Breathtaking Fantasy Adventures for Middle Grade and Young Adults

It’s not often I get the opportunity to delve into the depths of fantasy-adventure novels, so the change has been an interesting welcome. If you’re a thrill-seeker, a supernatural-hunting-wannabe, a mission-impossible-style adrenalin junkie or courageous-fugitive aspirant, then these following books are for you!

Fenn Halflin and the Seaborn by Francesca Armour-Chelu, July 2017.

Following its predecessor, Fenn Halflin and the Fearzero, this final futuristic fantasy takes the resourceful and brave Fenn Halflin to new depths of heroism. With fantastic, fast-paced action, Fenn and his loyal mongoose Tikki are at the forefront of saving themselves and the Seaborn people from the grips of the merciless Terra Firma and their evil leader, Chilstone. Haunted by his past and his pain, Chilstone literally drowns in his own hatred in response to the inner strength of our protagonist, Fenn. Uncomplicated but enough visualisation to get lost in, the dystopian Fenn Halflin and the Seaborn will sweep its middle grade readers into a spunky science fiction odyssey.

The City of Secret Rivers by Jacob Sager Weinstein, June 2017.

Twelve-year-old Hyacinth gains a lot more than she bargained for when moving from America to London; the place of her ancestry. Drawing on a wonderful mix of real life and an underground magical alternate reality, author Jacob Sager Weinstein literally sweeps us through a series upon romping series of adventure into tunnels, pipes and mazes in the secret sewer systems of London. When something as simple as washing her hands sets off a complicated chain of dangerous events, Hyacinth is thrust into a world of outlandish characters, including muddy Saltpetre Men, toshers and a bather-wearing pig, facing tests of trust, bravery and the acceptance of a whole new identity. All this to save her kidnapped Mom, oh, and the entire city from the Great Fire – plot by the conniving Lady Roslyn. With elements of suspense, humour, excitement and pure terror, The City of Secret Rivers combines the kind of complexity and ingenuity to that of Lewis Carroll and J.K. Rowling all rolled into a fantastical adventure for mid to upper primary-aged children.

William Wenton and the Luridium Thief by Bobbie Peers, April 2017.

First in this exciting new series is William Wenton; an extraordinarily talented codebreaker which lands him in all sorts of strife. Kidnapped by the Institute for Post-Human Research for his code-cracking skills, what follows is a series of mystery, adventure and secret discoveries. Wenton not only discovers the powerful substance, luridium whilst held captive, but also forges a path of self-discovery and identity, as most youngsters do on their journey into adulthood. With cryptic puzzles and fiendish mechanical inventions, the Luridium Thief is a captivating and enigmatic fantasy novel that will immediately hook those upper-primary readers.

The Traitor and the Thief by Gareth Ward, August 2017.

More secrets, spies and being hunted. Another thrilling steampunk story for older readers, The Traitor and the Thief is essentially about fourteen-year-old petty thief Sin, on his own mission of soul-searching, relationship-building, and becoming a saviour. Caught and recruited into the Covert Operations Group (COG), Sin is trained to be an agile spy with mastery in weaponry and technology in order to uncover truths and conquer dangerous adventures. With quirkiness and elements of imaginative realities, as well as a touch of budding young romance and navigating teenagehood, this fantasy novel suits those readers out for a good mystery mixed with adventure.

Alex Rider: Never Say Die (Book 11) by Anthony Horowitz, June 2017.

From the bestselling series here is a new mission for Alex Rider, a fifteen-year-old adopted into a writerly family, and recruited by the M16 agents. Intensely terrifying adventure leads to clues as to the whereabouts of his female guardian, Jack – ultimately held for ransom by a terrorist organisation. Set in Cairo, and packed with plot twists and turns, Never Say Die is an exciting and absolutely gripping explosion of action and adrenalin that will have its readers on tender hooks until the end.

Tales from the Shadowhunter Academy, including authors Cassandra Clare, Sarah Ress Brennan, Maureen Johnson, and Robin Wasserman, May 2017.

To fully immerse oneself in this latest volume of the ‘Shadowhunters’ series, background knowledge and loyalty to best-selling YA author, Cassandra Clare would be ideal. In essence of the Harry Potter-style ideology of mixing realms between the normal and the magical variety, these tales confront protecting the ‘mundane’ world from the dangers of the supernatural beings. With ten short stories written by four authors and varying in complexity, Tales from the Shadowhunter Academy fans will, I’m sure, relish learning of every new skill, memory and life discovery of its central character, human / vampire / Shadowhunter Simon Lewis.

Walker Books Australia


Scorpia Rising is the latest Alex Rider book by Anthony Horowitz. It’s the last book in the series and as far as red hot action goes, it doesn’t disappoint.

“Alex Rider wants his life back. But when you’re the world’s most successful spy, there’s only one way out. Alex’s final mission will be the deadliest of them all.”

In Scorpia Rising, Alex encounters some old foes. The crime syndicate Scorpia, who Alex has defeated twice already, has set a trap for MI6 where it plans to use Alex and lure him to his death.

Alex is also confronted with his old enemy the psychopathic Julius Grief who hates Alex with a passion because of past encounters. Julius is looking forward to being witness to Alex’s slow painful torture and eventual death.

Alex, who is well and truly ‘over’ being a teenage super spy is drawn back into this dangerous world and this time he might not escape with his life.

Scorpia Rising is fast-paced and full of gadgets to appeal to the techno head. As usual there’s never a dull moment, and people and situations are not what they seem.

It’s hard enough to end a book well, let alone a series, but Anthony Horowitz manages to tie up all the loose ends in a believable way that will leave readers feeling that things have reached their conclusion.

Like all the Alex Rider books, Scorpia Rising drags the reader in right from the start and doesn’t let them go till the last page.

Although the characters aren’t people that teen readers would encounter in their normal everyday world, they have flaws and feelings that make them credible. Despite his unusual talents, Alex is presented as a boy who makes mistakes and has flaws – these things make him real to the reader.

The Alex Rider books are full of suspense and all the elements to engage teen readers – particularly boys.

Every piece of action has been well researched and well thought out and in Scorpia Rising, the odds of Alex surviving seem more impossible than ever before.

There are more fascinating locations and exotic settings as Alex super spies his way across the globe, and places like Egypt provide a backdrop for new action and adventure.

In the acknowledgements at the end of the book, author Anthony Horowitz conveys his sadness that the Alex Rider series has come to an end with Scorpia Rising. There are many readers who will feel this way too.

Scorpia Rising is a great read for teens and is published by Walker Books.


The first sentence

A writer needs to get the attention of his/her readers as soon as possible — to make them want to read further, to make them not put the book back onto the bookshop shelf in favour of another book. There are many ways to do this and it can take anywhere from a single word to an entire chapter. But what I want to write about today is that all-important first sentence.

A book’s first sentence can be long or short, descriptive or elusive, intriguing or demanding, full of purple prose or stated matter-of-factly — but its purpose is to begin the story and hook the reader. Some writers do this better than others.

Today, I simply want to share with you some of my favourite opening sentences — some with comments, other without. These are not necessarily my favourite books, these are just sentences that I found had grabbed my attention and made me remember them. I am presenting them in splendid isolation from the remainder of the text to which they belong. Have a read and see if you can guess from which books I have extracted them — I’ve listed the books at the end of the post.

1. I’m going to start with my all-time favourite — a truly memorable and intriguing sentence that sets up reader expectations. It’s a very recognisable sentence and also a rather long one — far longer than is fashionable to write in this day and age.

“No one would have believed in the last years of the nineteenth century that this world was being watched keenly and closely by intelligences greater than man’s and yet as mortal as his own; that as men busied themselves about their various concerns they were scrutinised and studied, perhaps almost as narrowly as a man with a microscope might scrutinise the transient creatures that swarm and multiply in a drop of water.”

2. Another absolute classic:

“The sky above the port was the colour of television, tuned to a dead channel.”

3. A little gruesome, but memorable.

“Physicist Leonardo Vetra smelled burning flesh, and he knew it was his own.”

4. “I heard a story once about a little kid who came home from school and found his mother dead on the kitchen floor.”

5. “I keep thinking that I have a tunnel in my chest.”

6. What I love about this sentence is the way ‘dæmon’ is written with such everyday matter-of-factsness.

“Lyra and her dæmon moved through the darkening Hall, taking care to keep to one side, out of sight of the kitchen.”

7. “I know a place where there is no smog and no parking problem and no population explosion . . . no Cold War and no H-bombs and no television commercials . . . no Summit Conferences, no Foreign Aid, no hidden taxes—no income tax.”

8. “When the doorbell rings at three in the morning, it’s never good news.”

9. Okay, okay — this is one sentence plus one extra word. But that one extra word makes all the difference.

“It wasn’t even five o’clock and Milo had already murdered Mrs Appleby. Twice.”

10. “Aubrey Fitzwilliam hated being dead.”

11. “Far out in the uncharted backwaters of the unfashionable end of the Western Spiral arm of the Galaxy lies a small unregarded yellow sun.”

12. “All children, except one, grow up.”

13. “Later, while I was facing the Potter Moth, or fleeing for my life from the First Ones, or helping man a cannon aboard Jack Havock’s brig Sophronia, I would often think back to the way my life used to be, and to that last afternoon at Larklight, before all our misfortunes began.”

14. “Through the ruin of a city stalked the ruin of a man.”

15. “Something eerie came over European civilization in the early twentieth century and led to a madness which was called ‘the Great War’.”

So there you have it — some of my favourite opening sentences. They probably say more about me than the books they come from. There are probably other ones out there that I may like better… but either I haven’t read them yet, or I read them so long ago that I can’t remember them, or I was simply unable to get my hands onto a copy of the relevant book to check the quote.

But what about all you people out there in the blogosphere? What are your favs? Leave and comment and share an opening sentence.

And tune in next time for some random quotes.

Catch ya later,  George

PS. Here are the books:

1. The War of the Worlds by HG Wells, 1898.

2. Neuromancer, William Gibson, 1984.

3. Angels and Demons, Dan Brown, 2000.

4. The Inner Circle, Gary Crew, 1986.

5. After the First Death, Robert Cormier, 1979.

6. Northern Lights, Philip Pullman, 1995.

7. Glory Road, Robert Heinlein, 1963.

8. Stormbreaker, Anthony Horowitz, 2000.

9. The Slightly Skewed Life of Toby Chrysler, Paul Collins, 2009.

10. Blaze of Glory, Michael Pryor, 2006.

11. The Hitch Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, Dauglas Adams, 1979.

12. Peter Pan, JM Barrie, 1911.

13. Larklight, Philip Reeve, 2006.

14. Doctor Who and the Dalek Invasion of Earth, Terrance Dicks, 1977.

15. The First A.I.F.: A Study of its Recruitment 1914-1918, LL Robson, 1970.


Today, 15 year-old George is visiting Kids’ Book Capers to talk about why he is a big Alex Rider fan.

George, what do you like about the Alex Rider Books?

They’re action packed, fast paced well written. They have a good storyline and all the gadgets are really good.

Each book has a unique storyline. Interesting is places he goes, what gadgets he gets, why the bad guy is doing what he is doing?

What do you like most about the Alex Rider books?

I really like the characters – they are enjoyable – each has their own sense of humour.

Some characters are believable and some aren’t. I’m hard pressed to believe that there is a fourteen year old spy but that doesn’t worry me – doesn’t stop me from enjoying the stories.

What is your favourite gadget?

The Cannondale Bad Boy Bike because it has lots of features, lots of things it can do – bells and whistles.


The Cannondale Bad Boy Bike is designed and built for speed, safety and reliability. it has an aluminium frame and special tyres. To deter pursuit the bike has a smokescreen, an oil dispenser and two heat-seeking missiles. The seat post acts as an emergency ejection system and there are special accessories for the rider’s safety

What’s your favourite book?

Crocodile Tears. Dennis McCain is the chief of First Aid, and he sets up disasters so that when people donate money he can grab it.

Why is this your favourite Alex Rider Book?

It’s interesting. I like the fact that Dennis McCain was all cocky and that Alex Rider managed to beat him.

What do you like about Alex?

He always seems to know what to do – and he’s generous and nice. I like that he is confident.

I think it’s fair enough that he doesn’t want to be a spy, he’s only 14 years old

Would you like to be Alex Rider – why/why not?

Yes and No.

Yes because you get all the cool gadgets and things and meet new people and travel the world.

No, I wouldn’t want to be under all that pressure to save the world and live up to my uncle’s and my dad’s name.


Alex Rider’s uncle is a secret government agent but Alex doesn’t know it. Uncle gets killed on way back from mission. Alex meets two people from MI6 and joins MI6 and goes on a mission to stop Herod Sale

Alex goes undercover (as a guy who won competition) to see what Herod Sale is up to and stop him if it’s bad.

What I liked

I liked at training camp when he toughed it out and didn’t let anyone get the better of him.

I liked the way Alex used his talents and courage to overcome the bad guy.

What I didn’t like?

That you didn’t find out much about his parents.

I would recommend this book to people because it was interesting and fast paced and I liked the technology.

Anyone between age of 11 and 17 would enjoy these books.





Today we welcome The Book Chook back to Kids’ Book Capers to talk about why Alex Rider gets Kids Reading.

Hi Book Chook, great to have you back here. Anthony Horowitz’s series has been credited with changing boys’ attitudes to reading. How important, for boy readers in particular is it that books like the Alex Rider series are available?

I know it’s not politically correct to generalize but I am rarely politically correct. Some boys aren’t attracted to fiction, but many of those who are need adventurous books which race along at high-octane level, ricocheting from one scrape to another.

Crocodile Tears has been simultaneously published as a traditional book, an e-book and an iPhone application. Do you think that offering these options is a good thing for  readers?

Yes! Some mourn the imminent demise of the printed book but I think that’s hooey. It’s not a case of either or. We need print books AND technology-driven applications. If a mum is queuing in the supermarket and she can hand her iphone to her three-year-old so the child can read a picture book on the device, great! But for bedtime reading aloud that night, perhaps real printed picture books are the answer.

I spend hours with a computer screen each day, so when I quit, I read print books for relaxation. But when we next go to China, I hope to have several books digitally stored on my iPad, so I can avoid excess baggage charges.

Do you have some tips of your own to encourage kids to read?

After loving your kids and respecting them, read to them. Read to them every day. Tell jokes, read riddles, write letters and notes. Dance, sing, pretend, paint, recite poetry, go to theatre performances, lie on the grass and cloud-watch. Read some more. Get to know the wonderful Australian children’s authors who have so much to offer our Aussie kids. Hang out at your local library. Make sure your kids see you reading and writing. Let your kids choose what they want to read, but sneak in an occasional favourite of your own. Make sure your home has books galore.

And if you can, get a big old Jacaranda tree for your backyard. They’re great places for reading.


by Lachlan – aged 12

Crocodile Tears is about Desmond McCain who started up a charity called first Aid and they always seemed to be the first ones there whenever there was a crisis.

Desmond intends to keep all the donations for himself and Alex has to stop it from happening.

I liked Crocodile Tears because I liked how Alex beat Desmond McCain in poker. I liked the Kikuyu Tribesman and how the writer used the location to fit them into the story. I liked the suspense in the story and it was hard to predict what was going to happen.

I didn’t like what happened to the RAW agent, Rahim.

People who enjoy fast-paced quirky action books will like this book.




When the first Alex Rider book came out ten years ago, it became a global bestseller. The reluctant teenage superspy was credited with helping to cure many reluctant readers. Alex Rider and his exploits turned a whole generation of teenage boys onto reading for pleasure.

Today The Book Chook is visiting Kids’ Book Capers to talk about the importance of literacy and why the Alex Rider books have been so effective in getting kids to read. But first of all, she’s going to talk a bit about what she does.

Can you give us a bit of background about why you set up The Book Chook blog and established your e-zine, Literacy Lava? What is Literacy Lava and where can people get it? is The Book Chook blog,

I set up The Book Chook blog because I was getting closer to my goal of becoming a children’s writer (or so I thought!) and I knew I needed an online presence. However, it didn’t make much sense for me to blog about children’s writing when my only published credits were in travel magazines.

I read an article that suggested  bloggers find their passion and write about that. I have many passions, but the one that was closest to writing was children’s literature and literacy. I began writing children’s book reviews and bringing parents tips and ideas to help with kids’ learning.

Literacy Lava grew from my desire to reach more people with my message about encouraging kids to read, write and communicate with creativity. I have an amazing group of contributors who come from different backgrounds, but who all share my passion and are keen to reach out to parents and teachers.

The fifth issue of Literacy Lava a has just been published, and is now available for download from Susan’s website.

You are a passionate advocate of literacy, can you tell us why you think it’s so important?

I think literacy is the magical key to children’s future success. If children love to read, write and communicate, they have the building blocks they need for future learning. Literacy impacts all other subjects. Being able to read not only helps kids learn, it allows them access to other people’s dreams and fuels their own dreams.

I believe our society needs dreamers – people who can think creatively and come up with solutions to some of the problems that beset us.

Where does this passion for literacy come from? Is it a professional or a personal thing or both?

I taught in Primary schools in NSW for 25 years, and I taught ESL in China. I loved both jobs, especially being able to share my love of books, poetry and drama. Before that, I was a reader/writer/communicator, often found perched in the Jacaranda tree with my nose in a book, or bossing the neighbourhood kids into staging Robin Hood among the gum trees. So both personal and professional I guess.

The Alex Rider books have sold over twelve million copies worldwide and been translated into 28 languages.

Why do you think Alex’s reluctant teenage superspy character appeals to so many readers?

Alex Rider is not only who we want to be, he’s real enough to almost be who we are. I think Horowitz gets it exactly right with Alex.

Alex Rider has a lot of ingenious gadgets. Do you think this is part of his appeal for readers?

Absolutely! Aren’t we all fascinated by how things work, inventions, technology? I know I am.

Next week at Kids’ Book Capers, The Book Chook will be back for an in depth look at why Alex Rider has been so successful in encouraging boys to read. There will also be a review of Crocodile Tears by Lachlan aged 12.




Today, we are pleased to welcome 12-year-old Tom to Kids’ Book Capers to tell us why he is such a big fan of the Alex Rider books.

Tom, what did you like about these books?

They were interesting and hard to put down. There was so much action and there were all these different bits of information that fitted together in the end.

Which one of the Alex Rider Books is your favourite?

I really liked Point Blanc.

Can you tell us about this book and why it’s your favourite?

In Point Blanc, Alex Rider is captured and stuck in the mountains and he has to escape. The setting was good and it had a good storyline.

Besides the action, what else do you like about the Alex Rider books?

I like the gadgets that Alex Rider takes on his missions. And I like Alex Rider’s character. He is brave and unique because most kids would jump at being a spy but he just wants to go back to his normal life.

Would you like to be Alex Rider?

Probably not because he gets in so many life and death situations and he is a potential target for kidnapping and assassination and he gets put in a lot of pain.

Also, the training is pretty grueling and challenging.

Is there anything else you’d like to tell us about the Alex Rider books?

After I’d read the first one, I wanted to read the next one straight away. The books kept me interested because they were really unpredictable and I never knew what was going to happen next.

Also, I think it’s much better to read them in order because he often reflects back on things that have happened in other books.

Thanks for joining us here at Kids’ Book Capers, Tom. You’ll be pleased to know that Anthony Horwitz is currently working on the ninth Alex Rider adventure and that should be coming out next year.



In the ten years since the first Alex Rider book appeared on our bookshelves, there have been over 12 million sales around the world.

To celebrate 10 years of the Alex Rider phenomenon, Kids’ Book Capers is having a three week celebration where we’ll be looking in depth at the books and the man behind them.

Today, our first post looks at the inspiration for the Alex Rider stories.

Anthony Horowitz admits to being an avid James Bond fan and says he used to queue for hours in the rain to be the first one to see the latest James Bond Movie. When he was bored at school, he used to relive the most exciting moments from the James Bond films.

He says,

“These were the dreams that sustained me through maths, physics, chemistry and all the other subjects at which I was no good at all. I used to build secret drawers in the bottom of matchboxes and fill them with tiny bits & pieces, badly glued together. My imagination would then turn them into super-weapons…”

He discovered the James Bond books when he was 12 and read them over and over again. Horowitz says that when he became a scriptwriter some years later, he had a secret dream to write a James Bond movie. After a disastrous interview with a movie producer, he decided that one day he would create his own James Bond.

After he’d finished writing his book The Switch, he started to toy with the idea of creating a new sort of hero.

A boy who lived in the real world, who went to comprehensive school, who didn’t want to be a hero but would survive – just – a series of ever darker adventures.

He wanted his books to remind people of Ian Fleming’s James Bond stories without actually stealing from them.

Horowitz says,

“So even as I started work on the first book, I made conscious decisions. James Bond was a patriot who enjoyed working for the Secret Service. My hero would be recruited against his will and wouldn’t trust the people he worked for. There would be no gadgets. Alex would never have a gun.”

But Horowitz says he was forced to revise his ‘no gadgets’ policy after several school visits.

Every one I spoke to wanted gadgets. More than that – they expected gadgets.

Giving Alex Rider gadgets has been one of the most challenging parts of the writing process for Horowitz. He is adamant that they must be realistic and says,

They always have to be concealed in items that you would expect to find in the pocket of an average fourteen-year-old and, when you really think about it, that rather narrows the field.

And unlike James Bond, Alex Rider’s gadgets have to be non lethal. They have to be life saving but surprising.

With their superspy themes and action adventure, it’s not surprising that the Alex Rider books are sometimes compared to James Bond’s adventures.

But according to Horowitz,

At the end of the day, the most important thing for me is to be original. When it comes to thinking up the stories, creating the characters, devising the action sequences and chases, my first question is always – did Bond do it? And if the answer is yes, then sadly I have to think of something else.

The Alex Rider adventures have been translated into 28 languages and several are now available as state-of-the-art graphic novels. The latest best selling title in the sequence, Crocodile Tears, was simultaneously published as a traditional book, an e-book and an iPhone application.


BREAKING: Anthony Horowitz Tour Cancelled

Children’s author Anthony Horowitz has cancelled his upcoming tour of Australia and New Zealand.
“I am very sorry that I am unable to come to Australia/New Zealand this year as I had originally planned. I have just had two television related projects land on my desk which will monopolise my time. Unfortunately I simply cannot meet all my writing deadlines whilst undertaking an international tour,” Anthony said.
“Once again, I apologise for not being able to make it for now but I want to pass on my heartfelt thanks for your ongoing support and enthusiasm for my books which means so much to me.”
2010 marks the tenth anniversary of Anthony’s wildly successful Alex Rider series.