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

AWF18: Still Lives: A.S. King

AWF18: Still Lives: A.S. King

‘Praised for her “difficult, resonant and compelling characters and stories” (Kirkus Reviews), A.S. King is also heralded by the New York Times Book Review as one of the best YA writers working today.’

Tara Black attended and reviewed her session with Kate De Goldi.

AWF18 9 AS King
Read Sarah Forster’s review of Amy Sarig King’s Schools Fest session too!

And go and buy one or four of A.S. King’s books. We promise they are amazing.

Her most recent release is :

Still Life with Tornado
Published by Text
ISBN 9781925498646

 

 

 

 

Book Review: A Dash of Belladonna, by J Rackham

Available in bookshops nationwide. 

cv_a_dash_of_belladonnaMagic and potions abound in this adventure set in modern New Zealand. The protagonist is 14 year old Charlotte, a potion apprentice who arrives to further her studies under the best potion maker of them all: Mikaere Tahuriorangi. Shortly after she moves in to his rural dwelling, complete with a garden brimming with herbs both familiar and strange, she finds herself at the centre of an international magical crisis and her life is at stake. Around the world, potion apprentices have been disappearing, a rogue potion-maker is suspected of kidnapping them to use their blood for his own super potion and Charlotte is next on his list.

What follows is an adventure full of schemes, plans, failures and deals made with the magical agency The Order. Charlotte continues her learning and stumbles upon her ability to call up the spirit of the highly dangerous and poisonous Belladonna plant. This unusual ability, though perilous, has potential to help the Order catch their villain, so she sets about learning how to control the Belladonna spirit. Things invariably get out of hand and as they do so she comes to understand herself better, realising her limits and accepting that it is okay to ask for help when you are unsure.

Despite the story being told from Charlotte’s point of view, I personally didn’t feel a strong connection to her. This may be due to the style of narration, which is “Charlotte M Underwood’s collection of letters, notes and relevant excerpts related to the incident now known as ‘A Dash of Belladonna.’” While the mix of alternating styles and viewpoints a great idea to move the story along, I found these jumps distracted somewhat from the flow of the story; one minute we are reading one of Charlotte’s letters, the next an agent’s report, then onto a progress report from one of her tutors and back to more letters, some with herbology notes included.

That said, the writing is strong, the plot has a good pace with great moments of tension to keep you guessing, especially when there are magical spirits who destroy everything around them and uncertain alliances. The cast of characters, Charlotte included, are interesting and with well-rounded personalities and I wanted to keep reading to see how the adventure would resolve. Resolve it certainly did, and Charlotte does learn her lessons (both personal and academic) and finds a new level of understanding about her place in the world where magic and non-magic can live together.

From a book design perspective, the cover is brilliant – bright, lively and engaging, and the spell pages add a nice touch, however they could do with being enlarged and made clearer. On the whole, A Dash of Belladonna is certainly an entertaining read that will appeal to readers who enjoy contemporary fantasy and who wish for their own magic wand.

Reviewed by Vanessa Hatley-Owen

A Dash of Belladonna
by J Rackham
Published by Lasavia Publishing, 2017
ISBN: 9780473397654

Book Review: Landscapes with Invisible Hand, by M.T. Anderson

Available in bookshops nationwide.

cv_landscape_with_invisible_handWeird, bleak and oddly compelling. Landscape with Invisible Hands is more closely aligned to social satire than science-fiction. It asks what would happen if the aliens came offering the ability to cure all illnesses and replace the jobs so that you need never work again? Sounds ideal? Well, it’s not.

The gap between rich and poor increases. The rich — and those who’ve managed to work their way into vuvv society — succeed. The others, left below to scrap over the few jobs that remain, suffer. Adam is one of those left below, living in the shadow of the vuvvs floating city. He is an artist, a painter, and something of a dreamer. Not the most ambitious of youths. After falling in love with a neighbour, the two of them decide to earn an income by starring in vuvv reality TV shows. The vuvv don’t form pair bonds but they do enjoy watching human courtship, circa 1950. It doesn’t end well, and thus Adam’s downward spiral begins…

This is a very readable, and quite relatable look at society — at what makes humans human and the lengths that we will go to both to make money and to please our mostly benevolent (but selfish) overlords. It acts as a social commentary on the division between the wealthy and the poverty-ridden, and how the latter are sometimes dehumanised. The ending falls a little flat but given the characters and the circumstances, I wasn’t expecting it to be dramatic. Overall, quite compelling (with short chapters) and one to make you think.

Review by Angela Oliver

Landscape with Invisible Hand
by M.T. Anderson
Published by Candlewick Press
ISBN 9780763687892

Book Review: Tasting Stars, by Karen Mills

Available in bookshops nationwide.

Karen Mills grew up in Otara in Auckland in a household of abuse, so she writes from the heart in her first novel dedicated to inspiring young adults to believe they have the power to change their future.

Tasting Stars is the story of thirteen-year-old Rose Ann Dixon a Pakeha growing up in the 1960s in Otara. The eldest in the family of six children Rose tries to protect her siblings from her father’s abuse but she is often his target along with her mother.
Her teacher gifts Rose a gold fountain pen for her thirteenth birthday urging her to “Write me your dreams, Rose”.

After hearing Martin Luther King’s inspiring speech, Rose realizes that every child can have dreams and that what’s more they have a right to expect them to come true.
Rose begins a journey from Otara to Wellington and finally to India, after competing in a speech contest. Sustained by the love and wisdom of a recently deceased aunt and the kindness of her best friend’s family, Rose learns things that give her the strength she needs to save those she loves.

It is a gripping story about family violence with profound understanding and delightful humorous touches best suited for 11-18 years. I found it an easy read but also very moving and sad to think so many children live in similar circumstances. During her trip to India Rose realises, “When I go home I have to stop him. I don’t know how. But I will. I want my brothers and sisters to feel some of what I have felt over the last two weeks”.

Karen Mills left home at the age of fourteen to live with Jim and Kay Tichener, both teachers at her local school, before going on to teach for thirty years in South Auckland. She now volunteers for Destiny Rescue and has included an information page at the rear of the book as well as a website for further research.

Reviewed by Lesley McIntosh

Tasting Stars
by Karen Mills
Mary Egan Publishing
ISBN 9780473394974

 

Book Review: Tell it to the Moon, by Siobhan Curham

Available in bookshops nationwide.

cv_tell_it_to_the_moonAs much as my English teachers would cringe to hear the word ‘lovely’ used to describe a book, that really was the first word which sprang to mind when I finished reading this story of life, friendship and relationships.

This story is about four girls heading to their late teens who have forged a strong bond through their private club (I know, it sounds a bit twee but go with it) the Moonlight Dreamers. What makes this group of ordinary girls work so well is the very fact that they are both ordinary and unique at the same time – as are we all.

There is Oscar Wilde-worshipping Amber who is suffering a writer’s block and wears vintage men’s clothes (I think she was my favourite), Rose who as the child of a famous actor and former super model dreams of being a baker with her own cake shop, Maali who is an Indian girl whose worry about her ill father causes her to question her faith in her gods and Sky the poet, who after being home schooled all her life finds herself at school for the first time. An eclectic and charming bunch of girls, much like any you might find in many high schools.  Tell it to the Moon is the second story featuring these characters, with the first (Moonlight Dreamers) relating how the girls met and became such close friends. This book picks up their friendship when they are separated over Christmas holidays, missing each other and looking towards the promise of new challenges and dreams to work towards for the coming new year.

The point of view moves smoothly from one girl to the other and each character is genuine and likeable; you find yourself encouraging them to keep going and not give up as they work through their personal challenges. The diversity of both the protagonists and secondary characters adds interest and gives deeper resonance to the story. They take strength from their friendship and this gives them the courage to be honest with themselves, to share their problems with each other and in turn grow in confidence.

As a coming of age story, it is a gentle and real one; it makes for a refreshing change of pace from the typical intense and gritty YA stories. The issues the girls face and work through are valid, their dreams are big and they are well on the way to understanding their worth.

Reviewed by Vanessa Hatley-Owen

Tell it to the Moon
by Siobhan Curham
Published by Walker Books 2017
ISBN: 9781406366150

 

 

Book Review: Alex Approximately, by Jenn Bennett

Available in bookshops nationwide.

cv_alex_approximatelyAlex, Approximately is sort of a modern-day novelised equivalent of the movie, You’ve Got Mail, aimed at a new generation.

Our protagonist, Bailey, loves classic movies and follows a strict habit of avoiding things that take her out of her comfort zone. So, when things become too uncomfortable at home with her mother’s new boyfriend, she moves to a small Californian coastal city, to live with her father. The fact that her online friend, fellow film-buff Alex, also lives there is just an added garnish.

However, not one to rush into things, Bailey determines to track down this mysterious “Alex” and suss him out before even tell him that they’re in the same city. The city, resting on the Californian Coast, somewhere near Monteray Bay and with the redwood forests as a backdrop, is a surfer’s paradise. It’s also home to a bizarre museum known as “The Cave” (which I feel was loosely based on The House On the Rock in Wisconsin). Here she picks up a summer job, and also catches the attentions of sexy, if infuriating, surfer boy, Parker. Their initial meetings are typical to the genre: he gently mocks her, and ultimately seems to be intent on trying to embarrass her. She bites back. They grow closer, become friends, and eventually Bailey decides she should stop trying to lightly stalk “Alex” in favour of her new relationship, and their already fairly infrequent online conversations cease.

If you’re reading this book for discussions about classic movies, I’m afraid you’re likely be disappointed. What you do receive, instead, is the awkward world of teenage dating and a frustrating case of hidden identity, interspersed with an intriguing array of background characters (Parker’s mother is most excellent!), and a somewhat-antagonist, Parker’s ex-friend, Davey. Davey is all kinds of messed up: he injured his knee a few years ago, became addicted to painkillers, and switched from there to harder drugs. He exhibits a variety of antisocial mannerisms, including a deep resentment of Parker, and Bailey has also caught his eye…

On the surface, Alex Approximately feels like a fairly light, superficial read. The twist, Alex’s identity, is easily figured out (and is pretty much spoiled on some of the promotional material, although not, fortunately, the blurb). It does contain frequent mentions of recreational drug use (although the main characters remain drug-free), violence, and some fairly descriptive sexual content. Thus I would not recommend it for the younger or more innocent reader (I would suggest, ages 14+).

It also fails to deal with some of the harder issues, such as Davey’s drug addiction, and he is cast more as the villain in need of taking out than the teenager in need of serious help that he clearly is. Bailey, for all that her father calls her “a good detective” at one point, is possibly the worst detective I’ve seen in a young adult novel, and completely fails to figure out who Alex is, despite the fact that even her father has guessed (but refuses to tell her or even drop substantial hints, presumably because the situation amuses him).

Whilst I would describe it as extremely readable, and quite entertaining, it could have been so much more.

Reviewed by Angela Oliver

Alex Approximately
by Jenn Bennett
Published by Simon & Schuster
ISBN  9781471161049