“It used to be simply noises. The noises were dreadful enough. But now sometimes I think I see it in the shadows.” // Review of “The Dead of Winter” by Chris Priestley

Title: The Dead of Winter
Author: Chris Priestley
Genre:
Horror
Intended audience: Middle-grade
Date Read:
01/10/19 – 03/10/19
Rating: ★★

Review:

Ah man. I was really looking forward to a spooky haunted house story here, and while I knew it was middle-grade, I didn’t think that would affect my enjoyment. How can you go wrong with orphan boy dealing with a haunted house at Christmas?

I want to say that I absolutely think that I would have found this a lot spookier if I had read it when I was ten or eleven, and that I feel this  is one of those books that doesn’t quite transcend its target age group (some MG books don’t, and that’s fine).

As it was, I felt that it was a bit of a checklist of haunted house tropes. We had the ghost of a pale woman in a shift out on the moors, we had banging from within the walls, we had footsteps in the corridor, we had shadowy figures in mirrors… It was all there and yet apart from a couple of scenes, I never really felt like any one haunting was gone into in any depth, nor did it feel like anything particularly new was being done.

The other thing that was while this is ostensibly about a young boy, it is written from the perspective of an older man looking back on something that happened when he was small. I couldn’t help thinking that emulating a Gothic style narration was probably not the way to interest young readers. The last chapter and the epilogue are set years later after Michael has grown up, and I don’t know that MG readers will consider that a satisfactory ending.

But at the end of the day, while this book wasn’t for me, I can’t say what the target audience would think. It’s highly possible that they would find it a lot more enjoyable.


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#Aww2019 #LoveOzMG Book Review: “Songbird” by Ingrid Laguna

Title: Songbird
Author:
Ingrid Laguna
Genre: Contemporary
Target audience: MG
Date Read: 05/10/19
Rating:
★★★★

Review:

This was such a sweet, uplifting book! It’s only short and I read it all in one sitting, and afterwards had a huge smile on my face. It was kind of easy to see where the story was going, but that didn’t take away from it at all.

Jamila, her mother and younger brother are refugees newly arrived in Melbourne from Iraq. Jamila is struggling to balance her new school life where she is the odd one out with her mother’s needs as they all try to adapt. But when Jamila joins the school choir and begins to make friends, she starts to fit in there… if only her father could make it to Australia, too…

I really felt for Jamila. I could feel her distress and not being able to talk to her classmates and being nervous due to her less-than-perfect English. I felt her frustration when her mother called her home from school to help with things like groceries. i have not had the same life experiences as Jamila but music got me through some bad times, too, so I completely related when she found that the school choir rehearsals were one of the only times at school that enjoyed, and how she could lose herself in writing a song.

The book deals with refugee issues, racism, death and terrorism in a way that I think would be accessible to readers in the target age group. I think it would be a great introduction to the topic, with room for discussion afterwards, and without feeling too overwhelming.


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

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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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“I don’t expect to need rescuing. I’m not that sort of Princess.” // Review of “Frogkisser!” by Garth Nix

Title: Frogkisser!
Author: Garth Nix
Genre:
MG/fantasy
Date Read: 03/09/2017 – 19/09/2017
Rating: ★★

Review:

This book started off rather well. There were a few moments where I honestly laughed out loud. However, by the end of it, the style had worn a bit thin and I ended up having to force myself thruogh to the end. I think I would have loved this a lot more if I had read it as a child, and it’s just a shame that it’s not one of those children’s books that transcends its target age group.

When Princess Anya makes a ‘sister promise’ to her sister Morven to ensure that Morven’s boyfriend, Prince Denholm, is  turned back from a frog to a human, she has no idea that it will be the start of Quest to bring peace back  to her kingdom and defeat her disloyal stepstepfather. Along the road, she meets other people who have been transformed by Duke Rikard, along with a Good Wizard, Snow White (not the Snow White you think, though), a band of “good” robbers and a host of other vivid characters that help her to recognise the sheltered upbringing she has had.

The writing style in this book emulates older fairytale-type stories and writers. It had a very quaint aspect to it. This was clearly what Nix was going for and I am sure some people will love it, but it didn’t really work for me, especially as I felt it clashed with some of the more modern aspects of the story, like the fact that Anya needed to find the ingredients for a lip balm. I suspect that the writing style also contributed a lot to me not feeling much of a connection with any of the characters.

The quest nature of the story didn’t really do much for me either; it felt a bit “they went here, got this and then went on to the next thing.”

Still, there were some things I liked. There were several occasions where Nix took a common fantasy trope and then turned it on its head. The story was often quite self-aware about that, and I enjoyed the way he played with those. The story did pick up in the last quarter, and the climax was quite entertaining, and the resolution was satisfactory. It was just that the journey there wasn’t quite my cup of tea.


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“Without doubt, you will find your way home.” // Review of “The Fearless Travelers’ Guide to Wicked Places” by Peter Begler

Title: The Fearless Travelers’ Guide to Wicked Places
Author: Peter Begler
Genre:
Middle-grade/fantasy
Date Read: 16/02/2017 – 26/02/2017
Rating: ★★★

Review: 

This book had a very strong start, but unfortunately I found myself getting bored in the last third. I’m not entirely sure that it would hold the attention of a reader of the target age-group. Then again, maybe the hopping between so many different fantasy elements would appeal to that younger reader.

When their mother is kidnapped by a witch and turned into a bird, Nell Perkins and her brothers must travel to the Dreamlands in order to to not only rescue their mother, but also to prevent an everlasting war from breaking out between Dreams and Nightmares.

This book started off really strong. There were some interesting ideas going on, between Nell’s ability to see people’s “inner animals”, to the young women in the town going missing. At this point, the characters seemed quite vibrant and interesting.

It was once they arrived in the Dreamlands that things started to feel a bit more haphazard. There didn’t really seem to be much of an arc to the story; a lot of it seemed to be the characters getting themselves out of one situation, then making their way into another one completely separate. To Peter Begler’s credit, he did manage to fairly accurately create a dreamscape where nothing truly makes sense and anything can happen, but there were so many ideas crammed into this one book that it started to feel like a bit of a mess after a while.

The main characters were well-written, though they did all come across as a bit older than they were supposed to be. Their guides, Badger and Pinch, were interesting, though we never really got much of a sense of them. Pinch was a former princess who had given up her throne, but that was all we knew of her backstory. Badger had made mistakes in his past which leant him Nightmarish tendencies, but this was never gone into.

For the most part, there was nothing wrong with the writing style, apart from the fact that the dialogue tags often didn’t seem to match what the characters were saying. One example that comes to mind is “‘Glad you’re all right, kid,’  Badger snarled.” Why would he snarl that? It seemed very odd, and there were many similar cases. It’s a tiny thing, but it kept cropping up and pulled me out of the story.

This has the makings of a really good fantasy novel, and it’s possible the target audience will enjoy it more than I did. It didn’t quite do it for me, though.


(Thank you to the publishers and NetGalley for providing me with a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review)

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“Like so many unfortunate events in life, just because you don’t understand it doesn’t mean it isn’t so.” // Review of “The Bad Beginning” by Lemony Snicket

Title: The Bad Beginning (Series of Unfortunate Events #1)
Author: Lemony Snicket
Genre:
Middle-grade
Date Read: 16/01/2017
Rating: ★★★★

Review:

badbeginningcoverMy goodness. I remember reading the first several books in this series back when I was about twelve, but I had no idea they were as dark as they are! Fortunately, that does mean that as an adult, I’m still able to get a huge amount of enjoyment out of them.

When the Violet, Klaus and Sunny Baudelaire’s parents perish in a terrible fire, they are sent to live with an alleged relative, Count Olaf, who treats them with contempt, forces them to live in squalor and do unnecessary chores, and who from the outset is clearly after their fortune. Unfortunately, the adults that should be supporting them are blind to the dangers and so it is up to the three children to foil the Count’s plot.

Snicket has a very particular writing style that I expect would not be everyone’s cup of tea. The tone is very dry and dispassionate, and he constantly defines words in the middle of sentences, which I know some readers find quite patronising. This didn’t bother me though, perhaps because I remembered it from my younger, less-discerning reading days, and so I knew what I was in for. The tone is one that I love, as it is just my sense of humour. The setting is a weird, gothic America, with no distinct time period or location. This also fits the mood perfectly.

The three characters are all very uniquely drawn. I particularly like that Snicket chose to make Violet the inventor and Klaus the bookworm. Many authors would have chosen to make the female character the quiet, nerdy one and the male character the one good with tools, so I applaud the choice to mix it up a bit. Sunny may only be a baby in this volume, but she has her own unique personality already.

Count Olaf is despicable, as are his cronies, but as the book points out, he is also very clever, and very ruthless. While he may sometimes come across as a bit of a campy villain, there are other times when he is chilling. I wanted to shake some of the other adult characters for being so clueless, but when they are not necessarily seeing the treatment the orphans are receiving, you can sometimes concede the points they make when arguing with the Baudelaires.

All in all, this was surprisingly entertaining, and I’m really looking forward to continuing the series.


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Book Review: Artie and the Grime Wave by Richard Roxburgh

Title: Artie and the Grime Wave
Author: Richard Roxburgh
Genre: Middle-grade/adventure
Date Read: 18/10/2016 – 08/11/2016
Rating: ★★★

Review:

artiegrimewavecoverIf I’m honest, I really only bought this book because I like Richard Roxburgh’s acting work and he was doing an author event at my workplace and I wanted his autograph for that. This book was okay, but having said that, had I been twelve when I read it, I think I would have really enjoyed it.

Artie lives with his terminally angry sister, Lola, and their mother, who has been stricken with grief and barely left the house since Artie’s father died some years ago. But when he and his best friend Bumshoe discover a Cave Of Possibly Stolen Goods, it’s the beginning of an adventure that leads to an organised crime racket that goes all the way to the Mayor.

The characters were definitely the strength of this book. Roxburgh has created a vibrant, diverse community. Many are over-the-top, with a lot of influence from authors like Roald Dahl, but that adds a vibrancy that will appeal to younger readers. Roxburgh’s own illustrations were larger-than-life and added additional colour.

I did find that the writing sometimes told rather than showed, and didn’t always flow as smoothly as it might have. There were also some authorial interjections, which have always annoyed me, though to be fair, that is a personal preference. While I hate this term, I have to admit that it did feel like a “boy’s book” – there were few female characters, and they were largely outlandish. The main two boys had a bit more realism to them.

Having said all that, this is a strong first novel and I am sure that the follow-up will smooth over some of these debut-novel hiccups.