The International Yeti Collective #2: Shadowspring – Paul Mason

Illustrations – Katy Riddell

You must do what your heart tells you is right …

The Greybeards are finalising preparations for the first Gathering of the nineteen yeti setts that make up the International Yeti Collective in a very long time. Tadpole (she of unripe character) is the daughter of the sett’s leader, Shipshape (she in perfect order). Although Tadpole is next in line to become the leader of the Greybeards she doesn’t feel very much like a leader.

Much like the first book in the series, Shadowspring has a message of conservation. The yeti are all protectors but each sett has its own area of responsibility. The Mountain Yeti from the first book do fungus maintenance and the Greybeards of Shadowspring clean the water they, the forest and humans use.

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My favourite yeti character was Snowdrift (he with white fur), Tadpole’s grandfather, who was wise, loving and kind. Snowdrift had been friends with a human. Because of how dangerous humans are, yeti who interact with them face banishment if they are caught.

Like her grandfather, Tadpole also meets a human, Henry, who is settling into his new boarding school. Tadpole and Henry will need to work together when they find out the Greybeards are in danger.

I was also a pretty big fan of Lepus, the hare. Given how much I love etymology, I was impressed when Google told me that Lepus is Latin for ‘hare’.

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Fun fact: Lepus is also a constellation. That makes the astronomy nerd part of me very happy.

Given how many setts we haven’t spent time with yet I’m expecting at least one more book in this series. You could read the second book without having already read the first and not be lost, although I’d recommend reading them in order. There are references to the events of the first book in this one.

I liked both Tadpole and Henry. However I wasn’t as invested in their friendship as I was in Tick and Ella’s from the first book. This is the only reason I’m rating this book slightly lower than the first one.

“We share this Earth,” said Shipshape. “We should learn to live alongside each other. Not build barriers.”

While kids in particular will enjoy reading all of the fun yeti names, I wouldn’t hesitate in recommending this series to kids and adults alike.

Thank you so much to NetGalley and Stripes Publishing, an imprint of Little Tiger Group, for the opportunity to read this book.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

Henry is the new boy at Halbrook Hall – a crumbling boarding school in the Scottish Highlands. He thinks the rumours of yeti lurking in the misty hills are nothing more than stories. Until one day he gets lost in the forest …

As a young yeti, Tadpole loves living in Shadowspring. But now the precious spring water is disappearing and no one knows why. The situation is serious – surely there’s something she can do to help …

When Tadpole accidentally reveals the top-secret location of Shadowspring to Henry, the lost boy she saves, she knows she’s in deep trouble. But what if this human actually has the power to help the yeti not harm them? 

Agent Zaiba Investigates #2: The Poison Plot – Annabelle Sami

Illustrations – Daniela Sosa

Spoilers Ahead!

It’s the thirtieth Beckley School Summer Fete and Zaiba, our adorable British Pakistani main character, is in charge of the treasure trail. Of course Zaiba, being a detective in training, has transformed it into a detective trail.

There were twists and turns, riddles and mysteries to crack – plus a list of likely suspects.

Her father, Hassan, and younger brother, Ali, are keen to win the baking competition. Zaiba’s stepmother, Jessica, is going to be busy face painting, putting her artistic flair to good use.

Zaiba is proud of the work she and Poppy, her best friend, have put into making the detective trail perfect, although she’s eager for the opportunity to solve another crime.

“A crime will arrive when you least expect it”

Amidst the festivities there is indeed a crime taking place. Someone has been poisoned! Fortunately, the UK branch of the Snow Leopard Detective Agency are ready to find the clues, narrow down the suspects and solve this crime.

With plenty of people acting suspicious there are no shortage of suspects. Readers will enjoy sorting out the red herrings from the clues and trying to solve the case before Zaiba and the rest of the Snow Leopards do.

As you explore the school grounds with Zaiba both before and after the crime, you’ll come across plenty of clues, or are they? For starters, there’s environmentally friendly glitter, gardening that would make Morticia Addams proud, adults behaving badly and treasonous book vandalism.

And the person with a penchant for poison is … Nice try! You didn’t really think I’d spoil the reveal for you, did you?

I loved Daniela Sosa’s illustrations in the first book and continued to enjoy them here. The bunting above the chapter headings was an appropriate choice. I particularly liked the inclusion of some of Ali’s photos towards the end of the book, as he’d been taking plenty of photos throughout the day for the school newspaper.

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I enjoyed hearing more about Eden Lockett’s books. Eden, a detective-turned-author, is Zaiba’s favourite author. I always get sucked in by the idea of fictional books within a book and usually wish they were real. The one I’m most interested in reading from this book is The Clown’s Clue. Revenge under the Big Top sounds like so much fun!

⚠️ The spoiler is in the next paragraph! ⚠️

My only niggle was feeling like the person who committed the crime essentially got away with it. Although it’s nice that all’s well that ends well, I hesitate when children’s books don’t really hold people accountable for bad behaviour, especially for actions that are criminal. Yes, the person who committed the crime won’t be thrilled about the consequences they do face but if someone gets caught poisoning someone, getting a warning from the Police doesn’t even feel equivalent to a slap on the wrist to me.

Fun extras at the end of the story include some fictional book within a book love (an extract from an Eden Lockett book), tips for creating your own detective trail and advice from Zaiba’s ammi.

If plan A doesn’t work, there’s a whole alphabet worth of letters left to try!

I was thrilled to see Mariam, Zaiba’s least favourite cousin, at the fete. I’m still keen to get to know her better. I’m also greedy for more page time with Ali. During future investigations I hope I get to learn more about Zaiba’s ammi and hang out with Aunt Fouzia.

I’d recommend reading this series in order as there are a couple of spoilery bits about Zaiba’s first investigation scattered throughout this one.

The next mystery for the UK branch of the Snow Leopard Detective Agency to solve features a haunted house and I am definitely showing up for that investigation!

“Why wouldn’t anyone want to be a detective?”

Thank you so much to NetGalley and Stripes Publishing, an imprint of Little Tiger Group, for the opportunity to read this book.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

Determined to be the world’s greatest detective, Zaiba is always on the lookout for a crime to solve!

Zaiba can’t wait for the school summer fair where she’s going to run a detective trail to help train other potential agents! But when the head teacher is poisoned during the highly competitive cake competition, Zaiba’s own skills are put to the test. With a whole host of suspects and a busy crime scene, Zaiba needs to stay focused if she’s going to get to the bottom of the cake catastrophe …

Here Lie the Secrets – Emma Young

Do you believe in ghosts?

Mia is visiting her aunt in Brooklyn over the summer and plans on hanging out with her friend, Tamara, as they save up for their planned road trip.

Meeting Rav was not on the agenda, nor was spending time with him and his colleagues from the Parapsychology Research Institute as they investigate a potential haunting.

Mia is already haunted by the death of her best friend, Holly, and is certainly not wanting to cross paths with any other ghosts.

It is clear the author has spent a significant amount of time researching the methods investigators use to hunt ghosts, as well as the various arguments for and against the existence of ghosts, prior to writing this book.

While I was really looking forward to this read, there ended up being a mismatch between my expectations and reality, and this coloured the way I experienced this book.

After learning about Rav, a student of parapsychology, in the blurb, I spent a lot of time waiting for some creepy, needing to look over my shoulder content. Instead I found the narrative to be more of an exploration of grief. Not necessarily a bad thing, but certainly not what I’d been hoping for.

When I read about a Ghostbusters belt buckle and found a quote from my all time favourite movie, I began my search for Ghostbusters Easter eggs, but never found them. I was initially interested in the discussions exploring why people do or don’t believe in the existence of ghosts but they felt more like info dumps and when the discussions devolved into arguments I lost interest.

I didn’t connect with any of the characters and expected to feel their grief but never did. The information provided about the summer job felt important at the time it was given but seemed more and more irrelevant as the story progressed.

I absolutely loved learning of the existence of the Here Lie the Secrets of the Visitors of Green-Wood Cemetery art installation, where visitors write their secrets on paper and place them into the grave.

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While this story ultimately wasn’t for me, I would encourage you to check out some of the 4 and 5 star reviews before deciding whether or not this is the book for you.

Content warnings include mention of bullying, domestic violence and mental illness.

Thank you so much to NetGalley and Stripes Publishing, an imprint of Little Tiger Group, for the opportunity to read this book.

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

Mia’s best friend Holly died when they were thirteen. But years later, Holly still hasn’t left her.

Spending the summer in New York, Mia is hoping to escape the visions of Holly that haunt her life at home. There she meets Rav, a parapsychology student, who convinces her to take part in a study into why some people see ghosts. Soon she is caught up in the investigation of Halcyon House, which is reputed to be haunted by a poltergeist. As Mia confronts her fears, what she learns about the house and herself will change her life forever.

The House of Hidden Wonders – Sharon Gosling

Spoilers Ahead!

Zinnie is fiercely protective of Sadie and Nell, her sisters. Their home in Old Edinburgh is dark, dirty and underground but Zinnie is proud of it. At least she’s been able to keep her family together. She doesn’t believe the talk in the Close about the ghost.

“Can’t stay down there no more. Not with that spirit abroad. Vicious, she is. Evil.”

Arthur Conan Doyle, who is currently a medical student at the Royal Infirmary, pays Zinnie to do jobs for him. He is currently investigating a mystery that not even the local authorities have been able to solve.

“More subterfuge? How perfectly wonderful!”

I loved Zinnie. She’s headstrong, resilient and intelligent. Her loyalty to her sisters and ingenuity in finding ways to provide for them impressed me. She’s the kind of person you want on your side. I didn’t feel like I got to know Zinnie’s sisters, Sadie and Nell, that well. Although I know facts about each of them, this was really Zinnie’s story.

Along the way, Zinnie meets an explorer and doctor who are both intelligent, independent and female. I really liked the inclusion of women who were very much ahead of their time.

I’m not usually much of a fan of the inclusion of historical figures in fiction so I was initially hesitant when I encountered Arthur Conan Doyle. The author’s historical note at the end of the book helped me correlate some elements of his character with his life. I found the information about Doctor Sophia Jex-Blake particularly interesting, as I hadn’t heard of her before.

With a “terrible, cruel man” with cronies, a tortoise named Algernon, curiosities from around the world and mysteries to solve, including ’the Mystery of the Severed Ears’, this book went in a different direction than I was expecting. The prologue had me anticipating supernatural spookiness; however, the focus was more on solving mysteries and the importance of family and being there for the ones we love.

Thank you so much to NetGalley and Stripes Publishing, an imprint of Little Tiger Group, for the opportunity to read this book.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

Zinnie and her sisters live in the murky tunnels beneath Edinburgh’s Old Town. They keep out of the way of the authorities and remain undetected. Until, that is, rumours of a ghost bring unwanted visitors into the caverns they call home. Among them, a young Arthur Conan Doyle, keen to investigate, and MacDuff, the shady owner of Edinburgh’s newest attraction, the House of Wonders.

Caught up in a world of intrigue and adventure, Zinnie seeks answers. But how can she discover what secrets lie in the House of Wonders while also protecting the sisters she holds so dear? 

Fig Swims the World – Lou Abercrombie

Spoilers Ahead!

I’m sick of my mother controlling me. She’s hacked into my life for too long, insisting on her ‘It’s my way or the highway’ rules; on me having to follow her timetable, dressing the way she suggests; achieving the New Year’s resolutions she makes for me.

Mubla decides what her daughter’s New Year’s resolution is going to be each year. Fig isn’t allowed to quit or fail, even if she hates the goal her mother has chosen. This year Mubla has signed Fig up for acting lessons. Fig doesn’t want to act and the idea of being on a stage terrifies her.

Fig has had enough of her mother controlling her. She decides to make her own resolution: Fig is going to swim the world! There’s just one catch; she can’t swim. Oh, and she’s scared of swimming. And of plenty of animals that live in the water. And of being alone. And the list goes on.

Speaking of lists, Fig loves making them. She also loves maths. Both will come in handy as she plans her adventure.

“It’s as much about the mental challenge as the physical. All you need is self-belief …”

I was looking forward to following Fig’s adventure around the world and when I learned of her struggles with anxiety I was even more invested in her success. I was keen to watch her learn to manage her anxiety, striving to achieve a goal that scared her. However, the more I got to know Fig the less I liked her. She was selfish and spoilt, and she annoyed me so much. The majority of the time Fig was more concerned with getting caught than with the impact her disappearance would be having on the people who love her.

I’ve disliked the main character in other books and still enjoyed the story though, so my frustration with Fig wouldn’t have been an issue for me if it wasn’t for my inability to suspend my disbelief. I read a lot of children’s and YA books and usually don’t have a problem with this. In this instance though, I think it would have helped if I could have read Fig’s story when I was a child. Unfortunately, adult me kept getting distracted, having trouble believing Fig’s year would have transpired the way it did.

Although her parents are supposedly searching for Fig and there’s a social media campaign to find her, she manages to elude everyone for months when this should not have been the case. Why?

  1. Fig used her mother’s credit card to finance the travel portion of her adventure. Her mother and/or the Police could have easily tracked her every step of the way. Why didn’t her mother advise her credit card company that the charges were fraudulent and cancelled them? Fig couldn’t have continued travelling all over the place if her travel reservations were cancelled. If, as her mother claimed, she knew where Fig was then why didn’t she go and bring her home immediately?
  2. Fig uploaded photos of herself to social media along the way. Yes, her account was set to private some of the time but surely someone could have done a reverse image search, figured out her alias and found her by checking the metadata on her photographs.

This family seem to have the kind of money I could only dream of. The swimming equipment that Fig purchased with a “leftover birthday gift voucher” would be equivalent to my income for about two months. Fig doesn’t understand why her mother won’t trust her when she’s previously given her no reason not to, and I understand wanting to rebel against a controlling parent. However, the amount of money Fig must have stolen from her parents and her disregard for the morality of this decision got under my skin.

I had a particular soft spot for Jago, Fig’s younger brother. I wanted to get to know him better. I don’t know how Fig could leave Jago without really considering how her absence would affect him. I also didn’t think she was a good friend to Stella, who was supposed to be her best friend. I wish I could have spent more time with Sage and Myrtle; they were interesting enough to warrant an entire book dedicated to their lives.

Some scenes were too convenient for me and others quite predictable. It seemed awfully convenient for Fig to be seated next to an open water swimmer on a plane when she needed information and encouragement specific to this. The identity of one of the people who follows Fig on social media seemed obvious to me, yet she didn’t figure out who it was until near the end of her adventure. I expected the reveal about one of the minor characters, which happened late in the book, once the first clue was planted.

I admired Fig’s determination in facing her fears and achieving her goal, despite the anxiety she experienced, but I wanted to give her a good talking to whenever she felt the need to complain while she was doing exactly what she wanted.

I hate sailing! I’m sick of this trip!

I’ve loved all of the other books published by Little Tiger Group as much, or even more, than I expected to, so I’m really disappointed that this one didn’t work for me. If I’d managed to get out of my head early on when I was questioning the practicalities I probably would have been able to just keep swimming. Please read some other reviews before deciding if this is the book for you or not. I hope it’s a five star read for you.

Bubble, bubble, breathe.

Content warnings include anxiety and bullying. If you have emetophobia you may find it difficult to read some scenes.

Thank you so much to NetGalley and Stripes Publishing, an imprint of Little Tiger Group, for the opportunity to read this book.

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

Fig Fitzsherbert is good at a lot of things: making lists, playing the piano, advanced mathematics. But it’s never quite enough for her high-flying mother, who every New Year’s Day sets Fig an impossible resolution. So one year, Fig decides to set her own challenge instead: she’s going to swim her way round the world. There’s just one tiny problem … Fig can’t swim. Taking it one length at a time, Fig embarks on the adventure of a lifetime. But with her mother closing in, will she be able to keep her head above water and complete her challenge?

Where the World Turns Wild – Nicola Penfold

Spoilers Ahead!

Once upon a time, almost fifty years ago, climate change and deforestation and humans ransacking everything good and beautiful, had driven our planet to breaking point. Nature was dying – plants and trees, animals, birds, insects – new species disappeared every day. But then the ReWilders created the disease.

Juniper is thirteen and her brother, Bear, is six. They aren’t like the other kids in their school. They were born in the Wild and are immune to the disease the ReWilders created.

We came from the Wild and one day we’ll go back there.

I’m a sucker for stories that feature outcasts and these siblings are some of the most loveable outcasts I’ve ever met. Juniper’s love for her brother is fierce. It’s protective. It’s unconditional. It’s the kind of love that wraps you up and keeps you warm because you know that no matter what anyone else thinks about you, this one person will always be there for you.

Their grandmother, Annie Rose, is one of the last Plant Keepers in the city. I absolutely adored Annie Rose! My brain skyrocketed into Fahrenheit 451 level anxiety when I learned this city had banned books that are even tangentially related to nature. I loved Annie Rose even more when I found out she had not only hidden forbidden books in her home, but she’d also fed the Wild to her grandchildren through their pages.

“The books you read when you’re young, they become part of you.”

After spending some time shadowing Juniper and Bear as they navigated the grey of the city, entering the green of the Wild felt wondrous. As Juniper and Bear took in their new landscape, with its colours and textures and sounds, I felt like I was rediscovering my love of nature. I could feel them breathing in cleaner air and seeing animals they’d only ever known via forbidden books coming to life before their eyes.

My heart attached itself to Ghost from the first time I saw them. I’d love to tell you all about Ghost but don’t want to ruin anything for you. Keep a piece of your heart reserved for them though. They deserve it.

This book has been on my radar for months but for a long time I didn’t think this was the right book for me right now. Between the sheer number of climate change news articles I see daily and the fact that huge chunks of Australia have been burning for the past three months, I wasn’t sure I wanted to be spending my escape from reality time thinking about it as well.

It kept nagging at me though, every time I saw positive reviews piling up. It didn’t hurt that it’s published by Little Tiger Group, one of my favourite children and YA publishers. I’m so glad I finally couldn’t help myself because my initial reasons for hesitating were unfounded. Yes, this book does deal with some big issues. Yes, it’s scary because it’s not farfetched; this could become our world if we don’t make some serious changes to the way we treat the planet. But, yes, there’s also so much love and courage and hope infused in this book.

I knew from the blurb that Juniper and Bear would leave the city at some point, yet I still cried when they did, although I’m definitely not tearing up about it now as I’m writing this review. I also didn’t tear up another time later in the book and I most certainly didn’t notice any additional water in my eyes twice during the acknowledgements. That must have been someone else.

I loved the importance of names in this book. Because Juniper’s name related to the Wild and this was a serious no no in this highly controlled environment, she was called June instead when she was at school. The name of the city’s leader was well suited to their description. Although I didn’t even wonder about its name in the beginning, when I finally learned the origin of the name of the valley where Juniper and Bear were born it had such a lovely symmetry to it. I’m going to pay much more attention to the names of people and places during my inevitable reread.

I kept wondering if the reason given to people for Portia Steel’s absence was a cover up for her having succumbed to the disease herself, or maybe that was just wishful thinking on my part. I’m also wondering what became of Annie Rose, Ms Endo and Etienne, and hoping for the best.

Kate Forrester’s cover image was what initially drew me to this book but it’s only now that I’ve finished reading it that I can appreciate all of the details that they included. I’m seeing more of the story in its design the longer I look at it.

Content warnings include bullying, gun violence, injury and death of people and animals, and mention of mental health.

Thank you so much to NetGalley and Stripes Publishing, an imprint of Little Tiger Group, for the opportunity to read this book.

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

Juniper Greene lives in a walled city from which nature has been banished, following the outbreak of a deadly man-made disease many years earlier. While most people seem content to live in such a cage, she and her little brother Bear have always known about their resistance to the disease, and dream of escaping into the wild. To the one place humans have survived outside of cities. To where their mother is.

When scientists discover that the siblings provide the key to fighting the disease, the pair must flee for their lives. As they cross the barren Buffer Zone and journey into the unknown, Juniper and Bear can only guess at the dangers that lie ahead. Nature can be cruel as well as kind … Will they ever find the home they’ve been searching for?

Agent Zaiba Investigates #1: The Missing Diamonds – Annabelle Sami

Illustrations – Daniela Sosa

“Agents assemble!”

I have always loved girl detective books so when I learned of Zaiba’s existence I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to go sleuthing with her. This book is absolutely adorable and even though I’ve only just finished reading about her first case I’m ready to help her solve the next one.

Zaiba is attending her favourite cousin’s pre-wedding Mehndi party at the Royal Star Hotel. Samirah (Sam) will be marrying Tanvir and Zaiba’s family are celebrating together, with food, music and dancing. Zaiba’s best friend, Poppy, is enjoying the fashion and free food and Zaiba’s cousin/nemesis, Mariam, is no doubt scheming up some trouble.

Zaiba longs to be a detective and uses her favourite book, Eden Lockett’s Detective Handbook, as a training manual. Solving mysteries runs in her family; Aunt Fouzia runs the Snow Leopard Detective Agency in Pakistan and was the one who introduced Zaiba to the Eden Lockett mystery books. It isn’t long before Zaiba, Poppy and Zaiba’s younger half-brother, Ali, are investigating their own case.

While I appreciated Zaiba’s determination and attention to detail, it was Ali I wanted to learn more about. Rather than simply being the cliché little brother tagging along on an adventure, Ali holds his own, using his incredible memory for facts and penchant for maths to shine a light on clues that others may overlook.

All good detectives make notes.

I always enjoy searching for clues myself as I read detective stories and I found myself highlighting key words and sentences as I peeked over Zaiba’s shoulder. There are clues which will help readers solve the mystery themselves if they pay attention to the details.

I want to learn more about Aunt Fouzia and Zaiba’s mother during future investigations. Mariam also intrigues me; she has the potential for an interesting character arc, one I hope will see her become an integral part of the team (fingers crossed). I’m keen to discover the true identity of Eden Lockett; I have my suspicions but will keep those to myself for now.

I loved Daniela Sosa’s illustrations and had trouble choosing a favourite, so I’ve chosen two. While this one captures the spirit of adventure and the determination of the trio solving the mystery,

this one reminds me of how much fun I had reading and the book’s positive messages.

You can be anything you want to be.

This book highlights the importance of teamwork and how the support and encouragement of family and friends can give a child the courage they need to follow their dreams and face their fears.

A good agent always ensures the safety of her friends.

There are some fun bonuses at the end of the book, including an extract from one of Eden’s books and some handy tips for detectives in training. I really enjoyed learning more about Mehndi parties and deciphering the coded messages. I’m currently preparing my membership application for the Snow Leopard Detective Agency.

Thank you so much to NetGalley and Stripes Publishing, an imprint of Little Tiger Group, for the opportunity to read this book.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

Eleven-year-old Zaiba is obsessed with crime. Her Aunt Fouzia runs a detective agency back in Karachi and has turned Zaiba on to the brilliant Eden Lockett Mysteries. She has every book in the series – and the quilt cover, and the phone case. All she needs now is a crime to solve …

Zaiba is attending a family Mehndi party at The Grand Royal Star Hotel when she hears that the prized Italian Greyhound of a famous actress has gone missing from the star’s suite. With the help of her best friend and her little brother, the amateur sleuth manages to foil the petnapping plot and save the day. 

The International Yeti Collective – Paul Mason

Illustrations – Katy Riddell

Spoilers Ahead!

Ella is excited to be spending time in the Himalayas with Jack, her famous uncle, during the school holidays. Accompanied by a small film crew, they’re determined to track down the elusive yeti and then share their incredible find with the world.

Tick is a yeti who knows, like all yeti do, to stay far away from humans. Curiosity gets the better of him though and he can’t resist a quick peek at these strange creatures. This decision could have dire consequences, not just for Tick but for every yeti.

“We all make mistakes in life, Tick. It’s how you respond to them that counts”

Although this story is told from both Ella and Tick’s perspectives, and Ella does play a vital role, I will remember this book as Tick’s story. I adored this yeti, from his sweet nature to his “idea flies”, which manage to both cause trouble and help him. Tick’s story proves that we can live beyond our labels.

“If we are not true to ourselves, young yeti, then we are nothing.”

Humans and yeti aren’t the only creatures you’ll find in this book. I was quite partial to a yak called Shaan. I learned of the existence of a bird with the best rainbow of feathers I’ve ever Googled: the Himalayan monal. Then there was Flittermouse, the most adorable bat I’ve ever wanted to befriend.

I loved learning about yeti history and culture. The lighting system in their setts was ingenious – they clap to wake the glow worms! I smiled each time it happened. I especially enjoyed learning the fun, descriptive yeti names, which included “Nosh (she who makes nibbles)” and “Crisp (he baked in the sun)”. I never tired of their varied greetings; my favourites were “Even a tiny star shines in the dark” and “One shall not reach the top of a mountain by sitting on the bottom”.

By thinking outside the box and being open to new ideas, characters in this book learn that just because something has always been done a certain way that doesn’t automatically mean it’s the only (or best) way to do it. When you are brave enough to try something new the results can be amazing, even if it can be scary in the beginning.

There’s an overarching theme of conservation which plays out throughout this story. While the message was clear, I never felt like I was being hit over the head with it. I appreciated Ella having the strength to speak her truth to adults and loved that her voice made a difference. It’s empowering for kids (and anyone, really) to read about characters who stand up for what they believe in.

My main niggle was Jack’s turnaround near the end of the book. While it was inevitable and I’m very glad it happened, he changed his tune too quickly for me to find it believable. Having said that though, I’m not this book’s target audience and doubt I would have quibbled about it had I encountered this book as a child.

Thank you so much to NetGalley and Stripes Publishing, an imprint of Little Tiger Group, for the opportunity to read this book.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

An epic adventure with big feet and an even bigger heart!

Ella is in the Himalayas with her uncle searching for yeti. But what seems like the adventure of a lifetime is cut short when she realises that these secretive creatures might not want to be found.

Tick knows it’s against yeti law to approach humans. So when some arrive on the mountain, why does he find himself peering through the trees to get a closer look?

What Tick doesn’t know is that his actions will set off a series of events that threaten the existence of yeti all over the world. What can he do to make things right? Just when all hope seems lost, help comes in the most unexpected form …

Music and Malice in Hurricane Town – Alex Bell

Jude is a musician who’s trying to earn enough money to take care of herself and her father. They live in Baton Noir, a city divided into magical Royalty, Subjects and ordinary Citizens (or Scraps, as the slur goes). If you visit Baton Noir you’re likely to cross paths with Pearls, descendants, witches and vampires, and you may even come across some fairies.

When Ivory Monette, the cajou queen, is murdered, she’s determined to find her killer. Ivory can’t investigate her murder alone (on account of her body being interred in her family crypt at St Clémence Cemetery) so she enlists Jude’s help. Not that Jude consented, or was even consulted, before Ivory’s spirit possessed her.

As she looks deeper into this corrupt world of dark magic, superstitions and curses, where charms can make you beautiful, where swamps are home to alligators and nightmares that bite, and jazz music accompanies you wherever you go, Jude finds herself caught up in a whirlwind (hurricane? 😜) of secrets, lies and ghosts of the past.

I connected with Jude, who is an interesting mix of angry, insecure and resilient. I liked Jude’s best friend, Sharkey, and his grandmother, Mops; I wish they had more page time and hope to get to know them better in the sequel. I empathised with Jude’s self destructive father but also wanted to steer clear of him and I searched the pages for an appropriate curse for Jude’s abusive ex-boyfriend, Leeroy.

While I liked Ivory I didn’t feel she reached her villainous potential and instead found myself drawn to the Phantom’s tragic backstory. André, the Phantom of Moonfleet, became my favourite character. I’m always intrigued by a story’s ‘monster’. I love underdogs and want to do a deep dive into their psychology, history, motivations and personality. While I enjoyed getting to know the man behind the mask, I need more; I’d happily curl up with a book that focused solely on his family’s disturbing history.

Characters are trying to cope with a lot of pain in this book as a result of so many difficult experiences including loss, abuse, poverty, mental health, torture and murder. One of my favourite quotes, which I found both difficult to read and oddly beautiful, was

She found herself sinking down under the weight of an old familiar gloom – that big black octopus of despair, pushing its oily tentacles into her heart, mind and soul, looking for weaknesses to be exploited, cracks it might shatter apart and fears to be dwelt on and agonized over.

I could feel the music echoing off the pages from the first song but the music seemed to fade into the background as Jude became more entrenched in Ivory’s mission. The atmosphere was almost tangible in this book and I’m a sucker for mythology so soaked up every snippet of information I found about the various legba and the magical snakes that allow the cajou queen to interact with them. I’m hoping to read a review written by someone from New Orleans, who can comment on its culture and atmosphere with some credibility; that person is not me.

I adored Charlotte Says so would have picked up this book anyway but the amazing cover drew me to it before I knew who wrote it or what it was about. I loved the inclusion of some charms in the design and the snakes were a great choice, especially considering their importance to the story. It would have been perfect if the colours of the snakes matched the pythons in the book; Betty is black and Beau is albino.

I found some of the language used in this book problematic and at times downright cringeworthy. Characters’ skin tones were likened to food items, including “chocolate-coloured”, “creamy”, and “peach”. There was also some antiquated mental health terminology, like “madhouse”, “madness”, “lunatic”, and “madmen”.

Even though I found some of the bigger reveals in the book predictable and the potential romance icky (I’m never a fan of age gaps that exceed half a century) I am definitely interested in reading the sequel. Readers who aren’t a fan of info dumps may find some sections tedious; personally, I came away from this book wanting more history, more mythology, more Phantom!

Thank you to NetGalley and Stripes Publishing, an imprint of Little Tiger Group, for the opportunity to read this book.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

Jude Lomax scrapes a living playing the trumpet on the neon streets of Baton Noir. Then she is invited to play at the funeral of the infamous cajou queen, Ivory Monette. Passing through the cemetery gates, Jude finds herself possessed by the murdered queen’s spirit. And Ivory won’t rest until she’s found the person responsible for her death.

If Jude wants to be rid of the vengeful spirit, she must take a journey deep into the dangerous underbelly of the city, from the swampy depths of the Black Bayou to the velvet opulence of the vampires’ secret jazz clubs. But as Jude untangles Ivory’s web of secrets, she is confronted with a few dark truths from her own past …

The Star-Spun Web – Sinéad O’Hart

One thought was so urgent that it drowned out all the others: she’ll only be two worlds away – will it be enough?

Tess is my kind of heroine. She’s smart, stubborn, determined and a good friend. She conducts scientific experiments in a raincoat that’s seen better days and her lab is otherwise known as the detention room. She has a pet tarantula named Violet and will quite happily ruin brand new clothes by climbing up a chimney. Oh, and she can travel between different realities!

“Could it be true, then, to say that everything which could exist, does exist somewhere? That every choice made creates a ‘branch’ effect, where both outcomes can come to independent fruition, each entirely unknown to the other? It would mean an almost unimaginable abundance of universes, but who is to say such things cannot be true?”

I’m pretty sure I’ve never been emotionally attached to a tarantula before, but Violet somehow spun some web magic over me and I became fiercely protective of her. I also became very fond of Moose the mouse and grinned whenever Hortense the hockey stick was mentioned. I quickly moved from “huh, a pet spider” to “I’m going to boycott this book if Violet and Moose don’t make it to the end alive”.

Then there were the humans. While Tess was a great main character, Wilf and Millie were the ones I wanted to simultaneously adopt and be best friends with. Millie was an absolute sweetheart, while Wilf managed to snag the best lines in the book (most of my smiles, smirks and chuckles came courtesy of her). Of all of the characters they’re the two I desperately need updates about. I’m not greedy; just a book each where their individual stories are the focus would satisfy me. 😜

The settings came to life for me, particularly the chapel and Ackerbee’s. I love Ackerbee’s even more now that I’ve seen photos of the building it was based on, the Lafayette Building in Dublin. I need to live in that attic!

I can’t tell you how much I love that ‘home’ in this book doesn’t consist of buildings and ‘family’ doesn’t require you to share DNA with people. Tess’ home is with those who love her, including Miss Ackerbee, Rebecca, Wilf and all of the other girls at Ackerbee’s Home for Lost and Foundlings, and Violet, of course.

If I’d read this book as a kid I would have loved that it didn’t talk down to me. While there were some wonderful analogies that made complex ideas easier to understand (my favourite image was sheets of paper illustrating parallel universes), it never felt like anything was overly simplistic. I definitely would have gotten my science geek on after reading this.

Sara Mulvanny’s cover artwork and Sophie Bransby’s design drew me to this book in the first place and now that I’ve finished reading I can appreciate all of the elements that were included. I also liked the web at the beginning of each chapter; it was simple but effective.

Eensy weensy nitpick: I wasn’t overly sure why Moose could travel between realities when Tess had to leave Violet behind each time she went to Thomas’ world. Maybe I missed something though. Also, unlike Moose, Violet never seemed to eat.

While The Star-Spun Web works as a standalone there are enough loose ends to warrant a sequel. I can imagine what’s next for some of my favourite characters but I’d much prefer to hear Sinéad O’Hart telling me all about them. I need to see Tess reunite with her father, visit other realities, relearn how to move between realities without needing the Star-spinner and foil Mackintosh and Mrs Thistleton’s dastardly plan.

Thank you so much to NetGalley and Stripes Publishing, an imprint of Little Tiger Group, for the opportunity to read this book and for introducing me to a new (to me) author. Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to add Sinéad’s debut, The Eye of the North, to my wish list.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

With her passion for scientific experimentation and her pet tarantula Violet, Tess de Sousa is no ordinary orphan. When a stranger shows up at Ackerbee’s Home for Lost and Foundlings, claiming to be a distant relative come to adopt her, Tess hopes to find some answers to her mysterious origins. But as she adjusts to her new life at Roedeer Lodge, it becomes clear that Norton F. Cleat knows more about Tess – and the strange star-shaped device left with her when she was abandoned as a baby – than he’s letting on. And when Tess discovers that the Starspinner is the gateway between her world and a parallel world in which war rages, she realises she may be the key to a terrible plan. A plan she must stop at all costs …