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“A towering, six-storey house that gives nothing away except a curmudgeonly wish to be left utterly alone. Paint peels from the walls like giant sunburn, dead vines spill from neglected windowboxes, long smears of dirt run down the facade like the grubbiest of tear-streaked faces, rogue sproutings of grass emerge triumphant from cracked marble steps and a high mound of leaves laps at the door.”
This is London in the year after World War II has ended, at Christmas time, and living with Uncle Basti is an eye-opening experience for the Caddys, especially when his home is The Kensington Reptilarium. There’s trouble afoot, as Uncle Basti is not at all enamoured of his new house guests, and the Reptilarium is home to a menagerie of snakes, lizards and other creatures with visitors invited to “enter if you dare”.
I found reading the first person narrative a bit frustrating to start with, but the plot and characters ultimately drew me in. One of those characters is the house which is like a maze with forbidden rooms and surprises lurking around the corners, a house whose owner is in need of some Christmas spirit.
The Kensington Reptilarium is filled with action and humour, and can be enjoyed by a broad age range of readers. It’s a story with a bit of a mystery that’s begging for a heartwarming ending.
Title: The Kensington Reptilarium
Author: N. J. Gemmell
Publisher: Random House $16.95 RRP
Publication Date: November 2013
For ages: 10+
Type: Junior Fiction, Middle Fiction