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

Good Thieves

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

Castle Rock

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.

Review: Peril en Pointe by Helen Lipscombe

Peril en pointe

 

This first story in a new series, The Swan House Mysteries, sparkles like the rhinestones on a tutu!

The main protagonist, Milly, is astonished to be offered a scholarship to The Swan House School of Ballet, particularly after her expulsion from her previous ballet school following a disastrously clumsy performance in the Scarlet Slipper Ballet competition. On that fateful night, many months previously her mother, a world-famous ballerina, mysteriously disappeared from the audience, leaving Milly to be cared for by her Russian Babushka (grandmother), “Bab”.

On arrival at the grand mansion in Regents Park which is home to the Swan House Ballet School, Milly is incredulous to find out that it is no ordinary ballet school – in the words of the director, Miss Celia “ ballet dancers make excellent undercover agents. They are physically strong and mentally resilient. They also have good reason to travel the world.” Thus Milly finds herself, not only practising at the barre, but also learning martial arts and espionage skills!

In the manner of all great school-based stories, there is a great cast comprising vicious queen bees, led by the duplicitous Willow, larger than life teachers and our heroine, Milly’s friendship group of misfits: Lottie Li ( a mandarin-speaking, cockney scrapper), Merv Crump (a germ-phobic genius) and Benedict Spencer ( a leather-jacket wearing, rebel). On the staff rosta the standout characters are Madame de la Cloche, the strict ballet mistress, the martial arts instructor, The Captain (referred to as Thor by Milly) and of course Miss Celia the director who is frequently risking life and limb on another undercover mission.

The descriptions of the ballet school, with its extensive grounds, boating lake and secret tunnels make an exciting setting for the intrigue to come. Additionally, the wonderfully old-fashioned Meeks Shoemaking shop plays a key role in the mystery, and had an atmosphere reminiscent of Diagon Alley to me.

The plot revolves around another Scarlet Slipper Competition, with Swan School competing against an American and a Russian Academy. The Russian school is led by Ivan Korolev a former pupil of Miss Celia and now “ inciting discord and war..” Is he responsible for kidnapping Milly’s mother, and will the newly recruited young spies be up to the task of unravelling the mystery. The narrative is as light on its toes as a prima ballerina, the plot gliding effortlessly to the final denouement. Helen Lipscombe has an elegant turn of phrase, for example, “the theatre sighs with the sound of violins” which makes this book such a pleasure to read.

Milly embodies the school motto “ Cycni venustas cor leonis “ grace of a swan, heart of a lion!” and by the end realises that some things are even more precious that a coveted Scarlet Slipper trophy. 

I highly recommend this new twist on the adventure/mystery genre, featuring courage and friendship, to readers of 9+.

 

 

This is #Book11 in my #20BooksofSummer challenge, hosted by Cathy at 746Books

 

Review: Wildspark by Vashti Hardy

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I rushed through this book like a speeding pneumerator, one of the incredible inventions from the industrious city of Medlock! It is an absolutely gripping story, full of courage, creativity and escalating drama.

The main protagonist, Prue, is a brilliantly realised character. A determined, intelligent girl with a talent for mechanics, in which she had been encouraged by her beloved older brother Francis, whose recent death has left Prue and her parents reeling with grief. When a craftsman from Medlock arrives at their isolated farmhouse asking to recruit Francis as his apprentice, Prue seizes her opportunity and posing as Frances she takes up the apprenticeship.

Although Prue has read about Medlock and its groundbreaking technological advances, nothing she has experienced working on mechanical farm machinery has prepared her for the awesome sight of its grand buildings and the lifelike “personifates” which her apprenticeship will teach her to design and build. The Imperial Personifate Guild of Medlock, lead by Master Hannah Woolstenbury have discovered how to capture the spirits of the dead in a rare mineral called qwortzite and place these spirits inside mechanical creatures known as personifates. On her first visit to the factorium where this process takes place, Frances/Prue feels “a prickle in the air, like the expectation of lightning – everything was alert” This quote encapsulates the story for me, an energy seems to sizzle through the pages, fizzing with possibilities and hidden dangers.

Whilst Frances/Prue embarks on learning her trade she single-mindedly pursues her own research, assisted by her new human and personifate friends, in an attempt to resurrect her brother. However, the disappearance of her research journal combined with the appearance of a dark, horned creature in the city signals a threat to the very existence of Medlock.

This story is glorious on so many levels. Firstly it is an entertaining and exciting adventure, set in a brilliantly imagined world, populated with an intriguing cast of characters who develop organically throughout the tale. I loved the impressive STEM skills displayed by the inventors of Medlock and was particularly delighted to see females cast as leading the research and creativity. Additionally, the discussion of free-will and the ethics of developing cyborg-like machines in harnessing the “wildspark” is a great way of introducing these concepts to upper-primary/lower secondary aged pupils; I could see this book being used alongside some of the computing curriculum. 

A highly recommended book, if you have loved Brightstorm by the same author, the Cogheart books by Peter Bunzl, The Train to Impossible Places by PG Bell, The Harry Potter series then I am sure you’ll love Wildspark.

 

This is #Book4 in my #20BooksofSummer created by Cathy at 746books.com

 

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+.

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: 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

Review: The Wolf Wilder by Katherine Rundell

wolf wilder

 

I think that one of the qualities of a great book is that it lives on in your mind long after you have finished reading it. The knowledge that a new title by Katherine Rundell is due to be published next month has prompted me to review my favourite children’s book from 2015 for those of you who have not yet read it. The Wolf Wilder completely entranced me from its opening line: “Once upon a time, a hundred years ago, there was a dark and stormy girl.” right up to the final page. This modern fairy tale of courage and wisdom has all the makings of a classic, and is a book you are likely to return to many times.

Feo and her mother live in a wooden house in the snowy Russian forest where they un-tame wolves thrown out by their aristocratic owners when they tire of keeping them as house pets. One night the cruel, malicious General Rakov, the commander of the Tsar’s Imperial Army bursts into their home and sets in motion an epic adventure. It will lead Feo on a journey through the harshest winter, accompanied by her wolves and a new-found friend, in an attempt to rescue her mother from the Tsar’s prison in St Petersburg.

The quality of Katherine Rundell’s writing is magical, you can almost feel the frost biting into your own fingers as you turn the pages of this wonderful book, where every word seems to be chosen with absolute precision. This story is a perfect balance of page-turning plot, beautiful imagery and uncompromising morality.  Highly recommended to all Upper KS2 readers.

If you enjoy this book, look out for the following titles by this wonderful writer: Rooftoppers, The Explorer