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Sep 25 2020

The Goody by Lauren Child

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Orchard, 2020. ISBN: 9781408347584.
(Age: 4+) Highly recommended. A new book by Lauren Child always creates interest as the expectation of a challenging read is ever present. She draws the reader into a false sense of security, lulls them into thinking this is a story of sibling rivalry, but she challenges us to see more than this, as it becomes an expose of expectations, of labelling, of not seeing difference. And as with many of her books, we are impelled to consider the wider issue where children behave as they are expected to, labelled and boxed in by that expectation.
Siblings, Chirton and Myrtle behave in the way they are expected to behave. Chirton is good, reliable, dependable while Myrtle is forgetful, naughty and a refuser.
Chirton eats up his broccoli, Myrtle isn't even given any as she won't eat it, Chirton cleans the rabbit hutch every week because Myrtle forgets, and Myrtle stays up late at night because she doesn't want to sleep. All of the things Myrtle does, Chirton would like to do, but he is seen as the goody in the family and so expected to behave well without exception.
One night Chirton gets up to have a glass of water and finds his sister eating choco puffs and watching TV. He would love to do this too, and wonders why he is not allowed. The next day he decides that he is a goody no longer and changes his behaviour, so much so that he is not allowed to go to a birthday party. When Myrtle goes instead, the birthday girl does not know of Myrtle's reputation and treats her like anyone else, and Myrtle decides she likes being treated thus. So the two come to see the advantages and disadvantages of being labelled, deciding that there is a middle road, and their parents are encouraged to see them as different people with their own traits.
Child's illustrations are always a treat and these with their blocks of patterns make a wonderful talking point for readers already most amused by the story.
Themes: Siblings, Humour, Difference, Expectations, Image, Behaviour, Family.
Fran Knight




Sep 25 2020

Guinness World records 2021

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Guinness World Records Limited, 2020. ISBN: 9781913484071.
(Age: 8+) Highly recommended. Readers will not need an introduction to the fabulous Guinness World Records books and will find much to amaze and interest in the latest edition for 2021. The book is one that can be flicked through, with lots of great photos and captivating captions to grab attention, but it is also one that has a good Contents page that will direct the reader off to the right section. It features the following: Solar system, Natural world, Animals, Humans against the clock, Recordmania, Culture & society, Adventurers, Technology, Gaming, Pop Culture and Sports. All contain sub contents and page numbers and each one features one person in the hall of fame, for example Greta Thunberg in Culture and Society and Jane Goodall in Animals. There is also an Index and acknowledgments at the back of the book.
Beginning with the enticing cover, which features lots of small figures and intricate details, similar to Where's Wally?, the reader will be grabbed by the great photos and easy to read information. And they will find when they get to the end of the book, information on the illustrator Rod Hunt and instructions to find the 20 record holders that feature in his front and back covers. A humorous photo on the title page of the fastest electric ice-cream van (exuberant inventor Edd China, UK, reached 118.964 kmph in it) will grab attention and from then on the reader is sure to be fascinated by the interesting, well laid out records. In Pop Culture, one can find out who has the most followers on Instagram, by using the contents page, with the section on Social Media pg. 204 (Ariana Grande has 182, 260, 250 followers). Another flick through will show young achievers, with Jackson Oswalt became the youngest person to achieve nuclear fusion before his 13th birthday.
The Guinness World Records was founded in 1955 and has proved to be popular ever since. Visit https://guinnessworldrecords.com/ for more information about how to become part of the record-breaking community and an answer to the original question (What's the fastest game bird in Europe?) that sparked its origin.
Pat Pledger




Sep 25 2020

Unravel the Dusk by Elizabeth Lim

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The Blood of Stars duology. Random House, 2020. ISBN: 9780525647027.
(Young Adult). Recommended. Much has changed for Maia Tamarin since the conclusion of the first novel in The Blood of Stars duology. In Spin the Dawn, we watched Maia, a young woman living in a patriarchal Chinese society, impersonate her brother in order to enter a competition to become imperial tailor. Talented but overlooked because of her gender, Maia manages to fulfil the seemingly impossible task of weaving three magical dresses from the sun, moon and stars. In Unravel the Dusk Maia returns from her perilous journey to make the garments to find her kingdom readying for war and that Edan, the boy that she loves, has disappeared. If this is not enough for one character to deal with, Maia is also forced to pretend to be the emperor's future bride in an effort to stave off the coming conflict and also wrestle with the demon Bandur, who is determined to take over her body.
Unsurprisingly, there are many plot lines, characters and conflicting motivations woven into this book. Set at a much more urgent pace than the first novel, Unravel the Dusk charts Maia's rapid growth as both a woman and a protagonist. As in the first novel, she is an enjoyable and worthy main character and is supported by a well-fleshed out cast.
Unravel the Dusk is darker in tone than its predecessor but it provides a strong and entertaining end to the series. Readers also interested in fiction influenced Ancient Chinese culture will enjoy this book. Themes: Identity, Love, War, Magic, Demons, Royalty.
Rose Tabeni




Sep 24 2020

The funny life of sharks by James Campbell

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Illus. by Rob Jones. Bloomsbury Children's Books, 2020. ISBN: 9781526615497.
(Age: 8+ years) Recommended. The funny life of sharks is the third book in The funny life of . . . series by author James Campbell and illustrator Rob Jones. Before reading, a warning is given that this is not a fact book and it is a book for four different types of people: People who love sharks; People who do not like sharks; People who are sharks; People who have no interest in sharks. The reader learns that this is not an ordinary read where you read from front to back but a book where you can begin or end where you want or follow the signposts throughout the book. Finally, on Page 14 the book begins with signposts to other pages. There are interesting shark facts spread throughout the book and clever use of humour e.g. Nurse sharks have been given that name as they are used in hospitals as a way of keeping patients quiet and you are more likely to be killed by your toaster than a shark.
While this book claims that it is not a fact book, the author has a strong environmental message regarding plastics in the oceans and endangered animals. There are also other interesting facets of information about things related to sharks or not related at all. Adelaide, S.A., even has its own page of information based on great white shark attacks. The clever illustrations by Rob Jones complement the text perfectly.
This is both a humorous and enjoyable read that will entertain readers both young and old. Themes: Sharks, Environmental facts, Humour.
Kathryn Beilby




Sep 23 2020

Alice, curiouser and curiouser edited by Kate Bailey and Simon Sladen

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V and A Publishing, 2020. ISBN: 9781838510046.
(Age: All) Highly recommended. Described as 'a mind-bending journey into the story of Wonderland', this sumptuous hard cover book has been published to accompany the exhibition of the same name at the Victoria and Albert Museum, an exhibition exploring the origins, adaptations and reinventions over the years of Lewis Carroll's original stories of Alice's Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking-Glass.
The first section of the book is a collection of beautiful and intricately detailed illustrations by  Kristjana S. Williams that children and adults alike will enjoy exploring. They are colourful scenes from the Alice stories decorated with plants and flowers, strange creatures, timepieces and hidden mirrors to search out.
Then follows the story of Lewis Carroll (Charles Dodgson) and his creation of the fantasy stories for his young friend, Alice, daughter of Henry Liddell, dean of Christ Church, Oxford, while passing the time on rowing expeditions with her and her sisters. Those stories of strange other worlds with nonsense verse and absurd dialogue questioning reality and perception were to become a source of delight for both adults and children, and an inspiration for many later adaptations and interpretations in literature, art, film, theatre, science and popular culture.
This book collects together iconic images from the early illustrations by John Tenniel to surrealist art, to the fashion statements of Vivenne Westwood, Viktor and Rolf, and Galliano for Dior. An allegory of Alice's adventures has been used as an introduction to the quantum world, and in a reference to her quest to discover more about our universe, her name was given to the 'Large Ion Collider Experiment' at CERN, the European Organisaton for Nuclear Research.
The legacy of Alice in Wonderland lives on in so many ways; this book provides a wonderful insight into the amazing impact those early stories have had, and is a volume that many will find much pleasure in perusing.
Helen Eddy




Sep 23 2020

Rowley Jefferson's awesome friendly adventure by Jeff Kinney

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Puffin Books, 2020. ISBN: 9781760897888. 218pp.
(Ages: 8-12) Recommended. This is the second in a new series by Jeff Kinney. It is written from the perspective of Rowley Jefferson, Greg Heffley's more virtuous friend (Diary of a Wimpy Kid series). Rowley has decided to write a fantasy adventure about flute-playing Roland, who embarks on a mission to save his mother. She has been kidnapped by the White Warlock and taken to the Ice Fortress. Rowley is accompanied by his best friend Garg the barbarian. They meet many characters from classic books along the way such as Sherlock Holmes, Medusa and trolls and pixies. Many of the characters join them on the journey. At the end of each chapter Greg advises Rowley to make the story more "bad-ass" and appealing to a modern audience. Greg thinks the book needs to be made into a movie with lucrative spin offs like video games, action dolls and toys in fast food meals. Rowley, always a stickler for doing the right thing, increasingly doesn't agree with Greg's sexist, violent and wasteful suggestions.
This is pretty funny, clever material. I recognised semi-subtle references to the highly popular blockbusters Game of Thrones and the Twilight series, amongst others. There is a lot of fun in the contrast between sweet nerdy Rowley and more worldly Greg. The satirical look at the commercialisation of books and films is bound to get readers thinking. I laughed out loud at Stephen the half-man, half-cow, with an udder and Greg saying "Librarians will go nuts for all the classic book characters." Cartoon-like illustrations are integral to the humour of the Jeff Kinney brand.
This is enjoyable reading for reluctant through to well-seasoned readers. Kinney's books play an important role in getting kids reading.
Jo Marshall




Sep 22 2020

Punching the air by Ibi Zoboi and Yusef Salaam

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HarperCollins, 2020. ISBN: 9780008422141.
(Age: 14+) Highly recommended. Amal's name means hope, but it is hard to feel hope when you are a black kid that has been hauled in for street fighting, and there is white kid in a coma in hospital. Amal knows that he has already been shaped into a monster in people's minds, and it doesn't matter what he says. He is innocent, but everything is stacked against him.
The story is fictional but draws on the lived experience of co-author Yusef Salaam, one of the 'Exonerated Five', the group of black boys falsely convicted of assaulting and raping a young white woman jogging in Manhattan's Central Park in 1989. The five boys were victims of racial profiling by the police determined to find their culprit and were all given lengthy prison sentences. Only years later were they exonerated when the real offender admitted to his crime, corroborated by DNA evidence. With their book, Punching the air, authors Ibi Zoboi and Yusef Salaam have collaborated together to highlight ongoing issues of racial discrimination, police violence and injustice still happening today.
The story is written in verse, similar to Manjeet Mann's Run, rebel, with the same heart-felt rawness and honesty. We feel Amal's fear, his retreat behind a stony-faced silence, his confusion and desperation. His only relief is his art and his poetry. The pages are illustrated with lines and smudges of black; it is only when there a human connection with someone outside of the prison, that his drawings become butterflies, because the flutter of a butterfly's wings can have an impact around the world.
The story is bold and confronting with themes similar to the work of Angie Thomas, The hate U give, and On the come up, but the book is easy to read; the verse pages carry you along from the despair of the courtroom to the harshness of prison and then finally the rediscovery of hope through art, and the love of caring people.
Themes: Racism, Police brutality, Prison, Black Lives Matter, Social justice.
Helen Eddy




Sep 22 2020

Marshmallow Pie the cat superstar on TV by Clara Vulliamy

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Harper Collins, 2020. ISBN: 9780008355890.
(Age: 6+) Recommended. Marshmallow Pie the cat superstar on TV is the third book in the popular series by Clara Vulliamy. The books are narrated by Marshmallow Marmaduke Vanilla-Bean Sugar-Pie Fluffington Fitz-Noodle himself, and tell the story of one incredibly arrogant cat and his acting life helped along by his human owner, Amelia. In this story Marshmallow Pie has been chosen to appear on a TV commercial with Gingernut, a kitten. However Pie dislikes kittens intensely and does everything in his power to outshine the kitten on the first day. On the second day of shooting, a series of mishaps causes Brad, the unpleasant Director, to completely chastise the young kitten. Pie begins to feel very guilty as he realises that it was his actions that set in motion the events leading to Gingernut's fall from grace. In order to shift the blame off Gingernut, Pie completely destroys the set and both cats are fired. But there is always a silver lining! By the power of mobile phones the chaos Pie caused on the set appears on Youtube and he becomes an instant overnight sensation. The next book will continue with the acting career of one Marshmallow Pie.
This book will appeal to younger readers who love humour and animals outwitting the humans. The illustrations by the author are both clever and entertaining. This would be a great read aloud in a Junior Primary classroom or at home to a younger child. Themes: Cats, Friendship, Humour, Acting.
Kathryn Beilby




Sep 22 2020

Marshmallow Pie the cat superstar by Clara Vulliamy

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Marshmallow Pie. HarperCollins, 2020. ISBN: 9780008355852. 128pp.
This is a lovely short story about Marshmallow Vanilla-Bean Sugar-Pie Fluffington-Fitz-Noodle (or Pie for short) becoming an acting star. The story follows Pie and her human Amelia as they navigate the ups and downs of the audition process. The book is reasonably easy to read and would be good for students who are independent readers.
The story is written from Pie's point of view and I really like this aspect! Pie comes from a very posh background and you can tell by the way she narrates the story. The author Clara Vulliamy puts just the right amount of 'fancy' into the text which is great fun when you're reading this book out loud. I read this book to my 6-year-old and we had lots of fun putting on posh voices for both Pie and then changing it up for her owner Amelia.
The illustrations are also a great addition to this book, as they help engage the reader and add an extra element to the text. My favourite illustrations are those of Marshmallow Pie as Clara gives her such wonderful facial illustrations, you can really imagine what type of a cat she would be like! I like how she has formatted the pictures too, some are placed within frames, at the top of the page or within the text - each one adding interest.
Overall, this is a funny book, with excellent illustrations that add to the story. Clara Vulliamy is a great author/illustrator who has really hit the target market of beginning independent readers. The text is clear, concise and uses an excellent amount of words that readers at this level would know/be able to decode. I think this is a great start to a series, bring on book 2!
Lauren Fountain




Sep 21 2020

The Inheritance Games by Jennifer Lynn Barnes

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The Inheritance Games, book 1. Penguin, 2020. ISBN: 9780241476178.
(Age: 14+) Recommended. Wow! This is one for fans of twisty plots and games that keep the reader guessing right until the end. Avery is a girl who is struggling to keep her head above water, hoping for a better future. She lives with her half-sister, Libby, works as a waitress and has one good friend, Max. Then out of the blue, gorgeous Grayson Hawthorne turns up at her school, saying that she has been named in his billionaire grandfather's will. Avery has inherited most of his wealth and the family is not happy about this. She finds herself playing a deadly game with the four grandsons, Grayson, Jameson, Nash and Zander as they race to work out the clues that Tobias Hawthorne has left in his final letters to them.
Avery has no idea why she has been left with a fortune. A strong-willed character, she finds herself the owner of an amazing mansion and a huge amount of money. With her sister Libby, she must fit into a lifestyle that is completely different to what she has been used to while maintaining her own values and beliefs. Then there is that mystery to solve. Why was she left a fortune by an unknown benefactor? Who can she trust from the Hawthorne family as the four brothers try to solve the game their grandfather left them? Who is trying to kill her? And which brother is she most attracted to?
The pace is fast, and the book was one that I had trouble putting down. It is gripping and the characters are so well drawn that it is easy to feel familiar with them. A sub-plot of domestic violence was also well depicted and fitted in with the main story.
The first in a series, the conclusion was satisfying, but left open hints to where the next book might go, enough to keep readers eagerly waiting for it. Readers who enjoyed this might like One of Us is Lying by Karen McManus and We were liars by E. Lockhart
Pat Pledger




Sep 21 2020

Dare to be you by Matthew Syed

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Wren & Rook, 2020. ISBN: 9781526362377.
(Ages: 11+) In this empowering non-fiction book, Dare to be you: Defy self-doubt, fearlessly follow your own path and be confidently you!' readers are encouraged to be themselves, be different, pursue their dreams and to not be defined by what is considered 'normal'. Aimed at students entering high school, the book covers self-doubt, friendships, individualism, kindness and more. Filled with research and examples, including real-life examples from the author, well known successful people and a few celebrities, the book relates to young teenagers through these examples.
I found the book easy to read, due to layout and content, and I believe it will be beneficial to teenagers who are confused and searching for where they fit in the world. Throughout the book there are activities that the reader can undertake to further explore their own strengths, ideals and future pathways. Using a variety of imagery and text styles (as well as colour), the book will appeal to many readers. There are some really good suggestions to assist with empowering the reader to own being themselves. Well suited for readers between 11 and 15 years of age.
Themes: Self-empowerment, self-improvement, courage, self-doubt, questioning.
Melanie Phillips




Sep 18 2020

They wish they were us by Jessica Goodman

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Razorbill/Penguin Random House, 2020. ISBN: 9780593114292.
(Ages: 14+) A YA murder mystery revolving around a prestigious high school with a not so secret society - the school's elite, called 'The Players'. The story follows Jill Newman in her final year of high school, three years after her best friend, Shaila, was murdered. Shaila's boyfriend, Graham, was convicted of the murder, and Jill and her friends have tried to put that horrid night behind them. This is their last year of high school, they run the school as The Players, everything should be perfect. But Graham's sister contacts Jill making a case for Graham's innocence and Jill starts questioning everything - her friends, her family, her boyfriend and her 'perfect' school life.
Packed with underage drinking and drug use (hence the suggested age of 14 years and up), They Wish They Were Us explores the pressures of fitting in, parental expectations, the complexities of friendships and how secrets can be kept by anyone. Similar in style to People Like Us by Dana Mele, They Wish They Were Us is a good introduction to the teen murder mystery genre. Many teen murder mysteries are well paced with plenty of action, however this book has a moderate pace with numerous flash backs. Readers may find it hard to keep track of the story, though I did read a proof edition and perhaps the published edition distinguished the past and present in a more obvious way.
Themes: Popularity, murder mystery, secrets, ambition, friendships.
Melanie Phillips




Sep 17 2020

A climate in chaos by Neal Layton

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Hachette, 2020. ISBN: 9781526362315.
(Age: 6+) Highly recommended. In young reader friendly language, Neal Layton explains how the world got to be in the mess it is in.
We rely on breathing out carbon dioxide after taking in oxygen, and plants take in carbon dioxide, breathing out oxygen. The greenhouse gas layer kept us warm. So it has been for millions of years, but two hundred years ago we started burning fossil fuel to create energy to power machines and the balance became uneven. More carbon dioxide is created, making the greenhouse gas layer too thick and changing the climate around the world. Added to this the animals that breathe out carbon dioxide have been farmed, increasing their number, so creating more carbon dioxide, and human population has increased rapidly, adding to the amount as well. Trees and forests which soak up the extra carbon dioxide are being pulled down and the warmer temperatures are changing our climate.
Animal habitats are being changed as well, making it difficult for them to survive.
So what can we do about it?
Layton lists his suggestions with regard to transport, consumerism, waste, food, energy and forests. Each suggestion has a paragraph of information about how these should be changed for the better. Food, for example, tells us that eating more plants reduces the impact of livestock farming, eating food that is grown locally reduces the need for it to be transported while growing our own is even more beneficial.
The biggest issue of them all is burning of fossil fuels, and Layton advocates a change to renewable energy sources, wind, tidal, geothermal and solar power.
Layton explains what a sustainable house looks like with a drawing and information around it to show where savings can be made. Many children will have heard of several suggestions here and some will be practising some at home, while your school may have solar panels and a garden, but all put together this makes a fascinating reference for a classroom to read about and research to find out more information. Questions will spring up: where do we get recycled loo paper, what is a composting toilet, does it smell, how can we have a garden on the roof? And so on. The double page with the sustainable house will create a great deal of imaginative discussion, and kids will want to know what their school and council is doing to create a sustainable pathway for the area. At the end of the book Layton acknowledges the work being done around the world, and finishes with a list of things we can all do in the home to create a better environment.
A book well worth reading and sharing.
Themes: Sustainability, Climate change, Greenhouse gas, Fossil fuels, Future, Renewable energy.
Fran Knight




Sep 17 2020

The mountains sing by Nguyen Phan Que Mai

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Oneworld, 2020. ISBN: 9781786079503.
(Age: 14+) Highly recommended. As a young girl in the school taught by her grandmother Dieu Lan, Huong wonders why foreign armies keep invading her country, Vietnam: first the Chinese, the Mongolians, the French, the Japanese and then the American imperialists. As the Vietnam (or American) war continues, it is her grandmother's stories that keep her hope alive. Learning that her grandmother has survived the French occupation, the Japanese invasion, the Great Hunger, and the Land Reform, Huong is determined that she will find safety once again with her parents Ngoc and Hoang, both soldiers in the war against the American enemy and the South Vietnamese.
Readers of this novel will learn through Dieu Lan's stories of the horrific ordeals the people of Vietnam have endured. The chapters alternate between the struggles of Huong and her grandmother during the Vietnam war, and the past stories of Dieu Lan's suffering of mass famine in 1945, the brutality of land dispossession and massacres during the Land Reform movement in the 1950s and then the conflict of the Vietnam War. Dieu Lan was the mother of six children, each of whom she had to find some way of protecting, even if it meant actually abandoning them to ensure their survival away from her. It is a heartrending story. When Dieu Lan retraces her steps to find her children again their outcomes are not always what she would have hoped for.
Each of Huong's relatives is affected by the Vietnam War, through separation from family, to beatings and rape, to Agent Orange poisoning, to traumatic amputation. But somehow, the spirit of Dieu Lan survives and even forges a way towards Buddhist forgiveness, peace and calm. It is a harrowing story, but one of the delights of this novel are the Vietnamese proverbs that Dieu Lan passes on to Huong, "fire proves gold, adversity proves men", "soft and persistent rain penetrates the earth better than a storm", and "only through love can we drive away the darkness of evil from this earth".
Millions of people lost their lives during the Vietnam War. This novel tells the stories of some of them, in the hope to learn from the past and prevent future armed conflict.
Themes: Vietnam War, Famine, Endurance, Survival.
Helen Eddy




Sep 17 2020

House of Dragons by Jessica Cluess

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Random House, 2020. ISBN: 9780593305447.
(Young Adult). Recommended. Any reader who likes dragons, misfits, intrigue and Game of Thrones will enjoy Jessica Cluess' new novel, House of Dragons. Pivoting away from her previous Victorian-era London fantasy books, Cluess introduces us to the kingdom of Etrusia, a world where humans and dragons coexist. Etrusia's emperor has died and a representative of each of the five royal houses will compete for the throne. However, instead of sending the house heirs who have spent their lives training for this competition, five mistfits and outcasts are called to battle. Emilia, a scholar hiding her dangerous magic, Lucian, a reluctant soldier, Vespir, a servant and dragon trainer, Ajax the thief, and Hyperia, a noblewoman who will stop at nothing - even murder - to claim the throne.
The teenagers and their dragons compete in a series of challenges set to test their skills and knowledge, knowing that one of them will be crowned and the other four will be killed. Despite their initial animosity however, the five eventually begin to work together to try and expose a dangerous plot that threatens Etrusia and all of its people.
While Cluess has clearly been influenced by George R.R. Martin's Game of Thrones for the premise of the novel, the story is appropriate for an older teen audience - with a content warning for violence and assault. Each of the five protagonists is given a character arc so chapters are short and the novel's point of view switches constantly. This may be an issue for some readers but extensive world-building and a fast-paced, interesting story will more than make up for it. Themes: Dragons, Magic, Conflict, Royalty, Danger, Friendship.
Rose Tabeni




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