The Vanishing Trick

The Vanishing Trick was written by Jenni Spangler and first published in 2020. It is a fantasy story set in Victorian England, focusing on three young children who are cursed by a cruel and mysterious woman. The novel stands alone, so you do not have to read any of the author’s other work to fully appreciate it.

When Leander first encounters Madame Pinchbeck, he thinks that it might be an opportunity to make a bit of money. He has been living hand-to-mouth ever since his mother died, and the strange woman seems oddly eager to buy his locket. What Leander does not realise is that Madame Pinchbeck possesses a sinister power. She has the ability to transform any lidded object into a cabinet – and bind a child to that cabinet forever.

Through this trade, Leander gains the power to travel in and out of his locket at will but it comes at a terrible price. He is forced to remain close to Madame Pinchbeck at all times. If he wanders too far away – or anything if anything was to happen to her – he would fade away into nothing. Along with two other trapped children – Charlotte and Felix – Leander is put to work for his new master. Madame Pinchbeck is a spirit medium and her peculiar magic is perfect for tricking people into believing that their deceased loved ones have returned.

However, it is not long before the children notice that Pinchbeck is starting to weaken. The strain of having three cabinets is too much for her to take and it won’t be long before she is forced choose which children she wishes to keep. Leander and his new friends realise that they must find a way to break her spell before one of them is forced to vanish forever…

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Shadowsea

Please note that this review may contain spoilers for earlier instalments of this series. You can read my reviews of these novels here:

Cogheart | Moonlocket | Skycircus

Shadowsea was written by Peter Bunzl and first published in 2020. It is a middle grade steampunk science-fiction novel, focusing on the continuing adventures of Lily Townsend – a young girl with a perpetual motion machine for a heart. The novel carries on from where Cogheart (2016), Moonlocket (2017) and Skycircus (2018) left off, so I would recommend reading the novels in sequence to fully appreciate them.

Lily, Robert, John and Malkin are excited to travel to New York City. Not only will they be able to visit Selena and Caddy once again, but they will also get to ring in the New Year in one of the biggest and busiest cities on the planet. Yet Lily can’t help but also feel a little nervous. Now that the secrets of the Cogheart have been revealed to the world, she feels that everyone is watching her. No one seems to be interested in the wonderful things that she has achieved. They are only interested in her heart and the accident that took the life of her mother.

Yet it is not long before Lily finds herself swept up in a new adventure. The hotel room next door is occupied by the stern Professor Milksop and her young nephew, Dane. Professor Milksop advises them that Dane is seriously ill and needs his rest, but Lily is not convinced. It’s not long before Dane confirms her suspicions are correct. He has lost all of his memories but knows that something terrible has happened – something to do with Professor Milksop. He needs Lily’s help to find out who he is and what happened to his parents.

As Lily investigates, she uncovers a mystery that is beyond her wildest dreams, involving diamond thefts and a machine that can potentially reanimate the dead. Yet, when Caddy has a vision that Dane will soon be used to perform an unspeakable act and the young boy is suddenly kidnapped, Lily realises that they don’t have a lot of time. If they can’t save Dane before New Years Day, it could be too late to stop Professor Milksop’s terrible brand of science from being unleashed on the world…

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The Kingdom of Back

The Kingdom of Back was written by Marie Lu and first published in 2020. It is a historical fantasy novel which focuses on the life of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s older sister, Nannerl. The story stands alone, so you don’t have to read any of the author’s previous work to fully appreciate it.

Maria Anna “Nannerl” Mozart lives to perform, but even as a young girl she knows that her days are numbered. Her skills at the clavier will only seem remarkable while she is still a child. Once she is grown, she will be expected to give it all up in order to get married and start a family. Things become worse still when her younger brother, Wolferl, reveals a prodigious talent for composition. How can she hope to be remembered when Wolferl’s star eclipses her own?

As they travel Europe to perform before nobles and Emperors, Nannerl and Wolferl amuse themselves by telling stories of a magical world called the Kingdom of Back. This is a world where rare edelweiss bloom everywhere and trees grow upside down. It’s not long before strange things begin to appear in the night and the Kingdom of Back seems more real. Although Nannerl at first believes she is dreaming, she starts to doubt this when a Faerie Princeling named Hyacinth reveals himself to her.

Hyacinth advises that he is Nannerl’s guardian and wishes to grant her deepest wish. In order to do so, she must compete three tasks for him. At first, Nannerl is excited to help to him the Princeling, but Wolferl seems to grow weaker with every task that she completes. It is not long before she is forced to question exactly what Hyacinth really wants. Who is he, and what will happen if she completes her final task?

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Nevertell

Nevertell was written by Katharine Orton and first published in 2019. It is a historical fantasy story set in Stalin’s Russia, focusing on a young girl’s escape from a terrible labour camp. The novel stands alone, so you don’t have to read any of the author’s other work to fully appreciate it.

Lina has never known anything beyond the fences of the camp. Although her mother has told her wonderful stories about her Grandmother – a fierce woman who lives in distant Moscow – Lina knows that she is unlikely to ever meet her. However, things change when Lina learns that three dangerous convicts have decided to make an escape. They have agreed to take Lina with them, so long as she can use her job in the camp greenhouse to secure them food for their long journey.

While the escape largely goes to plan, Lina soon realises that she is in big trouble. Not only would her companions kill her without a thought, but the wilds of Siberia are filled with danger. Lack of food and biting cold threatens their every step, and ghostly wolves haunt the darkness. Once these creatures find their scent, Lina soon finds herself separated from the others and imprisoned by a mysterious sorceress who calls herself the Man Hunter.

Lina knows that she needs to find a way to escape, as the only way that she can possibly rescue her mother from the camp is by reaching her Grandmother. She soon manages to befriend Natalya – one of the many once-human “shadows” that the Sorceress keeps as servants. With the help of this mysterious spirit and a little magic of her own, Lina soon discovers that she has the power to achieve the impossible. But will it be enough to get all the way to Moscow?

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The Dark Days Deceit

Please note that this review may contain spoilers for earlier instalments in this series. You can read my reviews of these novels by clicking the links below:

The Dark Days Club | The Dark Days Pact

The Dark Days Deceit was written by Alison Goodman and first published in 2018. It is the final instalment of the Lady Helen Trilogy, following Lady Helen and Lord Carlston as they hunt down the Grand Deceiver and defend the Crown. As the novel follows on directly from where The Dark Days Club (2015) and The Dark Days Pact (2017) left off, I would strongly recommend reading them in sequence to have the faintest idea of what is going on.

Helen and Carlston have had little chance to test the strength of their new bond but time is running out. Now that they have joined to become the Grand Reclaimer dyad, they know that their counterpart – the Grand Deceiver – will also be growing in power. The problem is, they still do not know the identity of their enemy and only have the vaguest clues to begin their search.

To make it worse, Helen’s wedding to the Duke of Selburn is fast approaching and the Duke is eager for Helen to retire from her Reclaiming duties as soon as they are married. He occupation is clearly dangerous and he makes quite clear that he believes that her place is in the home, bearing him an heir. Although Helen knows that it is her duty to be his wife, she feels torn. Can she really give up her freedom as a Reclaimer and settle down? Worse still, can she really be a faithful wife when she still has strong feelings for Carlston?

When an attempt at harnessing the Grand Reclaimer power goes awry, Lady Helen quickly realises that they have a bigger problem. The magic of the Ligatus that she absorbed during their last battle was never meant to be contained within flesh. Unchecked, it threatens to tear a hole in the fabric of reality and bring instant death to the three who are bound to it by blood – Helen, Carlston and Darby. If Helen does not find a way to reign in its maddening power, there is no way that she will possibly survive to see her wedding day…

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Hollow City

Please note that this review may contain spoilers for Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children. You can read my review of this novel [here].

Hollow City was written by Ransom Riggs and first published in 2014. It forms the second part of the Miss Peregrine’s Peculiar Children series and follows Jacob and his friends as they travel across blitz-torn England. The novel is preceded by Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children (2011) and followed by Library of Souls (2015) and Map of Days (2018). I would strongly recommend reading these novels in sequence if you want to have any idea what is going on.

With any hope of returning to his own time stolen, Jacob Portman now has no choice but to help his newfound friends to save Miss Peregrine. Following her injuries, their caretaker has not been able to return to her human form. It’s not long before they learn that she is now in terrible danger. Miss Peregrine can only be cured by another Ymbryne. If the children can’t find one in three days, she will lose her humanity and become a bird forever.

No longer protected by the loop, the children begin a long journey across the country in search of allies. However, they have been stranded in the 1940s and so it is not the safest time for the children to travel alone. People are suspicious of strangers and are quick to accuse those who stand out of being German spies. And at night, the bombs begin to fall.

To make matters worse, the children are still being relentlessly pursued by both Wights and Hollows. Every loop they come across seems to have already been ransacked and Jacob and his friends are forced to face the grim possibility that they are now the only ones left. Yet what can the Wights possibly be planning and where are they taking the kidnapped Ymbrynes?

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Firestarter

Please note that this review may contain spoilers for earlier instalments in this series. You can read my reviews of these novels by clicking the links below:

Timekeeper | Chainbreaker

Firestarter was written by Tara Sim and first published in 2019. It tells the continuing story of the forbidden relationship between Danny and Colton – a human and a clock spirit – in a world where clock towers control the flow of time. The novel forms the final part of the Timekeeper trilogy and follows on directly where Timekeeper (2016) and Chainbreaker (2018) left off. Because of this, I would recommend reading the novels in sequence to fully appreciate what is going on.

The crew of the Prometheus are dedicated to their mission to destroy the clock towers and restore the natural flow of time and leave their new captives no choice but to help them. Yet Danny in particular is reluctant. Even though the leader of the rebels – Zavier – has Colton, Danny finds it hard to believe that these acts of terrorism are the only answer. Destroying the clock towers also destroys the spirits that protect them. What will happen to his love if Zavier’s plan comes to fruition?

Yet the rebels are not unopposed. A new faction known as the Builders have emerged and they are intent on restoring the destroyed towers. When it becomes clear that these new towers are not failing as the one in Maldon did, Danny and Colton know that one thing is true. Whoever leads the Builders has also learned the grisly secret on which each clock tower is built.

As Zavier reveals the true depth of his plans, and the motivation behind them, Danny begins to realise that perhaps even villains can have noble reasons. Things do not seem to be as clear cut as he first thought and he is made to question if the world would be better without the clock towers. Yet, as he begins to understand his captor better, he is also forced to question his relationship with Colton. Is there a way to save the clock spirit or will he be forced to make the ultimate sacrifice for the greater good of the world?

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Arabella of Mars

Arabella of Mars was written by David D Levine and first published in 2016. It is a steampunk science fiction novel, set in an alternate timeline where the secret of interplanetary travel was discovered in late 17th Century. The novel forms the first part of the Adventures of Arabella Ashby series and is followed by Arabella and the Battle for Venus (2017) and Arabella the Traitor of Mars (2018).

The year is 1812 and Arabella lives happily with her family on their Martian plantation. Although her mother worries about her tomboyish behaviour, Arabella loves nothing more that to play hunting games with her brother, Michael, and learn about the tribal Martian culture from her native nanny, Khema. However, when she is injured during a rough game, Arabella’s mother declares this to be the last straw. She will not allow her daughter to grow up as a savage and whisks her away to London, where she can learn to be a lady and find a respectable husband.

However, a few months into their stay on Earth, Arabella receives terrible news. Her father has suddenly died and now Michael has been forced to take over the plantation. The news thrills her despicable cousin, Simon. Desperate for money, he hurries to Mars with the intent of murdering Michael. As the closest male relative, he would surely inherit everything and leave Arabella and her mother destitute.

Arabella disguises herself as a boy and makes her way to the docks, determined to catch Simon before he can depart. When she is too late, she hits upon a risky plan to beat him to the Red Planet. After impressing Prakash Singh, Captain of the Mars Company Airship “Diana”, she accepts a place on his crew as a cabin boy. The Diana is a fast ship and should be able to deliver her to Mars before Simon reaches the plantation. However, her safety depends on her ability to hide her sex for two months on a ship that is entirely crewed by men…

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Skycircus

Please note that this review may contain spoilers for earlier instalments in this series. You can read my review of these novels by clicking the links below:

Cogheart | Moonlocket

Skycircus was written by Peter Bunzl and first published in 2018. It is part of The Cogheart Adventures series, which focuses on the adventures of a girl, a boy and a mechanical fox in a steampunk Victorian England. The novel follows Cogheart (2016) and Moonlocket (2017), and I would recommend reading the novels in sequence if you want to have any idea what is going on.

It is Lily’s birthday but she is not feeling especially festive. Instead of a party, her father has called together a gathering of his fellow machinists and Lily is finding it particularly dull. When she overhears some of the discriminatory views that some of them hold to towards hybrids – the so-called half-mechanicals like herself – she decides that she needs to get away. Luckily, a chance for escape and adventure comes in the form of an invitation to the circus.

Slimwood’s Stupendous Travelling Skycircus has just arrived in the village for a single night and some mysterious stranger has sent Lily three VIP tickets, along with a notebook that seems to have once belonged to her mother. While Robert suspects some kind of trap, Lily knows that they still need to investigate. Her mother died when Lily was small and she is dying to learn more about her.

Yet Lily really should have listened to Robert. The circus turns out to be a terrible place, run by the money-grabbing Mr Slimwood and the cruel Madame Lyons-Mane. Their performers include a small group of hybrid “freaks”, all of whom are hideously mistreated, and they have some terrible plans in store for Lily and her cogheart. As the circus sets off to Paris with Lily and Robert as prisoners, they must find a way to escape and get home. If Madame Lyons-Mane is able to put her plan in motion, Lily’s first performance could very well also be her last…

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The Story Collector: A New York Public Library Book

The Story Collector: A New York Public Library Book was written by Kristin O’Donnell Tubb and first published in 2018. It is a middle-grade mystery novel that tell the story of Viviani Fedeler, a young girl who really did live in the New York Public Library in the 1920s. The novel stands alone, so you don’t have to read any of the author’s other work to fully appreciate it.

Viviani knows that she is really lucky. She and her older brothers, John Jr and Edouard, know the New York Public Library better than anyone else. As her father is the building’s superintendent, the whole family lives on the premises. Viviani loves the library more than anything, sharing all of her secrets with its magnificent lion statues and spending her free time playing baseball in the Periodical Reading Room (much to the horror of the head librarian).

Viviani also loves collecting stories and is known for wowing her classmates with her tall tales. However, things become tough for her at school when a new girl starts. Merit has immigrated from Egypt and has fascinating stories of her own. Unfortunately, Merit is only interested in hard facts and is quick to dismiss Viviani as being a liar, humiliating her in front of her friends.

It is clear to Viviani that Merit needs to be taught the value of stories and plans an elaborate prank to teach her a lesson. However, things quickly take a bad turn. When a valuable stamp collection is targeted by a thief, Viviani soon finds herself with more problems than she can handle. Is there a way that she can forge a friendship with Merit and capture the culprit at the same time?

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