If you like Blyton: The Adventure Island series by Helen Moss

Stef has already suggested this series for fans of Blyton and has reviewed the first book in the series – The Mystery of the Whistling Caves.

But that’s not going to stop me from repeating the suggestion (after all we have both reviewed/suggested Dead Man’s Cove by Lauren St John and Murder Most Unladylike by Robin Stevens). The difference is I’m going to look at the series as a whole – well, the parts I’ve read anyway.


THE ADVENTURE ISLAND SERIES

There are fourteen books in the series, which I think is now finished as the last one came out in 2013.

1. The Mystery of the Whistling Caves
2. The Mystery of the Midnight Ghost
3. The Mystery of the Hidden Gold
4. The Mystery of the Missing Masterpiece
5. The Mystery of the Cursed Ruby
6. The Mystery of the Vanishing Skeleton
7. The Mystery of the Dinosaur Discovery
8. The Mystery of the Drowning Man
9. The Mystery of the Smugglers’ Wreck
10. The Mystery of the Invisible Spy
11. The Mystery of the King’s Ransom
12. The Mystery of the Black Salamander
13. The Mystery of the Secret Room
14. The Mystery of the Phantom Lights

The ones in bold are the ones I have read, so half the series. Much like Blyton’s books it is suggested that you read these in order, but each does contain a stand-alone adventure so you don’t have to read them from 1-14. Phew, because I’ve skipped several books due to just not owning them!


THE BASIC PREMISE

The series starts with Scott and Jack Carter who are coming to stay with their aunt on the island of Castle Key during the hols. (They don’t actually call them hols, mind you, it just sounds more Blyton-y if I do!) They are Londoners through and through to begin with, sure they will miss the hustle and bustle and have nothing to do on a boring old island.

The island differs from the typical Blyton one – it’s a fully inhabited one with a couple of shops and places to eat for a start. There are plenty of wild areas though, moors, beaches and a half-ruined castle so it’s not a total loss.

Anyway, the boys soon realise they are all wrong about Castle Key. It all changes for them when they meet Emily Wild and her dog Drift and fall into an adventure – and then, thirteen more of them over more holidays.

A map of Castle Key appears at the front of every book


EMILY, DRIFT, SCOTT AND JACK

Scott is the older brother, he is thirteen to Jack’s twelve, while Emily starts out as twelve and ages to thirteen so she is probably just in between the boys.

Emily, whose parents run a B&B in the island’s lighthouse, is obsessed with spies, smugglers and detectives. She longs to be a detective herself and is well kitted out to investigate anything odd that comes her way, with a torch, map, notebook, recording device, camera and anything else you could think of to hand.

She is bossy like Julian, bold like George and rather like a less annoying Fatty as she leads the detective efforts. Drift acts as a Buster or Timmy depending on what the situation calls for, he can sniff out a track or fend off an enemy.

Being the older brother Scott thinks he’s too cool for a lot of things but always manages to be drawn into the silliest sounding mysteries. Jack on the other hand, is often desperate to show he can keep up with the others in the crime-busting department, even if his ideas for investigating can sound daft at first.

I’m not sure which Blyton characters I would describe as their parallels. Jack has a sort of Bets-like role at times, being the youngest but he’s not nearly as young as she is, and Scott often acts like Philip in putting down his younger sibling and scoffing at his ideas. Both boys can be likened to Dick, I suppose, as they are quite jokey, brave and energetic.


THE ADVENTURES

The adventures/mysteries that they have are quite far and ranging in subject. Stolen treasures, a stolen super-car, a mysterious and possibly faked dinosaur skeleton, a missing movie star, hidden gold at the end of an old treasure map, lights flashing on the moors at night… and those are just ones that I have read!

Generally they lean more towards Five Find-Outer tales, as they often form a list of suspects to interrogate or follow and they do more investigating than adventuring – though there is are a decent number of secret passages and night-time prowlings.

The Mystery of the Phantom Lights has struck me as starting out the most Blyton-like. Jack experiences a phenomenon very much like the one the girls do in Five on a Secret Trail, while camping on the moors. Well, he was returning from a toilet break behind a gorsebush (he thinks to himself that suitable facilities are rather lacking on the moors – something the Five never seemed to worry about) and at first puts the lights down to UFOs but it still had a brief Blyton-feel to it.

And that brings me to…


MODERN THINGS LIKE TECHNOLOGY

Unfortunately you can’t get away from the fact that these books are set in the 2000s and 2010s. The kids use mobile phones (though remarkably scarcely for the most part, as their main use is alerting each other to developments – the 3g on Castle Key probably isn’t great), play computer games and use the library computers to research things.

There are also plenty of very modern references to movies, games, events and all sorts.

Saying all that I don’t think the tech overshadows the story. The children aren’t constantly taking selfies or anything like that, but they do make use of tech instead of wading through piles of paper research.

Food is another important theme – they, especially the boys, get through a lot of it. Rather than egg sandwiches and ginger beer, it’s mostly pizzas with every imaginable topping washed down with a can of Dr Pepper or Coke though. It’s the same in spirit, especially when Aunt Kate brings out her home made cakes. (Some of her recipes can be found online even.)

A mix of modern research and old-fashioned baking

Their police contact, DC Hassan is a modern-day Inspector Jenks and often appears in the last chapter to tie up loose ends – though he can have a slightly Goon-ish air to him if he is present in the middle of the book, he does get a bit shirty when the kids ‘meddle’ even though they always produce results.


SO WHY THESE BOOKS FOR BLYTON FANS?

So far I perhaps haven’t entirely sold these books to you. Mobile phones, Coke and pizzas I hear you cry. Well, yes… but you’re going to find those things in most children’s book set in the 21st century – unless you’re delving into a magical realm like that of Harry Potter, or a dystopian world like in The Hunger Games.

The books are fairly innocent as well, though perhaps not quite as innocent as Blyton’s. There are a few references to crushes though little time is wasted on the notion, and a few adults have a boyfriend or girlfriend but it’s not an important point. The kids themselves never date or get romantically involved – there is of course potential for either Scott or Jack to fall for Emily but thankfully that’s entirely avoided.

Modern nuisances aside, I think these books are fairly Blytonian. You’ve got your small group of kids tumbling into mysteries and resolving just about everything without much adult help. There’s plenty of fresh air, they walk or cycle all over the place, they have the odd picnic or camping session and most importantly they have a lot of fun.

Oh, and as a bonus – they’re illustrated!


So what have you got to lose? Give them a go!

 

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Review: Five Go on a Strategy Away Day

strategyOnce again I’m going to bring you a look at the Bruno Vincent’s attempts at making Enid Blyton’s Famous Five into modern-day grown-ups. I believe I’ve looked at the last in the series by this point, but by the looks of Amazon, we can expect more later this year. However, let’s have a look at this offering before we get on to the next round of “Grown-Up” Famous Fives we can expect.  Fiona, as you may remember, has already done a review of this book, but just to be annoying I’m sticking my oar in and looking at it as well. Fiona’s review –  which is much more detailed as to the actual content of the book –  can be found here.

 

The concept

I won’t deny that if anything this was the book that I really expected to have me laugh out loud. I could imagine the Famous Five breezing the tasks with a wonderful happiness that they had in all their adventures and this was just an adventure the adult world had provided.

Alas, I was seriously wrong. I don’t think I laughed once. At least not in a laugh out loud, ‘oh so tongue in cheek’ manner that Five Go Parenting provided me with.  The Famous Five for a start are barely recognizable as themselves. Vincent has taken the worst traits the Five ever were seen to be blessed with and blown them up into massive dominant personality traits. Not only did the Famous Five get a huge personality shift, the Secret Seven also received a damning personality switch and the two groups of Blyton’s heroes have become enemies. Peter, Janet, Barbara and co have become little oily oiks, who look down on the Famous Five, for one reason being that they have a dog for a member. George helpfully points out to them that no one can ever remember the names of all the members of the Secret Seven. (Point agreed with this Blytonite right here!)

Anyway, the story starts with a hung-over Julian attempting to get his team, who just happen to be George, Dick and Anne, not to mention Timmy (dogs in the office can increase productivity you know!) to the hotel where their training day is taking place.

Throughout the day, friendships are tested and the bonds between the five are frayed and challenged by the tasks set out by their cousin Rupert, who has popped up again just in case we had forgotten all about him. Home truths are dished out and questionnaires provide the Five with personality labels, which has been something they longed to avoid.

Eventually they stumble across some insider trading, spy type plot, which cousin Rupert is up to his elbows in once again, but as Fiona pointed out, the Secret Seven manage to foil an even bigger plot because the Five sabotaged part of their team building hike. Not something I think the Five deserved, but I suppose you could now bring up the question and debate of who was better, if you really wanted to.

The long and the short of it

The book, I believe is the shortest of the Famous Five Grown-Up Series with only 104 pages of story. It certainly feels slimmer in your hands than any of the others, and has shorter chapters as well, one or two whole pages on average I’d say.  A lot is crammed into such an overall short story, Vincent tries to put in a lot of the managerial strategy nonsense and, although I read it quickly, never seem to have a satisfactory finish to them. Rather a mess I thought.

Also, the brains that seemingly blessed the Five in their youth seems to have deserted them good and proper. They can’t seem to work together to get through the tasks they are set, without sniping at each other and causing offence. The picture depicted on the front cover is one of the exercises where Julian has to lead the team, blindfolded, only with their instructions from the others (they’re supposed to be avoiding ‘mines’ (they’re made of paper!))  This is hampered by the fact that the others can’t use ‘left’, ‘right’ and ‘forward’ to help him. Once their “coach” has told them to stop using compass directions, which seems perfectly allowable to me, they descend into riddles, confusing poor Julian no end and Timmy manages to ruin it by bounding in and stepping on all the paper mines, effectively blowing the Five up. It’s hardly Timmy’s fault! It’s a long part of the book which realistically isn’t funny, but depressing. The Five were bright young things, and now seemed to have turned into useless layabouts. It’s not funny.

Eventually they do come to work together, which is nice, and to be honest towards the end they begin to feel more like the Famous Five we love. However hard to believe that they are our old friends, when thoughout the book Julian is described as having a hangover, because he went out the night before and is paying for it. I suppose it’s to signify the Five being grown up, but its distracting because its part of the reason the Five aren’t getting on as well as they should do!

What am I trying to say?

What am  I trying to say? It’s not a brilliant book, or story for that matter. The characters are barely recognizable as themselves and it’s a rushed book, where too much is happening compared to some of the other books where things have taken so long to kick off as it were.

These books seem to be a real mix of fast and slow, and Five Go on a Strategy Away day  is just as another one in the series of bad parodies in the guise of nostalgia. I don’t like aways being negative about books but this series was a particular drag. The only one that felt like it was worth reading was Five Go Parenting that I reviewed a couple of weeks ago.

Please let me know if you have read them, and what you think? However from what I have read, I’m not alone in my opinions. Still it would be nice to see if anyone out there actually likes these books, and tell me why!

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Monday #214

The last monday in April is upon us! Next week will be May! Where is this year going?

Anyway I hope you like your blogs for this week!

Monday#214

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The Treasure Hunters reviewed by Fiona

The Treasure Hunters is a title I never read as a child – despite having it as part of a 2 in 1 volume. I had read The Boy Next Door, the first book but somehow never made it to the next one! I didn’t even realise I had owned it until looking up my childhood editions of books. So I ended up reading it for the first time as an adult, an experience which can often lead to disappointment. Thankfully that was not the case here – I thought this was a good read.


THE SCENE IS SET

It’s not a very long book so Blyton doesn’t waste much time at the start. Within the first chapter we establish that Daddy has to take Mummy away for some good sea air, so the children are to go to Granny and Granpa’s for a while. The eldest two, Jeffrey and Susan, have been to Grayling’s Manor before but because of chicken pox John has not. So John’s lack of knowledge allows a few descriptions to be given for our benefit. (At first it sounds like Granny and Granpa never see the children but later it’s explained that they normally come to visit the children instead of the other way around – which does seem strange later when you experience Grayling’s Manor and its perfect-for-children grounds).

There’s also a letter brought up, from Granny. In it she writes about her heartbreak at this possibly being the children’s last visit – as they are about to have to sell the big house.


TREASURE

The Greyling’s Treasure is quickly brought up, and even if it hadn’t been in the title you’d guess that the children were going to turn into treasure hunters. This magnificent treasure has been lost for many a year and would perfectly solve the money problems allowing Granny and Granpa to keep their home. The money problems are attributed to ‘bad luck’ and losses, because of the lost treasure. But saying that Granny and Granpa have lived in what must be reasonable luxury for many years as they still have several maids and a gardener – plus the house is never described as shabby or in any way that suggests they haven’t maintained it well.


GREYLINGS MANOR AND GROUNDS

The house is a pretty typical Blyton one – study, dining room, kitchen, secret passage… The secret passage is not so secret now but it leads from the dining-room into the back of the cupboard in Susan’s little attic room. Susan’s room is an odd one – rather round and entered through a low door from the boys’ bedroom. It reminds me of the room found in the first Biff, Chip and Kipper book. The door to that was hidden under wallpaper in the bedroom, and, like Susan’s room, contained a doll’s house.

The grounds are extensive, and beyond the well maintained gardens are a wood, a farm and cottages. The children get a slap-up meal in the farm-house while hunting for their road with four bends. I’m getting ahead of myself, though. Let’s go back to the treasure map.


MYSTERIOUS FINDS

In the woods the children find a large pond, and mysteriously, there are marble steps leading down to it. As they say, there would only be steps if people had used it and had a building or something nearby. But there’s nothing to be seen at first. Then after some hunting they find that there is a building – a sort of brick summer house – entirely overgrown with brambles and ivy. As it’s on Greyling’s land (though this isn’t clearly established for the reader until later) they feel quite justified in hacking away not only the overgrowth but also the door to get inside.

An extremely grand ‘summer house’

Granny, after, gives them permission to use it as a playhouse. In one of those lines that makes modern readers cringe Susan cleans it all up because she is the girl. Blyton redeems herself slightly as John volunteers to help scrub the floor – as he likes doing that.

Jeffrey maintains the boy/girl status quo however and does all the chopping and ‘man’s’ work, he’s also the one to have pockets full of useful things like candle-ends, matches and so on.

Above on the left is the first edition illustration of Susan doing the cleaning, and on the right Barbara Freeman’s version from my copy which also features John.

Anyway, gender issues aside, the next hurdle is a blocked chimney. (It seems to be summer or at least warm so I’m not sure why they need a fire… but anyway.) Using a broom they clear away a bird’s nest and assorted rubbish, and then a heavy box!

The next bit is reminiscent of Five on a Treasure Island. Both involve a mysterious old box – one that can’t be opened until it’s thrown out of a window and the other which doesn’t reveal its contents until Susan drops it onto the floor and a secret compartment opens. Both are first suggested to contain treasure – well, possibly an ingot, or some small broaches – but both only contain a treasure map. In the Kirrins’ case this is a details dungeon plan with ingots marked on it, in the Greylings’ case it seems a bit less useful as it just has local features.


MR POTTS AMD MR EPPY

Our next old favourite Blyton plot is that of the seemingly genial man who is really working against the children. They crop up fairly often – is not dissimilar to the men buying the island in Five on a Treasure Island to find the treasure first, and it has likenesses to the Hennings in Five on Finniston Farm too – but in this instance it’s probably most like the scenario in The Ship of Adventure.

Both involve a treasure map which gets divided – the Greylings’ map falls into two so that Mr Potts only sees half (and the children keep the other half safe) while the Mannering/Trents deliberately (and somewhat sacrilegiously) cut their ancient map into quarters to keep it from Mr Eppy’s prying eyes. Therefore in both books our pretending-to-be-friendly chap only has part of the information he needs. Both maps get well-hidden by the children, and despite their enemies best attempts at ransacking their rooms, are not found.

The other reason that Mr Eppy and Mr Potts are alike is that the adults in the situation like and trust them. Aunt Allie is happy to have Mr Eppy keep an eye on the children when she is called away and Granny and Granpa take the children to visit Mr Potts’ house and have lunch there. This makes it harder for the children to avoid their enemy – though Jeffrey has a genius plan whereby be makes a fake tracing of the other half of the map and allows Mr Potts to get a hold of it.


X DOES NOT MARK THE SPOT

As I’ve said above the Greylings’ treasure map seems a bit useless. I know X marks the spot is one of those movie clichés, but you need a bit more to go on, surely? The description in the text is fairly vague, it just references the features and the illustration in my copy doesn’t help!

 

As you can see there is a winding river, clearly it’s a river as there’s a great round pond in the middle of it! It’s actually frustrating how long the children believe this is a road for, but I suppose it pads the hunting out a bit more. Then there are some trees, a bit of a hill, and a strange little building. It does not suggest any direction to start from/go in or where along it the treasure is hidden. In fact it suggests the building is near enough to the pond that it would be foolish to go via the trees!

Saying all that if you look at the first edition’s illustration, it does look more like a road and the word treasure is over the building which helps a bit. But the order of four bends, trees, hill, building doesn’t work.

But anyway they set off – and after finally working out that they need to follow the river they make their way past their summer house (again with the map from the first edition this makes more sense, with my edition you’d surely start at the pond and cut out a lot of travel.)

They find the three trees, though one has been cut down, and then eventually discover the building – whatever it was – has long become a ruin. This is slightly Finniston Farm-y again, though there are some stones lying around to show the rough outline of the building rather than just a grassy indent.

Here though, they are stumped. There couldn’t be stairs up to the building – it’s on flat ground – and the map clearly shows lines laid out like stairs. Then they twig that the stairs must lead down from inside the building…


THE FINAL HUNT(S)

The children head back with spades the next day and uncover a trapdoor in the middle of the building. They need a rope to get down, though, and it’s lunch time so they have to beat a hasty retreat – not before they spot Mr Potts and his friend snooping around though. Through sheer bad luck they have ‘followed’ the fake map and heard the excited voices of the children.

Mr Potts intends to come back first thing the next morning to find the treasure so all the children have to do is find it that afternoon! Only it isn’t that simple – they’re sent to their rooms for the rest of the day as a punishment for being late for lunch.

As with all Blyton’s good characters they refuse to outright lie. They have promised to stay in their rooms for the rest of the day but said nothing about the night. This is a very good example of indirect dishonesty, which is apparently ok! They know fine well that Granny does not mean it is acceptable for them to go out at midnight but they believe that by following the precise wording they are not technically doing anything wrong. The children do the same earlier in regards to the map.

“Do you know where it is?” he said very suddenly, wheeling round on Susan.

Susan had no idea where Jeffery had out the map. She shook her head. “No,” she said, I don’t know where it is at all.”

“Do you?” asked the man, staring at John. John went very red. Like Susan he had no idea where the half was but he couldn’t help blushing.

“I don’t know at all where it is,” he said.

Mr Potts turned to ask Jeffrey – but that sharp boy had slipped out of the room. He wasn’t going to tell an untruth – but he was jolly sure he wasn’t going to tell the truth to Mr Potts either!#

And again, later, when Mr Potts assumes the spades are to help the farmer with, they run off and ignore him, pretending to save a hen from Rags the dog rather than answer dishonestly.

Anyway – they sneak out at midnight and head down the trap-door and find the treasure. That’s just fine and dandy until Mr Potts also turns up and chases them all the way down the underground tunnels and right to the farm where the tunnel ends. (Never fails to amaze me how many busy, working farms have huts/sheds/chapels with trapdoors that are easy to open yet have remained undiscovered for a hundred years…)

It’s a nice bit of tension to end with, but as this book is probably aimed at slightly younger readers the children end up safe with the farmer and his wife.

The next day Granpa sends Mr Potts and his lawyer off with some choice words (but no sword wielding like in Finniston Farm) and we can relax in the knowledge that the Greylings’ home is safe.


A COUPLE OF BLOOPERS?

There were two little things I noticed that didn’t seem quite right. Firstly, they look at a picture of their great-great grandmother and comment on her blonde hair and blue eyes. To me, ‘old family pictures’ sounds like photographs rather than paintings, and of course photographs wouldn’t be in colour!

And later, a definite mistake! Jeffrey goes back to cover over the trap door with branches etc, and that’s when he sees Mr Potts has found it too. He observes him briefly then sneaks off again – yet when they go back at midnight they the move the branches etc that Mr Potts has put back, yet it was never put there in the first place!


FINAL THOUGHTS

Despite several of its elements being reused in more famous books The Treasure Hunters still stands up well by itself. It is strong enough to be enjoyed by an adult on first reading, but simple enough for younger children to love it too. It’s not very long or detailed perhaps, and the danger is limited to a brief portion at the end but there is enough intrigue with Mr Potts looming in the background from time to time – and of course there are the obligatory gratuitous food descriptions interspersed with the treasure hunting.

And of course you can’t fail to love the end where they celebrate with ice-creams and Granpa fills the priceless Greyling’s cup with iced ginger-beer! (I only hope he washed it well first.)

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If you like Blyton: The Marsh Road Mysteries: Diamonds and Daggers by Elen Caldecott

marshroad1As you know we are always on the look out for books and authors to recommend for you to try, especially if they are reminiscent of our favourite author, Enid Blyton. Of course for Fiona and I, working in libraries we have a high chance at being able to spot some more obscure titles that we wouldn’t have necessarily known about.

This book, Diamonds and Daggers by Elen Caldecott is one of those. The second one in the series happened to pass over my counter one day and I decided to look deeper into the series. Not only did I discover the Marsh Road Mysteries, but also another mystery book to review as well at a later date.  However, it’s time to take a closer look at Diamonds and Daggers and whether it deserves to be on our ‘If you like Blyton’ list.

What’s it about?

Well when we’re looking for a “like Blyton” book often the main ingredient is that of children solving mysteries. This is where authors like Helen Moss and Lauren St John come in with their adventure books. Elen Caldecott is the same. We’re introduced to a group of three children Piotr, Minnie and Andrew, who live on Marsh Road and have been friends for a long long time. They make up three fifths of our core group. Slightly later on in the book we’re joined by twins Flora and Sylvie who are  very much like chalk and cheese, however identical – it’s nice for an author not to fall into the trap of “boy and girl twins who looked identical”. There has to only be so many times you can use that one without people pulling it apart! I’m sure all you avid Enid Blyton fans know as well as I do about the ongoing debate on how non-identical twins can look exactly the same. Yeah I don’t understand how it could occur either.

Anyway when we get to Marsh Road, there is excitement in the form of a Hollywood movie star called Betty Massino who is coming to make her British stage debut, and the even bigger excitement is that her expensive diamond necklace is stolen. Piotr’s dad is part of the security team in the theatre and because he left his post around the time of the diamonds being stolen, suspicion falls on him. Piotr, whose parents come from Poland, is under threat of being moved away from his friends and back to Poland as his father feels cast aside and disrespected by the English who all label him guilty. Piotr, Minnie, Andrew, Flora and Sylvie all join forces to prove that Piotr’s father did not steal the diamonds from Betty Massino.

In the spirit of the Famous Five, and other teams before them, the Marsh Road detective agency power up, and set their brains to the case. The have a log book where they record all their leads, such as conversations with their suspects, and pictures of things that might be relevent to their investigation. They also shun all help from adults, believing that they will be told to stop and not interfere.

Needless to say the well oiled team of children manages to stop Piotr being taken back to Poland – oh and the diamonds are found and the bad guy sent to prison. How Blytonian is that? Huzzah for child detectives!

The differences

Diamonds and Daggers stands out from the other books we’ve reviewed for many reasons but I think it has the closest resemblance to a Blyton adventure story to date. The staunch loyalty of the children to one another makes it worthy of any Blyton novel. Minnie and Andrew are not going to give up their friend Piotr without a fight, even if that means doing some pretty daring things to keep him, which shows how strong their bond is.

Flora and Sylvie join the other three later on in the book, but it is Flora who really glues the twins to the other three. Her kindness, level headedness and complete difference from her twin make her likeable and a champion to the three friends. Sylvie is a bit of a drama queen, and given that she is starring in the play with the Hollywood star, Betty Massino, you can well believe it. The fact that twins are so different really does make a difference from the standard Blyton twins, who largely get on. Flora and Sylvie are more like Harry and Guy Lawdler from Five on a Secret Trail and possibly like Connie and Ruth from The Upper Fourth at Malory Towers. The thing about these twins is that they work together while being totally separate people with different ambitions in life which makes them feel more like real people.

Caldecott does a wonderful job at making these characters real, making them three dimensional. The crisis that Piotr goes through on his investigations, especially when he worries that his friends will think he is “as bad as his dad” when he accidentally pinches a good luck card from Betty Massino’s dressing room, make him more like a real person, with ‘modern day’ anxieties about real things. He is very worried about being made to move to Poland and leave his friends behind, as he keeps saying to his parents;

TMRMDiamondsandDaggers1

It’s a good point really, because he was born in England (I assume) he is a first generation to be born in England he doesn’t feel the ties with Poland that his parents do. Hense why he is so insistent to stay in England.

Minnie and Andrew are also have their three dimensional sides as well. They don’t want to lose Piotr, so will do everything for him and trying to keep him in England. However, Andrew, for example, is a young career for his mum. Her illness isn’t mentioned too much but we know she has physio and he has to be at home at certain times to look after her. He may be a bit dippy but he is caring and seemingly mature for his age.

Minnie on the other hand likes to organise things in her mother’s salon, and is very worldly-wise. She knows about the ‘protection’ of the local gangsters when the others aren’t aware of such things. She’s a very down to earth young lady even when it comes to the huge Hollywood star in her hometown.

Summing up

Diamonds and Daggers is like looking at a modern Famous Five or Five Find-Outers and Dog, it honestly is. There is something wonderful about this novel, Elen Caldecott manages to make wonderful three dimensional characters and the story surrounding them is very strong and well done.

Just a common thing that comes up on the reviews on Goodreads is that the book was not long enough and I happen to agree. The ending feels like a bit of a rush, but it is all satisfactorily tied up and sorted out.

I really recommend this book as an “if you like Blyton’ read. I can’t wait to get my hands on the next one to see what happens to our new Mystery Solvers. Nice one Elen Caldecott!

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Monday #213

My niece turned three this weekend (where has the time gone?) and so I have celebrated that and Easter with much cake. I’ve yet to crack open my egg so I still have something to look forward to!

Coming up this week:

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Books for babies: the lead-up to Blyton

It rather goes without saying that I will be reading Blyton to my little boy once he’s born, and encouraging him to read Blyton himself when he’s older. I do have lots of thoughts about that which I may explore on here later – mostly about how to broach the subject of gender equality etc and the differences between current times and the times the books were written – but it would never stop me introducing the books to my son.

Blyton did write for a wide age range but not quite so extensively for the very young. There’s also the problem of my collection being all original editions and not really suitable for grabby baby hands. That leads to the next quandary of risking early editions or buying sanitised modern ones?

Anyway, the point is I will read a lot of non-Blytons too, and I thought I would explore my already long reading list for baby this week.


PERSONAL FAVOURITES

The first list are all books I adore – mostly ones I read as a child but also a few I have stumbled upon as a grown-up.

  • Janet and Allan Ahlberg feature quite heavily as my sister and I loved their books when we were younger. The Funny Bones series (this had a great TV series too), Happy FamiliesEach Peach Pear Plum, The Jolly Postman series (never owned, always read at the library or friends’ houses though), Burglar Bill and Cops and Robbers are all there. These are all such funny books with wonderful and detailed illustrations.

  • Also prominent is Shirley Hughes with the Lucy and Tom books, the Alfie series, Dogger, Helpers, Tales of Trotter Street and Let’s Join In. Actually not on the list – but should be – is Tales by Firelight even if Mrs Toomly Stones scared the life of my little sister.
  • Jill Murphy has quite a few books on there (not sure if he’ll be into the Worst Witch, mind you – though I would like him to read books about girls and not just boys) with Peace at Last (Oh nooo, I can’t stand thiiiis!), The Large Family books, and (needing added) Whatever Next.

One or two you might not be so familiar with are Aileen Paterson and Mairi Hedderwick. Both are Scottish authors that I’ve grown up reading.

  • Aileen Paterson wrote a series about Maisie from Morningside – a kitten living in a posh part of Edinburgh with her granny while her father is off adventuring. I remember these were often sold at tourist attractions in Scotland and spending the last of my holiday money on a new title when we were away.

  • Mairi Hedderwick wrote about Katie Morag, a little red-haired girl who lives on the (fictional) Isle of Struay with her parents and younger siblings. It’s now a TV series on Cbeebies so those of you with young children may have heard of her.
  • And there are also some by the recently passed away Babette ColeThe Trouble With… series, and Dr Dog. I’m sure we will collect more of hers too as I’ve already borrowed one of the Princess Smartypants books from the library. Though I’m stunned to discover the Trouble With series is out of print! Outrageous!

Then there are other random classics on there (or at least what I consider classics):

  • The Spot books by Eric Hill (I love lift-the-flap books!)
  • The Very Hungry Caterpillar by Eric Carle
  • The Topsy and Tim books by Jean and Gareth Adamson
  • Meg and Mog by Helen Nicoll
  • Hairy Maclary from Donaldson’s Dairy by Lynley Dodd (featuring Schnitzel von Krumm with a very low tum, a favourite of my sister’s and mine)
  • We’re Going on a Bear Hunt by Michael Rosen (and now I’ve thought of it I have to add Don’t Put Mustard in the Custard even though it’s out of print and getting harder to find!)
  • Usborne’s First 1,000 words (find the duckie on every page!)
  • Paddington books by Michael Bond (my mother’s obsession, so I’m sure she’ll provide a library’s worth)
  • The Cat in the Hat (and probably others) by Dr Seuss – we never owned any as my mum didn’t think much of them, but always loved to sneakily read them in the library
  • Old Bear Tales by Jane Hissey
  • After the Storm (and possibly other Percy Park Keeper books) by Nick Butterworth
  • The Ivy Cottage books by E. J. Taylor.

 

  • Absent only because I already have them are The Tiger Who Came to Tea by Judith Kerr and Dear Zoo by Rod Campbell.
  • There are a couple of much more recent books too – The Gruffalo (There’s no such thing as a Gruffalo!) and Tyrannosaurus Drip (Up with hunting, up with war! Up with bellyfulls of duck-billed dinosaur!) by Julia Donaldson (and I’m sure we’ll end up with many more of hers as she is so popular now, we already have The Everywhere Bear and Tiddler in fact).


NEW RECOMMENDATIONS 

I asked on Facebook for some other ideas, it has been a while since I have looked after children and realise there have probably been some great books I have missed out on.

  • That’s Not My… (Dinosaur, Hedgehog, Bunny etc) by Fiona Watt – can’t beat a nice touchy-feely book.
  • You also don’t get better than books with pop-ups so the Pop-Up Peekaboo series has gone on the list.

Lions and tigers and bears, oh my!

  • Ten Little Fingers and Ten Little Toes by Mem Fox (illustrated by Helen Oxenbury of We’re Going on a Bear Hunt fame).
  • Monkey and Me by Emily Gravett
  • Goodnight Moon by Margaret Wise Brown – a title I’ve heard many times but have never read.

  • Guess How Much I Love You by Sam McBratney (I have this now, and have probably read it before but wasn’t something we owned).
  • The Baby’s Catalogue – by Janet and Allan Ahlberg – I can’t believe I’ve never seen this before! And also Peepo! which I am familiar with but didn’t have a copy of as a child.
  • Goodnight Scotland by Adam Gamble
  • Nothing by Mick Inkpen (who also wrote the Kipper and Wibbly Pig books and some other great stuff like Lullabyhullaballoo, so I expect to have more of his books too).
  • Can’t You Sleep, Little Bear? by Martin Waddell
  • More Julia Donaldson books like Monkey Puzzle, The Snail and the Whale and Stick Man. I have vaguely heard of Stick Man before and keep picturing Slender Man which I hope is nothing like the reality! Not on the written list but also suggested have been Zog and Room on the Broom.
  • The Enormous Turnip – a classic done by so many authors I don’t know which version to choose (maybe a Ladybird one to go with my pile of Ladybirds like Cinderella, Rumpelstiltskin and The Goose Girl etc.)
  • Zak and Jen’s Astronomical Adventures by Natalie Page and Chris Rivers Nuttall
  • No Matter What by Debi Gliori

Not on the written list but also suggested are The Velveteen Rabbit by Margery Williams (but probably not in an early edition!), Harry and The Bucket Full of Dinosaurs by Ian Whybrow, The Little Red Train series by Benedict Blathwayt, Supermarket Zoo by Caryl Hart.

Phew! That’s a lot of books!


BLYTONS I WILL START WITH

  • I have a few Blytons for the younger audience – the Brockhampton Picture Books like The Train that Lost Its Way are lovely little reads with gorgeous Eileen Soper illustrations (as long as I can keep grabby hands off of the 70 year old pages!)
  • The of course there is Noddy, I have all 24 original books and also the first five in a modern omnibus and there are tons of his books out there. Problem is most of the newer stuff is nasty, shiny and lacking the charm of the originals.

noddy treasury


So there you go, this kid is going to have the fullest bookcase before he’s even born! And yet, I’m still going to ask you for any suggestions you have. Leave them in the comments below!

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Review: Five Go Parenting

parenting

I can imagine hearing you all cheering when I say that this is the last Famous Five for Grown-Ups that I can review for a while. I know I have really bombarded you with them, and I suspect that there will be more to come as there are some waiting to be published in the summer, as I mentioned last week! Either way Five Go Parenting was the last one to be read of my existing pile, so lets get on an have a look at what this book brings to the fore.

 

The Five as Parents?

As some of you may know I have often written about the possibility of the Five and their perspective partners having children and what sort of parents they would have been. Dick for example would have been the ‘funny’ one and Anne, the almost perfect domestic stay at home mother. Needless to say that I cannot imagine George having children and I’m almost glad to say that not only is this theory backed up by Fiona, but indeed by Mr Bruno Vincent in Five Go Parenting.

To carry on with the idea of George being a parent, let’s look at what happens in the book when the Five are told that they’re to have temporary, if not total, custody of their “evil” cousin Rupert’s young child, Lily. Yes that pesky cousin has appeared again (and we still don’t know what side of the family he is from), and he’s been up to trouble. The Five track him down and deliver him and his girlfriend to the police, only then to be landed with the daughter of said evil cousin as the closest family members.

Lily, basically, is the typical baby; she cries, poos, dribbles, and wraps everyone’s heart around her little finger. However George remains the most aloof, most hard heartened and most practical. Lily is less than a year old –  she’s about eight months I think its said at one point –  and Julian and Anne want the little girl to start learning an instrument. George rightly points out that the little girl can’t even hold an instrument, let alone understand how to play one. Julian and Anne get so caught up in the idea however that the end up with a list if instruments that Lily could play. George remains unconvinced however. She seems to be fond of Lily but at the same time, aware of the implications of bringing up a child.

The most surprising member of the clan to take to Lily and adapt her into his lifestyle is Dick. He manages where the others failed, in calming Lily down enough to sleep for short periods of time. He manages to even multi task. Mostly by singing to her while he’s doing things on the computer or something similar that doesn’t take much brain power, but for Dick this is amazing as he’s not portrayed as a very capable adult. However, Lily wraps him around her little finger by grabbing tightly onto Dick’s almost the moment she is deposited with the Kirrin cousins. It’s really quite nice to see because I always felt that Dick would be good with children.

Anne of course is the organised one, making sure she’s got enough bottles to feed Lily, and encouraging the others to be pro-active with the activities and being social with Lily. She even encourages the boys to take Lily to a dads’ class, where they have to do some running around with the buggy, without a pub in sight!

I suppose for most of you that what I am going to say next is unsurprising. However, Julian, in my humble opinion, if you were true to the books would be a model father. In this however he is less than useless. I do not think there is one time where he does something that endears Lily to him, at least that is mentioned. He leaves her with Dick on the dads’ buggy run, and the only times he seems to be interested in her is when it comes down to finding her a school and her learning an instrument, that seems to be it. I mean its good that he’s interested in her academic studies – like anyone should be – but he’s not the best at dealing with Lily as a small person.

The thing is that overall the Five as a unit make up one responsible, functioning parent, at least up until the very end of the book where they accidentally leave Lily at a birthday party. Still, it’s good to see that they can get round most of the tricky parents of parenthood. Maybe when Bruno Vincent’s Five have their own children they will actually manage to make a better go at things. I still believe that mine and Fiona’s interpretation of the Five with children of their own was much much closer to Enid Blyton’s than this spin off.

Or maybe I’m just tooting my own horn a bit too much! Whoops!

Worth Reading?

This particular Famous Five for Grown-ups is probably the best to date. There were a few bug bears that my mind rebelled against, such as Julian and Dick trying to sneak out to the pub, and the fact that the five have iPhones is still somewhat jarring to someone who adores the original books.

However, it seems the Bruno Vincent has gotten closer to the mark with their personalities in this book, and the way they actually end up taking on the challenge of looking after Lily is endearing and quite heart-warming. I think without a doubt that any new mother should read this an hopefully see the funny side to the problems and such. In fact it’s a good one for all parents. I think it really seems to catch the pitfalls and highs and lows of parenthood and modern-day technology impacting on the way we deal with children now-a-days.

Fiona, I think you need to read this one before your baby arrives. As a how NOT to do it!

The other thing about Five Go Parenting is that its actually funny! Funny! It has been the only one I have actually found myself laughing out loud at. There are some genuinely funny moments, especially when Julian ends up standing on Lego, which I know is no laughing matter, but the fact that its good to know that however pompous you are, it doesn’t stop you standing on Lego!

If you read only one of these grown-up Famous Five books then I suggest it is this one. Hands down the best so far, which is why I gave it a four star rating on Goodreads which is rare for me to do. I’m not the only one who seems to think this is a good read. Check out the Goodreads reviews if you don’t believe me!

I think that’s enough of a bombshell to end on. I actually like one of these books. I do urge you to go and read it. At the moment, most places seem to be selling them at discounted prices, so go and get your copy while you can! You won’t regret this one, I promise!

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Monday # 212

We have had some truly fabulous weather this weekend, so much so I have caught the sun a little. Anyway, time for our blogs for the week! It took a while for us to come up with a blog that Fiona felt she could do, and in the end we went with the baby theme as you can see!

In my case, we’ll be looking at Five Go Parenting, my last Famous Five for Grown-Ups novel for the moment until I can get my hands on the others (there are more due out soon according to Amazon).

Hope this week looks good for you too!

Monday#212

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If you like Blyton: The Animals of Farthing Wood by Colin Dann

I have recently read The Animals of Farthing Wood for the first time. I watched the BBC cartoon as a child and loved it – enough to remember the main plot and some details. I’m also now rewatching the series on DVD, having deliberately waited to have finished the book first.


THE MAIN PREMISE

There are actually several books in the series (which I only found out when I marked the book as finished on Goodreads) but I have only read the first so I will stick to talking about that, though the whole series is probably known as The Animals of Farthing Wood. Anyway.

Farthing Wood is under threat at the start of the story, as are the animals that live there. It had, long ago been a huge expanse of woods host to many families of animals but humans have encroached year by year until only a small wood and pond are left. They are now destroying even this – the pond is filled in, the diggers are coming closer – and the animals are running out of water.

Despite there being predators and prey in the woods they call an assembly which hasn’t been done in a very long time. All the animals gather in Badger’s set to discuss what they should do, and Toad comes up with a plan. He has only just returned to the woods, having been scooped up in a jam jar by a human. Having escaped and made a very, very long journey back he has become aware of a place called White Deer Park, a nature reserve where all the animals would be safe.

It is then proposed that the animals band together and follow Toad to this safe haven. In order to ensure the safety of all the animals they wear a solemn Oath of Mutual Protection to help each other (and not eat anyone!) on the journey.

The main story is therefore the long journey they make to reach White Deer Park.


THE ANIMALS

There is a wide variety of animals making the journey and this causes a lot of problems as they range in size, speed, ability and needs for food and shelter.

There are the  large and quick – Fox, Badger, and Weasel. Fox becomes the leader as he is clever, cunning and brave, while Badger becomes an unofficial but very respected second in command. He is a very good listener and considers everyone’s needs with great care. Weasel is fairly quiet through the book and doesn’t do anything particularly memorable.

Then there are the fliers – Kestrel, Owl and a pair of pheasants. Really these birds could have flown to White Deer Park in a matter of a day or so, but they choose to stick with the pack. With the somewhat dumb pheasants this is for their own good, but Owl and Kestrel are integral to the group’s safety. By day Kestrel leads the fliers and scouts for dangers ahead, and Owl does the same if they travel by night.

Most of the smaller animals are in family groups – the rabbits, voles, squirrels, hedgehogs, lizards and mice. These add the challenge of having shorter legs and thus moving more slowly than the larger animals. There is also the added trouble of getting them to cross roads and rivers and so on, not just because of their size but because they tend to panic and go in all directions. The poor squirrels have to adjust to sleeping on the ground for a lot of the journey as there are not always suitable trees for them.

And last there are some other smaller lone animals. Toad, of course, who is slow but their guide. Mole is practically blind and terribly slow and so rides on Badger’s back most of the way (when he’s not stuffing himself with worms and getting left behind). Adder makes up the group, and is probably the least popular member. Despite Fox also being a predator it is Adder that the smaller animals are most afraid of. Probably because he is very sarcastic throughout and it’s not always clear if he’s joking about eating a vole or two. He does show great bravery at times though – not that he would like to admit it.

Two animals join the group along the way – Fox finds a Vixen to be his mate and a stork called Whistler also joins, but meanwhile the lizards stay behind at a marshy area as they struggle to travel too far between water sources. A few animals also die but I will talk about that later.


THE JOURNEY

The journey takes place over many weeks as they can only travel so far each day. The first issue is somewhere to drink, and swimming pool is found in a garden.

Then they have to navigate though the housing estate and cross a road just before daybreak. The road is their first major obstacle and the birds are key in scouting for traffic and urging the others across.

On the other side of the road is some military land where they manage to rest and eat during the day. Moving on they come to marshland and woods – and a forest fire. They all nearly perish but manage to cross a causeway and shelter on an island in the middle of the marsh until the worst of the danger has passed.

Then a storm breaks and the animals decide to shelter, rather foolishly, in a farm outhouse. The farmer’s dog alerts him to their presence and they are shut in – the dumb pheasants are on guard duty and get themselves shot. Mole rescues the rest of the party, by digging his way out and then the other animals widen the tunnel and escape. Fox has to see off the dog, which he does by clever talk rather than physical strength.

Not long after this they encounter a river. This wasn’t too much of a problem for Toad of course, but it heralds a disaster. Most of the animals (even the ones you wouldn’t imagine to be good swimmers) make it across reasonably easily but the rabbits panic and swim in all directions. Fox and Badger are forced to  return to the water to round them up, and exhaust themselves in the process. So much so that when a large collection of twigs and grass comes down the river they get caught up in it. Badger is recovered not too far downstream and sleeps off the accident, but Fox is nowhere to be found.

Here the story diverges. We have a few chapters chronicling what happens to the main group first, as they move on. We see some more losses here as the fieldmice and voles have had babies, and decide they cannot continue with so many small ones. The main group can’t wait around for weeks and so intend to leave them behind. Unfortunately the babies fall victim to a ‘butcher bird’ – something I was unfamiliar with. The proper name is a shrike , a bird which kills small animals and impales them on bushes. So it’s quite a nasty part of the chapter when the other animals find a bush with all the baby mice and voles impaled on its twigs.

The adult mice and voles then calmly re-join the group (I suppose they are used to losing babies).

Meanwhile, we discover Fox has survived the ordeal and has met Vixen. She is persuaded to come along, though she is yet to decide if she wants to live in White Deer Park.

Shortly before the foxes (travelling much more quickly than the others) catch up with the group, Toad had led them partly in the wrong direction. Therefore then the foxes reach that point there are two trails to follow. Fox goes the right way, Vixen checks out the wrong one. She decides she will join the group heading to the park but finds herself being chased by a fox hunting party, and very nearly is caught. Fox manages to distract the hunt, but then brings them after himself, Vixen and the other animals. It is adder who saves the day – biting the hunt leader’s horse and causing the hunt to retreat.

After this they meet Whistler the heron – he saves Toad from being eaten by a pike in a quarry pond – and then they face one of their biggest troubles.

There’s a six-lane road in the way. It had only been under construction when Toad had passed that way, but now it is busy with traffic. The hunt has reconvened and they are desperate to put the road between them and the humans so, taking advantage of a traffic jam on their side, they cross to the median strip. The next part is not so easy – the traffic is heavy.

Whistler is able to carry many of the smaller animals to safety but the rest are left and have to make dashes across the road in gaps in the traffic. Unfortunately the hedgehogs are not fast enough and are killed.

Next up is a modern farm. It’s busy most days so they are stuck for a while, unable to proceed without fear of being spotted. When they eventually do move on the vegetarian animals are desperate to have a nibble of the cabbages and other crops. The wiser animals are against it – the plants look too plastic and perfect. Thankfully nobody does eat because they soon discover that the pesticides used on the crops have killed all the local birds. It’s quite a creepy chapter as much is made of how quiet the farm is – no insects buzzing, no bird tweeting.

Then a pleasant moment – they come across a naturalist in a field and allow him to watch their rather bizarre parade for a while.

White Deer Park is now close, and after crossing through a village they decide to seek shelter in a church for the night. They creep in through a hole in the wall and hide under the organ – though they don’t know that’s what it is. Next morning workmen arrive and start fixing the hole – leaving the animals trapped inside. Their peaceful hiding place then turns into a nightmare when the organist starts to play – for a wedding no less! The wedding turns a bit hysterical as a hoard of animals rush down the aisles and past the bride.

And then, they finally reach the park. Sneaking in through a broken bit of fence they are welcomed by the animals that live there and in particular the oldest of the white deer (as ?Kestrel had flown on ahead earlier to let them know they were arriving). Interestingly they had been waiting on the group for ages as the news of their journey has spread far and wide.

We even get a couple of chapters of the animals settling in to their new home. They all go their separate ways at first – determined to find the best tree to nest in or the best earth to dig in. After a time though, Badger especially starts to miss the comradeship of the group and calls a meeting. All the animals gather – and get drunk on some spilled alcohol! – and realise they have a bond that will never truly break.


WHY IS THIS A BOOK FOR BLYTON FANS?

I’ve actually asked myself this a couple of times. It’s actually quite different to anything she ever wrote. But there are similarities. If anything, it could be thought of as The Secret Island with a cast of animals instead of children!

There is a strong environmental message which naturally focuses on animals and their habitats. Blyton’s books often have strong moral messages that are comparable, I think. Her characters never leave litter in the countryside and they take care of the places they camp in. There are also strong messages about taking care of animals and preventing cruelty to them. She didn’t really go as far as talking about houses encroaching on habitats – that probably wasn’t such a huge issue when she was writing although it had started – but she certainly valued the wild spaces and wildlife around her.

Blyton also delved into the world of talking animals from time to time – usually with a fairy-tale element. The Farthing Wood animals all converse in full English with each other, but it’s unknown if they can communicate with humans. Humans, on the few occasions the animals cannot help but be seen, are naturally amazed at seeing so many animals together in broad daylight. The general public are too amazed to pose any real threat in fact – apart from road accidents – it’s the farmers and developers that pose the biggest risk.

If Blyton had come up with this story I think it would have read fairly similarly, but perhaps without the deaths. She also may have worked in one or two more positive encounters with humans to show that we are not all bad, but otherwise I think she would have stuck to a similar plot.

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Review: The Mystery of the Missing Necklace

51LCaetmNvL._AC_UL320_SR198,320_It’s been a while since I favoured you with a Five Find-Outers review, and quite frankly it was because I found it hard to convince myself to keep reading. I just don’t gel with these books as much as the Fives which I read and adored as a child. Also as you know I can’t really get along with Fatty – I am the Goon of the Enid Blyton world in that respect, but anyway, I think its time to see what the Mystery of the Missing Necklace is all about and what its like for those of you who haven’t yet read it. Shall we?

Slow… Slow… Slow…

Literally until the last quarter of this book, the whole thing is slow! We start out with no mystery, and the children are almost due to go back to school and they haven’t even had a sniff of a mystery yet and they’re bored. I was as well.

They discover that Mr Goon has a case he’s working on and they’re a bit miffed that their detested Mr Goon has a case to work on and they don’t. They try the best they can to find out what the case is, but Goon isn’t telling (too right!) In the end they decide to go and see Inspector Jenks and try and get him to tell them what the case is because they want to help solve it.

Jenks decides to tell them what Goon is up to but forbids them to get involved because what is going on, a spate of robberies, could turn very nasty indeed. So naturally, this being an Enid Blyton novel, the children ignore the adults and decide to put their sleuthing hats on once more to catch the robbers. However, they have next to nothing to go on, so generally just end up watching Mr Goon to find out something they can go on to try and leapfrog him in this case. These children are bright, I won’t take that away from them, but the problem is that they don’t seem to have much common sense!

That’s a bit of a lie, they do have common sense, oodles of the stuff when they are actually in the middle of a mystery, and solving things, but when they’re trying to find one, especially one that they have been warned off of, they seem to make silly decisions. Now of course they usually involve Fatty ‘having’ to dress up and disguise himself to try and find them a lead, and it must be blooming obvious there’s something going on because a lot of the time the others are hanging around him!

So my Fatty disdain aside, we have Goon puffing and panting around Peterswood on his bicycle, being snapped at by Buster, though this only happens a few times. Once again I am not impressed by Goon’s idiocy. How he even got to me a policeman is beyond me, because he near useless. I used to think that he was just shown up as incompetent by the Five Find-Outers who always seemed to find the mystery  before him! However, no – he just is a little bit… unclever!

Quick!… Slow…

We begin to speed up the story a little when the Find-Outers realize that the gang who are stealing all these precious gems and things are using an old deaf man in the village to pass on messages between members of the gang. This old man is appearently always sat on that particular bench every afternoon, so why haven’t we been introduced to him before?! We’re five novels into the series and this is the first time we’ve been told about him, and a stinky little sweet shop where they children and Mr Goon end up staying to observe the old man and the comings and goings of the gang with no real idea how the messages are passed between them!

Eventually it gets figured out by Fatty who dresses up as the old man and pretends to be him so the gang come to talk to him instead. Actually a lot of this book seems to be based on Fatty and his dressing up skills. He even ends up dress as Napolean’s waxwork to spy on a meeting of the gang, but ends up getting caught. I actually dislike how much of this book is about Fatty’s brilliant dressing up, and no, the boasting from the obnoxious boy does not get any less as we go on throughout the series and the others just seem to be encouraging him! I mean honestly!

The quick part of the book comes when the gang finally make an appearence and Fatty gets found out and tied up. Mr Goon shows a particularly nasty side to himself at this point where he leaves Fatty tied up in a cupboard on the understanding that he is a “nasty toad of a boy” who deserves to be in that cupboard. There is also some logic to this because in a way it’s the safest place for him instead of letting him free to run around the criminals and distract the police from apprehending them and maybe getting himself into even more trouble. However Goons main reason behind leaving Fatty in the cupboard is spiteful and not what a responcible adult should do. Inspector Jenks is less than pleased when he find out what Goon did; there goes Goon’s chance of promotion.

It then turns out that the necklace was lost from the arrest because one of the team managed to get away from the policemen. The inspector then invites the children to help the police find the jewels because he seems to believe more in the children than he does in his own officer – which is sort understandable because of Goon’s behaviour towards Fatty earlier on. Anyway, we end up with the Five Find-Outers finding the jewels in the most obvious and at the same time most obscure place for the jewels to be placed. Anyway they find them, and look frorward to the next adventure for the next holiday.

Conclusion

I just wasn’t feeling this book at all, can you tell? I suppose for a child it probably is full of the magic it was intended to have from Blyton’s wonderful imagination, but it’s just not for me. Fatty is getting worse, Goon is his worst yet and the mysery takes so long to get started you just want to give up. I mean to give you some perspective, I started the book on the 26th Janurary and only finished it yesterday! Thats over a month of trying to read it. I just wasn’t engaged with it.

As usual that is probably just my opinion but I am just not getting on with these books at all. Anyone want to explain to me what I am missing?

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Monday #211

After a surprise round up yesterday (I nearly forgot about it again!) here’s what we have planned for this week:

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March Round Up

The clocks have gone forward, meaning we lost a precious hour of sleep but on the plus side, spring is (apparently) here!

Dundee doing its best impression of spring


WHAT I READ IN MARCH

  • Doctor Turner’s Case Book – Stephen McGann
  • Finding Audrey – Sophie Kinsella
  • Bonding With Your Bump – Miriam Stoppard
  • Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban – audiobook narrated by Stephen Fry
  • The Bad Beginning (Series of Unfortunate Events #1) – audiobook narrated by Tim Curry
  • The Mystery of the Dinosaur Discovery (Adventure Island #7) – Helen Moss
  • How to Grow a Baby and Push it Out – Clemmie Hooper
  • Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire – audiobook narrated by Stephen Fry
  • The Mystery of the Black Salamander (Adventure Island #12) – Helen Moss
  • The Girl Who Cried Monster (Goosebumps #8) – R.L. Stine
  • The Children at Green Meadows – blogged about here and here
  • Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone – audiobook narrated by Stephen Fry
  • My Pregnancy 2017 – Jo Girling
  • The Mystery of the Secret Room (Adventure Island #13) – Helen Moss
  • All the Little Liars (Aurora Teagarden #9) – Charlaine Harris
  • The Animals of Farthing Wood – Colin Dann
  • Ramona the Pest (Ramona Quimby #2) – Beverly Cleary

As you can see I managed to fit in a lot more reading this month! I am aiming for 100 books this year so the more I read before July the better. It’s not like me to read books out of order I have to add – but the Harry Potters have been borrowed online from my library and there’s usually a waiting list so I just borrowed what I could get at the time! Similarly the Adventure Island books I just took what they had from my library as they were getting sold off.

I have also been reading books to the baby regularly, but I thought I would list those separately!

  • There’s an Awful Lot of Weirdos in Our Neighbourhood – Colin McNaughton
  • Lullabyhullaballoo – Mick Inkpen
  • The Tiger Who Came to Tea – Judith Kerr
  • Dear Zoo – Rod Campbell
  • Princess Smartypants Breaks the Rules – Babette Cole
  • Katie Morag Delivers the Mail – Mairi Hedderwick
  • We’re Going on a Bear Hunt – Michael Rosen
  • Katie Morag and the Two Grandmothers – Mairi Hedderwick
  • A Sky Full of Kindness – Rob Ryan
  • Katie Morag and the Tiresome Ted –  Mairi Hedderwick
  • Katie Morag and the Big Boy Cousins – Mairi Hedderwick
  • Tiddler : The Story-Telling Fish – Julia Donaldson
  • Dogger – Shirley Hughes
  • Guess How Much I Love You – Sam McBratney
  • Peace at Last – Jill Murphy
  • Katie Morag and the New Pier – Mairi Hedderwick
  • The Everywhere Bear – Julia Donaldson

So baby has ‘read’ as many books as I have this month! Many of these are my childhood favourites and others are new recommendations.

Current reads are:

  • Mischief at Midnight (Knight’s Haddon #2) – Esme Kerr
  • Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix – audiobook narrated by Stephen Fry

WHAT I’VE WATCHED

  • Hollyoaks – still watching obsessively!
  • Red Dwarf – yet again, on Netflix
  • Land Girls – another one from Netflix though unfortunately they only have two out of the three series.
  • Call the Midwife – both the current series and also the first four again on Netflix
  • Logan – the final outing for Hugh Jackman as Wolverine. Maybe it was just my hormones but I found it very sad!
  • Only Connect – into the semi finals and getting nearly impossible to get an answer right.
  • Friends – it’s too easy to leave this on all afternoon in the background!
  • The Animals of Farthing Wood – after reading the book I’m now watching the BBC TV series from my childhood!

WHAT I’VE DONE

  • I have had my second scan, the 20 week one, and we were just in awe at how detailed it was. We got to see our baby wriggling around and all his organs and body parts as well – and everything looked great.
  • I then made Stef a birthday present using the scan photo as well.

  • I’ve done more baby shopping, though I haven’t gone mad! It’s mostly supermarket clothes and things from the Jack and Jill Market (a great business in Scotland that holds regular second hand baby and kids markets) and quite a few books as attested to above! We still don’t have any of the big things like a cot or pram.
  • I have also started organising things, I have moved all my Enid Blyton magazines and Journals into the living room cupboard to make space for baby things.
  • I have written some more blogs for later in the year while I’m on maternity leave.

WHAT STEF HAS READ

  • We are Wearing Out the Naughty Step – Mick Inkpen
  • Five Forget Mother’s Day – Bruno Vincent (reviewed here)
  • Nerve – Jeanne Ryan
  • Five Give Up the Booze – Bruno Vincent (reviewed here)

And her current reads:

  • A Secret Garden – Katie Fforde
  • Operation Goodwood – bu Sara Sheridan in an audiobook narrated by Penelope Freeman


WHAT STEF HAS WATCHED

My ‘watch’ list seems to be decreasing recently, I guess I just don’t make time for it like I did before. However, here is what I have watched:

  • Red Dwarf – Three episodes of series six, which my other half had on his iPad when we were on holiday.
  • Qi XL – the end of the current series with new host Sandi Toksvig and various repeats
  • The Royal Wardrobe with Lucy Worsely –  A fascinating look into all the fashion surrounding some of our most powerful monarchs.
  • Mock the Week –  always handy to watch when I’m having my lunch and want something light before work
  • And last but not least; Who Do You Think You Are? –  the most current series of celebrities exploring their genealogical roots.
  • Call the Midwife

WHAT STEF HAS DONE

To start it all off, I’ve turned a year older. I went out, had some nice times out with friends and family.

On my actual birthday I spent the day in Oxford with my friend, wandering around the streets, having a look around the wonderful buildings and then having a sumptuous cream tea!

I also went away with my other half for a long weekend  Milan, Italy! My first foray into another country in over ten years! We did a lot of walking and we took a lot of pictures!

The last thing, even if it wasn’t the best is that I managed to tear a muscle in my calf, and have spent the last couple of days on bed rest, trying to get it back to ‘normal’ so I can walk, go to work etc. Unfortunately it means I will not be taking part in a run I had scheduled to do this weekend, and its unlikely I’ll be back to Thai Boxing for a week or two! How gutting! Especially about the race – I had trained as much as possible so I would get a good time!

Hopefully I’ll be fit enough to do another one soon! Onwards and upwards for April huh?


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The Children at Green Meadows part 2

So here is the rest of my review of this book! Previous part can be found here.


CHAPTER SIX – A PONY RESCUE IN THE NIGHT

The next arrival is a pony called Flash – who pulls the greengrocer’s cart (this is remarked on as being old-fashioned by his nephew who uses a van for his store). Francis rescues Flash from his stable, having woken up in the night to notice a fire near Green Hedges. It seems a little out of the ordinary for him but he leaps out of bed and goes out into the night to see what’s happening and ends up bringing the pony back.

The nephew doesn’t want the pony at the moment, he’s of no use to him, and there’s no stable to keep him in so he asks if Flash can board at Green Hedges. Daddy says absolutely no way – it will be too much work for Mother – but Granny insists she will do all the work. She even gives up her afternoon rest to do so.

Interestingly, it is mentioned that they go up to Daddy’s bedroom, implying it’s upstairs. I can’t see how it can be as it’s also said that he can’t get out of bed without help.


CHAPTER SEVEN – PDSA AND OTHER ABBREVIATIONS

Flash has a wound on his leg from scraping it in the rescue, and it’s too far to the nearest vet. It would cost too much to have the vet on a house call too. Luckily there is an Animal Van visiting near by and they take Flash there. Here there is a bit more exposition as Blyton explains about the PDSA (the People’s Dispensary for Sick Animals, a charity that is still going today), their TOs (technical officers), the animal van aka the caravan dispensary and their van doctors.

The children all think this is wonderful, especially when the doctor fixes up several small animals and then Flash, and are motivated to become Busy Bees – a club of children who are encouraged to learn about taking the best care of their pets but also fundraise for the PDSA and spread its message. Enid Blyton was a supporter of the PSDA and she encouraged her readers to become Busy Bees through her magazine. She also wrote for the Busy Bees newsletter.

The SADP… no I mean the PASD. No I don’t mean that either. Clare what do I mean? – Sam

Sid (the greengrocer’s nephew) decides his way of paying back the Marshalls is to do some gardening for them, and Dan helps out too.


CHAPTER EIGHT – MORE SECRETS

Now that Flash is better the children start offering rides to others for a penny. More animals arrive (mostly from the new flats) including a rabbit and a guinea-pig (the family thought they’d be allowed a hutch on their balcony…) and Sam gets very bossy. I can only assume the Busy Bees have well educated him as he suddenly is an expert on what sort of food rabbits and guinea-pigs need and the size of hutch as well.

Granny adds pigeons to the mix, when a chap moving into the new houses by the flats realises he can’t keep them there. She has him fix up the old pigeon house in secret and hides them away at the bottom of the garden. I’m not sure why it has to be a secret – Mother and Daddy have happily accepted all the other animals. Clearly she doesn’t learn though as of course it gets found out.

Daddy’s room is confirmed as being upstairs here, which still makes no sense. He cannot get washed and dressed without help, cannot get out of bed alone and relies on his wheelchair to get around. How can he get up and down stairs? I’m not sure Stannah Stairlifts were common in the 1950s.


CHAPTER NINE – A MORE UNUSUAL REQUEST

A man called Bill stops by about an Alsatian called Duke. He doesn’t live in the new flats or houses, but his house borders the new ones. The dog is not popular with the neighbours – it is suggested it is partially sour grapes as they are jealous they cannot keep animals. It is then explained that the dog isn’t even Bills, he belongs to his boss. Bill is the chauffeur and is minding the dog on a temporary basis. Give we see later there is a big house beyond Bill’s gatehouse, and a butler at least, you wonder why the dog couldn’t stay there… instead he is kept on a short leash in Bill’s garden, where the local kids taunt him and throw stones. There are tales of Duke escaping and having bitten a few children and the postman as well.

Green Hedges agrees to keep Duke and he is put in Rex’s old run (Rex is now allowed in the house) but on a long lead tied to a wire so he has more freedom. The local kids manage to find Duke still and chuck stones again and he escapes.

Francis has another late-night escapade hunting for Duke, finding him in the summer-house at his master’s home. His master is Sir Giles, an eminent surgeon. He seems to love Duke, but as the dog seems quite feral and won’t let anyone near him he is fairly quick to insist the dog must be shot. Francis does a Philip Mannering though and frees Duke from the tangled wires around his legs, returning him to his more friendly self.


CHAPTER TEN – EVERYTHING COMES TOGETHER

Sir Giles is grateful and lets Francis stay the night, at breakfast he blurts everything out from Daddy’s injury to Mother’s struggles to manage the home and their financial woes.

Of course, we can all see where this is going, can’t we? A world renowned surgeon… Daddy with an old war wound… And yes, Sir Giles thinks there is something that can be done and whisks Daddy away to a distant hospital with the assurance he will almost certainly be able to hobble about after.

Questions are raised though, about Bill. He seems a decent enough person but his care of Duke perhaps left a lot to be desired, and he isn’t really trusted with him after this. I’m not sure what to make of it. He never deliberately abused Duke, and I think he tried his best to ensure he was safe. Oh and it turns out that the stories about Duke biting people were all lies.

Interestingly Mother seems far worse with Daddy away. Perhaps it’s worry and loneliness but she becomes thinner and paler. You’d expect her to be a little better really, as the burden of caring for an invalid has been lifted.

I have noticed one horrific error in the chapter though – Or do you mean are they all like me too look at? Cringe.


CHAPTER ELEVEN – SURPRISE VISITORS

An awful lot happens in this chapter – pretty much everything is finally resolved in the space of a dozen pages.

An old friend of Granny’s visits – she recalls Green Meadows in its heyday and, as a huge coincidence, is looking for somewhere to start an animal shelter. Her mother had died recently and left her money to do this.

They leave after a nice afternoon tea and it is Francis that comes up with the idea – sell Green Meadows to the friend! It’s just what she needs, and they can convert the stables into the perfect little house that mother can easily manage. That way Granny doesn’t truly have to leave Green Meadows.

Surprisingly this is jumped on almost immediately and put into action. The friend is contacted, the stables are converted (though goodness knows what this new animal sanctuary will do with any ponies or horses that come their way – but I assume Flash went back to his owner before the work was done) and all is well when Daddy comes home.

Daddy has had a miracle happen, and he strides in at the new garden gate and even picks up Clare his back is so well now – though it did take several months. I can’t help but wonder what Sir Giles did for him!


And there you have it, Mother got her nice little house (even if Sam is lumped with a tiny box-room bedroom), Daddy can walk again and Granny didn’t have to leave Green Meadows really. It is a slight shame all this occurs in the final chapter so we don’t get to really see them enjoy the new set up – or see the more professional animal sanctuary up and running.

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Review: Five Give up the Booze

giveuptheboozeI know you’re getting an onslaught of these Enid Blyton for Grown-Ups at the moment, but as they’re quick to read they make a perfect blog to work on. I can pick up the book on a Monday night and finish it by Tuesday lunchtime if I don’t get interrupted while reading.

Anyway, Five Give up the Booze starts out promisingly, I’ll give you that. So now is time to take a look at it all!


Are our Five really alcoholics?

We open the book on New Year’s Eve, and the Five are sipping champagne cocktails and wondering what the New Year will bring for them. On their way to their party they pledge to only have a few drinks and then leave, no one really wanting to stay long and Anne asks them about their New Year’s resolutions. The others join in with her resolutions halfheartedly and the party begins.

The next morning three of the Five are hung-over (Timmy being the one who was completely sober the whole time) and Julian who has been permanently drunk since before Christmas. Slowly it dawns on all of them that they have to do something about their drinking problems and Anne makes them all agree that they should give up the drink for January and focus on their health.

Julian is the most reluctant because he doesn’t see himself as having a problem, but eventually realizes that he has been drinking excessively and agrees to join in. They face a huge problem however because they have a family friend’s wedding at the end of the month where the drink is going to flow. Julian also happens to be the best man so the double temptation to drink is there because he has to go on the stag party, with Dick, and the girls have to go on the hen do, leaving Anne to have a little lapse.

The whole book culminates in the Five raising a double scotch to a ‘dry’ month when the clock strikes 12am on the first of February and the friends have done remarkably well, even with the curve balls they’ve been thrown.

So then…

You might all be a bit surprised at this, but Five Give up the Booze comes out quite well compared to some of the others I’ve read. Its actually got substance to it, a problem that doesn’t just appear out of the blue, and the challenge is presented to the reader quite early on. There’s a bit more ’emotional’ depth to the Five this time around. We get to look a little deeper into their heads, especially Julian’s!

It turns out that Julian is fighting a lot of demons about the drinking, and being best man. The Julian we know, who tends to be organised and on top of things has gotten lost somewhere and he only writes his best man speech the day before the wedding! The dark sides of Julian seem to be the key to this characteristic. The parts that no one seems to like, such as the pompous attitude, the arrogance etc, make up the basis of his character. Gone is the integrity of his good meaning ways, and its been replaced with an ignorance arrogance as you’d expect from some sort of high class nincompoop! However, you Julian haters out there will like the fact that by the end of the book he does get himself a black eye. I won’t spoil how, but it comes after a particularly cringe-tastic part of the book that I never really thought would make it into a Famous Five book. I literally slammed the book down at this point and had to have a moment to compose myself before reading on to see how it ended.

That all said, there are some down parts to this book, for example Anne took up smoking in her teenage years and then again when she’s denied booze for a month – where on earth did that come from?! Anne, smoking? Purrleeeasssseeee! She wouldn’t have touched one of those – and neither would she have been a heavy drinker. The characterization in these Famous Five for Grown-Ups is way off. I can never really find the original characters in them, and tap back into the nostalgia. The characters are basically lost in a mash up of grown-up and modern day mannerisms that make them unbearable to read about in a way.

Even though I write stories about the Five in their advanced years I cannot see how anything could change them to be so different. Of course I agree that is only my interpretation of them, but it’s hard to enjoy the book when the link back to the original Five is so weak and flimsy.  Where are the Five we love, Mr Bruno Vincent? Just where!

In conclusion

This Famous Five for Grown-Ups comes out much better than the others so far, it has a linear progression – we know it comes after Brexit Island for example, and we know that the Five have a hurdle to get over to complete their goal of a dry January. So I really feel as though this book deserves a higher rating than the others apart from the fact that the characters are so unrecognizable.

Have you read Five Give up the Booze? What did you think? Let me know?

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Monday #210

So I’m back from Italy and we have a busy week for you on the blog: Fiona will bring you the second part of her Children at Green Meadows blog, and I’ll be looking at Five Give up the Booze!

In the mean time it has been Mother’s day here in the UK and the clocks have bounced forward signalling the beginning of British Summer time! Yay!

Here’s to a busy blog week!

Monday#210

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