Willow Moss and the Lost Day (Starfell #1) by Dominique Valente

Starfell 1Title: Willow Moss and the Lost Day (Starfell #1)

Author: Dominique Valente

Genre: Fantasu

Publisher: HarperCollins

Published: 2nd May 2019

Format: Paperback

Pages: 304

Price: $16.99

Synopsis: The first book in the most spellbinding children’s fantasy series of the year, now in paperback, with beautiful black-and-white inside illustrations by Sarah Warburton. Perfect for fans of Cressida Cowell and Nevermoor.

Willow Moss, the youngest and least powerful sister in a family of witches, has a magical ability for finding lost things – like keys, or socks, or spectacles. Useful, but not exactly exciting…

Then the most powerful witch in the world of Starfell turns up at Willow’s door and asks for her help. A whole day – last Tuesday to be precise – has gone missing. Completely. And without it the whole universe could unravel.

Now Willow holds the fate of Starfell in her rather unremarkable hands… Can she save the day – by finding the lost one?

Step into Starfell, a world crackling with warmth, wit and magic, perfect for readers aged 8–12. Book 2 coming in April 2020!

~*~

Willow Moss is supposed to have magic like her sisters, but she’s not as powerful as the rest of her family. However, she does have a magical talent that is probably more precious than any other gift. She can find things.

One day Moreg Vaine, Starfell’s most powerful witch asks for Willow’s help to find Tuesday – an entire day from the preceding week has disappeared and without it, Starfell could meet a very dark fate that nobody wants to experience.

Willow’s journey takes her across the land of Starfell, accompanied by a rather irate kobold named Oswin, who berates her and offers advice throughout the novel. Willow’s journey is not easy though, and she must face many dangers, including the Brothers of Wol who do not like witches or anything that goes against what they believe in – reminiscent of the witch hunts of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. It is this conflict that drives the novel, and Willow is a character who will grow and learn across the series. At the same time, she will prove that she can do the things that everyone says she can’t do or shouldn’t do. Yet only Willow can find the missing Tuesday and set the world right and ensure that she still has a family and place to live at the end of her journey.

Girls being front and centre in books is taking off, and these days, they are occupying a myriad of role and personalities to appeal to all readers – they’re not just stereotypes or strong female characters who occupy a specific time and place in their story. Here, we have characters like Willow who are reluctant and unsure of what to do, they’ve been told things that are not true and are forced to confront these memories  and through doing this, they grow and learn that they are more than what everyone has been telling them they are.

Middle grade is an age group that is gaining a lot of traction, and this book is aimed at readers aged eight and older – and I think will appeal to readers of all genders. It is a wonderful book, and a really good start to a series that I am very keen to follow as each book is released. This is one of those books I picked up on a whim, because the story looked interesting, and I think it is one that many will enjoy regardless of age, and one that will be fun to read out loud as well.

The Republic of Birds by Jessica Miller

republic of birdsTitle: The Republic of Birds
Author: Jessica Miller
Genre: Fantasy
Publisher: Text Publishing
Published: 3rd March 2020
Format: Paperback
Pages: 320
Price: $16.99
Synopsis: Olga loves the stories of the old cartographers and pores over their ancient books and maps, trying to unlock their secrets. Sometimes, she thinks she can even feel through the maps— almost see into them—as if by magic.
But magic is banned in Tsaretsvo, ever since the war with the birds that divided the kingdom, and the powerful magic wielding yagas have long been banished. Now, any young girl who shows signs of being a yaga is whisked away to Bleak Steppe—to a life, so the story goes, of unspeakable punishment.
When the bird army kidnaps Olga’s sister in a surprise attack on the human kingdom, Olga realises she has to venture into the Republic of Birds to bring her back. But first, she must learn to unlock her magical ability. As her journey takes her into the hidden world of the yagas and the wilds of the Unmappable Blank, Olga discovers the truth about the war with the birds—and learns just how much is at stake.
Inspired by Russian folklore, The Republic of Birds is a rich middle-grade fantasy adventure for readers of Karen Foxlee, Jessica Townsend and Philip Pullman.
~*~

Set in a fantasy world with Russian influences, The Republic of Birds revolves around Olga and her family. Olga is twelve, and on the verge of turning thirteen – the year she will take part in the Spring Blossom festival. Yet Olga fears what will happen if and when she starts showing signs of magic – of being a yaga. With magic banned in Stolitsa, Olga knows that once she starts exhibiting signs of magic she will be sent away to a place known as Bleak Steppe – where stories of girls being punished abound.

Yet as Olga prepares for the Spring Blossom celebration, she inadvertently sends something dear to her away with the birds – and must summon all her talents – innate and magical – to reunite her family.

AWW2020Wow, what a book! This was very different to what I have read in the past, yet using fantasy, fairy tale, and folk tale elements combined with elements of real world Russia, and feels like its set in the early decades of the twentieth century, but in a fantasy setting, the events and technology that exist in this world could be vastly different to what we know. This is what makes it even more inviting and intriguing and allows the reader to be immersed within a fantastical world that has elements of darkness yet also is a story of female empowerment and courage. And of course, maps.

Maps marry magic and birds, and feminine power to create a world that is exciting and highly driven by women’s stories and lives – which is thoroughly enjoyable. I loved that the beginning had a slower feel to the latter half of the book and reflected those days of innocence before everything started to become real and dangerous for Olga and her family. Once the action got going, I found that the pages that flew by – and I think that Jessica got a really good balance between the slow bits and the fast bits to make an exciting and engaging story for all readers aged nine and over to enjoy.

Rich with folklore, it is a great next read for fans of His Dark Materials, Nevermoor and many other books that have been influenced by folklore and fairy tales within their plots. It is a captivating story that evokes many emotions – courage, love and fear, as well as wonder as you explore the world with Olga as she navigates the reality of her world, and discovers the truth behind the lies that she has been told throughout her life about yagas and Bleak Steppe.

Books that read like a folktale are always a favourite of mine – they allow the reader to uncover familiar tropes and characters, but wearing different outfits and within a different context, and this is what makes it magical. These sorts of novels expand on the traditional fairy and folk tales that are known aroind the world, and in doing so, bring them to life in a new and fantastic way. These are books that I would have loved as a kid, and continue to enjoy reading to this day.

With many thanks to Text publishing for the review copy I received this week.

The Dark Prophecy (Trials of Apollo #2) by Rick Riordan

dark prophecyTitle: Trials of Apollo: The Dark Prophecy
Author: Rick Riordan
Genre: Fantasy
Publisher: Penguin Random House
Published: 30th April 2018
Format: Paperback
Pages: 528
Price: $17.99
Synopsis: The second title in Rick Riordan’s Trials of Apollo series – set in the action-packed world of Percy Jackson.
The god Apollo, cast down to earth and trapped in the form of a gawky teenage boy as punishment, must set off on the second of his harrowing (and hilarious) trials.
He and his companions seek the ancient oracles – restoring them is the only way for Apollo to reclaim his place on Mount Olympus – but this is easier said than done.
Somewhere in the American Midwest is a haunted cave that may hold answers for Apollo in his quest to become a god again . . . if it doesn’t kill him or drive him insane first. Standing in Apollo’s way is the second member of the evil Triumvirate – a Roman emperor whose love of bloodshed and spectacle makes even Nero look tame.
To survive the encounter, Apollo will need the help of a now-mortal goddess, a bronze dragon, and some familiar demigod faces from Camp Half-Blood. With them by his side, can Apollo face down the greatest challenge of his four thousand years of existence?

~*~

As I work my way (slowly, mainly due to other commitments) through these four books after being sent the latest by the publisher after the publication date, I’m finding the way the author includes mythology and ancient history in the modern world amidst modern issues interesting. It is first and foremost the mythology that I am interested in, and as I was sent book four late last year, decided to read the first three so I knew what to expect and what was going on.

There are some series that I find easy to read out of order, as they tend to be their own singular stories that are linked through a theme, genre or character. However, there are some that I do feel need to be read in order, and this one is one of those series. As Apollo moves through his tasks to earn back his immortality from Zeus, he keeps running into Meg, and is accompanied by Leo Valdez and sorceress Calypso as they journey across America in pursuit of Nero and those who are trying to stop Apollo.

Apollo often references all kinds of literary and musical highlights and has a running commentary about how good he is – and how he is responsible for certain bands and songs. This is secondary to the ongoing plot, and Apollo’s godlike mind and memories is at constant odds with what his mortal teenage body is capable of.

The combination of Greek and Roman elements makes sense as the Romans would eventually usurp the Greek society and culture and assign their own names to the Greek gods, goddesses and heroes. As someone who loves reading about Greek mythology, I find the way it is used in contemporary literature interesting, as each retelling and reimagining is unique, and some are very cleverly done. At the very least, this series makes it accessible to new readers and this will hopefully spark an interest in Greek mythology beyond this series.

The Beast of Blackmoor Bog (Impossible Quest #3) by Kate Forsyth

blackmoor bogTitle: The Beast of Blackmoor Bog (Impossible Quest #3)

Author: Kate Forsyth

Genre: Fantasy

Publisher: Scholastic Australia

Published: 1st February 2015

Format: Paperback

Pages: 192

Price: $14.99

Synopsis: After escaping the bog-men in the wilds of the Witchwood, Sebastian, Quinn, Elanor and Tom journey south on their impossible quest. Sebastian and Elanor seek help from Crowthorne Castle, but both allies and enemies will reveal themselves. Tom and Quinn venture into the mysterious moors … where a hideous beast lies in waiting. Best-selling, award-winning storyteller Kate Forsyth weaves battles, beasts and bravery in this epic new five-book series.

~*~

Quinn and her friends are venturing in search of the third beast – the dragon and the dragon scale. To find it, they separate – Quinn and Tom into the mysterious moors as they are drawn into more danger, and Elanor and Sebastian head to Crowthorne Castle, hoping for help from Lady Ravenna. Yet in both places, the friends will encounter allies and enemies – and begin to find out who and what is behind the dark spell that has been cast over Wolfhaven Castle and its inhabitants, and Elanor’s father. Here, they will find out about the beast in the moors and be thrust into danger that will lead them to discoveries they never thought they’d find on their journey.

The midway point in the series sees our heroes temporarily separated for a while each pair tackles the next part of their journey in unique ways.  In this installment, the heroes are in search of the dragon scale for the spell to awaken the sleeping heroes of the prophecy they are following so they can save Wolfhaven.

The fairy tale archetypes and tropes are still there, especially the beasts and the quest, and the magic that unites them and helps them find a way around challenges they face. As dangers grow, so does the tension, and conflict, which will only bring the quartet closer as they discover that for now, they cannot trust anyone else except each other.

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I am loving this series and polishing it off very quickly. It is filled with adventure and conflict, and friendship, and the power of friendship. It truly is a delightful series, and one that I am thoroughly enjoying. Aimed at readers aged between eight and ten, I believe it is a good read for many age groups and audiences.

Each character is unique and flawed, and relatable in many ways. They fulfil the fairy tale archetypes, but at the same time, are unique, and very different from the characters of fairy tale traditions, and have many more complexities behind them than usually might be found in fairy tales, depending on which version of the fairy tale you read, and how close to the original it is.

I am now reading book five, and the series is heading towards its ending. Next, I am going to review book four, and as each book builds on each other, the series is growing and building on the previous books, and creating a world that is tight, cleverly created whilst still a bit scary, but also, somewhere that I am sure, by the end of the series, will be light and fun again, as it was before the Mortlakes took over.

The Glimme by Emily Rodda, Marc McBride (Illustrator)

TheGlimme.jpgTitle: The Glimme

Author: Emily Rodda, Marc McBride (Illustrator)

Genre: Fantasy

Publisher: Scholastic Australia/Omnibus Books

Published: 1st October 2019

Format: Hardcover

Pages: 384

Price: $34.99

Synopsis: Lone Annie sees dragons in your future…She sees giants. She sees fire and water. She sees death.

Finn’s life in the village of Wichant is hard.  Only his drawings of the wild coastline, with its dragon-shaped clouds and headlands that look like giants, make him happy. Then the strange housekeeper from a mysterious clifftop mansion sees his talent, buys him for a handful of gold and then reveals to him seven extraordinary paintings. Finn thinks the paintings must be pure fantasy – such amazing scenes and paintings can’t be real!

He’s wrong. Soon he is going to slip through the veil between worlds and plunge into the wonders and perils of the Glimme.

The author of international best-seller Deltora Quest.

The artist who painted Deltora’s world.

An award-winning team.

A spectacular new adventure

Scholastic sent me a copy for review purposes.

~*~

Finn’s world is small and har, yet through his drawing abilities, he creates worlds beyond his own to cope. But his life changes completely when the Housekeeper buys him so he can recreate the seven paintings of dragons and another world in her house – yet in time, he discovers that the paintings are not what they seem, and he is drawn into a fantastical world of the Glimme, where he joins a band of humans, and lions, and other fantasy creatures, who are hiding from a trio of dragons who wish to destroy the world. From here, Finn uncovers a hidden mystery – those who had been drawn into the world before him and someone he thought he’d never see again.

Having read the first Deltora Quest series, and with the next two on my shelf, I knew this was right for me, and it evokes the wonder and magic of Deltora Quest through the magical illustrations that are extremely lifelike, combined with the wonderfully enchanting words of Emily Rodda. It felt like I was back in Del, even though it is an entirely separate world, and I devoured it within two days.

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The illustrations tell the story as much as the written word – giving life to Emily Rodda’s words and evoking a sense of being there, along with Lori, Finn, Teller and everyone else trying to stop the dragons destroying their home and bleeding into the world Finn has come from.

It is an engaging and exciting read for readers aged eight and over, and perfect to read after or even before reading Deltora Quest. It is unrelated, but still lots of fun and feels like it could easily fit into that world as a side story or as part of the narrative itself. As Finn and his friends work to defeat the dragons and save the world, the world within the painting and the real world bleed together and it soon seems all could be lost unless Finn can use his skills to save everyone.

This is a fabulous book and I am grateful to have been able to review it for Scholastic. It is a work of art to be treasured and enjoyed for years to come, and well-suited for anyone aged eight and older. In a country where there other genres seem to dominate the lists and shelves, having Emily Rodda’s fantasy is wonderful, and uses the traditions of fantasy often seen in British books to create a unique world that could be anywhere, but through the genius of an Australian author. A wonderful book, and one that I will love for years to come.

The Shifting Sands (Deltora Quest #4) by Emily Rodda

the shifting san ds.jpgTitle: The Shifting Sands (Deltora Quest #4)

Author: Emily Rodda

Genre: Fantasy

Publisher: Scholastic

Published: 1st July 2001

Format: Paperback

Pages: 132

Price: $14.99

Synopsis: When the seven gems of the magic Belt of Deltora were stolen, the evil Shadow Lord invaded the kingdom and enslaved its people.

Determined to rid their land of the tyrant, Lief, Barda and Jasmine are on a perilous quest to find the lost gems, which are hidden in fearsome places throughout the kingdom.

They have found three gems. Now they must seek the fourth, hidden in a shimmering, barren waste, kept jealously by an unknown guardian.

Separation, confusion and strange, terrible enemies await them in the ordeal of the Shifting Sands.

~*~

Lief, Barda and Jasmine are seeking the fourth gem – the lapis lazuli as they continue their journey through Del to help defeat the Shadow Lord and end the awful reign Del has been under for sixteen years. To do so, they have to venture into the dangerous shifting sands, and face yet more dangers and obstacles.

One of their obstacles – The Riftwere Games – takes up much of the book, shifting from the adventure of the rest. I think this worked very well – it was a different kind of challenge they had to face to get to the fourth stone, and it suited the story well, giving a small rest from adventure yet still engaging the reader and keeping the characters on their toes as they complete their quest.

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I’ve now read five of the eight books in the first Deltora Quest series – I had hoped to be finished it by now but have been busy with many other books and work and am working on getting to the end of this series and completing it for my challenges. Lief, Barda and Jasmine are a great team, and they work well together. To get to the Shifting Sands where they will find the lapis lazuli, they must compete in these games, and there is still an element of adventure in the games, it is just a bit more subtle than in the previous books. As they face each Guardian, a new challenge is posed and this is what makes the books interesting and interconnected as they move through the land of Del.

This was another great instalment in the series, and each book moves the characters and journey forward. They are quick reads, perfect for ages nine and up, and are engaging and fun to read.

The Extremely Inconvenient Adventures of Bronte Mettlestone by Jaclyn Moriarty

bronte mettlestone.jpgTitle: The Extremely Inconvenient Adventures of Bronte Mettlestone

Author: Jaclyn Moriarty

Genre: Fantasy

Publisher: Allen and Unwin

Published: November, 2017

Format: Hardcover

Pages: 512

Price: $22.99

Synopsis: An enchanting and whimsical spell-filled fantasy novel from Jaclyn Moriarty, the award-winning author of Feeling Sorry for Celia and A Corner of White, suitable for readers who loved A Most Magical Girl.

I was ten years old when my parents were killed by pirates. This did not bother me as much as you might think – I hardly knew my parents.

Bronte Mettlestone’s parents ran away to have adventures when she was a baby, leaving her to be raised by her Aunt Isabelle and the Butler. She’s had a perfectly pleasant childhood of afternoon teas and riding lessons – and no adventures, thank you very much.

But Bronte’s parents have left extremely detailed (and bossy) instructions for Bronte in their will. The instructions must be followed to the letter, or disaster will befall Bronte’s home. She is to travel the kingdoms and empires, perfectly alone, delivering special gifts to her ten other aunts. There is a farmer aunt who owns an orange orchard and a veterinarian aunt who specialises in dragon care, a pair of aunts who captain a cruise ship together and a former rockstar aunt who is now the reigning monarch of a small kingdom.

Now, armed with only her parents’ instructions, a chest full of strange gifts and her own strong will, Bronte must journey forth to face dragons, Chief Detectives and pirates – and the gathering suspicion that there might be something more to her extremely inconvenient quest than meets the eye…

From the award-winning Jaclyn Moriarty comes a fantastic tale of high intrigue, grand adventure and an abundance of aunts.

Awards:Longlisted Book of Year, Younger Readers – Australian Book Industry Awards 2018 AU; Longlisted CBCA Book of the Year, Younger Readers 2018 AU; Shortlisted Readings Children’s Book Prize 2018 AU; Longlisted Indie Book Awards – Children’s Fiction 2018 AU; Shortlisted Best Children’s Novel, Aurealis Awards 2017 AU

~*~

AWW-2018-badge-roseTen-year-old Bronte Mettlestone has been raised by her Aunt Isabelle and the Butler, ever since her parents, Lida and Patrick, left her on her Aunt’s doorstep to go off on adventurers and hunt down pirates. The book opens with Bronte recounting the day she found out her parents had died, that they had been killed by pirates, but having been raised by her Aunt Isabelle, it does not affect her as it might other children. Following the news of their deaths, their will is read out and she is sent on a series of quests and adventures to visit all her aunts across the Kingdoms and Empires to deliver a series of gifts to them. Aunt Isabelle tries to get her out of it and go with her, but the border has been adorned by Faery cross-stitch- binding Bronte to the quest and rules set forth by her parents – and so, she must go alone.

Each gift it seems, as Bronte delivers them, is special or relevant to that aunt – and as she travels, her mind is constantly going over what will happen if she breaks the rules of the Faery cross-stitch, which will result in Gainsleigh, her home town, being destroyed. It is a journey of utmost importance, and is filled with aunts, and new friends, cousins she has never met or seldom met, as she stumbles – accidentally and against her wishes – into trouble and unforeseen scenarios, Bronte’s colourful, magical and humour filled world comes to life with the array of aunts, whose vastly different approaches to Bronte’s visits are all different, and some are far more interesting than others – her visit to the cruise ship with Aunt Maya and Aunt Lisbeth – one of her longest visits – is interesting and filled with danger, whereas her visit with Aunt Nancy is one Bronte finds rather dull and limiting, a visit where she fears the magic of the Faery cross stitch might come undone if she allows Aunt Nancy to keep her from her parents instructions.

The Extremely Inconvenient Adventures of Bronte Mettlestone is a book of beauty, from the lovely cover, to the adorable illustrations, to the magical words that fly off the page on the back of a flying unicorn and envelop the reader in the story – so much so, that whilst reading one day, I didn’t even realise how much I had read and that I was only a few chapters from the end of the story. So I’m not surprised that it has had several award nominations, long-listings and short-listings – these accolades are very well deserved, and this bridges a gap between early readers who have the confidence to read and those about to embark on Harry Potter, Narnia and other books, but is also a book that anyone can enjoy and lose themselves in as I invariably did the one day.

I loved Bronte’s character – she wasn’t a stereotype or archetype, she was a little girl, who had fears, and flaws, and who managed to find ways out of sticky situations, in a world she had not had much contact with, and yet, seemed to fit into really well. Determined to make sure she abides by the wishes and rules set forth for her in her parents will, yet still individual, and creative, able to see solutions to problems, and not the typical fairy-tale girl, Bronte is exactly the kind of character who we need these days – brave, and confident, active and able to think for herself, yet also able to accept help when she needs it. Whether it’s negotiating with water sprites to get an aunt out of jail, inadvertently causing an avalanche, or exploring a ship with a boy named Billy and a girl named Taylor, Bronte is the childhood hero for girls that my generation needed, that this generation needs, and in fact, that every girl, and woman, no matter her age or identity, will hopefully enjoy, and have a laugh with, worry and hope with her, and share in everything she feels and does.

I’m really looking forward to the next book in the series, and I hope Bronte makes another appearance as she is a rather enjoyable character, and I would like to see more of her. Aimed at what I hope will be a varied audience, it was the title and cover that attracted me to this book, and it’s fabulous first line is an excellent hook for the story – bring on book two!

Blog Tour #1: Review of The Botanist’s Daughter by Kayte Nunn

the botanists daughter.jpgTitle: The Botanist’s Daughter

Author: Kayte Nunn

Genre: Historical Fiction

Publisher: Hachette Australia

Published: 31st July 2018

Format: Paperback

Pages: 388

Price: $29.99

Synopsis: Discovery. Desire. Deception. A wondrously imagined tale of two female botanists, separated by more than a century, in a race to discover a life-saving flower . . .

In Victorian England, headstrong adventuress Elizabeth takes up her late father’s quest for a rare, miraculous plant. She faces a perilous sea voyage, unforeseen dangers and treachery that threatens her entire family.

In present-day Australia, Anna finds a mysterious metal box containing a sketchbook of dazzling watercolours, a photograph inscribed ‘Spring 1886’ and a small bag of seeds. It sets her on a path far from her safe, carefully ordered life, and on a journey that will force her to face her own demons.

In this spellbinding botanical odyssey of discovery, desire and deception, Kayte Nunn has so exquisitely researched nineteenth-century Cornwall and Chile you can almost smell the fragrance of the flowers, the touch of the flora on your fingertips . . .

‘I loved The Botanist’s Daughter. I was transported to the 1880s and Chile, to contemporary Sydney and Kew. A gripping, warm-hearted read’
JOY RHOADES, author of The Woolgrower’s Companion

‘The riveting story of two women, divided by a century in time, but united by their quest to discover a rare and dangerous flower said to have the power to heal as well as kill. Fast-moving and full of surprises, The Botanist’s Daughter brings the exotic world of 19th-century Chile thrillingly to life’ KATE FORSYTH

~*~

This review and upcoming Q and A with the author are part of a blog tour with Hachette during August.

AWW-2018-badge-roseElizabeth Trebithick lives in Victorian England, in an old house, alone after the death of her father and sister’s marriage. Headstrong and determined to make her own way in the world and not be confined to the female universe that society, her sister and brother in law seem bent on setting out for her, Elizabeth sets out on a quest presented to her by her father before his death – to Chile to find a rare plant with miraculous qualities, that might have the answers and cures to many ailments, but getting it from Chile to England will be the challenge. But so will life aboard a ship for many months, and then life in South America: falling in love, making enemies and the consequences that come with hiding secrets and secret missions.

In Australia in 2017, Anna’s discovery of a tightly sealed box containing a diary, sketches and watercolours, as well as a hidden secret that draws Anna into the mystery of the diary of Elizabeth, known at first as ‘E’ – it ruptures her ordered life of work, and routine, and beings to force her to face her own demons, the memories of her past still haunting her as she tries to let go and move on with her life – which is why she has created such a well-ordered schedule, so life doesn’t overwhelm her. When the box she finds triggers a mystery that potentially involves her family, Anna leaves to go to England to trace the story of Elizabeth and the flower she was searching for – the Devil’s Trumpet. Keen to find out more about Elizabeth, and the diary, Anna’s trip takes her to London, Kew and Cornwall – to meet a descendant of Elizabeth’s father whom she hopes will be able to help her solve the mystery of the diary and paintings. With the help of her sister, Vanessa and friends who also work with plants, Anna’s interest is caught: and it is a mystery that had me turning each page diligently and eagerly as she met botanists in England at Kew, and found a kinship with them, and a shared interest in botany that Anna will soon learn hits much closer to home than she, her mother or her sister ever realised.

Elizabeth and Anna are strong, wilful characters whose driven presence gives the book its strength. It is through these characters that the world of botany comes to life, the smells and sounds of both centuries and cities, and the scent of flowers wafts around as you read – even the unfamiliar plants and scents filter through, and come to life in the imagination. The characters in both timelines were so full of life and complexities, both linked by a love of botany, which shines through, as does their determination not to let families, times or other people define what they do and who they are – they are allowed to be themselves and – particularly Elizabeth – work within the confines of what is expected of them whilst maintaining a sense of self and individuality that springs in a lively form from the page.

With a few twists and turns, the mystery of the diary, sketches and forgotten stories and family are solved, and brought together in a riveting ending that has whispers of the past potentially coming through on the very last page.

A well written novel, and one that I thoroughly enjoyed. My Q and A with Kayte will appear on the blog on the 12th of August as part of the blog tour with Hachettte.

Booktopia

Frogkisser! by Garth Nix

frogkisser.jpgTitle: Frogkisser!

Author: Garth Nix

Genre: Fantasy, YA

Publisher: Allen and Unwin

Published: 22nd February, 2017

Format: Paperback

Pages: 336

Price: $19.99

Synopsis: A rollicking fantasy-adventure by the master of children’s speculative fiction.

Talking dogs. Mischievous wizards. An evil stepstepfather. Loads and loads of toads. Such is the life of a Frogkisser.

Princess Anya needs to see a wizard about a frog. It’s not her frog, it’s her sister’s. And it’s not a frog, it’s actually a prince. A prince who was once in love with Anya’s sister, but has now been turned into a frog by their evil stepstepfather. And Anya has made a ‘sister promise’ that she will find a way to return Prince Denholm to human form…

So begins an exciting, hilarious, irreverent quest through the Kingdom of Trallonia and out the other side, in a fantastical tale for all ages, full of laughs and danger, surprises and delights, and an immense population of frogs.

~*~

Frogkisser is a fairy tale for all. When Prince Denholm is turned into a frog by the stepstepfather, Rikard, of Morven and Anya, Anya’s sister promise to Morven to find him and turn him back into a human. And so, Anya sets out on a Quest, with Royal Dog Ardent, a newt called Shrub, who was once a boy and Otter-Maiden, Smoothie, to find the ingredients for the lip balm needed to reverse transmogrifications. She needs to see a wizard, and meets up with the Seven Dwarves, and the Association of Responsible Robbers, to help up hold the All-Encompassing Bill of Rights and Wrongs, that Duke Rikard and the League of Right-Minded Sorcerers are trying to do away with. As Anya and Ardent embark on their Quest, The Kingdom of Trallonia is under the control of the Duke, and it is up to Anya and Ardent, along with those they meet along the way and rescue, to ensure the Duke doesn’t succeed.

Usually a fairy tale involves a prince saving a princess. However, in Frogkisser, it is Princess Anya who is destined to be the one to save the prince and go on the Quest, aided by faithful dog, Ardent. Anya is content to sit in the library reading and learning about magic – she wants to be a sorcerer, but perhaps this Quest, and what Duke Rikard does, will change her mind. In this fractured fairy tale, Anya is the one with the most agency – and is just as flawed as any other character, but it is what she does with those flaws and the knowledge she has that make her the hero of the novel.

Each character had quirks and flaws that made them complete, especially those on the Quest, such as Anya, The Good Wizard, Ardent, Smoothie and Scrub. Even Bert, the head of the Association of Responsible Robbers (ARR) was neither wholly good or bad – rather, she knew what she wanted to do, yet gave Anya fair warning of her plans. I enjoyed Anya’s growth over the book, and how she learnt to deal with unexpected changes in her Quest. She is a wonderful character, and a lot of fun. Definitely not a typical princess who waits to be saved – she does the saving herself. She is also human with human flaws and interests that make her relatable, and her trusty talking dog, Ardent, is the most adorable sidekick and Quest companion ever. He became my favourite character.

Garth Nix has combined traditional fairy tale and fantasy tropes with a mixture of well known fairy tale characters and myths, but turned them on their head: The Good Wizard is a woman, as is the Robin Hood character – Roberta, or Bert. The male and female characters for the most part work together efficiently and without question. The final chapters and climax were unexpected in some ways, but lovely in their execution. It is a delightful novel, and though aimed at a Young Adult audience, can be enjoyed by anyone who likes their fairy tales with a twist. I hope to revisit this novel soon.

A Most Magical Girl by Karen Foxlee

amostmagicalgirl

 

Title: A Most Magical Girl

Author: Karen Foxlee

Genre: Children’s/Fantasy

Publisher: Bonnier/Piccadilly (Allen and Unwin)

Published: 28th September, 2016

Format: Hardcover

Pages: 304

Price: $19.99

Synopsis: Magical machines, wizards, witches, mysterious underworlds, a race against time – and two most magical girls

Annabel Grey has been brought up to be a very proper Victorian young lady. But being ‘proper’ isn’t always easy – especially when you can sometimes see marvellous (as well as terrifying) things in puddles. But parlour tricks such as these are nothing compared to the world that Annabel is about to enter…

 

After the rather sudden departure of her mother, Annabel is sent to live with her aunts. They claim to be Shoreditch witches, and from a very old family line of them too. They’re keen to introduce Annabel to their world of transformation, potions and flying broomsticks (which seem to have strong personalities of their own) but are horrified when Annabel announces not only does she not know any magic, young ladies shouldn’t believe in such things. But before Annabel has time to decide whether she does or not, she is swept into an urgent quest.

 

The trees of Highgate have been whispering to Kitty – an extraordinary urchin of a girl, who Annabel’s aunts seem very fond of – and so have the fairies. They talk of a terrible, dark magic that wants to devour all of London. And of a most magical girl who might be able to stop it…

 

This sparkling and enchanting story is sure to bewitch you, so curl up in front of the fire, and prepare to be swept away…

~*~

 

Karen Foxlee’s latest offering for children is The Most Magical Girl. Set in Victorian London, Annabel Grey is sent to live with her great-aunts, the Shoreditch witches, away from the world she knows. Away from her friend, Isabelle Rutherford, and away from the school she knows at Miss Finch’s Academy for Young Ladies, she is thrust into a world of magic. It is a world that her mother abandoned, and a world that is in danger from Mr Angel and his shadowlings. Together with the betwixter girl who visits her aunts, Kitty, Annabel must journey to Under London and along a perilous journey to find the Morever Wand, also known as The White Wand.

This journey is fraught with danger, danger that Annabel is unprepared for and that she must learn to cope with as she goes. Like Ophelia and The Marvellous Boy, Karen Foxlee has created a world of wonder and magic that parallels the real world, and both exist seamlessly alongside each other. Annabel’s journey from the life she knew to the life she was destined for. Together, Kitty and Annabel find their way through the dangers of Under London, and to a climax that reveals more about Annabel than she had ever wished to know.

Aimed at ages nine to twelve, this book is suited to anyone who enjoys magic in their stories. A quick read, it kept me enthralled and entertained to the last pages, and had me wishing for the answers Annabel was waiting for at the end. The absence of her mother throughout the novel gave Annabel the drive she needed to unlock her powers. The Victorian London setting was just as magical as the real magic of the Great and Benevolent Magical Society in the pages.

This is an excellent read for lovers of magic and fantasy.