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.

Nevermoor: The Trials of Morrigan Crow by Jessica Townsend

nevermoor.jpgTitle: Nevermoor: The Trials of Morrigan Crow

Author: Jessica Townsend

Genre: Fantasy, Children’s Fiction

Publisher: Hachette Australia/Lothian

Published: 10th October 2017

Format: Paperback

Pages: 451

Price: $16.99

Synopsis: A breathtaking, enchanting new series by debut Australian author Jessica Townsend, about a cursed girl who escapes death and finds herself in a magical world – but is then tested beyond her wildest imagination.

Morrigan Crow is cursed. Born on an unlucky day, she is blamed for all local misfortunes, from hailstorms to heart attacks – and, worst of all, the curse means that Morrigan is doomed to die at midnight on Eventide.

But as Morrigan awaits her fate, a strange and remarkable man named Jupiter North appears. Chased by black-smoke hounds and shadowy hunters on horseback, he whisks her away into the safety of a secret, magical city called Nevermoor.

It’s there that Morrigan discovers Jupiter has chosen her to contend for a place in the city’s most prestigious organisation: the Wundrous Society. In order to join, she must compete in four difficult and dangerous trials against hundreds of other children, each boasting an extraordinary talent that sets them apart. Except for Morrigan, who doesn’t seem to have any special talent at all.

To stay in the safety of Nevermoor for good, Morrigan will need to find a way to pass the tests – or she’ll have to leave the city to confront her deadly fate.

~*~

Step Boldly.

aww2017-badgeMorrigan Crow, daughter of Corvus Crow, an important official of Jackalfax, is cursed. Born on Eventide, she is set to die at midnight when she is twelve – except Eventide has come a year earlier, and with it, a mysterious stranger who whisks her away from a family that has tried to distance themselves from her and the hounds made of black smoke that hunt cursed children. This figure. Jupiter North, is a citizen of the safer and magical city of Nevermoor, where she will enter a series of trials to determine whether or not she gets a place in the coveted Wundrous Society. To pass, it is said she must exhibit an extraordinary talent – but what talent does Morrigan – known as Mog to Jupiter – have? Jupiter whisks her away in a mechanical spider, and travels to Nevermoor, where everything is colourful, and nobody fears Morrigan. A cursed child, once blamed for all that went wrong, must now find her place in this new world, against a threat that wants to engulf Nevermoor, and use Mog for his own means. Together with Jupiter, his nephew Jack, her new friend from the trials, Hawthorne and a Magnificat named Fenestra, who runs the Hotel Deucalion, Morrigan will find her place and push through the trials, lest she be forced to return to Jackalfax and meet her fate there. But what does Jupiter North have up his sleeve? And is the grey, ghostly man she keeps seeing just an assistant, or somebody more sinister, who wants Mog for himself?

Nevermoor is the kind of novel that once you start it, it’s impossible to put down, and the decision to devour it or savour it is a very hard one to make. I wanted it to last forever, and at the same time, find out how Mog got through her trials. With so much to discover about Nevermoor and the Hotel Deucalion, where I now would love to stay, and see the growing chandelier, I hope the next book in the series reveals more about the world to readers. There are many amazing and interesting characters in Nevermoor. And Fen, the Magnificat who runs the Hotel Deucalion became my favourite – she refused to take any of Jupiter’s nonsense, which seemed to delight and encourage him – much like a beloved Headmaster in Harry Potter, Dumbledore – and though she showed a tough exterior, she truly cared for Mog and those who stayed at the hotel. Each chapter was full of excitement and delight as Morrigan encountered a world where umbrellas help you travel, Santa, or Saint Nicholas and the Yule Queen are real, and bring Christmas delight to an already wondrous town. It is too hard to choose a favourite scene or chapter as they were all so enjoyable, and I do look losing myself in Mog’s next adventure when it comes out.

Nevermoor is aimed at readers aged from nine years, and can be enjoyed by anyone who loves a good fantasy adventure, where the world isn’t always what it seems, and your friends are your family. Step boldly, and enter the world of Nevermoor. Don’t forget to pick up your umbrella!

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The Complete Adventures of Snugglepot and Cuddlepie: Including Little Ragged Blossom and Little Obelia by May Gibbs

snugglepotTitle: The Complete Adventures of Snugglepot and Cuddlepie: Including Little Ragged Blossom and Little Obelia

Author: May Gibbs

Genre: Children’s Literature

Publisher: HarperCollins

Published: 2017 (Originally published in 1918)

Format: Hardcover

Pages: 272

Price: $39.99

Synopsis: The Complete Adventures of Snugglepot and Cuddlepie combines in one edition May Gibbs’ much-loved classics, the Tales of Snugglepot and Cuddlepie (first published in 1918) and its two sequels, Little Ragged Blossom (1920) and Little Obelia (1921).

Quintessentially Australian, these delightful tales have never been out of print; indeed the fantasy world of May Gibbs has been a source of continual fascination for generations of children. May’s is a world filled with fears and excitement and adventures both extraordinary and everyday. A world peopled with small creatures, where the real mixes tantalisingly with the imaginary and provides a window to the magic we all believe exists in the bush.

In this new edition, all of May’s original artwork has been sourced and re-scanned and the illustrations look as exquisite as the day May put down her paintbrush all those years ago. A fresh new design in full colour that is true to the original editions of these three stories makes this new edition a delight to rediscover – or read for the very first time.

~*~

aww2017-badgeIn 1918, a post-war generation of Australian children were introduced to the magical bush world of Snugglepot and Cuddlepie. Whether this was done on purpose, or coincidentally, the timing of the conclusion of World War One (The Great War) and the publication of Snugglepot and Cuddlepie presented an ideal world to escape to, as many children’s books do. Snugglepot and Cuddlepie are two Gumnut brothers, whose curiosity and sense of adventure got them into many a scrape that their friends Mr Lizard, Mr Kookaburra, and Mrs Possum help them out of, in an idealised bush community, bordered by the Big Bad City, where all manner of evil can befall the young Nuts. Together, they venture into the city, obtain clothes, and find a new friend, Little Ragged Blossom. They attend a picture theatre and are always running from The Big Bad Banksia Men and Mrs Snake, devious characters whose desire to harm Snugglepot and Cuddlepie drives the tension, but these characters will always come to a sticky end, with the Nuts managing to escape and save their friends.

These bush fairy tales are unique to Australia, and May Gibbs, as a contemporary of Beatrix Potter, and au author within the same vein of using nature to inspire, and her own words and drawings to tell a story – I think is the Australian Beatrix Potter, as both worked in conservation to preserve the native wildlife and nature they adored and lived amongst. They were amongst the first Australian stories I was exposed to, and some of the first children’s stories that most Australian children have been exposed to for the past one hundred years. In these stories, May Gibbs takes the Gum Nut and bush flower babies introduced in 1916’s Gumnut Babies, and create stories using them as characters that introduce children to the Australian bush, in a world where technology competes for their attention. These beautifully written and illustrated stories establish a love for the Australian bush, and are one of many books by Australian authors published in the history of Australian publishing that establishes what it is to be Australian. Snugglepot and Cuddlepie are a part of the Australian psyche and culture, accessible to anyone, and full of fun and whimsy.

Books are a part of a culture, and the Snugglepot and Cuddlepie books are amongst the most popular in Australia, and perhaps some of the most significant books that have shaped the nation – there are many others that have done so over the years, and in doing so, have contributed to a valuable literary culture that thrives to this day, which is where the Tales from…. series published by Scholastic and that I have also reviewed on my blog come in – introducing Snugglepot and Cuddlepie to a new generation.

The Snugglepot and Cuddlepie books and characters are delightful to read and are aimed at older children, aged eight and older who can read on their own. However, they are also appropriate to be read to children of any age, if they are interested. The world of May Gibbs is a treasured one in Australia, and one that I hope generations continue to adore, and that will continue to stay in print for the next hundred years – as it has never been out of print since the initial 1918 publication.

Buy Snugglepot and Cuddlepie here:

https://www.maygibbs.org

Tales from the Camp Fire by May Gibbs and Jane Massam

tales from the campfireTitle: Tales from the Camp fire

Author: May Gibbs and Jane Massam

Genre: Children’s Fiction/Picture Book

Publisher: Scholastic Australia

Published: 1st November, 2017

Format: Hardcover

Pages: 24 (32 Self-ended)

Price: $19.99

Synopsis: Join Snugglepot and Cuddlepie round the camp fire for stories of friendship and adventure in the Australian bush. Around the camp fire, they will encounter a human, go to a picture show, and discover a cave! Gather around the campfire and get ready for stories of friendship and adventure with May Gibbs’ classic characters.

~*~

aww2017-badgeIn the fourth book in the Tales from series written by Jane Massam,  using May Gibbs’ characters, Snugglepot and Cuddlepie are ready to gather around the camp fire and share their new adventures with you. First, they awaken by a camp fire, and set out on an adventure to find out what a Human is like. Will the Human be kind or mean? Their next adventure takes them to the Lilly Pilly Picture Show, after meeting actress Lilly Pilly, and have an interesting encounter with her pet Bull-Ant. These two stories are reminiscent of stories in the original 1918 Snugglepot and Cuddlepie, and are still charming, as they use the original artwork from Snugglepot and Cuddlepie, especially with Lilly Pilly, and I think this adds a certain charm to the new and old stories. The final story takes place on a ship, and a Banksia Man – who isn’t bad in this book, but takes them on a journey that leads them to a mysterious cave, with Snugglepot and Cuddlepie as trainee sailors.

These stories, written for younger children, and a modern audience, are, as with the first three in the series, a great way to introduce a new generation to Snugglepot, Cuddlepie and the Gumnut Babies, and the Australian Bush, full of mystery and magic, a landscape that May Gibbs adored and sought to conserve as new developments moved in on it. These four books make excellent companion volumes to the original early twentieth century tales.

Pre-order this book at one of these websites:

https://www.maygibbs.org

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Tales from the Bush by May Gibbs and Jane Massam

TALES-BUSHTitle: Tales from the Bush
Author: May Gibbs and Jane Massam
Genre: Children’s Fiction/Picture Book
Publisher: Scholastic Australia
Published: 6th February 2017
Format: Hardcover
Pages: 24
Price: $19.99
Synopsis: Available now from Scholastic Australia, Tales from the Bush is the next book available in the ‘Tales from’ series of stories inspired by May Gibbs lovable Australian bush characters, celebrating 100 years of Gumnut Babies.
Join Snugglepot and Cuddlepie for some wonderful adventures in the Australian bush. Fall in love with May Gibbs’ classic characters as they go camping in search of treasure, garden with Little Ragged Blossom and deal with mischievous Mrs Snake!
This beautifully illustrated storybook is perfect for shared reading before bedtime and introduces children to the beauty and diversity of the Australian bush.
All royalties from the sale of May Gibbs products support the work of The Northcott Society and Cerebral Palsy Alliance in providing services to Australian children living with disability and their families.

~*~

aww2017-badgeIn the third book of the series, Tales from the Bush, Snugglepot and Cuddlepie search for treasure, left behind by a Banksia man (who are big in this book, but the ones they encounter are not bad), on the riverbank, following footprints to find the gold of years past, and instead, find a much more valuable treasure that they will always have. Then, they plant a garden with Little Ragged Blossom, their new friend, from a necklace of what they thought had been berries, and create a world of beauty for her.
When the Bush Dance is about to be held, they encounter Mrs Snake, whose mischievous ways have caused everyone to abandon her, and Mr Lizard to revoke her invitation to the Bush Dance. These charming stories are full of friendship, and the undying kindness and curiosity of Snugglepot and Cuddlepie that generations of Australian children have come to adore. They are a delightful bedtime read, and great tool to help children learn to read and gain confidence whilst learning about the Australian bush, and its flora and fauna. The fantastical elements that these stories and the originals have brought to the wildlife and wild flowers of Australia, in a world that many have written about over the years, and a world that is as much a part of the Australian identity as other parts of our history and literature.
I enjoyed reading this book – for me it was a quick read and I think it is an ideal book for children learning to read. This series captures the original magic of May Gibbs for a new audience and readership with text by Jane Massam in a new century where technological toys compete with books for our attention.

 

Buy the books here:

https://www.maygibbs.org/

or here:

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The Last Namsara by Kristen Ciccarelli

the last namsara.jpgTitle: The Last Namsara

Author: Kristen Ciccarelli

Genre: Young Adult Fantasy

Publisher: Hachette Australia

Published: 3rd October 2017

Format: Paperback

Pages: 304

Price: $19.99

Synopsis: A gripping YA crossover series from a spectacular new voice in the genre Once there was a girl who was drawn to wicked things

Asha is a dragon-slayer. Reviled by the very people she’s sworn to protect, she kills to atone for the wicked deed she committed as a child – one that almost destroyed her city, and left her with a terrible scar.

But protecting her father’s kingdom is a lonely destiny: no matter how many dragons she kills, her people still think she’s wicked.

Even worse, to unite the fractured kingdom she must marry Jarek, the cruel commandant. As the wedding day approaches, Asha longs for freedom.

Just when it seems her fate is sealed, the king offers her a way out: her freedom in exchange for the head of the most powerful dragon in Firgaard.

And the only person standing in her way is a defiant slave boy . . .

THE LAST NAMSARA is an extraordinary story about courage, loyalty and star-crossed love, set in a kingdom that trembles on the edge of war.

~*~

Asha’s story begins on a dragon hunt, where the identity she has been given her whole life is made obvious from the beginning of the novel. The Old Stories that have been outlawed draw the dragons to her, and, following the name she has ben given, Iskari, she kills them in an attempt to atone for a crime she committed as a child. Asha’s scars tell her story, and cause the people of her city to fear her. Asha has been the stories of her destiny and what killed her mother for years and believed them – without anyone to tell her otherwise, she believes them. Until the day a young dragon prevents her from killing the First Dragon, Kozu, and awakens questions within that will lead her to do wicked and dangerous things to prevent more tragedy from befalling her family, and to prevent events that she has been desperately trying to avoid with the help of someone she never thought she would become close to. As what I hope is the beginning of an intriguing series, it has a little bit of everything, including a touch of romance that does not overtake the rest of the story and overshadow what Asha and those who gather around her eventually to help uncover the truth will have to do.

First and foremost, this fantasy novel is about Asha finding her identity, and uncovering secrets that have been kept from her so that those who wish to harm her can control her and ensure she does what they want, when they want it, and without question. Along the way, Asha’s worldview is shattered, and she befriends a slave, a skral, and learns his name: Torwin, going against centuries of tradition, and connecting with him in a way that puts them both at risk, and that mirrors the Old Stories, told in between sections of the first half of the novel, showing how they have shaped the world and how people like Asha’s father and Jarek, the man her father wants her to wed, fear what does not need to be feared – including the dragons that Asha has been made to hunt and must now protect.

The Last Namsara explores trust, family and identity, and illustrates how those we least expect can become the only ones we can trust. Asha is scarred – and has a paralysed arm from the events at the beginning of the novel, but she does not let this stop her, especially when everything comes to a head and she does what she never thought she would do, and puts herself in danger. It is these dangerous events that lead to the final events of the novel, and presents the reader with more questions than answers during the final chapters, that will hopefully be answered in a future novel, to wrap up the strands that felt they had more of a story to be told.

It is a gripping story that didn’t take me long to read, as it had a decent pace, not too fast or too slow, and intrigue that had me wanting to know what was going to happen next. A great read for fans of Young Adult, and Fantasy Literature.

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