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Hello Hello! How are you today?

Another week has started and luckily I got a lot of sleep in on Sunday so I’m starting to feel more human again after those three years of thesis work! It’s nice to be a free woman again, haha!

Today, I’m bringing you two mini reviews of middle-grade stories I’ve read so far this year and hadn’t gotten around to reviewing on my blog. I read both of these for the Middle Grade Marvels Book Club I co-host with Holly and Noly and which will be up and running again for September, as we are taking a reading break over the summer. If you love reading middle-grade stories, definitely join us in September!

So in January I read The Hatmakers by Tamzin Merchant and in February I read The Forest of Moon and Sword by Amy Raphael and that’s sort of where I fell off the bandwagon, because I don’t think we’ve read anything since! I took notes in my reading journal, so I could write these reviews when I had more time, and today is the day!

Keep on reading for my thoughts on these unique stories.

The Hatmakers (#1 Cordelia Hatmaker) by Tamzin Merchant

Title: The Hatmakers (#1 Cordelia Hatmaker)

Author: Tamzin Merchant

Published: 7th of January 2021 — Norton Young Readers

Format: Paperback — 368 pages

SYNOPSIS

Cordelia comes from a long line of magical milliners, who weave alchemy and enchantment into every hat. In Cordelia’s world, Making – crafting items such as hats, cloaks, watches, boots and gloves from magical ingredients – is a rare and ancient skill, and only a few special Maker families remain.

When Cordelia’s father Prospero and his ship, the Jolly Bonnet, are lost at sea during a mission to collect hat ingredients, Cordelia is determined to find him. But Uncle Tiberius and Aunt Ariadne have no time to help the littlest Hatmaker, for an ancient rivalry between the Maker families is threatening to surface. Worse, someone seems to be using Maker magic to start a war.

It’s up to Cordelia to find out who, and why . . .

MY REVIEW

Trigger warnings: death of a parent/disappearance of a parent/presumed death of a parent at sea, mention of death of a parent at sea, attempted murder, illness, violence, use of guns, imprisonment, childhood poverty and homelessness, mind control and theme of war. 

“Keep wildness in your wits and magic in your fingertips.” 

The Hatmakers by Tamzin Merchant is such a unique, wonderful and entertaining middle-grade story that I absolutely adored from start to finish. I didn’t really know what to expect going in, but I knew it was going to be a fun adventure, and I wasn’t disappointed. I’m definitely going to have to read the sequel as soon as I can! This is the first book in the Cordelia Hatmaker middle-grade series that I fell in love with the very first page.

I also fell in love with the Hatmaker family as soon as I met them. Cordelia is a wonderful, strong-willed, determined and kind character, but the rest of her family all have things going for them, such as humour, charity, kindness, love and support. I think they are right up the top of my list of favourite fictional families and I hope we get to see more of them in the rest of the trilogy. When we meet Cordelia, she learns that her father and his boat (he goes out on adventures to find magical ingredients for the family’s business of hatmaking) have been lost at sea and that he is most likely dead. Throughout the whole book though, Cordelia works towards finding her father as she cannot fathom that he is dead.

I really enjoyed learning about the different Maker families in this book as their are six described: hatmakers, watchmakers, bootmakers, cloackmakers, glovemakers, canemakers and one more secret maker family that has been gone for years. It was a really interesting magic system since all these makers definitely use the magic of their trade to create garments for the King and all of their other customers. I also really liked reading about when Cordelia and her family and friends had to urgently make an extra hat for the princess towards the end of the book. Lots of whimsy, fantasy and magic!!

I found this book to be a really unique fantasy/historical fiction story with an intriguing and well-thought-out plot. Most of the characters were great (except the baddies!!) and I loved how it was quite a twisty and surprising plot. In fact, I also found that there was a surprising twist at the end as to who the villains were as I didn’t expect it, and although they were both awful, they made great villains. This story also had a nice dash of humour and the writing flowed nicely throughout.

FINAL THOUGHTS AND RATING

Overall, I absolutely adored this book and enjoyed the whole read. I can still remember a few scenes vividly, even 5 months after having read it, so it has definitely stayed with me.

I loved the (good) characters, the magic system (the magic of making), the friendship and family relationships between Cordelia and the other characters, and her determination to find her father alive.

I gave The Hatmakers by Tamzin Merchant 4.5 stars and thoroughly enjoyed it. It was a lovely, heartwarming and immersive read.

If you love middle-grade stories with a unique plot, lots of unique magic, wonderful characters, strong friendships, a great family, a quest, lots of twists and turns and some great villains, this is the book for you. I highly recommend it! 

“The stars guide us through this world. They’re always above us, but we can only see them when it’s dark.” 

ASPECTS RATING

Atmosphere – 6

Start – 8

Pacing – 8

Ending – 9

Characters – 8

Theme – 7

Style – 8

Total = 55

4.5-STAR RATING

The Forest of Moon and Sword by Amy Raphael

Title: The Forest of Moon and Sword

Author: Amy Raphael

Published: 7th of January 2021 — Orion Children’s Books (can’t believe they were both published on the same day!)

Format: Paperback — 288 pages

SYNOPSIS

Twelve-year-old Art lives in a small village in Scotland. Her mother has always made potions that cure the sick, but now the townspeople say she is a witch.

One cloudless night, Art’s mother is accused of Witchcraft, arrested, and taken from Scotland to England. Art mounts her horse, taking a sword, a tightrope, and a herbal recipe book, and begins a journey through wild forests to find her mother before summer solstice, using nature’s signs and symbols to guide her.

On her journey, Art will discover what sacrifices she will need to make to be reunited with her mother — and to alter the fate of women everywhere. But will she reach her, before it’s too late?

MY REVIEW

Trigger warnings: death of a parent/disappearance of a parent, mention of death of a parent and sibling, kidnapping, death of women, accusations of wtichcraft, loneliness, fear, violence, death/murder. 

“Helping people to heal isn’t about magic, it’s about compassion.” 

The Forest of Moon and Sword by Amy Raphael is a standalone middle-grade historical fantasy set in England during the 17th century and the famous Manningtree Witch Trials. As you know, I love anything witch-related, so I liked the premise of this story immensely, but it did disappoint a bit.

I really liked the short chapters of this book and most of the writing style because apart from a few very confusing parts, it did flow quite nicely and made the book a relatively quick read, especially since it’s under 300 pages long.

I also adored learning about the history of the Manningtree witches. Obviously, I doubt all historical exactitude as it is a really short children’s book and doesn’t go into too many gory details, but it is, in my opinion, a good storybook to talk to children about our history and especially concerning the various witch trials that happened throughout history in the world. I also liked that this book came across as a celebration of women and womanhood in history and how important these figures were. I love any kind of feminist retelling of history and this was quite honestly a very easy-to-read and understandable one, especially for younger readers (7-10 years of age).

I loved reading the chapters where Art talked about her mother’s recipe book which is no less than what we would call a witch’s grimoire. This story brings forward the importance of herbal remedies and I think that especially in today’s world, it’s important for children and adults alike to remember that Mother Earth has everything we may need in times of strife or pain, and that sometimes the best remedies are natural and right in our backyards or forests. As someone trying to get into more herbalist remedies and hoping to grow a medicinal garden in the next year or so, this was a wonderful element to the book. The illustrations throughout this book were also stunning and gave it a really atmospheric element.

The relationship between Art and her mother was beautiful. We don’t see them together for the majority of the book, but I loved Art’s flashbacks to times with her mother, when she taught her things from her recipe book or spent time with her. I also enjoyed her relationship with other characters, but they felt more forced and a bit awkward in my opinion.

However, I also disliked quite a few things… I know I’m coming at this story from an adult’s perspective, but even so, I did find some parts of the story to be a bit too simple and a bit childish maybe. Some elements also did not seem likely to happen at all and made the general plot line feel off kilter and confusing. This happened generally in the middle to the end of the book and I was quite disappointed with how confusing some of the scenes were because it just made my enjoyment dwindle. For instance, from chapters 14 to 19, the story became weirdly disjointed and other people in the Middle Grade Marvels group commented on this fact as well. I just felt a bit of confusion over these chapters because they made little sense to me and clearly did not work with the previous parts of the story. Either things happened too quickly, they weren’t very believable, or it just tried to do too much, which was a real shame as I had enjoyed the story quite a lot up to this point.

FINAL THOUGHTS AND RATING

Overall, I did enjoy this book but towards the middle of it, I became disappointed because things became confusing and just didn’t make sense to the story, the writing style or the characters.

Up to that point, I had been enjoying the whole of the book, be it Art’s character, her journey from Scotland to England on horseback (even though I doubt she could do it in such a short amount of time), her remembered relationship with her mother and the discussions around herbalism and natural remedies.

I gave this book 3.5 stars because it just fell short for me, felt lacking and it didn’t quite meet my expectations.

If you like cute, unique and interesting middle-grade stories with historical elements, witchcraft, natural remedies/herbalism, a strong bond between mother and daughter, a lone quest towards saving loved ones, and friendships that help us through difficult times, then maybe pick this one up and give it a shot! 

ASPECTS RATING

Atmosphere – 4.5

Start – 6

Pacing – 6

Ending – 6.5

Characters – 6.5

Theme – 7

Style – 5.5

Total = 42

3.5-STAR RATING

That’s all for now, I hope you enjoyed reading my reviews and felt inspired to pick either or both of these stories up!

See you soon, stay safe,

Ellie xx

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