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BOOK REVIEW: The Anger of Angels by Sherryl Jordan

Wednesday, October 24, 2018

 

The Blurb (From Goodreads):

“Words hold a terrible power. They can break a heart, or give it a reason to live. They can grant freedom – or begin a war.”

In a world where it is a crime to speak against injustice, a jester dares to perform a play that enrages a powerful tyrant prince. The jester’s daughter, Giovanna, must journey into the heart of danger to turn back the terrible consequences unleashed by her father’s words – and becomes entangled in a treacherous plot to overthrow the prince. She alone holds a secret which, if made public, will end the prince’s reign and liberate his oppressed people. But when to openly denounce him brings certain death, will Giovanna have the courage to speak out?


My Thoughts:

I’ve never read any work by the New Zealand author Sherryl Jordan before, but I was drawn in with the promise of a beautifully written historical fantasy for young adults, set in a world much like Renaissance Italy.

The novel begins ‘I shovelled in a sprinkling of dirt, and it fell on the head of the corpse …’ From that moment on, the story races along with enormous pace and verve. The heroine of the story is Giovanna, the daughter of a court jester. She can juggle and throw knives, two skills that come in handy in a world ruled by autocrats. Her father, in the guise of a fool, has the right to speak the truth, but one day his words anger a neighbouring prince. As violence breaks out, war between the two neighbouring princedoms seems imminent. Giovanna sets out alone to try and avert the conflict. Behind her, she leaves her dying father and the young man with whom she is falling in love. Raffaelle knows first-hand the cruelty of the tyrant-prince, and it is too dangerous for him to return. Yet he risks his life by following her, hoping to help ...

The Anger of Angels was just as vivid, compelling and romantic as I had hoped for. Giovanna is a wonderful heroine, quick and clever and kind, and I loved the slowly growing relationship between her and Rafaelle. I have always really enjoyed young adult fiction, but lately I have been finding books published in this genre too dark and dystopic for my taste. Although The Anger of Angels is filled with danger, intrigue and conflict, the overall message is one of strength and hope. Most importantly, Sherryl Jordan has a crucial message to communicate about the power of words: ‘they can break a heart, or give a reason to live. They can grant freedom – or begin a war.’

A truly beautiful book, brimming over with compassion and wisdom.

For another great YA read, check out my review of A Skinful of Shadows by Frances Hardinge.

And click here to see my interview with Sherryl Jordan.

Please leave a comment, I love reading them!

BOOK REVIEW: The Silent Invasion by James Bradley

Wednesday, September 05, 2018

 

The Blurb (From Goodreads):

It's a decade from now and the human race is dying. Plants, animals and humans have been infected by spores from space and become part of a vast alien intelligence.

When 16-year-old Callie discovers her little sister Gracie has been infected, she flees with Gracie to the Zone to avoid termination by the ruthless officers of Quarantine. What Callie finds in the Zone will alter her irrevocably, and send her on a journey to the stars and beyond.


My Thoughts:

James Bradley is one of the most thoughtful, bold and unpredictable writers working in Australia right now. I loved his novel Wrack, about an archaeologist who is searching for the 400-year-old wreck of a Portuguese ship off the coast of New South Wales, but finds the body of a murdered man instead. It’s not a crime novel, though it has a mystery at its heart. It’s not a romance though it’s about love. It’s a difficult, genre-transcending book about cruelty and loss and longing. His novel The Resurrectionist was a dark and surprising exploration of grave robbers in Victorian England. His novella, Beauty's Sister, is the story of Rapunzel told from the point of her darker, wilder sister Juniper. It’s powerful, unexpected and rather sinister. Then there’s Clade (which I’ve not read yet) but which is described as a near-future novel about the effects of climate change which disrupts expected narrative structures.

The key words here are surprising, genre-transcending, unexpected, disruptive.

I really love boldness and unpredictability in a writer, because it’s a quality that requires nerves of steel and a strong sense of one’s creative vision. So many writers find themselves scurrying in a mouse-wheel of market expectations, churning out one similar book after another, second-guessing what readers want, caught up in competing for the ephemera of prizes, grants, bestseller lists, review inches. To write what inspires and excites you, to test boundaries and expectations, to stretch your creative muscles to straining point and beyond – that takes courage, and James Bradley has it in spades.

He is also a beautiful writer, elegant and restrained.

So I was drawn to reading James Bradley’s new dystopian novel for young adults, The Silent Invasion, not because I like YA dystopia (I don’t really), but because I admire his writing and I was interested to see what he’d do with the conventions of this rather over-crowded genre.

The story is told from the point-of-view of sixteen-year-old Callie. She lives in the near-future, at a time when the world has become infected with the spores of some kind of alien intelligence. The first signs are phosphorus on the skin, a strange glow in the eyes. Anyone showing signs of being infected is taken away by Quarantine officers. No-one knows where, or what happens to them. Callie’s own father – a scientist studying the spores – was taken away, and now Callie is being looked after by her step-mother and her boyfriend. She loves her little sister Gracie deeply, and when it becomes clear Gracie has been infected, Callie does her best to save her.

It’s a race against time. Callie is chasing rumours and speculations that there is a safe place, a Zone, where Gracie will be safe. They meet a boy, also running, and a clever and relentless Quarantine officer determined to stop them, and various people, some kind, some unspeakably cruel. It’s intense, fast-paced, politically aware, and heart-breaking. Callie is tough and yet vulnerable, intelligent and yet prone to impulse, loving but still afraid to surrender herself to love. And the writing is as beautiful and thoughtful as I hoped for. So many writers for teenagers sacrifice lyricism for pace. They are not mutually exclusive. In fact, a perfectly turned sentence has its own unstoppable force:

‘Sometime deep in the night the moon rose, and for a time I lay staring up at it and the great girdle of the Milky Way. Its brightness stretched from horizon to horizon, and I imagined myself falling upwards, leaving all of this behind and losing myself in its light. Once we had dreamed of travelling to the stars, of becoming explorers; now we scrabbled and fought to survive. What else lay out there, I found myself wondering. Were there other worlds, other possibilities? Or was this all there was, this chaos and fear and sense we were running from something we could not outrun? At some point I realised I was crying; surprised at myself, I tried to wipe my face, but the tears kept coming.’

The Silent Invasion reminded me of some of the great science fiction books of my own adolescence. A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle and The Giver by Lois Lowry. I hope it strikes as strong a chord.

James Bradley's earlier book, Beauty's Sister, appears on my best books of 2013 list. You can read it here.

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.  




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