‘Middle School: The Worst Years of my Life’ by James Patterson

This comedic book is hilarious, interesting and all round incredible. James Patterson has found a way to make you laugh while making you think. It’s a very funny book. It’s also a rebellious book. It appeals to me and I expect it’d appeal to anyone in their middle school years. As I’m Irish, I don’t get any of specific references to elementary school, middle school and grades – we call them different things.
The book is full of cartoons. I used to read lots of these types of books. I think this is what makes this book this book (if you get me). Now I’m older I use my own imagination while reading, but pictures help younger kids (like my sisters).
The book is based on a really good idea. It is about 12 year old Rafe Khatchadorian who has an amazing creative imagination. He’s a good character. It’s Rafe’s first day of 6th grade in his new school. I expect many kids feel a bit odd on their first day and so does Rafe. When I say many kids, I mean the new kids with no actual school friends.
Things get worse because Miller the Killer, a bully, is already onto him even though he’s trying not to get noticed.
Rafe’s only friend, Leo the Silent, is imaginary. This doesn’t stop them being great friends! Their relationship is a bit weird (of course!).
Jeanne, one of the prettiest girls in the school, doesn’t know he exists. He wants her to though.
From Rafe’s point of view, 6th grade is like being in a prison. The teachers in the school seem intent on making the students obey many rules – and there really are a lot of rules. Rafe thinks up an idea which he calls Operation R.A.F.E. The objective is to break every single rule in the school. Leo and Rafe think up funny ways to do this.
At home, Rafe lives with his Mum, his little sister, Georgina, and his lazy Mum’s boyfriend, ‘Bear’. Rafe starts to get into trouble for breaking the rules and his Mum freaks out. Eventually Rafe stops Operation R.A.F.E. and tries to cool it down to normal. But it’s not going very well; it seems he’s going to flunk 6th grade, so with Leo’s help, he comes up with a major plan.
He draws loads onto one of the school walls. He thinks it’s amazing but his teachers don’t. Then, that night, Bear hurts his Mum in a fight and he calls the police. His Mum kicks Bear out of the house.
Rafe is going to get expelled from his school. This isn’t so bad because Rafe’s art teacher recommends an art school he can go to.
I recommend this book if you like funny, rebellious, book. This series of books has been very successful. There’s even a movie. I’ve seen a bit of it and it was funny but not as funny as the book.

Review by 12 year old Finn Buck.

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‘The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe’ by C.S. Lewis

This fantastic book really packs a punch. It has a great storyline set in an amazing fantasy world. I love the idea of it all. There’s a whole world of ideas here. Everything in the book just comes together so well. It’s like an emotional rollercoaster. At times it’s sad; at times its happy and so on. It has really great characters which, even though it’s a fantasy book, would not seem out of place in the non-fantasy world (with the exception of the supernatural creatures – who’d probably find our world weird!). The characters just seem to jump off the page and come to life in your head.

It’s set in England during World War Two where four siblings: Peter, Susan, Edmund and Lucy have moved to a professor’s house in the countryside to get away from German air raids (my Grandad was sent to Ireland, so I get this). They are a bit bored in the house (no TV!). To pass the time, they run around the house playing hide and seek. When I got to this bit, I started thinking: ‘where’s the wardrobe?’ You can’t help it – this is such a famous book. It was read to me when I was younger.

Anyway, Lucy decides to hide in a wardrobe (!) and it turns out this is a gateway to a mythical world called Narnia. In Narnia it’s winter. Lucy finds herself in this snowy place. She looks around and sees a strange man thing called Mr Tumnus. He’s a Faun (half man, half goat). Lucy is utterly shocked, but Mr Tumnus is extremely nice and kind to her. He tells her that Narnia is in winter all the time at the moment because of the evil snow queen. Lucy spends quite a while talking, but she gets cold and wants to go home. She walks back into the magic woods.

When Lucy gets back through the wardrobe into the professor’s house, it turns out she has only been gone for a minute; when she thinks it was hours! She thinks she has time to go in again and does, but this time Edmund follows her. His timing is terrible – the evil Snow Queen arrives and talks to him. She gives him magical Turkish delight and hot chocolate. The are so lovely they just make him want more no matter what. He’s addicted! He wants more so badly, he’ll do anything the snow queen wants. She keeps asking questions. He tells her about his family.

She promises him more of the magical treats if he brings his siblings to her. He agrees. It isn’t him who brings them to Narnia, its actually, if you can believe it, some sort of weird paranormal activity (Narnia is not a normal place and you get there in weird ways). They all find themselves in Narnia.

Almost as soon as they arrive, they meet a talking beaver who tells them to come to his house. When they get to the talking beaver’s, they talk about going to find Aslan the Lion at a place where there’s a stone table. I think Aslan is mean to be kind of like a god.

Edmund, being addicted to those treats, slips off to tell the Snow Queen where the others are and that they are going to the stone table. This time he doesn’t get more Turkish Delight; instead he gets bread and finds himself a prisoner. The Snow Queen sends some wolves to the beaver’s house. Luckily, they have already left and are on their way to the stone table. On the way, they meet Father Christmas who gives them all presents! Peter gets a sword, Susan gets a bow and quiver and Lucy is given a dagger and healing potion. This bit of the book makes you smile.

While that is happening, the Snow Queen is fast making her way after them. When the kids make it to the stone table, the Snow Queen’s wolves attack, but they are beaten by the forces of Aslan’s warriors. The free Edmund. They meet Aslan at the stone table. He talks to Edmund who realises what he has done.

Aslan also talks to the Snow Queen. Nobody realises it then, but Aslan has agreed to be sacrificed on the stone table. They move away from the stone table to the side of a river where they make camp. That night, the girls, Susan and Lucy, can’t sleep. They go with Aslan as he walks toward the stone table. They reach a point  where he says they cannot go any further; they follow him anyway and see him being sacrificed.

Aslan comes back to life through some magic (it’s not clear). They go to the Snow Queen’s palace to free prisoners who have been frozen in ice. There are a lot of prisoners- enough for a small army. This is good news, because Aslan needs them. There is a battle going on  between the Snow Queen’s army and Aslan’s forces. Peter and Edmund are fighting with Aslan. Peter is using his new sword. They win the battle.

For some reason the four siblings become the kings and queens of Narnia. It turns out that in Narnia time, they’ve been there for years. When they go back home to their world they are kids again and literally no time has passed since they went in.

I highly recommend this book if you like fantasy and adventure. Don’t be put off with it being an old book. It’s a famous book for a reason. It doesn’t seem old when you read it. It’s also a series of books and it has been turned into movies. C.S. Lewis is also an unusual and brave writer because in later books he gets rid of a few characters. Compare this to Harry Potter which keeps the same main characters throughout the entire series. I think this is a good idea as it leaves every kid thinking: ‘it could be me next!’

Review by 12 year old Finn Buck.

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‘I am Number Four’ by Pittacus Lore

This is a fascinating book. I loved it; it’s super good. It pulls you in – by the end you’re screaming for more, you don’t want the book to end. Sadly, it had to. I could have read another 100 pages at least. The imagination and thought put into it is clear as soon as you open the book. It is all incredible. The story flows through the pages and you flow with it. Pittacus Lore (must be a pen name!) has turned a simple idea into a roaring adventure.

On the downside, it was hard to fully follow the story at some points (though you will really want to) and you, like me,  may find yourself skipping on from more boring parts to more interesting parts.

It is about an Alien boy called ‘Four’ who is from the planet Lorien. Lorien was once beautiful mostly because the inhabitants did away with pollutants, weapons and anything harmful to the environment. The people of Lorien evolved and most managed to get powers called legacies, but some didn’t. Those with the powers are the Garde and those without are the Cedan species.

The story takes place 11 years after Lorien has been attacked by another alien race called the Mogadorians. They who were in need of resources because of their dying planet and they massacred almost every Lorien on the planet; they left just eighteen alive: nine young from the Garde and nine from the Cedan – the Cedan mind the Garde.

Their planet has been made a wasteland, so the survivors have moved to Earth. Four is one of them. The nine can only be killed in numerical order and 1,2 and 3 are already dead: Four is next.

He is starting to gain his legacies and to settle into the new town where he moved to with his Cepan, Henri. His new identity is John Smith. He was nearly found by the Mogadorians once and it is clear he can’t hide from the Mogadorians for long, as they are now following that lead.

Then, one day, after school ends (yes, he is in school on Earth), the Mogadorians attack. Luckily, a girl, one of the 9, called ‘Six’ appears to help (and by appears I mean appears: she has the power to go invisible). John must make it out of the school alive because he wants the Lorien race to go on and not to die. Read the book to find out what happens next!

There’s lots more in this book. I don’t want to give too much away. I’ll say one more thing. I like the bit in the book where  it turns out his dog can shapeshift and is from Lorien as well.  This is cool.

I would highly recommend this book to over 12s if you like sci-fi and alien stuff. Even with a few boring bits, this is one of my favourite books: honestly, its story is great.

Review by 12 year old Finn Buck

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‘The Wizard of Oz’ by L. Frank Baum

The Wizard of Oz is a bit weird, but I enjoyed reading it. It’s got magic in it, but not like Harry Potter. I’ve seen an old Wizard of Oz film as well, so I kind of knew what the book would be like. It’s easy to see why it would make a film. It is an adventure into another place which has witches and wizards!

The book is about a girl called Dorothy who lives in Kansas in America with her Uncle Henry and Aunt Em. She lives on a farm in the middle of nowhere. One day it got really windy – really, really, really, windy – a thing called a tornado picks up Dorothy and Toto, her dog, and their whole house and blows them away. I think their farmhouse was made of wood. I’m glad my house is made of concrete and stuck to the ground, so it can’t blow away. They have a place called a “Cyclone Cellar” in the basement where they are meant to be safe, but it doesn’t help when the whole house is blown away!

The house, with them in it, lands in the Land of Oz It lands on top of the Wicked Witch of the East killing her. Another witch, a good witch (the “Good witch of the North”), comes over to Dorothy and says welcome most noble sorceress. She says the Munchkins – the people who live in Oz – it is “Munchkin Land” (I’ve been called a Munchkin by my Mum and Dad and that’s where the word comes from!) will be most grateful for her having killed the Wicked Witch.

Dorothy wants to go home and doesn’t know what to do. The good witch tells Dorothy to follow the yellow brick road to the Emerald City to meet the Wizard of Oz who can help her get home. She gives Dorothy silver shoes (they are red in the film I saw). Dorothy and Toto start walking. Along the way they meet a scarecrow, a tin man and a lion.

It’s funny how Dorothy meets the scarecrow. He’s in a field on the side of the road and when she looks at him, be blinks. As they scarecrow’s face is painted on, she thought she was mistaken, but she wasn’t. None of the scarecrows in Kansas blinked! Then the scarecrow nodded. Dorothy climbs over a fence and walks over to the scarecrow with Toto running around barking. The scare crow then said good day. If I was Dorothy I would have been scared. Dorothy then speaks to the scarecrow and it’s ok.

They all want Dorothy to help them get to the Wizard of Oz who they say will help them get what they want. The scarecrow wants brains, the tin man wants a heart and the lion wants courage (he is a cowardly lion). Dorothy helps them and they decide to follow her along the yellow brick road. When Dorothy meets the Munchkins they also think she is a sorceress and treat her well. Things happen along the way.

They arrive in the Emerald City. The Wizard of Oz says he will only help Dorothy if she kills the Wicked Witch of the West. They try but find it’s impossible as the witch has magic. The good witch helps Dorothy and stops her getting hurt by the wicked witch. I don’t really understand how she kills the wicked witch. I think it was by an accident.

Dorothy goes back to the Wizard of Oz who acts all weird. Dorothy finds out the Wizard of Oz is not a wizard – he’s just a normal man. He has just been pretending to be a wizard. He can’t keep his promise to help Dorothy get home because he doesn’t know how. He’s lost in the Land of Oz as well.

The scarecrow, tinman and lion are disappointed but the wizard tells them they already have the things they need inside them (wisdom, love and courage). The three insist they don’t, so he gives them tokens of each thing they want and they are happy.

To try to help Dorothy, the wizard offers to take her in a hot air balloon to Glinda the Good Witch of the South, who he says can help her. It turns out that the silver shoes Dorothy was given when she arrived in Oz are magic. They can take her home. They all say goodbye and Dorothy and Toto go home.

I like everyone in the book (even the Wicked Witch of the West), but my favourite character is Toto. Toto is a little dog – Dorothy’s best friend because she doesn’t have anyone else to play with. I liked him because he is cute, but also because he helps her not to be scared. She loses him once and gets him back. I liked Dorothy, but she is the main character and is in nearly every part of the book, so it is hard to remember everything she does. She is very brave and has to lots of scary things in this book. I wouldn’t like being taken to another world.

This is an old story but a very good one. I enjoyed it. I would read more books about the Land of Oz (there are lots more in the library). I am 8 and I was able to read it ok. It’s not a long book. It’s not really funny; it makes you smile though.

Review by Lara Buck aged 8. Edited by Finn Buck aged 12.

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‘Tanith Low in the Maleficent Seven’ by Derek Landy

This book is from Derek Landy’s world of Skulduggery Pleasant. This is a well written book. I’ve read all the other Skulduggery books, so I am familiar with the setting of the book. The storyline is a bit nuts: I like it. I read this book quickly. It has all the ingredients. It will, I’m sure, be another hit book for a writer who knows exactly how to create fantasy and adventure stories for kids my age.

The book’s full of cool characters who all have powers and abilities. The way the book is set up is great. It is told from a crazy bad girl’s perspective. This makes the story better. The magic in the book feels real, as it does in Landy’s other books.

The book is about an English woman named Tanith Low who is usually a good character, but here she has been possessed by a ghost thing which wants the world to burn. To help her, she recruits a team of seven people who all have weird talents (some are in the other Skulduggery books like Black Annis, Sabine and Springheeled Jack). They are called the Malificent Seven. They are kind of the opposite of the good guys.

There are good guys. They are the Magnificent Seven, another group put together and led by Dexter Vex, an energy thrower.

Tanith’s goal is to find four God-Killer level weapons and destroy them. Why? Because her ultimate objective is to unleash a god (Darquesse) who also wants the world to burn. Darquesse can’t be killed very easily – only with these weapons. Tanith is willing to do anything to achieve her goal. Dexter is the same. The difference is, he wants to keep them, not destroy them.

The Malificent Seven agree a plant that uses their particular skills and abilities. Dexter Vex finds out about the plan and race to stop Tanith. Tanith also can’t trust her own team and has to stay ahead of all their scheming. Who will emerge triumphant? There’s a lot going on the book. Tanith has to work hard to stay ahead. I don’t want to give away too many spoilers as for a Skulduggery book, it’s a simple enough story.

Tanith is a great character. I’d happily read more books about her. She is a great baddie with skills in fighting, scheming and plotting! The book tells you she was trained as an assassin.

The book is full of adventure, action and funny bits. You can’t help reading it all once you start. It’s not a long book for a Derek Landy story, so I read it quick. I am not sure I’d have enjoyed the book without knowing the Skulduggery world first – so read the other books!

Review by Finn Buck

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‘How to Train Your Dragon’ by Cressida Cowell

This is an extraordinary book. It’s hard to believe the tremendous imagination and thought Cressida Cowell has put into it. You can see all of her work on every page. When I first read it, I absolutely loved it, especially its classic humour and crazy storyline. I recommend it if you like adventure and fantasy.

The book is set in a fantasy world, where dragons are real and can be tamed.  There are tribes of Vikings called The Hairy Hooligans, The Meatheads and similar. They live on islands in an archipelago. It is about Hiccup Horrendous Haddock 111, who is the son of the chief of the Hairy Hooligan tribe Stoic the Vast on the island of Berk.

Well, Hiccup and 10 other boys are part of the Dragon Initiation Program, where they try to become full members of the Hairy Hooligan tribe. While most of the boys are tough and muscly, Hiccup and his friend Fishlegs are what you’d call ‘runts’. All the boys grumble when Hiccup is made their leader (to prepare him for being chief when he’s older).

Their first ‘mission’ comes up, they have to steal a dragon and tame it, but Fishlegs accidently wakes up one of the deadly ones. This causes chaos and Hiccup only gets a common or garden Dragon (same type) and names him Toothless. Toothless is a really BIG troublemaker. Then, after months of training, they try to pass the test to get into the tribe. Then Toothless causes loads of trouble and all the boys are to be exiled.

Before that can happen, a storm washes up two giant sea dragons called Green Death and Purple Death. This is a big problem. Hiccup comes up with a plan to get rid of them or kill them. His plan is to get them to kill each other by annoying them, but Green Death survives and he swallows Hiccup. Incredibly, Hiccup kills him from the inside. For their heroic acts, the boys are allowed to be a part of the tribe.

Overall, I think this is a pretty cool book which brings an entire new world with it. I think the film just about does justice to the story, though I loved imagining everything in the book while I was reading it. Read it: don’t just watch the film!

Review by 12 year old Finn Buck

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‘The 39 Clues: The Maze of Bones’ by Rick Riordan

This is a thrilling book. It really keeps you on the edge of your seat. It has a great storyline and likeable characters. I love how Rick Riordan wrote this book, as the rest of the books are written by other authors. It’s cool to see one of my favourite authors writing this sort of book. I recommend the book if you like reading adventure and mystery stories because this book has a hell of a lot of both!

It’s about 14 year old Amy and 11 year old Dan. They are orphans, but only because most of their family don’t care about them. Dan has a photographic memory and Amy is very smart.

They are driven to their millionaire Grandmother’s funeral, where they find out their new family is massive. Relatives come from all of the world. In their Grandma’s will they are given the choice of a million dollars or the first clue in a deadly sort of scavenger hunt where everyone is willing to kill to win. This clue is the first of the 39 clues that give the books their name. They take the clue.

They get their Au Pair, Nellie, to chaperone them on the hunt which travels all around the world. After cracking Grandma’s clue, they make their way to Paris, where they must crack the next clue. But their bloodthirsty relatives are going to be a problem. This is a game with no rules but only one winner.

The competitors are family teams. The Cahill Family is divided into five branches: Ekaterinas, Tomas, Janus, Lucians and the Madrigals – the secret family – which Amy and Dan are part of (they actually don’t know this until one of the other books in the series). The first team to crack all the clues will become mega rich and the most powerful person in the world. .

I love books with many characters who are written so you can get to know them. This book has this.

There are an incredible number of books in this series. Though there are actually 5 series. I have only read the first series. I’m not sure I’d read any more because it sort of got boring after a while. I’ve moved onto other books. I think the idea is good but there are just too many books. 39 clues mean a lot of books by different writers. That’s too many for me.

Review by Finn Buck, aged 12

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‘The Martian’ by Andy Wier

Out of all the books I’ve ever read, this one has to be my favourite: really. It’s about Mark Watney, an astronaut botanist, who is stranded on Mars by himself, as his crew left to return to Earth because thought he died. The first sentence of the book has some bad words;  Mark has found out he has been stranded on Mars and isn’t happy! He does “smart ” things to survive, like burning rocket fuel and blowing stuff up. Lots of stuff.

I’ve read the book six times and still can’t stop reading it. The humour is fantastic; it never gets old. It goes from something serious to something random or to a great moment – then it blows up (yay!). If you are thinking of reading the book or watch the movie, I highly recommend reading the book first; it explains unexplained things in the movie. The book says what the NASA name is for; it then says what it actually is.  I also think the book is funnier than the movie.

Even though the book was written in 2011, it seems too futuristic to have been imagined then. Seriously, there is stuff in the book like MAVs (Mars Ascent Vehicle) and RTGs (Radioisotope Thermoelectric Generator) and EVAs (Extra Vehicular Activity): way to complicated for 2011. Definitions for MAV, RTG and EVA are not in the book, so I had to guess their meanings.

Overall, Andy Weir has made the best book I have ever read.

Review by Deasun Byrne aged 12 (my first review for this site).

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‘A Monster Calls’ by Patrick Ness

This is an extraordinary masterpiece of writing for what is  a kids’ book. It shows humanity in a true way I have not read before. It is beautifully descriptive and packs a big punch. The idea was originally formed by Siobhan Dowd when she had cancer. I would highly recommend the book to kids over 10 years old and also to people who like sad and mysterious books. It is a hard book though, it’ll make you think and probably make you cry.

This book illustrates life lessons through an incredible storyline. The book is about 13 year old Connor O’Malley whose mother suffers from terminal cancer. She has had so many cancer treatments but they don’t seem to be working. Connor gets the same nightmare every night; he calls it ”the one with the darkness and the wind and the screaming”.

Connor is bullied at school and he isolates himself.  His dad is no help (he uses his family in the USA as an excuse not to get involved). Connor wakes up one night to find a monster outside his bedroom window. He meets the monster (a yew tree in his garden) who tells Connor he summoned him. The monster appears at 12:07 am or pm every day and he says he has three stories which he will tell and they all have a different perspective on humanity (all the stories are a time when the monster was summoned),

After the monster’s stories, Connor is expected to tell the fourth story also known as ‘the truth’. The stories make something really weird happen to Connor; they make him isolate himself even more. When all three stories have been told, Connor has to tell the fourth story. This involves reliving the nightmare and reliving the truth. The nightmare is his mum being pulled into the abyss and Connor is holding onto her and he doesn’t want to let go, but in the end he always does.

This is the truth he lets go because he doesn’t want to go through anymore pain and suffering. The monster has shown him the truth which Connor knew, but hid away from himself. His Mum ends up dying. This, in truth, is probably the saddest story I have ever read. I think anybody could love it though. I’ll remember this book for a long time.

Review by 12 year old Finn Buck.

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‘Knights of the Borrowed Dark’ by Dave Rudden

This isn’t the best of books. I’m not sure why. I look forward to reading in the car on the way home from school, but I wasn’t when I got back in the car while I was reading this. I think it could be written better. This is Irish writer Dave Rudden’s debut book (it says so on the cover). Perhaps this is why. Hopefully his next book will be better. It’s a good idea for a book and has a storyline I’d usually like; I also like the characters because they all have unique personalities, so there’s plenty of potential here.

The book is about 13 year old Denizen Hardwick who has been in an orphanage for 11 years (like most orphanages in books, it’s nasty). He has been reading fantasy books for years wishing they were about him.

It turns out he has family and this family does have powers. He is collected from the orphanage by a man named Grey who has these powers. Grey explains what has been going on. It turns out Denizen has an aunt who lives with other people at a place called Seraphim Row (in Dublin, Ireland!). His Aunt wants to see him and has sent, him, Grey, to pick him up. Denizen learns he has powers, but also how these powers comes with a price. It causes anyone with the power to turn to iron, starting with their hands.

On the journey to meet his aunt, he’s attacked by a monster. Denizen finds himself in a fantasy world where he has to join the Knights of Borrowed Dark – his aunt is their leader – in a war with The Tenebrous. These are the monsters he has to fight. Their leader is called the Endless King. Denizen quickly has to learn to use his powers.

Weird things start happening at the orphanage, The Clockwork Three, monsters you should only see in nightmares, have taken over. They are keeping the daughter of the Forever King hostage and he is angry. Denizen wants to stop this and he probably can, but he’ll need help. Even then, it’s going to be hard.

I think Dave Rudden is onto something here. He has all the ingredients. He’s just not putting it together like Eoin Colfer or other kids’ fantasy writers do. I just didn’t get pulled into the book. I didn’t really believe some of it (even though it’s all fantasy!) and there are bits that are hard to follow and not explained. The book is worth reading for the twist at the end. I am sure the next book will be better.

Review by Finn Buck aged 12.

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