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.

Wolf Children by Paul Dowsell

wolf childrenTitle: Wolf Children

Author: Paul Dowsell

Genre: Historical Fiction

Publisher: Bloomsbury

Published: 1st November 2017

Format: Paperback

Pages: 288

Price: $14.99

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

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

~*~

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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The Red Ribbon by Lucy Adlington

the red ribbonTitle: The Red Ribbon

Author: Lucy Addlington

Genre: Historical Fiction/Young Adult

Publisher: Bonnier/Hotkey/Allen and Unwin

Published: 25th October 2017

Format: Paperback

Pages: 320

Price: $19.99

Synopsis: Rose, Ella, Marta and Carla. In another life we might all have been friends together. This was Birchwood. For readers of The Diary of Anne Frank and The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas.

As fourteen-year-old Ella begins her first day at work she steps into a world of silks, seams, scissors, pins, hems and trimmings. She is a dressmaker, but this is no ordinary sewing workshop. Hers are no ordinary clients. Ella has joined the seamstresses of Auschwitz-Birkenau, as readers may recognise it. Every dress she makes could mean the difference between life and death. And this place is all about survival.

Ella seeks refuge from this reality, and from haunting memories, in her work and in the world of fashion and fabrics. She is faced with painful decisions about how far she is prepared to go to survive. Is her love of clothes and creativity nothing more than collaboration with her captors, or is it a means of staying alive? Will she fight for herself alone, or will she trust the importance of an ever-deepening friendship with Rose? One thing weaves through the colours of couture gowns and camp mud – a red ribbon, given to Ella as a symbol of hope.

~*~

Set during the final months and years of the Second World War, Ella has been whisked away off the streets to the horrors of Auschwitz-Birkenau, known in the novel as Birchwood. Here, she is set to working, making clothes for the guards and the Commandant and his family. Here, she learns to make patterns, to choose the right colours for people, and together with Rose, the storyteller, whose fairy-tale optimism keeps the girls going during the darkest of days, dreams of the dress shop they will own one day in the City of Lights – Paris. Ella’s way of describing her world Them, Guards – Nazis, and Stripeys – those in the concentration camp – is both innocent and sobering. It is a child’s view of this world she now inhabits, a world where she is not immune to the brutality surrounding her. It is Ella’s perspective that gives the novel the powerful impact it needs to have, to remind us of what has happened in the past, and to prevent the same thing happening again.

To escape the horrors of the camp, Ella finds her solace in sewing and designing clothes, a skill that she knows she will use when she gets out – but in a place where it seems nobody will ever leave, she begins to wonder if she will ever achieve her dream, or if it’s just a way to comfort herself through the long, dark days. It is not a comfortable novel to read, and nor should it be. Any novel that delves into the darker depths of human history and humanity should not be a comfortable or easy read. What this novel shows is that we should never forget, but also that the human spirit’s capacity to push on through adversity and survive, even when we think we can’t go on.

The Red Ribbon is one of those novels that stays with you and haunts you. It is not one to shy away from the gritty reality that Ella lives in. Instead, the gritty reality is shown, and the horrors communicated through Ella’s eyes as she fights to stay alive and then fights to find freedom. It is a novel to be read alongside the history books, The Diary of Anne Frank, The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas and stories of resistance against the regime, as portrayed in The Beast’s Garden by Kate Forsyth, Reading these books together will give a more human view of the Holocaust than we get from history books – a human face put to those affected, to those caught up in what was going and to those actively trying to resist. Lucy has captured the history and experiences eloquently, and sensitively, ensuring that the careful research she did has been communicated in an effective and informative way to readers, and giving them a chance to explore the history behind the story in her notes at the end of the novel. it is one that I hope to read again at some stage, because it is important that we keep reading these stories to never forget, and to prevent it happening again during our own lifetimes.

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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 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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The Book of Secrets: The Ateban Cipher by A.L. Tait

atebanTitle: The Book of Secrets: The Ateban Cipher (Book One)

Author: A.L. Tait

Genre: Children’s, Fantasy,

Publisher: Lothian Children’s Books

Published: 12th September 2017

Format: Paperback

Pages: 250

Price: $14.99

Synopsis: What’s the secret of the book, and why is it so valuable? These are the questions Gabe must answer when a dying man hands him a coded manuscript with one instruction: take it to Aidan. Gabe is hurled into a quest that takes him beyond his monastery home and into a world of danger, political intrigue and adventure.

As he seeks to decipher the code and find a mystery man who may not even exist, Gabe learns that survival must be earned and that some of life’s biggest lessons are not found in books.

Gabe finds himself questioning everything he knows about right and wrong and wondering if he’ll ever find a way back home. He also discovers that the biggest secret of all may be his own.

~*~

aww2017-badgeRaised in an abbey with religious brothers, Gabe was a foundling on the steps of the abbey fourteen years ago, with no clue as to who his true family is. Trained in the various areas of the abbey, Gabe’s favourite place is the Librarium, where he finds comfort in reading and words, and where a special book has been hidden by Brother Benedict, and that the Prior and other people in the land are desperate to get their hands on. Forced to flee with the book and the help of Brother Malachy, Gabe finds himself stranded in the forest, not knowing how to survive. Here, he runs into a gang of what he thinks are robbers or highwaymen, but turn out to be girls: two sisters, Merry and Gwyn, searching for a way to save their father, jailed by Lord Sherborne for a crime he didn’t commit, their cousin, Scarlett, running from a forced marriage to someone older than her father, and their friend, little Midge, who has nowhere else to go. Together, they agree to help Gabe, with Merry taking to him faster than Gwyn and Scarlett, but he fascinates all the girls, and they embark on a journey to help him find the Aidan he’s been asked to deliver the book pressed in his hands at the start of the novel to.

Things get complicated when they enter the town on the day the jails are open for visitors and for the upcoming Tournament. From here, they must decide how to proceed, and how they are going to keep the book from falling into the wrong hands either at the Tournament or the Abbey, and it is here that their friendship is cemented. At the heart of the book is the formation of the friendship and bond between Gabe and the girls as they discover that perhaps their individual quests intertwine in some ways, and the lessons learnt about working together are presented in a fun and exciting way for younger readers. A.L. Tait has created a story and characters that are enthralling, exciting and individual, and I adored reading it, and am keen for the next book to find out what happens to Gwyn, Merry, Gabe and the others on their journey to prevent whatever evil Sherborne and the Prior are planning.

I found the characters to be realistic – they all showed weaknesses and strengths, and all bad flaws that they didn’t like to admit to. This makes them relatable characters to child readers and showing the girls as confident and able gives readers role models to look up to and to show them that they can have a go at what they set their mind to, and not to be afraid.

Set in a fantasy town with a medieval feel to it, The Book of Secrets is a fast paced story, where girls are the heroes alongside the boy, who is learning how to live off the land and away from the comforts of the only home he has ever known. Together, they are strong, and individually, each character has their own strengths and weaknesses, making them well rounded characters that will hopefully develop nicely over the rest of the series. The Ateban Cipher is a book that shows that girls can do anything, and is a great adventure for boys and girls aged eight and older from the best-selling author of the Map-Maker Chronicles.