The Christmasaurus and the Winter Witch by Tom Fletcher

christmasaurus winter witch.jpgTitle: The Christmasaurus and the Winter Witch

Author: Tom Fletcher

Genre: Fantasy/Christmas

Publisher: Puffin

Published: 15th October 2019

Format: Paperback

Pages: 368

Price: $24.99

Synopsis: The magical new story from bestselling author of The Christmasaurus and The Creakers, Tom Fletcher.

‘She is the best-kept Christmas secret of all,’ whispered Santa Claus. ‘Which is surprising, because Christmas itself would not exist without her. She is older than time itself, yet still as young as tomorrow. She is known only as the Winter Witch.’

One year has passed since William Trundle’s incredible adventure with the most extraordinary dinosaur: the Christmasaurus. Now, William is swept back to the magical North Pole, where he meets the mysterious, icy Winter Witch – whose power to control time allows Santa Claus to make the long journey all around the world every Christmas Eve. And when they learn that the fate of Christmas itself hangs in the balance, William and the Christmasaurus must work with the Winter Witch to protect it . . .

Full of magic and music, humour and heart, and a friendship like no other, The Christmasaurus and the Winter Witch is the most enchanting Christmas read for the whole family.

~*~

Christmas stories are always fun, and I love discovering new ones, and reading them, as well as the classics like A Christmas Carol and The Nutcracker during December if I can to get in the mood for Christmas as we decorate and bake for Christmas, and listen to the music and watch the movies and sometimes, the Christmas episodes of my favourite shows. I’ve not yet read the book that introduces the Christmasaurus, but I have added it to my list, as I feel it would be interesting and fun to read.

This is the second book, and starts when William, his father, Bob, stepmother, Pamela and stepsister, Brenda, are starting their Christmas break, and getting into the Christmas spirit completely – from what they wear, to what they bake and many traditions that Bob and William have enjoyed over the years. What is different this year, is that they are taken up to the North Pole to see Santa and the Christmasaurus.

Here, William is given a special bean and a wish as gifts – and he decides to save them for something special, until he notices the bean has disappeared when they arrive home, after Brenda has to go to her father. What happens next threatens Christmas’ very existence – and it is up to William and Christmasaurus to find a way to save Christmas, with the help of the Winter Witch, and ensure everyone goes on believing.

There are many things I love about this book. First, CHRISTMAS! Christmas stories are delightful, cheery and make readers feel good and bring joy to the holiday and show that there is more to it than what we are led to believe. Each story has its own magic and mythology that imbibes Christmas with its very magic and joy that we should all be able to experience with those we love. Second, the main character is disabled! This may not seem important to some readers, but for wheelchair users or who use mobility devices or are limited in some way due to a disability, this is fantastic! William is able to do things in his wheelchair, his family and Christmasaurus adapt for him so he isn’t left out and most importantly, he’s just disabled. I haven’t read the first book, but I want to so I can see how Will does things in that book as a wheelchair user, and the other challenges he faces, which are not shied away from here, but also, I felt, not dealt with as impossible. Nothing big is made of it, he just is. He’s his own person, not an object of pity, or passively treated character as some disabled characters are. And he is allowed to be disabled. This is fabulous – it shows that disabled kids and adults can be and do things like everyone else. We just have to find a different way to do it.

Third – a new take on Christmas with Christmasaurus. Combining dinosaurs and Christmas is a wonderful idea, and very creative. I loved that William and his father were so welcoming to Brenda and her mother, and that they wanted Brenda to stay for their family Christmas. Mostly, I just like a good story and this one had so many elements that worked for me and was so funny that I just gobbled it up and loved the way it incorporated lines and references from songs sung or played around Christmastime. And the Winter Witch’s role in Christmas – that was a new, and unique take on it and seeing how it all worked was a lot of fun in the end, and I hope kids and other readers find this book entertaining and wonderful as well.

A good book to read in the lead up to Christmas or at Christmas, or even as a Christmas gift from Christmasaurus himself. I recommend this for all ages!

Top Marks for Murder (A Murder Most Unladylike #8) by Robin Stevens

Top Marks for Murder.jpgTitle: Top Marks for Murder (A Murder Most Unladylike #8)

Author: Robin Stevens

Genre: Historical Fiction/Crime

Publisher: Puffin

Published: 6th August 2019

Format: Paperback

Pages: 400

Price: $16.99

Synopsis:Daisy and Hazel are finally back at Deepdean, and the school is preparing for a most exciting event: the fiftieth Anniversary.

Plans for a weekend of celebrations are in full swing. But all is not well, for in the detectives’ long absence, Daisy has lost her crown to a fascinating, charismatic new girl – while Beanie is struggling with a terrible revelation.

As parents descend upon Deepdean for the Anniversary, decades-old grudges, rivalries and secrets begin to surface. Then the girls witness a shocking incident in the woods close by – and soon, a violent death occurs.

Can the girls solve the case – and save their home?

The brilliant new mystery from the bestselling, award-winning author of Murder Most Unladylike.

~*~

Top Marks for Murder was my first adventure with Daisy, Hazel and their Deepdean friends, and I really enjoyed it. Set in the 1930s, just a few years before the outbreak of World War Two. Nestled in a private school, Daisy and Hazel have returned to school for a two-month absence, just in time for the school’s fiftieth anniversary celebrations. They meet new girl, Amina El Maghrabi from Cairo, who has taken Daisy’s crown – a history that seeps through from previous books. As the girls prepare for the anniversary, animosity builds between some of the fourth formers. But the Friday of the weekend anniversary, Beanie sees what appears to be a murder – and from there, Daisy and Hazel find themselves looking into a possible murder, and looking at the parents as suspects as they uncover secrets from many years ago that could be bubbling to the surface as murder comes to Deepdean and threatens to close the school forever.

This is one series I would love to go back and read the rest of the series to get to know the characters more and see what other crimes Daisy and Hazel have investigated. Exploring the class system in England, coupled with characters like Hazel – the narrator of the series, and Amina – from Hong Kong and Egypt, countries with a colonial influence, the novels bring diversity into the books on many levels, and show a world beyond what previous series may have explored from other authors.  The schoolgirl rivalries are eventually set aside as the murder of a teacher rocks the school, and Daisy, Hazel and their friends recreate crime scenes and ask a London police officer to help them investigate. But who is the killer and how will they uncover the crime and save the school?

Even though this is a series, I feel one can pick it up at any point, and go back and forth as you find the books, but I am hoping to eventually read them in order and get a full understanding of the story and characters. It is funny, light but at the same time, has moments of darkness amidst an English boarding school setting that is familiar from many series from Enid Blyton books and Harry Potter but also has a few differences that make it a unique series for readers aged about ten and older to enjoy, and feel as though they are investigating the crime with Hazel and Daisy.

It is also a sort of school-girl homage to Sherlock and Watson, which I thoroughly enjoyed about it and thought it was an intriguing way to look at the world of consulting or amateur detectives in a very different setting and with a very different set of characters. Looking forward to reading more books in this series.

The Secret Dragon by Ed Clarke

the secret dragon.jpgTitle: The Secret Dragon

Author: Ed Clarke

Genre: Fantasy

Publisher: Puffin

Published: 6th August 2019

Format: Paperback

Pages: 256

Price: $16.99

Synopsis: ‘So if you’re not an animal that’s alive today, and you’re not an animal that’s extinct either, what on earth are you?’

Mari Jones is desperate to be a real scientist, even though she’s only eleven. So when she discovers a tiny dragon while fossil hunting on the beach, she’s sure she can find a good scientific explanation – as long as she can keep it hidden enough to study it.

Unfortunately for Mari, this is one secret that doesn’t want to be kept. And as she starts to form a deeper bond with the mischievous dragon, she might have to admit that, when it comes to friendship, science might not have all the answers.

~*~

Since her father died when she was five, Mari has kept mostly to herself, in a world of fossils and dead things, rather than the world of living animals and the farm she lives on with her mother, Rhian. Mari longs to become a scientist, like her father, and leave the farm life behind. While looking for fossils one day, as she dreams of becoming like Mary Anning, she discovers a baby dragon. After meeting the new boy at school, Dylan, she agrees to let him help her study the dragon and keep it a secret.

Bu the little dragon has other ideas, constantly trying to escape to get back to the beach where Mari found it, not caring who sees it or finds out about it. Mari is determined to keep things strictly scientific, yet as she gets to know the dragon and Dylan she discovers that sometimes, friendship is more important than science, and friendship can’t be measured by science either.

The first in a new series set in Wales, The Secret Dragon by Ed Clarke brings together the real world and fantasy, in a small Welsh town where dragons exist. It explores themes of friendship through Dylan and Mari, and families as the two kids fight to save Gweeb, the dragon and keep her safe from those who want to harm her, like Ffion and Dr Griff. At its heart is the mystery of Mari’s father as well, and her desire to find something – fossils, science, naming the dragon species and sharing an interest with Dylan. Though at first, they come at it from separate perspectives, they begin to build a friendship that is charming and delightful.

Reading the first book in a new series is interesting, and delightful, because you get to meet the characters as they are, and watch them grow through the book and series, heading off on their adventures with Gweeb. I loved this story, set in the wilds of Wales with a dragon, and new discoveries that start out as science, but become much more.

I also loved it because it’s about friends, with a female lead who wants to follow her passions and makes friends along the way. This is important to show because it shows all kids that their abilities and passions are important, whoever they are, and that they can be friends with whomever they want to be friends with. Also, the presence of dragons makes everything fun and chaotic, a chaos which is balanced nicely with the rest of the novel and the calmer moments, exploring the strained relationship between Mari and her mother at the start of the book.

I am looking forward to seeing where Ed takes Mari, Gweeb and Dylan in the rest of the series.