New Reviewers – Basil and Coco (and L)

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My ten year old daughter loves to read. She often supplies me with her opinions on books and suggests books for me to read. Over the last year or so, she has also become more interested in reviewing books. Rather than write her reviews up on the blog, we are trying video reviews. She’s a little shy though, so her reviews will be expressed through Coco Cat and Basil Bear.

We had a lot of fun making these videos! L is keen to make more, and is already working on her next review.

Have a look at our first two videos on YouTube, Introducing Basil and Coco and Basil and Coco Review Mudpuddle Farm.

More videos to come!

All the Bright Places by Jennifer Niven

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allthebrightplacesAll the Bright Places by Jennifer Niven, novel, 388 pages, published by Penguin Books in 2015.

Theodore Finch is singled out at school as a “freak”, and he has a tendency to get into trouble. His family life is not ideal, and he is battling some pretty strong inner demons. Violet Markey is part of the popular crowd, but she lost her sister in a car accident the previous winter and can’t seem to move forward. When the two meet at the top of the school bell tower an unlikely friendship is forged.

All the Bright Places touched my heart and made me cry; it spoke to me, it moved me, it reminded me that every day could be my last, so I should really live.

This poignant tale is a bit of a modern day Romeo and Juliet. It is intensely emotional and incredibly difficult to put down. Told through the alternate views of Finch and Violet, the story is beautifully written, complex and and wonderful.

The characters are rich, and honest, unique and deep. And heartbreakingly tragic. Violet and Finch, Finch and Violet, I can’t stop thinking about them. I desperately wanted to swoop in to fix all of their problems. And the pages flew by as I became invested in them, both as individuals and as a couple. I loved the wandering Indiana project as a way to discover the state, and to give this unusual pair time to really get to know one another. Quirky Finch, I am a little in love with you, and beautiful Violet, I’m a little in love with you too. Where were you when I needed you in high school?

I related to Finch like no other fictional character I can recall. I know his pain, his joy, his fear, I know him, I’ve been him. Thank you Jennifer Niven for creating Finch, I will never forget him. And thank you for Violet, I hope their lives will help others.

All the Bright Places contains themes of mental illness, domestic violence, death and suicide. If you or someone you know is experiencing any of these issues, please seek help, you could be saving a life. Know that you are not alone. There are lists of places to get help at the end of this book for a number of countries, including Australia; Beyond Blue and Lifeline can help.

All the Bright Places is suitable for high school students and beyond. I highly recommend it to all high schoolers and their parents.

 

Crossing by Catherine Norton

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crossingCrossing by Catherine Norton, paperback novel, 192 pages, published by Omnibus Books in 2014.

Cara has lived behind the Wall her entire life. She knows nothing but food shortages, and responsibilities beyond her years. When Leon and his family move into the top floor of Cara’s apartment building, she gets a glimpse of how things could be different.

Crossing was a fast, captivating story of a different life. The city in the story is nondescript, and could be anywhere in the modern world. However, the Wall is reminiscent of the Berlin Wall in Germany, and the lifestyle also had elements of socialist Russia during the Cold War. Everything about the city made me think of the colour grey; the clothes, the streets, the buildings, even the sky. The city felt defeated, along with all its residents. Their lives were full of hardships, but the loss of freedom felt particularly oppressive to me, especially when observing the view over the Wall from Leon’s apartment.

Growing up with such restrictions and deprivations was tough enough, but Cara also had to cope with her parents’ mysterious work trips, and the responsibility of caring for her younger sister, Lilith, during those times. Even when her parents were home, they didn’t appear to take much interest in Cara anyway, with most of their focus on Lilith, as she showed promising aptitude for computers that would make her useful and valuable for the government. Cara was quite isolated even within her family unit. I felt quite sympathetic towards Cara, and I was glad that she found a friend in Leon.

The story jumped from past to present quite a lot, and it was sometimes not clear when the time had changed. Otherwise, the story was good. It did end a little faster than I had expected, and I was left pondering a few unanswered questions, which is not necessarily a bad thing. This can be a creative opportunity for the reader! Overall I liked Crossing.

Crossing is most suitable for upper primary school and lower high high school students. My fifth grader read Crossing in one sitting, and told me afterwards that it was a good read for her. She felt that she read about a life vastly different to hers, and it made her appreciate her own situation and family more.

 

Wondrous by Travis M. Riddle

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wondrousWondrous by Travis M. Riddle, e-book, 388 pages, expected publication on January 17th, 2017.

In an attempt to block out his parents’ arguing, nine year old Miles hops into bed and tries to go to sleep. When he opens his eyes, instead of being in his room, he is in a strange, damp forest, in a land that is being torn apart by civil war. Rompu is also being ravaged by an evil dragonish creature conjured from another world. Could Miles be the only one strong enough to defeat it?

There was virtually no introduction to this story. I would have preferred a little more background, and setting of the scene before diving into the fantasy world of Rompu. My impressions of the story  improved as I continued to read, and I came to really like it.

The characters were detailed and interesting. Each main character was meticulously described, and I felt like I got to know them all. Miles was a confused and complex child with some issues mostly stemming from his parents’ divorce and his grandmother’s death. His discomfort in Rompu is apparent, but he endeavours to be brave and to move forward into what must seem a terrifying experience for him. Mortimer and Jaselle were kindly characters with a bit of attitude, but it was Kriket that made me laugh the most!

There was a lot of action, some of it quite violent. At times, one action scene bled into another, moving so fast I felt like I wasn’t catching it all. Within the first two chapters alone, Miles had already been in several altercations, including two where some of the creatures were burnt. A few of these sequences contained confronting and graphic violence.

During the story, there would be scenes from Miles’ home life, before he ended up in Rompu. These scenes just flowed straight on from the rest of the story, and sometimes it took a moment for me to realise I was reading about a memory of Miles’, as there was nothing to separate the text between the scenes. I did get used to the way the scenes from Austin and from Rompu integrated, but I feel like a younger reader could become easily confused by the lack of distinction between the present and the past. I had a strong sense that Miles was simply having a rather vivid dream whilst trying to avoid the reality of his fighting parents.

I think a little polishing would transform Wondrous from great to awesome. Wondrous is suitable for upper primary through to high school students.

 

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

The Alienation of Courtney Hoffman by Brady G. Stefani

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alienationThe Alienation of Courtney Hoffman by Brady G. Stefani, e-book, 282 pages, published by SparkPress in 2016.

At fifteen, Courtney Hoffman has had to deal with a lot more than most. Her parents are divorced, and her Mum is dating a creepy doctor, her Grandpa tried to drown her when she was seven… and she is being visited by aliens. Could they be real, or is she just losing her mind?

The Alienation of Courtney Hoffman was a thrilling and fast paced young adult read. It was quite different to other sci-fi books I have read, blending conspiracy theory and secret societies with alien visitation and apocalyptic action. It captured my interest very quickly, and I found it incredibly hard to put down.

The plot was complex, well written and riveting. I really enjoyed the conspiracy elements, and the mystery surrounding Courtney’s grandfather. The alien legacy was intriguing, though I’m sure it would have been much better for all the young blood-liners had someone told them of their potential for uniqueness prior to the alien visitations!

Courtney did cry more than most heroes, but that just made her seem more believable as a character. I liked her quite a bit, including her quirky fashion sense. I can hardly imagine living with her witch of a mother though; she was truly awful. I spent a lot of time thinking about her mother, and how she just wouldn’t listen to Courtney, and would rather commit her than believe her. And Dr. Anderson was just ick! I was suspicious of him from the start, he was just too weaselly. I was also wary of Haley, who just kept popping up all over the place, and seemed to know more than was good for her. My favourite character though, was Agatha. She was cool. Maybe slightly eccentric, but certainly cool. And if it wasn’t for her, Courtney could never have faced her reality and her future, which wouldn’t have made for much of a story.

Suitable for high school students and up, I highly recommend The Alienation of Courtney Hoffman to any and all fans of sci-fi. Even if you aren’t a huge sci-fi fan, give this book a try, it might surprise you!

 

*I received this book from the author (via @BookTasters) as a digital copy in exchange for an honest review. I did not receive any other remuneration, and the review is composed entirely of my own opinions.

Pig the Elf by Aaron Blabey

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pigelfPig the Elf by Aaron Blabey, hardback picture book, published by Scholastic Australia in 2016.

It’s Christmas time, and the greediest dog of all, Pig, has made a very long list of all the things he wants from Santa. He loves Christmas for all the presents that Santa will deliver, but in true Pig fashion, things don’t go the way he desires.

We have loved all of the Pig the Pug books so far, so we were excited to see what Pig would get up to at Christmas. Pig is very greedy, so it wasn’t surprising that his Christmas list was incredibly long. You can read parts of the list within the back cover of the book. I laughed reading some of the things he asked for, such as a beard, and a trained shark. Oh Pig, just what would you do with those?

Pig the Elf is a great book to share with young children during the holiday period. The story is humorous, and the language rhymes, which is fun to read aloud. The illustrations are cute and quite festive. I particularly liked Pig in his red suit; though he looks rather crazy when he is informing Trevor that he will be waiting up for Santa. Of course, there is also a message in there about being grateful instead of greedy, I’m not sure Pig will really embrace it though.

We all enjoyed Pig the Elf, and I’m sure it will be a favourite for many Christmases to come. It is most suitable for toddlers and primary school children, as well as the young at heart!

Dalmatian in a Digger by Rebecca Elliott

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dalmatiandiggerDalmatian in a Digger by Rebecca Elliott, picture e-book, 34 pages, to be published by Capstone Young Readers in February 2017.

A little dalmatian wakes up to some loud noises coming from outside. What could be making that noise?

My three year old boys loved this book. It has big machinery and animals, two of their favourite things. In their view the only thing that could have made it better was if it had dinosaurs as well! They loved the onomatopoeia that went with each vehicle. I liked the way this text was formed.

The story is simple and best read aloud for the vehicle noises. We read it as a digital edition, but I think it would have been nicer to have the physical book, as we could have seen the two-page spread as it was meant to be. The illustrations in Dalmatian in a Digger are super cute, especially the little dalmatian. The pictures are bright and clear, and we enjoyed finding the little mouse on each page. My boys liked the digger, but I was partial to the Bear in a Bulldozer.

Dalmatian in a Digger is most suitable for toddlers and preschoolers.

 

*I obtained this book as a digital copy through Netgalley. I did not receive any other remuneration, and this is an honest review composed entirely of my own opinions.

Mrs Miller – Christmas Killer by Paul Nolan

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mrsmillerMrs Miller – Christmas Killer by Paul Nolan, e-book, 98 pages,published through Createspace in 2016.

Holly Glover is starting at a new school at the start of December. She finds it strange that there are no Christmas decorations up, and the school is so quiet, with none of the usual childish banter and laughter. She soon discovers that the Head Teacher, Mrs Miller, hates christmas to the point where it has been banned at the school. Mrs Miller terrorises the teachers and students alike, and immediately takes a dislike to Holly. Can Holly bring Christmas back to Mount Pleasant Middle School?

This Christmas themed short novel was a fun read that I finished in one sitting. The story had a funny side, especially when Holly’s Dad was around, though there’s nothing funny about the despotic nature of Mrs Miller’s rule of the school.  I would not have liked being a student under her reign! It also hit on some more serious matters, like making new friends, death, and supporting your loved ones so they don’t feel hurt.

The characters were well-written. I liked Holly and her new friends, Meera and Chris. Mrs Miller is very scary, and I can see why no one wants to cross her. I liked the way that she was contrasted against her deputy, Mr Castle. Holly’s father seems somewhat eccentric. Everything he does is humorous for everyone except Holly, who finds his behaviour utterly mortifying. Between his terrible spray tan business, clothing choices, belchy old van, and his obliviousness to Holly’s embarrassment, Mr Glover tops the list of most embarrassing Dads. I feel a bit sorry for Holly, since she has to endure such embarrassment at a new school, but he’s her Dad, he loves her, and he doesn’t mean to embarrass her. I love that two of the teachers at Holly’s school are called Miss Meek and Mr Mild!

Mrs Miller – Christmas Killer is suitable for middle and upper primary school students. I enjoyed it, it’s a good story to read before Christmas.

 

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

A Squiggly Story by Andrew Larsen and Mike Lowery

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squigglystoryA Squiggly Story by Andrew Larsen and Mike Lowery, picture e-book, 36 pages, published by Kids Can Press in 2016.

A little boy wants to write a story, but he isn’t sure how to do it. His big sister helps him get started, and encourages him to continue writing.

A Squiggly Story is a lovely book. It promotes creativity and persistence, and encourages kids to give new things a try. The boy is learning to express himself through writing a story, just like his sister does. He doesn’t know a lot of words, but he discovers that stories can be told in many ways, and by anyone. This outlines a beautiful sibling relationship, where the big sister guides her younger brother with patience and understanding.

I really like this book. The story is great! I like the way that the boy’s story develops, and comes to life. The illustrations are clear, and quite cute. I like all the scribbles and doodles, as well as the comic-like speech bubbles, and unique style of text. The whole book is well set out and pleasing to read.

A Squiggly Story is suitable for lower primary school children. It is perfect for sharing and would make an excellent addition to any children’s library collection.

 

*I obtained this book as a digital copy through Netgalley. I did not receive any other remuneration, and this is an honest review composed entirely of my own opinions.

Mini Christmas Trees

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Our yard is home to a number of pine trees of several different varieties. My husband took advantage of this to get into the Christmas spirit with the kids. He let them pick a small branch to cut from the trees (he did the cutting). They each filled a ceramic mug with dirt, and then planted their tree cutting into the mug. Then they got decorating! L decided not to decorate hers, as she felt it was perfect just the way it is.

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