Category Archives: family relationships

Review of How To Twist a Dragon’s Tale – Book 5 of the How To Train Your Dragon series by Cressida Cowell

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The grandchildren have been staying over the Easter holidays, so Oscar and I have managed to get a fair amount of reading done, including this fifth instalment of the successful How To Train Your Dragon series.

The heat is on for Hiccup as he is called to save the day once again. Someone has stolen the Fire-Stone. Now that the volcano on Volcano Island has become active, the tremors are hatching the eggs of the Exterminator dragons! Can Hiccup return the Fire-Stone to the Volcano, stop it from erupting, and save the Tribes from being wiped out by the terrible sword-claws of the Exterminators?

After having thoroughly enjoyed the first four books in this funny, thrilling series, I was interested to see if Cowell could continue to provide yet another rip-roaring adventure full of intriguing twists. Or whether I would begin to see a pattern emerging in the storytelling. Well, there is a pattern – Hiccup and his naughty little dragon, Toothless, once more get dragged into an insanely dangerous and difficult adventure despite his best efforts. Though there is a major difference – the Isle of Berk is sweltering in a heatwave, which is something of a shocker. This part of the world is normally chilly and rain-lashed – failing that, it’s snowing… Hiccup spends most of his time shivering with cold if he isn’t shivering with fear.

However, Stoick the Vast has a cunning plan to keep his accident-prone small son a bit safer – when a real ex-Hero shows up, he employs him as a Bardiguard to look after Hiccup. Although there still seem to be a lot of near misses after Humungous the Hero starts guarding him – which makes his pal Fishlegs very suspicious… Oscar likes Fishlegs, who is small and suffers from eczema and asthma – until you put a sword in his hand and he turns into a Berserk. In this instalment, we also team up once more with Camicazi, the small heir to the Bog-Burglar tribe as the Archipelago is faced with a deadly threat that will leave every island a smoking ruin.

Of course, the one thing we do know is that Hiccup is going to survive and eventually prosper as these tales are his memoirs charting his progress to becoming the eventual leader that unites not just the Hairy Hooligan tribe, but all the Viking tribes. So the fact that both Oscar and I spend quite a lot of time trying to figure out how poor Hiccup is going to get out of this scrape and generally not getting it right is a tribute to Cowell’s considerable skill as a storyteller. What I did particularly enjoy about this tale is the insight it gave us on Hiccup’s mostly absent mother, Valhallarama, who is generally busy off questing on her own account.

The story is resolved after another climactic action scene that had me reading to Oscar later than I strictly should have – but neither of us wanted to stop as we needed to know what happened next. And if you are looking to fire up that kind of enthusiasm about books and stories in your youngsters, I highly recommend this wonderful series.
9/10

Teaser Tuesday – 18th April, 2017

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Teaser Tuesday is a weekly bookish meme, hosted by The Purple Booker.
Anyone can play along! Just do the following:
• Grab your current read
• Open to a random page
• Share two (2) “teaser” sentences from somewhere on that page
• BE CAREFUL NOT TO INCLUDE SPOILERS! (make sure that what you share doesn’t give too much away! You don’t want to ruin the book for others!)
• Share the title & author, too, so that other TT participants can add the book to their TBR Lists if they like your teasers!

This is my choice of the day:

From Darkest Skies by Sam Peters
18% ‘Bix? Bix Rangesh?’ Enki waved the gun vaguely around his head. He was drunk and probably worse. I pinged his Servant for an assessment of his medical status but didn’t get an answer. He’d turned it off.

‘Hey, man.’ Rangesh headed up the path through the garden, slow and casual but with caution. ‘Dude, could you maybe put the illegal firearm down or else give it to me before something really heavy happens? It’s making my new partner all kinds of nervous.’

I jumped out of my pod and my legs almost buckled under Magenta’s gravity. Mercy’s painkillers had made me forget how fragile I was.

BLURB: After a five year sabbatical following the tragic death of his wife and fellow agent Alysha, Keona Rause returns to the distant colony world of Magenta to resume service with the Magentan Intelligence Service. With him he brings an artificial recreation of his wife’s personality, a simulacrum built from every digital trace she left behind. She has been constructed with one purpose – to discover the truth behind her own death – but Keona’s relationship with her has grown into something more, something frighteningly dependent, something that verges on love.

Cashing in old favours, Keona uses his return to the Service to take on a series of cases that allow him and the artificial Alysha to piece together his wife’s last days. His investigations lead him inexorably along the same paths Alysha followed five years earlier, to a sinister and deadly group…

As you can see, I’m almost a fifth of the way through this far future murder mystery. It is a steep familiarisation for the first handful of pages, but the writing is punchy, the world vivid and the main protagonist suitably grumpy and hard-bitten. If I have a grizzle it’s that Peters could have been kinder with the names – they are difficult to absorb and tend to crop up with alternative nicknames. Other than this one niggle, I’m really enjoying this offering.

Sunday Post – 16th April 2017

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This is part of the weekly meme over at the Caffeinated Book Reviewer, where book bloggers can share the books and blogs they have written.

In theory it’s been a holiday period, allowing my break in my teaching routine to get a chance to focus on other aspects of my work. In practise, it’s thrown up all sorts of other tasks, including a stint of grannying. Of course, it goes without saying that this is a labour of love and I’m fortunate as both children are a joy and generally extremely well behaved. But we weren’t as up together this time around as we normally are, because the water pipe company had only completed concreting over the holes on Tuesday morning as they arrived in the afternoon. Himself also had a follow-up appointment at the Sleep Clinic, which was very encouraging where he has gone from 51 interrupted sleep events an hour down to 0.9 events, which is brilliant news. But we are both significantly shorter tempered than usual and while I am gradually getting more used to the silence instead of the thunderous snoring, my sleep patterns are still all over the place – and I’m not the one wearing the mask!

However, that didn’t get in the way of our having a fab time at the Crazy Golf on Wednesday with the grandchildren, though Frances going down with a heavy cold on Thursday meant we didn’t get out and about as much as I’d hoped. Fingers crossed the weather holds during the rest of the holiday when the grandchildren rejoin us for the coming week.

This week I have read:

Avengers of the Moon – A Captain Future book by Allen Steele

It was an age of miracles. It was an era of wonder. It was a time of troubles. It was all these things and more . . . except there were no heroes. Naturally, one had to be created.
Curt Newton has spent most of his life hidden from the rest of humankind, being raised by a robot, an android, and the disembodied brain of a renowned scientist. This unlikely trio of guardians has kept his existence a closely guarded secret since the murder of Curt’s parents. Curt’s innate curiosity and nose for trouble inadvertently lead him into a plot to destabilize the Solar Coalition. There’s only one way to uncover the evil mastermind—Curt must become Captain Future. With the permission of the Edmond Hamilton estate, Allen Steele revives the exciting adventures of Captain Future.
I thoroughly enjoyed this adventure once I got used to the old fashioned feel of the writing – wholly intentional as Steele was going for a retro feel with this science fiction heroic tale.

 

How to Twist a Dragon’s Tale – Book 5 of the How To Train Your Dragon series by Cressida Cowell
The heat is on for Hiccup as he is called to save the day once again. Someone has stolen the Fire-Stone. Now that the volcano on Volcano Island has become active, the tremors are hatching the eggs of the Exterminator dragons! Can Hiccup return the Fire-Stone to the Volcano, stop it from erupting, and save the Tribes from being wiped out by the terrible sword-claws of the Exterminators?
A heatwave on the Isle of Berk – unheard of! As anyone who reads this blog will know, I love this quirky, anarchic world. In this fifth slice of Hiccup’s adventures, once again Cowell manages to deliver yet another original, enjoyable adventure full of excitement and humour.

 

Saven Deception – Book 1 of the Saven series by Siobhan Davis

Sadie Owens has been slowly dying inside. Bit by bit, piece by piece, day by day. Trapped in a life she hates, she relies on only one person—herself. Despised by her family and betrayed by an unscrupulous government, Sadie dreams of a different life. When she is chosen to participate in the government’s new social experiment, she is ecstatic at the prospect of spending six months in Thalassic City, the shiny new city under the sea. Sadie is captivated by Logan, the beautiful boy with the ocean-blue eyes, but he isn’t all he appears to be. When she finally uncovers the government’s real agenda, the truth is more shocking than anything she could ever have imagined.

This is the first in the successful, best-selling dystopian science fiction adventure featuring the Saven aliens interaction with humanity. It is an enjoyable, page-turning read and I look forward to getting hold of the next book in the series.

 

Star Wars: Adventures in Wild Space – The Dark – Book 4 of the Adventures in Wild Space by Tom Huddleston
In a galaxy far, far away… Milo and Lina are adrift on a starship that is spiralling towards disaster. A dangerous criminal is on the loose, the Empire is closing in – and something even deadlier awaits them in The Dark…
This is a genuinely creepy read with all sorts of twists and turns as the children are still fighting to evade the Empire’s attempts to capture them and their droid CR-8R. The friendly font, attractive illustrations and reasonably straightforward vocabulary means that Oscar can also join in and read to me, too.

My posts last week:

Sunday Post – 9th April 2017

NEW RELEASE SPECIAL Review of The Forever Court – Book 2 of The Knights of the Borrowed Dark trilogy by Dave Rudden

Teaser Tuesday featuring Avengers of the Moon – a Captain Future novel by Allen Steele

Review of The Operator – Book 2 of the Peri Reed Chronicles by Kim Harrison

Shoot for the Moon Challenge – March Roundup

Friday Face-off – Happy Easter! featuring The Pinhoe Egg – a Chrestomanci novel by Diana Wynne Jones

NEW RELEASE SPECIAL Review of Avengers of the Moon – a Captain Future novel by Allen Steele

Interesting/outstanding blogs and articles that have caught my attention during the last week, in no particular order:

The Social Contract for Writers http://writerunboxed.com/2017/04/15/the-social-contract-for-writers/ Bill Ferris is hilariously irreverent about the business of writing and in yet another article that had me sniggering throughout, picks apart some of our darker impulses…

My First Library: The Bookmobile https://coffeeandcatsblog.wordpress.com/2017/04/12/my-first-library-the-bookmobile/ In this delightful article, Loreen charts how she fell in love with the world of books, helped by a wonderful librarian.

Ouroboros https://photolicioux.wordpress.com/2017/03/27/ouroboros/ I don’t always like the results, but this quirky photography site always produces challenging images – and this one really caught my attention and had me studying it for a while.

…ssshhhh… the NON-secret of Author online self-promotion… https://seumasgallacher.com/2017/04/14/ssshhhh-the-non-secret-of-author-online-self-promotion/ As a successful self-published author, Seumas shares some of his hard-won experience – a typically generous gesture.

Women in SF & F Month: Kat Howard http://www.fantasybookcafe.com/2017/04/women-in-sff-month-kat-howard/ I haven’t yet read Kat’s book, but I’ll be treating myself just as soon as funds allow – I loved this article…

Thank you for visiting and taking the time and trouble to comment – and may you have a wonderful reading and blogging week.

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of KINDLE Ebook Avengers of the Moon by Allen Steele

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I saw the wonderful retro cover on Netgalley and couldn’t resist, particularly as I have read and enjoyed the first four books in the Coyote series – see my review of Spindrift here.

It was an age of miracles. It was an era of wonder. It was a time of troubles. It was all these things and more . . . except there were no heroes. Naturally, one had to be created.

Curt Newton has spent most of his life hidden from the rest of humankind, being raised by a robot, an android, and the disembodied brain of a renowned scientist. This unlikely trio of guardians has kept his existence a closely guarded secret since the murder of Curt’s parents. Curt’s innate curiosity and nose for trouble inadvertently lead him into a plot to destabilize the Solar Coalition. There’s only one way to uncover the evil mastermind—Curt must become Captain Future. With the permission of the Edmond Hamilton estate, Allen Steele revives the exciting adventures of Captain Future.

So did this homage to the past pulp fiction series, Captain Future, manage to deliver an adventure that would grip modern readers? Oh yes. It did take me a chapter to get used to the passages telling me what was going on, along with a sizeable chunk of the backstory. The modern way of imparting this information would be through the characters’ actions, thought and speech within the story, rather than the author giving blocks of this information. There is nothing inherently wrong with this way of writing, but it does feel rather old fashioned, which in this context is spot on.

Once I got accustomed to this writing style – the style I grew up with – I was able to become immersed in the adventure, sit back and enjoy the ride. I really liked the main protagonist, Curt Newman aka Captain Future, who is brought up by an eerily smart construction robot, an android and his parents’ mentor whose brain is trapped in a metallic casing. Not surprisingly, Curt finds mixing with ordinary people, especially attractive women, rather a challenge. I’m fairly sure that the original books would not have given this weakness a mention. Raised all his life to search out and take revenge on the man who ordered the brutal murder of his parents, Curt tracks him down – only to find himself caught up in the machinations of another plot. A plot with the potential to destabilise the whole Solar System…

I enjoyed the fact that humanity has been altered genetically to cope with the hostile conditions on the other planets and moons. Steele has created a coherent civilisation off-planet with a variety of space-faring craft.

Curt and his odd team have a variety of cool gismos, courtesy of the inventive genius of Brains. One of these inventions is a cloaking device, but before you get the idea that Curt can simply press a button and prowl around nicely hidden from his potential attackers, the catch is the field that bends light sufficiently to keep him hidden means that when cloaked, he is blind. So while this invention can be handy, it also has major practical drawbacks. I really enjoyed these details that helped to increase the stakes and ensure that when Curt went into action as Captain Future, he wasn’t the type of invulnerable superhero we have become accustomed to seeing in comics and cinemas. Overall, this is a enjoyable space opera adventure, with plenty of action, some nice touches of humour and some plot twists I didn’t see coming.

While I obtained the arc of Avengers of the Moon from the publisher via NetGalley, this has in no way influenced my unbiased review.
8/10

Friday Faceoff – Happy Easter!

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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 week the theme is Easter, so I’ve chosen The Pinhoe Egg by Diana Wynne Jones.

 

This cover, produced by HarperCollins Children’s Books in April 2007 is a delight. It is stylish and quirky with an attractive colour palette and filled with images directly attributable to the book. As for the font – I think it is wonderful. Diana Wynne Jones wrote books unlike any other and this twirling font manages to evoke the sheer difference of her writing. A wonderful effort and my favourite by a whisker.

 

 

This Finnish edition, produced by WSOY in May 2011 is another beautiful design that runs the above offering a very, very close second. It is so cleverly done, with all sorts of allusions to the magical story popping up around the main font and a lovely ethereal landscape as the background. These are both two outstanding covers and do full justice to the book, in my opinion.

 

 

This cover, once again, is closely aligned to the book and its content – the main protagonists feature right in the forefront and the artwork is well done. The egg looks amazing and I don’t think you could look at this book and have any doubt that it is a fantasy story about a magical egg. The cover design is also very well balanced – the main reason why this one isn’t my favourite is because I envisaged Chrestomanci looking just a little less saturnine and a little more kind, which is an entirely personal reaction.

 

This is the cover design, produced by Harper Collins in 2006, that features on the book we own. Again, it’s a solidly good design – featuring Diana Wynne Jones name so prominently is a good marketing ploy as catching sight of that had me swooping down on this one from across the bookshop and plucking it off the shelves. But while it is far simpler than the other offerings, it still makes it quite clear this is a book featuring a magical egg.

All these eggy covers are well designed, with thought and care for the book’s genre and all are attractive, but which is your favourite?

Teaser Tuesday – 11th April, 2017

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Teaser Tuesday is a weekly bookish meme, hosted by The Purple Booker.
Anyone can play along! Just do the following:
• Grab your current read
• Open to a random page
• Share two (2) “teaser” sentences from somewhere on that page
• BE CAREFUL NOT TO INCLUDE SPOILERS! (make sure that what you share doesn’t give too much away! You don’t want to ruin the book for others!)
• Share the title & author, too, so that other TT participants can add the book to their TBR Lists if they like your teasers!

This is my choice of the day:

Avengers of the Moon by Allen Steele
23% Roger climbed down the ladder from the control room to the middeck. Pausing in the galley, he opened a wall locker between the curtained bunks to collect ankle weights. He strapped on a pair and left two more on the galley table for Elaine and Simon—Roger smiled as he wondered how long it would take Curt to adapt to one-sixth g: this would be interesting to observe—then continued climbing down to the third level where the ready-room and airlock lay. He didn’t need to suit up again. A glance at the indicator panel beside the outer hatch as he stepped into the airlock told him that positive pressure lay outside the ship.

BLURB: It was an age of miracles. It was an era of wonder. It was a time of troubles. It was all these things and more . . . except there were no heroes. Naturally, one had to be created.

Curt Newton has spent most of his life hidden from the rest of humankind, being raised by a robot, an android, and the disembodied brain of a renowned scientist. This unlikely trio of guardians has kept his existence a closely guarded secret since the murder of Curt’s parents. Curt’s innate curiosity and nose for trouble inadvertently lead him into a plot to destabilize the Solar Coalition. There’s only one way to uncover the evil mastermind—Curt must become Captain Future.

With the permission of the Edmond Hamilton estate, Allen Steele revives the exciting adventures of Captain Future.

It has taken me a while to acclimatise to the old fashioned feel of the storytelling in this tale – but of course, it’s entirely deliberate, given Steele is evoking the original pulp fiction tone of the Captain Future adventures. However, I’m now getting into the groove of the story’s rhythm and settling into the narrative. It’s very enjoyable to witness Curt’s struggles to relate effectively with other humans, given he’s been brought up by robots and I look forward to more of this as the story progresses.

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of KINDLE Ebook The Forever Court – Book 2 of The Knights of the Borrowed Dark trilogy by Dave Rudden

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When I spotted this offering as part of a special Netgalley omnibus edition, I was delighted as the first book, Knights of the Borrowed Dark, is one of those which lodged in my head and hasn’t gone away – see my review.

Life is returning to normal for Denizen Hardwick. Well, the new normal, where he has to battle monsters in quiet Dublin bookshops and constantly struggle to contain the new powers he has been given by Mercy, the daughter of the Endless King. But Denizen may need those powers sooner than he thinks – not only are the Tenebrous stirring again but the Order of the Borrowed Dark face a new threat from much closer to home…

I had enjoyed the first book, but this second one grabbed me from the first page and wouldn’t let go. I’d forgotten how punchy and readable the prose was, for starters. I love Rudden’s writing with his quirky imagery and desert-dry irony – and the way he nocks it up to gothic proportions when necessary. The descriptions of the Croits’ family home, the castle Eloquence, just pings off the page with its wrongness. While Denizen’s struggle to come to terms with his new family circumstances had me both grinning and feeling desperately sorry for him.

This one is a dual narrative – alongside Denizen’s storyline is another young teen – Uriel Croit, who is singled out by Grandfather for great things, alongside his twin sister. They train constantly and are being honed for the coming war, happy to pay the price for using their inner fire as they are set against cousins amongst the insane obstacle course that is the Croit family cemetery.

The two plotlines unfold with twists and turns in abundance and unlike most children’s books, there is very little ‘tell’ in this one and far more plunging forward with the story. I started off reading it with a view to its suitability for my granddaughter and by the end of the second chapter all that went out of the window. I was completely immersed in this grim world where everyone has an agenda and living alongside violence leaves scars – not just the physical sort, either. I love the fact that Rudden has created a world where killing is a big deal and we also get to see that monsters grieve for those they lose, too.

Of course when there are two storylines running alongside each other, there comes a time when they intersect – and this time around they didn’t so much meet as explode in the climactic crisispoint… The history of the Croit family is also caught up with the Knights in a fascinating manner – I loved the clever plotting, the gritty entrancing world and the spiky, memorable characters. And I cannot wait to read the next book. If you are fans of well-written fantasy, don’t be put off by the fact the marketing is aiming this series at children – for my money Rudden falls into the same category as Gaiman and Pratchett, whose writing appeals to both adults and children alike.

While my arc copy of The Forever Court Dark was provided by the publishers via Netgalley, this has not influenced or biased my review.
10/10

Friday Faceoff – Send in the clowns…

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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 week the theme is circus, so I’ve chosen The Museum of Extraordinary Things by Alice Hoffman.

 

This is the offering produced by Scribner February 2014. It is eye-catching and disturbing – the luminous image of a mermaid bounces out of the black border and accurately captures the mood of the book. That said, I probably wouldn’t have picked this one up if it had been wearing this cover, as it looks too creepy.

 

This cover was produced by Scribner for the paperback edition in September 2014. The beautiful girl off-centre with the scarf around her head looks vulnerable and the muted colour palette gives it a sense of menace. This is a lovely cover and, again, does reflect the mood of the book.

 

I’m intrigued to see that this far more circus-oriented cover is also produced by Scribner in April 2014. I love this one – it is eye-catching and colourful. But with the reflections in the dark water, there is also a sense that there is something darker behind the bright, pretty lights. This is my favourite cover – I love the detail and in particular, the way the title has been threaded through the artwork.

 

This is the cover design, produced by Simon & Schuster in March 2015, that tempted me to pluck this book off the shelves and read it. I was attracted by the title and the carnival feel that nevertheless felt slightly off… and the fact I thought it was very pretty.

 

This Hungarian edition, produced in June 2015 by Maxim, has gone for the horror vibe. And I think it has done it very well. That said, while there are genuinely shocking elements in this book, it isn’t horror or particularly scary so while I think the cover is a lovely, disturbing piece of artwork, it isn’t an accurate reflection of the book. I’m guessing there were a number of really annoyed Hungarian readers who picked this offering up thinking they were in for a fear-fest they didn’t get.

What about you – which is your favourite cover?

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of KINDLE Ebook Winter Tide – Book 1 of The Innsmouth Legacy by Ruthanna Emrys

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After attacking Devil’s Reef in 1928, the U.S. Government rounded up the people of Innsmouth and took them to the desert, far from their ocean, their Deep One ancestors, and their sleeping god Cthulhu. Only Aphra and Caleb Marsh survived the camps, and they emerged without a past or a future. The government that stole Aphra’s life now needs her help. FBI agent Ron Spector believes that Communist spies have stolen dangerous magical secrets from Miskatonic University, secrets that could turn the Cold War hot in an instant, and hasten the end of the human race. Aphra must return to the ruins of her home, gather scraps of her stolen history, and assemble a new family to face the darkness of human nature.

For those of you who don’t recognise the references, Winter Tide is set in the world of H.P. Lovecraft, the famous horror and dark fantasy short story writer and novelist. Though he died unknown and poverty-stricken, Lovecraft is popularly regarded as the father of dark fantasy due to his vivid and disturbing world where creatures from another dimension inimical to humans are on the verge of breaking through to our world. Emrys manages to give us an insight in the life of one of the two survivors of the Government attack on Innsmouth in 1928, which is reported and written about in Lovecraft’s writing.

I fell in love with this spare, gripping tale within a couple of pages – the character and premise immediately pulled me into the story where a paranoid and jittery US Government are seeing threats from anyone who looks different, back in 1949. Of course, part of the power of this story is that that febrile fearstoked political atmosphere so well depicted in this thriller also uncomfortably reflects the same mindset pervading mainstream thinking now in the 21st century.

Aphra is a marvellous character and the first person viewpoint (I) gives the reader a ringside seat into her sense of isolation, her anger at the loss of all her family with the exception of her brother and her constant, prickling feeling of danger whenever in a new situation, given her odd appearance. This could have so easily descended into a bleak trudge – but her spiky determination not to be overwhelmed by her grim circumstances gives us a clue as to why she survived while so many others died.

The story, without any apparent headlong rush, nonetheless steadily unspools, gathering momentum as this odd, compulsive world continues to beguile. The parent race, the Yith, are also represented and there are some welcome shafts of humour in amongst the turmoil and danger. I read way longer than I should have done to find out what happens next and climactic scene on the beach when Aphra meets her grandfather fully displays Emrys’s impressive talent. When I finally finished, I was dazed and excited in equal measure. And I cannot stop thinking about this one… In short, another outstanding read that has me humming with pleasure and excitement. Ruthanna Emrys. Remember the name – she is a talent to be reckoned with and this is a series that shouldn’t be missed by science fiction and fantasy fans.

While I obtained the arc of Winter Tide from the publisher via NetGalley, this has in no way influenced my unbiased review.
10/10

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of KINDLE Ebook Magic in the City by Heather Dyer

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I would like to claim that I requested this one from Netgalley because I was mindful that it was one of my yearly targets to extend my reading of children’s fiction – but it wouldn’t be true. I picked it out because I liked the cover. So would this most shallow of reasons pay off?

Brothers Jake and Simon Grubb are not happy they have to leave their home in Canada to move in with their cousin Hannah and her family in England. But things get interesting for the boys when, on the way there, they encounter a retiring magician at a highway rest stop who presents them with three gifts he claims have magical properties: a carpet, a camera and a stopwatch. Unfortunately, the magician doesn’t provide them with any instructions. So when the boys and Hannah find themselves being swept away on a wild adventure fueled by the magic in these curious objects, they have to learn as they go. But who cares when it’s this exciting!

I found the three child protagonists all appealing and believable. The boys, in particular, I thought were done well. I also very much liked the way Dyer handled the major life event that brought the boys and their mother across to resettle in Britain – I had assumed one thing was the problem, but it turned out to be something quite different. And I also liked the way Jake’s mind worked in his attempts to fix things – it was such a childlike way of looking at how to deal with it. Dyer has clearly spent time around children of this age and manages to depict them in crisis without assuming they will behave as adults do – they don’t. She also managed to show the depth of their trauma without telling us, so if the readers don’t know what they are looking at, they’ll likely miss it. Which is just fine as far as I’m concerned. Young readers without this sort of damage in their lives won’t necessarily pick up the extent of their suffering.

Dyer also serves up a fair dollop of humour along with the chaos and excitement. I love the depiction of the Queen – whether or not it’s correct, I thought it was a delight. Overall, this is a charming, enjoyable book that delivers an engrossing magical adventure with some hefty family issues wrapped up in the story that will speak to the many fatherless children out there. Recommended for independent readers between eight and eleven years old, depending on maturity.

While I obtained the arc of Magic in the City from the publisher via NetGalley, this has in no way influenced my unbiased review.
8/10