Book reviews: Mystery, adventure and chocolate with Chicken House books

A small, creative publisher based in Somerset, Chicken House is making big waves in the vast world of children's books.

Tuesday, 16th February 2016, 10:00 am
Mystery, adventure and chocolate with Chicken House books
Mystery, adventure and chocolate with Chicken House books

The highly individual publishing company, which boasts an enthusiasm for new fiction, has an eclectic range of exciting books on offer this month, from a Shanghai adventure starring invisible animals to a super sleuthing schoolgirl and a thrilling white-knuckle jungle adventure.

Age 8 plus:

Moon Princess by Barbara Laban

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Invisible pets, a baffling mystery and the excitement of a trip to the Chinese city of Shanghai… Barbara Laban’s thrilling debut novel packs a real punch.

The extraordinary adventures of a lonely young girl in one of the world’s most culturally fascinating cities are guaranteed to set imaginations on fire as Laban takes us on a journey of drama and discovery.

Sienna’s mother, an expert on ancient Chinese works of art, has disappeared somewhere in China and now the 12-year-old girl must to go and live in a huge apartment block in Shanghai where her father is on an assignment. She knows has to be strong for her dad but sometimes it’s very hard.

Sienna doesn’t have any really close friends, only her invisible dog, the wisecracking Rufus, who goes everywhere with her. When their mean housekeeper Ling – Sienna has spotted that the woman’s wide smile doesn’t quite reach her eyes – starts acting suspiciously, she decides to investigate. With the help of her new friend Feng, the shy boy with a gentle face, she follows a trail of clues that leads her to a mysterious moonlit temple. Is her mother’s disappearance linked to a priceless statue of a princess? And can Sienna discover the dangerous truth?

Laban’s warm and enchanting mystery, featuring a rich cast of invisible animals including Rufus and a sassy white cat called Minka, can’t fail to win hearts and minds. Beautifully written, and packed with mystery and humour, Moon Princess is a sure-fire winner for the eight to 11 age group.

(Chicken House, paperback, £6.99)

Age 10 plus:

Alice Jones: The Impossible Clue by Sarah Rubin

Another heroine grabbing the headlines at Chicken House this month is Alice Jones, the super cool sleuth that everyone wanted to be at the age of 10.

The adventures of junior detective Alice, who sets out to solve the mystery of a disappearing scientist, are most definitely of the irresistibly quirky variety which always proves so addictive for young readers.

And the good news is that The Impossible Clue is just the first in this funny, entertaining new detective series from US author Sarah Rubin who combines classic mystery tales with the realities of modern day life in Philadelphia.

Maths-whizz Alice likes a challenge and has already solved a mystery or two. When it comes to figuring things out, she’s the ‘go to’ girl. Persuaded by wannabe sidekick Sammy Delgado Jr to investigate a scientist’s disappearance, she is soon entangled in her trickiest case yet.

Sammy’s dad runs a big science laboratory, a very secretive research centre, where Dr Learner is reputed to have invented an invisibility suit. But is wacky science really to blame for his vanishing? With the unlikely help of erstwhile nemesis Kevin Jordan, the boy with the personality of a fungal rash, Alice solves the puzzle… only to face another. Should she reveal the truth, or protect her most devoted friend?

Packed with charm, humour and a mind-boggling mystery, this is perfect for young readers who like their books to be both fun and challenging.

(Chicken House, paperback, £6.99)

Age 10 plus:

Boy X by Dan Smith

It’s described as The Maze Runner meets Bear Grylls, and one thing’s for sure… you’ll be on the edge of your seat until the last page has turned!

Boy X is the first book of an electrifying new high-octane series, featuring some thrilling no-holds-barred action, from Newcastle-based writer Dan Smith, author of Big Game, which is now a major film starring Samuel L. Jackson.

Smith’s brilliant and gripping survival story follows a boy’s epic journey into a dangerous South American tropical jungle to try to save his kidnapped mother.

Kidnapped and drugged, 12-year-old Ash McCarthy wakes up on remote Black Island near Costa Rica. His mother, a genetic scientist, has been imprisoned and infected with a deadly virus called Kronos. Where is he, and what’s he doing there?

With the help of his new friend, local girl Isabel who is both brave and clever, he sets out to cross the jungle and rescue his mother. Soon he realises that he is quicker and sharper than before but there’s something else... why are the animals watching him, and how can he use the jungle to his advantage? The journey across the jungle is dangerous and time is running out. Can Ash and Isabel find not just the source of the virus but, more importantly, its cure?

Fast-paced and packed with drama, Boy X is ideal reading for all young adventurers.

(Chicken House, paperback, £6.99)

Age 7 plus:

The Great Chocoplot by Chris Callaghan

How about a deliciously tasty mystery that will have you reaching for the chocolate box?

Next month Chicken House will be publishing The Great Chocoplot, a brilliantly funny mystery from debut author Chris Callaghan who says he wrote it for his daughter as a Christmas present.

When Callaghan entered the story into Chicken House’s Open Coop, a one-day amnesty for unpublished writers, the highly original and comical chocolate-themed caper was immediately snapped up for publication.

Jelly and her family live in the chocolate factory town of Chompton-on-de-Lyte, where everyone loves a Blocka Choca bar or two. So when a TV news programme announces the end of chocolate – forever! – she can’t believe it.

An amazing ancient stone has predicted the total and complete disintegration of cocoa products on the summer solstice. Determined to investigate, Jelly and her gran follow a trail of clues to an upmarket chocolate shop and its owner, the pompous Garibaldi Chocolati. Gari is suspiciously smug, despite his failing business and yucky chocolate. Is it really the chocopocalypse (a cataclysmic cacao catastrophe) or is there a chocoplot afoot?

Callaghan has a chocolate ball with this jaw-chomping adventure which sees a scary Willy Wonka-cum-evil-mastermind baddie pitted against fearless heroine Jelly who refuses to wobble in the face of extreme danger.

The best chocolate story you will read this year… bar none!

(Chicken House, paperback, £6.99)