May-June 2016 : New Books for children and Teenagers. Reviewer: Janet

May-June: New Books for children and Teenagers. Reviewer: Janet Croft.  

 *The more stars the better the read…

 Picture Books

 ****Circle, by Jeannie Baker. HB from Walker Books. RRP $27.99

 Jeannie Baker is renowned for the quality and style of her picture books. She is an expert with collage, and uses her expertise and love of the technique to present her stories in a way which appeal to children both because of the content and because there is so much to talk about on every double page spread. Many children do not believe that the illustrations are not either photos or painted, so they love trying to work out how the author has developed each collage.   Baker present the life story and yearly cycle of the bar-tailed Godwit, a bird which migrates annually betwseen Australia or New Zealand and Alaska. Baker remarks that “The challenge we face now is now to live our lives without destroying the places that are crucial to the shorebirds ancient, wondrous Circle of Life”. There are illustrations and comments about other animals and birds which migrate in the book as well as the godwits, and the final double page contains a map, and outline of how and where the birds migrate, and where they feed en route. This is a wonderful book, and I hope it will earn an award when the Children’s Book   Council awards are made later this year. Suitable for children from 5-12 years, with supervision from adults as appropriate.

Reflection, by Rebecka Sharpe Shelberg and Robin Cowcher. HB from Walker Books. RRP $24.99

 This is a story told through evocative watercolour illustrations. The written text is minimal, and for many families who take their children to ceremonies on Anzac Day, the pictures will be the important memory prop. The author has linked themes, such as marching with the dawn service, and cold rainy trenches with empty city streets. There is also a lot of symbolism—in particular poppies, crosses, and candles, and the ways in which we use these symbols to remember Australian and New Zealand service personnel who have died, or served in any of ten major world conflicts from the Boer war to the present. There is a double page spread with information about each of these conflicts at the back of the book. This is a thought-provoking book, suitable for children of about 4-12 years.

*Desert Lake: The Story of Kati Thanda-Lake Eyre, by Pamela Freeman, and illustrated by Liz Anelli. HB from Walker Books. RRP $24.99

Lake Eyre is at the lowest point below sea level in Australia, and this is the reason that it is our largest surviving remnant of an ancient inland sea. Kati Thanda is the local name, and Lake Eyre is named for the explorer who was the first European to visit the area. The lake is fed by rivers which feed in from northern Queensland and the Northern Territory, and is the home of numerous animals and birds, many of whose habitat is now threatened by climate change, or by non-native predators. Many of the birds only appear when the lake is full, and there is a magnificent spectacle from on land, but also from the air. This is a superb presentation of facts and pictures for children of al ages to look at, read, and remember. The double page at the end provides an index, and a simple map which shows the location of Lake Eyre, and of the rivers which feed it. This story is part of a collection called Nature Storybooks, and will be an asset to all school libraries, and many homes. It will be enjoyed by children of about 6-12 years. There is one small fault on the back page, where ‘word’ is used, when probably the choice should have been ‘font’ or “print’.

*Beth, the Story of a Child Convict, by Mark Wilson. HB from Lothian and Hachette.   RRP $24.99

When Beth, who is very young, and being transported form England to the Colony of New South Wales by herself, meets Molly on the ship, Beth becomes much happier because Molly is older and able to help Beth cope with all the strangeness of arriving in a rough new settlement, as a convict. The two girls become good friends are placed in work together. The readers will learn of the difficulties with work, the weather, and the diseases which ravaged both the new settlers and the indigenous people. Molly eventually dies from smallpox, but Beth survives. The story is based on the life of the youngest convict to come to Australia—Elizabeth Hayward. This book makes interesting, thought-provoking reading, and will appeal to readers, probably mainly girls of 7-12 years.

Take Ted Instead, by Cassandra Webb and illustrated by Amanda Francey. HB from Scholastic. RRP $24.99

 One small un-named boy tries to avoid going to bed when everyone else is still up—he suggests a variety of creatures, some with made up names-should go to bed instead of him—until he realizes that if Ted goes to bed as well as the others, HE is the one who will be lonely downstairs. Bright and amusing pictures, and a simple story with appeal to readers of 2- 5 years.

Supermum, by Leah Russack. HB from Scholastic. RRP $16.99

 This is a story about mums, and how marvelous they can be. The illustrations reveal that mums have superhuman strength, sometimes wear a cloak a bit like Superman, and can defeat or scare lots of imaginary creatures as well as do many superhuman tasks. This is a fun book which praises mothers—released just prior to Mother’s Day, but really appropriate for every day of the year. Suitable for young people of 3-6 years.

The Whole Caboodle, by Lisa Shanahan and illustrations by Leila Rudge. HB from Scholastic. RRP $$24.99

There are lots of word pictures in this story as we read about the pup that goes for a walk to the park, and finds lots of weird but wonderful new friends. The book combines counting the dogs on each page with interesting and novelty names for the dogs, such as Irish Toodles and Goldendoodles. Confusing? I don’t think so because it is obvious that the names are made up, and these names provide lots of alliteration and assonance which children of about 6 years will enjoy. The story is simple, and the illustrations are attractive and easy to ponder and to count the dogs.

***My Mum’s Special Secret, by Sally Morgan with Ambelin Kwaymullina. HB from Scholastic. RRP $24.99

 The pictures in this book are the highlight—but the simple prose and bold font are also clear and predictable as the mother kookaburra and her baby share the day’s activities. I am confident that this book will appeal mightily to children of about 2-4 years, and that they will look at the book by themselves, and demand that the story be read to them time and again. Excellent value.

The Midnight Possum, by Sally Morgan and Jess Racklyeft. HB from Scholastic RRP $24.99

 Another story from this eminent indigenous author —but just so different from The Whole Caboodle! Here we follow the adventures of the small possum that becomes stuck in a dirty dusty chimney one night, and how, with the help of some of the other animals, he is rescued without falling into the clutches of the dog or the cat. Another appealing story for children of 3-6 years.

*Blue and Bertie, by Kristyna Litten. PB from Scholastic. RRP $14.99

 When Bertie the giraffe oversleeps, he wakes to find that he has lost his herd, and that in fact he is lost. As Bertie looks for his family he finds another small giraffe, who shows Bertie just what an exciting place the world is. There is just one thing different about this new friend, but Bertie is sure that the difference will not be important when the two small giraffes both find and join Bertie’s herd. A fun book to read and the illustrations are a joy as well, especially the eyes of the animals. Fun for readers of 3-7 years.

Origami Heart by Binny. HB from Lothian and Hachette. RRP $24.99, PB $14.99

Kabuki is in a big city, and he is very lonely. His friend Yoko is supposed to be coming for lunch and Kabuki makes an origami paper heart for Yoko and prepares carefully for the meal. Sadly, when he returns home from the shops, there is a note to say that Yoko cannot come. Kabuki makes a paper plane out of the heart model, and flies it out the window. Another dainty girl rabbit catches the note, and comes to meet Kabuki, so all ends well. The design of the paper plane is at the back of the book (and that of the heart at the start) and it should appeal to children of 4-7 years, maybe with help from adults to learn to make the models. A delicate, but engaging story.

Gary, by Leila Rudge. HB from Walker Books. RRP $24.99

Gary is a racing pigeon, but for some reason or other, he was unable to fly. He learned however to keep a scrap book of everything the racing pigeons told him about where they went, and when one day Gary overbalanced in the coop, and fell to earth, he ended up, still clutching his scrapbook, in a rubbish skip, and was taken a long way from home. How he uses his scrapbook to find his way home again is a delightful, plausible story for young readers of about 3-6 years. They will also learn that there is more than one way to travel, and that brains can be just as important as the ability to fly—for pigeons of course.

Non-Fiction

***Our Home is Dirt by Sea, ed. by Diane Bates. PB from Walker Books. RRP $16.99

 The sub title of this anthology is “ “Australian Poems for Australian Kids” and I have been excited to read it—for several reasons. Many of the poems have been favourites of mine since I was introduced to them as a kid—and because all the poems are Australian, they will have a better chance to make sense to other young people. The categories for the rest of the book are appropriate for children – for example, “Mostly me”, “Families”, “people”, “sports,” “school”,” Australian animals”.

There is a fresh and almost face-to-face but written introduction from the editor, and the title, taken from Elizabeth Honey’s fun version of the National Anthem is delightfully quirky. There are notes about each poet at the end, so that kids and teachers can look up other poems. A few of the poems are ageless classics—for example The Last of his Tribe, by Henry Kendall, and The Circus by C.J Dennis, but most are from contemporary Australians, some already known as authors –including Sophie Masson, Bill Condon and Robin Klein. The book is small and the content well spread out—it is a great small book and I hope it is really successful. A great book for school libraries, teachers and kids of 7-14 years.

****Life Hacks, from Girlfriend Magazine. PB from Hachette. RRP about $16

This book is designed for teenage girls. It is a collection taken from the questions which readers of Girlfriend have posed to the advice panel of the magazine. The introduction says that many are the “cringe questions…. and topics that …. are even more awkward than your dad’s dance steps”. The answers to said questions are honest, quite detailed and in no frills language. For some of the answers about serious conditions such as eating disorders and anxiety the editorial panel has turned to experts in each field. Because of the nature of the content, some sections such as those about contraception and rape have a little warning balloon above them so that readers can choose not to read the material if it is distressing to them. It is a sensible, comprehensive and clear manual for girls as they hit puberty and the middle teenage years; Girlfriend and Hachette are to be applauded for its publication.

Junior Fiction.

Stuff Happens-Dale, by Adrian Beck. PB from Penguin. RRP $9.99

 This series has been prepared as a special interest series for young boys. It presents a variety of reasons why boys can feel bullied—at school, at home, or in sporting teams. Here, Dale has been selected to take part in the school play, called The School yard Jungle. Dale is to be a monkey, but with his red hair, the orange monkey suit made him look rather weird and there is a lot of amusement at Dale’s expense. How Dale comes to terms with his role, changes it, and ends up a star, is fun and reassuring reading for any redhead. For boys of 6-8 years.

Sporty Kids: Basketball, by Felice Arena, and illustrated by Tom Jellett. PB from Penguin. RRP $9.99

 A very easy to read book about basketball for readers and game enthusiasts of 5-8 years. The story tells how Jessica does not require lucky shoes to play well, although she was not confident of her own ability to start with. At the end of the story there are hints about the sport, jokes and some facts about the game as well.

Chook Doolan, The Newest Pet, and Rules are Rules—both by James Roy, with illustrations by Lucinda Gifford. PBs from Walker Books. RRP $7.99 each

Chook Doolan’s name is Simon, but because he is a bit of a chicken—that is, not very brave– he has been nicknamed Chook. Here we have two short books about events in Chook’s life which show that he is really quite an ordinary kid, and not a chicken at all. In the Newest Pet Chook takes his pet to school, and everyone discovers that Bruce the fish is really a very interesting an surprising pet—and this way Joe gets to have a pet as well. In Rules are Rules, Chook learns two ways to honour his dad’s rule about not talking to strangers on the way to and from school, whilst still helping others feel good about themselves, and Chook about himself too. These are simple but pleasant stories for newly independent readers of 5-7 years.

Within these Walls by Robin Bavarti, PB from Scholastic. RRP $16.99

 This is a novel, but there is lots of factual material about life in a Polish ghetto and the traumas experienced in such places by Jewish adults and children during World War 2. During the story Miri finds that one by one, her family and friends either die, or are removed from the ghettos, until she finds herself very much alone. It is only when the war ends and Miri is looked after by the Welfare Society, that she is reunited with one of her cousins, and the girlfriend of another cousin so that she no longer feels so alone. Although the story is fiction, it is a very sobering story about suffering in wartime, with factual information at the end about the Holocaust, and life in ghettos. The story is well written, but in small, dense font. I feel that it is suitable for junior secondary readers.

*Star of Deltora, the Towers of Illica, by Emily Rodda. PB from Scholastic. RRP $16.99

 This is the third in the adventures of Britta, and her quest to be selected as the apprentice for the trader Mab, captain of the Rosalyn. The Star of Deltora is heading toward Illica which is the home of the famous Collectors and the base of the Rosalyn Fleet,.. Britta is not sure which of her companions on the voyage are to be trusted—is it Sky, or Jewel, or is it the weird, but comforting goozli? Certainly it does not appear to be Crow. This is an intriguing and well-crafted story—a tad predicable in that we know that Britta will triumph but nevertheless interesting and enjoyable reading for 8-13 year olds, and at least one more volume to come.

***Weirdo 6, Crazy Weird, by Anh Do. PB from Scholastic. RRP $14.99

These stories have been sooooo successful with young readers of about 6-9 years—and mainly boys! The illustrations by Jules Faber are appealing, and the story line—so simple but with so many amusing aspects to it really has boys of this age engrossed and waiting for more. Here Weir has had braces put on his teeth, so much of the content is about the tribulations of having braces, and what can go wrong. There is nothing nasty, or scary; it is just good fun, and the author is to be complimented on his skill and ingenuity with such simple plots and content.

Pine Valley Ponies, The Pony Show, by Kate Welshman. PB from Scholastic. RRP $9.99

Maddy and Snowy have never previously taken part in a gymkhana, so this is their chance. It is a story about girls and ponies, and about that most delightful of horse events-the gymkhana. The story is quite simple, and the book is designed for girls of about 6-8 years who are horse mad and just beginning to read stories for themselves. The hard words are in different font and there is a simple glossary at the end of the story. One thing that is not explained in this glossary is that the word gymkhana comes from a Hindi word, and its use in English dates back to British colonial days in India.

The Double Axe, by Philip Womack. PB from Alma and Bloomsbury. RRP $19.99

This book is the first in what is to be a series called Blood And Fire. Stephan, or, to give him his full name Prince Deucalion Stephanos is the second son of the King of Crete. When his older brother is killed, Stephan becomes the heir to the throne. There is another brother too- Asterius, but he has characteristics which might be called abnormal, or at least special, and is the subject of a lot of attention by the priestess Myrrah. Surrounded by forebodings of evil and treachery, Stephan has to work out how best to support his father, reveal the truth about the Minotaur, and uncover the treachery of Myrrah, whilst saving his own skin and that of Aster. It is a readable story, and should appeal to children who like to read tales based on the legends of Ancient Greece. For kids of 10-14 years.

Teenage Books

***Fenn Halflin and the FearZero, by Francesca Armour-Chelu. PB from Walker Books. RRP $19.99

This is the first of what is to be a series about Fenn, and his search for both identity and purpose in life. Fenn only learns a little about his past, and his family when he is thirteen and he is forced to flee from the invaders Terra Firma and their cold blooded leader Chilstone, who has killed almost all of Fenn’s family and most of the other settlements along the now flooded coast. There are a few echoes of historical fact in this story— for example the shanties are based on the old Maunsell Sea Forts which still stand in the Thames in London, and FearZero is a fictional version of the German Dreadnought submarines from World War 1. This is an exciting story as Fenn meets up with Gulper and Amber, and they are able to steal a derelict old boat and return to the area where Fenn had been raised. Fenn now realizes that he has a pivotal role to play against Chilstone, but we will have to wait for the next volume in the series to continue the story. The publishers’ blurb sees similarities in the nature of the hero in the exploits of Percy Jackson and Artemis Fowl—It is up to you to see if you agree, but it is excellent, gripping reading for readers of 11 –14 years.

The Turners, by Mick Elliott. PB from Hachette. RRP $14.99

This is an amusing fantasy. When Leo grows a tail on his thirteenth birthday he is shocked, horrified and embarrassed. When he learns that other members of his family all have the ability to turn into an animal, often at will, he is not happy, because it is obvious that he will be weird for his entire life. Moreover Leo is different from most of his family because he changes during the day rather than at night! Leo learns to fly, and to turn into a dog—and gradually he starts to refine and control his turning, so that he does not alarm so-called ‘normal people.   This is the first of what will be a trilogy about Leo and his family, and their unfortunate talents. I look forward to the next installment. Entertaining reading for 11-14 year olds.

*Stormwalker, by Mike Revell. PB from Quercus and Hachette. RRP about $16

 Owen Wright has had a tough year. His mother died from leukemia, and his father is still not working, and is deep in depression and grief. Owen suggests that his father might try some counseling, and rather to Owen’s surprise, his father agrees. What happens next is unexpected, as Owen finds that suddenly he has entered a time warp, and is now Jack, fighting the Darkness with some other teenagers in a refugee community after the apparent collapse of London. Owen becomes very confused as he switches personalities between himself, and his role as Jack in the other scenes. He also loses faces with his best mate, and his soccer team when he is unexpectedly absent.   When he sees that in fact his father, now feeling quite a deal more positive, is writing easily again, Owen realizes that in fact he is in his father’s story—so can he control what happens so that both he and his father benefit—plus the people in the stories? It all makes for a complicated but fast moving and interesting story. The issue of grief for both Owen and his father, is handled well within the bigger story.   For readers of 11 plus.

Special, by Georgia Blain. PB from Penguin/Random house. RRP $19.99

The book begins as being about the life of Delia Greene, a seventeen-year-old refuse sifter, in a community sometime in the future. Most of the story however is about Fern Marlow, theoretically a special girl, developed with certain genetic characteristics chosen by her parents. It outlines the life Fern lives when she attends a school for specially chosen girls, called Halston. Fern wins a place at Halston in a lottery, and believes she has special talents which are to be developed further at the school. What happens when another student Ivy, does not achieve at the required levels for success at Halston, and then what happens to Fern as well, with the involvement of her house mother Margaret and non-recommended interactions with other students, notably Chimo, makes for interesting reading to begin with. I found however that the complexity of the story, and the haziness of links between one scenario and the next became too much for me, and I was unable to follow events in a manner which left me feeling satisfied by the book. Suitable for girls of 14-17 years.

***In the Dark, in the Woods, by Eliza Wass. PB from Quercus and Hachette. RRP $16.99

This is an intense and at times disturbing story about Castley Cresswell and her five surviving siblings. Their mother is disabled and their father is totally dominated by his extreme religious outlook on life, and his actions to block his children from as much contact with normal society as possible. The narrator Castley is torn between obedience to her father’s wishes, and the ways in which she has been reared, and her wish to be a normal teenager. There is considerable and severe abuse of several of the children, some of which is self-inflicted because of guilt feelings, and it is only when the father claims that the time has come for all to pass from this life, that matters come to a head, and reprieve is at hand. This is an engrossing, but disturbing read. It raises issues which sadly are experienced by some who live on the outer of mainstream society; I recommend this book only for teenagers of 14 years and older, to adult.

***Theodore Boone 6, The Scandal, by John Grisham. PB from Hachette. RRP about $15

 I have read a couple of the earlier books about Theodore Boone, by well-known author of adult thrillers, American John Grisham. It is excellent to see a talented and experienced author release a story for teenagers which has a sound plot, integrated and balanced action, and some humour as well. Most of the humour comes because of the very teenager-ish attitudes of Theodore, who is thirteen, but who has two experienced and notable lawyers for parents. Here Theo is approached at school by one of his friends, April, who is a bit of an outsider at school but really wants to become an artist. The action is sparked when both Theo and April fail to earn a place in the honours class for their senior high school years. There are several issues involved in the story. Is state- based academic testing a reliable or desirable way to screen adolescents for their senior high school education? Both Theo and April miss out by one mark, and this becomes a pivotal issue in the story. Is cheating a criminal offence—firstly if committed at school by a child, and secondly, if committed, albeit to help a student, by teachers? At the end of the book there are questions for discussion. I found this to be an easy story to read, and will recommend it to all my students of 12-15 years, both because it is easy to read, but also because it informs about some legal issues, ( albeit in American life) and raises so many issues which are relevant to school students of 12 and over.

 

 

 

 

 

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Adult Book Reviews May 2016. Reviewed by Janet Croft

Adult Book Reviews May 2016. Reviewed by Janet Croft

 

The more stars, the better the read!

Non-fiction*The End of Alchemy, by Mervyn King. PB from Little Brown and Hachette. RRP about $45

 Mervyn King joined the Bank of England in 1991 as Chief economist and its governor from 2003 till 2013. This period included the Global Financial Crisis, the worst period the industrialized world ahs experienced. In this book he covers the reasons for the crisis, the events and details of the relationships among world economies. He also discusses what really needs to happen to prevent another crisis. Probably the keenest readers of the book will be economists but there is a lot of knowledge and understanding of events which will also appeal to interested members of the public. I think the main thing I learned was that a problem for any one nation will now impact many other countries—that economic management is now a worldwide issue. A lot of the book was hard going for me, but I enjoyed the breadth of ideas presented and discussed although I had trouble with the complexity of Chinese savings habits, and how they relate to America’s belief that America is the superior nation.

*****Shakespeare and Me, ed. by Susannah Carson. PB from Allen and Unwin. RRP $21.99

The four hundredth anniversary of the birth of Shakespeare is an appropriate time for the release of a book such as this anthology of articles about the impact Shakespeare has had on those who have presented his dramas—either as actors or directors, and producers. In the foreword to the book Harold Bloom, an American Professor of Humanities and English at Yale, comments that we can never know the motives behind Shakespeare works, but we learn about ourselves in these plays, as well as about Shakespeare’s world. There has been discussion recently on the occasion of the anniversary about the continued relevance of the bard to our modern life. In this book there are forty articles from people who have lived, worked and breathed aspects of Shakespeare in their professional lives. It is a wonderful collection. I used the index to uncover attitudes to Julius Caesar, and the links I found have enriched my knowledge and understanding of the play, its characters, and its relevance to attitudes to war, peace, ethics and democracy. This is a book which MUST be in all secondary school libraries to provide enrichment for students and teachers alike. This is my top book of the month!

 **A Sunburnt Childhood, by Toni Tapp Coutts. PB from Hachette. RRP $29.99

 This is the story of an atypical upbringing of a large family of Australian children. Toni Tapp Coutts and her nine brothers and sisters were raised on Killarney Station in the Northern Territory, a very large and isolated cattle station. Life in the early years there sounds like the pioneering days of the 1800s. Her stepfather bought Killarney in the 1960s, but there was no homestead, no electricity, running water or phone. Over the years whilst the buildings and facilities gradually improved, the children continued to live what we might call an unfettered life with their friends from the Aboriginal families who worked on the station, as stockmen and house help, together with often alcoholic white workmen who wanted to be away from the world. In between roaming at will, camping either in the house, or out in the bush or in the camps of the local families, the children did school by correspondence for years, and learned to be capable at stock work as well. The author reminiscences with pleasure about the happy childhood they all had, and the story is excellent reading for an accurate picture of life in outback northern Australia over 50 years ago.

Street of Eternal Happiness, by Rob Schultz. PB from Hachette. RRP $35

 Rob Schultz is an American journalist who has spent years in China, and speaks the language. His book is a look at how the people in his old street in Shanghai live, and how their lives have been changed by the huge developments in Chinese politics over the past fifty or so years. The peasants in old China often lived a terrible life, if not because of wars, then from droughts, floods or pestilence. Chairman Mao changed China but in the process he also killed some thirty million people. This book gives some insights on modern China and how people have coped with their lives—is China now still really communist or have they moved to a capitalist society? At times the story of the people in the street is enlightening, at times it is sad, but it is also a look at their hopes for their future. Interesting reading.

**A Cabinet of Philosophical curiosities, by Roy Sorensen. HB from Allen and Unwin. RRP $32.99

This collection of puzzles, oddities riddles and dilemmas ranges from delightful small stories to some heavy philosophical ideas and comments. It is a book to enjoy in short bursts—I needed two bookmarks as the answers are at the back of the book. If you enjoy collecting odd trivia and riddles, then this book is a pleasure. Probably one third of the book was incomprehensible to me because the philosophical ideas were beyond my ken, but the rest has been a delight and has had me pondering answers and solutions for hours at a time. It will be a good book to leave on a bedside table for guests…..

**Rosetta, by Alexandra Joel. PB from Penguin Random House. RRP $34.99

 The subtitle of this book is “ A Scandalous True Story”. Rosetta was a young Jewish girl from a sheltered background in Melbourne. Her first arranged marriage was not a success, despite the birth of a daughter. Rosetta was beautiful, headstrong and looking for more out of life. She found this in Zend the Magnificent, a half-Chinese magician and seducer of wealthy women. Zend was uncanny in his ability to tell people what they wanted to hear about themselves. When the world began to catch up with Zend in Sydney and Melbourne, the couple moved to London and befriended –and exploited- many wealthy and titled people there. The story is categorized as biography—Alexandra Joel is a great granddaughter of Rosetta although her grandmother, who was abandoned as a child, never saw her mother again. A lot of Rosetta’s life was scandalous but she lived it to the hilt, and died a wealthy woman. The story makes interesting and at times amusing reading about a lifestyle which would not appeal to many of us.

Shtum, by Jem Lester. PB from Hachette. RRP $29.99

 Jonah is a profoundly autistic ten-year-old boy, who has ever spoken, remains incontinent and requires 24-hour care. When his parents agree to separate so that there may be some chance that Jonah will then become eligible for a live in residential placement, Jonah and his father Ben move in with Ben’s father as a temporary measure. This book has been compared with that about another autistic child, “The Curious Incident of the Dog in the nighttime.” I have read both books, but to me there is little similarity between them because this book centres more on Ben and his problems than on Jonah. I did not find any humour in the story.   Life with an autistic child is never easy, but to persevere with this recital of all the woes and few successes was also not easy.

Fiction

The Photographer’s Wife, by Suzanne Joinson. PB from Bloomsbury. RRP $27.99

 Eleven-year-old Prudence is sent out to Jerusalem to stay with her father in the period between the two world wars. 1920 was an unstable time—the British and Germans were playing political games, Jerusalem was the usual mix of Jews, Arabs and Armenians, and all were spying on each other. Years later, in 1937, after Prudence had married and was living in England, her organized life was again interrupted by people and events from her 1920’s life. It is a story of the intrigues of that era with a lot of emotion, and many betrayals. I had difficulty tying all the bits of the story together.

**The Lovers’ Guide to Rome, by Mark Lamprell. PB from Allen and Unwin. RRP $29.99

This is a light-hearted story of three couples—quite separate each from the others, but all have travelled to Rome for their personal satisfaction in some way. Meg and Alex have raised their family and are beginning to drift apart. What will spark them up? Alice is a young American artist who has come to Italy hoping to become content with her reliable and safe boyfriend. Constance and Lizzie are two formidable English ladies—sisters-in law– who are in Rome to scatter Henry’s ashes. The only connection between the three couples is the hotel where they all stay, and the novel switches from one narrative to another. I found it easy and pleasurable to switch between the stories, and the result is an amusing novel which presents many of the attractions so Rome in a novel and appealing manner.

*The Steel Kiss, by Jeffrey Deaver. PB from Hachette. RRP $29.99

 Lincoln Rhyme is a paraplegic forensic detective; this is Deaver’s thirteenth thriller in which Amelia Sachs and the best of the New York Police Department work with Lincoln Rhyme to sort out what is happening. People have been dying because of apparent malfunctions of public equipment such as escalators. The action is viewed from several perspectives.   There appear to be connections between the deaths and the murderer Vincent is determined to extract revenge: he likes to watch his accidents happen and his targets die. As always the plot is ambitious and complicated, there is heaps of action and a surprising ending. I find Jeffrey Deaver the most appealing and readable of the American thriller writers.

**No Mortal thing by Geoffrey Seymour. PB from Hachette. RRP $29.99

 The Mafia or Ndrangheta families need to place their proceeds of crime into legitimate businesses, so send Marcantonio to Germany. He is the smart but vicious grandson of one of the families and he is to learn the placement aspect of the business. He is unable to resist a simple episode of extortion and a vicious assault. Jago was brought up tough in London, and is a smart young banker who is also sent to Germany for training. Jago witnesses the assault by Marcantonio, but when he receives no support from the local police he determines to take some action himself. The story is about the relentless power of the crime families and how one person can sometimes achieve more effective results against them than the unresponsive police. It is a very good story from another master storyteller, with lots of action and details about known activities of the mafia.

***The Secret Heiress, by Luke Devenish. PB from Simon and Schuster. RRP $29.99

 Set in Australia in colonial times, this dramatic tale has more twists in the tale than a screw. The plot begins to unfold on the day Ida Garfield is to start work at Summersby House, ostensibly as a housemaid, but possibly more because Ida is incurably curious; in fact the mistress of the house is found dead the morning that Ida is to commence work. The story involves the housemaids and servants from a country estate as well as twins and the wealthy friends and fiancé of the late mistress. The final revelation is surprising, but heartwarming and brings the story to a highly satisfying conclusion. A great read!

The Darling Songbirds, by Rachael Herron. PB from Bantam and Penguin/Random House. RRP $32.99

After the musical group the Darling Songbirds broke up unexpectedly following their father’s sudden death, Adele Darling returns to the sleepy village of Darling Bay where her late uncle Hugh owned and ran the family pub—the pub has now been bequeathed to Adele and her two sisters. What Adele finds is a wreck of a business, and a very disappointed barman who had believed that he would inherit the hotel. Is it possible that such a run down hotel can bring the sisters back together again, and more, to make a living for themselves? It’s a readable novel, with an authentic feel to the story, both in the relationships and how they function, in the thread of musical performance and the nomadic lives led by many musicians.

The Travelers, by Chris Pavone. PB from Allen and Unwin.. RRP $29.99

 The Travelers is a thriller where the action roams the globe. Will Rhodes works for Travelers as a journalist and is researching at a resort in Argentina when he realizes that he has been targeted and trapped in the proverbial honey pot. He is put into a very dubious position, and has to lie to his wife about his life and finances. The action spreads further as Rhodes finds himself involved with a large company whose records are incomplete and is faced with intrigue as well as betrayal. It is a complicated story, and although I enjoyed reading the story I still felt confused about the roles of the characters. Maybe this was the author’s intent.

Ruins, by Rajith Savanadasa. PB from Hachette. RRP $27.99

 This story tells of life in the so-called New Sri Lanka, after the end of the civil war early this century. Most of his characters are young adults who are seeking to make new lives for themselves. Sadly I did not find the story easy to read. I enjoyed an extended visit to Sri Lanka a few years ago, and love the people, but the complexity of this plot and the large number of characters with names I found unusual and hard to remember, plus so many narratives, sometimes blending with others, and at other times not, had me confused.There are also lots of other Sri Lankan words used in the context of the story. For those to whom it appeals.

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March 2016 New children’s and teenager reading reviewed by Janet Croft

The more stars the better!

Picture Books

Twinkle Twinkle Little Star, written by Jane Taylor and illustrated by Mandy Foot, is in PB from Hachette. RRP HB $24.99 PB and Ebook $21.99

 This bedtime story for very small children features a tiny pygmy possum, lost in the Australian bush at night, but then guided home by a special star. Along the way he meets many other native animals. The words are an adaptation of the traditional nursery song. The rhymes and rhythms are appealing, and children will learn quite easily to sing the verse to these new words. An attractive book for 2-4 year olds.

**The Pocket Dogs and the Lost kitten, by Margaret Wild and illustrated by Stephen Michael King. HB from Scholastic, $24.99

 Any new book from this pair of author-illustrator is to be welcomed. The stories are always gentle, but with a fairly clear message, which in this case deals with the need to share when circumstances at home change. Biff and Buff have always enjoyed traveling about in Mr Pocket’s very large pockets, but when a small kitten finds favour with Mr Pocket, Biff and Buff are aggrieved, and drive the kitten away. When all are reconciled the kitten is named Molly, and accepted as a member of the family. For 2-6 year olds, and a delightful story and visual treat.

Hattie Helps Out, by Jane Godwin and Davina Bell and illustrated by Freya Blackwood. HB from Allen and Unwin. RRP $24.99

An amusing story about what happens when Hattie seeks to help prepare for Dad’s birthday party while mum is asleep. Her earnest efforts are not quite what everyone expected, but all is well, and Hattie’s efforts are accepted and applauded by all. For readers of 2-5 years.

The Dreaming Tree, by Jo Oliver. HB from Scholastic. RRP $24.99

 This is a collection of free verse poetry, with illustrations. The content is centred around features of the Australian landscape as viewed through the eyes of children. These poems can be read by a child alone, or in a group, and there will be lots to discuss. I find the poem about the gum tree particularly attractive. “It’s very hard to say if it’s bluey-green or greeny grey”. There are aspects of these poems and others which will appeal to older readers, but in the main this will be a book for primary aged children and a fine introduction to poetry about aspects of life with which we are all familiar.

Echidna Jim went for a Swim, by Phil Cummings and Laura Wood. HB from Scholastic. RRP $16.99

In this amusing and brightly illustrated story about Australian animals who go for a day at the beach. All goes swimmingly until Echidna Jim enters the water and everyone’s floaties are popped! For young readers of 2-5 years

**Cyclone, by Jackie French and Bruce Whately. HB from Scholastic. RRP $24.99

 Particular events in Australian history need to be presented anew for each generation, and here we have the story of Cyclone Tracy, when it hit Darwin on Christmas Eve 1974, retold for our young children of 3-7 years, with the message of the story accentuated by the colours used in the watercolour illustrations. Particularly effective is the grey- green on all pages, which evokes the images of just so much rain and wind! This is another very effective teaching tool-about the past, but also about what has just happened in Fiji with Cyclone Winston—so a book about weather events at any time as well.

Space Alien at Planet Dad, by Lucinda Gifford. PB from Scholastic. RRP $15.99

Jake loves his dad, and enjoys playing with him. Jake is upset when a Space Alien invades, and seems to supplant Dad. The illustrations are bright and appealing, but the message of this book escaped me. Is it all about Jake’s imagination?   Perhaps kids of 3-5 years will find it easier to follow than I did.

*Peddles, by Elizabeth Rose Stanton. HB from Simon and Schuster. RRP $24.99

Peddles is an unusual pig. He is not content to wallow, and eat, and sleep, oink and root as the other pigs do. Peddles had a vivid imagination which made him want to fly, go into space, and most of all, to dance, wearing long boot-scooting red boots. The effect of his boots on the other pigs? You’ll have to read the book to find out—it is a delight, and children of 3 -6 years will enjoy the story, the illustrations and talking about the incongruities of a pig with human hobbies.

A Soldier, A Dog and a Boy, by Libby Hathorn. HB from Hachette. RRP $24.99

 This is a story of the Battle of the Somme, in Northern France in WW1. In dialogues and illustrations it shows the horrors of the conditions for the soldiers, and the desolation for the local people. A young Aussie soldier meets Jacques, a young French orphan, and realizes that he needs a human friend, as well as a dog. It is a moving story, simply but strongly revealed in words and pictures. This book is suitable for children of 7 years and older, preferably in the company of a school librarian, or another sympathetic adult.

****How to be Famous, by Michael Shalev. PB from Gecko. RRP $16.99

 This is an amusing look at a pigeon who knows that his ancestry is distinguished, and that he too is famous. Everyone is always pleased to see him, and to acknowledge his greatness. He is always pleased to leave an autograph for all of them. The story is simple, the illustrations are amazing, and  this is a book which I could readily read and reread with young children of 3-7 years. There is considerable humour in it all, and the ending is definitely one to talk about. One of my best books for this month.!

Pig the Winner, by Aaron Blabey. HB from Scholastic. RRP $16.99

 There is no subtlety in the message from this book—it shows that Pig always wants to be a winner, is a very sore loser, and is also a cheat! The pictures emphasize the messages as well, but for young kids, the exaggeration of both the message and the pictures will appeal, and be easy to talk about. Pig really is a very unpleasant character—until he learns his lesson of course. For readers of 3-6 years.

Happily Ever After, The Ugly Duckling, illustrated by Annie White. HB from Scholastic, RRP $24.99

A retelling of the traditional story of the ugly duckling who grows into a beautiful swan, with evocative and easy to follow illustrations which will help very young children of 3-5 years follow and remember the story. An attractive presentation.

Forward March, by Christobel Mattingley and illustrated by David Kennett. HB from Scholastic RRP $24.99

This is a book for reflection about war: it shows many of the ways in which we commemorate each year on Anzac Day the experiences, and the sacrifices of all those who have served Australia in wars overseas. The narrative is a very simple summary of events, places and participants but the illustrations are magnificent, and carry the message very forcibly to all readers. This will be a fantastic book for school libraries as we approach Anzac Day 2016 and also for art students at any time of year, because the variety of images and styles of presentation of the material are highly evocative and atmospheric.

Junior Fiction

What Dog Knows, by Sylvia Vanden Heede, illustrated by Marije Tolman. PB from Gecko Press, RRP $16.99

This book is a bit of mixture of fiction and facts. Wolf and Dog are friends, with Dog supposedly the more intelligent. As the two friends play and talk together, they question lots of things, from mummies to robots, to skeletons, knights and pirates, fossils, dragons and medicines There are quizzes and sections of information mixed in with the stories so the result is a mixture, but quite entertaining and very interesting. The approach is novel and effective and the book is suitable for young readers of about 7-10 years.

The Princess in Black and the Hungry Bunny Horde, by Shannon Hale and Dean Hale. HB from Walker Books. RRP $19.99

 The amazing Princess Magnolia becomes involved in another mystery! Her glitter-stone ring rings, and the princess becomes the Princess in Black, and with her unicorn Frimplempants is off to sort out what is happening. The apparently adorable bunnies in the paddock were nastier than they looked, and ate whatever they could! It is Frimplepants who is the hero of this story as he persuades the bunnies to return to Monster Land. The illustrations are particularly effective in this book, and appeal mightily to girls of 5-7 years—these are also the most likely readers of the story.

Tiny Timmy makes the Grade, by Tim Cahill. PB from Scholastic. RRP $12.99

 Books by various Australian sporting stars have proved very popular with young readers although most of these stories are actually written by ghost writers, but with  the sports star’s  name on the title page.  This increases the appeal for young readers with the story apparently about an event in the life of Tim Cahill when a boy. The issues presented include friends, the need to practice and persist if you want to become a sports star, and how to react to adversity. This is an easy to read book, with font variations and cartoon style illustrations. It will appeal to boys of about 6-8 years, and hopefully for some reluctant readers who are good at sport.

Matty’s Comeback, by Anita Heiss. PB from Scholastic. RRP $9.99

 This is another story which is sports based for young boys—rugby league here- part of the appeal will be to young indigenous players because Matty plays for the South Sydney Rabbitohs. Again there are lessons to be learned from the story, and here it is what happens when Matty has an accident. How will the team cope without him? For boys of 7-9 years.

Keeper of the Crystals Book 4, Eve and the Last Dragon, by Jess Black. PB from Scholastic. RRP $14.99

Eve is on the train to go to stay with her gran, Sylvie. On arrival, she meets up with her local mate Oscar, and together they look for Sylvie, but then go up to the attic and open the hitherto banned wooden box. They are immediately transported into a magical world where they need to save some magical animals, including the last dragon. Eve is still puzzled as to why she is the one with magical powers as the Keeper of the Crystals. There is quite a bit of reading in these books, with probable appeal for girls of 6-9 years.

Trouble at Home, by Cate Whittle and illustrated by Kim Gamble. PB from Scholastic. RRP $9.99

 When Georgia’s baby brother Godfrey is abducted by a green dragon, no one believes Georgia’s story of what happened, because she was the only witness to his disappearance. The dragon actually stole the whole house says Georgia, but no one believes her at all. Then after a couple of weeks, and with the help of some potato chips and a sweet drink of Sarsparilla, Georgia is able to make contact with the dragon and persuade him to return Godfrey. It turns out that the dragons’ name is Trouble….will he continue to live with Georgia and her family? For readers of 7-9 years, mainly girls I suspect.

Little Lunch: Triple the Treats, by Danny Katz, and illustrated by Mitch Varne. PB from Walker Books. RRP $12.99

This is a tie–in edition of three short stories based on the ABC TV series called “Little Lunch”. There are three out- of -the -ordinary events in the book—Rory forgot his play lunch, and, quite desperate for something to eat, broke an important school rule! Battie and Melanie also had a little lunch with a difference. These stories are designed to appeal to young readers of 7-9 years.

Apocalypse Miaow Miaow, by James Proimos 111 and James Proimos Jnr. PB from Bloomsbury. RRP $14.99

This graphic novel tells how a bunch of desperate dogs—the only creatures left alive after the Apocalypse- try to break into a factory to find some more food. They have already raided the supermarket, but wow- what a cat is on guard at the factory! And what a battle ensues… The illustrations are quite amusing, and doubtless will appeal more to kids of age 5-7 than they do to me! It is an interesting way to have very young kids read a ‘book’ with so many pages!

*Detective Gordon: A Complicated Case, by Ulf Nilsson, and illustrated by Gitte Spee. PB from Gecko Press. RRP $15.99

Detective Gordon likes to spend a lot of time in bed. It is a good thing he has a more active assistant, Buffy, who does most of the work. The problem is that some one in the forest is saying mean things about other animals. Rumours are spreading. Who is to blame? It appears that several of the creatures need to be fined for teasing….this is a story with a message. The story is suitable for 7-9 year olds, and will be a good book for those who are beginning to read chapter books by themselves. And Buffy earns the right to call herself a detective!

The Incredible Powers of Montague Towers. PB from Scholastic. RRP $15.99

Montague Towers is just an ordinary boy, but when he comes up against the evil mastermind of the century he realizes that he has to act to protect the good of the world. With the help of the Cape of Justice, Montague is able to acquire six superpowers in six days, and solve the mystery. Fun, lighthearted reading for kids, mostly boys I suspect of about 9 years old.

**The Marsh Road Mysteries: Spooks and Scooters, by Elen Caldecott. PB from Bloomsbury. RRP $14.99

 When their dad suddenly and inexplicably cancels a long planned holiday with his girl friend and twin daughter Flora and Sylvie, the girls realize that something is drastically wrong at their dad’s factory where he makes innovative scooters. The girls enlist the help of their friends Piotr and Minnie and Andrew, and together the team discover the problem—it is one of industrial espionage; the next task is to work out which of dad’s partners at the factory have leaked the plans for the Breeze 5000. The detection work is a bit glib, but the story reads well and will appeal to young readers of 8-10 years, both boys and girls.

Johnny Danger, Live another Day by Peter Millett. PB from Penguin/Random House. RRP $14.99

This tongue in cheek thriller for boys of about 10-13 years involves Johnny Dangerfield, alias Johnny Danger, his brother Ian, and Johnny’s friend Tim, who wants to join their rogue catching ring.   With a super large dose of the toilet humour which appeals to young boys and some imaginative weapons, school, home, the jungle and the Shady Tree Retirement Home are all full of action as Johnny, with the support of his family seeks to beat Dr Disastrous and his cronies.

***Mango and Bambang, Tapir all at Sea, by Polly Faber and Clara Vulliamy. HB from Walker Books. RRP $17.99

 Mango Allsorts is a young girl who has befriended Bambang, a tapir. Bambang is still very shy, and scared by the busy city in which he finds himself. The pair becomes involved in four escapades in this second book of adventures. Bambang learns to dance the flamenco, they have an adventure in the local park, visit the museum, and finally Mango signs Bambang up for a cruise. This is fun reading, with delightful red white and black drawings. Fun at bedtime for children of 4-8 years.

*Magrit by Lee Battersby. HB from Walker Books. FFP $19.99

 This is beautifully written story about a ghost girl, Magrit, a skeleton man Mr. Puppet, whom Magrit had built and who gave Magrit lots of good advice about ‘life’, and Bugrat, a real life child, who is dropped into the cemetery by a stork and then raised for several years by Magrit, before being  taken away to live with real live people leaving Magrit to ponder the truths about life, death, and being a ghost. The story raises many questions for Magrit, and for the reader, who will ponder questions of life, death and the dead. It is suitable reading for capable young people of about 10 years and older.

**Teresa, a New Australian by Deborah Abela. PB from Scholastic. RRP $16.99

I have enjoyed most of this series, which presents stories about fictional characters who emigrated to Australia from other countries. There is always a fair amount of historical detail in the backgrounds of these stories. Here Teresa and her family have lived through the worst of WW2, and the bombing which Malta endured, before Teresa’s father decided that they should seek a life in a new land. So because they were light skinned, they were accepted as migrants to Australia. We learn of their early life in Sydney, and then of Teresa’s experiences at boarding school with the nuns before the family is reunited. It is a good read for girls of 10 years and over.

Countdown to Danger: Bullet Train Disaster, by Jack Heath. PB from Scholastic. RRP $12.99

This is in the style of the earlier ‘Choose your own adventure’ books. Here, the narrator, fist person, is strapped into a seat in a bullet train, when another passenger slips out of his seat and starts to slip to the back of the train. There are thirty possible paths to follow, and the suggestion is that you have 30 minutes to work out your route to death or survival. The chapters are short, it is all action, and you need to think through each step if you are to make choices which lead to survival. An exciting adrenalin -filled read for boys of 9-12 years.

****Beetle Boy, by M.G.Leonard. PB from Chicken House Books, released by Scholastic. RRP about $15.

 When I read the blurb which accompanied this book I was not enthused, because the story was described as “darkly hilarious”. However, when I realized that the boy’s name was Darkus, I decided to read on….and I am delighted to have read such a hilarious and engrossing story. When Darkus’s dad disappears, the police give up the hunt, but Darkus is convinced that his dad is still alive and sets out, with the aid in the first place of his uncle, and then later with a couple of ingenious friends from school, to find him. Also important to the story is Baxter, an enormous beetle, with more than human skills, plus thousands of other beetles. There is a horrible villain, and the two men who live next to Darkus and his uncle are both weird and horribly unpleasant. the story has all the ingredients for a fascinating well written story, and from the end of the story ( and the publisher’s blurb) there are two more books to come! Wow! The best kids’ book of the month, with considerable appeal to both boys and girls of 9-13 years.

Teenage non-fiction

* One Thousand Hills by James Roy and Noel Zihabamwe. PB from Scholastic. RRP $16.99

 The story begins in Agabande, Rwanda in April 1994. Life was simple but good for Pascal, his older brother and his parents. His parents were from different tribes- one was Hutu, the other Tutsi, and when civil war broke out after the Rwandan President was killed in a plane crash, 800,000 Rwandans, mainly Hutu, were killed in about three months. This is a serious, sombre story, which will make you weep for humanity. The story is easy to read, and gently told, but it remains as it must, a brutal story about how cruel and intolerant man can be  For mature teenagers and adults.

Teenage fiction

***Thanks for the Trouble, by Tommy Wallach. PB from Simon and Schuster. RRP $17.99

Parker Sante has not spoken since his dad died six years before this story begins. He communicates by writing notes.   He hasn’t been to school for the past six months either after he was involved in an unpleasant incident with another student but now, he hangs around hotels, steals from the wealthy when he can, and wonders about life, and the raw deal it has given him—until he meets a silver-haired girl who looks to be just a bit older than him in a hotel lobby. He steals a large wad of money form her bag, and runs from the hotel, only to return, almost immediately with the money when he realizes that he is fascinated about the his girl a and wants to get to know her better. And so begins Parker’s time with Zelda, the 200 year old girl who never ages, but who is now weary of life and wants to kill herself. This is a wonderful, satisfying story which doesn’t all end happily, but both Parker and Zelda are still with me more than three weeks after I finished the story; this is excellent reading for older teenagers of about 14 plus.

See how they Run, an Embassy Row Novel by Ally Carter. HB from Scholastic. RRP $19.99

 Grace lives with her grandfather in a diplomatic Corps compound in a fictional city somewhere in the Middle East. Grace always wondered about how her mother died, until, in the first book of this series, she learned the answer. Now she needs to learn what was special about her mother, and what is so special about her that she seems to find trouble without seeking it. This is a complicated story. There is a bit of teenage boy-girl romance, and some puzzling mysteries, but overall I did not enjoy the story because I tired of the first person narrative; Grace comes across as spoilt and almost petulant when she does not get her own way. For girls of 14 -16 years if it appeals.

****Simon Thorn and the Wolf’s Den, by Aimee Carter. PB from Bloomsbury. RRP $14.99

 Simon feels he is an ordinary boy, except that he knows that he can talk to animals, and understand when animals talk to him. He lives with his uncle, and is bullied at school, because he seems a bit odd. Simon always regrets that he sees so little of his mother and cannot understand why she doesn’t visit him more often. When a large one-eyed eagle tells Simon one morning that he, Simon is in danger and should go with the eagle Simon ignores the advice, only to learn later in the day that his mother has arrived back, but that their world is about to implode because there is a huge army of rats after Simon his uncle and his mother. All of this becomes the catalyst for  Simon to  learn about his talent as an animalgam, and that he has another life to life in the Academy under Central Park Zoo in New York, together with an extended family and the mystery of his father’s death to be learned and accepted too. Also, it appears that Simon will become a significant leader to work for the unity of the five sections of the Animal Kingdom. There will be other volumes in a series to follow this story, and if they are as exciting as this book, then they will be popular with readers of 13 years and older.

*George, by Alex Gino. HB from Scholastic. RRP $24.99

 George used to dress up in her mother’s clothes, and try her makeup, and now she has a few girly magazines, which she looks at when no one else is around, because George, to her family and at school, is a boy. George has never thought of herself as a boy, and when her class is about to perform Charlotte’s Web, she desperately wants to play the part of Charlotte. How this comes about, with the aid of George’s friend Kelly, and the consequences for George, with acceptance for her as transgender by her family and the school principal, makes for sobering, but engrossing reading. It is a gentle unfolding of life as George wants  and needs it to be. For many people it may be a confronting topic, but transgender people are in our communities, and cannot and ought not be denied. An excellent story and suitable for older teenagers and adults.

Until Friday Night, by Abbi Glines. PB from Simon and Schuster. RRP $17.99

 There is a sweet innocence about the style of this novel. It has all the dramatic ‘He said’, ‘She said’ waffle which I tried to avoid as overly trivial when a teenager, yet now see it as an effective technique in this novel! Since she witnessed her father shoot her mother, Maggie has moved in with her Aunt Coralee and Uncle Boone while she grows through the trauma. She has remained mute since the event so all dialogue is based around her thoughts, not her words. When at school it is evident that she is the next ‘hot’ thing to appear for the football jocks, and so predictably she is pursued by several of them. It is only when she develops a platonic relationship with the cutest guy in the school that she comes to learn about his trauma at the recent loss of his father to cancer. A positive aspect of the story is that the reader learns that there is much to be gained in a youthful relationship which is not all sex and lust. For older teenagers—maybe 14 plus?

How not to Disappear, by Clare Furniss. PB from Simon and Schuster RRP $16.99

I am confused about this story—I can’t decide whether it is for teenagers, or adults. It is suitable for both—the story is about Hattie’s life: her mother is about to remarry, her best friends have gone to Europe, and she has just discovered that she is pregnant with Reuben’s baby. And she is too young to have a baby and hopes the pregnancy will go away. The story is about Hattie’s life, and those around her as she decides to have, and keep her baby. It is set in Britain, and is an OK read—perhaps ir can be considered as a cautionary tale for teenage girls about what NOT to do.

The Family with Two Front Doors, by Anna Ciddor. PB from Allen and Unwin. RRP $14.99

 This book is also suitable for pre-teens, but I doubt whether many would have the stamina to persist with the detailed story of family life in a conservative Polish Jewish family in the 1920’s. The story is based on the life of the author’s grandmother, and there is a huge amount of Jewish tradition and religious conventions described and explained as the story unfolds. The title of the book derives from the fact that with nine children in the Rabinovitch family they had to rent two apartments to fit them all in. The father is a rabbi and so their lives were lived in very orthodox fashion, although family life was also very happy. The central event of the story is the approaching marriage of Adina, aged 15, who is to be married, sight unseen to Mordechai, as the result of a matchmaking deal by Adina’s and Mordechai’s fathers. For anyone interested enough in other cultures to persevere with this story, it is rich in cultural and social experiences by which our own lives can be compared—not always favorably!

Sidekicks, by Will Kostakis PB from Penguin/Random House. RRP $19.99

Isaac was a leader, and had three sidkicks who worked for him, and enjoyed his company. Ryan Harley and <iles however had little in common with each other, and after Isaac was killed, it became problematic as to whether the other three would remain in contact with each other. There are three narratives in this book, the Swimmer, the Reble an the Nerd. The story did not appeal to me. there is a lot of teenage inaction, and action, bad language, and lots of intricate messaging and emails. And—it is told in the present tense, which does not appeal. I feel that the story may well have greater appeal to boys of 14-17 years than it had for me.

Book of Lies, by Teri Terry. PB from Hachette. RRP $16.99

This fantasy involves twins, Quinn and Piper. They have never met until a tragic event brings them together, and they realize that have complementary magical skills, but that one has control of the night, the other of day. Both are involved with Zak, and their gran too, is a witch, with lots of powers and the ability to see into the future.   It is a convoluted complex story, with dual narratives, both in the present tense, and heavily intertwined. I became confused about who was who, and did not finish the story.   For girls of 14 years and older if it appeals.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Adult Book Reviews March 2016 . Reviewed by Janet Croft

The more stars, the better the read!

 Non-fiction

 

*The Romanovs, 1613-1918 by Simon Sebag Montefiore. HB from Hachette. RRP $45

The Romanovs felt they were appointed by God to rule Russia. They ruled in fact for three centuries and controlled up to one sixth of the world’s surface—easily the most successful dynasty in modern times. Even today in Russia Putin appears to hold, as one man, similar power and wealth. It makes you understand why he thinks he should, and wants to control Ukraine and the Crimea as well. This is not a book for the faint hearted; there are heaps of Russian names, and lots of characters including some from the complicated European royal families, many of whom intermarried. There are also many-varied but numerous- sexual exploits described in the story.

The strength of the book is its slant on world history from the Russian perspective; why , for example there were so many wars, including the background to the Crimean war and WW1. I had never previously heard that Churchill was asked by Russia to attack Turkey-and hence to Gallipoli. Russia always wanted to control Constantinople, because of its shipping access to the Black Sea. It is a long, but interesting book, of great scope and a lot of history.

**The Amazing Mrs Livesey, by Freda Marnie Nicholl. PB from Allen and Unwin. RRP $29.99

 Australia’s greatest imposter was exactly that! This story didn’t enthuse me to begin with, and the chronicle of this woman’s notoriety doesn’t read very well. Mrs Livesey ripped people off and married two men, one after the other. Moreover, this was the Depression so she had hardly any money. She neglected her children while she was living off her next victim. By this point I felt quite disgusted with the woman, and almost stopped reading. But then, as she wheedled her way out of one dicey situation after another, and clocked up debts all over the country, with cheques which bounced, the tale continued to deteriorate, but my fascination grew—how much longer before her certain demise? As the story became more involved the author’s fictional dialogue improved and it all flowed well . Overall—an amazing read.

 

***Keating by Kerry O’Brien. HB from Allen and Unwin. RRP $49.99

Keating would never write his autobiography. Kerry O’Brien has reported on Australian politics for fifty years. This collaboration provides a wonderful and insightful way to understand what went on and why in Keating’s life, and in the political scene where he was so significant. From the age of about fifteen, Paul Keating was interested in politics, and wondered how he could improve the well being of all Australians. He developed a relationship with Jack Lang, former Labor leader, and by then a very old man. The pair met weekly for about seven years and Keating also met with various captains of industry. These background briefings gave him considerable understanding of how the country worked. Like all politicians who want to achieve greatness, Keating became both loved and hated. All treasurers and prime ministers have to deal with world events as they occur, from money issues, wars, inflation and recessions. My husband says he was on the hating side when Keating was in cabinet, and then prime minister, but has since come to respect what Keating wanted for Australia and to acknowledge that Keating was the person who fixed Australia’s problems of rampant inflation. It is worth noting that we do not realize that we are living through what will become long remembered history until you read a book like this. It took a long time to finish, but I enjoyed it and am pleased to have read it.

 

Melnitz, by Charles Lewinsky. PB from Allen and Unwin. RRP $32.99

The Meijer family are Swiss Jews and the saga spans five generations from the time of the Franco-Prussian War to World War 2. It is best described as a very Jewish book—much of the story involves their traditional way of life and the religious traditions practised by the family, their place in society and the restrictions placed on them by society. The book has been translated into English, but the glossary is a considerable help with the many Yiddish terms used. In fact the glossary is the best Yiddish/Jewish Hebrew list of words and terms that I have ever seen. This is serious book, which presents a long period of European history from a particular and uncommon point of view.

***Presence, by Amy Cuddy. PB from Hachette. RRP $29.99

 A book written by a Harvard Business School social psychologist might seem a bit intimidating. At times I thought I would not bother to try to read the book, but every time I picked it up, I found the content very interesting and relevant to lots of situations with which I could relate. The book is based on a TED talk given by Amy Cuddy which has become one of the most viewed TED talks ever. There are sections on non-verbal behaviour, how to stand tall to impress people and how to feel confident, and these sections will benefit most people in business, from job seekers to managers. I have ended up with this book in our shelves, and have already shown it to several young job seekers.

 

Fiction

Running against the tide, by Amanda Ortlepp. PB from Simon and Schuster. RRP $32.99

This is an Australian story of a family who moved to a South Australian fishing town. Erin Travers discovers that her husband has gambled away their house and savings so she packs up her belongings, her two teenage sons up and leaves. The eldest son Mike soon finds work with the old oyster farmer next door. He is happy and fits in well with the locals. Ryan is difficult and different; he hates school and goes out of his way to be difficult because he feels he should have stayed in Sydney with his father. The story provides a readable and plausible snapshot of life in a small town, and the ways prejudice, rumour and innuendo can disrupt and affect life and happiness.

***Song of the Skylark, by Erica James. PB from Hachette. RRP $29.99

Lizzie has returned home after an ill-judged affair with an adulterous boss. She lost her job and her confidence and has to live with her semi-reluctant parents. Her mother asks her to volunteer at the local old folks home. Mrs. Dallimore is in her nineties; she lived in America and as a young girl travelled to England on an ocean liner. These pre-war years were exciting and life on board was where she met people who became lifelong friends. Lizzie and Mrs. Dallimore become friends and the story covers and blends the war years with contemporary life. Lizzie learns that what she had considered bad luck was nothing compared with what could and did happen during the war. Erica James has the delightful capacity to present her readers with life like characters and a heart-warming story.

Rain Dogs, by Adrian McGinty. PB from Allen and Unwin. RRP $29.99

 Sean Duffy is close to the end of his career when he is called to investigate his second so-called Locked Door mystery where journalist Lily Bigelow appears to have committed suicide inside a locked castle. Sean is not convinced there is more inv than meets the eye. This is a Scottish based thriller that develops into a complicated investigation of high-level establishment corruption. The death of Lily was to hide events which had been occurring for years. It’s a well-constructed story.

The Scam by Janet Evanovich and Lee Goldberg. PB from Hachette. RRP $29.99

 The thrillers which star Fox and O’Hare are always action packed. Nick Fox is on the FBI’s most wanted criminal list and Kate O’Hare has to capture him. In reality the pair have come together to expose a brutal and corrupt casino operation run by Evan Trace, a man who will stop at nothing to get his own way. The FBI want Trace because a range of criminals, terrorists and mobsters use his casino to launder their ill-gotten money. Kate and Nick set out to scam Trace—use a crim to catch a crim! The story has an intriguing bunch of characters ranging from a Somali pirate, to Kate’s father, who believes that violence can sometimes be a good method to lead to a conclusion. The story is lightweight, but quite entertaining.

* That Empty Feeling, by Peter Corris. PB from Allen and Unwin. RRP $29.99

 Cliff Hardy has been around; he works as a private investigator, had been a useful boxer and can hold difficult relationships with both sides of the law. Barry Bartlett was a ten pound Pom who had done well in Australia.. He played rugby league and managed a few boxers. His property development and investments might just be a tad shady. When Ronny Saunders arrives from England claiming to be Barry ‘s son from a failed marriage, Barry likes the idea of a son and heir, but has enough doubts about the relationship to hire Hardy to check Ronny out. This is a very entertaining light Australian crime novel but has a totally unexpected and unsatisfying conclusion.

Tricky Twenty-Two, by Janet Evanovich. PB from Hachette. RRP $29.99

 Another book from this prolific author, this time with the redoubtable Stephanie Plum as the investigator, together with her sometime boyfriend Joe Morelli. With the security expert Ranger on the case as well, and determined to claim the bounty, Stephanie and Joe need to find the killer of Doug Linken before Ranger. It’s all American action, with lots of shooting.

All These Perfect Strangers, by Aoife Clifford. PB from Simon and Schuster. RRP $29.99

 Penelope Sheppard had a difficult childhood; her mother would always have a new boyfriend, and sometimes Penelope needed a lock on her bedroom door. Pen and her friend Tracy were involved in the death of a policeman, but you are left with the impression that the policeman was not a pleasant person. Most of the story is based around Pen’s first year at university. She had managed to get a bursary, but university life had too much alcohol, drugs were available and some students were too privileged and had too much money; there are three deaths among the student body. During the story it is difficult to work out if these deaths are accidental, murders, or people in the wrong place at the wrong time. Pen keeps a diary and there are forward and backwards references to her meetings with her psychologist. It was a novel approach to narration, and not all that easy to follow because of the style of presentation of the story.

What a Way to go, by Julia Forster. PB from Allen and Unwin. RRP $27.99

 This story of the divorce of Harper Richardson’s parents, and life thereafter, is set in England, and has a strong British flavour. Harper is only twelve, and is both sad and cross at her parents for messing with her life as well as their own. She determines to do what she can to get them back together, but of course this doesn’t happen, and life with many more almost- family people in it becomes much more complicated. The book is written in the present tense, which does not appeal to me although the story is OK.

Hartley’s Grange, by Nicole Hurley-More. PB from Allen and Unwin. RRP $29.99

 Lily Beckett has her dream job, working to become a dress designer. Her boyfriend is an elegant fashion photographer. In one week all Lily’s life crashes, and she retreats to live with her sister in the small town of thief childhood. Romantic fiction seems to have standard elements— in particular a new love interest that appears perfect while events occur which drag out the suspense. Hartley’s Grange is a snapshot of life in a small rural Australian town, and is light reading. Somewhere in the editing process however, someone should have pointed out that blue heeler cattle dogs never win sheep dog trials.

Girl Waits with Gun, by Amy Stewart. PB from Scribe. RRP $29.99

Amy Stewart has adapted real events as the basis for this story. Constance Kopp lived with her two sisters on a small farm outside New York. They had moved there years previously to hide from a scandal. Henry Kaufman is the arrogant, lazy and morally corrupt young man who is expected by his family to manage the local silk dyeing works. The story begins with one of the earliest car crashes in the US when Henry and his mates crash their car into a carriage in which the Kopp girls are traveling. In their attempts to collect damages, the Kopp girls are threatened and harassed by Henry and his thugs. Constance arms the family with pistols and with the help of the sheriff brings justice to their situation. So starts the career of the first woman in America to become a deputy sheriff. It is well written and interesting.

*Between Enemies, by Andrea Molesini. PB from Allen and Unwin. RRP $29.99

 The Spada family are caught up, towards the end of 1917, between the Austrians who are fighting the Italians, and their allies. Both sides are exhausted, hungry and probably confused about why the world is at war. The family find their estate requisitioned, and they are often required to host German officers, and are horrified by the sexual violence committed by these soldiers. Their sympathies are very anti-German and they find ways to provide information to help end the war. It is difficult to understand the failed politics which led to WW1, but it is easy to feel support for the eccentric members of the Spada families in their actions. Pleasant enough and the topic is handled differently enough to make it interesting..

**Even Dogs in the Wild, by Ian Rankin. PB from Hachette. RRP $32.99

Edinburgh and Glasgow have crime boss families: mostly they compete with each other, but sometimes it is to their advantage to help some different opposition. John Rebus has retired from the police but he has contacts and skills still respected by both sides of the law. When a series of unrelated murders begin to show some shared characteristics, Rebus is asked to help. Scottish crime fiction is enjoyable reading, and here, as always the solution is difficult to predict.

**Summer Harvest, by Georgina Penney. PB from Penguin/Random House. RRP $32.99

 Beth Poole’s life has reached a bit of a stalemate; she is working as a dog trainer, and living in a small English village with her grandparents, but abandoned by her husband who could not cope with her efforts to defeat breast cancer. Beth’s grandmother buys her a trip to Australia and this proves a great move to get Beth going, as she rents a cottage in the West Australian wine district. Australian rural romances are popular reading at the moment— with attractive masculine men, plenty of humour and drama and enough misunderstandings to drag out the plot seem to be a good recipe for light, but entertaining reading. In this story however, there is also a strong reality streak, with details about the stresses caused by breast cancer to add to the mix. Georgina has dedicated this book to the survivors….

The Bitter Season, by Tami Hoag. PB from Hachette. RRP $29.99

 Hoag is a best-selling author who writes about shocking crimes. Here there are two major crimes to be solved- one a cold case from some twenty-five years ago, where a policeman was shot in his back yard. There were very few clues and it remained a frustrating unsolved crime. Recently, a college professor and his wife, who owned a collection of antique Japanese weapons are hacked to death with one of their swords. Both these are complex cases; they are assigned to different detectives. There are unpleasant people and aggressive policing, but one person appears to link both cases. I didn’t find it an engaging story, because the nature of the crimes plus the style of investigation did not appeal.

Brotherhood in Death, by J.D Robb. PB from Hachette. RRP $29.99

This is a particularly American murder mystery. The term ‘American’ is not used loosely, as the author uses a lot of New York police terms and slang in this book. Eve Dallas is a dedicated policewoman. She had been brutally abused as a child by her father, and now has strong sympathies with abused women. When a series of prominent wealthy men are abducted, abused and hung up to die, Eve finds that they all had attended Yale, and were serial womanizers. This is a fast moving story, both dramatic and complicated. Whilst the author is skilled and very well known, I could not read two such novels in succession…

***Be Frank with Me by Julia Claiborne Johnson. PB from Allen and Unwin. RRP $$27.99

 This is a captivating read—it tells of a young publisher’s assistant who is sent, ostensibly to help a reclusive writer, MM Banning, complete her second novel. In effect, Alice Whitley arrives at the mansion to find that she is to be the companion to the author’s eccentric son—definitely on the autistic spectrum, with lots of ritual behaviours and attitudes. I enjoyed the story, as Alice learns to understand Frank, how he thinks and acts, and why. It is an engaging story and almost seems to be reality based.

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January 2016, recent new books for children and teenagers, reviewed by Janet Croft

The more stars, the better the read!

For young readers

Picture books

**Open Very carefully, by Nick Bromley and Nicola O’Byrne. Board book from Nosy Crow and Allen and Unwin. RRP $12.99

From a book which starts with a lovely peaceful picture of ducks on a pond, this turns into a search for a monster, which turns out to be a crocodile which eats letters. When the crocodile is decorated with crayons, he is uncomfortable, and tries to get away. There are a couple of techniques used, like ‘rock the book’ to increase participation by the child in the attempt to get rid of the crocodiles. The finale is fun, and the book offers lots of chances for adult and child to interact with each other and the book to enjoy the read. An excellent concept and suitable for 2- 4 year olds.

****Two more board books –Listen to the Farm and Listen to the Music. Both are by Marion Billet, and again, published by Nosy Crow and Allen and Unwin. RRP $15.99 each.

Both of these books include a sound module, with a tiny switch which has to be activated toallow the child to push a button to hear the noises appropriate to each double page. Whilst toddlers of 1- 3 years will be able to press the buttons on each page, the sound module is tiny, and it would be very difficult for them to activate, or to extract a battery. This aspect of the book, as well as the questions, answers, pictures and associated sounds have been very well thought out, and the result is two delightful durable books. Top quality!

Please, Open this Book!, by Adam Lehrhaupt. HB from Simon and Schuster. RRP $27.99

To open this book is the only way to save the family of monkeys and other animals which are between its pages. As the story proceeds, the animals become scared that the reader will reach the end, and close the book…..so the cycle begins again. Because it is dark inside the book when it is closed, there is a lot of black. It is probably the first book for kids where I have felt the black to be appropriate, because it helps the reader imagine what the animals are saying, and what it would be like to be stuck inside a book….it’s an interesting, clever presentation, and good reading and thinking for 3-6 year olds.

My First Day at School, by Rosie Smith and Bruce Whately. HB from Scholastic. RRP $16.99

This is a clever book. The author and illustrator have used various animals, and very simple text to outline for small children what they can expect for their first day at school, from waking, dressing, and having breakfast, to the end of the day after a story, and the return home. Well designed and set out, there is lots of look at and talk about, and it is very appealing for children of 3-5 years.

I Need a hug, by Aaron Blabey. HB from Scholastic. RRP $16.99

The very prickly beast in this story, which sort of resembles an echidna, wants a hug, but because he is prickly, he can’t get one! It is only when he meets another animal, who wants a kiss, that the two manage an embrace….lots to talk about again, and another well set out book for kids of 2-5 years to enjoy. Pages with little on them are very attractive to young children, and make them keen to turn the page to the next bit….

***Nellie Belle, by Mem Fox and illustrated by Mike Austin.   HB from Scholastic. RRP $19.99

A new release from the best-known Australian advocate of reading for children is always a delight, and this book certainly is that! Bright stylised pictures, simple but effective rhyming verse and the story of Nellie Belle the dog who loves to experience lots of new places. For 1-4 years, and I bet most of the kids will learn the text after frequent repetition of the story by an adult or older child!

***This and That, by Mem Fox and illustrations by Judy Horacek. HB from Scholastic. RRP $19.99

Another delight from Mem! Any child whose library contains books like these is indeed fortunate. More rhyming verse, and examples of polished awareness of English grammar and verbal imagery are woven into the story as the reader learns that there will be a story about ‘cavernous caves’, and ‘kings and queens who loved to have a chat’. Each alternate double page presents a picture of   a ‘this’ or a that’   about which a story is presented in pictures, and can be discussed. Excellent reading again for 2-5 year olds.

*The Adventures of Beekle, the Unimaginary Friend, by Dan Santat. PB from Lothian and Hachette. RRP about $16

This book won the Caldecott Medal for 2015. This award is given annually by a division of the American Library Association for the best picture book of the year for children. Here we have a story about an imaginary friend who, after he is born, has to wait for a real child to choose him to be their friend. It is only when Beekle makes his away to the city that he meets Alice who has been pretty lonely to this point, but now, with Beelkle as her unimaginary friend the pair feel they can conquer the world.   For young readers of 3-6 years.

Pip and Pim, by Aunty Ruth Hegarty and illustrated by Sandi Harrold. PB from Scholastic. RRP $15.99

Most of the stories from this esteemed Aboriginal elder are based in the bush, and designed to be told, or read to young children to teach them about life, both in the bush and in the wider community. Each story has a moral, and here the lesson is to obey your elders, and not wander too far away from the group, especially at night when you could get lost, or at the least, frightened. The illustrations are attractive. For young readers of 3-6 years.

Clementine’s Bath, by Annie White. HB from Scholastic. RR $24.99

A story told in rhyming verse about the ways that Clementine the dog tries to avoid a bath. The verse and vocabulary are designed to promote the child’s learning, the pictures are fun, and predictable, and the book will be appreciated by children from 3-7 years.

Mr Darcy and the Christmas Pudding, by Alex Field, and illustrated by Peter Carnavas. PB from Scholastic. RRP $14.99

Even though Christmas has passed for 2015, I decided to review this book, because it is a story which can be read happily at any time of the year. For adults who are reading the story, there are quirky reminders of Pride and Prejudice, with Mr Darcy as the hero, and Mr Collins the unwelcome interloper. The kids will probably just enjoy seeing how the family cope with an unpleasant visitor. For readers of 3-6 years.

A You’re Adorable, by Justine Clarke. HB from Scholastic. RRP $24.99

This is an alphabet book, based on the song, for which the CD is included with the book. The author is an entertainer; she enjoys singing songs for children, and will continue to travel around Australia. The song uses the names of some of the letters, and dwells mostly on the fact that the listener is exciting, adorable or a cutie. The presentation of the letters or the alphabet are stylized, of ten using shapes which resemble letters, in upper case.   OK for any age if either the book or the CD appeal.

Mr Chicken Lands on London, by Leigh Hobbs. HB from Allen and Unwin. RRP $9.99

This is a delightful mix of travel book for the young and storybook with Mr Chicken of course as the hero. We learn to find our way around London, and to see all the most significant sites. This is a book which will appeal to families with young children who have visited London, or are about to do so—as well as general interest for less fortunate families of course. Good for 3-8 years.

**Green Lizards vs. Red Rectangles, by Steve Antony. HB from Hachette, RRP $24.99

The intention behind this book was probably to encourage the realisation in its readers that war is futile. The green lizards are at war– we see the numbers of creatures and shapes involved, how they fight and fight, all to no avail until finally one green lizard asks, “What are we fighting for?” The illustrations are direct and stunning;. the message unequivocal, and the book an excellent way to introduce talk about war or peace with children of 4-9 years.

****At the Beach, by Roland Harvey. PB, and accompanying jigsaw puzzle, from Allen and Unwin. RRP $19.99

I can’t decide whether this book and puzzle will be enjoyed more by the children who receive the set as a gift, or by the adults who give the gift, and share both book and puzzle with young kids of 4-10 years! There is so much to look at, talk about, and enjoy in the pictures, and the story of days at the beach in summer in Australia, and to do the puzzle—well, what better way for an adult and child to share a fun yet learning experience? This will also be an excellent activity for junior primary school classes, either in class, or in the school library. Well done Roland….highly recommended!

Large books and non-fiction

Asterix and the Missing Scroll, by Jean-Yves Ferri and illustrated by Didier Conrad. HB from Orion, and released by Hachette. RRP $24.99

This is the second Asterix story to be written by the combination of this author and illustrator. It is now 56 years since the first Asterix book was released….wow. Now there is a new character in this book—Libellus Blockbustus, who is publisher and advisor to Caesar, plus others as well, such as Totrum, and Confoundtheirpolitix, and Archaeopterix, as the search is on for the missing scroll, which tells of the defeat of Caesar by the Gauls of Armorica. Fun reading for Asterix fans of any age—and I suspect that most of them will be mature adults….

Game On, 2016, from Scholastic, in PB RRP $19.99

This book has been prepared by a team of writers and gamers, to outline the features and facts about the best videogames available at present. This compendium includes games such as Civilization, which h first entered the market in 1991, but continues to release new versions or modifications. There is info about Mario, (maybe the best game ever for kids)—but most of these games I have never heard of. The categories include: weirdest games, football games, horror games, war craft, including minecraft.   There are details about content, some hints for smart play, and some interviews from game designers and Youtube.     I am amused to read that my favourite when I bought our first computer, Lemmings, has now been superseded by Flockers—which are sheep but the same basic idea. This book is suitable for parents, or kids, and gamers everywhere. In tiny, tiny print, very hard to read without a magnifying glass, at the bottom of the front page, is a series of warnings about careful gaming and gaming addiction. It is a shame the editor and compilers of this volume did not see fit to print these warnings larger print!

**Wordburger, by David Astle. PB from Allen and Unwin. RRP $$14.99

I am delighted with this small chunky volume about word puzzles for kids—mainly because I hope that it will help me become a more competent puzzler! There are hints here about how to solve 20 different types of word puzzles, from tongue twisters and brainteasers, palindromes, homophones to cryptic crosswords. All designed with young people in mind but what a joy for adults who have never learned how to manage cryptics! This book is highly recommended for all children who love words and language, and for adults who feel the need to improve their word skills…

*Why does Asparagus make your wee smell?, by Andy Brunning. HB from Hachette. RRP $29.99

This is a book of 58 examples of everyday foods, and how to understand the chemistry involved in their flavours, tastes, and smell. The book begins with a very brief outline of organic chemistry, and there are supplementary references at the end of the book as well. I have found browsing the various sections—flavours, aromas, colours, poison, mind, sensation, health and transformation- to be a very interesting and relaxed activity. From “why does bacon smell so good’ to “what causes the bitterness of coffee?” And why can clove oil be used as an antiseptic—‘the range of questions is huge, but the answers are explained clearly and for the most part I have understood them. This is a good book for schools and for families where the children ask these sorts of questions–good value

***Australia A to Z, by Armin Greder. HB from Allen and Unwin. RRP $29.99

Whilst this could be described as an alphabet book, it is far more perceptive and critical than that, as the author, a graphic designer and illustrator- shows us symbols of our Australian lifestyle through his eyes and with perceptive emphases for particular features. I love the portrait of “Rupert’, the bodies on the beach for ‘Gold Coast’ and a near miss on the road at night for ‘Kangaroo’, plus, the ironical presentation of Advance Australia Fair as a finale, with the second verse printed, but the sign on the jetty saying “We’re full’ as the boat of refugees heads away….it is a thought provoking book, and great for secondary art classes and other interested Australians.

Fiction for primary -aged readers

**The Cleo Stories, A Friend and a Pet, by Libby Gleeson and Freya Blackwood. HB from Allen and Unwin. RRP $16.99

Cleo is at home on a wet day, and she is thinking. She continues to think, and her parents note that she is not her usual cheerful self. Finally Cleo starts to ask questions about pets, and says that she wants-or needs- a pet. Her parents find all sorts of excuses, and reasons why a pet is not a good idea, until finally, when her parents finally give in and say OK to a pet, Cleo, very pleased is able to say that she has already found five pets to look after, and that she is now happy. For the surprise, read the book. It is a realistic, plausible story and one which will resonate with many families. It is a beautifully presented story, with most appealing illustrations, for readers of 5-8 years.

Uno’s Garden, by Graeme Base. PB from Penguin. RRP about $10

This is a delightful small book with typical Graeme Base-styled drawing on every page. There is also a story, written in quite small font, about what Uno finds when he arrives in the forest one fine day. When Uno decides to live in the forest, at first he is alone, but then the area becomes more heavily populated until one day Uno realises…..this is a part puzzle, part environmental awareness story. Good for kids of 5-8 to tackle by themselves.

 

There are several series of books which have proved popular with younger readers. Some are distinctly ‘girly’, and others more suited to boys. Over the past couple of months since my last reviews, there have been multiple releases in seven such series!  

*In the Silver Shoes series, we have Lights, Camera, Dance, and Broadway Baby. The books are written by Samantha-Ellen Bound, are in PB and released by Random House. RRP is $14.99 each.

More than 4 million Australian children have had dance lessons. Most don’t make the professional levels, but the activity and training is always valuable. Here we read of two young girls, each of whom want to succeed in a particular style of dance. I like the fact that in these books, the life of a professional dancer is shown as a job which like all others which are worth doing, requires practice, skills and patience, plus the need to get along with other people, even though they will not all be pleasant. With a glossary for the terms used in each book, and a bit about the different styles of dance, these books are good value for young dancers of about 7-10 years.

Ella Diaries, Christmas Chaos, and Pony School Showdown. By Meredith Costain, with Danielle McDonald as illustrator. PBs from Scholastic. RRP $12.99 each.

Life is viewed from Ella’s point of view, and as shown in her diaries in both these books. The content is in print with decorations, and alterations as if Ella has actually handwritten the content. This presentation provides a strong connection with the text for the readers, as we learn of Ella’s actions, and the events in which she participates. It is as if the reader were there too. Girls of 6-8 years have really enjoyed these stories.

Pine Valley Ponies, the Runaway Foal, and The Forbidden Trail, are both by Kate Welshman, and in PB from Scholastic. RRP $9.99 each.

This is a new series, designed for young horse lovers. The books are really simple reading, and are suitable for kids of about six, or who are just starting o read books for themselves. Again from the colour of the covers, and from the content, the appeal will be more to girls than boys. There are not many illustrations, but those that there are remind me a bit of the style of the English horsey stories by Thelwell. A positive feature of these books is that topic specific vocabulary, and difficult words are written in a different font. This means that the readers understand that these words might be harder to read, so they can either work them out, skip them or ask for help from an older person. The titles of these books offer a very succinct summary of the main plot of each book. For readers of 6 -8, if you are enthusiastic about horses and riding.

*Netball Gems: Pivot and Win, and Defend to the End, are written by B. Hellard and L Gibbs. They are in PB from Penguin/Random House, and are $12.99 each. These are books 3 and 4 of a series.

This is a series which seeks to build interest in netball after the success of the Aussie Diamonds in the 2015 World Cup. The authors are well qualified to write books which include quite a lot of sports technique as well as a story. Both have played, coached and umpired at A grade level, and Bernadette is a primary school teacher who specialises in literacy and physical education. Lily is the Star in Pivot and Win: her main worry is whether she is tall enough to play high-level netball. For Maia in Defend to the End the story tells of her family’s move from New Zealand, and Maia’s realisation that she is going to have to learn new techniques for a different emphasis to the game in Australia.   As well as the background stories about issues for each family, there are details about games, and playing techniques. These books have quite a deal of solid content, and are reading and interest level appropriate for girls of say 9-12 years.

**The Kaboom Kid, Home and Away, and The Big Time, by David Warner, with J.V McGee, and illustrated by Jules Faber. PBs from Simon and Schuster. RRP $14.99 each.

These are books 5 and 6 in this series about young cricketers and little Davey Warner of course, before he became the household name he is today. Boys and girls have both become much more interested in cricket since the Big Bash League has gained so many fans, and both boys and girls can see that there is a career path in cricket, if you are dedicated and keen enough. These books have been a great success- especially, in my experience with boys of about 8-11 years. The publisher’s blurb tells me that the books have sold more than 100,000 copies since the first volume was printed about a year ago. The Sandhill Sluggers are doing OK, and enjoy their game, as well as all the other fun the team members have together. It is wholesome fun reading about an outdoor sport, and the fun which kids can have together when they play a team sport, and play together at other times. Excellent value.

Tiny Timmy, Soccer superstar, by Tim Cahill. PB from Scholastic. RRP $12.99

Another first with this book. Now we have Socceroos player and star Tim Cahill, writing a book about soccer. Tiny Tim plays well, but is always knocked about on the field because he is so small. He desperately wants to make it into the school soccer team, but it is only after lots of set backs that he discovers that he has one real ability—to jump high to head the ball. The text has lots of variation in font size, definitions of some soccer terms, and exaggerated illustrations and skills. For those who are keen on soccer of about 7-10 years.

**The last of the new releases from series that I have here to start the New Year is another in the adventures of Tom Gates. Top of the Class is by Liz Pichon, and in PB   from Scholastic. RRP about $14. In this adventure, Tom, as in previous cases, recounts events from school. Tom dreams that he is top of the class, only to be rudely awoken by his teacher. I think that a major reason why boys enjoy these books so much is that the events which occur, from fooling the teacher, to the teacher being smarter than the kids, echoes the actual behaviour in many classes around the country. As well, the boys like the variety on each page, on their ability to identify with Tom, and outwit at least some of the people some of the time. There are directions in this book about how to make a paper plane that works—great fun. For boys from 7-12 years.

Harry’s Secret, by Anita Heiss. PB from Scholastic. RRP $9.99

Harry’s secret is that that, unlike his skate-boarding playmates, he likes to draw, and to visit art galleries because he enjoys art. He tries to avoid flak from his mates, and sketches in secret until his portrait of the local mayor wins the local art prize, and his passion can be hidden no longer. The win meets with the approval of his friends because it is obvious that not only does he like drawing, but also he is good at it. A story about learning to live with yourself and your talents, for children of about 7-10 years.

The Bad Guys, Mission Unpluckable, by Aaron Blabey. PB from Scholastic. RRP $9.99

This is another book for very young readers, mostly boys in this case I feel.   A lot of evil looking supposedly bad guys—with no real resemblance to people, but with speech and faces– take on the job of releasing 10,000 chickens from their cages. The story is told with in large drawings, with minimal easy to read text. This is the second on the Bad Guys series, and should be enjoyed by boys of 6-8 years.

****Weirdo 5, totally Weird, by Anh Do. PB from Scholastic. RRP $14.99

This book is supposedly for the age group 6-8 years, but I have 10 and 11 year old boys who find the stories and the humour of this series, very attractive and enjoyable. This looks as if will be just as popular, when Weir Do meets the new boy at school Hans Some, who together with Weir’s friend Bella is on the opposite team in the camp Challenge. The visual appeal of the story is considerable, as there are lots of expressive doodles, as well as the simple text.

Jet the Rescue Dog, by David Long and Peter Bailey. From Allen and Unwin in PB. RRP $14.99

The rest of the title of this book is ‘ and other extraordinary stories of animals in wartime. This is a reissue in PB of the book about animals –not just dogs, but also cats, bird horses and even a bear-which have helped man in war time. I reviewed the book in HB in 2014, and my review is still on my blog for those who are interested. It is an excellent book for young readers of 9-12 years.

*****Lafcadio, The Lion who shot back, by Shel Silverstein. HB from Faber Factory plus Fip, and Allen and Unwin. RRP $22.99

This is a reprint of the late author’s fist book, originally published in 1963. It is described as Uncle Shelby’s story, and is regarded as a modern fable and classic. Lafcadio is a lion who doesn’t want to be shot by hunters, but, when he works out how to hold a gun, he realises that he doesn’t want to shoot hunters either—in fact he doesn’t like shooting at all, and he doesn’t like eating hunters either. All he really likes to eat are marshmallows. This is whimsical story for all ages, and it speaks to us of the futility of shooting anything, and of seeking retribution. It is published as a book for children, and –in words and illustrations- is certainly appropriate for thoughtful kids, of from perhaps 5 to adult.

*****The Adventures of Miss Petitfour, by Anne Michaels. HB from Bloomsbury. RRP $19.99

Miss Petitfour lives with a number of cats. Miss Petitfour is able to fly, and takes the cats with her when she travels, using one of her beautiful tablecloths as a type of magical flying umbrella. Together with her cats, she has lots of small adventures, such as when she realises she has no marmalade left, and tries to fly, against the wind, to buy more. Here she is helped in her quest by Sizzles, one of her cats, who uses his tail to prevent the flight continuing in the wrong direction—Sizzles did not like flying the wrong way to reach a certain place. There are other small adventures in this book, but the most delightful aspect of the stories for me is the excellent verbal imagery—the use of similes, metaphors, onomatopoeia and carefully chosen vocabulary to express Miss Petitfour’s liking for all that is precise and petite. We also meet some of the significant people in Miss Petitfour’s life—Mrs Collarwaller, who owns the bookshop, and Mr Coneybeare, who is a gentle, shy man, very much an admirer of Miss Petitfour. Via Miss Petitfours’ thoughts, and those of the narrator, we explore the meaning and use of interesting words like ‘festoon’ and ‘digression’. This will be a wonderful book for teachers to read aloud to a class, for a quiet, thoughtful time…or for innocent children to peruse at leisure, able to enjoy the whimsical nature of the meandering thoughts of the author, and Miss Petitfour. For children of 6 to adult.

The Tapper Twins go to War (with each other) by Geoff Rodkey. PB from Orion and Hachette. RRP about $15

I am not sure how to take this book. Ostensibly it tells of the emotional trauma to the twins Reese and Claudia when a disagreement between them erupted into a so-called war—mainly of words—with the consequences of punishment from parents, the taking of sides by friends, and the disruption to the peace of the Tapper household for several weeks.   There is much tweeting and messaging between the twins, and to others about each other, and a lot of senseless stuff (to me) but that young teens may see as fun or important. There is a lot of print in this book—small font, and dense on the page as well–the story goes on and on, but unless you are a tweenager of 9-12 years, I think it probable that the story and book are eminently forgettable.

***Diary of a Wimpy Kid, Old School, by Jeff Kinney. PB from Puffin and Penguin. RRP $14.99

I think this is the best Wimpy kid book yet (it is number 10!) Greg Heffley, (alias the Wimpy Kid) is protesting vehemently about all sorts of issues at home and at school, because everyone seems to be telling him that life was better in the old days, while Greg enjoys all the conveniences of technology, electricity and luxuries, like hot water, and good quality toilet paper…yet, there are aspects of modern life which are not always so much fun; when Dad said that kids used to play outside all the time, Greg comments that he went to an all day film festival, only to realise that the closed-in venue was used as a baby minding session by many families, and Greg couldn’t watch the films because every one else was fooling about!   Greg becomes a buddy at school to Frew, but Frew ends up doing all of Greg’s homework, and as a consequence Greg’s classes are changed, because his marks are so much better.-is there a moral here about cheating?   Comments on home life are interesting because the family now has a pet pig, who eats with the family and lives in the house…sometimes this is quite gross….Grandpa comes to stay, and again says that life was better in the olden days. And Mum succeeds in her efforts to unplug the town for a week or more….Jeff Kinney has been tongue in cheek with this book again, and enables fun reading for a kid about life for a kid now, but with lots of gentle reminders that if the past was not perfect, now is not perfect either. Excellent reading for kids of 8-12 years.

The League of Unexceptional Children, by Gitty Daneshvare. PB from Little Brown, a division of Hachette. RRP about $15

This is a story about two children, who up until now have been totally average and unexceptional in every way. They are the children who can be present in a class without anyone noticing them or speaking to them. They do not feel worthwhile in any way. Until the vice president of the US is kidnapped and unusual means are needed to find and rescue him. So Jonathan Murray and Shelley Brown are chosen by a little known league to become spies and help find and rescue the vice president. In so doing the children are actually important for a small time, but realise that they do not want to be significant or well recognised, but that they can be quite happy in themselves knowing and accepting that they are insignificant in the great scheme of things. The story reads OK and it is quite fun to see how many basic errors the two kids make because they are not used to being noticed or considered or thinking about what they should be doing.. It’s an OK read for 9-12 year olds.

**The Secret Forest, by Enid Blyton, PB from Hodder and Hachette, RRP about $14.

This book was first published in England in 1943—before I was born! I have read Enid Blyton books   since I was about 8 years old, but this was one which I had missed, although I had read the first of the Secret Stories. Here, the Arnold children are to spend their summer holidays in Baronia with their young friend Prince Paul’s’ family. It is a book of its times—air travel was a novelty, there were few radios or telephones, and life was simple—especially in the forest of Baronia where the children find themselves embroiled in a hunt for a group of robbers who live in a very isolated forest and have been pillaging the neighbourhood. There is still much to be said for stories where the language and vocabulary flow easily for an enjoyable story. As always, the children become involved, and the reader feels transported into another time and place. Still excellent- simple but wholesome reading for children of 7-10 years and I am delighted that Blyton books are being reissued.

***Star of Deltora, Book 1, Shadows of the Master, and Book 2, Two Moons, by Emily Rodda. PBs from Scholastic. RRP $16.99 each.

A new series by master storyteller, and inventor of the magical and mysterious Deltora, is always welcome, and here as always we have a new hero—in this case, heroine. Britta ‘s father had been a successful sea-faring trader, until his search for the Staff of Tier ended in disaster, and his ship now belongs to the powerful Rosalyn fleet. The captain of that fleet, Mab is looking for an apprentice, and Britta is chosen as one of the four contenders for the position. Mab does not know Britta’s identity, as she is living incognito. Britta has friends on board and on land, but she also has enemies to contend with, in particular one of the other contestants Vashti, and the old witch Zoolah. The second volume continues the voyage, but the major event for Britta of this stage of the voyage is being kidnapped and the horrifying time she then spends in the Swamplands, with lots of monsters and plenty of hidden secrets. When she escapes, it is with the acceptance by her of the services of a goozli, to help her sith the next stage of her quest to become the chosen apprentice. These books are exciting reading, and will be enjoyed by all fans of Emily Rodda and Deltora.

Sing a Rebel Song, by Pamela Rushby. PB from Scholastic. RRP $16.99

Maggie McAllister grew up in Barcaldine, Queensland in the 1880s and writes a diary which starts in 1890, when the shearers’ strike was affecting property owners, shearers, and the people in the local towns. The shearers were desperate to have the conditions for their work, and the pay they received, improved. Maggie is n excellent student at school, and loves to write. Her ambition is to be a journalist but it seems as if the only way she can continue her education is to become a pupil-teacher—the means by which most young teachers were trained at the time. Maggie’s father is part of the shearers’ rebellion against their working conditions, and one of the leaders of the strike of 1891. The book actually begins when Maggie and her family are part of the group of protesters who left Australia in 1893, and sailed to Paraguay, in search of better conditions and life than what was on offer in Queensland. There is a lot of history in this book—at times I felt it led the story, rather than be incidental to it. When the shearing strike failed, the shearers realised that they needed more political clout—the results was the beginning of the union movement in Australia and also, the origins of the Labour Party. This is quite a serious story, probably suited to those in junior secondary school.

Teenage books

Friday Barnes, No Rules, by R.A Spratt. PB from Random House, RRP $16.99

At the start of the story, Friday has been deported from the USA, because evidently her parents never registered her as a citizen and she had been born in Switzerland. After three weeks in the Zurich Transit Lounge she solves a mystery for the local police, and then is registered as a Swiss citizen before returning to the USA, where her school is now in chaos because all the teachers have been fired. This is now the fourth book about Friday. Her role now is to work out why all the teachers were fired, and to return Highcrest Academy to a semblance of normality, and in the process clear Ian Wainscot, for whom Friday has rather more than a soft spot, of blame for all the problems. I felt that the start of the book when Friday was in Switzerland, did not link to the rest of the story. OK reading for girls of about 12-14 if it appeals.

Magnus Chase and the Sword of Summer by Rick Riordan. PB from Penguin/Random House. RRP $22.99

Wow—a new series from this prolific and popular author of paranormal novels for teenagers. This is the first of what is to be a series which feature the gods of Norse mythology. Magnus has lived on the streets siince his mother died in strange circumstances. Now an uncle whom he has never met finds him and tells him that he is the son of a Norse god. This is a long book, and there are lots of threads opened which will be worked through in later books. I found this book a little like some of the adult Scandanavian fiction books which have been translated into English—there are too many hard to remember names! I have no doubt that Rick’s many fans will enjoy this series as much as his others, but it was too much for me to persevere to the end.

***The Story of Antigone, by Ali Smith. PB from Pushkin children’s, and released by Allen and Unwin. RRP about $16

This is a rewriting of the story which originated with Sophocles; it has been rewritten many times and the subject of plays and music, but now we have this version for children, with the aid of the crow as narrator. Antigone was the younger daughter of the blind Oedipus. When her two brothers fought to the death over the crown, one- Eteoles- was said to be the hero; Polynices was said to be a traitor, and was condemned to lay without burial rites in the field where he had died. Antigone goes against the decrees of her uncle Creon, now the king, and determines to bury her brother with all due rites. How Antigone is then condemned to death, and how she in fact kills herself, and the other deaths which follow is a morbid, but traditional story, which shows the irony of ill thought out decisions, and the futility of war-and these points are emphasised by the words of the narrator, the crow.   This is an easy to read story, which is suitable for children of 12 and over, and which, once read, will be remembered.

**The Secrets of the Wild Wood, by Tonke Dragt. HB from Pushkin Children’s and Allen and Unwin. RRP $29.99

This story was originally published in Dutch in 1965, and only recently translated into English. It is a sequel to The Letter for the King, but it was fine to read it as a stand-alone book. I did not expect to enjoy the story, because it seemed quite complicated at the start but I persisted, and soon I was hooked as Sir Tiuri and his page Piak set out, with determination to find the knight Ristridin. It is a tale of green men, knights, mysterious ladies, double crossing knights, and a most mysterious and dangerous forest, from which most people never return, and where most people are lost forever. It is also a story where morality, and fidelity to those whom one admires are emphasised. A good read for capable readers of 12 and over.

***Curiosity House 01,the Shrunken Head, by Lauren Oliver and H.C. Chester. PB from Hachette. RRP $19.99

A group of children whom most would regard as freaks, have all lived together happily under the care of Mr Dumfrey, the owner of the oddities museum. Each of the children has in fact a special talent, but when Max, a knife thrower joins the group a series of disastrous events begins to unfold. The museum’s ‘piece de resistance’—an Amazonian shrunken head is stolen, and the museum is threatened with closure. Someone, for some reason, wants the children taken away from the museum, apparently to be used for someone else’s benefit. Fortunately the children decide that they want to stick together, and manage to solve the mystery, and work everything out to their advantage. After a couple of chapters, I found it hard to put the book down until I had finished it! Good reading for 12 and over.

***The Next Together, by Lauren James. PB from Walker Books. RRP $16.95

This is the love story of Matthew and Katherine. The only issue is that the love story is spread over a couple of centuries as the pair are born, meet and fall in love, then are fated to die, only to be reborn in another time and place. The nominal setting is Scotland in the eighteenth century but the time warps vary for each reunion. Each time the pair come together, they make some sort of scientific discovery which improves the world in some way, but they seem fated not to see the results of their work. Finally, about twenty years in the future from now, Kate realises that the cycle has been broken after she has a baby. Matt is now in prison; she helps him escape, but then it seems that they have vanished off the earth, with their daughter left to trace their history and significance. It is a gripping story for mature and capable readers.

**The Hidden Series 3, Fetcher’s Song. By Lian Tanner. PB from Allen and Unwin. RRP $18.99

This is the concluding volume in the Hidden Series, from the world of the anti-machinists. People who remained alive on land have been mercilessly downtrodden under the brutal rule of the Devouts. These people are now brought together via the work of the Fetcher family, and the crew of the Oyster, who are now on land and looking for Fin’s mother, and the mechanical Captain, in order to defeat the Devouts and the evil Poosk. This generation of Fetchers, Gwin, her blind brother Nat, and their father inherited a code which will save the world, but they don’t recognise what it is or how to activate it. Gwin is the Singer, and the Devouts want to capture her father and Gwin, so their wish to restore the old ways can be defeated forever. This is an exciting finale to the complex, but fascinating series from this talented author.   This is not a stand alone book—it will be important to read the preceding volumes Ice Breaker and Sunkers Deep, if this book is appear coherent and satisfying. For capable readers of 12 and over.

 

 

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January 2016 Latest adult books as reviewed by Janet Croft

The more stars, the better the read!

Non-fiction

**The Lightless Sky, by Gulwali Passarlay, with Nadine Ghouri. PB from Allen and Unwin. RRP $29.99

When Gulwali Passarlay’s doctor father was killed during a gun battle with US troops in Afghanistan, his mother paid a people smuggler eight thousand dollars to send Gulwali and his older brother to England. These were two Pashtun boys of twelve and thirteen, brought up in a conservative comfortable well educated Pashtun family with social and religious values which seem alien to westerners. A trip which was promised to take a few weeks took more than a year. The boys were separated very early, and it was an extraordinarily difficult time for them both. They had no knowledge of how they were to reach England, and had to rely on the many levels of the people smuggling operation, people whose main interest was to make money out of the huge numbers of refugees floating and otherwise moving around the world; estimates are that there are 60 million of them at any one time. This story is not only inspiring; it gives insight into the bureaucracies with which the refugees have to deal, when all governments are overwhelmed with the numbers they are dealing with. This is not the first time I have read of the immense changes to their lives that the refugees have to learn to accept. Here it is interesting to read of the differences between the Sunni and Shiite sects that are the root of so much conflict in the Middle East, but also, there are the rare acts of kindness from strangers Gulwali meets along the way. This is yet another book, which I would like to shout to the world that everyone should read. The story will not solve the world’s problems, but will give greater understanding, and hopefully arouse feelings of compassion in the readers. Gulwali’s story has been a happy one since he arrived in Britain and was fostered to a good family. In 2012, then at university, he was selected to be an Olympic torchbearer.

A wonderful book to read at the start of 2016.

Asio: The Protest Years. The Official History of ASIO, 1963-1975. By John Blaxland. HB from Allen and Unwin. RRP $49.99

This is the second volume of the history of ASIO which I have read, or rather browsed, because much of it concerns bureaucratic changes and political manoeuvring as the Menzies era came to an end and more frequent changes of government followed.   This volume concludes with the downfall of the Whitlam government in 1975. The major issues of the time spanned include the expulsion of a Russian spy, Skripov in 1963, the duration of the Vietnam War, and issues concerning communism, in particular in China, and whether certain members of the Labour Party had affiliations with communism governments. Much time and energy was put into the surveillance of Arthur Gietzelt in particular.   Much of the text is tedious to read because it is so bureaucratic, and detailed, but the photographs and other illustrations, including some memorable political cartoons are wonderful, and make the book more appealing. For those to whom it appeals.

The Complete Beatles songs, by Steven Turner. HB from Hachette. RRP $49.99

Wow—this is a gem for collectors of Beatles memorabilia! All the lyrics of 207 songs, together with background information about each of them, plus lots of photographs. Unsurprisingly, this makes for a large book; if I have a gripe, it is that the lyrics are printed in quite small font, but otherwise, go to it Beatles fans, and enjoy!

***The Nature of Sex, by Dr Carin Bondar. PB from Hachette. RRP $32.99

The Ins and Outs of Mating in the Animal Kingdom is the subtitle of this book. Humans are one of the few species of life on earth that appear to continue to enjoy their sex lives, even after they are unable to reproduce further but there is evidence that for many species, sexual intercourse is pleasurable. Dr Carin Bondar has written a fascinating book which shows that reproduction is behind the behaviour of all species. Her expertise is that of an animal biologist, and her chapters on the habits and hugely diverse and complex biological themes make humans look to be relatively simple in our habits; humans have largely removed the biology out of the sexual process. The process of fertilization of female eggs with male sperm is a process which varies enormously from one species to the next: how animals find a mate; some mantis eat their male partner after sex, for extra protein; some penises are broken off; there is a chapter on the prevalence of homosexual behaviour, the fact that this occurs in all species, and that there are benefits to the practice for these species. This is not a lightweight book, and it is a serious discussion, but there is also some humour and overall it is a really interesting book.

**Thing Explainer, by Randall Munroe. HB from Hachette. RRP $35

This is a large hardback book which looks as if it is a kids’ picture book. Whilst it is suitable for children who are interested in how things work, the complexity of the diagrams in the book makes it firstly to be viewed as a book for interested adults. All the highly detailed diagrams show how things work, and there are various categories, from the solar system to computers, to helicopters, and human organs for example. What makes this book so different from others is that the language Munroe uses is restricted to explaining the operation of all of these machines using only the 1000 words which Munroe decided, from his analysis of the usage of words in print, to be the most commonly used words in English. Thus he describes the functioning of a microwave oven as a ‘food heating radio box’, and a helicopter as ‘a sky boat with turning wings”. A bridge is described as a ‘tall road”. Whilst this simplified vocabulary sounds strange to us, it certainly means that the majority of the population can both read and understand what he is explaining. If I have a gripe it is that presumably because there is so much information packed into the book, the print is really small, and faint. I found half the fun to be to try to work out what the correct labels should be for various items. It’s a bit gimmicky, but I can imagine that lots of people from teenage boys to adults will enjoy perusing the book.

*Why does Asparagus make your wee smell? By Andy Brunning. HB from Hachette. RRP $29.99

This is a book of 58 examples of everyday foods, and how to understand the chemistry involved in their flavours, tastes, and smell. The book begins with a very brief outline of organic chemistry, and there are supplementary references at the end of the book as well. I have found browsing the various sections—flavours, aromas, colours, poison, mind, sensation, health and transformation- to be very interesting. From “Why does bacon smell so good?’ to “What causes the bitterness of coffee?” and “Why can clove oil be used as an antiseptic?”—the range of questions is huge, but the answers are explained clearly and for the most part I have understood them. This is a good book for adults who like trivia, schools and for families where the children ask these sorts of questions.

 

Fiction

A Few of the Girls, by Maeve Binchy. PB from Orion, RRP $29.99

The late Maeve Binchy was one of Ireland’s best storytellers. Not only did she write great atmospheric stories, her characterization skills were superb. This is a collection of short stories, written over the years. It is interesting to observe in the stories, that as the years passed, there were changes in attitudes and a decreasing role for the Catholic Church in regulating people’s lives and morals. This is a collection to savour, and to remember a great author….

The Little Red Chairs, by Edna O’Brien. PB from Faber. RRP $29.99

Another renowned Irish writer, but one who is still writing in her mid eighties! A stranger arrives in a small town in the west of Ireland and claims to be a faith healer. Fidelma is persuaded to give him her trust, but then soon is forced to flee Ireland for London, when the so-called doctor is found to have been a war criminal in Bosnia. Once in Britain, we read of Fidelma’s experiences as one woman after another recounts to Fidelma, her painful past experiences in life. Many of the stories are unpleasant; most involve maltreatment and violence towards the women in some way. The book did not appeal to me- it seemed as if Fidelma was just the listener and the writing lacked the subtleties and fullness of characterization and plot that we have seen previously from this author.

A Strangeness in my mind, by Orhan Pamuk. PB from Hamish Hamilton, and Penguin/Random House. RRP $32.99

Mevlut Karatas came to Istanbul from a poor village in central Anatolia. He was uneducated and came to the city to find work and a life. Orhan Pamuk has won a Nobel Prize for Literature, and again here, he reveals what is happening in the hearts and minds of his characters. The translation from the Turkish has been completed competently, and the story flows well. Mevlut works as a street vendor, a parking attendant and as an electricity metre inspector—all simple jobs for a hard working, simple man. The story shows how such people rely on extended family members to find work, marriage and housing. It is a book that shows how people connect, and live, and the complications that arise from the mix of races and religions in Istanbul, one of the world’s most famous melting pots, in history, and still today. It was an enjoyable and interesting way to understand and appreciate the flavour of the city.

Stars of Fortune, by Nora Roberts. PB from Hachette. RRP $29.99

This is the first in what is to be a trilogy, from this prolific, and entertaining author. There is a mixture of the real, and the supernatural, as Sasha Riggs, a self-contained and almost reclusive artist, goes to Corfu to work to try to understand the too-vivid dreams and nightmares, which have haunted her for years. Once on Corfu, she is amazed to meet Bran the magician, because he is the one who has been the mysterious constant in her dreams. There are other characters in the story that are also seeking to find truth and happiness, in real life, or through magical means.   Obviously, with a trilogy, there are sequels to come, so everything is left hanging at the end of the story. For once the story is not set in the USA or Ireland, as has often been the case for Roberts. It is a good easy read, for women only I suspect, and maybe teenage girls; it borders on chick lit, but it can be read as a stand alone, and does not relate to any other stories by this author.

***Career of Evil, by Robert Galbraith. PB from Hachette. RRP $32.99

Cormoran Strike has a private investigation agency. He has been successful, and this success has caused resentment among some police, who are not as smart or as thorough in their work. Robin Ellacott loves to work with Strike; each of them has had difficult periods in their lives, and they work well together. The story is clever—at times brutal. A murderer fantasises about killing Robin, and delivers body parts from previous victims to her. Robert Galbraith is a pseudonym for J.K. Rowling, the author of the Harry Potter books (just in case you didn’t know!) and has now turned her skills to adult crime fiction. It is a complicated and long story, but gripping plot and wonderful characters.    She is undoubtedly a master storyteller and I loved this story, even with the brutality.

*Tallowood Bound, by Karly Lane. PB from Allen and Unwin. RRP $29.99

It is always pleasing to read a story set in Australia, and by one of our burgeoning number of Australian authors. Erin McAlister returns to the small hometown to look after her grandmother, who is now quite old, and in failing health. Erin’s mother has never been the maternal type, and does not wish to look after her own mother, so it is up to Erin. There does seem to be a mystery about Erin’s’ grandmother’s past as she tells Erin stories about her life, and events in the war. Erin finds a few small clues, and photos, then begins to delve to find out the truth. At the same time, she meets up again with Jamie McBride, with whom she had a romantic fling at the age of seventeen. Whilst the second round romance with Jamie is predictable there is much to enjoy in the story of Erin’s grandmother, and the unravelling of her past. The book is a good read, and I enjoyed it.

Dead Joker, by Anne Holt. PB from Allen and Unwin. RRP $29.99

It appears to be an open and shut case; the chief prosecutor’s wife has been beheaded in his house, with him as a witness. The only other suspect had appeared to commit suicide before the beheading. D.I. Anne Wilhelmsen appears to believe Sigurd Halvorsrud is not guilty, despite appearances. This is a complex story made more difficult by the abundance of Scandinavian names. As well, Anne has a personal crisis to deal with. The story has been planned well, and gradually the links to the horrific crime come together to round out a gripping book.

All the Stars in the Heavens, by Adriana Trigiani. PB from Simon and Schuster. RRP $32.99

Hollywood in the 1930s was a time of big stars, who could get away with most escapades. It was usual for the leading actors to have affairs with their co-stars; marriage did not seem to be an impediment. This is a work of fiction and should be read as such, although it revolves around the lives of real stars. When Loretta Young was twenty-one, she lived with her very solid and conservative family. She fell for Clarke Gable, and he enjoyed the relationship without bringing himself to divorce his older wife because he believed that she would get all his money. The mother superior of St Elizabeth’s infant hospital called in Alda Ducci to say that she was better suited to the outside world than a convent, then found Alda a job as assistant to Loretta young. This is fiction about the golden years of Hollywood and how Alda, with her convent background, learned to fit into this world. The story is interesting enough, more so if you are interested in film stars.

The Magic Strings of Frankie Presto, by Mitch Albom. HB from Hachette. RRP $35

Mitch Albom is an inspiring writer and his books have always appealed to me. This novel is no exception. Frankie Presto is an orphan, raised from the age of nine by a kind man, taught music by a blind musician, and then made his way through the world because of his ability to compose, play and sing. This is a story woven around the souls of the musicians—soul, classical or rock. Frankie is said to have played for Presley, the Beatles and many others. At times the story is sad, but in general, both moving and inspiring. It’s a book I believe you will be pleased to have read.

**The Simplest Words, A Storyteller’s Journey, by Alex Miller. HB from Allen and Unwin. RRP $35

Alex Miller is a storyteller. Born in London, he moved to Cornwall while still a boy. He was inspired to migrate to Australia by a photograph of the outback taken by Sydney Nolan. Once here, he worked his way north, and spent two years working with aboriginal stockmen on a property in the gulf country. With these experiences behind him Miller studied at university in Melbourne. He owned a small farm, travelled the world and became a major prize winning author, with more than ten books published. This is an interesting collection of stories from his life- his passions, backgrounds for his stories, people who influenced him and some hints on how to start and write a story. I have not read any of his other books, but this collection convinced me that I should search out some of his other books. Highly recommended.

Between Sisters, by Cathy Kelly PB from Hachette. RRP $29.99

This is a novel about two sisters, raised in Ireland by their grandmother after being abandoned by their mother. Their reactions to this abandonment influence their lives. Cassie is committed to raising a perfect family; this she finds a hard slog, and a few wines at the end of each day help. Her sister Coco cannot commit to marriage. She does not trust men to make her life any better. Some Irish stories can become morbid with the ways so many things seem to go wrong. In this case, the ending is fine, but I found the story a bit tedious.

***Hester and Harriet, by Hilary Spiers. PB from Allen and Unwin. RRP $29.99

The two widowed sisters live a quiet life, and are annoyed by the close and cloying presence of their cousins George and Isabelle, plus their son Ben. The lives of Hester and Harriet are thrown into turmoil when they find a young refugee, with a tiny baby, in a bus shelter, and spontaneously decide to take the pair home with them. And so begins a period of turmoil, unexpected occurrences, surprises with Ben, and much busier lives for the sisters. English villages are special places, with genteel living, a lot of gossip, some dalliances with the vicar’s wife, suspicious farm crops, and in this case, undercurrents surrounding illegal immigrants. This is a novel of life in modern Britain, and although the story took a bit to sort out, in the end I enjoyed it immensely.

*The Crossing, by Michael Connelly. PB from Allen and Unwin. RRP $32.99

Michael Connolly has written twenty novels, mostly about crime in an American setting. He has sold some two million books, including plenty in Australia and New Zealand. Many of these books have starred Harry Bosch as the detective. Harry Bosch had been a successful police officer in Los Angels for many years, but now has resigned. His half brother Mickey Haller is a defence lawyer who defends what the police regard as the undefendable. When Harry is offered investigative work by Mickey, Harry is uncomfortable about this as he feels he is going against his lifetime principles but Mickey is convinced his client has been set up and is innocent. The investigations turns on the police department, and the issue is whether there is a rogue cop, or lazy policing. The story is tightly constructed and the issues raised are interesting. There is also a satisfactory ending. Good reading for crime fans.

The Sun in her Eyes, by Paige Toon. PB from Simon and Schuster. RRP approx $30

This book was just perfect for the commencement of summer leisure reading….it is a sweet well-written romance.   Leaving her husband Ned in England, Amber returns to her native Australia to help her father recover after a stroke, and rekindles a childhood affair with Ethan. Amber is torn between her love for Ned and new lust. Funny how separations for whatever reason are not helpful to any relationship!   It is a predictable scenario but well presented.

The Honourable Assassin, by Roland Perry. PB from Allen and Unwin. RRP $29.99

Vic Cavalier had not led a boring life; he almost made it into the elite SAS army group, became a journalist, married a Thai, drank too much then somehow became involved with the death of a Mexican drug lord in a Melbourne laneway. His journalist editor asks him to go to Thailand to follow leads about the drug trade and the general corruption at high levels of government there. All of this makes for a fast moving, almost believable thriller, with bits of romance to complete the picture.

I’ll be home for Christmas, by Roisin Meaney. PB from Hachette. RRP $29.99

Tilly lives on a farm north west of Brisbane. When she is about fourteen her teacher asks her to do her family tree as a class project. From this, Tilly discovers she had been adopted, and eventually is able to trace her birth mother; this mother had abandoned her for adoption and is not interested to establish or maintain contact. Tilly does learn however that her biological father is alive and that she has a full sister who lives at Troone, a small island off the coast of Ireland. Deciding to visit her sister, Tilly just buys a ticket without telling anybody. It becomes a very Irish situation! Troone is a small island and every body knows everybody else. There are complicated relationships- past and present -and bits of Irish magic as part of the mix. It is a feel good story, with reminiscences of Maeve Binchy’s style and content.

****The Lake House, by Kate Morton. PB from Allen and Unwin. RRP $32.99

This novel begins with vignettes of different people, places and times. In 1933 a child goes missing from the Edevane family country house. It is an old family, with a teenage girl, a younger child, and a father who still suffers in the aftermath of the Great War. Seventy years later Sadie Sparrow is in trouble. She was investigating the disappearance of a woman and her abandoned daughter, but Sadie disagrees with her superiors about the case. Whilst the episodes presented at the beginning appear separate, the novel develops into an extraordinarily well-crafted book where past and present come together in unexpected ways. It was really satisfying to reach the end, after a delightful book which should satisfy all readers of mystery detective stories.

The Secret Chord, by Geraldine Brooks. HB from Hachette. RRP $39.99

David was not the favoured son of the family. He was made to live as a shepherd with his flock. He crafted a harp, and played and sang. He became the anointed leader of the Promised Land after he slew the giant Goliath with his slingshot. King David is an historical character of the Bible, who is believed to have lived a thousand years before the birth of Christ. He is credited with forming the tribes of Israel into a kingdom, and with the establishment for the city of Jerusalem, although there is little evidence to support these claims. The author has built a story of a mighty leader and fighter who had many wives, and ruled as a despot. To the credit of the author, and rather to my surprise, it all makes for a good story, with lots more details than in the bible, even if it is all conjecture.

The Promise, by Robert Crais. PB from Hachette. $29.99

This is an American crime thriller, with Elvis Cole and his sidekick Joe Pike as the investigators. Cole is hired to find a woman who is suspected of selling explosives. Nothing is as it seems; the local police do not trust Cole and appear to try to hinder his inquiries. Scott James is a police dog handler. The dog between Scott and his dog Maggie is the best part of the story. It is all action, and a reasonable story if you like American thrillers.

The Bazaar of Bad Dreams by Stephen King. PB from Hachette. RRP $32.99

In this latest book from the master of thrilling, often spine chilling novels we have a collection of short stories twenty in all. Quite varied in content and in the degree of fantasy about the future, horror, guilt, the ‘after life’ among other themes. King has previously written a book about writing, which is also part autobiographical, but as a teacher I found it fascinating to read his introduction to this book as well as the titbits at the beginning of each story. This would be a wonderful collection for extension HSC students in NSW for example who choose to write as story as their extension 2 work. And it is a fine collection for anyone who likes an exciting, varied range of excellent short stories.

No Mortal thing, by Gerald Seymour. PB from Hachette. RRP $29.99

Jago is working for a bank in Germany when he is witness to a crude extortion threat. Mecantonio is the young arrogant heir to an Italian Ndrangheta family who enjoys the power he can exercise and fear he can arouse. When the German police seem uninterested in the case, Jago sets out to see what he can do. The gangster’s grandfather is hiding in the Italian mountains, protected by bribed police and the loyalty of his clan. Jago does not realise he is interrupting a carefully planned police surveillance operation, with police from Rome, Berlin and London poised to swoop on the grandfather boss, when they are able to prove where he is. It is a story of the brutal power of crime bosses, the frustrations of under-resourced police and is all suspense and action.

The Winter Isles, by Antonia Senior. PB from Allen and Unwin. RRP $29.99

The western isles of Scotland were a wild place in the twelfth century. The tribes and islanders were Gaelic, Norse, Normans who came up from England, or Irish from the west. Somerled, who arrived with the Irish, became leader of a small tribe when he was fifteen. The only way to survive and grow was to fight, starting with raids for cattle. Over his lifetime he managed to lead the people of the Scottish islands. This is a story, based on facts of the life and times of Somerled; sometimes it is brutal and sometimes tender. It offers some interesting history, and is quite entertaining.

 

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Children and Teenage new books for October-November 2015: reviewed by Janet Croft

The more stars, the better the read!

Under the Flame Tree, by Karen Wood. PB from Allen and Unwin. RRP about $20

Kirra has just left school, and is starting a job with horses on the property where her father is the manager. There is the promise that her fees at college to learn more about horses will be paid if she is successful with this placement. There are two boys involved– Kirra’s friend Jamie, and a new ringer, Daniel, whom Kara finds surly and hard to get along with. Moreover Daniel has served time in a juvenile centre, and everyone warns Kirra not to get involved. The plot is predictable because of course Daniel becomes irresistible, but in the process Kirra learns more about his family, why he was falsely convicted, and eventually is helpful in exposing the actual culprit. Light reading, probably more for older teenage girls than adults.

***Newt’s Emerald, by Garth Nix. PB from Allen and Unwin. RRP $18.99

What a delightful novel– it is part fantasy and magic, but there is also acknowledgement of the regency novels of Georgette Heyer, and a few flicks to Jane Austen as well. Lady Truthful Newington inherits the magical Emerald on her eighteenth birthday, but in the midst of the celebrations, there is a massive storm, and the emerald disappears. Lady Truthful then goes to London to see if she can discover who has stolen the jewel. Her elderly but totally progressive thinker of a great aunt suggests that Truthful should dress as a man, and so Truthful become the young Chevalier de Viennes, because a man can move around London alone, whereas a well brought up young lady– never! Of course there is magic involved, and it doesn’t take long before Truthful and her few trusty old friends, and a couple of new friends-one of whom is rather handsome– are seriously looking for the crook. The story romps along, with any possible romance denied of course by Truthful. This story is a great way to introduce teenagers– and girls in particular -both to other stories by Garth Nix, but also to the delights of the regency novels. A wonderful, fun read.

****Concentr8, by William Sutcliffe. HB from Bloomsbury. RRP $24.99

Wow– what a contrast from Newt’s Emerald! This is a novel, set in London, possibly not too far in the future. It tells of five teenagers, all of whom were classed as having ADHD, or Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder. All of these kids had been fed Concentr8–a made up pseudonym for Ritalin–by authorities, for as long as they could remember. Life changed when the local mayor ordered that supply of the drug be stopped—riots and protests broke out across the city. ADHD kids can be prone to impulsive decisions and actions, and these five, on the spur of the moment, take an innocent council worker as hostage, and keep him locked up in a deserted warehouse for five days. There is a journalist who is searching for answers about both the drug Concentr8, how it has been used, and manipulated, and who has benefited from dosing all these kids for so many years. At the top of each chapter is an extract from recent literature about ADHD, the medication Ritalin, and what has been discovered about its effects on those who take it. Essentially the story is about how we label children, and why. The effects of our education policies on children who think outside the square cannot be underestimated, but the long-term effects, as portrayed by this story, can be unpredictable and certainly repressive. I found this an engrossing story– I have worked with so-called ADHD children for over thirty years. I know that if such children are taught to read, and to have confidence in themselves, they can achieve as well or better than other children at school, but too often they are not taught in a manner appropriate to their individual needs. Often too, the term dyslexic would be a closer description of the thinking profile of these children, and dyslexia is now better understood, with the use of brain scansto understand processing of particular tasks. An excellent, thought provoking read for teenagers and interested adults.

**The Cat at the Wall, by Deborah Ellis. PB from Allen and Unwin. RRP $16.99

Set in the West Bank area of Israel, this tells of two Israeli soldiers, whose task it is to stake out, then raid, and use as a hideout, an apparently empty house. The goal is to see if there is any terrorist activity in the neighbourhoood. What the two soldiers find, is a cat which is the reincarnation of a girl named Clare, who died about a year earlier, after a traffic accident for which she blamed her teacher, who picked on her–at least in Clare’s eyes. As we read the story of Clare’s demise, we do not find her attractive, but it appears that as a cat she is kinder, and more aware of the feelings and thoughts of others, than she had been as a girl. There is a small boy, Omar, perhaps autistic, in the house. When his teacher comes knocking to find out why he is not at school, the soldiers realize that thy have been discovered. Fine, but then some of the local people are angry at their presence, and finally there are rocks thrown, and the boy’s life is in danger. It is up to the Cat to work out how to rescue him. This is a poignant multifaceted story– of Clare– of the boy Omar–and also of the two young Israeli soldiers and their lives, duty and attittudes.            War benefits nobody. Another challenging but excellent story from this author, for readers of 12-15 years.

**The Boy at the Top of the Mountain, by John Boyne. PB from Penguin/ Random House. RRP $19.95

Everyone who has read and been challenged by, but remembers The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas, will read this book. Again the author returns to the World War 2 theme, this time through the life of Pierrot, a young French boy who is left an orphan, and ultimately finds his way to his paternal aunt, who lives in the mountains of Austria, and is housekeeper at the Berghof, holiday house of Adolf Hitler. Because of the sensitivities of Hitler, Pierrot becomes Pieter, has to dress in noticeably German clothes, and to avoid receiving letters from his former best friend in Paris, who was Jewish. Over the next seven or eight years the reader sees the transformation of Pieter into a dutiful, arrogant supporter of Hitler. It is a plausible story, and one, which again highlights the negative effects on people of prejudice and hatred. Excellent reading for those of about 10 and over.

****Boot Camp, by Robert Muchamore. PB from Hachette. RRP about $24

Forty eight young rock musicians, members of twelve bands, have been chosen to experience six weeks of boot camp with musical training, lessons in how to handle an interview, and presence in front of TV cameras, plus a competition. All the battles, both musical and physical, are filmed, and the results are turned into a reality TV show. The central characters of the story are Jay, his unpleasant brother Theo, his cousin Tristan, and would-be girlfriend Summer. There is coarse language, and a bit of blood, but the story has a strong authentic feel to it, as the musicians bunker down in a converted gracious manor house not far from London. The drama escalates suddenly right at the end when a serious accident occurs, and we are left hanging, waiting for the next episode –the book will be called Battle Zone. Superb reading for music buffs, and fans of Muchamore’s Cherubs series–preferably about 14 and over.

Asking for it, by Louise O’Neill. PB from Hachette. RRP $29.99

I am including this book in the adult section, because it may serve as a cautionary tale for some parents. The publisher lists it as a children’s book, but with the caution on the back that it is “Not suitable for younger readers. Contains strong language and explicit scenes” It is the story of a young Irish girl, Emma, who is eighteen and a happy, attractive young woman. One night at a party, Emma gets drunk, and is raped—not just by one boy. When she wakes the next morning on the porch of her own home, she is in extreme pain, and doesn’t know why, or what happened. It is a devastating story, but one sadly, which will resonate with some teenagers and women. Such stories and events are an indictment on western society, and the social taboos and constraints of life in small towns. For mature readers only.

For the very young….Picture Books.

**This Little Piggy went Dancing, by Margaret Wild and Deborah Niland. Board Book from Allen and Unwin. RRP $12.99

Each repetition of the rhyme “This leittle piggy went to market” has a double page spread, and a different food or activity is the theme, such as pasta, or dancing. It is a delightful book with white pages, and lots of space, as well as each little pig to talk about. A gem of a book for infants of 6 months to toddlers of about two years of age—and a tough little book too, so it will withstand lots of love and handling.

**Pip and Posy, the Scary monster, by Axel Scheffler.   Board Book from Nosy Crow and Allen and Unwin. RRP $9.99

This book is excellent value—the story, about Posy, what she does on a rainy day and how she is frightened when Pip turns up dressed as a blue monster—is fun, and will help to allay a young’s child’s fear of the unknown as Posy learns to have fun with the monster costume rather than feel afraid. All the Pip and Posy books have a learning slant to them, and they have all been delightful for adults to read too—and that is important when you are reading and then rereading many times to a young child! This one is suitable for toddlers of 1-4 years.

***Be Brave Pink Piglet, by Phil Cummings and Sarah Davis. PB from Lothian and Hachette. RRP $14.99 (also in HB and eBook)

As Pink Piglet explores his world, he sees and is temporarily scared by some of the large or different animals he meets. Always he is able to return to his mum—and she is not scared of such things, and is both able to comfort and support him, and to be proud of him. The illustrations are delightful, and will offer much for discussion when the book is read with a child of 1-4 years.

***The Big Book of Animals of the World, by Ole Konnecke. Board book from Gecko. RRP $25

In this mixture of a world tour, and a trip to the zoo we have a good look at the animals of the world, and their particular environments. It is a large book, almost A3 size, and there is considerable detail in the drawings so that they are accurate and true to life. I love the way in which there are extra picture stories on each double page spread, such as that of the two small animals who are climbing a lookout to e able to see all that is in the surrounding landscape- the guy with the chainsaw, and the fisherman on the lake- all of this looks very Canadian, and it offers a lot to talk about. The book is suitable for ages 2 to about 7, and I find it delightful.

 This little Roo went to Market, by Mandy Foot. PB from Hachette. RRP $14.99

This is another version of “This little {Piggy went to market” based on Australian animals, fruits and vegetables.   The story is pleasant, and the pictures are attractive. It is fine for children of 2-4 years, probably best in company with an adult.

A Very Wombat Christmas, by Lachlan Creagh. HB from Lothian and Hachette. RRP $24.99

A Christmas story with Australian animals, about gifts, and how carefully Wombat searches for the ideal present for Emu. It is a bright book, and suitable for 2-4 year olds.

My Dead Bunny, by Sigi Cohen and illustrated by James Foley. HB from Walker Books. RRP $19.95

This is a difficult book to categorise. It tells in verse the story of Brad the dead bunny- how he died, and how he now comes to haunt the narrator when he is in bed. The illustrations are mostly in black and white, with a bit of sickly green, all of which match the story, but will make the book scary for very young children. The verse is suitable for kids of maybe 7-9 years, and I would be hesitant to give the book to anyone younger. The intention is to match the style of some horror movies, and in this I think the author and illustrator have succeeded well.

*Snow Bear, by Tony Mitton and Alison Brown. PB from Bloomsbury. RRP $14.99

A touching story—possibly more oriented to life in the northern hemisphere, where there is much more snow, and people are familiar with the cold and loneliness that can be felt with lots of snow. Small Snow Bear is looking for a home, and for love and comfort. Eventually, after trudging through lots of snow, he finds a small girl who is also in need of a friend. It is a cheering story, suitable for readers of 2-5 years.

***I want Spaghetti, by Stephanie Blake. PB from Gecko. RRP $16

Simon the rabbit is a fussy eater, and makes life tough for his parents. He is also quite naughty, and capable of serious temper tantrums when he doesn’t get what he wants. How the parents outwit Simon and are able to attract him to other foods is a fun read, with, lifelike and amusing illustrations, which kids will love to talk about. This would be an excellent book in the ‘social learning’ field, for autistic children who often have difficulty interpreting facial expressions, and will also be great for kids of 2-5 years. It is a funny,visually appealing book!

***Sad the Dog, by Sandy Fussell. HB from Walker Books. RRP $24.95

This is a cautionary story about a small dog, whose original owners did not want him, or help him enjoy life. They did not even give him a name, or play with him but shouted so that he felt miserable. When they moved house, they left him behind. The dog named himself Sad, because that is how he felt. Then, wonder of wonders, a family arrived to live in the house, and for the children, the best thing about the new house was that it came with a dog for them to love and play with! So –Sad is able to rename himself—Lucky. It is a happy read, but it also contains a lesson about the responsibilities which come with a pet—to look after, and to cherish, so that the pet as well as the owner feels good. This is a gem of a book for children of 3-8 years.

*One Thing, featuring Charlie and Lola, by Lauren Child. HB from Hachette. RRP about $24.95

This is a book about numbers, and counting. New parents often do not realize that the basics of mathematics need to be taught at home, and here we learn about what Charlie and Lola learn about numbers as they clean their teeth, go to the shops, count their steps along the footpath and so on. It will make a great present for young children who are about to start school—or for their parents! It is suitable for kids of 4-6 years.

Books for Primary ages

 Non-Fiction.

Meet- Sidney Nolan, by Yvonne Mes, and illustrated by Sandra Eterovic. HB from Random House. RRP $24.99

This picture book provides an outline of Nolan’s life, and tells of significant events which helped shape his art—from stowing away in an attempt to get to England, when he had no money, and of significant and helpful friendships in his life. What the book does not give are reproductions of his artwork. There is a timeline at the end of the book. It will be a helpful book to children who are interested to know of Nolan’s life, perhaps as an introduction to his art.

***The Drum: Atmospheric: The Burning Story of Climate Change, by Carole Wilkinson. PB from Black Dog and Walker Books. RRP $18.95

This is the history of evidence about climate change, and an up to date summary of recent research. The book is segmented into topics for easy reference, and is written at a level suitable for upper primary school children. At the end of the book there is a time line, plus a glossary, a list of references used, useful web sites for those doing research for assignments, and an index. This is the clearest and easiest to understand book that I have read about climate change—either for adults or children. Highly recommended for everybody, including climate change skeptics!

**Making Bombs for Hitler, by Marsha Forchuk Skrypuch. PB from Scholastic. RRP $14.99

This book is about aspects of World War 2 of which I was oblivious. It tells about young Ukrainians who were forced to work for the Nazis, making bombs, but then after liberation, were not allowed to return to Ukraine because the Soviets believed that they had been indoctrinated by the Germans. The story is about two sisters who are first separated by the Nazis. The older sister, Lida was then forced to make bombs for the Nazis, and worked and lived in a slave labour camp and dreadful conditions. The story includes factual information about how the young workers tried to sabotage some of the bombs so they would misfire, but Lida’s prime concern is to work out how she is to find her sister Larissa again. It is also the story of a boy, Luka who has been and remains a friend of Lida’s and shares some of her experiences. It is a grim, but touching story, with at least a happy ending. For readers of 10-12 years, both boys and girls.

Fiction for Primary kids

Meet—Freddy Tangles. Legend or Loser, and Champ or Chicken. Two titles by Jack Brand and illustrated by Tom Jellett. PBs from Allen and Unwin. RRP $9.99 each.

These two stories are good value for boys of 7-9 years. They are stories about Freddy—in Legend or Loser, Freddy is scared of the local bully, and the story tells how he learns to cope, and how Sid Malone is defeated. In Champ or Chicken Freddy learns to become more confident in social settings, and in particular, with a girl. Wholesome reading, and quite entertaining—if you are a boy of 7-9 years that is!

*The Princess in Black and the Perfect Princess Party, by Shannon and Dale Hale, and illustrated by LeUyen Pham. HB from Walker Books. RRP $117.95

This is a simple fantasy for girls of 6-8 years, about the Princess Black, and what happens to disrupt her birthday party, when the princess is called to act to defeat the monster before her party begins and then more trouble follows. The story is highly fanciful, but it is a high quality production, with large clear font, age appropriate vocabulary, and lots of attractive pictures. Lots of appeal in this book for young girls.

The River and the Book, by Alison Croggon. PB from Walker Books. RRP $16.95

This is a serious story about a village in Africa. Simbala is a Keeper. Although she is young, since the death of her mother she has become the reader who will use the Book to find the answers to questions about aspects of life and the future for other villagers. Western companies have come to the area of the River, and have begun to mine the area. In the process, they are killing the river, and river flow has been disrupted, so the crops are poor, if they survive. A foreign woman visits the village, and seems to want to help the villagers against the developers, but when the foreigner leaves, she has stolen the Book. When Simbala hunts the woman down, it is to find that the magic of the book has been destroyed. This is almost a fable about how western developments in Africa can affect adversely the lives of the locals. For mature readers of 10 years and over.

*Heartsong, by Kevin Crossley-Holland. HB from Orchard Books and Hachette. . RRP about $20

I loved this story. It tells of Laura, a young mute orphan who is taken in at the orphanage in Venice, and raised there. It is discovered that Laura is very musical, and she is then taught music by a young monk , so much of the story is   about that young monk, Antonio Vivaldi.   It is easy to read, and a pleasant story about how music can help make people feel happy as well as some detail about life in Venice a couple of hundred years ago. For girls of 8-12 years.

Timmy Failure 4—Sanitized for your Protection, by Stephen Pastis. HB from Walker Books. RRP $17.95
Timmy Failure is a detective. The fact that he is only a boy of about 9 or 10 does not matter and the fact that this is the fourth story about Timmy’s successes and occasional failures as a detective supports the fact that he is generally successful. Most of his adventures contain much humour—especially for boys who like The Wimpy Kid, or similar stories. Here Timmy has to travel halfway across the country to help his mother’s new boyfriend settle into a new job but this is just part of the issue, because Timmy realizes that he is also traveling with a well known criminal. Great layout—lots of illustrations and an easy, fun read for boys of 8-1 0 years.

The Luna Laboratorium, by N.J Gemmell. PB from Random House. RRP $16.99

This is the third, and final volume about the Caddy children and their adventures in London and now back in Australia, as they attempt, with the help of their eccentric uncle Basti, to find their mother, whom they had believed to be dead, but now know to be alive, having been kidnapped by some who did not like the scientific work she was doing, and wanted her to work on some illegal activities. The four children their friend Bone, and Basti, return to Australia, and most of the action in this story takes place in Sydney, starting at Luna Park, where dastardly deeds have been committed in hiding. Finally—yes, all is resolved happily. It is a fanciful story, but after the two earlier volumes, it was apparent that the entire family would be reunited, and both mother and father returning home in good health. A good read, especially or those who have read the two earlier books in the series for 9-12 year olds.

Theophilus Grey and the Demon Thief, by Catherine Jinks. HB from Allen and Unwin. RRP $19.99

This is the fist volume, with another to follow of the adventures of Philo and the other linkboys—boys who work in the dark nineteenth century London streets, to light people to their homes at night. Philo meets a sympathetic doctor, Mr. Paxton, and starts to work for him regularly. Philo and Mr Paxton become aware that there are criminals trying to blackmail people using a particular drug, but pretending that the illness is caused by a demon. The next volume of the story will appeal in April next year. It is an OK read, but I became confused because there are so many characters in the story, and it was a bit difficult to keep track. OK for boys of 12- years and over if it appeals.

****The Mapmaker Chronicles, Breath of the Dragon by A.L Tait. PB from Hachette. RRP $14.99

This has been the best fantasy story sequence I have read in the past twelve months or so, and here it comes to a highly satisfactory conclusion. Quinn, Ash, Zain, and the crew of the Libertas do not arrive back to their home port as the first crew to return, but as it turns out, they are the victors of the King’s quest to complete the map of the world, and bring home the treasure. Similarities between the appeal of this series and that of John Flanagan’s Rangers’ Apprentice series have been made—and I can understand why. Both series make excellent reading for capable readers – both boys and girls of 10-14 years.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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