Category Archives: Mystery and crimesolving

New series for younger readers…The cryptic casebook of Coco Carlomagno and Alberta


The perplexing pineapple. Written by Ursula Dubosarsky, with puzzles and illustrations by Terry Denton. (The cryptical casebook of Coco Carlomagno and Alberta; book 1). Published by Allen and Unwin, May 2013. Paperback, 84 pages. ISBN:9781743312575 NZ$15.99


The Looming Lamplight – June 2013

The Missing Mongoose – July 2013


Buenos Aires’ Chief of Police, Coco Carlomagno, is sure his office high in the Obelisco is haunted. Every day at the same time he sees a floating pineapple and every day he hears a terrible noise. What could it mean? Who could it be? There’s only one guinea pig Coco can turn to to help him in his hour of need: his logic-loving cousin Alberta. Can Alberta help him unravel the mysteries of the perplexing pineapple?

Ursula Dubosarsky has created a fun mystery series for younger readers (6-8 year olds) featuring what she says are three of her favourite things…”They often tell you in writing classes – write about something you love. Well, three things I love are guinea pigs, detective stories and the city of Buenos Aires, Argentina. And I’m happy to say in this series of books, the three loves have come together.”

The books are short, divided into 6 chapters and interwoven with hand drawn illustrations. Throughout the text there are small word puzzles (rebus puzzles) for the reader to solve. Some of the younger readers may need help with these, especially with spelling. If children seem interested after completing these, a simple google search for Rebus Puzzles would find more that could be printed off and completed. Lots of fun to be had, especially if children are encouraged to make up their own puzzles and clues to share with their friends and siblings.


The story also features sporadic words in Spanish, enough to lend an exotic feel to the story in context and not too difficult to work out the meaning. The definitions and a brief description of the meaning is included on each page where the Spanish word appears. I like this simple introduction to footnotes for this age group.

Overall, I thought this a sweet series, nothing too onerous or challenging for the target audience and pitched at the right level – there is nothing scary about the mystery. I will be adding these to the collection of early chapter books I have in my library. These will also be useful for the struggling readers at age 8-9 who enjoy humorous animal stories and are looking for new stories to help them with reading mileage.

Thank you to Allen & Unwin for supplying me with an advance copy for review. I was delighted to find that this book is included in this months Scholastic Junior Chapter Book standing order.

New series : The Battles of Ben Kingdom by Andrew Beasley


The claws of evil by Andrew Beasley. (The battles of Ben Kingdom; book 1). Published by Usborne, 2013. Paperback, 329 pages. ISBN: 9781409544005. Available in bookstores NZ rrp$20.95 now (also in Wheelers and Overdrive ebook platforms!)

From the publisher:

Welcome to Victorian London; the home of the Artful Dodger, Sherlock Holmes…and Ben Kingdom, cocky street urchin – and the saviour of mankind. Unknown to mere mortals, an ancient battle is being waged across the city. Below the streets lurk the Legion, an evil gang of miscreants and criminals in league with the monstrous Feathered Men – determined to unleash Hell on the streets of London. Above the city’s rooftops soar the Watchers, a ragtag band of orphans, mystics and spies, dedicated to protecting the vulnerable and guarding London against evil. Only Ben can put an end to this war – the only problem is, he doesn’t know which side to choose.

What did I think of this book?

I have loved Usborne publications for years – but I have been more familiar with their excellent non-fiction titles (these are wonderful resources for my students carrying out inquiry as the books are beautifully laid out and well supported by web and other up to date resources). This is the first of two new fiction titles I have read recently and I will be looking out for more from this publisher (watch out for a review of another excellent girls realistic fiction title which will be up on this blog soon…)

Back to the Claws of evil…Victorian setting. Check. Rip roaring adventure. Check. Excellent writing. Check. Appeal to voracious readers. Check. Good versus evil. Check. These are just some of the elements that make me want to tell my students about this book.This book was talked about a lot prior to publication and this one lives up to all the enthusiastic pre publicity excitement.

From Everybody at Usborne is incredibly excited to be publishing The Claws of Evil, the first book in a stunning new series The Battles of Ben Kingdom. I started reading this book on a plane journey from Italy but was quickly transported to the rooftops of Victorian London, where an age-long battle takes place between the mysterious Watchers and the brutal Legion. Only our hero, Ben Kingdom, can put an end to this war, and the dilemma at the heart of this brilliant novel is that he doesn’t know which side to choose.Imaginative, captivating and fast-paced, Andrew has created colourful characters with real heart. Blending steampunk invention with nail-biting adventure, we believe this is the sort of fiction that will get readers talking. We hope you love it as much as we do!

It is wonderful when the author has an interesting story of their own. I was fascinated to read about the things that influenced Andrew on his author page on the website of UK bookseller Foyles.

Blame Sherlock Holmes.

I have always had a fascination with the Victorian era, and London in particular. There is something so fascinating, so gloriously tantalising, about those murky cobblestones and the swirling fog. I was very young when I first read Conan Doyle and I remember my feelings when I found myself in that age of great invention and glorious adventure, and yet tinged with darkness too, in those dangerous alleyways and crime-ridden tenements. It proved an irresistible combination to my young mind, and the obvious choice of setting for my series – The Battles of Ben Kingdom.

Andrew goes on to talk about other things that have influenced him including his own experience of homelessness “Unfortunately, in many respects, the London of Ben Kingdom is a mirror of London today. Homelessness is on the rise. Estimates vary, but it is suggested that as many as 100,000 children become detached from their families each year in the UK and have to fend for themselves. 30,000 of those will be twelve years old or younger. One in six of them will sleep rough. Suddenly, the historical past collides with the present. I could rewrite The Claws of Evil with a contemporary setting and it would still ring true.” Click on the link at the end of this post to read this fascinating account in full.

The book is very much about choices; the choice between good and evil is not so easy when the main protagonist doesn’t have all the facts. It is interesting to be the reader watching from the sidelines, willing the character to take action based on the information that you the reader has from having read both the point of view of the good (the Watchers) and the Bad (the Legion) – never has that felt so apparent for me when reading a book as with this one. Even stranger, is that right from the start of the story Ben is convinced that the Winged Man is evil incarnate while the Evil Professor can help him. If this were a pantomime or stage show children would be yelling to the actors from the audience!

There are so many elements of great fantasy here; firstly the prophecy held by both sides who are waiting for the child that is destined to change the world by leading their side; the mystical coin that the legion needs to complete their plans (it also seems to possess everyone that comes into contact with it, including Ben); a subterranean community of “outsiders” living below London’s streets; people and creatures with amazing physical powers running along the rooftops; magical hideous monstrous creatures with murderous blood letting intent. Plenty for kids to get their teeth into and one that will appeal to many girls as well as boys because of the well developed secondary characters of both sexes.

The second book in the series is due out in September.



Midnight pirates by Ally Kennen


Midnight pirates by Ally Kennen. Published by Scholastic, 2013. Paperback, 228 pages.

ISBN: 9781407129884

Publisher’s synopsis:

Aaaaaaargh me hearties! Running a hotel should be easy, right? Not if your guests are pirates! As three children find out when their parents go away to America, running a hotel is much harder than it seems. They pretend there are adults in charge, but the chaos just keeps on mounting. And things become even stranger when a very odd guest checks in. A ship is wrecked close to the beach, and crates of washed-up cargo are there for the taking. Was it an accident? Or does the sinister guest have something to do with it?

From the back cover:

Welcome to the wild hotel…The manager is ten years old, the guests are loopy and a ghost roams the roof. With no parents around, three kids and a dog are running the show. But their chaotic adventure turns sinister with the arrival of some dangerous visitors…

What did I think about the Midnight pirates?

Reading this reminded me so much of many hours as a child spent reading Enid Blyton mysteries. Plus there was the rather unwelcome memory of the BBC series ‘Poldark’ set in the same part of Britain. Unwelcome only because when I looked it up I realised it was a 1975 production making me feel very old! The description of the Southern coast of Cornwall, where  Midnight Piratres is set is wonderful. I haven’t visited that area of England but I feel I would like to now. This really is the sort of book that you almost want to read with rain beating against the windows, in front of a roaring fire by candle light. I had such a strong vision of how the hotel looked in my mind, that a movie or TV adaptation of this would probably never live up to it. Anyway, I digress….

An Enid Blyton read alike this is not, despite the memories. This is an adventure story with authenticity – certainly not ‘lashings of ginger beer’. This is the first book I have read by Ally Kennen and I was impressed with how vividly she portrayed both the characters and the setting. The characters, especially 13 year old Miranda, are very real and believable. Her brothers (Cal 16 and Jackie 10) are both irritating and annoying in turn. The children have led a charmed and idyllic life while their  parents struggled to run the dilapidated and failing hotel. When the parents announce their decision to sell up and travel, the children are told they will be moving away forever and going to boarding school. All of them have strong ties and reasons for wanting to stay – Cal surfs and has a local girlfriend, Miranda loves the local wildlife, especially the seals, and Jackie is very attached to the family dog Fester. Jackie decides to run away back home to the hotel and circumstances mean that Cal and Miranda have to go with him. They struggle with the poorly provisioned conditions until Jackie has the bright idea of pretending the hotel is open and taking guests. When things turn sinister, the reader gets a very real sense of how the children in this story are out of their depth and genuinely frightened. The portrayal of modern day pirates that board ships to steal both the boat and cargo, is all too believable.

This is a great story and I am so pleased to have it to offer to my students. Last year many of my now Year 6 students read the first in the Laura Marlin mysteries ‘Dead Man’s Cove‘ by Lauren St John as a class read. It’s lovely to have something in the same genre that is so easy to recommend to them.

Ally Kennen reading an excerpt from Midnight pirates:

Source: Renlearn UK  via Vimeo.

Three times lucky by Sheila Turnage

Three times lucky by Sheila Turnage.
Hardcover, 312 pages
Published 2012 by Dial
(ISBN13: 9780803736702)

Newbery honor winner and New York Times bestseller.

From the publisher:

A hilarious Southern debut with the kind of characters you meet once in a lifetime

Rising sixth grader Miss Moses LoBeau lives in the small town of Tupelo Landing, NC, where everyone’s business is fair game and no secret is sacred. She washed ashore in a hurricane eleven years ago, and she’s been making waves ever since. Although Mo hopes someday to find her “upstream mother,” she’s found a home with the Colonel–a café owner with a forgotten past of his own–and Miss Lana, the fabulous café hostess. She will protect those she loves with every bit of her strong will and tough attitude. So when a lawman comes to town asking about a murder, Mo and her best friend, Dale Earnhardt Johnson III, set out to uncover the truth in hopes of saving the only family Mo has ever known.

Full of wisdom, humor, and grit, this timeless yarn will melt the heart of even the sternest Yankee.

What did I think about this book?

Loved it! Highly recommended – This will be good for my mature readers who can decipher the southern voice and writing. Suggested age range 10-12. This should be a wonderful read aloud that would lead to a lot of interesting and lively discussion about the characters, the setting and some of the issues – murder, bank robbery, domestic abuse, and small town snobbery. It is interesting to think that despite the differences in geography ‘small town USA’ is probably very much like ‘small town anywhere’ – including New Zealand provincial towns – and most readers will relate to many of the eccentric and downright nasty characters we meet in the book.

My favourite quote:

“I’m Baptist. So far, Fast or Never is the only speeds I got with forgiving.”

Listen to an audio extract from the first chapter HERE :


Review by Betsy Bird: “the one thing I can say with certainty about Three Times Lucky is that you will never, but ever, mistake it for another book. We’ve got murder. We’ve got careening racecars. We’ve got drunken louts and amnesia and wigs and karate and all sorts of good stuff rolled up in one neat little package. I’ve read a lot of mysteries for kids this year and truth be told? This one’s my favorite, hands down.”

Kirkus reviews: “What do you get when you combine Because of Winn-Dixie’s heart with the mystery and action of Holes? You get an engaging, spirit-lifting and unforgettable debut for young readers.”

Allyson Beecher: “It might be easy to dismiss this story as just another one of those books that portray all Southerners as backwards, ignorant, and foolish…Educators should take heed in that if the only books we shared with students were stories about poor, ignorant Southerners living in small towns, then we too would be “in danger of a single story”.  However, there are Southerners (just like there are northerners) that live in small towns filled with eccentric, quirky characters.  Our responsibility as educators and reading leaders is to provide students with a rich variety that represents all types of people living in a specific region or during a designated time period.”

Dear Scarlett by Fleur Hitchcock


Dear Scarlett by Fleur Hitchcock, Published by Nosy Crow, 2013.

Paperback, 272 pages. (ISBN13: 9780857631503) This will be available in New Zealand for purchase from April.

From the publisher:

A funny, moving and absorbing story about a young girl’s attempts to learn more about her dead father through the objects she finds in a cardboard box he’s left her.

Scarlett and her friend, Ellie, go on a sometimes hilarious, sometimes scary, journey of discovery, following the clues and always remembering to ‘keep looking up’. Was Scarlett’s dad a thief? Was he a spy? And what does it mean to be his daughter?

Fleur Hitchcock is a great new voice in children’s literature, and Dear Scarlett is a great book.

What do I think of this book?

I loved this book – it’s a heartfelt story, and will have you on the verge of tears one minute and laughing out loud the next. This book couldn’t have arrived at a better time for me. I seem to have a large number of student readers desperate for books that they perceive as being in the vein of Jacqueline Wilson. This fits the bill nicely – it’s a fabulous realistic story about coming of age and finding who you are, friendship and modern family life.

There are a lot of books and movies that follow the journey of a wife or child as they discover their husband or father does not live up to the sterling reputation he enjoyed before his demise. This story follows the opposite path. Scarlett’s Dad has been dead for many years and she never really knew him, she just has a few precious but fleeting memories of him. Worse still, everyone “knows” her father was a rather notorious thief. Mum is in a relationship with a new man who just happens to be one of the policemen that had professional dealings with her Dad. The “Step-Dad” comes with children of his own and Scarlett has to get used to sharing not only her room, but her Mum too, with a potential step-sister -“Ellie”. On the day of her eleventh birthday a man turns up on her doorstep and gives her a box of her father’s belongings.  The box and it’s contents are a mystery to her, she has no idea why the box has suddenly turned up now and whether or not her Dad was trying to tell her something. Why has he left her his housebreaking tools, strange bits of paper and other items that make no sense? Scarlett has to solve the mystery, figure out the message from her Dad and stop other people getting hold of the box.  While she does this she comes to realize her Dad was not the man she and the local community thought they knew – he was better. A long the way Scarlett not only learns about who she is, but works out how to get along with Ellie, trust her Mum’s boyfriend and also how she fits into a new blended family situation.

This will be a fantastic read for 9-10+ girls but there’s nothing to stop a few boys enjoying this story too! The story is beautifully paced, funny, sad, a little bit scary and not at all girly. Perfect realistic fiction to ladder girls from a steady diet of JW to other fiction!
Thank you Nosy Crow for publishing yet another hit!
Fleur’s earlier novel for a younger audience, ‘Shrunk’ published by Hot Key Books, is proving a real hit amongst my students, with one boy (normally a very reluctant reader) asking me longingly if there would be a series of it.

Video of Fleur Hitchcock reading from the book:

Read an excerpt of the first chapter HERE: (Courtesy of Nosy Crow Publishers)


Looking forward to: “House of Secrets” by Chris Columbus and Ned Vizzini


The House of Secrets by Chris Columbus and Ned Vizzini.
(House of Secrets – book one of an intended trilogy)
Hardcover, 496 pages
Expected publication: April 23rd 2013 by Balzer + Bray
ISBN: (ISBN13: 9780062192462)

From the publisher: From legendary Hollywood director Chris Columbus (Harry Potter and the Philiosopher’s Stone and Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets) and bestselling author Ned Vizzini (It’s Kind of a Funny Story) comes this first book in an epic new fantasy series.

Brendan, Eleanor, and Cordelia Walker once had everything: two loving parents, a beautiful house in San Francisco, and all the portable electronic devices they could want. But everything changed when Dr. Walker lost his job in the wake of a mysterious incident. Now in dire straits, the family must relocate to an old Victorian house that used to be the home of occult novelist Denver Kristoff—a house that feels simultaneously creepy and too good to be true.

By the time the Walkers realize that one of their neighbors has sinister plans for them, they’re banished to a primeval forest way off the grid. Their parents? Gone. Their friends? A world away. And they aren’t alone. Bloodthirsty medieval warriors patrol the woods around them, supernatural pirates roam the neighboring seas, and a power-hungry queen rules the land. To survive, the siblings will have to be braver than they ever thought possible—and fight against their darkest impulses. The key may lie in their own connection to the secret Kristoff legacy. But as they unravel that legacy, they’ll discover it’s not just their family that’s in danger . . . it’s the entire world.

I’m looking forward to reading this forthcoming book because…I am interested to see if this lives up to the hype of all the pre publication announcements and excitement. I am always looking for great fantasy series to feed the constant demand of readers, and hope this is another one that students will love.


See the author interview and book trailer here:

Another quirky book… “The Templeton Twins have an idea” by Ellis Weiner


The Templeton Twins have an idea by Ellis Weiner. Published by Chronicle Books, 2012. Hardcover, 232 pages.

From the publisher:

Suppose there were 12-year-old twins, a boy and girl named John and Abigail Templeton. Let’s say John was pragmatic and played the drums, and Abigail was theoretical and solved cryptic crosswords. Now suppose their father was a brilliant, if sometimes confused, inventor. And suppose that another set of twins-adults-named Dean D. Dean and Dan D. Dean, kidnapped the Templeton twins and their ridiculous dog in order to get their father to turn over one of his genius (sort of) inventions. Yes, I said kidnapped. Wouldn’t it be fun to read about that? Oh please. It would so. Luckily for you, this is just the first in a series perfect for boys and girls who are smart, clever, and funny (just like the twins), and enjoy reading adventurous stories (who doesn’t? ).

From commonsense

“Snarky, sarcastic, attention-hogging narrators are something of a stock in trade for humor writer Ellis Weiner (How to Raise a Jewish Dog, Yiddish for Dick and Jane), so if you’re looking for a story with actual character development and substantive plot, this isn’t the book for you. But if you’re prepared for the fact that the Templeton Twins are completely eclipsed by a wisecracking, whining, self-aggrandizing storyteller who doles out bits of the plot with hefty doses of wordplay, snide remarks, comic “quizzes” at the end of each chapter, a recipe for meat loaf, and helpful lectures on subjects from crossword puzzles to hot-wiring cars, The Templeton Twins Have an Idea: Book 1 is an irresistible series start…Humorous graphic elements on most pages and lots of intricate drawings by award-winning illustrator Jeremy Holmes… add to the fun.”

Book trailer (You really need to view this to get an idea of the snarky, quirky narration!):


“That’s why, when I wrote about how the Twins, in Book I, devise a gimmick to place before their father a photo of the kind of dog they want, I had to ask myself, “Is it plausible to think that there would be a single overhead lighting fixture in the kitchen?”  I decided it was, because they lived in an old house, and it seemed to me I had been in older kitchens with exactly that kind of (dreary, depressing) overhead lamp.

This sort of concern can, of course, be a pain in the neck. The reader (who is, say, eleven years old) doesn’t care about the history of small-town kitchen illumination.  Neither, for that matter, does the writer.  (The Narrator may say he does, but you know how he is.  He’ll say anything to irritate me.)  But by playing fair with the details, you achieve at least three things: You force yourself to more fully imagine the scene, which helps make the writing better.  You assist the reader in seeing the scene, which helps make the reading better.  And you open yourself up to thinking about things, which otherwise would never have occurred to you, that might change and therefore improve the scene.” Source: Extract from a blog post by the author.

Read a chapter excerpt here

What did I think of this book?

I loved it…this is another story similar to Lemony Snickett’s A series of unfortunate events, Tom Angleberger’s Horton Halfpott and A.F. Harrold’s Fizzlebert Stump …where the narrator almost steals the show. Kids will love this as it feels as if the narrator is speaking directly to the reader and will laugh out loud at the nonsensical nature of the narration.  This would make a great read aloud between a parent or caregiver with a child as seeing the illustrations close-up is essential to enjoying this wonderful book.