving the neighbours cat and it’s consequences and the various robbery attempts Dylan makes.

The book is full of pop culture references, without the author trying to be cool, and the language is accessible and appropriate for the target audience.

My favourite character was Tom, who has a permanent Joker grin after being accidentally kicked in the head by a llama as a child. You can see why teenagers will find it funny.

Get this one for the teen boy in your life, if anything has a chance at keeping them interested in books till they become cool again at sixth form, it’s this.

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The Train to Impossible Places – P.G. Bell

In a spellbinding debut novel for older children, P.G. Bell has created a unique world to tell his story in. We follow the adventures of Susie Smith an 11 year old, physics loving girl who hitches a ride on a magical postal delivery train that takes a detour through her front room.

She is soon drawn into a fantastical adventure delivering magical post to time stealing evil witches, diving deep to meet pirate ghosts and breaking retired post office trolls out of their retirement home to liberate a secret and gain entry to the obsidian tower where a mystery will be solved and her adventure to save the kingdom of impossible places.

It’s refreshing to see a science loving heroine of colour lead a book like this with action, whimsy and trains. Lots of trains. And trolls. And a yellow monkey powering the train with explosive bananas. Because of course.

This is a thrilling ride, well written, and I can’t wait for more adventures in a fictional world where gravity is negotiable and the post train needs to run on time.

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Agatha Oddly – The Secret Key – Lena Jones

Agatha Oddlow is 13, and like her namesake, loves a mystery. She’s a detective, with a so far unsuccessful agency in her too posh school. She doesn’t fit in, as you would expect for someone whose current read is about the most poisonous plants in England. She tries to avoid her bullies, Sarah and the CC’s (original meaning forgotten, they are the Carbon Copies – but not to their faces). Her best friend Liam is her escape, and her confidente in all things detective, covering for her as she escapes the school grounds (in her latest disguise) via the recycle bin. She lives with her Dad, in the groundskeepers cottage in Hyde Park and is friends with the local homeless man JP.

Agatha’s mum encouraged investigation, puzzles and mysteries. Her Mum passed away, but Agatha keeps her memories alive through compulsive note taking in her note books, wearing her vintage clothes and re reading her old books.

When an old lady is knocked over by a motorbike in Hyde Park – on purpose – Agatha helps, and starts to investigate why. It turns out the lady is a professor and has a mysterious key tattoo, and before long there are threats to Agatha and her family, cholorform incidents, terror alerts to the water supply in London, and secret socieities under the city. How is this all connected, who is warning her off the case and just what does the key symbol have to do with her mother?

This is a great early teen adventure, with a proactive, brave heroine who literally won’t take no for an answer. Agatha is street smart, observant and persuasive, and rescues herself – and quite often Liam. The mystery is quite high stakes for a book like this, with city wide consequences, but it never loses track of the plot or the books sense of fun.  It’s a complete mystery in and of itself, that has potential for future books, which is refreshing, so you  won’t immediately have to be looking for book two. However, the quality of the writing and the likeable characters mean that you will be first in the queue at Rogan’s Books in March for Agatha’s next case, The Murder At The Museum…

 

 

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The Cradle of All Worlds (The Jane Doe Chronicles 1) – Jeremy Lachlan

This is a tricky one, it’s a rip roaring adventure featuring a smart, sarcastic heroine who is saving herself, but it’s definitely solely aimed at it’s audience, with less adult appeal than you might expect for a book of this ilk.

Jane Doe appeared with her semi comatose father on the steps of the Manor in the town of Bluehaven.

For years she has been struggling with her social position as her appearance that day lead to her being labelled as cursed. She feeds and looks after her dad, while living in the basement of the family who drew the short straw and had to take her in.

She finds out there is a gateway to other worlds in the manor and that her blood opens mysterious gateways as well as having the power to demolish the buildings of her town.

Once the action moves  into the world behind the manor, the book becomes a thrilling adventure with great set pieces, new characters and great world building.

Which is good as this one finishes on a blooming cliffhanger!

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Nevermoor – The Trials of Morrigan Crow – Jessica Townsend

This enchanting book for older children debuted in 2017, and as the sequel has just been released it seemed an ideal time to have a little look at this one.

We follow Morrigan Crow who has always been told she’s useless and a curse, and blamed for literally anything that goes wrong where she lives. She didn’t really mind all that as she has always known that she was going to die at Eventide, when she is 11.

Just as she’s supposed to die, she is whisked away by a mysterious, enigmatic, incredibly…. ginger haired man named Jupiter North. They arrive in a city of magic, Nevermoor, at the hotel he owns and Morrigan tries to settle in.

Through a series of trials, Morrigan is to try to gain entry to the Wundrous Society, which is the most respected organisation in Nevermoor. Battling her outsider status against mean girls and their magical talents Morrigan finds unlikely allies – most notably a giant talking cat called Fen.

The language is simple, yet magical and spellbinding, the imagery is stunning and cinematic (you feel the whole thing has been written with a lucrative film contract in mind). In particular the Hotel Deucalion seems so wondrous, sorry Wundrous, that you are totally enchanted. Who wouldn’t want a rooms of flavoured smoke whose smells change by season and mood, to a room that sensed your emotional state and changed configuration and decoration according to it’s own whim?

This immersion in a comforting, homely world is what is making people draw comparisons to Harry Potter, but this is infinitely more innocent, and optimistic than that, a real family friendly approach to adventure.

The plot and pacing are great, and enough of the world opens up so that you both can see the avenues future books might take, but also enjoy the story as a whole.