The Grandest Bookshop in the World (PB)

Series: The Grandest Bookshop in the World
Publication Date: 30 Mar. 2021
Format: Paperback / softback

ISBN 9781922419347

    16.99 16.99 16.990000000000002 AUD


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    Pearl and Vally Cole live in a bookshop. And not just any bookshop. In 1893, Cole's Book Arcade in Melbourne is the grandest bookshop in the world, brimming with every curiosity imaginable. Each day brings fresh delights for the siblings: voice-changing sweets, talking parrots, a new story written just for them by their eccentric father.

    When Pearl and Vally learn that Pa has risked the Arcade -- and himself -- in a shocking deal with the mysterious Obscurosmith, the siblings hatch a plan. Soon they are swept into a dangerous game with impossibly high stakes: defeat seven challenges by the stroke of midnight and both the Arcade and their father will be restored. But if they fail Pearl and Vally won't just lose Pa -- they'll forget that he and the Arcade ever existed.


    Book Type: Junior High
    Age Group: 11 to 14 years
    Traffic Lights: Amber
    Class Novel: No
    Good Reads Rating: 4.5/5
    Literary Rating: 4.5/5


    At 299 Bourke Street in Melbourne, 1893, stands the world's largest and most magical bookstore: Cole's Book Arcade. The store, founded by Edward Cole, is also home to ten-year-old Pearl and her siblings: Linda, Eddie, Vally and Ivy. Their sister Ruby has died recently of scarlet fever.

    A strange man named Magnus Maximillian, also known as "the Obscurosmith,' appears in the store one day, asking after their father. Magnus seems to know a lot of information about the family and has a business proposal for Mr. Cole, but Pearl is wary of the strange man who promises "astonishing deals at incredible prices'.

    Pearl and her brother Vally soon learn that Mr. Cole has struck a deal with the Obscurosmith--he can have the "most expensive' thing in the Arcade in exchange for bringing Ruby back. Although Cole was careful to use the word "expensive' rather than "valuable,' the Obscurosmith interprets this to mean that he can take the Arcade itself, which he wants to turn into "Maximillian's Impossible Emporium'. What Mr Cole receives in return is a facsimile of Ruby, who is not truly alive. Mr Cole is also becoming gravely ill, the life being sapped from him. Pearl and Vally strike their own deal with the Obscurosmith -- they will play a game of his choosing and if they win, he cannot take the Arcade. If Magnus Maximillian wins, he can take all of Pearl and Vally's memories of the Arcade as well.

    Pearl and Vally play seven rounds of tests set by the Obscurosmith. Magnus leaves secret coded messages in flowers about the tasks and where they are located, and the children use a flower dictionary to decode them.

    The first task is set in "Wonder Land': the children decode marks on "funny mirrors,' and solve the word riddle as the room fills with water. The next test is a dance, where Pearl dresses in a suit and Vally has to wear a gown. A further clue leads them to Lolly Land, where they solve a geometry puzzle with sweets. Pearl and Vally then encounter "Cole's Patent Whipping Machine for Flogging Naughty Children' -- a joke invention of their father's (he doesn't believe in corporal punishment). The fifth task is set in Toy Land, where they defeat Magnus's word block puzzle. For their sixth task, they are asked to solve a counting riddle in the monkey enclosure.

    Vally loses his memories much faster than Pearl, who has spent more of her life at the Arcade. This forces Pearl to tackle the final task on her own. The fake Ruby appears to come more to life and tries to convince Pearl to forget about the game. Pearl realises what she is doing, and the fake Ruby -- now called Garnet -- reveals the final task. She gives Pearl a view of the world of "the third millennium' i.e. modern time, and asks her the final puzzle: what is the meaning of life? Pearl replies "Everything will come to an end. The point is to enjoy it while it lasts.' The Obscurosmith appears and is impressed by Pearl's answer but tries to continue the game. Pearl thwarts him by shaking his hand -- officially ending the game. Vally and Pearl's memories are restored, as is their father's health, and life and vibrancy returns to the Arcade.

    A wonderful adventure story based upon the history of the real Cole's Book Arcade. An extensive author note details the interesting history of the real Edward Cole and his family. A highly recommended read for fans of magical realism -- or bookshops!


    history, family, books, adventure, games, magical realism, bookshops, puzzles

    Content Notes

    1. Ruby Cole died at the age of 8 from scarlet fever. The family's grief is discussed throughout the story. 2. Discussion of different religious beliefs (mythologies, atheism, agnosticism, moral codes) the Cole children have; the children are "allowed to choose any religion they like'. There is a discussion of whether heaven is real (p. 38). 3. Language: bastard x 2, bloody x 3. 4. Mrs.Cole "uses a seance' to find the Obscurosmith (even though he is not deceased, they simply don't know how to contact him) (p. 60). Also mentioned later (p. 291) is that through Mrs. Cole's séances (not portrayed on the page) they know that Ruby had peacefully passed on. The Obscurosmith uses illusory magic throughout the book, including creating a facsimile of the dead Ruby -- but she has not been brought back to life. 5. Discussion of boys being caned (corporal punishment) at school (p. 171).

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