I’ve read so many great Middle Grade books that I had to do another set of Mini Reviews, this time featuring five recent reads!
Letters from the Lighthouse by Emma Carroll
Olive’s father has been killed in the war. When her sister, Sukie, goes missing during an air raid and is presumed dead, her mother makes the decision to have her remaining children evacuated to the coast. Olive and Cliff find themselves living in a Lighthouse with Ephraim, a mysterious man who knew their sister. They are sent to school with Esther, another evacuee from the kindertransport; she and Olive do not get on at all. When Olive uncovers a secret code, it makes her feel like she is being useful to the war effort, and when she solves it, she and Esther have to learnt to overcome their differences and work together for something more important than their feud. This is a brilliant story, filled with wonderful characters and perfectly written for this age group. It doesn’t shy away from the reality of war and perfectly captures what it would be like for a child in that situation, but is written in a way that is accessible for younger readers. This is the first of Emma’s books that I have read, and it definitely won’t be the last.
A Girl Called Owl by Amy Wilson
Owl is a young girl who resents her name and her mother for refusing to give her a straight answer about who, and where, her father is. Her mother’s outlandish stories were fun when she was younger, but now that she is growing up, she finds them frustrating. She sets out to uncover the mystery for herself and falls into a world where she discovers that her mother’s stories were true, her father is magical. Owl also finds herself in the middle of an otherworldly feud which she tries to hide from her mum and her friend. Her father is not what she imagined him to be and she struggles to reconcile the image of him that she has held in her head with the cold reality, which leads to her questioning her own identity. This is a beautifully told, lyrical story about family and identity. I absolutely adore Amy’s writing and I cannot wait to read more from her.
City of Ghosts by Victoria Schwab
This book is set in Edinburgh, one of my favourite places, and I loved reading about places that I was familiar with. This is a middle grade book, but it is still packed with Victoria’s trademark darkness. Cassidy’s best friend, Jacob, is a ghost. Cassidy can see ghosts and cross the veil. Her parents are ghost hunters, but they have never seen a real ghost, which I found hilarious. Cassidy’s family move to Edinburgh from America to hunt ghosts for a TV show. Victoria perfectly captures what it’s like to be in a different country where the language and culture is different to what you’re used to. Cassidy finds herself on her own dangerous ghost adventure with the infamous Raven in Red, whilst her parents are out filming, and has to fight to save herself. In the process she meets Lara, who is just like her, and learns a lot about herself and her abilities. This is Victoria’s first middle grade book, and I am really pleased there are going to be more. It was a brilliant read and I am looking forward to being back in Cassidy’s world.
The Bookshop Girl by Sylvia Bishop
The Bookshop Girl tells the story of Property, so named because she was found in a lost property box at a bookshop. I loved her instant dismissal of the family who abandoned her and the clear message that the Jones’s, who found and raised her, are her real family. Property is hiding a secret from them: she can’t read, but she loves to look at the pictures in books. When the Jones’s win the great Montgomery Book Emporium, it seems that all their financial problems are solved. The Montgomery Book Emporium is amazing; I would give what’s left of my shrivelled soul to visit it. But Albert, the former owner, behaves oddly and leaves quickly, giving the impression that he is hiding something. Then Eliot appears with bad news for the family; he is taking the Emporium. Property sets out to save her family. This is a wonderful bookish adventure. The writing style is unusual, but I adored it. Property is one of my favourite characters ever, and I loved the inclusion of a non-traditional family in this book. I loved this book, it is a new favourite.
The Explorer by Katherine Rundell
Four young children find themselves stranded in the jungle after their plane crashes. I’ll confess, I found this a slow starter, but once the snarky old man appeared in the story, I was sold. He is full of such priceless gems as “should I like him because he’s small? I do not like under cooked food. Children are just under cooked adults.” I love him. All four children have very distinct personalities, but I liked little Max the most; he talks about himself in third person when he is nervous and it made my maternal instincts do a little twitch. The old man is keeping a secret from the children, one that could change everything for them. The Explorer is a fascinating, original adventure story with brilliant characters. It is one I look forward to sharing with S in a few years when he can appreciate it.
That’s me done for another edition of Mini Reviews. Have you read any of these books? Are there any Middle Grade books you’d recommend to me?