Book reviews: Fantasy heroes, sisterly love and a trip through time

Fighting Fantasy: The Port of Peril by Ian Livingstone
Fighting Fantasy: The Port of Peril by Ian Livingstone

A fantastic fantasy series celebrates a special anniversary, a family of sisters face new dramas and the world springs to colourful life in some sparkling new children’s books for August.

Age 9 plus:

Fighting Fantasy: The Port of Peril by Ian Livingstone

There is a whole swathe of fully-fledged adults out there who grew up on the thrills of the groundbreaking Fighting Fantasy role-playing gamebooks…

Many of these adventure-seekers are now parents so perfect timing to introduce this iconic Eighties and Nineties series to their own kids and let a new generation become the superheroes of outrageous tales of monsters, demons and magical worlds.

Twenty million copies of the series have been sold worldwide and it’s not hard to see why. The books are brimming with adventure, initiative and imagination and provide an original twist on traditional fiction by letting the reader take control of the story’s leading player and make choices that will affect the outcome of the story.

To mark the 35th anniversary year of these fantastic books – the brainchild of Steve Jackson and Ian Livingstone, co-founders of Games Workshop and two of the founding fathers of the UK gaming industry – Scholastic Books have relaunched the series with a collectable new look, new artwork and a brand new game book, The Port of Peril.

As part of the celebrations, Scholastic Books are also republishing the first memorable title in the series, The Warlock of Firetop Mountain, along with five other Fighting Fantasy classics.

In The Port of Peril, the exciting new addition to the Fighting Fantasy series written by Ian Livingstone, evil stalks the land as undead hordes rise from their graves to terrorise the living. The hero reader must travel all over Allansia on a perilous and epic quest from Moonstone Hills to the shadowy streets of Port Blacksand and on to the depths of old haunt Darkwood Forest. What starts as a treasure hunt soon takes a darker turn, with the potential return of the most terrifying foe of the original books, Zanbar Bone, on the increasingly dark horizon. Are you brave enough to face the savage demons of the underworld?

And in Fighting Fantasy: The Warlock of Firetop Mountain by Ian Livingstone and Steve Jackson, published in 1982 and the first book in the series that set a legendary reading experience in motion, young adventurers must be brave enough to take on the monsters and magic of Firetop Mountain. The powerful warlock Zagor must be slain but first you will need to make it through the caverns of his mountain stronghold. Many adventurers before you have taken a wrong turn in the maze and perished at the hands and claws of the Warlock’s gruesome servants. Time to step up and time to fight!

These books – with their striking new covers and atmospheric illustrations by Vlado Krizan – provide old-fashioned fantasy and heroics with a thrilling twist, and hours of fun and constructive thinking for a new generation of adventurers.

May your stamina never fail!

(Scholastic, paperback, £6.99 each)

Age 9 plus:

Strawberry Sisters: Completely Chloe by Candy Harper

Meet the Strawberry Sisters! They’re the pick of the crop and a truly tasty treat for youngsters looking for feelgood stories about fun, friendship… and siblings.

Strawberry Sisters: Completely Chloe is the third book in a gentle and reassuring series from Candy Harper, an exciting new writer who, as the fourth of five sisters herself, often found it hard to get a word in edgeways. Her answer was to start writing down her best ideas.

And the Strawberry Sisters is certainly packed with a cast of cleverly imagined characters, from stressed-out Mum to five very different girls, all beguiling players in a fun, funny and sometimes moving family-life drama which will be recognisable to many youngsters today.

There’s never a dull moment with the Strawberry sisters! Oldest sister Amelia wants to be left alone to have deep thoughts so she’s grown a fringe to hide under. Second up is Chloe who is sport-crazy and in training to be a wrestling star (this week anyway).

Lucy is the cute, little one who is training an army of earwigs. Then there’s Ella, the middle one who is still trying to work out what makes her ‘perfectly Ella’ and how to stand out in a house full of big personalities. And now there’s a new Strawberry sister, Baby Kirsti, who lives with Dad and his Finnish girlfriend Suvi.

Dad and Suvi’s house is the girls’ house too but it’s very tidy and very different to their home with Mum. Along with her sisters and one very tired Mum who is struggling to keep it all together, Chloe’s small home is crammed with almost-finished homework, nearly-clean jumpers and a vampire bunny called Buttercup.

With so much going on, life can sometimes feel totally crazy but the Strawberry sisters have a secret weapon against all this madness… each other. Ella, the quiet sister, is desperate to learn how to speak up. Drama queen Amelia wishes someone would recognise she’s a star. Little Lucy has declared war on the grumpy old lady next door.

Cloe is the family’s thrill-seeker. Her rugby coach thinks she should take things more seriously but Chloe just wants to have fun and she’s come up with the ultimate plan for a good time. It’s outrageous, risky and completely Chloe. What could possibly go wrong?

Harper certainly knows how to engage her readers in these entertaining, warm-hearted stories about the lovable siblings and their frantic, action-packed lives. There are hopes, dreams, mishaps and tears, but there is also warm understanding, plenty of laughter and a big helping of love.

Family drama with the aaah factor!

(Simon & Schuster, paperback, £6.99)

Age 8 plus:

Time Atlas: An Interactive Timeline of History by Robert Hegarty and Marcelo Badari

There won’t be a minute to lose when children get their inquisitive hands this intriguing Time Atlas, an interactive timeline of history that opens up the past in a unique and exciting way.

This inventive fact book comes from 360 Degrees, a non-fiction imprint of the Little Tiger Group which offers a stimulating and creative approach to presenting facts and aims to create accessible and unique non-fiction books with the highest production values and attention to creative detail.

Each book in in the 360 Degrees line-up is unique in subject and presentation style and covers everything from natural history to human invention, from art to architecture, and from languages to lunar landings. What links them all is a thoughtful and creative approach to presenting intriguing facts.

Time Atlas lets youngsters make their own amazing discoveries as they travel through time and take part in a chronological journey by turning the pages, lifting the flaps and enjoying other novelty surprises.

The book provides readers with a brief history of the world and its inhabitants. From dinosaurs to DNA, and from reed boats to rockets, we learn about the landmarks and inventions that have made our planet what it is today.

Follow the Earth through time, discover some of the great civilisations like Ancient Egypt and Imperial China, learn about great buildings such as the Colosseum in Rome and the Parthenon in Greece and marvel at the way man has sought to express himself through the arts. Take off in some of man’s inventions in a bid to travel faster, find out how people communicated before the invention of the telephone and enjoy the stories of great people’s lives and what they have achieved.

Along the way you can lift the flaps to learn more, turn a colour wheel to discover the relationship between colours, spin an acceleration dial to find out about speed records, read through a miniature-sized book within a book about the history of toys and games and get your brain whirring on what might just be next for planet Earth.

Entertaining, accessible and original, Time Atlas is a fascinating, fact-filled book full of visual and verbal surprises and with so much to discover, it is sure to set youngsters thinking not just about the past and present but what could be round the corner as the 21st century progresses.

(360 Degrees, hardback, £15.99)

Age 6 plus:

Myths and Legends by Sandra Lawrence and Emma Trithart

And there are more exciting discoveries from around the world just waiting to be explored in two new fascinating, fact-filled books from 360 Degrees.

Myths and Legends, and Festivals and Celebrations, combine colourful and informative illustrations with bite-sized facts as youngsters adventure into the past to discover the roots of some of our best-loved stories, and find out how and what we celebrate around the world.

These small and sturdy books are the keys for children to walk through the door and visit countries as far away as India, Siberia, China, Japan and South America.

In Myths and Legends, written by Sandra Lawrence who collects stories from all over the world and beautifully illustrated by Emma Trithart, we learn that people have always told stories… often, no one knows where they came from but they keep on telling them because they are so inventive, imaginative and entertaining.

Myths were often told to explain things that people could not understand about history, nature or the world around them. Legends may once have been based on truth but the truth of them has been lost in the mists of time. The book explores several fascinating tales from different societies and cultures and brings them to life through a gallery of fun and eye-catching illustrations.

Delve into different cultures and religions and meet powerful gods like Thor, Athena and Vishnu, brave heroes like Robin Hood, the Japanese super-strong conqueror of demons and Finn MacCool, an Irish hunter-warrior, as you travel through these fabulous fabled quests from age-old tales.

In Festivals and Celebrations, also written by Sandra Lawrence and vibrantly illustrated by Jane Newland, we discover that wherever they are in the world, people love to celebrate and as the seasons change, so do the festivities.

People around the world love to mark occasions like birthdays, weddings and anniversaries, and when a whole community gets together, the merrymaking often extends even further into festivals that everyone can join in and enjoy. Historical events, local heroes, special foods, religious holidays or just the time of year – they are all great excuses for a party.

From the New Year celebration of Hogmanay in Scotland when everyone sings Auld Lang Syne and the Reindeer Herder’s Day in Siberia to celebrate the Nenets people’s precious animals to the Merrie Monarch Festival in Hawaii to mark the arrival of spring and the Spanish town of Buňol’s famous summer madness La Tomatina food fight, this is an exciting and colourful journey of discovery.

An unforgettable visit to some of the brightest, strangest, funniest and most beautiful festivals on the planet.

(360 Degrees, hardback, £9.99 each)

Age 3 plus:

Izzy Gizmo by Pip Jones and Sara Ogilvie

There’s no one quite like Izzy Gizmo… and certainly not when it comes to inventions!

This izzy wizzy let’s get busy little girl is the shining star of a fabulous and funny picture book from award-winning author Pip Jones and Sara Ogilvie, the best-selling illustrator of Detective Dog written by Julia Donaldson of Gruffalo fame.

This exuberantly riotous story, shortlisted for the 2017 Sainsbury’s Children’s Books Awards in the Picture Book category, blends the fun of rhyme with the touching friendship between a charismatic crow and a never-say-die young inventor.

At its heart is the livewire Izzy, an inspirational and feisty female heroine who never gives up on the battle to help her injured crow fly again.

Izabelle Gizmo just loves to invent, but her marvellous, magnificent inventions never seem to work the way she wants them to. And that makes her really cross! When she finds a crow with a broken wing she just has to help. Can she bend, bash and batter her collection of batteries, old electronics and a dismantled mixer to invent some new wings for her new feathered friend, or is he destined to live as a bird who can’t fly? And when everything malfunctions yet again, can disappointed Izzy put her frustrations to one side and help her new friend find his own way to fly again?

Jones moves into full rhyming throttle as we enjoy Izzy’s determined battle to help her crocked crow to fly again in a touching, fast-paced story brought to life by Ogilvie’s delightfully detailed illustrations.

A flight of fancy for all little inventors!

(Simon & Schuster, paperback, £6.99)

Age 3 plus:

Stomp School by Jeff Norton and Leo Antolini

Stomp, crush, smash… school has never been so much fun!

If you ever wondered what happened to the children of your favourite monsters from myth, legend and the big screen when the big beasts go out to work, then take a trip to Stomp School!

Cover your ears, put away your most treasured possessions and take cover because intrepid author Jeff Norton and illustrator extraordinaire Leo Antolini are whisking us all away to the deafening, destructive and delightfully anarchic school for baby monsters in their crazy new picture book.

From Sherpa, the thrill-seeking yeti, and Draglo, the dragon who pines for his mum to Terry, the day-dreaming pterodactyl still learning to fly and Rikki, the sensitive but intrepid dinosaur, children and parents will relate to the misbehaving toddlers portrayed in these naughty but lovable little beasts who create a joyful chaos on their first day at Stomp School.

Peep through the cut-outs, look under the flaps, life the page to find a giant building block and then enjoy the very NOISY surprises in a giant fold-out page as the beasts go on a stomping, crushing, smashing, bashing rampage!

Norton’s monstrously imaginative storytelling combined with Antolini’s dynamic and brilliantly colourful illustrations bring this high-energy tale of hilarious nursery antics to vivid life. The story’s classic theme of destruction and rebuilding – plus the comical character studies at the start of the book – will also resonate with mischievous youngsters and their long-suffering parents.

Knockabout fun for all the family… and the liveliest and loveliest bunch of raucous picture book stars you will meet behind the school gates!

(Caterpillar Books, paperback, £6.99)