Book Review: Esme’s Wish

Esme’s Wish – Elizabeth Foster – Esme Series #1 – Odyssey Books – Published 30 October 2017

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Synopsis

When fifteen-year-old Esme Silver objects at her father’s wedding, her protest is dismissed as the action of a stubborn, selfish teenager. Everyone else has accepted the loss of Esme’s mother, Ariane – so why can’t she?

But Esme is suspicious. She is sure that others are covering up the real reason for her mother’s disappearance – that ‘lost at sea’ is code for something more terrible, something she has a right to know.

After Esme is accidentally swept into the enchanted world of Aeolia, the truth begins to unfold. With her newfound friends, Daniel and Lillian, Esme retraces her mother’s steps in the glittering canal city of Esperance, untangling the threads of Ariane’s double life. But the more Esme discovers about her mother, the more she questions whether she really knew her at all.

My thoughts

Esme’s Wish is a delightful fantasy that captures the beauty of a watery, magical world, the trust of true friendship, and the strength of one girl’s loyalty to her mother.

Esme longs to discover what happened to her mother, who disappeared several years ago. Everyone else, including her father, have moved on, but for Esme, the unanswered questions plague her. Until, in her search, she finds herself magically transported to the world of Aeolia. There she discovers that her mother had an extra life full of art, magic, and danger. With her two new friends, Esme begins to uncover the mystery of what really happened to her mother.

I had Esme’s Wish sitting on my bedside bookshelf (thanks very much to the author for a copy) for a month before finally getting around to reading it. Why, oh why did I delay? Because Esme’s Wish is delightful right from the very first page. And I loved that first page. Hilarious and heartbreaking all at the same time.

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Book Review: The Traitor Prince

The Traitor Prince – C.J Redwine – Ravenspire #3 – Balzer+Bray – Published 13 February 2018

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Synopsis

Javan Najafai, crown prince of Akram, has spent the last ten years at an elite boarding school, far away from his kingdom. But his eagerly awaited return home is cut short when a mysterious imposter takes his place—and no one believes Javan is the true prince.

After barely escaping the imposter’s assassins, Javan is thrown into Maqbara, the kingdom’s most dangerous prison. The only way to gain an audience with the king — and reveal Javan’s identity — is to fight in Maqbara’s yearly tournament. But winning is much harder than acing competitions at school, and soon Javan finds himself beset not just by the terrifying creatures in the arena, but also a band of prisoners allied against him, and even the warden herself.

The only person who can help him is Sajda, who has been enslaved by Maqbara’s warden since she was a child, and whose guarded demeanor and powerful right hook keep the prisoners in check. Working with Sajda might be the only way Javan can escape alive — but she has dangerous secrets.

Together, Javan and Sajda have to outwit the vicious warden, outfight the deadly creatures, and outlast the murderous prisoners intent on killing Javan. If they fail, they’ll be trapped in Maqbara for good—and the secret Sajda’s been hiding will bury them both.

My thoughts

With The Traitor Prince, C.J. Redwine once again delivers an epic fantasy, with aching romance, adventure, heart-pounding injustice, and high stakes as the characters fight for their survival.

Prince Javan has spent the last ten years away at school, working harder than all his classmates to fulfil the promise he made to his mother to be the best, learn the most, so that he can become a just and strong ruler. But when he is attacked on the eve of his return home, Javan knows he must now fight for his future and the safety of his kingdom. Thrown into the treacherous prison, Maqbara, while a traitor takes his rightful place, Javan tries to befriend the prison slave girl, Sajda, who has her own dangerous secret to protect. Forced to fight against monsterous creatures and defend himself against the other prisoners, Javan and his few allies put into place a plan to return him to his throne, but it will not be without sacrifice.

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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: Nevermoor – The Trials of Morrigan Crow

Nevermoor: The Trials of Morrigan Crow – Jessica Townsend – Nevermoor #1 – Hachette – Published 31 October 2017

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Synopsis

The book tells the story of Morrigan Crow, a girl born on Eventide, who’s fated to die at midnight on her ninth birthday. She is spared when rescued by a mysterious stranger ,and after they are chased by black-smoke hounds and shadowy hunters on horseback, they escape to a secret city called Nevermoor. Morrigan’s rescuer, Jupiter, owns the eccentric Hotel Deucalion and has chosen Morrigan to contend for a place in the city’s most prestigious society. The young girl must compete in four difficult and dangerous trials against hundreds of other children, each boasting an extraordinary talent.

My thoughts

A delightful, whimsical and purely imaginative fantasy, Nevermore is sure to capture the attention of readers of all ages. Nevermoor is reminiscent of Harry Potter, The Chronicles of Narnia and The Unwanteds, and yet has a quality that is unique to this charming story. I was captured by the very first chapter, enchanted by the mysterious and colourful Jupiter North, and intrigued by the magic of Nevermoor, but it was the brave heroine of this story, Morrigan Crow, who truly won my heart.

Morrigan Crow is a cursed child, doomed to die on the last night of the age, Eventide. But before she can meet her untimely end, she is whisked away by the strange and colourful Jupiter North, who takes her to a magical, secret city called Nevermoor. Here she discovers that Jupiter has put forward her name as a candidate for the illustrious Wundrous Society – but to gain entry she must first pass four trials. However, Morrigan soon realises that while the other competitors each have a special talent (from dragon riding to magical singing), she herself does not (being cursed doesn’t count). Morrigan must discover her talent and pass each trial if she is to stay in Nevermoor.

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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: If I Were a Wizard

If I Were A Wizard – Paul Hamilton – EdTech Team Press – Published 1 November 2016

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Synopsis

While his fellow classmates dream of becoming football players, architects, and doctors, Ralph wants to be a wizard. With his magic, he would help his friends and family members—and even make the world a better place!

If I Were A Wizard introduces coding concepts through the enchanting imagination of a young boy. From Repeats and Loops to Algorithms, If I Were a Wizard prompts discussion and helps build conceptual understanding of coding.

My thoughts

If I Were A Wizard introduces the concepts of coding to children (and adults) in this imaginative picture book.

When Ralph’s teacher asks the class what they want to be when they grow up, there is the predictable reply of football player and doctor and architect. But Ralph wants to be a wizard. When his teacher asks why, Ralph explains all the ways in which he could help his family with his magic.

This book can be read as a simple but lovely story about a little boy who wants to help people, but cleverly hidden are the basic coding concepts. For example, when Ralph explains that he wants to make ten perfect waves for his father, this introduces the concepts of repeats and loops, and when he wants to help his grandfather retrace his steps to find his glasses this introduces sequence and order. Luckily for those of us who might be a little unsure about these concepts, they are all included in a glossary at the end of the book, which links the page to the concepts and provides an explanation.

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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: Avenged

Avenged – Amy Tintera – Ruined #2 – HarperTeen – Published 2 May 2017

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Synopsis

Emelina Flores has come home to Ruina. After rescuing her sister Olivia from imprisonment in rival kingdom Lera, Em and Olivia together vow to rebuild Ruina to its former glory.

But their fight has only begun. Olivia is determined to destroy everyone who acts against Ruina, but Em isn’t as sure. Ever since Em posed as Prince Casimir’s betrothed in Lera, she’s started to see another side to this war. And now that Cas has taken the throne, Em believes a truce is within reach. But Olivia suspects that Em’s romantic feelings for Cas are just coloring her judgement.

Em is determined to bring peace to her home. But when winning the war could mean betraying her family, Em faces an impossible choice between loyalty and love. Em must stay one step ahead of her enemies—and her blood—before she’s the next victim in this battle for sovereignty.

My thoughts

I forget how much I like to read fantasy books until I pick up a book like Avenged and I fall in love with the drama, romance, and beauty that is a cleverly created world and stunning characters. Life, freedom, and love are hard-fought in Avenged, and it will leave you desperate for book three in this exciting series.

Avenged was rather agonising to read. The characters face a lot of opposition – unjust opposition and that tends to drive me nuts. But it was so very addictive; a real pleasure to sink back into the detailed world Amy Tintera has created.

Avenged picks up where Ruined left off. Emelina Flores has been discovered as an imposter – not Cas’s true match but rather a Ruined. She helped her sister Olivia escape, resulting in the death of both Cas’s mother and father. Now Cas is king, but his cousin Jovita wants revenge on the Ruined. Cas just wants peace and to rebuild his kingdom, but with Jovita challenging his reign at every turn that seems unlikely to happen. Em has been reunited with the Ruined and is leading them with her sister. But while Em wants peace and safety for the Ruined, Olivia is set on revenge, killing for fun as much as freedom. As Cas and Em separately battle for peace they risk losing everything all over again. There are political alliances to make and wars to avoid and each step takes them further apart, even if destiny seems to continually bring them back together.

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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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Book Review: The Wish Granter

The Wish Granter

The Wish Granter – C.J. Redwine – Ravenspire #2 – Balzer+Bray – Published 14 February 2017

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Synopsis

The world has turned upside down for Thad and Ari Glavan, the bastard twins of Súndraille’s king. Their mother was murdered. The royal family died mysteriously. And now Thad sits on the throne of a kingdom whose streets are suddenly overrun with violence that he can’t stop.

Growing up ignored by the nobility, Ari never wanted to be a proper princess. And when Thad suddenly starts training Ari to take his place, she realizes that her brother’s ascension to the throne wasn’t fate. It was the work of a Wish Granter named Alistair Teague, who tricked Thad into wishing away both the safety of his people and his soul in exchange for the crown.

So Ari recruits the help of Thad’s enigmatic new weapons master, Sebastian Vaughn, to teach her how to fight Teague. With secret ties to Teague’s criminal empire, Sebastian might just hold the key to discovering Alistair’s weaknesses, saving Ari’s brother—and herself.

But Teague is ruthless and more than ready to destroy anyone who dares stand in his way—and now he has his sights set on the princess. And if Ari can’t outwit him, she’ll lose Sebastian, her brother…and her soul.

My thoughts

C.J. Redwine has produced another exciting fairytale retelling that combines strength of character, love, family, resilience, and fighting for freedom despite the costs.

Ari is a newly crowned princess. Her brother has been crowned king after the mysterious death of their father and stepmother. But their thrones come with a serious cost. Ari discovers that her brother made a deal with the Wish Granter, a centuries-old fae who controls the underworld of crime in the kingdom and wants to go unpunished now that he has control over the new king. Ari is determined to break the contact binding her brother and recruits the new, young weapons master Sebastian to help her.

I dare anyone not to like Ari. She is humble, bakes, loves food (and eating), and is smart and kind. She was raised as an illegitimate child of the king, more part of the servants than the nobility. She plays to her strengths. She knows what people think of her and her habits but that doesn’t stop her from being true to herself (or stop her from enjoying regular snacks). Ari is a strong and likeable character, not because she is ruthless or physically strong (tripping over things is more her style), but because she is determined to protect those she cares about and uses her brain. Unlike her brother, I have to say. I wasn’t all that impressed with Thad. If making a deal with the Wish Granter in the first place wasn’t silly enough he remains weak throughout the book. Lucky for him he has Ari.

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