Wednesday, 30 November 2011

Best of the Bunch #November 2011


It's that time of the month again: to decide which of all the books I read in November was the Best of the Bunch.

And the winner of the Best of the Bunch Award November 2011 is...

*dramatic pause*

Into the Gauntlet by Margaret Peterson Haddix

The explosive finale to Scholastic's mega-selling series.

Throughout the hunt for the 39 Clues, Amy and Dan Cahill have uncovered history's greatest mysteries and their family's deadliest secrets. But are they ready to face the truth about the Cahills and the key to their unmatched power? After a whirlwind race that's taken them across five continents, Amy and Dan face the most the difficult challenge yet- a task no Cahill dared to imagine. When faced with a choice that could change the future of the world, can two kids succeed where 500 years worth of famous ancestors failed?

Well, I'd like to award the whole of the 39 Clues series but this one is the last book. I have really enjoyed these little books, they are meant for middle grade kids but as a woman in her twenties they really appealed to me too. They are short reads but stuffed with everything you can hope for in an adventure series and they have a real emotional depth that makes them not at all patronising. I really admire middle grade books that respect their readers' mental and emotional complexity and these really do, so if you fancy a great adventure with plenty of action, intelligence and breath-holding moments, read the first book The Maze of Bones and you'll be hooked!

If you want to know more, hope over to my full review of Into the Gauntlet including my thoughts on the whole series.

Congratulations Scholastic!

Please share your Best of the Bunch award by adding your link below.

Tuesday, 29 November 2011

New YA Releases - December 2011

Here's a look ahead at what's got me excited in the world of YA fiction for December 2011. Let me know if you'll be reading any of these!

Extent: 313 pages
Publisher: Dystopia Press
Pub Date: 22nd December 2011
Format: Hardback

LONDON, 2012: It arrives and with that the world is changed into an unending graveyard littered with the bones, wreckage, and memories of a dead past, gone forever. LONDON, 2032: Twenty years later, out of the ashes, a new world begins to rise, a place ruled by both loyalty and fear, and where the quest to be the first to regain lost knowledge is an ongoing battle for power. A place where laws are made and enforced by roving gangs-the Bloomsbury Boys, the Gardners, the Red Lady's Gang-who rule the streets and will do anything to protect their own. THE FOUR: Zane, Titus, Erin, Eve. Living in this new world, they discover that they have abilities never before seen. And little do they know that as they search post-apocalyptic London for Titus' kidnapped sister that they'll uncover the secret of It, and bring about a reckoning with the forces that almost destroyed all of humanity.

Extent: 192 pages
Publisher: HarperCollins
Pub Date: 15th December 2011
Format: Paperback

Two brothers, Simon and Jem, are itching to start their summer holiday with their granddad - a whole month at the lake. They have been coming there for years, and know every part of the bays, the bush, the water and the neighbouring farms. It 'belongs' to them, and they can't wait to reclaim their kingdom. But Simon also has scores to settle with Jem, even though their mother has warned them that she's running out of patience with their fighting. The friendly lake has changed, though. There are barbed-wire fences, the farm has become a holding yard for old houses guarded by a fierce dog, and there's a caretaker whose wife and kids look terrified. What's going on behind the new fences? Why can't Simon stop himself from being mean to his brother? And just how far will he go to face up to his fear and find out what's really happening?

Extent: 320 pages
Publisher: Square Fish
Pub Date: 6th December 2011
Format: Paperback

Thirteen-year-old Simon Renier has no idea when he boards the M.S. Orion with his cousin Forsyth Phair that their journey to Venezuela will be a dangerous one. His original plan—to return a family heirloom, a portrait of Simon Bolivar, to its rightful place—is sidetracked when cousin Forsyth is found murdered. When the portrait is stolen, all passengers and crew are suspects. Simon’s newfound friends, Poly and Charles O’Keefe, and their scientist father help Simon try to find his painting, and his cousin’s murderer. But will they succeed before they land? Or will the murderer and thief escape into the jungles of Venezuela?

Extent: 464 pages
Publisher: Scholastic
Pub Date: 1st December 2011
Format: Paperback (gorgeous new editions!)

In the ruins of a place once known as North America lies the nation of Panem, a shining Capitol surrounded by twelve outlying districts. The Capitol is harsh and cruel and keeps the districts in line by forcing them all to send one boy and one girl between the ages of twelve and eighteen to participate in the annual Hunger Games, a fight to the death on live TV.

Sixteen-year-old Katniss Everdeen, who lives alone with her mother and younger sister, regards it as a death sentence when she steps forward to take her sister's place in the Games. But Katniss has been close to dead before—and survival, for her, is second nature. Without really meaning to, she becomes a contender. But if she is to win, she will have to start making choices that will weigh survival against humanity and life against love.

Extent: 192 pages
Publisher: Scholastic
Pub Date: 6th December 2011
Format: Hardback

Amy and Dan are in a race for their lives...and the enemy may be even closer than they think.

When seven members of their family were kidnapped by a sinister organization known as the Vespers, thirteen-year-old Dan Cahill and his older sister, Amy, vowed they'd stop at nothing to bring the hostages home. But then the ransom comes in and the Vespers demand the impossible. Amy and Dan have just days to track down and steal an ancient map. The only catch? No one has seen the map for half a century.

Now Amy and Dan are on a desperate search that will lead them to the Nazis, spies, a mad king and some of history's dirtiest secrets. It's the race of their lives...and one misstep will mean certain death for the hostages.

Extent: 528 pages
Publisher: Hyperion Books
Pub Date: 13th December 2011
Format: Paperback

Based in Egyptian mythology and set in modern-day Washington, D.C., Sisters of Isis follows the lives of Meri, Sudi, and Dalila, three fifteen-year-old girls who have just discovered they are descendants of very powerful ancestors - Egyptian pharaohs. From these ancestors they’ve inherited magical powers of transformation, the ability to cast spells from the Book of Thoth, and, as they will soon learn, the responsibility of protecting the world from the evil forces of Chaos.

Monday, 28 November 2011

100 Follower Giveaway Closes In 1 Week!

Fanfare please! On Monday 28th November I officially reached 100 followers so my giveaway will end on Sunday 4th December. That means the winner could get their goodies in time for Christmas!

A huge thank you to everyone who has followed me, I'm very proud to have so many people following my blog and I hope you all enjoy my reviews. Of course, there's still time for more peeps to enter, I don't want to stop at 100! Not that I'm greedy or anything, but you've got until Sunday to enter. The giveaway will close at midnight on 4th December and I will pick a winner at random so keep your fingers crossed.

Click my button to navigate to the giveaway post.

Review: Lastborn - Rachel Forde

*DON'T MISS*
Extent: ebook (619 KB)
Publisher: self published
Pub Date: 4th July 2011

The exciting first installment of the Sixth Cycle series.

Nara-Ya is a pugnacious adolescent girl on the run from a powerful sorceress. Fate lands her in the company of her polar opposite, the soft-spoken Donovan Brennan, who is simultaneously struggling to lead a Resistance movement, regain a throne for a wronged King, and prevent a war between the land he lives in and the land of his birth.

Brennan walks a fine line between his principles and success; Nara-Ya, by contrast, knows what she has to do to survive, and circumstances shunt her towards the life of a fighter and warrior. However, as war looms, as her friendship with Donovan grows into something more, and as Nara-Ya is forced to confront her darker instincts, she begins to question her destiny, and is forced to make a decision that will alter the fate of their world.


Here’s one for those of you who like complex plots. Lastborn is a high fantasy novel crammed with diverse cultures, political unrest and interesting characters – plenty of material for a thoroughly engaging story and Rachel Forde does not fail to provide.

I have to say, I love a story that surprises me, gives me something new and refreshing to chew on and you’d be hard pressed to find a character more refreshing than Ayuma, the heroine of Lastborn. At first glance, she seems like quite a normal character, a heroine with spine but nothing more. As the story unfolds, however, it’s clear she’s a little bit more than that. Ayuma is clearly pretty damaged which is understanding seeing as she was enslaved and abused throughout her childhood. She’s uncontrollably violent at times, vengeful and clearly disturbed. Having said that, she is not unlikeable. I loved the way that Ayuma’s (lead female) and Donovan’s (lead male) roles are reversed – Ayuma is the strong, protective hero figure while Donovan is the meek and gentle one. I felt like jumping for joy to find a girl leading the way for once! Feisty, independent and strong heroines are my all time favourite characters and Ayuma’s dark, disturbed edge makes her wonderfully original and engaging. It’s great to see her grow and mature throughout the story too.

As I said before, Lastborn has a really complex plot but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. It’s highly political and you have to keep up with which country is upset with which country and which people come from where (I was longing for a political map to help me out!) but once you’ve got the hang of that, it all gets rather intriguing. It makes the world that Rachel Forde has created very convincing and dynamic. There are clear influences from native American cultures as well as African and Western Victorian cultures, the author has captured an entire world within her pages and given it great depth. Plus there are some great baddies! My favourite has to be the Urqaani queen who reminds me of the White Witch from the Chronicles of Narnia, her mere presence has you trembling in your boots (or slippers in my case!) and she’s a great adversary to Ayuma. You don’t get much better than two incredibly strong and powerful women facing off against one another!

In all, I enjoyed Lastborn. It’s complexities create a dynamic world and an intriguing storyline. The characters are anything but dull and for the most part completely unexpected with wonderfully threatening antagonists. The writing was also of a quality that brought me moments of brilliant imaginative clarity, the scene easily taking place in my mind’s eye where I could see every detail.

Rachel recently contacted me, worried that she had wrongly classified her book as a young adult book but I would agree with her original assessment. Yes, there is some violence but it’s not overly graphic and nothing that an older teen couldn’t handle – you have to trust me on that one because I can’t watch films rated over a 12 or read adult books for fear an unwitting author plants something nasty in my far-too-vivid-to-be-good-for-me imagination. I’ve certainly read some young adult books that were more disturbing!


Sunday, 27 November 2011

The Wishlist Diet #19

*The Wishlist Diet is part of the In My Mailbox meme hosted by The Story Siren*

To Read:


The Dragon's Eye by Dugald Steer
Moondreams by Dean Johnson

To Review:


Lastborn by Rachel Forde

I'm going to read an actual paper book this week! The Dragon's Eye is a spin fiction series of the brilliant Dragonology, published by Templar. If you haven't heard of the Ology books before I suggest you have a look, they are exactly the kind of books I wish I had when I was a kid! Then I'll be back on my Kindle with Moondreams by Dean Johnson.

I'll be posting my review of Lastborn by Rachel Forde on Monday. Rachel is taking part in my December Self Publishing Spotlight so if you are interested in hearing what it's like to self publish a book then stop by on 1st December for a guest post from the author.

It's also time for the November Best of the Bunch Awards so pick your favourite read from November, make an award post and add your link to my Best of the Bunch Award post on 30th November. I'd love to know your hot recommendations from this month!

Friday, 25 November 2011

The Hunger Games - New Covers!

I just had to share these beauts with everyone! I have been refusing to buy The Hunger Games books because the UK covers are gash and horrible and I don't want them anywhere near my aesthetically pleasing bookshelf. I was on the verge of sending my boyfriend off to America to buy the American books for me as their covers are gorgeous in comparison (ok, he was already going on a business trip...) but hooray and indeed hoorah because now there is no need! Scholastic have seen the light and are publishing Suzanne Collins fantastic books in these rather special new jackets.



Isn't that a vast improvement? If you haven't seen the original UK covers, here they are along with the US covers.

UK:


US:


I know what's going on my Christmas stocking wishlist!

I'd love to know what everyone else thinks! And what you think about re-jacketing books in general. Sometimes I think it's a great idea - especially with this series and the new UK Harry Potter paperback cover designs. I know some people might hate me for saying this but I really don't like the original UK Harry Potter covers, for me they are really dated - but then again the series does date back to 1997! If you haven't seen them yet, here are the new UK Harry Potter paperback covers.




Gorgeous, no?

Sometimes, however, re-jacketing really iritates me, especially when they do it halfway through a series so you end up with half the books in one style and the other half in a completely different style. If you have UK covers you may know what I'm talking about with Alex Rider and Artemis Fowl. It completely blows my lid because I'm one of those people that has to have beautiful books all lined up with their spines in perfect condition and all looking like they belong to each other. If they change the covers halfway through I have to save up to buy the same books again! Then again, maybe this is what publishers are trying to achieve...

Love to know what everyone thinks!

Wednesday, 23 November 2011

Review: The 39 Clues: Into the Gauntlet - Margaret Peterson Haddix

*DON'T MISS*
Extent: 327 pages
Publisher: Scholastic
Pub Date: 31st August 2010

The explosive finale to Scholastic's mega-selling series.

Throughout the hunt for the 39 Clues, Amy and Dan Cahill have uncovered history's greatest mysteries and their family's deadliest secrets. But are they ready to face the truth about the Cahills and the key to their unmatched power? After a whirlwind race that's taken them across five continents, Amy and Dan face the most the difficult challenge yet- a task no Cahill dared to imagine. When faced with a choice that could change the future of the world, can two kids succeed where 500 years worth of famous ancestors failed?


The first thing that comes into my mind when I think of The 39 Clues? Fun! They are like drinking squash without diluting it. Ok, that’s sounds disgusting, but what I mean is that they are such quick, easy reads but at the same time they are jam packed with action, adventure, intrigue, betrayal, ecstasy, despair, revelation, excitement, terror… Need I go on? I don’t know how they manage it but each book is stuffed full – they are the little books with the big stories.

Amy and Dan make great heroes and a really believable brother and sister. So many times I read books where siblings have uncomfortably close relationships when in reality 99% of siblings have a great deal of love and friction. These two squabble and fall out all the time but so too do they work extremely well together, pulling on each other’s skills and knowledge to work in the only effective team in the clue hunt. The pair are great role models for kids (and me!), showing that hard work, courage and self-belief lead to great rewards. Probably a great attribute to these stories is that the vast majority of the other characters are the bad guys, everyone is an enemy in the clue hunt but each person has something to give to the reader, whether it’s the mistakes they’ve made, the lessons they’ve learnt or the way they change. Each character begins as an enigma but as they series grows, their true characters unfold.

I finally got around to reading the 10th book in the series, Into The Gauntlet, which marks the end of the original clue hunt but opens the story up to an even bigger adversary… About that I shall say no more! What I really enjoyed was actually how touching this book was and naturally it’s all down to the kids. Throughout the series the parents or older relatives of the clue hunters have always represented the element of the insane, the obsessive and often the psychotic. At first, the children kept up with their parents but some of the decisions those adults made during the clue hunt have led the kids to start questioning their motivation. At last, when they are all forced together, completely cut off from the poisonous influence of their elders, the penny drops for all of them and their inherent morality takes a stand. I think it’s probably true that the young generation find it hard to maintain the grudges of the older generations, especially when those grudges cause them to take action that is morally wrong. I had thought that the ending would be horribly superficial but I’m so glad it spans most of the book and is as serious as it is because it gives the whole series a point.

I’m a real fan of this series, and even though it’s meant for middle grade kids, they are definitely the kind of books that can also be enjoyed by older teens or adults because they are never patronising. In fact they deal with some pretty heavy issues and I’m glad the writers haven’t shied away from that. I have delved into the online side of the books as they are designed to go hand in hand with a really excellent website – and yes, I have spent hours playing the games and solving the mysteries so I can verify it is a really enjoyable website. The creators have taken great care to bring the clue hunt to life with the cards, the website and the hidden messages in each book and personally I think they have really achieved what they set out to do. It’s a great series: lots of fun but with serious edges, easy to read but not patronising, definitely one I’ll keep reading.


Monday, 21 November 2011

Review: Demon Gates - Robert Day

*DON'T MISS*
Extent: ebook (825 KB)
Publisher: self published
Pub Date: 14th October 2010

The land of Kil'Tar has a long and bloody history of war between the Kay'taari and the Ashar'an. Aided by Dragonkind, the Kay'taari have protected the world against the Ashar'an and their demonic followers for many centuries. With demonkind banished to the Voids, and the Ashar'an all but destroyed, Kil'Tar has enjoyed an era of peace.

However, the seals binding the portals to the voids are failing, and the Ashar'an are abroad once again. Both the Kay'taari and Dragonkind are nowhere to be found on Kil'Tar.

Can Valdieron, a young man raised in the small village of Shadowvale, fulfill his destiny and rid the lands of this menace once and for all, or will he falter, and condemn Kil'Tar to demonic destruction?


I always get a bit nervous when I read high fantasy novels as I’m a real fan of snappy, fast-paced stories and relevant, relatable characters. I always get worried that I’m going to commit the reading sin of all reading sins and start skipping pages to get to actual plot. With Demon Gates, however, I have sighed a huge sigh of relief.

Demon Gates took me back to the moment when I first opened The Fellowship of the Rings. It was a moment when I first grasped how thick the book was, how tiny the type was and how wafer thin the pages were and I sank in despair wondering if this was a book I would ever finish. But when I think back to when I read The Lord of the Rings, I realise that that is exactly what high fantasy is all about. It’s not about quick reads, the author has designed a whole new world for you to explore, the joy of reading comes from the epic nature of a high fantasy, that’s why the fantasy section of the bookshop is filled with fat books. And that is what I have re-learnt from reading Demon Gates.

The story has been constructed so well by Robert Day, balancing both the personal journey of young Valdieron and the overarching epic storyline of the impending escape of the demons on the world. I think Robert has found just the right mix to keep the plot both grounded and fantastical. Valdieron has been a real pleasure to travel with and the time spent on his character over the pages has fleshed him out into someone I’m really quite fond of now. The author’s skill really shows through by the end of the book where you feel both that you have been on an epic journey of adventure and discovery but at the same time you are certain that you ain’t seen nothing yet! There’s a tangible sense that the story has only just begun, that Valdieron has succeeded only in the easiest of his tests.

Possibly one of the greatest assets of Demon Gates is the fight scenes. I love a bit of swashbuckling action and this book is filled with it. The descriptions are so vivid, you’ll be standing there right amongst the action, ducking at the opportune moment. What is really clever is the way Robert Day has written Valdieron’s battle training into his sleep, eradicating the need to spend endless pages on his training rather than getting on with the story. At the same time, Valdieron’s skills do not develop overnight, as it were, his development unfolds across the whole story, keeping it realistic and keeping him human (if indeed that is what he is… Bit of a hint there!).

I really enjoyed Demon Gates, definitely one of my favourite high fantasy stories. It’s clean, it’s not confusing, it’s personal as well as epic, it’s definitely suitable for older teens as it’s not overly graphic and most importantly it’s a really engaging story that has been really well crafted. A definite recommendation whether you are into high fantasy or not, it’s an accessible and enjoyable venture into the genre.


Sunday, 20 November 2011

The Wishlist Diet #18

*The Wishlist Diet is part of the In My Mailbox meme hosted by The Story Siren*

To Read:


Lastborn by Rachel Forde
Moondreams by Dean Johnson

To Review:


Demon Gates by Robert Day
The 39 Clues (#10): Into the Gauntlet by Margaret Peterson Haddix

It's a big self-published week this week! I'm trying to catch up on all the reviews that I have promised but as yet have failed to deliver... So, this is definitely the place to be if you are looking for some recommendations on 0.86p books! I think I've been really lucky with self-published books so far, they've all been pretty darn good - although now I've said that I hope I don't now come across a shocker... This week I'll be reading the book that will feature on my December Self Publishing Spotlight, Lastborn by Rachel Forde, plus Moondreams by Dean Johnson which sounds really intriguing.

As for reviews, I'll be posting my 39 Clues review, taking in all 10 books of the first series. Also, there will be a self-published book, Demon Gates by Robert Day that I'm really enjoying. I love a good high fantasy!

So, what are you reading this week? Don't forget to enter my 100 follower giveaway! I'm just 15 peeps away!

Friday, 18 November 2011

Interview: Julia Suzuki

I'm thrilled to welcome Julia Suzuki to my blog today, author of the highly original and magical Yoshiko and the Gift of Charms. I just loved this special book and I'm so pleased Julia agreed to a grilling so I can dig a little deeper behind the scenes. Here's the blurb:

This epic novel, first in the Land of Dragor series, is aimed primarily at eight to twelve year-olds but with appeal for all ages transports the reader to the magical Land of Dragor, where seven dragon clans live hidden from man. Their great war is over and the dragons live peacefully among the smoking mud pools and around The Fire Which Must Never Go Out, but the terrible years when they were enslaved by humans have left a lasting scar and they are told they can never soar above the mountains and leave their safe haven to explore the outside world. There is unease in the air of their mist-filled valley, and the coming of a strange egg heralds a new era. Unlike the normal delicate lilac, this shell is multi-coloured like the contents of a treasure chest. The newborn hatchling is called Yoshiko, but he is immediately treated with suspicion by the elders, and is lucky to survive. The last time a coloured egg was laid, legendary warrior leader Surion was born from a red shell, and with his gift of fire the dragons went to battle with the humans. Will Yoshiko bring a blessing to the clans, or a curse? Could Dragor be about to meet its saviour, or its destroyer?

Chameleon-like Yoshiko is bullied and tormented as he grows up, taunted at fire school as he struggles to produce a jet of flame. Desperate to hide his colour changes, he flees from school one day and finds himself on the fabled mountain of Cattlewick Cave, home to the mysterious and reclusive elder Guya. This chance meeting changes Yoshiko’s life, and as he develops from hatchling to youngling, he is inspired to spread his wings and venture outside Dragor. He returns with magic gifts – but only time will tell if they heal or harm Dragor.

Hop over to my 5 star review of Yoshiko and the Gift of Charms.


How would you describe Yoshiko in a tweet (140 characters)?

Yoshiko is ambitious, determined and driven but sensitive with the desire to fit in and be loved!

I thought Yoshiko was such an original story, where did the idea for the book come from?

The idea came from personal challenges while growing up as a child who used to get rather embarrassed – his colour change reflects that blushing. I created the idea when the dragon became a logo for my business, which is all about health, wealth and beauty. Yoshiko strives for everything that a lot of us do - acceptance, love and to fulfil our purpose. My quest is to share the secrets as to how that may be obtained after years of personal development studies, conquering my own challenges and learning from others.

Yoshiko is a great hero character and I especially love the character of Guya. How do these characters come to you?

With regards to Guya, a lot of him is based on a wise man I know who mentors many people. I often refer to speaking to him as like 'having conversations with God' for he seems to have answers I can never find elsewhere. His father was a judge and an Indian Ambassador who taught him much of his knowledge which led to a hugely successful business career. He certainly has inspired me and when I am faced with a challenge, he is the first person I talk to. As for Yoshiko, to me he’s the kind of friend everyone wants, a real loyal, kind individual who you can rely on.

How did you go about creating the Land of Dragor with all its myths and legends?

I started with an initial idea and it just grew, it’s difficult to say exactly how but I’m a big dreamer and I read a lot about spiritual things so it seems to come easily to me.

Yoshiko has some wonderful messages for young children (and me!), were these messages important to you when you wrote the book?

Absolutely yes and yes again! I wanted to share the happiness and success principles I have learned in my life as I have been blessed with working and knowing some incredible people. I love to help others, to overcome any problems or just make them smile and take them on a journey of adventure. Spreading messages in an exciting storyline – that was my mission.

Being a successful business woman as well as a former professional dancer and model, what made you turn your hand to writing children’s books?

My career has been in licensing and branding and I always wanted to create an incredible brand. As soon as my thoughts for Dragor developed I had a burning desire – 'fire in my belly' – to write and build it. I felt it was my purpose above all other things. I just felt that it was meant to be.

What kind of writer are you? Do you have any rituals? Do you plan a story from start to finish or just see what happens?

I create the outline, the start and the end and a large mind map. Then I expand and fill it in. I write when I feel in the right frame of mind, it works for me that way.

When I received a copy of Yoshiko, I fell in love with it instantly as an object, it is just beautiful to hold – a proper book! What do you think of the book’s design and the artwork? What was it like to get your hands on a finished copy?

I had huge input in the design, and I would not stop until it was just as I wanted it (keeping the design team up late at night at deadline time until they had it spot on). From the gold writing to the rainbow and mist around Yoshiko, I was determined to create a beautiful looking book - to me, presentation is very important. The Dragor logo also took a lot of development. I am an absolute perfectionist and this first edition hardback is limited edition, so it had to be very special right down to the red ribbon. Hold on to it – there aren’t many first edition hardback books in print so, I advise people to buy it quickly :)

When I held the first copy I felt very proud of course, and more so when my ten-year-old son Elliot said he loved it.

If you had room on your shelf for only 3 books, what would they be?

Enid Blyton – The Enchanted Wood

CS Lewis – The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe

Beatrix Potter – The Tale of Mr. Jeremy Fisher

Do you have any hints for what we can expect from the next book?

Expect a stronger human element, a huge twist and a lot more fun, partying and action in Dragor. I cannot give away too much more :)


A huge thanks to Julia for answering my questions, I would definitely recommend Yoshiko and the Gift of Charms to anyone who wants to read a great, original story and maybe learn a few things about life!

Find out more about Julia Suzuki on her website, Facebook or follow her on Twitter at @TheLandofDragor. Also, check out the Land of Dragor website for some great fun!

Tuesday, 15 November 2011

Review: Yoshiko and the Gift of Charms by Julia Suzuki

*DON'T MISS*
Extent: 275 pages
Publisher: Steve Brookes Publishing
Pub Date: 8th April 2011


This epic novel, first in the Land of Dragor series, is aimed primarily at eight to twelve year-olds but with appeal for all ages transports the reader to the magical Land of Dragor, where seven dragon clans live hidden from man. Their great war is over and the dragons live peacefully among the smoking mud pools and around The Fire Which Must Never Go Out, but the terrible years when they were enslaved by humans have left a lasting scar and they are told they can never soar above the mountains and leave their safe haven to explore the outside world. There is unease in the air of their mist-filled valley, and the coming of a strange egg heralds a new era. Unlike the normal delicate lilac, this shell is multi-coloured like the contents of a treasure chest. The newborn hatchling is called Yoshiko, but he is immediately treated with suspicion by the elders, and is lucky to survive. The last time a coloured egg was laid, legendary warrior leader Surion was born from a red shell, and with his gift of fire the dragons went to battle with the humans. Will Yoshiko bring a blessing to the clans, or a curse? Could Dragor be about to meet its saviour, or its destroyer?

Chameleon-like Yoshiko is bullied and tormented as he grows up, taunted at fire school as he struggles to produce a jet of flame. Desperate to hide his colour changes, he flees from school one day and finds himself on the fabled mountain of Cattlewick Cave, home to the mysterious and reclusive elder Guya. This chance meeting changes Yoshiko’s life, and as he develops from hatchling to youngling, he is inspired to spread his wings and venture outside Dragor. He returns with magic gifts – but only time will tell if they heal or harm Dragor.



Sometimes you read a book that is like a big mug of hot chocolate – it’s very satisfying and warms you all the way through – and sometimes those books have some very interesting sprinkles you’ve never seen before and some uniquely coloured marshmallows you’ve never tasted before. That’s how I would describe Yoshiko and the Gift of Charms in a nutshell – or should I say a mug?

Dragons almost always take on the role of sidekick in a fantasy story and are often portrayed either as unruly pets or ethereal creatures. It is just wonderful to find a story where dragons are the main characters and humans are the mythical race. The Land of Dragor is a beautiful place to escape to, rich in detail, legend, myths and lore which is impossible not to get wound up in. In the same breath, Dragor also shares a lot of similarities to the human world: young dragons must attend school and undergo the same challenges that any human child might. I think this is what I find so captivating, Julia Suzuki has created a world of fantasy with an original mythology but has kept it grounded and relevant to children.

Yoshiko is a fantastic hero character, just like any child he has his fair share of flaws when he begins his journey – he’s self-conscious, self-pitying and has unusual physical attributes, all of which open him up to bullying from the spiteful Igorr. But as the story unfolds, so does Yoshiko’s character. His hard work and determination improve his abilities and confidence, and bring out the courage that was hiding inside him. Yoshiko is a wonderful role model and the story is peppered with important messages for children and, as an adult who loves a good story, I certainly appreciated them too! The book is packed with other well-formed and engaging characters from the overgrown bully Gandar and his terrorised but equally nasty son, Igorr, to the wise old recluse, Guya, who is definitely my favourite character. Everyone you will find in life, you will find within the pages of Yoshiko and the Gift of Charms and I think that is what is at least partly at the heart of this book: it’s a fantastic exploration of character. Each of the seven dragon clans have different character traits and flaws but this story is about finding the cure for those flaws and overcoming them. It’s about identifying why a character behaves the way they do and not judging them based on their flaws but based on what they have been through and what they have achieved, looking at what they can do rather than what they can’t.

Yoshiko and the Gift of Charms is simply a wonderful story filled with subtly delivered lessons on life which you really cannot stop learning. That’s why, if this were a film, I would give it a U certificate because it is meant for everyone and has something to give to everyone who reads it, whatever your age. I have been thoroughly charmed and fallen in love with Yoshiko and the Land of Dragor and I cannot wait for the next book – especially if it is in the same beautiful hardback format as the first!