Arrival by Charlotte McConaghy

Arrival

Arrival

The author, Charlotte McConaghy began writing Arrival when when was just 14.. She set out to write a fantasy that was complex and exciting, with a bit of romance thrown in!

Arrival is high fantasy, set in another world where magic, elves, dragons, sword fights and adventure are the order of the day.

Six friends, here on Earth, discover a portal which transports them to Paragor, another world where they are welcomed  as the Strangers foretold in prophesy. The friends do not all land together and much of the book skips from ‘stranger’ to ‘stranger’ following their individual trials as they adjust to their new situation and try to find each other. By the end of the book, two of the friends have still not been found, but the others are closely involved in a battle to save Paragor…

I did enjoy this book, but was constantly reminded of Guy Gavriel Kay’s Fionavar Tapestry – the story of five men and women transported to another world to battle the forces of evil.

I found the book tended to skip around as it traced the adventures of the different characters. The chapters were short and I would have liked a bit more characterization of some of the central characters. I found it very hard to settle with any one character before being whisked off to another.

This is an enjoyable book, but I’m not sure that I will continue with the series when the next book comes out.

Percy Jackson and the Lightening Thief by Rick Riordan

Percy Jackson and the Lightning Thief

Percy Jackson and the Lightning Thief

I actually read this book along time ago, but wanted to see the movie before I reviewed the book.

Percy Jackson is a misfit. Dyslexic. ADHD. You think of a label – Percy Jackson had it! He has spent his school life moving from school to school as his problems with authority, inability to sit still and keep his mouth shut and his less than stellar academic record get him kicked out of school after school until he ends up at Yancy Academy, under the tutelage of Mr Brunner, a Latin teacher with a difference. Together with his friend, Grover, Percy trails along behind the class as they visit  the Metropolitan Museum in search of Greek Gods.

Things go seriously down hill from there. Percy’s Mum has hooked up with a dead beat loser who rules her life with an iron fist and doesn’t like Percy. His father is not around – in fact, Percy knows almost nothing about him, except that he loved the beach and left suddenly for some unknown reason.

Percy has no idea, but his problems all stem from the fact that he is a half blood. The son of a God. As such, he is in constant danger from monsters, fureys and other mythological dangers. As Percy comes of age, his ‘talents’ also begin to manifest and Percy can no longer hide in plain sight. With his world crumbling around him, his mother and Grover try to get him to Camp Half-Blood – with a minotaur hot on their heels.

Of course this is just the beginning as Percy has to adjust to life a s a half blood at camp, discover who his father is and face a task way beyond his comprehension and his fledgling powers.

I enjoyed both the book and the movie. Percy doesn’t spend too much time feeling sorry for himself. In fact he has a tendency to react physically without too much forethought – although his mouth often gets him into more trouble than not!

With Grover and one other half blood, Annabeth who is a daughter of Athena, Percy sets out on a quest to recover Zeus’ Lightning Bolt (which the Gods think he has stolen – but he has no idea what is going on – of course).

As usual, they changed quite a bit of the book to make the film more visually effective, but they did keep to the spirit of the book, if not the sequence. In fact I found it very interesting the parts they did change – The hydra in the film is a great alternative to the chihuahua in Atlanta, but I would have thought the Tunnel of Love at the Fun Park would have worked beautifully on film!

Altogether I really enjoyed the book and can see why it is very popular with the boys at school!

The Nostradamus Prophecy by Theresa Breslin

The Nostradamus Prophecy

The Nostradamus Prophecy

Set in France during the reign of King Charles and his mother, Catherine de’ Medici, this is the story of a young musician, Melisande who not only witnesses Nostradamus’ prophecy of massacre and death, but becomes caught up in court politics and espionage.

Melisande is the youngest of two daughters who travel with their father, a talented itinerant minstrel, who spends time with the French Court during King Charles’ his Royal Procession through the countryside. She  is very close to her father and particularly her sister Chantelle, spending most of her spare time playing her mandolin and helping to embroider her trousseau.

Nostradamus is largely ignored, however he chances to meet Melisande and allows himself to be pressured into a personal prophecy of doom and connection, telling her to seek him out in her hour of need. Her need comes sooner than she expected, however she is not without friends.

One of the King’s courtiers has ‘lent’ him a leopard and his handler, a boy called Malchior. When Malchior is whipped by the evil Count de Ferignay, she helps him and in return, when her sister is murdered by Ferignay and she herself is under threat, Melchior helps her to escape.

This is just the first quarter of the book!

I thoroughly enjoyed this book. Melisande is a feisty yet vulnerable character who is largely unaware of her own charms and also just happens to be a dedicated and talented musician. Melchior is only present for a small part of the story, however he definitely caught my imagination.

I know that the intrigues of the French Court are only vaguely covered in the book, but I don’t think any more time or detail needed to be spent on the machinations of the courtiers and especially the King’s mother, a member of the famous de’ Medici family – famous for their use of poison to dispose of their rivals…

A great read!

An Awfully Beastly Business; Werewolf versus Dragon by the Beastly Boys

An Awfully Beastly Business

An Awfully Beastly Business

Ulf is a young werewolf. He lives at the RSPCB, a rescue centre for rare and endangered beasts, such as giants, rocs,  fairies, kracks etc. under the guidance and tutelage of Dr Fielding, the RSPCB vet.

One day a dead baby dragon is brought to the centre. It’s mother is missing and after an autopsy, Dr Fielding discovers that the baby was killed by a cannonball. Murdered. Something dastardly is going on and Dr Fielding calls in the authorities – The Department for National and International Criminal Emergencies. Inspector Black arrives forthwith and Ulf is given the job of showing the Inspector around the Centre. But all is not as it seems… with the help of ghosts and his fairy friend, Tiana, Ulf must solve the mystery and save the day!

I thoroughly enjoyed this book. Ulf is a like able young werewolf and the creatures at the centre are fascinating!

Unmask the Truth: The Hunchback Assignments by Arthur Slade


Unmask the Truth - The Hunchback Assignments

Unmask the Truth - The Hunchback Assignments

I read this a little while ago, however it made quite an impression on me.

Modo is ‘rescued’ from a freak show, only to be trained in complete isolation by the mysterious Mr Socrates. Modo has very special talents. He is deformed, with a hunchback and hideous features, but he is also able to rearrange his appearance, not just his face, but his whole body for ever increasing periods of time, making him an almost perfect undercover agent!

An endearing mix of fierce loyalty, modesty, agility and naivety, Modo is let loose on the streets of London to fend for himself, until Mr Socrates feels he has proved himself, and gives him his first ‘assignment’.

There are strange things happening on the streets of London. Orphans are disappearing, noble men’s sons are killing their fathers and then themselves, the prince has gone missing and an evil scientist is experimenting on animals and people, turning them into mechanical super beings…

A bit slow to start, but once Octavia Milkweed steps into the picture, the pace steps up too and a right rollicking tale ensues. Thoroughly enjoyable!! Modo is one of those genuinely sweet characters that you can’t help but cheer on!

‘Rapunzel’s Revenge’ and ‘Calamity Jack by Shannon and Dean Hale, illustrated by Nathan Hale

Rapunzel's Revenge

Rapunzel's Revenge

Calamity Jack

Calamity Jack

I have not had a lot of experience with graphic novels, but after reading these two books by Shannon and Dean Hale, illustrated by Nathan Hale (no relation), I will be looking at others.

I have read quite a few of Shannon Hale’s books, including Goose Girl, The Princess Academy and Enna Burning, and loved them!

In this series of graphic novels, the classic fairy tales of Rapunzel and Jack and the Beanstalk, cross paths, get jumbled up and go West! Rapunzel has been raised by the evil Mother Gothel in the hopes that she will follow in her footsteps – nothing could be further from her mind! Once she discovers her real mother working in Gothel’s mines, Rapunzel rebels and is herself imprisoned inside a massive hollow (magic) tree, hundred’s of metres from the ground. Through Gothel’s magic, food grows, her hair and nails grow but she cannot get out… or can she?!!

After several years, Rapunzel’s hair is finally long enough for her to swing from her tree to another, however escape is never easy, and of course she is not quite rescued, but helped by a bumbling Calamity Jack. After many trials and tribulations, first Rapunzel’s problems and in the second installment, Jack’s woes are dealt with. This involves many misunderstandings, a faltering/budding romance and many monsters, daredevil feats and quite a bit of rope/hair work!

Thoroughly enjoyed these books. The illustrations are seamless in the story and beautifully crafted. I did try reading the book aloud with a class of Y3 students – reading graphic novels aloud doesn’t necessarily work so well, as most of the students couldn’t be close enough to appreciate and discern the importance of the illustrations. Nevertheless – a fine offering and one i am recommending to many students!

Shannon Hale’s official website:

http://www.squeetus.com/stage/books.html

Halt’s Peril by John Flanagan

Halt's Peril

Halt's Peril

Ranger’s Apprentice is one of the few series I have followed from the beginning, buying and reading every book. This is a series I obviously enjoy, and having listened to John Flanagan speak about his experiences, I often recommend this to young boys. I’m not so sure that I will continue to buy each book, although I’m sure I’ll keep track of the series, as I love the characters and the world John has created.

In this installment of Will, Horace and Halt’s adventures, Halt has become almost obsessed with capturing Tennyson, the evil false prophet of the Outsider cult. The rangers and Horace chase Tennyson and a hand full of his faithful henchmen out of Clonmel, eventually back to Araluen. There are adventures on the high seas, horseback pursuit though forests and mountains, sword fights, archery and general mayhem. Eventually Halt is injured and only after a few days do Will and Horace realise that he has been poisoned and is close to death. Here Will’s unusual skills and determination stand him in good stead as he races across the country in a desperate bid to find Malcolm, a talented healer and friend.

Of course things don’t go smoothly, and I won’t tell you too much more, for fear of giving too much away. Halt’s peril is a good read, however I feel that Will and his friends have lost their edge somehow. Will has already proved himself, yet he continually relies heavily on Halt and strives to prove himself again and again…

I have to say, I’m also a bit peeved that they have changed the cover art… now my set doesn’t match!

There are some really cool websites associated with the Ranger’s Apprentice books:

http://www.rangersapprentice.com.au/home.aspx

The Black Book of Secrets by F.E. Higgins

The Black Book of Secrets

The Black Book of Secrets

Ludlow Fitch is a strange character. He comes from the poorest of the poor. his mother and father even tried to sell his teeth for money to buy grog. His escape from Barton Gumbroot, the notorious tooth surgeon, and his parents to land in the small mountain locked village of Pagus Parvus is exciting and fast paced. His dealings with Joe Zabbidou are less action packed but no less strange. As Joe’s name suggests, he is not your run of the mill travelling pawn broker. He buys everything people bring to him; chamberpots, wooden legs, a moth eaten, slightly moldy stuffed cat… it is what goes on behind the pawn shop’s closed doors after dark that changes everything, the villagers’ attitudes to Joe and Ludlow, the lives of the villagers themselves and eventually the balance of power within the village.

Even then, the ending of the story is an eye opener and not at all what I expected. Really enjoyed this book and would recommend it.

Ancient Appetites by Oisin McGann

Ancient Appetites

Ancient Appetites

An interesting idea, creatures who are part machine, part wild animal.

Nate Wildenstern does not quite belong in his family. He does not want to learn the family business and is not too enarmoured of the family tradition of inheriting through assassination, murder and mayhem. The Wildensterns hold an elevated position in Irish society, being the richest, most tyrannical and self absorbed of the ruling class. They spare little or no thought for the poor, often destroying the lives and livelihoods of their underlings. Nate is too soft hearted by his father’s standards, and an inconvenient stumbling block to his family when his older brother dies suddenly, leaving Nate as the heir to the family empire.

Nate also has a talent for and interest in engimals, a strange wild mix of animal and machine which all to often get caught up in the games and machinations of humans.

I enjoyed this book, but can’t say that I loved it. I found Nate’s ‘woe is me’ attitude wearing after a while. I know he is yet young, but he could have pulled himself together and actually paid attention to what was going on around him. For someone who initially seems quite intelligent, he seems patently blind to more than half of what is happening. Easy to say from the comfort of my armchair of course! The engimals are brilliant but could have been more central to the story, rather than just pets or tools. Perhaps their story will be further explored in the sequel.

I found it interesting that several stores seemed quite confused about which section to shelf the book in – Young Adult, or Children’s. I can understand the confusion, but would probably go more with Children’s as the political and social issues involved in the story are only briefly dealt with and not explored.

On the whole, enjoyable.

Leviathan by Scott Westerfield

Leviathan

Leviathan

What a visually gorgeous book! Even the cover is luscious!

I have to admit that I was dubious about the book, given the hype, however once started, I fell into the book with a vengeance!

The story is told by two young protagonists from very different backgrounds. Alek is the only son of Archduke Franz Ferdinand. When the Archduke is murdered by Serbian rebels, Alek must run from the Germans, the Austrians and basically everything he has ever known as war breaks out across Europe. He must survive if he is to fulfill his father’s dream and claim the throne for himself. Dylan Sharp, whose real name is Deryn, is a young girl from Glasgow who is pretending to be a boy so she can join the Royal Navy as a midshipman, and follow her dream to take to the skies.

The two characters don’t meet until half way through the story, but as their backgrounds and beliefs are so different, the time taken to examine their back story is just as important as the battles and interaction once they do meet.

Alek comes from a ‘Clanker’ background – where they revere machines above all things, while Deryn comes from a ‘Darwinist’ country, where fabricated animals are used over machines at every turn. Two very different ideologies, often at odds with each other. Alek often refers to the fabricated animals he encounters as ‘Godless’, while Deryn cannot understand why anyone would prefer the noisy, dirty, smelly machines over the beauty and warmth of her animals, especially the leviathan, a methane breather fabricated from a whale.

War is responsible for Alek and Deryn meeting, and war is also responsible for the unusual solution they propose to the problem of a wounded and engine less Leviathan, attacking Germans, a curious diplomat and a determined female boffin.

I thoroughly enjoyed this book, and know many of my young students will love it as well!