Tag Archives: fiction

The Masterpiecers by Olivia Wildenstein

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The Masterpiecers by Olivia Wildenstein, e-book, 646 pages, published in 2016.

Nineteen year-old, artistic quilter, Ivy has scored a heavily fought for spot on the reality TV show, The Masterpiecers, where eight contestants battle against each other in various art-related tasks. The prize, one hundred thousand dollars, but more importantly, automatic entry to The Masterpiecers art school. For Ivy, this is an incredible opportunity, but she must leave behind her twin sister, Aster, to attend the competition in New York. Aster is in gaol after killing a man with her car, claiming it was self-defense, but not everything in her story adds up.

The story is told from the alternating views of the twins; Ivy as she arrives in New York and begins to compete on the show, and Aster, from the gaol, where she has been granted special privileges to watch her sister’s show. I am not a big fan of reality TV, so the premise of this book was a little hard for me to get on board with. I was nonplussed for the first section of the story, and dismayed by the first task the contestants had to complete; it was more torture than performance art. At that point I was actually thinking of giving the book up as not being my thing. However, it greatly improved from there. As the girls’ stories began to unfold, and discrepancies became obvious, the story became much more intriguing, and soon I was flying through the book to see what else would happen. There were a lot of questions that I wanted answers for, which spurred me on to keep reading.

The plot was quite complicated, with twists and mysteries, which made it interesting and exciting. It was also well written, and the characters were vividly described. However, I found the setting a little vexatious. I don’t much care for reality TV, nor do I follow the lives of celebrities, so I was a little out of my comfort zone. I now know more than I ever wanted to know about the preparations, hair, makeup and manipulations that go on behind the scenes of that sort of show! Everyone seemed so vapid, just concerned with playing an angle and getting ahead no matter the cost to others. So the majority of the characters were rather dislikable.

I did like the twins, though Ivy and Aster were very different people. Ivy was talented, ambitious and organised, though I found her a little cold. Aster was less sophisticated, yet completely dedicated to Ivy. She worked two jobs to support them, while Ivy worked on her quilts. And while I think Ivy did love Aster, she didn’t seem to trust her. I think they had quite a complicated relationship, especially when it came to their mother. I’ve still got plenty of questions!

The Masterpiecers is the first book in the Masterful series. This explains why I still have so many questions, but I’m undecided as to whether I will read the second book. I really liked the fast pace, the subterfuge, the conflict, the mystery; these elements combined to make a great story, I’m just not sure that I liked the characters enough to continue the series.

The Masterpiecers is suitable for middle to upper high school students and beyond.

 

*I received this book as a digital copy from the author, who asked me for an honest review of this book. I did not receive any other remuneration, and the review is composed entirely of my own opinions.

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TwoSpells by Mark Morrison

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TwoSpells by Mark Morrison, e-book, 574 pages, published in 2018.

Twins, Sarah and Jon have travelled to Wales to spend the summer with their maternal grandparents, whom they have only met once before. They’ve barely landed in Wales when they begin to encounter some odd things; was that a werewolf they hit on the road? Things only get stranger at their grandparents’ farm, where there’s a creepy handy-man with a wooden leg, a magical book, and Sarah is sure those garden gnomes waved to her. They are giving a swift introduction to the magical world, learning much about themselves, and how they fit into that world, along the way. Sarah and Jon are excited to enter the ancient castle, TwoSpells, which is actually an humungous magical library, where one can enter the books and view the story from within. It also acts as a refuge for magical folk, where the “regulars” cannot go. Unfortunately the library is experiencing some rather frightening disturbances, and an illness is also affecting the magical populace. Sarah and Jon must help to save the library and all those who are sick.

This book is Awesome! TwoSpells had me hooked from the first chapter; that’s where the action started, and it just kept coming. It was a rollercoaster ride of magical creatures, book characters and a villain intent on controlling not just the world, but all worlds and realities. I could hardly put it down, I just had to read the next chapter, and then the next!

The battle at the library was wonderfully told. It was detailed and energetic; the highlight of the story. The diversity of creatures, magical, historical and mythical that emerged during the battle was incredible. Many of them were terrifying, but all came to life, rampaging about, creating a swirling mess of the library. I love the idea of being able to enter books, but the possibility of unleashing something big and dangerous was somewhat alarming!

All of the characters were strongly developed and described. I really felt like I got to know Sarah and Jon, and their grandparents. Grandpa was such a funny old man, but completely loveable. His relationship with Grandma was lovely, and I enjoyed their interactions. Their banter, and Grandpa’s propensity for “nicking” stuff, made me laugh. I loved when he fooled the security system at the exit of TwoSpells. Grandma standing up to the Golems was also quite funny.

I liked Sarah better than Jon; he was a bit too happy about slaying dragons and swinging swords. I preferred Sarah’s more cautious approach to their new-found magical identities. She was more likely to think before acting, and was very compassionate towards others, even those that were very different to her. I liked the relationship she began to form with Liam, one of the Junior Guardians at TwoSpells. While Liam, and his brother, Seth, were more minor characters, they were both very likeable.

The handy-man at the farm, Clyde, was an interesting character; he seemed pretty shifty, but also had kindness behind his exterior grumpiness. He had a strange back-story, and I’m still wondering what happened to his dog. I liked his gruffness, in the same way that I liked the abruptness of the Golems. Though the Golems were all made the same, the ones in charge of security about Sarah and Jon, were developing their own personalities nicely.

TwoSpells ended with many of my questions unanswered, and the fate of several characters unknown. I really hope that means there will be a follow-up book! I want to know about so many things! There are still lots of connections to be fulfilled, and I feel that there must be another great adventure coming.

TwoSpells is suitable for upper primary and high school students. I recommend it for fans of fantasy and action. Read it, it’s fantastic!

 

*I received this book as a digital book from the author, who asked me for an honest review of this book. I did not receive any other remuneration, and the review is composed entirely of my own opinions.

The Dead of Winter by Chris Priestley

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The Dead of Winter by Chris Priestley, hardback novel, 218 pages, published by Bloomsbury Publishing in 2010.

When Michael’s mother dies, his future is placed into the hands of a distant and unknown guardian, Sir Stephen. Along with his sister, Sir Stephen lives in a large house, Hawton Mere, stood by itself in the middle of some marshes, far from everything and everyone. Michael is invited to stay with them over the Christmas period, which he is very reluctant to do. Upon his arrival it is immediately apparent that there is something not quite right in the house, and that Sir Stephen is also rather odd and foreboding.

The Dead of Winter is a ghost story in the tradition of gothic fiction from Victorian times. It contained similar elements to a few other ghostly mysteries I have read. In particular, the bleak, wintry landscape of the boggy marshes surrounding Hawton Mere reminded me of the novel The Woman in Black, though The Dead of Winter is aimed at a younger audience.

I found this to be an average read, with solid writing and strong characters. The plot was easy to follow, but wasn’t as scary as I expected, and I had a fair idea of what was happening at the house well before it was revealed. Maybe I’m just getting older and harder to scare! Still, it was entertainment for a couple of nights, and I did genuinely feel for Michael. He was an appealing character, as was Jerwood, Hodges and Mrs Guston. The description of Sir Stephen was well done, easily conjuring the image of a nerve-wracked man, old before his time.

The Dead of Winter is suitable for upper primary and high school students.

The Land of the Sourpie by J. S. Skye

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The Land of the Sourpie by J. S. Skye, paperback novel, 198 pages, first published in 2013, this edition published in 2015.

Flurry the adorable little teddy bear is back. He has spent about three months living in MiddleAsia with his new human parents, when he is invited to return to his home town for a visit. Upon arrival Flurry is surprised to discover he has a new little sister, and he is not happy about it at all.

The Land of the Sourpie is the first real adventure for Flurry, where he finds himself far away from home. Along for the ride are Flurry’s new sister, Fall, and his friend, Caboose. They face the perils of the large forest at night, making friends and enemies along the way.

I quite liked this adventure, though Flurry got on my nerves; he was so incredibly mean to his sister. Flurry really didn’t take it well when the news of a sister was broken to him, and I suppose his parents could have warned him about their new child, instead of springing it on him during a visit with his friends, but still, his reaction was over the top jealous. It was a ridiculous notion to think that Mr and Mrs Snow would love Fall more than him. But then I have to remember that Flurry is a very young bear cub, and his actions are like that of a human toddler discovering they have to share their parents with a new sibling.

Another thing I disliked about Flurry was that when he thought he might get in trouble, he let his friends take the blame. And he was too proud to admit when he was wrong, especially when it came to his sister. This behaviour made him more difficult to like in this story.

I liked Fall better. She was the polar opposite to Flurry; sensible, responsible, rule-abiding and humble. She really wanted to do the right thing, but Flurry just wouldn’t listen to her. And Caboose made me laugh, he can’t help but be likeable!

The best bits of this story happened once the bear cubs met the sourpie felines and their estranged brethren. I loved the name of King Jag’War. I hope we will meet these great cats in future Flurry stories, they were such great characters. The pack of wolves the cubs run into are very well described, but far less likeable than the cats. The leader of the pack was really quite scary and evil; I have a feeling we haven’t seen the last of him!

I felt that the chapters were a little long for the target audience. My 8 year old likes to “conquer” a chapter in each reading session, but these chapters were too long for her to do that at the moment. Still, it was a good read which left me eager to read the next Flurry adventure.

The Land of the Sourpie is suitable for middle and upper primary school students.

 

*I received this book from the author, who asked me for an honest review of this book. I did not receive any other remuneration, and the review is composed entirely of my own opinions.

 

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The Granted Wish by J.S. Skye

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The Granted Wish by J.S. Skye, paperback novel, first published in 2012, this edition published in 2017.

Flurry the Bear is a cute, little, teddy bear cub who just seems to find trouble around every corner. His concerned parents seek help from Christopher Kringle, the very man that brought life to the teddy bears of the Mezarim. The solution can only work for so long before Flurry finds himself in trouble once more.

The Granted Wish is the first book in the Flurry the Bear Series, which follows Flurry on his adventures. This first book provides details of Flurry’s background; it is his origin story. We learn about Flurry’s parents, and his first years, including his first adventure away from home. Flurry’s story is told as a tale in a book read to a group of young teddy bear cubs, who have all heard the awe inspiring tales of Flurry; his adventures, his bravery, his conquests, (some spread enthusiastically by Flurry himself, no doubt!). I liked this approach to telling the story.

For me, The Granted Wish was a reasonably quick read, with a solid and magical plot, that I enjoyed. It was fun getting to know Flurry, his family and his friends. There was laughter, friendship and discovery, of new things, and of himself, as Flurry began his adventurous lifestyle.

The idea of a whole township of teddy bears living and working at the north pole is wonderful! They were all meticulously described, with varying personalities, just as we have in our own society. I especially related to Mrs Snow’s exasperation over Flurry’s antics! And the amazing Christopher Kringle, who has been re-invented from jolly old Santa with his jelly belly, to a young, vital and strong character who uses his magic to bring life, nuture and guide those around him. He is kind, yet firm when required. As for Flurry, he is a bit mischievous and a bit of a daydreamer, but he is also a loving son, and he does try to do the right thing. However, he has a vain streak (he is an exceptionally adorable little teddy, after all), which can lead to some smugness. I hope Flurry can overcome this tendency in the books ahead.

An interesting start to a what promises to be an exciting series, The Granted Wish, is suitable for middle and upper primary students.

 

*I received this book from the author, who asked me for an honest review of this book. I did not receive any other remuneration, and the review is composed entirely of my own opinions.

Popular by Sofia O’Hara

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Popular by Sofia O’Hara, short story, 16 pages, published in 2016.

Jenna isn’t slim and pretty like some of the other girls in her school, but she wants to be. She gets bullied at school, devastatingly, by the boy she has a crush on. This causes her to hit a pivotal moment in her young life when she realises that she needs to love herself before anyone else can love her.

To be honest, I didn’t really like this short story much. The writing was fine, but I didn’t enjoy the content. I was also a bit irritated by Jenna.

The message about the importance of loving and liking oneself is important; we should like who we are and be proud of ourselves. However, seeing a poster with a beautiful model on it and wanting to be like that isn’t my idea of accepting and loving who you are. It’s fine to want change and to pursue it, but Jenna only seemed to be interested in her looks and what the other kids thought of her. She makes changes to her lifestyle which causes her to lose weight and feel better, which is great for her health, but she’s only happy and proud after the changes. To me this suggests that one can only be happy if one is slim. Not the positive body image message I was expecting.

I felt sorry for Jenna, not because she was overweight, but because she seemed to have no personality and no friends. If being slim and pretty is the only criteria for being popular, I’ll take a pass, and Jenna should have too. There are much more satisfying things in life than being popular in high school. Pursuing a fulfilling hobby, learning a language, playing a team sport, taking a practical life skills course, joining a community group, or volunteering could have effected the same positive benefits for Jenna. Learning to communicate effectively with others and mingle with other teenagers with similar interests would have given Jenna a sense of belonging, helping her to accept herself as she was. Instead, this story focussed on Jenna making some physical changes and how that affected the way her peers viewed her.

Popular is suitable for teen readers, but it wasn’t my cuppa tea.

 

*I received this book as a digital copy from the author, who asked me for an honest review of this book. I did not receive any other remuneration, and the review is composed entirely of my own opinions.

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The Three Ninja Pigs by David Bedford and Becka Moor

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The Three Ninja Pigs by David Bedford and illustrated by Becka Moor, paperback picture book, published by Simon and Schuster, UK Ltd in 2016.

The Big Bad Wolf is up to his tricks, messing up this, and breaking that. The Three Ninja Pigs keep getting the blame for his antics. Will they be able to put a stop to the Big Bad Wolf’s villainy?

The three little pigs have had a make-over, as ninjas! They twirl, they jump and they Hee-ya! And they are totally adorable in this exciting twist to an old tale. My four year old boys loved The Three Ninja Pigs, requesting multiple re-reads.

This story was great fun and the illustrations were bright and interesting. The Wolf really was being quite naughty, creating chaos at every stop. My boys thought the mess he created was funny, and they enjoyed pointing to things that had been broken or knocked down. They also laughed at where the Ninja Pigs ended up after each encounter with the Wolf, such as stuffed in a vase, or hanging from the ceiling. We liked spotting the various fairytale characters through the book, such as Little Red Riding Hood and the troll under the bridge.

The Three Ninja Pigs is suitable for toddlers, preschoolers and lower primary school children.

Book Spotlight: The Efficiency Claus by Devra Robitaille

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The Efficiency Claus comes from the author of the Muffy Dog series, and the recently released teen read, The Henge.

It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas…. only Under-claus is on the warpath against fun and frivolity!

In a world gone mad Santa’s chief of staff, Under-claus, is trying to suck all the magic out of Christmas and digitize, organize, computerize and industrialize the North Pole. He will replace the toy factory assembly line with cyber-elves and deliver all the toys by drone. Santa will be destroyed and the world will become a sadder place for it. Under-claus simply must be stopped.

Alarik Aldrich is the supervisor of the day shift and he and his son Rooney mobilize the E.L.F., the Elf Liberation Force, to take Under-claus down and rescue Santa, but not before Under-claus forms the Efficiency Army and war is declared.

The Efficiency Claus is an improbable tale of victory over a villain of dastardly proportions; an adventure that will warm your heart and stir your soul and yes, put the magic back into Christmas. Oh……and there’s cake, lots and lots of cake.


Now get a real taste for the story with this excerpt from The Efficiency Claus.

The kitchen was a most unusual place up here in the newly renovated and efficient North Pole because Under-claus had never been there. He was scathingly patronizing about what he considered to be women’s work, he disapproved of women in fact altogether, and would have banned them if he didn’t need to eat and have his laundry clean and get his letters typed. Yes Under-claus was a selfish person, as we know by now, but in this case it served the elves well. They were able to play some music and sing, they were able to joke and laugh, as long as they weren’t too loud. And of course a lot of good cheer managed to get into the food this way.

The kitchen was a long room with a whole wall of ovens and stoves. It was very warm and bright with a golden yellow brightness that looked like home and hearth. Long tables ran the length of the room and a sheer army of glorious elven women were stirring and singing and cracking eggs into bowls. There were tall ones and small ones, plump ones and skinny ones. A plump and very pretty elf with glorious bronze curls stuffed carelessly into a hat, but falling out all over the place, was walking along the rows and, putting a friendly hand on one shoulder, she was saying, “That’s nice dear, keep stirring.” Then she’d move on to the next and dip a finger into the batter and lick it, “Mmmmm,” she was saying, “that’s delicious!” She walked to the oven and peaked in and nodded, then to the next oven and made a little sniff. “This one’s done Martha,” she said, turning to one of the women, who bustled over with big red mitts on her hands and took the steaming pudding out of the oven and put it on a copper cooling rack. The place smelled absolutely heavenly, sweet and spicy, of orange peel and cinnamon and vanilla.

Adalicia and Lyric were standing in the doorway absolutely entranced. They watched and sniffed and were transported by the lilting Irish folk song that the women were singing at the moment. Usually they would sing the songs of all their ancestors, cycling through every different elven culture. They all knew all the words. Some were even in their native tongues, Gaelic and Celtic, Sumerian and Ancient Greek. Addy couldn’t believe her eyes and ears, or for that matter her nose. The room was awash with the glory of plum pudding, and mince pies; Christmas fruit cake and sticky toffee pudding. One entire table was dedicated to cookies and gingerbread, another had all manner of fruit pies and cakes lined up. It was a sensory overload that almost made Addy and Lyric faint right there in the doorway.

Addy waved frantically at the lovely woman with the messy curls as she turned and spotted them. “Mum! Mum!” she cried losing her composure. Mrs. Blithe waved back and, wiping her hands on her apron, she made her way through the crowd of baking elves, being careful not to knock anything over or bump anyone and spoil their rhythm. Baking was a very delicate and magical art and took a lot of concentration, and of course singing, to pull off properly. Mrs. Blithe often mentioned to Mrs. Kulkarni that if the ban on music ever reached the kitchens, everyone would starve.


And something about the author…

London-born Devra is a prolific composer, songwriter and keyboardist, as well as an author of books for kids. She had a successful career as a professional musician in England, playing keyboards and touring with Mike Oldfield of ‘Tubular Bells’ fame, before moving to America in the nineties. She has been music director for several theatrical productions in Los Angeles, including a show she co-wrote, which was optioned for Broadway. Her first children’s book series is a trilogy of books about a dog named Muffy. Muffy and the Dog Catcher, Muffy’s Florida Adventure, and Muffy and the Medicine Cat are all available now on Amazon. Devra has also written a Christmas fantasy adventure book aimed at middle grade readers, The Efficiency Claus, and a sci-fi fantasy space adventure called The Dream Stealers, and her teen book, The Henge is available now. Devra now lives in Florida with her family on the Sarasota Bay. She loves to kayak and bike and is a consummate foodie.


For further information about Devra and her books, visit her Amazon author page, have a look at The Hologram Library website, or follow her on Twitter. The Efficiency Claus can be purchased here.

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Book Spotlight: The Henge by Devra Robitaille

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The Henge is a new novel by Devra Robitaille.

Away to the north of the Noble Village of the Arts there is, buried in a jade lake at the bottom of a quarry, a stone with magical properties—a stone that sings. Izraziti the Dreamer has seen the stone through the eyes of an eagle as he soars over the quarry at night. Concinnity Song and her twin brothers, along with the council of twelve must mobilize all the hunter-warriors to raise the stone and transport it across the land, and build a henge to protect it, according to the covenant with the ancestors for the future of civilization. To do this they must tap into the true tone that will levitate the singing stone and its companion blue stones out of the quarry. They will have to battle their enemies, not just the human kind, but a cataclysmic flood and catastrophic fire that threaten to wipe them all out. As they travel across the land with the stones, the people come together and create an amazing civilization on a journey that will culminate in one brilliant night, the night of the solstice, when all the stones will be raised together to form…The Henge.


Take a look at the book trailer for The Henge.


And a little about the author….

London-born Devra is a composer, songwriter and keyboardist, as well as an author. She had a successful career as a professional musician in England, playing keyboards and touring with Mike Oldfield of Tubular Bells fame, before moving to America in the nineties. All through the nineties she directed musicals and theatrical productions in Los Angeles. Now living in Florida with her family on the Sarasota Bay, she has written several children’s books and several young adult novels.

Devra has always been fascinated by the stone monuments that litter the countryside in England, so her latest book The Henge is a labor of love; combining her love of music with her love of her culture.


Looking for more information? Check out the other participants of The Henge book blog tour via The Hologram Library. Or take a look at Devra’s Amazon author page and pick up a copy of The Henge.

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Guest Post: Danica Davidson

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Danica Davidson is the author of a number of books based around the game Minecraft. Now, I’m not overly familiar with Minecraft, but my ten year old daughter loves playing it, watching videos about it, and reading informational texts and fictional stories set in the Minecraft world. You could say she is a little bit obsessed with Minecraft! And so are many of her friends. So when the opportunity of a guest post by Danica came along, I jumped on it. Now read on to learn a little about Danica’s books!

Millions of people play Minecraft, making the worlds they create come alive for them. I play Minecraft, but I also do something else: I write adventure novels that take place as if Minecraft is real.

It started as a single book, Escape from the Overworld, where an 11-year-old boy named Stevie, who lives in the Minecraft world, accidentally discover a portal to Earth. There he befriends a girl named Maison, and the two go on adventures and journeys throughout the worlds, including the Overworld, the Nether, the End and even Earth. From there, the books Attack on the Overworld, The Rise of Herobrine, Down into the Nether, The Armies of Herobrine and Battle with the Wither were released, and they’ll be coming out as a box set November 7.  Their adventures include stopping a monster attack on the school, saving Minecraft after cyberbullies hack into it and turn it into eternal night, and fighting against the evil Minecraft villain Herobrine. The books have lots of chapter cliffhangers and also discuss real-world things, like friendship and bullying.

On November 7, my spinoff series begins coming out with the book Adventure Against the Endermen, and Stevie and Maison will have new villains to fight and have to discover mysteries from ancient days in the Overworld.

It’s a totally new way to look at Minecraft, but that’s part of what makes Minecraft so fun. It encourages and allows you to create, and to create in whatever way you see fit. I love how this aspect lets kids implement their own creativity. They can literally build not only their own buildings, but their own worlds. I’m kind of doing that with these books, and I hope they can be a fun way for Minecraft fans to enjoy novels that involve their favorite video game. But I also make sure the stories are adventure stories at heart, so even if you’re not a Minecraft fan, you can still read them.  Besides having fun reading adventure stories, I hope these books can encourage kids to find their own preferred creative outlets.

 

And a little about Danica…

Danica Davidson is a a writer that has penned a series of unofficial Minecraft adventure novels. She has also written numerous articles for a range of well known publications, comics and a book on how to draw Manga art.

Her latest series of Minecraft books will be launched this month, and are suitable for primary school students.

Visit Danica on her website or Facebook. Her books can be purchased through Book Depository and Amazon.

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