Aussie Kids: Meet Eve in the Outback by Raewyn Caisley and Karen Blair

meet eveTitle: Aussie Kids: Meet Eve in the Outback

Author: Raewyn Caisley and Karen Blair

Genre: Fiction

Publisher: Puffin

Published: 31st March 2020

Format: Paperback

Pages: 64

Price: $12.99

Synopsis: Aussie Kids is an exciting new series for emerging readers 6-8 years.

From a NSW Zoo to a Victorian lighthouse, or an outback sheep farm in WA to a beach in QLD, this junior fiction series celebrates stories about children living in unique places in every state in Australia.

8 characters, 8 stories, 8 authors and illustrators from all 8 states and territories!

Come on an adventure with Aussie Kids and meet Eve from Western Australia.

Hi! I’m Eve.
I live at a roadhouse in the Nullarbor. We don’t get many visitors. But today my cousin Will is coming. We’ll have so much fun!

~*~

The Aussie Kids series is a new and continuing series for this year, where each state and territory will be represented in a story about where they live. In Meet Eve in the Outback, readers take a journey to the Nullarbor in Western Australia, where they will meet Eve and her cousin Will for a day in the vast outback that covers much of our continent. Eve is excited to show Will and Nan around her outback home – to see the kangaroos, and the wildlife that calls the vast expanse home, to introduce them to the people she knows and to share her world with him.

Taking place over a single day, this story shows one of the ways  life is different for children, and compares it with cousin Will – who lives where dolphins play in the river.

Along the journey, Eve, Dad and Doug show Will how their farm works, what they do every day and tell him stories about their land and what is around it.

AWW2020

Each of these stories can be read alone, as each is its own contained story and is aimed at early readers aged five to eight years old, with simple, two-colour illustrations, short sentences and simple vocabulary that will make this series the ideal place to start growing confident readers, whilst teaching them language, and help them learn about Australia and diversity so they can go further and explore these themes in more challenging books as the years go on.

With thanks to Pengiun for sending me this and another in the series to review.

Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them by JK Rowling/Newt Scamander

fantastic beasts paperbackTitle: Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them

Author: JK Rowling/Newt Scamander

Genre: Fantasy Text Book

Publisher: Bloomsbury Children’s Books

Published: 31st March 2020

Format: Paperback

Pages: 160

Price: $29.99

Synopsis: This glorious paperback edition of Newt Scamander’s Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them is considered a classic throughout the wizarding world. It features an extraordinary array of magical creatures, from Acromantula to Yeti via ten different breeds of dragon – all beautifully illustrated in full colour by the brilliantly inventive, Greenaway Medal shortlisted Olivia Lomenech Gill.

Famed Magizoologist Newt Scamander’s years of adventure and exploration have yielded a work of unparalleled importance, admired by scholars, devoured by young witches and wizards, and even made available to Muggles in the early years of this century. With this dazzling illustrated edition, readers can explore the magical fauna of five continents from the comfort of their own armchairs. Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them is essential reading at Hogwarts.

Now available in a stunning paperback edition with French flaps, this edition contains all of the mesmerising illustrations from the original edition and features the fully updated 2017 text including a foreword by J.K. Rowling, writing as Newt Scamander.

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~*~

Bloomsbury has released the much-loved Hogwarts textbook, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them in a paperback using the expanded, illustrated text from the hardcover edition published in 2017. Usually, only wizards and witches have access to this book, yet now Muggles are able to read about these creatures and learn about them, even if they may not be able to see them or interact with them.

The ratings for the beasts haven’t changed – and the introduction, foreword and introductory notes are written by Newt Scamander are still included, though this time I felt with a few flourishes that make the book interactive and feel as though someone has interacted with the book.

Below are the ratings given to each beast:

X- Boring

XX – Harmless/may be domesticated

XXX – Competent wizards should cope

XXXX – Dangerous/requires specialist knowledge/skilled wizard may handle

XXXXX – Known wizard killer/impossible to train or domesticate

One thing missing is the delightfully fun notes from Ron, Harry and Hermione from the original edition, yet this exquisite one is less a school text and more a guide for wizards at home and abroad.

I’ve written about this one a few times before, and each edition brings something new to the book and I notice something new. In this one, I spent a lot more time taking in the gorgeous colour illustrations of each beast, and the various ways they interact with their environment and wizards. It is a delightful edition, and one I am adding to my collection – I may have multiple editions of some books yet each different edition expands on the world and gives a new scope to the original series and editions. It is something I always look forward too, and with many house and new editions coming out this year, I cannot wait to see how they all come together in the series, and to share my views on how they add to the original magic for readers new and old.

I have enjoyed Harry Potter for almost twenty years – and reading it always reminds me of my best friend and her mum who introduced me to the wizarding world. It is something we will always share, and that is what makes it special to me.

Friday Barnes: Under Suspicion by R.A. Spratt

friday barnes 2Title: Friday Barnes: Under Suspicion
Author: R.A. Spratt
Genre: Mystery
Publisher: Penguin Random House
Published: 7th May 2019/1st January 2015
Format: Paperback
Pages: 272
Price: $15.99
Synopsis: Who knew boarding school could be this perilous!
When Friday Barnes cracked the case of Highcrest Academy’s mysterious swamp-yeti, the last thing she expected was to be placed under arrest. Now with the law on her back and Ian Wainscott in her face, Friday is not so sure boarding school was the smartest choice. From a missing or not-so-missing calculator to the appearance of strange holes in the school field, she is up to her pork-pie hat in crimes – and she swears not all of them are hers. There’s also new boy Christopher, who has taken quite a shine to Friday, to contend with.
Can Friday navigate the dangerous grounds of Highcrest Academy and decipher a decades-old mystery without getting caught in an unexpected love triangle?
~*~

Picking up soon after book one with Friday arrested by the police, this book ventures further into the crimes and investigations surrounding Highcrest, and the lengths students and teachers will go to so they can hide secrets and get their way. Friday befriends a vagrant, Malcolm, whose presence in the novel brings a whole new mystery to the table as Friday grapples with Ian Wainscott and new student, Christopher – though is Christopher really who he says he s, and why all of a sudden do the police have such an interest in Highcrest Academy? Friday must look into a missing calculator, strange holes appearing all over campus, and teachers who behave unlike any other teachers, and constantly being sent to the Headmaster’s office. All in all, Friday’s time at Hillcrest is getting very interesting.

I’ve now got up to book six of this series to read out of eight – and will be aiming to work my way through them all as the weeks and months go on. Friday is a great character, and she really shines in this book, proving that she will never change, and nor will her friend, Melly. They are perfect for each other, and this new genre of detective novels for kids just keeps getting better and better.

AWW2020As Friday evolves as a character, though whilst not giving up the essence of who she is, she is becoming an integral part of the school as she uncovers all sorts of crimes and indiscretions around the school. Each character within the school is unique, and each teacher has their own interesting way of teaching – like Mrs Cannon, the English teacher, who allows time to get away from her while the students read so she can hunt for a new job or do the crossword.

The stories have an excellent blend of complexity and simplicity – whereby Friday’s knowledge is clear, yet she explains it in ways that the reader and her fellow characters can understand, in stark contrast to her parents who are often referred to throughout the book. Friday seems to have all kinds of connections to help her solve the crimes of the school, and what I love most about this is that they seem to go unquestioned, and the teachers are a mix of letting her get away with it, being frustrated with her or not really caring at times, which makes it lots of fun to read.

This is a series that I feel gets better with each book, as new layers are uncovered, and new mysteries are introduced. Each book has a cliffhanger ending, so I would recommend reading these in order so the story flow makes sense. With the next four at the ready to read, I am sorted for now, and look forward to reading them and getting books seven and eight.

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.

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.

 

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.