Cogheart by Peter Bunzl

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Normally, when I review a book, I have it on the desk beside me to I can glance through the pages and jog my memory. Not this time though, because I’m soft. After mentioning the book a couple of times to a girl in my class, she somehow got me to promise to give her the book as soon as I’d finished it. Clearly the bookseller in my is dying a hard death. Really, I should charge.


What genre is Cogheart? If you agree with the assertion  (if you don’t, get out) that children’s literature is not a genre but a movement, and one that actually contains all genres and it not limited to fiction, then this novel is steampunk.

In other words, if you enjoy stories in a Victorian setting, but would gladly trade the constant death, oppression of women, poor sanitation and all morally crippling religiousness for spunky female main characters, clockwork gadgets and moustache (and mutton chops) twirling villains, this is your genre. And it’s fantastic.

I immediately love the no-nonsense, let’s just do it because I don’t wanna die attitude of the main character, Lily. Girl got moxie. We first meet her in an exclusive and stifling boarding school for young ladies, which she attends under a fake name. Needless to say, lock picking, Penny Dreadful reading Lily is the black sheep at school as well as the target for bullying at the hands of both her classmates and her teachers. Another thing that sets Lily apart is the affinity she shoes towards mechanicals. Her father being a renowned inventor, Lily was half raised by the family’s household mechs, and loves them as she would any other family member. To everyone else, however, mechs are treated with contempt, in much the same way lower classes would have been in a parallel setting.

I  appreciate the subtle debate throughout the story on what constitutes as being alive. Bunzl humanises the mechanical characters to great effect, bringing to them a warmth and lovability that many of the “flesh and blood” characters lack.  It makes for some uncomfortable reading during situations where it comes to a toss up between the life of a human and a mechanical person. My approach for this book was usually ‘if in doubt, save the mechanical fox’ because aside from being a talking mechanical fox (come ON!) his often snide wit offsets the more macabre moments in this story. Overall some quality world-building is evident in Bunzl’s writing but never did I feel as though I was wading through information dumps.

Cogheart is a high-flying adventure story with well written characters, plenty of chemistry and truly creepy villains (spoiler: they have mirrors for eyes, and the surgeon wasn’t too neat about it.) It contains a satisfying plot twist and a there is plenty at stake to keep readers of any age mesmerised until the turning of the final page.


The Imaginary by A.F. Harrold and Emily Gravett



When I see that Emily Gravett has illustrated a new book, my immediate reaction is a kind of involuntary and urgently clumsy plunge for the auld wallet. I would paper my walls with her illustrations if I could afford to, but even I can see that a twenty-five-year-old who still lives at home doing this is pushing the I’m-an-adult-who-prefers-to-read-kids-books-and-it’s-awesome a little too far. So I’ve held off until I have some actual children. This may be my only motivation for having actual children.

So not to beat around the bush any further, it’s awesome. The strong childlike voice of the narrator (not first person) is gentle and easy but lively. I’ve never read anything by this author before, but he knows how to nail a childlike voice without sounding remotely childish. It would suit a confident eight year old and could be read to much younger children. That said, it is CRREEEPY, in the style of Neil Gaiman’s Coraline, though not quite as messed-up. This means that it will appeal to parents who don’t want to traumatise their children THAT MUCH while still enjoying a couple in involuntary shudders themselves.

The story is about imaginary friends, and is told from the point of view of one called Rudger, who is naturally devoted to the little girl who created him. Their ideal childhood is disrupted by the appearance of a man and an (think if every long-haired creepy little dead brat you’ve ever seen in a horror movie) imaginary girl who can see him and take a disquieting interest in the pair. The cutsy and whimsical world of the imaginaries is juxtaposed alongside the real world and an altogether much darker meeting of the two. The book opens with a shock and there are sad bits to boot. Sorry, no spoilers. Overall, this was a fantastic book, with illustrations working in perfect creepy and adorable harmony with the text. The simplicity of the storytelling belies the complexity of the story itself. For the brief time I spent reading it (it is very short) my brain was very happy.

Christmas Gifts Part 3 for readers aged 8-12

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One of the best books I read this year was The Jade Boy by Cate Cain. I would hesitate to recommend it to anyone under 11, as it is at times frightening and gruesome but it was one of the most exciting historical novels I have read in years. Set in the time of the restoration just before the Great Fire of London it features Jem a mistreated servant boy and his two friends a selectively mute black boy called Tolly and Ann a young witch, with magic mystery and adventure this is a gothic and thrilling read.

Another great historical novel with a ghostly twist was Frost Hollow Hall by Emma Carroll. You can read my review here

Back to Blackbrick by Sarah Moore Fitzgerald is another debut with historical elements which I adored. I reviewed on my other blog

The Keeper by Darragh Martin is new fantasy, perfect for fans of Percy Jackson or Arthur Quinn and will I hope be the first in an exciting new series. Featuring journeys on the DART, Celtic myths and mysterious books this is a thrilling read for 10 and upwards.

The Powers by Kevin Stephens illustrated by Sheena Dempsey is a a fun filled read for readers aged 8 plus featuring a family of super heroes who don’t always get things right. Check them out on you tube

The Ark of Dun Ruah Protectors of The Flame by Maria Burke is the second book in the Dun Ruah series continuing the story of Simon and Kerry here is my review of the first in the series this series will appeal to fantasy fans aged 10 and upwards.

A Rosette for Maeve? and Colm’s Lambs by Anna McQuinn are the first of a planned series of books for younger readers, perfect for reading aloud or for beginners reading alone. Published by O’Brien Press in association with The Farmer’s Journal they feature farming life , animals and nature. Age 6 plus.

Rebecca Rocks by Anna Carey is the third instalment in the fun and award winning series featuring contemporary teens as they attempt to become rock mega stars. A great read perfect for fans of Saran Webb. Ages 11 and upwards.

Fortunately The Milk by Neil Gaiman illustrated by Chris Riddell  A rollicking, fun and inventive read featuring Gaiman’s trademark wit and silliness and Riddell’s  illustrations not only add to the story but also contain hidden clues. This will be loved by young readers aged 8 or 9 but would make an ideal bedtime story for kids from 5 upwards.

The Wolf Princess by Cathryn Constable although this was actually published last year it deserves a mention here because this is a wonderfully exciting book which hasn’t had the attention it deserves. It has a very girly cover which some love and others really hate, this is a magical and at times dark tale  dealing with loneliness and friendship. A thrilling historical fantasy and it has wolves.  Here is Mara’s review from earlier in the year.

Arthur Quinn and Hell’s Keeper by Alan Early is the dramatic conclusion to the Father of Lies chronicles which have been a massive hit with 9 to 13 year olds featuring an Irish setting and Norse mythology this is a sure fire hit with fans of Harry Potter and Percy Jackson.

Ask Amy Green; Wedding Belles by Sarah Webb  I know I mentioned it in my first Christmas round up but in case you missed it I cannot recommend this series highly enough. These books are laugh out loud funny and sadly this is the last one but make a young person you know chuckle through Christmas by buying them this book. Ideal for ages 11 and up.

Darcy Burdock By Laura Dockrill is another very funny book ideal for readers aged 8 and up featuring a wonderful heroine who likes to notice everything around and write about it. The book also featues Laura’s fantastic illustrations. For anyone who enjoys the Wimpy Kid books this is a must.


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.


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…

The Wolf Princess by Cathryn Constable

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Unfortunately, the cover lets this book down an awful lot, so that age-old rule of judgement applies here! I have known parents to buy this book for their seven and eight year olds, who are subsequently bored silly by the vivid descriptions of Russian fashion architecture and culture and the well-researched allusions to the history of the Czars. This book has much much more to offer to a pre-teen audience.

Young Sophie dreams of someday visiting Russia, but as an orphan with a guardian who barely manages to pay her school fees, her chances of going on the school trip to St. Petersburg are slim indeed – so she takes drastic measures. She and her two best friends soon find themselves kidnapped (not necessarily against their wills) and spirited away to the majestic but dilapidated palace of the long-dead Volkonsky family. What begins as a fairy tale slowly descends into a sinister plot of deceit and danger. The story contains plenty of twists, and more than one grizzly death scene, so keep an open mind and don’t pass off this excellent book!

P.S. And wolves … I didn’t mention there’d be wolves. 😉