Paula Harrison The Darkest Dream Guest Post

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Robyn Silver: The Darkest Dream

 

I’m delighted to have Paula Harrison stopping by the blog today! Paula is here in celebration of the release of her new book Robyn Silver: The Darkest Dream. This is the second story in a wonderful adventure series and you can follow this link to read my review from earlier in the week.

Paula is sharing a guest post today that will give lucky readers some extra insight into her latest book.

 

Five random things you didn’t know about Robyn Silver: The Darkest Dream

  1. Robyn was born when the clock struck midnight which is why she can see monsters that other people can’t see. Luckily she meets two other people who were also born at midnight. Being the only one to see monsters would be pretty terrifying!
  2. The most ridiculous monster in the book is the mimicus which looks like an enormous pale jelly with eyes that can spring out on stalks from any part of its body. The mimicus can also copy people’s voices which is how it got its name.
  3. Weapons made from silver are the most effective against the monsters. But knowledge is also a powerful weapon in this story. Robyn, Nora and Aiden need to discover the truth about what’s terrorising their town and for this they have to raid an enemy’s library.
  4. Robyn has four brothers and sisters. Her sister Sammie, who is fourteen, is the person who annoys her most in the whole world.
  5. Grimdean House is where Robyn and her friends do their training. There is a Mortal Clock on the side of the tower which contains the power to awaken new monster hunters… when the clock strikes midnight

Paula Harrison

Paula Harrison is the best-selling children’s author of The Rescue Princesses series. Her books have sold over one million copies worldwide. Paula wanted to be a writer from a young age but spent many happy years as a primary school teacher first.

 

Thanks so much to Paula for visiting today and to Olivia at Scholastic for sending me this lovely book.


Gaslight by Eloise Williams

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It isn’t every book that wins the whippet seal of approval, you know.

” My mother disappeared on the sixth of September, 1894.

I was found at the docks in Cardiff, lying like a gutted fish at the water’s edge.”

And so starts an intriguing prologue that leads us into Nansi Howell’s life.

Nansi

In chapter one, we find Nansi five years older and in the dubious “care” of Sid who runs a theatre along with other less salubrious ventures. Under Sid’s control, she has learned to take on other identities as both an actor and a thief. Still, Nansi is determined to hold on to her hopes and dreams doing what she can to uncover any clues as to where her mother might be.

Then the arrival of two new theatre acts have an impact on Nansi’s life that means things will never be the same again. Readers aged nine years plus will thrill at being plunged into Eloise Williams’ tale of Victorian Cardiff. Nansi is a character to take to the heart and one who children will find a great empathy for. Gaslight is full of surprises and as good an adventure as you could possibly want and as I’ve come to expect from Firefly Press who consistently publish amazing children’s literature. And look at that cover! Isn’t it just beautiful?

Gaslight

I’ve been looking forward to reading Gaslight for a long time and now I’ve finished it the one thing that strikes me as amazing is the amount of heart and drama Eloise Williams has created in less than 200 pages.  There’s huge depth of story and as I read, I felt like Gaslight functioned as an ink and paper time machine, with surroundings as real as you would wish for. This is exactly what makes me want to share it in class: to see the response from children to not only a cracking adventure plot, but also to the wider picture of Nansi’s life. I fully anticipate mass gasping and holding of breath and hands raised with questions that just can’t wait. I’m pretty convinced Gaslight is one of those books that keeps kids glued even after the home-time bell has rung. I’m looking forward to finding out!

Gaslight: a vivid and breath-taking piece of story-telling brilliance.


Evie’s Ghost by Helen Peters

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“A high metallic strike made me jump. But it was only the living room clock. It struck twelve, and the last stroke faded away.

And as it faded away, the wind stopped whistling in the chimney. The water stopped gurgling in the pipes. The breeze stopped rustling in the trees. 

I had never known such silence. It was as though the world was holding its breath.”

Christmas Eve, the air just before it snows, getting ready to go out somewhere special. Things that hold a sense of delicious anticipation that make the main event even better. Evie’s Ghost by Helen Peters has this from the very start;  a tantalising piece of children’s historical fiction that gives me this exact same feeling. And being surrounded with such a compelling combination of anticipation and action, it’s wonderfully easy to get caught up.

We join Evie as she goes to stay with godmother Anna while her mum’s on honeymoon. Thrown into the unknown setting of Anna’s flat in an old converted manor house, Evie begins to pick up on the history around her and learns about the tragic Sophia Fane: a previous inhabitant who left an intriguing inscription on the window of Evie’s room.

Later that night as the clock strikes twelve, Evie finds herself invited into the past- specifically to 1814 and Sophia’s time. She has a role to play in Sophia’s fate, but even in the past time marches forward. Will Evie manage to help Sophia and still get back to her own time or will she remain trapped in the past?

Evie’s Ghost is a beauty of a book that will have young readers and listeners on the edge of their seats asking for the next chapter. Teachers looking for a riveting class reader will appreciate this and will love the way Helen Peters creates drama and empathy, especially around Evie’s perceptions of the past and the people she meets. There are differences to consider throughout and the author strikes a sensitive balance between noting advantages of the modern world and suggesting sacrifices made for it.

There is enormous value beyond the pages of Evie’s Ghost, especially for Upper Key Stage Two classes looking to study the past in a really meaningful way. Use it to create great drama opportunities in relation to the story, then take it further and encourage children to find their own inner Evie to explore their own slice of local history outside of the classroom and away from the internet.

Evie’s Ghost: perceptive, inspiring, absorbing, and a must for fans of historical fiction.

 


The Bookshop Girl by Sylvia Bishop

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Illustrated by Ashley King

The Bookshop Girl, with…

…and without whippet

Property Jones

Property Jones loves books. The smell, the feel of the pages, the little differences between them. She understands almost everything about them. Everything that it, except the words. Property Jones has a secret: she can’t read.

Property has managed to keep this secret despite living in a bookshop, the one she was abandoned in at the age of five. You see, Property’s parents left her there and disappeared. She was found by Michael Jones, a logical thinker, who seeing that Property was lost promptly put her in the lost property cupboard. Hence the name.

Six years later, Property, Michael and his mum, bookshop owner Netty, live there as a family. Times are hard but a competition to own the prestigious Montgomery’s Emporium of Reading Delights might just solve all their problems. They enter and await the outcome…

(But why is such a famous and esteemed bookshop simply being given away as a prize? Surely there must be a catch?)

Join Property and the Jones as they enter the most marvellous bookshop ever invented, tangle with some very bad baddies (BOOOO!) and spend time  with a really grumpy cat.

High Adventure

This is high adventure in gorgeously imaginative settings. The narrative is lovely: the book begins and ends with a chapter communicated directly to the reader which makes it a bit different. Sylvia Bishop has great warmth in her style and I enjoyed it very much. I’m sure that children will love it too.

The Bookshop Girl is a really fun mystery. It creates amazing images in the reader’s head that will be remembered long after the last page has been turned. This is a book to be read again and again, each time enjoying favourite parts and taking something new.

The text is nicely spaced out which will help give young readers a bit of room to take the story in. It’s illustrated (as all really good books are) throughout and Ashley King has done a brilliant job visually all the characters and exciting scenes. The Bookshop Girl has it all. It’s a wonderful choice for children aged seven years plus.

 

Thank you to Scholastic for sending me this copy.


Through the Mirror Door by Sarah Baker

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door-done

“Suddenly, there was a groan from over by the bedroom door and my eyes shot wide. I stared at the door handle, waiting for it to turn like in all the ghost stories I used to read. But another groan made me realise it wasn’t coming from the door; it was coming from the wardrobe. I gulped. The wardrobe creaked open a little wider, as if by invitation, and  I scrambled back on the cot till I felt the wall. I clutched the blankets tight around me. 

‘Help!’ I screamed.

But again no one came.”

Through the Mirror Door

I do love a scary book, but don’t find pleasure in reading anything so terrifying that I couldn’t give to a child in my class. There’s far more subtly and fascination for me in a story we can share with the whole family than there is in one that’s for ‘grown ups’ only.

My Halloween recommendation this year is a real beauty. A book to fire the imagination, connect you to characters and introduce worlds that will widen your eyes. Come on in…

Angela’s Worlds

Life has been cruel to Angela. When we first meet her she is on the verge of  further upheaval: leaving her current children’s home will either result in her starting again in another one, or there’s a chance she might be taken in by her mum’s sister and her family. This is all part of an ongoing nightmare that started for Angela on the night her own family was torn apart by tragedy, leaving her alone in the world.

Now this: an extended holiday in a dilapidated house in rural France with her aunt, uncle and cousins. And if she behaves herself, she may even get to live with them at the end of it. Not the greatest outcome for our Angela. Vile, spoilt cousins, an ineffectual uncle and an aunt who in another existence would certainly be sorted into Slytherin.

Secrets

However, there’s more than enough going on in the crumbling French manor house to keep Angela occupied, as secrets are revealed and a story from the past begins to unwind.

Besides the story itself, which is deliciously enticing and great fun to read, my favourite aspect of Through the Mirror Door is the brilliant way Sarah Baker has twisted two worlds together: Angela’s desperate real-life situation and those she has to deal with, combined with the otherworldly existence she discovers in France. I love the fragility of the portal that takes her there, and that it creates a situation for the reader where we are wonderfully uncertain as to what the next chapter will reveal. For me, it’s feels like Jacqueline Wilson meets Edgar Allen Poe, and that is a truly wonderful thing!

Perfect for Darker Nights!

I’m really looking forward to introducing this book to the Year Six children at school who will be thrilled by both the intriguing plot and the more spine-tingling touches. I don’t know about you, but this is exactly the kind of thing I want to read as the darker nights set in!

 


Cogheart by Peter Bunzl

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cogheart done

” Another harpoon smashed through Dragonfly’s hull, and whirring saw blades cut through the steel ribs, ripping cracks in the ships tin chest. In a jagged screech, the cracks were wrenched into a doorway, and two silhouetted figures appeared. Their silver eyes glinted in the light. The thinner of the figures raised a stick with a skull handle, then John felt a blinding shaft of pain, and everything went black…”

Breath-Taking

When Lily’s father John Hartman disappears following a terrible crash in his airship, it quickly becomes clear that not all those around her have her best interests at heart. John, a famous inventor, has it seems attracted the attention of some very unsavoury people who are closing in on her, hellbent on finding something of her dad’s- but what?

Lily is plunged into a completely different world. Thank goodness she has new friend Robert, son of the local clockmaker, and also dear Malkin, a mechanical fox made for her by her father, there by her side in this breath-taking and original adventure.

Thrilling

Cogheart, suitable for children of ten years plus, is a steam-powered triumph, an ingenious and fresh take on adventuring in Victorian England. Readers should get ready for danger and imminent peril in a world of automatons and airships. Think Christmas Day Doctor Who special, only much, much better, as Bunzl’s beautiful writing is as soulful as it is thrilling. I must admit to experiencing the full emotional rollercoaster here, and along with some fairly hefty breath holding, I might have got something in my eye once or twice whilst reading…

Fantastic New Voice

Both heroes and villains make Cogheart a really special book. The villains, especially Roach and Mould, are every bit as terrifying as you’d want them to be. Lily is easy to root for: brave, spirited and happily very much a young girl. Robert, I love. He’s so human and normal, completely real and every bit a hero. Malkin: well he’s a mechanical fox. This is an addition of great glory that leaves me wondering why children’s literature hasn’t given us one of these sooner? For this Peter Bunzl, I thank you enormously.

Cogheart by Peter Bunzl introduces a fantastic new voice for children’s literature, up there with M.G Leonard’s Beetle Boy and joining other great story tellers such as Neil Gaiman and Philip Pullman. Check it out now and love it forever.


Jolly Foul Play by Robin Stevens: Totally Killing It for UKMG

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jolly foul play done

“We were all looking up, and so we missed the murder. 

I have never seen Daisy so furious. She has been grinding her teeth (so hard that my teeth ache in sympathy) and saying ‘Oh, Hazel! How could we not notice it? We were on the spot!'”

Oh, I Say!

The superb series of Wells and Wong mysteries continues with Jolly Foul Play, suitable for readers aged nine plus, and we’re back for autumn term at Deepdean boarding school with Daisy and Hazel. For those of you who are unfamiliar with this book series, we are joining the girls at the tail end of 1935. And guess what? That’s right, there’s been a murder, and this time right under their noses!

Deepdean’s not so beloved head girl Elizabeth (scores highly on the Bad-Egg-O-Meter) has been bumped off by some ne’er-do-well. There are plenty of girls motivated to commit the crime, but who could have actually done it?

Daisy and Hazel are joined by a select band of fellow fourth formers in their Detective Society, as they attempt to solve the murder. Things are unsettled this year though: Elizabeth’s death has caused disparity and unrest amongst the girls. The atmosphere around school has changed. Also, it seems that Daisy and Hazel are not quite as close as they once were. How will The Detective Society be affected and will the girls pull together for the greater good and expose the killer in time?

Golly!

This is the fourth Murder Most Unladylike Mystery, but new readers may rest assured that they will need no great knowledge of previous events in order to enjoy Jolly Foul Play. My advice however, would be to read the lot as this is a cracking series with plenty of really satisfying character development running throughout. If you’ve enjoyed one, you’ll certainly love the rest.

The mysteries are riveting to read and challenging to solve. Actually, I have to admit that with Jolly Foul Play, this is the first time I’ve managed to identify the murderer. (I say identify, but it would be more accurate to tell you that I changed my mind many, many times before lucking out and stumbling on guilty party in the nick of time. I know. Daisy would be ashamed of me and my haphazard methods.)

The fun is in the trying though, and I was helped along by the glorious maps at the start of the book and also the list of Deepdean players. This list is especially useful as there are quite a lot of characters, many of whom will be new to even the most dedicated Wells and Wong fan. It’s good to be able to check up on who’s who when you need to.

Hurrah!

Jolly Foul Play has further established Robin Stevens to be a treasure amongst children’s authors. Whilst fans of Blyton will be delighted to note the inclusion of midnight feasts and an entertaining Mamzelle, make no mistake, this is no retro rehash. Stevens, as I’ve said in previous reviews, is a brilliant mystery writer who understands her time frame inside out and makes it work for modern mini-sleuths. I love that she brings murder into a Blytonesque boarding school; it makes me think how long poor old Gwendoline Mary Lacey would have lasted at Malory Towers under such circumstances…

Given that this is my third review of the Wells and Wong mystery series, you’re safe to assume that I’m a fan. They’re all quite different in premise and execution, no pun intended, so it’s no wonder young readers keep returning for more.

Another wonderful book from Robin Stevens: Jolly Foul Play is the perfect way to kill a few hours.

You can check out Robin Stevens’ glorious website here.

And my previous reviews of other books in the series here (Arsenic for Tea) and here (First Class Murder).

 


The Mystery of the Clockwork Sparrow by Katherine Woodfine

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The Mystery of the Clockwork Sparrow is an action-packed Edwardian style page turner, perfect for sleuths aged 10 years +

clockwork sparrow

“There was a glint of metal in the dim light; a sudden, heart-stopping explosion of sound. He started and shrank back into his corner, but the thin young fellow had fallen. He was on the ground. His body was crooked, slumped face-down. The other man turned smoothly, soundlessly away, and a moment later he had melted into the dark.”

Edwardian London

Intriguing, isn’t it? Looking back, I was surprised to see that this action, the point at which it all really begins, isn’t until sixty pages into the book because when I was reading it felt much quicker. This is all credit to Katherine Woodfine of course, who fills her story with appealing characters in situations that you want to read about and explore further. So, for the first sixty pages I was so caught up in Sophie and her new life that the pages just flew by.

Sophie is a shopgirl at the brand new Sinclair’s* department store in London. Hard times- the death of her father and the surprising lack of a will- have resulted in all of Sophie’s previous life to peel away, leaving her struggling to get by. Although we meet Sophie after this has all happened, we like her pretty much straight away and quickly develop sympathy and curiosity for her past life as well as what is to come.

Compelling Characters

It’s Woodfine’s knack of creating likeable characters in compelling situations that makes The Mystery of the Clockwork Sparrow more than just a mystery. In fact, for me the missing clockwork sparrow that caused me to pick up the book in the first place quickly began to play second fiddle to the cast. Once you meet Sophie, Billy, Lil and Joe, you might see what I mean. Don’t misunderstand me, the mystery is solid: intricate and quite dramatic at times, but it’s these four and my interest in what happens next for them that would lead me to buy the next in the series, which is out now. Basically, I want to know about the will discrepancy and what happens next for Sophie and Lil in particular.

The Mystery of the Clockwork Sparrow: a rollicking good vintage style read with, in my opinion, the best mystery yet to be solved.

Keep Focused!

*Oh, and if you’re making links between Sinclair’s and Selfridges, you’re spot on. A brand new department store, in London, owned by a slightly eccentric gentleman and offering a modern shopping experience? Yep, it’s clearly inspired by that shop. However, I found it was best to try and avoid thinking too much about the TV programme Mr Selfridge when reading, if possible, and stick to Woodfine’s version instead which is far more worthy of your time.

 


Old School: The Glass Bird Girl by Esme Kerr

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The Glass Bird Girl by Esme Kerr

glass bird

 

Boarding Schools Are Back!

I was less of a fan of Enid Blyton’s boarding school series, more of an obsessive. There was a significant part of my childhood spent reading the St Clare’s and Malory Towers books straight through from start to finish, panic about it all ending and immediately have to start straight over. It was marginally less stressful than it sounds. Oh, I just couldn’t leave Bill to gallop over the fields towards school with her brothers and Clarissa (on horses- not like Miranda Hart does it) unseen, nor not enjoy Darrell’s ‘glint’ one more time. And that awful spoilt Gwendoline Lacy! What a frightful little beast! I have very fond memories.

I grew up with not even the slightest desire to go to boarding school, but loved these books. It saddened me a bit to see Enid Blyton go out of fashion quite to the extent she did, so am now delighted to see really great authors proud to be associated with her brand of fiction. Esme Kerr is almost certainly one of these writers: The Glass Bird Girl is full of sneaky references to the Malory Towers series. We have a Sally, an Alice, even a head girl called Helen Greyling and I’m sure there must be more. This will mean something to the more Blyton’d amongst you.

Best of Both Worlds

The Glass Bird Girl isn’t set in the forties or fifties, but Kerr cleverly gets the spirit of this time by making certain adjustments. Edie is our Darrell to all intents and purposes, but comes to Knight’s Hadden Boarding School in quite a different way. We meet Edie a month in to living with her aunt, uncle and awful cousins. Previous to this, she lived with her beloved Grandmother who sadly went blind and was no longer allowed to care for her, hence the new arrangements. Life is miserable with her cousins, to say the least, and Edie decides to leave…

Another chapter opens with Edie’s cousin Charles, an art dealer, talking to his client (a Russian prince) in opulent Mayfair surroundings. Charles learns that the prince’s daughter Anastasia (also his god daughter) is having a tricky time at school. Something is not right: her belongings are going missing and her father is concerned about it. Anastasia is obviously unhappy. What is needed is someone, another girl, to go in and watch over her, and the prince is prepared to pay for the right girl to do the job should Charles know of anyone…

Charles and Edie’s paths cross, of course Edie takes on the role of secret school girl spy and her advetures begin. Why do Anastasia’s things keep going missing and how can Edie guarantee staying at the school long enough to find out? It’s all rather thrilling in a gloriously traditional British way. Attending Knight’s Hadden is like going back in time. No one is allowed to use mobile phones and there are turrets, which seems pretty conclusively old-fashioned to me. When Mrs Fotheringay (head teacher and owner of extremely forties surname) makes notes on pupils, it’s in a book rather than on a computer. The girls go to tea rooms, not Starbucks. When cars are mentioned, I can’t have been alone in picturing an Austin saloon rather than a Volkswagen Passat. Don’t be mistaken though in thinking this has all been done before though: the story is original and full of mystery and intrigue. Children (probably girls) from nine up* who read Robin Steven’s mystery books will definitely love it, and adults who enjoyed Enid Blyton’s school books probably will too.

GGGG A ripping, wizard and gorgeous read!

*Be aware if you are buying for sensitive children, there is a rather unpleasant incident in the first chapter where Edie’s vile cousins kill her pet fish. Might be worth skimming this first and seeing what you think, but if necessary it can be skipped without too much trouble so don’t let this put you off.

 

 


Searching for the Locomotive: First Class Murder by Robin Stevens

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First Class Murder by Robin Stevens

1st class

Back for More

In February I read a wonderful book called Arsenic for Tea by Robin Stevens and duly reviewed it here. It’s a great review. You really should read it. Both witty and informative. I loved the book so couldn’t wait to get my hands on the author’s latest Wells and Wong mystery, and not just for the good of this site, but because her books are fantastic and I’d read them regardless of posting a review at the end of it. This one was even better than the last.

Here’s the low down:

This time Hazel Wong and Daisy Wells, our thirteen year old detectives, are taking a well-earned break. After solving a most unsavoury murder committed at Daisy’s house earlier on in the year, they are being treated to a holiday by Hazel’s father. He has a tour of Europe in store for them and they will be travelling in style, aboard the Orient Express. It’s the 1930s, a golden age of sophistication (as well as murder writing) and what could be more exciting than a journey on the most luxurious train ever built?

Train of Thought

Almost straight away, Daisy and Hazel are intrigued by their fellow travellers and sense that something is not quite right. There’s the unpleasant Mr Daunt, who fawns over his wife whilst snapping at everyone else; Mrs Daunt’s maid Sarah who certainly doesn’t know her place and is horribly rude to her employers; Mrs Daunt’s estranged brother, there by coincidence to research his latest crime novel, and Madame Melinda Fox, a medium who has been contacting Mrs Daunt’s dead mother and passing on messages from beyond the grave. Also aboard is Il Mysterioso, a gloriously caped and, well, mysterious magician; Countess De Midovskoy, a debunked Russian aristo and her grandson, young Alexander. There’s Mrs Vitellius who looks somewhat familiar to the girls, and of course their own party of Hetty Lessing from Arsenic for Tea, Hazel’s dad and his assistant. One of them gets bunked off. You should read it to find out who. It’s a good job Daisy and Hazel are aboard to put the pieces together, but how will they accomplish this when no one wants them to get involved? Never underestimate the creativity of the thirteen year old mind!

This series gets better and better. Robin Stevens is brilliant at constructing her mysteries and had me guessing until the end. And in the end, actually I wasn’t quite right, which I thoroughly enjoyed. The author is obviously inspired by Agatha Christie’s Murder on the Orient Express and uses this inspiration seamlessly to create something quite different and entirely fitting to the Wells and Wong series. And as for the girls, Daisy is still a bit of a handful whilst Hazel continues to be sweet and adorable and should ever be admired for expressing bafflement when the other guests fail to eat much when upset. I am absolutely with Hazel here and find my sense of hunger to be happily unbothered by difficult times. With food in mind, I must mention the howlingly tempting dishes that are served up during the book. An afternoon tea with Mrs Vitellius nearly sent me drooling with its tiny fruit tarts, fondant fancies, hot chocolate and plump cream cakes… Let’s hope Ms Stevens continues to write books where extensive descriptions of foods are required.

Oh, if only more teachers would read books like these to their class. How exciting to work on the clues and solve the mystery together, draw maps and gather evidence. Tell your teacher friends to check it out. This would be an amazing class reader.

GGGG Another dazzling mystery for anyone 9 years upwards and bound to appeal to the Enid Blyton set (and pretty much anyone in their right mind). Can’t wait for book four!