Review: Mistletoe and Murder by Robin Stevens

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I have been eagerly anticipating the release of the fifth Murder Most Unladylike Mystery since I met Robin Stevens in the summer holidays (link to blogpost here). The first Christmas adventure shared by my two favourite fictional detectives has put me in the festive spirit very early this year.

At the start of the story, Daisy Wells and Hazel Wong arrive in Cambridge full of expectation of a jolly Christmas spent with Daisy’s brother, Bertie, and her aunt Eustacia. Robin Stevens describes Cambridge beautifully, and you can imagine walking past the ancient colleges and absorbing the festive atmosphere. I love the way that Hazel, true to her character,  looks longingly into Fitzbillies on her first walk through the cobbled streets, describing the best Chelsea Buns in Cambridge and the fact that her mouth is watering as it had been hours since she had eaten warm, gluey cheese and chutney sandwiches on the train!

Of course, being the Detective Society, it does not take long before they suspect that something suspicious is going on with two of Bertie’s friends.

If you have read the two previous Wells and Wong mysteries you will have already met Hazel’s friend Alexander Arcady, and in this book you are introduced to his best friend George Mukherjee, they are known as the Junior Pinkertons and it is not long before they are teaming up with the Detective Society to solve a case.

Once again Robin Stevens has managed to effectively combine an excellent mystery – one that left me puzzling over the clues, with the underlying themes of the lack of women’s rights in the 1930s and intolerance and racism. (It seems incredible that these themes are so relevant today!!) I love the fact that in this book there was teamwork with another detective society and that Daisy found someone to match her intelligence in George.

I would highly recommend this story to anyone who is looking for a brilliant book to give as a Christmas present this year. I will definitely be diving back into its wonderful world during the frosty festive season, accompanied by a Christmas-cake-ish bun break! I give it five-out-of-five stars.

 

Wild Wolves, Wonderful Authors, Sketching and Meeting a Long Distance Mentor at Guardian Live

Yesterday I was lucky enough to attend the Guardian Live Children’s Book Event at the Unicorn Theatre in London, it was a spectacularly wonderful day!

 

First, wild wolves and two wonderful authors! This is the second book event where I have listened to Katherine Rundell talking about her inspirations and research behind The Wolf Wilder, and honestly I could listen to her talking about her art many more times. It is no surprise that she writes such brilliant novels when you hear about all the ingredients she uses to bring them to life. Katherine went to meet a real wolf which had been reared in captivity in Wales, while William Grill, the second author, had stayed for a week in a wolf sanctuary in New Mexico before writing his illustrated book The Wolves of Currumpaw

Next we were treated to a drawing class by William. We had to rapidly sketch the most wonderfully behaved guide dog called Kika, we only had 30 seconds to try to capture Kika’s image using bold strokes with a pencil or charcoal. It was very enjoyable and certainly helped me gain confidence with my drawing!

This brings me on to the third author, who is a fantastic illustrator herself, Lauren Child. If you have read my previous blog post you will know that Lauren’s series about the girl spy Ruby Redfort has been one of my favourite reads throughout my childhood so it was brilliant to hear Lauren talking about the whole series now that it has come to an end. I am inspired to crack the code on the bookspines of the hardback books as Lauren told me that the clues I will need are in the final book!

Finally, meeting a mentor! It was such a pleasure to finally meet Emily Drabble, with whom I had so much email correspondence when she was editor of The Guardian Children’s Books website. She was as lovely in person as I imagined she would be and I will always be grateful to her for encouraging me with my book reviewing.

The event was an exciting start to my half term, and I would like to thank everyone who was involved in its organisation. I would also encourage everyone to try to attend an event where authors talk about their books, they are always utterly fascinating!

 

My review of The Wolf Wilder can be seen here.

 

Blink and You Die (Ruby Redfort 6) by Lauren Child

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I read the first Ruby Redfort book five years ago, on the day it was published. On 8th October the sixth and final book was released. There is something quite sad about leaving the series that has been my companion for a large part of my childhood, so for once I lingered over the story, making sure I appreciated all the final twists in the tale.

In case you haven’t encountered Ruby Redfort before, she is a 13 year old with a brilliant mathematical brain and a great repertoire of wisecracks. In the first book she was recruited by the spy agency Spectrum 8 and each book sees her facing mortal danger head-on. The entire six book series has spanned a period of 7 months in Ruby’s life, which I really like as each book picks up where the last one finished.

As with the previous books, this one relies on Ruby using one of her senses to crack the case in front of her; but this being the sixth book, the “sense” is ESP. Throughout this book, our heroine Ruby feels a sense of unease. Lauren Child totally captures this feeling and I read the book with a growing sense of foreboding. The pace is fairly steady until the last 100 pages when the action goes into overdrive and there are many twists and turns leaving you unsure who you are rooting for! I don’t want to write any more about the plot because I would hate to put in any spoilers for fellow fans of the series.

In conclusion this book (and the whole series) are essential reading for any fans of the child spy/adventure category of books. I hope that Lauren Child continues to write MG/YA books as I have loved everything that she has written to date.

 

For my previous reviews of Ruby Redfort books, see these links:

Pick Your Poison

Feel The Fear

Hang in there Bozo

For an interview with Lauren Child, in which I asked some questions, for the Guardian Children’s Books website click here

 

 

Katherine Woodfine and Julia Golding: Mystery Girls

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Inspired by Agatha Christie’s Crime Writers Club, Mystery and Mayhem is an anthology created by a group of twelve current authors of children’s mystery stories. I absolutely loved this book, as you can tell from the review I wrote for The Guardian Children’s Books website here: Mystery and Mayhem Review

I was delighted when I found out that this year the Bath KidsLit Festival, which I have visited each year since I was 8, would be featuring an event entitled Mystery Girls with Katherine Woodfine and Julia Golding. The event was every bit as thrilling as I anticipated!

Both authors talked about their inspirations, including the suspenseful detective novels that they had read, snippets of unusual conversations that they had overheard and interesting historical facts that they had discovered. They told us how they go about the process of writing a new book and what they do when they are faced with a blank page. Julia Golding showed us her special bag with four writing prompts inside, and a book which she had written when she was still at school! At the end of the talk they tested the audience with a fun quiz about fictional detectives!

One of the many books that Katherine Woodfine recommended was The Moonstone by Wilkie Collins, which she described as being one of the inspirations for The Jewelled Moth, I am now determined to read it myself. I am so grateful that Katherine and Julia gave up their time to talk to young readers, I found it so interesting to listen to them and I think it helps me to become a better reader. Finally, they both kindly signed my Mystery and Mayhem book, adding their signatures to Robin Stevens’, whose signature I collected earlier this summer (Robin Stevens a la Ronde blogpost), I now only have 9 more to collect in this book!!

Book Review – The Martian by Andy Weir

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After watching The Martian (Ridley Scott, 2015) I decided to read the book behind the film and I was pleasantly surprised at how closely the film stuck to the book. If you enjoyed the film I would really recommend reading the novel.

The story is told in diary format through a Mars mission log. Mark Watney, an Ares 3 astronaut, begins the log after being left behind on Mars by the rest of his crew; they all got caught up in a fierce sandstorm, but Mark was injured so badly by a piece of flying debris that the crew thought he was dead. As soon as Mark recovers, he realises that he is alone and gets back to “The Hab”. This is the astronauts’ base on Mars. It is a pressurised dome containing all the essentials for the astronauts’ survival on the surface of Mars: water, oxygen, food and medical equipment and supplies.

Mark realises that he faces two main problems. Firstly, the communications equipment has been destroyed by the sandstorm so he has no way of letting mission control know that he is still alive. Secondly, there is only enough food in The Hab for 6 people for 60 sols (martian days). It will be FOUR years until the next Mars mission, so Mark’s chances of survival look pretty slim. Fortunately, he was the crew’s botanist and general handyman so he plans to  survive and escape.

The Martian was packed with interesting scientific facts and dark humour. It also explores the desire of the human spirit to survive as Mark uses all his training to grow his own food and adapt the technology at his disposal to organise his escape from Mars. Because of the structure of the novel, you are constantly given an insight into Mark’s state of mind which I found fascinating.

I think The Martian would appeal to anyone interested in technology and space travel however – a quick word of warning, it contains language that Year 6 teachers would not approve of, so if you are still at primary school I wouldn’t read it in class!

 

Review: Millions by Frank Cottrell Boyce

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Summer holidays are a perfect opportunity to re-read old favourites and I picked this one off my self this week; almost impossibly, I found that I enjoyed the book even more than the first time I had read it.

This is the outstanding debut novel by one of my favourite authors, Frank Cottrell Boyce. The plot revolves around the Cunningham brothers, Anthony who is in Year 6 and Damian, who is in Year 5 and is told through the voice of Damian although he constantly refers to the way his older brother would have framed the story. On one level the story is about the brothers’ attempts to deal with a bag of stolen bank notes that they have found in the fields near their new house – which has many hilarious consequences. However, there is another layer to the story which is about a family coming to terms with the death of their mother, and the different ways that the two boys deal with this is beautifully portrayed.

Anthony, who considers himself to be a wheeler-dealer, is very blatant about using the fact that that their mum has died to “get stuff” whereas Damian is obsessed with the lives of saints and constantly refers to the patron saint of whatever situation he finds himself in. You soon realise that he is hoping that one of the saints has spoken to his mum. Frank Cottrell Boyce manages to write about this situation with an amazing blend of humour and sympathy so that you can completely understand each boy’s perspective.

After they find the bag of money Anthony just wants to spend it on consumer goods and in contrast Damian wants to “do good” with the cash. One of my favourite parts of the book is when Damian shoves seven thousand pounds through the letterbox of the Mormon neighbours because he thinks they will give the money to the poor. He is subsequently  shocked when he sees the long list of electronic goods that they buy with the money and realises that he has misunderstood them.

I don’t want to give away too much more of the plot, but this is an extremely enjoyable story which I would encourage you to read (along with all the other books Frank Cottrell Boyce has written); he surely has the patron saint of writers on his side! 5 out of 5 stars.

Review: Harry Potter and the Cursed Child by JK Rowling, John Tiffany and Jack Thorne

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Saturday 30th July was a magical night for me; I set off for my local independent bookshop, the wonderful Brendon Books, for my first ever Harry Potter launch party (I was too young to accompany my older brothers when the earlier books were launched)! I took part in a Harry Potter general knowledge quiz (which I won!), a Horcrux Hunt and drank a chilled Butterbeer (Shandy), received a bag of Bertie Botts’ Every Flavour Beans (jelly beans), listened to readings from all 7 books, and once midnight had struck, purchased my  copy of Harry Potter and the Cursed Child which came with a free handcrafted wand!

After pausing to thank the wonderful owners of Brendon Books, I rushed home to begin reading. The first thing to point out is that this is written a play-script rather than a novel. It starts where the Epilogue of the seventh book in the series left off – a grown up Harry Potter seeing his youngest son, Albus Severus, off to Hogwarts for the first time at platform 9 3/4, King’s Cross Station. Although it has been 19 years since Harry left school, Hogwarts remains reasonably unchanged: Professor McGonagall is now headmistress, Neville Longbottom teaches Herbology, and ever present Hagrid isn’t leaving any time soon.

Albus is the central character of the play and you learn that his journey through Hogwarts is rather different to his father’s. I don’t want to give away any plot spoilers, so I won’t say any more about the story. However it was a gripping read and I’m so glad it was published in the school holidays as I couldn’t bear to put it down until I’d finished reading it. In my opinion J.K.Rowling is a supreme storyteller and  if you are a fan of the Harry Potter series you will love this book. 5/5 stars.