Yoshiko and the Gift of Charms
Author: Julia Suzuki
Published: 4th September 2014
Goodreads Rating: 4.06 out of 5
Reviewed: August 2016
Yoshiko and the Gift of Charms is the first book in the children’s series The Land of Dragor by Julia Suzuki. Dragor is the land inhabited by dragons, hidden from the rest of the world, away from the evil humans by the smoke produced by The Fire Which Must Never Go Out. Dragor is where it is safe, and the dragons are forbidden to leave. However, it may not be as perfect as it seems.
The story begins with the birth, or hatching, of a dragon named Yoshiko. Unlike all other dragon births, Yoshiko’s egg was a variety of different colours, which led to speculation as to whether this young dragon was cursed. Other than being a late developer, Yoshiko is physically well and attends school like all the other youngsters where, unfortunately, he experiences bullying from one of the other dragon clans – something the reader may be able to relate to through their own school experiences. Each clan is a different colour, but one day Yoshiko realises he can change the shade of his scales. Horrified by his discovery, he seeks help from an old but wise outcast, who, whilst supporting Yoshiko as he learns to control the colours, helps him discover his destiny.
The initial two-thirds of the book felt like a long introduction, with the final third being a hastily written climax. Irrespective of this, it was an enjoyable read and would be particularly entertaining for children. Some of the language may be a little too advanced for younger readers. Despite the introduction/climax issue, the story contains enough information to understand the way the dragon’s small world works and ends by setting the theme of the next instalment. It is exciting to find out what happens next!
The Winner’s Curse
Author: Marie Rutkoski
Published: 4th March 2014
Goodreads Rating: 3.96 out of 5
Reviewed: September 2016
The Winner’s Curse is the first book in the Winner’s Trilogy by American author Marie Rutkoski. The author mixes rumours, lies, love and warfare to create an incredible new story for young adults. It is set in a similar society to the 18th century or earlier (in Europe at least), except that women can only choose one of two lifestyles. By twenty, they must decide whether to marry or join the military. By women, that means Valorian women. Ever since the defeat of the Herrani during the Herran war many years ago, the Valorian have made them slaves and looked down on the Herrani whilst seizing their lavish properties and enforcing Valorian customs.
The title, The Winner’s Curse, is a concept that relates to the winner of an auction. Whilst they have won the item, they have also lost by paying out more money than other bidders felt it was worth. This is what happens to seventeen-year-old Lady Kestrel, a Valorian, when, with an unexplainable impulse, she hires Arin, a Herrani slave, for an extortionate amount of money. Put to work as a blacksmith, Arin becomes intrigued with Kestrel, and she with him, and they soon start to form a friendship – although rumours suggest something more.
It is not simply the cost of a slave that The Winner’s Curse refers to. The Herrani are planning an attack on the Valorian Empire, and Kestrel, a General’s daughter, could unknowingly reveal vital information. The emergence of a second Herran war is imminent, but Kestrel and Arin’s relationship complicates things further.
Whilst similar to other novels with lovers belonging to opposing families, it is more original regarding the circumstances, secrets and lies, which makes not just the characters, but also the reader questions their true feelings and intentions. It is an excellent, fast-paced, highly recommended read.
The True & Splendid History of the Harristown Sisters
Author: Michelle Lovric
Published: 1st January 2014
Goodreads Rating: 3.66 out of 5
Reviewed: August 2016
The True and Splendid History of the Harristown Sisters is a historical fictional story set in the 1860s and 70s by the novelist Michelle Lovric. Based loosely on the lives of the Sutherland Sisters of New York, it tells the story of seven sisters with unreasonably long hair: over forty feet when combined.
The novel begins in Harristown, County Kildare, Ireland, and is narrated by the middle sister, Manticory Swiney, who recounts their lives over thirteen years, starting from when Manticory is thirteen and her sisters range in age between nineteen and nine.
As mentioned, this novel is about hair. Manticory refers to a time when a man assaulted her as a result of her long red hair. This prompted evil older sister Darcy to scheme money-making plans using their hair. Naming themselves the ‘The Swiney Godivas’, the sisters took to the stage, performing and singing. But the highlight of the show, and something which the men lusted over, was the grand finale, where they let down their hair to show off its length.
Their performances attract the likes of Mr Rainfleury and Tristan Stoker, who wish to use the girls as a means of producing vast amounts of money. Coming from a poor family, Darcy is keen to go along with these plans, so they all go to Dublin, where their fame increases. With hair products and dolls made to their likenesses, they become well-known all over Ireland and eventually spread into Europe. Eventually, the girls settle in Venice, however, their luck with fame, and more importantly money, may be about to run out.
Since the attack on Manticory at such a young age, she has distrusted men and their motives, particularly in connection with hair. That is until she meets the quiet Mr Sardou, a man she finds herself craving to please.
With a hint of romance, this story is beautifully written and humorous as the sisters continue to bicker and insult each other even once they reach adulthood. Overall it is a superb, grippingly addictive read.
Author: Frances Hardinge
Published: 8th May 2014
Goodreads Rating: 3.96 out of 5
Reviewed: August 2016
Frances Hardinge’s Cuckoo Song is a historical horror story for children. Six years have passed since the end of the First World War, a war in which the Crescent family lost their eldest child. Eleven-year-old Theresa Crescent “Triss” lives with her parents and nine-year-old sister, Penelope “Pen” in the fictional town of Ellchester, England. Since losing Sebastian, Triss has become a very frail child, so it is no surprise to her parents that she develops an awful fever after falling into a millpond. The question, though, is how she came to be in the pond, to begin with, and why Pen is so scared of her.
Things become even more mystifying when Triss sees dolls start to move, finds leaves on her pillow, and is constantly ravenously hungry. Her parents begin to consider that Triss is suffering from some form of mental illness, but Pen, the bad-tempered child, is adamant that that is not the case. She claims that Triss is a fake.
The horrible realization is that perhaps Triss is not Triss at all. This discovery leads the tale into paranormal territory with the introduction of unique new creatures: Besiders.
Cuckoo Song is not just an entertaining, fantastical story; it also deals with themes of family and personal emotion. Piers and Celeste Crescent are examples of parents whose behaviour and response to the death of a child impact their remaining children. Triss becomes a child they want to protect and save, leaving Pen to become an attention-seeking troublemaker.
As the story progresses, Triss and Pen’s relationship develops, or rather Pen and Not-Triss, into something more recognizable and sisterly. Through their strength and newfound love for each other, they fight to get the happy ending they deserve. And through it all, Triss discovers that just because someone calls you a monster does not mean you are a monster.
It is difficult to say who the target audience of Cuckoo Song is. The protagonist is eleven, but the writing may be difficult for some children. On the other hand, it cannot be classed as Young Adult fiction since the characters are not even in their teens. Overall, Cuckoo Song is an exciting, fast-paced, fairytale-like story with original characters. It is not scary and is fun to read; there is nothing to stop older readers from enjoying it too!
Lies like Love
Author: Louisa Reid
Published: 5th June 2014
Goodreads Rating: 3.87 out of 5
Reviewed: September 2016
Lies Like Love by Louisa Reid is an emotional story full of disturbing, discomforting themes. It is a book that will linger in the mind long after the final page. The story alternates between two characters’ perspectives. The first is Audrey, a sixteen-year-old who has just moved to a new home and school after being in and out of various treatments for depression, amongst other things. She lives with her little brother, Peter and her overprotective mother, who appears to want to do everything she can to make Audrey better.
The second character is Leo, a couple of years older than Audrey, who has also had experiences with depression. The stress his over-ambitious parents inflicted on him became too much to handle, so now he lives with his Aunt Sue on a farm near where Audrey has recently moved.
With his therapist’s prompts, Leo becomes good friends with Audrey and does not care about her mental health issues. Due to his own experiences, he is more understanding of the circumstance. But once he gets to know Audrey well, he begins to think there is nothing wrong with her.
Audrey’s mental health problems only escalate when she is at home, and the reader begins to wonder whether there is more to it than is being revealed. Perhaps the mother has problems of her own?
Both Leo and Audrey become more confident throughout the story. Leo eventually gets to the stage where he no longer needs a therapist, whilst Audrey begins to sort out the truth from the lies in her mind and only continues to endure her “illness” to protect her brother.
At times it is challenging to read Lies Like Love. Those who have experienced similar situations or illnesses may feel upset or triggered by some content. It is also easy to feel angry about what is happening.
Overall, it is an excellent book dealing with very important themes. There are people in the world who have suffered or are suffering from these mental illnesses, which makes the storyline feel very real. Lies Like Love also emphasizes that there are different ways of loving people. Loving someone can make them strong, but it can also suffocate them.
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