Olivia's Winter Wonderland
Guardian theatre critic Lyn Gardner returns to the fray with the fifth novel in the series about Olivia Marvell, the talented tightrope walker and potential star actress.
As the title suggests, this latest story is set in the latter part of a year that will eventually lead to Olivia's GCSEs. However, before getting there, some ghostly and magical problems will need to be overcome by our plucky heroine, her little sister Eel and loyal friends.
There are three main threads of this book. The first features a competition between three of Swan Academy's finest to land the plum part of Zelda in a West End musical of that name.
Miss Gardner understands a thing or two about the jealousies that can intrude when young girls compete for an opportunity that could be life changing. She also has a good feel for ambition and its inevitable concomitant in this industry, failure as well as the ability to live with both.
At the same time, the school is trying to put on a charity pantomime allowing the pupils to share a stage with some particularly famous alumni.
The final strand comes close to fairy story fantasy as Olivia and her friend Tom stumble upon a derelict theatre that just happens to have been kept in perfect working order behind closed doors.
There, the pair meet a couple of nervous but enchanting oldies with a terrible secret, which can only possibly be released by the arrival of two lively teenagers with a need.
It takes a few coincidences to get to a suitably happy ending, by which stage quite a number of the children have grown up considerably, as well as releasing the ghosts of Christmas past.
Once again, this gifted writer manages to come up with enough amusing plot twists to satisfy even the most demanding of readers in a book that, once picked up, will almost certainly be devoured in a single sitting.
There must every chance that Olivia will fill at least one more book before leaving school and readers might well hope that they will subsequently have the opportunity to follow her to university or drama school and into career, family and who knows what else?
Reviewer: Philip Fisher