Shelf Control #55: Superior Saturday by Garth Nix #Fantasy #TBR #Children’sLiterature

The last day of July, and the last Shelf Control for the month! Shelf Control is a weekly feature hosted by Lisa at Bookshelf Fantasies, and is about celebrating the books waiting to be read on your TBR piles/mountains (Mine is currently at 260 including all the e-books I have). To participate, simply pick a book from your TBR pile and write a post about it. Link back to Lisa’s page, and do also leave your links in the comments below as I’d love to check out your picks.

This month, in tandem with my ‘theme’ of reading sequels and next in series books, I’ve been featuring these in my Shelf Control posts as well. This week’s pick Superior Saturday by Garth Nix is book 6 in the Keys to the Kingdom series by the author. This is a fantasy-adventure series comprising seven books published between 2003 and 2010; this one appeared in 2008. Each of the books (as the name of this one suggests) is set around a day in the week. The central character is a twelve-year-old asthmatic boy named Arthur Penhaligon who lives with his large adopted family. But Arthur has been chosen to be the heir of ‘The House’–the centre of the universe. One Monday, an asthma attack brings him into contact with Mister Monday, in charge of the Lower House where he finds his true fate. Here he learns that must defeat seven trustees who represent seven deadly sins, and collect keys from each in the process. The keys are not actual keys but different objects that hold equal power and can do much of what is asked of them.

In Superior Saturday, Arthur has five of the keys, and now must face a greater challenge than any he has faced before for the sixth, as Superior Saturday is the oldest and most powerful of the trustees, and also a sorcerer with tens of thousands of sorcerers at her command. She has control of the Upper House, and has been the one plotting against Arthur all along. Alongside, his home city is under attack, and he can’t rely on his allies.

This was a book I randomly picked up from the shop-soiled section at my neighbourhood bookshop since it sounded like fun. I haven’t read any of the others in the series (or any other by the author), and while the world sounds a little complicated to may be understand from a later point in the series, I’d still like to give it a try. Besides the story, what sounds interesting about the series are the literary and mythological references/allusions sprinkled all through, including Arthur himself (Penhaligon/Pendragon).

The Author: Garth Nix is a children’s and young-adult fantasy author from Australia, known for the Old Kingdom, Keys to the Kingdom, and Seventh Towers series. He has also written various standalone novels for children as well as some works for adults as well.

Have you read this series before or any other books by Garth Nix? Which one/s and how did you find them? Do you enjoy books with literary references and allusions? Which are some of your favourites (books or series)? Looking forward to your thoughts!

As always, info on the book, series, and author is from Goodreads, and Wikipedia, here, here, here and here.


Children’s Book of the Month: Superstar Tapir by Polly Faber and Clara Vulliamy #Children’sBooks

This is as you can see a book for very young readers, but the reason I picked it up was that I heard about it (another volume in the series, actually) from a friend’s review and not only did the stories sound charming, the illustrations/artwork was what caught my eye—pages in distinctive stripes, and all the art in black, white, grey, and one specific colour—in this case, yellow/orange (the colour of a ripe mango-fitting considering the main character’s name). I actually wrote about this one in a Shelf Control post last month (here).

Mango and Bambang is a series of (so far) four books featuring the adventures of a ‘calm and clever’ little girl Mango Allsorts, and her friend, a ‘daring and devoted’ tapir Bambang. This, the fourth in the series, is a collection of four short stories, connected somewhat in that each story starts off where the previous left off, but is essentially a complete story in itself. In the stories in this collection, Mango creates for Bambang who has never seen snow, his very own snow day, complete with the experience of falling snow but in a very special way; Mango’s father, who balances books for much of the time, takes a break and takes Mango and Bambang to the fair, which smells of popcorn and sugar, here the friends enjoy the rides while Mango’s father takes a turn at the hoopla, but there’s also trouble as the two run into an old enemy, in no less than a mummy’s tent; Bambang’s friend, the little dog Rocket has always been interested in space, and when she disappears having set out to travel to the moon, Mango and Bambang must find her and make sure she is safe; and in the final story, the two are invited to the premiere of Bambang’s cousin, Guntur’s movie, ‘A Tiny Tapir’s Tears’ and while Bambang is impressed with his little but somewhat puffed-up cousin’s many talents, Mango makes him realise that he isn’t an ordinary tapir either.

This certainly was as charming a collection of stories as my friend had said in her review. I enjoyed them all—though if I had to pick a favourite, may be it would be the snow day. I loved the friendship between Mango and Bambang, and how they always stand by and help each other, in every situation, whether it is an adventure where they are escaping a villain, helping a friend, or simply making each other realise their true worth. The stories are as I said, complete in themselves, but there are also connections with stories from earlier books—friends they have met in the past, villains they have encountered, and such, so if one reads these as a series, these would add to one’s enjoyment, though reading a later book first doesn’t spoil one’s fun in any way (I have only read this one).

And (I have sort of said this already in my Shelf Control post) there’s lots to love about the book in terms of the artwork as well. I liked the illustrations and style very much, and also the whole design of the book—the tiny tapirs covering the front and back inner pages, the illustrated ‘cast of characters’ (or at least of main characters) at the beginning, and the distinctive striped pages with illustrations at the beginning of each story. This was a sweet and pleasant read (quick too), and I’m sure if you enjoy children’s books, you will love this one as well!

Children’s Book (?) of the Month: Enid Blyton’s School Stories

This month I didn’t read any children’s books except for In the Fifth at Malory Towers which I’ve reviewed already (here). So for my children’s book of the month this time, I thought I’d do a more general post about Enid Blyton’s school stories. If you’ve been following this blog, you know of course that Blyton is one of my favourite writers who I read a lot of as a child and still continue to. With over 700 books to her credit, she has written so many genres, fantasy and magic, circus stories, mysteries, farm stories, adventures, nature books, and much much more. But this post is all about her school stories–all set in different boarding schools of course, where there are the ‘usual’ elements of school life–lessons, exams, and games, but also adventures and fun, and sometimes, a mystery or two as well. Among her school stories are three series and one standalone.

Malory Towers: I’m starting with this since this is the series I’m currently revisiting. This series (of six books) tells the story of Darrell Rivers, a twelve-year-old who heads off to Malory Towers, a boarding school in Cornwall, when the series opens. She is excited to make new friends in her time there but when she arrives, she realises that making a good friend is perhaps not as easy as she first thought. And before she does, she must see people for who they are, because first impressions are not always right. What I’ve been loving about this series is how (even though Blyton had a certain idea of how ‘good’ children were) it throughout carries the idea that the world is made up of all sorts of people (like the level-headed Sally, the sharp-tongued Alicia, talented scatterbrain Irene and musical Belinda, and the self-absorbed ‘baby’ Gwendolen Lacy), and one has to learn to deal with them, accept them, also each of us need to change a little for things to go on. I also like the fact that our heroine Darrell isn’t a perfect character, she has temper issues which she has to constantly deal with. Though not students, the two Mam’zelles especially the jolly Mam’zelle Dupont stand out as well! These are fun school stories of course with fun and games, and tricks (the funnest ones were when they write with invisible chalk on the music master’s stool, when Alicia’s cousin June inflates herself in Mam’zelle’s class (where all tricks are played), and when Mam’zelle Dupont plays a trick of her own) too but what I liked most on this reading is the focus on people and human nature. The distinctive Cornish landscape too stands out in many of the stories.

St Clares: This was the series (once again six books) I read more of as a child (countless times, in fact) and so it remains a kind of favourite with me, the details staying more with me than in the other school stories. Here we have not one ‘heroine’ but two, twins Pat(ricia) and Isabel O’Sullivan, and unlike Darrell Rivers, they are not looking forward to St Clares when they first head there. They’ve been head-girls at their old school and believe they are good at everything, and wanted to attend a more ‘snobbish’ school where they friends were going. Luckily, their parents think otherwise and find St Clares the more sensible choice. After initially attempting to be ‘difficult’, the twins soon realise the worth of the school, making friends and doing well. This series has its share of amusing characters too, the fun Doris and Bobbie, the fiery-tempered circus girl Carlotta, and the French girl Claudine among them. And substituting for Gwendolen Mary, is the less selfish but empty headed Alison, the twins’ cousin. Again first impressions are not everything, when the ‘mousy’ Gladys turns out to be a superb actress! There are once again games and matches (lacrosse particularly, but also tennis), lots of tricks, and also plenty of midnight feasts (more than in Malory Towers If I remember right) in this series.

The Naughtiest Girl: This series of four is set in Whyteleaf School, a very different one from Malory Towers or St Clares. Our main character here, Elizebeth Allen, is like Pat and Isabel O’Sullivan not particularly keen to go to Whyteleaf, and tries her best to be thrown out. But of course, that changes soon enough when Elizabeth realises she actually likes the place, but she has to work up the courage to say so! The school itself is what stands out in this one. For one, it is co-ed unlike Malory Towers and St Clares. But more than that it is much freer and also in a way much more radical, since all decisions are taken by a student body, including determining punishments and trying to keep the environment as egalitarian as possible (the other schools are pretty traditional with the teachers and head in-charge of discipline). The students have a wider range of activities, and yes, they allow pets (just the place for me–of course, Malory Towers allowed Wilhemina ‘Bill’, and Clarissa to keep their horses at school).

Mischief at St Rollo’s: Unlike the other three above this is a standalone and was published under Blyton’s pseudonym Mary Pollock. This is one I haven’t actually read yet, and only found out about fairly recently. This one features siblings Mike and Janet Fairley who are being sent to St Rollos (where they don’t want to go, of course 🙂 ) but begin making friends from when they get on the train to school. There is the usual sharing of tuck, midnight feasts, and even a case of cheating in the previous term, the consequences of which are still playing out.

Have you read any of these books? Which ones and which are your favourites among them? Any other school stories or series you’d recommend? And yes, If I missed any of Blyton’s school stories here, do let me know. Looking forward to your thoughts!

Malory Towers Challenge: In the Fifth at Malory Towers by Enid Blyton

It’s been a few months since I last read a book in this series though I’ve been thinking about it for sometime now. I read and reviewed book 4 last November (here), where Darrell’s sister Felicity, attends Malory Towers for the very first time.

In book 5, Darrell and Felicity return to Malory Towers, where Darrell is now in the fifth form. As the girls have passed their school certificates in the previous term, the term before them is to be a light one work-wise as their form mistress, Miss James informs them. But there’s still plenty in store as Darrell finds herself appointed games captain for the form, sharing duties with Sally, and the fifth form are put in charge of the Christmas entertainment to be written and produced by them entirely. Darrell takes charge of writing the play, Irene the music, Belinda the sets, and Janet the costumes. There is one new girl Maureen, very like Gwendolen-Mary, and three others who weren’t sent up to the sixth form because of age or illness or because they weren’t prepared enough, among them Moira who is a little too hard and domineering, and Catherine, far too saintly. Maureen like Gwendolen Mary is too full of herself, but has only the latter for company as no one else wants her. Once again the different personalities clash or at least don’t get along as games are played and the pantomime is written and rehearsed. Meanwhile Alicia’s cousin, June is also being a handful, just as malicious with her tongue but not as straight as Alicia herself. There are quite a few in the fifth form and below who need to be set right, and the girls are up to the task. Looking at themselves as they are, is hard for them all, and some find it hard to face up to it until things go very wrong. But of course, amidst these more serious moments, there are many lighter ones too in the matches and scrumptious teas that follow and also the tricks which the first form now plays on poor unsuspecting Mam’zelle Dupont, the jolly French teacher. But Mam’zelle isn’t taking it all quietly this time around!

This was a much lighter instalment in the series in some senses with the fun and games taking the centre stage rather than study and exams. But as in the rest of this series, this book too acknowledges that it takes all kinds of people to make the world, which often means unpleasantness, but if one has to get things to work, and to get along with those we are meant to live our lives amidst, one has to face up to oneself, recognise our ‘good’ and ‘bad’ and try to make things run smoothly even if we can’t always change magically. Gwendolen begins to understand this a little when faced with her almost doppelgänger, Maureen and certainly makes an attempt to do so even if doesn’t bring her the reactions she hoped. Catherine too seems to understand this but is a little hurt in the process. June in the first form and Moira in the fifth find this a lot harder to do, one refusing to give in and the other interpreting it in a rather unfortunate way. But sooner or later the girls do begin to see sense, as we too must in our lives.

But aside from this unpleasantness and spite, it was fun watching the girls write and stage their pantomime. They are lucky of course to have all the talent they need—a great writer in Darrell, a musician in Irene, a singer in Mavis, artists in Belinda and Janet, and indeed also acting talents like Alicia—but I enjoyed looking at the whole process unfold which involves a great deal of work but also fun. Staging theatre productions (amateur or professional) and the work that goes into them has been something that’s been part of a lot of the books I’ve been reading lately (the Blue Doors books by Pamela Brown (reviews here, here, here, and here), and then Ballet Shoes by Noel Streatfeild review here), and I had fun reading Blyton’s version.

This book also had its humorous moments in the trick that the first formers decide to play on Mam’zelle Dupont (here June takes after Alicia), and more so when Mam’zelle decides to play on them a trick of her own. Though it is a success of sorts, I’m not quite sure who the joke ended up being on!

This was another enjoyable volume in the series, and now I have only the final book left (I am only reading the six books that Blyton herself wrote) to see how things turn out for the characters as they prepare to finish school and make their way into the real world.

Have you read this book or others in the series? How did you find it/them? Only as a child or as an adult as well? If both, how did the two experiences compare?

My reviews of the first three books in this series are here, here and here.

Shelf Control #43: Superstar Tapir by Polly Faber and Clara Vulliamy

Wednesday the 8th of May, and time for another Shelf Control post. Shelf Control is a weekly feature hosted by Lisa at Bookshelf Fantasies, and is all about celebrating the books waiting to be read on your TBR piles. If you want to join in, simply pick a book from your pile and write a post about it, linking back to Lisa’s page. Do also leave your links down below as I’d love to check out your picks as well!

This month as I mentioned in last week’s post (here), my reading theme is 2018 books but for Shelf Control, I’ll be picking recently published books (broader year range) to feature. This week, my pick is a 2017 publication, and a children’s book, Superstar Tapir by Polly Faber (author) and Clara Vulliamy. (illustrator).

This is the fourth in a series of (so far) four books, which feature the adventures of a little girl Mango Allsorts, and her unlikely friend, a Malaysian Tapir, Bambang, who ‘meet’ and start their journey in The Not-a-Pig (2015).

Superstar Tapir, like the previous books in the series, features four short stories including one where Mango and Bambang have a ‘snow day’, another where they go to the fair, and one which involves a rocket to the moon. They meet a filmstar tapir, Guntur; a sausage-seeking dog; and even a mummy.

I first heard of this series when a Goodreads friend mentioned it in her review, and what caught my attention about the books was not only the charm of the stories (which came through so well in her review), but also the art work. Each of the books is illustrated (by Clara Vulliamy) in black, white, grey, and one colour, the first book in purple, the second, an reddish-orange, the third blue, and finally, this one a mango yellow (actually it could be called orange, but the colour reminds me very much of a ripe mango). The covers and pages between the stories are done in distinctive stripes–white and the colour in question.

Book 3: Tiny Tapir Trouble

My friend’s review really made me really want to try out this series, and when I found this one on sale last year, I decided to pick it up. I bought a paperback published by Walker books (ordered online, as most of my books are lately). I’m really looking forward to trying this out, as the characters and stories look really endearing and sweet, and I also loved the artwork as I flipped through the book.

Have you read this one or any others in this series? Do you plan to? How did you find it/them if you did? Looking forward to your thoughts!

Review: Arnica, the Duck Princess by Ervin Lázár #NetGalley

My thanks to NetGalley and Steerforth Press/Pushkin Press for a digital review copy of this book.

This is an English translation of a Hungarian classic children’s tale, first published in 1981 and now being printed by Pushkin Press. The translator is Anna Bentley and the book has been illustrated by Jacueline Molnár.

King Tirunt lives in a palace by a round lake, a palace with thirty-six towers and three hundred windows. He is a just ruler, punishing only those who deserve it, and taking precautions (very great ones) against giving orders when he is in a temper, that is to say, he ensures they aren’t followed and locks himself in his throne room while he is in a temper. With him lives his daughter Arnica, a very special princess, “so sweet and gentle that when she smile[s], wolves and bears forget their fierceness”. King Tirunt wishes that Arnica would marry the person she loves and does not mind who he is or where he is from. Into their lives comes just such a person, Poor Johnny. Poor Johnny has nothing except the clothes on his back and is “footloose and fancy-free”—not only that, he wants nothing either which means that the Witch of a Hundred Faces fails to entrap him (she must enslave a new person every seven years to retain her magical powers), despite the untold wealth and riches she offers. Making his escape (she does pursue him with magic, when he simply walks away) Johnny meets Arnica and they fall in love. But the King wants to be sure before he gives his consent, and makes them wait six months. When this period is up and they are awaiting Johnny’s arrival, the witch acts, casting a spell, as a result of which it turns out that at any given time, either Arnica or Johnny must be a duck. Now they much find a way out, and they don’t mind whether both are ducks or humans but they want to be the same thing at the same time. So off they set to seek the Seven-headed Fairy, the only one who can free them of the curse. Along the way, they meet various people, each with their own oddities, and problems, and change their lives as they move on.

The story is told in third person, and off and on, there is also some dialogue between the narrator and the person he is telling the story to. This gives it the feel of a traditional storytelling style.

I found this to be a really pleasant and cute read. This is a fairly short (just 96 pages) book and a great deal of fun. Being a children’s classic, there are hidden messages of course, but it isn’t preachy or forced down your throat. All of the people they encounter, in fact, find that the solution to their problems lies within themselves, just a change of attitude or approach is called for. And that is what the book tries to tell its readers. Also, the story/stories are told in an amusing way, some episodes more than others, like the Witch’s frustration when Johnny fails to be lured by treasure or the story of Tig-Tag the robber, which was very good fun. I also liked that despite the various little troubles Arnica and Johnny fall into on their adventure, there is no melodrama or exaggeration. Arnica and Johnny are very likeable; Johnny, in fact, reminded me a little of a Grimm’s character in the story ‘Hans in Luck’ where too, the ‘hero’ attaches little to material possessions.

The book has some really colourful illustrations. These reminded me (the style) somewhat of the illustrations for Dunno (by Boris Kalushin) though the ones in these book aren’t as delicate. I loved the colours, also the patterns used, the animals, flowers, trees, etc. but while I didn’t much care for the human beings (illustrations) in the book at the start (they felt a little clumpy), even these kind of grew on me as I read on.   (See cover above)

A charming and cute read.

Have you read this book or do you plan to? If you have, how did you like it? Looking forward to hearing your thoughts!

Children’s Book of the Month: Nevermoor: The Trials of Morrigan Crow by Jessica Townsend

First in a fantasy series, this book has been compared to Harry Potter, and is one I’ve been hearing so much about, and was very much looking forward to reading. Morrigan Crow is cursed, and as a result blamed for pretty much everything that happens (or rather goes wrong) in her town of Jackalfax. Her father Corvus Crow is a politician, who doesn’t really want her, but must pay for all the damage her curse is alleged to have caused. People in the town take advantage of this position raising all sorts of ridiculous (and clearly false) claims holding her responsible for things like for ruining their batch of marmalade or even weather changes, but Corvus must pay for the ‘damage’ since there is no way of proving that the curse had nothing to do with these occurrences. Anyway, her curse means that she is slated to die on Eventide, her eleventh birthday, but when the time comes, she finds herself magically transported to a whole other world, Nevermoor, by a remarkable man called Jupiter North, and given an opportunity to enter trials with other gifted children to become a member of the Wundrous Society. But she must pass the trials first (where there are some very talented competitors, all of whom don’t play fair), and any slip could mean being banished from Nevermoor forever, and back to her fate—death.

I expected to really love this book and I wanted to love it too but sadly, this didn’t happen for me. That said, I don’t mean that I disliked the book, there was a lot I really liked about it. The whole world of Nevermoor was a little hard for me to get my mind around—and I couldn’t form a clear picture of it in my head—as was the case with the magic that worked there (what the system was, how it worked and such). These elements will probably be developed in the other books but still, I would have liked to form a better idea of it. But there were things that I liked such as the Deucaulion Hotel, of which Jupiter North is proprietor, and the magic that works there, the interesting rooms (and characters) within it—I think there will be more secrets there that will be revealed as we go on. I also loved the Christmas celebrations—these kind of reminded me of Harry Potter—Christmas for Morrigan within Nevermoor versus what they had at home (as did the broad idea of a child who was not wanted at home, blamed for everything, versus this magical world where people want to be her friend; and so did the story of the ‘villain’). Of the characters, Morrigan herself was just ok for me. I wanted her to do well, but more for the sake of seeing what the challenge would be like, what the next one entailed and such, than for her winning. I did like her friend, Hawthorne, and loved Fenestra. The plot was fun enough, the various challenges were interesting but again, not may be something that ‘blew me away’ so to speak (the first I liked the best). While the ‘mystery’ element which was building up throughout regarding Morrigan, did have an element of surprise when it was revealed, the actual reveal didn’t turn out to be as magical or as much of a spectacle as I was expecting. The latter part of the book, where various secrets were uncovered, were far more engrossing for me than the initial parts. So this was over all a good read, imaginative and enjoyable though I would rate it at around a 3.75 for me.

Children’s Book of the Month: Pinocchio by Carlo Collodi

Cover of the Companion Library Edition (1965, Grosset and Dunlap), the copy that I have

The 1883 classic tale of the rather naughty wooden puppet. The translation I read was by M.A.  Murray, illustrated by Mariano Leone. The story begins with a carpenter Master Cherry coming upon a rather unusual piece of wood which seems to talk and laugh, and even cry. He hands this over to his friend Geppetto who has at that time come looking for a piece of wood to make a puppet by which he can earn a living. But even as he is making the puppet, he realises that this no ordinary puppet for it not only speaks to him, but begins to get into mischief like pulling off the poor man’s wig. And once Pinocchio is made, more mischief ensues as the boy is interested only in having his own way, even if poor old Geppetto has to suffer (even go to prison) in the process. But Pinocchio is not bad hearted. He in fact feels for his father and really wishes to do him some good. With good intentions, he starts off to school with his spelling book but before long is distracted by a puppet show. This is the beginning of a series of adventures where Pinocchio falls into one soup after another (from nearly being fried as a fish to turning into a donkey), while attempting quite sincerely every so often to turn good, and ultimately to become a boy.

Before I go into my thoughts in the book, I’d just like to write about the edition that I have which is the Companion Library edition (1965) published by Grosset and Dunlap. When I bought this book (second-hand) I didn’t realise that this was actually two books in one, starting on opposite ends (see picture below). So it was a real surprise when I got home and noticed that. It has some nice cheerful (green and white) endpapers. I also quite liked the illustrations (the illustrators of both books must be related, Mariano Leone for this one and Sergio Leone for the King Arthur book), and especially the cover.

Anyway, now back to the actual book. For starters, I realised when I read that book that I hadn’t actually ever read it before. The impression I had of Pinocchio is of a boy-puppet who told lies which made his nose grow long, which was then restored if he tells the truth—something which would go on till he learnt his lesson. But this was not just that, in fact there were literally only two episodes of this. Pinocchio gets into various forms of mischief, but his worst habits are being disobedient and getting tempted by whatever people (usually the wrong sort) tell him rather than listening to good advice. That he is lazy, and like many children would rather be having fun than going to school adds to his troubles, and he finds himself in trouble (even on the verge of losing his life) each time he strays. But the kind of adventures he has and the different settings and characters are very imaginative, fun, and a real delight to read about. I enjoyed the descriptions, for instance of the poodle, Medoro who was sent by the blue-haired fairy to rescue Pinocchio:

“He was in the full dress livery of a coachman. On his head was a three-cornered cap braided with gold, his curly white wig came down onto his shoulders, he had a chocolate-colored waistcoat with diamond buttons, and two large pockets to contain the bones that his mistress gave him at dinner. He had besides a pair of short crimson velvet breeches, silk stockings, cut-down shoes, and hanging behind him a species of umbrella case made of blue satin, to put his tail into when the weather was rainy.”

And the story is full of humour. There are also some (though not a lot) of rather Alicey (in wonderland) lines. For instance:

“I wish to know from you gentlemen, if this unfortunate puppet is alive or dead!”

“To my belief the puppet is already quite dead; but if unfortunately he should not be dead, then it would be a sign that he is still alive.”

“I regret,” said the Owl, “to be obliged to contradict the Crow, my illustrious friend and colleague; but in my opinion the puppet is still alive; but if unfortunately he should not be alive, then it would be a sign that he is dead indeed!”

This is a humorous and fun read, and although it does (and understandably so) get preachy in parts about how young boys should behave (after all it was meant to teach a lesson), I found it to be a really enjoyable read.

#BookReview #ChildrensLiterature #Classic #Humour #Fantasy

Review: #MaddyAlone by Pamela Brown #NetGalley

My thanks to Steerforth Press/Pushkin Press and NetGalley for a review copy of this book.

Maddy Alone is the second book in Pamela Brown’s Blue Door series. (Find my review of the first book, The Swish of the Curtain here). This one was first published in 1945 (the author must have been just out of her teens at this point), and is being brought out again by Pushkin Press. In the first book, seven children, Sandra, Nigel, Jeremy, Bulldog, Lyn, Vickie and Maddie set up their own theatre company in Fenchester, where they live—they put up shows (from Shakespeare to their own plays) during the holidays and for different occasions, and finally manage to convince their parents to send them to drama school. In Maddy Alone, all the children have gone to drama school except Maddy who is now twelve but still too young to join them. Working (not very hard) at school, she feels it is unfair that they get to go to study drama while she has to study arithmetic (or in her words, or something like them, about Mr. A, Mr. B and Mr. C, who dig wells). She is excited when the holidays approach for all the others will be back and they can put on a show but it turns out that only Sandra is coming home while the rest are to stay back in London where they are needed for a show. This naturally disappoints her some more, especially since even Sandra when she’s there is more interested in going shopping with their mother. But some excitement is in store for Maddy when a film crew comes into Fenchester to shoot a historical film, and Maddy finds herself the leading lady! Maddy becomes a film star alright but also remains Maddy, able at most times to get her own way, and to get people to do what she wants, and up to plenty of mischief in the process.

This was a really quick read, much shorter than the first book but still very good fun. This time, as I already wrote, the story pretty much focuses on Maddy. One can relate to her feeling of being left out of things (of all the excitement, so to speak) because of her age, and her inability to understand/accept that the others had also got to go to school as well, but at times, at least initially, she did also come across as a tad more childish than I liked. But as things move along, and she gets her big opportunity, I also found myself appreciating how she did stay grounded and normal despite all the attention that was coming her way, and the possibility of fame—she is excited by things that are happening and not so very interested in regular school life, but doesn’t acquire airs or always want to dress up or play film star. In fact, quite the opposite, she is the characteristic Maddy “bullying” if I can call it that more than one person (including a gruffy old peer) to get what she wants, questioning things that are not to her liking (even if to means giving up the opportunities she has), and worried about letting the other Blue Doors down if she doesn’t do well enough. She learns a thing or two in the process but essentially remains the same mischievous girl. It was good fun reading of her adventures and antics (which at one point reminded me of the Family at One End Street), and of Mrs Potter-Smith making a nuisance of herself as always, and I can’t wait to pick up the next one and see what the children get up to next.

Pamela Brown, who started this series when she was just in her teens (13 according to Wikipedia; the first book was published when she was 16), was a writer, actress and television producer, and like the children in the books put on plays with her friends when a child.

The book comes out on 14 May 2019.