The Unadoptables by Hana Tooke

unadoptablesTitle: The Unadoptables

Author: Hana Tooke

Genre: Fantasy, Historical Fiction

Publisher: Puffin

Published: 2nd July 2020

Format: Paperback

Pages: 400

Price: $16.99

Synopsis: The amazing humour and world-building of Nevermoor meets the wisdom and warmth of Rooftoppers in this most un-ordinary adventure about five amazing children . . .

‘Milou,’ Lotta said softly. ‘We need adoption papers to leave. And no one except that horrid merchant wants us.’
‘Well then,’ replied Milou with a grin. ‘We’ll just have to adopt ourselves.’

In all the years that Elinora Gassbeek has been matron of the Little Tulip Orphanage, not once have the Rules for Baby Abandonment been broken. Until the autumn of 1880, when five babies are left in outrageous circumstances: one in a tin toolbox, one in a coal bucket, one in a picnic hamper, one in a wheat sack, and finally, one in a coffin-shaped basket.

Those babies were Lotta, Egg, Fenna, Sem and Milou; who were swiftly and firmly deemed ‘the unadoptables’. Twelve years on the children still have each other – until the fateful night a most sinister gentleman appears and threatens to tear them apart. The gang decide to make a daring escape, fleeing the frozen canals of Amsterdam for an adventure packed with puppets and pirate ships, clock-makers and cruel villains – and with only a scrap of a clue to guide them to their mysterious new home . . .

~*~

The Unadoptables by Hana Tooke is set in Amsterdam in the 19th century, in a world where orphans contend with pirates, puppets, clockmakers and cruel villains to find a home and a place where they truly belong. Fenna, Lotta, Sem, Egg and Milou are known by the matron of Little Tulip Orphanage as the unadoptables. Lotta has twelve fingers, Fenna is a mute, Egg has a shawl that reminded the matron of rotten eggs, Sem arrived in a wheat sack, and Milou arrived on a full moon – and has theories about where her real parents and believes they’re coming for her.

When Rotman comes to adopt the five orphans, Milou and her friends realise something is wrong, and they escape, only to find themselves pursued by Rotman and the Kinderbureau, as they try to make a life at the Poppenmaker theatre where Milou believes her parents come from. Whilst here, Milou uncovers several secrets and together with her friends, forms her own family – yet she is still keen to solve the mystery of Bram Poppenmaker.

This book was filled with mystery, history, and a sense of doom at times that would always give way to hope and wonder. Here there are five children – determined and hopeful that they can have a good life. Instead of waiting around they make one for themselves. And whilst doing so, they uncover crimes and mysteries that bubble beneath the surface from page one – there is always a sense of whimsy and wonder yet at the same time, a sense that something doesn’t feel quite right – as though at any moment, something could go horribly wrong – and nobody is quite sure what it will be or how to handle it.

Hana Tooke manages to move through nineteenth century Amsterdam wonderfully – showing readers the city, and the canals in detail that etches them in the reader’s mind, and also, makes the city feel as though is its own character. I loved the way the mystery was woven throughout, and not immediately solved, but tiny crumbs and clues dropped at just the right time, and the orphans were resourceful, and all had character arcs and growth that worked well with the novel, especially Milou. I think she was my favourite, although it was hard to choose one as they were all great characters. What worked well with this novel was its setting – because this allowed Milou and her friends to escape easily – these days, with phones and technology, it could be harder – doable, but the mystery would be solved sooner than Milou solved her family mystery.

In a very unordinary, exciting and unusual adventure, this new middle grade offering is fantastic, filled with whimsical illustrations, it pulls you into a different world of puppets and trickery – and villains like Gassbeek and Rotman, where you cheer for the orphans. Whenever Gassbeek and Rotman were around, the hairs on the back of my neck stood up – a warning that something wasn’t right, and I found myself reading late into the night to finish this one – I had to find out if Milou and her friends found their family, and if Milou was right about Bram Poppenmaker. It felt like so many familiar children’s novels and yet at the same time, felt so unique and so fresh that I don’t think there is anything to compare it to, yet it would sit comfortably with books like Nevermoor on a shelf of wondrous tales that have a sense of magical realism about them and that make their world feel so real, I could easily fall in and find myself living there.

A great new middle grade novel!

Wonderscape by Jennifer Bell

wonderscapeTitle: Wonderscape
Author: Jennifer Bell
Genre: Fantasy/Magical Realism
Publisher: Walker Books Australia
Published: 1st June 2020
Format: Paperback
Pages: 352
Price: $14.99
Synopsis: Gaming and time travel collide in this thrilling middle-grade adventure, from bestselling author Jennifer Bell.
When Arthur, Ren and Cecily investigate a mysterious explosion, they find themselves trapped in the year 2473. Lost in the Wonderscape, an epic in-reality adventure game, they must call on the help of some unlikely historical heroes to play their way home before time runs out.
• Jennifer Bell is the much-loved author of the bestselling The Uncommoners series, which has sold over 55,000 copies in the UK.
• Her debut book, The Crooked Sixpence, was Waterstones Children’s Book of the Month, and was described by Guardian as “An unputdownable treasure of a book.”
• Set within an in-reality adventure game, this plays perfectly into the growing popularity of gaming stories. It’s Ready Player One meets The Wizard of Oz.
~*~

Ren, Arthur and Cecily are on their way to school when there’s a mysterious explosion in the street they’re walking along. Soon, they’re drawn into a different world, a different year – 2473. Wonderscape turns out to be an in-reality adventure, where they must race through a game and series of tasks against the clock to return home.

They are helped along their journey by historical figures such as Isaac Newton, Tomoe Gozen and Mary Shelley to defeat Tiburon and Valeria, a brother and sister hell bent on taking advantage of Wonderscape, its inhabitants and its visitors.

Can the three friends defeat these two evil doers and get home before they’re turned into slime? Read Wonderscape and you’ll find out!

Wonderscape is the latest middle grade offering from Jennifer Bell, which offers gamers a book they can relate to and that brings their hobby into literature, but also, is a smashing good adventure for non-gamers. Everything you need to know is revealed where and when you need to know it, the main characters are diverse in many ways – Ren is Japanese, and Cecily is mixed race whilst Arthur is white – and each and each character has a very different backstory and distinct personality that makes them who they are. This enriches the story, and shows the diversity of our world and the future world they stumble into – the heroes and historical figures they meet are from different eras and nations – this adds to the diversity and gives readers a chance to start learning about figures in history they may not know much about – they have the names, they can go and do their own research from their should they be so inclined.

Each change in the plot, each plot twist, is like a game – board game, computer game or strategy game. Each choice unleashes a new obstacle or challenge – similar to Jumanji. Yet it has its own style, and its own decent pace that keeps up with the action and allows the characters to grow and evolve across the story. This makes it engaging for readers and easy to follow.

Every change sees the heroes in a new environment, a new challenge – and they need to use all their skills to navigate their way out of it and home again. This combines magical realism, fantasy, science fiction and gaming to create a story that ma y will enjoy for a myriad of reasons.

Another great offering from Jennifer Bell.

Elementals: Battle Born by Amie Kaufman

Battle BornTitle: Elementals: Battle Born
Author: Amie Kaufman
Genre: Fantasy
Publisher: HarperCollins Australia
Published: 1st June 2020
Format: Paperback
Pages: 320
Price: $17.99
Synopsis: The much-anticipated finale to Amie Kaufman’s epic middle-grade trilogy
Though Anders and his friends have delayed a war between the ice wolves and scorch dragons, their mission isn’t over. With adults on both sides looking for them, they’ve sought refuge in Cloudhaven, a forbidden stronghold created by the first dragonsmiths. The ancient text covering Cloudhaven’s walls could be the key to saving their home – if only the young elementals could decipher it.
To make matters worse, Holbard is in ruins and its citizens are reeling. Many have been forced into bleak camps outside the city, and food is running short.
To rebuild Vallen, Anders, Rayna, and their allies must find a way to unite humans, ice wolves, and scorch dragons before they lose their last chance.
In the final book of international bestselling author Amie Kaufman’s sensational adventure series, Anders and Rayna must put everything on the line – and the price of peace may hit closer to home than they could’ve ever imagined.

~*~

Anders and Rayna – twins with ice wolf and dragon blood, and raised with humans – and their friends have thus far delayed a war between the elementals and humans. But they are all hunted, and seek refuge in Cloudhaven, where they hope they can convince each faction, each side, to prevent a war, and rebuild their home, Vallen after uniting wolves, dragons and humans.

This is their last chance – can it be done?

I was sent this to review by HarperCollins – and was worried I wouldn’t be able to engage without having read the first two, but enough was hinted at and revealed that I could follow the story – but perhaps reading it in order is a better way to do so, and that is something I might go back and do eventually.

What I did read, though, was thoroughly enjoyable for readers – it captures the sense of war and rebellion and diversity – from appearance to hidden characteristics. This shows that diversity comes in all forms – and all of it – what we see, what we don’t, and everything in between – is what makes our worlds – real and imagined – richer and more enjoyable and relatable for a wide variety of readers. It shows that the world is diverse – much more diverse than some literature shows. Anyone can relate to these characters – there are aspects about each character that someone might see themselves in and I think Amie did it very well and set it in a world that is both fantastical and has echoes of what has happened and what is going on in our world today. Themes of racism and discrimination are woven throughout how people treat the wolves and dragons, and how they treat each other. A message like this, especially in these trying times when the world has been turned upside down in so many ways.

 

AWW2020

It is a story about prejudice – what it is, rethinking it and facing it – and forcing change to make a better world for everyone. When the characters in the Elementals series find out what they believed is not true, they must face up to these and change their way of thinking. It is a powerful book and conclusion to the series that can be read by all those who enjoy the series, middle grade fiction and who want a good read as well. It is aimed at ages eight and over, but teenage and adult readers will still fund messages in this book that they can take on board.

The story is engaging and has a good pace – not too fast, and not too slow, allowing the plot and characters to evolve and develop as it heads towards its conclusion. I thought this book was well-written as well. It draws the reader into the story, and as you head along the journey with Anders, Rayna and their friends, you feel the tension, worry and fear, as well as the hope and all the emotions in between. There is a sense that things might not work out, and hints at what has come before that has led to where the characters are now.

Overall, it is a great conclusion to the trilogy, and one that I hope many readers will enjoy.

May 2020 Round Up

In May, we seemed to settle into a lockdown routine, so I got a bit more reading done. This month, I read 20 books – the vast majority of those – seventeen – were by Australian women writers – some for review, some my own reads and one or two that I read alongside Isolation Publicity interviews. Below is a breakdown of my current numbers, and a table with each read and the challenge they worked for. Some categories are easier to fill, as always, and some have multiple entries. I’ve got plenty to read – the books keep coming so I’m trying to keep on top of everything as best I can.

The Modern Mrs Darcy 11/12
AWW2020 -53/25
Book Bingo – 11/12
The Nerd Daily Challenge 45/52
Dymocks Reading Challenge 22/25
Books and Bites Bingo 15/25
STFU Reading Challenge: 10/12
General Goal –89/165

May – 20

Book Author Challenge
The Monstrous Devices Damien Love Reading Challenge, STFU Reading Challenge, AWW2020
An Alice Girl Tanya Heaslip Reading Challenge, AWW2020
Daisy Runs Wild Caz Goodwin and Ashley King Reading Challenge, AWW2020
Peta Lyre’s Rating Normal Anna Whateley Reading Challenge, AWW2020
Her Perilous Mansion Sean Williams Reading Challenge
What Zola did on Monday

 

Melina Marchetta and illustrated by Deb Hudson Reading Challenge, AWW2020, The Nerd Daily Challenge
Henrie’s Hero Hunt (House of Heroes)

 

Petra Hunt Reading Challenge, AWW2020,
The Power of Positive Pranking Nat Amoore Reading Challenge, Dymocks Reading Challenge, AWW2020
Edie’s Experiments: How to Make Friends Charlotte Barkla Reading Challenge, AWW2020
Alice-Miranda at School Jacqueline Harvey Reading Challenge, The Nerd Daily, AWW2020
Alice-Miranda in the Outback Jacqueline Harvey Reading Challenge, AWW2020
The Giant and the Sea Trent Jamieson, Rovina Cai Reading Challenge, Book Bingo, STFU Reading Challenge
Shoestring: The Boy Who Walks on Air by

 

Julie Hunt and Dale Newman Reading Challenge, AWW2020
Orla and the Serpent’s Curse C.J. Halsam Reading Challenge
Elephant Me Giles Andreae and Guy Parker-Rees Reading Challenge, Dymocks Reading Challenge, The Nerd Daily Challenge
A Treacherous Country K.M. Kruimink Reading Challenge, AWW2020
Eloise and the Bucket of Stars Janine Brian Reading Challenge, AWW2020
Snow White and Rose Red: And Other Tales of Kind Young Women  Kate Forsyth and Lorena Carrington Reading Challenge, Dymocks Reading Challenge, AWW2020, Books and Bites Book Bingo
Tashi: 25th Anniversary Edition

 

Anna Fienberg, Barbara Fienberg and Kim Gamble Reading Challenge, AWW2020
On A Barbarous Coast Craig Cormick and Harold Ludwick Reading Challenge, STFU Reading Challenge, Dymocks Reading Challenge

 

In June I am hoping to read more and get further on top of all my reviews – look for more great books by Australians and especially kids and young adult books to come in the next few weeks.

Peta Lyre

Shoestring: The Boy Who Walks on Air by Julie Hunt, Dale Newman

ShoestringTitle: Shoestring: The Boy Who Walks on Air
Author: Julie Hunt, Dale Newman
Genre: Fantasy, Magical Realism
Publisher: Allen and Unwin
Published: 2nd June 2020
Format: Hardcover
Pages: 368
Price: $19.99
Synopsis: A gripping illustrated adventure about a travelling circus troupe, a future-telling macaw and a cursed pair of gloves that Shoestring must conquer once and for all. A companion to the award-winning KidGlovz.
‘Shoestring loved the sudden intake of breath when he stepped onto the rope. The upturned faces of the audience made him think of coins scattered at his feet, more coins than he had ever taken when he was a pickpocket.’

Twelve-year-old Shoestring is leaving behind his life of crime and starting a new career with the Troupe of Marvels. Their lead performer, he has an invisible tightrope and an act to die for. But trouble is brewing – the magical gloves that caused so much turmoil for KidGlovz are back.

When he’s wearing the gloves, the world is at Shoestring’s fingertips. It’s so easy to help himself to whatever he likes – even other people’s hopes and dreams. But when he steals his best friend’s mind, he’s at risk of losing all he values most.

A thrilling, heart-in-the-mouth adventure of ambition, friendship and the threads that bind from the award-winning creators of KidGlovz.

~*~

In a fantastical world, there is a young thief called Shoestring, who lives with the woman who raised him. Until now, he has been a thief for most of his twelve years. When the Troupe of Marvels finds out about his talent – walking on an invisible tightrope. Yet a troublesome pair of gloves that once caused mayhem are back, and taking control of Shoestring, making him steal unthinkable things – not just items, but pieces of people – the troupe sets out to help him and destroy the gloves, and get Shoestring back to the young boy they know.

With Shoestring able to take whatever he wants – even things that someone can’t see, trouble starts to brew as the gloves start to control Shoestring and convince him to do things he’d never think about doing. Things start to go wrong when he sets out to find Metropolis, May’s old parrot who has been kidnapped, and falls into the hands of Marm – this is where the mystery begins and where we find out more about what is behind the stories of Shoestring, Marm, May, Metropolis and the gloves begins and the action picks up as the narrative moves between Metropolis telling the story – these parts are in bold, whilst the rest of the story is told in prose, as a third person perspective tells the story. And evokes a sense of everyone telling their part of the story around the campfire.

AWW2020This technique is coupled with some illustrations with speech bubbles – the same style used in graphic novels, and all the illustrations by Dale Hunt make the world Shoestring and his troupe live in really come to life as you read. It is not one that can be dipped in and out of, nor read in one sitting. This is one of those books that must be savoured and enjoyed. It is one that needs to be savoured – that needs to be read over time, and where every page has a new clue as to what might happen but is also filled with twists and turns as Shoestring fights with the gloves and the control they have over him.

Magical, transient gloves that have a mind of their own is a worrying, curious and troublesome – what do these gloves want, and why are they targeting Shoestring and the troupe. It weaves the history of the characters and the world they inhabit throughout the narrative seamlessly, telling an evocative story of ambition and friendship, and the lengths people will go to so they can help those they care about. And how will they help Shoestring fix things? This is a story of loyalty and friendship, and family – and the sacrifices we make to help those we love and care about. It is a lovely book – one that will be loved by all readers over the age of eight and will enthral and enchant readers as they enter this fantastical world and have them on the edge of their seats as they go on the journey with Shoestring and the rest of the troupe.

It does refer back to a previous book by the same author and illustrator team, but enough information is given that they can be read separately, but also, together. It is a beautiful story, and one that will be loved and treasured.

On A Barbarous Coast by Craig Cormick and Harold Ludwick

barbarous coastTitle: On A Barbarous Coast
Author: Craig Cormick and Harold Ludwick
Genre: Speculative Historical Fiction
Publisher: Allen and Unwin
Published: 2nd June 2020
Format: Paperback
Pages: 320
Price: $29.99
Synopsis: On a Barbarous Coast is an alternative retelling of Captain James Cook’s story co-written by Craig Cormick and Harold Ludwick in the tradition of imagined histories.
We were becoming the wild things we most feared, but could not see it at the time.

On a night of raging winds and rain, Captain Cook’s Endeavour lies splintered on a coral reef off the coast of far north Australia. A small disparate band of survivors, fracturing already, huddle on the shore of this strange land – their pitiful salvage scant protection from the dangers of the unknown creatures and natives that live here.

Watching these mysterious white beings, the Guugu Yimidhirr people cannot decide if they are ancestor spirits to be welcomed – or hostile spirits to be speared. One headstrong young boy, Garrgiil, determines to do more than watch and to be the one to find out what exactly they are.

Fierce, intriguing and thoughtful, On a Barbarous Coast is the story of a past and future that might have been.

‘Australia’s “origin” story brilliantly re-imagined, in which Indigenous Australians rightfully assume their central place.’ Susan Johnson, author of The Broken Book

~*~

We all know the story of Captain Cook and the Endeavour, and from there, the story of the First Fleet and colonisation. We know it mostly from the perspective of those who were in power and recorded their version of events at the time – the official record. What we don’t know is how the people whose names and voices often ignored or not heard saw these events and interacted with those in power and with each other. What would have happened to our historical record if these voices had been given a chance to share their stories? Alternatively, what if Captain Cook’s story had a different ending?

This is what Craig Cormick – a non-Indigenous author, and his co-author, Harold Ludwick – an Indigenous author (Guugu Yimidhirr and Kuku Yalanji descent) have posited in their book, On A Barbarous Coast. Using historical figures and records, and oral stories, the story takes a different tack – where the Endeavour is shipwrecked, Captain Cook injured and the survivors splinter into two groups – the armed marines, and the unarmed botanist – Joseph Banks, and several other crew members. Craig tells the white man’s story through the eyes of Magra, and the struggle to survive – the fear of the unknown, and the feeling of not knowing what to do or expect from anyone – except those in his group. He’s even scared of Judge and the other marines and hopes to try and communicate to the Indigenous people these fears.

Harold tells the Indigenous perspective through the eyes of a young boy named Garrgiil, who spies on these white strangers and reports back to his clan and family. They are just as cautious of interacting as the book moves along, and both groups are curious. Yet there are layers of what one group understands as right and wrong in their contexts. This is shown through alternating chapters. Each character is given a unique voice, and authentically shows their different understandings of the world – for Garrgiil, it’s the sacred land that the newcomers are sheltered on. For Magra and his fellow crewmates, they are just glad to be on dry land, and are not sure who they will encounter or where – or indeed how.

Much of the novel revolves around their observations of each other and quest to survive and maintain the way they live. For Magra and his group, it is the hope that someone will find them and be able to take them home. What happened in the years following 1770 and 1788 could have been very different if the newcomers and the Indigenous people had been able to work together and find a way to live together peacefully – which is what this novel posits. It is an interesting thing to consider – how different might Australia as we know it have been if everyone was given the chance to contribute to how the country was run and formed, and how developments and changes might have happened differently. What would have changed and how, isn’t expanded on in this novel beyond the integration of those from the Endeavour and Garrgiil’s people – that is left up to the imagination and what we know of history. This what if type novel explores themes of history and integration and looks at how things could have been very different if attempts at communication had been made and attempts to understand each other and the first people here were made. We cannot go back and change the past – we can only change how we interact and understand each other going forward, and part of doing this is to learn about the stories that are not often heard and that were often ignored or left out of the history books used for many years in education. What this book offers is a different way of looking at our history and understanding of how our nation was formed.

In collaborating and finding two very unique and distinct voices that both stood out as individual people but also melded together to create an engaging story, Cormick and Ludwick have looked at the stories and records from both sides – oral and written, to bring this speculative historical fiction to life that explores first contact, misunderstandings and differing world views that illustrate how each character sees the world and where they realise they might be wrong – or might just need to work together towards an understanding of each other, even though each will always be different in some ways.

This was a unique story, told in a unique and collaborative way that made me wonder if our historical record would be richer if we had always had that collaboration, and if we did, and it was hidden, whether it would have made a difference to how we understand and relate to the history of Australia as we know it.

Eloise and the Bucket of Stars by Janeen Brian

eloise and the bucket of starsTitle: Eloise and the Bucket of Stars

Author: Janeen Brian

Genre: Historical Fiction, Magical Realism

Publisher: Walker Books Australia

Published: 1st June 2020

Format: Paperback

Pages: 240

Price: $16.99

Synopsis: Left in a pail at an orphanage as a baby, only something magical can save Eloise from a miserable life and give her the one she’s always dreamed of.

Orphaned as a baby, Eloise Pail yearns for a family. Instead, she lives a lonely life trapped in an orphanage and made miserable by the cruel Sister Hortense. Befriended by the village blacksmith, Eloise soon uncovers some strange secrets of yesteryear and learns that something terrible may be about to happen to the village. As troubles and dangers mount, she must learn who to trust and choose between saving the village or belonging to a family of her own. Unless something truly magical happens…

  • A powerful tale of how magic weaves its way into the real world.
  • Explores themes of belonging, what it takes to be a friend and what constitutes a family.

~*~

Eloise has spent her whole life in an orphanage run by the cruel Sister Hortense. Sisters Genevieve and Bernard, Sister Genevieve in particular, try to help Eloise, and make things a little more bearable for her. Eloise has never been adopted – trapped in a cruel place that doesn’t value her. Her only place of solace and friendship with the local blacksmith, and his horse, Dancy. Her lessons with Sister Genevieve are cut shortly after Janie Pritchard, a newly orphaned girl arrives. At first, Eloise wants nothing to do with her, but the two soon become friends, and start to unravel the mystery of the poisoned water, and the unicorn stories that Sister Genevieve has told them.

Eloise wants a family more than anything – but Sister Hortense has a secret that has prevented this from happening and will do anything to punish and break Eloise, making her watch the Littlies get adopted and leave the orphanage with new families, and punishing her when she starts to look happy. But with a curse threatening the village, and whispers about men wanting to hunt the unicorn for their own gain. What will Eloise sacrifice to save the unicorn and her village?

Eloise and the Bucket of stars is a charming, delightful and magical story – set in an orphanage during Victorian times, it shows the hardships faced by orphans, and the treatment they received in places like the orphanage Eloise lived in. It also shows how harmful beliefs can be when taken to the extreme and the lengths people like Sister Hortense will go to protect dark secrets – even from those they work with, just to make sure they’re not outed as what drives her to punish Eloise.

AWW2020At its core, this is a story about friendship, being yourself and family – and what makes a family. How does someone like Eloise find a family, and find love, when every time she finds herself in a place where she is happy, it is taken away from her. The world is shown through Eloise’s eyes – and you truly feel for her. Eloise drives this story, and it is slow and lyrical on purpose – we’re meant to feel the drudgery and frustrations of Eloise’s daily life, and her feelings of hopelessness. It is gentle yet when action is required, it happens when and where it needs to.

Family and friendship are strong themes here, where the characters let their individuality, and bonds of friendship shine through the uniformity that Sister Hortense forces upon them. Sully, the cook, is one of Eloise’s friends. Everyone can see how Sister Hortense treats Eloise – but what will make her realise she needs to stop?

This tender story is about finding family and following your heart, and never giving up on your beliefs or compromising for anyone. Staying true to yourself and your dreams is a message at the core of this novel, and it moves gently and eloquently through towards this goal. It is one of those novels that demands time be spent with it to take everything in and let it sink in properly, following Eloise on her journey – the physical journey to get water every day and her own inner journey to finding family and friendship. It is Janie who sparks this journey and what will happen in the second half of the novel, and Janeen has created a beautiful story that will be beloved by many for years to come.

I loved this book – it evoked the same sense of wonder that The Secret Garden did all those years ago, with an orphaned child discovering magic beyond what she could ever imagine in a mundane world that didn’t appreciate her at first. Orphans are common in children’s literature and dealing with them in gentle ways, and each story is of course different, and this one had a sense of magic and wonder about it that many don’t, which is what made it so special and why I really enjoyed it, and hope that younger readers do as well.

Her Perilous Mansion by Sean Williams

her perilous mansionTitle: Her Perilous Mansion

Author: Sean Williams

Genre: Fantasy/Magical Realism

Publisher: Allen and Unwin

Published: 28th April 2020

Format: Paperback

Pages: 336

Price: $16.99

Synopsis: Perfectly pitched standalone middle grade fantasy – exciting, intriguing and thoroughly satisfying.

In a strange mansion miles from anywhere, an orphan named Almanac and a twelfth daughter named Etta find themselves working – and bickering – side by side in the largely deserted rooms. But soon they realise that the house and its inhabitants are not quite what they seem, and there’s more at stake than just their jobs. Can they solve the puzzle of Her Perilous Mansion before it’s too late?

Almanac is an orphaned boy who can’t forget; Etta is the youngest of twelve unwanted daughters. Invited to work at a mysterious mansion mile from anywhere, they discover the inhabitants are a little…odd. Lady Simone never gets out of bed. Lord Nigel is always locked in his office, and Olive lives in a hidden boiler room and communicates only by code. Etta and Almanac soon realise that the mansion and its residents have secrets they are reluctant to give up, and there’s more at stake than just their jobs. In a world where the line between magic and the written word is often dangerous, can they solve the puzzle of Her Perilous Mansion before its too late?

~*~

Imagine being drawn and mysteriously invited to a mansion in the middle of nowhere. This is the fate that awaits Etta and Almanac. Etta is the youngest of twelve unwanted daughters, and Almanac is an orphan. When they arrive, each sees a different name on the plaque out the front – and here is where their bickering begins. Yet once in, they both receive mysterious messages from those they are meant to serve – yet nobody is around. Etta and Almanac stumble across a mysterious spell linked to the house and those who dwell in the house.

When they realise where they are and those they connect with are not quite what they seem, Etta and Almanac are thrust on a journey to solve a puzzle, and free those who seem to be trapped there.

Wow. This is a fantastic read. It is filled with mystery, magic, fantasy, ghosts, all in what feels like a very Victorian England setting – filled with playful characters, a fairy tale-esque feel of an orphan needing to break a spell. One might say Almanac is the diamond in the rough much like Aladdin was. Chosen, so to speak, or at least destined, to uncover the puzzle of the mansion.

Hints at this puzzle are dropped on every page cleverly, like a cipher, almost. What is it about this house that has everyone trapped in specific places, why do Almanac and Etta never see anyone else, and who is behind these mysterious notes that tell them what they should be doing? Yet there are things that those Etta and Almanac know are there cannot say, cannot warn them about. The spell needs to be broken; they need to find the sorcerer who cast it. And this forms part of the puzzle and mystery. This puzzle is imbued and present on every page, filling the story with just the right amount of intrigue. Sean Williams knows when to deliver information and when to hold back, leaving gaps for the reader to try and solve the puzzle, or look at how it might work.

Each page is thrilling, and filled to the brim with worry, friendship and a desire to solve an ongoing mystery that nobody before them has managed to. It is a delightfully exciting adventure, filled with mystery and magic that weaves in and out of every sentence, and pulls the reader into its wide web of power. Truly one of the most intriguing aspects of the mansion is just who the owner is and who the her is –  it is a fantastic middle grade book that combines fantasy and magical realism to create a world that is equally mysterious and fantastical, far enough away for it to be within a fairy tale world, but at the same time, feels as though it could really exist in a Victorian England setting.

Middle grade readers who enjoy fantasy will love this book, and  be swept up by its magic and fun as they go on a perilous adventure to u cover secrets that have been buried for decades.

Books and Bites Bingo Progress Report One – First Bingo

I should be doing this for each bingo line I hit – with the regular book bingo, it is being included in the relevant post. For this one with Monique, I am trying to update as I complete a line.

books and bites game card

 

My first BINGO of the sheet is the top lime – which I actually completed last month but have only just managed to find time to write this brief post. This was possibly the easiest line – some squares I am still finding books, or waiting for a release, or am, not sure what I will use. Luckily, these are fairly broad categories and I can go with anything for many of them, so when I find something that fits, that is what I will use. This is my overall challenge strategy and I am finding it less stressful as it allows me to read what I have and if it fits, that’s a good thing.

This was a challenge I signed up for later than the others, but am having fun with it nonetheless. Of the books I used in this challenge, I loved them all and there were so many others that could have worked here. I admit to stretching the travel memoir category – using a fictional book with travel that felt like it could be a travel memoir – I expand on this more in the post, however.

I look forward to filling the rest of the squares and reporting on them in the coming months.

Books and Bites Bingo
Set in Europe:Josephine’s Garden by Stephanie Parkyn

Debut Novel: The Soldier’s Curse by Meg and Tom Keneally (Monsarrat Series Book One)

Travel Memoir: The Strangeworlds Travel Agency by L.D. Lapinski

Published More than 100 Years Ago: The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett
Written in the First Person: Pippa’s Island: Puppy Pandemonium by Belinda Murrell

April 2020 Round Up

In April, we found ourselves amidst a pandemic – and I found myself with an influx of review books, some quite long, and some not so long. As I usually do, I aim to read ahead in my review stack, to get things cleared, and posted or scheduled to save time. I’m still a bit behind, reading some books that should be on this list on the day of writing and posting. However, this is the case due to the fact that the books may have arrived after or a day before publication date due to the current overload of deliveries due to the COVID-19 crisis we’re facing.

I’ve also been doing an Isolation Publicity series with Australian authors – which by the looks of things will take me into mid – late August at this stage, a month short of the planned lockdown. Some of these interviews are really exciting and make me wish I could share them now, but the schedule means everyone gets a special day for their interview. Many authors have had launches cancelled, festivals and appearance cancelled or moved online – which has meant a loss of income and has been detrimental to the arts sector. These authors need the love and publicity the book blogging community can give them so their work can get into the hands of readers.

I read 19 books this month, and all except The Austen Girls and The Unadoptables have a live review at this stage. The Austen Girls will be appearing around the 19th of May with several other reviews and posts. The latter is appearing in June. I also ticked off a few challenge categories – not as many as I had hoped, however, I am getting there and should hopefully have filled them all in by the end of the year.

April – 19

Book Author Challenge
The Deceptions Suzanne Leal AWW2020, Reading Challenge
Puppy Diary: The Great Toy Rescue Yvette Poshoglian AWW2020, Reading Challenge, Dymocks Reading Challenge
The Octopus and I Erin Hortle AWW2020, Reading Challenge
Friday Barnes: Big Trouble R.A. Spratt AWW2020, Reading Challenge, The Modern Mrs Darcy
The Strangeworlds Travel Agency

 

L.D. Lapinski Reading Challenge, Books and Bites Bingo
Inheritance of Secrets Sonya Bates Reading Challenge, AWW2020
Secrets of a Schoolyard Millionaire Nat Amoore Reading Challenge, AWW2020
Jane in Love Rachel Givney Reading Challenge, AWW2020, Dymocks Reading Challenge, The Nerd Daily
Persuasion Jane Austen Reading Challenge, Books and Bites Bingo
The Austen Girls Lucy Worsley Reading Challenge
The Unadoptables Hana Tooke Reading Challenge
Friday Barnes: No Rules R.A. Spratt Reading Challenge, AWW2020
Anzac Girl: The War Diaries of Alice Ross-King Kate Simpson and Hess Racklyeft Reading Challenge, AWW2020
Sherlock Bones and the Natural History Mystery Renée Treml Reading Challenge, AWW2020, The Modern Mrs Darcy (Nominated for the 2020 Readings Children’s Prize)
Shortlisted Readings Children’s Book Prize 2020 AU; Shortlisted Speech Pathology Award, Eight to Ten Years 2019 AU 
Nim’s Island Wendy Orr AWW2020, Reading Challenge, STFU Reading Challenge
Ribbit Rabbit Robot Victoria MacKinlay and Sofya Karmazina AWW2020, Reading Challenge
Nim at Sea Wendy Orr AWW2020, Reading Challenge
Rescue on Nim’s Island Wendy Orr AWW2020, Reading Challenge
The Complete Adventures on Nim’s Island Wendy Orr AWW2020, Reading Challenge, STFU Reading Challenge