MG Takes on Thursday

This is my weekly meme celebrating amazing middle-grade books, now with a re-vamped banner!

How to take part:

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

This week, I’m celebrating …

Written by M.G. Leonard & Sam Sedgman
Illustrated by Elisa Paganelli
Published by Macmillan Children’s Books

Favourite Sentence from Page 11:

‘What do you think about the Kratzenstein curse?’

This book in three words:

MYSTERY, TRAINS, ADVENTURE

Hal and his Uncle Nat are back for their fourth sleuthing adventure in Danger at Dead Man’s Pass.  This is a wonderfully exhilarating addition to the brilliant Adventures on Train series which kept me gripped from start to finish.

Hal and his Uncle Nat receive a letter from an old friend who wants their help to investigate a death in the family, a death that some believe could be linked to a family curse.  They find themselves aboard the Eurostar to Paris to meet the sender of the letter, Baron Essenbach, who asks them to go undercover as distant relatives of the rich, railway owners, the Kratzenstein family in order to uncover the truth about the unexpected death of Alexander Kratzenstein.

Taking the overnight train to Berlin, they meet their ‘family’ and travel with them to Schloss Kratzenstein, a huge manor nestled at the foot of the Harz mountains, aboard the family train in order to attend the funeral which is due to take place in the family mausoleum at the peak of the Brocken Mountain.

So begins an action-packed, intriguing adventure as Hal, together with some new friends, investigate the truth behind the death of Alexander Kratzenstein at Dead Man’s Pass.  Did he die of natural causes, was his death caused by an old supernatural curse, or is there another more recent reason for his untimely demise?  I LOVE the way Hal still manages to use his well-honed drawing skills to gather and analyse evidenceto help him solve the mystery even though he doesn’t have his sketchbook this time in order to maintain his disguise.  Hal finds himself following a trail of evidence leading to suspects, misdirection, clues and unexpected revelations.  Will he be able to uncover the truth behind the death before more misfortune strikes the family?

I loved the setting of Schloss Kratzenstein with its tower, indoor miniature railway and own railway station outside with old steam engines.  Having a meal delivered by a miniature train venturing around the table sounds wonderful, and drinking hot chocolate in a tower room with a snowy mountain view sounds idyllic! I also loved the historical and folklore references in the story and how these linked together to build tension within the mystery.

Hal is an incredibly likeable character who quickly develops friendships with others.  He is clever, inquisitive and determined, but he also enjoys having fun with his new friends, Herman, Ozan and Hilda who help him with his investigation, albeit unaware that they are in the company of the young train detective who is becoming well-known.  Hal and Nat also work more independently of each other for reasons I will refrain from mentioning for fear of any spoilers, but I will say that I love how the strands come together in this incredibly intriguing, suspenseful mystery.

The detailed illustrations which are scattered throughout the story are absolutely stunning and perfectly evoke the atmosphere and setting for this adventure.  I really appreciated the floorplan of Schloss Kratzenstein, and the inclusion of the names of the guests and family when they are sitting down for dinner!

I was definitely all aboard for this incredibly clever mystery which utterly engrossed me and kept me guessing until the end, and I can’t wait to get on board again for the next adventure! 

Thank you to Antonia and the Publisher, Macmillan Children’s Books, for an early copy in exchange for my honest opinion.

I’d love if anyone who wants to give this meme a go would comment in the comments box and include a link to your post so I can visit, comment and find some great middle-grade recommendations. If you do create a post and are on Twitter, and would like to share your post, please use the hashtag  #MGTakesOnThursday so I can find it, read it and share it!

WWW Wednesday

I have started listening to The Week at World’s End on audio this week, and am really enjoying it, and am definitely looking forward to finding out what happens. I’ve also started reading WishYouWas which is just gorgeous!

I’ve finished Keeper of Secrets which is a wonderful story of the connection between a young girl, Emily and a lynx kitten Lotta both of whom are dealing with loss. It also deals with the issue of re-wilding. I am hoping to post my review at the start of next week.

I’m hoping to read The Book of Stolen Dreams next.

What are you reading? Have you read any of these?

Review: How Not to be a Vampire Slayer

How Not to be a Vampire Slayer is a delightfully charming and heart-warming adventure, perfect for readers of 9+ who are sure to adore this enchanting, humorous tale of friendship between a vegetarian vampire and a new girl in town!

Eleven-year-old Maggie Helsby has moved into Skeleton Lodge with her Mum and Dad, a spooky, old house surrounded by woods which the family have inherited from her Dad’s uncle Bram who had a penchant for garlic (if you know, you know!).  She is fascinated by scary stories, so is immediately interested in the folklore associated with the woods … which is just as well as the family are being watched by a cloaked figure …

On her first day at Goreway School, Maggie meets best friends Ari and Miles, who immediately befriend her, and tell her that there are stories of monsters and vampires living in an abandoned castle in the woods, but there is a town rule that no one is allowed into the woods …. 

Maggie is not put off by a little rule-breaking, so is determined to visit the woods, ideally with her two new friends, to discover if there is any truth to the stories.  However, when they get to the woods, something frightens Ari and Miles, so Maggie finds herself alone …

Deciding to explore further on her own, she discovers a ruined castle and, upon entering it, meets a girl with silver hair, blood-red eyes, a black cloak – and fangs!  This first encounter between human and vampire is simply wonderful and sets the gorgeously warm and fun tone for the story, as Sharptooth, the beetroot-juice drinking vegetarian vampire, helps her escape from the other vampires.

So begins an exciting, action-packed adventure with plenty of laugh-out-loud moments as Maggie’s friendship with Sharptooth blossoms.  Will Maggie and her friends be able to protect Sharptooth and the other vampires from a pompous town Mayor who is determined to tear down the forest for his own ends?  Can Maggie ever really become friends with a vampire when she has been named as the latest Helsby slayer?

This is such a feel-good story that I was left feeling that I was cuddled in a blanket of warmth as I read it, sighing with contentment and giggling as I followed the adventures of this wonderful group of friends.  The friends are all different, yet have the most wonderful camaraderie and supportive friendship.  Ari and Miles seem like chalk and cheese with Ari being much more mischievous and a brilliant artist whilst Miles is more serious and easily scared.  I really loved that they accepted Maggie so readily, especially as she is wary of making friends in her new school, having had bad experiences in her previous school.  She feels she can be herself with them from the start.  And what can I say about Sharptooth:  one of my favourite characters ever!  She is so full of joie de vivre:  friendly, curious, kind-hearted, funny – and she loves reading!  Oh, and did I mention that she has the most adorable bat, Bat-Ears? 

This is a gloriously fangtastic treasure of a story which is perfect for those who like their spooky stories with rather more of the rib-tickling moments than the shiver-down-the-spine moments.  An absolute delight from start to finish!

Thank you to Harriet & Scholastic for an early copy in exchange for my honest opinion.

WWW Wednesday

I’m currently reading Keeper of Secrets as my evening read whilst on our Year 6 residential. I’m really enjoying this so far.

I’ve finished reading Danger at Dead Man’s Pass which is another brilliant mystery in the Adventures on Trains series.

I’m hoping to read ‘Wish you Was’ next which sounds just magical!

First Lines Friday

First Lines Fridays is a weekly feature for book lovers hosted by Wandering Words. What if instead of judging a book by its cover, its author or its prestige, we judged it by its opening lines?

  • Pick a book off your shelf (it could be your current read or on your TBR) and open to the first page
  • Copy the first few lines, but don’t give anything else about the book away just yet – you need to hook the reader first
  • Finally… reveal the book!

Steady drifts of rain blew in from the sea against roof tiles and window panes, rainwater trickled inside drainpipes and from somewhere in the sleeping city came the howl of a dog. The dog was crying to be let in. The shadow stopped and listened.

Any ideas?

The prologue for this one has definitely intrigued me, and I’m looking forward to reading it.

Waterstones synopsis:

In a dangerous land enslaved by the cruel Regent, where the Dreamers have the magical power to turn dreams into reality, Toby meets Tamurlaine, a strange girl who has lost her memory. To uncover the mystery of her identity and get Toby back home, the pair must go on a thrilling journey to the heart of the kingdom, the castle of the Regent. A haunting piece of Gothic magical realism.

MG Takes on Thursday

This is my weekly meme celebrating amazing middle-grade books. This week I’ve decided to revamp the banner to include the book I’m celebrating.

How to take part:

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

This week, I’m celebrating …

Written by Phil Hickes
Illustration by Keith Robinson
Published by Usborne

Favourite Sentence from Page 11:

As Aveline stared, the girl paused, then shot a look in her direction, a glint of a smirk flashing across her dark features.

This book in three words:

SPOOKY, FRIENDSHIP, WITCHY

Aveline Jones is back for another superbly spine-tingling adventure in The Bewitching of Aveline Jones, a spookily witchy tale that is a perfect autumnal reading treat.

Aveline Jones is on a late summer holiday with her Mum, staying in a remote rundown cottage in the village of Norton Wick.  With her natural curiosity relating to all things supernatural, she is keen to visit the ancient stone circle, known as The Witch Stones, close to the cottage, and learn more about their history. 

It is not long before she meets Hazel Browne, a cool, confident and friendly girl who is keen to become Aveline’s friend and introduce her to the magic of the stones which she seems to know a lot about.  Although Aveline is wary, she is also fascinated by her mysterious new friend, a friend who may not always be telling Aveline the whole truth …

Aveline’s friend Harold, who we met in The Haunting of Aveline Jones, comes to visit and brings with him some books Aveline has asked for, books that might reveal more about the Stones, the mysterious bottle that Aveline has found buried in her garden, and even her new friend, but will these revelations come too late to protect the friends?

This is a thrilling, dark mystery, laden with suspense, a brilliantly evoked eerie atmosphere, and deliciously sinister moments that sent a shiver down my spine.  There is a constant sense that things are not quite as they may seem in Norton Wick, and that danger may never be far away.  The past has a way of invading the present, but will Aveline and Harold discover the truth of someone’s past before it is too late?

Aveline is just as wonderful as I remember her from her first adventure.   Even though she is spellbound by Hazel, her natural instincts warn her to be wary, to question and to investigate, just as I would expect from this strong, curious and determined girl. 

The cover and inside illustrations by Keith Robinson are stunning and complement the spooky atmosphere of this story perfectly.

This is a wonderfully spooky middle-grade read that is perfect for readers of 9+ and is one I cannot recommend highly enough.

Thank you to the Publisher, Usborne and NetGalley for an e-ARC in exchange for my honest opinion. 

I’d love if anyone who wants to give this meme a go would comment in the comments box and include a link to your post so I can visit, comment and find some great middle-grade recommendations. If you do create a post and are on Twitter, and would like to share your post, please use the hashtag  #MGTakesOnThursday so I can find it, read it and share it!

WWW Wednesday

I’m just about to start reading Danger at Dead Man’s Pass which I’m really looking forward to as I’ve loved the first three books in the Adventure on Trains series. I’m also going to start listening to The Mystery of the Clockwork Sparrow on my way to and from work.

I’ve finished listening to Never and Forever which is a brilliant end to the series – and I found out who the narrator was! I’ve also read The Bewitching of Aveline Jones which is another brilliantly spooky adventure. I will post my review in the next day or so. Even though I’m not very good at reading in the evening when I’m at work, I couldn’t put How Not to be a Vampire down – it is such a gorgeous story, full of heart and humour and I absolutely adored Sharptooth – definitely a new favourite character. I aim to write my review this weekend.

I’m hoping to read Keeper of Secrets next although I’m on a residential with Year 6 next week, so not sure how much reading I’ll get done!

What are you reading? Have you read any of these?

Review: Diary of an Accidental Witch

Diary of an Accidental Witch is a gorgeously charming, magical adventure that sparkles with humour, warmth and friendship that completely captivated me.

Bea Black has moved to Little Spellshire where her weather scientist Dad intends to write a book about its unusual climate.  She soon makes a new friend, Ashkan, who gives her cake and offers to show her around her new school, Spellshire Academy.  A promising start!  BUT things don’t quite go to plan for Bea when she discovers that her Dad has accidentally enrolled her in The School of Extraordinary Arts instead.  It’s a school for witches which would not be a problem except that Bea isn’t aware of any hidden witchy powers!  She is given her own wand, a frog called Stan to look after and sent to levitation class – what could possibly go wrong?

This is written in the style of Bea’s diary, giving a wonderfully heartfelt and witty insight into her life as she navigates some rather unusual lessons, learns to ride a broomstick and finds herself on the Committee for the upcoming Halloween Ball.  Will she be able to keep her school life a secret from her Dad and Ashkan?   Will she find friends in this magical school, or is she destined to spend her time hiding in the broom cupboard?

Bea is an incredibly likeable young girl who is coping with some of the usual worries about settling in to secondary school like whether she will fit in or make friends which is sure to offer support to young readers feeling the same whether they are going to another school or starting in a new class.  Bea also shows a great deal of resilience as she works hard to practice her witch skills, sometimes with unexpected consequences. 

I loved the diary-entry style of this story which will appeal to lots of young readers with its use of bold and capital letters, crossing outs, lists and footnotes.  The illustrations are absolutely gorgeous and complement the humour and charm of this story perfectly.

This is a wonderfully warm-hearted, fun-filled story that is sure to enchant young readers of 7+.

Thank you to Little Tiger for an early copy in exchange for my honest opinion.

August Wrap-Up

And … my summer holiday is over! I did make the most of it, and it was exactly what I needed – lots of relaxation, reading and seeing family. But the rowing machine that was going to help me get fit – not so much! I had my first day with my new Year 6 class on Friday and it was so brilliant to be back with this Year group. We’re heading off on a residential later this month which I’m very excited about as I used to love this one when I was last in Year 6.

Books I’ve read:

I’ve read 12 books this month, all physical copies. I’ve written and posted reviews for 7 of the books I’ve read. I really enjoyed all of these books but the ones that really stood out for me were Fireborn, Hide and Seek and The Crackledawn Dragon.

NetGalley:

My Feedback Ratio is now at 97%. I have two books to read on my NetGalley Shelf, The Shadows of Rookhaven and Locked Out Lily both released on 30th September.

Books sent by publishers:

I have been lucky enough to have been sent these books by publishers this month.

Books I’ve bought:

I’ve bought 6 books in August.

How has your month been? Have you read any of these?

Guest Post: Ireland: The People, The Places, The Stories by Rachel Pierce

On my Blog today, I am delighted to bring you a guest post from the author of this gorgeous book, Rachel Pierce, who has shared some fascinating facts which I hope you enjoy reading as much as I did. I was born in County Donegal and didn’t know that I was brought up so close to a ‘hellmouth’!

Top 10 facts about Ireland by Rachel Pierce, author of

IRELAND: THE PEOPLE, THE PLACES, THE STORIES

It’s easy to think that you know your own country very well, but when you really pay attention, you quickly realise that you often only know half of the story. Writing Ireland: The People, The Places, The Stories brought me on a journey across the whole island and right through its long history. It’s a truly fascinating place and I hope readers relish learning about Ireland as much as I did.

  • About 350 million years ago, Ireland was covered by a tropical sea – that’s why so many interesting marine fossils are found in the Burren, County Clare.
  • A 2,000-year-old lump of bog butter was unearthed in Emlagh bog, County Meath – taste- test anyone?
  • The oubliette, or ‘forgotten place’, in Leap Castle, County Offaly, has wooden spikes sticking up out of the ground – a truly gruesome punishment!
  • Cursing stones, like those at Feaghna, County Kerry, and at Inishmurray, allow you to place a curse on the head of anyone who’s annoying you.
  • Folklore tells us there are ‘hellmouths’, or ‘gateways to hell’ in Ireland – the most famous being at Oweynagat (‘the cave of the cats’) in County Roscommon and at St Patrick’s Purgatory in County Donegal.
  • You can go moonbow hunting in the Dark Sky Reserves in counties Mayo and Kerry.
  • The dry stone walls in the Ceide Fields in north County Mayo are c. 5,800 years old.
  • Marauding Vikings massacred about 1,000 hiding people in Dunmore cave, County Kilkenny.
  • If you live in Muckanaghederdauhaulia, in County Galway, you live in pig-shaped hill between two saltwater lakes (although that’s open to interpretation!).
  • The Gresham Vault at Mount Jerome cemetery in Dublin has a pedestal on top that once held a bell with a chain attached. The lady buried inside the vault insisted on a spring lock on her coffin, as well as the bell and chain, so that if she was buried alive, she could pop the lock, ring the bell and be rescued!

Ireland: The People, The Places, The Stories is published by Scholastic on 2nd September. It features a foreword by Dara Ó Briain and illustrations by ten leading Irish illustrators: Linda Fahrlin, Diarmuid Ó Catháin, Alan Dunne, Lydia Hughes, Brian Fitzgerald, Ashling Lindsay, Graham Corcoran, Jennifer Farley, Conor Nolan, Donough O’Malley

You can purchase a copy at:

Waterstones

Amazon (UK)

Bookshop.org