Nullaboo Hullabaloo

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Author: Fleur Ferris
Publisher: Puffin

I have always enjoyed Fleur Ferris’ young adult novels and was delighted to see that she had written a book for younger readers. I had high expectations for this book and Ferris did not let me down.

The book is set in a town called Nullaboo and our young protagonist is Gemma Hart. The story opens with Gemma waiting to see what topic she will receive in the science competition. Her heart is set on butterflies, but that topic goes to Nina (last’s year competition winner). Gemma’s topic will be march flies. To say that Gemma is disappointed is an understatement. How can she possibly beat Nina in the science competition when her topic is march flies. March flies!!

Gemma’s mother is an entomologist and has lent Gemma her bug catcher which magnifies things two hundred and fifty times their size and has a microphone and earbuds. Gemma heads off with her bug catcher to catch some march files, but instead of finding march files Gemma captures a fairy. A fairy named Janomi. A fairy who needs help. Fairies aren’t supposed to talk to humans and so Janomi is breaking many rules by seeking out Gemma’s help. Her grandfather has been captured by silver spiders and she needs Gemma’s help to find and rescue him.

Gemma’s bug catcher records this conversation and Nina finds it and uploads it to the Internet. Suddenly there’s hullabaloo in Nullaboo. Nina’s small town finds itself the centre of a media frenzy. A secret government agency barges in to take control and suddenly the fairy colony that Gemma promised to protect is under threat.

There’s so much to love about this book. Gemma is a charming character. Beautifully innocent, funny and so, so likeable. Gemma’s family are gorgeously eccentric. You will also fall in love with the people of Nullaboo.

Ferris has always written rural communities so beautifully – how they pull together when one of their own is in crisis. She continues this theme with Nullaboo Hullabaloo.

I love that the fairies (just like humans) are snarky towards each other. I love that Gemma’s family have their own problems, but when it is needed, they pull together. I love that the book is full of humour and love.

I love how Ferris uses language in this novel. From the secret government agency being called DUD to Gemma’s mother’s nemesis being called Colin Snider.

What I love the most though that this is a story about heart. Once you finish reading this book, you will feel happy. This book made me smile and it made me feel good.

Yes, this is a story about fairies, but it is also a story about community. Nullaboo Hullabaloo tells the story of a community rallying around one of their own to help them protect and save the fairies. And amazingly enough underneath all that Ferris has written about how important it is to put egos and enmities aside to help others in need.

It is a delightful book that will be enjoyed by both boys and girls. It is beautifully illustrated by Briony Stewart. The illustrations capture the story brilliantly. Let’s hope that Ferris writes more stories featuring Gemma and her wonderfully unconventional family and community.

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And I love all the sewing references – Janomi, Bernini, Elna and so on.

His Name Was Walter

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From Australia’s favourite storyteller comes a story, within a story, that shows us the extraordinary power of true love and solves a decades-old mystery. ‘Once upon a time, in a dark city far away, there lived a boy called Walter, who had nothing but his name to call his own …’ The handwritten book, with its strangely vivid illustrations, has been hidden in the old house for a long, long time. Tonight, four kids and their teacher will find it. Tonight, at last, the haunting story of Walter and the mysterious, tragic girl called Sparrow will be read – right to the very end … From one of Australia’s most renowned children’s authors, comes an extraordinary story within a story – a mystery, a prophecy, a long-buried secret. And five people who will remember this night as long as they live.

What an amazing book! I love Emily Rodda when she writes in this manner – encompassing touches of yesteryear, folklore, fantasy, reality and mystery.  Everything about this book is divine – the language, the characters and the writing.

Emily Rodda has written an excellent novel where four children and a teacher on a history excursion get stranded overnight in a scary house and they find a book and become enthralled by the story of Walter.

When I started this book, I didn’t have high expectations, but I soon became mesmerised by the story or more particularly the story within the story.

The story within the story at first seems like nonsense – a boy raised by bees, who work for mice, meets a witch who turns into a cat, lives with a landlord who’s a chicken and falls in love with a young woman who turns into a sparrow. At first, I started to think that my reservations about this book were justified, but soon I was caught up in young Walter’s story and I was utterly captivated and like the four children on the excursion who have found the handwritten book I couldn’t put this book down.

What I loved the most was that as a reader I was given an active role alongside the school excursion children in solving Walter’s fascinating mystery. The way Emily Rodda incorporated the reality of the day with the handwritten story of Walter was terrific. What a skilled writer!

His Name Was Walter will bewitch readers with its fantasy and mystery elements and then Rodda ties it all up with a neat, beautiful bow. Absolutely enchanting.

The Slightly Alarming Tale of The Whispering Wars

  • Author: Jaclyn Moriarty
  • Illustrator: Kelly Canby
  • Publisher: Allen & Unwin

I was taken by Whisperers at 2pm, so I never pulled the lever for the laundry chute.
That’s what bothered me most. 
This is way ahead in the story, though. A lot happened before that.

The town of Spindrift is frequented by pirates, Shadow Mages and charlatans. It’s also home to the Orphanage School, where Finlay lives with Glim, Taya and Eli. Just outside town is the painfully posh Brathelthwaite Boarding School, home to Honey Bee, Hamish and Victor, Duke of Ainsley. When the two schools compete at the Spindrift Tournament, stakes are high, tensions are higher, and some people are out to win at any cost. Before long, the orphans and the boarding school are in an all-out war.
And then Whispering Wars break out, and Spindrift is thrust onto the front lines. Children are being stolen, Witches, Sirens and a deadly magical flu invade the town, and all attempts to fight back are met with defeat.
Finlay, Honey Bee and their friends must join forces to outwit the encroaching forces of darkness, rescue the stolen children, and turn the tide of the war. But how can one bickering troupe outwit the insidious power of the Whisperers? And who are the two mysterious figures watching them from the shadows?
From the award-winning Jaclyn Moriarty comes a spellbinding tale of unlikely friendship, unexpected magic and competitive athletics.

Though this book shares the same world as Jaclyn Moriarty’s book, The Extremely Inconvenient Adventures of Bronte Mettlestone, this book is a stand-alone tale with an entirely new story and characters. Both books form part of Moriarty’s new series – A Kingdoms and Empires Book. This book is best read after finishing The Extremely Inconvenient Adventures of Bronte Mettlestone to appreciate the subtle nod to characters and events that featured in the first book.

Once again, Moriarty has given readers a delightful book full of playful, madcap and unexpected twists, but the greatest enjoyment that comes from this quirky novel is the two narrators – Finlay & Honey Bee. 

Finlay & Honey Bee talk directly to the reader and you feel like you know both these characters because they treat the reader like a friend. They don’t just tell a story, they allow the reader to become a part of the story and their lives. The reader is allowed into their inside jokes, their merciless teasing of each other and their secrets and fears. Both characters are endearing and likeable and make excellent narrators because they make the reader feel invested in their story. Finlay, from the orphanage school, is spirited and cheeky. Honey Bee, from the posh and pretentious boarding school, is quiet and thoughtful. What both narrators share is a wonderful sense of humour that shines through their storytelling.

I enjoyed this book more than The Extremely Inconvenient Adventures of Bronte Mettlestone and I didn’t think that was possible. Possibly I enjoyed the narration of Finlay and Honey Bee more than Bronte Mettlestone and that’s a big call because Bronte was an exceptional narrator, or maybe it is because Moriarty was only starting to hit her stride with Bronte and she picked up the pace with Finlay and Honey Bee. 

Moriarty unique style of writing shines through in The Slightly Alarming Tale of The Whispering Wars. Like her previous books, it is expressive, eccentric and engaging. Gloriously illustrated, once again, by Kelly Canby, this is a novel chockfull of great adventures and readers will demolish it quickly. Don’t be put off by the size of the book, Moriarty’s writing is addictive and once you start reading, you will find yourself devouring this book. 

What I love most about Moriarty is that she never underestimates her audience. Yes, she is writing for younger readers, but she never talks down to the reader. She gives the reader the respect they deserve and I believe that younger readers will appreciate this about Moriarty’s writing. 

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The Extremely Inconvenient Adventures of Bronte Mettlestone

 

The Extremely Inconvenient Adventures of Bronte Mettlestone

Author: Jaclyn Moriarty

Illustrator: Kelly Canby

Publisher: Allen & Unwin

Bronte Mettlestone’s parents ran away to have adventures when she was a baby, leaving her to be raised by her Aunt Isabelle and the Butler. She’s had a perfectly pleasant childhood of afternoon teas and riding lessons – and no adventures, thank you very much.
But Bronte’s parents have left extremely detailed (and bossy) instructions for Bronte in their will. The instructions must be followed to the letter, or disaster will befall Bronte’s home. She is to travel the kingdoms and empires, perfectly alone, delivering special gifts to her ten other aunts. There is a farmer aunt who owns an orange orchard and a veterinarian aunt who specialises in dragon care, a pair of aunts who captain a cruise ship together and a former rockstar aunt who is now the reigning monarch of a small kingdom.
Now, armed with only her parents’ instructions, a chest full of strange gifts and her own strong will, Bronte must journey forth to face dragons, Chief Detectives and pirates – and the gathering suspicion that there might be something more to her extremely inconvenient quest than meets the eye…
From the award-winning Jaclyn Moriarty comes a fantastic tale of high intrigue, grand adventure and an abundance of aunts.

I fell in love with Jaclyn Moriarty’s writing while reading the Colours of Madeleine series. Oh, how I loved that series. I was in absolute awe of Jaclyn Moriarty and her quirky, unique and imaginative writing, so I was thrilled to see that she had written a series for middle-grade readers.

Jaclyn Moriarty is an inventive, quirky and delightful writer. I am always amazed by her imagination and creativity when reading her books and The Extremely Inconvenient Adventures of Bronte Mettlestone is no exception. Once you start reading you are captured by Moriarty and she does not let you go and once she has let you go, you want more.

What I love about Moriarty is that she isn’t like any other writer. She is incomparable. While reading this book, I was asked to describe what the book was about – I did my best to explain this book, but I think I failed miserably. You have to read Moriarty’s work to understand her refreshing and original imagination.

Moriarty’s world-building is like no other and it isn’t just her world-building, the way she uses words to immerse you in her story is original and delightful.

‘The Upturned…Ha! You mean the Dishevelled Sofa!’

The Dishevelled Sofa is a cafe in Moriarty’s book. If the name hasn’t captured your attention and made you want to visit, then Moriarty’s description will.

Her attention to detail and vocabulary is incredible. Every word counts. Every chapter counts. All one hundred and nine chapters! This world that Moriarty has created is all hers and her work is complemented by Kelly Canby’s delightful, lively and animated illustrations. The illustrations add to the book.  Moriarty’s writing can easily stand alone but with Canby’s illustrations an extra depth is attached to the book.

Yes, this is a hefty book, but it isn’t an arduous read instead you will find yourself whipping through the pages and loving Moriarty & Canby’s brave, quirky and humorous work. I am delighted that I can introduce Moriarty’s work to middle-grade readers and I know they will love her as much as I do.

Now, I don’t know about you, but I like a book to tell a story. These books did not. They told about things. It’s true that this is what I needed them to do, and yet honestly. Did they have to? ‘Oh, just stop, you insufferable bore!’ I murmured to the authors.

Moriarty is no insufferable bore and when reading her work, I wonder what it must be like to live inside her head. I am sure that Moriarty could make a to-do list funny and creative. You only have to look at the title! It is enormous, like the book, but Moriarty makes it work. She’s a wonder!

Grace and Fury

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Author: Tracy Banghart

Publisher: Little, Brown

I enjoyed Grace and Fury, but it wasn’t entirely what I was expecting. I was led to believe that it would be more groundbreaking. There seems to be a lot of books these days that have us believe that we are going to be thrown into a world where women have very few rights. Is this a way to remind women of how far we have come or is it because it makes for a good story? It would be nice to read a book where the men are the inferior sex or maybe where women and men are equal, but where’s the outrage in that story?

Grace and Fury is another book where female readers are meant to be incensed at the fact that women are subservient to men. It is all a little predictable. Though in saying all that, I did enjoy this book and I found it easy to read, fast-paced and gripping, but I am hoping that the next book in the series is more left of centre and takes the characters in a different direction. Grace and Fury is just another feminist story of oppression and resistance that is beginning to get a little old and unoriginal.

A story about two sisters, Nomi and Serina, who are fighting for their freedom in a world where women have no rights. One of the sisters has been chosen as a Grace (a Grace is a female companion to the royal leader) and the other sister has been sent to an island where she must fight for her life under primitive and cruel conditions.

The setting is a world with a tyrannical monarchy that makes the rules up as it sees fit. The only choices that women have in this world are servitude, factory work and marriage unless of course you are chosen to be a ‘Grace.’ A Grace is an attendant to the royal monarch and means that you and your family will be looked after. A Grace will never want for anything, but in return, she is a servant to the royal monarch in every way. She can make no choices for herself and must never refuse her royal monarch.

Serina wants to be chosen to be a Grace to the Heir of the monarch and she and her mother have spent their whole life working towards this goal. Of course, we have Nomi, the unruly rebellious sister who wants nothing but to be able to read and study like her brother. In this world, it is illegal for women to go to school or to read (sound familiar?).

Of course, nothing goes smoothly and Nomi being the wild younger sister sets off a chain of events that results in the girls being separated and facing challenges that they haven’t been prepared for in their young lives. Serina has been brought up to be a Grace and Nomi was brought up to be her sister’s maid. Neither is equipped to deal with the challenges that they are about to face.

Also, just once, I would love a character like Serina – who has trained her whole life to be a Grace to crumble under the adversity that is thrown her way, but of course, she doesn’t and she rises to the challenge – as all strong women do.  I understand what the author is trying to achieve, but I find it all a little banal and would welcome something a bit unexpected in stories like this one if only to throw the reader off balance.

I  was disappointed that considering this was meant to be a story of women empowerment that there were love stories thrown in for both girls. Though thankfully the romance didn’t take over the plot. I found both romances to be unnecessary and I think the author could have found more original ways to incorporate these men into the story.

Grace and Fury is an entertaining book and you will find it gripping and hard to put down once you start reading but if you are looking for a book with a fresh take on female empowerment than you need to keep looking.

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The Hazel Wood

Author: Melissa Albert

Publisher: Flatiron Books

I didn’t know what to expect from this book, but from reviews that I have glanced over, I knew that it was a combination of twisted fairytale and emotional horror. I would venture to say that this isn’t a book for everyone. If you like your stories dark, black and cruel dive on in because you won’t be disappointed, but if you aren’t a fan of fantasy, well this book won’t be for you.

I think all of us at some time or another wonder what it would be like to venture into a novel we are reading. I think it was this premise that drew me to this novel. I will admit that there were times when I wondered if The Hazel Wood was a little “too much”, but then again if you like dark and twisted fantasy, this is the book for you.

The story revolves around Alice. Alice’s mother (Ella) is missing and Alice is determined to find her. The twist being that Alice thinks Ella has been kidnapped by sinister characters from land set in a fairy tale called The Hinterland.

Ella’s mother was a reclusive author of a cult book of fairy tales and it would seem that Ella has spent her whole life trying to escape her mother’s eccentric fans, life and bad luck. Alice has never read her grandmother’s collection of fairy tales nor has she ever met her grandmother. Her mother has protected her from that world. Of course, being denied access to this world has created an insatiable appetite on Alice’s behalf to know more. Also, Alice is convinced that Ella’s disappearance is directly connected to her grandmother’s fairy tales.

Alice’s grandmother is dead and finding a copy of her grandmother’s book is proving to be difficult. Alice enlists the help of her classmate and superfan of her grandmother’s book, Ellery Finch. Together, Alice and Ellery go off in search of The Hinterland.

Alice is a complicated character  – she is angry, prickly, princess-pretty and seems to believe that the world is against her. The supporting characters are strong and they provide a nice contrast to Alice.  Ellery is sensitive, kind, biracial and geeky. Her step-sister Audrey is marvellous – she is sultry, opinionated and whip-smart.

The Hazel Wood is beautifully written and Albert’s writing will bewitch you, but if you like your books realistic and you only tip your toe into the world of fantasy this book is not for you. It is also one of the most beautiful books I own, with a stunning cover and decorative endpapers.

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The Belles

Author: Dhonielle Clayton

Publisher: Freeform Books

I had wanted to read this book for a long time, so I deliberately didn’t learn much about it.  I do know that I loved the cover – beautiful and eye-catching. But as we all know, we shouldn’t judge a book by its cover!

The Belles is beautifully written, almost to the point where you can visually see the descriptions come off the page. Dhonielle Clayton doesn’t leave much to the imagination. Though personally,  I did love this about the book. Clayton’s words and descriptions are scrumptious. Almost every page has a description exquisite to read.

Glass canisters hold colourful liquids. Golden pins poke out of a pink velvet cushion. Carts hold tiers of pastries frosted in rose-petal pinks and pearly whites and apple reds, flutes overflow with jewel-tone liquids and sugar-dusted strawberries and pomegranates sit in glass bowls. Vases spill over with flowers in a rainbow of colours.

Though, I love the decadent and gorgeous descriptions I am not sure they will be for everyone. I can imagine after awhile that they become tedious for many readers and readers will find themselves skimming over the rich descriptions to get on with the story.

The story revolves around a land called Orleans, where everybody is born ugly – skin is grey and eyes are red. This is the natural state of the citizens of Orleans. And this is where the Belles come into play. It is their role to transform the citizens of Orleans – to keep them beautiful.

Belles are kept in seclusion until their sixteenth birthday when they are delivered to Orleans in a grand ceremony.

Descendants of the Goddess of Beauty, blessed with the arcana to enhance the world and rescue the people of Orleans.

Of course, like everything that is sought after, beauty in Orleans comes at a price – changing one’s appearance is a painful process.  The citizens of Orleans are obsessed and are willing to pay whatever price is needed to keep themselves beautiful and relevant.

Within the book, we have our flawed heroines and we have our villains. The villains in this story are cruel, twisted and dark and have an insatiable appetite to destroy and mock. The villains appear to have no redeeming features and tend to get darker and more ruthless as the book progresses.

I did find the book hard to get into and though I found the writing gorgeous, at times, though,  it did hinder the story. The book does start to get its rhythm about a third of the way through and everything starts to fall into place and you understand where Clayton is going with the story.

The story ends on a cliffhanger and it does leave you wanting more, mainly since the book’s pace develops quite quickly at the end and you are taken on quite a ride.

I do worry that Clayton will alienate a lot of readers with her rather elaborate prose (mainly male readers). I find that most males will read a book with strong female characters, but I am not entirely sure that male readers will persevere with this story. I found the cover quite beautiful and it drew me in but will it alienate male readers? Clayton wrote this book after eavesdropping on a conversation that a group of males were having, so isn’t part of the point of this book to make men understand those unrealistic standards of beauty are destructive and dangerous? How can this be achieved if men do not read this story? I don’t like to stereotype men but working in an all boys school tells me that this book will be a hard sell to young male readers.

 

Renegades – Marisa Myer

Renegades isn’t a book I would typically read. Actually, it is a book that I would generally avoid like crazy. I am not at all interested in superheroes. The only superhero movie I have seen is Suicide Squad, which I only went to see because of it being more about villains than superheroes. I thought that Suicide Squad was okay. I think I would have enjoyed it more if it wasn’t for the ridiculous Cara Delevingne character, the Enchantress. Anyway, enough of that. I am not a superheroes fan, but since becoming a CBCA judge, I have decided to continue to push the boundaries of what I read, so I decided to read Renegades. It was another book that I received in my YA Chronicles subscription.

Renegades is quite a good book. I now understand the hype surrounding the author, Marisa Myer; she knows how to write a good story. This is quite a large book at 556 pages but rarely did I find myself bored or wishing Myer would just get on with it. Instead, I discovered that Myer wrote in such a way that the story unfolded in my mind, almost like a movie.

The story is set around the Renegades and the Anarchists. Supposedly the Renegades are the good guys, and the Anarchists are the bad guys, but these lines are always blurred. Like most of society, there is good and bad in every group. No group is ever perfect, including superheroes.

In the world of Renegades and Anarchists, there are prodigies. Prodigies are born with superpowers, and this is where Myer takes a more creative turn. Rather than your run –of- the- mill superheroes that can fly, have super strength, faster-than-light speed and so on, Myer’s superheroes are pretty cool. There’s a prodigy who can transform herself into thousands of butterflies. A character whose blood becomes a weapon. A girl who can make bombs with her hands. The names of the characters are also great – The Detonator, Nightmare, Phobia. Though, they may be names of the villains. Some of the superhero names are a little predictable – like superheroes themselves.

The story revolves around Nova, a prodigy who has ties to the Anarchists and has reason to hate the Renegades. Nova has grown up with the Anarchists but her identity has been hidden, and she is able to move about in society without fear of being recognised as an Anarchist, though her loyalties lie with the Anarchists. She becomes intertwined with Adrian, a Renegade, who believes that justice will prevail. Adrian is what we call a “do-gooder”, he believes that the world needs superheroes and that civil liberties and heroes will always prevail. Nova isn’t interested in justice. She wants revenge and a world where society doesn’t feel that they “need” superheroes.

Myer has created a book that superhero devotees will enjoy and for those of us who just enjoy a well written entertaining book. There is a twist ending, and you do find yourself wondering what will happen next in the series. Will I read the next book? Maybe? I am curious to learn more about Nova and the Anarchists. I am also wondering if the Renegades plan for prodigies will come to fruition.

The Cruel Prince

I am not a huge fan of fantasy. It isn’t my go-to genre. Many years ago I wouldn’t read fantasy, but I have progressed from that point, and I now am able to appreciate a well-written fantasy book. I decided to read The Cruel Prince because it was one of the books that arrived in my YA Chronicles subscription. My expectations weren’t high, and I am pleased to say that The Cruel Prince was a wickedly good read.

The Cruel Prince is the first book in a new series from YA author, Holly Black and it is beautifully written. Black writes with high intensity and vibrancy that you almost feel like you are a part of this treacherous, unscrupulous world.

The start of the book is confronting, but it indeed introduces you to the world of Faerie where bloodlust, revenge and cruelty are commonplace.

Jude is a human; she has been living in the world of Faeries since she was seven years old along with her twin sister Taryn and her half-faerie sister Vivi. Jude and her sisters live with Vivi’s father, Madoc. Jude has grown up in the world of Faerie Gentry, but even though she has had the protection of Madoc, she has never felt safe or as though she belongs. Though, after a decade of living in the world, she feels that it is her home and genuinely wants to find her place amongst the Faeries and to feel like she belongs and is accepted.

Faerie world is filled with magic and beauty but Jude, being the human outcast knows the ugly side of Faerie. She has been tormented by those who live in this world since she arrived. Most particularly she has been cruelly bullied by the other children of Faerie. Jude’s bullying by the Faeries is challenging to read, but it allows the reader to understand Jude’s motivations and why she makes the decisions that she does. Jude wants to become a member of the High Court, mainly for the power that it will bestow upon her.

Black has given us a world that is deliciously dark, wicked and violent. This is not a light read. Think Game of Thrones for Faeries!  Like Game of Thrones, there are some jaw-dropping moments when you wonder how far Black will take the violence and bloodlust; she definitely does not hold back. Black is a master at layering. Nothing is written without a purpose. She does not waste words, and she layers the plot with beautifully intricate twists and turns, she leads the reader deeper and deeper into the fascinating and dangerous world of Faerie.

Not only does Black layer the plot but she layers the characters. Black develops her characters so that as a reader we struggle to see them as black and white characters. All the characters are grey. Black gives us enough for us to realise that some characters are cruel and vicious but are they all bad? All the characters, even the most minor, have their stories to tell. Black has neither completely good or bad characters. Even Jude, our captivating, tough, intelligent heroine has motivations that are not entirely pure, but understandable considering all she has been through.

Black is a master of story, and she has a gift for developing characters. The Cruel Prince isn’t just a book about Faeries, but a book about relationships, intrigue and bloodshed. This isn’t a book for the faint-hearted! You will find yourself wondering what is going to happen right up until the last page.

And in the words of Victoria Aveyard, bestselling author of the Red Queen series, “I require book two immediately. Holly Black is the Faerie Queen.’

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