Mistletoe and Murder by Robin Stevens

Cosy crime is one of my favourite things about Christmas. So I chose some cosy crime for younger readers this time – although I believe we can all enjoy Children’s books, whatever age we are. It is perfect escapism (and I do wish these had existed when I was a child).

This time we are, as the title suggests, on a Christmas adventure with our two amateur detectives. Daisy and Hazel are spending Christmas in Cambridge with Daisy’s brother and Aunt. And, as you can imagine, they stumble on all sorts of mysteries, secrets and, of course, a murder…or two. And with a rival agency in town, too – who will solve the crime?

No spoilers here, but this was an incredibly fun read and it is always great to find strong female leads to inspire readers. I also thought that despite this being set in 1935, it did challenge some of the views that we would not accept now. It is always important to take lessons from books, too, and it is handled so well in these pages.

This is my secon ‘Murder Most Unladylike Mystery’, and I will definitely be returning (and reading them in the right order).

The Ghost of Gosswater by Lucy Strange

This could be one of my favourite reads of 2021 – even if I had left it on my shelf for a while. A classic ghost story for middle-grade readers – well, let’s be honest, for all fans of ghost stories.

Set in the wonderfully atmospheric Lake District, we find a family with dark secrets and a fascinating collection of characters. Some of them rather disagreeable and some of them rather wonderful, and inspirational in their way. Especially our fantastically fiesty and independent lead character Agatha Asquith; despite it being set in the past, she is a perfect hero for the modern reader.

This beautifully written novel is one that I want to share with readers of all ages. For the younger reader, it is a perfectly exciting ghost story, and for us ‘older’ readers – well, it offers exactly the same, with a touch of nostalgia.

Lucy Strange is quickly becoming one of my favourite authors because she writes the sort of books I would have adored when I was younger. And have seen that she has a new title heading our way very soon – and I can’t wait!

Me, My Dad and the End of the Rainbow by Benjamin Dean

This is a beautiful book that can provide so much for children and adults alike.

Things are changing for Archie: his dad has moved out and his dad has a secret. When Archie accidentally overhears what that secret is, he knows life will never be the same again, but he is determined to help his dad be happy. With the help of his two best friendsm Seb and Bell, he thinks he can his dad find happiness at the end of a brilliantly colourful rainbow.

This adventure takes the three friends to London Pride, where they find a whole host of brilliant characters who help them discover the answers that they are looking for. And they realise that change doesn’t have to be a bad thing, and difference deserves to be celebrated at all ages.

This is such a happy book with a wonderful and supportive message for people of all ages about how we live in a wonderfully colourful world, which we should all be supporting and celebrating. This is the sort of book I wish was around when I was growing up, because it is just a perfect story.

The Good Thieves by Katherine Rundell

I was very kindlu gifted a copy of Katherine Rundell’s new book by Tandem Collective UK. This was one that I was very keen to read, as I think Rundell writes fantastic adventure stories for children. And, an early bold statement, I think this is my favourite so far.

‘The Good Thieves’ whisks you to twenties New York, an era that has always fascinated me. Vita wants to set things right as her Grandfather has been cheated out of his beloved home by a local ‘gangster’. Vita fearlessly gathers together a group of talented friends to help her carry out her incredible plan.

This is quite an edge-of-your-seat adventure as Vita and her new friends attempt to take on Sorrotore and his men. There are twists and turns that will keep you turning the page and wishing you could join them for the adventure. It is also a book that proves you should never let things put you off aiming for your dreams.

For me, this was just a beautifully crafted story full of adventure, hope and love. So, if you or someone you know loves a classic adventure story, then this is the book to pick up. Especially as the illustrations are wonderful too – really taking you on an armchair adventure.

Amal Unbound by Aisha Saeed

This is a book that I picked up after attending a book event where Aisha Saeed spoke with Becky Albertalli about their co-authored book ‘Yes No Maybe So’. I had not encountered Aisha Saeed before as an author, but she was so engaging when she spoke and, clearly, loves to write, that I was encouraged to give her novel a go.

Amal has dreams of becoming a teacher, she loves to learn and she loves to read. But society has other ideas, she lives in a very patriarchal society and a village that appears to be run by those who have money – and not those who work hard in the community to make a living. After an accidental encounter with the rich Khan family Amal finds her life changes and her dreams appear to disappear. However, could she still be in control of her future, with a little help from her friends?

This book is engaging and written in a very readable style. It would be a great book for secondary school-aged readers. It really encourages you to think about some of the traditional roles that can be outlined for men and women without any discussion or chance for the moulds to be broken. But, in fact, inside us all, is there the spirit to force change and really take control of our destinies?

I really enjoyed this book, and it was a chance to discover another new author.

Murder Most Unladylike by Robin Stevens

Before I start my ‘review’, or humble opinion, of this book, I have a little anecdote. I was reading this book on the train and it sparked a conversation. A lady told me that her friend was the author of the book – and, in fact, she was the author Helen Moss (Adventure Island Series, among others). We had a lovely chat, with another lady also, about books, encouraging reading and a reading scheme in prisons. A brief but great chat.

So, back to ‘Murder Most Unladylike’, I am clearly not the target audience, but these books had been catching my eye for a while and I was lucky enough to receive one in a bookswap. This is the first in a series, and I will be reading more, of crime capers involving the pupils of Deepdean School for Girls. Daisy and Hazel set up a secret detective agency, but there have not been many real crimes to investigate – until Hazel stumbles across the body of Miss Bell. Well, she is convinced she did but, apparently, Miss Bell has just resigned… Daist and Hazel know that this can not be true, but how do they prove it?

This book is such good fun. It has all the magic of the classic boarding school stories, such as the Chalet School, and the classic crime ingredients of the greats, such as Agatha Christie.

Beautfully written. it is engaging for all readers; you want to know ‘whodunnit’. Although Daisy is clearly a little bit of a dominant character, Hazel has the classic crime-solving skills. Together, they complement each other – a little like Holmes and Watson.

So, if you, or a reader you know, enjoys a good crime puzzle, then pick up ‘Murder Most Unladylike’ and start a whole new set of adventures.

The Kane Chronicles: The Red Pyramid by Rick Riordan

From the pen of the author who gave us Percy Jackson is another adventure based on the mythology of ancient civilisations. This time, we are immersed in the beliefs of the Ancient Egyptians. Our heroes, Sadie and Carter, are connected to gods of the ancient world in way they never knew.

Of course, after a visit to the British Museum on Christmas Eve does not quite go as they expect, Sadie and Carters world is turned upside down. They find themselves on quite the mission to prevent Set from unleashing chaos on the world. Of course, they have to meet a real collection of characters from the ancient world and make some quick decisions about how they can save the world.

Magic, mystery and history are all entwined to create a great adventure. For me, although I am not the target audience, the start and end are strong but at times the middle was a little slow. Yet, this was a book I was encouraged to read and I do think it could get some reluctant readers to pick up a book. After all, who doesn’t wish they can go on a huge adventure and discover that they, in fact, have royal blood?

Worzel Gummidge by Barbara Euphan Todd

One of the lovely things about Christmas is that it brings people together and creates memories. A very happy memory of this Christmas for me was us all watching the new adaptation of ‘Worzel Gummidge’ together. It was just a joyful piece of television and we all hope that there will be more episodes to come.

However, this also prompted me to read the book. What a joy that is, too! This was a lovely read to start 2020 with. A classic Children’s book, with the loveable scarecrow, a touch of magic and a great collection of characters. Susan, John and Worzel Gummidge have some great adventures in the countryside.

This is a traditional tale of simpler times – there is something very nostalgic about the book, which adds to its charm. It is really rather refreshing.

So, why not go and rediscover a classic whatever your age because sometimes all we need is the simple things in life.

The Conspiracy of Magic by Harriet Whitehorn

Before I can even comment on the novel, I have to talk about the cover of ‘The Conspiracy of Magic’. It has a cover that makes me want to not only read the book, but become part of the tale. (Even if ice skating is not my strong point, but that is part of the joy of reading – you can do anything).

I was lucky enough to be given the chance to review ‘The Conspiracy of Magic’ by Harriet Whitehorn thanks to the fabulous Dark Room Tours. And I am so glad I had that chance.

This book has everything that a great story should have. As the title suggests, there is magic, adventure, intrigue – and, most importantly, a strong female lead in Cass. An obtuse (not affected by magic), in a world where magic is considered dangerous, as it is powerful. Which, of course, is something that does not go down well with all the residents, and magical forces start to target the royal party that Cass is charged with protecting. This leads Cass on quite an adventure, encountering a collection of colourful characters along the way.

For me, I really enjoyed that the strength for Cass comes from the fact that she isn’t magical. She has to rely on her wits and strength to protect and fight for what she loves.

It reminded me of classic adventure tales, full of great characters, magical settings, as well as humour and emotion. Certainly the sort of book you can imagine diving into and fighting alongside the characters in a classic tale of good versus bad.

This novel is a sequel, the second in the ‘The Company of Eight’ series, however it can be read as a standalone book without any impact on enjoyment. Although, you will want to read more.

So, if you are a fan of adventure, whatever your age, then pick this book up. It would also make a fantastic Christmas gift for avid middle-grade readers.

Go on, try something new!

Evie and the Animals by Matt Haig

I am always in awe of those authors who show their talents in so many different ways – Matt Haig is one of those authors. Haig can write with such style, not just for adults but also for children (and even then he can adapt his style).

‘Evie and the Animals’ is a book I believe was inspired by his daughter’s love of animals. It is a great story – in my opinion, for all ages – of a girl who has a love of animals and a special talent that allows them to communicate with her, and vice versa. There is a wonderful emphasis on the importance being special in your own way – that there is no need to try and be like everyone else.

Evie can gather great strength when she knows the truth about her past. And she goes on to use that to save those that she loves – human and animal alike.

This is a glorious adventure with brilliant illustrations from Emily Gravett, which bring even more life to this novel.

We should all remember that we have our own special talents and that they make us the individuals we are today.