By Anna Dale
Published by Bloomsbury
ISBN 978 1 4088 0043 0
Mr Hardbattle runs a bookshop. From the outside, it looks very ordinary, if a bit old-fashioned and dusty. It doesn't get many customers, but at least it's still in business, hanging by a thread. Yet even that small list of customers is threatening to dry up.
A terrible smell has appeared from nowhere and Mr Hardbattle cannot find its source. Customers walk into the shop, take a whiff, and walk out again.
What's more, objects in the shop have suddenly begun to move around of their own accord. Books rearrange themselves on shelves, drawing pins fly into the air and impale themselves where they shouldn't, and rubber bands hold pinging competitions around the shop floor.
All these odd happenings, along with the terrible smell, have driven the customers away. Mr Hardbattle has to face reality: soon he will have to close his beloved bookshop.
In desperation, he consults an acquaintance about the goings-on in his shop. Mrs Trinket has no doubt at all what is behind the mayhem: the shop is suffering from an infestation of magic. She knows that once magic has taken up residence in a place it is not easy to drive out.
At first, Mr Hardbattle is content to let magic play its tricks in his shop. But when he receives a letter from his landlord, telling him that the rent is going up, he's at his wits' end over what to do.
Help arrives in the form of a lonely boy called Arthur, and an even lonelier middle-aged woman called Miss Quint. Learning of the bookshop owner's troubles, the resourceful Arthur and the nosy, but well-meaning Miss Quint take matters into their own hands.
It is obvious that magic will move out of the bookshop if it is given a better, more interesting place to reside. As the search begins, Anna Dale's tale gets really enjoyable.
Magical Mischief is a delightful, cosy fantasy brimming with wit, odd characters and charm. In many teen novels these days, magic is dramatic, complicated and often frightening. Dale is having none of this. Here, magic is fun: doing fun things with fun characters. Dale also knows all about the real magic that can be found in bookshops, and this, too, has a place in her story.
This is a fantasy to read with a smile on your face, with no threat of anything jumping out of the shadows to spoil the enjoyment. Magic doesn't have to be big-scale with all guns firing. Sometimes it can blot out reality and be low-key, mischievous and very entertaining.
John Millen can be contacted on MillenBookshelf@aol.com