Worthy Thoughts

Books, reading, life & other worthy thoughts

Author: Helen Castles
Illustrator: Beatriz Castro
Publisher: New Frontier

Scoop McLaren : Detective Editor - Helen Castles

Scoop McLaren is a great character – editor of ‘Click, an online newspaper. Her father is the editor of the town’s print newspaper, ‘Higgity Harbour’, so journalism runs in Scoop’s family.

Higgity Harbour, usually a sleepy little coastal town, appears to be besieged by numerous disasters. I have to admit that the catastrophes that overwhelm the town are a bit hard to comprehend at times – but that was my rational inner adult voice. I realised that these disasters are precisely what makes the book so engaging for a young reader.

Higgity Harbour is engulfed by alligators, storms of frogs, snowstorms in summer, children being turned into stone and mysterious buildings being burnt to the ground. Higgity Harbour is a town in peril and Scoop is determined to work out what is happening to her beloved town.

Scoop runs the online newspaper and her newspaper is widely read (more so than her dad’s print newspaper), so when a new online publication is launched, she is upset. More distressing for Scoop is that ‘The Dark News’ appears to have the inside scoop on all the calamities occurring in her town. Published at precisely one minute past midnight every night, it predicts all the disasters that the town will experience causing more upheaval and distress to the locals.

Scoop and her trusted sidekick Evie are determined to expose the editor of ‘The Dark News’, the wicked Sonny Fink as the person responsible for all the disasters occurring in Higgity Harbour.  But the trouble is that Sonny Fink appears to have the upper hand and Scoop and Evie appear to be on the backfoot to Sonny’s evil reign of confusion and chaos.

Scoop McLaren: Detective Editor is a fun, captivating story for middle-grade readers. Along with Scoop and Evie, the reader can figure out the clues and determine who Sonny Fink is. It is a great mystery novel and a wonderful book to introduce children to this genre. Helen Castles has pitched the style of writing to younger readers beautifully with enough suspense to keep a younger reader hooked, but without overwhelming them. The reader feels like they are investigating the case alongside Sonny and Evie and are taken on every twist and turn that Sonny and Evie experience.

Not only is the book a great mystery, but it is also funny and witty. It is smart humour. Castles had assembled a great cast of characters that all play an integral part in the novel – every aspect adds to the story and sets the reader up to be invested in the town of Higgity Harbour. Scoop Mclaren: Detective Editor is also cleverly illustrated by Beatriz Castro and the illustrations, particularly the front cover adds another layer to the story.

Helen Castles is on to a winner with this book and hopefully series. It is exciting to see a smart, humorous and engaging mystery book being written for younger readers.

Camera, Photography, Photograph, Dslr, Slr Camera, Slr

As part of my job as a teacher-librarian, I have to read books aimed at the middle school reader. I find books aimed at this age group, difficult to read and I realised that there are a lot of books pitched at this age group that aren’t particularly good reads.

I do tend to pick and choose which books in this category I will read. I should read more widely in this age group, but for the most part, I find these books a chore and the reading is more a requirement of my job than for pleasure.

Recently I read four books in this category and all four books are solid reads for the middle-grade reader. Over the next few days, I will write about each book. The three books are How to Make a Movie in 12 days by Fiona Hardy, Scoop McLaren Detective Editor by Helen Castles Secrets of a Schoolyard Millionaire by Nat Amoore and Nullaboo Hullabaloo by Fleur Ferris.

I had high hopes for this novel. I thought it was going to be a stand out amongst a pretty ordinary crowd.

‘Fiona Hardy has written a cracker of a story. Budding filmmakers, scriptwriters or any readers with annoying siblings and a sense of humour will enjoy this book.’ Books + Publishing magazine 4-star review

High praise from Books & Publishing, but I am not sure I would agree to the four-star rating. Most reviewers gave this book a big thumbs-up. I did read that Fiona Hardy is a bookseller, so maybe they are supporting one of their own – I am not quite sure.

Maybe I am too critical. When you compare this book to some of the garbage that is written for this age group, this novel is worthy of four stars.

How to Make a Movie in 12 days is a lovely change from most books in this category – a good story with relatable characters.  It isn’t stupid humour. It isn’t over-the-top storytelling. It doesn’t have any significant issues that it is trying to tackle.

The story revolves around eleven-year-old Hayley who loves movies. Her love for film comes from her family, mainly her father and her grandmother. Hayley and her grandmother had always planned to make a movie together. Hayley as the director and her grandmother as the star. Hayley’s grandmother has passed and Hayley is determined to make the movie as a tribute to her grandmother.

Of course, making a movie is a vast undertaking and Hayley finds herself under a great deal of stress. Lots of things go wrong and Hayley is suspicious. Who is sabotaging her movie and why? The story revolves around Hayley, her friends and family making her movie and it also adds the element of who is disrupting Hayley’s movie.

I did think the novel went on too much and I do believe that at least a third of the book could have been cut. I do worry that a typical middle-grade reader won’t persevere with the story, which would be disappointing because the ending is a highlight of the book.

What I did love about the book was that Hayley was making a horror movie which gives the story a different edge and I love that Hayley’s grandmother wasn’t your “stereotypical” grandmother.

This conversation wasn’t going well. If Grandma had actually been listening, she would’ve said something like, ‘Get to the point before I stab myself in the eye with it.’

Hayley’s grandmother wasn’t your classic grandmother and nor was her best friend. I love that Hayley’s grandmother and her friend Annabel were portrayed as two feisty, bad-tempered (at times) and fiercely independent women. I hope when I am older, someone describes me as Hayley describes Annabel.

As always, with Annabel, I couldn’t tell what she meant. She was so perpetually irritated, and almost always rude, and it was hard to tell if she liked you or not.

A highlight of the book was the different characters. Fiona Hardy writes characters well. She challenges the reader to think differently.

As I write this review I realise there is a lot to like about How to Make a Movie in 12 days; I guess I wished it wasn’t as long because at times I found it dragged out – like a movie that goes for two and half hours and should have gone for two hours.

Rose, Rose Bush, Rosewood, Red Rose, Red, Nature, Plant

 

Recently I posted this photo to my Instagram account. The post was meant to keep a friend overseas updated on what I was doing at home but suddenly though there were likes from everywhere which informed me that this book is off the scales popular and so I couldn’t wait to start reading. I bought the books after watching the television series on Foxtel. I was intrigued by the premise of the television series…

Brilliant historian Diana Bishop is a witch denying her own heritage. But when she unexpectedly calls up an ancient, bewitched manuscript, she finds herself thrown into the heart of a dangerous mystery – and into the path of the enigmatic geneticist and vampire Matthew Clairmont.

I wanted to watch something easy and fun and this looked like just the show. I enjoyed the series and so, of course, I decided to buy the books. I thought the books might give me more background on the characters and fill in all those details that sometimes a movie or television show can leave out.

The first book, titled A Discovery of Witches was quite good. I think coming straight off the series I found that it wasn’t surprising or shocking and I knew all the twists and turns, but I did enjoy Deborah Harkness’ writing and I loved the details she gave about Oxford. Though it wasn’t as gripping as I thought it would be, I blamed this on the fact that I had just finished watching the TV series.

I was going to take a break between the first book and the second. I hadn’t found the first book all that exciting and wasn’t sure I wanted to read the second book. I thought though that I would find the second book much more readable because it hadn’t been covered in the series. A second season is currently being filmed.

Well, the second book titled Shadow of Night was excruciating to read. Initially, I was quite excited. I love books about witches, vampires and creatures living amongst us and I love a good historical novel – this was a mixture of both.

Shadow of Night was excruciatingly dull. It was so slow and Harkness spends about five hundred pages just writing about details of the time that aren’t that interesting. Only about one hundred pages of the book are plot-driven and that’s being generous. I could sum up in a paragraph the plot of this book. Usually, I love learning details about different times in history, but there was nothing in this book that lingered with me. I could not tell you one thing that I learnt from this book that was even remotely interesting.

I should have given this book away after the first two hundred pages, but I kept on reading. I kept on thinking that surely something was going to happen. I mean the book is almost seven hundred pages long. At about page five hundred, I reached my limit – how I managed to get that far, I have no idea. I wasn’t enjoying the book. It had become hard work and reading should be fun. I wanted to get lost in the pages. I wished not to be able to put it down but instead I was dreading having to pick it up. The last few hundred pages I skimmed read and honestly nothing much happened.

Also, another part of the book that annoyed me was that Matthew, a vampire that has been alive for several hundred years, knew everyone of importance in previous lives. I mean everyone. If they were famous or noteworthy in history, Matthew knew them. I mean everyone!!!!!!!!!!!! After a while, you just begin to roll your eyes.

So, I still have the third book to read, but I just can’t do it. I don’t think I will ever be able to read the third book in the series. I honestly don’t have the strength. I am utterly exhausted and drained after reading the first two books. I can’t even stand to look at the books on my bookshelf and feel I may have to give them away. Will I watch the second season of the series. Maybe. At the moment I need to take a BIG break from Discovery of Witches.

I know that this is a HUGELY popular series. It wasn’t to my liking, but I know that there are many out there who LOVED this series of books. It has a four-star rating on Goodreads, so I think I’m the anomaly in this equation.

 

Thomas Malton, Sky, Clouds, City, Oxford, England

 

 

 

 

Savethedate

Author: Morgan Matson
Publisher: Simon & Schuster

I had heard such great things about this book and when I bought it, I saved it for a weekend when I knew I would have no distractions because I wanted to enjoy it. Well, I was happy that I read it quickly because this book annoyed me no end. It wasn’t a book, it was a script for a BAD romantic-comedy. You know one of those movies you wait to come onto Netflix – that you don’t waste good money to go see at the cinema.

Save the Date revolves around the Grant family who have grown up in the public eye through their mother’s national comic strip. The Grant family consists of mum, dad and five siblings. The comic strip is adored by many and as such Charlie’s family is considered a national treasure.

The story is told through the eyes of Charlie, 17, who is the youngest and the only child still at home. Charlie adores her family. In her eyes, they are perfect. Charlie’s sister, Linnie is getting married, which means all the Grant siblings will be reunited and Charlie is thrilled about her whole family being together for the weekend. Though the entire weekend is a debacle and it is one error after another. The writer missed the mark completely. What could have been a funny story about a not-so-perfect family just became annoying and tedious. I just wanted it all to end.

It is quite disappointing because I have heard such great things about Morgan Matson’s books and I wanted to like this book. What should have been an easy read is instead a difficult read.

There wasn’t much I liked at all. I did like the comics and I wished there had been more of them because they were great.

I did write notes about this book and every time something annoyed me I wrote it on an index card, but I seem to have lost my notes (which is probably a good thing) because most of my notes were quite snarky.

Of course, this is my opinion entirely. I have read MANY wonderful reviews of this book, particularly in Australia and I am incredibly suspicious of this because this book did receive a lot of publicity here in Australia. I have also read that Morgan Matson is a great author and reviewers who didn’t particularly like this book have praised her other books. Though, I am hesitant because I found this book hard work and I am not sure I could wade through another book that is so excessive and indulgent.

Bouquet, Celebration, Color, Colorful

THE KISS QUOTIENT by Helen Hoang

Author: Helen Hoang
Publisher: Allen & Unwin

KIRKUS REVIEW

A woman with Asperger’s falls in love with the escort she hires to teach her about sex and relationships.

Stella Lane’s job as an econometrician is perfectly satisfying, but now that she’s 30, her mother expects her to look for a husband and start producing babies. Stella has never enjoyed dating or sex, so when a male colleague she’s cautiously interested in rudely suggests she should “get some practice,” she takes his advice to heart. Enter Michael Phan, a man as gorgeous as any K-drama star, who abandoned his promising career as a fashion designer and started escorting to pay for his mother’s cancer treatments. At their first appointment, Michael refuses to rush into sex with a woman so frozen with discomfort, regardless of whether or not she’s paid him. Stella, both deeply attracted to him and grateful for his kindness, asks him to consider a long-term arrangement. Michael is hesitant after a past experience with a stalker client, but he recognizes her vulnerability and is overcome by an instinct to protect her. Hoang is sure-footed in her character development; Michael and Stella both have robust, sympathetic stories and complicated, loving families. The initial sizzling sexual chemistry deepens into a satisfying romantic relationship. Both of them are plagued with insecurities even though they are generous and nonjudgmental with each other. Stella is nervous about revealing her Asperger’s to Michael, but he accepts her unconditionally. Michael keeps his escorting a secret from his family and struggles to separate his own identity from that of his con-man father, but Stella judges him on his own merits. An unnecessary late-stage plot twist feels forced and inorganic, but it’s a small misstep.

A well-crafted and charming debut romance.

When I want to read an honest review of a book, my go-to reviews is Kirkus Reviews. I find their reviews concise and truthful. The majority of the time, I feel we are on the same page, but not this time.

I couldn’t connect with The Kiss Quotient. I wanted a fun holiday read and instead, I found myself cringing and wanting it all to end. The Kiss Quotient isn’t a terrible book, it is well written and I am in the minority for not liking this book. This book is LOVED. I think many, many years ago I would have loved this book and I would have been caught up in the romance and attraction of Stella and Michael, but I am not that reader any more. Which I think is a good thing. I am a different reader these days. I would highly recommend this book if you like fun, well-written romances.

There were many reasons I didn’t like The Kiss Quotient, but I will limit it to three.

After he took them out of the city and merged into the light traffic on 101S…

Michael ALWAYS drives – always. There isn’t even a discussion. Not once does Stella ever say that she doesn’t like driving and she would prefer Michael to drive. He always assumes the position of the driver. This bugged me a lot!

They didn’t approve of me at first. Why would they want him marrying a Vietnamese girl with only an eighth-grade education who barely spoke English?…

“I didn’t know that…” It made him look at his grandparents in a new, rather unfavourable light.

Michael learns that his grandparents on his father’s side didn’t like his mother…at first. Obviously, his grandparents came around, which says a lot for them as people, but Michael decides that he’s going to think less of his grandparents because they were worried about who was marrying. Why was this important to the storyline? Are we supposed to think more of Michael because this makes him enlightened? This is barely a blip in the storyline, but it irked me.

Her petite body was composed of elegant shoulders and arms, a little waist that flared to gently curved hips, and shapely legs with delicate ankles.

It irritated me that Stella and Michael were both stunning. I am not sure why this annoyed me so much, but both of them were drop-dead gorgeous and I couldn’t quite relate to either of them because of this. I know that I watch movies and TV shows all the time where the characters are gorgeous, so why did it bother me so much that Stella and Michael were so attractive? Maybe because I found it all so unrelatable and I found the characters were very stereotyped. Stella is a gorgeous, petite and smart econometrician and Michael is the sexy biracial Viet-Swedish escort. My eyes are rolling into the back of my head as I write that sentence. Oh, but apparently Stella is autistic, so that makes her relatable and Michael has issues because of his father, so he’s flawed too. Once again, eye roll. Oh, and I forgot to add that; apparently, Stella is “quirky” – need I say more.

In August the CBCA will announce the winner and honour books for their six categories. Of course, my favourite category is older reader and I have read all six books that have been nominated for this category. I have written reviews for four of the six books and here are my final two reviews. I am not really fussed, which two books win ‘honour’ books. My favourite book and my pick for the winner is Lenny’s Book of Everything.

In Changing Gear, we are introduced to Merrick, who six months ago lost his grandfather. One day his grandad was there and then he’s not. Merrick had a special bond with his grandfather – they were friends and Merrick’s grandfather was always there to help him navigate life. Without his grandfather, Merrick feels lost and ‘like a passenger in  his own skin.’ Merrick decides he needs to get out of his own head and he needs to escape from his life. He takes his bike and a couple of hundred dollars in cash and heads off. He leaves behind his phone and any connection to his life. Along the way, Merrick’s bike breaks down. It is during this time that he meets up with Victor, a man who spends his life walking the Australian roads. Victor is a man of few words and a man who doesn’t suffer fools. Victor and Merrick walk the roads together and as they walk, they talk.

I thought I would like this book more than I did, but it just didn’t resonate with me. I did like that Merrick was a relatively normal kid – he has friends, he’s not a complete loser and he seems to be doing reasonably well at school. Life throws him a curveball when he loses his grandfather and he feels off-kilter. He’s in his last year of high school and he’s not quite sure what he’s doing with his life. Maybe this book will resonate more for young men in their final years of school.

One aspect of the book that I enjoyed was Gardner’s writing of Australia. His descriptions of the Australian landscape is breathtaking. He captures the absurd beauty of this country exceptionally well. Changing Gear moves at a slower pace to match the walking speed of Merrick and Victor – this wasn’t particularly to my liking, but I understood that Gardner wants us, the reader, to slow down and unpack Merrick and Victor’s lives – and our own. Changing Gear by Scot Gardner is a solid read and has a lot to offer many readers, but I wasn’t one of them.

Between Us is a beautiful book. It weaves together three narrative voices flawlessly. I was quite moved by this book. I do believe that if you want to change people’s perceptions, then you have to show them, rather than being didactic. It is evident that Atkin has done extensive research for this book and her understanding of the issues that she writes about is clear. Between Us is a book that all Australians should read because it allows the readers to step inside someone’s else’s shoes.

The story revolves around Jono, Ana and Kenny. Jono is depressed. His mother and sister have moved away and he’s suffered quite a lot of sadness in his young life. He lives with his Vietnamese father who works at the Detention centre and the relationship the two share is not an easy one. Ana is an asylum seeker from Iran; she lives in a detention centre but is allowed to attend one of the local high schools. Jono and Ana meet and they connect.

Between Us gives readers an insight into multi-generational immigration and how everyone’s immigrant story is different. Jono’s father’s story is different from Ana’s and even his sister’s, Minh. They are all immigrants, but they look at Australia differently because of their experiences.

This is a story that will resonate with you long after you finish reading. A book that is truthful and credible but at the same time is delightful, gentle and captivating.

 

Small Spaces

The Art of Taxidermy

The Bogan Mondrian

dalhousie

Author: Melina Marchetta
Publisher: Penguin Books

‘You look the type to break your father’s heart.’
‘Yeah, but he broke mine first.’

When Rosie Gennaro first meets Jimmy Hailler, she has walked away from life in Sydney, leaving behind the place on Dalhousie that her father, Seb, painstakingly rebuilt for his family but never saw completed. Two years later, Rosie returns to the house and living there is Martha, whom Seb Gennaro married less than a year after the death of Rosie’s mother. Martha is struggling to fulfil Seb’s dream, while Rosie is coming to terms with new responsibilities. And so begins a stand-off between two women who refuse to move out of the home they both lay claim to.

As the battle lines are drawn, Jimmy Hailler re-enters Rosie’s life. Having always watched other families from the perimeters, he’s now grappling, heartbreakingly, with forming one of his own . . .

An unforgettable story about losing love and finding love; about the interconnectedness of lives and the true nature of belonging, from one of our most acclaimed writers.

I was excited to see a new Melina Marchetta book and looked forward to reading it. I did enjoy it and I thought it was beautifully written, but it didn’t weave its way into my heart as it appears to for so many other readers.

A Place on Dalhousie is a beautiful examination of grief, love, loneliness, family and the power that comes with belonging.  Marchetta gives us complicated and flawed characters and what I particularly like about her writing is that sometimes I don’t particularly like the characters – there were times that Rosie and Jimmy irritated me big time, but that’s what I like about Marchetta’s writing that she makes me feel like this for the characters.

Rosie Gennaro meets Jimmy Hailler during the Queensland floods – both are a long way from home and both are a little lost. The two have a brief fling and part ways. Rosie and Jimmy lose contact with each other until almost two years later when Jimmy learns that Rosie has a baby boy, named Toto and he is the father.

Rosie has returned home to Sydney and is living with her step-mother, Martha. The two women are living in the house that Rosie’s father was rebuilding before he died. The tension between the two women is high and neither of them is preparing to give an inch. Rosie believes the house should be hers and Martha feels entitled to the house since she continued to pay the mortgage and work on the renovations. Rosie has taken over the top floor of the house and Martha the bottom floor and a line has been drawn.

Personally, I love Martha and I love Martha’s friends. Martha was someone I  could be friends with– she’s snarky and doesn’t tolerate fools. The emails between Martha and her best friend Sophie at the beginning of the book made me fall in love with Martha and I guess this is probably why I actively disliked Rosie for such a good portion of the book because of her antagonistic behaviour towards Martha.

Sophie, you better not have given anyone my email address after I’ve spent three decades making sure they can’t contact me. Just what I need. Another shitload of vacuous emails sent by people who have nothing better to do with their lives. And for the record, what part of ‘You lost us the grand finals’ spoken by Elizabeth King would I have misunderstood in Year Twelve?

Martha

P.S. We haven’t seen each other for two weeks, Sophie. Don’t be so dramatic.

Of course, Rosie is struggling with being a young mother and not being a particularly agreeable person she tends to get a lot of people offside and so she doesn’t have a lot of support in bringing up her baby boy, Toto. Being a prickly person, myself, I could empathise with Rosie (sometimes), but most of the time she irritated me.

Jimmy arrives on the scene and is determined to be a good dad because he didn’t have a great role model in this department, but he struggles because he hasn’t had a lot of experience with babies and seriously doubts himself in the father department. Also,  Rosie and Jimmy can’t seem to reconnect and find themselves at odds with each other for most of the novel.

Marchetta reintroduces a lot of characters from previous books and even though I had read these books I had a lot of difficulties remembering the characters and so it was hard to reconnect to these characters, maybe it was more natural if you didn’t have any knowledge of these characters. Though, I imagine if you are a huge fan of Marchetta’s work, then it would have been wonderful to meet up with these characters again. In saying this, you don’t need to have read her previous works to enjoy this novel, but I think at times, it may have helped to have that relationship with these characters.

The Place on Dalhousie is a powerful, character-driven novel that deals with some hefty issues, but Marchetta handles these issues with just the right balance of lightness, seriousness and humour. There are some genuinely funny moments in this heartwarming book. Marchetta beautifully writes about grief, new parenthood, friendship, family and finding your place in this world of ours.

The ending of this novel resonated with me and was my favourite part of the book. Marchetta definitely weaved her magic with the ending.

Table, Cup, Coffee, Background, Cafe