Tag Archives: adventure

Review: Oliver and the Seawigs by Philip Reeve, illustrated by Sarah McIntyre

Weird water creatures and mad explorers combine in a dazzlingly original children’s fantasy adventure story¬†

I so enjoyed this madcap romp through the oceans, and so will the target audience of 7+. Really, I’m not convinced there’s an upper age limit on this kind of fun.

The book represents a brilliant combination of text and image, being beautifully illustrated throughout. Philip Reeve’s delightfully zany creations are brought to life through Sarah McIntyre’s energetic and witty drawings.

The characters are deliciously quirky, with the mythical and magical elements showing an inventiveness worthy of Eva Ibbotson. There is an anarchic feel to this book, which is perhaps some of the reason it put me in mind of her work. The plot is equally strange and wonderful, featuring the most bizarre competition I’ve ever had the pleasure of reading about, islands that wander around the seas, mermaids, sea monkeys and a dastardly villain.

I’ve really emphasised the humour here, because it is one of the defining features of the book. Let me just say, though, that I tend not to enjoy the slightly-too-silly-for-me humour sometimes found in ‘boys’ books’. This is not in that category. Brilliantly bonkers yes, but not pants-and-bums silly.

In short, if you enjoy slightly mad humour, magic and/or adventure, this is a book you will love.

Book Description

Along with his friends, a grumpy old albatross, a short-sighted mermaid, and a friendly island called Cliff, Oliver sets out to rescue his missing parents. On their perilous journey the friends meet evil islands, a boy called Stacey (not a girl’s name) and more sea monkeys than you can wave some seaweed at.

Publishing 5 September 2013 by Oxford University Press
For more info visit the publisher’s web page
My grateful thanks to the publisher for providing a review copy

Review: About Zooming Time, Opal Moonbaby by Maudie Smith

Another fantastic outing for the zany alien!

Opal Moonbaby remains delightfully wacky in this brilliant sequel. I greatly enjoyed this and know that all existing Opal fans will just lap it up.

If you haven’t already read the first book, I’d suggest you do that rather than reading this review, which may contain spoilers for the first book ūüôā My review of book 1 is here. You might also enjoy this fab and non-spoilery guest post from Maudie Smith about Opal going to school.¬†
Martha and Robbie are again at the centre of the story, with Opal zooming in to upend their world. This time, Opal must fit in as an earth girl, including going to school – and there is also the threat of other aliens, Mercurials, on the horizon. As in the first book, Opal is hilarious in her misunderstandings and enormous enthusiasm for everything earthly, while Martha at times despairs at her lack of awareness of how much she stands out.
As with the first novel, this is genuinely funny (without resorting to poo/pants jokes) and sweet at the same time. Opal’s determination to fit in and her blithe lack of understanding – while being absolutely convinced she’s doing everything right – make for a hilariously entertaining story. I would have liked to see more of Garnet, Opal’s Mingle (I’m sure all readers must have fallen in love with him in the first book), but he is here and still just as wonderful.
There is a lovely story about friendship in here, as Opal and Martha cope with more people being introduced into Opal’s circle and Robbie has his own subplot on a friendship theme. The book also includes an exciting build up to a climax with the potential threats to Opal’s safety and the success of her mission.
Overall, a highly recommended 9-12 read for boys and girls.

From the book description:

Opal Moonbaby is spending a year on Earth. A whole year! Martha can’t wait to take her to school, to introduce her to her friends and to recreate all the fun they had during the summer.

But things don’t turn out quite as expected and before Martha knows it, Opal is off making new friends, doing new things and throwing herself into life on Earth – and Martha can’t keep up.¬†

When Opal’s Uncle Bixie warns them that the nasty Mercurials, enemies from their home planet of Carnelia, are on their way to Earth, planning mischief, Martha begins to worry. But Opal is far too busy making friends to be bothering about those stupid Mercurials. Besides, her eyes would z-ray them immediately and she’d dazzle-kick them all the way back to Carnelia. Wouldn’t she?

Published 7 Feb 2013 by Orion Children’s Books
More info on the publisher’s website
My grateful thanks to the publisher for sending me a review copy

Review: Tiger Wars by Steve Backshall

Gripping adventure with bonus learning for 9+ 

I would have loved this as a child! (I loved it as an adult reader, in fact). Packed with thrilling adventure and danger, cleverly underscored with lots of information on wildlife, geography and culture.

The story here revolves around two young main characters: Saker, a boy on the run from a mysterious group known as The Clan, and Sinter, an Indian girl fleeing from an arranged marriage to an older man. Their paths collide and they find themselves as quite unlikely partners working together to save the tigers that Saker was supposed to capture.

The real skill is this book is in its efficient combination of excitement and information. I learnt loads from reading this book – always a gift – and at no point did I feel that the story had stalled to share information with the reader. I was also impressed at the breadth of that knowledge and information – not just on wildlife and conservation (although there is of course plenty of that), but also the kind of geographical and cultural knowledge that only comes from extensive travel with an open attitude.

It promises to be a very boy-friendly series, but that’s absolutely not to say that girls won’t love them too. I know plenty of 8-10 yr old girls who are big Deadly 60 fans, and Sinter sharing the lead role with Saker will definitely increase the appeal to girls as well. The plot may be a little far-fetched, but good stories (especially for children, who can have so few adventures these days) often are and its rootedness in reality certainly helps to counteract this, as do its well-drawn and emotionally realistic characters.

Overall, I am definitely recommending this, and watch out for the second title in the series – Ghosts of the Forests (on Orang Utans! Yay!) – out next month.

From the Back Cover:

Deadly Adversaries. An Impossible Mission. Tiger Wars.

Saker is on the run from the only life he knows.¬†From India to the Himalayas and China he’ll be pursued by hunting dogs, mercenaries, spies, thieves and assassins in his quest to set free the most majestic, lethal and valuable of all the predators – the tiger.

“Saker’s story comes from my imagination, but is set in the very real wild world I know from my expeditions. I’ve tried to fill Tiger Wards with intrigue, danger, adventure, exotic wildlife and dramatic locations. I hope I’ve made these things come to life, and that you enjoy reading the book as much as I’ve enjoyed writing it.”

Paperback version published May 9 2013 by Orion Children’s Books
For more information and more Steve Backshall’s books see the publisher’s website
My grateful thanks to the publisher for providing me with a review copy

Review: The Fate in the Box by Michelle Lovric

Exciting, highly original adventure for 8+ readers 

Michelle Lovric has created a truly bizarre and unsettling version of Venice under the dictatorship of the cruel and peculiar tyrant Fogfinger. In the best children’s book tradition, he is unequivocally evil and the adults seem helpless and, in many cases, clueless that they are even in a bad situation. Michelle Lovric’s child heroes are resourceful and brave, as well as being readily relatable for child readers.

The characters are definitely a strength in this novel (and in others I’ve read by the same author). These Venetian fantasies are peopled by a mixture of humans and creatures (some real, some fantastic) with strongly differentiated characteristics. I love the determination and tenacity of little Amneris, first seen in peril in the prologue as she climbs up into a tower where death may await her. From this opening, we jump back three months to see how this climax is reached, meeting Tockle, son of kaleidoscope makers, and Biri, Amneris’s best friend, along the way. The child characters are realistic and recognisable and I’m sure many children will view them as friends and will recognise aspects of their friends (and of themselves) in them. The evil and magical characters are gloriously larger-than-life and inventive.

The novel is tightly and intricately plotted, with plenty of clues (and red herrings) as to how it will all fit together. I certainly wasn’t able to predict the details of the story and there is more than enough to surprise and delight a child reader. Michelle Lovric uses magic and fantastic beasts to help the children, working within the quest and fairy tale traditions of magical helpers, but it is their own bravery which ultimately spurs them on, resulting in a satisfying tale for young readers.

Overall. I would readily recommend this for young readers of fantasy and adventure. It has all the characteristics of the best-loved children’s stories, including larger-than-life characters alongside believable child heroes, magic and mystery and clear lines between good and evil.

From the publisher’s website:

Fogfinger rules Venice. His Fog Squad and spies are everywhere. The Venetians fear him and obey him. Every year one of their children is lost in a grisly Lambing ceremony. The child must climb the bell tower and let the Fate in the Box decide their destiny. Most end their days in the jaws of the primeval Crocodile that lurks in the lagoon. Or so Fogfinger tells them. But a chance meeting by a green apricot tree between Amneris and Tockle may be the beginning of the end for Fogfinger.

Silk and sewing, a magical glass kaleidoscope, mermaids and misunderstood Sea-Saurs, talking statues and winged cats, blue glass sea-horses, a spoiled rich girl and a secret society are just some of the ingredients in Michelle Lovric’s exquisitely imagined and superbly plotted fourth fantasy set in Venice.

Published May 2nd by Orion Children’s Books
Find more information on¬†the publisher’s website
My grateful thanks go to the publisher for providing me with a proof copy for review

Review: The Great Ice Cream Heist by Elen Caldecott

Great fun kids’ adventure from a skilled writer of family drama

Elen Caldecott is one of the best writers of kids’ contemporary adventures. She excels at writing sympathetically and not patronisingly about kids in non-traditional family situations, giving them interesting adventures so that the point of the story is not “look, here’s a kid from a non-traditional family”, but rather “here’s a kid doing X”.

I especially like the anti-judgmental message in this novel, in which our main character, Eva, has new neighbours whom everyone knows are trouble. Eva’s view is different – she finds their loud and chaotic family intriguing, in contrast to her own very quiet and calm family: just her and her very protective Dad.

The plot is engaging, mostly because Eva and Jamie and those around them are entirely convincing and interesting characters. We can’t help but feel sorry for Eva, keen to please her Dad but also to have a life of her own. And Jamie, seen through Eva’s eyes as he escapes by lying on shed roof, is endearing and engaging in his own right. There are some genuinely funny moments, and plenty of points where we’re worried for the characters and all seems doomed. The chase scene alluded to in the title and on the cover, is a fabulous climax.

Overall, I would absolutely recommend this for 9-12s, especially those who enjoy character-led adventures.

From the Back Cover

‘Those McIntyres are nothing but trouble!’ When the McIntyre family moves in next door, Eva is intrigued – it is the first interesting thing to happen for ages. But her ever protective Dad – even more protective since Eva’s mum died – does not agree. And the McIntyres are certainly noisy! But Eva is curious about Jamie, who she often sees on the roof of his garden shed, escaping the family chaos.

Then Eva gets to know Jamie a bit better. And when he is accused of vandalising the local park, Eva is sure he didn’t do it. It is up to Eva to stick up for him – but then Jamie disappears. Eva is now in a race against time, which snowballs into a helterskelter race with a ‘borrowed’ ice cream van, lots of irate keep-fit enthusiasts and lashings of ice-cream!

A warm, funny adventure about sticking up for your friends.

Publishing 6 June by Bloomsbury
My grateful thanks go to the publishers for providing me with a review copy via Netgalley

Review: The Diamond Thief by Sharon Gosling

Fabulous steampunk mystery adventure for 9+ 

Amazing contraptions, an intriguing mystery, Victorian London, the circus, a hint of romance between a detective and a cat burglar – this book combines so many elements brilliantly. The result is a riproaring adventure that will appeal to a wide range of readers in (and above) the target age range. I’ve already had to bat my 14 yr old away so that I could read it in time for this review!

Remy is a circus performer. She is a skilled acrobat, working on the trapeze and also as a jewel thief. Fiercely independent, she seems to be an orphan, but does have close relationships with some of the other circus workers. I love her pride in her work and her stubbornness, as well as her admirable loyalty to her beloved Claudette and Amelie. She is clearly beholden to the circus owner, Gustave, who sends her on a mission to steal a precious diamond on display in the Tower of London – and here the adventure begins.

Thaddeus is a young detective. Clearly from a lower class background, he is not always taken seriously as a detective due to this and his age. Nonetheless, he is a very serious young man with a strong sense of morality and a desire to do the right thing. As the blurb tells us, he finds himself implicated in the theft of the diamond and sets out to find Remy and clear his name. The speed with which his colleagues turn against him and believe him to have broken the law is shocking and ensures that our sympathies lie with him.

Sharon Gosling¬†skilfully¬†plays with our sympathies, making sure that we cannot possibly ‘take sides’ between Remy and Thaddeus. We see the best aspects of both of them, and (at least for the first half of the book) understand each far better than the other can. Characterisation is definitely a strength of this book. There isn’t space here to delineate each of the fascinating supporting roles here, but trust me, you’ll also love the Professor, and young J and the noble Desai.

Another strength is the setting. We get to see a range of Victorian London which is relatively unusual – often books are confined to a particular social milieu – as we follow Remy to the showing of the diamonds in the Tower, as well as getting views of London’s poorer aspects. The circus and the creepy below-London network are also sharply drawn and younger readers will have no problem keeping up with the scene changes due to the detailed (but not excessive) description.

And finally, the plot is strong too – pacey but not confusing for the target audience; twisty enough to reward reading; and satisfying in the end.

Overall, I’d absolutely recommend this. With its dual protagonists, its blend of mystery, adventure and character development, it’s definitely a book that will be enjoyed by readers of either gender and fans of many genres.

From the back cover:

And there she was. A girl who seemed to fly without wings, as perfectly as a bird. Even the thought of ¬†it made his heart freeze. The memory of her, plummeting to the ground…

No-one performs on the circus trapeze like 16-year-old Remy Brunel. But Remy also leads another life, prowling through the backstreets of Victorian London as a jewel thief. Forced by the evil circus owner Gustave to attempt the theft of one of the world s most valuable diamonds, she uncovers a world of treachery and fiendish plots.

Meanwhile, young detective Thaddeus Rec is determined to find the jewel and clear his name. Will Thaddeus manage to rescue the jewel? Or is it really Remy that he needs to save?

Published 14 February 2013 by Curious Fox
Find out more at the publisher’s website
My grateful thanks to the publisher and @GeorgiaLawePR for providing me with a review copy.

Family Friday Review: Leopard Adventure by Anthony McGowan

Wonderful adventure story – a fitting tribute to the original Willard Price books

Author: Anthony McGowan
Title: Leopard Adventure
Series: This is book 1 of the new Willard Price-inspired adventures
Genre: Adventure (kids)
Publisher: Puffin
Published: 5 July 2012

Source: copy won in a Twitter competition from the publisher

Find it at Amazon UK

The blurb says…
Deep in the remote forests of Siberia, a mother Amur leopard, one of the rarest big cats in the world, senses danger. Something faster than any human and deadlier than any tiger.

Meanwhile Amazon Hunt, aged twelve, is recruited from England by Tracks in America, ready to take off at a moment’s notice to rescue wild animals under threat – no matter how great the danger.

Now Amazon and her thirteen-year-old cousin Frazer must brave the Russian wilderness to save the Amur leopard, before a blazing forest fire wipes out the race – for good . . .

My verdict: Classic kid-friendly action adventure with plenty of facts about animals and the environment along the way. Highly recommended for boys and girls of around 9 and up.
As a child, I loved Willard Price’s Adventure series, in which brother Hal and Roger Hunt would travel the world collecting animals with their father for his zoo, seeing off poachers and other nefarious souls along the way. I learned no end from those books about animals, about the world and about survival. I was so pleased when I heard that a new series had been commissioned with the approval of Price’s estate, as the books are not so readily seen these days and some of their attitudes do feel a little dated now. I’m so glad to be able to share these with my kids.

This excellent start to the series shows that Anthony McGowan has does a fabulous job of preserving all the best things about the books whilst bringing them bang up to date. The adventures now have a more directly environmentalist agenda (they always were relatively green, but in a 1950s/60s context), and make good use of modern technology. It’s also good to see female characters getting in on the action.

What surprised and delighted me, though, was that the series is a continuation of Hal and Roger Hunt’s work. Amazon, the main character, is Roger Hunt’s daughter and her cousin Frazer is Hal’s son. There are definitely touches in there that will please fans of the original series (like the kids sharing some of their parents’ traits), without at all making it difficult to start here with no knowledge of the older series. But don’t worry – this adventure definitely belongs to the kids, and the parents are clearly going to feature in an ongoing subplot. I can’t wait to find out more about Hal and Roger as adults, and to see Amazon and Frazer develop as a wildlife-saving team.

As an adventure story, there are some moments of peril and there is certainly plenty of action and movement in the plot. It is perfect for 9 yr olds and up, having a meaty plot and just enough danger to thrill without being too scary. Kids will learn a lot about Amur Leopards (the Fact File at the back is a nice addition, summing up some of the information scattered through the story), and probably also some geography, as I always did from the earlier novels. I would absolutely recommend this and hope that these are a big success, so that there can be many more of them.

Family Friday Review: Helen Moss’s Adventure Island Series

Child investigators, a loyal doggy companion and a variety of intriguing mysteries: the Adventure Island series is great for kids of around 8 and up (and adults nostalgic for the Famous Five…).

The series is written by Helen Moss and published by Orion Children’s. There are currently ten books in the series, but in a recent blog post, Helen Moss said that at least another four are planned.

The series is set on the invented Castle Key Island, which lies off the Cornish coast. This great map is typical of the lovely line illustrations by Leo Hartas which accompany the stories. As this is a nice safe island (despite the relatively high crime rate!), where everyone knows everyone else, the children can be free to roam around and investigate. 

The characters are a key strength of the series. My daughter and I are particular fans of Emily Wild, who lives on Castle Key with her parents and her lovely dog, Drift. The other investigators are Scott and Jack Carter, who spend school holidays on Castle Key with their Aunt Kate, a romantic novelist. Emily is really the leader of the group, making plans and gathering clues in her notebook. One of the great things about reading a really good series is the familiarity you get with the characters, and I saw that this week in reading book 10, The Invisible Spy, with my daughter, when Emily underlined the case’s title in her notebook (twice, I believe). We both smiled, because that sense of organising ideas and being neat is absolutely typical of Emily.

Drift is great too, and I particularly like that occasionally the narration will shift to his point of view. 

“Drift shot out from the sofa. Distraction¬†was his all-time favourite command. He just had to find something really naughty¬†and do it! And this time he knew exactly what his Naughty Thing was going to be!”¬†

The point of view shifts occasionally between the characters, which helps strengthen the characterisation and is always clearly signalled like the example above.

The plots are involving and intriguing. The mysteries are real and effectively planned, with red herrings and twists to keep you guessing, while not being confusing for the child audience. In the last few stories there have been smugglers, scientists and secret agents, not to mention dinosaurs, rock concerts and wreck diving. I strongly recommend these for 8+ – and that absolutely includes adults. I love these books!

There’s still a chance to win a set of the books, as well as being a character in a future story with the Operation Diamond competition, open until 23rd July. I’ve written about it here, and this is the offical page to get started.

Magical Monday Review: Sword of Light by Katherine Roberts

Fabulous Arthurian-themed fantasy introducing a new character to the legends.

Author: Katherine Roberts

Title: Sword of Light
Series: Pendragon Legacy 1
Genre: Fantasy (Kids)
Publisher: Templar
Published: Feb 2012 (hardback; paperback due out Oct 2012)
Source: won from Feeling Fictional
Find it at Amazon UK or Goodreads

The blurb says:
It is the darkest hour of the darkest Age. King Arthur is dead, killed by his wicked nephew, Mordred. Saxon invaders rampage across the land and forces of evil are gathering. The path to the throne lies open to Arthur’s only remaining flesh and blood – Mordred. But there is one with a better claim than Mordred – Arthur’s secret child. Brought by Merlin to enchanted Avalon as a baby and raised there for protection, the king’s heir must take up a vital quest: to search for the four magical Lights with the power to restore Arthur’s soul to his body. Introducing Rhianna Pendragon: unlikely princess and Camelot’s last hope.

My verdict: A great read! Exciting adventure, magic and mystery for the 9-12 crowd
I really enjoyed this one. Katherine Roberts has created a world that it’s a great pleasure to get lost in. Familiar elements of the Arthur stories are woven seamlessly with the new inventions and children will delight in Rhianna’s adventures. It’s a treat to see a female protagonist in this kind of novel and, as you can see from the cover, this is not a ‘girly’ book. I would happily give it to a boy or girl to enjoy.
Rhianna is a fabulous character. At the opening of the book, she doesn’t know who she is – she’s simply the only human in Avalon, allowing for some ‘odd one out’ feelings to be explored. As a girl, she faces difficulties in persuading others that she can play an active role in protecting her heritage. She’s feisty and determined, in keeping with her unruly red hair, and this can lead her into rashness but she also – sometimes – shows signs of wisdom and cunning in dealing with her enemies.
Her best friend, Prince Elphin of Avalon, accompanies her on her journey into the mortal realm. He is calm and gentle and, as a fairy prince, has magical abilities. He makes a good contrast to Rhianna and allows her a young friend and ally in the uncertain world of mortals, in which she mostly has to deal with adults who (of course) assume they know best.
No review of this book is complete without a mention of the fairy horses ridden by Elphin and Rhianna. These are a brilliant addition, increasing the magic and enchantment in the story, as well as providing the Avalonian pair with more allies. Child readers will love them and dream of their own magical friends, I’m sure.
Overall, this is a tightly-written, classic quest tale with engaging characters and a well thought out premise.  There are going to be four in this series, and I will definitely be looking out for the others as they are released.