Secrets of the Snakestone by Piu DasGupta, reviewed by Niamh (11)

Secrets of the Snakestone is Piu DasGupta’s brilliant, gripping, thrilling debut middle-grade novel. 

Set in the 19th century, Zélie Dutta has been shipped to Paris to work as a maid at Madame Malaise’s mansion far, far away from her home in Calcutta. The other servants hate her and accuse her of being a witch when poor Zélie has done nothing wrong! 

“I was heartbroken when I finished it!”

Niamh (11)

The only thing keeping her happy were her father’s letters containing riddles, but one day they just stopped coming. Life seems normal and mundane until she finds out about the mysterious Snakestone and its connection to her family. Zélie, along with her friend Jules, must embark on a treacherous journey to find the deadly Snakestone before it falls into the wrong hands… 

Secrets of Snakestone is dark, mysterious and you never know what’s coming next. I love the constant mysteries all through the book and the excitement on every single page! I am astounded how Piu Dasgupta managed to tell all that story in such a gripping way. I was heartbroken when I finished it!

I loved trying to solve the mysteries throughout the story and how different all the characters’ personalities were. And it would take a cold heart not to be won over by Titicaca the albino sloth!

This book is perfect for mystery lovers and people who love dark plots and shocking twists.

Perfect for fans of: The Cogheart Adventures by Peter Bunzl, The Eerie-on-Sea Mysteries by Thomas Taylor, and Mouse Heart by Fleur Hitchcock.

Keedie by Elle McNicoll, reviewed by Aysha (12)

I was so excited when I got this book to review in the post from The Book Nook as I absolutely loved A Kind of Spark by Elle McNicoll.

This story is all about Keedie, Addie’s older sister, and it is set five years before A Kind of Spark takes place. Keedie is also autistic and this story is about how Keedie also makes a huge difference to her town Juniper. 

Keedie was everything I thought it would be but better.”

Aysha (12)

Keedie absolutely hates bullying so when she sees it affecting her best friend, Bonnie, she knows she needs to do something. Keedie has a very brave personality and she stands up to any bully who hurts someone physically or mentally.

The book also shows how being a teenager is hard and more so when you’re autistic. When Keedie sees her twin sister Nina hanging out with the bullies, Keedie gets angry and is determined to change the town, stand up to the bullies and get her sister back.

Keedie was everything I thought it would be but better and it is such a great book! I couldn’t put it down. I would definitely recommend this to anyone from primary school to high school and beyond.

The Final Year by Matt Goodfellow, reviewed by Aysha (12)

The Final Year is one of the most amazing books I’ve ever read. It teaches us that school can be tough and setbacks are alright and stuff can change in the blink of an eye.

“This is a very moving story and everyone should read it.”

Aysha (12)

Nate, who is the main character in the story, has just started the last year of primary school when he and his best friend get split up into different classes. He needs to become friends with someone new which he finds hard. He is also very busy at home taking care of his two younger brothers with his mum, when his little brother is taken ill.

My favourite character in the book is the teacher, Mr Joshua. The teacher is so nice and thoughtful and even gives Nate a book to write his poems in, which was lovely.

This book is easy to read and would appeal to people who love illustrations. This is a very moving story and everyone should read it.

The Stories Grandma Forgot (and How I Found Them) by Nadine Aisha Jassat, reviewed by Leontine (13)

 Nyla was four when her dad died. Eight years later she and her grandmother go to the supermarket and her grandmother swears she saw her dad. But how could that be true when he’s dead?

“I loved the relationship and unbreakable bond between Nyla and her grandmother.”

Leontine (13)

Determined to fulfil a promise to her grandmother (not only her grandmother but also her best friend) Nyla sets on a journey to find her dad and hopefully find out a little more about herself, about who she is, along the way.

This enthralling book will get rooting for Nyla and itching to uncover the truth about her father. 

This book is a story full of self-discovery and good friendships. I really liked this book because it was in a format I hadn’t seen before, written in short lines like you would expect a poem to be (which I later found out to be called a verse novel). I also loved the relationship and unbreakable bond between Nyla and her grandmother.

I would recommend this book to mystery lovers, in the age range of 9-11 years old but older readers can also love this book just as much.

The Final Year by Matt Goodfellow, reviewed by Oliver (11)

The Final year is a story based on the last year of primary school- Year 6. This book is great for children who are about to start Year 6 or who are about to start secondary school because you can relate to what you did in year 6.

For me, every page in this book made me reminisce because I’ve just left Year 6.

“I give this book 5 out of 5 as it is written in verse and truly reflects the dilemmas and issues linked with the final year at primary school.”

Oliver (11)

The main character is a boy called Nate who is about to start his final year at primary school.   However, for the first time since nursery, Nate and his best friend are in different classes.  His world is turned inside out when his friend then develops a friendship with the school bully. This is made worse when Nate’s brother is rushed to hospital.  This story is full of SATs and friendship worries. Will Nate find another friend within his new class? Will he tame the beast inside?

I give this book 5 out of 5 as it is written in verse and truly reflects the dilemmas and issues linked with the final year at primary school.

Lottie Brooks’s Totally Disastrous School Trip by Katie Kirby, reviewed by Emily (13)

This book is Katie Kirby’s fourth book in the Lottie Brooks series and doesn’t disappoint.  Filled with her usual humour and catastrophic storyline, it was a book which entertained me throughout.

“Lottie Brooks never fails to help me see that my life is far more stable than hers.”

Emily (13)

Lottie Brooks is a twelve-year old girl who stumbles through her teenage years with the help of her friends and hamsters.  This time the novel is based around Lottie going on a residential trip to Camp Firefly with her class.  Separated from her best friend, Lottie attempts to challenge herself by abseiling, raft building and walking along a sensory trail blindfolded.  This story is full of friendship dramas with hilarious consequences. Lottie has to also navigate around the mean girls from a private school who are also staying at Camp Firefly as well as suffer the outcome from having her diary read out loud.  

Lottie Brooks never fails to help me see that my life is far more stable than hers.  A great book for 11 years and up if you like laugh out loud storylines. A must read for anyone about to embark on a school residential trip with their classmates.

Vivi Conway and the Sword of Legend by Lizzie Huxley-Jones, reviewed Niamh (10)

Vivi Conway and the Sword of Legend is the first book in a new exciting, fantasy middle grade series by Lizzie Huxley-Jones. They most recently were a contributor to the Being an Ally World Book Day Title in 2023. The bright and beautiful cover is drawn by the award-winning author and illustrator Harry Woodgate.

The book follows Vivi Conway, an autistic girl with a passion for Welsh mythology. Not only does she have to deal with moving with her mums away from their rural home in Wales to loud, busy London, she’s got a magical destiny to fulfil, a cranky talking ghost dog that’s come into her life and a plague of mysterious creatures to battle! 

After having bullying problems in the past, she must learn to trust her newfound friends and work alongside them to defeat an evil threat to our world…

“It deals amazingly with how it feels to be autistic while still trying to save the world.”

Niamh (10)

Vivi Conway and the Sword of Legend has all the ingredients for the perfect story. It has non-stop excitement, fascinating legends from Welsh mythology, warm and loveable characters that you’d love to know in real-life, and it ends on a cliff-hanger. It also features LGBTQ+ and disabled characters, and deals amazingly with how it feels to be autistic while still trying to save the world. 

Lizzie Huxley-Jones is non-binary and autistic and they draw from their own experiences in the book, including having been bullied. I really liked that the character Dara is introduced by their pronoun ‘they/them’ immediately without any explanation.  

I loved the part in the science museum because it was really exciting! After getting to know all the characters, I grew to love them all, especially the ghost dog Gelert! 

I couldn’t put the book down and read it all in one weekend! Vivi Conway and the Sword of Legend is one of the best books I’ve ever read!!! I’m so glad it’s a series of books, as I can’t wait for the next one to come out! 

Perfect for fans of: Like a Charm by Elle McNicoll; Like a Curse by Elle McNicoll; and Jayben and the Golden Torch by Thomas Leeds. 

(Illustration above by Niamh)

What The World Doesn’t See by Mel Darbon, reviewed by Farrah (16) 

Maudie and Jake’s family is falling apart, with their mum struggling with her grief after the passing of their dad. One night she vanishes with only a note left behind, and no news of her whereabouts. When their aunt puts Jake in care, Maudie goes to desperate lengths to try to reunite her family, and she kidnaps Jake, taking him with her to Cornwall, hoping that when her Mum learns of the current situation, she will return.

“…a bond between brother and sister that is so beautiful and raw that it is almost tangible.”

Farrah (16)

What unfolds is a powerful and moving tale of grief, healing, finding oneself, first love and familial bonds. 

‘What The World Doesn’t See’ is a book that will stick with you long after you turn the last page, with very well written autism representation, and a bond between brother and sister that is so beautiful and raw that it is almost tangible.

The author Mel Darbon explains in the author’s note that she wrote from a very personal experience of having a sibling on the autism spectrum. Darbon highlights that whilst Jake’s experience (as well as that of her own brother’s) does not speak for the experience of everyone with autism, the novel clearly displays common obstacles faced by those like Jake, stemming predominately from people’s ignorance. Darbon’s writing, especially when we get to read from Jake’s point of view (since the story is told in dual narrative, allowing us to see life through the eyes of both Maudie and Jake) was very impactful. 

Ultimately, this book follows the physical and emotional journey of Maudie and Jake (and their mother), as they navigate their way through grief and towards healing, as well as the relationship between the siblings evolving as Maudie recognises what Jake is capable of, and allows him more freedom and opportunity to express his own independence. 

The Boy Lost in the Maze by Joseph Coelho, reviewed by Farrah (16)

‘The Boy Lost in the Maze’ intertwines the myth of Theseus and the Minotaur with the story of Theo, as he searches for his father.

Told in verse, we explore the relationship between the mythical Theseus and his own father, alongside his desire for approval, told through the lens of Theo, as he retells and subverts the myth during a school project. Theo finds himself connecting with Theseus and paralleling his tale, as they are both on a quest to define manhood for themselves and discover more about their identities in the process. Trials that Theseus face are echoed in Theo’s own life.

“It is gripping and fast-paced and a definite one-sitting kind of read…a whole new, nuanced and thought-provoking layer to the age-old myth.”

Farrah (16)

Included in the novel are beautiful illustrations which bring the story to life vividly and create an all-encompassing reading experience. 

This is an accessible and insightful read, covering self-growth, discovery and changing one’s narrative. It is gripping and fast-paced and a definite one-sitting kind of read. I loved the way the Minotaur was depicted, with us being able to gain their point of view. By giving this traditionally vilified character a voice, Coelho has given the Minotaur humanity and the ability to evoke sympathy with the reader, causing us to see that at his core he is a young, rejected child seeking comfort.

Coelho’s masterful writing adds a whole new, nuanced and thought-provoking layer to the age-old myth, which will stick with you long after you have turned the last page. 

If You Read This by Kereen Getten, reviewed by Leontine (12)

I really enjoyed this book, it was entertaining and quite short so it was a nice story you could read at your own pace. A heart-warming story packed with adventure, good friends and love.

This was a great book about Brie going on a treasure hunt her mum made her before she died as Brie takes a path of self-discovery.

This was an engaging novel that I’d recommend to people who like adventure stories.