Knights of the Borrowed Dark – and a protagonist with a difference – by Dave Rudden

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Yes, I know. I’m quite late in reviewing this, and I bet I’m the last person to do so. But I’m nothing if not honest and I’m writing a post about this book as part of my promotion of superb MG books that are not by David Walliams. It was only a matter of (not much) time before I started waving this one tantalisingly in front of my class with the promise that it was dark – dark enough that I (loudly) considered not letting them have it.
That worked.
However, you can recommend a book to kids, but unless that book is earth-shatteringly good, those kids will never listen to you again, and then you’re are trapped in teacher/librarian/bookseller purgatory. Thankfully my soul is safe. And after using a passage from this book as the subject of a creative writing lesson on writing action scenes, it looks like I’m going to have to get a couple more copies for the classroom (because they’re not getting my signed copy).
I loved this book because of the nature of the evil in the story. The Tenebrous exist in an in between place between this world and another using shadows to bridge the gap, in order to feed off the misery of humans (especially kids of course), and generally wreak havoc. I love them because they are undeniably scary. Rudden captures what he calls “a fundamental wrongness” to the way they look and move which is hard to pin down and yet deeply unnerving. More effective still is that fact that they are properly, mass-destructive and lethally dangerous. There’s no daring-do hero leaping between the clichéd hap-hazard blows of some blundering monster. These things take no prisoners – except when they do, then it’s a building full of orphans whom they gleefully torment and suck the life from. Aside from that, there’s this feeling that a character is alway seconds from dismemberment throughout the book. Even the adult mentor figures, the Knights that stand between blissfully ignorant people and violent annhialation, however skilled, are often absolutely terrified.
Which brings me to the main character, Denizen. He’s not quite your typical orphan, plucked from monotony to learn about a noble heritage and a grand heroic destiny, which he accepts bravely and graciously. He’s suspicious, sceptical, and spends most of the start of the book being pants-wettingly scared. His sass would give Harry Potter a run for his money. He is righteously angry and resentful upon learning the reasons why he was abandoned to spend his childhood in an orphanage, and expresses this in explosive magical thirteen-year-old style. In other words, he’s a real boy!unknown-1                                             Comment if, like me, you read that in his voice.

Another thing I really, deeply appreciated the concept of power involving a sacrifice, a negative and irreversible side-effect. Gone are the days when readers of any age will buy into the idea of someone just getting away with having awesome powers, especially if they’re the good guys. The effects of “the cost” in KOTBD makes me cringe every time one of the Knights uses their power. The nature of the sacrifice these characters make renders them irresistibly lovable – even the Malleus herself, who makes Judi Dench look like a kitten.

Lastly, and most importantly for me anyway, the quality of the writing is something that you don’t see that often in modern MG anymore. It makes deeply descriptive but smooth reading, effortlessly conveying darkness, danger, humour and tragedy within the confines of an age category some would mistakenly call restrictive. This is my favourite book of 2016, and the UNESCO City of Literature’s pick for Dublin for 2017.

In other words, if you haven’t read it yet, what are you waiting for?

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The Imaginary by A.F. Harrold and Emily Gravett

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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.

Warp the Reluctant Assassin reviewed by Leah Dillon aged 10

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Albert Garrick used to be the most celebrated illusionist in the West End, Known as the Great Lombardi, until during one performance, he actually sawed his beautiful assistant in half. Garrick discovered on that night that he enjoyed taking a life almost as much as he enjoyed the delighted applause from the stalls, and so the magician made a new career of assassination. Riley is Garrick’s apprentice and he must pass a test. The rules are kill or be killed. But Riley doesn’t seem to want to follow in his master’s footsteps…

I read the start of this book and I loved the author’s writing style but I am sorry to say that I didn’t finish it because it wasn’t really suitable for me. It kind of freaked me out…

So I guess that means it’s more suitable for teenagers and young adults. Then again, I’m more on the sensitive side so maybe some kids my age would like it, I don’t know. Anyway, the writing is great and the plot seems very interesting so those who the book is suitable for should love it. And after the author’s Artemis Fowl series’ success, you can only expect it to be good!

Guest Post from Bleach House Library Blog

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http://bleachhouselibrary.blogspot.ie/2014/05/mia-interviews-author-erika-mcgann.html

 

Mia interviews author Erika McGann about the award winning “The Demon Notebook”

Last week Mia and I were lucky enough to meet with the fantastic Erika McGann and have a chat about her award winning children’s book The Demon Notebook.  Mia had lots of questions and was truly delighted to be able to chat with Erika about books, cakes and Ouija boards!

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Debut Irish children’s author Erika McGann has been announced as the winner of this year’s Waverton Good Read Children’s Award. McGann scooped the award for her deliciously spooky debut novel,The Demon Notebook, beating seventeen other shortlisted titles for the top spot.

More young readers will soon fall under the spell of The Demon Notebook as it has been selected as a recommended read in the fantasy/sci-fi category for this year’s ‘Read for my School’ campaign run by Booktrust.

The story continues in the sequel, The Broken Spell, which is out now and the third book in the series,The Watching Wood, will be published in Ireland and the U.K. in September. U.S. rights for both The Demon Notebook and The Broken Spell have been sold to Sourcebooks, with The Demon Notebookset for publication in the U.S. next month.

Here is a sneak peek at the wonderful USA cover of The Demon Notebook : 

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Mia’s review of The Demon Notebook

 

Grace and her four friends want to be witches, but it turns out to be harder than they thought! After a session with a Ouija Board, strange things start to happen and the girls lives are about to change.

This book is definitely in my top three reads of all time.  The story is full of mystery and magic. The five friends are in secondary school and often get picked on by the school bully, Tracy Murphy, and want to get even. Unfortunately, things get a bit out of control and the girls need to get help from a local witch, Mrs Quinlan,  to get things back to normal.  Miss Lemon, their French teacher is also called in to help and she is shocked with all the drama.

I really like the way Erika writes and even though I am in primary school, this was a perfect read for me.  I kept turning the pages and tried to read past my bedtime!  I have already started the next book, The Broken Spell and cannot wait for the third one, The Watching Wood, due out this September. I will recommend this book to all my friends and would give it 5 out of 5 !!!

Mia’s Interview with Erika McGann

 

1. How long did it take for you to write The Demon Notebook?

 

“It took me about eight or nine months, which is quiet a long time, but it was my first go at writing and I was kind of learning as I went.  It was a little bit slow and a little bit clunky and it took me kind of a while to work things out.”

 

2. Was it fun to create Mrs. Quinlan?

 

” Yes, it was. I love Mrs. Quinlan. I think she is one of my favourites. I love her. I always describe her as that neighbour in your street that if your ball went over into their back garden, you don’t go and get it. You know that kind of neighbour that you are kind of scared of? I loved creating her. You can kind of say whatever you want as her aswell, she’s so rude to the girls, you don’t have to be careful, you don’t have to be polite, so I love her!”

 

3. How did you come up with the Non-Una character?

 

“The girls are all kind of based on my friends, that I was in secondary school with, which is fun because they are trying to pick themselves out of the book now! I love the fact that when Una changes, she changes so much, she becomes really polite and she essentially became like me, when I was in school, all hand up, collected the books for the teacher and I loved that thing where they knew something was wrong as she was way too nice, way too polite.”

 

4. Is there going to be a third book about Grace and her friends?

 

“Yes there is, and it’s out in September. I’m working on the edits right now.  It is called “The Watching Wood”. I’m loving it at the moment and hoping it goes down really, really well.  It’s really exciting and I can’t wait for that one.”

 

5. Did you ever use a Ooija Board?

 

“Yes I did. I always wondered if it was that little button that was too far? When I was doing sessions I was kind of nervous, that it was the one thing that was going to get me in trouble, but to be honest, I think it is a different time now, it’s not taken so seriously.  I actually own one of the proper ones, that I got in America, the ones that you see on TV, as you just can’t get them here.

I was never afraid of it. I just wanted to believe in it, I wanted to believe in ghosts and spirits. It was more fun than anything. Everybody has a story of a friend, of a friend, not someone close to them though. But I can understand some people being nervous of them.”

 

6. Why did you choose to write children’s books?

 

“I think because I’m not grown up enough to write adult books, I think there’s too much of a kid inside me and there is real freedom in writing kids books. There’s no restrictions or anything, you can kind of do what you want.”

 

7. When you were a child, what did you want to be when you grew up?

 

“When I was really young, I wanted to be an author. I used to read and write stories a lot. But then when I got a little bit older I wanted to be a vet, but that is hard to get into in Ireland so I found a course in England called animal behaviour and welfare and I decided I wanted to be David Attenborough! I went to college and did that degree.”

 

8. Have you always been interested in Witchcraft and the occult?

 

“Yes, I think that’s what drove the book really. It came from me and my friends in school. we loved the idea of witchcraft, anything supernatural, ghosts and all that kind of thing.”

 

9. What were your favourite children’s books or authors as a child?

 

“I think probably my favourite children’s author would be Roald Dahl. I think it always will be Roald Dahl ! I loved him when I was young. The BFG was my favourite, but when I went back to read them, it’s not my favourite now at all. I really like Matilda.  There weren’t a lot of books like his, he was kind of nasty and grotesque and still now there’s nothing quite like him. I loved the Narnia books aswell and I loved The Worst Witch.”

 

10. Did you use the library or buy books when you were young?

 

“The library. It was all about the library. When I was pre-teen, me and my friend used to make a trip to the library every two weeks together. The library was a big thing when I was young. It was our access to books.”

 

11. Tell us three things that most people don’t know about you.

 

” I’m actually afraid of balloons. I worked briefly in a party shop and we used to do balloon arrangements and when you are working on them, some of them pop and it just made me so tense!

I did a volunteer placement in the Bahamas and I got to work with sharks, even swimming with them!

I read a lot of YA books. Grown up, mature books, I can’t handle at all. When I’m in a book shop, I ignore the adult section entirely. ”

 

12. What is your favourite dessert?

 

“Anything with chocolate! I am a chocolate fiend! I think, chocolate fudge cake…..”

 

13. What was your favourite childhood holiday?

 

“We went to France a lot, which I loved, as we have relatives over there.  My Mom speaks very good french and she double, double checked all the french I wrote in the book. But if I was to choose a great, really mad holiday, we used to go down to Trabolgan in Co. Cork and remember that being the awesome, awesome holiday !! We were set free and had so much fun ….”

 

14. What famous person, alive or dead, would you give your last Rolo to?

 

 

 

“I would give it to Jane Austen because, despite Mansfield Park, I absolutely adore her. I re-read her books constantly and  for the time, she was so advanced, talking about women, and she was so witty. I think she would be really, really fun.”

 

 

Thanks so much to Erika for agreeing to meet us and allowing Mia to ask her all those questions!  We cannot wait for the new book in September………

The Demon Notebook and the Broken Spell are published by The O’Brien Press and are available in all good bookshops or in e-book format.

Top Books for Teens this Christmas or Great Books for Christmas Part 2

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With Hunger Games fever still running high there is no sign of interest in dystopian fiction slowing down. If you have a Hunger Games fan in the house they may also love Veronica Roth’s Divergent, Insurgent and Allegiant.

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This photo features just some of the amazing books that have been published for teen readers this year. Some of our highlights include;

More Than This by Patrick Ness. 

The captivating, dramatic and thrilling new book from the award winning author is a must read.

Will Grayson, Will Grayson by John Green and David Levithan

This a simple but sensitive story about two very different boys with the same name. John Green has been the man of the hour this year in teen fiction but I feel certain that 2014 will be David Levithan’s year.

Forgive me, Leonard Peacock by Matthew Quick

A look at some dark issues including mental illness and suicide which is nonetheless hopeful.

The Lucy Variations by Sara Zarr

A coming of age story about a musical prodigy.

 

Let it Snow by John Green, Maureen Johnson and Lauren Myracle

Three intertwining stories full of romance and Christmas spirit.

Missing Ellen by Natasha Mac a’Bháird

A stunning debut from an Irish author check out Lisa C’s review from earlier in the year https://inkandpaperhearts.wordpress.com/2013/08/08/missing-ellen-by-natasha-mac-a-bhaird/

Sorrow’s Knot by Erin Bow

A stunning historical fantasy set in the North American wilderness, epic.

Rose under Fire Elizabeth Wein

Follow up to the stunning Code Name Verity, this is the story of a young American pilot in WW2

Witchfall by Victoria Lamb

The second instalment of a magical trilogy about a young witch at the Tudor Court.

The Ghost Bride by Yangsze Choo

This debut is a stunning ghostly fantasy

Ghost Hawk by Susan Cooper

A new book from Cooper is always reason to celebrate and this is  a thought provoking and courageous historical tale.

The Rithmatist by Brandon Sanderson

The master of fantasy takes on YA fiction with this thrilling steampunk tale, perfect for fans of Harry Potter and Skullduggery Pleasant.

Lockwood & Co The Screaming Staircase by Jonathan Stroud

The first in new series about a ghost hunting agency sure to delight fans of Joseph Delaney and Darren Shan

Heart Shaped by Siobhan Parkinson

Home grown and brilliant

check out the inkies review https://inkandpaperhearts.wordpress.com/2013/10/10/park-yoself-here-and-read-these-books/

13 Fantasy Books Worth Gushing About

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I believe that every person, to some extent, has a natural inclination towards fantasy that is inherent since they were children. But, like an unused muscle, our imaginations become inflexible from lack of exertion. I listen to the children I teach play sometimes, and I am always floored magical worlds they inhabit when allowed to let their imaginations furnish their play. Now don’t get me wrong, I love realistic writing. I need it, like everyone does. Yet, time and time again I come up against this adversion towards fantasy that I can’t make sense of. My only conclusion is that too often, the book market becomes saturated with fantasy stories that don’t do for us what the genre has the power to do, (by the way, that’s anything, anything at all, there are absolutely no limits) but rather, tend to regurgitate the same Dungeons and Dragons nonsense about sword wielding warriors, scantily clad damsels and some dark lord who wants to take over the world (It’s always about taking over the world isn’t it? I mean, why? They never actually say. It’s what dark lords do because they’re bad … and that’s it isn’t it? ZZZZzzzz.)

But there are lots and lots of fantasy stories that do SO MUCH MORE! They get down and gritty with the reader, asking tough questions, and making us feel for characters in tough situations. That’s because these worlds were built to be read as real worlds, inhabited by real people, with as many struggles and triumphs as we have. But because a good fantasy story is set in a made-up world, anyone can identify with the plight of the characters, or feel a sense of longing for the setting of the story. Just like a fairytale can evoke the first feelings of empathy in a toddler, so too can fantasy wake us up to the loves, fears, wonders and losses and everything else it means to be human, in a someone much older. Here are some of my favourite fantasy stories (in no particular order) that do just that.

1. Inkheart (Inkspell, Inkdeath) by Cornelia Funke

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Guaranteed to leave a lasting impression. At the heart of these books is a story about the love of books. I always find that when I try to explain the plot of Inkheart, I sort of let the book down. Suffice to say that it’s like letting your brain slide down a helter-skelter of wonder and fear. Also, the sequels are best for children aged 11+ and adult readers who don’t mind children’s books with a dark side.

2. The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman

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Like much of Neil Gaiman’s work, it’s kind of baffling to work out exactly what kind of readership it’s intended for, unless you’re me, in which case, I would say that it’s for everyone! Think of Kipling’s The Jungle Book – an orphaned boy raised by animals in the jungle, so logically, The Graveyard Book is about an orphaned boy raised by ghosts, vampires and werewolves in a graveyard. No prizes for guessing. This classic story of the journey from innocence to experience is poignant and funny at intervals and scary to boot all the way through.

3. The Tiffany Aching Books (The Wee Free Men, A Hat Full of Sky, Wintersmith, I Shall Wear Midnight) by Terry Pratchett

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There are a lot of books out there about witches. The good ones are written by authors who know how to use witchcraft to make the story work. Pratchett, blows them all out of the water though, with this trilogy. Preteen Tiffany no sooner begins her training as a witch when she learns that there is a big difference between real witches and women who drape themselves in pentagram jewelry and gaze in crystal balls. Real witches are the backbone of a community, from delivering babies, to laying out the dead, and every task inbetween be it as unmagical as clipping an old person’s toenails. Tiffany’s story is that of a young girl learning about the things that really matter in life, about growing up to be a responsible adult. Did give the impression that these books are serious? Ooops! Well there’s also a band of smelly, violent, kilted blue Scottish pixies that both help and hinder her along the way.

4. The Poison Throne (The Crowded Shadows, The Rebel Prince) by Celine Kiernan

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I hope the author doesn’t hate me for saying this, but these books are perfect for any reader who is thinking about tackling A Song of Ice and Fire (that’s Game of Thrones for those of you who don’t read and haven’t left the house in three years), but isn’t quite ready for such a .. erm… mature series. Perfect for 11+, readers, the Moorehawke Trilogy is fiercely political and actually, just fiercely written in general. The female protagonist is wise, strong and generally KICK-ASS. The plot asks a lot of morally challenging questions of the reader and brings many of the characters to the point of breaking and beyond. Yet, they are lovable, hilarious, courageous and you want them all to survive and live happily ever after. Ahem… about that… no, nevermind.

5. The Treachery of Beautiful Things by Ruth Long

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One of my favourite sub-genres of fantasy are books that draw inspiration from fairytales. Actually, I should say that my favourite books are the ones that do it well, because some are appallingly contrived. While many authors have weakened their plot by doing this, Treachery of Beautiful Things is a great example of a book that draws strength from folk and fairy tales, and creates an atmospheric world just seething with magic, where modern day characters meet the enticing but dangerous beings of the faerie realm. Here we see a female protagonist who is both feisty and vulnerable. In the midst of so much one-sided feistiness on the part of recent heroines, Jenny is really a refreshing character. I hope there is a sequel!

6. The Girl who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making (The Girl Who Fell Beneath Fairyland and Led the Revels There) by Catherynne Valente

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Alice in Wonderland meets The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. I can’t even begin to describe the richness of the writing that you will find in these books. I find myself not remembering lines so much as actually remembering the actually images they evoked in my minds eye while I read the book, as well as the smells, sounds and emotions. They’re also funny, witty and totally unexpected. They are set in a fairyland where anything (but not everything) goes and the heroine is entirely lovable.

7. Magus of Stonewylde (Moondance at Stonewylde, Solstice at Stonewylde, Shadows at Stonwylde, Shaman of Stonewylde) by Kit Berry

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Okay, okay, so it’s not strictly fantasy… but I had to mention them here. I’ll mention them anywhere if given half a chance! These books spanned a year’s readership that left me in emotional turmoil and suspense that I hadn’t experienced since Harry Potter. I became so attached to this characters to the point where I felt almost haunted by them. Stonewylde could be classed as magical realism. I personally don’t recommend it for anyone under the age of fourteen, because the plot gets pretty sinister and the morality of the characters is very grey because they live in a community which has been cut of from the outside world since pre-Christian times. I love the books all the more, however, because of their often challenging dilemmas.

8. The Hounds of the Morrigan by Pat O’Shea

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I had to, I just HAD to! I wrote my M.A. thesis about this book. It’s an absolute jewel, based on Irish mythology but with a contemporary setting,and a nice little subversive hint that perhaps we don’t give our pagan roots as much attention as we should. Admittedly, the plot is long and rambling, with so many twists it’s hard not to turn the book inside out while reading it, but it’s so so beautiful and funny and filled with wonder. I still quote lines from it. The author’s use of language is nothing short of acrobatic. I dare anyone to reach the end whilst remaining both straight-faced and dry eyed.

9. Magyk – Septimus Heap book 1 (Flyte, Physik, Queste, Syren, Darke, Fyre) by Angie Sage

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J.K. Rowling meets Trudi Canavan and Raymond Feist. Definitely for children though. I love the characters, and the gothic feel of the story. More on this when I finish this satisfyingly long and bulky series.

10. Sabriel (Lirael, Abhorsen) by Garth Nix

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YOU HAVE NOT LIVED, until you’ve met the sarcastic cat who’s actually a  – oh wait, no spoilers, I forgot. Sabriel is an eighteen-year-old girl who can summon and dismiss the dead with a brace of bells?  Nix’s concept of magic is so original, almost scientific, but not at all heavy-handed or tedious to read. I love Sabriel as a heroine, because she is so dead  -pan and independent, but not at all given to the stereotypically feisty female lead characters we all seem to be favouring these days

11. Tithe (Ironside, Valiant) by Holly Black

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A twisty, tricksy tale about fairies, changelings and all things that go bump in the night. The sweetly seductive style is one I recommend for teens and upwards only.

12. Thirteen Treasures (Thirteen Curses, Thirteen Secrets) by Michelle Harrison

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Another series about fairies, this time suitable for younger readers (9+) and yet, still very creepy and twisted. This one is worth reading for the seamless working of fairy lore and plot alone, if not for the entertainment supplied the the fairies themselves, who make people’s lives absolutely miserable.

13. Wolf Brother (Spirit Walker, Soul Eater, Outcast, Oath Breaker, Ghost Hunter)

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Loosely based on a kind of early North American, Canadian, or perhaps prehistoric human existence, this series follows the adventures of an orphaned boy and his wolf cub companion with whom he shares a deep bond. In this harsh world they face demons, spirits and supernatural powers, all against the backdrop of a richly imagined and well researched world. Prepare yourself for scary and sad bits.

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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