Book Review: Ezaara, by Eileen Mueller

Available in selected bookshops nationwide.

cv_ezaara.jpgEzaara lives a relatively peaceful life in Lush Valley, learning swordcraft with her brother and collecting herbs for her mother. But things change when the dragon appears, and carries her away into a life she has only ever dreamed of. It is a life of danger and excitement, of intrigue and tangled politics, and Ezaara must prove her worth not only to the dragon council, but also to herself.

Written in an eloquent and gripping style, Ezaara intrigued me from the start, but it was only when our, relatively naive, heroine was thrust into the midst of conspiracy and corruption that it really clutched me tight, and kept me reading far too late into the night! Along with her relatively rural upbringing, Ezaara has a strong heart and fiery determination, but will she prove a worthy companion for the queen of the dragons? Her wits and skills – and also her emotions – will be tested to their limits, carrying the reader along, on an emotional rollercoaster ride of their own!

For the young adult market – and anyone who has ever wanted to befriend a dragon – Ezaara is a spell-binding tale of friendship, courage and determination.

Reviewed by Angela Oliver

Ezaara
by Eileen Mueller
Published by Phantom Feather Press
ISBN 9780995115200

Book Review: The Anger of Angels, by Sherryl Jordan

Available in bookshops nationwide. 

cv_the_anger_of_angelsThis wonderfully written tale marks the return of New Zealand author Sherryl Jordan to the historic fiction market. Set in a country inspired by Italy, it encompasses two realms: one ruled by a generous and benevolent duke, the other by a cruel prince.

Our heroine is Giovanna, the jester’s daughter. She has had a relatively unconventional upbringing and dreams of travel and adventure. That is, until her father’s latest performance is heard by the wrong ears – and suddenly the cruel prince’s eyes, and attention, fall on her city. Now, the fate of her people may lay in Giovanna’s hands and, armed with a dangerous secret, she must journey into the hostile land and plead for forgiveness – or seek retribution.

As befits any strong young adult book, there is romance too, and Raffaele makes for a worthy love interest. Whilst undeniably handsome, he is marred by a slight physical variation that marks him as different – and the source of the occassional scorn. He also comes armed with a strong dose of heretical cynicism – which does not go down well in lands where the church hold reign. He has fled the tyrant prince’s Kingdom,  along with his artist brother, Santos, and has seen much of the horrors it contains.

Giovanna is a worthy protagonist. She does not need a man to save her from danger – instead the two support and complement each other. The setting is evocative and somewhat romantic, a nice counterpoint to the dark dystopia novels currently ruling the teen market. And, despite all the tragedy and treachery that does befall our heroes and their home, there is also the strong element of hope. Overall, a fresh and compelling read with a few minor loose ends that I would hope hint at future novels.

Reviewed by Angela Oliver

The Anger of Angels
by Sherryl Jordan
Published by Walker Books
ISBN 9781760650605

Book Review: The Short but Brilliant Career of Lucas Weed, by Chrissie Walker

cv_the_short_but_brilliant_career_of_lucas_weed.pngAvailable in bookshops nationwide. 

The Short but Brilliant Career of Lucas Weed is the latest (2017) winner of the Tom Fitzgibbon award, awarded to a manuscript from a previously-unpublished author. And I can see the appeal. It is a lot of fun, with Lucas Weed being a fairly ordinary school boy, someone easy for the audience to relate to. The new kid in school, he is neither popular nor unpopular, which is – he thinks – the way he likes it. But is it?

One day, he stumbles upon some other boys in the midst of plotting a prank. His curiosity leads him to be noticed, and he is inadvertently drawn into the scheme. It involves a frog, a backpack, and a teacher, and thus begins Lucas Weed’s short, but brilliant, career as a prankster.

Weed’s pranks are never cruel (except perhaps to the poor frog), mostly harmless, and never bullying. The main target is generally himself, and Lucas is not afraid to make a spectacle. Thus I feel this was more a “class clown” situation than a pranking one. His plotting to make himself look the fool leads to the next stage: becoming a YouTube sensation. A fairly low-key, and short-lived one, but I suspect for a 10-year old, even a few hundred hits is something to be proud of.

After a while, the continued deception (after all, the teachers are not fools) and stress of devising more creative pranks begins to be exhausting, and thus Lucas plans one final prank – which culminates far more spectacularly than he and his new ‘friends’ could ever conceive.

Intended for a 7-10 age group, this extremely readable and very relatable book comes stocked with a healthy dash of humour, including the expected quota of fart jokes. Fans of Tom Gates, Wimpy Kid, and other school-based middle grade fiction should readily devour it.

Reviewed by Angela Oliver

The Short but Brilliant Career of Lucas Weed
by Chrissie Walker
Published by Scholastic NZ
ISBN 9781775435082

Book Review: Small Spaces, by Sarah Epstein

Available in bookshops nationwide

cv_small_spaces.jpgSmall Spaces is a gripping psychological thriller that will take you in a whirlwind of a ride, through an unexpected twists and turns. I found myself almost immediately hooked, and once this book had drawn me in, it refused to let me go – I finished it within a day. Aimed at the Young Adult market, it should also appeal to adults in search of a fast-paced read that will keep them guessing.

Tash Carmody has been traumatised since childhood, and it all began with a trip to the family homestead, where she stayed with her Aunt Ally. In this crumbling house, with its dark corners and mysterious noises, she met a sinister being that she named “Sparrow”. No-one else could see Sparrow, and no-one else would believe he existed, not even when Tash witnessed him kidnap a 6-year old girl, Mallory Fisher, from a local carnival. The girl was eventually found, alive, but has not spoken a word since, and her family moved away soon after.

Now, eleven years later, the Fishers have returned to Tash’s hometown, and, Sparrow too has returned. Mallory may hold the key to the torment buried in Tash’s past, and the dark secret that hangs between them. But, does Sparrow exist after all? Or is Tash more dangerous than she thinks?

Aside from the psychological aspect, there is a lot of typical teen drama happening: strong friendships (I particularly liked Tash’s Kiwi-friend, Sadie), catty High School girl rivalry, a fledgling romance, and some fairly serious family issues. This is a tightly written, gripping novel, and an impressive first offering from Australian author, Sarah Epstein. I can highly recommend it.

Reviewed by Angela Oliver

Small Spaces
by Sarah Epstein
Published by Walker Books
9781921977381

Book Review: Wedlock, by Denis Wright

Available in bookshops nationwide.

cv_wedlock.jpgWedlock is the third book from Denis Wright, a High School English teacher. Aimed at teenagers, and intended as a quick, gripping read, it deals with some quite heavy stuff – but in a very accessible and easily relatable manner.

Lucy Sorrenson wants to be an average teenage girl. At home, she’s feels like the only responsible adult: with her father acting like a teenage muso, and her grandfather acting somewhat like a petulent child. She wants to be in the school play, go to parties, have fun with friends, maybe meet a nice guy.

What she doesn’t expect, and certainly doesn’t want, is to be kidnapped by a group of religious fantatics and snatched off into the remote countryside.

For Lucy now has a new role to play, the role of the “Maiden”. She has been chosen to save the world, or to be precise, to marry the leader of the cult, Master Isaiah, and bear to him a child – a child that will save the world.

Needless to say, Lucy isn’t particularly enthused by her newfound fate, and will go to any extent to escape, but playing against a cult is a dangerous game, and when you become too comfortable with your captors, are you really still a prisoner?

Wedlock explores the seductive power of fanatasism, and explores the effects of “Stockholm syndrome”. It is intriguing to watch Lucy transform from a fierce, stubborn teenager into a more complacent member of the group. Or is she?

Reviewed by Angela Oliver

Wedlock
by Denis Wright
Published by OneTree House
ISBN 9780473421861

Book Review: A Memory of Fire, by R.L. Stedman

Available in bookshops nationwide.

cv_a_memory_of_fireThe spell-binding conclusion to the trilogy, A Memory of Fire is as memorising and eloquently written as its predecessors. Even without reading book two, it had me engrossed, although I would definitely recommend reading the trilogy in order (and a re-read will be in order for me!).

R.L Stedman is a New Zealand author, living in Otago. The first book in the trilogy, Necklace of Souls, received the Tessa Duder award in 2012 and has gone on to receive several more. It begins with Dana, a princess with a haunting destiny, bearing the burden of true dreaming. An orphaned boy, Will, takes up residence in the castle, first baking bread, then training as a warrior. He and Dana become drawn to one another, and romance blossoms.

A Memory of Fire begins with Will and Dana separated. Dana has sacrificed herself to save those she loves, and is now held captive in a strange city, her mind kept harnessed with drugs. She will have to entrust an unlikely ally to escape. Half a world away, Will is learning a new discipline in fighting – being trained by an enemy-turned-friend. But for all that he is learning, he wishes for nothing more than to be reunited with Dana, and with the help of his companions, an enchantress and a warrior, he will set out across an earthquake-ravaged landscape to be with her. However, many obstacles stand in their way, including betrayal.

With strong characters, especially in Dana, I would recommend this series to young adults (and adult adults!) who enjoy the likes of Sarah J Maas. They are engrossing, well-written, and evocative, compelling enough to draw you thoroughly into their worlds and hold you captive until the conclusion. Best read together, in close succession.

Reviewed by Angela Oliver

A Memory of Fire
by R.L. Stedman
Published by Waverley Productions
ISBN 9780473399573

Book Review: Scythe, by Neal Shusterman

Available in bookshops nationwide.

cv_scytheIn a world where an artificial conscience maintains peace and prosperity, death has been conquered; no longer are you likely to die from disease or fatal accident, even age can be reversed. The only hand dealing death are the hands of the Scythes: humans selected specifically to keep the population stable and to maintain balance. It feels like a Utopia.

It is not.

Our female protagonist Citra Terranova’s life changes the day the Scythe knocks on her door. He’s not there to glean any of her family, but to take the life of her neighbour. While he waits for her to come home, he joins them for dinner. For no-one denies a Scythe anything. Male protagonist Rowan Damisch meets his first Scythe when he comes to glean a classmate. Rowan’s act of compassion – sitting with the boy as he dies – leads to alienation amongst his peers.

Both are soon recruited as apprentice Scythes: weighed down with the responsibility of selecting victims, and learning the art of killing. But corruption is growing within the Scythe society, and Citra and Rowan must band together to fight it – then they are informed of the final test: There can be only one, one of them must glean the other…

Utopia-turns-dystopia in a world where death has been defeated, but with it, some of the passion has leaked from the world. This story has been branded (by Young Adult author, Maggie Stiefvater) as “A true successor to The Hunger Games” and it does live up to that tagline, whilst retaining an intriguing freshness, despite following what is a very common theme within Young Adult fiction (the apprentice learning their trade).

The Scythe society is particularly novel: here is a profession in which you are truly forced to a distance by the general population, you are something of a celebrity, but everyone fears the day you turn up on their doorstep. The characters are each their own individuals, and watching the effect of their new responsibilities and how they react is both inspiring and terrifying.

For a fresh take on a tried-and-true formula, I would recommend Scythe to fans of The Hunger Games, Divergent, and other dystopic novels.

Reviewed by Angela Oliver

Scythe
by Neal Shusterman
Published by Walker Books
ISBN 9781406379242