An intriguing insight into one boy’s mind

colin fischerTITLE = COLIN FISCHER

AUTHOR = ASHLEY EDWARD MILLER & ZACK STENTZ

GENRE = ASPERGER’S SYNDROME, FAMILY, FRIENDSHIP, SCHOOL

INTEREST LEVEL = YEAR 7 +

As the cover suggests, Colin Fischer has an unusual way of looking at the world – and this sometimes gets him into fixes. Colin has trouble reading facial cues and trouble with tone – he is a logical thinker and takes things literally. Colin has previously had an aide to help him navigate the pathways of school, but now he is adventuring out alone.. except for his trusty notebook in which he records events and keeps notes to help him cope with new experiences.

Colin has been the butt of bully boy Wayne Connelly for as long as he can remember. So when Wayne is accused of bringing a gun to school, no one is more surprised than Wayne, when Colin decides to help solve the mystery and clear Wayne’s name. But this is not out of a sense of friendship or empathy, it is simply Colin’s logical, rational mind at work – and after all, his hero is the renowned detective, Sherlock Holmes … so it makes sense that he should try and follow in his shoes. Even if this leads him to a number of firsts: lying to his parents for starters!

There is much to enjoy in this book. Whether or not the depiction of Asperger’s syndrome is accurately portrayed the novel certainly allows the reader to witness life from a different perspective. Colin is a likable young man with a credible family: his parents are thoughtful and loving but his younger brother is somewhat jealous and rarely has a kind word for his brother!  The ending may come a little too neatly for some but younger readers are sure to be satisfied with the way plot strands are resolved.

Recommended (dma) ***

An entertaining story about circus life in Australia’s past

gundagai 2TITLE = THE ROAD TO GUNDAGAI

AUTHOR = JACKIE FRENCH

GENRE = CIRCUS, RELATIONSHIPS, DEPRESSION ERA, FRIENDSHIP

INTEREST LEVEL = YEARS 8 +

Although this is the third book in the “Matilda Saga”, readers do not need to have read the previous 2 stories to enjoy this book – it works perfectly as a stand alone book. Set during the zdepression in Australia w e follow the misfortunes of Bluebell Laurence. AT the tender age of 16 she has no sooner lost her parents and younger brother in a shipwreck than she is caught in a dreadful fire in her home. Badly burnt and scarred, Blue’s legs have been fused by the fire. She decides to run away to the circus when she believes that her life may be in peril … and so we follow her adventures along the road as she is befriended by the odd assortment of circus folk, in particular the elephant, Sheba.

Blue has led a privileged life up until now and so she has a lot to learn about the hardships faced by so many during the depression. And bubbling beneath this story is the central problem: was someone really trying to poison Blue, and if so, who??  There are many surprises in store for both Blu and the reader as the mystery is gradually unravelled.

This is a truly entertaining tale which is sure to be enjoyed by readers who enjoy adventure, history and just a touch of romance.

 If you would like to know more about the other 2 books in this series why not read these reviews:

A Tale for Matilda and The Girl from Snowy River

Highly Recommended *****

Beauty & the Beast Fairytale revisited

scarlet in the snow smallTITLE = SCARLET IN THE SNOW

AUTHOR = SOPHIE MASSON

GENRE = FAIRYTALES, FOLK TALES  

INTEREST LEVEL = YEARS 7 – 9

Sophie Masson has woven a beautiful new version of the “Beauty and the Beast” fairytale in this book. Natasha lives with her sisters and mother in an old house in the country. Since their father died, life has been a little harder and her mother has been more care-worn but still Natasha is happy. Unlike her older sisters, she does not miss the balls and gowns that used to be part of their lives when they lived in the city, she is happy roaming the countryside and making up stories. That is, until the day she is lost in a blizzard and comes upon a beautiful red rose in an isolated garden.

The consequences of picking that rose will change Natasha’s life forever. Suddenly she is thrust into a world of witchcraft and magic, so Natasha will need every ounce of courage she can muster to face each day and the trials she must face. Apart from cruel witches there is also the savage beast to contend with and a magic curse from times long ago. Natasha finds she must leave her cosy home behind her and journey to faraway places in her efforts to solve the mystery of the brutish beast and the curse that lies behind her new life… and his. For if she can save his life there may just be a chance of romance and happiness for Natasha too.

A beautifully told story which sets this well-known tale in exotic European-like countries, the romance of the legend is convincingly woven into this tale of mystery and revenge. A joyful read for anyone who loves fairytales in a new guise. And if you enjoy this book, you may like to read another of Sophie Masson’s fairytale retellings: “Moonlight and Ashes” or other retellings of the same tale, such as “Beauty”.

Highly Recommended (dma) *****

Action packed adventure with links to Percy Jackson

heroes-of-olympus-the-lost-heroTITLE = HEROES OF OLYMPUS: The Lost Hero (Book 1)

AUTHOR = RICK RIORDAN

GENRE = ADVENTURE, FAMILY, ANCIENT ROME, ANCIENT GREECE

INTEREST LEVEL = YEARS 7 – 9

Another great adventure with ties to Ancient Myths and Legends, from the very popular author of the “Percy Jackson” series. This is the first book in what could be considered a spin-off from the original series. AT the beginning we meet 3 new characters (Jason, Piper and Leo) who are suddenly propelled into a battle with mythic beings from which they barely escape with their lives before finding refuge at Camp Half-Blood. Jason discovers that all his memories have been stolen by a god, as a lure to sending him on a dangerous quest. And so the 3 teens set off together to try and save a goddess and maybe the world. Whilst Jason is struggling with his lack of memory Leo and Piper are tsruddling weith memories thaht they would prefer to forget. Each of them is harbouring a secret, afraid that if they reveal the truth it could spell the end of their friendship.

With death hovering at the edge of every adventure, this is a compelling and fast-paced story, as could be expected from Rick Riordan. Fans of the original series are sure to enjoy this excursion into territory which is both familiar yet slightly different. Rather than being focussed on the Greek gods (as happened in the Percy Jackson series) this book looks at the comparison between the Greek and Roman myths.  

You don’t need to have read a Percy Jackson story to enjoy this new series … and don’t worry if you are unfamiliar with Ancient Roman mythology, Rick Riordan will take you on an exciting and whirlwind introduction to some very famous myths and characters. These being may now be residing in Canada and the USA but with clever (and often humorous) echoes with their Ancient past. A truly entertaining read which is sure to be enjoyed by boys and girls alike.

Highly Recommended (dma) *****

A gripping read

KILLING-WOODS-Final2-196x300TITLE = THE KILLING WOODS

AUTHOR = LUCY CHRISTOPHER

GENRE = CRIME, MYSTERY, ADVENTURE, HORROR  

INTEREST LEVEL = YEARS 10+

This is a clever but quite chilling tale told by 2 key characters: Emily and Damon. Emily is the daughter of a battle-shattered man who has been arrested for the murder of a teenager in the woods behind their house. The doctors and police have decided that her dad’s wounded mind has led him to mistakenly kill the girl whilst in the throes of a flashback. Emily refuses to believe that her dad is guilty of the murder so she wants answers: why was the teenage girl (Ashlee Parker) in the woods on that night anyway? Was her dad simply trying to save the girl as he had saved many woodland creatures in the past?

Damon was Ashlee’s boyfriend. He too wants answers – whilst he firmly believes that Emily’s father is the guilty party, he was actually in the woods with Ashlee on that fateful night  … but a combination of drink and drugs means he cannot clearly remember what happened. He is haunted by the suspicion that he could or should have saved her. Worse still, could he have anything to do with her death?

Can Emily and Damon trust each other enough to find answers for both of them? And what about their own close friends – are they helping or hindering the police investigation … can they be trusted?

A gripping story which is a real page-turner from go to whoa. Like Emily and Damon, the reader will be keen to piece together the events which have led to Ashlee’s death, but will we see the truth before they do?

Why not check out the author’s website to learn more about this gripping novel and her other award winning books?

Highly Recommended (dma) *****

An exciting horror adventure awaits … if you dare to read….

screaming staircaseTITLE = LOCKWOOD & CO. : The Screaming Staircase (Book 1)

AUTHOR = JONATHAN STROUD

GENRE = GHOSTS, FANTASY, SUPERNATURAL, ADVENTURE, HORROR

INTEREST LEVEL = YEARS 7 – 10

A bit of horror, a bit of humour and a whole lot of adventure … this book has it all. Set in a world where ghosts come out to play at night, and they like to play nasty, scary, life threatening games! Lockwood and Co is a small company of psychic investigators; for a price they will come in and rid your home of those nasty spectres, they will banish the ghosts to eternity.

Well, that is what Lucy has trained for and that is why she has joined forces with the dashing Anthony Lockwood and his side-kick, their researcher, George. The three teenagers hope to make a name for themselves, even though they are working solo, without the usual adult supervisor. However, it is hard to be taken seriously when your exploits have a tendency to go slightly awry. Customers may want the ghosts to disappear but they don’t necessarily want their house to be burnt down in the process!

This is the predicament they find themselves in early in the novel. To avoid going out of business, they must solve a mystery and take on the scariest challenge ever: a challenge that has already taken the lives of many other ghost seekers. Can they survive the night on the renowned “screaming staircase”? Will Lockwood lead his charges safely or will they pay with their lives for his recklessness?

An exciting adventure awaits readers … and the best news is, this is the first in a series of books by Jonathan Stroud – so there are plenty more to come. This book has already been nominated for a number of awards, including the Edgar award (US award for mystery writing).

Check out the website based on the series or read the interactive shortstory featuring Lockwood and his crew, here.

This book has been Longlisted for the 2014 Silver Inky Award.

Highly Recommended (dma) *****

Solving a mystery can be difficult for a youngster

picture me goneTITLE = PICTURE ME GONE

AUTHOR = MEG ROSOFF

GENRE = FRIENDSHIP, FAMILY RELATIONSHIPS, GRIEF, GROWING UP

INTEREST LEVEL = YEARS 9+

Meg Rosoff always writes interesting books with unusual and thought-provoking themes and this book is no exception. 12 year old Mila and her father are about to travel from London to NYC to see her dad’s best friend, Matthew, when they receive news that he has gone missing. Mila has always wanted to thank Matthew  because he once saved her father’s life, although she is also aware that if not for Matthew, her father would not have been mountain climbing, so his life would not have needed saving!

When they arrive in NYC they meet Matthew’s wife and baby son before heading off on a road trip with Matthew’s dog, to a cabin in the woods where they hope to find the missing man. Whilst they search for her father’s friend, Mila is also thinking about her own strained friendship with Catlin who is going through a tough time as her parents have just split up.

Against this backdrop, Mila is trying to make sense of the man she is hoping to find. Matthew has always been described as a kind of heroic adventurer but is he really? What makes a man run away from his family … would a hero do this? There is also the mystery to be solved about a car accident many years ago. Is this the first time Matthew has run away? Mila has many questions she would like to ask Matthew … and as their search goes on, she begins to doubt the world of adults and she begins to learn a bit more about the meaning of friendship, whilst also rethinking her relationship with her own father.

This isn’t a simple read but it is certainly a moving and thoughtful book that has much to offer readers.

Highly Recommended (dma) *****

Pretty girl

TITLE = PRETTY GIRL

AUTHOR = J C  BURKE

GENRE = THRILLER, FRIENDSHIP, RELATIONSHIPS

INTEREST LEVEL = YEARS 10-12

Four girls went to boarding school together and were the best of friends: Sarah, Talullah, Paige and Jess. They hoped to all get into the same uni and board in the same college residency. But their first year at uni has turned into one tragedy after another: Paige has been hospitalised with a serious head injury after a disaster in the college swimming pool (was it an accident? Was she on drugs?) and Jess has died after falling off the laundry roof. What has gone so terribly, terribly wrong?? Can Talullah and Sarah find answers or are they too busy living their own lives to delve too far … in fact, what lies in wait for them?

Told alternately by Sarah and Paige, the reader will probably piece together the circumstances before the girls themselves and what begins as a compelling read will become an urgent one – it is like watching a horror movie and wanting to scream at the girls “No … don’t do that” … but will they hear you before it is too late???

A gripping psychological drama that older girls are likely to enjoy.

Highly Recommended (Deb Marshall) *****