Tag Archives: mystery

Review: Knightley and Son by Rohan Gavin

knightley and son

Having been very behind with blogging of late, I will be publishing a series of mini reviews to help me catch up. This quirky middle grade mystery is the first.

The once highly in-demand detective Alan Knightley has just woken up after an unexplained incident kept him asleep for four years. While he was out cold, his son, Darkus, took it upon himself to read of all his dad’s old cases, and he’s learned a lot about the art of detection. It’s a good thing too—because suddenly the duo find themselves caught up in a crazy conspiracy that involves a group of villainous masterminds (who keep appearing and then vanishing), some high-speed car chases (that will have everyone fastening their seat belts), and a national, bestselling book with the power to make people do terrible, terrible things. But because Alan is still suffering the effects of his coma, he tends to, well, fall asleep at the worst possible moments, Meaning that young Darkus might just have to solve this mystery . . . by himself.

[text from Goodreads]

I enjoyed this rather madcap mystery, marketed at a middle grade audience. The plot is quite complex, with secret societies, conspiracy theories and family issues. There is plenty of action in the second half of the novel, where the pace picks up considerably. It’s definitely a book that can be enjoyed by adults as well (perhaps as a shared read), and there are aspects which I suspect most children would miss – for example, the book “The Secret” is hilariously satirised and used as a hypnotic weapon. Overall, I would recommend it to young readers who are keen on mysteries, secrets and conspiracies with a generous splash of humour and irreverence.

Review: Boy in Tights by Kate Scott

boy in tightsJoe discovers his parents are spies – which is great. But Joe’s parents are in danger – which is not so great. And now Joe has to go undercover as a girl – which is definitely NOT GREAT AT ALL. 

Joe (now ‘Josephine’) is miserable when he starts his new school in a blonde wig, dress and tights. But soon he has a spy mission of his own. Using a host of unusual gadgets, Joe investigates some suspicious goings on. But can he do so without revealing his true identity?

This book has a lot of fun with various spy tropes, imagining how cool it would be to have spies as parents. Joe’s excitement at getting to know all about his parents’ other life is tempered by the need for him to go undercover as a girl. Initially freaked out by this (what child wouldn’t be?), I was concerned that Joe’s difficulties in accepting his new role were unwittingly supporting our culture’s view of girls as less than boys. However, these misgivings were more than resolved and a (from my perspective) valuable secondary benefit of this novel is in its presentation of gender. It’s also appealing and accessible to both genders – my 10 year old daughter read it and it was noticed and commented on positively by both boys and girls in her class.

The main appeal of the novel is its wacky humour, but it is also blended with elements from spy stories, tales of family life and mysteries. There are fantastic spy gadgets and car chases, fantastic moments exploring family relationships and school friendships, along with a mystery for Joe to solve that will keep kids guessing to the end.

Joe is a brilliant character – easy to relate to with in an ‘everyboy’ kind of way. His reactions are entirely convincing and we readily sympathise with his excruciatingly awkward circumstances. At the same time, the situation is genuinely hilarious and this makes for a seriously funny read, recommended (by both me and my daughter) for anyone after a book delivering a good laugh. We would definitely like to read the next in the series, Boy in a Tutu.

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Boy in Tights, the first in the Spies in Disguise series, is out now from Piccadilly. I would like to thank the author for providing a copy for review.

#murderonthebeach Blog Tour: Deleted Scene from James Dawson’s Cruel Summer

I hope you’re ready for the awesomeness that is here today. James Dawson’s Cruel Summer, out now from Indigo, is a fabulously tense tale of murder and friendship. I am so excited to be a part of this blog tour, celebrating both Cruel Summer and Kate Harrison’s Soul Storm, wrapping up her fantastic Soul Beach trilogy.

CRUEL SUMMER – DELETED SCENE

In early drafts of Cruel Summer, Katie also had a narrative. It was felt, however, that it was more interesting if all of the novel was told from the point of view of the ‘sidekicks’. In most YA novels, Katie would be the main character, but Cruel Summer plays with that format. This scene still exists from Alisha’s point of view, but in this deleted scene we actually get to hear what Katie and Ben are saying.

Katie stared at the fire for what felt like hours. The roaring flames lost their will to fight, tiring to feeble tongues before dying to embers. They still glowed scarlet though, and they still gave heat. When she poked them with her stick, they flared up angrily, trying to spark. If she weren’t so tired she’d have thought up some poetic analogy about them being like the dying fire, but she couldn’t be bothered.

Most of the others had drifted back to the villa, blaming coldness or tiredness. Maybe it was all too much: the flight, the wine, the sun. Janey. Alisha remained on the other side of the ashes, playing with her camera. The pair sat in companionable silence.

The mood had lightened a little after the talk about Janey, but the elephant, although acknowledged, didn’t go anywhere. Katie didn’t feel any better for getting things out in the open. OK, they’d talked about it, but there was still so much left to say.

‘Hey,’ Alisha finally said. ‘I’m gonna get ready for bed.’

Katie nodded. ‘I’ll be in in a minute.’

‘You OK out here by yourself?’

‘Yeah. I like the quiet.’

Alisha walked over and gave her a kiss on the head. It was a reminder of how close they’d been once upon a time, but Katie wasn’t sure anymore. The gesture felt awkward. It was like Janey had been the stitching holding them together, after she jumped, everyone fell apart, tumbling miles apart in different directions.

Alisha’s flip flops clattered up the stairs towards the villa and she was alone with the tide and the embers. Katie closed her eyes. Still noisy in her head, but quiet on the beach. Things would seem better in the morning. They always did.

Without needing to open her eyes, she became aware of someone approaching. She opened them to see Ben’s silhouette amble onto the sand. She’d recognise his walk anywhere. ‘Hey.’

‘Hey.’ She tried to think of something cute or funny to say. There was nothing. This was painful – she hated not being able to banter with him.

‘I just wanted to come and make sure you were OK. You went pretty quiet.’

She looked up at him. With nothing to say, she just shook her head. If she opened her mouth, she was pretty sure a sob would find its way out. Ben sat alongside her, their shoulders touching this time. Unsure of himself, his arm hovered for a moment, like he was scared something might bite it. But as soon as his hand made contact with her arm, it all made sense and he pulled her into an embrace.

She rested her head on his shoulder and closed her eyes. He was so warm and so soft. He still used the same washing powder. Katie buried her head in his t-shirt. It was all the same – a familiar feeling blossomed inside her chest. It was the same as it had been, and it was unique to him. She loved other things and other people but no-one else made her feel exactly like this. It was Ben-love.

A flock of what ifs flew into her mind. What if they’d never split up? What if he’d never gone out with Janey?

His stubble grazed the top of her forehead. His skin on her skin was too much to stand. She opened her eyes to find Janey sat on the other side of the fire, watching them. Not as she had been, but as she was. A drowned girl. White, dead eyes. Bloated cheeks. Grey-blue skin. Katie recoiled, but the vision had gone.

‘What?’

‘We can’t do this, Ben.’

‘Can’t do what? We weren’t doing anything wrong.’

Katie stood and started back towards the villa. She held her arms close to her body like a shield. Turning to face him, she said, ‘Ben, we can fancy this shit up as much as we like. What happened to Jane was our fault. You and me.’

‘Katie, it wasn’t. We have to stop blaming ourselves. We have to let it go.’

Katie shook her head. ‘We don’t have that right. We don’t deserve it.’ She ran up the stairs to the villa and didn’t look back to see the hurt on his face.

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Wow! Thank you so much, James, for this peek into the earlier life of the novel. If you haven’t already read Cruel Summer and this has whetted your appetite, do not delay – the blogosphere is raving over this one with good reason. Check out all the other fun with the hashtag #murderonthebeach, including many more fascinating blog posts and a fab Twitter Q&A with both authors.

Review: Hagwitch by Marie-Louise Fitzpatrick

Mystery and folklore in a theatrical setting for readers of 10+

This novel snagged my attention quickly and kept me entranced. It’s spot on for the older child/younger teen reader and offers them a thrilling story, with enough challenge in the structure to keep them interested without turning them off, and brilliant characters to engage with.

Using a dual narrative to present the weird and creepy hagwitch lore in two separate timeframes, the structure has plenty of interest of its own. With just the right amount of danger and creepiness for the target age group, the novel also explores identity and being an outsider in a gentle and subtle way. I loved both Lally and Flea, each slightly awkward in their own ways. Both are trying to figure out where they belong, while also battling with the knowledge that something isn’t right and the adults around them need their help to first notice and then solve the problem. Lally, living on a canal boat in an unconventional family, is modern and yet isolated – she doesn’t go to school, have friends her own age or use the internet. Flea, a sixteenth-century apprentice is a country boy in London, often out of place and somewhat naive.

The settings are fabulous. London is a well-used setting, but offering a sixteenth century theatre-based setting to contrast with a contemporary timeline featuring a canal barge running a marionette theatre made it fresh and exciting. I’m sure many child readers would recognise some of the details about sixteenth century theatre from learning about Shakespeare (who does get a mention) and the Tudors, and that this would enhance their enjoyment. The puppet barge (based apparently on a real Puppet Theatre Barge) gives a quirky twist to the contemporary plotline.

The core mystery of the hagwitch, drawing on folklore around the hawthorn and bird lore (crows and jackdaws especially), is inventive and enticing. The story as a whole feels highly original and exciting, skilfully weaving folklore elements into both a historical and a contemporary plot.

Overall, I would definitely recommend this for many types of reader, successfully combining historical, fantasy and contemporary elements as this novel does.

From the publisher’s website:

Gothic thriller for 10+ by Irish author Marie-Louise Fitzpatrick. Celtic legend, a malevolent faery queen and the dark underbelly of the theatreworld come to life as two stories of 16th-century London and the modern day interweave in this gripping tale full of dark secrets and magic.

16th-century London, Flea Nettleworth, apprentice to a playwright, watches as his struggling master’s fortunes turn, and all of a sudden London is in his thrall. But soon Flea’s master can no longer tell where the imagined world ends and the real one begins. Could the arrival of a mysterious Faery Elder trunk hold the answer?

Modern day, Lally lives on a barge, roaming the canalways and performing shows with her puppeteer father. Then, after Lally’s father pulls an ancient piece of wood from the canal and fashions it into a puppet, his success seems unstoppable. As her father’s obsession with his puppet grows and his plays become darker, Lally begins to wonder if there is something rather sinister, dangerous even, about the wooden doll.

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Published March 2013 by Orion Children’s
for more info, visit the publisher’s website
My grateful thanks to the publishers for providing a beautiful review copy

Review: Mariella Mystery Investigates the Ghostly Guinea Pig by Kate Pankhurst

Brilliant new mystery series for young readers

This is a gorgeously presented story, quirkily illustrated by the author, which makes it an engaging package for ’emerging readers’ as the text is broken up and isn’t intimidating. At the same time, it would easily sustain the interest of more confident readers looking for something fun. I know my avid reader 9 year old will love this series! I genuinely enjoyed reading it and it would easily serve as a shared read for less confident readers (and the story could probably be enjoyed by 6 yr olds as a read-aloud).

Mariella Mystery is a fabulous creation and her voice shines through the novel beautifully. She’s what you might call a ‘take charge’ kind of girl (we won’t say bossy…) and tells her story in a very no nonsense way. The book is presented as her “young super sleuth’s journal”, with occasional highly entertaining extracts from “The Young Super Sleuth’s Handbook”, and ‘case reports’ from her investigations [teacher-mode aside: I could imagine using this book with an upper primary group to talk about fiction and non-fiction and simply to enjoy the story!]. Mariella is clearly the leader of her little gang, the Mystery Girls, although her friends Poppy and Violet are not mere passive sidekicks. Little girls will love this book and there is plenty of good role model stuff here; it’s definitely a weak-female-character-free zone!

The plot is ever so slightly mad in the best possible way. The ghostly guinea pigs are never genuinely portrayed as threatening or scary, and the conclusion leaves the reader with nothing to be afraid of, in the best Scooby Doo tradition.

Overall, this is a great package for the target age range, and I would absolutely recommend it. I’ll be reviewing the second in the series, Mariella Mystery Investigates a Cupcake Conundrum, soon.

From the publisher’s website:

Meet Mariella Mystery – no mystery too mysterious, no problem too perplexing. The first title in a debut series perfect for 7+ girls and fans of Clarice Bean.

Mariella Mystery (That’s me!) – totally amazing girl detective, aged 9 and a bit. Able to solve the most mysterious mysteries and perplexing problems, even before breakfast.

When their teacher Miss Crumble spots the ghost of her pet guinea pig, Mr Darcy, in her back garden, she doesn’t know what to think. But Mariella knows it’s up to her and her fellow Mystery Girls to get to the bottom of The Case of the Ghostly Guinea Pig.

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Published 4 April by Orion Children’s Books
Find more info on the author’s website
My grateful thanks to the publisher for sending me a review copy

Review: The Diamond Thief by Sharon Gosling

Fabulous steampunk mystery adventure for 9+ 

Amazing contraptions, an intriguing mystery, Victorian London, the circus, a hint of romance between a detective and a cat burglar – this book combines so many elements brilliantly. The result is a riproaring adventure that will appeal to a wide range of readers in (and above) the target age range. I’ve already had to bat my 14 yr old away so that I could read it in time for this review!

Remy is a circus performer. She is a skilled acrobat, working on the trapeze and also as a jewel thief. Fiercely independent, she seems to be an orphan, but does have close relationships with some of the other circus workers. I love her pride in her work and her stubbornness, as well as her admirable loyalty to her beloved Claudette and Amelie. She is clearly beholden to the circus owner, Gustave, who sends her on a mission to steal a precious diamond on display in the Tower of London – and here the adventure begins.

Thaddeus is a young detective. Clearly from a lower class background, he is not always taken seriously as a detective due to this and his age. Nonetheless, he is a very serious young man with a strong sense of morality and a desire to do the right thing. As the blurb tells us, he finds himself implicated in the theft of the diamond and sets out to find Remy and clear his name. The speed with which his colleagues turn against him and believe him to have broken the law is shocking and ensures that our sympathies lie with him.

Sharon Gosling skilfully plays with our sympathies, making sure that we cannot possibly ‘take sides’ between Remy and Thaddeus. We see the best aspects of both of them, and (at least for the first half of the book) understand each far better than the other can. Characterisation is definitely a strength of this book. There isn’t space here to delineate each of the fascinating supporting roles here, but trust me, you’ll also love the Professor, and young J and the noble Desai.

Another strength is the setting. We get to see a range of Victorian London which is relatively unusual – often books are confined to a particular social milieu – as we follow Remy to the showing of the diamonds in the Tower, as well as getting views of London’s poorer aspects. The circus and the creepy below-London network are also sharply drawn and younger readers will have no problem keeping up with the scene changes due to the detailed (but not excessive) description.

And finally, the plot is strong too – pacey but not confusing for the target audience; twisty enough to reward reading; and satisfying in the end.

Overall, I’d absolutely recommend this. With its dual protagonists, its blend of mystery, adventure and character development, it’s definitely a book that will be enjoyed by readers of either gender and fans of many genres.

From the back cover:

And there she was. A girl who seemed to fly without wings, as perfectly as a bird. Even the thought of  it made his heart freeze. The memory of her, plummeting to the ground…

No-one performs on the circus trapeze like 16-year-old Remy Brunel. But Remy also leads another life, prowling through the backstreets of Victorian London as a jewel thief. Forced by the evil circus owner Gustave to attempt the theft of one of the world s most valuable diamonds, she uncovers a world of treachery and fiendish plots.

Meanwhile, young detective Thaddeus Rec is determined to find the jewel and clear his name. Will Thaddeus manage to rescue the jewel? Or is it really Remy that he needs to save?

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Published 14 February 2013 by Curious Fox
Find out more at the publisher’s website
My grateful thanks to the publisher and @GeorgiaLawePR for providing me with a review copy.