Review: Eco Rangers Wildfire Rescue by Candice Lemon-Scott

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I was extremely fortunate and grateful to be invited to the first bloggers event hosted by the lovely people at New Frontier Publishing, and amongst the wonderful books they gave me was the third Eco Rangers adventure. I decided to read and review this book first as I know how that it will be grasped by eager hands as soon as I take it into school! Wildfire Rescue was written before the start of the wildfires that devastated much of Australia at the end of 2019/beginning of 2020, the timing of its publication brings home the damage caused in an accessible way to primary school children.

Twelve year old Ebony and her best friend eleven year old Jay commence this story searching for injured animals in the bush land on the edge of town. As they make their way through the charred and blackened scrub there is still an orange glow in the sky and the smell of smoke lingering in the air from the recent conflagration, accompanied by an eerie silence due to the lack of birds and insect life.  They discover a ringtail possum, with blackened, burned feet. Remembering all the care techniques that they have been taught by the vets at the wildlife centre they carefully wrap the injured animal in a sheet and cool its paws with the contents of their water bottles. As they race to the animal hospital, their sharp eyes spot signs that someone has been using the campsite which is supposed to be closed during the fire season!

Throughout the rest of the story you just have to marvel at the care and kindness demonstrated by Ebony and Jay to the injured animal and to the mystery campers whom they discover. The author makes clear the danger to both humans and animals caused by wildfires, and also the remarkable ability of the landscape to recover.

Once again Candice Lemon-Scott imbues her story with a love of the environment and provides 10 tips for budding Eco Rangers at the end of the book. Wildfire Rescue will help educate children about the natural hazards faced in Australia as well as introducing them to a lesser-known Australian animal, the ringtail possum. I expect this book to be hugely popular with all children aged 7+ who love to discover new information about the natural world and be simultaneously entertained by a gentle adventure.

 

I am most grateful to New Frontier Publishing for providing a review copy in exchange for an honest review.

 

Review: The Highland Falcon Thief by MG Leonard and Sam Sedgman

Highland Falcon Thief

 

In an increasingly frantic world, sometimes you just have to pause, sink back into a comfortable seat, load up with snacks and drinks and completely immerse yourself in the luxury of a great book. This story majestically transports the reader on an opulent train journey around Britain in the company of celebrities and aristocracy, a jewel thief, five samoyeds and two intrepid young detectives.

Written jointly by M.G. Leonard and Sam Sedgman, it serves up a package of heist adventure wrapped in a delicate tissue of beautifully observed social drama. The two young protagonists Hal and Lenny are beautifully written and complement each other perfectly as a pair of young investigators and such is the detailed rendering of The Highland Falcon that the train becomes a character in its own right. I loved the subtle gender role-reversal which gave Hal the role of observer and Lenny (Marlene Singh, stowaway daughter of the engine driver) the role of engineer and action hero.

We first meet Hal as he is being reluctantly handed over to his uncle’s care whilst his parents head to the hospital for the birth of a new sibling. Uncle Nat is the famous travel writer Nathaniel Bradshaw and presents Hal with the golden opportunity of accompanying him on the final journey of famous steam train The Highland Falcon as it embarks on its  four-day, royal tour of Britain. The guest list for this valedictory tour is redolent of many famous fictional train adventures – royalty, boorish, self-made tycoon, European aristocracy, tremendously wealthy and eccentric old-English landowner and accompanying servant, and railway employees.  

The presence of a jewel thief operating in the moneyed society of London is flagged in the newspapers being handed out at the station, and before the train is a day into its journey, the bullied wife of entrepreneur Steven Pickle and the Countess of Arundel have both reported missing items of jewellery. When the Prince and Princess join the train from Balmoral, the Princess’s priceless diamond necklace is the next target. Hal and Lenny decide that they will unmask the thief, and as they are transported on their journey of discovery, peppered with clues and false leads they develop a friendship based on trust, loyalty and bravery.

There are so many appealing elements to this story apart from its elegantly constructed plot. The technical detailing of the steam engine, combined with sumptuous descriptions of the British landscape delight and educate the reader. Uncle Nat is a character who appears to have hidden depths which I hope will be explored in future stories. Whilst the clever construction of Hal observing every detail with an artist’s eye and sketching out the scenes in his notebook in order to solve the crime is brilliantly brought to life by Elisa Paganelli’s magnificent illustrations. 

I imagine that this book is likely to have very broad appeal to a middle-grade audience, and it is a delight to read as an adult, in my case evoking the feel of such classics as Murder on the Orient Express or Strangers on a Train, but without the murder element. The first few pages of the second Adventures on Trains story are included at the end – I will certainly be pre-booking my ticket to ride the California Comet!

 

I am most grateful to Toppsta.com and Macmillan Children’s Publishing for sending me a copy of this title in exchange for an honest review.

Review: Malamander by Thomas Taylor

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Welcome to the mysterious seaside town of Eerie-on-Sea, a desolate place in the winter months where the sea mist hides a multitude of secrets! 

This book sinks its fangs and claws into you and will not release you until the final page. It is populated by a cast of wonderfully inventive characters, the descriptions of the town alongside the perfect map mean that you can picture every wind-battered location and the story has more twists and turns than an eel racing through the brine. On top of the mystery, the book is written in a playful style, breaking the fourth wall in a manner that reminded me of Lemony Snicket. The author, Thomas Taylor, has obviously had great fun with the names he has used for his cast and the buildings which feature heavily in the plot, all of which add to the enjoyment of reading.

The action begins in the Grand Nautilus Hotel where the town’s adopted son, Herbert Lemon, found as a boy in a crate of lemons, works as the hotel’s “Lost-and-Founder”. He has a small cubbyhole in the hotel’s Reception and a large basement room full of one hundred year’s worth of lost property. He is a steady, honest, reliable twelve year-old, described in his own words thus:

.“ Now, you’ve probably worked out by now that I’m not a Quick, Herbie, jump kind of guy. I mean, it’s not as if there’s much need for jumping and exclamation marks in the daily life of a lost property attendant.”

In contrast, bedraggled Violet Parma, bursts through Herbie’s basement window in the middle of a storm, swiftly pursued by the monstrous Boathook Man. She is on a quest to search for her lost parents who left her at the hotel twelve years previously and disappeared, leaving only their shoes on the pier and their luggage in the room with their infant. Fearless and determined in pursuit of clues to her past, Violet is reckless, spontaneous and perceptive.

As the partnership of these two protagonists develops throughout the adventure Herbie’s character exhibits hidden courage, he finds his inner strength and their loyalty to each other is heartwarming. On their mission they encounter Lady Kraken, the ancient hotel proprietor with her fantastic cameraluna; Jenny Hanniver owner of the Eerie Book Dispensary and a Mermonkey; Mrs Fossil of the Flotsamporium; Dr Thalassi who keeps his surgery in the ancient fort-museum; slimy Mr Mollusc; terrifying Boathook Man and famed local writer Sebastian Eels. As hints are dropped and confidences prised from the town’s inhabitants it becomes increasingly difficult to know who can be trusted.

It appears that each of the town’s inhabitants has some connection to the legend of the Malamander, a mythical sea creature said to haunt the wreck of the HMS Leviathan, which reveals itself in the mouth of the bay at low tide. As secrets are uncovered the veil of suspicion as to who might have been responsible for the disappearance of Violet’s parents shifts as unpredictably as the rolling sea mist. The tension is almost unbearable and drives the reader to pursue clues as intently as Violet and Herbie. 

I cannot say any more about the plot as I fear I will give away spoilers, but I can honestly say that this is a hugely entertaining and gripping story which I highly recommend to anyone from 10 years-old and upwards. As an added bonus, you will learn the technical terms for creatures which become dormant in the summer and for fossilised dinosaur poo! I believe that the second book in the series is due to be published in May 2020, and I certainly will not be leaving it lost in the middle of a TBR stack as I did with this one!

Review: Our Castle By the Sea by Lucy Strange

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I am ashamed to say that this book has been wedged in my “to be read” stack for almost a year; when I finally pulled it out to start reading I realised what a treat I had denied myself throughout 2019! It is a superbly crafted story, set on the Kent coast during the Second World War, told as a first person narrative by twelve-year-old Petra Zimmerman Smith.

The author, Lucy Strange, has intricately woven a tale combining local folklore about the megalithic “Daughters of Stone” and a treacherous sandbank known as the Wyrm, with a family’s internal struggles as the onset of war wreaks havoc in their lives.

Throughout, the voice of Petra illuminates the tale with her pinpoint observations, discoveries of family secrets and brave embracing of her destiny as the protector of her lighthouse “castle” and final “daughter of stone”. The supporting cast of characters are perfectly sketched, and the relationship between Petra and her older sibling Magda will be completely familiar to anyone who has shared a room with a sister. Alongside the human characters, this writer has breathed life into the lighthouse itself and the passages where the Wyrm slithers menacingly through Petra’s imagination bring a palpable tension to this adventure.

I do not want to give away any details of the plot, other than to say that I hope you will be as gripped by this unfolding mystery of family loyalties, war time saboteurs and internment as I was. I highly recommend this book for anyone aged 10+, it is another wonderful MG story for children to enjoy whilst studying the WWII history topic.

If you love this story, why not try Letters from the Lighthouseand When We Were Warriors, both by Emma Carroll and When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit by Judith Kerr.

Review: Nevertell by Katharine Orton

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I opened this book on a wind-whipped station platform and was instantly whisked to the frozen landscape of Siberia. This book is infused with magic, in both content and writing; it is an extraordinary debut by Katharine Orton. The first half of the book is completely compelling and I just could not bear to put it down for even a moment.

A whisper hung in the air. It felt as if it had grown there, like a piece of fruit, rather than having been spoken.”

From page one you find yourself plunged into the desolate, bone-chilling environment of a Siberian labour camp overseen by cruel Commandant Zima, where the main protagonist, Lina, has spent her entire life. However, on this particular night, she finds herself part of an escape plot, set up by her formidable mama Katya. In the company of Old Gleb, Alexei the Butcher and tattooed gang member Vadim, she exits the camp whilst Katya distracts the guards with a poker game. Someone else has followed the escape party from the camp, but is it an enemy or a friend?

Katya is renowned for her skill at gambling, but has she risked too much this time? Sending her daughter into a fierce Siberian ice storm, with the goal of travelling to Moscow in search of her grandmother, the odds appear to be against success even before the howling of the ghost wolves begins…

This story combines elements of Russian fairy tales with a fast-paced adventure where the courage of Lina and her best friend Bogdan will be tested to the limits. The plot twists and turns like the snowflakes caught in the harsh northern winds, as they encounter friendship, danger and dark magic in the form of the man-hunter, Svetlana, and her legion of shadow creatures. Can hope and kind hearts, aided by a magical necklace given to Lina by Katya, overcome the bleakness, despair and cruelty of life in a police state? You should read this gripping tale, ideal for readers of 10+,  to find out.

If you enjoy this story, I highly recommend that you read The Wolf Wilder by Katherine Rundell, Sky Song by Abi Elphinstone and The Way Past Winter by Kiran Millwood Hargrave. If you have not already done so.

Review: Eco Rangers by Candice Lemon-Scott

 

Eco Rangers is a new adventure series with an ecological theme, aimed at the MG market, written by Australian author Candice Lemon-Scott.

Book 1: Eco Rangers Pelican in Peril

12-year-old Ebony and her best friend Jay live next door to each other in a small seaside town – and yes, there is a map at the start of the book, which always scores brownie points from me! On an everyday visit down to the beach Ebony spots a “black, feathered mound” at the base of the pontoon, closer inspection reveals a pelican covered in smelly, black gloop. The children try to help the pelican out of the water, with comically wet consequences for Jay, and eventually Ebony manages to gain the confidence of the distressed bird sufficiently to lift it into the milk crate on the back of Jay’s bike.

After pedalling to the conservation centre the children take the pelican, named Poseidon by Ebony, to the vets in the Wildlife Hospital (Dr Battacharjee – known as Dr Bat, and Dr Tan). This earns them the sobriquet “Eco Rangers” and starts their adventure as Ebony decides to investigate whether the oil spill from a cruise ship in the harbour is accidental or more sinister. Are the slimy manager of the cruise ship and his crew really taking their oil waste to the correct disposal facility? It is up to the intrepid Eco Rangers to find out!

This is a fantastic book for newly confident readers to read alone, a perfect length at 102 pages of easily-readable font, alternatively it would make an excellent bedtime story. The action is fast-paced, driven along in short chapters, and contains just the right degree of peril for an audience aged 6+. The friendship between Ebony and Jay is utterly believable; Ebony’s determination and bravery is matched by Jay’s loyalty to his best friend and his endearing tendency to think about food at every opportunity. The ecological message that underlies the story shines through the entertaining plot and is a great start to a discussion of these issues with a young child.

Book 2: Eco Rangers Microbat Mayhem

The second book in the Eco Rangers series starts with Ebony and Jay enjoying their reward, from the Wildlife Hospital staff, of a free pass to Super World theme park. However, it doesn’t take long before they are pulled into another ecological investigation and adventure after discovering two baby microbats abandoned on the grass outside the derelict Wild Jungle Ride which is due for demolition.

In this adventure, Jay and Ebony are up against a devious and greedy theme park manager in their fight to save the microbat colony. The manager of the theme park, Ms Pitts, does not take kindly to Dr Bat and Dr Tan telling her that she will have to delay demolition while the bat colony is rescued and re-homed. She “doesn’t look like someone who loved rides, or kids.” It soon transpires that she doesn’t like protected wildlife species either, especially if their roosting site might delay her plans to cash in on the summer tourist season with a huge new roller coaster ride! Will Ebony and Jay be able to foil her machinations and save the colony before the bulldozers roll in? Read this exciting adventure to find out!

Again, this is a perfect book for Key Stage 1 readers who are ready to progress to early chapter books. It is printed in a thoughtful size for small hands and I am particularly impressed that it has been published on slightly buff-coloured paper which is especially helpful for children with certain reading difficulties.

 

I am very grateful to New Frontier Publishing for sending me review copies of these books in exchange for an honest review.

For children who enjoy the combination of adventure with an ecological theme demonstrated by the Eco Rangers stories, I highly recommend, as next steps, the Kat Wolfe Investigates series (for age 8+) and the Carl Hiaasen children’s books, Hoot, Flush, Scat and Squirm (for 10/11+)

 

 

Review: Pages & Co, Books 1 and 2 by Anna James

The receipt of a review copy of the second Pages & Co book made me realise that I had neglected to review the brilliant first book in the series, so here’s a double review post…

Pages & Co 1: Tilly and the BookWanderers

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If, like me, you love getting lost in a good book, this is the perfect read.

Matilda (Tilly) Pages has lived her 11 years in the bookshop owned by her grandparents, Elsie and Archie, who have taken care of her since her mother disappeared when she was a baby. Tilly is struggling to fit into friendship groups at secondary school and wishes that real-life relationships were as straightforward to navigate as those she finds in books; a trait that I’m sure many readers will recognise. Rather than hanging out with a group of  gossiping and giggling girls, Tilly would rather find a comfortable sofa in a secluded corner of the, marvellously imagined, Pages & Co bookshop and seek solace in the company of literary creations.

Her bookish traits are clearly inherited from her family and as the story progresses Tilly realises that the three Pages are all being visited in the shop by their favourite characters from books. The vivacious Lizzie Bennett, who apparently bears a striking resemblance to Tilly’s absent mother; Sherlock Holmes who is allowed to smoke his pipe in the shop, and Alice (from Wonderland) as well as “Anne-with-an-e” from Green Gables.

When Oskar, a classmate who lives in the bakery across the road, gets dragged off to Avonlea with Tilly and Anne, Grandad realises that it is time to take action. He accompanies Tilly and Oskar to the Underlibrary of the British Library, where the Librarian, the brilliantly named Amelia Whisper begins to explain bookwandering!

I won’t give any plot spoilers, but this magical adventure encapsulates everything that a book lover dreams of. I am sure that I am not the only bookworm who longs for the ability to read so deeply that the walls between fiction and reality are broken down, allowing interaction with favourite characters.

I adored the description of the stomach-lurching sensation the bookwanderers experience as they are pulled into books; I think I might have experienced it myself with the re-telling of the Ladybird Peter and Jane books which transported me a long, long way back in time to revisit my 5 year-old self! A glorious celebration of the joy of books and reading, this really is an essential addition to every school library.

 

Pages & Co 2: Tilly and the Lost Fairy Tales

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This is the second in the Pages & Co adventures and the story again begins in the north London bookshop, owned by Tilly’s grandparents. Christmas is approaching, and with it a sense of apprehension as Tilly worries about her mother and the strange turn of events at the Underlibrary where Amelia Whisper has been fired, only to be replaced as Librarian by the slippery character of Melville Underwood. Melville has mysteriously reappeared from the realm of fairy tales into which he wandered many years earlier, both Archie and Elsie Pages, along with Amelia Whisper, clearly distrust his explanation of his lost years and his lost sister. For any adults reading this book aloud, the political machinations at the Underlibrary might look uncomfortably familiar! The author brilliantly manipulates the mood from apprehension to impending doom.

As the mood in London darkens, Tilly and her best friend Oskar are due to travel to Paris to stay with Oskar’s father. Before they leave London they are warned by the adults not to try any book wandering while they are away, and especially not to travel into any fairy tales which are wild and unpredictable places! Will they obey the adults, or will Tilly’s curiosity and Oskar’s loyalty to her mean that they take matters into their own hands and explore the “structural discord within fairytales”? You will have to read this brilliantly imagined tale, to find out! 

The exuberant writing by Anna James in these books swept me into the stories and fully captured my imagination. Accompanying the brilliance of the text, the illustrations by Paola Escobar, on the covers and throughout the book, and the playful use of font effects make these books visually as well as imaginatively arresting.

Highly recommended for all bookworms of 10+ 

With thanks to Toppsta.com and HarperCollins Children’s Books for my review copy of Tilly and the Lost Fairy Tales, which is now in the hands of a library borrower!

 

 

 

Review: Kitty and the Moonlight Rescue by Paula Harrison

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Kitty is an energetic, graceful and adventurous girl. She wishes more than anything to be a superhero like her mum – but there is a slight problem. Kitty is afraid of the dark! While her mum dresses in her black cat superhero outfit each night and uses her abilities to see in the dark, sense danger, climb walls and balance perfectly on rooftops, Kitty wants to feel safe and secure, snuggled up in her bed.

Then, one night a cat called Figaro arrives at her bedroom window, searching for her mother, to help with an emergency in the old clock tower. Amazed to find that she can communicate with a cat and not wishing to disappoint him, Kitty remembers her mother’s words:

Don’t let fear hold you back. You’re braver than you think!”

and takes a leap in the dark!

This story, the first in the Kitty series, is an utter delight and a perfect book for emerging readers. The striking cover design (by Jenny Lovlie) in black, orange and white is continued throughout the book, making this a memorable reading experience. The story itself is perfectly pitched for upper Key Stage 1/lower Key Stage 2 children with an exciting plot and an inspiring message of finding the ability to rise to challenges, especially when someone shows their belief in you. I think that Kitty will be immensely popular with fans of Isadora Moon, Amelia Fang and the Rainbow Fairies books, as well as with all cat-lovers.

One final interesting touch in this already appealing book is the collection of super facts about cats at the end of the story. I am looking forward to adding this to the library shelves at school, and predict that it will jump into the hands of willing readers very rapidly!

 

My thanks to OUP Children’s Books for sending me a copy of Kitty and the Moonlight Rescue to review.

Review: The Good Thieves by Katherine Rundell

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I am always slightly worried when I review a new book by Katherine Rundell that I won’t be able to do justice to her talent, but here are my thoughts on The Good Thieves.

Although I bought this book on publication day, I saved reading it until I was actually away on holiday so that I could enjoy it without distractions. It certainly rewarded the wait!

Firstly, it is an absolute page-turner, hooking the reader from the opening line

“Vita set her jaw and nodded at the city in greeting, as a boxer greets an opponent before a fight”

and refusing to let you go until Vita has executed her bold plan. She arrives in 1920s New York, with her mother to discover that her beloved and recently bereaved grandpa has been cheated out of the ancestral home,  Hudson Castle, by Mr Sorrotore – a mafiosi figure. As the opening line suggests, Vita is a fighter and sets out into the unfamiliar city to confront the villain and demand restitution. Of course, such a direct approach from a child has no effect other than to anger Mr Sorrotore, so Vita must employ other means to reclaim the castle and its contents.

 In the course of planning her heist, to steal back the rightful belongings of her family, Vita enlists a team comprising Arkady (a circus performer with a gift for training animals), Sam (a trapeze artist) and Silk (a pick-pocket who has fended for herself since childhood). They combine their skills with Vita’s deadly aim and gift for planning, to take on the villainous gang.

The author effortlessly portrays the contrast between the glamorous, brightly-lit, night-life of the wealthy inhabitants of the city and the dark, dangerous underside where some of the wealth is generated. The writing fizzes and sparkles with wit and energy, and as usual there is no hint of a cliche anywhere. Instead the unique style rewards the readers with original descriptions. For example, a seagull, “gave the scandalised cry of an angry duchess” when hit by one of Vita’s stones! (If you are a long-time fan of Katherine Rundell, you will find the statutory “Belgium joke” on page 63).

I love the way that Katherine Rundell is able to capture a child’s sense of outrage at injustice, and their determination to take agency to put right a wrong. I think that many young readers will recognise this aspect of themselves as they enjoy this hugely entertaining adventure, which for me brought back memories of the classic Emil and The Detectives. The descriptions of Vita’s refusal to allow her physical disability to hold her back are inspirational and the overall feeling of love and hope make this story a rewarding one. Finally, I should mention the gloriously stylish cover and interior illustrations by Matt Saunders, which further enhance the quality of this book.

Overall, a wonderful MG adventure which I will be recommending to all upper KS2 pupils. For adults wishing to read aloud in class or as a bedtime story, be prepared for pleas of “one more chapter”!
This #Book13 of my #20BooksofSummer challenge hosted by Cathy at 746Books. I have enjoyed taking part in the challenge for the first time this year as it has encouraged me to blog more regularly and has introduced me to a new community of fantastic book bloggers. I am sorry that I won’t meet my target of 20 reviews, but this is partly due to the fact that I’ve read a number of “grown-up” books and even a rare YA novel this summer, but limit my blog to MG and Early Years reviews.

Review: The Children of Castle Rock by Natasha Farrant

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I can think of no better way to summarise this book than this quote, which appears almost half-way through:

“This is the story of a girl who lost her mother and her home, and was afraid of losing her father, and needed to find herself.”

The story opens in heart-breaking fashion with Alice bidding farewell to Cherry Grange, the house that has been home to generations of Mistlethwaites for over a hundred years, culminating with her digging up the white rose bush which was planted in memory of her late mother.

She sets off with her Dad, Aunt Patience, a couple of suitcases and boxes and the plant known as mum, “driving towards an unknown and terrifying future.”

It seems that worse is to follow. In her attempts to pull Alice out of her imaginary world and force her to engage with real life, Aunt Patience has decided that boarding school will be good for Alice. She is thrust onto the sleeper train from Euston to travel to school at Stormy Loch Academy in Scotland and on the journey meets Jesse Okuyo, the youngest of 4 brothers, who longs for adventure. Stormy Loch is “an unconventional school with an approximate approach to health and safety”, run by The Major who likes to rescue waifs and strays. On arrival in the vastness of the Scottish Highlands, something about the atmosphere of the place makes Alice believe that her stories can come true…and the adventure begins.

The plot hinges around an Orienteering Challenge and a stolen jade statue, it explores parenting, teamwork and trust and weaves all of these threads perfectly.

This book had me mesmerised with its relatable protagonists, exuberant celebration of the majesty of the landscape, thrilling plot and imaginative writing. I loved the way that Natasha Farrant used her authorial voice to drop hints and teasers throughout. There were frequent, knowing nods to other boarding school books which I am sure will be enjoyed by readers, and the development of the three main protagonists, Alice, Jesse and Fergus was beautifully described. 

I can’t believe that I’ve had this gem sitting, undiscovered, in my “to be read” stack for months – I absolutely recommend that you don’t delay for as long as I have, but get hold of a copy and read it. A fantastic book for confident readers of 9+ 

This is #Book12 in my #20BooksofSummer challenge hosted by Cathy at 746Books.