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Not all great books come through big publishers. Check out some of our favourite indie books on the market.
This eighth book in the Riverdale Pony Stories series is packed with peril, mystery and high-octane action as pony-mad Poppy McKeever goes into detective mode to track down the dog that attacked the sheep on her friend’s farm, while also preparing for a big riding competition. While the writing is pacey and has an urgency to it, at times the somewhat dense descriptions could benefit from a little trimming. But, overall, this gripping, entertaining adventure rings with authentic dialogue, strong evocations of the countryside and Poppy’s indomitable spirit.
With an engaging rhyming text that’s ideal for reading aloud, this picture book is a warm-hearted way for Muslim pre-schoolers and those of infants school age to understand and celebrate what it means to be Muslim. It would also make a great tool for teachers and parents to introduce all children to the principles of the faith. It’s underpinned by a warm message of inclusivity – “we don't all look the same”, Muslims are “different colours, shapes and sizes” – and accompanied by soft, fuzzy illustrations of all kinds of toddlers enjoying each others company in harmony and a spirit of kindness.
Puff is a “caring, noble” grey squirrel whose propensity for distraction is seemingly hampering his future potential to represent the Grey Clan in the Tournament of Oaks, a contest that determines which clan will rule the park for the coming seasons. Indeed, according to Puff’s mentor, Sir Pattercloud, Puff will never become a Knight Captain unless he learns “how to determine what is most important”. Puff gets his chance to prove his worth when Pattercloud vanishes right before he’s due to represent Clan Grey in the tournament and do battle with wily Scratchclaw of Clan Black. While the tale is tightly-told and crisply atmospheric, its messages are driven home a little too hard, too often. Having said that, it’s a good read for 8+ year-olds who like animal-centred fantastical adventures (think Brian Jacques for younger readers), but struggle to finish a whole novel. Perhaps also one to recommend for time-pressed, fantasy-fan adults to read with or to kids.
Suspenseful YA spy thriller that throngs with gaming, guts and deadly risks. Teenager Jack is up to his neck in trouble. His brother is about to be imprisoned for a crime Jack plotted and, on top of that, a secret agency is using this intelligence to force him to join them. Jack’s mission? To infiltrate the manufacturer of a hot new game to discover what’s really going on there. Caught between more than a few rocks and hard places, Jack is forced to make a near impossible decision. While the premise is strong and the story packed with action, the tendency to over-wordiness and repetitive descriptions slow down the plot in places. Having said that, there’s enough pace-turning peril to recommend it to fans of Alex Rider and Young Bond.
The Devil’s Apprentice is a YA fantasy novel written from the viewpoint of a 13-year-old boy who finds himself in hell – literally. It’s an adventure story with a twisty mystery to solve, with some innocent early-teen romance and historical references as well. It’s the first book in The Great Devil War series. The book is very well written and well translated from Danish, with plenty of dark humour. It features impressive world building through vivid imagery, and I enjoyed visualising the author’s clever concept of Hell and its occupants. The Devil’s Apprentice reminded me of the Harry Potter series, as the plot is complex enough to satisfy teenagers and adults (of all ages), yet simple enough to entertain pre-teens. It covers some moralistic themes, including good versus evil, knowing right from wrong and that even the most angelic people can have a dark side, so its suitability will depend on a child’s maturity. As expected, the book focuses mainly on death, with a mention of suicide and punishment/redemption in the afterlife. Some adults may disagree with certain concepts, but the book would provide a good starting point for discussions. I’m not surprised The Devil’s Apprentice is a popular series in Denmark and I can see it potentially doing well in the UK too. I found it highly compelling and raced through it. As soon as I finished, I eagerly looked forward to the next one, which is always a sign of an enjoyable read.
This action-packed blend of magical fantasy with classic kids’ adventuring is a swashbuckling read for 8+ year-olds, peppered with soft line-drawings and propelled by a strong sense of urgency. Siblings Finn (the narrator) and Aria, and their smuggler dad are undertaking a voyage aboard their home, a boat called Alcina. Their dad has to pick up a parcel, but this time they’re charting an unknown course. “This new route is dangerous”, Finn observes and, what’s more, they’re journeying to New London, a place that’s been “enclosed by the high stone city walls since the Last War”, a place “strangers are forbidden to enter”. And they are strangers… When they reach a port and Dad heads off to collect the parcel, Finn and Aria also go ashore (against Dad’s wishes) to explore the bustling bazaar where a mysterious vendor issues them with a grave warning. Then, soon after, Finn learns the shocking truth of his true identity as “a child born with the clan magic in their blood”, as a Sea-tamer, and so an elemental tale of ancient lore and magic unfolds as the family are pursued by a warlord with the weight of saving civilisation on their shoulders.
What a fun, fast-paced tale this is. A quirky comedy of errors populated by vampires and their hunters, and witches, all of whom live in an apparently ordinary town. Etty (“I hate Henrietta”) Steele is certainly no ordinary girl though. She’s a vampire hunter in-waiting with a tough, pushy mum. Since Etty longs for a normal life and to be allowed to hang out with her best (and only) friend April, plenty of comic conflict comes courtesy of the pull between the otherworldly and normal aspects of Etty’s life. Except it turns out that April isn’t exactly normal, and neither is Vladimir Nox, the pale, bowtie-wearing new boy at school. An action-packed mystery unfolds when it transpires that powerful vampires are plotting dastardly deeds, alongside heartwarming messages of friendship, not judging people because they’re different, and kindness (“There’s always a way to protect the ones we love without hurting anyone”). Recommended for readers who enjoyed Emma Fischel’s Witchworld series and Chris Riddell’s Goth Girl.
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