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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.
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.
For those of you who don't know, Fabio is indeed the world's greatest flamingo detective, a kind of pink, long-legged Hercule Poirot. He's assisted in his work by his friend Gilbert, a giraffe, who is very well-meaning but mostly at least one step behind Fabio when it comes to solving their cases. This story concerns the dramatic theft of a priceless jewel from a passenger on the Ostrich Express and, as detective stories go, it's very satisfying indeed, with a twist in the tail that readers won't see coming, while Fabio, Gilbert and their various animal co-stars are delightful characters. Illustrations on every page - in flamboyant, dayglo pinks and oranges, make this as interesting to look at as it is to read, and this is a perfect book for readers just enjoying reading on their own.
There’s all the fun of the circus in Alexander McCall Smith’s new series, and a satisfying bit of junior sleuthing. Young Billy, Fern and Joe are performers in their family circus, but there’s a bit of Sherlock Holmes about them too: as their friend Mr Birdcage points out, they’re clever, and they like helping people. So when they notice a sad boy in the audience and find out his granny has gone missing, they set about finding her, using some of their circus skills in the process. Readers will be delighted to know that the circus’s troupe of dog stars play a part as well. It’s a lovely story and as ever filled with the all-embracing sense of kindness and integrity that is characteristic of McCall Smith’s writing.
It’s definitely a case of (very) slow and steady winning the race in this amusing and original picture book. Sloth is inspired by the superhero story he finds in a comic book left in the jungle so when mean Anteater starts stealing fruit from the other animals he – leaps is definitely the wrong word – goes into action. It turns out that moving very slowly and looking like a bit of tree are actually useful superpowers. Sloth is an engaging hero and Starling fills the jungle scenes with movement and character. The action builds to a rewarding conclusion, and neatly delivers a message about the value of different types of ability.
A second mystery for thirteen-year-old Agatha Oddly - a bold, determined heroine, and the star of this stylish new detective series. Agatha Oddlow's set to become the youngest member of the Gatekeepers' Guild, but before that, she's got a mystery to solve! There's been a murder at the British Museum and, although the police are investigating, Agatha suspects that they're missing a wider plot going on below London - a plot involving a disused Tube station, a huge fireworks display, and five thousand tonnes of gold bullion...
October 2018 Book of the Month | One of our 2018 Books of the Year | The Timmy Failure books are works of absolute comic genius and Stephan Pastis succeeds with each new story in making the adventures of Timmy and his sidekick Total the polar bear funnier, even more satisfying, and still more poignant; never more so than this the last in the series. Timmy has decided to retire from detective work but has a new project: he’s writing the script for his form’s Christmas film show, and has decided it will chronicle his own greatness. Meanwhile he is also negotiating a new relationship with his dad, now permanently on the scene, and helping reunite Total with his long lost polar bear family. The gap between what’s real and what’s real in Timmy’s imagination has never been more acute, or more affecting. The story will have readers crying with laughter, while the ending may well bring tears of a different kind. Totally great.
Best-selling Goth Girl is back for an action-packed new adventure in this stunningly produced volume by former Children’s Laureate Chris Riddell which has the additional delight of a mini-book, Fable of a Faun, tucked into it. Lord Goth is turning Ghastly-Gorm Hall into the venue for Gothstock, a sensational music festival that will match his home. Naturally, Ada Goth is thrilled at the thought but will it all go to plan? In both words and pictures Chris Riddell creates an amazing cast of characters and the most original escapades in which they are all entangled.
A Julia Eccleshare Pick of the Month August 2018 | With a tremendous cast, a great plot and setting and a catchy style this fast-paced espionage story is a book that is impossible to put down. Sophie Taylor and Lilian Rose, two girls who are very different in all ways except that they both clever and brave, find their detective work leads them to working with the Secret Service Bureau. It is 1911and the girls set off on a mission to Paris. Following the twists and turns of their undercover activity is a delight – as is Katherine Woodfine’s re-creation of Paris. Julia Eccleshare's Picks of the Month for August 2018 Once Upon A Wild Wood by Chris Riddell Oscar and the CATastrophe by Sarah Horne Run Wild by Gill Lewis Peril in Paris (Taylor & Rose: Secret Agents) by Katherine Woodfine The Garden of Hope by Isabel Otter
One of our 2018 Books of the Year | August 2018 Book of the Month | In a nutshell: classic time-slip adventure with some contemporary twists | Sally Nicholls is adept at balancing excitement with humour, creating original page-turning stories that are rich with insight. Well-versed in time travel plots Alex and Ruby quickly guess what’s happened when they fall through an old mirror into 1912. They make friends with the children of the house, Dora and Henry (one of whom could be a great-grandparent) before being caught up in adventure: someone has stolen a valuable antique cup from charming Uncle Atherton, on the eve of his wedding too. High drama ensues including a race after the thieves in a vintage car. It’s a thoroughly satisfying adventure, with a proper sense of what the past would actually be like (much grubbier and smellier than Alex and Ruby expect), and tinged with real sadness too: the children are all too aware of what is in Henry and Ruby’s future. ~ Andrea Reece For more engaging and surprising time-travel adventure try Evie’s Ghost by Helen Peters. The Editor at Nosy Crow says: “A fast-paced, thoroughly enjoyable adventure from the always-entertaining Sally Nicholls. I couldn’t stop reading it!”