Featured

A STORM OF SISTERS

© Michelle Harrison, Simon & Schuster,

by Michelle Harrison;  

An Adventure Book Review by Erin the Cat Princess©

Hello, and welcome to an impromptu MIDWEEK Book Review featuring Adventures in Middle-Grade Fiction!

We are delighted to bring you the SOON TO BE PUBLISHED (3/2/22) fourth adventure in the Pinch of Magic series, titled ‘A Storm of Sisters’. 

This book, like the preceding three, was an absolute pleasure. We received a digital copy of this through NetGalley, courtesy of Simon and Schuster Children’s Books. A big thank you to both those fine folk.

But enough of the preamble, let’s get on with the review. 

© Michelle Harrison, Simon & Schuster,

A STORM OF SISTERS, by MICHELLE HARRISON

Published by: SIMON AND SCHUSTER CHILDREN’S BOOKS.

Paperback ISBN: 978 – 1 – 4711 – 9765 – 9

Cover price for Paperback £7.99 

Pages 339.

Age range: 9 and upwards

The Plot: 

The Widdershins sisters, Fliss, Betty and Charlie, live with their father and granny in the village of Pendlewick. It is their first winter in the quaint and slightly crooked, 200-year-old ‘Blackbird Cottage’. They moved there the previous year, from the damp, fog and drear of the island of Crowstone, near the marshes and a rather severe island prison. 

Pendlewick is very different from life at the Poachers Pocket Inn they lived at in Crowstone. Not least because it is warm and sunny. However, one thing hasn’t changed, and that is the pinch of magic that the sisters share. The magic seems, if not directly, to draw them into many adventures and to help them out. 

When an unexpected letter arrives from their father’s cousin, Clarissa, granny and the girls head to the decidedly remote and frozen town of WILDERNESS, to the aptly named ‘Frostbite Cottage’ to help her recover from her broken ankle.

Wilderness lives up to its name, and the cold journey by horse and carriage takes them to a snow globe-like place worthy of wolves, evil snow queens and all manner of cold, fantasy creatures. It also leads them to a long cold walk through the snow to reach Clarissa’s cottage, where the thundering sounds of a ghostly steed haunt the wind and snow-swept woods all around. But a welcome and warm fire awaits. Sadly no beds as the cottage is too small for five. Much to their joy, the girls get to stay at Echo Hall, a large hotel overlooking the town, its Winter Market, and its ice-covered lake.

The girls soon learn of the dark side of Wilderness. The legend of Jack Frost the highwayman, and his lover, Elora, who worked at Echo Hall, Both losing their lives and their treasure to the lake forty years past. There is the story of the ill-fated, humbled fortune-teller who lost her livelihood, and of a lost treasure. Then, there is Elora’s curse. If you see Elora, the maid, at your hotel room window, then death will take a relative.

The girls know all too well that there is always some truth to legends. And that ghosts, like magic, do exist. Those thoughts wane beside the pleasures of the market and the prospect of skating on the lake. Until that is, they discover a body and then see Elora at their window. 

So, what did we think?

For want of an expression, this is a delightful spellbinding adventure. Spine tinglingly atmospheric thanks to Michelle’s commitment to defining so well the world we are immersed into. A plot that is woven as beautifully and naturally as the patterns of frost on glass. The Widdershins are shown in all their glory, as good and as bad as any family is. From granny, the grumpy ex-landlady, to incorrigible young Charlie and lovely romantic Fliss. In humour or sadness, good or bad, the family shines, arguably strongest when the chips are down. But isn’t that just like life? 

So . . . . 

Crunch time. 

This is the fourth book in the series. While we have read the other three, I can say hand on heart that these will work as stand-alone stories. But, you will get far more out of the adventures if you start from the beginning with A Pinch of Magic. I will confess that it took me a short while to get into this new world of magic and adventure. Maybe I had put on it expectations of other more staid cliched magical books. But the world is, as I mentioned earlier, so very well set up earthly and atmospheric. I now would not wish to ever see it go. I can but wonder what the following stories will bring for this wonderful human family that seem dogged by misfortune, or is it actually fortune? Undoubtedly it will bring magic, and a pinch of mischief too. Always complex, yet lightened by the style of writing that makes this such a compulsive read. Oh, and for those of us that love cats, the Widdershins’ have a black cat rather aptly named Oi! I’ll leave you to decide why.

A no hesitation recommendation. Buy for yourself, family or friends. Best I think enjoyed on a cold winters evening by a roaring fire with a drink of cocoa. 

Want to buy a copy?

To get a copy, please do consider slipping on your own ice skates and zipping down to your local independent bookshop first, mindful of ghosts, thin ice and treasure on route!

Michelle Harrisons’ web page can be found HERE. https://www.michelleharrisonbooks.com/

Simon and Schuster UK Children’s web page can be found HERE.  https://www.simonandschuster.co.uk/

If any authors/publishers wish us to review their books, please do get in touch. 

Till later!

ERin

Featured

A KIND OF SPARK

by Elle McNicoll;  

An Adventure Book Review by Erin the Cat Princess©

Hello, and welcome to my Saturday Book Review featuring Adventures in Middle-Grade Fiction!

We are delighted to bring you the first of four books that feature neurodiverse (ND) characters and or have been written by ND authors. Understanding who you are and diversity are subjects close to our hearts. Thankfully they are getting far more attention in children’s literature and awareness is being raised. As important is the fact they bring characters to those who have previously not seen themselves in literature. 

We could say so much about neurodiversity as a preface to these book reviews. But on thinking about it, we won’t. Rather, we will let the stories that the authors have so ably crafted tell their tales and provide the insight.

So, without further ado, I bring you our first book – A Kind of Spark. This was written by Elle McNicoll and was her debut work. Her second book, Show Us Who You Are, will be reviewed next week. Like a Charm, her third book is out in February of this year. 

A KIND OF SPARK, by ELLE McNICOLL

Published by: KNIGHTS OF.

Cover artwork by the very talented Kay Wilson 

Paperback ISBN: 978 – 1 – 9133110 – 5 – 6

Cover price for Paperback £6.99 (or cheaper)

Pages 187.

Age range: 8 and upwards

The Plot: 

Addie, her parents and twin elder sisters Keedie and Nina live in the village of Juniper, not far from Edinburgh, Scotland.

Addie, aged 11, is autistic, as is Keedie, who is struggling at university. 

Sharks are Addie’s passion, and she reads as much as she can on the subject. She is also passionate about finding new words from her thesaurus, a gift from Keedie. 

When the new term begins, the class start to learn about the Scottish witch trials. For Addie, the injustices and atrocities committed on local innocent women strike deep. The similarities between them and the persecution by her own teacher and bullying by a classmate for being ‘different’ are not lost on Addie, and she feels impassioned to do something. 

A memorial commemorating the fifty or so local women dragged off from their village seems just right. But, the local council think the whole witch trial business is a matter to be swept away under a carpet and forgotten. 

And so begins Addie’s journey and battle.

But will she win? The council is against her, and some residents have vested interests elsewhere. And the very teacher that haunted Keedie’s time at school, made it hell, and caused meltdowns through its unrelenting unkindness towards her autism, is now Addie’s too!

And that’s where we must leave this review. Clearly, there is far more to discover. But the best stories need to be allowed to tell themselves as the absolute pleasure is in the detail and the journey.

So, what did we think?

It was not until Mrs H, and I picked up a copy of the fabulous ‘The London Eye Mystery’, a book that we will be reviewing for you soon, that we started to understand about being autistic. After that, we were only too pleased to discover A Kind of Spark had just been released. The more we read, the more we liked and loved the characters and the insight we got. This is, without doubt, a gem.

We see the world through Addie’s eyes. And in words written by an ND writer and wrought from experience. Together they tackle some complicated issues on her journey and fight. The story doesn’t pull its punches either, and there is a lot to take away about how people react to differences and what it is like to be different. 

This story has been lauded by the literary world. But more importantly, far greater praise has come from parents, teachers and kids alike. It is an excellent example of a new voice, telling a story that needed to be told, for those that needed to hear it, neurodivergent or not.

At 187 pages, this is an easy and quick read for those that want to or can. Me, I am a slow reader and enjoyed a long, pleasurable weekend in Addie’s company. 

So . . . . 

Crunch time. 

I would be surprised if many kids haven’t read this by now, as it really is very, very popular. But if you know someone who hasn’t, or if this review has whetted your appetite to read and discover more about autism and being ND, then I recommend it wholeheartedly.

Want to buy a copy?

To get a copy, please do consider your local independent bookshop first. I cannot stress enough how vital both they and independent publishers like Nights Of publishing are to the whole ecosystem of really cool books. Books like this that have brought undoubted pleasure and helped and informed tens of thousands would not have existed without them. 

Elle McNicoll’s web page can be found HERE. https://ellemcnicoll.com/

Nights Of web page can be found HERE. http://knightsof.media/

If any authors, publishers or agents wish us to review their books, please do get in touch. Details are listed on our book review page.

Till laters!

ERin

Featured

The Adventure Club: TIGER IN TROUBLE

By JESS BUTTERWORTH

An Adventure Book Review by Erin the Cat Princess©

Hello, and welcome to my MIDWEEK Book Review featuring Adventures in Middle-Grade Fiction!

We are delighted to bring you our review of Tiger in Trouble ( the second adventure in The Adventure Club series). This is a review enabled by NETGALLEY and Orion Childrens Books, for whom we like to do reviews.

I had not come across this series before. But having seen it on NetGalley, I was determined to bring you a review before the launch, which is 20 January 2022.

This is the second book in the series, the first being titled ‘Red Panda Rescue’.

So, without further ado, I bring you – The Adventure Club: TIGER IN TROUBLE

Image © ORION CHILDRENS BOOKS/ KIRSTI BEAUTYMAN/JESS BUTTERWORTH

TITLE: The Adventure Club: TIGER IN TROUBLE

By: JESS BUTTERWORTH

Published by: ORION CHILDRENS BOOKS (AN IMPRINT OF HACHETTE PUBLISHING)

Artwork by the very talented KIRSTI BEAUTYMAN

Paperback ISBN: 978-1510107984 

To be published 20 January 2022

Cover price for Paperback £5.99 

Pages: 160 .

Age range: 7 to 9 

The Plot: 

Before we start, I just need to tell you some background to this adventure. Tilly (aged 7 ish) won a school competition. As a prize, she got to join The Adventure Club, a small group of people, conservationists and vets, who travel the world and research and protect animals and the environment. In the first adventure, Tilly got to look for red Pandas in Nepal. Of course, that turned into quite an experience and far more than Tilly expected. This time around, things are pretty different, and Tilly finds herself travelling to India with two of her best friends, searching for some missing Tigers. 

It all started when Tilly’s parents unwittingly got her a Tiger adoption certificate for her birthday. . . . .

Summer hols are looming, and the School Adventure Club Tilly started with the aid of her teacher is shutting down for the holidays. Tilly is at a loose end and misses her adventures at home and abroad. At least she has the fortnightly letters from the tiger reserve telling her how her adopted tiger, Tara, and her mum, are doing. Suddenly, it dawns on Tilly that she hasn’t received a letter. What could be wrong? She sends a letter to India, and after a long and restless wait, gets a response. It seems Tara and her mum haven’t been seen for ages. 

Fearful of some major incident that could have forced the pair of tigers out of the reserve and into the way of poachers or other trouble, Tilly sets about trying to help the two. Ultimately she enlists the help of The Adventure Club team, and she and her two pals head to India and a fabulous new adventure.

So, what did we think?

Jess Butterworth is renowned for great children’s stories. This series so far is no exception.

The book is written in the first person, in part in diary form, and copies of letters and instructions. The text and dialogue are beautifully balanced throughout by Tilly’s delightful pencil sketches of her friends, places, and the animals she comes across. 

The story itself is a wonderful mix of information and adventure, enough of each to please and inform the younger reader. Read by or read aloud to a child of say age 6 plus, this is a great book to prompt discussion and further reading or involvement. 

The adventure highlights Tilly and her friends’ excitement, fears, and hopes as they race to ensure that Tara, the tiger cub and her mum have water and are safe. As well as helping and learning about other animals they come across on route. 

There are lessons to be learnt here, not just ecological ones, but those of patience, friendship, trust, adventure and responsibility. Tilly makes mistakes, and the consequences are shown to be dear. But she learns from them, too, just as we all do in real life.

So . . . . 

Crunch time. 

All in all, this is a marvellous inclusive and informative book that will add so much value to those that read it. I would not hesitate to buy the series for my own young globe-trotting adventurer!

A link to Jess Butterworth’s web site can be found HERE. Or type in the following: https://www.jessbutterworth.com/

A link to Hatchette Publishing (Orion Publishing is an imprint) can be found HERE. OR type in the following https://www.hachettechildrens.co.uk

That’s it from me for now. Our next review is on Saturday. Till then, have a tiger friendly week!

ERin

Featured

SHADOWGHAST

by Thomas Taylor;  

An Adventure Book Review by Erin the Cat Princess©

 

Hello, and welcome to my Saturday Book Review featuring Adventures in Middle-Grade Fiction!

It also happens to be the first review of the year. Hopefuly the first of many. The picture below is of yours truly taking a pre, New Years eve nap. Just to get my strength up for the post New Years day nap!

Being a party animal takes so much prep!

This week, now I’m fully rested up, we have the great pleasure to review the spooktacular third book set in Eerie on Sea, starring Herbert Lemon, Violet Parma, and Erwin, the cat.

So without further ado, and kindly sponsored this week by Mrs Singhs Mobile Book Bank (Cheques cashed free of charge and a free Onion Bhaji with every tenth loan) we bring you . . . 

SHADOWGHAST, the third Eerie-on-Sea adventure, written by a true wordsmith of a middle-grade writing, Thomas Taylor!

SHADOWGHAST, by Thomas Taylor.

SHADOWGHAST, by THOMAS TAYLOR

Published by WALKER BOOKS LIMITED.

Cover artwork by GEORGE ERMOS 

Interior Illustrations by Thomas Taylor

Paperback ISBN: 978 – 1 – 4063 – 8630 – 1

Cover price for Paperback £7.99 (or cheaper)

Pages 328.

Age range: 8 and upwards

Any cats? YES, one, called Erwin, and he talks too!

SPOILER ALERT

As ever, to review book three in this series, we need to reveal little bits and pieces of the first two books. So, please do look away if you wish to keep it a surprise. 

You can follow the link below to see my review of the first adventure.

Book 1 review LINK: MALAMANDER

Book 2 review LINK: GARGANTIS. 

The Plot: 

With the evil Sebastian Eels dispatched to the depths of the oceans, never to return, things at the Grand Nautilus Hotel and Eerie-on-Sea had returned to normal. Or at least as normal as they ever get. It is Lady Kraken’s birthday, and the staff all get a big slap-up breakfast on her. Or at least some do. When everyone else has taken their fill, our hero, Herbie Lemon, gets nothing. 

While he watches on with hope, a lady’s voice whispers in his ear that this year things will be different. Turning, he sees the lady walking towards the elevator. He is captivated by her clothes and hair. More than that, he is intrigued by the people that accompany her. He later finds out that they are two mime artists and her manager. But as he takes it all in, there is something not quite right. Is it the shadows or how the light falls upon the four through the windows?

Now, let’s move on to what you all really want to know about the Shadowghast, right?

The celebration of the Ghastly Night is unique to Eerie-on-Sea and happens when others celebrate All Hallows Eve. That tale starts long ago, back in the 1800s, when the town’s mayor, Standing Bigley, built the pier. He was a mean man and devoted to the profit he would make from the visitors to the pier’s theatre. 

As the pier neared completion, he needed to keep the investors sweet. But where oh where could he get a performer at short notice.

As luck would have it, or rather it wouldn’t, at that very time, a stranger in his boat is saved from the strong currents out by Maw Rocks, and brought ashore. What is strange about the stranger, even by Eerie standards, is that he has a heavy lantern in the shape of a dragon. When asked who he is, the tatty man declares he is the Puppet Master, and the lantern is magical.

Who better to put an opening night display and get the paying customers in, the mayor thinks, and so he asks the stranger for his price. Five gold coins were the stranger’s fee for a show that would be worth every bit. Of course, you and I can guess that this did not go down well with the tight Mr Bigley. Two was all he offered the man, and it had better be good. The puppet master was not amused, less so than Queen Victoria, and promised the mayor that “may you get what you pay for.”

The time of the show came, and it was fabulous. The puppet master manipulated the shadows that he cast in the smoke from his magic lantern into all manner of shapes and beasts, Gargantis and the Malamander amongst them. There is one shadow in the lantern that isn’t by the puppet masters creation, the shadowghast! 

But Bagley gave only one gold coin when payment was due, stating shadows were only worth half the fee. The puppet master’s revenge was to use the shadowghast to take Bagley’s shadow, quite literally. And once he had his shadow, he became master of the man himself. In the furore that followed, the pier caught fire, and the puppet master and his lantern were lost to the sea, never to be seen again. But forever after, a curse was on the town. 

And thus, the legend of the Shadowghast was born. And each Ghastly Night, you will need to light a Manglewick candle to keep the shadow-stealing spirit away.

Of course, this all seems but by-the-by for Herbie, who is about to discover two things. First, the lady is none other than the world-famous magician, Caliastra. Second, she is his aunt, who has come to take him off to his new life as her apprentice.

Whoa, that is quite a bombshell to drop on Herbie. As it happens, it is an even bigger bombshell for Violet, who hoped she would find her parents first. Animosity rears its head. But when people start vanishing from Eerie, Herbie and Violet join forces, albeit reluctantly, to solve a Ghastly Night adventure that lives up to its name! There is more than townsfolk at risk here; there is friendship and newfound family. Hard decisions will need to be made, and demons fought. Will Herbie get to have a family? More importantly, will he ever get to have any of that breakfast?

All this and far more will rise again from the depths of Eerie-on-Sea legend. 

So, what did we think?

When adventures like this keep getting better and better, we have to sit back and admire the writer’s originality and style. 

This book really was a great adventure and spooky ride from beginning to end. And it really did keep us going to the very last pages, even though our cocoa was going cold.

With some lovely twists and characters that you can just reach into the pages and either shake a fist at or shout out support to, like “Look out, it’s behind you!” then you know you’re on to a winner. I got so gripped by the adventure, at one point I felt I was lost with Herbie in the dark and could feel the breeze on my face and see the candle splutter. Mrs H ruined all that by putting on my bedside light and shutting the window which had blown open! That said, it was still very atmospheric, chilling in an excellent middle grade fashion, that left us wanting rooms at the Grand Nautilus!

Now I haven’t thus far mentioned Erwin the cat. Fear not, dear feline fanciers, he plays an important roll in this adventure. Quite the hero too. Smokin’ one might say!

So . . . . 

Crunch time. 

Without a doubt, Mr Taylor has created another little masterpiece set in Eerie-on-Sea. Buy this for you or the adults in your life and enjoy a few nights of absorbing mystery. But beware the Shadowghast, heed the warnings else it may steal your shadow too! 

There you have it. Well, not quite. At the back of book three is an intro chapter for book 4, called FESTERGRIMM. I don’t know about you, but that sounds way too interesting and exciting to pass up.

Want to buy a copy?

To get a copy, complete with a shadow attached, please do head to your local independent bookshop, during daylight hours, of course!!!!! 

Thomas Taylor’s web page can be found HERE. http://www.thomastaylor-author.com/

Walker Books web page can be found HERE. https://www.walker.co.uk/

If any authors, publishers or agents wish us to review their books, please do get in touch. Details are listed on our book review page.

Till laters!

ERin

Featured

GARGANTIS

by Thomas Taylor;  

An Adventure Book Review by Erin the Cat Princess©

Hello, and welcome to my Saturday Book Review featuring Adventures in Middle-Grade Fiction!

Checking out Ned the Gardeners work!

This week we feel happier than a seagull who has found a freshly cooked and unattended bag of chips on the promenade!

Yes, this week, we have the great pleasure to review the spectacular second book set in Eerie on Sea, starring Herbert Lemon, Violet Parma, and Erwin, the cat. 

But first, a little Chrismas sketch……

Erin was sat in her special cushioned chair beside the kitchen table. Clearing her throat, she looked around in front of her at an audience that had yet to appear, nodded, and then began.

“Ahem. But first, just in case HRH has had one too many sherries and tripped over the butler and corgi, I give my own Royal Speech.

Greetings, Your Majesty, First Lady (and the team of undercover secret agents in Room 101b of the Pentagon International Satelite Surveillance Team) and fellow citizens of UMM. Today is my birthday. . . . and Christmas Day. 

We know it’s been a funny old year, but now is the time to put aside the differences of the months passed. Gone should be the bickering over who gets the TV remote or who gets to lick the tasty gravy off the plates and the last of the succulent chicken. Gone should be the jealousies of whose begonias should have won the Summer Flower Show but strangely got a sudden bad case of wilt. Forget that it was your neighbour who forgot to turn off the garden sprinkler overnight and flooded your car whose window was left open. 

These things and more should be but dust in the wind. They are but minor gripes. Trivial pursuits in the grand —”

“I think you’ll find that it’s trivial MATTERS, dear. Trivial Pursuits is a board game.” Mrs H interrupted. Sat at the kitchen table. Her spectacles sat low on her nose as she peered at Erin over the top whilst simultaneously filling in the latest crossword in the UMM Parish Gazette.

“I agree,” Erin said, putting down her speech and sighing loudly. “I was totally BORED. There are never any questions about cheese, even though there are lumps of cheese on the board. They could at least have used real cheese. That would have been far more fun. Better still, real mice would have worked.”

“You said that about Mousetrap that I bought last year. You cant expect every board game we play to involve food, moving or otherwise. How about we play Village Monopoly?”

“That’s not half as much fun when you already own half the properties in the village anyway.” Sighing, Erin pawed at the script of her speech and then threw the pen down in dismay. “Do you think I’ll ever get the call to stand in for Her Majesty? I mean, we are nearly related. AND I had an Annual Horrible too, just like she’s had.”

“Annus, dear. The term is Annus Horribilis.” Mrs H smiled. Erin’s grasp of Latin was often confused, and frequently she made up new terms of her own. 

“What, did she fall on her bottom too?”

“No. Annus means year. I doubt the Queen has a bottom, well not in public anyway. Besides, she has staff to do that sort of thing for her; slipping over and the like. Unlike me, who slipped over on your latest bumper edition of Mouse Breeder and Catcher, that you had left on the floor.”

“Oh, I wondered what the wailing was but put it down to those unofficial carrol singers trying to exhort money from us again. Really was a cheek them not actually singing, but playing a tape recording.”

“Yes, I’m surprised they thought they could get away with it.” Mrs H shook her head in disgust. “In my day, we dressed the part in robes and held candles. And it didn’t matter if it was snowing or raining. We earned our money. Now, it is purely commercial. One was dressed as Guy Fawkes and tried to get me to give money in advance for next year! At least I thought he was dressed as Guy Fawkes.”

“How DID you get rid of them. When I looked out the window, they were running faster than the regulars at the Pied Sparrow when Happy Hour’s announced!”

“Well, to be fair, it wasn’t me that did that, though I wish I had. It was old Ned, the gardener.” 

“I know he smells a bit of manure and musty stuff, but I wouldn’t say Ned was that frightening, OK, maybe a bit?”

“Ah, well, he’d been helping me preparing lunch, using the blender, and he forgot to put the cover on. Covered him in tomato puree. It will take a week to get off the ceiling, maybe a bit longer to get off Ned. When he came to the front door to explain, he still had the chopping knife in his hand. The rest, as they say, is history.”

“Did that really happen?” Erin asked, her mouth wide open as she imagined the zombie-like Ned lurching at the rogue singers.

“Well, let’s just say that if it didn’t, then it should have.” Mrs H smiled, glancing discreetly at the hefty rolling pin that sat beside her. Noticing the time, she switched on the radio. “Time for the Queen’s Speech. And after that, you can read to me your review of the book for this week’s blog…….” 

As the radio crackled into life, our two companions leaned in close to each other, lost in the tones of the voice that led the nation. Erin slipped her paw into Mrs H’s hand and squeezed gently.

“Happy Christmas, Mrs H, and thank you for being making sure we are safe and fed and happy.”

‘Merry Christmas to you, also, Erin. Life without a tall story and a few odd characters wouldn’t be half as much fun. But life without you by my side would be intolerable.”

And Happy Christmas to you all, too.

THE END

Without further ado, here is what you all came for, this week’s review. It is also the least of the year, and my, we have saved the best to last!

GARGANTIS, BY THOMAS TAYLOR

GARGANTIS, by THOMAS TAYLOR

Published by WALKER BOOKS LIMITED.

Cover artwork by GEORGE ERMOS 

Interior Illustrations by Thomas Taylor

Trade paperback ISBN: 978 – 1 – 4063 – 8629 -5

Exclusive paperback ISBN: 978 – 1 – 4063 – 9661 – 4

Cover price for Paperback £7.99 (or cheaper)

Pages 351.

Age range: 8 and upwards

Any cats? YES, one, called Erwin, and he talks too!

SPOILER ALERT

As ever, to review book two in this series, we need to reveal little bits and pieces of the first book. So, please do look away if you wish to keep it a surprise. 

You can follow the link below to see my review of the first adventure.

Book 1 review LINK: MALAMANDER.

The Plot: 

In the middle of one of Eerie-on-Sea’s worst storms, when the waves and winds threaten the very fabric of the seaside town, a strange cloaked and hooded figure books into the Grand Nautilus Hotel. He is carrying a metal-bound wooden box that never leaves his side. He doesn’t lower his hood even to speak to anyone. Tere’s asunder thunder boom, the lights go out and, when they come back on, he has gone! He has however left Herbie Lemon, our hero and the hotels Lost-and-Founder, an object he says he has found. It is a strange shell, covered in curved spikes and unusually heavy for its size with a metallic clink from something inside. Now, if that weren’t warning enough that something was strange, there was a small opening where it could be wound up. 

Against his better judgement, Herbie, urged on by Violet Parma and Erwin, who have just arrived in the Lost and Found room, winds up the shell. A strange mechanical crab-like creature comes out and threatens them. Safely secured under a weighed down bucket, our Herbie and Violet head out to the pier for supper. On the way, Herbie sees something very much like a sea serpent, weaving through the storm clouds. Or did he?

On their return, the strange wind-up crab beast has vanished. Not only did it chop its way out of the wooden pail, but it also took some hefty chunks of fur off Erwin! Somewhere in the Lost and Found office, the creature lies lurking….. Not a happy thought, but one put aside when a group of sodden sailors carry a strange object into the hotel lobby, all tied up in one of their nets. This turns out to be none other than Mrs Fossil, the local pro-beachcomber. Not only that, but she holds a strangely shaped bottle in her grasp that she found on the beach that very evening.

When the sailors, Mrs Fossil and even Dr Thalassi lay claim to the bottle, the hotel owner, Lady Kraken, is brought down to adjudicate. She decides that as it is a lost and found item, Herbie should look after it and resolve who rightfully owns it.

At this point, I need to through into the ring one of many old Eerie sayings that will come to haunt and guide this adventure: ‘When Gargantis sleeps, Eerie keeps. When Gargantis wakes, Eerie quakes . . . . and all falls into the sea!’

Will unstoppering the bottle to reveal the contents really put an end to Herbie’s problems? Who is the cloaked figure, and why was he so keen to give Herbie the beastly mechanical shell? What secrets do the ancient runes on the side of the bottle hold?

Who or what will stop at nothing to get what they think is theirs. And, what will happen if they do?

Friends will be found, and lost. Truths discovered and superstition overturned and rebuilt. Who or what really are the monsters?

All this and far, far more is revealed in the rest of the story. But of course, that is for you to discover and me to keep secret. . . . . 

So, what did we think?

I suppose it is hard not to use superlatives when we enjoy pretty much every book we read. They each have, as a rule, different styles and energies that drive them along and give appeal. This book is no exception. In fact, dare I say it, it stands above, say, Amari and the NIght Brothers that I reviewed a few weeks ago (See LINK to Review HERE)

We adored this book, as we did the previous one, for its energy, originality and the ease in which we were drawn into the story from the first paragraph. I struggled to put it down when Mrs H insisted I really ought to go to bed and put the lights out. 

I’d say everything a good read should have is in here. The first person style is perfect. And like book one, it adds so much to the feel of what is going on. OK, if it didn’t, then there would be something wrong. But we have read books where the first person character lacks the zing. This, well, it hustles along with just the right amount of Herbert Lemons story to give direction and flavour. Not that it needs extra of that, as there is plenty of seaspray and storm-born static to power a flotilla of stories and seaside neon lights. That may just have been a hint as to something that happens in the book. . . or maybe not. 

Oh, in case you were wondering, Erwin, the cat, has his part to play in this too. 

So . . . . 

Crunch time. 

An absolute must-read after the first adventure. Buy for the kid in your life or in yourself. 

There you have it. There is nothing more to add, except that we will be reading and reviewing book three early next year, so there is a lot to look forward to. 

Till then, please do come back for more Adventures in Middle-Grade reading. 

Want to buy a copy?

To get a gargantuan attack of salty seaside adventure, then head to your local independent bookshop before they get washed away by the tide of online retailing. 

Thomas Taylor’s web page can be found HERE. http://www.thomastaylor-author.com/

Walker Books web page can be found HERE. https://www.walker.co.uk/

If any authors, publishers or agents wish us to review their books, please do get in touch. Details are listed on our book review page.

Till laters, and next year!

ERin

Featured

MALAMANDER, by Thomas Taylor;  

An Adventure Book Review by Erin the Cat Princess©

This week we are decidedly pleased to bring you an eerie review of the first book in one of our favourite series. Malamander is the book’s name, and it is quite different from anything we have reviewed before. This just goes to show how diverse Middle-Grade reads can be! 

But first, back by popular demand is……. 

The UMM VILLAGE NEWS. Delivered hands-free online. This edition is kindly sponsored by Mrs Singh’s Home Delivery Service called ‘Jumbo Eats’ – Free lifesize banana and joyride on Jumbo with each kids meal! (no liability is accepted for trampled flowerbeds and feet, or dented cars!)

On the Frontpage. 

News that a new type of Corona shot was available in the village started circulating yesterday afternoon. By evening, the village hospital was besieged by crowds of drinkers from the Pied Sparrow Public House. It later turned out that they thought the free shot was of Corona Beer. The evening wasn’t entirely wasted as the nursing staff managed to inoculate everyone for Flu, TB, MMR, Tetanus and Shingles!

In the Sports News. 

The UMM Ladies Darts team scored a decisive win against the ladies from Much Deeping-Hollow. The final score included five bulls (none of whom needed veterinary care), 107 doubles and 96.5 trebles (paid for by the losing team). Sundry other items including one foot, two knees, a pierced nose and the picture of the late Duke of East Lambtonshire, Ferdinand the Lesser!

In the Wanted Column. 

This week sees a request for items of bric-a-brac for the Scouts and Guides Winter Fair. It is very last minute as the various prizes donated by two passing gentlemen of the racoon persuasion were later removed as evidence by the police. 

The vicar has advised that he is still looking for small girls and boys to play rats in the Dick Whittington Pantomime this year. I had offered to supply the same, slightly dented, for a small consideration, but it seems like my offer met with some concern. Something about equity rights for the rats??? 

And finally. . . .

In Breaking NEWS: 

Racoon X and Racoon Y are now in custody! In their defence, they have asked for various other offences to be taken into consideration. These included the theft of the hairdryers and several hundred meters of hosepipe stollen from the local allotment gardens, which they sold to Mrs Singh to build her sheep-based car wash. 

When asked to comment, Mrs Singh said that she had been well and truly fleeced by the two. In a big-hearted show of goodwill and to make amends, all customers of the hairdressers will now receive a complimentary Authentic Indian Cornish Pastie with their next appointment. As for the allotment owners, Mrs Singh has arranged for Jumbo to leave various packages for them to use to improve their soil.

OK, with the news and small ads sorted, let’s get on with the review!

Malamander. By Thomas Taylor

MALAMANDER, by THOMAS TAYLOR

Published by WALKER BOOKS LIMITED.

Cover artwork by GEORGE ERMOS 

Interior Illustrations by Thomas Taylor

Export Paperback ISBN: 978 – 1 – 4063 – 9302 – 6 

Trade paperback ISBN: 978 – 1 – 4063 – 8620 -8

Exclusive paperback ISBN: 978 – 1 – 4063 – 9303 – 3

Cover price for Paperback £7.99 (or cheaper)

Pages 302.

Age range: 8 and upwards

Any cats? YES, one, called Erwin, and he talks too!

The Plot: 

Our story this week is set in the seaside town of Eerie-on-Sea. It is the sort of small seaside resort that many of us will have visited. The kind of place we’d look around and forget once we have driven away from our week-long summer stay or one day visit. However, once winter comes and the tourists leave, the true Eerie emerges. The sailors take back their favourite pubs and haunts. Gone are the touristy tables and bunting, and in rolls the fog, gloom and mystery that goes with a damp cold seaside town.

The adventure features Herbert Lemon, Herbie to his pals. Five years ago, he was washed up on Eerie beach on a crate of lemons. With no knowledge of who he was or how he came to be as he was, he was given the name Herbert Lemon. And in Eerie-on-Sea he stayed. Now, five years on and aged twelve ish, he has the job of Lost and Founder at the Grand Nautilus Hotel. He has a cellar room to himself and manages all the Lost and Found items that get handed in. The hotel’s ancient and reclusive owner, Lady Kraken, gave him the job of seeing something special in his eyes. However, the hotel’s windbag of a manager, Mr Mollusc, really doesn’t like anything that doesn’t earn its keep or smooth the hotel’s running. Herbie, of course, doesn’t fall in either category, so he is at loggerheads with Mr Mollusc.

All that intro aside, our adventure starts when a girl drops through the small pavement level window and into Herbie’s life and cellar. Violet Parma is her name, and, like Herbie, she is an orphan. Well, not quite. It seems twelve years earlier, her parents vanished whilst staying in the same hotel. Their shoes were found on the harbour wall, and they had gone. Twelve years on, Violet has come to try and find out what has happened to her missing, presumed dead parents. 

Now, that really is a can of worms she’s opened. No sooner than she has arrived than a ghastly, sodden boathook-handed sailor arrives at the hotel and tears apart the Lost and Found room in search of the girl. Herbie, naturally enough, is not sure about his new guest. But very soon, they are both on the hunt for clues as to Violet’s parents fate. Now, if that was all there was to it, well, I’d not be here telling you how good the story was. It seems that Eerie on Sea is packed to the brim with legends. One speaks of the Malamander, a half-human half-fish that stalks the beach in winter when the mists and fog are in. Wails can be heard, attributed to the beast. The locals won’t use the beach at night in winter. But the sceptics say it is the wind whistling through the hulking remains of the Leviathan, a sunk battleship just out from Eerie and that can be walked to at low tide.

Stuff and nonsense, I hear a lady say from the cosiness of her fireside deep in the English countryside. But is it? When local Professional Beechcomeber and owner of the town’s Flotsamporium gets attacked by some sharp-toothed sea-creature on the beech one evening, the tide of doubt shifts. The Malamander legend appears to be more than a fairytale to keep kids off the beach!

It soon transpires, a connection between Violet’s father, Peter, and this beast. Worse, though, there is some sort of connection between Peter and the local and smarmy writer called Sebastian Eels, who really didn’t get on with Peter but for some reason now seeks his draft book.

The more Violet drags our unwilling Herbie into this investigation, the more dangerous it gets for them both, from land and sea!

Now, I have told you really as much as I can. Suffice to say, things go from bad to worse, and I do not mean the weather forecast! As the final chapters draw us into this wonderful adventure, the clues, people, and the monsters – myth or otherwise, converge for the grand finale!

Before I conclude, I need to add that Eerie-on-Sea has more unusual delights for the reader. There is a Mermonkey and a rather handsome cat called Erwin. Yes, he talks and can be pretty helpful too. But he is not like Oswin from the Willow Moss books we reviewed recently (Link to review of the third book HERE). He is more your contemplative cat who adds his advice when he feels. 

As an aside, an author once dismissed a character I wrote, saying something along the lines of ‘Come on, a talking cat? Don’t be silly!’ Now I don’t know about you, but the adventure makes a better read, and an entirely natural one too, with a talking cat or dog. A view that was shared by a publishing agent I spoke to. 

So, what did we think?

Basically, we both LOVED this story. The adventure captured both our imaginations and was so different from anything we had read to date. It is a first-person story told by the lead character, Herbert Lemon. We loved the mix of characters that the author has built around Herbert, be they the windbag of a hotel manager, Mr Mollousc, and the hotel’s owner, the reclusive Lady Kraken. Equally as fun are the characters in the town, like Mrs Fossil, the beachcomber, and Dr Thalassi, the town’s Doctor and museum keeper. 

They really do all work together so well, and quite naturally. None are overbearing but play nicely on positions they hold. As to the villains, well, they come in various shapes and sizes, and like the best of stories, not all is as it seems. I like that about this book. It unfolds as all the BEST books should, carrying the imagination and us along with it. Nothing about this was overpowering or underwhelming. It was exciting, slightly tongue in cheek, and wholly entertaining. And yes, just a bit eerie too!

Even better for us kids and cats is a website dedicated to the stories. This can be found via this LINK  OR by cutting and pasting this address https://eerie-on-sea.com/

I genuinely hope that I have been able to help you get a feel of what was going on. And, if you get a chance, you get to enjoy this read too.

So . . . . 

Crunch time. 

There really are no downsides to this book. Whilst set in what I have come to think of as a quintessential small-town British seaside resort, I think the setting and characters will relate to a global audience. The author did the inside artwork, which adds a little extra seasoning to the story. It is, just right, an essence of the sea and Eerie-on-Sea! 

So, an unreserved success in our book. I have books two and three by my side as I sleep . . . I meant, as I labour on this review, and will be reviewing book two next time. We will review book three as our first book of 2022, all being well.

Want to buy a copy?

This salty seaside adventure can be yours if you take a stroll down to your local independent bookshop. No flip-flops, suncream or sunhats are required. 

Thomas Taylor’s web page can be found HERE. http://www.thomastaylor-author.com/

 Walker Books web page can be found HERE. https://www.walker.co.uk/

If any authors, publishers or agents wish us to review their books, please do get in touch. Details are listed on our book review page.

Till laters!

ERin

Featured

AMARI and the NIGHT BROTHERS

by B. B. Alston;  

An Adventure Book Review by Erin the Cat Princess©

AMARI andd the NIGHT BROTHERS

Hello, and welcome to my Saturday Book Review featuring adventures in Middle-Grade Fiction, hosted by yours truly.

Erin the Cat Princess. ©

This week we thought we’d delve into the world of the supernatural. 

Nope, Mrs H hasn’t been at the Sanatogen XXX Strong Senior Citizens blend, cut with neat sherry. Instead, she bought home a rather glitzy covered new book for us called ‘AMARI and the NIGHT BROTHERS’. 

But first, a big thank you to the global readers of our online news last week, who expressed concern at the mini crimewave hitting our dear and generally ordinary (ish) village of UMM (Upper Much-Mousing).

The latest news from PC Beatworn in The Pied Sparrow Inn, is that Sid Warrant of CSI Much Deeping-Hollow has passed the matter of the missing spectacles to East Lambtonshire Zoo. 

Why ever did they do that, I hear the First Lady ask? Well, following a lead from a hush-hush American Law Enforcement agency, who would neither confirm nor deny avidly reading the blog each week, the perps were identified. Apparently, and purely accidentally, the satellite had been drawn to the area in recent weeks due to the large amount of soap sudds emanating from Mrs Singh’s sheep powered car wash being visible from space! They thought they had been monitoring some ecological disaster. Had they come to me first, I’d have happily pointed them to the remnants of the Great UMM Bake-Off contest, which, months later, remain undecomposed in the local cafe!

Anyways, the satellite team spotted two well know villains that had escaped the zoo whilst on a foreign exchange visit. The two, who cannot be named for legal reasons, are Racoon X and Racoon Y.

Residents of the village are asked to look out for two strangers with American accents, and wearing horn-rim glasses! Seems a bit vague to me, but then, I’m just a cat!

OK, enough of the crime news, let’s get on with the fun stuff! 

AMARI AND THE NIGHT BROTHERS BY B. B. ALSTON

AMARI AND THE NIGHT BROTHERS, by B. B. ALSTON 

Published by VARIOUS IMPRINTS OF Harper Collins Publishers.

Cover artwork by Brittany Jackson

Pages: 375.

Age group: 8 – 12 and upwards! 

Any cats in the story? Sorry, none that I can recall. 

Paperback ISBN: 978 – 1 – 4052 – 9819 – 3 

Cover price for Paperback £7.99 (or cheaper)

The Plot: 

Amari Peters is an early teen girl who has won a scholarship to a great school. The trouble is, she is from the wrong side of the tracks. But she is following on in the footsteps of her elder brother, Quinton, who was brilliant and won the same scholarship and made good. He landed a fantastic job that took him away a lot travelling. Amari thought he was some sort of spy. Quinton would smirk and say, “Your wrong, but you’re not totally wrong”.

Amari had lived with her mother and brother since their father effectively disowned them and left. He even denied being Amari’s father. That isn’t an easy thing to deal with for a kid, especially when it is overheard coming straight from the dad’s mouth. 

Things take a turn for the worse when Quinton vanishes. He said he had a job and was paid well, and always sent money home from wherever he was working. But the police can’t find any record of him ever being employed or having paid any tax, anywhere. After some time, they call a halt to the investigation. What more can they do but suspect he had been into something terrible, mixed with the wrong kind and paid the price. After all, that’s what happens to many black kids, right? 

Wrong! Not Quinton, and Amari knows that. And she knows he’s out there somewhere.

The kids at the new school only see Amari as a black kid from a poor home, and they make life rough. Amari is tough, she had to be, but she gets suspended when she gets pushed too far and pushes another student over. The result is Amari loses her scholarship and any chance to get anywhere else……

But then, a suitcase from Quinton is delivered by a mysterious courier. Well, he’d already been into Amari’s home and left it in Quinton’s wardrobe but just wanted a signature. The case contains a “Broaden Your Horizons.” kit. When the designated opening hour arrives, midnight after the last day of term, Amari opens the case. Donning the spectacles she finds within, she hears and sees Quinton. But her mother cant, which is rather handy as what happens next, takes Amari on a unique sailing ship that flies out over the ocean. Here her brother, who isn’t really there but in what they call a waking dream, shows her the worlds and activity beneath the waves – the International Railways of Atlantis. It transpires Quinton worked for the Bureau of Supernatural Affairs, and went on missions worldwide. He was one of their top two agents. That is until the two went missing. The case, it turns out, was to be passed on to Amari if he was declared missing . . . or dead. 

Also, in this case, is an invite for Amari to try out to be a Junior Agent at the Bureau. The thing is, can she stand the shame of wearing the horrendously weird suit of clothes that is in the case as she travels to the Bureau’s secret headquarters in Atlanta, GA.

All of what I have just described is the warm-up to a rather fun new world that opens up when Amari steps in the Bureau’s elevator and presses the Basement button 26 times . . . 

So, what did we think?

This is a debut book by American author B. B. Alston.

We finished this book quite quickly, under a week. It isn’t short either, or large print. This is a great sign for us as it means two things. 1) we liked it a lot. It is different. If we didn’t like it, we wouldn’t be reviewing it as we’d have stopped reading. 2) The book’s pace is good and engages us to read on and on. We did however struggle with some of the dialogue, but I’m guessing this is just down to local dialect/lingo used for the characters. Mrs H isn’t exactly hip and down with the kids, well, not unless she’s playing marbles!

I would love to have seen more pictures in this. A brilliant cover but sparse or no chapter title images seem to be the way with these longer books. But don’t let that put you off, as the reading was the thing in this case. 

Think of this book as discovering that the sum of three flavours of ice cream/candy can create something as good, and in its own way, better than the individual parts. 

Mrs H and I both said that this adventure was reminiscent of elements of Men in Black (the first movie, which is our favourite), Nevermore (the brilliant book series of the adventures of Morrigan Crow), and Harry Potter.

The flavour of this adventure is: the essence of sweet friendship found, the sourness of betrayal, a dark raspberry ripple of the evil magical villains and monsters (provided by the Night Brothers in the title), and the tongue tingle of sharpness is the battling the odds. 

All of which is a long, but I think justified, way of saying this was a refreshing feast of imaginative writing.

I shall say no more. There are a veritable plethora of things to enjoy as the adventure takes off, and descends, and to say more would spoil it. I will add, though, that this would make a great film, just like Men In Black. 

So . . . . 

Crunch time. 

So, would we recommend Amari? I’d say yes. It is a safe and good buy for adults or younger readers. Indeed it works well for elderly housekeepers who may, or may not, have had too much sherry whilst making the Christmas pudding! 

The great news is, if you enjoy this book, and there is a lot to enjoy, there is another book in the series heading our way in hardback in April 2022. 

Unfortunately, for the paperback, we will have to wait until 5 January 2023. I do think a year gap between the two is unnecessary. For those who are necessarily cost-conscious, including ourselves, this is a bit mean. It does, however, seem to be the way the industry works these days. But if someone sends us a copy, we will, of course, review it for you.

Want to buy a copy?

To add some Supernatural Detection to your own briefcase, you don’t need to take an elevator, just head to your local independent bookshop. 

B.B. Alston’s web page can be found HERE. https://www.bbalston.com/

Harper Collins Chidrens web page can be found HERE. https://www.harpercollins.com/blogs/authors/b-b-alston

If any authors, publishers or agents, wish us to review their books, please get in touch. Details are listed on our book review page.

Till later!

ERin

Featured

STARFELL. Willow Moss and the Vanished Kingdom

by Dominique Valente;  

An Adventure Book Review by Erin the Cat Princess©

 

Reviewing is such hard work!

Hello, and welcome to my Saturday Book Review featuring adventures in Middle-Grade Fiction!

This week we are sparking with joy to share with you the third and latest book featuring Willow Moss and her iracund kobold monster in the green bag (sometimes under the bed and certainly NOT a cat) feline-like companion, Oswin.

But first, by popular request of the village paperboy, Eccles McKnees, so he can have a lay in this week, is……. 

The UMM VILLAGE NEWS. (Delivered hands-free online. This edition  is kindly sponsored by Mrs Singh’s International Food Emporium – Authentic International Fast food, delivery by Jumbo the Elephant.)

In the Front page. Following on from PC Beatworn’s request last week for info about twenty missing hair dryers, he issued a press release on Tuesday to confirm he is following up on some leads he’s received. Alas, news in this morning from the saloon bar of the Pied Sparrow Public House, seems to indicate that there were no fingerprints on the 13Amp plugs attached to the leads. 

In the Sports News. Upper Much-Mousing’s new seniors football team, The Wobbly Wanderers, have made it home from their first (and I suspect last) away match. Apparently, the week-long delay was caused by the driver, Paulo, getting stuck on a Midland’s ring road whilst looking for the much-famed eatery called Spaghetti Junction. 

In the Wanted Column. The vicar has put out a call for villagers to play parts in this year’s upcoming version of Richard Whittington. Apparently, I, as a cat, am excluded from applying as I am, seemingly, too much like a cat! That’s the last time I water his begonias!

Also in the wanted column is a request from the WI for additional members for the WI’s Inter-County Contact Yoga Team. If you are wondering what that is, just think of a rugby scrum crossed with some zen karma, lycra and panpipes.

And finally. . . .

In Breaking NEWS: Hot from the village’s only FAX machine (discovered last week buried in my study) and slightly blurred by Mrs H’s spilt coffee and a dollop of thick-cut marmalade, is news of two break-ins in the early hours of this morning. 

The first alarm went off at the village’s new designer tea rooms, Bags2Brew2You. Nothing was taken though many items of crockery had been smashed. The next break-in occurred next door some ten minutes and much clattering later, at Mrs Hornrim’s Opticians. Two pairs of glasses are missing and presumed stolen. 

Given the seriousness of the current crime spree, Detective Sergeant Sid Warrant from CSI Deeping-Mire has been in attendance and is looking studiously into the matter. Apparently, he made a good start by being fitted with a new pair of horn-rim diamante varifocals – guaranteed by Mrs Hornrim to read a car licence plate from 500 yards and read the warranty on Dicky Dans dodgy used goods – or your money back!

OK, with the news and small ads sorted, let’s get on with the review!

The Magic is growing.

STARFELL. Willow Moss and the Vanished Kingdom, by DOMINIQUE VOLENTE

Published by HarperCollins.

Cover artwork by Sarah Warburton

Hardback ISBN: 978 – 0 – 00 – 830847 – 6  

Paperback ISBN: 978 – 0 – 00 – 830848 – 3 

Trade paperback ISBN: 978 – 0 – 00 – 837715 – 1

Cover price for Hardback £12.99, Paperback £7.99 (or cheaper)

SPOILER ALERT

As ever, to review book three in this series, we need to reveal elements of the first two books. So, if you do want to read those first two, please do turn away. . . . NOW!

Or, to see my reviews of books one and two, follow the links below.

Book 1 review: STARFELL. Willow Moss on the Lost Day.

Book 2 review: STARFELL. Willow Moss and the Forgotten Tale. 

The Plot: 

Willow is heading to school. Not just any school but one that now accepts magical children into its classes. Usually, this would all seem very inclusive. But Willow is suspicious. Up unto this point, the schools, which are controlled by the Brothers of Wol, have wanted nothing to do with magical folk. In fact, they have done everything to push magic as far out of the kingdom as possible.

But, the wizard, Silas, has managed through magic to get himself in charge of the brotherhood. Worse still, he has somehow managed to convince the magical folk of the Enchancil (the magic council) to send their kids to school. To Willow, this just doesn’t seem possible, let alone credible. Her parents and the council seem to have forgotten the evil Silas and the brotherhood have done. 

To find out more, Willow heads to school. She instantly is considered dangerous and scares the kids and the teacher. Just when the teacher thinks things couldn’t get worse than having a witch pupil, another arrives in the form of an elf child called Twist Howling. Twist, who controls the icy Northwind, comes in a literal mini tornado and creates more havoc as the classroom is turned upside down. Once the class settles, the teacher opens the new coursework sent by the Brothers of Wol. Suddenly, and most suspiciously, he is all confident.

Placing a chalk X on the classroom door, he instructs the pupils to open their new books. This reveals the Brother’s plans — to teach the magical and non-magical kids alike that magic is evil and wrong. Worse still, the X on the door is magic and will cause all the kids to go home happy and content and help dissuade them from using magic again. Effectively it is brainwashing! 

Not only that, Willow and company discover that Silas is working on a way to strip the magic from all magical beings in Starfell! The kids are just the first stage in a monstrous plan which will elevate Silas to the status of a god. Well, in his eyes at least, and who would be left to oppose him if they are all subdued???

All Silas needs to complete his plan is the ‘elf staff’, a powerful magical staff that belonged to the queen of the vanished elf kingdom of Llandunia. The staff could give, or take away, the magic of anyone or thing. But the kingdom and staff disappeared at the end of the last magic war to save Starfell. Nobody living knows their whereabouts. That is no living human or elf. Silas has pinched an old elf manuscript that is supposed to reveal the whereabouts of the kingdom. 

So, knowing this, Willow, Twist, Oswin, and Peg – the only non-magical kid in the class who’s not afraid of the magic – must set off to find what is lost and really doesn’t want to be found. But can they escape the classroom and the enchanted handcuffs the school teacher is intent on shackling our heroes with?!

OK, I could easily give away so much here as the adventure does literally take off and becomes a classic race between good and evil. So that is where I must leave you to discover for yourselves what happens to our heroine and her companions.

So, what did we think?

Brilliant! Willow’s adventures keep on getting better and better. This is the best story to date, and the first two were excellent, as I am sure you recall me saying. It really had Mrs H, and me hooked. I even got Mrs H up early to light the fires and make breakfast so she could come back to bed and read the closing chapters to me this morning.

It really ROCKS in more ways than one. And dear Oswin, the so very much like but not a cat Kobold, has a really great adventure too, and a not so welcome but funny reunion.

The best books do have an underlying theme, and I am sure you would agree on reading that the morals of this story are nicely woven into it. It is all too easy for adults to forget that we need to learn about the rights and wrongs of things. And understand the value of friendships and the smallest of gifts or talents that might not seem much, especially when compared to others.

Add to this the interior and cover artwork by the very talented Sarah Warburton, and you have an excellent all-around sense of everything that makes this series so worthwhile.

Inside front cover . . .

Inside front cover of hardback.

And inside back cover. 

Inside back cover of hardback.

So . . . . 

Crunch time. 

There is no crunch in this adventure unless you count the many trolls and fierce dragons. So, if you know someone who would like this in their stocking this year, and there is really no upper age limit to that, then do consider getting a copy. There you have it. There is nothing more to add, except that book four is due next year, so there is a lot to look forward to. We, all being well, will review this as soon as we can. 

Till then, please do come back for more Adventures in Middle-Grade reading. 

Hang on!

But why not experiment yourselves? Browsing through an actual book shop is so much fun, and some even have sofas and serve food and tea! You don’t need an excuse to be there either, and the shop assistants are usually only too pleased to advise and steer you to the hot reads and new releases. If you find a book that you would recommend, then please share it with us. After all, the gifts of reading and sharing are as important and magical as the worlds of the authors in which we lose ourselves and meet the likes of Oswin and Willow.

Want to buy a copy?

To add some magic into the life of someone you know, then head to the real kingdom of literary magic, your local independent bookshop, before they, too, vanish. 

Dominique Volente’s web page can be found HERE

Harper Collins Chidrens web page can be found HERE. 

If any authors, publishers or agents wish us to review their books, please do get in touch. Details are listed on our book review page.

Till laters!

ERin

Featured

BATTLE OF THE BEETLES

 by M.G. Leonard;  

An Adventure Book Review by Erin the Cat Princess©

Battle of the Beetles, by MG Leonard.

 

Erin the Cat: Addicted to Mice & Mystery!

Hello, and welcome to my Saturday Book Review; Adventures in Middle Grade Reading.

Readers will be pleased to note that after several weeks of farmer Clarksin’s sheep cleaning everything in the village — including several pensioners who were too slow to move out the way of Mrs Singh’s mobile window cleaning service — the soapy sudds have finally subsided. 

 As the village is looking the cleanest it has ever been in living memory, the Parish Council has voted to hire the sheep in the days leading up to East Lambtonshire County Council’s Best kept and cleanest village (and pensioner) award. 

I’m pretty sure we’ll make a clean sweep at the awards ceremony!

OK, OK, I think in light of all the groans I’m hearing at Mrs H’s attempt at a joke, it is time to hurridly move on to this week’s review! 

We are delighted to bring you the concluding book in the Beetle Boy series of adventures: Battle of the Beetles. 

SPOILER WARNING 

If you want to read these books, please give this review a miss until you have read books 1 & 2. It would be impossible to review book 3 without giving away some KEY parts of the previous separate adventures and their finales. 

To see my reviews of the first two adventures, follow the links below.

Book 1 HERE.

Book 2 HERE.

So, on that understanding, and as you are clearly all still here, let’s get on with the review!

Battle of the Beetles

BATTLE OF THE BEETLES, by M.G. Leonard

Published by Chicken House Publishing.

Illustrations by Júlia Sardà 

Paperback ISBM: 978 – 1 – 910002 – 78 – 0

A quick recap: 

What we discovered in book 2. Lucretia Cutter is seemingly intent on world domination. Having altered her gene sequence, so she is now part beetle, part human, she sets about revealing her plot at the Oscar award ceremony. Using her vast wealth and fashion empire, she has prepared gowns for the actresses nominated for the Best Actress Award, including her own cloned daughter, Novak.

As the awards are screened globally, she used them to reveal her ultimatum to the world and its leaders. The actresses gowns are made to incorporate thousands of beetles. At her command, they fly free and attack all the guests. 

She has released and readied across the globe thousands more of her genetically modified beetles. Their task will be to decimate the crops and force countries to accept her will or die of starvation or in the wars she knows will follow.

Our heroes, Darkus, Virginia, Bertolt and their good beetles, help save the day at the Oscars. Darkus’s father, Dr Cuttle, flees the scene with Lucretia and her henchmen and ninja-like bodyguard. Novak is forced to go too and faces a very uncertain future. As of course, so does the world!

The Plot: 

Book 3 takes over a few days after our team have arrived home to the UK from America. Lucretia has escaped to her secret jungle biome laboratories, confident she cant be found and can weather anything the nations of the world throw at her and it. She is determined to proceed with her experiments to change herself entirely into a beetle. Before she does so, she is to test the final pupation stage on Novak. 

Her goal, the goal she feels is hers to command and arrange, is to save the planet and the creatures on it. As for humans, well, they don’t really figure in it. Unless it’s to help Lucretia. After all, they are the cause of the planet’s woes and the destruction of many of its species.

Darkus and the team take the offensive and mobilise to rescue Dr Cuttle, Novak and the biome beetles. Saving the world, too, if they can manage to find a way to stop genetically changed creatures and find their hideouts.

Now, if things weren’t set to get dangerous enough, Humphrey and Pickering have managed to hide in Lucretia’s helicopter and find themselves in the thick of a very unfriendly jungle. Things don’t get much better for our two hapless nasty, yet amusing villains when they manage to get inside the biome.

As all the parties converge on the jungle hideaway, things do get really tense. Monsters await, as does a crazed and jealous scientist and an unwilling accomplice far from home. The final action-packed showdown becomes a race against the clock. Not all will come out alive; some will be forever changed – for better or worse remains to be seen. 

So, what did we think?

Mrs H both sat on the sofa and leaned in closer as we turned the final pages. We were not at all disappointed with the action-packed end scene. It all fitted in together rather nicely. 

I may have been necessarily brief with my summary above, but a lot goes on in a short space of time. I loved the books penultimate chapter. For me, that was really fun and sort of an unexpected happy conclusion. 

Mrs H is always one for neatness and said the final chapter was what most humans will go for. 

We agreed that there were some brilliant moral points made, and the arguments between characters were really well crafted. Mrs H says that’s called cogent. I found myself at one point, seeing Lucretia’s point. But on seeing the other arguments came round pretty quickly to the truth. MG Leonard does this really well. The book is also really well researched and geared to educate as well as entertain.

Is this another must-read? Yes. Undoubtedly it is. 

It is also a worthy and wholly satisfying conclusion to the adventures. I suspect there is no call for another book in the series. But if there was, I, for one, would undoubtedly go out and buy it. But with so many other good books by this author, I will have Mrs H’s time fully allocated for the next couple of years so we can catch up and do the reviews!

At the time of writing this review, MG Leonard and Sam Sedgman, co-authors of the “Adventures on Trains” series of mystery adventures, were travelling around the arctic, plotting and researching for their next great adventure on trains. If you like trains and mystery adventures, this series is also a must-read for ages 8 and upwards. 

Want to buy a copy?

If you’d like a copy of BATTLE of the BEETLES to add some eco-friendly adventure into your life, then please do support your local bookshop. Like the beetles in this story and in real life, there is a whole ecosystem of small stores that help balance things out and who need our help. 

The Beetle Boy trilogy (Beetle Boy, Beetle Queen, and Battle of the Beetles) is published by Chicken House.

A link to their website can be found HERE. 

M.G. Leonards website link can be found HERE.

Until next week, we wish you peaceful and united week!

Till later.

ERin

Featured

STARFELL. Willow Moss and the Forgotten Tale.

by Dominique Valente;  

An Adventure Book Review by Erin the Cat Princess ©

The Magic is Rising
ERin the Cat: Addicted to Mystery, Adventure and Mice

Hello, and welcome to my Saturday Book Review!

This week we are delighted to bring you the second of three books (the fourth is coming next year) featuring Willow Moss and her monster under the bed (NOT a cat) feline-like companion, Oswin.

The books are beautifully and funnily illustrated by the talented Sarah Warburton. This book was first published in 2020. 

NEWS FLASH:- UPDATE! 

FOLLOWING on from last weeks disclosure of farmer Clarksin’s sheep being used to clean the village crockery, I am pleased to announce the Grand Opening of the UMM (Upper Much-Mousing) automated car wash. 

Yes, it seems my idea for cleaning Mrs H’s brand spanking new Brough Superior motorcycle caught on. Mrs Singh spotted the sheep doing their thing, and in ‘nine shakes of a lamb’s tail’, she had signed the contract for exclusive car cleaning rights. Thankfully, the sheep do not have to spin around. A cunning arrangement of multiple elevated oscillating walkways and some carefully aimed hosepipes has seen the village cars sparkling like new. If you stack the sheep right, Mrs Singh says she can even accommodate tractors, too!

On a more serious note, we have an appeal from Police Constable Beatworn. He asks anybody who may have witnessed the theft of two dozen hair dryers from the village’s hairdressers to get in contact with him at his usual office. That would be inside the Public Call Box, adjacent to the Pied Sparrow Public House. Incidentally, their sparrow and mash pie is delicious!

OK, so enough with the village’s crazy crime spree, let’s get on with the review!

The Magic is Rising . . .

STARFELL. Willow Moss and the Forgotten Tale, by DOMINIQUE VOLENTE

Published by HarperCollins.

Cover artwork by Sarah Warburton

Hardback ISBN: 978 – 0 – 00 – 830843 – 8  

Paperback ISBN: 978 – 0 – 00 – 830844 – 5 

Trade paperback ISBN: 978 – 0 – 00 – 837714 -4

Cover price for Hardback £12.99, Paperback £7.99 (or cheaper)

SPOILER ALERT

As ever, to review book two in this series, we need to reveal elements of book one. So, if you haven’t read book one and do want to, please head off to have a cup of tea and a nice warm scone and jam. Come back in maybe fifteen minutes, when we’ll have moved on to discussing mouseholes that I have known. 

The story thus far . . . .  

Willow Moss, age 13, is the youngest daughter and witch in a family of witches. She is less powerful than her sisters and imbued only with the gift of finding lost things: spectacles, shoes, socks, or fish. 

Something is wrong in Starfell — Tuesday, the actual day and all that happened, the memories of its existence or otherwise have vanished. Come Wednesday, Starfell’s most feared and capable witch, Moreg Vaine, knew something was up. She came to find Willow and together, along with Oswin, the monster that lives under Willow’s bed, set off searching for answers. 

On route, Moreg is arrested and imprisoned by the Brothers of Wol, priests who hate magic and think those with the gift are possessed by evil. Without Moreg and her undoubted skill, Willow has to quite literally save the day. Along the way, she meets new friends, including a dragon called Feathering, an ogre, and an Oublier– a seer of secrets and things past, called Nolin Sometimes. Of course, there are villains – the Brothers of Wol. One of them, a boy named Silas, is secretly a wizard with a dark heart bent on revenge. 

Of course, there is an evil potion maker of a witch, too, determined to do bad things to Willow to protect her dark secret. 

Ultimately, in a rather dramatic deadly scene, the magic that stole Tuesday was reversed. With the day found and duly restored and Silas under lock and key, things seemed to be good. But the trouble with it all was, nobody other than Willow and her new close friends remembered it. So as far as everyone else is concerned, Willow achieved nothing extraordinary at all! To make matters worse, the tragedy that befell Willow’s family that Tuesday is brought back home. It is a bittersweet ending worthy of tears.

The Plot: 

Willow gets a message by leaf mail, delivered by an oak tree, from Nolin Sometimes. He has just foreseen his own kidnapping. Willow is desperate to go and help and tries to explain to her family. The thing is, Willows magic has become quite. . . erratic. Since the death of one of her most trusted and favourite relations, Willow’s ability to summon things has sort of flipped to making them disappear also. Worse still, she has no control over what disappears, when, or when they return. Not good when you vanish half your home and some of your relatives! Her family, of course, think she needs help. And don’t believe her about meeting an oublier or the dragon, and just put it all down to stress and upset. 

Making good her escape, having vanished her family, she heads off with everyone’s favourite grumpy Kolbold, Oswin, in search of clues as to Nolin’s whereabouts and his captors. It is a journey that will take her to the very underworld of Starfell, Neatherfell, searching for clues and her friend Nolan. Along the way, she will be kidnapped at least once, tried to be cured of her ‘dangerous’ habit and meet strange folk, some good, others less so. Did I mention the wraiths? No, well, there are some of them up to no good too. Of course, we meet new friends who have a significant part to play in the adventure that will take young Willow Moss to uncharted waters and into, essentially, hell itself.

What she makes of it all and whether she survives really does depend on one thing. And it’s not a small thing either. It’s whether, in the face of great sadness, doubt, mistrust and betrayal by those she likes, she can see what she must do. But more than that, she must find something within herself to believe. That’s a big ask for a small witch who has a knack for misplacing family and friends, including dear old Oswin encamped in his bag.

Now, in all this, what of the Forgotten Tale? Now here’s the thing. . . . you’ll just have to read to find out about that and what it means to all of magic and Starfell! **** cue the dramatic music****

So, what did we think?

This is most definitely a worthy sequel to Willow Moss and the Lost Day. A cast of characters is nicely assembled, and new allies are met. Oswin is Oswin, and we get a better feel for the kobold’s softer side, but please do not say that to him else he might well explode.

Mrs H and I loved how the story keeps a lot back without starving the plot of action. It is really only towards the end that a lot gets revealed. Until then, the adventure runs along with barely a pause for a cup of tea and a plate of Rain Biscuits. It delves nicely into the Starfell world and those that inhabit it, past and present. It also acts as a harbinger for things to come. Of course, Sarah Warburton has supplied the marvellous artwork throughout the book, on the hardback book’s sleeve and on the cover within. It is a rare treat to find additional artwork and one that we always appreciate and enjoy. 

If I was to try and explain more of the ins and outs and unders and overs of the story, I would have to give far too much away. That I definitely don’t want to do. 

So . . . . 

Crunch time. 

As ever, we are not in the habit of marking books. We only read and review books we enjoy, based on research, recommendations from authors, and those in the know. That is our guarantee to you. However, taste is, all said and done, so very personal. 

So, if you are thinking of getting this book for your younger readers (age 8+) and maybe reading this yourself before you pass it on, then go for it. If you read book one, then this is a must. It is good, clean, fun, and builds very nicely on what has already happened and opens the door for more and interlocking adventures to come. Whilst I was dictating this, I got a real buzz of expectation for book three. The same sort of good vibe as I had whilst waiting for the next of Murder Most Unladylike series of books by Robin Stevens. 

The great news is that book four is due next year, so there is a lot to look forwards to. 

Do look out for our review of book three, Starfell, Willow Moss and the Vanished Kingdom, coming soon. 

Want to buy a copy?

As ever, to add some magic into your life, then do take the nearest cloud dragon, skirting around any underworld witchly kingdoms, to your local independent bookshop. 

Dominique Volente’s web page can be found HERE. 

Harper Collins Chidrens web page can be found HERE. 

If any publishers, agents or authors wish us to review their books, please do get in touch. Details are listed on our book review page.

Thanks for dropping by. I’m off to see if I can get one of those sheep to balance on a pole to clean my upstairs windows!

Laters!

ERin

Writing reviews is such hard work!
Featured

STARFELL. WILLOW MOSS AND THE LOST DAY.

BY DOMINIQUE VALENTE

An Adventure book review by ERIN THE CAT (PRINCESS)©

The Magic is Waiting
Erin the cat: addicted to Mystery, Adventure & Mice

Hello, and welcome to my Saturday Book Review!

This week we are delighted to bring you the first of three books, thus far, featuring Willow Moss and her under the bed monster (NOT a cat) feline-like companion, Oswin.

The books are beautifully and funnily illustrated by the talented Sarah Warburton. This book was first published in 2019 and the third earlier this year. 

NEWS FLASH:-

Before we proceed with the review, we need to thank concerned readers of the blog who contacted me after reports of the entire parish of Upper Much-Mousing being in a state of siege. It seems that reports of farmer Clarksins sheep foaming at the mouth and running amok in the village had made it into the national newspapers! 

An investigation has since revealed that far from being rabid, farmer Clarksin’s young son, Eggbert, appalled by the colour of the fleeces, had tried to wash said sheep by pouring two gallons of Mrs Singhs Everlasting Washing Up liquid over them. That, however, is as far as he got before being called in to bed. The ensuing night’s heavy rainfall did the rest! 

Repeated dunkings have so far failed to rinse the sheep off. So the villagers, and those in the neighbouring village of Much Deeping-Hollow, have spent the last few days bringing all their dishes to be washed by farmer Clarksin’s wife and a selection of sheep. Surprising how effective a clean you get from a sheep fleece dishcloth!

OK, so enough of the everyday antics, let’s get on with this review!

STARFELL. Willow Moss and the Lost Day, by DOMINIQUE VALENTE

Published by HarperCollins.

Cover artwork by Sarah Warburton

For Ages 8 – 12 and upwards

Hardback ISBN: 978 – 0 – 00 – 830839 – 1  

Paperback ISBN: 978 – 0 – 00 – 830840 – 7 

Trade paperback ISBN: 978 – 0 – 00 – 833505 – 2

Cover price for Hardback £12.99, Paperback £7.99 (or cheaper)

The Plot: 

Willow Moss is the youngest in her family. They live near the village of Grinfog, in the kingdom of Shelagh, in the world of Starfell. 

A thousand years ago, Starfell used to abound with magic, witches and wizards. Then came the great war between the religious sect called The Brothers of Wol and those that did magic. The Brothers thought magic was all bad, and those born with the gift, unnatural and possessed by evil. When the war had ended, magic had all but been ripped from the land. Gradually though, in time, it seeped back, but not how it was before. The gifts, for that, is truly what they were, were sparse and given to few. It was almost as though the magic was being careful, biding its time…

Willow and her family are some of the few. She, her two sisters and mother are all witches, though she happens also to be the least powerful, and some would say least able of witches. Her skill is for finding lost objects: socks, dentures, spectacles and spoons amongst them. Unlike her sisters, she doesn’t command much recompense for her services when she helps those in the village.

One day, the most feared and skilled witch in the kingdom, Moreg Vaine, arrives at Willow’s house, sending the awaiting customers scattering in fear. More surprising than that was that she wanted Willow’s help.

Why, you ask? What could Moreg lack that Willow has? Well, someone has stolen last Tuesday!

Yup, it seems that the previous Tuesday had vanished, and nobody could remember what they did that day. Even more so than usual. And whatever happened to that day may well cause reality to unravel and Starfell’s destruction. 

Having packed her possessions for the trip, Willow pulls out by his tail the monster that lives under her bed, a ‘kobold’ called Oswin. 

What you need to know: Kobold’s technically only just qualified as monsters. But best not raise that point as they get very tetchy about it. They are also NOT cats. 

Oswin may have pointy ears and a nice tail and white paws to add to the appearance of a tabby cat, but he is definitely NOT a cat. He has luminous orange eyes and lime green body fur, and a bright green and white striped tail. At the moment of being unceremoniously yanked from under the bed, his tail was electrified with indignation and his body hair turning from green to pumpkin orange. 

He is also, true to all kobolds, the grumpiest, doom and gloom monger of a non-cat individual you could ever wish to meet. That is if he or you ever wanted to meet each other, which is most unlikely. He is also handy at pinching things. Add to that the risk of exploding if he gets really, really upset, and the habit of speaking what he thinks at not the best of times, and you will get a reasonably rounded description of the guy. 

So, with Oswin encamped in a large carpetbag with her change of clothes, the two witches head off in search of an oublier and Tuesday. They hope he will be able to see what happened, and more importantly, who was behind this dastardly plan and what their intentions are! The only trouble is, oubliers are much unliked due to their unfortunate habit of seeing events others would rather keep secret. So, most of them have either met untimely ends, or live as hermits. 

If things were going to be as easy as knocking on someone’s door or going to the lost property office, then this fab adventure wouldn’t be very long or fabulous, and Oswin could have enjoyed the gloom under Willow’s bed. 

So, from here on in, the magic adventure and fun really starts. As usual, I have to stop just there as there is so much more to be had, in addition to the marvellous fun at the beginning. Suffice to say, along the way, things just do not go as planned. There is, of course, the ever-annoying menace of the Brothers of Wol (who don’t go shopping at Wol-mart). There are also dragons, trolls, a nasty witch and some devilish charms to overcome, surprises and shocks, and more than a few secrets to be uncovered. If that weren’t enough, why . . . . . OK, I won’t tell you about that as it’s way too nasty. You will just have to go exploring Starfell for yourself. 

So, what did we think?

I have to say that Oswin is, despite the smell of boiled cabbage, the moaning and groaning, and the ‘woe is me’ attitude, quite the most splendid anti-companion for Willow. Like Hoagy in last week’s review of Maggie Blue and the Dark World, Oswin is brilliantly described and equally brilliantly depicted in the artwork that runs through this adventure. 

Willow is far easier to get along with than Maggie Blue. This is likely because Willow’s life is pretty much defined from the outset and not based on imponderables and teenage angst.  

This does not mean Willow is one dimensional, far from it. In the tradition of the best kids books, Willow is on a voyage of discovery, and uses her talents as best she can, and builds on them too, though not in an excessively overly convenient fashion.

The story really does flow along nicely. All the characters are believable and described and illustrated just how I would like and love to read and see. If it isn’t evident from my praise, the pictures really add that extra sparkle to a book that is already brimming with lots of good things. The gold sparkliness on the iced and cream and jam-filled sponge cake. 

This was a debut book for Dominique, and a brilliant one at that.  

Crunch time. 

As ever, we are not in the habit of marking books. We only read and review books we enjoy, based on research, recommendations from authors, and those in the know. That is our guarantee to you. However, taste is, all said and done, so very personal. 

So, having mentioned our loves and with no reservations, we whole heartedly recommend this book to our readers who have kids of their own in need of a fab adventure. There is magic and fun and adventure at the turn of every page. Something to learn too, for the observant, and a message for everyone who has ever been told or who feels they have no talent or worth. 

After reading this, I wanted my own ‘monster under the bed’. Mrs H has warned me that having me and my own kind of gifts under the bed is “just plenty of that sort of a thing, thank you very much!”

As we have already got books two and three, our following review will be book two: Starfell. Willow Moss and the Forgotten Tale.

Want to buy a copy?

To add some magic and some iracund kobold mischief and moaning into your life, then do take the nearest broomstick to your local enlightened and Brothers Wol free independent bookshop. 

Dominique Valente’s web page can be found HERE

Harper Collins Chidrens web page can be found HERE. 

If any publishers, agents or authors wish us to review their books, please do get in touch. Details are listed on our book review page.

Thanks for dropping by. I’m off to see if farmer Clarksin is willing to strap those sheep to some sort of automatic revolving apparatus so I can wash down Mrs H’s new motorcycle.

Until next weekend, we wish you a week free from missing days and full of literary marvels and fun monsters under the bed.

Laters!

ERin

Featured

WHAT ABIGAIL DID THAT SUMMER

A ‘RIVERS OF LONDON’ Novella,  by BEN AARONOVITCH.

An Adventure Book Review by Erin the Cat Princess

 

Erin the Cat: Addicted to Mystery Adventure and Mice

Hello, and welcome to my Saturday Book Review!

This week, we have something really rather different but supremely special. What Abigail Did That Summer is a spinoff novella from the Rivers of London series of books, by the hugely brilliant, Ben Aaronovitch. Needless to say we are totally addicted to this series and pounce on any new book that comes out. To be accurate, I get Mrs H to pounce on the postman the moment he leaves the sorting office!

Before we get started it will help to have a bit of background info on the Rivers series.  

The Rivers of London books are wonderful detective series, infused with magic, all manner of river spirits, faye and modern-day villains equiped with magical skills. For the greater part they are set in or around London and the UK. The lead protagonist, Peter Grant, is a police constable, and erstwhile apprentice wizard. OK, so in actuality they prefer the term of Practitioner. But anyone who wields balls of light, can stop bullets and can blow holes through things like his one hundred years plus police boss, Inspector Thomas Nightingale, can do, can call themselves what they like. Peter and Nightingale are based at an old London building known as the The Folly. Together they are the only practitioners serving the UK. If thre is wierd stuff going down, be it vampires or trouble with the local River Godesses, which there certainly is, then you call The Folly!

This is NOT Harry Potter. This IS up to date policing with a magical and thoroughly entertaining and addictive twist. CSI really has nothing on these guys!

So, with that really rather hurried back-story to the Rivers of London – which believe me, comes nowhere near expressing how clever, involving and darkly fun and somewhat tongue in cheek the books are – we shall proceed to the actual review. 

What Abigail Did That Summer, by Ben Aaronovitch

WHAT ABIGAIL DID THAT SUMMER, by BEN AARONOVITCH

Published by Gollancz, an imprint of Orion Publishing.

ISBN: 978 – 1 – 473 – 22435 – 3

Cover price £7.99 (paperback)




The Plot:  



Abigail Kumara (we’ll call her Abigail) is the thirteen-year-old neighbour of Peter Grant’s parents and Peter’s cousin. She had come to Peter’s attention when she was found ghost hunting in a tunnel on an active railway line. Having discovered Peter is a wizard, she is intent on learning magic herself. Later she earns a nickname/reputation that is really rather appropriate: ‘Ghost Hunter, Fox Whisperer, Trouble Maker’.


Our story opens in the ‘Achieving Best Evidence’ suite at the local police station, and Abigail is there to help them with their enquiries into some missing children. The mother of one particular child, Simon, that Abigail had become friends with, arrives and takes over the meeting. Simon’s mum happens to be a high ranking civil servant – of the possible spy kind.

So, at this point, the story cleverly flashes back to how Simon met Abigail some days earlier.

It is the summer holidays, and Abigail is left to her own devices, free to wander around London as she will. With a brother who is essentially terminally ill, her mother has enough on her plate.

Simon says hello to her at the entrance to Hampstead Heath, and thus the two get chatting. Both were supposed to meet someone different there, to take them to some strange ‘event/happening’, but it seems they have not turned up. So, the two get talking and after doing a bit of cat watching, or rather watching the crazy cat lady who looks after the strays in the area, they head to gates. There they get questioned by the ‘Feds’ (police) about some missing children. Simon admits to having met one of the girls before Abi could stop him. She has a bit of a record and doesn’t want to get involved. So having both given false names and addresses, they escape the Feds, and Simon invites Abi to see his house.  

Later, on the way home, Abigail is confronted by a talking fox. Yup, she can talk to foxes, or rather these foxes can talk and want to talk to her. But these aren’t your everyday sort of fox. Bigger, better, and in need of someone to investigate something weird they can sense in the area. A brewing menace or something that they really don’t like. What they need is someone special. And as to the foxes, Abigail is a ‘person of interest’ she gets elected.

Is this weird stuff something connected to the missing teenagers? Well, that is where the adventure lies.

Now, this is a short story, 196 pages that fly once you get the swing of the actions, which incidentally doesn’t take long at all. In fact, you are dropped right into the middle of it when you start. But as I said, you get taken back to the beginning quickly. It may seem strange, but the right moment was picked, and it works really well and delivers suspense.


What transpires next is….. well, let’s just say it takes all of Abigail’s street skills, a hefty dose of stamina and lateral thinking. Not forgetting a posse of talking foxes that seem to be under the impression they are 1970’s secret agents, a hooley bar, and a load of military strength stink bombs! All in a day’s work for Abigail!



So, what did we think?


Before I say, this is what some newspapers have said:

“Highly entertaining” The Sunday Express.

“Funny and wildly inventive” The Mail on Sunday.

 “Charming, witty, exciting” The Independent.

We think that of all the stories we have read of late, this one really takes the prize. Sure, this is a bit different to your usual Middle-Grade adventure, but then, of course, it blatantly isn’t.

What this is, is a multi-age range, down to earth adventure magical mystery. It comes complete with brilliant characters, beautifully executed and with just the right mix of all of the attributes mentioned above, and way more.

I have to add that we had bought the Audible version of this to start with. We were so impressed that we listened to the adventure three times! The narration of the story is spot on and captivating. If you fancy getting into the real feel for this adventure, then the audiobook is a must. Actually, we recommend the audio for all of the entire Rivers of London series.

Whilst this IS a brilliant story, if you want to take the plunge into the main Rivers series, then we would strongly advise going to the very first in the series. Aptly the first is entitled ‘Rivers of London’. If you are not bothered by a couple of spoilers, please just jump in and enjoy this little gem and masterpiece.


Want to buy a copy?

If you’d like a copy of What Abigail Did That Summer to add some foxy and faye hijinks into your life, then please do support your local bookshop first by sending your posse of talking foxes to check it out then buy it for you!



The Rivers of London series is published by Gollancz. A link to their website can be found HERE.


So, until next time, we wish you a genus loci free week!

This is me catching up on some sleep. We have red lighting to help Mrs H chill out.


Laters!

ERin

If any publishers, agents or authors wish us to review their books, please do get in touch. Details are listed in our book review page.

Featured

Maggie Blue and The Dark World.

by Anna Goodall;  

An Adventure Book Review by Erin the Cat Princess 

Erin the Cat: Addicted to Mice, Mystery and Adventure!

 Hello, and welcome to my Saturday Book Review! This week we are delighted to bring you a recent publication sent to me to review, called MAGGIE BLUE and THE DARK WORLD. This is the debut book by British writer Anna Goodall.

So, as news from Upper Much-Mousing is currently thin on the ground (mainly because Mrs H is using the newspaper spread out to keep the floor clean as she sweeps the chimney), let’s get on with this review.

Maggie Blue and The Dark World

MAGGIE BLUE and THE DARK WORLD, by ANNA GOODALL

Published by Guppy Books.

Cover artwork by Sandra Dieckmann

ISBN: 978 – 1 – 913101 – 33 – 6  

Cover price £7.99

The Plot: 

Maggie Blue Brown, aged 13, has gone to live with her aunt Esme in the English town of West Minchen. Her mother, Cynthia Brown, has been ill in hospital for some time. Her father, Lionel Blue, has left them to go off with a younger woman.

Maggie has had issues at school, often ending up with others hurt. None of which is Maggie’s fault as she is provoked into action and has the habit of seeing red. Her aunt Esme is the safe harbour of last resort. The headmistress of her new school, Fortlake, has only taken her as a personal favour to Esme. 

Maggie has never felt like other kids and as a result, is a bit of a loner and does her own thing, including bunking off school. Basically, she likes to keep off everyone’s radar. Esme seems not to care what she does, just so long as she gets home to take her once a week phone call from her mother.

Esme’s garden-flat porch hosts an old looking (but young at heart) raggedy eared, battle-scarred, one-eyed tomcat. In fact, he figures boldly and delightfully illustrated on the cover. 

He greets Maggie each evening with a rumbling purr that seems, to her at least, to have a jazz melody being hummed in the background. There is a reason why Esme won’t let it in, but she won’t let on.

Now, Maggie really wants to be friends with Ida, who is the best looking most popular girl in school. She even draws Ida in her notebook and tries to calculate their compatibility. After all, they share the same birthday so it must be suitable to be friends, right? WRONG! Ida hates Maggie. In fact, her nickname for her is ‘bruise’, based on her double-barrelled surname. Still, the course of friendship is not to be put off by teasing, hatred and the fact that Maggie’s notebook finds its way into Ida’s hands. As a result, Maggie is branded a stalker who’s in love with Ida and a freak whose mother had a breakdown and whose father scarpered. 

With the backstory well and truly set, as all the best tales do, let us move on to the meaty bit. In fact, let’s say hello to Hoagy. Hoagy is a cat, a rather plump one-eyed cat that speaks. Much to Maggie’s surprise, he speaks to her!

Hoagy knows Dot, who happens to be a local herbalist, and some would say, witch. Dot, who seems as old as the hills, and plays a mean game of snooker from her wheelchair, asks Hoagy to watch over Maggie. She thinks there is more to this troubled teen than meets the eye. 

When Ida goes missing in the local Everfall Woods, and Maggie is the only witness to the crime, things really start to get exciting. But Maggie can’t say anything to the police. Why, I hear you ask? Well, for one, she followed Ida out of school. Two, the school counsellor, Miss Cane, was with Ida just when she vanished. In fact, it was Miss Cane who dragged Ida through an open portal into a dark world beyond, having first changed into a huge wolf to do it!

Would you believe a thirteen-year-old who told you that tale and had the missing girls phone? I thought not, and nor would anyone else. This is why the ever-in-trouble Maggie stays quiet and just says she found the phone in the woods and saw Miss Cane heading into the woods too. The latter will cause her problems.

To have a friend, you need someone to call a friend. You need an actual body, an alive body. Maggie is adamant she will have Ida as her best friend, and rescuing her from this strange world and beast seems to be the way to kickstart the friendship. Sooo, she heads to Dot to see if she can help. With the aid of some instructions copied from one of Dot’s ancient books, Maggie sets off through the portal into a whole other world of darkness. 

It is a world that is without The Great O, its version of Mother Nature. Without O, it is dying, lightless and for the greater part, natureless. And seemingly for all but the rich, a world without joy. Where The Great O, has gone, is a mystery.

OK, so that’s all I can really tell you. I have led you to the portal. Now you must enter this strange world, with its new creatures called Umon, and travel with Maggie to rescue her unwitting friend-to-be. Some will fall, and others will rise, and some will find answers though not necessarily what they wanted or expected. There are Moon Witches. Did I mention a magic ring, an ouroboros? Well, there is one, and it knows whose finger it wants to be on. . . . 

So, what did we think?

I have to say upfront that the hero of the story for us, is Hoagy. Out and out brilliantly crafted. A finer — if somewhat proud, moody, territorial, but equally, and against his natural instinct and judgement, devoted to the girl Maggie — feline you will never meet. If you have read the Nevermoor books by Jessica Townsend, you will have come across the Hotel Deucalion’s housekeeper, Fenestra. She is a Magnificat, a talking cat, and by no means is she anything other than HUGE. Large in life with a larger than life character. In his own way, Hoagy is just like that only more so, but a standard cat size – thus far. That is an outstanding achievement in my opinion. 

Maggie, who will the be humans’ favourite protagonist, is a nicely crafted, seemingly conflicted, troublesome teen. She is suitably averse to seeing good or to taking help when it is placed before her. But, her flaws are there, and she isn’t as she is for no reason. And she is mostly paying the price for things she has no real control over.

As a pair, Maggie and Hoagy really do work together well, even when they are at loggerheads in the story. For both Mrs H and me, they are the magic that drives the book along. Of course, there are some nasties too, shape shifters, and evil yellow eyed boys that change into glowing spheres. They work well as foils for Maggie and maybe surprisingly, against each other.

One tiny error in the continuity of the plot / unaccounted for change of action caught our eye, which is a shame, though you might well not see it. But it didn’t ruin our enjoyment of the story, just made Mrs H put down her sherry, take a step back and check before continuing to read to me. 

This is the first in a series, and a jolly good start it is too, especially as a debut. A good plot and two interesting characters that compel engagement.

If there is a downside, it is that the story is not as abundant with lavish descriptive scenes as, say, the Ship of Shadows, which we reviewed not so long ago. Arguably, with the bleakness of the scenes/landscape in the story, maybe it doesn’t lend itself to that too much? But, I have to admit, at times I did hope and want for a bit more outside of the scenes with Maggie and Hoagy. Just wanting a bit more . . . sparkle.

Crunch time. 

As ever, we are not in the habit of marking books, as we only read and review books we enjoy, based on research, recommendations from fellow authors, and those in the know. That is our guarantee to you. However, taste is, all said and done, so very personal. 

So, having mentioned our loves and reservations, would we recommend this book to our readers? The simple answer is yes. I think the characters will resonate with many, be they truculent teens or tenacious tomcats or their sometimes strange human parents and companions. 

It is a fun adventure that had us waiting desperately to the last pages to shed a tear at a moment we weren’t entirely sure it would come. And no, we don’t peek at endings. And yes, Mrs H is a bit of a softie under those calloused fingers and all that chimney soot. 

I hope this is a series that will continue to develop well, as I find I have developed quite a liking for Hoagy and Maggie Blue. 

The next book is titled Maggie and The White Crow. I am unsure when this is due, but it is already on our list to review when a copy makes its way to the palace letterbox. Rest assured, said package will spend long on the door mat!

Want to buy a copy?

To add a copy of Maggie Blue, and some Dark World light and an encourageable feline and iracund girl into your life, then do use the nearest portal to your local enlightening independant bookshop. 

Anna Goodall’s page, as set out at Guppy Books, can be found HERE

We are not sure what book to review next week, so it will be a surprise to at least one of us! 

If any publishers wish us to review their books, please do get in touch.

Thanks for dropping by. I’m off to jetwash off soot and pidgeon feathers and droppings from Mrs H, then to get the fire brigade to see if they can rescue the brush from on top of the chimney!

Until later, we wish you a week free from irascibility, shapeshifters and glowing floating yellow orbs!

ERin

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Featured

BEETLE QUEEN

 by M.G. Leonard;  

An Adventure Book Review by Erin the Cat Princes.

ERin the Cat, addicted to Adventure Mystery and Mice!

Hello, and welcome to my Saturday Book Review!

This week, and sooner than promised, we are pleased to bring you book 2 in the Beetle Boy series of entomological adventures of Darkus Cuttle: BEETLE QUEEN by the wonderful writer, M.G. Leonard.

SPOILER WARNING

Last time we reviewed book 1. Now at this point I have to put the WARNING, SPOILERS sign up and say, if you want to read these books then do give this review a miss until you have read book 1. It would be impossible to review book 2 without giving away some KEY parts of the book 1 adventure and finale.

So, on that understanding, and as you are clearly all still here, lets get on with the review!

Beetle Queen by M.G. Leonard

BEETLE QUEEN, by M.G. Leonard

Published by Chicken House Publishing.

Illustrations by Júlia Sardà

A quick recap: 

What we discovered in book 1, was that Lucretia Cutter, Darkus’s father’s ex freind and co-worker, is now a really, really nasty piece of work. Yup, she’s as nasty and as evil as they come. A real Bond villainess, arguably a fashion monster! She was intent on regaining a multi-species colony of genetically enhanced and peaceful beetles that she bred, before anyone gets to figure out what she’s done, and is intent on doing. Said beetles happen to have made their home in Humprey’s bedroom, in the shop next door to Darkus’s Uncle Max’s home. Lucretia will stop at nothing to retrieve them.

The conclusion of book 1 is a magnificent climax worthy of some space war style advenure in a galaxy far, far, far away. Except, of course it was in London (UK), featured some awesome beetle heroes, and three brilliant yet ordinary kids out to right a wrong against the evil empire – the empire of Lucretia Cutter, that is. Complete with a comic element from the nasty cousins, Pickering and Humphrey, the conclusion was, in equal measure, gripping, a delight and highly entertaining. Mrs H cheered, and spilt her sherry, and I have to say, I do think there may have been a tear or two (doubtless of joy) spilt too.

 
The Plot: 

Book 2 takes over a short while after book 1; after the dust has settled, and Humphrey and pickering have been removed to prison, and Lucretia fled the scene, having shot someone.

Things are going well for Darkus. He has his father back and they are both on the mend. Uncle Max and his friends, Virginia and Bertolt are all happy as are the beetles. But, things take a turn when Darkus shows his father the genetically engineered beetles he saved, and what they can do. Dr Cuttle immediately changes his attitude, and forbids Darkus from seeing Bertolt and Virginia and from having anything to do with Lucretia or the beetles. For all intensive purposes, he seems to have fallen into league with Lucretia and heads off to be with her?! 

On the plus side, Lucretia’s Cutters much set upon and despised daughter, Novak, has come around to loving the very beetles her mother hates. With her on the Darkus’s team, albeit from afar and a virtual prisoner with her mother, they have a person on the inside of Lucretia’s global fashion empire.

Having almost destroyed Humprey and Pickering’s shop in the final battle to free the colony of beetles from capture (see book 1), the three kids are devastated by an event early in book 2 that acts as a catylyst for a very dramatic and heartfelt scene and what follows in the rest of the book. I shall say no more on that.

As a result of what has happened is born the resolve for revenge, and also to save the world. Yup, the team know something BIG is up, and this time it’s not just confined to an old shop in London. This time Lucretia seems to have a plan that involves some sort of dramatic event staged in front of the onlooking world at the Oscar ceremony in Hollywood. 

Lucretia is up to something, and by whatever means, the kids are set on tracking her down, saving Novak, Dr Cuttle, and making the world aware of the deadly beetles Lucretia has engineered to cause destruction, and even death. 

Of course, where would the plot be without Humphrey and Pickering? They too have plans for redress, compensation for the destruction of their home and shop, as well as the money Lucretia said she’d pay for the beetles in Humphrey’s bedroom. 

Those two are, if nothing else, hell bent on money, and food in almost equal measure. In addition, Pickering, for all his faults, fancies himself as a husband for Lucretia! It was a romantic aspect of this book which, whilst so far doomed, was totally unexpected and delishously funny.

OK. You all know the drill by now, when we reach that certain point, a tipping point in the plot when I can say no more. Suffice to say, that things, quite litterally take off from here.

Will our daring young righters-of-wrong make it the USA unscathed and in time? Will they rescue Novak, Dr Cuttle and put paid to whatever chaos Lucretia has in plan for the Oscars? 

And how will Pickering and Humphrey fair in their quest? Are the US police up to dealing with two such unloveable yet strangely addictive, blunt force, tactless and supremely badly dressed villains?

For the answers to those questions will be revealed in the book.

So, what did we think?

I heaped praise, all warranted, on book one. Book 2 is every bit as good. It takes the adventure forwards in a very entertaining way. The beetles still play a very important role here, but there is less of the ‘getting to know you your beetle‘ aspect, and more of the action. That, so far as I am concerned, is a good thing, as the plot really doesnt call for it.

Is this another must-read?  Yes. Undoubtedly it is. For lovers of trillogies, this one is spot on for the second book, and leads on nicely to the concluding book. It does so without any sense at all of being short changed in either plot or character development.

If you like trains, and adventures on different continents, you just HAVE to check out M. G. Leonard’s “Adventures on Trains” series of mystery adventures, co-authored with Sam Sedgman. We totally enjoyed the concept and characters and situations.

Want to buy a copy?

If you’d like a copy of BEETLE QUEEN to add some Oscar-bound hijinks and adventure and missadventure into your life, then please do SCURRY along and support your local bookshop first. 

The Beetle Boy trilogy (Beetle Boy, Beetle Queen, and Battle of the Beetles) is published by Chicken House. A link to their website can be found HERE. 

M.G. Leonards website link can be found HERE.

Next time we will be reviewing a rather special book that was sent to us, called  MAGGIE BLUE and THE DARK WORLD, by Anna Goodall.  Published by Guppy Publishing.

MAGGIE BLUE and THE WORLD, BY ANNA GOODALL

Until then, we wish you a fashion disaster free week!

Till later.

ERin

Featured

BEETLE BOY

By M.G.Leonard

An adventure book review by Erin the Cat Princess

Erin the Cat: Addicted to Murder Mystery and Mice (NOT necessarily in that order!)

Hello, and welcome to my Saturday Book Review!

This week, we will be reviewing a rather brilliant book about beetles. In fact, there are three books to this series, so at some point, we will hopefully entice you to become beetle fans, too.

Beetles, I hear you shout; surely cats chase beetles and bugs because they’re nasty things. All the movies show them as such?

Well, that was sort of how I felt, too. And indeed, I had not read anything to the contrary.

That is, until now. . . . . 

BEETLE BOY, By M.G. Leonard

Published by Chicken House Publishing

The Plot: 

Darkus Cuttle, the 13-year-old son of Dr Bartholomew Cuttle, widower, has lost his dad. Well, more accurately, having dropped Darkus off at school, his dad went to the Natural History Museum from where he inexplicably VANISHED. Vanished from a locked room from which there was no other exit than the door he entered and definitely didn’t leave by. 

Darkus’s uncle Max, a renowned archaeologist, takes him under his wing. Darkus, having moved into his uncle’s flat over a health food shop, has to attend a new school. It is there that he is befriended by two fellow students, Virginia and Bertolt. Things are rough for Darkus, and the school’s cowardly bullies try to harass him. But with Virginia’s timely rescue, he gets by.

Now, that is all scene-setting and introductions. The real fun of this adventure starts when Uncle Max’s neighbours, Humphrey (an ogre of a man) and Pickering (thin, with unruly yellowing teeth and ill-fitting clothes), brawl in the street. The two can only be described as a nasty pair of bickering, probably incompetent cousins. Each is intent on domineering the other and opening their own shop in the premises they jointly inherited. As Darkus sits on the other side of the road and watches safely, a beetle falls from Humphrey’s trouser leg and makes his way to the kerb where Darkus sits. 

Of course, this beetle isn’t your ordinary beetle that a cat would happily play with, but the size of a hamster and with a rather sharp looking horn. It also seems to be seeking Darkus out! How could that possibly be, the unbelieving amongst us would say. Well, this dude is more than he appears. If Darkus had any doubts that the beetle was trying to talk to him, they were put aside when the beetle helped scare off the bullies that re-entered the scene.

To skip a little bit forwards, what happens next is Darkus, Virginia, and Bertolt join up to try and find Dr Cuttle. Max is also on the case but from another direction. 

At this point, I am coming perilously close to giving away too much. But what I will say is, we meet Lucretia Cutter, a geneticist. She and Dr Cuttle worked together but had, a long time past, parted company. Now whether Lucretia is good or bad remains to be seen, and her connection to Darkus’s father’s disappearance is, well, uncertain. One sure thing is that she likes beetles and intends to find some she genetically engineered and lost. 

OK, that’s as far as I dare go with tempting you. There is a lot more fun, action and adventure to be had in this book, and it would be a shame to give away too much.

So, what did we think?

Until I read this book, I hadn’t even begun to consider the beetle community in all its beauty, variety and even ferocity – in a self-defence kind of way. But it opened my eyes, like so many other readers, onto a whole new world. Believe me when I say that Mrs H and I will be putting up places for beetles to rest up in the garden and even designated beetle crossing points on the palaces drive. I persoanlly wont be bringing any home to…. er…. play with any long!

This book is must-read for the young aspiring ‘Entomologist’ (I guess that means me and anyone who studies insects) and reader. Personally, those little, and not so little, insect guys do so much for us that we should take the time to learn more. 

Brilliantly written for readers of age 9 and upwards, this book helps teach, too. It had me hooked, and I went and got Mrs H’s credit card and ordered the next two! Just as well I did, as, by the time I got to the end of this, I so needed another beetle fix. 

The book has some lovely illustrations too, by Júlia Sardà, that add to the flavour of the beetle adventure. 

Noted author, Katherine Woodfine, is quoted on the back cover of this book and says “A darkly funny Dahl-esque adventure.”  I think that is so true, and quite a recommendation in itself. 

 I would like to add that M.G. Leonard has written many excellent kids books that work really well for adult readers too. If you like trains, you HAVE to check out her “Adventures on Trains’ series of mystery adventures she co-authored with Sam Sedgman. We have, and they are well worth the price of the fare!

Want to buy a copy?

If you’d like a copy of Beetle Boy to add some entomological adventure into your life, then please do BEETLE along to your local bookshop first. 

Beetle Boy is published by Chicken House. A link to their website can be found HERE. 

M.G. Leonards website link can be found HERE.

Till next time, when we may well be reviewing Book 2 in this series, entitled Beetle Queen, we wish you a bug friendly week!

Till later.

Toodlepip and Purrs!

ERin

Featured

‘Max the Detective Cat’

By Sarah Todd Taylor

Reviews brought to you by Erin the Cat – Mystery and Adventures in Middle Grade reading.

Erin the Cat: Addicted to Murder, Mystery & Mice. Not necessarily in that order!

After a week or so of stress and strain, rain wind and scorching heat – caused mainly by a leaking lavatory roof then over active central heating system, Mrs H finally had time to get her flu jab. What a relief it is. Though with some tiring side effects and a mild cold, she hasn’t been able to do much around the palace. I did however manage to get her some light relief in the form of ploughing the fourteen acre field up the road, using horse power rather than diesel. We have to do our bit I said, pushing her out the door with her packed lunch thermos and a scarf.

Anyways, I am sure after that she’ll be as right as rain, and up to making my supper on her return!

Till then, it gives me great personal pleasure to introduce a firm favourite here at the Palace – Max the Detective Cat.  Max is written by the fantastic Sarah Todd Taylor.

This week we review:-

Max the Detective Cat. Books 1, 2 and 3. By Sarah Todd Taylor. Illustrated by Nicola Kinnear

These three books are published by ‘NOSY CROW’ an Independent Publisher. A link to the books on their web site can be found HERE.

Book 1. The Disappearing Diva

Max is a much pampered, and some may say, pompous fluffy white cat who has spent his days in the lap of luxury. Sat on velvet cushions, he enjoyed the very best salmon souffle off silver dishes. He was pampered at least six times a day by his beloved Countess Arlington.

Things really couldn’t be nicer for a London cat in the company of the highest of high society. Oh, but they could be worse, far, far worse, as he soon finds out.

After a mishap with a spider and a potted plant, large amounts of dirty pawprints around the townhouse, he ended up in the kitchens. There he discovered some mice and caused such chaos he ended up covered in cooking fat. After that, Max finds he’s no longer in favour. In fact, much to his confusion, he’s no longer in the house at all. Suddenly he is in a cat basket and destined to be dumped in the river!

Unhappy with the strange and smelly surroundings, Max busts out of his basket and heads off into the night. Of course, Max isn’t at all what you’d call streetwise. And London is not a hospitable place. It is also smelly to the extreme if you are a cat that was used to pot-puri! Hungry and scared of the street-cats the maids said would make mincemeat out of him, Max takes refuge under a bridge.

He hears a voice from the gloom, which turns out not to be trouble but Oscar, a one-eyed and ragged eared black cat. But he is kind and generous to Max, who is clearly not from that part of town.

Now, Max thinks he’s seen lots from his cossetted life and window-side view. But Oscar shows him otherwise by taking him on a trip across London’s rooftops. The two soon end up sitting beside the glass dome roof of the Theatre Royal. It is home, Oscar says, of the finest ballet, music, and acting in the world.

Now, it is at this point that the adventure really, really starts. Max ends up in the theatre itself and, after some first-class mousing, gets accepted and — well the rest is as they say he finds abetter place.

There is a mystery to unfold involving stolen gems, a lumpy and seemingly ill mannered diva of an actress and sporano named Madamme Emerald. Plus there is a rescue in a seedy part of London. Follow the clues or just enjoy the ride as Max and Oscar set out to save the day. 

Of course, if I told you much more, where would the fun be, right? Suffice to say, this story is really engaging and fun. There is a lovely array of characters that will grow on us in the following two books.

Unlike my stories, Max and Oscar cannot converse with humans. This makes for some fun bits of feline to human meowing dialogue and breathtaking action from our two protagonists. 

Book 2. The Phantom Portrait.

Max The Detective cat: The Phantom Portrait.

Max, Oscar and the cast and crew of the theatre decamp from London to Sussex and Lord Fawley’s castle to give a special, one-off performance in celebration of his daughters birthday. Along the way their car swerves, and both Max and Oscar get thrown out the window and get left behind. They have to trail through a scary night haunted by owls and other worrying sounds (like the shrill squeak of mice, all of which scare Max!) until they eventually find the castle, and safety.

It should be a fun outing, and everyone is looking forwards to not only their own show but the other entertainment that includes a masked ball. BUT Max soon senses there is something amiss in the castle when he hears footsteps beside him but there is nobody there. It seems there is a ghost in residence and a haunted portrait, a long lost diamond tiara, and a prophecy of doom should the castles old and locked up theatre is reopened – the very same theatre the cast and crew will perform in!

Not long after some ghostly terrifying experiences, a last minute guest arrives in the form of Antonio, a ‘physical researcher’ ghost catcher. Too much of a timely coincidence? Are the guest really just there for the party?

Max thinks not and gets embroiled in a perilous, and to quote the book, “HAIR RAISING” ghoulish mystery to enthral us all. 

Book 3. The Catnap Caper.

Max The Detective Cat: The Catnap Caper.

Max and Oscar head to Paris to visit Madam Emerald. With them go Agnes and Sylvia (two of the Theatre Royals talented chorus). They are all accompanied by Monsieur Lavroche (the Royals manager) and Mrs Garland (the costumier). Madame Emerald happens to be one of the judges in the most prestigious singing competition in Europe – The Voice of Paris – which is down to the last 4 competitors. 

The thing is, whilst the famous of France mingle socially at that event, their precious jewels are being stolen by a particularly clever thief! Worse still, the much loved feline companions of these well to do are being napped whilst they nap! Add the fact that the competition is brewing some serious rivalry, and you have set the scene for this adventure.

When Max hears of the catnapping, he knows from the tingle in his fluffy tail that there is more to this than meets the eye. And that this is a case HE needs to solve. Working against the clock, Max’s investigation will take high into the sky, and across the rooftops of Paris in pursuit of clues and the kidnapped felines.

As the third and currently last in the Max series, this is not to be missed! 

OK, so what did we think?

There are currently three adventures featuring Max, and Mrs H and I loved them all. Whilst the books are aimed at the 7-9 age group, they provide a refreshing, fun, quick read for adults and feline lovers everywhere. 

They are also beautifully illustrated. All credit to Nicola Kinnear for such fun images throughout the books which capture the essence of the writing superbly!

I loved the way Max, the younger cat, and Oscar the worldwise senior cat, build such a strong relationship, and how, in the thick of an adventure, they still have to get the message across to the humans. Dealing with humans when you are one is bad enough, but when you’re a cat it is a minefield! an but ope for another adventure.

Should you buy this series?

Absolutely. The books are easy to read, and a fine present for any young reader moving up the ladder. 

If you do chose to by a copy or all three, then please do chose to buy from your local indepenent book shop where you can.

OK, so that is it from us this week. We’ll be back in a week or so time with another great book. Until then, stay safe, and most of all, enjoy yourself immersed in a good book!

Toodle pips

ERin

Featured

Death Sets Sail

‘Death Sets Sail’ by Robin Stevens.

A Murder Mystery book review by Erin the Cat Princess

Addicted to Murder, Mystery and Mice (NOT necessarily in that order!)

The news of Upper Much-Mousing events has been cancelled for this week. Not because of illness but because Mrs H ran out fuel for her motorcycle. 

How does that affect the news, I hear you ask? Well, it seems she only had enough change in her purse to type up my dictation of this review over the telephone whilst standing in a public call box. Hopefully she, my shopping and the news will return, fully fueled, in time for next weeks review! Also, if this review is a tad more squashed than usual, then blame the size of the telephone box!

Now, enough of the pre-amble and lets get on with the show!

‘Is This The End For The Detective Society?’

This week, somewhat sadly, we have come to the final main story in the MMU (Murder Most Unladylike) series of murder mystery adventures. 

It has been a fascinating and exciting series that has kept us going the past couple of years. OK, enough chat, let’s get this show on the road, or should I say, all aboard the steamer for a trip down the Nile!

The Plot:

‘This is an account of the last murder mystery the Detective Society will ever solve together.’ 

The story opens with these very telling words. Words that will hang like a portent of death, a harbinger of evil, in the bone-dry Egyptian air throughout what is to come for our two, seemingly invincible detectives . . .

For this finale of an adventure, it is fitting we should have all of our favourites from the series. Hazel, Daisy, Hazel’s father and her two sisters, Amina and her father, and George and Alexander of the Junior Pinkertons come together for one last adventure.

Amina’s father, a wealthy Egyptian businessman, invites Daisy and Hazel to spend Christmas with Amina in Cairo. 

Hazel’s father agrees to her going and says he will meet them there to share Egypt as a family. Daisy gets Uncle Felix’s blessing too. Together the three girls fly to Egypt and take the sights, escorted by Amina’s family’s long-suffering pallid English governess. 

On arriving at her father’s hotel in Cairo, Hazel, along with Daisy and Amina, can’t help but hear and see a loud and irritating group of genteel European ladies and gentlemen. If only that was all, they were! They are members of a fantastic sect called the Breath of Life, who believe that they are the reincarnation of the pharaohs. The more you pay them, the greater chance the sect’s head, Mrs Theodora Miller, will divine you to be a high ranking king or queen. She already thinks of herself to be Hatshepsut. The locals quite rightly ignore the sect’s preaching; after all, why would an Egyptian pharaoh come back as a dumpy European lady?

Anyway, the girls think they have seen the last of them, but they not only board the same train to head to the Nile but also end up on the very same cruise! 

Tensions carry on rising amidst the members of the sect and the crew. Not helped by Mrs Miller commandeering the lounge for some unusual rite that involves the weighing of the heart (not literally) to find if someone is worthy.

When Mrs Miller is found murdered, stabbed to death, and her daughter sleepwalking whilst covered in blood, they seem to have an open and shut case. Let me tell you that once the girls and the boys get investigating, it is anything but. 

Estranged family with an axe to grind? Members of the sect jealous to rise in the ranks of the reincarnated? Any number of people suddenly seem to have a motive. But Who Actually Did It???

And there is where I have to leave the review and taster. I may have said more than I ought, but I think the mystery is so very much more.

What did we think?

Whoa, what a finale to the series!

We loved the characters; they really are a fabulous bunch of potential suspects. It is wonderful that so much gets said between Hazel and her father and the boys and girls. That is nice and settles some questions.

The scene setting gives an authentic flavour of the day and location. Mixed with but not overburdened by a selection of facts that carries us through the story and educates. 

Think of the best Agatha Christie adaptation for the movies or small screen, and I think this is comparable. In its now inimitable fashion, it casts the same sort of magic for its younger reader. It has taken many readers, ourselves included, on an emotional and exciting ride right up to the final pages. Arguably, even beyond!

High praise, and yes, it does deserve it. The whole series has won plaudits from many reviewing agencies. 

Until you start writing characters and plots, I do not think we as readers can truly grasp the enormity of the task of ‘world-building’. Robin Stevens has masterfully created a timeline of adventures that take the girls across countries and through the seasons. They experience love, loss, fear and friendships. And through it all is woven the unstoppable and inescapable acts of growing up. Culminating in what is truly one of the classic settings, and a nod to a Mistress of Murder. 

I think a sign of how masterful this series has been is the fact neither Mrs H nor I had realised how much we had become invested in their lives and world. How much we cheered them on, gasped at revelations or kicked ourselves, along with the characters, when things guessed incorrectly or a wrong turn made. 

I will make no apology for the fact that I have had to be particularly candid about the story’s details. Things get going quite literally from the opening line.

Be prepared to be shocked, raised high, then plummeted to depths. For those that haven’t read this series, I do strongly suggest reading from the beginning. Yes, you can read this as a stand-alone, but it will be losing the contextual experience of the relationships between characters and their investment in each other over 8 books. If you have read up to this point, then I need to say no more than be prepared, but this is everything we have been waiting for and more.

Want to buy a copy?

If you’d like a copy of Death Sets Sail for your next cruise, please do support your local bookshop first. 

If you would like something extra spiffing, Round Table Books, here in the UK, can offer special editions, signed copies and pre-orders. I believe they do ship internationally too. A link to Round Table Books special orders can be found HERE.

A BIG PS

Now, eagle-eyed among our readers will have spotted certain clues that there may be more books to this series. And I am pleased to say that there are some short stories to be had. The first is called Cream Buns and Crime and subtitled ‘Tips, Tricks and Tales from the Detective Society’. Jolly good fun for your next bun break!

‘Tips, Tricks and Tales from the Detective Society’

There is also the recently published collection of 6 short adventures called ‘Once Upon a Crime’. Two of the stories have been published separately – The Case of the Missing Treasure and the Case of the Drowned Pearl – but have not been widely available. So seeing them here makes a welcome addition to this new book so all can enjoy them. 

‘Once Upon a Crime‘ features characters old and new and recounts tales of ‘off-screen’ moments referred to in other stories, as well as a lead into a brand new series of adventures for Hazel’s sisters, May and Rose. 

We read this in the last few weeks and can happily say it lives up to the main 9 stories and is a most welcome addition to the Murder Most Unladylike series. 

OK, so that really is it from us here at the Palace this week. We will return with a review of another great set of books for you to enjoy. 

Till then, we hope your own summer vacations culminate in nothing more worrying than thoughts of the reincarnation of last nights pizza! 

Till later.

Toodlepip and Purrs!

ERin

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Top Marks for Murder.

Top Marks for Murder, by Robin Stevens.

A Murder Mystery book review by Erin the Cat Princess.

It’s finally Saturday, and that means it’s time for my Saturday Book Review!

But first, a quick word from our sponsor with a look at my week here at the Palace.

The summer here in Upper Much-Mousing, set deep in the tiny English county of East Lambtonshire, has been pretty much business as usual. Now most of the crops are in, I’ve been preparing for one of the events for which Lower, and Upper Much-Mousing were and are known – MouseFest.

As the lady of the manor, I also hold the honorary title of ‘The Majestic Much-Mousing Mouse Muncher Mistress’. Thankfully it is a title that has no requirement for a minimum waist size. What I have to do is inspect the fields for mice. Once I have found the best field, I then select the best points for the competitors to station themselves for the night of the hunt.

It is hard work and requires many hours of nighttime observation and patience (as well as restraint) on my part to pick the best spots. I should stress that competing cats from the neighbourhood are checked before the competition to ensure they don’t bring their own mice to add to their tally.

This year’s hot favourite is Bertie, mouse-catcher in residence at the local inn. He has quite a following (not from the mice) though I think he is a bit on the stout side from, well, too much stout. My favourite, and a small amount of my piggy bank, is riding on Mavis, the baker’s cat. She has a rigorous exercise routine that includes kneading the dough to builder upper arm strength. She also does resistance training stretching out the dough so Dorothy, the baker, can make those fancy plaited loaves.

The outsider for this years event, a black cat called Sid from the undertakers, is definitely worth an each-way bet. Not the chatty sort that guy, but patient and silent as the . . . well you get my drift.

Me, I’ll be sat with Mrs H in the Much-Mousing Tea Rooms, an extension to Mrs Singhs Food Emporium, enjoying a hard-earned nap in advance of the prize-giving. And naturally, I’ll be checking out this year’s prize, which was kindly donated by Johnson’s Cream Bar – a years supply of fresh double cream!

I shall post the results of the event just as soon as we recover from the awards ceremony.

Oh, just in case you are interested, the second prize is a year’s membership to the village gym! Methinks they should amalgamate those two prizes, don’t you!

Anyways, enough of my rustic village life; let’s get on with the review!

‘Death is back at Deepdean’

This week we review the next book in the ‘Murder Most Unladylike’ series, ‘Top Marks for Murder’, by the wonderful Mrs Robin Stevens.

The Plot:

The adventure starts as our heroines, aged nearly 15, return to Deepdean School for Girls after their escapades in London. They have settled back into being just ordinary schoolgirls and all that goes with that.

The year is 1936. The month, July. The upcoming event is the 50th Anniversary Weekend of the Deepdean School for Young Ladies. The girls’ parents, many of them ex-pupils, are invited to a weekend celebration. It will be full of banquets and events, academic and athletic, indoors and out, put on by the pupils and with parent participation.

So far, so good. And with things planned to a T, and the girls all dressed up and on their best behaviour, then everything should be OK.

But of course, a murder mystery would not be such without a murder. And Deepdean School, for those that have followed the series, is now about to get its third. To make matters worse, if it’s not solved by the girls come the end of the event, it will be its last as the school will close, permanently.

If that wasn’t enough, whilst Daisy and Hazel have been away, a new girl has arrived at Deepdean from a posh school in Cairo. Amina is in the year below Hazel and Daisy. With stunning good looks and perfect manners towards the teachers, she has stolen the light from Daisy. It is fair to say Daisy is not at all pleased.

When one of the younger students, Beanie, spots from afar what she believes is a murder being committed in the woods at the edge of the grounds, the deadly game is afoot.

When the girls go off to investigate, they find two clues. One points to a French connection, and the other, most shockingly, to one or other of the murderer or victim, or both, being a parent or member of the school council coming to the school. But what they don’t find is a body.

Not much to go on. And one could say without a body, there is no murder and thus no case. But Daisy and Hazel feel otherwise. With the help of the other members of the Detective Society – Lavinia, Kitty and Beanie – and the police, they set about spying on the parents when they arrive for the weekend celebrations. At least, on those that have come. But what of those that haven’t? Is one of those the victim, or maybe they’re the murderer! So, whilst the girls work on their allotted tasks for the big occasion, they have to wheedle out information from the adults.

What they find is a complicated web of long-buried rivalries and relationships between the adults and secrets that maybe should stay buried. This WILL be a weekend for revelation and murders and also family feud and sadness. Fair play and foul.

As with all reviews, there comes the chapter/point where we have to let the new reader carry on and find out for themselves.

What did we think?

I really liked this book. It was thankfully and rightly quite different to the two previous mysteries centred on the school. It is pretty complex, and there is far more fun and games than I have been able to give the book credit for in this short summary. Rest assured, as we reach the climax, there will be a feast of entertainment and crime to make you think twice about the guests at your table and place settings!

Of the books so far, this goes further into relationships and friendships. It also acts, I think, as a springboard to show how much the girls have changed. It also shows how in life, that change can happen in such a short time.  I like that. Yet, I get a real sense that the youthfulness of the other adventures is being left behind.

So, it may not come as a surprise that this is the penultimate book in this series. It will also not be a surprise if I say that of the books so far, I think this is not my favourite.

It is nothing to do with the adventure, just my taste and the loss of innocence as the characters grow. But I am pleased to say that this book is right up there and is both engaging and entertaining. It is also very much on a par with an Agatha Christie novel. That in itself is, Mrs H says, much credit to the skill of Robin Stevens as the author.

Should I buy a copy?

Absolutely. I would say this is an essential part of the series and not to be missed. Taken as a whole series, I think you’ll want to read this so you go into the finale ready for what will happen, and believe me, it happens in an absolute spiffing fashion.

Want to buy a copy?

As ever, if you are going to buy, please do support your local independent bookseller.

If you would like something extra spiffing, Round Table Books, here in the UK, can offer special editions, signed copies and pre-orders. I believe they do ship internationally too. A link to Round Table Books special orders can be found HERE. If you cant see what you are after, then do drop them an email.

We will return, editorial work on our own adventure novel permitting, in a week or so, and will be reviewing the FINAL book in this series, book 9. It is a classic adventure and one not to be missed. 

So, pack yourselves a case and join Mrs H and me as we head off for an adventure on the Nile, with ‘Death Sets Sail’.

I hope you enjoyed our review and a peek at life here at the Palace.

Till then, we hope your school report doesn’t look like mine and say ‘A very trying pupil!’

Toodlepip and Purrs!

ERin

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Death in the Spotlight.

 A Murder Most Unladylike adventure by Robin Stevens.

A Murder Mystery book review by Erin the Cat Princess.

Well, what a week it has been at the Palace. Monday, I sent Mrs H out to look at new flooring for the study. And would you believe it, she came back having looked at nothing but skirting boards. So, being the cunning feline I am, I sent her out on Tuesday to look for skirting boards with the hope she would look at flooring instead. 

The logic was there, but somehow…. well, let’s just say the request translated into looking at wallpaper. By Friday, we, meaning I, had sent her to look for everything else, but come what may, I still had no samples of flooring. I have catalogues for sinks, taps and plumbing sundries. There’s also a teetering pile of paint swatches, and strips of curtain fabric – which Mrs H assures me she did not cut out of the curtains in the shop window. I also have multiple rolled up lengths of wallpaper that look like the most ornate and expensive rolls of loo paper imaginable. I’ll be saving them for when we have royal guests I want to impress!

Any hope of new floorboard samples seemed to have disappeared. So I took things into my own claws. This morning I finally managed to corner Mrs H on the matter whilst she had her porridge; the live mouse I’d invited to share her bowl of said breakfast stodge, poised (gracefully in my delicate jaws) ready to join her.

Mrs H hurriedly apologised, and assured me that there were no physical samples available. At least not of a length that wouldn’t jeopardise the lives and limbs of pedestrians as she cycled by. So, she has decided to get the same as we already have.

Wouldn’t it have just been easier if she’d told me that from the the off?

OK, enough of my interior decorating and flooring woes, let’s get on with the show!

‘THE STAGE IS SET FOR MURDER’

This week we review the next book in the ‘Murder Most Unladylike’ series, ‘Death in the Spotlight’, by the fabulous Mrs Robin Stevens.

The Plot:

Hazel and Daisy have returned from their adventure in Hong Kong, but it is mid-term, and they can’t yet go back to their school, Deepdean. Instead, they stay in London with Daisy’s Uncle Felix and his new wife, Aunt Lucy. 

To keep them out of trouble (Ha!), Aunt Lucy takes them hither and thither to enjoy London. BUT when something crops up at Lucy’s very hush-hush secretive work, the girls end up going to help Lucy’s friends aunt. She happens to run the Rue Theatre in London. The thought is Hazel and Daisy will be entertained, supervised and enjoy the acting experience. Yes, that’s right, the girls get small parts in the theatre’s upcoming production of Romeo and Juliet.

This sets the scene, quite literally, for what happens next — MURDER.

The girls soon discover the cast has many conflicting personalities, and pasts they would rather not share. And there are the ever-present problems of a lack of money. There is also the sweet scent of romance, and not just because it is Romeo and Juliet.

Things start on a reasonably even keel with a prima donna of a star, Miss Rose Tree, causing the usual fuss and rubbing everyone up the wrong way. 

But very quickly, there come the threats. A note in Rose’s roses saying someone is coming for her. A peacock feather is left in her room at the theatre, and then her gown is slashed. Next comes a set of posters papered to the outside of the theatre for all the public to see. In a nasty version of Kitty in the well, they say that’s where Rose Tree is! 

When Rose Tree walks out and does not return the next day, few seem bothered. But the girls sense foul play. Soon after a murder is uncovered, and the real drama begins. Following on, the girls meet up with the Junior Pinkertons detectives, Alexander and George and the case takes them across London. Like all the best detective stories, the devil and the murders are in the detail. There is so much more I want to tell you, but really can’t.

So, I do think that this is a perfect place for the first interval. With the curtain down, I shall let you head to the bar to ponder over a soft drink or cocoa – after all, there are kids present in the audience – what will happen next. Will the show make it to the first night? Will our intrepid duo survive rehearsals and get to take their bows and an encore? Or will the play and the cast die a horrible death, and not just from the critics?! To find the answers to these meddlesome questions, you will just have to wait and see. . . 

What did we think?

Robin Stevens has picked an excellent theme for this adventure mystery. Theatre is full of tradition and superstition. And most importantly, the cast is already pretending to be who they aren’t. Seeing through not one but two or maybe three disguises is, I think, what makes this adventure extra appealing. 

I didn’t manage to solve this one, though I did think at one point it was the lady that sells the ice creams, and it was all down to timing. When Mrs H asked why, I insisted on proving my point by ordering up some double-cream ices tubs of my own. Mrs H timed me eating them and, well, let’s just say that my idea, like the cream tub, came up empty. Oh, the things I have to endure in the name of my art. . . . 

Anyway, as the series has progressed, we have met both girls, their classmates and their families, in sadness and in joy. Now it is time to learn more about the girls themselves, more so Daisy in this book. This aspect is done so well by our author. I dare say I had not seen such thoughtful representation of characters until I started reading Middle Grade/YA books. 

I think it is often assumed/ignored in adult books and tiptoed around and over in younger age books. I shall add that this is a rounded adventure that does, like all the others, deal with matters sensitively and thoughtfully. It does it in a way that, like the clues, weaves itself seamlessly through the pages. 

So, if we were looking for candidates for this year’s Upper Much-Mousing Book of the Year Award, then this one is definitely a candidate. 

The prize for the winning author is a one-week free holiday in the Palace’s newly built holiday chalet (AKA Old Ned’s potting shed – cold running water and insect spray available on request with small surcharge payable).

Should I buy a copy?

If treading the boards, greasepaint, costumes, and all manner of murderous acts are your thing, then Murder in the Spotlight is likely to raise the curtain on an evening or fives worth of entertainment. So the answer is a resounding – Oh Yes You Should!

Want to buy a copy?

As to buying, please do support your local independent bookseller.

If you would like something extra spiffing, Round Table Books, here in the UK, can offer special editions, signed copies and pre-orders. I believe they do ship internationally too. A link to Round Table Books can be found HERE. Do drop them a line if what you want isn’t shown.

Round Table Books is “an Inclusion-led book shop” based at the heart of Brixton, London, UK. As shown on their website, their purpose is to highlight and celebrate underrepresented children’s books, writers and illustrators. It draws from as wide a range as possible of the UK and Irish publishing houses. 

Next time I will be reviewing the next major book in the series, book 8, ‘Top Marks for Murder’ the penultimate in the series. 

OK, so that is it from us here at the Palace. We will return, editorial work on our own adventure novel permitting, in a week or so time.

Till then, we hope your own spoons will be filled with nothing more sinister than lukewarm porridge! 

Until later,

Toodlepip and Purrs!

ERin

PS

Mrs H has asked me to offer this warning: Do remember choc-ices, lemonade and popcorn all cause a sticky mess. So, if participating in such delights, best not read this in bed!

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Would you like milk with that?

 ‘A Spoonful of Murder’ by Robin Stevens; a Murder Mystery book review hosted by Erin the Cat!

Addicted to Murder Mystery and Mice!

Well, what a funny old summer it has been, and strangely my thoughts are, if not exactly heading to Christmas time, then thoughts of Halloween. Brrr, doesnt it just make you shiver and send the staff heading off to dig out the winter duvets! 

Well, I say duvets, but this year we are trying something different. Mrs H is trying a weighted blanket, and a sensory sheet. Now if you havent heard of such things then do look them up as they help restless sleepers get a good nights sleep. Why she wants a weighted blanket when she has me to pin her to the bed, I don’t know, but hey-ho, the ways of housekeepers are sometimes beyond not so mere princesses such as I.

OK, enough of the pre-amble and lets get on with the show!

“Not everyone is playing happy families…”

This week we are reviewing the Next book in the Murder Most Unladylike series, By Robin Stevens, called A Spoonful of Murder.


The Plot:

This time around Hazel becomes the lead detective of our fab duo when she and Daisy venture to Hazel’s birthplace and the family home in Hong Kong. 

When Hazel’s beloved grandfather passes away, Hazel, as much through love as duty, travels home by boat to be with her father and mother, as well as her fathers second wife and her two encouragable younger half-sisters, May and Rose.

Don’t worry, family stuctures in Hong Kong are very different to those in the west, as Daisy soon realises. Daisy, the architypal British aristocratic lord’s daughter, also realises that she is a fish out of water – as Hazel had been in England – and that Hazel, who has never made much of her family wealth and standing, is actually a bit of a ‘dark horse’. But, in true Daisy-like fashion, she aims to make the most of the trip and learn as much as she can to fit in, and regain a modicum of her authority.

Now this is all scene setting, and there is NO mystery in Hazel’s Grandfathers death. But, there is a surprise that triggers the series of events and creates a fantastic adventure for the girls. On arriving home, Hazel discovers that she has a new baby brother! A step brother by her father’s second wife. Hazel is devastated, not least because she hasnt been told before now. But things run deeper than just that. With a new baby brother, her place as the eldest child and apple of her fathers eye is automatically usurped in favour of Teddy, the baby. Despite his age, he will rule the roost as the son. 

Emotions run high for Hazel, as I am sure you can imagine. But, these get put, if not completely to one side, then slightly out of focus when Teddy is kidnapped, and his nurse maid, who was Hazel’s own whilst she was growing up, is murdered.

Now at this point things really do take off. There is, like all of these books, a great selction of characters events and clues to be considered by the two detectives. Add to this that the girls get embroiled with the local Triad gang, risking their own safety in the process, then we have a bowlful of even more Murder Mystery and Suspense to captivate the avid reader.

I shall have to leave it there for the review, as to go further will, I think, spoil the fun.

What did we think?

This is a wonderfully crafted continuation of the series, that touches on many aspects of society, values and predjudices, as well as family emotions and driving forces. It is also a jolly good read!

Mrs H and I both loved this new and orignal adventure, especially meeting May and Rose, Hazel’s sisters. We will, I promise, get to hear and see more of them as time goes by. I have to say I learned a lot from this book, and think a younger reader will too. Most of all we both loved the way the plot accelerated and developed as the girls fought against the clock to get Teddy back and solve the murders!

It is also heartwarmimg, and gratifying. We truly cant praise this book enough for what it brings to this genre and age range – and beyond. The series, which I must confess Mrs H has now read up to date, has been a constant bedside companion.

Want to buy a copy?

If you’d like a Spoonful of Crime with your morning oats, muesli or granola, please do support your local bookshop first. 

If you would like something extra spiffing, Round Table Books, here in the UK, can offer special editions, signed copies and pre-orders. I believe they do ship internationally too. A link to Round Table Books special orders can be found HERE.

Round Table Books is “an Inclusion-led book shop” based at the heart of Brixton, London, UK. Its purpose, as shown on their website, is to highlight and celebrate underrepresented children’s books, writers and illustrators, and draws from as wide a range as possible of UK and Irish publishing houses. Mrs H says, in an age when small or minority is often pushed to one side by the big, shops across the world like Round Table Books, should be encouraged by us all, so we can nurture great new diverse talent.

Next time I will be reviewing the next major book in the series ‘Death in the Spotlight’.

OK, so that is it from us here at the Palace. We will return, editorial work on our own adventure permitting, in a week or so time.

Till then, we hope your own spoons will be filled with nothing more sinister than lukewarm porridge!

Till later.

Toodlepip and Purrs!

ERin

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A review of ‘The Ship of Shadows’.

Mystery and Adventures in Middle Grade reading. Reviews brought to you by Erin the Cat.

This week we review:-

The Ship of Shadows, By Maria Kuzniar 

 

Hello and welcome back to the blog. 

After a hefty hiatus, and by that I don’t mean all the pounds and kilos Mrs H has piled on during lockdown, we have finally burst free from the covid induced hiding under the duvet, with a review of a most wonderful book.

I recently finished reading books 1 & 2 in the Strangeworlds Travel Agency series by acclaimed author L.D. Lapinski (more on these great books in another review) and found myself with a massive void to fill in my reading life. So I instructed Mrs H to hunt through through Amazon for something exciting and flavoursome that I could dive into. 

Alas, she bought a saucepan! I tweeted about my woes at her apparent ineptitude, and possible need for new glasses, and was rewarded by L.D. Lapinski herself recommending to us The Ship of Shadows.

And most grateful I am too, as this has proven to be a delightful adventure.

So enough of the pre-amble, heres the review!

The Ship of Shadows by Maria Kuzniar

The adventure starts in Seville, Spain, in the early part of the 1700’s, 1715 to be precise. Here we meet Aleja, a twelve-year-old who would rather seek adventure and trips to foreign countries than do what other girls her age are expected to do. Teased and bullied for wanting to follow her dreams, she spends her nights on the city’s rooftops. There she dreams, studies the stars, and reads books about the famous pirates, explorers and adventurers: Columbus and Thomas James, to name but two.


One night Aleja spots a mysterious, cannon-fire damaged ship slip silently into port under cover of darkness. When she realises the ship belongs to the long-missing, presumed dead explorer, Thomas James, her interest is more than aroused. Piecing together what she has read, this ship has to be the infamous Ship of Shadows, a pirate ship feared by men and said to be crewed by a band of merciless pirate women. The ship is also said to be haunted by the ghosts of the sailors they have killed. She is keen to know more. After all, these are women who are defying the expectations of their gender and living a life of adventure Aleja can only dream of. Who wouldn’t want to at least see if the tales were true?


Whilst following one of the women from the crew, she discovers, quite by chance, smuggled gold coins on the dock – counterfeit coins. Caught with a coin in her hand, she manages to escape from the gang. If she tells the authorities, the penalty for them will be death. The sentence for being accused of being a thief is public flogging. The smugglers give chase, intent on retrieving the coin and branding her a thief. Aleja runs because who would believe a twelve-year-old over the leader of the gang who is a prominent landlord. 


Now, through twists and turns, she comes a cropper and is caught. And so begins probably the best adventure of its kind I have read in many a year, and worthy to sit beside Robert Louis Stevenson’s Treasure Island, the Arabian Nights tales, and Jules Verne’s adventures. I know these are big names to compare against, but this is a big-hearted story in the same vein. 


What I really liked.

An excellent and varied supporting cast of personalities that are not cut and dried, and evolve with the story. No adventure would be complete without villains, and this has the looming threat of a key antagonist, a pirate hunter with a grudge. Of course, there are fantastic monsters, too, monsters that I think Jules would have been proud of and punctuate the story just at the right moments! Mrs H says she’ll never be going to the seaside again without some serious backup!


Did I mention the ship itself? Well, that is more fun and secrets buried within its timbers than Hogwarts.


Which sort of leads me to a question I have increasingly been asking myself as I read more and more Middle-Grade adventures. Would I take this over JK Rowling’s Harry Potter series, given this is the first book? The answer is an emphatic YES. Both have their merits, but this has a kind of spark that goes deeper and wider and stretches the enquiring mind more. Maybe that is just us, but Mrs H and I both felt that we had been transported away with this book, and I half expected a flying carpet to be by the bedroom window when I looked out. 


Now I won’t spoil any more for you; that really would not be fair on what is a wonderful tale.

The second instalment of this beautiful adventure, called The ‘Secrets of the Stars’, is released 8th of July 2021. We are hoping to buy of a copy of this as soon as released and will do a review for you.


If you know some budding adventurer (of whatever age) who would love a great read, then please do consider ordering from your local independent book shop. In this day and age, they all deserve our business.

I can’t leave without saying just how nice the book cover is. In fact, it has two front covers, all glossy and exciting.

And here is the back cover.

Well that’s it from me this week. I hope you enjoyed this review.

The Ship of Shadows is published by Puffin Books, part of Penguin Random House. 

Tune in next time when we will be reviewing one of my favourites: Max the Detective Cat, by Sarah Todd Taylor!

Erin the Cat: Addicted to Mice, Mystery and Adventure!

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Murder with your mince pies, anyone?

 ‘Mistletoe and Murder’ by Robin Stevens: a festive Murder Mystery book review & a Selfie!

Addicted to Mice and Mystery

Welcome one and all, to the global extravaganza that is, the Saturday Book Review!

With that dreaded season of goodwill nearly upon us, we bring you our last book review of the year.

Why dreaded I hear you ask?

Well, if you’ve ever heard the UMM (Upper Much-Mousing) choir, then you’d know why! And if the singing weren’t enough, there is the annual “Great UMM Bake-Off.” For those not familiar with the event, chefs from across UMM, who would normally for the sake of public health and safety, be banned from entering a kitchen let alone actually cooking anything, are let loose to prepare a festive meal. To avoid cheating, anyone who has any skill or can open a tin of beans, is automatically disqualified from taking part. 

The prizegiving takes place at the UMM Charity Christmas meal for those in need (and those who have no breakable teeth, or taste buds) and is generally well attended. OK, the presence of so many paramedics is unusual, but the flashing lights on the ambulances do add some cheer to the event. 

Afterwards, there is the annual Inter Village no-holds-barred ice-hockey match. Now for aficionados, there is one significant difference. The traditional puck is replaced by a selection of overbaked seasonal fare: mince pies, slices of Yule log, and Christmas puds. Mrs H tells me that they did once use turkey wings, but the aerodynamics of burnt wings were not conducive to the game staying on the rink! The winners are the team that can leave the pitch without limping or severe injury! If you plan to attend this culinary match, face masks of the steel kind are an absolute MUST! 

Erin reviews Mistletoe & Murder!
Mistletoe and Murder, the perfect Christmas read recipe!

OK, so enough of the local goings on in Upper Much-Mousing, here’s the book review. . . .

These last few weeks we have been reading book five in the Murder Most Unladylike series, titled: Mistletoe and Murder.

What’s it all about?

The setting.

It is a few days before Christmas 1935. Hazel and Daisy have managed to wangle their festive holidays staying in Cambridge with Daisy’s brother, Bertie, who is studying at Maudlin College. Now aged 14, the girls are looking forward to having an ‘adult-free’ time enjoying the delights of the city, cream teas and mincepies and cake.  

To add to the excitement Alexander, an American boy the girls met on the Orient Express (See book 3 – A First Class Murder) is also staying at another college nearby. He has come with fellow Junior Pinkerton, George, and his brother Harold. Both Alexander and George are, of course, co-chairs, and members of a rival detective society to that of the girls.

The Plot:

The girls learn that in Maudlin College, a male-only college, two of Bertie’s fellow students Donald Melling & Charles ‘Chummy’ Melling are to throw a big party. It’s their coming of age, and it happens to be Christmas day. Now it seems that Donald is always having nasty accidents, as well as being the butt of jokes played by his brother, Chummy. Nothing unusual there you may say, sort of brotherly mischief, and you would ordinarily be right. BUT, On their birthday, Donald, who is ten minutes older than Chummy, will inherit a vast fortune. He plans to spend it on a dubious sounding diamond mine somewhere, a fact that rankles Chummy no end. Tempers between the two are always flaring, and all seem to agree that Chummy should be the one to inherit. After all, he is the more likeable and more outward going, right?

But for our two sleuths, and the Pinkertons, the accidents happening to Donald can mean only one undeniable thing, someone is trying to bump Donald off. All fingers and facts point to Chummy.

Now how would you go about solving and preventing a crime that hasn’t happened? Well, the two societies come up with a plan that will hopefully not only save Donald but decide whether the girls or the boys are the best detectives. The bet is that the first society to solve the crime to be and expose the villain will win. The winner gets the credit, and the loser has to publically proclaim that they are not the best detectives in town…….

The scene is set, and the action starts in this latest adventure, but suddenly, and somewhat unexpectedly, and also inconveniently, someone else is murdered!!!

To add to the adventure, the girls have been hamstrung: girls are not allowed to be in the college, in fact, the College Master has barred them.

Will there be blood spilt between the rival detective Societies? Will Daisy and Hazel fall out again? Will, there be romance this time around, and if so, who has their eyes on whom, and will they notice?

Will you ever be able to look at Mice Pies, Mistletoe and Port in the same way ever again?

Alas, I can not say more as from here on in the story is full of clues and has more ups and downs, many literal, than you could shake a Latin textbook at. Needless to say, to get to the end, the detectives have to outwit each other and the police. Not forgetting Daisy’s intimidating Aunt Austasia, who is a Cambridge don, and some rather irritated University staff, who may have something to do with the crime/s. And all this as the clock ticks down to Christmas Day!

What did we think?

We really enjoyed this book. OK. . . . that is an understatement, it was brilliant! The plot, like the student lodgings in which the crimes and a lot of the action take place, have more ups downs and sideways moves than a snakes and ladders board, and clearly just as dangerous.

Intelligent, complex and fun, and a step up from the last adventure. This book ably reflects the time and gives a feel for the season and location – albeit in a localised way. The story does also reflect the time as far as the treatment and attitude towards women students is concerned, as well as the way non-English students were viewed. The subjects are well handled though and show the authors adeptness at writing for middle-grade and older readers alike.

Who should read this book?

We read with an open mind and to have fun. But we don’t want to be spoonfed. This book, like the others, isn’t patronising for the younger reader, and engaging for the older reader (in Mrs H’s case, the ANCIENT reader!). So definitely suitable for ages 9 upwards (to ancient). We love the format of the book/adventure which has retained the first-person narrative (from Hazel). The book also includes a plan of the location and floor levels to the students’ rooms. There are clues there if we can spot them, but if you fancy a ride, the story sails along like a punt on the River Cam, that flows through Cambridge.

Fancy having a read for Christmas? Then please do consider treating your thermal stockings to a copy. The audible version is just as good and could be winging its way into some readers virtual stocking in seconds. 

Want to buy a copy?

If you’d like a spot of crime with your cranberries or Murder with your Mince Pies, the links below will take you to Amazon. Should you happen to buy a copy, and we hope you will, Mrs H and I will earn a few pence that we will be multiplying up and passing on to our local cat and dog Rescue Centre.

However, 

All book shops across the world are feeling the effects of the Covid virus and imposed lockdowns. If you can, please do support your local bookshop first. 

If you would like something extra spiffing, Round Table Books here in the UK, can offer special editions, signed copies and pre-orders. I believe they do ship internationally too. A link to Round Table Books special orders can be found HERE.

Round Table Books is “an Inclusion-led book shop” based at the heart of Brixton, London, UK. Its purpose is to highlight and celebrate underrepresented children’s books, writers and illustrators, and draws from as wide a range as possible of UK and Irish publishing houses. Mrs H says, in an age when small is often pushed to one side by the big, shops across the world like Round Table Books, should be encouraged by us all, so we can nurture great new diverse talent.

USA Link to buy BOOK 5 ‘Mistletoe and Murder’ from Amazon.com can be found HERE   

UK Link to buy BOOK 5 ‘Mistletoe and Murder’ from Amazon.co.uk can be found HERE   

USA Link to Book 1 ‘MURDER MOST UNLADYLIKE’ from Amazon.com, can be found HERE.

UK Link to Book 1 ‘MURDER MOST UNLADYLIKE’ from Amazon.co.uk, can be found HERE.

USA Link to Book 2 ‘ARSENIC FOR TEA’ from Amazon.com, can be found HERE.

UK Link to Book 2 ‘ARSENIC FOR TEA’ from Amazon.co.uk, can be found HERE.

USA Link to book 3 ‘A FIRST CLASS MURDER’ from Amazon.com, can be found HERE.

UK Link to book 3 ‘A FIRST CLASS MURDER’ from Amazon.co.uk, can be found HERE.

USA Link to BOOK 4 ‘JOLLY FOUL PLAY’ from Amazon.com can be found HERE   

UK Link to BOOK 4 ‘JOLLY FOUL PLAY’ from Amazon.com can be found HERE   

And now, my pre-UMM event snoozie selfie – I’ll be needing all my energy for the big match, mainly so I can avoid the flying pies!

Next time I will be reviewing Book 6 in the series. 

OK, so that is it from us here at the Palace. We will return, injuries and indigestion permitting, some time in January, when all the empty sweet papers have been swept up and the left over turkey (Mrs H’s) has been confined to my tummy.

Till then, we wish you all a safe, happy, mince pie and pudding filled – with the occaisional sherry or five – few weeks!

Till later.

Toodlepip and Purrs!

ERin

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A First Class Murder!

Murder Most Unladylike Book 3 Review, and my selfie.

Welcome one and all, to the extravaganza that is, the Sunday Selfies; a weekly celebration of companion bloggers from across the world started and hosted by The Cat On My Head Blog and Janet Blue.

Thankfully Halloween is now over, and we at the Palace can sleep a bit easier in our beds at night, without explosions going off and frightening the village children and kittens for whom, it is alleged, the fireworks are meant to impress and delight. Frankly, I was not at all either of those things.

Anyways, with such things over, Mrs H’s best white Egyptian cotton 800 thread count sheets, (she won’t have silk as she says it is highly impractical and not as nice to sleep on or in between) that were borrowed from the washing line by persons, cats or spirits unknown, have been returned to her anonymously. Alas, whilst the dried cream and pumpkin juice stains will wash off, the eye-shaped holes will take some sorting; looks like I’ll be doing some darning over the coming weeks, MOL. Next year she has decided to save the laundry till after the ghostly apparitions have done their turns about the village. 

The Review

OK. So, in between checking the DNA of the cat hairs found stuck to the sheets, we’ve been thinking of travel, and adventures old and new and across the globe. What brought this on, you may ask? Well, we’ve been reading the 3rd Murder Most Unladylike mystery adventure called: First Class Murder. And this time I am pleased to say that the title is the same in the USA as in the UK, though the book covers are so very different. 

A First Class Murder, By Robin Stevens.

This adventure finds our two friends, Daisy Wells and Hazel Wong taking a trip on the Orient Express along with Hazel’s father. What should have been a fun, educational and sightseeing tour of Europe in pre-war days – and definitely crime-free – turns out to be the girls’ third adventure when an heiress with a decidedly expensive ruby necklace and a rude and loud husband, is found murdered in her compartment. The ultimate locked-room mystery ensues.

For the greater part, the adventure stays within the train’s luxury carriage and focuses on a rather interesting set of guests, most of whom initially seem to have a motive and the opportunity. They include: the elderly Russian Countess Demidovskoy, who had to sell that very same necklace to escape the Russian Revolution and makes no bones that she’ll be having it back; Il Mysterioso – a very skilful magician with a secret he needs to keep at all costs, and Madame Melinda, a medium and the heiresses link to her departed mama. Melinda doesn’t seem to have a good word to say about anyone, least of all the deceaseds husband, and has talents beyond those she wants to show.

Join the girls as they duck, dive and curtsey around the passengers, avoid Mr Wong’s reproving eye and forbading words, and out-detect a rather inept and conceited Dr Sandwich, who takes on the role of detecting the case but soon goes off the rails!

Oh, if the murder was not enough, there’s also a German spy on board, as well a British secret service agent. 

Of course, what is an adventure without making new friends, right? Along the way they encounter Alexander, the American grandson of the Countess. He is also a budding detective and a member of the ‘Junior Pinkertons’. Whilst begrudgingly allowed to assist by Daisy, he makes a lasting impression on Hazel for his methods and ability. I am pleased to say that he will also be found in books to come.

Oh, if the the murder was not enough, there’s also a German spy on board, as well a British secret service agent. 

I’ve always wanted to be able to say ‘and who knows where this will end?!’ but of course the train is headed to Belgrade, so that is known. What we don’t know until the final pages, is whether our two intrepid sleuths have got it right, and more importantly, will they be believed and save a travesty of justice?


What do we think? 

This is a marvellous variation on the ‘locked room’ mystery and a truly great nod to Agatha Christie’s Murder on the Orient Express. As an introduction to the genre, I have to say that you could not find a better example. Readers both young (ages 8+) and older will enjoy this adventure, and I think they will find this a thoroughly enjoyable intro to the series if they haven’t already read the two before. Definitely a 10/10 read, and middle-grade fiction that will stand the test of time – maybe even as long as Agatha herself!

So it just remains to say: All aboard the Orient Express for another fine murder mystery adventure!

If you would like to know how this delightful and fiendishly clever mystery ends, then please do book your ticket right now by forming an orderly queue (at your local bookshop). If you just can’t wait to climb aboard, then please book online by heading to Amazon, or similar, where you should find a dining car’s worth of mystery and a silver service full of blind alleys and poached fish (red) at the click of the button.

Anyways, enough of book reviews for this week, here’s my selfie!

Till next time, when we will be giving you the low down on the fourth book – assuming Mrs H isn’t off doing her version of ‘CSI Much-Mousing’, we wish you all a safe, happy, and well read week!

Till later, Toodlepip and Purrs!

ERin

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Poison, anyone? Book review and selfie!

Hello and welcome to The Sunday Selfies! 

Welcome one and all, to the extravaganza that is, the Sunday Selfies; a weekly celebration of companion bloggers from across the world started and hosted by The Cat On My Head Blog and Janet Blue.

Now, Mrs H has been very busy this week, washing all the fine bone china in the house. Not that she has OCD, though I suspect she will have dishpan hands if she’s not careful, MOL

This week we have just finished the second in the Murder Most Unladylike series of murder mystery books (or in the USA: A Wells and Wong Mystery.)

This one is entitled: Arsenic for Tea. For our USA pals, this is titled: Poison Is Not Polite.

What you need to know:- Having not only survived, but also solved the murders of two teachers and one pupil at their boarding school, Daisy and Hazel, our lead protagonists return to Daisy’s parents home and estate called Fallingford. It should be a fun time as it happens to be Daisy’s birthday.

The guests start to arrive and amongst them there is a murderer! Yup, deep in the countryside, and during terrible flooding that effectively isolates the house, one of the guests, Mr Curtis is poisoned.

When he turns out to be a thoroughly obnoxious ne’er do well that was intent on robbing Daisy’s parents, Lord and Lady Hastings, of their prize entiques, you’d have been forgiven for saying ‘Thank heavens and good riddance!’ Of course the plot is far better than that, and with true mystery style, all roads – and grains of arsenic, point to mild mannered practical joker, Lord Hastings himself!

With the fear that the detectives may be next on the list for the murderer, the race is on for Daisy to prove her father innocent before the police arrive the next morning, thus saving him from a fate, well, I’m sure you can guess!

I have to say, Miss Robin Stevens really has given us a great plot line; full of great new characters, twists and turns, and barrel load of red herrings flap this way and that. I have to confess, that Mrs H did not solve this one, though she does say she had a ‘hunch’. Yes, well, on that basis I say it is two nil thus far to the skills of Hazel and Daisy – ably abetted by some of their boarding school pals too.

This book gets a full 10/10 for entertainment, ticking all the boxes.

If you would like to know how this fiendishly clever mystery ends, then do dash on over – in a suitably ladylike manner – and grab yourself a copy from your local bookshop (please do support these wherever you can) or follow the links to Amazon where you should be served a midnight feasts worth of mystery at the click of the button.

I have included UK and USA links to books one and two. I am told that if you click on the USA link you will be served a page relevant to your country!

If you do buy a copy via Amazon, Mrs H and I, as Amazon Associates, will receive a few pence, cents etc., which we will be passing on to our local rescue charity.

Amazon link
Amazon Link for ‘Poison is NOT Polite’
Cover of Arsenic for Tea
Amazon link to ‘Arsenic for Tea’

 I hope you all enjoyed this review, and picture of me AWAKE, which Mrs H says is a rare moment indeed given its now seemingly dark most of the day and raining. 

Oh, if you were wondering why Mrs H was so fervant with her dish washing, well it seems that a certain gardener, not mentioning any names, NED, had been using our best china cups to measure out his weed killer and insecticide. Not just once mind, but several times — Talk about Murder Amidst the Rose Beds!

Till next time, when we will be giving you the low down on the third book – assuming Mrs H can read it quickly enough, we wish you all a safe, happy, and well-read week!

Till later, Toodlepip and Purrs!

ERin

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Murder Most Unladylike!

Hello and welcome to The Sunday Selfies! 

Welcome one and all, to the extravaganza that is the Sunday Selfies; a weekly celebration of companion bloggers from across the world started and hosted by The Cat On My Head Blog and Janet Blue.

Now, Mrs H has been a bit down this week, and it’s not what you may think either. Usually, she laments the passing of a dear friend – aka, the last drop from her bottle of Oporto Black Cat Sherry. Not this week as the bottle is still half full, even allowing for “evaporation” MOL.

 No, what has saddened both of us in fact, is that she has finished reading the ninth and last book in the Murder Most Unladylike series (in America, the series goes by the name: A Wells and Wong Mystery). For those that haven’t heard of this, it’s a middle-grade detective series written by Miss Robin Stevens. Murder Most Unladylike, or MMU as it is fondly known, has been enchanting young and older readers alike since the first book was published back in 2014. 

The books follow the adventures of two schoolgirls who are in the same year and dorm, and who start a detective society. The first is Hazel Wong, a quiet, and considered girl from Hong Kong, who, in October 1934, has been sent to England to attend The Deepdean School for Girls. The other is the Honourable Daisy Wells, the daughter of Lord Hastings, and the spitting image of the young English lady in the making. With dainty looks, blue eyes and golden hair, Daisy is everything Hazel has read about in her books but somehow doubts she will ever entirely be. Daisy exudes confidence and daring and is equally at home galloping around on her pony as she is getting into the thick of things on the hockey pitch. However, Daisy plays down her true abilities so as not to stand out. This is something Hazel has to do, too. It is also why Daisy is drawn to her as the only other person nearly as smart as she. Together they form the Wells and Wong Detective Society. 

The first book, called Murder Most Unladylike, (titled ‘Murder is Bad Manners‘ in the US) sets the scene and introduces the key characters and settings. It also brings on board other characters that will become firm favourites as we move along through the series and the girls get older.

 I should add at this juncture, that the book is written in the first-person voice of Hazel, who becomes the Detective Society secretary and duty-bound by Daisy’s command to take notes. Daisy has, of course, chosen herself as president, as she thought of the Detective Society.

Now, as to the first adventure, Hazel quite literally, stumbles upon the body of one of their teachers, Miss Bell, in the school gymnasium, and she’s been murdered! But when she returns with Daisy and one of the older girls, the body has gone!

To make matters worse, when a letter arrives at the school purporting to be from the dead mistress, saying she has resigned, it seems that it’s all a mistake on Hazel’s part. But Daisy DOES believe Hazel, and the two set off not only to solve a murder but to prove there was actually one in the first place!

But, like the best of adventures, the plot thickens, just like porridge, with the demise of another mistress, Miss Tennyson.

Why was Miss Bell killed? Which of the other teachers could have done it? Could one of the other teachers have been after her job? Had Miss Bell been jilted by the school’s new male heartthrob in favour of another younger model? And why suddenly had Miss Tennyson committed suicide?

One of the features of all the stories in the series, and something rather fun, is Hazel doing a periodic review of the facts, suspects, and clues, along with what the detectives need to do.

Put this all together, and you get a lovely adventure that shows the idiosyncrasies, loves, hates, friendships and ‘bun-breaks’ that all go to make up the perfect, or not so perfect, life at an English boarding school!

Robin Stevens has truly created a modern masterpiece in each book of the series, that will, I am sure, become firm favourites for decades to come. And if you read carefully, you will also see a nod to Agatha Christie’s own great and immortal characters as well as adventures.

Look out in the coming weeks for a review of each of the books in the series.

If YOU’RE ready for ‘bun-breaks’, sleuthing and mysteries that will tease, baffle and send you reaching for the sherry or a stiff coffee as the little grey cells are working overtime, then you’ll be pleased to know this book (and all the others in the series) is available through Amazon in paperback or e-book format, as well as a mighty fine rendition on Audible!


A LINK to Amazon USA page can be found HERE.

A LINK to Amazon UK page can be found HERE.

Now if you would like to visit the official  ROBIN STEVENS website, follow this LINK

 OK, so thats it from the review, I’m off to have my own ‘Bun-break’! 

OK, OK, so there are NO buns in this selfie, but a girl can only hope that Mrs H will instigate this finest of English traditions 😉

Till later, Toodlepip and Purrs!

ERin (Head Girl, teachers pet, and an all round good egg!)

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Miss Marple & I

Hello and welcome to The Sunday Selfies!

 
 

Welcome one and all, to the extravaganza that is, the Sunday Selfies!!!!!

Now, some of you may know that we here at the palace are avid cosy mystery readers, and on top of that, at least up until the third shelf on the leftover the spare teapot and Mrs H’s not so secret emergency bottle of sherry, we are avid middle-grade fiction readers too. OK, to be fair, Mrs H does most of the reading, but it takes another set of ears to listen to, and that can be mighty tiring!

Anyways, this month we decided to venture into the world of adult mysteries and have been on a bit of a binge. Not sherry or cream sort of a binge, rather an Agatha Christie sort of a binge. Yup, what a lot of folk will not have realised is that 2020 marks the 100 year anniversary of her first-ever book, The Mysterious Affair at Styles.  This book introduces Hercule Poirot to the world, and what a roller-coaster series of adventures he has.

As Mrs H and I are going to be working our way through the books, we thought we could share some thoughts on the adventures as we read them.

Alas, Mrs H being who she is – a spinster of the parish of Upper Much-Mousing and a keen gardener and observer of people and life, thought we’d start with Miss Marple, instead of Mr Poirot. Let’s face, women power rocks the mystery world!

This last week we have just finished reading the volume entitled Miss Marple, The Complete Short Stories.

 

Now some might think that Miss Marple would be all centre stage in these tales, but she does rather manage to be the star by being secondary to the action. Of course, that is very much ‘in character’ and I think a side of detective novels that has been underplayed in recent years. Part of the charm of Miss Marple is that she draws comparisons with things she has seen in her own life and village world, to help explain her reasoning and thus solve mysteries. Which I think is very much how astute readers and budding village detectives would themselves.

Anyways, the short stories are, for the most part, tales told by guests at a dinner party. Each guest recounting a true tale to see if the others can solve the mystery within. Miss Marple is of course one of the guests. Whilst Mrs H nodded sagely at the conclusion of each tale, even she had to admit that she didn’t figure out who did it!  For a great intro into Miss Marple and her world, without ruining the individual novels, this is a definite winner.

I should add that the books are very much of the period, both in the language used and style. So be prepared to make a few adjustments from the current day to those of the bygone 1920s and after.

Without further ado, here is this week’s selfie of yours truly. IfI look at all smug and content, it is because I solved the mystery of the disappearing cheese! Don’t tell Mrs H that though as she’ll get all huffy and not read till the end ofthe book.

 

You’ll be pleased to know this book is available through Amazon in paperback or e-book format.

A LINK to Amazon USA page can be found HERE.

A LINK to Amazon UK page can be found HERE.

Now if you would like to visit the official  AGATHA CHRISTIE website, and get a head start on starting to read your own way through Agatha’s works, follow this LINK.

What story would you tell around the dinner party table?

I should add that I am not being paid to mention the book, but Mrs H and I both think we should share good books, of whatever grade reading, as they are brilliant and well worth the money.

Well, that’s it for this week. Whatever your method of detection, remember to stay safe out there, enjoy yourself, and take care to give yourself a good groom before and after each meal and nap.

Laters……

ERin

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Duvet Expert for Hire . . .

Hello and welcome to The Sunday Selfies!

We are joining The Kitties Blue, from The Cat on My Head blog, for the weekly celebration of blogs and bloggers from across the world and across the species.

To join in, get the Linky-Link code from their website– add it to your page– and enjoy the hop!

And now here is my selfie for the week:-

     

     With storm ‘Erik’ rumbling and battering the UK this week, I rather thought it was time to lay back and let the world blow by–excuse the pun.  So without further encouragement from Mrs H, I took to my bed and enjoyed a good roll on my current pink duvet, purchased from Tesco (in two tone pink) just to make sure I got my monies worth before this one hit the laundry tub.

As some quick thinking folk may have noticed, I do love checking out duvets. So with that in mind I have come up with this great idea to legitimately earn some extra and much needed funds for the palace, AND get to nap on the job: Duvet testing; specifically duvet covers.

So, if theres any purveyors of fine duvet and duvet covers out there, be they

Harrods,

Selfridges,

Walmart,

or any other fine retail outlets, that wish to be featured on the blog with yours truly, please email me ASAP to book a slot on my bed.

OR

Call my toll free number at the palace. PLEASE NOTE: A small connection fee applies as I have to pay the gardener. If you wondering what the gardener has to do with duvets– well, as Mrs H will have to answer the millions of calls that I am anticipating for this excellent service, I have to get the dairy-maid to cover for Mrs H. The dairy-maid’s job will be covered by the scullery-maid who will be covered in turn by the girl from the village that cleans my brass mousetraps. And her work will be covered by the paper delivery girl, whose round will be covered by the gardener. As he gets paid the least of all of them, it does seem like a good deal . . .  unless I can get Mrs H to cover him?  What do you think?

Anyway, next week I will be sporting a nice matching pillow and duvet combo in pale pink and white, brought to you by IKEA bedding. You can find the link to my duvet set clicking HERE.

 What will you guys be testing next week? 

To see what our pals are up to this week, please go to the Kitties Blue site, or if available, click the links below, and Enjoy the Hop!

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