Book Review: Sea of Strangers

Sea of Strangers – Erica Cameron – The Ryogan Chronicles #2 – Entangled: Teen – Published 5 December 2017

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Synopsis

The only way for Khya to get her brother back alive is to kill Varan—the immortal ruler who can’t be killed. But not even Varan knew what he was doing when he perverted magic and humanity to become immortal.

Khya’s leading her group of friends and rebels into the mountains that hold Varan’s secrets, but if risking all their lives is going to be worth it, she has to give up everything else—breaking the spell that holds her brother captive and jeopardizing her deepening relationship with Tessen, the boy who has been by turns her rival and refuge since her brother disappeared. Immortality itself might be her only answer, but if that’s where Khya has to go, she can’t ask Tessen or her friends to follow.

My thoughts

Packed with action, a dangerous quest, romance, and the multi-layered details of a complicated and unique fantasy world, Sea of Strangers is an epic addition to The Ryogan Chronicles.

Sea of Strangers picks up right where Island of Exiles left off, thrusting the reader back into the middle of the action as Khya, Tessen and their crew escape Shiara for the promised freedom of Ryogan. Their journey must serve two purposes: warning the inhabitants of Ryogan of the coming danger, and finding the secret of how to destroy Varan and his seemingly unbeatable power. But their quest for answers, their goal to soon return home for their loved ones, is fraught with danger, and much will have to be sacrificed if they are to succeed.

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Book Review: Indigo Blue

Indigo Blue – Jessica Watson – Hachette Australia – Published 11 January 2018

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Synopsis

Alex feels like a fish out of water in her new hometown – the sleepy little lakeside village of Boreen Point where she is reluctantly sent to live with her slightly eccentric aunt for her final year of high school. None of Alex’s classmates could care less about the new girl, so Alex couldn’t care less about them . . . or so she tries to tell herself.

As a distraction from what is quickly shaping up to be a very lonely year, Alex spends her savings on a rundown little yacht and throws herself into restoring it. An offer to help a shy classmate with a history assignment leads to a curious discovery and the beginnings of a friendship, but it’s Sam – the sailmaker’s apprentice – and his mysterious ways that really capture Alex’s attention . .

My thoughts

Indigo blue is the fiction debut from renown Australian sailor, Jessica Watson. Along with her excellent knowledge of sailing, Jessica brings to this fun and quirky story an obvious familiarity with the landscape and history of the coastal setting. Indigo Blue seamlessly combines sailing, friendship, and romance with magical realism.

When Alex is forced to move to the tiny coastal town of Boreen Point when her father moves oversea, she expects boredom. But an old sailing boat in need of repair and new school friendships quickly fill her time. And then there is the mysterious sail-repair apprentice, Sam. As Alex discovers a piece of local history she also begins to untangle the mystery that surrounds Sam and what makes him so different.

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Book Review: Mallee Boys

Mallee Boys – Charlie Archbold – Wakefield Press – Published 30 September 2017

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Synopsis

‘Sometimes I feel like I’m neither one thing nor another. I live in the Mallee but I don’t like the desert. I live on a farm but I get hay fever and I’m scared of goats. I like school but my best mates don’t.’

Sandy Douglas knows that life at fifteen is hard, but it’s even harder when your mother died a year ago and nothing’s gone right since. Sandy’s brother Red, on the other hand, is eighteen now and working the farm. He’s amped up on rage and always looking for a fight. And then there’s their dad Tom. He does his best, but – really – he doesn’t have a clue.

As Sandy and Red deal with girls, dirt biking, footy and friendship, both boys have to work out who they want to be, without their mum around. The Mallee, where they live, may seem like the middle of nowhere, but it turns out this is going to be one hell of a year.

My thoughts

Mallee Boys is an enthralling novel that captures the unique voices and lives of two young brothers living in rural Australia as they bridge the gap from childhood to adulthood. Parties, schooling, farming, deadly snakes, grief and loss, family, and friends, Mallee Boys encompasses the simplicity of everyday life and the many complications it brings.

Sandy has only months left of Year Ten. Months to decide if or where he can continue his schooling. Red is happy his school days are behind him. Now he can help his dad on their farm, play footy and hang with his mates. Both boys are still grieving the sudden loss of their mother who suddenly died only one year ago. As their days fill with work, dirt biking, friendship complications, and trouble with girls, both Sandy and Red face decisions that will shape their futures.

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Book Review: Warcross

Warcross – Marie Lu – G.P Putnam’s Sons Books for Young Readers – Published 12 September 2017

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Synopsis

For the millions who log in every day, Warcross isn’t just a game—it’s a way of life. The obsession started ten years ago and its fan base now spans the globe, some eager to escape from reality and others hoping to make a profit. Struggling to make ends meet, teenage hacker Emika Chen works as a bounty hunter, tracking down Warcross players who bet on the game illegally. But the bounty-hunting world is a competitive one, and survival has not been easy. Needing to make some quick cash, Emika takes a risk and hacks into the opening game of the international Warcross Championships—only to accidentally glitch herself into the action and become an overnight sensation.

Convinced she’s going to be arrested, Emika is shocked when instead she gets a call from the game’s creator, the elusive young billionaire Hideo Tanaka, with an irresistible offer. He needs a spy on the inside of this year’s tournament in order to uncover a security problem…and he wants Emika for the job. With no time to lose, Emika’s whisked off to Tokyo and thrust into a world of fame and fortune that she’s only dreamed of. But soon her investigation uncovers a sinister plot, with major consequences for the entire Warcross empire.

My thoughts

Warcross is a dramatic and thrilling science-fiction. All-too believable technology, fast-paced action, a compelling mystery, complicated and forbidden romance, and a really likeable main character – Warcross has everything that will keep readers glued to the pages.

Emika Chen is a bounty hunter. She hunts criminals who gamble on the world-wide phenomenon, virtual reality game, Warcross. It’s the only way she can afford to live and slowly repay her father’s debts. But in a moment of desperation, Em accidentally glitches herself into the biggest Warcross game of the season, instantly displayed across the vision of millions of people. Instead of begin arrested, though, Emika is recruited by the game’s founder, Hideo Tanaka, to play in the Warcross championship, working undercover to help him find the person responsible for dangerously hacking into the games.

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Book Review: A Matter of Trust

A Matter of Trust – Susan May Warren – Montana Rescue #3 – Revell – Published 4 July 2017

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Synopsis

Champion backcountry snowboarder Gage Watson has left the limelight behind after the death of one of his fans. After being sued for negligence and stripped of his sponsorships, he’s remade his life as a ski patrol in Montana’s rugged mountains, as well as serving on the PEAK Rescue team. But he can’t seem to find his footing–or forget the woman he loved, who betrayed him.

Senator and former attorney Ella Blair spends much of her time in the limelight as the second-youngest senator in the country. But she has a secret–one that cost Gage his career. More than anything, she wants to atone for her betrayal of him in the courtroom and find a way to help him put his career back on track.

When Ella’s brother goes missing on one of Glacier National Park’s most dangerous peaks, Gage and his team are called in for the rescue. But Gage isn’t so sure he wants to help the woman who destroyed his life. More, when she insists on joining the search, he’ll have to keep her safe while finding her reckless brother, a recipe for disaster when a snowstorm hits the mountain.

But old sparks relight as they search for the missing snowboarder–and suddenly, they are faced with emotions neither can deny. But when Ella’s secret is revealed, can they learn to trust each other–even when disaster happens again?

My thoughts

There is something about Susan May Warren’s writing that grabs you and drags you into the story. Not that I mind that one bit. Her writing is truly evocative. In A Matter of Trust, readers are taken on a wild, death-defying adventure through the snowy peaks of Montana. I could practically smell the fresh, crisp snow and feel the sharp snap of the freezing air. But don’t worry, there is plenty of romance to keep you warm.

Gage left behind his life as a champion freestyle snowboarder after a tragic death and vicious lawsuit left him stripped of sponsors and determined to never take such risks again. Now he is a member of the PEAK Rescue team and the snow patrol unit, working to save lives. But then Ella Blair, the girl who he once upon a time thought might be the love of his life and who played a role in the lawsuit that saw him lose everything, renters his life. Together Ella and Gage face the dangers of untamed wilderness and the secrets and hurts of their past as they fight to rescue Ella’s brother.

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Book Review: Burnin’ for You

Burnin’ For You – Susan May Warren – Montana Fire #3 – Published 2 August 2016

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Synopsis

He’s loved her for years . . . 

Smoke jumper Reuben Marshall harbors a deep regret—a split second decision he made that cost the life of his crew boss. His paralyzing grief has kept him from pursuing his long-burning interest in pretty, petite smoke jumper/bomber pilot Gilly Priest. Not that he has a prayer at winning her heart. Not only is she not interested in dating a teammate, she’s also the preacher’s daughter. And while Rueben’s not the chiefest of sinners, he’s no saint… 

A dark secret that keeps her from trusting . . . 

Gilly Priest has worked hard to carve out her niche as a female bomber pilot in the dangerous world of firefighting. Sure she’s small, but she’s made up for her statue in courage, grit and the tenacity to face danger other pilots wouldn’t dare. And yes, she’s noticed handsome Rueben Marshall—who wouldn’t? Dependable and strong, he takes up most of the space in the room. But Gilly’s dark secrets won’t allow her close enough to talk to him, let alone let herself fall for him. 

A race to rescue the people they love . . . 

When their smokejumper plane goes down in the northwestern Montana mountains, wounding their team, Gilly and Reuben are the only ones capable of hiking out to find help. But when their rescue mission turns out to be a fight for their lives against the elements, a saboteur, and a forest fire, they discover they’ll have to put aside their fears and learn to trust each other. But will trust ignite something they both long for . . .and fear? And can they save their team before tragedy strikes—again?

My thoughts

I loved this book! Awesomeness, the whole lot of it. Romance (such romance, I think Susan May Warren might be my favourite author for building romantic tension and then letting the sparks fly), with a huge helping of suspense as the characters fight for their lives. There is also such a feeling of team connectedness. It so much fun joining these brave men and women as they jump from planes, fight fires, fly over dangerous terrain, and fall in love.

Gilly knows what it takes to face her fears and prove herself every single day. It’s what she must do to hold onto her place as pilot for the smokejumper team. For Reuben, smoke jumping is something he is good at, it gave him a chance at a new life, but he has many regrets, especially surrounding the deaths of his teammates. Gilly has decided to never trust a man again. Reuben knows Gilly deserves more than he could offer her, particularly when he can hardly construct a sentence when she is near. But when a simple jump turns deadly and it is revealed that someone is targeting the team, Gilly and Reuben will have to work together to save both their and their team’s lives.

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Book Review: Playing With Fire

Playing With Fire – Susan May Warren – Montana Fire #2 – Published 5 July 2016

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Synopsis

She can’t forget the man she walked away from . . . 

Liza Beaumont knew she was playing with fire when she let smoke jumper Conner Young into her life. Just friends, she promised herself, but she couldn’t help but fall for the tall, blond firefighter who needed her. But loving him got her burned, and she’s not about to risk her heart again. 

His once chance to get her back . . . 

Conner Young knows he blew his one chance with Liza. His personal losses—and his profession—made him wary of offering any promises he couldn’t be sure he’d live to keep. So he let her walk away, but he never forgot the place she’d held in his heart. 

A race to find a missing girl . . . 

Until Liza is attacked in the mountains by a rogue grizzly. Her panicked phone call alerts Conner to everything he lost—and still wants. Now, with a teenage girl missing in the woods, and a predator on the loose, Conner and Liza must fight against time and the elements to save her. But when the old friendship ignites into fresh sparks, are they setting themselves up to get burned again? And when disaster happens, will their nightmares pull them apart, or will they find the courage to survive?

My thoughts

Once again, Susan May Warren delivers a book that is teeming with action, dangerous moments that leave you anxious for the characters’ survival, and romance that grips your heart (with a few toe-curling kisses thrown in for good measure).

Playing With Fire is the second book in the Montana Fire series, returning to the brave group of men and women smokejumpers who fight fires and save lives. It also colides rather nicely with characters and settings from Warren’s Christiansen Family series and the Deep Haven series. It was wonderful to reconnect with so many familiar and dearly loved faces.

Liza Beaumont, artist and resident of Deep Haven, knows to never to trust men – certainly not with her heart. A friendship with smokejumper Conner Young, showed her how true that was. But when a young girl is lost in the wilderness and Liza faces down a bear while attempting to rescue her, she reaches out to Conner. Is this their chance to reconnect and finally take a chance on love?

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Book Review: The Unwanteds

The Unwanteds – Lisa McMann – Aladdin – Published 30 August 2011

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Synopsis

When Alex finds out he is Unwanted, he expects to die. That is the way of the people of Quill. Each year, all the thirteen-year-olds are labeled as Wanted, Necessary, or Unwanted. Wanteds get more schooling and train to join the Quillitary. Necessaries keep the farms running. Unwanteds are set for elimination. 

It’s hard for Alex to leave behind his twin, Aaron, a Wanted, but he makes peace with his fate—until he discovers that instead of a “death farm,” what awaits him is a magical place called Artimé. There, Alex and his fellow Unwanteds are encouraged to cultivate their creative abilities and use them magically. Everything Alex has ever known changes before his eyes, and it’s a wondrous transformation. 

But it’s a rare, unique occurrence for twins to be divided between Wanted and Unwanted, and as Alex and Aaron’s bond stretches across their separation, a threat arises for the survival of Artimé that will pit brother against brother in an ultimate magical battle.

My thoughts

I was forced to read this book. It has quickly become a favourite amongst my book club members and I was fearful that my membership (despite being the group leader) was going to be revoked if I, too, did not read it. I was also intrigued when those same readers said they would rather go to Artimè from the Unwanteds than Hogwarts from Harry Potter. I thought that a) it was obviously a fantastic book or b) they were all crazy. Now I have read it for myself and, while it is certainly a fun book that teems with creativity and fresh ideas, I would still (and will probably always) choose Hogwarts, should my letter ever finally arrive.

I cannot overstate the popularity this book has amassed in the last few months at our school. It has been quickly passed from hand to hand, spreading through word of mouth and recommendations. The middle-school boys have been the driving force behind the fandom, but girls from that age group, and older, have equally loved it. And I can understand why. The Unwanteds is the ideal book for readers – those who value creativity and imagination for whom simple articles of stationary or clay or drawings or anything can always be more than they first appear.

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Book Review: The Lost Kingdom of Bamarre

The Lost Kingdom of Bamarre – Gail Carson Levine – The Two Princesses of Bamarre #0.5 – HarperCollins – Published 2 May 2017

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Synopsis

Peregrine strives to live up to the ideal of her people, the Lakti—and to impress her parents: affectionate Lord Tove, who despises only the Bamarre, and stern Lady Klausine. Perry runs the fastest, speaks her mind, and doesn’t give much thought to the castle’s Bamarre servants, whom she knows to be weak and cowardly.

But just as she’s about to join her father on the front lines, she is visited by the fairy Halina, who reveals that Perry isn’t Lakti-born. She is Bamarre. The fairy issues a daunting challenge: against the Lakti power, Perry must free her people from tyranny.

My thoughts

Achingly gorgeous, this is a tale of courage, family, love, loyalty, and a dangerous quest for freedom.

The name Gail Carson Levine evokes strong memories – my first discovery of her beautiful stories, an eternal love for her wonderful characters, sharing her books with other readers, and rereading the tales many, many times over. Of all her books, The Two Princesses of Bamarre was always my favourite, so let’s just say I was completely thrilled that there was to be a new book, a prequel to this wonderful story. Starting The Lost Kingdom of Bamarre I was both excited and cautious – could this story possibly live up to the wonder I feel when reading The Two Princesses? At first, no, it could never have that sparkle of first discovery, but this new story shares all the same wonder, vibrant character, clever storytelling, and magic as the original, and by the end I was just as in love with this book as I am with The Two Princesses of Bamarre.

Perry is the daughter of Lord and Lady Tove – a true Lakti in strength and ability and courage. She can run and fight better than all of her peers. But when she discovers that she is actually Bamarre, stolen from her true family, her eyes are opened to the treatment of the Bamarre and how, with a little courage, freedom could be theirs.

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Book Review: Island of Exiles

Island of Exiles

Island of Exiles – Erica Cameron – Ryogan Chronicles #1 – Entangled: Teen – Published 14 February 2017

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Synopsis

In this diverse, gritty survival fantasy, a girl warrior turns against her island clan to find the brother they claim died, uncovering secrets. Perfect for fans of Graceling and Snow Like Ashes.

In Khya’s world, every breath is a battle.

On the isolated desert island of Shiara, dying young is inevitable. The clan comes before self, and protecting her home means Khya is a warrior above all else.

But when following the clan and obeying their leaders could cost her brother his life, Khya’s home becomes a deadly trap. The only person who can help is Tessen, her lifelong rival and the boy who challenges her at every turn. The council she hoped to join has betrayed her, and their secrets, hundreds of years deep, reach around a world she’s never seen.

To save her brother’s life and her island home, her only choice is to trust Tessen, turn against her clan, and go on the run—a betrayal and a death sentence.

My thoughts

Island of Exiles is a rich and epic fantasy, incredibly detailed with superb world building. I am picky about what fantasy novels I read, but this one far surpassed all my expectations and I am now eagerly awaiting book two in the series.

When I was offered a chance to read Island of Exiles I was told it was suited to readers of Graceling and Snow Like Ashes. That’s a pretty high standard to reach, but despite that, I was still surprised when this book was actually really very good. It reminded me in parts of Finnikin of the Rock by Melina Marchetta (one of my absolute favourite fantasy novels) and The Host by Stephanie Meyer (just the parts about a subsistence culture living in a harsh, desert-like surround, with a strong community focus).

Island of Exiles has some intense and well-layered world building. Every little detail is considered, but there are never any information dumps or description-heavy sections. The new vocabulary in this novel is huge. And yet I never found myself confused or lost. There is a glossary at the back, and while I admit that some of the ranks went over my head so too would any military ranks we use in the real world, so I just kept reading, paying attention to each new word, creature or name as it was introduced. The terms give this novel a distinct Eastern feel and yet the setting, culture, language and people of this book are unique. There are also a whole range of magic powers, a third gender and diverse sexual orientations.

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