Tag Archives: child protagonists

Review of Smoke by Dan Vyleta

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I picked this one off the shelves because I loved the look of the cover and the idea that this book filled a gap left by J.K. Rowling and Phillip Pullman appealed.

England. A century ago, give or take a few years. An England where people who are wicked in thought or deed are marked by the Smoke that pours forth from their bodies, a sign of their fallen state. The aristocracy do not smoke, proof of their virtue and right to rule, while the lower classes are drenched in sin and soot. An England utterly strange and utterly real. An elite boarding school where the sons of the wealthy are groomed to take power as their birthright. Teachers with mysterious ties to warring political factions at the highest levels of government. Three young people who learn everything they’ve been taught is a lie – knowledge that could cost them their lives.

This book is set in a Dickensian England in an alternate time when any negative emotion appears as either soot or Smoke. The aristocracy and upper classes generally don’t show any signs of such debased behaviour, whereas the lower orders are steeped in it. London, with its factories and crowded living conditions, is a byword for degradation and filth as a perpetual cloud of Smoke infests its streets. We follow the fortunes of three youngsters – two boys who are pupils at the boarding school – Charlie and Thomas and a girl Livia.

I thoroughly enjoyed the way this book opened and found the initial tension and questions surrounding Smoke pulled me into the story. However, while it continued to be enjoyable and there was never any risk of my not finishing it, the readability factor that initially hooked me began to dissipate. Vyleta seemed to need to thoroughly explain his world and that was the factor that began to drive the story, rather than the other way around. It is, indeed, a fascinating premise. But I did find the continual addition of random characters who we never saw again giving us slices of their viewpoint rather jarring and it diluted the characterisation and strength of the initial protagonists, who became rather generic. The love triangle also seemed an oddity and didn’t sit at all well with me, given how it cuts right across the gothic atmosphere and managed to diminish the story into a will-they-won’t-they romance while also trying address some really big and interesting themes.

I’m conscious that it sounds as if I thought this was a bad book and it’s not. There premise is original – Vyleta handles the subsequent class divide really cleverly – and at times, the writing is wonderful. But I have a feeling that this book is trying to be a gothic, Dickensian read while having a wide YA appeal and in trying for both goals has managed to fall short of the original greatness this book promised. Having said that, I’m glad I’ve read it and would be interested in reading other works by this author – he certainly has a fertile, original imagination.
8/10

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Review of Star Wars: The Dark – Book 4 of the Adventures in Wild Space series by Tom Huddleston

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Oscar and I have really enjoyed this series to date – and we left Lina and Milo Graf in a tough spot at the end of the previous book as they had been captured by the Empire. So we were keen to read this next instalment to discover what happens next.

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…

Set in the very familiar world of the Star Wars franchise, this series of science fiction books is designed to appeal to boys between the ages of 7-10. We discovered this series last year when Oscar had his World Book Week £1 token and picked up the prequel, full of excitement that he had found something he really wanted me to read to him – see my review of The Snare. The covers are attractive, the font a friendly size and there are a number of black and white illustrations dotted throughout that help the story along, but it is designed for newly independent readers.

After following Lina and Milo in their desperate search for their parents through the previous four books, we were keen that they should be able to escape from their current predicament. Locked up in a cell and heading towards the vicious Captain Korda, their prospects look bleak – and indeed, I was surprised at just how genuinely creepy this offering is. Rapidly, things start to go wrong on this freighter and when the lights go out, there is a rushing, scuttling sound as it appears some of the cargo has escaped…

We ended up reading this not just before bed and first thing in the morning, but we also slotted in a reading session mid-afternoon as we both wanted to discover what would happen next, when two new prisoners are picked up. One has the title the Butcher of Brentaal IV – and it’s easy to see how the huge alien came by his grim title, with his scarred face and growling voice – Lina and Mira are very relieved that he is safely locked up, though they decide not to let the friendly Stel out, either. After all, they had trusted another character earlier in their adventures and look where that led them…

We were both gripped by this one and although I guessed one of the main plot twists that changes the fortunes of our two brave prisoners, it didn’t really matter as there was so much going on. Like Oscar, the moment we came to the end of this one, I was keen to find out when the next instalment in this entertaining series was coming out. This is an enjoyable read and comes highly recommended particularly for boys between 7-10, depending on maturity and reading ability.
9/10

Discovery Challenge 2017 and Tackling My TBR – April Roundup

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After reading Jo Hall’s post on the problems women authors have with getting discovered, I’ve been taking part in the challenge to read and review at least 24 books by female authors each year that were previously unknown to me for the last two years. During April, I read – six books towards my 2017 Discovery Challenge, which brings my annual number of books written by women writers I hadn’t read before to thirteen. They are:

Winter Tide – Book 1 of The Innesmouth Legacy by Ruthanna Emrys
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. The story, without any apparent headlong rush, nonetheless steadily unspools, gathering momentum as this odd, compulsive world continues to beguile. This is one of my outstanding books of the year so far – see my review here.

 

Magic in the City by Heather Dyer
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 – see my review here.

 

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.
I very much enjoyed Sadie’s character – she has clearly had a rough time at home with a hostile, unloving mother and siblings who took their cue from her. I like the way Davis fed us a continuous stream of information as the story progresses, so that our perceptions are continually changing throughout – see my review here.

 

Dancing with Death – Book 1 of the Nell Drury mysteries by Amy Myers
1925. The fashionable Bright Young Things from London have descended on Wychbourne Court, the Kentish stately home of Lord and Lady Ansley, for an extravagant fancy dress ball followed by a midnight Ghost Hunt – and Chef Nell Drury knows she’s in for a busy weekend. What she doesn’t expect to encounter is sudden, violent death.
This cosy mystery is a thoroughly enjoyable, engrossing read. Myers evokes the period well as steady, sensible and very ambitious Nell Drury, working at Wychbourne Hall as Chef, suddenly finds herself confronted with a violent murder of one of the guests – see my review here.

 

Fool’s Gold – Book 8 of the Liberty Lane series by Caro Peacock
September, 1841. A new arrival has taken London society by storm. Lord Byron’s handsome illegitimate son, George, recently arrived from the exotic island of Cephalonia in the company of his guardian, the mysterious Mr Vickery, has been setting female hearts aflutter. But not all the attention George attracts is welcome. Mr Vickery has been receiving disturbing letters from a woman who calls herself Helena, and he hires Liberty Lane to find out who Helena is and what she wants.
Of course, the catch is that it is the eighth book in the series, so would I find myself floundering at all? Nope, not for a second. Peacock is far too adroit and experienced a writer to fall into that pitfall and from the first page, I was pulled into this twisting story where the plot snaked in all sorts of unexpected avenues – see my review here.

 

The Sorcerer’s Garden by Wallace D. Peach
Recently fired and residing with her sweetly overbearing mother, Madlyn needs a job—bad. In a moment of desperation, she accepts a part-time position reading at the bedside of adventurer and amateur writer Cody Lofton. A near-drowning accident left the young man in a vegetative state, and his chances of recovery wane with each passing day. Cody’s older brother, Dustin, and eccentric grandmother aren’t prepared to give up on the youngest son of Portland, Oregon’s royalty. Dustin’s a personable guy, bordering on naïve, and overwhelmed by familial corporate duties and cutthroat partners. Grandmother Lillian’s a meddler with an eye for the esoteric, dabbling in Dustin’s life and dealing out wisdom like a card shark. One innocent conversation at a time, she sucks Madlyn into the Lofton story, dubbing her the princess and bestowing on her the responsibility of both grandsons’ destinies. And all Madlyn wanted was a simple reading job.
I really like Madlyn and her struggle to fit into modern life. When she gets the job, I also like the fact that she finds the setup in the Lofton household a bit weird, if not creepy. But it was a refreshing change to have an elderly woman at the helm of the household and keeping control by an unnerving knack of knowing what is happening before anyone else. Review not yet posted.

 

Because I spent most of one week confined to bed either sleeping or reading, I also managed to clear eight books from my TBR pile. They are:

How To Twist a Dragon’s Tale – Book 5 of How to Train a 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?
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. I’m delighted to report that she does – see my review here.

 

Saven Deception – Book 1 of the Saven series by Siobhan Davis
See above.

 

The Tropic of Serpents – Book 2 of A Natural History of Dragons by Marie Brennan
Attentive readers of Lady Trent’s earlier memoir, A Natural History of Dragons, are already familiar with how a bookish and determined young woman named Isabella first set out on the historic course that would one day lead her to becoming the world’s premier dragon naturalist. Now, in this remarkably candid second volume, Lady Trent looks back at the next stage of her illustrious (and occasionally scandalous) career.
This is, if anything, even better than the first book. I love the first person narrator – Lady Trent is a feisty, unconventional woman driven by an insatiable scientific curiosity and a real concern that dragons will shortly be driven to extinction. Review not yet posted.

 

Reaper – Book 1 of the End Game series by Janet Edwards
In the year 2519, people on Earth don’t grow old and die any longer, their bodies are frozen and they start a new life in the virtual reality of the Game. Jex is almost eighteen, working twelve hour shifts, and dreaming of when she’ll be legally adult and begin her long-planned idyllic life in Game. When a bomber attacks a Game server complex, one of the virtual worlds of Game crashes, and eleven thousand immortal players die during emergency defrost. Death has struck Game for the first time in centuries, and Jex is questioned as a suspect in the bombing.
I really enjoyed this one. Edwards has a knack for writing strong young characters with plenty of depth and suitable lack of experience, but who don’t come over as whiny and annoying. Review not yet posted.

 

Scavenger Alliance – Book 1 of the Exodus series by Janet Edwards
In the year 2408, a century after the invention of interstellar portals, seven hundred people scavenge a living in abandoned New York. The respectable citizens have either withdrawn to new settlements in the countryside, or joined the great exodus of humanity to new, unpolluted colony worlds, but eighteen-year-old Blaze is one of the undesirables that neither the citizen settlements nor the new colony worlds will accept. Blaze’s mother died six years ago. She thinks her father is Donnell, the leader of the uneasy alliance between the remnants of the Earth Resistance and the old criminal gangs. It’s less clear what Donnell thinks, since he barely speaks to her. The alliance is crumbling under the strain of its hardest winter ever, when an old enemy tries to use Blaze as a pawn in a power bid. She thinks her life can’t possibly get more difficult, but then an aircraft carrying three off-worlders arrives in New York.

I loved this one – I think it’s the best book she’s written to date. The sense of danger and tension with a likeable protagonist made this one difficult to put down – see my review here.

 

Cold Welcome – Book 1 of Vatta’s Peace by Elizabeth Moon
Summoned to the home planet of her family’s business empire, space-fleet commander Kylara Vatta is told to expect a hero’s welcome. But instead she is thrown into danger unlike any other she has faced and finds herself isolated, unable to communicate with the outside world, commanding a motley group of unfamiliar troops, and struggling day by day to survive in a deadly environment with sabotaged gear. Only her undeniable talent for command can give her ragtag band a fighting chance.
This is a full-on survival adventure which I loved. And even if you haven’t already had the pleasure, this is an ideal introduction to Moon’s world – see my review here.

 

Scarlet – Book 2 of the Lunar Chronicles by Marissa Meyer
Cinder, the cyborg mechanic, is trying to break out of prison—even though if she succeeds, she’ll be the Commonwealth’s most wanted fugitive. Halfway around the world, Scarlet Benoit’s grandmother is missing. When Scarlet encounters Wolf, a street fighter who may have information as to her grandmother’s whereabouts, she is loath to trust this stranger, but is inexplicably drawn to him, and he to her.
This series niftily blends the current trend for fairytale retellings and rejigs it into a science fiction world where the terrifying Lunar Queen Levana is determined to bring Earth under her control. Review not yet posted.

 

The Sorcerer’s Garden by Wallace D. Peach
See above.

So that is my April roundup. Due to a rush of new releases at the start of May, a number of these reviews have not yet seen the light of day. What about you – have you read any of the above books? If so, what did you think of them?

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

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.