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.

Amazing African Storybooks

The Small Five written by Ralph Johnstone, illustrated by Harriet Stanes

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Most of us have heard of the Big Five, those five magnificent animals that safari holidaymakers most wish to see; but have you ever heard of the Small Five? No? Neither had I, until I read this hilarious book by Ralph Johnstone, gloriously and riotously illustrated by Harriet Stanes.

Told in humorous rhyming text, the story introduces the big five of lion, elephant, leopard, rhino and buffalo; I loved the adorable puns, such as lion being the “mane man”! The Battle of the Bush begins when their tiny namesakes – antlion the doodlebug, rhinoceros beetle, buffalo weaver bird, leopard tortoise and elephant shrew challenge them to a test of survival skills.

This is an entertaining introduction to some amazing African wildlife which I feel sure will be enjoyed again and again by young readers and any adults who have the pleasure of reading it aloud. It also contains the excellent message that being big and tough isn’t everything, no-one should be overlooked just because they are small. I highly recommend it, and don’t forget to look out for the little Colotis butterfly on every page.

My thanks to Little Steps Publishing for my gifted copy of this book, in exchange for an honest review.

 

Africa Day written by Chi Mary Kalu and illustrated by Jelena Jordanovic-Lewis

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This is a vibrant and wonderful celebration of the joy of African culture as a little boy accompanies his mother on a trip to the Africa Day Festival. From the glossy illustrations on the front cover of you feel the joy of Emeka as he embarks on his exciting day out. The illustrator Jelena Jordanovic-Lewis has captured the exuberance of the festival on every page with her kinetic artwork in earthy tones.

Readers are introduced to the new vocabulary of Emeka’s culture: Ankara and dashiki shirts, kente shorts, the language Igbo, jollof rice and moi moi and share his exhilaration as he dances through the day.

A marvellous picture book, pulsating with energy,  which I highly recommend for any child of three years and older to explore.

Thank you to Little Steps Publishing for my review copy of this glorious book.

Review: Magical Kingdom of Birds The Snow Goose byAnne Booth

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This is a wonderfully gentle story, perfect for children from the age of six who love magical, fairy adventures and have an interest in the natural world.

Firstly, the book itself is irresistible with its seasonably scarlet cover featuring the titular snow goose, embellished with just the right amount of glitter to appeal to its intended readership. The 117 pages are beautifully illustrated by Rosie Butcher, which together with the font size make this book ideal for newly confident readers.

The story begins with Maya enjoying the company of her big sister Lauren, who has newly arrived home from university. They are preparing for Christmas, enjoying building a snow goose in the fresh snowfall and looking forward to a visit from two of Lauren’s university friends. When they go inside to warm up, Maya notices that the “Magical Kingdom of Birds” her special colouring book  is open in her bedroom, with a picture of a snow goose waiting to be coloured.

Only Maya is aware that this book, inherited from her mother, transports her to the Magical Kingdom of Birds as she colours the pictures. Once there she helps Princess Willow and a talking magpie named Patch to foil the wicked plans of Willow’s uncle, Lord Astor. This time Maya finds herself sitting beside a lake, in a wintry landscape, which is covered with magnificent white and blue geese. Princess Willow appears and explains to Maya that the geese are waiting for the Silver Snow Goose to arrive, bringing the first snows of winter, and then leading the Winter Festival before guiding the flock in their migration south. However, it appears that Lord Astor has kidnapped the Silver Snow Goose and it will take a great act of bravery to rescue him and ensure that the noisy gaggle of geese are safely lead to their winter feeding grounds.

As the adventure unfolds, the courage and teamwork of the geese is explored and an incredible amount of knowledge about these awesome birds is provided quite seamlessly as a natural part of the story. The loyalty and community spirit of the birds is inspirational to Maya and the lesson “to find your own way and listen to your heart” is presented in a non-preachy way. I loved the fact that Maya’s physical disability does not prevent her showing courage and contributing her skills and ingenuity to the rescue mission.

At the end of the book there is a factual section presenting a great amount of interesting information about snow geese; this is followed by an introductory chapter to another Magical Kingdom of Birds adventure, The Silent Songbirds.

I thoroughly enjoyed this delightful story and highly recommend it to readers of 6+.

 

With thanks to OUP Children’s Publishing for providing me with a copy of this book in exchange for an honest 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

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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.

Scoop McLaren: Detective Editor Blog Tour – Author Interview with Helen Castles

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Today I am beyond excited that it is my stop on the #Blogtour for Scoop McLaren: Detective Editor, the first in a new MG Detective/Mystery series by Australian author Helen Castles. As well as my review of the book, Helen has kindly answered questions about her inspiration and motivation for this wonderful new series. So, without further delay, allow me to introduce Helen to UK readers through a Q and A!

Hi Helen, firstly, can I congratulate you on your debut novel Scoop McLaren: Detective Editor, which I thoroughly enjoyed. What inspired you to write an MG book?

I loved books as a child, the places they took me to and the people I got to meet. As an author, I wanted to write novels for children, to be able to provide that joy for them that I always felt as a child when reading. I had written two books previously (unpublished), one for middle grade and one young adult novel. The YA novel subsequently got turned into a short film. After a few years of working for a newspaper, meeting so many interesting people and telling so many stories, I thought it would be a good idea to write about my life as a journalist. While still wanting to write a children’s novel, I decided to combine the two and Scoop is the result!

I love your main character, the quick-thinking, bold and determined Henley “Scoop” McLaren. Knowing that you are a journalist I wondered how much of Scoop is based on your own childhood?

I am so thrilled you love Scoop! While I wouldn’t say that any part of Scoop is based on my own childhood, I do love and purposely wanted to focus on the relationship between Scoop and her dad. My own father died when I was nine, so it’s kind of like writing about a part of me and my life that I wished I’d had growing up.

The seaside town of Higgity Harbour almost seems to be a character in its own right, is it based on an actual place?

That’s a great compliment, thank you. It’s not based on an actual place but, in my mind, it would be an idyllic place to live. I’ve always been drawn to the seaside and always wanted to live by the ocean. I really wanted Higgity Harbour to come to life for readers, for them to be able to close their eyes and just see the town so clearly with its cherry blossom lined streets and cobblestone pavement. I grew up in a small community so I also wanted to relay the values of such close-knit communities – friendship, looking out for one another, helping each other – in the novel.

Although the story is obviously set in the modern day, with mobile phones, laptops, internet publishing etc, somehow the story gave me a nostalgic vibe – it reminded me of The Famous Five and The Nancy Drew Mysteries that I loved as a child; was this something you intended?

Yes, so thank you again! I tried to add traditional touches to the language and to the story as well; the kids always referring to people as “Mr” and “Mrs”, that sort of thing. I wanted to add an element of wholesomeness from days gone by to the story, while still keeping it modern.

Who would you see as your target readership for Scoop McLaren?

I think Scoop will appeal to both girls and boys from ages nine through to thirteen/fourteen. While some may think of the book as just appealing to girl readers since the two main characters are female, some of the strongest feedback I’ve gotten thus far has been from boys.

I like the tips and tricks for writing at the back of the book, do you hope to inspire a new generation of junior journalists?

Absolutely! I can just picture children in their school holidays interviewing friends and relatives, collecting and researching stories and turning them into their very own newspaper. I really hope my readers will be inspired to consider journalism as a career because it’s such an important job, keeping people informed. But it doesn’t even have to be journalism – I hope the books inspire kids to just write. To tell their own stories.

I am hoping that there will be a long series of Scoop McLaren books; have you finished writing book 2, and how long will we have to wait for publication?

I am in the final stages of editing book 2 at the moment, and I’m so excited about it! I imagine it will be available early 2020.

How long did it take you to develop the character of Scoop McLaren, and was it straightforward to get a publishing deal?

I first mentioned the character of Scoop to a friend of mine who is a librarian and she loved the idea of a girl mystery-solving newspaper editor. I then left it for a while, mainly due to newspaper commitments, but a few months later I thought, “Right. This is it. I’ve wanted to write this book for so long, I’m going to do it!”. Scoop developed over the course of a few weeks. I had scrap bits of paper everywhere with characteristics I wanted for Scoop that would suddenly pop into my head while I was at the supermarket, or out driving. I’d have to stop and get them down. Over the course of that time, I just grew to love this character and I thought her sassiness and her determination would endear her to readers as well.

I pitched the book to a couple of commercial publishers here in Australia and one liked the pitch and requested to read the whole manuscript. I was so pleased about that because it was the first time a book publisher had said, “Hey, we like it, send it over!”. While they did not end up taking it on, the feedback was good and they really encouraged me to keep sending it out which I did and a few months later New Frontier Publishing offered me a contract. I couldn’t be happier to work with a whole bunch of people who love Scoop just as much as I do.

Growing up in Australia, did you mainly read books by Australian authors, or were British and American writers just as accessible and popular? What were your favourite childhood books?

As a young child, I absolutely loved the Snugglepot and Cuddlepie series by Australian author May Gibbs. British and American writers were just as accessible and popular, and I loved Roald Dahl books. Still do! I can’t imagine my childhood without him, really. I remember reading Black Beauty by Anna Sewell and loving it. When I was a bit older I read George Orwell’s Animal Farm and William Golding’s Lord of the Flies. While I wouldn’t say they were favourites, they were definitely two books that have stayed with me. 

Have you read a lot of MG fiction in recent years, and if so, what have been the standout authors or titles for you?

Australian author Morris Gleitzman is becoming a favourite. I love his writing style and how he can deliver important messages in such fun, light-hearted ways.

Have you enjoyed the launch events at schools in Australia and do you plan to attend any book festivals or publishing events in the UK in the near future?

I have so loved going into schools and libraries and introducing Scoop. The children  have been phenomenal with their interest in the book. It’s truly amazing to look out into a sea of smiling faces and to hear giggles of delight when I’m reading from the book. As a children’s author, it doesn’t get much better than that.

I don’t have any firm plans to visit the UK in the near future but if the opportunity pops up, I’ll be on the first plane out!

 

Thank you for answering my questions. I’m sure that your UK readers will be delighted to learn a little bit about you and the background to your debut book and I hope that Scoop’s adventure will prove to be hugely entertaining, engaging and inspiring to middle grade readers here in the UK.

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My review

I am always on the lookout for mystery/adventure books aimed at readers aged 7-11, so I was delighted to receive a copy of this book by Australian writer Helen Castles and sent to me by New Frontier Publishing. Before reviewing the content I’d like to praise the production quality of the book itself. The perfectly named Scoop McLaren is picked out in gold on the beautifully designed cover, the glossy illustrations by Beatriz Castro leave you in no doubt that you are about to encounter a young writer and investigator. The cover is also particularly thick, quality card and the pages are very slightly buff-coloured which make the book a tactile pleasure to read.

Onto the story, which is set in an idyllic, small seaside town named Higgity Harbour, where Scoop’s dad is the editor of the local newspaper the Higgity Harbour Gazette (circulation 900). Scoop has been brought up accompanying her dad as he investigates local news stories and now writes her own daily, online newspaper, Click, with the help of her best friend and roving reporter Evie Andrews. Evie is “feisty, pushy, outspoken and over-confident. All the traits you need to be a successful reporter.” The relationships between Scoop and her dad and Scoop and Evie are perfectly crafted and entirely authentic; one example being that Mr McLaren is the only person in the town to call Scoop by her real name, Henley.

Other inhabitants of the town are similarly well-written and relatable with their distinctive personalities which realistically add to the small-town atmosphere, where everybody has been settled a long time and thinks they know everybody else’s business.

When a new online newspaper begins to be delivered to the inbox of every inhabitant at 1 minute past midnight, always predicting the next day’s terrible news (a plague of frogs, flooding, school mean-girl turned to stone) Scoop and Evie cannot understand why the mayor and even Mr McLaren are unwilling to investigate its editor, Sonny Fink. They are determined to reveal the identity of this villain who appears to be predicting events that are causing the destruction of their previously tranquil seaside community. No-one in the small town is above suspicion; will the two young investigators succeed in discovering who is putting on an appearance to cover their true identity!

Although set in the modern day, with mobile phones, laptops and the internet, this book conjured up a nostalgic vibe which reminded me of The Famous Five and Nancy Drew books which I adored as a child. The young teen characters taking matters into their own hands and doggedly tracking down leads to uncover the perpetrator of the villainous deeds will be engaging for MG readers to read alone, or would make a perfect bedtime story. The junior journalist aspect of the plot is likely to inspire to young writers and I could envisage this being used as a teaching resource, particularly when working on newspaper-writing elements of the curriculum or a model for school news reporters. I think this book will be extremely appealing to lower key stage 2 readers, as an introduction to the mystery/sleuthing genre and a fabulous precursor to series such as Ruby Redfort and Murder Most Unladylike. I am certainly looking forward to the further adventures of Scoop and her friends and I will be recommending this series to many young readers.

I am most grateful to the publishers, New Frontier Publishing, for gifting me a copy of Scoop McLaren: Detective Editor and for inviting me to join the blog tour for this exciting new MG series.

 

New Rhyming Picture Books by Favourite Authors

Two new picture books arrived in the school library, just before the end of term, so I decided to review them together, whilst I catalogue them.

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Firstly, The Go-Away Bird by Julia Donaldson, Illustrated by Catherine Rayner, published by MacMillan.

As with the other books in the Julia Donaldson collection, this is a rhyming story which will entertain and educate early years and key stage 1 pupils. Its enjoyable text tells the story of the elegant grey Go-Away Bird as she sits in her nest, rejecting offers of friendship from the little, green Chit-Chat Bird, the little, red Peck-Peck Bird and the little blue Flap-Flap Bird. However, when trouble raises its eagle-shaped head in the form of the Get-You Bird, the Go-Away Bird might need companions after all.

This is a lovely story for young children, showing the power of friendship and the importance of not rejecting others, even if we are feeling a bit grumpy. I also loved the fact-filled pages at the end of the book which provide some interesting information about this unusual bird. I am sure that this will be enjoyed repeatedly by children of 4+.

 

The second book I wish to review is a perfect addition to our collection of titles to encourage a “reading for pleasure” culture. 

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Not Just A Book by Jeanne Willis, illustrated by Tony Ross and published by Andersen Press, is a full-colour picture book designed to embed and encourage a love of books and reading. The glorious, full-page illustrations in Tony Ross’s inimitable, expressive, humorous style complement the text perfectly. There are only a few words of rhyming text per page describing the different uses that a young girl and her cat can find for a book. My own favourite shows the book being used to funnel the cat’s milk!

However, with the repeated reading that this book is likely to encourage, the final message that books are more than just words and ink will hopefully be internalised by all young listeners and encourage an emotional connection to stories.

Review: The Curse of the School Rabbit by Judith Kerr

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This is the final book written and illustrated by the late, great Judith Kerr, and displays her infectious sense of humour and unique ability to capture family dynamics in an engaging story.

The tale is relayed in the voice of a young boy, Tommy, as he blames his family’s misfortunes on Snowflake, the school rabbit with a propensity for accidents of the wet and rather smelly variety. The rabbit belongs to his little sister Angie’s Year 2 teacher, Miss Bennet. Angie adores Snowflake and is delighted when her family is asked to look after the rabbit when Miss Bennet is called away to look after a sick relative. Unfortunately Snowflakes arrival coincides with a very important meeting between Tommy and Angie’s Dad, who is desperate for an acting job and a washed up but self-important former star, about a new film proposal. This project is doomed from the minute that Snowflake leaves its wet signature on the movie star’s trousers! 

More dramas follow; Tommy tries to take Snowflake for a walk on a lead with almost disastrous results, Angie gets ill, and nagging away in the background is the family’s shortage of money and the diminishing prospects of a new bike for Christmas. Will Tommy’s duties as Snowflake’s carer ever become easier, and will the family’s misfortunes be reversed? You will have to read the book to find out!

As with my favourite of her books, When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit, Judith Kerr brilliantly captures the anxieties, interactions and love of a family with childlike simplicity by telling the story in a straightforward narrative through the observations of a young child. She has left us with a final story to enjoy and cherish – its length, language and content make it an ideal bedtime or whole class story, as well as one that newly confident readers can tackle alone. It is illustrated throughout with wonderfully expressive pencil drawings which perfectly complement the text, making this a book to treasure.

My thanks to Toppsta and Harper Collins Children’s Books for sending me a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

 

Review: Sam Wu is NOT Afraid of Spiders by Katie and Kevin Tsang

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With its eye catching bright orange cover, illustrated with trademark flair by Nathan Reed, the latest outing for everyone’s favourite brave boy, Sam Wu, leaps at you like a hunting arachnid. Sam asks his best friend Bernard why he is spending so much time researching spider facts, to discover the uncomfortable prospect that the sixth- graders are due to visit his classroom with the Tarantula that resides in their science lab!

Sam’s class are so excited by the prospect of this visit that Ms Winkleworth has “to write four names on the Not Listening Board and clap her hands SIX times” to settle everyone down!

Eventually Mr Dougal arrives with four kids from the sixth grade and Tulip, a Goliath bird-eater tarantula, the size of a kitten. Although he assures the class that Tulip is not aggressive and that tarantulas rarely bite humans, Sam is less than convinced and needless to say he is relieved when the visitors depart rapidly after Tulip displays some less-than-friendly behaviour towards Regina Zinkerman.

However, when Sam and his friends go to the sixth grade classroom, to deliver the batch of questions their classmates have compiled, they are met with panicked scrambling and the information that “Tulip’s on the loose!”

Can Sam catch the tarantula and prove to his nemesis, Ralph Zinkerman the Third, that he is not Sam Wu-ser and he is definitely NOT afraid of spiders? You will laugh out loud at the chaos and pandemonium caused by Sam, his little sister Lucy’s cat, Butterbutt (wrapped in a tin foil protective outfit), an over-excited classroom rabbit and a school-full of nervous children!

The cartoonish illustrations and graphics by Nathan Reed, vibrant font effects, alongside the kinetic storytelling make this book a hugely enjoyable one. I highly recommend it for anyone age 7+.

This is #Book8 in my #20BooksofSummer Challenge hosted by Cathy at 746Books.

Review: The Lost Tide Warriors by Catherine Doyle

Lost Tide Warriors

Tick, tock, tick, tock; time is running out for the Stormkeeper!

Returning to Arranmore, the wild and magical island that remembers everything, is such an all-consuming experience that I barely noticed the two long journeys, on one of the hottest days of the year, during which I devoured this book.

Fionn has taken over the role of Stormkeeper from his granddad, Malachy Boyle, but he is struggling under the weight of responsibility to the islanders, desperately seeking to find and control his magic and haunted by the constant, tormenting refrain of the evil Sorceress Morrigan inside his head. The winter solstice approaches and with it Morrigan’s promise that she will rise again to spread her evil reign across the world. When the ferries begin arriving at the harbour filled with dead-eyed Soulstalkers, Fionn realises that he must face his destiny despite his insecurities, but who can he trust to assist him?

Time is also running out for Malachy Boyle, as his candle burns down and his memories are lost to the encroaching darkness of Alzheimer’s. The bond between Malachy and Fionn is the central core of this magnificent book, perfectly summarised when Fionn asks his grandfather how he manages to be so brave in the face of a final battle with Morrigan’s army of Soulstalkers,

“Because I love you more than I fear them, Fionn.”

In the sequel to The Stormkeeper’s Island we learn more of the mythology of Arranmore, as Fionn and his friends, Sam and Shelby, and family, burn Malachy’s candles in their quest for a strategy to defeat Morrigan. In the face of opposition from arrogant and domineering Elizabeth Beasley, Fionn races against time to search for the Tide Summoner, a magical conch shell which will call the Merrows, a fearsome army of ferocious sea creatures. Can he harness his magic and overcome his uncertainties in order to battle the blackest evil. Will he learn that he cannot work alone and realise the power of cooperation and teamwork against a seemingly indestructible enemy? 

Conjured with lyrical beauty by an author of true majesty, this story is simply breath-taking.  It is heart-warming and heart-breaking in equal measure, tissues are required!! Through the voice of Malachy Boyle the book overflows with wisdom, but allies this with a self-deprecating humour so that profound truths are accompanied by phrases like, “another fridge magnet.” This is one of those books that seeps deep into your heart and causes your eyes to leak.

I am deeply grateful to Scott Evans @MrEPrimary and the team at Bloomsbury Children’s Publishing for organising the inaugural Primary School Bookclub Live event with Catherine Doyle. It was an amazing experience to hear her talking about the real island of Arranmore, her family’s stories and the inspiration behind the Stormkeeper quartet. I cannot wait for book 3 to be published!

 

This is #Book7 in my #20BooksofSummer challenge hosted by Cathy at 746Books.