Posted in MG Book Recommendations

2020: all my 5-star reads!

Here they are: all the fabulous fiction that got ALL THE STARS from me! They are in no particular order (just the order I read them in) and along with the book’s blurb, you can click through to the Book Depository link should any take your fancy. It’s been so wonderful revisiting the amazing books I read last year, and I hope that among these you find some gems to call ‘your favourite reads’!

Happy Reading, Readerly Friends.x

THE GIRL WHO SPEAKS BEAR by Sophie Anderson

They call me Yanka the Bear. Not because of where I was found – only a few people know about that. They call me Yanka the Bear because I am so big and strong.

Found abandoned in a bear cave as a baby, Yanka has always wondered about where she is from. She tries to ignore the strange whispers and looks from the villagers, wishing she was as strong on the inside as she is on the outside. But, when she has to flee her house, looking for answers about who she really is, a journey far beyond one that she ever imagined begins: from icy rivers to smouldering mountains meeting an ever-growing herd of extraordinary friends along the way.

SONG FOR A WHALE by Lynne Kelly

From fixing the class computer to repairing old radios, twelve-year-old Iris is a tech genius. But she’s the only deaf person in her school, so people often treat her like she’s not very smart. If you’ve ever felt like no-one was listening to you, then you know how hard that can be.

When she learns about Blue 55, a real whale who is unable to speak to other whales, Iris understands how he must feel. Then she has an idea: she should invent a way to “sing” for him! But he’s three thousand miles away. How will she play her song for him?

ESCAPE FROM MR LEMONCELLO’S LIBRARY by Chris Grabenstein

When Kyle Keeley learns that the world’s world’s most famous game maker, Luigi Lemoncello, has designed the town’s new library and is having an invitation-only lock-in on opening night, Kyle is determined to be there! But the tricky part isn’t getting into the library–it’s getting out. Because when morning comes, the doors stay locked. Kyle and the other kids must catch every clue and solve every puzzle to find the hidden escape route! 

THE MANY WORLDS OF ALBIE BRIGHT by Christopher Edge

When Albie’s mum dies, it’s natural he should wonder where she’s gone. His parents are both scientists and they usually have all the answers. Dad mutters something about Albie’s mum being alive and with them in a parallel universe. So Albie finds a box, his mum’s computer and a rotting banana, and sends himself through time and space to find her…

THE HIGHLAND FALCON THIEF by MG Leonard

Harrison Beck is reluctantly joining his travel-writer Uncle Nat for the last journey of the royal train, The Highland Falcon. But as the train makes its way to Scotland, a priceless brooch goes missing, and things are suddenly a lot more interesting. As suspicions and accusations run high among the passengers, Harrison begins to investigate and uncovers a few surprises along the way. Can he solve the mystery of the jewel thief and catch the culprit before they reach the end of the line?

THE GARDEN OF LOST SECRETS by A.M. Howell

October, 1916. Clara is sent to stay with her formidable aunt and uncle in the grounds of a country estate. Clara soon discovers that her new surroundings hold secrets: a locked room and a hidden key, and a mysterious boy who only appears in the gardens at night… But can Clara face up to her own secrets, and a war she’s desperate to forget?

BOOK SCAVENGER by Jennifer Chambliss Bertman

For twelve-year-old Emily, the best thing about moving to San Francisco is that it’s the home city of her literary idol: Garrison Griswold, book publisher and creator of the online sensation Book Scavenger (a game where books are hidden in cities all over the country and clues to find them are revealed through puzzles). Upon arriving, however, Emily learns that Griswold has been attacked, and no one knows anything about the epic new game he had been poised to launch. Then Emily and her new friend James discover an odd book, which they come to believe is from Griswold himself. Racing against time, Emily and James try to uncover the secret at the heart of Griswold’s new game-before Griswold’s attackers find them.

THE MAKER OF MONSTERS by Lorraine Gregory

Brat has always lived in the isolated castle on the island, taking care of the vicious creatures that his master creates, waiting in terror for the moment when they are ready to be put to use. But then the unthinkable happens. The monsters get out. Now Brat must overcome his fears, and venture into the world he has hidden from his whole life. For the fate of everyone rests on his shoulders alone. . .

THE OCEAN AT THE END OF THE LANE by Neil Gaiman

This is what he remembers, as he sits by the ocean at the end of the lane:

A dead man on the back seat of the car, and warm milk at the farmhouse.
An ancient little girl, and an old woman who saw the moon being made.
A beautiful housekeeper with a monstrous smile.
And dark forces woken that were best left undisturbed.

They are memories hard to believe, waiting at the edge of things. The recollections of a man who thought he was lost but is now, perhaps, remembering a time when he was saved…

THE GRAVEYARD BOOK by Neil Gaiman

When a baby escapes a murderer intent on killing the entire family, who would have thought it would find safety and security in the local graveyard? Brought up by the resident ghosts, ghouls and spectres, Bod has an eccentric childhood learning about life from the dead. But for Bod there is also the danger of the murderer still looking for him – after all, he is the last remaining member of the family. A stunningly original novel deftly constructed over eight chapters, featuring every second year of Bod’s life, from babyhood to adolescence. Will Bod survive to be a man?

THE BIGWOOF CONSPIRACY by Dashe Roberts

When twelve-year-old, UFO-obsessed, Lucy Sladan sneaks out in the middle of a thunderstorm to investigate the unexplained disappearances in her hometown of Sticky Pines, she finds more than she bargained for: a huge hairy creature, a thirteen-year-old stranger named Milo Fisher and a deep-rooted secret. Together, Lucy and Milo become entwined in a mystery that threatens to engulf the whole town of Sticky Pines and its weird and wonderful residents.

THE HOUSE OF ONE HUNDRED CLOCKS by A.M. Howell

JUNE, 1905. Helena and her parrot, Orbit, are swept off to Cambridge when her father is appointed clock-winder to one of the wealthiest men in England. There is only one rule: the clocks must never stop. But Helena discovers the house of one hundred clocks holds many mysteries; a ghostly figure, strange notes and disappearing winding keys… Can she work out its secrets before time runs out?

DOLL BONES by Holly Black

My name is Eleanor Kerchner.
You can call me the Queen.
I died in 1895.
Now it’s time to play.

THE ABSENCE OF SPARROWS by Kurt Kirchmeier

In the small town of Griever’s Mill, eleven-year-old Ben Cameron is expecting to finish off his summer of relaxing and bird-watching without a hitch. But everything goes wrong when dark clouds roll in. Old Man Crandall is the first to change — human one minute and a glass statue the next. Soon it’s happening across the world. Dark clouds fill the sky and, at random, people are turned into frozen versions of themselves. There’s nowhere to run, nowhere to hide, and no one knows how to stop it.With his mom on the verge of a breakdown, and his brother intent on following the dubious plans put forth by a nameless voice on the radio, Ben must hold out hope that his town’s missing sparrows will return with everyone’s souls before the glass plague takes them away forever.

THE SCHOOL FOR GOOD AND EVIL by Soman Chainani

Every four years, two girls are kidnapped from the village of Gavaldon. Legend has it these lost children are sent to the School for Good and Evil, the fabled institution where they become fairytale heroes or villains.

With her glass slippers and devotion to good deeds, Sophie knows she’ll join the ranks of past students like Cinderella, Rapunzel, and Snow White at the School for Good. Meanwhile, Agatha, with her shapeless black dresses and wicked black cat, seems a natural fit for the villains in the School for Evil.

But the two girls soon find their fortunes reversed – Sophie’s dumped in the School for Evil to take Uglification, Death Curses and Henchmen Training, while Agatha finds herself in the School for Good, thrust among handsome princes and fair maidens for classes in Princess Etiquette and Animal Communication.

But what if the mistake is actually the first clue to discovering who Sophie and Agatha really are?

WINTERHOUSE by Ben Guterson

Orphan Elizabeth Somers’s malevolent aunt and uncle ship her off to the ominous Winterhouse Hotel, owned by the peculiar Norbridge Falls. Upon arrival, Elizabeth quickly discovers that Winterhouse has many charms–most notably its massive library. It’s not long before she locates a magical book of puzzles that will unlock a mystery involving Norbridge and his sinister family. But the deeper she delves into the hotel’s secrets, the more Elizabeth starts to realize that she is somehow connected to Winterhouse. As fate would have it, Elizabeth is the only person who can break the hotel’s curse and solve the mystery. But will it be at the cost of losing the people she has come to care for, and even Winterhouse itself? 

CIRCUS MIRANDUS by Cassie Beasley

Even though his awful Great-Aunt Gertrudis doesn’t approve, Micah believes in the stories his dying Grandpa Ephraim tells him of the magical Circus Mirandus: the invisible tiger guarding the gates, the beautiful flying birdwoman, and the magician more powerful than any other–the Man Who Bends Light. Finally, Grandpa Ephraim offers proof. The Circus is real. And the Lightbender owes Ephraim a miracle. With his friend Jenny Mendoza in tow, Micah sets out to find the Circus and the man he believes will save his grandfather. The only problem is, the Lightbender doesn’t want to keep his promise. And now it’s up to Micah to get the miracle he came for.

CITY OF GHOSTS by Victoria Schwab

Ever since Cass almost drowned (okay, she did drown, but she doesn’t like to think about it), she can pull back the Veil that separates the living from the dead… and enter the world of spirits. Her best friend is even a ghost.

So things are already pretty strange. But they’re about to get much stranger. When Cass’s parents start hosting a TV show about the world’s most haunted places, the family heads off to Edinburgh, Scotland. Here, graveyards, castles, and secret passageways teem with restless phantoms. And when Cass meets a girl who shares her “gift,” she realizes how much she still has to learn about the Veil — and herself.

And she’ll have to learn fast. The city of ghosts is more dangerous than she ever imagined.

THE PRINCE OF MIST by Carlos Ruiz Zafon

1943. As war sweeps across Europe, Max Carver’s father moves his family away from the city, to an old wooden house on the coast. But as soon as they arrive, strange things begin to happen: Max discovers a garden filled with eerie statues; his sisters are plagued by unsettling dreams and voices; a box of old films opens a window to the past.

Most unsettling of all are rumours about the previous owners and the mysterious disappearance of their son. As Max delves into the past, he encounters the terrifying story of the Prince of Mist, a sinister shadow who emerges from the night to settle old scores, then disappears with the first mists of dawn . . .

SMALL SPACES by Katherine Arden

After suffering a tragic loss, eleven-year-old Ollie who only finds solace in books discovers a chilling ghost story about a girl named Beth, the two brothers who loved her, and a peculiar deal made with the smiling man–a sinister spectre who grants your most tightly held wish, but only for the ultimate price.

Captivated by the tale, Ollie begins to wonder if the smiling man might be real when she stumbles upon the graves of the very people she’s been reading about on a school trip to a nearby farm. Then, later, when her school bus breaks down on the ride home, the strange bus driver tells Ollie and her classmates: Best get moving. At nightfall they’ll come for the rest of you. Nightfall is, indeed, fast descending when Ollie’s previously broken digital wristwatch begins a startling countdown and delivers a terrifying message: RUN.

Only Ollie and two of her classmates heed these warnings. As the trio head out into the woods–bordered by a field of scarecrows that seem to be watching them–the bus driver has just one final piece of advice for Ollie and her friends: Avoid large places. Keep to small.

CORALINE by Neil Gaiman

There is something strange about Coraline’s new home.

It’s not the mist, or the cat that always seems to be watching her, nor the signs of danger that Miss Spink and Miss Forcible, her new neighbours, read in the tea leaves. It’s the other house – the one behind the old door in the drawing room. Another mother and father with black-button eyes and papery skin are waiting for Coraline to join them there. And they want her to stay with them. For ever. She knows that if she ventures through that door, she may never come back.

CRATER LAKE by Jennifer Killick

Who is the mysterious bloodstained man who stops their coach? Why is no one around when Lance and the rest of Year Six arrive at the brand new Crater Lake activity centre?
But this is just the beginning of the school trip from hell; a fight for survival that sees five pupils band together to save their classmates from an alien fate far worse than death. But whatever happens, they must Never. Ever. Fall asleep!

THE SECRETS OF WINTERHOUSE by Ben Guterson

The two friends follow a trail of clues, inadvertently attracting the attention of a suspicious new hotel guest: Elana Vesper. The clock is ticking as Elizabeth and Freddy struggle to figure out whether Elana is merely a pawn or a player in the plot to revive the spirit of Gracella. If that wasn’t enough, Elizabeth suspects she is coming into her own special powers – and she’s fearful it might lead her right into Gracella’s vicious web.

THE LAST OF THE SPIRITS by Chris Priestly

Sam and Lizzie are freezing and hungry on the streets of Victorian London. When Sam asks a wealthy man for some coins, he is rudely turned away. Months of struggle suddenly find their focus, and Sam resolves to kill the man. Huddling in a graveyard for warmth, Sam and Lizzie are horrified to see the earth around one of the tombs begin to shift, shortly followed by the wraithlike figure of a ghostly man. He warns Sam about the future which awaits such a bitter heart, and so begins Sam’s journey led by terrifying spirits through the past, present and future, after which Sam must decide whether to take the man, Scrooge’s, life or not.

THE DARKDEEP by Ally Condie & Brendan Reichs

When a bullying incident sends twelve year-old Nico Holland over the edge of a cliff into the icy waters of Still Cove, where no one ever goes, friends Tyler and Ella – and even ‘cool kid’ Opal – rush to his rescue . . . only to discover an island hidden in the swirling mists below.

Shrouded by dense trees and murky tides, the island appears uninhabited, although the kids can’t quite shake the feeling that something about it is off. Their suspicions grow when they stumble upon an abandoned houseboat with an array of curiosities inside: odd-looking weapons, unnerving portraits, maps to places they’ve never heard of, and a glass jar containing something completely unidentifiable. As the group delves deeper into the unknown, their discoveries – and their lives – begin to intertwine in weird and spooky ways. Something ancient has awakened . . . and it knows their wishes and dreams – and their deepest secrets. Do they have what it takes to face the shadowy things that lurk within their own hearts?

CHRISTMAS DINNER OF SOULS by Ross Montgomery

It’s a dark and lonely Christmas Eve in the dining room of ancient Soul’s College. The kitchen boy, 11-year-old Lewis, has helped prepare a highly unusual meal, made with unrecognisable ingredients, cooked by a mysterious chef. And then the guests arrive … and carnage ensues. They are ex-students of Soul’s College, and they are all completely demented. They demand bottle after bottle of wine, flinging their cutlery and howling like banshees until … silence. The Dean of Soul’s College has arrived, and the evening’s ceremonies must begin.

For this is the annual meeting of a secret club for those who despise children, warmth, happiness, and above all Christmas. Each member must try to outdo the others by telling the most terrible, disgusting story they know.

THE HAUNTING OF AVELINE JONES by Phil Hickes

Aveline Jones loves reading ghost stories, so a dreary half-term becomes much more exciting when she discovers a spooky old book. Not only are the stories spine-tingling, but it once belonged to Primrose Penberthy, who vanished mysteriously, never to be seen again. Intrigued, Aveline decides to investigate Primrose’s disappearance. Now someone…or something, is stirring. And it is looking for Aveline.

TUNNEL OF BONES by Victoria Schwab

Trouble is haunting Cassidy Blake . . . even more than usual.

She (plus her ghost best friend, Jacob, of course) are in Paris, where Cass’s parents are filming their TV show about the world’s most haunted cities. Sure, it’s fun eating croissants and seeing the Eiffel Tower, but there’s true ghostly danger lurking beneath Paris, in the creepy underground Catacombs.

When Cass accidentally awakens a frighteningly strong spirit, she must rely on her still-growing skills as a ghosthunter — and turn to friends both old and new to help her unravel a mystery. But time is running out, and the spirit is only growing stronger.

And if Cass fails, the force she’s unleashed could haunt the city forever.

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