It has been a great year for books and reading, and now that winter appears to have arrived in full force in Cape Town it is high time I put all the piles of review books, that are smothering my desk, up on the blog. Smothering in the best kind of way, of course. You can expect loads of book review posts from us over the next few weeks.
This post has something for everyone, from the smallest reader to the teen reader. For middle grade reads, I can’t recommend enough that you read them to your kids… not just because your kids can read doesn’t mean they don’t love being read to, but because the stories are often so good that you won’t want to miss them. I could get completely sidetracked here on why we should read a loud to our kids, long into their teens… but I will restrain myself and rather tell you all about the books.
The Wizards of Once (Book 4): Never and Forever
We love and adore Cressida Cowell and with her reading aloud through her books over lockdown we feel we have gotten to know her even better. If you don’t follow her on youtube, would you please dash over there and give her a follow… immediately. This is the final book in her Wizard of Once Series and we specially waited to review it. Firstly, because we LOVE this series, but we LOVE David Tennant reading of the audible even more and secondly, we didn’t really want it all to be over.
This is the finale in the adventures of Zar and Wish… they have been on such a wild adventure, through four sagas and we have love love loved it all. In theory Zar and Wish are on an expedition to save the world, but actually it is a journey of self-discovery. Wish, the daughter of the High Witch needs to discover her destiny and Zar, the young Wizard with an ever growing, awkward stain and no magic to call his own, needs to determine his own place in the world around him. The story begins with them racing towards the Mines of Unhappiness they have several young slaves to free, not least of all Zar’s older brother, one of those brothers you love to hate and hate to love.
Zar has so many issues to overcome, it has been an entire series of overcoming… and Wish just needs to be loved so much. A beautiful, and wild and rollicking adventure, full of magical creatures, difficult parents (Xar’s father and Wish’s mother)… and loads and loads of friendship and just doing the right thing. This is a heroic story for young heroes of the future to get completely lost in and to be inspired to be so much more than they ever imagined they could be… A Tragedy that it is all over.
Like all Cressida Cowell books, you can read it as a stand alone… but it is so, so much better as a series.
- Review of The Wizards of Once Book 1.
- Review of The Wizards of Once: Twice Magic. Book 2.
- Review of The Wizards of Once: Knock Three Times Book 3.
Kidnap on the California Comet
This is an adventure series for children who love traveling and a good mystery. Set on famous trains around the the world, Hals’ uncle is a travel journalist with a passion for travel and particularly trains. In this adventure Hal joins his uncle on the famous California Comet, on route from Chicago to San Francisco. And, yes of course this book, like all good books has a map to help you find your way.
In this series, Hal, who is an avid sketchbook keeper draws whatever catches his eye. He doesn’t realise it, but later on in the book he is going to solve a mystery using the sketches he has drawn in his sketchbook. In the first book he solved a robbery and in this story he manages to figure out a kidnapping. There is a wealthy entrepreneur on the train, he and his daughter are traveling on the train together. His daughter, Marianne, is kidnapped during a media event and Hal and his friends are devastated. They decide that together they can find the culprit and get Marianne home safely. An adventure unfolds… between carefully considering Hal’s sketchbook and trailing several of the passengers on the train, some serious super-sleuthing ensues.
The next book in the series is set in South Africa, Murder on the Safari Star, and since we are focusing on reading South African Stories for school this year, it will be going to the top of the list.
Review of the Previous Book in the Series: The Highland Falcon Thief, which we totally loved as well.
The StrangeWorlds Travel Agency
After you have read this book, you will never look at a suitcase in the same way again. Definitely put this book on your To Be Read pile, and it is going on our Books of the Year pile for sure… and it ends with “To Be Continued” on the last page… and I really can’t wait for more. It was an extremely satisfying book about a twelve year old girl called Flick, who moves into a thoroughly boring house in a thoroughly boring estate, her mom works, her dad works and she spends most of her time looking after her baby brother. At her first opportunity to goes exploring her new town and discovers the Strangeworld Travel Agency… a travel agency with a bit of a difference, where you travel from one world to another by climbing in and out of suitcases. Quite by accident she discovers that she has somewhat of a superpower… there is incredible magic, she is on a quest to save the world, but she has no idea how to. It is a story of endearing friendship, of exploring new places and incredible adventure and more than that, it is about being way more than you ever imagined that you could be. I loved this and read it in a sitting… and might have done a little gasp when I discovered “to be continued” at the end of it… really excellent reading, we highly recommend this one.
I have one thing to say… why have I never met Jennifer Bell before, off to hunt down more of her books… because this one is next level – excellent!!! This book is a middle graders real life dream. Three kids, that would never normally hang out together, unexpectedly find themselves in an online game… and they go on a real life adventure: The game to end all games. It is an excellent, excellent read. The game is set on a time traveling ship called the Principia and captained by Isaac Newton, no less. This is an adrenaline rush from start to finish, riddles within riddles and quest that has to be conquered before time runs out. All sorts of time scientific heroes are found between the pages, and all sorts of challenges to be met. As the players jump from level to level, so their skills accumulate, and their characters grow. I love the theme of the story, over-riding the whole story… is that three kids from opposite ends of the “school,” who have never met up before had to overcome their friendship barriers and work as a team, or lose it all. They made the right choice and their friendship grows throughout the book. Each level has their own environment and their own scientific hero… there is a lot of extremely subtle learning, a lot of puzzles to resolve and for any daring young fact collectors, this is the book to end all books.
Jack’s Secret Summer
This book: The illustrations are lovely and literally grabbed me, I had to read the book… and reading my way through pages and pages of ivy was lovely… honestly, it’s lovely and whimsical… our main character is a little bit sad and the entire story has little things that make him feel a little bit happier, though that isn’t the theme. Getting back to whimsical, this book will make you feel like the first time you read the Folk of the Faraway Tree… it has that sort of magic in it… and then CLIFF HANGER, almost as if the book ends in the middle of itself… there had better be another book in the series coming out soon. Just saying.
Scribble Witch Notes in Class
Before you do anything else, pop over to author-illustrator’s fun website, there are loads of fun things to do over there. This book is so emotionally clever on every level… it is the story of Molly Mills who collects pencil toppers and tanks her class mates pencil bags… my kind of gal!!! Anyway, Molly is having an extremely bad, very horrible day… for so so so many reasons. Mostly, because her best friend, Chloe Trout, drops the bombshell that she is moving schools… like the very next day. Molly is devastated, but can’t express it in words… what she really needs is a very special and understanding friend.
Enter the Scribble Witch… a magical little character that she gets from a cut out, who lives in her pencil tin. This little friend is all the magic – and tries to help in all sorts of disastrous ways, like handing in her story outline to Mr Stilton, who was less than impressed. This story is a delight, through and through… a great introduction to chapter books for beginner readers and full of ways to tackle those difficult feelings when little friendships don’t go the way we really want them to go. This book could have been terribly twee, but it isn’t our lead characters are feisty, and to be honest we probably all want our own little Scribble Witch for those really tough days.
The Wizard in my Shed
This is the story of ever-so-bullied Rose, her talking guinea pig, and Merdyn the Wild, a wizard from ancient times (though he doesn’t like to be called a wizard). Merdyn has been banished to the twenty first century, and he and Rose come to an agreement… she will help him navigate the 21st century and all our technology… like toilets and speeding cars and such like, and he will help her to sing beautifully and pull the threads of her slightly dysfunctional family a little closer.
This book is full of truly hysterical moments (you all know that a joke shared is so much funnier), this is a great book for kids to discover that they are not alone in the “being bullied” department, and it is all very well to be told to be more assertive… but lets be honest, we would all like a wild wizard in our corner sometimes. This book is silly (in a good way), heartwarming and kids and their parents can enjoy it together… I say that because, while it is a great read, it gets long. For the beginner reader, which it is pitched at, the story takes a long time to get to the end, which is exactly why it makes a great read-aloud, loads to laugh at together and a good story with a happy outcome.
Chain of Gold: The Last Hours (Book One)
Something for your older teen/young adult readers… When fans hear that Cassandra Clare has brought out a new novel, then there is a collective sigh of happiness around the world. This is the first book in her new series, The Last Hours, a story about her legendary Shadowhunters set in Edwardian London and the the surrounding English Countryside. Cassandra Clare has written a number of series about Shadowhunters, which are highly trained warriors with incredible abilities, that look like the regular folk of the day. If you want to know where to start reading in her series then this link is a good place to start.
In this book, Chain of Gold, Cordelia Carstairs is our main character and we read about her and her friends. Cordelia is trained to battle against demons, and she is good at it. When her father is accused of an impossible crime, she and her brother rush to London in the hopes of saving him and his reputation… they get caught up in the glitz and glamour of the day: ballrooms, tea parties and garden picnics for the young and daring glitterati. Cordelia loves James, she always has, and he is secretly betrothed to an impossible love. All the while, unusually brazen demon attacks are occurring throughout the city and no one knows why. So there is mystery, glamour, bravery, heroism and of course unrequited love. It took me a while to get into this, but once I was hooked I literally could not put it down!!!
Amazon Affiliate Links for the Books Mentioned in this Post
We would really like to thank PanMacmillan South Africa for the copies of these books that we received for review purposes. This post is not sponsored in any way and the opinions expressed are as usual our own.