Showing posts with label Fantasy. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Fantasy. Show all posts

Saturday, 19 January 2019

The Fork, The Witch, and the Worm

The Fork, The Witch, and the Worm by Christopher Paolini (Penguin Random House) PB RRP $24.99 ISBN 9780241392379

Paolini began writing The Inheritance Cycle at fifteen, this book being the fifth in the series set in the world of Alagaesia. The hero, Eragon departed from the there a year ago in search of the perfect home to train a new generation of Dragon Riders. He must undertake a seemingly endless sea of tasks: constructing a vast dragonhold, wrangling with suppliers, guarding dragon eggs and dealing with belligerent Urgals and haughty elves. A vision from the Eldunari, unexpected visitors and an exciting Urgal legend offer a much-needed distraction and a new perspective.

Paolini’s Inheritance Cycle series (Eragon, Eldest, Brisngr and Inheritance) has sold more than 35 million copies worldwide and has been translated into over 40 languages. No doubt this latest book will be eagerly awaited by his fans. If you haven’t read any of the books in the series, you will most likely find his latest difficult as the first chapter mentions numerous characters from the previous books.

Sunday, 21 October 2018

His Name was Walter

His Name was Walter by Emily Rodda (Angus and Robertson/Harper Collins) PB RRP $22.99 ISBN 978146071203

Reviewed by Nean McKenzie

This middle grade fiction book is about a group of kids in a haunted house — what could be better? The reader is led from a story into another story, which at first seems like a fairy tale, but as it goes on, seems more and more real. Emily Rodda, writer of more than fifty books, expertly crafts a tale that moves between the past and the future, and fantasy and reality. His Name was Walter is an adventure, a mystery and a coming of age story, all in one.

The story is from the point of view of Colin, who is new at his school and on an excursion. The bus breaks down in bad weather and four students (and their teacher Mrs Fiori) take shelter in an old mansion nearby. There are creepy stories about the house, but there's nowhere else to go. Colin discovers a book called His Name was Walter and Mrs Fiori encourages the children to read it.
The story of Walter describes an orphan boy who grows up in a beehive and his journey to a town far away where he meets a girl called Sparrow. Colin and the quiet Tara, who is aware of unseen things, are completely drawn in. Grace, a pretty, impatient girl, feels scared for unexplained reasons in certain rooms in the house. Cynical Lucas seems oblivious to it all. But as Walter's tale goes on, the spirits in the house seem to be trying to prevent it from being told.

There are moments of genuine scariness in this story. The power goes off. There's a mysterious locked room. But the scariest is the idea of a 'story' being real. The children realise there was a real town, a real mansion, and that is where they are this night. They must draw on the courage and work together to get through the story, right to the end.

This book is structured so well. I was initially confused as to why Walter would be surrounded by animals who act like people, but this is explained. The characters of the school children are believable without stereotypes and all develop in their own way.

My Name is Walter is a fast-paced and entertaining read for upper primary children.

Tuesday, 14 August 2018

The Institute of Fantastical Inventions

The Institute of Fantastical Inventions by Dave Leys, illustrated by Shane Ogilvie (Harbour Publishing House) PP RRP  $14.99 ISBN: 978-1-922134-93-6

Reviewed by Julie Dascoli

For all your wildest fantasies, the Institute of Fantastical Inventions is the go to place. The more absurd your fantasy is, the more they like it at IFI.

With a huge team of scientists, headed by Director Baldy Bob, we have Leo McGuffin, the main character, Edward Bump, the child genius, Andrea Allsop, and many others. The teams put their expertise together to make the zaniest of requests come true for their clients. The outrageous requests include a person who wants a third leg that glows in the dark and a young  girl who wants steam to blow out of her ears like a locomotive.

After discovering the plans for all of the fantasies from IFI have been stolen by Pip Poplet, the villain and in secret partnership with their Director, Director Baldybob, Leo and his wacky science mates set out to catch the crook and expose the director for the traitor that he is. 

Leo’s prickly relationship with Andrea Allsop is set aside to solve the crime, and almost becomes a romance. (Not that Leo realizes it.) The Outrageous plan the scientists plot to save the company is every bit as crazy as the ideas they come up with for their clients.

This is Dave Leys’ first young adult novel. From Sydney, Leys is an English teacher who, according to him, wishes he was good at science. Undoubtedly, he has tapped into the wacky craziness that children enjoy reading, and just maybe McGuffin is his alter ego.

When I picked up this small, novel, the colourful cover with the wacky, illustrated characters, intertwined in the title, I somehow had a good idea where this story was going to take me. The black and white illustrations throughout, in a cartoon style, are funny and engaging and assist in the telling of this story: Shane Ogilvie certainly helped us know the characters.

This is a great read for both boys and girls between the ages of 8 to 11 years. The wacky adventure and sense of humour will keep them reading on. It’s a book suitable for readers of David Walliams and those who enjoy light mystery/sleuth bookswith a crazy slant -- lovers.



Friday, 21 July 2017

Fabled Kingdom Book 1

Fabled Kingdom Book 1 by Queenie Chan, (Bento Comics) PP RRP $14.99 ISBN 9781925376029

Reviewed by Karen Hendriks

Queenie Chan has written and illustrated The Fabled Kingdom Book 1, an intriguing graphic novel that updates fairytales into a modern world.  Its striking cover will draw readers, and gives a glimpse of what will unfold.

The book, which suits readers from 12 years and up, is the first in a series of three, with three central characters, each being based upon the era of kingdoms. It is divided into seven parts that clearly depict the journey of the book’s protagonist Celsia. She is a modern-day ‘Red Hood’ who is training with her grandmother to become a healer in a small village deep in the woods. Things are not all as they seem and before long, Celsia discovers her grandmother isn’t her real grandmother. Thus she flees her village on a quest of self-discovery. Quillon, Celsia’s childhood friend who is entrusted with keeping her safe, joins her, along with Pylus, a loveable faun, whom she meets on a never-ending brick path.  Each character plays their role, but it is refreshing to see a strong female character as the leader and decision-maker.

With unanswered and puzzling questions about her origins, Celsia must seek out her true-born grandmothers who are both powerful queens of magical kingdoms. By uncovering the truth of her heritage, Celsia is able to save the troubled kingdom of Fallinor whose people have been asleep for 60 years. Invasion and politics of the day has kept this troubled kingdom hidden behind a big, black wall of brambles. In her quest, Celsia is finally able to understand her own identity.

Detailed manga-style comic illustrations strongly support the written text and add layers of meaning to the story while the text is imaginative and well-written with a steady pace that is sure to keep readers gripped and wanting to know more. Different fairytales with an original spin appear throughout the story. The Fabled Kingdom certainly won’t disappoint readers of this genre.

Author-illustrator Queenie Chan who has a background in graphic design, is based in Sydney: her first professionally published work was The Dreaming Series. She has also worked with best-selling authors such as Dean Koontz and is well-regarded for her work in the Australian graphic novel and comic industry.

The reviewer, Karen Hendriks, is a children’s author and speaker whose

Monday, 12 June 2017


Spellslinger by Sebastien De Castell (Allen and Unwin) PB RRP $19.99
ISBN 9781471406119

Reviewed by Daniela Andrews

Kellen is almost sixteen years old and rapidly approaching his magical trials. Will he become a mage of Jan’Tep, like his powerful father Ke’heops? Or will he instead be declared an unmagical ‘Sha’Tep weakling’, destined only to serve a mage? The pressure is on. His younger sister, Shalla, has already sparked magical bands in multiple disciplines, but Kellen has none.

Desperate to avoid the shame of being declared Sha’Tep, Kellen passes his first trial by tricking his opponent into believing he is performing a spell against him. (‘Magic is a con game.’) Shalla pronounces him a cheat and then casts her own spell against him, hoping he’ll find some magic within to shield it. He doesn’t – and she nearly kills him. Fortunately, a mysterious stranger (Ferius Parfax) saves his life.

Ferius, whom the townspeople suspect to be a Daroman spy, empathises with Kellen and continues to look out for him. When Kellen discovers the shameful truth about the Jan’Tep people, and becomes a victim of their cruelty, he turns to Ferius – and a smart-mouthed squirrel cat, Reichis – to help him escape and find his own destiny instead. But who exactly is Ferius, and why is she so keen to help Kellen?

Spellslinger is the first YA fantasy novel in a new set of six books by Sebastien De Castell, author of the Greatcoats series. He describes the book as being set in the same universe as his Greatcoats series, but on a different continent – one ‘more akin to the American frontier’. The dark, western feel makes it quite a unique, magical story! The novel is fast-paced, told in first-person perspective, and broken up into four parts representing Kellen’s magical trials.

Essentially, it’s the story of a teenager trying to find himself. It’s about how he stands up to those who shame him, and finds his own direction in life. Kellen stops striving to become a Jan’Tep after he learns that ‘there’s no amount of magic in the world that’s worth the price of a man’s conscience’. With the support of Ferius and Reichis, he is ready to assume his place as the ‘Spellslinger’; a role that Ferius predicts ‘might just change the world’. Kellen leaves behind a trail of allies and enemies that will no doubt make the forthcoming books rather action-packed!

Wednesday, 17 May 2017

The Hungry Isle: Star of Deltora Book 4

The Hungry Isle: Star of Deltora Book 4 by Emily Rodda (Omnibus Books) PB RRP $16.99 ISBN 978-1-74299-133-7

Reviewed by Jenny Heslop

All trades are completed, the contestants have done as much as they can, and it is now time to turn the Star of Deltora towards home. But the magic Staff of Tier has sensed Britta and her companions and is drawing them all towards the Hungry Isle. The shadowy wraiths who dance around Britta are growing in their excitement, becoming more visible, and increasing the tension between the ship’s crew and Trader Mab and her would-be Trader Rosalyn apprentices. What should Britta fear more, mutiny or the King of Tier? Is there any escape from the Hungry Isle?

The Hungry Isle is the fourth book in the wonderful Star of Deltora fantasy series, by popular Australian author Emily Rodda whose writing is varied and prolific. The Hungry Isle is a thrilling action-packed adventure, but it is also evocative and richly richly written.

The wraiths swooped around him, wild in their mourning, bright as exotic birds in the rainbow light. Their grief had made them daring. The king knew     he had to quell them.

Britta and her companions continue to grow throughout the series. As secrets are uncovered, intricate webs of untruths are picked apart.

Britta, Jewel and Sky were all characters I wanted to keep reading about when the story ended. In fact, I wanted to follow their lives beyond the pages of this book, even though the ending was totally satisfying with a wonderful twist I did not see coming.

The Star of Deltora is an absorbing and spellbinding series for middle grade readers. Its occasional links with other series by Rodda are subtle but add a depth to the stories and will delight Rodda fans when they come across them.

Friday, 21 April 2017

Mabel Jones and the Doomsday Book

Mabel Jones and the Doomsday Book by Will Mabbitt illustrated by Ross Collins (Penguin Books/Puffin)  PB RRP $16.99 ISBN9780141362939

Reviewed by Dianne Bates

I couldn’t wait to review this, the next children’s novel in the Mabel Jones series as I absolutely loved the last one, Mabel Jones and the Forbidden City. (There’s also the first book, The Unlikely Adventures of Mabel Jones). Generally I don’t much care for fantasy books, but Will Mabbitt is such a good writer that genre doesn’t matter – story does and so do his characters.

For a start, there are 31 short and quirky chapters, also a map at the front of the book (kids – and I – love maps in novels!) and then Chapter One title The End, followed by the words ‘Not long after you’ve finished reading this sentence, the whole hooman race will become extinct.’ But (of course), not Mabel Jones ‘who skipped the fate the rest of you will suffer, by virtue of being snatched from the present and pulled deep into the footure: a footure without hoomans.’ But maybe – just maybe – Mabel can stop it happening…

Breath-taking, isn’t it? And it's very funny, laugh-aloud and very witty. By now (and we’re not even on to Chapter two), I’ve been snatched by the story, engrossed and sucked in. I’m sure, too, that readers aged 8 + years will be, too.

Before long Mabel Jones is on her way to the city of Otom in search of the legendary Doomsday Book, an ancient document that might save you and me, the book's readers. But! Otomo is a dangerous place, packed with soldiers, spies and stinking rebels which Mabel has to overcome – that and the dreaded Grand Zhoul.

If Mabbitt could illustrate, his pictures would be exactly like those Ross Collins produces – attention-grabbing, idiosyncratic and very funny. There are plenty of Collins’ black and white line illustrations scattered throughout the book along with lots of typography – words and phrases of all sizes which again jump out to engross the reader.

Full of vigour, surprises, humour that is sometimes laugh aloud, other times simply witty, this is a book I’d give to any child, but especially to a reluctant reader because once they started reading, I could pretty much guarantee they’d be reluctant no longer. Highly recommended.

Wednesday, 18 January 2017

The Beginning Woods

The Beginning Woods by Malcolm McNeill (Murdoch Books)
PB RRP $16.99   ISBN 9781782690900

Reviewed by Daniela Andrews

‘Who am I? Where do I come from? Why am I here? What is the best way to live?’

These are ‘Accursed Questions’ and, in the sinister world built up by debut author Malcolm McNeill, searching for the answers to them might just make you Vanish.

Max Mulgan, abandoned in a bookshop as a baby and raised by foster parents, is plagued by these questions. He has vivid dreams of his real parents, and is consumed with the thought of finding them. Around him, adults are randomly Vanishing, much to the bewilderment of leading scientists. Only one, Boris Peshkov, comes close to solving the mystery.

He connects the Vanishings to a place called the Beginning Woods (a dark, fairytale, parallel version of the current ‘World’) and he knows Max’s background is somehow related. Max, meanwhile, immerses himself in Storybooks, desperate to learn more about his past. When the powerful Professor Courtz calls for book burnings, Max’s anger and thirst for self-identity grows and he finds a way to cross over to the Beginning Woods. Finally! He can try and figure out where his birth parents are … only it seems his destiny requires him to complete another quest first. And it involves hunting a dragon.

The novel would suit young adults (and adults) with an advanced, sophisticated passion for fantasy stories. It is unique, highly original, and deeply analogous with life itself, taking a strong stance on the importance of imagination. (As if in affirmation of this, the novel itself demands a generous imagination on the reader’s part!)

McNeill has built a detailed, complex fairytale world with an array of familiar archetypes (witches, dragons and wolves) combined with not so familiar (Shredders, Kobolds and Wind Giants). The story is not fast-paced, requiring some perseverance on the reader’s part. Those that follow the story through from start to finish will be rewarded with a truly satisfying ending though, which presents a wonderful sense of order being restored and life moving forward.

Saturday, 15 October 2016


Goldenhand by Garth Nix (Allen & Unwin) PB RRP $24.99
ISBN 9781741758634

Reviewed by Daniela Andrews

Sound the bells (…erm, not the Abhorsen’s) because the highly anticipated fifth novel in the Old Kingdom series is here! Once again, it is Charter Magic versus Free Magic in the flawlessly detailed and intriguing fantasy world created by Garth Nix.

The novel begins in the Sixth Precinct of Death, where Sabriel and Lirael are seeking Chlorr of the Mask. Lirael has a replacement hand, crafted by Sameth and imbued with charter spells that give it a golden glow. We meet a new character, the brave and mysterious Ferin, relentlessly chased by a host of Free Magic creatures that do not want her to deliver an important message to the Clayr (or, specifically, Lirael). Lirael is unaware of the situation and has gone south of the wall to respond to Nicholas Sayre’s request for help in investigating a magical creature. There is much suspense in the novel about where Nick’s allegiance now lies, given he has a fragment of Orannis (Free Magic) inside him.

The chapters in the novel alternate from Ferin’s story, to Lirael’s, until the message is delivered. After that, the stories merge into one. The action pinnacles at the Ninth Precinct of Death and the simultaneous battle at Greenwash Bridge, in a spellbinding mission to destroy Chlorr of the Mask.

There is much personal growth in the character of Lirael, especially when she returns ‘home’ to the Clayr. Being the Abhorsen-in-waiting improves their level of respect for her, but it doesn’t shield her from her memories of past insecurities. It is wonderful to see the way she works through her awkwardness and embraces her new role, especially in the absence of Sabriel. She also realises – and acts upon – her feelings for Nick.

Garth Nix has a lovely, succinct way of recounting the past and explaining principles of magic without really breaking from the story or drama at hand. Because of this, he is able to retain the attention of familiar readers, and draw in those completely new to the Old Kingdom. He has once again delivered an alluring, magical story for young adults!

Readers who feel sad upon its completion will delight in the new, exclusive Old Kingdom short story included at the back, along with a great interview with the author.

Friday, 15 April 2016


Conductoid by M.B. Lehane (self published)
ISBN 9780994489401

Reviewed by Kel Butler

Jack is a daydreamer, living most of his life in a universe all of his own making. He doesn’t care much for the routine of everyday life, preferring to exist on the periphery of his own imagination, most of the time. Little does Jack know that this other universe he drifts off to in the middle of class or at the dinner table, is actually his reality.

As Jack’s daydreams become more explicit, merging fiction and reality, he starts to question his sanity. His fantasies appear to be simultaneously ruining his life and giving him his greatest adventure yet. It’s not until he is visited by a mysterious hooded figure and forced to save people from freakishly dangerous situations, that he starts to learn the truth about himself and the world’s he inhabits in his fantasies. Jack isn’t just a daydreamer, he’s a Conductoid.

A Conductoid uses the power of daydreams to access alternate dimensions and unimaginable powers. Shifting from one form to another in order to save lives and defeat dark forces. Pretty quickly, Jack realises balancing his new life as a hero with his life as an average school boy is going to be impossible. Thus he recruits the help of his best mate Ty and twin sister Phoebe to help him master his new identity and hide his double life.

Conductoid is a long, challenging read, driven by some very interesting ideas, which I feel get lost in a too much detail. Jack is a well rounded character, who also goes on a journey of personal growth and discovery as he explores his new reality. His relationships equally evolve as he is forced to find a deeper connection with his sister and put complete faith in his friend.

Due to the detail and complexity of the novel I wouldn’t recommend this for anyone under the age of 13.

Tuesday, 5 April 2016

Topaz and the Green Fairies

Topaz and the Green Fairies by Pat Frayne (self published)
ISBN 9781518621154

Reviewed by Kel Butler

From the first few pages I was completely drawn into this book. It opens with a bang, suspenseful and gripping, leaving you wanting for more by the end of the first chapter but making you wait to get it.

Topaz and the Green Fairies is one in a series of books, for 9-12 year olds which follows the adventures of Topaz, a magical Conjure Cat who rules peacefully over Knownotten Kingdom, a land filled with mythical beings and talking animals.

In this installment, Topaz meets Bozel, a green fairy on a desperate quest to save his people from a violent storm, which is destroying their island and everyone with it. Topaz recruits his friends, Otis the Owl, Daisy the Deer and Dooley the Raccoon, to undertake a courageous adventure, where they will not only face terrifying monsters but also the very depths of their own fears. Only through conquering both will they be able to save the Green Fairies in time.

I really enjoyed this book and have no problem recommending it for both boys and girls in the 9 to 12 age group. The story has a charming Narnia-esque feel to it, full of fantasy, with strong, mythical characters and plenty of cliffhanger moments. Pat Frayne has done an exquisite job of weaving the themes of universal kindness, acceptance and understanding seamlessly throughout the text, making it a real pleasure to read.

Sunday, 20 March 2016


Cybertricks by Goldie Alexander (Five Senses Education) PB RRP $19.95

Reviewed by Sally Odgers

Pya, Zumie, Jafet and Trist are twelve years old. Like any other children on the cusp of their teens, they take an interest in their appearance and in their peers. They squabble among themselves and  chafe against the benevolent rule of their tutors. Yet Pya and the others are not typical children. They are Hatchlings, the cloned descendants of an Earth rendered uninhabitable by the Great Disaster compounded of war, famine and plague. And as far as Pya knows, they are the only Hatchlings alive today.

ComCen and the holo-tutors put the Hatchlings through their paces, allowing them to interact only as avatars, but sending them to many different places via Virtual Reality. ComCen says they must learn how to cooperate, but Pya longs for true bodily freedom from her tiny Cell.
Be careful what you wish for.

Stranded on Earth at the dawn of the Great Disaster on the 21st Century, the Hatchlings meet Rio and Charlie, who are also twelve years old. That’s when they realise how different they are.  That’s when they realise how dangerous this longed-for freedom can be. Separated from Rio’s and Charlie’s family, the six take a long and hazardous trek. The situation is bizarre, but the characters ring true. The Hatchlings struggle towards humanity as the human children try to adjust to the loss of their once-secure future.  Has ComCen abandoned the Hatchlings?  Is this some cruel game? As the shared experience becomes more perilous, Goldie Alexander keeps a firm hand on the reins of her story, moving the action from setting to setting, each one clearly depicted. The characters grow and develop, while the situation is always accessible. The author’s eye is warm and compassionate, but she doesn’t flinch from the harsh reality of an adventure where nothing is quite as it seems to the protagonists.


Reviewed by Anastasia Gonis

This terrific futuristic fantasy novel is set in the Great Southern Continent, Terra, in 14,043. Pya, one of four Hatchlings that survived the Great Disaster, exists in a Cell as do the other three Hatchlings, mascs Jafet and Trist and Zumie, the only other fem. All are nourished via food tubes and educated by ComCen, a super computer, while communication is conducted via their avatars.

Their Tutor-Holo is trying to teach the Hatchlings to work together cooperatively and independently. With this crucial end in view, and forced to face Reality, they are sent back to 2043 to exercise all they have learnt and to focus on working as a team.

Returning to the past where families existed, they meet twins Charlie and Rio, and the six children set out on a journey that will change them forever. While experiencing Reality, they must overcome great challenges, learn sustainability within many lifestyles, and slowly come together to understand the words of their tutor ‘only through great effort and understanding can another Great Disaster be averted’.

All of Goldie Alexander’s novels have positive themes of self worth, personal improvement, environmental issues and sharing the world’s resources flowing through them in subtle waves in one form or another. In this highly imaginative and well-crafted novel, many similar life sustaining themes appear. The leading characters are strong and powerful, and the weaker ones always evolve and improve by the end of the story.

Tuesday, 8 March 2016


Magrit by Lee Battersby, illustrated by Amy Daoud (Walker Books)
HC RRP $ 19.99
ISBN 9781925081343

Reviewed by Anastasia Gonis

Australian writer Lee Battersby’s work covers many diverse themes and genres. This unique and haunting book will leave a lasting impression on the reader. It is beautifully presented in a special hardcover edition with a textured finish and pages with tinted edges. The contents deserve the attention its appearance commands. The silhouetted illustrations by Amy Daoud add to the atmosphere that is the breath of the story. 

Magrit lives in the cemetery. There is one corner that she stays away from. It fills her with fear and cold. Her best friend, teacher and protector is Master Puppet, whom she has created from scraps of anything and everything found in the grounds, then tied together with material taken from the graves. He talks into her mind and they are everything to each other until the stork drops a baby over the rooftops.

Against all Master Puppet’s warnings, Magrit decides to keep and raise the boy herself. She has no idea what the outcome will be. Nothing can make her change her mind. The boy becomes all things to her; everything she never had or will have. It is the entrance of the voice of Skeleton girl into her head that heralds the beginning of the end.

The evocative language, strong narrative voice, and otherworldly images push the reader to devour the contents of this book in one sitting. Its themes cover ‘growth and death, and cycles of life’. This remarkable book is like nothing you’ve read before and is ideal for the 12-112 age groups. 

Monday, 22 February 2016

The River and the Book

The River and the Book by Alison Croggon (Walker books)
PB RRP $ 16.95
ISBN 9781925081725

Reviewed by Anastasia Gonis

Any book by this versatile Australian author is always a journey through unknown territory. Her poetic language and ability to build images with words always leaves me in awe. She’s like an architect that seeks to create something new and challenging each time she puts words together.

In this fable blended with mysticism and fantasy, we meet Sim. Turning fifteen years old, she has become all that was waiting for her. The greatest thing is becoming an Effender, a Keeper of the Book which holds the history of her people and their place. It tells of their past, present and future, and has answers for all questions that are asked of it. The content changes constantly. How this happens is unknown. Although the Book is the village people’s oracle, it can’t prepare them for what is to come.

First the level of the River that has been their life force for generations, begins to recede, sucked away by the channelling of water further north by invaders and developers who plundered the land to plant cotton for massive returns.

Then Jane Watson arrives to photograph and write about their remote village and ancient lifestyle. Nothing is ever the same again for Sim. Jane steals the Book, and with the Book gone, life is meaningless to Sim.  She sets out on her first journey away from home to get the Book back and regain her lost place in life. She tells her story of that journey, what it cost her, and the things she gained from it.

The powerful prose in this imaginative novel is scintillating. Strong underlying themes on Human Rights, destruction of the landscape through greed, and countless other current issues are woven into this magnificent piece of work. Alison Croggan as always is impressive and thought-provoking with another outstanding piece of work for young adult (and adult) readers that should not to be missed.

Sunday, 21 February 2016

Irina: The Trilogy

Irina: The Trilogy by Leah Swann (Xoum Publishing)
PB RRP $24.99
ISBN 978-1-921134-84-5

Reviewed by Jenny Heslop

Irina is a princess, stolen at birth, raised by wolves and destined to save the kingdom. Following her own path rather than what is expected of her, Irina remains true to her loyalties and what she believes is right. She is a feisty character with great loyalty, honesty and courage. And at the heart of the trilogy lies the belief in trusting your own instincts and finding individual pathways through life.

This is a beautifully written story, with fairy-tale qualities of battles, quests, wise women and evil magicians. It is new and unique, yet it feels comfortingly familiar. The characters are drawn with strength and life; they are real and likeable, filled with quirks and weaknesses. The villains are satisfyingly mean and the adventure perilous in a well constructed world.
In true fantasy style, the conflict between good and evil is the centrepiece of this story and the journey is an exciting one. There are princes, princesses, wild woods, dragons, and magic all captured by engaging story telling. This is a tale worth telling and one that is already loved by many.

The chapters are short, which not only quickens the pace of the story, but makes it accessible to younger or less confident readers. Little silhouetted illustrations of animals – wolves for book 1, birds for book 2, and bunnies for book 3 – break the chapters down even more. It is an engrossing read for the 8 – 12 age range.

Irina is the full set of The Ragnor Tilogy; Irina the Wolf Queen, Irina and the White Wolf, and Irina and the Lost Book. 

Tuesday, 9 February 2016

A Single Stone

A Single Stone by Meg McKinlay (Walker Books)
PB RRP $16.95
ISBN 9781925081701

Reviewed by Anastasia Gonis

Everyone is obedient to the words of the Mothers that direct their lives. All they know is the world inside the mountains created by Rockfall, a time when the mountains shifted and land was swallowed by water.

Jena leads the line of girls that have been physically ‘adjusted’ so their bodies are pliable enough to wriggle through the crevices of the rocks that form the periphery of their village.  This is a place where females are more important and necessary than males, for these thin and pliable female bodies tunnel for the flakes of life-giving mica which keeps the population alive during the harsh winters.

Jena accidently discovers many truths hidden from them all.  The Mothers have kept their dangerous secrets well. She learns about the ‘ripening’, enforced to manipulate the premature birth of babies. This guarantees the abnormally small stature necessary for the preservation of the line.

She also discovers that there is an Outside, and everyone has been lied to.  Will the people believe her if she tells them the truth? Can she gather the courage to make her way through the mountain one last time?

This highly creative novel covers issues of gender, body image, the abuse of power by persons in positions of authority, and how easy it is to view people as disposable.

Written in scintillating prose filled with rich metaphors, this imaginative and well-crafted story is for the 12+ age group.

Sunday, 6 December 2015

The Ring of Curses

The Ring of Curses by Margaret R Blake (Satalyte Publishing)
PB RRP $25.99
ISBN 978 0 992095 4 5

Reviewed by Nean McKenzie

The Ring of Curses — Merlin's School for Ordinary Children is a fantasy story about a castle that appears out of nowhere, and the children who are invited to go to school there. Unlike Harry Potter, where the children are all witches and wizards, these kids are neither magical nor talented. However, as they embark on their adventure, in a manner reminiscent of an Enid Blyton book, some of the characters turn out to be more special than they first thought.

The kids of the tiny seaside town of Calder Cove are ready for a bit of excitement when they are invited to Merlin's School for Ordinary Children. Daffodil, Ernest, Orion, Tilderly and Bridget and friends go away for ten months to a mysterious place their parents can't visit. Lessons include how to behave at tea parties (for the girls) and how to make a fish trap (for the boys). In History, the children time- travel back to Middle America in Aztec times. Neville, a bully and thief, steals an ancient ring which sets off a chain of consequences.

The strength of this humorous adventure story is that it has likeable characters. The book must be set in contemporary times, because when the children arrive at the school, they relinquish their mobile phones and are not allowed to use computers. However the story is written in an old fashioned style, with turns of phrase from an earlier time. The school staff is behind the scenes and remains mysterious to the end. We never really find out how they know what the kids are thinking or even the reason for the school in the first place. There is an obvious room for a sequel to further explore these questions.

Published by Australian publisher Satalyte Publishing, The Ring of Curses is an enjoyable middle fiction story. It is Margaret R Blake’s debut work.

Saturday, 19 September 2015

Lola’s Toy Box: The Patchwork Picnic

Lola’s Toy Box: The Patchwork Picnic by Danny Parker, illustrated by Guy Shields (Hardie Grant Egmont)
PB RRP $12.95
ISBN 9781760124366

Reviewed by Liz Ledden

The Patchwork Picnic is the first junior fiction title in the Lola’s Toy Box series, by the author of picture books Tree and Parachute, Danny Parker. The chapters are interspersed with charming illustrations by Guy Shields, who recently worked on the redesign of literary magazine Kill Your Darlings.

When Lola’s mum is clearing out the family’s junk-crammed garden shed, Lola and her brother Nick are asked if they would like to keep any of the unwanted objects. Nick ‘pushed past her’ and immediately began to make his demands known, setting the scene for a realistically turbulent sibling relationship.

Lola sees magic in the jumble of old furniture in the shed’s shadows, and sets her sights on a large wooden box. In order to escape domineering Nick, Lola and her toy Buddy hop inside it. They emerge out of the box to find themselves on a hillside where Buddy begins to talk, and a magical journey in a kingdom of toys begins.

When Lola learns of the battle between the Plastic Prince and the Great High Bear in a place called Nevercalm, readers may recognise parallels with Lola’s own struggles with Nick. Lola draws on an inner-strength to challenge a threatening bear, and agrees to partake in a button test to prove to the toys she is trustworthy. Her adventure demonstrates her problem-solving skills, something readers may take heart from and be inspired to apply in their own lives.

Themes of resilience, courage, loyalty and kindness emerge in this magical tale that deals with issues many children may relate to. Lola is a strong female character who shows it is possible to be kind and stand up for yourself at the same time. And with a magic toy box now in her possession, there are more adventures in store for Lola and Buddy – in fact, three more titles in the series are already available.

Sunday, 23 August 2015

Keeper of the Crystals: Eve and the Runaway Unicorn

Keeper of the Crystals: Eve and the Runaway Unicorn by Jess Black (New Frontier Publishing)
PB RRP $ 14.99
ISBN 9780957988415

Reviewed by Anastasia Gonis

Eve is staying at her Granny’s place in a town full of old people, with the exception of Oscar, who lives next door. ‘You are never to go into the attic!’ is Granny’s rule. Tell children not to do something and they will go straight and do it. Eve is bored and she and Oscar decide to explore the forbidden attic.

Eve takes the keys while Granny is sleeping and it’s in a locked metal trunk that she finds the crystal unicorn. The bright light generated by the unicorn is a portal into a strange and mysterious land. Eve and Oscar land on sand in the desert of Panthor near the Borderlands, and embark on the adventure of their life. Panthor is a land where animals and people live in harmony, and communicate through their thoughts.

 Eve discovers that the imprint of the crystal unicorn stays on her palm. This has a significance that is revealed later in the story.

Greeted by Callie, one of the outliers, Eve is surprised to learn that her arrival was foretold in a prophecy. Her coming means the return of the unicorn, and freedom for the people from the king who has enslaved them.

The children go to the Lakes of Trapor in the heart of the Borderlands and into forbidden territory, to find the unicorn and overthrow the king. Will they succeed in their quest? Can they find a way to return home?

This fantasy adventure for the 7+ age groups is the beginning of a series where animals, people and other living things, live in harmony. Eve for some unrevealed reason is chosen as the Keeper of the Crystals. Each story has a new and challenging quest. It has mystery and intrigue, secrets and revelations. This book ends with a dangling teaser alluding to Granny and why the unicorn crystal was discovered in her attic. The next book, Keeper of the Crystals: Eve and the Fiery Phoenix, is also out now.

Saturday, 11 July 2015

Spirit Animals Book 4: Fire and Ice

Spirit Animals Book 4: Fire and Ice by Shannon Hale (Scholastic Inc)
PB RRP $12.99
ISBN 978-1-74362-001-4

Reviewed by Jenny Heslop

The Devourer and his conquerors are getting closer. Conor, Abeke, Meilin and Rollan and their Great Beasts must continue to seek the talismans as they are the Chosen Ones - the children and their spirit animals who must protect Erdas. And time is running out.
In Fire and Ice they journey to Artica, the far north, to search for a legendary city of ice, and the talisman of Suka the Giant polar bear. On this journey they have the help of Tarik, a Greencloak leader and Maya, who has the ability to create fire from nothing, but their enemies are also closer. And this time the betrayal is more personal than it ever has been before.
Spirit Animals is an engrossing and enjoyable series. Each title is written by a different author and they manage to keep the worlds of Erdas solid and consistent.  The characters are also held well and are solid and realistic children who continue to grow throughout the series. The action is fast and exciting but there are breaks in the frenetic pace to allow the reader to take a breath.
Shannon Hale is a well established and best-selling author who writes, among other things, wonderful retellings of fairy tales for a teen readership. Her skill with writing fantasy characters, imagined places and her storytelling ability all shine through in this tale which is mostly set in a flat white landscape of ice and snow.
This is a series which will suit middle grade readers, especially lovers of fantasy, action and animals. The books are supported by an action role-playing game online where players can create a spirit animal of their own at