#20BooksOfSummer Book 4: Gargantis by Thomas Taylor

Gargantis cover image by George Ermos, published by Walker Books Ltd

I have fallen rather badly behind with my blogging schedule this summer as I have had to spend a lot of “holiday” time sorting out my school library to ensure that it is ready for use under new guidelines from September. Fortunately I know that the #20BooksOfSummer challenge hosted by wonderful Cathy at 746.books.com is very flexible and forgiving, so I will be doing my best to review 10 books before the end of the month.

Gargantis was the #PrimarySchoolBookClub choice back in June but I would have read it anyway as I loved the first book in this series, Malamander, so much (you can read my review here).

Once again the author, Thomas Taylor, takes us back to the seaside town of Eerie-on-Sea where Herbert Lemon the lost-and-founder at the Grand Nautilus hotel is about to encounter another mysterious and ominous stranger. Deep Hood, as he becomes known, leaves a mysterious mechanical hermit crab and a sense of impending upheaval on Herbie’s counter, before disappearing into the blackout. This book immediately serves up two things I adore in a mystery adventure – a map and a head-first plunge into the action.

The town of Eerie-on-Sea is cracking apart, metaphorically and literally, in the face of a violent tempest. Old tales have resurfaced of St. Dismal, the first fisherman of Eerie-on-Sea and the current fishermen, described as having “beards that you could hide hedgehogs in” are heard to mutter his prediction “Gargantis wakes, Eerie quakes” When the local beachcomber Wendy Fossil is dragged into the hotel, tangled in fishing nets and clinging to a strangely shaped glass bottle, inscribed with ancient Eerie-script, Herbie finds himself at the centre of a dispute over the ownership of this piece of lost property. In trying to decide on the competing claims of Wendy, the fisherfolk led by fearsome Boadicea Bates, teenage outcast fisherman Blaze Westerley and museum director Dr Thalassi, Herbie finds himself drawn to “The Cold, Dark Bottom of the Sea”; the only book he has ever had prescribed from the Book Dispensary.

I do not want to reveal any more plot details as this is a book that propels the reader through so many twists and turns at such an inescapable pace that you just need to plunge in and allow it to envelop you. The ferocious action will leave you gasping for air as if you too have been consumed by “The Vortiss” and you join Herbie and Violet in their quest to untangle the relationship between Eerie-light and Gargantis. Oh, and when you reach the centre of the book you are in for a chart-topping treat!

This book is bursting with fantastic characters, from Boudicea with her “wiry black mane that probably eats hairbrushes for breakfast to Blaze who overcomes everyone’s low expectations of him to fulfil his uncle’s dreams. Herbie is such a wonderful protagonist, constantly having to overcome his deep-seated fears to face his destiny, often as a result of his best friend, Violet Parma’s impulsive actions. They make a thoroughly believable partnership and this story left me longing for more detail on Herbie’s mysterious origins.

I highly recommend this perfectly crafted adventure for everyone of 9/10+ and with its cliff-hanging chapter endings, be prepared to read more than one chapter at a time if you are reading aloud as a class-reader or bedtime story!

Image created by Cathy at 746books.com and used with permission

#20BooksofSummer Book 3: Kidnap on the California Comet by MG Leonard and Sam Sedgman, illustrator Elisa Paganelli

This is the third of my #10BooksofSummer reviews, an event hosted by Cathy on her 746Books.com blog, do read her posts and those of all the other wonderful book bloggers joining the challenge this year.

Having loved the first Adventures on Trains book, I was delighted to be approved by NetGalley to read an eARC of Kidnap on the California Comet. Once again a rollicking adventure unfolds as Hal and his Uncle Nat rattle and clatter their way across an iconic train route.

Travel journalist, Nathaniel Bradshaw, has been personally invited to cover a press conference at which billionaire Silicon Valley entrepreneur, August Reza, will unveil his latest innovation. Mr Reza shares Nat’s love of trains and has his own luxuriously refurbished 1940s observation car, Silver Scout, hitched to the California Comet. The press conference is due to be staged at the Durham Museum, once one of the country’s busiest train hubs but now a train museum, in Omaha.

Hal is delighted to accompany Uncle Nat on this rail trip of a lifetime,  a three-day adventure from Chicago to San Francisco and despite his jet-lag he doesn’t hesitate to start recording his journey in his sketchbook as he waits in the grand surroundings of Union Station, Chicago to board the train. He soon makes friends with a brother and sister, Mason and Hadley, who are roughly his age, not realising that their special talents for magic and impersonation will be of great use in unravelling another mystery.

As the train picks up pace across the broad expanse of the American plains, Hal feels a growing sense of unease, sensing an undercurrent of subterfuge. Why does Ryan, the teenager with elaborate dental brace-work appear so terrified of his gym-coach father that he tries to pass on a coded message? Why is Vanessa Rodriguez in the roomette opposite so brusque? Is glamorous journalist Zola trying to steal his uncle’s story? Are there really spies from Reza’s rival company Zircona on board the train, and would they stoop low enough to kidnap Marianne, his twelve-year-old daughter? Is Seymour Hart, the businessman with a metal suitcase clamped to his side at all times, training in stolen secrets?

Like its predecessor, this book is infused with a love of rail travel and trains. The story glides through technical details and descriptions as smoothly as service in a first class carriage, leaving the reader satiated with knowledge.  This time there is also a palpable sense of the conflict between nostalgia for old technologies, such as Uncle Nat’s fountain pen and the glamorous 1940s style train carriages, and the desire to embrace new technologies whilst thinking about their impact on the environment.

The illustrations by Elisa Paganelli throughout are an absolutely integral part of the story as they represent Hal’s finely detailed observations. His insightful sketches are the method through which he details the world around him and the basis for his crime-solving conclusions. 

This book will be devoured by young readers looking for an engrossing adventure to read for pleasure. However, I can also see many ways in which it could be used as a class reader to sit alongside curriculum project work: the Americas geography unit, DT/STEM work on design of transport and as a basis for discussions on clean energy and environmental concerns. In summary I highly recommend Kidnap on the California Comet to anyone of 8/9+.

Thank you to #NetGalley and Macmillan Children’s Books for approving my eARC request.

My review of the first book in the series, The Highland Falcon Thief can be found here.

#20BooksofSummer Book 2: Super Stan by Elaine Wickson, illustrated by Chris Judge

This is the second of my #10BooksofSummer reviews, as I am attempting the cut-down version of #20BooksofSummer hosted by Cathy at 746books.com.

What do you get if you mix a five-year-old eco-warrior, a space-obsessed ten-year-old, a school full of kids dressed as sea creatures and enough fart jokes to make their own contribution to global warming? Yes, it can only be the latest utterly hilarious outing for Stan and Fred Fox. In their third book they are on a mission to save the world, one crisp packet at a time. I absolutely adore the series of Stan books. Author Elaine Wickson has conjured a dazzling concoction of brilliantly comic tales, which feature wonderfully original data representation, illustrated by Chris Judge. This time she has blended an important ecological theme into the story, presented in such a way that it is guaranteed to encourage primary school children to continue their own contribution to showing adults the error of their ways.

Stan wants nothing more than to read his space magazines in the peaceful surroundings of his room and prepare himself for the approaching full solar eclipse. Unfortunately his is side-tracked by permanently-sticky, little brother Fred, who has had his imagination captured by Dr Alice Fielding (or as he calls her, Dr Feddup). Her Plastic Planet TV series has awakened his inner eco-warrior. Fred’s first reaction to hearing about the waste plastic being swallowed by whales and other sea creatures is to empty the multi-packs of crisps into the supermarket aisles thereby allowing customers to purchase their crisps without the unnecessary packaging! At home things are not much better as he constantly replaces his family’s toothbrushes with twiggy sticks, often with the caterpillars still attached!

Fortunately he initiates a more positive campaign to resurrect the town’s central drinking fountain, aiming to provide free water for all residents and eliminate the need for plastic water bottles. With backing from headteacher Mrs Riley and big brother Stan’s presentation skills, Fred starts the “School of Fish” initiative to raise awareness and funds. Dressed as a giant pink prawn to highlight the plight of the crustaceans contaminated with plastic micro-particles, Fred inspire his entire school, and will likely inspire young readers to take their own small actions to save the planet.

I really don’t want to give away too many plot details, but this story is incredibly clever in its co-ordination of the dance of the celestial bodies, the side-plot of Gran’s forthcoming marriage to her Salsa teacher, the filial love between Fred and Stan and the momentum that one young King Prawn Supermarket Vandal can create. Throw into the mix a hideously ignorant radio DJ and his “toadally awesome” competition; a celebrity eclipse-chaser on a book tour; relatives with an addiction to conspicuous consumption and you have a story that twists through so many laugh-out-loud scenes that your cheeks will be aching with laughter before you reach the marvellously satisfying conclusion.

I highly recommend that you add this to your #SillySquad2020 reading list for the summer reading challenge. Beyond this, add it to the Stan collection on your library, classroom or home bookshelves to both read for pleasure and to generate data representation ideas.

Thank you to OUP Children’s Publishing for my review copy.

#20 Books of Summer hosted by Cathy at 246 Books

10 books of summer
Image created by Cathy at 746books.com and used with permission.

I am excited to take part in the #20BooksofSummer Challenge hosted by Cathy  at 246books.com for the second year running.

Learning from my experience of last year, when I managed to read 18 books, but failed miserably to keep up with the reviews, I am going to set myself the modest target of 10 books this summer! I have definitely lost by ability to concentrate since the Covid-19 crisis began and although books offer a great deal of comfort, I definitely cannot read as quickly as I used too. Additionally, I intend reading two long books (The Mirror and the Light by Hilary Mantelland Hamnet by Maggie O’Farrell) this summer which I will not be reviewing as my blog focuses solely on books for primary school-aged children.

So, here it is; one summer, three months, 93 days, 10 books! Thank you Cathy for hosting!

10 books from my TBR stack to be read and reviewed this summer. Death Sets Sail by Robin Stevens will be published in August, I will drop everything to read it the day it appears!!