Review: Yassmin Abdel-Magied – You Must Be Layla

You Must Be Layla
Yassmin Abdel-Magied

Layla is ready to attend a new school, and being a hijabi is only a minor concern. She’s ready to fit in with the rest of the group, but with her sense of humour can she ever hope to stay at school past her first suspension?

I went from being really excited about this novel to being really disappointed in it rapidly. The writing style irked me. I read the first two chapters desperately hoping that the writing style was just an introduction. I didn’t find Layla a believable character. At times it seemed like the novel was just intended to explain some parts of Muslim culture, such as that women don’t need to pray at the mosque when it’s ‘that time of the month’. This detail was included in a way that just didn’t feel natural.

What also irked me about this novel was the use of numbers in Arabic words . The first one I found I thought that it was a typo! And then they kept happening, so I flipped to the back of the novel in the hopes it would explain what it meant. I thought they could be footnotes but instead it indicated a sound that couldn’t be written in English. Fine then! But why not at least attempt to use the appropriate alphabet to communicate the concept? English-speaking readers wouldn’t then be confused by numbers that meant nothing.

The ending was just too neat. I find it very difficult to believe that an adult with such deep-seated dislike of Muslim (and any outsiders) is won over in less than a day. I’m sure this novel is suitable for someone, just not me. I much preferred When Michael Met Mina, and there are other novels out there that approach the problems of being a person of colour in a world of white privilege. 2 stars.

Penguin Random House | 5th March 2019 | AU$16.99 | paperback

Review: James Dashner – Journal of Curious Letters (The 13th Reality)

The 13th Reality #1 – Journal of Curious Letters
James Dashner

Tick has received a letter promising him that he will be exposed to incredible danger unless he burns the letter. But if he burns it, many people will be harmed. Tick isn’t afraid to admit he’s a nerd, and he’s rather fond of solving puzzles, but will his best be enough?

Wow, this novel’s first half was incredibly slow. I did like the elements of problem solving, and that redeemed the novel somewhat. Then again, I’m sorry, but Sato’s pensive and rude emotional state did nothing for me. And almost meeting a sticky end didn’t even improve him! He didn’t feel like a real person. In fact, the whole novel was so plot based that we didn’t see any character development at all. Except for Tick but that was all described in terms of him finally standing up to the school Bully – not anything more important. And that stupid scarf! Ugh. The author harped back to it, but it turns out that no-one actually cares (surprise surprise).

I saw pale parallels between this novel and Harry Potter (um, also, the name Norbert???). A 13 year old bullied small boy gets a mystical letter, and then is eventually whisked away to somewhere odd by some equally odd people? Has this now become a mainstream trope? Except that of course Tick’s dad loves Tick enough to take him to far away places, and let Tick travel with crazy people. I do find that hard to believe – what right-minded parent of a 13 year old lets their kid wander like that especially after he has just been eaten?

I could see on Goodreads that this was quite a polarising book – people either loved it for the action or completely hated it for the flat characters. It is fitting then I think that I gave this 3 stars. Someone who doesn’t mind their characters completely predictable and boring but likes non-stop action once it starts will enjoy this novel.

Scholastic | 1st March 2018 | AU$17.99 | paperback

Review: Wolf Hollow – Lauren Wolk

Wolf Hollow
Lauren Wolk

Annabelle is a quiet sort of girl, happy to travel along in life with her friend Ruth, going to school and being educated. Once Betty comes to town though, everything changes. Betty isn’t nice, or kind – she seems set on killing someone. When she disappears, somehow it becomes Annabelle’s job to keep the local loner alive.

Let me start out by saying that the cover did not fill me with joy. I can’t resist reading any words that come past my nose, so I fully expected that something good would come from it. Instead, despite being promised that she would ‘earn her keep’, her role turned out to be useless.

Annabelle is ok as a character, and her actions in her relationships with her parents are believable. However, I had problems with the way she treated the bullying because it was clear that bodily harm was going to occur. If she had spoken up quicker, a lot less misery would have occurred.

This novel was far too slow to keep my interest. I struggled to pick it up, and it was far too easy to put it down again. Although the pace sped up in the last couple of chapters it was too late to redeem the novel for me.

Although I was erring on the side of 3 stars after finishing the novel, writing this review has crystallized it as only 2 stars. I just couldn’t love it, or Annabelle. Others have compared this to ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’ but I think this is weaker by far.

Penguin Random House | 3rd May 2016 | AU $16.99 | Paperback

Review: Simon Holland – A Miscellany of Magical Beasts

A Miscellany of Magical Beasts
Simon Holland

Discover the spellbinding stories of sixteen favorite mythical creatures from around the world. Dragons and griffins through to mermaids and giants, this lovingly illustrated novel will be for you.

With gorgeous illustrations and catchy little bits of story about mythical creatures, this large format children’s book is going to suit a range of fantasy enthusiasts. Perhaps you aren’t ready to read a big book of mythology? Perhaps you just want to have a taster of it? This is the book for you.

Of course, my favourite part was bound to be about dragons, and there wasn’t enough detail here for me. But for a beginner, it’s a nice introduction.

This has got to be the perfect gift for the younger someone who wants to know more about mythology past JK Rowling’s Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them. I’ll be giving it to a 7 year old beginning reader who is simply going to love it.

Bloomsbury | 20th November 2016 | AU $29.99 | Paperback

Review: Richard Roxburgh – Artie and the Grime Wave

Artie and the Grime Wave
Richard Roxburgh

Artie is always being bullied, along with his rather unfortunately-named pal, Bumshoe. While a shout of ‘Rabbits’ often distracts his dumb tormentors, this time it seems like Artie has gotten into more trouble than he can cope with. With Mary, Funnel-Web and Budgie on his tail, he needs to make things happen… fast.

31927285In the tradition of ‘The Day My Bum Went Psycho’ and ‘The Adventures of Captain Underpants’, this novel contains bums, snot and disgusting boys! If you have a reader that is into that kind of thing, they are going to love this novel.

The action is fast-paced, and the characters such strong caricatures that they will leave some sort of impression in your mind. If you have a weak stomach, and aren’t fond of snot or poop, this probably won’t be for you. There’s bodily fluids flying everywhere!

Honestly, it’s not my kind of novel at all, I didn’t request it to my knowledge. I wouldn’t have read this when I was younger, and the only reason I read this was because I knew my brain would be dead and incapable of digesting good literature after a hard day at work.

Let’s give it 3 stars, and know that there is a deserving audience out there that will enjoy this novel.

3star

Allen & Unwin | 12th September 2016| AU $16.99 | Paperback

Review: Michael Adams – Skyfire

Skyfire
Michael Adams

DARE to dream. Seven recipients on seven continents have just won the experience of a lifetime (and 1 million dollars). They’re leaders as teenagers in their fields – math, crime fighting or marine biology! Little do they know that something more sinister might be going on.

27804000I really liked the nifty symbols and I think the author had a lot of fun coming up with them. It likely took a bit of research on his behalf, and it shows nicely. I’m loving the Signmaker and I think lots of teenage readers are going to be able to get into this novel.

This reminds me strongly of The Last Thirteen (reviews of #2 and #3 here). These novels are designed for reluctant readers, particularly teenage boys. They are designed to be full of action, plot driven and with cliff hangers to encourage the reader to get the next. I’m not sure how I feel about the concept myself – committing teenagers to buying six more novels after this one.

If you are looking for something with a bit more substance to offer your reader, might I suggest the Alex Rider series? Now those have a stronger plot line and some character development that you can sink your teeth into.

I’m giving this novel an official 3 stars from me, but I think for the intended audience it would be 4 stars. The intended audience seems to be 12 year old boys – I’m certianly not one of those, nor have I ever been one!

3star

Scholastic | 1st September 2016 | AU $7.99 | Paperback

Review: Katherine Rundell – The Wolf Wilder

The Wolf Wilder
Katherine Rundell

Feodora is a trainee Wolf Wilder – someone who retrains wolves to understand living in the wild instead of being pampered pets of the nobility. Unfortunately the wolves she and her mother rehabilitate are too good at going wild again – killing farm animals gets them into trouble with the Tsar, and Feo’s mother is taken away for sentencing to death.

30234552This is told in the style of a fairy tale, which I appreciated. The novel is bookended by short sections that tell us what happened when we aren’t looking from Feo’s perspective. There is a hint of Russian culture, although there could have been more of this. I honestly can say I’m interested in Russia and it has a unique environment that I like (maybe it’s the snow?).

In a way, this reminded me of Dog Boy. This is of course, more of a children’s book, but I enjoyed it because of the way humans and animals like dogs and wolves can interact. There’s something about wolves that just excites me, perhaps because they are wild in a way that other things aren’t. You can’t tame those teeth!

Some other reviewers have complained that the story is boring and predictable. But I’m thinking that they have forgotten what age group this is aimed at. There’s hints of rape, which older readers will pick up, and certainly some blood, but it’s suitable for younger readers. I’d say it’s no worse than a Grimm fairytale! And it’s written in a modern way which works.

For what this novel is, I will happily give it 4 stars. I wasn’t bored, I enjoyed the writing and I find it hard to say no to a novel about a plucky (although somewhat sometimes stupid) heroine and her wolves.

4star

Bloomsbury | 1st October 2016 | AU $12.99| Paperback

Review: Hamilton Hill – Legend of the East Road

Legend of the East Road
Hamilton Hill

Peter has just entered the world of Luhonono. Magdalene and Gimbo are waiting for him there, ready to start adventures in an unseen world. Setting out to find a princess and instead finding evil makes this novel roll forward.

26115925This novel was slow. Very, very slow. The first half of the novel happened, and nothing had happened. The princess they set out to see isn’t all that exciting. I thought she might be in peril! And additionally, 2/3 explorers already knew who she was.

I felt overwhelmed at all the detail, often I just wanted the story to happen more quickly! I couldn’t have cared less whether it was Peter or Gimbo who had the fastest eyes – their rivalry didn’t seem real. The relationships did develop, but it was in an awkward manner.

This novel was written by someone who had a real love of African culture and traditions, but wasn’t able to merge it seamlessly into an exciting read. There was so much potential here, but it just didn’t make it in. Chopping out some more dialogue or trimming down the perspectives would make this novel stronger.

For example, a simple discussion of a cubby house is stretched out over multiple pages to include a snake sighting (Chapter 6). I think a simple paragraph with the mysticism of the place would have done a far better job of setting the scene, and there was no need for all the internal dialogue by Mags.

The ending was a disappointment. Just as the pace picked up and things became slightly more enthralling, very quickly they were over and the sorcerer was dealt with. I did finally feel vaguely like reading it at that point, so that meant I could give it 2 stars (I finished it after all).

I’ve seen various things that have proclaimed this a ‘young adult novel’ or the back of the book which says it is ‘middle grade fiction’. Middle grade fiction is what this is. I’m not sure there were any deeper themes explored. However, I’m not sure if it common to middle grade fiction to start talking about the attraction that boys have for girls. Please correct me if I am incorrect – this isn’t usually my genre of choice.

All I’ve seen elsewhere are overwhelmingly positive 5 star reviews, and it seems strange that I can only give this one 2 stars. It’s not the fault of the intended audience, I loved the Dragon of the Month Club. Did I somehow not read the same novel that they did?

2star

Review: Iain Reading – the Dragon of the Month Club

the Dragon of the Month Club
Iain Reading

Ayana and Tyler meet as unlikely friends in a library. Together they stumble upon a book to summon dragons – with the only catch that you have to have specific materials in order to summon some kinds. After an experiment goes slightly awry, Ayana and Tyler will have to use their individual twirks to get things back to normal.

25033448The synopsis might not set you on fire, but I’d advise jumping right in anyway. The front cover might make you feel like it’s just for cutsie little kiddies, but really it isn’t. There are real issues being explored, it’s just that the backdrop is of fantastic dragons!

This novel manages to inform the reader about a range of other novels, which might whet the reader’s appetite for other novels. I was certainly interested to go check some other ones out! This is a novel written by someone who just loves books.

Some of the dialogue and imagery were a bit clunky, but I think that is just the formula of a middle-grade novel to an extent, to help support beginning imaginations. Certainly the others I have read in this area are heavy on the details. This one (rather than the one I am reading right now) gets the balance almost perfect.

Oh no. Ooooh no. I just went to GoodReads to get my hands on a copy of this cover, and found out that the next novel in the series isn’t even written yet! And that the author has a bunch of other things to write instead (which I already knew from the interview with him I did awhile back). I finished reading this one and immediately wanted the next one.

This is a 4 stars from me, and for the right audience (ie. younger than me), I would give it a 5. There’s enough magic and some literature and some friendship, and a little bit of everything actually so that something will appeal to everyone.

4star

Review: Alex Gino – George

George
Alex Gino

George has never seen herself as anything other than a girl. That’s just a small problem when she has been assigned as a male at birth. She doesn’t even like what’s in between her legs, and wishes she could play games with the other girls. When a chance to perform might give her the chance to be herself, she will take anything she can to be in it.

24612624For the first chapter of George you don’t actually know what’s happening in the story. George could be a girl or a boy’s name. Instinctively the problem is that George knows that she is a girl, it’s just explaining it to other people. Sometimes it is the least likely of people that believe.

There’s a bit of George concerned with understanding different adults, but it doesn’t seem too packed in. Especially poignant is George finding allies are in unexpected places and sometimes feeling the joy of being just herself without fear.

This book is a great intersection between children and teenage transgender literature that I don’t think has been properly explored in fiction. I think it’s accessible to primary school level (I think Bridge to Terabithia is just as moving, and that was a primary school novel for me), especially since the characters within it are all in grade 4.

In all honesty, I wouldn’t reread this. But I can see it as a definite reread for a young person questioning their sexuality, gender or anything else not ‘normal’. This novel makes those things accessible, and suitable for a school library. Get out there, buy it for your young person.

5star