A beautifully written story with a dark edge

TITLE = THE BONE DRAGON

AUTHOR = ALEXIA CASALE

GENRE = FAMILY RELATIONSHIPS, REVENGE, DRAGONS, FANTASY

INTEREST LEVEL = YEARS 10-11

This is a genuinely spinechilling novel but cleverly crafted so that the chills literally creep up on you in unexpected ways. The novel’s cover looks magical but we soon realise there is a bleak layer beneath that surface appearance.

Evie is recovering from an operation which removed a fractured rib. From this rib she begins to carve a magical and beautiful dragon with whom she has night time rambles on the fens surrounding her home. There is beauty and magic in the descriptions of these nightly forays – darkness, mist and dampness suddenly look quite bewitching rather than scary  – when you have a dragon accompanying you. Dragon says he has come to protect Evie and his nightly rambles seem to help her sleep and recover more fully. But is there a darker reason for these adventures? We suspect that Evie has been badly treated by her mother and grandparents and part of the gripping feel of this book comes from our desire to learn the truth of Evie’s past. The more we guess, the more we pity her for what she has suffered and what she still suffers. For Evie is subjected to bullying from one of the lads at school – but this is where the first warning comes into the story … has Evie coirrectly interpreted events?

The reader will be on the edge of their seats as they turn the last few pages with equal amounts of awe and dread: the ending will stun and surprise and make you adjust your thoughts – not just about Evie but also about the ethics of revenge and the nature of evil. This is the true magic of this amazing and compelling novel by first time author, Alexia Casale; beautifully written but with a layer of darkness beneath each page.

Highly Recommended (dma) *****

A new look at the Galahad story

TITLE = PUREHEART

AUTHOR = CASSANDRA GOLDS

GENRE = MYTHS & LEGENDS, ARTHURIAN LEGEND, ROMANCE, GRIEF, REVENGE

INTEREST LEVEL = YEARS 9-11

This is a very sad and often heart-breaking spin on the Galahad legend. The first half of the story in particular seems to be filled with tales of woe: dreadful bullying at school for Deirdre, more subtle bullying at home from her Grandmother – and the one shining light in the gloom is forbidden – her friendship with Gal. And overlying this central story is a constant sense of dread and doom: we know that something bad has happened in the past between Deirdre and Gal, so bad that neither can properly remember what happened … we are desperate to learn the truth behind this mystery but also fearful of what that truth may actually be.

Surely young Gal is as pure of heart as in the legend (and the title of the story) … isn’t he?

By novels’ end, all will be revealed and the awful tale of revenge and grief will have been unravelled. Our hero and heroine must learn some painful life lessons which may make them purer of heart … but not necessarily happy little vegemites!

Fans of Cassandra Golds award winning “The Three Loves of Persimmon” will be intrigued by the author’s further foray into the world of love and understanding but the beauty and joy of that earlier novel is replaced by resigned forbearance in her newer book and the writing seems less magical.

There are some clever references to the original legend (in the naming of the block of flats where Deirdre lives, in the parentage of Gal) but the overall mood and feel of the book may be unexpected for those familiar with the story of the perfect knight, Sir Galahad, retriever of the Holy Grail, although the ending captures the essence of that tale’s conclusion and may make us look at that tale with fresh eyes.

This book gained a Notables listing in the 2014 CBCA Book of the Year (Older Readers)

Read more about this author who will be appearing at MWF in 2013.

Read a post about her earlier book here.

Recommended (dma) ***

A lyrical story from the selkie world

TITLE = SEA HEARTS

AUTHOR = MARGO LANAGAN

GENRE = FANTASY, FAMILY, COMMUNITY, RELATIONSHIPS

INTEREST LEVEL = YEARS 10+

What an extraordinary book!

This amazing book will entice readers into a foreign world of magic and mystery with a heart breaking tale of revenge and love. The lyrical language will lure readers into the story and delight them at the same time. Whilst the central story will capture their hearts.

The island of Rollrock seems to be at the mercy of the elements: such a windy, cold place which seems to demand hardiness from its inhabitants. Meanwhile the surrounding sea not only provides families with a livelihood but also provides them with mystery and wonder. The seals which lollop on the beach front may be scorned but their females (the selkies) seem to weave a charm on the hearts of the local men. Or is the spell woven by the local witch? Is it a spell of love or a curse of revenge? And most importantly, will it bring harm to the Rollrock community or can it be broken?

This story is cleverly woven from different perspectives of some of the key players on the island; their separate stories will gradually come together in a moving end. This is a book to be treasured and a book which readers will find hard to put down and even harder to forget.

This novel is a worthy selection on the shortlist for the 2013 CBCA Book of the Year (Older Readers).

Highly Recommended (dma) *****

A nail-biting end to a saga of betrayal and revenge

TITLE = QUINTANA OF CHARYN

AUTHOR = MELINA MARCHETTA

GENRE = FANTASY, POLITICAL INTRIGUE, FAMILY

INTEREST LEVEL = YEARS 11, 12

Having left readers on a cliffedge at the end of book 2 in this series (“Quintara of Charyn”), from the opening page of this final instalment, Melina Marchetta steps back into the same sense of dread and doom that permeated the middle section of this intriguing series. In book 2, the only glimmer of lightness came when we visited the Queen of Lumatere, Isaboe and her beloved husband and child, Finnikin and Jasmina. Yet book 3 opens with the couple fighting. What does this mean for the happy couple and the future of their land?

Isaboe has been hell-bent on revenge, having lost her entire family to assassins. But as the reader knows, this means she has unknowingly sent her husband out to kill the father of Froi, the young man whom Isaboe and Finnikin cherish as a friend.

Book 1 in this series was about displaced persons and the need for a homeland; book 2 was about betrayal and loyalty on both a personal and national level. Book 3 builds on both themes, for much of this novel is about choices; in particular the choices we make in the name of family loyalty and love. So many of the characters have experienced pain at the hands of others, yet so few of them seem capable of getting past this pain, in fact, many seem determined to inflict pain on others in the name of justice. It seems rare for many of these public figures to show kindness and compassion.

Cleverly, the comparisons between the lives of Quintara and Isaboe are sharply drawn in this third book: both women are pregnant, both imagine they are having sons, both carry the babes of men who love them, both are queens but here the similarities seem to end. Whilst Quintara seems cruel and crazy and hated by most of her kingdom, Isaboe seems the model diplomat and rational ruler. Until they cross paths. Will Isaboe take revenge on her “rival” simply because she is linked to the assassins who destroyed her family? And if so, at what cost to her own sanity? And could such action put Lumatere at risk? Or will Isaboe learn some hard lessons about the ugly side of revenge?

Another compelling novel in the Lumatere Chronicles which is sure to leave readers satisfied and amazed with Marchetta’s craft at tying together the complex and thoughtful strands of this fascinating saga.

Highly Recommended (dma) *****

Does the end really justify the means?

iBoyTITLE = iBoy

AUTHOR =Kevin Brooks

GENRE =Growing up, Identity

INTEREST LEVEL =Years 10 and up


Tom Harvey is on his way home from school, planning on catching up with a friend, when from the roof of his housing estate block of flates comes hurtling an iphone. When it hits Tom in the head, not only is he knocked out and sent into a coma for 2 weeks but also, parts of the phone become embedded in his brain, giving him extra powers. These powers allow Tom to tap into mobile phone networks, access the internet and make online banking and social network connections – all in his new ibrain! When Tome awakens from his coma to discover he has these new abilities, he also learns, devastatingly, that his good friend (and wold be girlfirend) Lucy has been assaulted by local gangs. So he decides to use his new powers to seek for revenge on Lucy’s behalf – without telling her, of course.

And so this novel takes Tom (and readers) on an interesting moral journey – because Tom realises that his ibrain gives him the ability to have power over others – it can tell him who, when, what, where and how to exact violence upon them – but it does all this in a moral vacuum. Only real Tom (not iBoy Tom) can put his actions into a moral context and consider such things as whether or not the ends DO justify the means, and whether revenge will actually make Lucy feel better, whether he is doing it more for himself, than herself.

This is indeed a powerful and a thought provoking book and makes a gripping read. But it is not for the faint hearted – there are several very violent scenes in the book – and the issues and events are therefore more suitable for older readers.

Look here for another review.

And if you enjoyed this book you might also enjoy: Kill the possum (James Moloney) or You Against Me (Jenny Downham)

Highly Recommended for mature readers (dma) *****