THE BOOK OF LEARNING by E. R. Murray

Even from the cover, Moontrug could tell she was going to enjoy E.R. Murray’s The Book Of Learning: a rat, tangled roses and a girl and a boy doing a wheelie on a motorbike. All the signs of an exciting adventure…

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After the death of her beloved grandpa, Ebony Smart’s world is turned upside down. Sent to Dublin to live with an adult she didn’t know existed, she soon discovers what her new home, 23 Mercury Lane, is full of secrets. Learning that she is part of an ancient order of people who have the power to reincarnate, Ebony quickly discovers that a terrible evil threatens their existence. With just her pet rat, Winston, and a mysterious book to help her, she must figure out why her people are disappearing and how to save their souls, and her own, before time runs out…

Murray creates a heartfelt opening as Ebony struggles to come to terms with the death of her grandpa. The sights and smells of her home in Oddley Cove are wonderfully evoked (fishing trips, cigar tobacco lingering in the air, hidden rocks and an old man’s tales of how you can ‘learn to read’ the sea) and Ebony is established as a wilful and exciting protagonist right from Chapter 1: ‘Ebony Smart had other ideas.’ Moontrug loved her bond with the animals in her home and how she felt quite sure George and Cassandra, her goats, could take care of her better than the mysterious Judge Ambrose who arrives to take her away. But her closest bond is with the brilliantly named Winston, Ebony’s glorious pet rat. Moontrug liked how Winston wasn’t just a sidekick to Ebony’s adventures; he was right there in the midst of them, helping Ebony unravel the secrets behind her past…

Murray introduces Ebony’s Aunt Ruby with flair and originality, a far more exciting character than at first meets the eye. With jumpsuits, inventions and a voice ‘like corn popping in a tin pan’ Aunt Ruby is a feisty and apparently trustworthy guardian – but her house is full of secrets: relatives who aren’t who they seem and magical books locked inside studies. The Book of Learning is filled with strange codes, ghostly messages and cryptic clues and kids will love trying to crack them with Ebony. Murray keeps the reader guessing right through the book about which characters are really on Ebony’s side and the sense of menace at the heart of the plot will send shivers down reader’s spines: bedroom windows opening of their own accord at night, secret passageways beneath kitchen sinks, terrors lying hidden in the basement, figures lurking in the shadows…

Ebony’s friendship with the enigmatic Zach is brilliantly evoked and in amongst the action – forbidden trips to a library and midnight adventures in the park – there are moments of real heart between the two. Murray perfectly captures the wildness of rural Ireland (‘waves smashed up and over the pier, sending silt and seaweed flying,’ ‘wind howled like lost sea-ghosts’) and this provides an exciting platform for the book’s final action to unfold upon. The sense of magic surrounding gateways to other worlds is a joy to read – combine an amulet with a pure heart at moonlight and the gateway will open – and readers will be eagerly awaiting the next instalment when they finish reading this book.