Action aplenty amidst the sewers of Victorian London

CITY OF ORPHANS BK 1TITLE = CITY OF ORPHANS (book 1) : A VERY UNUSUAL PURSUIT 

AUTHOR = CATHERINE JINKS

GENRE = HORROR, ADVENTURE, FANTASY 

INTEREST LEVEL = YEARS 7, 8

If you like action, adventure and ghosts… with a backdrop of historic London then you will love this book. Young Birdie lives in the dark and threatening streets of London at a time when being a child wasn’t always easy. But Birdie is happy with her lot because she lives and works with Alfred Bunce, the local bogler who kills child eating monsters. Alfred may speak little, but he certainly looks after and cares for young Birdie ..even if his job does require him to use her as bait for the monsters he kills!

Birdie loves her job, despite the danger; she feels certain that she and Alfred are a match for any bogle out there. But have Alfred and Birdie bitten off more than they can chew … will they survive a run-in with the crook Sarah Pickles and the mysterious doctor?

If you enjoyed Jonathan Stroud’s “The Screaming Staircase” (reviewed here) you will also love this book … fast-paced, a cleverly twisting and  turning plot and an historic London that is brought magically to life … you can almost smell the rats and the sewers!!

Look out for the second (A Very Peculiar Plague) and third (A Very Singular Guild) books in the series … soon  to be on the shelves.

 This book was shortlisted in the 2014 CBCA Book of the Year awards and then announced as THE WINNER!! CONGRATULATIONS TO CATHERINE JINKS.

Highly Recommended (dma) *****

 

An entertaining story about circus life in Australia’s past

gundagai 2TITLE = THE ROAD TO GUNDAGAI

AUTHOR = JACKIE FRENCH

GENRE = CIRCUS, RELATIONSHIPS, DEPRESSION ERA, FRIENDSHIP

INTEREST LEVEL = YEARS 8 +

Although this is the third book in the “Matilda Saga”, readers do not need to have read the previous 2 stories to enjoy this book – it works perfectly as a stand alone book. Set during the zdepression in Australia w e follow the misfortunes of Bluebell Laurence. AT the tender age of 16 she has no sooner lost her parents and younger brother in a shipwreck than she is caught in a dreadful fire in her home. Badly burnt and scarred, Blue’s legs have been fused by the fire. She decides to run away to the circus when she believes that her life may be in peril … and so we follow her adventures along the road as she is befriended by the odd assortment of circus folk, in particular the elephant, Sheba.

Blue has led a privileged life up until now and so she has a lot to learn about the hardships faced by so many during the depression. And bubbling beneath this story is the central problem: was someone really trying to poison Blue, and if so, who??  There are many surprises in store for both Blu and the reader as the mystery is gradually unravelled.

This is a truly entertaining tale which is sure to be enjoyed by readers who enjoy adventure, history and just a touch of romance.

 If you would like to know more about the other 2 books in this series why not read these reviews:

A Tale for Matilda and The Girl from Snowy River

Highly Recommended *****

An exciting adventure set in Ancient Roman times

galdiator bk 1TITLE = GLADIATOR: FIGHT FOR FREEDOM

AUTHOR = SIMON SCARROW

GENRE = ADVENTURE, ANCIENT ROME, IDENTITY

INTEREST LEVEL = YEARS 7 – 9

If you like reading adventure stories set in Ancient times, then this book is for you! At the beginning, Marcus is ten years old, growing up on a small farm in Ancient Greece. He adores his father, Titus, who was a centurion before he retired and loves his mother Livia. Life is good. Until the day that the money-lender, Decimus, sends his men to the farm to brutally slay Titus and send his family to be sold as slaves.

Vowing revenge, Marcus is sent to a gladiator school where life is brutal indeed. Apart from trying to survive the gruelling training, Marcus must try and outwit the local bully, Ferax, who hates him with a passion and would like nothing more than to see him dead. Can Marcus survive these threats to his life? And what news does the kitchen slave have for Marcus about his father Titus and the slave hero, Spartacus, whom Titus fought in the slave rebellions 10 years ago? Spartacus may have died in that uprising but his name lives on and he is still revered by slaves throughout the land.

This book is fast paced and Marcus is a brave and clever lad who will win the hearts of most readers. Furthermore, this is the first book in a series, so there is plenty of action still to come. And if readers wish to know more about Ancient Rome as depiced in this story, then there are useful notes at the end of this book. Or why not check out the “Gladiator” website?

Highly Recommended (dma) *****

Loyalty and horses in a time of war

TITLE = THE HORSES DIDN’T COME HOME

AUTHOR = PAMELA RUSHBY

GENRE = ACTION, ADVENTURE, BOY STUFF, FAMILY RELATIONSHIPS, FRIENDSHIP, GROWING UP, IDENTITY, HISTORICAL FICTION

INTEREST LEVEL = YEARS 7 – 9

This is a beautiful coming of age story, of 16-year old Harry’s growth to manhood during World War I, and of his 12-year old sister Laura back home in Queensland.  It is the story full of loyalty and courage, of the incredible bond between the Australian Light Horse soldiers and their horses which culminated in the victorious cavalry charge at Beersheba in the Sinai Desert in 1917, the last great cavalry charge and a striking contrast to the horrific events at Gallipoli and the Western Front.  The story begins when Harry and his friend Jack, underage and just home from boarding school in Brisbane, sign up for the Light Horse regiment which has bought almost all their horses for the war.  Harry’s sister Laura makes a huge sacrifice and offers her beloved horse and best friend ‘Bunty’ to Harry for him to ride to war.  The story is told through both Harry and Laura’s eyes, in a combination of letters, first persona and third person narrative which works well to capture the emotions and voices of Harry, Laura, Jack and their families and friends in a dramatic yet very human way.  Harry, who appreciates the great sacrifice Laura has made for him by giving him her precious ‘Bunty’, writes letters from ‘Bunty’ to Laura, which give an alternate perspective to Harry’s ‘official’ letters to his parents and help to strengthen his friendship with his younger sister.  The book’s title, while appearing to give away the story’s ending, in fact gives very little away.  It is up to us as readers to take the journey with Harry, Jack, Bunty and Laura to truly understand this unique period in history and the very real changes that it wrought upon the Australian people. This is a 2013 CBCA Notable Book for Younger Readers.

Highly recommended (mrsk) *****

Why not check out the book trailer below:

Images either sourced from the Animoto website or photos taken by mrsk.  Music “All or nothing” by Derby (sourced from the Animoto website).

An exciting and moving tale of the aftermath of war

TITLE = THE GIRL FROM SNOWY RIVER  

AUTHOR = JACKIE FRENCH

GENRE = WAR, FAMILY, RELATIONSHIPS, FRIENDSHIP, ROMANCE

INTEREST LEVEL = YEARS 7-9

This is a most engaging novel. It picks up a few years after the conclusion of “Waltzing Matilda” and is set in a similar area (indeed, Matilda makes a brief appearance). The story focuses on Flinty, a resourceful 16 year old who finds herself running the family farm, as both her parents have died and her older brother has gone droving. Yet in many ways , this book is about the impact of WW1 on families and friends, for Flinty’s life has been irrevocably changed by this war – as have the lives of most of the folk who live in her valley. Hardly a family remains untouched – either by loss of a son in battle or by the mental scars carried by the returning soldiers – be they sons, brothers or sweethearts.

We watch as Flinty struggles to cope both emotionally and physically and we see the importance of not only family but also the broader community. There is a lot to enjoy in this novel and the mysterious ghost that Flinty meets only adds to the anticipation felt by the reader as the story unfolds.

Sure to be a big hit with teen readers especially those who enjoy stories with links to Australian history. Whilst Jackie French believes that this book is number 3 in her sweeping “Matilda” saga, each of the 3 books she has written so far are also capable of standing alone. So the reader does not need to have read “Waltzing Matilda” or “A Rose for the Anzac boys” to enjoy this novel.

(However, you may like to check out a review on this blog for A Rose for the Anzac boys)

No wonder this book was longlisted for the 2012 CBCA Book of the Year Awards.

Highly Recommended (dma) *****

Royal blood can be a challenge

just a girlTITLE = JUST A GIRL

AUTHOR = JANE CARO

GENRE = HISTORICAL FICTION

INTEREST LEVEL = YEARS 10 AND UP

This should be an enjoyable read for fans of historical fiction. Jane Caro does a great job of creating the feeling and mood of 16th century England and the political intrigues of the day. Young Elizabeth is reviewing her life the night before she is to be crowned, recalling the royal and political turmoil that brought her into the world and that has dogged her life ever since. WE see a young lady who has had to develop sharp wits to (quite literally) keep her head when many around her were losing theirs. Modern teens would certainly get a new perspective on the stress and strain of daily life when they read about the trials and tribulations that Elizabeth has had to contend with (just to stay alive). And we get an appreciation of why Elizabeth would have developed the strength and independence that history has accorded her. There is a definite irony in the novel’s title.

Caro’s bibliography at the end of the book is acknowledgement of her research whilst also pointing readers in the right direction for further reading. Whilst readers who have some knowledge of the era are sure to enjoy this book, Caro does a good job of explaining the characters and simplifying complex political and religious allegiances so that even a newcomer to the period should be able to follow the storyline. Her inclusion of a cast of characters at novel’s end is certainly useful.

An enjoyable read particularly for girls.

Selected as a Notable book  for the CBCA Book of the Year 2012 (Older Readers)

Recommended (dma) ****

An exciting historical mystery

9781741698138_UnderstudysRevenge_CV_V2.inddTITLE =THE UNDERSTUDY’S REVENGE

AUTHOR = SOPHIE MASSON

GENRE = MYSTERY, HISTORICAL FICTION

INTEREST LEVEL = YEARS 9 AND UP

This is an exciting story that is part-adventure and part-mystery, with a feisty girl (Millie) as the main character. Although she would secretly like to be a novelist, Millie helps her father, who is the director of an acting ensemble which is about to perform “Hamlet”. She befriends the newest actor in the team, Oliver, before realising that maybe he is hiding a deep and deadly secret. Millie is fuelled in her suspicions by her friend, Seth, who also helps her in her detective work. As they try to unravel the link between Oliver and the play itself, readers will be kept on the ege of their seats trying to solve the mystery and hoping that Millie survives to discover the truth, too. Young teen readers will no doubt enjoy the historical setting of the book (nineteenth century London, with references to Ausralian golddigging days) and the way that loose threads are neatly tied up by the novel’s end. A touch of romance never hurts, either!

Recommended (dma) ****

When death comes to call – 2

a girl like meTITLE =A Girl Like Me

AUTHOR = Penny Matthews

GENRE =Mystery, Historical Fiction

INTEREST LEVEL = Years 9, 10

Set in the 1800s, this is a delightful story that is part mystery and part history, as the murder at the centre of the story is based on an actual event. Emmie wants to be a writer and follow in the footsteps of her favourite author, Emily Bronte. But she has just been forced to leave school to help her mother run their household – a sign of the role that women held during those times. When young Bertha comes to work as a maid at their homestead her worldy-wise ways open Emmie’s eyes a little and they gradually become friends. So Emmie, along with the rest of their farming community, is shocked when young Bertha is murdered in her home – and even more appalled when they learn who the murderer was.

A beautifully presented novel too, which looks like a work from the 1800s – from the cover to the endpapers to the chapter headings. A most entertaining read.

Highly Recommended (dma) *****

Danger at sea

scoutTITLE = SCOUT

AUTHOR = NICOLE PLUSS

GENRE = HISTORICAL FICTION

INTEREST LEVEL = YEARS 8, 9

It is the 1800s and young Katherine (otherwise known as Kit) sets off with her mother on the long and dangerous voyage by sea to Australia. Kit’s father (a sea captain) died at sea when she was a mere baby and her mother is planning to marry a lighthouse keeper who she only knows from a handful of letters. His offer of marriage to Kit’s mother looks like the only solution for their secure future, even if it means leaving their home, family and friends and setting off for a new and very different country.

On board their ship, “Scout”, Kit begins to grow up and learn more about the ways of the world. She sees the class divide amongst the ship’s passengers, feels the constraints of living under her mother’s tight rules and is clearly bound by the restrictions all women and young girls faced in those times. She also feels the first touches of romance as she watchs the sailor, Angel … is she really falling in love?

Whilst Kit struggles to understand her mother and the new friends they make on board, life suddenly becomes more perilous when shipwreck looms … will they survive the storms and seas … will they even make it to shore and their new home??

Based on diaries and letters from the brave folk who travelled the Southern Seas to Australia in the 1880’s this is an engaging and thoroughly entertaining story. Kit is a very credible character and her struggles to live up to her mother’s exacting standards are very moving – there is also a real sense of danger and suspense in the second half of the novel that will keep reader’s on the edge of their seats. The book is also beautifuuly designed: from the cover to the maps to the little compasses that mark breaks in the story. A great read especially for those who enjoy historical fiction and adventure stories.

Highly Recommended (dma) *****

Scatterheart

scatterheartTITLE = SCATTERHEART

AUTHOR = LILI WILKINSON

GENRE = HISTORICAL FICTION, CONVICT DAYS, ROMANCE

INTEREST LEVEL = GIRLS, YEARS 8 UP

Move over Twilight!! Vampires you have been sucked dry!!! This book is amazing, the front cover is so beautiful and the story is lovely. Its about a 14 year girl living in 1814 living the life of a rich and spoiled girl! Her father gives her what ever she wants and when Arthur Cheshire leaves and young Thomas tries to help her she refuses him. Her perfect life is turned upside down and she is thrown on a convict ship, where she befriends a young sailor who falls in love with her. But Hannah, only being 14 and a ‘Lady of Quality’ finds out that James is not as charming as he seems. Hannah staying true to her convict friends arrives in Australia and finds her once pale white skin and soft hands change for the better. The story is mixed with the Scatterheart tale is a fantastic story and a brilliant tale for young teenaged girls!!!:)

For more teen reviews of this novel check here.

Highly Recommended (Nassie) *****