July 12

Blame My Brain by Nicola Morgan

Rarely do I get asked to review information books. I read so much fiction, as I am sure you have noticed by now, that occasionally it is nice to absorb some factual information.

This is very simply a fun book that examines how the brain works and the changes that happen in the brain during adolescence. There is a huge amount of hard information here, but the presentation is such that the reader learns painlessly, and usually laughing as they go. The author is from the UK, so much of her statistical information is based on US or UK populations, but there is enough truth to the stories that any Australian teenager will certainly recognize themselves and friends as they go.

Highly recommended.

July 12

Peak by Roland Smith

I was not at all enthusiastic about starting this. It just reeked boys adventure sport, probably poorly written following a formula. Boring… It is very nice to be wrong.

Peak (yes that is the hero’s name) is sprung by the NYC SWAT team painting his trademark blue mountain graffiti on a 75 story building, about level with the 70th floor. You see Peak is a talented rock climber, and there aren’t many rocks in the city, so he has to make do. When a copy cat falls to his death, the City of New York decides that Peak must be made an example. He is sentenced to 2 years in Juvenile Detention or leave the country immediately with his estranged father.

It turns out that Peak’s father runs a commercial climbing country, and he has a great idea for some publicity. His son is about to become the youngest person to every climb Mount Everest. So before Peak can think, he is in Tibet, clinging to the north side of Everest.

Smith takes this simple plot and adds layers of complexity. Peak befriends a young boy who has been forced to leave school to support his family, probably by becoming a Sherpa on Everest. The is a subplot about a Chinese army officer and the difficulties he causes for the climbers. Peak personality is far more complex than many fictional sporting heroes. He discovers a lot about himself on the slopes of Everest, including the importance of family. And then there is the English assignment.

I found the setting unusually unsettling. Most authors would portray Everest as pristine wilderness. Not Smith, he makes it clear that the climbing trails are so heavily used that the environment can no longer cope. The resulting pollution makes Base Camp sound revolting. And then as the climbers get higher they start seeing the corpses of those who didn’t make it. Smith makes it sound like there are too many to count and heaps more every year.

I found this to be a rivetting read.

July 12

Whiffy Newton in the Riddle of the Two-Tone Trousers by Rebecca Lim

OK so the title says it all. It may not be the longest title of any book I have read, but pretty close. This second book in a new series of detective stories for children was lovely and funny.

Whiffy Newton has noticed that trousers in the neighborhood are being stolen and then returned, altered. Actually they are cut in half and sewn back together. It appears no one is safe. Even Whiffy’s favourite tracky dacks get taken. Can Whiffy get to the bottom of the mystery? (Pun intended).

This is a series that will certainly appeal to those kids in primary school who absolutely adore Captain Underpants and all those other books that just venture over the boundary normally drawn around children’s literature. It is not a book of great literary worth. Turn the brain off and get ready to enjoy some silliness as you read any of the books in this series.

July 12

Hungry Ghosts by Sally Heinrich

This is another book that I finished when I was a long way from any Internet connection. As a result the review did not get written until now.

Sarah is a young girl from Singapore who is not happy with her parent’s decision to move to Australia. Her father is determined that the family will adapt quickly to Aussie customs, but mother is clinging to her Chinese culture. Sarah is caught in the middle, not happy in either place. But then at the Festival of the Hungry Ghosts, Sarah starts hearing voices. Are the voices real, or is the girl going mad?

In the process of telling this story Heinrich provides a great deal of historical information painlessly. The plight of early Chinese migrants to Australia is beautifully portrayed, and far more sensitively than in the Scholastic My Story series.

My one concern is the inconsistent voice from the Sarah. From the narration the I assumed that she was a young adolescent, facing all kinds of changes in her life, and this was only one more. However the story continually refers to the fact that Sarah is in year 11. I don’t think so.

July 10

The Haunted Workroom by Tempany Deckert

This is a tiny little book designed for the girls in primary school who really are not interested in spending time reading. This simple story told in 60 pages is about a group of friends trying to set up their own fashion design business. This can be difficult if the workroom is haunted. Actually the haunting isn’t as difficult as the fact that friends fall out, and then a business can be in trouble.

July 10

Bad Moon Rising by Julie Radford

Often I am asked if I like every book I read. I seem to find something positive to say about everything. This book is certainly the exception. There is nothing good about this rubbish.

This is essentially a bad science textbook loosely strung together with a ludicrous story about Columbus’ discovery of America. There is no attempt to make the story flow, that might get in the way of the science lectures. The plot. if there is any, is ludicrous. Imagine a common seaman lecturing Columbus about tides.

As a science teacher I found this book offensive.

July 10

Heart-Shaped Box by Joe Hill

Horror. Not everyone’s favourite genre. This first novel from young author Joe Hill should certainly establish him within the genre.

The storyline is simple. Jude Coyne is an aging heavy metal rock star. He keeps a collection of the macabre, a snuff movie, a cannibal cookbook and all kinds of other goodies. When he sees a ghost for sale on the Internet, he knows that he has to have it.

The ghost arrives attached to an old suit. Then the trouble begins. Jude’s PA suicides, his goth girlfriend gets blood poisoning and the dogs are going crazy. But there is a strict no returns policy because it appears the ghost is the father of an old girlfriend who committed suicide after Jude broke off the relationship. This ghost will not rest until Jude and everyone near him is dead.

I decided early on in the book that I really didn’t like it. There was no subtlety to the plot, no layers of meaning. Had the author been well known, I would say that he had some urgent bills, and this book was meant to pay them and then sink into oblivion. But even though I wasn’t enjoying the read, I couldn’t stop. The pace of the story was like a runaway train, you know that you are charging towards disaster, but there is no getting off.

I didn’t discover that Joe Hill was Stephen King’s son until after I finished the book. Hmmm…the fathers in this story are all evil old men. It makes you think.

Be warned this book should certainly have an MA rating. There is lots of violence and the language is colourful.

July 9

The Key to Rondo by Emily Rodda

It seems like it has been ages since I read something for younger children. All these adult books for review are certainly modifying my reading habits. However, I heard a lot of positive comments about this book at a recent conference, so it eventually came to the top of the list.

As the book begins Aunt Bethany has recently died leaving a music box to her nephew Leo. He has always been fascinated by the box and she knew he was responsible enough to follow the rules. However his cousin Mimi comes to stay for a few weeks and she is an established rule breaker. Without spoiling the story, I can reveal that this is a quest fantasy.

Regular readers will know that I am always crying out for fantasy novels to reflect a real cultural heritage. Rodda has accomplished this brilliantly with her references to Farmer Jack Macdonald, trolls under bridges, and lots more.

This book has been shortlisted on the CBC Younger Readers list. I haven’t read the complete list yet, but I would think this one has a very good chance of winning.


July 8

The Cursed by Michael Panckridge

Thank goodness for Michael Panckridge. He has incredible skill when writing short, adventurous stories for kids entering secondary school. This book is no different, and it serves well to introduce kids to the new archaeological adventure genre.

Lewis is a young man attending boarding school. His mother disappears early in the book leaving him a letter that sets Lewis off on a search to find her. It also puts the young man in conflict with the Light Society, a group of crusaders determined to rid the world of evil. But is every definition of evil the same?

This book was easily read in one sitting. It gets the reader in quickly and won’t release him until the story is finished. I hope it is the first in a continuing series of Light Society novels.