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Find our latest selection of crime and mystery books, from serious whodunnits to failed comic detectives.
October 2020 Debut of the Month | At once a moving adventure and a thrilling multi-layered mystery, Kereen Getten’s dazzling debut When Life Gives You Mangoes is set in the close-knit community of Sycamore Hill, Jamaica, where Clara spends her days playing ‘pick leaf’, having fun at the river and avoiding the wrath of moody Ms Gee. She used to love surfing, but now she’s scared of the sea and she can’t remember why. In fact, Clara can’t remember anything about last summer. She also can’t explain why her best friend Gaynah is being mean to her, and no one will tell her why Pastor Brown has turned the entire town against her Uncle Eldorath. Despite these unsettling mysteries, the superbly-evoked Sycamore Hill is a steady kind of place. In Clara’s words, “You live and you die here. No one leaves and no one new comes in. Sometimes that’s a good thing because you know everyone, and everyone knows you. Other times you get tired of seeing the same faces and want something new.” And then something new happens in the form of Rudy, a cool, confident girl from Britain who turns out to be Ms Gee’s granddaughter. At Rudy’s arrival, “the entire village is buzzing. This is the most excitement we have ever had,” and it’s not long before the girls strike up a beautiful bond. Soon enough, Clara is enjoying escapades her parents wouldn’t entirely approve of because “there is something magnetic about Rudy and her adventures.” As Clara’s memory begins to return in tempestuous flashbacks, hurricane season brings a devastating storm that coincides with everything changing - truths are laid bare, ghosts are laid to rest, and a new landscape is left in the wake of the upheavals. Poignant on friendship, family and community, in all their tricky, complicated, life-affirming forms, this Middle Grade wonder also makes pertinent reference to police prejudice in the UK. “Where I live...there are some bad kids, but there are a lot more good kids, but the police think we’re all the same,” Rudy remarks. Clara’s huge-hearted story had me hooked and charmed from start to finish.
You could describe friends Lori and Max as oddballs - Lori, the would-be private detective and Max taciturn and reticent except with her dog, Fang – but as the stars of this exciting, funny and heart-warming story they are immensely appealing, the kind of characters you want to spend lots more time with. There are at least two separate storylines in this their second adventure (it’s not an issue if you haven’t read book one), one to do with the theft of Max’s mobile phone, the other involving a book belonging to Lori’s parents, who died when she was just a baby. Both are enthralling and full of surprises, and both reveal more about our two protagonists and make us understand them even better. This is intelligent, top-quality story-telling and writing and highly recommended.
November 2020 Debut of the Month | Nimbly navigating a fine thread between real-world tragedy and elemental inner demons, Richard Lambert’s The Wolf Road is a stunning coming-of-age thriller about a boy’s battle with bereavement, and the wolf that holds the key to his healing. It’s un-put-down-able and emotionally haunting in perfectly balanced measures. Fifteen-year-old Lucas’s life unravels when he discovers his parents were killed in a car crash caused by a dog. In an instant “the world didn’t make sense”, and now he must live with his nan, an “odd woman in purple DMs” (and socially-conscious solicitor) he’s only met twice in his life. Despite his angry protests, Lucas has no choice but to move to Nan’s cottage in the Lake District, certain the offending dog was, in fact, a wolf. It’s not long before wolves infiltrate all aspects of his life - at school he reads The Call of the Wild (a book “about a dog that really wants to be a wolf”). Local TV news reports on a local farmer who believes his livestock is being killed by a wild wolf. And then lupine menace encroaches on Lucas’s reality when he hears and glimpses what must be the wolf. As he wonders whether it’s coming for him, to “finish off the family after Mum and Dad,” he confronts his wildest pains in the wilds of the mountains. While the theme of loss - and Lambert’s inventive handling of it - will chime with readers who loved Patrick Ness’s A Monster Calls, this also has great appeal for fans of emotion-driven adventures, such as Piers Torday’s nature-rich novels. Other plot strands skilfully untangle the complex relationship between Lucas and his Nan. The faltering understandings reached between grandmother and grandson are a joy to witness, as is the bond Lucas forms with Debs, a Sylvia Plath-reading goth-punk.
The Stone Age Mystery is Dr. Amanda Hartley's third book in her 'The DNA Detectives' series. They are ground-breaking stories, in which children use DNA and forensic science to solve crimes, helped, of course, by the fact that their mother is a forensic scientist with her own laboratory in the back garden! The enterprising children in question are 10 year old Annabelle and her brother, Harry, who is seven. These are in fact the author's own children's names and she herself is a forensic scientist, like the mother in the books. The crime being investigated this time is the robbing of a Stone Age grave in a cavern revealed when the hall floor collapses at the children's school. It's an exciting and easy read, written in short chapters and the reader cannot help but be inspired as the children methodically gather and test evidence from the scene until they're able to identify the guilty party and involve the police. These books have been reviewed by the ASE (the Association for Science Education) and found to meet all the criteria necessary for them to be used to teach science and literacy in KS1 and KS2 and for cross-curricula studies at lower secondary level. If this makes them sound stuffy and boring, nothing could be further from the truth. They are written to help children understand and enjoy learning about science in a very approachable way. The weblinks given throughout, created with the Sanger Institute in Cambridge, can be used by teachers, parents and children alike to find more information about the topics covered and provide supporting downloadable activities and experiments. This series is an outstanding teaching aid but, more than that, it's fun! Drena Irish, A LoveReading4Kids Ambassador
September 2020 Book of the Month | Interest Age 8+ Reading Age 8 | If you like your adventures good and creepy, you’re going to love The Invasion of the Crooked Oak. Crooked Oak is a peaceful kind of place, but it seems something is up with the town’s grown-ups – they’ve stopped eating, are avoiding the light, and generally behaving really strangely. When teenagers Pete, Krish and Nancy try to work out what’s going on, they find the trail leads to the fracking site on the town’s edge. The tension ratchets up nicely as the three realise they’ve got one chance to save their parents and themselves. The environmental theme feels very topical and author Dan Smith knows just how to keep his readers on the edge of their seats. Published by dyslexia specialists Barrington Stoke, this is accessible to readers of all abilities and completely gripping.
Meet Mina Mistry, primary school student and would-be private investigator. She’s smart, observant and has a great sidekick in the shape of her best friend, cuddly toy Mr Panda. All she needs is a case to solve and there’s one right under her nose: how come their school dinners are such a danger to their teeth, in direct contrast to what their headmaster says and school dinner lady wants? Hmmm. Against the backdrop of a wonderfully wacky charity fundraising event, and assisted by her Granny Meera, Mina uncovers some dodgy goings-on in the school office. Mina is a lively character and her assorted school friends and family members make an excellent supporting cast. This is very readable, lots of fun and a satisfying mystery too.
An absolutely charming addition to a much loved series. There is something so uplifting about these novels, Alexander McCall Smith has the ability to embrace the intimate in order to open far-reaching views. Mma Ramotswe is troubled by a strange smell in her van, her new neighbour causes concern, and a distant cousin asks for help. Can you believe that we are now at book twenty-one in this evocative series which began with The No:1 Ladies’ Detective Agency in 1998? Do you have a favourite, I think this could well be mine…though as with all good series that create a world for you to inhabit, the latest usually becomes your most treasured! There is a graceful ease to the words of Alexander McCall Smith, he is so gently yet evocatively descriptive and as soon as I started to read a sense of ease enveloped me. The pace slows, the small things matter, and Mma Ramotswe is just glorious.
Longlisted for the UKLA Book Awards 2021 | 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.
Shot-through with a vital message about the importance of giving voice and rightful representation to women who’ve been silenced by centuries of patriarchy, this smart novel melds an intriguing art history mystery with Parisian amour. While Khayyam is clear about what she wants to do with her life - become a respected art historian - her identity is more complex. She’s “French American. Indian American. Muslim American. Biracial. Interfaith.” As such, “Others look at me and try to shove me into their own narrative to define who and what I am. But I’m not a blank page that everyone else gets to write on. I have my own voice.” This statement weaves through the whole novel, which sees Khayyam in Paris for the summer, still reeling from a relationship gone awry back home in Chicago, and from her Young Scholar Prize essay being dismissed as “the work of a dilettante, not a future art historian”. When she happens to run into a cute Parisian boy, who happens to be a descendent of bi-racial French writer Alexandre Dumas, Khayyam and said cute boy (also called Alexandre) embark on an intellectual voyage that leads them to Leila, a nineteenth-century Muslim woman connected to Dumas and Byron. Leila’s forgotten life and silenced voice is revealed through her letters, with Khayyam frequently asserting her desire to right the wrong of “the entire world dehumanizing and erasing this woman who had a life, who mattered.” Through Khayyam the novel also addresses issues around representation and cultural appropriation as she wrestles with determining who has the right to tell Leila’s story, including herself. As Khayyam’s findings hot up, so too does her love life. First there’s the spark between her and Alexandre, then there’s the simmering presence of her Chicagoan ex. With Paris vibrantly evoked as her stage - its history, architecture, secret gardens and food - Leila’s personal life and intellectual prowess combine to create a life-changing summer. This comes hugely commended - and recommended - for its portrayal of an intelligent young woman who refuses to bow to expectations, and who’s determined to give voice to the voiceless. Like Khayyam, it’s smart, thoughtful and inspirational. For more books with a strong, feminist theme, visit our Girl Power feature.
The ninth and final novel in the number-one bestselling, award-winning Murder Most Unladylike series. Daisy Wells and Hazel Wong are in Egypt, taking a cruise along the Nile. They are hoping to see some ancient temples and a mummy or two; what they get, instead, is murder. Also travelling on the SS Hatshepsut is a mysterious society called the Breath of Life: a group of genteel English ladies and gentlemen, who believe themselves to be reincarnations of the ancient pharaohs. Three days into the cruise their leader is found dead in her cabin, stabbed during the night. It soon becomes clear to Daisy and Hazel that the victim's timid daughter is being framed - and they begin to investigate their most difficult case yet. But there is danger all around, and only one of the Detective Society will make it home alive...
A Julia Eccleshare Pick of the Month August 2020 | August 2020 Debut/Book of the Month | Warm-hearted and mysterious The Unadoptables is a wonderfully entertaining adventure with a cast of fascinating characters set in a brilliantly evoked old-world Amsterdam and the surrounding countryside. Following the clues from the only possessions she was left with when she was abandoned as a baby and guided by her ‘Book of Theories’, the imaginative Milou leads her four friends – the least adoptable children in the very horrible Little Tulip Orphanage – to her family home where she is sure she will find her parents. Travelling through a freezing night the children arrive at their destination. But there is not the welcome they had expected. Where are Milou’s parents? And what is the mystery they need to solve? The creative ways in which the five children manage first to escape from the evil clutches of their matron and her evil accomplice Rotman and then to make a new life for themselves bamboozling neighbours and unravelling the mystery is vivid and captivating.
“How can a dog and a girl who can’t see solve a crime?” visually-impaired Libby asks herself partway through this pacey novel by the award-winning author of I Have No Secrets. But that’s exactly what Libby sets out to do. Fearing her missing classmate Charlie is in danger, Libby and Kyle make it their mission to find him. As the perilous mystery unfolds, Libby’s story gives valuable insights into living with visual impairment, including the tactless comments and “help” from strangers that hinder her day-to-day life. Her determination is nothing short of inspirational. The author’s unfussy style makes this novel particularly suitable for reluctant readers - the story is driven by snappy dialogue. The plot moves at pace. Timely insights into county line grooming are delivered in an impactful, easy-to-digest way. To add to the tension, the drama plays out against Libby’s complex family dynamics – an insensitive gran, an over-protective dad, and a high-achieving mum who wants her to be more independent. All in all, this is a strong springboard for discussing pertinent issues, and a gripping, romance-tinged thriller to boot.
I liked that Cyber Spooks has been developed with the aim of teaching young readers about cyber security and being safe online through an engaging illustrated story. On the day Carlo joins his Dad, Recon, at work a serious cyber attack on a bank means the whole Cyber Spooks team will have to come together to find the culprits and stop the criminals from stealing millions of pounds. As the plot unfolds, technical IT terms are introduced and explained to the reader, with extra emphasis on teaching the audience warning signs to look out for and tips for using the internet on a range of devices safely (gaming consoles being included in the narrative was a nice touch). Perhaps because I’m not the intended audience, I did notice a couple of discrepancies with the narrative. On page 7, The attack on Neptune bank is coming from “many countries” however by page 12, not only does the conclusion seem to be jumped to that the culprit is Chinese, it’s then quickly followed by a connection to the Chinese government (bear in mind that on page 26, Recon is still looking for the source of the attack). All this appears to happen without an explanation or evidence and so I can only surmise that the author has based it on the disputes like the ones covered in the news at the moment. I think that an opportunity has been missed to explain VPNs or IP addresses to find the source of the hack and the location of the culprit’s computer, and it seems to be missed in favour of a slightly obvious and quick plot reveal. Following this, and again without any explanation as to why the Cyber Spooks team feel the culprit is connected to the Chinese Embassy (page 20), Kali hacks her way into a government database to get the information she needs. I personally found this at odds with the Cyber Spooks' 'good guy, stay safe and legal' message. I’m not sure whether a younger reader would notice these issues and the overall narrative is interesting and fast paced, but there’s potentially space for improvement. I think the illustrations throughout are brilliant, I liked the style and the extra humour hidden within them. It was also great to see female characters such as Kali and Naiomi take the lead at times while imparting cyber safety knowledge. I think that Cyber Spooks this is a useful book for sharing an important message about staying safe online. I think there’s some slight improvements that could be made to the plot but on the whole this is a book I would allow my nephews to read.
Architecture-loving Iggy Peck is one of the young band of Questioneers, along with Ada Twist, Sofia Valdez and Rosie Revere. They love nothing more than asking questions, working things out and solving mysteries, and there’s a great one here: Ada’s Great-Aunt Bernice has been left a beautiful Art Nouveau mansion, complete with ghost – can Iggy find the mansion’s hidden treasures, and what to do about the ghost? The story is lots of fun, and Iggy’s enthusiasm for buildings and knowledge too is a key part of the adventure. A lively, hugely enjoyable read that celebrates brains and partnership.
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