reviews of childrens new books – november 2012

Best  Books—three stars….***Picture Books to begin with…

That’s what I’d do, by Jewel.  HB, with CD from Simon and Schuster.  RRP $19.99

This lullaby was written for the well-known singer’s newborn son, with the aim of exposing him to rhymes and rhythms at a very early age.  I have listened to the lullaby, and it is attractive.  So are the illustrations by Amy June Bates, and the result is an appealing hardback worthy of being played and read with young children of 1-3 years.

Vullah Vunnah Nah, written by Patricia Clarke.  PB from One day Hill, and Scholastic.  RRP $24.95

This aboriginal song and story also comes with a CD sung in Patricia’s local aboriginal language from south-western Victoria.  The lullaby presents as a continuous melody and chorus about the rainbow, and the illustrations on each page of the book reflect this.  I feel that this book will have considerable appeal to aboriginal families who appreciate the importance of their language. The lullaby is suitable for babies and toddlers of 1-3 years.

The Twelve Days of Aussie Christmas, by Colin Buchannan.  HB, with CD from Scholastic.  RRP  $19.99

This is an activity book as well as the words of the well-known carol, turned Aussie, with lots of native animals and characters as the gifts for each day of Christmas. I doubt the words will take off- I found them quite fun to listen to once, but there was more interest, for the child I was with, in looking for all the creatures and items which are hidden on the various pages of the book.  OK for children of 3-7 years.

Bushland Lullaby, by Sally Odgers and Lisa Stewart.  HB  from Scholastic.  RRP  $24.99

This is a gentle story about various babies of the Australian bush.  The colours are pastel, and the drawings are distinctly recognizable, even if a bit simplified. The book is attractively presented and will appeal to young children of 2-5 years.  I did not like the different font used for the names of the animals—surely this is a distraction if children are trying to read this book for themselves.

**Peggy, by Anna Walker.  HB from Scholastic.  RRP  $24.99

Wow- this is a good story, with delightful illustrations and a story with which young children from about 2-6 years will identify.  Peggy the hen is carried away from home by the wind, and finds herself alone in a large and busy city. Children will enjoy reading how Peggy makes her way home again, and they will be happy that she is not lost in such a scary way.  Good reading.

Possum Magic numbers by Mem Fox.  Board Book from Scholastic.  RRP  $9.99

A simple, attractive counting book 1-10 showing Australian animals for children of 1-3 years.  Good value as a gift for a newborn.

A Pet isn’t just for Christmas. From the RSPCA, released and sponsored by Random House.  RRP  $12.95

This is a simple story, with delightful photos of a variety of attractive animals to talk about- many of them babies.  The message of the book however is serious—if you have a pet you must consider its needs every day; it is not just there for your amusement at Christmas.  A good book to give to children when you are considering buying a pet for a family.

The Selfish Giant, by Oscar Wilde.  HB from Allen and Unwin. RRP  $29.99

This expensively produced edition of a classic fairy story has been illustrated by  Ritva Voutila.  The story is well known; how the giant thinks only of himself and his garden, until a small boy helps the giant realise that he gains nothing by being selfish, and that life and the beauty of his garden is more attractive when it is shared, particularly with children.  If I have a gripe with this edition it is that the cover is very dark, and many of the illustrations seem very dark  as well. ISuch drab pictures detracted from the  beauty of the story for me.   For children of 5-10 years.

Good night, sleep tight.  By Mem Fox, illustrated by Judy Horacek. HB from Scholastic.  RRP  19.99

Bonnie and Ben have a babysitter one Friday night.  Skinny Doug is the children’ favourite babysitter and he tells them great rhymes at bedtime. The children love to persuade Doug to tell them one rhyme after another.  The rhymes he tells are those he learnt when he was a kid, and Bonnie and Ben love them too.  Children of 2-5 years will enjoy listening to the story, with the rhymes, and then learning , for example,  “Round and round the garden’ and “This little piggy went to market ‘ for themselves.  Excellent value and merit in this little book.

The Gift, by Penny Matthews and Martin McKenna.  HB from Scholastic.  RRP  $24.99

This is a Christmas story, about the brown teddy bear which was rather plain, as he sat in the shop window.  He had a red ribbon around his neck, but he gave that as a gift to a sad green crocodile, which really wanted to be bought as a gift, and it worked.  Then it was just the bear which was left on the shelf—until—yes, there is a happy ending. A well set out book, with clear and colourful illustrations.   This is a very pleasant story for children of 2-5 years—especially at Christmas, although the moral of the story is a perennial.

There was an Old lady who swallowed a Star, by P Crumble.  PB from Scholastic.  RRP  $14.99

A retelling of the song “There was an old lady who swallowed a fly” with words appropriate to Christmas.  The illustrations are bright, but I suspect that the storyline will have limited appeal.  For children of 4-8 years.

Today we have no plans, by Jane Godwin and Anna Walker.  HB from Penguin.  RRP  $24.99

I often feel that children and families are too pressured to be ‘doing something, or going somewhere’ too much, especailly at weekends. The authors of this book obviously agree with me, and in this story, told in rhyme, the family has no plans, and it is possible to dream, relax, and let time pass slowly.  A gem of a book, with a very sound message for young parents.  Maybe the book is really for the parents, rather than the children of 3-8 years!

 

**Little Elephants, by Graeme Base.  HB from Viking and Penguin.  RRP  $29.95

What a delight to see a fantasy picture book from this wonderful Australian author and illustrator, without having to solve really difficult puzzles at the same time  (not that they are not interesting—they are, but this is a change!)  Jim and his mother face hard times on the land, and Jim has to let his pet mouse go, because it might bring other mice, and the harvest has to be gathered somehow, hopefully without pests like locusts and mice. Jim is kind to a stranger, who comes to the farm;  presumably it is this mysterious stranger who leaves a horn on a post. Jim finds and  blows the horn. Somehow then, everything seems to turn out for the good, so that,  with help from a most unlikely source, the harvest is collected, and the world seems a brighter place for Jim and his mother.  For readers of 4-9 years.

Children’s non-fiction

 

***Australia’s Greatest Inventions and Innovations.  Christopher Cheng and Linsay Knight.  PB from Random house.  RRP  $24.95

This book has been written in conjunction with the Powerhouse Museum in Sydney. I think it is an excellent, and most important book. Excellent because the inventions and innovations are clearly presented and discussed, often with photos;  important, because this is folk history, as well as scientific.  It is a book for families to look at, read and discuss, and for children then to be able to visit older people and find items which are in the book, and look at them with wonder and delight and maybe talk about the history of the item.  The best-known Aussie inventions are probably the hills hoist clothesline and the Victa lawnmower, but we are still inventing things!    Did you know that it was Australians who invented Wi- fi? And the baby safety capsule for the car?  This is a splendid book for all families.  Anyone with a reading age of about 9 and over will be able to read the book for themselves.

Life on the Goldfields, by Doug Bradby.  PB from Black Dog and Walker Books.  RRP  $19.95

This is a thin but attractive history book about the Australian Goldfields from 1851.  Why did people come to Australia?  Where did they come from?  What were conditions like on the fields, and what Australian developments, particularly political, arose because of conditions and changes caused by the discovery of gold.  There is not a lot of detail about all of these issues, but the information is represented with lots of illustrations and, later, photos.  It is suitable for upper primary children of 9-12 years.

**Found: the Art of recycling.  By Lisa Holzl.  HB from Walker Books RRP  $34.95

This book was rather unexpected.  I thought it would be about recycling effectively and often, but it is about how recycling has led to the broadening of what we consider to be art – a sphere, beginning probably with Picasso, in which old items are used to create art, works.  The book presents and discusses works by Picasso, and other creators, most of whom I have never heard of (but then I am pretty ignorant about modern art!)  .  Some of the people whose work is presented are Carlo Carra, Joseph Cornell, Fiona Hall and Lauren Berkowitz.  I have found reading the book interesting.  The desire of the composers to reuse materials of all sorts, and for them to be able to express their concerns for the environment by the statements they make with the materials they use, is inspiring, and laudable. There are also suggestions on each page of how students can seek to create similar works for themselves, using some of the ideas they see in the photographs of the completed well-known works.  The book is suitable for upper primary and secondary students.  Whilst different from what I expected it is a  thought provoking book, and I learned a lot!

***Big questions from Little People.  Answered by some very big people. Compiled by Gemma Elwin Harris.  HB from Allen and Unwin.  RRP  $29.99

This is a collection of more than 100 questions from children aged between 4-12 years, together with the answers to these questions from eminent scientists and thinkers of many persuasions.  It is a book to browse, and to marvel over, because some of the questions are so searching, and the answers are excellent, and simply stated .  Just to give a sample of the questions, there is “Who had the first pet?  Why do wars happen?  Why are some people mean? Will the North and south poles ever melt completely?  How does my brain control me? How did we first learn to write?”  The experts who answer these questions include David Attenborough, Dr David Bellamy, and Phillip Pullman, but every question is answered or explained thoroughly.  There are questions where the answer is “I don’t know, but” and some of the questions are handled by several people, with different views, such as “Who is God?”  In all, a really interesting and thought provoking book, suitable for readers of 9 years and over to read for themselves.

Butcher Paper Texta Blackboard and Chalk, by Ruby Hunter and Archie Roach.  From One Day hill and Scholastic.  RRP  $19.99

This is a songbook, with words and illustrations,  and a Cd and a DVD included. The songs were composed during a trip taken in 1997 to Cape Yorke, by Archie Roach, Ruby Hunter and three of their sons.  There were also other musicians.  The group visited 12 schools on the peninsula, and the result was a great success among the aboriginal school children and their families, and for the artists.  I have watched the DVD which comes with this book, and it is delightful to see the interest and enthusiasm with which the children helped compose the songs and sing them, and also, played the instruments.  The drums were a particular favourite.  Ruby hunter as the leader is inspirational.  The result, in the book and with the Cd are songs which can be learned and performed: the DVD will serve as a stimulus for others to compose and perform their own songs. It is an excellent idea to have included the DVD because the viewer sees so much of life and the customs of the locals on Cape Yorke.   Suitable for families, and for primary school classes in particular.

 

Fiction titles for junior readers

Figaro and Rumba and the Crocodile Café, by Anna Fienberg and Stephen Michael King.  HB from Allen and Unwin.  RRP $19.99

We are all familiar with Tashi, but now we are introduced to two new characters, Figaro the dog, and Rumba the cat.  Here we share six chapter adventures with the two animals as they dance, sing and share adventure stories when they catch the Very fast Train to the beach.  This is a fine story, with lots of Stephen Michael King’s bright and zany illustraions and  it’s a great way to introduce young readers to chapter books.  For readers of 5-8 years– probably the older ones  will be able to read the stories for themselves.

 Star, by Catherine Bateson.  PB from Scholastic. RRP  $16.99

A story about a blended family, and how it takes Star a long time, and many disruptions to get used to having mum’s old boyfriend, and his two children living with them, when Star was used to being the centre of attention.  It’s a story about learning to live with a larger and new family, and how to get along with others.  Easy  reading for girls of 8-10 years.

Ghost Buddy, Zero to Hero, and Mind if I read your Mind, both by Henry Winkler and Lin Oliver.  PB from Scholastic.  RRP  $$9.99

In Zero to Hero, when Billy is forced to move, against his will to a new house and school, with his family, no one could be more shocked than Billy to find that he had to share this new bedroom with a ghost-Hoover Porterhouse the Third.  Having Hoover around helps Billy adjust to his new surroundings, and in the process turns him into a more pleasant boy as well. In “Mind if I read your mind,” Hoover helps Billy win a mind reading contest at school, but then Hoover becomes a bit jealous because Billy now is so popular he is not spending as much time with Hoover.   Both of these are imaginative and quite good fun and suitable for boys of 8-12years.

Clementine Rose and the Surprise Visitor, by Jacqueline Harvey.  PB from Random house.  RRP  $12.95

This is the first of what is to be a series about Clementine Rose, who appeared, as a baby, from the back of a minivan—and didn’t appear to have a mother!  There was however, with her, when she was found, a note to say that she belonged to Lady Clarissa, who owned a very large house, and took paying guests.  So begin the adventures of Clementine Rose, as she grows up in these surroundings.  There are many small problems for Clementine Rose, and of course she gets into minor troubles too, but always they seem to work out.  In this story, it is Clementine Rose who works out why old Aunt Violet is so mean and unhappy, and what it is that she is after by coming to stay with them for such a long tie.  Good easy reading for girls of 8-10 years.

Cahills vs Vespers, by Roland Smith. Book 4 Shatterproof.  HB from Scholastic. RRP $17.99

The next in the series concerning two children, who are wanted by Interpol for various crimes, but really it, is all part of the scene where two families are at war.  This series is tied in with a web site, and there are competitions for keen readers and gamers.  The series does not grab me, but is OK reading although  it is seems a  very repetitive format and style from one volume to the next.  For readers of 8-12 years

Infinity Ring, by James Dasher.  HB from Scholastic.  RRP  $14.99

This is the first volume, A Mutiny in Time, of what is to another series, somewhat similar in style to the above title, with the book, plus gaming activities available on line.  The story involves three children who travel in time, to fix so called breaks in history. In this first book they travel to Spain, to search for Dak’s missing parents, only to find that Christopher Columbus is in strife, and facing a mutiny.  The language is very modern, in spite of the  Renaissance setting, but maybe the participants will learn some history during the progress of the series.  From my reading of the blurbs, it seems that the book is designed to be secondary to the on line activities, and these will be available on the web, on Smartphone and tablets, with a virtual world scene.   For children of 8-12years.

Ella and Olivia.  Ballet Stars and The New girl, both by Yvette Poshloglian and Danielle McDonald.   PBs from Scholastic.  RRP $7.99

Another two  titles in the series about the two sisters who like to do things together, but at times  try to outdo each other too.  In Ballet Stars, the question is whether they can both be ballet stars.    In The New Girl the concern is why the new girl in Ella’s class doesn’t seem to like anything. Easy reading for girls of 6-8 years, with help where needed for the occasional difficult word.

EJ 12 Girl Hero.  Kimono Code.  By Susannah McFarlane.  PB from Scholastic.  RRP  $12.99

There is sufficient variety in the stories in each of the EJ12 books to retain the interest of girls who have enjoyed the stories to date.  Here Emma Jacks, agent for SHINE, has to travel to Japan to make sure that the unpleasant agency Shadow does not succeed in sabotaging the cherry Blossom festival.  There is also the issue of  how to handle an unpleasant girl  at school, and this issue comes to a head in the karate competition.  I like the use of some simple Japanese terms in this story, and also how key words are printed in a different font.  For girls of 8-12 years.

Rise of the Guardians. Adaptation by Stacia Deutsch.  PB from Simon and Schuster.  RRP  $8.99

This is the simple novelization of a movie which is to be released at the start of December.  The Guardians are the good guys, and seek to help the children not be afraid of the nightmares they have about Pitch the bogeyman.  If you are interested in this good vs evil tale, check it out at KIDS.SimonandSchuster.com.  The book is suitable for children of 709 years, but I didn’t find it smooth reading, or an engrossing tale.

Dork Diaries.  Dear Dork, by Rachel Renee Russell.  PB from Simon and Schuster.  RRP about $12.99

The presentation of this story is very appealing to girls of 9-12 years.  Lots of short extracts and entries in the heroine Nikki’s diary, with illustrations and lists, mock surveys and a simple story which is padded out with lots of daily trivia as Nikki seeks to stop the meanest girl around, Mackenzie, from spreading  rumours about Nikki’s pin up boy Brandon, almost in the form of blackmail, because Mackenzie really wants in invitation for Brandon’s party. Nikki decides to become the school newspaper’s agony aunt in an attempt to block Mackenzie’s plans.  I can see the appeal for girls who like stereotypes.

Pearlie and the Flamenco Fairy, by Wendy Harmer.  PB from Random House. RRP  $14.95

The Pearlie books have been such a hit with young girls that they have now been animated for Australian TV.  In this latest adventure for Pearlie, she is in Spain and urgently needs to have some  flamenco dancing lessons so she does not disgrace herself at the party to be held in her honour. Pearlie also receives some good advice—that when you dance, you should always dance as if no one is looking!   Large font, mostly simple words and bright happy pictures.  For girls of 6-8 years.

I Dare you, by Aleesah Darlison.  PB from Walker books.  RRP  $12.95

This book is one of a series from Walker Books called Lightning Strikes. They are simple stories about issues that kids feel strongly about.  Here, Ben is at a new school, and the local bully , Marty, already has it in for him because of some photos which have been taken of Ben’s younger brother, dressed up as a kangaroo, and acting like one.  Ben is embarrassed, and dreads the thought of school because he is dared to lots of stupid things to get the bully off his back.  This is quite a good story, with plausible plot, and easy vocab.  Good reading for boys of 8-12 years.

Captain Underpants and the Terrifying return of Tippy Tinkletrousers, by Dave Pilkey.  HB from Scholastic.  RRP  $$12.99

This is actually a flashback story, back to the days of kindergarten, before George and Harold invented Captain Underpants. When the mean school bully, Kipper Krupp starts to pick on George and Harold, they have only their brains to outwit him.  Although much of the vocabulary is quite American, like ‘rest room’ and ‘convenience store” boys  do have not trouble with these stories, and enjoy the toilet humour element.  I have no doubt at all that this book will be a success with 9-12 year old boys.

The Amazing Illustrated Floodsopedia, by Colin Thompson.  PB from Random House. RRP $19.95

This book is a gem, but requires excellent reading skills, a mature vocabulary, and a highly developed sense of humour and ability to appreciate puns, spoonerisms and other plays on words.  Anyone who has read one of the books about the wizard family called the Floods, and anyone else with the attributes listed above, will enjoy this most amusing and time consuming book.  For ages 11-adult as appropriate.

The Spindlers, by Lauren Oliver.  PB from Hachette Children’s.  RRP  $18.99

I really enjoyed Liesl and Po, by this author, and this book is also quite exciting, and well written.  When Patrick changes, overnight from being a happy and lively young brother, Liza realises that the Spindlers have taken his soul, and that to save him, she must go below into a netherworld, to rescue him. In the acknowledgements at the end of the book the author indicates her literary debt to Maurice Sendak—and in the netherworld where Liza finds herself, yes—there are distinct similarities to some of the creatures in Where the Wild things are.  Liza ends up, needing all her  wits about her, in a play off for ingenuity and persistence, with the nasty Queen—and of course she is successful in rescuing Patrick.  It’s a tightly woven plot, and good reading for about 9-12 year olds, but not for the tender hearted.

The Third Door, by Emily Rodda.  PB from Scholastic.  RRP  $16.99

I have read all of this series.  In this volume where the children from Weld finally make it through the Wooden Door, and solve the mystery of the skimmers, to save their land, I found that the action lagged as the pieces which had to be read from the book “The Three Brothers”, were complicated, and I felt a tad overdone.  In fact I felt that the last half of the book dragged, and could have been edited a bit more brutally—otherwise, it is a satisfying end to what has been an interesting series.

Conspiracy 265.  Malice, by Gabrielle Lord.  PB from Scholastic.  RRP  $14.99

Winter Frey is the heroine in this story, where she has only 30 days to ensure that she and her friends Cal, Ryan and Boges, survive, and are freed from  the threat of pursuit by the so-called Drowner.  I have found these book much more readable than the end of the earlier series, where everything just seemed more of the same.  Here, with Winter as the heroine, and with very lively and plausible events and dialogue, it’s a much more interesting read. As with several of the books I have reviewed this month, there is an online tie in, and also a TV series of the original books.   For capable 10-14 year olds.

***Maddy West and the Tongue Taker, by Brian Faulkner.  PB from Walker Books.  RRP $19.95

What a delightful story this is.  Mandy has an amazing ability to read and speak all the world’s languages once she hears or reads them. She accepts  the company and loyal support from her young Japanese neighbour and Ninja fan, Kazuki.  There is just enough quirkiness in the other characters to keep the story vaguely plausible even though it is laced with a strong touch of the eerie. Most of the story, including the location of the witch’s castle is in Bulgaria, as Maddy is tricked to go  there , supposedly, to decode some old scrolls in an old monastery.  Alas, the professor from Cambridge who takes Mandy to Bulgaria is not what she seems, and there are some nasty experiences for Maddy and Kazuki, together with the massive wrestler Dimitar, and the tiny monkey Mr Chester.   It is a very easy to read story, which demands that you finish it as soon as possible! Spaciously set out pages will increase the appeal for younger readers.  Excellent reading for capable readers of 7-12 years.

Red Dirt Diary, Blue’s News, by Katrina Nannerstad.  PB from ABC books and Harper Collins.  RRP about $20

This story, presented in diary format from the young editor of the school magazine in an outback school in NSW, provides us with insight into the daily events in the life of Blue, and her school mates, after her well loved teacher goes on leave to Scotland After quite a long time, she is replaced by an eccentric middle aged male teacher called Mr Sanders, but wishing to be called “Colonel”. The events revealed in the diary have a strong aura of authenticity, and variety as Blue and her classmates find the Colonel’s way of teaching both curious and mostly enjoyable.  The book will be enjoyed by readers of 9-12 years.

 

 

Teenage Reading.

A Corner of White, by Jaclyn Moriarty.  PB from Macmillan.  RRP $27.99

This is the first of what is to be trilogy called  “The Colours of Madeleine.” A girl, Madeleine lives in Cambridge, England, and a boy Eliot lives in the Kingdom of Cello, a fantasyland.  When a crack between the two worlds appears, Madeleine and Eliot start to write notes to each other.  The issue is whether each can help the other solve the mysteries in their respective lives.  The story is highly fanciful, but it reads well, and the characters are interesting.  Good reading for teenagers of 12-15 years but probably mostly girls.

Parvana’s Promise, by Deborah Ellis.  PB from Allen and Unwin.  RRP  $15.99

This is the fourth of the stories about Parvana, a young teenage girl in Afghanistan, her family, her friends, and the adult Mrs Weera.  The basis for the stories is the maltreatment and deprivation forced upon women in Afghanistan by the Taliban, and continuing today in the supposedly post-Taliban era, by warlords and other powerful men who still believe that women are property, should not be educated, or allowed to think for themselves.  The start of this book is scary as Parvana finds herself imprisoned by the American troops working to stabilise the country against the Taliban—well, supposedly.  We read the details of the incarceration, and the methods used to try to make Parvana talk, until finally she is rescued and allowed to return to her home and school for girls, because of the intervention of the female member of parliament, Mrs Weera.  When the school is blown up by the Taliban, and Parvana is reunited with her friend Shauzia, the opportunity is there for them to leave Afghanistan for France, and a new life.  They choose to remain, and continue to fight for the rights of girls and women.  Mature reading for young secondary students, preferably with guidance from someone with knowledge of the history and politics of Afghanistan.

The Keepers, Path of Beasts.  By Lian Tanner.  PB from Allen and Unwin.  RRP  $22.99

I have read all three books of this trilogy, and it has been both interesting and entertaining reading.  The story line has been strong and there has been participation by all the characters.  Finally it eventuates that Goldie as the fifth Keeper of the museum, must walk the Beast road, with all her friends and family hoping that she will survive and save both the museum and the city from the evils encouraged by the Fugelman and his cronies.  I strongly recommend that if you have not read Museum of Thieves, and City of Lies, that you read those two stories before this one.  For capable readers of 11-14 years.

***The Convent, by Maureen McCarthy.  PB from Allen and Unwin. RRP  $22.99

I think I have read all of Maureen‘s books and can remember the plots, and some of the characters from several of them.  The characters and story of this book promise to be just as memorable.  There are  four women, in a direct line to Peach, who is 19 when the story is set as  the youngest.  The story begins early in the 20th Century with the sending of Peaches grandmother Ellen to the Abbotsford convent as a three year old, when her father believed that her mother, Sadie was unfit to look after a baby as an unmarried mother.  When, as an adult, Ellen married and had a daughter, Cecilia, Cecilia decided to become a num, and we read lots of details about the few good things, and plenty of unpleasant attitudes and practices which were her lot when in the convent.

When  Cecilia could tolerate some of the senseless attitudes and bans no longer  she finally left the convent, then  had a baby out of wedlock to a priest, but had it adopted.  That girl is Peach, the lynch pin of this story as life comes full circle with Peach working at a part time job at the old Abbotsford convent which was  so familiar to all of the women. The multiple narratives flow well, but I did separate them out, and read one story at a time towards the end of the book because I had to finish Cecilia’s story!   Excellent reading for 14 to adult—mostly women I feel.

The Perks of Being a Wallflower, by Stephen Chbosky.  PB from Simon and Schuster.  RRP  $19.99

Charlie is a freshman, very intelligent, introspective, and socially very, very awkward.  This is the story, told through his letters to an unnamed friend, of how he learns about dates, keeping friends, sex, family and drugs.  It is only at the end of the book that a major explanation for his shyness is revealed.  Charlie would probably be designated Aspergers, and while  the treatment he received as a child was inexcusable, the story of his teenage years will never the less strike a chord with many adults who remember their awkwardness when growing into the adult social scene.  For readers of 14-17 years.

**Hammering Iron, by L.S. Lawrence.  PB from Scholastic.  RRP  $16.99

I found this story of two brothers living in Bronze Age Greece or Turkey, really appealing.  Niko and Paramon each have different jobs.  Niko is a warrior, and seems to have everything a man could want, and is his mother’s pride, while Paramon, with a minor physical disability, is forced to be a clerk.  When however, war strikes Paramon is captured and sent to work as a slave with an owner who is a metalworker and maker of swords.  There is also a metal that Paramon has never seen before.  It is Paramon who works out what can be done with this metal, and his invention will change the history of the world and warfare.  Well written, easy to read, and really interesting historical novel for boys of 8-12 years

Black Spring, by Alison Croggin.  PB from Walker Books. RRP $22.95

A gothic novel, written in the language and style of nineteenth century novels like Wuthering Heights.  Lina is a spoilt and determined young girl, and devoted to her childhood friend and companion, Damek.  These two privileged children run wild, only to find that adult life is neither as free or as easy as childhood.  Told in multiple narratives, the story presents life in rural England, among the wealthy, but with the heroine, Lina also a witch, there are lots of macabre events as well as normal life as she develops her latent powers.  For teenage reading, if it appeals, for say 14-16 year olds.

The Raven Boys, by Maggie Stiefvater.  HB from Scholastic.  RRP  $24.99

This is the first in what is to be a four book series called the Raven cycle.  This author is skilled in her handling of fantasy novels which mix mythology, adventure and romance and her Shiver trilogy has been really popular with teenage girls.  This series promises to become just as popular.  The heroine, Blue, has been brought up believing in second sight, and fortune telling, because her mother is a clairvoyant: what Blue does not believe is that if and when she ever kisses her true love, he will die.  This prophecy creates tension for Blue, particularly after she meets Gansey, and his mates at the local private school.  There is something really sinister about these boys, and the more Blue sees of them, the more sinister events happen.  The book is easy to read, with large and well-spaced font and the characters well rounded, it’s an intriguing story, and will find a ready readership in fans of the author’s previous books, probably mainly girls. For 13-16 year olds .

Mystic City, by Theo Lawrence.  PB from Doubleday and Random House.  RRP  $21.95

This is a powerful story, supposedly of true love, and the unifying of two wealthy families by marriage. This story is told in the first person, by Aria Rose.   For some reason Aria Rose has doubts about whether she really loves her fiancé Thomas, because she can’t remember everything about how they met, or when they fell in love.  Society is split between the wealthy families who live above the waters which have covered Manhattan, and the poor, who live in the Depths. The political leaders channel the powers of the mystics who share the life of the poor to maintain their corrupt rule.  It is when Aria  Rose meets Hunter, and falls passionately in love with him, that she realises that she is being used as a tool by her family, and that of Thomas, and that it is Hunter who will show her what is missing from her past, and also resolve the issues which mean that her society has become so divided. Aria also comes to realise the significance of the locket which appeared mysteriously and which she feels compelled to wear as she becomes further involved with the mystics, and the magic which she finds she can use.  For fans of The Hunger Games, I think you will find this story has lots of appeal—in the characters and their stories, and in the background story of disharmony and revolution.  For readers of 14-16 years.

**Riggs Crossing, by Michelle Renee Heeter.  PB from Ford Street.  RRP  $19.95

When Samantha is badly injured in a car accident, and wakes up, she cannot remember who she is, or where she belongs.  When she recovers from her injuries she is taken to a youth refuge and accepts the name “Len” because that was what was on the t-shirt she was found in at the accident scene. Lyyssa, who runs the refuge realises that Len is bright, but it doesn’t seem appropriate to send her to a school for emotionally damaged and delinquent girls, so the refuge finds a tutor for her, Miss Dunn. Len enjoys the school work, and realises that she can feel confident about herself, and as she gradually begins to regain memory, she realises that this self confidence is justified. She is not naturally outgoing, and some of the girls at the refuge cause her a lot of grief.   It is good to read a story such as this, set in Sydney, which has such a strong ring of authenticity.  Highly recommended for girls of 13-16 years

Skulduggery Pleasant:  the Kingdom of the Wicked.  PB from Harper Collins.  RRP about $$25

I’m hoping this book is the last of the series about Skulduggery and Valkyrie, who used to be Stephanie, and now somehow is reverting, because she wants to be a normal girl, with a family and a future.  This transformation only happens at the end of the story, in which there are, as in the other books in the series, numerous new characters, villains and victims.  I have tired of the series, because the events and marvels have become repetitive and boring, but it has provided—especially, for me,  the first three books, –excellent reading and  has very popular, particularly with teenage boys who have read few other books.  I wish Stephanie well in her new life-and I still love the name Skulduggery Pleasant—a touch of genius in that choice of name.  For readers of 13-16 years.

Miss Understood, by James Roy.  PB from Woolshed Press and Random House.   RRP  $16.95

Whilst is seems as if this story is about Lizzie, when her mother begins to home school her after she is expelled from her local private secondary school, and she has to do projects by herself, and do some volunteer work, I found that really the story is more about depression and family relationships.  It’s a  readable story, and fortunately Lizzie is able to help her father, although it sometimes seems that she is making the situation worse. I think it will appeal to girls of about 9-12 years.

Be home for Armageddon, by Luke Edwards.  PB from Scholastic. RRP  $16.99

Victor and Soo are the only people in the neighbourhood who know what happened to the Polanski house across the street  when the orb descended, and did so much damage- and they were the only people who see the aliens who arrive to take up residence in the crater left behind when the house just vanished.  This is a great story of how Victor and Soo manage to keep the truth from people, but confide in one of the teachers at school, about the presence of alien beings from another galaxy. Fun reading, and with some interesting personal relationship stuff in the story as well.  For readers of 10-12 years.

***Dodger, by Terry Pratchett.  HB from Random house.  RRP  $39.95

I loved this story.  There are shades of Dickens, and nineteenth century Britain in the name, and in the background to this story.  The author has in fact dedicated the book to Henry Mayhew, who was a friend of Dickens, and worked tirelessly to increase people’s awareness and knowledge of the inequalities in society, and the poverty in which so many of London’s people lived and worked.  It is fascinating to learn incidentally, so much about the sewers of London, and that they originated with the Romans,  and to meet, towards the end of the book Angela Burdett-Coutts, a real person who spent much of her fortune to improve the lot of girls in society at the time.  Whilst this is a very enjoyable love story, of Dodger and Serendipity, and of all the events which surrounded their very irregular and haphazard courtship, it is also a delightful free -from -time and -accuracy -constraints, look at London a couple of hundred years ago.  For capable readers of 10-16 years.

The Fire Chronicle.  John Stephens.  The Books of Beginning.  PB from Doubleday and Random House.  RRP  $24.95

This is a sequel to The Emerald Atlas, which I read and quite enjoyed –I think about two years ago.  These books are about three children, Michael and his two sisters, Kate and Emma, and their search to be reunited with their parents, who disappeared when the children were much younger, under mysterious circumstances.  Since then the children have been shuffled from one orphanage to another, but never separated until now.  Kate hopes that the atlas, of which she has been the guardian, will take them back to where they had been at Cambridge Falls, so that they can resume the search for their parents.  Unfortunately even Dr Pym is unable to save Kate from being separated from the other two, and Michael goes through a tumultuous time, when awake and in his dreams as he tries to rescue Kate from the Land of the Dead.    Michael even meets his father again, but not in the present—I found the story rather convoluted, and with the introduction of new characters like Rafe and Gabriel, and always the menace of the Dire Magnus, all the time warps and changes of scene became very confusing.  Suitable for readers of 10-14 years.

***Oblivion, by Anthony Horowitz.  PB from Walker Books. RRP $19.95

At last—the final volume in The Power of Five series from this talented and imaginative British author.  I can remember being thrilled when the first book in this series –Raven’s Gate—was released, because I was so sorry that the adventures of Alex Rider were coming to an end. I can also remember writing in my review that the story telling was as powerful, and the characters as rounded and interesting as Alex, but that I found there to be much more gratuitous violence in The Power of Five books than in the Alex Rider series.  That has not changed.  I have read all of the books, and I have enjoyed them, and the way in which everything has lead up to this final showdown with Chaos and the Old Ones.  This is a very tightly drawn plot as each of the five chosen teenagers struggle to find each other again after the calamitous events in Hong Kong, when they all rushed through the door to escape the typhoon and the Old Ones, only to realise, separately, that they had not stated a destination, so they were all split up around the world, and also, experienced a time warp where they lost ten years.  These ten years, for civilisation was a time of death and destruction for most of the worlds’ population, except for the leaders of the Nightrise Corporation, and the Old ones, who could feel their grasp on the world growing ever stronger.  In Oblivion, the five are, inevitably, all drawn towards the last gate, in Antarctica, for the final showdown with Chaos, and the final defeat of the Old Ones who will be banished forever, if the Five can pit their joint powers against them.  This success is to come at great personal cost, and the victory is bittersweet.  However Horowitz has cushioned the blow somewhat because of the ability he gave the five, in earlier books to replace each other with their ten thousand years apart double.  This is a powerful, and gripping novel, and one which makes me want to reread the previous four in the series.  It is excellent reading for mature teenagers and adults of 14 year and older.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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