The Lost Magician by Piers Torday

lost magician.jpgTitle: The Lost Magician

Author: Piers Torday

Genre: Fantasy/Historical Fiction/Magical Realism

Publisher: Quercus

Published: 7th May 2019

Format: Paperback

Pages: 340

Price: $15.99

Synopsis: ‘If you can imagine it, it exists … somewhere.’ The new spellbinding fantasy adventure from the bestselling, award-winning author of THE LAST WILD trilogy.

‘If you can imagine it, it exists … somewhere.’  The new spellbinding fantasy adventure from the bestselling, award-winning author of THE LAST WILD trilogy.

  1. They have survived the Blitz, but when Simon, Patricia, Evelyn and Larry step through a mysterious library door, it is the beginning of their most dangerous adventure yet. They discover the magical world of Folio, where an enchanted kingdom of fairy knights, bears and tree gods is under threat from a sinister robot army.

The many stories of the Library are locked in eternal war, and the children’s only hope is to find their creator – a magician who has been lost for centuries.

What they find will change not just their own lives, but the fate of the world, for ever …

An ode to the world of NARNIA, THE LOST MAGICIAN is a classic in the making from one of the UK’s most talented children’s authors. 

~*~

For generations, stories like The Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis have captured the imagination of children and adults alike. In the decades since, we have had Philip Pullman’sHis Dark Materials trilogy, J.K. Rowling’sHarry Potter series and The Inkworld books by Cornelia Funke. Many authors are indebted to early fairy tale traditions and the golden age of Children’s Literature of the mid nineteenth century to the early twentieth century, and indeed, Narnia and C.S. Lewis. And here, in The Lost Magician, we have a tribute to reading, readers and those other worlds that so many of us spent our childhoods exploring long into the night, beyond our bedtimes because finding out what happened next simply could not wait.

As a child, it was the above books and many others that formed me and that I was drawn to. The stories where the heroes went on adventures, or where the characters got caught up in things they could never even imagine, like the Pevensie children and like Meggie. So what would happen when the elements of a door to a new world (Narnia), living stories (Inkheart), the requisite siblings and the backdrop of war or the end of war were combined with a secret mission, present in some of the most well-known spy stories? Well, that’s where The Lost Magician comes in, marrying all these elements into the start of a new series revolving around the world of Folio, where stories new and old live.

In the first book, they are divided into three factions: The Reads, The Unreads and The Never Reads when the four Hastings siblings are sent to Barfield after the war while their parents search for a new home in London after theirs is destroyed. Simon, Patricia, Evelyn and Larry – aged between eight and fourteen – find themselves in a strange house for the summer, with an unusual attic library that takes them into a new world, where they find out that the stories they know well are under attack from the army of the Never Reads, led by Jana, a woman made of glass and her robotic army, who seek to purge the world of stories and only allow facts to live.

Much like Narnia, it is a quest-story, where the main characters have to save world at war, after living through a war in their own world and carrying their own scars. Whilst some elements mirror those from The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe, there are many differences that make this its own story in its own right. The elements of a future yet to come that Evie is taken with when she first arrives will threaten what she knows and loves – and she will question why the world has to have one or the other – and the siblings must also search for a lost magician, missing for centuries. Will they find him? Or will his story be woven into future books?

I loved this book, and will be keen to revisit it at some stage, and look forward to future books in the series, to see where this goes, and the differences it will have to its predecessors. What else will the world of Folio offer us?

Deltora Quest: City of Rats by Emily Rodda

city of rats.jpgTitle: Deltora Quest: City of Rats
Author: Emily Rodda
Genre: Fantasy
Publisher: Scholastic
Published: 1st June 2001
Format: Paperback
Pages: 128
Price: $14.99
Synopsis: Lief, Barda and Jasmine — companions with nothing in common but their hatred of the enemy — are on a perilous quest to find the seven lost gems of the magic Belt of Deltora.

Only when the Belt is complete once more can the evil Shadow Lord be overthrown. They have succeeded in finding the golden topaz and the great ruby. The two gems’ mysterious powers have strengthened them and given them the courage to move on in their search for the third stone.

But none of them can know what horrors await them in the forbidden City of the Rats.

~*~

2019 BadgeArmed with the topaz and the ruby, Lief, Barda and Jasmine enter the City of Rats, where they face more dangers, and many more unknown threats as they seek out the next stone, a rainbow opal. But they must contend with rats, and people who live amongst rats who fear small, furry things, and will use this fear to attack the trio and Jasmine’s animal friends before they can get to the opal and slot it into place on the belt. The challenges they face will test them and their resolve as they work out what those living in the next realm fear and why, and what the consequences of their presence and actions will mean for those who try to stop them getting the opal. For a realm that has been under a dark power for many years, Lief, Barda and Jasmine are finding that the dark powers have created fears so deep, nobody knows who to trust.

In the third part of this series, the quest Lief and his companions are on is getting more dangerous, yet still remains age appropriate for younger readers, and has lots of excitement and action to keep them engaged and enthralled throughout. As an adult reader, I certainly am, and each book gets better and there is a sense that there is an unravelling mystery happening throughout that will be revealed at the end of the series.

Each book can be read quickly and devoured, or slowly savoured, depending on how you want to enjoy it. Having all six in one volume makes it easier to go from one to the other as I finish, and I am hoping to get through all of them soon – hopefully within the next few weeks or months, and then I can wrap up with a post on the entire series.

Lief, Barda and Jasmine are great characters – they are by no means perfect, and they do fight, like any trio of friends on a quest, yet they manage to pull through whatever disaster or troubles face them to complete the quest set forth for them by Lief’s parents, Jarred and Anna, so they can return the rightful ruler of Del to the throne upon their return.

Action packed books like this will have a long life, and be enjoyed for years to come by many readers. For me, it will sit alongside classics like Narnia and Harry Potter quite comfortably. Each series uses common themes yet they each have a unique style, character and plot that make them wonderful reads for lovers of fantasy.

Deltora Quest: The Lake of Tears by Emily Rodda

lake of tears.jpgTitle: Deltora Quest: The Lake of Tears

Author: Emily Rodda

Genre: Fantasy

Publisher: Scholastic Australia

Published: 1st April 2001

Format: Paperback

Pages: 120

Price: $14.99

Synopsis: Lief, Barda and their unruly new companion Jasmine are on a perilous quest to find the seven gems stolen from the magic Belt of Deltora.

The golden topaz has already been found. But only when all the gems have been restored to the Belt can their land be freed from the dark power of the evil Shadow Lord. To find the second stone, the three heroes must travel through territory ruled by the monster-sorceress Thaegan.

Their journey is filled with treachery, trickery and danger, and at its end they must face the hideous guardian of the enchanted Lake of Tears.

~*~

Picking up soon after they have found the first stone for the Belt of Deltora, Lief, Barda and Jasmine are on their way to the Lake of Tears to discover the second one, and where they will meet the first of Thaegan’s children, Nij and Doj, who speak a strange, haunting backwards language that gives a false sense of security to the travellers, following a broken sign that is very misleading. This is just one more dangerous step on the adventure to reunite the stones of the Belt of Deltora. This time, Lief and his companions seek the ruby – and from there, the next five to complete the belt and restore unity to Del.

I’m zipping through these books rather quickly and am trying to review each one individually before writing a wrap up post for the whole omnibus series edition I have next to me so I can move onto the second and third sets in the series. Again, this is a fast-moving book, where Lief and Barda must quickly adapt to trusting Jasmine and her ability to help them navigate the land of Del to find the stones.

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Lief, Jasmine and Barda take charge from this book onwards, and we still haven’t met the future ruler of Del, presumably still in hiding with Endon and his wife, where those who tried to kill them sixteen years before cannot find them – I will be keen to see how this is uncovered later on in the series and where the next two Deltora Quest sets take us. The perils that Lief and his companions face are heart-stopping as they work to escape being eaten by Nij and Doj (or Jin and Jod as it turns out, once they realise the two are speaking backwards), and must then face the prospect of the rest of Thaegan’s children in later books.

This is a fun series, and filled with adventure, friendship and wonder. It is one that has been loved for over a decade, and will hopefully continue to be loved and read for many years to come, if my conversations with fellow readers are anything to go by, as well as the constant lack of it being out of the library when I was much younger. So I am experiencing it now for the first time, and the magic is having as big an impact on me as it would have done had I read it as a teenager or young adult. This is what makes a good book, in my opinion. One that can transcend age and time for all readers, and that will engage on many levels and entertain many.

I’m heading into book three, The City of Rats, and hope to have that review up soon.

The Forests of Silence (Deltora Quest #1) by Emily Rodda

Title: The Forests of Silence (Deltora Quest #1)

Author: Emily Rodda

Genre: Fantasy

Publisher: Scholastic Australia

Published: 2000

Format: Paperback

Pages: 120

Price: $14.99

Synopsis: Deltora is a land of monsters and magic …

The evil Shadow Lord is plotting to invade Deltora and enslave its people. All that stands against him is the magic Belt of Deltora, with its seven gems of great and mysterious power. When the gems are stolen and hidden in dark, terrible places throughout the kingdom, the Shadow Lord triumphs and Deltora is lost.

In secrecy, with only a hand-drawn map to guide them, two unlikely companions set out on a perilous quest. Determined to find the lost gems and rid their land of the tyrant, they struggle towards their first goal — the sinister Forests of Silence.

~*~

Opening with the death of a king, and the ascension of his son to the throne, Deltora Quest opens with a bang, introducing Jarred and Endon – as friends first. Yet when Endon is made king in light of his father’s death, Jarred learns that there is more to the removal of the Belt of Deltora than the history books tell. When he tries to warn his friend, Jarred is forced to run, and it will be seven years before they meet again and uncover a nefarious plot to take over the kingdom.

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Fast forward sixteen years, and Lief, Jarred’s son, heads off on a quest with a former palace guard, Barda, to find the stones of the Belt of Deltora that have been flung throughout the land. Whilst seeking the first stone, a topaz, they meet Jasmine, Kree and Filli, who join them on their quest. But will Lief and his companions succeed?

The start of a promising series for children aged eight to twelve, I have come to this several years after it was published, having recently stumbled across the omnibus editions in the bookstores. For me, it was a quick read, but enjoyable all the same. Each character has strengths and weaknesses that enable the plot to move forward, and it is the start of an epic adventure series that will have readers of all ages enthralled.

Introducing readers to Jarred and Endon first leads into the quest that Lief goes on, and gives a much needed, brief yet important background to the story that is to come. Of course, the main story is about Lief and his quest across the next seven books, which I am looking forward to exploring as I read the rest of the series. A friendship forms between Lief, Jasmine and Barda as they venture through the Forests of Silence in search of the first gem. But whilst Lief and Barda know they need Jasmine’s help, with the state the kingdom has been in for over twenty years, they do not know who they can trust, apart from each other.

As they traverse the forests to uncover what they seek, and then had off towards The Lake of Tears and more dangers and uncertainty that lie ahead, the troupe will no doubt encounter more challenges, and become closer as they head off on a quest to save the kingdom and restore the rightful monarch to the throne of Del.

I’m looking forward to reading the rest of these books and will review each novel on its own, and finally, a wrap up post for the entire omnibus once I have done this. Look for more exciting Deltora reviews from me!

Kensy and Max: Undercover by Jacqueline Harvey

kensy and max 3.jpgTitle: Kensy and Max: Undercover

Author: Jacqueline Harvey

Genre: Spies/Adventure

Publisher: Penguin Random House

Published: 5th March 2019

Format: Paperback

Pages: 400

Price: $16.99

Synopsis: How do you keep your head in the game when someone wants you gone? When those dearest to you are far away and the future is so uncertain . . .

Kensy and Max are back in London for no time at all before things begin to heat up – quite literally. As a result, Granny Cordelia ships them off to Australia on an undercover mission. The twins find themselves planted in a posh Sydney school where first appearances prove to be deceiving.

What seems like a straightforward assignment turns into something so much bigger. Kensy and Max must employ all their spy skills – the fate of their parents, and who they’ve been searching for, depends on it.

~*~



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When Kensy and Max’s London home is destroyed, their grandmother, and the head of spy agency, Pharos, sends them off to Sydney on an undercover mission. Here, they must befriend Ellery and Donovan Chalmers, and find out what their parents are up to and why. To do so, they will attend the same school, where they also become friends with wannabe spy, Curtis, who is their neighbour, join the choir, and Max becomes a cricket whiz. But in the midst of their success at school, they are worried about their parents, and where they are. The people their parents are looking for are somehow connected to what Kensy and Max are looking into, and it will be up to the intrepid twins and Curtis to find out.

 

Since the first time I picked up a Kensy and Max book, I have loved them. They are perfect for anyone to read, and it is the kind of series that I wish I had had as a kid, because Kensy and Max are not typical kids, and not typical of what we expect a boy and a girl to be – they are unique and filled with faults, and this is why they are great characters. Because they are allowed to be who they are and make mistakes. Also, being able to travel the world so much is pretty cool, and training to be a spy is a childhood dream of many kids that is captured by Curtis in this novel, and his determination to solve the mysterious goings on around him – and maybe he will be one of the best assets Kensy and Max have ever had.

As Kensy, Max, Fitz and Song investigate the Chalmers, hints are dropped about Annabel and Edward through, and Annabel’s parents – will Kensy and Max finally be reunited with their parents, and find out what really happened to Annabel’s parents? It is this mystery that has driven the first three books, and I did cheer at the end of this book, and look forward to the next book and where we go with Kensy and Max. It is a fantastic series and I really hope Curtis shows up again – he’s awesome and I loved his friendship with Kensy – he’d fit right in at Pharos, I think.

At first, the twins think their mission is simple: find out what Tinsley Chalmers is up to. Yet things get more complicated, and the chapters that feature characters other than Kensy and Max cleverly reveal secrets slowly and lead up to a conclusion that I never saw coming. We soon learn who the twins need to look at more closely, though. The mystery and all its elements are written so well and work together to create a mystery that even our adorable twins have no idea they’re going to uncover. But when they do, will it be one they wish they had, or one that is best kept secret?

With twists, turns and secrets, this series is an excellent spy series – it’s spy kids, and I love it. I’m also enjoying learning about ciphers as I go, and ways spies communicate. It’s the kind of series kids and anyone rally, can read and enjoy thoroughly.

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.

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

~*~

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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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