When Rain Turns to Snow by Jane Godwin

when rain turns to snowTitle: When Rain Turns to Snow
Author: Jane Godwin
Genre: Fiction
Publisher: Hachette Australia
Published: 30th June 2020
Format: Paperback
Pages: 280
Price: $16.99
Synopsis: A beautiful and timely coming-of-age story about finding out who you are in the face of crisis and change. Perfect for fans of Kate DiCamillo, Fiona Wood and Emily Rodda.
A runaway, a baby and a whole lot of questions…
Lissa is home on her own after school one afternoon when a stranger turns up on the doorstep carrying a baby. Reed is on the run – surely people are looking for him? He’s trying to find out who he really is and thinks Lissa’s mum might have some answers. But how could he be connected to Lissa’s family – and why has he been left in charge of a baby? A baby who is sick, and getting sicker …
Reed’s appearance stirs up untold histories in Lissa’s family, and suddenly she is having to make sense of her past in a way she would never have imagined. Meanwhile, her brother is dealing with a devastating secret of his own.
A beautiful and timely coming-of-age story about finding out who you are in the face of crisis and change.

~*~

When Lissa meets Reed, she’s determined to find out who he is – and where he came from. Yet Reed has other ideas, and desperately needs Lissa’s help to look after Mercy, whom he says is his niece. When Reed tells Lissa he thinks he has a connection to her family. Eager to get Reed to leave and go home, Lissa agrees to help, and finds that she is drawn into his mystery.

At the same time, she is trying to find her place in a new friendship group, after her best friend, Hana, has moved across the country to Western Australia. Her older brother, Harry, is going through his own issues and secrets, and her dad is moving on with his life in Beijing. Lissa feels caught between everything – wanting to please everyone as she tries to find out how to be herself. Lissa and Reed’s story intertwines in ways they never thought possible and uncover secrets that have been hidden from everyone in this touching coming of age story about identity, love, family and friendship.

Jane Godwin has a delightful way of taking events and instances of everyday life and turning them into something special. Her last book, As Happy as Here, is set in a hospital, with a mystery unfused throughout. When Rain Turns to Snow begins with a family, with friends and evolves into a mystery about identity and how teenagers find their place in the world, their families and with their friends.

Lissa’s story is a powerful one, – and there are many strands of her story that all readers can relate to – family dynamics, school, friendship groups, secrets, and many other instances that people will find something in. It is a touching story, that is neither too fast or too slow – it has a decent pace, and from the start we know there will be more to the story than we are told initially.

AWW2020

I thought this was a lovely story, sensitively dealt with on all levels. The story is told mostly through Lissa’s eyes, which gives it the perspective needed to experience what she is feeling. Yet every other character has a voice and they are all given equal room on the page to tell their stories. The way they intertwine is intriguing and evolve throughout the story to a hopeful conclusion that brings all the strands of the stories together, It is at times light, and not too heavy. I found it a very moving and delightful read, and hopeful even when things seem like they won’t work out.

Jane Godwin’s characters and stories are relatable and accessible – she does what she can to make her stories, characters and the situations they find themselves in diverse and relatable for her readership. It is a lovely story that I hope the readers it finds will enjoy.

Elephant Me by Giles Andreae and Guy Parker-Rees

elephant meTitle: Elephant Me
Author: Giles Andreae and Guy Parker-Rees
Genre: Fiction
Publisher: Hachette/Orchard Books
Published: 26th May 2020
Format: Hardcover
Pages: $24.99
Price: 32
Synopsis: The empowering story of little elephant Num-Num, who discovers the importance of simply being YOU! From the creators of international bestseller and much-loved classic Giraffes Can’t Dance.

It’s time for the Elephant Games! One by one, the young elephants compete to impress King Elephant Mighty and earn their Elephant Name.
Nina is the strongest, so she becomes Elephant Strong.
Norcus is the loudest, so he becomes Elephant Noisy.
Little Elephant Num-Num thinks he will never discover his own special talent – until he learns that the very best thing you can be is YOU!

~*~

Elephant Num-Num has to show King Elephant Mighty a special talent to get his Elephant Name during the Elephant Games – every other elephant can, but Num-Num finds he doesn’t have a special talent – he’s just him. Driven away from the Elephants, Num-Num befriends the other animals, who see him for who he is and encourage him to be him – the best thing he can be! Discover how Num-Num encourages the other elephants to discover the best them and be who they are, not who they are expected to be.

Through a rhyming story that ebbs and flows, Giles Andreae tells the story of a young elephant searching for who he is, and in turn, teaches the other elephants to be who they are. Accompanied by delightfully fun and colourful illustrations of the elephants and the other animals by Guy Parker-Rees, the story really pops and comes to life beautifully. He brings the African bush to life, in a fun and accessible way, using colour and bright shades. The animals all being friends by the waterhole is a lovely image, and one of my favourites of the entire book. I loved that each elephant had its own personality through the words and images, and both of these elements worked together to show the beauty and individuality that we should all celebrate within ourselves.

The words and images capture what it is like to be you and not fall into line with what others expect, and what it means to face up to those who have tried to make you believe you shouldn’t fall into line. The bright images are fun, and engaging, and the rhyming, lyrical feel of the words is great for readers at all stages, whether learning to read, being read to or just looking for a fun read that teaches kids that being who they are is sometimes more important than following trends and trying to fit in for the sake of fitting in.

This would be great to be shared between parents and kids, in classes across the board, or just for people to read for themselves. It’s a fun little story with an important message, and best of all, it uses elephants to tell the story – and really, where can you go wrong with elephants in a story like this? It is truly a beautiful book and one with a lovely message that will always be treasured.

The Year the Maps Changed by Danielle Binks

the year the maps changedTitle: The Year the Maps Changed

Author: Danielle Binks

Genre: Fiction

Publisher: Hachette/Lothian Children’s Books

Published: 28th April 2020

Format: Paperback

Pages: 320

Price: $17.99

Synopsis: One extraordinary year will change them all…

Sorrento, Victoria, 1999. Fred’s family is a mess. Her mother died when she was six and she’s been raised by her Pop and adoptive father, Luca, ever since. But now Pop’s had to go away, and Luca’s girlfriend Anika and her son have moved in. More and more it feels like a land-grab for family and Fred is the one being left off the map.

Even as things feel like they’re spinning out of control for Fred, a crisis from the other side of the world comes crashing in. When a group of Kosovar-Albanian refugees are brought to a government ‘safe haven’ not far from Sorrento, their fate becomes intertwined with the lives of Fred and her family in ways that no one could have expected.

~*~

At eleven, almost twelve years old, Fred’s life is changing rapidly. Her adoptive father, Luca, has been seeing Anika, and has recently allowed Anika and her son, Sam, to move in with them. She’s in her final year of primary school, and Pop, who usually lives with them, has had to go into hospital in the next town. It’s 1999, the year before the Y2K panic, two years before an incident in New York would change the world forever. It’s the first time the idea of refugees and war crosses the consciousness of Fred and her friends in Sorrento beyond what they have been taught about past wars. In this year, Fred will grow up, find out what family is, and who she can rely on in a world that is beginning to change in so many ways.

There were so many things I loved about this book – its 1999 setting was very relatable, and I was a year older – 12-13 than Fred was in the novel, so some of what she felt with her changing body, and friends, I could understand. It was my first year of high school and like Fred, the first time that refugees and discussion about current wars crossed my path – most likely in history, and some of what I saw on the news. Like Fred, Kosovar seemed so far away, at first, it was hard to understand. Fred’s life will change in many ways in this year, and Danielle has used maps as a metaphor for physical changes in locations, borders and lives – as well as a way of understanding the world and how the maps we know were and have been created.

There are some very cool nineties references I loved – watching movies on VHS, sleepovers, and a time before computers and technology like iPhones became something just about everyone had and used every day – a time when switching off the computer really meant switching off, and we sent hand-written invitations for parties. Kids rode bikes in their neighbourhoods, and we read newspapers in print.

AWW2020Whilst this nostalgia made the book feel comfortable for me, the idea of a refugee facility near my home was something unknown to me, and as we explore this phenomenon and the reaction to refugees through Fred and Sam, as they deal with the changes in their family, showed how much kids can notice what is going on around them, and what it means to have ethics and morals, and what happens when doing the right thing morally might not be the right thing legally. This conflict comes into being strongly, as Luca is a police officer and is at times, caught between what he believes is right and what he must do within the confines of the law and his job. It is about the conflicts we face in life in all their measures, and how we deal with them.

I enjoyed this book – it was like heading back to a world before everything changed – or before we became aware of what things were like for people outside our circles, as it was an age where we were likely to encounter some of these things for the first time, or at least, an age where we may have the clearest memories of these things happening. It will vary from person to person, and experience to experience. What Danielle has done here is to capture one experience through the eyes of one child during this time, and how she made sense of it all.

I recommend this to enthusiastic middle grade readers, and those older, as it can offer something to each reader and readership.

The Strangeworlds Travel Agency by L.D. Lapinski

strangeworldsTitle: The Strangeworlds Travel Agency
Author: L.D. Lapinski
Genre: Fantasy
Publisher: Orion/Hachette Australia
Published: 28th April 2020
Format: Paperback
Pages: 380
Price: $16.99
Synopsis: Pack your suitcase for a magical adventure! Perfect for fans of THE TRAIN TO IMPOSSIBLE PLACES and THE POLAR BEAR EXPLORERS’ CLUB.
At the Strangeworlds Travel Agency, each suitcase transports you to a different world. All you have to do is step inside . . .
Pack your suitcase for a magical adventure! Perfect for fans of THE TRAIN TO IMPOSSIBLE PLACES and THE POLAR BEAR EXPLORERS’ CLUB.
At the Strangeworlds Travel Agency, each suitcase transports you to a different world. All you have to do is step inside . . .
When 12-year-old Flick Hudson accidentally ends up in the Strangeworlds Travel Agency, she uncovers a fantastic secret: there are hundreds of other worlds just steps away from ours. All you have to do to visit them is jump into the right suitcase. Then Flick gets the invitation of a lifetime: join Strangeworlds’ magical travel society and explore other worlds.
But, unknown to Flick, the world at the very centre of it all, a city called Five Lights, is in danger. Buildings and even streets are mysteriously disappearing. Once Flick realizes what’s happening, she must race against time, travelling through unchartered worlds, seeking a way to fix Five Lights before it collapses into nothingness – and takes our world with it.
A magical adventure for 9+ readers that will take you to whole new worlds.

~*~

A suitcase is an ordinary object – something you pack to take on holiday. Not so in the Strangeworlds Travel Agency in Little Wyvern. When twelve-year-old Flick and her family move from the large city to the smaller town of Little Wyvern, exploring her new town during the summer has Flick stumbling across an old shop called Strangeworlds Travel Agency – which to most people, might just seem like a travel agency you can book holidays with. But to Jonathon Mercator, the Custodian of the agency, and Flick Hudson, it is something else. It is a place of portals to new worlds, traversed by members of the secret Strangeworlds Society, a multiverse that is in trouble when Flick uncovers something that Jonathon says nobody has been able to do for generations.

So begins Flick’s adventures, jumping in and out of suitcases with Jonathon as she learns about her gift, the multiverse and Strangeworlds, until she discovers why Jonathon really needs her – and it has to do with something she’s able to see in the suitcases that he can’t. When Flick begins to break the rules to find out what is going on, she finds out she needs to fix things before every world including hers, vanishes.

This was a fantastic read, taking the idea of portals into new worlds, and creating something new. In every chapter, Flick travels, so it is also almost like a fictional travel memoir of the journeys Flick and Jonathon take into various worlds, a log of their quest and journeys. It all seems impossible, but in the world of Little Wyvern, anything is possible, and the consequences of staying in a world longer then you should – for time moves differently in each world, and you need to be mindful of this. L.D. Lapinski has taken all those classic elements – magic, portals and a new town, and a child who is either an orphan, or has parents who are always away, and brought them together into something fresh and new. I’m curious to see whether this is a standalone, or the beginning of a new series – either way, it works for both, and allows the reader scope to imagine what could happen next. It is the perfect middle grade book, and I think anyone who wishes to read it. It has that sense of magic that books like Narnia have, in its ability to enchant and transport readers to worlds beyond what they’re living and experiencing.

This was a great middle grade book, and works well as a stand-alone, but equally well as the start of a new series. I loved escaping to Little Wyvern, and visiting again would be fun.

Winterborne Home for Vengeance and Valour by Ally Carter’

Winterborne 1Title: Winterborne Home for Vengeance and Valour

Author: Ally Carter

Genre: Fiction

Publisher: Lothian/Hachette Australia

Published: 3rd March 2020

Format: Paperback

Pages: 340

Price: $14.99

Synopsis: New York Times bestselling author Ally Carter’s middle grade debut is full of mystery, mayhem, and friendship, and will keep you guessing right until the very end.

When 11-year-old April joins a group of kids living at Winterborne Home she doesn’t expect to be there for very long. But she soon learns that this home isn’t like any of the others – especially when she unearths the secret of the missing-and-presumed-dead billionaire, Gabriel Winterborne, who is neither missing nor dead but is actually living in a basement lair, sharpening his swords and looking for vengeance.

Now that April knows Gabriel Winterborne is alive, she must turn to the other orphans to keep him that way. As a looming new danger threatens to take Gabriel down once and for all, they must use their individual talents to find a way to make sure this home for misfits isn’t lost to them for ever.

Because at the Winterborne Home, nothing is what it seems, no one is who they say they are and nowhere is safe. And now a ragtag group of orphans must unravel the riddle of a missing heir, a supposed phantom and a secret key, all without alerting the adults of Winterborne House that trouble is afoot.

The first book in a captivating new series from the bestselling author of Gallagher Girls.

 

~*~

April has lived her life as an orphan in a foster system that never works out. She’s on a school excursion to a museum and is examining an exhibition of Winterborne jewels when a fire breaks out, and she wakes up in hospital. Ms Nelson is there – and takes April, along with Tim and Violet, to a place called Winterborne House, under the care of the Winterborne Foundation.

 

Once here, April and her new friends – Tim, Violet, Colin and Sadie – start to discover that there is more to Winterborne House than they are being told, and uncover the secret of the missing billionaire, Gabriel Winterborne. The excitement begins when something – or someone – sinister starts threatening the house and in doing so, threatens to take away the one home these ragtag orphans feel is really home.

 

As the threat grows, the pace picks up, especially in the later third of the book, when the group of orphans set out to recover something stolen and save Gabriel Winterborne from the person threatening him. As the mystery unfolds, April beings exploring the Winterborne House after things go missing – chasing a ghost, so she thinks, until she stumbles across Gabriel Winterborne. But Gabriel doesn’t want to be found – if people think he’s dead, then he can go on with his quiet life, and not worry about the house or the Winterborne Foundation.

 

Using the common mystery and orphan tropes, Ally Carter creates a world where adults are present, and keep the children safe, whilst at the same time, Smithers and Ms Nelson are distanced enough that April and her friends can carry on their investigations – until the adults are needed. It has echoes of the Famous Five in some parts – with the old mysterious house with its secrets, and the mystery of a family. This is coupled with hints of Annie and Anne of Green Gables with the plucky orphans determined to uncover a mystery and save the best home they’ve ever known, and for Sadie and Colin – the only home they’ve ever known.

 

This book took tropes and themes from other books and retold them for a modern audience, and is set in our contemporary world yet has elements of a setting that is not quite what we know – the setting isn’t completely identified, which perhaps is what gives it a more mysterious feel for the characters, plot and readers. Whilst some things are answered in this book, there are many more that aren’t, and hopefully, these will be answered further on in the series.

 

Squidge Dibley Destroys the School by Mick Elliott

Squidge DibleyTitle: Squidge Dibley Destroys the School

Author: Mick Elliott

Genre: Fiction

Publisher: Lothian Children’s Books

Published: 25th June 2019

Format: Paperback

Pages: 175

Price: $14.99

Synopsis: Squidge Dibley is the new kid at Craglands South Primary … and the school might not survive him. The start of a hilarious new series about a very strange class, perfect for fans of Weirdo, Funny Kid and Tom Gates.

Things are going downhill fast for class 6PU at Craglands South Primary School. They’ve changed teachers more times than most kids change their socks, and their latest one is so strict they aren’t even allowed to sneeze. But just when it seems like the school term has been turned into a prison term, a new kid arrives.
A kid unlike any other kid at Craglands South.
A kid named Squidge Dibley.
He’s small, quiet and strangely … squidgy.
And he’s about to change everything.

SQUIDGE DIBLEY DESTROYS THE SCHOOL is book one in a hilarious new series by Mick Elliott, author of THE TURNERS, and features his unforgettable cartoon-style illustrations on every page.

~*~

Padman O’Donnell is in year six at Craglands South Primary School – and is in a class that churns through teachers faster than anyone could ever imagine. One day, the only teacher who has managed to survive the longest it taken away sick, and the class has to be taught by Vice Principal Hoovesly – who has so many rules, he starts to make them up as he goes just to have a reason to punish the class – for breathing, for gasping, for trying to learn. Until the day Squidge Dibley arrives. Unlike any other student, Squidge has a variety of unusual diseases that make him burp, stretch, and explode when exposed to certain elements and noises – something that kids will find very amusing if they enjoy this kind of humour.

Each time a teacher tries to make Squidge do something, he produces a note – informing the teacher of what not to do and why, resulting in various incidents where the teacher, in many cases, Vice Principal Hoovesly, is thwarted in what he is trying to do. As the narrator, Padman provides his thoughts and impressions on each student and the teachers, so everything that happens is seen through his eyes. However, Hoovesly is quite an awful person, so even Principal Shouthmouth (called that because nobody in the story can pronounce her real name) is keen to see him get what he deserves. When a teacher forbids sneezing – something you can’t control, drastic measures must be taken.

The first in a new series, this is sure to capture the imaginations of younger readers with the cartoon-like illustrations that complement the text, and the fun characters who cause mischief, but when it counts, really come together and utilise their unusual talents and tricks to help their new friend, Squidge. Every character in this novel is different and has a quirk that makes them unique. It is these differences that are celebrated throughout the book, as they should be in real life as well.

This is a great book for primary school readers looking for a bit of fun and difference in their reading, and is a good, quick read as well.

Wundersmith: The Calling of Morrigan Crow by Jessica Townsend (Nevermoor #2)

Wundersmith.jpgTitle: Wundersmith: The Calling of Morrigan Crow

Author: Jessica Townsend

Genre: Fantasy

Publisher: Hachette Australia/Lothian

Published: 30th October 2018

Format: Paperback

Pages: 475

Price: $16.99 (PB), $24.99 (HB)

Synopsis: Wunder is gathering in Nevermoor … 

Morrigan Crow may have defeated her deadly curse, passed the dangerous trials and joined the mystical Wundrous Society, but her journey into Nevermoor and all its secrets has only just begun. And she is fast learning that not all magic is used for good.

Return to the magical world of Nevermoor! Morrigan Crow’s perilous adventures continue in the most anticipated sequel of the year, a treat for all fans of magic and Wunder. 

Morrigan Crow has escaped her deadly fate and found a new home in the fantastical city of Nevermoor. She has also discovered that she has a strange and magical ability. But will her unique talent be a blessing or another curse?

Now that Morrigan and her best friend Hawthorne are proud scholars in the elite Wundrous Society, she is sure that she’s found a place to belong at last, but life is far from perfect. Can Morrigan prove that she deserves to be in the Society – or will an unexpected new enemy ruin her new life?

Praise for Nevermoor: The Trials of Morrigan Crow:

Winner 
Dymocks Book of the Year 2018
Winner Book of the Year, Australian Book Industry Awards 2018
Winner Book of the Year for Younger Children, Australian Book Industry
Awards 2018
Winner The Matt Richell Award for New Writer of the Year, Australian
Book Industry Awards 2018
Winner Book of the Year, Indie Book Awards 2018
Winner Children’s Category, Indie Book Awards 2018
Winner Nielsen Booksellers’ Choice Award, Australian Booksellers Association Awards 2018
Winner Best Children’s Fiction, Aurealis Awards 2017
Winner Younger Fiction, Waterstones Children’s Book Prize (UK) 2018
Shortlisted The Readings Children’s Book Prize 2018
A CBCA Notable book
Voted #1 in the Dymocks Kids’ Top 51


‘Unexpected, exciting and funny. Like Alice in Wonderland, Harry Potter and Doctor Who swirled up together.’ – Judith Rossell, ABIA Award-winning author of Withering-by-Sea

‘Exciting, charming, and wonderfully imagined, it’s the sort of delightful, grand adventure destined to be many a reader’s favourite book.’ – Trenton Lee Stewart, New York Times bestselling author of The Mysterious Benedict Society series and The Secret Keepers

‘It really is brilliant, with an engaging plot, plenty of twists, memorable characters and a marvellous sense of humour. Pick it up and the hours disappear, just like magic.’ – Daily Telegraph

‘An exciting and charming middle-grade read that will hook readers aged 10 and up with intricate imaginative detail and its sheer energy … a compulsively readable romp that fans of ‘Harry Potter’, Terry Pratchett or Studio Ghibli will gobble up.’ – Books and Publishing

~*~

Morrigan Crow’s journey began in Nevermoor, where she was whisked away from the Wintersea Republic on Eventide, the day she was destined to die, by Captain Jupiter North, whose red hair and flashy clothes were, and still are, in stark contrast to the black clothing donned by our heroine. Released exactly twelve months and twenty days after Nevermoor: The Trials of Morrigan Crow, Wundersmith: The Calling of Morrigan Crow picks up shortly after the first book, with Morrigan (Mog to Jupiter North), living at the Hotel Deucalion with its rooms that change depending on what you need at that moment, and the vampire dwarf, Frank, causing mischief and planning epic parties – this time to compete with a new hotel nearby, which is all in good fun amidst Morrigan’s acceptance into WunSoc, and her unit, Unit 919. Accepted by Hawthorne and Miss Cheery, Mog must work to earn the trust of the rest of her unit, as she grapples with her newfound identity as a Wundersmith, and she must fight all the prejudice flung at her because of it, and show everyone that there are good Wundersmiths, that they’re not all like Ezra Squall, who is trying to get back into Nevermoor.

As Morrigan starts her classes – at first, dully with only one class, referring to an abridged edition of the history of Wundersmiths, with a wuntortoise as her teacher – Professor Onstald – and gradually gaining a second class where she discovers the world of Nevermoor and all the sneaky, secret streets that lead to dangerous places like the Ghastly Market, or have rather unpleasant results, like vomiting everywhere. Despite this Tricksy Lanes, and their more nefarious relations, Morrigan finds herself in all sorts of trouble with Ezra Squall as Jupiter is called away more often, to the point where she fears she will have to leave WunSoc and Proudfoot House, but Morrigan will come to learn that loyalty and choice are what will make her the Wundersmith she is, and it is her loyalty to those who are around her in Nevermoor that make her a wunderful character. As she ventures into the world of WunSoc, along with readers, things are  not always as they seem, and there are threads and hints at certain things that are so subtle, the impact their reveal is given is magical and powerful.

I’ve been with this series since the first book came out last year, and it is absolutely delightful. Filled with everything from snarky cats to best friends, magical doors and rooms that change the type of bed you have based on what you need, I enjoyed my latest stay at the Hotel Deucalion, and spending time with Fen and Jupiter again. Fen is a character who doesn’t hold back, she tells it like it is. She is one of those characters who you really want to get behind and cheer on because, well, she’s magnificent and even though she’s full of snark and sarcasm, she truly cares for Mog and Jupiter.

Like many fantasy series before it, this series begins with an orphaned, or unwanted child, living a rather mundane experience until someone – in this case the enigmatic Jupiter North, arrives to whisk Morrigan away to a new, colourful world of magic and wonder, where good and evil fight each other and dastardly people lurk in the shadows, trying to disrupt the lives of those wanting to get by in Nevermoor peacefully. And, like in similar series, the threat of Squall will grow until a face-off – but the execution of Morrigan’s journey is as unique as every other story in the same genre. What Morrigan has to do is and will be unique, she is unique, and she shows people that they can overcome the bad things and shows that just because a certain fate is ascribed arbitrarily to you, it doesn’t mean you have to fulfil this fate. You can change it, and with Jupiter and Hawthorne’s help, that is just what Morrigan does.

Morrigan and Hawthorne are the heroes and friends we need – loyal, not perfect, and willing to learn from mistakes. Hawthorne’s loyalty to Morrigan, following certain events that turn the rest of their unit against her, and his willingness to do anything he can to help his friend, are what make him one of my favourite characters. There is nothing Hawthorne wouldn’t do for his friend, and I absolutely loved that.

The entire book from beginning to end is amazing, and fits in so well with the previous book, naturally, and gives a deeper look into the characters, but still with enough mystery to ensure there are secrets to come out in later books. I look forward to the continuation of this series, and where Mog goes from here.

Booktopia

Embassy of the Dead by Will Mabbitt

embassy of the dead.jpgTitle: Embassy of the Dead #1

Author: Will Mabbitt

Genre: Children’s/Horror/Ghost Stories

Publisher: Hachette Australia/Orion Children’s Books

Published: 12th June 2018

Format: Paperback

Pages: 310

Price: $14.99

Synopsis: The first book in a spookily funny new series, where the living meet the dead and survival is a race against time. Perfect for fans of Skulduggery Pleasant and Who Let the Gods Out.

The first book in a spookily funny new series, where the living meets the dead and survival is a race against time. Perfect for fans of Skulduggery Pleasant and Who Let the Gods Out.

Welcome to the Embassy of the Dead. Leave your life at the door. (Thanks.)

When Jake opens a strange box containing a severed finger, he accidentally summons a grim reaper to drag him to the Eternal Void (yep, it’s as fatal as it sounds) and now he’s running for his life! But luckily Jake isn’t alone – he can see and speak to ghosts.

Jake and his deadly gang (well dead, at least) – Stiffkey the undertaker, hockey stick-wielding, Cora, and Zorro the ghost fox – have one mission: find the Embassy of the Dead and seek protection. But the Embassy has troubles of its own and may not be the safe haven Jake is hoping for . . .

~*~

Embassy of the Dead opens with Jake preparing for a school trip – as he is dealing with the separation of his parents. On his way home one day, he bumps into a ghostly figure called Stiffkey, who mistakes him for someone called Goodmourning – and gives Jake a box to take care of and deliver. When Jake opens the box, he sets forth a series of events that lead him into the world of the dead, and Undoers – set with the task of Undoing a ghost or becoming one himself. Accompanied by Stiffkey, a ghost fox called Zorro, and a ghost from a girl’s school Cora, Jake sets about trying to find a way to save his life so he doesn’t end up on the other side of the Embassy of the Dead.

His spooky journey takes him into the Embassy of the Dead – where the records of the dead are kept before they crossover, and where Undoers and their ghost companions meet and work. The world of the ghosts has rules – in breaking them, Jake has to pay a price, but he also has the finger to worry about, and Goodmourning to find before his time is up, and he has to leave his body and life behind forever. His adventure will take him far from home – further than he ever dreamed that he would go – and is full of fun, fear and laughs along the way.

Reading Embassy of the Dead was very enjoyable, and I think younger readers will enjoy it too. Aimed at early teenage, around eleven and older, it has fun characters and an intriguing plot that moves in ebbs and flows, at a decent pace that allows for the story to unfold continuously and for secrets to be revealed at the right moments, ensuring the mystery within the story is always there, and continues throughout the novel – and is not resolved instantly.

It is a fun, and quick read, and is also engaging for the reader. Will Mabbitt doesn’t talk down to his readers, and in the world that he has created, is unique and has all the hallmarks of a ghost story, but appropriately written for a younger audience, and those not quite into the full-scale horror stories that are available. Embassy of the Dead is a great start to what will be a very fun series.

Booktopia

The Beast’s Heart by Liefe Shallcross

the beasts heart.jpgTitle: The Beast’s Heart

Author: Leife Shallcross

Genre: Fantasy

Publisher: Hodder & Stoughton/Hachette Australia

Published:  24th April 2018

Format: Paperback

Pages: 342

Price: $19.99

Synopsis: A richly magical retelling of the Beauty and the Beast fairy tale, from the point of view of the Beast.

A sumptuously magical, brand new take on a tale as old as time – read the Beast’s side of the story at long last.

My beast’s nose scented cold, and earth, and the faintest tang of magic. Not the same magic that pervaded the house, or even the forest. This was something older and wilder, filled with sadness and decay. Yet at its core was something pure and clear, like the peal of a bell or the heat of a burning ember. Or the colour of a crimson rose.

 

I am neither monster nor man – yet I am both.

I am the Beast.

I know why I was cursed; I know the legacy of evil I carry in my tainted blood. So how could she ever love me?

My Isabeau. She opened my eyes, my mind and my heart when I was struggling just to be human.

And now I might lose her forever.

~*~

Most retellings of the French fairy tale, written in 1740, by Madame Gabrielle-Suzanne de Villeneuve, and influenced by the literary fairy tales of authors such as Charles Perrault and Marie-Catherine d’Aulnoy. Unlike the fairy tales collected by The Brothers Grimm, which include a similar tale known as The Singing, Springing Lark, Beauty and the Beast was one of the first literary fairy tales recorded, though the specific tale that many retellings are based on oral tales over many years beforehand.

Where many retellings of this tale focus on the perspective of the Beauty – the girl who will break the spell, told in first or third person with this focus, Leife Shallcross’s debut novel takes the traditional fairy tale, and gives it new life, writing it from the perspective of the Beast, and how he deals with his situation and the beautiful girl – named Isabeau in this story – living in his house.

AWW-2018-badge-roseAt the start of the story, the Beast, whom we know to be a prince or at least, a noble from the original and previous retellings, is lonely, and losing track of time. He mentions a Fairy and the curse, and the invisible servants – who see to his every need. When Isabeau’s father, Monsieur de la Noue stumbles across his wintry castle, where seasons don’t occur as they do outside the gates, the Beast and his invisible servants extend hospitality towards him – until he plucks a rise from the rose garden for Isabeau – and a deal is struck: Isabeau must come and stay with the Beast for a year in exchange for her father not being killed. Isabeau agrees, and whilst she is at the castle, the Beast watches her family thrive with gifts he sends them magically, and their fortunes change. As the year goes by, the Beast and Isabeau become friends – but the Beast – as in other reincarnations – begins to fall in love, seeking for her to save him from the curse.

But he can’t tell her this – the Fairy warns him against it and is quite malevolent in the few appearances she makes, and even when the Beast refers to her in his private musings. What I did like was that the Beast did not force Isabeau. Rather, he was hopeful and allowed her to come to him, but also, the respect and friendship they had for each other was more important. It was an exquisitely and enchantingly written story, where lessons must be learned by all, and where forgiveness becomes a large part of the plot – forgiveness of self, forgiveness of family and forgiveness of those who appear to have done the wrong thing. Set in France, in what I imagine is the eighteenth century, it has the same magic of the original and the other incarnations but an originality that no other retelling has come close to capturing. In each retelling, we always know the Beast isn’t the horrid monster some characters, such as Gaston in the Disney version – make him out to be – much like Isabeau’s father does in this novel, and her sisters, Claude and Marie, who are inclined to believe him, are the ones who at first believe their father’s claims but then begin to doubt them, hoping that Isabeau is alive – and it is Marie who is the catalyst for this.

Each character is flawed – not one is perfect, and to this end, I think this worked exceptionally well for this novel. It showed that flaws are everywhere, and that even if we see them in others, we don’t see them in ourselves all the time. Isabeau recognises her own flaws when she goes to live with the Beast and is aware of them. She can also see past his flaws. Yet it is her family she must find a way to reassure, with a father whose stubbornness would see her live at home forever, and sisters who once relied on her for everything, must recognise what they are capable of in her absence, and as a result, make their own fortunes with suitors. Each version of the story has a variance on the siblings the Beauty character has – from the six brothers and sisters of the original, to Belle as an only child in the Disney version, and in this version, the two sisters who work to pull the family through in Isabeau’s absence.

As each character begins to recognise their flaws, I could see them grow to accept what they had to deal with in life – except Monsieur de la Noue, whose resistance illustrated that not everyone adapts to change, or wishes to. Where I loved that his daughters made the best of their circumstances, I found myself wishing he would start doing the same.

Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed this novel. I adore fairy tale retellings, and this is a really good one. It is up there with The Beast’s Garden by Kate Forsyth, which is more of a fairy tale infused historical fiction, and other novels such as Frogkisserthat incorporate fairy tale elements. Whilst this used the traditional elements and tale, turning it around and telling the Beast’s story gave more of an insight into what it must have been like for him, living as a Beast under a curse that only love, and the promise of marriage can break, and return him to his true form. What I most enjoyed as well was that the mysteries of the castle, and magic, and Marie’s letters to Isabeau weren’t solved immediately – the answers to these and many other questions were given gradually.

The chapters where Isabeau was at home for a time were dealt with well, written from the Beast’s perspective as he watched them in his mirror – his window to the outside world. The mirror and the roses were there, as they always are – key aspects to the fairy tale that has sparked many retellings and interpretations over the years.

A delightful read, and one I hope to be able to revisit one day.

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When The Mountains Roared by Jess Butterworth

when the mountains roared.jpgTitle: When The Mountains Roared

Author: Jess Butterworth

Genre: Children’s Fiction

Publisher: Orion

Published: 10th April 2018

Format: Paperback

Pages: 282

Price: $15.99

Synopsis: A vivid, warm and atmospheric adventure set in the mountains of India, about a girl who is determined to protect the wild leopards of the mountain from poachers, perfect for fans of Katherine Rundell.

I thought we’d live here forever … but then, I thought Mum would be here forever too.

When Ruby’s dad uproots her from Australia to set up a hotel in the mountains of India, Ruby is devastated. Not only are they living in a run-down building in the middle of the wilderness surrounded by scorpions, bears and leopards, but Ruby is sure that India will never truly feel like home – not without her mum there.

Ever since her mum died, Ruby has been afraid. Of cars. Of the dark. Of going to sleep and never waking up.

But then the last remaining leopards of the mountain are threatened and everything changes. Ruby vows to do all she can to protect them – if she can only overcome her fears…

~*~

When Ruby arrives home one day, she finds the house in turmoil, with boxes and suitcases half packed. Her father announces they are moving to India, and she needs to pack her own bags. At twelve, Ruby wants nothing to do with this move – she wants to stay in Australia, the only home she knows. To leave now feels like she’d be leaving the memories of her mum, and it also means leaving all her friends and not being able to see them again. When intruders force the family to flee and leave earlier than planned. Soon, they are on a ship, with their dog, Polly, and a baby kangaroo in tow, sailing across the sea to a new life, and a new venture in India.

But the hotel Ruby’s father has been asked to run is not all that it seems. High up in the Himalayas, stories of previous owners being plagued by a vengeful mountain goddess abound, and the stories lend themselves to more sinister goings on, and hint at tragedy when Ruby and her new friend, Praveen, discover what Dad’s bosses are truly up to, and find out about the poaching of the majestic snow leopards. Ruby vows to do all she can to save them – if she can overcome her fears.

Jess Butterworth has again created a story, set in the Himalayas and India, where the characters are full of life and complex, and deals with issues of poaching, and what happens when someone gets involved with the wrong people in a clever and accessible way for younger audiences. Grief is explored through Ruby’s reaction to her move and the changes in her life – how she responds to the dark, and going to sleep, and of cars. But this hurried move, and the smuggled joey, and quest to uncover her dad’s secret drives Ruby to overcome her fears. Together with Praveen and her grandmother, Ruby will follow her heart, and instincts, and use her photography talents to bring some rather evil men to justice.

When The Mountains Roared has diverse characters, and a setting that is vastly different to what many readers will have experienced, which is one of the reasons I enjoyed it – it allows the reader to travel without leaving the comfort of home, and go on an adventure with Ruby and Praveen to save the snow leopards of the mountains that they call home, and save Ruby’s dad from getting into trouble with men like the ones who drove them from their home in Australia.

A great read for middle grade and younger teen readers, or anyone who enjoys a good story.

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