The Monstrous Devices by Damien Love

monstrous devicesTitle: The Monstrous Devices
Author: Damien Love
Genre: Science Fiction, Adventure
Publisher: Bloomsbury/Rock the Boat
Published: 19th May 2020
Format: Paperback
Pages: 352
Price: $14.99
Synopsis: A cinematic and original page-turner for fans of Indiana Jones and Alex Rider

On a winter’s day, twelve-year old Alex receives a package in the mail: an old tin robot from his grandfather. ‘This one is special,’ says the enclosed note, and when strange events start occurring around him, Alex suspects this small toy is more than special; it might be deadly.

Things get out of hand, Alex’s grandfather arrives, saving him from an attack – and his otherwise humdrum world of friends, bullies, and homework – and plunging him into the macabre magic of an ancient family feud. Together, the duo flees across snowy Europe, unravelling the riddle of the little robot while trying to outwit relentless assassins of the human and mechanical kind.

With an ever-present admiration for the hidden mysteries of our world, Monstrous Devices plunges readers into a gripping adventure that’s sure to surprise.

~*~
When the robot Alexander receives a mysterious robot from his grandfather, he has no idea what is in store for him. Soon, it seems as if the robot has come to life. Soon, Alexander and his grandfather are racing through Paris and Prague as they try to solve the mystery of the robot that comes to life and does things that Alexander never thought possible, and invites danger into their lives that is at times scary, and that Alexander and his grandfather need to get out of so they can resume their daily lives.

This intriguing novel combines adventure and quest stories, with living toys, ancient myths and stories from the past about the golem, and robots in a unique way. It merges magic and reality seamlessly, and incorporates themes of science fiction and stories of how the living robot came to be, and is at times, scary or worrying, but action packed from beginning to end as they try to bring an end to an ancient family feud fuelled by macabre magic, and people who aren’t quite who they say they are.

At times, it feels apocalyptic – as though the robot and those who want it and want to control it are going to win. It feels as though it is a whole story, that the ending wraps things up nicely. Yet at the same time, there could be a sequel. The Tall Man who appears has a connection to one of the characters that is hinted at but perhaps not wholly resolved – and as the mystery of the robot unfolds, we are told along the way about Alexander’s absent father, whose non-presence in the novel shapes the characters and forms an interesting plot line that works well not being resolved – we don’t always find out everything – yet also works to hint at a sequel – either way, this plot line is woven throughout as Alexander ponders who his father is and what is going on with the robot and his grandfather.

This is a book filled with mystery and danger at every turn, as it draws on the golem legend from Jewish culture, and a Rabbi Loewy who is linked to the robot and the store it was taken from in Prague – this theft opens up the novel – where we first meet the tall man and the young girl who accompanies him. They are a constant presence in the novel – whether on the page or off the page, and their role gives the novel the scary undertones – what do these two people want, and who are they are two questions constantly at play throughout the novel.

This was a different novel for me – most of the things I read don’t have robots. It was interesting, and perhaps gives a brief look at what things could be like if robots did take over or at least, what could happen if they could read our thoughts and act of their own volition. In this way, it was a touch scary at times, yet also engrossing – to find out if Alexander and his grandfather succeed, you have to read on. It captures the imagination and once in Prague, takes the reader somewhere new and historic. It evokes a sense of history and mystery, and magic in a place that has a long and complex history within Europe in many ways – perhaps too many to list here.

This is an interesting and mysterious read for confident readers aged nine and older, and will take you on a journey you’d never expect.

Her Perilous Mansion by Sean Williams

her perilous mansionTitle: Her Perilous Mansion

Author: Sean Williams

Genre: Fantasy/Magical Realism

Publisher: Allen and Unwin

Published: 28th April 2020

Format: Paperback

Pages: 336

Price: $16.99

Synopsis: Perfectly pitched standalone middle grade fantasy – exciting, intriguing and thoroughly satisfying.

In a strange mansion miles from anywhere, an orphan named Almanac and a twelfth daughter named Etta find themselves working – and bickering – side by side in the largely deserted rooms. But soon they realise that the house and its inhabitants are not quite what they seem, and there’s more at stake than just their jobs. Can they solve the puzzle of Her Perilous Mansion before it’s too late?

Almanac is an orphaned boy who can’t forget; Etta is the youngest of twelve unwanted daughters. Invited to work at a mysterious mansion mile from anywhere, they discover the inhabitants are a little…odd. Lady Simone never gets out of bed. Lord Nigel is always locked in his office, and Olive lives in a hidden boiler room and communicates only by code. Etta and Almanac soon realise that the mansion and its residents have secrets they are reluctant to give up, and there’s more at stake than just their jobs. In a world where the line between magic and the written word is often dangerous, can they solve the puzzle of Her Perilous Mansion before its too late?

~*~

Imagine being drawn and mysteriously invited to a mansion in the middle of nowhere. This is the fate that awaits Etta and Almanac. Etta is the youngest of twelve unwanted daughters, and Almanac is an orphan. When they arrive, each sees a different name on the plaque out the front – and here is where their bickering begins. Yet once in, they both receive mysterious messages from those they are meant to serve – yet nobody is around. Etta and Almanac stumble across a mysterious spell linked to the house and those who dwell in the house.

When they realise where they are and those they connect with are not quite what they seem, Etta and Almanac are thrust on a journey to solve a puzzle, and free those who seem to be trapped there.

Wow. This is a fantastic read. It is filled with mystery, magic, fantasy, ghosts, all in what feels like a very Victorian England setting – filled with playful characters, a fairy tale-esque feel of an orphan needing to break a spell. One might say Almanac is the diamond in the rough much like Aladdin was. Chosen, so to speak, or at least destined, to uncover the puzzle of the mansion.

Hints at this puzzle are dropped on every page cleverly, like a cipher, almost. What is it about this house that has everyone trapped in specific places, why do Almanac and Etta never see anyone else, and who is behind these mysterious notes that tell them what they should be doing? Yet there are things that those Etta and Almanac know are there cannot say, cannot warn them about. The spell needs to be broken; they need to find the sorcerer who cast it. And this forms part of the puzzle and mystery. This puzzle is imbued and present on every page, filling the story with just the right amount of intrigue. Sean Williams knows when to deliver information and when to hold back, leaving gaps for the reader to try and solve the puzzle, or look at how it might work.

Each page is thrilling, and filled to the brim with worry, friendship and a desire to solve an ongoing mystery that nobody before them has managed to. It is a delightfully exciting adventure, filled with mystery and magic that weaves in and out of every sentence, and pulls the reader into its wide web of power. Truly one of the most intriguing aspects of the mansion is just who the owner is and who the her is –  it is a fantastic middle grade book that combines fantasy and magical realism to create a world that is equally mysterious and fantastical, far enough away for it to be within a fairy tale world, but at the same time, feels as though it could really exist in a Victorian England setting.

Middle grade readers who enjoy fantasy will love this book, and  be swept up by its magic and fun as they go on a perilous adventure to u cover secrets that have been buried for decades.

Isolation Publicity with Sonya Bates

Due to recent events, many Australian authors have had to cancel book launches and festival appearances. For some, this means new novels, series continuations and debut novels are heading into this scary, strange world without much publicity or attention. The good news is, you can still buy books – online or get your local bookstore to deliver if they’re offering that service. Buying these books, talking about them, sharing them, reading them, reviewing them – are all ways that for the next six months at least, we can ensure that these books don’t fall by the wayside.

Over the next few months, a lot of us will be consuming some form of art – entertainment, movies, TV, radio, music, books – the list goes on. It is something we will be turning to take our minds off things and to occupy vast swathes of free time. One of the things I will be doing to support the arts, and specifically, Australian Authors, will be reading and reviewing as many books as possible, conducting interviews like this where possible, and participating in virtual book tours for authors.

My next interview is with Sonya Bates, author of The Inheritance of Secrets, one of the shortlisted authors of the inaugural Banjo Prize with HarperCollins Australia – in 2018. I reviewed it here on the 20th of April, it’s review date. Sonya, like many authors who have appeared, has had events, launches and appearances cancelled due to COVID-19. She agreed to participate in my Isolation Publicity series – there are more to come, and I am waiting for some answers to pop back, so be on the lookout over the next few weeks.

Inheritance of Secrets

Hi Sonya, and welcome to The Book Muse,

  1. Where did the idea for your novel, Inheritance of Secrets, come from?

The idea for Inheritance of Secrets came from a character – the character of Karl from the historical thread of the novel. Karl is a fictional character who was inspired by my dad, who grew up in Germany in the same era, when Hitler was in power. Like Karl, he was drafted at the age of eighteen and sent to war. My dad was such a quiet, peace-loving person and I couldn’t imagine him being involved in such a terrible part of history. It made me want to write something that involved an ordinary person caught up in terrible times.

  1. What was it like growing up being aware of what your father went through?

It wasn’t something I thought about a lot. It’s not something he talked about. He was just my dad. But every once in a while, something would trigger thoughts about it. Like around Remembrance Day when the teacher would ask if anyone’s father or grandfather had fought in either of the World Wars. I never said anything, because he’d fought on the side of the enemy (we were living in Canada).  I needn’t have been embarrassed about that. He was an ordinary man fighting for his country like so many thousands of men on both sides of the conflict were doing.

  1. Do you think novels like yours with basis on real events and experiences, and presented in a fictional way, can help people understand the grey areas of history and people?

That’s an interesting question. I know, from a reader’s perspective, I love historical fiction because it makes history personal. It puts the reader in a character’s head as they deal with the issues of the time, and gives history a sense of reality. It humanises it. It may also give readers a glimpse of the times of their ancestors, and allow them to connect with their own history. How factual it is depends on the author’s research and their understanding of the time, so in that sense it is, as is all history, one person’s perspective on the time period. But it can put a new slant on history, allow the reader to look at it from a new perspective and consider it in a different way. Novelists have been doing that for quite some time – think Jane Eyre, The Color Purple or The Book Thief. The stories of individual people behind the big events of history. And it’s becoming more prevalent in recent times, especially the telling of stories from the female perspective, which has traditionally been largely ignored in history. Hannah Kent’s novels are a great example, as is Molly Murn’s Heart of the Grass Tree. Inheritance of Secrets isn’t purely a historical novel, and the historical thread is deliberately linked to the contemporary story and designed to provide clues to the mystery. But early readers have said how interesting they’ve found it, and I love that they’ve connected with it.

  1. Roughly how long did it take you to write this novel?

From the first spark of an idea to publication? Probably ten years! But I wasn’t working on it all that time. The idea mulled around in my head for years before I started working on it. I was writing children’s fiction at the time as well as working in Speech Pathology. I dabbled around doing a bit of research and writing a couple of scenes. Ideas were building in my head, but I couldn’t seem to get them down. Finally I concluded that if I really wanted to tackle this, then I needed some dedicated time to write it. I took some time off and did just that. It took me about ten months to write the first draft. Then another couple of years editing before I thought it was close to ready for submission. I signed the contract with HarperCollins late in 2018.

  1. What sort of research beyond your father’s experiences did you undertake whilst working on Inheritance of Secrets?

 

Most of the research was done either online or in libraries and museums. I did talk to my dad some on the phone and when I visited him in Canada, but it wasn’t something he ever wanted to talk about, and so I didn’t pry about his own experiences. He shared a portion of his private memoirs with me while I was researching, and we spoke more in general terms, about the character Karl and what he might or might not have experienced. I relied more on reading memoirs and personal accounts, letters and diaries I found at the State Library or online. As well as scholarly texts on the time periods and the war years both in Germany and Australia. In 2018 I went to Germany and visited many of the museums dealing with the time before, during and after WWII, and also went to Halle (Saale) where Karl and Grete grew up, to walk the streets they would have walked and see the river park where they said their good-byes.

  1. What inspired you to enter the Banjo prize, and do you think it’s a good step for first time authors to take?

The Banjo Prize came at the perfect time for me. I’d done a number of edits on the manuscript, had feedback from beta readers, and felt I was almost ready to send it out to look for a publisher. I’d actually sent it off to a couple of agents, and while they weren’t prepared to offer me representation, they gave me detailed feedback that was immensely helpful. It was about that time that HarperCollins announced the launch of the Banjo Prize. I still wasn’t sure that the manuscript was ready, but basically thought, ‘You’ve gotta be in it to win it.’ So I did one last edit and sent it off with fingers crossed.

I think competitions like the Banjo Prize are a brilliant way for first time authors to get noticed. You can guarantee your manuscript will be read within a timely period for one, and if it does catch the attention of the publishers, even if you don’t win, being shortlisted for a competition looks great on your resume. And you never know, shortlisted manuscripts may be picked up, like mine was.

  1. After your manuscript was acquired, what did you have to do to get your work ready for publication?

The editing process can be a daunting one, especially the structural edit, but I knew that it would be the final step to making the book the best that it could be. For me, it involved fleshing out some of the characters, delving more into their relationships and expanding on the historical thread so that the character of Grete was more real to the reader. I think, coming from writing children’s fiction, my writing is quite spare. I’ve learned to say as much as I need to in as few words as possible, which is something I appreciate as a reader as well. I don’t like things spelled out too clearly. But going this step further with Inheritance of Secrets has made the book so much better. The editors at HarperCollins were brilliant. They didn’t tell me what to do, just pointed things out, asked questions and made suggestions, and then let me consider what was the best thing to do for the book. I think the changes will help the reader to form a stronger connection with the characters.

  1. A debut novel is an exciting event – what events did you have planned for the launch of your novel prior to the current crisis?

The release of Inheritance of Secrets was still a couple of months away when COVID-19 reared its ugly head and things started shutting down. So while my publicist had all sorts of events in mind, not many had been booked. The official book launch at Dymocks Adelaide was cancelled, as well as a collaborative author event that some writer friends and I had booked at a local library. I was able to get around to meet booksellers in Adelaide and Brisbane in January, which was really nice. Everyone was very welcoming and enthusiastic about the book.

  1. When did you decide you wanted to write books and explore stories?

I’ve always liked to write. I wrote stories as a child, although I never showed them to anyone. And after university, I wrote stories to use in therapy when I was working in Speech Pathology. It was when my girls were small and I was taking time off from work that I started to consider writing with the intent of being published. I saw an ad in the newspaper for a correspondence course in writing for children. I needed something for myself, and it seemed like the perfect opportunity. It was great fun, and rekindled my desire to write more. Soon after, I had my first chapter book accepted for publication, so that was very encouraging and the start of an ongoing pursuit of writing and being published.

  1. What was the book that made you fall in love with reading? Any particular reason that book stands out for you?

I don’t remember one particular book. I’ve loved reading since I was a kid. The whole family loved to read. Some favourites were Anne of Green Gables and the Little House on the Prairie series, so even then I loved historical fiction.

  1. War seems to be a common theme in lots of historical fiction at the moment – what is it about war that you think lends itself so well to telling a multitude of stories for a modern audience?

Another great question! I think times of extreme circumstances bring out the best and the worst in people, and can be a catalyst for strong human emotion. And war is definitely one of those extreme situations – especially a world war. People were fighting to survive, and when your family and your life is at stake, you may do things you wouldn’t do under ordinary circumstances. Both good and bad. It’s not something many of us growing up in the modern western world have experienced. Historical novels about war and desperate times put the reader into the head of the character and allow them to experience second-hand what they hope they never will see in real life. War stories may also give readers a different perspective on a period of history. They can put a face to the ‘enemy’, and provide a glimpse of them as a person, possibly provide some insight into their mind and motivation. Every story needs conflict and an antagonist, but no antagonist is completely evil, and revealing those layers of humanity is what makes a story compelling.

  1. What are you currently reading, and do you have a favourite author?

I’m currently reading The Dictionary of Lost Words by Pip Williams and also Silver by Chris Hammer. I don’t often read two at once, but it demonstrates my love for the two genres of historical fiction and crime. I also read contemporary fiction and recently finished Saving Missy by Beth Morrey. I have many favourite authors. Hannah Kent and Jane Harper are probably the two that come to mind as stand-outs.

  1. You’ve previously written for children – what have you written, and which one do you think you enjoyed writing the most?

I’ve written ten books for children and young adults, chapter books and high-interest low-reading-level books for reluctant readers. Most of them have been published by Orca Book Publishers in Canada. To be honest, the children’s novel I enjoyed writing most hasn’t yet found a publisher. It’s a science fiction adventure for middle-grade readers and was just so much fun to write – creating a whole new world and writing from an entirely different perspective. And great fun consulting with my brother on the technical aspects of it too.

  1. Has your career as a speech pathologist helped you understand story and language differently in any way?

I’ve worked in speech pathology for most of my life, so it’s hard to say how it’s influenced my understanding of story and language. Certainly my study of linguistics and speech pathology gave me a good grasp of grammar and the nuances of dialect and colloquial speech. And an understanding of basic story structure. But that’s something that all writers develop at one point or another. I think what working in this field has given me is an appreciation of the difficulties some people have with language and reading and the need to make story accessible to everyone, whether it’s through hi/lo books, audiobooks, graphic novels or even music.

  1. What do you think you’ll be working on for future stories, and will these be for adults or children?

I’m currently working on another adult crime novel. As with Inheritance of Secrets, it explores family dynamics, relationships and trust issues. That seems to be a recurrent theme in a lot of my writing, both for children and adults. Beyond that, I don’t have anything planned. I’ll work with the ideas that present themselves, whether for children or adults.

Anything that you think I have missed?

No, this has been very comprehensive and given me some interesting food for thought.

Thank you Sonya, and best of luck with your novel.  Thank you!

Sherlock Bones and the Natural History Mystery by Renée Treml

sherlock bonesTitle: Sherlock Bones and the Natural History Mystery

Author: Renée Treml

Genre: Mystery

Publisher: Allen and Unwin

Published: April 2019

Format: Paperback

Pages: 272

Price: $14.99

Synopsis: A hilariously funny, action-packed mystery, starring the intrepid Sherlock Bones.

‘Hi there, I’m Sherlock Bones.
Who is Sherlock Bones, you ask? Well, I don’t like to brag, but my trusty side-kick Watts says I’m the greatest detective in our whole museum.
Don’t you, Watts?
Watts…?’

You might not be able to hear Watts, because she’s technically a stuffed parrot, but I always know what she’s thinking.

And right now she’s thinking: Can we solve the mystery of the missing Blue Diamond and save the Museum of Natural History, before it’s too late?

~*~

Sherlock Bones is a skeleton – a frogmouth skeleton on exhibition in the natural museum in Sydney, and he has a trusty sidekick – Watts. But Watts is a stuffed parrot, and the people who work at the museum are unaware that Sherlock Bones moves around. When the Blue Diamond goes missing, Sherlock Bones investigates – along with Watts and their new friend, Grace – a raccoon who has stowed away and found herself in the museum, helping look for the diamond. Will Sherlock Bones and his companions find the diamond, and is the thief closer than they thought?

Told in a graphic novel style, the clues are dropped cleverly throughout as we follow the trail to find out what has happened to the diamond. It is a light-hearted mystery for kids aged six to nine, and books like these can grow their confidence in reading before they move onto short chapter books and novels for middle grade readers. Renée wrote and illustrated this book – and it is exquisitely and perfectly done. As readers, even though the illustrations are in black and white, they are still filled with fun and help to tell the story along with the words.

AWW2020

As someone who hasn’t read many graphic novels before, it was an adjustment, but it didn’t take long, even though I had to check some panels a few times to make sure I knew what I had read or seen was right. At times, I flicked back a few pages as I wondered if I had missed something – if I had, it only took me a few minutes to get back into the groove. The story was really well told and plotted, and I thoroughly enjoyed this new experience. It might take some adjustment to a new format but I think a book like this is a really good place to start, as whilst the story is simple, it still has the same complexities we might expect from a novel, these just come in a visual format.

It was also a great take on the traditional Sherlock Holmes narrative, and a good way to get kids into a new genre, style and way of reading.

Sherlock Bones and the Natural History Mystery is also on the shortlist for the Readings Children’s Book Prize for this year. Judging for this prize ends on the 30th of April.

 

Inheritance of Secrets by Sonya Bates (Inaugural Banjo Prize Shortlisted author)

Inheritance of SecretsTitle: Inheritance of Secrets

Author: Sonya Bates

Genre: Historical Fiction, Contemporary Mystery

Publisher: HarperCollins Australia

Published: 20th April 2020

Format: Paperback

Pages: 420

Price: $32.99

Synopsis: No matter how far you run, the past will always find you…

Juliet’s elderly grandparents are killed in their Adelaide home. Who would commit such a heinous crime – and why? The only clue is her grandfather Karl’s missing signet ring.

When Juliet’s estranged sister, Lily, returns in fear for her life, Juliet suspects something far more sinister than a simple break in gone wrong. Before Juliet can get anymore answers, Lily vanishes once more.

Juliet only knew Karl Weiss as a loving grandfather, a German soldier who emigrated to Australia to build a new life. What was he hiding that could have led to his murder?  While attempting to find out. Juliet uncovers some disturbing secrets from WWII that will put both her and her sister’s lives in danger…

Gripping. Tense. Mysterious. Inheritance of Secrets links the crimes of the present to the secrets of the past and asks how far would you go to keep a promise?

~*~

Moving between the present, and a postwar period of transition, Inheritance of Secrets opens like many crime novels – with the crime, or the aftermath of the crime and the beginning of the investigation. Juliet arrives to identify the bodies of her grandparents, Karl and Grete at the morgue. From here, the detectives tell her what has happened, and Juliet begins to wonder what could have happened.

AWW2020As she investigates, her relationships fracture or come together – she finds herself drifting away from her partner, Jason, and closer to her childhood friend, Ellis, and her sister Lily as she uncovers secrets that Lily has kept from her for years. Yet it there is more to the case than previously thought – and Juliet and Lily soon find themselves pursued by Nazi Hunters, determined to find something they claim Karl stole more at the end of the war. But what is it, and what secrets are hidden within?

As the novel weaves back and forth between Karl’s post-war journey to Australia, and contemporary times, where Lily and Juliet are on the run from those who are demanding something from their grandfather, the mystery of what Karl was hiding all these years and the secrets he carried over from Germany. These elements make up the story, filled with intrigue, and questions about how well you know someone, morals, ethics and how far you’ll go to protect secrets even if they could hurt someone or make you see someone you love in a different light. And once you’ve discovered something about that person you could never have imagined – how far will you go – how far will Juliet go – to make sure that secret stays hidden?

This novel is about the grey areas of morals and ethics – where the choices one makes might not be what we want or might be forced on us. Or might be something that needs to be done yet is morally and ethically wrong. It shows the contrast between what we know of history and what may have been hidden, or the secrets that individuals kept even from family – to protect them. This novel combined historical fiction, mystery and thriller in a new way, and showed a different side to the story of World War Two, and the post war period than we are used to seeing – filled with moral ambiguity that left me wondering whether the right thing had been done – and whether the threat was truly gone as well.

 

Friday Barnes: Big Trouble by R.A. Spratt

friday barnes 3Title: Friday Barnes: Big Trouble
Author: R.A. Spratt
Genre: Crime
Publisher: Penguin Random House/Puffin
Published: 7th May 2019/3rd August 2015
Format: Paperback
Pages: 272
Price: $15.99
Synopsis: Friday Barnes has a new case, and this time it’s personal!
When Friday’s father turns up out of the blue, he brings his daughter some distressing news – Friday’s mother has been kidnapped! But who would want to kidnap a theoretical physicist? The Headmaster needs Friday’s help too, when Highcrest Academy is thrown into chaos by the arrival of a beautiful new student – Princess Ingrid of Norway. She’s rich, she’s royal and she’s got her eye on Ian Wainscott. Despite heightened security at the school, things start to go missing. It appears Highcrest Academy has been infiltrated by a master thief, The Pimpernel.
Can Friday crack the case of her missing mother, reign in a royal brat and unmask the elusive Pimpernel? If it means she gets to ditch PE, then of course she can!

~*~

Friday’s father has appeared at Highcrest, and has taken over science class – that is, until he tells Friday her mother is missing. So Friday heads home with her father, her uncle, and Melanie to investigate and find out where her mother is. Upon her return, Friday is swept up into the mystery of the Pimpernel, and a Norwegian Princess who is attending the school for six weeks and has moved into the room next door to Friday and Melanie. When the Pimpernel steals from staff and students, the Headmaster enlists Friday, and she uncovers more than just who the Pimpernel is!

AWW2020
The third book in the Friday Barnes series picks up where book two ended and leaves us with another thrilling mystery to dive into at the end. What I love about this series is each book flows into the next one, so there is always something to look forward to. In this novel, Friday’s most loathed subject – PE plays a large part, with a race towards the end that helps Friday solve many od the cases that have been plaguing the school over the past few weeks. The humour is still there – it is a school unlike any other where simply being a certain student can earn you a trip to the Headmaster’s office before you’ve even tried to start the day.
And dealing with a princess is another matter – but what is the princess hiding, and is her attraction to Ian just a way to make people ignore what is really going on? Friday takes this all in her stride – even at twelve years old – and solves cases, deals with her family and friends and manages to study as much as possible, though at times, it seems a wonder that any schoolwork actually gets done at Highcrest, which is all part of the fun. It’s a school where you never know what will happen, and that is all part of the charm with Friday Barnes.

March 2020 Round Up

March was a strange month – it started out as normal as could be, though we knew about the coronavirus, and then a few weeks into March, everything changed, and by the end of it, they had changed again with strict social distancing rules. Despite this, I got a lot of reading done. My stats are:

20 books read overall
11 read for the Australian Women Writers Challenge
8 for the Nerd Daily Challenge
1 for the Dymocks Reading Challenge
1 for the STFU Reading Challenge
1 for Book Bingo
1 for Books and Bites Bingo

Overall stats so far:

The Modern Mrs Darcy 9/12
AWW2020 -26/25
Book Bingo – 10/12
The Nerd Daily Challenge 40/52
Dymocks Reading Challenge 12/25
STFU Reading Society 5/12
Books and Bites Bingo 11/25
General Goal – 51/165

Most of these books have been reviewed on my blog.

 

March – 20

Book Author Challenge
Esme’s Gift Elizabeth Foster AWW2020, Reading Challenge, The Nerd Daily, Dymocks Reading Challenge
Friday Barnes: Girl Detective R.A. Spratt AWW2020, Dymocks Reading Challenge, The Nerd Daily, Reading Challenge
The Last Firehawk: The Cloud Kingdom

 

Katrina Charman The Nerd Daily, Reading Challenge
Christmas in Paris (Miss Lily 3.5)

 

Jackie French Reading Challenge, AWW2020
The Lost Future of Pepperharrow Natasha Pulley The Nerd Daily, Reading Challenge
The Paris Secret Natasha Lester The Nerd Daily, Reading Challenge, Book Bingo, AWW2020
Museum Kittens: The Midnight Visitor Holly Webb The Nerd Daily, Reading Challenge
Firewatcher Chronicles: Phoenix Kelly Gardiner Reading Challenge, AWW2020, STFU Reading Challenge
The Lost Jewels Kirsty Manning The Nerd Daily, Reading Challenge, AWW2020
The Girl She Was Rebecca Freeborn Reading Challenge, AWW2020, Books and Bites Bingo
Ninjago: Back in Action Tracey West Reading Challenge,
Layla and the Bots: Happy Paws Vicky Fang Reading Challenge
Friday Barnes: Under Suspicion R.A. Spratt Reading Challenge, AWW2020
Daring Delly: Going for Gold

 

Matthew Dellavedova and Zanni Louise Reading Challenge,
Aussie Kids: Meet Katie at the Beach 

 

Rebecca Johnson and Lucia Masciullo Reading Challenge, AWW2020
Aussie Kids: Meet Eve in the Outback 

 

Raewyn Caisley and Karen Blair  Reading Challenge, AWW2020
The Besties Make A Splash Felice Arena and Tom Jellett Reading Challenge
Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them JK Rowling/Newt Scamander Reading Challenge
Liberation 

 

Imogen Kealey The Nerd Daily, Reading Challenge
The Year the Maps Changed

 

 Danielle Binks Reading Challenge, AWW2020

 

Onto April and hopefully lots of reading during these trying times.

Books and Bites Book Bingo: A Book with a door on the cover: The Winterborne Home for Vengeance and Valour by Ally Carter

books and bites game card

For my eleventh square, I chose a book with a door on the cover. This was always going to be a challenge, and the book I chose for a book published over 100 years ago – The Secret Garden – would also have been good for this square. However, I realised I had to use – or wanted to use – a different book for each square as much as possible.

I interpreted a door as a gate as well, and that’s why I chose The Winterborne Home for Vengeance and Valour by Ally Carter. There is a gate in the foreground of the cover, with the house and its door in the background behind the kids.

Winterborne 1

I reviewed this for Hachette on the 3rd of March, and thought it was a great introduction to a new series – with a slow build towards the climatic conclusion that inevitably leads into a second book – with several threads that were worked through the book left seeking more answers beyond what April finds out in the book.  As readers, we only know what April knows, and this draws us further into the mystery, and the lives of the orphans and their world, and what is to come. I cannot wait to find out what happens next.

 

Friday Barnes: Girl Detective by R.A. Spratt

girl-detectiveTitle: Friday Barnes: Girl Detective

Author: R.A. Spratt

Genre: Fiction

Publisher: Penguin Random House

Published: 1st July 2014/7th May 2019

Format: Paperback

Pages: 250

Price: $15.99Synopsis: Imagine if Sherlock Holmes was an eleven-year-old girl!
The eagerly awaited new series from the author of the bestselling Nanny Piggins series.
When girl detective Friday Barnes solves a bank robbery she uses the reward money to send herself to the most exclusive boarding school in the country, Highcrest Academy.

On arrival, Friday is shocked to discover the respectable school is actually a hotbed of crime. She’s soon investigating everything from disappearing homework to the Yeti running around the school swamp. That’s when she’s not dealing with her own problem – Ian Wainscott, the handsomest boy in school, who inexplicably hates Friday and loves nasty pranks.

Can Friday solve Highcrest Academy’s many strange mysteries, including the biggest mystery of all – what’s the point of high school?

~*~

 

Girl detectives and boarding school novels seem to be very popular these days. Most boarding school novels have a bit of a mystery within, but it is not often that boarding schools are combined with a detective character as they are in Friday Barnes: Girl Detective. Friday is the fifth child of Dr Barnes and Dr Barnes – two scientists who had had everything in their lives planned precisely until Friday came along. Left to her own devices for much of her life, Friday is a keen observer, lover of literature and great at science and many other subjects and doesn’t seem to worry that others don’t pay attention to her. She is a far cry from some other characters aimed at girls – a good thing, as we are able to see a shy, awkward girl be who she is unapologetically  herself – and does not allow anyone to question her, so when she manages to solve a crime, she sends herself to boarding school with the reward money – to Highcrest Academy.

Once there, Friday stumbles upon many mysteries, that eventually lead her to a big discovery, and several run ins with the Headmaster and other teachers. At the same time. She gains two friends – Melanie Pelly and Melanie’s brother Binky. As the start of a series, where each character is established, I enjoyed the way R.A. Spratt pulled this off, making each character unique, yet at the same time, as recognisable figures in the lives of readers at school and work.

AWW2020

Friday is the kind of character we need to see – she’s not perfect, and she doesn’t fit into any gender stereotypes. She’s not strong nor is she sporty. She’s just who she is – and that’s why I loved her. In many ways, she is who I probably was as a kid, and in some ways, that’s still who I am. She lets little girls – and boys – enjoy things that others might see as nerdy or not cool and she makes them cool. She lets girls be interested in whatever they want – but has a nice focus on detective work, academics and not following trends.

I also thought that setting this in an Australian boarding school was a nice touch, and we seem to be getting a few books like that in the past few years. Previously, most boarding school books have been set in the UK – Harry Potter, St Clare’s – things like that. But these days with Alice-Miranda, Friday Barnes and Ella at Eden, which I also reviewed on this blog a few weeks ago, Australian kids and their experiences can be seen and with each of these series, a different aspect of what they experience at the boarding school is explored. It will be interesting to see what else Friday gets up to at school or out of school, and to see how many more of her fellow students she has to investigate throughout the series.

I’ve got the second book ready to go, and then need to read the rest of the series, as each one looks like it ends on a to be continued cliffhanger which is both exciting and frustrating as I find each book and sometimes have to wait to do so. This is the mark of a good series – the reader wanting to come back for more, a fun and relatable character, and humour. Friday Barnes is a character and series that I hope many will love and enjoy reading, and I am definitely going to continue reading the series.

A Testament of Character (Rowland Sinclair #10) by Sulari Gentill

ATOC_3DTitle: A Testament of Character (Rowland Sinclair #10)

Author: Sulari Gentill

Genre: Crime, Historical Fiction

Publisher: Pantera Press

Published: 3rd March 2020

Format: Paperback

Pages: 340

Price: $29.99

Synopsis: In fear for his life, American millionaire Daniel Cartwright changes his will, appointing his old friend Rowland Sinclair as his executor.

Soon murder proves that fear well founded.

When Rowland receives word of Cartwright’s death, he sets out immediately for Boston, Massachusetts, to bury his friend and honour his last wishes. He is met with the outrage and anguish of Cartwright’s family, who have been spurned in favour of a man they claim does not exist.

Artists and gangsters, movie stars and tycoons all gather to the fray as elite society closes in to protect its own, and family secrets haunt the living. Rowland Sinclair must confront a world in which insanity is relative, greed is understood, and love is dictated; where the only people he can truly trust are an artist, a poet and a passionate sculptress.

~*~

Rowland Sinclair is back with his companions – Milt, the Jewish, Communist poet, Clyde Watson Jones, the painter, and Edna Higgins, the beautiful sculptress who adores the three men she travels with. At this point, Rowly and his friends have been travelling for several months outside the British Empire – in China and America so far, and has previously spent time in Germany – about a year before this story. Along the way, Rowly has met many historical characters and seen what the encroaching Fascist forces are doing in Europe. The rise of the Nazis is bubbling near the surface of this book, even though Nazi Germany feels far away, there is no doubt that the ongoing political tensions impact how this story occurs.

Rowland is on his way back to Australia – summoned home by brother Wilfred, when he finds himself in America and discovers an old friend, Daniel Cartwright has been murdered, and Rowly is the executor of Daniel’s will. Instead of Nazis or ruthless political parties, Rowly and his friends find themselves confronted by Irish and Italian gangs in Boston and New York, and they encounter the 1930s racism when they head into the Carolinas in pursuit of someone known as Otis Norcross.

AWW2020As with the previous nine books, historical and cultural figures of the time such as F. Scott Fitzgerald are woven into the narrative, and the Australians are met with various ideas in America that are foreign and bewildering to them – such as the detective who seems to confuse Australia and Austria which gave me a little chuckle. Rowly is as ever a gentleman – ready to defend his friends and help those in need even at great risk to his own life. America seems safer in some ways after Germany and China, yet as always, there are people who wish harm upon Rowly and his companions and will do whatever they can to gain the upper hand, even though at the end of the day, Rowly will overcome these threats.

This book is a turning point in several ways – and it is mainly in the second half that most of the shocks come out – but in this way, they work very well with the storyline and show, as the other nine books have done, what kind of people Rowly, Ed, Milt and Clyde are – and what they are willing to sacrifice to help people who need their help. Their actions and words link back delightfully to the title, A Testament of Character, and prove what kind of people they are. There are many other ways the title makes sense – but I will let you read that to find out what it is!

Overall, I think it fits nicely in the series, and Sulari has delivered a spectacular story again. High stakes in many ways, but also, at times, sedate enough to allow the heroes to breathe. Yet it does not meander, and nor does it shy away from the realities of the 1930s and impending war. As readers in 2020, we know what is coming. Hitler gaining further power in Germany. More anti-Jewish Laws. The abdication of Edward the VIII, which led to the current Royal Line we have today. Kristallnacht, World War Two and The Final Solution. All are to come, and with that knowledge, it makes me wonder what Rowly will do in the coming books and years – how he will cope with it, what he will do, and what the growing political unrest will do to his family and friends. This is a part of history that seems to be repeating itself today – and books like this are a stark and much needed reminder not to turn away, and Sulari is doing this exceptionally well, and her research gives such great authenticity to the period, and I love the inclusion of the newpaper articles of the times.