Sunday, 4 December 2022

Alice Éclair, Spy Extraordinaire! A Spoonful of Spying

 by Sarah Todd Taylor;  

An Adventure Book Review & Sunday Selfie by Erin the Cat Princess©

 


 


Today we have a double header for you. First off, having pride of place, is our book review of a FABULOUS new 1930's Adventure. This is folowed by a piece of 1920's style B movie Black and White mischief and fun from us!



So, if you're all now seated comfortably and have got the popcorn and drinks safely tucked away, I'll dim the lights and draw back the curtains on today's main feature: 




 ALICE ÉCLAIR, SPY EXTRAORDINAIRE! A Spoonful of Spying.


 






Author: SARAH TODD TAYLOR

 

Cover art by:  BEATRIZ CASTRO

 

Published by:  NOSY CROW


Publication date:  12 January 2023


Paperback ISBN:  978-1839940972

 

Cover price for Paperback £7.99

 

Pages:  272 (approx)

 

Age range: Middle Grade (9 AND upwards)


Any dogs or cats? Yes, a feline called Casper, who I suspect gets more than he bargains!


 



SPOILER ALERT

Some as to early plot direction and characters.


Thank you to... 

We are exceedingly grateful to Sarah Todd Taylor and Hannah Prutton of Nosy Crow Publishers for the awesome proof copy of this highly-anticipated, delectable book before publication.


As ever, our views in this review are our own. We only share reviews of books we have read, like and feel our readers deserve to know about and that we hope they will enjoy as much as we did, which in this case is a lot.

 
The plot

13-year-old Alice Éclair, cake maker supreme by day, and spy for the French government by night, is off on a mission. And it's not to buy fresh eggs for her mother's famed pâtisserie, Vive Comme L'Éclair. 


We join her in an action-packed scene aboard Le Mistral, Paris' most luxurious event boat, as it sails slowly down the Seine. Alice and senior agent, Claude, are hot on the trail of spies and stolen information valuable to the enemies of France. 


Disguised as a waiter, Alice serves, while elegantly dressed Claude, never short of admiring company, mingles with the well-healed partygoers. Both are on the lookout for their suspect. Suddenly the chase is on, but it goes sour when Alice is faced with a life-or-death choice. And so the villain escapes, but not before she manages to steal a slip of paper from his pocket. Wet and muddy, Alice blames herself. She feels she failed Claude just when she needs to be proving herself. Worse, Claude dismisses the piece of paper.


The paper, however, soon becomes the first clue that indicates the plans for prototype French aircraft, code-named 'Daedalus', are to be stolen and passed to foreign agents. And where better for spies to mingle and plans to be passed than the upcoming World Fair in Paris!

 

Under guise of showing off her cake-making art, Alice and her mother get an invite to take a stand at the fair. Of course, for Alice, it means between helping her mum and working as a spy, she gets little chance to investigate marvels from across the globe on display. 


After a few days with little to go on and even fewer suspects, Alice gets pushed to what she thinks is a lowly position in the Fashion Pavilion. Claude, however, seems to have taken the best, most glamorous assignment for himself! 


OK, from here on in, clues and suspects start to mount. In fact, it seems there are spies everywhere interested in all manner of things. 

 

Alice's decorating skills get to be unleashed too, as gets embroiled in kidnapping as the adventure quite quickly takes a high speed, high stakes and high octane race to save friends, families and secrets from dastardly deeds and deadly double-dealing . . . . . persons!

 

And if you are wondering about Casper, the cat, well, he gets far more than he bargains for when he steals a ride to the World Fair!



So, what did we think?


 

After Alice's first adventure, A Recipe for Trouble (a LINK to our Review is HERE), I wondered if and how Sarah could pull off another spectacular tale?

I am delighted that she has far exceeded my hopes and expectations. 


This is an adventure packed with unashamed panache, gusto, bravery and adventure worthy of famed Belgians, Tintin and Hergé. 

 

But this is by no means a copy. It stands tall and proud like one of Alice Éclair's own culinary creations, with layers of mystery to unravel and countless textures and flavours. All this amidst a Parisian backdrop of high fashion, aviation, and a world fair. Truly the only thing Sarah hasn't provided is the smells and tastes of Alices cooking. For that, the only solution is to buy your own.


It doesn't shy away from failure and the lessons and costs it brings.

The cast is engaging and highlights that women of the era in real life were also at the forefront of engineering and flight. I am so pleased that we see this in writing, as it is often assumed quite wrongly that women were nothing but models, cooks and housewives.



So . . . . 


Crunch time. 


I get a definite sense of an 'upping of the anti' in this adventure. It is bolder, stronger, and growing with Alice. 


It certainly hits all the right notes in all the right places to make it a firm favourite for adventure-loving kids (and Mrs H.). It also sets another high bar for Sarah to clear for the next book. 

So, for me, this is a MUST-READ. Sit back and enjoy a rollercoaster of a ride that takes the reader from the glam of the catwalk, up into the skies and along the crowded streets and waterways of Paris. 




Want to buy a copy?


 

To get a copy, please do choose to support your local independent bookshop. There are plenty out there, and some may well serve up cake and coffee!



Sarah Todd Taylor's WEB page can be found HERE or type this: https://sarahtoddtaylor.com/


Nosy Crow's web page can be found HERE. or type this: https://nosycrow.com/product/alice-eclair-spy-extraordinaire-a-spoonful-of-spying/


Beatriz Castro's web page can be found HERE. or type this: https://beatrizcastroilustracion.com/


We hope you enjoyed the review. Before the second feature, we offer you a selfie.



If you've stayed the course and have some extra time, why not enjoy the second feature. This week Mrs H and I have opted for a touch of the 1920's gangster movie . . . 


London, 1923. 


I'm standing in the fog underneath a lamppost in the seedy part of Soho's China Town. I look at my watch and sigh. My contact with the goods is late, but aren't they always when you're in a rush. The swirling light coalesces around the lamp like a shifting grimy mass of cotton wool. My best Fedora hat is shrinking to my head, and, despite the department store salescat's assurance, water seeps slowly under the raised collar of my Mack. Never buy cheap, I reminded myself for the fifth time that evening and sighed again.


Let me introduce myself. The names Shovel, Erin Shovel. Detecting and 'special deliveries' are the game. Yeah, I know what you're thinking. Shouldn't it be Spade, Erin Spade? That one was taken at the Detective Society. The names actually Erin Eyebrowinkwinkski. And who'd have thought it, that mouthful was taken too! So I'm stuck with Erin Shovel. It was that or Trowel. Shovel sounds way tougher anyway, which is handy in this city. Gets you a reputation, and that brings you the meaty jobs. 


So that's why you find me here, damp, miserable, and on a job at the wrong end of town packing a piece. Yeah, this cat's tooled up, just in case.


I take one long suck on my catnip cheroot only to find it's gone soggy. I sigh, longer this time, then shove the damp treat in my pocket. What self-respecting cat would be out on a night like this? Hungry one, that's who.


The sudden sharp jangle of a trolley bus the next street sends a shiver down my back and tail that quickly doubles back and reaches the tips of my whiskers. As if in unison, Big Ben strikes 6pm. Muffled by the London 'pea-souper fog,' it sounds like someone's sat the bells in custard. Don't ask me how I know that; I just do. My tummy rumbles at the thought of food once I finish this special rush job for the Guild. I resist the urge to have a snack as it will dull my appetite and make me less alert. 


I freeze at the skittering of a stone and the rattle of a bottle over the street cobbles somewhere ahead. The silence returns, more intensely this time, and at the edge of the gloom the fog appears to lighten just a bit. Maybe it's nothing. Or perhaps it's a sign the next act is about to begin. 


I wouldn't be the first cat mugged in this neighbourhood. That's why I'm packing heat. I slowly reach into my left pocket for assurance and feel the still-warm, smooth barrel of my loaded .25 pistol. That's a .25 litre water pistol, to you. Enough to frighten the most ardent door-to-door salescats. 

 

Through all the thick, grimy fog seeps a scent; something exotic, spicy . . . . and cheap. Underneath it, I smell something fishy, maybe even dead. It's a smell you don't forget. It can mean only one thing: Frank the Fish is vicinity. 

 

Sure enough, the large and fish-smelling tomcat comes rollerblading across the cobbles. I can't say I am surprised or upset that he fails to stop in time and shoots past and back into the fog, leaving an almost visible trace of fish oil in the grey gloom. The sound of a dustbin being toppled by an out-of-control 25lb cat, followed by a GRUNT and swearing, means Frank has stopped. Moments later, he appears, carrying a battered and flatter-than-it-ought-to-be box. My box. 


"You Erin the Shovel?" he asks, smirking. "Digging around for work, are you?" he adds to the insult with a wallop on the shoulder with his huge paw. It's like being hit by a 10lb kipper and sends me into the lamppost, which I swear wobbles. 


"Yeah, yeah. You know I is, numb butt. Now give me the goods and I can be on my way."


Totally ignoring me, Frank pulls out a laminated card from his overalls. And, having looked furtively around, leans in far closer than a cat who eats five-day-old fish and doesn't bother with dental hygiene should.


"What you acting like that for?" I says. "I mean, it's not like anyone can see us in this . . . soup. Plus, if your breath gets much closer, I might have to charge you for having my whiskers straightened!" 

 

Frank ignores my comment and clears his throat. "It says here I have to check your ID before passing over the 'STUFF'". His lips tremble in delight. "No ID, NO GOODS. I can accept a driving license." He adds, as though this will somehow make life easier. I'm pretty confident he couldn't tell a driving licence from a one-pound note, but as I've not got either, this could turn nasty.


"So, here's the thing," I says. "I need that box. My clients needed it like half an hour ago. "So, we can do this the easy way or . . . ." I patted the bulge in my pocket. 


"Or what?" Frank is suspiciously eyeing my pocket, uncertainty and cogs whirring in his eyes. "What's the easy way," he says finally.


"I can give you this here card of mine," I say, pulling out a curled-edged and damp business card and thrusting it up to the cat's face. "Here, keep it. It's got all my details. As good as a driving licence." 

 

Frank snatches the card and, far too slowly, scans the smudged ink. I tease the box from his grasp and check the goods. "Hey, Frank, where's the tuna! I ordered the Tuna Mayo Surprise with extra cheese and catnip! These look like sardines. You and Giuseppe trying to pull a fast one?!"


"Hey, I just deliver these things. Anyways, the boss says you can't have toona and that's that."


"He does, does he. And why's that? It was a special order, for The Detective Writers Guild, and you knows how that mob gets itchy claws when it comes to book launch party food!" 


Frank understandably backs up a pace as I reach into my other pocket. "Yeah, he does. He also said you'd get all hissy fit, so he told me to tell you that toona wasn't available in Britain until the 1950's! This here is the 1920's!" And with that, he pockets the calling card and blades off into the fog. 


You'd be expecting me to sigh again right about now, and I did. Somehow, I never ended up with the pizza of my dreams, ever. The lamp above me flickers and, with a hiss, goes out. 



"Erin, dear. Are you awake?" Mrs H gently placed a supper plate beside where I sat. "No. No, just had my eyes closed thinking about my book and the food for the book launch."

 

"You've been dreaming again, dear. Besides, you need an idea for a book, then write it." Mrs H smiled and then asked. "Do you have an idea?"

 

"Strangely enough, I do. 'Erin Spade, PI, and the Big Toona Rip Off'"

 

"The PI would be for Pizza Investigator, would it?" With a wry smile and glint in her eye, Mrs H pulled off the plate cover to reveal Erin's favourite supper. 

 

"Do you read minds, Mrs H?" 

 

"No dear, but I do read a lot of detective novels!" And with that and a knowing wink, Mrs H left Erin to her Tuna Pizza Surprise with all the toppings. 

 

The End


That's it, folks!

 

If you've enjoyed the double bill, please leave a comment below.



Till laters!

ERin