The Uncommoners: The Crooked Sixpence by Jennifer Bell

the uncommoners.jpg

Title: The Uncommoners: The Crooked Sixpence

Author: Jennifer Bell

Genre: Fantasy/Fiction

Publisher: Corgi

Published: August 2016

Format: Paperback

Pages: 360

Price: $17.99

Synopsis: An uncommonly good and magical tale of Ivy’s adventures in Lundinor, a spellbinding city underneath London where ordinary objects have amazing powers. Welcome to a world where nothing is quite as it seems . . .

Dive head first into the world of Lundinor in this magical adventure story for anyone with a Hogwarts-shaped hole in their life.

When their grandmother Sylvie is rushed to hospital, Ivy Sparrow and her annoying big brother Seb cannot imagine what adventure lies in store. Returning to Sylvie’s house, they find it has been ransacked by unknown intruders – before a mysterious feather scratches an ominous message onto the kitchen wall. A very strange policeman turns up on the scene, determined to apprehend them . . . with a toilet brush. Ivy and Seb make their escape – only to find themselves in a completely uncommon world, where ordinary objects have amazing powers. The forces of evil are closing in fast, and Ivy and Seb must get to the bottom of a family secret . . . before it’s too late.

 

~*~

The Uncommoners: The Crooked Sixpence draws the reader in from the first page. With their parents away at work, Ivy and Seb Sparrow are staying with their Granma Sylvie. When an accident lands her in hospital, Ivy and Seb are drawn into a world that lies below London, an uncommon world where common objects do extraordinary things. They are intrigued and scared, and accompanied by Ethel Dread, and Valian Kaye, are thrown into the chaos of a group of uncommoners in search of something that is claimed to be linked to their family – and Granma Sylvie. Soon, Ivy, Seb and Valian have lots of people chasing them, from those who wish to see justice done and find out what really happened on the Twelfth Night 1969, when Granma Sylvie disappeared, to those who wish to harm their family. They only have a few days to fix things and save their family, so Ivy and Seb are up against the clock – an uncommon clock, that is.

The Uncommoners evokes the tradition of hidden fantasy worlds that sometimes mirror our own, or that can be hidden in plain sight such as Narnia, or the wizarding world of Harry Potter, or even Neil Gaiman’s London Below, yet Lundinor still has a charm of it’s own that is separate from each of these other worlds, a place where magic enhances the every day and where you never know what kind of race of the dead you will meet – will they be good or bad, or somewhere in between? Ivy and Seb must navigate this world after being thrust into it, much like the Pevensie children in Narnia or Harry Potter in the wizarding world when he first finds out he is a wizard. I feel like this is just the beginning of a series of books that will hopefully become as well loved as Harry Potter or Narnia – any books that invite children into a magical world are lovely and this is no exception. Whilst it may be in good company with Harry Potter and Narnia, it has distinct differences and the world of Lundinor has a Victorian England feel to it, evoking nursery rhymes, and the old markets and streets that populate the world of Charles Dickens. It is a world that I enjoyed visiting and that I hope to return to soon if this is indeed a series, as it ended with that sort of feeling.

An ideal read for anyone aged nine and older who enjoys fantasy and new worlds and magic, Ivy and Seb are awesome characters and I liked their growth over the novel and the way they cared about each other.

The Song From Somewhere Else by A.F. Harrold

song from somewhere ekse.jpg

 

Title: The Song from Somewhere Else
Author: A.F. Harrold, illustrated by Levi Pinfold
Genre: Children’s Fiction/Fantasy/Magical Realism
Publisher: Bloomsbury
Published: 1/12/2016
Format: Hardcover
Pages: 240
Price: $24.99
Synopsis: Frank doesn’t know how to feel when Nick Underbridge rescues her from bullies one afternoon. No one likes Nick. He’s big, he’s weird and he smells – or so everyone in Frank’s class thinks.

And yet, there’s something nice about Nick’s house. There’s strange music playing there, and it feels light and good and makes Frank feel happy for the first time in forever.

But there’s more to Nick, and to his house, than meets the eye, and soon Frank realises she isn’t the only one keeping secrets. Or the only one who needs help.

~*~

The Song from Somewhere Else tells the story of Francesca “Frank” Patel, bullied by a group of older boys in her school, led Neil Noble and his friends, Rob and Roy. The day she is out searching for her cat, Quintilius Minimus, they accost her, and tease her about the stutter that only appears when they bully her. She is rescued by Nick Underbridge, a boy in her year that is a bit of a loner, but whose act of kindness brings them together for the summer holidays whilst Frank’s friend Jess, is away with her family overseas. This unlikely friendship blossoms as they bond over a love of painting, feeling alone and Swingball. While she is at Nick’s house, Frank hears music that makes her feel good about herself, and she longs to have it at all times. When Nick reveals a secret to her that nobody else knows, their trust in each other grows from there. But what does Frank do with the secret, and how do the events that occur in the novel change her?

Told over the course of five days, with each section a separate day or night, Harrold’s prose sets a scene of mystery and magic, which invites the reader into the world. Aimed at children between nine and twelve years of age, The Song from Somewhere Else can be read by anyone. It is an ageless and timeless story that tells us that there is always someone there for us, and that sometimes, it is the person we least expect it to be.

The mood of the story isn’t overly dark, nor is it overly light. It has complexities about the characters and what is really happening that are conveyed through the black, white and grey illustrations of Levi Pinfold. Each illustration reflects a scene within each chapter, and shows the development of the story in a visual way, allowing the readers to imagine the characters as they read but also in a way that doesn’t feel overly prescriptive. They add to the charm and mood of the story, enhancing the reading experience.

I enjoyed this gem of a book, and enjoyed the way it dealt with issues of secrets, families, friends and bullying in an accessible yet poignant way.

A Most Magical Girl by Karen Foxlee

amostmagicalgirl

 

Title: A Most Magical Girl

Author: Karen Foxlee

Genre: Children’s/Fantasy

Publisher: Bonnier/Piccadilly (Allen and Unwin)

Published: 28th September, 2016

Format: Hardcover

Pages: 304

Price: $19.99

Synopsis: Magical machines, wizards, witches, mysterious underworlds, a race against time – and two most magical girls

Annabel Grey has been brought up to be a very proper Victorian young lady. But being ‘proper’ isn’t always easy – especially when you can sometimes see marvellous (as well as terrifying) things in puddles. But parlour tricks such as these are nothing compared to the world that Annabel is about to enter…

 

After the rather sudden departure of her mother, Annabel is sent to live with her aunts. They claim to be Shoreditch witches, and from a very old family line of them too. They’re keen to introduce Annabel to their world of transformation, potions and flying broomsticks (which seem to have strong personalities of their own) but are horrified when Annabel announces not only does she not know any magic, young ladies shouldn’t believe in such things. But before Annabel has time to decide whether she does or not, she is swept into an urgent quest.

 

The trees of Highgate have been whispering to Kitty – an extraordinary urchin of a girl, who Annabel’s aunts seem very fond of – and so have the fairies. They talk of a terrible, dark magic that wants to devour all of London. And of a most magical girl who might be able to stop it…

 

This sparkling and enchanting story is sure to bewitch you, so curl up in front of the fire, and prepare to be swept away…

~*~

 

Karen Foxlee’s latest offering for children is The Most Magical Girl. Set in Victorian London, Annabel Grey is sent to live with her great-aunts, the Shoreditch witches, away from the world she knows. Away from her friend, Isabelle Rutherford, and away from the school she knows at Miss Finch’s Academy for Young Ladies, she is thrust into a world of magic. It is a world that her mother abandoned, and a world that is in danger from Mr Angel and his shadowlings. Together with the betwixter girl who visits her aunts, Kitty, Annabel must journey to Under London and along a perilous journey to find the Morever Wand, also known as The White Wand.

This journey is fraught with danger, danger that Annabel is unprepared for and that she must learn to cope with as she goes. Like Ophelia and The Marvellous Boy, Karen Foxlee has created a world of wonder and magic that parallels the real world, and both exist seamlessly alongside each other. Annabel’s journey from the life she knew to the life she was destined for. Together, Kitty and Annabel find their way through the dangers of Under London, and to a climax that reveals more about Annabel than she had ever wished to know.

Aimed at ages nine to twelve, this book is suited to anyone who enjoys magic in their stories. A quick read, it kept me enthralled and entertained to the last pages, and had me wishing for the answers Annabel was waiting for at the end. The absence of her mother throughout the novel gave Annabel the drive she needed to unlock her powers. The Victorian London setting was just as magical as the real magic of the Great and Benevolent Magical Society in the pages.

This is an excellent read for lovers of magic and fantasy.

The Mapmaker Chronicles #1 By A.L. Tait

Title: Race to the End of the Earth (The Mapmaker Chronicles #1)
Author: A.L. Tait
Genre: Fantasy, Children
Publisher: Hachette Children’s
Published: 14/10/2014
Synopsis: A map of the world? Why did the King want that? Everyone knew if you went too far in either direction you’d fall off the edge, into the jaws of Genesi, the fire-breathing dragon.

A reluctant adventurer.

A ship captained by a slave.

A mysterious sea monster.

And a race to the end of the world.

The first thrilling book in The Mapmaker Chronicles.

~*~
Young Quinn is living a quiet life on his family farm in Verdania when he receives a visit from a Deslonder, Master Blau, requesting him to attend schooling and eventually a quest as the mapmaker aboard a ship, trying to make a map of their world. Quinn’s uncanny ability to memorise anything is seen as a useful skill in this quest.
Along the way, Quinn and his travelling companions must encounter hostile people and lands, sea monsters and the competing teams who will stop at nothing to quash Quinn, his friend Ash and their captain, Zain. The other teams in the race to discover and map the rest of the world are amongst their biggest threats, the apprentices, such as Ajax and his leader, Odilon. The attempts of these other teams to thwart Quinn and Zain underestimate the photographic memory that Quinn possesses, which should give him an advantage over the other mapmakers.
Like many adventure fantasy stories aimed at children aged nine years and over, The Mapmaker Chronicles: Race to the End of the World takes children and those who are kids at heart, on an adventure through a new world, one of magic and monsters. A world where they can imagine themselves as the hero, and take on monsters and enemies, and conquer their fears through the actions and the eyes of Quinn and Ash, whose perilous journey in the first book is just the beginning of what is to come.
As a first book for a series, it is well written, and full of adventure for both boys and girls. It can be enjoyed by any child, and is a quick, easy read, and one that can hopefully persuade a reluctant reader to peruse and open them up to a new world of books and words.

The Forgotten Pearl by Belinda Murrell

Title: The Forgotten Pearl

Author: Belinda Murrell the-forgotten-pearl

Genre: Children’s Fiction/Historical Fiction

Publisher: Penguin Random House

Pages: 282

Price: $17.99

Published: 2nd February 2015

Synopsis: When Chloe visits her grandmother, she learns how close the Second World War came to destroying her family. Could the experiences of another time help Chloe to face her own problems?

In 1941, Poppy lives in Darwin, a peaceful paradise far from the war. But when Japan attacks Pearl Harbor, then Australia, everything Poppy holds dear is threatened – her family, her neighbours, her friends and her beloved pets. Her brother Edward is taken prisoner-of-war. Her home town becomes a war zone, as the Japanese raid over and over again.

Terrified for their lives, Poppy and her mother flee to Sydney, only to find that the danger follows them there. Poppy must face her war with courage and determination. Will her world ever be the same again?

 

In the two days it took me to read this, I was completely absorbed by the story, day and night, even when not reading it. Starting out in 2012 with Chloe, a young girl talking to her grandmother about an assignment, readers are whisked back to 1940s Australia in the days before the war hits our shores. The peace and carefree life Poppy lives is shattered like glass, and she runs from Darwin to Sydney with her mother, where the fear remains but for a while they are safe. When the threat of war and death follows them, Poppy’s world falls apart again, but her strength and resolve to not let the Japanese chase her away from her new life, and what she knows wins over.
From the first page of this book, I knew it would be one that would stay with me but I didn’t know how it would affect me. Having a brother in the army, and with what is currently going on in the world, suddenly, the reality of war, of what Poppy and her family went through, what she told Chloe, seemed all that more real to me than just images on the television and talks of air raids and strikes and invasions. I found myself crying at times, sometimes having to put the book aside. Poppy’s fear and life had become my own and I was dreaming about the book, about the bombing of Darwin, about finding Daisy and Charlie dead in the bomb shelter. Previously all I had known about these events were the facts: the history books I had had never put a human face to these events. Until I read Belinda Murrell’s The Forgotten Pearl. I thoroughly enjoyed reading this book, as I have her other time slip books, with one left on the pile to make my way through. I could taste and feel Darwin as well. The heat, the stickiness, the mangoes, and all Poppy’s animals leapt off the page into my arms, especially Honey, her beloved dog. She made me feel safe just as she comforted Poppy.
It is a fictionalised account of very real, and terrifying events as seen through the eyes of a child. Children can relate to Poppy, and her fear for her family, her pets and all she holds dear. She is a remarkable character and I will definitely be revisiting this book when time allows. It has a part of me in it now, and always will. I will not stop fearing for Poppy and her family, or my brother, when I read it or think about what wars my brother could face, but it will be a book that will help me through those moments, as many books have and will.

A five star rating for this book.