A mystery with a difference

THE MEDICI CURSE by Matt Chamings (CHA)
Genre: Historical fiction, Murder-mystery
Interest level: Years 9/10

This novel is an intriguing work in which two parallel stories unfold in alternating chapters. The story from the past is set in Florence when Medici was an important patron of the arts. A renaissance painter who is meant to be painting the portrait of Medici’s daughter falls in love with the girl, even though he initially wants to kill Medici (who killed his own father). The story from the present, concerns a family living in Italy; the mother is Italian, and the Dad is a British lecturer working in Florence. He buys a painting then discovers another painting underneath which may be quite valuable. Unfortunately, this concealed work seems to include a curse which begins to take over the modern day family. As the stories unfold, the reader learns the link between the 2 stories – and both are compelling. Can the mystery underlying the love story of the past be solved in time to save the present? The author has created a believable mix of history and adventure; a great sense of place is conveyed, from renaissance Florence to small town Italy now. The mystery is also well paced and entertainingly revealed and satisfyingly concluded.

Recommended (dma) ****

Another visual treat

Beowulf (Graphic novel version) (HIN)
Genre: Fantasy, Graphic novel, Action, Adventure
Interest level: Years 8 and up

This is a wonderful adaptation of the old Norse legend. A cruel monster has haunted the Danes for years, killing anyone who stays in their meeting hall overnight. The hero Beowulf (a Geat) comes to slay this monster (or be slayed by it) with his Herculean-like strength. Whilst Beowulf defeats the monster he must then face Grendel (the monster’s rather angry mother). An interesting look at a legendary superhero (without the modern day cape or alien powers). Beowulf’s modesty is a key virtue in this adaptation. The illustrations are truly compelling; it is visually a very attractive rendition of the story and would appeal particularly to those readers who like their action to be blood-soaked.

Highly recommended (dma). *****

For the science buffs

George’s Secret Key to the Universe
by Lucy & Stephen Hawking (HAW)
Genre: Science, Science fiction, Adventure
Interest level: Years 7/8

The co-author of this book, Stephen Hawking, has one of the best physics brains in the world. Lucy is his daughter. Together they have created a entertaining blend of scientific fact & fast paced adventure. The storyline is clever: a curious young boy (George) from a family who distrust technology & refuse to use it (eg no TV, no computer) meets a scientist who loves astronomy & science. Together they learn about the joys and pain of science & technology. The main characters are believable but the adventure story on its on (becoming lost in space) probably targeted at a Year 5/6 level; what lifts it above this, is the science that is explored in the process. The presentation is outstanding; facts are provided clearly, in a language that non-scientists can understand, and they are accompanied by amazing astronomical photos from NASA and other sources. Thoroughly entertaining and enjoyable and would be especially enjoyed by those who enjoy a mix of fact and fiction.

Highly recommended (dma). *****

A Great Graphic Novel

Artemis Fowl (Graphic Novel version) (COL)
Genre: Fantasy, Graphic novel, Adventure
Interest level: Years 8 and up

This is an excellent graphic novel adaptation of a much-loved novel. Great use of contrasting colours to highlight the two parts of the story; the Fairy world is blue/green whilst Artemis’ world is generally toned in browns. The basic story line remains the same as the original novel (by Eoin Colfer): a child genius, who happens to be a criminal, plots to get fairy gold by holding a fairy to ransom. There is an interesting mix of fairies & magic & modern gadgetry in the story which includes several clever twists and turns. Whilst Artemis’ home life is sad (his Dad is missing, assumed dead, and his Mum seems to have lost her mind) there is also plenty of sardonic humour to keep the reader entertained.

Recommended (dma) ****