It has all your favourite things! Adventure, maps… and a sad ending.

The-Girl-of-Ink-and-Stars-by-Kiran-Millwood-HargraveTitle: The Girl of Ink and Stars
Author: Kiran Millwood Hargrave
Interest Level: Year 7 +

They say the day the Governor arrived, so did the ravens. And the songbirds, in their despair, flew backwards into the sea. That’s why there are no songbirds on Joya.

Isabella loves stories and her father, an explorer and renowned cartographer, is a master storyteller. But since the Governor arrived on their island, there has been no need for map making – exploration is forbidden and no one is allowed to leave the island.

When her best friend Lupe, the Governor’s daughter, goes missing – Isabella is determined to help find her. Armed with only ink, parchment, her knowledge of the stars and the stories of her father, Isabella joins the search party to navigate the island’s forgotten territories. But the monsters in her father’s stories are more real than she could have imagined, Isabella must face her fears to find her friend. The vivid descriptions and stunning rendering of the book itself will draw you into this beautiful tale of courage and wonder. The debut novel of Kiran Millwood Hargrave showcases her flair for poetry and love of short stories, embedded within this fantasy tale.

Highly recommended: **** (ofr)

 

 

A new fantasy author brings a fresh approach to the Quest story

book of daysTITLE = THE BOOK OF DAYS

AUTHOR = K.A. BARKER

GENRE = FANTASY, FRIENDSHIP, ADVENTURE  

INTEREST LEVEL = YEARS 10+

An unusual world is presented in this fantasy story by a brand new author. A world where half the country believes in magic and the Days (the gods of their magical world) while the other half deplore this reliance on magic and will do all they can to eradicate it from daily life.

All 16 year old Tuesday  wants to know, though, is who she really is and why she was sent to sleep in “the Unreality House” , the place where people go to be forgotten. Equally important is why has she been awakened NOW by Quintalian and can he be trusted?? He has promised to take her wherever she wishes to go, even on the perilous journey to find the Book of Days and learn the truth about her background.

Along the way Tuesday is ably supported by the skilled warrior woman , Hester and  a blind Librarian’s assistant (Riley) and she really does need all the help she can muster when she comes up against the cruel and brutal, Sterling who is relentless in his desire to end Tuesday’s life.

Will she survive to finish her quest? Will her friends stay true when put to the test? And most importantly, can she find the Book of Days or has it gone forever?

Fans of fantasy are sure to enjoy exploring this new world.

Recommended (dma) ****  

An exciting icy adventure

ice breakerTITLE = THE HIDDEN SERIES: Ice Breaker (Book 1)

AUTHOR = LIAN TANNER

GENRE = FANTASY, ADVENTURE, STEAMPUNK, FRIENDSHIP, RELATIONSHIPS   

INTEREST LEVEL = YEARS 7, 8

As the title suggest, this novel is based around an intriguing world on board an icebreaking ship (Oyster) which inhabits the icy regions of the south. On the Oyster there are 3 tribes: Braid (Oficers); Dufftown (Cooks) and Grease Alley (Engineers) – each with their own uniform, their own set of duties and their own level on the ship. So everyone on board has a designated place …. all except Petrel, who is shunned by all on board the ship: she has no name to the others (“Nothing Girl” they call her) and no rights – she is even hunted down by some… all because of a supposed betrayal by her dead parents about which neither she (nor the reader) knows the details … until they are gradually revealed in this story.

Having grown up in this world, Petrel is understandably used to living on her wits and trusting no-one. But when she helps to rescue a young lad abandoned on the ice, Petrel finds she must trust some on the ship if this young man is to be saved… indeed her own survival may depend upon it. But will her trust in this boy be her own undoing?? And once the truth about him is revealed…. Will anyone on board be safe??

Fast moving, this is an exciting adventure that will suck the reader into this strange new world ….and keep a firm hold of them until the very last page. As the first of a new series, readers who enjoy this book will be pleased to know there is plenty of excitement still to come.

Shortlisted for the 2013 Aurealis Award for Best Children’s Book (Australian fantasy) and selected as a Notable Book for Younger Readers in the 2014 CBCA Book of the Year (Younger Readers).

Highly Recommended (dma) *****

Non-stop action and adventure

house of secretsTITLE = HOUSE OF SECRETS (Book 1)

AUTHOR = CHRIS COLUMBUS & NED VIZZINI

GENRE = ACTION, ADVENTURE, FANTASY, ROMANCE, FAMILY 

INTEREST LEVEL = YEARS 7-8

Action packed from go to whoa, this is a great book with an inventive plot. The Walker family, including three children (Cordelia, Brendan and Eleanor) have just moved into Kristoff House.  An amazing old house, it soon becomes apparent that there are powerful forces of magic at work and before long the three children are thrown into a dangerous adventure. They must battle pirates, ogres and a wicked witch before they can find their way home. The Walker children realise that they must work together and use each of their strengths if they are to survive.  …. And the hero of the hour may be somewhat unexpected!.

This is a wonderful story about the power of books, the power of words and the power of wishes. There is a lot of humour in the sibling rivalry and bickering and even a touch of romance to add a bit of spice. All in all, a very entertaining first book in what promises to be an exciting series.

Recommended (dma) ****

A sparkling sequel in an original and magical series

Cracks in the Kingdom CVR.pdTITLE = THE COLOURS OF MADELEINE Book 2: THE CRACKS IN THE KINGDOM

AUTHOR = JACLYN MORIARTY

GENRE = FANTASY, FAMILIES, RELATIONSHIPS, ROMANCE, GRIEF, FATHERS, FRIENDSHIP, GROWING UP

INTEREST LEVEL = YEARS 9+

Jaclyn Moriarty has crafted a wonderful sequel in a clever and thoughtful series. Filled with a delicious blend of magic, science, adventure and romance…with credible characters who will draw readers into their stories. Again the book follows the stories of Elliott (in Cello) and Madeleine (in Cambridge, the World) but there is an added strand to the story in the sequel: the story of Princess Ko’s attempts to retrieve her royal family members who have been sent into the World by Hostiles (where they have forgotten their identities and ties to Cello). So there is an added political intrigue behind their new adventures, especially as Elliott is part of the team who have been nominated to help find the royal family … even though this means working with Madeleine to open up the crack between their worlds, despite the risk of death if he is discovered.

This book is about mirrors and cracks: in the world, in families and in individuals: he depths we will go to in order to find and/or protect our loved ones … the grief we will feel at their loss. It is also about politics and looking beneath the surface of people: spies pop up at every turn, allies and friends may have hidden depths of despair … no-one is quite as they seem.

Moriarty balances each strand of the story cleverly, with plenty of new twists and turns in the plot and in the characterisations.  As in the first novel (A Corner of White, read a review here), Jaclyn Moriarty’s writing simply sparkles: it is an absolute joy to read each line. Readers will be left asking for more, and impatiently awaiting the last volume in the series.

Read an interview with Jaclyn Moriarty about writing this series, here.

Highly Recommended (dma) *****

A gothic fairytale in small town America

far far awayTITLE = FAR, FAR AWAY

AUTHOR = TOM MCNEAL

GENRE = FAIRYTALES, GOTHIC HORROR, RELATIONSHIPS, COMMUNITY 

INTEREST LEVEL = YEARS 9+

This is an unusual tale, filled with ghosts and the whisper of grim fairytales, where children go missing and evil lurks around the corner. There is a real sense of other-wordliness about this story partly because the narrator is none other than the ghost of Jacob Grimm (yes, of the Grimm brothers’ fame).

Unable to crossover after his death and meet his beloved brother Wilhelm, Jacob believes his destiny is to look after Jeremy Johnson Johnson and ensure that he doesn’t fall into the clutches of the “Finder of Occasions”. So he whispers in Jeremy’s ear and tells him spooky fairytales.

Jeremy is a quiet boy, with few friends – partly because he hears voices (Jacob’s whispers) and partly because he loves reading fairytales (surprise, surprise). He is a kindly lad who cares for his father, bedridden with grief since his wife left them many years ago. But Jeremy is shunned by the townspeople after an unfortunate prank … is the beguiling Ginger simply leading him astray? Or can she help him find his way to fame and fortune … so that he can save his home from the debt collectors?

Jeremy & Ginger need to stay one step ahead of the “Finder of Occasions” … whoever he may be… for if they are caught they may join the ranks of other missing children. Can Jacob help save them or is he too busy watching the wrong person?

A spooky tale that mesmerises readers into believing in fairytales … and hoping for the best for our young hero, Jeremy and his friend, Ginger. This book has won numerous awards, including the California Book Award Gold Medal (2013), it has been shortlisted for the US National Book Award (2013) and been a finalist in the Edgar Allan Poe Mystery Awards (2013) as well as gaining many, many acclaimed reviews from school libraries. A great choice if you are interested in spooky fairytale-like stories.

Highly Recommended (dma) *****

A gothic horror with a literary twist

fairytales for wildeTITLE = FAIRYTALES FOR WILDE GIRLS

AUTHOR = ALLYSE NEAR

GENRE = GOTHIC, HORROR, FAIRYTALES, FAMILIES, RELATIONSHIPS, GROWING UP, GRIEF, MENTAL HEALTH

INTEREST LEVEL = YEARS 10+

Does Isola live in a fantasy world or is the fantasy simply happening in her head? When we first meet this teenage girl who lives on the edge of a “dark and scary wood”, we are certainly introduced to an unusual setting and an unusual girl. Living with her gruff and often absent dad and with a somewhat unbalanced mum to care for, it may come as no surprise that Isola often loses herself in her beloved book of fairytales and surrounds herself with imaginary friends that seem to come from a rather twisted fairyland. For the mermaids, warriors, fairies and heroes who seem to be her best friends and greatest protectors, all seem to have lived and died violently.

Yet Isola also inhabits a very real world with school and its normal assortment of friends and foes, of bossy teachers and deadlines, of swimming carnivals, tests and detentions. And she also has two boys vying for her affections.

How does a girl live a life haunted by her mother’s illness, haunted by her namesake’s short life and haunted by her fears … is Isola brave enough to face the truth of her world or will she simply waste away? Will she spurn the help of those who care for her, those who really can help her … can she break free from the horrors she has witnessed, from the ties of family?    

This novel may be a challenge for some readers, especially in the early pages as the focus and style seem to change all too rapidly but it is well worth the effort. Ultimately, readers might have different views about whether it is a clever fantasy story or a book about mental health and resilience… but there is certainly plenty to think about and plenty to enjoy in the writing.

 It is no surprise to find that this novel is the winner of a number of awards (gaining two 2013 Aurealis awards –  joint-winner of Best Young Adult Novel and winner of the Best Horror Novel) and it has been shortlisted for the 2014 CBCA Book of the Year Award (Older Readers) and long-listed for the 2014 Gold Inky Awards.

This book was announced as A CBCA HONOUR BOOK!! CONGRATULATIONS TO ALLYSE NEAR.

 Highly Recommended ****(dma)

 

A witches brew indeed

undermy hatTITLE = UNDER MY HAT: TALES FROM THE CAULDRON

AUTHOR = JONATHAN STRAHAN (ed)

GENRE = SHORT STORIES, WITCHES 

INTEREST LEVEL = YEARS 8+

If you like witches then you will love this book. Every story is about a witch or wizardly being – some are dark and scary, some are hauntingly beautiful, some are quite funny and clevr as they play on common witch mythology. There are longish stories and there are poems ( Some witches fit the ‘black hat, black cat” mould and some really stretch this image to its limits: so some stories will appeal to younger audiences and some to older readers (“The threefold world” by Ellen Kushner). This is not just a book about magic spells (“Payment Due” by Frances Hardinge and “A Handful of Ashes” by Garth Nix), it is also a book about the magic of life (although you may need the tissues for “Stray Magic” by Diana Peterfreund). Whilst some of the stories hark back to older times, others focus on a more modern wicca experience (“Little Gods” by Holly Black) Some stories are a little spooky and some are unexpectedly warm-hearted and some manage to combine elements of both (“The Witch in the Wood” by Delia Sherman). An absolute favourite is the very clever “The Stone Witch” by the queen of Australian fantasy, Isobelle Carmody.  Fantastic Aussie author Margo Lanagan , provides a suitably weird and thoughtful : “Crow and Caper, Caper and Crow”). The funniest story (in a dry sort of way) continues the wizardly detective work of Jim Butcher’s hero, Harry Dresden  in “B is for Bigfoot).

Basically, there is something in this collection for everyone: whether you are a huge wiutch fan, or even if witches are not reasly your fave .. Dip in a nd out .. choose fave authors or try someone new … that’s the fun  of a collection of stories. And the introduction which sketches in the historical and literary background of witches will delight witch lovers and intrigue those new to (or less enthusiastic about) witches. Plus bios of authors at the end are very readable and add to the overall enjoyment of this book.

Highly Recommended (dma) *****

Plenty of adventure and fantasy

ruins of gorlan newTITLE = RANGER’S APPRENTICE Book 1 : The Ruins of Gorlan

AUTHOR = JOHN FLANAGAN

GENRE = ACTION/ADVENTURE, FANTASY,

INTEREST LEVEL = YEARS 7, 8

Will has always dreamed of being a knight, despite his small size. So when he is denied this chance and instead sent to become an apprentice to a ranger he is disappointed, to say the least. It doesn’t help matters that the ranger himself (Halt) is a man of few words and quite a hard task master.

However, under Halt’s tutelage, Will learns that being a ranger is not as easy as he had at first thought: there are many new and unexpected skills for him to learn and several weapons to master. This newly gained knowledge may come in handy when the kingdom faces a dire threat. Is Will up to the challenge? Will he have the courage and the cleverness required to save the day?

This is a fast paced adventure, the first in a series. Will is a likeable hero and has a lot to learn about himself and his friends. It is easy to see why this book has been so popular with so many students: it is a great read.

Find out about later books in the series here: Halt’s Peril and The Kings of Clonmel

Find out more about the series on the great website dedicated to The Rangers Apprentice

And if you like this book, you may also like John Flanagan’s Brotherband series: reviewed here (Book 1 and Book 2)

Highly Recommended (dma) ***** 

An unusual and amusing tale of adventure, myth and mayhem

houndedTITLE = THE IRON DRUID CHRONICLES #1: Hounded

AUTHOR = KEVIN HEARNE

GENRE = FANTASY, HUMOUR, MYTHS & LEGENDS

INTEREST LEVEL = YEARS 10 – 12

 Atticus O’Sullivan is the last of the Druids. He runs an occult bookshop in Arizona and is happily minding his own business when life is turned upside down for him. Atticus has in his possession a famous sword (Fragarach – the Answerer) but the Celtic god who previously owned this sword wants it back and will use any means to achieve this end. Atticus has always been careful (some would say he is paranoid about safety) but it seems even harder than usual for him to know who to trust – are the local witches on his side? Will his werewolf friends help out? Will the local cops believe him … and what of that pesky neighbour??

Perhaps the only one he can truly trust is his beloved wolfhound, Oberon with whom he communicates in thought ..

Life is certainly never boring for Atticus and readers will be cheering him on as he faces one danger after another. Action packed and very,  very funny – a most entertaining read with a new take on magic and the supernatural. Thankfully this is not a stand alone novel but the first in an engaging new series.

Highly Recommended (dma) ***** For more mature readers