Book Reviews

Book Review: Lone Wolf by Robert Muchamore

lone wolf

Lone Wolf by Robert Muchamore

This is the fourth book in the second CHERUB series, but the first one not connected to the Aramov clan. Instead this one, which concentrated on drug dealers, served as a bit of a cleanser after the intensity of the first three. It also served as an introduction to James Adams: Mission Controller.

Although I enjoyed the Aramov storyline, I did find it a little dense at times – I would spend a fair bit of time trying to remember which character was which and who was aligned with who. (Part of this was because I wasn’t rereading the books like I might have in the past.) I’m not sure Muchamore’s at his strongest across multiple books, though. In this story our agents are in position to engage with a highly organised drug ring, and a teenaged girl who used to work with her mother and then her aunt in opposition to the ring.

James as a mission controller works for me – he’s younger (I believe) than other ones we’ve seen, but there’s an element of his behaviour which makes me think of Zara or Ewart from the early books. Some of the reminders about his past as a CHERUB agent were a little over-laboured in the writing – even those who haven’t read the first series would be able to pick that up before the last couple of chapters when we’re reminded of it, yet again.

I still don’t feel like Ryan has been completely fleshed out the way characters were in the first series. Maybe because I haven’t reread them as much, but he often just feels like James v.2 – which is kind of boring since a) we’ve read those books and b) James is right there. Ning is a much more fascinating character, but this was a plot heavy book rather than a character development one, so we didn’t see a huge amount of that.

The plot was downright fun. It’s hard not to compare it to Class A, but this felt like it was amped up to a higher level. It feels like Muchamore is happier to hurt his characters now, and they seem to engage in riskier behaviour. There were points where I wondered whether James would get a dressing down for allowing his agents to get into such dangerous situations – there didn’t seem to be the same evaluation of the risk as in the first series.

This is a series I used to recommend to my students a lot – it was a ‘gateway’ series for a lot of students who weren’t really into reading. The characters feel realistic, they fight, swear, drink and get together. The plots are usually tightly written, but there’s not a huge amount of inference required. The action scenes are particularly good – I’d imagine a lot of readers can ‘see’ them when they’re reading. As this later series gets into the life of an adult James and with the riskier behaviour, I’d say it’s definitely better for teenagers and up, while the early books of the first series are better for the younger readers.


Advent Calendar Book Reviews: Day 7 – The Monster at the End of this Book by Jon Stone

In the lead up to Christmas, I’ll be sharing short reviews of great books and who they’d be perfect for. Find the master list here

Day Seven – The Monster at the End of This Book by Jon Stone


Genre – Picture Book

There was, apparently, a whole range of Sesame Street books written – but while I remember this one from my childhood, I don’t remember any others. This is the one which managed to break beyond the fact it ‘belonged’ to a television show, and reached out to children (including my sister and myself) in a very real way.

I think the secret lies with two things – there’s the breaking of the fourth wall (much like ‘Don’t Let the Pigeon‘) which lets Grover talk directly to us – to tell us that there’s a monster at the end of the book and that he’s scared of that. Then there’s the ‘interactive’ aspect (like Tap the Magic Tree), where turning the page ‘destroys’ walls and other means to try and stop the reader from turning the page. Plus there’s a really jovial feeling with this book, although Grover is scared, the reader knows that everything will probably be ok at the end.

We actually have this one as a board book, and Squirm loves looking through it – it’s exactly the right size for his little hands and it’s quite a sturdy book.

Highly recommended for toddlers and preschoolers – it’s also brilliant for parents to read aloud and children to turn the pages!


Advent Calendar Book Reviews: Day 6 – The Pigeon books by Mo Willems

In the lead up to Christmas, I’ll be sharing short reviews of great books and who they’d be perfect for. Find the master list here

Day Six: The Pigeon books by Mo Willems


Genre – Picture Book

It all started with Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus. This mischievous pigeon, who would do almost anything in his quest to convince you to let him drive the bus, worked his way into my heart. I felt for him, wanted to make him happy, even while I denied his bus driver dreams. Then I refused to let him stay up late, and um-ed and ah-ed about letting him have a puppy, and -sadly- laughed at his pain when he came across a duckling even more persuasive than he was.

Mo Willem’s Pigeon is a child favourite for a reason. He breaks the fourth wall and pleads directly with the reader. The illustrations are so basic (try drawing the pigeon – it’s quite easy) but so emotive – you know exactly what the Pigeon is thinking all the time. My toddler loves him, Grade 3 students who looked at it in detail loved him, my Grade 5,6 and 7 students loved him, all the adults I know love him.

If you know a child who hasn’t met the Pigeon yet, you really, really need to buy a copy of one of the books for them. Go on, you know you want to. Your mother would do it. Please!

Highly recommended for absolutely everyone


Advent Calendar Book Reviews: Day 5 – CHERUB by Robert Muchamore

In the lead up to Christmas, I’ll be sharing short reviews of great books and who they’d be perfect for. Find the master list here

Day Five: CHERUB by Robert Muchamore


Genre – Young Adult Fiction Novels

I can’t believe I’m still recommending these – but there’s a very good reason for that! The books, which now make a lengthy series (plus a follow on, prequel type series)  follow James – an impulsive, somewhat troubled 11 year old who gets into a tonne of trouble after the death of his mother. James is headed for a worrying future, when he wakes up and finds himself in a strange environment, surrounded by kids who can’t talk to him.

Turns out that CHERUB wants him. And what’s CHERUB? Well it’s a spy agency where the spies are all children and teenagers.  And the series follows them through their adventures, their ups and downs and just what teenaged spies do in their rest time.

These books were always huge successes with Year 7s in my classroom. There’s some more adult stuff in the later books, so parents might want to read them before passing them onto their kids.

Highly recommended for teenagers and nearly teenagers. Plus anyone who likes spy books.


Advent Calendar Book Reviews: Day 4 – Cathy Cassidy Books

In the lead up to Christmas, I’ll be sharing short reviews of great books and who they’d be perfect for. Find the master list here

Day Four: Books by Cathy Cassidy


Genre – Middle School Fiction Novels

One of my wonderful students introduced me to the author Cathy Cassidy. She was adamant that I would enjoy her books – and she was absolutely right.  Cathy Cassidy writes about interesting kids, from diverse and different backgrounds. They have challenges thrown at them and usually there’s a romance involved in some way or another, and things end up mostly ok by the end. They’re great escaping books – not too heavy, but not too light, and a great insight into the lives of other kids.

These books would be brilliant for children aged from around 9 or 10 (she has written a series for younger kids too). They would probably mostly appeal to girls, although the stories are quite universal for all kids. They aren’t terribly well known in Australian, although they were readily available in some bookshops a few years ago

Highly recommended for girls aged 9 – 15


Squirm’s Book Reviews: Imagination Edition

Each week I review books we’ve read with Squirm. Find other reviews here

Imagine a Day by Sarah L Thomson and Rob Gonsalves


Imagine a day . . . . . . When you can dive
down through branches
or swim up
to the sun

This beautiful book matches simple, poem like text with some of the most amazing art work I’ve seen in a picture book. The art work – the real star of this book – takes the reader into a magical world where things aren’t exactly as they seem. Instead bridges are actually made of people, standing tall on top of each other; blue balloons can turn grey skies blue, and children can build cities out of alphabet blocks.

The illusions in the painting almost creep up on you, and you can spend ages looking at them and trying to work out just how the artist has created them. It would be an amazing book to use with art activities, especially if you took time to look at other art illusions like these. Squirm was too little to really understand the illusions, but he loved the colourful art, and the poem-like quality of the text lulled and calmed him as he went off to sleep.

(You can find Rob Gonsalves’ Official Facebook page – with lots of art – here)


Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak




When Max wore his wolf suit and made mischief of one kind or another, his mother called him a wild thing and sent him to bed without eating. But then Max finds himself in his little boat, sailing across the seas to where the Wild Things are.

I can’t believe I haven’t reviewed this book before! It’s an absolute classic and there’s a very good reason why. The art work, while relatively simple (especially compared to Gonsalves’ work!) is wonderfully evocative, and the sparse text allows plenty of room for imagination, while allowing older children to read along. And of course, there’s the wonderful ending, when Max comes home to a hot supper – that moment which reminds the parents reading it, just what it was like to be a child.

There’s a few books I think every child should experience, and this is definitely one of them. If you haven’t got a copy yet, head out and get yourself one!

Advent Calendar Book Reviews: Day 3 – That’s Not My . . . Series

In the lead up to Christmas, I’ll be sharing short reviews of great books and who they’d be perfect for. Find the master list here

Day Three: That’s Not My . . . Series


Genre – Baby/Toddler/Preschooler Board Book

These wonderful books (and there’s a lot of them) have a familiar refrain. From the front cover we are introduced to the premise – That’s not my . . . because it’s coat is too furry or feet are too scratchy or it’s wheels are too bumpy. Accompanying the words is a lovely textured section which just invites the reader to reach out and touch. This is repeated page after page until the last page when we meet ‘my’ robot or frog or puppy or penguin.

Squirm absolutely adores these books – he was gifted his first ones and then we managed to add to our collection thanks to the 5 for $20 deal at Big W. They’re wonderful to read together, but Squirm has also really enjoyed reading them on his own – they’re just the right size for him to handle and turn the pages, and because the pages are thick, he hasn’t been able to damage them by chewing them!

If you can get your hands on some of these, I can’t recommend them enough. They also make wonderful presents if you know any babies or toddlers who love sensory experiences!

Highly recommended for babies and toddlers. And people who like sensory experiences!

Advent Calendar Book Reviews: Day 2 – Caps for Sale by Esphyr Slobodkina

In the lead up to Christmas, I’ll be sharing short reviews of great books and who they’d be perfect for. Find the master list here

Day Two: Caps for Sale by Esphyr Slobodkina

Adventures of a Subversive Reader: Caps for Sale

Genre – Junior Picture Book

There once was a peddler who sold caps of different colours. However, he was different from other peddlers because he wore them on his head. One day, when sales were bad, he sat down to rest under a tree. Only that tree contained some very mischievous monkeys who had a fondness for caps.

This classic picture book is a big favourite in our house. The illustrations are relatively simple, with a muted colour palette. Squirm loves reading the part with the monkeys and the way they interact with the hapless peddler. I’d imagine as children got older they would be happy to join in with telling the story and supplying the actions – especially if they’d heard it a few times.

Highly recommended for babies, toddlers, preschoolers and early primary – they can all get something out of this lovely book.

Advent Calendar Book Reviews: Day 1 – Smile by Raina Telgemeier

In the lead up to Christmas, I’ll be sharing short reviews of great books and who they’d be perfect for. Find the master list here

Day One: Smile by Raina Telgemeier

Advent Calender Book Reviews - Smile -Adventures of a Subversive Reader

Genre – Middle School Graphic Novel

Raina just wants to be a normal sixth grader. But after a nasty fall, she injures her two front teeth, beginning a long journey with specialists, braces and other dental paraphernalia. Plus there’s friends who might not be friends, boys who might be friends or might be more and a major earthquake to deal with.

This is an incredibly sweet story which is told incredibly well with simple but beautifully drawn panels. This was an amazingly popular book in my classroom, with students finding something to connect with in it, even if they hadn’t had their own dental dramas. It was also a great book for those who were less enthusiastic about reading.

Highly recommended for upper primary and lower secondary students. Also for anyone who went through dental dramas as a kid. Or anyone who has ever been a kid 🙂

Squirm’s Book Reviews: Tap the Tree Edition

Each week I review books we’ve read with Squirm. Find other reviews here

Tap The Magic Tree by Christie Matheson

Tap the Magic Tree - Squirm's Book Reviews - Adventures of a Subversive Reader

There’s magic in this bare brown tree. Tap it once. Turn the page to see.

This magical book invites the reader to get involved, to tap and swish their way through the pages, as a tree moves from bare to full of leaves, flowers and fruit and back to bare again. It’s not a long, or a complicated story, but rather an interaction, a way of connecting movement to the (usually) rather still act of reading.

I’m going to address up front my one annoyance with the book. Right there in the front was a rather limited age recommendation – 4-8 years old. I disagree with this. I think a book which is so beautiful and which manages to be so clever and simple at the same time, appeals to a much wider range of people. The large and uncomplicated illustrations are as eye catching to a baby or toddler as they are to an adult. Similarly, it’s easy to be enchanted by the book’s commands to shake and tap and blow, no matter how old you are. Squirm (at 15 months) was utterly engaged with it, while Mr Pilot and I were both interested in what would happen next. Age recommendations are fine as a guideline, but I’m sure there’s many people who would feel limited by them and would pass over a wonderful book like this because their children didn’t meet the right age.

I’d be very sad if people did pass over this one, because it was a very lovely read. It gently moved us from one stage of the tree to the next, relying on visual literacy as well as the short commands. Squirm was too young (and in the bath, so too wet) to do the taping and brushing himself, but he loved watching me do it (especially the counting to ten and blowing the kiss) and I’m sure if we read it together a few times, he’d soon join in. I think this book would work beautifully with groups of children too – it would be fantastic for learning about trees and seasons, and I can just imagine groups of children with their hands in the air getting involved with the book.

We’re definitely going to buy this one for ourselves (we were reading a library copy) and I’d definitely recommed getting a copy for yourself. (Also, I think it’s time to campaign for this to be a board book! It would be 100% perfect for that)