4.5 stars. This is a great book to pick up if you’re fan of the infamous Tudor king, no matter what your age. VIII tells the story of Henry from a y...more4.5 stars. This is a great book to pick up if you’re fan of the infamous Tudor king, no matter what your age. VIII tells the story of Henry from a young prince through to his death and Castor really succeeds in bringing the prince to life, giving emotion and motivation to her carefully crafted character, while staying true to history.
There’s a lot to cover in just one book and inevitably some areas of Henry’s life are glossed over slightly, particularly some of his marriages. However, this is a period of history that has already been explored a lot — what’s fresh about VIII is that much of the book is based on Henry’s childhood and earlier years instead. It’s very much about the boy (and later, the man), himself, rather than the women in his life.
There is a hint of the paranormal in VIII but it works well, Castor is ambiguous enough to leave it up to the reader to decide whether Henry really was haunted, whether his upbringing and religious beliefs led to his visions or whether he was a fragile young man, slowly going crazy.
An engaging story that I’d highly recommend for anyone with a love of history.(less)
At first glance, Princess Academy by Shannon Hale sounds like an overwhelmingly girly book, but both the title, and the UK covers, are a bit misleadin...moreAt first glance, Princess Academy by Shannon Hale sounds like an overwhelmingly girly book, but both the title, and the UK covers, are a bit misleading. I’m neither a twelve-year-old girl, nor a fond reader of princesses and romantic fairy tales, but I really enjoyed this book.
Scenes of girls learning how to dance, gossiping over boys and getting excited over pretty dresses are few and far between. Instead, Princess Academy focuses on themes of friendship, loyalty, family, finding your place in the world and most of all, how education can open doors, with a little old-fashioned fairy tale feel-good on the side.
Fourteen year old Miri is desperate to work in the quarry along with everyone else in Mount Eskel, but her father refuses to allow her. Ashamed, Miri feels like an outsider in a small village where family, friends and neighbours work side by side, communicating through quarry-speech, a special way of speaking without words. When the chief delegate arrives to inform them that every girl between the ages of twelve and seventeen is to attend the princess academy so that the Prince might choose one of them to be his future Queen, Miri is suddenly introduced to a vast world beyond everything she knows, and soon finds herself caught between her love for her family and home, and her awakening hunger for more.
Princess Academy certainly has elements of a fantasy – a world that is like ours, but not, a medieval-like setting and the strange, mystical properties of the Linder stone. But unlike the majority of fantasy books where the protagonist goes on a great journey through distant lands and faces a battle between good and evil, Miri’s journey is one of self discovery.
Hale writes some positive messages for young girls without being too heavy-handed or overly cloying. I loved the emphasis on education, how learning to read and write and understanding politics, mathematics, diplomacy and so on, enriched not only the girl’s lives, but their families as well. That Miri and the others were able to appreciate this gift beyond the duties of being a wife and princess. Likewise, the evolving friendships between the group of girls forms an integral part of the story line and I enjoyed seeing Miri transform from a lonely, unsure, if slightly prejudice, girl, to a confident leader, forming close bonds with several of her classmates. I also felt the romance in the story struck a nice balance. There are some cute, little, moments between Miri and her best friend, but they don’t detract from the main story, which is Miri’s personal journey and figuring out what she wants for herself.
I did have a few niggling issues. I felt the concept of quarry-speech was interesting but poorly handled in the first half of the book. Miri’s growing understanding of how it worked was clunky and a little confusing to follow at times. I also found the verse/songs that helped Miri connect with her quarry-speech, distracting. Occasionally, Hale would overemphasis a certain message (such as using diplomacy to get what you want). As an older reader, I would have loved a richer description of the mountains and Miri’s culture, but that’s because I’ve been spoilt by the likes of Melina Marchetta and Philip Pullman. This feels about right for it’s intended age group.
Princess Academy is one of those books that I feel both middle grade and YA readers will enjoy, as well as any older readers looking for a light, inoffensive, modern fairy tale with some engaging characters.(less)
Words in the Dust is one of those quiet, no fuss books that tend to get lost amongst the popular, well-marketed titles. If I saw this book on the sh...moreWords in the Dust is one of those quiet, no fuss books that tend to get lost amongst the popular, well-marketed titles. If I saw this book on the shelf I would, in all honestly, be put off by the old fashioned cover and probably carry on by. But this is a heartfelt, intelligent book and I simply cannot praise it highly enough.
Words in the Dust, written by former soldier Trent Reedy, tells the story of Zulaikha, a young girl living in worn-torn Afghanistan. The Taliban may be defeated, but Zulaikha is bullied daily and shunned because of her cleft lip. Until the day the American’s arrive and offer her a surgery that will transform her life.
Words in the Dust is a rich novel that flows so beautifully, giving an insightful glimpse into a very different culture and way of life. It was heartening to see Zulaikha grow in confidence throughout the book and ultimately choose her own future. One of the aspects I loved most (and found particularly powerful), was how pro-women’s rights the book was, all the while maintaining a respectful understanding of a culture where girls and women do face a lot of limitations. To that end, the authors note at the end is also well worth a read. An excellent book for younger and older readers.
*Many thanks to Frances Lincoln Books for sending this for review*(less)
I really enjoyed this children’s book by Gareth P. Jones. Far more than I probably should have, given that...moreOriginal review posted at Mostly Reading YA
I really enjoyed this children’s book by Gareth P. Jones. Far more than I probably should have, given that I’m about fourteen years older than it’s intended audience!
I have to admit I was drawn to it because of its cover: traditional artwork with a bit of an Adam’s family, Victorian-gothic vibe going on and a host of interesting looking characters.
And I wasn’t disappointed. Straight away we are introduced to Mariel’s strangely hostile cousins, who she meets for the very first time at her grandmother’s funeral. They range from the shy Lily, glamorous Amelia, awkward and formal Gerald, obnoxious Oberon, easy-going Freddie, and the downright creepy and possibly psychotic Elspeth, who was my personal favourite.
It’s clear from the wary and rude welcoming that they give Mariel that she isn’t wanted or considered a ‘Considine’. Mariel, unsurprisingly, is annoyed by their attitude and by the whispered death threats (creatively delivered in verse form by the charming Elspeth). All the grandchildren were unusually close to their grandmother, yet none of them seem particularly upset that she is dead. And Mariel’s aunts and uncles don’t seem to regard her with quite the same reverence when asked about her. Then there’s the mystery of why Mariel’s mother chose to keep her far away for all those years. And how exactly did grandfather die?
All the characters in The Considine Curse have distinct personalities and were great fun to get to know. Mariel and her mother spend a few days at each of her uncle’s houses and things get creepier by the day. There are violent animal attacks on livestock and pets, strange howling at night and local folklore tells of the beast of Wilderdale. Mariel is furious she missed out on knowing her own family, but the more she discovers, the less certain she is that she wants to know them at all. And then her mother announces they’ll be moving back to the family home…
I guessed the family secret pretty easily, given some unsubtle clues, as I’m sure many readers will. Nevertheless, the story is highly enjoyable and well paced, revealing just enough at the right moments while raising more questions to keep the reader engaged. There is a highly unusual ending that I didn’t expect at all and actually left me rather unsettled, as did the ‘coaxing’ which I found beyond disturbing – but in a good way (as strange as that sounds). I like it when writers have the ability to leave me uncomfortable, long after I’ve finished the book, particularly when it’s deliberately intended.
The Considine Curse is a dark, twisted little tale that I think younger readers will really enjoy. Fans of Lemony Snicket’s Series of Unfortunate Events will undoubtedly love this one.(less)
A Tangle of Magicks, I’m happy to say, is even more enjoyable than, Kat, Incorrigible, the first book in this refreshing children’s series by Stephani...moreA Tangle of Magicks, I’m happy to say, is even more enjoyable than, Kat, Incorrigible, the first book in this refreshing children’s series by Stephanie Burgis (my review of which, can be read here).
I was swept up in Kat’s latest adventure from beginning to end – in fact I finished it in one sitting. Best of all, the characters I grew to love from the first book are all back; we finally get to know a little more about Charles, Kat’s older brother; and see Kat and her father set out to rescue him when he gets in a spot of magical trouble of his own!
A Tangle of Magicks feels slightly more grown up than its predecessor (much as I enjoyed it) and those who loved Burgis’s first book will be more than delighted with book two! Whereas Kat, Incorrigible stuck to a simple, but fun, plot-line; A Tangle of Magicks has several story arcs going on, secretive new characters and a mystery to unravel.
The story starts with Elissa’s marriage to Mr Collingwood, but this being the Stephenson family, things almost immediately start to go awry and it’s not long before Kat is expelled from the Order for her own hot-headedness before she’s even begun her training! Cue a family trip to Bath in the hunt for a rich husband, flirtations with scandalous rakes, midnight sacrifices, fake elopements, and a determined Kat let loose in a new city, on a mission to set things right.
As always, Burgis seems to just channel everything I love about Jane Austen, and, fittingly, this time round, Kat’s (mis)adventures take place in Bath. This change of scenery, while being wonderfully apt, also helps prevent A Tangle of Magicks from being in any way similar to the first book. The famous Roman Baths form a very important part of the story, and I enjoyed the tidbits of real information that were worked in, adding a sense of realism that Kat, Incorrigble, at times, lacked.
Magic and spell-work featured a lot more in this book, and I was glad to see Kat beginning to explore and understand her own powers better. She really comes into her own in this book, and I can’t wait to see more of her and Mr Gregson working together in any future books. I loved his dry humour and world-weary exasperation over Kat’s antics and it was great to see him start to trust her more, and to see Kat learn to occasionally ask for help when she needed it. We also learn much more concerning the Guardians and the Order, and several important members make an appearance. I have a strange feeling the Order’s not going to know what hits them if Kat ever manages to become a Guardian and I can’t wait to watch her shake up this centuries old society, dragging them into the er… 18th Century!
Kat is just as willful, stubborn and interfering as ever, but she is also incredibly brave, loyal, funny and spirited. The girl just gets into one scrape after another and in A Tangle of Magicks predictably finds herself in several embarrssing situations (being trapped at night in the Roman Baths with a hoard of young men whose bathing suits leave little to the imagination was one such situation that had me chuckling – especially given Kat’s reaction to Lucy’s admiration for her older brother at the time). Angeline is still my favourite, I have to admit – and there are some rather delicious moments with Mr Carlyle and her scenes with Fredrick just sizzle on the page. I adore these two and very much enjoyed their own storyline that Burgis gives them in A Tangle of Magicks. I only wish I could tempt her to write a spin-off told from Angeline’s point of view so we can experience some of their flirting first hand! We are also introduced to several new characters, in particular a Miss Lucy, who I can’t help but think may be causing even more havoc than Kat in the future. Here’s hoping these two get together to cause more mischief in the next installment!
This series just makes me smile. Stephanie is a strong children’s writer, and has created some lovely characters I never want to leave behind. As much as I enjoy Kat’s exploits and a Regency era where magic is common-place, more than that I love the Stephensons. This eccentric, bickering family (reminiscent of the famous Bennets) are fiercely loyal to one another. There are several great moments in A Tangle of Magicks where we see the Stephenson family band together, but the best and totally cheer-worthy scene has to go to Stepmama when she puts her snobbish family in their place .
The Kat series is a treat for adults and kids alike, and I would urge anyone looking for a fun, lighthearted read to pick up A Tangle of Magicks and be rewarded with a fast paced, amusing story, loveable characters and a young protagonist who is well on her way to becoming the most infuriating, difficult and stubborn student in Guardian history.
I should warn you now – I don’t think this review will be very well-written. I’m not sure I’m able to express my love, adoration, and pure joy with th...moreI should warn you now – I don’t think this review will be very well-written. I’m not sure I’m able to express my love, adoration, and pure joy with this book.
Quite simply, it is stunning. Heartbreaking, poignant, hilarious, beautiful, wonderful. It’s something very special.
In many ways I’m surprised to find it in the children’s section, as it is so insightful, with an unusual story-line and a sophisticated voice rarely seen in children’s fiction. But I’m delighted Templar (and previous publishing houses) are putting this kind of storytelling out there. Make no mistake – this is certainly a book for all ages.
I have to start with Frankie. He is adorable. I wanted to simultaneously be his best friend and adopt him. This kid had some seriously high stress levels and his anxieties, thoughts and concerns had me in stitches many times (don’t worry Frankie – I’m totally with you on the whole pool thing, I avoid them for that very same reason).
Frankie is a shy, reserved, intelligent, imaginative kid with a talent for drawing, who particularly likes birds. He’s also a bit of a hypochondriac and ever so slightly neurotic and while there are many delightful and funny moments throughout The 10pm Question that stem from his bizarre range of worries, it’s also clear that they are very serious to him and everything is starting to overwhelm Frankie. Sydney, his new best friend is loud, and vibrant and spontaneous, and asks awkward questions. Ma won’t leave the house and no one will talk about it. When it finally all becomes too much for him, my heart just broke for the little guy and I just wanted to give him a big hug – luckily, the fabulous Aunts are there just when he needs them the most.
Speaking of. The Aunts. were. amazing. I kind of want to be them when I’m old. They were hilarious and wise and filled their lives with many great things.
The 10pm Question is very much a character driven novel, but what brilliant characters. This fabulous, insane, eccentric, hilarious, utterly normal family. The way they interact, how they care for one another, how they bicker and argue and support each other – it was refreshing and captivating and I missed them once I finished reading. The relationships were spot on, but the bond between Frankie and his mother is particularly strong. Every night, at 10pm, Frankie goes to her with his fears and worries for the day and she patiently listens to him and answers all his questions, fighting the world for Frankie in the only way she can.
Ma was a lovely character, though she is probably the one we get to know least, because Frankie guards her so closely. She forges a life for herself, in the best she can, and her strength and courage in the face of her own crippling fears. I couldn’t help but admire her and the love she has for her family, and they for her.
The 10pm Question is the kind of book that makes me wish I were I writer. Full of humour, wit, compassion and richly developed characters that will stay with you long after you finish the book. Kate De Goldi tackles the difficult subject of mental illness in a way that is thoughtful, quiet, powerful, moving, respectful, eloquent and truthful. Frankie loves his mother. But he doesn’t understand how or why she is the way she is. Reading how Frankie and the rest of Parson’s family cope with their loved one’s condition boarders on the personal.
Kate De Goldi is extremely talented, as what could have easily been a depressing, awkward novel in someone else’s hands, instead is filled with a warmth and leaves you very much with a feeling of hope. The 10pm Question made me laugh. It made me cry. It reminded me of some of my own childhood memories, long forgotten.
This is a unique treasure of a book I will revisit time and time again (and has some wonderful cover art). Read it.
‘Last Saturday when they’d been there he’d had his annual unsavory collision with a plaster. There was nothing more revolting in Frankie’s view than free-styling your way, innocent and blissful, into the path of a used plaster. In Frankie’s hierarchy of squeamish experiences, the casual caress of a stained plaster was right up there with accidently catching sight of writhing maggots in a forgotten rubbish bag. He’d had to get out of the pool immediately last Saturday and lie on his towel in the sun to recover.’
~ page 37
‘C’mon, throw it, throw it. I may as well get the shine on the end of my knob.’
Gone is simply such a fantastic concept for a book; suddenly you have a lot of kids trapped and alone, with no idea what is going on and no one to hel...moreGone is simply such a fantastic concept for a book; suddenly you have a lot of kids trapped and alone, with no idea what is going on and no one to help them. This is actually pretty terrifying when you really begin to consider the implications of frightened children left on their own. There are no doctors, nurses, firemen, policemen. No 911 service. Older children stand more of a chance of surviving, but the younger ones left helpless in empty homes?
The image of kids walking down empty, silent, streets searching for their parents, for anyone, is pretty creepy and rather haunting. Some scenes are very upsetting – in one instance older children get organised and start to search the houses for food, medicine and any other missing children and I’ll the rest to your imagination.
While there are these sad, hard-hitting moments, which give Gone more weight and a needed sense of realism, the majority is action packed. Naturally, a lot of kids start to run wild with the result being chaos, but on instinct kids start to band together, and loyalties and friendships are formed. The most interesting thing about Gone, wasn’t the mutant powers that some kids started to develop (more on that in a moment), it was reading about how they reacted to the situation. How they struggled to cope, how some stood up and took charge and looked out for one another and how some took advantage of the situation with horrifying and ugly results. And some very ugly things do happen in this book. We see the very best and the very worst of human nature through these kids – kindness, loyalty, sticking together, sacrifice, selflessness, power struggles, bullying, betrayal, hatred, jealousy. Sure – the mutant powers and bizarre sci-fi elements made the stakes much higher and even more exciting – but it was these fundamentals that really grabbed my interest.
Perhaps where Gone fell down slightly, for me anyway, was that there were a few too many weird things going on. The kids developing powers was cool (though how or why we don’t yet know), the mutant animals was an interesting idea – though one I felt would have been better to hint at and develop further in the next book. There is another presence/mystery that I don’t want to spoil, as it will clearly become a major plotline throughout the series, but altogether it felt like a bit too much, too soon. I felt Gone was exciting enough exploring the kid’s powers, how or why people over 15 disappeared, how they adapted to life without adults and the power struggles between characters without those extra story arcs just yet. The conclusion was pretty open-ended - and I would have liked to have seen a certain story arc wrapped up – but I am more than willing to see where Grant takes this story next.
Sam was a genuinely nice kid (often rare for YA protagonists) suddenly having to deal with everyone looking to him to take charge of a bad situation. I liked his character a lot, along with Astrid, Little Pete, Edilio, Mary and Albert. Grant created a great mixture of characters, some I disliked, others I distrusted but found myself eager to know more, for the reasons behind their actions, while others were pretty scary examples of human beings. All of them felt real.
I very much enjoyed Gone and highly recommend it, if you’re happy to accept a few, frankly, bizarre, scenarios and just go along for the ride. The chapters counting down were enough alone to make me want to continue reading – have fun seeing if you can guess what Grant is counting down to.(less)