Books and Bites Book Bingo: A Book with a door on the cover: The Winterborne Home for Vengeance and Valour by Ally Carter

books and bites game card

For my eleventh square, I chose a book with a door on the cover. This was always going to be a challenge, and the book I chose for a book published over 100 years ago – The Secret Garden – would also have been good for this square. However, I realised I had to use – or wanted to use – a different book for each square as much as possible.

I interpreted a door as a gate as well, and that’s why I chose The Winterborne Home for Vengeance and Valour by Ally Carter. There is a gate in the foreground of the cover, with the house and its door in the background behind the kids.

Winterborne 1

I reviewed this for Hachette on the 3rd of March, and thought it was a great introduction to a new series – with a slow build towards the climatic conclusion that inevitably leads into a second book – with several threads that were worked through the book left seeking more answers beyond what April finds out in the book.  As readers, we only know what April knows, and this draws us further into the mystery, and the lives of the orphans and their world, and what is to come. I cannot wait to find out what happens next.

 

Books and Bites Book Bingo – A book with bad reviews: Trials of Apollo: The Dark Prophecy by Rick Riordan

books and bites game card

In my tenth post for Books and Bites Book Bingo, I chose to mark off the square for a book with bad reviews. This was always going to be a subjective square – as all books are going to have good and bad reviews, so any book could really fit in here.

dark prophecy

Usually, the more popular books are more likely to have bad reviews, and this could be for many reasons – from simplistic writing, to the way the author handles the plot or issues of representation. Last year I was sent book four in the Trials of Apollo series by Rick Riordan – after the publication date and decided I had better read the first three first. For this category, I read Trials of Apollo: The Dark Prophecy.

I’ve read the first two, and this is one of those series that will always have bad reviews for a variety of reasons – and sometimes, these will be a very individual reason, and might not make sense. From people feeling it is too much of one thing, or too little of another, or they simply do not like the way the Greek mythology has been dealt with, the bad reviews can be expansive, they can be brief and they might even be reviews that miss the point of the book – perhaps a commonality amongst bad reviews.

I’m getting a good pace going through this challenge – some squares have books planned in my mind, and some I’m letting fall as they come, so that lets some of the stress off me to find things all the time. With my aim to post at least once a fortnight, hopefully I will fill the card by the end of the year, but will probably post as often as possible at some point.

Books and Bites Bingo Short story collection – Radio National Fictions (various short stories on ABC Listen app

books and bites game card

I don’t read that many short story collections – nor do I listen to audiobooks. The former is simply because they don’t often cross my path, and the latter because I know I’d never be able to focus on that much audio. I’m better with short bursts like podcasts, so when I discovered Radio National Fictions podcast, I knew it would perfectly fit not only any short story categories, but the audiobook category in another challenge I had thought I would never fill. I have devoured the first six, short stories in what is called the Oz Gothic category, where each I felt left a little to the imagination and had some open endings where anything could have happened after the story ended. As each week has a different short story, written and told by a different author or presenter, they will vary in themes, and once they finish the Oz Gothic theme, I wonder what will be next, as there are many areas to be explored with genre and theme or as a sole aspect of narrative.

radio national fictions

As each is only half an hour long, I find my attention does not wander as it would with a novel length audiobook, and so, they are perfect to listen to while I work. They are engaging and though they are brief, they evoke a sense of needing to know what happens almost as soon as it starts. Of course, there are probably going to be some stories I listen to more closely than others, or find more engaging but that happens in all areas of literature and why having a diverse range of books out there in a diverse range of formats allows us to engage with reading in a way that works for us.

Book Bingo Three 2020 – A time in history you’d like to travel back to

Book bingo 2020

 

March, and my third book bingo square for my book bingo with Theresa and Amanda. For this square, I have nominated the time in history you’d like to travel back to. Sticking clear of revolutions and war, I chose a book that is set during the Minoan era, as I think it would be interesting to go back, and learn about their culture, religion and practises first hand and then bring that knowledge back to ancient historians to build on what we have so far had to infer from archaeological evidence and second hand accounts translated from Ancient Greece.

dragonfly song

The book I chose fort this square isDragonfly Song by Wendy Orr, which draws on the myths and archaeological evidence of the bull leapers of Knossos and the tribute sent yearly, or every seven years – depending on the source – by other islands to appease the minotaur, or Bull King. The most famous myth is that of Theseus, who managed to find his way out of the labyrinth but upon returning home, forgot to change the colours of the sails, and his father, Aegeus, thought his son had died and threw himself into the ocean we now call the Aegean Sea.

This book was a wonderful read and I loved finding out how the bull leaping ceremonies might have happened, where we lack a written text to properly inform us.

Books and Bites Bingo Eco Themes:  The Vanishing Deep by Astrid Scholte

books and bites game card

Eco themes was one I thought I would struggle with – I haven’t read a lot of climate fiction, and also, haven’t read many books about sustainability – many are simply not in a genre I enjoy, such as cookbooks or lifestyle books, and as a result, they do not cross my path very often. So this marks the eighth square I have marked off for this challenge.

 

the vanishing deep

I found this square I may have had very few options – as I am aiming on filling my challenge categories with books I own or have access to for as many as possible. When this book, The Vanishing Deep dropped into my hands from Allen and Unwin for review, I knew it would fill several challenge categories and was very thrilled to see that it also managed to fit into Eco themes here, even though it might seem to be at first, quite a subversive fit. In the world of The Vanishing Deep, the world has been engulfed by the Great Waves, and people talk about the Old World and the old ways as warnings and stories to try and avoid those things happening again, hinting at a suggestion that climate change and ecological destruction has led to this new world of Reefs, islands and Palindromena, the facility that seems to control everything and as a result, this book also deals with issues of politics and power, discussed in another book bingo post later this year.

Whilst this is a fantasy world, it was easy to see that this world could easily have been our world, and that the Great Waves were what ended it. It does not explicitly talk about climate change, but points to overpopulation as well and lack of resources as issues that will never go away amidst all the other struggles related to ecology. Of course, I could have put Dark Emu in here, but that is reserved for other challenges when I get to it. I chose this one because I thought it was an interesting take on eco themes in literature, and hope that others enjoy it too.

 

A Testament of Character (Rowland Sinclair #10) by Sulari Gentill

ATOC_3DTitle: A Testament of Character (Rowland Sinclair #10)

Author: Sulari Gentill

Genre: Crime, Historical Fiction

Publisher: Pantera Press

Published: 3rd March 2020

Format: Paperback

Pages: 340

Price: $29.99

Synopsis: In fear for his life, American millionaire Daniel Cartwright changes his will, appointing his old friend Rowland Sinclair as his executor.

Soon murder proves that fear well founded.

When Rowland receives word of Cartwright’s death, he sets out immediately for Boston, Massachusetts, to bury his friend and honour his last wishes. He is met with the outrage and anguish of Cartwright’s family, who have been spurned in favour of a man they claim does not exist.

Artists and gangsters, movie stars and tycoons all gather to the fray as elite society closes in to protect its own, and family secrets haunt the living. Rowland Sinclair must confront a world in which insanity is relative, greed is understood, and love is dictated; where the only people he can truly trust are an artist, a poet and a passionate sculptress.

~*~

Rowland Sinclair is back with his companions – Milt, the Jewish, Communist poet, Clyde Watson Jones, the painter, and Edna Higgins, the beautiful sculptress who adores the three men she travels with. At this point, Rowly and his friends have been travelling for several months outside the British Empire – in China and America so far, and has previously spent time in Germany – about a year before this story. Along the way, Rowly has met many historical characters and seen what the encroaching Fascist forces are doing in Europe. The rise of the Nazis is bubbling near the surface of this book, even though Nazi Germany feels far away, there is no doubt that the ongoing political tensions impact how this story occurs.

Rowland is on his way back to Australia – summoned home by brother Wilfred, when he finds himself in America and discovers an old friend, Daniel Cartwright has been murdered, and Rowly is the executor of Daniel’s will. Instead of Nazis or ruthless political parties, Rowly and his friends find themselves confronted by Irish and Italian gangs in Boston and New York, and they encounter the 1930s racism when they head into the Carolinas in pursuit of someone known as Otis Norcross.

AWW2020As with the previous nine books, historical and cultural figures of the time such as F. Scott Fitzgerald are woven into the narrative, and the Australians are met with various ideas in America that are foreign and bewildering to them – such as the detective who seems to confuse Australia and Austria which gave me a little chuckle. Rowly is as ever a gentleman – ready to defend his friends and help those in need even at great risk to his own life. America seems safer in some ways after Germany and China, yet as always, there are people who wish harm upon Rowly and his companions and will do whatever they can to gain the upper hand, even though at the end of the day, Rowly will overcome these threats.

This book is a turning point in several ways – and it is mainly in the second half that most of the shocks come out – but in this way, they work very well with the storyline and show, as the other nine books have done, what kind of people Rowly, Ed, Milt and Clyde are – and what they are willing to sacrifice to help people who need their help. Their actions and words link back delightfully to the title, A Testament of Character, and prove what kind of people they are. There are many other ways the title makes sense – but I will let you read that to find out what it is!

Overall, I think it fits nicely in the series, and Sulari has delivered a spectacular story again. High stakes in many ways, but also, at times, sedate enough to allow the heroes to breathe. Yet it does not meander, and nor does it shy away from the realities of the 1930s and impending war. As readers in 2020, we know what is coming. Hitler gaining further power in Germany. More anti-Jewish Laws. The abdication of Edward the VIII, which led to the current Royal Line we have today. Kristallnacht, World War Two and The Final Solution. All are to come, and with that knowledge, it makes me wonder what Rowly will do in the coming books and years – how he will cope with it, what he will do, and what the growing political unrest will do to his family and friends. This is a part of history that seems to be repeating itself today – and books like this are a stark and much needed reminder not to turn away, and Sulari is doing this exceptionally well, and her research gives such great authenticity to the period, and I love the inclusion of the newpaper articles of the times.

The Republic of Birds by Jessica Miller

republic of birdsTitle: The Republic of Birds
Author: Jessica Miller
Genre: Fantasy
Publisher: Text Publishing
Published: 3rd March 2020
Format: Paperback
Pages: 320
Price: $16.99
Synopsis: Olga loves the stories of the old cartographers and pores over their ancient books and maps, trying to unlock their secrets. Sometimes, she thinks she can even feel through the maps— almost see into them—as if by magic.
But magic is banned in Tsaretsvo, ever since the war with the birds that divided the kingdom, and the powerful magic wielding yagas have long been banished. Now, any young girl who shows signs of being a yaga is whisked away to Bleak Steppe—to a life, so the story goes, of unspeakable punishment.
When the bird army kidnaps Olga’s sister in a surprise attack on the human kingdom, Olga realises she has to venture into the Republic of Birds to bring her back. But first, she must learn to unlock her magical ability. As her journey takes her into the hidden world of the yagas and the wilds of the Unmappable Blank, Olga discovers the truth about the war with the birds—and learns just how much is at stake.
Inspired by Russian folklore, The Republic of Birds is a rich middle-grade fantasy adventure for readers of Karen Foxlee, Jessica Townsend and Philip Pullman.
~*~

Set in a fantasy world with Russian influences, The Republic of Birds revolves around Olga and her family. Olga is twelve, and on the verge of turning thirteen – the year she will take part in the Spring Blossom festival. Yet Olga fears what will happen if and when she starts showing signs of magic – of being a yaga. With magic banned in Stolitsa, Olga knows that once she starts exhibiting signs of magic she will be sent away to a place known as Bleak Steppe – where stories of girls being punished abound.

Yet as Olga prepares for the Spring Blossom celebration, she inadvertently sends something dear to her away with the birds – and must summon all her talents – innate and magical – to reunite her family.

AWW2020Wow, what a book! This was very different to what I have read in the past, yet using fantasy, fairy tale, and folk tale elements combined with elements of real world Russia, and feels like its set in the early decades of the twentieth century, but in a fantasy setting, the events and technology that exist in this world could be vastly different to what we know. This is what makes it even more inviting and intriguing and allows the reader to be immersed within a fantastical world that has elements of darkness yet also is a story of female empowerment and courage. And of course, maps.

Maps marry magic and birds, and feminine power to create a world that is exciting and highly driven by women’s stories and lives – which is thoroughly enjoyable. I loved that the beginning had a slower feel to the latter half of the book and reflected those days of innocence before everything started to become real and dangerous for Olga and her family. Once the action got going, I found that the pages that flew by – and I think that Jessica got a really good balance between the slow bits and the fast bits to make an exciting and engaging story for all readers aged nine and over to enjoy.

Rich with folklore, it is a great next read for fans of His Dark Materials, Nevermoor and many other books that have been influenced by folklore and fairy tales within their plots. It is a captivating story that evokes many emotions – courage, love and fear, as well as wonder as you explore the world with Olga as she navigates the reality of her world, and discovers the truth behind the lies that she has been told throughout her life about yagas and Bleak Steppe.

Books that read like a folktale are always a favourite of mine – they allow the reader to uncover familiar tropes and characters, but wearing different outfits and within a different context, and this is what makes it magical. These sorts of novels expand on the traditional fairy and folk tales that are known aroind the world, and in doing so, bring them to life in a new and fantastic way. These are books that I would have loved as a kid, and continue to enjoy reading to this day.

With many thanks to Text publishing for the review copy I received this week.