BLURB: At the Scholomance, El, Orion, and the other students are faced with their final year—and the looming specter of graduation, a deadly ritual that leaves few students alive in its wake. El is determined that her chosen group will survive, but it is a prospect that is looking harder by the day as the savagery of the school ramps up. Until El realizes that sometimes winning the game means throwing out all the rules…
REVIEW: I’m not sure if it’s because I was a teacher, but the magical schools sub-genre is a favourite and I thoroughly enjoyed A Deadly Education. Though I was a bit fed up with the cliff-hanger at the end – and I’m warning you now, there’s another at the end of The Last Graduate.
El isn’t such a hardcore, in-your-face character this time around. For starters, she now has a loyal group of friends, and other alliances with a handful of enclave kids who have far more resources and protections than those without that kind of advantage. And it’s just as well she’s got more going for her as this year, as the School has become a lot more aggressive – with El apparently a prime target. Novik writes action scenes really well and has a glorious suite of delightfully revolting monsters that squish satisfyingly when they meet their messy end. This series would make a wonderful TV series.
However, if you were one of those who found the descriptions of the magic and the world outside a tad tedious in A Deadly Education (I didn’t…), then you won’t fare any better in this offering. El has a lot to say about the political situation, the history of the school and the very complex magic system, particularly in the first half of the book. It didn’t bother me, partly because we need to know all the information, partly because I found it fascinating anyway. I’m a huge fan of El, who has a natural talent for horrific destruction but has had it dinned into her by her adorable mother, that she can’t afford to give into those instinct at all. And Novik manages to depict her absolutely following the rules without her coming off as sickeningly good.
El is bad-tempered, overly cynical, far too touchy and apt to push away those who genuinely want to befriend her – but despite that, she is rigid in trying to avoid doing harm. I really like the fact that she isn’t the overwhelmed, put-upon victim doing the best she can in awful circumstances, either. She’s far too powerful for that. That doesn’t stop her from becoming increasingly trapped in a terrible situation, where the right thing to do is plain terrifying. I also enjoyed the humour, albeit a tad dark-edged, that runs through this story. And I am impressed with Novik’s successful portrayal of a Brit main character, complete with the sardonic street-wise dialogue.
While there is plenty of action throughout, the pace and tension really picks up in the second half of the book, which was difficult to put down once it hit its stride. I was glad Himself had warned me about that ending, though – otherwise I think it would have gone flying across the room. Which is why I’ve passed the warning on. All in all, a thoroughly enjoyable, entertaining read – and I’m very much looking forward to the third book in the series. The ebook arc copy of The Last Graduate was provided by the publisher through NetGalley in return for an honest opinion of the book. 9/10
This is part of the weekly meme over at the Caffeinated Reviewer, where book bloggers can share the books and blogs they have written.
Here we are at the start of May… When did THAT happen?? Apologies for having been AWOL – last week I was ill again. Another spell of exhaustion, nausea and giddiness meant that I didn’t even open the computer most days – and I certainly wasn’t up to working. Or even getting out of bed… It was only yesterday that I started feeling like me, instead of the doddery old bat who’d insisted on invading my body. And my daughter and small granddaughter popping in to say hallo and pick up a postal label further helped to cheer me up.
Other than that, it’s been a quiet week, only enlivened by falling over when the nice chap came to administer our monthly swab and blood tests. So I also have a spectacular bruise on the side of my knee, where I missed smearing on the arnica cream.
I’m afraid I’ve no photos this week, as I haven’t made it outdoors.
Last week I read: Ravenwood – Book 1 of the Tanyth Fairport Adventures series by Nathan Lowell After twenty winters on the road, Tanyth makes one last pilgrimage in her quest to learn all she can about the herbs and medicinal plants of Korlay before settling down to write her magnum opus.
Her journey is interrupted when she stops to help a small village and learns that much of what she knows of the world may not be quite as it seems. I loved Lowell’s space opera series, which I inhaled during March once I was well enough to read. So was pleased to get my hands on this one. I loved the protagonist, who is a middle-aged woman, who walked out of an abusive marriage and became a healer. Review to follow.
AUDIOBOOK Necessity’s Child – Book 16 of the Liaden Universe series by Sharon Lee & Steve Miller The kompani see none as an enemy, and yet few as friend. The kompani exist in many places, living quietly in the shadows, thriving off the bounty that others have no wit to secure, nor skill to defend. Their private history is unwritten; their recall rooted in dance and dream.
The Clan Korval is in many ways the opposite of the kompani. The interstellar trading clan is wealthy in enemies, and fortunate in friends. Korval protects itself with vigor, and teaches even its youngest children the art of war. And when representatives of Clan Korval arrive on the planet Surebleak where the kompani has lived, secret and aloof, the lives of three people intersect—Kezzi, apprentice to the kompani’s grandmother; Syl Vor, Clan Korval’s youngest warrior; and Rys, a man without a world, or a past. I have read a couple of books from this entertaining, well written space opera series that reminds me at times of Lois McMaster Bujold’s Vorkosigan series. Unfortunately, one of the things they share is a very long backlist whose internal chronology doesn’t line up with the release dates… So I ended up listening to Book 16! That said, I thoroughly enjoyed the experience and it reminded me all over again why I liked this series so much. Review to follow.
Dead in the Water – Book 3 of the Kate Shugak series by Dana Stabenow Two crewmen of the crab vessel Avilda are missing—presumed dead—under very suspicious circumstances. The Bering Sea offers ample means and opportunity, but without bodies, a motive, or evidence of foul play, the DA doesn’t have a case. And so, freelancing again for her former employer, Kate Shugak finds herself working undercover in one of Alaska’s most dangerous professions: crab fisherman.
It’s an assignment that will take her from the debauchery of Dutch Harbor to the most isolated of the Aleutians, and if the job itself doesn’t kill her, her unsavory crewmates just might. I’ve read the first two books in this interesting and unusual crime series, set in the wilds of Alaska. And realised I’ve the rest sitting on my Kindle – so I tucked into this one and thoroughly enjoyed it. Mini-review to follow.
AUDIOBOOK A Fatal Flying Affair – Book 7 of the Lady Hardcastle Mysteries series by T.E. Kinsey August 1911. Emily Hardcastle and her inimitable lady’s maid Florence Armstrong are enjoying a fine summer until Harry, Lady H’s brother, turns up out of the blue with a mystery for them to solve.
A routine parachute test at a local aeroplane factory has gone horribly wrong—with pilot Dickie Dupree plummeting to his death. Harry is certain there is more to this ‘tragic accident’ than meets the eye, having discovered that someone at the airfield is leaking top secret intelligence to foreign rivals.
In between strolls to the Dog & Duck and planning for the annual village show, the daring duo dust off the Crime Board and go undercover at Bristol Aviation. With international powers investing heavily in aeronautics, the stakes are high—sky high—and the suspects soon mount up. Can Lady Hardcastle find the culprit before someone else falls down dead? I’ve grown very fond of this sparky pair of unconventional women who are now working for His Majesty’s Government as a pair of spies, once again. And the outstanding narration of this latest tale was a delight to listen to when I was too tired to read…
The Wedding Date by Zara Stoneley When Samantha Jenkins is asked to be the maid of honour at her best friend’s wedding, she couldn’t be happier. There are just three problems…
1) Sam’s ex-boyfriend, Liam, will be the best man. 2) His new girlfriend is pregnant. 3) Sam might have told people she has a new man when she doesn’t (see points 1 and 2 above)
So, Sam does the only sensible thing available to her… and hires a professional to do the job.
Actor Jake Porter is perfect for the role: single, gorgeous and cheap! Sam is certain it’s the perfect solution: no strings, no heartbreak and hopefully no chance of being found out.
But spending a week in the Scottish Highlands with Jake is harder than she imagined. He is the perfect boyfriend, charming, sexy and the hottest thing in a kilt since Outlander! And his dog Harry is quite possibly the cutest things Sam has ever seen!
As the wedding draws closer, Jake plays his part to perfection and everyone believes he is madly in love with Sam. The problem is, Sam’s not sure if Jake is acting anymore… This was all I could have wanted – an entertaining, funny story told in a chirpy first-person viewpoint, with a guaranteed happy ending. Himself has been reading a slew of these, recently. And I can see why…
Schooled in Magic – Book 1 of The Schooled in Magic series by Christopher G. Nuttall Emily is a teenage girl pulled from our world into a world of magic and mystery by a necromancer who intends to sacrifice her to the dark gods. Rescued in the nick of time by an enigmatic sorcerer, she discovers that she possesses magical powers and must go to Whitehall School to learn how to master them.
There, she learns the locals believe that she is a “Child of Destiny,” someone whose choices might save or damn their world … a title that earns her both friends and enemies. A stranger in a very strange land, she may never fit into her new world … I’ve always enjoyed Nuttall’s writing and when I was looking for something well written and not too gory – I found this. I’m a sucker for a really enjoyable magic school adventure and this one delivered all sorts of entertaining twists I didn’t expect. As well as some darkly funny moments. Review to follow.
I’m sorry, but as I haven’t been browsing online this last week, I’ve no recommendations. In the meantime, thank you for visiting, reading, liking and/or commenting on my blog. I hope you had a peaceful, healthy week – and do take care. x
AUDIOBOOK The Wee Free Men – Book 1 of the Tiffany Aching series by Terry Pratchett
BLURB: Armed only with a frying pan and her common sense, Tiffany Aching, a young witch-to-be, is all that stands between the monsters of Fairyland and the warm, green Chalk country that is her home. Forced into Fairyland to seek her kidnapped brother, Tiffany allies herself with the Chalk’s local Nac Mac Feegle – aka the Wee Free Men – a clan of sheep-stealing, sword-wielding, six-inch-high blue men who are as fierce as they are funny. Together they battle through an eerie and ever-shifting landscape, fighting brutal flying fairies, dream-spinning dromes, and grimhounds – black dogs with eyes of fire and teeth of razors – before ultimately confronting the Queen of the Elves, absolute ruler of a world in which reality intertwines with nightmare. And in the final showdown, Tiffany must face her cruel power alone…
MINI-REVIEW: Listening to this was a complete joy, particularly with Tony Robinson’s storming performance as narrator. I loved reading this one way back when it first came out, then sharing it with my grandchildren – but hearing this version was every bit as much fun. And I’d thought nothing could beat sitting side by side with the children, laughing together at Pratchett’s humour… Very highly recommended for children of all ages. 10/10
AUDIOBOOK Magnus Chase and The Sword of Summer – Book 1 of the Magnus Chase and the Gods of Asgard series by Rick Riordan
BLURB: Magnus Chase has seen his share of trouble. Ever since that terrible night two years ago when his mother told him to run, he has lived alone on the streets of Boston, surviving by his wits, staying one step ahead of the police and the truant officers.
One day, Magnus learns that someone else is trying to track him down—his uncle Randolph, a man his mother had always warned him about. When Magnus tries to outmaneuver his uncle, he falls right into his clutches. Randolph starts rambling about Norse history and Magnus’s birthright: a weapon that has been lost for thousands of years.
The more Randolph talks, the more puzzle pieces fall into place. Stories about the gods of Asgard, wolves, and Doomsday bubble up from Magnus’s memory. But he doesn’t have time to consider it all before a fire giant attacks the city, forcing him to choose between his own safety and the lives of hundreds of innocents. . .
Sometimes, the only way to start a new life is to die.
MINI-REVIEW:I thoroughly enjoyed this one. Christopher Guetig’s excellent narration very ably depicted the cast of colourful characters who Magnus encounters on his adventures with the pantheon of Norse gods and minor deities. This had all the ingredients I enjoy in a fantasy adventure – plenty of testing encounters with all sorts of intriguing characters, high-stakes action, along with regular splashes of humour that didn’t become too heavy-handed. Riordan manages to make this look far easier than it is. I am delighted that I’ve more audiobooks in this series, waiting to sweep me up and into another world… 8/10
This is part of the weekly meme over at the Caffeinated Reviewer, where book bloggers can share the books and blogs they have written.
It’s been a long, miserable week. Until yesterday when the sun came out. My daughter and her family moved house a couple of weeks ago. This time around, we weren’t there to help – in fact I’ve only seen them twice since Christmas and we’re part of their support bubble. But yesterday, she drove over to pick me up, and organised for me to spend part of the day with them, before she dropped me back again. Unfortunately half the country decided they wanted to visit the Littlehampton/Brighton area yesterday so the roads were clogged solid and the journey took over two hours and would have been longer if she hadn’t gone across country. It was wonderful to see the children again, catch up with them all and be shown over the house. They now have a bedroom each and the house is lovely and bright with a real homely feeling. I can now visualise where they are…
Before I went, I hadn’t appreciated just how very down I’d become. After all, I didn’t cry, and though it took some effort and a lot of books – I wasn’t feeling utterly miserable. But that shot of absolute joy on seeing the family again felt like waking up. So this morning we went for a walk along the beach – just a short one, as we don’t have much stamina yet. But it was lovely to get out again!
The photos this week are of our little walk along the beach.
Last week I read: Traitor’s Blade – Book 1 of the Greatcoats series by Sebastien de Castell Falcio is the first Cantor of the Greatcoats. Trained in the fighting arts and the laws of Tristia, the Greatcoats are travelling Magisters upholding King’s Law. They are heroes. Or at least they were, until they stood aside while the Dukes took the kingdom, and impaled their King’s head on a spike.
Now Tristia is on the verge of collapse and the barbarians are sniffing at the borders. The Dukes bring chaos to the land, while the Greatcoats are scattered far and wide, reviled as traitors, their legendary coats in tatters. All they have left are the promises they made to King Paelis, to carry out one final mission. But if they have any hope of fulfilling the King’s dream, the divided Greatcoats must reunite, or they will also have to stand aside as they watch their world burn… This is an engaging and action-packed swords and sorcery adventure that packs an emotional punch. It kept me turning the pages to the end, with plenty of surprises along the way. Mini-review to follow.
The Royal Secret – Book 5 of the Marwood and Lovett series by Andrew Taylor Two young girls plot a murder by witchcraft. Soon afterwards a government clerk dies painfully in mysterious circumstances. His colleague James Marwood is asked to investigate – but the task brings unexpected dangers.
Meanwhile, architect Cat Hakesby is working for a merchant who lives on Slaughter Street, where the air smells of blood and a captive Barbary lion prowls the stables. Then a prestigious new commission arrives. Cat must design a Poultry House for the woman that the King loves most in all the world.
Unbeknownst to all, at the heart of this lies a royal secret so explosive that it could not only rip apart England but change the entire face of Europe… This series continues to go from strength to strength. Taylor’s ability to weave real life events into the affairs of his fictional protagonists, James and Cat, is impressive. His depiction of the historical period is masterly and gives a vivid backdrop to the engrossing action that left me slightly reeling by the end. Review to follow.
The Daydreamer Detective – Book 1 of the Miso Cosy Mysteries by Steph Gennaro aka S.J. Pajonas Mei Yamagawa is out of luck and out of money. After five years in Tokyo, she has little to show for it besides a laundry list of unrealized dreams. Left without a choice, she returns to her rural Japanese hometown, ready to be branded a failure by her relatives and rivals. At the least, she looks forward to seeing her best friend, until Akiko is accused of murdering her own father.
As Mei helps her farmer mother with the crops, she scouts for clues to clear her friend’s name. But during her investigation, she can’t help but notice the celebrity chef looking in her direction. The amateur detective can balance a new love interest and a murder case… can’t she? I thoroughly enjoyed this charming murder mystery, as poor Mei finds herself having to admit defeat and return home to her mother. I’m sure many young people these days are finding themselves in the same miserable position. But this is also set in Japan, so there is a different slant on family life, and the investigation which was enjoyable to read. Review to follow.
AUDIOBOOK The House of Hades – Book 4 of the Heroes of Olympus series by Rick Riordan Hazel stands at a crossroads. She and the remaining crew of the Argo II could return home with the Athena Parthenos statue and try to stop Camp Half-Blood and Camp Jupiter from going to war. Or they could continue their quest to find the House of Hades, where they might be able to open the Doors of Death, rescue their friends Percy and Annabeth from Tartarus, and prevent monsters from being reincarnated in the mortal world. Whichever road they decide to take, they have to hurry, because time is running out. Gaea, the bloodthirsty Earth Mother, has set the date of August 1 for her rise to power.
Annabeth and Percy are overwhelmed. How will the two of them make it through Tartarus? Starving, thirsty, and in pain, they are barely able to stumble on in the dark and poisonous landscape that holds new horrors at every turn. They have no way of locating the Doors of Death. Even if they did, a legion of Gaea’s strongest monsters guards the Doors on the Tartarus side. Annabeth and Percy can’t exactly launch a frontal assault.
Despite the terrible odds, Hazel, Annabeth, Percy, and the other demigods of the prophecy know that there is only one choice: to attempt the impossible. Not just for themselves, but for everyone they love. Even though love can be the riskiest choice of all. This book takes our plucky protagonists into some very dark places indeed. And yet, Riordan’s adroit use of humour, without minimising or disrespecting their evident ordeal, managed to allow me to listen to this without finding it unbearable. I shall really miss this series, once I’ve finished it. Review to follow.
Southern Spirits – Book 1 of the Southern Ghost Hunter mysteries by Angie Fox When out of work graphic designer Verity Long accidentally traps a ghost on her property, she’s saddled with more than a supernatural sidekick—she gains the ability see spirits. It leads to an offer she can’t refuse from the town’s bad boy, the brother of her ex and the last man she should ever partner with.
Ellis Wydell is in possession of a stunning historic property haunted by some of Sugarland Tennessee’s finest former citizens. Only some of them are growing restless—and destructive. He hires Verity to put an end to the disturbances. But soon, Verity learns there’s more to the mysterious estate than floating specters, secret passageways, and hidden rooms. There’s a modern day mystery afoot, one that hinges on a decades-old murder. Verity isn’t above questioning the living, or the dead. But can she discover the truth before the killer finds her? I like Fox’s upbeat, quirky writing style – and this ghostly murder mystery with a splash of romance was an entertaining read with some real creepy moments and a very satisfying ending. Review to follow.
A Murder at Rosings by Annette Purdey Pugh When Mr Collins is found stabbed to death in Lady Catherine de Bourgh’s garden, simmering tensions are revealed beneath the elegant Regency surface of the Rosings estate.
The prime suspect is Mr Bennet, who was overheard arguing with Mr Collins over the entail of Longbourn in the days before the murder was committed, and who stands to benefit more than anyone from the Rector’s death. I’ve omitted the final paragraph in the blurb, which is completely wrong and led me to expect something quite different from what I got. And this clever, enjoyable story set in Jane Austen’s Regency England deserves better than that. Overall, this is classy murder mystery that very much impressed me and I look forward to reading more from this promising writing. Review to follow.
The Case of the Dragon-Bone Engine – Book 1 of the Royal Investigative Service by Galadriel Coffeen Dynamite couldn’t cause such a big explosion. It must be something worse, Agent Beka Finley is sure of it. As she and her partner investigate the devastating train crash, she’s convinced the train was sabotaged. But everyone seems bent on persuading her it was an accident. Just like the crash that killed her father six years ago.
Determined to protect more lives from the growing unrest between humans and fairies, Beka puts her own life and reputation on the line to find the truth. But that truth might lead to more questions than answers. This is the industrial revolution played out in a fantasy version of the early Victorian period where fairies live alongside humans, and sell their magical abilities to the factory owners for a pittance. Though Agents Finley and Donovan are more concerned with the catastrophic explosion that has ripped through a new dragon-bone train… I thoroughly enjoyed this difference spin on a period of history I know very well. And the bonus is that the book has a number of beautiful pen and ink drawings executed by the clearly talented author in the style of the period. Review to follow.
Empire of Sand – Book 1 of the Books of Ambha by Tash Suri The Amrithi are outcasts; nomads descended of desert spirits, they are coveted and persecuted throughout the Empire for the power in their blood. Mehr is the illegitimate daughter of an imperial governor and an exiled Amrithi mother she can barely remember, but whose face and magic she has inherited.
When Mehr’s power comes to the attention of the Emperor’s most feared mystics, she must use every ounce of will, subtlety, and power she possesses to resist their cruel agenda. Should she fail, the gods themselves may awaken seeking vengeance… I acquired this offering as it is on sale – and very good value it has proved to be. I’m always a sucker for a well-told tale of sand and sorcery. Mehr’s journey is full of drama and emotion, and the world she creates along with the magic system, is vivid and enjoyable. Very highly recommended.
Interesting/outstanding blogs and articles that have caught my attention during the last week, in no particular order:
Music and the Art Show – Part 2 https://jenniefitzkee.com/2021/04/08/the-art-show-part-2/ The biggest problem for teachers is to inspire children to be fearless in their creativity. In our modern world, they never get a chance to see ‘works in progress’. They only ever see the shiny, flawless, final effort and particularly as they get older, they are aware that what they produce can’t possibly rival that – so they often give up before they even get going. Unless they met up with a wonderful teacher like Jennie when they were younger, who inspired them to have a go…
This is part of the weekly meme over at the Caffeinated Reviewer, where book bloggers can share the books and blogs they have written.
It’s been another quiet week. Weather-wise, it’s been drier and we have actually had several sunny days, which has been wonderful. I hadn’t realised just how much I’d missed seeing the sun! Himself had Tuesday off, so we went for another lovely walk along the beach, which we both enjoyed. Other than that, it’s been the usual routine.
I don’t often mention my TV viewing, but this week I watched a wonderful programme on BBC 4 – The Secret Life of Waves, which gave all sorts interesting scientific facts about what waves are, which were fascinating enough. But then it widened out into discussing how the life cycle of waves mirrors our own existence in a poetic, philosophical and highly personal way, which I found very moving. If you like that kind of programme, I highly recommend it.
I’ve now finished the first main edit of Flame & Blame and written the opening scene for Council of Dragons. It put up a bit of a fight – I needed three goes at it before I felt I had the right balance of character-bonding, explanation and action. But I’m now happy to continue onwards, so I hope to get going with it during the coming week.
The photos this week are from the walk last Sunday along the beach at very low tide.
Last week I read: Terra – Book 1 of the Terra series by Mitch Benn Abducted from Earth as a baby by a well-meaning alien, Terra has grown up far across the galaxy on planet Fnrr. Terra has always known she was different. Her skin isn’t grey. Her eyes are a weird blue colour. She has … ears.
And now Terra is starting high school. A daunting prospect, even without being the only human in class.There’s lots to like about life on Fnrr. Society is ordered and peaceful; founded on reason, logic and the pursuit of knowledge. However, its inhabitants are blissfully unaware of the impending invasion that could destroy their way of life forever … I thoroughly enjoyed this charming, engrossing book featuring plucky Terra. Benn’s writing style was confiding and accessible, without being patronising – which is harder to achieve than he makes it look.
NOVELLA One Day All This Will Be Yours by Adrian Tchaikovsky Welcome to the end of time. It’s a perfect day.
Nobody remembers how the Causality War started. Really, there’s no-one to remember, and nothing for them to remember if there were; that’s sort of the point. We were time warriors, and we broke time.
I was the one who ended it. Ended the fighting, tidied up the damage as much as I could.Then I came here, to the end of it all, and gave myself a mission: to never let it happen again.
Well this is different! Dark, punchy and funny – I think this is exactly the right length. Once again, Tchaikovsky manages to produce something completely different, yet thought provoking and interesting. Review to follow.
A Desolation Called Peace – Book 2 of the Teixcalaan series by Arkady Martine An alien armada lurks on the edges of Teixcalaanli space. No one can communicate with it, no one can destroy it, and Fleet Captain Nine Hibiscus is running out of options.
In a desperate attempt at diplomacy with the mysterious invaders, the fleet captain has sent for a diplomatic envoy. Now Mahit Dzmare and Three Seagrass—still reeling from the recent upheaval in the Empire—face the impossible task of trying to communicate with a hostile entity. Whether they succeed or fail could change the fate of Teixcalaan forever. I loved A Memory Called Empire – it was one of my favourite books of last year. So I was thrilled to be able to tuck into this sequel, which I thoroughly enjoyed. Though there was one jarring note… Review to follow.
AUDIOBOOK Driving the Deep – Book 2 of the Finder Chronicles As a professional finder, Fergus Ferguson is hired to locate missing objects and steal them back. But it is rarely so simple, especially after his latest job in Cernee. He’s been recovering from that experience in the company of friends, the Shipmakers of Pluto, experts at crafting top-of-the-line AI spaceships.
The Shipmakers have convinced Fergus to finally deal with unfinished business he’s been avoiding for half his life: Earth. Fergus hasn’t been back to his homeworld since he was fifteen, when he stole his cousin’s motorcycle and ran away. It was his first theft, and nothing he’s stolen since has been anywhere near so easy, or weighed so heavily on his conscience. Many years and many jobs later, Fergus reluctantly agrees that now is the time to return the motorcycle and face his family. Whatever you do – don’t read the rest of this very chatty blurb, as it goes on to produce a slew of plotpoints which you should be reading within this excellent, action-packed story. Fergus is rapidly becoming one of my favourite protagonists and I’m thrilled the next book in this entertaining series is coming out in May… Review to follow.
I can’t lie – it was the cover of this one that first drew me – isn’t it lovely? And then I read the blurb and the opening chapter, given this offering was published last November – and I was hooked. Yes – I know it’s a children’s book, but so many books written for them are far too good just to be left to the youngsters in our lives…
BLURB: Abducted from Earth as a baby by a well-meaning alien, Terra has grown up far across the galaxy on planet Fnrr. Terra has always known she was different. Her skin isn’t grey. Her eyes are a weird blue colour. She has … ears. And now Terra is starting high school. A daunting prospect, even without being the only human in class.
There’s lots to like about life on Fnrr. Society is ordered and peaceful; founded on reason, logic and the pursuit of knowledge. However, its inhabitants are blissfully unaware of the impending invasion that could destroy their way of life forever …
REVIEW: I enjoyed Benn’s writing style, which is direct and confiding with slices of omniscient viewpoint, which tends to happen in children’s fiction. But it is also shot through with a wry humour, which is handy in diffusing the horror of some of the more shocking scenes in this book. This is far from being a cosy read – it deals very directly with prejudice on all sorts of levels, guilt, regret and loss. And it doesn’t necessarily offer any comforting answers, which is fine by me. I think that fiction is very good at demonstrating that the world is frequently a violent, messy, unjust place to be – and maybe offering some coping strategies, or clear warnings. That goes for adults as well as children.
What caught me was the poignant passage about Mr and Mrs Bradbury right at the start of this book, which contrasted starkly with Lbbp’s take on what is going on, and leads to him taking the baby home with him. It isn’t a long book and the pace motors along at a good clip, which is what you want for younger readers. If I have any grizzles, I felt Terra was just a bit too calm and up together, given that she is always the exception and oddity – but it wasn’t a dealbreaker. There were moments when I sniggered aloud – particularly at the reaction of the human scientists when they realise there is actually a spaceship headed their way.
Overall, this is a thoroughly enjoyable, entertaining science fiction adventure aimed at pre-teens, though this granny also found it great fun. While I obtained an arc of Terra from the publishers via Netgalley, the opinions I have expressed are unbiased and my own. 8/10
This meme was started by Books by Proxy, whose fabulous idea was to compare UK and US book covers and decide which is we prefer. This meme is being nurtured by Lynn’s Book Blog and this week we are featuring covers with serpentine images. I’ve selected The Reptile Room – Book 2 of A Series of Unfortunate Events by Lemony Snickett.
This edition was produced by Scholastic in September 1999, and is the default cover design for this book. While I like the artwork, as you’ll know if you visit this meme regularly, I have an unreasonable dislike of textboxes. So this cover, where the artwork is squashed into a small box in the middle, bordered by a bleh-beige colour hasn’t endeared itself to me. Given how quirky this series is, that ultra-boring title font doesn’t do it justice, either. In fact, it seems to me that this cover is a study in how to transform a funny, original book into something that looks dutifully boring.
Published in May 2003 by Egmont Books, this is altogether more successful. The intention to make this cover look like one of those old-fashioned photo albums is far clearer in this iteration of the cover. The black border, contrasting with the bright green of the spine, with the red cord is both attractive and eye-catching. The styling of the font also gives a strong hint that this book is humorous, as well as an action adventure tale. I also think the choice of image, focusing on the interaction of the snake and the Baudelaire baby is far more effective. This one is definitely a contender…
This edition, published by HarperCollins in May 2007, had done away with the original cover design and opted for more artwork, which I really like. I’m not a fan of either textbox, although I’ll concede that the top one does the job of successfully featuring the author name, which is the selling point of this series, rather than the title. I certainly like this cover more than the top one.
This edition, produced by Egmont Books (UK) in 2010, is my favourite. I like the artwork that takes the original image and redesigns it to focus still further on the dramatic interaction between the deadly serpent and Sunny. I also think the treatment of the author font fits well with the overall design and the series and title information looks as if they have been considered as part of the overall look, rather than simply been plonked across the image, as so often seems to happen. Overall, this is the cover that would persuade me to pick this one off the shelves.
This German edition, published by Distribooks in May 2002, is one of the very few covers that hasn’t referenced the original artwork in some form. This one has departed from the Edwardian feel of the original image, so the colours and style are fresher and more vivid. The result is attractive and eye-catching. My only niggle is that I think the dramatic, gothic treatment of the title is at odds with the artwork, but overall I think this is a successful cover. Which is your favourite?
I found the premise of this one fascinating – a post-apocalyptic Scotland and a young, gutsy protagonist straddling two cultures. And I can’t deny that the cover also blew me away.
BLURB: When a child goes missing in Edinburgh’s darkest streets, young Ropa investigates. She’ll need to call on Zimbabwean magic as well as her Scottish pragmatism to hunt down clues. But as shadows lengthen, will the hunter become the hunted?
When ghosts talk, she will listen…
Ropa dropped out of school to become a ghostalker. Now she speaks to Edinburgh’s dead, carrying messages to the living. A girl’s gotta earn a living, and it seems harmless enough. Until, that is, the dead whisper that someone’s bewitching children–leaving them husks, empty of joy and life. It’s on Ropa’s patch, so she feels honor-bound to investigate. But what she learns will change her world. She’ll dice with death (not part of her life plan…), discovering an occult library and a taste for hidden magic. She’ll also experience dark times. For Edinburgh hides a wealth of secrets, and Ropa’s gonna hunt them all down.
REVIEW: Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed this one. Ropa is an engaging protagonist and given the awful circumstances she finds herself battling with, the fact that she is only fourteen worked for me, although I am aware some reviewers had a bit of a problem with her youth. But children in difficult times grow up fast and she still demonstrated that odd mix of maturity and flashes of someone much younger that makes up a teen personality. I thought the characterisation of the protagonist was the main strength of the book, though I also liked the depiction of a civilisation steadily falling apart. It didn’t bother me that I wasn’t aware of exactly why everything was quite so dire – given we are in Ropa’s viewpoint, pages of explanation about the political situation would have been out of character.
I also liked the members of Ropa’s family – her relationship with her younger sister could have so easily become a bit treacly, and I was pleased that it didn’t. The constant friction between the girls over the use of her phone was nicely realistic, having had to step into the middle of similar fights between my grandchildren. Her granny is also an intriguing personality, who taught Ropa the magic she uses, drawing on her Zimbabwean culture to be able to speak to the departed and help them. All this worked really well for me.
However, I wasn’t quite so impressed with the plotting. The story was completely predictable and I guessed (successfully) what was going to happen from about halfway through the book. As you can see from the score, that wasn’t a huge dealbreaker for me as Ropa’s personality made this an entertaining read anyway. I’m not wholly convinced about the library angle of the story, either. To be honest, it felt a tad tacked on, and wasn’t in the same league as Ropa’s characterisation, and the interesting world she is forced to operate in. There are some fabulous magical libraries out there already – ranging from the hilariously dangerous version at the Unseen University in Pratchett’s Discworld with an orangutang for a librarian, through to Genevieve Cogman’s highly successful Invisible Library series. Huchu is going to have to work at making this version really stand out.
That said, I would happily read the second book in this series just to spend a bit more time with Ropa. Recommended for fans who particularly enjoy strong young protagonists operating in difficult circumstances. While I obtained an arc of The Library of the Dead from the publishers via Netgalley, the opinions I have expressed are unbiased and my own. 8/10
I found this one on my grandson’s Audible library – and it sounded a bit of fun. So would I enjoy it?
BLURB: Harry is in trouble. He’s burned down the family kitchen so now has to spend a week of his summer hols with his uncle Tristram – who’s heading off to stay with a new girlfriend – Morning Glory – on a tiny British island. Harry doesn’t expect it to be a lot of fun – with just a wacky competition at the end of the week to look forward to. He certainly didn’t expect to discover all the beards. Or the angel on the mountain. Or the helicopters circling overhead all week. And he definitely didn’t think it would be so wet!
REVIEW: Well this is fun! Harry is a disaster magnet, and we know exactly how he is going to grow up, because his Uncle Tristram is the adult version. Yes, it’s a bit daft in places – but I loved the quirky humour and the fact that as the reader, I was well aware of what was going on when Harry didn’t. That can get annoying quite quickly, but the clever pacing and the entertaining characterisation that tripped into the kind of Roald Dahl-like caricature, kept me grinning throughout. It didn’t hurt that there isn’t the darker edge of cruelty that I always find in Dahl’s writing – or that Tom Lawrence’s narration is spot on.
The island isn’t identified, but sounds very much like one of the rainsoaked, windblasted small isles that are dotted around the seas off the Scottish mainland. Harry’s insouciant description of the inhabitants, his take on Morning Glory’s behaviour, the weather and the food on offer had me chuckling throughout and there were times when I sat down to focus better on listening to this little gem. If you have a child between the ages of nine and twelve, particularly a boy, I think he would thoroughly enjoy this one – and if the youngster in your life doesn’t appreciate it, then do yourself a favour and tuck into this one yourself. I loved it. 9/10
I’m a real fan of Ali Sparkes’ writing – see my reviews for Frozen in Time and Dark Summer – so I was delighted to see this offering was in Frank’s audiobook list.
BLURB: Dax Jones is an ordinary schoolboy – until something extraordinary happens one day. Whilst frightened for his life, he inexplicably changes into a fox. Before long, both a government agent and an ambitious young journalist are on his tail.
REVIEW: And that’s how you do a blurb, people! A brief overview of what the stakes are and the genre to give readers an idea if they’ll like the book – NOT spoiling the first major plotpoints in the book. Right – rant over.
I love Dax, who has certainly drawn the short straw when a happy family life was handed out. His mother died when he was four years old and his stepmother dislikes him and makes no secret of the fact. As for his father – he’s away working most of the time and doesn’t make much of an effort to bond with his son, anyway. Is he angry about it? Oh for sure – but Dax has learnt not to show it, so he buries his anger. Until it manifests… differently.
Sparkes is really clever at depicting realistic, rounded characters which is why she is such a firm favourite with me. I was right alongside Dax, rooting for the quiet, wary boy who learnt far too young that the world is often a cruel, uncaring place. But that also gives him an advantage – he isn’t easily taken in. And that distrust gives him a vital edge when someone means him harm. I also liked the supporting cast – this is the start of a six-book series, so part of the task is to establish some of the main characters, such as Gideon, Dax’s new friend and some of the teachers who will clearly be featuring in coming adventures. The denouement of this adventure is genuinely gripping, and instead of carrying on with my chores, I sat down to listen, not willing to miss any of the action. This gripping read is recommended for children, particularly boys, aged 9-11who enjoy fast-paced fiction with a fantasy twist. 9/10