Book Reviews

Kentucky Thriller : Lauren St John

Kentucky ThrillerKentucky Thriller by Lauren St. John

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

So before we do this, I think you need to have a look at my review of the preceding titles in this series. Here’s what I thought of Dead Man’s Cover and here’s what I thought of Kidnap in the Carribean. Suffice to say those reviews will give you context for what’s about to occur.

And if you didn’t click on them, this will give you even more context. There are not many books that make me go “YES!” when I discover them at my library. Kentucky Thriller is one of them. Reader, I fistpumped.

The third in the series of Laura Marlin Mysteries, Kentucky Thriller is centred around racehorses and two in particular – the big, bold stallion ‘Gold Rush’ and his talented son ‘Noble Warrior’. It’s through a variety of circumstances involving Gold Rush that Laura and her best friend Tariq are invited to Kentucky to help his son win the Kentucky Derby. But there’s problems aftoot and mysterious abounding on Fleet Farm and it looks like those problems may cost everyone dearly.

I love these books. I practically cancelled my weekend to read it. In Kentucky Thriller, we have a book which is full of joy. Laura and Tariq’s trip to America is so reminiscent of Dora from Follyfoot’s trip to meet Earl Blankenheimer that I practically curled over with happiness. More of this sort of thing please world, lots more.

I can’t tell you how much I loved St John’s ability with this book. Her sense of place is outstanding, whether it’s the palatial surroundings that the racehorses enjoy or the equally palatial breakfasts served to Tariq and Laura. Coupled with that, we have her Black Stallion moments during the racecourse, Laura going full Nancy Drew when it counts, a terrifying Haunted House, Tariq pulling his inner Horse Whisperer out of the bag and drama of the drama-est kind! Did you ever come across the Wonder series by Joanna Chapman? Kentucky Thriller is the Wonder books meets Nancy Drew meets Buffy.

God I love these books. I love Laura. I love how much she takes pride in her skills and is proud of her friends. I love that she’s taken seriously, you know, that her talent of mystery-solving is very much that – a talent. I love how she’s strong and yet fallible. I love how she loves her friends and Skye, her dog.

I love that there’s books in the world that exist like this, that mix peril and bravery and friendship up with horses and produce something of this quality.

I love these books so much.

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Everything else

An esoteric and distinctly biased list of 50 children’s books you probably really should read (part one)

Artichoke Hearts – Sita Brahmachari

Brahmachari stormed into publication with this stunning tribute to life, love and growing up. Told in first person by the engaging Mira Levenson, Artichoke Hearts covers some difficult topics but does so with such warmth and love that it’s hard not to fall in love with this rare gem of a book.

Similar to : Itself.

Jasmine Skies – Sita Brahmachari

The sequel to Artichoke Hearts, Jasmine Skies sees Mira exploring her heritage in India. Kolkata and India are intensely drawn with a lush richness that is gorgeous to read. Mira faces some difficult decisions and, in a way, completes the ‘coming of age’ story began in the previous novel.

Similar to : Artichoke Hearts (ha, sorry but it really is!)

Who’s afraid of the big bad book – Lauren Child

Both a stunning treatise on the book as object, the act of reading and also a metatextual treatment of fairytales, this book is superb. Plus it’s really, really very funny. I adore this.

Similar to : Revolting Rhymes

Beowulf – Gareth Hinds

Adapting an epic poem into graphic novel form is no mean feat (have you seen a graphic novel version of The Rime of the Ancient Mariner for example?) but Hinds does it with brilliant skill. His book has dark, macabre artwork that is so vital that it practically sings from the page.

Similar to : The Odyssey (Gareth Hinds)

Unhooking the Moon – Gregory Hughes

Another book which deserves to be a classic, this is the story of Bob and his sister ‘The Rat’ on their way to New York to meet their long lost Uncle. If you’ve not read this, you’re missing out on one of the greatest female characters this century: The Rat. She’s adorable, gorgeous and heartbreaking.

Similar to : Jack Kerouac meets Willy Wonka.

A Little Love Song – Michelle Magorian

This is one of Magorian’s lesser known titles, this is the story the summer where Rose fell in love, A Little Love Song is one of – and perhaps – her greatest. Set in the middle of the second world war, and featuring the ‘holiday’ town from Goodnight Mr Tom, it is a stunning achievement.

Similar to : I Capture The Castle

A Monster Calls – Patrick Ness

What to say about this stunning multi-award winning book? It is devestating, stunning, and deserves to be a forever classic. Based on an idea by the late Siobhan Dowd and ultimately written by Ness and illustrated by Jim Kay, Conor faces the unfaceable in the shape of a monster who visits him at night and forces him to confront the worst things in his life.

Similar to : Neil Gaiman (His ‘Sandman’ series in particular)

Life : An Exploded Diagram – Mal Peet

Sometimes we need a book to just go giddy and revel in what it is. Life : An Exploded Diagram is such a book. Stretching majestically over countries, lives, and years, this book is vividly human and alive. Alive. It’s an interesting thing for a book to be, but this one is.

Similar to : Brideshead Revisited, Flambards, Where the Wind Blows

Claude on Holiday – Alex T Smith

This is probably one of the only books which has transferred the ‘saucy British seaside’ aesthetic into a witty, astute and very very funny picture book suitable for all ages. Claude, and his best friend Sir Bobblysock, go to the seaside and naturally hijinks ensue. This book is gorgeous.

Similar to : That postcard your Nan sent you from Southend

Dead Man’s Cove – Lauren St John

Laura Marlin deserves to be on the national curriculum. A funny, brave, Buffy-esque heroine (without the actual violence!), she’s sent to the seaside to live with her mysterious Uncle and rapidly discovers there’s mysteries in her new home.

Similar to : Nancy Drew meets the Famous Five

Tune in next time for part two! It’ll be a picture book / graphic novel special 🙂

Book Reviews

The One Dollar Horse : Lauren St John

The One Dollar HorseThe One Dollar Horse by Lauren St John

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The One Dollar Horse provides a much needed twenty-first century spin to the horse story. Full of urban edge, and yet never quite losing that fairytale element all good horse stories have, The One Dollar Horse is a book that pony lovers will adore.

It’s written by the superb Lauren St John (author of the amazing Laura Marlin series) and St John knows her horse world. She writes with a thrilling competency that reminded me of some of the greats of horse fiction – Caroline Akrill, Ginny Elliot and Patricia Leitch.

Casey Blue is a fairly typical horse-mad teenager. That is, until she comes across a wild horse destined for the knackers yard in the back streets of Hackney. Rescuing this horse proves the first step in fulfilling her dream of competing at Badminton – and it’s not an easy ride (both literally and metaphorically) for Casey to get there.

The joy of horse stories is that, when done well, they’re world-class. They’re tales of how when you do the right thing, when you’re kind to animals, and when you believe in yourself, you can achieve great things.

In The One Dollar Horse, Lauren St John has done all this and she’s also thrown a hot trainee farrier into the mix. There’s also a very nice edge in how she writes certain characters into getting their just desserts. It’s not moralising didacticism, it’s an almost karmic retribution and it’s brilliant to read.

I do try not to use the word brilliant when reviewing a book by Lauren St John but somehow I always seem to fail. Okay. I give in. The One Dollar Horse is a brilliantly modern spin on the horse story and I really really loved it. Because it was brilliant.

(So very very brilliant).

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Book Reviews

Kidnap in the Caribbean : Lauren St John

Laura Marlin Mysteries 2: Kidnap in the CaribbeanLaura Marlin Mysteries 2: Kidnap in the Caribbean by Lauren St. John

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I have a little bit of a problem. I think I’m in love with this series. I thought Dead Man’s Cove was brilliant I’m genuinely pleased to report that Kidnap in the Caribbean is of a similar standard. And, before I get into this, I need to congratulate whoever is designing this series. The dustjacket for Kidnap in the Caribbean is utterly lovely.

The second in the series of Laura Marlin adventures, Kidnap in the Caribbean is a fabulous read. You know it’s good when you just stop everything and just sit down and read solidly because you need to know what happens next. I love Laura, I really do. She’s making me remember the first few days I discovered Buffy. She’s a smart, intelligent heroine that you have no choice to root for because she’s such a brilliant character. She stands, and she fights for what she believes in and that’s a pleasure to read.

I know I’m gushing a little (to be honest, following my Dead Man’s Cove review you should just be relieved I’ve found a synonym for brilliant) but you need to understand how rare this sort of book is. I have a female character that is a) not defined solely by her relationship to a boy and b)is independent, smart and brave. Add to that a James Bond-esque location, an awesome huskey sidekick and some heart-in-the-mouth moments, and you’ve got yourself one heck of a book.

Kidnap in the Caribbean is brilliant.


I was doing so well.

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Book Reviews

Dead Man’s Cove : Lauren St John

Dead Man's Cove (Laura Marlin Mysteries)Dead Man’s Cove by Lauren St. John

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I’m going to be terribly unprofessional here for a moment so please do humour me.


*Puts Critic hat back on*


Oh, this will never do. Okay, I’ll have to do my best to restore some sort of professional overtones to this review.

Laura Marlin is brilliant.

Wait, it’s not improving is it.

She has a three legged Siberian huskey as a sidekick. Which is brilliant.

Oh, I give in.

THIS BOOK IS BRILLIANT. It’s the Famous Five meets Nancy Drew. It has the wonderful Laura Marlin – bright, brilliant heroine that she is – and she’s a delight to read. It has a shady uncle. An even shadier housekeeper. And it feels like sunshine and coconut fudge and fry-ups at the seaside cafe.

Just go get it. Read it. Because it’s brilliant.

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