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Dan Thompson "Avid Book Blogger and UK Author" (Gainsborough, England)

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The Spring (Isaac the Fortunate, #2)
The Spring (Isaac the Fortunate, #2)
by A Ka
Edition: Paperback
Price: 5.16

4.0 out of 5 stars Unique Voice, 13 April 2014
I rather enjoyed A. Ka's first instalment, The Winter. It was an intriguing little novella that merged 16th century history with fantasy, and was successful too. I was really interested to see where the author would take us with this follow on, and to see if the great personality and Voice the author has built up would continue with a new character.

The Spring, still told by Isaac's narrative, follows the ordeal of Eostre, a nun who has suffered too much already in her young life. Her father was a drunkard, and thanks to him falling into a lake and getting himself killed, Eostre is forced to life the cloistered life in poverty. She finds the spiritual life a little too dull for her, but as talk of a nasty plague known as the 'Delirium' ravages her convent, Eostre begins to struggle with what is reality and what is the effects of the plague.

A. Ka's The Spring is a great little novella. Although the second in the series, you can read it without knowing too much of the first book, however, I fully recommend reading The Winter first as all the little nods to Beltran (the farmer from The Winter) is a nice touch. It reads as a sort of prequel story, but with a timeline paradox. It all sounds complicated, but is masterly told.

I found Eostre an interesting central character, one who is a little ahead of the times. For many in the 16th century, religion would have been a major part in everyone's life. Eostre on the other hand, questions the role of God and what impact the religion has on the world. I couldn't help but feel that this was part of the author's own voice coming through. Skepticism, however, is integral to the plot, as Eostre soon finds the reality too confusing to live in. "People keep dying one moment, then pretending to be alive and well the next' is from the blurb of this book, and it couldn't ring more true.

Eostre is so different from Beltran though. You don't sympathise with her as much. I feel though that the constant flipping of realities are a fascinating feature that will have you guessing as to what really is going on. It's a little puzzle for the reader to work out on their own. The final third of The Spring really grabs hold of you, especially as Eostre is forced to undergo such brutal experiences. I really wouldn't have liked to have been in her situation.

The first book was told in a humble way. The Spring is different. It tells the story of how the Delirium manages to disrupt an entire community. It is less about the community's people though, and more about the fantasy side to the story. I particularly enjoyed the reference to the Hippocrene - a lake of Greek myth, which really adds flavour here. And A. Ka really starts to weave her own mythology creation into her story, and it is a delicious treat let me tell you.

A. Ka has an uncanny gift with being able to tell a story that makes you feel the wonders inside. Her voice is authentic, not forced, and her writing has such an exact crispness to it, it reads and flows so well. I felt that the flipping and changing of realities much more easy to follow here. Unlike Eostre, if you have read The Winter, you can start to pick up on little details, little threads that hold the two books together. and for such short novellas, they are incredibly clever.

I'm still not sure how Isaac fits into everything. He is featured in the both books' first chapter - always recalling events that have passed. His name links the books together - Isaac the Fortunate series, and yet he hardly features. I find it mysterious as to how he fits into the grand scheme of the series - a series that will be told across 6 novellas. I'm already looking forward to the next instalment, The Summer.

The Spring is an addictive little novel, one with hooks in abundance. Eostre is a spunky character, which makes this novel her definitive story, and yet you know she has a bigger part to play in the series as a whole. A. Ka's impressive imagination really shines with the fantastical moments here, and her enthralling weaving of the storyline back and forth is just superb. I may miss Beltran, but this isn't about him. The only constant is the Delirium and the part it plays in destroying whole communities. The sarcasm that shines through Eostre in regards to religion is amusing too, although I may have imagined that.

Not of Our Sky: 3 (The Sky Song Trilogy)
Not of Our Sky: 3 (The Sky Song Trilogy)
by Sharon Sant
Edition: Paperback
Price: 5.47

5.0 out of 5 stars This is truly Ellen's Story, 3 April 2014
I've had this book since Christmas and I couldn't wait to get stuck into the final instalment of The Sky Song trilogy. I was almost savouring it as it was the final Sharon Sant novel I'd had left to read, but having loved her previous novels, I knew I couldn't leave it alone for too long. Especially with its wonderful, attractive cover, which in my opinion, is the best cover out of the entire trilogy.

Over the course of the other two novels, Sharon Sant introduces us to Jacob, a teenager who discovers his true identity as Watcher to the people of Astrae - another planet. The Watcher is almost a god-like figure to the people of Astrae, yet Jacob has his own problems to deal with. His evil uncle, Makesh, has tried to overthrow him and steal his inherited power, but as Jacob starts to uncover a prophecy about a twin sibling, he starts to mess with the nature and balance of the world, leaving devastating consequences around him and his family.

Not of our Sky begins with Jacob in a coma, and Ellen is struggling to cope with everyday life. She is torn between her own domestic issues, her love for Jacob and toying with the decision to reveal Jacob's real identity to his parents. Weird and crazy things seem to be happening and the reoccurring nightmare Ellen suffers from each night has her worried. She knows it's a prophecy, but is it depicting Jacob's final moments before his death?

The first thing that struck me about this final book is that it is mostly told from Ellen's point of view, which was absolutely fantastic news for me, as she's really been my favourite character from the trilogy. She's such a likeable character, one who suffers for the greater good, always trying to keep her family happy, as well as making sure both Luca and Jacob are sorted too. She's a motherly figure way too early in her life, but it is respectable as well as heart-wrenching. But saying that, I also grew to like Jacob. I'm not sure when it happened, but I finally realised he isn't the moaning teenager we saw in Sky Song, he's matured and learnt to be himself.

The chemistry between the characters is just superb. Whether it is the lustful chemistry between Ellen and Jacob, the motherly humility between Ellen and Maggie or even the gut-wrenching and hilarious banter between Ellen and Luca. It is especially the latter that had me in stitches and reaching for a tissue to wipe the tears of laughter. In fact, during the epilogue or sorts, there is a particular line that Luca says that will probably stay with me forever - I'm storing that one up for when I'm having a particularly bad day.

What really makes this instalment stand out between the other two novels, is the inclusion of Alex's side story as well as getting to see more of the evil uncle. It holds the narrative together, and the switching points of view are handled expertly, giving the reader an insight at every angle. All the characters have their own agenda, their own hopes and Sharon Sant brings everything together right at the close of the book. It adds this wonderful tension as you read along, knowing that somewhere along the line, everything is going to come to a head.

One of my criticisms (for want of a better word) in the previous books, was the lacking Astraen world and the details surrounding the fantasy element of this urban-fantasy stroke SciFi series. Not of our Sky fulfills my every question, and I relished the parts where we follow Trego, a junior council member upon Astrae who is desperately trying to solve the riddle of the prophecy. This adds a further layer of depth to the book, one I didn't see coming, and was better off for it.

The Young Moon was a great sequel to Sky Song, and I particularly loved how Sharon Sant managed to write emotion seemingly effortlessly. Not of our Sky is no different, and yet it seems so powerful and gripping. Sympathy to Ellen's situation, empathy for what Jacob feels he must to do in order to save the ones he loves, understanding of why Alex has turned out the lost, vulnerable soul that she is. Sharon Sant is a master of emotion. And yet, her writing style and voice is so subtle, precise and crisp that you read sentence after sentence with such addiction, you just have to know what happens next.

I devoured this book. It is the standout novel of the trilogy. As the reader, you really do get the feeling that everything has come full circle, which is one of the themes of the book actually. You can see how each of our trio of main characters have grown, independently as well as a group. The subtle writing style doesn't need flowery descriptions and explosive action; it works more by pulling at your emotions and getting you into the very centre of the drama that unfolds. This urban-fantasy adds the exact details necessary to elevate it above the previous instalments. I saw Jacob and Ellen's situation as a sort of modern day Romeo and Juliet, only with addved verve and perspective. If you love young adult dramas, this series will stay with you for such a long time. If the author ever compiles the three books into one volume, be sure to grab it!

From the Embers
From the Embers
by Candace Knoebel
Edition: Paperback
Price: 9.19

5.0 out of 5 stars Magical!, 27 Mar 2014
This review is from: From the Embers (Paperback)
Young-adult fantasy novels are a difficult market to enter. It's an area inundated with thousands of news books published each year. Despite this, American author Candace Knoebel's final instalment in her Born in Flames trilogy was one book high up on my 2014 wishlist. I couldn't wait to see where the author's creative imagination would take us as she leads her army into the battle foretold in her debut.

If you are new to Candace Knoebel's world, then you won't have read about Aurora's struggles as she comes to terms of her origins and her ordeal at being deemed 'The Progeny'. Aurora held within her a secret dragon form, capable of mastering the fire element to conquer the evil hoards of Zordon, a man she was bound to since birth. Zordon has worked his way up the ranks and hellbent on ruling both the magical realm and the human realm; introducing a newly formed world of hell under his control. Thankfully, we have followed Aurora and her gang of followers already in two books, watched her grow stronger and mature into the warrior she was born to become. From the Embers brings to a close the battle of all battles. Will Aurora become triumphant and free herself of Zordon's tainted darkness, or will the realms crumble under the evil he controls?

What strikes you most I've found is how grown-up Aurora has become. She is eager to become her own woman and make her own way in this looming war. She desperately wants to make her own decisions, not succumb to her elders' opinions. Of course, Aurora has no choice but to do what her gut tells her - not in a teenage rebellious streak, but truly for what she knows to be right. Aurora is no longer the naive and whiny young adult from Born in Flames, oh no. Aurora is a fighter, a strong spirit who is ready to fulfill her destiny and usher in an era of peace for the ones she loves.

One of the highlights for me in the second instalment, Embracing the Flames, was Knoebel's transformation from urban fantasy to epic fantasy. She used a lot of mythical lore to create her own fantastical world, and successfully too. From the Embers follows that tradition superbly and brings to life Cyclopes', Nymphs, Sirens and Necromancers. This is especially exhilarating in her battle sequences, where magic and spells and brute force clash in a deliciously satisfying explosion. All of these ancient and otherworldly beings help bring to life this magnificent outing, which really cements Candace Knoebel's name in the fantasy hall of fame. She really knows her stuff and what works extremely well. When combined with healing priests and flame-throwing dragons, what is not to love? This is a fantasy lover's bible.

Pace is a tricky thing to judge, especially in a final novel, where the author needs to wrap every loose end up, as well as put to rest any questions left unanswered. I mean, even from the early pages in Born in Flames, we knew an intense and final battle was on the cards, and drumming up the tension until its very occurrence can be difficult. From the Embers is Aurora's final journey in rounding up any support she can to take into battle with her. And to be fair, the book does seem slow at times, especially in the beginning. You're not quite sure where it is going to go. It is heavy on the dialogue in the first chapters, and the action doesn't pick up until the final third. This doesn't ruin the novel, certainly, and this is because we've already become accustomed to Knoebel's storytelling in the first two novels.

It is through her superb understanding of characterisation that helps the novel move forward. There are a wide range of characters that can grab your attention. I have my favourites! I love the cold Lexi - her sarcastic responses are timeless and makes the scenes come alive. Everything isn't as rosy as Aurora wants it to be.

I think it has to be said that Candace Knoebel understands her audience completely. It can appeal to both sexes, but undeniably its romantic ambiance and loved-up dialogue especially is there to hook its female readership. The love triangle between Aurora, Fenn and Zane comes to head here and it's dramatic and addictive. Everyone's mind should be on the demise of their world, but as we all know, love is never far away in people's minds. Aurora really has a lot on her plate. Themes of honesty, truth and lust are just some that are pulled and exposed to their very limits.

It has been such an exhausting ride following Aurora on her hardships, but one that has been such a delight. Life is actually not fluffy and easy, yet despite the struggles, despite the death and pain, Aurora manages to capture your heart. From the Embers is a modern fairytale that has you smiling and gasping and shrieking with its many shocks and surprises. Once upon a time has never been so magical. As a fantasy writer myself, I can't recommend this juicy series as a whole enough to get your teeth into. It may have captured your attention in Born in Flames, gave you goosebumps in the even better Embracing the Flames, but believe me, From the Embers comes to an end by knocking you off your feet.

Aladdin and the Enchanted Lamp
Aladdin and the Enchanted Lamp
by Philip Pullman
Edition: Hardcover
Price: 9.09

3.0 out of 5 stars Different, but Underwhelming, 4 Mar 2014
Perhaps it is the actual story of 'Aladdin' that just doesn't so it for me? I think Pullman does a good job at writing the story, and it has a few nice revelations in too. For instance, I didn't know that the story takes place in China, not Arabia. I guess that's what we get for believing in Disney too much.

The evil antagonist is just the right amount of creepy to justify your wanting of Aladdin to win, especially when the lamp is stolen from underneath his nose! The only thing is, Aladdin is a completely unrelatable character - he's arrogant, mean and extremely demanding. I found him to be quite annoying.

The pictures give great charm and character to the setting, which is probably why I've rated it higher than I would have otherwise. The story in itself is rather naive - there's usually a moral to these types of yarns, but I failed to see one. It was great to see the contrast between the Jinnie of the Ring and the Jinnie of the Lamp though. Give this a go if classical fairy tales are your thing and your interested to read the real story of Aladdin, otherwise, just pop the film into your DVD player instead.

Unwoven (The Tethers Trilogy)
Unwoven (The Tethers Trilogy)
Price: 1.98

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Brilliant Sequel!, 24 Feb 2014
Jack Croxall is a phenomenal storyteller, proven in his previous works. The first book in his Victorian era trilogy, Tethers, left us in suspense of what is to come and it seems like it has been an eternity, but finally, Unwoven is upon us. The author's likeable and charismatic characters left a lasting impression in my mind and I was eager to read this sequel, as it promised more of the original's charm and subtle fantasy elements that made the original so, well, original.

Unwoven takes place 18 months after the first instalment, and in all honesty, much has changed in the quiet village of Shraye. Karl Scheffer is now working in a school - a reference hinted at in Tethers. But more importantly, Karl and Esther (the other protagonist in the series) are not on speaking terms anymore. Why? What has happened? It isn't long though before the two lost friends are reunited on a journey; forced to work together to discover the true origins behind the Viniculum - a supernatural stone that allowed Karl to see pictures and events before him. Will they put their differences aside to save the life of a mutual friend?

I think it is a bold move by the author to introduce this tense relationship between the two protagonists. Especially since in the first book, both Karl and Esther's chemistry and platonic relationship were at it's heart. Why turn everything around? Well for starters, it adds a new dynamic and an original one at that. Their tension shakes things up a bit and it was interesting to see how it was going to play out. Jack Croxall doesn't release the details behind their unfriendship for want of a better term quickly, but instead, expands upon it, leaving you guessing until much later in the story.

Esther was a highlight in Tethers, and not just for me, as many reviews have stated her to be their favourite character. She was lovable, spunky and rebellious, but all in a charming way. Here Esther has other things on her mind. She is out for blood. We get to see a much more dark and menacing side to her, showing us her coming of age personality has maybe taken a turn for the worse. Karl on the other hand seems to have matured sensibly and although often acts responsibly, seems a little too serious at times. Although, his loyal nature and inquisitive side that got him into trouble in Tethers does shine through, rather cheekily actually.

Unwoven does have a perfect balance of action and information. You are never far from something happening, drawing you in, forcing you to keep the book open for another minute longer. Yet, I've got to say that the dialogue in here is superb. Natural, authentic and true to the Victorian times, Jack Croxall manages to convey emotion and sincerity in bounds. I only wish I had that skill. The way the characters interact with one another is one of the stand out aspects to this book. I felt like you get to see more of Karl's way of thinking more in here. It's a nice touch and shows how far Karl has progressed in the 18 months we've been away.

The author's writing style seems more sharper, more direct this time around, which makes for a quick read. Paragraphs are short, description and imagery spaced out to allow the reader to imagine much for themselves. I think it is a very mature approach to his voice, expanding on his debut rather than matching it. So when Esther is quickly unsheathing her sword, the action erupts in seconds.

I guess one of the most distinguishable differences in here when compared to Tethers is the length. Unwoven is considerably shorter, and for some, I would think it would be a little disappointing. I would say however, that this is in fact more to do with the fact that Jack Croxall has such a addictive writing style, you just wish the story could continue further.

Unwoven is more an intermediary in the trilogy, surely linking its fantastic debut to the final conclusion. Yet, despite its length, Unwoven is a tightly-knit adventure that picks you up right from the start and leaves you at another shocking cliffhanger at its end. Jack Croxall is a superb storyteller; a master of a charming and effortless yarn that will have you giddy for days. It's also darker, more intense than Tethers, which shows its progression from beginning to middle, and now we must wait for the end. Perfect for any lover of YA or for any reader who enjoys a well told story, Unwoven is a brilliant for an afternoon read.

The Winter (Isaac the Fortunate, #1)
The Winter (Isaac the Fortunate, #1)
by A Ka
Edition: Paperback
Price: 6.12

4.0 out of 5 stars A Farmer's Tragic Story that will grab hold of you and not let you go, 13 Feb 2014
I was recommended this book based on the fact that I also enjoyed Yoyage: Embarkation by Zachary Bonelli. It's an intriguing little novella, one that has full page illustrations from the author inside. From what I've read, this novella is also the first in a six-part series, which promises to expand the Spanish world it wonderfully creates. It's also a book that touches on so many different genres, it could also be classed as multi-genre, which can appeal to almost any type of reader.

For the most part, The Winter follows the story of Beltran, a farmer who wants very little from life, but to farm his land and look after his beloved wife, Amaranta. But as Isaac tells in his narration of Beltran's story, the winter is a harsh one. Famine, locusts, storms, but more importantly, for the story anyway, a devilish plague of mysterious origins is spreadng across the land, taking many a victim and wiping out entire villages. Beltran doesn't know what hits him when the Delirium comes and takes away all he knows dear. His fortune is turned around however, when on the first day of spring, a traveler turns up on his farm and offers him a way back in time, to a time before the Delirium hits and he can save the ones he loves. Although, Beltran soon realises there's a price to pay and the more he tries to stop the impending doom, the more bad things start to happen and loses control.

First of all, one of the striking things about A. Ka's work is the brilliant atmosphere she creates. You really do believe you are in the Spanish rural countryside, in 1553, on Beltran's farm where the locals all depend on the harvest and stores they work so hard on, day after day. The Winter is extremely well imagined and built upon. I just didn't read there was a storm; I felt there was a storm. It's a way of life incomprehensible to most of us today, but A. Ka does the perfect job of recreating the world as it was for Beltran.

And when this realistic atmosphere is combined with the beautiful characters, then you really know you are on to a winner. For Beltran is one of the most tragic and most heroic characters I've read in a long time. He's a humble farmer, he doesn't want much. A life with his wife; he's never even left his village before. He can't read, he can't write, but he has life experience. He can farm, along with his friend, Pedro, he built the little cottage in which he lives with Amaranta. It is for these reasons that you feel for Beltran as he tries so desperately so save his wife from the death he knows is coming. His raw emotion is chillingly infectious, but most of all, natural. If a story can draw sympathy so strongly, then it most certainly deserves to be read.

The story plays out very much like Groundhog Day; repeating the same winter over and over again as he tries to save people from the Delirium. When all goes wrong, he waits until Annunciation Day once more, for the mysterious traveler to turn up, so he can once again drink the potion and return to the day of the great storm. But what is the traveler's true intentions? Each time he 'goes back', he learns something new. And why is he tasked with curing the Delirium infected people with the elixir the traveler informs him about. He's just a humble farmer! Yet, although the demands increase, it is his love of his beloved wife that still comes to the forefront of everything he does.

Yet, despite the historical setting, there are elements of fantasy that come through. Obviously the going back in time covers that, the fantasy is dark and surreal at times. The people who are inflicted with the plague sprout gibberish. Amaranta speaks of someone stealing her name. There is certainly something more evil going on than Beltran first realises.

And this is where the story becomes a little confused. It isn't a light story, it's one that demands your undivided attention, yet you do start to wonder where the story is actually going. The mention of different colour riders, and indeed their inclusion late in the story, can confuse you. I had to reread parts as to understand which one was which. And who is Isaac? I got the impression that although more is yet to come in the series, undoubtedly explaining some of the mysteries within this instalment, too many questions were left unanswered. I wanted to know more. Yet, at least this is a good thing. If I didn't care to find out more, then ultimately the book would have failed. Luckily for me, the next instalment, The Spring, is due out very soon.

Overall, A. Ka is wonderful storyteller, combining a historical setting with an almost surreal fantastical storyline. I longed for the story to continue, to answer my many questions, but despite all of that, my respect and attachment to Beltran's tragic story was undeniably strong - a sure sign of the author's ingenious craftsmanship. If you want to come out of your comfort zone and try something a little different this year, then make it this novella. With handfuls of atmosphere and captivating characters that stay with you after you've closed the book, I'm sure you won't be disappointed. Even now, I can't help but wonder what is next for Beltran; the farmer who desperately wanted to save his wife, because he couldn't imagine life without her.

The Wizard's Reflection (Midnight Chronicles)
The Wizard's Reflection (Midnight Chronicles)
by Neil Scott Trigger
Edition: Paperback
Price: 7.50

4.0 out of 5 stars Even more original than ever, 2 Feb 2014
In this third instalment of The Midnight Chronicles, Neil Trigger does something very different indeed. If you've been following the series, you'll know that one of the most inviting aspects of the series, is its main protagonist, Bethany, who discovers a magical floating city in the clouds. A city no less that has cheese-spewing dragons, candy floss lamb-posts and magical ink that helps pick you a wand. Imagine then, my surprise in discovering that Bethany does not appear at all in here. She gets a mention or two, but that's not the same is it?

In The Wizard's Reflection, we follow Orphan, who is in all intents and purposes, an orphan. But strangely, every year, on his birthday, Orphan receives a gift at the foot of his bed. On his eleventh birthday however, he receives even more than just a random gift, as two weird adults knock on the door to the orphanage and whisk him away to a new home. This is not a happy tale though, one with a happy ever after. This is a magical adventure of Orphan discovering the true intentions of 'Mother' and 'Father'. And to make matters worse, he is pulled into a magical mirror, only for the reflection to step out.

Despite my early worries, I was really won over by Orphan, who is a charming and adventurous young man. He is very readable, funny and his inquisitive nature serves as the basis for the discoveries he makes. He even rivals Bethany's place in my opinion. But what is interesting is how successful the shift in protagonist really is. It really opens the series up, allowing for the world of Strataton (the magical city in the sky) to expand. It opens up more questions as well as giving the series a new lease of life and more layers of depth. Although Bethany is appealing to all children, I think Orphan easily appeals to younger boys more, which opens up the book (and its predecessors) to a larger audience.

Neil Trigger's surreal and creative imagination is on form again in this book. I just really like his imagery and sense of wit. In my reviews for the two previous books, I've compared him to the likes of Roald Dahl, which I still feel is true. Strataton and indeed the whole Midnight Chronicles universe is colourful, weird and exciting. And I think that is the perfect balance of everything good in the fantasy genre that will stay with the children who read it.

One of my criticisms of the previous novel, The Mobile Monster Zoo, although full of imagination, I found parts quite formulaic. Thankfully, The Wizard's Reflection is much improved, with the storyline continually being thrown from one thing to another. Golems, magical entities, talking gnomes, time travel, multiple realities ..... extremely complicated stuff, but perfectly told so its audience can understand it. I mean Orphan is yet to learn to ways of the magical world, which means we learn along with Orphan, strengthening our bond along the way. I feel this instalment is a braver attempt and it works brilliantly. I would even go as far as to say that the bizarre happenings and strange inhabitants rival those of Terry Pratchett's Discworld series. Although this is very much for children.

It's nice to see a few of the previous books' characters make an appearance in here, touching down with Orphan so as he doesn't get lead astray. Importantly though, I think it is worth mentioning that Trigger has a big respect for his audience. I've read many children's books, which wrap them up in bubblewrap and neatly tie everything off with a bow. Not in here! The Wizard's Reflection has action, fights, magical explosions, blood, essences of evil; all which command the reader's attention. The great thing about the fantasy genre is that you can deliver more severe characters that have evil intentions and get away with it. Children aren't stupid, they know they are reading (or being read) something made up. The character of Mr Midnight makes more of an appearance in this adventure and he makes a wonderful adversary.

Sometimes, you can't help but wonder what Bethany has been up to, but then again, this isn't Bethany's story, it's Orphan's. I felt that this book had a much larger plan to it, meaning that this series has more to offer yet! At the end of the book, you do in fact get a sneak peek at the next instalment entitled The War of the Elders. I do have to say though that before this gets a release, the author should send me an advanced copy so I can ring the errors in bright red pen. As an author myself, it is so hard to see your own errors, but a new set of eyes can easily spot them. There aren't too many in here but when you read sentences: "Orphan to thought himself." you can get the idea. And this isn't a series that should be thwart with errors as it is an extremely enjoyable series.

The Wizard's Reflection is a stepup from its two predecessors as it is more explosive, more interesting and more dangerous. Orphan is a fantastic main character, one who isn't perfect, one who has had to get by in life, but one that has the potential to grow and become so much more. The storyline is more intense, more surreal and therefore demands your attention. Neil Trigger is just as inventive and wacky as ever. In fact, on the back of the book it says: 'With wizards, broomsticks and a barrel of time-travelling tortoises, the third book in The Midnight Chronicles series is just as original as the first.' I would argue that, as much as I loved The Weird Case of Mrs Etherington-Strange, this is even more original. If your children love a bit of fantasy, then look no further for a most enjoyable series.

The Tournament
The Tournament
Price: 5.69

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Historical Murder Mystery with some deeper themes, 28 Jan 2014
This review is from: The Tournament (Kindle Edition)
I think every one of us has a particular favourite period of history. Some may like the WWII period, some may like the Suffragette movement; I, for some unknown reason, love anything related to the Tudors. And the prospect of reading a story where we travel with the future Queen Elizabeth I to Constantinople attracted me like a moth to a flame. Although complete fiction, not much is written about Elizabeth's younger life, and so The Tournament had loads going for it. I had heard quite a lot of the ever increasing in popularity Matthew Reilly and so I was intrigued to see where he would go with this.

Sultan Suleiman of the Ottoman Empire and leader of the Moslem lands has invited the world's best chess players to a tournament to be held in his capital. With disease spreading across England, Roger Ascham thinks it best to take the young princess, Elizabeth with him to Constantinople to watch the tournament so she can learn more about the world as well as escaping the possibility of the plague. Although murder and sinister shadows are at work in this foreign land, and before long a visiting Cardinal is brutally murdered. Thankfully, Roger Ascham is assigned to the case and with Elizabeth in tow, she will have to adapt to the harsh world outside her kingdom.

In all intents and purposes, The Tournament is a medieval murder mystery at its core, but with a plethora of more important themes hidden within. Told from the perspective of the young princess, I think this story works extremely well. I really liked how the innocent young girl changes before our eyes to question, to analyse and to think outside the box. She may leave England naive and sheltered by her royal status, but she most certainly reenters her realm a new woman. We are shocked as Elizabeth is shocked. We learn where Elizabeth learns, and we root for her to succeed too, to stand up for herself and turn into the strong woman we all know she eventually becomes during her reign. This may be an adult book, but its young telling is wonderfully crafted with exceptional realism and genuine honesty.

And yes it is a murder mystery, but I think the real charm in this story is the characters. Roger Ascham is a brilliant character; charmingly British in his makeup, but witty, intelligent and fun to read. As the reader, we see how his mind works through his dialogue - a real talent of the author I think. Many will undoubtedly compare Ascham to Sherlock Holmes, but while I found myself somewhat detattached with Holmes's outdated manner, I found Roger Ascham a real gem. His teaching of Elizabeth is brilliant - and I think the author has done a marvelous job at giving us a way, albeit a fictitious way, of seeing where some of Elizabeth's traits and mannerisms may have come from. I secretly wished that Ascham could have been my teacher.

There are many lessons to be learned along the way; mainly sex and how it can be used in various political situations, which usually have dire consequences. The character of Elsie is perhaps its biggest example. Taken along for the ride by Elizabeth herself, Elsie soon becomes entranced by the exotic way of life in these Moslem lands. She thinks in order for her to elevate herself in the eyes of the Crown Prince, she must 'snare' both him and his friends. This openess to discuss sex and sexual gratification, although graphic at times, is also another way of the author trying to possibly explain Elizabeth's personal choices to never marry and be celibate. It is an extremely interesting story and concept, one I found believable and very true of the situation the girls find themselves in.

It must be said though that this is not erotica; all the sexual scenes serve as lessons later in the book. Yet, despite being set in the 15oo's, Matthew Reilly has tried to add modern elements to his story. Namely the sex and pedophilia scandals associated with the Catholic priests. Young boys being used for sexual favours is an unpleasant read at times, but ultimately it forms part of the story and therefore in necessary for its development. It is quite an ingenious way of interconnecting things that may otherwise be unrelated. Again, I think the author has structured this book and its developments in a rather smart way.

Another nice touch I thought that elevated this story was the way in which modern and current issues of today are discussed in a period in history that really would have issues (and did have issues) with. Namely, the role of women in society as well as gay themes too. Of course, Elizabeth grew up never really in line for the throne, but became Queen nonetheless and reigned in what historians called the Golden Age of English history. A woman no less. Some may say that these issues were irrelevant in this time period the book is set in, but I disagree immensely.

As a result though, the murders that happen in this story, and ultimately the chess tournament that serves as the setting, seems to sift into the background somewhat. It was a little easy to guess how everything was connected and who was responsible for the killings. But saying that, this isn't simply just a murder story.

A lot of people may have been surprised by the Australian author's step in a direction other than action-thriller, but I have to say that this has been an enjoyable read. It can be read on so many different levels. I do think that you have to have a strong resolve and mind to read this, but the acts within are done with professionalism. The Tournament is a successful story of 'what if' in the early life of Queen Elizabeth I on how she became the monarch that made history. I would much rather read this than any Sherlock Holmes novel, mainly due to the deep themes and intelligent discussions within. And for both Elizabeth and Roger Ascham who are a wonderful duo. They make a great partnership - one I would like to read more of, but probably never will.

Odysseus: The Oath: Book One
Odysseus: The Oath: Book One
by Valerio Massimo Manfredi
Edition: Hardcover
Price: 11.55

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Underwhelming, but very readable, 14 Jan 2014
As a self confessed lover of all things from the classical world, I had high hopes for this novel by one of the world's leading classical civilisation professors. At college myself, I studied The Odyssey and fell in love with the Homeric world; of a man returning home from a long war and along the way felling mighty beasts, tackling the waves as well as surviving the meddlesome ways of the gods. Hearing that Manfredi, author of the Alexander trilogy which I loved, planned to tackle another retelling of Odysseus, the King of Ithaca, but in first person, I was intrigued to say the least.

Odysseus: The Oath is the first in a two parter by Manfredi and pretty much covers the first half of the protagonist's life. From childhood to his part in the Trojan war, the books reveals some of the more mysterious sides of Greek storytelling as well as bringing to life many of the characters that helped shaped Odysseus as a man, a husband, a warrior and importantly, the brains behind the Trojan Horse invention that ultimately won the war for the Greeks.

If you're a fan of the ancient Greek world, then you're bound to know the story of Troy, and of Odysseus in fact. But the story of his childhood may perhaps of slipped you by, which is why I was so interested in Manfredi's version of events. Odysseus as a whole is an interesting character, one that is written with a lot of respect, knowledge and understanding. As the reader, you can't help but feel inspired by the Greek prince, feel warm towards him. His morals are usually always benign and right for our own society, especially when compared to the many other plethora of Greek heroes and kings that are traditional, sexist and blood thirsty. The way in which Odysseus looks up to his father, Laertes as well as his mysterious grandfather, Autoloykos too is intriguing and makes a great read. The particular tale of hunting the boar is one of my favourite parts of the book.

Of course the book wouldn't be complete without the introduction of well known character, both from the Greek myths as well as the Odyssey. Odysseus's first meeting with his wife-to-be Penelope, Helen of Sparta (who the Trojan war is fought over), even Hercules gets a few mentions. In fact, I would go as far to say as the brief part where Odysseus learns the truth behind Hercules's path to redemption was perhaps the most enjoyable part of the book. Manfredi has done a fabulous job at turning a well known myth on its head, rewriting it and reinventing it both at the same time, to a wonderful result in the end. Its poetic license is endearing as well as tragic. For Odysseus looks up to these warrior heroes; men like Hercules, Jason and Achilles, all who have tragic declines. Which I suppose makes Odysseus's determination to become a man of brains more than brawn more admiring.

Both knowledgeable readers as well as people who have seen the film Troy, people will know that the Trojan war is fought because of Helen of Sparta's betrayal of her husband and her re-alliance with Troy, through the young prince Paris. Yet, Manfredi through Odysseus questions the motives of many of the war's legendary people and tries to see ulterior motives, because surely, a whole war that lasts a decade is not over one woman?

I think some readers who may not used to some of the bloodthirsty ways of that period may find some of the descriptions of decapitation, the raping of women, as well as how a woman can be kidnapped as a slave one minute and then fall in love with their master another, a little graphic, horrific and unplausible at times.

But I'm afraid it has to be said that although there were many parts I enjoyed, there were also many parts I found a little off-putting. I actually found the majority of the book disjointed and didn't flow very well. Especially the first half of the book, which seemed to pass by in years, but all in the space of a paragraph. This led it to be confusing at times, where I had to go back and reread bits to see if I accidentally skipped a page by mistake. Of course, you were always waiting for the bit where Manfredi gets to the Trojan war part, but when we get there, it becomes quite repetitive, action wise, with often reoccuring moments of the same thing over and over again.

In fact, if I'm honest, I found many parts of this book repetitive, just with different wording. I'm not sure if some of it may be down to problems in translation (which I'm led to believe is done by Manfredi's wife). I remember the Odyssey being quite descriptive in parts, but in Manfredi's author note at the end of the book, he explains that he tried to keep description down to a minimum to reflect the way in which Homer wrote the Odyssey. And you can tell. Odysseus is a clever and observant man, yet the lack of details sometimes, written in his first person perspective, is a little dull. Yet he so wonderfully gets into the mind of the man by having him continually questions every action and reaction. It's an odd style of writing.

There is obviously more to come in the second and last part entitled Odysseus: The Return which I believe is due for release in the English language in the latter hald of 2014. I found this however to be a little underwhelming, yet very readable. I don't think it would appeal to readers who aren't already a fan of the Greek myths, or indeed a introductory into the stories of the Classical world. The story is ultimately about the man who becomes a legend, and in all intents and purposes, Odysseus is a well told, well written protagonist. A man who is intelligent yet fair, ruthless with his ideas yet gentle and upholding. I'm afraid it's the way in which the story is told that holds it back from being up there with some of his other stories. It doesn't gel together well with a timeline that seems to go at an erratic and unpredictable speed. It'll be interesting to see where Manfredi goes next.

Voyage Embarkation
Voyage Embarkation
Price: 4.49

4.0 out of 5 stars Intelligent and Satisfying, 31 Dec 2013
First released as singular 'episodes', Zachary Bonelli's debut, Voyage Embarkation is the first volume in what is hopefully going to be an extensive collection of world hopping science fiction adventures. I have come to love a good sci-fi book, but they do have to have interesting concepts and thought provoking characters for it catch my attention. When I was given the chance to read and review this first volume before its release, I instantly agreed. Its blurb caught my attention with its mention of travelling from world to world, from discovering the beautiful natural wonders that may exist to social decay of others.

We begin with Kal, the teenage protagonist, who has lived in exile upon a foreign world that is populated by giant cats. With nanotechnology commonly used upon Earth, Kal has found that he is extremely allergic to the collective radiation that is produced as a result, putting him in a coma. But through his expertise in computer programming, Kal has found a way to enter the metaxia - 'an unspace between universes' as the author explains. With this, he begins his journey, exploring foreign cultures, ever in hope of discovering a cure to his allergy so he can once again return home to where he belongs. Voyage Embarkation is the first chronicle of sorts in Kal's adventures, and believe me, it is so captivating and wonderous to read.

From tropical jungles where people live in tree baubles, to clay people worshiping a not so benevolent deity; from totalitarian fascist run states where coups are hiding away, to a re-imagining of Norse mythology, this novel crosses the boundaries of science fiction and fantasy culminating in a fast-paced, thoroughly enjoyable thrill ride. The author has such an inventive and creative imagination, and describes each world in such vivid detail, you can really get a taste of what life is like for its inhabitants.

What is also so interesting about these alternate realities, is how rich in detail they are in regards to social and political elements. Some are more cultural based where others have a political hierarchy that must be adhered to at all costs. Zachary Bonelli is one clever man, as he manages to show extreme opposites in rather close proximity to one another, which as a reader gives us an insight into what our world may become. It never comes across as preachy, but rather informative, factual and although Kal may disagree with some of the worlds' habits, Bonelli never forces morals and rights and wrongs onto you, instead cleverly getting you to ask your own questions. There are some complex issues discussed within, so this may not be a light read, but it does pull you in.

I think what really makes this book is Kal. He is such an endearing main character, one with strong morals; constantly always trying to do the right thing at heart, but sometimes actually messes up. He has such a strong voice, but also the vulnerability to evoke emotion. He's just a lad who wants to return home, but knows he actually can't. At times you really feel for the guy. What Bonelli does extremely well with kal, is the subtle development as the book progresses. They aren't noticeable at first, but as Kal realises his previous mistakes, he starts to amend his behaviour, taking other characters' feelings into account before he acts. At first, he's quite a naive young man, thinking that he has the technology and expertise to help the societies he visits - make them better. But over the course of the book, he begins to realise that he isn't a god, he can't solve all the problems that face him, and sometimes the connections he makes along the way have to be severed for him to move on.

What is a real gem though, is the character of Tria, Kal's holographic brother of sorts, the one person who sticks with him along his journey. I found Tria's witty remarks and brilliant insights really engaging. Especially as we see Kal and Tria's attachment and relationship grow into something really meaningful with strong foundations. It is hard to imagine the book without Tria actually. I think he is the secret cog in the background that holds everything together - and it also adds an extra level to the novel. The story arc of searching the realms for a way to create Tria a real body is also motivation enough to read.

Voyage Embarkation is the first novel I've read that features it central character being gay. It isn't something you pick up on at first, but the little clues dotted among the pages do make you think. I do think this is a great part to the story, and why shouldn't great book have gay protagonists? Zachary Bonelli writes with such conviction and confidence in kal, that only adds to his endearment. It isn't until the chapter (book) 'Taboo' where we really get to see Kal's sexual orientation come to the fore, with most of that story as kal as the unfortunate victim of hate because of his preferences. I really do think that Bonelli found the right balance of emotion in that chapter, because it would have been too easy to trail of the path as such. The chapter shocks you into shouting at Kal to leave that world. Kal's vulnerability really does become apparent in that chapter.

I did find the technical sides of this book a little confusing at times, which sort of made things a little slow for me in the beginning. For someone who reads predominately science fiction, I doubt this would be a problem. From nanotechnology, to radiation, to programming, to computer displays and other semantic terms, I think it sometimes shows that Bonelli may have forgotten to clarify some areas, as he is probably so atuned to them already. It certainly doesn't hinder the novel, and when you do start to pick them up, you can really get into the story more.

Another slightly disadvantage the book has is, well the concept of world hopping really. Trust me, it is an original idea and presented extremely well, but you can't deny that the forever move to one world to another doesn't really give you a chance to get your teeth into some of the other characters. This is because as you move on to another world, you are introduced all over again to new characters, never returning to characters you met earlier on. There are some great side characters in here - I certainly hope we get to see some of them again.

Voyage Embarkation is a great sci-fi read, one that touches upon so many bases. It is clever, rich in detail and extremely well written; plus with some great conceptual illustrations inside too. Yes the technical terms can be a little confusing at times, but once you really get behind Kal, you begin to open your eyes that little bit wider and spur him on, enjoying his exploration along with him. Tria is a fab character, one I'm keen to read more about. If world hopping, multi-layered levels of political and cultural symbolism science fiction is your thing, then this will definitely grab your attention. I probably wouldn't describe it as young adult, more new adult (NA) with its sometimes deep messages and complicated questioning, but that's a great thing. Zachary Bonelli's debut is full of exceptional imagination that is only affirmed by his rare, fresh voice. Surely, he is the new face of conceptual science fiction?

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