Review: DK Lego Amazing Vehicles

 

Lego Vehicles

This is a brightly coloured, informative and fun DK book, which comes with 61 pieces of Lego to allow the creation of four small models. A delight which will provide many hours of entertainment for anyone of 6+.

Approximately half of the thickness of the book is taken up with a box built in to the front cover, which contains the Lego pieces, followed by 76 pages of full-colour photographs of Lego models telling the story of transport. As I always expect from DK, this book is perfectly designed for its audience with the highly coloured photographs accompanied by short paragraphs of text, bold titles and informative content. All forms of transport are described and created from Lego, from an auto rickshaw to an ice-breaker ship!

The close up photos of each Lego model gives young (and old) builders a good idea about how to build vehicles from their existing Lego collections. At the back of the book there is useful advice about which bricks are most useful for vehicle building, as well as step-by-step instructions about how to use the included Lego bricks to create: a mini jet, steam train, longship and excavator.

This book has already proved a big hit with a group of Year 2 children who are enthusiastic Lego modellers and stop-frame animators, they wanted to build the models immediately and spotted vehicles that they wanted to build using their own Lego collections. It already has a waiting list in the library! My own favourite section was entitled “Into the Future”; I’m finishing this review now so that I can head to the Lego box upstairs to build myself a teleporter – fingers crossed it will work!!

Many thanks to Toppsta.com and DK Books for sending me a copy in exchange for an honest review.

This is Book2 in my #20BooksofSummer challenge hosted by Cathy at 746books.com

 

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Review: A Witch Comes True by James Nicol

witch comes true

In the third and final installment of the Apprentice Witch series life has changed markedly for Arianwyn; the war in the Four Kingdoms is over and her father has returned home injured but alive. However, when Arianwyn visits him at St Morag’s Military Sanatorium in Kingsport, she realises that fighting in a war has changed him and that he is finding it hard to adjust to her being a responsible grown-up rather than his little girl. She is also surprised to find that he met a Urisian witch whilst away, and a photo of the meeting seems to show the witch infected with hex.

Even more troubling is an encounter with her old foe Gimma who appears to be more firmly in the grip of the hex, and who is being guarded at her house by a member of The Council of Elders. But who is guarding her, and can they be trusted.

As Wyn returns to Lull to magically assist in the town’s Yule celebrations further mysteries abound, a seam of magic which is visible to humans as well as witches, the news that her mentor Miss Delafield is being posted to a distant location and the appearance of different “quiet glyphs” which she has to catalogue.

This charming story holds the perfect blend of magical creatures ( frost phoenixes,  maudants and nitherings), friendships, family relationships, danger, kidnapping, bravery and tension. Throughout, Wyn’s character shines through, with her dedication to doing the right thing in perilous and confusing circumstances. The supporting characters are perfectly realised, from friends Sallie and Colin, to Sergeant Gribble trying to readjust to civilian life and pompous Mayor Belcher, who generally expects Arianwyn to work miracles.

I heartily recommend this series: The Apprentice Witch, A Witch Alone and A Witch Comes True to everyone who appreciates magical adventure with a delightful protagonist who personifies resilience, perseverance, loyalty and bravery.

 

This is #Book1 in my #20BooksofSummer an annual event hosted by 746 Books which runs from 3rd June until 3rd September, with the aim of clearing 5, 10 or 20 books from your tbr stack

Review: The Maker of Monsters by Lorraine Gregory

Maker of Monsters

If you like tales featuring brave children and blood-thirsty, man-made monsters out for vengeance then this is the book for you!

In the dungeons of a windswept castle, stranded on an island lashed by unforgiving sea we meet Brat – a rescued orphan who spends his relentlessly awful days feeding and cleaning the mutant monsters created by his master Lord Macawber, a necromancer. His only friends are small monsters Tingle and Sherman, who were rejected by Macawber as they were not aggressive enough to join his monster army, which he is developing to rescue his daughter Ellari. She was taken by his enemy Lord Karush to the great Domed City on the mainland years earlier.

When the monsters turn on their creator Brat has to face his deep-seated fear of drowning and  flee the island using the treacherous causeway; he is rescued from the sea by Molly, an Outcast, who then agrees to accompany him to warn the inhabitants of Niyandi Mor about the ferocious onslaught bearing down on them.

This is an exciting adventure that will captivate children’s imaginations. It will also reward deeper reading with its themes of the damage that fear can do, and the importance of being open to outsiders, the power of self-belief  and the pitfalls of becoming walled-in by prejudice.

 

My thanks to OUP Children’s for sending me a copy of this thought provoking story in exchange for an honest review. I shall be recommending it to children of 9+.

Series Review: Murder Most Unladylike by Robin Stevens

MMUall

I am prompted to write this post just before the release of the special 5th anniversary edition of Book One in the Murder Most Unladylike series. I simply cannot believe that it is only five years since I first encountered The Detective Society! October 2014 was memorable. My sister phoned one evening to tell me she had heard an interview with a young writer on Woman’s Hour, and she was sure the story discussed would appeal to my book-mad youngest child. The author was Robin Stevens, the book was called Murder Most Unladylike. Intrigued, we downloaded the first book to the Kindle that night…and we were hooked!

At the time of writing this review, there have been seven full-length books, a guide to detecting and three shorter mysteries published, with Book 8 due in summer 2019. These books cleverly combine the joys of boarding school stories (where the parents are out of the picture, so the kids can have adventures) think Malory Towers, St Claire’s, Hogwarts, with the delights of page-turning detective fiction (Agatha Christie for example). They are set in the 1930s, so no internet or mobile phones exist to spoil the suspense.

It might seem strange to say this, considering that each story features gruesome murder, but the recurring themes of this series are kindness, bravery, friendship and loyalty. All wrapped up in hugely enjoyable detective mysteries. Will you be able to solve the clues, discard the red herrings and spot the murderer before the intrepid “Detective Society” duo of Daisy and Hazel?

I shall try not to give away any plot spoilers…but please read on for short summaries of each of the books in the Murder Most Unladylike series . They look beautiful on your bookshelf with their rainbow coloured covers and sumptuous 1930s-style title font. As if this wasn’t enough – there are always maps inside the front covers and I adore books with maps! Pull up a comfy chair, get yourself a plate of cakes for bunbreak and enjoy!

Book 1 Murder Most Unladylike

MMU1

1934, deep in the English countryside we encounter Deepdean School for Girls. Daisy Wells appears to be a quintessential upper-class English school girl: blonde hair, blue eyes, beautiful and from an aristocratic family. She is able to hide her extreme cleverness under a laissez-faire attitude from everyone but the equally smart new girl, Hazel Wong. Hazel has been sent from her home in Hong Kong to drizzly, cold England by her fabulously rich father who wishes her to experience an English education. She struggles to fit in to the rather racist surroundings until kind-hearted Daisy befriends her and enrols her as secretary of her top-secret “Detective Society”.

Their investigative careers begin when Hazel discovers the body  of Miss Bell, the science mistress, in the gym – but after dashing away to fetch Daisy, the girls return to find  that the body has disappeared! It is apparent to the young investigators that a killer stalks the corridors of their boarding school. Will they be able to outwit the criminal and protect the remaining staff and students?

 

Book 2 Arsenic for TeaMMUarsenic

A classic “country house” murder mystery! It is the Easter holidays and Hazel has been invited to stay at Daisy’s picture-book country house, Fallingford, with its maze, servants and state of faded grandeur. She is not the only friend invited to celebrate Daisy’s birthday. The guest list includes: Daisy’s brother Bertie who has invited his school-friend, Stephen; mysterious, replacement governess Miss Alston; Kitty and Beanie their friends from Deepdean; Great-aunt Saskia; dashing and brilliant Uncle Felix and Denis Curtis, a special guest of Daisy’s mother.

Both Daisy and Hazel detect that there is something “going on” with Mr Curtis, and they are both intrigued by frumpy Miss Alston’s reaction to this fashionable man. The mystery deepens when Mr Curtis becomes fatally ill at Daisy’s birthday tea, and the finger of suspicion points at Daisy’s beloved father, Lord Hastings! The Detective Society and associate members Kitty and Beanie have a case to solve. (My daughter loved this story so much that she recreated it as a Lego stop-frame animation. I shall put a link at the end of this post, but it does contain spoilers, so please don’t watch until you have read the book.)

Book 3 First Class Murder

MMUfirst class

Hazel’s father is so upset that she has spent the Easter holidays investigating a murder that he decides to take her and Daisy away from England for the summer holidays to broaden their minds by exploring Europe on the Orient Express. He strictly forbids the girls from any talk of crime as he wishes them to have a luxurious, relaxing and culturally enriching holiday. However, as the travelling party makes their way to the first class carriage they encounter an extraordinarily wealthy heiress, wearing a glittering diamond necklace…and you just know that crime is waiting along the tracks! With a fabulous cast of fellow travellers, and Daisy’s choice of holiday reading material being “Murder on the Orient Express”, you know what to expect!

On this journey the Detective Society meet up with a  young male detective, Alexander Arcady, who is one half of the Junior Pinkertons with his best friend George, and who will feature in future MMU investigations.

Mini-mystery e-book: The Case of the Blue Violet

Book 4 Jolly Foul Play

MMUjolly

It is the new winter term at Deepdean and Daisy is furious because she was looking up at the fireworks as a murder occurred on the school field! The murder victim was the school’s Head Girl, Elizabeth Hurst, who is described by our reliable narrator Hazel as someone who “was in the business of secrets.” She surrounded herself with a bunch of acolytes known as “the Five” and collectively they were hated and feared at Deepdean. It is, therefore, unsurprising that Elizabeth has been done away with in this school where murder seems to be quite expected – but will Daisy and Hazel be able to untangle a web of secrets and identify the culprit?

Mini-mystery e-book: The Case of the Deepdean Vampire

Book 5 Mistletoe and Murder

MMUmistletoe

After an Autumn term investigating the murder of their Head Girl, Daisy Wells and Heather Wong need a relaxing Christmas break. So for Christmas 1935 they head Cambridge to visit Daisy’s brother Bertie who has completed his first term at fictional Maudlin College, and stay with Daisy’s Great Aunt Eustacia, a Mathematics don at fictional St Lucy’s College. It is also a chance to see Alexander Arcady again, and meet his best friend George, as they are staying with George’s older brother Harold who is also a student at the university.

Of course, with Daisy and Hazel in town, murder cannot be far behind, and this time The Detective Society are in a race with The Junior Pinkertons to see who can solve the clues first. With detectives as sharp as the cold December frosts this mystery will grip you and entertain you in equal measure.

Cream Buns and Crime: Detective Tips, Short Stories including the two mini-mysteries, Code-breaking Tips and basically a lot of background information on The Detective Society.

Book 6 A Spoonful of Murder

MMUspoonful

Now it is Daisy’s turn to feel out-of-place and foreign as she and Hazel travel to Hong Kong to stay in the luxurious compound owned by Hazel’s father, Vincent Wong, an extremely wealthy banker. Interestingly, Hazel also finds that the two years she has spent in England have changed her outlook, and there are times when she struggles to be the dutiful, obedient daughter that she is expected to be … particularly following the brutal murder of a family servant and a kidnap!

A thrilling, fast-paced adventure set against the oriental backdrop of Hong Kong’s famous sites where Daisy and Hazels will need every ounce of bravery and ingenuity to take on the forces threatening the Wong family.

Mini-mystery: The Case of the Missing Treasure

Book 7 Death in the Spotlight

MMUdeath spotlight

In an attempt to keep Daisy and Hazel out of trouble and allow them to recover from their exertions in Hong Kong they are sent to stay with Daisy’s Uncle Felix and Aunt Lucy in London. Unfortunately, Felix, Lucy and even their maid Bridget are involved in “secretive work” meaning that they cannot always look after their young guests. Therefore, a marvellous scheme is hatched to allow the girls to become temporary cast members at the Rue Theatre, owned by one of Lucy’s contacts.

Daisy is overjoyed at the prospect of understudying the roles at this famous Shakespearean theatre, and although Hazel is more circumspect, she too finds the theatre “gloriously impressive”. It doesn’t take long for The Detective Society to uncover seething jealousy and unpleasant pranks amongst the cast members, and before you know it the stage is set for murder.

The Junior Pinkertons, Alexander and George, make a welcome appearance to provide detecting assistance on this case. Additionally, Daisy and Hazel have to examine their friendship and their feelings for other characters, making this the most mature of the books to date.

 

I have been fortunate to read all of the MMU books in order, but children who borrow them from the school library (where they are always in high demand) tell me that they are enjoyable no matter what order you read them in. The voice of Hazel is an absolute joy as she not only outlines every case in logical, forensic detail, but also analyses the behaviour of the characters who surround her, in particular Daisy Wells. The loyal friendship between the pair is at the heart of The Detective Society and I hope that their teamwork, courage and allegiance develops through many, many more mysteries. Highly recommended for ages 9+.

 

Here is the link to the Lego stop-frame animation of Arsenic for Tea – but please don’t watch it until you have read the book!

 

Review: Holes by Jonathan Litton

Holes non fic

 

Until i picked up this book I had never even considered that a hole was more than just an empty space! However, in his introduction the author, Jonathan Litton, explains that he has wanted to write about holes since spending his childhood digging them! Thank goodness for that obsession as he has, over the subsequent years, gathered information on an incredible number of holes – which he presents here, accompanied by Thomas Hegbrook’s stunning illustrations.

I am simply incredulous at the amount of knowledge that I have learned on the subject of holes from this book. Just one surprising example is the reason that Swiss Cheese Plants have holey leaves – apparently it gives the leaf the best chance of catching maximum light in the rainforest! The range of natural holes is explained, we are informed where they are located, how they are formed and what they contain. In the “Man-made Holes” section there are fascinating facts about mining, wells and boreholes, tunnels, subways and living underground. Further topics include: holes made by plants and animals, architecture, astronomy and even a couple of pages on philosophy.

All pages are fully coloured and illustrated, with paragraphs of text packed with facts. My only criticism is that occasionally the dark text is printed over a dark background colour, making it difficult to read.  I think that children would need to be confident readers to access this book independently, I could imagine it being shared between an adult and children from 6+

Reviews: Beetle Queen & Battle of the Beetles by MG Leonard

Beetle Queen by M.G. Leonardbeetle queen

Book 2 in the Beetle trilogy opens with famous fashion designer Lucretia Cutter dangling from the ceiling by her four chitinous legs as she awaits the arrival of one of the movie stars for whom she has created an awards ceremony gown. Meanwhile Dr Bartholomew “Barty” Cuttle has recovered sufficiently from his ordeal as her kidnap victim to be introduced to the mountain of beetles who helped his son Darkus to rescue him. When Barty realises the extent to which his former colleague’s transgenic experiments on beetles has succeeded, he forbids Darkus, Virginia and Bertolt from pursuing any further investigations as he fears for their safety.

However, this is a story about courage and loyalty and fighting for what is right, so when Barty disappears the three adventurous children accompanied by Uncle Max Cuttle, Bertolt’s starstruck mother, Calista, and a suitcase full of beetles travel to Los Angeles to disrupt Lucretia’s dastardly plans. Fortunately Uncle Max has an old friend named Motty who not only owns her own plane (named Bernadette – which just made me love MG Leonard even more) but is also able to take them and their unusual cargo to her house in LA. On a separate itinerary, the crooked cousins Humphrey and Pickering have also made their way to LA in the hope of making Lucretia pay for the ruin of their shop, home and lives. The comic set pieces featuring these two deluded incompetents will have you in tears of laughter.

The tension builds up brilliantly to a spectacular showdown at the Film Awards ceremony which is being televised globally where Lucretia finally reveals her true identity and her goal for world domination.

I wholeheartedly recommend this book to anyone of 8+ who is looking for a hugely entertaining adventure, which along the way will leave you marvelling at the insect kingdom, on the edge of your seat with excitement on one page and howling with laughter a few pages later!

Once you have finished, you will want to read….

The Battle of the Beetles by M.G. Leonard

battle beetles

 

In the final installment of the trilogy evil genius Lucretia Cutter has set her plan to rule the earth, using her genetically modified beetles, in motion. She has escaped from LA in her personal helicopter and set off for her secret biome, taking Barty Cuttle, her long-suffering daughter Novak (whom she treats as no more than a scientific experiment), the butler Gerard and a team of bodyguards with her. Unknown to the chitinous fiend there are a couple of stowaways who have replaced her suitcases in the luggage compartment – our comic relief – Humphrey and Pickering!

As this unlikely collection of individuals heads towards the research centre in the Ecuadorian rainforest, swarms of modified beetles are destroying crops in various parts of the globe and Darkus, Uncle Max, Virginia, Bertolt and Motty head to Prague to alert an international conference of entomologists of Lucretia’s schemes. From Europe the team set off to Ecuador – once again piloted by Motty in her trusty plane, Bernadette, it transpires that Uncle Max managed to obtain the co-ordinates of the biome during the altercation in LA in the previous book.

The plot builds perfectly to a high tension adventure in the rainforest. I love the way that the author has developed all of her characters across the trilogy in the most believable manner. Here we have Darkus frustrated at the lack of fight he perceives in the scientific community, questioning his father’s loyalties and his own ability to make a difference. Virginia rails against the fact that Lucretia’s threats are not being taken seriously because the world does not take female scientists seriously and would rather view her as a fashion designer who has gone crazy. Even Lucretia makes some good points about the conservation of our natural world, although her proposed solution is criminally misguided! At the end of book there are many links to websites and organisations for anyone who wants to take an active interest in beetles, insects, conservation and nature.

Overall, I adore the entire Beetle trilogy. These books are original, beautifully written and open up an entirely new world to the majority or readers. They also boast eye-catching cover art by Elisabet Portabella and humourous inside illustrations by Karl James Mountford. Highly recommended for everyone of 8+.

Review: Journeys by Jonathan Litton

Journeys

A sumptuous non-fiction title printed on thick, buff-coloured paper with perfectly black-inked illustrations, highlighted in shades of blue and green, packed with information on exploration through the ages. It is not surprising to find that a team of illustrators worked on these amazing pictures: Chris Chalik, Dave Shephard, Jon Davies and Leo Hartas – they have produced a book to treasure. Jonathan Litton’s text is presented in clear paragraphs around these pictures. The information is arranged in chronological order, starting with an introduction explaining that humans appear to have the urge to travel programmed into their genes.

Following this, the book is divided into four sections detailing exploratory journeys by: Water, Land, Ice and Snow and finally Man and Machine. The wealth of knowledge packed into this book is extraordinary, with every page revealing incredible facts about the amazing journeys undertaken throughout history and sprinkled with quotes from a range of explorers.

My own favourite page details Ernest Shackleton’s journey to Antarctica where he led an expedition to climb the highest mountain and getting very close to the South Pole before having to turn back. When his ship, Endurance, became trapped by ice and subsequently sank, Shackleton and his crew took to the lifeboats and eventually landed on Elephant Island from where Shackleton heroically set off to South Georgia with five of his men, to seek help. Incredibly he was successful and not a single one of his crew members was lost. His famous quote, “Through endurance we conquer.” perfectly summarises his achievement.

This beautiful book is an absolute fount of knowledge, which will keep even the most inquisitive minds engaged for many pleasurable hours.The text is probably not accessible to the youngest readers independently, but this book could be shared and enjoyed with an adult by KS1 children and read independently by KS2 children.

Review: The Book Dragon by Kell Andrews

book dragon

The town of Lesser Scrump has a rule: NO BOOKS ALLOWED!

The school teacher Mr Percival has to write on bark, slate or even in the dust, which doesn’t make reading a very pleasurable experience. When Rosehilda announces that she wants stories written on pieces of paper which are somehow joined together, she is sent home with a stern note scratched onto a leaf (this passage made me snort with laughter)! Her grandfather has to explain that the Book Dragon hoards books in a deep cave in Scrump Mountain and will come to steal books from any house which has one, returning the next night to terrorise the neighbourhood, therefore it is not safe to own a book.

However, Rosehilda is undeterred, and the full-page picture of her, tucked up in bed reading a book which she has bought from a peddler, is utterly gorgeous – conveying the sheer joy of reading for pleasure. When her book goes missing during the night brave young Rosehilda travels to the Book Dragon’s lair to investigate.

I absolutely love this story by Kell Andrews with its glorious illustrations in a subdued colour-palette of oranges, reds and yellows by Eva Chatelain. It is deeply imbued with a love of books, libraries and reading and gently presents a message of understanding another person’s (or dragon’s) viewpoint and resolving problems in a positive manner. An amazing addition to school library shelves, and a joy to read aloud to whole classes or as a bedtime story for all children of 4+.

Add it to your “read for empathy” collections!

Review: Amazing by Steve Antony

Amazing

This gorgeous picture book is written and illustrated by Steve Antony and the joyous front cover, featuring four children and a small dragon zooming along on various forms of wheeled transport, just compels you to pick it up!

Each of the 22 pages are filled with large, brightly coloured illustrations and a few simple sentences and/or speech bubbles celebrating a range of enjoyable childhood activities. These include: having a pet, playing with friends, attending birthday parties, dancing, singing, snacking, drawing and spending time in the library. It is apparent that the un-named boy and his pet dragon, Zibbo, support each other in participating in all of these experiences, and have as much fun doing so as all of the other children in the pictures.

I love the way that this book encourages children to accept each others’ differences by highlighting the pet being unconventional so that the boy’s wheelchair use is not commented on. This book conveys the message that everyone is amazing, just the way they are, in a delightful format for starting a conversation with young children. A great addition to our “read for empathy” collection in the school library.

Review: Rooftoppers by Katherine Rundell

rooftoppers

In anticipation of a new Katherine Rundell novel being released soon, I have been re-reading my book collection by one of my absolute favourite writers…

I was first introduced to this incredible book by my, then 10 year-old, daughter who kept reading sentences to me because they so delighted her that she wanted to share them. Since then it has remained one of my favourite books, I have recommended it to many children (and adults) and will be reading extracts at the forthcoming Pyjamarama day at school. The beauty and originality of the writing makes it an absolute pleasure to read aloud.

The main protagonist, Sophie, is an orphan – “with hair the colour of lightning”, discovered in a floating cello case in the English Channel  following a shipwreck. She is rescued from the sea by an observant, eccentric, intellectual Englishman called Charles Maxim, who brings her up in his book-filled home despite the objections of the authorities. When they are threatened with separation, they flee to Paris, where Sophie is convinced that she will find her mother…and her rooftop adventures begin.

From a young age, whenever Sophie is overwhelmed by buried memories of the sea closing in, she has the urge to climb up high to safety. On arrival in Paris, she makes her way through the filthy skylight of her attic room and discovers Matteo and a completely new strata of life.

This is an exquisitely written book, filled with wit and wisdom. Sophie is an unforgettable character, following her heart and undeterred by unhelpful bureaucrats in her quest to discover the whereabouts of her mother. The image of children having a perspective on the adult world by looking down on them from hidden perches above is very powerful. However, it is the feeling of kindness that permeates this story, personified in the character of Charles Maxim, which makes this one of my most cherished books. A perfect bedtime story, class reader or solo read for anyone of 8/9+.

 

If you love this book, look out for other books by this wonderful writer: The Wolf Wilder, The Explorer