#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.

Enticing Early Readers: Zinnia Jakes and Sage Cookson Book Reviews

It is so important for newly emerging readers to have books available which instil a love of reading by combining enjoyable stories with great design; making books desirable objects. These two new series from New Frontier Publishing deliver on both counts: hugely enjoyable stories in books which have been created with extraordinary care, the covers and pages are top quality, with buff-coloured paper (which, as a parent of a dyslexic child I always value highly) and are the perfect dimensions for 6/7 year-olds to hold.

The Fabulous Cakes of Zinnia Jakes written by Brenda Gurr, illustrated by Nancy Leschnikoff

Front Cover: Zinnia Jakes The Crumbling Castle illustrated by Nancy Leschnikoff, published by New Frontier Publishing

Take out your tea set and cake stand and feast on The Fabulous Cakes of Zinnia Jakes! The cover, with its lively illustrations and silver foil highlights certainly ticks the shelf-appeal boxes. Inside newly confident readers will find a story blending baking, mystery and a sprinkle of magic. It’s a perfect recipe for an entertaining and enjoyable read!

The identity of Zinnia Jakes is known only to her Auntie Jam, best friend Addie and international food critic father. Who could possibly guess that the fabulous creations baked by Zinnia Jakes are actually the work of nine-year-old Zoe Jones? She seems to have inherited her late mother’s talent for baking and produces delectable cakes from a secret kitchen in Auntie Jam’s home, assisted by a mysteriously magical cat and occasional help from Addie.

In this, her first adventure, she is tasked with producing a medieval castle cake to act a s a show stopper at a Professor’s book launch. But with only 48 hours to conceptualise and create a structure, and a best friend and aunt who are also preparing for their own events at the Medieval Fair, not to mention transportation problems, will Zinnia be able to deliver the goods?

This is an absolutely charming story, which I can imagine being very popular with the cohort of children who flock to the Rainbow Fairies and Isadora Moon early chapter books. The chapter headings throughout are stylishly illustrated by Nancy Leschnikoff. With a delicious sounding recipe for medieval gingerbread at the back it is a perfect book to enjoy during the lockdown period and beyond!

Sage Cookson’s Sweet Escape, written by Sally Murphy, illustrated by Celeste Hulme

Sage Cookson is the globe-trotting, 10 year-old daughter of Basil and Ginger Cookson, the famous TV cooks and gastronomes. It is second nature to her to pack her suitcase, say goodbye to best friend Lucy and accompany her parents to the next location to film an episode of The Cooksons Cook On!

This time she is extra excited because she and Lucy have just been given their first mobile phones; they will be able to keep in touch regularly during her week away from school. The excitement builds up further when Sage discovers that the location, Newhaven Resort in Western Australia, is home to a chocolate plantation!

However, arrival at Marco’s Chocolates brings a less than sugary welcome, in fact Marco and his assistant Nancy appear positively hostile to their famous visitors. Adventure is thrown into the mix when Marco drives the family into the bush to visit his secret plantation!

This is a super introduction to adventure stories for newly confident readers, with an exciting but not too threatening plot, great pacing and a relateable young protagonist. Stylish black and white illustrations throughout the book are by Celeste Hulme. There is also a divine-looking chocolate fondant recipe at the end of the book.

Sage Cookson’s Snow Day, written by Sally Murphy, illustrated by Celeste Hulme

Ten year-old Sage Cookson is off on her travels again, this time to Snowy Village in the Australian Alps. An old friend of her mother has just opened a patisserie from where her parents plan to film the next episode of The Cooksons Cook On.

Sage is equally excited by the prospect of improving her skiing technique and spending time with Julia’s teenage son Kyle, with whom she has been friends throughout her childhood. However, on arrival she is shocked by the change in Kyle’s personality, and hurt by his sullen and uncommunicative attitude. This was not the sort of frosty she had been hoping for on this trip!

When Kyle disappears with his snowboard early the next morning, Sage’s capacity for friendship will be tested in this pacy adventure. At the end of the book you will find a very tempting recipe for easy mille-feuille!

All three of these books would be lovely additions to a school or classroom library to be enjoyed by newly independent readers, and I can equally imagine young readers wanting to collect their own sets to read at home. Perfect adventures for 6/7 year-olds.

I am very grateful to New Frontier Publishing for sending me these books in exchange for my honest opinion.

#MGTakesOnThursday: Rooftoppers by Katherine Rundell

Image created by @MarySimms72 and used with permission.

This is a weekly meme started by @marysimms72 on the brilliant Book Craic blog.

To take part, the steps to follow are:

  • Post a picture of a front cover of a middle-grade book which you have read and would recommend to others with details of the author, illustrator and publisher.
  • Open the book to page 11 and share your favourite sentence.
  • Write three words to describe the book
  • Either share why you would recomment this book, or link to your review.

Author: Katherine Rundell

Illustrator: Cover art based on design by Antigone-konstantinidou.com

Publisher: Faber and Faber

Favourite sentence from Page 11: This is part of a description of Charles Maxim: “But he had kindness where other people had lungs, and politeness in his fingertips.”

This book in three words: Kindness – Paris – Adventure

Again this week I am using this feature to revisit a book published a few years ago (in 2013) which I absolutely love and consider to be a modern-day classic! My original review of Rooftoppers written last year can be read here.

#MGTakesonThursday – Look into my Eyes by Lauren Child

This is a weekly meme started by @marysimms72 on the brilliant Book Craic blog.

MG TakesonThursday
Image created by @MarySimms72 and used with permission.

 

To take part, the steps to follow are:

 

  • Post a picture of a front cover of a middle-grade book which you have read and would recommend to others with details of the author, illustrator and publisher.

 

  • Open the book to page 11 and share your favourite sentence.

 

  • Write three words to describe the book

 

  • Either share why you would recommend this book, or link to your review.

Look into my eyes

 

Author: Lauren Child

Illustrator: David Mackintosh

Publisher: Harper Collins

Favourite sentence from Page 11: Well this is interesting, because in this edition of the book, page 11 is a blank between two parts of the prologue …so from Page 12:

“When Ruby Redfort was seven years old she won the Junior Code-Cracker Championships – solving the famous Eisenhauser conundrum in just seventeen days and forty-seven minutes.”

This book in three words: Adventure, Ciphers, Intelligence

This is the first book in the Ruby Redfort series and opens with two year old Ruby observing a suspicious incident across the street and trying to communicate with her glamorous, socialite parents Brant and Sabina through the medium of alphabet blocks. They, not being at all on her intellectual wavelength, think she wants to go out for a walk! This sets the tone so brilliantly for this book and indeed the rest of the series – Ruby is able to carry out her spying adventures under the noses of her parents, without them suspecting a thing!

The sentence I’ve selected above highlights Ruby’s unique code-cracking skills, which lead to her recruitment by Spectrum, a top secret spy agency who operate from a base in her hometown of Twinford. She is a fantastically inspiring character for girls and boys who love maths and enjoy solving puzzles; reading these books certainly encouraged a great deal of reading about ciphers in this house! Her adventures show that being small for your age, needing glasses and having a serious notebook habit are no barriers to tackling a nest of villains.

This book is populated by a great cast of characters. Ruby’s best friend Clancy Crew, the son of a diplomat, who is always ready to pedal over and lend Ruby a helping hand; Mrs Digby the Redfort family’s cook who shares Ruby’s love of mystery thrillers and keeps her supplied with banana milk and cookies; Hitch the suave butler who communicates by toast and just happens to be a Spectrum agent; LB the head of the spectrum office with her air of mystery and of course the villains: Baby Face Marshall and Nine Lives Capaldi!

The story takes place in a fictional American town, set in the 1970s and has a lovely nostalgic vibe, it definitely transported me back to childhood enjoyment of the Nancy Drew mysteries. Ruby is equipped with some spy gadgets, but without smartphones or the internet, the mission is able to maintain a high level of suspense throughout.  The chapters are short, with cliff-hangers a-plenty, and for those readers who are so inclined, there are code-cracking challenges to attempt. The plot centres around the  Jade Buddha of Khotan, a priceless treasure with mythical powers which is due to be unveiled at the Twinford Museum at an event planned by Ruby’s parents.

I completely adore the entire Ruby Redfort series, and was very fortunate that this book was published just as my own daughter had finished reading Clarice Bean by the same author, and wanted to know if the Ruby Redfort books actually existed. The exceptionally high quality plotting and characterisation is maintained throughout, each book focuses on a different sense as reflected in the titles. I so applaud Lauren Child for bringing the series full-circle and returning to the crime that Ruby witnessed as a two-year old in the final book. To fully complete the theme of ciphers, you might be able to see from the photo below that there is a code to crack on the beautifully designed covers. I have lost count of the number of Ruby Redfort books that I have given as gifts, and I have yet to find a child who hasn’t enjoyed them after a recommendation. Ruby Redfort should be an essential fixture on your MG library shelves!

Ruby Redforts

#MG Takes on Thursday

This is a new feature set up by brilliant MG Book Blogger @MaryRees at the blog Book Craic to highlight the wonderful world of Middle Grade books.

You can read all the instructions for taking part on Mary’s blog here.

Here is my first attempt at this meme.

 

 

Author: Catherine Doyle

Illustrator: Bill Bragg

Publisher: Bloomsbury Children’s Books

 

Favourite line from Page 11:

“I’m already full of magic. I just have no idea how to get it out of -“

 

This book in three words:

Destiny, Magic, Courage

This is one of the most powerfully moving works of MG fiction published in recent years. Combining a love of family, sense of place, lyrical language and the coming-of-age story of a boy struggling to fulfil his destiny in a battle with an evil foe, it is a story to be enjoyed by anyone from 10 to 100!

You can read my review here. 

 

Well this is my first ever participation in a meme, so I wish to thank Mary for choosing to shine a light on the magic of Middle Grade. I hope that many other bloggers will join in, I look forward to reading your thoughts.

 

#MG Takes on Thursday

This is a new feature set up by brilliant MG Book Blogger @MaryRees at the blog Book Craic to highlight the wonderful world of Middle Grade books.

You can read all the instructions for taking part on Mary’s blog here.

Here is my first attempt at this meme.

 

 

Author: Catherine Doyle

Illustrator: Bill Bragg

Publisher: Bloomsbury Children’s Books

 

Favourite line from Page 11:

“I’m already full of magic. I just have no idea how to get it out of -“

 

This book in three words:

Destiny, Magic, Courage

This is one of the most powerfully moving works of MG fiction published in recent years. Combining a love of family, sense of place, lyrical language and the coming-of-age story of a boy struggling to fulfil his destiny in a battle with an evil foe, it is a story to be enjoyed by anyone from 10 to 100!

You can read my review here. 

 

Well this is my first ever participation in a meme, so I wish to thank Mary for choosing to shine a light on the magic of Middle Grade. I hope that many other bloggers will join in, I look forward to reading your thoughts.

 

Review: The Island that Didn’t Exist by Joe Wilson

 

 

 

Island

The Island That Didn’t Exist is the debut MG novel by BBC sports journalist Joe Wilson. Inspired by a coastal sign pointing to an uninhabited island, it has taken him fifteen years to write this thrilling adventure. The beautiful cover art, which has been digitally animated for the online marketing campaign is by George Ermos.

I was delighted to receive a proof copy as it is exactly the sort of book that I love to recommend to young readers – an exciting and imaginative tale, featuring resilient children, written in accessible language, and, at 272 pages appealing to reluctant readers who can be daunted by a 400 page novel. It is pitched as a contemporary Lord of the Flies meets The Famous Five. In my opinion it also had a touch of Alex Rider too; a winning combination.

Twelve-year-old Rixon Webster’s life is turned upside down when his mother takes him to the London law offices of Arnold Crump for the reading of her eccentric and mysterious Uncle Silvester’s will. This elusive individual has left his £2.5 million fortune to an obscure seagull sanctuary and his private island to Rixon! Also included in Rixon’s inheritance is an envelope stuffed with five-year-old newspaper clippings about a group of scientists who disappeared, with a world-changing invention, in unexplained circumstances and a memory stick holding unintelligible mathematical equations and diagrams.

Undaunted by the fact that the island has not appeared on any map since 1792, Rixon persuades his mum to drive him to the coastal location shown to him by Arnold Crump, and in the most daring act of his short life, he sets out to seek his inheritance in a “borrowed” motorboat ferry.

I do not wish to give away any plot spoilers, so apart from telling you that Rixon’s Splinter Island turns out to be occupied by four semi-wild, spear-throwing children I won’t provide any more details.

The story is perfectly paced to encourage readers of 9+ to keep turning the pages, and would also make an excellent class read-aloud, with the cliff-hanging chapter endings likely to make children plead for “just one more chapter.” It contains just the right degree of peril for a Key Stage 2 readership; it certainly does not descend to the same darkness as Lord of the Flies. The plotting is deftly handled with the steady revelation of details about Uncle Silvester, the reason for the children’s presence on Splinter Island and the tensions within Rixon’s family. Brilliantly woven into the plot is a message about power, in its many forms. The effect it has on individuals, the lengths that some will go to in pursuit of it, the responsibility inherent with the wielding of power and its impact on the way the world is run.

I thoroughly enjoyed this book and think that it will be extremely popular with boys and girls of 9 years and above when it is published in May 2020. I certainly hope that we don’t have to wait another fifteen years for the next book from Joe Wilson!

I am most grateful to OUP Children’s for my review copy.