Gothic intrigue, shadow lands and a monster hunt by various authors - book reviews -

Curl up on dark nights with a magical selection of children’s books which are guaranteed to chase away the winter gloom.

By Pam Norfolk
Thursday, 9th December 2021, 12:30 pm
Sisters of the Lost Marsh by Lucy Strange
Sisters of the Lost Marsh by Lucy Strange

Age 9 plus:

Sisters of the Lost Marsh

Lucy Strange

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What better time of year for a mesmerising, magical tale full of gothic intrigue, dark superstitions and nail-biting suspense, all set in the midst of a mysterious and malign marshland?

Sisters of the Lost Marsh – a fabulously spooky and gothic thriller-chiller – comes from the pen of master storyteller Lucy Strange, author of the critically acclaimed The Secret of Nightingale Wood, Our Castle by the Sea, and The Ghost of Gosswater.

Gripping from first page to last, this brilliant new novel is perfect for reading in a fireside chair on dark nights and stars cruelly overworked farm girls Willa, Grace and Freya, and their three younger sisters.

The six motherless sisters live and work in fear of their cruel father and the superstition that obsesses him… the Curse of Six Daughters. With the arrival of the mysterious Full Moon Fayre, there’s a chance for the eldest girls to steal a moment’s fun but the day the fayre moves on, Grace vanishes.

Willa goes after her, following a trail that leads into the dangerous Lost Marsh, where it is said a will-o’-the-wisp lures lost souls into the dark waters of the mire. If Willa is to survive and reunite her family, she will need to unravel the secrets her father has kept hidden, and face her own deepest fears.

Strange is a master of atmospherics and this memorable, magical realist tale simmers and shimmers against a truly eerie and irresistible backdrop. With its messages about female empowerment, sisterhood, bravery and self-discovery, this is a true classic which is destined to be read and enjoyed by all generations.

(Chicken House, paperback, £7.99)

Age 9 plus:

Shadow Town

Richard Lambert

Immerse yourself a thrilling land of shadows and dreams in an exciting and evocative new fantasy from Richard Lambert, acclaimed author of The Wolf Road. Shadow Town – which stars a boy who tumbles into an alternate world in which everything seems possible but dangerous – is the first book in a stunning new series for middle-grade readers. Toby, whose parents are divorced, leads a quiet and unhappy life in London until a mysterious shadow appears in the garden and in his dreams, and then takes him into a hidden world. The dangerous land of Balthasar is enslaved by a cruel Regent and an absent and mysterious queen. It’s a place where the Dreamers have the magical power to turn dreams into reality. But there’s a price to pay. Toby meets Tamurlaine, a strange and otherworldly girl who has lost her memory. To uncover the mystery of her identity and get Toby back home, the pair must go on a thrilling journey to the heart of the kingdom, and right into the castle of the Regent. With its gothic vibes, air of mystery and intriguing cast of characters, Shadow Town is an imaginative blend of thrilling fantasy, alluring mystery and playful humour… the perfect combo for all adventure-loving readers!

(Everything with Words, paperback, £7.99)

Age 9 plus:

Following Frankenstein

Catherine Bruton

Inspired by her own childhood fascination with Mary Shelley’s famous masterpiece, Catherine Bruton brings young readers a thrilling sequel to the epic story of Frankenstein’s Monster and the result is this epic adventure full of action, danger and discovery. Sometimes Maggie Walton is jealous of a monster. Her father has dedicated his life to a single pursuit… hunting down the monster created by Victor Frankenstein. She has grown believing he cared more for the monster than he did for her and it has cost Maggie and her family everything. All his wealth has gone and the family have been forced to live in rooms near London’s docks. But now a stranger has arrived to speak to her father who has agreed to stake everything on one last voyage to the Arctic to finally track down the monster. What he doesn’t yet know is that Maggie is a stowaway on board the ship on a voyage that will take her across the Arctic Tundra to a shocking discovery… Frankenstein’s monster has a son. Bruton builds on the wisdom and compassion of Shelley’s original story to explore what it is to be ‘different’ and friendless, and how abandonment and ostracism can be overcome by the power of friendship and your own difference. Brimming with excitement, mystery and a deep understanding of what it is to be an ‘outsider,’ this is historical adventure with a message that speaks loudly today.

(Nosy Crow, paperback, £7.99)

Age 7 plus:

My Father’s Dragon

Ruth Stiles Gannett

Illustrated by Ruth Chrisman Gannett

Introduce a new generation of young readers to a fabulous fantasy adventure from a creative family collaboration between illustrator Ruth Chrisman Gannett and her stepdaughter Ruth Stiles Gannett. First published in 1948, My Father’s Dragon – an American classic and the first book of a fun trilogy – was included in an all-time children’s novel survey published in 2012. A highly illustrated chapter book, the story is narrated by the son of the hero Elmer Elevator, inviting readers to believe the childhood tale of a wild adventure to rescue a captive baby dragon. After striking up a friendship with an alley cat, Elmer learns that the baby dragon is being forced to serve as a ferry for the selfish animals of Wild Island. Elmer is determined to free the dragon and, with advice from the savvy cat, he arms himself with chewing gum, lollipops, rubber bands and other unlikely items. With these tools and his own sharp wits, Elmer faces hungry tigers, cranky crocodiles and lots of other challenges! Full of wit, thrilling action and timeless charm, My Father’s Dragon is soon to be a new Netflix film from the Oscar-nominated Irish animation studio behind Wolfwalkers, the Secret of Kells and Song of the Sea.

(Swift Press, paperback, £6.99)

Age 4 plus:

Little Narwhal, Not Alone

Tiffany Stone, Ashlyn Anstee and Marie Noël

Based on the true story of a remarkable friendship between a narwhal, who was more than 600 miles from his home in the Arctic, and a group of beluga whales, this moving and playful picture book is a delight for young readers. With the poetry of Tiffany Stone and the adorable illustrations of Ashlyn Anstee, Little Narwhal, Not Alone speaks loudly about acceptance and overcoming obstacles. When little narwhal sets off on an adventure to see new sights, he finds himself far from home, too far to return on his own. Scared and alone, narwhal looks for other narwhals but finds a pod of belugas instead. They don’t speak his language or eat the same foods, but when the belugas begin to play, little narwhal knows exactly what to do! With a summary of the little narwhal’s amazing and inspirational story by marine biologist Marie Noël, and a beautiful rhyming tale about a surprising inter-species friendship, this clever picture book delivers important lessons about overcoming difference to readers young and old.

(Greystone Kids, hardback, £12.99)

Age 4 plus:

Dulcinea in the Forbidden Forest

Ole Könnecke

Enjoy the warm and witty tale of a brave – and very capable – little girl who defies a witch’s evil spell to rescue her father. Newly fledged readers will love sharing adventures with daring Dulcinea in a delightful illustrated fairy tale from Swedish-born author and illustrator Ole Könnecke. Dulcinea has known since she was small not to enter the dangerous magic forest where the witch lives in a castle. But her father hasn’t come home from collecting blueberries for her birthday pancakes, and she is worried that the witch has cast an evil spell on him. She must brave the dark forest and sneak into the witch’s castle to steal the spell book and free him. After all, her father would hardly have named her after the brave Dulcinea if she couldn’t break a witch’s spell to celebrate her birthday with him! With miles of smiles and madcap antics on every page, and Könnecke’s charming and characterful, two-tone comic-style illustrations, this is a magical read for fun-loving youngsters.

(Gecko Press, hardback, £11.99)

Age 3 plus:

Group Hug

Jean Reidy and Joey Chou

If there is one thing we’ve all missed during the pandemic, it’s a hug! Award-winning American author Jean Reidy captures the poignancy of getting close together again with friends and family in this charming, cheering picture book. ‘There was once a slug needing someone to hug. Along came a beetle, a lonely ol’ bug. ‘You need a hug? I have one,’ said Slug, ‘to keep your heart snug!’ And so begins the slug’s round of hugs with (among others!) a lonely beetle, a grumpy mouse, a smelly squirrel and an over-worked beaver. With its fun, feelgood vibes, the warmth and joy of human contact radiating from every page, the bold and brightly coloured illustrations of Californian artist Joey Chou, and resonant messages about empathy, kindness and inclusivity, Group Hug is both an endearing bedtime read and the perfect celebration of friendship, community affection and togetherness. A book hug for all the family to enjoy!

(Scallywag Press, paperback, £7.99)

Age 3 plus:

Who’s Got a Normal Family?

Belinda Nowell and Miša Alexander

Is there such a thing as a ‘normal’ family? That is the question at the heart of a fun and clever picture book from Aussie author and illustrator team Belinda Nowell and Miša Alexander. Baby Emma is Alex’s brand new foster sister and he can’t wait to tell his friends at school. But when one of his classmates tells Alex, ‘You don’t have a normal family,’ Alex’s happiness quickly evaporates. ‘Are we normal?’ he asks mum that night and mum gives him the brightest smile. ‘Absolutely NOT… but why don’t we find out who is?’ And it turns out that none of the children in his class has a ‘normal’ family… some have two dads, some are looked after by their grandparents, and some have no dads. It seems that there is no such thing as a ‘normal’ family after all! This perfectly pitched and gently reassuring picture book – packed with Alexander’s beautiful illustrations – is a colourful celebration of the unique and diverse quality of families today and the ideal teaching tool for use at home, in nurseries and at school.

(Little Steps Publishing, paperback, £7.99)