The Broken Spell by Erika McGann

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I hope I end up teaching a class of 5th class girls some year so that I can read these books with them! There is just so much scope. Unfortunately I doubt I’d get away with it in most Catholic Schools, with the many references to Wicca (although not in a religious context) and what with the descriptions of magic and spells being so suspiciously accurate!

   ‘But wait! How do YOU know if it’s accurate?’ I hear you cry. Well, I’m a witch! So there! And I think that qualifies me to tell you that Erika is on to something great here with this series.

   First off, although the book appears to be set nowhere in particular, there is a definite sense that these young teenage girls are Irish girls. They’re represented artfully and realistically, rather than stereotypically, and yet they possess and innocence that makes the book conveniently suitable for primary classes, and sort of reminds me of my first coven, not that the results of our spells were ever so dramatic!

   The spells, and their outcomes are genuinely very unique and imaginative, which is not easy to do these days, with all the teen fantasy books vying for our attention (Thanks J.K.).

   So here’s the taster! This sequel to The Demon Notebook begins in a much more light-hearted vein than its predecessor, with the five friends being schooled in magical theory by two senior witches, Their French teacher, Ms. Lemon and Vera (The Cat Lady) Quinlan. The girls are bored to tears being forced to memorise long lists of herbs without any promise of ever being allowed to attempt an actual spell. Then the glamorous Ms. Gold arrives in their school and turns the fruitless arrangement upside-down by promising to teach the girls to create clouds of golden butterflies, change their appearance at will and even to fly. 

   Before long, however, the inevitable happens and McGann’s writing returns to its wonderfully dark edge when a time-travelling spell goes horribly wrong, and Grace finds herself being stalked by a faceless hooded figure with a vendetta against all witches.

 

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Frost Hollow Hall by Emma Carroll

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This is a delightful debut novel from a talented new voice in historical fiction for children. Despite the spooky nature of the tale; the icy lake, the haunted halls and the crockery which moves across the room by itself, this remains a cosy and satisfying read. Emma Carroll has created a down to earth and assured narrator in Tilly who is rescued from the lake after a skating accident by Kit Barrington even though he’s been dead for ten years. Tilly is sure there is a reason his spirit is not at rest and she is determined to find out what. She feels betrayed by her own family and when her friend Will Potter refuses to believe her Tilly takes a job as a maid at Frost Hollow Hall and finds a house still in mourning after a decade of loss and a vengeful spirit who frightens the staff. Tilly has a mystery to unravel and she’ll do it with or without Will Potter. This is a charming story which though it deals with dark themes; grief, poverty and death amongst others remains light hearted and hopeful. With wonderful description and great characterisation Emma Carroll is a real find and I can’t wait to see what she writes next. A perfect ghostly mystery for fans of Eva Ibbotson, Ellen Renner and Marie-Louise Jensen. I would recommend this to readers aged 10 upwards. It’s not out until October 3rd and it will make a perfect cosy fireside read.

Published October 3rd by Faber & Faber Thank you to Stacey at The Bookseller for a copy to review.

Tall Tales From Pitch End by Nigel McDowell

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Bruno lives in a town by the sea, populated by weary, downtrodden people who live under the constant surveillance of clockwork spies. When he discovers the true legacy of his long-dead father, he finds himself, somewhat against his will, in the thick of a plot to overthrow the sinister Elders who govern Pitch End.

   After a few mis-starts, I realised that I really loved this book. What took me so long to figure this out? Am I thick? Probably. I think what kept me on the fence so long was the fact that Bruno begins as a rather reactive character, and it is not until quite late in the story that he finally becomes proactive. That said, quite a lot of time and print has gone into building the fabulous and troubling world of Pitch End. The result is a setting that is grim, gothic and chilling, with a slight steampunk element that I loved. McDowell’s use of language is complex and uniquely beautiful. His style is what really made the book for me, so if you’re the kind of reader who appreciates language and loves a quirky style, this book is worth a go. 

   And did I mention it was dark? Oh yes, deliciously so. Violent too. Not to give away any spoilers, but if you’re under ten, don’t tell your responsible adult about the messy bits in detail. *

   My one criticism of this book is that sometimes the author seems to caught up in the beauty of his own writing that he loses the clarity of the scene, and it is often hard to visualise. On the other hand, he gives plenty of room for the reader’s imagination to fill in. The plot could have moved considerably faster, but then a lot of the building tension, that sense that Pitch End is the most dangerous place in the world, might have been lost.

   Finally, here is a book that shows us how the power of story can instil courage in even the most hopeless situations and inspire people to stand up to their oppressors. It’s well worth sticking with and even reading a second time. I am pretty certain there is nothing out there quite like it. 

 

 

 

 

*No, I don’t count as a responsible adult. Read whatever you like, see if I care…