Friday, February 03, 2012

Cracking children’s books start the year

Sword of Light by Katherine Roberts £10.99
King Arthur is certainly enjoying something of a revival in children’s books at the moment and one I particularly enjoyed is this, which starts just after King Arthur is killed by his evil nephew Mordred.
Merlin goes to bring back Arthur’s only heir – a girl, Rhiannon – who was brought up in secret in enchanted Avalon – Merlin reveals her heritage and gives her the challenge of restoring Arthur’s soul to his body.
Feisty Rhiannon immediately wants to learn to fight, become a leader and a knight to avenge her father’s death – but at the same time as she must learn to become a princess.
It makes for an action-packed journey, enhanced by mist ponies, an enchanted harp-playing faerie and lots of quests, mystery and magic and Excalibur. Lots to enjoy with a great female lead and good use of the familiar Camelot setting and characters. A great adventure for 10+ that will probably give the Arthur story good appeal to girls.
The Court Painter's Apprentice by Richard Knight 5.99
Rich in historical detail, this is the story of 11-year-old Johann, taken on as an apprentice and moved away from his family to study with a master, Hugo. He has to cope with the jealousy of others in the workshop and hopes his abilities will start to speak for themselves. Only things start to get mysterious as this becomes a psychological thriller.
Johann realises that his paintings are more powerful than he realises when he notices that they have the power to change people. How he should use this power – or whether he should –  is part of the intrigue of this story.
Johann grows increasingly isolated and unhappy even having this unusual power in his hands. The tension builds well and eventually he has to use all his skills to save himself.
It’s an unusual story and really brings to life the world of an artist and his apprentice.
India Dark – Kirsty Murray £6.99
An intriguing backdrop of a real-life tour of young dancers from Australia sets up a story of the jealousies and rivalries that spiral out of control.
Setting sail is a troupe of (mostly) young women – from ten to seventeen, parted from their families, all heading for unknown tropical destinations with promise of fame and fortune in their heads and a chance to see exotic parts of the world in their heart.
But rivalries quickly break out – from star billing and best costumes, to who has the best room. The growing tensions are seen through the eyes of Poesy Swift – a sweet young thing on her first tour who has a lot to learn about the undercurrents that seethe beneath the greasepaint and public face of theatrical world.
The poisonous Tilly Sweetrick has been touring with the company for years and has set her sights on moving into a proper stage career once the tour is over. She starts scheming and to sow mistrust among the troupe.
As they realise their routines, costumes and equipment are out of date and no longer drawing the crowds, Tilly decides to act to bring the tour to a much quicker close, with devastating consequences.
The story is based on the real-life court case that followed a tour through the heart of India in 1910. As well as the searing setting of slow trains and sweaty hotels, there is plenty that modern readers will recognise in the feuds and rivalries that start to spiral between the girls.
It’s a great behind-the-scenes tale of how dreams can turn sour and would be a great read for teens who thinks that a life in the spotlight and the dangled promise of fame will be glamorous.
Twelve Minutes to     Christopher Edge             6.99
We are plunged straight into Sherlock Holmes territory with the mystery of why a new disease is spreading – a disease that forces people to write down their dreams.
Penny runs a magazine in turn of the century Britain and has penned terrifying short stories which have sent the magazine’s circulation soaring.
But Penny is a thirteen-year-old girl and she hires an actor to start meeting the public’s craving to meet the author.
Such is the fame of her pen name ‘Montgomery Flinch’ for his macabre stories, that when sinister happenings are troubling a doctor at the London hospital for the insane ‘Bedlam’ they call on the skills of Montgomery Flinch and Penny’s actor has to turn himself into a sleuth (with a lot of help from Penny).
It’s a terrific premise and Penny is a great, original creation.
The story cracks along with another youthful and female baddie, lots of spiders, lost Amazonian explorers, spider venom and a lust for riches at the heart of the story.
Penny, as a hugely successful writer, encounters other better-known literary giants. Arthur Conan Doyle, Rudyard Kipling, H Rider Haggard,HG Wells in the story, which has some great twists.
I would have liked to have learned a lot more about Penny and what made her such a successful business woman and wordsmith – capable of writing such gruesome stories at such a tender age – but this is the first of a series, so I am sure we have a lot more to learn about Penny in future episodes. Looking forward to them.

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