June 2020 Wrap Up

 

The Modern Mrs Darcy 11/12

AWW2020 – 67/25

Book Bingo – 12/12

The Nerd Daily Challenge 45/52

Dymocks Reading Challenge 23/25

Books and Bites Bingo 15/25

STFU Reading Challenge: 9/12

General Goal –110/165

 

In June, I managed to read eighteen books in total, fourteen by Australian authors, and all but one of those were Australian women authors. Fifteen of the eighteen were by women authors from Australia and the United Kingdom, and my reading crossed all kinds of genres and audiences this month as I work towards my yearly reading goals.

Towards the end of the month, I participated in an Emma versus Pride and Prejudice read-along with some blogger friends – it seemed several of us went with Emma- perhaps because we had not read it yet and had already read Pride and Prejudice – and two of us found we could use it for a classics book bingo square.

I’m moving slowly through my stacks of books to read, and will hopefully be on top of all of them soon.

June – 18

Book Author Challenge
Elementals: Battle Born Amie Kaufman Reading Challenge, AWW2020, Dymocks Reading Challenge
Lilies, Lies and Love Jackie French Reading Challenge, AWW2020
Kid Normal and the Final Five Greg James and Chris Smith Reading Challenge
Toffle Towers: Fully Booked Tim Harris and James Foley Reading Challenge
Monty’s Island: Scary Mary and the Stripey Spell Emily Rodda and Lucinda Gifford Reading Challenge, AWW2020
Wonderscape Jennifer Bell Reading Challenge
When Rain Turns to Snow Jane Godwin Reading Challenge, AWW2020
League of Llamas: Undercover Llama Aleesah Darlison Reading Challenge, AWW2020
League of Llamas: Rogue Llama Aleesah Darlison Reading Challenge, AWW2020
Kensy and Max: Freefall Jacqueline Harvey Reading Challenge, AWW2020
The Silk House 

 

Kayte Nunn Reading Challenge, AWW2020
The Mummy Smugglers of Crumblin Castle

 

Pamela Rushby and Nellé May Pierce Reading Challenge, AWW2020
Roxy and Jones: The Great Fairy Tale Cover Up Angela Woolfe Reading Challenge
Alexandra-Rose and Her Icy Cold Toes by

 

Monique Mulligan and Kate Fox (Illustrator) Reading Challenge, AWW2020
Meet Mia by the Jetty Janeen Brian and Danny Snell Reading Challenge, AWW2020
Meet Sam at the Mangrove Creek Paul Seden and Brenton McKenna Reading Challenge, STFU Reading Challenge, Dymocks Reading Challenge
Death by Shakespeare: Snakebites, Stabbings and Broken Hearts  Kathryn Harkup Reading Challenge
Edie’s Experiments: How to Be the Best Charlotte Barkla Reading Challenge, AWW2020

 

 

 

 

 

Roxy and Jones: The Great Fairy Tale Cover Up by Angela Woolfe

roxy and jonesTitle: Roxy and Jones: The Great Fairy Tale Cover Up
Author: Angela Woolfe
Genre: Fantasy
Publisher: Walker Books
Published: 1st July 2020
Format: Paperback
Pages: 256
Price: $14.99
Synopsis: A hilarious modern fairy-tale mash-up set in a world in which witches are real, magic is real and fairy tales are not only real … but recent history.
Once Upon a Modern Time, in the city of Rexopolis, in the Kingdom of Illustria, lived twelve-year-old Roxy Humperdinck, half-sister to Hansel and Gretel (yes, THE Hansel and Gretel, not that she knows it). Enter Cinderella (“Call me Jones”) Jones, who most definitely does NOT want to marry ghastly Prince Charming and is far too busy hunting for lost relics of the Cursed Kingdom. But now she needs Roxy’s help. And Roxy’s about to discover the truth about her world and her family: that witches are real, magic is real and fairy tales are not only real … but recent history.
• Shrek meets Once Upon a Time meets The Princess Bride with a pinch of Pratchett.
• A hilarious adventure story featuring two sassy heroines and a lot of witches.
• Full of clever storytelling and sharp, witty dialogue, perfect for smart readers of 9+

~*~

The Kingdom of Illustria is a fantasy world that feels like it could be a version of England – if fairy tale folk existed and there was a secret organisation trying to hide the truth of the world from people and prevent the evil fairy tale witches from coming back and taking over the world. It is a fairy tale mash-up, a bit like Shrek, where all our favourite and most beloved fairy tale characters exist – just not as we know them.

Roxy Humperdinck’s father has remarried yet again – stepmother number eleven, she thinks – and she’s be sent away to live with her sister, Gretel, who works for the Soup Ministry as a loo cleaner. When Roxy discovers a book that was meant to have been destroyed, she sets a series of events in motion, where she meets Jones – who is really Cinderella – that almost bring the evil witches – the Diabolica into the world. As Roxy travels across the kingdom (against her sister’s orders), she finds out more about the fairy tales she read as a child, and the truth behind them and her family. Roxy’s life is about to get much more complicated!

Roxy and Jones is a delightful novel with echoes of Shrek, and other humourous takes on fairy tales. It has plucky girls on an adventure to find out what is going on, secret identities, and a fairy godmother whose spells go awry at the worst times but often have amusing outcomes and consequences. Roxy can’t quite believe that fairy tales and witches are real, but Angela Woolfe brings this to life in a unique way, with humour and sensitivity. As she puts these characters in the modern world, it is believable – the modern-day world makes readers feel like they know the world Roxy and Jones live in and can relate to the characters.

I studied fairy tales at university, the originals and retellings. I always find all kinds of retellings interesting – they all look at the original tales in different and unique ways, and each one reveals something new beneath the surface of these tales that began in the oral traditions across the world, in a variety of cultures – so each culture has their own tales, as well as their own versions of tales with common themes – there are many more Cinderella tales across the world, but the Western world is most familiar with the Grimm version. In this story, the characters we know from fairy tales have their reasons for wanting to hide the fact that they are from fairy tales – and I think this was done very cleverly and in a way that is fun, accessible and entertaining for all readers.

This book felt like it could be a standalone, yet at the same time, there was a sense that it would be good as a series -or at least a trilogy. Either way, it is a delightfully fun story that all readers will have lots of fun engaging with.

Tashi: 25th Anniversary Edition by Anna Fienberg, Barbara Fienberg and Kim Gamble

Tashi 25Title: Tashi: 25th Anniversary Edition

Author: Anna Fienberg, Barbara Fienberg and Kim Gamble

Genre: Fantasy

Publisher: Allen and Unwin

Published: 16th June 2020

Format: Hardcover

Pages: 112

Price: $16.99

Synopsis: Tashi’s adventures have been loved by children all over the world for twenty-five years. This special edition of the original Tashi book celebrates Tashi’s anniversary, and includes a story about Tashi’s first birthday, ‘Tashi and the Silver Cup’, and ‘Kidnapped!’ from Tashi’s Storybook.

OVER ONE MILLION COPIES SOLD!

For twenty-five years Tashi has been telling fabulous stories. He escaped from a war lord in a faraway place and flew to this country on the back of a swan. And he wished he would find a friend just like Jack. In this first book of his daring adventures, Tashi tells Jack about the time he tricked the last dragon of all. Now, a whole generation of readers will know that when Tashi says, ‘Well, it was like this …’ an exciting new adventure is about to begin. This special anniversary edition includes the stories ‘Tashi and the Silver Cup’ and ‘Kidnapped!’ together for the first time.

‘The Tashi stories are some of my all-time favourites: a world within a world and a magical place for children to lose themselves in.’ Sally Rippin, bestselling author of Polly and Buster and Billie B. Brown

‘All children should meet Tashi. He can be their mentor on the road to reading, feeding their imaginations with fantastic stories. The Tashi stories have the evergreen qualities of classics.’ Magpies

‘I read my kids Tashi – it’s this story that they love.’ Angelina Jolie

~*~

Tashi is one of those series of books that children have loved since it the first book was published back in 1995 – and was one of those books that was always out at the library! And then it felt like it disappeared – or maybe it was just always sold out or borrowed when I checked. So this is the first time I’ve been able to read an entire Tashi book, written by Anna and her mother, Barbara, and delightfully illustrated by the late Kim Gamble, who died in 2016. I remember meeting Kim at school at an illustrator visit and buying his book You Can Draw Anything – which I still have, and he signed it. He was lovely and encouraging – and we all knew him as ‘the Tashi illustrator’, because Tashi was so big at our school!

AWW2020

Anna and Barbara’s story about Tashi, and his adventures with dragons and giants, stories he tells Jack, are as well-known as many of the older stories and classics of childhood. It has a quasi-fairy tale/fantasy feel to it. Jack and his parents live in the real world, but Tashi is from another world where giants and dragons live, and where he has used his wits and tricks to get out of tricky situations and get back to his family. Anna and Barbara have told a whimsical and magical adventure for younger children about being brave, about family, and about friendship. Their words weave a special kind of magic around the reader. Even as an adult, I could feel the magic and wonder of the words just as they would be for younger readers.

The words are accompanied by Kim Gamble’s delightfully playful black and white illustrations that tell as much of the story as the words do and give life to the characters beyond the page. This is a delightful book that will enchant all ages and is sure to become an Australian classic that will be visited and revisited for generations to come.

 

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.

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.

Orla and the Serpent’s Curse by C.J. Halsam

orlaTitle: Orla and the Serpent’s Curse

Author: C.J. Halsam

Genre: Magical Realism

Publisher: Walker Books

Published: 1st June 2020

Format: Paperback

Pages: 304

Price: $14.99

Synopsis: A spooky adventure set in Cornwall; Famous Five with a twist.

A long-dead Cornish witch to thwart and a curse to stop  it’s just another family holiday. Orla thought she was in for a relaxing break, but when she finds a mysterious glowing necklace in the woods, it turns out there is a slight possibility she may have uncovered a witch’s ancient curse. After meeting a coven of suspicious old ladies, it becomes clear that Orla’s arrival in Cornwall is no longer a coincidence. The curse is poisoning the land and destroying everything it touches, and Orla is the one person who can stop it. But she’ll need help from the only other member of the family with good instincts – Dave the dog.

  • A witchy 10+ children’s debut from Sunday Timesjournalist C. J. Haslam.
  • Orla is a budding conservationist and the curse in the book manifests itself through poisoned and barren land.
  • Has an incredibly appealing character in Dave, the grumpy Jack Russell who thinks he’s a member of Special Forces. Orla has two older brothers and a newly acquired friend called Raven – together, they make a great modern-day Scooby Doo gang / Famous Five.

~*~

Orla Perry is off to Cornwall with her mum, brothers, Tom and Richard, and faithful dog, Dave. They arrive at the cottage – but their holiday is far from relaxing. After Orla begins to explore their new surrounds and meets Mrs Spark and her friends, after she finds a mysterious necklace in the woods. This is only the beginning of her problems. As the story moves along, Dave distances himself from Orla, the old ladies Orla has met begin to tell her of witches and curses, and a woman called Pedervander Masey, and a mystery surrounding the area that is slowly revealed as Orla and her brothers and their new friend, Raven, seek to uncover the truth behind all the darkness of the area.

To save the land from the curse, Orla, Raven, Tom and Richard must follow a strange set of directions and an unusual path with items from one of the resident witches, or pellers, as they are called in this novel, to prevent the curse from poisoning the land – even if this means travelling back in time. What is it about the mysterious glowing necklace that draw Orla to it – and what trouble is it causing? With dark magic at work, Orla is drawn to the desire to investigate and find out what is going on – and stop the curse from destroying those she loves, and anyone else in the area. She’s a gutsy girl, and seeing the breadth of the types of characters children can relate to these days.

Set in the same area as many of the Famous Five books, this is a fresh tale on the idea of adventuring and gallivanting children – minus the lashings of ginger beer with added magic and spells. It is filled with wonder and danger, and can be scary in some parts, in particular the climax, which is where the high stakes scenes take place in most books. This is a fantastic book, and one I loved to review for Walker Books Australia – the middle grade landscape these days is a wonderful array of books, and there are many more that I am going to be exploring in coming reviews.

We all need a bit of magic in our lives, and in this book, it is delivered in spades. Tragedy happens in some places, and the kids go off on the adventures as they do in The Famous Five, but there is still a parental figure around, though she’s got no idea what Orla and her brothers are up to during their holiday.

This world really came to life – everything had an element of magic within in, and for someone who has never been to Cornwall, but would like to one day, the sense of place in past and present, from the cottage of the sea, and the surrounding countryside and forest. The setting is as much a character as the human characters, and Dave is one of the best characters – an astute dog who knows who he can trust and who to help, it is instincts that will help save the day.

Filled with magic, mystery, humour and the thrill of the cashes, Orla and the Serpent’s Curse is a delightful middle grade novel for readers aged ten and over.

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.