The Very Merry Murder Club

The Very Merry Murder Club
edited by Serena Patel & Robin Stevens, illustrated by Harry Woodgate
Farshore

This bumper collection of wintry mysteries wasn’t quite the novel I originally anticipated.. Rather it brings together stories by thirteen authors: Elle McNicoll, Roopa Farooki, Annabelle Sami, Abiola Bello, Patrice Lawrence, Maisie Chan, Dominique Valente, Nizrana Farook, Benjamin Dean, Joanna Williams, Serena Patel, E.L. Norry, and Sharna Jackson.

Only some of the tales are of murders: the first, set in Inverness, tells of a ballerina’s death, which, main character Briar, an underestimated autistic girl, is determined to show was the result of foul play.
Another murder (also taking place in a hotel) is Nizrana Farook’s ‘Scrabble’ mystery narrated by young Saba, a member of the Hassan family who are on their way to spend the Christmas holiday with Grandma. However an impassible road results in an overnight stop in an isolated hotel an hour away from their destination, and that’s where another guest is discovered stone dead after a game of Scrabble.

Other Christmas tales involve theft, sabotage and a Christmas Eve visit to a very weird funhouse that really sends shivers down your spine.

However if you want to be really chilled, then turn to Dominique Valente’s The Frostwilds which is a fantasy set in an icy-cold world wherein children’s lives are under constant threat from the mysterious Gelidbeast.

It’s impossible in a short review to mention every story but suffice it to say that with a wealth of interesting and determined, often brave protagonists, settings modern and historic, as well as invented, there’s sure to be something for everyone to puzzle over and enjoy, especially snuggled up warm with a hot chocolate and a mince pie close at hand.

Harry Woodgate’s black and white illustrations (one per story) are splendid – full of detail and there’s also a clever ‘book cover’ that serves an a visual introduction to each one:

Be sure to look under the book’s dust jacket where a colourful surprise awaits.

Llama on a Mission / Waiting for Murder

Llama on a Mission
Annabelle Sami, illustrated by Allen Fatimaharan
Farshore

This is the second story featuring ten-year old Yasmin and her magical toy llama guardian Levi, and it’s every bit as daftly funny as the first.

Having found her voice with Levi’s help and a new friend, Ezra, she’s ready for year 6.

With her sights set on joining the art club, Yasmin is more than a tad perturbed when her teacher Miss Zainab informs her that she’s been selected to join the science team The Funsen Burners and participate in an inter-school competition. Just when what she really wants is to spend time getting Levi restored to his normal toy state. That, and get on with the new comic, LOUDMOUTH, she’s trying to create for another competition.

The very last thing she wants is for Levi to be sent all the way back to Peru but the way he starts behaving while engaged on his mission under the watchful eye of Mama Llama could result in just that. Then what? Yasmin just can’t let it happen. With Ezra’s assistance, perhaps there’s something that can be done; meanwhile she needs to learn the difference between talking and communicating.

Is it a case of mission accomplished? The only way too find out is to get hold of a copy of this tale of high drama and a whole lot of trouble. Allen Fatimaharan has done a terrific job with the illustrations, adding to the fun of the book.

For older readers is:

Waiting for Murder
Fleur Hitchcock
Nosy Crow

Daniel and his archaeologist mum are spending the summer in the country and a sweltering one it is. While his mum is engaged on her dig, (searching for the grave of Edith the Fair, King Harold’s wife) Dan too is observing and he also makes a discovery – a car with what looks like a body in the reservoir.

Next morning however, the body is no longer there, but Dan notices new scratches on the car. Seemingly, something strange is going on, something that needs investigating. Moreover somebody in the village is absolutely determined to stop Dan and his new friend, Florence from discovering the truth.

The climax of this terrific story more or less coincides with the weather finally breaking and pretty soon torrents of muddy water threaten to sweep everyone and everything away.

With an abundance of thrills and some surprises, this is a totally gripping, nail-biting, page-turner with a surprise finale. Crime drama for youngsters doesn’t come much better than this.

Willow Moss and the Vanished Kingdom / Agent Zaiba Investigates: The Haunted House

These are new additions to popular series both with strong, determined female protagonists

Willow Moss and the Vanished Kingdom
Dominique Valente, illustrated by Sarah Warburton
Harper Collins Children’s Books

This is the third instalment in the Starfell series, starring young witch Willow Moss and her kobold best friend, ‘not cat’ Oswin.

Now Willow has been enrolled in school – a normal school – and it’s the very first time the Brothers of Wol, the order newly headed by none other than Silas, have allowed Starfell’s magical children to be educated alongside their non-magical peers, and her parents think it’s now the right thing. Surely there’s an ulterior motive? Willow has her suspicions from the outset.

On the very first day of term Willow meets Twist, a forthright elf girl and they soon become firm friends. Also willing to accept Willow for who she is, there’s Peg, a human boy. When she learns of the new curriculum that students will study Willow finds it pretty alarming, but Peg speaks out firmly in support of ‘magic people’ and of diversity.

Before you can say ’broomstick’; though, the three of them have escaped the confines of the classroom and are heading to Lael, the elf city made entirely of marble wherein Twist’s aunts Tuppence, Griselda and Dot reside.

All they have to do thereafter is to find the vanished elvish kingdom of Llandunia and get hold of the elf staff before it gets into the wrong hands. Not much to ask then.

Dragons, trolls (including an old friend of Willow’s) and more – even Oswin’s cousin – appear in this terrific fantasy tale, but be warned: it ends on a cliff-hanger.

Somehow, despite Sarah Warburton’s illustrations, the cover apart, being in black and white, many readers will I suspect experience parts of this enormously engaging story in colour, such is the power of Dominique Valente’s writing. Bring on the next book.

Agent Zaiba Investigates: The Haunted House
Annabelle Sami, illustrated by Daniela Sosa
Little Tiger

Zaiba has a third case to solve and it’s set in the home of her new friend Olivia. Olivia’s parents have recently bought the run-down Oakwood Manor and Olivia tells Zaiba that her mum thinks the house is haunted. With its plethora of secret passages and hidden rooms it is certainly steeped in history and some strange things have happened but ghosts? Surely not.

Olivia invites Zaiba and Poppy her pal, to come to the house-warming party the following day and then sleepover, as that offers the ideal opportunity to begin their ‘ghost’ investigation. Zaiba has an unexpected offer of assistance from her brother Ali and with her backpack of detective paraphernalia, and fellow Snow Leopard Detective Agency UK members they’re ready to investigate.

Once the party is underway, things get increasingly weird

and sometimes, a tad dangerous. There are plenty of suspects, and in true detective story style, some red-herrings; but this isn’t merely a junior who-dunnit with all suspects present at the final reveal. Zaiba’s family dynamics and the diverse cast of characters add to the reader’s enjoyment of this fast-paced mystery. So too do Daniela Sosa’s black and white illustrations sprinkled throughout and it was good to see the police treating the crime-solving children with respect rather than dismissing them as interfering.

Young would-be sleuths can also enjoy the additional content after the story.