writer, editor & phd candidate

Category: Genre: Adventure

Review: The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon

Author: Stephen King
Read: 7th-8th June, 2020
Published: 1999
Setting: Contemporary New England, USA

Key Words:

  • child protagonist
  • lost child
  • suspense
  • supernatural (maybe)
  • divorce
  • isolation
  • survival
  • bad parenting
  • poor decisions


  • good writing
  • overlong
  • excellent sense of place

Review: Lord of the Flies

lordfliesI found this pretty disappointing, to be honest, and I’m not sure how much of that is due to it being a bit dated in the modern era of more explicit violence and horror and how much of it is just my own tastes. The thing is, I generally really appreciate it when things are left up to the reader to read between the lines and to understand, instead of be told, but here it felt more like unfinished plots and ideas. I needed to know more about why exactly the boys were on the island to accept it as the basic premise, I needed Simon’s story to be related in a clearer manner and I needed there to be more consistency when it came to the narrative. At times, there were chunks of purple prose thrust into the story as description, but at other times there was a coarseness to the narrative that indicated it was being told with the voices of its characters. To me, that meant that neither style entirely rang true.

I do believe, though, that part of the reason Lord of the Flies didn’t work for me was that its depiction of violence and the “beast” inside humankind just doesn’t scare the modern reader. It shies away from description when it talks of violence against humans, which is particularly interesting when the pig hunting is narrated with great relish. (I personally skipped those scenes, because I can’t deal with cruelty to animals, even in fiction.) We know the twins have been hurt, but we’re given no hint of how. I understand the boys’ unwillingness to think about what happened during the ‘dance’ after the fact but, for a modern reader, accustomed to graphic depictions of violence on the news, let alone in fiction, the dance itself is powerless. As for the inner beast, I wasn’t fully convinced by the book’s depiction of it. I personally needed a greater attention to the changing psychology of the characters. I wanted more of a journey, and I think that could have been achieved by narrowing the focus to fewer boys. (Also, when you have a large cast, naming characters Ralph, Roger and Robert is just plain confusing.)

I’m sad that Lord of the Flies was a bit ‘meh’ for me, because I’d always thought it sounded right up my alley – both as a reader and as a writer. Perhaps the true glimpse of human nature can be found in the fact that I needed it to be darker and more messed-up for it to work.

Review: White Fright – Petra James

White Fright book coverThree books into the series, I think it’s safe to say that I’m a fan of Arkie Sparkle. Sometimes a book series will have lost its initial momentum by this point, but I found that I enjoyed White Fright more than Time Trap, which is particularly impressive given that I enjoyed Time Trap more than the first book, Code Crimson. The characters have definitely come into their own by this point, and there is little need for scene-setting, so the reader is thrust straight into the action.

While the other books have largely concentrated on brilliant technology and journeys back in time, White Fright moves away from this formula a little, focussing instead upon the mystery surrounding the kidnapping of Arkie’s parents and the clues that the two cousins have to work with. This was a change that worked well for me, as the mystery captured my interest right from the beginning, and I’ve been jumping to conclusions ever since!

A new character is introduced here, which adds a whole new dimension to the story. What seemed like a fairly simple mystery in the beginning is now becoming quite complex and interesting. There’s also a little more discussion of Arkie’s emotional reaction to the loss of her parents, as would be expected as the initial excitement of the treasure hunt wears off and the reality of the situation begins to sink in. I enjoyed the glimpses into her family’s back story and the hints at the strong relationship that she has with her parents.

Most importantly, however, the Arkie Sparkle, Treasure Hunter series continues to be interesting, educational and a whole lot of fun. The plot is thickening, the cast list is growing and there are still four more days to go. I can’t wait to see where the girls end up next.

Meanwhile, if you’re on Tumblr (or just on the Internet!) there’s now an Arkie Sparkle blog to follow, complete with fun facts and character information. You can find it at http://arkiesparkle.com.

Review: Time Trap, by Petra James

Time Trap book coverThese books are just so much fun. I read the first book in the series, Code Crimson last month, and thoroughly enjoyed it, and Time Trap is even better. Because there’s no need to set up the situation, the book can launch right into the next adventure, which means that the same exciting momentum is maintained throughout. Anyone who missed the original will not be completely lost, however, as the two main characters, Arkie and TJ, sum up the vital points at the beginning of this instalment.

After heading to Egypt in Code Crimson, Arkie and TJ are off to ancient China in Time Trap. I hadn’t been expecting to enjoy the new location quite as much, but I was proven wrong, with the plot providing plenty of interest even without a pre-existing interest in China to build upon. What’s more, I felt like I actually learnt something, without it ever seeming like I was being taught. I really enjoy the way the Arkie Sparkle series presents its readers with snippets of information about the places that the girls visit – both in terms of their present and their history. The little facts at the end are particularly good, and just the sort of thing that is enjoyed by young readers.

Arkie and TJ are still very likeable characters, and the new characters introduced in Time Trap are well chosen, with the First Emperor and his Chief Advisor being worthy villains and the scholars Lu Sheng and Fu Su providing insight into life at that time. I really think the amazing technology that Arkie and TJ use is the real star of the series, however. The inventions are just so quirky and fun.

My only disappointment with Time Trap was the fact that the ending felt a little abrupt. I would have liked the danger to be a little more imminent, to add to the excitement. That’s a minor quibble, though. I really do enjoy this series, and would happily recommend it to all young readers.

(I received a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.)

Review: Code Crimson – Petra James

Code Crimson book coverI was sold on the new Arkie Sparkle, Treasure Hunter series the moment I read that it involved archaeology and a treasure hunt that spans all seven continents. I’d have been all over these books as a kid, and they hold a good deal of appeal for me as an adult, as well. So many books aimed at young girls seem to take femininity to extremes. There’s a place for fairies and princesses and pink satin dresses, but when I was that age I wanted to read tales of great adventure, with female protagonists who solved mysteries and climbed mountains, instead of waiting around to be rescued by a prince.

Code Crimson is just that kind of novel. Aimed at ages seven and up, it’s a chapter book with fun illustrations, handwriting-font interjections and additional information such as the NATO phonetic alphabet. There’s even a short factual section at the end of the book, which gives just the right amount of information about the real people and archaeological finds that formed the inspiration for the book’s action.

The action itself is very fun, with Arkie and her cousin heading off to Egypt in the family supersonic jet in order to hunt treasure and eventually achieve the return of Arkie’s kidnapped parents. If the jet isn’t exciting enough for young readers, the treasure hunters are also equipped with time travelling technology and umbrellas that act like helicopters – plenty of gimmicks and gadgets to add a strong science fiction element to the adventure plot.

Although it’s only a short tale, as you’d expect for the audience it’s aimed at, Code Crimson manages to fit in a lot of action and does a great job of introducing the series’s main characters without it ever feeling forced. I think the Arkie Sparkle, Treasure Hunter books will prove a hit with young readers – and the low price point of the first book should prove just as pleasing to the parents who will be buying it!

(I received a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.)

Review: Treasure Island – Robert Louis Stevenson

Treasure Island book coverThis is not going to be a proper review, because WOW did I struggle to finish this book. I’ve been liking or loving most of the books on my 100 Books To Read Before I Die list so far, but I just couldn’t stand Treasure Island. I had to force myself to sit down and read a mere ten pages every night, because otherwise I was never going to finish it. The most amusing part is that a children’s story was the novel that almost spelled doom for my list!

It’s only fair to say that I was biased against Treasure Island from the beginning, because I am just not a piratey person. I can’t stand it when they’re raised up as wonderful, fun-loving characters for kids, because it goes in the face of the actual reality of piracy but, more relevantly to this novel, I also find them really dull when they’re playing the baddies.

I took exactly six months to read Treasure Island, which says it all when it’s only 160 pages long. I found the dialogue grating and convoluted, the action not very active and the backstory far too long compared to the actual journey and time on the island. What’s more, I didn’t like the protagonist at all. My favourite part of the book was when the ship’s doctor took over as narrator for a while.

Treasure Island is a much-loved classic, so obviously there are a lot of people out there who hold very different opinions about this book to my own. I’m interested to read The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde later in my 100 Books journey, to see whether I’m more fond of Robert Louis Stevenson’s style when pirates are not involved.

Review: The Tunnels of Tarcoola – Jennifer Walsh

The Tunnels of Tarcoola book coverWhen Allen & Unwin announced the release of The Tunnels of Tarcoola, I knew I needed to read it, because it sounded just like a modern, Australian version of all of the Enid Blyton adventure and mystery stories I adored as a kid and still gain a great amount of pleasure from as an adult. Luckily, once I got my hands on a copy, I wasn’t disappointed at all. Jennifer Walsh has done a great job of taking a tried and true format for children’s mystery fiction and updating it to make it her own.

One of the great things about The Tunnels of Tarcoola is the way that it has such a strong sense of place. Set in Sydney, it has a very Australian feel with a solid historical foundation. Much of the mystery in the novel concerns events that happened during the Second World War, and Walsh does an admirable job of explaining the basics of the war to young readers without it feeling too didactic at the expense of plot or action. I was particularly impressed by the appropriately age-targeted Holocaust discussion.

While the mystery that the friends stumble upon has its roots in the past, the novel remains relevant to modern readers due to to its engaging characters. It takes a little while for the reader to get to learn about the cast’s individual quirks, but the characters are well distinguished both in terms of personality and their interactions with each other. There’s a very small amount of romance here, but it’s at an age appropriate level and doesn’t detract at all from the main focusses of the novel.

I did feel a little uneasy about the use of the term ‘slutty’ at one point, particularly as it was used to describe a group of twelve-year-old girls. It’s misogynistic at the best of times and, given its meaning, I don’t think the word has a place in a middle-grade novel. Likewise, the recurring theme of the police being dismissed as an option because they wouldn’t do anything about crimes against children struck me as being a dangerous opinion to be put forward in a book for young people – especially when it is a parent figure expressing that point of view. That said, I understand why this stance was taken in terms of plot advancement.

All in all, however, The Tunnels of Tarcoola was an extremely enjoyable read, with a great mystery and characters that are easy to become invested in – from Kitty, David, Andrea and Martin right through to the elderly Clarissa Woolf. There’s plenty of action and exploration, too, which ensures that it really is a worthy addition to the children’s mystery genre.

I would have no hesitation in recommending The Tunnels of Tarcoola to middle grade readers – or, indeed, to people of all ages who love the Famous Five books and other Enid Blyton series.

(I received a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.)

Review: The Railway Children – E. Nesbit

I’ve always loved E. Nesbit’s stories, but somehow missed reading this one until now. Just as lovely and old-fashioned as the rest.

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