Saturday, June 25, 2011

The Princess Academy by Shannon Hale

I am a fairy tale fan. I simply love a good fairy tale and Princess Academy is exactly that - a fabulous fairy tale. It has all the elements – love, friendship, magic, the search for identity, the promise of wealth, heroes, evil villains, justice and injustice.

Miri is named after a beautiful flower and like the flower up until now she has lived a very protected life. While the other people of the village go out each day to work in the quarry chiseling out the linder stone that they use to trade, Miri must tend the house and the goats. Miri lives with her father and sister. Her mother died when she was a tiny newborn. “Though Miri had no memory of her save what she created in her own imagination, she thought of that week when she was held by her mother as the most precious thing she owned, and kept the idea of it tight to her heart.” Miri also has one special friend in the village a boy called Peder.

As the story opens a messenger arrives from the lowlands and he declares the Prince will come to select his new Princess and that she will be chosen from among the village girls living on remote Mount Eskel. In preparation all girls aged between twelve and seventeen must attend a training school for one year to prepare. Miri does not want to leave her home, her father. her sister or Peder but the village girls are given no choice. Life at the school is harsh but also it allows the girls to learn reading and politics, history, dancing and most importantly commerce. Miri is an eager pupil and dream of the Prince and life in a beautiful new home spurs her to work hard and strive to win the coveted award of Academy Princess. Of course nothing will turn out the way she expects.

If you loved Ella Enchanted by Gail Carson Levine, Tajore Arkle by Jackie French or The Stonekeeper's Daughter by Linda McNabb then look for The Princess Academy you are sure to enjoy it too and the final chapters will leave you breathless as bandits attack the school.

Back to those fairy tales I mentioned. Do you have a favourite fairy tale? Mine is The Wild Swans. As I was looking for information about the author of this book I discovered Shannon Hale also wrote Rapunzel's Revenge which is a fabulous graphic novel and of course based on the famous fairy tale!

Thanks again to Mr K for sharing another fabulous book with me.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Eager and the Mermaid by Helen Fox

This is the third book in a simply splendid series about the future and about robots! I read the first book Eager many years ago and just loved the whole idea of robots with emotions and a world of the future where things were good not the usual dystopian society. The second book Eager's Nephew did not disappoint and then a couple weeks ago I discovered book three Eager and the Mermaid!

Eager, Jonquil and Allegra have been in hiding since the uprising by the BDC4s but as the story opens the ban on self aware robots has been lifted and Eager is ready to be reunited with his family, The Bells. The authorities are keen to recruit intelligent robots to join a think tank to try to solve the water crisis on Earth. Selection is via a television game show and Eager wants to participate. He selects philosophy as his special subject and although he does not win he and the other contestants are invited to LifeCorp to join the think tank.

Eager has made a new friend Cedric and this group of very different robots are taken to a building containing a swimming pool. Inside the pool they discover an animate, a mermaid named Dulcie and Eager finds his life changing in most unexpected ways. Dulcie is part robot and part dolphin and she has been used a spy. She is suspicious of everyone especially humans her real friends live in the sea - the dolphins, whales and porpoises.

The humans in this book are important but it is the robot characters who really shine. You will adore Eager and cheer for him right to the end as he struggles to mend our broken world.

You can read more about the first book Eager here. One final thing I have just made an amazing discovery - Helen Fox is from England. I have no idea why but these books feel so American. I feel quite happy to discover Helen Fox lives in London.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Against the odds by Marjolijn Hof

I am a huge fan of books in translation. We are so lucky in Australia to be able to read books from so many other English speaking countries - UK, USA, South Africa, New Zealand etc but what about all the other books written in other languages.

I used to love getting books from Turton and Chambers who sourced European titles for our Australian market. So it was with some special anticipation that I sat down to read Against the odds an award winning book from The Netherlands.

This book has quite a harsh cover and I am happy about this because although this is a very slim little volume this is not a book for a sensitive reader. I am very glad I read this book but even now days later I am left with a strong feeling of disquiet. There are some disturbing scenes in this book but they are important as we explore the emotional journey of the main character Kiki.

Kiki's father is a doctor who has gone to assist in a war ravaged but unidentified country - in my mind's eye it felt like The Congo. He is reported missing and Kiki and her mum spend many weeks in a state of uncertainty which is made even harder by constant enquiries by friends and other family members.

The title comes from an innocent conversation between Kiki and her mum where her mum explains "the odds that you'll become a millionaire are very very small. The odds that you'll find a coin the street are a lot bigger. You might not know the exact odds of something happening but you just know there is only a very small chance that you'll become a millionaire. How many millionaires do you know?"

From this Kiki decides if she takes certain actions she can 'change the odds' but this could have disastrous consequences.

Please be warned this book does not have a fairytale ending. You can read a good review here. I will quote from this review - sorry I do not know the reviewer's name :
"The details are bare - we don't know how old our character is, what she looks like, what her interests even are. These are the things that just don't matter when there is so much at stake, when we're dealing with life and death. But what she does share with us, she shares in depth. So much is explored in this book: life, destiny, grief, the horror of disappearance, family dynamics, whether someone should be considered a selfless hero for going to war or a selfish person for leaving their family. Thought provoking, beautiful, raw."

The secret of the Black Moon moth by John Fardell

When we read we often need to suspend disbelief. I am usually very happy to do this but I think John Fardell may have taken things a little too far with his long lost civilization of people from a different species especially when he gave them clothes, a better set of morals than humans and skills to make very sophisticated technology.

This is the third adventure for this group of Scottish children and their Professor friends. This time they meet a man with a strange skull which appears to be from an early human species. This book is quite up to date because they mention Homo Floresiensis or the Hobbit person who was found in Indonesia only in the last decade. (My cousin was one of the team involved with this project)

The children and adults make the long journey across the world using their flying boats to reach the island of Pulau Gigi Naga. It is in a cave on this island that the skull and carving were found. I think by far the best part of this book is the Prologue where we read about a mysterious crime involving a book which is ripped in half as it is being stolen. If you have read the first two books in this series – The Seven Professors of the far North and The Flight of the Silver Turtle you will be keen to read this third book but for me it was not quite as exciting as the first two. Once again, though, these resourceful kids have to work together and outwit a dangerous enemy all without the help of the adults.

Look here if you want to read a little more about the plot of The Secret of the Black Moon Moth.

Kumiko and the shadow catchers by Briony Stewart

Here is the third book in the series about Kumiko and her special relationship with dragons. I was not disappointed. Kumiko is a brave and resourceful little girl who in this adventure needs to take the power away from the shadow catchers by destroying the book where they keep the shadows.

These little books by Briony Stewart are a terrific way to introduce younger readers to fantasy. Even though these books are very short they do contain the perfect amount of “edge of your seat” tension and the illustrations are fabulous. If you love dragons you and you have read the first two books in this series you will be happy to discover a new title about Kumiko.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

For dog lovers Aussie Nibbles

Two new Aussie Nibbles are about dogs. In Where’s Sunday we meet Sunday and his family. Sal is responsible for Sunday but as they return from a day at the beach her little brother Toby needs to throw up on the side of the road after drinking a very large blue milkshake with sprinkles on top.

Everyone climbs back into the car and Sal becomes absorbed in the book she is reading what no one realises Sunday has been left behind. This then becomes the longest night of Sal’s life as she frets for her dog. Luckily Sunday as a collar and tag with his name and phone number and so you can be sure there is a happy reunion on the horizon.

Crusher Kevin is an even better story for dog lovers. Charlie is getting a new house. Each day he walks past the construction site. When valuable materials are delivered the foreman puts a fence around the yard and installs Crusher as a guard dog. Charlie has a dream that when he moves into his new house he will get a puppy of his very own. Crusher does not match this image at all. “He liked dogs, but not this one. A dog like that could rip your arms off.” In fact Charlie is so scared of Crusher he won't go near him then one day Crusher climbs under the fence and Charlie and his mum find him down the road. This is the beginning of a change in their relationship.

Names can reveal your true character. Charlie calls this dog Crusher but his real name is Kevin and as Charlie learns Kevin was rescued from the pound and he sees Kevin wagging his tail and suffering in a rain storm Charlie gradually comes to love this large back dog. This is an Aussie Nibble with a lot of heart. The ending is very special. If you are a dog lover look out for these two easy stories with their terrific dog characters.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Waiting for Normal by Leslie Connor

I wonder why I am drawn to books like Waiting for Normal. Addie is living such a dysfunctional life and while there are adults on her side much of what she has to endure is done alone and without support. I remember reading a powerful book about life in mid west America when I was a young teenager called Addie Pray by Joe David Brown (the movie was called Paper Moon) and I think ever since I have enjoyed books in this genre.

Addie reminded me of Opal in Because of Winn Dixie, Mibs in Savvy and Anna in Sarah Plain and Tall.

What is normal? I guess it is something different for all of us but certainly the life Addie is living is far from normal. Her dad left when she was a baby and Mummers latest relationship has ended in heartbreak. The two small girls (half sisters to Addie) have been left with their father and Addie and Mummers move into a run down trailer right under a railway line with only a gas station/general store for company. Dwight, Addie’s step dad, does try to keep an eye on Addie and he makes regular maintenance payments but he has issues of his own and new relationships to nurture.

Addie does have some special strengths. She is a musician and finds solace in her flute, she is careful with money and can cook enough food from cheap ingredients to survive and Addie is a faithful friend. Soula and Elliot who run the gas station become true friends offering a safe haven to Addie when her Mummers once again takes off for days at a time but Soula and Elliot have their own sadness to contend with.

This is a book filled with heartache. I think it is true we read to know we are not alone and also we read to understand the lives of others. I absolutely loved Waiting for Normal but I know it is not a book everyone will enjoy. I will recommend this book to sensitive senior Primary girls. The story is incredibly sad and the life Addie is experiencing is harrowing although there is real hope at the end. I totally agree with the School Library Journal reviewer who said this is “a story centered around loss, heartbreak, abandonment, and new beginnings.”

Sunday, June 5, 2011

The Emerald Atlas by John Stephens

Humans spend a lot of time thinking about the past and the future so perhaps that is why fantasy writers often allow their characters to travel across time. The Emerald Atlas is a book that allows three very special children travel to the past and then armed with knowledge of the awful events that will occur these same children travel further back and successfully alter the course of history – thank goodness.

If you loved Northern Lights, The Wind Singer, Narnia and as a younger reader you also enjoyed The Magic Tree House series then The Emerald Atlas is a book you will devour.

In a scene reminiscent of the opening of The Graveyard book danger arrives in the middle of the night and we learn the lives of these three very young children are in danger. A mysterious stranger arrives to take them away and although she is only four years old Kate understands and will always remember her mother’s final words that she must take care of Michael and Emma her two younger siblings until they are all reunited as a family.

Horrible creatures chase after then as they flea the house and then magically they arrive at an orphanage where they can safely hide.

Our story then does a jump in time and we learn that the lives of these three children have seriously deteriorated with stays in a succession of orphanages each one more harsh and austere than the last. They are now to be sent to yet another orphanage at a remote place called Cambridge Falls. I held my breath as they were taken across the lake as dusk fell and arrived at this huge and empty mansion. The only glimmer of hope comes from the crazy housekeeper who, in spite of her grumbling and ugly surroundings, feeds the children the most scrumptious food they have ever eaten.

All of this is, however, only the beginning. Kate will find the book which we later learn is called The Emerald Atlas, the three children will time travel, they will encounter an evil witch, the Screechers, make some true friends and begin a journey to discover their true destiny. His is the first book of a Trilogy and while it did leave me wanting more there is at least a resolution of sorts at the end of this first installment.

This is a book that all fantasy fans will lovebut it is not for the faint hearted. The Screechers are monstrous and the battle scenes are blood thirsty. You must take a look at the web site which has a wonderful trailer and you can read the first chapter which is a great way to see if this is a book for you! One more thing you might like to know. This book looks huge – but when you open it you will see lovely large printing, white space and generous page borders – all things that I appreciate as a reader.