Book Reviews

Middle Grade Mini-Reviews, Part One

I’ve read quite a few middle grade books recently that I don’t quite have a whole post’s worth of thoughts on, so here are some quick thoughts about each! I’ll split this post into two parts so that it doesn’t get too long, so look out for part two next week.

I was sent e-ARCs of all of these books via NetGalley, apart from Escape Room, which Nosy Crow sent me a physical proof of. As always though, all opinions are my own!

The Chime Seekers by Ross Montgomery, out from Walker Books on 9th Nov 2021

This is a fabulously dark tale of Fairyland that is like a creepy counterpoint to Louie Stowell’s Otherland. Both books tackle two children on a mission to rescue a stolen sibling from a capricious faerie, but where Otherland was lighthearted and adventurous, The Chime Seekers is deliciously horror-adjacent, with just-spooky-enough weirdness that will thrill without being too scary for the age range. I really enjoyed the characters: Yanni feels displaced by the arrival of his baby sister in a very believable way; his cousin Amy is a really great depiction of a girl who’s a bit uncool, but knows her worth; and the faerie adversary is wonderfully vicious. Very, very enjoyable.

Escape Room by Christopher Edge, out from Nosy Crow on 3rd Feb 2022

I’m not quite sure what to make of this book, which is a problem I think I’ve had with this author’s previous work. There are certainly a lot of ideas in this story, which starts off as an ordinary visit to an escape room game, then swings wildly for the fantastic, but I’m not 100% sure that it all makes one cohesive storyline; the action is non-stop, which doesn’t leave much time for character development or narrative depth, and the ending comes rather out of left field with a pretty preachy message about how ‘children are the future’. I enjoyed parts, but I’m not sure if I’d be rushing to recommend it as it’s just a bit strange in its execution.

Kelcie Murphy and the Academy for the Unbreakable Arts by Erika Lewis, out from Starscape Books on 1st Mar 2022

If you’re looking for a magical school story to replace Harry Potter on your bookshelf, this would be a good start… but while I think that’s great as an option, I don’t necessarily think it’s a hugely rewarding reading experience. I’m probably being overly negative, because this is a perfectly serviceable book, but the whole time I was reading this I couldn’t help but draw comparisons between the two because the beats felt exactly the same – lonely orphan discovers a magical school and a weird world they knew nothing about; turns out, they’re the most important person with powers no-one else has; friendship problems mix with magic classes, weird teachers, and attacks from a legendary villain. I’m pleased there are some new books coming out with these themes, but for me, I just couldn’t get into it because it felt like I’d read it all before. Also, the pacing is truly bizarre – the opening of the book does about five seconds of set-up before we’re launched into the magic, which makes it very hard to get a feel for Kelcie as a main character. As I say, if you go into this one with the correct expectations you’ll probably have a great time, but personally I was disappointed.

Roxy and Jones: The Curse of the Gingerbread Witch by Angela Woolf, out from Walker Books on 7th October 2021

I didn’t realise this was a sequel when I requested it, but although there are references to an earlier adventure, you can absolutely jump in here and join Roxy and Jones on their madcap fairy tale escapades. This is a fast-paced and funny adventure that plays with all the typical fairy tale tropes in some original ways – I liked the combo of the classic fantasy elements with the tech/spies side of things. The humour is quirky and the characters are nicely rounded – I’m going to be tracking down book one and hoping for future instalments!

4 thoughts on “Middle Grade Mini-Reviews, Part One

    1. Yeah, it’s overused as a comparison for any magical MG when there is such a fabulous wealth of original MG books out there! I don’t tend to use it because of that, and because it’s so controversial as to quality. But in this case what I mean is that this is extremely similar in terms of the basic plot (orphan thrust into magical school world, assigned a themed house, two best friends, villain everyone thought was bested and gone who’s obssessed with this orphan). There are differences in the world itself but the bones are very similar – if you wanted to avoid reading HP to a new generation this would be a great replacement!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Lol, thank you! I agree.. HP and LOTR are overused comparisons but, every now and then, some do actually compare. I’ll have to check it out for curiosity’s sake.
        And I wouldn’t deny future generations all the fun we’ve had either loving or hating HP, that would be cruel. 😋

        Liked by 1 person

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