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Recent Reviews for Michelle Barber


Will Blyton and The Stinking Shadow (Book) - 4/20/2012 6:12:54 AM
A Review of Will Blyton and The Stinking Shadow by Michelle Barber, reviewer: Maria Thermann I’m sitting in the Drowning Fish Café overlooking Groaningsea’s promenade and pier. The waitress Vera brings me a bottle of Dandelion and Burdock and a plate of rock cakes, which I’m hoping won’t do their name justice, when a movement outside the window catches my eye. A slightly build boy with glasses is coming out of a red telephone box and is heading straight for trouble. Trouble arrives in the bulky shape of Toad, for once without his friends Ferret and Snot, two mean-spirited acolytes with personal hygiene issues. Does Will Blyton raise his fists to engage the wicked Toad in combat? Nope, he does something rather unexpected… What happens next? Well, I won’t spoil the fun because Michelle Barber’s alternative detective story is a cracking good read. What starts as a deceptively simple victim versus bully story in chapter one, soon hurtles headlong into magic, time-travel, unruly wizards having teenage tantrums and Will making new friends, while trying to do battle with stinking monks, evil magicians, feathered murderous villains, boring teachers and, worst of all, The Thunderous Mother, the omnipotent businesswoman with a vegetarian’s mission to convert all of 1970s Groaningsea into a lentil-munching community. By telling the story in short, simple sentences and entirely through twelve-year-old Will’s eyes, the book becomes not just accessible to young adult readers of the same age but will also be appealing to a younger audience of, say seven to ten-year-old bookworms with a little parental guidance on Hamnet’s Shakespearean language. Will is just on the cusp of growing up, still 95% child with the fledgling-man just beginning to show. All the characters in the book are slightly eccentric but in an endearing, three dimensional way. Although set in the 1970s, the era never distracts the reader from the plot; instead we seem to float through centuries with ease, from the 20th century of bell bottom jeans to the unappealing personal hygiene issues of Thadeus, the Stinking Monk in a filthy habit and tattered sandals from the 14th century. The adventure starts, when Will finds a mysterious pebble at the beach that contains the trapped spirit of Hamnet, a young foul-mouthed wizard from the past, who may hurl insults at his would-be rescuer, but that’s just to hide a young, vulnerable heart looking for a real friend. With the finding of Hamnet, Will’s down-trodden, angst-ridden life begins to change for the better. Michelle Barber cleverly avoids the usual clichés of books dealing with bullied kids and tells the story with great warmth, much humour and most of all, compassion. Throughout his adventures Will gains in confidence little by little, there’s no sudden conversion into a super-hero with a Big Bang event. Despite some minor flaws, which I understand from Ms Barber the revised edition has already remedied, this is a book that will appeal to a wide cross section of young readers and will also delight parents who believe that using wit, not fists, makes the world go round. Personally, I can’t wait for the second instalment, when Will Blyton’s alternative detective agency opens its doors for business once more.

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