Believathon 3 – Orion Lost

I was lucky enough to receive a free copy of this in exchange for my thoughts on it. All views and opinions are my own.

Orion Lost by Alastair Chisholm, artwork by, published by Nosy Crow

This was my choice for Believathon prompt The Shadow – Read a book first published in 2020.

Spaceship Orion is taking a crew from Earth to settle and start a new colony in space. However, when one of its ‘jumps’ goes wrong, all the adults are stuck in their sleeping state and it’s up to a crew of children, who don’t always see eye to eye, to try and get a badly damaged ship past space pirates, unknown alien (Videshi) ships to safety.

Things become more complicated when the children gradually realise something’s amiss, but can they get to the bottom of it and put it right?

I’ll be honest, I’m not a sci-fi fan and this did not sound like my cup of tea at all and, despite knowing lots of fellow bookish people had loved it, I wasn’t really looking forward to it.

But I thought it was BRILLIANT. One of the most unique and original MG books I’ve read in recent years.

Whatever my personal reservations, I had been pleased to see a slice of Sci-fi entering the MG world as it felt like there was a real gap to fill and, although I’m no expert, I thought this filled that gap splendidly.

It was full of technical details and language that fans of the genre/space will appreciate, and that give it a sense of authenticity and authority. But, and it’s an important but, its cleverly done so that total newcomers to the genre who don’t speak science (ie me) could not only follow what was happening, but become completely immersed and invested in it.

The characters, and their relationship with each other – particularly the difference, conflict and contrast between Beth and Vihaan – had a lot to do with this. There was a really good mix of personalities which worked really well together and Beth was a particularly likeable and believable main character (and also a handy way to get my head round the more technical aspects of the book as they were explained to her too!)

I really liked the way Beth and Vihaan showcased between them the qualities of a good leader, and the way the novel examined what this was and the balance it needed.

What I also really enjoyed about this book though was the perfectly plotted mystery that gradually developed, subtly at first, creeping up on us a little clue at a time, until we reached a hugely tense and dramatic climax.

Although I did have a couple of correct inklings early on, I didn’t come close to piecing the whole thing together and it really kept me guessing the way the best mysteries do.

I’ll probably never be a true sci-fi fan, but I would absolutely jump on the next novel from Alastair Chisholm so if that counts as being converted, consider me a convert! This was great!

Believathon 2 – Around the World in Eighty Days

For the last week or so of May, I have been trying to read books from the stops on the Believathon 2 journey that I didn’t visit during Believathon itself. This was my choice for Black Ice Bridge: Read a book featuring an expedition or adventure.

Around the World in Eighty Days by Jules Verne, audiobook read by BJ Harrison

This was one of the suggestions given for this prompt and I could think of nothing more fitting! It also fitted into my plan of listening to lots if children’s classics this year, so it seemed like a perfect choice.

And I loved it!

While I’d not read it before, I was familiar with the story thanks to…

Around the World with Willy Fog may be familiar to those of you of a similar age, but for the youngsters among you it was a cartoon adaptation of the story and I loved it. I can’t deny as I was listening to the book I couldn’t help but picture this often!

For anyone unfamiliar with the story at all – Phileas Fog, a solitary creature of habit, makes a bet that sees him trying to circumnavigate the world in eighty days.

Using almost every mode of transport you can think of (and probably a few you can’t!), encountering some truly unusual obstacles and with an unknown thorn in his side in the shape of Inspector Fix this is a gripping journey!

It’s a simply thrilling adventure with much in the way of historical and geographical detail and atmosphere*.

You can’t help but root for Phileas Fog; the excitement of his journey had me breathing sighs of relief as he makes his connection or found his way out of tight spots only to inwardly groan moments later as it became clear misfortune was looming!

There were several audio versions of this, I listened to samples of them before reluctantly plumping for this one (I wasn’t really keen on any) but as it turned out once if got into the first couple of chapters, I found the narration easy to listen to and very enjoyable. Between this and the tensions in the tale, I was snatching a few minutes whenever I could.

Put simply, this is pacy, exciting, varied and tense with an excellent ending and I thoroughly enjoyed it!

*It’s worth pointing out there are a few parts that would be questionable today with some racial/class/gender stereotyping that is very much of its time. I don’t think these should put anyone off reading this or sharing it with younger readers, just to be mindful of when it was written and the norms and views of that time.

Believathon 2 – My Family and Other Animals

For the last week or so of May, I have been trying to read books from the stops on the Believathon 2 journey that I didn’t visit during Believathon itself. This was my choice for Baba Yaga’s house.

My Family and Other Animals by Gerald Durrell, audiobook read by Hugh Bonneville

This is one of those funny books that is both classed as kids and adult, but with a young narrator and a somewhat lively family life, I felt it more than suited the prompt of a book featuring family relationships.

It’s the autobiographical tale of Gerald, age ten and his long-suffering family as he immerses himself in his love for creatures of all kinds.

With scorpions unwittingly set loose at dinner, a bedroom brawl between a gecko and a mantis and a pair of rather curious magpies wreaking havoc in his brother’s room, there is much hilarity and younger readers (particularly those with older siblings) will no doubt be thrilled to see it!

Likewise, Gerry’s reluctance and attempts to avoid his lessons can’t help but appeal and raise a smile. And his family itself has an eccentric charm and is as loyal and loving as they are argumentative and petty!

The escapades beginning with his mother’s swimsuit pursuits are a case in point – from looking on in horror at their mother’s choice of attire to the family’s amateurish nighttime rowing to the dog’s reaction to the swimsuit, there is a lot to laugh about! While our families may not be having quite this sort of caper, there’s a familiarity to the sentiments and behaviours that many will relate to.

Then there is the setting, which feels so real. Both Corfu itself and its animal inhabitants are described brilliantly; a book featuring do many creatures being carefully observed could easily become dull or too factual, but this manages to find a perfect balance as it details the observations with humour, wonder and much anthropomorphism to retain our interest. The scene with the mating tortoises is particularly amusing.

I very much enjoyed this and it will make a brilliant addition to my late UKS2/’tween’ recommendations in work!

Believathon 2 – What Katy Did

Believathon officially ended at the weekend. I (just about – only a day late!) made it to the Book Keeper’s Stronghold with the final prompt to complete my journey, but for the last week of May I’m going to try and read some of the books for the places that I didn’t visit on my quest.

I’ve already listened to two, and today’s review is for The Wonderfalls – Read a book featuring a disability.

What Katy Did by Susan Coolidge, audiobook read by Kate Harper

Even though I have been trying to read more children’s classics (and modern classics) this year, this wasn’t one that was on my radar at all. However it came up as a suggestion for the Wonderfalls stop on the Believathon map, so I picked it out to listen to.

It was fine.

I didn’t hate it like I did The Bad Beginning, but I didn’t love it either.

The titular Katy is a lively and high-spirited, rough-and-tumble type girl who one day has an accident and is then bed-ridden for quite some time. Taking inspiration from her Cousin Helen, we see how she comes to terms with this and uses it to her best advantage.

The book reminded me heavily of Little Women in a lot of ways, especially with its group of loving, loyal but very different siblings and their days and play together and the lessons it wants us to learn.

The siblings, including Katy, were all likeable enough and Aunt Izzie was what you’d expect. There were lots of stories of their daily lives which raised a smile and seeing Katy accept her situation and begin to make the best of it was a relief.

But I didn’t love it. It was a quick and enjoyable enough listen, but not one I’d return to or read more of.

Believathon 2 – Beyond Platform 13

Having set off from the Poacher’s Pocket with Lemony Snicket’s Bad Beginning and travelled along the Yellow Brick Road with Diana Wynne-Jones’ Howl’s Moving Castle, then through the Hundred Acre Wood with Polly Ho-Yen‘s The Boy in the Tower, I reached The Brolly Rail on which I read Eva Ibbotson’s The Secret of Platform 13.

I left The Brolly Rail at the final destination on my quest – The Book-Keeper’s Stronghold where I needed to read the next book in a series. Since I’d just finished The Secret of Platform 13 and had Sibeal Pounder’s follow up on my tbr shelf, I plumped for that.

Beyond Platform 13 by Sibeal Pounder, based on The Secret of Platform 13 by Eva Ibbotson, illustrated by Beatriz Castro

Sibeal Pounder has written this sequel to Eva Ibbotson’s The Secret of Platform 13, which has also been re-released with matching cover and illustrations from Beatriz Castro.

Before we get into the book, let me say that Sibeal has done an absolutely fantastic job in keeping the feel, tone and voice of the original book. It’s just as lively, fast-paced and fun as the first.

With even more weird and wonderful creatures – from pearly mermaids and ghost rats to swamp and flower fairies to the mist-makers, hags and harpies – this book has it all! From the delightful to the disgusting, there’s a world of imaginative beings and happenings to immerse yourself in.

We return to The Island (the kids are judt calling it Mist these days) to find the harpies have overthrown the monarchy and are banishing almost all other creatures, sending them back through The Gump (a portal to our world).

This time it’s not the Gump on platform 13 that’s opened but one in Vienna and we see Lina – a firm believer in magic – swept off to save the day by Odge Gribble who has mistaken her for the Mistmaker Master.

With only a couple if days before the Gump closes, can Odge, Lina, Prince Ben and their friends defeat the harpies and save the island?

As with the original story, this is a quick moving, madcap caper full of misunderstandings, mix ups, double crossings and lucky escapes. There are lots of laughs, likeable characters and the message about needing diversity and equality is not lost either.

Beatriz Castro’s expressive illustrations suit the text brilliantly, with a lightness of touch and a helping of humour they are perfectly matched.

An enjoyable book that early MG readers will love, I will be recommending both the original and this fitting sequel enthusiastically when I return to work.

Believathon 2 – The Secret of Platform 13

Having set off from the Poacher’s Pocket with Lemony Snicket’s Bad Beginning and travelled along the Yellow Brick Road with Diana Wynne-Jones’ Howl’s Moving Castle, then through the Hundred Acre Wood with Polly Ho-Yen‘s The Boy in the Tower, I reached The Brolly Rail.

Here the prompt was to read a book with transportation on the cover, so I chose Eva Ibbotson’s The Secret of Platform 13.

Platform 13 is home to a gump; a sort of portal between King’s Cross Station and a lost island inhabited by every kind of mythical, magical, weird and wonderful creature you could imagine.

The gump only opens once every nine years though, so nine years after the baby prince is kidnapped in London, the King and Queen of the Island send an unlikely group of rescuers through to bring him home. However, all does not go quite according to plan…

This was a really enjoyable read and one which would be brilliant for younger or less confident MG readers too – those just moving on from early chapter books for example, especially now there’s a new 25th Anniversary illustrated edition, or those who love a bit of magic and wonder but nothing complex or convoluted.

This has a really timeless feel about it – it feels like a quintessential children’s book (and with much borrowing from JK Rowling for Harry Potter, I’d say that she thought so too), with a classic feel. It’s very much all about the adventure; the cast of characters is a well of imaginative, unique beings, but there’s little depth to them – this is a book driven by plot. It makes use of some classic tropes too – the greedy, spoiled brat and doting mother, the prince and the pauper, the black sheep of a family finding her place, the last minute twist.

It skips along with plenty of humour and action and was an enjoyable read. It’s probably not one I’d rant and rave about, but it is one I’d recommend highly to the right readers in work, and as a quick, light-hearted comfort read it was perfect.

Believathon 2 – The Boy in the Tower

Having set off from the Poacher’s Pocket with Lemony Snicket’s Bad Beginning and travelled along the Yellow Brick Road with Diana Wynne-Jones’ Howl’s Moving Castle, I arrived at The Hundred Acre Wood where my prompt was to read a book with yellow on the cover.

The Boy in the Tower by Polly Ho-Yen

Amy at Golden Books Girl is a huge fan of this and I’ve been saying I’d read it for ages but never getting to it, so when this prompt came up it seemed the perfect time to actually read it!

That said, as timing goes it was either the best or worst time to read this, depending on your point of view (personally I quite liked the similarities). London has been over taken by Bluchers, plant-like creatures who are destroying the buildings and whose spores kill. No one knows how to deal with them and people are dying. Londoners are leaving their homes in droves as they are no longer able to risk going outside. It’s not exactly a terrifying premonition of what is happening today, but there’s certainly some wry parallels to be drawn.

One of the things I really liked about the book was its slow build up and scene setting. Rather than a dramatic beginning full of tumbling buildings and chaos, we see – again in an eerily familiar way – how the situation sort of crept up on people and caught them off guard and how even when it was underway there was a sense of ‘its probably coincidence’, ‘things will be fine’, ‘it won’t be us though’ before realisation sets in almost too late.

This gradual beginning also gave us chance to really get to know the characters, all of whom I thought were brilliantly written. Ho-Yen gives you just enough information to really form the characters for yourself.

I felt like I knew all of them despite very limited back stories for most, which takes some skilful writing in knowing just how much (and what) to give the reader.

The main character Ade (Add-ee) was incredibly likeable and I really liked his friendship with Gaia too; their quiet support and understanding of each other said so much more than an overly demonstrative friendship would have. This also really strengthens our understanding of both characters and endears them to us.

Alongside the main sci-fi style nature vs man story of the destructive Bluchers, there is the more human story of Ade’s mum.

Frightened by something, she slowly stopped leaving their apartment and gradually lost herself, taking to her bed more and more.

Before the Bluchers take over, we see Ade trying to understand and help his mum, looking after them both for the most part. And, so when everyone begins to pack up and leave and his mum is in bed unaware of what’s going on, Ade too must stay.

We see him trying to cope with and understand all that he sees unfolding – on the news and from his window – until the water and electricity go off and it gets harder and harder to see how the situation will be resolved without resorting to the ridiculous.

Then just as you lose hope, there’s a brilliant twist, just dropped in which not only adds a layer of intrigue but also opens up a world of hope again in a thoroughly believable way.

I thought this was such a well-executed, insightful book and Ade’s voice as narrator was pitched just right and very engaging. The tension and isolation brought by the Bluchers was tangible, and I felt for both Ade and his mum as they struggled with her mental health (I also thought the way we saw other characters’ reactions to this very telling and believable, in particular I thought their neighbour was brilliantly written.)

I have to be honest the ending didn’t do it for me but neither did it spoil my enjoyment of the book and I know younger and/or less cynical readers wouldn’t have a problem with it in the least!

Themes of family, friendship and mental health are cleverly woven into a gripping urban sci-fi that I’ll be recommending heavily when I return to work!

Believathon 2 – Howl’s Moving Castle

My second stop on the Believathon quest was The Yellow Brick Road, with a prompt to read A Book You Should Have Read Years Ago. I chose Howl’s Moving Castle by Diana Wynne-Jones, which I listened to as an audiobook read by Kristin Atherton. I can’t believe I’ve not read this sooner. Funny, clever, warm and witty, it’s a brilliant magical adventure challenging our very human inclinations to judge books by their covers, gossip and keep secrets. After their father dies, Sophie and her two step-sisters are found apprenticeships by their mother/step-mother, with Sophie staying at the family hat shop diligently making and mending until she’s paid a visit from a rather put-out Witch of the Waste which sets her on a very different course… With themes of family, friendship and lotslty there is a wonderful cast of characters who quickly find their way into your heart despite no-one being quite what they seem! Sophie, our protagonist, is a particular favourite. With a touch of Esme Weatherwax about her, she’s both a character to be reckoned with and a clever way of celebrating old age as a bringer of freedom, self-assertion and confidence rather than a stereotypical fragility or ineptitude. I loved what ‘Old Sophie’ did for ‘Young Sophie’. Howl and Calcifer too are a brilliant pair. Howl is arrogant, selfish and Calcifer is a grumpy demon. They’re both evil of course…or so they’d have you believe. Their off-hand, dry and snippety ways bring a good deal of humour as well as allowing us a smidgen of doubt about their true nature. There are plenty of fairy and folktale references, nods and tropes used, with a humour and awareness that kept them fresh. Indeed Sophie introduces herself as the eldest of three so destined to “fall first and worst” should she set off to seek her fortune which I think sets the whole story up very well. Sophie’s journey and the idea of The Moving Castle itself were clever and well executed with lots of different fairytale must-haves, magic and metaphor, as well as a small family home in Wales to balance things out. I loved the way the idea of Sophie’s magic grew and how this worked as well, but I won’t say any more for fear of spoilers. Overall, this is an absorbing and highly entertaining magical adventure in a unique and yet familiar world with a great cast of characters. Highly recommended!

Believathon 2

I loved taking part in Believathon last year and was very excited to hear there’d be another one this month.

Running from May 11th to May 24th, this time the idea is to choose a path through an MG-themed map of prompts (more information can be found on the Believathon twitter here)

Those of you who know me will already know I’m a fairly slow reader at the best of times, and since lockdown started I’m struggling to fit in even the small amount of reading I was doing.

So, trying to read a minimum of five physical books in two weeks was never going to happen. Plus, I’m halfway through my reread of The Watchmaker of Filigree Street ahead of wanting to read The Lost Future of Pepper Harrow as a physical book.

I also noticed that a lot of the MG books on my tbr shelf could be shoehorned into the prompts but a lot of older books fit them better.

As I already use audiobooks to read or reread children’s classics, and as there’s loads of older MG that I either want to read or feel I *should* have read, I’ve decided to only (or at least predominantly) read audio and ebooks for Believathon this time round and to primarily choose older books.

I’m also cheating and giving myself the whole month. I’ll only record on the official Believathon forms what I read during the set dates, but I’m going to start early and finish late!

Here are my picks – I’ve chosen a couple for most prompts and some books I’ve picked for multiple prompts as I plan to choose my route and books as I go but didn’t want a blank slate each time I hit yo a new prompt!

The Poacher’s Pocket – Read the First Book in a Series

Inkheart by Cornelia Funke (ebook)

The Bad Beginning by Lemony Snicket (audiobook)

Yellow Brick Road – Read a Book You Should Have Read Years Ago

Howl’s Moving Castle by Diana Wynne-Jones (ebook OR audiobook)

Watership Down by Richard Adams (audiobook)

Baba Yaga’s House – Read a Book Featuring a Family Relationship

Little Bird Lands by Karen McCombie (physical/ebook)

My Family and Other Animals by Gerald Durrell (audiobook)

WonderfallsRead a Book Featuring a Disability

The Distance Between Me and the Cherry Tree by Paola Peretti (physical/ebook)

The Secret Garden by Francis Hodgson Burnett (audiobook)

What Katy Did by Susan Coolidge (audiobook)

100 Acre Wood – Read a Book With Yellow on the Cover

The Boy in the Tower by Polly Ho-Yen (ebook)

Holes by Louis Sachar (audiobook/ebook)

The Deepwoods – Read a Book That Was Published Before 2000

I’m giving myself free choice out of any of the classics I’ve picked for other prompts but not read yet for this one.

Mermaid’s Lagoon – Read a Book Featuring a Female Bond

House of Hidden Wonders by Sharon Gosling (ebook)

A Sprinkle of Sorcery by Michelle Harrison (physical)

The Brolly Rail – Read a Book Featuring Transportation or With Transportation on the Cover

The Secret of Platform 13 by Eva Ibbotson (ebook)

The Railway Children by E Nesbit (audiobook)

Orion Found – Read a Sci-fi Book or a Book Related to Space

Orion Lost by Alastair Chisholm (ebook)

A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle (audiobook)

Black Ice Bridge Read a Book Featuring an Expedition or Adventure

Around the world in 80 days by Jules Verne (audiobook)

The Extremely Inconvenient Adventures of Bronte Mettlestone by Jaclyn Moriarty (ebook or physical)

The Book-Keeper’s Stronghold – Read the Next Book in a Series


Are you taking part in Believathon 2? What do you think of my choices?

I’m also especially interested in what you would have picked for the Disability, Female Bond and Sci-Fi prompts as these were the ones I found hardest to choose books for?!

North Child

I was lucky enough to request and receive a copy of this from the publishers in exchange for an honest review. All views and opinions are my own.

North Child by Edith Pattou

I was really excited about this – I alresdy thought it sounded great, Usborne have published some of my favourite books this year and I’d seen nothing but race reviews online. And it more than lived up to expectations.

The story follows Rose, the wild child of her family, as she is taken North by a great white bear in return for health and good fortune for her struggling family.

Kept well in a huge castle with everything she could want, Rose starts to wonder about her kind-natured captor and what has led them both to their current situation.

As events unfold, we are taken on a perilous journey across wondrous and harsh lands and culminating in a daring rescue attempt amongst ruthless trolls.

This journey takes us across different terrains, over land and sea, through storms, snow and ice. We also see Rose’s rural family home and the castle in a mountain she’s taken to as well as the Troll Palace. All are described in sumptuous detail; the world building is vivid and real and the power and beauty of nature is clear.

The book is written in very short chapters from multiple viewpoints, which could easily make a book hard to get into or difficult to follow. On the contrary here, it only adds to the intrigue and understanding we have as a reader, as we are allowed glimpses of the full story as it unfolds in different places and different ways for different characters.

The Troll Queen, for example, could easily have been a rather stereotypical and one dimensional character had we only read about her, but seeing chapters written ‘by’ her gave her much greater depth – coloured in shades of grey rather than black and white.

I understand the story itself draws on Nordic folktales, specifically ‘East of the Sun, West of the Moon’. I’m unfamiliar with these (but have bought an absolutely stunning version off the back of this to read!)

Incidentally, that’s my very battered proof copy pictured but I have since bought the finished book.

However, even aside from that there are unmistakable fairytale elements – from the direct comparisons to other tales, like Beauty and the Beast, to more general fairy tale tropes and style throughout.

I loved this about it and even though it meant I didn’t get the ending I was hoping for I coukd jet it go and appreciate the ending we did get as it was very fitting and in keeping with the traditional tales the book comes from.

This is one of my favourite reads of the year. A brilliant folkloric adventure with a journey across varied but perfectly pictured lands, a feisty and determined heroine and just a touch of magic. I only wish it had been released as a gifty hardback – I’d have snapped that up!