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Secret Starling - review

Emma Carroll is right, it is a joy!

Look carefully at the cover and see the lovely little motif of a starling above the i

It has a hidden meaning, you'll get it when you've read the book.

Which you must, it's a treat, set pre boredom ie when electronics rule the roost, so no diversions onto online, just pure adventure and reality and that is far better than any technology.

Judith seemingly grew up about when I did, so so much of this book is a wonderful memory of tastes and styles and adventures we all had and references of books we all read, ones that still need to be read today, for in reading we learn, experience and are thrilled, things that shape us in dealing with reality and maybe, just maybe steer us away from the mirror like the one in Andersen's Snow Queen, the one that the internet has shimmered into being... a false fairy tale, something I'm steadily finding best avoided, we should be cautious of the internet, it is not a doorway to Narnia or knowledge, it is far scarier than that.

But, back to the book...

Taking a boy, Peter who is at times a minor criminal, at times all capable of talking himself out of trouble and also who adores ballet and especially knows everything about Nureyev and adding him to a terribly lost and lonely but fiercely  determined to get to a better place girl in Clara. Thankfully she wasn't named Clarice or this could have been a much scarier Starling.

We have a huge mansion in West Yorkshire, so cold and yet at times full of mystery and adventure, the ingenuity of the children is beautiful, they deal with so much, because they've read and experienced reality, a nod to the nothing of the internet again.

If you take snippets of Streatfield, Blyton, Smith, Aiken, Christie and other well known writers of our past and then create a story written with zip and vigour and dexterous imagined peril then you have this treat. The wicked uncle who is hiding from his gambling debts and has left Clara at the mercy of... who or what? Well, without spoiling things, a lot!

We are at times swept into the whimsy of play with the Cook's family and a horse playing in the crumbling mansion, but that is a foil for the adventures to come, with secret torch flashed codes, with hidden photographs and a private detective lurking sinister in the shadows.

Clara only knows her mum died when she was born, but maybe there is more to that than she initially knows, she constantly finds things out, she is so independent and yet has an immediate bond with Peter and even when he's bad, she somehow knows he can be forgiven.

The scenes were the children are left to run riot in posh cafes in Department stores, hotels and the theatre are superb, real Dickensian charm with added pace of the modern day writer.

The book totally grips and romps away, it's almost impossible to put it down, seriously a one sit read if you can, it's a perfect length too, I really don't like long children's books, they need immediacy and interest and action, we soon get to know multiple characters, we don't need long chapters for each, just a buzz and frisson of connections to meld them together.

We rush, well tootle on buses and trains mostly to Leeds and London and they are beautifully observed of the time. Stanley and Elsa are great minor characters and the constant finding out of the plot through the eyes of the children is superb.

The lovely chapter headings and gorgeous cover by Kim Geyer and Faber are superb, I sort of wish more books had more illustrations as it goes, 
If publishers invest just a bit into the overall it makes books look and feel special, I'd rather have pictures than spray painted edges any day.

The plot is clever enough for 10-12 year old's but so well written that inquisitive 6-9 year old will find their way into it and be thrilled and really get a taste for real adventure. Real is the key to it all, in fact bar using the internet to link communication, I'd steer clear, the fun in finding out for real is far better, so trust this online review, but then get to a REAL bookshop, yes walk or train etc... they do still exist, and all of them would deal with a phone call and post this book or indeed any to you, so avoid the amazon factor, please do... spend money locally and it grows the economy, spend it unwisely to save time and a little here and there and the dark web wins. 

Also, importantly the book is in libraries and that's a real way of finding out pretty much anything... I love the burning of a Russian dictionary, you may get it when you finish the book...

Oh, there is  fab cat in the book too, she's on the cover and she is divine, her lost and found part of the story and ability to act as a crucial part in the denouement is super!

A rollicking read, full of fun and excitement and just enough dastardliness.

Truly a must read for anyone who lived through the 70's too, the nostalgia is just right.