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4.6 out of 5 stars
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on 11 June 2011
With its beautifully simplistic cover illustration 'The Salt Stained Book' could all too easily just blend in to the mass of children's books on the shelves today, but I'd urge people to at least look twice, as whoever picks it up will discover their very own buried treasure.
Donny is a young boy living with his Mother and Gran, but when his Gran dies the authorities begin to question Donny's mother's capability to look after him. So they both set off for Suffolk to meet up with their mysterious Great Aunt. On the way misfortune takes a hand, Donny is taken into care, and his claims of a `Great Aunt Ellen' coming to meet them are disregarded as a rescue myth.
What ensues is an archetypal adventure story as Donny is determined to meet up with his Great Aunt, and his new friends are just as determined to help him. Whilst also trying to outwit the authorities, including nasty Inspector (Captain) Flint.
This is very much an adventure story in the same vein as Swallows and Amazons, so not surprisingly it does heavily reference a few of Arthur Ransome works. Well if you consider that when she was a child Julia Jones' parents owned Peter Duck (one of Arthur Ransomes Yachts) you can't blame her for wanting to tip a nod to what must have been an amazing influence.
It is a fantastically absorbing read, even with the many sailing terms that landlubbers like me may not quite understand, (but which really doesn't take anything away from the story). The ending, which I won't give away, is such a marvellous `edge of the seat' piece of writing. You also have to admire the way the author elegantly manages to tie up all the important story threads whilst leaving a few tantalisingly dangling, ready to entice you into the next instalment.
The Salt Stained Book is the first in a series of three books called `The Strong Winds Trilogy', and I for one am hooked already
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on 29 May 2011
As one might expect from the biographer of Margery Allingham, Julia Jones is a mistress of the complex and enthralling plot, and this allows her to achieve the seemingly impossible task of bringing the world of Arthur Ransome's books of children, boats and the outdoors to vivid life in the 21st century world of children who are Looked After, who know about (but are forbidden to use) computers and who are trapped in the child care Matrix.

I found it hard to put down; so did my nine year old and sixteen year old sons, who are now demanding the next instalment of a promised trilogy. There is a terrifically satisfying villainess, in the Dolores Umbridge class, who wears Jimmy Choos, drives a convertible, is hideously plausible (to adults) and who revels in the abuse of power over children, with a supporting cast of loathsome policeman, sickeningly PC lady vicar and more.

The sailing scenes are satisfyingly correct and delightfully non-PC. As with Ransome, the locations are precise, well described and real, whilst the characters, with the exception of one family who are slightly too good to be true, are satisfyingly imperfect.

Buy this book.
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on 10 June 2011
This is a lovely book well suited to it's target younger audience while still being entertaining for adults. It stands alone, features a plot which develops nicely and has some lovely twists.
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on 25 July 2011
What fun and enjoyment I had reading this book. Our hero, Donny, is thirteen-turning-fourteen who finds himself separated by Social Services et al. from his deaf `hippy' mother and placed into a foster home with the Rev. Wendy and her `house-husband' Gerald. Somehow he must meet the Great Aunt he's never seen, who is travelling from China, and reunite with his mother.

There are splendid descriptions of Political Correctness gone mad and of Jobsworths wielding their power, a couple of whom cross the line to bullying. Stereotypes? I don't think so.

Donny finds Allies, from other children at the Vicarage and at school plus a couple of sensible parents, his school tutor, Mr. McMullen, and two local ladies. With the help of his Allies, instinct and a copy of 'Swallows and Amazons' Donny starts learning to sail a dinghy.

Readers familiar with Arthur Ransome's 'Swallows & Amazons' books will enjoy spotting the allusions, though these are not confined to Ransome's books. How had I missed that to Donny's tutor until he says, "Did a bit of sailing myself years ago. Down channel"?

There are charming illustrations and vignettes by Claudia Myatt.

This is Part One of a trilogy. Hurry along Parts Two and Three, please!
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on 15 April 2012
Never having read any Arthur Ransome, I'm in a position to say this book works totally in its own right as a gripping adventure story for all ages (though I gather it contains much that will appeal to fans of SWALLOWS AND AMAZONS.) Donny, the gutsy teenage hero, has readers rooting for him from the word go as he looks after his deaf and unstable mother and stands up to bullying authority figures. Donny is backed up by a motley crew of children - all believable and well-differentiated as characters and occasionally very funny. (The Manchester United dreamcatchers will have me smiling for a while.) The gradual development of damaged Anna's friendship with Donny was one of the many moving but feel-good aspects of the book. The final section of the book where Donny sets off alone in his boat to find his piratical great-aunt was breathtaking. Jones' writing seemed to really hit its stride and it was impossible to put the Kindle down.

So I'll be acquiring volumes 2 & 3 of the STRONG WINDS trilogy. I might even look out for this Ransome chap to see what I've been missing.

Finally, a word of praise for the illustrator. Even though I was reading on a Kindle, Claudia Myatt's charming little illustrations added much to my enjoyment of the story.
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on 31 August 2013
First I must out myself as a Swallows and Amazons fan of long standing (or long sailing) and I've also sailed myself. My children loved the books too and we went to see their locations and stood at the Peak of Darien. So I was excited to discover this series. Julia Jones has achieved a wonderful blend of the pre-war S&A world and ours, not only creating a splendid story in its own right, but perhaps introducing contemporary children to Ransome's books. In the past, child characters in fiction were free to adventure without parents through the agency of boarding schools, and also the greater physical freedom allowed to children in those harder but in some ways more innocent times. Nowadays, adoring helicopter parents would be getting in the way of adventures and independence, and writers like Jaqueline Wilson have created characters with various problems which ensure absent parents at least part of the time: the care system etc: simultaneously extending the range of characters from the mostly affluent middle class of past fiction to a more diverse demographic. Jones has used both methods in one book, creating at the same time many sub-plots and characters with their own journeys and dangers, resulting in some very moving and involving situations and friendships. The writing is top-notch, and the story full of action, with references to Ransome's gang cleverly woven in. As the story goes on, we are tantalised by the search for the protagonist Donny's 'Great- Aunt', but she's a pirate - not like the 'GA' in Swallows and Amazons who is the ultimate buzz-kill. I want to know more about her! The book has a satisfying end but with questions unanswered, and exciting possibilities for the later books in this excellent series. The whole book has the clean, weathered, salt-dried feel of a beach hut, the simple and rather retro cover, the title, the lovely illustrations by Claudia Myatt.
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I finished reading this at 1.15 this morning, and I'm knackered! But what a great read! I haven't enjoyed a children's/crossover book so much for years - possibly since the first Meg Rossoff. It's partly a homage to Arthur Ransome of course, and I think he'd have heartily approved. It's tougher than Ransome, with real villains, real heroines, good adults, sideswipes at daft political correctness combined with a wholly liberal outlook on life, realistic teen and children's language, and a total belief that there is nothing, absolutely nothing, half so much worth doing than messing about in boats. Except there's no messing here - it's all part of a gripping, cliff-hanging plot. Just excellent.
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on 5 September 2012
Jacqueline Wilson meets Arthur Ransome. Classic sailing adventure with a modern twist. Loved the subtle (and not so subtle!) references to Swallows and Amazons. Can't wait to start the next book in the series.
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on 19 September 2011
This is a fantastic book which shows that the ethos and spirit of Swallows and Amazons is still alive and well and just as applicable to a modern story. The language and characters will appeal to children today but the author's skill in combining this with Ransome's love of sailing and adventure is what makes it such an enjoyable book. I also love the way it shows that a sense of adventure and the ability to make allies can help get you through the worst of experiences. I'd recommend this to old and young fans of Ransome as well as anyone who knows they're a true sailor at heart, even if they've never had the chance to prove it.
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on 7 November 2012
I used to be in International Sales and re read the Swallows and Amazon books while I was abroad. I came accross Salt Stained Book and loved it. If you enjoyed Swallows and Amazons then I suggest this is for you. Its set in a modern context with all the old traditional values and will warm your heart. I have ordered the other two and can't wait for the postman to deliver. The cover artwork is also very good and sets the scene for a good read
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