Ordinary schoolgirl Abigail turns out not to be quite so ordinary after all (but it’s entirely unclear why her mother gave her no information or training or even answered her questions prior to a few rushed seconds of commands and advice before shoving her through a time/story draught). Nevertheless, Abigail – now bizarrely known by the name “Spindale” – has landed in the middle of a story being written and illustrated by her seven great-aunts. Their powerful witch villain has managed to create a crack in the page through which she cursed the story – none of the words the authors write down now will remain set on the page. They cannot complete the story, and stories feed the Bloodtree. It is up to Spindale to take on the hero’s role – living in the story while her Great-Aunt June continues the narration verbally.
The story makes up for its dangling plot with an almost entirely female cast. The sole male protagonist gets himself captured and must be rescued by Spindale and another girl. While the two spat over their mutual attraction to him, they do eventually begin to work together instead of sabotaging each other. It’s a shame they can’t be proper friends, but we’ll take the win.
It’s a “Meh” for me, but if you have a voracious reader and are hunting for something new to read, this one’s probably worth a go.
Jo Stanley’s Play Like a Girl Chapter Book Series (in collaboration with AFLW*) is my surprise find for the year. Each of the four books follows a different protagonist with a minor issue to overcome while playing (Australian Rules) footy for the Millsborough West Girls’ Under 12 Football Team (The Flyers). Sarah has just moved to a new area and a new school; Hanh is jealous of her best friend; Rainbow is the “weird” kid who doesn’t fit in at school; Lucy is shy and not just because she wears hearing aids. They are all coached by Shawna, a tough, sporty woman with a loud voice and spiky blue hair. The books are simple and the story problems are very brief and easy to resolve, but the characterisation is great with a broad range of different personalities and motivations. Finding out how these girls are going to cope and succeed is rather compelling. Continue reading “Play Like a Girl Chapter Book Series”
Stella by the Sea by Ruth Starke is a simple and lovely story of friendship and community. After a vivid dream that seems to match exactly, schoolgirl Stella responds to an advertisement for a cubbyhouse for sale. The only problem is she has nowhere to put it – she lives in a penthouse apartment with no backyard. So, being the daughter of a real estate superstar, Stella considers her options and offers to rent the cubbyhouse instead. While her elderly landlord initially seems gruff, Stella soon discovers that Chester is a real old softy – a retired pastry chef who loves baking but doesn’t see the point in “baking for one”. And another perk of renting a patch of Chester’s backyard comes in the form of the neighbours’ pets – one by one Stella begins a dog-walking and cat-minding business. Soon she has befriended a number of people in the area and she connects them with the reticent Chester by throwing herself a cubbyhouse-warming party. Chester now has plenty of baking requests, and in return his neighbours take care of him: free hair cuts, lawn mowing, companionship. But progress and development, and growing old, threaten their idyllic little set up. Chester has some hard bargaining to do if he’s going to do right by his young tenant.
Nooks and Crannies is an adorable Edwardian murder mystery by Jessica Lawson. Tabitha Crum is one of the sweetest heroines you’ll come across – she’ll simultaneously capture your heart and break it as she tries so desperately to earn the love of her cruel and heartless parents. Luckily for Tabitha she discovers that she was adopted and now she has a chance to inherit a fortune – if she turns out to be the true heir of the Countess of Windermere. But first there are a few problems to overcome at the Countess’s manor house: five other children who could potentially be the true heir, the suspicious death of the one person who might have been able to identify the correct child, the matter of ghostly noises and weird happenings, and something else Tabitha can’t quite put her finger on. Continue reading “Nooks and Crannies”
The fascinating thing about The Islands of Chaldea is not that it is Diana Wynne Jones’s last book but that she died with it unfinished and it was completed and published posthumously. DWJ’s younger sister Ursula has given fans an extraordinary gift by seamlessly integrating an ending to the unfinished manuscript. We will never know if it is theending Diana would’ve written – because she left no clues, no notes, and an entire committee of family and friends brainstorming for hours could not figure out what she might have intended for the story. Nevertheless, Ursula’s ending is fitting and satisfying and a wonderful tribute to Diana’s memory and the power of sisterhood. Continue reading “The Islands of Chaldea by Diana Wynne Jones”
The Map to Everywhere is the first collaboration between husband and wife authors Carrie Ryan and John Parke Davis and utilises the increasingly popular format of alternating chapters told by a boy-girl pair of main characters. They may have missed a golden opportunity here to make their characters two girls to fill in the dearth of female-friendship adventure stories for this age group. In addition, it is the male character’s point of view that opens the book, granting him the lead by default. Other than that quibble this book is a superbly-crafted adventure story with only a very few of the annoying clichés you might anticipate –
The first being that most of the chapters in the book don’t pass the Bechdel test for the simple reason that Marrill is the only female character for large swathes of the story. Even her cat is male. However, it is a story with a small cast: Fin, Marrill, Ardent the wizard, and Coll the ship’s captain. And the book certainly passes the Mako Mori test. Continue reading “The Map to Everywhere by Carrie Ryan and John Parke Davis”
This is delightful, though probably best for readers about 10+ because it’s set during WW2 and, while not graphic, it features air raids and the deaths, injuries, and destruction they caused. It deals with death in a sweetly reassuring and semi-secular-fantasy way: the dead are described as being peacefully at rest with their loved ones enjoying a long, pleasant dream. Ghosts rise when something disturbs the interred body, but most ghosts do not leave the cemetery where they are buried. Continue reading “The Turnkey by Allison Rushby”
Slated is the first book in the Young Adult trilogy of the same name by Teri Terry. It is the story of sixteen-year-old Kyla, who is a former juvenile offender. Kyla was “slated”—given a clean slate by having her memories wiped and adopted into a caring family. But Kyla is different to the other “Slaters”. Instead of being care-free, she has nightmares. And she can draw—photo-realistically—including places and people she should have no memory of. Kyla is treading a fine line as she searches for answers: there are things that powerful people would rather remain a secret. The rules include not questioning the government’s actions. And the price for breaking the rules is termination.
Maddie becomes Earth’s best hope of survival when she uses a magic wand to travel to its quantum-entangled twin planet, Ground. But there are other people after the wand, and they have suspicious intentions and unfair advantages. Can she keep it from falling into the wrong hands as she completes the quest that will save both worlds?
Meanwhile nine-hundred-year-old Lady Sa finds herself in serious trouble when she is captured during her quest for the Source of magic. Worse, she is unable to fulfil her duty as guide to the wand-holder, and her disappearance puts new wand-holder Madison Lane at risk in an unfamilar world.
My first introduction to Catherine Fisher’s books was with The Conjuror’s Game, which I read as a preteen when I “worked” for the only bookstore in our town as a beta reader, helping the middle-aged owner select new children’s and YA books for the store. I was paid in books (probably a lousy deal, but I was over the moon at the time). Of the dozens of books I read for them, The Conjuror’s Game is the only one I’ve kept, and read several times. Catherine Fisher disappeared off my radar for a while, but, thanks to Google, when I discovered she had a new series available, I couldn’t wait to get reading. Continue reading “Incarceron by Catherine Fisher (Book Discussion)”
Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley has fascinated me for a long time. She lived in a time when women were not encouraged to study, let alone write books of their own. So to be the author of what would become one of the most well known horror novels of all time is a remarkable and unusual achievement. To do so at the age of nineteen is amazing. Continue reading “Frankenstein by Mary Shelley (Book Discussion)”
I began reading Sherlock Holmes as a teenager and was so intrigued by the clever detective and his deductions that I moved onto other well-known Whodunit authors such as Agatha Christie and P.D James, and decided that this would be my genre as I began my apprenticeship as an author. While working through Blake Snyder’s Save the Cat, I decided to try my hand at adapting one of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s stories—The Valley of Fear—into a screenplay. It was a fascinating exercise, and gave me a lot of insight into story construction and characterisation. Continue reading “Who was Joseph Bell?”
When crippled Durrik makes a strange prophecy regarding Estelliana’s dying young Count, he and his friend Pedrin go on the run from the evil Regent’s soldiers, while their parents and most of the village are imprisoned to pre-empt a rebellion.
Durrik’s prophecy involves six people and a deadline of “when the last petals fall from the StarThorn tree”, so when he and Pedrin discover the count’s sister and her maid hiding in the forest, and their team is joined by a strange old man and a dirty little thief girl, they begin to believe they are destined to save the Count and overthrow the evil Regent.
I first came across this particular headgear when I was a child listening to a Story Teller tape of The Faery Flag by Beryl Maude-Jones. The accompanying book was full of pictures of pointy cone-hats with long veils. The funny thing was I was scared by the story. So, in true child-like spirit, I decided it would be better if I recorded over this story by singing Happy Birthday onto the tape instead. I earnestly informed my mother that I would re-record the story when I was older and it no longer scared me (as if I could possibly recapture the talent of reader Annette Crosby (she of One Foot in the Grave fame)). Luckily my rendition of Happy Birthday was only long enough to record over the title of the story. And the last time I was able to listen to the cassette tape, as an adult, I laughed at my little five-year-old self singing to unscarify the audio. My husband now informs me that we no longer have any equipment capable of playing those old tapes. Continue reading “The Cone-Shaped Pointed Hats Worn by Princesses in Fairytales…”