The Children of Castle Rock

The Children of Castle Rock was written by Natasha Farrant and first published in 2018. It is an adventure story aimed at middle grade readers, focusing on a young girl’s adventures at boarding school. The novel stands alone, so you don’t have to have read any of the author’s other work to fully appreciate it.

Alice has become increasingly withdrawn since the tragic death of her mother. While she was once adventurous, now she just sits in her room and spends all of her time writing stories. When her family is forced to move from their beautiful home, Alice is devastated and her father and aunt worry about her isolating herself further. In an attempt to help her to find herself, they enrol her at Stormy Loch, a remote Scottish boarding school that is known for taking in wayward souls.

Although Alice feels abandoned, she quickly finds that Stormy Loch is not what she expected. Teachers encourage children to discover their talents and regular “Challenges” are a way of life. The school also doesn’t believe in punishments, though sometimes the consequences for failing the Challenges aren’t much better than these. It’s not long before Alice starts to enjoy herself and gradually starts to make friends with Fergus, a genius with a habit of getting into trouble.

When the school holds an open day, Alice is eager to show her father how great Stormy Loch is. However, he she is disappointed when he does not turn up. Later that day, Alice receives a strange parcel and a note telling her to deliver it to her father on an uninhabited Scottish island. Alice and Fergus soon hatch a plan to enable her to get there in time. However, carrying it out will require the map reading skills of their classmate, Jesse. And there is no way that Jesse will break the school rules knowingly…

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The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl: 2 Fuzzy, 2 Furious

Please note that this review may contain spoilers for The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl: Squirrel Meets World. You can read my review of this novel [here].

2 Fuzzy, 2 Furious was written in 2018 by Shannon and Dean Hale. The young adult novel is a prequel to Marvel’s popular The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl series, though you don’t really need to have read any of the comics to fully appreciate it. However, this book does carry on directly where Squirrel Meets World left off, so you may want to read the novels in sequence in order to fully appreciate what’s going on.

Doreen Green has found that having a superhero alter ego is a lot more complicated than she thought. In the town of Shady Oaks, Squirrel Girl is now a household name and she’s finding it hard to live up to people’s expectations of her. The Squirrel Scouts are always disappointed if they don’t get to see her beat up the bad guys, yet she’s sure that most problems could be solved if she just talks to them.

Yet being Doreen seems to be more complicated still. A teacher at school seems to detest her, and Doreen doesn’t understand why. To make matters worse, something is wrong with Ana Sofía. Her BHFF has been strangely distant with her lately, and Doreen is worried that she is about to lose the only person who knows her secret. Yet having friends is new to Doreen and she has no idea how to put things right.

To make matters worse, there seems to be a sinister plot at work. A contest to choose the mascot for a new mall is causing people to fight like cats and dogs. When mutant animals also begin to terrorise Shady Oaks, Doreen starts to suspect that HYDRA might be the ones behind it. Unable to enlist the help of the Avengers, its up to Squirrel Girl and her squirrel army to discover the truth and save the day.

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S.T.A.G.S

S.T.A.G.S was written by M.A. Bennett and first published in 2017. It is a thriller novel with horror elements, focusing on a group of teenagers on a weekend hunting trip. The story does end on a note that implies that this could be the start of a series. However, at the time of writing, no future instalments have been announced.

Greer MacDonald is lucky to have been accepted into the prestigious St Aidan the Great boarding school (known to students as S.T.A.G.S) on a scholarship, however she is painfully aware that she does not fit in. Her roommate barely speaks to her and she is often singled out by the Medievals – the school’s unofficial prefects – who make mean jokes about her northern accent and lack of class.

Greer is more surprised than anyone when she receives an invitation to spend half-term weekend on the sprawling Longcross Estate as a guest of Henry de Warlencourt – leader of the Medievals. Along with the rest of the Medievals and her fellow outcasts, Nel and Shafeer, she has been invited for a weekend of blood sports. On three consecutive afternoons, the group will be hunting, shooting and fishing. Although Greer isn’t certain that she’ll be able to stomach this, she is so flattered by the invitation that she immediately accepts.

However, it’s not long before she starts to notice that something is wrong. The Medievals are all acting strangely, friendly one minute and cruel the next. It’s not long before odd accidents begin to occur and it becomes clear that someone could get seriously hurt. Greer gradually begins to suspect that the rich kids are not only planning to hunt game that weekend. However, how can she hope to prove it when the whole village seem to be in on their plan?

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Nevermoor: The Trials of Morrigan Crow

Nevermoor: The Trials of Morrigan Crow was written by Jessica Townsend and first published in 2017. It is a fantasy middle grade novel about a young girl who must pass four trials to gain membership of an elite organisation. The book forms the first part of the Nevermoor series and its sequel – provisionally titled Wundersmith: The Calling of Morrigan Crow – is expected to be released later this year.

Morrigan Crow has not had a happy life. As a cursed child, she brings nothing but misery to those around her and knows that she is fated to die on the eve of Eventide, which is due to fall on her twelfth birthday. Unluckily for Morrigan, fate has other ideas. When Eventide unexpectedly falls a year early, she suddenly finds herself face to face with the terrifying Hunt of Smoke and Shadow.

However, Morrigan is rescued by an eccentric gentleman by the name of Jupiter North. Jupiter has selected Morrigan to be his first ever apprentice and he intends to enter her in the trials to become a member of the mysterious Wunder Society – an organisation of talented individuals who reside in the fantastical city of Nevermoor.

While Morrigan is thrilled to have escaped her fate, she soon realises that this may just be a stay of execution. She must compete for one of nice places against hundreds of other young applicants, all whom are more familiar with the oddities of Nevermoor than she is. If she fails at any point, she will be deported back to her home world and have to face the Hunt again. To make matters worse, every applicant must be able to prove that they have a special and useful talent. Unfortunately for Morrigan, she knows that she does not have one…

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Ruby in the Rough

Ruby in the Rough was written by Steven Ruby and first published in 2013. It is a work of contemporary fiction presented as a collection of short stories that illustrate key moments in the protagonist’s life as he grew up in rural America. The novel is a stand-alone story that does not form part of any series.

Steven Ruby has not had the best start in life. His father passed away from a sudden heart attack and his mother works very hard to provide for him and his sister, Katie. However, Steven is not one to complain. He is a bright and adventurous boy, and likes nothing more than exploring his neighbourhood and tinkering with anything that he can get his hands on – often with disastrous results.

Throughout the school year, Steven does his best to avoid falling foul of the local bully and ensure that his experiments do not land him in hospital. However, it is the holidays that he really lives for. It is during the holidays that he is allowed to stay with his Uncle George and help out on the ranch. Although life on the farm is tough, Steven admires his uncle more than anything and sometimes dreams of becoming a farmer just like him.

However, as Steven grows up, it starts to become clear that not all of his childhood dreams will follow him to adulthood. Steven must discover that life sometimes has other things in store for people, as he witnesses sudden changes in the circumstances of the people he is is close to and how they cope with them. The novel focuses on Steven from the age of eight through to young adulthood as he learns important life lessons and discovers the kind of man that he wants to be.

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Simon vs. The Homo Sapiens Agenda

Simon vs. The Homo Sapiens Agenda was written by Becky Albertalli and first published in 2015. It is a work of contemporary fiction that focuses on a gay teenager as he comes out to his friends and family. The novel stands alone, so you don’t have to have read any of the author’s other work to fully appreciate it. A film adaptation of the story titled Love, Simon is due to be released next month.

Simon Spier has known that he was gay for some time and is okay with that. Although he’s not sure how to tell the people around him, he has managed to find support from Blue. Simon first met Blue on the school tumblr page and the two have grown close through their email correspondence. Simon knows that Blue goes to his school and is the same age as him but, other than that, has no idea who he is.

Yet their growing relationship may be in danger. When Simon forgets to log out of his email account on a library computer, someone else learns his secret. Martin is considered to be a bit of joke around the school but does have a crush on Simon’s friend, Abby. All Martin wants is for Simon to set the two of them up. While Simon wants to brush him off, he is backed into a corner when Martin hints that he has taken a screenshot of the emails. Simon knows that Blue is very private about his sexuality. If Martin was to tell anyone, it could ruin their friendship forever.

Simon enters the most difficult few months of his life. Everything feels complicated and he doesn’t know what he will do if his secret gets out. He is changing fast and he’s not sure how he feels about the person he is becoming. The only thing he is certain about is his feelings for Blue. If only he could find out who his mysterious messenger really is…

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13 Minutes

13 Minutes was written by Sarah Pinborough and first published in 2016. It is a mystery novel that focuses on two teenagers investigating the events that lead up to a tragic accident. The novel is a stand-alone story, so you don’t have to have read any of the author’s other work to fully appreciate it.

Natasha was dead for thirteen minutes when a passing dogwalker pulled her out of the river. Although she was quickly revived, her memories of the previous day were muddled and she could not recall why she had left her home and wandered into the woods at night. The only clue was a text message telling her to meet someone, yet Tasha has no idea who sent this message or where they expected her to meet them.

Becca was once Tasha’s best friend but over the last few years, the two of them grew apart. While Tasha was the most popular girl in school, Becca had embraced her individuality and moved away from the spotlight. However, as Tasha notices that her closest friends are acting strangely, she rekindles her old friendship to be able to talk to someone that she trusts.

The two girls slowly begin to grow suspicious that Tasha’s inner circle had something to do with her accident. As they investigate, it becomes clear that all of the girls have secrets that they do not want to come to light – ones that they may take extreme measures to protect. However, as Becca starts to put the pieces together, she soon comes to discover that the truth of what happened on that night is more disturbing than she could ever have imagined…

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Threadwalkers

This review is brought to you as part of the Virtual Book Tour for Threadwalkers hosted by Xpresso Book Tours.

Threadwalkers was first published in 2017 and is Joanna Volavka’s debut novel. It is a science fiction story which focuses on a teenager whose life is literally unravelling before her very eyes. The book reads as though it is the first part of a series, though at the time of writing no further instalments have been announced.

When Miranda Woodward was a child, she found that she could hear voices that no one else could. When she tried to tell others about this, she found that only her father believed her and eventually seemed to lose this ability altogether. However, following her father’s death, Miranda found that she started to hear the voices again. At the same time, her life suddenly took a turn for the strange.

The changes were small at first. Her cat vanished and was replaced by another, and the date of her father’s death became ten years prior rather than a few months. Nobody else noticed these inconsistencies and Miranda started to feel as though she was losing her mind. However, things quickly became more serious. People that she knew for her entire life began to forget her name and her mother disappeared without a trace.

With nowhere else to turn, Miranda follows a clue left by her father to a man who calls himself the Tailor. Only he can explain what is happening to her and give her the training that she needs to put everything right. However, even he cannot answer the great mystery that plagues her. Why is it that her father entrusted her with a spool of golden thread that only she can see?

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The Witch’s Blood

Please note that this review may contain spoilers for earlier instalment of this series. You can read my reviews of these novels [here] and [here].

The Witch’s Blood was written by Katharine and Elizabeth Corr and is due for release later this month. It forms the final part of The Witch’s Kiss Trilogy, focusing on Merry’s continuing mission to free her brother from the influence of an evil wizard. As this story carries on directly from where The Witch’s Kiss (2016) and The Witch’s Tears (2017) left off, I would recommend reading the novels in sequence to have a full grasp of what is going on.

Although the coven was against it, Merry refused to believe that Leo could be dead. Using forbidden blood magic, Merry and Finn followed Ronan through the intersection and found themselves in a strange world. Although it shares some similarities with the world of Jack’s stories, the land is filled with legendary beasts and Ronan’s army of mesmerised humans is slowly starting to seize control of everything.

With the help of this world’s Jack and Meredith, they begin a frantic hunt for Ronan. They know that their time is limited as the wizard is now completely unhinged. It can’t be long before he either turns on Leo or condemns him to a life as the new King of Hearts. However, Merry slowly starts to realise that their magic has taken a terrible toll on the world. Reality is slowly starting to warp, and their hasty spells can be the only cause.

The affects of their magic are also beginning to spread through Merry’s world. People are being attacked and killed by things that should not exist, and black holly bushes are beginning to sprout around the lake. If Merry can’t defeat Ronan soon, the boundary between the worlds will crumble. Yet the cost of repairing the damage could be more than she is prepared to pay…

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The Extinction Trials

The Extinction Trials was first published in 2017 and is S.M. Wilson’s debut novel. It is a dystopian science fiction story, set in an overpopulated world where humans live alongside dinosaurs. The book is the first part of a planned series and its sequel – Exile – is expected to be released in June of this year.

The continent of Earthasia is in trouble. Its overpopulation is starting to hit critical levels and there is nowhere near enough food, shelter or healthcare to go around. With deadly illnesses beginning to spread, the ruling class of Stipulators begins to turn their attention to the neighbouring continent of Piloria. This place is a paradise of untapped resources and exotic plants but there is one problem. Piloria is overrun with man-eating dinosaurs and every expedition there ends badly.

When the Stipulators announce a trial to decide who is worthy of taking their next expedition, Stormchaser Knux only really takes part for the increased food rations. However, as she starts to do well in the contest, she grows curious to visit Piloria to see if the dinosaurs really are mindless monsters. Lincoln Kreft has a far more serious reason for wanting to take part. Survivors are granted top-class healthcare which is the only thing that can save his sister from the plague.

However, the expedition this time is more dangerous than ever before. The Stipulators need a sample of DNA from the deadliest species of dinosaurs – velociraptors, pterodactyls and tyrannosaurs – and the only way to get this is to steal dinosaur eggs. The person to deliver the most eggs will reap huge rewards for themselves; the rest will be lucky to leave with their lives…

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