It is a rare thing to find a series of books for Young Adult readers that ticks all your favourite boxes: mystery and magic underscored with macabre and gothic elements, strong female characters, quirky twists, and themes and ideas that are universally compelling and interesting for teen and adult readers alike.
Just as it exists in the world-famous Harry Potter series, it exists in The Network Series by Katie Cross. This first book in The Network Series delivers a well-paced, expertly constructed story that ticks all of those boxes and more.
Make no mistake, though: This is no mere imitation. ‘Miss Mabel’s School For Girls’ is original and unique, and the story is thoroughly engaging. The book ends with sufficient resolution to bring the story to a satisfying conclusion while dangling enough magical carrots to leave the reader wanting to just keep reading.
The writing is excellent, creating an environment and atmosphere that is vivid and almost tangible, and propelling the reader into a story full of mystery, suspense and foreboding.
Readers of all ages will find this book hard to put down, and should expect to be left wanting more. Thankfully, there is an entire nine book series, and another fantasy series featuring dragons by the same author, to look forward to.
‘Dragon’s Rock is an excellent kids’ mystery novel in which Lucy visits family in Wales and stumbles upon a series of clues relating to a local mystery.
Lucy and her cousin Bethan are delightful characters who demonstrate intelligence and integrity, and who are both creative and imaginative in their own ways. Both are engaging and positive role models for young readers.
The story is well written, structured so that the action progresses at a good pace, keeping the reader interested as the intrigue heightens. The inclusion of attractive images of Lucy’s fictional Instagram posts gives the book a very contemporary feel that readers will find relatable and appealing.
It is an ideal book for independent middle grade readers or for family reading, ‘Dragon’s Rock’ would make an excellent addition to family, school, and local library collections.
The fourth book in The Kingfountain Series, ‘The Hollow Crown’ is another wonderful foray into the kingdom of Ceredigion and the surrounding lands.
This book changes the focus of the story from Owen Kiskaddon to his daughter, Tryneowy, and the reader is once again drawn into the intrigue and adventure of life among the noble families, wizrs, the fountain-blessed folk, and the villains who conspire against them. It is an exciting and enchanting tale in which the reader becomes deeply immersed. The storytelling is mesmerising and the settings and scenery are richly and vividly drawn.
Tryneowy’s story is both compelling and interesting. As she grows up, she becomes a young woman of strength and determination, guided by her ethics and loyal to her loved ones and the oaths she makes. She is a character that young women can admire, speaking up for equality in an era where women were not able to do all that men could, and showing that people should be valued for their integrity and abilities regardless of gender.
Readers who have not read the previous books in this series will find this to be a complete story on its own, and thoroughly enjoyable as such.
There is, however, a profound sense of being part of something much bigger—an overarching, ‘big picture’ narrative — and evening a sense of belonging that the reader develops throughout this most excellent series. This is the magic and allure of Wheeler’s writing and the world he has created with Kingfountain and the Kiskaddons at its centre.
Set in the early years of the 20th century amidst the campaign of the Suffragette movement and aa growing awareness of the inequality of women in a “man’s world”, the story of Elizabeth Pennington’s struggle to be acknowledged as an equal by her father is one that captures the challenges and frustrations of the generations of women who worked together to change the way the western world operated. More than a hundred years after the events that frame the story, in a world that has changed so much and yet seems to have progressed so little at the same time, readers can still be inspired and challenged by the commitment and aspirations of Elizabeth and other characters in this book.
Magnificent and luxurious, the eliteness of Pennington’s department store in Bath and the exclusivity of its clientele provide Elizabeth both enormous opportunity and significant frustration as she fights to bring the business into a new century and to make it increasingly relevant to a rapidly changing society.
Through Elizabeth’s experiences as businesswoman, daughter, lover and friend, the reader is confronted with a number of issues that women faced, often finding them insurmountable, and thus gains a clearer understanding of why so many women fought so hard to achieve greater equality— not just the right to vote, but also to be treated with respect, to be able to make their own decisions, and to overcome all sorts of deeply-ingrained discrimination that plagued them.
Even though Elizabeth is of a much higher social class than most of the readers, she is relatable and believable in her frustrations and responses to the society in which she lives. The cast of characters are realistic and believable, presenting a fair representation and cross-section of the working and upper classes that existed in society at the time.
While there is some adult content, making it suitable for an adult audience only, this is a most enjoyable work of historical fiction that it well worth reading.
If there’s anything young readers will find relatable, it’s sibling jealousy and rivalry— especially in blended families. The author has done a great job of creating a realistic and complex family situation in which two girls must each learn to share their father and fully accept one another.
Readers will find Portia both likeable and understandable, and while not all of her responses are ideal, they will se her as a young person who is doing her best to adjust to new challenges and trials. Her challenges in getting to know the real Jasmine are clearly and empathetically portrayed through her thoughts and actions, just as Jasmine’s feeelings are communicated through her behaviours.
Although both girls find the changes they have to make confronting and awkward, this is a positive and encouraging story that is sure to help young readers understand these kinds of situations from someone else’s point of view.
This book is probably best suited for preteen and early teen readers, but it is enjoyable enough for older audiences too. It would certainly be a good choice for families to read together, and a highly appropriate addition to local and school libraries.
Heartwarming and heartbreaking at the same time, this excellent story explores the devastating consequences of bigotry and hatred within families, and the healing power of acceptance and love.
Infused with humour and warmth that serves as a very effective contrast to the bitterness of the antagonist, the story immerses the reader in the lives of Linda, Tim and Ani as they navigate their way through quite significant challenges. It is a positive and uplifting book that helps those who have the privilege of being comfortable in their situations to understand what it is like for others who experience discrimination and prejudice, and how to appropriately respond to differences in others.
The writing is excellent, the story is expertly crafted, and the characters are delightful. All in all, it’s a very entertaining read that comes highly recommended for YA and older. It’s a story that everyone should read.
This charming and delightful story focuses on Anna, nurserymaid at the palace and daughter of the local herbalist. The misery of feeling less attractive than others and of being not quite fulfilled in life imakes Anna a character that many readers will easily relate to. Despite her own perceptions of her shortcomings, Anna is a good-hearted and honourable young woman who does her job well.
While there are moments of doubt and events that threaten Anna’s safety, the overall tone of the story is warm and lighthearted. It is a quick read that very effectively delivers an important message: others often see more value or beauty in us than we perceive in ourselves.
’The Herbalist’s Daughter’ will appeal to readers of young adult fantasy, fairytale and romance.
This is an intriguing steampunk mystery novel which immerses the readers in the world of Chuzzlewit and embeds them in the lives of its residents.
It begins as a story of adventure and danger, and develops into a personal quest for the characters to solve the mystery behind the monster that holds their very existence in its hands. It explores the ways in which different people respond to adversity and conflict, and questions how those in a position of power use and abuse it.
The story is very well written and very entertaining. The world building is more complex and thought-provoking than it first appears to be, and the nature of the Monster known as the Kreak is fascinating.
The town of Chuzzlewit is populated with a varied cast of engaging and interesting characters, and the central characters are relatable in their motivations, responses and interactions with one another. Victoria, as the lead character, is an independent thinker, a problem solver, and stands up for what is right over what is easy. Her dilemmas are complex and the difficult choices she has to make remind the reader that it is the right of each individual to choose their path and shape their own reality from the choices offered to them in life, but also that those choices cannot be made in isolation from one’s responsibility to others or the society in which they live.
Third in the KingFountain series, this book continues the story of Owen Kiskaddon and his life as A duke and advisor to King Severn of Ceredigion. Once again, there is good continuity in the storyline and the central characters, with new complications and personalities entering the narrative as the plot develops.
The story is beautifully told. The world building and characterisation are rich and complex, bringing the kingdoms and settings to life and populating them with engaging, relatable characters who the reader comes to know intimately. Even those who belong to the upper echelons of society are shown to have very real concerns and inner conflicts with which they must wrestle. The ways in which different characters resolve those issues reflect the best and the worst of human nature, pitting good and evil against one another in a very personal way.
As with the previous books in the series, there are connections between this story and the popularised version of the life and personality of Richard III which are clearly discernible, although this story focuses far more on Owen than it does on King Severn. The story maintains an original and unique plot that sets it apart from those events and distinguishes it as as an outstanding work of fantasy rather than historical fiction.
This book and the series to which it belongs are most excellent, and will please all lovers of epic sword and sorcery fantasy books.
A story of resistance, resilience and loyalty, this is a book for the persecuted, the exploited and the downtrodden. It is a story in which brains overcome brawn and integrity is valued more than power.
Kyle Sorton is a classic underdog character, highly relatable for anyone who has struggled with mediocrity or a lack of opportunities to discover their potential. The tenacity and self-assurance of Rinarra and Merat make them powerful contrasts for Kyle, yet he surprises himself by proving to be their equal in resourcefulness and instinct. That the three of them overcome their challenges by working together and sharing their knowledge and abilities is a powerful reminder that we are stronger together than alone, and that a loyal team can achieve far more in cooperation than they could if the members were to work independently of one another..
The plot is intriguing and highly engaging, and the world building is excellent. There is enough that is familiar to the reader for them to feel sufficiently oriented and grounded, but enough that is different for them to be fascinated by the qualities of the world and culture in which they are immersed.
The unique circumstances in which Kyle finds himself are treated with sensitivity and a sense of natural curiosity, making him a central character who will endear himself to those readers who have questioned and explored their own questions of self, gender and identity, even though Kyle’s situation and the reasons for his questioning are bound to be somewhat different than their own.