Book reviews: Magic monsters, a Cornish mystery and a tasty slice of cake

A Far Away Magic by Amy Wilson
A Far Away Magic by Amy Wilson
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Spring is on its way and there is magic, mystery and adventure in the air as Macmillan Children’s Books roll out an exciting selection of new books for young readers.

Age 9 plus:

A Far Away Magic by Amy Wilson

The title of this riveting adventure from inventive author Amy Wilson may be reminiscent of Enid Blyton’s The Magic Faraway Tree but the similarities are few and far between.

Wilson, a former journalist whose debut novel A Girl Called Owl won the hearts of both children and parents, certainly conjures up plenty of magic in her new spellbinding odyssey but this is a dark brand of magic, a tale of self-discovery in which the action is firmly rooted in a recognisably gritty and contemporary world.

A Far Away Magic follows the emotional rollercoaster journey of two troubled youngsters as they venture into a world of terrifying monsters and thrilling fantasy. But there are other battles to be fought in this magical, moving tale… against overwhelming grief, personal demons and a preordained fate.

When Angel moves to a new school after the death of her parents, she isn’t interested in making friends. But then she meets Bavar, a strange boy, tall, awkward and desperate to remain unseen, but who seems to have ‘a ripple in the air around him,’ a kind of magic that intrigues and bewilders her.

Meanwhile, everyone and everything in Bavar’s enchanted house is urging him to step up and protect the world from a magical rift through which monsters are travelling, the same monsters that killed Angel’s parents.

But Bavar doesn’t want to follow the path that has been chosen for him… he wants to be normal, to disappear. Fighting one another as well as their fears, Angel and Bavar’s lives are inextricably tangled and they must find a way to repair the rift between the worlds, and themselves, before it’s too late…

Wilson is such an exciting author… her stories blend the real and the fantastical with seamless fluency, and her writing has a stunning lyrical and emotional quality which brings extra depth and resonance to the action.

Original, haunting, sprinkled with black humour and adorned by Helen Crawford-White’s enchanting black and white illustrations, A Far Away Magic grips from first page to last... don’t miss it!

(Macmillan, paperback, £6.99)

Age 9 plus:

The Lost Island by Laura Powell and Sarah Gibb

There is plenty of skulduggery afoot at a Cornish island paradise in the second, thrilling Silver Service Mystery.

Step back into the magical fantasy world created by Laura Powell, an exciting author inspired to write this all-action children’s adventure series by her childhood years spent in the shadow of the ruins of Carreg Cennen Castle in Wales.

Star of the show is 13-year-old Penny Pattern, a resourceful maidservant turned fearless Adversary of the Dark Arts, and now a promising recruit for a group of secret investigators known as the Silver Service Agency charged with hunting down perpetrators of evil deeds.

After saving the Grand Duchy of Elffinberg from the jaws of a dragon in The Last Duchess, Pattern has been recruited by the agency to help solve more supernatural mysteries and is dispatched undercover to the Island of Cull as a housemaid to the enigmatic Lady Hawk to investigate the disappearance of a young man called Henry.

She quickly discovers that Cull has some strange and magical properties, including an unseasonably tropical climate and a party of house guests who seem entirely in thrall to Lady Hawk and her beautiful daughter.

Pattern and her new friend Nate are the only ones immune to the spell Lady Hawk has cast but, as the male house guests begin to disappear one by one, they find themselves in a race against time to solve the mystery of the island’s magic.

With its atmospheric backdrop, cast of amazing characters both real and supernatural, deeds of derring-do and lashings of dark humour, this is fantasy adventure with a gritty edge.

Sarah Gibb’s intricate black and white silhouette illustrations add visual charm to the action and Powell’s references to The Complete Servant by Samuel and Sarah Adams, an 1825 guide to ‘the Peculiar Duties and Business of All Descriptions of Servants,’ bring authenticity and extra polish to this new Silver Service Mystery.

Adventure with a dark edge…

(Macmillan, paperback, £6.99)

Age 9 plus:

Song of the Dolphin Boy by Elizabeth Laird

Award-winning author Elizabeth Laird highlights the campaign to clean up the world’s oceans in this story of friendship, adventure and magic.

The importance of marine conservation lies at the heart of this moving tale which has been written and conceived as part of a year-long project between Macmillan Children’s Books and Aberdeen University Lighthouse Field Station and the Royal Society of Edinburgh to inspire and educate young people.

Finn has always been different, and in the tiny fishing village of Stromhead in Scotland his air of loneliness sticks out like a sore thumb.

Forever told to keep away from the water, he has always felt that something was missing until one day he is accidentally pushed into the sea and finds that, swimming with the dolphins, he suddenly feels completely at home.

But his new friends are in danger of being injured by the rubbish that floats out into the water… and now a supermarket is going to release thousands of balloons that could drift out to sea and cause even more damage. Desperate to help the dolphins, Finn goes to the Lighthouse Crew, a group of youngsters who have always left Finn out of their gang. Will they be able to set aside their differences to save the dolphins? And what will Finn discover about his mysterious past along the way?

Laird brings both the supernatural and important real-life issues to this exciting adventure set against the rugged Scottish landscape.

Peter Bailey’s atmospheric black and white illustrations bring the story to life and Laird gently reminds us that we all have a responsibility to take care of our precious marine life.

(Macmillan, paperback, £6.99)

Age 9 plus:

The Lotterys Plus One by Emma Donoghue

Families don’t come more diverse – and diverting – than the lovely Lotterys!

Emma Donoghue, international award-winning author of Room which was made into a major film starring Brie Larson, turns her talented hand to writing for children for the first time in a funny, exuberant and original novel about unconventional family life.

The Lotterys Plus One, which places diversity firmly at centre stage, features two sets of gay parents, seven children – from different cultures and backgrounds – a menagerie of animals and a grumpy grandad with dementia.

The result is a sort of controlled but unconventional chaos as newcomer grandad – a square peg in a round hole – battles to come to terms with his strange, multicultural family, and the assorted siblings struggle to cope with his moods and conservative attitudes.

The one thing in life that never changes is that sooner or later things change… the Lotterys are learning that lesson every day now that grandad ‘Grumps’ has moved in with them.

Sumac Lottery is nine years old and the self-proclaimed ‘good girl’ of her very large, extremely unruly family. And what a family the Lotterys are… four parents comprising two same-sex couples and seven children both adopted and biological, all living and learning together in a sprawling house called Camelottery in a suburb of Toronto.

Then one day, the news breaks that one of their grandfathers (of Scottish descent but now living in the wilds of the Yukon) is suffering from dementia and will be coming to live with them. And this is not just any grandfather… he’s the long dormant, grouchy ‘Grumps’ who fell out with his son so long ago that he hasn’t been part of any of their lives.

Suddenly, everything changes. Sumac has to give up her room to make the new member of the family feel at home. She tries to be nice, but prickly, intolerant Grumps clearly disapproves of how the Lotterys live. Whole grains, strange vegetables, rescue pets and a multicultural household are totally alien to him.

How will Sumac and her family manage with another person to add to their hectic lives and can Sumac help Grumps find a home where he belongs?

Caroline Hadilaksono provides the wonderful black-and-white illustrations for this warm, contemporary and unique story which celebrates family life – however complex, curious and diverse that may be – and reminds us that love and affection have no rules or boundaries.

(Macmillan, paperback, £6.99)

Age 3 plus:

CAKE by Sue Hendra and Paul Linnet

The best picture books are always full of fun… and this delicious adventure is certainly the icing on the cake!

Little ones will love getting a slice of the action as a much-loved and dynamic picture book duo, author Sue Hendra and illustrator Paul Linnet, cook up a storm with the whimsical story of a cake in search of the perfect party hat.

Hendra and Linnet, the award-winning creators of Supertato, send their imaginations into overdrive for this beautifully baked and richly comical adventure with an adorable – and tasty! – new hero.

Cake has been invited to a party and he’s very excited! He's never been to a birthday party before and he doesn't know what to expect, or what to wear. Cake is sure that his simply topping icing and candles ‘hat’ is the perfect answer, but when the candles begin to burn and the other (hungry!) guests start singing, Cake is convinced that maybe it’s time he made a quick exit!

Young readers will be blown away by the antics of Cake and his candles as they steal the show in another rip-roaring picture book from Hendra and Linnet.

The combination of a laugh-out-loud adventure and colourful, quirky illustrations proves that you really can have your cake and eat it when this creative team are in charge!

(Macmillan, paperback, £6.99)

Age 2 plus:

What the Ladybird Heard on Holiday by Julia Donaldson and Lydia Monks

Crafty springtime crooks had better watch out because a very clever little ladybird is back to capture hearts, minds… and thieves!

Two of the best-known names in children’s books are on top form again in the third wonderfully entertaining What the Ladybird Heard adventure, a much-loved rhyming series that has sold over 1.5 million copies across the world.

Julia Donaldson, author of a string of bestselling children’s books including The Gruffalo, teams up again with inspirational illustrator Lydia Monks to deliver another raucous, rhyming, ribald feast of holiday mayhem, monkey business and hilarious misadventures with a cacophony of noisy zoo animals.

Throw in two familiar but feckless foes, a cameo appearance by the Queen and her corgis, an exceedingly cunning plan, and you have a holiday extravaganza that will delight both children and parents alike.

It may be the holidays but those two bad men, Lanky Len and Hefty Hugh, are back and even though they are in the city instead of on the farm, they haven’t changed their thieving ways. In fact, they have grown even more ambitious. They are planning to steal a monkey from the zoo and use it to get into the palace and snatch the Queen’s crown. It’s just unfortunate for them that a certain crime-busting ladybird is holidaying in the very same city… and she’s got a good idea that will ensure the dastardly pair won’t get away with it!

Youngsters will love joining in the fun, and the rhymes, as the hapless thieves meet an animal team that is more than their match.

The book comes complete with a gorgeously glittery eye-catching cover and there’s the added fun of spotting the sparkly ladybird on every page. With slapstick action, animal magic, bags of fun and a gallery of fantastic colourful illustrations to enjoy, this year’s holidays are set to go with a real swing!

(Macmillan, paperback, £6.99)

Age 2 plus:

Catch That Egg! by Lucy Rowland and Anna Chernyshova

There’s a tall order for a little bunny in this gorgeous picture book with an Easter flavour.

Author Lucy Rowland and illustrator Anna Chernyshova hop to it as they combine their talents in a rhyming farmyard story brimming with colour, vitality and an enchanting sense of fun.

Floppit’s farmyard friends have had enough of his enormous bunny feet. ‘Stop it, Floppit!’ they all sigh every time he comes bouncing by wanting to play. But his big, clumsy feet might just save the day when Chicken’s egg bounces out of her nest!

Little ones will love helping Floppit the big-footed bunny ‘catch that egg’ in this action-packed chase through the farmyard which delivers a truly cracking finale!

With its clever rhymes, madcap antics and gallery of illustrations with real child-appeal, this is a tasty Easter treat for readers young and old.

(Macmillan, paperback, £6.99)

Age 2 plus:

Whatever Next! by Jill Murphy

Parents who grew up on the much-loved stories of Jill Murphy’s adorable Large Family picture books have a treat in store this spring!

To celebrate thirty-five years of the lovable bear family, Macmillan have published some special editions of the books, including bedtime classic Whatever Next!, and the hilarious Peace at Last.

Best known for the Worst Witch novels and her Large Family picture books, Murphy has been called ‘one of the most engaging writers and illustrators for children in the land.’

In Whatever Next! we join Baby Bear at bath time but he is determined to go to the moon and back first!

Enjoy following him as he searches around the house until he finds a rocket (a cardboard box), a space-helmet (a colander) and space-boots (his wellies).

All set, he blasts off out of the chimney and into the night. Joined by an owl, Baby Bear soars high into the night sky until finally they reach the moon. Of course, when he returns to Earth for his bath, his mother doesn't believe where he has been.

Murphy’s beautiful story and bold, colourful, heartwarming illustrations capture perfectly Baby Bear’s innocence, sense of adventure and imagination, and cannot fail to win over a new generation of youngsters.

Ideal for reading aloud and sharing with groups.

(Macmillan, paperback, £6.99)

Age 2 plus:

Peace at Last by Jill Murphy

And in Peace at Last, we meet Mr Bear who has a very long night ahead of him!

The hour was late and Mr Bear was tired. But he couldn’t sleep however he tried and wherever he tried. Mrs Bear won’t stop snoring, the clock won’t stop ticking and Baby Bear is lying in bed pretending to be an aeroplane! Will Mr Bear ever get to sleep?

The familiar noises, repetition and beautiful illustrations make this delightful picture book an all-time favourite with children and adults everywhere.

Filled with love and warmth, and Murphy’s enchanting illustrations, this is destined to become a firm family favourite for a new generation.

(Macmillan, paperback, £6.99)

Age 2 plus:

Ten Terrible Dinosaurs by Paul Stickland

Let the countdown begin because Paul Stickland, illustrator and creator of the ever-popular classic, Dinosaur Roar!, is back with Ten Terrible Dinosaurs, a brand new fun, rhyming, counting board book for little ones.

Since it was first published in 1994, Dinosaur Roar! has become every pre-schooler’s favourite dinosaur book, serving as the ideal introduction to dinosaurs and exploring the concept of opposites and numbers in a fun and entertaining way.

Ten Terrible Dinosaurs, Stickland’s lively counting picture book based on the characters from Dinosaur Roar!, followed in 1997 and was republished by Macmillan last year with a special endorsement by the Natural History Museum.

And now the very youngest members of the family can get their hands on this super board book which features Stickland’s rip-roaring rhyme, the addictive countdown and the cast of multi-coloured dinosaurs which make this such an entertaining and interactive method for little children to learn about numbers… and dinosaurs.

The rhyming text encourages children to join in, helping them to learn their numbers as they count down from ten to one, and ending with a wonderful loud ROAR as all the dinosaurs assemble!

Clever use of colour, an exuberant story and the crazy antics of the dinosaurs ensure this enchanting book will go on entertaining youngsters for many years to come.

(Macmillan, board book, £5.99)