The Hawkweed Prophecy – Irena Brignull

The Hawkweed Prophecy by Irena Brignull is the first in a series about two girls who have a strange connection. One lives in a coven in the woods with other witches, and no men. The other lives with her Dad and moves around a lot. It soon becomes clear that they move around so much because the girl, Poppy has problems settling in at school. Things seem to happen around her.

Poppy and Ember have been switched at birth. Poppy is living with her dad and moves a lot. Ember lives with her mother Charlock Hawkweed and the rest of the coven. The coven is led by her aunt Raven. There is a prophecy that one of the Hawkweed daughters will become Queen of the Witches and that means that it will either be Ember or her  cousin Sorrel.  Raven is determined that it will be her daughter, hence the reason that Poppy and Ember were swapped. Ember has little or no magical powers and there is no real possibility that she will ever be queen.

Poppy is on her 11th school and is struggling with the fact that her mum is in a mental hospital. Her mum is there because she has rejected Poppy and claims that she is not her daughter. Poppy is understandably struggling with this and doesn’t get on too well with her dad either; he is getting fed up with all the moving. Strange things happen when Poppy gets annoyed and most of the schools she has been in have asked her to leave.

One day the two girls meet in the woods by chance. They have no idea that they are connected but form an instant bond with each other. Poppy starts to talk about the outside world and Ember longs to be a part of it. Although she is not allowed the talk to ‘chaffs’ (non magical people) about the coven, she finds herself telling Poppy bits and pieces and lends her some of her books about spells. Poppy soon realises that there is more to their connection then either of them thought.

The other main character in the book is Leo, a boy who lives on the streets. Poppy meets and forms a connection with him and he helps her through some stuff with her cats. Leo has had a hard time and is living in fear of his stepdad and stepbrothers. Leo plays an important part in the lives of both the girls and, without giving too much away, will definitely make an appearance in the next book.

The book has some great elements in it; magic, jealousy, love and revenge. The strong female characters are refreshing to read about, and the idea of a load of ladies living in the woods making potions is kind of cool! As Poppy’s magic grows and she becomes more sure of her abilities she becomes a likeable person that we can identify with. Ember is a little too soft for my liking, but I think this might change later.

All in all a good book that you will enjoy and will keep you guessing. There are some violent elements to it but this is in context and the whole waiting to be queen thing will hopefully be fleshed out a bit more in the next  book, along with the East witches who turn in to big cats. Did I mention that there was people changing in to animals as well?

Further reading: The Thirteen Treasures series by Michelle Harrison, Harry Potter (obviously!) The Red Queen by Victoria Aveyard – basically anything with magic in!

Hitler’s Daughter – Jackie French

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Some of you may have read this already but it was recommended to me by some year 8 girls so I thought I would give it a quick read. And quick it is, at 135 pages it’s very short.

The author of this book is Australian but it took me a while to realize that the  book is set in Australia! Anyway, it is. So, the main premise of the book is this; a bunch of kids who live out on farms get the bus to school together every day. One of them, Anna, is good at telling stories. Little Tracey (not to be confused with Big Tracey who lives down the road) was scared on her first day and Anna told her a story, they all realized that she was really good at it and got her to tell more. This one however, is different. The main narrator is a boy called Mark who lives with his parents on a farm. The weather seems to be permanently dreadful and they are all worried about flooding!

Anna tells the story of Heidi. Heidi is Hitler’s secret daughter. She is a secret because she has a strawberry birthmark on her face and a limp and is  not the perfect German daughter that Hitler wants. He still visits her sometimes though and she is looked after by Fraulein Gelber who does everything for her. She has never left the house that she lives in and has everything that she needs, even though there is a war on. She has only seen her father, or Duffi, a handful of times but she knows that he is her father and that he is important to Germany.   Duffi comes to see her one day and gives her a doll but she can sense that things are not going well. Fraulein Gelber and some other ladies that work in the house are starting to get bad news from the front about their family. The cook’s sister, who was disabled, has been taken away, Heidi is confused about Jewish people.

Towards the end of the war she is taken to another house in the country where she meets Frau Lieb. Fraulein Gelber is increasingly distracted by the loss of her family and so Heidi spends a lot of time with the farmer’s wife. This is an interesting bit as it gives you some insight into the way that the German people lived during the war. She doesn’t really have any contact with her father and but she starts to enjoy the simple life, adopting rabbits and getting involved with the farm.

Meanwhile back in the real world, Mark and his friends are anxious to learn more about Heidi. He asks his parents and his teachers various questions about whether children should just follow their parents blindly or whether they are to blame for their parents decisions. He gets increasingly caught up in Heidi’s world and is desperate to find out what happened. Anna seems more reluctant to tell this story, but it is more detailed than the others. Almost like it’s real.

The book is short and to the point and probably for younger readers but it does pose some interesting questions. Are you responsible for the actions of your parents, even when they are the biggest mass murderer in history? Are we what our parents make us or do we have a  choice about what sort of adult we become?

I had an enjoyable hour spent reading this, give it a go if you want to boost your reading lists and feel like something different.

The Queen of the Tearling

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This is the first part of a three part series and definitely one for older readers as the swearing in it is necessary but bad! Kelsea Raleigh is a girl who has a destiny. The book begins with her living in a small house in the forest with her guardians Barty and Carlin. She knows that she is destined for greater things, and that she is the daughter of the Tearling Queen; when she reaches the age of 19 she will become the Queen herself but she has been hidden all these years because of fears that she will be killed. The Tearling is a land created by William Tear, and contains exiled people from England and America. They went there for a better life but things are pretty basic and there are few doctors and no technology. There is however, magic.

Kelsea’s mother Queen Elyssa was a weak queen and signed a treaty with the Red Queen to send people from Tearling to Mortmesne as slaves. Mortmesne is the neighbouring country to the Tearling and is ruled by the Red Queen, a magical figure who does not age. After Queen Elyssa’s death, her brother Thomas became the Regent until Kelsea was old enough to rule. He has left the country to ruin and is lazy and weak. There are also other factions like the Caden who are trying to kill Kelsea so that the Regent can stay on the throne and continue ruining the kingdom. All Kelsea has to do is get back the Keep in the main city of New London, and be crowned. This is easier said than done as so many people are trying to kill her. She is protected by the Queen’s Guard, a group of men loyal to the previous queen who will guard her until death. Their leader is a man called Lazurus, or the Mace. He is a huge man mountain who kills people with a mace!

When they arrive in New London, Kelsea begins to realize the extent to which the country has been ruined. She sees giant cages where people are herded in and taken to Mortmesne. They are chosen once a month through a lottery system run by a pretty nasty piece of work called Arlen Thorne. The decisions she makes will have a huge impact on whether the country will remain at peace or not, but she cannot sit by and watch such cruelty. The Mace can do little but advise her but she is governed by a mysterious jewel that hangs around her neck, given to her by Carlin when she was a baby and part of the proof that she is the real queen of the Tearling. It has magical powers that she had no idea existed. During her journey back to the New London she meets a mysterious figure called the Fetch who she kind of falls in love with, he takes the companion jewel from her. The two jewels together make her extremely powerful, she just needs to learn how to use that power.

As you can imagine, the book ends on a cliffhanger and I have already started the next one in the series. I was  getting a bit fed up of reading teen angst books where one kid has something wrong with them and it was all profoundly depressing. What happened to fun!? Anyway, so I thought I would read a fantasy fiction book to give my brain a rest from all the angst! This is a really enjoyable fantasy fiction book that transports you to another world. It is a little confusing as to whether the people who founded the Tearling left the present world or not but that seems a bit incidental and you will find out more about this in the next book anyway. The characters are interesting and you will enjoy seeing Kelsea grow from a bit of a geeky tomboy to a strong leader. She is constantly described as plain and a bit fat, she struggles with fitness and has to tell the cook to make her healthier meals, she is not the gorgeous heroine queen that you would expect, and I think that makes it a better book for that. She is a more realistic character. The others are good strong characters that  you will enjoy reading about. It is advertised as a Game of Thrones meets The Hunger Games type book, although I can see some similarities this book is in a world all of it’s own. It is violent though and, if you don’t like swearing and violence then this is not for you.

further reading: Game of Thrones series (but only if you are prepared to invest some time and you don’t mind a bit of sex and violence!) The Left Hand of God by Paul Hoffman (and the rest of the series).

 

Side Effects May Vary – Julie Murphy

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This book makes me have conflicting emotions. The main character, Alice, has discovered that she has leukemia and only has months to live. Her childhood friend, Harvey, decides to care for her while hiding his feelings, that he is hopelessly in love with her, even though she has been totally ignoring him for the last couple of years. The trouble is that Alice isn’t very nice. In fact, she is a total user who knows that Harvey is in love with her and will do anything she asks.

It all starts with an unfortunate incident where Alice and her boyfriend Luke sneak out of school and go back to Alice’s house. They see something that they weren’t meant to see and Alice swears Luke to secrecy. Unfortunately he is also seeing Alice’s frenemy Celeste and the next day everyone knows. When Alice is diagnosed and realizes that she is not going to make it, she makes a bucket list of revenge. She dumps Luke and gets revenge on both him and Celeste, as well as doing some other stuff like sneaking in to an abandoned camp and smoking pot.

Then, the unthinkable happens. Just as she thinks that she is on her last legs and got all the revenge out of her system, a visit to the doctor’s tells her that she has gone in to remission. She no longer has cancer and is going to live. She finds out the night after Harvey has told her that he loves her. She says it back and then realizes that she is not ready for that kind of commitment and panics.

As she recovers and goes back to school she starts to ignore poor old Harvey and he is in total turmoil. Then she takes up with another boy (can’t remember his name but it doesn’t matter, he isn’t around for long) and Harvey finds out. He tells her enough is enough and goes off with someone else. I won’t spoil the ending but, suffice to say, I still feel conflicted. Alice is not a nice person. Harvey is a nice person but a total doormat. I don’t think that Alice really cares about anyone except herself, and the problem is that because she is dying everyone thinks they should feel sorry for her. There is a really horrible incident towards the end where the people she has been really mean to get their revenge on her, and I just kind of felt that she deserved it! Anyway, you read it and decide what you think.

It’s a good book because it makes you ask yourself whether you would do the same thing in her shoes. If you knew you were dying would you get back at people or would you let the bitterness go and fundraise or something. I like to think I would do good things  but, I’m pretty sure I would give some people some home truths as well! But also, just because you think you should feel sorry for someone, if they are as horrible as Alice is, do you still need to be nice to them?

Dreaming The Bear – Mimi Thebo

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This is a quick, enjoyable read. Darcy is the main narrator but there are some sections in italics, not sure who is narrating these, maybe the bear! Anyway, Darcy lives with her mum and dad and her brother Jem in Yellowstone National Park where her dad is working on a research project. They used to live in a proper town but her dad has  been offered a position working in the park and has moved them all there, Darcy is not very happy with this. Her mum is also working on some research thing and her brother Jem is older than her and goes to the local high school. She is supposed to be going there too but has been really ill with pneumonia and is off sick. She is recovering and must do a certain amount of exercise every day to build up the strength in her lungs. She goes out one day and starts walking through the snow. She is taken ill and has an encounter with a bear who looks after her. The bear also has something wrong with it and she has a kind of out of body experience.

Darcy is also a little bit in love with a boy in her brothers class called Tony Infante. As Darcy struggles with her illness she builds a connection with the bear and she starts to feed her. The bear has an injury in her shoulder and is stuck in a cave up an incline that she can’t get down  from. She is also really annoyed with her dad and her mum has gone away to a conference  and left them to it. Then a storm hits.

Darcy, Jem, Tony and their dad are stuck in their house and all confined to one room. This is a little intimate for Darcy but it means that she can get closer to Tony. After the storm Darcy and her dad go down to town and after a few more  trips they realize that when she is down in town she is much better. Eventually one of the research assistants works out the connection.

This  book is a nice easy read and, although it doesn’t look like much, it is quite enjoyable. It is also on the Carnegie longlist for this year and I can see why. It won’t take you long and that’s quite satisfying!

If I Was Your Girl – Meredith Russo

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If I Was Your Girl is essentially a love story between a boy and a girl. The problem is that the girl used to be a boy. And the boy doesn’t know.

Amanda is leaving her old life behind and goes to live with her dad after an incident at school where she is badly beaten up. Her parents divorced when she was six. Her dad was a typical ex navy tough guy who wanted to teach his son baseball and his son wanted to do baking instead. ‘Andrew’ finally gets the courage to tell his mum that he wants to be a girl and she supports him through the process. He eventually has gender reassignment surgery but cannot seem to mix in at school. The other kids obviously knew him from before and he is mercilessly bullied. Eventually they decide that he should go and stay with his/ her dad who he hasn’t seen since the divorce.

At her new school, Amanda has never been Andrew and has no intention of telling anyone her secret. She is immediately chatted up but the local football team including a guy called Grant who is talking to her on behalf of his friend Parker. Amanda just wants to keep her head down and get on with school but, and this is mentioned many times over the course of the book, she is very attractive and can’t help getting male attention.

She falls in with a group of girls and meets another girl, Bee, in her art class who is bi sexual. She then figures out that Bee has something going with Chloe, who is in her friendship group but neither of them want anyone to know. This is small town America and people who are different are singled out. This reinforces Amanda’s desire to not tell anyone what is going on with her. But, her  friends are really nice and she starts to live the life she has always dreamed of. She goes to parties, meets boys and generally does girlie things.

Amanda and Bee are supposed to take an art class together but the teacher is off sick and they have never covered it. They hang out and smoke dope and generally relax. Eventually Amanda tells Bee her secret and then things start to unravel. In the meantime, Amanda is falling in love with Grant. Grant is a lovely guy who really makes her feel special, but she doesn’t feel that she can tell him the truth, she is worried about his reaction. So she leaves it and lets the relationship continue. Her dad is also concerned about it, considering he was hoping that she would stay out of trouble. The ending is as you would expect but it is no less brutal for that.

Meredith Russo is transgender and has been living as a woman since 2013. I have read quite a lot of books recently about young people and how they are struggling with their sexuality. Some are good. Some are really not! In fact, there is a comment from Alex Gino on the back of the book and I really did not like their book, George (see review).

What I liked about this book was that it was so normal. Girl meets boy, they fall in love and should live happily ever after. You get glimpses of what Andrew’s life was like, the choices he makes, the support group and the number of people who can’t live with the prejudice and commit suicide. But, at the end of the day, Amanda is a someone who has already lived through a lifetime of pain and misunderstanding, and she is only 17. The subject was dealt with in a sensitive but truthful way, there will always be people in the world who hate what they don’t understand, and that’s just down to ignorance. I’m not sure that in this country they would allow a young person to go through all the surgery etc. at such a young age but he obviously felt it was the right thing for him. It’s a great book with a really important message that makes you think about the characters long after you have finished the book, and it gives me hope that the future is a more tolerant and welcoming place.

As I Descended – Robin Talley

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This is the third Robin Talley book that I have read now; I loved The Lies We Tell Ourselves but really wasn’t keen on What We Left Behind so I went into this with a bit of trepidation.

The premise of the book is thus: Maria and Lily are room mates and lovers at a creepy boarding school in America called Archeron Academy. The school is built on an old slave plantation and there are more than a few ghost stories attached. There is a big lake in the middle of the campus where, allegedly, three students  drowned and current students are now forbidden to swim in it. The lake is also supposed to be haunted by the students who died.

Maria is kind of the second best. They are in their senior year and students are competing to win the coveted Cawdor Kingsley Prize, which gives them a free pass to college. When the book opens, Lily and Maria, and Maria’s best friend Brandon are playing with an Ouija board in the old plantation dining room. They ask it a series of questions and open up a link to the spirit world. Before they can close it again, the ancient chandelier falls on the board and smashes it. Maria is haunted by her memories of Altagracia, her maid from when she was a child, who spoke to spirits and was interested in the occult.

The only thing standing in the way of Maria winning the prize, and being valedictorian (top student in the year) and football captain is a girl called Delilah. Lily wants Maria to win the prize so that they can go to the same college and be together forever. She encourages Maria to go out with Delilah ( a known drug user) the night before a random drugs test (Brandon gives her the info) and slip a drug that she uses into her drink. Then Delilah will be caught, she uses all the time anyway and the girls don’t think it’s fair that she always gets away with it; Maria will win the prize, get captain of the team and valedictorian and life will be perfect. Except something goes wrong.

After a tragic accident the situation spirals out of control and Maria and Lily get more and more paranoid. Shove in the ghosts as well and this book gets more exciting. I’m going to give you a final clue and tell you that the book ends on the sports field which was originally called Dunsanane and you will obviously guess that the book is based on the play Macbeth.

Very loosely based I might add! Maria and Lily are obviously meant to be the Macbeths and Lily does a good job of winding Maria up. Eventually though it’s a little unclear whether either did anything because they wanted to or because they were possessed by evil spirits.  Mateo is the hero, Brandon’s boyfriend becomes suspicious of the two girls and decides to do some investigating.

I enjoyed this book a lot more that What We Left behind, although I didn’t think the characters were as deeply constructed as they could have been. There wasn’t much of a back story on any of them and I felt I would have liked them more if there had been. I didn’t really care if Maria succeeded or not, or was consumed by the evil spirits and went mad! The other aspect to the  story was obviously the  ghosts and whether they were real or just the figment of the teenager’s troubled minds. You’ll have to read it to decide that one; I’m still not sure. I’ll tell you one thing though, I am so glad I never to went to boarding school!

All in all, a good read. I would recommend to anyone who is studying Shakespeare as it gives the story a modern twist and it will help you to see the psychological aspect of the story. Was Maria so blinded by what she felt she deserved that she would do anything to get it? Did Macbeth want to be King so badly that he was willing to kill or did Lady Macbeth talk him in to it with clever words and some magical trickery?