Unraveller by Frances Hardinge, reviewed by Farrah (16)

Unraveller is a vivid and delightful fantasy novel, which had me gripped from the very first chapter. Featuring Kellen, an unraveller of curses, and Nettle, an individual whose curse was unravelled by Kellen, we follow these characters as they are joined by unlikely allies in a journey to uncover the conspiracy surrounding a band of fugitive cursers. Along the way they travel through the alluring and vibrantly depicted locations of Mizzleport, the Shallow and the Deep Wilds.

It will certainly go down as one of my favourite stories of the year.

Farrah (16)

Covering a variety of topics in this expertly crafted fantasy, this is a book which you will find yourself unable to put down. I loved the vast cast of characters, and the incredible set-up of this fantastical world and its ‘magic system’. From the fearsome creatures inhabiting the Wilds, to the victims of strange curses and their seemingly formidable cursers, these are characters who’s escapades are a joy to read. Nettle’s quiet compassion and Kellen’s vivacious lust for adventure (and often the danger that accompanies it) are enchantingly written.

Lover of the fantasy genre or not, the lyrical writing and engaging characters will entice you in from the get-go. I would highly recommend this book to a large variety of age groups, and it will certainly go down as one of my favourite stories of the year.

Locked out Lily by Nick Lake and Emily Gravett, reviewed by Leontine

Locked out Lily is really good because the book makes you feel like your [sic] inside the book having the adventure Lily has.

Locked out Lily is a story about belonging and about accepting things about life.

Lily is a great main character, loyal, courageous and hard-working. By the end of the story Lily is prepared to do anything to save her family.

Lily’s adventure consists in learning how to claim back her house from devils with coal eyes and banishing them to protect her family from harm.

It’s a really amazing book and I think it’s good for all age groups.

About the book

A startlingly original, stunningly-illustrated modern classic about learning to face your fears from the multi award-winning partnership of Nick Lake and Emily Gravett. Lily just wants things to go back to the way they were: before she got sick, before her parents decided to have another baby. So when she’s sent away to stay with her grandmother while her mum has the baby, Lily is determined to go home.

But she doesn’t expect to find people in her house – people who look like her parents, but definitely aren’t … Together with some unlikely animal companions, Lily must face her fears and summon the courage to break into her own house, and defeat ‘The Replacements’ before the night is out.

Nick Lake’s atmospheric story of family and friendship is brought to spectacular life by Emily Gravett, twice winner of the Kate Greenaway Medal.

‘A book of such wit and flair and delight: the kind of book you finish and immediately begin again, so that you can live again alongside the characters’ Katherine Rundell, bestselling author of The Explorer  

When Shadows Fall by Sita Brahmachari, reviewed by Abi

This impactful tale is beautifully crafted from a variety of viewpoints, written in a mixture of prose, narrative verse and journal entries, woven together with evocative illustrations by Natalie Sirett.

While it is Kai’s story and his fall into darkness that is at the heart of the story, we also hear the voices of Orla, from the high-rise flats like Kai, and Zak from the big houses across the other side of the wilderness. This is the place where they spent most of their out of school time growing up and where they discovered and restored the bothy, which becomes the dramatic backdrop to astounding creativity but also danger, degradation, despair and near death.

We later hear from new arrival Omid who has faced trauma and loss himself, which helps him make the connection with Kai, whose family has fallen apart following the loss of his beloved baby sister Sula. Despite the best efforts of his friends, Kai falls in with a dangerous crowd, gets excluded and his self-destruction seems inevitable. But the bonds forged in their childhood ultimately prove stronger. Kai’s deep connection to nature and in particular to a pair of ravens, who have their own narration, and the creativity, which is sparked by Omid’s inspiring art, help to bring him home.

There are so many important themes in this multi-layered novel which speaks so powerfully about the importance of urban green spaces and community and the way society can fail to recognise the true value of things. This highly original novel perfectly captures raw adolescent emotions and fills the reader with empathy and understanding. Highly recommended.

About the book

Kai, Orla and Zak grew up together, their days spent on the patch of wilderness in between their homes, a small green space in a sprawling grey city. Music, laughter and friendship bind them together and they have big plans for their future – until Kai’s family suffers a huge loss. Trying to cope with his own grief, as well as watching it tear his family apart, Kai is drawn into a new and more dangerous crowd, until his dreams for the future are a distant memory.

Excluded from school and retreating from his loved ones, it seems as though his path is set, his story foretold. Orla, Zak and new classmate Om are determined to help him find his way back. But are they too late?A heart-breaking and poignant novel from award-winning author Sita Brahmachari, for fans of THE BLACK FLAMINGO, AND THE STARS WERE BURNING BRIGHTLY and POET X.

The Revelry by Katherine Webber, reviewed by Tegan

I adored this book! It’s only quite short, about 260 pages long but there is so much depth and detail in the story. The story goes that every year, there is a huge party for graduates of the local high school. It’s very secretive and you are only meant to go if you are a graduate. Our two main characters, Bitsy Clark and Amy, one year break into The Revelry. However, they blackout, and when they wake up, they don’t remember anything from the night, only a few flashbacks. Suddenly Bitsy is unlucky and Amy is getting everything she wants. As the story continues, Bitsy and Amy are tested in their friendship. How far will Bitsy go to prove something happened that night of the Revelry. And will anyone believe her? This story is great, I loved the way Katherine Webber created a world in such a short amount of time. I would definitely recommend this to anyone who likes mystery and fantasy. 

About the book

A story of best friends, bad luck and the consequences of breaking the rules in a town built on secrets and superstitions.

Growing up in Ember Grove, Bitsy Clark knows better than to break the rules around the Revelry, the mysterious end-of-year party in the woods. So when her best friend, Amy, persuades her to sneak in, Bitsy is full of misgivings.

Misgivings that she should have listened to, because it’s after the Revelry that Bitsy’s luck turns and her life starts to unravel. For Amy it’s the opposite, as if she’s been blessed with good fortune. Soon Bitsy is convinced that the Revelry has tied the two friends together in a curse that only she can break…

Pax: Journey Home by Sara Pennypacker, reviewed by Mia and Kate

Mia says:

We received ‘Pax – Journey Home’ to review and so we read Pax first! They really need to be read in order. 
Peter is a young teenager whose mum died when he when seven. He had a pet fox, Pax, who he raised from a kit, but was forced to abandon when his dad went off to war and Peter was sent to his Grandfathers. He then goes on a journey to find Pax.  Along the way, Peter meets a special person who helps him when he gets injured, but who also needs Peter’s help without knowing it. 
Peter later finds Pax, who he realises is better off in the wild. 
In Pax – Journey Home, Peter feels like he loses everyone he loves, thinks things are his fault, and that it is best not to let anyone get close to him or to care about anyone.
Peter travels with the Water Warriors who work hard to put the rivers and reservoirs right after the war poisoned the water, while planning a life alone. Along the way he has to visit places with difficult memories from his past. 
Pax is making a similar journey for his family.

I loved these books. They describe feelings so well. They show how people can change and get over bad times, no matter how old you are. 
I really loved that the chapters alternated between  Peter’s point of view and Pax’s point of view.  
It was really interesting to see the world through the foxes’ eyes; how they would describe the things we do (which can seem really odd); how they sense feelings and danger through smells; and how they’d find our ‘dens’ strange. It also made me think a lot about how destructive people can be to the world and wildlife.
We couldn’t decide when the book is set – past, present or future, but it could be anytime as it is everyone’s life journey that matters.
The books gave us lots to talk about, 
A five star rating from me!

Mum Kate says:
These were wonderful books to read together and I think they’d be a great choice for a class. 
The books deal with a lot of trauma, without being traumatic – they are simply honest, in a very clear way. They offer so much opportunity for discussion about loss, emotions (a lot of anger, fear and sadness), human impact on the world, and connections and bonds. Also, if and when wild animals should be captive. 
The setting both in place and time is hard to gauge which puts more emphasis on the journey and bond of this boy and his fox.
A brilliantly told story which we couldn’t put down, and will revisit.

About the book

From bestselling and award-winning author Sara Pennypacker comes the long-awaited sequel to Pax; gorgeously crafted, utterly compelling with stunning illustrations by award-winning author and illustrator Jon Klassen.

It’s been a year since Peter and his pet fox, Pax, have seen each other. Once inseparable, they now lead very different lives. Pax must protect his litter of kits in a dangerous world. Meanwhile Peter, orphaned after the war, has left his adopted home and joined the Water Warriors, a group determined to heal the land from the scars of the war.

When one of Pax’s kits falls desperately ill, he turns to the one human he knows he can trust. And no matter how hard Peter tries to harden his broken heart, love keeps finding a way in. Now both boy and fox find themselves on journeys toward home, healing – and each other.
A breathtaking novel about chosen families and the healing power of love.

Furthermoor by Darren Simpson, reviewed by James

Furthermoor is an extremely well written book in which one boy overcomes the challenges he faces after his older sister is fatally injured in a car crash near his home. This book is extremely thought-provoking, as it personifies this boys problems into a physical being, that he needs to overcome to be able to achieve his full potential, with or without his sister. I enjoyed this story immensely, and, as I mentioned before, it really made me think about how different people deal with their problems, and how to be accepting and supportive in finding ways to help those people, in whatever way you feel is needed. As it deals with some quite serious issues, I would recommend this book for anyone 10+ who wants to read a book about forgiveness, and facing problems. I will be looking forward to reading more books by this author!

About the book

The real world is a hostile place for twelve-year-old Bren, his schooldays stalked by vicious bully, Shaun, and his family life fractured at home. Ever since his sister Evie died in an accident, Bren’s only safe space is Furthermoor, an imagined world of mechanised trees and clockwork animals, where Evie is still alive. In Furthermoor, no one can hurt Bren…until the mysterious Featherly arrives.

Now Bren is forced to confront his deepest fears and decide if his place in the real world is worth fighting for.Enter a world as vast and dark as your imagination, in this unforgettable coming-of-age story about courage, friendship and finding your voice.

Alex Rider: Nightshade by Anthony Horowitz, reviewed by Ben

Nightshade is the most recent book of the Alex Rider series, a wildly popular set of books set on a 15-year-old boy who has been recruited by MI5. MI5 use him for missions that adults can’t achieve, this mission was like wise. Him breaching a high security prison, acting like a criminal in an attempt to befriend and get information out of a similar aged boy who was part of a cult. 

This book was very exciting and well written. It made you want to know more from page one. I think the book could mainly be enjoyed by early teens and a little younger, but I think most people would like to read Nightshade. Although many argue the Alex Rider series peaked near Scorpia rising, I think all the books have been very good in the Alex Rider series.

Dragon Skin by Karen Foxlee, reviewed by Leontine

An enthralling story about the bond between a girl and a baby dragon.

What to expect: a baby dragon, friendship, a never-ending waterhole, and a secret cave.

As you step in Pip, Laura and Archie’s world, you will follow Pip as she learns to care for a lost baby dragon with unexpected friends, while escaping her hard family life.

I liked this book as it was a page turner, and it was a book like no other, filled to the brim with a character’s big thoughts. It was also full of tips on how to look after a dragon, so if I ever find a dragon near a waterhole like Pip did, I’ll be prepared!

I would say that this book is suitable for 8+. I would recommend this book to those who liked “A glasshouse of stars” by Shirley Marr. Dragon skin is a great book, you should read it!

About the book

Pip never wants to be at home nowadays. There’s no laughter anymore and her mum isn’t happy. She spends most of her time alone, daydreaming and digging for treasure by the dirty creek.

But one night, Pip finds something incredible – a dragon. Tiny, possibly dying, but definitely a dragon. She quickly realises that dragons don’t come with instructions: what do you feed a dragon? Where could it have come from? And how can Pip cope with the enormous changes this creature will bring into her life? Full of enchanting magic and poignant truths, Dragon Skin is a moving story of friendship, family and finding a way to fly.

All the Money in the World by Sarah Moore Fitzgerald, reviewed by Isobel

This is a heart-warming story about social status, privilege and identity. The moral being: Don’t be ashamed of where you come from and who you are. 

In this story the protagonist, Penny Nolan, lives in a place ominously referred to as ‘The Flats’. The flats have poor lighting, rats and a damp problem. Penny feels that people look down on her because of where she comes from, for not having enough money. She longs to escape. 

When Penny befriends Violet Fitzsimons, the mysterious elderly woman living in the large house next door, she feels a sense of escape as Violet teaches her to play the piano and tells stories of her much-loved schooldays at a respectable boarding school called Pearlbourne. Hearing about Pearlbourne makes Penny jealous. It makes her realise, properly, how different she and her friends from The Flats are, and she becomes determined to find a way to attend Pearlbourne herself. However, when Penny eventually finds herself thrust into a world of privilege, her shame about who she is and where she comes from grows.  

This is the story of a poor girl in a rich world. A girl who has to earn respect, rather than be born with it. A girl who feels she has to lie about everything, her friends, her family, and her life, just to be accepted by society. This is the story of someone pretending to be something she isn’t, even though the person she was originally was just as good, in fact, better.  

This is a story of family, friends, lies, secrets, playing, working, acting, hiding and pretending. This is a story of how much good a person can do when fuelled by cold, hard ambition. 

Hide and Seek by Robin Scott-Elliot, reviewed by James

Hide and Seek is a thought-provoking book about Amelie, a Jewish French girl who witnesses her family being taken away by the gestapo during World War Two, and her quest to be reunited with them in Nazi occupied Paris. This is a brilliantly written book that had me sitting on the edge of my seat all the way through and should I come across any other books written by this author, I would definitely be inclined to read them.

About the book:

‘Hide and Seek brings to vivid life the courage of young people who risked all in the French resistance in the second world war.’ OBSERVER

‘Beautifully told’ TELEGRAPH

Thrilling new page turner by Robin Scott-Elliot, author of The Tzar’s Curious Runaways and The Acrobats of Agra.

Paris, 1942. When Amelie Dreyfus hides in her mother’s wardrobe it’s a game; when she comes out it’s a matter of life or death. With her family taken, Amelie has to fend for herself in Nazi-occupied France – she’s no choice but to resist. In the Resistance life hangs by a thread. Betrayed, Amelie’s forced to flee to Britain. But Paris is home and she returns to face one final, desperate mission.