A brilliant end to a wonderful series

black heartTITLE = THE CURSE WORKERS (Book 3): Black Heart

AUTHOR = HOLLY BLACK

GENRE = FANTASY, MAGIC, FAMILY, RELATIONSHIPS

INTEREST LEVEL = YEARS 8 +

This is the third and final book in an intriguing series. Fans of the previous 2 books are sure to be satisfied with Holly Black’s clever conclusion. As usual, Cassel Sharpe finds himself in a tricky situation: trying to keep his mother alive and out of jail, trying to keep away from a life of crime, he has signed up to help the Feds. But can he trust them? Or do they simply want to use him as so many others have used him before?

And is his heart destined to be broken…again? The only girl he has ever loved truly despises him (and given that he once turned her into a cat and his own mother once worked a spell on her, Cassel can’t really blame her). But his heart so wishes it was otherwise.

Meanwhile his best friends are fighting, a girl he doesn’t trust wants his help and the principal keeps threatening to kick him out of school. Life was never meant to be this complicated .. was it?

A  terrific book and a wonderfully inventive series … Cassel Sharpe will worm his way into your heart …even if he thinks his own heart is blackened.

Highly Highly Recommended (dma) *****

A wonderfully varied mix of Steampunk stories

steampunk anthologyTITLE = STEAMPUNK: An Anthology of Fantastically Rich and Strange Stories

EDITORS = KELLY LINK & GAVIN J. GRANT

GENRE = STEAMPUNK, SHORT STORIES

INTEREST LEVEL = YEARS 8 – 10

This collection of short stories certainly lives up to its title … being rich in variety, sometimes strange and always fantastical! Lovers of steampunk will revel in the excitement of seeing this genre push the boundaries of its usual time period and setting. For there are stories here where steampunk visits Ancient Rome (thanks to MT Anderson), the Wild West (Libba Bray) and colonial Australia (Kathleen Jennings). There are stories of romance (however twisted) from Cassandra Clare and Holly Black .. where robotic servants take on a whole new purpose! There are the entertaining adventures of Steam Girl and Rocket Boy (from Dylan Horrocks) which reveal that real life can be dreadfully boring by comparison! Some stories are even in comic-book format (Kathleen Jennings and Shawn Cheng). Some of the authors are likely to be well known to readers (Garth Nix, Libba Bray, Cassandra Clare and Holly Black) and some will be new finds, which is just the sort of delight that one hopes will happen when picking up a collection of writing. Biographical details about each of the writers at the end of the collection will enable readers to extend their reading, too.

So whether you dip in and out of the collection, whether you are familiar to Steampunk or new to its delights, this is a collection well worth exploring.

Highly Recommended (dma) *****

A gritty and compelling vampire story

coldest girl in coldtownTITLE = THE COLDEST GIRL IN COLD TOWN

AUTHOR = HOLLY BLACK

GENRE = FANTASY, SUPERNATURAL, VAMPIRES

INTEREST LEVEL = YEARS

Imagine a world where vampires exist … not the sparkly kind, the dangerous kind. Imagine going to a party one night and waking up the next morning to find all the other party guests have been killed …. by vampires. That is, all but your ex-boyfriend. Do you run? Do you save him? And what about the vampire chained in the corner .. do you take him with you or escape while you can??

This may seem like a nightmare world but it is Tana’s reality.

And so begins a gripping new novel by that wondrous writer, Holly Black. As Tana tries to maintain her sanity, and her humanity, she is driven into increasingly desperate situations. Going on the run with a soon-to-be vampire she once loved and a somewhat crazed vampire who she seems to be falling for, may seem like an act of madness but Tana is intent on staying alive and staying one step ahead of danger. She is not trying to impress anyone, she is not looking for romance – she simply wants to stay alive and human …even if she must risk everything by entering the strange world of Coldtown, where vampires and reality TV seem to have merged.

Only Holly Black could have dreamed up a world like this one: dark and cruel and absolutely fascinating. A world where compassion may be found in the unlikeliest places and where no-one is quite as they seem. A compelling tale from go to whoa which will have readers spellbound, especially those who like their fantasy to be just a little bit gritty.

Highly Highly Recommended (dma) *****  

Beauty & the Beast Fairytale revisited

scarlet in the snow smallTITLE = SCARLET IN THE SNOW

AUTHOR = SOPHIE MASSON

GENRE = FAIRYTALES, FOLK TALES  

INTEREST LEVEL = YEARS 7 – 9

Sophie Masson has woven a beautiful new version of the “Beauty and the Beast” fairytale in this book. Natasha lives with her sisters and mother in an old house in the country. Since their father died, life has been a little harder and her mother has been more care-worn but still Natasha is happy. Unlike her older sisters, she does not miss the balls and gowns that used to be part of their lives when they lived in the city, she is happy roaming the countryside and making up stories. That is, until the day she is lost in a blizzard and comes upon a beautiful red rose in an isolated garden.

The consequences of picking that rose will change Natasha’s life forever. Suddenly she is thrust into a world of witchcraft and magic, so Natasha will need every ounce of courage she can muster to face each day and the trials she must face. Apart from cruel witches there is also the savage beast to contend with and a magic curse from times long ago. Natasha finds she must leave her cosy home behind her and journey to faraway places in her efforts to solve the mystery of the brutish beast and the curse that lies behind her new life… and his. For if she can save his life there may just be a chance of romance and happiness for Natasha too.

A beautifully told story which sets this well-known tale in exotic European-like countries, the romance of the legend is convincingly woven into this tale of mystery and revenge. A joyful read for anyone who loves fairytales in a new guise. And if you enjoy this book, you may like to read another of Sophie Masson’s fairytale retellings: “Moonlight and Ashes” or other retellings of the same tale, such as “Beauty”.

Highly Recommended (dma) *****

Action packed adventure with links to Percy Jackson

heroes-of-olympus-the-lost-heroTITLE = HEROES OF OLYMPUS: The Lost Hero (Book 1)

AUTHOR = RICK RIORDAN

GENRE = ADVENTURE, FAMILY, ANCIENT ROME, ANCIENT GREECE

INTEREST LEVEL = YEARS 7 – 9

Another great adventure with ties to Ancient Myths and Legends, from the very popular author of the “Percy Jackson” series. This is the first book in what could be considered a spin-off from the original series. AT the beginning we meet 3 new characters (Jason, Piper and Leo) who are suddenly propelled into a battle with mythic beings from which they barely escape with their lives before finding refuge at Camp Half-Blood. Jason discovers that all his memories have been stolen by a god, as a lure to sending him on a dangerous quest. And so the 3 teens set off together to try and save a goddess and maybe the world. Whilst Jason is struggling with his lack of memory Leo and Piper are tsruddling weith memories thaht they would prefer to forget. Each of them is harbouring a secret, afraid that if they reveal the truth it could spell the end of their friendship.

With death hovering at the edge of every adventure, this is a compelling and fast-paced story, as could be expected from Rick Riordan. Fans of the original series are sure to enjoy this excursion into territory which is both familiar yet slightly different. Rather than being focussed on the Greek gods (as happened in the Percy Jackson series) this book looks at the comparison between the Greek and Roman myths.  

You don’t need to have read a Percy Jackson story to enjoy this new series … and don’t worry if you are unfamiliar with Ancient Roman mythology, Rick Riordan will take you on an exciting and whirlwind introduction to some very famous myths and characters. These being may now be residing in Canada and the USA but with clever (and often humorous) echoes with their Ancient past. A truly entertaining read which is sure to be enjoyed by boys and girls alike.

Highly Recommended (dma) *****

An exciting horror adventure awaits … if you dare to read….

screaming staircaseTITLE = LOCKWOOD & CO. : The Screaming Staircase (Book 1)

AUTHOR = JONATHAN STROUD

GENRE = GHOSTS, FANTASY, SUPERNATURAL, ADVENTURE, HORROR

INTEREST LEVEL = YEARS 7 – 10

A bit of horror, a bit of humour and a whole lot of adventure … this book has it all. Set in a world where ghosts come out to play at night, and they like to play nasty, scary, life threatening games! Lockwood and Co is a small company of psychic investigators; for a price they will come in and rid your home of those nasty spectres, they will banish the ghosts to eternity.

Well, that is what Lucy has trained for and that is why she has joined forces with the dashing Anthony Lockwood and his side-kick, their researcher, George. The three teenagers hope to make a name for themselves, even though they are working solo, without the usual adult supervisor. However, it is hard to be taken seriously when your exploits have a tendency to go slightly awry. Customers may want the ghosts to disappear but they don’t necessarily want their house to be burnt down in the process!

This is the predicament they find themselves in early in the novel. To avoid going out of business, they must solve a mystery and take on the scariest challenge ever: a challenge that has already taken the lives of many other ghost seekers. Can they survive the night on the renowned “screaming staircase”? Will Lockwood lead his charges safely or will they pay with their lives for his recklessness?

An exciting adventure awaits readers … and the best news is, this is the first in a series of books by Jonathan Stroud – so there are plenty more to come. This book has already been nominated for a number of awards, including the Edgar award (US award for mystery writing).

Check out the website based on the series or read the interactive shortstory featuring Lockwood and his crew, here.

This book has been Longlisted for the 2014 Silver Inky Award.

Highly Recommended (dma) *****

A beautiful fairytale retelling

beautyTITLE = BEAUTY

AUTHOR = ROBIN McKINLEY

GENRE = FANTASY, FAIRY TALE, ROMANCE

INTEREST LEVEL = YEARS 7 – 10

This is a much-loved rewriting of a much-lived fairytale: Beauty and the Beast. The story takes a fairly traditional approach: at the beginning, Beauty and her family are well off and happy but when her father’s fortunes are lost, the family must move to a small town near haunted woods.  Here the Beast is encountered and Beauty offers to go and live with him, to save her father’s life.

Beauty is a clever, kind and brave girl, more interested in books and studying than in the world of romance, especially if she is virtually a prisoner in the beast’s home. Can she can learn to like this beast… maybe even love him??

A gentle story beautifully told …  with plenty of ups and downs and a satisfying ending.

And if you enjoyed this story, why not read other versions of the Beauty & the Beast tale such as “Scarlet in the Snow” by Sophie Masson.

Recommended (dma) ****

An exciting foray into the gearpunk world

TITLE = THE RITHMATIST

AUTHOR = BRANDON SANDERSON

GENRE = GEARPUNK, ADVENTURE, MAGIC, FANTASY,SERIES

INTEREST LEVEL = YEARS 7-9

Journey into the “Gearpunk” world of “the Rithmatist” for fun, fantasy and adventure. Young Joel is the son of a chalk maker and an enthusiastic devotee of Rithmatists, those who use chalk drawings to wield magic. Using complex mathematical formulae and symbols, Rithmatists can create in chalk elaborate defences and mount attacks against enemies. They can also create chalklings to further extend their powers. But what if these abilities are used against the Rithmatists themselves?? Who can stave off such attacks??

Joel is keen to help: he has an amazing knowledge of the Rithmatist’s lore and would dearly love to be able to wield power as they do; but he missed his opportunity as a youngster. Can he join forces with the professor and the remedial Rithmatist student, Melody, to save the day?? Or will he simply make enemies of those with great power? This is an exciting foray into a new fantasy series – one with engines powered by unusual gears and cogs, one with an odd mix of mathematics and magic, one where courage is needed to face great odds.

An exciting mystery and fantasy set in a gearpunk world created by a famed fantasy writer: Brandon Sanderson. Check out his website and blog here.

Check out the book trailer below, too:

Highly Recommended (dma) *****

If a dinosaur travelled to mediaeval times … oops!

TITLE = DINOSAUR KNIGHTS

AUTHOR = MICHAEL GERARD BAUER

GENRE = TIME TRAVEL, KNIGHTS, ADVENTURE

INTEREST LEVEL = YEARS 7, 8

Take a scientist who believes he can play with time, a dinosaur and some medieval twins and you have the recipe for an unusual adventure. Roland and Oswald have known better times when they grew up in the castle as the twin sons of the esteemed doctor. Since their father has fallen out of favour their lives have been turned upside down and Roland’s dreams of becoming a knight seem hopeless. Or are they? What happens when an unsuspecting dinosaur is transported into their time … and mistaken for a fire-breathing dragon? Will Roland get his chance to face the dragon and save the princess?? Or will he and his brother simply be collateral damage in a scientist’s attempt to play with time??

Michael Gerard Bauer has all the ingredients for an entertaining story which young readers are sure to enjoy.

Recommended (dma) ****

An intriguing, and at times wry, set of gaslamp short stories

TITLE = WILFUL IMPROPRIETY

EDITOR = EKATERINA SEDIA

GENRE = VICTORIAN AGE, MAGIC, GASLAMP FICTION

INTEREST LEVEL = YEARS 10+

As Scott Westerfeld explains in his foreword, the Victorian era was an intriguing mix of decorum and chaos; decorum was evident in the strict social mores of the time whilst the development of the steam engine meant that the social barriers of the times were constantly being threatened. This wonderful collection of stories plays on this contrast. Many of the characters take a leaf from Shakespeare’s plays and have their heroes/heroines use cross-dressing camouflage  to explore the times (“At Will by Leanne Renee Hieber and “Resurrection” by Tiffany Trent are two fine examples). Popular NZ author, Karen Healey,   introduces a touch of magic to spice up the romance in “Mrs Beeton’s Book of Magikal Management”. Whilst others explore the romance and propriety of the Social Season in “The Language of Flowers” (Caroline Stevermer) and “”The Dancing Master” (Genevieve Valentine). This is a book to be dipped into with great pleasure to see how other young folk rebelled against the strictures of their times … to follow their hearts or simply to survive a Season.

Highly Recommended (dma) *****