Author Archives: TodayWeDid

About TodayWeDid

I spend my time sharing my love of reading, arts and crafts with my four children. I also review children's and YA books.

The Truth According to Arthur by Tim Hopgood

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The Truth According to Arthur by Tim Hopgood and illustrated by David Tazzyman, hardback picture book, published by Bloomsbury Publishing in 2016.

Arthur has had a little accident involving his brother’s bike and his mum’s car. He knows it was wrong and he really doesn’t want to get into trouble, so he has a go at bending, stretching and even ignoring the truth.

The Truth According to Arthur is a funny book about telling lies, and how the truth will usually come out. The Truth has been personified and appears beside Arthur throughout the book. When Arthur is modifying the truth, he is in fact performing that action on The Truth, which is a great visual for kids. The stories Arthur tells to cover up what has happened are very funny, as are the accompanying illustrations. I really liked the style of illustration; it was colourful, not overly busy, and conveyed the story in an appealing way for younger children.

I read The Truth According to Arthur to both of my sons, one of whom has a propensity for lying. No situation is too big or too small for him to lie about; he even lies about obvious things, such as telling us he put his toy away when it is clearly clutched in his hand… But he has his Arthur moments too. Most recently pretending to have a concussion at school because he liked the fuss and attention, and he got to come home early. So when I came across this book I thought it might be a great book to share with him. Both boys greatly enjoyed the story. It was excellent that they saw that no matter what Arthur did to The Truth, it was still there, waiting to be acknowledged fully. They also saw that when Arthur admitted the truth, his mother wasn’t too angry after all, even pleased that he had told the truth. I think this will help them to understand that telling the truth is the best strategy; there’s no need to have all the worry and upset that comes with lying.

The Truth According to Arthur is suitable for preschoolers and lower primary school children. I think it is best as a shared read with children to help encourage a discussion about being brave and telling the truth. We will be reading The Truth According to Arthur again, repeating the lesson, as I feel that it will have a positive effect on my boys.

 

Have You Ever Seen? by Sarah Mazor

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Have You Ever Seen? by Sarah Mazor and illustrated by Abira Das, picture e-book, published by MazorBooks in 2018.

Auntie Lily has conjured up some very silly rhymes for the children before bedtime.

I believe that rhymes and rhythm are important for early literacy. Not only are they pleasant to listen to, they are also important for early speech development, and for reading and spelling later on. Silly rhymes are lots of fun and can even help to encourage reluctant readers to get involved. And Have You Ever Seen? is definitely full of silly rhymes.

For me, there were a few things that I struggled with when reading this book. Firstly, the presentation of the mobi. file I was reviewing was awful. The edges of the pages were cut-off, so I adjusted the page size so that I could read all of the text, but then each page of the book was spread across two pages on my reader, as well as being slightly distorted. This is one of the reasons why I prefer to read a physical book, especially in the case of picture books. Have You Ever Seen? is available as a physical book as well as the Kindle edition.

Reader difficulties aside, the story was going along fine until donkey was rhymed with monkey. Yes they both have the same finishing sound, but these words do not rhyme. And to me, an almost rhyme is worse than no rhyme. There were a few examples of this, such as swan and lawn, hippo and depot.

What exactly is the Yak spreading his ketchup on? I think it’s supposed to be a burger, possibly ‘mac’ refers to the fast food burger chain, but I think this rhyme is just forced. The dove “raining pee pee from above”, well, that is actually how birds pee, so this page didn’t really fit with the rest of the silly rhymes, unless the author just wanted to use the words “pee pee” for the laughs.

The rest of the rhymes were just the right sort of funny and silly. I liked the sheep sleeping in the melon and the goat gardening on a boat. The illustrations were quite nice too, capturing the text extremely well. The mouse was super cute, but my favourite picture was the dancing lion.

At the end of the Kindle edition there are a number of rhyme riddles for the kids to solve. This was a nice addition to the story, and a great way to get kids practicing their rhyming skills.

Have You Ever Seen? is suitable for preschool and lower primary school children.

 

*I received this book as a digital copy from the author, who asked me for an honest review of this book. I did not receive any other remuneration, and the review is composed entirely of my own opinions.

Reviews on Amazon.com.au

Status

In an earlier post I lamented Amazon’s new reviewing policy which requires a $50 spend on site within the previous twelve months in order to post reviews on their site. Since I rarely purchase anything to that value, I was no longer able to post my reviews there. However, my daughter recently saved her money up to buy some electronics, and we purchased it through my Amazon account. I got rather excited, thinking that I would be able to review on Amazon again, but alas, since I am Australian, and we automatically get redirected to Amazon.com.au now, this was not to be.

I am able and fully intend to leave book reviews on Amazon.com.au. Not quite the audience of Amazon, but I’ve got to work with what is available! Still reviewing on Goodreads and Riffle Books too.

My Dino Ate My Homework by Ingrid Sawubona

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My Dino Ate My Homework: a story about the fun of learning by Ingrid Sawubona, picture e-book, published in 2019.

Instead of helping the boy with his homework, the dinosaur eats it all up as a tasty afternoon snack. The dinosaur absorbs all the information, making him very smart, and he passes this new knowledge onto the boy.

I’m a little partial to dinosaur books, so I wanted to read this one as soon as I saw it. I enjoyed reading it and sharing it with my kids.

The text rhymes throughout the story, and contains some interesting factoids. My five year olds thought it was pretty funny, especially when the dino did the eating! I learnt that Maine only has one state neighbour, New Hampshire, which I did not know before.

The illustrations are really good. There are pictures on every page, which are detailed and clear, with great use of colour and shading. The boy’s hair and freckles are great! The pictures are also relevant to the adjacent text. My only complaint is that the picture of the food chain is incorrectly depicted as a cycle, rather than an hierarchy.

My Dino Ate My Homework is suitable for preschool and lower primary school children. It was enjoyable to read aloud with my little fellas, and has already been requested for a re-read at bed-time.

 

*I received this book as a digital copy from the author, who asked me for an honest review of this book. I did not receive any other remuneration, and the review is composed entirely of my own opinions.

Princess Bella and the Dragon’s Charm by Pete Planisek

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Princess Bella and the Dragon’s Charm by Pete Planisek, illustrated by Elizabeth Nordquest, chapter e-book, 42 pages, published by Enceladus Literary in 2016.

Princess Bella is beautiful and kind, but she does not laugh. Eventually the people in her kingdom begin to refer to her as the Ice Princess because no one has ever heard her laugh. One evening after a particularly bad day, Princess Bella is dragonapped from the highest tower of the castle, and removed to a treasure-filled cave high in a distant mountain. Princess Bella quickly befriends the lonely dragon, Spurlock, and they enjoy each other’s company. After a while Princess Bella begins to feel homesick. She can’t stay in a dragon’s cave forever, can she?

A whimsical tale of friendship and acceptance, I quite enjoyed Princess Bella and the Dragon’s Charm. It was a quick and easy read, with short sentences and simple phrasing perfect for young readers starting out with chapter books.

Each chapter had a colourful illustration at the start showing an image from the story. These were not only cute, but also helpful in making the text less daunting for younger readers.

The story was heart-warming, and it made me laugh, especially when Prince Himmasnob was about! Even his hair was amusing. I have a soft spot for dragons, and I really liked Spurlock. The concept of an ice-skating, skiing, snow-ball tossing dragon just delighted me.

Princess Bella and the Dragon’s Charm is most suitable for lower to middle primary school children to read themselves, but it would also be a lovely story to share aloud.

 

*I received this book as a digital copy from the author, who asked me for an honest review of this book. I did not receive any other remuneration, and the review is composed entirely of my own opinions.

Winterborne by Augusta Blythe

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Winterborne by Augusta Blythe, YA e-book, 300 pages, published in 2011.

Loie and Mia were born on the same day in the middle of a blizzard, and they have been best friends ever since. Both girls have experienced much tragedy in their intertwined lives, and they are more sisters than friends. Now that their seventeenth birthday is on the horizon, their lives are about to become even more complicated. According to Winterborne family myth, each Winterborne will develop powers at seventeen. And if that wasn’t enough, a seriously hot boy has moved in next door, and he is about to turn their lives upside down.

Winterborne is the first book of the Universe Unbound trilogy; a fantasy series for teens, told from Loie’s perspective. It gripped me early on, and I raced through the whole book overnight. I just couldn’t stop turning the pages! It was over too soon, really, and with an end that I had guessed at fairly early on, but that did not dampen any of my pleasure in reading it. I was interested by the powers that Mia was supposed to inherit, by the mystery of her missing father, and Loie’s parents’ accident, but when leprechauns arrived, oh boy, did I get excited! I love reading about mythical creatures, the good and the bad, and Winterborne had plenty. I could really visualise the evil pixie and his minions, and the hellhounds’ breath was rancid, their fear-inducing presence palpable. More books should feature such creatures of the dark!

There was also some teen romance, along with family and friend drama. Parties, boyfriends, frenemies, school, etc, but the bulk of the story revolved around Mia’s impending power surge and the danger that that was placing Mia, Georgia (Mia’s mum) and Loie in.

Mia was a princess, with beauty, money and self-confidence at off-the-chart levels. She overshadowed Loie quite a bit, with Loie acting like Mia’s faithful side-kick. That sort of relationship irks me a little, but Loie didn’t seem to mind too much, she was used to being the off-sider, rather than the main attraction. Despite this relegation to second place, which I think was largely self-imposed, Loie was really smart, pretty and incredibly loyal. While Mia was a little self involved, I still found her to be a likeable character overall, though Loie was my favourite. And Andreas, the gorgeous British neighbour, was right in the thick of things too. Andreas was charming, well mannered, blindingly handsome with a sculpted body, smart and fun; a little too perfect, sure, but so dang likeable I can forgive him his flawlessness.

Winterborne was quite an entertaining fantastical adventure, suitable for upper primary and high school readers.

 

*I received this book as a digital copy from the author, who asked me for an honest review of this book. I did not receive any other remuneration, and the review is composed entirely of my own opinions.

The Cruel Prince by Holly Black

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The Cruel Prince by Holly Black, paperback novel, 370 pages, published by Hot Key Books in 2018.

Jude is a mortal in the Faerie world, raised by Madoc, war chief to the High King, along with her sisters, Taryn and Vivi. Of the three, only Vivi is Fey, the birth daughter of Madoc. Her younger sisters are both mortal, but parentless, thanks to Madoc’s wrath. However, Madoc treats them as his own, raising them among the Fey gentry. This does not sit well with many of the Fey nobles, as they prefer their mortals to be their slaves, rather than their equals. Political change is in the air, and Jude finds herself caught up in the power struggle to be the next High King.

I found it took a little while for me to really get into this story, but once it got going I really enjoyed it. At first it seemed to be a story of some cruel teenage Fey tormenting the only mortals in their school class. While the feud was escalating and I was impressed by Jude’s determination to continue to defy Prince Cardan, I was much happier once there was spying, stealing, and murder plots, treachery and treason! It became much more exciting, and I could hardly put it down. It seemed there was no end to the Fey’s capacity for inflicting pain and humiliation on others for amusement, nor did they reserve this behaviour only for their enemies. A truly interesting and terrifying group. This did make for much action within a fast-paced, exciting story.

I found most of the characters dislikable in many ways. There is much to dislike about Cardan; he is arrogant, mean, vindictive, evilly cunning… the list really could go on, and his noble friends are almost as despicable. There isn’t much going for the other princes either. As for Madoc, he is a true general of war, delighting in bloodshed and strategy. Yet, strangely, Madoc was a character that I could connect with; he was ‘bad’ in many ways, but he owned his decisions, and he was absolutely loyal to his family. Taryn annoyed me with her too timid attitude and her disloyalty to Jude, while Oriana was a bit too distant, and kind of awkward with the girls. And Jude. What can I say about Jude? Well, I really wanted to like her, but she does not make it easy. Her determination and bravery are commendable, and she cares deeply for her family, even loving Madoc despite all he has done. Yet, she is kind of abrasive and prickly, with streaks of a cruelty and fondness for power that could undo her. There weren’t really ‘good’ and ‘bad’ guys in this story.

The Cruel Prince is most suitable for middle to upper high school students, given the level of violence throughout the book. And it is only the first in a new series, so there will be more bloodshed to be had in Faerie shortly. Yay!

Lydia: The Wild Girl of Pride and Prejudice by Natasha Farrant

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Lydia: The Wild Girl of Pride and Prejudice by Natasha Farrant, paperback novel, 352 pages, published by Chicken House in 2016.

Lydia is the youngest of the five Bennet sisters, living in rural England in the early 1800s. Their family is of the landed gentry, though not exceedingly wealthy. It was expected that girls would be demure, modest, controlled, and accomplished in a number of artistic or creative pursuits. Lydia is none of these things, and she makes no excuses. In Pride and Prejudice, Lydia is portrayed as frivolous, silly, and selfish, but there is always another side to any story, and this is Lydia’s.

Pride and Prejudice is one of my favourite novels. I know the story well, and have previously enjoyed other spin-off stories, so I was looking forward to reading this re-imagining of Lydia’s plight. I liked the story itself, and the way it was presented. It was cleverly built around the plot of the original story, with some new and exciting characters, bringing Lydia’s trip to Brighton alive.

Lydia: The Wild Girl of Pride and Prejudice is told through diary entries and letters, revealing Lydia’s innermost thoughts and feelings. She is a multi-faceted character who exhibits a certain persona to the world, but in her diary she is laid bare. Lydia is aware of how her sisters and parents view her behaviour, and even plays off these expectations to get what she wants. The restraints that society has placed upon her feel too constrictive and she must push the boundaries in order to retain her own self.

The author has built on the characters from the original story, transforming them into more complex beings. Lydia is portrayed in a more positive light in this story, still silly and impulsive, but we are privy to some of the reasoning behind her actions. I found her to be a much more likeable character. Even Wickham is slightly improved here!

Lydia: The Wild Girl of Pride and Prejudice could be read as a stand alone novel. However, I think that knowing the background of Pride and Prejudice allowed me to enjoy the story more thoroughly. I think of this story as complementary to the original, providing previously missing pieces to the puzzle that is Lydia and what occurred in Brighton. Of course, this is only one version of what may have happened, but that is the joy of fiction.

Suitable for upper primary and high school students, though if one were to read Pride and Prejudice first, probably later high school would be most appropriate.

 

 

 

Witchborn by Nicholas Bowling

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Witchborn by Nicholas Bowling, novel, 325 pages, published by Chicken House in 2017.

It is 1577 in England; Queen Elizabeth sits upon the throne, Mary Queen of Scots is imprisoned for treason, London is filled with filthy streets and dubious characters, and witch-hunting is an active sport. In the little hamlet of Fordham, Alyce’s life is upturned when the hideous Mr Hopkins and his off-sider Caxton come to accuse her mother of witchcraft. Alyce is able to escape, but the witch finders are on her tail as she makes her way to London to deliver a letter to a man her mother said would help her. Her journey is not an easy one, but one that she does not have to make alone once she befriends a young actor, Solomon. As her powers swell uncontrollably, and the witch finders continue to hunt her, she can’t help but wonder, what is so important about her?

This was an interesting historical fiction, embellished with real witches capable of far more than healing herbs and mysterious incantations. I expected witchcraft, but not the historical aspect of the rivalry between Queen Elizabeth and Mary Stuart; I found this spin on history rather intriguing. The whole story was quite immersing, and flowed smoothly with good pace. It was a bit dark, with black magic and necromancy at play, with some violence and death, but that only added to the appeal. I did think that Alyce’s emerging power should have been more thoroughly explored.

I enjoyed falling into sixteenth century London, though I am glad I don’t have to live there! The description of the streets was so detailed, I could almost smell the stench of the markets, the foulness of unwashed bodies, and the murkiness of the Thames. It was not an appealing mix, but the sights of the Tower, the rickety shops and houses, the city gates, and the countryside beyond were much more enticing. The clothing and behaviour of the people matched the setting and time well, completing the scene expertly.

I connected more with Solomon than Alyce, despite feeling great sadness and pity for her situation. Solomon’s situation wasn’t a bunch of daffodils either, but he was less hardened by his experiences than Alyce seemed to be. I liked his amiable nature, and his occasional awkwardness; he was a good friend to Alyce before he even knew her well. Alyce was strong and determined, and sometimes wilful. They made a good pair. Many of the other characters were interesting too, though they were not as developed as Alyce and Solomon. I’m afraid that Caxton may visit my nightmares some nights… what a horrible beast.

Witchborn is suitable for upper primary and high school students. It is a good read for anyone who enjoys magic, witches and historical fantasy.

 

Youpine: a new way to review

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I was recently introduced to a new website called Youpine, which I think is pretty neat.

Youpine is a review platform with a twist! Instead of giving a star rating, or writing a review, Youpine allows you to rate books and movies using sentiments, or emotive words, such as exciting, heartbreaking, awful, dark. You can leave up to eight sentiments per title, providing others with a concise description of that item. Whilst adding sentiments to each title, Youpine will also make suggestions of similar words to those you have entered. In the screenshot below, I have described The Hunger Games as fantastic, and Youpine has provided me with synonyms that might also suit the book. I like this feature, as it prompts me to think about words that might be better to describe what I’m feeling.

It is possible to search by title, sentiment or consensus on Youpine. So if you’re feeling like a romantic novel, a funny movie, or a book that has an upbeat tone, you can search for suggestions based on that.

Right now, Youpine is in its infancy, and it needs more people to join (it’s free!) and begin describing books. The more people adding their sentiments, the better the site will be, and the more accurate the sentiments and consensus for each title will become. Once Youpine gets greater numbers describing books, I think it will be quite a good resource for readers and movie lovers looking for suggestions and recommendations.

Apart from the need for more members, the site’s biggest downfall is how the titles are sourced. Most books I have searched for so far have not been in the Youpine database, probably because a lot of them are from smaller or independent publishers, and are not available through the source Youpine are currently using. Hopefully they will be able to source more titles soon. I would also really like to see an option for adding titles to Youpine by members (and authors promoting their books) to help fill the gaps.

Youpine will only get better with more people using it, so hop on over to Youpine and have a look for yourself! Please let me know your thoughts about this new platform in the comments.