Review: Mystery of the Night Watchers

Illustrations by Saara Söderlund, Published by Usborne

What an utterly spellbinding story!  This is an engrossing historical adventure, set in the Edwardian era at a time when the arrival of Halley’s comet acts as the catalyst for an incredibly intriguing mystery that kept me utterly enthralled throughout.   

Twelve-year-old Nancy cannot help but notice that her mother is acting strangely and, when she tells her daughters that they are taking a trip away for a few days, she finds herself leaving Leeds behind and travelling to her birthplace, Suffolk.  They are to stay with her maternal Grandfather whose existence has been kept a secret from her.  Not only that, but the girls are forbidden from leaving his home, Cupola House, and must remain hidden from any prying eyes.  Her Grandfather is an apothecary and keen astronomer who has an observatory on the roof which the girls are not allowed to visit.

Nancy cannot resist breaking this stipulation and, after visiting the rooftop observatory, she discovers that the telescope is pointing to the rooftops of the town rather than the sky and, when she sees her mother and Grandfather creep out of the house at night, Nancy’s curiosity is immediately aroused.  She is determined to find answers to her questions:  what is the real reason for their visit to her Grandfather’s house?  What secrets are being kept from her?

And so begins a thoroughly absorbing, fascinating mystery as Nancy, her sister and their new friend, Burch, work together to untangle family secrets that have been kept hidden; as they make breath-taking discoveries that made me gasp out loud; and as they fight to thwart a villain whose accusations and avarice has caused a family to be torn apart. 

I really enjoyed finding out more about people’s divided reactions to Halley’s Comet, some viewing it with fear and superstition, and others eagerly anticipating its arrival with a sense of wonder and excitement.

Nancy is such a wonderful young girl.  She has a strong moral compass and cannot abide people being treated unfairly. Her strength in standing up for what she believes in helps others to face their own fears.  Nancy is courageous, curious and determined to unravel the mystery surrounding her family.  I adored the relationship between Nancy and her younger half-sister Violet.  They seem to have been growing apart in Leeds, but their visit to Suffolk has brought them closer again and I loved not only how Nancy looks after her sister, but also how forthright and curious Violet is.

This is a gripping adventure with a brilliantly evoked sense of mystery, that kept me entranced throughout as secrets were revealed and lies unravelled against the backdrop of a wonderfully depicted Edwardian Society both in fear of, and excited by, the arrival of Halley’s comet.  Perfect for younger, and older, fans of historical fiction.

Thank you to Fritha Lindqvist and Usborne for a review copy in exchange for my honest opinion.

This is my second book for my 20 (10) Books of Summer Reading Challenge which is hosted by Cathy Brown on her blog at 746Books.com

June Wrap-Up

This has probably been one of my worst reading months. I’m finding it so difficult to focus on reading in the evenings as, to be honest, I’m just drained by 8pm, and am often asleep on the sofa! I’ve also been finishing writing reports and completing assessments for school. I love being in the classroom, but I am looking forward to some time to recharge over the summer.

Books I’ve read:

I’ve read books this month: 6 physical copies and audiobooks. I’ve also managed to post reviews for all of the physical books I’ve read this month, except for The Mystery of the Night Watchers, and I’m currently writing my review for it. Whilst I might not have read as many books as usual, these were all enjoyable reads. I very rarely read young adult but, my goodness, Hold Back the Tide is phenomenal. If anyone has read it, and has other recommendations, I’d love to hear them.

NetGalley:

My Feedback Ratio is still at 91%. I have requested two more books this month: The Shadows of Rookhaven and The Bewitching of Aveline Jones. These are both second books in a series where I’ve LOVED the first book, so couldn’t help requesting, even though I am trying really hard to limit myself.

Books sent by publishers:

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

Books I’ve bought:

I have bought books this month, including a hardback copy of The Strangeworlds Travel Agency and my first adult book in a while, ThreadNeedle. I’m really hoping I can find time to read a few of my adult books over the summer.

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

First Lines Fridays

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!

Simi climbed into the taxi reluctantly. The seats were threadbare and it smelt as if the last passengers had been goats. She wrinkled her nose, desperately trying to suppress a new wave of anger and tears.

Any ideas?

I bought this when it was first released, and am hoping to pick it up over my summer holidays.

Goodreads Synopsis:

City girl Simi is sent to stay with her long-lost grandmother in a remote Nigerian village.

There’s no TV, internet or phone. Not a single human-made sound can be heard at night, just the noise of birds and animals rustling in the dark forest outside.

Her witchlike grandmother dispenses advice and herbal medicine to the village, but she’s tight lipped about their family history. Something must have happened, but what? Determined to find out, Simi disobeys her grandmother and goes exploring. Caught in the sinking red quicksand of a forbidden lake, her fantastical journey begins …

Have you read this? What did you think?

MG Takes on Thursday

This is my weekly meme celebrating amazing middle-grade books. I hope others will enjoy taking part in this too!

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 Ewa Jozefkowicz
Illustrations by Anna Hymas
Published by Zephyr

Favourite Sentence from Page 11:

I’ve always thought that you could find out so much about an artist from what they painted.

This book in three words:

COURAGE, EMPATHY, FRIENDSHIPS

I have recently read Ewa’s latest story, The Cooking Club Detectives and it made me think of her other books, all of which I’ve loved. Today I’ve chosen Girl 38 which is a sensitively and beautifully written story that perfectly weaves the past into the present, and shows how empathising with past events can impact on present ones, how learning about the bravery of others can lead to the strength to change our own path.  Both the past and the present stories within this book captured me completely, and I found the impact Ania’s story had on Kat really powerful, heart-warming and hopeful.

Girl 38 is the courageous comic strip heroine created by Kat, a heroine that she wishes she could be more like as she is finding her own reality difficult to deal with.  Kat has been friends with Gem ever since their first day at school, but theirs is a toxic friendship as Gem is controlling and manipulative with Kat constantly on edge, trying to keep her happy and going along with her plans, even when they make her feel uneasy.  Kat feels under constant pressure to do whatever Gem wants, desperate not to have her turn her bullying attention on her the way she has on others. 

One day, Kat helps her elderly Polish neighbour, Ania Jankowski after a fall.  She feels an instant rapport with her and they soon develop a warm relationship as Ania shares her painting of her best friend Mila from many years previously.  Kat’s interest is immediately piqued and Ania agrees to tell her about her past. Ania’s story, focussing on events during the Second World War, is one of incredible daring, determination and courage.   

I loved how their relationship developed so that Kat was eventually able to open up to Ania to share her own problems with her best friend, and to seek comfort and strength in their friendship and in Ania’s story.

This is a story completely captured me:  I was completely invested in both Ania’s and Kat’s stories, and enjoyed how Ania’s story impacted on Kat’s present and helped her face up to a difficult situation, changing her future. 

You can read my full review here.

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’ve just started Between Sea and Sky, and I’m definitely getting good vibes. I think this is going to be another winner!

I’ve finished listening to Hold Back the Tide. This absolutely blew me away. It is incredibly atmospheric, tense and scary. The twists are utterly amazing and that ending! I’ve also finished Mystery of the Night Watchers which I really enjoyed. I’m currently writing my review. I also listened to a short story, Clockwork which is a dark fairy tale with plenty of scary, tense moments and is beautifully wound together through the different elements of the story. I can definitely see me using this with a class.

I’m hoping to read The Way to Impossible Island next which I’m really excited to get to as I loved The Wild Way Home and think this has some of the same characters. I’m going to start listening to Demelza & the Spectre Detectors as I’m hoping this will be a fun read.

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

Review: Crowfall

Oh yes!  Vashti Hardy has done it again!  Crowfall is a thrilling, irresistible corker of an adventure that utterly absorbed me from start to finish.   I’m so glad I settled down to read this on a Sunday afternoon as it is most definitely a compelling page-turner that I devoured in one sitting.

Orin Crowfall lives in the poorest area of the island of Ironhold with his parents, Grandfather, and his fixie robot friend, Cody.  Everyone has a role within this ordered, industrialised society and, whilst not at school, Orin works at the Engineerium, serving the island’s Custodian, Commander Forge.  She is the only one who can communicate with the huge, sentient tree which is vital for the island’s survival:  the Eard. 

Orin has an affinity for nature and finds a way to visit the Eard unbeknownst to Forge. During one of his visits, he makes a shocking discovery: Forge is hurting the Eard by taking its life source. Determined to find out why, Orin eavesdrops on a meeting between Forge and her appointed Core Engineers and what he discovers infuriates him. Those who are meant to protect the islanders have instead betrayed them, intending to abandon them and seek a new home whilst Ironfold collapses …

And so begins an action-packed, perilous and heart-pounding adventure as Orin must flee his home, with his best friend Cody, in order to discover a way to save his family.  He finds himself in a race against time as he crosses the sea, chased by powerful enemies, storms and a terrible sea monster. Just when all hope seems to be lost, they find themselves shipwrecked on the island of Natura where both danger and friendship await …  will Orin be able to find the self-belief and strength to save his family and the islanders of Ironhold from destruction?

The world-building is superb, juxtaposing the two islands of Ironhold and Natura brilliantly. Ironhold is an island of technology, invention and industry where nature has been denigrated for the sake of progress. Factories, towers and technology dominate the organised landscape of Ironhold whilst its heart, the Eard, is imprisoned within the Engineerium. In contrast, Natura is an island abundant with nature – wild and mesmerising – whose Eard takes a very active part in the lives of the islanders. Neither island is in balance; I found the exploration of the different motivations, wielding of power and systems of control by the rulers on each island fascinating.

Orin is courageous and determined, but also fearful and doubtful of his own abilities, making him such a likeable character.  Orin has a deep appreciation of nature and is naturally curious.  Even when he knows there is danger, he is prepared to take risks to save the family he loves dearly. Orin is stronger than he believes and shows great fortitude when standing up to those in power, and fighting for what he believes is right.  He has a wonderful friend in Cody who, unlike other fixies, can speak and behave more like humans.  Their friendship is just gorgeous:  supportive, loyal, protective and honest.  I also really liked Ferelith who Orin meets on Natura.  She is a daring, courageous young girl with a heart for adventure and, when she finds one when Orin and Cody wash up on her shore, she seizes it wholeheartedly.  

As always with Vashti’s writing, there is so much to explore in the story’s themes from the need to find balance between ecology and technology within society to the exploration of the motivations underpinning power and control. What are others prepared to do in order to survive, and at what cost to the environment and people around them?

I am very eager to use this fantastic story as a read-aloud with a class.  I can just hear the groans and pleas to keep reading – thanks to the captivating story-telling and the cliff-hanger chapter endings – as I shut the book at the end of a chapter.  Of course, I might just be persuaded to open it again soon after and read on … 

Crowfall is an exceptional story that I cannot recommend highly enough.  I have no doubt that young readers of 9+ will be completely entranced by this gripping tale as they venture into a world of excitement, discoveries and new friends.

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

WWW Wednesday

I’ve just started Mystery of the Night Watchers and hope to find time at the weekend to finish it as I’m still finding reading during the week almost impossible! I’m listening to Hold Back the Tide which is absolutely amazing. There are definitely scary tense parts. I’m so worried about a character now that I’m finding it hard to stop listening when I get to work. Seriously – this is brilliant!

I binge read this at the weekend. It is absolutely brilliant. The cliffhanger chapter endings will make it a perfect read aloud. Orin Crowfall and his robot Cody are incredibly likeable. I love the environmental theme and the mix of technology with nature. I will be writing my review at the weekend but, just to say, this is one I would highly recommend. It is being released on 1st July.

I’m hoping to read Between Sea and Sky next. I loved Nicola’s first book, Where the World Turns Wild so am really looking forward to this one.

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

Review: Voyage of the Sparrowhawk

Cover Illustration by David Dean, Published by Faber & Faber

Voyage of the Sparrowhawk took me on the most wonderfully exciting, daring and moving adventure that kept me delightedly gripped from start to finish as I ventured across the Channel with two close friends and their faithful canine companions.

In the aftermath of the First World War, young Ben has suffered two great losses:  the death of his adoptive father and the news that his wounded older brother, Sam, is missing.  Returning to the Sparrowhawk after a spell staying with a friend of his father’s, he makes a rather alarming discovery:  a young girl, Lotti, is hiding on the boat and begs him to hide her as she is being chased by a crook after having stolen a mistreated dog from him, a chihuahua called Federico. 

Ben and Lotti are lonely, having lost much, and quickly form a bond.  Although Lotti comes from a much more privileged background, they have much in common:  loss of loved ones, a connection to France and their love of their dogs, Elsie and Federico. 

When disaster strikes and Lotti finds herself in danger of losing Federico and being dismissed to another boarding school by her uncaring, cruel Aunt and Uncle, she seeks help from Ben.  Meanwhile, Ben has troubles of his own.  He has lied to the local policeman, Albert Skinner, saying that his older brother is on his way home, but Skinner is suspicious and is edging closer to the truth which may see Ben losing his beloved home. When Ben admits the truth about his brother to Lotti, she reveals that her grandmother, who has stopped corresponding with her, lives close to the hospital where Sam was a patient … and so the adventure begins!

These two courageous, tenacious children with a heart for adventure make a decision that will change their lives, a decision that takes them on an action-packed, exhilarating race across the Sea in the hope that they can both find what they have lost before they are caught by a determined pursuer who is hot on their trail …

I was completely engrossed by this thrilling adventure as the children battle to keep one step ahead of the law, as they navigate the open sea on a narrowboat, as they meet new friends and search for answers.  This has a real classic adventure feel that completely swept me into the magic of the storytelling and into the lives of these two wonderful young children as they search for a place to belong.

Voyage of the Sparrowhawk is a truly exceptional, heart-warming and exciting adventure with mysteries to solve, warm humour and delightful friendships.  Perfect for any young adventurers who are keen to escape on an unforgettable voyage.

Thank you to Bethany Carter and Faber & Faber for providing me with a copy in exchange for my honest opinion.

MG Takes on Thursday

This is my weekly meme celebrating amazing middle-grade books. I hope others will enjoy taking part in this too!

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 Earle

Cover Illustration by Levente Szabo


Published by Andersen Press

Favourite Sentence from Page 11:

The voices became noise to Joseph, static, the kind that used to crackle out of Dad’s wireless, no matter how hard he tried to tune it in.

This book in three words:

POWERFUL, EMOTIVE, FRIENDSHIP

When the Sky Falls is a stunning, powerful story that absolutely gripped me from the opening lines. It is a story set during the Second World War, but at its heart, it’s a story of loss, hope, kindness and being brave enough to trust.

The characters in this story are unforgettable and found their way into my heart. Tears were streaming down my face as I read the last few pages, tears of sadness and tears of relief. It really felt like I was taken on such an emotional journey as I read this incredible story.

Whilst many children are leaving London during the Blitz, Joseph has been sent there to stay with a friend of his Grandmother as his father has left to join the War effort.  He is a hurt, angry and broken young boy who feels abandoned and rejected by those who should love him.  My heart ached for him as he struggles to trust, and shields himself from the pain of another rejection with outbursts of explosive anger and the pretence that things do not matter.

Mrs F, the lady who Joseph has been sent to live with, owns and runs a zoo with only a few animals left.  Her pride and joy is the majestic silverback gorilla, Adonis.  After a while, Adonis and Joseph bond in their shared pain and loss – this is a truly beautiful, awe-inspiring relationship which is perfectly captured, and so poignant and hopeful. 

What can I say about Mrs F?  She is a says it as it is, no nonsense, force to be reckoned with and I was in awe of her!  Each is just what the other needs, if only they can break down the walls they have built for self-preservation.   

Joseph also finds a friend in Syd and, although he tries to push her away, Syd proves determined to break down his walls through her honesty and support.  She has been through the unthinkable herself and her resilience is just incredible.  A truly amazing young girl. 

The choice that Mrs F and Joseph are faced with in dealing with Adonis as the bombs get closer to the zoo is unbearable and unthinkable, yet it is this choice that sparked the inspiration for the story and is based on a real event.

This is an exceptional, powerful and moving story which doesn’t shy away from the harsh reality of war and of the challenges faced by Joseph as he struggles with dyslexia (words dance on the page), bullies and trying to find a place where he feels he belongs and where he is safe.  There is so much in this story that made me angry, especially at the way Joseph is treated by the Headmaster and at the cruelty of the bullies.  But there is also so much kindness and love in the story.  I won’t deny that it is heart-breaking and difficult to read at times, but it is also a lesson in fierce courage, kindness and hope. 

I don’t tend to compare books with others very often, but this one is reminiscent of Goodnight Mr Tom which is the book I used as an NQT in Year 6 many years ago and which is, in my opinion, quite rightly a modern classic.  This undoubtedly deserves to become a classic and, oh my goodness, how wonderful would it appear as a film! 

I cannot recommend When the Sky Falls highly enough for both adults and children.  It is perfect for children in Upper Key Stage 2 and for those studying the Second World War as, whilst they will learn lots about the realities of The Blitz, they will also be able to empathise with these characters with struggles they may also be facing.  Unforgettable and unputdownable!

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 had thought I’d read this at the weekend, but life – and reports!- got in the way! I’m just about to start it this evening, and am so looking forward to reading it.

I finished listening to Pride & Prejudice on audiobook, and absolutely loved it! Definitely one of my favourite classics. Elizabeth Bennett is a wonderful character, and I just can’t help but love her interactions with Darcy! I also finished reading Voyage of the Sparrowhawk at the weekend which I really enjoyed. It felt like such a classic adventure with characters who I really liked. I will be writing my review at the weekend.

I’m going to read Mystery of the Night Watchers next and listen to Hold Back the Tide on BorrowBox as it has now become available.

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