Tag Archives: book review

Lost in the Woods by Dennis Mews

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Lost in the Woods by Dennis Mews, e-book, 189 pages, published in 2016.

Nadia Hamilton has just started at her new school, The Grange, when her class goes on a week long camping excursion in the wilds of Wales. Nadia doesn’t really want to be there, but she doesn’t yet know how exciting and stimulating the outdoors can be. Craig Wilson is a troubled teen on the run from the police and some dangerous criminals after he stole their car, which contained a mysterious package. He ends up in the woods nearby the school’s camping ground, where he needs to find shelter and food while he hides out, but he keeps running into Nadia.

The premise of the story was good, but I found the execution somewhat lacking. It didn’t flow smoothly as it jumped between the perspectives of Nadia, Craig and Nadia’s teacher, Mr Thomas, which I occasionally found confusing. For instance, I thought it was Nadia that went orienteering, became lost and then was “rescued” by Mr Thomas, but then later in the book, he thinks about Claudia being left alone in the woods by her parents and becoming lost. Maybe I just got mixed up, but in either case, why didn’t the child recognise Mr Thomas, when Nadia met him two days later when she started in her new class, or Claudia, as her own teacher? And there were a few other small things that weren’t quite right, like Nadia zipping up the tent up when they were actually sleeping in their wood shelters. I found the accumulation a little irritating, which lessened my enjoyment of the story.

Nadia was quite annoying; she kept breaking the rules, wandering off and generally being a pain in Mr Thomas’ side. She was also a bit whiney, and not very tolerant of others. I didn’t much like Craig either. He was a bit dim, and made some very bad choices. The teacher, Robin Thomas, I did like. He was a very experienced teacher trying to give his students the best education possible. He really took on a lot to have twenty, sixth graders in the woods for a week by himself. I would have thought for that age group it would have been more appropriate for more adults to accompany the kids on an excursion, especially one of that duration and location.

This was an okay read, it just didn’t quite do it for me. Perhaps I would have liked it more if I was still a child. I think I will ask my ten year old to read it and give me another perspective.

Lost in the Woods is suitable for upper primary and lower high school children. There was some death, violence and guns within the story.

 

*I received this book as a digital edition 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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I’ll Rescue You by M.T. Thomas

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I’ll Rescue You by M.T. Thomas, e-book novel, 189 pages, published by Createspace Independent Publishing Platform in 2017.

Forty years previously a race of aliens tried and failed to conquer Earth. Since then humans have been studying the aliens’ technology, weaponry and anatomy in preparation for any further attacks. Belle is the product of one of the human’s experiments; she is half alien and half human. She is able to communicate with the aliens and listen in to their telepathic conversations. Apollo is one of the enemy aliens, come to earth as an assassin. After failing to terminate Bell’s life on his first attempt, he hatches a plan to draw her to him. However, he must work quickly before his alien colleagues drop in for a bloody confrontation.

Science fiction, romance and adventure collide in this somewhat off-beat novel. I’ll Rescue You was a quick and enjoyable read; it was funny and unique, with quirky and original characters. The plot was solid, the writing well structured and the characters detailed. I enjoyed the jaunt about the world, especially to the Paris Catacombs, and the burgeoning relationship between Belle and Apollo, though this was perhaps a little predictable.

I quite liked Apollo, despite his original mission, and his brethren. It was lovely reading his journey to self-enlightenment and empathy. For the first time in his long life, he was able to get to know himself, experience emotion and care for others, something quite apart from his previous alien life, which was cold and emotionless. I didn’t like Belle as much, though she was resourceful and kind. Belle’s human sister and bodyguard also featured a lot throughout the story. I liked seeing how events unfolded from both sides of the chase.

Although none of the characters are children or teenagers, this book is still suitable for upper primary and high school kids to read.

 

*I received this book as a digital edition 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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No Virgin by Anne Cassidy

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No Virgin by Anne Cassidy, paperback novel, 183 pages, published by Hot Key Books in 2016.

Stacey Woods is only seventeen, but she has a lot going on in her life. Her younger sister is a teen mother, her parents are divorced and her Dad has a new partner, she is having some issues with her best friend, and school and grades are always on her mind. Stacey needs some time out, but she finds herself in a situation that leads to her being raped. This is her story.

I’ve been mulling over No Virgin for a couple of weeks since I finished reading it. It was a very powerful and confronting story. The pace was at times a little slow, and at times it was a bit hard to continue reading. I can’t say that this book was exactly enjoyable, but I’m glad that I read it.

I felt sorry for Stacey, not least because she was raped either. Her home life was difficult. I really disliked her sister, Jodie, and felt that she made Stacey’s life much harder than it needed to be. Jodie was selfish, self-centred, rude and manipulative. She was so young when she had her baby, Tyler, and she was still growing up, but that doesn’t excuse the way she treated her mum and Stacey and expected them to look after her baby whenever it suited her. Jodie wasn’t going to school or work or even helping about the house, her excuse was the baby, but she’s wasn’t dedicating her time to him, she just wanted to smoke and talk on her phone. Jodie’s attitude and behaviour placed a huge strain on Stacey and her mum. Perhaps if Stacey’s home life was better, she may not have been compelled to escape, and the situation could have been avoided.

However, irrespective of the how and why that caused Stacey to be in that cafe on the morning she met Harry, and irrespective of any choices she made leading up to the rape, it wasn’t her fault, or Jodie’s fault or her Mum’s fault. The only person at fault for a rape is the rapist. I thought No Virgin did a good job of conveying the conflicting feelings of Stacey as a victim of rape; her feelings of guilt, shame, and anger. I was pleased that the attitudes of the perpetrators were also addressed, even if they did make me angry.

No Virgin is most suitable for mature middle to upper high school students. I recommend all teens read it and talk about it. We should all be talking about rape and removing the stigmatism that goes along with it; stop the victim blaming and look at the behaviours and attitudes of the people committing these crimes to try to prevent further assaults.

*I received this book through a Goodreads First Reads Giveaway.

 

If you, or someone you know, have been affected by sexual assault, rape or domestic violence, there are a number of services designed to help you, with counselling, support and information. Below are some sites where you can find more information, and numbers for rape crisis lines within Australia.

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What are Diamonds and How Do They Form? by Judith Hubbard

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What are Diamonds and How Do They Form? by Judith Hubbard, non-fiction e-book, 63 pages, published in 2016.

Geology has never been my favourite facet of science, but this book impressed me. It was interesting, engaging and informative. The writing was perfectly pitched for the intended audience; it was clear and easy to understand with appropriate photographs and diagrams throughout.

This is the first In Depth Science book written by Judith Hubbard, and after reading this, I would definitely like to read more in the series. The way she conveys such complicated material is excellent, and I think it will help to get, and keep kids interested in earth sciences.

Towards the back of the book there was a section of interactive activities. These included a quiz on the content of the book, as well as a range of experiments and projects that could be done at home. Such activities are a great way to get kids involved and excited about science. There was also a comprehensive glossary explaining terms used within the text.

Suitable for middle and upper primary school through to high school kids. I will be giving What are Diamonds and How Do They Form? to both my 2nd and 5th graders to read.

 

*I received this book as a digital edition 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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An Unlikely Friendship by Jasmine Fogwell

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An Unlikely Friendship by Jasmine Fogwell, paperback novel, 118 pages, published by Destinēe Media in 2016.

Ten year old James and his parents return to their village home after a year living in the city. Whilst looking for a new house, the family stay in the local inn, where James meets the mysterious old lady that lives on the third floor. They soon discover that they have both encountered something in the forest that no one else believes really exists.

An Unlikely Friendship is the first book in The Fidori Trilogy. It is a short and easy read that I finished quickly. The writing was simple and  clean and the plot was easy to follow with some black and white illustrations. It was interesting enough to keep me reading, and to make me want to read the second book. However, if the other two books are of similar length to this one, I think that it could have been presented as a single book, rather than be divided into a trilogy. It was just really getting into the story when the book came to an end.

Overall I liked the premise and the execution. I would have been super excited to discover and befriend creatures like the Fidoris as a child, and if I’m honest, I still would be! The description of the Fidoris was excellent, and I can easily picture these funny little creatures living above the forest canopy. The description of Mrs. DuCret was also good; she seemed like a very lonely and unhappy old lady until James came into her life. Their burgeoning friendship, though a little strange, was good for both of them.

An Unlikely Friendship is most suitable for middle to upper primary school children. I am looking forward to continuing the story in the next book, The Purple Flower.

 

*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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Time Travelling with a Hamster by Ross Welford

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Time Travelling with a Hamster by Ross Welford, paperback novel, 400 pages, published by HarperCollins Children’s Books in 2016.

My daughter insisted that I read this book, and I’m glad that I took her advice. Time Travelling with a Hamster is a wonderful and quirky story about a boy whose father invented a time machine, and then died.

At twelve years old, Al (short for Albert) is sent on a unbelievable and almost impossible adventure back through time in an attempt to prevent his father’s death. The story is funny, heart-felt, and completely original. An excellent read that was interesting from start to finish, with colourful characters and a fantastic plot.

The concept of time travel is fascinating, and also terrifying. Any change made in the past could drastically alter the future, but if one could prevent the death of a loved one, would the consequences be worth it? I really liked the way that time travel was approached in this book, and that the travelling apparatus was made up with an old laptop and a tin tub! The calculations that Al’s dad devised to make time travel possible were complicated, but the theory was well explained and enlightening. I thought the science aspects, including the concept of mind palaces for memory retention, were treated appropriately for the intended age group, and made for very interesting reading.

Grandpa Byron was the best character; with his mix of traditional Indian and western clothing, his moped, intelligence, impeccable memory and odd head bob, I couldn’t help but love this wonderfully eccentric character! Of course, Al is pretty awesome too. He was being bullied at school, and intimidated by his horrible step-sister, yet he was strong, innovative and brave. He had to be courageous and loyal to follow his dead father’s wishes when they seemed so crazy and difficult, but his love and trust for his dad was stronger than any fears he may have had. The close relationship that Byron and Al shared was enviable and emphasised the importance of family bonds.

I now also desperately want a cute little hamster that I can call Alan Shearer the Second!

Time Travelling with a Hamster is most suitable for upper primary to lower high school students. It’s a great book for kids interested in science and humorous adventure. We also have Ross Welford’s next book, What Not to do if you Turn Invisible, which I hope will be every bit as good as Time Travelling with a Hamster.

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The One Safe Place by Tania Unsworth

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The One Safe Place by Tania Unsworth, paperback novel, 295 pages, published by Scholastic Inc. in 2014.

Until his Grandfather’s death, Devin had always lived on their farm in an isolated valley, partially protected from the heat and dryness plaguing the world. Left alone, Devin heads for the city, which he has only ever heard stories of. There are many homeless children living off the streets of the city, and most of them have heard of a special place just for children like them. Devin, and his new friend, Kit, soon discover that this child’s paradise isn’t just myth, but it isn’t the perfect place to grow up either.

I thought this book got off to a slowish start, but it quickly evolved into a page-turner. It was an interesting story, though the subject matter was rather darker than I expected. The goings on at the home for children were really very creepy and original. And directed all by the perfect villain, the Administrator. There was nothing likeable or agreeable about the Administrator; she was downright scary and mean. An excellent character to pit the hero against!

Devin was an intelligent and brave hero. He was likeable, personable, and a little naive. And like most heroes, I had no doubt that he would somehow overcome all adversities and lead his friends to safety. His friends were great characters too.  Many of the characters in The One Safe Place were children or early teens, and it was interesting getting to know them. These kids may have come from different backgrounds, but they found themselves in the same predicament, with various reactions and methods of coping with it. I felt that all the characters were well written and expressive.

Overall, The One Safe Place was an entertaining and somewhat unsettling read that I enjoyed. It would be great for kids keen on dystopian and science fiction novels.

The One Safe Place is suitable for upper primary school through to middle high school students.

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We All Looked Up by Tommy Wallach

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We All Looked Up by Tommy Wallach, paperback novel, 370 pages, published by Simon and Schuster UK Ltd in 2015.

An asteroid appears in the sky, threatening the earth and all of its occupants. The scientists predict that the asteroid will collide with earth in two months. With its imminent arrival, people feel free to leave who they were behind, become someone new, do something different, really live for the first time in their lives. For four high school acquaintances, the end of the world brings changes they couldn’t have predicted, and allows them to escape their labels and the perceptions that go along with them.

Told from the perspectives of four high school students, We All Looked Up is a poignant tale of letting go, finding oneself, love and friendship under adversity. The asteroid’s threat allows these characters to shed their preconceived ideas, their protective shells and all the conventions that come with them. They no longer have to be the jock, the overachiever, the druggie slacker and the outcast “slut”, they can just be Peter, Anita, Andy and Eliza. And they can be friends, or even lovers, without the condemnation of their peers. The end of the world gives them a freedom they would never have experienced otherwise.

I loved We All Looked Up! It was a wonderful commentary of what life could be without judgement and without restrictions. It was well written, emotive and thought provoking. The apocalyptic nature of the story puts life into perspective. It got me thinking about how I would react in that situation, how my family and friends would cope, how society would break down; it’s horrifying and fascinating at the same time. I also spent many hours analysing the decisions of characters, and speculating about their future. It really got under my skin; always a sign of a great read!

We All Looked Up is suitable for middle and upper high school students. It does contain some violence, drug use, sex, and strong language.

 

 

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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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