Wizards of Once: Never and Forever by Cressida Cowell

Title: Wizards of Once: Never and Forever

Author: Cressida Cowell

Genre: Fantasy

Publisher: Hodder Children’s/Hachette

Published:  22nd September 2020

Format: Paperback

Pages: 385

Price: $19.99

Synopsis: The final book in the Wizards of Once quartet. Warriors and Wizards combine forces against the dreadful power of the Kingwitch, whose searing evil threatens not only the Wildwoods, but all its creatures.

The No.1 bestselling series from the author of How to Train Your Dragon. Can Xar and Wish unite their worlds in time to save the Wildwoods? Will it be Never… or Forever? The final book in the magical The Wizards of Once series. Xar and Wish have found the ingredients for the Spell-to-get-rid-of-Witches. Now the Kingwitch is calling them to the lake of the lost. But first they must mix the potion in the Cup of Second Chances …

Can they defeat the hungry Tatzelwerm monster and escape with the cup? And will the spell be strong enough to lift the CURSE OF THE WILDWOODS… or will Witches reign FOREVER?


“A rollercoaster of suspense and surprise” GUARDIAN
“Cowell is moving towards national treasure” BIG ISSUE
“Another coup from Cowell” SUNDAY TIMES

~*~

Wish and Xar have come to the end of their journey, and with this final offering, we must bid our unusual, yet well suited heroes adieu. But first, we must join them on their quest to unite the Warrior and Wizard worlds against the witches and defeat the Tatzelwerm monster. Their parents, Encanzo and Sychorax, are still chasing their children across the Bronze Age world they live in.

The final book in the Wizards of Once series picks up directly after Knock Three Times, and concludes a rollercoaster of a year, filled with surprises, suspense, friendship and magic. Each book has built on the previous one, and has included references and common phrases across the series to link the books, told through the eyes of the Unknown Narrator (we may find out who they are in this book), and with themes that are universal yet told in a unique way. There are elements of traditional tales and myths of the Celtic tradition threaded throughout and leading up to something that I didn’t see coming, and its inclusion, and the way it was done, was very clever, and hopefully readers will appreciate it.

This is a fun series, filled with danger, humour, magic, family and loyalty. It is about pushing past prejudice and accepting people for the kind of person they are. It is about loyalty and helping your friends when things get tough, or when they need help to overcome the challenges that they face with the Witchstain and Wish’s Magic-that-works-on-iron.

Wish and Xar are at first, unlikely friends and heroes, but when they band together with Perdita, Caliburn, the sprites, and many others, they form an alliance that brings old feelings and tensions to the surface and forces the Wizard and Warrior forts to become allies as they search for their children and try to defeat the Kingwitch.  Will they succeed, and at what cost?

This lively and rollicking adventure has come to its end. And as sad as it is to say farewell to Xar and Wish, the end gives a delightfully tasty hint as to what the Unknown Narrator might see in their future. But you should read all four in order – no skipping, now – to find out what happens, and what this will lead to.

Let your imagination run wild and enjoy the final book in this quartet. A wonderful series of magic and friendship for all readers aged eight and older.

Wizards of Once: Knock Three Times by Cressida Cowell

Title: Wizards of Once: Knock Three Times

Author: Cressida Cowell

Genre: Fantasy

Publisher: Hodder Children’s Books/Hachette

Published: 24th September 2019

Format: Paperback

Pages: 460

Price: $19.99

Synopsis: The No.1 bestselling series from the author of HOW TO TRAIN YOUR DRAGON, Cressida Cowell. Enter a land of wizards, warriors, mythical creatures and powerful Magic in an exciting fantasy adventure.

The No.1 bestselling series from current Waterstones Children’s Laureate and author of HOW TO TRAIN YOUR DRAGON, Cressida Cowell. Enter a land of wizards, warriors, mythical creatures and powerful Magic in an exciting fantasy adventure. Wish and Xar are outlaws on the run, hunted by Warriors, Wizards and worst of all by WITCHES …

Can they find the ingredients for the spell to get rid of Witches before the Kingwitch gets his talons on the Magic-that-Works-on-Iron?

Their next Quest is the most terrifying and treacherous of all … and someone is going to betray them. Are you ready to KNOCK THREE TIMES?

~*~

Wish, Xar, and Bodkin are back, along with their band of sprites and animals. They’re outlaws on the run from Wizards and Warriors, and Witches as they continue their quest to find the ingredients for a spell to get rid of witches. Given sanctuary in a school for magic, the heroes must face their fears, and maintain their cover – until they’re betrayed. We meet more fun characters, who have links to some of the ones we already know as well. Welcome to the third and penultimate book in the Wizards of Once series!

I’ve been reading this series this month as I was sent the fourth book to review, and have now caught up, and am ready to delve into book four to find out what happens next for Wish and Xar.

While Xar and Wish are in hiding, their parents are hunting them, and this builds up the tension and excitement. This is one of those series that you never know what is around the corner, whilst still drawing on fairytale, myth and fantasy tropes that have been pulled together to create something vibrant, new and fresh in a fantastic quartet that ends with Never and Forever, out on the 22nd of September.

I have demolished the first three books within about two weeks, and I have adored each one. Children’s literature has such a rich history, and Cressida Cowell has brought something vibrant and exciting to the world of children’s books and literature. It’s so refreshing to see characters with visible differences, with learning disabilities reflected in a positive way. All kids will hopefully see something of themselves in Xar, Wish and Bodkin, and the unity of friendship between these three characters who some might say are unlikely friends – Xar is a Wizard, Wish is a Warrior and Bodkin is an Assistant Bodyguard, and everything tells them they should be enemies and there are lines that Bodkin should not cross when it comes to class systems in the Warrior fort.

Xar and Wish are on a dangerous journey, but Cressida Cowell has executed these dangers, so readers feel on edge, but so that they don’t get too scared. Magic abounds in this book as Wish and Xar seek to rid Xar of evil Magic, and Wish grapples with her Magic eye, and Magic that works on iron (cleverly written as Cressida draws on the folktale trope that magical folk can’t touch iron, which is a nice touch). The Unknown Narrator tells this story, and their nice little intrusions make the story fun. The identity of this narrator is also part of the quest to destroy the Kingwitch and has been an ongoing mystery throughout the first three books – and hopefully, their identity will be revealed in the final one.

I have had a few guesses as to who it might be. It could be anyone, and this is what makes this so fun. All readers are going to have their own opinion. Onwards to the final book, which shall be reviewed here next week!

If you have read the first three books, who do you think the Unknown Narrator is?

The Wizards of Once: Twice Magic by Cressida Cowell

Title: The Wizards of Once: Twice Magic

Author: Cressida Cowell

Genre: Fantasy

Publisher: Hachette Australia/Hodder

Published: 20th September 2018

Format: Paperback

Pages: 480

Price: $19.99

Synopsis: The No.1 Bestselling Series. Enter a land of wizards, warriors, mythical creatures and powerful magic in an exciting fantasy adventure from the author of HOW TO TRAIN YOUR DRAGON.

The No.1 Bestselling Series Enter a land of wizards, warriors, mythical creatures and powerful magic in an exciting fantasy adventure from the author of HOW TO TRAIN YOUR DRAGON.

Witches are creating havoc in the Wildwoods and danger lurks behind every tree trunk.

Wish is in possession of a powerful, Magic Spelling Book; Xar has a dangerous Witchstain on his hand. Together they can save the Wildwoods from the curse of the Witches but they are separated by the highest wall imaginable, and time is running out …

It was unlikely that these heroes should meet in the first place. Is it possible they are destined to meet TWICE?

~*~

Picking up several weeks after the first book, Twice Magic begins with Xar trapped in a prison for dangerous Magic people. Wish is back at the Warrior fort. As they grapple with their new situations, the Wildwoods are attacked by Witches. Xara and Wish reunite – and begin to fight the curse before time runs out – but can they convince their parents to put aside their differences?

Wish and Xar visit a dying giant as part of this journey, where all fairy tale and fantasy tropes are combined to tell a unique story and series, aimed at middle grade readers. But readers of all ages will enjoy this series. I’m working my way through this series and am halfway through at this point – with book three ready to go as soon as I can start it.

The continuation of the themes of friendship, unity and acceptance are ever present in this novel, and build on what has come before. Wish and Xar are powerful and unique characters, who promote creativity, intelligence and empathy, and the role these play in problem solving, friendship and understanding each other. The world is also exquisitely detailed, and the illustrations by Cressida add something magic and unique to the text, creating a story that is full of life and joy.

Danger lurks beneath the surface of Xar and Wish’s fun. They’re on a quest to defeat the Kingwitch, and remove the Witchstain from Xar’s hand, and they are accompanied by a band of sprites, including Squeezjoos, a raven called Caliburn and Wish’s bodyguard, Bodkin. Together, they are going to save the world!

I’m in love with this series – the good thing is, I have all four to read, so I don’t have to wait to find out what happens, but at the same time, a little sad that there are only four books to enjoy. It is an imaginative series, and I think the use of an Unknown Narrator telling the story is a powerful and creative way to draw readers in. With each book, the mystery of just who this narrator is intensifies and becomes a driving force to hook readers of all ages in, along with the magical quest Xar and Wish are on.

This series manages to have an ongoing thread as well as a separate narrative for each book, which adds to the magic and intrigue, and ensures that readers remain engaged and the plot is steadily built upon effectively. I’m looking forward to delving further into this world, which is in a way historical, if we are to believe the Unknown Narrator, that this is a world before the British Isles were known as the British Isles. Cressida also cleverly draws on folklore and pulls it into the story effectively and ensures that whilst it is still recognisable as folklore, there are also unique twists on each characteristic and the individual characters, especially Wish and Xar.

A fantastic series about acceptance for readers aged eight and over.  

Wizards of Once by Cressida Cowell

wizards of onceTitle: Wizards of Once

Author: Cressida Cowell

Genre: Fantasy

Publisher: Hachette/Hodder Children’s Books

Published: 8th May 2018

Format: Paperback

Pages: 455

Price: $15.99

Synopsis: From the bestselling author of HOW TO TRAIN YOUR DRAGON comes an exciting high-adventure series – set in an ancient, magical time, full of Wizards, Warriors, Giants and Sprites.

#1 Sunday Times Bestseller Winner of the Blue Peter Book Award

This is the story of a young boy Wizard and a young girl Warrior who have been taught since birth to hate each other like poison; and the thrilling tale of what happens when their two worlds collide.

Perfect for boys and girls who love fantasy adventure…

Once there was Magic, and the Magic lived in the dark forests. Until the Warriors came…

Xar is a Wizard boy who has no Magic and will do anything to get it. Wish is a Warrior girl, but she owns a banned Magical Object, and she will do anything to conceal it.

In this whirlwind adventure, Xar and Wish must forget their differences if they’re going to make it to the dungeons at Warrior Fort.

Where something that has been sleeping for hundreds of years is stirring…

~*~

Wish is a Warrior, and she owns a banned Magical Object. She’s out riding with her bodyguard, Bodkin, when she meets Xar, a Wizard boy without magic, beyond the age when magic usually comes in. Xar and Wish clash as they argue about who is superior in a fantasy land that mirrors the British Isles before they were known as such, according to the Unknown Narrator, who intrudes into the story with commentary every now and then, breaking the fourth wall in a very clever and entertaining way.

Xar and Wish forget their differences quickly when one of Xar’s sprites, Squeezjoos, is infected with Witch-blood. But saving Squeezjoos will be a challenge. Should they succeed in their quest to get into the dungeons of the Warrior fort, they could unlock a dangerous enemy that nobody wants to face.

I picked up this series because Hachette sent me the fourth and final book to review. That book is out at the end of the month, and I decided to read the whole series and have fun with it. I was absolutely hooked from the first page and devoured the first book within two days. I loved the alternating chapters that moved seamlessly back and forth when necessary, so we understood everything that was happening and how it fitted together.

This is one of those unique novels and series that is funny, serious and magical at the same time. It draws you into its world and invites you to experience every aspect through Xar and Wish, Cressida’s fabulous and evocative prose and her delightful, fun and joyful illustrations that contribute wonderfully to the story. I am setting out to read all four back-to-back during the next few weeks.

As the Unknown Narrator says, this is a world set in the British Isles, long before this name was used, feeding into the delicious fantasy world that Cressida Cowell has built, and that cleverly leads into the second book, which I am about to start reading. This looks to be a promising and clever series, drawing on tropes and common themes within fantasy, and giving them a twist that will entertain and capture the imaginations of readers of all ages.

Havoc! The Untold Magic of Cora Bell by Rebecca McRitchie

HavocTitle: Havoc! The Untold Magic of Cora Bell

Author: Rebecca McRitchie

Genre: Fantasy

Publisher: HarperCollins Australia

Published: 2nd September 2020

Format: Paperback

Pages: 320

Price: $17.99

Synopsis: From the talented author of Whimsy & Woe comes a series about Cora Bell, who is magical – but could she also be a Havoc?

When magic darkens …

Cora Bell has discovered she is full of magic. But without her protection bracelet, she is struggling to hold onto all the powers she has gained, especially the dark magic she took from the warlock, Archibald Drake.

When Cora begins to have nightmares and visions, and unusual cracks appear on her skin, it is a race against time for Cora and her fairy friends to not only find a way to fix her magic, but also escape the hunters now chasing Cora, and search the magical world for her family.

Can Cora do it all before her magic takes control? Will she find her family? Or will she become . . . a Havoc?

~*~

We last saw Cora, Tick and Tock meeting King Clang in the fairy world. With the revelation that Cora is a syphon, the fairies must find a way to help her stay away from Archibald Drake, and keep her from falling into his clutches. They set off on a journey to keep Cora away from Archibald, but also to find a cure for the nightmares and cracks in her skin, while they search the magical world for Cora’s family – if they’re still alive.

Cora must fight to control her magic, and a chance meeting with a half-troll, Ogg, will lead Cora, Tick and Tock towards an unforeseen battle and uniting with someone least expected. As with the first book, Havoc! ends with a cliffhanger, leaving the read wanting more.

The second book in the Jinxed series delivers another exciting page turner for readers aged eight and older, especially confident readers. It is filled with magic and adventure, and a rollicking fantasy adventure, led by a wonderful girl character, who is at times brave, but also, a reluctant hero who just wants friends, a family and for things to go back to normal. To be with Dot and Scratch. These characters are rich and fulfilling and grow with each book.

AWW2020This fantastic new series from Rebecca McRitchie pulls the reader along on an adventure with Cora and the fairies, Tick and Tock through the fantasy world, and the various towns and places they visit are rich in detail and unique characters drawn from what we know about various fantasy and fairy tale tropes. At the same time, these tropes are spun on their heads into unique and imaginative characters who fill the world with fun and whimsy whilst on a journey of discovery and friendship.

Cora at times feels alone – but Tick and Tock stick with her through thick and thin, proving that friendship is one of the most powerful weapons in the fight against evil, or those forces that want to destroy Cora. The syphon world is still a bit of a secret, and I hope, and think, we will learn more as the series goes on. It is a series that is best read in order, as the first two books end with a to be continued, and book two picks up immediately where book one leaves off. This gives the books a sense of urgency and immediacy: the characters need to act, and they need to act NOW!

The Jinxed series is one that is timeless. It’s not set in a specific time, and so, is a welcome escape from current events. We all need this kind of book right now, where we can just escape into another time and place, or somewhere distant and imagined. A world where what we’re facing now doesn’t exist. I gobbled Jinxed and Havoc up back to back within three or four days collectively, and I am very eager for the next book to find out what happens next!

The Mermaid, the Witch and the Sea by Maggie Tokuda-Hall

mermaid witch seaTitle: The Mermaid, the Witch and the Sea

Author: Maggie Tokuda-Hall

Genre: Fantasy

Publisher: Walker Books

Published:    2nd September 2020

Format: Paperback

Pages: 416

Price: $18.99

Synopsis: In a world divided by colonialism and threaded with magic, a desperate orphan turned pirate and a rebellious imperial lady find a connection on the high seas.

Aboard the pirate ship Dove, Flora the girl takes on the identity of Florian the man to earn the respect and protection of the crew. For Flora, former starving urchin, the brutal life of a pirate is about survival: don’t trust, don’t stick out, and don’t feel. But on this voyage, Flora is drawn to the Lady Evelyn Hasegawa, who is headed to an arranged marriage she dreads. Flora doesn’t expect to be taken under Evelyn’s wing, and Evelyn doesn’t expect to find such a deep bond with the pirate Florian. Neither expects to fall in love. Soon the unlikely pair set in motion a wild escape that will free a captured mermaid (coveted for her blood) and involve the mysterious Pirate Supreme, an opportunistic witch, double agents, and the all-encompassing Sea herself. Deftly entwining swashbuckling action and quiet magic, Maggie Tokuda-Hall’s inventive debut novel conjures a diverse cast of characters seeking mastery over their fates while searching for answers to big questions about identity, power, and love.

  • Former bookseller Maggie Tokuda-Hall’s first full-length novel, an adventure-packed fantasy which we won rights to in a pre-empt
  • Gender identity is also a theme throughout the novel, which features a romance between nobility-born Evelyn and trans orphan Flora/Florian, two strong queer protagonists
  • Gender identity and gender roles/sexual mores in society are major themes throughout the novel, which features notes of Asian folklore and culture threaded through and alongside the fantastical, adventurous, action-packed plot line

~*~

An adventure set on the high seas of a fantasy world that melds Japanese stories and culture with the traditional British fantasy, paying homage to both and the tropes, characters and creatures that inform a fantasy world. The Mermaid, the Witch and the Sea pulls cultures together to create an imagined world filled with diversity.

Lady Evelyn Hasegawa, an Imperial, is travelling on the Dove to an arranged marriage. She is attended by Flora, whom she knows as Florian, during the voyage. All seems well. Until the crew reveals their true nature, and takes the passengers hostages, and the true nature of the Dove as a pirate ship is revealed.

Told in alternating chapters between Evelyn and Florian, through their eyes, The Mermaid, the Witch and the Sea also tells a story of magic and the vibrancy of the sea and her children, the mermaids. When Evelyn and Flora/Florian discover what the pirates are doing with the mermaids they catch, the two are determined to help, and prevent the mermaid from meeting the same fate as so many others.

In this story, the sea and the mermaids are as much characters as Evelyn and Flora/Florian, whose lives intersect and become separate to move the story along, as each grows into their own identity together, and apart. There is romance, but the heart of the book is about identity and the breaking free of stereotypes to be true to yourself. Before Flora/Florian and Evelyn can embark on any kind of relationship, they must find out who they are apart, and this is where the power of this story was for me. It spoke to the need to be true to yourself, your culture, your identity–whatever it is that makes you, well, you and find a way to pull all these things together if you can. It is a book that celebrates being unique, and that celebrates not allowing expectations to rule your life.

Women and their lives and identities are at the heart of this novel. Their femininity, their individuality, their strength and ultimately, who they are and their place in the world. This powerful novel will have something for everyone, from exploration of gender identity, to a rollicking adventure filled with diverse characters, to some clever intrigue when it comes to the women characters, and the way the men seem to underestimate them and the surreptitious and subversive ways Evelyn, Flora and other characters show their true colours and abilities.

Aimed at teens aged fourteen and older, this book centres gender identity and gives people and the characters who might not have a voice one, and a chance to see themselves reflected in literature. This powerful story also shows the diversity of the world, and how a class system can determine your role in life, but also, people’s ability to go against this and determine their own fate.

Jinxed! The Curious Curse of Cora Bell by Rebecca McRitchie, Illustrated by Sharon O’Connor

JinxedTitle: Jinxed! The Curious Curse of Cora Bell
Author: Rebecca McRitchie
Genre: Fantasy
Publisher: HarperCollins Australia
Published: 19th August 2019
Format: Paperback
Pages: 320
Price: $19.99
Synopsis: Magic awaits around every corner …
Cora is eleven years old and missing one eye. She lives with an elderly lady named Dot in a room hidden behind a wall. In a crowded, industrial city, where everyone looks out for themselves, Cora and Dot hunt and sell rare and exotic things – apple seeds, silver forks, shoe polish. Until one day, Cora finds a few words scribbled on a piece of paper.
She takes it home and says the words aloud. Then two plump, hairy fairies named Tick and Tock crash land in her path to warn her that she is in terrible danger. Cora has unknowingly summoned a sinister creature known as a Jinx. Jinxes eat magical beings and once they have a scent, they never forget it. But Cora isn’t a magical being . . . is she?
Quickly, Cora is thrown headfirst into a world filled with magic, necromancers, shape-shifters, enchantresses, fairies, nightwalkers, witches and giants.
Richly illustrated throughout by Sharon O’Connor, this is a very exciting magical new series from the talented author of Whimsy & Woe.

AWARDS
Shortlisted – 2019 Aurealis Awards (Best Children’s Fiction)
~*~

Cora Bell has lived with Dot for years. She has one eye, is eleven years old and unless she is collecting with Dot, lives behind a wall. She’s out collecting one day when she stumbles across a strange piece of paper. It seems harmless enough, yet when she reads it out loud, two fairies – Tick and Tock – appear with a warning and whisk her away on an adventure to find out what magic she has. Tick and Tock take her across the magical land that Urt is part of as they try to outrun the Jinx.

Along the way, Cora meets witches, wizards, hobgoblins, giants and fairies, as well as enchantresses and nightwalkers and many more as she seeks to uncover her identity.

Jinxed is the start of a magical, energetic series about Cora Bell, whose life has been quiet and normal for eleven years, until everything changes. The world she lives in is filled with dangers, from Jinxes to the warlock, Drake, to those who fear anything they don’t know, or want to know about. Cora sits within this latter category. For years, she’s only had Dot and her cat, Scratch. But Tick and Tock stick with her, and never give up.

AWW2020They’re determined to help her and find the Jinx. In this rollicking fantasy adventure, combined with an industrial feel to the world, which is fresh, unique and at the same time familiar to fans of fantasy. It pulls together well-known tropes present in many fantasy novels and fairy tales, such as magical gateways, and fairy kingdoms, but puts a unique twist on them, pulling together a story that is filled with light and dark moments, and examines what it truly means to be a friend.

Cora is alone, apart from Tick and Tock as she journeys through the various fairy and magical worlds. Her identity has been a secret for years. But will this series of events finally reveal who, and what she is, and how will the world respond to her when they find out what she is capable of?

Starting a new series is always exciting, and as the second book comes out at the beginning of September, I have that to read next. Following Cora’s journey is going to be fun, thrilling and engaging, and I am keen to see where she goes next with Tick and Tock.

Starfell #2: Willow Moss and the Forgotten Tale by Dominique Valente

Starfell 2Title: Starfell #2: Willow Moss and the Forgotten Tale

Author: Dominique Valente

Genre: Fantasy

Publisher: HarperCollins Australia

Published: 20th April 2020

Format: Paperback

Pages: 304

Price: $16.99

Synopsis: The anticipated second book in 2019’s breakout magical fantasy series, Starfell, starring misfit witch Willow Moss. Perfect for readers of 8+ and beautifully illustrated throughout by Sarah Warburton.

Willow Moss, the youngest and least powerful sister in a family of witches, recently saved the world. The problem is, nobody can remember it – and, to make matters worse, her magical ability seems broken. Instead of finding lost things, objects keep disappearing against her will … which is especially troubling now that her friend Sometimes needs her help!

Sometimes has discovered how to see ten minutes into the future. Unfortunately that’s only enough time to find out that his kidnappers are on their way! His only hope is to write an urgent letter to Willow, asking if she wouldn’t mind trying to find him.

As Willow and her friends piece together what has happened to Sometimes, their adventure takes them from an enchanted tower to the magical forest of Wisperia and into dangerous new realms… Can Willow save Sometimes when her own powers are out of control?

~*~

Willow Moss is back – mourning the loss of Granny Flossy and trying to get along with her family. She saved the world, yet nobody really remembers – just Moreg Vaine, her new friend. Willow’s magical ability is to find things, yet that gift seems to be broken and she is making things disappear. When she finds out her friend Nolin Sometimes, needs her help, she sets out on a journey to Wisperia – a dangerous place people warn her against heading to. Yet adventure calls, and with Oswin, a cloud dragon and other companions by her side, Willow hopes she can find Sometimes and get her powers back under control.

After reading the first book, Willow Moss and the Lost Day earlier this year in March, I was hooked and wanted to find out what happened next. HarperCollins sent me the second book to review, and finally, I am managing to get my review up! Willow Moss is the kind of character girls need – not princessy, not frilly and not perfect. She has her flaws, and her strengths – both of which are shown equally throughout the novel, even though the kobold, often mistaken for a cat, Oswin, often berates her and is rather irate at times. He brings humour and fun to the story, and is a rather interesting character on his own, with a distinctive voice that stands out against everyone else.

Moreg Vaine is the one you never know what to expect from, yet seems trustworthy – she’s absent for much of this book, yet her presence is felt, as is Granny Flossy’s, and together, these elements combine to make an intriguing premise and sert of characters who guide Willow through her journey across Starfell and all the mysteries she has to solve and things that she has to find. This is the second book in a very promising middle grade series that has charmed me, and is sure to charm younger readers, and indeed readers of all ages.

It is an escape, and an adventure. A book to be devoured yet it is also one that can be savoured. There are delightful and fun elements within this book, coupled with magical and worrisome ones, but not too scary – just enough to have you on the edge of your seat, reading on to find out what happens next. And Willow explores her emotions – which is powerful and important for child readers. Her family is present, but in the tradition of middle grade books, we get rid of the parents – if only temporarily – so Willow can go on her adventures. This is a great series, and as a keen fan of these books and the gwnre, I am eager to see what happens next for Willow!

Shoestring: The Boy Who Walks on Air by Julie Hunt, Dale Newman

ShoestringTitle: Shoestring: The Boy Who Walks on Air
Author: Julie Hunt, Dale Newman
Genre: Fantasy, Magical Realism
Publisher: Allen and Unwin
Published: 2nd June 2020
Format: Hardcover
Pages: 368
Price: $19.99
Synopsis: A gripping illustrated adventure about a travelling circus troupe, a future-telling macaw and a cursed pair of gloves that Shoestring must conquer once and for all. A companion to the award-winning KidGlovz.
‘Shoestring loved the sudden intake of breath when he stepped onto the rope. The upturned faces of the audience made him think of coins scattered at his feet, more coins than he had ever taken when he was a pickpocket.’

Twelve-year-old Shoestring is leaving behind his life of crime and starting a new career with the Troupe of Marvels. Their lead performer, he has an invisible tightrope and an act to die for. But trouble is brewing – the magical gloves that caused so much turmoil for KidGlovz are back.

When he’s wearing the gloves, the world is at Shoestring’s fingertips. It’s so easy to help himself to whatever he likes – even other people’s hopes and dreams. But when he steals his best friend’s mind, he’s at risk of losing all he values most.

A thrilling, heart-in-the-mouth adventure of ambition, friendship and the threads that bind from the award-winning creators of KidGlovz.

~*~

In a fantastical world, there is a young thief called Shoestring, who lives with the woman who raised him. Until now, he has been a thief for most of his twelve years. When the Troupe of Marvels finds out about his talent – walking on an invisible tightrope. Yet a troublesome pair of gloves that once caused mayhem are back, and taking control of Shoestring, making him steal unthinkable things – not just items, but pieces of people – the troupe sets out to help him and destroy the gloves, and get Shoestring back to the young boy they know.

With Shoestring able to take whatever he wants – even things that someone can’t see, trouble starts to brew as the gloves start to control Shoestring and convince him to do things he’d never think about doing. Things start to go wrong when he sets out to find Metropolis, May’s old parrot who has been kidnapped, and falls into the hands of Marm – this is where the mystery begins and where we find out more about what is behind the stories of Shoestring, Marm, May, Metropolis and the gloves begins and the action picks up as the narrative moves between Metropolis telling the story – these parts are in bold, whilst the rest of the story is told in prose, as a third person perspective tells the story. And evokes a sense of everyone telling their part of the story around the campfire.

AWW2020This technique is coupled with some illustrations with speech bubbles – the same style used in graphic novels, and all the illustrations by Dale Hunt make the world Shoestring and his troupe live in really come to life as you read. It is not one that can be dipped in and out of, nor read in one sitting. This is one of those books that must be savoured and enjoyed. It is one that needs to be savoured – that needs to be read over time, and where every page has a new clue as to what might happen but is also filled with twists and turns as Shoestring fights with the gloves and the control they have over him.

Magical, transient gloves that have a mind of their own is a worrying, curious and troublesome – what do these gloves want, and why are they targeting Shoestring and the troupe. It weaves the history of the characters and the world they inhabit throughout the narrative seamlessly, telling an evocative story of ambition and friendship, and the lengths people will go to so they can help those they care about. And how will they help Shoestring fix things? This is a story of loyalty and friendship, and family – and the sacrifices we make to help those we love and care about. It is a lovely book – one that will be loved by all readers over the age of eight and will enthral and enchant readers as they enter this fantastical world and have them on the edge of their seats as they go on the journey with Shoestring and the rest of the troupe.

It does refer back to a previous book by the same author and illustrator team, but enough information is given that they can be read separately, but also, together. It is a beautiful story, and one that will be loved and treasured.

Orla and the Serpent’s Curse by C.J. Halsam

orlaTitle: Orla and the Serpent’s Curse

Author: C.J. Halsam

Genre: Magical Realism

Publisher: Walker Books

Published: 1st June 2020

Format: Paperback

Pages: 304

Price: $14.99

Synopsis: A spooky adventure set in Cornwall; Famous Five with a twist.

A long-dead Cornish witch to thwart and a curse to stop  it’s just another family holiday. Orla thought she was in for a relaxing break, but when she finds a mysterious glowing necklace in the woods, it turns out there is a slight possibility she may have uncovered a witch’s ancient curse. After meeting a coven of suspicious old ladies, it becomes clear that Orla’s arrival in Cornwall is no longer a coincidence. The curse is poisoning the land and destroying everything it touches, and Orla is the one person who can stop it. But she’ll need help from the only other member of the family with good instincts – Dave the dog.

  • A witchy 10+ children’s debut from Sunday Timesjournalist C. J. Haslam.
  • Orla is a budding conservationist and the curse in the book manifests itself through poisoned and barren land.
  • Has an incredibly appealing character in Dave, the grumpy Jack Russell who thinks he’s a member of Special Forces. Orla has two older brothers and a newly acquired friend called Raven – together, they make a great modern-day Scooby Doo gang / Famous Five.

~*~

Orla Perry is off to Cornwall with her mum, brothers, Tom and Richard, and faithful dog, Dave. They arrive at the cottage – but their holiday is far from relaxing. After Orla begins to explore their new surrounds and meets Mrs Spark and her friends, after she finds a mysterious necklace in the woods. This is only the beginning of her problems. As the story moves along, Dave distances himself from Orla, the old ladies Orla has met begin to tell her of witches and curses, and a woman called Pedervander Masey, and a mystery surrounding the area that is slowly revealed as Orla and her brothers and their new friend, Raven, seek to uncover the truth behind all the darkness of the area.

To save the land from the curse, Orla, Raven, Tom and Richard must follow a strange set of directions and an unusual path with items from one of the resident witches, or pellers, as they are called in this novel, to prevent the curse from poisoning the land – even if this means travelling back in time. What is it about the mysterious glowing necklace that draw Orla to it – and what trouble is it causing? With dark magic at work, Orla is drawn to the desire to investigate and find out what is going on – and stop the curse from destroying those she loves, and anyone else in the area. She’s a gutsy girl, and seeing the breadth of the types of characters children can relate to these days.

Set in the same area as many of the Famous Five books, this is a fresh tale on the idea of adventuring and gallivanting children – minus the lashings of ginger beer with added magic and spells. It is filled with wonder and danger, and can be scary in some parts, in particular the climax, which is where the high stakes scenes take place in most books. This is a fantastic book, and one I loved to review for Walker Books Australia – the middle grade landscape these days is a wonderful array of books, and there are many more that I am going to be exploring in coming reviews.

We all need a bit of magic in our lives, and in this book, it is delivered in spades. Tragedy happens in some places, and the kids go off on the adventures as they do in The Famous Five, but there is still a parental figure around, though she’s got no idea what Orla and her brothers are up to during their holiday.

This world really came to life – everything had an element of magic within in, and for someone who has never been to Cornwall, but would like to one day, the sense of place in past and present, from the cottage of the sea, and the surrounding countryside and forest. The setting is as much a character as the human characters, and Dave is one of the best characters – an astute dog who knows who he can trust and who to help, it is instincts that will help save the day.

Filled with magic, mystery, humour and the thrill of the cashes, Orla and the Serpent’s Curse is a delightful middle grade novel for readers aged ten and over.