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Book Reviews

Tales of King Arthur retold by Felicity Brooks

King Arthur is a legendary English hero. This story introduces the reader to some of his more famous exploits. We learn how Arthur comes to be king and how he finds Excalibur. The main focus is Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table. There are tales of heroism, out-smarting the enemy, loyalty and betrayal. All of the classic characters are here: Guinevere, Morgan le Fay, Mordred, Lancelot and Merlin. My favourite chapter is ‘The Enchanted Ship’ as it’s about how Arthur is tricked into doing something terrible to his friend.

 

The story is simply told but is fast-paced as each chapter is a different adventure. The King Arthur story has many different versions and I think that this book does a good job of highlighting the key events associated with Arthur. Sometimes, I would have liked a little more detail during some of the battles, but, overall, this was an enjoyable, quick read and a good introduction to the legend.

The Suitcase Kid by Jacqueline Wilson

Andrea, who is known as Andy in the story, is a tall, awkward ten-year-old whose parents have recently divorced. Her dad wants Andy to live with him. Her mum wants Andy to live with her! She’s torn between the two of them and longs to return to their old life at Mulberry Cottage. She ends up living one week with mum followed by one with dad – hence the suitcase as she is constantly packing. Her mother remarries Bill (the baboon) who has three children of his own. She despises the youngest “little ratbag” Katie, a girl her own age – well, five days older. Her father remarries Carrie who has twins Zen and Crystal and is expecting dad's new baby. Andy doesn't mind Carrie and her children but she still wishes she could have her dad to herself. Andy becomes disinterested at school. Her results dip and she loses touch with her best friend, Aileen. Her only friend is her spotted Sylvanian Families rabbit, Radish. By the end of the book, via a secret garden, a mishap with Radish, running away from home and some surrogate grandparents, Andy has a new best friend and has come to terms with her new life.

 

This is a bittersweet book in Jacqueline Wilson’s familiar contemporary style.  It fairly races along and the characters are well developed.  The suitcase is a metaphor for the baggage of life and only once Andie has dealt with this can she move on. I enjoyed this book and would heartily recommend it to all.   

 

Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone by J.K. Rowling

Harry Potter hasn’t had the happiest childhood. He was orphaned as a baby and raised by his aunt and uncle who don’t really like him. His bedroom is a cupboard under the stairs. However, Harry’s life changes forever on his eleventh birthday when he finds out that he is really a wizard. To his delight, he is sent to Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry to learn how to use magic. He makes friends with Ron Weasley and Hermione Granger, learns how to play quidditch and gets into all sorts of mischief. There are broomsticks, spells, feasts, a baby dragon and a giant game of chess! As he becomes more integrated into the world of magic, Harry also learns that not everyone is good. When events take a dark turn, it is up to Harry and his friends to save the day. A key message of this story is how love and friendship are important and can almost provide a magic of their own. It also tells us that we all have it within us to be brave.

 

This first book in the series sets the scene and introduces us to the wizarding world and its various characters. So much happens in every chapter. The descriptions written by J.K. Rowling are fantastic and really help you to view the story in your mind’s eye. I cannot speak highly enough of this book. The Harry Potter series are, in my opinion, the best children’s books ever written. They can make you laugh out loud and cry your eyes out! You might have seen the films: they are great, but are nowhere near as good as the books. If you’re up for a challenge – because they are a tricky read – then give the book a go. You're in for a real treat!

 

Please note: It is important to read the series in the right order.

Young Sherlock: Death Cloud by Andrew Lane

This is one of the best children’s books I have read for a long time. It is fast-paced, there’s a mystery to solve and it is quite exciting at times. Sherlock Holmes attends a boarding school but, one summer, he is unable to return home for the holidays so he is sent to stay with his uncle and aunt whom he’s never met. They live on a large country estate which gives Sherlock plenty of opportunity for investigation. He meets a boy called Matty and, together, they become involved in solving a mystery. Two bodies are found covered in boils and sores, leading people to think there may be a plague. However, a mysterious cloud is seen leaving the bodies shortly after their death. Who or what is causing it? Sherlock sets out to find out.

 

This is a great story. The Victorian setting makes it very atmospheric. Something happens in every chapter that moves the plot forward and there are plenty of ‘red herrings’ to lead the reader astray. We see how Sherlock Holmes goes from being a clever, curious boy into the beginnings of the great detective he will become. This book is a challenging read as such a lot happens but it’s well worth the time spent on it. Death Cloud is the first in the Young Sherlock series.

Journey to the River Sea by Eva Ibbotson

When the story starts, Maia has been living in a school in London for two years since the death of her parents. One day, she receives news that a distant relative has been traced and that she is to live with them – in Brazil! Maia starts by researching the River Amazon, which she discovers is known as ‘The River Sea’ and realises that where she going is very different from what she has known. The story follows her journey to another part of the world and her feelings as she tries to settle with the Carter family. In Brazil, she meets new friends who will need her help and will lead her on new adventures.

 

This is a really interesting book as it challenges the viewpoint that family, or ‘blood’ are always the right thing for us. Maia, and the friends she meets, haven’t always had a happy time with family and we, the reader learn that it doesn’t matter whether you’re rich or poor, family can still influence our lives in many ways. It’s not the sort of exciting book where something happens in every chapter, rather it is a plot that develops over several chapters and really hooks you in.

Midnight Library: Voices by Nick Shadow

This is a collection of three shortish stories. They all have an element of horror and mystery. Each story is different, but there is a common theme running through them all – voices. In the first story, a girl called Kate hears voices whilst in a graveyard that seem to be telling her about future events. In the second, Justin seems to be plagued by a pair of trainers that can think for themselves. The third story is about a boy who experiences something very unusual after an argument with a neighbour about an orchard.

 

The three-books-in-one format works really well in this book. The stories are long enough to provide a detailed plot but are short enough to be able to read them fairly quickly. This book is a good read, although it is a little creepy at times. Probably best not to read it just before you go to bed! If you enjoy reading it, it is the first of several Midnight Library books to choose from. The books do not have to be read in any kind of order.

The Thieves of Ostia by Caroline Lawrence

This is the first book in The Roman Mysteries series. The story follows Flavia Gemina, a girl who lives in Roman times. She likes to solve mysteries. Each chapter contains a mini-adventure that all lead to Flavia solving a problem of who is killing dogs and for what reason.

 

If you like history or mystery, then then this is a great book for you. There is a glossary of Roman terms in the back to help you to understand the story. There is also one of our favourite things at the front…a map! This means you can follow the story through the different locations and it might help you to solve the mystery before Flavia!

If you are a dog-lover or you don’t like blood and gore, this probably isn’t the book for you as it can be a bit gruesome at times!

Stormbreaker by Anthony Horowitz

This is the first book in the Alex Rider series. Alex’s life is turned upside-down after the death of his adoptive uncle, who has been like a father to him. He is suddenly thrown into a world of spies, mysteries, secret identities and adventure. Alex is recruited my MI6 to investigate a man, Herod Sayle, who has created a computer called Stormbreaker. Sayle wants to give a computer to every secondary school in the country but is this act of generosity everything it seems?

 

This is a fast-moving book. Something exciting happens in every chapter and, as the reader, you really root for Alex and want him to succeed in the environment in which he has reluctantly found himself. The book is very much in the James Bond genre, so if you like mystery and adventure, then this book is for you.

Five on a Treasure Island by Enid Blyton

This is the first book in The Famous Five series. Julian, Dick and Anne travel to the coast to meet their cousin Georgina. However, Georgina – who likes to be known as George – certainly does not want to meet them! George is unfriendly and only wants to spend time with her dog, Timmy, and visit ‘her’ island – Kirrin Island. However, a storm reveals a secret that leads the Five on a hunt for treasure – will they find it?

 

The Famous Five series is a stalwart of children’s literature. This book was written 75 years ago and reflects a time when children had a lot more freedom and certainly no electronic devices to help them. The Famous Five have to rely on teamwork, intelligence and courage to meet their challenges. If you like adventure stories, then this is a great book for you – and there are also twenty more books! The story is well-paced and the setting of an island on a rugged coastline make it interesting.

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