Blog Tours · Reviews

BLOG TOUR!!! Dread Wood by Jennifer Killick

Image Description: The cover of Dread Wood has four young people silhouetted against a backdrop of a school and its playing fields. The school is surrounded by woodland. In the foreground, some rather large spiders are creeping closer…

Turn the lights out. Lock the door. Things are about to get SERIOUSLY SCARY!

It’s basically the worst school detention ever. When classmates (but not mate-mates) Hallie, Angelo, Gustav and Naira are forced to come to school on a SATURDAY, they think things can’t get much worse. But they’re wrong. Things are about to get seriously scary.

What has dragged their teacher underground? Why do the creepy caretakers keeping humming the tune to Itsy Bitsy Spider? And what horrors lurk in the shadows, getting stronger and meaner every minute . . .? Cut off from help and in danger each time they touch the ground, the gang’s only hope is to work together. But it’s no coincidence that they’re all there on detention. Someone has been watching and plotting and is out for revenge . . .

Since entering the sunny uplands of (ostensible) adulthood, I haven’t read either a ton of Middle Grade fiction or a great deal of horror. Which is somewhat surprising because, when I was kid, I loved scaring myself witless with a good Goosebumps book and, as a teenager, Point Horror books were my jam. Reading Dread Wood, Jennifer Killick’s latest Middle Grade horror novel, brought these tween and teenage scares crashing straight through my pretence at adulthood and reminded me that, no matter how old you are, there’s nothing like things that go bump in the night (or, in this case, go skittering around in the dark) for keeping the pages turning!

The last thing Angelo, Naira, Gus, and Hallie want to be doing on a Saturday morning is spending time with their oh-so-cheery teacher Mr Canton at a ‘back on track’ detention. But given that they all played a part in the great Dread Wood cafeteria riot, they don’t have much of a choice. When their teacher is apparently ‘eaten’ by a hole in the ground, however, it soon becomes apparent that this detention just might turn out to be deadly. Before long, the quartet are forced to become unlikely allies as they confront creepy caretakers, secret passageways, and subterranean horrors.

I was drawn into Dread Wood within just a few pages thanks to Jennifer Killick’s perfect balance between sinister foreboding, creepy mystery, and genuinely witty humour. The sparky dialogue and verbal quips exchanged between Angelo, Naira, Gus, and Hallie had me laughing out loud at many points, as did the attempts of their hapless teacher, Mr Canton, to be ‘down with the kids’. Combined with the development of a genuine friendship between the unlikely quartet, the jokes helped to take the edge off what is otherwise a genuinely creepy story of ‘monster’ proportions.

Without giving too much away (and nothing that can’t be inferred from a close examination of the cover), Dread Wood offers plentiful scares of the eight-legged variety. However, as a self-confessed arachnophobe, I can testify to Dread Wood‘s horror elements providing a healthy dose of scares without too much accompanying trauma. In fact, I learnt a number of very interesting facts about my eight-legged nemeses and came out of the book with a newfound and healthy respect for such remarkable creatures (albeit not a respect that extends to allowing them to live in my house).

Erring on the side of gripping and creepy rather than outright horror, Dread Wood has plenty of twists and turns – as well as lots of cliff-hanger chapter endings – to keep up the pace whilst the ending, although both reassuring and rewarding, hints at further adventures to come for Angelo and Co.

Offsetting the scares with a good dose of humour, this lively story of one very deadly detention is packed full of unlikely friendship and formidable foes. Offering a page-turning plot that doesn’t shy away from the scares, Dread Wood is a perfect read for 9-12 year olds looking for a fun but creepy mystery – or big kids looking to re-live those Goosebumps vibes!

Dread Wood by Jennifer Killick is published by HarperCollins Farshore and is available now from all good booksellers and online retailers including Hive, Bookshop.org, Waterstones, and Wordery.

If you can, please support a local indie bookshop by ordering from them either in person or online! Some of my favourites include Booka Bookshop, The Big Green BookshopSam Read BooksellersBook-ishScarthin Books, and Berts Books

My thanks go to the publisher for providing a copy of the book in return for an honest and unbiased review and to The Write Reads for organising and inviting me onto this blog tour. The tour continues until 20th April 2022 so please do check out the other stops for more reviews and content!

Reviews on The Shelf are free, honest, and unbiased and I don’t use affiliate links on my posts. However if you enjoy the blog please consider buying me a coffee on Ko-Fi!

Blog Tours · Reviews

BLOG TOUR!! Fireborn: Twelve and the Frozen Forest by Aisling Fowler

Image Description: Fireborn book cover depicting a young girl (Twelve) astride a large dog. The girl appears to be using magic and there is backdrop of magical ice and fire swirls.

Ember is full of monsters.

Twelve gave up her name and identity to train in the art of hunting them–so she says. The truth is much more deadly: she trains to take revenge on those who took her family from her.

But when Twelve’s new home is attacked, she’ll find herself on an unexpected journey, where her hidden past is inescapably intertwined with her destiny–and the very fate of her world.

One of the nicest things about being part of the gang over at The Write Reads has been rediscovering my love of Middle Grade and YA fiction – and of Middle Grade fantasy in particular. Having read and loved Amari and the Night Brothers earlier this year, I was eager for more epic Middle Grade fantasy in my reading life – and Aisling Fowler’s Fireborn: Twelve and the Frozen Forest definitely scratched that itch!!

Twelve is one of the best huntlings at the Lodge. But her refusal to get close to her fellow Hunters means that her mentors despair of ever passing her Blooding. Because the job of a Hunter isn’t just to fight the dark things of the world but to broker peace and negotiate treaties between the clans of Ember – and to stop the Dark War from ever happening again.

But the Hunter’s Lodge is only a means to an end for Twelve. She doesn’t want to be a Hunter – and she has no time for making friends or finding a replacement for the family she has so tragically lost. When the Lodge is attacked by a dark magician and his followers however, Twelve is swept up into a quest to rescue a fellow huntling and prevent the darkness returning to Ember. With the aid of the Lodge’s guardian Dog and two of her fellow huntlings, Twelve will soon have to make a choice between isolation and friendship – and learn to contend with her own hidden and wildly dangerous powers.

Any Middle Grade fantasy always has to contend with comparisons to Harry Potter and, although very different stories (and with very different protagonists), Fireborn does have that compulsive ‘one more page, one more chapter, one more book’ quality that held me in its grip and had me fully immersed in the adventures of Twelve and her friends – and in the world of Ember more widely.

Twelve is a fantastic protagonist. I really empathised with both her stubbornness and determination, and her desire to avoid further hurt by cutting herself off from those around her. Aisling Fowler has said that Twelve was partly inspired by her love of Buffy the Vampire Slayer and I can certainly see elements of Buffy’s courage and determination, as well as her anger and protectiveness in Twelve. I also really enjoyed seeing Twelve grow and develop as a character throughout the book, shedding her hard edges and learning – little by little – to trust and love others again.

The other characters in the book are equally well drawn. From brash, confident Five to shy, dreamy Seven, cantankerous Elder Hoarfrost, and even Twelve’s pet squirrel Widge, I came to feel like I knew – and cared about – all of them, and I loved watching their relationships with both Twelve and with each other develop.

Aisling Fowler has also created a truly magical world in Ember. There’s such a huge amount of lore that goes with the world but she’s managed to weave this in and give a real sense of the place and the society without resorting to large infodumps or long, complex exposition. Instead the world is built alongside the story and we’re gradually introduced to the clans and their history, the role of the Hunters, witches, magic, Ygrex, Cliffcrawlers, Deathspinners, and the threat of the Dark Wars.

Fireborn is such a compelling and compulsive read – a real page-turner! With plenty of adventure and a good dose of magic, intrigue, and friendship to boot, it really is perfect for anyone looking to fill a gap in their fantasy reading life! Fans of the boy wizard are sure to enjoy Fireborn – as is anyone who enjoyed BB Alston’s more recent Amari and the Night Brothers with its similarly determined female protagonist, and the epic adventures of Rick Riordan’s Percy Jackson series. I can’t wait to see what Twelve and her fellow Hunters get up to next!

Fireborn by Aisling Fowler is published by Harper Collins Childrens and is available now from all good booksellers including Hive, Waterstones, Bookshop.org, and Wordery.

If you can, please support a local indie bookshop by ordering from them either in person or online! Some of my favourites include Booka Bookshop, The Big Green BookshopSam Read BooksellersBook-ishScarthin Books, and Berts Books

My thanks go to the publisher for providing a copy of the book in return for an honest and unbiased review and to The Write Reads for organising and inviting me onto this blog tour. The tour continues until 28 August 2021 so do check out the other stops for more reviews and content by following #UltimateBlogTour and #TheWriteReads on Twitter and Instagram.

Reviews on The Shelf are free, honest, and unbiased and I don’t use affiliate links on my posts. However if you enjoy the blog please consider buying me a coffee on Ko-Fi!

Blog Tours · Reviews

BLOG TOUR!!! Amari and the Night Brothers by B. B. Alston

Quinton Peters was the golden boy of the Rosewood low-income housing projects, receiving full scholarship offers to two different Ivy League schools. When he mysteriously goes missing, his little sister, 13-year-old Amari Peters, can’t understand why it’s not a bigger deal. Why isn’t his story all over the news? And why do the police automatically assume he was into something illegal?

Then Amari discovers a ticking briefcase in her brother’s old closet. A briefcase meant for her eyes only. There was far more to Quinton, it seems, than she ever knew. He’s left her a nomination for a summer tryout at the secretive Bureau of Supernatural Affairs. Amari is certain the answer to finding out what happened to him lies somewhere inside, if only she can get her head around the idea of mermaids, dwarves, yetis and magicians all being real things, something she has to instantly confront when she is given a weredragon as a roommate.

Amari must compete against some of the nation’s wealthiest kids—who’ve known about the supernatural world their whole lives and are able to easily answer questions like which two Great Beasts reside in the Atlantic Ocean and how old is Merlin? Just getting around the Bureau is a lesson alone for Amari with signs like ‘Department of Hidden Places this way, or is it?’ If that all wasn’t enough, every Bureau trainee has a talent enhanced to supernatural levels to help them do their jobs – but Amari is given an illegal ability. As if she needed something else to make her stand out.

With an evil magician threatening the whole supernatural world, and her own classmates thinking she is an enemy, Amari has never felt more alone. But if she doesn’t pass the three tryouts, she may never find out what happened to Quinton.

Having really enjoyed my recent foray into middle grade fiction with the deliciously devilish The Beast and the Bethany, it didn’t take much for @The_WriteReads to persuade me to get involved with the blog tour for B. B. Alston’s Amari and the Night Brothers, a magical middle grade debut set in a world where the supernatural lives alongside – yet hidden – from the everyday.

The novel centres on Amari Peters, a black girl living in a deprived neighbourhood who is whisked into the magical world of the Bureau for Supernatural Affairs following her beloved older brother Quinton’s sudden disappearance. Determined to investigate Quinton’s disappearance, Amari sets her sights on passing the Bureau’s strenuous and challenging series of tryouts in order to become a Junior Agent within the Department of Supernatural Investigations. But not everyone wants Amari to succeed. With illegal magical blood running through her veins, there are those within the Bureau who think Amari might be a threat to their safety – and those who will do nothing to stop her from finding out what happened to her brother…

Amari really is the beating heart of this novel. Whilst the world that B. B. Alston has created is a fascinating one, replete with scores of supernatural creatures and magical abilities, is was the strength of Amari’s character that really shined through for me. Forced to confront prejudice because of her skin colour and background in the everyday world, Amari is confronted with the same prejudices in the supernatural world because of her natural magical ability. As a black girl from a deprived background, she’s never fitted in at her elite school. As a magician in the Bureau, she’s the victim of sneering attitudes and cruel jibes. Despite this, Amari never lets herself be defeated. Whilst she harbours the same private doubts that we all get, her determination, selflessness and love for her brother are admirable – as is her decision to keep going in spite of the setbacks, and to change people’s minds without hurting others.

This attitude brings Amari into conflict both with those within the Bureau who would like to see her fail in her mission, and with the dangerous illegal magicians know as The Night Brothers. Hellbent on ensuring domination of the supernatural world at any cost, Raoul Moreau and his brother Vladimir brought fear and destruction wherever they went. But with Vladimir long dead and Raoul locked away in the Bureau’s prison, who is it that is releasing dangerous magical hybrids and threatening to being back their reign of terror?

Without giving away any spoilers, the ‘villains’ of the novel are a surprising bunch. There are some who are classically ‘evil’ – all dark robes and villainous schemes – but the ones that intrigued me the most were those who let their own prejudices and hatred twist the way they viewed the world around them. From the Bureau Director who can’t see beyond the legacy of his family history, to the kids in Amari’s class who won’t accept her because of her magical abilities, this is a novel that keeps prejudice – and the effects of prejudice upon both individuals and society as a whole – firmly at the heart of its story whilst also sparking that sense of wonder and transportation that a good fantasy novel gives you.

Because this really is a fantasy setting that has it all – unique personalities and technologies, a variety of supernatural beings, and a well-realised magic system. Despite the richness of the world building in Amari and the Night Brothers, there was definitely more I wanted to know about so I’m glad to hear there will be a sequel that will allow Amari’s world to expand and develop even further – I can’t wait to see more of the supernatural world beyond the Bureau, and to spend time with some of the characters who only get a brief introduction here (Agents Magnus and Fiona were particular favourites of mine, as was Amari’s weredragon best friend Elsie).

With its non-stop plot, Amari and the Night Brothers is a fast-paced and exhilarating read packed to the brim with likeable and engaging characters and magical shenanigans. Whilst there were one or two elements that I would have loved to see developed a little further, this is only the first of Amari’s adventures – so here’s hoping we get to step outside of the Bureau’s doors and delve a little more into the lives of some of the side characters as the series progresses.

For the first in a series however, Amari and the Night Brothers has everything a fantasy fan could want. An engagingly smart protagonist, a rich and unique fantasy setting, a rip-roaring romp of a plot, and some tantalising glimpses of more adventures to come! If you’ve been looking to fill the Harry Potter or Percy Jackson shaped whole in your life with a fun, diverse, and intelligent middle grade fantasy series, then Amari Peters may well be the protagonist you’re looking for!

Amari and the Night Brothers by B. B. Alston is published by Egmont Books on 21 January 2021 and is available to pre-order from all good booksellers and online retailers including Hive, Bookshop.org, Waterstones, and Wordery.

If you can, please support a local indie bookshop by ordering from them either in person or online! Some of my favourites include Booka Bookshop, The Big Green BookshopSam Read BooksellersBook-ishScarthin Books, and Berts Books

My thanks go to the publisher for providing me with a copy of the book in return for an honest and unbiased review, and to Dave from @The_WriteReads for organising and inviting me on to this tour. Use #UltimateBlogTour and #AmariPeters to check out more reviews and contents!

Reviews on The Shelf are free, honest, and unbiased and I don’t use affiliate links on my posts. However if you enjoy the blog please consider buying me a coffee on Ko-Fi!

Blog Tours · Reviews

BLOG TOUR!!! The Beast and the Bethany by Jack Meggitt-Phillips & Illustrated by Isabelle Follath

Ebenezer Tweezer is a youthful 511-year-old.

He keeps a beast in the attic of his mansion, who he feeds all manner of things (including performing monkeys, his pet cat and the occasional cactus) and in return the beast vomits out presents for Ebenezer, as well as potions which keep him young and beautiful.

But the beast grows ever greedier, and soon only a nice, juicy child will do.

So when Ebenezer encounters orphan Bethany, it seems like (everlasting) life will go on as normal. But Bethany is not your average orphan . . .

Ebenezer Tweezer is 511 years old and a horribly selfish person. He has a big house filled with a lot of things, and pots of money to buy anything he wants. He also has a Beast in his attic. Thus begins a deliciously dark middle grade tale that mixes the outlandish humour of Roald Dahl with the grim aesthetic of Lemony Snicket.

Ebenezer spends a lot of his time bringing the Beast all manner of exciting and interesting things to eat. Things like his pet cat, Lord Tibbles, and Patrick, one of only 20 Wintlorian Purple-Breasted Parrot’s left in the world (19, once the Beast is done with Patrick).

In return for his increasingly exotic morsels, the Beast vomits (yes, you read that right, The Beast and the Bethany is that kind of book) out anything that Ebenezer could wish for. Money, possessions and, most importantly, magical anti-ageing potions.

When The Beast and the Bethany opens, however, Ebenezer Tweezer has a problem. No longer content with consuming beloved housepets or rare species, the Beast has decided he would like a plump and juicy child to eat and that he won’t give Ebenezer the potion until he gets one. One trip to the orphanage later and Ebenezer returns with Bethany, a horrid little girl who enjoys stealing her fellow orphans’ comics, putting worms up people’s noses, and drawing all over Ebenezer’s favourite artwork.

Ebenezer is going to delight in feeding Bethany to the Beast. But first he needs to make her nice and plump and juicy. And that means getting her to eat. And that means talking to her. And THAT might just change Ebenezer and Bethany’s lives forever.

If The Beast and the Bethany sounds like a delightfully horrible book, that’s because it is. Brimming with fast-paced and chaotic action (captured perfectly by Isabelle Follath’s fantastically lively illustrations), this is a madcap adventure that explores greed, selfishness, friendship, and the possibility of redemption.

As the story progresses it becomes clear that neither Bethany not Ebenezer are quite as wicked as they first appear to be. Whilst both of them need to have their moral compasses firmly re-aligned, there might be hope for them yet – especially if they work together to confound the Beast’s dastardly plans.

I’m clearly not the target audience for The Beast and the Bethany but with it’s wicked humour, slapstick comedy, gross-out moments, and rip-roaring plot, I imagine the book will hook many a young reader seeking their next fix of the dark and delicious after tearing through the classics of Roald Dahl or the more recent Lemony Snicket series.

Parents might be less keen on Bethany’s antics (she’s no role model that’s for sure!) but beneath all the chocolate cake throwing and demands to “BOG OFF”, there is a lonely little girl in need of a friend and a home to call her own. As an adult reader, I really enjoyed seeing Bethany and Ebenezer’s relationship develop and how they each bought about a change in the other’s way of seeing the world around them.

And if you enjoy The Beast and the Bethany, there’s certainly the promise of more to come. Bethany and Ebenezer might have plans to subdue the Beast but it appears the Beast won’t be giving up that easily – so more adventures to come for eager readers who enjoy the raucous fun and zany capers that abound in this riot of a book.

The Beast and the Bethany by Jack Meggitt-Phillips (illustrated by Isabelle Follath) is being released from the attic by Egmont Books on 01 October 2020 and is available from all good booksellers and online retailers including Hive, Waterstones, and Book Depository.

If you can, please support a local indie bookshop by ordering from them either in person or online! Some of my favourites include Booka Bookshop, The Big Green BookshopSam Read BooksellersBook-ishScarthin Books, and Berts Books

My thanks go to the publisher, Egmont Books, for providing a copy of the book in return for an honest and unbiased review, and to Dave from The Write Reads for organising and inviting me onto this blog tour. The tour continues throughout September so do check out the other stops for more reviews and content.

Reviews on The Shelf are free, honest, and unbiased and I don’t use affiliate links on my posts. However if you enjoy the blog please consider buying me a coffee on Ko-Fi!