Sanspell, the first book in Elizabeth Pulford’s BloodTree Chronicles, is a strange piece of metafiction that has some familiar echoes in the race to fulfil a quest before the last leaves fall from the cursed and dying Bloodtree. This book takes itself seriously with none of the tongue-in-cheek self-mockery that usually takes the edge off stories of this type.
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”
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 the ending 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”