Friday, March 28, 2008

Panama Oxridge

Justin Thyme
by Panama Oxridge
Recommended Age: 12+

When Robin at Interrobang contacted me to ask if I would review the publisher’s newest book, he appealed to my deepest and strongest instincts: vanity and cheapness. Vanity gave its thumbs-up as soon as Robin mentioned that the book’s author, Panama Oxridge, was a fan of the Book Trolley and had asked particularly to have me review Justin Thyme. Cheapness agreed the moment Robin offered to send me a free copy of the book. And now that I have disclosed my selfish motivations for reading this book, you can take my review for what it’s worth.

Honestly, though, I enjoyed Justin Thyme, the first book in the Tartan of Thyme series. And I think that it should appeal to many of the deepest, strongest instincts of many people who enjoy Harry Potter. It has a thirteen-year-old hero who lives in a Scottish castle full of eccentric characters, some of whom may be spying for the boy’s elusive and deadly enemy. It has puzzles, clues, anagrams, and weird creatures including the Loch Ness monster, a talking gorilla, and an eight-legged cat. It involves time travel, memory modification, a master of disguise, a kidnap, and loads of technological wizardry. Fans of Harry Potter, Artemis Fowl, and the Pure Dead series should feel right at home here.

Also, parents and teachers will be thrilled by the book’s educational value. Laced with a thirteen-year-old’s-level explanation of the principles of time travel, it ends with a glossary of vocabulary-building words, Scottish dialect and scientific terminology used in the book. It also has several pages for young readers to note down the clues they pick up as they go along, including clues to mysteries yet to be revealed in the sequel, Thyme Running Out.

The young hero is a thirteen-year-old, self-made billionaire named Justin Thyme. He lives in Thyme castle with his rebellious older sister Robyn and their baby brother Albion, their mother who is the celebrity host of a television safari program, and their father who was on his way to becoming a great inventor when his memory was erased. They also have some live-in staff who may, in fact, be spies for the slippery enemy who erased Sir Willoughby’s memory. Finding out who the spy is becomes a matter of urgency when Justin starts inventing a time machine, and when his mother is kidnapped. The ransom note demands the finished machine. Poor Justin has to work night and day in a race to finish the machine while also trying to work out who is friend, who is foe, and how to rescue his Mum.

Justin and Robyn are appealing characters, contrasting sharply with each other. The other eccentric folks in the castle are interesting company, making you giggle and gasp in close succession. As Justin’s suspicions focus on one suspect after another – as he gets closer to the dangerous truth – you can’t help getting caught up in his adventure. Plus, there are unique quirks to enjoy, such as the title on the front cover (which reads the same when you turn it upside down), the chapter headings (which contain a secret message), and the author’s bio (which claims that Panama Oxridge will be born next year). And speaking of the author, his or her name forms anagrams with the name of the illustrator and cover designer, as well as a chemical substance mentioned in the text... clues to yet another mystery!

As all the clues, theories, and dangling threads of Harry Potter are tying [UPDATE: tied] up once and for all, perhaps the time has come to look for another series to work your sleuthing skills upon. If so, consider the Tartan of Time series. To learn more, visit the Justin Thyme website.

EDIT: I still have no idea who Panama Oxridge really is. However, I do recall referring to Robin at Interrobang as "she" in my first draft of this review... and then finding out that, quite ironically (!!!), I had made an unfounded assumption about his sex. It can happen to anybody!

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