Tag Archives: fiction

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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Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher

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Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher, paperback novel, 288 pages, first published 2007, this edition published by Razorbill in 2011.

When Clay receives an anonymous package containing a series of cassette tapes, he is startled to discover they contain the voice of his friend and love interest, Hannah Baker. Her voice comes to him from the grave, describing and explaining the reasons behind her decision to end her own life.

Thirteen Reasons Why had been on my to read list for quite a while. But I have a confession to make; I actually watched the Netflix series before reading the book! I know, I know, I do usually read the book first, but I was sick, and sad, and the series looked interesting…. Anyway, I watched it, and I loved it.

I also liked the book, but this is one of those rare occasions where I preferred the screen version. The acting, casting and soundtrack were all good, but it was the emotiveness of the story that stuck with me. I felt Hannah becoming isolated, I felt her sadness, her resignation, and her acceptance. I also felt her parents’ devastation and the repercussions her death had on her family, on Clay and on Tony, and the ripples that moved through the wider school community. It is those left behind that are also victims of suicide, but it is rare that they have a chance to understand the reasons behind the final act.

Knowing the outcome from the start, knowing that Hannah takes her life before we even get a feel for her, made this novel an haunting memoir of a life at risk. It explored the many facets that can intertwine and connect leading to depression and suicide in teens. Even a small act can change the course of a life forever, and you can never predict what consequences will be wrought.

The Netflix series had thirteen parts; an episode for each side of each tape. That was an hour dedicated to each story Hannah tells. This allowed the characters to be fleshed out and explained in a way not usually encountered in a film or TV adaptation. There was so much more to the characters, we got to see them not only through Hannah’s eyes, but as the teens they were, and those they became. We saw how listening to the tapes affected them, and changed the course of their own lives. There was such depth to each person that the book could not explore fully since we only heard about them through Hannah’s voice on the tapes.

Inevitably there were some changes made, such as the type of store Hannah’s parents owned, the secret that Courtney wanted to keep, Clay’s relationship to the car crash victim, much bigger roles for both Hannah’s and Clay’s parents. However, I felt that the biggest change from book to screen was the timeline that Clay followed whilst listening to the tapes; in the books it’s all over in one night and told mostly in the past, in the series the story is played out over days, with interactions with all the other students involved in both the present and the past. Threads were added, exploring the way that Clay dealt not only with Hannah’s death, but also the actions that he undertakes in reaction to the other students’ stories. I found all these differences only enhanced the story and made it even more poignant.

Whether you read it or watch the series (I recommend you do both!), Thirteen Reasons Why is a story that will stay with you forever.

Thirteen Reasons Why is suitable for middle to upper high school students and above. It contains themes of depression, suicide, bullying, rape and sexual assault. It may be overly upsetting to some readers.

 

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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.

Ferret by C.C. Wyatt

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Ferret by C.C. Wyatt, e-book, 418 pages, published by Me Myself Publishing in 2016.

It has been four years since Pia’s life was transformed by a sixteen hour disappearance from her Florida holiday home. She has no recollection of any part of those hours, but believes that she must have been kidnapped. Pia is plagued by anxiety, crippling panic attacks and hallucinatory visions. Her parents believe it is all in her head, but Pia isn’t so sure. When Pia returns to Florida she attempts to unravel some of the mystery surrounding her disappearance. She also hopes to investigate an island that only she can see in the ocean between Miami and Bermuda. On her first day back in Florida, she meets a mysterious boy, Cameron, who is a fellow sufferer of hallucinations. Could he hold the answers that Pia has been searching for?

It took me a little while to get into Ferret, but once I was in, it was a fast and engaging read. The plot was quite intriguing, with allusions to the Bermuda Triangle and alien abduction. I’ve always been fascinated by the Bermuda Triangle; missing planes, boast and people, navigational disturbances, unexplained lights. There have been plenty of theories, but they are all yet to be proved, which makes a wonderful scene for a novel about paranormal and supernatural activity.

Overall I enjoyed Ferret. The premise was great, execution was good, and the characters were interesting and believable. However, throughout the book, I noticed grammatical errors, repeated or transposed words and some spelling mistakes. Really, they were a minor nuisance, but they should have been picked up and corrected during the proof-reading process. I can get a bit distracted by things like this, and it did dampen my enthusiasm a little.

Without spoiling the end, I can say that it took an unexpected turn that I didn’t especially like. It was still written well, but it felt less real than the rest of the story. There was also very little resolved as it ended with “To be continued…” Ferret is the start of a series, but for over 400 pages, I would have liked to have seen Pia make a bit more progress on her mystery. There is still so much to uncover for Pia, Cameron, and even his cousin, Brian. Answers, I need answers! Luckily there is another book coming.

Pia and Cameron are both incredibly complex characters. They have issues and secrets from their pasts, along with a history of mental illness. They were drawn together, and we have to believe that it was fate that they meet. While they were fascinated by each other, they had to learn to like and trust one another. And believe, in each other and in themselves. This all happened in the space of a week, which is rather fast-tracked, but it made for an eventful storyline.

I found Pia’s parents to be very confusing. At times Pia seemed to be afraid of them, especially her Dad. I can understand that they were frightened by her disappearance and have continued to be concerned about her ‘episodes’, but they also seemed to be using that as an excuse to keep her under their thumb. I didn’t like them. Their reaction to her going behind their backs is extreme. As a parent myself, first and foremost should have come relief, not anger that she broke their trust. Pia did something in order to prove that she wasn’t crazy, but they didn’t appear to care what her motive was, or to want to re-assure her that they believed her. Maybe they will lighten up a little in the next book.

Ferret is most suitable for high school students. I think many mystery and paranormal fans would be interested in this series. The next book, Perseaus, is expected to be published later this year (2017).

 

*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.

Fluffy Hugs by Richard Dodd

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fluffyFluffy Hugs by Richard Dodd, e-book, 60 pages, published by Smashwords in 2015.

Fluffy is a baby emperor penguin, born in captivity within a zoo. Fluffy is a little different to the other penguins in the enclosure, as he can understand what the humans are saying. He discovers he has other magical abilities too, which he can put to good use helping animals and people.

Fluffy Hugs is a short and simple story; a bit of magical fun with one of the cutest animals in the world, a fluffy, grey penguin chick. Who could resist such a sweet little fellow? I would definitely hug him! Being able to use his hugs to help is an unique talent, but I really liked his ability to travel about the world just by thinking about it.

Fluffy Hugs did not take long to read. My seven year old could probably knock it over pretty quickly too, and I think she would enjoy it a lot. Magical animals are in at our house! There were a handful of simple line drawings within the book which I liked. I think the story could have been enhanced by more illustrations, due to its short nature.

Fluffy Hugs would be suitable for lower primary school students and reluctant older readers. It is the first book in a series chronicling Fluffy’s adventures. The next book in the series, Minty Visits, is also available now.

 

*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.

6th Grade Revengers: Cat Crimes and Wannabes by Steven Whibley

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catcrimes6th Grade Revengers: Cat Crimes and Wannabes by Steven Whibley, e-book, 88 pages, published in 2015.

Jared and his best friend Marcus style themselves as The Revengers; a team that takes care of problems in their community. Their first task is to rid the Oak Street neighbourhood of a crazy and evil cat that is ruling the street with his claws and teeth. They also have to do something about Gunner, Jared’s sister’s boyfriend and wannabe pop star. He just hangs about Jared’s house pretending to write music and loafing off Ronie (Jared’s sister). The boys are going to have to be creative to solve these problems, and prove themselves as a team that gets things done.

An easy and quick read, Cat Crimes and Wannabes was entertaining and amusing. There were occasional black and white illustrations among the text, and the chapters were fairly short, good for reluctant readers.

The first chapter was a very clever way to begin the story, introducing Jared and his family. I enjoyed reading about Jared and Marcus and their new business. I especially liked their efforts to banish the evil cat. That was one scary cat! So vicious and aggressive, it was more like a small tiger than a house cat. Jared and Marcus really underestimated how difficult removing such a cat would be, but their efforts were funny.  While Gunner wasn’t dangerous like the cat, he was still an annoying presence who I disliked greatly. The boys’ plan to remove Gunner from their lives was ingenious, and much nicer than things I thought of to do to him!

This is the first book in a series following The Revengers. I had a moment of disappointment when the story finished, as I was expecting it to be longer based on the page count. Instead there was a preview for the next book in the series at the end , and now I want to read that one too!

Cat Crimes and Wannabes is most suitable for middle and upper primary school children into lower high school.

 

*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 Very Brave Bear by Nick Bland

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18162731The Very Brave Bear by Nick Bland, paperback picture book, published by Scholastic Australia in 2013.

Bear is picking berries when he is startled by Boris Buffalo, who emerges from the slimy waters of the bog. Bear claims he wasn’t scared, and that he can do the bravest things that Boris can do. They challenge each other to various activities trying to out-brave the other. Could there be anything that scares these two brave  beasts?

The Very Brave Bear is another book in The Very Cranky Bear collection from wonderful author and illustrator, Nick Bland. My pre-schoolers love this series, and they are very fond of Bear.

We love this book! It has been read many times in our family; The Very Brave Bear is funny with lovely lyrical language and detailed illustrations. It keeps my kids engaged and wanting to read more. I’m impressed when Bear and Boris try to wear a beard of bees, but my kids like it best when they are tumbling down the steep hill and getting poked with porcupine quills. We all like the ending to the story.

The Very Brave Bear is suitable for toddlers, preschoolers and lower primary school children. It is a perfect book for sharing a giggle with your child.