August 12

Magic disguises

NewtsEmerald.inddSometimes, authors have an idea for a book which takes a while to complete.

Garth Nix’ book Newt’s Emerald is an example of this – beginning its life (well, the first lines) 23 years before it was published! In a note at the back of the book, Nix talks about the first version of this book “which remains in a bottom drawer and there it will stay.” Thus, Newt’s Emerald represents the re-working of a past tale from Nix’ creative mind.

Within the story there is a mix of fantasy, love story and historical fiction, as Lady Truthful seeks to recapture an enchanted emerald stolen from her ailing father. To do so, she uses her own enchantments (along with those of her aunt), to follow a dangerous journey while disguised as a man.

Woven into the mix is her proposed introduction to society, as a young lady from a well-to-do family, turning eighteen.  Thus, Truthful switches between the roles of a well-bred young lady and a gentleman, known as Chevalier de Vienne (her own French cousin). Will she be detected?

Truthful herself, is a mix of personalities – able to act as a lady, but at the same time able to parry with the male cousins with whom she has grown up. These influences come into play as the story moves into dangerous situations, as Truthful calls upon both her instinct and undeveloped magical powers to recover the Newington Emerald.

Add into this, an evil sorceress, people who are not always who they say there are, and you have situations which can twist and turn as the pages turn.

Newt’s Emerald – ‘a regency romance with a magical twist’. Shortlisted in the CBCA Older Reader’s  category this year.

Will it pull off a magical award? Will it enchant Garth Nix fans? Will the mix of fantasy, romance and historical fiction bewitch young readers?

Perhaps Garth Nix describing his book might invite you into the tale?

March 26

Fairest of them all…

imageIf you are expecting a retelling of Snow White from Sophie Masson’s ‘Hunters’ Moon’, then you will be disappointed.Though it refers to the ‘Fairest Lady’ and deals with a step-mother plotting her step-daughter’s downfall, it is far more than ‘Snow White and the Seven Dwarves’.

The tale of Snow White explodes in Masson’s tale. It is full and detailed; with characters new and real; with familiarity and clever modern twists that make it her own.

Bianca is not a helpless Snow White waiting for a prince to rescue her, but an observant, resourceful young woman, ready to take action and seek out the truth behind her father’s demise.

The world Masson has created is alive with characters, alliances and mysteries that Bianca must sort through. At first, she is blessed with rescue in the Haven after her stepmother’s servant, Drago fails to kill her. Unlike Snow White, however, she plans to overcome her alluring stepmother’s plans to win over the adoring community, to help them see through her pretentious facade.

‘Hunter’s Moon’ weaves fantasy, fairy tales and traditions with a little bit of magic and steam punk (automata) to bring about a challenging tale. You can never be sure who is hanging around in the shadows – friend or foe.

This is the challenge Bianca faces throughout the tale – who can she trust? Who can she rely on? How can she expose Belladonna for who she really is? Does she have the strength to do it herself? Who is on her side in the end?

A fantastic twist on a traditional tale – another great novel from the prolific Sophie Masson.

February 21

Capturing magic

nnestLife is not easy for ‘Little John’. His little sister is dead, his mother is in mourning, while his dad drinks away the money which is meant to pay their rent. Feeling mistakenly responsible for Raelyn’s death, John works hard by his father’s side in his tree-felling business during the summer.

While at a job for a wealthy community member, Mr King, John discovers Gayle – a young girl, perched in a tree on the property, who brings forth a beautiful birdsong. Gayle has also been noticed by the property owner, Mr King, who conspires a deal with John to get her to sing to him – so that he can ‘capture her voice’.

Tragically, Gayle is a foster child in a spiteful family – they have even renamed her, and so ‘Little John’ is drawn to protect her. At the same time, John is tempted by the offer from Mr King (to encourage Gayle to ‘sing for him’).

The struggles faced by both the children and adults in the story are realistic and thought-provoking. There are many decisions John needs to make – with sometimes conflicting outcomes.

Mixed in with this, is the mystery of Gayle’s songbird qualities – and her tale of longing to remain in her ‘nest’ for when her parents return for her. Ultimately, after she is left to sing for Mr King, Gayle loses her songbird skills, and we are left to ponder what happened. Further tragedy occurs, and John has to consider the outcomes of some of the choices he has made over the summer.

August 27

Weaving a magical series

valleyHow do you survive in a world where the king bombs your city? where can you hide? how can you escape?

The king must have decided that Rourton’s people were gettting restless, because it’s unusual to bomb the same city twice within so few years. Perhaps we’ve got more dissidents than the other cities in Taladia. I wouldn’t know; I’ve never been outside Rourton’s walls.

After this bombing, Danika decides she must escape – after all there’s nothing for her in Rurton – her family had been wiped out by the last bombing, and she had been homeless and street-bound ever since.

In her first novel, Chasing the Valley, Skye Melki-Wegner builds a challenging fantasy world where you have to be strong and streetsmart to survive. Danika grabs the chance to flee the confines of her walled city, but only after she proves herself to a small group of teens who also aim to be free of their miserable and threatened existence.

In this world, Danika and the other teen refugees struggle against the odds, against the powers of the king, to find safety – as they journey towards the legendary haven of the Magnetic Valley. To survive however, they must first develop trust in one another, and use their shared skills to overcome their common enemy, the king and his troops.

Chasing the Valley would be enjoyed by fans of the Hunger Games, Tomorrow When the War Began and other dystopian fiction, with lots of unique elements. Danika, a scrubber, lives in a world where magical abilities (one’s proclivity) mature as you get older; it’s something mysterious to be tamed for use by each individual. (Danika’s illusion talents come to the group’s rescue many times.) Alchemy bombs rain down from the king’s biplanes to destroy lives, but often leave behind a bizarre sea of flowers in their wake. Foxaries, giant fox-like creatures are used for transport as the refugees flee – to name but a few things unique to their world.

Melki-Wegner introduces all sorts of charms and talents for Danika and her crew, many of which are essential for them to beat the odds. The abilities and schemes of their enemies are also woven carefully through the tale. There is a gradual build up of understanding about adolescents in a world that is different but the same as our own. The author’s early love of fantasy and other worlds shines through in this debut novel, with the great news that there is more to come!

For more inspiration, Skye Melki-Wegner talks about her writing here:

Lovers of fantasy and dystopic worlds with a bit of steam punk thrown in will love Chasing the Valley – it’s sequel, Borderlands is due for release in early 2014!

May 27

Author! Author! (Doctor? Doctor?) Slave of the Lamp – Paula Fogarty

slaveAuthors come from many diverse walks of life – and not all of them write their first book straight out of school as many would like to think:

  • # Toni Jordan (Nine Days) has worked as a sales assistant, molecular biologist, quality control chemist and marketing manager.
  • # Sarah Butler (Ten Things I’ve learnt About Love)  runs a consultancy which develops literature and arts projects.
  • # M.L. Stedman (the Light Between Oceans) was working in London as a lawyer in 1997 before hiring a writing coach…

So it is not surprising to discover that another debut author, Paula Fogarty, has ‘real’ job as a doctor – that she has worked in travel medicine for many years, and has a Post Graduate Masters degree in Tropical Medicine and Public Health.

It is also not surprising that Paula’s tale involves a magical genie and heroes of mythology, when you read that “her youth was spent devouring huge volumes of ancient Greek, Arabic and Nordic mythology.” In ‘Slave of the Lamp’, she uses her own interpretation of old tales, combined with adventure, for a young boy who simply wants to earn some money during his holiday break.

In this tale, genies (or ‘apprentice’ djinns, as Rufus might be called) are not all powerful and fearful. Neither do the old-school heroes like Aladdin measure up to our expectations. Instead, for example, Aladdin is a fat, deceitful and lazy son, who uses the djinns, Rufus and Gloria, to carry treasure from a magical cave for his, and only his, greedy pleasures. As a djinn, Rufus does not have the magical powers he first associated with the job he agrees to do, but he simply has to use his own cunning and ability to get by.

As with any tale involving a magical lamp, the fates and fortunes of the djinns within are determined by changing ownership of the lamp. So Rufus and Gloria’s journeys vary through different times and countries. Treasure hunting is a very risky business, which is why they are employed along the way in the endeavours for riches and power by others in charge of the lamp. However, there is the chance that the powers of human ingenuity, even in the shape of a naive 13 year old boy, may triumph.

Fogarty’s travels and exposure to exotic cultures, along with her passion for ancient mythology have surfaced well in this book. You can smell the different locations Rufus faces, you can feel the new situations he has to adapt to, and you cheer his knowledge of the many  diverse lands he comes across. His powers of observation and the decisions he makes are also admirable. Teen readers will love him.

‘Slave of the Lamp’ is a fun book, to be followed by many more in a series – one which will reveal many more of the wonderful places Paula Fogarty has visited. Whether they are real or imaginary locations remains to be seen – whatever the case, there are bound to be many more adventures in store for Rufus as he substitutes as ‘Slave of the Lamp’.

March 6

Self published – ‘Switched’

For those who have spent lots of time and angst waiting to have their manuscript accepted, here’s a lesson from an author who couldn’t wait –  a publishing sensation, with millions of copies of her books sold around the world – Amanda Hocking.

‘Switched’ is the first of these books, which began life as an ebook, then has been picked up with a big $ deal by publishers. Very fortunate for Hocking as she began it with a trilogy in mind…

It begins with a flashback, to Wendy’s birthday party as a six year old. Wendy behaves in an extremely precocious manner, to the extent of which her mother takes a knife to her to kill her! In the ensuing years, Wendy’s mother is send to an insane asylum, while Wendy and her older brother Matt go to live with their aunt.

The story resumes with Wendy beginning yet another school, following a string of moves, triggered by her aggressive and uncooperative behaviour at previous schools. This time she becomes aware of another peculiar student, Finn, who observes her intently, and who, in moves reminiscent of Edward (of Twilight fame), enters her life to explain her real nature….

Wendy is a changeling – a troll child, swapped at birth for her mother’s true child. Her mother’s instincts had been correct, and Wendy’s own perception of not really belonging has also been accurate. Finn comes along to take her back to her own ‘tribe’, the Trylls, and after some precaution, Wendy agrees it is probably best for all concerned (including her brother and aunt).

Thus, Wendy is transported to a new and different world – where new and different rules and traditions are to be learnt. Meeting her real mother for the first time is a somewhat frosty experience, and she natrually wonders about the choice she has made. It is later revealed that she has a privileged position as princess, but with, no doubt, attached risks and responsibilities. There is also a rival tribe, Vittra, to contend with (Team Edward/ Team Jacob?), while Wendy struggles with loyalties for her old familiy and understanding a newly discovered world.

While recognising her great break into the publishing world, astride her self publishing reknown, Hocking’s books have received mixed reviews. ‘Switched’ is the first of 3 books, which were optioned for film release this February (2011). Definitely a trilogy with appeal to girls, it may also hold interest to all young adults interested in watching the phenomenon of e-book -to book- to film as it might happen in the immediate future.

What are your opinons on “Switched’ – worth all the hype? Worthy of a film release? (Not all film options make it to the screen)

Is it another Twilight clone, or is it an original world you will be looking into more? (titles to follow are ‘Torn’ and ‘Ascend’).

Do you think it could inspire your urge to write (and self-publish)?

February 14

Ranger’s Apprentice – The Ruins of Gorlan (review by Ysolde)

rangerAdventure, excitement and courage. This is what it takes to be a ranger. Will is plunged into a magical journey to learn how to be a ranger. I think that the storyline is great and the way this book is written is amazing.

At Redmont Castle, children from the “wards” are chosen to be apprentices. When Will is rejected from joining the battle school, he feels upset; but when the strange and mysterious ranger, who goes only by the name of Halt, decides to take him as his apprentice, Will learns that there’s more to being a ranger than meets the eye. Equipped with a bow, two small knives and a scruffy pony, Will sets out on an adventure to save Redmont castle from Morgarath and his minions.

I recommend this book to children around the age of 10 through to 18. If you are looking for an adventures and thrilling book, the Ruins of Gorlan is for you. The Ruins of Gorlan is an exciting story that proves that fate can take you to unexpected places but with amazing results.

 

N.B. This is the first book in the ‘Ranger’s Apprentice’ series by John Flanagan – a series about the adventures of Will and his friends from Castle Redmont; so there are several good tales to follow this one. (LW)