Childrens - Shastrix Books


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Well Done, Secret Seven

Well Done, Secret Seven

Enid Blyton

24th July 2020

The third Secret Seven novel felt exceptionally weak to me.

It’s clearly aimed at a younger audience than the Five Find-Outers novels that I’ve read more recently, but this story in particular seemed to spend all of its focus on setting, and very little on plot.

The characters barely do any detective work, and almost everything just happens around them, or happens by mechanism of talking to parents. The story doesn’t live up to that in the previous two stories.

It feels slightly less dated though - there’s still some sexism and classism, but the sexism is at least partly challenged.

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Buy book: UK
The Ghost at Skeleton Rock

The Ghost at Skeleton Rock

Franklin W Dixon, James D Lawrence & Priscilla Baker-Carr

24th July 2020

Deep into the original run of the Hardy Boys novels, Skeleton Rock starts well - with a classic new hobby for Chet, a hometown mystery, and a collection of surprising family-owned vehicles.

But later on it falls down a bit, as the brothers head off someone remote, and get involved with yet another group of indiginous people to represent in a stereotypical and offensive way.

A mediocre entry in the series.

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Secret Seven Adventure

Secret Seven Adventure

Enid Blyton

27th June 2020

The second book in the Secret Seven series - a story I must have read several times as a child. Fairly safe I thought - a homely familiar tale of seven children from the 1950s (who in my head live in my grandparents’ house, despite in the narrative living on a farm).

Nope - dated in new and interesting ways - less sexism than I had expected based on the first novel. Now however into racism, playing at “Red Indians” and describing circus performers as scary when in their everyday clothes.

The datedness continued with visits to an animal-based circus, which while possibly still the norm at the time of writing felt very uncomfortable to read about today. And yet then suddenly my copy had the children using decimal currency - clearly someone has somehow decided that children won’t be able to cope with old money, despite all the other elements that have been now (or at least should be, especially in a children’s story) relegated to history.

I don’t know whether it’s worth commenting on the fact that Blyton, writing in the 1950s, has her characters walking around with badges with ‘SS’ marked on them.

The basic plot isn’t bad - it’s a solid mystery that the children get involved in and solve using their ingenuity, and there are the usual elements of tension between the children around their secret password. So it’s a shame that this is let down by the other elements of the story.

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Buy book: UK
The Clue in the Embers

The Clue in the Embers

Franklin W Dixon, John Almquist & Priscilla Baker-Carr

8th June 2020

This is one of those Hardy Boys stories that I know I had a child, because my copy has my name in the front in shaky youthful handwriting - and yet I didn’t remember it at all.

It seemed to start fairly well - a friend’s interesting inheritance that somebody wanted to buy on the quiet, and a story of potentially valuable medallions. And yet then it descended into some of the most absurd racism of the series so far.

I don’t really want to go into the detail because that’s spoilers, but suffice to say the boys break all sense of realism in their attempts at disguise, which is not only ridiculous but clearly offensive, while also trampling all over indigenous cultures and participating in a particularly notable act of profiling.

It was a bad week for racism when I re-read this novel, but I don’t think that made it stand out any more than it would have. It’s particularly surprising how these editions which are meant to have been rewritten in the 1960s to remove the racism have ended up still being so bad.

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Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince

J K Rowling

8th June 2020

A chance conversation led me to realise that it was a very long time since I’d read Half-Blood Prince, the sixth Harry Potter book. Possibly I haven’t even read it since book seven came out, which seems negligent.

So despite the time that’s passed since my re-read of the series so far, I took this off my shelf to join a vast number of other readers re-consuming the Harry Potter novels as a source of comfort during lockdown.

In my head, there’s a sort of line between books five a six - the first five novels are the classic Harry Potter series. The final two seem separate for some reason, as if they aren’t quite the same series. I don’t know whether this is a product of how much I like them, or down to the age, or perhaps pace, at which I read them (though I think I read five in one sitting too).

This time round, I enjoyed Half-Blood Prince, as expected. I enjoyed spotting a few things that I’d either never noticed before or forgotten - small things, little nods to characters in the background, or little hints of things that had yet to be revealed. You can almost feel the various threads coming together in the author’s mind as the series prepares to wrap up.

There’s also the problem of the film - which I probably have seen more times than I’ve read the book. In my mind, a lot of the scenes are as they were in the film - but also some events I could picture from the films but not remember which book they map to, so I was expecting scenes which never emerged.

Overall - it remains a solid story and a good adventure… but it’s still not as good as Order of the Phoenix. Perhaps my impression of the later books is just because Phoenix was to me the best, and so it’s downhill after that.

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Buy book: UK
The Secret Seven

The Secret Seven

Enid Blyton

24th May 2020

Having completed my adult revisitation to Enid Blyton’s Five Find-Outers series, I turned next to the Secret Seven, which had been my second-favourite of the prolific author’s mystery series as a child.

This first book sets up the group, introduces the main characters and sets them off on their first adventure.

I was slightly surprised by how different it feels to the other series - this is clearly aimed at a younger audience, and uses simpler language, is shorter (barely 100 pages) and the plotting and mystery more straightforward (there is so much blatant foreshadowing that I don’t think anyone of any age wouldn’t spot the twist coming).

The gender roles feel very dated right from the start, and this is I suspect going to be a recurring feature as I make my way through the 15 stories, but I can always hope…

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The Hooded Hawk Mystery

The Hooded Hawk Mystery

Franklin W Dixon, Charles Strong & Priscilla Baker-Carr

24th May 2020

I’ve been rapidly making my way through the Hardy Boys original series during lockdown, and this one seemed like a solid entry.

The boys are mysteriously gifted a Peregrine Falcon, and of course find a way to make use of it to solve a mystery. It’s interesting that its them that gets a new hobby, as that has traditionally been the role of Chet through the series so far.

It’s much more of the classic vein, and partly that’s probably true in my head because it’s one that I read as a child - but it’s based in Bayport, involves lots of the common elements, and feels slightly educational too.

There are a couple of aspects that are a bit dated and likely wouldn’t be included in a novel aimed at the same target audience today, particularly around animals and hunting. There’s also some dated language that today would be correctly interpreted as racism - if not for the fact that the terms in question have died out and so many readers wouldn’t even understand what they meant.

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Other reviewed books

The Yellow Feather Mystery
The Mystery of Banshee Towers
The Secret of Wildcat Swamp
The Wailing Siren Mystery
The Mystery of Holly Lane
The Mystery of the Strange Messages
The Short-Wave Mystery
The Mystery of the Missing Man
The Secret of the Crooked Cat
The Clue of the Broken Blade
Five Children and It
Especially Jennings
Brigands M.C.
The Mystery of the Laughing Shadow
The Disappearing Floor
The Mystery of Tally-Ho Cottage
Jennings of Course
The Twisted Claw
The Falls
Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix
The Mystery of the Talking Skull
The General
The Mystery of the Moaning Cave
The Mystery of the Strange Bundle
The Sleepwalker
The Mystery of the Screaming Clock
The Mystery of the Vanished Prince
Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire
Mad Dogs
The Tower Treasure
The Mystery of the Silver Spider
The Mystery of the Invisible Thief
The Fall
Don't Touch Anything
The Mystery of the Fiery Eye
Crocodile Tears
Man vs Beast
The Mystery of the Pantomime Cat
The Secret of Skeleton Island
The Wide Window
Divine Madness
Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban
The Mystery of the Hidden House
The Accused
The Mystery of the Vanishing Treasure
The Reptile Room
Ark Angel
The Rithmatist
The Mystery of the Missing Necklace
The Field Guide
Percy Jackson and the Lightning Thief
The Mystery of the Green Ghost
Coots in the North and other stories
The Killing
The Abduction
The Mystery of the Spiteful Letters
The Mystery of the Whispering Mummy
Eagle Strike
The Mystery of the Secret Room
Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets
Maximum Security
Alcatraz Versus the Knights of Crystallia
Alcatraz Versus the Scrivener's Bones
Great Northern?
The Mystery of the Stuttering Parrot
Skeleton Key
The Mystery of the Disappearing Cat
Class A
The Secret of Terror Castle
The Picts and the Martyrs
The Assassination Game
Point Blanc
The Recruit
The World of Poo
The Mystery of the Burnt Cottage
Missee Lee
Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone
Just Like Jennings
Catching Fire
The Big Six
The Trouble with Jennings
The Hunger Games
Secret Water
The Bad Beginning
We Didn't Mean to Go to Sea
Pigeon Post
The Song of the Quarkbeast
Coot Club
Winter Holiday
Jennings as Usual
Peter Duck
Take Jennings for Instance
Thanks to Jennings
Swallows and Amazons
Our Friend Jennings
The Last Dragonslayer
According to Jennings
Jennings' Diary
Jennings and Darbishire
Jennings' Little Hut
Jennings Follows a Clue
Jennings Goes to School
Artemis Fowl

Unreviewed books

A Killing in the Market
Alcatraz Versus the Shattered Lens
An Ear for Danger
Beyond the Law
Biggles - Flying Detective
Biggles and the Black Peril
Biggles and the Secret Mission
Biggles Defends the Desert
Biggles Defies the Swastika
Biggles Delivers the Goods
Biggles Fails to Return
Biggles Flies East
Biggles Flies West
Biggles Goes to War
Biggles in France
Biggles in the Orient
Biggles Learns to Fly
Blood Fever
Blood Relations
Brother Against Brother
By Royal Command
Castle Fear
Choke Hold
Cold Sweat
Countdown to Terror
Crime in the Kennel
Crusade of the Flaming Sword
Cult of Crime
Dangerous Games
Dead on Target
Deep Trouble
Diplomatic Deceit
Dirty Deeds
Disaster for Hire
Double or Die
Edge of Destruction
Endangered Species
Evil Incorporated
Fatal Error
Final Cut
Final Gambit
Flesh and Blood
Flight into Danger
Foul Play
Foul Play
Fright Wave
Fun for the Secret Seven
Funny Business
Go Ahead, Secret Seven
Good Old Secret Seven
Good Work, Secret Seven
Grave Danger
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows
High-Speed Showdown
Hollywood Horror
Hostages of Hate
Hot Wheels
Hurricane Gold
James and the Giant Peach
Jennings Again
Jennings at Large
Jennings in Particular
Jennings Unlimited
Lethal Cargo
Long Shot
Look Out Secret Seven
Mariel of Redwall
Martial Law
Martin the Warrior
Maximum Challenge
Murder at the Mall
Murder to Go
Night of the Werewolf
No Mercy
Open Season
Outcast of Redwall
Pearls of Lutra
Perfect Getaway
Power Play
Programme for Destruction
Puzzle for the Secret Seven
Reel Trouble
Rigged for Revenge
Rock 'n' Revenge
Rough Stuff
Scene of the Crime
Secret Seven Fireworks
Secret Seven Mystery
Secret Seven on the Trail
Secret Seven Win Through
See No Evil
Seven Strange and Ghostly Tales
Shock for the Secret Seven
Sidetracked to Danger
Sky Sabotage
Slam Dunk Sabotage
Speaking of Jennings
Still William
Swallows and Amazons for Ever!
Terror on Track
The Alaskan Adventure
The Apeman's Secret
The Bellmaker
The Blackwing Puzzle
The Borgia Dagger
The Camels are Coming
The Cold Cash Caper
The Crowning Terror
The Crystal Prison
The Dead Season
The Final Reckoning
The Firebird Rocket
The Genius Thieves
The Hypersonic Secret
The Jennings Report
The Jungle Pyramid
The Last Laugh
The Last Leap
The Lazarus Plot
The Long Patrol
The Masked Monkey
The Midnight Folk
The Mummy Case
The Mystery at Devil's Paw
The Mystery of Death Trap Mine
The Mystery of Monster Mountain
The Mystery of Smugglers Cove
The Mystery of the Chinese Junk
The Mystery of the Coughing Dragon
The Mystery of the Cranky Collector
The Mystery of the Dead Man's Riddle
The Mystery of the Desert Giant
The Mystery of the Flaming Footprints
The Mystery of the Headless Horse
The Mystery of the Invisible Dog
The Mystery of the Kidnapped Whale
The Mystery of the Magic Circle
The Mystery of the Missing Mermaid
The Mystery of the Nervous Lion
The Mystery of the Purple Pirate
The Mystery of the Rogues' Reunion
The Mystery of the Samurai Sword
The Mystery of the Scar-Faced Beggar
The Mystery of the Shrinking House
The Mystery of the Silver Star
The Mystery of the Singing Serpent
The Mystery of the Sinister Scarecrow
The Mystery of the Smashing Glass
The Mystery of the Trail of Terror
The Mystery of the Two-Toed Pigeon
The Mystery of the Wandering Cave Man
The Number File
The Oaken Throne
The Outlaw's Silver
The Pentagon Spy
The Phoenix Equation
The Search for the Snow Leopard
The Secret Agent on Flight 101
The Secret of Phantom Lake
The Secret of the Haunted Mirror
The Seven and the Lion Hunt
The Seven and the Magician
The Seven and the UFOs
The Seven Strike Gold
The Seven to the Rescue
The Sky Blue Frame
The Stone Idol
The Vanishing Thieves
The Viking Symbol Mystery
Thick as Thieves
Three Cheers, Secret Seven
Trust Jennings
Typically Jennings
Uncivil War
Web of Horror
Without a Trace
Witness to Murder

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