Frostblood by Elly Blake

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Title: Frostblood

Author: Elly Blake

Genre: Fantasy

Publisher: Hodder and Stoughton

Published: 10th January 2017

Format: paperback

Pages: 376

Price: $19.99

Synopsis: The first in a page-turning young adult series in a world where flame and ice are mortal enemies.

In a land governed by the cruel Frostblood ruling class, seventeen-year-old Ruby is a Fireblood who has spent most of her life hiding her ability to manipulate heat and light – until the day the soldiers come to raid her village and kill her mother. Ruby vows revenge on the tyrannous Frost King responsible for the massacre of her people.

But Ruby’s powers are unpredictable…and so are the feelings she has for Arcus, the scarred, mysterious Frostblood warrior who shares her goal to kill the Frost King, albeit for his own reasons. When Ruby is captured by the Frost King’s men, she’s taken right into the heart of the enemy. Now she only has one chance to destroy the maniacal ruler who took everything from her – and in doing so, she must unleash the powers she’s spent her whole life withholding.

FROSTBLOOD is set in world where flame and ice are mortal enemies – but together create a power that could change everything.

~*~
Ruby’s life is one of peace and quiet, but also fear. She must hide her Fireblood talent from the world because of a ruthless King, determined to continue the war that the country has been in, and who is also determined to enforce Frostblood rule over everyone. After her unpredictable powers lead to betrayal, death and imprisonment, Ruby must train to destroy the ruler everyone fears, whilst learning to control her powers. She is rescued by an order of monks and a young man, Arcus, who hides secrets as well – secrets that cannot be revealed, much like the plan the monks have devised to destroy the Frost King, King Rasmus, with the Ruby’s help. Yet there is a darkness that Ruby must fight to gain control of, and with the help of the monks, Arcus, Marella and a few other unlikely Frostblood allies, she is destined, to overcome this darkness.

Ruby’s character overcomes several obstacles on her journey that make her into a flawed and believable character, one who has the potential for good or evil, depending on the perspective of the people she is with. Her reasons for revenge against the Frost King differ to those of Arcus, however, they will find that if they combine these reasons, they will be stronger together, and be able to fight together effectively.

Elly Blake’s debut novel introduces the reader to a world where fire and ice are enemies, where prejudice is built into a class system where abilities that haven’t been asked for are either valued, or hunted down and feared. In a way this mirrors our own world, where certain characteristics and features that people have no control over are valued more than others, or denigrated in the favour of others – whether consciously or subconsciously. In Ruby’s world – Tempesia – these prejudices are ingrained and conscious – for many characters, they fear the repercussions of speaking out, or not going against the ruling class – perhaps another real world parallel that can be found in history. Old stories and rumours are used to justify actions in Blake’s world – and she has effectively shown the spectrum of the prejudice, and how people can learn to trust those whom they’ve been taught to hate, and how hate can only take a person so far – that loyalty and friendship is stronger.

I only wished we found out more about Marella, another intriguing character with shades of grey. A member of the Frostblood court, befriending a Fireblood at great risk to her life, yet still withholding some information can make for an interesting character when done right – and the set up by Elly Blake seems to have started something with great potential.

I enjoyed this debut novel and introduction to a new series – I hope that book two is not far behind, and that the adventures of Ruby and Arcus continue. In a world ruled by frost, can frost and fire ever work together? We shall have to see what the following books have in store.

A great read for fantasy lovers and readers of YA fiction. A novel with a touch of Frozen magic about it, yet a little more complex, Frostblood will hopefully become a much loved series to sit alongside Narnia and Harry Potter.

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The Fifth Avenue Artists Society

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Title: The Fifth Avenue Artists Society
Author: Joy Callaway
Genre: Fiction/Popular Fiction
Publisher: Allen and Unwin
Published: 23rd November 2016
Format: Paperback
Pages: 358
Price: $29.99
Synopsis: Devastated after being jilted by the boy next door, Ginny Loftin turns to writing in an attempt to rewrite their story with a better ending. But it is among the painters, musicians, actors and other writers she meets at a Fifth Avenue salon that she finds new purpose and a second chance at love. A richly told historical novel of family loyalties, loss and artistic desires.
‘The creative sisterhood of Little Women, the social scandal of Edith Wharton and the courtship mishaps of Jane Austen . . . The Fifth Avenue Artists Society is a delightful, and at times touching, tale of Gilded Age society and creative ambition with an inspiring heroine.’ New York Daily News

The Bronx, 1891. Virginia Loftin, the boldest of four artistic sisters in a family living in genteel poverty, knows what she wants most: to become a celebrated novelist despite her gender, and to marry Charlie, the boy next door and her first love.

When Charlie instead proposes to a woman from a wealthy family, Ginny is devastated; shutting out her family, she holes up in her room and turns their story into fiction, obsessively rewriting a better ending. Though she works with newfound intensity, literary success eludes her-until she attends an elite salon hosted at her brother’s friend John Hopper’s Fifth Avenue mansion. Among painters, musicians, actors, and writers, Ginny returns to herself, even blooming under the handsome, enigmatic John’s increasingly romantic attentions.

But just as she and her siblings have become swept up in the society, Charlie throws himself back into her path, and Ginny learns that the salon’s bright lights may be obscuring some dark shadows. Torn between two worlds that aren’t quite as she’d imagined them, Ginny will realise how high the stakes are for her family, her writing, and her chance at love.

~*~

A story that has romance within its pages, yet it is the kind that doesn’t take over everything else in the story that the characters experience and go through, and nor does it turn Ginny, the main character, into less than she is at the beginning of the novel. Virginia Loftin comes from a family of artistic ambition. Sister Bessie is a milliner, her twin brother Franklin is a painter, her younger sister Alevia is a musician, and Virginia is a writer. Only her oldest sister Mae isn’t an artist, taking to teaching orphans instead, yet supportive of the pursuits of her siblings. The years since her father’s death have been hard on Virginia’s family, all doing whatever they can with their creativity to bring in the money. Virginia’s best friend Charlie is an artist too, and together, they have grown up, sharing their love of art, painting and the written word. And an undying loyalty to each other that rarely wavers, and Virginia is sure that they will marry – until Charlie proposes to another woman.

As an aspiring writer, Virginia has faced sexism from other artists and writing groups because of her gender – because of how the society she was a part of at the time viewed the genders and what they were supposedly capable of. Virginia and her family, and Charlie, know that she is capable of anything. But Virginia still must find a way to prove herself, and it is The Fifth Avenue Artists Society that she attends where she uncovers a way to unlock her talent and to meet like-minded men and women. It all seems too good to be true, and perhaps it is: because nothing ever happens so easily.

Escaping as most writers do into her words, Virginia joins a society of artists – The Fifth Avenue Artists Society in New York, where she meets several characters who will change her life and the course of the lives of her family over the course of the novel. A courtship with fellow society member, John Hopper, encourages Virginia to share her writing, and to aim for publication of her work that is inspired by her feelings and the people around her. As she works on her novel, a shadow of mystery about Franklin’s new job begins to emerge, and it is not long before a series of tragic events unravel and reveal secrets that threaten to bring shame upon the family and alienate them from the upper class society that they are a part of.

A story that is based on the family history of the author, which gives the characters a depth and authenticity that makes one feel as though they are in late nineteenth century New York less than thirty years after the end of the American Civil War, where the war is briefly mentioned a few times to set the scene and the background to the families, The Fifth Avenue Artists Society celebrates the value of art to the individual, and society. It explores what society expected of men and women at the time, and what was accepted, but also shows a woman who, though she sees the value in the conventional, does not always ascribe to the roles society deems right. She is an intriguing character who ends up following her heart for love and for her goals of publication. An intriguing read that brings society life to light and shows how attitudes have changed in many ways.

The Eye of the Reindeer by Eva Weaver

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Title: The Eye of the Reindeer

Author: Eva Weaver

Genre: Fiction

Publisher: W&N/Hachette Australia

Published: 8/11/2016

Format: Paperback

Pages: 320

Price: $32.99/$16.99 for the eBook

Synopsis: Shortly after her sixteenth birthday, Ritva is sent away to Seili, an island to the south of Finland. A former leper colony, Seili is now home to ‘hopeless cases’ – to women the doctors call mad. But Ritva knows she doesn’t belong there. As biting winter follows biting winter, she longs to be near to her sister, and wonders why her father ever allowed her to be taken to this desolate place.

Hope arrives in the form of Martta, a headstrong girl who becomes Ritva’s only friend. Martta is a Sami, from the north. All through her childhood, Ritva’s mother told her wonderful Sami legends and tales – of Vaja the reindeer, the stolen sealskin, of a sacred drum hidden long ago. When Ritva and Martta decide to make their escape, this is where they will head.

So begins an odyssey over frozen sea and land towards a place where healing and forgiveness can grow. This is a story about friendship, about seeing the world through a different perspective, and the stories and tales that can make up a life.

~*~

Ritva’s journey of isolation and finding a way home, and to a place where she can be happy and find her place in the world begins when she is sent away to Seili in the far north of Finland. Once a leper’s colony, it is now a home to women whom the doctors deem mad, and whom they claim that cannot help anymore. Here, Ritva becomes isolated, knowing she doesn’t belong at Seili, but with no way out. Until she befriends Marta, a Sami woman, with whom she hatches a plan for escape from the nurses, Matron and Petta, the man who escorts the women over to Seili, and expects many things from them that they are not always willing to give.

As time passes, Martta and Ritva escape, and spend months and years trying to outrun Petta as he hunts for them, finally crossing over into Sweden and the Sami lands of Finland and Norway in search of a place of their own with the Sami people. As they journey on, they collect a young boy, a wolf and confront unknown feelings that surface, and question these feelings for each other. Weaver has dealt with these issues respectfully within the context of the setting of the novel and for the contemporary reader, illuminating the prejudices that women like Martta and Ritva faced, and the prejudices faced by the Sami, an indigenous group of northern Finland and Europe.

Throughout the novel, the stories of the Sami are referred to, through Martta and Ritva’s recollections of her mother, and the revelations that come out during Ritva and Martta’s escape from Seili and later on in the novel, resulting in a conclusion to the story that is shocking and at the same time, a relief because it allows the story to complete the themes it has explored and bring the people who Ritva has loved for so long back together.

The Eye of the Reindeer weaves the themes of love, family and betrayal together in many ways, through family, friends and the people that the characters choose to spend their lives with. It allows for a variety of themes and issues to be explored. It is a fascinating read, and allows voices of a silenced group to be heard.

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Miles Off Course by Sulari Gentill

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Book Title: Miles Off Course (Rowland Sinclair, #3)

Author: Sulari Gentill

Publisher: Pantera Press

Genre: Crime, Historical Fiction

Release Date: February 1st, 2012

Book Synopsis: In early 1933, Rowland Sinclair and his companions are ensconced in the superlative luxury of The Hydro Majestic – Medlow Bath, where trouble seems distant indeed.

And then Harry Simpson vanishes.

Croquet and pre-dinner cocktails are abandoned for the High Country where Rowland hunts for Simpson with a determination that is as mysterious as the disappearance itself. Stockmen, gangsters and a belligerent writer all gather to the fray, as the investigation becomes embroiled with a much darker conspiracy.

Murder, Treason, Trespass, Kidnapping, Betrayal…

Again, Rowland Sinclair finds himself in the middle of it all.

~*~

We again find our beloved hero, Rowland Sinclair, and his trio of friends, Clyde, Milt and Edna, in a peaceful interlude between mysteries that engulf them and endanger their lives. They are taking a much deserved time-out at the Hydro Majestic following the events of A Decline in Prophets for Edna to recuperate and to try and stay away from politics, but a missing stockman in the High Country property Rowland and his family own, a break-in at Woodlands Estate and murderous Communists and Fascists make sure this quiet retreat is disturbed. Wilfred, Rowland’s older brother, sends him to the High Country and their property to search for Harry Simpson, the missing stockman. Here, Rowly and his crew are met by author, Sarah Brent, the former governess to Wilfred and Aubrey, and belligerent stockman, unwilling to help and even more suspicious of Rowly and his friends as time goes by. Rowland is led to believe that Harry Simpson has up and left, and there is no point in looking for him by the lead stockman left in his place, Moran. It is Moran’s attitude that is perhaps a driving factor in Rowland’s determination to find Harry and discover what his supposed stockmen are up to whilst he lives in Sydney.

The characters feel alive as they tumble over the pages and I loved the cameos of historical figures such as Norman Lindsay. It made the book feel genuine and the setting even more so, because it brings the reader into a real time and place, peppered with real and fictional characters, and their interactions make it all the more interesting.

Wilfred and Rowland’s relationship took quite a turn towards the end of this book – perhaps for the better I hope, but I will have to read the rest of the books to see how it pans out, if the realisation of Rowly’s true allegiance is recognised by Wilfred, even if he does continually disagree with the life Rowland leads in Sydney.