Book Bingo Seven: Written by an Australian Woman

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And thus ends March, and my seventh book bingo of the year with Theresa Smith and Amanda Barrett. I’ve just got one book to present this week, and this book fills the square “written by an Australian Woman” – which I intended to write weeks ago, but got caught up in all the other squares, and will hopefully be able to fill some of the tricker ones soon.

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zelda stitch 2So this week, to check off a book by an Australian woman, I’m using Zelda Stitch Term Two: Too Much Witch by Nicki Greenberg. Following on from the first book, Zelda’s mishaps as a witch continue to plague her, but she’s still trying to protect someone on her class, and make sure that more people don’t find out she is a witch. Her snarky cat, Barnaby is back, and causing even more mischief as Zelda tries to navigate her life as a teacher and life as a witch.

A fun book for kids, my full review is here.

Come back next fortnight for Book Bingo Eight, which might just be a double bingo!

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Book Bingo Four – Historical

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And just like that, it is Book Bingo Saturday again, and I’m crossing off my next square. This is a blogging activity I do with Theresa Smith and Mrs B, and we’re aiming to fill thirty squares this year instead of twenty-five. There are couple that I have filled but as the review posts are not ready to go yet, I am unable to use them. I am able to fill historical this week, and there are many books I have that would fulfil this square, so it was a tough call to make, but I am filling it with a new book, The Familiars by Stacey Halls.

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The Familiars was reviewed on this blog here, and is set in 1612, against the backdrop of the notorious Pendle Witch Trials during the reign of King James I, son of Mary Queen of Scots. Here, the witch trials and attitudes to witches are shown through the eyes of women and those who were caught up in the trials and those who benefitted from the services of midwives, some of whom were convicted and executed as witches. it is an intriguing story, with themes and characters that aren’t often explored in literature about this period.

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At this stage, I am now one-sixth of my way through this challenge – five squares out of thirty have been completed, and the rest will hopefully fill up easily, though some may be a challenge, such as romance – I may have to settle for one that touches on romance. Given these categories are rather quite open, many books should be able to be stretched to fit each one.

Look out for Book Bingo Five around the second of March!

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The Familiars by Stacey Halls

the familiars.jpgTitle: The Familiars

Author: Stacey Halls

Genre: Historical Fiction

Publisher: Allen and Unwin/Zaffre

Published: 4th January 2019

Format: Paperback

Pages: 432

Price: $29.99

Synopsis: ‘Assured and alluring, this beautiful tale of women and witchcraft and the fight against power was a delight from start to finish’ – Jessie Burton, bestselling author of The Miniaturist.

Fleetwood Shuttleworth is 17 years old, married, and pregnant for the fourth time. But as the mistress at Gawthorpe Hall, she still has no living child, and her husband Richard is anxious for an heir. When Fleetwood finds a letter she isn’t supposed to read from the doctor who delivered her third stillbirth, she is dealt the crushing blow that she will not survive another pregnancy.

Then she crosses paths by chance with Alice Gray, a young midwife. Alice promises to help her give birth to a healthy baby, and to prove the physician wrong.

As Alice is drawn into the witchcraft accusations that are sweeping the North-West, Fleetwood risks everything by trying to help her. But is there more to Alice than meets the eye?

Soon the two women’s lives will become inextricably bound together as the legendary trial at Lancaster approaches, and Fleetwood’s stomach continues to grow. Time is running out, and both their lives are at stake.

Only they know the truth. Only they can save each other.

~*~

Fleetwood Shuttleworth is four years into a marriage that has thus far, produced no heir for her husband, and she is enduring yet another pregnancy when she takes on a young midwife named Alice amidst the Jacobean ear witch-trials under James I and VI of England and Scotland. The book sees Fleetwood struggle through a difficult pregnancy as Alice helps her as best she can, and as Fleetwood works to decipher a letter from her husband that indicates she will not survive the current pregnancy – but is there more to this letter than Fleetwood can tell, and will she confront her husband about it?

Simmering in the background are fears of witches, and accusations against entire families of women, and some midwives, The Familiars explores the stories and legends behind the Pendle witch trials – taking place in 1612, when this book is set, and accounted for about 2% of all witches who were executed. Taking on this historical period in fiction is very interesting – it is not one I usually see, and when it is, it is focussed on royalty, or the actual witch trials, rather than the people at the peripheral, and how the absence of a midwife accused of witchcraft affects a life. Also, I felt the term witch hunt was never more accurate, as these people were accused of something they never did, and where accusations between families and against people were dealt with swiftly and without much consideration based on the testimony of a child. Eerily, the case of Louisa Collins, discussed in an earlier blog post, rested upon the same kind of testimony. This resulted in twelve people being executed during the summer of 1612.

Where many witch trial stories and  novels focus on the actual trials, and the polarising sides of the accused versus the accusers, and who is right based on the evidence left behind recorded by the victors and winners in history, The Familiars takes real people – Alice and Fleetwood and those they know – into a realm where the women involved and affected directly and indirectly tell the story.

Primarily told through Fleetwood’s eyes, and where secrets are slowly revealed throughout the novel at the right time, and that makes for an intriguing plot and mystery that is woven throughout the story. The strength of the story is the very feminine and female driven character and plot – where the men – Roger and Robert, are only there on the side. in fact, for much of the novel, they are absent or travelling, allowing Fleetwood and Alice to take charge of the story. The simmering fear of witches felt primarily male in this story – Fleetwood, though concerned, was not as convinced as the men in her life.

Based on real people, it is interesting to wonder if the real Fleetwood was like her fictional counterpart, and how she definitely did react to what was going on around her. Historical fiction is always a favourite of mine, especially when it explores eras not often explored or perspectives we don’t often hear from.

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

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

Author: Nicki Greenberg

Genre: Fantasy/Children’s

Publisher: Allen and Unwin

Published: 4th February 2019

Format: Paperback

Pages: 272

Price: $14.99

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

~*~

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

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

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

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

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

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Bella Donna: Too Many Spells (Bella Donna #2) by Ruth Symes

bella donna 2.jpgTitle: Bella Donna: Too Many Spells (Bella Donna #2)

Author: Ruth Symes

Genre: Children’s Fiction

Publisher: Piccadilly/Allen and Unwin

Published: 7th January 2018

Format: Paperback

Pages: 192

Price: $14.99

Synopsis: Be who you really are . . . whoever that may be!

Half the time Bella Donna is a regular girl at a regular school with her regular friends – animal-mad Sam, and pink fan Angela. The rest of the time she’s a young witch learning to cast spells and living with her adoptive mum Lilith, and Lilith’s niece Verity. Bella is working very hard at learning her spells, as she’s desperate to win the Spell Casting Contest. But a new teacher at school, Miss Rowan, is making her nervous. Witchlike things are happening in the classroom, and Bella knows it isn’t her.

Beautifully illustrated throughout by winner of the Egmont Best New Talent award, Marion Lindsay.

~*~

The second in the Bella Donna series picks up soon after she has found her Forever Family with Lilith, and new friend at school, Angela. This time, Bella Donna has decided to enter the Spell-Casting Contest, but just as she receives the invitation, strange things begin happening at school. They start with the disappearance of her teacher, Mrs Pearce, and the arrival of Miss Rowan – whom everyone but Sam – Bella’s best friend – seems to like.

As Bella spends her time going to school, and learning spell-casting, as well as working towards winning the Spell-Casting Contest, she begins to notice strange things happening. Animals behaving strangely, and odd spells happening around school. Is Bella Donna responsible for this, or is there another cause?

This was another fun novel in a series that is starting to come out in Australia on the seventh of January. Bella Donna is such a fun character, who is allowed to make mistakes, and be scared. Her coven show understanding and care towards her – she is still a very young witchling who has only recently found out she is a witch. Aimed at children and young adults, I think this is a series that can be enjoyed by anyone who enjoys a fun and quick read, told using language that neither intimidates nor talks down to the reader – it finds that happy medium that works well for a vast majority of readers.

This is a series that shows readers of all types that it is okay to be who you want to be and shows readers that they can achieve their dreams and goals – even if they have to take a different path to other people achieving their goals.

Hopefully I can read the rest of this series, as I really like the characters and want to see where they go.

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Bella Donna: Coven Road by Ruth Symes (Bella Donna #1)

Bella Donna 1.jpgTitle: Bella Donna: Coven Road

Author:  Ruth Symes

Genre: Fantasy

Publisher: Allen and Unwin/Picadilly

Published: 7th January 2019

Format: Paperback

Pages: 180

Price: $14.99

Synopsis: A witch, a cat and a lot of magic!

A witch, a cat and a lot of magic!

Some girls dream of being a princess, but Bella Donna has always longed to be a witch. The only thing she wants more is to find a family to take her out of the children’s home where she lives. But no one seems quite right until she meets Lilith.

With Lilith’s help, will Bella Donna be able to make both of her secret wishes come true?

Beautifully illustrated throughout by winner of the Egmont Best New Talent award, Marion Lindsay.

~*~

Bella Donna is an orphan, living at the Templeton Children’s Home with her friend Sam – the two are inseparable and keen to find their Forever Families – the ones who will accept them for who they are and what they love. For Bella Donna, she has always wanted to be a witch – and wants a family who will accept her for who she is and what she wants to be. When they’re five, they make a pact that they will both wait for their Forever Families – the ones who will accept them for who they are, and with whom they can be themselves. When Lilith adopts Bella Donna, she feels Lilith is the right person for her, but why? What is it about Lilith that makes Bella Donna think this is her Forever Family? What follows is a series of shenanigans as Bella Donna enters Coven Road, and starts her time there pretending to be something she is not, until Lilith helps her reveal her wishes and find her new identity within Coven Road – and from here, Bella Donna find a way to keep secrets, and when things go wrong, can Bella Donna fix things and save her new family?

This is a new series to Australia, by British author Ruth Symes. Told in first person from Bella’s perspective, the first book in the series is funny, charming and touching – a story of family and friendship, and acceptance set in what I imagine is a small, British village – it has that feel to it and all the charm of British children’s literature throughout the years and decades. Bella Donna is not a perfect female character. At nine years old, she makes mistakes, she isn’t quite perfect but at the same time she just wants to fit in: much like any child growing up.

It is her awkwardness and imperfections that make Bella Donna such a great character as she grapples with friendship at school and keeping her secrets back in Coven Road – secrets, that if she reveals, could mean she has to leave Lilith and Coven Road. Bella Donna also has a charming friendship with Sam from the children’s home that remains strong throughout and though she makes new friends, Sam will always be there for her, and she will always be there for him – it is a celebration of friendship between boys and girls, and a celebration of liking things that might not be seen as acceptable or normal – but somehow Bella Donna makes it all work – school, her new home, her new identity and family – and so begins a series that is charming and amusing, and a rather quick read – but very enjoyable for kids, and anyone who likes a good story about magic and witches.

What Bella Donna does is take the scary image of the witch and turn it on its head. Sure, Bella Donna dresses like you’d imagine a witch might, but the magic that resides in Coven Road draws on all aspects of witches and fantasy, and links them all together in a very creative and uplifting way that is charming and reinforces positive friendships and individualism. I look forward to seeing where Bella Donna goes next.

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The Cursed First Term of Zelda Stitch: Bad Teacher, Worse Witch by Nicki Greenberg

zelda stitch.jpgTitle: The Cursed First Term of Zelda Stitch: Bad Teacher, Worse Witch

Author: Nicki Greenberg

Genre: Children’s Fiction

Publisher: Allen and Unwin

Published: 23rd August, 2017

Format: Paperback

Pages: 272

Price: $14.99

Synopsis: Imagine if you read your teacher’s diary… and discovered she was a witch! With courage, imagination and a certain amount of recklessness, Zelda Stitch begins her first year of teaching primary school – as an incompetent (incognito) witch.

‘Zelda rides a broomstick!’
‘Zelda’s got a bat-friend!’
‘Zelda smells like toadstools!’
‘Witch! Witch! Witch!’

It was bad enough when I was eleven years old. But if they sniff me out now, it’ll be a disaster.

Zelda Stitch isn’t much of a witch – she’s hoping she’ll make a better primary school teacher. But if the vice principal finds out about her, her dream will go up in a puff of smoke.

Keeping her magic secret isn’t the only trouble bubbling in Ms Stitch’s classroom: there’s wild-child Zinnia, lonely Eleanor, secretive Phoebe and a hairy, eight-legged visitor called Jeremy. Not to mention the nits…

With NO HELP AT ALL from her disagreeable cat Barnaby, Zelda must learn to be a better teacher, a better friend and a better witch – even if that means taking broomstick lessons.

Magic. Mischief. Mayhem. Zelda’s classroom is a cauldron full of laughs.

~*~

aww2017-badgeZelda Stitch has just started a new teaching job, and she has more to worry about than just being a good teacher and the Vice Principal liking her. Zelda is a witch, and, according to her Mum and friends, not a very talented witch at that. Between witch lessons and teaching a class of children who seem to be trying to drive her away, to a Vice Principal who is constantly suspicious of her, Zelda must hide the fact that she is a witch from the class. Living a double life is hard, especially when one of your friends writes fantasy novels that use the tropes associated with witches, and your mother and friends are insisting you use your powers more than you do. And having a judgemental, disagreeable cat named Barnaby doesn’t help. Told in diary format, Zelda’s first nine weeks of teaching are filled with laughs, fun and magic, hinting at something bigger to come. Telling it in diary form is interesting and different – it allows the reader to truly get inside Zelda’s mind and see things the way she does, and she peppers her entries with conversations with her witchy circle, what happens in class and the snarky observations of her cat, Barnaby, whose character really shines from the page and he soon came to be the one I most looked forward to hearing about.

Zelda’s diary has illustrations of her class, Barnaby and other things she has written about, giving it colour and character that a purely text doesn’t always have. Aimed at children aged eight and older, I think it can be enjoyed by boys and girls, of any age, and by readers of all levels, from those learning, to confident readers, and will hopefully, like Harry Potter did for my generation, encourage reluctant readers to explore the world of books and words.

I thoroughly enjoyed this, even as an adult, and for older readers, I think is a wonderfully quick read when you just want something fun to enjoy and relax with.

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