The Unadoptables by Hana Tooke

unadoptablesTitle: The Unadoptables

Author: Hana Tooke

Genre: Fantasy, Historical Fiction

Publisher: Puffin

Published: 2nd July 2020

Format: Paperback

Pages: 400

Price: $16.99

Synopsis: The amazing humour and world-building of Nevermoor meets the wisdom and warmth of Rooftoppers in this most un-ordinary adventure about five amazing children . . .

‘Milou,’ Lotta said softly. ‘We need adoption papers to leave. And no one except that horrid merchant wants us.’
‘Well then,’ replied Milou with a grin. ‘We’ll just have to adopt ourselves.’

In all the years that Elinora Gassbeek has been matron of the Little Tulip Orphanage, not once have the Rules for Baby Abandonment been broken. Until the autumn of 1880, when five babies are left in outrageous circumstances: one in a tin toolbox, one in a coal bucket, one in a picnic hamper, one in a wheat sack, and finally, one in a coffin-shaped basket.

Those babies were Lotta, Egg, Fenna, Sem and Milou; who were swiftly and firmly deemed ‘the unadoptables’. Twelve years on the children still have each other – until the fateful night a most sinister gentleman appears and threatens to tear them apart. The gang decide to make a daring escape, fleeing the frozen canals of Amsterdam for an adventure packed with puppets and pirate ships, clock-makers and cruel villains – and with only a scrap of a clue to guide them to their mysterious new home . . .

~*~

The Unadoptables by Hana Tooke is set in Amsterdam in the 19th century, in a world where orphans contend with pirates, puppets, clockmakers and cruel villains to find a home and a place where they truly belong. Fenna, Lotta, Sem, Egg and Milou are known by the matron of Little Tulip Orphanage as the unadoptables. Lotta has twelve fingers, Fenna is a mute, Egg has a shawl that reminded the matron of rotten eggs, Sem arrived in a wheat sack, and Milou arrived on a full moon – and has theories about where her real parents and believes they’re coming for her.

When Rotman comes to adopt the five orphans, Milou and her friends realise something is wrong, and they escape, only to find themselves pursued by Rotman and the Kinderbureau, as they try to make a life at the Poppenmaker theatre where Milou believes her parents come from. Whilst here, Milou uncovers several secrets and together with her friends, forms her own family – yet she is still keen to solve the mystery of Bram Poppenmaker.

This book was filled with mystery, history, and a sense of doom at times that would always give way to hope and wonder. Here there are five children – determined and hopeful that they can have a good life. Instead of waiting around they make one for themselves. And whilst doing so, they uncover crimes and mysteries that bubble beneath the surface from page one – there is always a sense of whimsy and wonder yet at the same time, a sense that something doesn’t feel quite right – as though at any moment, something could go horribly wrong – and nobody is quite sure what it will be or how to handle it.

Hana Tooke manages to move through nineteenth century Amsterdam wonderfully – showing readers the city, and the canals in detail that etches them in the reader’s mind, and also, makes the city feel as though is its own character. I loved the way the mystery was woven throughout, and not immediately solved, but tiny crumbs and clues dropped at just the right time, and the orphans were resourceful, and all had character arcs and growth that worked well with the novel, especially Milou. I think she was my favourite, although it was hard to choose one as they were all great characters. What worked well with this novel was its setting – because this allowed Milou and her friends to escape easily – these days, with phones and technology, it could be harder – doable, but the mystery would be solved sooner than Milou solved her family mystery.

In a very unordinary, exciting and unusual adventure, this new middle grade offering is fantastic, filled with whimsical illustrations, it pulls you into a different world of puppets and trickery – and villains like Gassbeek and Rotman, where you cheer for the orphans. Whenever Gassbeek and Rotman were around, the hairs on the back of my neck stood up – a warning that something wasn’t right, and I found myself reading late into the night to finish this one – I had to find out if Milou and her friends found their family, and if Milou was right about Bram Poppenmaker. It felt like so many familiar children’s novels and yet at the same time, felt so unique and so fresh that I don’t think there is anything to compare it to, yet it would sit comfortably with books like Nevermoor on a shelf of wondrous tales that have a sense of magical realism about them and that make their world feel so real, I could easily fall in and find myself living there.

A great new middle grade novel!

The Mummy Smugglers of Crumblin Castle by Pamela Rushby, Nellé May Pierce (Illustrator)

Mummy SmugglersTitle: The Mummy Smugglers of Crumblin Castle
Author: Pamela Rushby, Nellé May Pierce (Illustrator)
Genre: Historical Fiction
Publisher: Walker Books
Published: 1st July 2020
Format: Paperback
Pages: 336
Price: $17.99
Synopsis: A crumbling castle, a moat full of crocodiles, a catastrophe of kittens, and let’s not forget the villains and the mummies! This rambunctious story has it all.
England 1873
Orphaned twelve-year-old Hattie travels to the remote and mist-shrouded Fens to live with her great uncle Sisyphus and great aunt Iphigenia: Egypt-obsessed relatives she has never met.
Iphigenia, desperate to save their castle home from ruin, hosts ancient Egyptian mummy-unwrapping parties in London, aided by the mysterious and sinister Ravens.
When the mummy supply unexpectedly runs out, the family embarks on a perilous (and illegal) search for more, a thousand miles up the Nile. But Hattie is haunted by the wandering souls of long-gone Egyptians. And soon she makes an audacious dash to free them – with very unexpected consequences.

• A potent blend of fantasy and historical happenings are at the core of this extraordinary interface between fact and fiction. ·
• From an author who has experienced the remnants of the ancient world first-hand by going on a number of archaeological digs.
~*~

Hattie – or Hatshepsut – was just a baby when she was found outside of Hatshepsut’s Mortuary Temple. Since then, she has spent some of her life at Howling Hall, and the past few years at boarding school – Miss Fractious’ Boarding Establishment for Young Ladies. That is, until she hears her Uncle Heracles has been eaten by a crocodile. So Hattie now has to go live with her great uncle Sisyphus and great aunt Iphigenia – and becomes caught up in their fascination with ancient Egypt.

Their journey in Egypt with the Ravens is perilous. There to illegally procure mummies, Hattie and her family are escorted by Omar Shaydi, and his daughter, Amal – who is there to be a companion to Hattie. Yet when Hattie finds out what the Ravens are up to, she must use all her wits and ideas to find out how to prove they’re doing the wrong thing and save her new home.

Victorian England and Egypt – two worlds in great contrast, but in this novel, brought together delightfully for this story, and again, ancient and modern are contrasted in both settings, which sets up the story for the events and timeline that make the story so compelling. From the first line about hearing about the demise of one’s relative at the jaws of a crocodile, to the mummy-unwrapping parties that the author notes say were common during the time the novel was set, and then into Egypt, where ancient and modern are contrasted, the novel centres Hattie and Amal within their worlds of what is expected of girls their age and what these two girls want to do. Amal lives in a world where tradition dictates what she should be doing, yet her desire to learn maths and science drives her to make her own choices and fight, and Hattie, frustrated with the schooling she has received so far would rather learn about ancient Egypt, history and mythology. Thrown together on the illegal search led by Amal’s father, the two soon find out that they have more in common than they thought – and one of those things is that they both suspect the Ravens. Together, when Hattie begins to feel the spirits of those they’re disturbing, Amal notices.

AWW2020Yet it is the Ravens who cast a shadowy threat over the trip – their ability to influence Sisyphus and Iphigenia is not lost on Amal and Hattie, and the two decide to work out what the two are up to…if they can. But Hattie might not be able to reveal the truth until she is back in England – and to do that, she’ll need to come up with a very clever plan to find out what the Ravens are up to and save her new home. The Ravens are the kind of characters who set off alarm bells from their first appearance. They give the book its unsettled feeling. It is as though nothing will feel right until Hattie finds out what they are up to and finds a way to reveal the truth about their scheming.

This book combined Victorian England, Ancient Egypt and strong female characters in an exciting way. Amal, Iphigenia and Hattie drive the story, and Sisyphus and Omar have their role too, and I quite found great uncle Sisyphus a lot of fun – he quite enjoyed letting Iphigenia and Hattie explore their interests, so he was a really good character to have in there. Pamela Rushby has also researched this very well and explains what she had to research and the liberties she took in her author notes about each separate topic in the back of the book – which will spark further interest and research for readers.

It is cleverly put together and the history and fantasy elements in a way that makes it feel seamless and entirely possible – and makes the reader want to find out what happens next – it was one that I did not want to put down. It is clear that Pamela’s research and experience has informed much of what she has written, and this brings a sense of authenticity to the book that makes it come alive on the page and in the imagination of the reader. There is a sense of place and time in this novel – as though the modern and ancient converge and bring about a story that is evocative and intriguing that works as a stand alone, yet would also be delightful with a sequel.

A wonderful read for all readers aged eight and older.

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.

Isolation Publicity with Dr Anna Whateley

 

Due to recent events, many Australian authors have had to cancel book launches and festival appearances. For some, this means new novels, series continuations and debut novels are heading into this scary, strange world without much publicity or attention. The good news is, you can still buy books – online or get your local bookstore to deliver if they’re offering that service. Buying these books, talking about them, sharing them, reading them, reviewing them – are all ways that for the next six months at least, we can ensure that these books don’t fall by the wayside.
Over the next few months, a lot of us will be consuming some form of art – entertainment, movies, TV, radio, music, books – the list goes on. It is something we will be turning to take our minds off things and to occupy vast swathes of free time. One of the things I will be doing to support the arts, and specifically, Australian Authors, will be reading and reviewing as many books as possible, conducting interviews like this where possible, and participating in virtual book tours for authors.

Peta Lyre

Dr Anna Whateley is a neurodivergent, #OwnVoices author – and it is exciting to hear from her about her debut novel, Peta Lyre’s Rating Normal, which was released on the 28th of April 2020. Anna put some of herself into Peta, and I think this will make for interesting and authentic reading. Like many authors during the next few months, Anna is missing out on the release, launch and events related to her debut novel. Since starting this series, several events and launches have moved online, which is great – but this series is still vital I think – to showcase as many authors as possible affected by the pandemic in a variety of ways and in at various stages in their careers.

Hi Anna, and welcome to The Book Muse!

1. Your first novel, Peta Lyre’s Rating Normal is released this year – can you tell the readers a little bit about Peta, and where she came from?

Peta Lyre is 16, and from an area just south of Brisbane called the Redlands. She is doing year 11 at a TAFE college, and lives with her Aunt Antonia. Peta is autistic and gifted, and she has ADHD and sensory processing disorder, so life can be a bit intense! She has been following all the social rules perfectly, masking and ‘passing’ as normal for years. Her best friend is Jeb, a funny and sensitive guy stuck in a mechanics course when he wants to branch out. When Samanta arrives at college, Peta falls in love. They go to Perisher Valley for a ski trip and everything becomes more difficult. She is left with conflicting rules, an avalanche of emotions, and her worst fears are realised.

Peta’s voice was natural for me, a certain way of thinking I share, but her story is her own. She’s more sensible than me, and probably smarter!

2. You’re the second author I’ve interviewed represented by Danielle Binks, who was the first Isolation Publicity interview – how did you meet Danielle, and how long have you been working with her on the novel?

I met Danielle at the CYA conference in 2018, where I pitched Peta Lyre’s Rating Normal. I was pretty nervous, but she was supportive and yet straight to the point (I like that!). After she signed me up we had some young interns read Peta’s story, and they loved it. We didn’t really do any edits before sending it out to publishers in early 2019.

3. I understand that Peta Lyre is your first novel – what events and launches were planned for this novel prior to the pandemic shutting everything down?

Before the pandemic I was contracted to the Sydney Writer’s Festival, and a few other events that still haven’t been announced (or they haven’t decided what to do yet). I absolutely love festivals, so I’m a bit crushed. Apart from those, I’d planned to have a launch and a few bookstore events – they’ve mostly moved online, so that’s great!

4. Without giving too many spoilers away, is there anything about Peta and her story that was inspired by yourself, or anyone you know?

I share her diagnoses, and she takes the same medications I do. I also went to a TAFE for years eleven and twelve of high school and went on the ski trip. I’ve drawn on those years to create Peta’s world, but not directly, and nothing in her family life is like mine was really. We did struggle for money in those years, and I really wanted to show what low SES living can be like. Not in a dramatic way, just in a mundane sort of day to day life way – like not going to the movies or having sponsored ski trip thanks to the government and package deals with local private schools. Being the charity kids, as it were. We still enjoyed it, but there’s always a moment when you realise that other people live and experience life differently. Apart from that, I drew on key moments – emotional punches – from my teenage years. Like the moment you realise someone has judged you for kissing a girl, or when you realise you’ve hurt someone you love. The situations are different, but the core emotion is shared.

5. Since the pandemic started to shut things down, you’ve started an #AusChat video series – what inspired this, and how many people in the book industry in Australia have you spoken to so far?

Ha, this was a strange thing! I was swept up in a moment of loneliness and sadness that I wouldn’t be seeing my writer community. I can easily slip into isolation anyway, and forget that I need other people, and when it looked like everything was shutting down, it became overwhelming. So, I guess my ADHD-self took over and decided to chat to people I know from Twitter using zoom, and just see how they’re going. Then I thought I’d record it and pop it up on my YouTube channel. Kay Kerr helped me figure out a few parameters and was always going to be my first chat. We’ve shared a lot of our publishing journey together and had previously thought we would do some online conversations. I’ve recorded thirty chats now and have more booked in! I’m stunned people have responded so well, and I’ll keep going so long as the need is there.

6. You’ve got a PhD in young adult literature – where did you study this, and in particular, what aspect of young adult literature did you focus on?

I do, but not in creative writing of YA! I analysed young adult fiction with a theoretical framework. It’s an academic way of understanding where our society and culture sit on a particular issue. For me, it was understanding how people continue on after they realise they’re going to die. That sounds simple, but there’s a moment where you understand what death really means, and that it’s always present in our lives (perhaps even more so at the moment). These revelatory moments are key to YA texts, and I specifically looked at the role characters who didn’t fit the binary codes of society played in each narrative. I could go on forever! Basically, I found that young adult fiction does an amazing job of processing and incorporating death in a productive and transformative way. More than that, characters who don’t fit simple binaries are crucial to survival. Perfect.

7. Did you study children’s literature prior to the PhD, and what did the course focus on? What aspects of a children’s literature course do you think are important?

I came from doing a teaching certificate in the UK, and before that I completed a BA with Honours in English Literature. Not children’s literature at all! I studied all the classics, from William Shakespeare to Toni Morrison. I loved every moment, though I’d say my favourites were the Romantic period, and postmodern literature. My honours looked at environmental discourses over the last two hundred years, winding in feminist, post-structural and postcolonial theories. I have taught children’s and YA literature to pre-service teachers more recently, where I think it’s really important to keep the texts current, while leaning on historical writing. We need to show a genuine respect for the books we study, whether they are adult, YA, picture books, graphic novels, or poetry. Popular or unpopular, they all show us something about the culture that produced them.

8. How important are #OwnVoices stories to you, and what do you think they bring to the book world?

Own voices writing is incredibly important to me, and I’m lucky to have come along at the upsurge of a movement that amplifies my own voice. We’ve had post-colonial theories for a long time, questioning the writing of Othered/marginalised people by those in more powerful positions (Western, usually male, white writers). Own voices is expanding these ideas and drawing attention to how problematic it is to have disabled, queer, or otherwise marginalised people written, rather than writing. The caveat is always that some writers may not want to expose their own position, or identify a text as own voices, so it’s good to remember that before criticising any text for not being own voices. I think our books bring a sense of authenticity, and it’s changing the publishing industry for the better.

9. #OwnVoices has been around for a few years now. What are some of your favourite #OwnVoices stories, and why these in particular?

I really like Erin Gough’s writing, her short stories and novella in particular, but obviously her YA, Amelia Westlake, too! To all the Boys I’ve Loved Before by Jenny Han is wonderful, and Invisible Boys by Holden Sheppard also had a big impact. I’m really looking forward to Kay Kerr’s Please Don’t Hug Me, as an autistic own voices YA novel. I like these ones because they have a voice I identify with, or that I don’t – and then I can learn and expand my own world understanding by reading them. [Just a note, these authors may not all identify these novels as own voices!]

10. During these difficult times of isolation, what authors or books do you find yourself turning to?

I’m reading a strange pile right now, mostly inspired by #AusChat! Mirandi Riwoe’s Stone Sky Gold Mountain, is taking my breath away. I’m expecting my copy of Deep Water by Sarah Epstein to arrive any day now, and I can’t wait. My reading has changed a lot over the years, perhaps as a teenager I would have turned to a long fantasy series, with a contemporary novel or two on the side.

11. There are several new releases over the next few months that have either been delayed or rescheduled due to the virus or are coming out without any launches or events attached to them. Which ones are you the most excited to read when you will be able to get them?

Ah! Luckily, I’m involved with OzAuthorsOnline, where we are doing YA launches for people who have had their events cancelled. Soon, I will have Sarah Epstein’s Deep Water, Katya de Beccera’s Oasis, and Danielle Bink’s The Year The Maps Changed, of course!

12. Favourite author, series or book that you always go back to?

Oh, once up on a time I’d have said Twilight, but the long-time favourite is Anne McCaffrey. For contemporary writing, I’d say Judy Blume.

13. What writing method works for you – handwriting, typing or a combination?

Typing! I scribble things, but my hands lack strength and I type much faster.

14. What do you enjoy doing when you’re not writing?

I have SO many hobbies. They include reading, jigsaws, felting, sewing (badly), camping, mushroom photography and Minecraft!

15. Do you have any writing buddies, like a cat or a dog?

I have two dogs, Teddy and Buddy, and two rescue guinea pigs called Autumn and Winter. They all keep me company! Teddy barks a lot, but he’s very sweet.

16. How do you think the arts community will help people through this tough time, and how do you hope it will come out at the other end?

The arts give us escape, entertainment, a reason to go on, and a way to process what’s happened. These things are equally important.

Thank you Anna!

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.

The Girl She Was by Rebecca Freeborn

TGSW_3DTitle: The Girl She Was

Author: Rebecca Freeborn

Genre: Fiction

Publisher: Pantera Press

Published:  31st March 2020

Format: Paperback

Pages: 392

Price: $29.99

Synopsis: ‘She’d long ago stopped wondering whether anyone would find out what she’d done. It was in the past, and Layla didn’t dwell on the past.’

At the cafe in the small town of Glasswater Bay where she works after school, seventeen-year-old Layla enters into a volatile relationship with her married boss.

Twenty years later, she receives a message from her former boss’s wife.

As Layla relives the events from her youth that have shaped her present, her past starts to infiltrate her life in a way she can no longer ignore.

She’s run from her town, her friends and the memory of what she’s done. Now she must face them all.

~*~

At thirty-seven, Layla feels she finally has her life under control. She’s married, has kids and a good job – she has come a long way from her final year in Glasswater Bay and the affair with her boss at the café – and the events that led to her family fleeing the town shortly after she graduated high school. She has spent the past twenty years running from that, until a message from someone in Glasswater Bay appears – I know what you did­ – and Layla’s memories begin to resurface.

AWW2020

As she grapples with what happened, and with facing the people she left behind, Layla finds who she can really trust, and starts to face not only what she did but also what happened to her, and how she and everyone around her, everyone who was affected by it, feels.

In another novel – my third this month at least – that pings back and forth between present and past, this one uses a different tactic to tell Layla’s story. Each chapter is clearly labelled then and now – to delineate where we are in Layla’s story, and the ‘then’ chapters are told in first person, in Layla’s perspective of what happens, and the ‘now’ chapters in third person, but also through Layla’s eyes. Because it is told in this way, the reader gains a good understanding of who Layla is, who she was and why, how and what led her to each of these stages. It deals with some pretty heavy stuff, which comes out much later in the novel, and is a topic that might upset some readers, so just a heads up if you are sensitive or can find it difficult to digest stories centered around possible abuse and power imbalances. The novel also celebrates female empowerment and friendship, new and old, that form as a result of something – or someone – pulling people together over unexpected experiences and circumstances.

This is a powerful book that hints at issues surrounding the #MeToo movement as referenced in the author’s note at the end and assures the reader that speaking out can help – and trusting in the people who love you can help. It also deals with the issue of not being sure what to do, and what happens when people question themselves. Layla shows that it is okay to be scared and reluctant, and also shows what it can feel like when finally admitting what has happened, and how doing this can start healing wounds and repairing relationships.

 

Isolation Publicity: Interview with Danielle Binks – literary agent, blogger and author.

Due to recent events, many Australian authors have had to cancel book launches and festival appearances. For some, this means new novels, series continuations and debut novels are heading into this scary, strange world without much publicity or attention. The good news is, you can still buy books – online or get your local bookstore to deliver if they’re offering that service. Buying these books, talking about them, sharing them, reading them, reviewing them – are all ways that for the next six months at least, we can ensure that these books don’t fall by the wayside.

Over the next few months, a lot of us will be consuming some form of art – entertainment, movies, TV, radio, music, books – the list goes on. It is something we will be turning to to take our minds off things and to occupy vast swathes of free time. One of the things I will be doing to support the arts, and specifically, Australian Authors, will be reading and reviewing as many books as possible, conducting interviews like this where possible, and participating in virtual book tours for authors.

One of my first interviews for this venture that I have called Isolation Publicity is an interview with Danielle Binks – literary agent, fellow book reviewer and author. Her debut novel, The Year the Maps Changed is due for release with Hachette on the 28th of April 2020, and I had hoped to participate in the blog tour run by AusYABloggers. As I wasn’t able to, I decided to interview Danielle about her new book, and plan to read it as soon as I can.

the year the maps changed
The Year The Maps Changed by Danielle Binks, out 28th April 2020.

Hi Danielle, and welcome to The Book Muse!

1. How did you get started working in the arts and publishing industry, and what was your first job?

A: I was really lucky once I finished up doing RMIT’s Professional Writing and Editing course (and after a year of still-working in my uni job at the local post-office) an internship program came up with the Australian Publishers Association, for a paid internship at one of (I think?) five placements around Australia. There were two going in Victoria, and I nabbed one. That was my foot in the door – and luckily, after my six-month internship that indie publisher decided to keep me on! I was a publicist and editor for a few indie-publishers over about 3-years, before getting tapped on the shoulder one day by Jacinta di Mase … she’d read my freelance writing for Kill Your Darlings digital and liked what I had to say about Aussie YA in particular, and offered me a job working as a literary agent with her. I joined her in 2016 and have never looked back – even as being a literary agent never even crossed my mind until she offered me that opportunity, I now can’t think what else I’d rather be doing!

2. As a literary agent, what is it about a book that makes you go wow, this has to be published?

A: Chills. I can’t quite describe it – but there are just some books you read and, no matter how raw and unpolished the writing or ideas may be, there’s something in their delivery that just makes the hair on the back of your neck stand on end. It’s that X-factor that’s so hard to describe. But it’s the exact same feeling you have as a reader, when you begin a book and just *know* you’re reading the exact perfect story for this point in time, and you’re reading something that’ll be a new favourite. That’s what I look for as an agent too – to first fall in love with a story as a reader.

3. As I follow you on Twitter, I feel I should know this, but what is your favourite young adult or middle grade series?

A: Oh, gosh – ask me this same question next week and it’ll totally change. I’ve got to say, a series I keep returning to in YA is Melina Marchetta’s set in the Saving Francesca universe – that continued with The Piper’s Son and concluded last year with The Place on Dalhousie. I don’t even care that that’s a series starting in YA and gradually progressing to adult-fiction – I just love those characters, and reading them is like going home and catching up with old friends. I also have a deep and abiding love for Melina’s fantasy The Lumatere Chronicles trilogy, big love and respect for The Tribe series by Ambelin Kwaymullina, and The Grisha by Leigh Bardugo. In middle-grade, it’s gotta bet the American series Gaither Sisters by Rita Williams-Garcia (P.S. Be Eleven is pretty much a masterpiece). I also love the Binny UK-series from Hilary McKay.

4. I am yet to read The Year the Maps Changed and hope to do so soon. What inspired you to write this novel for the middle grade readership?

A: I hope you like it when you do! … I started thinking of this idea way back in 2016, when I decided to delve into this big Australian event that happened in 1999 called ‘Operation Safe Haven’ when our then-Government began the biggest-ever humanitarian exercise, of offering temporary-asylum to Albanian-Kosovar refugees of the Kosovo War and NATO Bombings.

For a long time I wrestled with whether or not to make the book YA or MG – I thought, I was known to be a big fan and supporter of young-adult literature, and back in 2016 (even though I consumed a lot of American middle-grade lit) the readership wasn’t as clearly-defined in Australia then. But what tipped me into deciding to go all-in on MG was the fact that in 1999, I was eleven going on twelve. So I decided my protagonist would be too; and once I made that decision it was so easy to remember what that age and year was like, and my protagonist – Fred – seemed to spring fully-formed in my mind.

Between 2016 and now, MG also really took off in Australia; Jessica Townsend, Nova Weetman, Jeremy Lachlan, Bren MacDibble, and Zana Fraillon (to name a very few!) all wrote these gorgeous and ground-breaking books that really carved out that space in Australia, so by the time Maps was ready it was very clear who the book would be for.

5. It feels like we’re in a Golden Age of Australian Middle Grade fiction at the moment from a reader and reviewer’s perspective. What do you think, as an agent, author and also, if you’d like, a reader as well?

A: I’m so glad you think that, because I literally just wrote an article for Books+Publishing about this very topic! And it’s an article following-up something I wrote in 2016 for them, called ‘Unstuck in the Middle’ which was kind of looking at how robust and plentiful the MG readership was in America (especially after a book like R.J. Palacio’s Wonder became a mega-bestseller) but how in Australia, everyone was still grappling with what it was and who it was for.

Now, MG has always existed in Australia (books by Leanne Hall and Barry Jonsberg, Morris Gleitzman and Ursula Dubosarsky spring to mind) but those books would often win awards, or get labelled as ‘junior fiction/kids books’ or ‘young adult’ – and there didn’t seem to be an acknowledgment of the spectrum that also exists for those trickier middle-years of (roughly) 8-12. But Nevermoor by Jessica Townsend and The Bone Sparrow by Zana Fraillon really went a long way to defining modern MG in Australia (and at opposite ends of the genre-spectrum too) and carving out that space for the tricky in-between age-group. So many Aussie editors were aware of what was happening in America and the clearly-defined readership according to them, and the success of those books in Australia signalled them to just … go bananas and embrace! And they have. It was also things like ‘The Readings Children’s Book Prize’ acknowledging MG, and also The Text and Ampersand Prizes, putting a spotlight on the readership with their unpublished manuscript award-winners.

So it was a lot of ingredients that have gone into creating this ‘Golden Age’ of MG in Australia, for sure. And like most things … timing is everything.

6. Do you have a favourite middle grade author or series, past or present – or even both?

A: Gosh, look – I am a fan of contemporary fiction across all readerships so it’s the likes of Rebecca Stead, Jacqueline Woodson, Gary D. Schmidt, Nova Weetman and Emily Gale for me. All current-MG authors who I just adore and admire and I’m always on tenterhooks waiting for new books from them.

7. When you’re not reading middle grade, what do you enjoy reading, and what has been a favourite read recently?

A: Anyone who follows me anywhere, I hope, knows that I’m a HUGE romance-reader and fan. Everything from historical to paranormal; I just finished Kylie Scott’s latest romance The Rich Boy and loved it (it is adult though, not suitable for younger readers!) As an agent I’ve been lucky enough to get a sneaky-peek at Jenna Guillaume’s next book (the new stand-alone, follow-up to her debut What I Like About Me) it’s called You Were Made For Me and it’s so funny and romantic and brilliant. Think: Weird Science meets Jenny Han.

My go-to (adult!) romance authors are; Sarah Mayberry, Courtney Milan, Helen Hoang, Mhairi McFarlane, Lisa Kleypas, Sarah MacLean, and I’m hanging out for the TV series adaptation Bridgerton (based on Julia Quinn’s books!). I also have the sequel to The Royal We – The Heir Affair by Heather Cocks and Jessica Morgan – geared up on my Kindle, thanks to NetGalley!

8. What is your favourite festival, or do you have a favourite, and why or why not?

A: I went to Clunes Booktown for the first time last year, and that quickly became a new fave that I have to get to again! I’m also a big fan of The YA Room’s YA Day – just for the ingenious way they’ve found to bring the YA-lit community together in Melbourne, in a really lovely event that I hope continues to grow and thrive.

9. Do you have a favourite bookseller – which one, and why are they your favourite?

A: I have so many! Readings, Better Read Than Dead, Mary Martin, The Little Bookroom, Rabble Books, The Younger Sun, Avenue Bookstore, Antipodes … but my local independent in Mornington is Farrells and I love them so much (and they’ve been such a staple of my childhood, and now adulthood) that they even have a cameo-appearance in The Year the Maps Changed.

10. The important stuff: Cats, dogs, or both for a writing and reading companion?
A: Both! Always both! I have a very cat-like dog called Murray, so I feel he’s the best of all worlds.

11. Do you have a Hogwarts house, and which one would you be in if you attended the school?

A: Slytherin, baby. Cunning! … actually; whenever I take a quiz I literally end up like Harry and get a fair amount of Gryffindor and Slytherin in equal amounts. I guess it depends what mood I’m in.

12. Favourite Beatles song, and why?

A: I LOVE THIS QUESTION! I actually think it’s Blackbird for me. I just think it’s the most beautiful tune and poetic lullaby. And then it’s kind of a two-way tie for Hey Jude and Let It Be.

13. What is your favourite Jane Austen novel, and why?
A: Sense and Sensibility. Colonel Brandon. That’s it. That’s … everything.

14. Who played Darcy better – Colin Firth or Matthew McFadyen?
A: Laurence Olivier. Seriously: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=643d0KOkMl8

15. What inspired you to start working in the arts industry, and what did you study at university?

A: Let’s see – when I first finished high school I knew I wanted a job *writing* because that’s what I loved. So I had it suggested to me, that I should become a journalist. So I trotted off and did that at Monash within a Communications degree but I hated it – and was always being told to stick to WHO, WHAT, WHEN, WHERE & WHY and not to give any purple prose. In my last year of study, we had to choose an internship within a publishing medium and I decided to do this crazy thing of seeing if I could try and work with kid’s books – which I did; scoring an internship at Black Dog Books (now, Walker Books) in Melbourne. It was eye-opening for me; this realisation that there are so many different areas of work in books publishing, and that I could maybe work within that industry too! So I went off and studies Professional Writing and Editing at RMIT, while also getting my own book-review blog Alpha Reader – http://alphareader.blogspot.com/ – off the ground as I delved further and further into books realms. That was it. Letting myself dream of working with books, reading more, and making that my hobby too.

16. The arts industry is important to Australia, especially now. Do you think people will come to appreciate the arts more after this crisis while they consume books, music and television shows that we need the arts around to produce?

A: Look; everything that people are reaching for is ART. Be that a television show, movie, video-game, comic-book, audiobook, or interacting with the number of museums and art-galleries who have found creative ways for people at home to do virtual-tours. So much of what is alleviating personal pain and boredom, that is continuing to connect people, is … ART. And as the saying goes – the world without ‘art’ is just ‘eh’. I think we’re all feeling that right now, and I hope that as people reach for those mediums and art forms – I do hope that realise that they are reaching for creativity, and then connect that to the people who made it happen. Benjamin Law says this all so much better than I can, in his Guardian Article – and I really do pray that the Government acknowledges that too. That film and TV alone is a $3-billion-dollar industry in Australia, and at times of crisis we’ve all reached for art in some capacity – and art is hurting right now, and needs our help.

I think it all comes back to … if you asked Australians right now, what they want to happen after all this – I’m betting most would say they’d like everything to go back to normal. Well, normal in Australia is the Arts. It’s having the option of ducking into an act during the International Comedy Festival. It’s planning a weekend-getaway in Clunes for Booktown Festival. Hearing of a great exhibit at NGV you can take an international visitor to. A band starting up at the pub. That’s normality, because art is … life. If we want it to be here when this is all over, we have to protect it now – in little and big ways. That means Government crisis packages, and it means individuals requesting digital titles of new books at their libraries, and (if they can!) ordering books from their local independent bookstores.

17. Do you have any book, television, podcast or movie recommendations to get us through these trying times over the next few months?

A: I want to recommend that you all reach for what works for you, in the moment. Don’t feel guilty that you binged Fleabag (or Drag Race!) for the fourth time instead of reading The Complete Works of William Shakespeare or something. It’s all art, as I said – and it all helps us cope. That being said, I can tell you what’s working for me and if there’s any crossover with what works for you then – Hey! – maybe we do a Houseparty get-together and discuss it?

TV: Killing Eve, The Commons, Stateless, The Heights, Bluey, North & South
MOVIES: 10 Things I Hate About You, To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before, A League of Their Own, The Mummy movies, Jane Austen-anything
PODCASTS: Keep It, The Readings Podcast, The First Time Podcast, Booktopia Podcast, The Eleventh, How to Fail with Elizabeth Day.
BOOKS: Heartstopper by Alice Oseman, Wild Fearless Chests by Mandy Beaumont, Peta Lyre’s Rating Normal by Anna Whateley and Please Don’t Hug Me by Kay Kerr.
MUSIC: The Beatles. Lizzo. Lorde. Goldfrapp. Crazy Ex-Girlfriend soundtrack. Hamilton: The Musical.

Any comments about something I may have missed?

Thank you Danielle, and congratulations on your book. I hope it finds its readers.

The Vanishing Deep by Astrid Scholte

the vanishing deepTitle: The Vanishing Deep

Author: Astrid Scholte

Genre: Fantasy

Publisher: Allen and Unwin

Published: 3rd March 2020

Format: Paperback

Pages: 416

Price: $19.99

Synopsis: Astrid Scholte, bestselling author of Four Dead Queens, brings fans a thrilling new standalone YA fantasy where the dead can be revived…for a price.

Two sisters. One dangerous secret. Twenty-four hours to uncover the truth.

Seventeen-year-old Tempest was born into a world of water. The most skilled diver on the Equinox Reef, she searches drowned cities with her older sister Elysea, seeking out old world treasures to trade for Notes. After Elysea mysteriously drowns, Tempest scavenges the ruins alone, driven to collect enough Notes to buy her sister’s life for 24 hours, and to finally learn the secret she had kept until her last breath.

However, once revived, Elysea convinces Tempest to break her out of the Palindromena research facility and they embark on a dangerous journey to discover the truth about their parents’ death. But they’re pursued by two Palindromena employees desperate to find them before Elysea’s time is up, and to prevent them from uncovering the secrets behind the revival process and the true cost of restored lives.

Dead or living, everyone must pay the price.

~*~

As Tempest awaits to revive her sister, she reflects on what led to this day – the death of her parents five years ago, and three years after that, the death of her sister, Elysea. While she waits, Lor, posing as a Warden named Raylan at the Palindromena facility where people can pay Notes to spend a final twenty-four hours with a loved one waits to begin the revival process for the sisters. Elysea and Lor both have secrets – yet it is only Elysea’s secret that Tempest is desperate to know about. Yet Elysea’s realisation of what is happening leads to a breakout, and search for the truth in a gripping and exciting twenty-four hour journey, told in alternate perspectives through Lor and Tempest’s eyes as they travel from Palindromena to Equinox and to party islands on a journey to seek answers they’ve been denied for many years.

AWW2020Reading a fantasy book – whether a stand-alone, duology, trilogy or part of series, especially when it is by an Australian author with what felt to me like a very Australian flavour is always exciting. It’s great to see the Australian literary landscape across the board booming and growing, especially with fantasy. The Vanishing Deep is a fantasy set in a future where the landscape and world – presumably somewhere like Australia, has been adversely affected by rising sea levels. It is referred to as the Old World, which was destroyed by the Great Waves – all hint towards a world changed forever by a climate emergency and series of disasters that led to lives now being lived on Reefs and isles, and has a sense of discomfort about a possible future, and some readers may find the themes of death uneasy or distressing, though it is shown off the page initially, and the issues around death and revival build throughout the novel, and how the characters deal with it. It can be confronting, but not overly so, and I felt was dealt with in a sensitive and evocative way that shows the realities of life and death and shows the conflict of comfort and distress at spending another twenty-four hours with a loved one.  The unsettling feeling of a world engulfed in water is filled with senses – the salty smell of the sea, a constant feeling of being wet, intermittent sounds of silence and swirling waves, and fishy and salty tastes, all work together with the words on the page and a sense of distress and foreboding for what is going to happen to make this a high stakes story that is fast paced and can be very hard to put down. This makes it thrilling and exciting as well, and I am sure will find readers amongst young adult, fantasy and many other audiences.

Whilst Tempest is a teenager – she’s seventeen – the loss of her parents and her sister within a few years of each other has meant she has had to grow up far more than others her age on the Equinox may have done. Yet she still exhibits the feelings, and doubts that someone her age would, and I felt this balance and the way she grapples with having to act like an adult whilst still a child herself was well executed, and done in a way that will hopefully appeal to all those who enjoy Young Adult books. As this is a stand-alone, the story is encapsulated within wholly, and manages to combine themes of friendship and family in a way that gives hope to the reader, even in a world where things have gone horribly wrong.

Tiger Heart by Penny Chrimes

tiger heart.jpgTitle: Tiger Heart

Author: Penny Chrimes

Genre: Fantasy/Time slip/Historical

Publisher: Hachette Australia

Published: 14th January 2020

Format: Paperback

Pages: 260

Price: $15.99

Synopsis: One magical friendship. One roaring adventure.

The magical tale of a bold young chimney sweep and a remarkable tiger, a dangerously hypnotic ruby and a mystical land that’s found across an ocean and through a storm. Perfect for fans of THE GIRL OF INK AND STARS and PAX.

One magical friendship. One roaring adventure.

The magical tale of a bold young chimney sweep and a remarkable tiger, a dangerously hypnotic ruby and a mystical land found across an ocean and through a storm. Perfect for fans of The Girl of Ink and Stars and Pax.

Fly never meant to end up in a cage with a man-eating tiger. And though she’s sure she’s no princess, when the tiger addresses her as ‘your majesty’, she can’t help but vow to free him and return him home.

But the bird-filled jungles and cloud-topped mountains of the tiger’s homeland are an ocean away. And not everyone wants the tiger – or Fly – to get there alive.

With dark and dangerous forces working against them, will Fly be able to fulfil her promise and maybe – just maybe – become the queen her tiger knows her to be?

~*~

Gutterling and chimney-sweep Fly lives in a world that is partially Georgian, and partially Victorian – combing inventiveness of one with rumble-tumble of another to create a unique yet familiar London. It is here that she has lived her entire life after being found outside an orphanage with a strange box with strange symbols. Brought up in a tough world where she’s given little education little clothing and taught to steal, Fly soon finds herself face-to-face with a tiger, and this is where her journey begins as she escapes the life she’s known for a faraway land where, the tiger tells her, she is a princess. Here, she must find her family and save the animals who are destined to be sold by those trying to stop Fly gain her throne back.

Along her journey to Barithea, the mystical country she is trying to get to, Fly meets a boy called Jack, who looks remarkably like her. Reaching Barithea is their first challenge: surviving what is to come is their next challenge, and Fly and Jack must work together to defeat the forces that wish to destroy their family and place of birth.

This was a unique story, combining a historical setting with magical realism and a touch of fantasy to create a world that is believable – Barithea could be a real country, one that is undiscovered, yet it also fits the fantasy country bill. As a result, it is perfectly constructed and perfectly fits in with the feel and tone of the novel. This is one that had a great start, a great middle and wonderful ending for all ages nine and older – great to read alone or with someone and share your thoughts.

In Penny Chrimes’ first novel, an exquisite world has been created that readers can lose themselves to, and it captures danger, childlike wonder and a faraway world of royalty, talking tigers and cursed jewels that threaten to ruin entire families and kingdoms if action to protect them and preserve the traditions of the culture and land is not taken by Fly, Jack, and her tiger.

This was a lovely novel, and one I highly recommend. I hope others enjoy it as much as I did.

 

The Book of Dust Volume 2: The Secret Commonwealth by Philip Pullman

book of dust 2.jpgTitle: The Book of Dust Volume 2: The Secret Commonwealth

Author: Philip Pullman

Genre: Fantasy/Mystery/Steampunk

Publisher: Penguin Random House/David Fickling Books

Published: 3rd October 2019

Format: Paperback

Pages:784

Price: $32.99

Synopsis: Master storyteller Philip Pullman continues the incredible journey of Lyra Silvertongue in the second volume of The Book of Dust.

It is twenty years since the events of La Belle Sauvage: The Book of Dust Volume One unfolded and saw the baby Lyra Belacqua begin her life-changing journey.

It is almost ten years since readers left Lyra and the love of her young life, Will Parry, on a park bench in Oxford’s Botanic Gardens at the end of the ground-breaking, bestselling His Dark Materials sequence.

Now, in The Secret Commonwealth, we meet Lyra Silvertongue. And she is no longer a child . . .
The second volume of Philip Pullman’s The Book of Dust sees Lyra, now twenty years old, and her daemon Pantalaimon, forced to navigate their relationship in a way they could never have imagined, and drawn into the complex and dangerous factions of a world that they had no idea existed. Pulled along on his own journey too is Malcolm; once a boy with a boat and a mission to save a baby from the flood, now a man with a strong sense of duty and a desire to do what is right.

Theirs is a world at once familiar and extraordinary, and they must travel far beyond the edges of Oxford, across Europe and into Asia, in search for what is lost – a city haunted by daemons, a secret at the heart of a desert, and the mystery of the elusive Dust.
The Secret Commonwealth is truly a book for our times; a powerful adventure and a thought-provoking look at what it is to understand yourself, to grow up and make sense of the world around you. This is storytelling at its very best from one of our greatest writers.

~*~

The long-awaited second volume of The Book of Dust picks up twenty years after La Belle Sauvage and ten years after the events of His Dark Materials, where we left Lyra and Will in their respective Oxfords, in the same botanic gardens as a way to connect. The Magisterium is still a threat in this book, in the shadow of Mrs Coulter and Lord Asriel dying in His Dark Materials, and as readers might recall from The Amber Spyglass, Lyra and Pan discovered they could do something that no other person in their world could – which forms the part of the backbone to this book, and what drives the narrative along with the threat of the Magisterium, daemons and the mystery of Dust, that has been infused throughout each book in the sequence.

Old friends from La Belle Sauvage and His Dark Materials return – Alice, Malcom and Hannah are back, and helping a now adult Lyra as she navigates a world where she is no longer welcome at Jordan College, and where the factions once thought to be defeated rear their ugly heads in new and uneasy ways. As Lyra and Pan, as well as their friends work separately for the same goal, Ma Costa and Farder Coram return to help our Lyra, a heart-warming sequence because it feels as if Lyra has truly found a home as she travels across the United Kingdom, Europe and Asia, seeking a city of lost and haunted daemons. But it is the trials that Lyra and Pan face along the way, the people they meet and the judgement they receive that sharply mirrors our world.

Refugees – ripped from their homes as trade in a special rose threatens their livelihoods are turned away, forced onto boats, and where some people look away, whilst Lyra and others try to help. It mirrors our world in that we have refugees fleeing war, climate crises, and many other things seeking safety in countries that so far, are untouched. The reactions are the same – those who wish to ignore the crises are heard more than those who wish to help. Yet those affected by these issues and other issues related to Dust and daemons that make people turn away in fear are the ones who are the voices heard in this book. There is dissent against the Masters of Jordan when Lyra is thrown out. People are trying to use their power and influence to achieve their means and ends, and we see that the things that occupied Lyra’s mind as a child have changed. Yet Dust still occupies her thoughts, and as the book moves on, nothing will ever be the same.

In true Philip Pullman style, we do not get everything answered. People are not reunited quickly, or perhaps at all,  and as everyone works towards the same goal and location, the end hints at how the third book might open and what we might expect – and I do hope that my feelings about who might meet up at the start of the third book are right, because it is a reunion I had been hoping for since the beginning of this book. Throughout the book, we are reunited with Lyra, Pan and other familiar characters, but perhaps not in the way we might expect.

Throughout the book, revelations that cleverly link back to His Dark Materials and La Belle Sauvage emerge, so I would advise reading these first, starting with His Dark Materials: Northern Lights, The Subtle Knife, The Amber Spyglass and then La Belle Sauvage before delving into this volume. Even though chronologically, His Dark Materials takes place between La Belle Sauvage and The Secret Commonwealth, the delight is in reading those three first, before the Book of Dust, and making the connections. However, having read them, it might be an interesting experiment to read La Belle Sauvage, followed by the three His Dark Materials books and finishing with (for now) The Secret Commonwealth.

 

I am eagerly looking forward to seeing how this all concludes and where Lyra goes next – and how it changes her just as her experiences in this book and His Dark Materials changed her. An excellent addition to this series and a must read for the fans.