Review of AUDIOBOOK Dark Summer by Ali Sparkes #Brainfluffbookreview #DarkSummerbookreview

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This delightful children’s book was one of the Frankie’s Audible offerings, and given how much I’d enjoyed Sparkes’ Frozen in Time – see my review – I was happy to tuck into it.

BLURB: When Eddie discovers a secret passage in Wookey Hole caves, he just has to find out where it goes. But his amazement quickly turns to horror when he gets lost in the dark. He’s underground, on his own, and nobody knows where he is …Until a hand reaches out of the blackness. A strange, pale girl helps Eddie get back to the surface, but she can’t seem to leave the caves herself. Who is she? Or rather …what is she? And what other secrets is she hiding? Only one thing is certain – this is a summer Eddie will never forget.

I love Sparkes punchy, readable prose which pulled me right into the middle of this adventure from the first word. It didn’t hurt that the narration by Tom Lawrence was excellent and Eddie is a thoroughly likeable boy. He’s in a hard place at the start of the book – sent off to stay with his aunt while his mother recovers from a gruelling round of chemotherapy. Sparkes doesn’t go into major details about the treatment, but during the course of the book there are enough clues for us to draw that conclusion. I like the fact she didn’t spell out exactly what the illness was, giving parents and carers the option of going into more detail if the young reader is at all curious. It doesn’t help that his cousin, Darren is a bullying thug who thinks nothing of regularly beating Eddie up, mostly because of his ginger hair. Eddie is an only child who is close to his parents, and you get the sense that he is highly intelligent and probably more comfortable with adults than with his peers.

A peculiar and slightly scary encounter during an outing to Wookey caves leaves Eddie with a season ticket and a need to return to find out whether it had all been some weird waking dream. It wasn’t. I don’t want to go into the plot too much more, because it would be a real shame to spoil this tightly structured, clever story which gripped me throughout. All the characters rang true – something that doesn’t always happen in children’s fiction – and most were doing their best under difficult circumstances. There are also flashes of humour throughout, which help defuse some of the darker elements, without whitewashing them.
The villain in the story was chillingly normal. I do get fed up with pantomime baddies that so often occur in children’s fiction, and I think does them a real disservice. Sparkes’ antagonist is very plausible, who manages to persuade most people that she is just trying to do her “Christian duty”.

While the overall pacing starts off being reasonably measured, as the story progresses, the action ramps up along with the tension, so that by the end I was finding it difficult to turn this one off and walk away when my chores were done. The ending works really well and I found it unexpectedly moving. All in all, this is another stormingly good read by an excellent author who deserves to be far better known.
10/10

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