Book Review: The Huntress – Sky (Sarah Driver)

* I have been given a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review *

Publisher: Egmont

Pages: 384

Release Date: September 7th 2017

Summary (from Goodreads):

Seek the scattered Storm-Opals of Sea, Sky and Land, before an enemy finds them and uses them to wield dark power. . .

The trail of the Storm-Opals takes Mouse further than she has ever been before. With her little brother Sparrow and friend Crow alongside her, she stumbles into the world of Sky, where fortresses are hidden amongst the clouds, secret libraries (skybraries) nestle atop gigantic icebergs and the sky swirls with warring tribes and their ferocious flying beasts. Can they solve Da’s message before it’s too late for their ship, their tribe and the whole of Trianukka?

Continue reading “Book Review: The Huntress – Sky (Sarah Driver)”

Book Review: Flame in the Mist (Renée Ahdieh)

* I have been given a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review *

Publisher: Hodder and Stoughton

Pages: 402

Release Date: May 18th 2017

Summary (from Goodreads):

The daughter of a prominent samurai, Mariko has long known her place—she may be an accomplished alchemist, whose cunning rivals that of her brother Kenshin, but because she is not a boy, her future has always been out of her hands. At just seventeen years old, Mariko is promised to Minamoto Raiden, the son of the emperor’s favorite consort—a political marriage that will elevate her family’s standing. But en route to the imperial city of Inako, Mariko narrowly escapes a bloody ambush by a dangerous gang of bandits known as the Black Clan, who she learns has been hired to kill her before she reaches the palace.

Dressed as a peasant boy, Mariko sets out to infiltrate the ranks of the Black Clan, determined to track down the person responsible for the target on her back. But she’s quickly captured and taken to the Black Clan’s secret hideout, where she meets their leader, the rebel ronin Takeda Ranmaru, and his second-in-command, his best friend Okami. Still believing her to be a boy, Ranmaru and Okami eventually warm to Mariko, impressed by her intellect and ingenuity. As Mariko gets closer to the Black Clan, she uncovers a dark history of secrets, of betrayal and murder, which will force her to question everything she’s ever known.

Review:

The description of this book reminded me a bit of Across the Nightingale Floor, which I loved as a teen, so I knew I had to read it.

When Mariko is ambushed on the way to her political arranged marriage and her guards and servants kills, she decides to disguise herself as a man and find out who tried to kill her, and why.

I really enjoyed this book at first but I found my attention waned about halfway through. It was still good, but it just wasn’t quite doing it for me: there was no ‘oh, the feels, stuff just happened and I read it and that was that.

Mariko was an interesting character. I do love reading about women trying to overcome the stereotypes and oppressions that are put on them because of their gender, especially in societies very different to the one I live in. I admired Mariko’s determination to prove her worth beyond a political marriage, but I did question the way she went about things a lot of the time.

She didn’t want to go home after being ambushed as there’d be questions about her maidenhood etc, so instead, she dresses as a man and hangs out with a group of men… how is that any better?! She constantly saying how smart she is and how she outwits everyone, but she rarely proves that with her actions – amongst the men of the Black Clan, she seems to be a bit out of her depth.

The twist at the end wasn’t particularly surprising and it didn’t really punch me in the stomach like I wanted it to. The romance was predictable and didn’t really do much for me either. Still, this was an enjoyable read and an interesting take on a Mulan style story.

3

Book Review: Jim Henson’s Labyrinth (Jim Henson, A.C.H Smith)

Publisher: Archaia

Pages: 288

Release Date: April 22nd 2014

Summary:

Sarah has thirteen hours to save her brother from a land where everything seems possible and nothing is what it seems.

Finally back in print and for the first time in hardcover, the novelization of LABYRINTH written by A.C.H. Smith and personally overseen by Jim Henson, is the first in a series of novels from the Jim Henson Archives.

This beautiful hardcover features unpublished goblin illustrations by legendary illustrator and concept artist Brian Froud and an exclusive peek into Jim Henson’s creative process with 50 never-before-seen pages from his personal journal, detailing the initial conception of his ideas for LABYRINTH.

Review:

The first thing to say about this is it’s a massive nostalgia fest. I’m not sure you’d get as much enjoyment out of it if you weren’t a fan of the film/hadn’t watched it when you were younger. This doesn’t apply to me as I was a huge fan of it when I was younger. It came out about five years before I was born but I remember having it on VHS and watching it over and over with my sister and cousins.

Labyrinth is a coming of age fantasy about Sarah, a young girl who resents her stepmother and half brother and wishes the Goblin King would take him away. Lo and behold, the Goblin King (still David Bowie in my head when I read this) does just that and gives Sarah thirteen hours to solve his labyrinth and save her brother. She meets a whole host of colourful characters, learns some lessons about fairness and friendship and eventually faces down the Goblin King. It’s a good old-fashioned adventure story with some great puzzles and riddles and some truly weird characters.

Throughout reading, I was constantly picturing the film. The prose was fairly simplistic: I’m not really sure what age this is aimed at, other than people like me who loved the film. While I really enjoyed reading it, I think it lacked a bit of the magic of the film, and that’s because it didn’t have the film’s amazing visuals: the puppets, the amazing sets, David Bowie… It did remind me how much I loved the film though.

In this edition, there’s extras at the end which were really interesting. There’s several pages of original drawings by Brian Froud, Jim Henson’s longtime collaborator, and notes from Jim Henson when he was coming up with ideas for the film. Froud’s drawings were truly amazing and I could spend ages looking at them. I struggled with Jim Henson’s notes: while the idea of reading them was exciting, I’m terrible at reading handwriting, and couldn’t really make out what a lot of it said. That’s a personal thing, though.

If you’re a fan of the original Labyrinth film and want to have a good old dose of nostalgia then this book is definitely for you.

4

Book Review: Here Be Witches (Sarah Mussi)

*I received a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review*

Publisher: Shrine Bell

Pages: 476

Release Date: March 1st 2017

Summary:

All Ellie Morgan wants is to be with her one true love, Henry. But she’s caught in the middle of a BATTLE as old as SNOWDON itself. A battle between GOOD and EVIL. A WITCHES’ SPELL, cast high on the mountain, has sped up time and made matters MUCH WORSE. The dragons are awake; mythical creatures and evil ghosts have risen. And nearly all of them want Ellie DEAD. Thank heavens for loyal friend George, disloyal bestie Rhi, and mysterious stranger, Davey. Armed with Granny Jones’s potions, Ellie and her companions must set out on a journey to REVERSE THE SPELL, stop the EVIL White Dragon and find Henry. As an eternal winter tightens its grip on Snowdon, Ellie and her friends have just THREE DAYS to SURVIVE and complete their quest.

Review:

When I was contacted about reviewing this book, the main reason I wanted to was because of the setting. I went to university in Bangor in North Wales and lived there for five years. There’s something weirdly exciting about reading a book set where you’ve lived. I got a little thrill when she mentioned Bangor, could really picture the scary beauty of Snowdon and even picked out the odd Welsh word I knew (my Welsh is terrible). Bonus points also as my best friend, who still lives there, is called Eli.

That’s a pretty personal reason for liking a book, so I’ll move on…

This is the second book in the Snowdonia Chronicles series. I haven’t read the first book but managed to pick up enough from this one to figure out what had been going on in it. I don’t think it really affected my reading and I didn’t feel like I was missing anything.

Ellie is a fun narrator. She’s funny and sarcastic and I loved how she’d sometimes write what she meant, then cross it out to put something nicer. The narration style was very chatty and that made her feel relatable, like you were reading something from a friend. I also loved George’s Gran, who was a bit eccentric but also right about all the weird things she said and gave them good advice with her sound knowledge of Wales and folklore.

I wasn’t as keen on George and Rhi. George’s love for Ellie just seemed odd to me. It felt weird for him to keep going on about him fancying Ellie to her face all the time: it would make me feel awkward if I were her and I just didn’t like the relationship. Rhi was another thing altogether. She does some pretty bad stuff (no spoilers) and while Ellie is mad at her for it, she forgives her far more easily than I would have. Rhi also goes on about loving George all the time to and I found that weird.

The folklore in the book was really interesting and has made me want to read up on some of it more. I loved that it referred to The Mabinogion a lot and used a lot of Welsh words and phrases. A lot of things were explained with footnotes, which was handy, although they were often explained between the characters in the book too, which felt a bit like overkill.

 I didn’t always feel the danger of the book: while they kept saying the stakes were high, I don’t think I always felt it. I found some of the characters a bit too annoying and unrealistic, but others, like Ellie, felt spot on.If you like fantasy and folklore then this is a great book for you. There are some things you’ll probably find familiar but a lot might be new to you, as it was for me, and I know I want to look into some of these things more.

3

Book Review: Naondel (Maria Turtschaninoff)

* I received a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review *

Publisher: Pushkin Children’s Books

Pages: 480

Release Date: April 6th 2017

Summary (from Goodreads):

In the opulent palace of Ohaddin, women have one purpose – to obey. Some were brought here as girls, captured and enslaved; some as servants; some as wives. All of them must do what the Master tells them, for he wields a deadly and secret power. But the women have powers too. One is a healer. One can control dreams. One is a warrior. One can see everything that is coming. In their golden prison, the women wait. They plan. They write down their stories. They dream of a refuge, a safe place where girls can be free. And, finally, when the moon glows red, they will have their revenge.

Review:

This book just blew me away. I really enjoyed Maresi when I read it but this was in another league. I wasn’t sure what to expect in the prequel but this perfectly told the story of the women who founded the Red Abbey.

The book is told from the point of view of each of these women. It starts with Kabira, a young girl who is the guardian to a powerful spring called Anji. When Iskan, the son of the Vizier enters her life, he seduces her and she tells him Anji’s secrets. He uses them to gain power for himself, forces Kabira to marry him and takes control of her life. As he gains more and more power, he enslaves other women and destroys many lives.

The book weaves together the stories each of the women beautifully. Once Kabira’s first section was done I thought I’d struggle to start reading someone else’s story but I quickly became invested in each women’s tale. I loved how they connected to each other, even though their connection was Iskan and the horrible things he did to them. It helped the story cover a large time span without feeling like you were jumping too far forward or missing anything and it was interesting to see the women through each other’s eyes.

I felt most connected to Kabira, probably because she started the story off and I felt she suffered the most at Iskan’s hands. It wasn’t just the rape, but what he did to her family, her children and how he controlled and ruined her entire life. I really felt her pain and grief and sometimes when I was reading it just made me so sad. The other women were all very interesting and different: I particularly liked Estegi and Sulani’s story, especially the revelations at the end (no spoilers!) Orseola’s dreamweaving was fascinating and Iona’ story was really intriguing and sad.

Iskan was an incredible villain. I seriously hated him. He had no redeeming features in my eyes, not after what he did to all of them. He was very well written, his motivations clear and his actions all true to his character. It takes skill to write a character that you can loathe like that: he made my skin crawl whenever he was on the page.

This is a gritty read and it feels weird saying I enjoyed it when I think about all the horrible stuff that happened in it. But it was beautifully written with incredible characters, and while the main part of the book was filled with heartache and tragedy, there was also hope. If you’ve read Maresi then you know what these women go on to create and you get a glimpse of this at the end, though this book is really the story of their lives before they founded the Red Abbey. After all they go through at Iskan’s hands, it’s easy to see why they created a place where men weren’t allowed and women could be taught their worth.

I cannot recommend this book enough, whether you’ve read Maresi or not. If you enjoyed The Handmaid’s Tale or Only Ever Yours then you’ll love this. It’s tragic and painful and hopeful and empowering and I just loved it.

Book Review: The Huntress – Sea (Sarah Driver)

* I have been given a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review *

Publisher: Egmont

Pages: 336

Release Date: April 6th 2017

Summary (from Goodreads):

In the sky, the fire spirits dance and ripple. Grandma says they showed our Tribe that I’d be a captain, before I was even born.

Ever since Ma died, Mouse has looked after her little brother, Sparrow, dreaming of her destiny as captain of the Huntress. But now Da’s missing, Sparrow is in danger, and a deathly cold is creeping across Trianukka .

Review:

This book was sent to me wrapped up in a beautiful piece of fur with a gorgeous bookmark and map in a bottle. It was such a pretty package and the book lived up to it’s wrapping!

IMG_7384

Mouse is going to be captain of the Huntress when she grows up, but for now she has to look after her sickly brother, Sparrow. When their Da goes missing and a mysterious stranger arrives on their ship, things take a bad turn for Mouse.

This felt like a great, old-fashioned adventure story, like ones I loved when I was younger. There’s danger, there are wild beasts and animal friends, magic and fighting and a race to save a loved one. The pace is fast, the story moves quickly from one danger to the next and you’re never bored when reading it.

The language of the book is really distinctive too. Mouse’s voice is so real it was like she was speaking in my head and I could picture her really clearly. In a Q and A in the back of the book, Sarah Driver mentions reading Spellhorn and speaking like the Wild Ones after reading it, and that’s what this reminded me of (also I’d forgotten the name of that book so thanks to her for reminding me!) The Tribe have their own dialect that helps to develop their culture and makes them very memorable. The descriptions are beautifully vivid too; it’s just a delight to read.

I loved Mouse: her impulsiveness and determination and honesty just made her really likeable. She reminded me a bit of Lyra from His Dark Materials. Her ability in ‘beast chatter’ made the creatures around her more interesting too: rather than having standard talking animals, Mouse has a gift that allows her to hear them and communicate back. She talks to her sea-hawk and Sparrow’s moonsprite and uses her gift to help her on her adventures.

This is a really rich, exciting tale, beautifully told and clearly the start of an exciting series. It’s aimed at younger readers but the language can be a little complex and I think it could be a little challenging, but it’s so captivating I think adults and children alike can enjoy.

4

Book Review: The Scarecrow Queen (Melinda Salisbury)

Publisher: Scholastic

Pages: 336

Release Date: March 2nd 2017

Summary (from Goodreads):

The final battle is coming . . .

As the Sleeping Prince tightens his hold on Lormere and Tregellan, the net closes in on the ragged band of rebels trying desperately to defeat him. Twylla and Errin are separated, isolated, and running out of time. The final battle is coming, and Aurek will stop at nothing to keep the throne forever . . .

Review:

This is one of my favourite new fantasy series and I was so excited/sad to read this final book. After reading books from Twylla and Errin separately it was great to see their stories come together as they both battled the Sleeping Prince in their own way.

Warning: spoilers ahead if you haven’t read the previous books. You have been warned!

Errin and Silas are prisoners of the Sleeping Prince, victims of his whims and forced to do as he says for fear of the other getting hurt. Meanwhile, Twylla has been left to pick up the pieces of their shattered rebellion.

Before reading this I re-read The Sin Eater’s Daughter and The Sleeping Prince and it was great to reabsorb myself in that world and remember all the events that had come before. On second reading, I didn’t really like Merek until this book. In the first book I found him a bit closed off and up himself, and I didn’t like the things he asked of Twylla. He really came into his own in this book though and I found myself hoping he and Twylla would get together, even though before I was totally Team Leif.

Speaking of which… what a frustrating character! I think some people have found his actions baffling but I kind of get it. He’s like the kid in the playground who sides with the school bully and wants to please him without upsetting everyone else too much. He’ll pull your pig tails but say sorry later. Only in Leif’s case his actions are a lot more serious and can’t be made up for so easily. I won’t say anymore for fear of spoilers but I did like his storyline, despite wanting to give him a good slap most of the time. While I was kind of over the whole him and Twylla thing, I did wish he’d help his sister out more.

The Sleeping Prince was even more wonderful in this book, probably because we got to see him a lot more. There’s a casual cruelty to him that just makes my skin crawl. The things Errin went through while living in the castle with him… *shudders* I don’t know how she stayed so strong, to be honest.

In the last book I wasn’t sure about Twylla when she just announced that she was going to raise an army and fight the Sleeping Prince. But by Gods, she went and did it in this book! I liked that she started off uncertain and got off on the wrong foot (when she started the whole thing with the chamberpots I was rolling my eyes – glad it didn’t work out for her!). She proves herself to be a worthy leader though, and while I understand her frustration at having destinies written for her all the time, she does manage to take this one and make it her own.

The ending was not as bad as I expected. And I don’t mean that in a bad way. I was expecting to have Mel drive a knife into my chest and cut a perfect cirlce and drag out my still beating heart… but it was relatively tame. It was exciting and dramatic and yes, a little sad, but it didn’t break my heart too much. It felt like the right way to end things: rebellions can’t be won without loss and pain, and there was some of that, but there was also hope and resolution and I think the balance was just right.

This has been an incredible series and is one I still recommend to friends all the time. I loved the writing and the rich worldbuilding and I can’t wait to see what Melinda Salisbury writes next.

Copy of an art exhibit

Book Review: Frogkisser! (Garth Nix)

* I have been given a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review *

Publisher: Scholastic

Pages: 384

Release Date: February 28th 2017

Summary (from Goodreads):

The last thing she needs is a prince. The first thing she needs is some magic.

Poor Princess Anya. Forced to live with her evil stepmother’s new husband, her evil stepstepfather. Plagued with an unfortunate ability to break curses with a magic-assisted kiss. And forced to go on the run when her stepstepfather decides to make the kingdom entirely his own.

Aided by a loyal talking dog, a boy thief trapped in the body of a newt, and some extraordinarily mischievous wizards, Anya sets off on a Quest that, if she plays it right, will ultimately free her land—and teach her a thing or two about the use of power, the effectiveness of a well-placed pucker, and the finding of friends in places both high and low.

Review:

I loved Garth Nix books when I was a teen so when I saw this on NetGalley I had to request it. I think it’s the first of his I’ve read as an adult, possibly the first I’ve read that isn’t part of a series too.

Princess Anya wants to be a sorcerer, not to go on a quest to defeat her evil stepstepfather and restore law to the land. But when circumstances force her to do just that, she learns a lot more about herself and her land than she ever imagined. Her Quest keeps growing out of her control. At first she only wants to transform the Frog Prince Denholm and find a way to defeat the evil Duke. Along the way she picks up more creatures to transform back and a task to bring justice back to the land.

This was a fun fairytale read with some amazing characters. I liked seeing how Anya grew over the book, from someone who just wanted to stay in her library and read books, to someone who is interested in the larger issues of the land: justice and laws and her obligations as a Princess to her people. She starts off pretty self-centred but learns a lot over her journey.

On her Quest Anya meets a whole host of colourful characters: the Royal Dogs, a thief boy turned into a newt, an otter turned into human-otter and a Good Wizard. The Good Wizard was one of my favourite characters and the best take on Snow White and the Seven Dwarves I’ve read. I loved that normal gender roles weren’t really adhered to like you might expect to find in a fairytale. Wizards can be women, knights can be women, thieves can be women. Okay, so I’m just pleased there were lots of female characters, but it makes such a change from those roles being confined to men. The book plays with some traditional fairytale tropes

The book plays with some traditional fairytale tropes. While we have one princess who is your typical fairytale princess – Anya’s sister Morven is happy waiting for a prince to come to her – Anya herself is more interested in studying and doesn’t have time for princes. I loved that there was no romance storyline for her.

This is really different from anything I’ve read from Garth Nix before but still a fun, fantastical read that I really enjoyed.

4

Guest Post: Satisfying Endings by Sarah Mussi

I’m totally thrilled to be with Maia and a Little Moore on the final post of my blog tour for book two in The Snowdonia Chronicles: Here be Witches

THANK YOU SO MUCH FOR HAVING ME MAIA!

During my blog tour I have been interviewing myself on HOW TO WRITE A SEQUEL!

And today Sarah asks Sarah …

Q

Can you recap on Here Be Witches for our readers who have just caught up with this tour?

A

Right, Here Be Witches is the second story in the series The Snowdonia Chronicles

Here be Witches

THE SEQUEL TO HERE BE DRAGONS – A PERILOUS ADVENTURE INTO THE MAGICAL AND MURDEROUS REALM OF MYTHICAL SNOWDONIA

Q

Now this is our last blog post and we’ve covered characters and whether to change them or not; settings and how to keep them fresh; plot and how each storyline needs to stand alone in a series with an overarching goal, and now we are coming to endings – how do you set up the ending, so that you can write the next one in the series and still end this story off satisfactorily?

A

Wow – good question and quite hard to answer … anyway I will have a go at it. I think one of the lovely things about writing a series is that readers can keep spending time with characters they have grown to know almost as deeply as they know themselves and they can be guaranteed another adventure in the company of those characters.

However the adventures have to be separate and different and some of the characters need to take a break and new characters need to be introduced. Also what this and many other series actually need – right from the beginning – is an overarching structure or goal. Or an unanswered question.

I think the unanswered question in the Snowdonia Chronicles is: will Ellie and Henry ever really be able to get together, or are the difficulties that separate them insurmountable?

The series then takes completely different adventures in the pursuit of this one main goal. Each of the series titles will have its own separate sub-goal that maintains the same protagonist, sidekick and romance character and antagonist. This gives the stories a coherence. One of the trickiest things to do is how to end the current story in the series so that it has a satisfactory stand-alone ending with its own complete obligatory scene and yet leaves some exciting yet totally different adventure open to happening in the next book.

Q

So how did you do this Sarah in Here Be Witches?

A

First of all I had to thoroughly understand what the obligatory or climactic scene needed to achieve in every story, so that I could deliver a satisfactory and complete ending for each adventure – this is what I found out:

The obligatory scene

The closing section of a story, just before the end should deliver the final confrontation between the forces for good and the forces of evil. This is the moment when my hero must win against all odds against the antagonistic forces (for now). They must face their worst fears to rescue, triumph and survive. And yet the antagonist must not be completely defeated but retire in malice, ready to fight again in the next story with even more wickedness, malice and motive.

In preparing for the fight, I had to consider: How does the confrontation develop? Does your hero nearly lose? How do they defeat the enemy?

I also had to consider what inner resolve/strength/truth is in my protagonist: How does it help my protagonist to grow? How does it help my protagonist to overcome the antagonist? (If they do – or accept defeat.)

I had to be sure I delivered on all the following:

ACT 3 The climax /ordeal/obligatory scene/

Several things must occur at the climax of the story: the hero must face the biggest obstacle of the entire story (so far); she must determine her own fate; and the outer motivation (this story goal) must be resolved once and for all (for now).  

I wanted the outer motivation to be resolved, but also for the protagonist to win by losing (be kept heroic), undergo a ‘seeming’ death (create reader empathy), and be reborn – or returned to a former (yet wiser) state.

This is important for the satisfactory ending of the story, but also important so that I could set up the way the next story will develop – so that it seemed right and natural that it should develop in that way. To do this I had to keep the series goal unresolved (will they ever be with the one they love?) but deliver on the narrative goal in Here be Witches (save Henry and Snowdonia and break the witches’ spell).

Q

So Sarah how did you end Here be Witches … and achieve this duality?

A

Well, just like I set up the prologue in order to overcome problems with a first person narration, I set up the epilogue to bring about closure to the current story and yet introduce the possibility that there was more to come. Below is an excerpt from the epilogue and you can see for yourself how it puts to bed the first story and introduces the possibility that this not the end of things. Here it is!


So Mote It Be

Later that spring ~ 30th April ~ The Eve of Calan Mai*

ELLIE’S PHONE 30th April 12.00

Status: In a committed relationship

This morning the sun is shining. I’ve biked all the way up to the top of Pen-y-Pass.

I rest briefly. I check the straw man I’ve made is safe inside my pocket.

Then carry on with my plan.

I’m going to Dinas Emrys for the first time since March.

My heart pounds. I bite my lip. But I’m ready.

‘I’m coming Henry,’ I whisper.

Going downhill from Pen-y-Pass is scary. The road falls away in front of me, there’s a hairpin bend just ahead, so I cling on. The road drops and drops away, and I have that feeling, as if I’m flying off into nothingness.

I hold my breath. I tear through the sunshine, all the way down to the junction, on to the Beddgelert road. Then I race through the morning like the wind. The bike flies beneath me. I want to reach Dinas Emrys quickly. I want to lay my charm on Henry’s lair, before Sheila or anyone else tries their magick there again.

I hit the Beddgelert road at speed. Air whips my hair back, stings my eyes. The sky is as blue as blue. Sunlight slants off everything. The sides of the mountain lie covered in thick purple heather. The air is charged with such sweetness.

I shoot downhill, all the way to Lake Gwynant.

The water on the lake stretches out shining black. Sundrenched slopes rise from its shores. The road lies totally deserted; the mountain is all mine. Sometimes I like it best that way – just Snowdon and me.

I race past Lake Gwynant crouched low. Just the grey road, winding on down alongside the Afon Glaslyn, down to Lynn Dinas.

I squint into the distance. My heartbeat jumps about. The fortress of Dinas Emrys lies smack ahead.

I think of Henry lying curled under the earth, so near, so far.

He’ll be there.

I need to keep it that way.

What did George say?

‘Be careful Elles. Tonight – May Eve – is auspicious. Gran says you must lay a charm to protect Henry.’

No more witchy stuff with covens. No more trying to wake up my Henry.

An image of Sir Oswald flashes across my mind. Pale eyes. Hooded eyelids. He’ll be under the mountain too.

I slow down.

I swing off the road and cycle up towards a lush green pasture.

I take my shortcut, through a turning to a farm, behind a row of mobile holiday homes, where I can scramble up a steep slope between trees, and get to the fortress from the back. The bracken is tight and scratchy, but it’s really not too far and saves a good three-mile hike.

I go through the farm gates; it’s private property, but there’s no need to worry about the holiday homes now. They’ll be full of tourists at this time of year. They won’t give me a second glance.

I chain the bike to a handy sapling behind the first chalet.

In front of me rises a steep bank, covered by spindly trees. Thick green moss coats every patch of bark. Their roots are tangled knots of black. In parts, the rocky hillside is almost sheer. High above, a skylark trills out short, rapturous notes. I hoist myself up from trunk to trunk. I try to stay strong.

Since the spring equinox, I’ve stayed away from here, too many memories, too much sadness, but I guess I’m needed today.

I climb up to the top of Dinas Emrys. Pause. Pant. Just breathe in warm air.

Since the second landslide, the hill is not much changed. That is the way Henry planned it.

I turn to look up towards Snowdon. Everywhere is thick with brilliance, but through the blinding sunshine, blurred by the shimmer of late spring warmth, I think – no – I’m certain, I see a figure.

There he is: the figure of a young man poised on the edge of the mountain.

I smile.

I rub my eyes. Is it really a figure? Or just a trick of the light? A memory perhaps? Or George checking I made it safely? Rays from the risen sun dazzle me. By the time I look again, he’s gone.

My heart starts pounding.

I squint just to be sure.

I wish so much it were Henry.

Nothing.

But then this is Snowdon.

Yr Wyddfa.

The great burial den of the dragons

Here anything can happen.

Especially on May Eve.

Yes, May Eve and I have come here for crogi gwr gwellt: ‘hanging a straw man’.

It’s a tradition on May Eve that when a lover has lost their sweetheart, they make a man out of straw and put it somewhere in the vicinity of where the lover sleeps.

The straw man represents the enemy, the one that seeks to take the heart of the beloved away.

I find the right spot.

Just where I stood with Rhi.

Just where half of the north face of Dinas Emrys split open.

A vision flashes before me … trees uprooted, boulders cracked; great half-broken tree trunks sticking up in the air. That overpowering smell of crushed foliage, that sickly scent of damp earth, that great scar, huge open depths …

The vision passes.

I pin a note to my straw man.

Gran helped me craft the words:

‘By water and fire, earth and air,

Let Henry’s enemies beware.

Let the words of my charm,

Protect his heart from any harm.

Let the power of my love,

Strengthened by the stars above,

Keep him safe, keep him secure,

Keep his heart forever pure.

By the flowers of Blodeuwedd

Let none attempt to breach his bed.’

***

I place the adder stone on the note.

I sprinkle the place with a potion Gran brewed for me.

I look up to the mountains.

‘I will find a way to be with you again, Henry,’ I whisper.

Then I pray to Snowdon to keep him safe, out of the reach of any evil.

Until I can keep my promise.

* Calan Mai, the first day of May or Calan Haf, the first day of summer is a holy day in Wales. Celebration bonfires start on the evening before, known as May Eve. This night is considered an Ysbrydnos or ‘spirit night’ when spirits are out and about, and divination is possible.

And so the adventures of Ellie and The Snowdonia Chronicles will continue into book three …  a new story with a new goal, but also one that will be the over arching goal of the series to an exciting conclusion and deliver on the seeds planted in Here be Witches!

THANK YOU SO MUCH FOR HAVING ME, MAIA!

THANK YOU READERS FOR FOLLOWING MY BLOGS!

I HOPE YOU LOVE READING HERE BE WITCHES.

 



Thank you so much to Sarah for being on my blog today! If you’d like to catch up with the rest of the tour you can do so here:

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Book Review: Blood for Blood (Ryan Graudin)

* I have been given a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review *

Publisher: Orion Children’s Books

Pages: 481

Release Date: October 6th 2016

Summary (from Goodreads):

There would be blood. Blood for blood. Blood to pay. An entire world of it.

For the resistance in the Third Reich, the war may be over, but the fight has just begun. Death camp survivor Yael, who has the power to skinshift, is on the run: the world has just seen her shoot and kill Hitler. But the truth of what happened is far more complicated, and its consequences are deadly. Yael and her unlikely comrades dive into enemy territory to try to turn the tide against Hitler’s army, and there is no alternative but to see their mission through to the end, whatever the cost.

But in the midst of the chaos, Yael’s past and future collide when she comes face to face with a ghost from her past, and a spark with a fellow rider begins to grow into something more. Dark secrets reveal dark truths and one question hangs over them all—how far can you go for the ones you love?

Review:

I enjoyed Wolf by Wolf  last year and was really excited when I was approved to read the sequel. Unfortunately I really struggled to get into it. I don’t know if it was because I’d just read an amazing book and my mind was still on that one, or if it was because I’d not read the first book in a while, but I got to about 30% through and was ready to give up. I was confused by some of the names and couldn’t see where the book was going.

I took a break from reading and came back to it a week later and finally got into the swing of it. The pace picked up, they had an aim and I had some idea of where the book was going, although it took a lot of twists and turns, of course. I remembered why I liked the characters and after an incredible finale I was really glad I stuck with it.

The book picks up straight after where the first one left off, with Yael on the run after shooting Hitler. With Luka and Felix, she must do all she can to support the uprising and finish the mission she started. Luka has his eyes opened about what life in the Fuhrer’s Germany is really like for non-Aryans and Felix has to make a difficult choice but family and doing the right thing.

I loved Yael again: she’s just as strong and focussed as before, although I wasn’t keen on the lean towards romance in this book. While I liked her and Luka as a couple, I just wasn’t that bothered about the story line there, and felt they should be concentrating on more important things, like saving the world! Still, I loved Yael’s depth and complexity and wish there were more characters like her around.

I found Felix’s story really interesting. I was never sure what choice he would make, nor what was the right one. Morally speaking the choice is obvious, but when family comes into it, nothing is straightforward. I knew whatever he chose, I’d understand the decision behind it.

The climax was fantastic, one surprise to the next that left me breathless and desperate to read more (I actually read one of the chapters on my phone while pretending to be busy at work…) It was satisfyingly dramatic and intense with enough success and heartbreak to keep me happy. But one of my favourite bits was the last chapter, where we catch up with the characters shortly after those events. I liked that everything wasn’t suddenly happy and perfect in Germany and the world: war raged on and things weren’t okay overnight, but the big steps had been taken and they were on their way to change.

I’ve marked this down for the beginning as I just felt the pacing was really off in the book. While Yael and her friends didn’t have a concrete aim it felt like the book meandered for a bit. But it really picked up once they got going and I’m glad I stuck with it.

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