Books and Bites Book Bingo: A Book with a door on the cover: The Winterborne Home for Vengeance and Valour by Ally Carter

books and bites game card

For my eleventh square, I chose a book with a door on the cover. This was always going to be a challenge, and the book I chose for a book published over 100 years ago – The Secret Garden – would also have been good for this square. However, I realised I had to use – or wanted to use – a different book for each square as much as possible.

I interpreted a door as a gate as well, and that’s why I chose The Winterborne Home for Vengeance and Valour by Ally Carter. There is a gate in the foreground of the cover, with the house and its door in the background behind the kids.

Winterborne 1

I reviewed this for Hachette on the 3rd of March, and thought it was a great introduction to a new series – with a slow build towards the climatic conclusion that inevitably leads into a second book – with several threads that were worked through the book left seeking more answers beyond what April finds out in the book.  As readers, we only know what April knows, and this draws us further into the mystery, and the lives of the orphans and their world, and what is to come. I cannot wait to find out what happens next.

 

Books and Bites Book Bingo – A book with bad reviews: Trials of Apollo: The Dark Prophecy by Rick Riordan

books and bites game card

In my tenth post for Books and Bites Book Bingo, I chose to mark off the square for a book with bad reviews. This was always going to be a subjective square – as all books are going to have good and bad reviews, so any book could really fit in here.

dark prophecy

Usually, the more popular books are more likely to have bad reviews, and this could be for many reasons – from simplistic writing, to the way the author handles the plot or issues of representation. Last year I was sent book four in the Trials of Apollo series by Rick Riordan – after the publication date and decided I had better read the first three first. For this category, I read Trials of Apollo: The Dark Prophecy.

I’ve read the first two, and this is one of those series that will always have bad reviews for a variety of reasons – and sometimes, these will be a very individual reason, and might not make sense. From people feeling it is too much of one thing, or too little of another, or they simply do not like the way the Greek mythology has been dealt with, the bad reviews can be expansive, they can be brief and they might even be reviews that miss the point of the book – perhaps a commonality amongst bad reviews.

I’m getting a good pace going through this challenge – some squares have books planned in my mind, and some I’m letting fall as they come, so that lets some of the stress off me to find things all the time. With my aim to post at least once a fortnight, hopefully I will fill the card by the end of the year, but will probably post as often as possible at some point.

Phoenix (Firewatcher Chronicles #2) by Kelly Gardiner

phoenix-coverTitle: Phoenix (Firewatcher Chronicles #2)
Author: Kelly Gardiner
Genre: Historical Fiction
Publisher: Scholastic
Published: 1st February 2020
Format: Paperback
Pages: 272
Price: $14.99
Synopsis: May 1941.
The German bombing campaign is reaching its fiery climax, and Christopher and the firewatchers battle against the flames and huge bombs through the worst night of the Blitz.
Christopher tries to go back to 1666; to find his new friends and learn more about the power of his phoenix ring.
Instead, he finds himself in a deserted city, overlooking a smaller, older river port town known as Lundenwic, where the Anglo-Saxon community faces an invasion by the dreaded Vikings.
Christopher must discover why the ring has brought him here, and how to get back to his own time. But there are Viking ships on the Thames, and their warriors threaten to burn the city and conquer the whole of England.
~*~

As the Blitz rages on, and Christopher’s father arrives home, injured and discharged, London will never be the same. As the war rages on and his mother volunteers to help fight fires instead of watching for the bombers, Christopher finds himself mourning friends and neighbours, in between attending school, watching for bombs and looking for treasures with his friends by the Thames. During one of these hunts, Christopher finds a pendant with Thor’s Hammer, that transports him back to the ninth century, where Vikings are threatening to invade the Anglo-Saxon settlement of Lundenwic. Whilst here, he encounters the Vikings, a girl named Elda and is thrust back and forth between their conflict, and German destruction of London. Christopher can’t stop the German bombs coming but he can find a way to stop the Vikings attacking an empty town.

As the novel moves back and forth between 1941 and at least a thousand years in the past, and hints at London’s history, and the layers of history that lie beneath the streets of modern London are hinted at in an accessible and exciting way for young readers, aged eight and older. Aimed at middle grade readers, it combines history, time travel, action, mystery and adventure, the second book in this trilogy alludes to what came before, and the role fire has played many times in shaping London and its history.

AWW2020I waited a long time for this book to come out, and I ordered it into my local bookstore and waited for it to arrive – and managed to read it within two days.
This is a trilogy worth reading – filled to the brim with amazing diverse characters – with disabilities, who aren’t white and the women in history – the Vikings, and Elda, Molly and Christopher’s mother and teacher – who are exceptional in many ways and do not fit the supposed gender norms or expectations of their times, or what history assumes they did. I loved this aspect of the book, and the hints at history we don’t know about – it opens it up for readers and leads them – hopefully – to researching it further. Because, how can we know what is out there if we don’t look and if there isn’t anything like this fabulous series to guide us? It certainly led me to looking up Saxon women, Lundenwic and Vikings – leading me down many research rabbit holes whilst writing this review.

This is one of my favourite middle grade trilogies – we have some fantastic authors in Australia writing for all age groups, and we should be supporting them as often as we can, if not all the time. When a novel like this combines history and time travel, and adventure, it makes history fun for kids, and can introduce concepts, ideas and knowledge that they may not get elsewhere or that become facts that are picked up because they are there. At the same time, this novel confronts ideas about gender and race in the 1940s, but briefly and is shown to illustrate that these ideas existed, but that they can be challenged and people can change their perceptions and attitudes, and prove that history is more complex than previously thought and even more complex than the way we are taught at school.

This is another reason these historical fiction novels when learning about history – they introduce a new side to history that is hidden in a variety of ways, and doing so through fiction makes it exciting and relatable. With the third book out later this year, I can’t wait to see how this trilogy ends.

Books and Bites Bingo Short story collection – Radio National Fictions (various short stories on ABC Listen app

books and bites game card

I don’t read that many short story collections – nor do I listen to audiobooks. The former is simply because they don’t often cross my path, and the latter because I know I’d never be able to focus on that much audio. I’m better with short bursts like podcasts, so when I discovered Radio National Fictions podcast, I knew it would perfectly fit not only any short story categories, but the audiobook category in another challenge I had thought I would never fill. I have devoured the first six, short stories in what is called the Oz Gothic category, where each I felt left a little to the imagination and had some open endings where anything could have happened after the story ended. As each week has a different short story, written and told by a different author or presenter, they will vary in themes, and once they finish the Oz Gothic theme, I wonder what will be next, as there are many areas to be explored with genre and theme or as a sole aspect of narrative.

radio national fictions

As each is only half an hour long, I find my attention does not wander as it would with a novel length audiobook, and so, they are perfect to listen to while I work. They are engaging and though they are brief, they evoke a sense of needing to know what happens almost as soon as it starts. Of course, there are probably going to be some stories I listen to more closely than others, or find more engaging but that happens in all areas of literature and why having a diverse range of books out there in a diverse range of formats allows us to engage with reading in a way that works for us.

Death in the Ladies’ Goddess Club by Julian Leatherdale

ladies goddess clubTitle: Death in the Ladies’ Goddess Club

Author: Julian Leatherdale

Genre: Historical Fiction/Crime

Publisher: Allen and Unwin

Published: 3rd March 2020

Format: Paperback

Pages: 400

Price: $29.99

Synopsis: Murder and blackmail, family drama and love, all set within the shady underbelly of 1930s Kings Cross and its glamorous fringe.

‘Crime’s not a woman’s business, Joanie. It’s not some bloody game.’

In the murky world of Kings Cross in 1932, aspiring crime writer Joan Linderman and her friend and flatmate Bernice Becker live the wild bohemian life, a carnival of parties and fancy-dress artists’ balls.

One Saturday night, Joan is thrown headfirst into a real crime when she finds Ellie, her neighbour, murdered. To prove her worth as a crime writer and bring Ellie’s killer to justice, Joan secretly investigates the case in the footsteps of Sergeant Lillian Armfield.

But as Joan digs deeper, her list of suspects grows from the luxury apartment blocks of Sydney’s rich to the brothels and nightclubs of the Cross’s underclass.

Death in the Ladies’ Goddess Club is a riveting noir crime thriller with more surprises than even novelist Joan bargained for: blackmail, kidnapping, drug-peddling, a pagan sex cult, undercover cops, and a shocking confession.

From the shadows of bohemian and underworld Kings Cross, who will emerge to tell the real story?

~*~

In 1932, bohemian life collides with the Great Depression, and Joan, an aspiring writer, and her friend, Bernice are at the heart of it in a boarding house in King’s Cross. Amidst all the balls and parties, there is a dark underbelly of crime linked to underworld razor gangs, and Tilly Devine and Kate Leigh. Whilst all this is bubbling along, Joan’s neighbour, Ellie is murdered, and one of Sydney’s only female police officers, Special Sergeant Lillian Armfield, is called in to help with the investigation. As the case moves along, Joan’s determination to solve the case herself leads her into danger, and into the path of Hugh, a man who associates with the Communists and has his own secrets. As Joan continues to investigate despite being warned away by the police and other threats, she will uncover several shocks and secrets that she never thought possible.

It seems that mysteries set in the 1930s have been a common appearance on my blog these past couple of weeks, and a staple of these mysteries now and over the years has been the opening of the Sydney Harbour Bridge – which each book has dealt with uniquely and from different perspectives, and it’s interesting to imagine that even though the fictional characters inhabit different series, that just maybe in the fictional world, they were all present at the opening usurped by de Groot, but were unaware of each other’s presence. Whilst this is just a small scene in this novel, not only is it a significant turning point in the plot, but it also positions the  novel in a specific time and place, and allows the reader to gain some historical insight and context beyond the Great Depression and the razor gangs, all of which intersect to create a political and social backdrop to the murder that is being investigated.

It is a complex mystery, where each strand is slowly revealed and at times, might seem unrelated but when they come together, bring to life a remarkable and thrilling mystery. There are things hinted at that are cleverly revealed at the end, but at the same time, that when it is revealed, feels like everything was pointing to it much earlier, but had legitimate explanations. In doing so, Leatherdale has created spectacularly misleading characters who not only does Joan find believable in what we are told, but the reader does as well.

It is a very well-thought out mystery, and I felt delivered the right information at the right time. Historical information and bits of context are continuously peppered throughout, yet it is also not overdone. In fact, I do not think anything is overdone, as there is nothing unnecessarily described or used, and I loved the way Joan’s story was peppered throughout and the way the real case she was caught up in started to appear within the novel she was writing. The combination of the mystery and Joan’s aspirations were integrated well, as was the uncertainty of stability in employment and housing during the 1930s.

Overall, I enjoyed this book, and think readers of historical fiction and mystery will enjoy it. Including real life historical figures creates an authenticity that allows a great immersion in the world of the book and sparks an interest in this history beyond what is often taught at school.

Esme’s Gift by Elizabeth Foster

EsmesGift-webTitle: Esme’s Gift
Author: Elizabeth Foster
Genre: Fantasy
Publisher: Odyssey Books
Published: 30th November 2019
Format: Paperback
Pages: 266
Price: $23.95
Synopsis: Terror was within. Terror was without.
Like her mother, she was at the water’s mercy.
In the enchanted world of Aeolia, fifteen-year-old Esme Silver faces her hardest task yet. She must master her unruly Gift—the power to observe the past—and uncover the secrets she needs to save her mother, Ariane.
In between attending school in the beguiling canal city of Esperance, Esme and her friends—old and new—travel far and wide across Aeolia, gathering the ingredients for a potent magical elixir.
Their journey takes them to volcanic isles, sunken ruins and snowy eyries, spectacular places fraught with danger, where they must face their deepest fears and find hope in the darkest of places.
Esme’s Gift, the second instalment in the Esme trilogy, is a gripping fantasy adventure for readers 12 years and over.

~*~
The Esme trilogy was one of the early series and books that got me into blogging seriously – others include The Medoran Chronicles and The Tides Between. In the first book, Esme’s Wish, Esme Silver runs away to find her mother – who has been missing for about seven or eight years after her father gets remarried to Penelope – someone that Esme instinctively knows is only going to cause harm. The second book picks up shortly after the events of the first book, where Esme arrives home to find Picton Island in chaos – everyone has been searching for her for weeks, and nobody will believe her about where she has been, Ariane or what has happened. In an attempt to make her father see sense, Esme gathers evidence, leaves it somewhere secret for him to find and heads off back to Esperance – where she enrols in school in the canal city, and whilst here, she must learn to control her gift as well as travelling across Aeolia to find ingredients for a magical elixir that will hopefully help her mother.

AWW2020Together with Daniel and Lillian, Esme uses portals to explore volcanic isles, sunken ruins and all kinds of dangerous places. Combined with the portal and journey aspects are hints at an ancient Greek-style mythology and history behind Aeolia, and even though it was not always spoken about, it felt like it was always there – the gods and goddesses, the traditions, the history, the battles and the names of places and heroes from Ancient Greece. At the very least, the names and places spoken about are inspired by these myths and histories, and in a way, are an imaginative and unique retelling in what I feel is a setting that could be anywhere between Australia and the Greek Isles. The strength of this book and its relationships are through the friendships that Esme makes – especially her friendship with Lillian and Daniel, and the way Lillian’s mother cares for all three of them. It is really wonderful to read an upper middle grade to younger YA book where the focus is friendship – we definitely need more of these stories for teenagers to show that romantic relationships – whatever shape they take – are not the only ones worth depicting in literature.

The Gifts that Esme and her friends have echo ancient Greek traditions as well – Esme, who has visions – has echoes of Seers like Cassandra. Lillian’s gift of song-spells refers – for me – to oral traditions of antiquity and gods like Orpheus, the Muses, Apollo, Zeus and Hermes. These hints towards Greek mythology are imbued through the book and give it a feeling of a mythological retelling which is something I love – mythological and fairy tale retellings are fun, interesting and enjoyable when done right – and to my mind, this one is done spectacularly.

This setting evokes so much magic and wonder – it feels like a real world in so many ways, and at the same time, just oozes with an impossibility of existence that it is the stuff of dreams and wonder. I adore this about this series – the fact that it feels like a dream yet also feels so real at the same time, and I love that Elizabeth remembered me from reviewing the first one three years ago. It was such a great privilege to read it then and is even more so now, knowing that this is going to head in a very unique and interesting direction in the third book.

This is a trilogy to watch – and one that anyone aged twelve and over will enjoy. I loved heading back to Esperance – it is a place that is comforting and adventurous with the right amount of danger thrown in when needed. It is done so wonderfully – the tension is perfect for the story and age group, and it is a world where so many mysterious and wonderful things happen, I cannot wait to see how this trilogy wraps up in the third book. Again, this is a wonderful series that Elizabeth is writing, and I hope everyone who is following it enjoys this offering.

 

Book Bingo Two 2020 – Friendship, Family, and Love

Welcome to the February edition of book bingo with Theresa, Amanda and myself. In February, I shall be checking off the Family, Friendship and Love square with a book that encompasses all three of these themes. The book I have chosen is the fifth book in the Pippa’s Island series by Belinda Murrell.

Book bingo 2020.jpg

Pippa’s Island: Puppy Pandemonium, like all the Pippa’s Island books, revolves around Pippa Hamilton, her family and friends on Kira Island. In this book, Pippa is determined to earn some money – their house is nearly finished, but she longs for a new swimming costume. With her friends, CiCi, Meg and Charlie, she starts a dog care business, but soon finds her hands full of trouble – which is where her friends’ step in and help her find a way to care for all the dogs. The themes are highlighted in in the way Pippa gets help from her friends, helps her family and sacrifices what she wants because she loves her family and friends.

Pippas Island 5

It is also highlighted in the way Pippa is rewarded not only with money and what she desires, like her own space, but knowing her friends and family will always love her no matter what and will do anything for her. I love this series – I picked book one up on whim when I needed some light reading, and I devoured all five. I hope there are more to come yet at the same time, the ending we got in this book felt like it wrapped a lot up as well. So I’d be happy either way – more or not.

Onto the next month, and more reading!