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BOOK REVIEW: Wonder by R.J. Palacio

Friday, April 27, 2018

 

The Blurb (From Goodreads):

August Pullman was born with a facial difference that, up until now, has prevented him from going to a mainstream school. Starting 5th grade at Beecher Prep, he wants nothing more than to be treated as an ordinary kid—but his new classmates can’t get past Auggie’s extraordinary face. WONDER, now a #1 New York Times bestseller and included on the Texas Bluebonnet Award master list, begins from Auggie’s point of view, but soon switches to include his classmates, his sister, her boyfriend, and others. These perspectives converge in a portrait of one community’s struggle with empathy, compassion, and acceptance.


My Thoughts:

I’ve had an Advanced Reading Copy (ARC) of this book on my shelf for literally years, but had never found the time to read it (although I wanted to). Then the movie came out and I always like to read the book before I watch someone else’s creative response to it. So the book jumped the queue and I finally got around to reading it.

It’s a simple enough story.

August Pullman was born with a genetic disorder that resulted in a childhood of hospitals and operations. Despite this, he has been left with facial deformities that make many people who see him for the first time uncomfortable. He’s been home-schooled, but his mother thinks it is time for him to go to a mainstream school. Auggie is reluctant. He is afraid of the other kids’ horror and unkindness. But finally he agrees, even though he knows it will be an ordeal.

The first part of the book is told from his point-of-view, with succeeding sections told by his older sister, her boyfriend, and some of the other kids at school. This device allows us to see how Auggie’s struggle to be accepted impacts on those around him. R.J. Palacio does a good job of creating different voices for her characters, though it is Auggie’s point-of-view which is most memorable. Auggie is funny, brave, and caring. He just wants to be an ordinary kid, and yet those around him can’t help but treat him differently.

R.J. Palacio has called her debut novel “a meditation on kindness”, and this is the book’s great strength. Wonder has been criticised for being over-sentimental and over-simplified, but you know what? I had a big lump in my throat when I finished it. It’s true that this is a big, difficult and complex topic, and that – for people who suffer differences and disabilities - there is rarely any such happy ending. However, this is a book written for children, with a very important message about learning to live with empathy, compassion and thoughtfulness, and I believe that many child readers will find themselves fundamentally changed by reading it.

You might also be interested in reading my review of The War I Finally Won by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley.

Please leave a comment, I love to hear what you think.


BOOK REVIEW: A Skinful of Shadows by Frances Hardinge

Wednesday, April 25, 2018

  

The Blurb (From Goodreads):

This is the story of a bear-hearted girl . . .

Sometimes, when a person dies, their spirit goes looking for somewhere to hide.
Some people have space within them, perfect for hiding.

Twelve-year-old Makepeace has learned to defend herself from the ghosts which try to possess her in the night, desperate for refuge, but one day a dreadful event causes her to drop her guard.

And now there's a spirit inside her.

The spirit is wild, brutish and strong, and it may be her only defence when she is sent to live with her father's rich and powerful ancestors. There is talk of civil war, and they need people like her to protect their dark and terrible family secret.

But as she plans her escape and heads out into a country torn apart by war, Makepeace must decide which is worse: possession – or death.


My Thoughts:

Frances Hardinge is now officially my favourite writer for young adults. Her novel The Lie Tree was one of my best reads of 2016, and now she has enchanted me anew with A Skinful of Shadows which is just as dark, magical, intelligent and surprising.

Set during the English Civil War, one of my favourite historical periods, A Skinful of Shadows tells the story of Makepeace, a twelve-year old girl growing up in a Puritan community. Her mother locks her in a crypt on moonless nights, so that she can learn to fight ghosts. Makepeace begs her not to, but her mother is relentless. So Makepeace tries to break free. Her impetuous action leads to tragedy, and Makepeace finds herself a prisoner of the very people her mother had been trying to protect her from.

And Makepeace carries a dark and terrible secret inside her. She is possessed by the ghost of a bear.

A spellbinding and compelling tale of necromancers and cavaliers, hungry spirits and treasonous spies, A Skinful of Shadows thrums with magic, danger and intrigue. Makepeace is a wonderful heroine – clever, resourceful, compassionate and brave. And Bear, the wild fierce and unpredictable force within her, will just about break your heart. I am now eagerly hunting down Frances Hardinge’s other books!

I was lucky enough to interview Frances Hardinge, you can read it here.

Please leave a comment and let me know what you think.

BOOK REVIEW: The Ravenmaster’s Boy by Mary Hoffman

Wednesday, December 20, 2017



The Blurb (From Goodreads):

The story of the fall of Anne Boleyn as it has never been told – this time with ravens.

Young Kit finds himself on a plague cart wedged between the bodies of his mother and father. But he is alive and is rescued and taken into the home of the Ravenmaster at the Tower of London. He soon finds he can speak the language of the big black birds, a skill which proves useful when he finds himself caught up in a story of queens and treason, princesses and executioners.

There can be no change in the history of Henry Vlll’s first two wives but without Kit and the ravens another Tudor monarch might never have survived.


My Thoughts:

‘Kit wasn’t the only one who thought that he was dead.’

So begins this wonderful story about a boy in the 1500s who is rescued from a plague-cart by the Ravenmaster at the Tower of London. Living within the confines of the tower, gifted with the ability to speak with the king’s ravens, Kit lives in violent times. King Henry VIII rules England, and many of his enemies find themselves imprisoned within the tower’s dank walls.

One day the king’s young and beautiful queen, Anne Boleyn, finds herself accused of unspeakable crimes and imprisoned. Kit and the ravens find themselves drawn into a world of intrigue, treason, and bloodshed. Kit may not be able to save the doomed queen, but perhaps he can help save her baby princess …

Swiftly moving and suspenseful, this is an enthralling novel for children aged twelve and upwards, and a fascinating introduction to Tudor history. Loved it.

For another beautiful historical children's book, check out my review of Midnight is a Place by Joan Aitken.

Please leave a comment and let me know what you think.

BOOK REVIEW: Lament by Maggie Stiefvater

Tuesday, November 29, 2016



BLURB:

Sixteen-year-old Deirdre Monaghan is a painfully shy but prodigiously gifted musician. 


She's about to find out she's also a cloverhand—one who can see faeries. Deirdre finds herself infatuated with a mysterious boy who enters her ordinary suburban life, seemingly out of thin air. Trouble is, the enigmatic and gorgeous Luke turns out to be a gallowglass—a soulless faerie assassin. An equally hunky—and equally dangerous—dark faerie soldier named Aodhan is also stalking Deirdre. 


Sworn enemies, Luke and Aodhan each have a deadly assignment from the Faerie Queen. Namely, kill Deirdre before her music captures the attention of the Fae and threatens the Queen's sovereignty. Caught in the crossfire with Deirdre is James, her wisecracking but loyal best friend. Deirdre had been wishing her life weren't so dull, but getting trapped in the middle of a centuries-old faerie war isn't exactly what she had in mind . . .


Lament is a dark faerie fantasy that features authentic Celtic faerie lore, plus cover art and interior illustrations by acclaimed faerie artist Julia Jeffrey.



MY THOUGHTS

Maggie Stiefvater made her name with a series of teen werewolf romances that were a cut above the usual, with acutely realised characters and luminous prose. Lament is similarly a book about a teenage girl falling in love with someone not of her world, though in this book the romantic hero is an assassin sent from the faerie world to kill her. It’s a clever premise, and once again Stiefvater’s teenage characters feel real and alive. 

BOOK REVIEW: The Lost Sapphire by Belinda Murrell

Sunday, November 27, 2016





BLURB:

Marli is staying with her dad in Melbourne, and missing her friends. Then she discovers a mystery—a crumbling, abandoned mansion is to be returned to her family after 90 years. Marli sneaks into the locked garden to explore, and meets Luca, a boy who has his own connection to Riversleigh. 


A peacock hatbox, a box camera and a key on a velvet ribbon provide clues to what happened long ago. In 1922, Violet is 15. Her life is one of privilege, with boating parties, picnics and extravagant balls. An army of servants looks after the family, including new chauffeur Nikolai Petrovich, a young Russian émigré. 


Over one summer, Violet must decide what is important to her. Who will her sister choose to marry? What will Violet learn about Melbourne’s slums as she defies her father’s orders to help a friend? And what breathtaking secret is Nikolai hiding? Violet is determined to control her future. 


But what will be the price of her rebellion?


MY THOUGHTS:

I always love a new timeslip adventure from my brilliant sister, Belinda. In The Lost Sapphire, a teenage girl Marli is reluctantly sent to stay with her father in Melbourne. Things began to get more interesting, though, when she discovers an abandoned house with a mysterious past, and makes a new friend, a boy with his own connection to the house. Meanwhile, back in 1922, Violet lives the high life at the luxurious mansion but a forbidden friendship with her father’s Russian chauffeur opens up her eyes about the world and her own heart. 


A wonderful story for girls who like to imagine what life was like in the past.

BOOK REVIEW: THE LIE TREE by Frances Hardinge

Friday, June 10, 2016



Winner of the Costa Book of the Year 2015, The Lie Tree is a dark and powerful novel from universally acclaimed author, Frances Hardinge. 

It was not enough. All knowledge- any knowledge - called to Faith, and there was a delicious, poisonous pleasure in stealing it unseen.

Faith has a thirst for science and secrets that the rigid confines of her class cannot supress. And so it is that she discovers her disgraced father's journals, filled with the scribbled notes and theories of a man driven close to madness. Tales of a strange tree which, when told a lie, will uncover a truth: the greater the lie, the greater the truth revealed to the liar. Faith's search for the tree leads her into great danger - for where lies seduce, truths shatter . . .


The Lie Tree is an utterly brilliant and surprising YA historical novel with a magical twist – it recently won the Costa Book of the Year award in a decision that I applaud most enthusiastically. The story is set in Victorian times, teetering on the edge of the uneasy chasm that opened up between science and religion following Charles Darwin’s Origin of the Species. Faith is a fourteen-year-old girl with an eager, questioning mind, who is constantly being reprimanded for unwomanly behaviour. She adores her naturalist father, loves her little brother, and dislikes her pretty, manipulative mother. The family – accompanied by her Uncle Miles – sail to Vane, an imaginary island much like Jersey, to escape a scandal. Faith’s father is then found dead. Trying to find out what happened, Faith stumbles upon a complex mystery of deceit, betrayal, and murder. 

The story twists and turns, with all sorts of surprising discoveries, and the characters are all drawn with a swift, deft hand. The Lie Tree at the centre of the story is an extraordinary imaginative creation. This is one of the best books I’ve read in a long time, so please do not be put off by its young protagonist or the fantastical elements. This book is a tour de force. Read it.


BOOK REVIEW: MIDNIGHT IS A PLACE by Joan Aiken

Monday, February 29, 2016


THE BLURB:

Now, back in print, the engaging and suspenseful British fantasy by one of England’s most imaginative storytellers.

Lucas Bell is lonely and miserable at Midnight Court, a vast, brooding house owned by his intolerable guardian, Sir Randolph Grimsby. When a mysterious carriage brings a visitor to the house, Lucas hopes he’s found a friend at last. 

But the newcomer, Anna Marie, is unfriendly and spoiled—and French. 

Just when Lucas thinks things can’t get any worse, disastrous circumstances force him and Anna Marie, parentless and penniless, into the dark and unfriendly streets of Blastburn.


WHAT I THOUGHT OF THIS BOOK:

Joan Aiken is one of my all-time favourite children’s writers. Her books were out-of-print for a while and I haunted second-hand bookshops in the hopes of building up my collection. 

My copy of this wonderful book was bought from the Glebe Library years ago, and still has its yellow cardboard filing card in an envelope glued inside the front cover.

 Happily, her books have all recently been re-issued with fabulous new covers and so are easy to get hold of now. 


It’s difficult to exactly categorise Joan Aiken’s work. It’s historical fiction, with a Dickensian feel thanks to its brilliantly drawn characters (both comic and villainous), unusual names, and dark atmospheric settings. 

Her stories are fabulously inventive, and often have surprising elements in them (like pink whales). 

Some of the books have an alternative historical setting, with Good King James III on the throne of England, and the wicked Hanoverians trying to blow up Parliament House.


MIDNIGHT IS A PLACE is the most realist of her novels, and quite possibly her darkest. 

It tells the story of a lonely boy named Lucas, who lives at Midnight Court, next to a smoggy industrial town called Blastburn. His guardian is a foul-tempered, brandy-drinking eccentric who won the great house in a card-game many years before. 

One day the orphaned daughter of the previous owner comes to live at Midnight Court. Soon Lucas and Anna-Marie are left destitute, and must fend for themselves in the tough streets of Blackburn. 

There is one particular scene set in the carpet-making factory that I shall never forget – as a child, it burnt itself deep into my imagination. 

It is also striking for its refusal to restore the children’s lost wealth – instead they find happiness by making their own way in the world. 

Joan Aiken is one of the great children’s writers, and deserves to be much more widely celebrated.  


WHAT DID YOU THINK OF THIS BOOK?

INTERVIEW: Belinda Murrell author of The Sequin Star

Friday, July 25, 2014

Please welcome the brilliant and beautiful Belinda Murrell (my sister, who I am so proud of) to the blog, to talk about her new book THE SEQUIN STAR!



What is your latest novel all about?

My new book is The Sequin Star, which is the latest book in my time slip series for children aged about 10 to 14. This book was so fascinating to research and write as it is set in a circus during the Great Depression. My daughter Emily and I went to visit lots of circuses as part of my research, and we went behind the scenes to meet and interview some of the circus equestrian performers. 

The Sequin Star is the story of a modern day girl called Claire, who is very close to her grandmother. After her grandmother is rushed to hospital, Claire finds a chipped and battered sequin star brooch amongst her grandparents’ treasures. Why does Claire’s wealthy grandmother own such a cheap piece of jewellery? The mystery deepens when the brooch hurtles Claire back in time to 1932. 

Claire finds herself stranded in the camp of the Sterling Brothers Circus. Rescued by Princess Rosina, a gypsy princess and bareback rider extraordinaire, Claire is allowed to stay – if she promises to work hard. The Great Depression has made life difficult for everyone, but Claire makes friends with Rosina and Jem, and a boy called Kit who comes to the circus night after night to watch Rosina perform.

When Kit is kidnapped, it’s up to Claire, Rosina and Jem to save him. But Claire is starting to wonder just who Kit and Rosina really are. One is escaping poverty and the other is escaping wealth – can the two find happiness together?


How did you get the first idea for it?
I have always been fascinated by circuses. One of my earliest memories is visiting The Great Moscow Circus with Dad and being entranced by the performing bears (As a vet, Dad was called out to treat one of the Russian bears when the circus first came to Australia). I remember as a teenager trying to teach myself bareback circus tricks on my pony and getting thrown off multiple times. Over the years I managed to break several bones attempting fancy tricks on horseback. So I have wanted to write a story about an old fashioned circus for a long time. The 1930s seemed like an ideal time to set it because it was a very harsh period in Australian history.  


What was the most interesting thing you discovered during your research?

Lots of my books have been inspired by family stories and experiences, and at first I thought that this was one book of mine that wasn’t. However halfway through writing and researching the book, I made an amazing discovery. There actually was a member of my family who ran away and joined the circus. Nearly a hundred years ago, my husband’s great uncle Max Murrell, ran away when he was a teenager and joined a circus. He eloped with a gorgeous young girl called Gertrude and together they travelled all over the world to Asia, India, Africa and America. They developed an aerial equilibrist act which included doing handstands on the back of a chair, balanced on a tightrope high above the ground. I had great joy in poring over his fascinating old photo albums. 


What do you love most about writing?
Immersing myself in a different place and time. Discovering the stories of my characters. Experiencing the almost magical evolution from the first spark of an idea, to the outline of a story, to a complete book. 
I also love the feedback from my readers. One of my greatest joys is getting hundreds of emails and letters from kids, telling me how much they love my books.


What are the best 5 books you've read recently?

Burial Rites by Hannah Kent

Sheila by Robert Wainright

The Fault in Our Stars by John Green

Call The Midwife by Jennifer Worth

I am currently reading The Invention of Wings by Sue Monk Kidd which I am really enjoying. 


What lies ahead of you in the next year?

This year I am writing four new books in my Lulu Bell series – written for younger kids (6 to 9) years old. 

I just adore my character Lulu Bell. She is an eight year old girl, growing up in a vet hospital just like we did as children. She is the eldest child, so she is creative but practical, sometimes a little sassy, but usually warm and caring and great at solving problems. 

I have just finished editing Lulu Bell and the Christmas Elf, to come out in November and writing books 10 to 13 to come out next year. The series, which is illustrated by the very talented Serena Geddes, is about family, friends and animal adventures. 

I have just been away on tour for a few weeks for the launch of Lulu Bell and the Pyjama Party visiting a wide array of schools, bookshops, libraries and literary festivals in Victoria, New South Wales and Queensland. The series is currently being translated into Portuguese and Afrikaans, and the first six books are being released in a book-shaped treasure tin. So it is very exciting to see the series doing so well.  



BOOK REVIEW: The Sequin Star by Belinda Murrell

Monday, July 21, 2014



Title: THE SEQUIN STAR

Author: Belinda Murrell

Publisher: Random House Australia

Age Group & Genre: YA timeslip adventure

Reviewer: Kate Forsyth

Source of Book: A gift from the author (who is also my sister!)


The Blurb:
In an  exciting timeslip tale, Claire finds an old trunk filled with her grandmother's treasures, including an old star-shaped brooch covered in sequins

Why does Claire's wealthy grandmother own such a cheap piece of jewelry? The mystery deepens when the brooch hurtles Claire back in time to 1932. Australia is in the grip of the Great Depression and people seek distraction from their problems through entertainment. There's the famous horse Phar Lap, cricket hero Don Bradman, and then there are circuses. Claire finds herself stranding in the camp of the Sterling Brothers Circus. Rescued by Princess Rosina, a beautiful trick rider, Claire is given a job in the camp kitchen. Life is hard, but she makes friends with Rosina and Jem, and a boy named Kit who comes to the circus night after night to watch Rosina perform. When Kit is kidnapped by a fanatical political group, it's up to Claire, Rosina, and Jem to save him. But Claire is starting to wonder just who Kit and Rosina really are. One is escaping poverty and the other is escaping wealth—can the two find happiness together?(

What I Thought: 

Many of you may know that Belinda Murrell is my elder sister, and so I have to admit to a strong partiality to any book I read of hers!

The Sequin Star is the latest in her very popular timeslip series for teenage girls. The action follows a modern-day Australian girl named Claire who finds herself thrown back in time to a Great Depression-era circus in 1932. She is rescued by a warm-hearted girl named Rosina who is riding on the back of an elephant. 

Claire has no way of getting back to her own time, and so begins to work in the circus. As well as Rosina and her pet monkey, Claire makes friends with two boys from very different backgrounds. Jem’s family is dirt-poor and living in a shanty town, while Kit has a chauffeur and lives in a mansion. Kit comes to the circus night after night to watch Rosina ride her beautiful dancing horses, not realising he is putting himself in danger. 

When Kit is kidnapped, Claire and her friends have to try and work out the mystery in order to save him. The Sequin Star is exactly the sort of book I would have loved to have read in my early teens (in fact, any time!), and is gives a really vivid look at life in Sydney in the early 1930s. Loved it!


Writer’s website: http://belindamurrell.com.au/
PLEASE LEAVE A COMMENT – I LOVE TO KNOW WHAT YOU THINK

INTERVIEW: Juliet Marillier, author of The Shadowfell trilogy

Friday, July 11, 2014

Today I'm very proud to welcome one of my favourite writers to the blog: JULIET MARILLIER!






What is your latest novel all about?

The Caller is the third and final instalment of the Shadowfell series. The land of Alban (a magical version of ancient Scotland) is ruled by the tyrannical Keldec, who controls his subjects through fear, with the help of an elite hit squad, the Enforcers. But a group of young rebels plans to challenge the power of the king, using a secret weapon: the reclusive Good Folk, the uncanny residents of Alban, who usually won’t cooperate with humankind. The key to success is Neryn, sixteen years old in this book and still learning to use her gift as a Caller, a person who can persuade the Good Folk out of their various boltholes and into action. Neryn visits the enigmatic White Lady to learn the magic of air, and is horrified by the dwindling of this powerful elemental being. Then disaster strikes and the rebel plans are thrown into confusion. Meanwhile Neryn’s beloved Flint, a rebel spy at court, is close to breaking point as the burden of maintaining his cover weighs ever more heavily on his conscience. The story builds toward a final confrontation at the king’s midsummer Gathering.




How did you get the first idea for it?
I had two main sources of inspiration for the Shadowfell series. I began writing the first book during the so-called Arab Spring, when we saw popular rebellions against repressive governments in several countries. When the Shadowfell rebels make the choice to fight for the cause of freedom, they stand to lose family, work, home, community, relationships. They know they may well be tortured or killed. The frightening thing is that while this is a fictional story, in many parts of the world that kind of risk is an everyday reality. I wanted to put my characters through that test and find out whether they were strong enough to endure it. And I wanted to know what happened afterwards!

The second inspiration was my love of Scotland. I grew up in Dunedin, a very Scottish part of New Zealand, and my ancestry is mostly Scots. I had a lot of fun creating Alban, which is sort-of-Scotland – the story does not fit into real history and I’ve taken liberties with the geography. I did include some uncanny beings from Scots folklore, such as an urisk and a trow. And I invented new ones, like the stanie mon, a gigantic rock creature who can only be summoned by reciting a particular kind of rhyming couplet. As soon as I began writing the series, the cast of Good Folk began talking in Scots, some broadly, some less broadly. Not historically accurate, but sometimes these things seem to write themselves.


What do you love most about writing?
Making a connection with my readers. That link can be so powerful it feels like magic. I’m sure I am not the only writer who has a sense of ancestral memory working through her, almost as if the stories are true, or were once true, and I am just writing down what those old, old storytellers whisper in my ears. 

I love hearing from readers that my books have got them interested in reading again; or that reading my books has inspired their own creative work, whether that is writing or painting or something else. And I love the messages telling me that one or other of my novels has helped a reader through a difficult time in her life. As a druid, I believe in the power of storytelling for teaching and healing, and those letters reinforce that belief for me.


What are the best 5 books you've read recently?
I really enjoyed The Blue Mile by Kim Kelly, a historical novel set in Sydney during the construction of the Harbour Bridge. I also liked Anne Gracie’s The Winter Bride, the second in her Chance Sisters Regency romance series – Anne’s novels evoke the period wonderfully, and the romance conventions never stop her from creating characters who are real individuals. 

I loved Following Atticus by Tom Ryan – a beautifully written memoir about a man, his dog and the remarkable connection with wild nature they made together. Then there was Donna Tartt’s 700-odd page novel The Goldfinch, which I raced through. Tartt has the winning combination of literary cleverness and fine storytelling. Last but not least, The One Plus One by a favourite author, JoJo Moyes, who writes both historical and contemporary fiction. This is a contemporary novel and I think it’s one of her best ¬– a love story, a family story, a road trip, all sorts of things. 


As you can see, I haven’t been reading much fantasy!


What lies ahead of you in the next year? 
Dreamer’s Pool, first book in the Blackthorn & Grim series, comes out in October here in Australia, and November in the US. The Blackthorn & Grim series combines history, fairytale and mystery, and features a pair of protagonists who are a bit older and more damaged than my usual – they were great to write. I’m currently working on the second novel in the series. Travel-wise, I’ll be in London for the Historical Novelists Society conference in September, and will have a week in Italy on the way home. I’m a guest at Supanova in Brisbane and Adelaide in November. 2015 will see me tackling the third Blackthorn & Grim novel and a children’s book for Christmas Press, which I’m very excited about. 


PLEASE LEAVE A COMMENT - I LOVE TO KNOW WHAT YOU THINK


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