Tag Archives: Mystery

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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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.

His Name was Walter – Emily Rodda

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Harper Collins Australia

March 2020

ISBN: 9781460756195

ISBN 10: 1460756193

Imprint: HarperCollins – AU

List Price: 17.99 AUD

Back in October 2018 I had the immense privilege of reviewing Emily Rodda’s new book His Name was Walter and immediately fell in love with it. I promoted it heavily with my kiddos and was very excited to be one of the schools selected to receive samplers and another copy for classes to share – an opportunity that was eagerly taken up with one of my favourite Year 4 teachers. That first edition was the most beautifully presented hardback and my review copy made a very special prize for my most enthusiastic reading challenge winner. Let’s just say my generosity has its limits so this new paperback edition is staying on my own shelves as it is a book that begs to be re-read many times. The students and I were thrilled when it won the CBCA Book of the Year award as well as the Prime Minister’s Literary Awards – so richly deserved – and it continues to prove a favourite among our young readers.

I find it hard to believe that anyone has remained ignorant of this treasure of a book so please do yourself and your kiddos a favour if you have not done so yet and promote it through book talks and ‘first chapter’ readings. The following it receives will warm your  heart and children who read it will be so enriched by its many layers and concepts.

Again it gives me the greatest pleasure to highly recommend this book to your readers from around 10 years upwards as well as your staff who would be well pleased at the reception they have if using it as a read-aloud.

Read a sampler and teaching notes available.

I have had the very great pleasure of socialising personally with Emily on a couple of occasions and she is both gracious and very funny (so is her husband Bob!) and I live in hope that on my annual visits to the Blue Mountains that I will somehow manage to ‘bump into her’ again!

If you missed this when it aired ABC News did a fabulous piece with Emily which you can watch here.

Fabio the World’s Greatest Detective: Peril at Lizard Lake – Laura James. Illustrated by Emily Fox

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9781408889374

Bloomsbury Australia

March 2020

ISBN: 9781408889374
Imprint: Bloomsbury Children’s Books

RRP: $12.99

 

I do love Fabio – the Hercule Poirot of the flamingo species – and though the kids who read it may not really get that connection these books are still really good fun.  Together with his rather dopey offsider the rather gullible Gerald (read Hastings) he is launched into a new mystery when a terrible water shortage hits not only Laloozee but the near countryside as well.

Of course the adventure doesn’t start out as a mystery rather it starts with Gerald’s purchase of a bi-plane and his immediate decision to take Fabio on a joyride. Naturally, being Gerald he doesn’t think to check the fuel tank before launching the pair skyward and the inevitable happens when they need to make a forced landing just near a small but remote village. With the new plane slightly pranged it’s a lucky chance to come across a capable mechanic lion called Molly but while the plane is being repaired, events escalate as the pair realises that there is something very wrong indeed about this growing and worrying shortage of water.

Suspicions turn to one character after another with the prerequisite red herrings one expects in a Christie-ish mystery but not for nothing is Fabio ranked the world’s greatest detective – he is well able to ferret out the real villains and save the day.

I repeat – jolly good fun! And perfect for those newly independent readers looking for a narrative with a bit more complexity. I just love the eye-popping flouro colours used in these as well – this one hot pink and citrus yellow!

Highly recommended for your younger readers from around Year 2 upwards.

The Ghost of Howler’s Beach (The Butter O’Bryan Mysteries #1)  – Jackie French

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Harper Collins Australia

February 2020

ISBN: 9781460757727

ISBN 10: 1460757726

List Price: 16.99 AUD

 

To most folks Butter O’Bryan would seem a lucky boy.  In a time when many people are destitute and homeless he lives in a large and comfortable house, known as the Very Small Castle, he has three eccentric but loving aunts –  known as Elephant, Peculiar and Cake – and a well-regarded and clever doctor father who has offices in Sydney’s Macquarie St. He goes to a good school where he has chums and at home there is always a veritable cornucopia of good food prepared by Cooky. But the truth is that Butter often feels lonely and sad, particularly in the school holidays with no school or mates to distract him. He misses his mother who died a year ago dreadfully and even though the aunts are so very good to him, the emotional distance between him and his father makes him even sadder.

When he wanders down to Howler’s Beach just below the Very Small Castle one morning and discovers three raggedy thin children playing a game of cricket, he’s a little hopeful of joining in the game – even though he suspects they may be from the nearby susso camp and he’s not supposed to go near to those inhabitants. This edict is not from a snobbery point of view but a health precaution imposed by his father and aunts. No fear of that though as he is resoundingly rejected by the kids who disappear as soon as his attention is diverted by their dog digging furiously in the sand.

All thoughts of disappointment and loneliness vanish as quickly as the kids when the scruffy little dog disinters a human skull from the sand! Butter quickly wraps up the skull and takes it home in a great state of agitation and with his imagination running wild. And thus begins a curious mystery/adventure that young readers will find compelling as the history of three ragged kids, a strange and pathetic old man who dies unexpectedly on the door step of the Very Small Castle, a three-legged dog and a secret cove unravels. Along the way the empathy and innate goodness of the O’Bryan family is an inspiration for all readers –  a valuable lesson in our current global situation.

So, on the surface a really well-thought out and engaging tale that will totally hook readers from mid-primary upwards. But of course, there’s more 😊 . Jackie’s setting is the Depression in the Sydney area and readers will absorb so much historical information about this period of time in our country and the impact it had on the vast majority of ordinary people. The aftermath of the Great War has already made itself felt in a multitude of ways and now unemployment, poverty, homelessness and sickness are wreaking havoc on an already disenfranchised sector of society. There are references to significant events and topics such as the polio epidemic, the susso, wireless sets, the building of the Harbour Bridge and the cricket – including the great Bradman. And just to add even more value to this, Jackie has concluded with informational pieces about many of these as well as some typical 1930s recipes even including Bread and Duck under the Table – such a well-known and still used idiom in Australia.

Once again, I cannot recommend this highly enough. I think any reader from around ten years upwards will enjoy it very much on all levels.