A great brew of friendship and fun – ‘Ivy + Bean’

Ivy+BeanBook1I’m always on the look out for cute chapter books to read with my daughter, especially a series. I mean, what’s the one thing better than finding a fun book?

Finding out it’s only the first of many!

‘Ivy + Bean’ by Annie Barrows, illustrated by Sophie Blackall, just calls out to be read and enjoyed. Look at the cover! So cute! And the size is nice and wee, making it supremely approachable for kids starting out on chapter books.

I really enjoyed this story of two girls, who know they aren’t going to be friends until the day they each realise the other is more fun than they’d thought. As a mum it made me giggle to see how the more their mums told them to play with each other, the more they didn’t want to.  Continue reading

Suspense and a world of world-building – the epic ‘An Ember in the Ashes’

AnEmberInTheAshes.pngYet another book that I’d heard rave reviews about and was forced to wait until I had time to be devoured by it.

Once again, not disappointed.

‘An Ember in the Ashes’ by Sabaa Tahir is an epic book. It has its occasional flaw, but the strength of the characters and the poetry of the writing is so much I just pushed those issues to the side and kept reading.

The characters are older (19 and 20) and the readership should reflect this. There is torture and an uncomfortable rape culture. But if you can stomach that, then the book is a gem.

Totally awesome bits…

  • Narrator changes
  • Real, 3D characters
  • Intricate world-building
  • Diversity and inclusivity

Let’s go through in more detail…

Continue reading

Recommended reading for all teen girls – ‘Risk’

Risk.jpgReviewing this top-notch read has been a long time coming. And when I say long, I mean years.

I first heard about ‘Risk’ by Fleur Ferris before it was published. Here in West Oz, SCBWI have an annual event where we basically invite a few publishers over and then maroon them on a small island with us for several days.

Back in 2015 the publisher was from Random House. And she was talking up this book. If we wanted our YA to be published, she told us, this book was our benchmark.

The tantalising first chapter on the web hauled me in, but the book wasn’t out at the time. And somehow it just stayed on my TBR…

Until now.

My library recently bought a brand-spanking shiny new copy that jumped out and grabbed me as I wandered past the shelf. And approximately seven hours after checking it out, I was reviewing it.

Because this brilliant book dragged me in and held me.

It frightened me.

It made me cry.

And it made me consider internet restrictions for the teenager my daughter will become in less than a decade. May it be a very long eight years.

So, what was so great about it?

  • The balance between fear and reaction
  • The background knowledge of the author
  • The characters

Continue reading

Entertaining and heart-warming – ‘The Memory Shed’

thememoryshedI got drawn into this book by the awesome idea of a sinister garden shed. I admit, I don’t like delving into the depths of my rickety back shed (hello red-back spider, and <hooly dooly> what made that scuttling noise?) but I always love discovering long-forgotten things.

I wasn’t disappointed by the read. In fact, it pleasantly over-achieved! ‘The Memory Shed’ by Sally Morgan and Ezekiel Kwaymullina, illustrated by Craig Smith, was a delightful read. It is beautiful, well-written and give-yourself-a-hug warm.

The stats…

  • Junior Fiction
  • 5 chapters
  • 55 pages
  • About 2,500 words
  • Chapter 1 – intro to characters (including shed!) and inciting event (going to clean shed out)
  • Chapter 2 – trepidatious entry into shed to start clean
  • Chapters 3-4 – fun and memories
  • Chapter 5 – realisation and happy finish.

What did I love?

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A hug from the hope spreader – ‘Sorta like a rock star’

slarsI’d been crying for at least an hour. My husband peered at me over the ever-growing mountain of used tissues. ‘Why do you read books if they’re this bad?’

‘It’s not bad,’ I sobbed. ‘It’s really, really good.’

And it is. ‘Sorta like a rock star’ by Matthew Quick will give you a hug (because Amber loves hugs), tear your heart apart with anxious little doggy teeth while you’re looking the other way, and then knit it back together. But it won’t be quite the same.

I was recommended this book by an author friend. I was expecting hope and light. Sure, I got that, but I also got some unexpected, wrenching dark. There is depth and harshness and reality that make the hope that much more powerful.

Hence the tissues…

If you have trigger issues around depression, this might not be the book for you. Otherwise, read on…

So what makes this book so enthralling? Continue reading

A sequel that lived up to my ultra-excited expectations – ‘Gemina’

geminaI was jigging-foot excited to read ‘Gemina‘ by Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff. Nervous too. Because, seriously, ‘Illuminae‘ was so damn mindblowing I wasn’t sure anything could ever come up to standard.

Thankfully, ‘Gemina’ came through for me. There was something about picking it up and leaping back into the unconventional, characteristic setup that had my blood singing so much those lamina would have sensed me from half a universe away.

Why?

  • Characters of zing
  • World-building of awesome
  • Plot of intricate amaze-balls

Hooray, ‘Gemina’ happily thumbed its nose at the Seriously Sucky Sequel Syndrome. Want to know more? Brace yourselves and read on…

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The joy of brilliant writing and diverse characters – ‘The Sidekicks’

TheSidekicks.jpgThis book absorbed me. I became not one, but three new people as I read it.

That’s powerful.

I didn’t expect to love it this much. Don’t snort in my general virtual direction. I guess because this was written by a bloke, about three blokes adapting to the loss of a fourth bloke. And I’m not a bloke.

So I think my mind just kept gravitating to female-centric books instead.

Thankfully, I purposefully put it on my list at my last library visit after a few twitter giggles at posts by the author. And so should you. ‘The Sidekicks’ by Will Kostakis was a fabulous read, and I’m a bigger person for reading it.

The characters were vivid, the plot was enthralling, the writing was that sort of perfect where you don’t realise you’re reading.

I’m doing a dance now that I have read it, because it’s reminded me of why literature is so powerful. It isn’t just telling a story. With a book, especially in first person, you become the narrator as you read. You see and feel and think like someone else. And when that person is someone completely different to you, this magical thing can happen.

Empathy.

<oh, and a kinda spoiler alert, too> Continue reading

Rich, witty and enthralling: ‘The Iron King’

the-iron-king

Books are like diamonds. You can give two jewelers the same rock, and at the end of all their cutting and polishing, one will spray rainbows among dancing sunbeams, and the other might as well be a shattered fragment of soap-scummed shower-screen.

Likewise you can have several books set in the same world with a similar premise, and one will stand out. This book is one such sparkling delight…

‘The Iron King’ by Julie Kagawa is set in a world shared with many other novels. It involves characters brought into life by others. It follows many expected tropes.

But Kagawa takes her world and lifts it to another level. She cuts a fine diamond!

This is a successful series, with a lot of avid followers. I can see why. I’ve read another of Kagawa’s series before, so I was ready to be impressed. Things that worked especially well in this book for me:

  • Immersive world-building
  • Clever humour throughout
  • A tantalising romantic sub-plot.

If you don’t like spoilers, now is the time to nod sagely and stop reading… Otherwise, read on!

Continue reading

Putting a little DORK on my FORK: ‘Dork Diaries #1’

dork-diaries

As an ex-librarian, when I found the first ‘Dork Diaries’ on the WRONG SHELF, no – <gasp> – make that the WRONG ENTIRE SIDE of the Junior Fiction section of my library, I knew I had to help it find its way home.

Except when I picked it up, I immediately recognised the title, and took it out instead.

Yes, I hear what you’re saying… ‘But, Heather… this book was published in 2009! How can you not have read it yet?!’

That’s cool – I believe in better late that never when it comes to books.

My first take-home from this book is it’s not entirely my thing. And that’s completely fine because gazillions of other people think it’s their thing. So it’s still valuable to review why it worked. I don’t need (or even want) to write a book just like it (no one should for any book), but I can incorporate some of the winning ingredients into my own writing.

My second thought was about how different this ‘girl’ book was from funny ‘boy’ books of a similar ilk. More focus on clothes and looks and the opposite sex. Hmmm…

But what worked in this book that I can take into my own writing?

  • Friend-making
  • Love interest (not hopeless)
  • Besting the nasty popular kid through personal skill
  • Fab illustrations.

My favourite thing is the way MC Nikki keeps on saying all these awesome and/or outrageous things, and then tells us it was only in her head. A clever trick. I would internally gasp, like ‘Did she really say that?’ and then find she didn’t. Sometimes I was relieved, sometimes I was disappointed!

‘But I just said it in my head, so no one else heard it but me.’

And you know what else I love? In the acknowledgments, author Rachel Renee Russell thanks her agent who saw ‘the potential of this book when it was merely fifty rambling pages about a quirky girl and her fairy godmother.’ This book no longer has a fairy godmother. (Quirky girl? Still a tick.)

From that, I figure that compelling character and great writing will win out. Maybe we don’t need to get that submission perfect. Maybe, even if it’s the wrong genre aimed at the wrong age group, if we write well enough someone will see the potential.

Write on, people!

A fab message in a package kids will love: ‘All The Lost Things’

AllTheLostThings.jpg

Not all Picture Books are created equal…

There are books you hate your kids to love. Ones that tell them beauty is everything and they need to wait for someone else (probably a handsome prince) to rescue them from their problems.

I change the words when reading some of these (eg the beautiful girl becomes a smiling girl) but that doesn’t fix the stupendous plot and morality issues. Besides, now my daughter is starting to read and she’s figuring out my subterfuge…

So, on to picture books you love your kids to love! ‘All The Lost Things’ by SCBWI Aus West author/illustrator Kelly Canby, is one of these. I don’t need to change anything when my daughter and I read this book together.

What does Olive, the main character, care about most? Her family, her community, and hope. She’s funky. She’s happy. She’s inquisitive.

Go Olive!

A wonderful book with a great message and engaging illustrations. And not a handsome prince in sight.