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 of 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!

Review: Tui T Sutherland – The Winglets Quartet

The Winglets Quartet
Tui T Sutherland

“Fiercetooth, a NightWing obsessed with what could have — and should have — been. Deathbringer, desperate to prove himself as the next great NightWing assassin. Six-Claws, a loyal SandWing, who will soon find that loyalty comes with a price. Foeslayer the NightWing, a dragon in love turned kidnapper, and Prince Arctic of the IceWings, a runaway turned captive.”

This is a combined review from my daughter (11 years) and myself. She’s still getting the hang of book reviews, but I have great hopes for the future! Her comments:

This book was Wonderful, I enjoyed reading immensely. I think it’s one of the best books in the Wings of Fire series [Rose notes here that she has spent most of her pocket money buying these books, despite finding free copies online]. There are several different stories and I liked that the dragons then had some back story. The second and third short stories go together, which was pretty awesome.

The fourth was my favourite because I really like the ice kingdom and it’s really cool. [Rose: No pun intended!]. The third one was pretty good two because we met the Nightmare Assassin’s mother (the one that Glory met). The second one was a let down, the ending wasn’t as good.

Rose: From my adult standing, and the fact that I generally hate short stories, I felt frustrated by this book. It also didn’t help that I felt somewhat rushed into reading it because I needed to deliver it to my daughter (the new COVID-normal, apparently). I had finished reading the first three books of the Wings of Fire, but hadn’t started the next ones. I think it’s essential to finish reading those first five books to enjoy this one to its fullest.

Thanks for Scholastic for sending this one for my review! I’m not going to reread it (but I’m not its major audience), but my daughter would go out and buy it herself if she hadn’t gotten a copy. She’s also rereading all of these to the exclusion of other books – so they must be good. 4 combined stars. I’d recommend it to any book buyer who has a crazy dragon-fancier in their house. I don’t think you could go wrong buying this for budding dragonologists!

Scholastic | October 2020 | AU$6.99 | paperback

Review: Tui T Sutherland – Wings of Fire (books 1-5)

Wings of Fire
Tui T Sutherland

The fabled Dragonets of Destiny have spent the whole of their years being hidden underground. When one’s life is in danger however, they take it upon themselves to escape and get the Prophecy started already!

The set up of these books is that each one of the five dragonets of the Prophecy get a book to themselves. The first two books really only rely on the main characters (Clay and Tsunami) to carry them. Naturally then, I loved Clay the most – he might not be the brightest, but he is certainly the friendliest (plus he likes eating). After that point, we start seeing a bit more variety in the dragonets involved, particularly in book 4 (Starflight – Dark dragon).

I actually read the first three novels by borrowing them from my daughter, but then had to access books four and five online as she wouldn’t part with them (doing a full reread of the 13 released books in the series). I then was reading book 3 aloud (because it’s Glory’s book, and I like her!) and somehow got suckered into reading it again. This is easy reading for adults and advanced readers. I think this is the perfect precursor to Eragon or House of Dragons for the young dragon fanatics among us.

I confess. I hated the ending. I wasn’t at all invested in the dragon that ended up Queen, and too many plots didn’t have an ending. There’s a big deal made around how only dragons that are royal by blood can rule for the majority of the books, but then the final choice is… different.

Tsunami is deemed the favourite of my daughter, because she’s a Seawing, and seawings are awesome! My thoughts on the matter are that I reckon that it’s because of all the dragonets, Tsunami is the snappiest, with a hint of magic around her due to her family history. She’s also fearless.

It’s not adult reading, but it can certainly be enjoyed by an adult as a bedtime reading book to a young dragon fancier. I was lucky enough to receive a review copy of “The Winglets Quartet”, so expect that review near in the future!

Review: Hana Tooke – The Unadoptables

The Unadoptables
Hana Tooke

The five oldest children of the Little Tulip Orphanage were left there in unacceptable circumstances. In their various ways they aren’t popular enough to be adopted – some of them going so far as to destroy the chances of their adoption so that they can stay together. After an escape and a little bit of magic, the five are free to make puppets. But will their past catch up with them?

There’s plenty of orphan and adoption stories out there. Batman is perhaps one of the most famous, but Batman at least has his beloved butler to care for him. Or, there’s A Series of Unfortunate Events, where the children did have parents, and now they are being ?watched? by Lemony Snicket. The original orphan story is Oliver Twist, or maybe Mowgli, and then there’s Anne of Green Gable. All of these stories have white protagonists.

How about Despicable Me? You don’t see people up in arms about the fact that all three girls are white. While I don’t think that it should be acceptable that there ONLY stories about white people being ‘adoptable’, I don’t think that too much should be called out about a period novel that is accurately depicting the adoption environment of the times. It’s a fiction, and it shouldn’t be interpreted too deeply. I liked it because it let these orphans not be defined by who adopted them, but that they were able to define themselves regardless of where they came from.

As a geneticist polydactyly is an interesting inherited trait. In fact, it is inherited in a dominant pattern – so someone who has one parent with extra fingers/toes will have a 50/50 chance of also having multiple digits. It’s also really uncommon in Caucasians. Oh! And a bonus fact that I found out was that there is a “Rotterdam registration form for congenital anomalies”. I can see the Dutch connection there as well.

I understood how Egg behaved in regards to finding his own family, but I was frustrated by the fact that the end of the novel was, well, just an end. Yes, the twists and turns to the end were horrifying, but gratifying as well. I also liked the ways the different sections of ‘evidence’ came together. It was almost left open for another novel, but not quite.

I read this in what was hopefully the way it was intended to be written – as a lighthearted romp of five unusual children in the best (and worst) act of their lives. Who doesn’t like a good orphan story? Upon clicking the novel into GoodReads however, I discovered a range of opinions that hadn’t even occurred to me. For a 19th century Gothic novel, it’s probably appropriate that the ‘unadoptables’ are disfigured (12 fingers), mute (selectively) and the wrong appearance (Asian). HOWEVER. There are many people who are adopted or who have been part of the foster system that have objected to this novel, and so in good conscience I can’t recommend this book.

Sometimes the curtain is just blue.

Review: Susin Nielsen – No Fixed Address

No Fixed Address
Susin Nielsen

Felix and his mom Astrid live in a van. It’s a pretty cool van at the beginning, but as months go past, Felix gets more and more uncomfortable. He doesn’t get to shower every day, and school seems like the only place he’s warm and safe. Felix has a chance to go on a TV trivia show though and win the answer to their problems.

I didn’t feel convinced that Felix was 13. I felt that maybe he was a bit younger? I feel like by 13 I was a bit more put together, but maybe that’s because I’m a girl and we develop slightly faster than boys. I loved his relationships with his friends! And I liked how the novel was a mix of past and present tense – initially I felt a bit hesitant of it, but in the end it made sense.

I liked how it was just a slippery slope from a month’s holiday in a van through to spending a couple of months in it. It wasn’t ‘bam’ they’re homeless. I also liked how Felix described his mother’s depression slumps. To me, I don’t think her medication was doing a great job though.

This asks the reader to consider hard questions – what makes a good parent? Is foster care the right solution to problematic homes? Is stealing ever ok? Also it wants the reader to think about what they might feel like in that situation. Also, there were a couple of times where Felix made a statement to the police, yet it wasn’t followed up on.

This was entertaining (and sad) at the same time. I was particularly fond of Felix’s classifications of different types of lie. It was a very comfortable and undemanding holiday read.that I’d absolutely recommend for middle grade readers. 4 stars for its target age group.

Review: Meg Caddy – Devil’s Ballast

Devil’s Ballast
Meg Caddy

Anne Bonny ran away from her abusive husband at age 18, heading to the arms of pirate captain Calico Jack. But her husband is willing to pay to get her back, and the pirate hunter Barnet is willing to try. Will Anne be able to keep her life as her own? Or will she be forced back to land.

I love that Anne has her own personality. She’s not just a raw, rum-drinkin’ pirate, she’s got her own feelings and problems and baggage. It would have been easy to just make her a hard-headed heroine with no feelings or flaws, but instead we get a character with contradictions and reality. Anne’s life isn’t a daydream – she’s still got to fix the heads (toilets) and beat off the bullies, even if she is sleeping with the captain. She isn’t willing to compromise.

It’s amazing how much action fitted into this novel. Anne Bonny hardly has a dull moment, and when she does it’s right before she skids feet-first into a big mess of trouble. This novel even slightly explores the feelings of PTSD and having a child adopted away. I’m still feeling pumped about this novel, even a week after reading it. I gobbled it up in one sitting.

I’m not quite sure why this novel was called Devil’s Ballast, but it gave it an appropriately ‘piratey’ feel. I’m going to tag it in very lightly as Historical Fiction, because Anne Bonny WAS a real person. But this novel is written in such a way that it could have been complete fiction. Thus I wasn’t sure about Meg’s survival or anything else.

I picked this novel because I had previously really enjoyed this author’s debut work of Waer. I was not disappointed, even if the two novels have nothing in common. I’d recommend this novel for readers aged 13 and up, and I am giving it 4 stars. Well done, Meg Caddy. Keep writing!

Text Publishing | 7th May 2019 | AU$19.99 | paperback