The Three Impossibles by Susie Bower

Having worked for Bristol Libraries for nearly 20 years, I am always delighted when I read that an author lives and works in this vibrant city, although I have just heard that Susie has moved to Devon; yet another hub for fantastic authors and illustrators.  I first came across Susie Bower when her book “School for Nobodies” appeared in 2020 and was excited to hear about this new title.

Pushkin, 9781782692928

“The Three Impossibles” is the story of a young girl called Mim, who is actually Princess Jemima, but hates all of the trappings that go with being a ‘perfect princess’.  She lives in a castle, but is forbidden to leave its grounds and the whole town is said to suffer from a curse that occurred when her mother died, just as Mim was born.  The arrival of a new governess called Madame Marionette soon sets the cat among the pigeons.  There is something very sinister about this teacher, her servants and her so called ‘pet’ that she keeps hanging in a covered cage; she appears to have a secret agenda and Mim is worried by what that might mean to the inhabitants of the castle.  Mim is a very inquisitive person and loves escaping to the library and reading her way through the books, unfortunately she can only reach those at the start of the alphabet.  But then she comes across a book that is definitely out of place and there is something very unusual about it.  “The Three Impossibles” positively glows, as if it want to be found, but Mim finds it impossible to open the book, which just makes her more determined to investigate this puzzle.  the story develops at a tremendous pace as Mim uncovers the secrets surrounding her home and the inhabitant of the lighthouse that is just off the shore.  Will the book finally reveal its secret and can Mim actually break the curse that has ruined lives for so many years?  Well, you will have to read the adventure to find out, I am afraid.

This is a fabulous story about a young girl who just doesn’t fit in to the world that she lives in. She loves science and finding things out, hates dressing up and wants to have more freedom, but I think above all she wants to be loved by those around her, especially her father.  There is magic and mystery, curses and creatures of myth for Mim to contend with, but with the help of her friend Smith and Miranda (the cursed grand daughter of the court alchemist) she battles to  overcome evil.  There is a wonderful lesson for us all about striving to be the best we can be, whilst also being true to our inner selves.  So often, this world tries to mould us into something we aren’t, so Mim reminds us to recognize our true selves.

What made you want to write for young people? Or was it a happy accident?

Susie Bower

By the time she hit her teens, Susie Bower had lived in 8 houses and attended 7 schools. This theme continued in her working life: she’s been a teacher, a tour-guide, a typist, a workshop facilitator, a PA and a painter. She formerly wrote and directed TV programmes for children at the BBC and Channel 4, for which she won a BAFTA Award, and she currently writes audio scripts. School for Nobodies, her debut novel, is also available from Pushkin Children’s. Susie lives in Devon.

Antigua de Fortune of the High Seas by Anna Rainbow and Oli Hyatt

This is the second book about Pirates that I have had the pleasure of reading in the last few months.  this one is aimed at a slightly older audience, age 8 years and above and definitely makes it onto the reading list for “Talk like a Pirate” day.

Tiggy (short for Antigua) wants to lead a life of adventure and perhaps even be a pirate.  She wants to spend time down by the harbour with her friends Marina and Felipe, but unfortunately, she is a young lady and has to wear long dresses and even attend her first dance at the Governor’s Ball.

During the celebrations to commemorate the freeing of the town’s boys, based around  a legend about the ‘Pirate King’ who had taken all the boys and turned them into Sea Golems in the distant past, history seems to repeat itself.   A band of sinister pirates and a giant squid, attack the island and make off with all of the young boys, including Tiggy’s younger brother; she and her friends decide to try and free the captives.  Mysterious mental messages from a mermaid and the fact that Tiggy’s friend Marina is the daughter of a Selkie helps them in their quest.    Importantly,  how can this threat be defeated?

Although there is no real location for the island on which they live, the authors have very strongly given the setting a feel of the Caribbean, but with strong links to Spain, with the use of Madre and Padre  as well as some of the characters’ names.  They have created a world that we can associate with, but which has magical elements that weave a wonderful  and complex place.  You can absolutely feel the heat and hear the sounds of the busy Caribbean Port, together with the rich diversity of characters that are found there.

This is a roller coaster of a story in which the Swash has never before been so Buckled!  It is a fantastic story for the KS2 reader and gives the opportunity to explore themes such as identity, belonging, family, as well as folk tales and legends.  There are wonderfully strong characters, so that this book will appeal to both girls and boys.  It is also a great starting point for some very creative art and writing.  I definitely hope that we will see some more adventures for Antigua and her friends.  Thank you to Anna for this short post that she has given, sharing the background to the Selkie theme that is so important in the book.

 

An introduction to Selkies

By Anna Rainbow

One of the oceanic myths of particular interest to Oli and me was that of the selkie. Unlike the better known mermaid, who is permanently a human with a fish tail, the selkie is a shapeshifter, most commonly a woman who can exist as a seal in water, and then upon shedding her seal skin, change into a human form on land.

A main theme of our book was trying to reconnect landlubbers with the ocean, and promoting the synergy between land and sea, so the selkie seemed to encapsulate this theme perfectly — a person (or a seal) who could live in and enjoy both environments. Someone who values both habitats equally is far less likely to dump plastics in the waves and destroy marine life with pollution.

But it wasn’t just this that fascinated us, it was the dark feminist twist on the tale, something we weren’t aware of before we started our research. A common tale about Selkies is that should a man steal her selkie skin, he can make her his bride. Perhaps symbolic of the power, the identity and freedom, taken from women when they become a wife, especially in the olden days. Or perhaps even deeper, the power taken from women they are born into a patriarchal society.

It was therefore important to us that the Selkies in our story were strong women who kept hold of their seal skins. It is no coincidence that Gabriella, a well known Selkie and Mother to Antigua’s best friend, Marina, is a single Mother who has kept her powers. On the flip side, woman generally don’t give their power away, it is stolen by men, so it was equally important that the men in our book did not steal our Selkie’s skin.

That is not to say that all men steal women’s power, of course not, but Antigua de Fortune of the High Seas is a feminist book, with a strong female lead who rescues all the boys of her island, and we wanted this reflected in our mythology too. It was important to us that we invented a world where Selkies keep hold of their own skin, and men don’t attempt to steal it.

ANTIGUA DE FORTUNE OF THE HIGH SEAS by Anna Rainbow and Oli Hyatt is out now in paperback (£6.99, Chicken House)

 

About Oli Hyatt & Anna Rainbow
ANNA RAINBOW grew up and still lives in North East England and works as a Clinical Psychologist with people with disabilities. Anna loves music and has always been in various choirs, singing quartets, bands, and orchestras. In 2015 she was shortlisted for the Times/Chicken House Children’s Fiction Competition which led to Chicken House publishing The Fandom, her series for young adults (as Anna Day) – it sold in 24 territories and was optioned for TV development by Fox. This is her debut middle-grade novel.  Find out more at annadaybooks.com and follow her on twitter @annadayauthor

OLI HYATT is based in Kings Sutton and is the co-founder of BAFTA award-winning animation studio Blue Zoo. He is also the Director of Alphablocks Limited, the company behind the popular CBeebies phonics shows, Alphablocks and Numberblocks. He is also the chair of Animation UK and was awarded an MBE for his services to the animation industry. This is Oli’s debut novel. Follow Oli on twitter @HyattOli

Antigua de Fortune of the High Seas is Oli and Anna’s first co-authored book together.

Feast of the Evernight by Ross McKenzie

I absolutely loved the first book in the series, “Evernight” when it reached our shelves in early 2020.  It introduced us to a new world that we very quickly became engrossed in.  I was already a fan of the author, Ross Mackenzie through his series about the “Nowhere Emporium” and was delighted by this strange new world that he presented us with.  The main characters are the young girl Lara(belle) Fox and her friend Joe; both of them are Toshers and much like the ones in Victorian London, they make a living finding lost items in the sewer below the city of  King’s Haven.  When the country is threatened by the Everdark and the evil Mrs Hester, together with the Silver King, who rules the land, they link up with the Westerly Witches in an attempt to thwart their evil plans.  At the end of this book we get the impression that Mrs Hester has been eliminated and that a greater freedom is starting to seem possible for the general population.  But  is everything really better?

In this second book we find ourselves nearly a year further on in time; Lara has just passed her test and become a Witch, whilst Joe is getting over the death of his grandmother, as well as feeling rather out of place in the magical environment.  He decides to return to King’s Haven and the world that he knows, but he is asked to meet up with Rob, a ‘resistance’ worker, in order to carry out a secret mission.  At the same time Lara is also sent south, to work with another Witch and find out what has caused several mysterious deaths.  The friends make the first part of the journey together and end up helping a young girl, who is showing startling signs of  ‘out of control’ magic.  We have two parallel stories going on throughout the book, but we gradually come to understand that they are linked and that there are some deeply evil minds trying to destroy the witches and keep the population under their control.

This is an absolutely brilliant book and a worthy successor to the first in the series and whilst I am sure that people can dive straight in to this book, I think it is better to have read the first book, so that you are totally immersed in the world.  The cast of characters may be quite familiar, but they are having to cope with increasing danger and a whole range of villains. We see the young people mature as they have to cope with the terrifying events that surround them.  Luckily they have strong friendship bonds that give them the strength to carry on, despite the dangers.  I absolutely love the way that the author has created a world that is so different from our own and yet it is one that we can believe in.  The action is fast paced and at times quite hard hitting;  the author is not afraid to show that death can be a consequence of standing up to the evil that the heroes face.    The atmosphere really sparks the imagination and I can see the book being used in school  to encourage activities from writing and drawing, to music and drama.     It is yet another fabulous read for the older ‘middle grade’ reader and I know it will become yet another firm favourite not only in the home, but also in the classroom.  This is definitely a five star story.

 

Author Information

Contact: rossmacauthor@gmail.com

Local authority: Renfrewshire

Languages: English

19/10/18 . The Sunday Post, by Andrew Cawley.
Pics of staff designer Ross MacKenzie, who has written a children’s book. Location: Skypark, Glasgow.

I am a multi award-winning author of books for children, including The Nowhere Emporium, which won both the Blue Peter Book Award and Scottish Children’s Book Award.Stories have always been important to me. I can remember vividly how I felt as a child, curled up in bed, eager to set off on the next great adventure. I became a writer for children because I love the magic of great stories and my dream is that readers will one day feel the same way about my books.I regularly visit primary schools, libraries and literary festivals where I read from my books, discuss the power of stories and imagination, and hold Q&A sessions and writing workshops. I live in Renfrew with my lovely wife and two beautiful daughters – though I spend much of my time exploring other worlds.

thank you to Scottish Book Trust, who host this information

 

 

 

Opening the Box of Delights by Philip W Errington

 

I have been a fan of this wonderful story by John Masefield for the last nearly 40 years.  Despite having worked in libraries since the mid 1970s I had not read the book until the television series came along in the 1980s and I sat and watched with my two sons.

This is a story of deep fantasy, set during the Christmas period and with a young central hero who is pitted against some very dark and dastardly villains.  The story was written in 1935, so we have a real sense of time, although the place itself is totally fictitious.  The story centres around young Kay Harker  as he travels to stay with family at Christmas.  He meets with a mysterious old Punch and Judy man called Cole Hawlings, who gives him and old box to safeguard.  However, the villainous Abner Brown and his hired thugs are also after the box; because this box allows the owner to travel through time!  The story is full of action, adventure magic and fantasy and the twist at the end leaves you wondering if it was real, or just a dream.  You really have to read the book and make up your own mind about that.

The author of this book is a world renowned expert on the works of Masefield and his enthusiasm is evident in the way that he writes about the author and his work.  This work is a wonderful introduction to the life of Masefield and to his other works, but especially his role as the Poet Laureate.  I must admit that my knowledge was limited to reading some of his poetry at school in Abingdon.  It has just come as something of a surprise to discover that the great man was living only about 6 mile away, at Burcote, until his death in 1967 and that there is every possibility  that I could have passed him in the street without knowing.  We do indeed live in a very small world.

The book is extremely wide ranging, covering the life of Masefield, his works, the various illustrators, characters, adaptions of all kinds and his world building in his two Kay Harker books.  There are an abundance of illustrations, and this creates a sumptuous treat for avid bibliophiles who are spoilt for choice in deciding which is their favourite edition of any of the titles.  then of course we have the radio productions, audio books, TV series and stage production by Piers Torday.  Each of the chapters is given a two page spread, which allows the author to  include so many topics.  However I did find myself getting frustrated at times as there were chapters where I wanted more detail, but it does make you want to go and explore further.  Whilst there is no bibliography in this book, there are references to other books in the text itself and of course we have access to huge amounts of information via libraries and the internet.

This is a brilliant book for those who are interested in children’s literature, fantasy and Christmas and will have you poring over the fantastic images for hours, probably whilst you remember the first time you came across ‘The Box of Delights’.

 

Morgana Mage in the Robotic Age by Amy Bond

What a really great concept for a story.  The heroine, Morgana is a witch and lives in a world that has divided into the magical community and the non-magic; the latter have become a highly technical society and robots are used in order to do all of the more menial tasks in life.  The main problem is the absolute dislike that the two societies have for each other, it really is a case of “Ne’er the twain shall meet”.  The only reason that the magical community visits the city is to get supplies from the small magical community, who live in the ‘undercity’ and are looked down on by the non-magic.  Morgana is definitely different and has a fascination for robots; her magical abilities are nearly non-existent and she really wants to go to school.  When her father takes her on one of his trip to the city she is delighted and together with her friend Esther she makes several secret visits to the metropolis.  A turning point comes when school inspectors arrive in the village and she demands that she be allowed to attend school, something unheard of in the past.  The consequences not only put her at odds with her community, but it also puts her life at risk, when she and her new friend Jonathan find that robots have been changed and are ready to take over the world.

Isaac Asimov’s laws of robotics were first written down in 1942 in a short story called “Runaround” and state:

  1. A robot may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm.
  2. A robot must obey the orders given it by human beings except where such orders would conflict with the First Law.
  3. A robot must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second Laws

We are now living in a world where robots and specifically Artificial Intelligence are getting closer to having independent thought, something that this book actually addresses as we discover the importance of empathy, understanding and balance, both in the human and in the hi-tech world.  This book is full of so many issues that the young characters have to come to terms with, but we realise that the adults are the ones who really need to change their views; they need to be more flexible in the way they treat those with different beliefs.  It really is a message that needs to be passed on in as many ways as possible, particularly at the moment.

Although the underlying messages are quite serious there is still room for a lot of action and adventure and I am sure that everyone will love ‘kitty’ the robotic kitten that Morgana finds and repairs and which becomes her version of a ‘familiar’.  Overall this book is an absolute joy with its amazing mix of lifestyles.  It will open children to the possibility of creating their own world where just about anything is possible, but where actions have consequences.  What a stunning way to start the New Year!  On top of all this, the author is a Librarian, I am so happy!!

 

My Journey to Publication by Amy Bond

I had started books before, but abandoned them not far into the story. One I had finished, but once I had gotten to the end of the first draft, I wasn’t sure what to do with the mess of words and tangle of plot. The first draft of Morgana Mage in the Robotic Age wasn’t any neater, but perhaps I saw more potential, or had just learnt more discipline in the intervening years. I began to rewrite it, and rewrite it, and rewrite it until, at last, I could see some hope for it.

This hope was dashed, repeatedly, once I began to submit it to agents. There were a couple of manuscript requests among the rejection, which momentarily raised expectations, only to be brought down again. Some of their kind advice did help me finesse my work some more. All the time I had been keeping an eye out on the opening of the Times/Chicken House Children’s Fiction Competition. I had followed it the past couple of years as I tinkered away on my book. It seemed such a magical prospect, that you could send in your work and come away with a book deal from such a renowned publisher. Though I wasn’t feeling too optimistic at the time I entered, I reminded myself to be proud to have even got so far as to have something book shaped enough to submit.

It was coming to the end of the day in the office when I got the call to say I had made the longlist. It genuinely felt like a dream. I missed the call to say I had made the shortlist, but given the embarrassing squealing and dancing around my bedroom that took place listening to the voicemail, I am glad I wasn’t actually on the phone to Barry Cunningham, Chicken House’s Publisher. The announcement day in London is still a bit of a blur in my head, and while I didn’t come away with the book deal, I had some solid feedback from the judges and a new confidence in my writing. I got back to work.

Chicken House had kindly said that I could send them on any improved manuscript, so I did. I didn’t really think much would come of it, but no harm would come of it at least, and maybe some more feedback. I had to read the publication offer email several times before I let myself get too excited. Perhaps I had misunderstood. But no, I was going to have my book published.

A lot more work and writing, doubt and belief have followed this. A COVID-19 induced delay pushed the reality further into the distance. But it is really happening. I have held my own book, and it was just as amazing a moment as I had anticipated. The only thing more wonderful is to imagine it in the hands of children soon.

MORGANA MAGE IN THE ROBOTIC AGE by Amy Bond is out now, priced £6.99. Follow Amy on Twitter: @amylouisebond

The Marvellous Land of Snergs by Veronica Cossanteli and Melissa Castrillon

 

When you read that a book was instrumental in giving J R.R Tolkien the inspiration for his Hobbits, then it is time to get excited.  The plot of the story is similar to frameworks that we have become used to over the last decades.  The two main characters Pip and Flora are orphans and both find themselves living in a somewhat unusual orphanage.  The owner, Miss Watkyns, is strict but the children are well looked after.  However when a strange woman tries to kidnap Flora, the two children decide to run away and hide.  They then accidentally pass through a magical door and find themselves in the land of the Snergs; these are small rather round individuals who have a love of eating cake and other sweet things.   Our first introduction to these characters is through the person of Gorbo, who ends up being central to the whole story and  helps the children navigate the strange world they find themselves in.  The children soon discover that Flora is the target of a rather nasty witch called Mrs Meldrum, but the reason for this is unclear; however she turns out to be the same person who had tried to kidnap Flora at the beginning of the story. How they solve the mystery and save themselves and others from a terrible fate makes for a really tremendous adventure.

This is a story that can be read by confident readers from 7 years and up.  The text has a generous font size, which makes for easy reading and children will feel as if they are really achieving something as they read the book.  The story is divided into sections with a brief explanation show at the beginning and this then divides into several short chapters, which would be great for bedtime reading, or for reading in class.  The illustrations add to the charm of the book and have a delightful naivety that harks back to the period between the wars.

This retelling is based on the original story by E A Wyke-Smith (1871 – 1935), which was written in 1927.  The original version of the book is still in print and it is still possible to buy  both an audio and e-book version.  The original author would have appeared to be a bit of an adventurer in his youth but he started writing children’s books after World War I, perhaps as a respite from the horrors of war.  the original book has been written with a slightly older audience in mind and the text is much fuller, with quite long sections of description and explanation.  However it would be a great choice for avid readers who want to see how a story can have more than one way of being told.

I am delighted that this story has found a new audience for our modern times.  It was not a title that I had come across before but it does go to show that a good story remains just that, even if the writing style changes through time.

 

About Veronica Cossanteli

“Veronica grew up in Hampshire and Hong Kong with an assortment of animals, including an imaginary pet dinosaur who slept on her bed. She works in a primary school in Southampton, where she lives with three cats, two snakes, one guinea pig and a large number of lizards.

Her debut novel The Extincts is a wonderfully funny and charming adventure with more than a hint of Dahl.” thanks to the Chicken House website for this information.

Melissa Castrillon

Melissa is a freelance illustrator who works for a variety of publishers.  She studied at Cambridge School of Art and gained an MA in Children’s Book Illustration.  She still lives in Cambridge.

The Ten Riddles of Eartha Quicksmith

I am so excited that this fabulous book is now out in the wild and that it can be read by everyone; something that I would definitely recommend.  So without any holdups here is the story.

Kip Bramley thinks that he is just an ordinary boy, with few friends and prone to being bullied at school; mainly because of his habit of doodling what his father calls ‘squirls’ because they are between squiggles and swirls.  He lives with his father as his mother is in a home, due to an accident where she was hit by lightning and his sister disappeared.  Then one day Kit is presented with an puzzling invitation, by a drone of all things and he finds himself at a school like no other.  Quicksmiths College of Strange Energy is like nothing that Kit has ever seen.  The teachers bear no resemblance to those in his previous school and are full of magic, quirkiness and an often odd sense of humour; the school itself is a mix of science and magic, which really appeals to our hero.  Kit quickly makes friends with his roommate Albert and their mentors Leela and Timmi.  Things start to get very interesting when the school is read a 400 year old letter from the founder of the school, Eartha Quicksmith.  She has left a challenge for the whole school to find and solve 10 riddles in 10 days; otherwise the world could face disaster.  Of course Kit and his friends are determined to win the challenge, in the hope that it will help him find a cure for his mother, but they find themselves facing an unknown enemy who is determined to beat everyone to the prize; Eartha Quicksmith’s  ‘Ark of Ideas’ and maybe even the legendary ‘Aeon Light’.

Flying Squirrel, by Creazilla

I particularly love some of the additional characters that we find acting as support in this story but the star has to be Pinky, Kit’s very laid back pet, who turns out to be a flying squirrel.  We also have the Mowl, a fascinating little creature, with a mix of feathers and fur which had been created in a freak electromagnetic accident by Leela.  These animal friends act as fantastic support for the adventures that the four children find themselves caught up in and bring an element of humour to the proceedings.

This story is an absolutely roller coaster of a ride, not least because of the skimmis, which appear to be like the hover-boards from ‘Back to the Future 2’ and also the existence of wormholes that act as short cuts enable movement between places, but almost instantly. The four friends are very different but they form a close team as they search through the clues and try and discover who  their unknown  competitor is.  The school setting has definite echoes of some of our favourite children’s adventures; from Hogwarts  to Deepdean  but it brings a twist that is all its own.  This is absolutely a story for those who love their science mixed with a healthy dose of magic.  I am really looking forward to the next adventure for this group of young heroes, it is bound to be amazing.  Over all this story is a total delight.

Loris Owen live in Kent but was born in Bolton and also spent time living in Zimbabwe.  She first started writing ideas for children’s stories in 2015 and this is the first of her stories to be published.  Firefly Press are a brilliant small press in South Wales and have developed a real reputation for producing some fabulous books by people such as Eloise Williams, Horatio Clare, Shoo Rayner and Catherine Fisher.  I have been a fan of theirs for several years and I am delighted to see them go from strength to strength.  Thank you so much for the review copy and giving me the chance to share my enthusiasm for this fantastic story.

The Midnight Howl by Benjamin Read and Laura Trinder

I first met up with Emily, the very characterful heroine of this series, in the story of The Midnight Hour.  This introduced Emily, and us, to a world that she had not known existed, but which her parents were heavily involved in. Yes, we have parents who have been keeping secrets (quite big ones as well) from their daughter; obviously it was intended to keep her out of harm’s way, but things didn’t quite work out.  Anyway Emily managed to save the Midnight Hour from certain destruction,  and discovered that she was part Pooka (a shapeshifter from Celtic mythology).  Life should have gone back to normal, but for Emily that does not appear to be an option.

In the Midnight Howl we are taken back to this magical version of London, that has been frozen in time since 1859.  Emily is allowed to go there with her father (a postman in this magical realm) in order to practice her shape changing abilities, but she is banned from contacting any members of her mother’s family, because her mother was banished from the clan years ago.  Unfortunately Emily discovers that things are not well and that magic is creeping out of the Hour, because someone is bringing in goods from the real world.  The adventure that follows sees Emily re-united with her friend Officer-in-training Tarkus as well as the magical force called the Library (representing Literature) as they try and prevent the total destruction of the Midnight Hour and all of its inhabitants.

What an absolutely brilliant follow-up to a really exciting story.  Emily is one of those characters that you really hope will succeed, but at the same time she makes you want to bang your head against a wall.  She really wants to do what her parents tell her, but somehow the world and circumstances get in the way.  I think a fair description of Emily would be to say that she is feisty, very quirky and her temper has something of a short fuse.  Perhaps my favourite character is her pet hedgehog called Hoggins, who doesn’t speak (naturally) but does have a way of commenting on the action around him.  If you go to Laura Trinder’s website you will find some great downloads, including creating your own Hoggins https://www.lauratrinder.co.uk/downloads

This team have produced a wonderfully subversive and funny adventure that provides just enough darkness to keep the reader on the edge of their seat.  I am really looking forward to some further escapades with this delightful cast of characters.

 

 

The Cut-Throat Cafe by Nicki Thornton

This is the third book in the wonderful series by Nicki Thornton.  I loved the previous titles “The Last Chance Hotel” and “The Bad-luck Lighthouse” so I was delighted when this book dropped through my letterbox.  I was even more happy when I was asked to take part in this blog tour.

We were introduced to the hero of this series, a young boy called Seth Seppi in the first story, when he is the kitchen boy at the rather weird ‘Last Chance Hotel’.  Life changes when he discovers that some of the guests are magicians, but then one of them is murdered and Seth’s life becomes complicated.  this is also the book where Seth discovers that he has got some magical ability.  Nicki Thornton has created a totally sympathetic hero, who is bemused by the new world that he finds himself in, but who wants to make the most of the opportunities he is given.

By the beginning of this third book in the series Seth is headed for the magical town of Gramichee, together with his talking cat Nightshade and his magical friend Angelique.  He hopes to be taken on as an apprentice, so that he can learn to control his magic and also learn more about his missing mother (who was also a magician). Unfortunately strange things are happening in the town and Seth soon finds himself in the centre of the action.  The problem is, who can he trust?  His friend Angelique is away on magical business and his new teacher Miss Young treats him as a shop assistant; whilst her other apprentice, Cheery Damson, really doesn’t want him around.  Seth needs to find out who is attacking magical people before magic is banned from the town.

Once again we have a fantastic story, full of heroes and hidden villains.  There is a lot of humour, both in characters such as Nightshade and in the names that the author has used.  I absolutely love the quirky and zany names that abound in the book.  It is not just the characters but also some of the potions that are part of the magical businesses in the town; there are people such as Haddock Troutbean, Herb Camphor and Sagacious Pewter, whilst the potions include Sinful Skin and Delicious Demise.  The author has really gone to town with her imagination.  This is a world that we are able to identify with, even though there are some very strange differences to the world we live in.  However the people have the same personality traits that are found all around us; we have examples of insecurity, greed, jealousy,  prejudice and friendship.  The author keeps the action going and we are never quite sure who is trustworthy; there are twists and turns that keep us guessing and on the edge of our seats.

This book has been a delight to read and the whole series is one that I have thoroughly enjoyed.  In fact I can’t wait to read the next instalment and discover some of the answers to a whole host of questions.

The Mask of Aribella by Anna Hoghton

Venice has long been a favourite setting for children’s books and if they happen to have an element of magic then so much the better. This fabulous book delivers on all levels and takes us into the world of  a charming and very resourceful heroine.

Chicken House, 9781912626106

Aribella has been brought up by her lace-maker father after the death of her mother ten years previously.  Their lives are poor and Aribella’s father is still grieving for his wife and takes little notice of his daughter.  The day before her 13th birthday Aribella is out fishing with her friend Theo when a dark fog comes down and fishing become impossible.  The local fishermen think it is a bad omen and seek to blame Aribella, as females are bad luck on ships!  When an older lad Gian gets into a fight with Theo and Aribella she is horrified to discover that flames shoot out of her finger ends.  What follows next takes Aribella into a secret world that she had never heard of and leads her to discover what had actually happened to her mother.  It appears that she is a Cannovacci, a person who holds special powers, and she needs to discover what this means and how to control the powers.  Not only this, but she has to try and rescue her father from prison and save Venice from a dark and threatening danger.  All of this adds up to a thrilling and fast paced adventure story that will have the readers totally engrossed by the plot and wanting more.

This is a magical story in several senses of the word.  The author has managed to really imbue the book with a feel of the city and the the atmosphere that surrounds the waterways.  At its core this is a story about the meaning and importance of family and friendship, as Aribella is torn between the various calls on her loyalty and has to decide who she can trust.  It is also a story about people’s craving for power and what they will do in order to achieve their ends, even betraying their friends and colleagues.

She pulls in some of the things that make Venice so individual, especially the masks, which are central to the way that special powers are controlled.  These masks appear in several stories about the city and everyone knows them from Carnival, in fact they have become popular style icons around the world. A quick search online reveals a fascinating history and I have added a couple of links that might be of interest.  The term canovaccio, which is a close relation to the title Cannovacci actually refers to the performances by the “Commedia dell’ Arte”  and seems to basically describe the outline of the performance.  In order to circumvent the censorship laws the actual script was not written down, so the artists were able to ‘ad-lib’ within the basic frame work.  I would be interested to know whether there was an intentional connection when the name of the group was chosen.

Anna Hoghton

Anna Hoghton is a poet and filmmaker and is also a graduate of  Bath Spa University and its outstanding MA in Writing for Young People Course.  This is her first published novel and I very much hope that it will not be the last.  She really has put together a work that connects the characters with the audience, but also gives us that desire to know more about the magical city that they inhabit.  What a brilliant start to this part of Anna’s career!

Thank you to Chicken House for providing this excerpt from the book to whet your appetite.

 

http://magicofvenezia.com/history-of-venetian-masks/

https://www.italymask.co.nz/About+Masks/History+of+Venetian+Masks.html