Review: Wendy Mass and Rebecca Stead – The Lost Library

The Lost Library
Wendy Mass and Rebecca Stead

Evan’s dad rescues mice rather than killing them. Evan eats apples that look a bit odd. One day, a little free library appears, triggering a mystery hunt for Evan and the truth about the lost library of Martinville.

This is such a cute, quick read. I’m not its intended audience (middle-grade fiction) but I really enjoyed it anyway. Who wouldn’t love a cat, a lost library and a ghost? The writing is lovely and light, and it was easy to get lost in Martinville. Although I could eventually guess the ending, I was happy just to float along.

Initially I was really worried that it was going to skip between perspectives to many times for me to follow. Nope! It did it just enough that the reader feels confused and then reassured. The concept of a Little Free Library is awesome, even if I did worry about the books left in the potential rain!

If you enjoyed The Cat Who Saved Books, then you’ll also love this one. I’d highly recommend this for any of the young readers in your life. It touches on trickier topics such as not fitting in, and the transistion to higher levels of school (in a USA context), but ultimately it’s a feel-good mystery solved satisfactorially. 4-5 stars from me.

Text Publishing | 3 October 2023 | AU$16.99 | paperback

Review: Chris Colfer – A Tale of Magic

A Tale of Magic
Chris Colfer

Brystal Evergreen dreams of a world where she gets to do something other than clean houses and marry a man. She desperately wants to be specific – and she desperately tries to read every book that passes her by. Unfortunately she’s not going to fly under the radar for much longer.

This is a kiddie book! Everything is explicitly spelt (haha) out, there is no independent thought involved. The reader is told how to react to each ‘revelation’ and everything is foreshadowed so much that you can see the ending coming from a mile away! Everything every character does contains why they did it, how everyone reacts, and how the reader should react. The big secret isn’t really a secret.

The main character is of course lovely and kind and compassionate, and magic is something you pick between being a fairy and a witch (which doesn’t work, everyone knows that fairies are another species and witches are just evil humans). Also, anyone else feel a bit odd about the fact that all of the magic-users were females… except one boy who liked to play with dolls? I’ve revisited how I feel about that, and I still don’t know. I read the preview into the next book in the series, which continues to go along with the toxic masculinity vibe. Oh well, the typical, intended audience isn’t going to care.

This book was very happily gobbled up by a 11 year old girl who pronounced it ‘very good’. That’s probably the upper limit of the age for this book, as I found it too easy to read. So many words! 3 stars.

Review: Shirley Marr – All Four Quarters of the Moon

All Four Quarters of the Moon
Shirley Marr

Peijing is not that sure about moving to Australia, but she knows that as long as her family is together it’ll be ok. She’s the dependable (and responsible) big sister for Biju and she’s determined to keep things steady. There’s a couple of problems though – Ma Ma is no longer dressing well, Ah Ma (grandmother) is forgetful and Ba Ba doesn’t know what to do when not working.

Interspersed with storytelling from Biju, the narrative moves smoothly through the first year of Peojing’s time in Australia. The prose is lyrical, and you can only hope that it’s an easy and enjoyable read for younger readers. It certainly was for me! I enjoyed it as something light and refreshing inbetween all the non-fiction I’ve been enjoying at the moment.

The novel reminded me of Tiger Daughter – but with a more satisfying ending! Also, although some themes are similar, to me, All Four Quarters of the Moon was more detailed and accessible. The transistion of moving to Australia, not fitting in well with the culture, and finding it difficult to let go of old traditions is compelling and meaningful. However, you can’t think that that’s it for the novel – it also touches on alcohol abuse and bullying.

I actually received an ARC for this novel, but somehow it slipped past my radar. I’d recommend it as suitable for any primary school-aged young person or as a read-aloud for parents. It’s not just about cultural differences, it’s also about friendships and family relationships. 4 stars from me.

Penguin Tina Gumnior | 5th July 2022 | AU$16.99 | paperback

Review: Rebecca Lim – Tiger Daughter

Tiger Daughter
Rebecca Lim

Wen Zhou knows her place in the world – and it’s not a great one when she considers her mother’s stifled life and her father’s abusive ownership of his women. There’s hope for Wen and her best friend Henry though – perhaps they will be able to enter a select entry school and make it away from their unhappy immigrant homes.

If anyone could give the prevailing emotion of this novel, you’d think that it would be hope. I felt however that this novel was desperately sad, because although there is hope for the future I don’t think that the change we see in the men is necessarily sustainable. It takes courage to face what you are, but it also takes money and time – and I worry that there isn’t enough of either for our protagonist.

What appealed to me the most about this novel is that it depicted moments in time that can occur in anyone’s life, not just those who are newer immigrants to Australia. Almost everyone will be targeted for something wrong or different about themselves at some point. Australia suffers from ‘Tall Poppy’ syndrome – anyone special should be chopped down as soon as possible. Let’s hope that this changes into the future.

I borrowed this one as an eBook to keep myself occupied on a flight from Melbourne to Perth (4-5 hours). I was /just/ getting into the story when it ended and the flight literally turned back around to Melbourne! So I was disappointed by both of these things. This is a cute little novella that could have easily been developed into a powerful novel about belonging and felt cut short to me.

4 stars from me, and I’d expect this to be a primary school reader book in future.

Chris d’Lacey – The Last Dragon Chronicles Series (A)

The Last Dragon Chronicles Series
Chris d’Lacey

“When David moves in with Elizabeth Pennykettle and her eleven-year-old daughter, Lucy, he discovers a collection of clay dragons that come to life. David’s own special dragon inspires him to write a story, which reveals the secrets behind a mystery. In order to solve the mystery and save his dragon, David must master the magic of the fire within – not only with his hands but also with his heart.”

This is a review of all five books in the initial series, written by a 12-year old reader who was promised a trip to the library if she wrote one! Who am I kidding, we would have gone anyway… I’ve had to reword slightly so that it isn’t filled with spoilers.

I really enjoyed these novels up until the last book. The other four were compulsive and absorbing reading, but the ending of the fifth ruined the series for me. There was a lot of death and it didn’t seem like a good ending.

My favourite parts were the clay dragons and the short stories, anything with a dragon would be good enough for me. My favourite character was Liz because she was good at making clay dragons. I could have done without Dr Bergstrom’s character. He didn’t do anything and disappeared with no explanation.

I’d recommend it to anyone who likes characters dying. It’s aimed at my age or slightly older. It’s for dragon lovers because they are awesome dragons. 3.5 stars for the series because the ending was terrible.

Review: Elisabetta Dami – Thea & Geronimo Stilton Mouse novels (A)

The Magic in the Mirror | Superstore Surprise
Thea & Geronimo Stilton

While I previously reviewed these children’s novels, I asked our resident avid 11-year old reader to give them a twirl and give me a review! Here’s her opinions on both of these novels.

The Magic in the Mirror

It was a spellbinding story with lots of action and fun. The ending was happy, and very satisfying. All the things that I wanted to happen did happen. It would have been a bit better if there had been more pictures, because I really wanted to see the mirror. I didn’t like that it’s always a prince and princess getting married – I’d prefer if they didn’t get married, because then how will they rule each kingdom equally? Each should go back to their own country and rule it. This was the favourite one out of all the others I have read (approximately 4 books). I would definitely read it again, maybe in a month or so.

Superstore Surprise

This book was not as good as the Magic in the Mirror or any other book in the series. It was the most disappointing book because I really thought it could have been longer than that, and I didn’t think that they would solve the mystery so quickly – this mystery wasn’t mysterious enough for me. It was a bit boring and the end was not satisfying.

The ending wasn’t satisfying, because it ended up that they just bought curtains and the evil person was now acting like a good person. This could be improved by making the answer to the mystery saboteur more complicated. I was able to guess it as soon as the first car drew up.

Review: Vicki Bennett & Tull Suwannakit – The Flying Angel

The Flying Angel
Vicki Bennett & Tull Suwannakit

“World War II. 1945. A group of nurses is handpicked to rescue injured soldiers from the frontline in Papua New Guinea, and transport them safely back home to Australia. Known for their courage and compassion, the soldiers call them… the Flying Angels. This is a story inspired by the life of one remarkable nurse, Sister Marie Eileen Craig.”

I personally didn’t know about the Flying Angels, but I am unsurprised that Australian nurses volunteered to do such a dangerous and potentially heart-breaking job. Us Aussies aren’t afraid of danger, and we aren’t short on compassion. I’d be interested to learn more about them, but I don’t think you’ll catch me reading a ‘dull’ old history book any time soon.

I’m not really sure what possessed me to request this picture book. Did I magically miss that it’s for ages 4+? Perhaps the beautiful soft fuzz of the drawing on the cover suckered me in!

I took it to its target audience of a five-year-old prep boy. However, he wasn’t that sold on it. It certainly wasn’t one that he re-requested that he have read to him! I tested it on his younger sister as well, but she’s jut not as good at sitting still for a book. Thus I think that the best audience for this book would be a family who has a closer personal connection to the World Wars or as a teaching aid for primary-school history.

Scholastic | March 2021 | AU$24.99 | hardback

Review: Shivaun Plozza – The Boy, the Wolf, and the Stars

The Boy, the Wolf, and the Stars
Shivaun Plozza

Bo’s best friend is Nix, the fox – but that’s all he has in the world. His guardian Mads doesn’t really love him, and the nearby villagers think that he brought the Shadow creatures. When Mads dies, Bo has to decide for himself what he wants to do – follow the adventure he had no intention of beginning, or just try to stay out of trouble.

Bo is lied to and abused by almost everyone in his life. In fact, even the people he trusts lie to him – even if sometimes it is to protect him. The underlying theme of this novel is that sometimes life is unfair – but you don’t need to let the anger grow too much.

Something I didn’t understand was why Bo always needed to hide his face in his hood. In the village it seemed to make some sense, since he was recognisable to everyone. After he got into the main world though, I couldn’t understand how people knew he was different.

I put off reading this novel because I had forgotten that it was middle grade, and I thought it might follow the pattern of Me and Earl and the Dying Girl. I was pleasantly surprised that it was an entry fantasy novel that was light and quick to read – nothing like the YA offerings of this author ofΒ Frankie and Tin Heart.

I’m not the target audience, so with that in mind I would still recommend this book. It has a blatant message that it is bad to lie, and that forgiveness is hard to properly give, but it’s also fantasy so it is enjoyable to read. 4 stars from me.

Penguin Random House | 20th October 2020 | AU$16.99 | paperback

Review: Amelia Mellor – The Grandest Bookshop in the World

The Grandest Bookshop in the World
Amelia Mellor

Pearl Cole is sure that she lives in the greatest place in the world. She stays home, and reads on the topics that make her happy. She looks up to her Pa and loves her siblings. But one sibling has died, leaving a hole in the family that the mysterious Obscurosmith can exploit. Can Pearl and Vally save their arcade, or will it, and their memories, be gone forever?

This novel confused me. My daughter received it for Christmas and I grabbed it up – who wouldn’t want to read a book about a bookstore? I was then informed that it was based on a true location/story/event. However, although I was able to suspend my disbelief for some of the novel, eventually I was left feeling confused and a bit cheated. It might be a real location (as described in the historical note), with some of the games passed down from child to child, but it wasn’t a true ‘based-on’ novel.

I liked the magic system in this book. Magic works based on three things: imagination, articulation and conviction. But apart from that, there are no rules! Each person can shape the magic as they like to, and some are better at it than others. Some people are very successful at it, such as writers like Pa Cole, while others are not so good because they are too practical.

There were some laugh-out-loud moments where I giggled so much my birdie thought the world was shaking! The games were fun, and I got enjoyment out of trying to solve the riddles just from the information the children gave me. As the novel progressed, I had to work harder to keep the magic alive in my mind, and that spoiled the novel for me.

I love the idea of a bookshop where you can read as long as you like – I have some favourite memories of sitting in a bookstore, hidden from the staff, polishing off a novel while my parents shopped. Of course it’s frowned upon – but there aren’t any libraries in most store arcades! As digital books continue to take over, the historical artifact of a brick-and-mortar bookstore will fade. And I will be very sad, even if it’s just the idea that excites me.

I won’t reread it as the games aren’t fascinating enough for that, but I’d highly recommend it to its intended audience of children, say 8 years and older. 3 stars from me for adults, 4 stars for children.

Review: Elisabetta Dami – Thea & Geronimo Stilton Mouse novels

Superstore Surprise
Geronimo Stilton

“It’s the grand opening of Traps new superstore, but nothing is working. The lights won’t turn on, the doors won’t open, and the loudspeaker is broken. Geronimo must figure out who is trying to sabotage the grand opening!”

Scholastic | 1st December 2020 | AU$12.99 | paperback

The Magic of the Mirror
Thea Stilton

“The Thea Sisters are summoned to the Seven Roses Unit by Will Mystery, but when they get there Will is missing! The sisters must follow a trail of clues to the Fantasy Kingdoms on their quest to find Will.”

Scholastic | 1st December 2020 | AU$19.99 | hardback (special edition)

Both these books are children’s fiction which I normally wouldn’t request. In fact, they are weird because they are by the same author, but are written under the pen names of their mice protagonists – Thea and Geronimo Stilton. Thus although these are written in the same universe, a child requesting this book wouldn’t know that they are by the same author! And I personally wouldn’t know how to categorize them in an alphabetical-by-author bookshelf.

These two beginning reader book are quick and quirky to read as an adult, and perfect for their intended age bracket of children in grades 2-4 (reading level 4). The font is large, and interesting/important words are emphasized to give some lightness to the reading.

Obviously I’m not the target audience for this. Upon watching my 11 year old daughter read other books by these mice, she laughed and giggled at multiple points – so I’m taking that as a good sign! I’m not 100% on whether these would suit young male readers as well, but they are short and engaging enough that having them read out loud by a beginning reader wouldn’t be too painful.

Both of these novels have been brought by Scholastic into English reading (they were originally written in Italian), but I imagine that the original novels would be just as good. I wonder whether a case could be made for immersion reading in a foreign language? There are some made-up words though, such as ‘fa-mouse-ly’ and I wonder how that worked in the original Italian. But I digress.

I’d confidently put these on the list for buying as a gift for a beginning reader, and suggest them as staples in a school library. The hardback of The Magic in the Mirror is beautiful with top-notch full-colour images inside. I can’t say anything about their rereadability.

NB: This review will be updated with an 11 year old’s perspective some time in January! I very sneakily asked my daughter which of the Scholastic Trade Parade she was interested in, and then hid them until Christmas!