Monday #227

Well I’m still here! Still waiting on baby to arrive (due a week today) so here’s what we have planned:

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The Adventure Series on TV: The Castle of Adventure part 5

We ended on a less-dramatic scene in the last episode (I hesitate to call it a cliff-hanger, actually) with someone – Bill? MOD man? Sam? someone from the castle? prowling around Spring Cottage.


SO JUST WHO IS THE NIGHT-TIME PROWLER?

Whoever he is, he has incurred the wrath of Kiki (who is caged!) and the geese outside. They wake Philip who has a look out of the window, causing our prowler to get a warning from his partner waiting in a van.

And I was right. The prowler is Bill. Goodness knows what he’s doing sniffing around Spring Cottage in the dead of night. It would certainly make someone unfamiliar with the books suspicious of him.

He then turns up in town the next day and bumps into Allie, telling her he’s just doing some business, but would like to visit them at Spring Cottage soon.


POORLY LAID PLANS AND DISASTERS

The children plan for Jack to secretly stay at the castle overnight (how they thought Allie wouldn’t notice, I don’t know) and for that he needs food.

They therefore sneak all the slices of bread from the breakfast table and hide them in their waterproof coats… and then the boys raid the kitchen while Dinah keeps Allie occupied. But then Allie says she’ll make them a picnic and they have to sneak all the food back practically under her nose…

Tassie has similarly bad luck, she is caught by Sam when she tries to meet the children and we don’t see her again in this episode.

And the worst time is for Allie as she get another call from Jane – her mother has collapsed and is in intensive care.


A FEW CURIOUS POINTS

Curious for the children is how Buttons turns up without Tassie, and manages to get inside the castle again.

Curious for me is where the children have found what look like ready-made panels for Jack’s hide.


LATE NIGHT TROUBLES

And finally, we get to the good stuff.

Jack is left overnight and has a chat with himself that if he can’t get out of the castle then no-one can get in. Unless they find the plank. Which they won’t, in the dark. So that’s all fine, clearly.

Being the 90s the children can’t possibly be left alone, so Aunt Jane (I assume from Mannering side, or perhaps she’s an honorary aunt) comes to Spring Cottage to let Allie go to her mother

Jane is not at all happy that Jack is camping out overnight, but she is persuaded into waiting for the 10pm flashes with the children. The signal comes in, exactly as promised, and they reply… but ten minutes later we see Jack going to signal.

So… someone else in the castle just happened to need to signal with the same pattern at the same time as Jack should have? It’s pretty pointless, really, as Jack’s OK at this point. It’s not like he’s already been captured and prevented from signalling or anything. The children getting the wrong signal, and Jack not getting a reply to his, doesn’t have any impact on the story whatsoever.

Anyway. There’s then some strange noises in the castle and Jack finds an open cellar. There are suits of armour down there, which gives me hope for later in the story. There’s also a whole lot of high-tech things there too, though. None of this old-fashioned  ‘table of blueprints is all we need’ attitude.

We meet a couple more of our enemies now, one of whom is the chap who escaped Bill’s colleagues by going into the ladies. Their presence means Jack has to hide, and gets shut in the cellar. Unfortunately it is not a charming grating stone operated by a hidden lever. It’s a hydraulic door which you wonder how the children missed – though you do pull an axe on the wall to operate it.

Next to appear is Allie’s friend from the MOD. No surprise that he’s a baddie, really.

Jack lets himself out of the cellar and decides it’s time to make his getaway. Fair enough. But instead of quietly sneaking out he does it in a pell-mell fashion, and just about breaks his neck when he knocks the plank down. Yes, the plank they securely tied onto the tree because one of them nearly fell first time they entered the castle.

And we’re left on another cliff (castle) hanger, as Jack dangles out of the window.


I’m glad that things finally start to happen in this episode, but bearing in mind that we are now 120 minutes into a 200 minute adaptation, we’ve had to wade through a lot of padding to get here. I wonder how rushed the remaining 80 minutes will be, or whether they plan to greatly simplify everything.

 

 

 

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Grown Up Blyton: Brighton Belle by Sara Sheridan

New to the blog, I thought it was worth looking at some of the authors that us grown-ups could try as a change to the numerous Enid Blyton books we read. I thought of this idea when I was up in Dundee with Fiona (she brings out the best ideas in me) and she said that it could work, so here it goes!

Brighton_Belle_Book_CoverWhy should I read something else?

I suppose this is your question, when you read the schedule and saw the title for the blog. However, all am I trying to do is create a blog where people of all ages can find some good recommended reads. My starter today is Brighton Belle by Sara Sheridan. Sara Sheridan is a Scottish author, who is in the middle of writing  her Mirabelle Bevan mystery series, of which Brighton Belle is the debut. The book first crossed my hands in my library some years ago while I was at work and I knew I wanted to read it.

I took it home and was immediately transported to 1950’s Brighton, England and I felt right at home. This was an England I had dreamt about in my childhood while I read, and re-read Enid Blyton’s books, and now I was getting to see it through grown-up eyes!

At the time I discovered this book, I was really absorbed in writing my story, The Missing Papers – A St Andrews Mystery (which you can find here) and I thought that this was the perfect book for research and to help me immerse myself in writing the kind of story where you could almost watch in your head like Blyton managed to create for so many people.

Another advantage of Brighton Belle is that it has short, manageable chapters. I remember once having people comment on the fact that they liked children’s books because the chapters were shorter and punchier. Not many adult books do this, though I think they are beginning to realise its advantage. Sara Sheridan does these amazing, short punchy chapters, that along with the detail, and the mystery not only in front of our heroine, but behind her as well, you just have to keep reading and devouring her writing.

Appetite wetting

Although Brighton Belle has a more realistic, gritty, no nonsense approach to life, and the hard times that everyone was going through after the Second World War, make this novel so real it is hard to believe it is not fiction. Sheridan is a self confessed swot, so her research is second to none. She will dig and dig and dig to get to the facts, and then she presents them perfectly. There are things I never knew about Britain after the Second World War such as the racial divide between people with different skin colours. In Blyton’s books this is sort of glossed over, with people of different ethnicity largely being the baddies. Sheridan in contrast actually points out the divide, and our heroine’s best friend and colleague is the gorgeous Vesta Churchill, who provides light relief and a fresh jolt of energy to Mirabelle, who has been floundering since the death of the love of her life.

Vesta encourages Mirabelle to act more like her wartime self, a former SOE agent, taking risks and following the line of enquiry as Mirabelle’s boss from the debt collecting firm she works for now, goes missing. The layer upon layer of mystery, surrounded by the picture of Brighton that Sheridan in such vivid colour that you walk the paths of Brighton with her. You have to be on the ball in a very Agatha Christie sense to find out who committed the murders before its revealed and it manages to roll in so many aspects of 1950’s recovery that you cannot fault Sheridan’s knowledge and research at all.

I remember being at a talk by Sheridan a few years ago where she said the inspiration for Brighton Belle  and Mirabelle had come from, and that her father had mentioned seeing a lady on a beach, dodging the deckchair attendant, so she didn’t have to pay the two pennies. Given that everyone back then was fighting their own demons from the war, this ‘simple’ story sparked off Sheridan’s creative flow and Mirabelle was born.

Final Thoughts

Although Sara Sheridan is not a typical mainstream author, she is beginning to gain steam and publicity, a first rate storyteller who, much like Blyton’s novels for us, brings the whole ‘movie’ of the story to our minds with the use of her clever sentences and words. Mirabelle is such an easy character to love – I really wish she was my friend – that you want to find out if she finds happiness. Vesta adds a charm and warmth to the story while highlighting the racial issues. I haven’t spoke about him, but Detective Superintendent Alan McGregor provides the reassuring police presence that we so love to see in our mysteries by Blyton, that he reminds me of a ‘grown up’ Inspector Jenks, who tolerates Mirabelle’s help but wishes she wouldn’t get in harms way.

These Mirabelle Bevan mysteries have been described as worthy of Agatha Christie and I couldn’t agree more. You need to read these books, they are just the sort of read that you need when you want a little more depth and substance to a mystery, one that really makes your brain work, you need not look any further than Mirabelle Bevan, and Brighton Belle will confirm that!

Let me know what you think, if you’ve read the book before, and if you’ll be giving it a go – you won’t be disappointed!

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Monday #226

Your blogs for this week! Hope you’re up for something new from me, even though most of us don’t want to grow up, I thought I would supply some different reading materials for the adult sides of us!

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The Zoo Book, part 3

With six chapters done so far, there are ten more to go! The first few I found quite depressing reading at times, the next few weren’t quite so bad. I wonder what the next lot will be like.


CHAPTER SEVEN: THE DOG TRIBE AND THE HYÆNAS

The first thing I notice is the use of the ligature for AE, something that’s fallen out of use for the most part these days.

Several ‘types of dog’ are covered –

  • Wolves – really only a very large and very savage dog. Not sure how factually correct that one is! Blyton adds some ‘folk tale’ type stories about wild wolves.
  • Jackalshalf wolf and half foxes (again, is that biologically true?)
  • Foxes – They are such a nuisance to farmers that, if it were not for the fact that fox-hunting is carried on in England, there would soon be very few foxes left!  Is it just me or does that not make any sense?
  • The Dingo

And finally the hyæna. Hyænas are really unpopular creatures and Blyton jumps straight on the bandwagon.

She describes them straight away as ugly, unpleasant-looking animals. Then carries on with:

Their sloping hindquarters give them a very cowardly appearance. Their manners are disgusting, and no one could really like a hyæna. It is a very cowardly animal, and even if attacked it sometimes will not show fight. It is said that Arab hunters… will not even use a weapon against it, but simply throw a handful of wet mud into its face. Then they drag it along by its hind feet and give it to their women to kill!

It reminded me of a quote from the show Buffy the Vampire Slayer –

Buffy: Wow. Apparently, Noah rejected the hyenas from the Ark because he thought they were an evil impure mixture of dogs and cats.

Willow: Hyenas aren’t well liked.

Buffy: They do seem to be the schmoes of the animal kingdom.

I couldn’t find any biblical evidence that the hyaenas were banned from the ark (but it’s hard to be sure as having looked at a handful of different versions I notice some referenced hyaenas at other points while others just said beasts. 

What I did learn though that in his 1614 History of the World Sir Walter Raleigh wrote that Noah kept hyaenas from the ark as they were hybrid animals like mules. He thought that God would only have saved pure-bred animals. The fact that hyaenas still exist today (in his opinion) is due to them being reconstituted though unnatural unions between dogs and cats. In actual fact they are most closely related to weasels.

The much maligned hyaena


CHAPTER EIGHT: SOME HORNED AND HOOFED ANIMALS

And we continue with the vaguer chapter titles as Blyton tries to categorise a bunch of animals.

Here we have :

  • Bison (a favourite joke from my family is what’s the difference between a buffalo and a bison? You can’t wash your hands in a buffalo…) She says there are only a few hundred left in America, in reserves and parks. Thankfully today they have largely recovered thanks to conservation efforts. Blyton doesn’t think much of bison it seems – Bison are stupid animals…who behave like lemmings and follow a stampede even if that goes over a cliff etc. She says that The Indians used this flaw to kill many of them (though she at least says that the whites also killed a lot of bison).
  • Buffalo (not to be confused with the American bison which are often called buffalo… though Blyton doesn’t make this point) of which the African type are more powerful and dangerous while the Indian sort are easy to tame to pull plows.
  • Yak of Tibet.
  • Ibex and chamois – chamois leather comes from the chamois goat.
  • Eland – in danger of becoming extinct in Blyton’s time but now classed as least concern.
  • Springbok.
  • Gnuthey look ungraceful and awkward. 
  • Deer – she explains the difference between antlers and horns, and talks a bit about reindeer.
  • Elk aka the moose. Here there’s a story of two boys who inadvertently relieved a wapati (Indian deer) of his antlers as he was rubbing them against the fence to shed them.
  • British deer – covers the 3 types, red, fallow and roebuck. But all are English references about finding them in parks like Richmond etc. What about the wilds of Scotland?

CHAPTER NINE: SOME MONARCHS OF THE WILD

An even vaguer category now!

  • The elephantmost children who go to the zoo have ridden on an elephant’s back. How times have changed! Edinburgh Zoo used to keep elephants and I may have seen one as a very small child but from what I can see the zoo stopped having elephants in the late 80s due to lack of space for them. London Zoo send its last elephants to Whipsnade in 2001 after a keeper was crushed to death. (And I’m pretty sure they stopped giving rides many years before that!) Blyton describes the difference between African and Indian elephants, and touches on the ivory trade in a very mild and non-judgemental way. She adds that only kind people can train elephants as they remember any any acts of cruelty or injustice.

Elephants on one of the 12 colour plates

  • Rhinoceros, again she covered the difference between African and Indian breeds. An interesting fact is about flies getting into skin folds and them bathing in mud to keep them out.
  • Hippopotamus – plenty of good facts here.
  • Wild boar – found in the forests of England long ago. They were extinct in Britain and were at the time of Blyton’s writing – but now there are some wild groups having escaped from farms (and some purposely reintroduced in Scotland recently).
  • Kangaroos – Can only be run to earth by very swift and powerful dogs, why is this an important fact? She does at least describe their physique and talk about how they keep joeys in their pouches. Blyton mistakenly states that smaller kangaroos are called wallabies. They are from the same family but they are different animals!

Since these chapters are mostly factual about wild animals it makes for easier reading – aside from a few comments about hunting.

What’s interesting, perhaps, is how several animals were extinct or nearly extinct in Blyton’s time but have bounced back in the intervening years so much that these animals aren’t under any threat now. I had expected it to go far more in the other direction. Saying that, Blyton was perhaps writing at a time where elephants and tigers etc were utterly abundant in the wild, she just didn’t make a point of saying so.

One niggle I have is that on at least three occasions she talks about animals in England and entirely seems to forget that those animals exist in Wales and Scotland (and quite possibly Northern Ireland too!). The deer are one example as I pointed out above, but also the wild boar and foxes.

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Review: The Mystery of the Pantomime Cat

the-mystery-of-the-pantomime-cat-14I know you’ve had a lot of Five Find-Outers and Dog reviews recently, but I’ve had the books on my library card for a while now, and thought it was about time I got round to reading them. As I had an eight hour journey back from Dundee I thought that was the perfect time to get on and read them. I mean what else was I going to do on a train for eight hours?! So I packed my bag with the book and knew that at least I wouldn’t be bored on the train.  So let’s take a look at what this FFO has in store for us!


Goon on holiday

Like the last book, we start the story at the train station, where Larry, Daisy, Pip and Bets are waiting for Fatty, and they spot Mr Goon there as well.  Mr Goon is about to go on holiday and the new constable, P.C Pippin (who is still a bit wet behind the ears), is brought over to Petersfield to take his place while he is on holiday. Both Fatty and P.C. Pippin are on the same train but do not meet until they leave the train.

Mr Goon then decides to tell Pippin what he thinks of the five children and Buster. This rather shocks P.C Pippin because Inspector Jenks has spoken so highly of them, and Mr Goon is saying nothing but horrible things, warning Pippin away from them. Pippin is a little in awe of Mr Goon to begin with, so he takes the warning to heart and doesn’t allow himself to anything to do with the children.

Mr Goon goes off on his holiday and the Find-Outers decide that as they’re not in pursuit of a mystery they’re going to make one up for P.C Pippin. Hmm, haven’t we seen this storyline before? Could Blyton be going a little stale with her ideas, a little bit like she did in the middle of the Famous Five series? We have literally only just had an FFO book start off with a false mystery to start.

Like Ern in Hidden House Pippin is completely taken in by the false clues, the red headed gentlemen in the village and the mysterious ‘ruffians’ (Larry and Fatty all dressed up!). Pippin doesn’t stand a chance as the children set about that the bad guys are meeting around the back of the local theatre. Unluckily for the children this puts Pippin right in front of a real crime as it happens – the manager of the theatre gets knocked out and his safe broken into. Naturally this brings Goon running back in the hope of solving the mystery before Fatty and the gang, but he unfortunately uses the ‘clues’ that the children dropped for Pippin in their fake mystery. I think if you weren’t convinced that Goon was a fool by now, you should know it by this book. He did exactly the same thing with Ern in the last book, and seemingly hasn’t learnt from his mistakes. What a idjit!

Been there, read that, solved the mystery!

I’m going to be honest here, when we were introduced to all of the suspects, and the two characters that Mr Goon thought were the culprits of the crime, I knew it was a double buff. I knew straight away that the person dressed up as a cat was not the person acting the cat in the stage show. Boysie is a singularly slow boy but utterly devoted to his life in the theatre and to Zoe Markham, the lead in the Dick Whittington show the theatre are performing over the Easter holidays.

Goon thinks that because Boysie is slow and stupid, he would do anything for Zoe and so they must have committed the crime together. However the children befriend Zoe and Boysie and know this deep down to be untrue, but alas, they are unable to prove it.

It begins to look like the mystery that got away from them, until one of Bets’ little innocent remarks gives Fatty’s brain a boost. Again, how many more times have we had this scene from Enid Blyton? I know that children reading the books would probably not mind in the slightest, but for a grown up reading the book, it’s obvious way before Bets’ comment. Fatty then races around, getting information from P.C. Pippin and then asking  to be driven over to see Inspector Jenks and solve the mystery. Huzzah Fatty and his friends have done it again. Whatever will happen next?

All about Fatty

Oh my Blyton! If the Famous Five books had been so centred on Julian, or George for example, people wouldn’t like them nearly half as much, so why is it different for Fatty? I do not understand why people love his character, he drives me nuts! He is such a know-it-all, too-good-to-be-true, marty-stu who can never do anything wrong and must be worshipped by all. It drives me insane. At least with Julian and George they recognise their faults, but Fatty? No. Someone please tell me he gets his comeuppance soon and the rest of the FFO get a fair chance in the mysteries? I just don’t like him! Sorry but it’s true!

Thoughts

I preferred this book to Hidden House by miles, possibly because I’m much better acquainted to the world of theatre than that of mysteries, and had the answer been much more devilish, I would have really ranked it highly. Unfortunately using the same plot at the beginning of the novel rather ruins it, especially so close to the last time that trick was used. If they were a few books apart I could have forgiven it, because as we know, Blyton wrote a phenomenal amount of words a day/week/month/year and some errors were bound to slip in, but back to back same plot device just doesn’t sit right.

I liked the way P.C. Pippin was well placed to see the crime taking place and immediately be on the scene, and it’s book’s saving grace that the main story takes off quickly and in Blyton’s excellent style, but the format of the beginning and the end feels old and tired. I just hope that The Mystery of the Invisible Thief  has a better start and finish. A proper detective novel!

Oh well, I can live in hope!

What do you think of The Mystery of the Pantomime Cat? Have I been too harsh? Let me know in the comments.

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Monday #225

Well, it’s Monday again! I feel like every Monday could be my last for a while, but then again I could be around for many weeks to come.

Here’s what we’ve got planned for the blog this week:

And if you’re the crafty type I’ve spotted a competition by The Book People. All you have to do is share a picture of your Noddy related craft and you could win a load of books.

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The Saucy Jane Family: How has Blyton’s original text fared in a modern edition? part 4

Last time we saw quite a bit of text cut out of one chapter plus some other more minor changes, so let’s see what we get this time.

I am comparing the first edition (Lutterworth Press, 1947) to an omnibus edition containing four of the six books (Egmont, 2014).


CHAPTER NINE : A DAY ON THE HAPPY TED

Most of the changes here revolve around gay and queer. 

  • gay castles – pretty castles
  • gay and neat – bright and tidy
  • gay – bright
  • what a queer, lovely, gay little place – bright, lovely, little place

As you can see they’ve not exactly widened the vocabulary as they’ve mostly used bright as a replacement. Also, I don’t know why neat had to become tidy?

Black Sambo became Stella in the previous chapter and so now references to him ie he have become she. 

And lastly, the somewhat deferential titles for the children have been removed. Ann and Belinda had been called Missy three times between them, and Mike Little Master once.


CHAPTER TEN : UPHILL IN A BOAT!

A second chapter without anything changed!


CHAPTER ELEVEN : A STRANGE ADVENTURE

A queer chapter indeed. Blyton has overused queer just a bit!

  • dark and damp and queer – dark and damp
  • queer – strange
  • queerly loud – oddly loud
  • the queer call – the call
  • queer trumpet – strange trumpet

A mix of replacing it with alternatives and just removing the adjective altogether.

As with the previous chapter missy is removed, well once it is, the other time it is (presumably accidentally) left in.


CHAPTER TWELVE : GOOD-BYE TO THE SAUCY JANE

There are three gays in this chapter to be edited.

Daddy and Mike repaint the Saucy Jane’s rowing boat and made her very bright and gay. In the new edition the quoted part is just deleted, when they could easily have put bright and fresh or just left it at bright.

The two gay caravans are now just two caravans, and clean and gay becomes clean and bright. 

The children are no longer described as brown and fat and strong they are just brown and strong. It’s an odd one as Blyton seemed to use fat both positively (as in this case) and negatively (think Gwendoline Lacey etc). As this is a positive use I don’t see so much of a problem, especially as they are described as sturdy in the next sentence.

And a last one that made me laugh. In winter at the caravans the children enjoy games and books and wireless. Now they enjoy games and books and television.

Let’s just think about that for a moment. Television. In a wooden gypsy caravan parked in a field. A caravan pulled by horses because it’s 1947! Six years before TVs became even moderately common-place thanks to the coronation. They can’t possible expect it to seem realistic that there are horse-drawn coal-barges tootling up the canal taking days at a time but there are also TVs in caravans!


And a final 7 changes there, and that brings the final total to 25. That doesn’t sound like very much perhaps but it is a very short book. It’s not that much longer than a Noddy for example.

Most of the changes are absolutely expected, for example the removal/replacement of queer and gay, and many other changes really are minimal. I like that they kept the italics exactly as they were, too.

However, some nice old-fashioned touches are lost in the effort to make the book seem modern and current, but the modern feel is ‘ruined’ as soon as the horse-drawn coal-barges make an appearance. Just another example of how futile it is to try to make what is essentially now a period piece into a modern one without rewriting it entirely.

 

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If you like Blyton: The Mystery of Wickworth Manor by Elen Caldecott

wickworthmanorIn our quest to find books that could be considered similar to Enid Blyton’s novels for you to try yourselves, I have discovered another book by Elen Caldecott, an author I reviewed a few months ago (The Mysteries of Marsh Road, Diamonds and Daggers). While I was researching her books on my library system and discovered that one, the Mystery of Wickworth Manor popped up on the list and I thought it was worth a go. So shall we take a look at it?

What it’s all about

Wickworth Manor is one of those old houses that has been converted by the family into a week retreat for school children in year six who are about to leave for their secondary school (for more information on the English school system, see here) and they are there to meet all their new school mates. One of our main characters, Paige, arrives at Wickworth manor with her two best friends, planning on not needing to make any more friends. She does feel as though she doesn’t need to make friends with anyone else because she already has her best friends, however, circumstances are not her friend and she finds herself separated from them  and partnered with Curtis, a strangely behaving boy, without any other people from his school present. There appears to be some sort of back story to Curtis, that we’re not immediately aware of.

Curtis is dropped off at Wickworth Manor by his mum in a rented car and not on a bus like the other children. Paige picks him out on entry to the building and stares him down, and they both hate each other on sight. Unfortunately for the both of them, they end up being partnered together for the week of activities, and really can’t wait to shake each other off.

Anyway, Curtis makes himself at home in an old attic and finds an oil painting of a young black slave who was part of the house’s staff and Curtis wants to know all he can about it. Elen Caldecott puts in her authors note at the end of the book that this painting is based on a real one, which is currently held in Wrexham, England. You can see a photograph of the painting here.

Paige finds out about the painting and tells Curtis its a portrait of a ghost who roams the halls of Wickworth Manor. As she is interested in being a psychic, Paige wants to told a seance to try and contact the boy, but they manage to anger the manager of the manor and get told off in the morning.

This makes Paige and Curtis all the more determined to find out what happened to the boy in the painting, even though they both want to go about it different ways and don’t want help from one another. However, thrown together as they are, they manage to solve a nearly two hundred year old mystery and become quite good friends. Its quite a roller coaster of a book, and gathers pace towards the end of the novel.

How is it like Blyton?

Simple, the mystery. All right its not considered a ‘current’ mystery, as in it’s not happening to the characters as they go through the book. Its something they have to research and deal with historical facts to find out what’s happened. We get a little bit of this in some of Blyton’s books; a little bit in the Famous Five, occasionally in the Adventure series, and tiny bits and pieces in the Five Find-Outers to name just three of her many series that have a bit of ‘historical’ digging to them.

The characters, although there are only two of them, manage to rub along together and make a good pairing at the end , even though they didn’t like each other in the start. We see them go from strength to strength and find the clues they’re looking for and finally solve the mystery. It’s a good read, especially for younger children as it’s short, and the descriptions Caldecott gives are very Blytonian. They certainly manage to give you the chills and wonder what’s going to happen next. She’s very good at weaving her story and her magic around the story just like Blyton did, and I think that makes her a good author. Anyone who can capture the spirit of Blyton, while writing something that doesn’t quite compare to any of Blyton’s own books is a phenomenal talent. I managed to read this book in one setting which allowed me to get immersed in the story and the characters.

The modernness of the book doesn’t really show too much. The kids are in a place where there isn’t any phone signal really, and there’s only one computer and its old, cranky and hidden away in the library. They do have to resort to more ‘traditional’ sleuthing methods, such as looking through books and interviewing people to get their information, all with the added bonus of the teachers watching over them to keep them under control.

Final thoughts 

I wasn’t too convinced when I did take the book home to read from work, only because I didn’t really think it was going to be well done, or not what I was expecting. I was pleasantly surprised though as it turned out to be quite a gripping adventure, and had some nice historical elements added to it, context for the history and good social economical present day threads through it all.

I would very much recommend this book if you like Blyton, because its sort of different to things we’ve been looking before but it contains the best parts of a Enid Blyton mystery. If you read it, or have read it, let me know in the comments below of what you think of the book!

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Monday #224

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June Round Up

Somehow it is July, and we have reached what will probably be my last monthly round up for a while.

I’ll be taking over from now on! – Stef


WHAT I READ 

  • Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban – audiobook narrated by Stephen Fry
  • The Teenager Who Came to Tea – Emlyn Rees
  • The Saucy Jane Family – which I have just finished comparing the text in
  • Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire – audiobook narrated by Stephen Fry
  • The Island of Dr. Libris – Chris Grabenstein
  • Welcome to Camp Nightmare (Goosebumps #9) – R. L. Stein
  • The Ghost Next Door (Goosebumps #10) – R. L. Stein
  • The Book of Fours (Buffy TV tie in) – Nancy Holder
  • Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix – audiobook narrated by Stephen Fry

For the baby:

  • Owl Babies – Martin Wadell

And still on the go (most of the ones from last month I haven’t picked up again lately):

  • Blotto, Twinks and the Dead Dowager Duchess (Blotto and Twinks #2) – Simon Brett
  • The Zoo Book (which I wrote about here and here)
  • The Wonderful Story of Henry Sugar – a Roald Dahl audiobook

And perhaps unsuprisingly I still haven’t started that pile of library books I have. Maybe I’ll get through them on my maternity leave before the baby comes!


WHAT I’VE WATCHED

  • More One Born Every Minute including the tough episodes where things didn’t go entirely to plan
  • Hollyoaks, as always
  • Taskmaster
  • Murder She Wrote. I’m on season 2 of 12 now!
  • The OA – a really weird series on Netflix
  • The Castle of Adventure – I’ve been reviewing episodes for the blog

WHAT I’VE DONE 

  • Packed my hospital bag and the baby’s too, and done a lot of washing of his things.
  • Organised the nursery a bit more.
  • Supported my mum, sister and two cousins doing the Pretty Muddy challenge.
  • Gone to aquanatal aerobics weekly, and swimming some weeks as well.
  • Stepped awkwardly off a pavement and ended up in A&E with a sprained ankle and bruised knee. Thanks to this I started my maternity leave a few days early!
  • Welcomed Stef to Dundee (as much as I could from the sofa) as she’s up to stay for a few days.

WHAT STEF HAS READ

  • Everything, everything – Nicole Yoon
  • Street Cat Bob – James Bowen
  • Empty Vessels – Marina Pascoe
  • The Mystery of the Hidden House – reviewed here and here [links]

Current reads:

  • Peggy and Me – Miranda Hart
  • Gena/Finn – Hannah Moskowitz
  • Raven Girl – Audrey Niffenegger


WHAT STEF HAS WATCHED

  • One Born Every Minute –  I’ve been watching along with Fiona. It’s quite informative.
  • Taskmaster – I have binged watched series four on catch up because I didn’t realise it was airing, so I went through and watched it on catch up.
  • Red Dwarf – My other half and I have been watching the show from the beginning, so it’s fun to go through the episodes from the start.

WHAT STEF HAS DONE

What have  I done? Good question!

  •  Traveled to Dundee – for Fiona’s baby shower at the end of June.
  • Walking –  I have done a lot of walking this month, to try and offset my weight management.
  • Went to a foam party – I went out with my other half and enjoyed a foam party. However I did swallow some and we ended up heading home early.
  • Bought a paddling pool – In that really hot weathered period, I managed to get my hands on a suitable paddling pool to enjoy in lieu of being anywhere near a beach.
  • And last but not least, A Trip down to Bournemouth Beach – Me and my other half went down to Bournemouth and spent some time enjoying the sun, sand and sea.

I think that’s all from me now! Lets hope I have more to tell you about next month!

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The Adventure Series on TV: The Castle of Adventure part 4

Yet again the previous episode ended with a cliff-hanger, or perhaps I should say tower-hanger, as Jack was hanging from the ivy on the castle’s tower while the eagle swooped down at him.

And we find out that Jack fell in the last episode because of the castle casting its evil spell. Well, according to the narrator anyway.


DOES JACK SURVIVE? WELL OF COURSE HE DOES…

Kiki scares off the eagle with a bit of eagle-screaming and Jack keeps climbing… then he half-falls and dangles a bit for extra drama. Previous angles had made him look high up but he’s low enough for Philip to grab his foot and help him out.

At this point I was saying Give up for goodness sake! to Jack, as it was clear the eagle could come back at any moment or the ivy could give way again.

But he ignored me and kept on going, finally got up safely and finds an eagle chick in the nest. Philip joins him (without any drama), and while they’re looking at the chick and taking photo the eagle’s stealing from their picnic.


THE TRUTH ABOUT SAM

Every episode reveals a little bit more about this strange new character. This time it’s that Sam buys his eggs from a chap in a butcher’s apron. Who sits by the side of the road waiting for him (which is weird), but they’re clearly not as country-fresh as Sam implies. He then arranges them in his hat with straw to make them look more ‘authentic’. Clearly he can’t be turning a profit on this, so his motives lie elsewhere.

Trading standards would have something to say about all that I bet.

Allie thinks his motives are all about food – you’re too late for breakfast, too late for lunch and too early for dinner, but that’s a red herring really. She at least seems a tad suspicious when he interrogates her about the children and Tassie and isn’t willing to say too much.

He also builds on the sinister side he shows to Tassie’s mother, with more threatening behaviour about where Tassie has been and who she’s hanging out with. She had hidden the fresh clothes from Allie in a bag in the woods, to stop her mother or Sam, or both, knowing about them, but Sam finds them and is not happy (even though he knew about them already as he mentions them to Allie).

And then he cements his character as truly evil in my opinion. Not only does he shop in a supermarket and pass the goods off as fresh country produce – but he also doesn’t return his trolley!!

Instead he gives it a shove and hits a traffic warden with it. She looks like she’s going to write him a ticket (for an out of control trolley?). He charms her with a story of orphans and how he’s using the few bob he made selling their junk to buy food for them. Except she spots he’s bought wine and issues a ticket which she tucks into the horse’s saddle. All without saying a word.

Edited to add: skimming through to get screen caps I now understand better. A previous ‘scene’ shows some sort of meter ticking over to an excess charge. It’s very quick though and it’s not at all clear that it’s a parking meter. So the traffic warden has clearly been stood waiting for him to return so she can issue a ticket. Now if only they’d afforded her a speaking part it might have made sense initially…


THE CASTLE IS ONLY SOMEWHAT ADVENTUROUS SO FAR

The castle is a bit dull apart from the eagles. We the viewer see one or two henchmen in the vicinity but the kids are oblivious.

They do find a leaky water pump with a clean handle (just like in the book, but not in a daring middle-of-the-night trip for Jack) and there’s a loudly banging door which gives them a fright for a minute.

I think if you tried to align the book with the TV series you’d find Jack was already camping in the castle by now, and having his scary night-time experience. I suppose they’re waiting to get rid of Allie (who gets a pointless phone call to say her mother’s test results are clear today, but more are expected tomorrow) before Jack would dare to stay in the castle.

In fact Spring Cottage is more adventurous at one point, when Philip has snuck his hedgehog into Dinah’s bed, causing a fight.


LUCY-ANN IS VERY ANNOYING

Lucy-Ann continues to be the stupid one of the group. She asks of the castle inhabitants wouldn’t they have had gas? And then doesn’t know what a hide is – when she grew up with an ornithologist for a brother.

She also just blurts out everything. Tassie was with us! Jack wants to photograph the eagles at night! and not in an almost forgivable way like Anne Kirrin did in the first Famous Five book. The actress is not very good either, unfortunately. I really struggle to understand why they picked someone so much younger than the other three.


STRANGE MEN ABOUND

So Bill finally turns up again – driving past Allie in the village. Either he doesn’t see her though, or he deliberately blanks her. She then doesn’t believe it really was him.

Bill in a very snazzy jumper

The kids don’t seem to know who Bill is – or at least the Trents have never met him. Allie explains that Bill does the same as Philip and Dinah’s dad did, working for the government. That would sort of explain how she knows him at least. It doesn’t seem like the events of Island of Adventure exist in this universe, so it will be interesting to see how the children get to know Bill.

Then there’s also the suspicious chap from an earlier episode – who met Allie at the MOD event – and he asks her out for tea.

The episode ends with someone sneaking around Spring Cottage in the night. It could be Bill. It could be Sam. It could be MOD man. We’ll have to find out next time…


So that was another OK episode. Still feel like it’s being padded out far too much though. Nothing really happens apart from the kids discovering someone else has been inside the castle, and a fleeting glimpse of Bill.

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Review: The Mystery of the Hidden House – part 2

hiddenhouseLast week I failed spectacularly in my duty to provide you with a full review of The Mystery of the Hidden House as I failed in my speed reading skills. So, I have had to bring it to you in two parts. It has meant that I have been able to look at the book in a greater depth. I suppose it’s given me a chance to slow down and read the text properly.

Unfortunately this puts a spin on last week’s blog. Shall we take a look?

A mystery that isn’t

So we started with the fact that, the Hiltons and the Daykins have been told they are not allowed to participate in any mysteries that come their way these hols, and so they all invent one to pull Ern Goon into trouble and make fun of him.  Ern has not got the greatest brains so, we know that the others are laughing at him behind his back but when Ern accidentally stumbles on to a proper mystery in the nearby Bourne Woods (can you all make the location connection? Haha!) and the Five Find-Outers, aka mostly Fatty at this point, start to explore this new mystery involving someone called Holland.

The Hiltons and Daykins start to help by trying to find out about the people called Holland in the area, but once again are thwarted by Fatty who makes the biggest discovery, disguised as Ern. He finds out that Mr Holland is probably the man they want, because he starts at the mention of the house called Harry’s Folly in Bourne Woods. Unfortunately Fatty commits the biggest faux pas in the detective text book and tells Mr Holland his real name, and because he looks like Ern, when the bad guys catch up with the Find Outers, they end up capturing Ern. It is such a mess. We’ve got one proper mystery taking place, which is stumbled upon by accident and by the wrong person. The two become so intertwined that its frustrating to remember which clue belongs to which ‘mystery’.

It all works out in the end, but there is an overall feeling that this book is mostly about Fatty and Ern. It mostly feels as though its to prove Fatty is the main Find-Outer and with occasional help from the others can solve a mystery. He doesn’t even get told off by Inspector Jenks at the end, just gets told to grow up as fast as he can because the inspector needs a right hand man! How irresponsible is that, encouraging a child into danger just because your local copper, Clear Off Goon, is a shambles? Why not do something about Goon? I mean he’s the one who should be on top of all of these things! I know its a children’s story, but still, there is a limit to the imagination for an adult, isn’t there?

Let’s move on, there’s one more thing I want to consider before we round up!

Swatisaid – Ern Goon

Now as a child I have no qualms in saying that I would have had no patience for Ern at all. I had no patience with similar characters in the Famous Five and Malory Towers when I was growing up, mostly because the main characters were dismissive of these types of characters as well, and yes, I know it’s just the time they were living in, but still, now when I come across it in books, especially by my favourite, Enid Blyton, I wince. How could I have been so blase about attitudes like that? Sure these characters are not maybe the most fun, but they’re still people (in my head ok, but they are people!) I would never treat someone they way the Five Find-Outers treat Ern in this book. It’s appalling!

The thing is, he’s completely oblivious to it all. They lie to him, they get him into massive trouble with his uncle because Fatty wrote a rude ‘pome’ about Goon in Ern’s handwriting. It’s all really silly stuff, very childish, but its hard to read because it’s not fair on Ern, or nice to him.

As I commented in the last blog, Bet’s attitude towards Ern surprised me, because I didn’t think she would be so mean, but it does soften a little towards the end of the book, when she really realises that they’ve done wrong by him.

I’m not saying that I like Ern as a character very much, he’s clearly got a lot of lessons coming to him, but I think the way the Find-Outers treat him is rather harsh!

Did I like it?

Yes and no. I think that despite the confusing nature of the two mysteries, which then blur into one, it’s a clever plot, if not simplified and over saturated with Frederick Algeon Trotterville, but the interaction of the characters towards Ern is what really takes a lot of the liking I had for this book away. The children don’t really seem to learn anything from his kidnapping, or involvement in their fake mystery. I hope that improves and they are nicer to him next time.

What do you think of this book? Let me know in the comments!

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Monday #223

June is nearly over, if you can believe it! We’ve had some pretty good weather lately (too much heat for me, though!) so we’ll have to see what July then brings.

Here’s what we’ve got lined up this week:

Enjoy!

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The Zoo Book, part 2

Here I am continuing to look at The Zoo Book, Blyton’s non-fiction book about London Zoo and its animals.

The first chapters covered the zoo’s history, how animals were caught for the zoo and some secrets of the keepers. It did not all make for pleasant reading!

Let’s see what the next few chapters bring though…


CHAPTER FOUR: APES AND MONKEYS

Lots of different monkeys and apes are covered here – Chimpanzees, orang-utans, gibbons, baboons, mandrill baboon, drills, guenons, mangabeys, macaques, American monkeys, marmosets and lemurs.

Primarily it gives a bit of a description of each type of monkey/ape, where they live, what they look like and their behaviour. I imagine loads of readers would never have seen half of these creatures before!

Interesting bits include:

  • Orang-utangs being hyphenated, and often referred to as just orangs.
  • Anatomy of chimps who have ‘hind hands’ not feet, as they have no soles which is why they walk so oddly when upright.
  • I learned a new term – guenons a genus of old world monkeys of which Enid’s example is the green monkey commonly (then!) seen with an organ grinder.
  • I’m not sure lemurs are technically monkeys or apes. They are primates though (as are humans!).

A couple of anecdotes are thrown in too, some nicer than others!

One of a signalman in Africa who lost his legs and trained a baboon to pull the levers and push the carts for him – certainly less usual than a golden retriever!

Then there was Sally, the chimp, who could count to five accurately and sometime higher. Quite different from zoo animals now who are encouraged to be as wild and natural as possible.

Also mentioned is an orang-utang who used to knock down the sign saying “do not feed” as he worked out he got far less from the public when it was up! Amusing, but then added on is the reminder that orang-utangs rarely lived long in captivity.


CHAPTER FIVE: BIG BEARS AND LITTLE BEARS

As with the last chapter this one gives details of the main bears – polar, brown, grizzly, black, bears of India and China (individual types aren’t mentioned, but sun bears perhaps?) racoons (now more commonly spelled raccoons, and which aren’t actually bears they are procyonidae), and the sloth bear.

The polar bear starts off with a cheery little anecdote (after describing him of course)

One of the polar bears will sit back and wave his hand at you if you will wave your hand to him. he will wave both his hands if he thinks you are going to give him a bun!

And then a truly horrible one:

Grown-up polar bears sometimes live for quite a long time in captivity. Sam and Barbara were at the London Zoo for many years. They had about twenty cubs, but none of them lived longer than three weeks. Sam ate them, and Barbara ate them. Then Barbara carried another lot into the cold air and left them to catch cold in a puddle. Another time the cubs were given to a collie dog to mother,but even these died. Our climate is too warm for them, and they catch cold so very easily that it is almost impossible to keep them for very long.

I mean this is a book for children. I know wild animals often eat their young but in the wild it’s more natural if they were under threat etc. It seems barbaric in a zoo to let an animal have so many young when they must have known they wouldn’t survive.

The tragic Sam and Barbara

Not so horrible but rather blasé about a dangerous event Blyton says it was All most thrilling when Barbara escaped on a foggy morning. Certainly would have the adrenaline going in the staff but it could hardly have been fun!

The brown bear is famous for its circus performances as described:

Have you ever seen a dancing bear led by a rope? He usually carries a pole and dances clumsily on his hind feet. He is almost always a brown bear who has been captured and trained to help his master earn his living.

Of course left out is how painful the rope-leading is. How a hole is made in their face for the rope, how their teeth are pulled out or filed down to make them safer… I can only hope that Blyton was being truly naïve here and didn’t know those sorts of details.


CHAPTER SIX: CATS – GREAT AND SMALL

Blyton starts by likening pet cats at home to lions etc, comparing their eyes, paws, whiskers and so on which is clever, as most readers would be familiar with a domestic cat.

Described are lions, tigers, leopards, jaguars, ocelots, lynx, caracal and the wild cat.

Lions, being the king of the cat family come first and get probably the most text. The are found in Africa and Persia (that dates the book just a little bit) and without manes in India. Having done the tiniest bit of research myself (ie Google and Wikipedia) it becomes clear that the Persian and Indian lions are the same type – Asiatic lions who have much smaller manes but manes are still visible.

Also seemingly inaccurate is the description of how the lion kills. All the way through he is used, and while I know that Blyton would use he to mean a whole species, it makes it sound like the male kills animals solo and drags them back to eat. However we all know that lions tend to live in packs, and in those cases the females do the hunting together. Obviously there are some male lions outwith packs who will do their own hunting but Blyton fails to mention lion packs or female lions at all.

Then there’s this rather nasty story:

Sometimes jackals find the half-eaten body and joyfully set to work to finish it. If the lion finds them there when he himself wants to eat he is very angry, and it is said that, to punish the jackals, he will catch one and bite off all its paws.

Is that really necessary for a children’s book? Again, animals hunt and kill each other in nature, that’s totally appropriate to describe educationally. That bit just seems unnecessarily gory especially when it’s all about revenge. I wonder if this is a true story or just a folk-tale. I would love to know her source for it anyway, as I couldn’t find any search results online to back it up (though I didn’t spend a long time looking.)

The tiger is stronger and braver than the lion (who got a bit of a hard time actually, being described as a coward etc!)

Some bad attitudes are exposed here as the tiger does a tremendous amount of mischief. He will steal cattle cay after day, and should he have the chance of tasting the blood of a man, he will become a man-eater, and watch and wait for chances to pounce upon and carry off any man, woman or child he sees. Some tigers have eaten dozens of natives and terrified whole villages for months.

I find the last part very hard to believe though it’s not unheard of for tigers to kill people. But tigers are not mischievous or bad… they are simply doing the smart thing and going after the easiest prey.

Tiger hunting is tremendously thrilling… says Blyton, and she describes ways of catching and killing tigers. These include blinding a tiger by covering the path with leaves covered in glue. And then putting him out of his misery, as if that negates the cruelty of the earlier acts!

Blyton does correctly say that panther are actually just black leopards, something which doesn’t always seem to be commonly known today. But apparently these black leopards are very savage and almost impossible to tame. Surely all leopards, or indeed all wild cats, would be pretty hard to tame?

Another quite sad anecdote about zoo animals:

There are two  [leopards] at the Zoo now at the time of writing. One, the smaller of the two, ill-treats its companion terribly, as can be seen by the bare patches on various parts of the body and tail.

Really sad that they couldn’t think of separating the two or enriching their lives to reduce the bullying.

Also covered are:

  • the ounce (a name I hadn’t heard of for the snow leopard)
  • the jaguar
  • the puma (aka mountain lion)
  • the ocelot – the handsomest of the small cats, bloodthirsty and daring but known to be tamed at least once in captivity
  • the lynx, which is very much hunted for it’s soft thick fur and because it is a destructive creature who loves to kill sheep. Blyton predicts it is very likely to completely disappear from Europe. Happily she was wrong and the lynx is classed as least concern on the IUCN Red List currently – though their distribution has changed and areas that used to be well populated are no longer full of lynx.
  • the caracal – very savage, and sure to put back its ears and hit and spit and snarl at you if you see it in a zoo.
  • and lastly the wild cat of Scotland.

Not quite as depressing as the first chapters, really.

I would love to know some of the sources for the information given, though. It’s hard to tell if the information was considered common knowledge then, and has been corrected since, or whether she had bad sources.

One thing I continue to be surprised at is her pedalling of bad attitudes to wild animals. She frequently describes them as mischievous, destructive and implies they are basically trouble and deserve to be hunted (potentially to extinction) to protect human endeavour on farms etc. That doesn’t sound like the Enid Blyton I know and love.

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Review: The Mystery of the Hidden House – part 1

hiddenhouseHow much of a bad blogger am I? Having only decided on Sunday evening that I was going to review The Mystery of the Hidden House and committed to that on the Monday blog, things then got mad on Monday and I didn’t manage to do all the reading I planned and suddenly I had to write this blog. It’s going to have to be a two parter, I’m afraid.

I have managed to speed read through half of the book so we’re going to have a look at that, and maybe we’ll get a little more depth to the Five Find-Outers than my previous reviews. So shall we take a look?

A Mystery? No thanks!

We start with the winter holidays, and Fatty has been away and the others go to meet him at the station. Unfortunately and unbeknown to them Fatty has been delayed, so when the train they think he’s on arrives they suspect he may have disguised himself to trick them. They pick on a chap who they suspect Fatty could pull off as a disguise, and follow him out of the station and began to call him Fatty because they wanted him to break character. They are utterly confused when the boy doesn’t break ‘character’, accuses them of being rude for constantly calling him Fatty and then goes into Mr Goon’s house. This really confuses the Find-Outers until they meet Fatty’s mother and Buster the dog to discover that Fatty was due on the next train.

Mr Goon receives a report from the boy who entered his house, who turns out to be Ern, Goon’s nephew. As we progress into the first part of the book Ern becomes very enamoured with Fatty, even though the Find-Outers do not rate Ern very highly, especially as he tells his uncle about their ‘rudeness’ causing Goon to visit their mothers and ask them not to allow the children to lead Ern astray with their mysteries.

The parents of Larry and Daisy, and Pip and Bets, ban them from taking part in any mystery that pops up during the holidays and the children reluctantly agree, so they’re a little stuck when an adventure comes knocking. Let’s now take a little look at that.

Ern, pomes and mysteries

Ern Goon is what we would call a simple person. He’s not good at reading social cues and very good at being taken for a ride. The Find-Outers decide to make up a pretend mystery for Ern to help them with, because he told his uncle about their mistake.

Fatty however isn’t banned by his parents so he can take Ern for a ride with the help of the others, but while they’re on Christmas Hill setting up a mystery for him, he’s gone the wrong way and stumbles across a potential real mystery for the Find Outers to take on.

Another thing about Ern is that he likes to write sad poems because they make him feel ‘deliciously’ sad. His poems aren’t as amazing as he likes to think they are, but they seem to be a big part of his life. I don’t know whether it gets covered in the rest of the book but I would like to find out a bit more about Ern’s backstory as I’m sure it would be interesting.

I think that Ern is one of the only characters I can think of that is portrayed as being a little different from the rest of the children. Usually in Enid Blyton’s books you get evidence of class divides but not necessarily a character who might be a few slices short of a loaf. However I don’t think much of the Find-Outer’s  attitude towards him, even Bets isn’t particularly nice to him, but we shall see if that changes in time.

So far, so good?

Despite my failure to finish this book in time for this blog, it’s not looking like it’s going to be too bad of a book. Its maybe a bit slow to start because of the children being banned from solving mysteries but then you know they will find one anyway, the question is just how! It’s slightly different because a character outside of our main cast actually stumbles across the adventure, which means that they then have to be included in some way. I look forward to finding out what’s going to happen!

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