Angel Mage by Garth Nix

Published: 30 September 2019 (print)/26 September 2017 (audio)

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Publisher: Allen & Unwin/Bolinda Publishing
Pages: 472/15 hrs and 3 mins
Narrator: Kristin Atherton
Format: Audiobook
Genre: Epic Fantasy
★ ★ ★ – 3 Stars

More than a century has passed since Liliath crept into the empty sarcophagus of Saint Marguerite, fleeing the Fall of Ystara. But she emerges from her magical sleep still beautiful, looking no more than nineteen, and once again renews her single-minded quest to be united with her lover, Palleniel, the archangel of Ystara.

A seemingly impossible quest, but Liliath is one of the greatest practitioners of angelic magic to have ever lived, summoning angels and forcing them to do her bidding.

Liliath knew that most of the inhabitants of Ystara died from the Ash Blood plague or were transformed into beastlings, and she herself led the survivors who fled into neighboring Sarance. Now she learns that angels shun the Ystaran’s descendants. If they are touched by angelic magic, their blood will turn to ash. They are known as Refusers, and can only live the most lowly lives.

But Liliath cares nothing for the descendants of her people, save how they can serve her. It is four young Sarancians who hold her interest: Simeon, a studious doctor-in-training; Henri, a dedicated fortune hunter; Agnez, an adventurous musketeer cadet; and Dorotea, an icon-maker and scholar of angelic magic. They are the key to her quest.

The four feel a strange kinship from the moment they meet, but do not know why, or suspect their importance. All become pawns in Liliath’s grand scheme to fulfil her destiny and be united with the love of her life. No matter the cost to everyone else.

This story is an investment. It is slow and vast and while it takes a little while to wrap your head around it, once you are immersed into this fascinating world Nix has created it is quite interesting, especially when you realise how complex and simple the story itself is. I will admit it took me a couple of goes to start this but I made myself return and I’m glad because it was a different kind of story which made it interesting.

Once the explanation is established about how summoning angels works with icons and icon makers, seeing how society works is fascinating. Whether to sacrifice your own days, months, years for the use of Angel Magic is a great decision and the way Nix has created varying levels and rules and restrictions is a testament to his world building capabilities. The grander explanation is revealed gradually and with a few key scenes that explain how the use of magic works with character dialogue and inner thoughts to help you grasp it fairly quickly. The multiple character points of view allow great insight into this world and the history, as well as the rules and limitations that exist. Nix also skilfully uses these scenes to advance the plot so every part of this lengthy tale is used with purpose.

It is easy to see how this may be seen as slow. Initially I thought so too, especially as an audio, but if you immerse yourself in the world, with these characters and their various lives, overlapping and coming together it wraps itself around you and it plays out reasonably well. The time is justified, it doesn’t drag out, but a lot happens which is used to build up to the climax and the war, not to mention getting all of the many players in place. The inspiration for this story was the Three Musketeers and you can see this in how Nix has reimagined the Cardinal and her guards. I loved all the female representations, even though they are still called sir it was always a surprise to have everyone important and high up be female as well as many other characters. It was another great change on the well-known story and a great improvement.

To be fair there are a lot of characters to keep track of, but only a few end up being ones that keep coming back and you have the time in the narrative to get to know everyone and their roles. I enjoyed the characters of Agnez, Henri, Simeon, and Dorotea a lot. Each of their different lives are another fascinating look at the world, and seeing the events that bring them together is clever and full of creativity on Nix’s part. They are full of personal history and have great character depth and having listened to this as an audio I got a range of wonderful voices as well.

Atherton does a great job as narrator. Her reading is well paced, can be slow at times but it is also an addition to the grandeur of the story. Dealing with angels and magic, even if it is common occurrence, doesn’t stop the story from feeling epic. I really liked this different type of fantasy, it is a love story across time and magic, of musketeers and angels that was exciting as it was profound. I’m glad I persevered because I appreciate the world Nix has built, the drive behind Lilliath, and the diversity in his characters. Plus it was a really satisfying ending which is a great reward.

You can purchase Angel Mage via the following

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Love and First Sight by Josh Sundquist

Published: 2nd January 2018Goodreads badge
Publisher:
Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
Pages: 304
Format: Paperback
Genre: Young Adult
★   ★   ★  – 3 Stars

Love is more than meets the eye.

On his first day at a new school, blind sixteen-year-old Will Porter accidentally groped a girl on the stairs, sat on another student in the cafeteria, and somehow drove a classmate to tears. High school can only go up from here, right?

As Will starts to find his footing, he develops a crush on a sweet but shy girl named Cecily. And despite his fear that having a girlfriend will make him inherently dependent on someone sighted, the two of them grow closer and closer. Then an unprecedented opportunity arises: an experimental surgery that could give Will eyesight for the first time in his life. But learning to see is more difficult than Will ever imagined, and he soon discovers that the sighted world has been keeping secrets. It turns out Cecily doesn’t meet traditional definitions of beauty—in fact, everything he’d heard about her appearance was a lie engineered by their so-called friends to get the two of them together. Does it matter what Cecily looks like? No, not really. But then why does Will feel so betrayed?

This is an interesting book because it makes you think about whether given the option, would vision impaired people chose to gain their sight? Like most groups there are arguments for and against, there are people who have no desire while others would give it a go. Will is someone in the camp of wanting his sight but Sundquist makes it a gradual decision, something which has developed as he experiences more things with sighted people. Personally I was surprised Will chose to do this. I understand completely that being blind in a world so reliant on sight would be incredibly hard, but Will never seemed to worry about it, his change of heart comes from his time with Cecily and it makes him reconsider.

Sundquist does put forward both sides of the debate, Will’s dad makes a good argument for why Will doesn’t need to have sight for his life to be fulfilled, and showcases the amazing skills he had gained from living his life without sight. Even for a fiction book it was incredibly hard for me to wish Will didn’t get the surgery. It isn’t for a sighted person to tell someone they shouldn’t get a chance to see, but I will admit I agreed with Will’s dad at the start, he had developed a range of skills that he would lose when sighted. Where Will’s dad was against the surgery I thought his mum was pushing for it. I felt like her desire in life was to “fix” Will, while nothing is stated outright I felt like his inability to see had been a burden on her life and she never trusted him to navigate the world on his own, giving him sight would free her from this.

One interesting component was the way we are brought into Will’s sightless world. There is great imagery and explanations about how he goes about his day to day life and I will admit it was quite fascinating seeing him learn and understand about the sighted world. Things sighted people learn naturally are completely incomprehensible to him and I liked the gentle and vivid way those around him explained things. On the flip side, I loved how Cecily explains images and experiences to Will. They capture a moment in vivid detail that even if you can’t picture it, you grasp the concept. It was a clever approach and something her character would be capable of doing.

I liked Cecily, she was friendly and helpful and her friendship with Will develops and grows in a believable way. I initially was annoyed that Will would find Cecily unattractive because of something simple, but Sundquist actually explains it quite well about how it is much deeper than looks, it is about trust and betrayal. I was prepared to argue when I picked what her secret was, but to his credit Will handles it well and adds a few reflections and arguments of his own about the nature of beauty and societal expectations.

I was curious why Sundquist chose this topic, as an amputee he understands what it can be like missing something, but it was an interesting experience to chose to write from, especially one where it essentially gets “fixed”. Sundquist adds suspense and uncertainty whether Will’s operation will succeed which gives some extra tension, especially since we’ve follow Will’s fears and wishes about wanting to experience the sighted world. Whatever you think about his decision it is a sweet story and one that demonstrates the differences between the sighted and non-sighted world. The focus of the book is about Will and his sight, but there are heartfelt moments about friendship and living a full life around that as well which gives it a bit more narrative variation.

You can purchase Love and First Sights via the following

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Twilight (#1) by Stephanie Meyer

Published: 5th October 2005 (print)/14th May 2010 (audio) Goodreads badge
Publisher:
Little, Brown and Company/Bolinda Audio
Pages: 501/14 hrs and 51 mins
Narrator: Ilyana Kadushin
Format: Audiobook
Genre: Young Adult Paranormal
★   ★  ★  – 3 Stars

About three things I was absolutely positive.

First, Edward was a vampire.

Second, there was a part of him—and I didn’t know how dominant that part might be—that thirsted for my blood.

And third, I was unconditionally and irrevocably in love with him.

It took me fourteen years but I have finally read Twilight and honestly…it wasn’t as bad as I was expecting. I can now agree that the movie made this into a much creepier story than it first appears. The first half actually reads like a normal YA novel, there’s a normal sounding girl in a normal kind of situation who falls for the pale, strange boy at her school…who turns out to be a vampire. I have no idea what the movie did to it but they made it much weirder and creepier than the vibe I got from this book. I’m not saying it is perfect, but it was a decent story.

As a character Bella is a bit strange but isn’t that the point? A different girl whose mind can’t be read by the vampires around her. Admittedly she is blasé about a few things which is strange, especially when you think she should have some kind of reaction, but maybe she is just a strange person which is totally within her rights to be.

I have only read a few vampire stories and each one has taken on a completely different approach to the vampire mythology. I liked Meyer’s approach, it is a different take on the traditional expectations which at the time was new. It may not be the blood sucking legends people expect but that is her whole point. This is “real life” and not the centuries of myth that has accumulated.

Edward is certainly odd. He has a curiosity about him in regards to Bella, but he also has a few moments of patronising and dare I say grooming. Despite being seventeen in appearance, he is clearly older mentally and you can see this in his actions. It is extremely creepy and having seen the debate over the years I honestly am no more enlightened why Edward is continuing to be 17 when he can lie and say he is 18 and go and live his life somewhere and not in high school.

Up until this point is was a decent enough introduction into this world, clearly the start of a bigger story Meyer has planned. The final third takes a sudden shift into the strange. Once Bella needs to be hidden it suddenly shifts to no other option than to flee. If they had an agreement with the other vampires why wouldn’t that stand? And of course there are hundreds of other people to feed on, why are they obsessed with this one? Is it only because she was friendly with them and it is deemed unnatural? This might be where Meyer was trying to make Bella into something special but that didn’t come across to me. It was too out of the blue. I don’t think I believed her reasoning for leaving town even despite the danger. I’m glad Meyer addresses this because it seemed to be a huge leap.

The narrator of the audiobook was ok, not great. The voices and tones Kadushin used for the characters didn’t work for them. It made Bella and Edward more soft spoken and breathy than they should have been and even if this was a paranormal and romantic story it doesn’t need to sound constantly dramatic and airy.

I can see the bigger story forming and I’m looking forward to see the few things I have picked up over the years finally in context. They are strange out of context and I have no doubt they will be strange in context as well.

You can purchase Twilight via the following

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Have Yourself a Hairy Little Christmas by Rosie Greening

Published: 27th October 2015Goodreads badge
Publisher:
Make Believe Ideas
Illustrator: Dawn Machell
Pages: 32
Format: Picture Book
★   ★   ★  – 3 Stars

Santa wants a new hairstyle for Christmas, so Elf offers to help! Help Santa choose as you explore thick woolly beards, to ones that sparkle with glitter!

I got quite excited because looking at the touch and feel cover I thought this book might be like those “That’s not my…” books where each page had a different thing you could touch, but alas ‘tis not the case. The copy I read was just a special edition and not the norm for all of them.

So what we get instead is a cool beard you can touch on the cover, but inside are typical illustrations. That is not to say they are boring. After my disappointment subsided I actually quite liked them. They are cute and funny, Machell does a great job making these characters funny and represent the story Greening is telling.

The narrative itself is straight forward and simple, Santa wants a new look and each page depicts a new style the elf barber is trying. The rhyme is also simple, great for younger readers with big clear visual accompaniments and formatting that enhances reading aloud.

Overall, it is a sweet story. Santa finds his new look and the rhyming structure is clear and flows nicely. It is a creative holiday story and getting to play with a fluffy bear on the cover is an added bonus.

You can purchase Have Yourself a Hairy Little Christmas via the following

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My Life as an Alphabet by Barry Jonsberg

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Published: 1 February 2013Goodreads badge
Publisher:
Allen & Unwin
Pages: 256
Format: Paperback
Genre: Young Adult
★   ★  ★  – 3 Stars

 

This isn’t just about me. It’s also about the other people in my life – my mother, my father, my dead sister Sky, my penpal Denille, Rich Uncle Brian, Earth-Pig Fish and Douglas Benson From Another Dimension. These are people [with the exception of Earth-Pig Fish, who is a fish] who have shaped me, made me what I am. I cannot recount my life without recounting elements of theirs. This is a big task, but I am confident I am up to it.

Introducing Candice Phee: twelve years old, hilariously honest and a little … odd. But she has a big heart, the very best of intentions and an unwavering determination to ensure everyone is happy. So she sets about trying to ‘fix’ all the problems of all the people [and pets] in her life.

Jonsberg captures Candice’s uniqueness remarkably well. With her voice and actions we get an insight into who she is and the kind of life she leads. She has a unique way of thinking and acting, but while she is odd in some people’s eyes, her heart has good intentions.

The premise of detailing her story through the A-Z school assignment is a clever solution as it allows Candice’s story to be told in full and you can see the interconnecting actions. Jonsberg explores her family situation and the complex history naturally and in due course, we also get to see her interactions with those around her like her friends and fellow classmates.

Underneath the humour and the quirkiness there is a powerful story about family and forgiveness, and the healing nature of love. Candice is a powerful force in her own right and it is cringe-worthy at times when you read about what she is doing, but understanding she is twelve years old, with her own way of thinking, sometimes that is just what is called for.

You can purchase My Life as an Alphabet via the following

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