Review: Wildspark by Vashti Hardy

wildspark

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: When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit

hitler stole pink rabbit

I first read this book as a child many years ago, then read it aloud to children and have just re-read for probably the 5th time as part of the #PinkRabbitReadalong organised by Lorraine Gregory and Annaliese Avery to honour the legacy of Judith Kerr.

It is such a wonderful story, narrated in the third person but based on the author’s own experience of fleeing Berlin immediately before Hitler was elected. Through the characters of nine-year-old Anna and her older brother Max, children can travel in the footsteps of two refugees from Nazi Germany as they journey through Europe looking for a home to replace the comfortable existence that they had enjoyed in Berlin. The tone is perfect for children due to the eloquent description laced with good humour and Anna’s matter-of-fact observations.

I am always amazed at Anna’s ability to see the family’s plight as a great adventure and to take the positive from every experience. The author’s skill in recounting the tale as experienced by a child but imbuing it with the hindsight of an adult who so narrowly escaped a terrible fate is astonishing. Each time I have read the chapter describing the train journey experienced by Anna, Max and their mother, out of Germany to join their father in Zurich, and their approach to the Swiss border I feel the tension so palpably that I grip the book as tightly as Anna’s mother clings to her handbag.

Re-reading this masterpiece during refugee week and with the knowledge of the priceless legacy that Judith Kerr has left to the world of children’s literature makes the experience even more poignant. I treasure this story where we can all step into the shoes of a nine year old girl who experienced displacement, and admire the courage of a family who overcame hardship to find a new place in the world. I hope that it reminds us all to offer kindness to those who are struggling and to look for positives in all situations. I highly recommend this story to everyone, young and old alike.

 

As well as #PinkRabbitReadalong this is #Book3 in my #20BooksofSummer created by Cathy at 746books.com

Review: DK Lego Amazing Vehicles

 

Lego Vehicles

This is a brightly coloured, informative and fun DK book, which comes with 61 pieces of Lego to allow the creation of four small models. A delight which will provide many hours of entertainment for anyone of 6+.

Approximately half of the thickness of the book is taken up with a box built in to the front cover, which contains the Lego pieces, followed by 76 pages of full-colour photographs of Lego models telling the story of transport. As I always expect from DK, this book is perfectly designed for its audience with the highly coloured photographs accompanied by short paragraphs of text, bold titles and informative content. All forms of transport are described and created from Lego, from an auto rickshaw to an ice-breaker ship!

The close up photos of each Lego model gives young (and old) builders a good idea about how to build vehicles from their existing Lego collections. At the back of the book there is useful advice about which bricks are most useful for vehicle building, as well as step-by-step instructions about how to use the included Lego bricks to create: a mini jet, steam train, longship and excavator.

This book has already proved a big hit with a group of Year 2 children who are enthusiastic Lego modellers and stop-frame animators, they wanted to build the models immediately and spotted vehicles that they wanted to build using their own Lego collections. It already has a waiting list in the library! My own favourite section was entitled “Into the Future”; I’m finishing this review now so that I can head to the Lego box upstairs to build myself a teleporter – fingers crossed it will work!!

Many thanks to Toppsta.com and DK Books for sending me a copy in exchange for an honest review.

This is Book2 in my #20BooksofSummer challenge hosted by Cathy at 746books.com

 

Review: A Witch Comes True by James Nicol

witch comes true

In the third and final installment of the Apprentice Witch series life has changed markedly for Arianwyn; the war in the Four Kingdoms is over and her father has returned home injured but alive. However, when Arianwyn visits him at St Morag’s Military Sanatorium in Kingsport, she realises that fighting in a war has changed him and that he is finding it hard to adjust to her being a responsible grown-up rather than his little girl. She is also surprised to find that he met a Urisian witch whilst away, and a photo of the meeting seems to show the witch infected with hex.

Even more troubling is an encounter with her old foe Gimma who appears to be more firmly in the grip of the hex, and who is being guarded at her house by a member of The Council of Elders. But who is guarding her, and can they be trusted.

As Wyn returns to Lull to magically assist in the town’s Yule celebrations further mysteries abound, a seam of magic which is visible to humans as well as witches, the news that her mentor Miss Delafield is being posted to a distant location and the appearance of different “quiet glyphs” which she has to catalogue.

This charming story holds the perfect blend of magical creatures ( frost phoenixes,  maudants and nitherings), friendships, family relationships, danger, kidnapping, bravery and tension. Throughout, Wyn’s character shines through, with her dedication to doing the right thing in perilous and confusing circumstances. The supporting characters are perfectly realised, from friends Sallie and Colin, to Sergeant Gribble trying to readjust to civilian life and pompous Mayor Belcher, who generally expects Arianwyn to work miracles.

I heartily recommend this series: The Apprentice Witch, A Witch Alone and A Witch Comes True to everyone who appreciates magical adventure with a delightful protagonist who personifies resilience, perseverance, loyalty and bravery.

 

This is #Book1 in my #20BooksofSummer an annual event hosted by 746 Books which runs from 3rd June until 3rd September, with the aim of clearing 5, 10 or 20 books from your tbr stack

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+.

Series Review: Murder Most Unladylike by Robin Stevens

MMUall

I am prompted to write this post just before the release of the special 5th anniversary edition of Book One in the Murder Most Unladylike series. I simply cannot believe that it is only five years since I first encountered The Detective Society! October 2014 was memorable. My sister phoned one evening to tell me she had heard an interview with a young writer on Woman’s Hour, and she was sure the story discussed would appeal to my book-mad youngest child. The author was Robin Stevens, the book was called Murder Most Unladylike. Intrigued, we downloaded the first book to the Kindle that night…and we were hooked!

At the time of writing this review, there have been seven full-length books, a guide to detecting and three shorter mysteries published, with Book 8 due in summer 2019. These books cleverly combine the joys of boarding school stories (where the parents are out of the picture, so the kids can have adventures) think Malory Towers, St Claire’s, Hogwarts, with the delights of page-turning detective fiction (Agatha Christie for example). They are set in the 1930s, so no internet or mobile phones exist to spoil the suspense.

It might seem strange to say this, considering that each story features gruesome murder, but the recurring themes of this series are kindness, bravery, friendship and loyalty. All wrapped up in hugely enjoyable detective mysteries. Will you be able to solve the clues, discard the red herrings and spot the murderer before the intrepid “Detective Society” duo of Daisy and Hazel?

I shall try not to give away any plot spoilers…but please read on for short summaries of each of the books in the Murder Most Unladylike series . They look beautiful on your bookshelf with their rainbow coloured covers and sumptuous 1930s-style title font. As if this wasn’t enough – there are always maps inside the front covers and I adore books with maps! Pull up a comfy chair, get yourself a plate of cakes for bunbreak and enjoy!

Book 1 Murder Most Unladylike

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1934, deep in the English countryside we encounter Deepdean School for Girls. Daisy Wells appears to be a quintessential upper-class English school girl: blonde hair, blue eyes, beautiful and from an aristocratic family. She is able to hide her extreme cleverness under a laissez-faire attitude from everyone but the equally smart new girl, Hazel Wong. Hazel has been sent from her home in Hong Kong to drizzly, cold England by her fabulously rich father who wishes her to experience an English education. She struggles to fit in to the rather racist surroundings until kind-hearted Daisy befriends her and enrols her as secretary of her top-secret “Detective Society”.

Their investigative careers begin when Hazel discovers the body  of Miss Bell, the science mistress, in the gym – but after dashing away to fetch Daisy, the girls return to find  that the body has disappeared! It is apparent to the young investigators that a killer stalks the corridors of their boarding school. Will they be able to outwit the criminal and protect the remaining staff and students?

 

Book 2 Arsenic for TeaMMUarsenic

A classic “country house” murder mystery! It is the Easter holidays and Hazel has been invited to stay at Daisy’s picture-book country house, Fallingford, with its maze, servants and state of faded grandeur. She is not the only friend invited to celebrate Daisy’s birthday. The guest list includes: Daisy’s brother Bertie who has invited his school-friend, Stephen; mysterious, replacement governess Miss Alston; Kitty and Beanie their friends from Deepdean; Great-aunt Saskia; dashing and brilliant Uncle Felix and Denis Curtis, a special guest of Daisy’s mother.

Both Daisy and Hazel detect that there is something “going on” with Mr Curtis, and they are both intrigued by frumpy Miss Alston’s reaction to this fashionable man. The mystery deepens when Mr Curtis becomes fatally ill at Daisy’s birthday tea, and the finger of suspicion points at Daisy’s beloved father, Lord Hastings! The Detective Society and associate members Kitty and Beanie have a case to solve. (My daughter loved this story so much that she recreated it as a Lego stop-frame animation. I shall put a link at the end of this post, but it does contain spoilers, so please don’t watch until you have read the book.)

Book 3 First Class Murder

MMUfirst class

Hazel’s father is so upset that she has spent the Easter holidays investigating a murder that he decides to take her and Daisy away from England for the summer holidays to broaden their minds by exploring Europe on the Orient Express. He strictly forbids the girls from any talk of crime as he wishes them to have a luxurious, relaxing and culturally enriching holiday. However, as the travelling party makes their way to the first class carriage they encounter an extraordinarily wealthy heiress, wearing a glittering diamond necklace…and you just know that crime is waiting along the tracks! With a fabulous cast of fellow travellers, and Daisy’s choice of holiday reading material being “Murder on the Orient Express”, you know what to expect!

On this journey the Detective Society meet up with a  young male detective, Alexander Arcady, who is one half of the Junior Pinkertons with his best friend George, and who will feature in future MMU investigations.

Mini-mystery e-book: The Case of the Blue Violet

Book 4 Jolly Foul Play

MMUjolly

It is the new winter term at Deepdean and Daisy is furious because she was looking up at the fireworks as a murder occurred on the school field! The murder victim was the school’s Head Girl, Elizabeth Hurst, who is described by our reliable narrator Hazel as someone who “was in the business of secrets.” She surrounded herself with a bunch of acolytes known as “the Five” and collectively they were hated and feared at Deepdean. It is, therefore, unsurprising that Elizabeth has been done away with in this school where murder seems to be quite expected – but will Daisy and Hazel be able to untangle a web of secrets and identify the culprit?

Mini-mystery e-book: The Case of the Deepdean Vampire

Book 5 Mistletoe and Murder

MMUmistletoe

After an Autumn term investigating the murder of their Head Girl, Daisy Wells and Heather Wong need a relaxing Christmas break. So for Christmas 1935 they head Cambridge to visit Daisy’s brother Bertie who has completed his first term at fictional Maudlin College, and stay with Daisy’s Great Aunt Eustacia, a Mathematics don at fictional St Lucy’s College. It is also a chance to see Alexander Arcady again, and meet his best friend George, as they are staying with George’s older brother Harold who is also a student at the university.

Of course, with Daisy and Hazel in town, murder cannot be far behind, and this time The Detective Society are in a race with The Junior Pinkertons to see who can solve the clues first. With detectives as sharp as the cold December frosts this mystery will grip you and entertain you in equal measure.

Cream Buns and Crime: Detective Tips, Short Stories including the two mini-mysteries, Code-breaking Tips and basically a lot of background information on The Detective Society.

Book 6 A Spoonful of Murder

MMUspoonful

Now it is Daisy’s turn to feel out-of-place and foreign as she and Hazel travel to Hong Kong to stay in the luxurious compound owned by Hazel’s father, Vincent Wong, an extremely wealthy banker. Interestingly, Hazel also finds that the two years she has spent in England have changed her outlook, and there are times when she struggles to be the dutiful, obedient daughter that she is expected to be … particularly following the brutal murder of a family servant and a kidnap!

A thrilling, fast-paced adventure set against the oriental backdrop of Hong Kong’s famous sites where Daisy and Hazels will need every ounce of bravery and ingenuity to take on the forces threatening the Wong family.

Mini-mystery: The Case of the Missing Treasure

Book 7 Death in the Spotlight

MMUdeath spotlight

In an attempt to keep Daisy and Hazel out of trouble and allow them to recover from their exertions in Hong Kong they are sent to stay with Daisy’s Uncle Felix and Aunt Lucy in London. Unfortunately, Felix, Lucy and even their maid Bridget are involved in “secretive work” meaning that they cannot always look after their young guests. Therefore, a marvellous scheme is hatched to allow the girls to become temporary cast members at the Rue Theatre, owned by one of Lucy’s contacts.

Daisy is overjoyed at the prospect of understudying the roles at this famous Shakespearean theatre, and although Hazel is more circumspect, she too finds the theatre “gloriously impressive”. It doesn’t take long for The Detective Society to uncover seething jealousy and unpleasant pranks amongst the cast members, and before you know it the stage is set for murder.

The Junior Pinkertons, Alexander and George, make a welcome appearance to provide detecting assistance on this case. Additionally, Daisy and Hazel have to examine their friendship and their feelings for other characters, making this the most mature of the books to date.

 

I have been fortunate to read all of the MMU books in order, but children who borrow them from the school library (where they are always in high demand) tell me that they are enjoyable no matter what order you read them in. The voice of Hazel is an absolute joy as she not only outlines every case in logical, forensic detail, but also analyses the behaviour of the characters who surround her, in particular Daisy Wells. The loyal friendship between the pair is at the heart of The Detective Society and I hope that their teamwork, courage and allegiance develops through many, many more mysteries. Highly recommended for ages 9+.

 

Here is the link to the Lego stop-frame animation of Arsenic for Tea – but please don’t watch it until you have read the book!

 

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

Review: Moth An Evolution Story by Isobel Thomas

Moth

 

How I wish that this beautiful non-fiction title had been around when I was a child, or indeed when my own children were younger; it is an absolute treasure of a book. Written by Isobel Thomas and illustrated, in gloriously muted tones, throughout by Daniel Egneus, it tells the evolutionary story of the peppered moth. The text is very sparse and simple but along with the full page illustrations gives a perfectly pitched explanation of camouflage, survival and adaptation, making the links between each feature absolutely obvious. The final two pages of the book contain a summary of the peppered moth’s evolution story and extrapolate from this to apply the theory of natural selection to other species.

I would suggest that this is a book which should be available in every school library, and which will give essential background for the evolution topic in the KS2 science curriculum.Additionally, many of the fabulous illustrations showing the effects of the industrial revolution will be of interest to children studying The Victorians.