Tag Archives: MG reads

Review : The Hatmakers by Tamzin Merchant

Middle-grade review of The Hatmakers by Tamzin Merchant

The HatmakersGoodreads Blurb

Cordelia comes from a long line of magical milliners, who weave alchemy and enchantment into every hat. In Cordelia’s world, Making – crafting items such as hats, cloaks, watches, boots and gloves from magical ingredients – is a rare and ancient skill, and only a few special Maker families remain.

When Cordelia’s father Prospero and his ship, the Jolly Bonnet, are lost at sea during a mission to collect hat ingredients, Cordelia is determined to find him. But Uncle Tiberius and Aunt Ariadne have no time to help the littlest Hatmaker, for an ancient rivalry between the Maker families is threatening to surface. Worse, someone seems to be using Maker magic to start a war.

It’s up to Cordelia to find out who, and why . . .

Featuring illustrations by Paola Escobar.

My Thoughts after Reading

Set in the backdrop of Mad King George, this middle-grade book is a tale about royal makers, who use magical items in their creations to bring out the purpose of the wearer. In this story, the Hatmakers have been commissioned to make a Peace Hat, for the peace talks with France.

Our heroine receives news of her father being lost at sea, searching for a rare ingredient for the Peace Hat. Her uncle and aunt take her in, but refuse to pass on the hat-making skills to her, citing her age as an excuse. However Cordelia is not content to wait.

My favourite character has to be the actor Sir Hugo. He is full of personality, even if part of the reason was wearing an acting hat that Cordelia had cobbled together without her aunt’s permission. A very fun read. If you enjoyed The Unadoptables and The Vanderbeekers of 141st Street, this book gives the same vibes. 3/5*

Opening Line : It was a wild and lightning-struck night.

Review : The Girl and the Ghost by Hanna Alkaf

Middle-grade book review of The Girl and the Ghost by Hanna Alkaf

The Girl and the GhostGoodreads Blurb

I am a dark spirit, the ghost announced grandly. I am your inheritance, your grandmother’s legacy. I am yours to command.

Suraya is delighted when her witch grandmother gifts her a pelesit. She names her ghostly companion Pink, and the two quickly become inseparable.

But Suraya doesn’t know that pelesits have a dark side—and when Pink’s shadows threaten to consume them both, they must find enough light to survive . . . before they are both lost to the darkness.

My Thoughts after Reading

This middle-grade book is about a spirit who decides to make an unloved girl his master.

Our protagonist has just lost his master. He chose this little neglected girl but unlike any wicked pelesits, he cares for her and uses his wicked ways surreptitiously to avenge her tormentors. When she finds out, she banishes him from her life.

The author’s style is a quite unique. Parts of it feel it is written for a western audience, yet other parts have a lovely local feel to it. As I come from Singapore, the next door neighbour to Malaysia, I recognised the local references, like ‘open coffee shop’, as well as the local foods.

If you are looking for a unique paranormal book for a Halloween read, I recommend this one. 3.5*

My other middle-grade book reviews

My theme book recommendations

Review : The Forest of Moon and Sword by Amy Raphael

Middle-grade book review of The Forest of Moon and Sword by Amy Raphael

The Forest of Moon and SwordGoodreads Blurb

When Art’s mother is accused of witchcraft, she is determined to get her back – at any cost. A lyrical adventure with folklore at its heart, for fans of THE HOUSE WITH CHICKEN LEGS.

Twelve-year-old Art lives in a small village in Scotland. Her mother has always made potions that cure the sick, but now the townspeople say she is a witch.

One cloudless night, Art’s mother is accused of Witchcraft, arrested, and taken from Scotland to England. Art mounts her horse, taking a sword, a tightrope, and a herbal recipe book, and begins a journey through wild forests to find her mother before summer solstice, using nature’s signs and symbols to guide her.

On her journey, Art will discover what sacrifices she will need to make to be reunited with her mother – and to alter the fate of women everywhere. But will she reach her, before it’s too late?

My Thoughts after Reading

This young middle-grade book is set in the 17th during the time where women were hunted down as witches.

Our Scottish heroine has been rejected by her townsfolk ever since her mother being taken away as a witch, all because her mother knew the medicinal properties of plants. She runs away and journeys down south to Essex, where her mother was to be tried and killed. Along the way she encounters animals and omens, and makes friends with other children in the same plight.

I particularly l enjoyed reading about the healing properties of various plants. My one wish would be images of the plants. I was very glad that, in the acknowledgements, the author had included the references where she got her research from.

This book will appeal to a younger middle-grade audience for its simple plot.

Opening line : I wake up in the dark.

Review : The Swap by Megan Shull

Middle-grade book review of

The SwapThe Swap by Megan Shull

Goodreads Blurb

“You be me…and I’ll be you.”

ELLIE spent the summer before seventh grade getting dropped by her best friend since forever. JACK spent it training in “The Cage” with his tough-as-nails brothers and hard-to-please dad. By the time middle school starts, they’re both ready for a change. And just as Jack’s thinking girls have it so easy, Ellie’s wishing she could be anyone but herself.

Then, BAM! They swap lives – and bodies!

Now Jack’s fending off mean girls at sleepover parties, while Ellie’s reigning as The Prince of Thatcher Middle School.

As their crazy weekend races on – and their feeling for each other grow – Elli and Jack begin to wonder if maybe the best way to learn how to be yourself is to spend a little time being somebody else.

My Thoughts after Reading

This middle-grade book is about the souls of a boy and a girl swapping into the bodies of the other.

One Friday afternoon during the last lesson, Elle and Jack happen to be in the nurse’s office at the same time. The next minute they find themselves in each other’s bodies. They have less than ten minutes to come to terms with the swap and agree to meet up on Monday morning to find that missing nurse-on-duty. In the meantime, they have to lead each other’s live for the weekend. Both agreed to lock themselves in their rooms all weekend. Except it was a lot harder to do that.

This book is written in alternate POVs. Elle has friendship issues with the mean girls at school. Jack trains hard at hockey with his four brothers. If you can look past the gender-stereotyped characters, the rest of the book is good fun. I enjoyed how the ‘typically’ male or female lingo flew over the heads of each other and how they had to guess their way through, making hilarious and embarrassing mistakes along the way. Because they live in such opposite worlds, they experience a whole universe and see a new perspective in life.

I would recommend this book, with a warning sign to the intended target audience about gender-stereotypes in the story. 4/5

Review : The Chessman Thief by Barbara Henderson

Middle-grade book review of The Chessmen Thief by Barbara Henderson

The Chessmen Thief with Lewis Chess Pieces

The Chessmen ThiefGoodreads Blurb

Win. Lose. Survive.

I was the boy with a plan. Now I am the boy with nothing.

From the moment 12-year-old Kylan hatches a plan to escape from his Norse captors, and return to Scotland to find his mother, his life becomes a dangerous game.
The precious Lewis Chessmen pieces—which he helped carve—hold the key to his freedom, but he will need all his courage and wit to triumph against Sven Asleifsson, the cruellest Viking in the realm.
One false move could cost him his life.

Barbara Henderson has woven a thrilling origin story around the enduring mystery of the Lewis Chessmen, their creation in Norway, and how they ended up buried in the Hebrides before being discovered on Lewis in 1831.

My Thoughts after Reading

This story is perfectly pitched for middle-grade.

Our protagonist is a slave boy determined to return to his roots and find his mother. His ability to speak Gaelic and carve ivory into chess pieces convinces a prominent man to take him away from Norway on this journey to Scotland.

This books has Vikings, pirates and sea adventures. It also has plenty of heart: a young slave separated from his mother, seeking his freedom.

I love it that this story was inspired by the famous 12th century Lewis chess pieces found on a Scottish beach. A must read for chess and history lovers. 4/5

If you are looking for middle-grade books with a chess theme, also check out Check Mates.

Review : The Ghost of Gosswater by Lucy Strange

Middle-grade book review of The Ghost of Gosswater by Lucy Strange

The Ghost of Gosswater

Goodreads Blurb

A thrilling Gothic tale from the author of Our Castle by the Sea, shortlisted for the Waterstones Children’s Book Prize.

1899. The Earl of Gosswater has died, and twelve-year-old Lady Agatha has been cast out of her ancestral home – the only home she has ever known – by her cruel cousin, Clarence. In a tiny tumbledown cottage, she struggles to adjust to her new life and the stranger who claims to be her real father.

And on the shores of Gosswater Lake, the spirit of another young girl will not rest. Could the ghost of Gosswater hold the key to Aggie’s true identity?

My Thoughts after Reading

This middle-grade book is about a girl’s new life as a lowly goose farmer’s daughter.

Lady Agatha has been the daughter of the Earl of Gosswater all her life, until he dies and she finds out she was never his daughter. Furthermore, as with the law at the time, a nasty male cousin inherits everything. He even threw her out of the mansion, telling her she has to live with her real father.

Naturally a shock like that would get any reader to root for our heroine rightaway. I was right behind her when she adjusts to her new life. I shared her need to understand where she came from. With this intrigue great, the author has pacing is spot-on. I kept turning the pages. The author also has some lovely and poetic lines. My favourite has to be when Agatha struggles to accept her new life. She compares herself to being midnight, being neither day nor night.

A great read. 4.5/5

Review : Elsetime by Eve McDonnell

Middle-grade book review Elsetime by Eve McDonnell

Elsetime  Goodreads Blurb

A haunting story of friendship, courage, time-travel and a very special crow. It is January 6th 1928, a few days before the Great Flood. Glory Bobbin, a twelve year-old orphan, works at The Frippery and Fandangle Emporium creating jewellery with her secret assistant, a peculiar crow. The river is about to burst its banks and a snow storm has engulfed the town when she meets treasure-hunting mudlark, Needle Luckett, who has travelled through time to reach Inthington. Can two children and a crow save the fourteen lives endangered by the flood? Can they change the future?

My Thoughts after Reading

This middle-grade book is a heart-warming time-travel story.

In 1864, Needle and his mother are struggling to make a living after his father’s disappearance. He spends his days by the river banks with his pet crow scouring for little treasures he could turn into pretty ornaments. In 1928, Glory lies about her age so she can work and contribute to the family’s poor income. Glory is a talented jewellery designer frustrated with her wooden hand.

As both protagonists struggle with their hard lives, the story grabs you right from the start. The pacing is good and the antagonists are every bit detestable. A lovely ending where everything is tied up.

A very enjoyable read. 4/5

Seven Books for World Music Day

In books, when characters hum melodies or talk about their favourite songs, it can be a hit or miss, depending on whether you’ve heard of the song or band. However, when well-written, you can feel the magic of the music regardless. As it’s World Music Day on 21 June, I’ve compiled seven middle-grade books with a music theme for the occasion.

1. Love from Lexie by Cathy Cassidy

Love from Lexie (The Lost and Found, #1)Goodreads Blurb

Ever since Lexie’s mum vanished, her world hasn’t stopped spinning. A new home, a new school – even a new family but Lexie never gives up hope that her mum will come back and writes her letters every day to tell her all about her new life.

There’s plenty to tell – the new group of misfits she calls friends, the talent for music she never knew she had and the gorgeous boy with blue eyes and secrets to hide. But her letters remain unanswered and she’s starting to feel more alone than ever.

Lexie’s about to learn that sometimes you need to get lost in order to be found.

The first in a gorgeous new series from the bestselling author of the Chocolate Box Girls and the perfect next step for fans of Jacqueline Wilson.

My review : Love from Lexie

2. Rooftoppers by Katherine Rundell

RooftoppersGoodreads Blurb

Everyone thinks that Sophie is an orphan. True, there were no other recorded female survivors from the shipwreck which left baby Sophie floating in the English Channel in a cello case, but Sophie remembers seeing her mother wave for help. Her guardian tells her it is almost impossible that her mother is still alive, but that means still possible. You should never ignore a possible. So when the Welfare Agency writes to her guardian threatening to send Sophie to an orphanage, she takes matters into her own hands and flees to Paris to look for her mother, starting with the only clue she has – the address of the cello maker. Evading the French authorities, she meets Matteo and his network of rooftoppers – urchins who live in the sky. Together they scour the city for Sophie’s mother before she is caught and sent back to London, and most importantly before she loses hope.

3. The Clockwork Three by Matthew J. Kirby

The Clockwork ThreeGoodreads Blurb

Three ordinary children are brought together by extraordinary events…

Giuseppe is an orphaned street musician from Italy, who was sold by his uncle to work as a slave for an evil padrone in the U.S. But when a mysterious green violin enters his life he begins to imagine a life of freedom. Hannah is a soft-hearted, strong-willed girl from the tenements, who supports her family as a hotel maid when tragedy strikes and her father can no longer work. She learns about a hidden treasure, which she knows will save her family — if she can find it. And Frederick, the talented and intense clockmaker’s apprentice, seeks to learn the truth about his mother while trying to forget the nightmares of the orphanage where she left him. He is determined to build an automaton and enter the clockmakers’ guild — if only he can create a working head.

Together, the three discover they have phenomenal power when they team up as friends, and that they can overcome even the darkest of fears.

My review : The Clockwork Three

4. Viva Durant and The Secret of the Silver Buttons by Ashli St. Armant

Viva Durant and The Secret of the Silver ButtonsGoodreads Blurb

Viva Durant, New Orleans’ youngest detective, is on a quest to solve a jazzy mystery involving hidden treasure, while exploring the city’s unique culture, history, and music. This family-friendly audio original features original jazz music from the creator, Ashli St. Armant, and an enthusiastic performance from Audible Hall of Fame narrator, Bahni Turpin.

Plucky 14-year-old Viva Durant heads to New Orleans every summer to spend time with her loving but stern grandmother, known as Gram. After Gram reads Viva an article in the local paper about a missing treasure related to the world-famous song, “Miss Mary Mack,” Viva traverses the Crescent City on an epic adventure to solve the mystery. Along the way she meets some of the city’s most colorful characters as her journey takes her to the French Quarter, a jazz club, a creepy cemetery, and even the circus. Can Viva rise to the occasion and solve this musical mystery? Listeners will find Viva Durant and the Secret of the Silver Buttons a joy to listen to!

My review : Viva Durant and the Secret of the Silver Buttons

5. Echo by Pam Muñoz Ryan

EchoGoodreads Blurb

An impassioned, uplifting, and virtuosic tour de force from a treasured storyteller!

Lost and alone in a forbidden forest, Otto meets three mysterious sisters and suddenly finds himself entwined in a puzzling quest involving a prophecy, a promise, and a harmonica.

Decades later, Friedrich in Germany, Mike in Pennsylvania, and Ivy in California each, in turn, become interwoven when the very same harmonica lands in their lives. All the children face daunting challenges: rescuing a father, protecting a brother, holding a family together. And ultimately, pulled by the invisible thread of destiny, their suspenseful solo stories converge in an orchestral crescendo.

Richly imagined and masterfully crafted, Echo pushes the boundaries of genre, form, and storytelling innovation to create a wholly original novel that will resound in your heart long after the last note has been struck

My review : Echo


6. The Mozart Question by Michael Morpurgo

The Mozart QuestionGoodreads Blurb

When cub reporter Lesley is sent to Venice to interview a world-renowned violinist, the journalist is told she can ask Paolo Levi anything about his life and career as a musician, but on no account must she ask him the Mozart question. Paolo has finally realised he must reveal the truth.

7. Twist of Gold by Michael Morpurgo

Twist of GoldGoodreads Blurb

Sean and Annie have one chance to escape the potato famine in Ireland, and after surviving a shipwreck they land safely in America in search for their father. But their new land is one of hardship and they live in poverty on the streets of Boston. However, their adventure is just beginning. After living aboard a steamboat they then join pioneers traveling across the prairies. Their music and dancing bring joy to all they meet, but their family “torc”—a golden necklace—brings both blessings and curses, and thieves prowl to get hold of it. Annie and Sean must protect their torc as they search for their father: their family’s survival depends on it.

You might have noticed the last two are both from the same author. Several of Michael Morpurgo‘s books feature a violin player. I have listed just two of them. If you know of any middle-grade books with a music theme, drop them in the comments below!

First published 20 June 20. Updated 6 June 21

Review : The Queen’s Fool by Ally Sherrick

Middle-grade Review The Queen’s Fool by Ally Sherrick

The Queen's FoolGoodreads Blurb

Cat Sparrow is on the road. She’s following her sister, Meg, who was torn from their convent home and sent to London. But Cat isn’t like other people – she thinks differently – and for a girl like her the world holds many perils. Luckily she befriends a young actor, Jacques, and together they follow Meg’s trail to a wondrous place called the Field of Cloth of Gold. But here, they discover that the kingdoms of England and France are both in terrible danger … 

My Thoughts after Reading

This middle-grade historical fiction is set in the time of King Henry VIII, when he was still married to his first wife and his daughter was only a little girl.

Cat Sparrow runs away from the nunnery in search of her sister who was snatched away from her one day. She befriends a French boy who is part of a travelling group of actors on their way to London. At Greenwich, Cat inadvertently catches the attention of the Queen who takes her in as her ‘fool’. Cat Sparrow follows her Queen Catty to France on a royal trip.

The voice of both characters are distinct. Cat has a unique way of speaking eg dingy-dark. Jacques’ determination is seen through his thoughts and encounters. The descriptions are rich regardless of pageantry or mayhem. I also enjoyed the author’s notes at the end.

A good read. 3.5*

Review : Boy Everywhere by A. M. Dassu

Teen book review of Boy, Everywhere by A.M. Dassu

Boy, EverywhereGoodreads Blurb

BOY, EVERYWHERE is the debut middle grade novel from writer A. M. Dassu. It chronicles the harrowing journey taken from Syria to the UK by Sami and his family. From privilege to poverty, across countries and continents, from a smuggler’s den in Turkey to a prison in Manchester, it is a story of survival, of family, of bravery.

Sami is a typical 13 year-old: he loves his friends, football, PlayStation and iPad. But a bombing in a mall changes his life. Sami and his family flee their comfortable home in Damascus to make the perilous and painful journey towards a new life in the U.K. Leaving everything behind, Sami discovers a world he’d never encountered – harsh, dangerous, but also at times unexpectedly kind and hopeful.

My Thoughts after Reading

This older middle-grade book is about a Syrian boy’s journey to UK seeking asylum.

Our protagonist was very settled in his school in Damascus. His life was thrown into chaos when his local shopping mall was bombed. His mother and younger sister were there getting his football boots for him when the bomb went off. His parents decided to leave the country for the safety of the family and they begin their harrowing journey for a safer life in the UK.

The author has captured much of what we’ve heard in the news, and more. I learnt a lot from this book, not just the journey, but what happens when refugees arrive in the UK. If you are looking for similar books, I can also recommend The Fox Girl and the White Gazelle by Victoria Williamson and and The Bone Sparrow by Zana Fraillon.