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.

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.

The Lost Future of Pepperharrow by Natasha Pulley

pepperharrowTitle: The Lost Future of Pepperharrow

Author: Natasha Pulley

Genre: Magical Realism, Historical Fiction, Gothic Fiction

Publisher: Bloomsbury Circus

Published: 17th March 2020

Format: Paperback

Pages: 512

Price: $29.99

Synopsis: Step back into the enchanting world of The Watchmaker of Filigree Street. This extraordinary sequel takes readers to Japan, where time, destiny and love collide to electrifying effect

‘A Japan that never was, a future lost, ghosts that are not dead, random numbers, clairvoyant samurai … not even a partial list of ingredients can do justice to this wonderful cake of a book. A lovely blending of steam punk ether science, Japanese historical figures, and a time-defying thriller’ ROBIN HOBB

For Thaniel Steepleton, an unexpected posting to Tokyo can’t come at a better moment. The London fog has made him ill and doctor’s orders are to get out.

His brief is strange: the staff at the British Legation have been seeing ghosts, and his first task is to find out what’s going on. But staying with his closest friend Keita Mori in Yokohama, Thaniel starts to experience ghostly happenings himself. For reasons he won’t say, Mori is frightened. Then he vanishes.

Meanwhile, something strange is happening in a frozen labour camp in northern Japan. Takiko Pepperharrow, an old friend of Mori’s, must investigate.

As ghosts appear across Tokyo and the weather turns bizarrely electrical, Thaniel grows convinced that it all has something to do with Mori’s disappearance – and that Mori might be in far more trouble than any of them first thought.

~*~

In 2015, readers were introduced to Natasha Pulley, Mori and Thaniel Steepleton in The Watchmaker of Filigree Street. Five years later, they’re returning in the Lost Future of Pepperharrow which sees Thaniel and Mori headed to Japan with their daughter, Six, as they seek to improve Thaniel’s health during a new posting for the British Legation in Tokyo to investigate ghosts, and strange goings on at a labour camp that bring them into contact with someone from Mori’s past – Takiko Pepperharrow.

The story moves between the past – up to ten years – particularly when dealing with Takiko, and 1888/1889 – the present in the novel, and how Mori and Thaniel navigate the mysteries and ghosts of Tokyo. In doing so, Thaniel finds himself falling into an unknown world, and when Mori disappears, and nobody knows where he is nor if he is still alive. It is an intricate plot that moves back and forth over a decade in Tokyo and Japan, highlighting issues of religion, the place of foreigners in Japan and the role of ghosts and clockwork as a common thread across both books. Denser than the first book, The Lost Future of Pepperharrow continues the story in surprising and eloquent ways.

Some aspects are most definitely historical – the Japanese Education Minister, Arinori Mori’s assassination and at least one of the prisons, whilst the rest might be based on history but has become a fantastical thing of its own, and borrows from history in order to create the world these characters populate and live in. The story is complex, immense and exceptionally told with rich detail where needed, and is immersive for time and place – making each aspect feel as though you were really there in the book with Thaniel – both when he was with Mori and whilst he was searching for him through Japan.

Each setting evoked a sense of being there – from the foggy streets of London, to the ships that sail across oceans and all the sights, sounds and sensations of Tokyo – both confronting and intriguing as seen through the eyes of Thaniel and his uncertainty as he investigates the ghosts, come together to create a story filled with so many different elements, some seem so small, it can be hard to define them easily, and with hints of magical realism, this is not a straight-forward historical fiction. It is much more layered and multi-faceted than that. It has so many layers that there were times I re-read a section – just to see if I had picked everything up, only to discover that some things had merely been hinted at in a very clever way that made sense towards the end. It maintained the balance of revealing things in the right place, and dropping little hints, and also, maintained the balance of good description and storytelling – neither was overdone. For each of these aspects – all books are going to be different in what they do and why – and when these elements as well as character, plot and setting combine, they create a story like this one that is clever and unique.

I thoroughly enjoyed this book, and hope that fans of Natasha’s first two books will as well.

The Lost Magician by Piers Torday

lost magician.jpgTitle: The Lost Magician

Author: Piers Torday

Genre: Fantasy/Historical Fiction/Magical Realism

Publisher: Quercus

Published: 7th May 2019

Format: Paperback

Pages: 340

Price: $15.99

Synopsis: ‘If you can imagine it, it exists … somewhere.’ The new spellbinding fantasy adventure from the bestselling, award-winning author of THE LAST WILD trilogy.

‘If you can imagine it, it exists … somewhere.’  The new spellbinding fantasy adventure from the bestselling, award-winning author of THE LAST WILD trilogy.

  1. They have survived the Blitz, but when Simon, Patricia, Evelyn and Larry step through a mysterious library door, it is the beginning of their most dangerous adventure yet. They discover the magical world of Folio, where an enchanted kingdom of fairy knights, bears and tree gods is under threat from a sinister robot army.

The many stories of the Library are locked in eternal war, and the children’s only hope is to find their creator – a magician who has been lost for centuries.

What they find will change not just their own lives, but the fate of the world, for ever …

An ode to the world of NARNIA, THE LOST MAGICIAN is a classic in the making from one of the UK’s most talented children’s authors. 

~*~

For generations, stories like The Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis have captured the imagination of children and adults alike. In the decades since, we have had Philip Pullman’sHis Dark Materials trilogy, J.K. Rowling’sHarry Potter series and The Inkworld books by Cornelia Funke. Many authors are indebted to early fairy tale traditions and the golden age of Children’s Literature of the mid nineteenth century to the early twentieth century, and indeed, Narnia and C.S. Lewis. And here, in The Lost Magician, we have a tribute to reading, readers and those other worlds that so many of us spent our childhoods exploring long into the night, beyond our bedtimes because finding out what happened next simply could not wait.

As a child, it was the above books and many others that formed me and that I was drawn to. The stories where the heroes went on adventures, or where the characters got caught up in things they could never even imagine, like the Pevensie children and like Meggie. So what would happen when the elements of a door to a new world (Narnia), living stories (Inkheart), the requisite siblings and the backdrop of war or the end of war were combined with a secret mission, present in some of the most well-known spy stories? Well, that’s where The Lost Magician comes in, marrying all these elements into the start of a new series revolving around the world of Folio, where stories new and old live.

In the first book, they are divided into three factions: The Reads, The Unreads and The Never Reads when the four Hastings siblings are sent to Barfield after the war while their parents search for a new home in London after theirs is destroyed. Simon, Patricia, Evelyn and Larry – aged between eight and fourteen – find themselves in a strange house for the summer, with an unusual attic library that takes them into a new world, where they find out that the stories they know well are under attack from the army of the Never Reads, led by Jana, a woman made of glass and her robotic army, who seek to purge the world of stories and only allow facts to live.

Much like Narnia, it is a quest-story, where the main characters have to save world at war, after living through a war in their own world and carrying their own scars. Whilst some elements mirror those from The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe, there are many differences that make this its own story in its own right. The elements of a future yet to come that Evie is taken with when she first arrives will threaten what she knows and loves – and she will question why the world has to have one or the other – and the siblings must also search for a lost magician, missing for centuries. Will they find him? Or will his story be woven into future books?

I loved this book, and will be keen to revisit it at some stage, and look forward to future books in the series, to see where this goes, and the differences it will have to its predecessors. What else will the world of Folio offer us?

The Dinner List by Rebecca Serle

the dinner list.jpgTitle: The Dinner List

Author: Rebecca Serle

Genre: Fiction

Publisher: Allen and Unwin

Published: 29th August 2018

Format: Paperback

Pages: 304

Price: $29.99

Synopsis:If you could invite anyone at all to a fantasy dinner party, who would be on your list?

‘We’ve been waiting for an hour.’ That’s what Audrey says. She states it with a little bit of an edge, her words just bordering on cursive. That’s the thing I think first. Not: Audrey Hepburn is at my birthday dinner, but Audrey Hepburn is annoyed.

At one point or another, we’ve all been asked to name five people, living or dead, with whom we’d like to have dinner. Why do we choose the people we do? And what if that dinner was to actually happen? These are the questions Rebecca Serle contends with in her utterly captivating novel, The Dinner List, a story imbued with the same delightful magical realism as One Day, and the life-changing romance of Me Before You.

When Sabrina arrives at her thirtieth birthday dinner she finds at the table not just her best friend, but also three significant people from her past, and well, Audrey Hepburn. As the appetisers are served, wine poured, and dinner table conversation begins, it becomes clear that there’s a reason these six people have been gathered together.

Delicious but never indulgent, sweet with just the right amount of bitter, The Dinner List is a romance for our times. Bon appetit.

~*~

The Dinner List is a surreal novel, where each chapter of a distant yet recent past is sandwiched between a dream-world dinner. Sabrina is on the cusp of turning thirty, and her thoughts turn to a list she made years earlier: the five people she could invite to a dinner party if she could: her father, best friend, Audrey Hepburn, a former professor and the man she almost married. Throughout this dinner, discussions flow back and forth for four hours, leading into the chapters that fill in the story, with each section carefully omitting certain pieces of information as the reader seeks to discover what is happening, who is who and where they fit into Sabrina’s life.

Together, they traverse a myriad of topics, including love, life and what had brought them each to their respective places in their lives and at the time of the dinner. Sabrina is their anchor, and they each have something to impart or share with her to help her come to terms with recent events. As the novel slips in and out of reality and the surreal, dream dinner world Sabrina has created, life and magical realism collide to create a unique and unexpected story of friendship, hope, love and loss in the world of a millennial as she finds out where she belongs in the world, with a unique ending for what seems to be a romance-based novel, where things might not end up as happily ever after, but with a sense of closure and finality, and perhaps a sense of the reality of how life can really turn out for us, rather than riding off into the sunset together.

Sophisticated in its delivery, and surreal, but eloquent in its style, the mystery of who is who, where they fit in and why they are present at the dinner is slowly revealed to both reader and Sabrina, in a moving, funny and touching way that makes it a romantic story, but a realistic one that touches on the obstacles and tragedies we face in life.

This was a surprise delivery, and I wasn’t quite sure what to make of it, yet the premise was interesting enough that I decided to give it a go. It’s an intriguing  take on the people that come in and out of our lives and what they mean to us.

The Belles by Dhonielle Clayton

the belles.jpgTitle: The Belles

Author: Dhonielle Clayton

Genre: Fantasy/Magical Realism, Young Adult

Publisher: Gollancz/Hachette Australia

Published: 13th February 2018

Format: Paperback

Pages: 434

Price: $19.99

Synopsis: ‘Looking for the next big ground-breaking event in YA? This is it.’ Rick Riordan, #1 New York Times bestselling author of the Percy Jackson series Welcome to the dark decadence of Dhonielle Clayton’s sharp tale of beauty, obsession and magic. . . 
I AM A BELLE. I CONTROL BEAUTY.
In the opulent world of Orleans, the people are born grey and damned, and only a Belle’s powers can make them beautiful.
Camellia Beauregard wants to be the favourite Belle – the one chosen by the queen to tend to the royal family.
But once Camellia and her Belle sisters arrive at court, it becomes clear that being the favourite is not everything she always dreamed it would be. Behind the gilded palace walls live dark secrets, and Camellia soon learns that her powers may be far greater – and far darker – than she ever imagined.
When the queen asks Camellia to break the rules she lives by to save the ailing princess, she faces an impossible decision: protect herself and the way of the Belles, or risk her own life, and change the world forever.

‘Sumptuous and original world-building, heart-pounding plot and gorgeous prose.’ Samantha Shannon, New York Times bestselling author of The Bone Season ‘A whip-smart writer with grand, grand talents.’ Roxane Gay, New York Times bestselling author of Bad Feminist ‘Breathtakingly beautiful and deeply unsettling.’ Marie Lu, #1 New York Times bestselling author

~*~

In the magical world of Orléans, beauty is everything, and people will do anything to attain it and hide the drab features they are all born with. But there is a select group of girls who are born into this world with the power of beauty, who have the power to control beauty, and give people the look that they want” The Belles. Each generation has its own set of Belles, going back as far as Orléans does, an isle-like nation where the Belles are placed either in the palace as the favourite, or in the island tea houses to assist clients and make them beautiful, in the image that they desire, though they must adhere to rules set forth by the queen. In the generation in the books, it is Camellia and her sisters, Ambrosia, Hana, Padma, Edelweiss and Valerie who are competing for the role of the favourite. They’ve been training their whole lives for this chance, and when it comes, the result is not what they expected, nor what each of them desired.

Within the walls of the palace are dark secrets, secrets that nobody is privy to, and that the newsies and tatters can merely speculate at and send hushed whispers throughout the kingdom. The only people who truly know what is going on are at the palace – and unable to leave or disobey an order that they are given by the queen or her daughter, Princess Sophia. What Camellia will see, hear and have to do will be dark, and dangerous, hinting at a much darker power than any of the Belles could ever have imagined existing, and resulting in a climax that hints that there might be a sequel to come, as there are quite a few unanswered questions.

The world of the Belles is lavish and shows the darker side of beauty and fashion obsession and what it can drive people to, how desperate they might become. In a world where changing ones skin tone and entire look can be paid for, the racial tensions we experience in our world do not seem to be there, and relationships between the same sex and opposite sexes appeared to me to be the norm – where people are paired up based on alliances and the desires of a princess at times, and at other times, their own, but where a Belle is forbidden to fall in love with anyone. she must remain loyal to her sisters and the tea house she serves.

On the surface of Orléans, things appear perfect: because people seem free to choose their look – skin tone, features, hair colour, eye colour, and clothing (for a price and only if you can afford it), and be with someone you love, the dark, underbelly seems that much more sinister – it is hidden beneath a layer of perfection, and desire for what one cannot be. In a world where loyalty can be bought, Camellia and her sisters will learn the price they must pay for loyalty and their own safety.

As the favourite, Camellia finds an ally in the Queen, her guard, Rémy, and the various former Belles who mentor her, including Arabella, the favourite from a former generation. As the story goes on, secrets are slowly revealed – ensuring that the interest of the reader is held throughout, even in darker areas where characters are forced into situations that where they fear for their lives. In a few scenes, the tension is raised, and the pacing in these scenes works well for what they portray – the darker side of the world the Belles live in and what they must do to survive Sophia.

It is a novel of many layers and facets that were peeled back slowly, and where things were hinted at that perhaps mean future books – the ending felt more like the climax of a to be continued storyline, where there is more to come about the Belles and their origins, secrets and powers.

All in all, I enjoyed reading this. I went into it not really knowing what to expect and was pleasantly surprised. Dhonielle Clayton has created a wonderfully complex world, and I hope we get to find out more about this world and its characters.

Booktopia

Wrap Up #3: Favourite Reads of 2017

Wrap Up #3: Favourite Reads of 2017

 

In my third wrap up post for 2017, I am looking at my favourite reads of the year. Over the past twelve months of reading so many books, narrowing down my favourites has been quite hard. There are definitely a few that stick out, though. Deciding how many to include in my favourites for the year was a challenge as well. Three wasn’t enough, five barely covered them and ten seems like the next logical number. However, when it came to ranking the books I chose, I found that it was impossible to do so, because I loved them all equally and for different reasons, so to place one book ahead of another didn’t feel right. With a goal of at least ten favourite reads, more if I need them, I have compiled this list. I have listed them as I thought of them, and linked my review. My one stipulation was that the books on this list had to be published this year. I settled on … books in the end, as these were the ones that really stood out to me as exceptional for a variety of reasons.

 

nevermoorNevermoor by Jessica Townsend – a debut Children’s and YA novel about a cursed chid,Morrigan Crow, who is whisked off to the Wundrous land of Nevermoor to compete for a chance at a place at the academy there, and to escape the death that all children born on Eventide must face at the age of eleven. It has been compared to Harry Potter, and it has that some wonder and magic of the Harry Potter series. With book two out later in 2018, I am anxious to find out what will happen to Mog, Jupiter North and Fen the cat, who became my favourite character rather quickly. I devoured it in two days, and look forward to reading it again.

 

 

Facing the FlameFacing the Flame by Jackie French – the seventh book in the Matilda Saga takes place a few years after the solemn end of If Blood Should Stain the Wattle. Jed Kelly is getting married, and is going to have a baby. In the final days of her pregnancy, Jed must run from the fire and an old adversary to save her life, and her baby. As the fire closes in on Gibber’s Creek, lives will be lost and found, and Jed’s world changes forever. The Matilda Saga is one of my favourite series, and with a new book out each year, I look forward to reuniting with the families of Gibbers Creek each December.

 

 

stars across the oceanStars Across the Ocean by Kimberley Freeman – The story of foundling baby, Agnes Resolute, determined to find her birth mother, whom she thinks is Genevieve Breckby. A journey from the foundling home to London and across the world will lead her to her real mother. It is a story about a strong young woman, determined not to let anything stop her, but a woman of her time as well, finding ways to fit in whilst taking her fate into her own hands. It also tells the dual storyline of a young woman in the 21st century, caring for her mother, and following the journey of Agnes that her mother has been researching. It has a touch of romance that happens as a result

of events in the story, rather than driving the plot. It was a good read, and definitely one of my favourites.

 

Beauty in Thorns by Kate Forsyth – a favourite

BeautyinThorns_Cover

reads list of mine would not be complete without Kate Forsyth’s latest fairy tale infused historical fiction novel.  Beauty in Thorns is about the Victorian Pre-Raphaelite art society, primarily the women w

ho inspired the words and paintings of their husbands and lovers and fathers, and what they contributed. In a world where women were expected to raise children and run a household, the Pre-Raphaelite women did this and inspired the men in their lives, and some even contributed their own artistic talents to exhibitions. Exquisitely told, with the flaws as well as the strengths present, Kate Forsyth is a master at telling the little-known stories of women in history, and bringing historical characters such as Lizzie Siddal to life with her words.

 

Flat Cover_Gentill_ADL_2017A Dangerous Language by Sulari Gentill another author whose books I eagerly await each year is Sulari Gentill, primarily her Rowland Sinclair series. Eight books in, and poor Rowly keeps finding himself in the wrong place at the wrong time, getting embroiled in murder and mayhem, and involved in the left side of the political spectrum, far from what his brother, Wilfred, wishes he would do. Several months after the total destruction of his Mercedes in a race that almost claimed his life, Rowland is car shopping in Melbourne with Milt, the Jewish Communist poet, and Clyde, a working-class painter, for a new car. On the drive back from Melbourne, they stop in Canberra, where a Communist is murdered, and soon, both Rowly and Milt find their lives in jeopardy. Set in the 1930s as worldwide political tensions lead to the rise of Hitler and the lead up to the devastation of the Second World War, each book gets more political, and Sulari manages this with great skill, ensuring an engaging series that I feel gets better with each book.

 

into the worldInto the World by Stephanie Parkyn – Another historical fiction novel by a debut Australian female author, and another book I read as part of the Australian Women Writers Challenge, as all the books so far have been. Set during the French Revolution of the 1790s, Marie-Louise Giradin leaves her son with a trusted friend, and, disguised as a man, travels on a journey to find La Perouse, lost at sea in the Southern Oceans around the newly colonised Australia. Her journey takes her to Tasmania, where the stories she has heard are far from the truth of what she sees here and on stops along the way, where she tries to speak out, horrified when she sees the slave trade in full swing. It is a journey that is full of surprises – where Marie Louise and the crew find that they may never reach the shores of their beloved France again after Louis XIV is beheaded. It was delightful to read a novel where the woman’s primary role was one of strength and courage, and where women were shown to do things beyond what society expected them to do. A great story, and an enjoyable one.

 

draekoraDraekora by Lynette Noni – Returning to Akarnae and its world each year is a pleasure Set just after the events of Raelia, Alex, Bear and D.C. must find a way to save Jordan, who has been Claimed by Aven, the Meyarin Prince who seeks to reclaim their world at any cost. Sent to Meya, and thousands of years into the past, Alex must find a way to get back, and complete her testing and training before she can face Aven. In this fantasy series, each book has been engaging and enthralling, with a strong focus on friendship as the primary relationships in the novel. With Graevale out in a matter of months, this is definitely making my list of favourite books I have read this year, and I am looking forward to Graevale.

 

baby ganesh 3The Strange Disappearance of a Bollywood Star by Vaseem Khan Up until now, each book has been by an Australian female author, and mostly fantasy or historical fiction. The Baby Ganesh series is set in Mumbai, and revolves around a private detective, Chopra, investigating crimes with his trusty elephant, Ganesha, who loves Cadbury’s Milk Chocolate. The pair often insert themselves into investigations, much to the dismay of Chopra’s formidable wife, Poppy, and end up getting into scrapes that young Ganesha manages to get them out of. In the third book, a famous Bollywood star has gone missing, and Chopra and Ganesha are on the trail. A few rough turns take them to unexpected places, and with an ending that was surprising this series has a character to it that few I have read do.

 

bedlam stacksThe Bedlam Stacks by Natasha Pulley – In what I feel can only be described as historical fiction infused with magical realism, this was one of the most interesting books I read this year. As smuggler Merrick Tremayne is at home, he is summoned to go on an expedition to South America to find quinine to help with malaria outbreaks in East India. What Tremayne and his companions find has them questioning what they know, and how to deal with the world as they have understood and known it. What was clever about this book was that it felt like a historical fiction until nearer the end, when the subtle hints towards the magical realism in the book started to come together. Cleverly done so the reader gets a surprise, I hope that Natasha Pulley writes some more books like this.

 

rotherweirdRotherweird by Andrew Caldecott – This one, set in a town that lives in the current times but whose lives mimic those of Shakespearean times, made the list for its inventiveness, and clever execution, much like Bedlam Stacks. It is part historical fiction, part fantasy, with each section opening and closing with a snippet of the history of the town that history teacher, Jonah Oblong has come to teach in. Cast away from Elizabethan England, Rotherweird seems to have moved on in years but is stuck in a time when a Virgin Queen sat on the throne and a playwright who charmed audiences in the Globe Theatre. It is a place full of anachronisms, cleverly used, and where local history and pre-1800 history is not taught. I look forward to the next book, and what it brings to the mystery and intrigue of this anachronistic little town.

 

Of course, there are many more that I loved, but these are amongst my favourites and the ones that made me think and that offered something a little bit different to some other books out there. Bring on 2018!

 

Happy Reading!

 

The Book Muse, Ashleigh

 

 

 

The Bedlam Stacks by Natasha Pulley

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Title: The Bedlam Stacks

Author: Natasha Pulley

Genre: Historical Fiction

Publisher: Bloomsbury Circus

Published: 1st August, 2017

Format: Paperback

Pages: 352

Price: $29.99

Synopsis: An astonishing historical novel set in the shadowy, magical forests of South America, which draws on the captivating world of the international bestseller The Watchmaker of Filigree Street

Deep in uncharted Peru, the holy town of Bedlam stands at the edge of a forest. The shrine statues move, and anyone who crosses the border dies. But somewhere inside are cinchona trees, whose bark yields quinine: the only known treatment for malaria.

On the other side of the Pacific, it is 1859 and India is ravaged by the disease. The hunt for a reliable source of quinine is critical and in its desperation, the India Office searches out its last qualified expeditionary. Struggling with a terrible injury from his last mission and the strange occurrences at his family’s ruined estate, Merrick Tremayne finds himself under orders to bring back cinchona cuttings at any cost and dispatched, against his own better judgement, to Bedlam.

There he meets Raphael, a priest around whom the villagers spin unsettlingly familiar stories of impossible disappearances and living stone. Gradually, he realises that Raphael is the key to a legacy left by two generations of Tremayne explorers before him, one which will prove more dangerous and valuable than the India Office could ever have imagined.

~*~

Ex- East India smuggler, Merrick Tremayne is at home in Cornwall, recovering from an injury to his leg that inhibits activity for him when the India Office contacts him about an expedition to Peru to fetch some quinine to help treat malaria outbreaks in India. Tremayne instantly knows it is a bad idea : every able-bodied explorer has been unsuccessful, paying with their life, so he questions how he, a disabled explorer, will cope, survive and succeed. Lumped with orders to go, Tremayne is accompanied by a friend, Clem, and they venture into Bedlam, a holy town in uncharted Peru that holds many secrets of the past, and a sense of magic and history that will slowly unfold throughout the five parts of the novel, and reveal secrets about a Tremayne ancestor that Merrick had been unaware of. Accompanied by a priest, Raphael, whose presence indicates something a little out of the ordinary, lending to a sense of fantastical and magical realism within the novel.

The Bedlam Stacks is steeped in history and colonialist ideas and expectations of “The Other”, typically seen through Tremayne’s companion, Clem, whose ignorance and the sense that he felt his knowledge was superior came through at times, in contrast to Tremayne, who I felt made the efforts to understand and communicate effectively with Raphael and show his appreciation for what Raphael was doing for him. In 1860, when disability and injury might be more likely to inhibit what one is able to do, Tremayne copes, albeit with help when he needs it, and in what felt realistic, he is shown to struggle, but readers also get to see what he is capable of, in all areas of his person. It is a travel story with a difference, where the explorers are faced with the harsh realities of an unknown world that challenges their sense of being and self, and shows them just how human and vulnerable they are. They need rescuing by locals, and at times, they are shown to be imperfect, punctures to their egos that their upbringing might have inflated.

I liked Merrick’s sense of humility, and ability to stand back and let Raphael talk. It was refreshing to see this move towards equal standing of characters of vastly different backgrounds, much of which are extrapolated through flashbacks, cleverly inserted into the text without disrupting the flow of the story, and the vast majority is told in first person, with the exception of one chapter towards the end that gives the reader insight into Raphael and his past. Raphael’s absences of long periods of time are explained as catalepsy – by Merrick, who hears of Raphael’s symptoms and urges him to see a doctor – perhaps a marker of how he sees the world, juxtaposed with Raphael’s acceptance of things being the way they are. In doing so, Pulley has illustrated how two different worlds collide, and through this collision, have attempted to find a way to communicate.

Throughout the novel, odd things happen at different times, marking this as more than just an expedition into history and unexplored, uncharted areas of the world as they would have been in the 1860s. These instances hint at elements of fantasy and magical realism, and this makes it a very intriguing novel, as the layers of each chapter and part are revealed slowly to bring the story to it’s conclusion and the wrapping up of the characters and their lives, but at the same time, leaving some aspects open for interpretation and maybe another novel.

It was a enjoyable novel, and has made me want to read Natasha’s first novel. The Watchmaker of Filigree Street. An enjoyable novel, and highly recommended for fans of historical fiction, mysteries and novels with that little bit of a difference that make them stand out.

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Carnivalesque by Neil Jordan

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Title: Carnivalesque

Author: Neil Jordan

Genre: Magical Realism, Fiction, Fantasy

Publisher: Bloomsbury

Published: 1st April 2017

Format: Paperback

Pages: 288

Price: $24.99

Synopsis: It looked like any other carnival, but of course it wasn’t…

 

It had its own little backstreets, its alleyways of hanging bulbs and ghost trains and Punch and Judy stands …

And at the end of one he saw the Hall of Mirrors. There were looping strings of carnival lights leading towards it, and a large sign in mirrored glass reading ‘Burleigh’s Amazing Hall of Mirrors’ and the sign reflected the lights in all sorts of magically distorted ways.

To Andy and his parents, it looks like any other carnival: creaking ghost train, rusty rollercoaster and circus performers. But of course it isn’t.

Drawn to the hall of mirrors, Andy enters and is hypnotised by the many selves staring back at him. Sometime later, one of those selves walks out rejoins his parents – leaving Andy trapped inside the glass, snatched from the tensions of his suburban home and transported to a world where the laws of gravity are meaningless and time performs acrobatic tricks.

And now an identical stranger inhabits Andy’s life, unsettling his mother with a curious blankness, as mysterious events start unfolding in their Irish coastal town…

~*~

Andy’s story begins quite innocuously, with a detour to a carnival that catches his eye on the way to a shopping centre with his parents. They enter, and soon, Andy’s world is turned upside down in the Hall or Mirrors, where he is left behind at the carnival, and someone who looks like him, but is not quite him, leaves with his parents. Andy, now Dany in the carnie world, must come to terms with the life of travelling around and setting up the carnival, discovering it’s secrets with Mona and the others, adjusting to a new life, whilst the Andy impersonator resides with his parents, calls them mother and father, and casts shadows into the family that worry his mother, Eileen, and do not bode well for their futures.

The story is told in alternating chapters, through the eyes of Eileen and Andy/Dany, and sometimes with a couple dedicated to one character. As Dany adjusts to his new life, the new Andy and his unusual ways of speaking, and acting worry Eileen. The dual storyline shows the complexity of the story, and allows the reader to follow the intriguing mystery of how the real Andy’s (Dany) disappearance affects his family, and hints that tragedy may soon befall them.

As Dany journeys with the carnival, he becomes a part of it, though he still remembers his home and longs to return, the carnival offers him a different life, one that he could never have imagined.

Written by Oscar-winning film director (The Crying Game, The Company of Wolves) and novelist, Carnivalesque is his latest creation, and I quite enjoyed it. It has a feel of intrigue and mystery about it, with questions that won’t necessarily be answered, nor some things resolved properly. It fits in nicely with Neil Gaiman’s works in the magical realism and fantasy worlds. A great read for fans of Jordan’s previous work, Gaiman fans or anyone who enjoys fantasy and magical realism.

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Bone Gap by Laura Ruby

bone-gapTitle: Bone Gap

Author: Laura Ruby

Genre: Magical Realism, Fiction, Young Adult

Publisher: Faber & Faber

Published: 22nd February 2017

Format: Paperback

Pages: 400

Price: $19.99

Synopsis: A masterful and seductive tale of love, magic, regret and forgiveness. Winner of the 2016 Michael L. Printz Award.

He’d been drawn here by the grass and the bees and the strange sensation that this was a magical place, that the bones of the world were a little looser here, double- jointed, twisting back on themselves, leaving spaces one could slip into and hide…

Everyone knows Bone Gap is full of gaps – gaps to trip you up, gaps to slide through so you can disappear forever. So when young, beautiful Roza goes missing, the people of Bone Gap aren’t surprised. After all, it isn’t the first time someone’s slipped away and left Finn and Sean O’Sullivan on their own. Finn knows that’s not what happened with Roza. He knows she was taken, ripped from the cornfields by a man whose face he can’t remember. But no one believes him anymore. Well, almost no one. Petey Willis, the beekeeper’s daughter, suspects that lurking behind Finn’s fearful shyness is a story worth uncovering. But as we, like Petey, follow the stories of Finn, Roza, and the people of Bone Gap – their melancholy pasts, their terrifying presents, their uncertain futures – the truth about what happened to Roza is slowly revealed. And it is stranger than you can possibly imagine.

~*~

Bone Gap is a small town in America, where strange things occur to ordinary people. Roza appears in Bone Gap, in the barn of Finn and Sean O’Sullivan, two boys abandoned by their mother, and with a dead father, they fend for themselves, finding a way to work together. Sean drives the ambulance, and Finn is finishing school, but can’t recognise faces: it is a quirk that people in Bone Gap find odd, that they don’t know how to respond to for much of the novel. Especially when Roza disappears and Finn knows who did it – the man who moves like a cornstalk – but can’t describe his face. It is Petey, the beekeeper’s daughter, who starts to believe him and befriend him, and their relationship grows over the summer. It reaches a climax where Finn is determined to set things right, and it swept me along, longing to finish it and find out what had happened.

There is romance in this novel – Roza and Sean, Finn and Petey, but it’s something that lingers as the mystery of Roza’s disappearance and Bone Gap emerge. A different person, usually Roza and Finn, tells each chapter with the occasional side character such as Petey and Charlie Valentine, the old man who keeps chickens and hides secrets. Who is Charlie and what role does he play? Is he dangerous, or simply a lonely old man who longs to be a part of something? And who is there to believe Finn about the man who moved like a cornstalk, but whose face he couldn’t describe – a face, that to Finn, looked fairly average and indistinct? It’s Petey who does, whose kind words push him into action. She is as much a friend as a girlfriend to him. Their relationship works as either, and it was the friendship they shared at the beginning that I enjoyed the most, and this aspect continued to come through, even in moments of doubt from each character.

Both romances were almost secondary to the character development. The arrival of the black horse brings the magic into it, and shows Finn that the world isn’t what it always seems to be. I enjoyed Bone Gap – it was different to many things I have read but it had a sense of mystery and magic that were hard to resist, flawed characters who didn’t have all their secrets revealed at once or at all, so reading on was the only option. And a relationship between brothers and how it healed that became more important than the romance – refreshing to see different kinds of love and relationships represented in Young Adult literature.

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