Review: A Far Away Magic – Amy Wilson (Illustrated by Helen Crawford-White)

‘Hauntingly beautiful and richly enchanting… A Far Away Magic is sure to cast its spell over you. Magic is most definitely not far away with this one, in fact it’s in every moment.’


Rating: ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐

Title: A Far Away Magic
Author: Amy Wilson (@AJ_Wils)
Illustrator (Cover): Helen Crawford-White (@studiohelen)
Publisher: Macmillan (@MacmillanKidsUK)
Page count: 352
Date of publication: 25th January 2018
Series status: N/A
ISBN: 978-1509837755

Perfect for Year 6, Year 7 & Year 8.

1. Spellbinding ✨
2. Bewitching 🌌
3. Supernatural 👹

When Angel moves to a new school after the death of her parents, she isn’t interested in making friends. Neither is Bavar – he’s too busy trying to hide.

But Bavar has a kind of magic about him, and Angel is drawn to the shadows that lurk in the corners of his world. Could it be that magic, and those shadows, that killed her parents?

The first line:

There’s a massive mirror in the drawing room.

Review: Moving all alone to a new home, a new school, a new family, Angel finds herself mother and fatherless, friendless and faceless. Living with her foster family, whom in the beginning she never really gives a chance, she however starts to see something in someone deep within the shadows at school. The same kind of something that she saw in two other people close to her that are no longer here.

We discover that this someone named Bavar is a seven-foot-tall, misunderstood monster of a boy. In more ways than one. Completely and utterly unnoticed at school by his peers, he’s forever been seen as strange and hunched over, almost as if he’s been living with the weight upon his shoulders of the weird and wonderful world that he finds himself within.

At home however he’s different. His background is worlds apart – quite literally – from this lone figure. Living in the house on the hill where portraits of his dead ancestors whisper through the corridors and a bronze bust of his grandfather gives him advice, he discovers that he’s the family’s heir to defending the rift – a piercing void that allows monsters known as raksasa from an altogether otherly world through in to this one.

Once Angel sees Bavar, that’s all she sees. She tries getting his attention, talking to him, accidentally-on-purpose bumping in to him but it’s all in vain. It’s not through lack of trying however. Bavar doesn’t even want any friends. Particularly not one like Angel…

For unbeknown to him, she can see not just in to his eyes.
But his heart.
Even his soul.

Parentless. No friends. Troubled and lost. Invisible to the world.
The two of them together have no idea of how much they both have in common.

As their two, very different worlds begin to collide, the most unlikeliest of friends need to come together to try to resolve each other’s problems and this is where we start to see both characters’ true personalities. Angel may be fatherless, friendless and faceless but she’s also fearless. Whilst Bavar comes not only big in stature but also seemingly big in heart, as he wishes to defy and break his family cycle by not wanting to face up and fight the demons and darkness in the destiny that his predecessors have so dangerously left him in.

With a chapter-changing dual narrative providing both sides of their stories, it took slightly longer for me to get into this one than Amy’s debut A Girl Called Owl (a book I named as one of my top 20 #FaveMGKidsBooks2017) but maybe this was a sign as I started to feel more invested in the characters of Angel and Bavar. Something that Amy herself describes here that has likewise happened to her whilst writing.

Amy masterfully conjures up characters who, to start with, possess echoes of an almost gothic-like Beauty (Angel) and the Beast (Bavar) nature; who, during the story, so desperately need one another; and who, in the end, really do bring the best out of each other.

As readers, sometimes we may not fully acknowledge supporting characters within books. But in my eyes, Mary (Angel’s foster mother) is the most important character. Because if Angel is the only one who truly sees Bavar for who he is, then the same could be said for Mary who I think is the only one who truly sees Angel for who she is.

As Amy describes, it took 17,000 words for her to get Bavar to even think about speaking to Angel so it’s entirely fitting that he has the last word in the final chapter yet Angel really is the catalyst, that she is so often referred to as in the book, to Bavar for helping him to find himself… but can they work together to close the rift in time and keep the raksasa out? Will the truth about Angel’s parents’ deaths be revealed?

This hauntingly beautiful and richly enchanting story while having themes of grief, loss, loneliness, magic and friendship, is also about the power of others seeing something within you and that may be something that you yourself might not believe you even have.

It broods and stirs with a mesmerising quality – full of emotional intensity –  weaving a whole feast of fantastical elements in to Bavar’s world of magical warfare against the backdrop of Angel’s real world. There’s a line in the book when Angel discovers a room in the house of Bavar where men and women gather in clusters and a woman has ‘magic in every movement’, well to paraphrase this: A Far Away Magic certainly has magic in every moment.

Thank you to Amy Wilson and Jo Hardacre for sending me a copy of this mystifying and magical book.

A Far Away Magic is is available to order online or from any good bookshop.

‘Hauntingly beautiful and richly enchanting… A Far Away Magic is sure to cast its spell over you. Magic is most definitely not far away with this one, in fact it’s in every moment.’

Mr E


Review: Star in the Jar – Sam Hay (Illustrated by Sarah Massini)

‘Incandescently, radiantly, resplendently brilliant!
It’s a dazzling delight that will truly shine on your bookshelf.

Full of feeling, friendship and fulfilment brought to life and beautifully realised with the finest of writing and illustrations.’

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Rating: ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐

Title: Star in the Jar
Author: Sam Hay (@samhayauthor)
Illustrator: Sarah Massini (@SarahMassini)
Publisher: Egmont (@EgmontUK)
Page count: 32
Date of publication: 11th January 2017
Series status: N/A
ISBN: 978-1405284301

Perfect for: Nursery, Reception, Year 1, Year 2, Year 3 & Year 4

1. Charming ☺️
2. Heart-warming 💝
3. Uplifting 🌟

Up high, in the dark, dark sky . . . a message: LOST, ONE SMALL STAR.

When a little boy stumbles across a special star, he puts it in a jar and takes it on adventures. 

But the poor star misses its home…

Can the little boy and his big sister find a way to send the star safely back?

The first line:

My little brother likes looking for treasure.

Review: As soon as I opened this book and began to read, my eyes lit up and my heart warmed at the sight of these beautifully-drawn illustrations that help to really set itself apart from many of its contemporaries. This story is both preciously told in word and beautifully depicted in picture which combine to make it an absolute joy and pleasure to behold. Bringing plenty of warmth and light, it really does give us the little lift we all need!

Star in the Jar opens with both main characters playing within one of many of Sarah Massini’s richly distinctive, vivid and characterful double-page spreads.


Narrated through the eyes of his older sister, we start to see that her younger brother loves nothing more than to rummage through absolutely everything searching for all kinds of treasure (‘Tickly treasure…  glittery treasure…  even litter-bin treasure!’). One day, he finds himself a solitary star. However this is not just any star, this is a star so special he knows that it must indeed belong to someone else.

After tirelessly trying to track down who they think may be it’s proper owner, he keeps it safe enclosed within a jar and fondly befriends it by choosing to take it everywhere(!), in turn becoming increasingly attached to it.

Whilst marvelling at the night sky one evening, he realises the star is not quite as happy as he and so sets out to return it to its rightful home.

At first… slightly unconventionally.

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And then with the bright ideas of his older sister…

But ultimately, does losing his star mean that he loses his friend too?

I am sure that this will be both a clear winner and a resounding success at story time. For children, parents & teachers alike will no doubt cherish this tale so much that they find themselves coming back to enjoy reading it time and time again. This story will keep putting a starry feeling in your heart and after reading this, children in your class and at home will be wishing for their own star in a jar.

One that I will be highly recommending to teachers and schools to share. Several schools that I visit utilise a praise system whereby pupils place a star in the jar for demonstrating positive behaviour and so this would definitely enhance and complement that practice.

An exceedingly enchanting story that encapsulates both the awe and wonder of the stars, the night sky and of the unique bond between siblings. So much so that I can really envisage this book being both a superb choice and a thoroughly rewarding experience for older children to read to their younger siblings.

Incandescently, radiantly, resplendently brilliant.
It’s a dazzling delight that will truly shine on your bookshelf.

Look, even Brian May agrees!

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A huge thank you so much to Sam Hay for sending me an early copy of this stunning book. You’re a star! 💫

Star in the Jar is available to order now online or from any good bookshop.

‘Incandescently, radiantly, resplendently brilliant!
It’s a dazzling delight that will truly shine on your bookshelf.

Full of feeling, friendship and fulfilment brought to life and beautifully realised with the finest of writing and illustrations.’

Mr E



Review: Below Zero – Dan Smith (Illustrated by Steve Wells)

‘A spine-tingling sci-fi adventure that both trembles and thrills whilst embodying all of the bite, chill and snap of the setting that it takes place in.’


Rating: ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐

Title: Below Zero
Author: Dan Smith (@DanSmithAuthor)
Illustrator (Cover): Steve Wells (@SteveWellsArt)
Publisher: Chicken House (@chickenhsebooks)
Page count: 304
Date of publication: 4th January 2017
Series status: N/A
ISBN: 978-1910655924

Perfect for: Year 5, Year 6, Year 7 & Year 8.

1. Chilling ❄️
2. Gripping ✊
3. Tense 😮

When Zak’s plane crash-lands on Outpost Zero, a small Antarctic research base in one of the most isolated places on Earth, he discovers a cold, dark nightmare. The power’s out and the people who live there have disappeared. Worse, as he searches for answers, bizarre visions suggest a link to something else – deep beneath the ice – which only he can understand…

The first line:

There was something happening at Outpost Zero.

Review: Brace yourself because there’s no holding back as a sudden surge of panic pulls you in from the opening page to this already action-packed, arctic adventure as we encounter Sofia Diaz in a flashback three days ago from Outpost Zero. Sofia, the youngest member on base at Outpost Zero at fourteen years old, is stationed there with her family and seven others to participate in experimental training for the Exodus Project for a future life on Mars. However, a number of others are also there for altogether unexpected and unexplained reasons…

The pace of the story unrelentingly pulsates on, as we turn to the next chapter, with the attention switching to twelve-year-old Zak Reeves who is supposed to be enjoying a relaxing holiday in the sun with his family – Mum, Dad and older sister May – before he visits hospital for surgery for an as yet unnamed illness. From the start, there’s a sense of foreboding whereby we begin to notice that Zak is different. But it’s not until the end that we discover exactly how different he is.

Instead, the whole family have to cut their exotic holiday short to board a plane to the Antarctic in order to fix the ‘spider drones’ his parents have designed to support the Exodus mission as a result of them starting to mysteriously malfunction. As they arrive (…just!) on one of the last available planes in to Outpost Zero due to forecasted adverse weather conditions, they realise that things are about to go awry from the moment their plane crash lands in to the ice outside the research base whilst the whole site is plunged in to an abandoned and absolute darkness. This leaves Zak and his family finding themselves caught up in a flurry of fright and fear that will gradually end up with them fighting for their lives…

Throughout the story, the interchange of the dual narrative, which only adds to the suspense, between chapters backwards to Sofia Diaz and forwards to Zak in the present day continues. Further on, a triple narrative transpires as we are introduced to a new character known only by his alias, The Broker. It would be only maybe here that I could foresee any potential difficulties arising for some reading independently – particularly those readers closer to the lower age of recommendation – as they may be unsure of how to temper these three storylines occurring sequentially. But, by this point you’ll be feeling how I did where the sheer apprehension of what was about to happen to Zak next meant that you just have to read on to find out more with every turn of the page…

As the plot mysteriously shifts from the eerie and the sinister to the anxious and the downright heart-pounding, Zak makes a very important and other-wordly discovery about himself that’s been tormenting him ever since he got here.

Winter is not the only thing that’s coming for Zak…

As he starts to hear things…
Tick-tack. Tick-tack.

But then he starts to feel things…
Tick-tack. Tick-tack.

And then he starts to see things…

A discovery, deep within his psyche, which culminates in an almost apocalyptic, catastrophic crescendo of a climax that would rival any of the battles from Star Wars (I know from the references dotted throughout the book that the author, Dan, is a huge fan!) as nearly all of the previously described characters – under the condemned instructions of The Broker – converge for one last time.

I particularly enjoyed the brother-sister relationship between Zak and May and it is portrayed perfectly in that they initially tease, argue, annoy and fight with each other and they might not declare an immediate fondness for each other all the time yet we recognise early on how important they are for each other and this comes to an all important head at the very end of the story.

Fraught with all of the most essential ingredients found in the best adventure stories (i.e. tension, high intensity and peril), the front cover warns you that ‘Your blood will run cold…’ so as Dan advises in Below Zero, ‘Be Prepared’ or failing that, at least listen to and try to adopt the unofficial motto and mantra of the US Marines and ‘improvise, adapt and overcome’.

Thank you to the lovely Dan Smith and Jazz Bartlett at Chicken House for sending me an early copy.

Below Zero is available to order now online or from any good bookshop.

‘A spine-tingling sci-fi adventure that both trembles and thrills whilst embodying all of the bite, chill and snap of the setting that it takes place in.’

Mr E


Review: The Light Jar – Lisa Thompson (Illustrated by Mike Lowery)

‘A deeply original mystery so tenderly told in the most profound, sensitive, intricate, authentic and moving of ways.’


Rating: ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐

Title: The Light Jar
Author: Lisa Thompson (@lthompsonwrites)
Illustrator (Cover): Mike Lowery (@mikelowerystudio)
Publisher: Scholastic (@scholasticuk)
Page count: 240
Date of publication: 4th January 2018
Series status: N/A
ISBN: 978-1407171289

Perfect for Year 6 & Year 7.

1.Enlightening 💡
2. Heart-rending 💓
3. Rousing ☺️

The first line

I love Mum’s tunnel-singing trick.

In the dead of night, Nate and his mum run away to a tumbledown cottage in the middle of a forest. When Mum heads off for food and doesn’t return, Nate is left alone and afraid, with shadows closing in all around him. 

But comfort comes from the most unexpected places – a mysterious girl on a cryptic treasure hunt, and the surprising reappearance of someone from his past. 

A story of finding friendship and the strength to light up the dark, from the bestselling author of The Goldfish Boy.

Review: Like a moth attracted to the light, I was instantly drawn to reading The Light Jar due to its intriguing plot however I hadn’t anticipated anything like just how captivating it would end up being. So much so, that I read a whopping 106 pages within the first hour of receiving it!

We first encounter Nate and his mum hurriedly speeding off in the car in the middle of the night towards their idea of salvation in the form of an abandoned and ramshackle cottage, belonging to a dearly loved family member’s deceased friend, only having been visited previously infrequently by Nate and his family.

So many questions follow from Nate during the trip.
So many questions, that unfortunately for him, just can’t seem to be answered by Mum.

From the opening page, we start to sense that something is not quite right and on arrival at the cottage, this is when we really begin to feel for Nate as he himself becomes increasingly aware of the fact that something is not quite right either. And when they start to explore their supposed place of solace, that too is not quite as homely as they had imagined it would be.

Desperately seeking provisions after one night’s stay, Mum heads off in search of a place to buy food however her return never materialises leaving Nate all alone to swallow in his new surroundings. Doubt, despair and darkness creep in.

Anxiously fending for himself whilst fighting his fears of the shadows, Nate slowly whiles away the time by reading his well-thumbed book, hoping his magic ball will give him all the answers he so desperately needs and trying his best to avoid the only thing that resembles any indication of life in the place: a scrawny chicken.    

But as time ticks away, and trepidation ensues and the hours turn in to days, Nate soon becomes distracted by the reappearance of an imaginary friend (Sam) and also entangled in an unsolved treasure hunt led by a girl (Kitty) and her cryptic riddles, who doesn’t really seem to belong in the real world either. Sam and Kitty soon develop in to Nate’s companions and confidants – acting as Nate’s closest humanly equivalents to the lights from his light jar – who try to guide, console and feed him through the remaining nights. Whether they’re just being nice, playing devil’s advocate with Nate’s conscience or they are just as lonely as Nate himself remains to be found out…

The story’s many layers continue to unravel themselves to allude to and reveal elements of the troubling home life and the manipulative, coercive and damaging behaviour of his mum’s emotionally-abusive new partner together with the lingering control he progressively possesses over Nate, his mother, his social life and even the fixtures and fittings of his own house.

Yet as you read on, there’s this innate sense of unburdening hope; optimism; faith; belief; warmth; courage; strength and character that shines through to the very end and that is what will stay with me from reading this story. That even after adversity, if you’ve got something to hold on to and can grasp even a glimpse of positivity then that can sometimes feel like the most powerful feeling in the world as Helen Keller once said “The best and most beautiful things in the world cannot be seen or even touched – they must be felt with the heart”.

Like the lights in the light jar offer Nate some comfort, attachment, reassurance and relief from the situations he finds himself in, The Light Jar could potentially highlight and raise awareness of personal, social and emotional (PSHE) issues in an appropriate classroom context leading to powerful discussions; promoting deep questioning and high levels of inference. However, whenever approaching emotive topics within the classroom, caution is to be evidently advised and sensitivity considered. So whilst I highly recommend this book for its thought-provoking and empathetic qualities, teachers contemplating using it should – as they should with all books they choose to use – ensure that they pre-read it to decide on its suitability for their class of children.

Lisa not only does it once again after the richly deserved success of The Goldfish Boy – leaving devoted fans of The Goldfish Boy feeling only ever so slightly disappointed if it means they will have to replace that as their favourite read with this (as I now have to do!). Once more, she achieves it so well in such an understated manner handling yet another intangible and complex issue in such a way that is both highly accessible and as relatable as it can be to readers, which to me is one of the highest forms of writing.

Thank you to Lisa Thompson and Lorraine Keating at Scholastic UK for sending me an early copy of this beautifully-written book.

The Light Jar is available to order now online or from any good bookshop.

‘A deeply original mystery so tenderly told in the most profound, sensitive, intricate, authentic and moving of ways.’

Mr E