May 9

Boys are Dogs by Leslie Margolis

9781599906089Changing schools, changing families and changing lives – these are common themes in books written for children. Every changing relationship presents a challenge, and learning to deal with this is an important part of growing up. Margolis has written a book that looks at these problems with an positive attitude and a gentle humour.

With her mother’s changing relationship, Annabelle finds that she is moved from her all-girl school to a co-ed Middle School. Suddenly she has to spend the day with boys! And as the blurb says ‘Middle School boys act like wild animals.’ How does Annabelle cope? Obviously, just like you manage a new puppy, you train them. So begins the challenge.

I have been reading a lot of heavy, dark adult fiction (reviews to follow) and this was a lovely change. ┬áMaybe I don’t read enough younger readers books.

January 9

Louis Beside Himself by Anna Fienberg

Review #6 – 98 to go

When I get under pressure for reviews, I sometimes look for a book that is going to be quick and easy to read. Generally I assume that I will be able to read it in an hour or so and then crank out the review. Every now and then one of those books provides a little more meat, and I need to spend some time thinking about what the author is doing.

Louis is a tween who just doesn’t fit in. He loves words and reading, and his Dad loves wrestling, the big, splashy, theatrical stuff on TV. His best mates are into outdoor activities, but they understand him and are cool with his choices. But then while Louis is home alone one night an burglar breaks in. Can Louis remember enough of his Dad’s wrestling training to defend himself? And just who is this burglar anyway. Louis manages the situation using his own special skills, and there the story begins.

This book is a lot of fun, but it also makes an important point. Everyone has their own special place in this world and finding that place will make them happy. And as for Cordelia and Doreen…Well you are going to have to read the book yourself to find out.

This is a gentle humorous novel, not too long so hopefully boys will be willing to read it.

July 30

Dead, Actually by Kaz Delaney

When you are a teen, living outside the popular crowd can be worse than death itself. This book will certainly change your mind about that theory. Sometimes being haunted is worse than death.

Willow is an average girl, not pretty, not popular. In fact she actively discourages popularity, preferring to maintain a quiet independence. But then she is first on the scene at a car accident. One would expect nightmares, but really the continual presence of the dead queen of the A-list group, or at least her ghost is driving Willow slowly mad. The only way to get rid of JoJo is to actually find out for herself what caused the accident and seek justice for JoJo. That proves to be a lot easier said than done.

This book is a lot of fun. For once you can believe the blurb, especially when it claims to be wickedly funny, not necessarily laugh out loud, but more a smirk of amusement. Certainly JoJo, and inevitably Willow, get caught in situations beyond your wildest imagination. And isn’t that the essence of comedy?

Dead, Actually will never be called literature. It won’t expand your mind, or even cause you to think about even once after you turn the last page. But reading isn’t always about literature. Sometimes it is nice simply to be entertained.

December 13

Fairy Bad Day by Amanda Ashby

Did you know that there are actually schools that train all the slayers of ‘bad things’ that invade our world. Vampires, demons, goblins wereanimals and the like? At that school Emma is tops of her class and totally expects to be designated Dragon Slayer. Imagine her surprise when her allocation is announced – fairy slayer. Fairies may be a nuisance with their practical jokes and other such carrying on, but dangerous? Not likely.

Hopefully by now you have an idea of this wonderful book. It is a true fantasy adventure story, with more than a little humour thrown into the mix. Emma and her nemesis Curtis are really just kids and are subject to all the insecurities and problems of adolescence. This means that they are less superhero, more down to earth and real for the readers. I think this will be enjoyed by kids everywhere, especially those who are sick to death of Twilight and it’s like. This is a real laugh out loud novel.

As you can tell, I like it and I am very happy to recommend it.

 

October 5

Slice by Steven Herrick

I think this is the first time I have read a book by Steven Herrick that wasn’t a verse novel. Usually he is an artist with the careful word selection and mini-chapters that help his poetry tell one single story. This time he has written in normal prose, and tried to make the whole thing funny. And it works.

Darcy is a normal kid. He is falling in love with the prettiest girl in his class, his best friend is the class nerd, and naturally he is a target for bullies. He can handle himself, but he probably wouldn’t be in nearly so much trouble if he actually thought before he opened his mouth. But Darcy is one of these kids that just says what flies into his head, and damn the consequences. Naturally it lands him in some trouble and therein lies the humour.

This is a sweet, and humorous book. Light reading without expecting anything from the reader. And I guess that is why I found it disappointing. Herrick usually challenges the reader to think deeply and explore the world and an individual’s place in it. This is a real talent and an important role in the world of youth literature. But this book is outside the box. It has far more in common with John Larkin and his light comedy writing.

However, it may just lead an unsuspecting reader or two to Herrick’s more challenging books. And for that reason alone it deserves a place on the shelves.

June 25

Elliot Allagash by Simon Rich

simon-rich-LST075440What a strange little book! The publishers are intent on promoting it as comedy, and the credentials are impressive. The cover is right (and I just had a look at the new and very average cover). Even for once the quotable quotes on the cover are right, this really is clever and fun.

The plot could easily summarize any one of a hundred YA novels. New kid at the school befriends the local loser and decides to make him Mr Popularity before the end of the year. Since the New Kid has more money than Midas, this is absolutely going to work. Before the end of the year, Seymour is class president, going out with the cheerleader and getting an A for every subject. Most kids books would stop right there.

What makes this book so interesting is that part two suddenly fast forwards to the end of year 12 when suddenly these lies begin to matter. It’s not just school anymore, but now Seymour is facing the world with nothing but lies in his portfolio and he is nervous.

This is a very clever and thought provoking book. There are some snappy one-liners and funny anecdotes, but the book is much, much more than that. It is really about bullying and allowing someone else to control your life. How do you fight back and proclaim your independence? By being true to yourself. I like that!

This is a deceptive little treasure.

April 30

Henry Hoey Hobson by Christine Bongers

HenryHobson_cov.inddTriple H, hmm. For fans of WWE wrestling this simple phrase will create an instant image. Now think of the opposite in every way, and you have a good idea of this HHH.

Henry is a new kid at school. He and his mum move every few months, and sometimes it seems every few weeks. But this move to a suburb of Brisbane is worse than most. Not only did he have to change schools, but Mum enrolled him in a small Catholic school just up the road from his new home. Great – not – especially when he discovers that he is the only boy in year 7! And then the vampires move in next door, complete with casket. How is he ever going to live this down!

This is written and designed to be a comedy. Many of the characters in these pages are larger than life, and the situations are sometimes beyond reality. But that makes this book simply delightful to read. However, there is also a very serious message about second chances here. Dressed up in the fun, it kind of slips in and sticks with you long after the silliness fades.

This book has been nominated in the CBCA Younger Readers category. I doubt very much if I will get the chance to read the rest, but this one really deserves the recognition that the nomination will bring.

April 20

The Dragon with a Girl Tattoo by Adam Roberts

9780575103726Gollancz has a practice of publishing parodies of popular novels. In fact Adam Roberts has written the odd parody or two. So obviously they have an idea about what sells and what won’t. When this was released in December, I am sure that it sold thousands of copies. But I wonder how many purchasers misread the title?

Set in another time and another world where dragons live like we do, this is a tale of intrigue, mystery and evil. A wealthy old dragon hires an investigative journalist to find out what happened to Hellfire Vagner, a young she-dragon who disappeared three hundred years ago. The journalist is assisted by a young dragon who has a very strange marking on her scales, the image of the mythical creature, human. Sound familiar? It should if you have read the other book or even seen the movie.

I will admit that I am not a real fan of parodies, at least not when they are this close to the original. Give the story a new spin, and I will go with it. But unfortunately this has little or no originality between the covers.

Certainly the reader will find the bits of the original that annoyed Roberts. For example he thought the sheep farmer scene was just a little too convenient, so he adds another twist here. But for the most part, this book is just like the other with a few small changes to keep it from infringing copyright.

So why would you bother?

March 3

Bloodthirsty by Flynn Meaney

9780732292195Months ago when I was handed this book to review, I very quietly groaned. It looks silly, the blurb was silly and I really really wasn’t interested. But as I am always saying, reviewing is all about respect for the author. If an author has spent months even years writing a book, it is only common courtesy for a reviewer to read the whole thing. And so I began…

And what a delightful surprise. This was a very gentle spoof of the endless vampire romances in youth literature today. Finn is naturally very pale, almost allergic to sunlight. So naturally he avoids the sun. Rather than become a figure of jest, he decides to model his behaviour on a brooding silent vampire. When one day he actually stands up to a bully in defence of a classmate, his reputation as a vampire grows. As the rumour spreads, the girls gather. Some are absolutely convinced. But the one girl that Finn is really interested in? Well, she knows the truth.

This book is promoted as a laugh out loud comedy. I didn’t find that, but I certainly did appreciate the fact that this book is in no way serious. In spite of the lousy cover and its promotion as the latest ‘vampire romance’, this is a very normal story about life and school and all the other things that are important to teens.

March 21

The Penderwicks on Gardam Street by Jeanne Birdsall

9780440868408As you can see from the rest of the books on this website, I spend a lot of time reading books for the 15+ audience. So when I get the chance to read something for the 10-14 age group it can be a refreshing change. Unfortunately, this one wasn’t refreshing, and not even much of a change.

The Penderwick sisters are a formidable team. Mr Penderwick, a single father, gives them his total and undivided attention, and that is the way they like it. So when their aunt starts pressuring Mr Penderwick to start dating again, the sisters form a Plan. The Save Daddy Plan is bold, brilliant and funny. But most importantly, will it work?

This is a plot that has been covered again, again and again. Sometimes as adolescent angst, sometimes as children’s humour, and sometimes the story becomes a meaningful examination of the meaning of love. Unfortunately this book is none of these things. I found this book to be simply trivia, almost a waste of time.