Review policy

I am very happy to review any novel that fits in with the theme of this blog: novels aimed at 9-14 year olds, preferably with a fantasy/ speculative world setting. However, I will make clear in the review that I was sent the book by the publisher and I will write my honest opinion. Please feel free to contact me via Twitter or Facebook, or fantasticreads at gmail dot com.

Sunday, 29 July 2012

Review- Leopard Adventure

I am delighted that Puffin Books very kindly sent me a review copy of Leopard Adventure. However, this blog post reflects my honest opinion of the book.

Image: puffin.co.uk

As a child, I loved Willard Price's Adventure books about Hal and Roger Hunt, who travelled the world collecting animals for their father's zoo while escaping from danger in exotic locations, so I was delighted to hear that the estate of Willard Price has commissioned Anthony McGowan to write four new books in the series.

12 year old Amazon Hunt is the daughter of Roger Hunt. At the beginning of Leopard Adventure, she is spending her summer holiday at her boarding school as her parents are on a conservation trip. Returning late to school after watching badgers in a wood, she is saved from a fall when climbing into her dormitory by her 13 year old cousin, Frazer, who informs her that she is to go with him and Dr Drexler from her uncle Hal's conservation organisation TRACKS in Long Island and to meet her parents there.

At the TRACKS headquarters, Amazon learns that she and Frazer are to form part of the conservation team to rescue a rare Amur leopard and her cubs from a threatening forest fire in Russia. Amazon and Frazer are thrilled to travel there, but Amazon hears some alarming news- her parents haven't arrived in Long Island.

In Russia, Amazon, Frazer and the rest of the TRACKS team head into the forest with their tribal guide and his grandson, but Frazer causes an accident leading them to lose their satellite phones. So, isolated from the adults, the children must survive encounters with wildlife, hostile terrains and, ultimately, the most dangerous foe- humans with their own agenda- to rescue the leopards and return home.

I really enjoyed this book. I loved learning about the leopard and the Russian forests, and the pace of the plot meant that the exposition was nicely balanced with action. The story has a satisfying conclusion, but there are enough cliff hangers to make the reader long for the next book in the series, Shark Adventure (due January 2013) to find out more about TRACKS, the falling out between Hal and Roger and what has happened to Amazon's parents. Highly recommended for readers 9+, though confident readers of 8+  would enjoy it, or enjoy having it read to them.

Monday, 23 July 2012

Guest Blog: Olympic Reading by Tom Palmer


 I'm delighted to have a guest post from Tom Palmer, author of great thrillers for older readers and adventures for younger, based around football and rugby. Tom has fantastic resources on his website for teachers, parents and children, and wrote a great free story based on Euro 2012 football championship. He is passionate about getting children and families excited about reading. Do check out the Free Reads section of his website! Thank you, Tom!

Free Olympic football wall chart from coventry2012.blogspot.co.uk

The Olympics is a great opportunity to get children reading for pleasure. And there is no better time for the Games to be taking place than during the school summer holidays.
Parents know that children’s writing and reading skills can slip back during the six week break in July and August.
 If an Olympic athlete was to stop training for six weeks, it would take them months to get back to their previous fitness and skill levels.
The same can be argued for children. Research has shown that if you keep children interested in literacy during the summer, over their whole school career they can be as much as three years ahead of their peers who did not.*
I’ve put together some tips for parents who want to use the Olympics to keep their children reading for pleasure. I hope it helps.
One. Read about the Olympics yourselves. If your children see you reading about something, they are more likely to read about it too. Find bits you think they’ll be interested in and draw them in.

Two. Leave newspapers, magazines and books about the Olympics around the house. Perhaps on the sofa or wherever you are going to be watching the games. Charts. Lists. Pictures. Anything that you think will attract their attention.

Three. Deliver an Olympic Games newspaper supplement or magazines to your child’s bedroom door on the morning of a big competition. Try and find a copy of the children’s newspaper, First News, which is bound to feature the Olympics strongly.

Four. Print off interesting articles/profiles/wall charts and stick them up around the house. On the fridge. In the toilet. On their bedroom wall.

Five. Go to your local library, bookshop or newsagents with your children and browse the Olympics reading sections that are now stuffed with materials. Let your child choose something to read about the games. There is some really good non-fiction around, from biographies of sporting greats to guidebooks to the games aimed at kids.

Six. Have a look at the new Olympic fiction by authors like Owen Slot, Robert Rigby and others. It is easy to find in bookshops, libraries and online at the moment. If your children are still happy to, read it with them at bedtime in chunks.

Seven. Create some kind of prediction game in your household where you all have to guess who is going to win a game, competition or race. Encourage the children to read the Olympic pull-outs from newspapers, that should give them an idea of who the favourites are. Keep a tally throughout the Games to see who wins. Provide a prize.

Eight. Find out if your local library is doing any Olympic events. Many are. Author visits, activity days and other such things are planned nationwide. Visit your council website, find the libraries link and they should have a list of their summer activities. There will probably be summer craft activities too.

Nine. Find a good website about the Olympics and have it as your home page if you have a computer at home. There is lots of excellent journalism on the internet about the Olympics.

Ten. Join the Summer Reading Challenge, a six-book reading quest for children in libraries throughout the UK, where children can earn bronze, silver and gold stickers for reading books over the summer. More info at www.summerreadingchallenge.org.uk. While you are there look at the sports section. Has one sport in particular excited your child? If so, libraries have great sections of ‘How to Play’ books on their shelves.

I hope some of this helps. If it does and your children like football, there are lots of free football literacy activities and free stories on my website at www.tompalmer.co.uk. Check out the Free Reads and Schools & Library sections.

Tom Palmer writes sports fiction for Puffin Books, HarperCollins and Barrington Stoke. Tom is running 28 Olympic reading events in libraries during the summer across England. Find out where and when at his blog www.footballdetective.blogspot.com.  You’ll be very welcome.
* Sadly I cannot find the references for that research, so you’ll just have to take my word for that.




Tuesday, 17 July 2012

Review: Artemis Fowl and the Last Guardian

Image: hive.co.uk

Eoin Colfer's  latest (and probably last) book in his highly successful Artemis Fowl series was published on 10th July. Artemis's arch nemesis, evil pixie Opal Koboi, has a plan to escape from custody, overthrow humanity and rule as fairy queen. At Fowl Manor, a portal to the underground fairy world, she raises the spirits of fallen fairy warriors, which possess the bodies of long-dead pirates, rabbits, dogs- and even Artemis's four year old twin brothers, Myles and Beckett, and Juliet, the sister of Butler, his chauffeur and bodyguard. Artemis, Butler and his friends from the fairy realm, Captain Holly Short and Foaly the centaur technician, are now on a mission to defeat Opal and save humanity. But will one of them have to make the ultimate sacrifice?

I enjoyed this book. It has been interesting to follow Artemis's character as he has developed from a teenage arch criminal to a positive character- and I do see why Colfer feels he can go no further. It might be interesting to follow Juliet, Myles and Beckett, possibly, if he didn't want to leave the characters behind totally. All in all, a satisfying end to a fantastic series. The book trailer is on YouTube here.

Thursday, 5 July 2012

Guest Post- Juliette Harrisson Review: The Case of the Good-Looking Corpse, by Caroline Lawrence


I am delighted to have a guest post from Juliette Harrisson from the wonderful Pop Classics, reviewing the second in Caroline Lawrence's Western Mysteries. Thank you so much, Juliette!

This book was received as a review copy from the author, but the review represents my honest opinion.

Image: waterstones.com

Depending on how many British friends you have, you might not be aware of this, but here in Blighty we are currently experiencing what must be one of the worst summers in living memory. We’ve had bad summers before, but this one is something special. As I write, I have the heating on and I’m wearing a winter jumper.

The reason I’m sharing our national pastime (talking about the weather) with all of you is that one of the greatest comforts in such a situation is being able to pick up a book and pretend to be somewhere else entirely – specifically, somewhere much, much warmer. I was delighted, then, to receive a copy of the second book in Caroline Lawrence’s series of western-themed detective stories for children, The P.K. Pinkerton Mysteries. The series has been rebranded from its original title, The Western Mysteries, presumably to emphasise the importance of the central character, a slightly mysterious half-Indian 12-year-old with an autistic spectrum disorder. The story takes place in the thin air and hot sand of Virginia City, expertly described and including a handy map for those of us who’ve never been closer to the Wild West than New York.

One of the most fun things about this series is the element of wish-fulfilment its target audience. P.K., having acquired plenty of money at the end of the first book, lives alone and works as a private eye, going to saloons (to drink soft drinks), helping out poker players and meeting future famous authors. Although several adult characters comment on this situation, the lack of social workers and general lawlessness means they can’t do much about it. I remember how much I enjoyed reading stories about children having to survive on their own, or being allowed to go to bars, or live alone, or work for a living when I was 10-12 years old, and this aspect of the story will be great fun for young readers. The narrative also provides solid and plausible reasons for why the police are not investigating the murder P.K. is hired to solve, which sadly ring all too true.

Much of the story here revolves around the eclectic collection of people living in Virginia City in this period, and their different accents and dialects. The accents are wonderfully written. English accents are harder for me to distinguish because I am English and they just read like normal speech, but Irish and Southern dialects are beautifully rendered through grammar and vocabulary, as well as the usual spelling alterations to indicate the accent. I confess, I’m not sure I’d have followed the black Southern accent quite so well if I hadn’t happened to be watching DVDs set in Louisiana earlier in the week, but young British readers will easily recognise the French, German and Irish accents and the older ones may enjoy having a go at the Southern ones. (I remember how much I enjoyed delivering dramatic line-readings of To Kill a Mockingbird in school aged about 15, in full-on fake Southern accent. I loved playing with that accent!).

I think this series perhaps skews just a little older than The Roman Mysteries (though they had their fair share of danger and mature themes as well). The books are middle-grade, but as the title indicates, they are probably more suitable for the higher end of that age-range. There are some relatively gruesome descriptions of definitely not good-looking corpses, descriptions of Civil Wars battles, plot points built around the profession of Soiled Doves (though this profession is always alluded to rather than described in detail) and several gunfights. In some ways, this is no different to the fantasy novels beloved of children across the world, in which the hero fights with a magic wand or a sword. I remember re-reading Prince Caspian and being mildly shocked to discover a fairly detailed description of Peter Pevensie hacking a man’s legs off and then chopping off his head with the backswing, which apparently didn’t bother me at all at six years old. But there is something more immediate about guns that might frighten some younger children.

I’ve learned so much about American history from reading these books, and in a thoroughly enjoyable way. This second volume is exciting, entertaining and intriguing (OK, I confess, I guessed who the murderer was as soon as he appeared. But I didn’t guess his motivation). I especially enjoyed the odd hint or reference to P.K.’s Indian background – fingers crossed for a future volume that explores this side of Glares From a Bush’s heritage. In the meantime, this one comes highly recommended.