First Class Murder by Robin Stevens

Stevens - First Class MurderI might be a teensy-weensy behind on my reviews… never mind, better late than never, eh? Today’s literary delight is First Class Murder by Robin Stevens, the third in the Wells and Wong mystery series. Now I will admit that I approached this book with some trepidation dear readers. The reason? Well, this is a book which pays homage to Murder on the Orient Express by Agatha Christie. Now you can imagine how I might feel about someone trying to reflect Christie can’t you? This, however, is a Robin Stevens book, and therefore there is no need for panic. In fact, there is need for tea and buns and enough time to sit and read it from beginning to end.

Daisy and Hazel are off on their holidays with Hazel’s dad, and they are travelling on the Orient Express. Hazel’s father is a little bit concerned that the friends have got into the habit of tripping over dead bodies every ten minutes, which is not at all becoming for young ladies. He makes them promise to be good, and not get into any trouble. Well, it isn’t long before a body is found in one of the cabins, completely locked from the inside and the girls set out to solve the mystery on the quiet.

There is as cast of characters  including a psychic, a magician and a Russian princess. There is  also the added bonus of a young American lad who takes a bit of a shine to Hazel. The resemblance to the Christie classic is clear to see, but it’s so deftly done, and handled with such devotion, it’s a joy to read. The friendship between Daisy and Hazel is developing nicely, and really has some depth. I can see these two aged eighty, knitting together whilst chatting to the vicar about the recent murder at the village fete.

It’s a truly glorious read, and as with all the Wells and Wong books, there is a proper mystery with red herrings, twists, turns and clues to indulge the reader. The books may be aimed at younger readers, but there is no shying away from what murder means.

This series is fantastic, and even if you don’t have a Hazel or Daisy in your life to buy a copy for, pretend you do, and read it yourself. You won’t regret it.

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Matilda by Roald Dahl

Matilda by Roald Dahl
Matilda by Roald Dahl

This is one of the few Dahl books that I didn’t read a child. As with all Dahl books, it has some really nasty adults in it. Matilda is clever. Very, very clever. She also has pretty useless parents, who at best neglect her and are too stupid themselves to realise how brainy their daughter is. 

Matilda attends the local school, and is taught by the very lovely Miss Honey, who in turn works for the awful headmistress, Miss Trunchbull. Miss Honey can see how clever Matilda is and tries to help her. Meanwhile Miss Trunchbull is preparing increasingly abusive punishments for any minor misdemeanours her charges may undertake. 

This is a brilliant book. Miss Trunchbull is a truly horrible character, very dark and very macabre. She of course gets what’s coming to her, but not before Matilda and Miss Honey have gone through some mild peril. It’s funny and icky and exciting. All the things children (and some grown-ups, that is to say, me) love. 

The Very Royal Holiday by Clementine Beauvais

Oh how I love the worlds that Clementine Beauvais creates! The Delightful Mr F and I are both massive Sesame Seade fans, and the Royal Babysitters series, aimed at slightly younger readers, is just as fabulous. You may remember from previous reviews that Holly, Anna and Prince Pepino (of Britland) have been trying to save up to go on a Holy Moly holiday, and have had various adventures in the process. Finally they have enough money, and are hoping for the best holiday ever imagined. Of course, not everything is quite as it seems, and as the gang head off into the sunset, strange things start to happen. 

As with all of the books Clementine Beauvais has written there are some wonderful set pieces, it’s a riot of adventure and fantastic characters** along with a plot which is funny, clever and resolves some loose ends from previous books. These are great books for kids to read either themselves or with grown ups*. 

This appears to be the last book in the series, and when I asked Clementine on Facebook*** when her next book was coming out, she told me she was working on the French side of her writing and translating one of her YA novels. Lucky old France is what I say. It looks as though I may have to improve my French over and above asking the way to the nearest post office. Either that or ask The Delightful Mr F if he will read it to me, seeing as how he speaks French. Incidentally, when we went to see the Bayeux Tapestry the lady on the ticket desk thought he actually was French, and so assumed I was too. What followed was me looking blankly at her until she realised my French vocab only stretches as far as directional requests to postal establishments and she returned to talking to the Delightful Mr F en Français. 

I digress, the book is wonderful, and if you haven’t read either this series, or the Sesame Seade series, I would urge you to hot foot it to the bookshop, buy the lot, and then laugh until your sides split. 

 

 

*I defy anyone to read these aloud and not end up crying with laughter. 

** Including a space pirate, with a space parrot! Who doesn’t love a space parrot?!

*** You didn’t know I was down with the authors did you? 

Harry Potter and the Curse Child

Harry Potter and the Cursed Child by JK Rowling 
Harry Potter and the Cursed Child by JK Rowling 

Where to begin? I’ll try to write something sensible about this without giving spoilers, although I can’t promise it will make any sense. 

First things first. In case you didn’t realise, this isn’t novel, despite what the press might have you believe by saying that it is the eight Harry Potter book. This is actually the script for the West End play. So, what to make of it?

In it we meet Harry’s son Albus, and his friend Scorpius Malfoy, newly installed at Hogwarts, in Slytherin House. It’s all very school story, there is bullying and angst, and well, not much else really. The script pushes us through several years in a rush, where Scorpius looses his Mum and has to put up with rumours that he is actually Voldemort’s son. Albus meanwhile is finding the burden of being Harry Potter’s son all a bit too much to bear. What follows is a time-turner, induced adventure which, on the page at least, can be a little bit hard to follow. 

Let’s talk about plot to start with. I read it one Sunday afternoon, in one sitting and thought it was OK, a little underwhelming, but OK. Then after a few hours, it struck me that it is in fact utterly terrible. The Potter universe is vivid and vast, and though some of the novels were a little bloated, the detail was amazing. The problem with detail of course is that you need to be consistent with it. That’s the trouble with this play, the characters simply aren’t consistent with what we know from Harry’s adventures first time round. The whole premise and resolution just doesn’t sit well with me, knowing what we know about the characters from the main series. Can you tell I am trying desperately not to give anything away? 

Since it is a play, there is very little in the way of the descriptions of the wizarding world which make the Harry Potter books so great. There are stage directions of course, but that’s all. Mind you, I don’t think this plot would have worked as a novel either. 

So, are there any redeeming features? As a book, not really, but as a play I can see it would be spectacular. So if I can get tickets, The Delightful Mr F and I will be getting the next port key to a performance. 

Has anyone else read it? What did you think?

Incoming…

Yesterday I had to go to the dentist for a check up and polish. My dentist and dental hygienist are lovely people, and generally I don’t have any trouble with my teeth, I don’t even have any fillings. Nevertheless it is always a worry isn’t it? There is that overwhelming dread of the words “drill” and “extraction”. As it turns out, this visit was no problem, and I was even complimented on my flossing technique. That’s not something that happens every day. Anyway, since dentists don’t give out lollies anymore (why did dentists think that was a good idea?) and apparently I am too old for a “I’ve been to the dentist” sticker, ageist I call it, I decided a quick browse in Waterstones was in order as I had been such a brave bunny. 

Obviously after my flossing triumph I was able to justify a small purchase, and since they were on offer, two books came home with me. The first is Grief is the Thing With Feathers by Max Porter.  I have heard nothing but good things about this, and it has a crow on the front and I am a sucker for crows. It sounds terribly sad as a man and his young sons come to terms with the loss of their wife and mother, with the help of a visiting crow.  I have a feeling that this is going have the same effect on me that Spill, Simmer, Falter Wither by Sara Baume did. In which case, that’s no bad thing. To sit alongside that I bought the new Katherine Rundell novel, you may remember I reviewed the superb Rooftoppers last year.  Wold Wilder is set in Russia, and features a young girl being trained up as a Wolf Wilder, a person who trains animals to fend for themselves after they have been kept as pets. I started to read the first few pages in the shop, realised I couldn’t stop and thought I ought to buy it. 

So there we go, the new additions to the Fennell Towers shelves. What’s new on your bookcase?

The Dark Is Rising by Susan Cooper

The Dark Is Rising by Susan Cooper
The Dark Is Rising by Susan Cooper

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This is the second book in The Dark Is Rising Sequence, confusingly also called The Dark Is Rising and is all part of my The Dark Is Rising Read-a-thon.

In this book we leave the Drew siblings, who found the Holy Grail in Over Sea Under Stone, and we join Will Stanton, the seventh son of a seventh son the day before his eleventh birthday. His birthday is the 21st December, Midwinter’s Day, and when he wakes he finds a deep blanket of snow. He also finds that he has left the modern world and outside is the world as it was centuries before.

He goes on to meet Merriman Lyon, one of the Old Ones of the Light, pitched in an eternal battle with the Dark. Merriman tells Will that he is the Sign Seeker, an Old One, with a special role to play. Will has to collect the six signs, which will make the ring of power, required to help defeat the Dark.

The book is incredibly atmospheric, with Will travelling backwards and forwards through time as the Dark pile on ever more destruction in the modern day. There is never ending snow, bitter cold, and then floods. The village in which Will lives in is set in the Thames valley, and the descriptions are stunning, as is the plotting. The whole story slowly builds momentum until the Dark unleashes the peak of its power on the twelfth night and Will truly starts to understand what being an Old One means.

It all sounds quite full on, and it is, but lovely family scenes break the tension as the Stanton family prepare for Christmas. Seeing Will go from being an ordinary eleven year old boy to an Old One with ancient knowledge is wonderful, and your heart will be in your mouth as he finally faces The Dark. 

PS. Don’t judge the book by the film, which was a travesty. 

The Boy at the Top of the Mountain by John Boyne

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This wonderful novel is by the same author who wrote The Boy In The Striped Pyjamas, which I haven’t read, but have never met anyone who didn’t rave about it.

This story is set over the course of the Second World War, it follows a young boy, Pierrot, born in France to a French mother and German father. His dad is deeply psychologically scarred from fighting for his homeland during the First World War, and Pierrot is eventually orphaned when both parents die. Aged just seven, and with war in the air he leaves his best friend, a young deaf Jewish boy called Anshel to live with his Aunt in Austria.

It transpires that his Aunt is housekeeper to Hitler and Pierrot is taken under Hitler’s wing. Over the course of the war Pierrot becomes, what we would now call radicalized, and his behavior and actions lead to some devastating consequences.

Despite being set over seventy years ago, the book has some very strong contemporary messages about ideology, how good people can be swept up into behavior they never would have thought possible of themselves, and the devastation which can be caused by those who feel alone and isolated, despite being surrounded by others.

This might nominally be a children’s book, but it has a message for all of which we can’t afford to ignore.