Olive Jones and the Memory Thief

Olive Jones and the Memory Thief
Kate Gilby-Smith
Orion

Nobody could have been more surprised than twelve year old Olive Jones to discover on the day of her grandmother’s funeral, that she has inherited something from the old lady whom she hardly knew, despite living opposite her. Olive is convinced that with her keen interest in world events, her secretive fitness fanatic, Grandma Sylvie, has been hiding something from her family. ‘What you see is what you get’ her mother tells the girl, adding that such notions are a result of her daughter’s overactive imagination.

Then Olive learns that she has inherited her grandmother’s memories stored on a new technological device called a Memoriser. Imagine this though: having received the device and complied with the instructions on how to use it – lie down somewhere comfortable, place it on your head, close your eyes and clear your mind – before she knows it, the Memoriser stops and she realises that it’s been stolen. Surreal or what!

Now a mystery has opened up and who is there to solve it but Olive and her younger brother Frankie. Frankie is a chess champion, super smart and very trusting, in contrast to day-dreamer, quick to react Olive, who frequently finds herself in trouble. However it’s these complementary differences that are to prove very useful as they set about solving the case of Operation Shadow. The legendary Sylvie Jones has left the children four dossiers of potential moles within the British Intelligence Service and they have to complete her life’s work and clear her name.

Full of surprises, in the manner of a spy movie this page-turner unfolds at a terrific pace right from the start: we follow Olive and Frankie as they try to work our who can be trusted, get involved in chases and unearth secrets aplenty; and in so doing find out about the incredible life their grandmother led. Then comes the final surprise twist that brings them full circle. I suspect that like me, many readers will be unable to put this down until they’ve read the very last page.

Looking For Emily

Looking For Emily
Fiona Longmuir
Nosy Crow

Having just moved with her Mum, twelve year old Lily’s first impressions of her new seaside hometown, Edge, are not favourable; she misses the bustle of her old city life; moreover her teacher challenges her with weekend homework – she must say hello to someone new.

Walking home along a street she’s not previously explored, feeling disorientated and completely without friends, she chances upon an old museum with the unlikely name The Museum of Emily. Inside she finds carefully displayed such things as recipes for apple pie, books, buttons and pencils. How bizarre. Lily thinks there might be a story here but being new isn’t easy, so who can help her?

Then on Monday morning she is approached by another girl who introduces herself as Sam, thus saving Lily the need to worry about that homework challenge, and they begin to form a friendship. Sam later introduces Lily to Jay and she confides in them about finding the strange museum. They decide to find out more about Emily and so begins an exciting adventure that really draws readers in.

In true detective style the three spend many hours in the library searching through documents looking for leads about who the mysterious Emily was, discovering that she disappeared some twenty years back. Over the weeks they begin to piece together the puzzle, following several leads, the main one being Lily’s encounters with a sinister man who is lurking around the town. The town of Edge has a shadowy history with caves, pirates, a lighthouse and tales of enormous diamonds, so the story moves backwards and forwards in time and is also told from two alternating viewpoints, Lily’s and Emily’s.
There are unnerving events – the room in which they’re doing their investigation is trashed, life-threatening situations, the strong ties of friendship between Lily, Sam and Jay are tested to their limits but amazingly they hold together, thanks in no small part to their determination, trust, courage and bravery.

In her superb debut novel Fiona Longmuir includes pretty much everything a reader could want: a gripping mystery, superb characterisation including “exactly the right curious, incorrigible little girl”, a well paced storyline with some surprising twists and revelations, as well as a lingering aroma of salty chips.

Murder on the Safari Star

Murder on the Safari Star
M.G. Leonard & Sam Sedgman, illustrated by Elisa Pagnelli
Macmillan Children’s Books

Tickets ready? Then climb aboard the Safari Star.

Harrison Beck is somewhat underwhelmed when he receives his Christmas present from his Uncle Nat until he discovers that the small tin contains more than just the sticks of charcoal. Inside too is a train ticket: at half term he and his uncle are going to South Africa for the trip of a lifetime all the way from Pretoria to Victoria Falls on the border of Zambia in a luxury train.

So begins another fast-paced, twisting turning, hold on to your seats adventure.

Aboard the train are a host of interesting characters from various parts of the world and even before they’ve departed Hal has made friends with Winston the son of the train’s safari guide; with him is Chipo, Winston’s yellow mongoose. There’s one passenger that almost everyone takes an instant dislike to, that’s Mervyn Crosby, an extremely rude character who boasts about having heads of four of the Big Five animals on his wall and lacking only the rhino. He also says he’s brought his rifle along – which is strictly prohibited.

No sooner is the journey under way than the two boys are off exploring the entire train and finding out what they can about their fellow passengers.

But then one of them meets with a terrible accident – or is it? At any rate there’s a fatality aboard and almost everybody is under suspicion.

Before you can say ‘rhino horns’ Hal, his uncle and Winston are investigating a mystery and it’s one that has to be solved before the train reaches the Zambian border.. It’s as well Hal has brought along his essential equipment – his sketch pad and drawing tools. He’ll certainly need to make full use of his wits, his observation skills and his powers of deduction in this life and death conundrum that involves poisonous snakes, 

hidden compartments, smuggling and more. And, there is time to see some incredible wildlife such as a rhino, zebras, elephants and impalas too. I loved the conservation element of the story.

Once again Elisa Paganelli’s illustrations are superb.

Stick Boy

Stick Boy
Paul Coomey
Little Tiger

Being different is never easy, ditto starting at a new school; but when Stick Boy moved to a new town, he’d hoped that with yet another fresh start, he’d left old problems behind. Seemingly not, for on the opening pages of Paul Coomey’s story we discover the titular character being pursued on only his second day, by the second biggest bully in the entire school, Sam Devine.

Things are not looking good especially when he then meets Gretchen, another bully. The two of them taunt Stick Boy, get hold of the contents of his pockets and proceed to hurl them over a high wall, recording their nastiness to upload onto ‘Vidwire’.

Along comes Ekam and the two boys introduce themselves to one another. and Stick then demonstrates his locker-opening skill before the bell rings summoning everyone to assembly. There the headteacher announces that the opening of the new Baron Ben’s Bargain Bins Magnificent Mega Mall on Saturday will be celebrated with a concert.

Stick’s first lesson is science with Mr Jansari

where Stick meets another friendly face, Milo and discovers that everyone is excited about the prospect of a pupil from the school being chosen to sing at the Friday Factor. Things are looking up for Stick, but not for long as in double ICT, Miss Bird has it in for the newcomer from the outset.
Stick survives the day and then back home learns that his dad has bought a brand new TV from Baron Ben’s Bargain Bins that comes with a free HomeBot – uh-oh!.
Right away the thing starts behaving weirdly.

The following day Stick is late for school and overhears Miss Bird speaking on her mobile and acting scared. Later the two bully girls forced him into unlocking Mr Jansari’s classroom door

and the act is recorded on Gretchen’s mobile.
From then on things just keep on getting worse and Miss Bird definitely appears to be up to something. Could there be s a connection between those Homebots with their increasingly strange behaviour

and the Mega Mall opening?

This fast-paced mystery story about coping with bullies while being two dimensional in a three dimensional, world fizzes with excitement, and the kind of humour – both visual and verbal – that should go down well with older primary readers.

The Case of the Red-Bottomed Robber!

The Case of the Red-Bottomed Robber!
Richard Byrne
Oxford University Press

The chalks are an artistic lot creating colourful drawings at every opportunity so imagine their feelings when something or someone starts ‘stealing’ their pictures, and not just once either.

Thus begins this daft tale wherein Sergeant Blue and of course, readers are hot on the trail of the miscreant although I expect young listeners will already have their own suspicions as to his identity.

It’s not long before the Sergeant has lined up an identity parade of possible candidates and there’s one particularly suspicious-looking character that fits the evidence and his behind is covered in tell-tale red dust.

Caught red-bottomed! But before the prison doors are closed on the culprit, he makes a dash for freedom.

Will the chalks ever catch up with that slippery customer and if so, what will happen?

This light-hearted romp embodies an important message about not being too hasty in making judgements.
Children will enjoy the chalk-board style illustrations: in the face of the near ubiquity of white boards and markers in schools, could this be the start of a chalk-board revival – you never know!

The Elephant in the Room

The Elephant in the Room
James Thorp and Angus Mackinnon
Templar Publishing

‘It started with an “OOPS!” … and a “LOOK OUT!” and a CRASH!’

So begins this wonderfully eccentric mystery concerning the identity of the guilty party responsible for breaking Father Giant’s treasured china elephant.

The suspects are numerous: it could have been Olive or her brother, Grub – after all they are hiding in a cupboard when the elephant’s owner strides into the room issuing threats of the dire punishment he will dish out to the culprit.
Seemingly though they’re in the clear; but what about the naughty newt, the laughing lady with the golden boot,

the clipping clopping yucky yack? No? Surely it can’t have been Sophie Sofa, the sun or the storm; so who? It must have been someone; after all, the thing is lying in pieces on the floor, but will the case be solved?

The whole thing romps along in absolutely faultless rhyme – for me a cross between Spike Milligan and Edward Lear – to its splendidly satisfying, twisting finale that will cause listeners to wriggle in delight.

Those wacky illustrations of Mackinnon’s – wow! There’s a touch of Seuss about some of them …

and that innovative colour palette with its neon orange highlighting gives the whole thing a slightly hypnagogic feel.

I can’t wait to see what these two come up with next.