The Boy Made From Snow by Chloë Mayer

boy made from snow.jpgTitle: The Boy Made From Snow

Author: Chloë Mayer

Genre: Historical Fiction/Mystery

Publisher: Hachette

Published: 14th November 2017

Format: Paperback

Pages: 328

Price: $29.99

Synopsis: ‘THE BOY MADE OF SNOW had me compulsively turning the pages to find out the fate of Daniel and his mother. A haunting and thrilling read. I absolutely loved it’ Kate Hamer, author of THE GIRL IN THE RED COAT
An evocative and stunning debut‘ Jane Harris, author of GILLESPIE AND I
‘Original and unsettling – and just a little bit heartbreaking’ Rachel Rhys, author of DANGEROUS CROSSING
‘A beautiful and evocative debut’ STYLIST
‘Affecting’ DAILY MAIL

In a sleepy English village in 1944, Annabel and her son Daniel live in the shadow of war. With her husband away, an increasingly isolated Annabel begins to lose her grip on reality.

When mother and son befriend Hans, a German PoW consigned to a nearby farm, their lives are suddenly filled with thrilling secrets.

To Annabel, Hans is an awakening from the darkness that has engulfed her since Daniel’s birth. To her son, a solitary boy caught up in the magical world of fairy tales, he is perhaps a prince in disguise. But Hans has plans of his own and will soon set them into motion with devastating consequences.

~*~

Daniel has grown up during a war.  In 1944, World War Two is nearing the end, and German Prisoners of War have been brought into the village of Bambury to work on the farms. His mother, Annabel, watches as they are marched in, catching a glance of one of them. Hans has been unlucky, captured by the British and Allied armies, and sent to a camp until the end of the war. As he works at Mr Dawson’s farm, chopping firewood to sell to the villagers, Annabel and Daniel befriend him. To Daniel, he is the woodcutter hero of the fairy tales Daniel loves, and lives in in his day to day life, a way of escape from the war. To his mother, he is unknown, mysterious and a force that will rekindle her desire for life, and bring light into a darkness she has felt since Daniel’s birth – a darkness that she has tried to fight against for many years. It is through this friendship she begins to find a way back to who she was before he was born. But Hans has his own plans that he uses them for, and sets in motion a series of events that have devastating consequences.

Told in alternating chapters for Annabel and Daniel, Daniel’s chapters are told in first person, Annabel’s in third person. In this novel, it has been done effectively, and evocatively. Through Annabel, we see the pain she is in, and the indifference she feels at times, and he struggle to cope with much in her life. Through Daniel, there is an innocence and a resilience – he knows more than he lets on, and must learn to find a way to cope in a world of war with a mother who he does most things for. Through his friendship with Hans, or Hansel, as he calls him, Daniel learns that the world is much more complicated than it is in fairy tales, and a devastating day will have adverse effects on his life and all those in Bambury. It is a story steeped in tragedy – tragedy of life, tragedy of war and the tragedy of humanity and how people cope, or don’t cope with horrific or traumatising events. The fairy tale aspect of the novel comes through in Daniel and how he views the world, especially through stories such as The Snow Queen, which is quoted before each chapter, hinting at what is to come. It is a haunting novel, set during a turbulent time in history, looking at how people cope when their worlds collide, and things seem like they’ll never be the same again.

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The Book of Dust Volume One: La Belle Sauvage by Philip Pullman

la belle sauvage.jpgTitle: The Book of Dust Volume One: La Belle Sauvage

Author: Philip Pullman

Genre: Fantasy, YA Children’s Literature

Publisher: Penguin Books/David Fickling Books

Published: 19th October, 2017

Format: Paperback

Pages: 448

Price: $32.99

Synopsis: Philip Pullman returns to the world of His Dark Materials with this magnificent first volume of The Book of Dust.

Eleven-year-old Malcolm Polstead and his dæmon, Asta, live with his parents at the Trout Inn near Oxford. Across the River Thames (which Malcolm navigates often using his beloved canoe, a boat by the name of La Belle Sauvage) is the Godstow Priory where the nuns live. Malcolm learns they have a guest with them; a baby by the name of Lyra Belacqua.

Malcolm was the landlord’s son, an only child…he had friends enough, but he was happiest on his own playing with his daemon Asta in their canoe, which was called La Belle Sauvage.

 

Malcolm Polstead’s life in the pub beside the Thames is safe and happy enough, if uneventful. But during a winter of unceasing rain the forces of science, religion and politics begin to clash, and as the weather rises to a pitch of ferocity, all of Malcolm’s certainties are torn asunder. Finding himself linked to a baby by the name of Lyra, Malcolm is forced to undertake the challenge of his life and to make the dangerous journey that will change him and Lyra forever.

~*~

La Belle Sauvage takes place in 1986, ten years before the events of Northern Lights (The Golden Compass in America), in an alternate Oxford where people’s souls are daemons on the outside of their bodies, and where technology has a Victorian or steampunk feel to it – gyrocopters and zeppelins that speed through the air, and carriages that trundle along the streets, whilst Malcolm and the other children do not play video games, but out in the wilderness. This idyllic life that the characters lead that reminded me of The Wind in the Willows and the idyllic world the Lewis Carroll created in Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland is not to last. As the winter draws in and the rain that has been threatening to fall begins to make good on its threat, Malcolm, and the barmaid at his parent’s bar, the Trout, will find themselves caught up where religion, science and politics begin to intersect, and interfere in people’s lives. The culprit behind this has a honey sweet voice, and a golden monkey as her daemon, and a charm about her that will draw many children into the organisation she has formed to enforce control over everyone and denounce the work of Lord Asriel and his cohorts. The arrival of Mrs Coulter and the flood sends Malcolm, Alice and baby Lyra on a dangerous journey as they try to save Lyra and Pantalaimon from the clutches of those who want to harm her. In this world, they can trust nobody but themselves, and as the perilous journey will show, the danger of extreme politics and religion will only harm the innocent.

Over two decades later, Pullman has successfully drawn his devoted audience back into the world of Lyra and Pan, and their Oxford. It is an Oxford of wonder and a world influenced by myth and fairy tale, where the dangers of the world are not always people with weapons or weather, but also mystical forces that try and delay or prevent Malcolm, Alice and Lyra from moving on. Farder Coram’s appearance is brief; however, it is important to note due to the role that he and the other gyptians, and the witches, come to play in the His Dark Materials trilogy. For fans of this trilogy, it has been a seventeen year wait for this new series, and it did not fail to impress. It was one that I savoured a little, and meandered a bit with so I could fully appreciate the story. Lyra’s presence is important, as she is the driving force behind Malcolm and Alice’s mission – and baby Pan was adorable. I hope that  their presence will be felt in forthcoming books for The Book of Dust, as I and many other readers enjoy Lyra and her world, and her Oxford wouldn’t be the same without her.

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Esme’s Wish by Elizabeth Foster

esmes wishTitle: Esme’s Wish

Author: Elizabeth Foster

Genre: YA Fantasy

Publisher: Odyssey Books

Published: 30th October 2017

Format: Paperback

Pages: 248

Price: $22.95

Synopsis: This was her last chance.
Her hand twisted high in the air.

When fifteen-year-old Esme Silver objects at her father’s wedding, her protest is dismissed as the actions of a stubborn, selfish teenager. Everyone else has accepted the loss of Esme’s mother, Ariane – so why can’t she?

But Esme is suspicious. She is sure that others are covering up the real reason for her mother’s disappearance – that ‘lost at sea’ is code for something more terrible, something she has a right to know.

After Esme is accidentally swept into the enchanted world of Aeolia, the truth begins to unfold. With her newfound friends, Daniel and Lillian, Esme retraces her mother’s steps in the glittering canal city of Esperance, untangling the threads of Ariane’s double life. But the more Esme discovers about Ariane, the more she questions whether she really knew her at all.

~*~

aww2017-badgeEsme Silver has spent years without a mother, and now, as she watches her father marry Penelope, her stepmother, she feels betrayed, and begins to object. Yet, with her protests dismissed as easily as her feelings about losing her mother are. Esme feels isolated from her father in their Picton Island home, and when he sails away with his new wife, Penelope, and leaves her to the mercy of his wife’s sister, Mavis, Esme travels to Spindrift, where a cottage belonging to her grandmother sits vacant. From the waters nearby, Esme is transported to Aeolia, a world that is beneath the waters it seems, and a world that will hopefully help Esme find the answers to her mother, Ariane’s disappearance several years ago.  Together with Lillian and Daniel, Esme settles into life in Esperance and Aeolia, and begins a journey that she hopes will get her the answers she has sought for so long.

Esme’s Wish, and Aeolia feels reminiscent of a fairy tale or mythological world, and I loved the references and connections I was able to make to Greek mythology and fairy tale tropes, coupled with the unique world that Elizabeth Foster has created. Connecting Esme’s Aeolia with Ancient Greece was clever, and made for an engaging story. It invites the reader into the world accessed by a magical pool, and on a journey with good friends. The underwater world inspired by Greek mythology reminded me of Atlantis and the blown-out centre of Santorini, where the Minoans lived thousands of years ago. Whether it was inspired by this or not, Elizabeth Foster has created an engaging story for young adults that I hope many will enjoy reading over the summer break, as it had a delightful summery feel to it as well.

Rose Raventhorpe Investigates: Rubies and Runaways (Rose Raventhorpe #2) by Janine Beacham

raventhorpe 2Title: Rose Raventhorpe Investigates: Rubies and Runaways (Rose Raventhorpe #2)

Author: Janine Beacham

Genre: Children/Mystery/Crime

Publisher: Hachette Australia

Published: 25th July 2017

Format: Paperback

Pages: 245

Price: $14.99

Synopsis: The Clockwork Sparrow meets Downton Abbey

It’s a bitterly cold winter in Yorke and Rose Raventhorpe and her butler Heddsworth are stuck with Rose’s unpleasant cousin Herbert, and his equally horrible butler, Bixby.

When an orphan boy named Orpheus interrupts the Cathedral’s Mistletoe Service, saying that his sister has been kidnapped, Rose vows to help. Solving the mystery will be a lot better than accompanying ghastly Herbert! But the investigation is more complicated than Rose has anticipated and will lead her and her butler friends through fancy tea-rooms, horrible factories, secret underground passages and more…

Fireplace pokers are much more dangerous than you might imagine . . .

~*~

Christmas is coming, and Rose is excited: apart from the presence of her annoying cousin, Ghastly Herbert, and his butler, Bixby, both of whom seem determined to ruin the cheer and suck the joy out of Rose. When Herbert starts speaking about firing Heddsworth, Rose’s loyal butler, and marrying her early on, Rose is infuriated. But the arrival of Orpheus at the Mistletoe Service at Yorke’s Cathedral sets in motion a series of events that result in murder and disappearances. Combined with Ghastly Herbert’s determination to buy her a ring, and get her fitted for a dress (both scenes where Rose’s disdain ensures a comedic outcome), Rose is determined to find a way out of the marriage that Herbert claims her mother would celebrate and that her father assures her may never happen, it is a mystery where the suspect is not who Rose or the Silvercrest Hall Butlers expect – and where little hints are dropped along the way, the subtlety of these hints allowing the reader to discover the secrets along with Rose.

aww2017-badgeThis is the second book in a series, and the characters are just as awesome as in the first. Rose is wonderfully written, the perfect balance of a young woman who knows her responsibilities but strives to use her standing in society to advocate for others and who would rather fence and be part of a butler secret society than sit for portraits and attend dress fittings.

Rose’s father plays a much larger role in this book, and I enjoyed getting to know him. Unlike Lady Constance, Lord Frederick is friendlier and calmer, and much less rigid in what he expects from Rose. He is rather lax in enforcing these rigid ideals, and when Ghastly Herbert insists on marrying Rose throughout the book, it is her father and Heddsworth who reassure her it may not happen – and it is the conniving and deception that Herbert and Bixby bring into the household that lead to events that force Herbert to thankfully call off the wedding.

I enjoyed this, the mystery and humour combined nicely, and Rose’s Yorke evokes what could be a parallel world to the real York, with a touch of magic in the air surrounding the cat statues of Yorke that are supposed to come to life, an inventive system of communication between butlers and sweeps, mixed in with Victorian history and settings. It is an immersive story and setting, and as a reader, I felt like I was there with Rose much of the time, and was on her side about Herbert and his attitude – Herbert is the kind of character I think people will love to hate, and I was rather pleased whenever he was humiliated or received his comeuppance, as it seemed to illustrate he wasn’t as superior as he thought he was.

Each character in this series is well written and I love that the head of the butler secret society is a woman, and one of the top butlers, Bronson, is too. It breaks with the tradition many books set in this era would use, and this break with tradition is a shock to the rather traditional and uppity Herbert too – illustrating that what some people thought was proper was something to be questioned and turned on its head. I think this is a series that will continue to turn Victorian traditions on their heads, in a fun and informative way for the reader.

The mystery of Orpheus’s missing sister and a murderer who has disappeared twice without a trace, and the tension between the formerly allied butlers and chimney sweeps is the meat of the story, and of course, Ghastly Herbert is caught up in it all, driving Rose batty, and with Orpheus by her side as a new friend, Rose can face anything – even her Ghastly cousin and his demands of how she behaves before their wedding in several years. She is only twelve, after all, and has much more important things to handle. Being an honorary member of Silvercrest with her own Infinity Key comes with responsibilities that trump marrying cousins.

 

Wolf Children by Paul Dowsell

wolf childrenTitle: Wolf Children

Author: Paul Dowsell

Genre: Historical Fiction

Publisher: Bloomsbury

Published: 1st November 2017

Format: Paperback

Pages: 288

Price: $14.99

Synopsis: survival in the cellar of an abandoned hospital, Otto and his ragtag gang of kids have banded together in the desperate, bombed-out city.
The war may be over, but danger lurks in the shadows of the wreckage as Otto and his friends find themselves caught between invading armies, ruthless rival gangs and a strange Nazi war criminal who stalks them …

A climactic story of truth, friendship and survival against the odds, Wolf Children will thrill readers of Michael Morpurgo and John Boyne.

~*~

 

Wolf Children begins as World War Two has ended, and Germany has fallen into the clutches of Russian occupation as the rest of the world wages the final few months of war in the Pacific. With Hitler gone, and the Nazi regime obliterated, those who remain in crumbling Berlin must endure the Russian control over their city until an agreement can be made about where the East and West will be divided. Their world has been turned upside down, and Otto, Helene, Erich and Klaus have turned their backs on Nazi ideology, perhaps never quite bought into it in the first place, and have accepted the fate of the regime and seek only to survive the invading armies, rival gangs and a strange Nazi war criminal who has taken an interest in Otto’s younger brother, Ulrich, who has never quite let go of the Hitler Youth.

 

In a world not always seen in World War Two historical fiction, the impact of the end of the war on German citizens who did not support the regime they lived under, but were kept silent out of fear is not always explored. Here, it is shown through the eyes of six children who appear to have nobody left but each other, and in a world of uncertainty and lack of shelter, food and money, they must learn to barter with what they can, and eat when food comes their way. In a world of uncertainty, these children can only rely on each other, and with their lives at stake, will they survive the next few months of post-war Germany?

 

The harrowing stories set during, and after World War Two, from any perspective, are deeply unsettling and raw, and at times, uncomfortable, with characters like Ulrich who cling to the vestiges of a failed regime – where their attitudes are not shied away from, but at the same time, condemned by the characters around them. These stories, whether historical fiction, or biographical, or non-fiction, are not meant to make us comfortable. They are meant to remind us of what dangerous language and divisive ideas and talk can lead to. I have read many books that are set in the turbulent inter-war, war and post war years this year, and none of them have shied away from the discomforts of the historical setting or the ideas and language that floated around then, yet at the same time, have presented them in an accessible way for the audience – in this case, children and young adults. It is a book that is humbling and can serve to remind adults too about what happened and that it must not happen again. The devastation of Germany shows the scars of war – in the buildings, in the crumbling walls and bricks, and in the rubble that surrounds the bartering markets. It shows in the half starved people, and in the children who forage for food and who fear anyone they don’t know.

 

Wolf Children is a story that will stay with me, and one that should be read to gain a broader perspective of these post-war years. In uncertain times, this book shows what people will do when they are desperate, and what it will take for them to turn their backs on what they thought they knew, and help those who are truly the only ones there for them. A brave story, that shows the flaws of humanity in dark and dangerous times for all, with a touch of hope ebbing through the novel.

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Five Go Down Under (Enid Blyton’s Famous Five for Grown-Ups with text by Sophie Hamley

five go down under.jpgTitle: Five Go Down Under (Enid Blyton’s Famous Five for Grown-Ups)

Author: Sophie Hamley

Genre: Humour, Parody

Publisher: Hachette Australia

Published: 31st October 2017

Format: Hardcover

Pages: 106

Price: $19.99

Synopsis: The Famous Five have gone on their greatest adventure yet – a trip Down Under to Oz for some gap year fun.

Enid Blyton’s books are beloved the world over and The Famous Five have been the perennial favourite of her fans. Now, in this new Enid Blyton for Grown-Ups, Julian, George, Dick, Anne and Timmy head Down Under for some relaxing holiday fun. But will it be the adventure they had hoped for?

Setting up camp in Bondi they soon meet the Sydney Six, a couple of guitar-strumming Kiwis and a rogue South African and find themselves in the thick of Sydney’s real estate perils and the attempts of their omnipresent cousin Rupert Kirrin to buy up the local media.

But when the sun, surf and bluebottles have their revenge and things don’t quite go to plan, it’s time to head for the country for a spot of sheep-shearing and quad-bike riding. Will the country be kinder to them or will their close calls with the Australian wildlife have them heading back to the city before you can say decaff soy latte?

~*~

In Five Go Down Under, Julian, Dick, Anne, George and Timmy decide to take a year off of work and the cold of England, and travel to warmer climates. They choose Australia, warm enough year around and far enough away to warrant a long trip, rather than heading to the usual destinations in Spain they’re used to. Of course, nothing will prepare them for the heat, the killer wildlife and the strange linguistic differences and slang that will greet them upon their arrival in Australia. And what will they make of their neighbours in Bondi, the trendy beach suburb of Sydney famous with tourists from all over the world?

In Australia, the Famous Five will encounter ferries, and climbing the Sydney Harbour Bridge, sheep shearing and the harsh sun that burns without prejudice. They encounter things they never thought they would, and find that all their dreams of life in Sydney might not be quite what they thought it would be, as they try to navigate the culture that in some ways is similar yet so different from what they are used to. In a madcap series of events, they will come to find that the Australia that the Sydney Six are determined to show them is not quite the Australia they imagined, and that no country is immune to the evils of the world. As laid-back as the Australians they meet might be, the Five soon come to realise this only the surface – and their journey in Australia has just begun as they seek work during their gap year.

aww2017-badgeUsing Enid Blyton’s popular characters, Australian author Sophie Hamley has written a text that beautifully reproduces the original style and characters, whilst balancing this with new characteristics they displays as adults, and contrasts this with the current generation and the Australian way of speaking. She seamlessly weaves in references to current diet trends and the stereotypical Australians, as well as references to politics and popular culture – in true Australian satirical style, poking fun at the things about our country that need to be laughed about. Sophie Hamley’s text is accompanied by illustrations originals by Eileen Soper, who illustrated other editions of the original Famous Five stories, which gives a sense of character and nostalgia to the texts.

Using tongue-in-cheek humour, Sophie Hamley’s text is uniquely Australian whilst keeping the tone of the original stories intact, if not somewhat exaggerated for comedic impact. The Famous Five For Grown-Ups Series brings the beloved childhood characters back to life for adults, and into an unknown world, where poking fun at current trends and cultural phenomena all play a part in creating a fun read.

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Sleep No More by P.D. James

sleep no more.jpgTitle: Sleep No More: Six Murderous Tales
Author: P.D. James
Genre: Crime Fiction
Publisher: Allen and Unwin/Faber Fiction
Published: 25th October 2017
Format: Hardcover
Pages: 176
Price: $24.99
Synopsis: A second collection of short stories from P.D. James. Six further stories are published together for the first time in a beautiful hardback edition.
As a companion volume to The Mistletoe Murder and Other Stories, a further six of P. D. James’s ingenious short stories are published here together for the first time.

As the six murderous tales unfold, the dark motive of revenge is revealed at the heart of each. Bullying schoolmasters receive their comeuppance, unhappy marriages and childhoods are avenged, a murder in the small hours of Christmas Day puts an end to the vicious new lord of the manor, and, from the safety of his nursing home, an octogenarian exerts exquisite retribution.

The punishments inflicted on the guilty are fittingly severe, but here they are meted out by the unseen forces of natural justice rather than the institutions of the law. Once again, P. D. James shows her expert control of the short-story form, conjuring motives and scenarios with complete conviction, and each with a satisfying twist in the tail.

Author bio:
P. D. James (1920-2014) was born in Oxford and educated at Cambridge High School for Girls. From 1949 to 1968 she worked in the National Health Service and subsequently in the Home Office, first in the Police Department and later in the Criminal Policy Department. All that experience was used in her novels. She was a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature and of the Royal Society of Arts and served as a Governor of the BBC, a member of the Arts Council, where she was Chairman of the Literary Advisory Panel, on the Board of the British Council and as a magistrate in Middlesex and London. She was an Honorary Bencher of the Honourable Society of the Inner Temple. She won awards for crime writing in Britain, America, Italy and Scandinavia, including the Mystery Writers of America Grandmaster Award and The National Arts Club Medal of Honor for Literature (US). She received honorary degrees from seven British universities, was awarded an OBE in 1983 and was created a life peer in 1991. In 1997 she was elected President of the Society of Authors, stepping down from the post in August 2013.
~*~

Sleep No More is a post-humus collection of short fiction by P.D. James. These six short stories hold dark motives within the characters, with revenge at the heart of the cries. A bullying schoolmaster gets comeuppance years in the making, and unhappy childhoods and marriages are avenged, whilst a Christmas murder ends the life of the new lord of the manor, and an elderly man in a nursing home reveals deep, dark secrets that lead to blackmail and retribution. In each of these stories, the psychology of the murder is explored, and each person linked to the dead becomes a suspect. In a series of stories where the narrator, suspect or blackmailer appears to know more than they let on, these stories are chilling and make you think, and question what you know from the information presented to you in the story. Each story is chilling and surprising, and keeps the reader guessing.

It is always a challenge reviewing a short story collection – often because knowing whether to comment on each story individually, or the collection as a whole and whether or not each story is related or interconnected are things to be considered in the review. With Sleep No More, each story is its own creepy, spine tingling, and sleep stealing entity, where killers hide in plain sight, and where justice it seems, might not be doled out, and the abundance of suspects, or lack or witnesses, ensures a disturbing mystery for all involved. In these stories, the idea that justice is meted out by those wronged by those they murder rather than the justice system of police officers, who play a rather peripheral role, is dealt with in an interesting way. This kind of justice, whilst might be seen as justified, questions the ethics and morality of the characters and the reader, whom, as with some of Roald Dahl’s stories, sympathises and empathises with the characters wronged and who gained revenge, and at the same time, celebrates these acts as justified based on what the reader has been told.

They pose the question – what is justice and who deserves to mete it out, and how? In these stories, it is not the justice system people put their trust in to do so, but take their own actions to achieve justice.

Over the years that P.D. James wrote these stories, they appeared in different publications, sometimes under different titles, but now, they are collected together, linked by murder and nefarious secrets that the narrators have, that are hinted at, with great skill at creating a mystery where the true killer may not be revealed, and at presenting two different perspectives in first person, as in the Christmas themed story.

Fans of PD.D James and crime will enjoy these short stories, for their unique way of looking at how one can get away with a crime, and what that person or people might do to ensure they’re never caught.

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