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Monday, 28 April 2014

Review: The Magician's Apprentice

Author: Trudi Canavan

Release date: Paperback April 2010
Genre: High Fantasy
Target audience: Adult
Publisher: Orbit

The Magician’s Apprentice is a prequel novel set years before the events of The Black Magician Series. If you haven’t read that series, why on earth not? Go read it now! It’s the best.

Tessia is the daughter of the village healer. She wants to be a healer like her father but it is not the norm for women to have such occupations. Her mother wants her to marry and it is long overdue. When a Sachakan visitor overstays his welcome at the manor of Lord Dakon, Tessia is discovered to be a normal. She has latent magic and if it is not soon under control she will surely perish. Lord Dakon is a Kyralian magician who takes Tessia as his apprentice. She is a keen student and still retains her desire to be a healer. She works at using magic to heal -  something no magician has done before. But it is not easy and she may never discover the secret to success.

Also apprenticed to Lord Dakon is Jayan - a young man of noble magician blood. He resents Tessia’s presence at the manor as he feels she is delaying his progression. But when the realm of Kyralia is invaded by Sachakan magicians, Jayan will learn how important Tessia is to him and to the future of the realm.
This book as with the others in the Black Magician series are told from a third person roving viewpoint. We follow a vast cast of characters which we care about but it is always clear that the main character is Tessia.

I loved this book. Actually I love all of Trudi Canavan’s books. They are so wholly satisfying and really are fantasy at its best. There is always a little romance and I love that! There is always an abundance of magic and I love that too! This book is the story of how the Traitors came to be, of how the wasteland was created and even the origin of the Magicians’ Guild. For fans of Trudi Canavan and fantasy novels, it is undoubtedly a must read! I am quite the fan.

Source: Bought from a second hand bookshop

Friday, 25 April 2014

Review: Eleanor and Park

Author: Rainbow Rowell

Release date: 28th February 2013
Genre: Contemporary / Romance
Target audience: YA
UK Publisher: Orion

Eleanor & Park is a moving tale of first love. It’s also an emotive story about family dysfunction and bullying. It’s a story of survival and how love can get you through.

Eleanor steps on the bus to school for the first time and Park wonders why she’s made herself such an easy target. Big and bright red hair aren’t enough, she has to wear crazy clothes too. He thinks she’s brave but probably crazy. He doesn’t want to have anything to do with her in the first moment. But he can’t stop himself from telling her to sit down. From that moment, their lives change. Perhaps not immediately but when you sit next to someone every day, you have to speak to them sooner or later. Behind those first impressions are real people, it takes a while to peel back the layers but that is the beauty of this novel.

I’d only heard great things about this book but I didn’t really know what to expect when I started it. Sometimes when a book is this popular all the comments just become one big buzz without any clear definition about why it is so worth reading.

This is a love story. A beautiful, touching love story. But it is also a story of survival. It’s about getting through the next day and how hard that is to do when you’re alone. The love Park has for Eleanor helps her keep going day after day even if she can’t quite understand why he wants to be with her.
I found the crisis moment of the story quite harrowing. Eleanor’s life is so convincing. The neglect she experiences, the domestic violence of the home she lives in and the emotional abuse she faces. Reading this book, you know that there are young people out there in the world living in these difficult family situations and it makes the book all the more powerful.

I think I’m making this sound like a sad book. And it is in some ways and not in others. There is joy and hope in this story. It’s in the sharing of comics, the hopeful lyrics to songs, the holding of a hand. It’s in a smile which is given just for one person to understand.

Eleanor & Park will make you smile and it might just make you cry. I couldn’t wait to finish this book. It gets you right inside. A beautifully crafted novel and a beautiful story which will make you stop everything until you finish it. There isn’t a word to change here. Exceptional.

Source: Bought from the bookshop at SLA Belfast.

Monday, 21 April 2014

Review: Brewster

Author: Mark Slouka

Release date: UK paperback 6th March 2014
Genre: Contemporary / Coming-of-age story / Bildungsroman
Target audience: Adult
UK Publisher: Portobello Books


Brewster is a raw coming-of-age story. Set in the late 1960s in the USA, it’s a story of growing up in a small town. It’s about boys becoming men, it’s about finding your identity and it’s about the pain we live through. This is a hard review to write because this book is so good. It moved me. It kind of haunts me. It has a power all of its own.

Jon is the protagonist and he tells the story. I guess he’s looking back and recounting this time in his life. A time when his life felt anything but liberated. It’s a story of a friendship between two boys both with family troubles. Ray sees a quality in Jon which he recognises and though they never talk about it, they become friends. They walk the streets in winter. They sit by the lake in summer. Jon is recruited to join the track team. He runs. It lets him conquer pain. It gives him a purpose. Ray sits in the bleachers and watches. But periodically Ray disappears for days at a time. He comes back bruised with stories of illicit boxing matches and girls he fought tough guys over. And Jon expects nothing less of Ray. He’s the hard man. He’s dangerous and everyone at school knows it.

Jon tells the story retrospectively jumping around sometimes as he remembers different moments of those few years. I guess it doesn’t sound like much happens here. But it does as much as it can in a small town and in a country which is at war with Vietnam and it the midst of the summer of love.

I happen to read a review of Brewster in the Sunday Times Culture magazine and it stood out. I love coming-of-age stories and this one sounded right up me street. I wrote the name of the author and the title down. Then maybe two weeks later, I popped into the public library to collect something I’d reserved and I spotted it on the way out. It seemed serendipitous. I must have been meant to read this book.

It’s the sort of book you could read more than once. I need to get my own copy now because I know I’ll want to read it in years to come. It’s brutally emotive. There’s no doubt about it, this book will be a modern classic. Brewster is an outstanding piece of literature and above all, a moving story of the pain of growing up. Read it.

Source: Borrowed from the public library

Friday, 18 April 2014

Review: The Girl Who Fell From the Sky

Author: Simon Mawer

Release date: UK paperback 9th May 2013
Genre: Historical Fiction / Spy novel
Target audience: Adult
Publisher: Little Brown

The Girl Who Fell from the Sky is a spy story. Secrets, betrayals, multiple identities, they’re all here.
Marian Sutro is a young woman who is part English, part French and is recruited by a mysterious British secret service organisation for her skill in languages. Immediately Marian knows that she’ll sign herself over to them; she’s the sort of girl who enjoys risk.

I read this book very quickly and I did enjoy it. I couldn’t help but be reminded of Code Name Verity. The subject matter is incredibly similar. But that was a more literary take on spying than The Girl who Fell from the Sky which is more of an easier but less dramatic read.

Marian Sutro is an interesting character. She recognises that she has more than one identity and that she is essentially playing at being a spy. She takes on many different roles – she is a lover, comforter, daughter, sister, friend, and ultimately, she is a spy. She undergoes rigorous training in rugged Scotland and then she parachutes into France to complete the work she’s been prepped for. But nothing can really prepare her for the risks she’ll face.

Though this was easy to read, it is also easy to forget. There isn’t really anything new in this book. It doesn’t have a unique voice or anything that stands out to add to the subject matter. I’m not a particular fan of spy thrillers and I wouldn’t have read this if it wasn’t a book chosen for the staff book group.

I liked that fact that the ending was fitting of the story and of Marian. Overall, not a bad read but it certainly won’t stay with me.

Source: Bought from WH Smith.

Tuesday, 15 April 2014

Review: The Last Runaway

Author: Tracy Chevalier

Release date: UK Paperback 29th August 2013
Genre: Historical Fiction
Target audience: Adult
Publisher: HarperCollins

The Last Runaway is a journey into the new world - a journey from 1850s England to America across the ocean. It’s about principles and freedom to act on those principles. This historical novel swept me away and I found myself picking it up at every opportunity. It was a pleasure to read.

When Honor’s sister Grace decides to emigrate to America to marry, Honor thinks that this is her chance for a new life too. Having been recently jilted and her betrothed expelled from the Quaker community, she feels embarrassed and self-conscious in her small community.

Honor and Grace take the long journey by boat to America but when they arrive their dream is far from coming true. Grace soon takes ill and Honor is left to make a new life for herself alone. She travels many miles across America to reach Ohio and there, she must find a way to begin again.
Honor’s story was a touching and honest. She is constantly comparing life in America to her home back in England. Everything from the food to the way people speak. She has to learn to accept many differences and find a sense of belonging in this new frontier.

Not only was this story well told and well plotted. It was educational too. I felt I learnt a lot about Quakers. I didn’t really know anything about the religion before I read this book. I also learnt much about how the Quakers opposed slavery in the 1850s. I liked how the author explored the ways the different characters responded to the issue. Honor wants to help the slaves escape America and find their freedom in Canada. Other characters do the same. But her Quaker husband and his family are not so ready to help despite it being part of their beliefs that all men are equal in the eyes of God.

I can’t write this review without mentioning the patchwork quilts which Honor is so talented at making. I loved all the references to sewing and her particular skills. The way she collected little scraps of cloth from garments that had a meaning to her was really touching.

I read this book for our parent book group at school and I’m so glad I did. I would never have picked it up otherwise and I really enjoyed everything about it: the tone, the description, the exploration of beliefs and principles. The Last Runaway was an accessible, moving and enjoyable read.

Source: Borrowed from the public library