Tag Archives: Vashti Hardy

Ten Books with House Covers

We are staying at home, staying safe. The expression safe as houses comes to mind so here are some books with places of abode on its cover. On this day of publication, we are also right in the middle of the #stayhomereadingrush. One of the suggestions on the poster was to read books with houses on the cover.

Here are my middle-grade and YA suggestions, listed in alphabetical order.

The Boy, The Bird and The Coffin MakerThe Boy, The Bird and The Coffin Maker by Matilda Woods

Goodreads Blurb

Alberto lives alone in the town of Allora where fish fly out of the sea and everyone knows everybody’s business. There he makes coffins for the great and small, but being the only coffin maker in town can be lonely. That is until a little boy and a magical bird enter his life and change it forever. My review

Greenglass House (Greenglass House #1)Greenglass House by Kate Milford

Goodreads Blurb

It’s wintertime at Greenglass House. The creaky smuggler’s inn is always quiet during this season, and twelve-year-old Milo, the innkeepers’ adopted son, plans to spend his holidays relaxing. But on the first icy night of vacation, out of nowhere, the guest bell rings. Then rings again. And again. Soon Milo’s home is bursting with odd, secretive guests, each one bearing a strange story that is somehow connected to the rambling old house. As objects go missing and tempers flare, Milo and Meddy, the cook’s daughter, must decipher clues and untangle the web of deepening mysteries to discover the truth about Greenglass House—and themselves.

The House with Chicken LegsThe House with Chicken Legs by Sophie Anderson

Goodreads Blurb

All 12-year-old Marinka wants is a friend. A real friend. Not like her house with chicken legs. Sure, the house can play games like tag and hide-and-seek, but Marinka longs for a human companion. Someone she can talk to and share secrets with.
But that’s tough when your grandmother is a Yaga, a guardian who guides the dead into the afterlife. It’s even harder when you live in a house that wanders all over the world . . . carrying you with it. Even worse, Marinka is being trained to be a Yaga. That means no school, no parties–and no playmates that stick around for more than a day.
So when Marinka stumbles across the chance to make a real friend, she breaks all the rules . . . with devastating consequences. Her beloved grandmother mysteriously disappears, and it’s up to Marinka to find her–even if it means making a dangerous journey to the afterlife.
With a mix of whimsy, humor, and adventure, this debut novel will wrap itself around your heart and never let go. My review

I, CorianderI, Coriander by Sally Gardner

Goodreads Blurb

In this exceptionally well-crafted tale, Coriander tells the story of her childhood in seventeenth-century London—and of her discovery that she has inherited magical powers from her mother, who was a fairy princess. But her mother’s sudden death brings on a dark time for Coriander. And after mourning her beloved mother and dealing with the disappearance of her father and the wrath of her evil stepmother, Coriander finds herself locked in a chest with no hope of escape and no will to survive. But when a bright light beckons to her, it is then that Coriander’s journey truly begins.

The Last Chance Hotel (Seth Seppi Mystery, #1)The Last Chance Hotel by Nicki Thornton

Goodreads Blurb

Seth is a kitchen boy at the remote Last Chance Hotel. His father has long ago left, leaving him imprisoned until he is old enough to set out on his own. If there’s any hope he has, it’s to be the greatest chef that ever lived… just like his father.

One night, a band of magicians begin to arrive to participate in a secret meeting — a Prospect Selection Procedure to determine the most talented magicians in the world, judged by their leader Dr. Thallonius. Seth has one task: to make Dr. Thallonius the greatest dessert he’s ever tasted. Then, maybe he will help Seth find a way to freedom.

But when the doors to the private meeting open, and Dr. Thallonius lay dead on the floor, the group blames the dessert, which means that it’s Seth who will pay the price. But Seth knows he’s innocent, and only has so much time to eliminate each suspect and prove his innocence. My review

Mold and the Poison PlotMold and the Poison Plot by Lorraine Gregory

Goodreads Blurb

He’s got a big heart . . . and a nose to match!
Mold’s a bit of a freak. His nose is as big as his body is puny and his mother abandoned him in a bin when he was a mere baby. Who else but the old healer, Aggy, would have taken him in and raised him as her own? But when Aggy is accused of poisoning the King, Mold sets out to clear her name.
In a thrilling race against time to save Aggy from the hangman’s noose, Mold faces hideous, deadly monsters like the Yurg and the Purple Narlo Frog. He finds true friendship in the most unusual – and smelly – of places and must pit his wits and his clever nose against the evil witch Hexaba.
This is an exciting fantasy story with an array of wonderful characters, including the inimitable Mold, told in a fresh and distinctive voice by a promising new writer. My review

Secrets of the Great Fire TreeSecrets of the Great Fire Tree by Justine Laismith

Goodreads Blurb

A Boy.
His Pendant.
A Magical Tree.

In rural China during the New Year celebrations, Kai receives devastating news. A poor harvest spells disaster unless his mother accepts a job in the city caring for a wealthy family.

Abandoned in his mountainous village, Kai is desperate to bring his mother home. He gives in to superstition and unlocks the secrets of the Great Fire Tree. The Great Fire Tree will grant Kai’s wish—for a terrible price. With the help of his new friend Xinying and his trusted piglet, Kai will make a sacrifice to make his family whole.

Justine Laismith weaves together Chinese mystique and rural charm in an enchanting tale of an antidote that kills and an amulet that curses.

Serafina and the Black Cloak (Serafina, #1)Serafina and the Black Cloak by Robert Beatty

Goodreads Blurb

“Never go into the deep parts of the forest, for there are many dangers there, and they will ensnare your soul.”

Serafina has never had a reason to disobey her pa and venture beyond the grounds of the Biltmore estate. There’s plenty to explore in her grand home, although she must take care to never be seen. None of the rich folk upstairs know that Serafina exists; she and her pa, the estate’s maintenance man, have secretly lived in the basement for as long as Serafina can remember.

But when children at the estate start disappearing, only Serafina knows who the culprit is: a terrifying man in a black cloak who stalks Biltmore’s corridors at night. Following her own harrowing escape, Serafina risks everything by joining forces with Braeden Vanderbilt, the young nephew of the Biltmore’s owners. Braeden and Serafina must uncover the Man in the Black Cloak’s true identity… before all of the children vanish one by one.

Serafina’s hunt leads her into the very forest that she has been taught to fear. There she discovers a forgotten legacy of magic, one that is bound to her own identity. In order to save the children of Biltmore, Serafina must seek the answers that will unlock the puzzle of her past. My review

The Smell of Other People's HousesThe Smell of Other People’s Houses by Bonnie-Sue Hitchcock

Goodreads Blurb

In Alaska, 1970, being a teenager here isn’t like being a teenager anywhere else. Ruth has a secret that she can’t hide forever. Dora wonders if she can ever truly escape where she comes from, even when good luck strikes. Alyce is trying to reconcile her desire to dance, with the life she’s always known on her family’s fishing boat. Hank and his brothers decide it’s safer to run away than to stay home—until one of them ends up in terrible danger.

Four very different lives are about to become entangled.

WildSparkWildSpark by Vashti Hardy

Goodreads Blurb

A year after the death of her older brother, Prue Haywood’s family is still shattered by grief. But everything changes when a stranger arrives at the farm. A new, incredible technology has been discovered in the city of Medlock, where a secretive guild of inventors have developed a way to capture spirits of the dead in animal-like machines, bringing them back to life. Prue knows that the “Ghost Guild” might hold the key to bringing her brother back, so she seizes the stranger’s offer to join as an apprentice. But to find her brother, she needs to find a way to get the ghost machines to remember the people they used to be. Yet if Prue succeeds, all of society could come apart… My review

 

Hope you find something you want to read in this list. Stay at home, folks, stay safe.

Eight Books with Strong Female Leads

International Women’s Day is on 8 March. To mark this day, here are some children’s books with strong female leads to inspire our female readers. These strong female characters show many traits.  They are creative, courageous and challenge their boundaries.

Middle Grade Books

Serafina and the Black Cloak (Serafina, #1)Serafina and the Black Cloak by Robert Beatty

My review

Blurb

“Never go into the deep parts of the forest, for there are many dangers there, and they will ensnare your soul.”

Serafina has never had a reason to disobey her pa and venture beyond the grounds of the Biltmore estate. There’s plenty to explore in her grand home, although she must take care to never be seen. None of the rich folk upstairs know that Serafina exists; she and her pa, the estate’s maintenance man, have secretly lived in the basement for as long as Serafina can remember.

But when children at the estate start disappearing, only Serafina knows who the culprit is: a terrifying man in a black cloak who stalks Biltmore’s corridors at night. Following her own harrowing escape, Serafina risks everything by joining forces with Braeden Vanderbilt, the young nephew of the Biltmore’s owners. Braeden and Serafina must uncover the Man in the Black Cloak’s true identity… before all of the children vanish one by one.

Serafina’s hunt leads her into the very forest that she has been taught to fear. There she discovers a forgotten legacy of magic, one that is bound to her own identity. In order to save the children of Biltmore, Serafina must seek the answers that will unlock the puzzle of her past.

BrightstormBrightstorm by Vashti Hardy

My review

Blurb

Twins Arthur and Maudie receive word in Lontown that their famous explorer father died in a failed attempt to reach South Polaris. Not only that, but he has been accused of trying to steal fuel from his competitors before he died! The twins don’t believe the news, and they answer an ad to help crew a new exploration attempt in the hope of learning the truth and salvaging their family’s reputation. As the winged ship Aurora sets sail, the twins must keep their wits about them and prove themselves worthy of the rest of the crew. But will Arthur and Maudie find the answers they seek?

The Fox Girl and the White GazelleThe Fox Girl and the White Gazelle by Victoria Williamson

My review

Blurb

Reema runs to remember the life she left behind in Syria. Caylin runs to find what she’s lost. Under the grey Glasgow skies, twelve-year-old refugee Reema is struggling to find her place in a new country, with a new language and without her brother. But she isn’t the only one feeling lost. Her Glasgwegian neighbour Caylin is lonely and lashing out. When they discover an injured fox and her cubs hiding on their estate, the girls form a wary friendship. And they are more alike than they could have imagined: they both love to run. As Reema and Caylin learn to believe again, in themselves and in others, they find friendship, freedom and the discovery that home isn’t a place, it’s the people you love. Heartfelt and full of hope, The Fox Girl and the White Gazelle is an uplifting story about the power of friendship and belonging. Inspired by her work with young asylum seekers, debut novelist Victoria Williamson’s stunning story of displacement and discovery will speak to anyone who has ever asked ‘where do I belong?’

The Girl, the Cat and the NavigatorThe Girl, the Cat and the Navigator by Matilda Woods

My review

Blurb (There wasn’t one on Goodreads, so I’ve typed out what was on the book jacket)

Set sail aboard the Plucky Leopard for an adventure of myth and marvel among the ice-caps!

Curious, pin-bright Oona Britt dreams of a life of excitement on the wild waves. She has read stories of a mysterious, magical creature called the nardoo which swims through the starts at night, and decides to stow away on her father’s ship to track on down.

But her time on the storm-tossed sea is fraught with danger – there’s a mutinous crew, a sabotaging ship’s cat called Barnacles and a hungry creature of the deep awoken after a long sleep.

The House with Chicken LegsThe House with Chicken Legs by Sophie Anderson

My review

Blurb

All 12-year-old Marinka wants is a friend. A real friend. Not like her house with chicken legs. Sure, the house can play games like tag and hide-and-seek, but Marinka longs for a human companion. Someone she can talk to and share secrets with.
But that’s tough when your grandmother is a Yaga, a guardian who guides the dead into the afterlife. It’s even harder when you live in a house that wanders all over the world . . . carrying you with it. Even worse, Marinka is being trained to be a Yaga. That means no school, no parties–and no playmates that stick around for more than a day.
So when Marinka stumbles across the chance to make a real friend, she breaks all the rules . . . with devastating consequences. Her beloved grandmother mysteriously disappears, and it’s up to Marinka to find her–even if it means making a dangerous journey to the afterlife.
With a mix of whimsy, humor, and adventure, this debut novel will wrap itself around your heart and never let go.

The Miscalculations of Lightning GirlThe Miscalculations of Lightning Girl by Stacy McAnulty

My review

Blurb

A lightning strike gave her a super power…but even a super genius can’t solve the problem of middle school. This smart and funny novel is perfect for fans of The Fourteenth GoldfishRain Reign, and Counting by Sevens.

Lucy Callahan was struck by lightning. She doesn’t remember it, but it changed her life forever. The zap gave her genius-level math skills, and ever since, Lucy has been homeschooled. Now, at 12 years old, she’s technically ready for college. She just has to pass 1 more test–middle school!

Lucy’s grandma insists: Go to middle school for 1 year. Make 1 friend. Join 1 activity. And read 1 book (that’s not a math textbook!). Lucy’s not sure what a girl who does calculus homework for fun can possibly learn in 7th grade. She has everything she needs at home, where nobody can make fun of her rigid routines or her superpowered brain. The equation of Lucy’s life has already been solved. Unless there’s been a miscalculation?

A celebration of friendship, Stacy McAnulty’s smart and thoughtful middle-grade debut reminds us all to get out of our comfort zones and embrace what makes us different.

Chapter Books

Spider Stampede (Switch, #1)Spider Stampede by Ali Sparkes

My Quick Thoughts:

Mrs Potts is obviously a very clever and inventive scientist. I wish there were more books like the Switch Series. Children, especially girls need to read about female leads and mentor in STEM roles.

Blurb

All Josh and Danny Phillips want to do is play in the yard with their dog, like regular eight-year-olds. Unfortunately, their crazy neighbor Miss Potts makes sure that they never have any fun. When the boys accidentally stumble on Miss Potts’s secret that she is working on experiments that change people into bugs they find themselves in a whole lot of trouble. (They also find themselves with six more legs than normal.) Can the boys survive in the world as spiders? And more important, will they figure out how to change back into humans in time for dinner?

The Magic Mixer ebook cThe Magic Mixer by Justine Laismith

Blurb

This is a story about Mrs Dabble, who is bringing up three children: Billy, who is a pleasant and polite; Melanie, a toddler who likes to do things for herself; and Ruby, a baby.

On a typical day, Mrs Dabble finds herself going from one crisis to another. She really needs some help, but where can she get it from?

Meet Dr Patsy Gerlaxi and her Magic Mixer. This machine takes unique and useful features from any animal and inserts them into humans!

So begins Mrs Dabble’s adventure to getting more help with the assistance of the Magic Mixer …

 

If you are looking for books to inspire the little girl in your life, I hope these eight books will give you a starting point. If you want more suggestions, drop me a note below and I will gladly recommend more. Or if you know of other books must-read strong female leads do drop your suggestions below.

First published 1 March 2019 for International Women’s Day. Updated on 1 March 2020.

Twelve Books about Women-in-STEM

UNESCO has designated 11 Feb to be the International Day of Women and Girls in Science. Here are some fiction and non-fiction books about women and girls in STEM.

Chapter Books/Early Readers

Spider Stampede (Switch, #1)Spider Stampede

by Ali Sparkes

This is a first in the series. Mrs Potts is a very clever and inventive scientist.

My Explosive DiaryMy Explosive Diary

by Emily Gale

This is a book that showcases girls can do anything.

The Magic Mixer ebook cThe Magic Mixer

by Justine Laismith

Mrs Dabble tackles the arduous challenge of parenting with the help of an owl, octopus and a salamander. Invented by two women, a scientist and an engineer, it’s a machine that gives you the special feature of any animal.

Middle Grade Books

The Miscalculations of Lightning GirlThe Miscalculations of Lightning Girl by Stacy McAnulty

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A home-schooled math genius finds her way in middle school and uses her math skills to help an charity house find new homes for animals in their care.

BrightstormBrightstorm

by Vashti Hardy

Captain Scott-like antarctic adventure. Designed, built and led by Harriet, twins set out in her sky-ship to find their missing explorer father.

The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate (Calpurnia Tate, #1)The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate by Jacqueline Kelly

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A girl develops her interest as a naturalist in an era where STEM doors are closed to the females.

The Matilda EffectThe Matilda Effect

by Ellie Irving

A girl sets out to right the wrong done to her grandmother-in-STEM.

 

The Dog Who Saved the WorldThe Dog Who Saved the World

by Ross Welford

A canine-origin pandemic breaks out shortly after a talented programmer convinces Georgie to visit her house.

Beetle Boy (The Battle of the Beetles #1)Beetle Boy

by M.G. Leonard

Beetle version of 101 Dalmations. The woman-in-STEM in this story is the antagonist.

Non-fiction Books

Women in Science: 50 Fearless Pioneers Who Changed the WorldWomen in Science: 50 Fearless Pioneers Who Changed the World by Rachel Ignotofsky

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I am partial to this one because of its beautiful illustrations.

Brilliant Ideas From Wonderful WomenBrilliant Ideas From Wonderful Women by Aitziber Lopez

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Children’s book review about the everyday items and women who invented them

Hidden FiguresHidden Figures by Margot Lee Shetterly

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Non-fiction book review on Hidden Figures by Margot Lee Shetterly. It follows the lives of black women

There are several non-fiction books highlighting women’s contributions to STEM. However fictions books with women in STEM, especially those as mentors, are few and far between. I want to make this a longer list. If you know of any more books, please leave the book title and if you know it, the author’s name in the comments below. Thank you!

First published 11 Feb 2019. Updated 1 Feb 2020.

Review : Wildspark by Vashti Hardy

Book review : WildSpark by Vashti Hardy

WildSparkMy rating: 4 of 5 stars

My Thoughts after Reading

The author has done an amazing job with this book. Responding to the current movement of more representation of women, especially stories of women in STEM, this book is about four girls recruited as apprentices to the Guild in the city of Medlock, where they will be trained to advance the cutting edge of personifates.

Personifates are ‘second lifers’; the spirits of the departed are harnessed to a rare element under very exacting lunar conditions. Afterwards these personifates serve as second-class citizens in the City of Medlock. Here-in lies the second dimension in the story. With complete memory loss of their previous lives and designated to menial roles in the city, the morals of capturing these souls is reminiscent of the Hermione’s championing rights for the Elves in the Harry Potter series. Going deeper, teachers can also use this book to discuss the history of slavery.

Like her previous book Brightstorm, I can see elements of where the author got her ideas. The start of the book reminded me very much of Harry Potter. I could see similarity to characters like Malfoy and Hermione. Settling into the new Guild was like the first year in Hogwarts. Our heroine’s desire to bring back her dead brother in the form of a personifate brings Frankenstein to mind. However, this is not just a copy-cat story. I have read books where the author tries to be technical and throws in contrived scientific terms into the story. I have also read books where the author attempts to ‘educate’ science to his readers and it becomes a pseudo-textbook. But Vashi Hardy got it just right in this book. I love the way she has used real scientific terms and applied them suitably, words like oscilloscope and by-product. I also like her creativity to modify scientific words, like grapheme (which retained the real graphene properties) and parabolic reflector. My favourite has got to be her play on the mathematical word ‘Pneumerator’.

A very creative book and above all, a good read.

Goodreads Blurb

Seven Books with Maps

 Do you belong to the category of readers who love books with maps? If you are, read on. If you usually ignore the map page at the front of the book, then take a moment here to appreciate the art-work that went into it. You haven’t got the book (yet) or the descriptions in front of you, so it’s not like I’m tempting you to skip through the descriptive writing of the story. So it’s not cheating or being lazy. As for those of you who already love books with maps, you’ve come to the right place. So step on board.

Here I will show you middle grade books with maps. You know you are going on an adventure, a bit like Around the World in Eighty days, except this is more like around the realms in one blog. Even if you have never read these books, know that it promises adventure. Some might be fictitious, some might be real. Without further ado, let the journey begin.

The Ascendence Series

The False Prince (The Ascendance Trilogy, #1)Ascendance series C

 

 

 

 

The False Prince by Jennifer A. Nielsen
Three boys are chosen from an orphanage and trained up as the missing heir to the throne.

This is the book cover of the first book in the series. There are three books in this wonderful series.

I love the simple lines in the map. The font is in keeping with the medieval setting of the story.

Mold and the Poison PlotMold map C

 

 

 

 

Mold and the Poison Plot by Lorraine Gregory

A boy with a nose like a dog goes on a rescue mission. My review

The Book of BoyThe Book of Boy map C

 

 

 

 

The Book of Boy by Catherine Gilbert Murdock

About a hunched boy who follows a pilgrim in search of St Peter’s relics. My review

The scrolls are spot-on for the era of this story. The devil and angel drawings hint of what is to come if you go on the journey with this book.

 

BrightstormBrightstorm map C

 

 

 

 

Brightstorm by Vashti Hardy

Captain Scott-like antarctic adventure. Twins set out in a sky-ship to find their missing explorer father. My review

This is the only one in colour here. The narrow map summarises the climate as they travel  from temperate through the equator and down to the antarctic.

Fuzzy MudFuzzy Mud C

Fuzzy Mud by Louis Sachar

Ecological disaster in a small town. My review

I love the tight cluster of woodland. It gives a perspective of the travel route from school to home, and the risks involved if you deviate from it.

Sky Songsky song map2 C

Sky Song by Abi Elphinstone

Adventure in a magical wintry setting where two children thwart the Evil Queen’s plan to rule the world. My review

There is a sense of vastness in this map, with the space between the trees or mountains and even the regions. Doesn’t it feel bleak just by looking at it?

 

Vote for EffieVote for Effie Map C

 

 

 

Vote for Effie by Laura Wood

Effie starts at a new school and runs for student council to bring equality to the school. My review

I love how this map brings home what’s most important at school: cleanest toilets, best food and shortest route between lessons.

 

Hopefully this list gives you a idea of what the book entails if you’ve never read it. As we head towards summer with summer camps and summer travels, we will be relying on maps in our activities, or travel to such magical places in books. If you know of any more books with maps, please drop the title in the comments below.

Five Great Middle Grade Books published in 2018

My blog is a day early, but we have come to the end of 2018. To say goodbye to this year, I’ve reflected on the 2018 publications. Here are 5 great middle-grade books I want to the world to know about.

BrightstormBrightstorm by Vashti Hardy

My Thoughts after Reading

This is a middle grade adventure. Twins Maudie and Arthur set out in a sky-ship to find their missing explorer father. The setting is probably Victorian time, in a world with a First, Second and Third Continent. The first continent looks like the south of England. The second continent seems to be part-Australia and part-middle East. The third continent is, without a doubt, the Antarctic.
Even at the start, the book promises great things as the twins quote their father’s words of wisdom.
“Fear kills more dreams than failure ever will.”
“Don’t call it a dream, call it a plan.”
News of his death came at the start. They lost their inheritance and were heartlessly thrown out of their family home. What an injustice. Straightaway, I rooted for the twins. They are sold off to a couple. The setting is reminiscent of Dickens’ stories. In one of those dark days, their pet bird, who went on the expedition with their father, returned. Pets in this story setting are intelligent. They have a special bond with their owner, and understand human speech perfectly, even though humans are incapable of understanding them back. This reminds me to The Golden Compass. The Thought-Wolves are a brilliant creation.
Despite the tragic setting, the author has put in brilliant mentors for the twins. The chef Felicity has a special gift of sixth sense; she gets an uncomfortable tingling in her toes. Any scenes with Felicity give me the warm feeling of being looked after. I love it that they were still able to enjoy honeyed tea and cake despite the harsh conditions.
I have been looking for books with female mentors and I am very pleased to find her here. Harriet is a great role model. She designed and made the sky-ship that does not drain natural resources nor pollute the air. She imparts her engineering and navigation knowledge to Maudie, who shows great interest in all things mechanical. Despite her intelligence, Harriet is thoughtful of her crew members.
I enjoyed the narratives on the ship and their various expeditions. This book is a mixture of several stories I’ve come across: Captain Scott, Lieutenant Hornblower, The Golden Compass, Oliver Twist. The author has taken bits from them and come with something of her own.
An enjoyable read.

The Fox Girl and the White GazelleThe Fox Girl and the White Gazelle by Victoria Williamson

My Thoughts after Reading

This middle grade book gives a good insight to refugees settling in the UK. Reema’s family has just arrived from war-torn Syria, having had several months of living in a refugee camp overseas. They arrive without knowing English nor the local culture. They need to pick all these up, and leave the past traumas behind. On top of this, they have to cope with prejudice.

Caylin is the school bully who intimidates her schoolmates into giving her money. As always, the bullying is only the tip of the iceberg. We learn the reasons behind her actions.

Externally they are different, but inwardly they have something in common. You can relate to the two things that brings them together: animals and shared talent. The story is written from the POVs of Reema and Caylin, in alternating chapters. They are heart-felt. You will find yourself rooting for them as you see them taking baby steps towards uncharted territories. You cannot help but turn page after page.

A great read.

The Girl, the Cat and the NavigatorThe Girl, the Cat and the Navigator by Matilda Woods

My Thoughts after Reading

First of all, what a great title, so random, and yet so rhythmic. Irresistible.

The story is set in a fictional place Scandinavian-like. On one hand there is folklore, superstition and fortune-telling. On another hand, there are constellations, explorations and naval adventure. The main character addresses today’s call for female leads. The cat, as any animal would in a middle grade book, has great appeal. It’s got swagger, talent, and nine lives. I’ve always been told cats do not like water, yet here cats are mascots for ships. Creative. Furthermore, the childless old couple is a masterstroke. There are many children’s story with a kind old couple who want nothing more than a child. Incorporating this into the story, together with the folklore and animal, is a winning combination to take on middle grade readers.

This is a real treasure. I can see this book being a classic in the future.

The Miscalculations of Lightning GirlThe Miscalculations of Lightning Girl by Stacy McAnulty

My Thoughts after Reading

This is a middle grade book about a 12-year-old who became a math genius after she was struck by lightning. She also developed OCD. Her grandmother, who is her carer, had home-schooled her since. But now that she is 12, she has to go to middle school and make friends of her age. Up to this point, her friends were online math geniuses.
The way her mathematical mind works comes across very well in the story. She made a couple of unlikely friends, particularly Levi. He is not mathematical, but he has a gift of empathy. He can tell straightaway how someone is feeling, and captures their expressions in his camera. This obsession is not popular with his peers. My favourite line in the book comes from him. “You’re the first person who has ever felt different. You’re the first freak ever to set foot in East Hamlin Middle School. Congratulations, Lucy Callahan. You’re so special.” Levi is simply spot on in his analyses of people.

This book was recommended to me because of the cool math teacher. I was looking for a STEM mentor in MG books. He wasn’t quite what I was looking for, but I liked him. He is a teacher who has passion for the subject, and attempts to connect the subject to our world at large. Most of all, he spotted the fact that Lightning Girl is not showing her full potential. Teachers like Mr Stoker are a gift to all parents.
The writing is quick paced, rhythmic and page-turning. The characters are compelling. What I love best is our math genius used statistics to help a charity house homeless pets. Cleverly written to incorporate math into fiction.

A really good read.

The Night DiaryThe Night Diary by Veera Hiranandani

My thoughts after Reading

This middle-grade historical fiction is about a family caught in the midst of a key historical event. When India gained independence from the British, it separated into two countries, India and Pakistan. The Hindus had to move south to India and the Muslims north to Pakistan. Seen through the eyes of a girl, Nisha, this was not a peaceful transition. Hindus, Muslims and Sikhs who used to live peacefully now fought and killed one other.

The author cleverly chose a family who broke tradition at the time. Nisha’s father is a Hindu, and her late mother was Muslim. Their Muslim cook is part of their household. Yet the turmoil meant the unit had to separate.

Through her diary entries, Nisha tells us her family’s struggles as they made their way across the border. I’m not a fan of diary-format books. Here each entry ends with ‘love Nisha’. I find this distracting, as if it’s telling me to stop reading now I have reached the end. This diary format took me a while to get into it, ie after many sittings. It was only towards the middle when I settled into the story that I was able to ignore the entry breaks. The historical parts were skilfully dotted in places to keep the story flowing. Middle grade readers will learn about this moment in history through this story.

The author has successfully described the place, culture and the atmosphere. One thing struck me while reading was how much trouble was taken to educate readers of the plethora of food. At every meal/snack time a different type of food eaten or cooked. Whilst I enjoyed reading about how the food was cooked, I did not recognise 80% of their names. It made no difference to me whether a dozen food was on the menu, or if only a couple was mentioned. Perhaps this is more meaningful for a native Indian, but to me it felt like the author was rattling off lists of them just to educate us.

All said and done, I liked the historical nature of it, so do check out this book.

 

These are the five books I would recommend a middle-grade reader. If there any books you can think of, please add to this list in the comments below. Have a Happy New Year.

My Thoughts after Reading: Brightstorm

BrightstormBrightstorm by Vashti Hardy

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

My Thoughts after Reading

This is a middle grade adventure. Twins Maudie and Arthur set out in a sky-ship to find their missing explorer father. The setting is probably Victorian time, in a world with a First, Second and Third Continent. The first continent looks like the south of England. The second continent seems to be part-Australia and part-middle East. The third continent is, without a doubt, the Antarctic.
Even at the start, the book promises great things as the twins quote their father’s words of wisdom.
“Fear kills more dreams than failure ever will.”
“Don’t call it a dream, call it a plan.”
News of his death came at the start. They lost their inheritance and were heartlessly thrown out of their family home. What an injustice. Straightaway, I rooted for the twins. They are sold off to a couple. The setting is reminiscent of Dickens’ stories. In one of those dark days, their pet bird, who went on the expedition with their father, returned. Pets in this story setting are intelligent. They have a special bond with their owner, and understand human speech perfectly, even though humans are incapable of understanding them back. This reminds me to The Golden Compass. The Thought-Wolves are a brilliant creation.
Despite the tragic setting, the author has put in brilliant mentors for the twins. The chef Felicity has a special gift of sixth sense; she gets an uncomfortable tingling in her toes. Any scenes with Felicity give me the warm feeling of being looked after. I love it that they were still able to enjoy honeyed tea and cake despite the harsh conditions.
I have been looking for books with female mentors and I am very pleased to find her here. Harriet is a great role model. She designed and made the sky-ship that does not drain natural resources nor pollute the air. She imparts her engineering and navigation knowledge to Maudie, who shows great interest in all things mechanical. Despite her intelligence, Harriet is thoughtful of her crew members.
I enjoyed the narratives on the ship and their various expeditions. This book is a mixture of several stories I’ve come across: Captain Scott, Lieutenant Hornblower, The Golden Compass, Oliver Twist. The author has taken bits from them and come with something of her own.
An enjoyable read.
Blurb

Twins Arthur and Maudie receive word in Lontown that their famous explorer father died in a failed attempt to reach South Polaris. Not only that, but he has been accused of trying to steal fuel from his competitors before he died! The twins don’t believe the news, and they answer an ad to help crew a new exploration attempt in the hope of learning the truth and salvaging their family’s reputation. As the winged ship Aurora sets sail, the twins must keep their wits about them and prove themselves worthy of the rest of the crew. But will Arthur and Maudie find the answers they seek?

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