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Secrets Set in Stone by James Haddell, published by Emira Press

We have a trilogy!

I’ve been highly anticipating the third book in James Haddell’s Tales of Truth and Treasures series and after reading, I’m now desperate for book 4!

Once again, the pages are literally packed with history, mystery, magic and adventure and there’s excitement and suspense around every corner. Prepare to be caught up in thrilling chases with old enemies as our protagonist (The Lost Child) Tia, sister Meghan and best friend Pasco get closer to the truth and treasures.

This was my favourite book of the series yet! I got some series Goonies vibes as the trio explore the secret smugglers tunnels beneath Stormhaven. There’s booby traps galore and the children must negotiate trap doors, falling boulders, giant spikes and trip wires, all whilst being pursued by baddies. There’s also a definite Indiana Jones feel with giant rock faces rolling back to reveal hidden chambers and secret caves.

For those of us already invested in The Lost Child’s Quest, James Haddell does a great job of quickly summarising the previous two books and placing the reader immediately back in the action. However, if you’re new to the series, it might help to quickly get a feel for how Tia’s epic quest begins – click on the covers below to read my reviews of books 1 and 2. It’s absolutely a series worth investing in for children in Year 4 upwards.

As with the previous two installments, book 3 reached a satisfying conclusion, but I’m literally desperate now to uncover the mysteries of Tia’s past that have still been deliberately left unresolved. The children are tantalisingly close to solving the mysteries and I can’t wait to join them on the next stage of their quest in Dagger, Spear and Sword which I am crossing my fingers that we won’t have to wait too long for.

Visit James Haddell’s Tales of Truth and Treasure website, for samples of some of the fantastic supporting activities that accompany each chapter of the book, developed for teachers, parents and home-educators. 

Click on the image below for the link to FREE supporting Twinkle resources.

With thanks to James Haddell to Emira Press for providing me with a review copy of the book in advance of publication and inviting me to be part of the blog tour.

Secrets Set in Stone and the previous books in the Tales of Truth and Treasures series can be purchased here

The Song Walker by Zillah Bethell – Usborne Books

Zillah Bethell has done it again! Never did I think I could love a book as much as The Shark Caller but The Song Walker is another triumph, a truly special book. My heart sang whilst reading this extraordinary story of two girls’ incredible journey across the Australian Outback.

There are three questions I need to find the answers to: Where am I? What am I doing here? And…Who am I?

When a young girl wakes up in the middle of the desert, she has no idea where or who she is. She’s wearing one shoe, a black silk dress and she is lugging a strange, heavy case. She strains for a flicker of a memory of… well… anything, but there is nothing. Lost and alone, without any vital supplies, she wanders aimlessly in the searing heat becoming more and more disorientated. So it’s inevitable that she eventually collapses…

…sometime later she regains consciousness to find she is being force fed water by another girl who introduces herself as Tarni. Tarni is also alone yet fiercely determined and self-sufficient. Coming from Utopia, a small Alyawarre town she is a competent navigator of the bush. The fact she is wandering alone out there is purely of her own choosing – Tarni is on a personal crusade and with no other hope of survival, the girl in the black dress is forced to tag along.

The desert is an unforgiving and dangerous place. Sandstorms, snakes and hunters are just some of the threats the girls encounter on their way, as well as the constant exposure to the sun and dehydration. The constant threat from various sources makes The Song Walker a compulsive read, that and the tantalising flashes of memory the girl in the black dress experiences. She grapples to piece together the jigsaw of the snippets of her life that she receives momentarily, wrestling with her amnesia and willing herself to remember. It’s a long frustrating road but Tarni is increasingly there to support her and friendship begins to blossom. Except both girls are hiding secrets…

I became so invested in the girls’ quest and them acheiving their individual end goals, I simply could not tear myself from the story. I felt as if I was there with them every step of the way -setting up camp nestled behind rocks, building fires as nightfall approaches and snuggling into a blanket under the stars. Zillah Bethell has a way of stealing a little piece of your heart with each book she writes. In her signature style, she completely moved me with the clever unravelling of the girl in the black dress’ story and the raw emotion that builds to to the big reveal. It’s a story that will stay with me for a long time to come.

The only other book I have read that includes the spiritual beliefs of First Country Australians is Lisa Fuller’s Young Adult novel Ghost Bird and it was lovely to return to the outback and explore some more. If you’ve read the Shark Caller you’ll know that Zillah Bethell grew up in Papua New Guinea. In her author notes, Zillah explains the significance of the ‘songlines’ (sometimes called dreaming tracks) of First Country Australians she first heard about as a child living in PNG. A navigational tool or ‘map song’ for travelling across the land, walking the songlines is also believed to keep the land alive.

The Song Walker will be published by Usborne Books on 2nd February 2023.

With thanks to Usborne Publishing for sending me a proof copy of this wonderful book.

Also by Zillah Bethell…

Read my reviews by clicking on the covers below:

The Other Ones by Fran Hart,published by Chicken House Books

This has to be one of my favourite Young Adult books of 2022! Heartstopper meets Halloween where a spooky ghost story is intertwined with a gorgeous gay romance. This is THE perfect read for this time of year and has all the Autumnal feels – it’s a proper chunky sweater, pumpkin-spiced latte of a book that wraps you up in a big hug.

From early reviews I knew I loved it before I read it and was counting down the days until my pre-order arrived. To say it was worth the wait was an understatement and I devoured it in one sitting, reading late into the night as it is so fast-paced and I couldn’t bear to tear myself away from the spooky mystery of the hauntings combined with cozy feel-good vibes of Halloween, Bonfire Night…just sheer gorgeousness!

Sal lives in a small village in a notoriously haunted house. He’s used to unwanted attention from people curious about the house and its spirits, so when weird wannabe ghost-hunter Pax turns up on his doorstep one afternoon he’s not best impressed.

Pax has just moved to the village’s graveyard cottage and is due to start in the Sixth form the very same week. His outlandish knitwear and obsession with ghosts is initially irritating to Sal and he avoids him at all costs but after a chance night-time encounter in the graveyard, he then begins to find himself inexplicably drawn to Pax until he can’t seem to stay away. The two boys begin to hang out together at Pax’s house and Sal susses out from his first meeting with Pax’s mum that she thinks they are dating. He casually shrugs this off – he and Pax have become good friends and he realises he is really enjoying his company but that’s it, right…?

Before long, Pax starts hanging out with Sal and football-loving, laddish best mate Dirk at school. They are joined by once popular girl Elsie, now estranged from her former friends and the four borderline outcasts find their new normal with each other.

There are so many special moments in this story which I’ve written about and then deleted as I don’t want to spoil any of them for any of you – I wish I could go back and read this book for the first time! I just loved seeing Sal discovering his true feelings for Pax. It just kind of sneaks up on him and until meeting Pax, he’s never really realised that he could be attracted to another boy.

But as the two grow closer, the true nature of the hauntings is gradually revealed. It’s up to Sal to find the courage to conquer his ghosts, or risk losing Pax for good.

Sal and Pax are such a cute pair and are up there with Nick and Charlie (Heartstopper) and Pete and Cooper (Wranglestone) They say opposites attract and this couldn’t be truer; Sal and Pax are polar opposites but perfect for each other. I’d love to see their relationship develop and strengthen and see Dirk and Elsie’s stories extended – please Fran Hart write more of The Other Ones!

The Other Ones was published by Chicken House Books on 13th October and is available now.

The Vanishing of Aveline Jones by Phil Hickes – published by Usborne

Her Uncle gone.

A house abandoned.

Answers none.

To say I’ve been counting down the days to reading this is an understatement…Aveline Jones is my absolute favourite Middle Grade spooky series and since the summer holidays, I’ve been obsessively checking Netgalley daily for an early copy having been uploaded. So when the news broke on Twitter that it had gone live, I was SCREAMING!

The Vanishing of Aveline Jones was without a doubt my most anticipated read of 2022 and I could not have loved it more! As with the two previous volumes, I devoured it in one sitting completely unable to tear myself away from the spooky mystery and atmospheric setting. And as The Fae are at work in The Vanishing, Aveline’s latest adventure is perfect for fans of Ross Montgomery’s The Chime Seekers and Catherine Fisher’s The Clockwork Crow series.

Aveline’s Uncle Rowan mysteriously disappeared without a trace over 10 years ago. With no sightings since or fresh evidence as to his whereabouts, the trail has gone cold. His body has never been found but Aveline’s mum and Aunt Lillian have reluctantly decided that it’s time to sell his house.

It’s the start of the Christmas holidays and not ones to miss out on a mystery, Aveline and trusty sidekick Harold travel with Sarah and Lillian to the lonely village of Scarbury, determined to find out the truth of what became of Uncle Rowan. It seems unlikely his house will yeild any clues – sparse and unlived in for years his few possessions lay abandoned gathering dust. The Police allegedly searched the house years ago, yet his study stands locked and the key nowhere to be found.

But supernatural forces follow Aveline and Harold around and they’ve barely had time to unpack before things start to go bump in the night. An unsettling encounter on the stairs in the dead of night leads to the key to the study being revealed. Aveline and Harold begin to sift their way through the stacks of information stored in there (at 3am of course!) and make the shocking discovery that a number of unexplained disappearances haunt the village of Scarbury, locals vanishing into thin air never to return. And they appear to be linked with the Scarbury Long Barrow, an ancient burial ground not far away – a site of interest it seemed for her archaeologist Uncle.

More digging through Rowan’s possessions reveal a collection of cassette tapes. Upon listening to them, Aveline and Harold come to the chilling conclusion that Rowan was researching paranormal activity and the tapes are actual audio footage of séances – Most Haunted eat your heart out, these are seriously scary scenes!

The creepy recordings are enough to scare anyone senseless but the pair are determined to keep searching for answers and the next day, they set out to investigate the Scarbury Long Barrow. Aveline remembers a spooky blog post about Scarbury Harold found on the internet on the train journey up and they decide to email the blogger – hopefully a local person – to see if they know anything. They get a reply back in seconds, sending a grave warning not to visit alone and agree to meet Sammy Adamu-Taylor AKA Spookyblogspot in the village. Sammy tells them a terrifying tale of malevolent, magical forces at work and implores them to stay away, but as Midwinter Night approaches, The Fae draw Aveline ever closer to a dark underworld that awaits…

Autumn has become synonymous with the release of a new Aveline Jones adventure and I’m truly hoping that there will be more supernatural mysteries in the pipeline with our favourite duo Aveline and Harold. I really love how their friendship has developed and strengthened, from shy, akward beginnings in a Malmouth bookshop in book 1 to the paranormal in-bestie-gators they are now 2 books on, they really trust one another and have each other’s backs.

Spooky Season wouldn’t be the same without Aveline and as the promise of another installment has neither been confirmed nor denied, I am going to treat myself to a re-read of the original adventure in the lead up to Halloween.

The Vanishing of Aveline Jones will be published on 27th October by Usborne books.

Click to read my review
Click to read my review

With thanks to Usborne and Netgalley for approving me to read an early copy of this brilliant book in advance of publication.

The Haunted Hills by Berlie Doherty – Publishing UCLan

Desolate countryside, a lonely cottage and the ghost of a boy and his dog endlessley wandering the moors…

I can’t resist a spooky tale and had been coveting this book ever since I first saw it shared on Twitter. So with the nights drawing in and the first of the blustery autumnal weather arriving, I couldn’t have chosen a better time to read The Haunted Hills. And let me tell you, it is genuinely unsettling! With my children in bed and my husband at work on his night shift, I found myself looking over my shoulder and listening out for every little noise inside and outside the house. I nearly had to stop reading a couple of times which is not like me just because it is so eerily atmospheric.

Nothing has been the same since March 13th. Carl is staying in the Peak District with his parents to try and recover from the fallout of a horrific accident. Consumed by grief, Carl has lost all sense of purpose and with no TV or internet at the remote cottage, he begins to wander the countryside aimlessly. Until one day he wanders too far…

Carl realises he’s lost on the moors, dusk is falling and the threat of inclement weather is imminent. Every which way he turns the landscape looks identical. Soon it will be completely dark and he’ll be stuck out there alone – no phone, no food or shelter. But out of nowhere, Carl spots a figure – a boy he thinks – and a dog. ‘Take him home’ says the boy and the dog begins to trot in front of Carl, urging him to follow.

Miraculously after following the dog for what feels like forever, Carl spots the cottage lights twinkling in the distance and he’s greeted by his very worried but equally relieved mum and dad The dog however is nowhere to be seen – as if he’s vanished into thin air…

The next day, Carl wanders to the neighboring farm. Al the farmer has rented the cottage out to his parents and they’ve agreed that helping out with the animals and labouring jobs that need doing might occupy his mind. Curious as to the identity of the boy and his dog who steered him to safety the night before, Carl begins quizzing Al as to who the mysterious pair could be. It’s then that Al relays the tale of The Lost Lad, a lonely figure who, along with his dog, haunts the hills around the farm and cottage where Carl is staying.

Unnerved by Al’s story, Carl’s mind starts to play tricks on him; a face reflected in the windows, a figure hiding in the trees, a presence in the cottage. Past and present collide, Carl must learn to come to terms with the loss of his best friend, Jack and find a way to move on. As his mental health deteriorates, the line that separates the real world and the spirit world becomes blurred. Are the hills actually haunted or is Carl being chased by his own demons…?

The portrayal of grief, depression and regret in the story was so honest and raw and in this sense, it had all the feels of The Hunt for The Nightingale or Furthermoor. We are reminded of the fragility of the human mind and how emotional trauma such as grief can completely consume a person as Carl’s confusion and disconnection from the world around him reaches crisis point. Toxic teenage friendships and peer pressure are also explored as Carl recounts the events leading up to March 13th and those he has tortured himself with ever since. For these reasons, this is the perfect book for Year 7 and 8 upwards.

I think I found this tale so eerie because it could be true! In Berlie’s author notes she reveals that The Lost Lad story, is based on something that is said to have really happened in the Peak District many years ago. I’m familiar with Ladybower Reservoir and the crash site of the WW2 Bomber at Higher Shelf Stones – both of which feature in the book – so images of these bleak locations flooded my mind as I read and sent shivers down my spine.

After reading The Haunted Hills I’ve added two of Berlie’s other novels to my Want to Read List; The Company of Ghosts, which is about a girl abandoned on a haunted island and  The Snake-Stone, about a boy who searches a valley in Derbyshire in the hopes of meeting his birth mother – more ghosts and the unsettling wild landscape, these sound perfect for Autumn.

The Haunted Hills will be published on 6th October by UCLan. With thanks to the publisher and Netgalley for approving me to read an advance copy of this superb book.

Murder at Snowfall by Fleur Hitchcock – published by Nosy Crow

You can’t beat a thriller to get pulses racing and my Saturday afternoon was well spent, racing through the snow and furiously turning the pages of the latest trademark Hitchcock Whodunit – Fleur really is the Queen of Middle Grade Murder Mystery.

Bodies, baddies, bitterly cold weather and a tangled web of lies and deception to unravel – once I started reading, this was absolutely impossible to put down.

When Lucas and Ruby find an abandoned trunk in a layby covered in snow, Lucas says there’s bound to be a body inside. Ruby laughs but what if he’s right? Nervously she starts to open it, and immediately wishes she hadn’t…

The step-siblings uncover the identity of the deceased and a small object Ruby recovered from the layby – initially dismissed by the police – reveals its significance. As the teens get closer to solving the mystery, the murderer is skating on thin ice. Determined to silence them, a perilous chain of events occur, all under the cover of heavy snowfall – but can it smother the truth…?

Out on the 3rd November, this is the perfect read to cosy up with when temperatures plummet. In her signature style, Fleur throws us more than a red herring or two that will keep you guessing right until the final chapter – it’s so thrilling!

With thanks to Nosy Crow and Netgalley for approving me to read an advance electronic copy of this brilliant book.

If you can’t until November, I highly recommend reading Waiting for Murder before memories of the searing heatwaves we’ve experienced this summer fade. I guarantee you will quickly become hooked on Hitchcock!

It’s a long, hot summer. As the water drains away from the reservoir, a car emerges. And there seems to be a body in it, a body that then disappears…

Daniel and Florence start to investigate and uncover a long-ago robbery, missing gold and murder. When the drought breaks, everything is swept downstream and the truth is revealed…

Wranglestone by Darren Charlton – Stripes Publishing

Wow! Just wow! I could not put this down at all! Wranglestone has got to be one of my reads of the year so far and possibly my favourite Young Adult book ever! If you read one book this summer let it be this!

Thrilling zombie apocalypse meets a truly gorgeous gay love story; it’s perfect for fans of Walking Dead and Steven King’s The Stand. My heart pounded throughout, not only at the chilling zombie action but for Pete and Cooper’s genuinely tender romance and their overwhelming love for each other.

Winter was the only season every Lake-Lander feared…

In a post-apocalyptic America, people have fled the cities and set up communities in the mountains and national parks of Yosemite and Yellowstone. Lake Wranglestone is one such community; surrounded by water its inhabitants live on small islands, the water keeping the Dead or ‘Restless Ones’ at bay. But when winter comes and the lake freezes over, there’s nothing to stop them from dragging themselves across the ice searching for flesh.

Peter lives with his father, his mother a casualty of the Dead. He’s very much a homebody, darning socks, making quilts and keeping the tree house the two of them share neat and tidy. He’s a gentle trusting soul who always sees the good in people but one day, this is his undoing; he puts the camp in danger by naively allowing a stranger to come ashore with catastrophic consequences…

An emergency meeting is called on the Sky Deck of the lake’s Watchtower and the community of Wranglestone decide he must make up for his carelessness. He will act as bait, going into the forests and leading the Dead away from the lake.

Cooper, the boy he’s always admired from afar, is the polar opposite of Peter. Rugged, handy with an axe, machette, shotgun and accomplished on horseback, Cooper is no stranger to staring death in the face. He wrangles the Dead, herding them from their shores and out onto the plains before the lake freezes over. They say opposites attract and this couldn’t be truer; Cooper and Peter are made for each other and after a narrow escape from a frenzied attack of the Dead, Cooper confesses he’s also had feelings for Peter for some time. The pair share a the most beautiful night together in the boathouse – a safe haven between the lake and land – and from that moment, they belong to one another.

Every minute Pete is away from Cooper is agony and their love blossoms as Cooper takes Pete out riding across the plains. I was completely in love with them falling in love – Darren Charlton has written their story to perfection – and their story is for everyone. It’s for everyone that has loved another person so much that it hurts. But danger and the Dead are never far away and in a chain of events that will shock you to the core, their relationship faces truly devastating complications…

I’m bursting to say so much more but this is a book where there are so many special little moments (and utterly horrific and shocking ones!) that every reader deserves to discover for themselves. I wish I could read Wranglestone again for the very first time – there’s so many parts I keep going back to and re-reading that give me goosebumps and so many sections I assure you that you will read through your fingers or with your heart in your mouth.

A absolutely cannot wait to read the sequel Timberdark which publishes on 1st September.

Do not read the synopsis to this at all until you’ve read Wranglestone!!

About the author

Born by the sea in Hastings, I studied B.A (hons) English Literature and Theatre at De Montford University. I’ve always been creative, and found life a struggle whenever I wasn’t being, but it wasn’t until my thirties following a trip hiking and camping in the National Parks of America, that I landed upon writing. The landscapes and sky are so big out there, you can actually feel the planet. And it struck that me that other than being with loved-ones, exploring the world was the only thing that really mattered in life. This created a restlessness in me and this restlessness eventually took the form of writing and finally, these two books. I’m lucky I got a chance to exorcise my feelings by making them, but ultimately they’re for all LGBTQ+ young people looking not for another issue based coming-out drama, but the promise in life, of love and adventure.

Visit Darren’s website here to read more about his inspiration for Wranglestone and see photos of his amazing trips to America’s National Parks.

Alice Éclair Spy Extraordinaire: A Recipe for Trouble, by Sarah Todd Taylor – published by Nosy Crow

There’s such a buzz about this book at the moment! My fellow bloggers have been raving about this scrumptious new spy series and now I know why – Alice Éclair really is a legend in the baking!

I wanted some pure escapism to officially start the school holidays and with my appetite well and truly whetted by so many superb reviews I couldn’t wait to dig in. Alice Éclair was just the ticket with a cherry on top; I was completely whisked away by France’s newest spy on her first mission and devoured this delectable detective drama in one sitting.

Packed with pastry-fuelled peril and more than a pinch of Parisian glamour, A Recipe for Trouble launches what promises to be a superb new spy series from Sarah Todd Taylor, the author of Max the Detective Cat. Climb aboard the Sapphire Express for an action-packed adventure – Agatha Christie eat your heart out! Secret ciphers, jewel thieves and an enemy agent – there’s non stop thrills and spills, red herrings and pulse-pounding action atop the majestic steam train to rival a 007 movie.

Baker by day, spy by night – Alice Éclair leads an exciting double life. She whips up a storm as genius pastry chef in the kitchen of the family bakery Vivre Comme Éclair, but in the blink of an eye swaps her Mille-Feuille for Morse Code working undercover as a spy.

For months, Alice has been receiving notes outlining secret missions she must complete. The mysterious source of these is unknown but one thing is clear; Alice is being trained to track down master spy La Renarde. Alice must go undercover and sneak aboard France’s most glamorous train, the Sapphire Express in order to intercept the illusive villain.

Disguised as a pastry chef, Alice blags her way aboard as Sapphire Express staff. The kitchen is a prime place for spying as she is able to observe the passengers in the dining car and bar and innocently eaves-drop on conversations whilst serving her exquisite creations.

As the train steams through the French countryside, Alice must work hard to discover which passenger is the duplicitous enemy agent. She befriends Penelope, a young lady on her way to finishing school who is keen to do some detective work of her own, but as Alice digs deeper everyone on the train seems to be hiding something…

Alice can trust no-one and armed with her wits, her whisk and her will to succeed, the pressure is on to crack the case. When the enemy realises the net is closing in on them, it spells a whole new level of danger for Alice and there’s some hair-raising moments dangling over the edge of the high speed train, the rails thundering beneath…

This is one of those books you become thoroughly immersed in and I was completely unaware of the passage of time whilst reading. Apart from a few growls from my stomach, triggered by the many mouth-watering pastries mentioned throughout the story, nothing could take my attention away from this treat of a tale – perfect for children in Year 4 upwards.

A Recipe for Trouble publishes on 4th August.

The greatest of thanks to Nosy Crow for sending me a beautiful review copy of this absolutely brilliant book.

Once Upon a Fever by Angharad Walker, published by Chicken House Books.

‘Disease begins with a feeling Miss Darke. It has been that way ever since the Turn – when people’s feelings started making them ill…’

After being completely captivated by Angharad Walker’s critically acclaimed first novel The Ash House last summer, I was very excited to be offered the opportunity to review Once Upon A Fever.

An alternative dystopian London with stag-drawn carriages is the setting for this enthralling and at times unsettling medically-inspired story. Imagine footsteps of robed nurses echoing down dark hospital corridors, whilst disused underground brick tunnels network beneath the operating theatres…

Since the world fell sick with fantastical illnesses, sisters Payton and Ani have grown up in the hospital of King Jude’s…

Payton wants to be a methic like her father, working on a cure for her mother’s water fever. Ani, however, thinks the remedy for all illness might be found in the green wilderness beyond the hospital walls.

When Ani stumbles upon an imprisoned boy who turns everything he touches to gold, her world is turned upside-down. The girls find themselves outside the hospital for the first time, a dark mystery unravelling …

‘We do not know why some feelings turn into illness Miss Darke. That is the mystery of the Turn. Medicine is only a small light shining in the darkness.’

Since the Turn, the wards of the foreboding gothic hospital of St Jude’s are lined with beds, treating patients afflicted by their own feelings. The Inertia Ward for example is one of the hospital’s oldest wings: the Sanatorium for Hysteria, Despair and Melancholy. A guild of Doctors or ‘Methics’ as they are ironically known throughout the story are working on ground-breaking treatment to ‘cure’ patients of their feelings and ‘blood reading’ is one such procedure being pioneered.

St Jude’s has all the feels of a Victorian Asylum, both in it’s physical appearance and in the courses of treatment the patients receive. As with The Ash House, Walker makes us think and question throughout – the ethics of the methics and their obsession with neutralising strong feelings vs the holistic, natural approach of a group of Wilders Ani meets outside the hospital.

Ani and Payton are such courageous, strong-minded individuals. Unafraid to disagree with one another and determined to hold onto their own beliefs, they carve out completely separate pathways to one another and the narrative skilfully switches between both sisters – I was willing them to find their way back to each other!

Once again, Angharad Walker had me gripped with another highly original story unlike anything I had read before.

Read the first Chapter of Once Upon a Fever here:

With thanks to Chicken House and Laura Smythe PR for my review copy of this fantastic book and inviting me to take part in the blog tour.

Once Upon A Fever is published by Chicken House Books and is available now.

Click on the image to read my review of The Ash house

Read the first Chapter of The Ash House here:

Festergrimm by Thomas Taylor – An Eerie on Sea Mystery. Published by Walker Books

It’s nearly the summer holidays and I was ridiculously excited to be granted an early mini-break in the legendary seaside town of Eerie on Sea. And my goodness… there was never a dull moment! Creepy wax works, a conniving villain a colossal clockwork robot reminscent of Ted Hughes’ Iron Man…adventure drips from every sea-soaked page. Oh, and watch out for the seagulls…you have been warned!

Our favourite ship-wrecked orphan Herbert Lemon, Lost-and-Founder at the Grand Nautilus Hotel, once again finds himself at the centre of an Eerie Mystery of epic proportions along with trusty side-kick Violet Parmer.

It’s late November and Herbie and Vi have been sent to greet a VIP guest of The Grand Nautilus at the railway station by morngy hotel manager Mr Mollusc. But nothing could’ve prepared the duo for who is about to step out from the swirling mist. A shocking blast from the past is back to wreak havoc on the town, plotting and scheming to their own gains and of course it’s down to the duo to save the town from disaster.

I feel the beauty of this series is that in each instalment, Thomas Taylor allows us to discover and explore different elements of the seemingly dilapidated town, steeped in myth and legend. As well as dropping into familiar locations such as Seagoll’s diner, Mrs Fossil’s Flotsamporium and paying the Mermonkey a visit at the Eerie Book Emporium, much of this adventure takes place in Fargarzi Round and the boarded up and very creepy Festergrimm’s Wax Works.

Formerly a hit with the tourists, the wax works has long stood derelict and abandoned, but it seems that amongst the dust and cobwebs is something of real value and key to unlocking the Great Legend of Eerie on Sea. And one cunning and conniving character is desperate to get their calloused hands on it.

The children break into Festergrimm’s and bravely explore (at night of course) you wouldn’t get me in there! It really is scary amongst the exhibits with their unblinking eyes and the ghost train that would whirr into action to transport tourists around the gallery. Bumps in the night lead our explorers to the cellar, where they discover their treacherous nemesis tearing apart the wax mannequins limb from limb, feverishly searching for something – it’s like a scene from Frankenstein!

After all the chilling thrills and spills, it’s time for cake and hot chocolate at Mrs Fossil’s and she sheds some more light on the legend. Turns out she has a personal connection to the wax works and is harbouring a shocking family secret. The answer lies in Festergrimm’s legendary robot and a missing part of the clockwork giant. It’s a race against time and Herbie and Vi must solve the mystery and set the cogs in action before their arch enemy gets there first…

This is my absolute favourite Middle Grade series. For me it has everything; gripping mysteries, just the right level of threat and such a well developed location and characters that each visit feels like returning to old friends at a much-loved childhood holiday destination.

Erwin the talking bookshop cat stole the show for me in this adventure. Always on hand to deliver purrrrrrls of wisdom in his trademark deadpan way, he dutifully directs the duo away from danger and hints at clues that they’ve missed. I imagine his voice to be that of Ian McKellen or Stephen Fry and I’d love to discover more of his back story – there is definitely a human trapped inside that feline body!

This is a series I don’t want to end, yet I am absolutely desperate to find out once and for all how Herbie came to be washed up in a crate of lemons in Erie on Sea and what happened to Violet’s parents. At the end of Festergrimm there is the usual teaser for the next adventure and I can’t wait to see how Thomas Taylor ties it all together in MERMEDUSA.

Festergrimm publishes on the 1st September.

A huge thanks to Walker Books and Netgalley for offering me the chance to read this fantastic story in advance of publication.

Click on the cover to read my review of the previous instalment Shadowghast