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.

The Aunt Who Wouldn’t Die by Shirshendu Mukhopadhyay

aunt who wouldnt die.jpgTitle: The Aunt Who Wouldn’t Die

Author: Shirshendu Mukhopadhyay

Genre: Fiction

Publisher: John Murray Press

Published: 9th July 2019

Format: Hardcover

Pages: 170

Price: $27.99

Synopsis:At eighteen, Somlata married into the Mitras: a once noble Bengali household whose descendants have taken to pawning off the family gold to keep up appearances.

When Pishima, the embittered matriarch, dies, Somlata is the first to discover her aunt-in-law’s body – and her sharp-tongued ghost.

First demanding that Somlata hide her gold from the family’s prying hands, Pishima’s ghost continues to wreak havoc on the Mitras. Secrets spilt, cooking spoilt, Somlata finds herself at the centre of the chaos. And as the family teeter on the brink of bankruptcy, it looks like it’s up to her to fix it.

The Aunt Who Wouldn’t Die is a frenetic, funny and fresh novel about three generations of Mitra women, a jewellery box, and the rickety family they hold together

~*~

When Somlata marries into the Mitras household, she is poor, and they are doing their best to hold onto the wealth they once owned. Somlata is unsure of the family, especially the matriarch, Pishima, who lives alone in rooms on the second floor, hiding a jewellery box, her dowry, from the rest of the family so they cannot sell it to maintain their wealth.

When Pishima dies, she instructs Somlata to hide the jewels and gold, and despite the whispers from the family, her secret is never uncovered. Yet the ghost of Pishima will not leave Somlata alone and over the years, as her daughter grows, Somlata must find a way to rid herself of the ghost – a ghost that the rest of the family doesn’t believe in.

Through three generations – Pishima, Somlata and Boshon, the daughter of Somlata, the story of the aunt who died and her ever present ghost is told using humour, a light-heartedness and generational conflicts that all people of all cultures and nationalities can relate to at times.

It is funny, and charming, and a quick read – I managed it in one night. At first, the connections are not obvious. Yet they are cleverly revealed across the story, linking in with each other eventually to form a distinct and unique story of India and its traditions and the new world the characters of the story find themselves living in.

The ghost that haunts the pages of this story for me came across as someone watching over the family and mysterious jewellery box, presenting a different facet to the person it represents to Somlata and Boshon, who share different perspectives of the world and the ghost.

In a short book, it conveys the clash of three generations over traditional expectations, and what each woman wants or expects from life as family secrets and history are slowly revealed. Told in four parts from the perspectives of Somlata and Boshon, this unique, family story is entertaining and light, whilst dealing with the societal issues the women in the story overcome in a clear and concise way. A great read for all.

The Flatshare by Beth O’Leary

the flatshare.jpgTitle: The Flatshare

Author: Beth O’Leary

Genre: Fiction

Publisher: Quercus/Hachette

Published: 23rd April 2019

Format: Paperback

Pages: 394

Price: $32.99

Synopsis: A quirky love story from a fresh new talent. The MUST READ book for 2019

‘The new Jojo Moyes … This has all the ingredients of Me Before You‘ COSMOPOLITAN

‘Funny and winning … a Richard Curtis rom-com that also has its feet firmly planted in real life. A real treat’ Stylist

Tiffy and Leon share a flat
Tiffy and Leon share a bed
Tiffy and Leon have never met…

Tiffy Moore needs a cheap flat, and fast. Leon Twomey works nights and needs cash. Their friends think they’re crazy, but it’s the perfect solution: Leon occupies the one-bed flat while Tiffy’s at work in the day, and she has the run of the place the rest of the time.

But with obsessive ex-boyfriends, demanding clients at work, wrongly-imprisoned brothers and, of course, the fact that they still haven’t met yet, they’re about to discover that if you want the perfect home you need to throw the rulebook out the window…

~*~

When it comes to rom-com movies and books, I find that I enjoy the clever ones, and the light-hearted but real ones – where the characters have unapologetic flaws, and are quite human, or that almost satirise the traditional elements of romance in a fun way. I like it when it does so in a way that the tropes are present, yet can sometimes be revealed for how silly they are and this leads to the romance having more oomph for me, where the lead characters don’t have to change for the other, have their in jokes and are shown to be human.

Movies that come to mind that do this are the Bridget Jones films, and several English ones – where sacrifice might be made yet not at the expense of losing a sense of oneself. So when I received a copy of Beth O’Leary’s book, The Flatshare, I was intrigued as to how a rom-com between two people who don’t meet until well into the book (let’s face it, this was inevitable from the get-go, but when it happened, it was no less amusing) would happen. But happen it did.

When Tiffy breaks up with her boyfriend, Justin, she has to move out – and when she sees Leon’s offer on Gumtree – a flatshare where she has it nights and weekends, and he has it in the day – she jumps at the chance. And so begins a strange friendship, where Tiffy and Leon communicate through a series of Post-It notes as they navigate the strange life they lead – sharing a flat but not knowing each other.  At first, the notes are awkward requests, as they try to negotiate terms and space – and each chapter is told alternately – one by Tiffy, the next by Leon, each chapter revealing something about each flatmate, and unfurling a growing friendship, that becomes cheeky and eventually, flirty.

It has the humour of good British  movies like Love Actually, Bridget Jones and a fast paced wit that comes from Gilmore Girls, yet is a uniquely formed story and cast that all have their own strengths, and flaws – and the way that they all come together when someone needs help is lovely – it has a real feel of family and friendship to it, and I felt that having Tiffy and Leon’s relationship grow from awkward strangers to a friendship, and eventually, to love, gave the book a realistic and well-rounded feel that many readers will relate to.

Enola Holmes Mystery: The Case of The Bizarre Bouquets (Enola Holmes #3) by Nancy Springer

Enola Holmes 3.jpgTitle: Enola Holmes Mystery: The Case of The Bizarre Bouquets (Enola Holmes #3)

Author: Nancy Springer

Genre: Historical Fiction/YA/Crime

Publisher: Allen and Unwin

Published: 4th February 2019

Format: Paperback

Pages: 192

Price: $14.99

Synopsis: Enola Holmes might be the much younger sister of Sherlock Holmes, but she manages to outsmart him at every turn, solving thrilling mysteries in her very own way…

Everyone knows Dr. Watson is Sherlock Holmes’ right-hand man – so when he goes missing, it’s a shock. Even Sherlock hasn’t the slightest clue as to where he could be. Enola is intrigued but wary; she’s still hiding from her older brothers and getting involved could prove to be disastrous. But Enola can’t help but investigate, especially when she learns that a bizarre bouquet – with flowers all symbolizing death – has been delivered to the Watson residence. Enola knows she must act quickly, but can she find Dr. Watson in time?

~*~

Enola Holmes is still hiding from her brothers, using her wits and a variety of disguises to evade them at every turn, and solve cases that the police, and her brother, Sherlock are unable to solve. Still in 1889, it has been six months since she left their care, in search of her mother and a life no predicated by societal norms and expectations. Living in lodgings, she discovers that Sherlock’s colleague, Dr John Watson has gone missing. Undertaking her own investigation, Enola discovers several bouquets delivered to Joh’s wife, Mary – and uses her knowledge of flower meanings to decipher what they mean. In doing so, she finds out that John’s life is in danger – so she sets about following the person who delivers the flowers – and what she discovers will hopefully save John’s life.

Coming back to Enola Holmes was delightful. I love the original Sherlock Holmes stories and novels, as well as the Robert Downey Jr movies. Here, though, Nancy Springer has put a new twist on the stories. Where most retellings position the quirky detective and his long-suffering partner in contemporary settings – Sherlock with Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman in modern London, or Elementary with Johnny Lee Miller and Lucy Liu in modern day New York, this one still sits in the late 1880s, but posits the idea that Sherlock and Mycroft had an unknown sister, someone who society wasn’t aware of, but would soon become aware of.  The original Holmes stories are told from Watson’s perspective – and I have read them all, and the only family member I recall being mentioned is Mycroft, Sherlock’s brother. So, it is plausible to think Sherlock may have had a sister.

Again, Enola manages to evade her brother’s as she investigates John’s disappearance, and those who are linked to what happened. She’s a wonderful character, who despises the expectations of a Victorian girl, yet uses what she has available to her, and the norms of Victorian society to her advantage, as well as her knowledge of flowers and ciphers to form her various identities. These are quick reads, and of course, it is inevitable that Enola will solve the case as the main character. Aimed at children and young adults, these are great books for any age group, and can be appreciated by fans of the original as well as introduce a new audience to Sherlock.

This is turning out to be a very good series, and one that will surely have fans clamouring for the next instalment. I look forward to seeing how Enola continues to evade her brothers, and if, potentially, she ends up working with Sherlock, and both of them driving Mycroft to despair.

Zelda Stitch Term Two: Too Much Witch (Zelda Stitch #2) by Nicki Greenberg

zelda stitch 2Title: Zelda Stitch Term Two: Too Much Witch (Zelda Stitch #2)

Author: Nicki Greenberg

Genre: Fantasy/Children’s

Publisher: Allen and Unwin

Published: 4th February 2019

Format: Paperback

Pages: 272

Price: $14.99

Synopsis: Zelda Stitch is back in the classroom and ready to start Term Two. Will teaching be easier now everyone know she’s a witch? Or will there be more mischief than one witch can manage?

Goals for Term Two:
1. Be the best teacher I can be.
2. Keep my spells to myself.
3. DO NOT UPSET MELODY MARTIN.

What’s a witch to do? Zelda is likely to end up in a truckload of trouble if she can’t even follow the rules she sets herself. Especially when there’s an impressionable young witchling in the class, and the vice principal is on the warpath.

Soon both Zelda and the secret witchling are battling unruly magic, peer pressure and a seriously mean PE teacher. And then there’s the weird smell…

With the school camp coming up fast, Zelda has her work cut out for her. And as usual, Barnaby is only making things worse.

Will Zelda get to have her hero moment – or will she cause everything she cares about to disappear?

More magic, mischief and mayhem from Zelda Stitch, the wayward witch.

~*~

The new school term isn’t off to the best start. Zelda has a broken arm, her magic isn’t working as well as she’d like, and her cat, Barnaby, is being snarkier than ever. He seems to take great pleasure in watching her struggle with magic and everyday things, unlike Melvin, Briony’s cat, who is always kind and helpful. At school, Zelda has to contend with Principal Melody Martin, and her niece, Phoebe. Melody and Phoebe are also witches, and Zelda needs to follow her own rules to ensure the rest of the class doesn’t find out.

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On top of this, she has a snarky PE teacher to deal with, an upcoming school camp and Barnaby doesn’t seem to be making things easier for her – nor does her mother. Can Zelda help Phoebe and keep her own magic under wraps? Or will Zelda’s self-imposed rules shatter under increased pressure to be as normal as possible?

The second book in the Zelda Stitch series follows the same diary style format as the first one – a style that shows the world through Zelda’s eyes, and the story is told just as effectively and as enjoyably as if it were a straight narrative style. It engages the reader, and makes for quick, engrossing reading, as many books in this style do when they are written effectively by the author. Nicki Greenberg has done an excellent job using this style, as she captures Zelda’s voice, humour, observations and those of the other characters wonderfully.

As Zelda goes through her second term teaching, she faces more trials and triumphs while trying to balance teaching and being a witch. As her unpredictable magic seeps out, Zelda must find a way to work out which magic is coming from her, which magic is coming from Phoebe and if any is coming from Melody – before the school camp and before something goes really wrong. I’m really enjoying these books – yes, they are a quick read, especially for me, but they are also filled with fun, and whimsy. Zelda is a very entertaining character, and also very caring. She wants what is best for her class, especially Phoebe, and does whatever she can to follow her own rules and stay out of trouble. The plot follows this struggle very well, and captures the challenges of peer pressure and school – which even if you’re not a witch, can be very tough things to deal with. Showing how children cope with these issues in fiction, and through the lens of a young witchling shows children that it’s oaky to be scared, in an entertaining and accessible way using humour and sensitivity.

This is a great series for anyone who loves a good read or for younger readers who are just starting to branch out and read books on their own, or with a family member. I hope readers out there enjoy it.

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All the Tears in China (Rowland Sinclair #9) by Sulari Gentill

3D-Cover_C-format_ATTIC.pngTitle: All the Tears in China

Author: Sulari Gentill

Genre: Historical Crime

Publisher: Pantera Press

Published: 21st January 2019

Format: Paperback

Pages: 375

Price: $29.99

Synopsis: Shanghai in 1935 is a twentieth-century Babylon, an expatriate playground where fortunes are made and lost, where East and West collide, and the stakes include life itself.

Into this, Rowland Sinclair arrives from Sydney to represent his brother at international wool negotiations. Rowland is under strict instructions to commit to nothing… but a brutal murder makes that impossible.

As suspicion falls on him, Rowland enters a desperate bid to find answers in a city as glitzy as it is dangerous, where tai-pans and tycoons rule, and politics and vice are entwined with commerce.

Once again, the only people Rowland can truly trust are an artist, a poet and a free-spirited sculptress.

“A sparkling crime series… Evelyn Waugh meets Agatha Christie…” – THE AGE

~*~

AWW-2018-badge-rose

In the ninth outing with Rowland Sinclair, and his three friends – Jew, Communist and poet – Elias Isaacs, known as Milton Isaacs, the sculptress, Edna Higgins and landscape artist – Clyde Watson-Jones – find themselves in China, on a wool trading expedition for Rowly’s older brother, Wilfred. Instead, Rowly is first attacked in light of the events of the previous book, where Rowly helped out Egon Kisch – twice – and then, meets a young woman who says her name is Alexandra Romanova – a taxi girl who is supposedly rumoured to be the lost princess Anastasia – in 1935, almost twenty years after the Russian Revolution, rumours still abound about one Romanov royal escaping the death squad, but there are also those who believe the truth – is found dead in Rowly’s suite. He is then suspected by the local inspector of murdering Alexandra, as does her brother, Sergei. It is the presence of this Russian family in Shanghai illustrates the rise of Communism and the dangers in Germany, and threats from Japan to China build the backbone to this story.

Inspector Randolph, and several others behind the scenes, are convinced, based on circumstances, that Rowly is guilty. With very little evidence, Rowly is sent to the Ward Road Gaol, where the treatment of prisoners is awful, and where he is mistreated, and where the warden is determined to make his time there terrible – and those who are involved in trying to destroy the Sinclair name, and the lengths they will go to.

Rowly and his friends find themselves in an ever-changing world of politics – fascists, Communists, Nazis, and the rise of Hitler, and the clashes of the New and Old Guard back home in Australia, and conservative brother, Wilfred, trying to pull Rowly to his side of politics and away from his friends, yet Rowly is still wary of becoming involved in either side of politics and the extremes of both sides that bubbled and brewed over decades and culminated in World War Two – events that seem to be mirrored in events today, with the rise of similar groups on either side, with some more prominent than others, and leaders with certain attitudes that Rowly would find absolutely abhorrent. The books are eerily starting to mirror what is happening today – or maybe today’s events are starting to mirror the times Rowly is living through. Or it could be a combination of both.

With each Rowland Sinclair mystery, we move closer to the darker days of the Third Reich, Kristallnacht, and World War Two, and everything that came with those years in Europe, and within the tumultuous 1930s and 1940s, and the inevitability of war, and the question of what Rowland will do – the choices he will eventually have to make.

I started reading the Rowland Sinclair series with book two, when the New South Wales Writer’s Centre sent me a copy to review. Since then, I have read and reviewed every book in the series. It is one pf my favourites – trouble seems to find Rowly all the time whether he goes looking for it or not. A reluctant player in political circles and at times, crime solving – though with the latter, his gentlemanly sense of justice and finding out the truth often wins out – Rowly certainly has managed over nine books to endear himself to readers and fans, has been injured many times across the series in his quest to uncover the truth and solve crimes that he more often than not stumbles into, such as finding a body in his suite, and has frequently frustrated his older brother, Wilfred. In this ninth outing, Wilfred is not physically present throughout much of the book, less so than in others, yet the sense that he is watching somehow is still felt. The Rowland Sinclair series is a charming, historical crime fiction series, peppered with historical figures in each book that are relevant to the plot and the political happenings at the time – events that have an uncertainty about them, and confirm Rowly’s suspicion of politics and his genuine desire to simply help people – though he draws the line at Nazis.

The Rowland Sinclair mysteries are a wonderfully unique and Australian series that incorporates diversity throughout in the characters that Rowland and his friends encounter, and that infuses Australian and world history into a story where a crime takes place, and that makes it accessible and understandable to readers who may not have encountered some of these events in history – and delves into them in a way that is interesting and informative. Most people will be familiar with the 1930s events in Europe and Australia but might not be familiar with China of the 1930s – this novel will introduce them to it.

The compelling and colourful narrative that Sulari creates in All the Tears in China and indeed across the whole series is engaging and delightful. It’s a series that I never tire of reading and talking about, and that is also exciting and engaging. Nine books in, and we are only just in 1935 – but we are inching closer to the events that lead to World War Two, and the eventual war that will divide the world and lead to millions of deaths in concentration camps and on the battlefield. Another great book in a spectacular series that has a very wide fanbase who eagerly await the new book each year.

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