Maven and Reeve have accompanied their respective mistress and master – the Lady Cassandra and Sir Garrick – on an important visit to a remote Airl and his region. Upon their arrival they discover that the long-standing and respected cook has disappeared (and as it would be – kidnapped), that the Airl’s guard are very strange in their organisation indeed and the entire surrounds of Glawn Castle are not only inhospitable but dangerous. Maven knows that the Beech Circle’s reach extends as far as this isolated landscape and wastes no time in calling upon her sisterhood.
There is plenty of intrigue, red herrings and the (now expected) nastiness from Anice, Lady Cassandra’s cousin and Maven’s nemesis, all happily resolved by the intrepid pair who may be lowly ‘servants’ but are both smart and resourceful.
I know my kiddos love A. L. Tait’s books and this series is going to take off rapidly now with this second episode launched. I highly recommend it for your readers from around Year 5 upwards.
A few months ago, Alex’s world changed forever. Now, just when it seems life is almost getting back to normal, his grandfather crashes back into the picture with grave news…Innocent lives – even history itself – could be at stake.
Monstrous Devices was one of the most gripping and splendid debut novels I have ever read and I have been eagerly awaiting the next instalment. Let me say right now, it did not disappoint, and I have no qualms that any readers who have so far become engrossed in Alex’ adventures and the mystery of his grandfather, the tall man and the little girl and the battered tin robot will feel the same.
Like the first book this is a thrilling fantasy/adventure that is edgy and dark with some very unsettling evil villains and seriously creepy machines. I included the first in my pre-holiday book talking ‘best holiday reading picks’ to the Year 6 cohort and made sure I underlined that this is not a series for the faint-hearted or squeamish! Needless to say there was a clamour to be the one to borrow it – especially when I told them I had started this sequel and it was just as exciting. It is going to be such a pleasure to give this one a book talk when the new term starts.
Alex has been struggling to get back to ‘normal’ since the whirlwind adventure that blended ancient magical powers with chancy mechanized killing machines. His brief taste of the power that the mysterious tablet commands has taken hold of his thoughts and he has tried to learn to manipulate it. In a moment of danger, Alex’ grandfather re-appears, dapper and suave as ever, and once again the pair are off on a breakneck trip across Europe, this time to rescue their friend, Harry, unravel the mystery of the disappearing paintings and uncover the tall man’s plot to resurrect an ancient evil force. Their travels lead them to the depths of the Black Forest on the very eve of Walpurgis, and along the way Alex begins to piece together his family history, the true identity of the tall man, the connection of the little girl and most of all some of the strange and unfathomable secrets about his grandfather.
When his grandfather becomes unable to carry on, it is up to Alex to put together all the missing pieces, and harness all his powers to ensure the tall man’s plans, which could signal the end of the world as we know it, come to naught. In the process, he learns much about himself and his own resilience, not to mention empathy and intuition.
Beyond the reckless chases, the nimble escapes and the humorous interludes there is a deep theme throughout of the light and dark of human nature, the power of creation for good and evil and the wants and desires of those who seek power, of whatever kind.
Once again this is a triumph of well-crafted writing which will thoroughly captivate your readers from upper primary onwards. It will certainly be a book that your kiddos will want to debate and discuss post-reading so make sure you set time aside for that.
Highly recommended for readers from around 11/12 years upwards – but possibly not ones easily scared by flying sharp mechanical objects that are programmed to attack no matter what. I suggest you issue all loans with a sachet of table salt – just for good measure!
Emily Rodda returns with her own special brand of sparkling magic inthis delightful new fantasy adventure. Milly Dynes has been a bit down in the dumps of late. She still loves living in Tidgy Bay, in the holiday park she and her dad have called home for six years but there seem to be problems surrounding her which sometimes make her wish she could escape. Things have been changing at home with Julie and a new baby sister to think of, her friends are all going away for the holidays, high school is looming and grumpy old Mrs Meaney have all been causing Milly some real anxiety.
Then on a cold and wet wintery day, when there is never an expectation of anyone wanting to rent a cabin, along comes Eliza Vanda with her sewing, her small brown mouse friend and assistant, Victor, and her amazing button tin. And just like that Milly also becomes an assistant and helper for Eliza, finding herself whisked away with Victor on some very magical adventures and meeting some very odd characters. This is no overly dramatic on-the-edge-of-your-seat adventure but a gentle and winsome one where small deeds ensure happy results to problems.
Your readers who revel in imaginative and feel-good stories will love this – who wouldn’t want to go on errands to places where unicorns, frog princes and other magical beings abound?
Very highly recommended for readers from middle primary upwards – it’s a delightful and highly enjoyable read.
Put it on your ‘new books’ display and stand well back because the danger of stampede is very real! Twenty books on and everyone’s favourite little schoolgirl is still guaranteed to excite your readers – and not just your junior readers either. I know several older girls – including one who started university this year! – who are still dedicated A-M fans!
In this new adventure Alice-Miranda and her buddies are off on the trip of a lifetime, as part of the Queen’s Colours leadership program; to Egypt, the land of hidden tombs, ancient monuments, fascinating culture and, of course, camels and palm trees. But the cultural and historical aspects of the trip are not the only exciting highlights. As always it seems, wherever Alice-Miranda goes, mysteries follow, and along with those, some other trifling life problems – such as two boys (unsuccessfully) vying for her attention.
Alice-Miranda has several threads to unravel in this sojourn among the sands; the financial problems of the school and Miss Reedy’s anguish over being the possible cause of these, the extremely odd behaviour of the supposed expert standing in for renowned Dr Hassam, Minister for Antiquities, the suspicious actions of Masud, son of the group’s very knowledgeable guide and the puzzle of how precious artefacts are being smuggled out of the country. Really, it’s all pretty much bread-and-butter to our little dynamo – even though she and bestie Millie wonder aloud if they will ever have a ‘quiet’ holiday!- and readers will enjoy the fast-paced action which is interspersed with rich historic and cultural details.
Again Alice-Miranda demonstrates the resourcefulness, intelligence and empathy that we all associate with her character and which endears her so much to her readers. There are also some really top moments in the narrative which bring strong emotions to the fore as what I would call the “Alice-Miranda effect” influences the actions of her team mates, which will really resonate with readers.
There really is never any need to ‘promote’ a new Jacqueline Harvey book and particularly this series – they simply fly off the shelves and are always in high demand – however, you will no doubt still want to book talk it with your other new titles, if only to watch the scramble afterwards to be the first to grab it!
As always, highly recommended for your readers from around Year 4 upwards.
Once again Anna Ciddor has crafted an historical narrative that will both entertain her readers with humour, drama, terrific characters and exciting storylines, and inform them with fascinating, and no doubt, previously unknown facts about life in Ancient Rome. Perry, leaves his family holiday in modern-day France behind , when he accidentally travels back 1700 years to a Gaul occupied by the Romans, . While that in itself would be quite shocking and unsettling, it is even more disturbing for the boy to discover he is a merely a lowly slave, in the household of a quite wealthy family.
Whisked from crumbling ruins in the 21st century, where his family are enjoying a festival celebrating the Roman history of the locale, Perry finds himself in the original Villa Rubia, and – due to his mum’s choice of festival costume for him – mistaken for the new slave boy, expected to carry out the most menial of tasks, sleep in what is basically just a hut and eat the most unappetising of foods, including mice!
Apart from his complete ignorance in not only the ways of ancient Roman households but obviously also the expectations of a slave boy, Perry struggles in his forced adaptation to his new circumstances as he attempts to find a way to return to the present. But his longing to be back with his family is tempered by his growing attachment to his new friends, particularly Camilla Valentia, daughter of the household – about whom, Perry has foreknowledge of her fate, having seen her tomb during his present-day holiday.
Your readers will love this for the adventure and the friendship theme but also the fascinating tidbits about life in ancient Rome – be it wine-making, daily meals, dress, the vernacular expressions, school or other customs. They will also feel deeply Perry’s frustration as he tries every conceivable option to get back to his real life and family.
I have already talked this one up with my ChocLit group – coincidentally our Year 7s are just finishing off their first History unit of inquiry on ancient civilisations so they were rather excited about it. Highly recommended for your readers from around Year 5 upwards.
Omg, I can’t tell you how much I loved this read during the week!! It completely reminds me of two much-loved favourites, Carrie’s War by Nina Bawden and Goodnight Mister Tom by Michelle Magorian (both of which I own and have re-read many times), but with its whole new take on the situation of evacuee children in WWII.
Jimmy and his little brother have been evacuated from London to a Welsh valley – traditional, coal-mining families and either open welcomes or suspicion of ‘foreigners’. Mr and Mrs Thomas are warm and caring, and little Ronnie is quickly comfortable with both, but Jimmy is both distrustful and resentful. He’s already lost his mum, who took off leaving the brothers with their dad and grandmother, and he’s certainly not ready to treat this temporary stay as ‘home’. The entire London contingent seem different here. Jimmy’s best friend, now lodged with the local minister’s family, has turned into a nasty bully like the Reverend’s son and Florence, uncared for and abused at home, blossoms into a true friend.
Jimmy is to realise that even a temporary family can be a solace but first there are difficulties to overcome and these are complicated when the boy discovers a human skull hidden in the hollow of an old tree. Enough to scare even an adult, this find has Jimmy scrambling for someone to trust and sometimes an ally can be found in the most unlikely quarter. The secrets of the valley are gradually revealed as Jimmy and his little tribe work together to solve a decades old mystery, and bring much needed comfort to a long-held grief.
We do know, of course, that not all the evacuated children had happy experiences and we cannot begin to comprehend how overwhelming or unnerving the whole exercise would have been even for those who did. In those times, many city children had never had any experience of wide open spaces, nature and the reality of rural living – some didn’t even know that milk came from cows!
Young readers, particularly those who are fond of such stories set in wartime, will find much to love about this narrative. The strong themes of family, friendship and bravery are very inspirational and will give many children finding our current circumstances difficult some insight in dealing with similar events.
Highly recommended for your readers from around ten years upwards.
Wendy Orr continues her stunning and intriguing sequence of books set in ancient Crete, now focused on Leira’s granddaughter, Clio. In this companion book to Swallow’s Dance and Dragonfly Song, daily life is in turmoil as the ever-increasing threat of invaders pervades the village and its surrounds. Clio struggles often in her day-to-day activities since her horse-riding accident some years earlier. Horses are a rarity in Crete, but Clio’s father comes from a land where they are not only useful but valued and she has inherited her father’s love of the animals, despite the injury which has left her lame. Now the pressure is on to protect the village and its inhabitants and Clio is conflicted between her constant care of her beloved horses and the requirements placed upon all the people by the Lady. Looming over all this is the Lady’s decree that the Great Mother requires a sacrifice – a maiden to serve her in her underworld. Grandmother Leira conceives of the idea of creating a substitute with a beautiful and realistic clay image of the Great Mother and the family vows to protect the statue while praying the Lady will decree this a suitable alternative to one of the handful of village girls who would be the right age for a ritual sacrifice. Sadly Leira, who has reached the end of her days, puts so much of her own life and emotion into the creation of the image that she is spent and while the family mourn their loss, they redouble their vigilance in keeping her final work safe.
Into this mix comes a ragged and abused fisher-girl who secretly loves Clio’s horses, her older brother who is vengeful and seeks retribution after the constant scorn from the townsfolk, the stress when Dada sails away for trade at the order of the Lady and the constant fear of whether the oracle will declare for or against a live sacrifice.
This is another compelling narrative from Wendy Orr, which again spotlights girls of courage and resilience while exploring a culture and history not often described in fiction. Clio’s rollercoaster emotions as she grieves for her much-loved grandmother, misses the security of her father being at home, fear for her best friend and jealousy over young Mika’s natural ability with horses are dramatically woven throughout the story. Readers who enjoy historical adventure will truly love this new novel and become heavily invested in Clio’s world and family.
Highly recommended for readers from around Upper Primary upwards, particularly those keen to pursue a story with a difference. Read more at Allen & Unwin and don’t miss the teaching notes available as well.
Belinda Murrell’s time-slip adventures have always been thrilling and captivating and this new one does not fail to do the same.
Sophie is feeling a little down. Though she loves her English grandmother dearly, she’s a little bored with her extended stay while her mum and younger brother are in Oxford at Archie’s camp for super-smart kids. Sophie has far too much time to think about her problems with bullying Indigo, back at her Sydney school, and her struggles with dyslexia, always feeling a failure, and aside from all that the English summer is very wet – as is usual – and so pretty dull in all senses. Dull that is, until she’s out walking in the muddy fields and follows a very disreputable looking cat into a mysterious cave, which turns out to be an old Roman ruin. In less time than a cat takes for a quick groom of its whiskers, Sophie has stumbled into a strange but beautiful land and finds herself almost accidentally saving the life of a little girl from a rampaging wild boar. And so, Sophie finds herself caught up in the Tuscian world and embroiled in a complicated family situation, where she is the only one who can help siblings Isabella and little Bia escape the horrible plans of their stepmother – a truly wicked stepmother, in the very best fairy tale tradition. In this mysterious world full of beauty and magic such as talking cats, flying horses and funny little mischief-makers, the muzzamurelli, Sophie discovers within herself a strength and resilience she had no idea she possessed as well discovering a very special secret.
Drawing on Italian folktales and motifs of traditional stories, Belinda Murrell has also been inspired by the history of Renaissance noble families and the daughters who were raised to be skilled, intelligent, well-educated, and influential as well as by music, art, architecture, and culture. Thus, this beautifully exciting narrative becomes more than just a fantasy-adventure but a delightful excursion into a fascinating, though often cruel, historical period.
When I say I had to force myself to stop reading over the past few nights because the story was so completely engrossing, I guess you can safely assume that I give this my highest recommendation for your readers from around 10 years upwards. I know I will have many young readers in my own library who will be leaping for this first-rate magical adventure.
Earlier in the year I reviewed what I have said was my read of the year – The Constant Rabbit – and while I knew of Jasper Fforde and the huge impact he’s made along with the rave reviews particularly from my Welsh friend, that book was my introduction to this author’s delightfully absurdist fantasy style. So naturally, his other titles promptly went on my TBR list.
The first is this, Fforde’s debut novel, which was in our library collection and I have just spent my compos mentis bedtime reading enjoying every word and phrase for the past week.
Set in an alternative UK, 1985, where the Crimean War still rages, extinct species are cloned as domestic pets and Wales is a fiercely independent and closed republic, the reader meets Thursday Next and a cast of wonderfully bizarre characters most of whom are heavily involved in either pursuing the criminals intent on making money from the lucrative literary market but also those intent on milking it. Specifically, one Acheron Hades, a strange and shadowy figure who is totally committed to evil for its own sake is bent on disrupting the entire canon of classic English literature by kidnapping fictional characters for ransom and altering plots.
It is totally bonkers, hilarious, at times poignant and ultimately a thoroughly satisfying adventure of epic proportions. You can read more about Thursday and Spec Ops on Jasper’s website. I, for one, now am on the trail of my next Fforde read.
If you want something completely different (thanks Python!) why not try out some of Jasper Fforde’s writing as a NY resolution!
Stacy Gregg’s horse stories have constantly been some of the most popular loans in my libraries, mostly primary but I also have several lower secondary girls who just love these books. This new stand-alone novel introduces readers to talented young artist Maisie, who has always loved horses and drawing them. In fact, her teacher finds it very frustrating that all Maisie seems to do is draw horses and calls the girl’s father in for a discussion. Contrary to the teacher’s intention, Maisie’s dad is pretty indignant that his daughter’s talent is perceived as a problem rather than a talent to be nurtured. Taking matters into his own hands he applies on his daughter’s behalf to a prestigious Parisian art school for a term’s scholarship and soon Maisie finds herself in the City of Lights staying with her very kind and welcoming patron.
What seems to be a golden opportunity is soon a terrible disappointment to Maisie when she finds her tutor to be both scornful and supremely critical of her art. She has no idea how she is going to find the heart to finish the scholarship until she discovers in a secret cache the long-lost diary of her patron’s ancestor – the famous horse artist Rose Bonifait. As the separate stories of the two young girls, both passionate about their art and horses, unfolds secrets, tragedies but also hope and warmth are revealed.
Maisie takes her courage and determination from Rose’s history and gradually her artwork finally begins to please her tutor technically but it is her attachment to a horse name Claude that breathes the life and emotion into her painting.
Like her other books, this will appeal to both the ‘horsey’ girls but also the ones who love adventure and mystery stories. Recommended highly for readers from around 8 years upwards.