Tag Archives: children’s fiction

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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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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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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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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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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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.

Book Spotlight: Spine Chillers by Q.L. Pearce

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Spine Chillers by Q.L Pearce is a collection of spooky short stories. Are you brave enough to read them after dark?

In the house on Beech Street a terrible tragedy occurred. Now neighbors won’t look at the place as they pass. Those who live nearby draw their blinds and shutter their windows after dark. What are they afraid of?
Hale Hallow Woods seems sinister and menacing even in the light of day. Does a thirst for revenge beat near its dark heart?
The answers lie within these pages, just waiting to send a chill up your spine!

 

And a little about the author…

Q.L.Pearce is the author of more than 120 books for young readers, from picture books to YA, as well as film tie-in books. Her works have received several awards including a Carter G. Woodson Book Award gold medal from NCSS and a Moonbeam Children’s Book Award gold medal. Her fiction includes the popular middle grade series, Scary Stories for Sleep-Overs (Price, Stern, Sloan). Q believes strongly in the value of scary books for young readers. When asked what credentials she has which qualify her as an expert in this area she replies, “I was a child once. That was very scary.”

 

And now for a little taste of Spine Chillers.

 

 The House on Beech Street (Excerpt from Spine Chillers, by Q.L. Pearce
Copyright © Glass Apple Press 2016)

Jason stepped inside. The air within was tainted with an odor that made him gag.

“What is that smell?” he asked putting his hand to his face.

“What smell?” Mike responded. Thomas just shrugged his shoulders.

“Do you know the story of the Carlson’s?” The woman didn’t wait for an answer before she continued. “They were a typical family. The little girl, Anisa, took ballet lessons. The boy, Junior, played baseball. Some people said he had the talent to go far as an athlete … that is … if he’d lived.”

The group entered the kitchen. The table was set for five as if the family would be sitting down for breakfast any minute. Jason noticed a pitcher’s mitt on one of the chairs.

“He was a lefty,” he said to no one in particular.

“Mr. Carlson’s mother slept in the spare room. She was an invalid and needed a lot of care. Mr. Carlson and his wife had quarreled about it that fateful morning and he’d left early. When he came home he found his wife in that very chair.” She pointed to the one at the end of the table. “He’d brought her flowers and wanted to apologize. It took him a few moments to realize she was dead. It seems she had taken a handful of sleeping pills with her tea. The police found the rest of the family in the basement along with a cracked, bloody baseball bat.”

“What happened to the dad?” Mike asked.

“They found him two days later hanging from the tree in the backyard. He’d left a note that said he wasn’t alone in the house. The neighbors claimed they heard noises late at night … screaming. You’ll notice that the houses on both sides are now empty. No one wants to live near this place.” She paused and looked in the direction of the front entrance. “Sometimes I can’t wait to leave.”

Motioning for the boys to follow, the woman moved from the kitchen into a dimly lit hallway. She opened the first door on the left. “This was the grandmother’s room.” Jason was hit with a wave of a smell like rotting fish.

 

Prom Date (Excerpt from Spine Chillers, by Q.L. Pearce
Copyright © Glass Apple Press 2016.)

The Roller Grille was the real deal. An authentic drive-in restaurant with car hops on roller skates delivering trays of burgers and fries to people parked outside. It had been in business for decades. Other than a fresh coat of paint now and then it hadn’t changed from the day it opened.

Tyler, Andy and Jacob threaded around the cars and pushed through the glass doors to the diner. A hostess dressed in a fuzzy sweater and a poodle skirt guided customers to booths covered in red vinyl. A candy-colored jukebox blared from a corner. The laughter and chatter of the crowd was louder than the music. Tyler noticed Shay jammed into a booth with her friends. He raised a hand in greeting but she ignored him.

Andy pointed to the long soda fountain. “There’s room over there.” Tyler nodded and they each claimed a stool.

“What’ll it be?” Randy, the soda jerk adjusted his black bow tie and gave them a toothy grin. The boys ordered shakes.

Andy whirled around once on his stool and stopped to face Jacob. “So do they have any place like this in Phoenix?”

“No. This is pretty cool.” He looked around and his eye settled on a wall of photographs. “Who are those people?”

“Those are the prom kings and queens from the high school,” Tyler answered.

“Wow there’s like a hundred of them. What’s the deal with those two?” Jacob pointed to a black and white photo that was larger than the rest.

Tyler slipped into telling the story that everyone in town knew by heart. “That’s Johnny Tonnarro and his girlfriend, Samantha. He was like a rock star a long time ago. He got killed in an accident off Yetter Point.”

“It was a foggy night. He drove his car off the cliff and got squished like a pancake,” Andy added. “His girlfriend waited for hours in the cold for him to show up. She was all dressed for the prom and crying like a baby.”

Jacob gazed at Samantha’s sweet face. “That’s sad. What happened to her?”

Tyler lowered his voice for effect. “She drowned a year later on the anniversary of the accident. She was down on the jetty throwing flowers out into the ocean, those stinky white ones…gardenias. A wave swept her off the rock. Some people say they’ve seen her.”

“Seen her? What do you mean?”

Andy took up the story again. “Every year around this time her ghost waits out on Thorne Road near Highway One for Johnny to pick her up. Just standing there crying.”

Randy placed the shakes in front of the boys and joined in. “This time of year the evenings are usually foggy,” “They say she waits just off the edge of the road in the mist – lavender gown, white gloves, and gardenias in her long, blonde hair.”

Jacob’s mouth dropped open and his eyes grew wide. “Really? A real ghost? You’ve seen her?”

Taylor and Andy couldn’t hold back their laughter. “Nobody’s seen her,” Andy snickered. “It’s all made up. Not the accident part but the ghost part.

Jacob frowned. “So Samantha didn’t really die?”

“Oh, yeah. She died alright. She drowned. But only little kids and tourists swallow the ghost story. You have to be a real lamebrain to believe it. Last year the town newspaper offered a ten thousand dollar reward for anybody who could get a photograph of her. There were a lot of fakes but nobody’s earned the money yet.”

Still grinning, Tyler turned to take a sip of his milkshake and caught a glimpse of Shay. She was staring toward the entrance. If looks could kill, her eyes were lethal weapons. Tyler followed her gaze.

“Uh oh,” he whispered and his smile faded. His brother was holding the door open for Anilla Jacoby, Shay’s arch-enemy. Anilla beamed up at Lane and slipped her arm through his. The couple slid into a booth. Shay stood and stormed toward the door without looking at them.

“This isn’t good,” Tyler muttered.

A moment later his phone beeped. He read the text. Come outside now. We need to talk. Shay was waiting for him as he pushed open the door.

“I thought I would die of embarrassment. I can’t believe he would show up here in front of everyone with that airhead hanging on him like that. Now I know why he’s been avoiding me.” She turned on Tyler. “How long has this been going on?”

“Don’t ask me. This is the first time I’ve seen him with Anilla.”

“He needs to pay a price for humiliating me like that. I want to embarrass him in front of all of his friends!”

Tyler shifted nervously. “Shay I don’t want to…”

“Think of something!”

“Look, Shay. Maybe you should just let it go. He’s my brother. I can’t …”

“I’m not going to let this go, Tyler.” She leaned in and growled. “You’re with me or against me. And trust me, if you want to survive high school you don’t want to be against me. I can make your life miserable.” Shay turned and stomped away.

 

 

For more information about Q. L. Pearce and her books visit her website, Facebook page, LinkedIn, Amazon Author Page, Goodreads or on YouTube.