Today We Did

While I read a wide range of books, I focus my reviews on children's and young adult books of all genres, both fiction and non-fiction.

Googa Nark: A Great Adventure

Googa Nark: A Great Adventure - Brian Moos Today We Did

It has been quite a number of years since I first fell into the world created by J.R.R. Tolkein, but as I began Googa Nark, that is what I was reminded of. The old man, Quibby, comes to tell our hero, Googa Nark, about a quest that he must undertake for the sake of the land and all the creatures in it. And he should set off with the group of companions waiting outside his house immediately. It made me think of reading by torchlight under the covers after bedtime as a child, where one can truly immerse themselves in a fantasy world, such as that of Googa Nark. Lands with strange names and features, odd creatures and plants, but not all that dissimilar to our own world really. There are forests and plains, valleys, mountains and streams, and across all of these, Googa Nark must venture to rescue the princess.

There are many strange words and names in this story, and the author has supplied a very handy glossary at the end of the story to help the reader remember what everything is. It was great to be able to click on the new word and be taken to the glossary and then be taken back to my place in the book. This is a benefit of e-books that I hadn’t much experienced before. I enjoyed so many of these unusual words, but I think there is something so perfect about the word “kanarful” that I might just have to work it into my everyday vocabulary! The only downsize to the bizarre names was my woeful pronunciation whilst reading aloud to my daughter.

The pace was quick, and the plot exciting. Everything flowed nicely as we followed Googa Nark along on his quest. I loved the way that the narrator inserted himself into the story, adding bits here and there. The advice to the kids reading the story was great, like getting parental permission for vine swinging, or not asking too many questions. This feature added to my enjoyment of the story, and made it more like being told the story rather than reading it.

The characters and landscapes were well described and easy to imagine. I liked most of the characters (except the bad ones, like the Booloorg Pirates). Googa Nark really is the perfect hero; strong, intelligent, brave, polite, loyal, modest… the list of compliments could go on for some time! He wondered at the amazing things he encountered, and was grateful for all the help he acquired along the way, making some very good friends. I immediately took to the Crunzy Dragon, what a character! He is huge, hearty and peppers his speech with outbursts of “huh!”. He would be ferocious to anyone who did not know him, but to Googa Nark, he is gentle and protective. I think it would be most useful to be able to sneeze and make copies of myself, as Naabalaak Aak does! I would get so much more done :) I also liked the way that 47 could multiply himself, he karnafuls (oh, I love that word!). What a world of fantastical creatures and incredible lands. I’d love to explore more of this world, and the creatures within more deeply.

Googa Nark is an engaging adventure through a wondrous world to save a princess. There are a handful of battle scenes, but nothing too graphic, and it uses appropriate language for children. Perfect for middle to upper primary school students to read for themselves, Googa Nark is also a wonderful tale to share with younger children. The story ended too soon though, but with a hint that there might be more adventures for Googa Nark to come!

*I received this book as a digital copy from the author, who asked me for an honest review of this book. I did not receive any other remuneration, and the review is composed entirely of my own opinions.

After Falling Apart

After Falling Apart - James  Hanson, David Younger Today We Did

Harrison is seventeen when his life falls apart. He walks away from his future as a soccer star, away from his father, away from his friends. He starts over, building himself a life far different to his previous one. He takes a photography course and moves out on his own. When he hires Chloe Smith as his gardener and house help his life takes another unexpected turn.

Told from the point of view of seventeen year old Harrison, After Falling Apart is written plainly. This may be a writing technique, placing the reader into Harrison’s narrative, but overall I found the language to be rather too simplistic for the intended audience.

This story felt a bit flat to me. It seemed to jump through time too quickly, and I wanted more explanations, details and background. Harrison’s ascent to a photography career whipped by and his relationship with Dave seemed fleeting, then they’re going into business together. It did become more interesting when Chloe and Dana entered Harrison’s life though. That all happened a bit quickly as well; he hires her one day, next day she’s bringing her daughter and he’s offering her his spare room? I suppose this could just reflect Harrison’s navieté, but I suspect that it has more to do with speeding the plot along.

I disliked Harrison as a protagonist. I did feel sorry for him growing up with an overbearing father and a semi-absent mother, but he’s a bit of a jerk. He is boring, lazy, arrogant and selfish. He walks away from his life when he’s hurting, fine, but he goes straight to his aunt’s house, and freeloads there for a bit. He doesn’t attempt to help about the house, do anything with his cousins, he doesn’t even show up for the meals his aunt makes him. Such a lack of gratitude and respect. His aunt is hurting too. He also disrespects Chloe’s wishes in regards to Dana. Life is really all about Harrison, and what he wants. I also didn’t like that Harrison begins referring to Dana as his daughter after knowing her for such a short period of time, especially without being in a relationship with her mother. I didn’t much like Claire either. She only wanted Harrison on her terms, when things were good. When things were hard she didn’t bother going after him, and nor did his friends. The soccer match was more important to them than Harrison. Most of the characters needed further development (and perhaps some interpersonal skills!). Chloe and Dana were more complex, but I still didn’t feel like I got to know them very well. Chloe was secretive and self-righteous, not to mention overly controlling of Harrison right from the start. I guess that she was doing what she though she thought was best for Dana. Dana’s condition made her a difficult character and a difficult character to write, I’m sure, but she was the only character that felt real to me.

The descriptions of the soccer matches were much like a running commentary. Using all of the player’s full names made it a bit confusing to follow, as I didn’t know where the players were, or often who was on each team. These interludes were just over-the-top detailed, which made them tedious to read. A couple of the dialogues sequences also had me a bit lost, and I had to go back and re-read them to work out who said what. I found the sections of poetry difficult to read too. I would have preferred to see these sections inset and spaced away from the main narrative, with one line of poetry per line.

I was a bit surprised when some of the characters were described simply by their skin colour. When Harrison visits the library for the first time, he encounters a “black library worker” and a “white library worker”. I don’t think that their skin colour is important to the story at all, and besides, there are certainly better ways of conveying colour than baldly stating it like this. The quality of details and descriptions are somewhat lacking throughout the story, and this let the book down.

After Falling Apart is an easy read for high school students.

*I received this book as a digital copy from the author, who asked me for an honest review of this book. I did not receive any other remuneration, and the review is composed entirely of my own opinions.

Dragon's Future

Dragon's Future - Kandi J. Wyatt Today We Did

During their tenth winter, twins Ruskya and Duskya are chosen to become dragon riders. They leave their home to live in the dragon riders’ colony, learning to communicate, care for and ride their dragons. Fifteen years on, both twins have become talented riders under the guidance of their father-like mentor Glendyn. However, the dragon population is in danger. The younger dragons aren’t pairing up to mate, and the supply of eggs is dwindling. Without new hatchlings the future of the colony is uncertain. Suddenly a dragon rider from a different and hitherto unknown colony appears in the nearby village. Dragon attacks begin and innocent people are injured and killed. Ruskya must defend the colony and the village, with the help of his dragon, Wyeth, and his family and friends. The invaders are powerful and battle-ready, but what is it that they want?

The first in an exciting new series, Dragon’s Future is an enjoyable and intricate story full of magic and action. I love stories about dragons, I think they are fascinating creatures, especially the friendly ones! This book hit the spot, and I flew through it. It was engaging and entertaining, and I’m looking forward to the next book in the series.

The characters had their back stories told slowly, with the past nicely balanced with the present, creating rich character profiles. I felt like I came to know them, especially Ruskya, Carryl and Kyn. Loyalty, trust, friendship and courage are all evident amongst the riders and villagers. They worked as a community to face the adversity that had befallen them, it took strength and sacrifice, but they rose to the challenge. The dragons also had such individual and appealing personalities, beyond just being the dragon attached to a certain rider. I enjoyed the way they communicate and bond with their riders. Alternatively, the turquoise rider was arrogant and power hungry, delighting in the pain of others, an excellent nemesis for Ruskya. Kyle was also highly dislikable, partly for his cruelty, and partly because I found him incredibly annoying and rather stupid.

At first I had trouble connecting the dragon with the right dragon rider, as the dragons’ names are all very similar. I soon worked it out though, I mostly kept getting Wylen and Wyden confused. I liked the names given to the dragons and the people, but as I really like the letter ‘y’, perhaps I am a little biased. The names of most of the characters contain the letter ‘y’, but it didn’t make them difficult to pronounce. I thought it gave the story a sense of community and tradition.

The landscape in which the story is set is well constructed, with vivid descriptions of the village, dragon colony and their surrounds, making it easy to step into this new world. The vast canyons, and sandy desert seemed like it should be inhospitable, but the people made it homely and welcoming. It is reminiscent of a time gone by, before technology, when communities were small and tight-knit, when magic was still possible. It is a great place to escape to.

A wonderfully complex fantasy, Dragon’s Future is suitable for upper primary school through to high school students. Many adults will also enjoy this story.

*I received this book as a digital copy from the author, who asked me for an honest review of this book. I did not receive any other remuneration, and the review is composed entirely of my own opinions.

The Smellyphant

The Smellyphant - Gavin Buckley Today We Did

Samson is a rather smelly elephant with pegs on his tail and a knot is his trunk. Due to his overpowering stenchiness, the other elephants don’t want to play with him. Samson is sad and alone, watching the others, will he ever get to join in?

The other elephants are mean to Samson, refusing to let him play with them, because he is a bit stinky and different. But when Samson helps them out, things change. They only really accepted him when he became more like them, they didn’t accept him as is. On the other hand, Samson chooses to perform a brave act for the elephants who have previously shunned him. He shows us that we all have differing abilities and strengths, and that compassion is a virtue. However, the message my kids got from this story was that we should all maintain good personal hygiene, for everyone’s sakes. Baths are important, my lovely children!

The illustrations in this book are simply gorgeous. Each page is filled with vivid and colourful pictures perfectly complementing the story. The elephants are rather comical themselves, and I liked the way the trees were drawn with green leafy spheres. The flies buzzing about Samson’s rear were also a nice touch. My favourite illustration shows Samson avoiding a bath by hanging onto the curtain rod, and I love that the author uses the word ‘kersploosh’ with the bathtub, what a wonderfully descriptive word.

The story rhymes, which is good for reading aloud, and it was funny. I liked the way that the text was written on each page, with varying styles, size and location to suit the illustrations. My kids had to ask what the word ‘pong’ meant, and then each time it was used in the story it made them laugh.

My five year old loved this story. She thought Samson was cute and funny, and she liked that he didn’t want to have a bath! My eight year old also enjoyed the story, but she wanted to know why he had pegs on his tail and why he had a knot in his trunk. We hypothesised that the knot was to help to keep him from smelling his own stink, but we didn’t come up with a good reason for the pegs. She didn’t have the same queries about the elephants playing hopscotch though!

Most suitable for preschool and lower primary school children, The Smellyphant was a fun book for sharing. Great for elephant lovers and lovers of rhyming picture books.

*I received this book as a digital copy from the author, who asked me for an honest review of this book. I did not receive any other remuneration, and the review is composed entirely of my own opinions and that of my children.

Water's Edge

Water's Edge - Rachel Meehan Today We Did

Daniel Grear is a firm believer in climate change, and the detrimental effects that it is having on the earth, especially the weather. To make their lives better, he moves his small family into the Scottish countryside onto acreage, where they can try to become mostly self-sufficient. They raise animals, grow food and produce their own electricity, and collect rain-water in tanks. Nairne and her older brother Zane both help out with chores about the farm after school, and Nairne is showing an aptitude for machines and caring for the animals. Coping with wild weather, including storms, excessive rain and heavy snow falls makes life on the farm harder, but they are much better off than many. As things worsen, and sea levels rise dramatically, parts of the UK and Europe flood, displacing hundreds of thousands of people. With a massive influx of people from further south, Nairne convinces Daniel to take in a family of boarders, a city couple, Garrick and Pam, with their teenage son, Paul. They seem alright on the surface, but Nairne quickly becomes uneasy and distrustful, with her feelings exacerbated when a couple of Garrick’s colleague’s move in next door. As food and fuel sources dry up, and even basic supplies become unaffordable, the Grear’s farm with all of its resources becomes a very desirable location. Nairne soon learns that some people will go to extraordinary lengths to get what they want, and beware anyone that might get in their way.

This is the first book in the Troubled Times series by Rachel Meehan. It deals with the issues of climate change and global warming and themes of human nature, including survival and desperation. The effects of climate change that we have seen so far have drastically accelerated, the polar caps are melting at an alarming rate, raising sea levels and causing storms. There is drought, fires, floods and storms that are devastating vast sections of Earth. These events could really happen to our world if we, as a human race, continue to trash the environment and use reckless amounts of fossil fuels. The author has obviously put a great deal of effort into researching climate change science, and this comes through in the details of this story. She has also put a lot of thought into how people would react if such a widespread catastrophe were to occur. The desperation to survive at any cost is evident in the town, with arguments, looting, fights and thievery, and that’s just the average law abiding citizens! They just want to have enough food, shelter and water to survive. The ones that want to take advantage of the situation, like Garrick and his mates, are ruthless, and concerned with profit and power far more than with getting enough to make their own survival possible. I concur with how this scenario plays, survival, even at the cost of others is basic animal nature, and I think that is how most people would react if they became desperate. That there will be some prepared to take things further is almost inevitable, we hear everyday on the news about people that have done something abhorrent even in the best of times, without remorse or guilt. This could only be amplified in the disarray of a global catastrophe.

All of the characters in Water’s Edge were deeply developed and realistic. Through the story I felt like I really got to know Nairne. She is tough, headstrong and practical, a great female lead character. I admired her abilities about the farm, and her disregard for what others might think of her. At fourteen, she has much more weighing on her shoulders than most, yet she slogs forth with tenacity, honesty and integrity. She’s got a sharp tongue, a temper, and she can come across as a bit abrasive, but I really liked her. I liked Zane and Daniel too, though not as much as Nairne. Zane was a shy follower, who befriends Paul readily. Daniel was a lot like Nairne, though with more years under his belt to learn to control his emotions. In contrast, their new boarders, Garrick and Pam, were extremely different. It was evident from the start that Garrick was a bit off, and Pam seemed to be rather vacuous and incapable of independence. They were well written city characters trying to adjust, and take advantage of, country living. Their friend and colleague, Stevie, and his gang were horrible men, and I can still see Stevie’s evil grin as he hurts someone. The character that changed the most was Garrick’s son Paul. Initially I disliked him, but as the story progressed, he grew on me. He really started trying to make a new life on the farm, helping out, and befriending both Zane and Nairne.

Water’s Edge was interesting, logical, with well-formed themes and characters, and a little mystery. I enjoyed it, and have already moved onto the second book in the series, Power’s Out. I think it would be best suited to upper primary school and high school students. However, it may not suit less mature children, as the overall theme of disaster and dystopia might be too frightening, and there is some violence and death.

This book really makes me want to live off the grid in a secluded area being self-sufficient, in a well-secured and camouflaged compound with all my family by my side!

*I received this book as a digital copy from the author, who asked me for an honest review of this book. I did not receive any other remuneration, and the review is composed entirely of my own opinions.


Tussock - Elizabeth Pulford Today We Did

Kate’s father is missing. He went up in a light plane with a friend, and they haven’t been seen since. They live is a mountainous and bushy area by a lake, so the only way to search for the plane and its occupants is by air. Kate and her sister, Madeline, are both hoping their Dad will be found soon, and they have been lighting a lamp and building a stone man to help guide him home. While they are up at Kate’s hut on the hillside, a strange boy appears. Troy seems sad, evasive and a bit irritating, but Kate comes to like him. While she waits for news of her Dad, she also wonders more about who Troy is and why he is there.

The style of Tussock was nice, and the story flowed well. I really liked the side story concerning the keys on the old rusty key ring that Kate’s Dad had given her when he passed the hut to her. These short anecdotes were interesting and more insightful than the rest of the story. I would have liked to read more of the stories behind the keys.

However, overall, this story just didn’t hit the spot for me, it didn’t pull me in and keep me engaged. There was too much left unanswered. What happened on that last night? What happened to Troy? Where did he come from, where did he go? I was even asking myself questions about how they met in the first place. I would have thought that finding a strange teenager lurking about on her farm would have been out of the ordinary. Despite her concerns about her father’s fate, surely Kate would have told her mother that there was someone trespassing, since she wasn’t aware of the boot camp at that point, and she didn’t know what he was up to. They obviously lived far enough from town that a random stranger wouldn’t just stumble along, and someone there to help with the search wouldn’t be wandering aimlessly by themselves over their property. Perhaps her lack of judgement is due to the stressful situation she is in, but still, I would have thought her instinct would have been to protect her younger sister at least. Kate barely seems suspicious, and is only mildly irritated that he won’t answer her questions directly.

Kate and Troy were the main characters, yet there wasn’t a lot about Troy. He was a fleeting figure, here, and then gone, with only the briefest explanation for his presence and strange behaviour. Really, Kate and Troy were ships passing in the night during a time of distress for each of them, but there could have been a lot more to their relationship. To me Troy was a bit of a shadowy character that I couldn’t visualise that well. In fact, none of the characters really spoke to me, though I found Kate and Madeline likable enough.

Tussock is suitable for upper primary school and lower high school children.

Thelma the Unicorn

Thelma the Unicorn - Aaron Blabey Today We Did

Thelma is a small pony with big dreams. She dreams of being a unicorn, and when the opportunity for change presents itself, she takes advantage of it. She becomes Thelma the Unicorn, living an exciting and adoring fan-filled life, but something is missing.

A beautiful picture book suitable for preschool and lower primary school children, Thelma the Unicorn is about just being yourself because that’s the best thing you can be. Your real friends will accept you just as you are, imperfections and all. It takes Thelma a little while to discover this, as she finds that pretending to be something that she is not isn’t easy, and it isn’t necessarily fulfilling either.

My kindergartner daughter initially picked this book out because it has a pink unicorn on the front with sparkly glitter! Now she wants to read it because she likes the story, and she likes Thelma. It rhymes too, which is great for reading aloud and sharing, and the illustrations are lovely. I particularly like the truck driver of the truck carrying the pink paint and glitter, and my daughter likes Thelma on the red carpet. An amusing read and re-read!

Girl Warrior (Phoebe Nash #1)

Girl Warrior (Phoebe Nash #1) - Justin D'Ath Today We Did
Cycling along an African road on holiday with her Dad should have been fun, but for Phoebe Nash it is just the start of an adventure both frightening and exhilarating. Phoebe flags down a passing vehicle when her dad becomes ill on their ride, but minutes later, they are all face-down in the dust with guns pointed at them. The African man that was trying to help Phoebe passes her a message and his mobile phone before he is hauled away by the men with guns. Now she must get help for her father, and try to pass on the message to the right person, Sospeter. He turns out to be a rather cute fifteen year old with a fast motorbike and a determination to rescue his father from the kidnappers, with Phoebe along for the ride.

A political kidnapping, an illicit motorbike ride, wild and dangerous animals, a daring rescue, and a cute boy. The perfect combination for an exciting and fast-paced African adventure! I enjoyed the story, which was interesting and exciting, without being too complicated. There was excellent description of the wild-life and scenery, allowing me to follow along with Phoebe and Sospeter on their rescue mission. I’ve always loved stories set in Africa, though most of the ones I read are full of complex politics or animal conservation issues, with death a common occurrence. Phoebe Nash: Girl Warrior was a clean story great for children, without death or swearing, and the reasons behind the kidnapping were kept simple.

I liked both Phoebe and Sospeter, both have courage and ingenuity, despite their young age. Phoebe has spunk; most thirteen year old girls wouldn’t have embarked upon such an incredible adventure with a boy they’d just met, in a country they don’t know! She is a good character to have at the heart of the story, and Sospeter complements her. He seems fearless and a bit stubborn, but knows when to ask for help. They make a great team.

Phoebe Nash: Girl Warrior was an entertaining read which I finished in one sitting. It is most suitable for middle primary to lower high school children. With a young female heroine, this story may appeal to girls more than other adventure stories, as they can relate to Phoebe. There is also a second book in this series that I am yet to read, Phoebe Nash: Detective.

Danny Chaucer's Flying Saucer

Danny Chaucer's Flying Saucer - Christopher Peter Today We Did

Danny lives in the tiny village of Brampton, where not much happens. One night after a storm, Danny thinks that he hears a low humming and sees a light out of his window, but he might just have imagined that. Then his strange Uncle Colin appears asking about noises and lights, along with a rather odd army captain who is snooping around and appears to be speaking to trees on the common. This is maybe the weirdest thing that has ever happened in Brampton, and Danny and his new friend, Nat, want to uncover the mystery. When they discover something shimmering in a patch of nettles in the clearing at the bottom of Danny’s yard, things really start to get exciting!

The plot of Danny Chaucer’s Flying Saucer was simple, logical, and entertaining. Danny and Nat have an amazing experience with BOB – Brain On Board, the artificial mind inside the flying saucer, while thwarting the efforts of evil Captain Frost, also known as Frosty-Knickers, and avoiding detection from Danny’s parents and uncle. The story flowed nicely, and I finished reading it quickly.

The characters in this story were well developed. It was easy to imagine the petite Nat speeding along the street, or Danny trying to trick Uncle Colin. They made a good team, especially when working together against the school bullies or Captain Frost. I liked the characters of Nat and Danny, but BOB really made the story for me. BOB was full of spunky character that made me laugh. I’ve never come across a computer that speaks with a “cockney twang” before, nor one that spends so much time boasting of its magnificent abilities! Of course, if I had abilities like BOB, I’d probably want to share them with anyone who would listen too. I liked that BOB was as keen to inconvenience and impede Captain Frost as Danny and Nat. Captain Frost was the perfect adversary, and I disliked her immediately. As soon as she entered the story, I wanted her to fail in whatever her plans might be!

Danny Chaucer’s Flying Saucer got the tick of approval from my third grader! She thought it was amusing, and exciting. The subject and delivery of the story was just right for her, and she said she would read it again along with any future Danny Chaucer books. There were a couple of references to things I doubt my third grader or her friends would know about, such as Russell Brand, and the TV show Downton Abbey. However, these references weren’t particularly important to the flow of the story, and my eight year old just skipped over them and kept reading.

This out of this world adventure is suitable for middle and upper primary school students. I believe Danny Chaucer’s Flying Saucer is the first in a new series of funny adventures with Danny, Nat and BOB. I am looking forward to the next installment.

*I received this book as a digital copy from the author, who asked me for an honest review of this book. I did not receive any other remuneration, and the review is composed entirely of my own opinions and that of my daughter.


Zog - Julia Donaldson Today We Did

Zog is the largest dragon in Madam Dragon’s class. He is learning to fly, roar and capture princesses, but while he tries very hard, he also tends to be a bit clumsy. Luckily for him, every time he hurts himself, a friendly girl comes along and helps him. As the years pass, and the girl grows older, perhaps they will find their true calling together.

Dragons, dragons, dragons. This book is about dragons, and much like they react to books about dinosaurs, my kids gravitated straight to this book. I was pleased to find that it is witty, amusing and fun with rhyming text (I really am a sucker for rhymes!). I like to read it aloud and laugh with my kids, we always crack up when Zog catches his own wing tip alight! The illustrations are perfectly matched to the story, and as always from Axel Scheffler, beautifully detailed with bold colours and memorable characters. I recognised some little creatures from The Gruffalo among the scenery too. I found the ending unexpected, yet perfect. A beautiful book to share with primary school children, Zog, will entertain parents as well.

Jack and the Flumflum Tree

Jack and the Flumflum Tree - Julia Donaldson, David Roberts Today We Did

Jack’s Granny has developed the Moozles, and there is only one known cure, the fruit of the Flumflum tree. The Flumflum tree grows on the distant island of Blowyernose, but Jack is determined to reach it and return with the fruit to cure his Granny. He builds a boat, secures a crew, and gets ready to sail. Granny gives him a patchwork sack full of interesting objects that she thinks the adventurers may need, and they set off, but what awaits them along their journey?

Jack and the Flumflum Tree is another brilliant and engaging story book from Julia Donaldson, author of The Gruffalo. The lyrical text, which just begs to be read aloud, sucks even the most reluctant reader into Jack’s story. There is action, misadventure, bravery and inventiveness along their journey, with plenty of laughs. Granny’s sack is a wonder, and what Jack does with each item is clever and entertaining. The repetition of Jack’s reaction to each new situation is memorable, and has spurred my children into using the phrase “Don’t get your knickers in a twist!” when someone is flustered, or just inserted into everyday conversations with no context!

All the pages are beautifully illustrated, with expressive characters, and interesting scenery. I particularly like Stu’s and Rose’s facial expressions each time another complication arises. There are many little creatures hiding among the foliage on the island of Blowyernose, which my kids like to spot.

Suitable for primary school students, Jack and the Flumflum Tree, is also great for parents, a book that will be hard to get sick of. All my children love this book, and it is often called upon for bedtime reading.

The Candlestick Dragon

The Candlestick Dragon - Melanie Rose Ifield Today We Did

Daniel is short for his age, wears glasses, and is constantly bullied at school. He never expects to experience adventure outside of a book, he can’t even swim, and he’s not very fond of physical activity anyway. Yet a simple excursion to the recycling centre with his mother, Darling, changes Daniel’s whole world. He brings home a candlestick with a statue of a dragon clinging to it, but it is no ordinary candlestick! The dragon blinks his eyes, shakes off his stoney exterior and speaks to Daniel. He is Nilofar, a small dragon, roughly the size of a cat, and he is on a mission, sent from his homeland, Novarmere, through a gateway portal to Earth. Adventure is at hand, with magic, wizards, a young princess, brave warriors and terrifying creatures that Daniel could never have imagined.

I enjoyed this fantasy adventure story, which was exciting, well written, and contained interesting and well described characters and landscapes. I particularly liked Nilofar. As a child I would have loved to have discovered a friendly dragon that was small enough to sit on my shoulder, wrapping his tail around me and chuckling smokey bursts about my head! Really, I would still like a friend like this! Cute and brave, Nilofar was my favourite character, though all the characters were interesting, and I came to feel rather protective of Daniel. Rishana’s attitude felt very true to form for a young teenage princess with so much power at her fingertips, I liked her vacillation between pouty teenager and easygoing comrade. We were able to see her in her role as the confident Princess of Novarmere, as well as the young and inexperienced girl that she actually is. And their immediate enemy, the evil wizard Rullin, was suitably evil, cunning and boastful.

Most suitable for middle primary school through to lower high school students, The Candlestick Dragon is still a good read for adults too. Some younger readers may find some of the action and the mythical creatures a little frightening. There is some fighting and death, though I didn’t feel that it was overly graphic. I am happy for my third grader to read this book, and will be encouraging her to do so.

I received The Candlestick Dragon for free through Goodreads First Reads. It is the first book in the Chronicles of Novarmere: Dark Wizard Quartet. The second book hasn’t been released yet, but I am very keen to read it and follow Daniel’s next adventure.

Unrequited: Girl Meets Boy Band

Unrequited: Girl Meets Boy Band - Emma Grey Today We Did
Kat is a seventeen year old in Sydney with a passion for music, just not that produced by the biggest boy band in the world, Unrequited. When her mother gets delayed on a work trip, Kat has to escort her younger sisters, who are huge fans, to an Unrequited concert. Kat can think of a million different things she would prefer to be doing, like studying for her final exams or listening to her favourite band, 5 Seconds of Summer. A chance encounter with a cute boy on the train might just make up for the backstage passes to Unrequited, but will she see him again? The lead singer of Unrequited, Angus, seems to be staring at her during the concert. Could he really have noticed her out of the thousands of fans at the concert, and is she interested anyway?

A modern day Cinderella story, Unrequited: Girl Meets Boy Band read like a romantic comedy for teenagers. The hope of love and success and doing what you love, teenage desires finding reality. This was an uplifting read that I will probably indulge in again! If I didn’t have small children, I would have stayed up late to finish Unrequited: Girl Meets Boy Band. I really got into the story and wanted to keep reading without interruption, I wanted to know who Kat would choose and what would happen with her music.

The awkward situation of a love triangle (or quadrilateral) happens often, just not normally with the added complication of a very famous singer. So while this story has a slightly exaggerated fantasy feel to it, it was easy to see parallels to real life situations and people. I especially liked Kat as a character, she was different. A teenager without the conformity of a teenager, unconscious of her own abilities and magnetism, it made her enigmatic and interesting. Angus, with his fame and money, as well as the ability to choose any of the girls that were throwing themselves at him, finds the one girl that doesn’t seem remotely interested and pursues her relentlessly. At first, I found this to be a bit arrogant, as it felt a bit like Kat would be just a conquest for him. However, I warmed to Angus after a while, though Joel seemed much more like your average Knight in Shining Armour that should win the girl’s heart.

Unrequited: Girl Meets Boy Band is a young adult novel, but I think kids from upper primary would find this a suitable read. I really enjoyed it, though I wasn’t much into pop culture as a teen, and am even less so now. After a few references to 5 Seconds of Summer and Douglas Booth, I realised that they might be real people. I used Google to confirm my suspicions, and then had a few moments of feeling rather old! Still, this book made me feel happy and optimistic.

The Maze Runner

The Maze Runner - James Dashner Today We Did
All that Thomas can remember is his first name. There are brief images from his past life, but no details, no faces, no context. He quickly discovers he is not the only boy to enter the Glade with his memories curiously removed. The Glade is situated in the middle of a vast and complicated stone maze, trapping the boys there, with no idea who sent them and why, or how to escape. The Maze crawls with horrible and deadly creatures, called grievers, by night, and sometimes during the day, preying on the boys, making it even harder to find the solution. They can’t give up though, there must be a way to escape their imprisonment, a way to make it home, even if they can’t remember where or what home is anymore. Things in the Glade have been the same day in, day out for two years, but after Thomas arrives, things begin to change. Is Thomas the cause or is he there to help them? Even Thomas doesn’t have an answer to that yet, but he will give it his all to find out.

James Dashner has created a whole new and terrifying world in The Maze Runner. It is an excellent read most suitable for upper primary and high school students, though adults are sure to enjoy it as well. I found it to be an exciting page-turner that I stayed up late to finish reading, something I don’t do much any more with three young children, but I just couldn’t put it down until I discovered what became of Thomas and the Gladers.

The world of the Gladers developed around me as I read, with the different parts of the Glade becoming clear, and the characters so life-like. The characters were easily envisioned, with Chuck’s constant chatter, Alby’s temper, Newt’s determination, and Minho’s hope. Thomas is a little different to the other boys, but very likeable, I really wanted him to find the truth and be the one that lead the boys to victory. Theresa, the only girl in the story is a bit of an enigma, but I thought her roughness and pluck were perfectly suited to her role in the story. A wonderful cast of characters, in a truly well told tale of adventure, mystery, danger and excitement.

I bought this book thinking it was a stand-alone novel, so I was very excited to discover that it is just the first book in a series! I will be getting my hands on the sequel as soon as possible :)

Doll Bones

Doll Bones - Holly Black Today We Did
Best friends, Zach, Alice and Poppy have made up a fantastical world that they play out with dolls and figurines. The Queen in this world is a very old, fine bone china doll, that is kept displayed behind glass at Poppy’s house. When Zach unexpectedly refuses to play the game any more, Poppy and Alice remove the Queen from the cabinet, discovering that she is full of what appears to be some ashes. Poppy dreams that the Queen was really a girl called Eleanor Kercher who died in 1895, and she wants Poppy to return her to her grave. This quest leads Poppy, Alice and Zach on an interstate adventure, as they try to placate Eleanor, and fulfill her last desire.

Doll Bones is an adventure ghost story, and it is also a coming of age story. Zach, Poppy and Alice are pre-teens still playing out the fantasy game of their childhood. Becoming haunted by the spirit of a lost and angry little girl trapped inside a doll, is the last true adventure of their childhood, as they move towards more teenagerish past-times. They embark on an epic quest into regions unknown in the middle of the night by themselves, vastly unprepared for such a journey. Add in a creepy doll, vivid dreams, unexplained occurences and misadventures, and you have a spooky tale indeed.

This would be a good book for middle and upper primary school students to read, especially those that like a good ghost story. I thought the story was okay, but nothing spectacular. It was an easy read, and interesting enough, but I didn’t find it gripping. I am putting that down to the fact that as an adult I like a good horror or mystery story, and spooky stories for children just aren’t spooky enough for me! Having said that, I always take photos of the books I review to add to the post, and I took photos of this book, transferred them to the computer, but when I went to add one to this review, the photos were all blank! That’s a little creepy coincidence…

I hope that my second grader will give Doll Bones a read so I can get a true child’s perspective on the story. The story did flow well, and the character’s personalities really came through from the story, so it was a good book that I think many children would enjoy.

The Angel Tree

The Angel Tree - Daphne Benedis-Grab Today We Did
Pine River is a small town with a tight-knit community. For the past twenty-five years, the town has had an amazing Christmas tradition, the Angel Tree. Each December the tree arrives in the town square in the dead of night. People tie their most heartfelt wishes to the branches of the Angel Tree and other townsfolk and the big boss angel make those wishes come true. No one knows who erects the tree and co-ordinates the wishes every year, it has always been a mystery.

Four kids who each need something granted from the Angel Tree come together to uncover the secret and thank the person that has been bringing dreams to life in Pine River for so long. Max, whose house burnt down recently, Lucy, whose guide dog needs life saving medical treatment, Joe, who is lonely and isolated and missing his mum, and Cami, who loves her violin, but wants to make her grandmother proud even if it means not being herself. Together they unravel the mystery of the Angel Tree, and learn a lot about themselves and each other along the way.

The Angel Tree is a heart-warming holiday read suitable for primary school children and up. The mystery of the Angel Tree is interesting, and I liked following Max, Joe, Cami and Lucy along on their detective mission (or spy mission, as Max thought it should be). I tried to work out the clues along the way too. The story was well written, and the ending was not given away too soon.

I quite liked the characters, they seemed very real, with real worries and doubts, flaws and capabilities. Joe was written as the most hated student at school, and he read like he deserved this title at the start of the book, while Max was the class clown. As the story progressed, the reader learnt more about Max and Joe, gaining an understanding of their true selves, and the reasons that allowed these boys to be pigeon-holed into these roles. It felt so real. Cami and Lucy were similarly pigeon-holed as the musical and blind girls, for obvious reasons, but they are so much more than that. They both overcome their fears and doubts to track down the great benefactor of Pine River. They are strong and special girls, capable of so much. The four kids were the focus of the story, but the adult characters were also well-written, and easily pictured.

It was very nice to read a Christmas story that was about real giving and generosity. This story is a reminder to us all that Christmas in not just about marketable wares and consumer spending, but about people. People helping one another, coming together as friends and family, kindness and generosity of spirit.

The Angel Tree was a very enjoyable read, helping me to get on my holiday cheer!

Currently reading

High Fidelity
Nick Hornby
Dragons at Crumbling Castle: And Other Stories
Terry Pratchett
The Kept
James Scott
The Case of the Diamond Shadow
Sophie Masson
Adam Bede
George Eliot
The Killing of Bobbi Lomax
Cal Moriarty