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

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Fun and daring make for an ideal combo – ‘To the Lighthouse’

ToTheLighthouseIt’s rare to read a book that looks at childhood and growing up with such clever balance. ‘To the Lighthouse’ by Cristy Burne does that, and all with a vivid sense of humour and love of adventure.

Take risks. Eat jelly snakes. Make new friends. Laugh. Lots.

I really enjoyed this junior fiction book. It was vivid and honest, exciting and funny, and I recommend it for all 7-10 year olds.

But I almost didn’t write it up. ‘Why, oh why?’ I hear you ask.

Because I know the author. Really well. And I didn’t want to be seen as false or having conflicting interests or whatever it could be.

But then I figured… it’s my blog! And it was such a fab book, I’d write it up anyway :). Ha!

Yeah? And what was so fab?

  • Diverse characters
  • Boy and girl friendship without any complications
  • Parents are around
  • Encourages risk-taking

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Ponies + Mermaids = Gold… ‘Lulu Bell and the Birthday Unicorn’

LuluBellBirthdayUnicorn.jpgI’ve just read that the Lulu Bell series by Belinda Murrell has sold >200,000 copies.

Just a moment while I put the laptop aside and bow in tremulous awe.

Okay, I’m back. So today I’m reviewing Lulu Bell and the Birthday Unicorn, the first in the Lulu Bell series. The book instantly caught my attention, thanks to the vibrant illustrations by Serena Geddes. And then it kept it, thanks to the clever writing.

Awesome thumbs-up aspects:

  • Cute animals (everywhere)
  • Mermaid costumes (what kid doesn’t want one of those)
  • Humour
  • Diversity
  • Gorgeous illustrations

That’s the short of it. But, of course, I had to look a little deeper into the workings of a very successful book idea.

Want some tips on how a great chapter book works? Read on…

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Because there are different ways to be awesome – ‘The Rest of Us Just Live Here’

restofus-342x513Maybe it’s a book-nerd thing, but I really loved how this book both pokes fun at, and pays homage to, the mighty Chosen One trope. I loved the nuances, I loved the giggles and I even loved the confusion.

Confusion…? What are you talking about Heather? Good books don’t confuse you! Except sometimes they do…

‘The Rest of Us Just Live Here’ by Patrick Ness had me scratching my head. Thankfully not nits (can you even catch them from a book?). Perhaps not even confusion, so much as mystery. I couldn’t get a complete handle on the world. Because I had too much of a handle on the world.

When was it set? Where?

Because everything seemed to be about now and about our normal world. Except for the blue lights and the zombies and the adults that don’t remember. Are they metaphors or are they real? Are they both? And… aaaah!

Must!

Keep!

Reading! Continue reading

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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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 sporty Hero’s Journey – ‘Pocket Rocket’

PocketRocket.jpg

Brilliant! Talk about filling a Jupiter-sized kidlit hole. Awesome girl playing non-traditionally-female sports and acing it? Bring it on! ‘Pocket Rocket‘, by Ellyse Perry and Sherryl Clark, is the first in the Ellyse Perry series, and it rocks.

Perry is up there with Australia’s top sportswomen, having represented our country in both Cricket and Soccer (football for you non-Aussies). I think she rocks as well!

This book, aimed at primary-school-aged girls, covers Perry’s first few weeks at high school as she tries to get on the school cricket team and win the Club Cricket grand final. It covers issues like changing friendships, settling in, and sticking to your dreams.

 I love that her Dad is the parent we hear most about – their relationship is really positive. And diverse characters are throughout – just like in a real life Aussie school.

The Basic Ingredients for this Junior Fiction book

  • 141 pages
  • ~25,000 words
  • 15 Chapters
  • Humour, friendship, self-belief
  • Swift publishing of Book 2
  • Books 3 and 4 coming out within months

If you’re not scared of the occasional blatant spoiler or ten (okay, it’s all spoilers), read on for my deconstruction… Continue reading