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Archive for the category “Four Foxes”

Smitten (Unlucky Break) – Kate Forster

UnluckyThis is the first in an upcoming crossover YA/New Adult series from Hardie Grant called Smitten. They’re described as being an antidote to the many (many) paranormal heart-throbs clogging up our shelves at the moment, and as light, fun, reads with lots of pining and a happily ever after. Here’s how I found the first Smitten book, Unlucky Break:

Andi’s not having the best time. Her Dad was never in the picture, and her Mum’s just died. Her Mum never gave up fighting, but this meant that she refused to make plans for Andi, leaving her effectively stranded, with no family in Australia and very few options. Oh, yeah – and she just caught her long-term boyfriend with her best friend. So, not a great month.

When Hollywood’s darling and Andi’s estranged aunt, Cece Powers, offers her a home in LA, Andi’s mostly just relieved to have somewhere to go, even if she has no idea what she’ll do with herself once she’s there. Transplanted into the bright lights and huge city, she’ll have to learn to navigate life amongst celebrities, paparazzi and people with far too much money. She’ll also have to figure out what she wants to do and the kind of person she wants to be. It’s time to grow up – and it might also be time to fall in love. I’m Not Cool/Just A Regular Girl In An Insane World:

The Way of Kings (Part One) – by Brandon Sanderson

Way of KingsIt’s no secret that I love a good fantasy series – emphasis on good. I’ve amassed a small handful of favourite fantasy authors, such as Patrick Rothfuss, Garth Nix, Robert Jordan, and Brandon Sanderson. The Way of Kings is one of Sanderson’s most ambitious new series, and I sank my teeth into Part One the other day.

Welcome to Roshar. A land of highstorms: storms of such terrifying intensity that the land itself has adapted. Plants withdraw into the ground, and animals and people alike hide in strongholds in the rock until the storm’s fury has passed.

Roshar is also a world with a long history. Men tell stories of those fabled warriors known as the Knights Radiant. All that is left of them are their swords and armour, Shardblades and Shardplate. A warrior bearing such tools is close to unbeatable, and the wars nations fight to obtain them are unceasing. In the Way of Kings we meet three people of these lands who are not aware that their individual quests will soon be a part of a much greater struggle. Speak Again the Ancient Oaths And Return to Men the Shards They Once Bore:

The Perks of Being a Wallflower – by Stephen Chbosky

PerksI read this book after seeing the movie. (I know, treason!) For the past few months it had been on my “Must Read Immediately, No Really, I Mean Now” pile. Which typically consists of ten or so books. At the moment there are 14. Perks finally made it to the top: here’s what I thought of Chbosky’s YA classic.

Charlie has always felt like a bit of an outsider. He’s just not sure he fits in anywhere. So he writes to us as he observes his fellow students, waiting for an opportunity to be a part of something. Perks is Charlie’s conversation with us about a year in his life. A year of new friends, of first loves, of great teachers. A year with some experimentation and more than a few mistakes. Of new experiences, new hurts and new triumphs. It’s just a year, and to an outsider it might seem unremarkable. But to Charlie, and those of us lucky enough to read his letters, it’s unforgettable.

When Charlie meets Sam and her brother Patrick, he begins to discover how different – and amazing – things can be when you see them as part of a group rather than from the outside, looking in. Perks’s centre is a delicate, gorgeous plot that revolves around Charlie’s very familiar teenage struggle to find his place in the hierarchy of school, and to find those people who will be a part of his life. If I Was Someone Else, Would This All Fall Apart?

The End of Your Life Book Club – by Will Schwalbe

bookclubThis is a biographical/autobiographical account of Will Schwalbe’s last years with his mother, Mary Anne Schwalbe, after she was diagnosed with terminal pancreatic cancer. On the back of the ARC I found at work, it simply reads: A mother and a son. A life-long love of books. This was all I needed. Here’s what meeting Mary Anne and Will was like for me:

There’s no easy way to reconcile yourself to the fact that someone you love is going to die; and not in some vague, we’re-all-going-to-die-someday sense, but in the form of a terminal diagnosis. Will wasn’t ready to let his mother go – and neither was Mary Anne ready to leave. There was still so much to do. Over the course of her treatment and final years, Mary Anne and Will would meet for her chemo appointments and discuss whichever book they had both been reading, in an exclusive, two person book club. Their discussions were about the books, but also about their lives, their bond, and their grief. “Show me a family of readers, and I will show you the people who move the world.” – Napolean Bonaparte

Froi of the Exiles – by Melina Marchetta

froiMelina Marchetta is a beloved, award-winning Australian author. I remember loving Looking for Alibrandi when we studied it in high school, and when Marchetta turned her hand to fantasy, I was thrilled! I read Finnikin of the Rock, the first book in her Lumatere Chronicles, a couple of years ago, and finally got the chance to continue the tale with Froi of the Exiles this week:

Froi’s still learning what it is not to be alone, to have people you can rely on, and who truly care about you. Queen Isaboe and King Finnikin are the first family Froi has ever had, and he can’t imagine caring more fiercely about anyone. He’s spent the three years since the Queen and Finnikin reclaimed Lumatere training to be an assassin, a fighter, someone who can defend those he loves. When a man from the despised neighbouring Kingdom of Charyn comes to the Lumaterans with an opportunity, Froi is willing to take up the quest. His task is to impersonate one of the Lastborn – the final generation of children born to the Charyn people before a curse rendered the entire Kingdom infertile. As Olivier, he will infiltrate the Palace under the guise of trying to break the curse by impregnating the Charyn Princess, Quintana, and when inside the Palace walls, he will assassinate the King and Princess.

Loyalty to Lumatere aside, something else drives Froi to Charyn. Blood sings to blood, and something about the cursed Kingdom calls to Froi. It draws him closer than is wise to those he meets, embroiling him in new loyalties that may come to challenge those he holds for Lumatere. Gargarin, the former Royal Advisor, is a shadow of his former self, bitter and broken. Yet he retains a stubborn seed of hope for the future. His twin brother, Arjuro, was once closer to Gargarin than to anyone else, but time and betrayals have left the brothers with little trust in each other. Their relationship is uneasy and fraught with old pain. And there’s Quintana, the Princess. Despised by her people, called mad, cursed, useless, Quintana’s life has been nothing short of miserable, consisting of visits from Lastborn men who use her to try to break Charyn’s curse. Froi’s task becomes less straightforward as he finds himself drawn into Gargarin, Arjuro and Quintana’s lives.

Melina Marchetta writes an ambitious sort of fantasy, rich with conflict and convoluted motives. Her characters are fascinating, because they can be so unlikable – Quintana, for example, is a force to be reckoned with. I spent the first third of the book torn between disgust and disinterest when it came to Quintana. Her moods and attitudes were so unappealing. But a character doesn’t need to be liked to be powerful – they must simply be understandable. We can forgive a lot of unpleasantness in people if we can appreciate why they are the way they are. By the end of the book, I liked Quintana a little more, but more importantly I was irrevocably invested in her well-being.

Marchetta’s approach to characters is something I appreciate for two reasons: firstly, because it makes them more real – these are just people, with their strengths and flaws. They are not perfectly crafted two-dimensional vessels for a vapid fantasy tale. Secondly, the story is not contingent on the reader’s liking the characters. I’m not denying that identifying with the people you’re reading is important, but in this sort of story what’s more so is that their world is falling apart, and they are the only ones with any hope of salvaging it. In this case, the reader’s sympathy is for the land at large, rather than just in one heroic main character. I want Charyn to be okay. And over the course of this book, I began to respect these prickly people for their dedication to the same cause, and because of how much they were willing to give. By the time I had to say goodbye, I was as devoted to Gargarin, Arjuro and even Quintana as Froi had become – and that’s one hell of a character arc.

Froi of the Exiles handily avoids the all too common curse of the middle volume, wherein the book is nothing more than a placeholder filling in time before the real action takes place in the final book. Rather, Froi’s instalment is packed with plot development that is a contained adventure in itself as well as one that advances the overall series at great speed.

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Have you discovered the wonderful Melina Marchetta? Have you ever found characters you don’t love (at first) in series you adore?

Mrs Queen Takes the Train – by William Kuhn

This novel recently appeared at work and caught my attention with the cover and the excerpt in the jacket. It’s positioned as a light hearted and at the same time poignant look at the remainders of British royalty, and I raced through the story. Here’s why:

The Queen (that’s Her Majesty, Queen Elizabeth II to you, thank you) is feeling a bit off. In spite of herself, she’s become disillusioned with her life, between her duties as little more than a figurehead of a fading institution, and her private life, which is so informed by public concerns. Of course, it wouldn’t do for someone in such a privileged position to be ungrateful or dissatisfied with their lot – but Her Majesty is nevertheless restless and unhappy. Perhaps what she needs is to remember, as Julie Andrews suggests in The Sound of Music, a few of her favourite things and take her mind off everything for a while.

The Queen doesn’t intend to leave Buckingham Palace unattended and without letting anyone know, but when she finds herself outside the grounds she decides it might be just the thing to re-visit one of her favourite places, on her own, and be someone other than The Queen, for just a little while.

When a handful of Household staff discover The Queen’s absence they decide to see if they can’t find her and make sure she’s safe themselves rather than allowing MI-5 to launch a full scale operation to bring her home. Anne, Shirley, William, Luke, Rebecca and Rajiv are in for one of the most defining nights of their lives as they scramble towards Edinburgh and The Queen. Bright Copper Kettles and Warm Woollen Mittens:

The Diviners – by Libba Bray

This is a hefty novel! I love a book that’s long enough to really sink your teeth into, and at nearly 600 pages The Diviners certainly fit that category. I was given an ARC at work for this book, due to be released in Australia on November 1st, and in spite of the size I tore through this story. Here’s why:

New York in the 1920’s is an intoxicating miasma of old and new, tradition and progress, high society and low sobriety. It’s a time of probibition (hah!), ghost stories, flappers, gradual racial integration, and boundless optimism about the future.

Evie O’Neill is being punished – sent away from her home in Ohio to live with her Uncle Will, after causing a stir in her home town with her slightly spooky psychic party tricks. But when Uncle Will lives in the middle of the hip New York City, along with one of Evie’s best friends, Mabel, it’s a punishment she can bear! She’s looking forward to dancing and drinking and crushes and excitement. After all, NYC is a city of endless possibilities.

What Evie didn’t anticipate is that one possibility was being drawn into investigating a series of murders, apparently being committed by some sort of religious wacko, and each more gruesome than the rest. When the murderer turns out to be not quite human, will Evie be brave enough to use her not quite normal abilities to help defeat this being, before it’s too late to save anyone? It’s Not Paranoia If They’re Actually Out There:

Spark – by Brigid Kemmerer

This series began with Storm, published earlier this year. I enjoyed Storm, and was excited to see the sequel follow so quickly. After snapping up the book from work, it was the last of my holiday reads. Here’s what I thought of book 2 of Brigid Kemmerer’s ‘Elementals’ series:

Layne has made flying under the radar an art form. Unwilling to deal with the gossip and bitchiness that comes with being one of the popular kids, she instead stays well away, dressing down, keeping quiet. Gabriel Merrick couldn’t be more different. His hot temper draws him more attention than is sensible, because the more attention Gabe gets, the more likely it is that he’ll give away his family’s secrets.

Like his brothers, Gabriel is an elemental. He has the ability to call and (sometimes, at least) control fire. But this power goes both ways: fire calls to Gabriel, and often – too often – goads him on. The only thing as legendary as Gabriel’s fiery temper is the reputation it’s earned him. This Boy Is On Fire:

My Life Next Door – by Huntley Fitzpatrick

This YA contemporary romance came highly recommended by blogs I’ve been reading, and the word that kept coming up is ‘charming’. I love the yellow hardcover design of this one, and read it on holidays a couple of weeks ago. This is my take on My Life Next Door:

Samantha Reed is cautious, conscientious and always considerate of others – particularly of her high-strung local politician mother. Sam’s mum expects nothing less, and can’t imagine anyone not wanting to live in her buttoned-up, obsessively vacuumed, structured and scheduled world. Which helps to explain why Sam’s mother loathes the family next door.

The Garrett family are the Reed’s polar opposites. Their eight children enjoy a kind of chaotic freedom that Samantha can only imagine as she watches from her bedroom. Until the day Jase Garrett climbs up to her window and invites her to be a part of his world. (Oh dear, accidental Little Mermaid reference there!) The Garretts are so welcoming that in no time, Sam feels like one of them – but when a terrible accident is caused, she will have to choose where her loyalties truly lie. I Don’t Belong/Like I Did Before:

What’s Left of Me – by Kat Zhang

This intriguing new YA sci-fi/dystopian novel popped onto my radar at work the other day. I read it on holiday and it was thoroughly distracting! Here’s why:

Addie-and-Eva. That’s who they’ve always been. Like everyone else, the two girls were born into one body. And like everyone else, it was expected that by the time they were ten, either Eva or Addie would have disappeared: ‘settled’, leaving the other alone and in complete control. But that didn’t happen. Addie grew stronger and Eva weaker – but Eva wouldn’t completely let go, any more than Addie would completely give her up.

Addie and Eva are a hybrid. A scary word, an even scarier consequence. It’s common, government delivered knowledge that hybrids are unstable. Something about the two souls in their body fighting for dominance must make them violent. That’s why the Americas cut themselves off from the rest of the world – where hybrids are allowed to roam free. That’s why hybrids in the Americas are locked away. Addie and Eva know is that they’re not like that. But there’s no way to explain that they are different; that they’re safe. Addie and Eva must be oh-so-careful: because if anyone ever found out that Eva was still around, they would be taken, and would never see home again. Talk About Multiple Personalities:

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