Stella by the Sea by Ruth Starke is a simple and lovely story of friendship and community. After a vivid dream that seems to match exactly, schoolgirl Stella responds to an advertisement for a cubbyhouse for sale. The only problem is she has nowhere to put it – she lives in a penthouse apartment with no backyard. So, being the daughter of a real estate superstar, Stella considers her options and offers to rent the cubbyhouse instead. While her elderly landlord initially seems gruff, Stella soon discovers that Chester is a real old softy – a retired pastry chef who loves baking but doesn’t see the point in “baking for one”. And another perk of renting a patch of Chester’s backyard comes in the form of the neighbours’ pets – one by one Stella begins a dog-walking and cat-minding business. Soon she has befriended a number of people in the area and she connects them with the reticent Chester by throwing herself a cubbyhouse-warming party. Chester now has plenty of baking requests, and in return his neighbours take care of him: free hair cuts, lawn mowing, companionship. But progress and development, and growing old, threaten their idyllic little set up. Chester has some hard bargaining to do if he’s going to do right by his young tenant.
Nooks and Crannies is an adorable Edwardian murder mystery by Jessica Lawson. Tabitha Crum is one of the sweetest heroines you’ll come across – she’ll simultaneously capture your heart and break it as she tries so desperately to earn the love of her cruel and heartless parents. Luckily for Tabitha she discovers that she was adopted and now she has a chance to inherit a fortune – if she turns out to be the true heir of the Countess of Windermere. But first there are a few problems to overcome at the Countess’s manor house: five other children who could potentially be the true heir, the suspicious death of the one person who might have been able to identify the correct child, the matter of ghostly noises and weird happenings, and something else Tabitha can’t quite put her finger on.
The fascinating thing about The Islands of Chaldea is not that it is Diana Wynne Jones’s last book but that she died with it unfinished and it was completed and published posthumously. DWJ’s younger sister Ursula has given fans an extraordinary gift by seamlessly integrating an ending to the unfinished manuscript. We will never know if it is the ending Diana would’ve written – because she left no clues, no notes, and an entire committee of family and friends brainstorming for hours could not figure out what she might have intended for the story. Nevertheless, Ursula’s ending is fitting and satisfying and a wonderful tribute to Diana’s memory and the power of sisterhood.
The Map to Everywhere is the first collaboration between husband and wife authors Carrie Ryan and John Parke Davis and utilises the increasingly popular format of alternating chapters told by a boy-girl pair of main characters. They may have missed a golden opportunity here to make their characters two girls to fill in the dearth of female-friendship adventure stories for this age group. In addition, it is the male character’s point of view that opens the book, granting him the lead by default. Other than that quibble this book is a superbly-crafted adventure story with only a very few of the annoying clichés you might anticipate –
The first being that most of the chapters in the book don’t pass the Bechdel test for the simple reason that Marrill is the only female character for large swathes of the story. Even her cat is male. However, it is a story with a small cast: Fin, Marrill, Ardent the wizard, and Coll the ship’s captain. And the book certainly passes the Mako Mori test.
This is delightful, though probably best for readers about 10+ because it’s set during WW2 and, while not graphic, it features air raids and the deaths, injuries, and destruction they caused. It deals with death in a sweetly reassuring and semi-secular-fantasy way: the dead are described as being peacefully at rest with their loved ones enjoying a long, pleasant dream. Ghosts rise when something disturbs the interred body, but most ghosts do not leave the cemetery where they are buried.