Picklewitch and Jack

Picklewitch and Jack by Claire Barker

The dreadful strangers moved in on a wild and windy Thursday.
‘Fudgenuts,’ cursed Picklewitch, adjusting her cracked binoculars to get a better view of the comings-and-goings. ‘This won’t do at all. I bet they haven’t even bought me any cake.’

Picklewitch is, quite literally, out of her tree. She has a nose for naughtiness, a taste for trouble and a weakness for cake. And unluckily for brainbox Jack – winner of the ‘Most Sensible Boy in School’ for the third year running – she’s about to choose him as her new best friend . . .

Rating: MoonKestrel Logo2 20px MoonKestrel Logo2 20px MoonKestrel Logo2 20px MoonKestrel Logo2 20px Grey

This was an odd cute book I read for Februwitchy. I got wind of it thanks to Asha and decided to puy and had had it on my shelves for a while.

My absolute favoruite thing was all the illustrations on it. They are super fun and have so many details that as you read and see the illustrations you go “ohh look at that tiny detail, and that one and that one too”. Gorgeous, seriously.

The story is fun but it had me struggling to like Picklewithc as she is causing poor Jack so much grief and he already has enough complications as it is. But her antics were funny and I also had a soft spot for her, so it was a very contradictive read where I wasn’t sure what I wanted exactly to happen and was torn between rooting for him or her.

The friendship part was nice and that school can be better with frineds and colleagues, and it touches a little on bullies. In general a fun read however for me the biggest struggle was that some of the things Picklewitch did, if she had done them to me I would’ve been devastated and questioned the whole concept of her “friendship” and just wanted to run away. But Jack somehow stoically keeps going on. Poor Jack.

All Fall Down Review

All Fall Down by Sally Nicholls

A deadly contagion races through England…

Isabel and her family have nowhere to run from a disease that has killed half of Europe. When the world she knows and loves ends for ever, her only weapon is courage.

The Black Death of 1349 was the deadliest plague in human history. All Fall Down is a powerful and inspiring story of survival in the face of real-life horror.

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I haven’t read much historical fiction around the Black Death, so I decided to give this a go. And I’ve read another of Sally’s books before, so at least I kinda knew what to expect.

It was a very interesting book as you’re introduced to Isabel, and her world. And how it is so “natural” to just be part of it, you can see which parts they question and which ones they don’t. As a way to plunge into the world and setitng, this book does a good job at that but without feeling like you’re just reading a history book with just facts. Isabel and her family make the history become alive.

There’s not much that can’t be spoiled since we know Black Death killed a lot of people. And as the small village Isabel lives in slowly gets affected by it, and then it hits her family, tough choices have to be made, but also some questions arise about roles, responsibiltiies and status quo.

When everyone is dying around you, do the rules that kept you in that place still stand?

I didn’t love the book but it was a quick read, easy to consume without bogging down in facts, the plot was a bit broken into odd parts which is why it isn’t getting more stars, but it still got to somewhere and gave a good “ending” (or as good as you can have given the topic and circumstances).

Amina’s Voice Review

Amina’s Voice by Hena Khan

Amina has never been comfortable in the spotlight. She is happy just hanging out with her best friend, Soojin. Except now that she’s in middle school everything feels different. Soojin is suddenly hanging out with Emily, one of the “cool” girls in the class, and even talking about changing her name to something more “American.” Does Amina need to start changing too? Or hiding who she is to fit in? While Amina grapples with these questions, she is devastated when her local mosque is vandalized.

Amina’s Voice brings to life the joys and challenges of a young Pakistani-American and highlights the many ways in which one girl’s voice can help bring a diverse community together to love and support each other.

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This is a middle grade book, and it feels exactly like I think a middle grade book should. There’s the trying to define who you are and the slow tentative of “am I becoming a teenager, or not?”.

Amina has a beautiful voice and loves singing but her anxiety and shyness mean that she doesn’t participate and sing to others. Even with the encouraging of her teacher.

There’s a lot of pondering about her identity and her family, what are the expectations and who is she. But there is the contrast of her best friend too and other friends joining in to the team and what being the outcasts or the odd ones in school can mean.

There are so many things explore through the book that as I write the review I think “Oh, this one too”. For example, it touches on not letting preconceptions on who is your friend or your enemy stop you from finding good friends.

It also touches on Amina’s identity as a Muslim-Pakistani and the contrast between living in America and the expectations of how they ought to behave form family in Pakistan (and a visit from her Uncle, who shakes her world a little).

There is also the fact that there is a community in the mosque and how that works. I felt for Amina at times because I used to have to go to church and that same feeling she’d have at times about going to the mosque I have had regarding church.

In general, this is a wonderful little book that highlights being confident and using your gifts/talents and abilities, how community is what matters and in bad times it is what helps move forward in so many ways. It is also about friendship, and identity, when you are not one or the other (not American, not Pakistani? Both?). Very intriguing and a thought provoking book.

Everdark Review

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Everdark by Abi Elphinstone

It is midnight in Crackledawn – a midnight full of magic. Sea dragons stir in the depths of the ocean, silver whales surface beneath the moon and sand goblins line the shores. Everyone is waiting for the phoenix, the guardian of the kingdom’s magic, to rise up from the forests of Everdark.

But there is no sign of the phoenix tonight. Something else surges up out of Everdark instead: a harpy bent on stealing Crackledawn’s magic.

It is up to an eleven-year-old girl called Smudge and an eccentric monkey called Bartholomew to set sail beyond the legendary Northswirl and stop the harpy before it’s too late.

So, grab your compass and roll down your sail – the first adventure in THE UNMAPPED CHRONICLES is about to begin…

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I enjoyed this little book so much and it made me want to read Rumblestar even more (I already wanted to).

We meet Smudge, who isn’t the very best at, well, anything. She struggles to be a good student, and isn’t sure she fits the potential careers she can have. We also meet her monkey companion, Bartholomew, and well, poor Smudge has no choice but to save the world because she is the only one that wasn’t cursed.

So she sets off to try to sort this out, with just her courage, and her unusual view of the world and ideas.

I enjoyed reading it very much. It is a good reminder of why I still love to read Middle Grade books even if I have no children myself and I am most definitely not a child myself.

The quest keeps moving forward, and the book does a good job at pointing out that being different and not fitting the status quo isn’t always bad, but rather, gives you an opportunity to be something else. Here it is an adventurer, but in our world we would potentially consider them to be the creatives, the innovators.

There’s a lot of magic, a lot of happy accidents that somehow help them out and a lot of courage from Smudge.

The Spinner of Dreams Review

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The Spinner of Dreams by K. A. Reynolds

Annalise Meriwether–though kind, smart, and curious–is terribly lonely.

Cursed at birth by the devious Fate Spinner, Annalise has always lived a solitary life with her loving parents. She does her best to ignore the cruel townsfolk of her desolate town–but the black mark on her hand won’t be ignored.

Not when the monster living within it, which seems to have an agenda of its own, grows more unpredictable each day.

There’s only one way for Annalise to rid herself of her curse: to enter the Labyrinth of Fate and Dreams and defeat the Fate Spinner. So despite her anxiety, Annalise sets out to undo the curse that’s defined her–and to show the world, and herself, exactly who she is inside.

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I had preordered this lovely book at the start of the year when I did a huge sweep of books to preorder, and then the lovely Asha (@cat_book_tea) had an ARC and thought I would love (which made me smile because I already thought I’d love it, so yay!). And then the author did a giveaway and I won a digital copy of it.

Due to my photosensitivity I rarely ever read anything in digital format and do not accept review copies of this kind (plus, I prefer if someone who may actually read it in that format gets a chance for it instead of “gathering electrical dust”). So I politely mentioned this to her, and lo and behold. I now have a physical copy. I felt SO seen, which automatically made me smile whenever I picked this proof copy.

But now unto the actual contents of the book. This is a middle grade book and boy! It is the kind of book I wish I had written, you know how they say, “write the books you want to read”? Well, my child/teen self would’ve loved to read this book at the time. This is the book that the me then should’ve written. And now I have written myself into a loop of writing. Nevermind that.

We start with the introduction to what, or rather who, the Fate and Dream Spinner are. You could say we start with a “fairytale”. Then we get a “more in reality” view, and finally, we meet Annalise, our main character (MC). She has purple hair (loved it!) and is cursed. The day she was born lots of bad things happened and the whole town hates her, despite how much she tries to be kind and nice (and she is, not just tries). Then hope appears and things go a bit wrong, so she decides she has to challenge the Fate Spinner, solve the Labyrinth and ask the Dream Spinner to fulfill her dream (to rule her own destiny).

And that way we begin the quest to find the way to the labyrinth first of all (I liked that this has to be done rather than just wishing and ending up in front of the Labyrinth). Along the way we meet Muse, a talking cat with a hat and monocle (huge huge Ghibli vibes from Muse, and I absolutely loved that!). We also meet Mr. Edwards, a fox also wanting to make his dream come true alongside his husband fox, Mr. Amorieux.

The labyrinth is a good quest plot, and it kept me entretained, and also rooting for each fo the characters, including the minor ones (like trees, or a cockatrice, or a pair of siblings). The character growth of Annalise is gradual, and that was something I appreciated, as sometimes the character has this magic shortcut to growth and that is that. Annalise has magic, but it is a curse in her hand, so not exactly the nice shortcut.

Another thing that made me treasure this book more was that Annalise struggled with anxiety and panic attacks. She counts in fours. I do that too. Either with my breaths or counting in German 1,2,3,4… 5,6,7,8… then restart. The German counting is the only one that kinda goes beyond four, but I do it in chunks of four. So it was nice to see that and easily identify with her.

All the little or big plot twists fit well and none felt too crazy (I figured a few out, one I got it slightly wrong, but the “nature” of it I had right). The world building is also precise, even if you only get a glimpse of it. And I found the characters charming.

Basically, everyone should read this book and maybe eat some nice cake with it. With a lovely cup of tea. Enjoy!

The Boy Who Flew With Dragons Review

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The Boy Who Flew With Dragons by Andy Shepherd

Tomas can’t imagine life without his little dragon Flicker. He’s become more than a pet – he’s a friend like no other. And growing dragons on the dragonfruit tree in the garden with his friends Ted, Kat and Kai is the most amazing thing ever. But Tomas has promised Grandad something – that he and his friends will let their dragons go back to where they belong. The only problem is – that isn’t such an easy thing to do. Not when they are still having so much fun with dragons Flicker, Sunny, Crystal and Dodger. Not when they still have to work out where the dragons’ home is, and how to get the dragons to leave. And not when Tomas is so close to uncovering the true story of the mysterious dragonfruit tree …

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This is the third (and I think last) in the series. And I had preordered it as soon as I finished the first one because how can you not fall in love with this series?

We take off a little after the end of the previous book, and little Loli gets a dragon, and oh wow I don’t want to spoil it, but it also points to the fact Tomas doesn’t want to get rid of the dragons, but he also doesn’t want to break his promise to Grandad.

Then of course something happens and things get interesting and the dragons do have to leave. But also, we get a little more backstory on how the tree came to be in their garden and about the Lost Dragon City (which is where the tree kinda came from). Part of me wanted to read the adventures of how the city was first found, maybe a next book idea? I would totally buy that!

The artwork, the “burnt” pages, and everything makes this book also quite lovely. I basically sat down and had to read it one go. And it went by too fast, but it had some good points and great lessons in tehre without feeling like the same thing over and over again.

Moon recommends

Go read the very first one, The Boy Who Grew Dragons, as it is the start of the story and it is worth it, and now you can get all three of them and read them in one go. (Or maybe try to space them to make it last? I don’t know what kind of person you are, but whatever option is, that one).

 

A Monster Calls Review

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A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness

An extraordinary novel of love, loss and hope

12.07. There’s a monster at Conor’s window.
It’s not the one from his nightmare. But it wants the most dangerous thing of all from Conor.

It wants the truth.

Now a powerful and haunting film, Patrick Ness’s modern classic is a heartbreaking but uplifting tale of healing and, above all, the courage it takes to survive.

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Nikki from Books and Lemon Squash recommended this book, and it had taken me a long time to actually decide to read it. Part of it is because I have read his other books and didn’t like them at all. But then, I was reassured the original bit of story wasn’t his, so I finally gave it a go.

This is the story of Conor, and the monster that comes to his window. This monster promises to tell him three stories and then Conor has to tell the last one, the truth. Because once he does, the monster will help him.

We see two things happening in this story, one is the stories the “yew monster” tells Conor, which frustrate him, and confuse him. There is no clear white and black in any of the stories, and this frustrates Conor, for he wants the predictable easy good vs bad in them. The stories do not comfort him.

And we have the reality, his mum and her treatments, her bald head. We see how he slowly becomes invisible to his school, and to the world. And how he sometimes sees himself as invisible. He’s doing the best he can, and holding on to hope.

But what is this nightmare, and how is the monster going to help? And what is the truth Conor refuses to accept or acknowledge?

It was an interesting book to read, especially as I recently lost my aunt to cancer, so it hit close to home and made me tear up a little as I knew where this was going and it was just that sadness seeping into me. But it was also good to read and I liked it.

Moon recommends

Why not support a Cancer charity like Cancer Research? Also, you can go read this particular book (I can’t really recommend any of his other books, alas).