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Fabio the flamingo and Gilbert the giraffe are the animal Holmes and Watson, solving mysteries from their office on the banks of the Laloozee river. A trip in Gilbert’s new plane leads them off the beaten track to a small town where there’s something fishy going on with the water supply. Red herrings are scattered all over the place before Fabio solves the case, identifying the culprits. It all makes for fun and flamboyant reading (love Emily Fox’s illustrations and the fluorescent colour scheme). Fabio and George are a great comic double act and there’s real satisfaction to be had as they work out the crimes too.
What might it be like to live surrounded by clocks? Lots of clocks, so that when they all strike you need to cover your ears whilst all their bongs and trills happen. Set in Edwardian Cambridge this is the story of Helena, her Parrot, Orbit, and her father who is employed to keep all the clocks in the house going, the clocks must not stop, or else Helena and her father will lose everything they own. As Helena settles into this new home, she realises that the owner, Mr Westcott, is obsessed by the clocks, there are strange happenings in the house, and glimpses of a strange history to the place. Will Helena and her father get to the bottom of the problems here, or will they lose all their possessions because a clock is allowed to stop? On the surface this is a delightfully odd and slightly sinister story with much to be uncovered as the story develops. It is also an exploration of grief and the strange thoughts that can obsess people after a close bereavement. But the overwhelming message is that friendship, love, empathy and memory are vital to everyone, no matter how strange they may seem. The friendship and caring exhibited between child characters in the story wins out over what seem like insurmountable odds – for a very satisfactory conclusion.
Steam-powered she may be, but the Highland Falcon is a fast-moving triumph of human ingenuity, as is this thrilling adventure story set on board. It stars young Harrison Beck, passenger on the train with his uncle as she makes her final journey. Harrison initially thinks trains are boring, but by the time the train steams into Paddington at the end of their three day trip, not only has he become a total train buff, he’s also hobnobbed with royalty, made friends with the crew, including the engine driver’s daughter, Lenny, indulged in some daredevil antics e.g. climbing along the top of the train while it’s in motion, and solved a high-profile crime. It all makes for terrific reading, authors M.G. ‘Beetle Boy’ Leonard and Sam Sedgman have created a classic train-set mystery, with all the elements that make that such a well-loved genre, while keeping it thoroughly fresh and modern for today’s young readers.
From its enticing opening (“If there’s one thing I am absolutely and utterly sure about,” said Maya Murphy ducking under her desk on the classroom floor, “it’s that Mr Winter is a monster”), through its 300 pages of character-driven action, The Light Hunters is a stellar start to a new Middle Grade series. At school, twelve-year-old Lux and best friend Maya are drilled in the art of what to do in the event of a monster attack. At home, Lux lives with his sick granddad, a clock repairer, and Miss Hart, Grandpa’s carer. Oh, and he’s also the most accomplished Light Hunter of all time and manages to save Maya when she’s gravely injured in a monstrous attack. But this brave act of friendship brings trouble, for it draws a mysterious stranger to town, someone who’s set on misappropriating Lux’s powers. With Miss Hart’s guidance (for she harbours a secret…), Lux steps-up his training in the ways of Light Hunting as word comes of the impending attack of a monster to whom he’s painfully connected.Skillfully blending relatable real-life emotions with a vividly conjured fantastical world, and an overarching race against time, this comes recommended for nine+ year-olds who enjoy epic action delivered in a descriptive style, such as fans of Peter Bunzl’s Cogheart series and Philip Reeve’s Mortal Engines.
When Melvin Pebbles moves to the town of Donut Island, he has no idea what’s in store: before he’s even unpacked his vast collection of toy bags (unopened, toys still inside to preserve the mystery), he’s been adopted into the Daily Donut Club by new friend, Rhubarb Plonsky, and by the end of the book, together with third Donut Club member Yoshi Fujikawa, will have foiled an alien invasion and bid to brainwash his new neighbours. As you’d expect from the creator of the inimitable Barry Loser series, this is a blissfully surreal mystery adventure, as weird as it is wonderful, and certain to have readers laughing out loud from beginning to end. Jim Smith’s illustrations are as playful as the plot, and make the whole package even more of a treat. Comic genius!
If you love Tom Gates, the Wimpy Kid, or Nikki Maxwell of Dork Diaries fame, then you need to get to know Max Crumbly. Like these hapless anti-heroes, Max has a habit of getting into trouble – this episode opens with Max and his crush Erin Madison trapped in a dumpster full of smelly rubbish – mainly in an effort to escape school bullies or teachers. He recounts his adventures in a breathless, as-it-happens mix of text and image, which is vivid, action-packed and guaranteed to keep the pages turning and readers laughing. It all works too because author Rachel Renée Russell understands her protagonist and her readers so well, ensuring that Max is always a credible and sympathetic character.
February 2020 Debut of the Month | The Bigwoof Conspiracy is a monstrously amusing mash-up of Scooby Doo and The Twilight Zone - think Louis Sachar’s Fuzzy Mud with added farcical fun.Quirky UFO-obsessed Lucy is an inspirational, one-of-a-kind heroine who unapologetically follows her own path and won’t stop until the truth is exposed. And Lucy’s search for the truth behind the hairy beast she spies in the woods lies at the heart of this madcap adventure. On this same night Lucy meets Milo, a smartly-dressed boy from the city whose dad is the new owner of the Sticky Sweet factory her own dad works at.When a teacher disappears and she and Milo step-up their quest to secure photographic evidence of hairy Bigwoof, Lucy winds up in big trouble, while pondering even bigger questions. Why did Milo’s dad delete his photo of the hairy beast? Why are folk disappearing from Sticky Pines? And what’s the deal with the factory’s creepy clown henchmen? There’s definitely something fishy going on and Lucy won’t rest until she’s found the source of the stink! I loved Lucy’s tenacious commitment to truth (“I require that the world not run on lies”), her ingenious curse vocabulary (including “Crudberries!” and “Oh, for the love of Björk!”), and the book’s “do the right thing” theme. Bursting with comic capers, this comes especially recommended for reluctant readers who’ve lost their reading mojo.
February 2020 Book of the Month | This gripping must-read for sports fans fizzes with a powerful message about picking yourself up and self-belief, and a poignant portrayal of gang culture coercion. I cannot praise Dan Freeman’s compassion-rich writing enough. Life’s not easy for twin fourteen-year-olds Kaine and Roxy growing up on their London estate. Their dad’s lost his job and mum works all hours. But Roxy and Kaine aren’t your average teenagers. He’s a super-talented footballer with Premier League potential, and she’s an outstanding tennis player, tipped for the top. Oh, and they can’t stand each other. After being close as kids, they’ve grown apart, with Roxy loathing the fact that Kaine’s always in trouble, and Kaine hating the way Roxy gets all the attention and support, overlooked even when a scout for a Premier League club comes to watch him. Both a bundle of frustration, Kaine is tempted into dangerous territory. If only Mamma, their Barbados-born grandmother, was around to keep Kaine on the right track. Mamma’s warm, wise presence is felt throughout the novel. She was the person Kaine turned to in times of need. She’d feed him soul food, remind him that he’s special, urge him to “do the extraordinary.” Sage advice comes from Kaine’s supportive PE teacher too, who counsels “There are paths in life, there are choices. And you are at one of those crossroads now”. When tragedy strikes as Kaine loses his way it takes a whole lot of soul-searching for him to turns things round and become the extraordinary young man he is. And Roxy tackles her profoundly life-changing situation with heartrending courage too. With overriding messages of hope, compassion, doing the right thing and staying true to yourself, this is an absolute galáctico, Grand Slam winner of a novel.
Jess’s mother was the first victim of a serial killer who came to be known as the Magpie Man, and ten years later the case is still unsolved, and the death toll stands at thirteen. A chance to be part of a YouTube reality show for teenagers gives Jess an idea; what if while being filmed, she can goad the Magpie Man into revealing himself? This inevitably raises reader’s questions about the social responsibility of media companies and the way both police and responsible adults allow Jess to take this reckless attitude to her own safety. But in reality, it seems that Jess lost two parents the day her mother was killed, her quest for the killer is also a chance to rescue her father from a deep depression. She luckily has good friends, both old and newly discovered in this process, looking out for her. The plot constantly twists and turns and keeps the reader inexorably gripped throughout. The ultimate reveal of who and why is both satisfactory as well as surprising. Told entirely in the first person the character development of Jess is outstanding and the subtle nuances of grief and the way in which bereavement affects other people and their treatment of you is very well done. A novel that is entirely current and yet with the age-old thrill of a complex mystery.
As cat-owners everywhere know, all cats are equipped with super-powers and Gwynneth Rees’s series stars a band of feline heroes who use their powers to fight villains (a kind of moggie MI6). In this episode, new recruits Tagg and Sugarfoot have to infiltrate the infamous Hit Cats to stop a prison break. Can they do it, and could they really end up fish-sliced if they get caught? Rees keeps things fun, but suitably tense too and it’s another satisfying adventure in a very enjoyable series. Illustrations by Becka Moor add to the fun. If you like the Super Cats series, look out for Dermot O’Leary’s Toto the Ninja Cat books too.
The sequel to the international bestseller One of Us is Lying Welcome back to Bayview High . . . It's been a year since the events of One Of Us Is Lying. But nothing has settled for the residents of Bayview. Not now someone has started playing a sinister game of Truth or Dare. Choose truth? You must reveal your darkest secret. Choose dare? Well, that could be even more dangerous. Even deadly. When the game takes an even darker turn, suddenly no one at Bayview High knows who to trust. But they need to find out who is behind the game, before it's too late.
The Dark is Rising Sequence | This is part of a brilliant and award-winning fantasy sequence. It's a book that grips you from the start and will transport you from your earth world to a world of fantasy. The characters are brilliantly imagined and the fantasy world so realistically described that you feel you're there. It's midwinter and Will Stanton, the seventh son of a seventh son, discovers his destiny on the eve of his birthday. Will must learn to harness the powers of the Old Ones and embark on a quest to vanquish the terrifyingly evil magic of the Dark, an evil entity that threatens the world's very existence. The Dark is Rising won the author numerous international awards, including the Newbery Medal. Whether you're 11 or 111 you'll love it. It's a novel that stands alone; however there are four books to complete the series, all reissued this month.
The Dark is Rising sequence | On holiday in Cornwall, Simon, Jane and Barney Drew discover an ancient map in the attic of the Grey House, where they are staying with their mysterious Great-Uncle Merry. They know immediately that it is special. But it is much more than just a map. It is the start of a quest to find a grail, a source of great power that could contain - or resurrect - the powerful, age-old forces of evil in the world. And the Drews are not the only ones searching for it.
December 2019 Book of the Month | Set in 1912, this action-packed adventure feels both classic and contemporary, with Marina, its young heroine, yearning to break free from societal constraints to become the “new woman” she’s read about in modern magazines. Namely, the kind of woman who is “mistress of her own destiny”. Frustratingly, Marina’s father dismisses her desires outright. Being a naval captain he’s often away at sea and, with her mother gone, Marina is about to be shipped off to boarding school when all she really wants to do is set sail with her dad. So much so, Marina ends up stowing away on his ship. As his mission is vitally urgent, Captain Denham has little choice but to continue with Marina aboard. As their perilous voyage progresses, the thrilling dangers of enemy sightings, superstitious shipmates and icebergs are interlaced with myth and mystery as Marina feels an inexplicable “urgent tugging in her chest to go north” after being accused of possessing the power to “call up storms”. Indeed, Marina’s affinity with the sea adds an extra edge of intrigue throughout, leading to an eerie explanation as the novel twists and swells to its pulse-quickening crescendo.
Coming late to the party I thought to review book three before the other books would not be practical so I got hold of book one and two and really got into this series in a big way. The series is intended for middle-grade youngsters but this will appeal to adults also. the storylines are good, I was intrigued to find out where the painting was hidden (Lady in Red) it is a really clever story with characters overcoming fears which I think is good for young adults and grown-ups alike. I couldn't wait to read this till the end - and I must admit I was not quite expecting the ending. Due for publication 28th October (just in time for half term) well recommended and I hear that although this was intended as a trilogy there maybe another on the way - watch this space. Jane Brown, A LoveReading4Kids Ambassador
A new Timmy Failure book is always a cause for celebration and this is another glorious mix of humour, surrealism, incompetent detection – and chickens. Timmy is on holiday in Florida with his mum and her new husband. With Total the polar bear hiding out in Cuba he needs a new sidekick – step up Emilio Empanada, willing if nervous unpaid intern. Together they cause the kind of chaos and confusion that is Timmy’s natural state, while adopting a chicken along the way, and it’s wonderfully funny. The description of a surprise meeting with his father for Timmy tugs at the heartstrings as well as finding the funny bone. Stephan Pastis’s cartoon illustrations are a joy in themselves and this is clever, original, inspired fun.
What a luminously life-enhancing read this is. The story of ADHD afflicted underdog Felix, who “can’t concentrate or keep still”. His East German Granddad now (embarrassingly) drives the pink car that used to belong to his deceased Grandma, whose death has hit them all hard. Felix and Granddad’s grief is laid bare with heart-wrenching authenticity, but theirs is a complex relationship: “I love my granddad and I think he loves me, but sometimes it’s hard to tell.” After an altercation, Felix and Granddad forge an understanding, and look forward to a “neuangfang” (new start) that begins with a list of “Ten things I’d like to teach Felix”. Unfortunately, in Felix’s eyes Granddad’s list comprises the “ten more boring things in the world”, but Felix works through it until only the most dreaded activity remains - playing chess. He tries to wriggle out of it, but “crafty” Granddad has been surreptitiously teaching Felix chess skills and he’s soon hooked by the game, with unexpected positive side effects. A thrilling team tournament is followed waves of pulse-quickening twists that will thrust readers to the edge of their seats, heart in mouth. Throughout, the rollercoaster ride of primary school life - fallings out, friendship, fear of not fitting in - is explored in all its intense and comic complexity, and the representation of working class realisms is spot-on too. Felix’s mum and dad have both been “working stacks since Dad’s plumbing business went bust last year”. But, best of all, the magic of the relationship between children and their grandparents is dazzlingly conjured. I adored it.
June 2019 Book of the Month | After stories set in jungles and on the Russian steppes, Katherine Rundell has chosen the streets of Prohibition New York for her latest, but it’s just as full of the sense of peril and freedom from rules that characterises her earlier books, with central character Vita facing possibly the greatest danger yet. Newly arrived from England, Vita is determined to win back her family home, the fabulous Hudson Castle, acquired from her grandfather in a distinctly shady way by mob boss Victor Sorrotore. This will involve breaking and entering – and legend has it the castle is impregnable – and safe cracking, but Vita is fortunate enough to have as associates an extremely talented pickpocket and two fearless young circus performers. Rundell revels in setting her characters these kind of challenges and also in exploring the kind of physical and mental daring required to undertake them. She likes to equip her protagonists with right and with love too, the latter proves a formidable weapon for Vita. Beautifully written and full of scenes that both thrill and enchant, The Good Thieves is Rundell at her classy best. Readers who are captivated by Katherine Rundell’s wild children will also enjoy Stop the Train or The Middle of Nowhere by Geraldine McCaughrean, or books by classic children’s writers such as Joan Aiken and Eva Ibbotson.
Hilarious, touching and thought-provoking, Hoot is a modern classic, now celebrating its fifteenth anniversary. Winner of the Newbery Honor award and a New York Times bestseller, Carl Hiaasen's first novel celebrates the natural world with his trademark wit and warmth. Roy Eberhardt never wanted to move to Florida. In his opinion, Disney World is an armpit. Roy's family moves around a lot so he's used to the new-kid drill - he's also used to bullies like Dana Matherson. And anyway, it's because of Dana that Roy gets to see the mysterious running boy who runs away from the school bus and who has no books, no backpack and, most bizarrely, no shoes. Sensing a mystery, Roy starts to trail the mystery runner - a chase that will introduce him to many weird Floridian creatures: potty-trained alligators, cute burrowing owls, a fake-fart champion, a shoeless eco-warrior, a sinister pancake PR man, new friends and some snakes with sparkly tails. As the plot thickens, Roy and his friends realise it's up to them to save the endangered owls from the evil Mother Paula's pancake company who are planning to build a new restaurant on their home . . .
Eighteen-year-old Birdie is fanatical about mystery and crime fiction, a world in which she immersed herself while being brought up by her strict grandparents following the death of her mom. Birdie’s perception of detectives reveals much about her own aspirations and personality: “Detectives were cool, calm, and capable. They were usually loners, helping people from a distance...underdogs that people miscalculated.” Now, following the death of her gran and with the support of her mom’s fabulously flamboyant best friend, Birdie tries to find her own way in the world by taking a summer job as a night clerk at a glamorous historic hotel. It’s here that she forms a swoon-some, life-changing relationship with Daniel, the hotel’s handsome, hearing-impaired night driver, as they try to solve a real-life mystery involving a guest. Then, alongside the edge-of-your-seat twists and turns of their investigation, and their fast-blossoming, fated romance, it turns out that Daniel is harbouring secrets of his own. Underpinned by relatable real-life complications and curveballs aplenty, this engaging feast of young adult fiction fizzes with multiple mysteries and the jittery joys of first love. Head here to discover the author’s previous novels, which come equally recommended for their compassionate championing of offbeat, authentic young adult characters.
Longlisted for the UKLA Book Awards 2020 | Winner of the Victorian Premier YA Prize for Literature, and Best Young Adult Novel at the Aurealis Awards - two of Australia's most prestigious writing awards | As he is still vulnerable following his daughter, Beth’s death, detective Michael Teller is sent to investigate the seemingly simple case of a fire at a Children’s Home. Beth narrated most of the book which takes us to very dark places. Brilliantly structured, informed and passionate, this is a thought-provoking consideration of issues relevant to all young adult readers.