Believathon 3 – Orphans of the Tide

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.

This was my choice for Believathon prompt The Dagger – Read a book with a dangerous setting. With hindsight, I’m not sure I’d choose this for that prompt, but it fits a couple of other rooms too, notably The Footprints – read a book with a prominent villain.

Orphans of the Tide by Struan Murray, illustrated by Manuel Sumberac, published by Puffin

I’d heard a lot about how great this was but knew very little about the story itself, but you can’t fail to be pulled straight in when a book begins with a whale ‘beached’ on a rooftop with a boy emerging from its stomach, with only a young inventor brave and quick-witted enough to go up there and help him.

I was hooked immediately.

Ellie (our young inventor) is a typically great female lead – clever, loyal, determined, a little impulsive and with a mind that’s always whirring. I really loved the descriptions of her chaotic workshop; they painted a perfect picture of her and I wanted to spend hours in there looking at all her drawings, half-hatched plans, interesting finds and unfinished creations.

Ellie lives and works in The City – the last city on earth, jutting precariously over the sea, everywhere else destroyed by The Enemy in The Great Drowning that saw the other cities and islands wiped out.

The Enemy returns sporadically, each time claiming a new Vessel to work through and each time claiming more lives.

When Seth emerges from inside the whale (with no idea who or where he is), the other residents of The City are convinced he is The Vessel and set about trying to capture and kill him before The Enemy can use him to return.

Ellie, however, is determined to save him and so begins the darkest, most perilous game of Cat and Mouse you’ve ever seen as Ellie and Seth (aided begrudgingly by Ellie’s best friend Anna) attempt to hide from and outwit The City’s Inquisitors.

Everyone lives in fear of The Enemy and The Vessel and the sense of mass panic, hysteria and tension they create in The City is palpable and all too believable.

I have to confess that the way rumour, fear and alarm spreads through the residents, and the authoratitve, powerful nature of The Inquisitors in charge had me convinced this book was going to take a different path.

However, the route it actually took was brilliant and took me an embarrassing amount of time to cotton on to (I’d guessed at certain things but hadn’t put two and two together!)

And this is, of course, thanks in no small part to the excellent writing and the way it somehow manages to keep up a relentless pace and tension, but also to drip feed information and gradually unfold. The use of old diary entries especially was really effective.

Likewise, our characters feel like they never stop; always on the run, hiding or plotting and planning with wolves at the door. And yet, somehow we’re given time to really get to know them, to explore their back stories, their feelings and their relationships. They have both urgency and depth. And there is space to sensitively explore themes of grief, loss and friendship too.

The setting itself is perfect, managing to feel all at once like a historical town – all cobbles and towers and terraces and alleys, all markets and gossip and hangings; a remote coastal Isle in winter – all wind-swept, salt-sprayed, freezing cold edges; and a dark dystopian future.

It’s a perfect setting for the book, all dark corners, precarious heights, shadows and crashing waves. Matched with Manuel Sumberac’s atmospheric illustrations, the formidable Inquisitors and the absolutely terrific Enemy it all comes together to create a gloriously dark fantasy.

And I’ll leave with a word on The Enemy itself – What. A. Villain. Marvellously evil, it is brilliantly drawn.

Overall, this is a tense and twisting fantasy with a brilliantly dark setting and an even darker Enemy.

MG Takes on Thursday – Back Home

#MGTakesOnThursday was created by Mary over at Book Craic and is a brilliant way to shout about some brilliant MG books!

To join in, all you need to do is:

  • Post a picture of the front cover of a middle-grade book which you have read and would recommend to others with details of the author, illustrator and publisher.
  • Open the book to page 11 and share your favourite sentence.
  • Write three words to describe the book.
  • Either share why you would recommend this book, or link to your review.

This week I’ve chosen

Back Home by Michelle Magorian, cover art by David Frankland, published by Puffin

I chose Michelle Magorian’s Goodnight Mister Tom for #MGTakesOnThursday a few weeks ago and Amy recommended this one (thank you!)

I listened to the audiobook, which was read by the author, and enjoyed it immensely, but I’ve bought a physical copy now too.

At age 7, in 1940,Rusty was evacuated to America. Fast forward five years and our story begins as she returns to England to a very different life, and when she’s sent away to boarding school things turn even bleaker as she struggles to understand and follow the seemingly endless and nonsensical rules amongst people she feels she doesn’t belong with.

This is a fantastic story for anyone who’s ever felt out if place, misunderstood or frustrated that they can’t do wrong for doing right.

It captures Rusty’s dreams worries and frustrations so well and does a brilliant job of sending out a clear message that not only can girls do anything boys can, but also that following less academic interests and strengths is a viable option in education and beyond.

I really loved Rusty and could relate to much of her confusion, disbelief and annoyance at her mother’s actions. However, reading this as an adult I also really felt for Rusty’s mum, Peggy. Do I think she made the best choices? No. But it was clear how torn she felt and how constrained she too was by the expectations and societal norms around her.

All the characters were brilliantly written – from those your heart goes out to to those you hate. Bea in particular struck a chord with me, ever the peacemaker, forward-thinking, positive and understanding she had more than a smidge of my grandma, Dot (who herself acted mediator on many an occasion between my mum and I) about her and she was definitely my favourite character because of this.

My favourite sentence from page 11:

“Rusty sipped the weird brown liquid. It was no use. She was never going to get used to this stuff. It tasted awful.”

This book in three words:

Do not conform.

#MGTakesOnThursday – The Silver Sword

Mary over at Book Craic has started a really exciting new meme #MGTakesOnThursday.

To join in, all you need to do is:

  • Post a picture of the front cover of a middle-grade book which you have read and would recommend to others with details of the author, illustrator and publisher.
  • Open the book to page 11 and share your favourite sentence.
  • Write three words to describe the book.
  • Either share why you would recommend this book, or link to your review.

Following Goodnight Mister Tom last time, this week I’ve chosen another classic and it’s another set around WWII as well, but I make no apologies because its also brilliant and also very different in theme abd style to Goodnight Mister Tom.

The Silver Sword by Ian Serrallier, cover art by Tom Clohosy Cole, published by Puffin (a Vintage version is also available)

My favourite sentence from page 11:

“Joseph began to run. The soldier ran too, swearing when he stumbled.”

Based on true stories and carefully researched, this is a classic quest narrative in many ways, but with a historical and bleakly real backdrop.

When their parents are taken by Nazis, siblings Edek, Ruth and Bronia, along with newfound friend Jan, set off from a ravaged Warsaw in search of their parents who they come to believe may be in Switzerland.

It is a long and difficult journey which clearly shows the toll war takes on civilians (especially children), their lives and their homes, but it is not without moments of joy and there is an ever-present sense of hope and determination.

I thought the characters were all very well-written and Jan in particular is complex and difficult but very likeable too.

I also really liked that the story begins with the children’s father and the perspective and additional context that brings. It’s an unusual thing to do to bring the adult’s story into it so boldly, but it’s very effective.

Overall, this is a gripping adventure, full of hardship, but also full of family, friendship, loyalty and hope.

In three words:

War. Family. Journey.

Murder Most Unladylike series by Robin Stevens

I can’t take a picture of my copies YET as I bought/borrowed them as ebooks to read during evenings/nights getting Peapod back to sleep! But the first and last have sprayed edges now, so I’m hoping this is in the pipeline for all of them and will be buying them all as they come out like that!

Way back at the start of 2018 I was sent a copy of A Spoonful of Murder from the publishers to read and review. I really enjoyed it and made the decision to go back and read the whole series in order…and then everything else (new books, life, having a baby) took over and its only in the last couple of months I’ve managed to do it by using the ebooks on my phone in the evenings whilst settling Peapod.

I won’t do a full review of them all, but in place of a WWW Wednesday this week, I’ll give a brief rundown and my (hopefully spoiler free) thoughts on the series overall (basically I love it). So, let’s begin…

Murder Most Unladylike

In which we meet Hazel and Daisy at Deepdean and see them solve Miss Bell’s murder.

I really enjoyed this – I loved Hazel as a narrator and, although I didn’t warm to Daisy in quite the same way, I really liked getting to know them and Deepdean with its Big Girls and bunbreaks and tuck boxes and prep.

I really like the pages of notes summarising the suspects and case so far too. Although I was still useless at guessing who the murderer was!

Arsenic for Tea

Maybe because I still hadn’t properly warmed to Daisy yet (or maybe just the toffs in country houses vibe) but this was a book that divided me a bit.

I found Daisy’s family hard work (apart from Uncle Felix who had enough mischief to save him!) and while I know some of them (no spoilers) were likely intended to be less than loveable, others should have elicited a bit of sympathy at least but just grated on me.

That said – I loved the actual murder, the setting and way it took place, and I thought Miss Alston was a brilliant character, as was the victim (though one in a very likeable way and one in a list despicable one!)and yet again I couldn’t guess who did it!

Hazel and her support of Daisy endeared herself to me even more, and I even softened a bit towards Daisy too.

First Class Murder

I really enjoyed this, I thought the setting of the Orient Express was so much fun and I liked seeing a bit more of Hazel’s background and personality too through having her dad with her on the trip.

I also liked meeting Alexander and seeing them gradually (and in Daisy’s case begrudgingly!) begin to make friends and work together.

I thought the cast of suspects was brilliant in this one too and I got a bit closer to guessing this time but I think Daisy would still take a dim view of my detecting skills!

Jolly Foul Play

This was probably my least favourite of the series. It took me a lot longer to get into, and while I did very much get into it in the end and there was lots I really enjoyed, the heavy school/friendship groups and relationships themes weren’t really my thing. However, I have to say they were very relatable and well-written. In particular, Daisy and Hazel’s falling out was very hard to read as it felt so believable and I was willing them to make up!

What I did really enjoy in this one was the inclusion of Kitty, Lavinia and Beanie in the Detective Society’s activities!

Mistletoe and Murder

I nearly skipped this temporarily so I could go back to it at Christmas, but in the end I listened to Amy‘s (my Murder Most Unladylike guru!) advice to read it in order and I’m so glad I did!

I really loved this one. I loved the Cambridge setting, which was described so vividly, as was life there. And I was pleased to see the way it really highlighted the disparity between men and women there too.

I also liked both Daisy (who had been steadily growing on me since book 1) and her brother Bertie (who I really wasn’t all that keen on in AfT) an awful lot more in this one.

There were some excellent characters/suspects and I was pleased to see The Junior Pinkertons join the investigation (although I have to confess, I’m with Daisy and much prefer George to Alexander!)

The Christmas morning ending was so festive it will rival a Hogwarts Christmas in my fond, Christmas scenes in books memories too!

Cream Buns and Crime

I’m cheating a bit and using my WWW Wednesday post comments on this one, as they sum it up very well!

Cream Buns and Crime by Robin Stevens (ebook)

This is a really fun addition to the series with shorter mysteries from The Detective Society and The Junior Pinkertons, as well as recipes, code breaking puzzles and information about real unsolved crimes and authors.

I loved that a lot of it was written ‘by’ Daisy and it has firmly cemented her place in my affections after an uncertain start. She’s bloody brilliant and I love her.

My favourite parts have to be Daisy being a ghost which absolutely cracked me up and the chapter written by Beanie and Kitty – I loved hearing more from them, Beanie especially who I think is wonderful!

A Spoonful of Murder

And so we’re back to the book I started with. I toyed with not re-reading this as I was desperate to read the latter books that I’d not yet read, but in the end decided to see how it differed this time around having read the previous books.

The conclusion being, unsurprisingly, that I loved it even more! Although I knew there was a change in the character dynamics when I read it first, I couldn’t really appreciate it until I’d read the lead up and having done so, seeing Hazel become the confident, knowledgeable one and Daisy on less sure footing was even better to read.

The Hong Kong setting and reading more about Hazel’s family, life and background was fantastic and clearly well-researched. And the mystery, which I didn’t guess as I knew from the first time round, is a cracker.

I think my favourite thing about this is seeing no-nonsense, buck-up Daisy’s unwavering and utter support and comfort for Hazel. Written in a really believable way that absolutely fits their characters and friendship, it was lovely to see.

The Case of the Missing Treasure

A short, fun mini mystery. This was enjoyable to read and set the scene well for…

Death in the Spotlight

I loved this so much. It’s hard to say why without giving too much away but there’s…

  • A fantastic setting
  • Uncle Felix and Mrs M (back on governess duties and doing a commendable job!)
  • The dramatic appearance of an old comrade of The Detective Society which made me grin!
  • A little bit of Hong Kong Hazel back in London – including a very daring un-Hazel-ish mission!
  • The Junior Pinkertons
  • Equality and LGBT issues and representation is dealt with subtly but amazingly powerfully too
  • The BEST plot twists
  • Daisy and Hazel’s characters and friendship becoming even deeper and more brilliant.
  • So many obstacles to solving the case!

Phew! Just fab!

Top Marks for Murder

We’re back at Deepdean once more but so much has changed and Daisy especially is feeling it, but there’s nothing like a good murder to take her mind off things and bring her back to her usual self!

Just as clever and twisty in a very different way to Death in the Spotlight, I could not guess this one – or rather I could claim to have guessed since I pretty much suspected everyone at some point!

I loved seeing Kitty, Lavinia and Beanie really involved in this one too. I think their characters have grow n and grown over the series and it was lovely to really spend some time with them in this as they’re all do different and all great in their own ways (Lavinia and Beanie especially, sorry Kitty!)

I was also hugely pleased to see Inspector Priestley who is one of my favourite characters in the books and I really liked the way he was ‘deployed’.

I think what this series, and this book especially, does incredibly well is to take everyday issues of growing up, family life, changes, friendships and relationships and deal with them really well in the background. They never become ‘issues’ books but you will find yourself and situations you encounter I these books, as will all their young readers, and there’s a great comfort in that.

I love, love, LOVE this series. It has left a hole in my reading life, so I’m very much hoping there’ll be another one sooner than soon!

Thank you to Amy for keeping them on my radar and making sure I read them all eventually – I thoroughly, thoroughly enjoyed them all!

Have you read the series? Which is your favourite? Are you a Hazel or a Daisy (or one of the other characters!)?