FIRE GIRL by Matt Ralphs

Moontrug first heard about Matt Ralphs’ debut for 9+ years, FIRE GIRL, through superstar Waterstones bookseller, Jo. She said: ‘It’s fast-paced, with a feisty heroine and a dark streak. I think you’ll really like it.’ And she was right…

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Twelve-year-old Hazel Hooper has spent her whole life trapped in a magical Glade created by her mother, Hecate. She’s desperate to meet new people and find out about the world. And, more than anything, she wants to be a witch. But when her mother is kidnapped by a demon – everything changes… Suddenly Hazel is alone in the world. Well . . . not quite alone. For it turns out that Hazel does have magic – she’s just not very good at controlling it. And she may have accidentally created a grumpy familiar in the form of a dormouse called Bramley. Determined to rescue her mother, the young witch and her mouse set out to track down the demon and find Hecate. However, it turns out that life outside the Glade is far more dangerous than Hazel ever could have imagined. Witch Hunters are everywhere – and the witches are using demons to fight back! Luckily for Hazel she manages to enlist the help of a handsome boy called David, and his drunken master, Titus White, who are expert demon hunters. And witch finders . . .

 

Right from the first sentence: ‘Mary Applegate awoke with a lump of fear lodged in her throat’ we realise Ralphs is hurling us into a world full of tension and danger. The Prologue comes complete with owl screech, whispering trees and old bones stirring in the night – a suitably eerie platform to launch the dramatic action that follows. By Chapter 2, Hazel’s mother has been stolen and we are set to encounter demon grinders, Wielders, Bladecatchers and Gullahtooths. Ralphs’ England is one where witches and their familiars (think odious spiders loaded with silver venom) lurk and Witch Hunters are out to kill…

Watch the FIRE GIRL trailer here

The action scenes are brilliantly described, and often genuinely frightening, especially when demon Rawhead is involved: ‘Clammy, long-fingered claws closed around Hazel’s neck, shoving her back against the wagon and cutting off her breath. She stared past rows of teeth into the ridged flesh on the roof of Rawhead’s mouth’. And Witch Hunter Titus White, with his blunderbuss, wagon and unpredictable sidekick apprentice are fabulous additions harking back to classic children’s adventure books. But in amongst the drama there are moments of real beauty as Ralphs describes the countryside setting: ‘Wychwood shimmered in the sun, rolling and swaying like an ocean. Leaves hissed like waves on shingle, branches creaked like masts.’

Perhaps one of the things Moontrug liked most about the book though was Hazel’s relationship with her dormouse familiar, Bramley. Stubborn and grumpy but with a heart of gold and unparalleled courage (especially as the plot reaches its climax), Bramley is a fantastic character. He adds a welcome touch of humour to the plot: ‘Now, I’m going to make a nest in your hair’ and from the tangle of Hazel’s red curls he offers some of the best one liners in the book: ‘I hope there’ll be apples there.’ Hazel is a dynamic main character – impetuous, loyal and brave – and Ralphs perfectly captures her progression from sheltered daughter to practising fire witch: ‘That’s right, witch-child, burn it all down.’ Fire Girl is a tremendous adventure of a book, full of nail-biting moments and packed with memorable characters, and Moontrug can’t wait for the sequel…

Faeries & Demons with Paula Harrison & Daniel Whelan

Lately, Moontrug has been dabbling at the edges of magic, snooping round woods with a mysterious past (In Darkling Wood by Emma Carroll) and glimpsing the snow-bound world of a girl who rides wolves (The Wolf Wilder by Katherine Rundell). So, Moontrug decided it was time to go for some FULL ON MAGIC – we’re talking faeries by Paula Harrison in Red Moon Rising and creatures of the underworld in Daniel Whelan’s Box of Demons.

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Laney is surrounded by magic. She also has magic of her own. She just doesn’t know it yet. Laney discovers the truth about who she is at a time of extreme danger. The faerie tribes are under threat from a dark power that wants to steal away their magic and reign supreme over them all. Laney is going to need all her new-found skills to do battle with the darkness and hold the faerie world together…

Harrison presents us with an ordinary world but one in which magic hovers just behind the curtain of everyday life. Old women are actually Faerie Elders entrusted with a task to show Laney that she has ‘to see with the heart not the eyes’ and many of the children in the seemingly dull village of Skellmore are actually faeries in disguise. Moontrug loved the various Faerie Tribes – Greytail, Thorn, Mist and Kestrel – and children who were captivated by the Hogwarts Sorting Hat will adore imagining what tribe they might belong to. The book is filled with fantastical creatures like Hobgobbits and Shadow Faeries – and spells such as dreamwalks and healing charms using willow bark and skullcap leaves brush every chapter with a sense of other-worldliness. Laney and her friends’ quest is full of faerie flight and underwater secrets: Laney ‘folded her wings behind her and dived in. More than ever she was amazed at how right she felt flying through the water… Through the sway of the water she could hear a faint, wordless singing’) and the sense of dark magic at the heart of the book will keep young readers turning the pages. Harrison brings magic right into the heart of our world and it’s impossible to read the book and not feel that perhaps you might also have wings tucked beneath your shoulder blades. Laney’s story made Moontrug want to soar over woods at night and race through rivers for hidden treasures. This is a gorgeous fantasy book for 7+ years and with the promise of Wildwood Arrows, Sparkstones and White Wolf Statues, it seems there are lots more adventures in store for Laney. Oh goodie.

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Ben Robson can’t remember a time before he had the box, with its three mischief-making demon occupants: smelly, cantankerous Orf, manically destructive Kartofel and fat, slobbering greedy-guts Djinn. When Ben was a kid it was fun and he enjoyed their company. Now he’s older they’re nothing but trouble. Then one day Ben has an angelic visitor who tells him that he can be rid of the box forever if he sends it back to hell. There’s only one catch – the box has other plans…

Like Harrison, Whelan offers readers a sleepy little village where nothing ever happens – but from the first sentence of the book, we know there is more to the village of Rhyl than what first meets the eye: ‘The Apocalypse began in Rhyl, during the second-to-last weekend of January.’ Whelan’s characterisation of the three demons is brilliant and Moontrug especially loved fatso Djinn who, although he cannot eat, is obsessed with the smell of food: ‘Was it nice, Ben? Was it? It was sausages, wasn’t it? I know it was sausages. From the market.’ Whelan has a knack for creating memorable characters, from the school bullies (‘Sally, a clenched fist in the shape of a girl’) to shop owners like Tegwyn (‘a vengeful, petty, Old Testament sort of god’). Throw some particularly strange angels and a possessed box into the mix and you’ve got a pretty exciting adventure ready to unfold. The humour is perfectly balanced with suspense (Moontrug laughed out loud as the Seraph prompted Ben that he was pushing against a ‘pull’ door) and Lucy provides a perfect side-kick for Ben as he learns to deal with grief and a sense of feeling that he doesn’t belong. And to top it all off, the edition I have has the most beautiful illustrations by Chris Riddell. A fantastic fantasy adventure for 9+ readers.

‘In Darkling Wood’ by Emma Carroll

Emma Carroll has given us ghosts and tight-rope walkers; now it’s time for fairies in her 2015 release for 9+ years: In Darkling Wood. When Alice’s brother gets a longed-for chance for a heart transplant, Alice is suddenly bundled off to her estranged grandmother’s house. There’s nothing good about staying with Nell, except for the beautiful Darkling Wood at the end of her garden – but Nell wants to have it cut down. Alice feels at home there, at peace, and even finds a friend, Flo. But Flo doesn’t seem to go to the local school and no one in town has heard of a girl with that name. When Flo shows Alice the surprising secrets of Darkling Wood, Alice starts to wonder, what is real? And can she find out in time to save the wood from destruction?

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Right from the opening line: ‘At 3.23am the hospital call to say a heart’s been found’ we know Carroll means business. With elements from the book based on the true story of young cousins Elsie Wright and Frances Griffiths from Cottingley, near Bradford, who claimed in 1917 to have seen fairies, Carroll weaves Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and letters from a sister to her older brother on The Front Line with Alice’s move to the countryside to stay with her stern grandmother. Alice’s world is turned upside down when her mother decides she’s to stay with Nell, in a gloomy house surrounded by dark trees. And Carroll perfectly captures Alice’s anxiety towards her brother’s illness, the children at her new school, her relationship with her distant father and the mystery at the heart of Darkling Wood. The magic Carroll conjures is spine-tinglingly real… This isn’t fairies in tutus prancing about; this is fairy rings and doors, wearing hats inside out to prevent trickery and air that seems to ‘ripple, like the surface of a pond after a stone is thrown in.’

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We have feisty heroines to contend with – Alice, Ella and Flo – and a gorgeous dog called Borage who ‘leans like a human when we take corners’ in the car. The plot is full of intrigue as characters discover the truth about the past – but above all the story sings of hope, a hope that is all the more powerful when set against the atrocities of the First World War, a hope that is big enough to stir magic deep inside an ancient wood. With a stunning cover by Julian De Narvaez and a sensitive, yet powerfully told story, this is a book readers of 9+ years will love. And excitingly, Emma Carroll has a novella, The Snow Sister, ready for us this Autumn – publishing on 1st October… Moontrug can’t wait.

‘River Daughter’ by Jane Hardstaff

Hooray! Thanks to superstar blogger, Jim Dean, Moontrug has discovered another author worthy of The Altocumulus Tower – the wonderfully talented Jane Hardstaff. Her debut, The Executioner’s Daughter, met with glowing reviews and now the sequel, River Daughter, is out. And it was this book Moontrug got her hands on first…
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Moss has left her old life in the Tower behind her. Her father has swapped his executioner’s axe for a blacksmith’s forge and, with Salter, she finally has the home she always dreamed of. But when an old enemy returns, Moss has no choice but to leave everything she loves. She sets off on a deadly journey to put an end to the evil that is enveloping London like a stinking fog. It’s a decision that may cost her friendship with Salter – and her life…

Hardstaff conjures up a hugely vivid sense of place and Moss’ connection to the river running through her village and calling her to act is powerfully drawn. In fact the writing is so lyrical Moontrug wanted to leap into the ‘shimmering world’ with Moss and Salter and set off on an adventure – but just pages later Hardstaff offers up another side to the river, a place where terrible darkness stirs. And Moss’ journey – from the peaceful country village to the stinking, bustling streets of London – marked a fantastic change of pace. Hardstaff’s Tudor London is realistically portrayed and Moontrug loved the historical details that wove together with the magic in the story.

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And it is in London that Moss’ adventure really unfurls: beasts locked in the Tower, an evil stirring in the river, a Whipmaster bent on cruelty… The characters are wonderfully compelling, from the enigmatic Eel-Eye Jack (whose rooftop music sings to Moss of faraway lands full of ice and snow) and the FANTASTIC Jenny Wren. When she burst onto the scene, Moontrug’s breath caught in her throat. Hers was an energy not to be missed – one that leaps from the page and will enthral any reader. Together with Moss, Hardstaff offers up two brilliantly bold and entertaining heroines. And Moss’ bond with the polar bear is fantastic: a perfect blend of trust, chancing luck and adventure – and the way in which the book ends in light of this bond is AMAZING. The book has pace and adventure (fight scenes and chase episodes are executed perfectly) and moments of real heart as characters strive to belong, to understand and to make things right. Moontrug couldn’t recommend River Daughter more highly – it’s a fantastic read for 8+ years.

‘Hamish & The Worldstoppers’ by Danny Wallace

Watch out, David Walliams. Danny Wallace has got his funny on and it’s HA HA HA HA HA on every page of his debut children’s book for 7+ years: Hamish & The Worldstoppers.

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What would you do if the whole world just stopped? Yes. The WHOLE WORLD. Birds in the air. Planes in the sky. And every single person on the planet – except you! Because that’s what keeps happening to ten-year-old Hamish Ellerby. And it’s being caused by the Worldstoppers and their terrifying friends The Terribles! They have a plan: they want to take our world for their won… Oh, and they HATE children. Especially if you’re a child who knows about them. Hang on – you know now, don’t you? Oh dear.

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Hamish Ellerby is having a rough time. His father has disappeared, his mother is bogged down in a job she loathes, his brother is being all teenagery and cool and at school he is tormented by bullies called Scratch and Mole. And it’s not as if Hamish can run off and hunt down some adventures in the village because Starkley is the most boring place to live, ever. And the latest headline in the Starkley Post is proof of this: ‘MAN LEAVES TOWN, WILL PROBABLY COME BACK IN A BIT.’ But then the Pauses start and Hamish discovers there is far more going on in Starkley than first meets the eye. And while his pal, Robin, thinks he’d probably just eat hamburgers and cheese if the world were to stop, Hamish decides there are FAR more important things to be doing…

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Moontrug was won over by Hamish for two reasons: he carries a Chomp everywhere he goes and every week he saves 10p of his pocket money for ‘old age.’ And the friends he eventually discovers – the other children who can move in the Pauses – are fabulously drawn: from Alice (signature moves: brow furrow, withering glance and elbow chop) and Buster (signature move: The Guilty Lizard – no one really knows what this is) to Eliot (who will one day go on to be Prime Minister. Of Sweden) and Venk (who secretly wishes he was in a boy band).

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Wallace’s sense of humour pervades every page, from Hamish’s neighbours The Ramsfaces who ‘were a strange little family who all played the ukelele together at night and sang unusual songs about boats’ to Madame Couscous’s International World of Treats which sells Vomit Comets and only allows one and a quarter school children in the shop at a time. He’s every bit as funny as Walliams, if not funnier, and children will laugh out loud at the silliness, jokes, ridiculous names and absurd personalities. The book is brilliantly packaged, with fantastic illustrations by Jamie Littler, and kids who get distracted easily (like Moontrug) will love the way the pages are laid out: funky fonts, lists, newspaper headlines, fact files, rule books. But Wallace doesn’t just give us bags of laughs – like Roald Dahl he touches on loss, bullying, adventure and peril. Moontrug loved this book and is very excited to see Wallace has more in store for us – take a little peek at www.worldofhamish.com…

 

 

 

Wednesday Q&A with author, Sarah McGuire

Next up on Moontrug’s Wednesday Q&As is author, Sarah McGuire, whose debut, VALIANT, is out now. We’ve got a bio and book blurb at the end of the post but right now we’re skipping straight to ogres…

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1. You wake up to find a massive ogre in your bedroom. If you had to choose one MG character to fight him off who would you choose and why?
Hermione. Granted, the whole troll in the girls’ bathroom incident didn’t go too well, but you know she could handle it now.

 

2. Having defeated the ogre, you find that your car doesn’t start. Bummer. Would you rather ride a dragon or a unicorn to work? Why?
Dragon. (Especially if it had Bennedict Cumberbatch’s voice.) How amazing would that be to fly to work? And if we could torch a few things along the way, so much the better.

 

3. After arriving at work late, your boss asks you what your most embarrassing childhood memory was. You have to tell him. 
I was eleven years old and my family was visiting the family of a boy I had the hugest crush on. Later that afternoon, we were roasting marshmallows around a bonfire. I wasn’t wasn’t a girl to slowly roast her marshmallow over the coals– I held the marshmallow right above the flames, and it caught on fire almost immediately.
So, of course, I began waving the marshmallow around. What could be more attractive to your crush than dancing around with a flaming marshmallow? (This story would be so different if I’d taken the time to truly consider that question!) In my enthusiasm, the marshmallow flew off the stick, and . . . stuck to my forehead. Fortunately, I’d been swinging it hard enough that the flame went out before it smacked me in the face. I spent the next few minutes picking melted marshmallow out of my hair and putting aloe on my burned forehead.
You will not be shocked to discover that the relationship did NOT work out.

 

4. You’re pretty fed up now so when a time machine appears offering to take you to any historical event, you agree. Where do you go and why?
Can I be a total geek and just say a meeting of the Inklings? The Chronicles of Narnia were the first books I read as I kid, and when I was older, I tore through the Lord of the Rings trilogy. When I learned that Lewis and Tolkien used to get together and talk writing, I almost died. For me, that WAS a historical event.

 

5. There is light at the end of the tunnel. As a Fearless Fifteener, your debut is out this year. Tell us about your book in 15 words or less.
Smart girl dresses as tailor. Giants with heart. Villain without one. Can she prevent war?

 

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Reggen still sings about the champion, the brave tailor. This is the story that is true.

Saville despises the velvets and silks that her father prizes more than he’s ever loved her. Yet when he’s struck ill she’ll do anything to survive–even dressing as a boy and begging a commission to sew for the king.
But piecing together a fine coat is far simpler than unknotting court gossip about an army of giants, led by a man who cannot be defeated, marching toward Reggen to seize the throne. Saville knows giants are just stories, and no man is immortal.
Then she meets them, two scouts as tall as trees. After she tricks them into leaving, tales of the daring tailor’s triumph quickly spin into impossible feats of giant-slaying. And stories won’t deter the Duke and his larger-than-life army.
Now only a courageous and clever tailor girl can see beyond the rumors to save the kingdom again.

AUTHOR BIO

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Sarah McGuire loves fairy tales and considers them the best way to step outside of everyday life. They’re the easiest way, at least: her attempt at seven to reach Narnia through her parents’ closet failed. She lives within sight of Virginia’s Blue Ridge Mountains, where she teaches high school creative writing and math classes with very interesting word problems. Valiant is her first novel.

Review: ‘Completely Cassidy – Accidental Genius’ by Tamsyn Murray

Moontrug’s been spending a lot of time reading fantasy and adventure books recently so she thought she’d shake things up a bit with something different… Meet Cassidy. With her embarrassing dad, pregnant mum, loser brother and knicker-chewing dog, she’s almost invisible in her family. So she’s hoping Year 7 is her time to shine, especially since a test proved she’s Gifted & Talented. The only problem is she picked her answers at random. But surely the school wouldn’t make a mistake about her genius?

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Cassidy narrates the book and Murray perfectly captures the voice of a Year 7 girl. Lines like: ‘I wish I was an orphan – not Oliver Twist, obviously. A rich one and preferably royal’ had Moontrug giggling early on and Cassidy’s fears of being ‘vaporized by the scornful look of a passing Year Eleven’ brilliantly encapsulate the anxiety Moontrug felt as she embarked upon Senior School once upon a time. Cassidy’s friendship with Shenice and Molly is lovingly evoked (Moontrug adored that Wham bars were a universal sign of peace offering between them!) and Cassidy’s relationship with her brother, Liam (lead guitarist of Wolf Brethern, not Dog Breath as Cassidy would have it) is hilarious.

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The letters Cassidy earnestly bashes out to Prime Ministers and Pet Vets made Moontrug chuckle and Cassidy’s attempt at hair dying reminded Moontrug of the time she dyed her hair three weeks into Senior School and it went so wrong she was nicknamed Pink Dawsons Creek Girl for a month… And lines like this from Murray: ‘I bet Einstein’s mother never threatened to shave his head’ make the episode particularly memorable! The book is littered with wonderful facts as Cassidy unearths information for the quiz. Did you know emus cannot walk backwards, butterflies taste with their feet and tarantulas can live for thirty years?! Spot on for Moontrug who collects facts on a regular basis. And Cassidy’s verdict on Jane Eyre is hilarious: ‘What it needs is a few ZOMBIES – they would have spiced things up no end.’ There are rumours of Deputy Heads twerking at St Jude’s Has Got Talent competition, fall outs between friends, new sibling arrivals and first crushes – the perfect ingredients for 8+ years readers wanting a witty, fresh and heart-warming story. And watch out for the fantastic sequel, Completely Cassidy – Star Reporter, out in July this year…

‘The Sword of Kuromori’ by Jason Rohan

Motorcycle ninjas. Demons in business suits. Headless vampires. Welcome to Jason Rohan’s The Sword of Kuromori (for 8+ years).

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13-year-old Kenny Blackwood arrives in Japan to do a bit of sightseeing while seeing his Dad. But even before he lands at the airport, things start to get weird. It’s not long before he discovers that Tokyo is teeming with mythical monsters that only he can see – and they all want him dead! Instead of a dream holiday, Kenny finds himself in the middle of a hidden war, one that is about to explode and kill millions – unless he can find a fabled lost sword and fulfil a destiny he never knew he had. And he has just nine days to do it…

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Right from the start, Rohan blends action with humour – and it is perhaps this balance (a little like the Percy Jackson books) that carries the plot along so well. Take this letter from Kenny’s grandfather to Kenny in the first chapter: ‘If I have any advice for you, it is this: believe in yourself; trust your feelings; do what is right, especially when it is most difficult; and always carry a cucumber near fresh water.’ And after reading this letter, Kenny is plunged into an adventure with mythical creatures, secret codes, strange nightmares and a brilliant (and super punchy) female ally, Kiyomi. I loved the relationship between Kiyomi and Kenny – that initially Kenny has to be taught things by Kiyomi, like how to fight: ‘He’s useless,’ she muttered. ‘Teaching him to fight is like putting Poyo on a diet’ but ultimately Kenny and Kiyomi will battle alongside each other against the evil lurking in Japan.

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There is a powerful sense of menace at the heart of the book, as Kenny begins to realise: there is ‘Something huge. Something Ancient. Something evil’ waiting for him… And the creatures Rohan conjures up are truly frightening: ‘rows of sharp, jagged teeth erupted along the length of the tongue and it advanced towards Kenny – sss-puck, sss-puck – lashing the tongue back and forth like a barbed whip.’ The action is fast-paced and clearly drawn, almost leaping off the page: ‘The tennis racquet slammed into the creature’s face; there was a twang of elastic tension and then – whoosh – it rebounded, flew across the room, bounced off the wall…’ But set aside the modern-day action there is a deeper mysticism lying at the book’s core and Rohan draws on ancient Japanese temples in the jungle and legendary dragons imprisoned beneath the earth. The Sword of Kuromori is an energetic and exciting middle grade adventure set in an original setting and filled with brilliant characters – fans of Percy Jackson will love it. The sequel, The Shield of Kuromori will be published this May.

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Q&A with author, K.E. Ormsbee

Next up on Moontrug’s Wednesday Q&As is author, K.E. Ormsbee, whose debut, THE WATER AND THE WILD, is out now. We’ve got a bio and book blurb at the end of the post but right now we’re skipping straight to ogres…

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1. You wake up to find a massive ogre in your bedroom. If you had to choose one MG character to fight him off who would you choose and why?

Luna Lovegood, hands down. That girl knows her magical creatures, and I bet she could even devise a non-violent way of shooing the ogre from my bedroom. She could also probably place some protective charms on my house so an incident like that doesn’t happen again.

 

2. Having defeated the ogre, you find that your car doesn’t start. Bummer. Would you rather ride a dragon or a unicorn to work? Why?

This is tricky, because I do have an undying love for unicorns:

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But if it’s a matter of getting to work quickly, I’d have to go with dragoooon! Great big dragon wings travel faster than hooves, right? Also, the dragon could warm up my to-go breakfast with her fiery breath.

 

3. After arriving at work late, your boss asks you what your most embarrassing childhood memory was. You have to tell him. 

When I was nine, I was leading a pack of kids up a flight of stairs and proceeded to totally wipe out. Since I was in front, everyone saw the humiliation, and nobody could move until I’d recovered. It was not a graceful recovery.

 

4. You’re pretty fed up now so when a time machine appears offering to take you to any historical event, you agree. Where do you go and why?

Roanoke Colony, aka The Lost Colony, 1590. I wanna find out the definitive explanation for those mysterious disappearances and the word Croatoan.

 

5. There is light at the end of the tunnel. As a Fearless Fifteener, your debut is out this year. Tell us about your book in 15 words or less.

A portal fantasy filled with poetry, magic, adventure, will o’ the wisps, and BIRDS.

 

THE WATER AND THE WILD

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For as long as Lottie Fiske can remember, the only people who seem to care about her have been her best friend, Eliot, and the mysterious letter-writer who sends her birthday gifts. But now strange things and people are arriving on the island Lottie calls home, and Eliot’s getting sicker, with a disease the doctors have given up trying to cure. Lottie is helpless, useless, powerless.

And then a door opens in the apple tree.

Follow Lottie down through the apple roots to another world—a world of magic both treacherous and beautiful—in pursuit of the impossible: a cure for the incurable, a use for the useless, and protection against the pain of loss.

AUTHOR BIO

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  1. E. (aka Kathryn) Ormsbee grew up with a spaceship in her basement and went on many pretend (?) expeditions to the moon. The Water and the Wild is her first novel.

‘The Wild Beyond’ by Piers Torday

In November 2013 I began a journey with a boy called Kester – and two years later I’m still enthralled by his adventures. I’ve watched Kester rescue the animals with stag, wolf cub, cockroach, white pigeon and mouse in The Last WildI’ve seen Kester save the humans in the award-winning sequel, The Dark Wild. And now it’s time for the final instalment in Piers Torday’s trilogy, The Wild Beyond.

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This is the story of a boy named Kester. He has rescued the last wild animals in the world, and saved his capital city from destruction. But now he must face his greatest challenge yet, because:
1. The only blue whale on the planet has brought news from across the ocean
2. A mysterious steel dome has risen from the Four Towers
3. Out there, somewhere, a brave mouse holds the key to the future

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Although surrounded by his friends, Polly and Aida, and his loyal Wild, Torday begins this book with Kester feeling ‘completely and utterly alone.’ The task ahead, to save the world from complete destruction, finally feels too big for Kester. And it is only when Polly stands up to the adults: ‘You should be ashamed of yourselves… for telling us we couldn’t do it because we’re children’ that Kester realises that despite the hugeness of the task ahead, together with his friends, he might just be capable of doing it after all. And this is what Torday does so well – he champions ‘the child’ on every page.

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The adventure begins with a call-to-action from something huge and ancient: ‘One watery sound, that leaks deep into my bones and makes me shiver; so slow and so old.’ It is the blue whale whose song tells Kester exactly what he needs to do to save the planet. The scale of adventure that follows is fabulous (being pulled across the ocean by dolphins reminded Moontrug of James and The Giant Peach being tugged by seagulls) – and the ideas the characters and settings raise on the journey are brilliantly bold. Children won’t be able to read this book without thinking about the way their lives impact the natural world – but Torday never labour points or becomes ‘preachy’ – everything is contained within a wonderful tale of adventure, bravery and hope.
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The animal characters and their unique voices leap off the page, from the needy rat (‘This cockroach and I are best pals forever’) to the boastful but adorable wolf cub (‘The more I stare at that drowned wolf, the more I see the most handsomest creature ever to have walked the earth’). The white pigeon is as hilarious (and at times profound) as ever and Moontrug adored new characters like the chilled out lizard dude… But it is perhaps the friendship between Aida, Polly and Kester that Moontrug loved most: feisty dumpsite kid Aida who whips out battery-powered hairdryers from wheelie cases she just ‘happened’ to find, Polly With A Plan and the brave and loyal Kester. The ending to this book broke off a little piece of Moontrug’s heart but when she really thinks about it there could be no other ending to such a story. Torday does it perfectly and beautifully. In fact, Moontrug thinks it’s up there with one of her all-time favourite endings in children’s books. It felt real and raw and honest. The Wild Beyond is an absolute triumph of a book which deserves to win a lot of prizes – and (perhaps more importantly) hearts.