#CBCA2019 #aww2019 Book Review: “His Name Was Walter” by Emily Rodda

Title: His Name Was Walter
Author:
Emily Rodda
Genre: Fantasy/contemporary
Target audience: MG
Date Read: 05/05/19 – 12/05/19
Rating:
★★★

Review:

I was equal parts excited and nervous to read this book. Excited because Emily Rodda’s books were such a staple of my childhood and teen years and I hoped reading her again would live up to my expectations. And nervous because… well, because Emily Rodda’s books were such a staple of my childhood and teen years and I hoped reading her again would live up to my expectations. 

I have to admit that I wasn’t entirely into the story-within-a-story format of the book. Even though I ultimately enjoyed it, I thought there might have been better ways to integrate Walter’s  story with that of the modern-day school children. Walter’s story was often cut off right in the middle of something so we could see how Colin and Tara were faring; it all felt a bit disjointed. I also found that the story felt a bit superficial – I felt I was told how characters were feeling a lot of the time, rather than it being shown.

But at the end, when it was revealed exactly how Walter was connected to the modern-day characters… I’d already figured out some of it, or at least suspected. But I actually really loved this part, and that’s why the book still gets four stars from me. The final lines of the book made me tear up a little.

And look, I know I’m not the book’s target demographic. I think kid readers would make fewer connections between the real world and the fairytale story earlier on. I think they would find the ghostly bits creepy or even terrifying. I’m a grown-up now and I do have to recognise that Emily Rodda is still writing for kids. But the fact that the story moved me at the end is enough to make me feel her writing stands the test of time.


This review is part of my 2019 Australian Women Writers Challenge. Click here for more information.

I am trying to read as many of the books as possible on the 2019 Children’s Book Council of Australia Notables List. Click here to see the titles.

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“The melody conjured the taste of caramel sugar; laughter on a spring day; ice skates scraping on a frozen pond.” // Review of “The Enchanted Sonata” by Heather Dixon Wallwork

Title: The Enchanted Sonata
Author: Heather Dixon Walllwork
Genre:
Fantasy
Intended audience: Middle-grade/lower YA
Date Read: 14/12/2018 – 28/12/2018
Rating: ★★★★

Review:

This is the kind of book I may not have loved as much as I did if I had read it in another time and place. However, I was reading it around Christmas, and I got swept up in the descriptions of gingerbread and snow and music and it was lovely.

This is a retelling of The Nutcracker, with a bit of  The Pied Piper and The Phantom of the Opera thrown in. The writing has  a fairy-tale feel about it. Even when the stakes are high, there’s a feeling of whimsy to it and the language is beautifully crafted. Music is the form of magic used in this story and you feel a bit like you’re listening to music as you read.

It took me a little while to get interested in the romance between Clara and the Nutcracker because… well, it’s a bit weird because he’s a nutcracker the whole time she knows him, and also they’ve known each other for a day or maybe two, but their banter was sweet, and by the end I was totally squeeing over them.  Also the Nutcracker (aka Prince Nikolai) is super-awkward and insecure but also really comes into his own and proves himself when given a chance and I like that in a leading man. Also, there’s no toxic masculinity to be seen.

Clara’s character growth took a bit longer. For a long time she was in denial about any feelings for Nutcracker, or her growing fondness for the kingdom or the other friends she is making there. However, once she got the proverbial knock on the upside of the head and realised a few things about herself, I was able to get behind her a bit more.

I mentioned Phantom of the Opera earlier and I want to talk about that because it seems I was the only one who noticed this? The villian a musical genius called Erik who has a tragic backstory and lives at least part of his life underneath the city’s enormous music hall. People hear him playing and don’t know where the music is coming from and assume he’s a ghost. If that’s not Phantom of the Opera, I don’t know what is!

Definitely recommend this one if you are in the mood for a whimsical, magical fairytale. It will make you smile.


Thank you to NetGalley and the Publishers for a free copy of this book in exchange for a review.

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#AWW2018 // Book Review: “Wundersmith” by Jessica Townsend

Title: Wundersmith: the Calling of Morrigan Crow (Nevermoor #2)
Author: Jessica Townsend
Genre: Fantasy
Target audience: MG/early YA
Date Read: 10/11/18 – 21/12/18
Rating:
★★

Review:

For a while I thought this book was only going to be a 2-star read for me and I was SO DISAPPOINTED after how much I loved the first book. Fortunately, it picked up enough in the second half for me to bump it up to “I liked it” level, even if it wasn’t quite as good as the first.

Townsend expands on the world of Nevermoor that she established in the first book. Nevermoor really is a wonderful, whimsical fantasy world. We meet more interesting characters, while the core ffavourites from the previous ones are still around.

While a few interesting things happen in the first half of the book, I didn’t feel it really got going until the  second half… this may have been because this was when I sat down to give it my undivided attention, rather than reading in bits and pieces, which is how I read the first 250-odd pages. So that could also have contributed. There were a few challenge items I had to finish as well as some ARCs and library bookks, so as a book that I owned, I did keep putting it aside. I did have a theory about one of the main plotlines which turned out to be correct and was a little bit predictable.

Still, I am giving these books to my 12-year-old niece for Christmas and I expect that the issues I had with this book are not ones that she will have. And it’s cetainly not enough to put me off the series. I’ll be pre-ordering the next one along with everyone else.


This review is part of my 2018 Australian Women Writers Challenge. Click here for more information.

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Book Review: “Unwritten” by Tara Gilboy

Title: Unwritten
Author: Tara Gilboy
Genre: Fantasy
Target age group: Middle-grade
Dates read: 02/10/18 – 10/10/18
Rating: ★★★

Review:

I think a lot of my issues with this book can be blamed on the fact that I probably don’t enjoy MG fiction  quite as much as I thought I did. I kind of had this idea that I love MG and YA equally, but between this and the last MG book I read, I think I have to re-evaluate that.

None of that is this book’s fault.

Unwritten follows Gracie, a character in an unpublished fantasy story whose family have taken her out into our world to protect her from death at the end of the story. But when a meeting with the story’s author results in the author being pulled into the story world, Gracie and her family and friends have to go back into their world and try to change the story for the better.

I think my main issue was that I never really felt pulled into the story. I always felt a little bit detached. And I am fairly certain that is to do with the issue mentioned prevously. I think that I were ten years old, I would love this story.

It does have a lot to love. I especially liked the way concept of the story pulling on its characters and how Gracie could never be sure if she was doing something because she wanted to or whether the story was pushing her to do it.

There was a good twist that I didn’t see coming, but it seemed so obvious in hindsight (also, I just hardly ever see twists coming).

The theme of forging your own destiny and not letting yourself be misguided did sometimes seem a bit heavy-handed, but I wasn’t sure if that was just me being overly critical. Maybe it wouldn’t seem so obvious to a MG reader? See what I mean about me and books for this age-group having issues at the moment?

Tl;dr, I think this book was a case of “it’s not you, it’s me” and probably your MG reader wil love it. It is defintely an interesting story that I haven’t seen before.


(Thank you to the author, publisher and Netgalley for a free copy of  this book in exchange for a review)

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#StepBoldly #aww2018 “The point is—as far as the Society is concerned—if you are not honest, and determined, and brave, then it doesn’t matter how talented you are.” // Review of “Nevermoor: the Trials of Morrigan Crow” by Jessica Townsend

Title: Nevermoor: the Trials of Morrigan Crow (Nevermoor #1)
Author: Jessica Townsend
Genre: Fantasy
Target audience: Middle-grade
Date Read: 11/09/18 – 17/09/18
Rating: 
★★★

Review:

Well, this was just delightful. I knew that Nevermoor won a whole slew of awards when it came out, but all the “it’s the next Harry Potter” proclamations still made me wary. But actually, I think this is one time when those comparisons are actually justified. 

Nevermoor is a whimsical, charming world where inhabitants ride the Brolly Rail (a version of London’s Tube where riders hook onto the system with the handles of their umbrellas) and it is perfectly normal for a hotel housekeeper to be a giant cat. The descriptions of Christmas were so lovely that I was able to ignore the fact that Christmas has no reason to exist in a fantasy land. Everything was just a little bit fairytale. 

The characters also all had a fairytale quality about them. There was a bit of David Tennant’s 10th Doctor in Jupiter North, and a bit of Alice in Morrigan Crow. But as well as the whimsy there’s also a real depth to them. 

I do admit the book felt a little long at times, but I would also be hard-pressed to tell you which parts I would cut out. It is a bit like the fourth Harry Potter book in that there was training, then an event, then training for the next event, then the next event happens… but I always wanted to know what happened next. And I think because the characters were engaging and the writing was so lovely, I was able to forgive it. The only thing I worry about is that the size of the book may be intimidating to readers of the target age. But I think any avid reader will be hooked immediately and push through regardless.


This review is part of my 2018 Australian Women Writers Challenge. Click here for more information.

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“The problem with monsters is that those of our own making are the most terrifying of all.” // Review of “The Other Alice” by Michelle Harrison

Title: The Other Alice
Author:
Michelle Harrison
Genre: Urban fantasy
Target audience: Middle-grade
Date Read: 25/07/18 – 27/07/18
Rating:
★★☆

Review:

This was an interesting book, though I have to admit that I did find some of the world-building a bit lacking. Still, it kept me engaged and that’s the main thing.

Eleven-year-old Midge loves to hear the stories that his older sister, Alice, makes up. When Alice goes missing and her characters seem to be showing up in their home, Midge is the only one who can save her and give the story the ending it needs.

The characters in this story are vibrant and interesting. They are very well-drawn, with various distinct personalities. The backstories of Alice’s characters were interesting and tied in well with each other. I really liked the characters’ reactions to finding out they were made up by Alice. I thought that felt really believable and I did feel bad for them.

I did feel that some of the history and world-building was where it fell down, particularly in the use of the “gypsy curse” trope to give a fairytale feel to Alice’s family history. Many people have written about the reasons why the word “gypsy” and stereotypes such as the curse are problematic to Romani people, so I won’t go into it here. Also, a Romani character called Ramone? Really?

There were also a number of events that had no real explanation other than “it was ~magic~”, but there wasn’t enough set-up of how the magic worked for that to carry.

Still, this was an enjoyable MG fantasy. I think I would recommend it for older readers in that age group as there are some dark themes and a few violent characters. It’s probably one parents and kids could enjoy together.


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