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Sputnik's Guide to Life on Earth by Frank Cottrell Boyce

Saving the world is a staple of children's fiction, whether it's from some crazed Bond-inspired super villain, the Forces of the Dark, monsters from another dimension, He Who Must Not Be Named, a zombie apocalypse or a mere circus ringmaster stealing laughter and joy and leaving us grey and mirthless. The world is much more interesting when seen through a lens promising its imminent destruction.

So it appears to Prez, when he answers the door to an alien who informs him the earth is to be destroyed due to some arbitrary and obscure pan-galactic commandment. To Prez's adoptive family, who are looking after him while his widely-travelled grandfather is detained in Shangri-La, the alien projects the appearance of a dog (for reasons that become apparent only much later in the novel). Prez would prefer to be living back with his grandfather, though the removal of our planet from the universal gene-pool is yet another date in the diary, unless he can come up with ten good reasons why the earth should be spared.

In the hands of a lesser author we might know what to expect or how the story will play out, yet with FCB we can expect him to deliver something different, more subtle and with his signature good humour and wit. Just when you think you have it figured, he throws an extra layer into the mix and he delivers, right on cue, a carefully constructed ending that pulls you in all different directions at once. As ever he is brilliant at evoking a warm, loving family, while Prez and his space-dog are wonderfully drawn characters. Mr Boyce commands with aplomb, ably assisted by Steven Lenton's nimble illustrations.

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