A Trio of MG Mysteries: The Shelf Revisits Knightley and Son (+ a Giveaway!)

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imageIt has been a good long while since we at the shelf first encountered the middle grade mystery debut, Knightley and Son by Rohan Gavin, but out of the blue last month Bloomsbury Australia kindly sent us copies of the first two books of the Knightley and Son series – being the aforementioned Knightley and Son and Knightley and Son: K-9 – dressed in quite alluring new covers.  Admittedly, this inspired mixed feelings – more about that in a bit – but our feelings were about to be thoroughly tossed about by the arrival on our doorstep of the third book in the series – 3 of a Kind.  Let it never be said that Bloomsbury is not generous with their review copies!

And speaking of generosity, ONE lucky reader (who happens to also be AUSTRALIAN! – sorry, international readers) will have the chance to win PAPERBACK COPIES of THE FIRST THREE books in the Knightley and Son detective series!! You’re welcome!

Let’s get the giveaway business over with so our non-Australian friends can get back to enjoying my review.  To enter, click on the Rafflecopter link.  Ts and Cs and in the rafflecopter.  The giveaway will be open until February 25th.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Good luck!

For those who are unaware, Knightley and Son is a middle grade detective series featuring Darkus “Doc” Knightley, his father Alan Knightley and his step-sister, Tilly, as they battle against the formidable, mysterious and manipulative Combination – a shadowy organisation that has some seriously dastardly plans in mind for the innocent folk of London (and the wider world).  We first came across the first book in the series in early 2014 and reviewed it at the time.  For those who missed it, here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

Meet Knightley and Son – two great detectives for the price of one …

Darkus Knightley is not your average thirteen-year-old: ferociously logical, super-smart and with a fondness for tweed, detective work is in his blood. His dad Alan Knightley was London’s top private investigator and an expert in crimes too strange for Scotland Yard to handle, but four years ago the unexplained finally caught up with him – and he fell into a mysterious coma. Darkus is determined to follow in his father’s footsteps and find out what really happened. But when Alan suddenly wakes up, his memory is wonky and he needs help. The game is afoot for Knightley & Son – with a mystery that gets weirder by the minute, a bestselling book that makes its readers commit terrible crimes, and a sinister organisation known as the Combination …

A funny, warm, fantastical crime caper with an unlikely hero and a brilliant comic cast, perfect for fans of Sherlock and criminally good storytelling.

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If you’re wondering why that cover doesn’t look at all familiar, considering we have featured this book on the blog before, that’s probably because the original cover looked more like this:

k & s…which is also quite alluring.  If you want to wade into the thoughts of the shelf circa January 2014, my entire review of the book can be found here.  For those of you who ain’t got no time for that, the essence of my feelings on the book can be summarised in this handy quote from the review:

“I found pretty much all of the characters in this book to be fairly two-dimensional which distracted me from the story.  I couldn’t go along with the more fantastical elements of the plot because I didn’t even believe the ordinary people, doing ordinary things, were authentic.  Going hand in hand with the flat characters was the unfolding of the plot in a whole host of pat and convenient ways.  Things just seemed to work out too simply for my tastes.  I didn’t feel that there were enough major setbacks for the characters to overcome, as solutions to problems seemed to conveniently pop up just when they were needed in ways that didn’t require the characters to struggle particularly hard.  Given the complicated nature of the actual crime that was being investigated, once again, things just didn’t ring true.”

Ouch! Looking back on things now, having read the next two in the series, this criticism was probably a little bit harsh.  There were a few elements of the book that didn’t work for me as a reader, but overall the book was an “okay” read.  After finishing this one, I actually noted that:

I will see the next book in the series, with its no-doubt eye-popping cover art, and will be reminded of the disappoint-ivity that blossomed into great blossoming clouds as I delved deeper into this book. Sigh.

So melodramatic, Bruce-of-the-past!! But I did promise myself that I was not going to pursue this series any further….UNTIL shiny new paperback copies were thrust under my prominent nose.  And it would be plain rude not to have a crack at free books, if someone went to the trouble of sending them.

The good news is that….I didn’t hate the next two books!

Here’s the blurb for book two, K-9, from Goodreads:

Darkus Knightley – tweed-wearing, mega-brained, thoroughly logical 13-year-old investigator of the weird – was just getting used to having his dad back in his life. Then Alan Knightley went off-radar, again, leaving Darkus with a traumatised ex-bomb-disposal dog as his only partner in crime-solving.

Now things are getting even stranger. Family pets are being savaged by a beast at a top London beauty spot. Policemen have been tracked and attacked by a particularly aggressive canine. And two curiously alert hounds seem to be watching Darkus’s house. No one is using the word werewolf – yet – but as the full moon approaches, it doesn’t take Sherlock Holmes to work out that someone or something sinister is messing with the minds of London’s dog population. A mysterious canine conspiracy is howling for the attention of Knightley & Son …

Criminally good detective adventure, perfect for fans of Sherlock and sharp-minded sleuths of all shapes and sizes …

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Out of all three books, I enjoyed this one the most.  The story was just complicated enough to be interesting, without having twists that were too complex or unbelievable for the age group.  The characters – particularly Uncle Bill – were generally less annoying to me (although I will make an exception for Clive, who seems to be trying for the “Most Annoying Character Ever Penned” award), and I really liked the inclusion of Wilbur, the ex-war dog.  We get to find out a little more about each of the characters here, and I particularly enjoyed seeing another side of Darkus, which is developed through his work with Wilbur.  Overall, I found this to be an enjoyable and engaging read, despite the fact that my favourite character, Tilly, was missing from the plot for a good deal of the book.  The ending left a question mark over the detective agency’s continuation and generally, the two-dimensionality that so irked me in the first book seemed to be slowly oozing away.  Essentially, while I didn’t love it to bits and some characters were still giving me the irits, K-9’s focused plot seemed like an improvement over book one.

On then, to Three of a Kind.  Here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

Who will hold the winning hand? Sherlock meets Ocean’s Eleven in this wickedly funny, action-packed crime caper.

Darkus Knightley is used to expecting the unexpected. An extraordinary solver of crimes, with immense powers of deduction, and regularly found bedecked in tweed, Darkus is anything but the average 13-year-old. But he is the person to call when strange goings-on are afoot!

Despite trying to leave his detective ways behind to lead a normal teenage life, when his father’s loyal housekeeper, Bogna, goes missing, Darkus must return to the family fold and follow the clues to America and the bright lights of Las Vegas. Alongside his father, Alan, and stepsister, Tilly, Darkus must once again face the deadly criminal organisation the Combination – and this time, all bets are off. With danger at every turn, Knightley and Son will need an ace or two up their sleeves in order to win this game. Will the odds be in our detective duo’s favour? Or will this be the Knightleys’ final roll of the dice?

Perfect for fans of Sherlock, this thrilling crime adventure will keep you on the edge of your seats.

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Three of a Kind took on a “road trip” format, with Darkus, Tilly and Alan jetting off to the USA in pursuit of housekeeper Bogna, who it appears has been kidnapped by the Combination in order to force the Knightley’s into some bizarre kind of game.  Excepting Clive, who I would be quite happy to whack in the face with a brick, the characters  hardly irritated me at all throughout this book.  Win! The road trip element was also an interesting touch, with some of the places visited – Survival Town, particularly – laden with the potential for imaginative exploration.  Unfortunately, not a lot of time was devoted to each place – the Knightley’s are on a time-sensitive chase, after all – but again, the plot seemed quite focused and featured enough variety in setting to keep the reader on their toes.  I was quite impressed with the action-packed, firecracker ending of this one, and was a bit sorry that the same level of adventure couldn’t have come into the story earlier.  We also get to find out more about Tilly’s mother in this one, with some quite shocking secrets revealed that cause Tilly no end of identity-crises.

The biggest problem that I have with these books is that there isn’t enough suspense woven into the story to keep me turning the pages.  I feel like the foundations are all there to have a brilliant series of books, but the actual stories are lacking in atmosphere.  Perhaps the amount of attention that has gone into creating quirky characters (and every character in these books has at least one obvious quirk) has been at the expense of developing a pervading sense of menace and danger in the plot.

I suspect that if I was a typical reader – ie: not a reader who chews through 100+ books a year just on this blog – and was wandering in a library or bookshop, I might well think, “Oh look, the next Knightley and Son! Why yes, I’ll have that!”  But as things stand, I want more from this series to really be satisfied.

Until next time,

Bruce

 

A Mythological MG Mystery, Read-it-if Review: The Entirely True Story of the Unbelievable FIB…

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Welcome to another Read-it-if Review, where the decision regarding whether to add another book to your tottering TBR pile is made simple by the perusal of a short, attemptedly witty collection of bullet points. Today I have a diverting middle grade read which features Norse mythology, Russian folklore, talking animals and two clued in kid detectives. We received The Entirely True Story of the Unbelievable FIB by Adam Shaughnessy from the publisher via Netgalley.

Here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

“What is the Unbelievable FIB?”  

That’s the question eleven-year-old Prudence Potts discovers on a baffling card no one else in Middleton–except ABE, a new kid with a knack for solving riddles–seems to see. Then a mysterious man asks for ABE and Pru’s help investigating mythical beings infiltrating the town, and that’s just one of the things Pru finds hard to believe.

Soon Pru and ABE discover another world beneath the surface of their quiet town, where Viking gods lurk just out of sight. They must race to secure the Eye of Odin, source of all knowledge–and the key to stopping a war that could destroy both human and immortal realms.

Author Adam Shaughnessy draws from classic lore to create a new world where uncertainty opens the door to magic and the last thing you should do is believe your own eyes.

the ubelievable fib

Read it if:

*you believe chicken feet would be a savvy renovation addition for your current dwelling

*you are a dab hand at riddle-solving, and would be over-the-moon (as opposed to mildly confused or completely creeped out) to find a mysterious note from an unnamed stranger in your backpack

*you are convinced that hanging out at the local watchhouse and chatting to interesting inmates will reap benefits in an as yet unimagined future scenario

*you really love middle grade fiction that is fun, fast-paced and cleverly blends myth, fairy tale and good old fashioned detective work

I was pleasantly surprised by the Unbelievable FIB in that it was a while between when I requested it for review and when I actually got to reading it, so I had forgotten that it featured Norse mythology. Now, I haven’t read many books featuring Norse mythology, so this felt quite fresh and shiny-new. I can’t say if it would feel the same for seasoned readers of Norse-mythology-based books, but the blend of the mythological with elements of the Baba Yaga fairy tale really set off the exciting, puzzling detective bits of the story.

Pru and ABE are both likeable characters and neither felt particularly clichéd to me, which is always a relief. Pru is an intrepid, cheeky, forthright young lady who has recently experienced the loss of her father, a police detective, while ABE is the reserved, quietly clever, new kid in town. Together, their skills complement each other and provide all the resources necessary to get to the bottom of some of the stranger happenings that have been occurring around town. There are also enough eccentric and shady adult characters here to keep the kids (and the reader!) on their toes regarding who can be trusted – there’s Pru and ABE’s teacher, the pompous Mrs Edleman; the kindly Fay Loningtime; the enigmatic and reclusive Old Man Grimnir; the dashing and unexpected Mister Fox and a very odd looking customer residing in the town’s watchhouse.

The author has done a great job of keeping the explanations of the more complex aspects of Norse mythology contained within the story. The various salient parts of the myths are related in a variety of ways – through a story read for the main character’s homework, for instance – which avoids any slowing of the plot while important world-building and background knowledge is given. Shaughnessy has also employed a light and humorous tone throughout, with lots of banter and quippery, which made this story very enjoyable to wander through.

Overall, this story felt like a breath of fresh air in the crowded marketplace of middle grade fiction, in which one often comes across the same sorts of stories told in similar sorts of ways. While this isn’t so outrageously original it blew my mind, it was definitely different enough from other recent releases that it made me sit up and take notice.  If you have a young reader in your midst who loves solving mysteries and enjoys a bit of fantastical adventure, then I would definitely recommend placing The Entirely True Story of the Unbelievable FIB in their hands…or at least within easy reach.

Until next time,

Bruce

Mondays are for Murder: Resorting to Murder (Holiday Mystery Anthology)…

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Welcome to another fiendishly murderous Monday! Today I have a collection for you, featuring short stories from some well-known writers of classic British mystery. Resorting to Murder: Holiday Mysteries, edited by Martin Edwards, is just one in a collection of mystery anthologies on different themes that are due for release this year. Unsurprisingly, today’s collection is based (mostly) around that great British destination for relaxation: the seaside. I received a copy of this title from the publisher via Netgalley for review.

Here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

Holidays offer us the luxury of getting away from it all. So, in a different way, do detective stories. This collection of vintage mysteries combines both those pleasures. From a golf course at the English seaside to a pension in Paris, and from a Swiss mountain resort to the cliffs of Normandy, this new selection shows the enjoyable and unexpected ways in which crime writers have used summer holidays as a theme.

Resorting to murder

The Usual Suspects:

This section should probably read not so much “the usual suspects” but “mostly the kind of suspects you’d expect, with a few absolute twisters thrown in”. There are nefarious family members motivated by greed, wives and husbands motivated by the desire to get rid of their wife or husband, business associates, people pretending to be other people and just about every trope you could think of popping up somewhere in this collection. A disturbing lack of retired Colonels back from the sub-continent, though.

The Hunt for the Murderer/s:

Once again, the hunts take many forms, but the majority involve a private detective or a police detective taking the expected route. In one memorable story however, the murderer is never found and in others, it’s not exactly clear whether a murder has happened at all.

Overall Rating:

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Four poison bottles for an invigorating seaside holiday featuring sand, sunburn and serial killing (or rather, killing in serial)

I really enjoyed this anthology, for the fun trip through classic British murder mysteries, as much as getting to dip my toe into the writing styles of a bunch of mystery writers from the first half of the twentieth century without having to commit to reading a whole novel. The opening tale by Arthur Conan Doyle set the tone nicely, with a typical “locked room” type mystery that helped me to warm up to the task of solving multiple, unrelated murders by the end of the book. There are also a veritable slew of detectives to acquaint one’s self with, so if you were under the impression that Poirot was the only one getting freelance and solving murders, this book will really open your eyes!

I particularly enjoyed Murder! by Arnold Bennett (as much for the exclamation mark in the title, as for the twist in the story), while The Vanishing of Mrs Fraser by Basil Thomson was simultaneously ridiculously far-fetched and utterly compelling. In fact, I think Thomson’s mystery was my favourite of the lot.

There are more in this anthology series (two just in time for Christmas, apparently!) so I suspect these will find their way onto my TBR list. If you are in the mood for a holiday of the mind that involves skullduggery in bite-sized chunks, I would definitely recommend packing this one in your bedside drawer.

Until next time,

Bruce

Some Middle Grade Wolfishness: A Double-Dip Review…and a Fi50 Reminder!

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Before we break out the extreme nacho cheese snack dippers, allow me to remind you that Fiction in 50 for March will be kicking off on Monday.  Our prompt for this month is…kernel of truth

If you’d like to join in, simply compose a piece of poetry or prose in 50 words or fewer and link it to my Fi50 post on Monday in the comments.  For more detailed instructions, and to find out more about the challenge, click here.

Now onto the main course!  Today I have two middle grade books that feature wolfishness in a variety of forms.  One is a fable, the other is an urban fantasy detective lark.  I received both titles from their respective publishers via Netgalley.  Select your snack food of choice and let’s get dipping!

First up, for those who love a good old fable we have A Wolf at the Gate by Mark Van Steenwyk.  Here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

The Blood Wolf prowls near the village of Stonebriar at night. She devours chickens and goats and cows and cats. Some say children are missing. But this murderous wolf isn’t the villain of our story; she’s the hero! The Blood Wolf hates humankind for destroying the forest, but an encounter with a beggar teaches her a better way to confront injustice. How will she react when those she loves are threatened?

Dip into it for…  wolf at the gate

… a retelling of the story of St Francis and the wolf of Gubbio, Italy.  I was not familiar with the story before reading the book, and I think this probably heightened my enjoyment of the story, as although I could predict where the story might go, I didn’t have the ending in mind before beginning.  While not a super-fan of fables, I found this retelling to be very easy to engage with, as the narrative style certainly reflected the familiar style of fables and moral stories, but there was enough original material here to stave off the “I know where this is going and how it’s going to get there” boredom of being stuck listening to a fable.  The plot moves quickly and there are enough changes in setting and the situation of the wolf to keep things interesting.

Don’t dip if…

…you don’t like fables. Or wolves.  Or forgiveness.  Otherwise, I think this is a very appealing little tome.

Overall Dip Factor:

A Wolf at the Gate would be a great choice as a read-aloud for the early to middle primary classroom when studying fables, Christian mythology or just ethics in general.  Van Steenwyk never refers to St Francis in the text, creating instead the character of “The Beggar King”, a wandering wise man, so there’s no worry here about getting bogged down in Christian ideology if that isn’t your thing.  As a reading choice for middle graders (and even slightly younger children) this is a quick read with plenty of discussion-starting material, as well as being an engaging story peppered with stylised illustrations.

Now, onto the urban fantasy detective lark, Howl at the Moon: A Liarus Detective Novel by L. A. Starkey.  Here’s the blurb from Patchwork Press:

Eighth graders, Ben, Jake, and Leah need cash, and mowing lawns in the winter just isn’t cutting it. Their need for cash births the Liarus (Liars R Us) Detective Agency! Their first client is Old Lady Smitz, who is said to have murdered her three sons and husband. She’s missing a family heirloom, but it’s not just any old trinket, it’s the crest of Lykoi.

There are only two rules: No girls are allowed and never seal a deal with the witch doctor. Disregarding danger, these three discover that money is usually more trouble than it’s worth!

Dip into it for… howl at the moon

…a rollicking adventure that is squarely aimed at the  upper middle grade/lower YA market, and has a definite male skew, with the two main characters being ladsy boys.  There’s plenty of banter and social goings-on not entirely related to the detective work happening here alongside the supernatural elements.  There are the obligatory people involved who aren’t what they seem and a seemingly anti-feminist angle with the stipulation that no girls are allowed on the job.  Of course though, there’s a twist in the tale (tail?) and what began as a foolproof plan becomes slightly more complicated for our intrepid heroes.

Don’t dip if…

…you’re after a novel that focuses in on the detective agency part.  There is a LOT of romance-y, who-likes-who, unrequited crush business going on here and it took a little time to actually get to the forming of the detective agency.

Overall Dip Factor:

To be honest, I had a hard time with this book.  I was really looking forward to a new series with a supernatural AND detective angle, but there was just way too much adolescent romance going on that just slowed the whole thing down.  I couldn’t figure out why it was included, when there was perfectly good supernatural stuff that could have held the tale on its own. There was also a lot of banter and back-and-forth dialogue between the two main male characters and at times I just wanted to shout, “Alright! Just shut up and get on with it!”

If convoluted teen romance and adolescent chatter is no problem for you however, and you enjoy supernatural mysteries, then definitely give this one a go.  I suspect I will be leaving the Liarus Detective Agency with this novel, but I wish them well on their future endeavours.

So there we have two wolfish tales that may have whetted your appetite.  Although if you have any dip left over, perhaps you should consider sharing it with the dog. Or wolf.

Until next time,

Bruce

 

 

Mondays are for Murder: Arsenic for Tea…

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Welcome to another dose of Mondays are for Murder, the feature in which I report on the latest murder-mystery to have graced my shelf and eyeballs.  Today’s review underwent a midstream alteration – I was going to feature the new(ish), not-written-by-Agatha-Christie-but-featuring-Poirot novel, The Monogram Murders by Sophie Hannah, but unfortunately I found it to be lacking in the Poirot department (you can read my Goodreads review here) and so I turned my attention to that inimitable schoolgirl duo, Wells and Wong, in their second outing, Arsenic for Tea by Robin Stevens.

Hazel and Daisy are staying at Daisy’s home, Fallingford, for the holidays along with their dorm-mates, Kitty and Beanie, under the tutelage of slightly suspicious governess, Miss Alston.  When Mrs Wells’ odious young friend, Mr Curtis drops dead during Daisy’s birthday tea, it becomes apparent that all is not as it appears at Fallingford. The girls immediately suspect that Mr Curtis has been poisoned and once again find themselves thrust into the midst of a murder investigation.  As the weather worsens and Fallingford is cut off by rising floodwaters, will Hazel and Daisy (and assistants Kitty and Beanie) be able to untangle the mystery before the murderer strikes again?

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The Usual Suspects:

This time Stevens has kept things all in the family – mostly.  There’s Daisy’s parents, Lord and Lady Hastings, her Aunt Saskia (she of the floaty scarves and light fingers), her shrewd Uncle Felix, older brother Bertie and Bertie’s school friend Stephen.  Then there’s the hired help – Miss Alston, who is acting very strangely indeed (and not at all like a governess), Lord Hasting’s Gentleman’s Gentleman, and the kitchen staff (who always know more than they are telling).

The Hunt for the Murderer/s:

The hunt is conducted in a somewhat clandestine fashion, as it is not immediately apparent to all concerned that murder has in fact taken place.  Thus, our girl detectives must use all of their cunning and wiles to sneak about, eavesdrop and generally avoid the watchful gaze of Miss Alston by concealing their enquiries under the pretence of multiple games of hide and seek and the like.  There are plenty of twists and turns though, as suspects are ruled out and back in again, and the girls have more than one brush with mysterious persons unknown lurking, supposedly unseen, in incriminating places.

Overall Rating:

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Four poison bottles for a good old-fashioned big house romp

This second offering featuring Wells and Wong had all the features of a manor-house-based Christie-mystery, with the added bonus of child detectives.  I really enjoyed the period feel of the story and, being a known fan of Christie, the careful plotting of the murder narrative.  This was a real whodunit, of the kind I like, where the focus is on solving the puzzle, and trying to be as clever as the author.

I am quite pleased with how this emerging series is turning out, and I can’t wait to see what Stevens does with the girls next.

Until next time (in which we will plunge into Dorothy L. Sayers’ work – finally!),

Bruce

 

Double Dragon: Two New Release Books for Boys…(and girls who like boyish stuff)…

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Tally-ho and away we go with two new-release titles for the young and young at heart and old-but-still-funky set.  I’m very pleased to present you with two exciting tid-bits today – an original fantasy tale that mashes science with magic and just about everything in between, and a modern makeover of the adventures of one S. Holmes, Esq. and his trusty pal, John Watson.  Both are worthy of your attention, but will probably appeal to different audiences…although they’re both great picks for young male readers.

To Dragon Number One!

The Curse of the Thrax (Book 1 of the Bloodsword Trilogy) by Mark Murphy is a pacey, original story within a traditional fantasy context, but one that I can guarantee will not go in the direction you expect.  The story is set in a world possibly in our distant future, wherein science and modern technology as we know it has given way to simpler lifestyles of farming and hunting.  The book follows Jaykriss and Marda, two young friends who are learning to be hunters and warriors in the shadow of heroic fathers who have died.  While out hunting one day, the boys are chased by the Thrax – a ferocious and almost-unstoppable dragon – and take refuge in a cave.  Inside the cave, they discover Zamarcus, an old man who possesses many relics of the “Time Before” – relics that have been forbidden by the tyrannical Dark King – and Jaykriss and Marda are drawn into a quest that could see Jaykriss take his rightful place as King, wielding his father’s weapon, the Bloodsword.  Sounds simple enough right? From this point in the book, things start to deviate from your standard fantasy plot as we are introduced to  a whole host of other elements that move this story from your average “boy-who-would-be-king” fare, to a tome that takes in post-apocalyptic themes, coming-of-age themes and a twist at the end that turns the the tables and will have you second-guessing who the real enemy is in this tale.

thraxIf you are looking for a book for boys (or girls who particularly love action and adventure), then The Curse of the Thrax will tick every box.  There’s hunting, fishing, warriors, monsters, thugs, sailing, science, myth, kidnappings, a Dark King, a Queen of a Dead City, swordplay, archery, battles, and a talking raven.  This is not an exhaustive list of the boy-appeal in this book either, just a small sampling.

The main characters, Jaykriss and Marda, are typical young teens who live an ordinary life of hunting, school, girl-admiration (from afar!) and general tomfoolery.  Marda is a joker, while Jaykriss bears the burden of a famous father on his shoulders.  Zamarcus, who becomes something of a mentor and father-figure for the boys, is the quintessential wise old man, but also maintains a rebellious streak that fires the boys’ curiosity about their world and the time before.

It took me a little while to get into this book – about six or seven chapters – but once Zamarcus enters the narrative I was well and truly drawn in.  The story has a strange pacing, with ordinary, everyday sort of events in the boys’ home village interspersed with action, questing and battles and I did find this a bit jarring.  I suspect that the pacing lends itself to a story that is best read slowly, as to allow all the complicated bits and pieces to percolate through one’s mind.

Because this is a very complicated story (don’t let the cartoonish cover fool you!), there are elements to the plot that I haven’t described, just because to do so would make this review untenably long.  Suffice to say, this is both like and unlike fantasy stories that I have read before.  I think the standout part of this book is the way that science and fantasy have been used together in the world-building.  I also think that this book would have been much, much more enjoyable in print – the complexity of the story and the high fantasy elements deserve to be read on proper skin-of-dead-tree.

I highly recommend this one to lovers of fantasy who don’t mind a mild twist on an old genre, and to those who like to savour and draw out their stories, rather than rush through to the end.

Now, to Dragon Number Two!

The Astounding Adventure of the Ancient Dragon (Book 1 in the Elementary, My Dear Watson series) by Jose Prendes is a modern re-working of the adventures of Sherlock Holmes, featuring Holmes and Watson as school boys at the same boarding school.  In this first adventure, Watson is sent to Candlewood school when his mother becomes terminally ill.  While there, he meets Sherlock, and is at first put off by his abrupt, seemingly anti-social manner, but becomes drawn into a mystery regarding a number of students disappearing from the school.  With Holmes and Watson on the case the villains cannot hope to make good on their nefarious plans, but before the crime can be stopped the boys will need to find the answers to some very tricky problems…such as why does the kidnapper only seem to take girls? How can they conduct their investigations with the Head Mistress keeping her beady eyes on their every move? And is Inspector Lestrade as inept as he makes out? (Just a tip: the answer to that last one is “Yes. Yes he is.”)

This is the book that I was hoping Knightley and Son was going to be.  Where I found that one to be lacking was in the area of character development, and I’m pleased to say that The Astounding Ancient DragonAdventure etc etc has a strong narrative voice and a likeable and believable narrator in young Master Watson.  For those loyalists, there’s not too much movement away from the original characters if you excuse the fact that they’re much younger than Sir A. Conan Doyle originally wrote them, but the characterisation is simultaneously faithful to the originals, and creatively interpreted for younger readers, with plenty of (lovely, dry) humour (and a bit of innocent romance) thrown in.

The investigative action is interspersed with some exciting fight and escape sequences (who knew Sherlock was a dab hand at the fighting arts?!) so the story contains elements that will appeal to fans of action-based narrative, without putting off those who are drawn in by the cerebral elements of crime investigation.  The crime (or mystery, I suppose) that is being investigated is pretty simple, with only a small pool of possible suspects, but Prendes has done well to create an unexpected ending that is much more involved than I anticipated.  I suspect however, that the focus for this book, being the first in a series, is to introduce the characters and set up their relationship and modus operandi.

I am looking forward to the next in the series because I think that, while this didn’t draw me in spectacularly well (as an adult reader), I’m interested to see how it will progress and I liked the diary-style format and the wry, oft-bemused narration of Watson.  Also, in my opinion, there can’t be enough good detective stories for this age-group; mystery-solving is the spice of childhood life!

I recommend this one to lovers of mystery, intrigue and meddling kids!  Oh, and to fans of Holmes and Watson who don’t mind a few cheeky twists on the original.

I should probably also point out that both of these books would fit nicely into the Small Fry Safari Kid Lit Readers Challenge!  The Thrax of course, is something unsightly (category seven), and The Astounding Adventure of the Ancient Dragon could slip in under wordplay in the title (category eight) or a book with someone’s name in the title (category four).  Click on the image below to find out more and sign up for the challenge – we would love to meet some fresh meat new players!

imageUntil next time,

Bruce

*I received a digital copy of The Curse of the Thrax from the publisher via Netgalley in return for an honest review.  I received a digital copy of Elementary, My Dear Watson: The Astounding Adventure of the Ancient Dragon from the publisher, Curiosity Quills, in exchange for an honest review*

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