Posts Tagged ‘Adventure’

2nd Blog Birthday: Pirates and Adventure Prize Pack

Complete the Rafflecopter form below for the chance to win five picture books with our Pirates and Adventure pack.

Click on the children’s book title to learn more about each book.

photo-14Pirates and Adventure Pack:
A paperback copy of The Way Back Home by Oliver Jeffers
(Donated by HarperCollins Children’s Books)
A paperback copy of The Hueys in the New Jumper by Oliver Jeffers
(Donated by HarperCollins Children’s Books)
A paperback Copy of The Great Granny Gang by Judith Kerr(Donated by BBLB)
A paperback copy of Tim, Ted and the Pirates by Ian Whybrow and Russell Ayto
(Donated by BBLB)
A paperback copy of Florentine and Pig and the Lost Pirate Treasure
(Donated by Bloomsbury)

a Rafflecopter giveaway

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A Pirates Wish

Cassandra Rose Clarke

a pirates wishAfter setting out to break the curse that binds them together, the pirate Ananna and the assassin Naji find themselves stranded on an enchanted island in the north with nothing but a sword, their wits, and the secret to breaking the curse: complete three impossible tasks. With the help of their friend Marjani and a rather unusual ally, Ananna and Naji make their way south again, seeking what seems to be beyond their reach.
Unfortunately, Naji has enemies from the shadowy world known as the Mists, and Ananna must still face the repercussions of going up against the Pirate Confederation. Together, Naji and Ananna must break the curse, escape their enemies — and come to terms with their growing romantic attraction.

The Pirates Wish is book two in the Assassins Curse duology and as such this review may contain unintentional spoilers for book one.

It’s no secret that I loved The Assassins Curse (read my review here), and that I began agonizing over the wait for The Pirates Wish from the moment I turned the final page of the first book. As one of my most anticipated releases for 2013, you can imagine my delight at getting my hands on an advanced readers copy, and shortening that wait by a few weeks.

I was immediately transported back to the creepy and disorientating Isles of Sky. Weeks after the events of Assassins Curse, barely tolerating the cold, rain and monotony, Naji and Anna are no nearer to finding the cure to the curse and their misery was palpable.

Into this environment of listlessness Cassandra introduces a new character, a manticore (with an unpronounceable name), who’s uniqueness and humorous partnership with Ananna is a sparkling light in the gloom.

The introduction of new friends doesn’t detract from our reunion with our beloved characters. We learn more about Marjani and the circumstances which led to her life on the high seas. While I appreciated the friendship and support she provided to Ananna in the first book, in The Pirates Wish her mentorship of Ananna is more than just instructive. Naji is still very much strong, silent and brooding. But like Ananna, through better acquaintance, we learn to read Naji’s non-verbal cues more clearly.

After all of her experiences, I was not at all surprised to find that Annana is not quite the bolshie, over confident, firecracker we met in book one. While she retains her distinctive voice, quick witted snark, and fierce loyalty, she is at times winey and self serving, and I found her naive attempts to catch Naji’s attention and make him jealous, squirming uncomfortable. Ananna’s flaws, however, make her more believable as character, marked her growing up, and actually endeared her to me even more.

At one point, as Cassandra’s imagination conjured up an unexpected twist in the quest to break Naji’s curse, I found it difficult to suspend my disbelief. Although the twist was firmly grounded in Cassandra’s excellent world building, It was just a tad too “Disney” for me.

While the ending may not have been the traditional HEA ( I have an increasing respect for Clarkes unique perspective of love and romance. Read my review of Clarke’s The Mad Scientists Daughter here) that romance fans like myself crave, it was absolutely perfect for the characters and so beautifully written that I have already re-read the final chapter twice.

After bemoaning the trilogy formula, and the agony of committing to a series for two years or more, the current spate of duologys (that’s a sequel to you and I) have come as a welcome relief. However, I am one who is never satisfied and I can’t help wishing that we could spend more time in Ananna and Naji’s lives (yes I want to have my cake and eat it!).

However, I am happy to be consoled with the news that although The Assassin/Pirates story is complete, Cassandra will be revisiting the world in The Wizards Promise, another duology for Strange Chemistry (expected publication 2014).

Verdict: For me Cassandra Rose Clarke is an author who’s work is synonymous with one click preorder.

Reviewed by Caroline

Publisher: Strange Chemistry
Publication Date: June 2013
Format: eARC
Pages: 336
Genre: Adventure, Fantasy, Magic
Age: YA
Reviewer: Caroline
Source: Netgalley
Challenge: None
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House Of Secrets

Chris Columbus and Ned Vizzini

house of secretsWhen Brendan, Cordelia and Nell move to Kristoff House they have no idea that they are about to unleash the dark magic locked within.
Now the Walker kids must battle against deadly pirates, bloodthirsty warriors and a bone-crunching giant. If they fail they will never see their parents again and a crazed witch will take over the world.
No pressure then…
House of Secrets is the first book in a major new series.
It’s going to be epic.

After an incident at work leaves their father jobless and the Walker family homeless, the discounted purchase of Kristoff House, the unusual but elegant creation of an eccentric novelist, is too good an opportunity to miss. While the monetary cost is nominal, it all too quickly becomes evident that someone intends for the family to pay a much higher price.

At over five hundred pages, the House of Secrets is a large book by most standards. For the middle grade category it is undoubtedly a beast of a book. But as it moves seamlessly from atmospherically creepy tension, to humor, via heart racing action, breath catching peril and wide-eyed surprise, I found that I was absorbed, entertained and delighted by every single page.

The co-writers film and TV backgrounds shine through. Reading the House Of Secrets was an almost cinematic experience full of wondrous Technicolor images and larger than life characters. This was enhanced by the multiple third person, past tense perspective.
I had no idea what was going to happen next or which fantastical being was about to be introduced to our cast and I felt like I was watching an epic adventure movie from my 80’s childhood.

Although very much a driven by the fast paced plot, I was delighted by the realistically flawed but likeable Walkers. As the eldest of four siblings, the squabbling, antagonistic, yet warm and protective relationship felt spot on and I could, all to easily, identify with the bossy, slightly condescending, mother hen, Cordelia.
While on the one hand the cinematic like nature of the plot, pacing and style kept me completely enthralled, I couldn’t help feeling slightly detached from the action, I definitely felt like an observer rather than a part of the action.

Even though the ending was a little too “Hollywood” for my tastes; ignoring the aftermath of the Walkers experiences on their character development and setting up a little too neatly for the sequel, it totally worked. I am caught hook, line and sinker. I’m looking forward to seeing how the characters develop following on from their fantastical experiences and just what (and who) else Vizzini and Columbus pull out of their collective imagination.

Verdict: Fast paced, action packed fantasy for middle grade to middle age.

Reviewed by Caroline

Read Ned’s guest post “A Day In The Life Of Ned Vizzini” (here).

Publisher: Harper Collins Children’s
Publication Date: May 2013
Format: ARC
Pages: 550
Genre: Adventure, Fantasy
Age: Middle grade
Reviewer: Caroline
Source: Provided by publisher
Challenge: None
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The Long Earth

Terry Pratchett and Stephen Baxter

the long earthNormally, when there was nothing to do, he listened to the Silence.
The Silence was very faint here. Almost drowned out by the sounds of the mundane world. Did people in this polished building understand how noisy it was? The roar of air conditioners and computer fans, the susurration of many voices heard but not decipherable … this was the office of the transEarth Institute, an arm of the Black Corporation. The faceless office, all plasterboard and chrome, was dominated by a huge logo, a chesspiece knight. This wasn’t Joshua’s world. None of it was his world. In fact when you got right down to it, he didn’t have a world; he had all of them.
All of the Long Earth.

The premise of this book is that the Earth is just one link in a long chain of Earths, each different. Plans are leaked onto the internet of a box, known as a “Stepper”, built from simple electronic parts and powered by a potato, with a three way switch on the top. Operating the switch allows a person, along with anything they are carrying, to “step” one link along the chain, either “East” or “West” as the two directions have been dubbed. Collectively, the whole chain is known as The Long Earth.

Most people can step using these boxes, though they experience severe nausea each time, so they tend to only move a few steps away from our Earth. A few people, such as Joshua are natural steppers, and can do so without the aid of the stepper box and with no ill effects; others cannot step at all. The tension between these groups is a constant undercurrent throughout the book.

It appears that humans have only evolved on our Earth (the Datum as it is called), so the Earths East and West of us are ripe for colonisation and solve overcrowding. The only snag is that objects made out of iron cannot be taken, though no-one knows why. Any steel has to be mined and forged on the planet it originated on.

The majority of the book follows Joshua, a recluse who, after some persuasion, foregoes his usual solitary lifestyle to go on an adventure. He beging exploring deep into The Long Earth with Lobsang, an AI who claims to have once been human (Lobsang seems to be a name that crops up a lot in Pratchett’s work!). Lobsang has built an airship called The Mark Twain that is capable of stepping much faster than any human can – worlds flick past in the blink of an eye, and they only stop when they find something interesting. They choose to travel West, in a choice I can only assume is meant to mirror the Westward exploration and colonisation of North America.
Unfortunately, Lobsang is a bit of a throwaway character – He’s quite quirky and funny, but I get the feeling he only exists to explain things to Joshua (and through him to the reader), and seems to spend the majority of his time being smug each time he does something new.

However, there are other groups of characters who offer alternative viewpoints to The Long Earth and its consequences, a group of settlers on their way to colonise an Earth ideal for their desired agricultural small town lifestyle; the police force in Madison, Wisconsin who have to make sense of everything that’s happened, and maintain law and order across several versions of their town; various groups of politicians bickering about who owns the other Earths, how to tax the people; other natural steppers who are hiding out a long way from Earth Zero; the nuns who brought Joshua up in the orphanage, etc.

It’s a fascinating novel that never gets dull as the book progresses, though I get the feeling that Pratchett and Baxter were struggling to find a good ending for this book – after all, if there are an infinite number of Earths on the chain, where do you stop? There’s a “shock” ending when the non-steppers have set off a nuclear bomb in Madison, the town where Joshua grew up, though the reasoning behind this is suspect. Why would the non-steppers want to destroy the only planet they have?

Verdict: A great start to the series, which feels more like a Baxter novel than a Pratchett. I can’t wait to read The Long War later in the year, which should hopefully answer some of the questions raised.

Reviewed by Keith

Publisher: Doubleday
Publication Date: June 2012
Format: Hardback
Pages: 344
Genre: Science Fiction
Age: Adult
Reviewer: Keith
Source: Own Copy
Challenge: British book
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A Day In The Life Of Ned Vizzini

house of secretsWhen Brendan, Cordelia and Nell move to Kristoff House they have no idea that they are about to unleash the dark magic locked within.
Now the Walker kids must battle against deadly pirates, bloodthirsty warriors and a bone-crunching giant. If they fail they will never see their parents again and a crazed witch will take over the world.
No pressure then…
House of Secrets is the first book in a major new series.
It’s going to be epic.

This is probably a cliché, but there is no ordinary day in the life of a writer.

The advantages of being a writer are many:

  1. you get to make your own hours
  2. you get messages from people who appreciate what you do, or hate it — both should be a source of pride
  3. people think you are interesting, unless those people are also writers
  4. almost anything you do can be justified as research
  5. as long as you have a pen and paper, you can do what you need to do

The disadvantage of being a writer is that there is no ordinary day.

For example, today, I am flying to New York City. HarperCollins just published a book that I co-wrote called House of Secrets.

My co-author is the filmmaker Chris Columbus. You might know him from The Goonies, which he wrote, or the first two Harry Potter movies, which he directed. The book is the first in a planned trilogy; we have been working on it for two years and now it’s out! So this isn’t an ordinary day.

Then again, what about yesterday? Yesterday I had a meeting to go to. I work in Los Angeles in television so I go to a lot of meetings. These meetings are like job interviews where you have to prove your compatibility as a human to people who like you as a writer. So that’s not ordinary.

And tomorrow, I’ll be speaking with Chris at Barnes & Noble in New York City. So that’s not normal.

The only normal thing I can do is make myself write.

I find it works best in the morning. 05:00am is ideal. Then the world is still asleep and I can get started without checking my email. I wrap up in a blanket and write on the couch, or I make myself sit at my chair in my office. I drink coffee. Time goes slow when you’re actually writing. I try to get seven pages done before my family wakes up.

So when you talk about a day in the life of a writer, the only thing it really needs to include is writing. And today I was busy telling people that House of Secrets is out, so didn’t even get that done.

But that’s another advantage of being a writer. You break rules.

Guest Post by Ned Vizzini

Ned Vizzini is the bestselling author of the acclaimed young-adult books The Other Normals, It’s Kind of a Funny Story (also a major motion picture), Be More Chill, and Teen Angst? Naaah…. In television, he has written for ABC’s Last Resort and MTV’s Teen Wolf. His essays and criticism have appeared in the New York Times, the Daily Beast,and Salon. He is the co-author, with Chris Columbus, of the fantasy-adventure series House of Secrets. His work has been translated into ten languages. He lives in Los Angeles.

House Of Secrets is published in the UK on the 25th of April by Harper Collins Children’s Books.
House of secrets is available in ebook, paper and hardback formats from Amazon.co.uk.
For US purchasing links click on the book titles in the bio above.

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Captain Disaster

Del Shannon

Captain Disaster front coverKevin Tobin is a relatively ordinary twelve-year old dealing with the aftermath of his father’s tragic death in a mountain biking accident near their home in Boulder, Colorado. To escape from his emotional turmoil, Kevin has developed his imagination into a dangerous foil and a powerful ally. While he antagonizes his sister through his superhero antics, his ability to escape inside his character’s (Captain Disaster) head becomes critical to his survival after his life is once-again turned upside down a year after his father s death. A mysterious package arrives in the mail, Kevin and his best friend are hunted down by a ruthless villain set upon world domination, and after enlisting Kevin s teenage sister and her pizza-delivery boyfriend in a battle for control over time itself, the secret of Kevin s whole existence is revealed to him by a source we never expected. Del Shannon’s imaginative story telling and his appreciation for the powers of family and the desire of young boys to both escape reality and prove themselves within it make this a book with wide appeal for readers of all ages.

Back in the start of 2012 Jack reviewed a self published book called, Kevin’s Point Of View which he loved. Well Kevin has undergone a bit of a make over, with a new cover, new illustrations and a new title, Captain Disaster.
Read Jack’s original review below

Kevin’s point of view is a really great book that is about a normal 12 year boy still suffering from the quick, and suspicious, death of his father a year ago, who he loved so very much. He deals with this by wondering deeply into the depths of his talented imagination – separating himself from the rest of the world. A few days before he goes on his school field trip to the Rockies, a strange package arrives mysteriously for him at his home in Colorado. This package was meant to arrive at the home of Devin Talon but since when does anything ever go right in adventure books?!

The content of this important package is something called the I.N.F.L.U.X.I.T.R.O.N. With his friend Toby and his sister along with her boyfriend, a pizza delivery man, they work tirelessly to keep the I.N.F.L.U.X.I.T.R.O.N out of Devin’s desperate hands. But also Kevin has his own needs for this machine: to bring back his dad. They are able to do amazing things all around Colorado with the help of the “Shroom wagon” on their side.

I really enjoyed this book as it was full of danger and suspense all strung together cleverly by Del Shannon. At first I did actually struggle to get into the book as I found it a little confusing, but I persevered and found that this was a really exciting book that would keep me quiet for hours (much to my parents’ pleasure!).

Verdict: I would suggest this book to people who love books which include exciting, full-on action with plenty of fun and easy to understand humour.

Reviewed by Jack (11)

Publisher: Story Arts Media
Publication Date: April 2013 ( originally Oct ’10)
Format: Paperback
Pages: 515/559KB
Genre: Humour, Action, Adventure
Age: Middle grade
Reviewer: Jack
Source: Provided by author
Challenge: none
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Wild Boy

wild boy coverLondon, 1841
A boy covered in hair, raised as a monster, condemned to life in a travelling freak show.
A boy with extraordinary powers of observation and detection.
A boy accused of murder; on the run; hungry for the truth.
BEHOLD THE SAVAGE SPECTACLE OF WILD BOY!!
Ladies and Gentlemen, take your seats. The show is about to begin.

Wild Boy is an extremely likeable character, and I found myself rooting for him from the off. Abandoned, psychologically abused, beaten, socially isolated and enslaved to a travelling freak show, my heart broke for him. But, despite what life has repeatedly taught him, he maintains his optimism and hopes for a better life. His sense of fairness, of right and wrong and his humour shines through the grime and sordidness of his environment.

An undelivered letter, the wrong place, the wrong time and our diamond in the rough finds himself falsely accused of murder and running for his life. With only his amazing skills of observation and deduction, and a reluctant partnership with his “arch enemy” Clarissa, a flamed haired, lock picking acrobat, Wild Boy must find the real culprit and clear his name.

The feisty characters and non-stop action, the Holmes like deduction and macabre Victorian backdrop, the secret passages and mad scientists – I loved every minute of this middle grade mystery and I really hope that this first of many adventures with Wild boy and “circus fiend” Clarissa.

Verdict: Fantastic middle grade mystery

Reviewed by Caroline

Publisher: Walker
Publication Date: April 2013
Format: ARC
Pages: 301
Genre: Mystery, Historical fiction
Age: Middle grade
Reviewer: Caroline
Source: Provided by publisher
Challenge: British book
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Wild Boy Blog Tour: No fun at the fair

Rob Lloyd Jones joins us today to share the inspiration behind the fairground setting of his middle grade book, Wild Boy.

wild boy coverLondon, 1841
A boy covered in hair, raised as a monster, condemned to life in a travelling freak show.
A boy with extraordinary powers of observation and detection.
A boy accused of murder; on the run; hungry for the truth.
BEHOLD THE SAVAGE SPECTACLE OF WILD BOY!!
Ladies and Gentlemen, take your seats. The show is about to begin.

Hello, and thanks for having me on Big Book Little Book!

So, fairgrounds eh? Whirling rides, whoops of laughter, nostrils flaring at the sickly sweet aroma of candyfloss. We all love them, right?

Not me. Not anymore.

I always wanted to write a mystery set around a fairground. I knew the hero would be a performer in a freak show; a boy covered in hair and confined to a showman’s caravan. He would dream of being different, sneaking through the fairground to spy on people he considered ‘normal’. But he would be tough, his character forged from years of standing up to bullies. That meant his world – the fairground – had to be a tough place too. Well, I thought, I could make that bit up. It’s a story after all.

Then I read Seventy Years a Showman – the memoirs of legendary Victorian showman Lord George Sanger – and I thought, ‘Yikes! I’m going to have to tone this down a little’.

Sanger’s tales of life on a travelling fair hold no punches. In fact they are filled with punches, and whippings and knife fights and scams and swindles. His was a mud-splattered world of rickety caravans and saggy-roofed tents, where ruffians marauded along paths picking fights, and cutthroats lurked in the shadows.

Sanger (who wasn’t a real lord, he just gave himself that title) packs his account with astonishing, gasp-inducing tales such as his run-in with a body snatcher, or the unbelievably rough justice – Showman’s Law – dealt to a gang of roughs that attacked the fairground. My favourite story, though, is the ‘Battle of Oxford Road’ – a bust up between rival fairs in which, “Even the freaks took part. The Fat Man made for the Living Skeleton with a door hook; the Living Skeleton battered at the Fat Man with a peg mallet.”

The more I read about Victorian fairgrounds the more I realised just how tough my hero – Wild Boy – had to be to survive, especially after he’s framed for murder. But I was determined that he would survive, and prove his innocence. It wouldn’t be easy – stalked by bounty hunters, a hooded killer, and a secret society with a sinister machine. But he wouldn’t face the terrors alone. He has a friend, a circus star called Clarissa, who’s as tough and foul-mouthed as anyone at the fair. And all those hours that Wild Boy spent spying on people at the fair, reading them for clues to their lives, also taught him a particular skill.

He is the greatest detective of his time.

Post by Robb Lloyd Jones

Wild Boy will be published on the 4th of April by Walker Books

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Fragments

Dan Wells

fragmentsKira Walker has found the cure for RM, but the battle for the survival of humans and Partials is just beginning. Kira has left East Meadow in a desperate search for clues to who she is. That the Partials themselves hold the cure for RM in their blood cannot be a coincidence—it must be part of a larger plan, a plan that involves Kira, a plan that could save both races. Her companions are Afa Demoux, an unhinged drifter and former employee of ParaGen, and Samm and Heron, the Partials who betrayed her and saved her life, the only ones who know her secret. But can she trust them?
Meanwhile, back on Long Island, what’s left of humanity is gearing up for war with the Partials, and Marcus knows his only hope is to delay them until Kira returns. But Kira’s journey will take her deep into the overgrown wasteland of postapocalyptic America, and Kira and Marcus both will discover that their greatest enemy may be one they didn’t even know existed.
The second installment in the pulse-pounding Partials saga is the story of the eleventh hour of humanity’s time on Earth, a journey deep into places unknown to discover the means—and even more important, a reason—for our survival.

Please note, this book is second in the series, if you haven’t read the first there may be spoilers.

Picking up a couple of weeks after the events of ‘Partials’ ‘Fragments’ is a very strong second book in a series. It holds a hint of nostalgia for me as ‘Partials’ was the first book I was given to review by the Big Book Little Book team, as soon as the galley for ‘Fragments’ appeared I was very eager to get my hands on it, the book didn’t disappoint.

Partials was very heavy on the sci fi, Fragments has moved away a bit from this. It’s still an incredibly strong theme in the book, it always going to be when you are writing about biologically engineered robots, but much of the science has already been established so I suppose it doesn’t need explaining in quite the same way. There is also a move away from the dystopian topics of control, this book looks at individuals and their relationships to a much greater extent. It’s almost as Dan Wells felt as though he needed a book to establish his world and then he could concentrate on his characters. That’s not to say that the characters aren’t well drawn or one dimensional in Partials, but in Fragments we did see a greater depth to them and some relationships were explored in more detail. This was fantastic, as for me it’s the characters that really make a book. Fragments also had more of a sense of adventure to it with some incredible action packed scenes. This isn’t just a book for the girls, even with a female central character this is a book that I should be able to sell to the boys too.

There is still the crucial element of Romance and the hints of that ever present YA device, the love triangle, but this doesn’t take over the book. It’s there in the background, enough to satisfy those who like a little romance in their books but not enough to overwhelm the story. Just the way I like it.

Fragments has built such a believable future world that you can’t help but be drawn into the story. It isn’t a short book, but despite the length and fairly complicated storyline it is a fairly easy read. The writing draws you in and you really start to care about the characters. I found that I needed to know more and had to carry on reading.

The book also raises some interesting arguments over morality. The entire premise of the series, the creation of bioengineered robots, who think for themselves, being made for military purposes is always going to raise some interesting questions into the ethic of such a thing. What I have found incredibly interesting in both books is that Wells has decided to set the book after a virus has wiped out most of the human species, rather than the event itself. This means that both sides have had chance to evaluate their actions and how different camps have come to different conclusions is very interesting. The preconceptions of each side towards the other could be applied to so many issues that affect the human race, it becomes an interesting study of what it means to be human, even though one side technically isn’t. This really comes to the fore in Kira’s internal struggle, raised as human until she finds out that she is actually a partial as a teen, she feels that she doesn’t fit in either world. Human’s would see the robot whose kind almost destroy the human race, where as the partials just see someone is thinks like a human. I’m really looking forward to seeing how all of this can be resolved in the next book.

Verdict: A well built world, fantastic characters and some interesting moral issues, what more could you ask for?

Reviewed by Alison

Publisher: Harper Collins Children’s
Publication Date: March 2013
Format: eARC
Pages: 576
Genre: Dystopian, Sci Fi, Adventure
Age: YA
Reviewer: Alison
Source: Netgalley
Challenge: None
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Happy Publication Day: The Diamond Thief

Happy Book Birthday to Sharon Gosling and her middle grade debut, The Diamond Thief ( read Daisy’s thoughts here)
We are beside ourselves with excitment to be able to share with you the opening pages of this fabulous stream punk adventure. A massive thank you to the kind people at Curious Fox( learn more here )for granting us permission to post this extract.

the diamond thiefNo one performs on the circus trapeze like sixteen-year-old Remy Brunel. But Remy also leads another life, as a cat burglar and jewel thief. Forced by the evil circus owner Gustave to attempt the theft of one of the world’s most valuable diamonds, Remy thinks it will be just another heist, but when she meets determined young detective Thaddeus Rec, her life changes forever.
Will Thaddeus manage to rescue the jewel? Or is it really Remy that he needs to save?

Le Cirque de la Lune

Rémy took a deep breath as she stood on the edge of the narrow plunge board. Above her, the old material of the big top’s roof was close enough to touch. Below her was nothing at all but air dirtied by dust and tobacco smoke, and then, sixty feet below, arranged around the sawdust of the circus ring, there was the crowd. She could almost hear their silence, the collected indrawn breath of five hundred people. They were all waiting to see what she could do. They wanted to see her tumble through the air above them, to dive and swoop, hanging from a thin metal bar suspended only by two old ropes. And perhaps…just perhaps, this time, she would fall.

Beside her, Larotti balanced precariously, holding her trapeze still. Rémy dipped her hands in the chalk bowl, clapping them together to send a shower of white dust raining through the flickering gaslight. Then she nodded once, chin held high. The little Italian let go as the strains of Saint-Saëns’ “Danse Macabre” began to rise from the ragged little orchestra below. Rémy counted two beats as the trapeze dropped away. Then she leapt, into thin air.

10 For a second, there was nothing to keep her from falling to a horrible death. The crowd gasped, and then, as Rémy’s fingers caught the fleeing trapeze, they sighed in relief. The sound rippled around the huge tent like a breeze, shivering its faded red and yellow stripes.

Rémy twisted lightly, graceful as a bird. She was wearing her favourite costume – it was cerise pink, edged in black, and, even though it was old and had been repaired more times than she could remember, it still stood out perfectly against her pale skin and unruly black hair. Rémy wore it with long fishnet stockings and greasepaint around her eyes, which made her look like a harlequin. Claudette had fashioned a flower from a scrap of almost-matching satin for her hair, along with two long, thin feathers dyed pitch black. From a distance, people said Rémy looked like a bird of paradise, flying on invisible wings. She flipped herself backwards, letting go of the bar with her hands and catching the trapeze with her feet instead, arms stretching down towards the sawdust. Rémy flicked her hips to the right, sending the trapeze into a fast spin as she let one foot come loose and held it straight out, so the audience could see that now, it was only by one ankle that she had any hold at all. Slowing the spin, Rémy righted herself again, dancing up to stand on her hands on the bar before somersaulting backwards as the trapeze swung in a graceful arc above the crowd.

Far below her, Rémy heard Claudette’s sharp whistle echo in the distance. Glancing down, she saw Dominique canter into the sawdust circle. The little palomino wore an old tan saddle and a feather headdress to match Rémy’s own, and on her back was Nicodemus. The pony circled, her pace steady as the wizened little capuchin monkey began to somersault too, over and over, copying Rémy’s movements on Domnique’s back. The crowd roared with laughter, pointing and clapping and slapping their thighs in delight.

Rémy swung the trapeze twice more, gathering speed as the music built and built. She somersaulted again and again, faster and faster. Below, Nicodemus kept perfect time with her all the way.

And then, as the music reached its crescendo, she somersaulted again, twisting backwards, reaching for the bar…She missed. Her fingers brushed the metal of the trapeze, but did not grip it.

Rémy fell like a stone.

Screams erupted around the big tent. People stood, shouting and pointing. Men waved their tattered hats in the air, women pulled their patched shawls up around their faces or used them to shield their children’s eyes, as Rémy plunged head-first towards the compacted earth of the sawdust ring. She managed to twist in mid-air, a mighty turnabout that tipped her upright. There was a flurry of movement in the corner of her eye. Someone from the audience had lunged over the barrier. It was a young man in a long brown coat and top hat – he was rushing towards her, arms outstretched, as if to break her fall. Rémy’s would-be rescuer was so focused on catching her that he almost stepped straight into the path of her horse. Thankfully, Dominique had seen Rémy falling and knew what she had to do.

The pony butted the man out of the way, hard enough to send him sprawling, but at least out of harm’s way. Then she slowed until she was in exactly the right spot. Nicodemus jumped from her back and ran to the upturned bucket in the middle of the ring. Rémy landed squarely, with both feet, on the pony’s saddle, immediately lifting one leg to stand in ballet pose, her free foot pointing elegantly outwards. Dominique continued to canter in a circle as Rémy rode her one-footed. Still standing on the upturned bucket, Nicodemus saluted them both. There was a second of silence as the crowd realized what had happened. And then the sound of cheering and clapping swept over Rémy like a tide, louder than for any other act that night. But then, it always was.

She dropped until she was seated on the pony’s back, patting Dominique with one hand as she waved to the audience with the other. She’d usually do a couple of victory circuits of the ring to soak up the applause, but tonight Rémy’s gaze searched for the man who had tried to save her. He was still picking himself up, forlornly brushing sawdust from his coat. “Sorry,” she called over the thunderous sound of the audience as she pulled Dominique to a halt beside him. “She is trained not to let anything get in her way when we do my act. If she had stopped, I would have died. And you too, probably. I would have crushed you!”

The young man looked up at her. To her surprise, she saw he couldn’t be that much older than she was. It was his eyes that really startled her, though. They were two different colours – one as blue as the sky over Paris on a bright day in May, one as deep brown as good chocolate. And they twinkled. He bent down to retrieve his hat and pushed it on over his mussed hair before replying.

“Well,” he said with a slight smile. “That’ll teach me to be a good Samaritan, won’t it? People do keep telling me I shouldn’t bother. Good day, miss.”

He tipped his hat briefly and then turned away. A second later, he was lost in the crowd. Rémy’s gaze tried to follow him, but it was no good. He was gone.

She and Dominique did one more circuit of the ring and then left the big top, Nicodemus skittering along in their wake. Claudette was waiting for her at the players’ entrance. The little monkey rushed off into the thick night, through London’s chill drizzle and back to the animal enclosure. Claudette tutted as she saw Rémy adjust her opal necklace, pulling it down from where it had flown up around her ears as she’d fallen. “You know you should not wear that on the wire, ma chérie,” Claudette chided in her gentle, sing-song voice, as Rémy slid gracefully from Dominique’s back. “One of these days, you will strangle yourself. And it will be a night like tonight, when someone stupid tries to save the girl who does not need to be saved.”

Rémy grinned as she took the threadbare black robe Claudette held out and pulled it on over her head. She kicked off the silver slippers she always wore on the trapeze and struggled into her boots, instead. They were leather, black and worn like everything else she possessed, and the only pair she had owned since she was ten – six whole years. “Never, Claudette. You know me – I live a charmed life. Probably because I never take my opal off.”

Claudette shook her head with long-suffering patience, her thick chestnut hair hanging loose around her shoulders. At 24, she was eight years older than Rémy, and along with her little daughter, Amélie, was the closest thing Rémy had to a family. “Well, I hope your charm is at full power tonight,” Claudette told her. “Gustave wants to see you.”

Rémy made a face and sighed. “Ach. It must be time.” Claudette raised an eyebrow. Her eyes seemed even darker than usual, and they bore a trace of worry. “Take care, chérie. This one will be difficult, I think. We are not in France now, you know. This is the great city of London, not a little town in Provence.” Rémy straightened up and wiped rain from her eyes as she regarded her friend. Claudette was a fortune-teller and talented pickpocket. She could take a wallet from its owner and they would swear blind she’d never even been close enough to touch them. They were all vagabonds and thieves at Le Cirque de la Lune – and Rémy… well, Rémy was queen of them all. She’d been stealing since she was old enough to walk, and a jewel thief since she’d learned how to work the wire aged eight. Now, she was the best gem snatcher in Europe, probably in the whole of the world. Rémy had never been caught. And, she thought to herself, I never will be. Never.

“You worry too much,” she said. “Why should this be different to any other? They’ll never catch me, Claudette. That is what makes me so valuable to Gustave, yes?” Claudette sighed. “You should not take these things too lightly, Rémy,” she warned. “One day your luck will run out. And in any case, this life… it is not good enough for you. You should run, while you still can. Gustave could not –” Rémy shook her head. “When I can take you and Amélie with me, then we will all go,” she said. “But not before. We need money! And now is not the time for this old argument of ours, ma belle amie. I must go before the old goat gets too impatient. Kiss Amélie goodnight for me. Tell her she must sleep well because Dominique will be waiting to give her another lesson in the morning.”

Claudette smiled, taking Dominique’s reigns and digging a sugar-lump from her pocket as she led her away. “Then you had better make sure you come back, hadn’t you, Little Bird?” Rémy watched Claudette disappear into the thick black shadows of the circus tents. Behind her, the last of the audience was leaving, laughing and chattering. She smiled. She had been good tonight – really good, even despite the almost-disaster caused by the boy with the mismatched eyes. Rémy was always good, she knew that, but some nights it felt as if she could walk on air, and those were always her best performances. Not that Gustave ever paid her extra, or praised her work. He was more interested in her other, illegal, skills.

Rémy looked towards his caravan. It stood apart from the rest, at the back of the field he had rented for them. Well, Gustave called it a field, but it was really just a barren patch of land behind the Spitalfields market, turned to mud by the never-ending rain. Rémy glanced up, blinking into the night gloom at the sooty grey clouds that seemed permanently gathered overhead. Out beyond the market square, the buildings of London slouched towards each other as if sheltering together from the miserable weather. Lights flickered and guttered in windows caked with grime and soot. The silhouettes of the taller townhouses of the East End loomed darkly over the cobbled streets. It was the first time Rémy had left France, and she’d expected a better, brighter place. But there was as much dirt and poverty here as at home, and the bread was bad, too. She dreamed of a life somewhere else, somewhere sunny, where she did not have to steal. One day…Rémy pulled her hands into her sleeves and scuffed the toe of her boot into the mud. ‘One day’ was not tonight, she reminded herself. Tonight, she had to steal the second biggest diamond in the world.

Squaring her shoulders, she headed for Gustave’s haunt. She could hear music from inside the caravan, and knew it was Dorffman, the German, playing his violin. He was supposed to be the circus’s chief carpenter, but ever since Gustave had uncovered Dorffman’s musical skills, he’d made him play every night as the circus owner ate. Rémy wondered what crime the man had committed to end up in this place. She liked him, he seemed nice, but it could be anything. Murder, maybe, although it was more likely to be theft…but everyone at Le Cirque de la Lune had their own story. One day she would ask, she decided, as she mounted the rickety painted steps to her master’s door. “Come!” Came the yell of his voice as she knocked. Inside, Gustave was at his dinner, tearing a whole roast chicken apart with his fat fingers. The sight of the grease trickling down over his knuckles turned Rémy’s stomach and made her forget that she hadn’t eaten since lunch, and then only a round of gritty, grey bread and dripping.

The circus owner glanced up at her. “The cloud is thick tonight. It is Friday, the police are tired after their long week,” he grunted. “But still, now is not the time.” She blinked, surprised. “No?”

“No,” Gustave rumbled around a mouthful of food. “You see, this is important. More important than any other job you’ve ever done. And so I want you to do a…reconnoitre. Find the best way in, determine where the guards are stationed and, more importantly, establish your escape route. Make the plan infallible, yes? You must not fail me, Rémy.” For a moment, Rémy was speechless. He’d never asked her to do reconnaissance before. And she had never, ever failed him. She had never even come close to failing. Seeing her indignation, Gustave sighed and put down his chicken. “You know where this jewel is being kept?” “In the Tower of London, master.”

“Yes,” he said, his voice dry. “The Tower of London. Make no mistake, my little thieving genius. However good you are, this is going to be the hardest thing you have ever tried. So, reconnaissance. There is to be a reception for the great and the good at the Tower tomorrow night. It is the perfect opportunity for you to learn everything you need to know about where the jewel is held. Now, tell me what you are looking for.” “The Darya-ye Noor,” Rémy huffed.

“And what are you not looking for?”

“The Koh-i Noor. I know.”

He snorted, sending flecks of grease and chicken flesh to pepper the table. “You think you know everything, do you not, little Rémy? Can you tell me the difference between the two?” Rémy sighed. Gustave had been lecturing her on this for weeks. As if she couldn’t tell one diamond from another. As if she hadn’t been born able to know the worth of a gem just by looking at it. Rémy remembered every precious stone she’d ever seen in her life, and she could feel all of them now as if she held them still. In her hands jewels were living things, and they seemed to like her. They fell towards her fingers gratefully. She knew them. The thief toyed with the opal around her neck absently, and recited Gustave’s lessons.

“The Koh-i Noor – the Mountain of Light – and the Darya-ye Noor – the Ocean of Light – are sister-stones. They were both mined from Golconda in India more than a century ago. Now Queen Victoria owns the Mountain of Light, and the Shah of Persia owns the Ocean of Light. And for the first time since they were both mined, the stones are back together. In the Tower of London. So that is why we are here.”

“And what do we want?”

“The ocean, not the mountain,” Rémy repeated, dutifully. Gustave’s pudgy, pasty face creased into a frown. “Remember that, Little Bird. The Ocean is smaller than the Mountain, but prettier. And it belongs to the Shah, not the Queen, so the good policemen of London will not care so much about it. Get in, take it, get out. That’s what you need to do when the time is right. Do not get distracted by the larger stone. Do you understand me?”

“Yes, master.”

He nodded slowly, and then held up the remains of his dinner’s carcass. “Do that, and there will be one of these for you. You can share it with that light-fingered friend of yours. And her strange little whelp, if you really do insist on feeding it.” Rémy held herself still, but she wanted to hit him. How dare he talk about Amélie like that? Just because she was different, just because she didn’t speak. How dare he – “Well?” Gustave bellowed. “What are you waiting for? Go!
Prepare!”

Rémy gritted her teeth and left, slamming the door as she ran down the steps. The sound was masked by Dorffman and his mournful violin, the ripple of sad strings rising into the dead, wet night.

* * *

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