Anyone else feeling totally frazzled at the moment? I’ve been reading quite a few middle-grade mysteries recently as my brain has needed some good old-fashioned adventure and escape from all the heavy grown up thoughts. So, I thought I’d share a couple of my favourites in case you need some time out too (and there might just be a young person in your life who would enjoy a good mystery as well 😊).
The Children of Castle Rock by Natasha Farrant. Faber & Faber.
This is the story of Alice, an introverted girl with a passion for story writing. She is grieving the loss of her mum and although she adores her dad, he isn’t around all that much. Her aunt decides that a boarding school in the wilds of Scotland will bring Alice out of her shell – especially as this is rather an eccentric school, with rather an unusual curriculum. Friendships blossom in the form of strait-laced Jesse and mischievous joker Fergus. Together they take part in the yearly school orienteering challenge and use this as an opportunity to meet up with Alice’s father on a remote island, after Alice receives a rather mysterious note attached to a parcel that she must not open…
Why I loved it: It’s a gorgeous contemporary adventure story, full of friendship, quests and mystery. The Scottish setting is beautifully written, and the characters made the child within me want to be friends with them. The relationship development between the friends as well as that between Alice and her dad felt really genuine in all its complexities and I loved that this is very much a story of finding where you belong and how family is something beyond biology. There is also some fabulous humour in there to lighten the adventure and balance out the more serious aspects such as loss, not fitting in and the consequences of trusting someone you care for, both positive and negative. Plus, the cover is just stunning isn’t it?
A Girl Called Justice by Elly Griffiths. Hachette Children’s Group
My second recommendation takes us back in time to the 1930s, where we meet twelve-year-old Justice, whose very busy QC father has decided to send her to a boarding school following the death of her mother. Having been home schooled by her mum until this point, this new way of life takes a lot of getting used to. But Justice is addicted to solving mysteries (her mum was a mystery writer) and is always on the look out for real ones to investigate; she is soon immersed in the secrets of Highbury House Boarding School and the suspicious death of a maid…
Why I loved it: Justice is such a sparky, determined, intelligent character, who completely draws you into her world. I loved the way Griffiths creates such a sense of time and places; I was right there in the 30s, exploring the isolated boarding school out on the marshes. The mystery itself was gripping with plenty of tension and intrigue and I enjoyed how the darker moments are interspersed with humour and witty observations (something Griffiths also does so well in her adult crime books). I also found the headmistress Miss de Vere most intriguing; she is illusive and difficult to work out; I love a complex character, who may not be all that she seems!
I asked Elly Griffiths on Twitter whether Justice’s adventures will become a series and thank goodness she is in the process of writing book 2 – it’s always the sign of a great story isn’t it, when you can’t wait to see what happens next?
The Agatha Oddly series by Lena Jones. HarperCollins Children’s Books
Why I love this contemporary mystery series: Above all, it is 13-year-old Agatha as a character that makes this series for me. She is quirky, incredibly intelligent, intuitive and her zest for solving mysteries is just contagious. I love that she is a bit of an outsider, that these books are as much about Agatha discovering where she fits into the world as the mysteries she attempts to solve. Plus, she adores Agatha Christie (therefore a kindred spirit) and I love that when she is in the process of working something out, she often imagines a tiny Poirot giving her detecting advice. Her adventures involve plenty of clever puzzle solving, a secret society and a mysterious, hidden side of London. It’s a smart, tightly plotted and quirky series and book 3, The Silver Serpent, is out on the 5th September 😊
P.S. I can highly recommend the audio books; the narrator is absolutely perfect as Agatha!