Rose Raventhorpe Investigates: Black Cats and Butlers (Rose Raventhorpe #1)

rose raventhorpe 1.jpgTitle: Rose Raventhorpe Investigates: Black Cats and Butlers

Author: Janine Beacham

Genre: Mystery/Crime/Children’s Fiction

Publisher: Little, Brown Books/Hachette

Published: 28th March 2017

Format: Paperback

Pages: 263

Price: $14.99

Synopsis: The Clockwork Sparrow meets Downton Abbey

When Rose Raventhorpe’s beloved butler is found (gasp!) murdered in the hallway of her own house, she’s determined to uncover the culprit. Especially since he’s the third butler to die in a week!

Rose’s investigation leads her on a journey into a hidden world of grave robbers and duelling butlers, flamboyant magicians and the city’s ancient feline guardians.

Knives aren’t just for cutting cucumber sandwiches, you know . . .

 

~*~

 

aww2017-badgeIn the City of Yorke, butlers are dying and cat statues are going missing. Rose Raventhorphe, daughter of a prominent figure in Yorke, living in the Ravensgate area, sets about uncovering the murderer and thief after her beloved Butler, Argyle, is murdered in her own home. Argyle’s murder is the latest in a series of attacks on butlers in Yorke, and it seems each murder is accompanied by the disappearance of a cat statue from one of the Gates in Yorke. Each murder brings Rose closer to the truth, and into contact with a secret society of duelling butlers, protectors of Yorke. To investigate and help the butlers, Rose must escape the watchful eye of her mother, whose idea of what a young lady of Rose’s upbringing should be doing does not include hanging around graveyards and befriending butlers.

 

Rose’s Yorke is a fictional, almost magical version of the real York. It has the same sense of mystery and intrigue that some of the small streets and alleyways of the real York has, and in a Victorian setting, shrouded in mist and lit only by gas-lamps, the city feels even more mysterious. The shadows of the city that Rose encounters add to the mystery she needs to solve. Where Rose’s mother demands she do the ladylike thing of practising her piano and sitting around daintily to preserve an image of high class upbringing, the butlers who seek to find the Black Glove murderer, are protective and concerned about Rose in a more loving and caring way – and in the end, this is why they allow her to help them as much as she can.

 

Rose’s instincts aren’t always spot on, and like any investigator, her initial suspicions are not what she expected, and her desire to find the truth is constantly at the heart of the story, making her a likeable, flawed and realistic heroine whom I look forward to seeing develop across the series as she straddles the line between doing what is expected of her and what she desires.

 

The Rose Raventhorpe series is a charming way to introduce younger readers to the thrills and chills of the crime and mystery genre that so many love. For me, it was a quick read but hopefully will be one that is accessible for many, and enjoyed by many. With book three out in January, I am catching up on books one and two before I read it, and thoroughly enjoying my journey,

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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 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 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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Small Publisher’s: Echo

Echo Publishing was formed in 1991, and has become a quality publisher in Australia for books for adults, and was built on the strong foundations of Five Mile’s adult list. In 2015, it received it’s own identity and a mission to “expand its horizons.” This included launching a crime fiction list that includes the Dr…

via Small Press Spotlight: Echo Publishing — Australian Women Writers Challenge Blog

 

The Last Hours by Minette Walters

Title: The Last Hoursthe last hours.jpg

Author: Minette Walters

Genre: Historical Fiction

Publisher: Allen and Unwin

Published: 27th September 2017

Format: Paperback

Pages: 568

Price: $32.99

Synopsis: For most, the Black Death is the end. For a brave few, it heralds a new beginning.

When the Black Death enters England through the port of Melcombe in Dorseteshire in June 1348, no one knows what manner of sickness it is or how it spreads and kills so quickly.

The Church proclaims it a punishment from God but Lady Anne of Develish has different ideas. With her brutal husband absent, she decides on more sensible ways to protect her people than the daily confessions of sin recommended by the Bishop. Anne gathers her serfs within the gates of Develish and refuses entry to outsiders, even to her husband.

She makes an enemy of her daughter by doing so, but her resolve is strengthened by the support of her leading serfs … until food stocks run low and the nerves of all are tested by their ignorance of what is happening in the world outside. The people of Develish are alive. But for how long? And what will they discover when the time comes for them to cross the moat?

Compelling and suspenseful, The Last Hours is a riveting tale of human ingenuity and endurance against the worst pandemic known to history. In Lady Anne of Develish – leader, saviour, heretic – Walters has created her most memorable heroine to date.

From the press release: June 1348: the Black Death enters England through the Port of Melcombe in the county of Dorsetshire. Unprepared for the virulence of the disease, and the speed with which it spreads, the people of the county start to die in their thousands. A culture of terror and superstition quickly sweeps across the land as news of the Black Death travels far and wide.

In the demesne of Develish, Lady Anne takes control of her people’s future – including the lives of two hundred bonded serfs. Strong, compassionate and resourceful, Lady Anne chooses a bastard slave, Thaddeus Thurkell, to act as her steward. Together, they decide to quarantine Develish by bringing serfs inside the walls. With this sudden overturning of the accepted social order, where serfs exist only to serve their lords, conflicts soon arise. Ignorant of what is happening outside, they wrestle with themselves, with God and with the terrible uncertainty of their futures. Lady Anne’s people fear starvation but they fear the pestilence more. Who amongst them has the courage to leave the safety of the demesne? And how safe is anyone in Develish when a dreadful event threatens the uneasy status quo…?

~*~

It’s 1348 and The Black Death, known in the fourteenth century, has arrived in Dorsetshire, England. It has come upon them quietly, with the arrival of Lady Anne’s husband back from a quest to find daughter Eleanor a husband. Aged just fourteen, Eleanor will quickly learn some harsh truths about her life, and the world around her. In an effort to prevent the pestilence from entering the demesne, Develish, Lady Anne instructs the serfs to be brought inside, and will not allow anybody across the moat, or inside – including her husband. Whilst the Church is driving the message home that the pestilence is a punishment from God, Lady Anne protects her people without daily confession. Labelled a heretic for turning away from the Church at this time, and finding new ways to keep the pestilence at bay, Lady Anne is supported wholly by loyal, leading serfs, but makes an enemy out of her daughter. With food stores running low, will Develish continue to be the haven that Lady Anne has tried to create? Or will everyone, including Lady Anne and Eleanor, begin to fray at the edges and turn on each other?

The Black Death and the Middle Ages is not a period of time I have encountered often in literature – it is a period of time that was as significant in history as Culloden, Mary Queen of Scots and the First and Second World Wars – and I seem to have encountered more stories that use these other events and people or aspects of these events and people as a basis for the story. The Last Hours looks to be the first of at least two books, maybe more, as there is a preview for the follow-up out next year, and given the ending, I came away in search of more answers, but still enjoyed the story.

Placing a female hero at the centre of the story in a time when a woman’s position in society was determined by the men around her, and having everyone see her as the authority was executed wonderfully – as there were still reminders from Eleanor and Father Anselm that Lady Anne’s authority would be cut short when another Lord from another demesne arrived and took control of Develish. With the turning tide of the pestilence, Lady Anne’s daughter feels the strain of what is going on and what is to come, and begins to take her anger out on those around her – though little do they know what she is hiding from them, something that she herself is perhaps unaware of at first – and which I felt shaped her character. She was hard to like, whereas her mother was a likeable character, and Minette has done well at showing the breadth of personalities amongst the serfs and the others at Develish.

minetteEach of these characters have flaws and strengths that reflect the fragility of humanity and religion, revealing these flaws for what they are and showing that they do not make someone a whole person. The flaws in religion are revealed through the doctrine of absolving sins to make the pestilence go away, but still seeing those that undertake this act dying within days or weeks of contracting it. And so, Lady Anne posits a different view – that piety or lack thereof, is not the cause, and a faithful serf and six others set out, across the moat and into the unknown to find out what is happening beyond Develish and to bring back supplies. But will they work out the source of the pestilence on their journey?

The Last Hours is a gripping novel of intrigue and explores an historical event that devastated so many during the fourteenth century, and coupled with a terrible event that threatens to rock the status quo of Develish, these two events will certainly bring devastation in more ways than one to the demesne, and shake the foundations to the core. And is Lady Anne a saviour, or a heretic? Either way, she is a memorable heroine, and I hope to see more of her soon. Those who enjoy historical fiction with a hint of subversiveness and mystery will enjoy this book.

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