Smart writing for a younger reader – Scoop McLaren Detective Editor

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.

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Love, Lie, Repeat – a psychological thriller.

Image result for love lie repeat

Author: Catherine Greer
Publisher: Penguin

Love, Lie, Repeat is a gripping read from start to finish. It is an action-packed thriller, so if that’s your thing, then you will like this book. I wanted to like the book and I admit that it was easy to read, it hooked you from the beginning and when you realised what was really happening, you wanted to know more, but there were lots of things about this book that I just didn’t like.

Australian author Catherine Greer introduces us to three beautiful, rich teens whose lives seem perfect, of course they aren’t, and as you delve deeper into the novel, you realise that girls live quite toxic lives.

Annie and her two best friends, Ash and Ruby, have everything – on the surface. The girls are rich, attractive and talented. The girls are supportive of each other and it would appear that their bond is strong. The girls call themselves the Sirens (which really, really irritated me). The Sirens are there for each other – they have survived divorces, mothers, boys, step-mothers and mishaps. It would appear that the girls have an unwavering bond.

Suddenly there is a new arrival on the scene. Ash’s step-dad brings his son home to live with them in Australia. The appearance of Trip throws the girls and their friendship into chaos. Trip is beautiful, charismatic, smart and has a dangerous past that he can’t seem to escape from. Annie is immediately attracted to Trip and he has a profound effect on all the Sirens. Annie falls hard for Trip, but she finds it hard to trust him and this where most of the drama, twist and turns occur – in Annie’s lack of ability to truly trust those around her. Does Annie trust the Sirens? Is their friendship built on a solid foundation or just a foundation that Annie has been able to manipulate and control? As the plot unravels, more is discovered about Trip, Annie, Ash and Ruby.

Love, Lie, Repeat is a thrilling, psychological drama filled with lots of twists and turns. Of course, as the old saying goes, nothing is what it appears to be and this is true for the Sirens’ friendship. Underneath this seemingly unbreakable friendship, there lies jealousy, aggression, guilt and betrayal.

What I didn’t like

  • I know that Catherine Greer wanted to show the many different layers of friendships that exist between girls and she successfully did this, but I found the whole premise of the book a little bit too dramatic. I found it all a little jarring. The relationship between the girls was unhealthy and the power play between them was toxic. I didn’t enjoy this aspect of the book. I know that manipulation, backstabbing and secrets are standard amongst girl friendship groups, but this book was all very over the top and I found all the drama too much at times.
  • I found the constant body shaming unnecessary and I didn’t truly see the point of it – particularly when a lot of the body shaming came from the mothers. I don’t think it was needed in the book, or it could have been handled differently. I am not sure that Catherine Greer succeeded in wherever she was going with this plot line.
  • I didn’t like any of the characters. Annie was troubled, vindictive, hateful and a victim and I really hate victims.
  • Ruby’s character seemed pointless except for the fact that she was needed to show off Annie’s manipulation and need for control.
  • Ash, I’m assuming is the girl that we were meant to empathise with the most, but she was a bit meh and I didn’t feel anything too much for her at all. I think I was meant to want to protect Ash, but I didn’t care what happened to her.
  • The parents were all one dimensional and lacked believability.

What I liked…

  • It is an intense novel.
  • The friendship, in the beginning, is impressive and you are hooked into the idea of these three girls forming this unbreakable trio.
  • The sinister, creepy feeling that Catherine Greer creates in the novel – right from the start.
  • Catherine Greer succeeds in making the book disturbing and yet addictive reading.
  • Greer maintains a reliable voice throughout the novel, the novel never wavers and it remains unsettling from start to finish.
  • I loved Dashie, the dog and I was on tenterhooks the whole time expecting something awful to happen to Dashie.

The book was a look at a world that I wouldn’t want to be a part of and I genuinely hope that our wealthy and privileged do not live lives like this because if they did that would be truly troubling. If you are after a break from reality and you like a psychological thriller, then this is the novel for you.

Truth, Lies, Philosophy, Wisdom

His Name Was Walter

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From Australia’s favourite storyteller comes a story, within a story, that shows us the extraordinary power of true love and solves a decades-old mystery. ‘Once upon a time, in a dark city far away, there lived a boy called Walter, who had nothing but his name to call his own …’ The handwritten book, with its strangely vivid illustrations, has been hidden in the old house for a long, long time. Tonight, four kids and their teacher will find it. Tonight, at last, the haunting story of Walter and the mysterious, tragic girl called Sparrow will be read – right to the very end … From one of Australia’s most renowned children’s authors, comes an extraordinary story within a story – a mystery, a prophecy, a long-buried secret. And five people who will remember this night as long as they live.

What an amazing book! I love Emily Rodda when she writes in this manner – encompassing touches of yesteryear, folklore, fantasy, reality and mystery.  Everything about this book is divine – the language, the characters and the writing.

Emily Rodda has written an excellent novel where four children and a teacher on a history excursion get stranded overnight in a scary house and they find a book and become enthralled by the story of Walter.

When I started this book, I didn’t have high expectations, but I soon became mesmerised by the story or more particularly the story within the story.

The story within the story at first seems like nonsense – a boy raised by bees, who work for mice, meets a witch who turns into a cat, lives with a landlord who’s a chicken and falls in love with a young woman who turns into a sparrow. At first, I started to think that my reservations about this book were justified, but soon I was caught up in young Walter’s story and I was utterly captivated and like the four children on the excursion who have found the handwritten book I couldn’t put this book down.

What I loved the most was that as a reader I was given an active role alongside the school excursion children in solving Walter’s fascinating mystery. The way Emily Rodda incorporated the reality of the day with the handwritten story of Walter was terrific. What a skilled writer!

His Name Was Walter will bewitch readers with its fantasy and mystery elements and then Rodda ties it all up with a neat, beautiful bow. Absolutely enchanting.

Sadie

sadie

Author: Courtney Summers

I have read a lot of young adult books over the years and you always have your troubled teenager, but Sadie was the first young adult book where I felt that there was no hope for the main character. You can feel the insurmountable battle she is up against and your heart breaks for her. Every step of her journey is disheartening. You do wonder if by some miracle Sadie will get her happy ending, but then again Sadie isn’t looking for a happy ending, she just wants justice and justice isn’t always happy or satisfying.

Sadie will haunt you long after you have finished reading. Yes, the story is intense and uncompromising, but this a story that should be heard. We see and hear so much from celebrities on the #MeToo movement that we forget that there are victims out there who will never be heard and who will never be able to free themselves from the legacy of abuse and poverty.

Courtney Summers is a writer who doesn’t hold back. Her honesty is unflinching.

Nineteen-year-old Sadie is determined to find who she believes to be her younger sister Maddie’s killer. Sadie knows who killed Maddie; she just needs to find him and make him pay for what he did.

Interwoven with Sadie’s first-person account is the transcript of West McCray’s podcast series, The Girls, tracking his efforts to learn what’s happened to Sadie. Summers use of the podcast transcript becomes an effective way to build a backstory to Sadie and to let a multitude of characters have their say. Summers writing is taut and she keeps you captivated and you find yourself wanting to skip forward to Sadie’s narrative but also wanting to know what McCray has discovered. Sadie’s chapters are fast-paced and compelling. Sadie is determined to find Maddie’s killer and along the way she discovers many dirty secrets. McCray’s investigation follows Sadie and he talks to people who Sadie has shaken down to get information from to find her sister’s killer. The two perspectives work well together and you will become engaged entirely with both stories.

Sadie isn’t a likeable character and she’s probably not even sympathetic. Sadie has never had a lucky break and most likely never will. She left school, struggled to find a job because of her stutter. People think she’s stupid because of her stutter. She’s sarcastic but not in a light-hearted way. Her mother was a drug addict. She lives in a trailer park. She has suffered from both emotional and physical abuse. Her sister has been murdered.

Summers doesn’t write her as the beautiful, broken, misunderstood but sassy character. What found compelling about Sadie is that she’s tough, smart, perceptive and vulnerable. It is her vulnerability that will have you fighting for her and her story. You want Sadie to have the justice that she so deserves. Sadie’s relentless search isn’t about revenge, but justice.

This is a book that should be read. It is a frightening revelation of what many children have to deal with every day. Children who live with neglectful parents, abuse and poverty.

Sadie is an edgy, suspenseful book about abuse and power. It is a harrowing, intense and challenging read. A powerful book and one that I hope makes its way into many hands. Sadie isn’t an easy read, but that’s what I liked about it. I liked that it made me uncomfortable. Sadie will leave you gutted.

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Small Spaces

Author: Sarah Epstein

Publisher: Walker Books

As a ten-year-old child, Tash Carmody witnessed the kidnapping of six-year-old Mallory Fisher or did she? When Tash tells the police and her family that she believes Mallory was taken by Sparrow – her imaginary friend, she loses all credibility but is Sparrow imaginary or real?

Sarah Epstein does a brilliant job of having the reader wondering if Sparrow is real or a figment of Tash’s imagination throughout the whole book.

Tash is slowly getting on with her life after years of therapy. She is learning to control the panic attacks and her fear of small spaces, but just as Tash feels that she has a grip on life, the Fisher family arrive back in town with a traumatised and mute Mallory who remembers little of her kidnapping. Tash’s world becomes consumed again by her imaginary friend Sparrow. But once again is he real or a figment of her imagination? Is Sparrow a manifestation of her childhood fears or is he an actual person capable of despicable acts? Will Tash figure it out or will she lose her grip on reality?

It wasn’t the mystery that I felt was compelling about this book but the sub-stories within the book. Obviously, Tash has gone through something traumatic, but instead, she is accused of attention seeking – by her parents and her therapist.

Tash is given a cookie cutter diagnosis by her therapist and throughout the following years the therapist continues to fail Tash and understand what happened to her or what Tash actually needs to recover and move on with her life. Her parents brush her off because they are busy with a newborn and they assume she is acting out for attention and her relationship with her parents is never the same over the years. It is probably this part of the book that I found the most distressing. At times it feels like Tash’s parents don’t even like her, let alone trust or believe in her.

Small Spaces is a good read. I do think the mystery reveal falls a little flat and most readers will come to realise what is happening far before the actual reveal (mainly if they are paying attention) in the book. Though despite these shortcomings Small Spaces is an interesting and compelling read.

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