All The Books I Can Read

1 girl….2 many books!

Review: Sam Junior’s Day by Adam Crettenden

Sam Junior’s Day
Adam Crettenden
Self-published
2017, 25p
Copy courtesy of the author

Inspired by a true story, ‘Sam Junior’s Day’ shows a typical day in the life of the ultimate routine dog.

Sam’s busy and energetic day is fun, exciting and rewarding. He is a much-loved family member who is determined to please all who meet him.

Guaranteed to make you smile.

This is a bit of a first to me – I haven’t ever reviewed a children’s book before. Plenty of YA and even the odd MG title but not a children’s book. My kids are 8 and 5 and reading is something that I’m super vigilant about. Each of them are required to read each night for school – about 20 minutes for the oldest and maybe 10 for the youngest. My oldest child has gone far beyond the levels of readers that the school sends home and is now allowed to choose his own books. Mine and his teacher’s thoughts are that we don’t really mind what he’s reading, so long as it engages him and he is reading. He has an iPad and an app on it that enables him to read eBooks and he’s also figured out that when we go to the shops, he can ask for a book and his father and I will never say no. The purchasing of books is much encouraged in this house!

My youngest, Rory started school this year and has taken to reading with gusto. He loves it. He’s reward-oriented and I think he finds it very satisfying to learn new words and accomplish something by reading. He loves bringing home readers and library books and we’ve started visiting our local community library as well and he’s become very into the whole process.

When I received this book, I immediately knew that I would read it with Rory – it’s perfect for him. The sentences are short and simple but with just enough words he didn’t already know to make him feel challenged. He needs that fine line of being able to construct the sentences himself but also learning and exploring new words.

In short, this book is about a border collie named Sam Junior who does the same things every day at pretty much the same time. He’s a little dog of routine and I think it’s something that kids can easily relate to because they tend to do a lot of things at the same time each day as well – get up, eat breakfast, get dressed for school, brush teeth, hop in the car etc. We were able to go through all of the things that Sam Junior does in his day and apply them to our day and in some cases, to the day of our cat Loki. We don’t have a dog anymore (up until the past year we had 2 stunningly tempered greyhounds) but I think a lot of animals are, to some extent, creatures of habit. Many thrive on routine and expect the same things at each time of the day. To be honest, Rory is a creature of habit himself and this book is kind of relateable for kids in many ways, even if they don’t have a dog or any sort of pet. He was able to connect the different things he does at certain times of the day with what Sam was probably doing at the same time.

I really enjoyed the illustrations in this book and Rory did too! We each have our favourites – mine is the one where Sam chases bunnies, Rory’s is the one where he receives his late night snack. The colours are bold and eye catching and border collies are beautiful dogs. But the illustrator has also captured a mischievous, people-pleasing personality too which is easy to see.

It’d be remiss of me to review a picture book without including a few thoughts from someone who fits the target audience, so I asked Rory after we’d read through it a couple times over the past few weeks, what he thought and this was what he had to say:

“I like Sam because he does funny things. My favourite part is when he gets his bone and when he says he might eat the horse’s food. I also like when he goes in the car because he sits in the front seat like a person.”

Thumbs up from both of us!

8/10

Book #41 of 2017

Check out my Author Q&A with Adam Crettenden here

Buy Sam Junior’s Day on Kindle & iBooks

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Dead Men – Richard Pierce

Dead Men
Richard Pierce
Duckworth Overlook
2012, 284p
Copy courtesy of Bloomsbury ANZ

Adam Caird  is an unassuming sort of guy who spots an interesting woman on a train. When she ends up fainting, he helps her and takes her for something to eat, looking after her partially because he finds her interesting and in need of looking after and also because he finds her attractive. The woman is Henrietta “Birdie” Bowers, named for Antarctic explorer Henry “Birdie” Bowers by her explorer-obsessed father. For her whole life, Birdie has lived, breathed and obsessed over Antarctica. She and her father had booked a trip, convinced they could find the explorer’s resting place, forever under the ice in the shifting continent but her father died before their trip could come to fruition. A passionate artist, Birdie paints to fundraise for her trip to the South Pole and now that her father has gone, she substitutes Adam in his place. But first Adam has to prove himself to her, by brushing up on his history of Antarctica and ‘feeling’ the obsession. He either will find it, or he won’t – and Birdie isn’t interested unless he does.

There isn’t much Adam wouldn’t do for her, even though he knows her so little. He is so drawn to her and his obsession is first with her rather than the explorers but through his research he becomes passionate about it, sucked into the story of the men racing for the South Pole. The ‘original Birdie’ Bowers was part of Scott’s team, competing against a team led by an explorer named Roald Amundsen for bragging rights as the first to the South Pole. It’s hard not to get drawn into the mystery – why did Scott and his men perish so close to a depot that promised food and shelter? What happened to them in their last days on Earth? It’s not something that anyone knows for sure, but Birdie thinks that she can find out. She’s driven to find out – and luckily Adam is a computer programmer and he’s been tinkering around with a program that he thinks can pinpoint the location where the tent, encased in ice, would be now. So they have a starting point.

Dead Men tells the modern day story of Adam and Birdie and their quest to travel to the frozen wasteland of Antarctica to find the bodies of Captain Scott, leader of the expedition and the men who died with him. Woven into this are stories of history, the discovery of Scott’s body and his companions by fellow team members and their efforts to give them an ice burial and the fate of Roald Amundsen. Through the authors eyes, the reader is given an insight into early 1900’s exploration in Antarctica and what it must have been like to be held captive by this landscape.

Dead Men caught my eye because of the cover – that vast expanse of white and the tiny figure situated at the centre of geographical lines drawn on the page to depict the South Pole. I’m fascinated by Antarctica – who isn’t? It’s beautiful, primitive, mostly untouched thanks to The Antarctica Treaty which bans military activity, nuclear testing, nuclear waste disposal, weapons testing and mining. It’s promoted as a peaceful space, where research and science are given high priority. After reading this book, I googled flights to Antarctica (there are flyovers that leave from my city of Melbourne) so taken was I with the story of Birdie and Adam journeying there. I can’t see myself doing what they did, staying in tents and digging in the ice (I don’t like the cold!) but the idea of doing a flyover or something fascinates me! Unfortunately the prices quickly brought me back down to Earth and I’ve had to file that away in the “If I Ever Win Lotto” drawer.

But back to the book! It was hard not to get drawn into this story line here. Birdie is an interesting character, almost bi-polar in her mood swings (either very ‘up’ or very ‘down’) and she’s often childishly churlish but with a vibrant energy that somehow manages to redeem her, especially in Adam’s eyes. He puts up with a lot from Birdie, at times it was almost hard to imagine someone taking that much and coming back for more! This is balanced out by Adam being quite lonely, an isolated character who is fascinated and bewitched by Birdie’s personality. It took me a while to ‘get’ Birdie, I think that it wasn’t until they were well on their way to fulfilling their dream of going to Antarctica that I began to understand her and to see how she ticked. My sympathies were often with Adam, but by the end I enjoyed them a lot together and thought they complimented each other very well.

Interspersed with the story of Adam and Birdie are snippets from Captain Scott’s expedition and the men in his party who were left behind from the final trek to the South Pole, who discovered them when they failed to return, as well as interesting tidbits and explorations on Amundsen, the explorer who did reach the South Pole first and was later killed in a plane crash whilst going in to rescue a fellow explorer in distress. A blend of fact and speculation, these chapters certainly helped to flesh out the story line, to build the love and obsession for the wild, shifting ice that is Antarctica. It also helps highlight just what the conditions down there are like.

If you have even a passing interest in Antarctica, I’d recommend this book! I was interested because I always enjoy reading books set in places ‘outside the norm’ – I try and visit as many places through literature as I can. I think the blend of realism and fictional embellishment will also appeal to those who like their fiction grounded in truth when it deals with real events and real people.

8/10

Book #97 of 2012

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The Catastrophic History Of You And Me – Jess Rothenberg

The Catastrophic History Of You And Me 
Jess Rothenberg
Penguin AU
2012, 375p
Copy courtesy of the publisher

Brie is 15 and has everything to live for – a group of fantastic friends, a wonderful family and her first boyfriend. However when her boyfriend breaks up with her one night over dinner, Brie’s heart breaks. Literally. A lot of teens have thought they might die of a broken heart, but Brie actually does die and when they investigate, the films show she suffered catastrophic heart damage.

She finds herself in a sort of limbo in an alternate universe, hanging out in her favourite pizza place with a bunch of others in the same position as her. There’s a young boy who plays a Nintendo DS, a girl similar in age to Brie…and Patrick. Patrick looks around 17 and he is the first to approach Brie, declaring himself her after-life guardian. He’s a joker, a bit of a trickster with a wicked sense of humour but also a softer side, looking out for Brie as she attempts to negotiate her surroundings and what happened to her. She’s able to go and visit her loved ones, to see what they’re doing and what they’re up to without her and when she declares she wants revenge on her former boyfriend, Patrick is all about helping her get her emotions out and have a little catharsis. But when Brie wants to take it too far, Patrick has reservations and tells her that she needs to reign it in and move forward through her stages of grief.

But Brie isn’t ready to move onto acceptance yet and she banishes Patrick just as cruelly as her boyfriend dumped her when she was still alive. Left alone now to wander the streets, Brie thinks she’s found a friend, someone who understands her and the way she feels. What she doesn’t realise is that she’s about to get herself into a very, very dangerous situation and the only one that can help her is the one she’s sent away. When Brie goes searching for Patrick she will find that they share more of a connection than she ever could’ve thought possible and that maybe, just maybe, there’s a chance at a happy ever after for her.

I was really excited when I received a review copy of this book because it’s one that has generated steady interest around the book bloggers and I’d heard some pretty fantastic things about it from those who’d been lucky enough to have already read it. It sounded so interesting, different from a lot of the YA that I am currently reading. I had some pretty high expectations and it’s always awesome when a book meets them all!

I found Brie’s pain and bewilderment so well written and easy to sympathize with. She’s so young, so much of her life had lay ahead of her and she’s had all of that taken away from her and now she’s alone in limbo, not sure of what to do next or how to proceed. She’s befriended by Patrick, who is a larger than life personality and confident, well used to doing…whatever it is people do after losing their life. At first Brie is reluctant, she isn’t interested in Patrick’s listing of the stages of grief and his assessment of where she is at, nor does she want him to bother her until it seems that Patrick knows how to get her back to a position where she can see her family – and take revenge on her boyfriend.

Although he could be a bit grating at times, I loved Patrick. If I’d been Brie, there would’ve been times I wanted to send him away too, because at times he was so cheerful and joking that you could just tell that Brie wasn’t ready for it. There was such a lovely depth to him though and I couldn’t help but choke up during the scene when Brie sends him away from her, because his hurt is so perfectly played. Brie doesn’t understand the depths of his devastation at the time, but when she realises what a horrible mistake she’s made, she goes back to find out the truth about Patrick and discovers in turn, the truth about herself.

The Catastrophic History Of You And Me is a fantastic debut, written with humour and also perfectly balanced sadness and emotion. Nailing the grieving teenager is difficult – nailing the grieving teenager who has also just lost her life, is probably next to impossible but I think Jess Rothenberg does an amazing job. I also loved the little added touch of the chapter titles, which are all lines from songs (and you can find a comprehensive list of the songs, their artists, the album each song appeared on and the year of release at the back of the book).

Thoroughly enjoyed this one and highly recommend it.

8/10

Book #49 of 2012

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