Review: Clifftoppers – The Fire Bay Adventure

This really is the best place in the world.

Chloe and her cousins, Aiden, Josh and Ava are back in the place they love, with their Grandparents at Clifftopper Farm, ready to enjoy the annual Drake’s Bay Fire Festival with a bonfire, music and fireworks – and even blazing tar barrel running! 

Events take an ominous turn when local buildings catch fire, and the children find themselves at the centre of a daring rescue. 

Determined to investigate what is causing the spate of fires, the children find themselves on another exciting adventure …  Chloe thinks the fires could be related to the sale of some cheap electronic equipment by some rather dodgy characters:  will her suspicions prove correct and, if so, will the children be able to bring the culprits to justice?  Could modern day smugglers be at work in Drake’s Bay?

The children become separated when Josh’s impulsive nature sees him make a reckless choice and Ava tries to protect him.  Meanwhile, Aiden and Chloe discover a smugglers’ tunnel leading to the sea whilst trying to reunite Mr Tibbs, a missing cat, with his owners.

After the children are reunited and share their discoveries, they celebrate the Fire Festival along with the rest of the town, fearing that unwelcome guests are amongst them. They soon find themselves using all their ingenuity to see justice done …

The children are written in a really authentic manner from the older, more easily embarrassed Aiden who doesn’t want to draw attention to himself to his younger, more reckless and impulsive sibling, Josh.  Chloe is quick-thinking and astute, often being the one to notice clues.  Ava finds herself looking out for her younger brother which leads her to make dangerous choices.  All four children are given freedom to explore at their Grandparents farm, and all have a real sense of adventure, so it is unsurprising that they find themselves caught up in a local mystery.  The banter between the children leads to some great humour, especially Josh’s insults!

This is a really fun, action-packed mystery adventure with just the right amount of intrigue and danger to engage younger readers who will, no doubt, enjoy adventuring with the four children and Bella, the dog, of course!  It is one I will definitely be adding to my class library.  

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!

Mountains always have secrets. And this one had more than most. Tall and majestic, with jagged peaks that punctured the sky, it appeared unknowable and immovable. And yet, if you were to watch it, and not just glance at it – really watch it – it would sometimes appear to be breathing.

Any ideas?

I’m just about to start this one, and the opening has me completely hooked already. Really looking forward to finishing it over the weekend.

Goodreads Synopsis:

Deep within the mountain, a great creature stirred in its sleep. Its eyes rolled back in its head, and its wings jerked wide open…

When 12-year-old Billy Chan finds out his parents are sending him to a summer camp in middle-of-nowhere China he doesn’t know what to expect. There he meets fellow campers Dylan, Charlotte and Ling-Fei and together they stumble upon an age-old secret: four powerful warrior dragons, hidden deep within the mountain behind the camp. They have been trapped since an epic battle with the Dragon of Death and need the children’s help to set them free before terrible evil is unleashed on the earth. Billy and his friends must set off on a dangerous adventure that will take them to the heart of the Dragon Realm. But can they save the dragon and human worlds from destruction?

July Wrap-Up

I finished work in school on 24th July, so I’m looking forward to a summer of catching up on my TBR, EXCEPT for the week I’m going to Ireland to visit my family which I’m so looking forward to, but apart from travelling, there’ll very little reading! I’ve done a LOT more reading than I thought this month.

Books I’ve read:

I’ve read 23 books this month which includes 13 paperback/hardback books, 5 e-books and 5 audiobooks.

  • The Time of Green Magic (hardback book – review posted – Book 6 of 20 Books of Summer Challenge)
  • The Jumbies (paperback book – recommended on MG Takes on Thursday – book read for Middle Grade Marvels)
  • Pet (physical)
  • The Mask of Aribella (paperback book – review posted – Book 7 of 20 Books of Summer Challenge)
  • The Twisted Tree (paperback book)
  • The Nickel Boys (paperback book)
  • Casey Grimes: The Mostly Invisible Boy (e-book sent by author for review – review posted)
  • 44 Tiny Secrets (paperback book sent by publisher – review posted)
  • Agent Zaiba Investigates: The Poison Plot (paperback book sent by publisher – review posted)
  • The Castle of Tangled Magic (e-ARC NetGalley)
  • The Island at the End of Everything (paperback book)
  • The House on Hoarder Hill (paperback book – review posted – Book 8 of 20 Books of Summer Challenge)
  • Rocket Boy (hardback book sent by publisher – review posted)
  • The Highland Falcon Thief (paperback book – review posted – Book 9 of 20 Books of Summer Challenge)
  • Kidnap on the California Comet (e-ARC NetGalley – Book 10 of 20 Books of Summer Challenge – review will be posted on Monday)
  • Snow Ghost (e-ARC picturebook NetGalley)
  • Time School: We will Honour Them (paperback book sent by Publisher for Blog Tour)
  • Lark (e-book from BorrowBox Library App)
  • Louisiana’s Way Home (audiobook from BorrowBox Library App)
  • Back Home (audiobook from BorrowBox Library App)
  • A Boy Called Bat (audiobook from BorrowBox Library App)
  • New Kid (audiobook from BorrowBox Library App)
  • The Secret Garden (audiobook from BorrowBox Library App)

Books I’ve bought:

I have bought 12 books this month, 11 paperback/hardback and 1 e-book (Uki and the Swamp Monster). No wonder I can never see me finishing my TBR!

NetGalley Approvals:

I’ve been auto-approved by another publisher on NetGalley which was a lovely surprise, although may mess up my ratio which is currently at 82%. The books which I have on my NetGalley shelf to read are:

Books sent by publishers for review:

  • Time School: We Will Honour Them (sent by publisher for Blog Tour)
  • Casey Grimes: The Mostly Invisible Boy (sent by author – review posted)
  • Grimm (sent by author)
  • 44 Tiny Secrets (sent by publisher – review posted)
  • Agent Zaiba Investigates: The Poison Plot (sent by publisher – review posted)
  • Rocket Boy (sent by publisher – review posted)
  • The Beast and the Bethany (sent by publisher for Blog Tour)

It’s only when I do my monthly round-up that I realise how many books I read and buy!

What books have you read this month? Have you read any of these?

Review: Rocket Boy

Published by Little Tiger
Published on 6th August 2020
Written by Kate Jennings and Illustrated by Joe Lillington

Rocket Boy is a stunning hardback book with full colour illustrations that I have no doubt will fuel the imaginations of its young readers.  Just be ready for the request for a cardboard box – a large one!

Did you know that shooting stars are actually meteorites, and that Martian sunsets are blue? 

Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS/Texas A&M Univ.

I know someone who can answer these questions and many others! Callum Grant is fascinated by space and knows lots of space facts which he is very keen to share, so when his Mum gets a delivery, she gives him the giant cardboard box to play with so that she is not distracted whilst building her new furniture.

What is the best use for a huge cardboard box? Why, if you want to be an astronaut, it makes a perfect rocket! A rocket that can take you into space for an out-of-this-world adventure … Callum finds himself blasting off towards Mars with Oscar, his cat, who adds a lot of humour to both the narrative and illustrations.

The full colour illustrations are absolutely perfect:  full of imaginative detail, vibrancy and humour. I really liked the range of layouts used including elements of graphic novels, range of font sizes, different coloured backgrounds and partial and full-page illustrations. 

This is a fantastic story, celebrating the power of the imagination, which will teach some spectacular space facts.

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

MG Takes on Thursday

This is my new 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: Tracey Baptiste
Cover Illustration:  Vivienne To
Published by: Algonquin Young Readers

Favourite Sentence from Page 11:

“The dead walk the earth, little one,” he said to Corinne.

This book in three words:

SPOOKY, FRIENDSHIP, FOLKLORE

This was a book that I read for Middle Grade Marvels Book Club, and I’m so glad I did. I haven’t read a book based on Caribbean folklore before, but I’m definitely going to pick up the rest of this trilogy as I absolutely loved the story which is brimming with tension, danger and scariness.

Corinne doesn’t believe in the superstitious old tales of ‘jumbies’ hiding in the forest so has no issue with entering the mahogany Forest to retrieve her stone pendant, her most treasured possession as it was her deceased mother’s. However, she brings something dark and frightening back with her, something which is determined to exact revenge on the people of the island …

This story is a real roller coaster of tension and danger as Corinne may have unwittingly put the lives of the villagers at risk and must fight to save her father from a fate worse than death. The collection of ‘jumbies’ are spine-tinglingly scary, but none more so than Severine except, perhaps, the douens, man-children with backwards feet, who steal children.

Corinne has a wonderfully close relationship with her father, making it all the more heart-breaking when she walks into her house and sees him with Severine, knowing that she is in danger of losing him. She also develops three close friendships which are gorgeously portrayed, one with two homeless brothers, Malik and Bouki and the other with Dru who comes from a close-knit family.

Another element of the story which I found fascinating was the colonisation of the island by humans, and how they took over the island to the detriment of the jumbies, who were the native inhabitants, destroying their forest and homeland.

Full of endless courage, ancient magic and stunning revelations, this is a story I can definitely highly recommend.

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 Time School: We Will Honour Them which I’m reading for a Blog Tour in August. I love historical fiction and time travel, so I’m really looking forward to this one. I’m continuing to listen to The Secret Garden on audio. I’m really enjoying it as it was one of my favourite books as a child, and there is something very comforting about listening to a favourite story.

I’ve had a wonderful week reading as I have now finished school, and am hoping to enjoy lots of reading over the summer. When I saw the Sophie Anderson’s next book was on NetGalley, I just had to request The Castle of Tangled Magic which jumped straight to the top of my TBR. I absolutely LOVED this story which has all the trademarks of Sophie’s magical writing. I also read Rocket Boy which was sent to me for review. It has full colour illustrations and is perfect for young readers. A perfect way to get their imaginations fired up! The only book by Kiran Millwood Hargrave that I hadn’t read was The Island at the End of Everything, so I read it in a single sitting on Sunday. Ami’s story completely gripped me. She lives on Culion Island with her mother, who has leprosy, until she is taken from her and placed in an orphanage on another island by a cruel government official, Mr Zamora, who segregates adult islanders with leprosy from those without, and forces the children to be taken from their parents. Both heart-breaking and uplifting, this is a mesmerising and beautifully told story. I can’t wait for Kiran’s next middle-grade, A Secret of Birds and Bone, which is due for release in October. I also read The House on Hoarder Hill which I really enjoyed, especially the talking stag’s head and bear rug, Stan and Doug who are utterly brilliant! I’ve posted my review for this one. I also read a gorgeous picture book (via NetGalley), Snow Ghost which is written in rhyming couplets and has the most magical illustrations. A snow ghost is wandering the world, looking for somewhere to call home, and eventually finds her perfect place. Finally, I enjoyed a double reading fest of the first two books in the Adventures on Trains series, The Highland Falcon Thief and Kidnap on the California Comet which I loved. I’ve posted my review for the first one, and am writing up my review for the second one.

I won’t get as much reading completed next week as I’m off to visit family in Ireland, but I am hoping to get Dragon Mountain read over the weekend. This is one I was approved to read via NetGalley, but I’ll definitely be buying the gorgeous sprayed edge one Waterstones is releasing.

What have you read this week? Have you read any of these?

20 Books of Summer: Book 9

Published by Macmillan Children’s Books
Published on 30th January 2020
Illustrated by Elisa Paganelli

That was cool!  I really, really enjoyed this clever, old-style mystery which kept me utterly entranced throughout as I fell in love with The Highland Falcon, and was completely absorbed by the intriguing mystery unfolding on board. 

Harrison (Hal) Beck is reluctantly joining his travel-writer uncle, Nat aboard the royal steam train, The Highland Falcon for its final journey.  Any boredom he might have felt is soon forgotten as a diamond-encrusted brooch goes missing.

Together with his new friend, Lenny, they decide to undertake their own sleuthing to track down the real jewellery thief who they nickname ‘The Magpie’.  This is a very clever mystery with clues tantalisingly sprinkled, potential culprits identified and eliminated, red herrings and further crimes committed … I really enjoyed trying to piece together the clues to solve the mystery. 

I really liked the pacing which has the perfect balance of slower paced exploration and fast-paced, exciting discoveries, allowing me to become absorbed in the story-telling and the adventure aboard the train.

Hal is a really talented sketch artist, and I loved how his sketches are not only incorporated into the plot, but also shown through the gorgeously detailed illustrations by Elisa Paganelli which really bring the characters and events aboard the train to life.

I can’t say I’m a train enthusiast, but I must admit that I was drawn into the wonder of this royal train as I learned so much about how it operates and its history.  I can totally believe how Hal quickly comes to appreciate and love this train. And now I really want to travel on an old steam train.

The relationship between Hal and Uncle Nat is just perfect, and Nat makes a great role model for his young nephew!  Nat’s enthusiasm and knowledge of trains shines through and I can imagine how this would make Hal view trains in a whole new light.  Nat is kind, supportive and encouraging towards Hal.   He is a protective uncle who defends Hal and allows him to follow his instincts.  He has faith in his nephew and trusts him with the choices he makes.  I also really enjoyed the friendship between Hal and Lenny as they work as a team to solve the mystery, supporting and looking out for each other. 

The Highland Falcon Thief is a brilliantly clever, exciting, old-fashioned mystery that kept me guessing to the end:  a thoroughly enjoyable read!

20 Books of Summer: Book 8

Published by Chicken House
Published on 5th March 2020
Cover Illustration: Maxine Lee-Mackie

Oh my goodness – this is the BEST way to spend a few hours!  I absolutely adored losing myself in this delightful story which completely immersed me in its mystery, humour and spookiness – a real winning combination!

Hedy and Spencer van Beer are spending their Christmas holidays with their Grandpa John in his house on Hoarder Hill.  Grandpa John had been a famous stage magician, until the day a trick went wrong and his beloved wife, Rose disappeared on stage.  He has never gotten over her loss, and spends his time buying dangerous magical artefacts.  Of course, a house where magician’s props are hoarded proves irresistible to his grandchildren and, despite warnings not to touch anything, Hedy is desperate to explore …

The children are rather surprised when their exploration brings them to the attention of Doug and Stan, a bear rug and a stag’s head – who can TALK!  They are genius creations:  I adored the wickedly witty, argumentative banter between these old friends.

They agree to help Hedy and Spencer discover the truth of their grandmother’s disappearance, and so begins an adventure brimming with mystery, intrigue and strange occurrences, not to mention eccentric ghosts, mischievous Woodspies, grotesques and a malicious spirit intent on disrupting their plans.  I just have to mention the Ghostbusters reference – really made me giggle!

This story has a great balance of spookiness and humour and a plot which is incredibly inventive, engaging and action-packed, which kept me eagerly turning pages as discoveries are made, secrets are revealed and danger is never far away:  who was responsible for Grandma Rose’s disappearance?  Why is the sinister Nobody intent on causing harm to the family?  Is there real magic in the house, or just trickery?

I really liked Hedy and her younger brother Spencer who clearly have a warm sibling bond.  Hedy has more of an adventurer’s spirit and is naturally curious and tenacious whereas Spencer is more easily scared and has an interest in magician’s tricks.  Events do frighten them, but their support of each other gives them strength and courage.  I also really liked the friendship between Hedy and her cousin, Jelly who is naturally friendly and gregarious. 

The House on Hoarder Hill is an exhilarating, magical read which completely captured me, and the heart-stopping ending makes me really, really hope that there are more adventures to come. 

Review: The Mostly Invisible Boy

Published by INtense Publications on 25th April 2020

This is a brilliantly fast-paced, action-packed adventure set in a wonderfully imagined forest society, brimming with intrigue, danger and humour which kept me engrossed throughout.

Eleven-year-old Casey Grimes tries really hard to be noticed by his classmates at Vintage Woods Middle School, but there’s a reason he’s ignored:  he’s invisible to them – most of the time!  

When exploring the local forest, Casey discovers an ancient oak tree with a hidden fortress in its branches.  He brings his younger sister, Gloria, for a sleepover in the oak … and discovers a stranger, Luciana West who can see the siblings.  The oak is a forgotten sentry tree which marks the boundary between the human world and Luciana’s world, a world which protects humans from monsters. 

Luciana warns them against entering her forest home, Sylvan Wood but, determined to discover more about this new and compelling world, they follow her … and promptly find themselves fighting off terrifying creatures, but this does not stop these intrepid siblings from venturing further into Sylvan Woods where they discover the most incredible forest society …

The civilian children must hide their identity as they find themselves drawn into a war against monsters who have returned to Sylvan Woods after a hundred years.  Will they be able to help their new friends defeat the frightening Butcher Beasts, and save both worlds? 

I really liked the dichotomy between science and magic, and how this has divided the Sylvan society over the years as many have forgotten the old magic.

The world-building is incredibly rich and immersive, taking the reader into a wondrous natural, wild world where people live in the trees, attend a school where monster-fighting classes are held, where sentry trees protect the boundaries between worlds and where frightening monsters lurk. 

Casey is a really likeable protagonist.  He is determined, adventurous and courageous, and is looking for a sense of belonging.  I love the relationship between Casey and his little sister, Gloria which is full of playfulness, kindness and support; it is so wonderful to see this positive relationship between siblings.  I also enjoyed the growth of the friendship between Luci, who has her own secrets, and Casey as they learn to trust each and accept each other.

This is an fun, exciting adventure with a fascinating, action-packed plot. The ending gives me high hopes that there will be further adventures for Casey and his new friends.

Thank you to the author for sending me an e-copy in exchange for my honest opinion.

Review: Agent Zaiba Investigates The Poison Plot

What a wonderfully fun and engaging read for younger fans of mystery with plenty of action, clues to follow and supportive friendships.  I’m certainly looking forward to introducing my class to Zaiba and her friends, and think this is a perfect addition to any school library.

Zaiba is eager for the start of her school summer fete as she has been given the responsibility of organising a detective trail, and is hoping to find potential recruits for the newly formed UK branch of The Snow Leopard Detective Agency.  This is an agency run by her aunt Fouzia in Pakistan. 

There is only one thing better for Zaiba than running her own detective trail, and that is the discovery of a real-life crime.  She soon finds herself in the perfect position to investigate a crime when her new Headteacher, Mrs Goremain, is poisoned during the very competitive baking competition.   There are many suspects, but who is the culprit and what could the motive be? 

I loved how Zaiba and her friends used their sleuthing skills to follow clues and track down and eliminate suspects.  There is such a clever sprinkling of clues throughout for eager young mystery readers to follow their own trail towards discovering the guilty person. I can just imagine a younger me having my own detective journal and keeping a record of clues as I discover them as I read.  I can definitely see a class or group of friends planning their own detective trail using the handy advice at the end of the book.

A good detective was nothing without her friends and family.

Zaiba is a delightful young girl, and a fantastic role model:  confident in her detective capabilities, intelligent and quick-thinking and super motivated.  I really enjoyed her warm relationship with her family, immediate and extended, which is incredibly positive; their mutual pride in, and respect for, each other is wonderful.  Zaiba’s best friend Poppy and her brother Ali are also members of the Detective Agency, and I loved how all three worked together to track down clues and support each other.  Zaiba also welcomes her cousin Mariam into the group, but will Mariam welcome her friendship?

The full-page illustrations by Daniela Sosa are absolutely delightful and complement the story beautifully, and will be enjoyed by young readers.  There are also some great extras at the end of the book including an extract from Zaiba’s favourite author, Eden Lockett, Code Breakers and, my favourite, a recipe for Zaiba’s Dad, Hassan’s prize-winning Cardamom and Lemon Loaf Cake.  I’m not much of a baker, but I’m trying this!

This is a fast-paced, clever and super enjoyable mystery which is just perfect for younger readers who I have no doubt will enjoy following, and joining in, with the UK branch of The Snow Leopard Detective Agency’s latest case. 

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