Book Reviews · Life · Reading

My Top Ten Books of 2018 (They’re all Middle Grade–Try to Act Surprised!)

As it’s nearly the last day of the last month of the year, I decided to do a traditional top-ten book list. Because I read SO MANY good books this year, I’m also gonna do a top sequels of the year (they’re also middle grade, I know, shocker!).

The Storm Keeper’s Island by Cat Doyle

IMG_1249When Fionn Boyle sets foot on Arranmore Island, it begins to stir beneath his feet …

Once in a generation, Arranmore Island chooses a new Storm Keeper to wield its power and keep its magic safe from enemies. The time has come for Fionn’s grandfather, a secretive and eccentric old man, to step down. Soon, a new Keeper will rise.

But, deep underground, someone has been waiting for Fionn. As the battle to become the island’s next champion rages, a more sinister magic is waking up, intent on rekindling an ancient war.

This is my first ever Cat Doyle book, but it definitely won’t be the last. A lushly imagined adventure shot through with Irish mythology, this was a book that kept me up all night (don’t you love those!).

The Way Past Winter by Kiran Millwood-Hargrave

Mila and her sisters live with their brother Oskar in a small forest cabin in the snow. IMG_1253One night, a fur-clad stranger arrives seeking shelter for himself and his men. But by the next morning, they’ve gone – taking Oskar with them. Fearful for his safety, Mila and her sisters set out to bring Oskar back – even it means going north, crossing frozen wild-lands to find a way past an eternal winter.

Kiran Millwood-Hargrave is a STAR. I have adored all of her books, and each one is better than the one before (which seems impossible, coz they’re all so darn good!). This is a wintery tale of bravery and family that made me feel shivery in the middle of the summer heatwave we got in Britain. It truly is a triumph, and I am SUPER excited because Kiran has lots of exciting bookish projects coming up in twenty nineteen. I wrote a full review on this, if you want more of my gushing!

The Train to Impossible Places by P. G. Bell

IMG_0006A nonstop middle-grade fantasy adventure, The Train to Impossible Places by debut author P. G. Bell is as fun as it is full of heart, and the first book of a planned trilogy.

A train that travels through impossible places. A boy trapped in a snow globe. And a girl who’s about to go on the adventure of a lifetime.

The Impossible Postal Express is no ordinary train. It’s a troll-operated delivery service that runs everywhere from ocean-bottom shipwrecks, to Trollville, to space.

But when this impossible train comes roaring through Suzy’s living room, her world turns upside down. After sneaking on board, Suzy suddenly finds herself Deputy Post Master aboard the train, and faced with her first delivery―to the evil Lady Crepuscula.

Then, the package itself begs Suzy not to deliver him. A talking snow globe, Frederick has information Crepuscula could use to take over the entire Union of Impossible Places. But when protecting Frederick means putting her friends in danger, Suzy has to make a difficult choice―with the fate of the entire Union at stake.

I read this book in probably the least fun places ever: an A&E department of a hospital. And yet, this story transported me away from my dreary surroundings and made me laugh out loud. An incredible debut, my review is here.

Wed Wabbit by Lissa Evans

You’re called Fidge and you’re nearly eleven. You’ve been hurled into a strange world. IMG_1251You have three companions: two are unbelievably weird and the third is your awful cousin Graham.

You have to solve a series of nearly impossible clues.

You need to deal with a cruel dictator and three thousand Wimbley Woos (yes, you read that sentence correctly). And the whole situation – the whole, entire thing – is your fault.

Wed Wabbit is an adventure story about friendship, danger and the terror of never being able to get back home again.

This book is snort-tea-out-your-nose funny. Expertly pitched, a LOL tale with an emotional core that packs a punch. I’ve not got much else to say except: GO READ THIS BOOK!

The Boy Who Grew Dragons by Andy Shepherd

IMG_1259When Tomas discovers a strange old tree at the bottom of his grandad’s garden, he doesn’t think much of it. But he takes the funny fruit from the tree back into the house – and gets the shock and delight of his life when a tiny dragon hatches! The tree is a dragonfruit tree, and Tomas has got his very own dragon, Flicker …

Tomas soon finds out that life with Flicker is great fun, but also very … unpredictable. Yes, dragons are wonderful, but they also set fire to your toothbruth and leave your pants hanging from the TV aerial. Tomas has to learn how to look after Flicker – and quickly. And then something extraordinary happens – more dragonfruits appear on the tree. Tomas is officially growing dragons …

I finished this charming tale in one sitting and immediately passed it to the lovely boy I babysit, who also devoured it in one evening. This is a gorgeously written story, perfect for younger-middle grade readers who love a dash of excitement and adventure. I adored the originality of the concept, and the lovely relationship between Tomas and his grandad, and I am so excited to read the sequel in 2019.

Agatha Oddly: The Secret Key by Lena Jones

Meet thirteen-year-old Agatha Oddly – a bold, determined heroine, and the IMG_1250star of a stylish new detective series.

Agatha Oddlow has been a detective for as long as she can remember – she’s just been waiting for her first big case. And nothing gets bigger than saving the City of London from some strange goings-on.

With a scholarship to the prestigious St Regis School, a cottage in the middle of Hyde Park, a room full of beloved sleuthing novels, and a secret key that gives her access to a whole hidden side of London, Agatha is perfectly poised to solve the mystery of what’s going on. But just who can she trust when no one is quite who they seem…

Since becoming a firm Agatha Christie fan this year, I’ve been on the lookout for middle grade sleuths. This charming book was so much fun — a rip-roaring mystery through the streets and tunnels of London, with the perfect amount of callbacks to the classics whilst also retaining its own sense of self. I can’t wait to read more of Agatha’s adventures and have already pre-ordered the next book!

Brightstorm by Vashti Hardy

IMG_1255Twins Arthur and Maudie receive word in Lontown that their famous explorer father died in a failed attempt to reach South Polaris. Not only that, but he has been accused of trying to steal fuel from his competitors before he died! The twins don’t believe the news, and they answer an ad to help crew a new exploration attempt in the hope of learning the truth and salvaging their family’s reputation. As the winged ship Aurora sets sail, the twins must keep their wits about them and prove themselves worthy of the rest of the crew. But will Arthur and Maudie find the answers they seek?

As you can see from the photo above, I read BRIGHTSTORM way back, in the snow of the early months of 2018. Even from this distance, I’m still charmed by this story of exploration and adventure. There is a slightly steampunk vibe to this tale, but really what shines is the relationship between our two main characters, Maudie and Arthur. I’ve been describing it to people as feeling like A SERIES OF UNFORTUNATE EVENTS meets COGHEART.

Tilly and the Bookwanderers (Pages&Co #1) by Anna James

A magical adventure to delight the imagination. A curl-up-on-the-sofa debut from a IMG_1248uniquely talented author.

Eleven year-old Tilly has lived above her grandparents’ bookshop ever since her mother disappeared shortly after she was born. Like the rest of her family, Tilly loves nothing more than to escape into the pages of her favourite stories.

One day Tilly realises that classic children’s characters are appearing in the shop through the magic of `book wandering’ – crossing over from the page into real life.

With the help of Anne of Green Gables and Alice in Wonderland. Tilly is determined to solve the mystery of what happened to her mother all those years ago, so she bravely steps into the unknown, unsure of what adventure lies ahead and what dangers she may face.

If you are a book-lover, this is the book for you. Tilly and her family are bookwanderers–they can travel in and out of stories, and even befriend the main characters. 11 year old me would KILL for a power like that (actually, come to think of it, so would 25 year old me!) As in all good kid lit, there’s a mystery to solve and a villain to thwart, and I thoroughly enjoyed this fantastic story. I also loved the setting of a London Book Shop (that’s where Tilly lives–didn’t I tell you she’d living the dream??!), and seeing my regular haunts in a story (shout out the British Library). My full review is here.

The House With Chicken Legs by Sophie Anderson

All 12-year-old Marinka wants is a friend. A real friend. Not like her house with IMG_1254chicken legs. Sure, the house can play games like tag and hide-and-seek, but Marinka longs for a human companion. Someone she can talk to and share secrets with.
But that’s tough when your grandmother is a Yaga, a guardian who guides the dead into the afterlife. It’s even harder when you live in a house that wanders all over the world . . . carrying you with it. Even worse, Marinka is being trained to be a Yaga. That means no school, no parties–and no playmates that stick around for more than a day.
So when Marinka stumbles across the chance to make a real friend, she breaks all the rules . . . with devastating consequences. Her beloved grandmother mysteriously disappears, and it’s up to Marinka to find her–even if it means making a dangerous journey to the afterlife.
With a mix of whimsy, humor, and adventure, this debut novel will wrap itself around your heart and never let go.

2018 was the year of stunning debuts, and this was no exception. This was richly layered,  emotionally taut middle grade with an adventure at its heart. It was one of those quoteworthy books that seem to infiltrate your soul. A fantastic read–I did a full review on it here.

Secrets of a Sun King by Emma Carroll

THE BOOKSELLER’S BOOK OF THE MONTH FOR AUGUST IMG_1258
WATERSTONES CHILDREN’S BOOK OF THE MONTH AUGUST 2018

It’s November, 1922. In a valley in Egypt the tomb of a long dead pharaoh is about to be discovered. The world watches and waits for news with baited breath. Thirteen-year-old Lilian Kaye is eagerly following the story. One morning the news takes a sinister turn: a man- a famous Egyptologist- disappears. All that remains of him are his feet. Then Lil’s grandfather is taken suddenly ill, and when a mysterious package turns up for him from the Egyptologist, Lil starts to believe there is truth to the rumours of a pharaoh’s curse.

Emma Carroll is the QUEEN of middle grade historical fiction, and SECRETS OF A SUN KING was no exception. I loved the dual timeline narrative, I adored out main character Lil, and…this book was fabulous okay. I love historical books that you can just sink into–Emma has this uncanny ability down to a tee. As a reader and a writer, I KNOW she did loads of research, and this knowledge shines through in the story, but it never overwhelms it. A masterclass in how to write historical fiction.

So there you have it, those are the books I loved most this year. Which tomes did you adore in 2018?

11 thoughts on “My Top Ten Books of 2018 (They’re all Middle Grade–Try to Act Surprised!)

  1. Ooh, a few of these have made my list too (Secrets of a Sun King, Tilly and the Bookwanderers and the House with Chicken Legs, plus Brightsorm was on my list of last year because I got a proof), and I’ve really enjoyed all of the others that I’ve read too. I love the sound of the Secret Key- I’ve just checked and my library have it so I think I’ll need to reserve It! I’d seen it before and was unsure, but I trust your recommendation!
    Amy x

  2. I haven’t read any of those. I will have to begin checking them out in 2019! They all look great. My favorite of 2018 was a middle-grade, too. You have to read The State of Oz. Wonderful and funny stuff….

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