Book Review: The Last by Katherine Applegate

The Last.jpg

My thanks to Penguin Random House Children’s UK and NetGalley for a review copy of this book.

 

This is the first of a fantasy adventure series, the Endling series, (I’m not sure how many books it has). Byx, our ‘heroine’ is a dairne, a dog-like creature who has opposable thumbs, can walk on two legs, and can speak. Their most valuable characteristic is their ability to tell when anyone (human or otherwise) is lying. Byx is the runt of her small pack, who themselves are the last few of the dairnes left in their land, hunted by humans and constantly needing to move about. One day, just before the pack has planned to move on, Byx sneaks off to take a last look at the sea, in which process she ends up rescuing and befriending a much smaller creature, Tobble the wobbyk. When she returns to her home, she finds her pack has been ruthlessly killed and she is the last of the dairnes left alive, an ‘Endling’. Now she must set off on a journey, accompanied by Tobble, and a young human girl Khara, who has actually captured them, to look for a home, or rather a place where according to legend other dairnes once lived. While this isn’t a very straightforward quest and their path is riddled with danger, Byx and her friends soon find that what they are looking for and what they are fighting is much bigger than any of them had realised when they started off, and there are very few along the way that they can trust.

 

This was a very enjoyable read for me. While it may be set in a fantasy world, many of the issues it deals with and throws up are things that are very much a part of (and relevant to) the world we live in. Most important among them is inequality, not only between the sexes, but also between different living beings—certain species being dubbed (and treated) inferior simply because they don’t do things like others do. Then there is the more important problem—of humans’ destructive nature. Their greed for money, power, control, to demonstrate their superiority has led them to destroy everything around them, and then hypocritically mourning their loss after the damage is done. It is a characteristic of the humans in this fantasy world, as it is in our real world.  [The fact that the book opens with a quote from Silent Spring pretty much conveys the message the book is trying to deliver.]

 

But coming back to the fantasy element, I enjoyed the world the author has created—fraught with danger though it may be—there are several interesting beings and places, all of which I thought very imaginative (there is even some language that she’s created for the different species). I would have preferred a map of the world to help me picture it better, but one was not included in the ARC. The main characters themselves are from different species who find themselves thrown together by circumstances, and who must learn to overcome their mistrust and understand each other for who they are. As a result, they develop some unlikely but strong friendships which was nice to see. The characters themselves are all very likeable, though I particularly found Byx, Tobble, and Gambler the felivet endearing, and liked the relationship that develops between them. The illustration of Byx and Tobble on the cover is pretty perfect, and is really cute too.

 

I liked that the author wrapped up the adventure (unlike some books which stop somewhat abruptly) although it is clear that the main quest will continue with more adventures and dangers along the way. Though this is classed as a children’s book, I think adults too would enjoy this read. Looking forward to the next instalment.

 

The author Katherine Applegate has previously won a Newberry Medal in 203 for her book The One and Only Ivan.

 

This book, The Last released on 1st November 2018.

 

#Endling:BookOne:TheLast #NetGalley

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Five Findouters: Series and Challenge Review and Plans for My Next Enid Blyton Challenge

Last October onwards, I began reading the Five Findouters books by Enid Blyton, in chronological order for the first time. This was one of my favourite series as a child, and Blyton among my favourite authors (she still is), but while I had read all of the books (some many times over), I’d never read them in order. The Findouters are siblings Laurence ‘Larry’ and Margaret “Daisy’ Daykin, and Philip ‘Pip’ and Elizabeth ‘Bets’ Hilton, and Frederick Algernon Trotteville whose initials give him a very fitting nickname, Fatty, all of whom live in the English village of Peterswood. Larry is thirteen, the oldest of the lot, Pip, Fatty, and Daisy, twelve, and Bets only eight. The Findouters are of course not complete without Fatty’s Scottie Buster, who is as much part of the group and of any adventure they have, as children themselves. (They are after all the Five Findouters and Dog; this is unlike the Famous Five books where Timmy is one of the five).

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The Findouters and Dog with Mr Goon, the village constable. The illustration is by Mary Gernat from the Mystery of the Spiteful Letters (Armada ed., 1988) and also appears in Eva Rice’s Who’s Who in Enid Blyton.

The findouters have their first outing in the Mystery of the Burnt Cottage, where Larry and Daisy, and their friends Pip and Bets smell a fire one night and step out to investigate. It is there, at the scene of the fire, in one of their neighbours’ homes, that the four first encounter a ‘fat boy’, who’s been staying at the local inn with his parents and who they don’t much like but who has a Scottie they all love. Before long, the five have formed a detective club of sorts, looking into the secret behind the fire at the cottage and staying a step ahead of the somewhat bumbling village Constable Mr Goon, who soon becomes something of an enemy. Along the way, they also make friends with Inspector Jenks who thinks highly of their skills and supports, and even relies on them through all the books. Inspector Jenks, who goes on to be Chief Inspector, and Superintendent as the series progresses, also gives them a talking to when they need it or when their tricks go that little bit too far.  (My review of book 1 is on this page here: https://potpourri2015.wordpress.com/2017/10/28/reading-challenge-five-findouters/)

Burnt cottage cover 2

Burnt Cottage cover (1943 Methuen)

 

By the second book, the Mystery of the Disappearing Cat, Fatty’s parents have bought a house in and moved to Peterswood, so the findouters are together again in the next holiday (the four older children attend different boarding schools while Bets is still at home), this time to tackle the case of a prize Siamese cat, Dark Queen who belongs to the Hiltons’ neighbour, and who disappears not once but twice. My review is here https://potpourri2015.wordpress.com/2017/11/01/96/

Disappearing Cat cover

Disappearing Cat cover (1990 Dean and Sons)

 

It is really in the third book, the Mystery of the Secret Room (no I’m not discussing each of the fifteen in separate paras) that Fatty begins to develop his detective skills, and pass them on to the others. He is by now thirteen (and Bets has turned nine), and he promises to teach the others what he’s learnt only if he is made head of the Findouters which the children agree to since of course, it is really he who solves all the mysteries. This adventure takes them to a mystery ‘furnished’ room in an otherwise empty house, and the secret that it holds. My review is here:https://potpourri2015.wordpress.com/2017/11/04/findouters-challenge-disguises-invisible-ink-and-secret-rooms/

With book 3 Fatty has begun to develop his detective skills, and these include over the books, writing in invisible ink (or since that’s much too expensive, orange/lemon juice, an effective substitute- it’s been used in real life), escaping from a locked room (if the key’s been left in the keyhole, outside, of course), disguising himself, and ventriloquism. Fatty uses all of these skills or a combination of different ones in their different adventures and also passes them on to the others. From tramp to old woman, to rag-and-bone man, Fatty assumes many guises fooling poor Mr Goon and most of the others almost always. Bets however, manages to spot him much of the time. He and the others use disguises to solve cases of course but also to prank poor Mr Goon, and even his nephew Ern (who makes his first appearance in the Mystery of the Hidden House [review: https://potpourri2015.wordpress.com/2017/11/15/findouters-challenge-enter-ern-goon/%5D, and after this in 5 titles, become more and more a friend of the children and a fairly good detective in his own right).  Mr Goon is not to be left behind in the disguise game and tries his own hand at them (in the Mystery of the Missing Man [review: https://potpourri2015.wordpress.com/2018/03/20/findouters-challenge-where-fatty-meets-his-match-in-a-way/%5D, and in the Mystery of the Invisible Thief [review: https://potpourri2015.wordpress.com/2017/12/12/findouters-challenge-the-battle-of-the-disguises/%5D).

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Fatty in disguise in the Mystery of the Missing Man. Illustration by Mary Gernat (Granada ed., 1984).

Goon in disguise

PC Goon in disguise, also in the Mystery of the Missing Man (1975 ed.). I used a book cover here because none of the pictures I took came through properly.

Each of the Findouters 15 mysteries pops up in successive school holidays, Easter, Summer, Christmas breaks. Their cases come to them in different ways, sometimes they simply stumble upon them, sometimes their friend Inspector Jenks seeks their help when they’ve come across something, and sometimes the tricks they play (upon Goon, Ern, and others) with false clues and mysteries lead them into real mysteries and adventures. Their ‘cases’ range from missing people and kidnapped children to robbery and stolen jewels, and even a poison pen (The Mystery of the Spiteful Letters, review: https://potpourri2015.wordpress.com/2017/11/05/findouters-challenge-a-poison-pen-in-peterswood/).

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Spiteful Letters cover (Armada, 1988)

Solving their ‘cases’ involves not only clues the children pick up on, but also interviews of suspects and witnesses, shadowing, and proper detective work. Also, many of their cases are pretty complicated with a twist or two along the way which makes for interesting reading (the Disappearing Cat, and the Mystery of the Invisible Thief [review: https://potpourri2015.wordpress.com/2017/12/12/findouters-challenge-the-battle-of-the-disguises/%5D, for instance). What makes these books also stand out for me as mysteries (as a child and even now) is how imaginative some of the solutions are. This is not the case in all of the books but quite a few of them, and this is something that I enjoyed in all my revisits. Among the most imaginative are the Disappearing Cat, Missing Necklace (review:https://potpourri2015.wordpress.com/2017/11/07/findouters-challenge-on-the-trail-of-a-missing-necklace/), Holly Lane (review: https://potpourri2015.wordpress.com/2018/01/14/findouters-challenge-a-robbery-lots-of-food-and-some-well-deserved-payback/),  Vanished Prince (review: https://potpourri2015.wordpress.com/2017/12/28/findouters-challenge-a-little-prince-goes-missing/), Strange Bundle (review: https://potpourri2015.wordpress.com/2017/12/30/findouters-challenge-fatty-the-venriloquist/), and Tally-Ho Cottage (review: https://potpourri2015.wordpress.com/2018/03/11/findouters-challenge-of-a-poodle-and-a-stolen-painting/ ).

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Vanished Prince Cover

Holly Lane and Vanished Prince: Some of the Findouters’ Cases with quite creative solutions. (Holly Lane cover, 1991 Dean and Sons; Vanished Prince cover 1951 Methuen). More disguises on the Vanished Prince cover.

All the children play a role in the investigations in most of the books, following suspects, following up on clues, and interviewing various people, and all this is done in a believable way, through family connections, people they meet in the course of the day, and such. But it is Fatty who puts everything together at the end, piecing together the jigsaw and coming up with the solution. (Fatty is a whiz at many things, though a bit of a boaster, but has usually done whatever he boasts of.)

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Fatty (in the Mystery of Holly Lane, Dean and Sons, 1991, Illustration by Trevor Evans.

And very often, it is little Bets who picks up on the most important clue in the case―her observations or remarks are what leads Fatty to ultimately solve everything.The other children, Pip especially fails to see this often chiding her (in an older-brother way) for being childish and not knowing things. Pip too finds the all-important link in one book (the Invisible Thief). Ern Goon, Mr Goon’s nephew who the children initially make the target of one of their pranks, too plays an active role in many of the books that he appears in (Vanished Prince, Tally-Ho Cottage, Strange Messages, and Banshee Towers [review: https://potpourri2015.wordpress.com/2018/04/29/findouters-challenge-sea-paintings-and-two-crazy-dogs/%5D). In Tally-Ho Cottage and Strange Messages, particularly I though he showed great resourcefulness and courage, besides always being a loyal friend. One can’t write about Ern without writing about his ‘portry’ as he calls it (many of which start with ‘the Pore/Poor Old…’, which he always manages to begin can never finish, but Fatty who among his many skills sprouts poetry, can finish in no time. One of my favourites (or at least one that I always remember) from the Mystery of the Vanished Prince (started by Ern and finished by Fatty)

A pore old gardener said, “Ah me!
My days is almost done.
I’ve got rheumatics in me knee,
And now it’s hard to run.
I’ve got a measle in my foot,
And chilblains on my nose,
And bless me if I haven’t got,
Pneumonia in my toes.
All my hair has fallen out,
My teeth have fallen in,
I’m really getting rather stout,
Although I’m much too thin.
My nose is deaf, my ears are dumb,
My tongue is tied in knots,
And now my barrow and my spade,
Have all come out in spots.
My watering can is…”

 

And speaking of Ern, one must also mention his twin brothers Sid and Perce; Sid always has his mouth stuck with toffee which makes it hard for him to speak even when he has important things to tell. (Sid and Perce only appear in Vanished Prince but we hear of them in other stories as well). He also has twin cousins Liz and Glad who appear in Tally-Ho Cottage.

Tally Ho cover

(Tally-Ho Cottage, 1965 Armada ed.)

Still on Ern, reading these stories as an adult I couldn’t help notice and disapprove of their attitude to Ern (especially initially) and Mr Goon.  As far as Ern is concerned, they’re invariable checking him for his manners and commenting (Pip, particularly) on his being a coward as he’s scared  of Mr Goon, but they think nothing of playing a mean trick on him which gets him into a fair bit of trouble with Goon, nor Pip of the fact that he himself is pretty terrified of his own parents. Plus, the children (other than Bets) seem always to doubt Ern’s intelligence or observations, not even always trusting what he says (probably because he belongs to a different (read: lower) rung of society), but still, in this I thought their behaviour not really acceptable. And then Goon (I never thought I’d be writing in his defence) but there are times when their tricks do go too far, and let’s face it, the children may be cleverer than Goon and able to put two and two together faster, but he is the policeman, so deliberately planting false clues and misleading him doesn’t exactly qualify as outsmarting him or good detective work. There are of course occasions when Goon too crosses the line, especially when it comes to Buster, and one can’t help but dislike him there (Holly Lane), and feel for poor Buster and the children, and cheer on when Fatty gets back at him.

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Goon with Fatty and Mr Trotteville in Holly Lane, Fatty having outsmarted him after his nasty trick with Buster. Illustration by Trever Evans from the 1991 ed. (Dean and Sons).

One other thing I had a problem with (besides the childrens’ behaviour) was not to do with Blyton herself but with the ‘updated’ editions of these books (of which I happen to own a copy of Strange Messages) which make what I felt were unnecessary language changes which any child can understand (as did we), as well as one for political correctness that spoiled the whole intent behind its usage. I won’t rant too much here but I have in my review: https://potpourri2015.wordpress.com/2018/04/16/findouters-challenge-anonymous-messages-and-hidden-secrets-and-a-rant-about-the-new-eds/

 

On the point of pc-ness, an aspect of the books that might bother readers looking at these books with a ‘modern’ or present-day pov is that these aren’t the most politically correct books so bear that in mind when you read them. As far as I understand this, this was simply a reflection of the time when the books were written, I feel one needn’t attach too much to it (even if one does raise one’s eyebrows).

 

One can’t write about the Five Findouters or for that matter, any Enid Blyton book without talking about food. Most of the books are rather full with food (some overflowing), with not so much breakfasts and lunches and dinners (though these are there too), but more the teas and little treats in between, sandwiches and cake, macaroons and hot buns, lemonade and icecream in summer, and hot cocoa (and coffee, in one instance―Missing Man) in winter. Buster (and in the last book Ern’s dog Bingo) has his share too, with biscuits topped with potted meat, bones, and biscuits besides sharing the childrens’ icecreams as well (At the tea shop, separate ices are ordered for him too). In pretty much all of my reviews, I’ve rated the books on a ‘foodmeter’ not specific marks but low, average, and high (Pantomime Cat [review: https://potpourri2015.wordpress.com/2017/12/07/findouters-challenge-the-findouters-go-to-the-pantomime/%5D and Invisible Thief are among the ‘highs’).

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Missing Man (another cover, Granada 1984)

This was overall a very enjoyable reading experience for me and while noticing issues such as the childrens’ behaviour did change the impression I had of the books (from my childhood reading), it didn’t spoil my enjoyment of them too much. I had great fun revisiting these, watching how the children first met, and developed their skills as detectives, how the findouters leadership changed (and rightly so), and especially, finding that the solutions to the mysteries that I found interesting (and different) as a child (and also on revisits from time to time) still come across as creative, and make these ‘proper’ detective stories, which stand out from Blyton’s other series.

 

For my next EB challenge, I plan to pick up a shorter series, and one that I haven’t really read that much as a child, Malory Towers (I read the St Clares books more and am thus more familiar with those as well). Like this challenge, I will of course be reading them in order, and my reviews will appear on this page as these have. So, time to set off to school!

Malory towers cover

First Term at Malory Towers cover (1946, Methuen)

[Pictures of illustrations are all mine: I’m not very good at this. All my reviews of the books (linked) are spoiler-free]

Findouters Challenge: Ern, Sea Paintings, and Buster and Bingo

The Mystery of Banshee Towers (The Five Find-Outers, #15)The Mystery of Banshee Towers by Enid Blyton
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Findouters challenge: Book 15. The final book of the findouters series, this marks the end of my findouters challenge which I began last October. This one opens a little differently from the rest as while the children are setting out to receive Fatty as usual, this time around he comes by bus rather than train. There is no mystery waiting for Fatty to solve at the start, and as the childrens’ parents want them out of their hair, they suggest the children go on expeditions to different places around Peterswood. Meanwhile Ern has also come to the village, staying once again with Mr Goon, as one of his sisters has the measles, and this time around he’s brought with him his very own dog Bingo, who not only the children but also Buster takes to instantly. Ern gets into a bit of trouble with Mr Goon and moves into Fatty’s shed thereby also getting the time to join them on their expeditions. So almost Famous-Five-like, their first ‘trip’ takes them to Banshee Towers, an old house that now houses a gallery of sorts for sea pictures. Ern and Bets are awfully keen on seeing these and it is their interest, and Ern’s keen eye that gives them the first hint of mystery. On their very first trip they find some mysterious and rather unfriendly characters in Banshee Towers, the owner included, and also that a banshee actually wails there at a certain hour. Not only that, there is a mysterious trap door, and also a secret path from the outside, which Buster and Bingo have discovered, When Fatty and Ern return a second time to investigate, Ern notices something wrong with one of the paintings he was admiring the previous day. While the other children are not inclined to believe him at the start, Bets has noticed the same thing, and so begins their ‘investigation’ to discover what’s really going on in Banshee Towers.

This one lacked quite a few of the ‘trademark’ elements of the findouters stories, Fatty not disguising himself even once, and the children not pranking Mr Goon (the second bit was more welcome, because as I’ve been noticing this time around, they do tend to unnecessarily bother him, and do interfere with his work), except one little trick at the end. Mr Goon too, though wanting the findouters out of his hair, isn’t at his worst, and by the end is even ready to extend a friendly hand to the children, and one begins to wonder if this will work, but of course…. In this one also, the children are in no direct ‘competition’ with Mr Goon to solve the case, which makes things somewhat smoother. But this doesn’t mean Fatty doesn’t get to use some of the tricks he’s learnt or that the mystery is any the less dangerous or exciting, or the villains, any the less menacing. Ern, as has been the case in the last few titles in which he appears, plays a much more active role, and shows that he too is very bright (he’s proved himself enterprising too before―the children unfortunately still have that somewhat arrogant opinion of Ern’s brains not perhaps being as good as their own), even if not as much so as Fatty, who as usual pieces together the puzzle and works out the answers in what seems like no time at all, leading Chief Inspector Jenks to remark that they would both make good policemen. In fact, he can’t wait for Fatty to grow up and join the force. Ern’s is still at his portry as well, of course, but for a change, his pome does begin with ‘The poor old…’ :). The mystery while not overly complex did have some interesting elements to it, and it was nice to see how Fatty worked out some parts of the puzzle. On the foodmeter, this was above average, though the children don’t go to the tea shop as often as usual, there are teas, toffee, and biscuits in the shed, breakfasts and suppers for Ern, and also some treats for Buster and Bingo. Buster and Bingo I thought made a fun pair of crazy dogs who also played their part in the mystery, besides snapping away at poor Goon’s ankles. This was a fun read and a good close to the series, though if one reads the last lines, it reads like any entry in the series anticipating another mystery, though in this case, no other comes. Which means of course, that one simply has to start back at the beginning 🙂

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At some point next week I will have a post reviewing the series as a whole, my experiences with this challenge, and of course plans for my next Blyton challenge, because of course, there’s going to be another one 🙂

Findouters Challenge: Anonymous Messages and Hidden Secrets (and a rant about the new eds)

The Mystery of the Strange Messages (The Five Find-Outers, #14)The Mystery of the Strange Messages by Enid Blyton

Findouters challenge: Book 14. This is the second of the findouters cases to involve mysterious letters, the first being the Mystery of the Spiteful Letters. This time though, the target is not random people around Peterswood but a certain Mr Smith against whom they are directed and Mr Goon to whom all the notes are addressed. The notes are anonymous and composed of words/letters cut out of newspapers and magazines. Nobody is seen leaving the notes but they appear all over Goon’s house. Goon immediately suspects Fatty and goes to warn off the findouters but this turns out to be a blessing in disguise for our five who have no case to solve (as usual) in the holidays. Goon too soon realises that it wasn’t the findouters who are playing a trick and enlists Ern’s help―actually hires him to help. And so the Findouters start off on another exciting mystery, this one with plenty of hidden secrets and also more to it than first meets the eye. Like in the Mystery of Tally-Ho Cottage, Ern takes on a more active role in this one and does himself proud.

Before I get to my reactions to the actual book itself, I have to rant about the updated eds. Totally my fault, but somehow, I bought a new edition (2011) of this one, something I actively avoid doing usually, and every change they made―pointless in my view (except may be one, but even that didn’t make sense) jarred. For instance, Fatty always called his parents ‘mother’ and ‘father’―which has been changed here to ‘mummy’ and ‘daddy’―why? Do children today not know what ‘mother’ and ‘father’ means, or is it so hard to understand that perhaps in the past, people addressed their parents differently? Elsewhere ‘daily woman’ becomes ‘cleaning lady’―again something that needn’t have been changed, anyone can easily look it up―isn’t that the point of books (or one of the points, at any rate) that you learn new things― new words/expressions, new things about other places and cultures, about your own culture/ country, about the past. Such pointless changes simply ruin the book for me, it loses its sense of time and place, which is part of its value. A third change that stood out was all the references to ‘fat boy’ which is what Goon does call Fatty are changed to ‘big boy’―this I get why it was changed but for one, it wasn’t used in the sense that it is understood today (something else that children today can’t understand, apparently―if we go by the changes), and two, it was meant to be nasty, which ‘big boy’ simply doesn’t convey. Grrrr….

Apart from the edition, Blyton herself made a bit of a mistake in this one, with Mrs Trotteville claiming that she’s been living in Peterswood from nineteen years, when she and her family only moved here in book 2 of the series―and if it were indeed nineteen years since then, our findouters ought to have been in their thirties now 🙂

But anyway, now finally the story itself. While the updated text, as I said, was jarring, the story itself was interested. The opening was different from the usual (one or the other of the children having to be received from the station, holidays with nothing to do)―this one begins with Goon puzzling over the anonymous notes and takes off from there. The mystery was one of the more interesting ones with as I said a little more complicated than it seems at first and it was fun to see how Fatty worked the whole thing out. Of course, it was him that put together everything at the end. Bets this time has some good ideas but one major clue comes from Ern and his attempts at writing por’try (I always forget that all his poetry begins with ‘The Poor Old’ or ‘Pore Old’ 🙂 ) and Ern indeed has a very active role in this one, helping the findouters and Fatty when he is needed the most, and proving himself brave, loyal, and clever. The solution was among the more interesting ones and was rather enjoyable. There was disguising of course, though only once, and actual investigating by all the findouters. On the foodmeter, this one was average, there was food, plenty, but not overflowing. Sid and Perce’s antics are brought in, and with it some laughs, though they themselves don’t make an appearance. A fun read though spoiled for me by the edition (which I must get rid of asap and replace with an older one).

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Findouters Challenge: Where Fatty Meets his Match (in a way)

The Mystery of the Missing Man (The Five Find-Outers, #13)The Mystery of the Missing Man by Enid Blyton
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Findouters challenge: Book 13. The thirteenth of the findouters books begins as usual but also somewhat unusually as well. The children are home again, this time for Easter break, and Fatty to everyone’s surprise is slimming (or attempting to slim, at any rate) for he has been selected for the tennis team at school and while he can hit his shots, running around the court with his current weight isn’t the easiest of things. Meanwhile the Trottevilles have visitors, a friend of Mr Trotteville, Mr Tolling a coleopterist is in Peterswood for a conference and brings along his daughter Eunice who turns out to be the one person Fatty can’t manage to get the better of. Meanwhile his attempts at disguising as a tramp (only for fun and in his shed) lead to his discovering that there is another mystery for the findouters to solve. There is a man the police are looking for, an ace of sorts at disguises and the police are certain he’s in Peterswood. With the fair in the village, and also the conference there are plenty of places to hide. The children are of course trying to solve the mystery before Mr Goon, yet again, but also in a way that Eunice who annoys them doesn’t get wind of what’s going on.

Reading this book, I noticed so many things that were different from the usual findouters books. There are the usual elements of course, school holidays, a mystery, a touch of boasting from Fatty, disguises, Mr Goon and Buster, and food of course. But for one, this book was the first in which I noticed the children drinking coffee―so far (If I haven’t missed it), it was mostly cocoa/chocolate in winter and endless lemonade in summer, so while ages aren’t mentioned in this one, one begins to realise they’re growing older. And then the mention of perms which quite surprised me for while the children weren’t talking of fashion in this case, this wasn’t something that pops up in their vocabularies in general. Then of course, there is Eunice herself, the first time someone who manages to ‘boss’ Fatty around a bit, and who he can’t seem to escape or get the better of. So even he isn’t invincible. Still, while she can be overbearing, no doubt, she’s got some fun in her as well and turns out far better than one would expect from when the book starts off. One sees more of Mrs Trotteville’s lighter side as well in this one. And yes, their equation was Goon is a lot different in this one as well―he still calls Fatty, that ‘toad of a boy’ and doesn’t want his interference, and Fatty still plays a trick or two on him but there isn’t that outright unpleasantness between them that is apparent in many of the books.

Anyway back to the mystery itself, this was again one that I’ve read many times before so though I was reading it after a long-ish gap and had forgotten some of the details, I did remember the solution. While not one of the most interesting, the solution was still fairly so, and one which I as a result enjoyed. This time around though, it was Fatty who worked it all out by himself, literally all of it. The denouement too, come to think of it was very unlike the rest of the series, considering (well that might be a spoiler of sorts)… On the foodmeter, this was certainly much above average. With all that slimming and talk of it, it is only to be expected that Fatty eats a lot more than usual. So yet another enjoyable one, though it seemed very different from the rest of the series.

The original illustrations are available here (but beware, there is a review with spoilers): http://www.enidblytonsociety.co.uk/bo…
(The site mentions the illustrations are by Lilian Bucanan from the first ed, but there are several on this page that I have in my ed and those are by Mary Gernat).

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Findouters Challenge: Of a Poodle and a Stolen Painting

The Mystery of Tally-Ho Cottage (The Five Find-Outers, #12)The Mystery of Tally-Ho Cottage by Enid Blyton
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Findouters challenge: book 12. I started the Findouters challenge last October and have been reading these books in order since. Last month I took a bit of a ‘break’ from it as I was reading mainly historical fiction. But now I’m back to it, and plan to finish the series this month. The Mystery of Tally-ho Cottage was a book I last read many years ago, probably still in school, but not after unlike some of the other books in the series so all I really remembered about it was that it had the Larkins and the Lorenzos but who they were or what the mystery was about I didn’t remember at all. When I began reading though, the solution came back to me, and is certainly among the more creative and fun ones in the series. The story begins more or less the same, though this time Pip and Bets, Larry and Daisy are all in Peterswood while Fatty has been away for two weeks of the Christmas holiday. So, the opening is of course, the four and Buster (who Pip and Bets have been dog-sitting) setting out to the railway station to meet Fatty, due to arrive that day. There they or rather Buster get into a quarrel of sorts with a couple they later learn are the Lorenzos (tenants at Tally-ho Cottage)―the latter having accused Buster of ‘attacking’ their poodle Poppet. The matter settles down as the Lorenzos are leaving town and Poppet is to stay with the rather nasty caretakers of the cottage, the Larkins. Soon it emerges that the Lorenzos have stolen a valuable painting and taken off, and there is once again a mystery to solve. Meanwhile Ern is back in Peterswood staying with his other relatives the Wooshes, who happen to live just next to Tally-Ho giving him an opportunity to keep an eye on Tally-ho for Superintendent Jenks has forbidden Fatty to get involved.

This was another fun entry in the series with, as I wrote already, a pretty creative solution. As far as the ‘investigations’ are concerned, Ern takes a bit of a lead, building a tree- house and involving his twin cousins Liz and Glad in the process. (While the children are friendly to him, their attitude but for Bets is once again the same as ever Pip (who won’t make a noise in his house for fear of his strict parents) accusing Ern of not being brave, and almost all the children believing him to be loose lipped). Still, he catches on to some important things though it is Fatty and the others who interpret them. Also as usual, it is Bets who points to the all-important clue, unwittingly though in this one and Fatty catches on putting all the pieces into place as a result. But none of this before a couple of adventures in ‘disguise’, including as an ‘Indian’ (these bits are a bit exaggerated and stereotypical, but in good fun) to lead Goon a merry dance, as well as a midnight adventure. But yes, none of the planting of false clues and such, only playing tricks on Goon a little. Fatty also uses his mimicry and ventriloquism skills but to entertain rather than to ‘detect’. On the foodmeter, this one rated just ‘ok’―there was eating and drinking (scones, cocoa, gingerbread, cake) but it didn’t seem overflowing with food as some of their adventures are. A fun and entertaining read overall which I quite enjoyed.

A few of the original illustrations are available on the Blyton Society Page here: http://www.enidblytonsociety.co.uk/bo… (but it has a review with spoilers so avoid that if you haven’t read the book but plan to).

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Children’s Book of the Month: Mary Kate and the School Bus and Other Stories by Helen Morgan

One of my reading goals, or rather goals for the blog this year (I will be writing a separate post on this soon) is to read and write on at least one children’s book each month, as this is a genre I really enjoy and read very often. I will try and pick one (as far as possible) connected to the theme I select for the month (again something I’ll write about in my reading goals post). This time around though, the one I picked is related to a challenge with a goodreads group.

I read or rather reread Mary Kate and the School Bus and Other Stories for the ???th time yesterday as one of the challenges I’m taking this year with the group A Book for All Seasons on goodreads involved reading a chapter book I enjoyed as a child. Actually it was more about reading the first one, one remembered reading as a child but as I didn’t really remember the very first, I picked one which I enjoyed reading very much and read countless times. This is also one of very few non-Enid Blyton books I read as a child (I think probably 90 per cent of my reading as a child, if not more, was Enid Blyton).

Mary Kate and the School Bus and Other Stories by Helen Morgan, illustrated by Shirley Hughes is a little collection of 7 chapters/stories about a little girl Mary Kate who is has just turned five and is about to start school. The stories aren’t of adventure or fantasy but of simple everyday happenings that can be as exciting as an adventure. The stories in this collection include Mary Kate getting her first ride in the school bus before she formally starts school (which turns out to be an interesting little adventure on a very snowy day), Mary Kate starting school which sees her getting so many new things (from her uniform to school supplies) that she thinks it’s as good as a birthday, her first day at school, shopping with her uncle Jack, losing her first tooth, a day of things going wrong (including her dog Jacky following her to school― one could almost sing “Mary (Kate) had a little dog”), an early morning walk and picnic with her aunt Mary, and finally her first sports day at school. While I like all the stories in this collection, a few of my favourites are the one where Mary Kate ends up going on an early morning walk (at half-past three) with her aunt to watch the sun rise, and enjoy the peace and beauty of the woods, and also ends up having a picnic breakfast (buttery rolls, sausages, tomatoes, and chocolate―”the nicest breakfast she’d ever had”, all on a fallen tree trunk). The day begins “pink and gold and glowing”, and the wood is full of rhododendrons, lines of pine trees, the ground “mauve with bluebells”, and plenty of daffodils in bloom as well. The others are two connected stories of Mary Kate preparing for her first day at school, her new things all laid out (her uniform, various pairs of shoes, and socks), receiving the various things she’d need as presents from her relatives (het satchel, colouring pencils, and pencil case with pencils and erasers, a painting pinny, etc.). Then is the tale of the day she finally goes to school, eating her breakfast, and setting off, then setting down in school with her own name tag (a red elephant) and making a friend. What I love about all the stories, are that they are such simple, gentle stories which give you a sense of calm and contentment, and which show you how much joy and indeed excitement of a kind there can be in the routine happenings in life, if one is open to enjoying them rather than waiting for “special” things or “big” happenings. While these are essentially children’s stories, there are things once can enjoy about them as an adult as well. I also love the illustrations by Shirley Hughes. A lovely revisit.

This review also appears on goodreads at: https://www.goodreads.com/review/show/1511871297?book_show_action=false

Findouters Challenge: A robbery, lots of food, and some well-deserved payback

The Mystery of Holly Lane (The Five Find-Outers, #11)The Mystery of Holly Lane by Enid Blyton

Findouters Challenge: Book 11. It’s Easter holidays again, and Bets and Pip are preparing to meet Fatty at the station as Fatty’s school breaks a week later than their own. Quite sure that Fatty will be in disguise again, the children get into a bit of a muddle when they mistake a Frenchman who is in Peterswood to visit his sister for Fatty but when the real Fatty turns up and is able to placate him with his impeccable French, he soon enough befriends the children. Meanwhile having no mystery at hand, the children decide to play the fool yet again, with Fatty taking Mr Goon in as a foreign lady who can read palms and Larry posing as a window cleaner doing some practice “shadowing”. But of course, their tricks lead them into a new mystery once again, when an old, nearly blind man in Hollies, a cottage on Holly Lane is robbed of all his savings, and the very next day, all his furniture is mysteriously stolen at midnight. Fatty just happens to be there to retrieve a window-leather Larry had dropped when cleaning the windows at Hollies, though he doesn’t till the next day catch on to what’s been happening. Once again, the children are in a race against Goon to try and beat him out at solving the mystery, where the chief suspect ends up being the old man’s granddaughter Marian, who did in deed look after her granddad very well but was the only one who knew where his money was and mysteriously vanished just after the money did.

This was one of my favourites as a child since I enjoyed the very creative solution to the mystery or at least part of it very much and though I hadn’t forgotten it, still enjoyed reading it very much. The part with Mr Henri convalescing, sitting by the window at his sister’s house had a bit of a “rear window” touch to it. In some books in this series, I found myself finding fault with the children for the kind of tricks they played on Mr Goon, who isn’t the most likeable of people, no doubt but doesn’t always deserve how far they go. But in this one, my reaction was quite the opposite. Mr Goon does a rather detestable thing with Buster, having him falsely accused and captured and it was fun watching how Fatty got back at him. In fact, I enjoyed seeing Mr Trotteville, who usually comes across as quite stern, approving of Fatty’s “revenge” and having fun at watching it play out. On the foodmeter again, this one rates fairly high with plenty of scrumptious teas and icecream, cake and macaroons, and Buster getting his favourite dog biscuits topped with potted meat. This was also one where Chief-Inspector Jenks, now Superintendent Jenks takes the children out for a treat with plenty more food. As far as solving the case was concerned, in this one it was Fatty who really did pretty much everything, catching on to the important clues and solving everything at the end, besides of course having a very good time with his disguises. So a really fun read which I thoroughly enjoyed (though modern readers may find some things non-PC about this one).

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Findouters Challenge: Fatty, the Venriloquist

The Mystery of the Strange Bundle (The Five Find-Outers, #10)The Mystery of the Strange Bundle by Enid Blyton

Findouters Challenge: Book 10. Christmas Holidays again but the Findouters are all down with the flu passed on by Bets (much to Mr Goon’s delight). Bets upset about being the cause of the others’ woes spends her time and money cheering them up. When she spends the day at Fatty’s house, he shows off his newest skill―ventriloquism. As soon as the children are well enough to get outdoors again, a robbery occurs in a house near Larry’s, and the owner Mr Fellowes is seen escaping in his dressing gown and pyjamas with only a bundle in his hand. Mr Fellowes soon returns and insists he had gone of his own volition only to visit a friend, and nothing has been stolen. But before Mr Fellowes’ return, the children (and Mr Goon) have already begun investigating and the only clues they’ve found are some footprints and a very small red glove. And while the children may not have started off tricking Mr Goon in this one, Fatty soon enough uses his ventriloquism and disguises to lead poor Goon on a bit of a wild goose chase, with the result that poor Goon thinks the real clues he finds are only a trick the children played. So it is upto the findouters again to put two and two together and solve the mystery of the strange bundle.

As far as food and eating is concerned, this one was pretty much overflowing with it. Fatty and in fact all the others having recovered from the flu seem famished all the time and are happy to eat helping after helping of their dinners and suppers besides scrumptious teas and hot chocolate and endless macaroons at the dairy, and then some ore when they come back home. It makes one positively hungry 🙂 Mr Goon I again felt rather sorry for in this one―his reaction to the tricks played on him was certainly a little extreme (him being an adult and a policeman) but the children do tend to take their tricks a little too far. The mystery I thought was also one their more interesting ones, with the children really applying their minds to Mr Fellowes’ strange behaviour and equally strange clues that this mystery has thrown up attempting to work out what they could all mean―in the process applying all their skills (Fatty’s marvellous disguises included). The solution too was quite interesting though overall the end doesn’t leave one feeling entirely satisfied. This time it turns out to be Buster who plays a key part. A somewhat unusual mystery but still good fun. Three and a half stars.

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