A Middle-Grade Mystery Double Dip Review: Best Mistakes and Girl Detectives…

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I hope you won’t have to search out your snack to accompany today’s double dip review, because that’s exactly what is happening in today’s two middle grade mysteries…although, technically, it’s not snacks that are being hunted down, it’s secrets and trickery.  Let’s jump straight in with a girl detective, shall we?

We received The Great Shelby Holmes: Girl Detective by Elizabeth Eulberg from Bloomsbury Australia for review and here is the blurb from Goodreads:

Meet spunky sleuth Shelby and her sports-loving sidekick Watson as they take on a dog-napper in this fresh twist on Sherlock Holmes.
Shelby Holmes is not your average sixth grader. She’s nine years old, barely four feet tall, and the best detective her Harlem neighborhood has ever seen—always using logic and a bit of pluck (which yes, some might call “bossiness”) to solve the toughest crimes.

When eleven-year-old John Watson moves downstairs, Shelby finds something that’s eluded her up till now: a friend. Easy-going John isn’t sure of what to make of Shelby, but he soon finds himself her most-trusted (read: only) partner in a dog-napping case that’ll take both their talents to crack.

Sherlock Holmes gets a fun, sweet twist with two irresistible young heroes and black & white illustrations throughout in this middle grade debut from internationally bestselling YA author Elizabeth Eulberg.

Dip into it for… shelby holmes

…a fun and tongue-in-cheek mystery featuring a strong yet quirky female protagonist and an honest and down-to-earth narrator.  I will absolutely admit that when this landed on my shelf I immediately rolled my eyes and thought, “Oh sweet baby cheeses, not ANOTHER Sherlock Holmes spin off”, but I genuinely enjoyed this tale and quickly warmed to the characters mostly, I think, due to the endearing and self-deprecating voice of John Watson, the narrator.  John felt like a pretty authentic young lad who has just moved to a new city (again) and is faced with the task of making friends (any friends) to avoid having to think about his dad’s disappearing act.  Shelby is supremely annoying in some parts, in true Sherlock Holmes fashion, but the author does a good job of pointing out (through John’s observations) her vulnerabilities and desire for camaraderie.  The story deals with a mystery involving a wealthy family and a disappearing dog which is solved eloquently in the end, leaving everyone something to think about.

Don’t dip if…

…you don’t like Sherlock Holmes rebooted for youngsters?  This story certainly wouldn’t have made it onto my TBR had it not been sent to me for review, but I will happily admit that this would have been my mistake.  Even if you are a bit over re-hashed detective concepts for middle grade readers, this one is genuinely warm and worth a look.

Overall Dip Factor

I would certainly recommend this to young readers who enjoy mystery mixed with humour in a setting that allows real-life issues – like making friends, dealing with parental separation and moving to a new city – to come to the fore.  The characters are well-developed enough to give the story a bit of depth and the mystery is interesting enough to have youngsters guessing along until the big reveal.  This is definitely one of the more accomplished Sherlock Holmes homages I’ve seen about.

I will be submitting this book for the Popsugar Challenge 2017Popsugar Challenge 2017 under category #27: a book featuring someone’s name in the title.  You can check out my progress toward the challenge here.

Next up we have a tale of vintage cars, dog-walking and another set of quirky friends in The Best Mistake Mystery by Sylvia McNicoll.  We received a copy of this one from the publisher via Netgalley for review and here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

Dogwalker extraordinaire Stephen Nobel can get a little anxious, but his habit of counting the mistakes he and everyone else makes calms him. His need to analyze gets kicked into hyperdrive after two crazy events happen in one day at school: the bomb squad blows up a backpack and someone smashes a car into the building.

To make things worse, that someone thinks Stephen can identify them. Stephen receives a threatening text. If he goes to the police, his favourite dogs, Ping and Pong, will get hurt. The pressure mounts when his new best friend, Renée, begs for Stephen’s help. Her brother has been charged with the crimes and she wants to clear his name.

Is it a mistake to give in to dognappers? How can he possibly save everybody? To find out, Stephen will have to count on all of his new friends.

Dip into it for… best mistake mystery

…a multi-layered mystery that can only be pieced together by someone who spends their time scanning the neighbourhood under the cover of dogwalking.  Stephen is a conscientious sort of a boy and Renee is a loyal friend with a rebellious streak.  Both kids need a friend and it turns out that hanging out with the “weird” kid needn’t be a bad thing.  The mystery in this one unfolds slowly, with different elements added as the days go on and it is not clear to Stephen and Renee – or indeed, the reader – how, or even if, certain pieces of the puzzle fit together. Every character has a backstory here, as one often finds in a small neighbourhood, and there are plenty of people who had the opportunity, if not the motive, to drive a car into the front of the school.  The same is true of the threatening texts that Stephen begins to receive – plenty of people could have had the opportunity – but why would anyone want to hurt Ping and Pong?

Don’t dip if…

…you aren’t a fan of dogs.  I’m serious.  There is a lot of dog-walking, dog-feeding and general dog-tending going on here, and that’s before Ping and Pong come under the threat of dognapping.  I will admit that this became tedious after a while.  I understand that Stephen, as a character, is totally committed to his doggy clients, but I didn’t feel like I needed quite that much detail as to how he went about looking after them.

Overall Dip Factor

This is certainly an original story with a mystery that will have even the most committed mystery-readers puzzling along with the characters.  There are plenty of red-herrings thrown in and lots of possible motives for all sorts of characters, and in the end things aren’t exactly as our two protagonists imagined them to be.  I enjoyed watching the friendship between Renee and Stephen grow.  The author has done a good job of letting the trust build slowly, while the bonds between the two are forged through trial.  This wasn’t an outstanding read, in my opinion, but definitely worth a look if you can handle lots of doggy description and enjoy a complex, neighbourhood-driven mystery.

I hope if you have a canine in the house that you provided them with a nice treat while you read the preceding review, but I suppose if you didn’t there’s still time to do it now.

We’ll wait.

So, do either of these take you fancy?  Are you sick of rehashes of famous detective stories too?  Have you ever read a dog-walking mystery before?  Let me know!

Until next time,

Bruce

 

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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:

 poison clip art poison clip art poison clip art poison clip art

 

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

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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