Tag Archives: Mystery

The Valley of Lost Secrets – Lesley Parr

Standard

Bloomsbury Australia

February 2021

ISBN:9781526620521
Imprint:Bloomsbury Children’s Books

RRP: $14.99

Omg, I can’t tell you how much I loved this read during the week!! It completely reminds me of two much-loved favourites, Carrie’s War by Nina Bawden and Goodnight Mister Tom by Michelle Magorian (both of which I own and have re-read many times), but with its whole new take on the situation of evacuee children in WWII.

Jimmy and his little brother have been evacuated from London to a Welsh valley – traditional, coal-mining families and either open welcomes or suspicion of ‘foreigners’. Mr and Mrs Thomas are warm and caring, and little Ronnie is quickly comfortable with both, but Jimmy is both distrustful and resentful. He’s already lost his mum, who took off leaving the brothers with their dad and grandmother, and he’s certainly not ready to treat this temporary stay as ‘home’. The entire London contingent seem different here. Jimmy’s best friend, now lodged with the local minister’s family, has turned into a nasty bully like the Reverend’s son and Florence, uncared for and abused at home, blossoms into a true friend.

Jimmy is to realise that even a temporary family can be a solace but first there are difficulties to overcome and these are complicated when the boy discovers a human skull hidden in the hollow of an old tree. Enough to scare even an adult, this find has Jimmy scrambling for someone to trust and sometimes an ally can be found in the most unlikely quarter. The secrets of the valley are gradually revealed as Jimmy and his little tribe work together to solve a decades old mystery, and bring much needed comfort to a long-held grief.

We do know, of course, that not all the evacuated children had happy experiences and we cannot begin to comprehend how overwhelming or unnerving the whole exercise would have been even for those who did. In those times, many city children had never had any experience of wide open spaces, nature and the reality of rural living – some didn’t even know that milk came from cows!

Young readers, particularly those who are fond of such stories set in wartime, will find much to love about this narrative. The strong themes of family, friendship and bravery are very inspirational and will give many children finding our current circumstances difficult some insight in dealing with similar events.

Highly recommended for your readers from around ten years upwards.

A Case of Grave Danger: The Violet Veil Mysteries #1 – Sophie Cleverly

Standard

Harper Collins Australia

Published: 3rd February 2021
Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
Country of Publication: GB

ISBN: 9780008297350
ISBN-10: 0008297355

RRP: $16.99

Sophie Cleverly’s Scarlet and Ivy series is one of the most popular in my library, particularly with our Year 7 and 8 girls and they are already madly excited to hear about this new series, and counting down until they can pounce on it after the holidays.

Deliciously Gothic, spooky and full of memorable characters, this will delight all your lovers of mysteries. Violet Veil is the feisty daughter of a respected undertaker and she longs to take on more responsibility for her father’s business, particularly as she has a real (and mysterious) affinity with the dearly departed in the cemetery which backs onto their cosy home. Like many Victorian fathers however, Edgar Veil, is horrified at the thought of his daughter working for her living, let alone working in the business of taking care of the dead – though actually Violet already does so much to help.

When a young man is presented, having been struck down by a blow to the head as have been several others before him, Violet is quite sad about his youthful demise. However, her sorrow soon turns to shock when, in the middle of the night, she discovers that the young corpse is no longer in his coffin! Violet finds Oliver wandering, dazed and definitely not well, in the graveyard and so begins a mystery-adventure like no other.

The police begin to investigate the spate of fatal coshings, Violet’s father is locked up on suspicion of the murders and Violet abandons all pretense of being a demure young lady as she rallies to free her father, whom she knows has been framed, and to uncover Oliver’s attacker. Their strongest suspect is the Black Widow, a woman with a scarred face heavily veiled, who keeps appearing in the graveyard and, it would seem, responsible for the accusations against Mr Veil.

This is simply a ripping yarn and readers will thoroughly enjoy Violet’s determination to uncover the truth and restore justice – she is definitely a Mighty Girl! The charming little illustrations that head up each chapter have been done by Hannah Peck, who also illustrates the Nevermoor series and are a truly a tiny joy in themselves.

Highly recommended for your astute readers from around 9 years upwards.

The Cousins – Karen M. McManus

Standard

Penguin Australia

  • December 2020
  • ISBN: 9780241376942
  • Imprint: Penguin
  • RRP: $17.99

Attention all of you who loved One of Us is Lying! This YA thriller will get you and your readers in from the first page. I literally ate it up over just a couple of nights. Three cousins all the same age who barely know each other, having not met since they were around five years old, are suddenly thrown together for the summer. Their respective parents plus another sibling have been disinherited and disowned by their grandmother years ago, before they were even born and yet, mysteriously they have all been invited to the old family home where the famous Gull Cove Resort, Catmint House and the Story family are held in the greatest esteem.

Envy of all, rich and privileged, the older Story children were very close despite their different personalities but following the death of their father, and their mother’s decline into a morbid grief as they all began their independent lives at college and in the adult world, there comes a great shock. A bald communication from their mother’s lawyer You know what you did signals their instant dismissal from their mother’s life. So why does the mysterious Mildred Story suddenly and unexpectedly invite her grandchildren to come and be part of the Gull Cove Resort team for the summer?

As the narrative unravels the secrets, the lies and deceptions unfold in such an extremely satisfying (for we sleuths!) way that the reader is completely engrossed in the story. The cousins’ curiosity and determination to uncover the truth reveals far more than anything expected. This is truly a thriller that will delight your astute readers.

It gets a huge recommendation from me with the rider that it does have some significant coarse language and some adult themes but for your mature readers a great big tick!!! Family first – always. Right?

The Fire Star: A Maven & Reeve Mystery- A. L. Tait

Standard

Penguin Australia

September 2020

  • ISBN: 9781760897079
  • Imprint: Penguin
  • RRP: $16.99

Well-known globally for her adventure series The Mapmaker Chronicles and The Ateban Cipher, A. L. Tait brings another entertaining and engaging series to middle years readers with the introduction of Maven and Reeve.

Maven, youngest daughter of an impoverished and dispossessed noble family, is companion and maid to Lady Cassandra who has been betrothed, unwillingly, to Sir Garrick, highly regarded warrior knight. Reeve, also from a noble family, and without any family support, has been sent as squire to the famous knight. The whole marriage hinges on the possession of the fabled jewel, the Fire Star, passed down through many generations to Lady Cassandra. Airl Buckthorn, Cassandra’s uncle, is liege lord over them all and strongly desires the jewel to be in the hands of his unpleasant and wayward daughter, Anice – and therefore, to all intents and purposes, his own hands.

When the jewel goes missing, Maven and Reeve find themselves thrown together to solve the mystery. Much hinges on their success including their own personal fates. In a kingdom rife with corruption and unrest, there are undercurrents of treason, intrigues and dark deeds on all sides.

This is an adventure/mystery that will immediately capture the imaginations of middle grade readers with immensely likeable heroes as well as thoroughly unpleasant villains.

Maven and Reeve make a terrific pairing as both bring their own backgrounds, upbringing and personal standards to a narrative that is fast-paced and full of excitement.

Highly recommended for readers from around ten years upwards.

Read an excerpt here and you can check out A. L. Tait’s website here.

Moonflower Murders – Anthony Horowitz

Standard

Penguin Australia

August 2020

ISBN: 9781529124354

Imprint: Century

RRP: $32.99

The Master triumphs again! Mind-bendingly clever and tricky, Horowitz has once again presented his readers with two devilishly complicated mysteries – once again a book within a book! I can only imagine how difficult it is to construct one complex murder mystery let alone two at the same time!

Susan Ryeland, former editor at Cloverleaf and victim of the nasty plot that killed her obnoxious star author Alan Conway, has been living in Greece with her partner Andreas running, with some difficulty, their hotel. Despite the idyllic setting, the frantic struggle to get the hotel on its feet and the loss of her editorial and bookish connections are making Susan feel frustrated and fretful. Out of the blue the spectre of Alan Conway arises when an English couple visit Susan and ask for her help in resolving the disappearance of their daughter. At first baffled by this, it becomes clear that there may be some connection between Cecily’s disappearance, a murder on the day of her wedding eight years previously and Alan Conway’s Atticus Pund Takes the Case which Susan edited. With Susan’s dissatisfaction with the way things are going in Greece, she needs little prompting to take on the amateur investigation especially as there is a very generous remuneration on offer. The hotel badly needs an injection of funds just as Susan badly needs a small reprieve from the daily grind.

Given the phone call Cecily made to her parents just the day before she disappeared, it is very clear that some clues to the truth of the murder and therefore her disappearance must lie within Conway’s book and Susan is determined to uncover the facts and vindicate a wrongly convicted suspect. Naturally the twisting and turning plot provides much fodder for us armchair sleuths with suspicion shifting from one character to another. Susan’s investigation leads her into some very murky places figuratively but she is aided by surprising help from a couple of characters we first met in Magpie Murders.

Tied in with the search for justice is Susan’s conflicting emotions about her relationship with Andreas, brought into focus by her much-loved sister’s marital dilemma.

This is exactly the sort of juicy murder mystery I have always loved and while I can be the most complete dunce in seeing the carefully hidden clues, the unfolding of the complexities is a delight and really, no one does it better than Anthony Horowitz. For one who basically ate up murder mysteries for years, it is just pure joy to become so involved in the cunning and entertaining world AH creates.

It is always such a privilege to review such an extraordinary writer and needless to say this has my highest recommendation. If you love a great mystery you will be glued to this as I was until you reach the shocking conclusion.

The Unadoptables

Standard

Penguin Australia

July 2020

  • ISBN: 9780241453612
  • Imprint: Puffin
  • RRP $16.99

There is something about stories set in Holland that I find particularly appealing. Perhaps it is just the vicarious sight-seeing but for some reason they are always engaging and often quirky. This one is no exception. Combining adventure and mystery, family life, loyalty and very unusual entrepreneurship this will find an enthusiastic audience with readers from around ten years upwards.

Five babies were left at Little Tulip orphanage each one in direct contravention of the ‘baby abandonment rules’… one in a tin toolbox, one in a coal bucket, one in a picnic hamper, one in a wheat sack, and finally, one in a coffin-shaped basket. Twelve years after the shocking flouting of the conventions, Milou, Sem, Fenna, Lotta and Egg are known as the ‘unadoptables’ but they have an unbreakable bond with each other. Though each yearns for a conventional family their more unusual bond surpasses this desire in each as they remain determined to stay together, even when that means having to stay in the orphanage under the tyrannical rule of Matron Gassbeek.

When a sinister stranger appears late one night and decides to adopt all five it can only mean one thing – something particularly nasty is in store for the children. This in turn means another one thing – they must escape from the home and find their own place in the world.

The amazing adventure of the Unadoptables as they flee Amsterdam and follow some sketchy clues to what they believe might be Milou’s original home and what follows is a roller-coaster ride filled with puppets and abandoned windmills, pirate ships, clockwork mechanics and suspicious locals not to mention the pursuit of one very dogmatic Kinderbureau representative.

This is at times hilarious and at others poignant with a very hefty dose of creepiness and suspense included. In other words, kids will lap it up!

If you are looking for something refreshingly different to tempt your lovers of such writers as Jessica Townsend, Neil Gaiman or Katherine Rundell, look no further. Highly recommended for middle primary to lower secondary readers.

The Key to Finding Jack – Ewa Jozefkowicz

Standard

Harper Collins Australia

May 2020

  • ISBN: 9781800240421
  • ISBN 10: 1800240422
  • Imprint: Head Of Zeus – Zehpyr – GB
  • $14.99

Perfect for your middle primary to lower secondary kiddos this new adventure/mystery is just a great read with lots of excitement but also loads of great messages about the importance of connections with family and friends, self-belief, empathy and selflessness and being true to oneself.

Twelve year old Flick (Felicity) is very close to her big brother Jack and the two of them have always loved solving puzzles and being amateur sleuths together. When Jack goes off to Peru for a gap year adventure, Flick knows that she will miss him terribly and when an earthquake strikes the very location of Jack’s travels and there is no word from him, Flick and her family are devastated.

Flick is certain that Jack is still safe despite the lack of communication and begins to piece together his movements beginning with the smallest of clues – the discovery of Jack’s special tiny gold key necklace under his bed. From this tiny find Flick slowly unravels aspects of Jack’s life and personality of which she has no idea and at the same time finds herself making new friends and re-invigorating family relationships.

Parallel to the mystery of Jack’s whereabouts is Flick’s writing – the story within a story – and a strange legend of Inca gold both of which will intrigue readers who love this genre.

It’s a heart-warming story with wonderful characters throughout and readers will immediately be drawn to Flick and her friends, both new and old.

Highly recommended for readers from around 10 years upwards.

Monstrous Devices – Damien Love

Standard

Bloomsbury Australia

May 2020

Imprint: Rock the Boat

ISBN 9780451478597

RRP $14.99

Firstly if Sid’s Franken-toys in Toy Story freaked you out a bit, you’re really not going to like the titular monstrous devices in this deliciously exciting and somewhat creepy debut novel from Damien Love!

Twelve year old Alex has a collection of old robot toys which his largely absent grandfather has bought for him over the years. When a new one, and definitely the most interesting of them all, arrives with a note that tells Alex ‘This one is special’ he is both delighted and intrigued. Until that is strange things start happening and Alex begins to suspect that seemingly innocuous tin robot might not just be special but possibly deadly.

Just as things seem to be spiraling into some bizarre and dangerous events, Alex’ grandfather turns up and leaving behind normal life of school bullies, but also friends and his mother, Alex and Grandad, a somewhat mysterious and eccentric old man, plunge into a sinister world of assassins, pursuit by both human and robot adversaries, high-speed chases, narrow escapes and ancient mystical secrets and feuds.

From Paris to Prague the pair, in tandem with an old friend, needs to outwit and out-outmaneuver their persistent and callous enemies as they try to destroy an ancient macabre creation that could potentially destroy the world.

This is not just impressive writing for a debut novel – Love writes with the ease and assuredness of a master whirling the readers into a truly gripping page-turner with high octane excitement and some seriously creepy villians.

Readers from around 12 years upwards will absolutely delight in this and like myself, wait for a next thrilling adventure. Highly recommended for your upper primary/middle secondary kiddos – another one for ‘book talking’ tomorrow!

Alice-Miranda in the Outback – Jacqueline Harvey

Standard

9781760891039

 

Penguin Australia

June 2020

  • ISBN: 9781760891039
  • Imprint: Puffin
  • RRP: $16.99

Once again Jacqueline Harvey has produced an adventure for Alice-Miranda which will both excite and fascinate her legion devoted fans. I love that each new book in this series continues to grab these readers some of whom might be considered to have ‘out-grown’ the diminutive main character!
This time Alice-Miranda along with her father, friends and cousins are off on a huge holiday/mercy mission to the outback station of Barnaby Lewis, who needs some serious hands-on help as he tries to juggle a mysterious lack of water for his stock and mustering. Normally these activities could be managed but with his wife away in the city settling her mother who has dementia and his live-in helpers absent on Sorry Business it’s not only a challenging time for the station work but also in caring for his two children.
There’s a long road trip to reach the station way out near Coober Pedy and along the way the children are fascinated by wildlife and scenery not to mention meeting an eccentric character who is an old friend of Hugh, Alice-Miranda’s dad. Their encounter with a very unpleasant couple who run the roadhouse near Coober Pedy is not a highlight, but the party does not for a moment suspect how these two will factor into a very nasty and dangerous episode.
A missing fossicker, apparent theft of water, a missing small child, long-held family secrets and an obsessive greed combine to give the visitors an adventure far more action-packed than they had anticipated. Along the way readers will discover more about the outback and its wildlife, Aboriginal culture and the cruel history of mixed race children, opal mining, station life and more without even realising how much knowledge they are absorbing about these topics.
For children, many of whom may never experience the unique nature of the outback, this will be a marvellous virtual trip and naturally the ever-present themes that permeate this wonderful series: friendship, teamwork, loyalty, resourcefulness, compassion and kindness, will offer readers great benefit.
Jacqueline always combines humour and drama to such great effect – watch out for the scene when the children are watching movies, such a hoot! – and the success of her writing is evident in the ‘million-copy bestselling’ nature of this series.
Over the past decade this series has effectively ‘hooked’ thousands of keen followers and you will have many of your readers clamouring to be the first to get their hands on this latest. There really is never any need for my humble but heartfelt endorsement but again I say – highly recommended for readers of any age – just be sure to stand well back when you first put it on display!

 

Red Day – Sandy Fussell

Standard

 

1569817219332

Walker Books Australia

March 2020

ISBN: 9781760651886
Imprint: Walker Books Australia
Australian RRP: $17.99
New Zealand RRP: $19.99

It seems very apt to be reviewing Sandy Fussell’s latest book today as we commemorate ANZAC Day albeit in a very different way to the usual events.

This is a very powerful story which blends contemporary life in small town Australia with the past and at the same time explores the sometimes fragile and complicated relationships with family and other people.

Charlie (Charlotte) has synaethesia so for her everything has colour and sometimes emotions: days of the week, people, numbers and even inanimate objects. When Kenichi, a Japanese exchange student, arrives to stay with Charlie and her mother for a week, Charlie is not at all pleased at the prospect. But his arrival also sparks a strange sequences of experiences in which her synaethesia is magnified to an almost frightening extent. She begins to feel nausea and pain, has flashes of the past and hears unfamiliar voices – some of which Kenichi can also detect. As the two begin a tentative partnership to investigate the cause of this distress, a slice of history begins to reveal itself and connects with their present. The Cowra Prisoner-of-War break-out remains a significant event in Australia’s history and while essentially tragic forged a lasting and important testament to forgiveness, peace and hope for the future.

For both the solution of the mystery provides a healing for their families and their dreadful loss of loved ones so important to their lives. Readers will completely connect with the characters who are so very well executed and the peripheral characters of friends and families will provide much fodder for self-reflection on loyalty, courage and ethics.

Definitely a book that will appeal strongly to both boys and girls, from around 12 years upwards, this is another one to promote enthusiastically to readers. I can certainly see many of my keen readers being fascinated by this – not to mention learning a great deal of hitherto unknown information.

Highly recommended for Upper Primary upwards.