‘Waking the Dragon’ is a fun and exciting adventure story for kids, revolving around a group of dogs who work undercover as dog rescuers in an organization that is the kid-friendly canine equivalent of CSI.
The story is written with good humour that kids will enjoy, and a plot that will keep them guessing. The characters are engaging and likeable — even the cats, who harbour less-than-honourable intentions!
One aspect of this book that I really appreciated is the Australian element that appears in both the settings and the storyline. In a world full of books set in America or major world cities, it’s very refreshing to find a kids’ book set in one of my favorite regional Australian cities. This is great for Australian kids, but should also add interest for readers from other countries in which Australia is a source of interest and fascination.
Waking The Dragon is Book 10 in theAstro’s Adventures series by Susan Day. This book – in fact, this series of books – would make a great addition to any school or local library, and would be a wonderful choice for both individual and family reading at home.
Welcome to another Book Squirrel Author Interview, in which Book Squirrel meets Catherine Weaver, the author of the Island of California books, which are fantasy books set in the present day Silicon Valley area and the magical Island of California.
Thank you, Book Squirrel. It’s lovely to meet you!
Tell us, Catherine, what kind of audience you write for.
My books were written for middle-grade readers and have absolutely nothing in them that is not family-friendly. Kids who have read the books so far really like them, and most adults who have read them like them, too.
That’s great! It’s true that the best kids’ books are loved by adults as well.
Yes, there’s a child in all of us.
Or, at least, a very cute little squirrel.
Yes, of course!
Are your books all in a series, or are they single titles?
The novels, Gold Dust and Phoenix Down, and I am currently working on the third in the series, Dragon Oil.
I also have two books of short stories: Tales From the Island of California, and More Tales From the Island of California.
What inspired you to write?
I come from a family of writers. My mother, Jane Blue, is a poet, and her mother wrote articles for newspapers in San Francisco, so I grew up with the idea that writing was something people do. But what really inspired me to actually start writing books was my huge love of reading, plus my love of the San Francisco Bay Area. I read lots and lots of books that I loved, but noticed there was a distinct lack of fantasy books set in the SF Bay Area and Silicon Valley, which I feel are among the most magical places on Earth, and I wished I could read a book like that. Since I couldn’t find them, I decided to write them.
What’s your favourite thing that you have written?
I like them all, but have a special place in my heart for my first book, Gold Dust.
What’s your favourite thing that someone else has written?
Ask me this on a different day and I will give you a different answer. I am a voracious reader and I have a lot of favorites. Right now I’m reading Ready Player One, which I am enjoying very much. I just finished Anansi Boys, which I feel is a perfect book. I also think most of the Discworld books by Terry Pratchett are perfect. I completely loved The Martian and can’t wait for the sequel. The Thin Man is one of the best books ever written. The Harry Potter books are likewise amazing. When I was a kid, I read and re-read The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings Trilogy to a point where I had them memorized, and the same goes for the Chronicles of Narnia. There are many more.
What’s the best book you’ve read this year?
Today I have to say Ready Player One.
What are you working on writing now?
The third book in my series, which is called Dragon Oil.
Do you have any books planned that feature… you know… squirrels?
Uh… no. Sorry.
It’s okay. It’s never too late, you know.
I’ll keep that in mind.
Thanks. What’s the best vacation you’ve had?
When I went to Switzerland and stayed with friends in Yverdon near Lausanne, rented an Alpha Romeo, and drove all over the french part of Switzerland, then down the Rhone Valley in France to Marseille, staying in Valence on the way.
What is your pet hate? Have you ever built it into a character or used it in your writing?
I really hate prejudice, greed and the way artists are devoured by the machine. I also hate religious, cultural and gender discrimination. These things are addressed in my writing, in a way that is palatable for kids. My books are full of humor, so the things I hate are not hit over anyone’s head.
What movie can you watch over and over again?
The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the Eighth Dimension.
When you were a kid, what did you want to be when you grew up?
Cool! What’s your favourite season? Why?
I like autumn the best because it’s sunny but not too hot, the air smells of wood fires, and the low sunlight slanting through the turning leaves is beautiful.
And all those lovely nuts!
Who are your three greatest literary inspirations?
Hey folks, I’m here today interviewing author Tobey Alexander!
Thanks Squirrel, I’m glad to be here!
Me too! I mean, uh… I’m glad you could make it!
Tell us, Tobey, what inspired you to write?
I have always written as an escape from what I have been doing in my everyday life. I wrote through college and university to, probably more honestly, avoid the work I should have been doing. But, I never did anything with those stories. Perhaps because I didn’t have the skill to write properly back then but now, since I have had children, I have decided to lead from the front and get my stories out there.
It all came to a head when I saw my youngest son’s growing imagination and how it makes him look a little odd to other children. The way he plays, the stories he comes up with, even when he was so young, often got some strange looks off other kids. As he’s got bigger I have polluted his imagination with my crazy stories, which is where my Magdon Series began. But when I’ve seen it thrive in him and how much all of my children have enjoyed my stories it was that, in all honesty, that made me dare to look into self-publishing.
From there it has spiralled and snowballed. I just wanted to show (T), my youngest son, what you can do if you let your imagination do what it does.
My first book Footprints On The Other Side was a flight of fancy that started at training school for my career. I read one particular author and got bored with their series, I then dared myself to write something and that is when Footprints was born. But, again, publishing it was all thanks to wanting to inspire my little monster.
What’s your favourite thing that you have written?
It isn’t a particular book but instead a story arc, my Magdon creature. It all came about when (T) was two and asked about a noise in the woods. I made up a monster and my oldest son got wind of it.
Very soon I thought it would be fun to make up some maps, treasure hunts, more and more stories to build on this silly little lie. All of a sudden it became a whole falsified family history (I even made the main hero against the monster my great granddad – incidentally I have no idea who my great granddad really was so it allowed me to make one up!)
The Magdon stories have grown with me curled up on the end of one of my boys’ beds talking through ideas which we talked about and literally brainstormed between us. So, from one little idea, we created something we lived between us and for that reason I love The Magdon Myth more than anything else.
Every idea comes from somewhere deep in your imagination and you either nurture it or let it fall from memory. The Magdon, by making it up as I went along, I was Beta testing against my children who helped me create something I can say was fed by my intended audience. What I wanted was to make that world that parents and children, young and old, could enjoy. I pictured mums and dads enthusiastically reading my stories to their own children and dancing around the room acting out the scenes (pretty much like I did all the way through).
That sounds great! The Magdon doesn’t eat squirrels, does he?
No. He’s a myth. Myths don’t eat anything.
Phew! I was getting worried there…
Haha! Nothing for you to worry about!
What’s the best vacation you’ve had?
Greece, the first holiday with my now wife when we were teenagers. I remember it was a period when I was focusing on meditation (influenced by being obsessed with Star Wars Episode II which was out at the time). When I need a time to relax and reflect one of my anchor points is being stood on the open terraced roof of the apartment looking out across the sea listening to the waves crash against the pebble beach. If I ever get to retire I would love to see more of Greece. That said though I haven’t ever revisited it in a book or story I have written. That may change but for me it is a memory I would rather keep than give away to a character or story.
What are you working on writing now?
Into The Dark and Blue Light Christmas 2.
Two at once?
Two at once.
Wow! That’s impressive! Tell me more!
The first is something that was fed from the feedback I received about my Magdon Series. Where I have tried to write them as a series of novelettes so younger audiences can enjoy the adventure, the adults who have read them contacted me and told me I should write something for an older audience set in that world.
Into The Dark was an absolute whim and I tried to create a new story in my world of Magdons that would most certainly entertain and feed an older generation of readers. I have really enjoyed stepping it up a level in terms of substance and story and have really brought a sense of family into this story. My wife will be quite brutal when she says how deeply I have thrown myself into writing Into The Dark. It went from a fleeting idea into a story I really have enjoyed writing and getting myself into.
As for Blue Light Christmas 2 this is something that has come about because of a charity project I did at the last minute last year. I wanted to write a story to give a little bit of a human element to policing, especially in the United Kingdom, and give the families of police officers some story to explain why they work some of the key dates in their family’s lives.
In doing so I gave all profits (what little there are sometimes) to Care Of Police Survivors charity. Even though I only did it as a last minute idea last year I have decided to do it again with a new story and this time put some more time to get my talented illustrator to help me out and also raise even more awareness and profile around the story to raise even more money this time around.
When you were a kid, what did you want to be when you grew up?
I wanted to join the Royal Air Force as a pilot but that didn’t happen for many reasons, including hay fever. Like all children growing up I probably wanted to be Robocop, Indiana Jones and almost every superhero. I’m now 33 and I think if you asked me my dream job it would still be some superhero. The career I ended up in though fills that gap I suppose, it was an interesting ride getting here but it’s been an interesting and worthwhile journey, just a shame I can’t write about it.
Oooh! Secret Squirrel, eh?
Name three people you admire, and give reasons.
Three? The first would be my oldest son. The last year has been testing and trying for him and although he’s only (currently) 8 he has shown me how big he can be. When he was 7 he wanted to climb a mountain so we had a summer “boy’s weekend” and climbed Mount Snowdon in Wales. I’ve never seen such tenacity in him. It was his first real adventure and he lapped it up. Then two months later he was rushed to hospital suffering from a mystery illness they thought was meningitis. He was extremely ill and scared the life out of me, his mother and his siblings. It turned out to be Henoch-Schonlein Purpura which, while not imminently life-threatening, brings its own risks and complications. Hospitalised, he was lying on a drip and the only thing he asked me was “Can I walk Snowdon again?” Considering the fact he could not even stand up, never mind walk, it was a lump-in-throat moment for me. Since recovering he has aged a little, understands how ill he was but he’s already done two mountains since then.
Number two is Arnold Schwarzenegger. Yes, from a fitness aspect (although I never aim to be as big in stature or size) his ethos is inspiring. Having read Total Recall, his autobiography, I have so much respect for him. The determination and drive that man has is completely inspirational and if I could achieve even a tenth of what he has from my own motivation alone I would be a happy man. I know it sounds rather clichéd but for me, having read his life, he is the gold standard of personal drive and motivation to achieve against the odds. I don’t necessarily agree with everything he has done but that attitude he carries towards everything connects with me.
And lastly….a third, well, I am struggling. The first two came into my head straight away so the fact I am struggling for a third probably means there isn’t one. There are plenty of people who I admire in a fleeting way but nobody I would hold my hand up that pops into my head straight away so I won’t fill in what isn’t really there.
Fair enough! What movie can you watch over and over again?
I have quite a few, a film for different occasions! Normally, as I work shifts, I will watch something to put me in the mood for a night shift. These normally include End Of Watch and the Point Break remake (yes, I know a lot of people dislike it but for me it connects because it is what influenced my oldest son to want to climb mountains with me and explore the great outdoors). My other favourite I can watch over and again is the Bridget Jones series. It’s a film me and my wife will default too when we want a nice chilled evening together and they never get old.
What would you like people to know about being an Indie author?
It isn’t easy but there is no better way to grow yourself, your skills and connect with some amazing people. It really is a journey of taking the leap from being the closet writer, enjoying your own work but perhaps lacking the confidence to release it upon the world. Being Indie forces you to do the very best with what you have.
Sure, some of us – myself included – may think we have what it takes, but that skill only really grows as you go along. I have immense pride in every book have written but I know I learn from each one and hopefully that helps me get better, neater, tidier and a better storyteller as I go along.
Daring to put yourself out there when so many of the agents and publishers won’t touch you with a barge pole is rather liberating. It’s hard not to feel the “smackdown” of repeated rejections but there is nothing more inspiring and confidence building than that first review that says to you, in not so many words “you’re not as bad as you’ve let yourself think”.
Seeing someone take the time to read, and ultimately enjoy, your book is possibly one of the most rewarding things in this whole process. Especially when you consider doing it alone is almost like putting your reputation and personality out for public dissection (hence why I like a pseudonym as at least I can blame the “other guy” if it goes wrong!)
What’s your favourite thing that someone else has written?
It is a mainstream published book, Spartacus by Ben Kane. It was during my phase of being obsessed with the Spartacus TV Series. That’s what motivated me to get deeper into my fitness training – lots of muscular men motivated me a little bit, more out of jealousy I suppose. When I found his two-part books I didn’t know what to expect and remember reading it while deployed to the Olympics in 2012. The second book I can honestly say is the only book to have ever made me cry. Sat on my break surrounded by people at work and I was trying to hide the fact I was crying at a book. It was after reading that when I thought I should try and get one of my own stories out there and really started researching Self Publishing and Indie Authoring.
Name two things in life that you wish were easier.
Parenting! I get it wrong so many times. I try to be that dad that all the kids want to have but manage to mess it up with my own things. I have my gym (obsession), my writing (distraction), my outdoor (adventuring) and try to balance that with three very different little personalities. I’ve always been a bugger for self-criticising and tend to put myself in a guilt-complex when I feel I don’t get the balance perfectly right. Sometimes I absorb myself in my books too much, sometimes one child over the other, too much time at the gym, always being at work and the list goes on. I wish I could just get it right all the time!
Another thing I wish was easier is probably marketing. This being very author specific as I never seem to get that right. I know what I want to do and sometimes my imagination runs away with me. I have a very visual imagination so tend to act things out to make them work or else film/photograph things along the way to have a physical snapshot. I know I don’t have the proper connections to get seen so I feel I fumble along, as best I can, in the department of marketing and advertising. Aside from the fact I am biased, I honestly feel if I could get that right then something could happen with my stories. I, perhaps, simply lack the skill, knowledge and expertise to make that happen at the moment. But, as I said before, I’m growing with every project so who knows, maybe one day I’ll know what to do.
I think you probably get a lot of things right without realising, Tobey. Thanks for chatting with me today.
Thanks, Squirrel! I can honestly say, you’re the most bookish squirrel I’ve ever met!
In ‘Bumbling Bea’ we meet an 8th-grade girl named Beatrice and follow her journey as she learns important lessons about friendship, self-control and self-awareness.
This book delivers a particularly important message about learning to see something from another person’s point of view and allowing that perspective to guide our decisions, actions and words.
Beatrice is a realistic character who struggles to deal with most of the things happening in her life. Early teen readers will easily identify with her and sympathise with her in the different dilemmas she faces. The other characters are well-developed and the story line certainly gets the reader involved.
This was an enjoyable story with some really good morals for kids.
If, like me, you’ve never quite got over the fact that there won’t be anymore books featuring one Harry Potter, you should turn your attention to two books by T.J. Green: ‘Tom’s Inheritance’ and ‘Twice Born’.
‘Twice Born’ is the brilliant sequel to ‘Tom’s Inheritance‘, but would work equally well as a standalone novel. It’s a wonderful story that explores the age-old theme of the battle between good and evil, and yet the complexities and motivations of the characters give ‘Twice Born’ a completely original and most enchanting story.
T.J. Green has infused this novel with a richness of magic, myth and adventure that is hard to adequately describe. The reader is drawn into this story so completely that one loses track of time and place while reading.
It’s wonderful to travel through The Other with King Arthur, Merlin and Nimue as well as Green’s original characters in Tom, Beansprout, Woodsmoke and Brenna.
As a reader, I felt protective of key characters when they were in danger and rejoiced with them in their victories. Naturally, I was sad when I realised the end was coming, so I tried to read it slower to make it last just a little longer.
Green also demonstrates her skill in world-building and fantasy in the variety of different realms she has created, and in the people and creatures who inhabit them. The scenes created in this book are full of marvellous sights, rich sounds and incredible experiences that the reader feels as though they are sharing with the characters.
I do believe that if I, like Tom and Beansprout, were given a chance to live in The Other forever, I’d jump at the opportunity.
It’s a wonderful, magical place, and I’m thankful to T.J. Green for taking me there twice.
Now, I’m just hoping for another book in the series. Please don’t disappoint me, Ms Green!
‘Tom’s Inheritance’ is absolutely captivating. I was drawn in by the first scene in the woods, and completely enchanted by The Other.
The characters are delightfully complex and intriguing, and all so different. The way their back-stories play out in the action of this book is marvellous, adding layers of connection and engagement in the story that created wonderful involvement in the story for me.
T.J. Green has created fabulous creatures, worlds and environments, connecting them intricately with secrets, mystery, and myth. This mysterious, enchanting tale weaves magical realism, fantasy, and Arthurian legend together seamlessly in an entirely original and captivating way.
If you loved Harry Potter, you need to read ‘Tom’s Inheritance’. You will love it just as much! I know that’s a big call, but I can’t wait to read ‘Twice Born’, the sequel to ‘Tom’s Inheritance’ now!
‘If I Wake’ by Nikki Moyes is a really powerful and confronting book that speaks directly to the issues of bullying, peer pressure and suicide among kids and teens.
It’s a journey through Lucy’s world of despair that is punctuated by moments of joy and hope along the way. Her times of escape are a respite for both Lucy and the reader.
As someone who still grieves one of my own senior high students who took her own life just five months ago, I found this really compelling reading. I wept and, at times, sobbed. I felt angry and defensive, feeling very protective of Lucy and her alternate realities. Lucy isn’t flawless; in fact, she’s portrayed quite realistically. While she’s not perfect, she certainly doesn’t deserve the cards she gets dealt by either her peers or her family.
“If I Wake’ made me want to reach into the world of the book and change things to give Lucy some hope for her future. To be honest, I wanted to be able to mete justice on some of the characters, which worked very effectively in keeping me
hooked right to the end of the book.
However, that’s not how life works. ‘If I Wake’ firmly places the responsibility on those who make life so desperately hard for others, and demonstrates that their behaviour cannot be excused, regardless of whatever might be going on in their own lives.
Eventually, in something of a coup for the author, I was led to experience some compassion for the personal circumstances of some – but only some – of the characters who gave Lucy such a difficult life. This is really a testament to the power of Moyes’ writing.
I recommend ‘If I Wake’ for every teen, every parent, and every teacher. I’d love to see it as compulsory reading on every school’s book list.
Six stars out of five for ‘If I Wake’.
Don’t tell me I can’t do that. I was never good at counting.