Charlotte and the Rock by Stephen W. Martin

Published: 14th March 2017 Goodreads badge
Publisher:
 Dial Books
Illustrator: Samantha Cotterill
Pages: 32
Format: Hardcover Picture Book
★   ★   ★  – 3 Stars

Charlotte has always really wanted a pet, so when her parents present her with one for her birthday she expects a cat, dog, or maybe a bird. Instead, she receives a rock. Rocks can’t cuddle, fetch, or even help her eat her vegetables, but that doesn’t stop Charlotte from loving her rock as if he were real. If only he could love her back…or can he? 

This is a fun story that is enjoyable to read and even has a few surprises. It is delightfully silly without going over the top and I loved Charlotte’s sincerity over the whole situation as she treated her rock like any other pet. The writing is simple with one sentence or so covering each issue or moment but Martin tells the story simply but effectively and interestingly.

I actually thought this was going to be a sadder story about poor Charlotte who only had a rock for a pet but I was pleasantly surprised. She treats it like any other pet and while it can cause a few hassles, what pet doesn’t? Her optimism is enchanting and I love that the rock isn’t any normal sized rock but still she carries on.

Cotterill’s illustrations are simple and the colours basic, but I liked the design of Charlotte. She looks like the perfect six year old who wouldn’t mind having a rock as a pet and making the best out of the situation. She is adaptable and will enjoy her pet even if it is a little unconventional. The colour scheme is made of up of washed out red, green, and brown which works remarkably well. It gives an old feel to the book and doesn’t take anything away from the illustrations themselves.

This is a fun book that kids will enjoy reading for the humour and the silly nature is easy to exploit when reading it aloud. It may also give hope to those kids who can’t have the pet that they wished for and instead lets them realise how much fun having a pet rock can be.

You can purchase Charlotte and the Rock via the following

Booktopia | Book Depository

Amazon | Amazon Aust | Wordery

Angus & Robertson | Fishpond

Dymocks | QBD

Reaching Avery (#2) by Jaclyn Osborn

Published: 24th March 2018Goodreads badge
Publisher:
 Self Published
Pages: 313
Genre: Young Adult
★   ★   ★  – 3 Stars

Maverick Blake is the typical jock: athletic, handsome, extroverted, and popular. But there is so much more to him. Beneath the pretty face, there’s a guy who loves science, theater, and comic books. He wishes people would look past his appearance and see him for who he truly is, but most are only interested in the surface.

Avery Kinkead is used to people disappointing him—hurting him. He sees the world through leery eyes, and doesn’t think he’ll ever be able to escape the demons in his own mind. He has suffered more than most people twice his age, and his scars—both mental and physical—leave him untrusting of everyone, except for his younger brother and mom.

When Maverick meets Avery, he sees a broken boy who tries desperately to stay invisible, but Mav can’t stay away. Not when he sees the shadows behind Avery’s blue eyes, and the mistrust in his every glance.

It starts with a simple friendship, but soon, their hearts start getting involved, and things get complicated. As if graduating high school wasn’t hard enough.

I wanted to love this, I tried to love this! I did! I wanted to get caught up in this story about these two boys who are both pushing against stereotypes and see them come together and be their best selves. Instead what I got was a story that is good in concept but average in execution. While Osborn’s previous book in this series wasn’t perfect either I could look past the structural and writing side of it for the cute teenage romance. I couldn’t do that here, this was a much harder book to read because of the writing issues, it was hard not to notice when sentences and dialogue felt unnatural and unbelievable.

Initially I was able to look past the writing and tried to fall in love with Maverick and Avery, I enjoyed their flirtation and their uncertainty as they explored their feelings from afar. I also enjoyed when they finally came together because Osborn took it slowly and used her character’s experience and histories to guide their interactions. I persisted because I understood what she was trying to do, I could see the story there even if it wasn’t expressed the most eloquently or cleanly and it was good for a while, but towards the end of the novel it became too much. I couldn’t separate the narrative from the romance, the writing is corny but corny in a bad way. I couldn’t hear the character voices and often it felt like a collection of motivational quotes and life affirming optimism. Which isn’t terrible, having characters who are optimistic is fine, but there needs to be balance and a less in your face way of expressing it.

I was confused because Osborn wrote the first book fine, not perfect but better. There were so many things happening in this that were good, there was a lot about being yourself and not worrying what other people thought, there’s self doubt, imperfect family dynamics, there’s deeper darker things like self harm and abuse, but Osborn hasn’t navigate these topics in a strong enough way. The components are all there that could have made a great story, it just needed stronger editing and a bit of guidance.

There was diversity in the characters which was great to see, Osborn has brought together a group of people who are all different in the school social groups but brings them together to form strong bonds all the same. It was good to see cameos and revisits to characters we’d been introduced to in Noah’s Song and it was good to see how the story continued.

Avery was a sweet character and I think he had the best voice of them both, I enjoyed his chapters more because there was a bit more realness to him. Not that Maverick’s didn’t, but it felt less explored and shallow. There was also a great representation of all the secondary characters. You got a sense of all the characters involved and could understand who they were, even if they were only there briefly.

I did enjoy this book, I was caught up in the early days of romance between Maverick and Avery which is adorable at the heart of it. I liked what Osborn was trying to achieve, but I’m just disappointed it didn’t quite reach the mark, it has the possibility of being a wonderful book.

You can purchase Reaching Avery via the following

Amazon | Amazon Aust

The 65-Storey Treehouse by Andy Griffiths

Published: 12 August 2015 (print)/12 August 2015 (audio) Goodreads badge
Publisher:
  Pan Macmillan Australia /Bolinda Audio
Pages: 384/2 Hours 13 mins
Narrator: Stig Wemyss
Format: Audiobook
Genre: Junior Fiction
★   ★   ★  – 3 Stars

Andy and Terry’s amazing 65-Storey Treehouse now has a pet-grooming salon, a birthday room where it’s always your birthday (even when it’s not), a room full of exploding eyeballs, a lollipop shop, a quicksand pit, an ant farm, a time machine and Tree-NN: a 24-hour-a-day TV news centre keeping you up to date with all the latest treehouse news, current events and gossip. Well, what are you waiting for? Come on up!

With a touch of Jack and the Beanstalk, time travel and the film Them! it’s a curious adventure Andy and Terry go on. Jill comes in with her logic and reason to bring the boys into line and solve their problems all of which combine to be a pretty normal day in the treehouse.

In this new adventure you learn new words, get to travel through history in a wheelie bin, albeit a smidge inaccurately, but it is fun. TreeNN is a fun addition as well, ending chapters with something different. I liked the break in formula in this one, no book talk, instead we need a building inspection from Inspector Bubblewrap. This prompts the time travel and all sorts of mishaps as they try to travel back 6.5 years and end up at all different points through history.

Admittedly, I couldn’t get into this story as easily as the others. I liked the diversion from the normal structure because that can be boring after a while. It was fun but not as engaging as the previous stories. I also got a visual copy in the end because while Wemyss has done a brilliant job in the past to compensate, I needed Denton’s illustrations this time to appreciate some of the jokes and references.

The Treehouse series continues to grow and change with each book and the creativity and inventiveness of Griffiths and Denton is amazing. The jokes are clever and the illustrations are so detailed that there is always something to discover in them. The two make a perfect team and while I didn’t love this storey as much as previous storeys, I look forward to seeing what the next storey in the treehouse has to offer.

You can purchase The 65-Storey Treehouse via the following

QBD | Dymocks | Book Depository

Booktopia | Angus and Robertson | Fishpond

Amazon | Amazon Aust | Audible

Wordery | Publisher

I Just Ate My Friend by Heidi McKinnon

Published: August 2017Goodreads badge
Publisher:
 Simon Schuster Books for Young Readers
Illustrator: Heidi McKinnon
Pages: 40
Format: Hardcover Picture Book
★   ★   ★  – 3 Stars

The search for a true friend is something everyone can relate to – from the very young to the very old.

“I just ate my friend. He was a good friend. But now he is gone. Would you be my friend?”

A hilarious story about the search for friendship and belonging… and maybe a little bit about the importance of impulse control… 

I was intrigued by the title and by the end of the book I was intrigued by the story as well. With no explanation for why or how the friend was eaten, the story follows the creature as he tries to find a new friend, not sure he will ever find another. What if he truly had eaten his only friend?

I liked the illustrations. The dark pages against the single large, colourful characters, it worked to its advantage and gave a sense of being in space or at least somewhere on another planet. This is unconfirmed, but it is logical based on the illustrations to think of the creature as an alien or space creature of some kind. McKinnon has done a great job with her illustrations. I found this book because it was on the 2018 CBCA Shortlist and shortlisted for the Crichton Award for New Illustrators. McKinnon didn’t win but for a new illustrator she has done a great job.

There is not a lot to unpack here. The creature goes around to everyone he can find and asks them if he will be his friend. Some of the responses are quite funny and the straightforwardness works to the story’s advantage. For a story that is not that complicated it managed to surprise me and delight me. It’s a little absurd and nothing makes sense and there is no reason but that is what makes it great. I don’t need an answer I just like a clever story and this is a clever story.

You can purchase I Just Ate My Friend via the following

QBD | Book Depository

Booktopia | Angus and Robertson | Fishpond

Amazon | Amazon Aust | Wordery

Image result for cbca shortlist logo

The 39-Storey Treehouse by Andy Griffiths

Published: 1st September 2013 (print)/28th Sep 2013 (audio) Goodreads badge
Publisher:
  Pan Macmillan Australia /Bolinda Audio
Pages: 352/2 hours 5 minutes
Narrator: Stig Wemyss
Format: Audiobook
Genre: Junior Fiction
★   ★   ★  – 3 Stars

Andy and Terry’s amazing treehouse has 13 new levels including a chocolate waterfall, a non-erupting active volcano, an opera house, a baby-dinosaur petting zoo, Andy and Terry’s Believe it or Else! museum, a not-very-merry merry-go-round, a boxing elephant called the Trunkinator, an X-Ray room, a disco with light-up dance floor, the world’s scariest roller-coaster and a top secret 39th level that hasn’t even been finished yet!

So what are you waiting for? Come on up!

One thing that can be said about the audiobook experience of the Treehouse series is that Stig Wemyss really enjoys his role as narrator, and with the freedom and challenge of engaging children in an audio book his enthusiasm is a great draw.

Despite this, I do think this would have been a good one to read rather than listen to, there sounds like there would be a great assortment of pictures based on what happens. That is to say it wasn’t still enjoyable. As before, audio prompts, music, and sound effects make this just as enjoyable, maybe even more so; though I do feel like Terry’s drawings are being neglected, considering how much he talks about drawing in the books.

With another 13 storeys added to the treehouse another adventure awaits. Andy tells us what new things they have added to the treehouse, each as exciting and improbably and delightful as the previous things. Andy and Terry once again have a book due but Terry has a solution he’s been working on which naturally causes mayhem.

Terry also got a spotlight moment and a reprieve from being the daft friend, his drawing skills become essential and his illustration skills are commended. There’re also songs in this story, some more poems than songs, but one definite song, which Wemyss has to sing which was…an experience. I’m also learning that there will always be a recap of the book within the book, but thankfully it’s a fast recap.

Griffiths certainly had worked out a rhythm with this series. It’s repetitive, cheeky, silly, and all the fun and gross (but not too gross) things that make kids laugh. Once you get used to the structure of these books they become quite enjoyable, no matter your age.

You can purchase The 39-Storey Treehouse via the following

QBD | Dymocks | Book Depository

Booktopia | Angus and Robertson | Fishpond

Amazon | Amazon Aust | Audible

Wordery | Publisher

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