Reviews

Book Review, Artania: The Pharaoh’s Cry by Laurie Woodward

Laurie Woodward is a fellow Next Chapter author (previously, they were called Creativia Publishing) who writes middle grade books the same as I do, and when I read the synopsis for the first book in her Artania series, I was so intrigued I had to grab a copy for myself.

The basic premise for the Artania series is that art is alive and the creations there have their own realm – Artania itself – that is under threat from monsters that want to wipe out all the hope and creativity from the world so they can take over Artania for themselves.

The denizens of Artania, fearful of losing their home, reach out to two young boys who have been prophesied to save them, both of whom have a passion for art but come from drastically different backgrounds: Bartholomew Borax III, whose mother is the head of a bleach company and has such an obsession with cleanliness that he has to hide his art from her lest she declare it unclean and confiscate it, and Alexander DeVinci, a cool kid who moves to a new home with a larger room for him to paint in where he spends most of his spare time, much to his mother’s sadness when he becomes so absorbed in his work that he rarely speaks to her.

As the plot gently unfolds by the switching of viewpoints between the two boys with each chapter, I found I sympathized most with Bartholomew, as his mother is so strict about him staying clean and presentable, and not picking up germs from anywhere, that he really has no interaction with other kids his age at all. When she reluctantly agrees to let him go to a public school, he is very much an outsider and knows none of the social nuances most of the kids in his class use, and it’s only when he draws a detailed portrait that he gains any sort of respect from them.

Alex is very much the opposite of Bartholomew – confident, lots of friends, easygoing parents etc, but his problems begin when his mother becomes seriously ill, and he blames himself for prioritising art over spending time with her. This neglect for art and the negative emotions around it are what the monsters feed on, making them stronger. Yet when the boys are summoned by the Artanians and learn to be friends, Bartholomew manages to help Alex rekindle his love of art.

As this is book one of a series, it only covers a small part of what the boys have to do to save Artania, focusing on a group of pharaohs who have been kidnapped by the monsters. Because of this, a lot of time and detail is spent building up their world, and it’s clear that a lot of research has gone into this book. Many of the characters are true to Egyptian mythology and history, and I actually learnt a bit while reading.

The characters’ motivations were all crystal clear, and I did find myself rooting for the boys when it got to the nitty gritty of the story. I did, however, find the pacing a bit too slow for my liking, but that’s just personal taste – I like fast paced middle grade that doesn’t let me rest, and this just didn’t have that factor. But the idea behind it was still fresh and well thought out.

I don’t know whether I will continue with the series, as despite the strong writing and plot, I can’t say it gripped me as much as I’d hoped it would. But I imagine it will be a firm favourite with many middle grade readers.

Overall, I thought it was a pretty good read.

 

Official blurb:

Young Bartholomew isn’t allowed to go to school, play outside or make art, so he sketches in secret. When Bartholomew meets the skateboarding artist, Alexander DeVinci, he’s yanked into a mythical realm of living paintings and breathing sculptures: Artania.

The two soon learn that the strange world, where everything seems to be possible, is on the verge of destruction. With Egyptian gods and goddesses by their side, they face daring battles and narrow skateboarding escapes.

But can they defeat the evil Sickhert’s army, and bring art back to the world?

Artania

Poetry

When the sun sets on the third day

If we could trace a thought from brain to mouth,

I wonder what form it would take?

Are the thoughts that get stuck in your throat

giant corks,

bottling your voice

until so much pressure builds up

it pops off and

everything comes gushing out at once?

What if they’re shaped like rare jewels

and are followed by a thief who disconnects the wires so your voice isn’t just held back,

but lost altogether?

Do you build up more walls,

or travel up the staircase

to reconnect the circuit

as many times as it takes?

Poetry

Building a dam

Troubled gaze,

flashes of haze in the mind

replacing coherence

with an utterance of garbled words.

Grinding out thoughts half-chewed

down the speaking pipe leading to you.

The waterworks called my eyes

also storm in, no surprise

and shut away every important thing

so I’m left rambling.

You understand, I know it happens to you too

and I agree it’s never grand

to be suppressed by your own throat

as it seizes up dry as a deserted moat.

Oh well. We’ll get there.

We’ll just enjoy every moment we have to spare

together.

Poetry

Mind Song

We float around in our little heads,

conjuring images from things long said

and if the circuit board

should ever be damaged

wiping our memories

both sweet and savage,

we know that time often heals

with due care, sensible practices and steady meals.

Even if we’re unsure what we’re seeking

we can still approach the stars with proper greeting.

Poetry

Throw me your voice

Your voice can turn my head no matter what task I’m at,

lift my nose from any book, draw my eyes to your face

even if you’re nowhere near.

It can still my heart in the most anxious of moments,

ease my breath

and restore the balance to my mind.

Whether only in my my thoughts or right here beside me,

you are the remedy

to all my doubts.

 

Poetry

Hubbub

Hubbub.

Who’s listening?

 

Chatter, natter, prattle

Prat.

 

Screens in our face, over our eyes

in our minds.

Siding with popular opinion,

shying away from engaging that hungry engine, the brain.

Work them, encourage them

steam-powered as they may be.

 

Quiet, I crave.

 

No, they sing.

We need the noise, need the buzz,

need the bright lights and sweat and alcohol

and neon screens

to feel normal.

 

Normal?

What is normal

but a falsity of who you are

trying to resemble

the falsehood of others.

 

Hubbub.

Who’s listening?

Chatter, natter, prattle

Prat.

 

Quiet, I crave.

Independent thinking, I urge.

Eccecentric. Weird. Outcast, they sing.

 

Reviews

Book Review: The Waterfall Traveler by S. J Lem

The Waterfall Traveler is a young adult fantasy novel that I picked up last year after seeing the author do a cover reveal on the Books Go Social Facebook page. It looked stunning, so I kept my eye on it and ordered the paperback when it was finally released. Still, due to my enormous TBR pile, it’s taken me this long to get to it. But honestly, it was worth the wait.

The story focuses on Ri, a teenage girl who has been raised in a small village on an island cut off from the mainland. Samuel, the man who raised her, found her when she was just a child on his travels, so both of them are outsiders to the village, even though they’ve lived there for years. To make matters worse, Samuel has the Sickness (which initially seems like a form of dementia) and often goes wandering off on his own. After one of these episodes, he wanders into the forest surrounding the village. When Ri finally finds him, he tells her about a boy who travels back and forth through the waterfall. She dismisses it as one of his fantasies and sends him home while she stays to try and gather some food. However, it’s not food she finds. In the dark part of the forest, she discovers a human skull covered in slime. Before she can analyse it properly, a man steps forward and goads her, with the intent of taking the fish she’s caught. Ri doesn’t give in, but a strange noise sounds around them and he tells her to flee. She does, but injures herself and collapses by the river.

Sometime later, she awakens to see a boy around her age attempting to treat her wounds. Initially, she tries to ward him off, panicking about how long she’s been unconscious due to her need to look after Samuel, but she relaxes enough for him to patch her up. Yet the danger she faced is still lurking, and they both find themselves under attack by an unseen foe. Ri is shot with a poisonous dart, so with no other choice, the boy gathers her up and takes her through the waterfall to his home on the other side.

Three days pass before Ri finally wakes up, but the boy — Bryce — tells her truthfully that he cannot simply take her back because the gateways between waterfalls change with the moon, and so the path to her island is cut off for another month. In a panic, she attempts to escape the cave Bryce lives in, only to discover the smooth-talking Carter coming to pay his best friend a visit, and to arrange the delivery of herbs Bryce gathered in the forest to certain city guards. Giving in, Bryce agrees to let her accompany them up into the streets of the city, where she discovers the huge divide between the rich and the poor, as well as the devastating news that Samuel is a wanted man there, accused of a crime she cannot bring herself to believe him capable of. And then there is the news of the Culling, a faceless danger attacking the city.

I won’t lie about this book – at first, I thought I wasn’t going to like it because I found Ri irritating and far too impulsive to be practical. However, she grew on me quickly, especially when it came to interacting with the other main characters. The book is all from her point of view, so it was interesting to be privy to the private thoughts she had about everyone. All the characters in this book are strong, with concerns so specific to them that their actions felt completely justified, even if Ri didn’t agree. Most of the hints weaved throughout the story about what was really going on linked together solidly in the conclusion, though as The Waterfall Traveler is the first book in a series, some were left open. The plot itself was well thought out, and the world building was so rich I felt like I could stroll inside the pages. Though perhaps not at one of the more perilous parts.

Another thing to note about this book is that it’s an indie, but it truly reads every bit (if not better, in some cases) as books by bigger publishers. So, if you’re unsure about reading a book that’s been self-published, I’m inclined to say give it go. I’d happily press The Waterfall Traveler into everybody’s hands if I could, and I know from experience that it’s not the only book that deserves more press than it’s had so far.

If I had to describe it in a word: enchanting.

Kat out!

Poetry

Eyes

Eyes on a stranger’s face. Even blind

they can frame a person’s thoughts – windows in and out

are still windows if they’re glazed or frosted.

Seeing isn’t the only thing they can do.

 

Looking directly might hurt, like the sun. It’s okay

if you feel that way, distance and focus points help.

 

They might wash over you; a gentle wave on the coast.

More often than not, they will judge you, even if it’s unintentional.

Society might as well have us drink poison for all the filth we’re fed.

We can dress them up, paint them pretty colours

or frame them like precious art.

 

We can ignore them if they linger too long.

 

We can learn their greeting, learn their reluctance,

learn that everything and nothing might be hidden behind them.