Tag Archives: Espionage

Stormbreaker – Anthony Horowitz

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1574636428062

Walker Books Australia

March 2020

ISBN: 9781406388589
Imprint: Walker
Australian RRP: $16.99

By chance, when I found out that the new 20th anniversary edition of Stormbreaker was being released I was ‘re-reading’ it on audio during my commute and relishing the pure adrenalin rush that is the hallmark of the series.

Frankly I’d be happy to read Anthony’s shopping list – the man just oozes talent in whichever field he pursues but let’s face it there is something super special about young Alex. It remains one of those series which I can inveigle a reader to pick up for a first read and have that reader come back for a bulk borrow of the rest of the series.

And how extra exciting is it that this anniversary edition heralds another new episode in Alex’ thrilling adventures – Nightshade is coming!

If for some reason you’ve never accompanied Alex on any of his adventures (seriously??) you should know he is a 14 year old schoolboy who is recruited unwillingly by the powers that be following the suspicious death of his guardian Ian Rider to undertake dangerous and potentially deadly missions. In reality the man he always knew as an international banker was in fact a highly skilled secret agent and has trained Alex all his life to be as competent an operative as himself. Now Alex is sent to investigate one Herod Sayle, to all appearances a wealthy and generous benefactor, but in fact one with not only a streak of insanity but a vindictive killer.

Sayle’s plot to unleash a deadly virus on every single one of Britain’s schools via the gift of his new and technologically unsurpassed computer, the Stormbreaker, is what Alex must put a stop to – succeeding in fact where his uncle had failed.

The action doesn’t stop for a second in this roller-coaster introduction to a world into which Alex finds himself so reluctantly dragged but due to the management of his many ‘hobbies’ instigated by his guardian he actually finds himself surprisingly well-prepared.

This is  a series that both boys and girls will grab hold of with gusto, fully immersing them in the non-stop action. Thank you Anthony for 20 years of thrilling adventures with the boy-spy who beats them all!

Highly recommended for readers from around ten years upwards and why not pre-order the newest volume now!

Lilies, Lies and Love (Book #4 Miss Lily) – Jackie French

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Harper Collins Australia

March 2020

ISBN: 9781460754986

ISBN 10: 1460754980

Imprint: HarperCollins – AU

List Price: 29.99 AUD

When this arrived (and after all, I’d only been waiting for it impatiently since the moment of finishing book #3) I told myself I would not gobble it up like a kid eating lollies. *Laughs hysterically* As if! Three nights later…..

It is 1936 and Sophie, Dowager Countess of Shillings, has been living at her beloved Australian property, Thuringa, with her children and Miss Lily since the widely-reported death of her husband, Nigel Vaile.

The years have rolled by peacefully and all has been well although there are times when Sophie is concerned about Miss Lily’s frailty, the realisation that her dear friend Daniel, once known as John, is becoming increasingly fond of her and, if she admits it truthfully, often she feels bored.

In England and Europe a storm is rising as Hitler grows in power and begins to demonstrate his inherent evil. To complicate this England’s leaders refuse to re-arm and more worrying is the new King’s obsession with a divorcee called Wallis Simpson and the fascist views of the Nazi regime.

Sophie’s old friend James Lorrimer, as always, is in the thick of the intrigues and politics in the inner circle of cabinet and together with Churchill develops a plan to both thwart the King and provoke the Prime Minister into action. And so he enlists Sophie to ‘fascinate’ her old friend David, HRH King Edward VIII, to wean him away from the American predator and reluctantly she agrees taking all her precious family, as well as Daniel, back to Shillings and a world she thought she had left behind forever. Naturally they also take Mr Jones, Green and Violette along with them as this venture requires the skills and knowledge of all.

The evolution of the plan is complex and becomes fraught with complications which not only jeopardise England’s security but Sophie’s own personal safety. There are many tense moments in the unfolding of the plot which will have readers turning the pages as quickly as I did.

Interwoven with the main thread are the interactions and emotions of the main characters and a no-holds-barred interpretation of the man who has gone down in history for all the wrong reasons.

Readers will be, in turns, thrilled and dismayed as the events unfold but will relish their renewed acquaintance with familiar characters such as the indomitable Ethel, the elegant Emily and the duplicitous Hannelore along with the introduction of others new to the narrative.

Based on recently revealed documents from the German archives, there will be astonishment and shock in store for readers as the previously unknown machinations behind the King’s abdication and the extreme lengths to which some would go in the name of duty in this new work from the maven of historical fiction. For many this will be an eye-opening insight into one of the most turbulent times in British history and the monarchy.

There is never any need for me to recommend Jackie’s work – and indeed, there are many in my circle who have been practically panting for this next instalment – but I urge you to take this up with the highest recommendation I can offer. I remain optimistic that we have not yet seen the last of Miss Lily and Sophie and resign myself to waiting (somewhat) patiently for another chapter in their story.

As an aside, when my father was on his way to England as he transferred from the army to the RAF in 1941, he met the Duke of Windsor in New York and, in fact, shook his hand – he said forever after that he could tell just by that handshake and brief encounter that the man was completely spineless and had nothing but scorn for him all his life.

The Lily in the Snow: Book #3 Miss Lily – Jackie French

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Harper Collins

March 2019

ISBN: 9781460753842

ISBN 10: 1460753844

RRP 29.99 AUD

We devotees of Miss Lily have been waiting fairly impatiently for her return and I was thrilled when my copy arrived and immediately started immersing myself once more into the world of Sophie, Nigel and Miss Lily. However packing and moving house followed up by three weeks of the dreaded lurgy meant I was only ¾ through – until last Saturday when I binge read the remaining chapters because I just couldn’t wait any longer to find out the conclusion.

The Jazz Age has begun and Sophie and Nigel generally manage to ignore it living peacefully at Shillings watching their delightful twins growing up. There are concerns such as Sophie’s belief of an impending financial crash and her need to ensure the safe continuation of her father’s corned beef empire.  But long held secrets and intrigues threaten their idyll and the most significant of these will change their lives forever.

Responding to a request from their old colleague the pair help to uncover the identity of a badly injured veteran of the Great War which brings Sophie once again into contact with the mysterious ‘John’ from her Australian home. Questions surround the paternity of the Shillngs twins and the encounter with ‘John’ must resolve these.

A mysterious and ferocious young girl, Violette, turns up at Shillings after considerable mis-adventure and is intent on killing her mother whom she believes is Miss Lily: a circumstance which throws all kinds complications into the household.

And Sophie’s old friend Hannelore instigates what is tantamount to blackmail to enlist Miss Lily’s support of the man for whom she has developed a blind and misguided fervour, a German called Herr Hitler.

The tension and mystery of the narrative are superlative and once again Jackie’s undisputed skill in weaving fact with fiction provides the reader with a plot that unfolds with high drama and exquisite anticipation. One cannot help but become completely invested with these characters that become all but real as the series continue.

As always one is living within the story and the involvement is powerful with the conclusion thrilling and filled with twists and turns as only Jackie can achieve.

I truly hope this is not the last we see of this engaging saga and now we must wait with patience to see the next instalment.

An amazing and triumphant return of the story highly recommended for senior readers and adults.

 

a PS – from my lovely cousin (sister from another mother) who is currently reading it……..

Jackie is a wonderful story teller, she makes you feel as if you really KNOW the character, or invokes emotions about how you feel about them.

Triple Treat: Jacqueline Harvey, Belinda Murrell and R. A. Spratt

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Such fun to open parcels with books from the most popular authors in my library – and my literary circle! The titles from this trio are highly sought after among my readers and there is always much exchanging in the returns line up with ‘She had this but I want to borrow it next’.

To make it an even more interesting mix there is a beginning, a ‘middle’ and, sadly, an ending.

Kensy and Max #1: Breaking News – Jacqueline Harvey

K&M

9780143780656

February 26, 2018

Random House Australia Children’s

RRP $16.99

Without a doubt, Jacqueline Harvey has the girls from 7 to teens eating out of the palm of her hand with her Clementine Rose and Alice-Miranda series.  And if you have not had the pleasure of Jacqueline presenting at your school I suggest that you do as she is without doubt the most energetic and engaging author I’ve seen in action.

Now Jacqueline has turned her considerable talents to a series pitched at both boys and girls with a hugely popular premise – espionage! Kensy and Max are twins both alike and also very different. They are well used to living all over the globe as their parents, apparently, are first responders in both tourist resorts and in crisis/humanitarian situations. However, when the pair finds themselves in a completely strange house with only their ‘manny’ Fitz in loco parentis things being to turn very mysterious indeed with their parents missing in a civil revolt and house inhabitants who are both strange and yet oddly familiar.

The two are in turn baffled and curious and begin to piece puzzle pieces together of their own initiative. It would seem that MI6 is a ‘family’ thing!

This new series has both memorable characters and believable circumstances which will thoroughly intrigue readers from around 8 years upwards. I don’t need to use my considerable powers of ESP to predict that this will be as big a winner as Jacqueline’s other series.

Highly recommended for readers from mid-primary up – get it on your shelves ASAP!

 

Pippa’s Island #3: Kira Dreaming – Belinda Murrell

pippa3

9780143783701

January 2, 2018

Random House Australia Children’s

RRP $14.99

 

Without fail, if I put a Belinda Murrell book, whether Lulu Bell or one of the time slip series into a girl’s hands, I have her hooked from that moment. I’d like to think it’s my skill as a teacher-librarian but really its Belinda’s talent at knowing exactly what will grab her readers!

 

This is the third in her latest series and already I have girls clamouring for the next so this will be a huge hit when school goes back. There is something just purely delightful and happy about Pippa and her friends and family, even though there are serious moments e.g. Pippa’s absent dad. This doesn’t detract as I believe so many children can relate to the ambivalence about a parent who has absconded from the family. It’s difficult for them to reconcile their own love for that parent and the feeling of rejection/abandonment.

In this new episode, the Sassy Sisters are entering the school talent quest and while Pippa’s besties, Cici, Meg and Charlie are rapt about this opportunity, Pippa has real problems with her stage fright. Unexpectedly, it is this which provides a catalyst for Pippa to resume some ‘friendly’ relations with her MIA father.

These stories are fabulous narratives about real life situations to which readers can relate – despite the fact that they may not live on a tropical island!

Again, highly recommended for readers from around eight years upwards and if you’ve missed the first two, put them on your ‘to buy’ list as well!

 

Friday Barnes #8: Never Fear – R. A. Spratt

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9780143784203

January 2, 2018

Random House Australia Children’s

RRP $15.99

 

When I gently broke the news to my avid Friday readers that the forthcoming book would be the last in the series there was full scale caterwauling and gnashing of teeth. The only thing that saved me from literary lynching was the promise of a new series in the pipeline – whew!

 

I’ve mentioned this before. I love Friday! I love her geekiness, her gauche-ness, her daggy clothes and social ineptitude.

 

Highcrest Academy has a new principal and she is one seemingly mean and shockingly capable young woman. She promptly promotes Friday to Year 12 to ‘extend’ her and Friday is convinced that this means she’s just one step away from being ousted from what she regards as her home.

Along with this is the persistent rumour of long hidden gold somewhere in the school grounds and when implosions and explosions begin to disrupt the regular (!!) routine of Highcrest everyone is on edge.

 

Some huge questions are answered in this final volume. Will Friday ever kiss Ian? Can Melanie stay awake long enough to observe it? Who will still be a student in the academy at the end of year? Is the new principal who she says she is or an imposter? And will Friday ever kiss Ian? 😉

 

There will be some sad faces at this the final Friday chapter but reassure your readers that more great stuff is on its way from R. J. Spratt’s imaginative mind!

Highly recommended for readers from around mid-primary upwards.

 

Binge Reading Jackie French

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The upside of injuring both your legs badly at the same time is that you have a very legitimate excuse to stay in bed reading a lot. And fortunately my lovely friends at Harper Collins must have had some kind of premonition because the day before my accident I had received a plethora amazing books to review including the three here. Fortunately (with hindsight) I had not yet read Miss Lily’s Lovely Ladies which meant I had the double delight of reading both the first and second in the series back to back (over the course of two days). The latest in the Matilda series Facing the Flame was consumed in one evening.  Aside from anything else I think the rate at which I devoured these speaks volumes for the sheer pleasure of them.

Miss Lily’s Lovely Ladies

ISBN: 9781460753583

ISBN 10: 1460753585

Imprint: HarperCollins – AU

 27/03/2017

RRP $29.99 AUD

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A tale of espionage, love and passionate heroism.

Inspired by true events, this is the story of how society’s ‘lovely ladies’ won a war.

Young Sophie Higgs has grown up a privileged girl being the only child of the wealthiest man in NSW, Jeremiah Higgs the king of canned corned beef. But in the rigid society of Sydney, as in England, ‘trade’ is scorned and so despite her wealth, intelligence and beauty it would seem Sophie will always be second-class by the established standards. Until that is, in order to deflect Sophie from an unsuitable love affair, she is sent to England to the home of her father’s old army friend Earl of Shillings to be coached by his cousin Miss Lily and eventually be presented at court.

In England Sophie’s world is wonderfully and gloriously opened wide as she becomes the prized ‘pupil’ of the enigmatic Miss Lily and makes new friends, is sought after by new lovers and particularly held in esteem for her wit, courage and compassion. But the glittering world of the debutante is quickly extinguished by the outbreak of war and it is here that Sophie demonstrates her real abilities and character.

As with all of Jackie’s historical novels a completely captivating and richly detailed narrative is interwoven with actual historical fact to create a mesmerising offering.  I was hooked from the very first page and would have been extremely sorry to reach the end except for the fact that I had the next volume with which to continue. How fortunate are we to have such an exceptional writer to claim as our own? The breadth of her talents seems endless.

Highly recommended for readers of around mid-teens upwards. Find teaching notes here.

The Lily and the Rose

ISBN: 9781460753590

ISBN 10: 1460753593

Imprint: HarperCollins – AU

19/03/2018

RRP 29.99 AUD

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The Great War is over but that doesn’t necessarily equate to peace. Sophie Higgs is soon to come to this realisation as she re-establishes her life in Australia, taking over her late father’s business empire as an independent confident young woman. Alongside her, the circle of women who have become her ongoing support network in a society that is no longer defined by the old norms.

It is not only politics and world affairs that are clouded for Sophie. She is still torn between her love for Nigel, Earl of Shillings, the strange attraction of Dolphie the German aristocrat and in a new twist a stranger, John, who is trying to expiate his own war by carving crosses into rocks until he feels at peace.

A call for help from her old friend Hannelore sees Sophie becoming even more daring as she goes to wartorn Germany on a rescue mission from which she returns even more confused in her emotions.

Those thoughts remain until a crisis with Nigel’s health sees her racing to England via the unheard of method of flying with female pilots around the world to reach her beloved and at last the two are married with their whole future ahead of them. Or is it?

Jackie has left this tapestry with some small waving threads that will have every reader hanging out for the next instalment.  Again a superlative storyteller takes us on a magical, romantic and adventurous journey and my recommendations remain glowing for the mid-teens upwards.

 

 

Facing the Flame – #7 The Matilda Saga

ISBN: 9781460753200

ISBN 10: 1460753208

Imprint: HarperCollins – AU

20/11/2017

$29.99 AUD

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I didn’t need to re-read the last in the series to be utterly enthralled by this latest right from the get-go. In fact, this was a complete binge, read in one night because it was just too good and too gripping to put down.

Jed Kelly is the happiest she has ever been. She’s married to Sam, and pregnant with their first child. Her hearth and home are a haven. Young Scarlett is doing well at uni and carving out a newly independent life.

Then cracks start to appear. The dry weather is worsening with many old-timers predicting the worst of fires ever. The man she fears most re-appears in Jed’s life, intent with malice and revenge. A young girl blinded in an accident is creating issues at the River View facility. But Gibbers Creek is one tough and tight community where there is immense support for each and every one of their whole.

When the tiny spark finally escalates into the worst imaginable fire, the community is galvanised into action and though Jed passes through a frightening and dangerous episode and one could say her baby almost has a baptism of fire, the loyalty, intuition and the indomitable spirit of old Matilda resonates through the township and surrounds.

This is a cracking story filled with rich characters both old and new and imbued with all that we hold dear about Australian love of country and mateship.

Highly recommended for readers of around 14 upwards.  If you don’t have the complete series yet, this is one worth investing in for your collection particularly for Middle/Upper school and wide reading of Australian spirit/identity.

 

Ruby Redfort: Pick Your Poison [#5] – Lauren Child

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9780007334278

Harper Collins

May 2017

ISBN10 0007334273

RRP $14.99

So about a week or so before I finished my last job (a month ago now) one of my favourite girls, Miss Georgia from Year 6, followed me into the library one morning, her face aglow. “Oh Ms Warren – I just finished reading the BEST book!”  Yes, it was this one.  I freely admitted I had not yet read a Ruby Redfort book – probably because due to Year 4/5/6 girls they were NEVER on the shelves! I did tell her however I was expecting this one in my next review parcel so have finally finished it. Being quite a bit longer than some I undertake and only reading at night the last week or so I had to just restrain myself to a few chapters each session.

All that being said once I got into the swing of it I did enjoy it. Ruby is kind of the girl equivalent of Alex Rider (in fact, I suggested AR to Georgia and she was onto the last couple for the holidays, having eaten them up!).  Ruby is a bit mouthy and a bit of a loose cannon but has found herself due to her uncanny ability to solve puzzles and codes working for Spectrum as an undercover agent. This is gumshoe detective genre updated and uses quite a lot of the terminology, especially given Ruby’s and her friends’ propensity for crime shows. The villains are almost as comic book as those in Batman with perhaps a touch more evil added.

I think what I particularly like about this book is the absolutely stunning code. I’m no mathematician, as many can attest, but I can appreciate the ‘neatness’ of this particular cryptic puzzle.

Not really much need to ‘sell’ this one because I know it will be a hot favourite in any library. If you have already bought the hardback, I suggest you double up with this paperback – apparently there is no such thing as TOO much Ruby Redfort!  Georgia, you were quite correct – it’s a great read!

The Traitor and the Thief – Gareth Ward

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Walker Books Australia

July 2017

ISBN 9781925381504

RRP $17.99

I will confess I’m not a real steampunk aficionado (His Dark Materials excepted!) but this is a complex and interesting narrative. It’s difficult to determine an actual setting either time or place except that it is in England, opening in London, and post ‘Tedwardian’ apparently.  Proper nouns and regular words (often adjectives) are skewed to be almost but not really familiar so readers will need to be pretty sharp to follow these. I found this aspect a little disconnecting but that would be down to first statement I think.

Sin is a young orphan who was abandoned at birth by his mother, raised in an institution and subsequently came under the ‘employ’ of a Fagin-like creature called The Fixer.

During one of his usual pickpocket/petty thieving expeditions Sin is hunted and then taken by two members of a strange organisation known as COG (Covert Operations Group). This has been founded by the prodigious and well-known inventor Nimrod Barm who desires to prevent further global warfare and bloodshed for which many of his weapon inventions have been used.

It seems that COG is actively recruiting youngsters to train as espionage agents in this action to thwart warmongers and power players.  Sin is one of a group of roughly dozen latest recruits to enter a five year training program. From the start he is bewildered and somewhat sceptical but is content that food, warmth and a roof over his head is a better option than being half-starved and scampering across London roofs to avoid sheriffs.

Like all good spy stories, there are twists and turns aplenty and Sin soon finds himself embroiled with traitorous attempts to sabotage the entire project. Forced into an alliance with the school bully Sin digs deeper and deeper risking his own life as he does.

Able readers who enjoy a challenging and intricate plot will really enjoy this and certainly it offers real scope for some ethical discussions particularly in the current global political climate.

Recommended for readers from around 12 years upwards.

Never Say Die – Alex Rider

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Walker Books Australia

ISBN: 9781406377040
June 1, 2017
Australian RRP: $16.99
New Zealand RRP: $18.99

How absolutely apt that as we mourn the loss of the suavest Bond of them all – vale Sir Roger Moore – the new Alex Rider explodes into our reading lives with every bit of excitement that we have come to anticipate from the teenage spy.

When Anthony said that Alex’ career had come to an end we were all pretty sad. But unexpectedly, three years after what we thought was the last book in the series, the youthful hero is back. Following on from Scorpia Rising and the defeat of the international crime ring, Alex is living in America pretty unhappily, especially as he is still grieving for Jack Starbright, believed killed.

But the world has never had a shortage of villains (as we see so clearly in the news) and from Scorpia’s ashes have risen the Grimaldi brothers – eccentric and evil identical twins every bit worthy of being in an Ian Fleming book. When Alex receives a cryptic line of email he is positive that Jack is still alive and abandons America, his host family and school to find her.

From Egypt to Saint Tropez to a lonely corner of Wales, the action is super-charged and electrifying. Twists and turns abound as we know they will from such a master crime storyteller as the Grimaldis’ ingenious plot is revealed.

While some things have changed  – Mrs Jones is now head of MI6 replacing Alan Blunt – familiar faces are back, like Ben Daniels, Alex’ especial side-kick.

Alex Rider is back: back home, back in MI6 and the thick of espionage, back with his loyal Jack Starbright and back in our reading lists. Bring on some more please Anthony! This is a dose of adrenaline that we all love!

As you are aware there is quite a bit of violence in these but it’s not horribly graphic. I recommend them to my older primary students and upwards.

By the way, the whole series has been re-issued with some very spiffy new ‘dinner jackets’ – you can predict that they are already on my ‘to order’ list!

This one comes with my highest recommendation for thrill-seekers and I eagerly await more from Anthony’s fertile imagination.