3 brilliant middlegrade mysteries

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!

The Stone Circle. Dr Ruth Galloway Series: Elly Griffiths

The Stone Circle is number 11 in the Dr Ruth Galloway series by Elly Griffiths and was the first book I managed to read when I was recently recovering from flu. Not being able to focus on words and concentrate enough to read is horrible enough but when you’re desperate to get stuck into the latest book of a favourite series upon release it is beyond frustrating! Still, being at the stay-in-bed stage was perfect when I did feel up to reading – no one to interrupt me as I just sat and read for hours (with nurse Poppy Cat making sure I was alright😉).

Pops and Circle

Synopsis: Forensic archaeologist Ruth becomes involved in the archaeological discovery of a second stone circle on the North Norfolk Coast (the first circle being a central theme in the first book). The unearthing of a young Iron Age girl’s body sets off a chain of events to reveal a second body buried only thirty years previously. Mysterious, sinister letters are delivered to DCI Nelson and the appearance of a familiar looking face brings past events firmly into the present. Family secrets are revealed and not only for those, who are part of the murder narrative. A spark amongst tangled feelings remains, ready to catch fire.

stone circle image

What I thought…

Old friends: I am so invested in these characters that it really does feel like spending time with old friends and catching up with their news. A lot of reviewers, who love the series, write along similar lines – I love it when books give you that sense of belonging, when stories and characters become a part of  life.

Ruth: Ruth Galloway continues to be one of my absolute favourite female leads for so many reasons. She is incredibly strong, fiercely intelligent plus she has such a perceptive sense of humour. She struggles to fit into the world around her and I relate to this being on the outside of things in a major way. She makes sure her daughter Kate gets to listen Harry Potter audio books at night and reads her His Dark Materials. She loves the beauty and solitude of the Saltmarsh where her cottage lies. She has a very forthright cat called Flint, who makes wonderful cameos in the story and always steals the show. She feels very real, very human  and I especially like how Griffiths has chosen a character facing middle age, who has so much to offer the world.

Engaging writing: As a rule, I don’t really do contemporary crime fiction but there is something so engaging about Griffith’s writing, the mixture of science and ‘the other’ (superstitions, myths, the unexplained) works incredibly well and although there is a murder to be solved in each book, it is the character development which drives the narrative.

A stunning sense of place: The stark contrast of the Norfolk marshland is so well written –  you really get that sense of vast, exceptional beauty as well as an underlying potential of darkness and danger. For those who know me, it comes as no surprise to  say I’d rather like a cottage like Ruth’s please.

Continuing chemistry: Oh, Ruth and Nelson (she types, sighing)! It is such a delicious mess of a relationship; the intensity, the stubborn sparks, the multitude of repressed feelings and insecurities.

Moments of humour: There are some really subtle, wry moments of humour amongst the darker moments. Griffiths has a knack of maintaining a well-crafted balance that enables the good to prevail in the bleakest of times and I love her for it.

The Stone Circle stormed into the HB Fiction Top Ten as no.7 after only three days on sale and this makes me beyond happy as I feel Elly is finally getting more of the recognition she deserves. Apart from her books being such great reads, she as an author who goes above and beyond to connect with her readers. On the 2nd of May she is releasing her first children’s book, A Girl Called Justice, and I CANNOT WAIT! Here is the blurb from the Hachette Children’s Group website:

a girl called justice

“Missing maids, suspicious teachers and a snow storm to die for… For a fearless girl called Justice Jones, super-smart super-sleuth, it’s just the start of a spine-tingling first term at Highbury House Boarding School for the Daughters of Gentlefolk. For fans of Robin Stevens, Katherine Woodfine and Enid Blyton.”

…just my bookish cup of tea 😊