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.

Animal Tales 10: Florence takes the Lead

Animal Tales 10: Florence takes the Lead - David Harding Today We Did
Ben has a beautiful shaggy sheep dog called Florence, who is his best friend, and goes most places with him. When his parents decide to have a long weekend away in the country, Florence goes with them to stay at the guesthouse. Together they discover a pig farm still using the old methods of sow stalls and farrowing crates, which means that the pigs are heavily confined. Can Ben and Florence help to liberate the pigs and educate the farmer regarding more humane pig farming practices?

Florence Takes the Lead is part of the RSPCA Animal Tales series, which promote the humane welfare of animals. These books are suitable for lower and middle primary school students, and will be particularly appealing for animal lovers. This was a reasonably simple adventure story with an important message about animal welfare, and the great work the RSPCA do. While the story is fictional, the adventure is based on animal welfare situations that unfortunately do happen. However, these books are a fun way for younger children to become aware of the various issues facing animals and those that advocate for them. After the story ends, there is a fact file, first providing some information about the RSPCA, and then some information about pig farming in Australia. And there are more books in this series just waiting to be explored!

The Rain

The Rain - Virginia Bergin Today We Did
Ruby Morris is just a teenager living in a small town in rural England when the end of the world as she knows it arrives in the form of killer rain. One minute she’s passionately kissing the boy of her dreams, the next, people are dying. The merest touch of the poisonous water is enough to kill, wiping out millions within a few days. Ruby sets out across the country to find her Dad, putting her survival skills to the test.

The basis of The Rain is an apocalyptic event, causing a devastating loss of human life. The cause behind the development of killer rain is established clearly and early on in the story, which seems to be rare among books of this genre that I have read. A contaminated water source is a great start for an apocalypse, though I was surprised by the violent and bloody way in which people affected by the water died. Complete loss of a safe water supply is truly a terrifying thought. The story dealt with the short-term requirements of finding safe water to drink and shelter, but didn’t explore the complications that would arise due to such finite resources. Perhaps the sequel, The Storm, will delve deeper into the more long-term consequences of contaminated rain.

The Rain is written in the first person as Ruby. I tried hard to like Ruby, she’s just lost her family and her friends, and she’s trying to survive in this new and dangerous world, and I could feel sorry for her, but I couldn’t really like her. Before the rain came, she was obviously one of the popular kids, stuck-up, selfish, shallow and egotistical. Not exactly the perfect picture of someone who will rebuild the world post-apocalyspe, but I thought she would start learning to be someone of more consequence on her journey. I didn’t like the way that she treated Darius, as if he was completely beneath her. She refers to him as a nerd, but he is smart and practical, exactly the sort of person you should want on your side if the world ever comes to an end. I was disappointed that Ruby still considered Darius to be socially inferior despite the whole of humanity crumbling about them. And instead of collecting practical supplies, she loots make-up and clothes her mum and stepdad would never have let her wear. Hey, I’ve never been part of an apocalypse, so who knows what crazy things I would do, but I just can’t imagine mascara and sequins will be high on my list of things to do.

I generally quite like apocalyptic and dystopian novels, and this novel was okay, but I didn’t like it as much as I expected. My difficulty in liking Ruby really clouded my enjoyment of the story. The abrupt ending of the story surprised me too, until I realised that there was to be a sequel. The Rain left me with lots of questions. I’m wondering how society will develop without a clean source of water, not only to drink, but to produce food as well. Will the rain become safe again, will there be tests developed to identify safe water? And what happens to Ruby, Darius and Princess? I’m interested enough to read the second book, and it leaves me with hope that Ruby will develop into a more likeable heroine.

Due to the complicated themes contained within this novel, The Rain is most suitable for high school students and up.

Black Ice

Black Ice - Becca Fitzpatrick Today We Did
Britt Pfeiffer has convinced her best friend, Korbie, to backpack through the Teton Ranges in Wyoming for the spring break of their final year of high school. The girls have very little experience hiking through the ranges, but Korbie’s parents’ own a large cabin on the shores of a lake in the mountains, which they can use as a base for their adventure. The weather turns foul as they journey up the mountain, forcing them to abandon their vehicle and seek shelter from the driving snow. Sodden and fatigued they find salvation in a small cabin in the forest, where two young men are also waiting out the storm. For two pretty and exuberant girls, it should be fun to shack up with two handsome lads like Mason and Shaun for the night, but the boys have plans, and the girls are at their mercy. Britt finds herself fighting her way down the mountain through the dark and swirling storm, surrounded by dangers both environmental and human.

Elements of adventure, mystery, suspense, and romance are intertwined in this captivating young adult novel. Black Ice was a sled ride through the mountains, full of twists and dark turns, that kept me guessing. There were some well written action sequences, with plenty of teenage deliberation and introspection, and some non-graphic romantic scenes. It was an exciting read with palpable tension, that I blew through quickly as I needed to know what happened next.

The characters were all rather bratty and entitled, and I greatly disliked Korbie and her brother, Calvin. It seemed incongruous that Britt would be friends with Korbie, but they had been friends for a long time and it is often hard to let those relationships go. I liked the way that Britt developed as a character through the story. From reliance on the men in her life while taking them for granted, she grows to be a more resourceful, strong and independent leading lady. This traumatic experience strengthens rather than unravels her, always good for a female protagonist. Mason was a very complicated, yet intriguing character which many moods and secrets. He could have gone either way for most of the book, while Shaun was obviously derailed and dangerous. The shallowness and selfishness of several of the characters served to highlight the complexity and intensity of Britt and Mason.

Being a young adult novel, plenty of teenage issues were touched upon, relationships, first love, kissing, physical and emotional insecurities. This helps to shape the novel into something that teenagers can relate to, and it seems to be endemic in this genre. While the sexual elements of this book were quite tame, there was violence and death that may disturb more innocent or immature readers.

Black Ice is most suitable for middle to upper high school students and beyond.


Winterkill - Kate A. Boorman Today We Did
Strictly ruled by a group of council members, the settlement has been isolated and lost from other people for several generations. It is surrounded by tall walls from which guards watch the surrounding forest through the night, waiting for signs of the malmaci, a dangerous beast that sometimes takes settlement members. It is important that no one leaves the safety of the settlement after dark, and even during the day, no one should stray too far into the woods. Most of the members of the settlement are obedient and adhere to the routines, rules and rituals of their community, but sometimes a member will stray from the path, becoming known as wayward or stained, bringing shame to their families. Another major concern for the settlement is the freezing winter known as the Winterkill which is almost upon them as Emmeline comes of age. As a cripple and a stained person, she is surprised by a marriage proposal, while still trying to figure out her feelings for another boy in the settlement. All the while she is drawn to the woods, curious as to what lies beyond the settlement. Her curiosity may result in dire consequences for herself, and the other members of her community, but without risk, there can not be discovery.

Winterkill reminded me a lot of M. Night Shyamalan’s film The Village. There were many similar points, isolated village, monster lurking in the forest, overbearing and strict leaders. I liked that movie, but I like this book even more. Right from the start I liked Emmeline. She has determination, courage and individuality in a society which promotes conformity and compliance. A very interesting and strong character that jumps from the page, I just wanted everything to work out well for her. I also liked Kane, the boy that Emmeline fancies. He too, was very well written, interesting and somewhat mysterious. The characters and the landscape became increasingly clear to me as I read, or more fell into Emmeline’s world. I felt her isolation, her shame, her disappointment and wariness. And I felt her desire to explore, to love and to make her Pa proud again. This is definitely a story I won’t forget in a hurry.

This young adult novel is suitable for upper primary through high school students. I found Winterkill to be an intriguing and page-turning read that I would recommend for any fan of dystopian fiction. I have read on Kate A. Boorman’s website that this to be the first book of a triology, with the next book to be released later this year. I will be eagerly awaiting the next installment.

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