Posted in Young Adult Fiction

Book Review: Spellslinger

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Spellslinger

By Sebastien De Castell (Allen and Unwin)
PB RRP $19.99     ISBN 9781471406119

Reviewed by Daniela Andrews

Kellen is almost sixteen years old and rapidly approaching his magical trials. Will he become a mage of Jan’Tep, like his powerful father Ke’heops? Or will he instead be declared an unmagical ‘Sha’Tep weakling’, destined only toserve a mage? The pressure is on. His younger sister, Shalla, has already sparked magical bands in multiple disciplines, but Kellen has none.

Desperate to avoid the shame of being declared Sha’Tep, Kellen passes his first trial by tricking his opponent into believing he is performing a spell against him. (‘Magic is a con game.’) Shalla pronounces him a cheat and then casts her own spell against him, hoping he’ll find some magic within to shield it. He doesn’t – and she nearly kills him. Fortunately, a mysterious stranger (Ferius Parfax) saves his life.

Ferius, whom the townspeople suspect to be a Daroman spy, empathises with Kellen and continues to look out for him. When Kellen discovers the shameful truth about the Jan’Tep people, and becomes a victim of their cruelty, he turns to Ferius – and a smart-mouthed squirrel cat, Reichis – to help him escape and find his own destiny instead. But who exactly is Ferius, and why is she so keen to help Kellen?

Spellslinger is the first YA fantasy novel in a new set of six books by Sebastien De Castell, author of the Greatcoats series. He describes the book as being set in the same universe as his Greatcoats series, but on a different continent – one ‘more akin to the American frontier’. The dark, western feel makes it quite a unique, magical story! The novel is fast-paced, told in first-person perspective, and broken up into four parts representing Kellen’s magical trials.

Essentially, it’s the story of a teenager trying to find himself. It’s about how he stands up to those who shame him, and finds his own direction in life. Kellen stops striving to become a Jan’Tep after he learns that ‘there’s no amount of magic in the world that’s worth the price of a man’s conscience’. With the support of Ferius and Reichis, he is ready to assume his place as the ‘Spellslinger’; a role that Ferius predicts ‘might just change the world’. Kellen leaves behind a trail of allies and enemies that will no doubt make the forthcoming books rather action-packed!

This review was originally published on the Buzz Words website:  http://www.buzzwordsmagazine.com/2017/06/spellslinger.html

Posted in Young Adult Fiction

Book Review: Defy the Stars

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Defy the Stars

By Claudia Gray (Allen and Unwin)
PB RRP $19.99     ISBN 9781471406362

Reviewed by Daniela Andrews

‘She’s learned how to fight. Next she has to learn how to die.’

Noemi, a seventeen-year-old soldier from the planet Genesis, has three weeks to live. Her assignment to strike and destabilise the gateway to her planet will buy her people time in the war against Earth … at the cost of her own life. When Noemi veers off-course during a sudden attack from Earth, she discovers an abandoned ship with somebody onboard: Abel. A robot.

Abel is the long-lost creation of Burton Mansfield, an Earth-residing scientist whom some believe is a genius, others evil. The only ‘A’ model mech he’s ever created, Abel’s skill and cognitive reasoning is outstanding but his 30 years of isolation have produced a flaw in his programming. He has developed an ability to feel. When Abel reveals he knows how to destroy the Genesis Gate, Noemi orders him to help her secure the required items before she sends him to his death at the gate. (He is only a mech, after all.) But as they traverse the universe, and form a loyal alliance, Noemi feels uneasy about destroying him. Plus, the more she learns about the other planets the less she agrees with her home planet’s choices.

This is a fast-paced, gripping read by bestselling YA author, Claudia Gray. Noemi and Abel’s stories are told in alternating chapters in third-person perspective, and the progression of their relationship is fascinating. Abel’s near-human conscience constantly grapples with Noemi’s orders and his loyalty to Mansfield, providing much suspense in the story as to how he will act. Abel undergoes quite an existential battle as he tries to understand the motives behind Noemi and Mansfield’s opposing requests and behaviours. When caught in a terrorist attack, he:

‘… finds it hard to comprehend that humans don’t share the same directives he does. That their innermost beings don’t demand that they help protect one another’s lives. Shouldn’t that matter to a human even more than it does to a mech?’

The book is suitable for science fiction fans aged 12–18 years, but I believe it will appeal to a wider and older audience also. Outside of its planetary attacks, galactic descriptions and battleship commands is an enthralling relationship between two engaging characters … and a heartrending moral reflection on human nature.

This review was originally published on the Buzz Words website:  http://www.buzzwordsmagazine.com/2017/06/defy-stars.html

Lights out … or not

Caught my 6yo son reading under the covers with his torch last night. I gave him one generous minute to finish the page he was on and then made sure he went to sleep! I have to admit though, I was secretly thrilled to discover my little bookworm hooked on his latest read! Thank you so much, Terry Denton … he is loving the Wombat and Fox series. He apparently couldn’t fathom the idea of sleep until he knew whether Wombat and Fox could make it down Bandicoot’s Hill without landing in the duck pond! These are wonderful books for kids who love funny adventure stories!

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Posted in Junior Fiction

Book Review: Henrietta and the Perfect Night

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Henrietta and the Perfect Night

By Martine Murray (Allen and Unwin)
HB RRP $16.99     ISBN 9781760290245

Reviewed by Daniela Andrews

Fans of Henrietta the Great Go-Getter will be pleased to discover this hardcover book by Martine Murray, featuring five new Henrietta stories.

Henrietta is just as spirited and adventurous as ever: ‘I’m an explorer of life, and that includes trees, bugs, animals and all mysteries.’ In this collection, she practices how to be patient and be a good big sister (‘The Waiting Game’), how to rescue somebody and make a friend at school (‘The First Day’), how to survive a sleepover with the pesky older brother of her best friend (‘The Sleepover’), how to save the school play when the lead gets stage fright (‘The School Play’) and how to adjust to life with a new baby brother (‘The Arrival’). The stories need to be read in sequence to be properly enjoyed, with the title alluding to the final story’s conclusion.

The book is illustrated in full colour by Martine Murray, award-winning author of How to Make a Bird and Molly and Pim and the Millions of Stars. Each double page features an illustration to break up the text, making this a great novel for readers aged 5 years and older who are starting to read chapter books. The design is likely to appeal to the age group too, with key phrases appearing in an alternate font of different size or colour.

Henrietta is ‘a Big Thinker’ and her thoughts and observations are highly amusing! The stories are told in first-person perspective, allowing the author to offer fantastic examples of friendship, courage and kindness without seeming to preach these values to her readers. (‘You only need one friend in a room full of strangers to feel perfectly happy.’) Henrietta is, at times, bold and sassy, at other times quiet and afraid, but the range of emotions she feels gives scope to her situations and makes her very real and lovable.

This review was originally published on the Buzz Words website:  http://www.buzzwordsmagazine.com/2017/05/henrietta-and-perfect-night.html

Posted in Young Adult Fiction

Book Review: Beware that Girl

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Beware that Girl

By Teresa Toten (Bonnier Zaffre)
PB RRP $19.99     ISBN 9781471406393

Reviewed by Daniela Andrews

‘… But in the end, the main thing I learned – the best thing – was never to bring a knife to a gunfight.’

To play or be played, that is the question. Kate needs some serious social credibility and a secure place to live in order to forge her path to Yale University. She’s living in sub-standard accommodation across town and working as many hours as she can, outside of school, to support herself. She attends her elite high school by scholarship – and by inventing an address. Hiding a terrible secret, she is desperate to change her fate and keep her promise to her dying mother at all costs … she will go to Yale, no matter what it takes or who she has to use to get there. With everything she has been through, it is no wonder she is mentally unstable.

Then there’s Olivia. Do we feel sorry for Olivia? Also hiding a secret about her past? So lonely and desperate for friendship – real friendship – that she falls prey to Kate’s manipulative charms and invites her to come and live with her?  Or does Olivia have her own, dark agenda that puts Kate at terrible risk?

As this dark and thrilling novel twists and turns, the reader will question which of these girls deserves their sympathy. Teresa Toten, award-winning author of The Unlikely Hero of Room 13B, cleverly uses short chapters with shifting perspectives to keep her readers on edge. The chapters alternate between Kate and Olivia, though Kate’s chapters are always in first-person perspective and Olivia’s in third. The chapters are always dated. The opening is set in the future, describing the two girls in a hospital scene. It is not clear which girl is barely conscious, and which is keeping vigil by her bedside. The answer is, of course, revealed in the conclusion of the book. The final chapter is deeply disturbing, suggesting that the victim is still not safe. The book might, therefore, leave the reader quite unsettled!

Beware That Girl is YA fiction, suitable for readers aged 14 – 17 years. The publisher suggests it might appeal to fans of Gossip Girl andPretty Little Liars. It raises themes of friendship, physical and psychological abuse, and mental health conditions in general. A film adaptation is in production.

This review was originally published on the Buzz Words website:  http://www.buzzwordsmagazine.com/2017/05/beware-that-girl-by-teresa-toten.html

Posted in Children's Reference Books

Book Review: Little People, Big Dreams – Marie Curie

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Little People, Big Dreams: Marie Curie

By Maria Isabella Sanchez Vegara and illustrated by Frau Isa (Quarto Group UK)
HB RRP $18.99     ISBN 9781847809612

Reviewed by Daniela Andrews

‘When Marie was a little girl, she made a vow to herself … she was going to be a scientist, not a princess.’

The ‘Little People, Big Dreams’ series showcases high-achieving women in history, all of whom acted on their childhood dreams. They are beautifully presented, hardcover, biographical picture books that target readers aged 5 – 8 years.

This title, about the gifted Marie Curie, explains how she was not allowed to study at university in her home country of Poland because she was a woman. Fortunately for the rest of the world (who would one day benefit from her scientific discoveries) she packed her bags and moved to France where she ‘soon became the best maths and science student in Paris’.

The book goes on to talk about her husband, Pierre, and their Nobel Prize winning discovery of radium and polonium. It also applauds her strength after Pierre’s sudden death, and the hard work that lead her to her second Nobel Prize. The text ends on an uplifting note, showing the many other girls whom she inspired, queuing up to study at the Radium Institute at the University of Paris.

Marie Curie’s story is conveyed in simple text, with only 1–3 sentences featuring across each double page. There is a longer biography included at the end of the book, featuring four black and white photographs.

Frau Isa’s illustrations are lightly textured, in a gentle watercolour palette. They offer deeper meaning to the text, both informatively and emotionally. For example, the text never mentions Marie’s connection to the development of x-rays, but the pictures show an injured soldier being x-rayed.  And when Marie accepts her second Nobel Prize award, the illustrations reflect her grief in both her facial expression and in a silhouetted empty chair in the first row.

The final picture, showing a full-colour Marie Curie sitting on a pile of books amongst a row of bemused (rather drab-looking) gentlemen, is a definite feminist celebration of Marie’s achievements in a male-dominated field.

This review was originally published on the Buzz Words website:  http://www.buzzwordsmagazine.com/2017/05/little-people-big-dreams-marie-curie.html

Posted in Children's Reference Books

Book Review: Little People, Big Dreams – Agatha Christie

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Little People, Big Dreams: Agatha Christie

By Maria Isabella Sanchez Vegara and illustrated byElisa Munsó (Quarto Group UK)
HB RRP $18.99     ISBN 9781847809599

Reviewed by Daniela Andrews

When Agatha Christie was a young girl, she would read lots of books with her mum … and she always offered ‘a better idea for how the story should end’! It seems she was always destined to be a writer, as showcased in this title in the ‘Little People, Big Dreams’ series that highlights successes of high-achieving women in history.

Agatha’s wartime nursing experience taught her much about poisonous concoctions, and her imagination ‘wouldn’t stay quiet’. After the war, she began to write her own stories – great, murderous thrillers that hooked her readers immediately. She invented the great detectives, Hercule Poirot and Miss Marple, and many of her books became stage productions.

This hardcover picture book conveys Agatha’s story in simple text targeting readers aged 5–8 years. Each double-page spread features no more than 1–3 sentences. A longer biography appears at the back of the book, featuring four black and white photographs. It mentions the success of And Then There Were None and Murder on the Orient Express, detailing how her particular writing style made her ‘the queen of mystery’. It also mentions her baffling disappearance in 1925 – a personal mystery that sparked a nationwide search!

The illustrations by Elisa Munsó are black and white, with selected splashes of red – especially striking and appropriate for a writer of murder mysteries! (I particularly loved the page showing a black and white cemetery, featuring the headstones of some of her murder victims, with an elderly Agatha looking on in her bright red coat.)

Other women featured in the ‘Little People, Big Dreams’ series include Amelia Earhart, Frida Kahlo, Coco Chanel Maya Angelou and Marie Curie. This terrific series of books is definitely aiming to empower children (particularly girls) to follow their childhood dreams and make a difference in the world.

This review was originally published on the Buzz Words website:  http://www.buzzwordsmagazine.com/2017/05/little-people-big-dreams-agatha-christie.html