#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.

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.