Tag Archives: book review

Green Valentine by Lili Wilkinson

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Green Valentine by Lili Wilkinson, paperback novel, 279 pages, published by Allen & Unwin in 2015.

Astrid is everything that Hiro is not. Astrid is bubbly, popular and successful, some might say that she doesn’t know how to fail. She has a passion for the environment and is trying to save the world at every corner. Hiro, on the other hand, is sullen, resentful and disaffected. He is smart, but has no interest in school, and he doesn’t show much enthusiasm for anything, except maybe comics. When they first meet, Astrid is dressed as a lobster, so Hiro doesn’t recognise one of the most popular girls in school, and Astrid doesn’t tell him who she really is.

This contemporary YA romance started with one of the main characters dressed as a lobster. This certainly caught my attention! Astrid is really dedicated to environmental activism, and she puts her whole heart into each project, which is why she finds herself at the shopping centre on a Saturday in her lobster suit.

That lobster outfit allowed Hiro to get to know Astrid a little without the judgement that comes with preconceived perceptions. I think this is an important issue, especially during high school, when everyone seems to have a label. It is hard to step beyond one’s own social circle when so many eyes are watching, and judging. It is sad that Astrid and Hiro felt that they needed to hide their burgeoning relationship, but it is also understandable; teenagers are not known for their compassion and empathy when faced with something or someone that is different. Green Valentine is not just a romance, but a social commentary on the high school experience.

I liked the way this tory was told; the writing was great. I loved all the little footnotes in Astrid’s story. Some of them were quite funny, though I also appreciated the environmental facts. I blew through Green Valentine very quickly and really enjoyed the story. It described and explored high school culture and stereotypes, along with some of the common issues that develop during that time very well. While gardening is a slightly unusual way for teenagers to date, I thought it worked wonderfully and was so sweet. Definitely unique!

Green Valentine is suitable for high school students. While the story does revolve around a romance, it is pretty clean. I’m looking forward to reading more of Lili Wilkinson’s books soon.

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The Girl of Ink and Stars by Kiran Millwood Hargrave

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The Girl of Ink and Stars by Kiran Millwood Hargrave, paperback novel, 228 pages, published by Chicken House in 2016.

The coastal town where Isabella lives is governed ruthlessly by a man that arrived from over the seas several decades earlier. He has banned travel away from the island, as well as through the forest to the interior of the island. Isabella longs to explore and map her island as her father had previously mapped foreign lands as a cartographer. When her best friend goes missing, presumed to have passed into the unknown territories beyond the forest, Isabella might just get her wish.

This was an easy and quick read with adventure, monsters, myths and a harsh dictator looking out only for himself. It didn’t take me long to get into the story, and I was intrigued by what or who could be beyond the town. It took longer to build up the characters and setting than I expected before getting to the adventuring, but I enjoyed getting to know everyone. The adventure was great, with conflict and action at a reasonable pace. I would have liked a little more explanation for why “The Banished” were banished in the first place, and how they had survived for so long. I also wondered how the Governor had come to be so powerful with such complete control over the town and its inhabitants. Still, the story was fun and entertaining.

Isabella was a plucky lead character; she was brave, determined and intelligent. I didn’t like Lupe nearly as much, but she did show moments of incredible courage under pressure. She was a good friend to Isabella, despite her usual self-involvement, and her relationship to the Governor. Pablo was rather surly, yet he had a soft spot for his old friend Isa, and was always looking out for her.

The pages of this novel were bordered with cartographical and nautical line drawings and symbols. It didn’t interfere with the text at all, though my eyes were often drawn to them as I read.

The Girl of Ink and Stars is suitable for upper primary and lower high school students.

 

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Wreck by Fleur Ferris

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Wreck by Fleur Ferris, paperback novel, 288 pages, published by Random House in 2017.

Tamara was excited to be heading off to university the following day to join her friend Relle. Things don’t quite go to plan. She never expected to be abducted, and drawn into a life-threatening conspiracy involving one of the richest and most powerful families in Australia. Her captor says to trust him, but should she?

Wreck is a super fast paced thriller told from the alternate views of Tamara in the present and William five years previously. Both are undergoing a traumatic experience at the time their stories are being told. Tamara is attacked, taken from her home and faced with the death of her friends;  William was aboard a yacht that wrecked on a reef and found himself and his family stranded on an uninhabited island. These events are interrelated, and will change the course of their lives.

The story really is very fast; I flew through the book, not wanting to put it down. It was an exciting ride that twisted and had me believing and doubting the characters in turn. The writing is good, with plenty of description and action bringing the story to life. I quickly became immersed trying to predict the outcome, and second-guessing everyone! A truly great YA read.

I quite liked Tamara; she was brave in a frightening situation, and was able to show empathy to her abductor, Zel, despite her fear. She was strong and practical. Zel wasn’t really scary, but he did take her against her will, so I would have found it difficult to listen to his story, let alone trust him, but Tamara finds it in herself to do just that. I also liked William, though my overwhelming feeling towards him was pity and sadness. His family treats him terribly, especially his big brother, Knox, who has been physically abusing him for years. And then he is in such a terrible accident and things only disintegrate further. Knox was a truly despicable character, yet very well written!

Wreck is suitable for high school students and beyond. You may also want to read Fleur Ferris’ other books, Black and Risk.

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The Cat Wants Cuddles by P. Crumble and Lucinda Gifford

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The Cat Wants Cuddles by P. Crumble and Lucinda Gifford, hardback picture book, published by Scholastic Australia in 2017.

Kevin is back, and this time he wants cuddles, or does he?

We just loved Kevin in The Cat Wants Custard, so as soon as his new book was available we bought it. And we have read it and read it, and we love it.

The illustrations are gorgeous, and the story amusing. Kevin is the epitome of all domestic cats; self-centred, demanding and moody. His expressions throughout the book really say it all. My favourite part is when he is hiding; he finds some excellent places! And the way he treats the dog reminds me so much of my own cats.

The Cat Wants Cuddles is a perfect read aloud for preschoolers and lower primary school children that is also enjoyable for the adult reading.

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Horrible Histories: Top 50 Villains by Terry Deary

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Horrible Histories: Top 50 Villains by Terry Deary, paperback non-fiction, 141 pages, published by Scholastic Ltd in 2016.

Top 50 Villains is a special edition in the Horrible Histories series, detailing fifty of the vilest villains from across all periods of history, including American gangsters, Mongol Warriors and Roman Emperors.

I’m a huge fan of this series, and I love reading all the foul facts. This book was quite interesting, with a couple of pages dedicated to each criminal, including a portrait of each. There is also some more general information about villainy through the ages scattered among the mini biographies.

I would have liked a little more depth about each person, but for the intended age group, it is quite a good taster. It introduces some of the most notorious people in history (and a few I hadn’t heard of!) to middle and upper primary school children, hopefully inciting them to undertake a little of their own research to find out more about their favourite crooks.

This book has been produced in full glossy colour, bringing the illustrations to life. I find the pictures to be darkly humorous, but perfectly suited to the style of the book. Unfortunately, I was a little disappointed in the poor quality of binding on this book, with some of the pages coming loose on its second read.

The Cat Wants Custard by P. Crumble and Lucinda Gifford

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The Cat Wants Custard by P. Crumble and Lucinda Gifford, hardback picture book, published by Scholastic Australia in 2016.

Kevin is feeling a little peckish, but not for chicken, fish or beef. Perhaps something sweet, just like custard!

Kevin is adorably grumpy and demanding, just like your typical house cat. His efforts to communicate his desire to his owner are very amusing, especially when he contorts his own body into the letters of the word custard. I also really like when he is trying to get into the fridge. My kids think the ending is hilarious.

The story is fun and the colourful illustrations are gorgeous. Kevin is drawn with such expressive facial and body language. I really enjoy sharing The Cats Wants Custard with my kids.

We just love Kevin in The Cat Wants Custard, with regular bedtime readings of this fantastic book. Highly recommended for pre-schoolers and lower primary school children.

Frogkisser by Garth Nix

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Frogkisser! by Garth Nix, paperback novel, 328 pages, published by Allen & Unwin in 2017.

Princess Anya usually hangs out in the library reading about magic and hiding from her evil stepstepfather (her stepmother’s new husband). Being the younger sister, she is not heir to the throne, and little is expected of her, that is until her sister’s latest beau is turned into a frog. Anya promises to find him and return him to his former princely self, aided by some magic lip balm. Anya sets out on an epic quest to locate the ingredients required to make the lip-balm, accompanied by one of the talking dogs of her court. Their departure is hastened by the news that Anya’s step-stepfather has decided to take the kingdom for himself, and wants Anya out of the way.

I suppose that Frogkisser! could loosely be described as a re-telling of the old tale of The Princess and the Frog. It is fairytale-esque, with princesses, talking animals, magic, villains, and wizards. It is full of adventure, quests and friendship. However, it is not a romantic tale of happily ever afters. Finding love is not on Anya’s mind, instead she must save her kingdom, her sister and her people from the destruction that her step-stepfather has begun to wreak. Of course, she can hardly do this single-handedly! By her side is her trusty, though somewhat over-eager canine companion, and the princely frog, who are soon joined by a boy turned newt. Throw in a mischievous young female wizard, a female Robin Hood figure, some dwarves and a transfigured otter and you’ve got this thoroughly amusing tale. All the characters were wonderful, though I particularly liked the Gerald the Heralds that kept popping up with news all over the place. These harbingers of all things mundane and important made me laugh.

It was great to see such a strong and young female protagonist for whom there is no romantic plot. She just gets on with what she needs to do. That’s not to say she isn’t scared or unsure, but she overcomes that to accomplish her tasks without needing to be ‘saved’ by some boy. Nix challenges the traditional gender and race roles with humour and irreverence, creating an entertaining and empowering read.

While Frogkisser! is aimed at a YA audience, I felt that it would be suitable for younger kids too, from upper primary school age. I would especially recommend this as a good read for tween and teen girls as an alternative to the traditional romantic fairytales. I thoroughly enjoyed Frogkisser!; it was my first Garth Nix novel, but it will not be my last!

 

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Wholesome: Together we can save the planet! by Grace Nava

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wholesomeWholesome: Together we can save the planet! by Grace Nava, paperback picture book, 48 pages, published by Media for Life in 2016.

Little Peach Pit is out for a walk. Along the way Pit encounters and appreciates the wonder of nature. The soil and ponds are healthy, there are bees and ants and frogs. However, as Pit draws closer to the city, nature is not so healthy. There pollution and waste and other human activities are hurting nature. What can Little Peach Pit do to help? Pit discovers some ways that we can all help to improve the health of our environment.

Little Peach Pit’s walk is an interesting one, flowing from the healthy countryside into the polluted city. Each step of the way there was advice on how people could help the environment and make the world a better place for everyone. Even though Pit found some very sad areas within the city, such as a polluted pond and unhealthy, weedy soil, he also found hope that we can improve. He saw people picking up rubbish, recycling, and growing a community garden. He learns that the way people interact with the environment, even in little ways, can have a huge impact on the health of our planet.

All children should learn how to help protect and improve our environment, and Wholesome is a great way to introduce some of these concepts. Reading this with young children will provide a starting point for discussions on what we, as individuals, and as communities, can do to make the planet healthy and happy. There is a vocabulary list at the back of the book to help children understand some of the terms referred to in the story and there is also a list of resources that will assist in further education.

Wholesome: Together we can save the Planet! is a lovely educational story suitable for primary school children. It would make an excellent addition to school and public libraries.

 

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

 

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Arsenic for Tea by Robin Stevens

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Arsenic for Tea by Robin Stevens, paperback novel, 333 pages, published by Corgi Books in 2015.

In the second Wells and Wong Mystery, Daisy and Hazel are spending the school break at Daisy’s home, Fallingford. It is Daisy’s birthday and her mother is throwing her a tea party to celebrate. For the weekend of the party, family members and friends arrive to stay with the Wells’. Then a guest is suddenly taken ill and dies, so Daisy and Hazel begin to investigate, but could a family member really have committed a murder?

After reading the first book in this series, A Lady Most Unladylike, I knew I would need more Daisy and Hazel in my life. Though Daisy sometimes calls Hazel ‘Watson’, and likens herself to a young female Sherlock Holmes, their adventures remind me much more of Miss Marple and her knack for being in the right (or perhaps wrong) place and time to solve a murder. These books are like Agatha Christie mysteries for children, and they are fabulous!

In Arsenic for Tea, we are introduced to Fallingford, Daisy’s home. We get to meet her parents, brother and household staff. The setting felt authentic to the era (1930s England), and there was a handy map of the house at the start of the book, including where everyone was sleeping. It was a step back in time, to when children slept in the nursery and were watched over by a nanny or this case, a governess. When families dressed formally for dinner, were waited upon by servants, and the doctors made house-calls as regular practice.

The characters were also realistic, with each character being described in great detail. I liked the mystery uncle, who knows Daisy so well, but is keeping secrets. And her somewhat bumbling father who keeps forgetting things, but is jolly and loveable. Though, of course, Hazel and Daisy are the best characters! Their dynamic is engaging, but I just have to roll my eyes at Daisy’s behaviour; she sometimes forgets how intelligent and capable Hazel is. Daisy might be the head of the detective agency, but she definitely needs Hazel to keep her in check at times, and make sure the case is progressing productively. They are both very bright girls, and I love that they are putting their brains towards solving such interesting mysteries. I think it also highlights that girls can be and do anything they put their minds to, even if society frowns upon those choices. Be brave, break boundaries and be who you are or who you want to be. I’m resisting the urge to write “Girl power!”, but now I’ve gone and done it 🙂

Stevens writes a lovely mystery, with twists and secrets, at a great pace, keeping the reader enthralled until the very end. I really enjoyed the interplay between the family members and how Daisy reacted to the possibility that her family housed a murderer. The household being cut-off by heavy rain heightened the tension and strained relationships, creating even more drama. I also like how the covers for this series have been done. They are clean and clever, very appealing.

Upon completion of Arsenic for Tea, I went straight on to read the third book in the series, A First Class Murder. I am introducing my ten year old to the Murder Most Unladylike series, hoping that she will love them as much as I do.

Escape From Witchwood Hollow by Jordan Elizabeth

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Escape From Witchwood Hollow by Jordan Elizabeth, e-book, 178 pages, published by Curiosity Quills Press in 2014.

After her parents are killed in the terror attacks of 9/11, Honoria moves to the rural town, Arnn, with her brother, aunt and uncle. The town is bordered by a forest, known as Witchwood Hollow. Over the years many people have wandered into the woods never to return. The legend of the witch is well known about town. Soon after arrival, Honoria is introduced to the woods by a couple of kids from her new school, but instead of being afraid, she finds a kind of peace among the trees. Could the witch help her reunite with her parents or will she become trapped forever?

Escape from Witchwood Hollow was an easy and fast read which I really enjoyed. The story was appealing and intriguing, while the characters were interesting and well-written. There was an undertone of sadness throughout the story, with many of the characters experiencing the loss of a loved one, or being lost themselves.

This book is not about witchcraft per se, it is more about historical occurrences becoming an urban myth, and the way that such a myth is regarded by locals and newcomers to the area. The story centres on Honoria, and her experiences in Arnn and the woods in 2001. However, it is also about Lady Clifford, an immigrant new to the Arnn area during the 1600s, and another English immigrant, Albertine, who arrives in Arnn in 1850. Both of whom entered the woods never to return. I liked the way the story spanned across and entwined the stories and times of the three young women.

I felt sorry for Honoria, given the tragic loss of her parents. Her behaviour felt realistic for the situation. Something good for Honoria from the move to Arnn was her burgeoning friendship with her neighbour, Leon. Proximity brought them together, but a shared interest in local history and the legend of Witchwood Hollow strengthened their bond. I really liked everything about Leon, he was my favourite character.

Something I found a little odd in the story was the obsession with clothing brands. It was weird, and completely redundant to the story, so why emphasise their fashion choices?

Escape from Witchwood Hollow is suitable for upper primary and high school students and is perfect for fantasy lovers.

 

*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.