Undercover Princess by Connie Glynn | 1 Minute Reviews

I’ve been watching Connie Glynn aka Noodlerella on Youtube for a while; I’m quite particular to her brand of whimsy and she always has good anime recommendations. When I saw she’d written a book, I wasn’t surprised. During my time as a bookseller, most prominent UK YouTubers either had a book out or on the go, though generally these were non-fiction, self help type affairs. Instead, Connie wrote about her mainstay: princesses.

Cute, I figured. Good for her. It will sell well. And then I thought little more about it until I saw a sampler on the Penguin stall at YALC, which I popped into my tote. The cover of the book (and the sampler) is pretty beautiful, and I am somewhat of a magpie. I figured I’d give the sampler a go, and then resign it to the pile of books that are popular that I won’t bother with.

And then I read the sampler and was absolutely charmed by it. So much so, that I tweeted my lovely chums at Penguin and they very kindly sent me a full proof copy.

I am still charmed, especially because this book is pretty gay in ways I was not expecting.

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Now, Connie herself is out as bisexual/queer on YouTube and I was kind of hoping that this would naturally appear in her work. It does, friends.

Let’s step back a little. Undercover Princess follows Lottie Pumpkin, who leaves her life with her stepmother to attend the prestigious Rosewood Academy on a rare scholarship for excellence, herself being the first recipient in twelve years. Upon arrival, she discovers she shares a room with wild, messy Ellie Wolf. When it is revealed the heir to the Maravish throne is attending Rosewood, suspicion is cast upon Lottie by the other students. To her surprise, Ellie reveals to her that she is in fact the princess in disguise and Lottie agrees to keep up the pretence, taking on the mantle of Portman.

There’s a moment 80% in (not a spoiler) where Lottie learns of a romance between Portman and Princess, and has a minor public episode, and by this point I was yelling at the book YOU ARE GAY YOU ARE GAY THIS BOOK IS GAY with the glee of someone who’d solved some kind of mystery. Maybe I’m wrong, but there’d been a lot of longing glances, weird not-quite-jealousy moments and a moment of “platonic” hand stroking.

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This feels pretty exciting and radical to me because this book is aimed at the tween end of YA, that tricky area when one steps from adventurous but polite Middle Grade fiction (in the UK also known as age 9-12) over to sexed up drunk teen fiction. This area can be quite tricky to find books for but ahoy, this is a great one that also appears to have some LGBTQ+ characters and themes – aside from my headcanon Ellie & Lottie romance, there are a number of other LGBTQ characters in the book. The writing feels firmly accessible tween (though I think most readers who’ve ventured into the Middle Grade section will be fine with this), and is really quite charming. There’s a lot in here about treating others with respectful behaviour whilst also setting boundaries as a self care priority. The morals are all completely in the right place.

I’m pretty impressed with this first outing from Glynn and look forward to reading more of the Rosewood Chronicles in the coming years. I think if you know a young person who loves fairy tales, magical British boarding school nostalgia (like Harry Potter) or all things Disney, this would make an easy win Christmas present, not least because of how pretty it is.

Interested? Get it here.

What to read next:

Thank you ever so much to the team at Penguin Platform and Penguin Huddle who sent me over the proof copy.

What Sunny Saw in the Flames by Nnedi Okorafor | 1 Minute Reviews

Okay, I hate to make this comparison because it makes me sound like a kids novel blurb from about 15 years ago, but allow me to introduce you to a Nigerian equivalent of the Harry Potter series written by Nnedi Okorafor. Yes, really.

And guys, it’s great.

Nnedi Okorafor, a writer who consistently blows me away, finally seems to be breaking into the mainstream consciousness. Her books used to always be difficult to find in the UK, and it was only in the last few years that I started seeing The Book of Phoenix in bookshops. When I read Who Fears Death, Okorafor’s fantastic novel that is being adapted by HBO, a few years back, it was near impossible to find in a bookshop, though since the announcement I’m pleased to see it pop up in a few big ones in London. It’s also just been announced in the last two days that she will be heading up a new Black Panther arc.

Who Fears Death is a stunning story following a young girl who discovers she has magical powers linked to her birthright. It is a brutal, harrowing novel that confronts rape, war and colonisation – you can read the first chapter here.

What Sunny Saw in the Flames, also known as Akata Witch in the US, shares a lot of parallels with Who Fears Death. An outsider girl discovers that she has magic intrinsically linked to her skin, her body, and sets out with a band of friends to take down a Big Bad. But please do not think that my reductionist comparison is in anyway indicative of either novel’s quality – it’s not, and they’re both astonishingly both.

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Twelve year old Sunny is albino, an American transplanted in Aba, Nigeria, determined to play football with the best of them but feeling disconnected. That is until she sees the end of the world in the flames of a candle which sets her off on a journey of magic and adventure. Thanks to her new friends ChiChi, Orlu and Sasha, Sunny discovers her place as one of the Leopard People, an international group of magical people. But things take a turn for the dark, when the plucky group discover that someone is murdering children of the Leopard people; can they discover the killer in their midst?

The Harry Potter comparison really does hold up – intrepid young characters, one of whom is new to the world; a big bad; a whole community of magic right before our eyes. The world of the Leopard People is intricate and ripe for exploration throughout this new series. The system of magic and gatekeeping of particular knowledge is fascinating.

But this series is more than its comparisons to predecessors, and you’d be underestimating this book if that’s all you took from this. This mature fantasy novel tackles bullying, racism and police brutality in America, and yet the world remains deeply rooted in West African mythology. The first book doesn’t bring us too close to the mystery murderer, more focussing on the world of the Leopard People, their customs and just how much there is for the teenagers to learn in order to stop the Big Bad.

While this has been marketed partly as a YA, it is also suitable for the upper range of a Middle Grade audience, like the works of Pullman or Millwood Hargrave, though there is a particularly gruesome scene near the end.

I cannot recommend the works of Nnedi Okorafor enough, and if you’re looking for a new magical series to sink your teeth into, the Akata/Sunny books are a perfect place to start. I’m incredibly excited to follow the characters – especially frustratingly too clever for her own good ChiChi – through their adventure to save the Leopard People, and maybe even the world.

Interested? Get it here for the Cassava Republic version. The sequel Sunny and the Mysteries of Osisi will be published in 2018.

What to read next:

The Disappearances by Emily Bain Murphy | 1 Minute Reviews

What a terrifically strange little book this is. I was sucked into this magical wartime novel immediately and long to go back to it. Readers do know, I rarely re-read a book but oh gosh I want to be back in that world.

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When their mother Juliet dies, Aila and Miles are sent to live with family friends – the Cliftons – in the remote town of Sterling, as their father goes away to war. Juliet’s former hometown, Sterling is a place with a mystery or a curse – every seven years something disappears.

When not all the townsfolk warmly welcome their arrival, Aila begins to realise that her mother may be connected to the missing reflections, stars and dreams. But what is the connection, and what does her ring hidden in a copy of Shakespeare’s entire plays have to do with it? Meanwhile, a mysterious stranger who records bird sightings and lives with a strange old man Phineas worms his way into the story. Can Aila work to save the town from their disappearances?

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I absolutely adore this novel. Aila is the exact sort of brilliant, plucky young woman that I love to read. The world itself is immense – while being based on 1940s rural America, Emily Bain Murphy has created a magical realness that exists in Sterling; a world of magical powders called variants that can bring back what was taken in the disappearances, a world of science and adventure and literature and curses! It reminded me a little of The Bone Gap and The Lie Tree, but far more sinister and with the whole town in on the strange happenings.

Aila, Will and the other teenagers set out to solve the disappearances, leading them down a path of cryptic clues and dead ends. I didn’t know where it was going to go – rare for me in a book with mystery as I often guess what it is.

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While marketed as YA, to me The Disappearances straddles the barrier between Middle Grade and Young Adult Fiction, much like the work of Kiran Millwood Hargrave and Garth Nix. It has a poetic nature to the prose; stunning, buttery and magical.

Released on the 3rd of August this year, I think that Pushkin Press may have found one of my favourite novels of the year. I’m eagerly awaiting Emily Bain Murphy’s next offering.

Interested? Get it here.

What to read next:

Thank you kindly to Pushkin Children’s who sent this copy to me, knowing full well that it would be my cup of tea.

Prisoner of Ice and Snow by Ruth Lauren | Book Tour

This post is the first stop for the Prisoner of Ice and Snow Blog Tour for Bloomsbury Kids! Check out the other posts at the bottom throughout the week to find out more!

I know it’s only September, but trust me when I tell you I’ve got the perfect wintry girls-being-awesome adventure to tell you about. Grab your thick blankets, cocoa (or hot drink of choice) and cosy up with Prisoner of Ice and Snow, the debut novel from author Ruth Lauren.

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Valor has a plan to save her sister, but it requires trying to assassinate the crown prince Anatol in front of essentially the whole Kingdom of Demidova, during a peaceful celebration with neighbouring Magadanskya. It’s… a bit complicated.

Thrown into the ice fortress of Tyur’ma, Valor sets her plan into motion – find Sasha, locate the tunnels under the prison system and escape for good. Together with her new allies Felicks and Katia, Valor must battle gruelling prison life and Warden Kirov to rescue Sasha.

But why is Sasha imprisoned? There’s the issue of one missing music box. But if Sasha didn’t steal it, who did?

That’s right my friends, it’s a prison break-in and break-out novel set in sort-of Russia. You may recall that one of my all time favourite books is the Grisha novels Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo, and admittedly the similarities did make me worry. But do not be alarmed, dear reader! This is a very different and equally enjoyable novel – more akin to the works of Kiran Millwood Hargrave or William Nicholson.

Valor is a great character, determined, loyal and brave. She reminds me of a number of great protagonists that mattered to me so much as I grew up – Lyra, Kestrel, Sabriel. I really fell for Felicks and cautious Katia, and I hope that they appear in the future novels.

The story is well executed, twisting and exciting, and really sets the heart racing. I was incredibly impressed by this, not least because it is a debut! This is a great adventure novel continuing the trend of recent for children’s fiction fronted by female protagonists – if you want to check out some more click here.

Prisoner of Ice and Snow is a mature middle grade novel that would be well enjoyed by fans of YA as well. This is an impressive start to a brand new fast paced adventure series, with the next instalment due in 2018.

Interested? Get it here and add it to your GoodReads.

What to read next:

Thank you to Bloomsbury Kids for sharing this copy with me and adding me to the book tour, organised by wonderful Fay Myers.

Monday 4th September

Bookish Outsider

Tuesday 5th September

YA Under My Skin & Book Lover Jo

Wednesday 6th September

PowisAmy & Kirstyes

Thursday 7th September

Library Girl and Book Boy & OBC Mini Reviewers

Friday 8th September

A Bookish Life Blog & Bart’s Bookshelf

Saturday 9th September

Tales of Yesterday & The Book Moo

Sunday 10th September

Rachel Bustin & The Bibliophile Chronicles

Monday 11th September

Minerva Reads & Golden Books Girl

Tuesday 12th September

Live Otherwise & Luna’s Little Library

Wednesday 13th September

An Awfully Big Adventure & Mum Friendly

Thursday 14th September

Emma’s Bookery & Miss Cleveland is Reading

Friday 15th September

Bibliobeth & A Little but a Lot

Saturday 16th September

With Love for Books & Get Kids into Books

Sunday 17th September

Linda’s Book Bag & Fantastic Book Dragon

A Storm of Strawberries by Jo Cotterill | 1 Minute Reviews

This is an absolutely charming book.

Set on a strawberry farm over the course of one weekend, this novel follows twelve year old Darby as things start to (literally and metaphorically) fall apart in her life. A tornado is coming, and so is her sister Kaydee’s difficult friend Lissa. All Darby wants to do is the annual chocolate egg hunt.

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Darby has Down’s Syndrome and its clear that Cottrill has done her research into life as someone with Down’s Syndrome, producing a point of view narrative that feels real – and very close to good autistic character voices, which makes me wonder if Darby is supposed to be dual diagnosis. Sorry autism distraction!

In a short novel and one small weekend, Cottrill manages to incorporate jealousy, secrets and truths, hidden romance, financial fears and a lot of shouting. I’m really impressed by this lovely little novel that affirms that disabled people have our own wants, desires, personalities without patronising the reader or getting it wildly wrong.

Not only that but this is a middle grade novel with a lesbian couple that also deals with coming out to parents and siblings – normally a narrative reserved for older readers books. All in all, I’m really impressed and will be seeking out more of Cottrill’s books.

This is a great novel to buy a child (I feel from age 9 upwards) especially if they want to understand people with Down’s Syndrome, learning disabilities and autism better, as well as being just a lovely, captivating story. Darby is a warm loving person who I loved reading about, and honestly I’d read a whole series about her.

Interested? Get it here.

What to read next:

Thank you kindly to the team at Bonnier Zaffre and Piccadilly Press for sharing this book with me.

The Girl In Between by Sarah Carroll | 1 Minute Reviews

Middle grade fiction as a genre continues to blow me away. Kiran Millwood Hargrave has twice worked to reinvent the genre into lyricism, and Sarah Carroll is following hot on her footsteps with this stunning Irish debut from Simon and Schuster.

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Sam and her ma are homeless, living in an abandoned mill in the heart of Dublin, their Castle, their home. After living on the streets, the dilapidated building is a safe haven for the mother and daughter.

That is, until the yellow jackets come. Are they coming to take Sam away to the Authorities or to tear down their Castle? As her mother falls deep into old addictions, Sam searches for friendships in the passers by, the Caretaker and the ghosts of the mill.

This is a truly stunning novel aimed at children that confronts the realities of homelessness, addiction and parenting in a stark, open way that never patronises the reader. Sam’s voice is sparkling and brilliant, despite the trials she has lived through.

At times I was fighting back tears and had my heart in my throat, terrified by the vicious Monkey Man and completely feeling the fear that rules Sam’s ma trickling off the page. This is an emotional and strong debut from an author I look forward to reading more from.

Get it here.

What to read next:

Thank you kindly to Simon and Schuster for sharing this copy with me.

The Island at the End of Everything by Kiran Millwood Hargrave & Memories of the Philippines

This last year has been a pretty wonderful one for writer Kiran Millwood Hargrave. Her first novel The Girl of Ink and Stars was published and instantly made a Waterstones Children’s Book of the Month, then shortlisted for the Jhalak Prize and took the trophy for Waterstones Children’s Book of the Year. I absolutely loved The Girl of Ink and Stars so was eager to see what she would create next.

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The Island at the End of Everything is a stunning novel of plucky girls, friendship and brave adventures, just as Ink and Stars was. Amihan was born on Culion, an island colony for people with leprosy, where she has lived all her life with her mother Tala. When the government sends a new administrator to shake things up on Culion, Ami and the other children without leprosy are removed to an orphanage the next island over. Fearing for her mother’s safety, Ami sets out to return to Culion together with her new friend, kindly and brave Mariposa.

Millwood Hargrave handles both leprosy and life as a disabled person gently and with great respect, even opening up a conversation about person first descriptions of disability – person with leprosy as opposed to “leper”. These topics are really important for people to be exposed to and I’m really pleased to see these conversations being approached in Children’s literature.

A small diversion into nostalgia, if you’ll allow me. There is a scene in the book that reminds me so much of a memory that I had to share it with you. Before I returned to my rightful world of books, I worked as a research diver in the Philippines. One weekend a small group of us needed to travel to the island of Cebu, a few islands over from where we were based in the Central Visayas, in order to pick up some new diving gear. While we were there, we decided to make a little holiday of it and visited Jumalon Butterfly Sanctuary, a small butterfly sanctuary, museum and art gallery.

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As ever Kiran’s writing is lyrical, rich in senses and transcends its middle grade genre. Honestly you need to read it. If you’ve not been reading children’s literature in recent years, I strongly recommend that you pick up one of her novels to see what you’ve been missing out on. Get it here.

What to read next:

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