middle grade

Review: The Four Seasons of Lucy McKenzie, Kirsty Murray

This review is part of the Discover Aussie Fantasy feature, running during July on The Oaken Bookcase. You can find details of the feature and enter the giveaway on the Aussie Fantasy page!


The Four Seasons of Lucy MckenzieThe Four Seasons of Lucy McKenzie (Goodreads)
Author: flag_aus Kirsty Murray (website)

Rating: ★★★★★

Lucy McKenzie can walk through walls. Sent to stay with her aunt Big in a hidden valley, Lucy discovers the old house is full of mysteries. One hot night, she hears a voice calling from inside a painting on the dining-room wall…

On the other side of the painting, Lucy meets three children. Together they race horses through the bush, battle fires and floods, and make friendships that will last a lifetime. But who are April, Tom and Jimmy Tiger, and what magic has drawn Lucy to them?

Details

Series: Stand alone
Genre: Middle grade Urban Fantasy (Time travel!)
Published: Allen & Unwin, 24 July 2013
Pages: 199
My copy: the publisher for review (thanks!)

Paper copies: Book Depository (Aug 1) •  Booktopia (Aug 1) • Bookworld
E-copies:   Not available yet..

Review

The room was full of moon shadows and dancing light. But it was the wall around the window that Lucy couldn’t stop staring at, the one with the painting of Spring. It was as bright as a sunny day, and the tiny yellow flowers that covered the fields were moving, as if a breeze had blown through the painting and set all the petals dancing.

When her sister is injured overseas, Lucy McKenzie is sent to stay with her Aunty Big in her old country house west of Sydney for a while. At first, Lucy hates the remote location and lonely old house of Avendale, until one night, she finds she is able to walk through one of the beautiful paintings that cover the walls in the dining room and finds herself in a different Avendale, with a strangely familiar young girl called April. Over the next few nights, Lucy is able to move through different paintings into the different seasons of that other Avendale, experiencing bushfires, floods and the advent of war, and discovering amazing things about her own family past and present.

Throughout the whole story, Lucy develops a love for Avendale and the beautiful valley surrounding it. The images of the bushland around the house, the river and of Pulpit Rock, up in the hills, are very evocative and it reminds me of childhood camping holidays spent exploring bushland (although we didn’t have any horses to ride!).

This story is like The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe for Aussie kids. The idea of being able to walk into a wall-sized painting is a brilliant one – I remember being about eight years old myself, wishing I could walk through a picture of a forest covering one wall of a house we stayed in for a short time! I just loved that the old Avendale house was still standing all that time later – it makes me wonder what stood on the site of my own house some eighty years ago – possibly an old house like Avendale!

Children of all ages (including grown-up children) will love this story.

About the Author

Kirsty MurrayKirsty Murray writes books for children and teenagers. She was born in Melbourne where she first discovered the power of a good story. Kirsty now spends most of her time reading, writing and hanging out in libraries all around the world.

Kirsty’s works includes ten novels as well as many other books for young people. Her novels have won and been shortlisted for many awards and published internationally. Kirsty writes for young people because they are a universal audience. Not everyone lives a long life but every human being was once a child and the child inside us never disappears.

(Bio and photo from kirstymurray.com)

Review: Jack Templar: Monster Hunter Academy, Jeff Gunhus

JT2banner

Welcome to The Oaken Bookcase’s stop on the Jack Templar Monster Hunter Academy tour! Following my review, there are links to the rest of the tour, plus a great giveaway. 

Warning: Only proceed if you are absolutely sure you want to find out about Monster Hunters. Reading this book will almost certainly cause a load of monsters to descend on your house. There’s no backing out if you suddenly get scared of zombies or vampires! Don’t say I didn’t warn you.



Monster Hunter AcademyTitle: Jack Templar and the Monster Hunter Academy 
(Goodreads)
Author:  Jeff Gunhus (@JTmonsterhunter)

Rating: ★★★½☆

After barely surviving the onslaught of monsters that tried to kill him the day before his fourteenth birthday, Jack Templar leaves his hometown on a quest to rescue his father and discover the truth about his past. Joined by his friends Will and T-Rex, and led by Eva, the mysterious one-handed monster hunter, Jack sets out for the Monster Hunter Academy where he hopes to find answers to his questions. Little does he suspect that the Academy is filled with dangers of its own, many of them more terrifying than anything he’s faced so far.

Details

Series: The Templar Chronicles #2
Genre: Middle-grade/Teen Fantasy
Published: Seven Guns Press, April 3, 2013
Pages: 375

Paper copies: Amazon.com • Amazon.co.uk 
E-copies: Amazon.com  Amazon.co.uk  Barnes & NobleIndieBound

Review

Please note: This review is for the second in this series, and so may contain spoilers for the first book. You may prefer to read my review of Jack Templar Monster Hunter instead!


I’ve managed to deal with the Creach that find me from time to time after reading the first Jack Templar book – long enough to bring you this review of the second, anyway.

Jack is the son of Monster Hunters, who has just survived past his fourteenth birthday after being attacked by zombies, werewolves and worse. After surviving his encounter with the Creach Lord Ren Lucre, Jack and his friends go with Eva and travel to France to the Monster Hunter Academy. What they find there is not the warm welcome Jack had hoped for.

I had very high hopes for this second tale from Jack Templar, since I really enjoyed the first. I was let down a bit though- once the group reach the Academy, the story falls into the usual boarding school woes, a mysterious challenge that Jack mysteriously gets signed up for, and so on. With Jack also being the only one who can save the world from the forces of darkness it started to feel a bit Harry Potter-ish, and I think it’s for this reason that I didn’t enjoy it as much as I did the first book. It’s almost as though Jeff Gunhus has tried to pack too much into this story – castles, dragons, werewolves, discovery of Jack’s power – that’s a lot to cover in a reasonably short book.

Despite these things, Jack Templar is still a funny storyteller. The action is fast-paced and quite unrelenting – I felt like I needed a rest by the end of it since Jack was so busy through the whole story. Not a dull moment to be seen, which is perfect for middle-grade and young teen readers.

Monster Hunter Academy is a well-written and enjoyable story, but it lacked a bit of the originality that made the first Jack Templar book stand out for me. I’ll be keeping an eye out for the next instalment – the series promises to be an interesting journey after the recent events at the Academy!

Warnings: Some rather grisly violence.

 

About the Author:

Jeff Gunhus grew up in Cyprus, Greece, and Saudi Arabia where there was a distinct lack of television. He quickly found books were the gateway to incredible adventures, fascinating characters and unbelievable discoveries. Now, with five children of his own (all who watch too much television, in his opinion), he has enjoyed revisiting his old books and reliving those adventures all over again.

 

The Tour and Giveaway

Visit the tour site at Girl Who Reads to see the full tour information. The giveaway is at the bottom of this post!

 

April 4
Classic Children’s Books Excerpt
Larkin’s Book Bloggers Review
Brooke Blogs Excerpt

April 5
The Oaken Bookcase Review
Italian Brat’s Obsessions Featured Book

April 6 Lubs Book Chatter Review

April 7 My Devotional Thoughts Review

April 8 Here’s the Story Review

April 9 Library Girl Reads & Reviews Excerpt

April 11 What Shall We Blog About Today? Top Ten & Review

April 12
Paperback Princess  Review & Top Ten List
Girl Who Reads Excerpt

April 13 Alli’s World Excerpt

April 14 Ohana Day Academy Review & Excerpt

April 17 Keeping Up With The Rheinlanders Review & Top Ten List
a Rafflecopter giveaway

Review: The Last Dragonslayer, Jasper Fforde

lastdragonslayerTitle: The Last Dragonslayer (Goodreads)
Author: Flag_uk Jasper Fforde (website)

Rating: ★★★☆☆

In the good old days, magic was indispensable—it could both save a kingdom and clear a clogged drain. But now magic is fading: drain cleaner is cheaper than a spell, and magic carpets are used for pizza delivery.

Fifteen-year-old foundling Jennifer Strange runs Kazam, an employment agency for magicians—but it’s hard to stay in business when magic is drying up. And then the visions start, predicting the death of the world’s last dragon at the hands of an unnamed Dragonslayer.

If the visions are true, everything will change for Kazam—and for Jennifer. Because something is coming. Something known as . . . Big Magic.

 

Details

Series: The Last Dragonslayer #1 of 3 (so far)
Genre: Middle grade fantasy
Published: Hodder and Stoughton, 2010
Pages: 283

Paper copies: Amazon.com • Amazon.co.uk • Book Depository
E-copies:
Amazon.com  Amazon.co.uk  Barnes & Noble • Bookworld (epub)

Review

Dragons? Sorcerers? Set in the English countryside? Everything about this book had me expecting to love it to pieces. Unfortunately, it didn’t quite live up to my expectations.

Don’t get me wrong, the world Jasper Fforde has created in The Last Dragonslayer is an amazing one. Once-great sorcerers are forced to get work rewiring houses and charming moles out of gardens to pay their bills. The kingdoms of Hereford and Brecon are poised to go to war over the stretch of wilderness that will suddenly become available when the last dragon, Maltcassion, dies this coming Sunday (according to the soothsayers).

This world is an enchanting mixture of the modern world and a Potter-esque magical society, where strange beasts exist (I loved the Quarkbeast!) and magic-users must make sure to remember to fill in form B2-5C after casting minor spells. There are some very funny moments, as well as some thought-provoking ones about the state of society and the control of corporations and media.

The main problem I had while reading The Last Dragonslayer was that I had almost no attachment to the characters, and especially to Jennifer. They all carry on with their funny and silly banter, but show almost no emotion at all. Add to that the fact that the two foundlings, fifteen and thirteen years old, speak and act as though they are much older. The adult characters were all very comical and fit perfectly well into the story, but Jennifer and Tiger just seemed a little out of place and I felt the story was much less enjoyable because of that.

I couldn’t help but feel that would could have ended up as a really awe-inspiring story, didn’t quite make it because Jasper Fforde got a bit carried away with the silly. However, I’m pretty sure that that very thing will make it appealing to the middle-grade audience it’s intended for. I’m not sure I’ll continue with the series, but I’ll recommend it to my son when he’s old enough!

Warnings: Mild violence.

The Last Dragonslayer series

lastdragonslayer songofquarkbeast The Return of Shandar  

(Expected September 2013)

 

 

Review: Jack Templar: Monster Hunter, Jeff Gunhus

JackTemplarbanner

Welcome to The Oaken Bookcase’s stop on the Jack Templar Monster Hunter tour! Following my review, there are links to a whole lot of other articles about this book. 

Warning: Only proceed if you are absolutely sure you want to find out about Monster Hunters. Reading this book will almost certainly cause a load of monsters to descend on your house. There’s no backing out if you suddenly get scared of zombies or vampires! Don’t say I didn’t warn you.



Jack TemplarTitle: Jack Templar Monster Hunter 
(Goodreads)
Author:  Jeff Gunhus (@JTmonsterhunter)

Rating: ★★★★☆

Orphan Jack Templar has no memory of his parents and only the smallest details from his Aunt Sophie about how they died. The day before Jack’s fourteenth birthday, things start to change for him.

At first it’s great: A sudden new strength helps him defend his nose-picking friend “T-Rex” from the school bully, and even his crush, Cindy Adams, takes notice. But then a mysterious girl named Eva arrives and tells him two facts that will change his life forever. First, that he’s the descendent of a long line of monster hunters and he’s destined to be in the family business. Second, that there’s a truce between man and monster that children are off-limits…until their fourteenth birthday! Jack has only one day before hundreds of monsters will descend on his little town of Sunnyvale and try to kill him.

Details

Series: Jack Templar #1
Genre: Middle-grade/Teen Fantasy
Published: Seven Guns Press, October 2012
Pages: 196

Paper copies: Amazon.com • Amazon.co.uk 
E-copies: Amazon.com  Amazon.co.uk  Barnes & NobleIndieBound

Review

Jack is an ordinary thirteen-year-old with the usual problems at school, but a few days before his fourteenth birthday, things start getting really weird. He’s suddenly a bit taller, stronger and faster, people start looking strangely at him in the street and his teachers start to go slightly mad. Jack thinks he’s the one going crazy, but then Eva shows up and reveals the world of the monster hunters to Jack and his two friends, Will and T-Rex.

As it turns out, monsters leave Monster Hunters’ children like Jack alone until they’re fourteen years old, then they’ll all be trying to kill him. Since Jack never actually knew much about his parents or the details of how they died, this is all rather overwhelming. He deals with the whole situation remarkably well though, and is kicking Creach butt before you can say “hey, here comes a horde of zombies!”.

Jack’s first person telling of this story is funny and rather dry, and very enjoyable. There are some rather adult concepts in this book including losing one’s parents, sacrifice and overcoming the odds, but it’s written about in a very accessible way and I think any young teen would love reading it. There’s plenty of non-stop action and at less than 200 pages, it’s quite a quick read.

Just be warned, the first chapter tells in no uncertain terms that reading this book will bring a horde of the Creach down upon your house, so read at your own risk. (Seriously, what a brilliant first chapter, I loved it!). Also, if you haven’t checked out the website, there’s plenty more monster hunter info there!

I really enjoyed this introduction to Jack’s world and I’ll be keeping my eye out for future Templar Chronicles!

Warnings: Some violence.

 

About the Author:

Jeff Gunhus grew up in Cyprus, Greece, and Saudi Arabia where there was a distinct lack of television. He quickly found books were the gateway to incredible adventures, fascinating characters and unbelievable discoveries. Now, with five children of his own (all who watch too much television, in his opinion), he has enjoyed revisiting his old books and reliving those adventures all over again.

 

The Tour

Visit the tour site at Girl Who Reads to see the full tour information, including a Giveaway with some awesome swag.

There will also be a Twitter party hosted by Jeff on Friday, Dec. 21, 6 pm – 8 pm EST. If you have survived the numerous monster attacks that you will undoubtedly face, chat with us using the hashtag #JackTemplar. The easiest way to join the party is with http://tweetchat.com/

Dec. 3 Kid Lit Reviews Character Guest Post
Dec. 4 Breath of Life  ReviewCharacter guest post, and swag giveaway
Dec. 5 It’s About Time Mamaw Review, Character Guest Post and swag giveaway
Dec. 6 Double the Fun Day
Mrs Mommy Booknerd’s Book Reviews Author Guest Post and swag giveaway
Mom With A Kindle Character Interview 
Dec. 7 Tamara’s One Stop Indie Shop Guest Post and swag giveaway
Dec. 8 Loves 2 Read Review, Character Guest Post, and swag giveaway
Dec. 9 Italian Brat’s Obsessions ReviewCharacter Guest Post, and swag giveaway
Dec. 10 Alli’s World Character Guest Post and swag giveaway
Dec. 11 Book Him Danno Review, Character Guest Post, and swag giveaway
Dec. 12  Double the Fun Day
Fairday’s Blog! Review
The Preppy Girl in Pink Guest Post
Dec. 13 Here’s The Story Review, Author Guest Post, and swag giveaway
Dec. 14 Fairday’s Blog! Author Interview and swag giveaway
Dec. 15 Bunny’s Review Character Interview and swag giveaway
Dec. 16 The Oaken Bookcase Review!
Dec. 17 Larkin’s Book Bloggers Review, Author Guest Post, and Swag Giveaway
Dec. 18 Double the Fun Day
Keeping Up With The Rheinlander’s Author Interview and swag giveaway
Geo Librarian Review, Character Guest Post, and swag giveaway
Dec. 19 Double the Fun Day
Pulling Down Books Review
Girl Who Reads Author Guest Post
Dec. 20 Rumor Has It Review, Character Guest Post, Swag Giveaway
Dec. 21 Ali’s Bookshelf Author Guest Post and swag giveaway

Review and Giveaway: The White Thread, K.B. Hoyle

Title: The White Thread (Goodreads)

Author:  K.B. Hoyle (@kbhoyle_author)

Rating: ★★★★☆

Darcy’s return to Cedar Cove Family Camp is marked by a mysterious disappearance, and in Alitheia a new message from the Oracle adds to the riddles that must be deciphered if they are to expel the dark evil that hovers over the land. The six friends and the alchemist Rubidius plan a sea journey that will take them beyond the borders of Alitheia, and into the realm of a legendary archipelago. Tellius winds up joining them as well and the foes they meet along the way are both deceptive and charming, while the Oracle’s riddles seem to dog them at every turn. 

Darcy is also hiding a secret from her best friend Sam that could test their friendship beyond the breaking point, and there’s an unexpected development in her relationship with Tellius that changes everything and makes her understand that the deepest scars sometimes cannot be seen.

Darcy isn’t sure if she’s prepared for another meeting with the Oracle, but if she wants to have any chance of saving her friend, she must try. To complicate matters, the evil they left behind in Alitheia has not remained dormant.


Details

Series: The Gateway Chronicles #3
Genre: Teen/YA Fantasy
Published: The Writer’s Coffee Shop Publishing House, August 16, 2012
My copy: From Netgalley

Paper copies: Amazon.com • Writer’s Coffee Shop
E-copies: Amazon.com • Amazon.co.uk • Writer’s Coffee Shop

Review

Please note: The White Thread is the third in the series so this review may contain spoilers for earlier books. You’re welcome to check out my reviews for The Six and The Oracle first, if you’re interested! These two books are on sale for Kindle during August – just $1.99 each!

The Six teenagers are now fifteen and head back to Cedar Cove for summer camp. This year things are slightly more tense in Alitheia as the population start becoming displeased with the lack of progress against the dark forces of Tselloch. The group doesn’t get to do anything about it though, as they are all swept off on a rescue mission to liberate the Nark, Yahto Veli, from the Oracle. A sea journey, mysterious islands and evil gods are just some of the obstacles to content with, not to mention new riddles from the Oracle itself.

I am a little conflicted with this book. You know how sometimes, in big fantasy series, you read a whole book and feel that nothing much has happened with the main storyline? I felt a little that way with The White Thread. I’ve loved the three books in this series so far and I’ve loved the character and relationship developments in each story, but I was a little disappointed that there was no actual visible progress against Tselloch’s forces during this year.

That’s not to say this isn’t a great instalment in the tale! The adventures are still exciting and very well told, and I enjoyed the budding romances within the group of teenagers. I really love the interactions between characters – they seem very realistic to me which makes the story very enjoyable to read. K.B. Hoyle has continued to write what she started with The Six and The Oracle – an action-packed story with plenty of fantasy elements both familiar and imaginatively new.

The White Thread is the Darcy Show – she solves all the riddles herself and saves the group’s lives on more than one occasion, occasionally with a bit of help from Tellius. I suppose this is part of her growing sense of responsibility and of settling into her role in Alitheria but I hope that in coming stories we get to see the rest of the Six taking a greater part.

The ending felt a little rushed and then left on a cliff-hanger – I really hope the next book isn’t far away because I’m anxious to find out what has happened now!

Overall, The White Thread is a solid and enjoyable addition to the Gateway Chronicles, even if the main storyline was not visibly progressed. Fans of teen Fantasy, get a hold of this series! You won’t regret it!

Warnings: Some grisly scenes but otherwise squeaky clean.

Giveaway

The Writer’s Coffee Shop is offering an e-book copy of The White Thread to give away. You can enter via the Rafflecopter form below.

Don’t forget, books one and two of the Gateway Chronicles series, The Six and The Oracle, are on sale for Kindle during August!

Details:

  • The giveaway is open internationally, as long as you can accept an e-book (there are apps for Kindle available for most devices so don’t worry if you don’t have one at all!)
  • The giveaway will run until August 22.
  • The winner will be contacted by email and have 48 hours to respond.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Review: Mister Monday, Garth Nix

This post is part of the Discover Australian Fantasy feature, running all July on The Oaken Bookcase. Please visit the Aussie Fantasy page to see the other reviews and articles and also to enter the giveaway! 

Title: Mister Monday (Goodreads)

Author:  Garth Nix (@garthnix)

Rating: ★★★★☆

Arthur Penhaligon is not supposed to be a hero. He is, in fact, supposed to die an early death. But then he is saved by a key shaped like the minute hand of a clock.

Arthur is safe but his world is not. Along with the key comes a plague brought by bizarre creatures from another realm. A stranger named Mister Monday, his avenging messengers with blood-stained wings, and an army of dog-faced Fetchers will stop at nothing to get the key back even if it means destroying Arthur and everything around him.

Desperate, Arthur ventures into a mysterious house a house that only he can see. It is in this house that Arthur must unravel the secrets of the key and discover his true fate.

Details

Series: Keys to the Kingdom #1 of 7
Genre: Middle grade Fantasy
Published: Scholastic, 2003
Pages (paperback): 361

Paper copies: Amazon.com • Amazon.co.uk • Book Depository
E-copies: Amazon.com • Amazon.co.uk • Barnes & Noble
Audiobook copyAudible (Amazon.com) • Audible (Amazon.co.uk)

Review

I listened to the audio version of Mister Monday from Bolinda Audio, borrowed from the library.

Arthur Penhaligon is just an ordinary kid – that is, until he suffers a supposedly fatal asthma attack and a strange man, Mister Monday, appears out of nothing and chooses him to be the Heir to the Keys to the Kingdom, for a little while at least. But Arthur doesn’t die like he’s supposed to, and when the people around him start dropping from a mysterious “sleepy plague” he must venture into the strange world of the House to find out what on earth is going on.

Mister Monday is the first part in a seven part series following Arthur’s adventures in the world created by the Architect. The first few chapters were a little slow, but once Arthur had decided he had to get to the House that only he can see, the action is almost non-stop throughout the rest of the book.

Garth Nix loves to describe everything in detail, often through dialogue between characters. While that can get a little slow in some areas, it creates a vivid picture of the new world and what is going on within it. The characters of Mister Monday are unique and rather comical – in fact I think this book would make a brilliant animated series or film! Arthur is an unlikely hero, being a rather small asthmatic boy, but he steps up to the task admirably. He meets Suzy Blue along the way, who sounded to me like a sort of scruffy urchin but ends up being a most steadfast and loyal companion.

I really enjoyed listening to Mister Monday. It has been a long time since I read Garth Nix’s Sabriel series and the only other work of his that I’ve read recently was A Confusion of Princes, which I didn’t enjoy as much as I’d hoped to. Mister Monday was a delightfully different world altogether, and the non-stop action left me feeling a little worn out by the time I reached the end! I think the pacing of the audio version was a little off-kilter – I felt that each scene may have gone on a bit long, and later realised that it was probably because you can read with your eyes faster than speaking aloud, so the audio book slows the pace down a little.

Mister Monday would be a perfect read or listen for middle-grade readers (or adults that enjoy a “younger” story!) who love the sound of adventure, magic and a slightly twisted and weird other world!

Warnings: None, it’s squeaky clean, but might be a little scary for little ones.

Keys to the Kingdom series

  1. Mister Monday
  2. Grim Tuesday
  3. Drowned Wednesday
  4. Sir Thursday
  5. Lady Friday
  6. Superior Saturday
  7. Lord Sunday

 

About the Author

Garth Nix was born in 1963 in Melbourne, Australia, to the sound of the Salvation Army band outside playing ‘Hail the Conquering Hero Comes’ or possibly ‘Roll Out the Barrel’. Garth left Melbourne at an early age for Canberra (the federal capital) and stayed there till he was nineteen, when he left to drive around the UK in a beat-up Austin with a boot full of books and a Silver-Reed typewriter.

Despite a wheel literally falling off the Austin, Garth survived to return to Australia and study at the University of Canberra. After finishing his degree in 1986 he worked in a bookshop, then as a book publicist, a publisher’s sales representative, and editor. Along the way he was also a part-time soldier in the Australian Army Reserve, serving in an Assault Pioneer platoon for four years. Garth left publishing to work as a public relations and marketing consultant from 1994-1997, till he became a full-time writer in 1998. He did that for a year before joining Curtis Brown Australia as a part-time literary agent in 1999. In January 2002 Garth went back to dedicated writer again, despite his belief that full-time writing explains the strange behaviour of many authors.

He now lives in Sydney with his wife, two sons and lots of books. You can find out more about Garth at his website, http://www.garthnix.com.

Review: Little Fur, Isobelle Carmody

This post is part of the Discover Australian Fantasy feature, running all July on The Oaken Bookcase. Please visit the Aussie Fantasy page to see the other reviews and articles and also to enter the giveaway – you could win a copy of Obernewtyn, also by Isobelle Carmody! 

Title: Little Fur: The Legend Begins (Goodreads)

Author:  Isobelle Carmody (@firecatz)

Rating: ★★★★☆

Who is Little Fur? Why, she’s a half elf, half troll, as tall as a three-year-old human child, with slanted green eyes, wild red hair that brambles about her pointed ears, and bare, broad, four-toed feet. Little Fur loves and tends to the Old Ones, the seven ancient trees that protect her home, a small, magical wilderness nestled magically in a park in the midst of a large, bustling human city.

When she learns that evil forces are out to destroy her beloved trees, the intrepid halfling must embark on an ambitious and dangerous journey into the human world and down into an ancient cut in the earth, in search of a way to save not only the Old Ones, but the Earth Spirit itself.

Details

Series: Little Fur #1 of 4
Genre: Children’s Fantasy
Published: Viking (Penguin), 2005
Pages: 195

Paper copies: Amazon.com • Amazon.co.uk • Book Depository
E-copies: Barnes & Noble
Audiobook copy: Audible (Amazon.com) • Audible (Amazon.co.uk)

Review

Little Fur lives in a small patch of wilderness, surrounded by places where humans live. She tends to injured animals and helps the Old Ones keep the Earth Magic flowing. One day she hears about a terrible threat from humans to trees near her home, and she leaves on a quest to seek wisdom of how to stop these humans from destroying the trees.

As much as I may identify as an Isobelle Carmody fan, I’ll admit I had never heard of the Little Fur series until fairly recently, when I found them by accident while browsing the junior fiction shelves at the library. I was reminded again when I met Isobelle recently at a different library, when she talked about the creation of Little Fur with her daughter and the play with animal puppets. As I was reading the story, the character of Crow had Isobelle’s Crow-puppet voice for me after that!

This story is delightfully told, creating a sense of wonder about our everyday human world. It encourages us to care for our green spaces and respect the animals who live there. The style is simple enough for older children to read to themselves, and there are cute little illustrations by Isobelle herself throughout the book.

Even so, there are some fairly dark themes within the story and some scary moments. I’d suggest this book to be read aloud to children or at least encourage them to talk about what they’ve read.

‘Why do humans make black roads?’ she murmured.

‘To summon road beasts,’ Sly said, looking back over her shoulder. ‘They keep them as pets. I myself have seen humans bathing their shells with water.’

‘The giant road beast that roared past us was a human pet?’ Little Fur could not believe it.

‘Perhaps not that one,’ Sly admitted. ‘No doubt there are road beasts that will not be tamed, just as there are cats who will not be tamed.’ (Little Fur, Page 40)

This is the kind of book I would have loved to have read as a kid, but then, I loved FernGully and all the other eco-aware TV and film of the 90s. I disagree with some reviewers on Goodreads who say this book has too much of a “green” message – I think the story itself stands as brilliant fantasy for young readers, if a little dark for the very young.

If you and your children love stories with magic, talking creatures and important quests with non-stop adventure, make sure to read about Little Fur and her friends.

Little Fur series

  1. The Legend Begins
  2. A Fox Called Sorrow
  3. A Mystery of Wolves
  4. Riddle of Green

 

About the Author

Isobelle Carmody began the first novel of her highly acclaimed Obernewtyn Chronicles while she was still in high school. The series has established her at the forefront of fantasy writing in Australia.

In addition to her young-adult novels, such as the Obernewtyn Chronicles and Alyzon Whitestarr, Isobelle’s published works include several middle-grade fantasies. Her still-unfinished Gateway Trilogy has been favorably compared to The Wizard of Oz and the Chronicles of Narnia.

She currently divides her time between her home on the Great Ocean Road in Australia and her travels abroad with her partner and daughter.

Review: The Oracle, K.B. Hoyle

Title: The Oracle (Goodreads)

Author:  K.B. Hoyle (@kbhoyle_author)

Rating: ★★★★★

It is the summer before freshman year and Darcy and her five friends have come back to Cedar Cove Family Camp and Alitheia. This return is bittersweet because her elusive purpose in the magical realm continues to evade her. Egged on by Tellius, the boy prince she is prophesied to marry, Darcy rebels and impulsively “petitions” an entity called the Oracle and requests it give her information as to her purpose. In order to receive her answer she must travel to the Oracle, and so she embarks on a journey along with her friends and Yahto Veli, the nark. Too late she realizes her selfish entreaty has thrown the entire outcome of the prophecy itself into question and endangered everyone. 

Details

Series: The Gateway Chronicles #2
Genre: Middle-grade/Young teen Fantasy
Published: The Writers Coffee Shop, June 14, 2012 (first published in 2010)
Pages (Hardcover): 237
My Copy: Digital ARC from Netgalley

Paper copies: The Writer’s Coffee Shop
E-copies: Amazon.com • The Writer’s Coffee Shop

Review

The first book in the Gateway Chronicles, The Six, was re-released earlier this year and the story of The Oracle picks up a year later. The Six are now fourteen and they and their families are about to head back to Cedar Cove for another summer holiday. Hoyle has done a great job at gently reminding the reader of previous events, without bogging the story down with a long-winded retelling.

Once the teenagers arrive at Cedar Creek it’s all systems go right to the end – there’s none of the waiting around that irritated me a little in The Six. There’s a challenge around every corner and the travellers must use every trick at their disposal to survive. The teenagers are gradually improving their talents and discovering their magic, and they surprise themselves and each other with their capabilities all along the way.

As I wrote in my review for The Six,  this is just the sort of thing I loved to read when I was middle-grade-aged. Gateways that lead to other worlds, magic, mythical creatures, fairies, princes, nasty shadowy baddies – it’s all here!

I’m really enjoying the development of relationships between all the characters and I can see that we’re in for a treat in the next few books as they all get older and more mature. I love the playful Dean and Perry moments, but these two started to show their more serious sides as well in this book. We didn’t see enough of Sam though! I think she’s adorable. Darcy is much less moody and withdrawn now which is a refreshing change, but she still hasn’t stopped making impulsive decisions and that gets them all into trouble. I’m also really interested in Colin now – he sounds like a troubled character who will develop into a central part of the story sooner or later.

The last couple of chapters felt slightly rushed to me, but tied up nicely ready for the next instalment.

Fans of fantasy of all ages will enjoy The Oracle. It’s a perfect summer read for you northern hemisphere types, or a curl up warm winter book for the rest of us, but I do recommend picking up a copy of The Six first if you haven’t read it. The next in the series, The White Thread, has already been self-published on Createspace, but I believe TWCS will be re-releasing it sometime soon.

Warnings: None, it’s squeaky clean.

What did others think of The Oracle?

There’s actually a blog tour of sorts on at  the moment, where the Writers Coffee Shop is posting links to all the reviews of the first two Gateway books. You can find a range of reviews there, but here’s a small selection:

  • Girl Who Reads – “I thoroughly enjoyed this tale – I want to go back and read it again”
  • Ja citam, a ti? – “If you love books about magic, summer trips and everything Narnia alike – this is right choice for you.”
  • Paperbook Princess – “If you have read the first book in this series, then you HAVE to read The Oracle, and if you haven’t read The Six yet, read it… like yesterday!”

Review: Talisman of El, Alecia Stone

Talisman of El, Alecia Stone

Title: Talisman of El (Goodreads)

Author:  Alecia Stone (@Alecia_Stone)

Rating: ★★★☆☆

When 14-year-old Char­lie Blake wakes up sweat­ing and gasp­ing for air in the mid­dle of the night, he knows it is hap­pen­ing again. This time he wit­nesses a bru­tal mur­der. He’s afraid to tell any­one. No one would believe him … because it was a dream. Just like the one he had four years ago – the day before his dad died.

Details

Series: Talisman of El #1 of 3
Genre: Middle-grade/Young Adult Fantasy/Mythology
Published: Centrinian Publishing, May 20, 2012.
Pages
(hardcover): 364
My copy: Digital ARC from Netgalley

Paper copies: Amazon.com (hardcover) • Amazon.co.uk • Book Depository
E-copies: Amazon.com • Amazon.co.uk • Barnes & Noble

Review

Charlie is a fourteen-year-old orphan who has just moved into a new foster home. His sleep is plagued by strange dreams, but things start to get really strange when he finds out that the events of his dreams have actually happened. The story draws Charlie and his friends into a strange underground world populated by angels, elementals and demons and sets him on the path towards finding out who he is and why he has these strange dreams.

Talisman of El has an amazing premise – a returned King set to restore an ancient amulet and to save mankind from destruction. The exciting and dramatic scenes are great, and the plight of the orphaned boys really pulls at the heartstrings. Unfortunately, there was just something about the story that prevented it from being the epic read that it sounded like it could have been.

The main problem I have with Talisman of El is that there is a lot of detail. The mythologies that Charlie, Derkein, Alex and Richmond encounter are very complicated and terminology is thrown out all over the place. I had to keep going back in the story to check descriptions to keep up with what was going on, and that’s not so easy on a Kindle. I’m just a little concerned that younger readers will have trouble following all the ins and outs of the worlds, the elements, the angels and all the systems described.

I’m not sure if it’s the amount of explanation, but the story didn’t flow well for me. The story sometimes jumped forwards in time within the same chapter, as though a few minutes of the story had been cut out. This wasn’t made easier to deal with by a few formatting issues in the Digital ARC I read, but occasionally I was confused as to what just happened and had to go back and check.

Despite these issues, Talisman of El was an exciting read and a great debut for Alecia Stone. I will be interested to see how Charlie’s story continues in the next part of the series.

No warnings: It’s squeaky clean.

Review: The Six, K.B. Hoyle

Title: The Six (Goodreads)

Author:  K.B. Hoyle (@kbhoyle_author)

Rating: ★★★★☆

Darcy Pennington hates her life. She is an insufferably average teenager with no real friends, crushing social anxiety, and an indescribable sense of not fitting in anywhere. A change in her dad’s job forces her to attend Cedar Cove Family Camp the summer before her eighth-grade year, and Darcy once again finds herself on the outside of a social circle of teenagers, with her only advocate being an awkward girl named Samantha Palm. The only problem is, Darcy has no desire to be friends with her, but as the hostility from the other teenagers increases, she decides to return the friendship.

When Darcy begins to experience strange magical occurrences, she comes to believe she’s either losing her mind or on the brink of a discovery that could give her purpose in life. After unwittingly stumbling through a magical gateway to a new world called Alitheia, she convinces Sam and the other four teenagers to travel there with her, and despite their earlier hostilities toward her, they eventually concede leadership of their small group to Darcy. Once there, they learn the “arrival of the Six” was prophesied hundreds of years before, and that they must expel an ancient evil from the land. In the end their lives, and the fate of Alitheia, will hinge upon Darcy. Will she have what it takes to fulfill her mysterious purpose? Or will she fall prey to a deadly foe?

Details

Series: The Gateway Chronicles #1
Genre: Middle-grade/Young teen Fantasy
Published: The Writers Coffee Shop, April 5, 2012 (first published in 2009)
My Copy: Digital ARC from Netgalley

Paper copies: The Writers Coffee Shop
E-copies: Amazon.com • Barnes & Noble

Review

Have you ever had a feeling when you visited a natural location that there was something magical about the area? Five children, now teenagers, have been having that same feeling each summer when their families have come to Cedar Cove to camp . This year, Darcy and her family have joined the other families, and that magical feeling is about to lead the six teenagers into another world – Aletheria.

I loved reading about the world of Aletheria and the creatures in it! The story is a bit The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe, a bit Harry Potter – it’s just the sort of thing I loved to read when I was middle-grade-aged.

The story drew me in from the first chapter, mainly owing to the realistic portrayal of the characters. Darcy and her family sound just like a real family going on holiday where the teenager doesn’t want to be there and the little brother is super-annoyingly-excited.

Hoyle has perfected Darcy’s “no-one understands me so I’ll just go sulk over in this corner and avoid everyone” behavior, but unfortunately this leads to an odd outcome in the story – I couldn’t help feeling that because Darcy was so busy avoiding everyone, the most interesting parts of the story happened to other people rather than her. The whole story is told from Darcy’s point of view, which is fine in that we get to know her very well, but it means that she doesn’t hear what the other characters are up to most of the time.

That aside, this is one of the best middle-grade stories I’ve read in a while. Each chapter led into the next and the action parts were very exciting. This was a fantastic introduction to the world of Aletheria, but as with many debut novels in series, I think the best is yet to come. I can’t wait to get stuck into the second in the series, The Oracle. It’s due for release in June and currently available on Netgalley.
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