Belinda Murrell’s time-slip adventures have always been thrilling and captivating and this new one does not fail to do the same.
Sophie is feeling a little down. Though she loves her English grandmother dearly, she’s a little bored with her extended stay while her mum and younger brother are in Oxford at Archie’s camp for super-smart kids. Sophie has far too much time to think about her problems with bullying Indigo, back at her Sydney school, and her struggles with dyslexia, always feeling a failure, and aside from all that the English summer is very wet – as is usual – and so pretty dull in all senses. Dull that is, until she’s out walking in the muddy fields and follows a very disreputable looking cat into a mysterious cave, which turns out to be an old Roman ruin. In less time than a cat takes for a quick groom of its whiskers, Sophie has stumbled into a strange but beautiful land and finds herself almost accidentally saving the life of a little girl from a rampaging wild boar. And so, Sophie finds herself caught up in the Tuscian world and embroiled in a complicated family situation, where she is the only one who can help siblings Isabella and little Bia escape the horrible plans of their stepmother – a truly wicked stepmother, in the very best fairy tale tradition. In this mysterious world full of beauty and magic such as talking cats, flying horses and funny little mischief-makers, the muzzamurelli, Sophie discovers within herself a strength and resilience she had no idea she possessed as well discovering a very special secret.
Drawing on Italian folktales and motifs of traditional stories, Belinda Murrell has also been inspired by the history of Renaissance noble families and the daughters who were raised to be skilled, intelligent, well-educated, and influential as well as by music, art, architecture, and culture. Thus, this beautifully exciting narrative becomes more than just a fantasy-adventure but a delightful excursion into a fascinating, though often cruel, historical period.
When I say I had to force myself to stop reading over the past few nights because the story was so completely engrossing, I guess you can safely assume that I give this my highest recommendation for your readers from around 10 years upwards. I know I will have many young readers in my own library who will be leaping for this first-rate magical adventure.
This series is so utterly charming and original that it has been such pleasure to read and review each of them. Tilly and Oskar continue their adventures with the ongoing quest to thwart the horrible Underwoods who have usurped the British Underlibrary. Book wandering has been prohibited and stories at large are under very real threat of being lost for all time.
Tilly has some clues gathered from story friends and others which she strongly believes might provide a sort of map to the Archivists – the legendary protectors of all stories and imagination. With her mother’s help Tilly and Oskar are off to America to meet up with Orlando and Jorge, her mum’s old friends and the best lead for the first signpost in Tilly’s possession. But the plan goes quickly awry when the pair find that even in America the Underwoods’ influence is infiltrating every layer of story.
It takes all their resourcefulness and courage to navigate their way through the intricate maze that their clues reveal but Tilly and Oskar are determined to not only save the world of stories but their very dear fictional friends. They are not unused to danger but this adventure, with its meandering journey, ultimately presents them with their biggest challenge yet. Can these two intrepid bookwanderers save story and imagination from complete annilhilation?
As with the first two books there are moments of real humour woven into the tension of the plot and readers will particularly find the appearance and help of William Shakespeare himself to be highly amusing.
I absolutely adore this series and have recommended it to many young readers who have all enjoyed it equally. If you’re late to the party I’d suggest you put all three on your orders list for the new year.
Highly recommended for readers from around 8 years upwards.
What a double bonus for me! First to be part of the Book Blog Tour to launch Rebel Gods – the gripping conclusion of Will Kostakis’ Monuments series. Second to be able to introduce you all to an amazing young woman, Tiarna Georghiou – Year 12 student, blogger, reporter, talented performer, passionate reader and, I’m proud to say, one of my students! You can treat yourself to Tiarna’s reviews at her blog The Book Mermaids as well as finding her on other social media platforms but in the meantime here is her thoughtful review of Rebel Gods and her Q&A with Will.
Rebel Gods, the final instalment of The Monuments series by Will Kostakis is an exciting new middle-grade / young adult novel. The novel follows the lives of three teenagers; Connor, Sally and Locky who are learning how to lead their parallel lives as newbie Gods, and ordinary teenagers. It is up to the adventurous trio to stop the rebel gods from reducing the world to ruin, however, they don’t know where to start. The three ‘newbie gods’ are faced with many challenges and difficult questions such as; who should decide the fate of the world? This novel is gripping and exciting, while still being heartfelt and emotionally driven at times.
I was drawn in to the story from the very first page, and was swept up in the writing style and the beautiful descriptions. The novel is told from a very authentic YA voice, which many children and young adults will be able to identify with. The book features a diverse cast of characters who are all humorous and fun. The book was adventure filled, and action packed, but still had lots of romance and friendships for the readers to invest in! I recommend this book for everyone who loves adventure stories, and wants to read a fun and exciting story!
Q1) You were extremely young when you started writing novels, what childhood experiences led to you discovering your love of writing?
My pappou (grandfather) wanted us to be avid readers and writers, because he struggled with both, so he would wait outside newsagencies before they opened to buy exercise books and watch us fill them as kids. He instilled in me a love of reading and writing, and I carry that with me to this day.
Q2) What does the Monuments series mean to you personally?
I launched into the Monuments duology after writing my heaviest contemporary novel, The Sidekicks, which was an intensely personal reflection on the death of a friend in high school. That took an emotional toll on me, so I needed to write something fun and light – I didn’t realise just how much I needed to until I wrote it. Monuments was my escape, and writing Rebel Gods to escape Hellscape 2020 … So the books will always mean a lot to the author side of me.
But I wrote Monuments for that fifteen-year-old version of me who loved fantasy novels, but wished there were more than unfolded in his city, and that featured people like him as their heroes. I centred a gay, Greek protagonist, and instead of giving him identity angst, I let him be the star of a laugh-a-minute adventure.
Q3) What do you hope your writing to achieve?
Firstly, I hope my writing entertains. Secondly, I hope my books show their teen readers that there’s a place in the world for them, whoever they are, and that they are remarkable, just as they are.
Q4) Where do you get the inspiration for your books?
I draw from my life, the media I consume, and my surroundings. So, the Monuments series was equal parts inspired by my evolving relationship with my friends and family, and the media I loved as a teen – videogames like The Legend of Zelda and TV shows like Alias.
Q5) Who are your favourite authors?
I have way too many to list, but the ones who never let me down are Terry Pratchett (a childhood favourite I still revisit, and am still surprised by), Barry Jonsberg (he really kickstarted my love of contemporary YA), Ellie Marney (Australia’s queen of YA crime writing – her latest None Shall Sleep is so creepily wonderful), Melina Marchetta (her YA and adult books are so honest and real), Lili Wilkinson (I’m jealous of everything she writes – her latest is The Erasure Initiative), and John Corey Whaley (the final scene of his Where Things Come Back is a masterclass in writing).
Q6) What is your process for writing books? Do you plan them all before you begin, or do you just let the creativity flow?
I usually start with an opening scene that illustrates what a character wants, or establishes what the key theme is (in The First Third, the family breaking apart set the scene for a story involving the protagonist bringing it back together). I like to have five or six key scenes established and a clear end point before writing a book, so there’s room to experiment as I write, and let the creativity flow as you say, but I’ve realised I work best with some guard rails to keep the story moving in the right direction. My second draft is when I get very strict with structure, and if a scene or character doesn’t add to where the story is ultimately going, they get the chop. Then it’s a matter of fleshing scenes out and refining the book until it’s ready for release.
While it’s always sad when something wonderful, like this magical series, comes to an end it’s also exciting when the conclusion is so supremely satisfying. Just as she did with the magnificent How to Train Your Dragon series, Cressida Cowell has combined exciting magic, with dangerous and thrilling adventure and a very healthy dose of laugh-out-loud humour with quirky and loveable characters.
Xar and Wish, those misfits in their respective families and very different worlds, are in the final chapter of their self-appointed mission to rid both Wizards and Warriors of the dreadful and destructive Witches. They must destroy the long-imprisoned Witch King and save their people, the magical creatures and, indeed, the Wildwoods and the world from total annihilation.
They have found the Spell-to-get-rid-of-Witches and now they have to track down the Cup of Second Chances, rescue poor little Squeezjoos as well as navigate the heinous Mine of Happiness, defeat the dread Tatzelwerm, deal with their irate parents, protect their companions, find their way to the Lake of the Lost – and a whole lot more.
How exciting for all the fans of this series that the film option has already been picked up by Dreamworks and given the success of the How toTrain Your Dragon franchise we can all expect this to be transformed as excitingly in their hands.
Of course it’s not just the magic and adventure that makes this such a wonderful read of a series. The themes of loyalty, diversity of characters, overcoming difficulties, resilience and ultimately the acceptance of differences are all very much a part of what makes this series such a stand-out.
If your readers have not yet caught onto this series, my best advice is start talking it up and do at least a ‘First Chapter’ read-aloud to hook them. They will be hungry for more without doubt!
My highest recommendation for another of the current Waterstones’ Children’s Laureate’s amazing creations that will capture the hearts of readers from around Upper Primary upwards.
In my opinion it’s a rare middle-age novel that can transcend reading interests, age groups and genders but this is most definitely one that can. Certainly your middle grade readers will love it but it is just as appealing for older readers, including adults, as well as competent younger readers with its blend of whimsy and fantasy, strong conservation theme, friendship and family, humour and adventure.
Kate’s wealthy estranged uncle is considered ridiculously eccentric and irresponsible by her parents and really she knows very little about him. Certainly when she writes to him on a whim and asks for a birthday present she doesn’t expect to receive one. She definitely doesn’t expect the gift of a full-sized steam locomotive which appears in her back garden.
While her parents wrangle over what to do with such an unwanted and cumbersome gift, Kate and her younger brother Tom ignore parental doubts and distrust and board the engine in the middle of the night. The journey that ensues is both a revelation and a test of the children’s resilience, initiative and bravery.
To their complete astonishment the locomotive takes off through the night and guided by the engine’s own ‘voice’ they soon arrive at a station where a curious assortment of animal passengers wait patiently with valid tickets to board. The children do not take long to realise that their job is to ensure that each of these creatures, endangered due to various impacts on their natural habitats, are safely delivered to new homes where they can have some certainty of survival of their species. From the sweetest baby pangolin to a very cantankerous porcupine, a beautiful mamba to a sad and lost half-starved polar bear, the Silver Arrow has a mission – one that is filled with moments of danger and near-misses but ultimately the trip of a lifetime for all.
Readers will be thrilled by the excitement of the adventure and adore the laughs to be had but will also learn a great deal about the plight of many of the world’s most threatened animals. Like Kate and Tom, one might hope that they will also take action to do what they can to preserve and conserve the wonders of nature against loss of habitat, introduced invasive species and of course, humans.
I cannot recommend this highly enough for your readers from around 7 or 8 years upwards. It is both a joy and an inspiration and, in my opinion, destined to become a modern classic.
In my opinion there are simply not enough books with rabbits as main characters (as she looks down at her rabbit-patterned PJs and rabbit-y slippers – well, what did you expect with my surname?). Jasper Fforde has brought his amazing brand of satirical humour to this new stand-alone novel and it’s a gem. It’s quirky and highly imaginative, full of extremely funny puns/play on words (particularly love the Rabbit-y adaptations of books and movies), absurd fantasy, thoroughly engaging protagonists and satisfyingly nasty villains and all in all is the most enjoyable romp through a rather far-fetched but very allegorical sort of dystopian UK.
In a parallel Britain of 2020 there are 1.2 million human-sized rabbits walking (as well as leaping and gambolling), talking, driving cars, working (most of them in not very highly paid jobs) and mostly living in colonies which are pretty over-crowded – as one would expect – and not well supported with infrastructure. This strange circumstance was caused by an spontaneous Inexplicable Anthropomorphism event some fifty-five years previously. It wasn’t just rabbits to be fair. There were a few other similar occurrences elsewhere in the world – an elephant in Africa, a ram in Australia, but in the main it was the UK affected with the majority rabbits but also some foxes, weasels and a few singular animals such as guinea pigs involved.
Though the rabbits have attained some rights, their lot is mostly pretty dismal and heavily restricted. They are always the target of various law enforcement agencies, with one dedicated purely to their harassment, and some rather nasty vigilante-type groups.
Peter Knox lives in a quiet village with his daughter Pippa. His neighbours are pretty hard-nose leporiphobics politically speaking but Peter, who works as an official Spotter for RabCoT – Rabbit Compliance Taskforce, formerly known as Rabbit Crime Taskforce – has never had any real issue with them. But when Doc and Constance Rabbit move in next door, Peter and Pippa are left in no doubt that one can be a friend to humans or a friend to rabbits but not to both.
The litany of injustices, hatred, bigotry and oppression towards the rabbits will resonate with many currently, given recent global focus on similar actions towards disenfranchised sectors of society. Some of the action, promulgated by the PM and Cabinet as a ‘positive’, is chillingly like the Nazi regime’s treatment of the Jewish people with the proposed forced relocation to MegaWarren frighteningly similar to removal to ghettos.
What Peter is to find out is that he is not as tolerant as he’s always believed himself to be and that humanity, his own humanity, is in need of some gentle rabbit influence. This is marvelously wrought throughout with the reader completely engrossed in the fantastical plot and with much upon which to reflect, both within ourselves and within our society.
Although primarily a novel for adults, I would have no hesitation in recommending this highly for your senior students and believe that for studies of parallel real events and circumstances it would provide rich fodder for debate and discussion.
How can you go wrong? I mean to say, it’s rabbits. 🙂
The first in this trilogy The Storm Keeper’s Island was a fantastic read and this sequel equally stacks up in the page-turning excitement department.
Fionn Boyle is now six months into his acknowledged role as the new Storm Keeper of Arranmore and is in the depths of despair. Despite his heritage as the true descendant of Hughie Rua, who was imbued with the magic of the legendary Dagda, powerful sorcerer of eons ago, not to mention the magic that crackles within his own grandfather, the old Storm Keeper, he cannot summon his own powers. And time is running out, as his frequent nightmares keep reminding him. The evil witch, Morrigan, is preparing to rise again and when her minions, the dreadful Soulstalkers, begin to swarm onto the island Fionn knows that the time for her resurrection is imminent. How can Fionn possibly fulfil his role as Storm Keeper and keep the island safe when he can’t even use his supposed magic?
But Fionn hasn’t yet realised that the overthrow of evil is not always the responsibility of just one hero. It is often the case that such success is the result of a coming together of community and family. With his friends, Sam and Shelby, in particular along with his family – Grandad, Mum and even Tara – and the combined strengths of the Arranmore islanders, Fionn can lead a strong defensive resistance to Morrigan and her followers, especially if they can secure Hughie Rua’s sacred shell, the Tide Summoner, and call the ferocious Merrows from the sea to their aid.
Once again Doyle has crafted a spell-binding narrative with many plot twists and thrilling episodes. These narratives put me in mind so strongly of both Alan Garner and Susan Cooper, both of whom took traditional legends of their locales and wove them effortlessly into contemporary fantasy-adventures.
I am completely in love with this series and look forward very much to the third. This comes with my highest recommendation for readers from around ten years upwards who relish exciting fantasy-adventures with very well defined characters and awfully nasty villains.
ISBN: 9781406385854 Imprint: Walker Australian RRP: $16.99 New Zealand RRP: $18.99
Enter a fabulous new adventure-fantasy series that will not just enthral readers with its ‘difference’ being set in a fictional parallel landscape but with its wonderful celebration of another type of difference. Agatha and Jamie are of the Clann-a-Tuath, one of the clans on the isle of Skye and a clan which has abandoned the practice of marriage or child-raising by defined parents. In this clan the whole community takes responsibility for children who are assigned to roles as they grow older. Jamie has become an Angler going out on the boats to fish – which he hates because of his terrible sea-sickness. Agatha is assigned as a Hawk, one who watches from vantage points to protect the clan from invaders. Agatha too has some difficulties with her role although she is closely supervised because as the reader realises from the start, Agatha is ‘different’. Some refer to her as ‘broken’ but others in the clan accept her difference and help her to develop her strengths, such as Maistreas Eilionoir.
In complete contradiction to their long-held customs the clan has arranged a marriage between Jamie and a girl of the clan Raasay in order to (so they think) ensure a strong alliance. In fact, they have been duped and clan Raasay betray them to the deamhain from far-off Norveg, ruthless barbarians with cruel intentions.
So begins an epic quest as Agatha and Jamie, the lone survivors of the attack, determine to track, find and rescue their captured clan members. To the mainland of Scotia where people have long been wiped out by a dreadful plague released upon them by the evil King Edmund in the south the pair flee, reluctantly taking along a captured deamhan who claims to be a prince in his own land, as a bargaining chip. Along their way they encounter a strange tribe, riders and companions of shaggy Highland cattle, who become allies and even stranger a mad Queen who has somehow survived plague and shadow beings alone in her castle for forty years. The rescue is arduous and long and always fraught with danger but throughout both Jamie and Agatha, who may be ‘broken’ but also has special powers, prove themselves as worth heroes over and over again, despite all odds.
This is fantastical, creepy, at times violent, but ultimately a wonderful tale of bravery, loyalty and compassion.
Elliott draws on his experience of working with children with special needs to create a memorable character, in Agatha, who is able, intuitive, fiercely loyal, sweet and funny in spite of, or perhaps because of, her Down’s Syndrome. Jamie is equal to her in many of these attributes and is able to conquer his fear, which is after all the true measure of courage, and draw on hidden strengths.
Readers from around 12 years upwards will love this for its unusual settings and characters, the use of adapted and invented languages and the full-on adventure of the rescue mission.
Surely one of the most highly anticipated sequels ever – or was that just me? (I don’t think so!)
I wasn’t sure what to expect but it wasn’t this – and I mean that in a very positive way. Where La Belle Sauvage was set ten years prior to His Dark Materials this continuation is set ten years after those events. Where La Belle Sauvage’s plot raced as furiously as the flood waters, this moves at a far slower pace which serves to build the intensity of the narrative in a completely compelling manner. It is mammoth and complex and there are myriad intricacies to the plot which are far too numerous on which to expound in a review – nor would I want to.
Lyra is now a young woman and a college student, and like so many others of her own period and place as well as others, full of new ideas, questioning old beliefs and eager to make her mark. She and Pan not only have the ability to separate physically but have developed an ever widening gulf between their ways of thinking and their previously sympatico and loving connection to each other.
Strange and dangerous forces are threatening Lyra’s very existence beginning with inexplicable incidents such as the new Master of Jordan forcing her to relinquish her room and relegating her to the servants’ quarters, she and Pan witnessing a murder and the pursuit of the two by unknown malefactors. Of course, the CCD is no stranger in all of this but it appears that there is more afoot than just this body and the existing Magisterium. Almost it seems that ghosts from the past are returning to haunt her and her faithful companions. For Alice and Malcolm now reveal to her the history of the connection between all three of them and Lyra has much to contemplate.
But the story is not just the recount of events that are impacting on Lyra in a personal way. There are other sinister happenings which seem to have no connection such as the increasing scarcity of certain roses and the oil distilled from these, the significance of Dust in all of this and the ruthless uprisings of certain factions and persons.
When Pan decides to leave Lyra in his extreme unhappiness she realizes what is at stake and leaving aside all thoughts of her own safety she determines to find him again and along the way to discover the truth about the threats that are crowding in on her. The journey is fraught but Lyra discovers that there are supporters to be found in the most unlikely of places and it is with hope that she continues her mission, all the time growing more and more attached to Malcolm, who has undertaken his own part in the unravelling of mysteries.
Pullman concludes with such a mighty cliffhanger that it made me swear (I know! How unusual for me!) and once again I will have to curb my impatience to wait for the conclusion – sigh.
The master has done it again – and needs no recommendation from me – but if you are looking for your holiday read I would urge to take it up, you won’t be disappointed.
Once more Tilly and Oskar are plunged into a whirl of adventure and mystery as their book-wandering travels continue. Their world and their families are in a state of flux as the British Underlibrary becomes embroiled in turmoil. The new Librarian Melville Underwood is decidedly sinister and unscrupulous and there is a veil of mystery about his long absence in the fairy tale world and the continued unknown whereabouts of his sister Decima.
When Tilly and Oskar visit Paris (and discover that Oskar is also a book-wanderer) they bravely venture into the fairy tale world and are dismayed by the instability of the stories there – large black abysses appearing in plots, various versions of the same story overlapping randomly and characters becoming lost. All this appears to be the work of some dark force and it seems that Tilly and Oskar are the ones to solve the problem and restore order.
This series is proving to be quite a delight with its fresh approach to plot and characters. Book lovers both young and old will relish the concept of becoming truly ‘present’ in the stories they read and will readily identify with Tilly’s favourites as well as being very cognizant of the ever-present dangers and villainous characters lurking in odd places. There are tense moments when ‘happy ever after’ seems elusive and there is no doubt that the evil characters are ruthless but Tilly and Oskar have proven their mettle already and will not rest until the fairy tale world is safe again.
My first readers to try out this series have been completely taken with it and I know they will be enthusiastically lining up for this second instalment. I highly recommend it for your kiddos from around Year 4 upwards.