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The Magnificent Lizzie Brown and the Mysterious Phantom by Vicki Lockwood

Join Lizzie Brown, the fortuneteller’s assistant, and her gang of circus friends, as they try to uncover the identity of the mysterious phantom.

In Victorian London, a masked figure has been robbing houses and evading the police. When Lizzie Brown has a psychic vision about the burglar, she knows she has to act. But this phantom is proving to be more dangerous than a tightrope without a safety net…

The Magnificent Lizzie Brown and the Mysterious Phantom is the first in a new series of books featuring Lizzie and the Penny Gaff Gang, from Curious Fox. It’s aimed at kids aged 9+, and it is a very enjoyable story. It has adventure and mystery and peril, along with friendship and loyalty.

Lizzie Brown is determined to earn an honest living; she doesn’t want to be a no-good thief like her father. At the beginning of the book an almighty row between the pair means Lizzie has little choice but to run as far as she can from her dad. She ends up seeking refuge at a circus, where she almost accidentally becomes one of the acts when her fortune telling ability comes to light.

There are two parts of the story really. There’s the puzzle of the phantom - a violent housebreaker making headline news daily and terrorising the capital. Lizzie and her circus friends decide to unmask the fiend. It is a pretty exciting story, but it’s the strong bonds the circus gang have that stood out for me. Lizzie finds a group of friends that support each other and are fiercely loyal. They also expect people to behave decently and are not afraid to make a stand against unacceptable behaviour and meanness. I liked that and didn’t think it was overtly message-y.

I really did like the book so what I’m going to talk about now is not to take away from it, it’s really more something I’m curious about. The author of the book is given as Vicki Lockwood, but the copyright inside belongs to Hothouse Fiction. I checked this because I was already wondering whether Lockwood was a real person or an amalgamation of writers – not that I can say for sure why this popped into my head. I’m still not entirely sure. I looked up Hothouse Fiction and they are a collaborative writing agency that produces series of children’s books.

It’s an interesting, and certainly not new, concept. Big series of books for younger readers are quite often written collaboratively. But it’s something I’m not so familiar with for the older kids’ book. I googled “Vicki Lockwood author” but didn’t get anything beyond hits for this series of books. As I said, I’m curious and this is because I’ve got so used to getting to know authors. Twitter has completely changed how we interact with the people who create the stories we fall in love with. Added to that are the brilliant events that happen in bookshops, and of course big meet-ups such as YALC and blogger events. All these things mean we can meet authors, hear them speak, and talk to them both off and online. I’ve met some amazing children’s/YA authors on Twitter, and gone on to meet some of them for real too. I think what I’m trying to reach for here is that it seems that readers might be missing out if there’s not an actual Vicki Lockwood.

I have been thinking about it not just from my own perspective, but from the younger age group too. The children in my family have had some great interactions with their favourite authors online and in bookshops. My youngest niece Pickle went positively pink with delight when Alex T. Smith spoke to her via the magic of Twitter, to pick just one example. Letting an author know you loved their book AND getting a response – well, these are both wonderful things.

I liked this Lizzie Brown and would happily recommend it, whether it’s written collaboratively or not won’t change that. The possibility that there isn’t a single author just got me thinking.

The Magnificent Lizzie Brown and the Mysterious Phantom is available now in paperback. Curious Fox very kindly sent me a copy. There are three other Lizzie Brown stories also available.


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