La Belle Sauvage (The Book of Dust #1)

Published: 19 October 2017 Goodreads badge
Publisher:
David Fickling Books
Pages: 560
Format: Paperback
Genre: Young Adult
★   ★   ★   ★   ★  – 5 Stars

Eleven-year-old Malcolm Polstead and his dæmon, Asta, live with his parents at the Trout Inn near Oxford. Across the River Thames (which Malcolm navigates often using his beloved canoe, a boat by the name of La Belle Sauvage) is the Godstow Priory where the nuns live. Malcolm learns they have a guest with them; a baby by the name of Lyra Belacqua . . .

For over ten years I have been waiting [im]patiently for this book to finally be published. From 2005 when Pullman first really mentioned he was working on it I have waited. I’ve check update after update, any little mention from 2005, 2007, 2012 when Pullman said he was taking over a year off everything just to work on it. When the “late 2016” possible publication was announced I was excited but also doubtful, when that got pushed back to 2017 I was heartbroken. When that 19 Oct date was announced in February this year I may have lost my little mind. Then I had to wait, but it finally happened. I finally got it, I finally read it, and I have to say, my word was it worth the long wait.

The Book of Dust is everything I possibly imagined it to be and more. It is a beautiful and magnificent book that draws you right back into Pullman’s world, so much like ours but still completely different. It’s familiar, but not too familiar because it takes place away from the Oxford we know but still feels like slipping into a well-loved pair of shoes. I fell in love again almost instantly and the more I read the more drawn in I became. Every turn of the page I was almost in tears of happiness and I loved this new side of this world we got to explore. (As I said, I have a slight obsession with this series and I have been waiting a long time for this book, so no judgement please).

Pullman’s new characters are as fully formed and unique as his existing ones, and those we’ve met before (technically) are also introduced as if we’re meeting them for the first time, such is the benefits of having a new point of view to focus on. Malcolm Polstead is a great voice to tell this story; he is young, can come off as a little simple or naive, but shows strength and determination when needed. His loyalty and friendship for others, and his love and protection over Lyra is his driving force. His sense of what is right and what’s wrong is clear, and he has wonderful guidance around him to direct his curious mind.

I loved Malcolm. I loved his love of Lyra, and I love his childlike wonder and innocence. Having only really seen Lyra’s interactions with Pan as the example of child/dæmon relationship, it was great seeing Malcolm and Asta’s connection. Pullman also includes subtle and brief bits of information about the daemons through the story, and uses childlike curiosity to cover any questions, much as he did in His Dark Materials.

What I found interesting was that Lyra’s role is so small, she is just a baby after all, and yet she is the entire point of the book as well. One thing I adored, and actually had never thought about before was babies and baby daemons. There’s plenty of children’s daemons in the trilogy, but babies not so much. Seeing baby Lyra and baby Pan interact was joyous, and every time they’re mentioned I found myself aging them forward to the wild girl and dæmon ten years on and thinking of all the great things they were going to achieve.

Important things to note, there is some swearing in this book, one of the Big Ones I guess you could say is said by a few characters. Pullman has used them well so they work, but it was a surprise when they appeared. Also, there is a darker story here, it’s a bit more brutal at times, nothing too explicit, but just darker. Pullman has also said numerous times this is not a sequel or a prequel, he calls it an equal, a companion piece. I would agree in as much as it is separate from the trilogy, and even separate in part from the follow up books he did. But my opinion is you do have to read the original three first. Very much like Star Wars you need to have experienced all that there is in the originals before you go back to the Before. Knowing what it all means and to know the grandeur and power it holds is more impactful as you read this book. Secrets from the trilogy are openly discussed, mysteries are no longer mysterious as they play out before you. All of which is fantastic mind you, but knowing that they have been secrets means that reading the trilogy after this will not have the same effect at all in my opinion. Though I would be interested to speak to someone who does read this first.

When I finished reading I did find myself with a few tears. Not so much for what happens but for all of it: for the big, gorgeous new story, for Lyra and Pan and Malcolm and his beloved canoe. For the strength and love Malcolm has, and the beautiful innocence and unbridled sense of doing what is right. And of course, because who can read any book about this world and not end up in beautiful tears of happiness? When I finished that last page I wanted to hug the book close to my chest because it was perfect in all the ways that mattered. Pullman brought long time devoted fans the book they’ve been longing for for over ten years. He made us wait, but for what has come of that waiting I couldn’t ask for anything more. I can only imagine what is going to come in the next two volumes, and I’m sure Pullman will come up with something much better than I ever could imagine.

In a Sydney Morning Herald article Pullman said that the second book is written but not yet edited. With a hopeful release date of next year I have something to look forward to that’s much less vague than it has been. If you’re interested, it’s a great article, Pullman talks about his Australian connection to parts of La Belle Sauvage, and his experience with the whole writing experience.

You can purchase La Belle Sauvage via the following

QBD | Dymocks

Booktopia | Book Depository

Amazon | Publisher

Audible | Wordery

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The Sisterhood of the Travelling Pants by Ann Brashares

Published: 11th September 2001 (print)/14th May 2010  (audio) Goodreads badge
Publisher:
 Delacorte Press/Bolinda audiobooks
Pages: 294 pages/1 disc
Narrator: Angela Goethals
Format: Audiobook
Genre: Young Adult
★   ★  – 2 Stars

Carmen got the jeans at a thrift shop. They didn’t look all that great: they were worn, dirty, and speckled with bleach. On the night before she and her friends part for the summer, Carmen decides to toss them. But Tibby says they’re great. She’d love to have them. Lena and Bridget also think they’re fabulous. Lena decides that they should all try them on. Whoever they fit best will get them. Nobody knows why, but the pants fit everyone perfectly. Even Carmen (who never thinks she looks good in anything) thinks she looks good in the pants. Over a few bags of cheese puffs, they decide to form a sisterhood and take the vow of the Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants . . . the next morning, they say good-bye. And then the journey of the pants — and the most memorable summer of their lives — begins. 

Possible spoilers, I have a few thoughts to get off my chest.

I finally get around to reading this book and discover I’m not a big fan. It took a long time to get used to the audiobook version; the narrator wasn’t the best, but I kept going. I tried very hard to focus on the story and try to judge whether my displeasure was based on the narration or the story, and I do think I didn’t like the story as much as I thought I would. I even thought I should switch to the book to see if it made a different but it wouldn’t’ve.

The general story was good. The idea was sound and it is laid out well plot wise, the quotes and breaking up the POVs with letters between the girls was good (poor audio narration didn’t help with breaking up each girl’s story but that’s a different issue). I don’t know, there’re just so many questions I had through this book. Ok, so we can’t wash the magic pants, but they get sweated in, pond water gets on them, and a bunch of stuff. I can imagine after three months they’re gonna need a wash, no matter how super close and wonderful these four are as friends, gross, smelly jeans is not pleasant. Not to mention creepy moments where the 15 (but almost 16 we keep being reminded) girl is trying to seduce and bed a 19 year old. Which, I dunno, maybe if you are 15 you think is cool cause he’s older, but as a non 15 year old it’s creepy.

The language was very…creative. There’s a strong use of metaphors and descriptions, so many analogies and flowery language that seemed unnatural. When something could be stated simply it had to have a weird analogy out of the blue that seemed convoluted and unnecessary. I’m not against using these in books, it works and that’s what they’re there for, but Brashares goes over the top in my opinion, they spring up out of nowhere and there’s far too many of them.

In terms of characters, I think the only character and storyline I actually liked was Tibby. She seemed to be the only one who grew up, who changed for the better. The other three had variations of change but it was so minor it didn’t count. I didn’t like Bridgette and wasn’t a fan of her storyline, and the other two had their moments where they were ok but mostly annoyed me. But, they are only 15 in the book which I had to remind myself, but still.

I may have to rewatch the movie because I can’t even remember if it’s anything like the book. Perhaps I’ll enjoy that more.

Before You Forget by Julia Lawrinson

Goodreads badgePublished: 30th January 2017
Publisher:
 Penguin Random House Australia
Pages: 235
Format: Paperback
Genre: Young Adult
★   ★   ★  – 3 Stars

Year Twelve is not off to a good start for Amelia. Art is her world, but her art teacher hates everything she does; her best friend has stopped talking to her; her mother and father may as well be living in separate houses; and her father is slowly forgetting everything. Even Amelia.

The best word I could describe this book with is sweet. It is a very sweet book, it has heart and there are some beautiful moments that hit all the right emotions and makes for a, well, sweet story.

This is a book that covers a range of mental health issues, highlighting how they affect those around them as much as it shows how it affects those that suffer from them. At its core it is also a story about love and about having a family member experience something that you will never understand completely but something that will affect you in so many ways.

Lawrinson expresses Amelia’s confusion regarding her father’s behaviour remarkably well. You understand her uncertainty and her fear about what is wrong with him, the uncertainty about what it means for the future of herself and her family.

Amelia is a character that intrigued me. Her obsession with September 11 videos is a fascinating aspect of her character and Lawrinson does a wonderful job helping the reader understand why she watches these over and over again.

One of the things I loved was how Amelia expressed herself through art. I’ve read a string of books lately with main characters who love art and it is a wonderful addition to their personality, letting their creativity show and working through any personal issues with their art is always great to read about.

One thing I did want more of is better character development of Poppy. Lawrinson makes a point of telling us that Amelia and Poppy become close friends, but we learn little to nothing about Poppy herself. She is merely a side character, one that barely gets any depth. I feel like we learn more about her mother than we do Poppy which is a shame. It felt like she was meant to be a more in-depth character, she is mentioned a lot but any real relationship didn’t come across the page.

Overall I did like this book. It has heart and it has a compelling story about change and an uncertain future. One thing I wish had been included was a picture of Amelia’s art. I did the best I could to picture it in in my mind, Lawrinson provides a lot of detail, but as I turned the final page I was silently hoping there would be the artwork for us to see. Sadly, this was not the case.

 You can purchase Before You Forget via the following

Booktopia | Dymocks

QBD | Book Depository

Amazon | A&R Bookworld

 

The Lampo Circus (#2) by Alexandra Adornetto

Published: 1st March 2008 (print)/March 28 2011 (audio) Goodreads badge
Publisher:
HarperCollins Australia/Bolinda Audio
Pages: 400 pages/6 discs
Narrator: Alexandra Adornetto
Format: Audiobook
Genre: Fantasy/Young Adult
★   ★   ★   ★  – 3 Stars

The arrival of Federico Lampo and his travelling circus brings a new threat to Drabville when the children are kidnapped and transported to the grim world of the Conjuors’ Realm. Lord Aldor, assisted by Ringmaster Lampo and the vicious Contessa Bombasta, is plotting to conquer the fairy province of Mirth. . 

The children embark on a quest to warn the Queen of Mirth, encountering some fearsome obstacles, not least the ferocious Grin Bandits and their tooth–extracting apparatus.

As the day of battle draws near, Milli and Ernest realise that if Lord Aldor defeats them, theirs won’t be the only lives at stake…

Having had Milly and Ernest grow on me after book one, it was only natural I dove into book two. Also I listened to it on audio book again and it was great to hear Adornetto’s narration again, excellent continuity which is often not the case with audio book series I’ve realised.

After the events of The Shadow Thief, Milly and Ernest’s town of Drabville is settling into their new lives, being lively, and trying to think of a new town name. Their relief at being joyful and carefree means their guards are lowered when villainy threatens the town once more. The arrival of the Lampo Circus seems innocent enough, but there is a sinister nature about it that no one seems to notice.

Initially I didn’t love this story as much as the first one. It was an odd premise; it didn’t grab me as quickly as the other one did. Adornetto retains her wonderful language, her style, her narration and absurdness, so that was a comfort when they story itself was a bit odd and hard to engage with.

When the story eventually gets going, which was quite a bit of a way in I thought, but it gets to settle into the adventurous style Milly and Ernest do best. There were a few great surprises this time which made the adventure more fun. While there was adventure and suspense in the first book, I feel this had more the journey/adventure style where there a greater chance of the unknown.

There is a great moral tone which Adornetto doesn’t wave in your face, but works incredibly well in the context (no spoilers). I loved the surprises and I loved the magical element that is the crux and climax of the story. It balanced out the strangeness from the beginning and worked really well.

I would have loved a better ending. Not the conclusion per se, but the actually ending of the story. I feel like it was a tad unresolved, I still had questions that needed answering, but judging by what Adornetto has done with this second book regarding events in book one, I feel more answers will be provided in book three. As the continuing adventures of Milly and Ernest go, this was a great addition.

You can purchase The Lampo Circus via the following

Booktopia | Angus and Robinson

Kobo | Amazon

QBD | Audible | HarperCollins

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The Shadow Thief (#1) by Alexandra Adornetto

Published: July 1st 2007 (print)/28 January 2011  (audio) Goodreads badge
Publisher:
 HarperCollins Australia/Bolinda Audio
Pages: 288 pages/5 discs
Narrator: Alexandra Adornetto
Format: Audiobook
Genre: Fantasy/Young Adult
★   ★   ★   ★  – 4 Stars

Millipop Klompet and Ernest Perriclof live in the uneventful town of Drabville, where the cautious Ernest spends his time enlarging his rock collection and Milli dreams of adventure. When the pair are kidnapped from their homes and brought to live in the gothic mansion known as Hog House, they are adopted by the madcap Mr and Mrs Mayor and a series of bizarre encounters follows. Things do not add up and the children find that sinister plans are beginning to emerge. Why has the notorious Lord Aldor stolen the shadows of all of the town’s residents and where are they being held? Assisted by a band of prisoners, the children must venture into the Taboo Territories, and battle the perils dished out by the Lurid Lagoon, in order to outwit Lord Aldor and prevent him from executing his secret master plan.

From very early on I compared this book to Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events. It’s actually a lot better than that in my opinion. Though, not being a huge fan of Snicket’s famed series I’m not sure what that means.

But if you are a fan of Snicket’s work then I suggest you read this series. Adornetto uses the same whimsical tone and storytelling style that addresses the reader, gives us facts about the characters, bemoans when things unfortunate happen to them, and states matter of factly when things aren’t going their way. I listened to this as an audio book and Adornetto was the narrator which worked really well. Adornetto’s storytelling ability is entertaining and while she doesn’t vary voices that noticably, you really don’t need it and her narration is wonderful.

One thing I absolutely ADORED in this book was Adornetto’s language. She uses big, wonderful, words that are so eloquent, and ones that give the story such a wonderful tone. It suits the strange surreal, British nature of this book (despite Adornetto being Australian) that is absurd and outlandish, that of course there will be beautiful and clever words in it as well.

The story is delightful and innocent, but with the cheekiness that kids love. As I said, very much like Lemony Snicket but with a bit less intense unfortunatenesses and more daring adventures with Milly at the helm and Ernest trailing reluctantly behind her.

Milly is a wonderfully brave and rebellious girl who doesn’t let the rules of Drabville hold back her adventures. When she gets caught breaking these town rules she and her best friend Ernest are imprisoned and discover a whole other world they knew nothing about. She is clever, resourceful, filled with gusto and enthusiasm for adventure and doing the right thing. Ernest is less enthusiastic but he does follow Milly into adventure and while he is wary he does embrace what he finds and loves to work with Milly in thinking up solutions to their problems.

The supernatural element of the story is quite creative, the evil Lord Aldor has stolen shadows off the residents of Drabville and is using them for nefarious purposes. The premise is clever and quite interesting, Adornetto keeps it filled with action and suspense, along with daring characters and wily plans of escape and rescue.

This book (as subsequent series) is classed as young adult at times, but I’d put it in the primary school range, maybe the lower teens. With Milly and Ernest being twelve years old it may not appeal that well to older readers. Having said that, I did love it, so there’s that.

You can purchase The Shadow Thief via the following

Booktopia | Angus and Robinson

Kobo | Amazon

QBD | Audible | HarperCollins

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