Summer Reading: a few reviews

Summer holidays allows me time to relax and read. I have a few reading challenges from my GoodReads groups that I can get ahead on before I have to go back to work. A few of the books I have enjoyed reading are as follows:

Pick Your Poison (Ruby Redfort, #5)

Pick Your Poison by Lauren Child
This is another intriguing instalment to the light-hearted spy novels that make up the Ruby Redfort series. It can be read as a stand-alone as although, references previous stories, it fills in the gaps for the reader. (This may make these books less suspenseful if a reader wants to go back to read them for the first time.) The story this time picks up seven months after ruby has joined Spectrum. There are all the scrapes and capers you expect from Ruby. She remains rebellious and although has some risky run-ins with numerous villains, she is starting to consider the risks before she jumps in. Ruby remains troubled by the idea that there might be a mole in Spectrum and this storyline is developed further. Hitch has only a small part in this story and there is a lot more of best friend Clancy, who is becoming more resourceful.
There are again codes to crack and an explanation about them at the end of the book, this time they involve tesseracts and four-dimensional shapes being  coverted into 2D drawings.
The fifth Ruby Redfort book will not disappoint fans with plenty of mystery, suspense and humour and is a great novel for young readers.

The Spy of VeniceThe Spy of Venice by Benet Brandreth 

Fun to read. Is this really what Shakespeare was doing in his “lost years”?

The novel is a speculation about what Shakespeare might have done in the years where there is no historical record about him. It also seeks to explain why he knows so much about Italy.
The historical context is interesting. It is set in the time when protestant, Elizabethan England needed allies as she was up against a powerful Catholic Spain and the Pope.
William Shakespeare has to leave his home in Stratford and ends up with a troupe of itinerant actors in London. From here, he and the others in the troupe are mixed up with spies and intrigue, as they become part of a group who are sent to Venice. The city at this time was autonomous from Rome, centred on trade and very powerful in its own right. Elizabeth’s England needed all the support it could get from other protestant centres but negotiations were always delicate and Will and his fellow actors stumble about before they finally start to realise the stakes and actions that the powerful entities will take to make sure they achieve the best deal for themselves.

VoidVoid by David Staniforth
This is a mystery thriller that has an added layer with the psychological tension of the main protagonist (Tom) waking up in a freeing car with complete loss of memory. A journal, left in the car with him, slowly reveals some of his backstory to him and it explains that he, himself, wrote it. It pans out that, for one week each January, this exact same thing happens to him. The journal also reveals that the first twenty years of his life are a mystery. The journey that Tom takes to uncover who he is, what he has done and where he belongs forms the story. There is a fear of the unknown, combined with vague hints about some possible wrong-doing, that keeps the reader interested until the end.


Book Review: Kicking Goals with Goodesy and Magic

Teaching in a boys school, I am always on the lookout for books that will appeal to my students. Kicking Goals is one that meets many of the requirements I have to make me recommend a book to my students as a “should read”.

It is an entertaining and inspiring book. What is there not to love about it? Kicking Goals is about two well-known sportsmen who have set high standards, not only concerning their sport but also about how they live their lives. The author, Anita Heiss has the ability to write books with insight and humour that young readers enjoy and can relate to.  The fact that they are all indigenious and one dollar of every purchase of this book goes to the GO Foundation, which provides educational scholarships to indigenous children, adds to the worth of the book.

There are also Teaching Notes to accompany the book for teachers who may be interested in the book as a class novel. The story would best suit readers in upper primary or lower secondary schools.

Kicking Goals with Goodesy and MagicKicking Goals with Goodesy and Magic by Anita Heiss  My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This book is aimed at younger readers, and I think that the boys I know would particularly like it. The book is about Adam Goodes and Micheal O’ Loughlin, who were amongst the best footballers to ever play for the Sydney Swans AFL club. Anita Heiss interviewed both men separately and their responses to her questions are written alternatively on the pages of this short book. The character of the men comes though their responses as they voice their ideas about growing up, the importance of friendship, goal setting, sport, family, etc. This is a book that many young boys, and especially many young Indigenious readers,  boys or girls, would respond to as they set their own goals.

Although as an adult I notice and acknowledge many of the former issues, younger readers should simply find it fun to read as well as giving them an insight into the lives of some well-known sportsmen. It is fun to read with a lot of banter and humour as well as the more serious stuff.

View all my reviews

Responding to the class novel: Wonder by R. J. Palacio.

Wonder wordlist-on cover image

Created using Tagul

This term our year 7 students are reading Wonder by R. J. Palacio. I have been working on different activities that our teachers could use with their classes. This week I have been working with one of the year 7 classes and they been the first to trial the some of the activities.

One of the first activities, for those that had finished reading the book, was to think about the vocabulary used in the novel, creating a list of words that the boys then created their own word searches. We use Word Search Generator that allows you to create your own printable “word find” worksheets. It is very simple and easy to use. There are several options that allow you to tailor the style of word search very easily. Some boys worked in pairs and others preferred to create one on their own. Some have already been shared with boys from other classes. Both groups have been totally engaged in their work and there has been some great discussion.


An example of a word search



These same boys have now gone away to create crosswords using Eclipse crosswords. This is a tool I have used many times to generate crosswords as extension activities. Our student book club boys have created some, based on books they have been reading, recently as well.

These new crosswords will be shared with the class next week. Eclipse offers another very simple tool that allows boys to explore the language used in the novel.

Eclipse crossword 2016-html

Black Dog Gang: a story of Sydney life in 1900’s. Book review

We are always looking for books to engage our boys. The Premiers’ Reading Challenge is being promoted to classes this week,. It has been a good time for revisiting some of the literature we have added to our collection and promote books that appeal to our boys. Robert Newton‘s books Runner and The Black Dog Gang are two great Australian stories.

If you are interested there is a review here and some teaching notes from Penguin here

The Black Dog GangThe Black Dog Gang by Robert Newton My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is a fast paced and gritty historical novel set in Sydney in 1900. It is also a story about friendship, loyalty and the bonds that can form in harsh conditions. The world the boys in the book inhabit is full of poverty, dirt and hard-work. Frankie Maguire relates the story of his gang. There are 5 boys from shabby inner city Sydney who form a friendship and bond together. They experience bullying and violence and name their gang after a pirate from the “Treasure Island” story.
At this time Sydney is panicked by an outbreak of Bubonic Plague and there is a bounty of 6 pence on rats. The boys set about making money by finding and catching rats. They come up with an interesting money-making scheme along the way. The era has been well-researched and the characters are believable and likeable. There are wonderful descriptions of school and family life and a rather gross description of the rats eating cats (our boys rather like that). The dialogue is also rich with colloquial language and terms of the time.
This is an interesting story about a time in Australian history that most us know little about today.

View all my reviews

Review: Night Break (Young Sherlock Holmes #8)

Our book/reading group has been reading and reviewing quite a few books this term. This is one of mine.

This is the eighth book in the Young Sherlock Holmes series. As with the other stories in this series the period detail is well-researched and convincing, the characters are engaging and the plotting is excellent.

Night Break (Young Sherlock Holmes, #8)

Night Break by Andrew Lane

In this story the Holmes brothers, Sherlock and  Mycroft, are called back to their family home for the funeral of their mother. They begin to prepare for her funeral and sort through what needs to be done as well as trying to decide how best to support their sister, Emma.
They are all dealing with a sense of loss so when Emma claims that faceless men are visiting the house Sherlock doesn’t believe her. However Sherlock investigates and discovers that three men in bizarre disguises have broken into the house in the middle of the night. When Sherlock finds them he is viciously attacked. The family seems to be caught up in some strange mystery that they have no understanding or knowledge of.
The next occurrence involves men, posing as builders, attacking their sister’s fiancé. Both Mycroft and Sherlock independently deduce that the mystery is somehow connected to the building of the Suez Canal. The paths they then follow turn out to be very different, as Sherlock, with his ever loyal friend Matty, setting out for Egypt, determined to discover just what is going on. He feels betrayed by his brother and follows his own instincts to get to the bottom of what is going on. The nature of loyalties and friendship is called into question before the book is finished.

View all my reviews

Made a few years ago, the trailer below is a good introduction to the series and should whet the appetite of all young crime and detective fiction readers

Review: Ranger’s Apprentice prequel. The Tournament at Gorlan

I have enjoyed John Flanagan’s Ranger’s Apprentice books from the start. It is a great series that the boys at my school really enjoy. I was very pleased to see that he has revisited this realm and to read more about the early days of some old friends.

An interview with John Flanagan is below and he talks about more ideas for novels.

Ranger’s Apprentice The Early Years 1: The Tournament at GorlanRanger’s Apprentice The Early Years 1: The Tournament at Gorlan by John Flanagan
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This book is a prequel to Ranger’s Apprentice series. It introduces young Rangers Halt and Crowley as they are wandering through the country after being dismissed from their jobs. They begin to develop a plan to thwart the contrivances of the sinister Baron Morgarath, who is disbanding the Rangers as part of a plan to take the throne. Baron Morgarath is a powerful and popular nobleman in Araluen and a formidable warrior. He is also a treacherous and ambitious tyrant, who will stop at nothing to get what he wants. The realm is in trouble.
Using subterfuge, Morgarath has King Oswald held as a prisoner in his castle and the rightful heir, Prince Duncan, is becoming more and more discredited as he seems to be engaged in criminal and thuggish behaviour in the North. This is not the Prince that Cowley knows and respects. Halt and Crowley decide seek out other former Rangers and hatch a plan to get to the bottom of the rumours about Prince Duncan, expose the nefarious dealings that Morgarath has been involved in and restore the true Rangers to their rightful places.
This book re-captured the spirit of the original Ranger’s Apprentice series and also filled in a lot of back-story about Halt, Cowley and Duncan as well as a young Baron Arald.
There was humour, especially in the witty banter between Halt and Crowley, and the action at the tournament towards the end of book was exciting enough for any adventure lover.
Another great addition to our library and it has already been borrowed and read by quite a few students, both younger and older ones.
View all my reviews

Ranger’s Apprentice The Early Years. Book 1 The Tournament at Gorlan

The Ranger’s Apprentce series has been a big hit at our school. many boys can’t wait to get their hands on the latest edition so I am looking forwarc to going home and reading my new title on my kindle.

The book trailer link was sent to me today that serves to pique my interest.

We have heard about how popular John Flanagan’s series is oerseas so I found this video interesting as well. This was published on YouTube on 13 Sep 2015. John Flanagan’s editor and publisher, Zoe, kept a video diary of her trip to the Netherlands with John to be guests of honour at Ranger’s Apprentice Day. WARNING: video contains juicy information that fans will love.