This Festive season being a tad less relaxing then planned, with collapsing ceilings, hospital visits and now a surprise visit to my lungs from the unwelcome guest called pneumonia, I have been in serious need of some great escapism in my reading. Not wanting anything too taxing for the old noggin, I will still only accept great writing that can transport me and raise a smile to my face at times when little else will. I think that books can be a great comfort when illness strikes. I know that some like to use that time trapped in bed to read a great tome that has been quietly waiting on the shelf for an opportune moment, but no, not I. I am the first to admit I fall in the ranks of those who can be found shouting for their mum at the first sign of fever, no matter what their age, asking for Heinz tomato soup and a glass of lucozade on the bed side table (the only time I actually drink the stuff bizarrely), and so it goes with my reading. If ill I crave home comforts from my younger days, I want to bury my head between the pages of old classics I read while still sporting hair that could be sat on it was so long, secured into a ponytail by an extravagant scrunchie as I galivanted around on my imaginary horse.
In my third and final year at university I cemented this relationship with looking back at fiction I loved to help me ease the pressure of looking forward at times that seemed quite bleak. Overwhelmed with stress of looming exams and deadlines for essays I found myself heading to the eternal happy and safe place of a bookshop. On a display table I noticed the complete collection of The Magic Faraway Tree stories going for a song at £5 (an ugly green, cheaply produced song I’ll grant you, but as a student one cannot quibble at these things!) A more tempting offer would not be found I think you’ll agree, well, not until I opened the pages…
“Well, come back and have tea with us,” said Moonface. “Silky’s got some Pop Biscuits -and I’ve made some Google Buns. I don’t often make them – and I tell you they’re a treat!”
One of my favourite books when I was a wee thing, the delight at going back and meeting well loved characters exploring enchanted worlds at the top of this most magical of trees had me calmer, blood pressure lowered, within a couple of chapters (I wonder if I should credit Blyton for some of my degree?) This success has led to the long tradition of me turning to great young Young Adult fiction when in need of some r&r for the soul. Now, despite being a voracious reader when small, not all books can withstand a return visit, either due to becoming dated or having seemingly disappeared into the ether, so the time has come when I must look for that comfort in new reads that feel classic. Over the last two weeks I have done so with delightful results so, of course, I had to share them with you here! May I add that I am aware that I am very late to the party with these two titles but better later than never.
First for discussion is ‘Murder Most Unladylike: A Murder Most Unladylike Mystery’ by Robin Stevens. With the fourth in this series appearing this year and always looking deliciously appealing to me with those beautiful jackets of our silhouetted detectives against a range of vivid colours, I decided I had been tardy enough and picked up the first story. Set in a 1930’s English boarding school for girls, you get the perfect nostalgic feeling for midnight feasts and hockey matches in the mud that was planted in so many of our minds by the likes of Mallory Towers, but with modern, fast dialogue which means that younger readers won’t be shying away. Our protagonist, Hazel Wong, originally something of an outsider with the other girls due to her being born and raised in Hong Kong, has managed to navigate the social stratus of school by befriending the practically perfect Daisy Wells. The two decide to form a Detective Society despite the fact that Deepdean School is offering up no real drama, that is until Wong stumbles upon the dead body of one of their teachers – a murderer is afoot! Being the two cleverest girls in school and confident in their detecting ability, as Wells constantly declares, the hunt begins to find out who is behind the dastardly deed. Stevens has struck just the right balance with this book, not so frightening it’s going to have anybody afraid to turn the lights off at night, but gripping, tense and frequently funny that it leaves you eager to join this pair on their next adventure, especially to read more of Wong’s observations on the English upper classes…
“I had not yet discovered that in England, the way of showing that you are very rich is to pretend that you are very poor and cannot afford things like heating or new shoes.”
Murder Most Unladylike by Robin Stevens £6.99 (Random House)
The second book that has done more for me of late than the medicine and rest is ‘Fintan Fedora: The World’s Worst Explorer’ by Clive Goddard, although the amount of belly laughs it produced did spur on some coughing fits. Fintan is the youngest member of the Fedora family, who have made their fortune in the cake industry. In the process of arranging the inheritance of the business they let Fintan know that he is being overlooked for the position as his two elder siblings are considered safer hands. As we gradually learn of the many disasters that have *coincidently* happened in the vicinity of Fintan, schools burning down and the like, we begin to see their point of view, but he is determined to prove them wrong. The way he decides to do so? Well, head off to Brazil of course to find the illusive ‘chocoplum’, rumoured to be the most delicious food out there, and then use it to make the family business even more notorious. With his long suffering man servant at his side the adventure begins, but as is always the case with Fintan, things quickly go pear shaped with kidnap attempts and evil corporate giants deciding they can’t have this young whippersnapper beating them to the prize. Fintan quickly found his way to my heart as his well meaning, can do attitude shone through at every ill advised caper!
Fintan Fedora: The World’s Worst Explorer by Clive Goddard £5.99 (Scholastic)
So – whether poorly or not I honestly can’t think of a better way to spend a couple of hours on a rainy weekend than reading one of these two, or both! And if you want engaging stories which are beautifully written for the younger readers you know then I advise you to look no further!