I Don’t Like Koala by Sean Ferrell

Published: 14th April 2015 Goodreads badge
Publisher:
 Atheneum Books for Young Readers
Illustrator: Charles Santoso
Pages: 40
Format: Hardcover Picture Book
★   ★   ★  – 3 Stars

What’s not to love about a cute, cuddly…creepy toy koala? This is the story of a boy and the stuffed animal he just can’t seem to shake.

Adam does not like Koala. Koala is a little creepy.

Adam tries explaining this to his parents. He tries putting Koala away – far away. He tries taking Koala on a long, long walk. Nothing works. Will Adam ever be rid of Koala?

I had to really think about this review. My first reaction was confusion about this book and why anyone would write it. It wasn’t until I was writing down my thoughts and I got to think about it more that I altered my view.

Don’t get me wrong, I still think this is a creepy book about a demonic stuffed koala, but I can see in a very small way that it might be funny to some seeing this kid try to get rid of his koala to no avail.

I thought this was going to be a cute story about a kid not liking a toy and then learning to love it but this reads like something from a horror novel. Adam describes to us all the reasons why he doesn’t like his toy koala and from a little kid point of view the reasons are justified. Adam hides Koala around his house and then we assume his parents return him to Adam’s room. But it gets weird when Adam leaves Koala at the top of a hill and it still manages to return to Adam’s house.

Maybe it’s the way I interpreted it but it isn’t that cute. This kid doesn’t like his toy, Koala, and his parents keep bringing it back to him ignoring his protests. Then something happens and he suddenly loves it? Even if I can see the reasons I don’t know, it just seems odd.

Looking at it another way, if we embrace the possessed stuffed toy angle, Adam has secured himself a demonic toy that is actually a guardian of sorts against the other evil of the world while giving off the creepy vibe. Why not, I can work with that, even if it’s exceptionally peculiar.

From an illustration angle, Santoso does an amazing job. The illustrations of Koala are effectively creepy and Adam is adorable and Santos captures all the moods and tantrums and gives Adam excellent facial expressions. Even while we’re creeped out by the story itself, you can’t help but admire the fantastic illustrations that accompany it. I am upping the stars on this purely based on Santosa’s fabulous illustrations.

You can purchase I Don’t Like Koala via the following

Book Depository | Booktopia

ABC Online | Fishpond | BookWorld

Wordery | Dymocks

The Lampo Circus by Alexandra Adornetto

Published: 1st March 2008 (print)/March 28 2011 (audio) Goodreads badge
Publisher:
HarperCollins Australia/Bolinda Audio
Pages: 400 pages/6 dics
Narrator: Alexandra Adornetto
Format: Audiobook
Genre: Fantasy/Young Adult
★   ★   ★   ★  – 3 Stars

The arrival of Federico Lampo and his travelling circus brings a new threat to Drabville when the children are kidnapped and transported to the grim world of the Conjuors’ Realm. Lord Aldor, assisted by Ringmaster Lampo and the vicious Contessa Bombasta, is plotting to conquer the fairy province of Mirth. . 

The children embark on a quest to warn the Queen of Mirth, encountering some fearsome obstacles, not least the ferocious Grin Bandits and their tooth–extracting apparatus.

As the day of battle draws near, Milli and Ernest realise that if Lord Aldor defeats them, theirs won’t be the only lives at stake…

Having had Milly and Ernest grow on me after book one, it was only natural I dove into book two. Also I listened to it on audio book again and it was great to hear Adornetto’s narration again, excellent continuity which is often not the case with audio book series I’ve realised.

After the events of The Shadow Thief, Milly and Ernest’s town of Drabville is settling into their new lives, being lively, and trying to think of a new town name. Their relief at being joyful and carefree means their guards are lowered when villainy threatens the town once more. The arrival of the Lampo Circus seems innocent enough, but there is a sinister nature about it that no one seems to notice.

Initially I didn’t love this story as much as the first one. It was an odd premise; it didn’t grab me as quickly as the other one did. Adornetto retains her wonderful language, her style, her narration and absurdness, so that was a comfort when they story itself was a bit odd and hard to engage with.

When the story eventually gets going, which was quite a bit of a way in I thought, but it gets to settle into the adventurous style Milly and Ernest do best. There were a few great surprises this time which made the adventure more fun. While there was adventure and suspense in the first book, I feel this had more the journey/adventure style where there a greater chance of the unknown.

There is a great moral tone which Adornetto doesn’t wave in your face, but works incredibly well in the context (no spoilers). I loved the surprises and I loved the magical element that is the crux and climax of the story. It balanced out the strangeness from the beginning and worked really well.

I would have loved a better ending. Not the conclusion per se, but the actually ending of the story. I feel like it was a tad unresolved, I still had questions that needed answering, but judging by what Adornetto has done with this second book regarding events in book one, I feel more answers will be provided in book three. As the continuing adventures of Milly and Ernest go, this was a great addition.

Good News, Bad News by Maggie Groff

Published: 1st March 2013 (print)/1st March 2013 (audio) Goodreads badge
Publisher:
 Pan Macmillan Australia/Bolinda Audio
Pages: 369 pages/7 dics
Narrator: Catherine Milte
Format: Audiobook
Genre: Mystery
★   ★   ★  – 3 Stars

Intrepid investigative journalist Scout Davis has given herself a holiday, but when Hermione Longfellow floats towards her in the supermarket, wanting to engage her services, she stops to listen.

Most people in Byron Bay are aware of the eccentric Anemone sisters. Always dressed in black, they rarely leave their home nestled in the hills – but Scout is sure that the drinking of chicken blood is just idle gossip. When Hermione asks Scout to track down sister Nemony’s AWOL husband, believed to have died at sea thirty years ago, but recently popped up again on the Great Barrier Reef, Scout, checking there is no eye of newt in Hermione’s shopping trolley, jumps at the chance.

Another source of intrigue falls close to home when Scout’s sister Harper despairs over her husband’s odd behaviour. And if that weren’t enough, Scout’s journalist boyfriend is finally coming home from Afghanistan. Trouble is, Scout thinks she may be falling in love with irresistible local cop Rafe – who coincidentally is also Toby’s best friend…

Catherine Milte was a much better narrator than Parker was in book one. Once you get past the vast difference – Scout becoming a very proper sounding woman with a tinge of British in her – you settle into the story and forget how she sounded originally. One of the challenges of audio books that reading doesn’t have I suppose but you get used to the narration fairly quickly.

I originally thought the case wasn’t going to be as interesting as the first one. How does one compete with a cult? But it actually was rather interesting. Scout investigates a man who was presumed dead over thirty years ago and seeks to prove he is alive and living up in Queensland. There are quirky new characters and the same familiar characters we grew fond of in book. Scout’s sister Harper adds her own drama and flair to the story once more, another reason why this was an interesting read.

There are quite a few surprises which I enjoyed. Groff drops them in all the right places to give a nice burst of unexpectedness as the story goes on. There are also many secrets to uncover; not only for the case but for her friends and family around her. The elusive and secretive GKI makes another appearance and fits a little better into the story, it feels a bit more natural that it is in there, less like it was tacked on as a side story.

One of the things I liked about this second book was that Groff doesn’t focus as much on Scout’s condition. Her diabetes takes a backseat as it should, and only is mentioned when it is actually necessary. I actually forgot she had the disease at times which was something I couldn’t do in book one. The lack of constant diabetes talk is swapped, however, with a description of what everyone is wearing. Again, whether the audio book made this stand more or if it’s just me I’m not sure, but it felt unnecessary a lot of the time or at least a tad clunky.

Scout’s relationship with Rafe continues and comes to a resolution of sorts. I can’t say I like them being together any more than I did the first time, but Groff provides a weak excuse and justification that almost works. I still think Scout is a bit selfish and feels almost guiltless about it.

Overall this series is fun and enjoyable with more things that I liked than didn’t. Scout is a great investigative journalist and her approach to her stories and her method of tracking information down is always delightful and filled with adventure.

You can purchase Good News, Bad News via the following

Print

Pan Macmillan Aus | QBD

Angus & Robertson

Audio

Booktopia | Angus & Robertson

The One Memory of Flora Banks by Emily Barr

Published: 12th January 2017Goodreads badge
Publisher:
 Penguin
Pages: 303
Format: Paperback
Genre: Young Adult
★   ★   ★  – 3 Stars

Seventeen-year-old Flora Banks has no short-term memory. Her mind resets itself several times a day, and has since the age of ten, when the tumor that was removed from Flora’s brain took with it her ability to make new memories. That is, until she kisses Drake, her best friend’s boyfriend, the night before he leaves town. Miraculously, this one memory breaks through Flora’s fractured mind, and sticks. Flora is convinced that Drake is responsible for restoring her memory and making her whole again. So when an encouraging email from Drake suggests she meet him on the other side of the world, Flora knows with certainty that this is the first step toward reclaiming her life.

With little more than the words “be brave” inked into her skin, and written reminders of who she is and why her memory is so limited, Flora sets off on an impossible journey to Svalbard, Norway, the land of the midnight sun, determined to find Drake. But from the moment she arrives in the arctic, nothing is quite as it seems, and Flora must “be brave” if she is ever to learn the truth about herself, and to make it safely home.

Having heard about this book at a recent publishing event, I grabbed it immediately. I loved the idea of Flora and I was fascinated to see how this played out. It is pushed I suppose as being similar to 50 First Dates, but it isn’t like that at all. Flora knows her story; she retells herself about what has happened with cues and prompts from notes, her notebook, and people around her.

Her parents have been by her side since the accident but a family emergency takes them away, suddenly Flora is on her own which is where the adventure really begins. Remembering kissing Drake is the key to the entire book, it is what drives Flora and it is the motivation that gets her through, even when her memory fails her.

There are a lot of great achievements for Flora moments in the story that are average for everyone else; she buys plane tickets, goes to the shops, she navigates her world pretty superbly, considering. There is a point however, around the beginning of the book, where the whole thing seems a tad incredulous. These parents who have wrapped up their daughter in cotton wool for 7 years leave her with her friend and go overseas; though Barr does offer reasoning and explanations which fit the narrative and the story rather nicely.

All uncertainty aside, by the end of the book of course I had tears welling up in my eyes and I’m frantically turning pages. It’s 2am, I haven’t been able to put it down, worried for all the things that may happen or have happened and I just keep reading on, getting myself emotional and forgetting all the doubts from the beginning because Barr makes sure everything fits.

This is a beautiful story, I really wish Flora was real so I could be proud of her and love her and praise her for all she has achieved, not that someone being fictional ever stopped me. There are moments that are crushing and silly and sad, but at the end it’s so uplifting and it’s a great little book. The writing explores Flora’s moods incredible well. The fear, the uncertainty, the frustration! There is a great moment when it just gets to Flora and you see her frustration at her inability to recall anything. She isn’t going through life blissfully unaware – she knows she forgets and she knows it must annoy people, it annoys her most of all. It’s amazing when she has these emotional changes because it also helps depict how her memory works, how it can go at any time.

I adored that Flora got out and had her adventure, it gives her hope and joy and it makes you curious about just how she is managing to do all of this. Barr explains it well; there are repeat paragraphs and phrases throughout, which normally may be tedious but it kind of works here. There is a constant repetition and it helps you understand and figure out where Flora’s brain is at, what stage of remembering and forgetting and how she is working her way back.

Books like this make you also realise how technology has been such an improvement to people and their lives. Writing things on phones, text messages you can reread, taking photos and giving yourself reminders; it’s all so critical to Flora and her journey.

There are surprises in this which are crushing and delightful and wonderful to read. Barr expresses Flora’s actions in a way that makes you understand her process and it brings you inside her mind and shows life from her perspective. Of course there are times when she is foolish and in a strange grey area between being 17 and ten years old, she has the impatience and impulse of a child but the desire of a teenager and it can be a strange mixture but this only adds to the story.

This book had a hold of my heart for all the right reasons. Flora and her determination will fill you with warmth and pride as you see her take on the world in order to follow this one new memory that has changed her world entirely.

You can purchase The One Memory of Flora Banks via the following

Publisher | Booktopia

Amazon | Book Depository

Fishpond | Dymocks

BookWorld

The Memory Book by Lara Avery

Published: 7th July 2016  Goodreads badge
Publisher:
 Quercus Children’s Books
Pages: 357
Format: Paperback
Genre: Young Adult
★   ★   ★   ★   ★  – 5 Stars

“They tell me that my memory will never be the same, that I’ll start forgetting things. At first just a little, and then a lot. So I’m writing to remember.”

Samantha McCoy has it all mapped out. First she’s going to win the national debating championship, then she’s going to move to New York and become a human rights lawyer. But when Sammie discovers that a rare disease is going to take away her memory, the future she’d planned so perfectly is derailed before it’s started. What she needs is a new plan.

So the Memory Book is born: Sammie’s notes to her future self, a document of moments great and small. Realising that her life won’t wait to be lived, she sets out on a summer of firsts: The first party; The first rebellion; The first friendship; The last love.

Through a mix of heartfelt journal entries, mementos, and guest posts from friends and family, readers will fall in love with Sammie, a brave and remarkable girl who learns to live and love life fully, even though it’s not the life she planned.

I was delightfully surprised with this book. I picked it up thinking it sounded interesting and I wasn’t disappointed. As someone who has not got the greatest memory at times, it was fascinating to read about someone who has a disease that robs someone of their memories. The irony is, as Sammie mentions, is that she relies on her memory. It is her strongest thing, her proudest part of herself. To have that taken away is nothing short of unfair.

As a debater, planned Valedictorian, and future lawyer, Sammie’s big plans are thrown into chaos when she discovers she has an incredibly rare disease that will slowly affect her memories. To preserve the ones she has and to keep a record of goals for Future Sam to attain to, she starts a journal dubbed her Memory Book where she records her life in the tiniest detail, determined to show everyone she can fight her fate and still have the life she’s spent years working towards.

I loved that this book is told entirely through Sammie’s Memory Book. There are no deviations or ‘outside’ moments not recorded in the book. This is interesting and you see how Avery works things into the book through Sammie that tells her story but also includes the lives of others.

Sammie was an interesting character and I quite liked her. She is passionate and headstrong; she knows what she wants and does everything in her power to get it. She knows she hasn’t got the best social skills, she admits she is selfish, others know she is selfish, but despite her faults in that respect, it is hard not to love her straightforwardness and her desire to go for what she wants. Her determination is adjusted to her circumstance and she is a fighter.

Avery tells the story of Sammie and her life and progression through the disease really well. Time passes and events happens which are all mentioned seamlessly in Sammie’s account. Seeing Sammie’s deterioration and her down moments through her words are all you need to understand, there’s no need for long explanations or anything. Sammie isn’t telling herself what is happening, she is writing down her memories, and that doesn’t include telling us about each new failing, it’s about recording how she’s living. From fleeting references and writing changes you can see what is happening, understand what is going on. It breaks your heart a little which is remarkable since Avery only shows a limited perspective.

I did get emotional at the end; I wasn’t quite expecting it if I’m honest. But having a few tears welling up is never a bad thing in emotional storytelling like this. From page one you hear Sammie’s voice, her determination, her fight against the unfightable and you can’t pity her, but you do mourn her lost chances. The brightside though is seeing her follow a new path, seeing her forge ahead and accept her new life, understand herself better and realise she doesn’t have to be the person she has always been and in doing so can still have a wonderful life.

You can purchase The Memory Book via the following

AmazonBook Depository

Booktopia | QBD

 

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