Kensy and Max #2: Disappearing Act by Jacqueline Harvey

Kensy and Max 2.jpgTitle: Disappearing Act (Kensy and Max #2)

Author: Jacqueline Harvey

Genre: Spy stories, children’s fiction

Publisher: Penguin Random House

Published: 3rd September 2018

Format: Paperback

Pages: 336

Price: $16.99

Synopsis: Kensy and Max are now agents-in-training at Pharos, a covert international spy network. Christmas break sees the twins back at Alexandria for training and a celebration like no other, but where are their parents and why can’t they come home?

Thankfully, a school trip to Rome provides a welcome distraction. Amid the history and culture of Italy’s capital, they discover a runaway boy and whisperings of Mafia involvement. It looks like Kensy and Max’s harmless excursion may just turn into their very first mission.

~*~

The second instalment of the Kensy and Max series sees the twins in training with the fellow Pharos agents in training, who are also their school friends from the Central London School and their teachers.  After rigorous training and a spectacular Christmas, Kensy and Max head off on a school trip to Rome with their classmates and teachers – most of whom are involved in Pharos. Whilst there, they receive more coded messages from their parents, and the Prime Minister’s son goes missing. Kensy, Max and their friends become embroiled in a mission to save him and stop a plot to undermine the prime minister.

But Kensy and Max miss their parents and Fitz, and are wondering where they are, and why they haven’t made contact since the last coded messages hinting at their whereabouts. As the teachers try to keep a modicum of control, one of the children, Misha Thornhill, has another, ongoing assignment related to Lola Lemmler, the school bully who seems determined to ruin the trip for as many people as possible.

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Travelling through Rome, Kensy and Max spend more time on ciphers and the mystery of the missing boy, than taking in the art, history and architecture of Rome, despite their teachers’ best attempts to ensure they stick with their groups and don’t reveal the existence of Pharos to the few students on the trip not part of the organisation.

As twins go in literature, these days Kensy and Max are definitely my favourites, and this is probably something I would have enjoyed as a child – fun, interesting and filled with adventure, travel and a cipher to unravel. It is exciting and engaging, and the loyalty that Kensy and Max display towards each other and their friends is one of my favourite things about the book and series.

This time, the Pigpen Cipher is used for the chapter headings, and readers of all ages will enjoy the challenge of unscrambling these to discover what each chapter is called.

I am now eagerly awaiting the third instalment to see where Kensy and Max head off next!

Australian Women Writer’s Challenge Check-in One – books one to fifteen

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All year I have been meaning to write progress posts for every month, or every ten books. Until now, I have woefully neglected this activity, and having read 61 books already, am breaking it up into posts of fifteen – and will continue to do this until the end of the year/early 2019, making the collation of posts for my final wrap up of this challenge easier than last year’s attempt. Each list will be varied, with review books and ones I chose to purchase making up my count – they will be diverse in terms of story, genre, fiction or non-fiction, readership, age and as many other aspects of diversity as I have stumbled across on my reading journey – greatly depending on what I have been able to find, have been sent and what I have access to, but also, I choose books based on what I enjoy as well, and in doing so, I feel like I hit as much diversity in my reading as possible without too much trouble.

These lists – to date so far by today, are a little less than half of my total books logged for the year, which on the 11th of August, stands at 115, and counting. I have well surpassed my goal of fifteen for the challenge – a conservative estimate as I often have a list in mind of upcoming releases and books I own, yet also don’t always know what else will come my way. I find it best to underestimate – and then anything extra becomes bonus points.

So below is my first batch of fifteen out of sixty one, with links to each review.

First fifteen

  1. The Sister’s Song by Louise Allan
  2. The Tides Between by Elizabeth Jane Corbett
  3. Rose Raventhorpe Investigates: Hounds and Hauntings by Janine Beacham
  4. Four Respectable Ladies Seek Part-Time Husband by Barbara Toner
  5. The Secrets at Ocean’s Edge by Kali Napier
  6. The Endsister by Penni Russon
  7. Graevale by Lynette Noni  
  8. Eventual Poppy Day by Libby Hathorn 
  9. Olmec Obituary by LJM Owen
  10. The Passengers by Eleanor Limprecht and Interview
  11. Miss Lily’s Lovely Ladies by Jackie French 
  12. Surf Rider’s Club #2: Bronte’s Big Sister Problem by Mary van Reyk
  13. Before I Let You Go by Kelly Rimmer
  14. Skin in the Game: The Pleasure and Pain of Telling True Stories by Sonya Voumard 
  15. Mayan Mendacity by L.J.M. Owen 

Coming up next, posts sixteen to thirty of the Australian Women Writer’s challenge and at some stage, a Book Bingo wrap up post for both of my rounds of the challenge with Mrs B’s Book Reviews and Theresa Smith Writes.

The Extremely Inconvenient Adventures of Bronte Mettlestone by Jaclyn Moriarty

bronte mettlestone.jpgTitle: The Extremely Inconvenient Adventures of Bronte Mettlestone

Author: Jaclyn Moriarty

Genre: Fantasy

Publisher: Allen and Unwin

Published: November, 2017

Format: Hardcover

Pages: 512

Price: $22.99

Synopsis: An enchanting and whimsical spell-filled fantasy novel from Jaclyn Moriarty, the award-winning author of Feeling Sorry for Celia and A Corner of White, suitable for readers who loved A Most Magical Girl.

I was ten years old when my parents were killed by pirates. This did not bother me as much as you might think – I hardly knew my parents.

Bronte Mettlestone’s parents ran away to have adventures when she was a baby, leaving her to be raised by her Aunt Isabelle and the Butler. She’s had a perfectly pleasant childhood of afternoon teas and riding lessons – and no adventures, thank you very much.

But Bronte’s parents have left extremely detailed (and bossy) instructions for Bronte in their will. The instructions must be followed to the letter, or disaster will befall Bronte’s home. She is to travel the kingdoms and empires, perfectly alone, delivering special gifts to her ten other aunts. There is a farmer aunt who owns an orange orchard and a veterinarian aunt who specialises in dragon care, a pair of aunts who captain a cruise ship together and a former rockstar aunt who is now the reigning monarch of a small kingdom.

Now, armed with only her parents’ instructions, a chest full of strange gifts and her own strong will, Bronte must journey forth to face dragons, Chief Detectives and pirates – and the gathering suspicion that there might be something more to her extremely inconvenient quest than meets the eye…

From the award-winning Jaclyn Moriarty comes a fantastic tale of high intrigue, grand adventure and an abundance of aunts.

Awards:Longlisted Book of Year, Younger Readers – Australian Book Industry Awards 2018 AU; Longlisted CBCA Book of the Year, Younger Readers 2018 AU; Shortlisted Readings Children’s Book Prize 2018 AU; Longlisted Indie Book Awards – Children’s Fiction 2018 AU; Shortlisted Best Children’s Novel, Aurealis Awards 2017 AU

~*~

AWW-2018-badge-roseTen-year-old Bronte Mettlestone has been raised by her Aunt Isabelle and the Butler, ever since her parents, Lida and Patrick, left her on her Aunt’s doorstep to go off on adventurers and hunt down pirates. The book opens with Bronte recounting the day she found out her parents had died, that they had been killed by pirates, but having been raised by her Aunt Isabelle, it does not affect her as it might other children. Following the news of their deaths, their will is read out and she is sent on a series of quests and adventures to visit all her aunts across the Kingdoms and Empires to deliver a series of gifts to them. Aunt Isabelle tries to get her out of it and go with her, but the border has been adorned by Faery cross-stitch- binding Bronte to the quest and rules set forth by her parents – and so, she must go alone.

Each gift it seems, as Bronte delivers them, is special or relevant to that aunt – and as she travels, her mind is constantly going over what will happen if she breaks the rules of the Faery cross-stitch, which will result in Gainsleigh, her home town, being destroyed. It is a journey of utmost importance, and is filled with aunts, and new friends, cousins she has never met or seldom met, as she stumbles – accidentally and against her wishes – into trouble and unforeseen scenarios, Bronte’s colourful, magical and humour filled world comes to life with the array of aunts, whose vastly different approaches to Bronte’s visits are all different, and some are far more interesting than others – her visit to the cruise ship with Aunt Maya and Aunt Lisbeth – one of her longest visits – is interesting and filled with danger, whereas her visit with Aunt Nancy is one Bronte finds rather dull and limiting, a visit where she fears the magic of the Faery cross stitch might come undone if she allows Aunt Nancy to keep her from her parents instructions.

The Extremely Inconvenient Adventures of Bronte Mettlestone is a book of beauty, from the lovely cover, to the adorable illustrations, to the magical words that fly off the page on the back of a flying unicorn and envelop the reader in the story – so much so, that whilst reading one day, I didn’t even realise how much I had read and that I was only a few chapters from the end of the story. So I’m not surprised that it has had several award nominations, long-listings and short-listings – these accolades are very well deserved, and this bridges a gap between early readers who have the confidence to read and those about to embark on Harry Potter, Narnia and other books, but is also a book that anyone can enjoy and lose themselves in as I invariably did the one day.

I loved Bronte’s character – she wasn’t a stereotype or archetype, she was a little girl, who had fears, and flaws, and who managed to find ways out of sticky situations, in a world she had not had much contact with, and yet, seemed to fit into really well. Determined to make sure she abides by the wishes and rules set forth for her in her parents will, yet still individual, and creative, able to see solutions to problems, and not the typical fairy-tale girl, Bronte is exactly the kind of character who we need these days – brave, and confident, active and able to think for herself, yet also able to accept help when she needs it. Whether it’s negotiating with water sprites to get an aunt out of jail, inadvertently causing an avalanche, or exploring a ship with a boy named Billy and a girl named Taylor, Bronte is the childhood hero for girls that my generation needed, that this generation needs, and in fact, that every girl, and woman, no matter her age or identity, will hopefully enjoy, and have a laugh with, worry and hope with her, and share in everything she feels and does.

I’m really looking forward to the next book in the series, and I hope Bronte makes another appearance as she is a rather enjoyable character, and I would like to see more of her. Aimed at what I hope will be a varied audience, it was the title and cover that attracted me to this book, and it’s fabulous first line is an excellent hook for the story – bring on book two!

Book Bingo fifteen – A Book Set More Than 100 Years Ago

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Kate Forsyth’s Chain of Charms series has been sitting on my shelf for a few years. Between university up until eighteen months ago, reviewing for publishers and most recently, writing quizzes for Scholastic Australia, I’ve been trying to squeeze them in, and have found time lately, so that’s what I have done.

A book set more than 100 years ago: The Gypsy Crown by Kate Forsyth (Chain of Charms #1) – AWW2018

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UnknownWhen the family of Emilia and Luka Finch are taken to jail by Coldham, a representative of the Lord Protector, Oliver Cromwell, they are sent on a quest by their grandmother to reunite the six charms that were scattered between six gypsy/traveller families many years ago. With only a bear, a dog, a monkey and a horse to keep them company, Emilia and Luka must first evade capture and ending up in jail with their family – and then go in search of the five other families who hold the charms and bring all six together.

I loved this start – and am hoping to have the rest of the series read very soon – in fact, I have just started book two. Set in the late 1650s, this comes into the book set more than 100 years ago by A LOT. Kate often uses history as a backdrop to her novels and she has done it exceptionally well again, right down to the author notes that go through her research and the times that her novel is set in.Kate_Forsyth

My longer review is much more in depth, and I look forward to seeing where the rest of the series takes Emilia and Luka as they seek to help their family.

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Harry Potter – Diagon Alley: A Movie Scrapbook by Warner Bros with Jody Revenson

diagon alley.jpgTitle: Harry Potter – Diagon Alley: A Movie Scrapbook

Author: Warner Bros with Jody Revenson

Genre: Film Guide, Harry Potter, Children’s, Fantasy

Publisher: Bloomsbury

Published: 5th July 2018

Format: Hardback

Pages: 48

Price: $27.99

Synopsis:Diagon Alley is a cobblestoned shopping area for wizards and witches, and it was Harry Potter’s first introduction to the wizarding world. On this bustling street, seen throughout the Harry Potter films, the latest brooms are for sale, wizard authors give book signings and young Hogwarts students acquire their school supplies – cauldrons, quills, robes, wands and brooms.

This magical scrapbook takes readers on a tour of Diagon Alley, from Gringotts wizarding bank to Ollivanders wand shop, Weasleys’ Wizard Wheezes and beyond. Detailed profiles of each shop include concept illustrations, behind-the-scenes photographs and fascinating reflections from actors and film-makers that give readers an unprecedented inside look at the beloved wizarding location. Fans will also revisit key moments from the films, such as Harry’s first visit to Ollivanders when he is selected by his wand in Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, and Harry, Ron and Hermione’s escape from Gringotts on the back of a Ukrainian Ironbelly dragon in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows – Part 1.

Destined to be a must-have collectible for fans of Harry Potter, Diagon Alley: A Movie Scrapbook also comes packed with removable inserts.

~*~

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The latest companion book to the Harry Potter series, specifically related to the movies, is a movie scrapbook of Diagon Alley, its various stores and how the street, exteriors and interiors were created for the series of eight movies that began as a series of books in 1997. With the recent release of the 20th anniversary edition of Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, this movie scrapbook complements its release and will become a good shelf companion.

Starting at the Leaky Cauldron, and ending with Weasley’s Wizard Wheezes, the book is interactive, with maps, and pictures, stickers, and pieces of wizarding money peppered through the book, to illustrate the visions from the books, and how they ended up being translated onto film, as well as where inspiration came from: Tudor times, Georgian and Victorian times, and Dickensian illustrations. The Wizarding World is shown as being from a distant time and place, untouched by modernity – ensuring the magic remains intact – just as readers would have imagined it when reading the books, and just as I did – Diagon Alley could be a mishmash of various architectures from Tudor times to Victorian times, all imbued with the magic used to create the buildings.

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As each new movie guide or character comes out, a new layer of information and enjoyment is added to the series for fans new, and old. These fun and quick reads can be dipped in and out of as well and used as you watch the movies to identify various aspects of Diagon Alley and keep an eye out for them as they watch. It is an exciting and fun book for the whole family to enjoy.

Each companion book to the Harry Potter series – whether related to the books or the movies enriches the experience, and this one is no exception. I enjoyed reading it and will enjoy revisiting it, either after watching the movies or during them, to pick up on the subtleties that I may have missed in previous viewings. As there are so many things to explore, these guides are the perfect way to discover or rediscover these things and fully appreciate the complexity of the books and movies.

Diagon Alley is shown in the book from the beginning of the series to the end, from light and airy to dark, and dingy, a world that has been destroyed during war time, to accompany the darkening themes and moods of the books and films. Diagon Alley is central to the Wizarding World, in both the books and the movies. It gives readers of the books and those who enjoy the movies a chance to see behind the scenes of how the sets the most well-known areas of Harry’s world were created in a creative, fun and interactive way for all ages.

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The Gypsy Crown (Chain of Charms #1) by Kate Forsyth

UnknownTitle: The Gypsy Crown (Chain of Charms #1)

Author: Kate Forsyth

Genre: Historical Fiction

Publisher: Pan Macmillan

Published: 10th November 2007

Format: Paperback

Pages:202

Price: $9.99

Synopsis: Once there was a gypsy queen who wore on her wrist a chain of six lucky charms – a golden crown, a silver horse, a butterfly caught in amber, a cat’s eye shell, a bolt of lightning forged from the heart of a falling star, and the flower of the rue plant, herb of grace. The queen gave each of her six children one of the charms as their lucky talisman, but ever since the chain of charms was broken, the gypsies had been dogged with misfortune.

It is even worse for the Finch tribe – they have been thrown into gaol with only three weeks to live. The only members of the family to escape are thirteen-year-old Emilia and her cousin Luka, who have been entrusted to find the six charms and bring them together again. What Emilia and Luka do not realise is that there is a price to be paid for each lucky charm, and that the cost may prove too high…

Book 1: The Gypsy Crown:
9th August – 12th August 1658

Maggie has given them the first charm – an old gold coin – but Luka and Emilia must escape the brutal thief-taker, Coldham. With a horse, a monkey, a dog, and a huge brown bear in their train, it is hard to travel secretly as they flee across the Surrey countryside. With a little bit of luck – or, as Emilia believes, magic – they manage to escape, but Coldham will not give up so easily.

Winner of Aurealis Awards for Best Children’s Long Fiction 2007

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AWW-2018-badge-roseI have had this series on my shelf for a few years, and between finishing studies and reviewing for publishers, finding time to read them has been tight – thankfully, I am for once, on top of my requests, with a couple directly received from authors to go which will hopefully be up within the next two weeks.

To start, I adore anything Kate Forsyth writes – and The Gypsy Crown, which starts the Chain of Charms series, is no exception. Set during the turbulent days of Oliver Cromwell’s rule over England in the 1650s, Emilia and Luka Finch are sent on a daring quest across England to reunite a chain of charms –  a crown (coin), a silver horse, a herb of grace, a cat’s eye shell, a lightning bolt and a butterfly in amber – that was once split between six traveller/Rom/gypsy families – all three are used throughout the book to refer to the characters and to reflect the attitudes of the time in a genuine and authentic way – the Finches, their family who hold the crown, the Hearnes, the Wood tribe, an elusive tribe who holds the cat’s eye charm, the Smiths and the Graylings. Each family, or tribe, holds a charm, and uniting them will hopefully help their family and gain their release from prison.

Emilia and Luka have the crown – but to start gathering the rest of the charms, they must escape Coldham – responsible for rounding up their family and other thieves. But they also have a bear, a dog, a monkey and a horse with them, making travel harder. But as they run across Surrey, they will embark on a journey that will change their lives.

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Kate Forsyth writes her historical fiction books for adults and children so that the well-researched facts meld seamlessly with the fictitious characters and plot that is engaging, informative and fast-paced. There are no lags, and the intrigue of what is happening and the quest for the rest of the charms. This series for children has an exciting start, filled with mystery and glimpses of the past, with echoes and foreshadows of centuries of discrimination against many groups including Emilia and Luka’s people – as they are hunted by Coldham. It allows readers to explore history in an educational and enjoyable way, and Kate Forsyth has done an excellent job at showing the prejudices of Coldham whilst maintaining respect for Emilia and Luka.

I’m about to start the second book, The Silver Horse, and hope to have the entire series read soon.

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Swallow’s Dance by Wendy Orr

swallows dance.jpgTitle: Swallow’s Dance

Author: Wendy Orr

Genre: Historical Fiction, Children’s Fiction

Publisher: Allen and Unwin

Published: 27th June 2018

Format: Paperback

Pages: 288

Price: $16.99

Synopsis: Leira’s family flee to the island of Crete just before a huge volcanic eruption destroys their island and sends a tsunami to where they thought they had found safety. Another thrilling adventure by acclaimed author Wendy Orr.

I wonder if the first day of Learning is always like this – do the girls on the hill always feel the ground tremble under their feet?

Leira is about to start her initiation as a priestess when her world is turned upside down. A violent earthquake leaves her home – and her family – in pieces. And the goddess hasn’t finished with the island yet.

With her family, Leira flees across the sea to Crete, expecting sanctuary. But a volcanic eruption throws the entire world into darkness. After the resulting tsunami, society descends into chaos; the status and privilege of being noble-born reduced to nothing. With her injured mother and elderly nurse, Leira has only the strength and resourcefulness within herself to find safety.

A thrilling Bronze Age survival story from the acclaimed author of Dragonfly Song.

~*~

Ancient history, and in particular the Bronze Age and the Minoans, seems to be a period of history that novelists and authors don’t always use as inspiration, so it was a joy to be able to read Leira’s story.

Leira is a member of the Swallow Clan, a priestess to be living on Thera around 1625 B.C.E. Just as she begins her Learning to enter the world of a priestess, and eventually marry, Thera is rocked by an earthquake, and Leira’s world is shattered. Her family flees to Crete, and on the journey, her father enlists her help in trade and taking goods to market – where she begins to think about the seal stone her father discussed making for her. But all their dreams are shattered upon arrival at Crete, where they must work to survive, and no longer enjoy the privileges of their former life. They are refugees, fleeing the volcanic eruption that tore the middle of the island of Thera out, and caused a tsunami that would take many lives, and create the homeless refugees like Leira, and eventually, lead to the legends of a lost city called Atlantis.

Using the archaeological evidence and any other information available written in Greek, and translated or by historians who have excavated Thera and Crete, as well as the well-preserved frescoes of the Minoans, Wendy Orr has recreated the disaster that decimated Thera and that began the decline and end of the thriving Minoan civilisation on Crete.

Leira’s struggles are real – she is in a new world, without anything and thrust into things she doesn’t understand and has never done before. She is caring for her mother, injured in the earthquake that led to the volcanic eruption, and she has the woman who has worked for her family for years, Nunu, to help her and guide her as she adjusts to the new life. Nunu gives advice on what to do, and about the realities of their new life, but helps Leira understand – she doesn’t abandon Leira and her mother, seeing them as family.

AWW-2018-badge-roseSet in a time that is sometimes forgotten, and whose recorded history is uncertain because the language has not been translated yet, Swallow’s Dance is about a lost civilsation and its refugees seeking help, and being treated as slaves, sneered at and made to feel unwelcome, even though they are fleeing something that nobody could ever have predicted or prevented. It is perhaps even more interesting to read given the way refugees can and sometimes are treated in the world today still, illustrating that nothing has really changed, but that there are also good people, like Andras, the young guard Leira meets, and the women who work in the craft area, making pots, far from where she began in the fishing village and the purple works – who will help people when they need it most.

I really enjoyed this book – having studied the Minoans at school and in particular, Thera, it sparked my interest immediately and the history I knew informed my reading of this book, and helped me build Leira’s world.

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