My Name is Victoria by Lucy Worsley

Riveting read for those who like history with a twist!

My Name is Victoria is a sensational read about the young Queen Victoria in a fictional setting. It’s an interesting read that explores the young Queen’s life from when she was a young princess up to adolescence. I enjoyed the themes explored including friendship, loyalty, and selflessness. There are some twists and turns which did surprise me. I recommend this book for young readers who like history and learning about Queen Victoria’s struggles growing up in a royal household and fighting the “system” that she was born into. The chapters are set at different life stages of Queen Victoria as well as well known landmark settings like Kensington Place and Winsor Castle. I particularly liked the illustrations at the beginning of each section which depicts the setting of the story and the black silhouettes at the beginning of each chapter which gives the book a fairy-tale vibe. This book makes you want to learn more about the monarchy and the secrets behind what it is like to be royal. It’s a worthwhile, well researched and entertaining read!

– NJ

Have Sword, Will Travel by Garth Nix and Sean Williams

“Live by the Sword.. Die by the Sword.. No matter how often the Sword yells at you.. “

Release Date: 31 October 2017

Get ready boys and girls.. it’s time for a chivalrous quest!!!

This is an epic story that follows the Odo, Eleanor and Biter – an unlikely knight, a stubborn, head strong girl and.. a talking sword as they embark on a thrilling adventure to save their kingdom from the danger that comes in both human and dragon form. This is one fantastic collaboration between Garth Nix and Sean Williams. A very fun story to read that I was easily engrossed in, I always wanted to know what happened next and I grew fond of the characters very quickly. Yes I even enjoyed a laugh or two. I particularly liked the use of ‘medieval’ font for each time the sword, Biter, would speak – the setting of the scene really puts you there. I also loved the witty dialogue between Odo and Eleanor that presents a strong friendship and importance of team work. I found Eleanor’s character to be an important part of the story – being quite intelligent and head strong, Eleanor demonstrated strength in female characters which I find to be important for middle grade literature – it doesn’t always have to be a heroic prince or a male knight who has ability to embark on a quest and to save their kingdom. Although I can see this story is suitable for a younger audience, it would also be suitable for older readers and fans of adventure reads for young adults. It’s definitely a family friendly adventure that’s well written, easy to read that pulls you in from page one. I certainly enjoyed this one, another favourite for 2017.

Special thanks to author, Garth Nix for giving me this Advanced Review Copy at the Read3r’z Re-Vu session held in May as we hosted the “Author in Focus: Garth Nix” theme.

-Annie

A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness + Exclusive Q&A with Patrick Ness

At 12:07am, A monster shows up.. As they do..

A monster that is wild, ancient.. different.. not one you would expect..

Connor O’Mally is the central focus of this monster and he wants the most dangerous thing of all.. Connor’s truth.

Author Patrick Ness has released a few epic novels – titles you may recall: ‘The Knife of Never Letting Go” and “Release” however “A Monster Calls” is the first of his novels to hit the box office!!!

Thoughts on the book:
I flew through this book in a matter of days, it was an amazing story one I believe is suitable for all ages. It has a strong element of truth to the storyline with the added magical twist that makes it work so very well. I found it very fast paced and enjoyable. What was also very notable was the words of wisdom that is intertwined with this fantastical story – the truth will always set you free no matter how bad you believe the truth is. I highly recommend readers of all ages to pick this one up before watching the movie.

Thoughts on the movie:
Patrick Ness not only wrote the book “A Monster Calls” he also wrote the screen play for the movie adaptation. I had the pleasure of attending a private screening courtesy of Walker Books Publishers and I have to say, having often felt the deflation of watching a film adaptation that goes against a favourite book, I found the movie did the book justice. It’s a family movie that has everything – a visual feast, humour.. even a tear jerker – though I must admit, some scenes may be scary for younger viewers. The cast all delivered their parts extremely well – I was engrossed in the film from start to finish.

“A Monster Calls” kicks off in cinemas around Australia on 27 July 2017. For a sneak peek of this awesome movie, here’s the trailer!!

Special thanks to Walker Books Publishers for sending me a review copy of “A Monster Calls” and for inviting me to a private screening of the movie adaptation.

Exclusive Q&A with Patrick Ness:

How did you feel when you found out that the book was going to be turned into a film?
Well, it was great, but I am always skeptical. I’m skeptical about everything, even my books – I never believe they’re going to exist until they do, with a film even more so. So much had to be in place that was completely out of my hands. I was optimistic: there were really great creative partners, who knew what they were doing and really wanted to make this happen. But I thought, movies don’t happen to people like me! So I didn’t ever count my chickens – I’m still not counting my chickens!

You have written several screenplays. What did you find interesting about adapting your own book into a screenplay? How different a writing experience was it?
I’d been very protective of the material right the way through so I held off from selling it for a very long time. Then I thought I’d actually like to write the screenplay because I thought I knew how the story works and how it could be changed. You don’t always know that something’s going to work; you just hope.

I’ll always consider myself a novelist because in a novel, for good or ill, all the choices are yours. You’re in charge of it and it’s one hundred per cent an expression of you. That’s a great freedom and a great responsibility and a great challenge – the tyranny of all that choice! It’s hard, but really rewarding, and I love it.

Screenplays, on the other hand, are kind of like puzzles: a movie at best if a long short story, so how do you take the essence of your story and communicate everything in it in a shorter space? That kind of creative challenge can spur you on. I’ve always found limitations can be a great spurt to creativity.

What needed to change in the story? How did you feel about altering things from the book? Was there a strand from the book that you wanted to be emphasized in the film?
The bullies get emphasized in the film because they’re Conor’s connection to the outside world and, given Conor’s world is so interior (he’s always in his home, or his grandmother’s house, or in the tales), it’s important to have this visual link to the outside world in his film. We need to know what the outside looks like, and how the world regards him, and how small his world has shrunk.

There were some changed Director J.A. Bayona wanted – the director always brings things. He was very interested in the idea of legacy and what a parent leaves behind. So he had the idea that Conor loves drawing because his mother is an artist, and this works perfectly visually because it links right into the tales, which erupt from his drawings. It comes together just gorgeously at the end. Throughout the whole film there’s been a locked room in Conor’s grandmother’s house. At the end we discover that the grandmother has been making it into a room for Conor and it’s full of all his artworks and all his mother’s old drawing pads. The final shot shows him opening one up and finding a drawing of the monster on his mother’s shoulder, so she has clearly seen the monster herself, probably when she lost her father. So the monster had come for her as well and they share that. It’s a beautiful addition.

Were you involved in the casting process for the film? What do the individual actors bring to your characters?
Casting is half desperate desire and half chance. You make lists of actors you want and they’re just ridiculous because, if you were to get them all, the salaries alone would be $300 million. Liam Neeson is so perfect for the role it’s almost slightly obvious, but we thought, let’s try him anyway. And he turned out to love the book, and he’s a truly lovely man so getting him involved felt like a bit of a blessing.

As for Sigourney Weaver, I don’t think we thought she’d be available, but then Bayona called me one day and said, “We’ve got Sigourney Weaver,” and I thought, whoa! And she’s perfect – she is physically perfect and her manner is perfect.

Bayona and the producer Belén Atienza suggested Felicity Jones and got her before The Theory of Everything – before she was too busy! So that was a great bit of timing. I once talked to a director who said casting is important but, in some ways, if you get good people, the film will sort of shape itself to fit them. But still, how amazing to get Liam Neeson, Felicity Jones and Sigourney Weaver for a film that didn’t have a huge budget! And among all the kids who were auditioned, Lewis MacDougall just stood out. He’s auditioned for three things in his life and he’s got all three, so that says it all really.

Did you spend much time on set? What did you enjoy most about the film-making process?
I was involved in the process all the way through. The director, J.A. Bayona, and the producer, Belén Atienza, were very generous and very collaborative. There were lots of script meetings in Barcelona where we’d talk and talk about scripts, scenes and order. We hashed it out until we were all happy. I was on set about ten or twelves times. It was a fairly lengthy shoot because they had a juvenile lead, so could only shoot a certain amount of hours a day. Throughout the whole process they would send me scenes. They would always ask me about additions to the dialogue – every single line of dialogue they were thinking of adding in. Sometimes actors suggest things on set, and some of it’s just fantastic and needs to be woven in.

The first two weeks were spent with Liam Neeson in a suit doing motion capture for the CGI monster. Because the monster is created using CGI, they had a big model of the monster’s head on set to give Lewis something to act to. And the final tale, which is set in a graveyard, was filmed in an abandoned hospital-studio on the outskirts of Barcelona, with a huge construction of a graveyard. It looked half impressive and half not there, but then in the film it looks amazing.

A Monster Calls is a very emotional novel. How difficult was it to translate into motion onto the screen?
I think we’re a good match, me and Bayona (Director J.A. Bayona). He’s very outwardly emotional and passionate, like a lot of directors are, and I’m very reserved (which doesn’t mean unemotional, just privately emotional). So I thought between us we could probably get to a really good central point which neither of us could get to on our own. I would always want to make sure the emotion is really true. I want ugly crying, not pretty crying. I don’t want any easy outs (not that Bayona would have gone for easy outs), and he probably instinctively distrusts lack of expression in emotion. So, together, we find the right path that most people are going to fall into.

In a movie it’s the performances that are going to do it, and all the actors understood that it’s not a movie about grief, but about sadness and anger. 

Both film and illustration are activities that transform a writer’s words into images. What do you feel about that visual process?
I’m not an artist, and I’m not a film director, so I felt a huge curiosity about how Jim Kay, the book’s illustrator, and Bayona would respond to my work. Jim is so talented! Some of the stuff he drew I could never have thought of and some of the stuff Bayona shot I could ever have thought of. That’s what you wish for – somebody who knows different things than you know and brings those to the work. The important thing for me always is to keep learning. I never want to be complacent – that’s why I wanted to do the screenplay myself. Even if I failed I wanted at least to try.

-Annie

Secrets Between Friends by Fiona Palmer

“What is really important in this life?”

A wonderful page turner… A story of hope among family, friendship with a hint of romance…
You will laugh, sigh and shed a
tear.. or two..

A story of three best friends who embark on a luxury cruise and long-held secrets that spill in the confines of a cruise ship

 

Release Date: September 2017

Before I read this novel, I read that this is the first time the author had written something that was not a rural romance as it is set in the city and on the coast so I was interested in giving this a go as I’m sure writing this story would have taken the author out of her comfort zone. I also don’t normally read adult contemporary fiction so this book really was a nice change of pace for me.. and I was not disappointed.

This story follows besties Abbie, Jess and Ricki who are about to set sail on a cruise ship as they did when they were still in school and without meaning to, their secrets are exposed while they’re on their voyage. As the story flows, it explores such deep issues that I didn’t expect to see in a story – issues that are common among adults that everyone seems to take for granted – things like domestic violence, terminal illness or on a smaller scale, how adults feel when they are stuck in ruts whether in their jobs or social spheres.

Set in Australia, the story was so beautifully written and for someone who doesn’t normally cry whilst reading fiction, this story felt real – it felt like I was listening to a conversation among my girlfriends. I would recommend this to readers of adult contemporary fiction and if you are a Fiona Palmer fan and are used to her normal style of writing, I am sure you would enjoy this one too.

Special thanks to Hachette Publishers for sending me an Advanced Review Copy + the cute novelty beach chair in exchange for my honest review!

-Annie

 

The Crown’s Fate by Evelyn Skye

fantastic sequel that was just as epic as its debut!!!

“When two imperfect people come together, they make a perfect whole…”

“Nothing is more remote than yesterday, nothing is closer than tomorrow..”

In a nut shell.. I LOVED THIS BOOK!!!

This story continues from where we left off in the The Crown’s Game and we return to the characters I love so much.. Vika, Nikola and Pasha.. For those who read the first book, you remember what happened to these guys? (Really don’t want to give any spoilers here) Like book 1, book 2 kept me on the edge of my seat however I found this story to have even more mystery, intrigue and action!! The Crown’s Game focused on the building of alternate Russia and gave us insight into how The Crown’s Game worked – where enchanters entered into a competitive battle to win the position of Imperial Enchanter. However, now.. we look at the burning question – what happens when it’s not about fighting for the position of Imperial Enchanter anymore? It’s a fight for the throne…

Written so incredibly well, the story flowed amazingly even with various storylines. I absolutely loved the accurate referencing to Russian history within a fantasy story of magic set in alternate Russia. It’s definitely one of those books you can tell the author put a lot of thought, plan and research into it. I can officially say this book is another 2017 favourite!!

Special thanks to Harper Collins Publishers for sending me a review copy in exchange for my honest review.
-Annie

Fabled Kingdom Volume 1+ Exclusive Q&A with its author/graphic artist Queenie Chan!!

This is a comics-prose story. It contains chapters 1-3 (of 21)*

Fabled Kingdom, Volume 1
What if Little Red Riding Hood’s grandmother isn’t her real grandmother? What if her two trueborn grandmothers are both Queens – where one is good, and the other one is evil?

Celsia is a ‘Red Hood,’ a healer-in-training living with her grandmother in a small village deep in the woods. Life was ordinary and uneventful, until the fateful day a shocking truth is uncovered – Celsia’s grandmother isn’t her REAL grandmother. Forced to flee her village, Celsia is soon on a quest to seek her two TRUEBORN grandmothers – both powerful Queens of magical kingdoms.

Accompanied by her childhood friend Quillon and the cheeky faun Pylus, her first destination is the fabled kingdom of Fallinor, which was destroyed over 60 years ago… or was it?

Fabled Kingdom Volume 1 Review
Red Hooded Magic with an Intriguing Plot!!!
Red hooded cloak, a magically inclined basket and a girl on a mission to go to grandma’s house. Sounds like a normal red riding hood story, right? Whelp, stop there because Fabled Kingdom is anything but an ordinary story of red riding hood. Queenie takes the tale of red and weaves in her own twists in the form of werewolves, tricky fawns and magic that entices you to continue reading mixed with wonderful artwork and detail that’s your eyes a glued to the page.The characters are the highlight of the series. Our main character Celsia is a head strong heroine that made for some comedic moments. I enjoyed the secondary characters such as Quillon and the fawn that you meet on Celsia’s journey.I would recommend Fabled Kingdom to anyone who loves fairytale retellings, fantasy and beautifully crafted artwork.If I were to give it a rating, I would go 5/5 stars.
-Maisie

Exclusive Q&A by author/graphic artist: Queenie Chan
1. You have published quite a few graphic novels!! What is the name of your debut graphic novel and what titles have you published?
My first published work was a mystery-horror set in the Australian bush called “The Dreaming”, which was published with LA-based publisher TOKYOPOP in 2005. That got me some illustration work with authors Dean Koontz (Odd Thomas) and Kylie Chan (White Tiger), doing graphic novel prequels to their best-selling series. Apart from those books, I’ve also published my own collections of short ghost stories, webcomics and my fairytale YA fantasy “Fabled Kingdom.” I’m also currently moving into colour comics, so I’ve been doing a lot of short, home-made mini-comics about cute animals. I’m also planning my next graphic novel, which looks to be a standalone YA fantasy in colour.

2. Your publications are not just illustrations – it’s part story part illustrations, what goes into the structure?
Do you illustrate then write or the other way around? I’ve tried it both ways, but I find that starting with a rough outline of a comic book page and then working backwards is a better way of doing “comics-prose” storytelling. Part of the reason is because when you convert comic panels into prose, it becomes embellishment of existing comic panels, and by extension, of the characters and story. The process is like layering a cake, which I find very satisfying. Conversely, when you start with prose and then convert part of it into comics, then the process becomes somewhat reductive. Complexity has to be reduced, and while some may argue that visual presentation brings its own form of complexity (which is true), the fact is that, in some ways, it makes things fuzzy rather than exacting. Editing is also harder when you start with prose, since you need to edit twice—both before AND after you lay down the panels on the page.

3. Do you like reading graphic novels yourself? What would be your favourite?
I consume a lot of media – prose fiction, comics, video games, animation, movies and music. I don’t read as much graphic novels as I used to (mostly because I believe a creater should look for inspiration outside their own industry, lest they start cannabalising what their colleagues are doing), and I mostly read manga these days anyway, due to my love of serialised fiction. I’m currently still reading “One Piece,” which is a manga series that I’ve been reading since my early twenties. I’ve fallen off the bandwagon a bit so I need to catch up, but it still remains an inventive and fun series despite having been running for 20 years. So it’s recommended from me!

4. Who have you collaborated with on your work and what is it like to collaborate, especially when drawing/writing graphic novels? I’ve worked with Dean Koontz and Kylie Chan on their respective series, and my relationship with Kylie is especially close since I was able to talk with her directly about what she envisions for her characters and world. In terms of Dean, he was easy to work with, but communication was difficult since I was only able to talk with him through his agents and editors. I should also count the comic writers (Fred Van Lente, Landry S. Walker) who adapted his stories into comic script format for me to work on, though unfortunately due to the publishing house production line, I wasn’t able to talk to these writers either. However, I still feel I learned a lot from them, which I’m grateful for. On the other hand, working with writers made me realise how sensitive prose authors are to having their writing altered in any way. I was surprised at first – writers can get very sore at having even a SINGLE word altered – but I understand why they get so worked up. I don’t have that feeling myself though, despite being a writer too, probably because words account for only a fraction of what I do.

5. As an author and graphic novel artist, what was the most exciting experience you have had eg: Supanova or Comic Con?
Meeting Dean Koontz at the San Diego Comic-Con in 2008! I was a fan of Dean when I was growing up – the first book I bought with my own money was a Dean Koontz omnibus featuring his earliest horror works. I fell off the book-reading wagon in my early 20s, but his series “Odd Thomas” got me back into reading, so it was great to meet him in person. He was very polite, funny and gracious, which was wonderful. It’s always exciting to meet famous authors who you’ve grown up reading.

6. For the aspiring graphic novel artists, what would be the best piece of advice you could give them?
The arts is a difficult place to earn a living, but I highly recommend comics as a form of creative expression! I think that no matter what you create or why, the most important thing is to ensure that you’re working on something you love and care about, and to FINISH it. A lot of people start drawing a comic but never finishes it, which results in online comic websites looking like a graveyard of unfinished work. This is not a good thing for any creator, because it makes you look unprofessional – like it or not, even when you do comics as a hobby, it reflects poorly on you when you don’t seem to care for your readers (no matter how many readers you have). Most people also only read a story when it’s finished – if you don’t finish your work, people can’t judge your level of writing, and therefore won’t care, or trust you as a creator. You may think this is unfair, but to be honest, in this day and age, people have too much competition for their attention to care about a creator’s unfinished work. That is my 2 cents 🙂

-Interivew compiled by Annie

Many thanks to Queenie Chan for spending this time with us!! We are big fans of your work and we hope we will see you again soon, keep up the awesomeness!!

Hope Is A Decision, Selected Essays of Daisaku Ikeda

“Hope is a flame that we nurture within our hearts… and kept burning through our own determination. Most crucial is our determination to continue to believe in the limitless dignity and possibilities of both ourselves and others.” – Daisaku Ikeda

Hopeful and Highly Relevant

Daisaku Ikeda is a Buddhist philosopher, educator, essayist and anti-nuclear activist. This book is a compilation of selected essays he has written during the bleak times when he battled his childhood illness, surviving through WWII in Japan, facing the death of his mother and brother – his essays explore humanism, free-thinking, poetry, cultural exchanges of peace, hope-based dialogue and ultimately the message that we should always be hopeful despite the hard times.

Even though Ikeda’s essays were written so long ago during WWII, a lot of his essays on hope can be applied to today’s society. At first I thought this will be a highly idealistic read but I was surprised on how essential these essays are to today’s world where hope is so fragile. How can we remain hopeful at times like these, and how can life be more meaningful? Ikeda teaches us that “the key to live in a stress-filled society lies in feeling the suffering of others as our own – in unleashing the universal human capacity for empathy.” There are some really great nuggets of wisdom in his essays, if you feel like a thought-provoking and reflective read, I highly recommend this book!

Some other great quotes from this book:

“We can best negotiate the challenges we face when guided by hope, not when motivated by fear.”

“There is no need for anyone to carry the burden of a heavy heart alone.”

“Genuine happiness can be achieved only when we transform our way of life from the unthinking pursuit of pleasure to one committed to enriching our inner lives, to a focus on being more rather than simply having more.”

– Review by NJ