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Mar 21 2019

Queen of air and darkness by Cassandra Clare

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Dark Artifices book 3. Simon and Schuster; 2018. ISBN: 9781471116704. 880p; p/b.
In this third instalment in the Dark Artifices series of Shadowhunter novels, Emma Carstairs and Julian Blackthorn must deal with the loss of Julian's sister and the Inquisitor, as well as the oppressive machinations of the latter's replacement. Even more so than usual for sequels, Queen of air and darkness is hard to get into at the start, being part of a well established series and spending a lot of time at the start dealing with the events of the previous book. However, once the reader's caught up and the new plot kicks into gear, there's plenty to like. While the antagonist's racist agenda is a bit one-dimensional and old hat, it's not the real focus, serving as a backdrop to explore troubled romances and the coping of loss, which it does well.
The prose is descriptive and engaging, and Clare proves she knows how to keep some levity in a grim situation without adversely affecting the tone. Fans of Clare's other novels will find this just as fantastic and enthralling as her other titles. The book makes use of a diverse range of character representations including transgender.
Some readers may be put off by the size of the book and due to the vast thickness of the novel, this is recommended for avid readers, lovers of Clare's other novels and bookworms. Although the sheer engaging and impossible-to-stop reading way Clare writes for her audiences, the story will seem like it is over quickly.
Vincent Hermann




Mar 20 2019

Enchantee by Gita Trelease

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Macmillan, 2019. ISBN: 9781509895977.
(Age: Young adult) Recommended. 8.5/10. Themes: Young Adult - Fantasy, Romance, France and Paris 1789. An exciting fantasy tale where the illustriously rich King Louis XVI, Marie Antoniette and the image conscious aristocrats living in their palaces or the inner courts of Versailles, are starkly presented against the diminished poor peasants and their hovels. Arrogance and disregard for humankind is contrasted against courage, persistence, fortitude and devotion to the well-being of loved ones.
Orphaned seventeen year-old Camille strives to care for her frail younger sister Sophie while learning to move away from an older, abusive brother Alain, addicted to glamour, money and position. So poor and desperate, Camille resorts to her limited knowledge of inherited maternal 'magic' (Magie - dark margic) in order to make money. After some surprises about her past and her abilities, Camille learns that the magie will offer hope of a future of security in terms of food, housing, health and safety. However, with this lure, Camille begins to pursue grander schemes for herself and her sister. Is she fast becoming addicted to gambling, like her desperate brother? Is she quickly becoming addicted to magic as she slowly loses herself?
Amongst all of this, Camille makes friends with aristocrats (a group of people who she resents). Camille finds unexpected romantic love, but is he attracted to the-true-to-herself Camille, or to her alter ego the Baroness de La Fontaine? Double identities exist and will slowly be exposed.
HOPE - is presented to her in the form of a new invention devised by a small group of forward thinking gentlemen - to fly and be free. Hope was instilled in Camille by her father who was a printer. He taught her about the importance of freedom of the press. She learnt the value of the word in print - 'It was a kind of magic. A magic to alter the World'. This hope is what France needs in order to bring about change, revolution - to begin to balance the massive divide between the rich and the poor, between those with positions and the common people.
Enchantee is a wonderful debut historical fantasy novel by Gita Trelease (who states that she is searching for a secret portal to take her back to Versailles). This novel has so many messages for readers who are looking for a story which enlightens while providing page-turning entertainment.
Maria Burford




Mar 20 2019

Bloodwitch by Susan Dennard

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The Witchlands book 3. Tor, 2019. ISBN: 9781447288855.
(Age: 15+) Recommended. Themes: Fantasy, Witches and warlocks, Battles. Fans of the first two books in the Witchlands series, Truthwitch and Windwitch, will welcome the story of Bloodwitch Aeduan, who has joined the Threadwitch Iseult and the strange little girl, Owl to fight the raiders who are destroying the countryside. However he will have to come to terms with the actions of the Raider King, his father. Meanwhile the Windwitch, Merik, is held by the Fury and must try to save his friends' lives and Safi the Truthwitch is with the empress who is trying to uncover a rebellion in her kingdom.
The world building in the Witchlands series is fascinating: it is easy to believe in the court life of the empress that Safi serves as well as the bleak countryside, the awful slaughter and the strange monks and monastery. The cover too, will have instant appeal.
These books need to be read in order as each follows the other and builds on the motivations, courage and perseverance of the main characters. There is action aplenty in this complex series and the growth of the characters' understanding of what each stands for and believes in, stands out. The author brings the series to a satisfying conclusion, but not without some surprises and heartbreak. This series will have broad appeal to readers of fantasy.
Pat Pledger




Mar 20 2019

Hop little bunnies by Martha Mumford

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Illus. by Laura Hughes. Bloomsbury, 2019. ISBN: 9781408892930.
(Ages: 0-3) Recommended. Themes; Bunnies, Lift the Flaps, Rhyming Story. This comes after the similar title We're Going on an Egg Hunt and is based on the popular Hop Little Bunnies song. UK illustrator Laura Hughes's work is delightful, making the book an instant visual winner. Her work is beautiful and young children will love lifting the multiple flaps on every second page to wake all the sleepy animals (they are sleeping on the front of the flap, then awake underneath). The same format, illustrative technique and text type was used for We're Going on an Egg Hunt and it works so well. 'See the little bunnies sleeping till it's noon. Shall we go and wake them with a merry tune? Oh how still, are they ill?' There is lots of repetition here, favourite animals of young children (sheep, chicks, bunnies, etc.) and animal sounds that they will love joining in with. At the end we sing the animals a happy bedtime song and they all go to sleep.
This will be a real favourite that can be read or sang at bedtime or any other time of the day. Little ones familiar with the song will probably even be up and hopping themselves!
Nicole Nelson




Mar 20 2019

Ombria in Shadow by Patricia A. McKillip

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Fantasy Masterworks series. Gollanz, 2014. ISBN: 9781473205741.
(Age: 15+) Highly recommended. Themes: Fantasy, Sorcerers, Princes and princesses.
World Fantasy Award for Best Novel (2003), Mythopoeic Fantasy Award for Adult Literature (2003). This award winning novel is a feast for the fantasy lover, one for those who wants a challenge and something different. Ombria is a strange place with a palace riddled with secret passages and rooms. Buried beneath the city is a shadow city, inhabited by ghosts and Mag, a waxling created by Faey, a powerful sorceress. When the Prince of Ombria dies he leaves only a very young son, Kyel, and Domina Pearl, a ruthless old woman, takes over the kingdom as regent. She expels Lydea, the Prince's mistress, leaving her to die. But Mag saves her and together with Ducon, the prince's bastard nephew, they try to overcome Domina Pearl's evil intentions and save Kyel.
Written in beautiful prose, Ombria in shadow, brings to life a strange world on many levels. The reader is taken on a wondrous trip through dusty passages with strange doors in the palace, and on a further journey through the city with Ducon as he draws shadowy doors and eerie buildings. There is mystery about the worlds that McKillip describes; there is even mystery about the ending and the reader has to pause and reread to find understanding of the connectedness of the worlds and of Mag and Ducon's role in them. And the magic described is original and fascinating.
The love that Ducon and Lydea have for young Kyel is central to the book and glows throughout. It is refreshing to have the love for a child as the main theme rather than romantic love. The idea of loyalty to those who are loved is also one to explore and ponder over, especially that of Mag and Faey, who discovers love for her waxling.
It is easy to see why Ombria in Shadow is still in print after so many years. It is a perplexing, demanding and lyrical book that will keep the reader thinking long after it is finished.
Pat Pledger




Mar 19 2019

The Dyasters by P.C. Cast and Kristin Cast

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Pan Macmillian, 2019. ISBN: 9781760554163. paperback, 308 pg.
(Age: 11 - Young adults) Teenagers who can control the elements (air, water, fire and earth) are being hunted down by a mad scientist that genetically engineered them to do this while in their mother's womb. What is there not to like in a paranormal book?
The story is about Foster and Tate and how they are drawn together with their element of air which they never knew they had until they turned eighteen. Their relationship and bond grow as they learn to live together in hiding because they are being chased by the Core Four of Eve, Luke Matthew and Mark. The Core Four are sent by Dr Stewart the mad scientist. Foster and Tate are two of eight teenagers that the Core Four are hunting down. It was good to meet Charlotte and Bastien with the element of water.
It is definitely a YA (Young Adult) novel with some action but mainly relationship stories. I found some cheesy but did enjoy reading the book. The graphic pictures were good and helped you visualise what happening.
Overall, I think readers are going to enjoy reading this series with the quirky characters and romance. The paranormal aspects of the elements add some action into the story. Looking forward to meeting the next four teenagers with the elements of fire and earth and what will happen to the Core Four with Dr Stewart.
I think it's aimed at females 11 to young adults.
Maria Komninos




Mar 19 2019

Bright young dead by Jessica Fellowes

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Mitford murders series. Hachette, 2018. ISBN: 9780751567205.
(Age: Older adolescent - Adult) This is undoubtedly a book set firmly in the era of The Wealthy and The Rest of the World. The children of The Wealthy are educated, erudite and spoiled, yet they also expect that they will contribute, in an intellectual sense, to something as exciting and challenging as 'solving a murder'. So, reading this book demands, of the ordinary reader, a certain positioning that forgives the idea of the wealthy as deserving of their status and their intellect when it comes to something as exciting as a murder, particularly when it happens in their large residence.
Interestingly, there seems to be little feeling for the loss of a human being, but plenty of interest in solving the murder. So, forgiving them their sense of entitlement is necessary if one is to enjoy the book, and it is quite a good murder mystery. The events are credible and the interactions well-explored, giving us a clear sense of the situation and living arrangements of the time and how people felt and lived in England in that era.
This book would be suitable for older adolescent and adult readers as Jessica Fellowes has constructed a good, strong and intriguing storyline as well as believable situation and characters. In fact, her characterization is deft, interesting and credible.
Elizabeth Bondar




Mar 18 2019

The great Shelby Holmes and the coldest case by Elizabeth Eulberg

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Illus. by Matt Robertson. The Great Shelby Holmes series, Book 3. Bloomsbury Children's Books, 2018. ISBN: 9781408871515.
(Age: 8+) Highly recommended. Themes: Friendship, New York, Family Issues, Separated parents, Mystery, Detectives, Problem Solving, Figure Skating Champions, Diabetes. The newspaper calls them 'Harlem's Smartest Sleuths' and so enters 9 year olds Shelby Holmes and John Watson on their next exciting case to solve.
After being contacted by Tatiana, the coach of a world famous figure skater Jordan Nelson, Shelby and John are drawn into a highly complex case involving difficult codes and intimidating characters. Both of these young detectives must go undercover to earn the trust of the champion figure skaters. Neither Shelby nor John can figure skate and this provides some entertaining moments as they avoid getting on the ice or spending as little time as possible going through figure skating routines. Through deductive reasoning and the deciphering of clues, the two friends eventually solve the case.
Throughout the story, Shelby's addiction to sugar and the fact her parents have banned neighbourhood shops from selling it to her, creates some light-hearted moments as Shelby thwarts this ban with clever solutions. John, on the other hand has diabetes, and is very careful with his diet. John is also dealing with his father visiting from out of town and his passionate wish that his parents would reunite. At times Shelby's whirlwind and single focused nature seems insensitive to John's angst and naturally cautious disposition but she surprises the reader with thoughtful actions in the end. There are clever illustrations dotted throughout the book which complement the fast paced action and enjoyable storyline.
Kathryn Beilby




Mar 15 2019

Superman : Dawnbreaker by Matt De La Pena

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Random House, 2019. ISBN: 9780141386867.
(Age: 10+) Recommended. Themes: Science fiction, Superheroes, Good and evil. Having grown up with superman movies and comics set in the 50s, I found this version very refreshing as it is set in current times. Mobile phones and laptops are common and there is no mention of phone boxes anywhere.
Clark Kent is 17 and still discovering what he is capable of. New powers seem to manifest themselves during times of need or stress, though he sometimes lacks complete control over them.
In this well written and easy to read novel, Clark learns that he is not of this world and while he wrestles with the implications of being an alien and the super powers he possesses, he comes to realise that he has a purpose and responsibility to earth and its people. All this as he deals with the normal teenage issues of first love, friendships and High school. He and his close friends uncover an evil plot to take control of the most vulnerable in his town and turn them into monsters against their will. This ends with Clark having to show his true self in front of the people of Smallville to save his friends and the day; an exciting fight ensues including bombs, guns and taking control of a helicopter all described in vivid detail.
In this book you will learn about some of his special powers and how he discovers them. What his costume and cape is made of, its own special powers and why he definitely needs it. He meets Lex Luther for the first time in this novel, although Clark is always suspicious of his motives they are working together in this story. But Lex is destined to become one of Clark's most formidable adversaries.
I enjoyed reading this story as I learned a lot about Superman and what he can do and how he came to adopt his principles of trying to avoid killing anyone at all costs. It kept me interested and entertained and I would recommend it to anyone 10 years and older.
Joyce Crawford




Mar 15 2019

The Genius Experiment by James Patterson and Chris Grabenstein

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Max Einstein book 1. Hachette, 2019. ISBN: 9781784759827.
(Age: 10-14) Highly recommended. Themes: Orphans, Gifted children, Inventions, Heroes and villains, Problem solving, Albert Einstein. James Patterson and Chris Grabenstein's The genius Experiment introduces twelve-year-old orphan Max Einstein, an amazing girl who lives by her own rules. She's squatting above the Central Park horse and carriage stables, attending college classes at NYU and supporting the homeless people who live in the building with her. She's used her home-made computer built from discarded parts to hack into the college's systems and add her name to classes she wants to attend. Max relies on Albert Einstein's wisdom to guide her decisions, and all her possessions are carried in a little suitcase filled with her mentor's quotes and memorabilia.
Two organisations are watching her every move, CMI - Change Makers' International and The Corporation filled with shadowy sinister people keen to use Max's genius skills for evil purposes. Typically, they are dressed in black and out to capture and control Max. After a brief time at a foster care facility, Max is rescued by her chess buddy Mr Weinstock and two CMI handlers and whisked off to Jerusalem. Before the flight, Max's able to rescue her suitcase, feed all her friends at the stables and is pleased when she learns they are to be taken to safe houses.
Max is guided by Einstein's wisdom, without any parental advice, she continues a constant inner dialogue seeking answers and advice. 'Only a life lived for others is a life worthwhile.' The mission of the CMI Institute is to solve some of the world's most serious problems using science. Eight other young geniuses and Max compete against each other to become the one chosen to lead a team tasked with solving these problems. What shines through is Max's ability to face new situations, creatively problem solve and see the world through her scientific understandings. Ever-present are the evil minions of Dr Zimm ready to capture the young girl.
The team's first mission involves a dangerous trip to the Democratic Republic of the Congo to rescue children forced to work in the cobalt mines. Max and her friends plan to set up solar energy panels in a village setting up an alternate industry. When the Corporation comes in to destroy their work, the young geniuses and their adult helpers stand up and save the day.
The Genius Experiment is jam-packed with exciting adventures, twists and turns, humour and empathy. Max Einstein is a wonderfully resilient individual who faces challenges head on, relying on her own abilities and forward thinking, making the most of her life. Endorsed by The Albert Einstein Archives, the authors have created a tremendous beginning to a new series.
Rhyllis Bignell




Mar 15 2019

Muhammad Ali by Isabel Sanchez Vegara

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Ill. by Brosmind. Little People, Big Dreams series. Frances Lincoln Children's Books, 2019. ISBN: 9781786037336.
(Ages: 5-9) Recommended. Themes: Determination, Persistence. This is just one title in a huge collection of the Little People, Big Dreams series (including Stephen Hawking, Ella Fitzgerald and Coco Chanel). It is a great introduction to the life of Muhammad Ali, told simply but with honesty. It doesn't skirt around the controversial issues or provide a commentary on whether his choices were wrong or right. It just presents the facts of his life and the way he chose to live his life. It does present him as a champion, but not for because of what he stood for but simply because he stood up.
The biography is chronological, beginning with Ali's childhood in Kentucky and his motivation to learn boxing (someone stole his brand new bicycle) then progressing to his boxing career, his refusal to fight in the Vietnam War and his work for charities. We see as he takes his success in boxing and keeps dreaming bigger (from an Olympic gold medal, to world heavyweight champion). His incredible self-belief is illustrated through his rhymes (Float like a butterfly and sting like a bee).
The cartoonish illustrations work really well, especially in the boxing scenes, however, there is one double-page spread that cuts Ali's face in half and ruins what is otherwise a very poignant illustration. The bright colours keep things interesting and fun and the text is a perfect length: short enough to keep young ones engaged but with enough detail to be useful for school research for older children.
The real message in Ali's inspirational story is that he stood up for his beliefs no matter what it cost him personally and that comes through perfectly in this book. It also highlights that one can have a strong sense of self while also being self-sacrificing. This is a difficult to understand but important message for any young person today. Included in the back is a short photographic timeline and slightly more detailed biography.
Nicole Nelson




Mar 14 2019

Circle by Mac Barnett and Jon Klassen

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Shapes trilogy, book 3. Walker Books, 2019. ISBN: 9781406384222.
(Age: 3+) Highly recommended. Themes: STEM, Circles, Friendship, Humour. Inventors of the quirky books, Square and Triangle, this Californian duo have collaborated on another book, Circle. As with the others the simplicity of the tale is beguiling; a circle watches on each page, the size and shape of the eyes and the positioning of the iris giving clues as to how Circle is feeling.
He and his friends, Square and Triangle are playing hide and seek together. Circle outlines the rules, and warns them not to go behind the waterfall. Triangle is curious and asks why. They are told that it is dark in there, but Triangle asserts that he is not afraid of the dark. Readers will know that Triangle will not do as he is told, and eagerly prepare themselves for something a little scary to happen. Circle turns her back and counts to ten but when she turns around, Square is still there but no Triangle. Square reports that Triangle has gone behind the waterfall. It is then up to the brave Circle to follow Triangle and rescue him.
The following pages follow Circle's tentative search of the area behind the waterfall. It is dark and gets darker, and Circle calls out for Triangle in the gloom. Eventually they find each other, after bumping into something else in the dark, and they escape, meeting square at the entrance. All is well, a lesson is learnt.
Klassen's illustrations are pared back, using few colours to create the background of the game with friends. His delightful shapes with their big eyes and roaming irises distil the feelings of each of the three friends to the simplicity of the position of the iris. Readers will watch the iris with satisfaction able to tell exactly what the shapes are feeling and compare these with their own feelings as doing something they are told not to do, or being lost in a strange place or having a friend rescue you and welcome you back. Readers will marvel at the pages of black simply showing two pairs of eyes in the dark, laughing with recognition at their own fear of the dark.
Quirky and funny, Circle will be a hit with younger students, and initiate discussions in the classroom about following rules, mathematical shapes, fear of the dark and friendship. An activity kit for the series is available.
Fran Knight




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