Friday, 26 August 2016


Book reviews and writing from middle graders. 
What they think about the books they read. 

(If you'd like to contribute your reviews or writing, then contact me on my blogger contact form 
and put Middle Grade Fiction File at the top of your message.)

Book Review:   

Starchild: The Age of Akra by Vacen Taylor
(Book 1 in The Starchild series)

 (Pub: Odyssey Books, 8 Mar, 2013) 

Contributor: Jordan Sayer
Jordan is a Melbourne middle grade student who is developing an obsession with fantasy books (and good on him!)  In this segment I'll share his books reviews and from time to time other pieces of writing.

The Star Child by Vacen Taylor is an action packed and thrilling book with many characters who are very engaging. The characters were believable, funny and really relatable and reminded me of friends and in some cases reminded me of my family.

I enjoyed how Taylor created the story - simple but adventurous at the same time and it could be easily read. I loved how there were different adventures inside the bigger/main attraction with interesting creatures, weapons and mystical places.

Though sometimes the dialogue could extend longer than I felt it should and sometimes it took too long to get to the action which sometimes became boring. However, once the action started I couldn’t put it down. Overall the story is amazing and worth the time reading it!

Four stars!

Thursday, 18 August 2016

Book Review

Heart of Brass 

(The Antipodean Queen Bk1)

by Felicity Banks

(Pub: Odyssey Books, 2016)

How could I resist steam punk set in colonial Australia?  Felicity Banks’ debut novel Heart of Brass, was everything I was hoping it would be and more. I love steam punk novels and Banks has put her own twist on the genre in this one. From the novelty of the book being set in colonial Australia, to the notion that the metals are in some way sentient, this was a refreshing, fun, rollicking story. 

line’s family fortunes have taken a nosedive and she has been slowly selling the family’s more valuable possessions in order to keep up the appearance of respectable gentility. The family’s future depends on her marrying well. In the opening scene of the novel we see her waiting for the arrival of her potential beau and his mother. 

Of course the meeting with the beau and his mother goes awry and the ensuing events see Emmeline transported to Australia — thus begins the real adventure.

Emmeline is not your average Victorian miss. Her father replaced her heart when she was nine, with a mechanised one made out of brass and silver. Emmeline is a practical young woman and has inherited her father’s technological genius. She likes nothing more than tinkering with and inventing new machinery in her workshop.

The novel is told in first person and the Emmeline’s voice throughout is delightful, in that it conveys what I imagine is a very convincing Victorian voice. The character is well developed and actually learns and changes during the course of the book. I love the way that Emmeline, though resourceful and intelligent, has her own failings. Her Victorian snobbery and adherence to the dictates of fashion are tested and eroded. Banks writes Emmeline with a dry wit and at times her thoughts will make you laugh out loud.

The pacing of the story was steady from the beginning but very much picked up once Emmeline was in Australia. I felt occasionally that the very Victorian nature of the character’s voice — that prim and proper manner about her, did sometimes lessen the pace of some of the action sequences. However, ironically I still found them vastly enjoyable because even when chaos was erupting around her, she was still so “straight laced.”

The weaving of Australian history into Emmeline’s adventure was clever and there were some fabulous twists and turns in the escapades of Emmeline and her companions. I had no trouble visualising any of the scenes and settings that Banks wrote, which is a testament to her writing. I found myself not wanting to put this book down and read it very quickly.

This is a fabulous yarn and well worth your time to pick up and read I highly recommend it.

Four Stars!

Reviews Published Challenge Participant Professional Reader

Sunday, 14 August 2016

Book Review

The Farthest City

by Daniel P. Swenson

(Pub: Nov, 2015)

**I was provided with a copy of this in exchange for an honest review**

The Farthest City by Daniel P. Swenson, is a science fiction novel, in which humanity is under attack by the invading Hexi and facing extinction. This is not the first time humanity has faced extinction. Generations before, the Third World War had all but wiped out the human race and they were saved from extinction by the intervention of sentient machines – the “Chines”. These Chines, having saved humanity, then left Earth and are now regarded with reverence. They have become near mythical and stories say that one day they will return to save the earth and her people. 

There are certain rare individuals on Earth who are known as Diggers, Lighters, Drawers and Singers. These people feel compelled to perform each of the actions that they are named for; some to the point of being driven nearly insane by their compulsion. They are regarded warily by the rest of society and generally try not to be noticed, for they are usually seized by the government when their actions bring them to their attention.

Early in the story we meet Kellen, a Drawer, who is approached by a Digger, Izmit. Izmit wants Kellen’s help to fulfil a prophecy that a Digger, Drawer, Singer and Lighter will play an instrumental part in bringing the Chines back to save humanity. Kellen’s character is well depicted and through well-placed backstory we learn that he has more reason than most to be a recluse. When he meets Izmit he faces challenges emotionally and physically that he has never prepared for and has only ever run from.

The other main character is a soldier named Sheemi who is on the front line of the war against the Hexi. I liked the depiction of Sheemi and once again Swenson seamlessly interweaves a detailed back story into her character arc - PTSD and familial dysfunction.

These two are the most developed characters within the novel, which is to be expected as they are the main characters. Both Kellen and Sheemi are complex, believable characters. However, I felt that the subsidiary characters could have been a little more fleshed out, because when they were at risk or tragedy befell them, I didn’t care.

There are some nice twists and turns within this novel and the main plot with the Chines has a lovely irony to it. At one point, listening to the scientists, Sheemi complains that there is too much “technobabble”. At times, I had to agree with her, yet this is something that I suspect fans of “hard” science fiction will really enjoy.

The story’s beginning intrigued me and hooked me. The initial pacing, though steady, is a little slow. However, just over halfway through the book the pace of the story improves markedly and there are some good action sequences within this. The Chine world is complicated and intricate, yet overall I think Swenson does a good job of getting the reader to visualise it. There were also a couple of plot devices that seemed to me to be just a little too convenient for the resolution story. Despite this and the technobabble, I found myself racing through this book and not really wanting to put it down.

I’ve debated over what rating to give this book. I did enjoy it; the speed of my reading indicates this and suggested to me that perhaps I should be giving this four stars, but because of some of the other aspects of the story I’m giving this three and half stars.

I do think that many science fiction fans will probably really enjoy it

3.5 Stars

Reviews Published Challenge Participant Professional Reader

Tuesday, 2 August 2016

Book Review

Brink of Extinction

by Nicholas Ryan

(Pub: March, 2016)

**I was provided with a copy of this in exchange for an honest review**

If you're after a fast paced read that offers more than your usual zombie novel does, then Nicholas Ryan’s book, Brink of Extinction, might be just the thing you are looking for. Brink of Extinction is set in America post the zombie apocalypse and aspects of it reminded me of the films Mad Max mixed with The Road.

Ryan’s opening scene will grab your attention. It is not just a fast paced action sequence, it is also brutally violent and it serves to introduce the novel’s arch villain, Gideon Silver. I don’t object to violence in literature, in fact I love a good action novel, however I felt that the length of this scene could have been shortened by a third or half and still have had the same effect. I could predict where this scene was heading, so I was not shocked. However, what served to show Gideon’s depravity ended up becoming gratuitous and the only reason I can think for the length of this scene was to create shock value in some readers. Fortunately, this is the only scene where I felt this way.

The other main characters in the novel are “The Man” and his son, “The Boy”. The choice of leaving these two characters unnamed is an interesting one. For some writers this choice would run the risk of alienating the reader from the characters; often we need a name to help us relate to the character in more depth. Ryan manages to avoid this and the reader becomes quite involved in the lives of these two characters. The choice would seem to reflect the fact that both the man and the boy are in essence lost souls, like so many after this war, or for that matter any war. The father is forcing the boy on a journey, a kind of pilgrimage, with him in the hope that the destination will restore their relationship. It does far more than that. By the end of the book you will understand and fully appreciate the significance of leaving “The Man” unnamed - I thought it was a very nice touch - though maybe I’m sentimental about these things. All I will say is that the man represents so many soldiers. I think that leaving them unnamed adds to the cyclical nature of certain aspects of the story.

The characterisation of Gideon Silver is a shallow one - he is a caricature. We never see beyond the scarred, depraved, violent, uber villain. However, he serves his purpose well within the narrative as he is. The reader’s main focus should be, and is, on the father-son relationship and all that is revealed about them and the society in which they live.

Their journey takes them to the Museum of the Apocalypse. This segment really makes up the guts of the novel. Each section of the museum documents the zombie apocalypse and the war against them. I was worried that these sections would become as overindulgent in gore and gruesome detail as I had felt opening scene did. However, the timing of the shift from one exhibit to the other was well done and Ryan struck a delicate balance here between recounting brutal action in some sections and poignancy in others. Only once did the cynic in me rear its head and cry, "Oh the pathos!"  

Zombies aside, aspects of this museum and the emotions it invoked in the characters reminded me of my visits to various war memorials — in particular sections of the Australian War Memorial. So despite its setting, this felt very real.

Of course, the man and the boy's journey has brought them to the attention of Gideon Silver and they have become entangled in his schemes. The novel’s climactic scene is action packed and the conclusion is very satisfying.

There were technical aspects of the writing that I felt needed improving, mainly in the initial sections of the novel and at this point I was doubtful that I would give the book more than a three star rating. However as the story gained momentum these issues dropped by the wayside and I enjoyed some sections so much that that I changed my opinion.

This is a zombie novel so my expectation was that this would be action packed, which it was, but not necessarily much more. Yet, there are many themes touched upon in this novel: the plight of refugees, the physical and emotional cost of war, the nature of sacrifice, duty and honour. In the end I heartily enjoyed this book on levels far deeper than I expected to. If you want a zombie novel that is just that bit more than a shallow action adventure novel then I that I strongly recommend that you read Brink of Extinction.

Four Stars!

Reviews Published Challenge Participant Professional Reader