Brainy Parenting

I actually can’t believe it’s May and after way too long, I’m finally getting the chance to sit down and tell you about the middle grade books I’ve been reading recently. This year has been so busy and I’ve been completely heads down for a very exciting reason. In case you missed it, I have my debut children’s book coming out in April next year, ‘Libby and the Parisian Puzzle,’ which will be illustrated by Becka Moor and published by Firefly Press. I can’t wait to share more with you but in the meantime you can take a sneak peek here.

Enough about me, let’s move swiftly on to some books! So far this year there has been some extraordinary middle grade books (8 – 12 years) published and I wanted to share with you some of my favourites.

Otherland – Louie Stowell (cover George Ermos)

It was with huge anticipation that I opened the pages of ‘Otherland,’ having adored Louie’s The Dragon in the Library series. I’d only planned to read a few chapters when quite aptly, a wicked fairy stole my afternoon away demanding that I devour it in one sitting. Myra and Rohan are life-long friends, more through co-incidence of birth than choice. But, when Rohan’s baby sister is stolen and taken to a magical underworld, they are forced to unite in a battle against time to defeat an evil Fairy Queen. Set three impossible challenges they must find a way to win the Knight Game in a place where nothing is as it seems and nobody can be trusted. Exquisite world-building meets sublime characterisation in the most surreal and stunning story that I’ve read in a long time. Deliciously dark and packed with peril, Louie will take you on an unforgettable ride full of thrills, spills and the unexpected. An absolute joy from start to finish.

The Strange Worlds Travel Agency: The Edge of the Ocean – L.D. Lapinski, illustrated by Natalie Smilie

I was totally slayed by the first book in The Strangeworlds Travel Agency, it was such a captivating and original tale, that left me wanting more. Luckily for me, ‘The Edge of the Ocean,’ sailed into my life bringing with it, a plethora of breath-taking and thrilling moments. When Flic and Jonathan receive an urgent message from the Pirate Queen Nyfe, they pack their bags and jump into her world, The Break. A world full of piracy and magic that is falling apart, threatening to destroy the lives of its inhabitants. Sailing perilously close to the edge of the ocean and facing a seemingly impossible task. Can they help them escape before it’s too late? This is such an epic and breath-taking story packed with so much action and adventure that I could hardly keep up. The world-building is extraordinary, the characterisation is sublime, I barely have the words to tell you how much I loved it. Honestly this completely blew my mind and the ending, well let me just say I cannot wait for ‘The Secrets of the Storm Forest,’ so I can find out what happens next!

A Girl Called Justice – The Ghost in the Garden – Elly Griffiths (cover Nan Lawson)

Justice Jones is back and this term there’s a new girl at Highbury House Boarding School for the Daughters of Gentlefolk. Letitia catches Justice’s eyes for her inability to follow the school rules, and the lack of reprehension from the teachers intrigues her curious mind. Things escalate when her dormy’s midnight feast is disrupted by the appearance of a terrifying ghost and one of her friends mysteriously disappears. With a kidnapper on the loose and strange ransom notes, torn from a crime novel causing much consternation. can Justice solve this confusing crime? Smart, sassy and oh so clever this is a thoroughly satisfying and entertaining story for lovers of mysteries. I completely failed to unravel the clues and uncover the true identity of the dastardly kidnapper. Justice Jones is fast becoming one of my favourite sleuths with her sharp mind and determination to find the truth at any cost.

Luna Rae is Not Alone – Hayley Webster

Hayley Webster’s ‘Luna Rae is Not Alone,’ is an extraordinary debut brought to life with the most beautiful and subtle storytelling. Luna Rae has been upended from the home that she knew, a place where flowers grew under the house to a house where she is struggling to belong. A new house and a new school should mean a brand new start for Luna Rae and her family but something is terribly wrong. Something that fills her waking thoughts and that she desperately doesn’t want anyone to discover. Luna is convinced that she has the perfect plan to solve everything, all she needs to do is win the school baking competition with her mum…but there’s one detail she can’t fix, her mum has disappeared. Hayley has created an incredibly thoughtful story that will quite simply steal your heart. By gradually revealing the layers of the story, she creates an almost unbearable emotional tension allowing the reader to become completely attached to Luna. An exciting new voice in middle grade fiction, Hayley is a natural born storyteller.

Between Sea and Sky – Nicola Penfold (cover Kate Forrester)

In Nicola’s debut, ‘Where the World Turns Wild,’ we discovered that she has a talent for creating dystopian worlds where the reader feels like there is a real possibility that the events could actually happen in the future and terrifyingly this world seems very close. ‘Between Sea and Sky,’ follows on brilliantly with a thought-provoking tale set in a world where most of the land is underwater following a series of environmental disasters. This world is full of suspicion and distrust between those that live on sea and those that live on land. Pearl and Clover’s life is turned upside down when Nat comes to spend the summer at sea when he brings along something forbidden, something that could change their lives forever. Can they risk everything they love to change the future? An emboldening and thoughtful tale which challenges he readers perceptions about the world we live in, emphasising its fragility. It highlights the power of the state to control information and how divisions serve their needs better than cohesion. A tale of hope and friendship rallying in the darkest of places.

Amber Undercover – Em Norry

I think there’s a huge gap in the market between middle grade and young adult fiction. I’m always on the look out for transition books that will appeal to tweens who are not quite ready to step into YA. Step forth the hugely entertaining, ‘Amber Undercover,’ by Em Norry. Amber, is just an ordinary girl trying to navigate the complexities of teenage life. Things become trickier, after she agrees to go to an escape room with her friends. Little does she realises that her savvy decision making and calmness under pressure will change her life forever when she is recruited as a spy. Before long she is whisked away to a secret world, sworn to secrecy and set upon a thrilling mission despite feeling completely clueless. This is a thoroughly entertaining, fast-paced romp of an adventure which will keep you turning the pages. Amber is the kind of heroine that you will want to root for as she tries to battle her way through her undercover mission whilst keeping all the plates spinning in her real life. I really hope there’s more missions on the way for Amber to tackle.

Thank you to Hachette, Nosy Crow, Oxford Children’s Books, and Stripes Publishing for sending me gifted copies. All of these books are available to buy or pre-order online by clicking on the the title. If you can please support your local independent bookshop you can find your nearest one here.

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