Early Review: Uprooted by Naomi Novik

uprooted (1)

“Our Dragon doesn’t eat the girls he takes, no matter what stories they tell outside our valley. We hear them sometimes, from travelers passing through. They talk as though we were doing human sacrifice, and he were a real dragon. Of course that’s not true: he may be a wizard and immortal, but he’s still a man, and our fathers would band together and kill him if he wanted to eat one of us every ten years. He protects us against the Wood, and we’re grateful, but not that grateful.”

Agnieszka lives a simple life in her village, along with her best friend Kasia, but they are constantly under the threat of the corrupted wood on their borders – sometimes the power of the wood will reach out, and cause harm and damage. The people in the village rely on a wizard, known as the Dragon, to protect them, and offer his magic against the wood’s effects.

In return for his help, he takes a young woman from their village every 10 years. They are returned, but will not speak of their time, and they leave the village as soon as they are able. Everyone expects Kasia to be chosen when the next 10 years comes around, but instead the Dragon takes Agnieszka.

I was sent a review copy of this book, but I had no idea what it was about, nor had I heard of the author before. As I often do with books I’m unsure of, I started to read the first few pages. I was immediately caught by the writing style, and the character of Agnieszka, and yes, the spell was cast!

Uprooted is a fantasy book, with Agnieszka discovering that she in fact has powers of her own, and also learning more about the mysterious Dragon. There are spells, magical creatures, and adventure. However, there was something a little different about this one, which really did captivate me. It reads like a beautifully told fairytale, which also has it’s dark side. Agnieszka’s growth is as touching as her loyalty, and the aspects of her relationship with the Dragon are also well done. I loved the way the magic was handled, from Agnieszka’s personal path, to the powerful war magic.

There are only certain fantasy books which catch my interest, and this is most certainly one of them. It’s hard to describe any further without wandering into spoiler territory, but if you like fantasy, fairytales, magic and adventure, told with a beautiful style, then you need to try this!

Published by Macmillan 21st May 2015

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The Rithmatist by Brandon Sanderson

rithmatist

This offering from Sanderson is aimed at the teenage market, but that is certainly not a bad thing. I loved the Mistborn series, but made the mistake of going from one book to the next, and by the middle of the 3rd it seemed to be dragging, and I gave up. This is not something which will happen with this book once you’re into it, so as long as you know what to expect, I think most adults would enjoy it too.

Joel is fascinated by the magic of the Rithmatists, which he sees studied at his college. Rithmatists use special geometric shapes and creatures which they draw in chalk, and bring magic to. Although Joel is skilled in the drawings, he has no magic, and so can not be a Rithmatist.

When some of the students go missing, and the college is attacked, Joel has to work together with Melody, a Rithmatist apprentice, to try to stop the killer.

Personally, I loved the idea behind the magic, which is basically drawing protective, magical shapes and creatures, to avoid being attacked. This is helped in the book by the illustrations from Ben McSweeney, which include the special shapes used, some of the creatures, and the chapter headings.

The story itself is fast paced, and I would recommend it as an introduction to fantasy for anyone, teen or older, or as a shorter, snappier read for those used to more epic fantasy. There are themes of family and friendship throughout, with a credible world and magic system.

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A Robot in the Garden by Deborah Install (Early review)

robotgarden

Set in a near future, where androids are used for various tasks, Ben wakes one day to find a robot in his garden. Compared with the human-like androids, this is an old fashioned, broken robot, and Ben has no idea where it’s come from – and his wife Amy wants him to take it to the tip.

Instead, Ben finds himself intrigued by this little robot, who calls himself Tang, and when Amy leaves him, he decides to track down his maker, to try to fix the broken cylinder inside him.

It’s impossible not to like Tang, with his childlike charm and innocence, and I completely fell in love with him. Yet there’s so much more to this book, as Tang is the not the only one who needs to be mended.

I don’t want to talk too much about the journey taken, and the unfolding story, but I will say that this is a book with both heart and humour. It’s hard to believe that such a book can be a début for the author, and I will be advising everyone to read it when it’s published in April 2015. #JoinTheTangGang

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Alice and the Fly by James Rice

alice

Miss Hayes has a new theory. She thinks my condition’s caused by some traumatic incident from my past I keep deep-rooted in my mind. As soon as I come clean I’ll flood out all these tears and it’ll all be ok and I won’t be scared of Them anymore. The truth is I can’t think of any single traumatic childhood incident to tell her. I mean, there are plenty of bad memories – Herb’s death, or the time I bit the hole in my tongue, or Finners Island, out on the boat with Sarah – but none of these are what caused the phobia. I’ve always had it. It’s Them. I’m just scared of Them. It’s that simple.

The story in this debut by James Rice is told by Greg, as he writes to Alice, a girl he likes, in his journal. Greg comes across as an awkward, shy boy with a phobia of ‘Them’ (which turn out to be spiders) but as the book goes on, it’s obvious there is more to be told. In fact, the story is interspersed with extracts of interviews of various characters with the police, which hint of much deeper issues.

Alice and the Fly is a book which gradually takes hold, as we find out more about Greg, his family, and his mental health problems. Telling the story from Greg’s point of view allows you to experience how he sees his world, and yet there is enough information to allow you to see what’s really going on, all the way to the heartbreaking conclusion.

My first book of 2015, and highly recommended – published by Hodder on Jan 15th.
Alice and the Fly at Amazon.co.uk

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2014 in review

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2014 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

The concert hall at the Sydney Opera House holds 2,700 people. This blog was viewed about 12,000 times in 2014. If it were a concert at Sydney Opera House, it would take about 4 sold-out performances for that many people to see it.

Click here to see the complete report.

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Whither Thou Goest by Anna Belfrage (Graham Saga #7)

Whither Thou GoestTitle: Whither Thou Goest (The Graham Saga #7)
Author: Anna Belfrage
ISBN: 978-1781322413
Publisher: SilverWood
First Published: 1 November 2014 (Paperback/Kindle)
No .of pages: 408

Rating: 4/5

Synopsis (from Amazon):
In their rural home in the Colony of Maryland, Matthew and Alex Graham are still recovering from the awful events of the previous years when Luke Graham, Matthew’s estranged brother, asks them for a favour.

Alex has no problems whatsoever ignoring Luke’s sad plea for help. In her opinion Matthew’s brother is an evil excuse of a man who deserves whatever nasty stuff fate throws at him. Except, as Matthew points out, Luke is begging them to save his son – his misled Charlie, one of the Monmouth rebels – and can Charlie Graham be held responsible for his father’s ill deeds?

So off they go on yet another adventure, this time to the West Indies to find a young man neither of them knows but who faces imminent death on a sugar plantation, condemned to slavery for treason. The journey is hazardous and along the way Alex comes face to face with a most disturbing ghost from her previous life, a man she would much have preferred never to have met.

Time is running out for Charlie Graham, Matthew is haunted by reawakened memories of his days as an indentured servant, and then there’s the eerie Mr Brown, Charlie’s new owner, who will do anything to keep his secrets safe, anything at all.

Will Matthew deliver his nephew from imminent death? And will they ever make it back home?

Review:
The Graham Saga is a series that just keeps giving! You want cracking characters? They’re in there. You crave action and intrigue? Look no further! You fancy some peril and deliverance? It’s right here, people! You like historical settings, but enjoy modern people out of their time? This is the series for you! And with Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander books now hitting our television screens, we can expect The Graham Saga to pick up interest from fans of Gabaldon as they look for more wonderful works to entertain them with the kind of rich plots and sweeping landscapes they already love, because if you like Gabaldon, you’ll LOVE Belfrage!

Once again, we see Alex (a modern woman out of her time) and her family almost torn apart and having to pull together to make it out the other side of the trials and tribulations thrown their way. Much of it is edge of the seat stuff and one genuinely found it incredibly difficult to put down the book and return to one’s own day-to-day life (as one must occasionally, to do everyday things such as feeding the kids, getting them to school, and making sure we have a nice, clean home in which to live – seriously, if I could have an extra few hours in every day just to read these books, I’d be a very happy woman!).

Fans of the series will find this latest (7th!) installment delivers everything one would expect and then some – an exciting, often intense, adventurous, romantic saga of a story that will keep readers gripped till the last page is turned, and then leave us gasping and gagging for more. It seems Belfrage cannot put a foot wrong – long may she continue to give us more installments in this truly wonderful series!

Reviewed by Kell Smurthwaite

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Endgame: The Calling by James Frey

Endgame: The Calling is part of something much bigger. It’s not something I know much about, so I will simply link to this article for those who wish to learn more. As for the book, I almost bought it in Waterstones, but decided against, as I wasn’t sure about the format. I then managed to get a kindle edition to review – this gave me the oppertunity to try the story, but I do feel that something was missing in this format, and I’m sure I’ll eventually buy the book.

So, to the story – it’s written in the present tense, and is written with sharp, snappy sentences. It jumps between characters, someof whom work alone, some who join up – so it gives different viewpoints and insights.

The basis of the story is that there are 12 main lines, each of which is represented by one young person. These twelve are trained all their lives, and at the age of 20 they ‘retire’ and pass on the responsibility to someone new.

The twelve are brought together after twelve meteors strike the earth, and they are informed that they will now battle each other to find 3 keys, and they are fighting for their line, as everyone else will die. The keys belong to ancient people from space, so there is a slight SF aspect to it.. maybe one which will be expanded on in the next two books.

Each of the twelve ‘players’ have their own backgrounds, feelings and styles, and there were a few I wanted to do well. It’s a harsh book, with violence and deaths, but it all seems acceptable and relevant to the story, so it’s not shocking.

It’s style may not be for everyone, but I found it’s pace quite addictive. I enjoyed it, and quite intrigued to see where the second book goes, but I have a feeling that some of the finer points passed me by.  I’m a little confused as to whether I enjoyed it, and whether I would recommend it – but there definitely is something intriguing, and I would certainly recommend anyone interested to check out a sample to see what they think.

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My Heart and Other Black Holes by Jasmine Warga

heart

I’m getting higher and higher and I feel the swing set creak.

‘Be careful,’ he says.

‘Why?’ I’m not thinking about being careful. I’m thinking about one last push, of letting go, of flying, and of falling.

‘You aren’t allowed to die without me,’ he whispers.

In her debut YA book, Jasmine tackles a very difficult subject, teenage suicide. Aysel is the daughter of murderer, and the effects this may have on her in the future scare her so much she decides she no longer wants to live. Roman is dealing with a terrible event in his life, and he’s looking for a suicide partner.. and it’s this which brings them together.

First to my reservations about the book – the opening section is quite bleak, mainly because Jasmine writes so well about how these young people are feeling. As a parent, it terrified me to think that young people could feel this bad, and not realise that there’s help out there. To feel that suicide is the only answer, and then to seek someone out so they can encourage and help each other.. well, it was hard to read. I also had reservations about young people with depression reading the book.

However, as the book progresses, you can see a change in Aysel, as she begins to face up to the way she feels, and her future. She also starts to feel a strong connection with Roman, but not because of the reasons they joined up. Things change for Aysel, but she now needs to make them change for Roman too.

This book proved hard to put down – both characters had my heart aching for them, wanting them to see that trying to struggle alone was not the answer, and that things could get better. The feelings of depression, worthlessness and guilt are so well written – but so also is the recovery. It isn’t a case of Aysel simply falling in love and realising the world is all sunny, it’s a case of discovering the power of relationships, and of talking and sharing.

This will be published by Hodder in February 2015, and I highly recommend you add it to your wishlist.

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Whiny Whiny Rhino by McBoop

whiny-whiny-rhinoTitle: Whiny Whiny Rhino
Author: McBoop
ASIN: B00MBZNXJW (Kindle e-book)
Publisher: Blue Blanket Publishing
First Published: 131 July 2014 (Kindle)
No .of pages: 32

Rating: 4/5

Synopsis (from Amazon):
Can Tiny Tiny Rhino have a fun day?
Or will all of his whining get in the way?

If you’ve ever been worried to try something new,
then Whiny Whiny Rhino is the book for you!

From creative team McBoop, comes the story of a whiny rhino with a big head and an even bigger imagination.

Review:

This fun rhyming story with delightful, colourful illustrations, is a joy to read along with small children. They can enjoy the story with all its jungle characters, and also identify with the small rhino who is so wary of new things that he’s missing out on all the fun, while learning that although trying something new can be a scary thing, it can also be exciting.

It’s a lovely book for those kids who just need a little extra confidence, as it can open the door to taking about any fears they have, while seeing that sometimes you just need to take that leap of faith and enjoy the ride.

Reviewed by Kell Smurthwaite

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Madame Picasso by Anne Girard (aka Diane Haegar)

9780778316350.inddTitle: Madame Picasso
Author: Anne Girard (aka Diane Haegar)
ISBN: 978-0778316350
Publisher: Mira Books
First Published: 26th August 2014 (paperback / audio) / 1st September 2014 (Kindle)

Rating: Like a Star @ heavenLike a Star @ heavenLike a Star @ heavenLike a Star @ heaven

Synopsis (from Amazon):

The mesmerizing and untold story of Eva Gouel, the unforgettable woman who stole the heart of the greatest artist of our time.

When Eva Gouel moves to Paris from the countryside, she is full of ambition and dreams of stardom. Though young and inexperienced, she manages to find work as a costumer at the famous Moulin Rouge, and it is here that she first catches the attention of Pablo Picasso, a rising star in the art world. A brilliant but eccentric artist, Picasso sets his sights on Eva, and Eva can’t help but be drawn into his web. But what starts as a torrid affair soon evolves into what will become the first great love of Picasso’s life.

With sparkling insight and passion, Madame Picasso introduces us to a dazzling heroine, taking us from the salon of Gertrude Stein to the glamorous Moulin Rouge and inside the studio and heart of one of the most enigmatic and iconic artists of the 20th century.

Review:
Girard paints her canvas as bright as any Picasso work of art, infusing the story of Eva Gouel with the sights, sounds and smells of Paris and the scandalous folk involved in the cubist art movement in the early 20th century. It’s a fascinating and touching glimpse of the life of a muse that directly affected one of the greatest and most famous artists of his age; one whose legacy will live on forever, remembered as one of the forefathers of cubism.

Eva’s story is a poignant one which is, ultimately, tinged with sadness, but she lived her life to the full, and inspired many of Picasso’s artworks, and Girard presents her as a very real and very credible source of inspiration; a complicated woman from a traditional background who broke tradition at every turn with her unconventional (for the times) relationship with a man who was a known womaniser. Yet it seems Picasso really did adore her, and it is easy to see why.

Through Girard’s masterful strokes emerges a life less ordinary; the life of the extraordinary; a woman who deserves to be remembered and celebrated every bit as much as her larger-than-life artist lover. Read it, and find yourself plunged headfirst into a swirling palette of vibrant, colourful characters, and passions that burn so bright they cannot possibly last.

Reviewed by Kell Smurthwaite

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