Friday, March 31, 2017

Long may she reign by Rhiannon Thomas

Freya is not your typical noble, she doesn't like to wear fancy clothes and she would rather have her nose in a book or do science experiments rather than attend parties.  When she is forced to attend the King's birthday banquet, the one bright spark of the night is that she gets to spend time with her best friend Naomi.  With Naomi around she can almost ignore the looks and the whispers about "strange" Freya.  When she makes the impulsive decision to sneak away from the party to conduct an experiment she has no idea that her act of quiet rebellion will save her life - and make her Queen.  

It is not an easy throne to sit upon, it seems that everyone wants to control Freya, to make her follow the path that has always been followed - but Freya has a mind of her own and is determined to be Queen in fact, and not just in name.  With enemies and conspiracies seemingly around every corner, Freya must solve the mystery of who killed the King and his Court if she is to avoid Civil War and destruction.  Can her science help Freya solve the mystery before it is too late?

This is an interesting and thoroughly engaging book, mostly because it stubbornly refuses to be defined by a single genre.  Freya is almost an anti-hero, someone who would be just as surprised to find herself the "hero" of a book, as she is surprised to find herself Queen.  If I had to choose a single genre for Long may she reign I would push it into the mystery genre, because at the heart of the story is a young woman coming of age, but to save herself and her kingdom she has to solve the mystery of who killed the old King and why.  I was a little surprised by how fond I became of Freya and her Court, and in many ways I hope that there is another book about Freya and her kingdom because she has started on a journey as Queen, and making changes to her kingdom that deserves to be explore more.

This is one of those incredibly frustrating books to review because the more I reveal in the review the fewer surprises you have when you are reading the book (which spoils a lot of the enjoyment).  There are some great moments, some "ahhh" moments, and some moments when you see the Queen that Freya will be one day if she is given the chance.  Freya proves that you don't have to be beautiful to be a princess in a fairy tale, that sometimes brains can win the day.  A great read, that many adults will also enjoy.

If you like this book then try:

Reviewed by Brilla

Madeline Finn and the library dog by Lisa Papp

Madeline Finn does not like to read!  Not because she doesn't want to read, but because she finds reading tricky - sometimes the words get stuck and people giggle at her when she tries to get them out.  More than anything Madeline wants a gold reading star, but everytime she reads out loud all she gets is a keep trying sticker instead.  

When her mother takes her to the public library the librarian, Mrs. Dimple, has a wonderful surprise.  The library has a roomful of reading dogs, including a big white fluffy dog called Bonnie.  Bonnie sits quietly and listens as Madeline slowly picks out the words and builds her confidence reading aloud, but just before her next big test Madeline visits the library and Bonnie isn't there!  Can Madeline read out loud in front of the class without practicing with Bonnie first?

This book was an absolutely delighful discovery, not only because it has such wonderful illustrations and characters, but also because it shows what reading dogs can do for children.  I visit my local primary school with our little therapy dog each Friday, and we work with a teacher and his class.  Today we took this book for the children to read and all three of the children who read to the dog chose to read the book.  

Our little reading dog at the school

I did stress to the children that this is fiction - because children and dogs are never left alone for health and safety reasons, and because a pregnant dog and her puppies would not be able to visit - but it does show what a difference reading dogs can make in quite a realistic fashion.  I will definitely be buying a copy of this book for our class, and buying at least one copy for me to keep - and I highly recommend this book for anyone involved with reading dog programmes because it is just perfect for children and adults alike.

If you like this book then try:
  • Diary of a wombat by Jackie French; illustrated by Bruce Whatley
  • Pete the sheep by Jackie French and Bruce Whatley
  • If I had a raptor by George O'Connor
  • The ugliest dog in the world by Bruce Whatley
  • That magnetic dog by Bruce Whatley
  • This book just ate my dog! by Richard Byrne

Reviewed by Brilla

Friday, March 10, 2017

Krakens and lies by Tui T. Sutherland and Kari Sutherland

Krakens and lies is the final book in the Menagerie trilogy and this book review contains ***SPOILERS*** because the action picks up right where the second book in the series left off.  This is a series where it is highly recommended that you read the series in order!

It seems as though Logan and his new friends Zoe and Blue do nothing but move from disaster to disaster!  First they had the escaped griffin cubs that almost exposed to Menagerie to the outside world, and then someone snuck into the aviary and stole Pelly - framing one of the dragons in the process.  Just when it seems as though things might be settling down the deadly basilisk escapes putting everyone and everything in the Menageries in terrible danger.  It might have been a coincidence, a series of random mishaps and accidents, but it soon becomes clear that someone wants to expose the Menagerie - and they don't care who gets hurt in the process.

Logan is all too happy to help his new friends and the mystical animals in their care, but what he wants more than anything is to solve the mystery of his mothers disappearance.  She was supposed to arrive at the Menagerie with a Chinese dragons months ago, but both Abigail and the dragon are nowhere to be found.  With danger and mystery around every turn it is the worst time to discover that someone in the family has been keeping secrets - but that is exactly what Zoe and her family are about to find out.  It is also an interesting time to rediscover an old friendship and blow the lid off the biggest secret her family has ever had to keep!  With secrets and conspiracies around every turn, Logan and Zoe are going to have to uncover the truth, the whole truth, and all the truths if they are ever going to solve the mysteries surrounding the Menagerie.

This has been a really fun and challenging series to read - fun because the characters and the action comes off the page and drags you into the story, and challenging because the action picks up right where it left off in the previous book and it tests your memory about what has happened before!  This series would make a great movie, or the basis for a television series - not based on the books exactly, but more about taking the world they live in and creating a series based on that.  The Sutherland sisters have created a world that is logical, has engaging and endearing creatures, and brings aspects of mythology into the modern world in a fun and entertaining way.  They have also balanced the magic and fantasy with some truly touching personal relationships, and an underlying mystery that keeps you hooked from story to story.  It is in this final book that we also discover that there is not one but two mysteries to solve before the end of the book!

Writing a well rounded and engaging fantasy read for children and 'tweens is more challenging than people think, and the Sutherland sisters have done it very very well with the Menagerie series.  All of the characters have a unique voice and stories/lives that make sense, the characters that live around them are varied and complicated - just like real people.  The magical and mythical creatures all have their own back stories and their origin stories, but they are also clearly defined individuals with their own strengths, weaknesses, and flaws (especially the unicorns, did not see that coming).  If you have a young person in your life who likes well written stories where the children are the heroes and not everything is as it seems - then you have to encourage them to try this series!  (And while you're at it, you should read it too!  Just saying).

If you like this book then try:
  • The Menagerie by Tui T. Sutherland and Kari Sutherland
  • Dragon on trial by Tui T. Sutherland and Kari Sutherland
  • The world around the corner by Maurice Gee
  • Into the land of the unicorns by Bruce Coville
  • Pangur ban the white cat by Fay Sampson
  • Stone heart by Charlie Fletcher
  • Red rocks by Rachael King
  • The mysterious howling by Maryrose Wood
  • Midnight for Charlie Bone by Jenny Nimmo
  • Northwood by Brian Falkner
  • Finding the fox by Ali Sparkes
  • Hollow Earth by John Barrownman and Carole Barrowman

Reviewed by Brilla

Saturday, March 4, 2017

No true way: All-new tales of Valdemar edited by Mercedes Lackey

For more than twenty years Mercedes Lackey has been leaving readers enthralled, spell bound, emotionally invested, and heart broken with her stories set in Valdemar and the other lands of Velgrath.  It is a world with a rich and long history, and readers have been introduced to hundreds of characters over the years - some fleetingly and in passing, while others we have gotten to know intimately in life and in death. 

It is a world where you might find yourself Chosen by a Companion, spending your life serving King, Queen and Country as a Herald.  Equally important are the Healers and Bards that use their own gifts to help the people of Valdemar and beyond - some of whom have met truly sad ends.  In No true way we cross paths with characters that we have already met through the novels written by Mercedes Lackey, and we are introduced to other characters through stories penned by authors that are growing the legends of Valdemar. 

It is unusual for an author to open their creation to other writers, and while there is the occasional sour note with some of the stories, there are also some truly remarkable and thoroughly enjoyable stories as well.  The best part about a short story anthology is that you can pick and choose what you read, so the book can last for days or hours - depending on how much you want to read!

Some of the highlights of this anthology are:

Vixen by Mercedes Lackey
Healers are usually known for their warmth and compassion, but Vixen is known for her sharp tongue - to the point that no one remembers that Vixen is a nickname and not her actual name!  She has carefully remained distant from the people around her, but that distance is challenged when danger threatens people she cares about.

Forget me never by Cedric Johnson
A young Bardic student is always overlooked and forgotten - so she abandons her education and steps out into the world on her own, and into an unforgettable adventure.

A brand from the burning by Rosemary Edghill and Rebecca Fox
One day Solaris will become the Son of the Sun, but when she was a child she saw how power and faith can be corrupted - and that sometimes you have to do the wrong thing to make things right.

Consequences unforeseen by Elizabeth A.Vaughan
A young widow travels to her late husbands lands, only to discover that her new people need her to do more than rule - they need her to save them.  She will need all her wits and skills to save them from ruin and starvation.

Reviewed by Brilla