Tag Archives: Victorian

New series : The Battles of Ben Kingdom by Andrew Beasley

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The claws of evil by Andrew Beasley. (The battles of Ben Kingdom; book 1). Published by Usborne, 2013. Paperback, 329 pages. ISBN: 9781409544005. Available in bookstores NZ rrp$20.95 now (also in Wheelers and Overdrive ebook platforms!)

From the publisher:

Welcome to Victorian London; the home of the Artful Dodger, Sherlock Holmes…and Ben Kingdom, cocky street urchin – and the saviour of mankind. Unknown to mere mortals, an ancient battle is being waged across the city. Below the streets lurk the Legion, an evil gang of miscreants and criminals in league with the monstrous Feathered Men – determined to unleash Hell on the streets of London. Above the city’s rooftops soar the Watchers, a ragtag band of orphans, mystics and spies, dedicated to protecting the vulnerable and guarding London against evil. Only Ben can put an end to this war – the only problem is, he doesn’t know which side to choose.

What did I think of this book?

I have loved Usborne publications for years – but I have been more familiar with their excellent non-fiction titles (these are wonderful resources for my students carrying out inquiry as the books are beautifully laid out and well supported by web and other up to date resources). This is the first of two new fiction titles I have read recently and I will be looking out for more from this publisher (watch out for a review of another excellent girls realistic fiction title which will be up on this blog soon…)

Back to the Claws of evil…Victorian setting. Check. Rip roaring adventure. Check. Excellent writing. Check. Appeal to voracious readers. Check. Good versus evil. Check. These are just some of the elements that make me want to tell my students about this book.This book was talked about a lot prior to publication and this one lives up to all the enthusiastic pre publicity excitement.

From lovereadingforkids.co.uk: Everybody at Usborne is incredibly excited to be publishing The Claws of Evil, the first book in a stunning new series The Battles of Ben Kingdom. I started reading this book on a plane journey from Italy but was quickly transported to the rooftops of Victorian London, where an age-long battle takes place between the mysterious Watchers and the brutal Legion. Only our hero, Ben Kingdom, can put an end to this war, and the dilemma at the heart of this brilliant novel is that he doesn’t know which side to choose.Imaginative, captivating and fast-paced, Andrew has created colourful characters with real heart. Blending steampunk invention with nail-biting adventure, we believe this is the sort of fiction that will get readers talking. We hope you love it as much as we do!

It is wonderful when the author has an interesting story of their own. I was fascinated to read about the things that influenced Andrew on his author page on the website of UK bookseller Foyles.

Blame Sherlock Holmes.

I have always had a fascination with the Victorian era, and London in particular. There is something so fascinating, so gloriously tantalising, about those murky cobblestones and the swirling fog. I was very young when I first read Conan Doyle and I remember my feelings when I found myself in that age of great invention and glorious adventure, and yet tinged with darkness too, in those dangerous alleyways and crime-ridden tenements. It proved an irresistible combination to my young mind, and the obvious choice of setting for my series – The Battles of Ben Kingdom.

Andrew goes on to talk about other things that have influenced him including his own experience of homelessness “Unfortunately, in many respects, the London of Ben Kingdom is a mirror of London today. Homelessness is on the rise. Estimates vary, but it is suggested that as many as 100,000 children become detached from their families each year in the UK and have to fend for themselves. 30,000 of those will be twelve years old or younger. One in six of them will sleep rough. Suddenly, the historical past collides with the present. I could rewrite The Claws of Evil with a contemporary setting and it would still ring true.” Click on the link at the end of this post to read this fascinating account in full.

The book is very much about choices; the choice between good and evil is not so easy when the main protagonist doesn’t have all the facts. It is interesting to be the reader watching from the sidelines, willing the character to take action based on the information that you the reader has from having read both the point of view of the good (the Watchers) and the Bad (the Legion) – never has that felt so apparent for me when reading a book as with this one. Even stranger, is that right from the start of the story Ben is convinced that the Winged Man is evil incarnate while the Evil Professor can help him. If this were a pantomime or stage show children would be yelling to the actors from the audience!

There are so many elements of great fantasy here; firstly the prophecy held by both sides who are waiting for the child that is destined to change the world by leading their side; the mystical coin that the legion needs to complete their plans (it also seems to possess everyone that comes into contact with it, including Ben); a subterranean community of “outsiders” living below London’s streets; people and creatures with amazing physical powers running along the rooftops; magical hideous monstrous creatures with murderous blood letting intent. Plenty for kids to get their teeth into and one that will appeal to many girls as well as boys because of the well developed secondary characters of both sexes.

The second book in the series is due out in September.

LINKS:

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The Queen must die – K.A.S. Quinn

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The Queen must die by K.A.S. Quinn. (Chronicles of the Tempus; book 1), Published by Corvus (Atlantic Books), 2011. Paperback, 298 pages.

From the publisher:

…Why is Katie Berger-Jones-Burg under a sofa in Buckingham Palace? The last thing she can remember is reading in her bedroom, trying to block out the sound of the TV. Now she is in London, at the height of Queen Victoria’s reign. Something very strange is going on.

Together with her two new friends – Princess Alice, the young daughter of Queen Victoria, and James O’Reilly, the son of the royal doctor – Katie must discover why she has been sent back in time. And who are the weird and frightening creatures who seek her out? The key, it seems, lies with the enigmatic Bernardo DuQuelle. As the dark forces moving through the royal household begin to take control, Katie and her friends uncover a plot to assassinate the Queen and unearth an even darker mystery…[Suspicious figures huddle in the gas-lit streets of London. And Katie is not the only time-traveller in the city… ]

Reviews and praise:

“Completely gripping, this rollercoaster time travel adventure takes Katie, a contemporary New York teenager, back right into the heart of Queen Victoria’s reign. Landing unexpectedly in the Buckingham Palace bedroom of Alice, Queen Victoria’s younger daughter, Katie is swiftly caught up in a terrifying world of dishonest courtiers plotting unspeakable acts with the help of powerful helpers with extra powers. The details of the life of the Victorian Royals, and especially Prince Albert’s passion for his original project of the Crystal Palace are brilliantly evoked while the adventure spearheaded by three exuberant children rattles along at a cracking pace” Lovereading4kids.co.uk

What did I think about this book?

I confess to having spent rather a long stretch on my sofa in the sun, reading this from cover to cover and luxuriating in the world the author has created. I loved it – I am not sure whether I am addicted to books set in Victorian London or whether there is a trend to use this setting in children’s books at the moment…maybe both. It means that there are some great books being written about this era, however this is very different than others set in this period, because this is set inside Buckingham Palace. This means there aren’t a lot of Dickensian allusions and impoverished characters, although there are plenty with sinister motives and villainous characters with evil intent. Katie Berger-Jones-Burg’s 21st Century New York life, and her dismay at the seemingly shallow obsessions of her ‘Mom’ are contrasted nicely with the formal and ‘proper’ nature of Victorian life at Court and couldn’t be more striking (and amusing!) However the similarity between Katie and Princess Alice are obvious – both have mothers that aren’t particularly maternal, and both have to live their lives relatively independently and are lonely. The time travel mechanism is handled well and it’s believable enough, especially if you are a reader who believes in the power of books as a means to escape. The reader is immersed in a great deal of historical material without feeling they are having a history lesson. It is fascinating seeing this time period through the eyes of Katie, who is like a modern day tourist guide to the past. Some of the things American readers might find amusing won’t have the same impact with a New Zealand audience, but it’s so well done, you can laugh along with Katie as she experiences cricket, victorian clothing and underwear and  chamber pots under the bed.

This book is the first in a planned trilogy, with the second book “The Queen at War” released recently. I wish I could convince more boys to read stories where the main character is a girl as this was a great read and highly recommended for the 10+ crowd.

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More Victorian chills….A very unusual pursuit

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A very unusual pursuit by Catherine Jinks. (City of orphans; book 1). Published by Allen & Unwin, 2013. 360 pages. Available in NZ bookstores now: rrp $18.99

‘A bogle’s a bogle. I don’t care what it looks like, long as I can kill it.’

From the publisher:

Monsters have been bothering Londoners for centuries, and the only solution is to call in the experts. Alfred Bunce, the bogler, has a ten-year-old apprentice, Birdie McAdam. With her beautiful voice and dainty appearance, Birdie is the bait that draws bogles from their lairs so that Alfred can kill them. Then one life-changing day, Alfred and Birdie are approached by two very different women. Sarah Pickles runs a local gang of young pickpockets, three of whom have disappeared in unsettling circumstances. Edith Eames is an educated lady who’s studying the mythical beasts of English folklore. Birdie soon realises that her very livelihood is under threat, as Miss Eames tries to persuade Alfred that there must be a more ‘scientific’ way of killing bogles.  But only with Miss Eames’s help, can Birdie save her master, defeat Sarah Pickles, and defeat an altogether nastier villain, the treacherous Doctor Morton, and vanquish a terrifying and deadly bogle. Catherine Jinks, one of Australia’s most inventive writers, has created a fast-paced and enthralling adventure story with edge-of-your-seat excitement and chills.

What do I think about this book?

I absolutely love this cover…. it is a really great introduction to the mood of this story. From the very first page of this book I was plunged headfirst into the dark, dank and dangerous world that was Victorian London. The children of London’s poor, often orphans, had to work at a very young age and tended to be employed in very dangerous occupations – sweeping chimneys and cleaning sewers. Sometimes children were illegally ’employed’ by Fagan type characters called “gangers” running gangs of urchins to pick the pockets of unsuspecting passersby and to steal from shops, stalls and houses. Add some very scary ‘bogles” (monsters or goblins or the bogeymen that hide in chimneys and sewers) to their already dangerous lives, and working children would be terrified.

The language and writing is superb – I love the way the author presents a throughly convincing and authentic feeling Victorian environment while at the same time weaving a very believable fantasy. At first I was a little worried that some of my young readers would be put off by the dialogue which gives this story a real Dickensian tone, but once immersed in the story the language really adds to the depth of the plot. The reader is aided by a glossary of terms at the end of the book, but even without using this the reader is carried along with the contextual clues in the text.

…from chapter 5…(Miss Eames is showing Alfred and Birdie pictures of water monsters known as Grindylows, Jenny Greenteeth, or Peg Powler…)

She thrust the book under Alfred’s nose, so sharply that he recoiled. When Birdie rushed to join him, she saw that the pages had fallen open at a picture of a creature – half hag, half troll – with long, tangled hair and a ragged cloak on it’s back.

“‘That don’t look like no bogle I ever saw,’ Birdie commented, cocking her head to one side.

‘It is perhaps drawn from a verbal description,’ Miss Eames said delicately, ‘and not from life.’

‘A bogle’s a bogle.’ Alfred’s tone was gruff. ‘I don’t care what it looks like, long as I can kill it.’

‘Them sewer pipes is thick with bogles,’ Birdie added. ‘Ain’t that right, Mr Bunce?’ To Miss Eames she remarked, ‘It’s very likely me own Ma died on account of a bogle. She were a tosher, see, but left me in a drain one day, and no one’s seen her since.’

‘But how dreadful!’ Miss Eames looked quite shocked….

If I use the glossary I learn that a Tosher is a sewer scavenger, but I could have easily read on without checking this and I suspect many children reading would be too wrapped up in the story to stop! The story is full of characters with unusual occupations and unusual names, here are a few:  cadger, caffler, coal whipper, cracksman, griddler, hurrier, muck snipe and slavvy.

The characters are richly and vividly drawn. Alfred Bunce is rough but genuinely fond of Birdie, ensuring her support and loyalty later on in the story. Birdie is small and looks delicate with the face and voice of an angel, but is feisty, determined and brave. Miss Eames is rather proper and true to her class, her fascination with and belief in mystical creatures was common during the Victorian era, and she is motivated by kindness. The villains – Sarah Pickles and Doctor Morton are all too believable. The story is as much about Alfred and Jem (Birdie’s male friend), as it is about Birdie.

This historical fantasy will be a great read for children aged 9-12 who enjoyed Constable & Toop by Gareth P. Jones or Fire spell (Splendors and Glooms) by Laura Amy Schlitz,  and I think my students will really enjoy this book.  Boys who don’t tend to read stories where the main character is a girl will miss out on a thrilling adventure with great suspense.

I will be ordering a copy of this for our library. The copy I read was an advance review copy supplied by the publisher (thank you Allen & Unwin!).  This is the first book in a planned trilogy (the second book is due to be published July 2013 with the final installment due early 2014.) I am really looking forward to the next exciting installment in this trilogy!

Link to author website: http://www.catherinejinks.com

Link to publisher website: http://www.allenandunwin.com

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Christopher Edge – Free chapters

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It is wonderful when publishers provide us with lots of ways to explore new books before we buy or read them. Nosy Crow (one of my favourite UK publishing houses) has made the first chapters of many of their wonderful books available.

For those of you eager to try Christopher’s wonderful story “Twelve minutes to midnight” that I blogged about earlier, here is a link to the first chapter: LINK

If you are lucky enough to have read the first book and would like a taste of the sequel – “Shadows of the silver screen” which will soon be published, here is a link for you: LINK

From the publisher:

“A mysterious filmmaker approaches The Penny Dreadful with a proposal to turn Montgomery Flinch’s sinister stories into motion pictures. With Monty installed as the star of his production, filming begins but is plagued by a series of strange and frightening events. As Monty pleads with Penny to help him, she is drawn into the mystery, but soon finds herself trapped in a nightmare penned by her own hand. Can Penny uncover the filmmaker’s dark secret before it’s too late?”

What do I think about these books?: I can’t wait for Shadows of the silver screen to arrive!

Happy reading 🙂

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Come and marvel at the curiosities within – Hetty Feather trilogy

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Hetty Feather (2009)

Sapphire Battersea (2011)

Emerald star (2012)

All by Jacqueline Wilson and published by Random House Children’s Books, UK.

Book 1 Hetty Feather:

In London, 1876, tiny baby Hetty Feather is abandoned at the Foundling Hospital. She is sent to live in the countryside with two foster brothers, Jem and Gideon, helping in the fields and playing imaginary games. Together the three sneak off to the travelling circus, where Hetty is mesmerised by the show – especially by Madame Adeline and her performing horses! Hetty’s happiness takes a knock when she is sent back to the Foundling Hospital, with its awful uniforms and terrible food. All the same, now she finally has the chance to track down her missing mother. Could she really be the wonderful Madame Adeline? Or will the truth be even more surprising?

A heart-tugging story of secrets and surprises from the blockbusting Jacqueline Wilson, introducing a feisty heroine who lives in historical times. (Source: Scholastic Bookclub UK)

Book 2 Sapphire Battersea:

Hetty Feather is a Foundling Hospital girl and was given her name when she was left there as a baby. When she is reunited with her mother, she hopes her beautiful new name, Sapphire Battersea, will also mean a new life! But things don’t always go as planned…

Follow the twists and turns of Hetty’s adventure as she goes out to work as a maid for a wealthy man. She longs to be reunited with her childhood sweetheart Jem – but also finds a new sweetheart, Bertie the butcher’s boy, who whisks her away from her chores to experience the delights of the funfair! (Source: Google books).

But Hetty’s life may also take a darker path. Can she cope with the trials ahead?

Book 3 Emerald Star:

Since leaving the Foundling Hospital, Hetty has seen her fair share of drama, excitement, tragedy and loss. Hetty sets off to find a real home at last – starting with the search for her father.

But Hetty is no longer a simple country girl, and begins to fear she’ll never truly belong anywhere. And even when she is reunited with her beloved childhood sweetheart Jem, Hetty still longs for adventure – especially when an enchanting figure from her past makes an unexpected reappearance. Could a more exciting future lie ahead for Hetty? (Source Google Books)

What do I think about these books?:

Jacqueline Wilson titles are very popular with girls of all ages in our library, but believing that a lot her books were about dysfunctional families and relationships I hadn’t really explored them. As I received Sapphire Battersea here at home during the holidays I decided to try it. After reading the first chapter I was hooked – what a great story!  It didn’t seem to matter that I hadn’t read the first book.

The first book “Hetty Feather” has been ordered and is on it’s way to me and I will buy Emerald Star once the slightly smaller size paperback is available. These are a fantastic read for year 5/6/7/8 girls and they are similar to the popular “my story” series from Scholastic, but with more personality and life. These are great stories about growing up and being independent but in an interesting historical context. There are lots of bitter sweet moments about friendship, love and loss. Hetty meets some interesting characters along the way and her ability to empathize with all of these people, is delightful.

Strange goings on at…Twelve minutes to midnight

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Twelve minutes to midnight by Christopher Edge, Published by Nosy Crow 2012.

From Booktrust.org.uk:

In 1899, thirteen year old orphan Penelope Tredwell is the author, editor and sole proprietor of London’s most popular magazine, The Penny Dreadful, concealing her true identity behind the pseudonym Montgomery Flinch. But when she receives a strange letter addressed to Flinch, Penelope finds herself drawn into a real-life adventure as thrilling as any she pens for the pages of her magazine. 

Every night at precisely twelve minutes to midnight, the inmates of Bedlam, London’s notorious madhouse, all begin feverishly writing – incoherent ramblings that Penelope quickly realises are in fact terrifying visions of the new century to come. But what is causing this strange phenomenon? Together with her trusted companion, printer’s apprentice Alfie, Penelope pits her sharp wits against this unearthly problem – and finds herself plunging into danger. 

Pacy and tightly-plotted, this is an exuberant and entertaining adventure story set in an appealingly foggy and sinister Victorian London. This adventure packed with exciting twists and turns will appeal to confident readers, and fans of Philip Pullman’s Sally Lockhart series.”

The Booktrust also listed Penny as one of their “inspirational heroines” in between Matilda (Roald Dahl) and Coraline (Neil Gaiman).

From the author (talking about one of his sources of inspiration):

“However, instead of a detective like Sherlock Holmes investigating the mystery, I wanted a different kind of hero or should I say heroine. Penelope Tredwell is the thirteen-year-old owner of The Penny Dreadful magazine whose sinister tales grip Victorian Britain, even though nobody knows that she’s the real author. Sniffing out a new story, Penny plunges into the heart of the mystery and proves herself to be just as courageous, quick-witted and resourceful as the famous resident of 221B Baker Street himself. In the course of her adventure, she even meets Sherlock Holmes’s creator – Sir Arthur Conan Doyle who has a small part to play in helping her to solve the mystery.”

Read the full author blog entry from the UK Bookbuzz website here:

From the publisher (Nosy Crow):

“Montgomery Flinch gripped the sides of the reading lectern, his knuckles whitening as he stared out into the darkness of the auditorium. His bristling eyebrows arched and the gleam of his dark eyes seemed to dart across the faces of each audience member in turn. A mesmerised silence hung over the stage; it was as if the theatre itself was holding its breath as it waited for the conclusion to his latest spine-chilling tale. The expectant hush seemed to deepen as Flinch finally began to speak…”

And so the story begins…If you want to read more of the first chapter, you can download it from the Nosy Crow website:

What do I think about this book?:

I have been in the fortunate position of reading some really great fiction set in Victorian London lately. Firstly, Constable & Toop by the amazing Gareth P. Jones, Fire Spell by Laura Amy Schlitz (see my previous blog discussion on each of these titles below), A very unusual pursuit by Catherine Jenkins (the first in a new trilogy “City of orphans” and one I will discuss just prior to it’s publication) and now this splendid title. This is another book published by Nosy Crow, a relatively new UK children’s publisher. Every book or series that I have bought and read from their range has been a great hit with my students. This would appeal to age 10+ or year 6 -8 readers, both girls and boys, due to the strength of the main character.

It’s not the ghosts you need to worry about…

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Constable & Toop by Gareth P. Evans, Hot Key Books, 2012.

From Booktrust.org.uk:

“A Victorian funeral parlour might seem like an unlikely setting for a children’s book, but in fact it makes the perfect background for this spooky supernatural tale from Blue Peter Award winning author Gareth P Jones. 

Undertaker’s son Sam Toop is struggling to deal with his unusual ability to see ghosts. As a ‘Talker’ he is one of the few living people who can see and talk to spirits – and as a consequence, he finds them continually asking for his help to resolve their unfinished business. But something strange is happening in London, and soon Sam finds himself dealing with not only the ghosts’ usual problems, but a whole host of other strange happenings – the terrible Black Rot, which is infecting haunted buildings across the city, a demon hound roaming the streets, and a sinsiter preacher performing horrible exorcisms. Closer to home, he also has to deal with the return of his no-good uncle Jack, and the revelation of all sorts of long-hidden family secrets.  

Meanwhile, long-dead clerk Lapsewood is spending eternity trapped in the bureaucracy of the Ghost Bureau, working his way through an endless pile of paperwork. But when he discovers that haunted houses across London are mysteriously losing their ghosts, he makes up his mind to investigate – even if he has to defy the Bureau to do so.

With an appealingly gothic setting, this pacy and exciting mystery perfectly blends comedy with the dark, spooky and supernatural. There are plenty of funny and gruesome moments that will appeal to young readers; but this is also a well-researched, thoughtful and compassionate novel, that takes inspiration from the Victorian preoccupation with mourning and death. Jones skilfully manages a complex series of interlocking storylines and an engaging cast of characters in this witty, action-packed and hugely entertaining ghost story.”

I love this moody book trailer featuring the author:

What do I think about this book?:

One of the best books I read in 2012. I discovered Gareth P. Jones after a group of reluctant readers got hooked on one of his earlier titles – “the Considine curse”. On investigation I discovered that Mr Jones had a few other books under his belt including a cool series for younger kids “Ninja Meerkats” which I immediately ordered and have had 6/7/8 year old boys clamouring for ever since! But back to Constable & Toop…I absolutely loved this book and literally could not put it down until I had consumed it completely. This title was published in October 2012 by Hot Key Books  (a very new and exciting publisher from the UK…every time I read about their forthcoming titles I want to buy them ALL and read them, even the titles that are written for teenagers)…. Anyway this is a ghost story, but not a silly one, instead, a rather dark and chilly one, set in Victorian London and the thoroughly researched setting perfectly matches the tone of the book. It is really well written and doesn’t feel like a typical children’s book. This should appeal to Year 5/6+ readers (and adults of any age!). Teachers – this would make a great read aloud!

As Hot Key Books aren’t yet available in NZ (they will be in 2013 I believe) I bought this copy from the Book Depository. It is already in the category of “most wanted” in our library with a long line of waiting readers on the reservation list. It is well worth waiting for!

One of my favourite blogging friends – Zac Harding of “My best friends are books” was lucky enough to interview Gareth P. Jones on his blog here 🙂 check it out if you are interested in reading about where Gareth got his inspiration from and what his plans for future books might be.