Letters to the Lost by Brigid Kemmerer

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Title: Letters to the Lost

Author: Brigid Kemmerer

Genre: YA

Publisher: Bloomsbury

Published: 6th April 2017

Format: Paperback

Pages: 400

Price: $16.99

Synopsis: Juliet Young always writes letters to her mother, a world-traveling photojournalist. Even after her mother’s death, she leaves letters at her grave. It’s the only way Juliet can cope.

Declan Murphy isn’t the sort of guy you want to cross. In the midst of his court-ordered community service at the local cemetery, he’s trying to escape the demons of his past.

When Declan reads a haunting letter left beside a grave, he can’t resist writing back. Soon, he’s opening up to a perfect stranger, and their connection is immediate. But neither Declan nor Juliet knows that they’re not actually strangers. When life at school interferes with their secret life of letters, sparks will fly as Juliet and Declan discover truths that might tear them apart.

~*~

When Declan Murphy finds a letter on a grave during community service in the graveyard, he is compelled by an invisible force to read it, and respond to the person who wrote the letter.

When Juliet Young finds Delcan’s response to the letter she placed on her mother’s grave, she s incensed that someone has dared to read the words and respond to them as if they know her, as though they had the right to intrude. To Juliet, her privacy has been violated.

And yet, Juliet and Declan find a connection through this anonymous communication. They tell each other things they’ve never told anyone else, and reveal their true selves and feelings throughout the letters and later anonymous emails and messages that they move to. As they grow fond of each other through this method of communication, real life begins to throw them together: at school, at Homecoming, one the dark road with a broken down car, and they begin to form a friendship separate from the letters, not knowing that they are corresponding anonymously online when they face off in person.

Soon, they are thrown together more and more as real life and the letters start to blur together, and a fateful discussion threatens to throw them apart, and secrets are uncovered that Juliet is fearful to share with anyone – except those who helped her find the courage to look at her mother’s cameras, and find out what really happened the day she died.

Letters to the Lost is more than a love story. It is a story of loss, and how everyone deals with it differently, and a story of how the most unlikely friendships can develop in unusual places and come from a similar place and understanding, and slowly, develops into something more. Declan and Juliet have people they can talk to, teachers, friends, but not parents, and those who do try are not always able to understand them the way they understand each other.

I enjoyed Declan and Juliet’s story. It was heartbreaking in many ways, and illustrated the frustrations people feel that come with grief and change, and the shock of truths that lead to what happened, and the burdens that children shouldn’t have to shoulder. They are two people from different walks of life who find a way to understand the world, and the letters and emails interspersed with the prose and the dual perspective – where Declan’s chapters are indicated by him reading Juliet’s letters, and vice versa for Juliet – works well and establishes the characters for the reader, giving them both sides to the story, not just one.

Another interesting read from Bloomsbury for the Young Adult audience.

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The Blue Cat by Ursula Dubosarsky

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Title: The Blue Cat

Author: Ursula Dubosarsky

Genre: Young Adult Fiction, Historical Fiction

Publisher: Allen and Unwin

Published: 29th March 2017

Format: Paperback

Pages: 176

Price: $19.99

Synopsis: From the multi-award-winning author of The Red Shoe comes a haunting story about a boy who can’t – or won’t – speak about his past in war-torn Europe, and his friendship with a young Australian girl.

A boy stood in the playground under the big fig tree. ‘He can’t speak English,’ the children whispered.

Sydney, 1942. The war is coming to Australia – not only with the threat of bombardment, but also the arrival of refugees from Europe. Dreamy Columba’s world is growing larger. She is drawn to Ellery, the little boy from far away, and, together with her highly practical best friend Hilda, the three children embark on an adventure through the harbour-side streets – a journey of discovery and terror, in pursuit of the mysterious blue cat …

~*~

aww2017-badgeThe Blue Cat by Ursula Dubosarsky is a glimpse into a world affected by war through the eyes of children. The main character, Columba, is a dreamy, curious child, who notices the strange boy, Ellery at school during the early part of 1942. A blue cat, sleek and mysterious, has appeared at her neighbour’s house. The arrival of Ellery and the cat spark a curiosity in Columba that has her asking more questions, wanting to know more about the world as she tries to become Ellery’s friend. Columba’s friend, Hilda, is the realist, the pushy one out collecting money for the war effort, and isn’t as dreamy as Columba.

Ellery’s arrival hints that war is closer to home than everyone thought. He is mysterious and quiet, and doesn’t speak English – through the eyes of a child, he is strange, a mystery and yet, someone that Columba sees is in need of a friend. Though they do not talk, they become friends, something Ellery’s father finds pleasing for his son, lost in a new world without a mother. The story culminates in a search for the mysterious blue cat, and events that bring the war and the realities of what that means closer to home for Columba.

The Blue Cat is dreamy, and has a fairy tale feeling about it – as though the blue cat is not quite real. This fits with the dreamy sense I got from Columba, and also the childlike ways of understanding the war – You-Rope for Europe, said phonetically perhaps, as a child might say it. I found there was a sense of magic about it – the threat is real, especially during the air raid siren practice when Columba and Ellery are out walking, and yet, it retains some of the innocence of childhood, though it is scarred by a war that is so far away yet in other ways, so close to the characters.

The Blue Cat combines history with a sense of dreaming, placing the characters in a world where sometimes their imaginations help to get them through the day, but at the same time, the reality of war will always be there. Prisoners of war, bombs and people like Ellery, hiding away, hoping for safety away from the dangers of a nation far away. Throughout the book, Ursula Dubosarsky incorporated primary sources from the time period, which added to the reading experience and gave Columba’s story an authentic feel, and added to the gravity of the situation and reality that the characters were living. An enjoyable novel showing war through the eyes of a child, and a good read for children aged ten and over.

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Traitor to the Throne by Alwyn Hamilton

traitor coverTitle: Traitor to the Throne

Author: Alwyn Hamilton

Genre: Young Adult/Fantasy

Publisher: Faber/ Allen and Unwin

Published: 25th January 2017

Format: Paperback

Pages: 592

Price: $16.99

Synopsis: The second installment of this highly-acclaimed trilogy, Traitor to the Throne throws the irrepressible Amani into a world of espionage, harems, and the Sultan himself.

This is not about blood or love. This is about treason. Nearly a year has passed since Amani and the rebels won their epic battle at Fahali. Amani has come into both her powers and her reputation as the Blue-Eyed Bandit, and the Rebel Prince’s message has spread across the desert – and some might say out of control. But when a surprise encounter turns into a brutal kidnapping, Amani finds herself betrayed in the cruellest manner possible. Stripped of her powers and her identity, and torn from the man she loves, Amani must return to her desert-girl’s instinct for survival. For the Sultan’s palace is a dangerous one, and the harem is a viper’s nest of suspicion, fear and intrigue. Just the right place for a spy to thrive… But spying is a dangerous game, and when ghosts from Amani’s past emerge to haunt her, she begins to wonder if she can trust her own treacherous heart.

~*~

Opening where the Sultan’s guards have captured Amani, the Rebellion and the Rebel Prince, Ahmed, soon find a way into the palace to rescue her. The rescue that takes place sets in motion a series of events that endanger Amani and the rebels, the Djinni and the Demdji like Amani – children of mortal women and Djinn, marked by a vibrant colour of hair, or, like in Amani’s case, blue eyes that stand out against her desert girl features. She is known as The Blue Eyed Bandit, and the Rebellion has come to the palace.

Later, kidnapped by someone she thought she could trust and hidden away and controlled in the Sultan’s harem, where she has been stripped of her powers, Amani uses her instincts from her time in the desert, in Dustwalk, to survive the dangers of the palace and the harem, where fear, intrigue and suspicion rule the women there and their daily lives. Using these characteristics to her advantage, Amani spies on the harem and the Sultan – bringing danger to Amani and those she cares about, and making Amani wonder if she can trust herself.

I received this to review initially not realising it was the second book in a trilogy – even though I hadn’t read the first one, I picked up the plot fairly quickly and have bought the first one to read and fill in any gaps I may have. Amani’s world – a world inspired by Sultans and Djinni, where magic and technology are at war and at the same time, being forced together to fight the same war, and where everyone fits into the world nicely, and comes together to create a diverse cast in many ways was one of my favourite things about this novel. It had strong characters, but they were still flawed, plans weren’t perfect and things still went wrong. And not everyone was who Amani thought they were.

As a reader, I enjoyed the mystery and intrigue connected to characters like Tamid, Leyla, Rahim and several of the harem girls, and the Sultima. Even the minor characters had an important role to play, and I certainly had several surprises along the way, when things that I did not expect were revealed. The cliffhanger ending had me reading it twice – I am eager to find out what happens and how things get resolved. As with any war, good and bad people die, and even those who are neither good nor evil, but benevolent or ambiguous face the prospect of death in a war that has been plaguing Miraji and its neighbours.

The first person perspective of Amani, peppered with a few chapters from an outside perspective, such as a Djinni, works well. When she is cut off from the Rebels, Amani has to rely on anything she can hear in whispers from around the palace and her own instincts to get by. She is a resourceful character. I enjoyed reading about a fantasy world in a desert. In Amani’s world, it is set during a time when technology is beginning to take over from magic and superstition – perhaps akin to times in our own world history like the Industrial Revolution, but in a Arabic-like setting. Religion and beliefs are hinted to, but not named – showing that Amani’s world and their traditions are different to our own.

I am looking forward to reading book one, and then book three when it comes out, and seeing how the war concludes – and how Amani and the Rebellion finish what they started.

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Ariadnis by Josh Martin

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Title: Ariadnis

Author: Josh Martin

Genre: YA/Fantasy

Publisher: Quercus Children’s Books/Hachette

Published: 14th February, 2017

Format: paperback

Pages: 360

Price: $16.99

Synopsis: The first in a breathtaking and unique series, packed with magic, prophecy, and a thrilling competition. The stakes of Ariadnis have never been higher.

Back then I thought that if it weren’t for that cliff, our cities would be one and there would be no need for all this fierceness toward each other. But then I learned about pride and tradition and prophecy, and those things are harder than rock.

Joomia and Aula are Chosen. They will never be normal. They can never be free.

On the last island on Erthe, Chosen Ones are destined to enter Ariadnis on the day they turn eighteen. There, they must undertake a mysterious and deadly challenge. For Joomia and Aula, this means competing against each other, to end the war that has seethed between their cities for nine generations.

As the day draws nearer, all thoughts are on the trial ahead. There’s no space for friendship. No time for love. However much the girls might crave them.

But how you prepare for a task you know nothing certain about? Nothing, except that you must win, at whatever cost, or lose everything.

~*~

Ariadnis is set in a fantasy future, where our world is referred to as The Old World, and belief systems that draw from ancient Greek mythology and society, including clothing and names, and the city names: Metis and Athenas. For nine generations, Athenas and Metis have sent two Chosen Ones to enter Ariadnis for a mysterious, and deadly challenge, where only one can survive. In Ariadnis, it is Aula and Joomia who will enter Ariadnis for this task, and prepare from the day they turn seventeen for the impending event. Accompanied by their companions who have been helping them prepare, Aula and Joomia will eventually come together for their challenge, whilst tragic events unfold in their homes, and the ones they thought they could trust start to show their true colours, and leading to Aula and Joomia finding a way to work through it, and adhere to the challenge set before them.

The world of Ariadnis, the last island on a fantastical Erthe with its characters inspired by Ancient Greece and Ancient Greek mythology, where ancient beliefs have come full circle and returned to replace what Aula and Joomia know as the Old World beliefs is an intriguing novel and beginning to a series. Josh Martin uses a first person point of view for each character, marking each change with their name. For this series, it works, as the reader needs to be able to see the world through the eyes of Aula and Joomia, first on their own, and then when they come together in the final sections of the book.

Having studied Ancient Greece and its mythology, the little nods to this culture were done very well, and integrated nicely into the plot, along with magic and the hints that our world is known as The Old World in the history of Erthe. Josh Martin also created two female characters who had their own strengths, and were capable, but also had flaws that they could recognise and had to work through. Each character had a distinct personality and appearance, where diversity had a place – on the last island on Erthe, it is possible that integration of various races and cultures has taken place, and this is what makes this work smoothly.

Deciding on a favourite character was hard – as both Aula and Joomia had things that could be liked and disliked about them, though their connection towards the end was powerful and well written, and it is nice to see a friendship forming as the main relationship in a novel aimed at the Young Adult market.

I’m looking forward to the next novel in the series to find out what how the challenge concluded, hopefully through the eyes of Aula and Joomia again.

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Frogkisser! by Garth Nix

frogkisser.jpgTitle: Frogkisser!

Author: Garth Nix

Genre: Fantasy, YA

Publisher: Allen and Unwin

Published: 22nd February, 2017

Format: Paperback

Pages: 336

Price: $19.99

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

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

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

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

~*~

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

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

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

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

Frostblood by Elly Blake

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Title: Frostblood

Author: Elly Blake

Genre: Fantasy

Publisher: Hodder and Stoughton

Published: 10th January 2017

Format: paperback

Pages: 376

Price: $19.99

Synopsis: The first in a page-turning young adult series in a world where flame and ice are mortal enemies.

In a land governed by the cruel Frostblood ruling class, seventeen-year-old Ruby is a Fireblood who has spent most of her life hiding her ability to manipulate heat and light – until the day the soldiers come to raid her village and kill her mother. Ruby vows revenge on the tyrannous Frost King responsible for the massacre of her people.

But Ruby’s powers are unpredictable…and so are the feelings she has for Arcus, the scarred, mysterious Frostblood warrior who shares her goal to kill the Frost King, albeit for his own reasons. When Ruby is captured by the Frost King’s men, she’s taken right into the heart of the enemy. Now she only has one chance to destroy the maniacal ruler who took everything from her – and in doing so, she must unleash the powers she’s spent her whole life withholding.

FROSTBLOOD is set in world where flame and ice are mortal enemies – but together create a power that could change everything.

~*~
Ruby’s life is one of peace and quiet, but also fear. She must hide her Fireblood talent from the world because of a ruthless King, determined to continue the war that the country has been in, and who is also determined to enforce Frostblood rule over everyone. After her unpredictable powers lead to betrayal, death and imprisonment, Ruby must train to destroy the ruler everyone fears, whilst learning to control her powers. She is rescued by an order of monks and a young man, Arcus, who hides secrets as well – secrets that cannot be revealed, much like the plan the monks have devised to destroy the Frost King, King Rasmus, with the Ruby’s help. Yet there is a darkness that Ruby must fight to gain control of, and with the help of the monks, Arcus, Marella and a few other unlikely Frostblood allies, she is destined, to overcome this darkness.

Ruby’s character overcomes several obstacles on her journey that make her into a flawed and believable character, one who has the potential for good or evil, depending on the perspective of the people she is with. Her reasons for revenge against the Frost King differ to those of Arcus, however, they will find that if they combine these reasons, they will be stronger together, and be able to fight together effectively.

Elly Blake’s debut novel introduces the reader to a world where fire and ice are enemies, where prejudice is built into a class system where abilities that haven’t been asked for are either valued, or hunted down and feared. In a way this mirrors our own world, where certain characteristics and features that people have no control over are valued more than others, or denigrated in the favour of others – whether consciously or subconsciously. In Ruby’s world – Tempesia – these prejudices are ingrained and conscious – for many characters, they fear the repercussions of speaking out, or not going against the ruling class – perhaps another real world parallel that can be found in history. Old stories and rumours are used to justify actions in Blake’s world – and she has effectively shown the spectrum of the prejudice, and how people can learn to trust those whom they’ve been taught to hate, and how hate can only take a person so far – that loyalty and friendship is stronger.

I only wished we found out more about Marella, another intriguing character with shades of grey. A member of the Frostblood court, befriending a Fireblood at great risk to her life, yet still withholding some information can make for an interesting character when done right – and the set up by Elly Blake seems to have started something with great potential.

I enjoyed this debut novel and introduction to a new series – I hope that book two is not far behind, and that the adventures of Ruby and Arcus continue. In a world ruled by frost, can frost and fire ever work together? We shall have to see what the following books have in store.

A great read for fantasy lovers and readers of YA fiction. A novel with a touch of Frozen magic about it, yet a little more complex, Frostblood will hopefully become a much loved series to sit alongside Narnia and Harry Potter.

Raelia by Lynette Noni

RaeliaTitle: Raelia (The Medoran Chronicles #2)
Author: Lynette Noni
Publisher: Pantera Press
Category: Fantasy/YA
Pages: 454
Available formats: Print
Publication Date: 23/3/16
Synopsis: Returning for a second year at Akarnae Academy with her gifted friends, Alexandra Jennings steps back through a doorway into Medora, the fantasy world that is full of impossibilities.

Despite the magical wonder of Medora, Alex’s life remains threatened by Aven Dalmarta, the banished prince from the Lost City of Meya who is out for her blood.

To protect the Medorans from Aven’s quest to reclaim his birthright, Alex and her friends seek out the Meyarin city and what remains of its ancient race.

Not sure who — or perhaps what — she is anymore, all Alex knows is that if she fails to keep Aven from reaching Meya, the lives of countless Medorans will be in danger. Can she protect them, or will all be lost?

~*~

The epic follow up to 2015’s Akarnae, Lynette Noni has delivered another fantastic Medoran adventure. Alex, a year older, returns to Akarnae and Medora to continue her education. This year, Stealth and Subterfuge (SAS) has been added to her punishing course load, and she must still conquer Combat classes with Karter and her intense PE classes whilst trying to stay out of the Med Ward, and alive. But her punishing and cruel class schedule will soon become the least of her worries with Aven reppearing and plotting to use her to get to Meya and take over his kingdom.
As a reader, returning with Alex to Akarnae and Medora, I felt her frustration, her pain, and joined her, D.C., Jordan and Bear on the ongoing journey and path that they have been put on to get through the Academy alive, and get rid of Aven. The bond between the four friends has a strength that must constantly be tested throughout the book and possibly across the series. Even in book two, the exhausting trials Alex and her friends must go through just to learn at the academy are ramped up a notch, and I felt the exhaustion and triumphs in their classes just as the characters did – a sign that Lynette Noni has created a world and characters her readers can bond with and feel as though they are a part of the world and what is going on.
In a world where the food is delivered at the press of a button, Bubble Doors act as transport between places, and a sentient Library lobs you into the middle of a class try out you had never intended on taking part in, keeping your wits about in in Medora and Akarnae has never been more essential or exhilarating.
The story continued in Raelia has brought more of Medora and Akarnae to light, and I hope this continues throughout the series. This is the kind of series that one wants to find out what happens, but at the same time, finishing it results in a book hangover, where as a reader, wanting to know what happens next and the waiting is both frustrating and rewarding when the time comes.