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.

Where the Light Goes by Sara Barnard, reviewed by Farrah (17)

Where the Light Goes is a devastating, raw and nuanced depiction of grief, familial relationships and the human psyche after a beloved family member takes her own life. It is a complex and realistic dissection of life in the limelight, media scrutiny and its real-world implications, that is thoroughly necessary in today’s society where life is so deeply influenced and dictated by the internet and the media. 

Sixteen-year-old Emmy Beckwith is the younger sister of Beth Beckwith, who is known to the wider world by her stage name of Lizzie Beck. The book begins with Emmy finding out that her sister has taken her own life. From there, Sara Barnard expertly manipulates the writing style and plot structure, using first person perspective, messages, transcribed voice notes, flashbacks and newspaper articles in order for the reader to attempt to understand Emmy’s lived experience and stream of consciousness; we are inside her mind and immersed in her awareness. The book carries on over an extended span of time and excels at emphasising that grief is non-linear, and does not abide by time periods or schedules. 

“A lingering and devastating portrayal of grief, but equally one that tells of loves longevity.”

Farrah (17)

The characters in Where the Light Goes are complicated and realistically-driven, as are the events that take place. Lizzie Beck rose to stardom at a young age, and its subsequent consequences are explored. Emmy has to grapple with the separate, distinct identities of her sister and ultimately recognise them as one amalgamated person, while reflecting on their loss of privacy, and the exploitation of Beth that continues on long her death, with the media capitalising on the real, tangible grief of those who really knew her, and falsifying their sympathies when they were so cruel to her while she was alive. 

Where the Light Goes reflects on grief and its tangible, visceral effects, while simultaneously considering how it impacts relationships and the trajectory of people’s lives. It urges you to evaluate how you behave online, and to remember that behind every screen, there is a real, human individual who is receiving the comments, backlash and media scrutiny.

This is not a book that you should enter lightly; please check the trigger warnings and consider whether these are topics you are comfortable with reading at the moment. If you do decide to pick up this book, you will find a lingering and devastating portrayal of grief, but equally one that tells of loves longevity, and characters and a story that will remain with you long after you turn the last page. 

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.

Peanut Jones and the End of the Rainbow by Rob Biddulph, reviewed by Aysha (12)

I absolutely loved this book. I got it for Christmas and I couldn’t put it down because it is a thrilling book to read. This book is great for readers who love adventure stories and books with illustrations. 

“This book is funny and definitely one of my favourites.”

Aysha (12)

This book is the third in the Rob Biddulph’s series and it is all about Peanut Jones who is at the end of her journey to beat Mr White and make The Illustrated City wonderful again with the help of her friends. But when Mr White decides to get Peanut Jones’s mum involved, now she’s in terrible danger. Will Peanut Jones be able to save her mum and also stop Mr White?

My favourite character is definitely Rockwell as over the series you can see how much he has grown to become the character he is in the third book. At the start of the series, he was quite shy and scared but at the end of the series he got braver and used his knowledge to his advantage. 

This book is funny and definitely one of my favourites. The illustrations are phenomenal and you can tell that he has put a lot of work into making the illustrations come to life with the different colours. 

(Cover illustration by Aysha)

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.

Scareground by Angela Kecojevic, reviewed by Oliver (11)

Scareground is a book filled with suspense and mystery. Set in Victorian Britain we meet Nancy, a girl, who was adopted 12 years ago by her adoptive parents, the Crumpets. 

“A spine-chilling adventure full of danger and magic.”

Oliver (11)

She lives in Greenwich and has a best friend called Arthur Green – a child who was far more privileged than herself but who also has his own problems and fears.  

However, Nancy’s whole life changes when a fair comes to town. Who are her real parents and why was she left abandoned in the park 12 years ago?

Determined to find out her past histories, Nancy becomes involved in a spine-chilling adventure full of danger and magic.  A fantastic story from start to finish – a perfect book for a child aged 10 to 12 years who enjoys a spooky read.

Safiyyah’s War by Hiba Noor Khan, reviewed by Leontine (12)

Follow this thrilling book filled to the brim with awe inspiring courage as Safiyyah roams the streets of Paris working to keep Jews safe, smuggling them away, handing out fake documents and more. All while also dodging suspicions and the prying eyes of the German soldiers.

“It was very interesting to read about WW2 and how even people who weren’t fighting on the frontlines were helping in the war.”

Leontine (12)

 Set in the streets of Paris, Safiyyah lives in a mosque with her family but when the war starts unfolding in her city and day by day Jews are being arrested, Safiyyah is desperate to help. This desire increases when her father is arrested for aiding persecuted Jews. Safiyyah ends up joining the Resistance and completing her father’s work in his absence.

Based on a true story, this book helps uncover the fundamental role of the Muslim community at the Grand Mosque of Paris in saving Jews.

 I really enjoyed this book as it was very interesting to read about WW2 and how even people who weren’t fighting on the frontlines were helping in the war.

I think this book is good for people who would like to learn more about how World War 2 impacted people’s daily lives.

All in all, this was a really good and thrilling book. Well done Hiba Noor Khan for her amazing debut!

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.

#ReviewCrew Niamh’s 24 Best Books of 2023

One of our lovely team of kid book reviewers, 11 year old Niamh, has gathered together her top 24 books of the year in a wonderful Review Crew Advent Calendar!

There is a great range of books, suitable for ages 5 through to teen. So enjoy Niamh’s wonderful reviews and illustrations, and if you like what you read, they’re all available to buy on this page (worldwide shipping available).

Enjoy the first nine entries below….