Sabotage on the Solar Express

Sabotage on the Solar Express
M.G. Leonard & Sam Sedgman, illustrated by Elisa Paganelli
Macmillan Children’s Books

In the fifth of the Adventures on Trains series, Hal and his Uncle Nat are on a three week trip to Australia. Billionaire train enthusiast, August Reza, has invited Hal and his uncle on the inaugural journey of the Solar Express – the winning design of his Reza’s Rocket competition. Also on the maiden voyage is Marianne, August’s daughter about whom Hal has rather mixed feelings though with her around he knows the journey won’t be boring. So too is the inventor of the hydrogen powered, Solar Express, a 14-year-old Aboriginal boy, Boaz who is enormously proud of his ‘no pollution, no waste’ engine as Hal discovers when he meets him on the day they arrive.

The following day comes the actual train journey, it’s to last around four and a half hours but as the locomotive departs, Hal is concerned that something isn’t right. His suspicions are confirmed when the journey gets underway for it’s not long before an alarming discovery is made: the Solar Express has been sabotaged. What’s more Hal and his team, notably Marianne and Boaz, only have a small window of time to find out exactly what the saboteur has planned.

Full of twists and turns, this truly nail-biting, unputdownable story unfolds at breakneck speed. With each new book authors M.G. Leonard, Sam Sedgman, and illustrator Elisa Paganelli add to the series, I think it’s the best so far, and then along comes another that’s even better.

Twitch

Twitch
M.G.Leonard
Walker Books

Oh my goodness this is a totally immersive, brilliantly written, unputdownable story with a fascinating main character, Twitch.

Twelve year old Twitch is a passionate bird watcher, keeper of pigeons and pet chickens, and at certain times of the year, has swallows nesting in his bedroom. He’s kind-hearted but happy in his own company and bullied at school.

As the story starts, the summer holidays are about to begin and Twitch anticipates spending lots of time in Aves Wood where he’s constructed a hide.

Things don’t quite go as planned though for when he arrives at his hide he finds police everywhere. A potentially dangerous robber is on the run with the possibility that the missing millions from the bank haul are buried in the locality.

Can Twitch put his bird watching skills to use in tracking down the convict and even find the money?

Perhaps, with the help of some of the unexpected friends he makes, not least of whom is Jack, one of those who has bullied Twitch but actually has a kinder side that he sometimes keeps hidden. The way their friendship develops is superbly done but there are a host of other interesting characters too, several of whom aren’t what they appear.

Indeed, the entire story is full of surprises; and what a wealth of ornithological information is embedded in the plot, thanks largely to Twitch’s knowledge and passion.There’s plenty of suspense too: as the tale twists and turns; it’s hard to tell who is to be trusted and there’s a terrific finale, which one hopes indicates that we’re going to be hearing more of the newly formed club, The Twitchers.

Murder on the Safari Star

Murder on the Safari Star
M.G. Leonard & Sam Sedgman, illustrated by Elisa Pagnelli
Macmillan Children’s Books

Tickets ready? Then climb aboard the Safari Star.

Harrison Beck is somewhat underwhelmed when he receives his Christmas present from his Uncle Nat until he discovers that the small tin contains more than just the sticks of charcoal. Inside too is a train ticket: at half term he and his uncle are going to South Africa for the trip of a lifetime all the way from Pretoria to Victoria Falls on the border of Zambia in a luxury train.

So begins another fast-paced, twisting turning, hold on to your seats adventure.

Aboard the train are a host of interesting characters from various parts of the world and even before they’ve departed Hal has made friends with Winston the son of the train’s safari guide; with him is Chipo, Winston’s yellow mongoose. There’s one passenger that almost everyone takes an instant dislike to, that’s Mervyn Crosby, an extremely rude character who boasts about having heads of four of the Big Five animals on his wall and lacking only the rhino. He also says he’s brought his rifle along – which is strictly prohibited.

No sooner is the journey under way than the two boys are off exploring the entire train and finding out what they can about their fellow passengers.

But then one of them meets with a terrible accident – or is it? At any rate there’s a fatality aboard and almost everybody is under suspicion.

Before you can say ‘rhino horns’ Hal, his uncle and Winston are investigating a mystery and it’s one that has to be solved before the train reaches the Zambian border.. It’s as well Hal has brought along his essential equipment – his sketch pad and drawing tools. He’ll certainly need to make full use of his wits, his observation skills and his powers of deduction in this life and death conundrum that involves poisonous snakes, 

hidden compartments, smuggling and more. And, there is time to see some incredible wildlife such as a rhino, zebras, elephants and impalas too. I loved the conservation element of the story.

Once again Elisa Paganelli’s illustrations are superb.

Adventures on Trains: Kidnap on the California Comet

Adventures on Trains: Kidnap on the California Comet
M.G. Leonard and Sam Sedgman, illustrated by Elise Pagnelli
Macmillan Children’s Books

In this sequel to The Highland Falcon Thief 12 year old Hal Beck is on another railway trip. Now he’s with his journalist Uncle Nat, embarking on a three day journey from Chicago to San Francisco.

Before they’ve even boarded the California Comet, Hal has his sketchbook out and has started recording what he sees. He’s also met up with Mason and his sister Hadley who tells him later on that she practises magic.

Shortly after, he meets Marianne, daughter of August Reza, the billionaire technology entrepreneur whose press conference Uncle Nat is to report on.

Hal encounters a host of other unusual characters, including Seymour Hart who always wants to stay close to his briefcase, and teenager Ryan whose speech is hampered by the dental braces he wears, but wants to communicate with Hal all the same.

As the train speeds on across the plains, Hal feels increasingly uneasy; something strange and possibly dangerous is going on.

Around 7.30pm, Hal sees a girl in a yellow dress being dragged into the boot of a waiting car that drives away into the night. Seemingly, Marianne has been kidnapped.

Can he possibly discover exactly what is going on? Perhaps, with the help of his new friends, Hadley and Mason.

Full of mystery and intrigue, this cracking story is full of interesting details and dropped hints.

It’s not only Hal (aka Sherlock da Vinci) who has an extremely deft hand when it comes to sketching: Elisa Paganelli’s smashing, sometimes finely detailed illustrations add considerably to the atmosphere of the twisting, turning adventure.

Lovers of trains and detective stories especially, will devour this; so too will anyone who loves a gripping yarn.