Review: The Last Graduate by Naomi Novik

Title: The Last Graduate {Scholomance #2}

Author: Naomi Novik

Published: 28th September 2021, Del Rey Books

Status: Read October 2021 courtesy Penguin /Netgalley

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My Thoughts:

A cross between Harry Potter and The Hunger Games, The Last Graduate is an imaginative, exciting and darkly funny fantasy, full of magic and monsters.

The Last Graduate picks up where A Deadly Education left off with Galadriel ‘El’ Higgins now a senior. In just a few months she and her fellow classmates will leave Scholomance, a sentient school built in the void to educate the children of the magical community, forever – assuming they survive the traditional attrition of graduation day.

I was delighted to rejoin El, her allies, and enemies, at Scholomance, where navigating every activity, from bathroom visits to classroom assignments, is a matter of life and death. As a member of the graduating class, El’s focus should be on passing finals, building manna, and shoring up her alliances in preparation for graduation, but Scholomance seems determined to make her life difficult, throwing mals (monsters), and hapless freshmen, in her path. It’s some time before El recognises the school’s motive for what it is – not a curse, but a plea.

While there is plenty of action as the students prepare for the graduation day gauntlet, the lulls allow for character development. El, once friendless, now has a strong pact with Liu and Aadhya, and the support of the New York enclave, thanks in part to her somewhat complicated relationship with Orion Lake, but is still reluctant to trust others, or her self. I really like El, but I was glad to see some character growth. She remains a pessimist with a quick temper and a sarcastic wit, but also proves resourceful, determined, loyal, and a little less guarded.

I felt there was more emphasis on the themes of privilege, inequality and competition vs cooperation in this novel. The latter is of particular importance as the events in The Last Graduate suggest a twist to the prophecy that warns El, with her prodigious magical strength, will be responsible for the destruction of the enclaves.

There is no denying that the cliffhanger ending is hugely frustrating, and as it will likely be another year until the third book is released, it’s going to be a long wait, so I hope the pay off will be worth it!

++++++++

Available from PenguinRandomHouse Australia

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Review: The Cat Who Saved Books by Sosuke Natsukawa

 

Title: The Cat Who Saved Books

Author: Sosuke Natsukawa; Translation: Louise Heal Kawai

Published: 14th September 2021, Picador

Status: Read September 2021 courtesy Pan Macmillan Australia

++++++

 

My Thoughts:

 

Translated from the original Japanese, The Cat Who Saved Books by Sosuke Natsukawa is a quirky, fantastical tale that celebrates the importance of not only books and reading, but also human connection.

Seventeen year old Rintaro Natsuki is devastated by the sudden passing of the grandfather who has raised him, and takes refuge in the second hand bookshop he has inherited. When an orange tabby cat slinks into the store and speaks to him, Rintaro wonders if grief and stress have taken their toll, but the cat, who introduces itself as Tiger, insists that Rintaro’s help is desperately needed, and leads him through the store into an alternate world to conquer the first of what will be four challenges to ‘free’ books from various states of peril.

Each ‘labyrinth’ requires Rintaro to convince someone to recognise that books are more than just objects, from a wealthy man who hoards books as a status symbol, to a publisher who discards the old for the new. There isn’t anything subtle about the observations made in The Cat Who Saved Books, and they express ideas most inveterate readers would agree with. Eventually Rintaro is required to convince a wizened but sinister figure that books and reading have value to humanity, and hold a unique power.

“I think the power of books is that- they teach us to care about others. It’s a power that gives people courage and also supports them in turn….Empathy – that’s the power of books.”

In between these quests, Rintaro who identifies as a hikikomori (a Japanese term loosely translated as a shut-in or extreme introvert) is left to ponder on the lack of balance in his own life from his own habit of taking refuge in books to avoid human connection and experience. This is illustrated by the connection he forms with a persistent classmate, Sayo Yuzuki.

Though I feel the tone is skewed towards a young adult audience, The Cat Who Saved Books is a charming, uncomplicated story that will speak to the soul of book lovers.

++++++++

Available from Pan Macmillan Australia

Or from your preferred retailer

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Review: Trouble is My Business by Lisa Walker

 

Title: Trouble is My Business {An Olivia Grace Mystery #2}

Author: Lisa Walker

Published: 1st August 2021, Wakefield Press

Status: Read August 2021 courtesy Wakefield Press

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My Thoughts:

 

Trouble is My Business is the second engaging mystery from Lisa Walker featuring Olivia Grace, a teen wannabe Private Investigator on Queensland’s Gold Coast.

(More to come…)

+++++++

Available from Wakefield Press

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Review: House of Hollow by Krystal Sutherland


Title: House of Hollow

Author: Krystal Sutherland

Published: 30th March 2021, Penguin

Status: Read May 2021 courtesy PenguinRandomHouse Australia

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My Thoughts:

 

“Dark, dangerous things happened around the Hollow sisters.”

 

House of Hollow is a beguiling story of sisters, secrets, and shadows by Krystal Sutherland.

Iris Hollow has no memory of what happened during the month after she and her sisters disappeared from a suburban street in Scotland as children, but there is no doubt that they were changed by their experience. Not only did their brown hair turn white, their blue eyes darken to black, and each bear a half moon scar at the base of their necks, they also possessed an inexplicable sway over anyone who gets too close.

Ten years after they were found, 21 year old Grey is a celebrity supermodel turned fashion designer, and nineteen year old Vivi tours European cities with her punk band, while 17 year old Iris remains at home with their mother, finishing her last year at school, and dreaming of attending a University where no one recognises her. With the anniversary of their abduction nearing, the three sisters arrange to meet but Grey never shows.

Drawing on faerie folklore enhanced by her own creative twists, Sutherland weaves a haunting tale of mystery and magic as Vivi and Iris search for their missing sister. Following a strange trail of destruction and death flowers with a dangerous man in a horned mask stalking their every move, it’s a quest that will eventually expose the terrible truth of what happened to them as children.

I loved the grim, urban fairytale quality of this novel. Sutherland invites us to slip beneath a veneer of beauty, exposing a dark heart of rot. It’s a tale of contrasts – love and loyalty countered by lust and deception. It explores tragedy, grief, the base instinct for survival, and the spaces between life and death.

The writing is lyrical, with a rhythm that leaves you slightly off-balance as you’re drawn deeper into the story. Sutherland’s vivid imagery appeals to all the senses, evoking a visceral reaction of unease that occasionally tips into horror. There is a touch of humour too, flaring briefly in the dark.

Imaginative, atmospheric and intense, House of Hollow is a compelling read.

++++++

Available from PenguinRandomHouse Australia 

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Review: The Iron Raven by Julie Kagawa

Title: The Iron Raven {The Iron Fey: Evenfall #1}

Author: Julia Kagawa

Published: 24th February 2021, HQ Young Adult

Status: Read March 2021 courtesy Harlequin Australia

++++++

My Thoughts:

With The Iron Raven, Julie Kagawa begins a fantastic and dangerous new adventure to delight fans of the Iron Fey series.

It’s not strictly necessary to be familiar with the Iron Fey series which includes the four books of The Iron Fey (The Iron King, The Iron Daughter, The Iron Queen and The Iron Knight) and The Iron Fey: Call of Forgotten trilogy (The Lost Prince, The Iron Traitor and The Iron Warrior), plus various novellas, to enjoy The Iron Raven, though it certainly enriches the experience. It’s been six years since I read The Iron Warrior, yet details came flooding back as I read.

In the Iron Raven, Kagawa places Puck aka Robin Goodfellow at the centre of the narrative for the first time, and the story unfolds from his perspective as a dangerous monster spreading hate and discord stalks the realm of faerie.

It begins when Kieran, son of the Iron Queen, former prince of the Iron Court and King of the Forgotten, asks for Puck’s help. Joining the King, and Keiran’s personal guard Nyx in the Inbetween, the trio confront a seemingly invulnerable mass of darkness and fury, but despite a fierce battle, the monster escapes into the NeverNever.

Puck finds himself changed by the experience, not only does he again have horns and cloven hooves but traits of the Robin Goodfellow of old are also bleeding through. While he continues to spout quips and make light of every situation, Puck finds himself simultaneously battling the re-emergence of his darker nature. I enjoyed having Puck tell the story in his own irreverent way, and being privy to his thoughts. His inner turmoil is interesting, as is the history he reveals of himself.

Some of that history naturally involves Puck’s relationship with his closest friends, Ash, the Winter Prince, and Megan, The Iron Queen. I loved seeing the trio reunited here, and fighting side by side again. With the monsters escape, Puck and Nyx travel to the Iron Court to ask for their help, but in their company, Puck is reminded of his hurt and resentment when Megan chose Ash over him, and under the sway of the monster he has to fight the temptation to make them pay.

Luckily for them, Nyx, the silver-haired Forgotten Sidhe assassin who once served The Lady and now serves Kieran, provides Puck with somewhat of a distraction. Singularly unimpressed by his legendary reputation, and his ego, Nyx is more than a match for Puck, and their developing connection was very entertaining.

There’s not really anything new or unexpected in The Iron Raven, it has a similar feel, rhythm, tone and progression to the other books in the series. This was a little disappointing because there was potential for Kagawa to add some maturity to the story, and the characters, to reward the fans who were teenagers when the earlier series were first published but are now likely well into their twenties.

Nevertheless, with Puck’s wit, plenty of action, and high stakes, The Iron Raven is an entertaining read. Evenfall is coming.

++++++

Available from Harlequin Australia

Or from your preferred retailer via Booko I Book Depository I Indiebound I HiveUK

Review: A Deadly Education by Naomi Novik

Title: A Deadly Education {Scholomance #1}

Author: Naomi Novik

Published: 29th September 2020, Del Rey

Status: Read September 2020 courtesy PenguinRandomHouse Australia

++++++

My Thoughts:

In its simplest terms A Deadly Education by Naomi Novik could be described as a cross between Harry Potter and The Hunger Games, but this imaginative, darkly funny fantasy has a magic all of its own.

Galadriel ‘El’ Higgins is in her last term of her second last year at Scholomance, a sentient school built in the void to educate the children of the magical community’, an education only one in four survive thanks in part to its gruelling and competitive nature, and the maleficaria who roam the halls. To make it to and through the school’s most deadly test, Graduation Day, the students need to make alliances, something which is proving difficult for El whose very being, not to mention her snarky and abrasive attitude, seems to repel her classmates. That is until the class hero Orion Lake saves her life for the third time.

In this first book of the Scholomance series, Novik has created an imaginative and complex world full of magic and monsters. I’m not going to even try to explain the details of how the school operates because discovering them for yourself is part of the fun. Suffice it to say, navigating every activity within the Scholomance from bathroom visits to classroom assignments is a matter of life and death. Such an intricate setup does result in a bit of info-dumping, but I think Novik tempers it by using the first person perspective.

It took me a little while to warm up to El, in the initial introduction she’s complaining about her life being saved and appears ungrateful and abrasive, she never really loses that edge, but it didn’t take long til I developed some empathy for her, and even grew to like to her quite a lot. El has some pretty good reasons for being who she is, not the least of which is being in possession of a magical strength that could level the entire school and everyone it.

El’s fellow classmates are a mixed bunch, as in any highschool there is a clear social hierarchy with groups, namely the children born in magical enclaves (communities), that have distinct cache and advantages, and ‘independents’, whose best chance to survive Scholomance is to gain an invitation to join an enclave, or form a strong alliance with other independent students. El is essentially friendless when A Deadly Education begins despite her best efforts so she’s shocked by the notice of Orion Lake, the hero of the much sought after New York enclave. Orion’s attention indirectly helps El to connect with several other students, most importantly Liu and Aadhya.

There is plenty of action in A Deadly Education given that a large number, and variety of, mal’s lurk everywhere eager for a tasty meal in the form of a careless or inattentive student. And as if monsters aren’t enough to worry about, the teens aren’t above sabotaging, or even killing, each other, and Scholomance itself is wholly indifferent to its charges survival.

Exciting, creative and fun, I found A Deadly Education to be an entertaining YA read, and I’m looking forward to the next book in the series.

++++++

Available from PenguinRandomHouse Australia

Or your preferred retailer via Booko I Book Depository I HiveUK I Indiebound

Review: The Left-Handed Booksellers of London by Garth Nix

Title: The Left-Handed Booksellers of London

Author: Garth Nix

Published: 29th September 2020, Allen & Unwin

Status: Read September 2020 courtesy Allen & Unwin

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My Thoughts:

In Garth Nix’s new fantasy title, The Left-Handed Booksellers of London, eighteen year old Susan Arkshaw moves to the city in search of her unknown father. With almost nothing to go on she begins by seeking out a man she knows only as Uncle Frank, but before she can question him she witnesses a young man turn him to dust with the touch of a silver pin. Susan has every intention of calling the police but when a giant louse, and then a malevolent black smoke attacks, she instinctively follows the man, who introduces himself as Merlin, out of the window.

Susan soon discovers Merlin St Jacques is a left-handed bookseller, as opposed to a right-handed bookseller like his sister Vivian, one of many agents who are tasked with keeping the Old World from unduly affecting the New. Nix has created an unique setting in an alternate timeline, the details of which unfold as the story progresses, combining archaic myths and magics, and exasperated police, a devious Ancient Sovereign with a swag of mind-controlled minions, and, of course, booksellers who are more than they seem.

Just like the booksellers, Susan too is more than she seems, though nobody is exactly sure what that is. It is clear she is being targeted by someone with inimical intent, and Susan, Merlin and Vivian find themselves fleeing a series of attacks providing plenty of fast paced action and excitement as they dodge, amongst other things, magical creatures, zombiefied kidnappers, and the odd bullet. There’s both humour, and a little gore, to amuse, and increase tension.

I really liked the main protagonists. Though Susan’s acceptance of the existence of the Old World seemed a mite too easy, I was quite happy to that Nix avoided the usual drama of denial and self doubt. As a left-handed bookseller, the androgynous Merlin is the brawn, wielding swords and guns, while his sister, being right-handed is the brains, and capable of basic magic that is useful in a tight spot. The three of them develop an easy rapport, and there’s even a little romance.

Imaginative and entertaining, though The Left-Handed Booksellers of London is aimed at a young adult audience, it will also appeal to adults who enjoy light fantasy. While the story is complete, there’s obvious potential for a series I’d be happy to continue with.

++++++

Available from Allen & Unwin RRP AUD$24.99

Or from your preferred retailer via Booko I Book Depository i HiveUK

Review: The Erasure Initiative by Lili Wilkinson

Title: The Erasure Initiative

Author: Lili Wilkinson

Published: August 1st 2020, Allen & Unwin

Status: Read August 2020 courtesy Allen & Unwin

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My Thoughts:

The Erasure Initiative is an absorbing and entertaining YA psychological thriller from Lili Wilkinson

“I wake up, and for a few precious seconds I don’t realise there’s anything wrong.”

Roused by the jolting movements of the self driving bus she is riding in, Cecily, who only learns her name from the sticker on her t-shirt (HELLO! MY NAME IS CECILY), realises she has no memory of herself. Neither does she remember where she is coming from, or where she is going, and recognises none of six strangers, of varying ages and ethnicities, accompanying her. As the group speculate about their predicament, the other passengers having admitted they are similarly affected, a message appears on the screens in front of them…

“You are in a moving vehicle. Before you the road forks. Ahead, there are five pedestrians. On the side road there is one pedestrian. You can press a button and the bus will turn off onto the side road. The bus will not stop. Do you press the button? YES/NO”

This is only the first of several tests that force the passengers to choose between life and death.

In this well-paced novel, fraught with escalating tension, Wilkinson offers an intriguing premise that explores issues surrounding identity, personality, and morality in The Erasure Initiative. With no past with which to define yourself, what sort of person would you choose to be? Are we shaped by nature or nurture? Can someone ever be anything other than who they are? How do you determine the value of a life?

Cecily may not remember anything about who she is, but she is certain she does not want to be on this bus which seems to be circling a deserted island, and is determined to do all she can to escape it. Though wary of placing her trust in her fellow passengers she is especially drawn to Nia, a dark-skinned, shaved-head girl with an anti authoritarian attitude, a high tech prosthetic leg and computer hacking skills, and Paxton, whose confidence, warm smile, and good looks help dampen her anxiety.

“What do you do when you learn that you’re the villain of your own story?”

I enjoyed the varied characters in The Erasure Initiative, though some have a larger role to play than others in the story, they each have a purpose. As the passengers struggle to piece together their identities, based on the few clues they are able to glean, their assessments of each other, and themselves, waver and shift. Cecily in particular is blind-sided by information that contradicts her perception of herself and who she wants to be.

Clever, compelling and challenging, The Erasure Initiative is a great read, sure to impress.

++++++

Available from Allen & Unwin RRP AUD$19.99

Or from your preferred retailer via Booko I Book Depository

Review: Wicked As You Wish by Rin Chupeco

 


Title: Wicked As You Wish (A Hundred Names for Magic #1)

Author: Rin Chupeco

Published: March 3rd 2020, Sourcebooks Fire

Status: Read March 2020, courtesy Sourcebooks/Netgalley

++++++

My Thoughts:

 

While browsing for a novel to suit the SwordsNStars challenge, the publicity tagline for Wicked As You Wish by Rin Chupeco caught my attention.

“An unforgettable alternate history fairy-tale series about found family, modern-day magic, and finding the place you belong.”

The story begins in The Royal States of America, where Prince Alexei of Avalon is in hiding from The Snow Queen, waiting until he is found by the Firebird, so that he at last will have the power to renter his lands and claim his throne. When the Firebird finally appears, Alex, along with his best friend Tala – who has a rare ability to repel and negate magic – and a group of other young magic wielders, set out on a dangerous journey to Avalon to reclaim it from the Snow Queen’s deadly magic.

There’s a lot to like in Wicked As You Wish. It offers plenty of fast paced action, a diverse cast of characters, humour, intrigue, and a unique mix of political and cultural elements taken from both the modern world and the world of fairytales and legends.

But the world Chupeco has created is very ambitious and to be honest I struggled to make complete sense of it. Eventually I just had to sort of overlook the finer details and simply go along for the ride.

If you are willing to do the same, I expect you’ll enjoy Wicked As You Wish, as I did, but I think it’s fair to say it won’t be for everyone.

++++++

Available from Sourcebooks

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Review: Euphoria Kids by Alison Evans

Title: Euphoria Kids

Author: Alison Evans

Published: February 4th 2020, Echo Publishing

Status: Read February 2020 courtesy Echo Publishing/BFredericksPR

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My Thoughts:

Euphoria Kids is an enchanting tale of identity, friendship, and belonging for young adults from Alison Evans.

Told with imagination and tenderness, it introduces Iris, identified as non-binary, who makes a wish for a friend and finds first Babs, a girl who often not only feels, but sometimes is, invisible, and a trans boy, new to the school, who has not yet found his real name.

The prose is lyrical with a whimsical tone. Using magic in part as a metaphor, Evan’s characters explore their who they are, and who they want to be, supporting one another in finding and facing their truths. And as with all fairytales there is a happy ending.

I (a cis, straight, white woman in her 40’s) am not the target audience for this book but I do appreciate, and respect, the author’s intent to provide representation and support for genderqueer youth. I hope this book finds it way into schools and libraries where it will have a chance to work its magic for those in need.

++++++

Available from Echo Publishing

Or from your preferred retailer via Booko I Book Depository

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