The Final Year by Matt Goodfellow and Joe Todd-Stanton

This book was a gem (and now has me wanting to read ‘Skellig’ – have you read it?). This book had been recommended to me a number of times by a number of different people so on a recent book buying day out I picked up a copy.

This is a book that will be relatable to so many readers, young and old alike, as we have all faced that final year of Primary School before the move to bigger school and all the emotions and experiences that come with that. Nate is starting Year 6 and he know that it is all going to be OK as he will have his best friend by his side. However, as events unfold, his best friend seems to have a new best friend and Nate has to navigate the school year in a way he never expected. But that is not the only shock for Nate as circumstances at home are not the easiest either.

However, Nate finds some comfort in the book that his teacher is reading to the class, ‘Skellig’. It seems to give him strength and confidence to face the world each day – alongside the support from his teacher, friends and family. Which just proves the power books can have over their readers.

This book is told in free verse, which always seems to add something a little bit extra to a story. And this is accompanied by some stunning illustrations that also bring the book to life – and bring the emotions too.

‘The Final Year’ is a very special book which I will be recommending to everyone, because not only is it beautifully written and illustrated, but it is a book that will remind some of what it is like to be young, some of what may be to come, and some of the importance of believing in yourself and your own strength. And I am sure that this is a book I will come back to when I need a hug in a book to bring me some comfort.

Roller Girl by Victoria Jamieson

Do you read graphic novels? I often wish that I read more of them, as they are such a joy and there is such a range of them out there, it does seem a waste to not pick up more. Although one of my favourite reads was ‘When Stars are Scattered‘, also co-authored by Victoria Jamieson.

A very lovely bookstagram buddy gave me a copy of ‘Roller Girl’ and what an absolute beauty this book is. This is a book that so many should read who sometimes are not sure about their place in the world. (And I cannot promise you won’t want to consider donning your roller skates or roller blades after reading this).

Astrid is twelve years old and is used to doing everything with her best friend Nicole, even enduring her mum’s attempts to educate her and get her interested in culture. However, when she thinks she has found her thing in Roller Derby Camp, she assumes that Nicole will be willing to do exactly the same thing as she always seems to have done. Astrid has to learn to forge her own path and deal with the changing experience of growing up.

This is such a charming and heartwarming read and the illustrations are beautiful. I would love this to be on the shelves of so many young people as they navigate growing up and the path of self-discovery – there is something for everyone, as the story of Astrid and Nicole will be the story of so many.

Victoria Jamieson seems to know how to write stories that will support young people but also educate them in some of those tricky topics of the world. This is a book that I will be recommending, especially to some younger reluctant readers – I think this could be a gateway book to get them to read (along with ‘When Stars are Scattered’, of course).

Pages and Co: The Treehouse Library by Anna James

I was soooooooo excited when a copy of ‘Pages and Co: The Treehouse Library’ arrived on my doorstep. I had been lucky enough to gain a place on the Tandem Collective UK readalong of this beautiful book and been gifted a copy of the book from Harper Collins to allow me to join in.

Well, it is very simple: this book is fabulous. I am fully aware that I am not the target audience of these beautiful books, but they really are books for readers and book lovers of all ages. I challenge any of you not to wish that you had the skills to be a bookwanderer by the time you reach the end of this story (or any of the others in the series) – although I suppose we are all bookwanderers the minute we open any of our favourite books.

I do not want to give the plot away, especially if you are a fan who has been reading them all, but I can honestly say you will not be disappointed. Anna James creates such a wonderfully adventurous bookish world with the most brilliant characters. There is such a range of strong characters who younger readers would be able to look up to and take inspiration from – especially when times may be a little more difficult.

So, as we enter the autumnal months, why don’t you take a trip to Pages and Co? Because there really is no adventure like the adventures we find in books.

Also, I bet your reading wish list will grow…

The Last Firefox by Lee Newbery

This book is great fun to read. A fantastic piece of Middle Grade fiction with a heart. I am clearly not the target audience for this story, but I really enjoyed it as a great adventure yarn for younger readers, and I may be gifting it to a few readers I know.

Charlie does not think he is very brave; he does not stand up to bullies and tries to avoid being noticed by peers. He wishes he could be braver, like his friend Lippy, and answer some of the bullies back, like his friend Roo – and as for Dad, who is a firefighter, well that is a strength and bravery he can only imagine.

Yet, one day he meets Cando, the Last Firefox, and this sets him on a path of adventure he was never expecting. And one that proves that he does indeed have that fire inside him to be as brave as all the people he admires.

I do not want to give any spoilers away, as it is great fun to read, but it is wonderful again to see a book for younger readers that is so inclusive. Charlie has been adopted by his Dad and Pa and, for me, that was one of the greatest things about this story, as it covers so many key social issues in a heartwarming manner. I wish there had been so many more books like this around when I was younger, and although it is still not perfect, at least that change is happening.

So, if you like a good adventure story with a heart, then this is a book for you, whatever your age.

Like A Charm by Elle McNicoll

I was a huge fan of a ‘A Kind of Spark’ by Elle McNicoll, so when I knew that ‘Like a Charm’ had been published, I knew that I had to read it. (Especially as, again, the cover was absolutely beautiful and just makes you want to read it).

This is another brilliant read, a wonderful journey into fantasy rooted in the city of Edinburgh. Ramya Knox is drawn into this fantastical world as she discovers that her family have a few hidden secrets which connect them to that world. In fact, she soon becomes a symbol of hope for the Hidden Folk as they have to protect themselves from the Sirens, especially as Ramya appears to be resistant to their ‘charm’.

This is another story that celebrates difference, as Ramya discovers that the thing that makes her different is also the thing that makes her as special as she is. That, in fact allows her to help the Hidden Folk and find her special place in the world – and in her family.

I was gripped by this book and I am excited that Ramya’s tale will be continued for us all. It is wonderful that Elle McNicoll writes stories for young people with neurodivergent characters, as representation in literature is becoming ever-more important. We live in a wonderful world of difference, and we all need to be able to celebrate and understand these differences, and great stories are one way to support us all in being able to do that. And, when we see people in books that also help us understand ourselves or our experiences, then they become even more special to us – and that is what Elle McNicoll has done for so many young people with her books.

Mistletoe and Murder by Robin Stevens

Cosy crime is one of my favourite things about Christmas. So I chose some cosy crime for younger readers this time – although I believe we can all enjoy Children’s books, whatever age we are. It is perfect escapism (and I do wish these had existed when I was a child).

This time we are, as the title suggests, on a Christmas adventure with our two amateur detectives. Daisy and Hazel are spending Christmas in Cambridge with Daisy’s brother and Aunt. And, as you can imagine, they stumble on all sorts of mysteries, secrets and, of course, a murder…or two. And with a rival agency in town, too – who will solve the crime?

No spoilers here, but this was an incredibly fun read and it is always great to find strong female leads to inspire readers. I also thought that despite this being set in 1935, it did challenge some of the views that we would not accept now. It is always important to take lessons from books, too, and it is handled so well in these pages.

This is my secon ‘Murder Most Unladylike Mystery’, and I will definitely be returning (and reading them in the right order).

The Ghost of Gosswater by Lucy Strange

This could be one of my favourite reads of 2021 – even if I had left it on my shelf for a while. A classic ghost story for middle-grade readers – well, let’s be honest, for all fans of ghost stories.

Set in the wonderfully atmospheric Lake District, we find a family with dark secrets and a fascinating collection of characters. Some of them rather disagreeable and some of them rather wonderful, and inspirational in their way. Especially our fantastically fiesty and independent lead character Agatha Asquith; despite it being set in the past, she is a perfect hero for the modern reader.

This beautifully written novel is one that I want to share with readers of all ages. For the younger reader, it is a perfectly exciting ghost story, and for us ‘older’ readers – well, it offers exactly the same, with a touch of nostalgia.

Lucy Strange is quickly becoming one of my favourite authors because she writes the sort of books I would have adored when I was younger. And have seen that she has a new title heading our way very soon – and I can’t wait!

Me, My Dad and the End of the Rainbow by Benjamin Dean

This is a beautiful book that can provide so much for children and adults alike.

Things are changing for Archie: his dad has moved out and his dad has a secret. When Archie accidentally overhears what that secret is, he knows life will never be the same again, but he is determined to help his dad be happy. With the help of his two best friendsm Seb and Bell, he thinks he can his dad find happiness at the end of a brilliantly colourful rainbow.

This adventure takes the three friends to London Pride, where they find a whole host of brilliant characters who help them discover the answers that they are looking for. And they realise that change doesn’t have to be a bad thing, and difference deserves to be celebrated at all ages.

This is such a happy book with a wonderful and supportive message for people of all ages about how we live in a wonderfully colourful world, which we should all be supporting and celebrating. This is the sort of book I wish was around when I was growing up, because it is just a perfect story.

The Good Thieves by Katherine Rundell

I was very kindlu gifted a copy of Katherine Rundell’s new book by Tandem Collective UK. This was one that I was very keen to read, as I think Rundell writes fantastic adventure stories for children. And, an early bold statement, I think this is my favourite so far.

‘The Good Thieves’ whisks you to twenties New York, an era that has always fascinated me. Vita wants to set things right as her Grandfather has been cheated out of his beloved home by a local ‘gangster’. Vita fearlessly gathers together a group of talented friends to help her carry out her incredible plan.

This is quite an edge-of-your-seat adventure as Vita and her new friends attempt to take on Sorrotore and his men. There are twists and turns that will keep you turning the page and wishing you could join them for the adventure. It is also a book that proves you should never let things put you off aiming for your dreams.

For me, this was just a beautifully crafted story full of adventure, hope and love. So, if you or someone you know loves a classic adventure story, then this is the book to pick up. Especially as the illustrations are wonderful too – really taking you on an armchair adventure.

Amal Unbound by Aisha Saeed

This is a book that I picked up after attending a book event where Aisha Saeed spoke with Becky Albertalli about their co-authored book ‘Yes No Maybe So’. I had not encountered Aisha Saeed before as an author, but she was so engaging when she spoke and, clearly, loves to write, that I was encouraged to give her novel a go.

Amal has dreams of becoming a teacher, she loves to learn and she loves to read. But society has other ideas, she lives in a very patriarchal society and a village that appears to be run by those who have money – and not those who work hard in the community to make a living. After an accidental encounter with the rich Khan family Amal finds her life changes and her dreams appear to disappear. However, could she still be in control of her future, with a little help from her friends?

This book is engaging and written in a very readable style. It would be a great book for secondary school-aged readers. It really encourages you to think about some of the traditional roles that can be outlined for men and women without any discussion or chance for the moulds to be broken. But, in fact, inside us all, is there the spirit to force change and really take control of our destinies?

I really enjoyed this book, and it was a chance to discover another new author.