Sunday, November 15, 2015

The Night Parade by Kathryn Tanquary

Rating: Delightful
Age Range: 10 - 14 years
Grade Level: 5 - 8
Hardcover: 336 pages
Publisher: Sourcebooks Jabberwocky (January 5, 2016)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 1492623245
ISBN-13: 978-1492623243
Release Date: 1 January 2016

"I thought you might sleep through it." The creature smiled. Saki's voice was little more than a whisper. "Sleep through what?" It leaned over. She stared into its will-o'-the-wisp eyes. "The Night Parade, of course." 

The last thing Saki Yamamoto wants to do for her summer vacation is trade in exciting Tokyo for the antiquated rituals and bad cell reception of her grandmother's village. Preparing for the Obon ceremony is boring. Then the local kids take interest in Saki and she sees an opportunity for some fun, even if it means disrespecting her family's ancestral shrine on a malicious dare. But as Saki rings the sacred bell, the darkness shifts. A death curse has been invoked...and Saki has three nights to undo it. With the help of three spirit guides and some unexpected friends, Saki must prove her worth-or say goodbye to the world of the living forever..."

I was initially drawn to this story as it dealt with Japanese culture and mythology, and it was set in Japan. I am very glad I read this book as it was one of the most delightful and enchanting reads I have had in a very long time.  The story reminded me of old fashioned adventure stories where children go to mythical lands and learn valuable lessons.

The book is set in Japan with Japanese mythology as its main focus, however the story is more complex then that and deals with issues such as trying to balance tradition and modern living, teenagers trying to find their way, and family relationships. IT is done subtly and is part of Saki's journey through the spiritual world.

The writing style is very descriptive and elegant which fit the story perfectly. The Spirit world was fantastical, beautiful and dark which the author captured perfectly. I was swept away with the writing, and felt transported to this world, heck I wanted to visit the world (without the dying and scary spirits part).

The knowledge Tanquary has about Japanese mythology is evident. Having previously studied Japanese culture through school (and watching a lot of anime and reading a lot of manga) I easily recognised the mythological beings and religious/traditional concepts the author introduces. So I was pleased to see these mythological beings come alive on the pages and they kept true to the "nature" of these beings in tradition.

I confess to not particularly liking Saki at the start of the book and it was hard to feel a connection with her, Saki is a modern girl who  is self absorbed and rude. However her journey through the spirit world teaches her some valuable lessons about friendship, history, belief, traditions, dealing with bullies and how to treat people. By the end of the story I was much more invested in her as a character. 

The majority of the supporting characters were spirits that provided the had most of the best lines and were the most enjoyable to read. She had three main guides; the fox, the tengu, and the tanuki. Each had its own distinctive personality which mirrored their mythology persona. Tanuki was probably my favourite being cheeky and fun. But I confess to like the Tengu as well, who reminded me of a spirit version go Sheldon from Big Bang Theory. There were other supporting characters such as Saki's brother, parents, Grandmother and the girl from the village Maeda, but these characters didn't seem as developed or have much development other then to help highlight the lessons Saki learned in the spirit world.

Despite the theme of being supernatural in nature and dealing with spirits, it wasn't very scary at all, and I am a big scardey cat so if I wasn't scared, then it wasn't scary. There is no violence in the book and but there is some dramatic scenes.

My final point is on the cover which is beautiful! I would be lying if I didn't say it was a significant reason as to why I chose this book. The version I read was an ebook but I will be getting a hard cover of this book when it released. I am so glad the story inside was just as lovely as the cover.

I would highly recommend this book to children aged 10 and above, and any adult who enjoys the genre. It is a perfect book to begin learning about Japanese mythology and culture. This book left me feeling happy after reading it, and I closed it with a smile on my face. A rare feel good book, that is just enjoyable.

A copy of this book was provided to me by Netgalley for a fair and honest review.

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Fairest by Marissa Meyer

Rating: It's OK
Age Range: 12 - 18 years
Series: The Lunar Chronicles
Hardcover: 272 pages
Publisher: Feiwel & Friends (January 27, 2015)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 1250060559
ISBN-13: 978-1250060556

In this stunning bridge book between Cress and Winter in the bestselling Lunar Chronicles, Queen Levana’s story is finally told. Mirror, mirror on the wall, Who is the fairest of them all? Fans of the Lunar Chronicles know Queen Levana as a ruler who uses her “glamour” to gain power. But long before she crossed paths with Cinder, Scarlet, and Cress, Levana lived a very different story – a story that has never been told . . . until now. Marissa Meyer spins yet another unforgettable tale about love and war, deceit and death.

While this story was an interesting view into Queen Levana's life, it really didn't add much to the series as a story. Her early life was a pretty rough life for a princess; full of deceit, manipulation and violence. It goes down hill from there. With every decision she makes she travels further down the wicked Queen path.

She is not a character you feel particularly warm and fuzzy about. While the reader may feel a little sympathy over events that shaped her ultimately the I didn't like her much. From word go while you feel sympathy that the Queen had a pretty abusive and isolated up bringing and that initially she had good intentions trying to rule the nation in her sisters stead, and not be like her sister or family. Ultimately she ended up being the worst as at least her family never pretended to be any thing different.

This is perhaps my least favourite out of the series and probably would have been ok with not having read this story (in hindsight). I mean we already know she is a horrible individual and there was nothing in this book that made you feel sympathetic to her, that she was misunderstood, or that she got there by accident. The book didn't really add anything to the series as a whole other then at the end when we get a peek at Winter and her story (the next book).

I will be interested to see if the events in this book relate to the next book. If it doesn't directly tie in, I would almost say skip this book  as it really didn't add much to the series and the main character is not sympathetic at all.

Saturday, September 19, 2015

The Shepherd's Crown by Terry Pratchett

Rating: Loved it
Hardcover: 352 pages
Publisher: Doubleday Childrens (27 Aug. 2015)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 0857534815
ISBN-13: 978-0857534811

"Deep in the Chalk, something is stirring. ¬The owls and the foxes can sense it, and Tiffany Aching feels it in her boots. An old enemy is gathering strength. This is a time of endings and beginnings, old friends and new, a blurring of edges and a shifting of power. Now Tiffany stands between the light and the dark, the good and the bad. As the fairy horde prepares for invasion, Tiffany must summon all the witches to stand with her. To protect the land. Her land. There will be a reckoning. . ."
A bitter sweet book to read. On the one hand I was super excited as it is the newest Terry Pratchett disc world book, on the other hand it is the last book that will ever be published. It is sad for me that I will not have a Pratchett book to look forward too or purchase ever again, or get a chance to meet him. Pratchett books have been a part of my life for around 20 years.

This book wasn't actually finished when Terry Pratchett died, I am not sure who finished the book off but you could tell the parts Pratchett wrote and the parts another author wrote. Even though I think they did a valiant effort to make the writing styles as seamless as possible. I feel for the writer who was asked to fill in the gaps, it must have been a monumental challenge.

Regardless I still loved this book. We have all the Witches back, the Wee Free Men and an array of old and new characters. I liked the character development of Tiffany as her storyline reflects what most young women (and people) experience when their training is finished and they begin in their chosen careers. Trying to form their own identity and their own establish their own style.

Geoffrey is a great character and I enjoyed his story that deals with sexism and change (he wants to be a witch but only women can be witches). Which mirrors the same themes explored in "Equal Rites" of a woman becoming a wizard. I am sad we won't see Geoffrey again.

There were laughs to be had and I will admit to a few tears, as well as a "no why? why has that happened" yelled at the book. The usual Pratchett wit and insight into human behaviour is present which won't disappoint fans.

I found that this book was a fitting end to the Discworld series and to Terry Pratchetts life with the passing of one of Discworlds most loved characters. I don't want to give away too much but I won't lie that it had me crying as I read the scene. It is a book about change, life and death, and a final farewell from the Pratchett.

Good bye Terry Pratchett and thank you.

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Bitter Greens by Kate Forsyth

Rating: It was OK
Format: Kindle Edition
File Size: 1907 KB
Print Length: 496 pages
Publisher: Random House Australia (20 March 2012)
Sold by: Amazon Australia Services, Inc.
Language: English

"The amazing power and truth of the Rapunzel fairy tale comes alive for the first time in this breathtaking tale of desire, black magic and the redemptive power of love French novelist Charlotte-Rose de la Force has been banished from the court of Versailles by the Sun King, Louis XIV, after a series of scandalous love affairs. At the convent, she is comforted by an old nun, Sœur Seraphina, who tells her the tale of a young girl who, a hundred years earlier, is sold by her parents for a handful of bitter greens... After Margherita's father steals parsley from the walled garden of the courtesan Selena Leonelli, he is threatened with having both hands cut off, unless he and his wife relinquish their precious little girl. Selena is the famous red-haired muse of the artist Tiziano, first painted by him in 1512 and still inspiring him at the time of his death. She is at the center of Renaissance life in Venice, a world of beauty and danger, seduction and betrayal, love and superstition. Locked away in a tower, Margherita sings in the hope that someone will hear her. One day, a young man does. Award-winning author Kate Forsyth braids together the stories of Margherita, Selena, and Charlotte-Rose, the woman who penned Rapunzel as we now know it, to create what is a sumptuous historical novel, an enchanting fairy tale retelling, and a loving tribute to the imagination of one remarkable woman."

I am sad to say this is probably my least favourite book by Forsyth that I have read, and I have that feeling like I read a different book to everyone else as all my blogger friends who I trust, said they loved this book, meanwhile I just couldn't get into it.

I think my main issue was the different points of views which for me is an annoyance. I found the change of view hard to over come to really enjoy the story. I know the book is told from three different points of view but while reading it, I felt like I was reading three different books. But Forsyth did eventually tie the two different points of views together, so it did make sense as to why these stories were being told this way. By the end of the book I wasn't as frustrated with the different points of view as I was at the start.

My other main issue was that I found Charolette-Rose's story fascinating and got irritated that I had to change point of view mid story to continue someone else's. I feel like I know the characters of Le Straga and Marghaerite much better then Charolette-Rose' character. As I mentioned before Charolette-Rose was an interesting historical figure who lived in the court of 16 Century France, that witnessed many turbulent times, and wrote fairy tales. I mean she dressed as a dancing best to rescue her lover, does this not sound like a character you want to get to know? Yet I don't feel like I know her very well at all by the end of the book compared to Le Straga and Margherite.

The saving grace of this book is Forsyth's writing, which is always is so whimsical and descriptive. She can easily capture your imagination and send you to the era she is writing in. Her books are also very well researched which makes for a more authentic feel to the story. The story was interesting (both stories) and I liked how Forsyth ended the book.

I really wanted to like this story more but I couldn't the different points of views just annoyed me to much to really get into the story which was lovely and interesting (all three of them). I wish I could have enjoyed the book more but I just couldn't.

Saturday, September 12, 2015

The Invisible Library by Genevieve Cogman

Rating: Loved it! 
Reading Age: 13 and up
Publisher: Pan; Main Market Ed. edition (15 Jan. 2015)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 1447256239
ISBN-13: 978-1447256236

Irene must be at the top of her game or she'll be off the case - permanently... Irene is a professional spy for the mysterious Library, which harvests fiction from different realities. And along with her enigmatic assistant Kai, she's posted to an alternative London. Their mission - to retrieve a dangerous book. But when they arrive, it's already been stolen. London's underground factions seem prepared to fight to the very death to find her book. Adding to the jeopardy, this world is chaos-infested - the laws of nature bent to allow supernatural creatures and unpredictable magic. Irene's new assistant is also hiding secrets of his own. Soon, she's up to her eyebrows in a heady mix of danger, clues and secret societies. Yet failure is not an option - the nature of reality itself is at stake.

Well I am not sure I could gush, rave, totally fan girl out any more about this book. I dont even know where to begin with this review I just really enjoyed this book. Easily, hands down, top of the list for favourite book for this year.

A world where you can live in a library, travel to other dimensions, and collect books (borderline steal, ok not so borderline, but its for the good of literature across the universe  and preserving the book). Did I mention LIVE IN A LIBRARY? Do I really need to say more?

Ok perhaps I do. One aspect I really liked about this book was a the world the author had created. A central library or world that links other worlds through books. The Librarians collect (sometimes steal) special books that can only be found in that universe, and strengthens the ties the library has to that world. 

I enjoyed all the characters, though dragon boy seemed a bit scattered sometimes. Perhaps this is because he was in a human shape and couldn't really control his emotions in that form? I am not sure but emotionally he seemed scattered (that is the best way I can think to describe it without being spoilery). 

Irene is a good heroine being smart, quick thinking, and not a damsel in distress (by this I mean perfectly capable of doing stuff until the cute male lead comes along and then suddenly seems rendered incapable of getting stuff done). She has faults and quirks, and is by no means perfect, but she doesn't fall into the cliched role of "bad ass heroine until cute guy comes along to save her". She gets stuff done and has a job to do, don't get in her way or distract her with your pretty boy looks.

As I mentioned above this is probably at the top of my list for favourite read of the year. I enjoyed this book that much. I and so much fun reading it and was disappointed when it ended. However I console myself with the fact a second book is out around Christmas and I have preordered it!

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Spelled by Betsy Schow

Rating: Enjoyed
Publisher: Sourcebooks Fire (June 2, 2015)
Publication Date: June 2, 2015
Sold by: Amazon Digital Services, Inc.
Language: English

Fairy Tale Survival Rule #32: If you find yourself at the mercy of a wicked witch, sing a romantic ballad and wait for your Prince Charming to save the day. Yeah, no thanks. Dorthea is completely princed out. Sure being the crown princess of Emerald has its perks―like Glenda Original ball gowns and Hans Christian Louboutin heels. But a forced marriage to the not-so-charming prince Kato is so not what Dorthea had in mind for her enchanted future. Talk about unhappily ever after. Trying to fix her prince problem by wishing on a (cursed) star royally backfires, leaving the kingdom in chaos and her parents stuck in some place called "Kansas." Now it's up to Dorthea and her pixed off prince to find the mysterious Wizard of Oz and undo the curse...before it releases the wickedest witch of all and spells The End for the world of Story.

You know those guilty pleasure type shows which are brainless and silly but you still cant help watching it every week (or whenever you can)? Because for you it is just fun, and you can switch your brain off, you know the shows that are brain candy? Well this book for me was a brain candy book.

The story is a mash up of fairy tales with the Wizard of Oz story being the main story it follows, and it seems to be set prior to the Wizard of Oz books. The author has woven in references to just about every children's story ever, and threw in some current pop culture references as well (such as when Dorthea says "let it go snow boy let it go" and e books being enchanted books).

So we have spoiled brat princess, arrogant annoying prince (and now fiance to spoiled brat Princess), and snarky side kick having to travel across the ruined fair tale landscape and try to fix everything. To be fair to Dorthea (Princess), she had never ever been allowed out of the castle so it is understandable she is a little self absorbed when all she can do is online shop. I was happy with the character development and felt it was done in line with the events that occured. Dorthea had a steep learning curve.

This will be a short review because really all you need to know is the book is a fairy tale mash up/satire, it made me laugh and I had fun reading it. If you want a quick fun read this might be what you need.

Thursday, July 23, 2015

The Last Queen of India by Michelle Moran

Rating 4 out of 5
File Size: 515 KB
Print Length: 368 pages
Publisher: Quercus (2 April 2015)
Language: English

1857, India. At nineteen years old, Sita is the shining star of Queen Lakshmi of India's imperial guard, having pledged herself to a life of celibacy in the name of protecting the young ruler. When Sita agrees to train Lakshmi in the art of military combat, a close friendship develops between the two women. But trouble soon threatens - Lakshmi's court is dangerously divided and rumours are rife that the country is at risk. Meanwhile, in London, advisors to Queen Victoria are looking to extend the power of the Commonwealth, and India is coveted as the next jewel in the imperial crown. In the ensuing battle, will the bond between Lakshmi and Sita be broken for ever?

Michelle Moran is by far my favourite historical fiction author at the moment. She has a knack for writing about women in history whose stories are not well known to Western cultures. Madame Tussaud and Napoleons second wife Marie-Louise being prime examples. Her books are always very well researched with only slight deviations to the actual time line of events.
This book tells the story of India's Queen Lakshimi of Jhansi from the point of view of her guard Sita. While the focus is on Sita and her life it surrounds the Queen and we get great insight into the Queens life and events during her last year's of reign and the rebellion that she helped lead.

First Sita is a wonderful character. I just adored her and I'm pretty sure it's not just because she is a reader and had some wonderful lines about reading. She is intelligent, caring, practical, athletic and dedicated. It was easy to connect with her and follow her story.

The Queen herself was fascinating and her story sad and inspiring at the same time. Sad knowing that all her efforts to resolve the situation peacefully with England were for nothing. England wanted it's India jewel and it was going to get it. Inspiring because she still tried and tried again, never giving up the hope that she could save her people and Kingdom.

It was really difficult to read the struggles that women faced in India then, and I know in some areas, still do today. Sita's upbringing is particularly horrible, made worse by her awful Grandmother. But I understand better the hurdles the women in India have had to overcome to get the level of freedom many currently have. 

It was also difficult to read about the truly horrific acts of cruelty displayed by both the British army and the rebels. Slaughtering so many innocents because they could, and justifying it by saying "they did it first". Then the cultural insensitivity displayed by the British at the time is also awful (such as opening a butchers next to a Hindu temple).

This was a wonderfully written book with Moran bringing to life on the pages the world Sita lived in, while highlighting Indian culture (both good and bad), and bringing to life an important historical figure.

Hands down this is probably my second all time favourite Moran book and highly recommend it.

Previously reviewed Michelle Moran books