New books reviewed for October 2014–children and teenage titles

October 2014 —New books for children and teenagers- reviewed by Janet Croft.

The more stars, the better!

Picture Books,

Howzat, by Mike Lefroy. Illustrated by Liz Anelli. HB from Walker Books. RRP $24.95

This is a fun book about cricket, with a bit of geography and history included. It is a picture book where most pages show a scene of back yard, beach, or street cricket—the interesting part is to look at the background, and realise that you are in one of the many differing environments and countries around the world where cricket is played, so much of the time spent reading the book, will be spent talking about India, or the West Indies, or Zimbabwe for example. A fun book for girls and boys of 5-8 years—mostly for the pictures and the talking.

Grandma, the Baby and Me, by Emma Allen and Hannah Sommerville. HB from Scholastic. RRP $24.99

This gentle story about sibling rivalry centres around Henry, and his feelings and actions when the baby arrives home from hospital. Thanks to Grandma, Henry is helped to feel wanted, needed, and loved, so his aggressive feelings towards the baby soon dissipate. Fun reading for families, perhaps especially when a new baby arrives.

Monster Chef, by Nick Bland. HB from Scholastic. RRP $24.99

Marcel is a monster, and the job of monsters is to be scary. Marcel is sad and gloomy, because he doesn’t seem to be scary at all—until he finds that by cooking some unpleasant looking and smelly food, he can be very off-putting indeed. A fun read, in rhyme for children of 3-6 years, in company with an adult.

Mine, by Jerome Keane and Susana De Dios. HB from Hachette. RRP $24.99

Horse and Fox are bored because nothing has happened for a long time. Then something weird turns up, and suddenly the two are fighting over whose it is—how are they going to learn to share, and play together? It’s a fun story, and one which kids will recognise as being typical of life when you are learning to share things with someone else –good for 2-5 year olds.

Hurry Up Alfie, by Anna Walker. HB from Scholastic. RRP $19.99

Alfie is a young creature of undefined nature, but he doesn’t like to hurry, likes to procrastinate, and is quite set in his ways, so he has to be persuaded to undertake many activities, such as to get dressed or to take a walk in the park. Once in the park, Alfie enjoys playing with his friend Bert, but it all takes a long time! Another fun story from a very talented and imaginative author to enjoy with children of 2-6 years

The Scarecrows’ Wedding, by Julia Donaldson and Axel Scheffler. HB from Scholastic. RRP $24.99

This book is a visual and auditory treat for children of 3-6 years, as the two scarecrows fall in love, decide to marry, and then hunt for what will be needed for the wedding. The rhyming story flows easily and the bright colours—especially with Harry’s blue overalls, Betty’s dress, and the white geese – are easy on the eye, and deserving of a longer look. The eyes too, draw the attention, particularly when Reginald Rake turns up and tries to steal Betty. The poster on the inside of the back cover is an extra treat!   It’s a great story, and excellent value.

The Wombats at the Zoo, by Roland Harvey. HB from Allen and Unwin. RRP $24.99

The wombats are a group of children, and here they are off to the zoo. Each of the children writes a segment about a particular animal—and not all of them are well known ones. . Sometimes there are small poems, or extra comments added, and the illustrations—somewhat in the the style of the Where’s Wally books– require a lot of time for carful and enjoyable looking—especially on the last page, where all the children are hiding. A delightful book for 3-6 year olds.

Dragon Jelly, by Claire Freedman, and illustrated by Sue Hendra. PB from Bloomsbury. RRP $15.99

This is very much a book to be read with an adult at hand. Lots of made up alterations to real words are intended to increase the ‘yucky’ appeal to very young children— ‘delicious’ is changed to ‘goo-licious’   and there are other unpleasant images such as the eyeball birthday cake and the maggot cream for example. The bright and large pictures are fun, and the book will appeal to kids of 3-6 years, particularly if the reading of the rhyming verse is accompanied by reactions of revulsion from the adults

Non-fiction

Why don’t you smell when you’re sleeping, by Mitchell Symons. HB from Doubleday and Random House. RRP $19.99

This is another in the gross facts series from this author. Whilst there are a lot of ‘chapters’ in the book, it is really a collection of lots and lots of facts—most are interesting and some are really funny. It is a pity there is not an index. A few of the chapter headings are ‘Firsts’, ‘Onlys’.’Words’—for example, did you know that 13% of all letters in any given book, are the letter ‘e’? ‘Books’ ‘Animals’ and so on. The most interesting section for me is the list of mammals, birds and insects, with their respective noises listed, but there are a few other lists of similar interest, especially for trivia buffs. As well, there are some funny headlines from newspapers, and some most delightful samples of English language bloopers from countries where English is not the first language. These are a highlight of the book!   Clear font, and with excellent browsing appeal for capable readers of 8-12 years –and older of course if you want a few laughs.

True Grit, by Gear Grylls. PB from Random House. RRP $16.99

These short stories about some of the world’s most renowned adventurers have been condensed and prepared for children. Famous himself as an adventurer, Bear Grylls here presents stories of the Antarctic explorers, Scott Amundsen and Mawson—and others which are also appropriate for Australian children– such as the exploits of Nancy Wake, George Mallory and John McDouall Stuart.   The range is wide, and the prose is easy to read. It is a good collection for readers, both boys and girls of 9-12 years.

***The Awesome Book of Awesomeness, by Adam Frost. PB from Bloomsbury. RRP $14.99

This collection of interesting and yes-awesome- facts is different from any I have seen previously. It is different firstly because the nature of the illustrations allows comparisons of size, or immensity or whatever gauge is appropriate for the topic being discussed. For example the length and number of bandages needed to embalm a mummy is shown in relation to the size of a tennis court—a strongly graphic comparison. How much rain falls on Mumbai in a single day is shown in relation to the height of various plants, a seven-year-old boy, or the height of a front door. The content is interesting, and the comparisons often startling. I enjoyed browsing this book, and I expect that kids, especially boys of 7-10 years will be similarly impressed.

Fiction

War Girls, A collection of First World War Stories through the eyes of Young Women: PB from Anderson Press, and Random House. RRP $19.99

Some of Britain’s’ best known children’s authors have contributed to this book. World War 1 was an opportunity for many young British—and to a lesser extent perhaps, Australian—women to branch out into ventures which before the war were not acceptable as positions for women—in particular nursing was boosted, and also women who did farm work, in the absence of the men. Berlie Doherty, Anne Fine, Mary Hooper and Matt Whyman are just some of the contributors, and the range of stories is vast. Several deal with deaths of men serving at the front, and the book is suitable for upper primary and secondary ages.

Five Kingdoms, Book 1, Sky Raiders, by Brandon Mull. PB from Simon and Schuster. RRP $14.99

I quite enjoyed this first book of the series. It is fantasy of course, and Cole does not like it when he finds himself transported to the Outskirts—a parallel universe to earth, but one which is extremely difficult to exit. However Cole has promised to find his friends, who were tricked into going into the Outskirts—at least Cole made a conscious decision—and this makes it easier for him, because he is not imprisoned. At the end of this book Cole has survived several misadventures, with castles which move around in the sky and magical weapons to help him fight, but has made some new friends, and next will face the task of finding the High King, who has his friends as prisoners. Very easy, good and quite wholesome reading for about 8-12 year olds. The younger age groups will need to be capable readers.

The Eye of Zoltar 03 , Last Dragonslayer, by Jasper Fforde. PB from Hachette. RRP $19.99

Unfortunately, I have not read the two earlier volumes in this series—so I felt a bit out of touch with the story, because it starts with the consequences of the failure of the wizard Mighty Shandar to solve the Dragon Problem! So here, it is now up to Jennifer Strange and her helpers from the Kazan House of Enchantment to find the fabulous jewel, the eye of Zoltar for the wizard, so the hunt is on, and the children are faced with innumerable difficulties on their long journey. It is easy reading—large font, lots of excitement, and the narrator, Jennifer, in the middle of all the action. For readers of 9-12 years.

Jamie Reign, The Hidden Dragon, by P.J Tierney. PB from Angus and Robertson, and Harper Collins. RRP about $16

This series is called the Last Spirit Warrior, and that is Jamie Reign—a half cast Chinese boy with surprising powers of telepathy, and the ability to lift with light. The baddie, Zheng is still alive, and pat of him is implanted in Jamie, so the first task is to remove him, so that Jamie can function independently again. The search is to find the almanac, which predicts the future. In the hunt they have to rescue the group of children who have mysteriously disappeared from their homes and families, and poor Wing, who has such a mysterious illness has to be helped and encouraged to survive. This is quite an involved story, but it flows well and is easy to read. It is good to read a fantasy with an Asian setting—it makes for more variety in the reading and activities—particularly when lots of detail about the sailing of boats adds to the story. For readers of 10-14 years.

Alice –Miranda At Camp, by Jacqueline Harvey. PB from Random House. RRP $15.99

As usual, school, and this time, the school camp, is never quiet or predictable with Alice-Miranda looking for mysteries to solve if the mysteries do not find her. The problem is the new girl Clarice, who has a chip on her shoulder, and is determined firstly to dislike Alice- Miranda, and secondly to make trouble for her. The story is quite predictable, but it is easy and pleasant reading for girls of 8-11 years

Alice Miranda Diary 2015 is in hardback from Random House, and RRP $17.99

This is a smart book—sturdy cover, and plenty of space for diary entries for each day, plus some reminders about important dates, such as what presents she has given to others during the year, and some recipes. There are some games mixed in with the daily pages as well.   I found the recipes and information section at the start of the diary to be thoughtful, and think it will be appreciated by the young readers of 7-9 years. It will make a good gift.

Asterix and the Picts, by Jean-Yves Ferri, Goscinny and Underzo.   PB from Hachette. RRP $19.99

The wonder of the Asterix books continues, almost forty years after the death of Goscinny. This is the 35th book of the Asterix series, and the story is just as much fun, and the language plays as clever as in the earlier books. There is a dedicated world wide audience for these books, and probably more are read by adults who met them when they were about 10-12 years, than present day kids. In this story Asterix and Obelix rescue a Scot—or Pict—as they used to be, the famous pair travel to return him to his lady love. As good as ever…..

Slaves of Socorro, Brotherband 4, by John Flanagan. PB from Random House RRP $17.99

John Flanagan has the delightful talent of making his characters appear human, and as if his parallel universe is just over the next mountain range. I have enjoyed the books in this series, as Hal, Stig the Herons, and the extra characters who appear in each book live out their adventures in the Kingdom of Araluen. These books are excellent, quality reading for children of 9-13 years.

How to save the Universe in 10 Easy Steps, by Allison Rushby. PB from Allen and Unwin. RRP $12.99

The star of this fanciful, but fun story is Cooper. He finds his twin sister molly has become a bit weird, and doesn’t seem to be on the same planet as Cooper any more. When Molly tells Cooper that she is his protector and an alien, because at some time, Cooper is going to save the universe. Cooper finds all this even weirder, until he starts to see some strange things happening in their neighbourhood, and around him. Between Molly and Hale there seems to be a special bond too. Fun reading for children, probably mainly boys of about 9-10 years (and excellent choice of fonts to help slower readers)

Nightmares, by Jason Segel and Kirsten Miller. PB from Random House. RRP $16.99

When Charlie and his little brother Jack are forced to move with their father and new stepmother, to her old family house, Charlie firstly doesn’t want to move, and then secondly, doesn’t even want to go to sleep because he has such horribly realistic and scary nightmares. As if home is not scary enough, the principal at school is pretty nasty too. Eventually Charlie needs to face his fears, in order to protect and look after Jack. He has lots of scary imaginary adventures until they return to the waking world. The story is strong, and carries the reader along, and the hand down spiders on each page add to the atmosphere, but I found this to be a scary book. When I finished it, I felt that many kids of 9-12 years will find it too scary…but maybe they are tougher than me!

The Volume of Possible Endings, A Tale of Fontania, by Barbara Else. PB from Gecko Books and Scholastic.. RRP $19.99

Dorrity does not know why she is the only child in Owl Town. There is no magic there either, although sometimes weird things do happen. Dorrity has always been content, living as she does with her three brothers, but once a year the brothers have some business to transact, and disappear for a while, so Dorrity is looked after by Mrs Frieda. One day she finds a strange book, the Volume of Possible Endings. The book burnt her hand, but most important to Dorrity was the page which listed five possible endings for her story. Dorrity is by nature inquisitive, and begins to search out the meaning of each of these endings. She meets the King’s lost invention, Metal Boy, and the pair become friends as the magical story unfolds, in a most satisfying way. This is a wonderful fanciful, but interesting and pleasant story, which I enjoyed very much. Outstanding reading for bright 9-12 year olds—probably mainly for girls, but it is fun reading for everyone.

Jedi Academy, Return of the Padawan, by Jeffrey Brown. PB from Scholastic. RRP $12.99

This type of book—part comic strips, part printed text as if it has been hand printed– does not appeal to me, but both do appeal to boys of 8-10 years who are ‘into’ space yarns and imaginary worlds—even to having ingenious changes to the names of the days of the weeks, and lots of imaginary characters and activities related to real life, but with quirky changes—for example “Holobook’ instead of “Facebook’ –really is clever.

The Graveyard Book, by Neil Gaiman Volume 1. A Graphic Novel, in PB from Bloomsbury. RRP $19.99

This is the graphic novel version of the story of Nobody Owens, or Bod, who is a normal boy who lives in a graveyard and is looked after by a guardian who is neither dead nor alive. Bod wants to remain alive, but he also wants to find and bring to justice Jack, who killed Bod’s family. The pictures in this book are detailed, but often spooky—which is not surprising, given the subject matter. It could become an animated film. It was not a theme, or genre which appealed to me, but then again I am not a boy of about 12 who enjoys spooky movies and video games! The original book won both the Carnegie and Newberry medals, as well as a couple of other awards.   Volume 2 of the book will be out in October. The book is described as suitable for readers of 9 years to adult.

Wheelnuts, Craziest Race on Earth, Desert Dust-Up, by Knife and Packer. PB from Scholastic. RRP $6.99

This story is the first in what is to be a series is about extreme motor races, each to be on a different specially made track with major hazards, such as ravines, deserts, outer space, underwater adventures and dense jungle exploits. This one is set in the desert, and there is thirst, oases, mirages, and lots and lots of sand, as the six teams battle it out. The series is intended for readers of 7 and over, and reluctant readers as well. The language is OK for this latter purpose, and there are plenty of clues in the ultra-brightly coloured pictures to help read the written content. For boys of 7-10 years.

EJ Spy Scholl Deep Water, by Susannah McFarlane. PB from Scholastic. RRP $7.99

Emma Jacks is only eight when she goes to spy school . This episode about her experiences leads to Emma gaining her underwater badge. The story is really simple, the pictures are clearly labelled, and the font is large. The vocabulary has been carefully chosen, and is suitable, and good value for young readers of about 6-8 years, who are just learning to read.

A Book is a Book, by Jenny Bornholdt. HB from Gecko Books and Scholastic. RRP $19.99

This is a deceptively simple looking small volume. It asks what a book is—and gives lots of hints about the value of books for many purposes. It is a book to read aloud, with others, and to reflect and talk about the content, and memories evoked by the written content and which the small, but clear pictures. For families where reading is valued and enjoyed.

Mighty Robot, The Mecha-Monkeys from Mars, by Dave Pilkey and Dan Santat.   PB from Scholastic. RRP $10.99

Major Monkey is planning to invade Earth, which is populated in this book, by mice, not people.   The Major needs to wreck Ricky Ricotta’s robot if he is to succeed, so it is up to Ricky to defeat him, and save Earth. The book has bright simple drawings, a flip the pages gimmick as a visual treat, and simple text, and with the topic about a lively space war-it is suitable for space-interested boys of 7-9 years

The Impossible Quest, Escape from Wolfhaven Castle, by Kate Forsythe. PB from Scholastic. RRP $7.99

Kate Forsythe is an accomplished writer and recognised author, and this book offers lots of potential as the first volume of what should turn into a highly readable series. The heroes are Quinn, the witches apprentice, Elanor, the Lord’s daughter, Tom, who has been trained as a kitchen hand, and Sebastian, who is a young knight in training. Each of them has different skills which will be needed to find the four magical beasts from the legends of their society. These beasts will help the four youngsters save the rest of their people –after they are able to escape capture and get away form the castle. Good reading for 9-12 years.

Captain Underpants and the Tyrannical Retaliation of the Turbo Toilet 2000, by Dav Pilkey. PB from Scholastic. RRP $14.99

The Flip-O-Rama visual phenomenon seems to be popular with young boys at the moment—this book has it too, but the magic of it escapes me! The story is fun for boys who like toilet humour—i.e. about 8-10 year olds– and the author is skilled at producing text and pictures which boys of these ages find amusing. Anything which encourages kids to read is OK by me, so I hope Captain Underpants survives this latest attack on his being.

Rania. The Book of You, by Randa Abdel-Fattah. PB from Scholastic. RRP $14.99

There is a magical twist in this book, when the three friends find a book which appears to be empty, but in which writing appears which is relevant to the life and interests of Rania, especially when her cousin Andrea comes to the school, and starts to outshine Rania at some activities. Rania feels jealous, but the book gives clues about how to handle her feelings, and come to terms with the fact that no one is perfect, or a winder all the time, but they can always be pleasant-natured if they really try. Maybe the theme is a bit pointed in places, but the book should have special appeal to girls of 9-12 years.

Dappled Annie and the Tigrish, by Mary McCallum. PB from Gecko Books RRP $17.99

This is almost a fable, as Annie, who is nine, spends time with the trees in the garden that talk to her, and at the same time look after the baby birds in the nest in Mrs Hedge. The weather is stormy, and there are rumbles of earthquakes. Annie has to look after her little brother Robbie too so their mother can have a break. Their father is at the lighthouse, and has not come home. The Tigrish is the magical creature that appears and helps Annie and every thing else return to normal after the earthquake and the storm. For readers of 7-10 years, preferably in company with an adult.

My Heart is Laughing, by Rose Lagercrantz, and Eva Eriksson. PB from Gecko Press. RRP $15.99

This is a story for very young readers of 5-7 years. Dani has been trying to stay happy because her best friend Ella has moved away, and now Dani doesn’t have a close friend and some of the other kids are cruel, so that Dani feels really unhappy and does a couple of unpleasant things herself. It is only when Dad steps in, and sees the pinch marks on Dani’s arm that the situation is cleared up—and wonder of wonders, Ella returns to the school too, so it all ends well.

Four, the Last Thirteen, by James Phelan. PB from Scholastic. RRP $14.99

I actually found this book easier to follow than the last couple of the series that I have attempted. I did it by reading Sam’s story first—that is, I abandoned the interleaving multiple narratives and read Same from beginning to end, then pick up most of the others. Read this way, the story hung together much better, and I didn’t become confused that there were so many characters. The theme of the story is interesting, but I am looking forward to the conclusion now. For readers, who have read all the books so far…of 9-11 years.

Paper Planes, by Allanyne Webster. PB from Scholastic. $16.99

Although this book is categorised as junior fiction, there is much factual detail in it, and the story reads as if the reader is experiencing the horror which was the siege of Sarajevo in the old Jugoslavia, with the participants in the early 1990s.   Niko and his family have to cope with food shortages, the threat of bombs and gunfire, and the death of Niko’s pet dog, when they decide not to flee the city at the start of the siege. As always the siege lasts longer than everyone expects, and finally they are forced to flee. For Nikos’ friend Nedim, the danger is greater, because his family is Muslim. At the end of the story, Niko and his older sister are en route to Australia as refugees, with the hope that the rest of the family will be able to follow later. This is an extremely good book, with plausible story and realistic detail, and one which I recommend highly for senior primary and junior secondary kids of say 10-14 years.

The Mapmaker Chronicles, Race to the End of the World, by A.L Tait. PB from Hachette. RRP $14.99

Quinn is the youngest of six boys in a poor farming family. There is no chance for him to remain on the farm, and he has been taught to read, and sew, and do all sorts of useful jobs, so when he is awarded a place at the king’s special map making school, Quinn has to leave home. To his surprise, he excels at the school and is then chosen to be the scribe and mapmaker to one of the three contestants in the king’s race to find out whether the earth is round, and to map what they find. With Zain as his boss, life is not dull, and when Quinn is joined on the ship by Aysha—who came from Quinn’s village but has to be known as the boy Ash on the ship—Quinn is content with his lot. I loved this story—it is imaginative, clever, and there is plenty of action. I think this is the best book for 9-13 year olds I have read this month, and I look forward eagerly to the rest of the series.

For teenage readers

The Book of Days, by K.A Barker. PB from Macmillan. RRP $18.99

I enjoyed this story, although it took a while to gather momentum. Tuesday wakes up, after a death-like suspended animation sleep of over ten years, to find out that she is still sixteen, but that she has only the haziest of memories about her previous life, and who she is. Against all advice she is determined to find out what she has forgotten, and in spite of the danger of trusting men she doesn’t know, enlists the help of Quintalion, who seems to be a bit of a dubious character, and the mercenary Sterling, whose place in her life Tuesday also needs to work out. What is the mysterious Book of Days, from which Tuesday has to answer her questions?   A long story, but it flows well, and the ending is very satisfying. For readers of 12-15 years.

****Belzhar, by Meg Wolitzer. PB from Simon and Schuster. RRP $16.99

This finely crafted and engrossing novel tells of some students in the USA at a therapeutic school for adolescents with a few issues. Over the course of the story we unravel the issues for each of the five in the group, who come together with an old, but ultra experienced teacher, Mrs Quernell. They study The Bell Jar, by Sylvia Plath, in a course called Special Topics in English and as a major aspect of the course, each of the five has to write an entry in a special diary given to each one by the teacher. As they write, and experience some amazing flashbacks we learn of the reasons for their anxiety issues, and follow their cathartic experiences. This is a marvellous story, and I recommend it unhesitatingly for adolescent readers of 14 years and older, and adults. Best teenage book of the month, easily!

Speed of Light, by Joy Cowley. PB from Gecko Books and Scholastic. RRP $16.99

There is a philosophical base to this book, in the brief extracts at the start of each chapter about something to do with light, dark, Black Holes, terminal velocity, and other topics from physics. For Jeff, his life seems to fall apart when his father is duped with a large investment and his parents separate. Neither of Jeff’s siblings now lives at home—his brother because he is in disgrace in prison, and his sister because she goes to live for a while with a much older man. Jeff works hard to keep home alive, and is helped to some extent by the apparent presence of old Maisie—is she real or a ghost? Jeff also holds his life together because he is able to lose himself in the world of mathematics—numbers which are safe, and do not change their properties. How the mess which is Jeff’s family resolves itself, makes excellent reading for girls and boys of 12 years and older—many will have experienced similar trauma within their own families.

Crossing, by Catherine Norton. PB from Scholastic. RRP $16.99

It has taken me a while to read this book, because it arrived while I was overseas. However, I am pleased I read it, because it is a seriously good story. Cara’s parents work for the national security people in their closed –off world-separated from other people by a high wall, and with no prospect of any other life. Cara has a gifted younger sister, and it is apparent that she will eventually work with the security people as her parents do, but for Cara, life remains tough, and a puzzle—particularly when she meets Ava and Leon, and spends time in their home, which seems far less rigid than her own. Then Ava disappears, and it looks as if she has drowned in the creek, which is a place where Cara has been told never to venture. The mystery is solved quite abruptly, and unexpectedly at the end of the book, but in a totally satisfying way. This is a fine, gently crafted story and good reading for 13- years and older.

Raindance, by Karen Wood. PB from Allen and Unwin. RRP $15.99

This book follows the success for girls of 14-16 years of Karen’s book Jumping Fences. Here is Holly Harvey, who doesn’t want to move away from the beach and her friends to country NSW, near Gunnedah when her father takes a job as a builder on a large local station.   Holly is a vegetarian too, so life on a cattle farm is a bit difficult. Having a shower depends on the water supply, there is dust everywhere, and both Holly and her brother Brandon are determined to return to the coast. Kaydon, son of the property owner is home from boarding school and tries to befriend Holly, but she repels his advances, and things rumble along without any pleasure until the night of the fundraising ball. A realistic story by someone who understands rural life and conditions, and a good story for girls of 13 years and over, even if it is a tad stereotyped.

Boy21, by Matthew Quick. PB from Hachette. RRP $16.99

This is a very engaging read; the characters are plausible, and the drama quite palpable. We are thrown into the life of Finley McManus at high school. He finds it very difficult to tell people anything, even it is something very mild, and his unwillingness to speak and his forgiving nature make him an easy target for bullies His saving grace is his love of basketball, and he is the point-guard on the basketball team. When a lovely girl, Erin, turns up, who happens to love basketball, she and Finly make a great match. She is his light. The coach asks Finley to be a good friend to a new guy, who’s also happens to play point guard, but whose parents have been murdered. Finley doesn’t understand why he should help, or what he can do to help this guy, who only wants to be called “Boy21” and believes he has been sent from the cosmos to observe human emotions! Finley doesn’t think “what a weirdo’, but just allows the boy to be himself. The strange friendship flourishes, and eventually both boys work through their traumatic pasts, and react to life much more ‘normally…whatever that is….the story is bizarre, but it is also very touching, and is an excellent read for teenagers and adults.

Take Back the Skies, by Lucy Saxon. PB from Bloomsbury. RRP $16.99

What an outstanding debut novel from an 18 year old author! Her heroine, Catherine Hunter is the daughter of a senior government official, and has a privileged life. She does not have to fear the Collections which occur periodically as the government seeks to build up its numbers of children for who knows what purpose. Catherine is also threatened with a forced marriage to a boy of similar background to her own, and this thought and almost immediate prospect has her dress as a boy, and stow away on the skyship Stormdancer. As the ship flies to Tellus, the situation becomes ever more complicated, and it will be fantastic to see what happens in the next adventure. Parts of the writing are a little glib and predictable, but the story races along, and I for one was content to press on to see what happens next, without being too critical of minor flaws in the writing. Excellent reading for teenagers of 13 years and older. There will be further books in this series.

Magisterium, The Iron Trial, by Holly Black and Cassandra Clare. PB from Random House. RRP $22.99

This is the first of what will become a series from these two collaborating authors. The start of the book is brutal, with Alistair Hunt finding his infant son near the body of his wife deep in the ice. His wife had carved out the words ‘Kill the child’ into the ice, and Alistair despairs at the severity of such a message. Alistair then raises the boy to avoid magic—he is an unruly child and when he is forced to take the exam at the Magisterium, which runs the county and the magic, Callum is determined to fail the exam. He doesn’t and so his life within the Magisterium begins, and he realises he has the chance to understand his past and his heritage; will Call be the mage the leaders have been seeking? We meet his friends Tamara, Aaron, Jasper and Celia, and these characters will be with us for the rest of the series. I have not been a fan of collaborative writing, but this story hangs together really well, and I am looking forward to Book 2 next year. For keen fantasy readers of 14 years and older.

Black Ice, by Becca Fitzpatrick. PB from Simon and Schuster RRP $19.99

Set in the mountains of Wyoming in the USA this is a thriller-cum romance, with more than a touch of evil about it. Britt persuades her friend, (who is also diabetic) Korbie, to take a camping trip in the mountains. A freak storm sees them stranded, and they leave the vehicle, and all their gear, but are fortunate enough to find a cabin with two guys in it.   Shaun has a different agenda from the girls, and for the girls, it becomes most unpleasant as they realise they are in extreme danger of being killed.   Britt is the narrator, but most of the novel and story unfold via the conversations as Shaun and Mason seek to escape from the law and the girls hope desperately that they can escape from the guys. Britt hopes that her brother Calvin will come to find them—this story is all action, with some of it most unpleasant, and the link to a murder of another girl Lauren, makes everything come to a head. This is a story for older teenagers. I didn’t enjoy the story, but it is easy reading and certainly races along.

Are you Seeing Me? by Darren Groth. PB from Random House. RRP $18.99

The strong ring of authenticity with which this story flows arises from he fact that the author is the father of twins, with his son on the autistic spectrum, as with the boy, Perry, in the story. Justine takes her autistic twin for a holiday in Canada before the planned move of her brother into assisted accommodation. Perry’s main obsession is with seismic movements of the earth, and he is also interested in mythical sea and lake monsters. As they travel north, Justine has another agenda—she wants to trace their mother, who left the twins and their father when the twins were very young. It is a reassuring story, and has a satisfying ending. The story will be of interest to teenagers, and to those who live with, or work with autistic kids—they are all different, but they all have a life to lead as well. For readers of 14 and older

Every Word, by Ellie Marney. PB from Allen and Unwin. RRP $18.99

Wow—what a great crime novel for young adult readers. It has a plausible plot, when James Mycroft flies to London to help in the forensic investigation of a murder which he feels has close similarities to that when his parents were killed seven years earlier. Ever since then, James has intended to pursue the case of his parents, and this is his chance. Left in Australia his girl friend Rachel decides that James can’t really be trusted to act reasonably at all times while in London, so she ups and offs to London with her friend Alicia as well. The relationship is a bit fragile when James realises what Rachel has done, but they work together well as the investigation proceeds, and Rachel really provides the catalyst for the breakthrough in the case—Rachel is captured, and the and in the tense events which follow, s both she and James are hurt, Rachel quite badly. It is a great read—flows along fast, especially in the last third of the story. I enjoyed it. While it is really for teenagers of 14 and over, it will also have appeal to adults.

Cooper Bartholomew is Dead, by Rebecca James. PB from Allen and Unwin. RRP $19.99

This is another thriller for young adults. Cooper Bartholomew is a young man who lives in a coastal town in NSW; many of his friends are university students, and they all enjoy their lives. The story explores the relationships among the group of young adults, how they relate with their parents, and their expectations of life. All of these are thrown into disarray after Cooper’s body is found at the bottom of a cliff, and the official decision is that it was suicide. Cooper’s girl friend Libby doubts this, and refuses to accept the decision. As she probes the issue, the group of friends is broken, and a tale of desperation and despair is unravelled. Quite a tough story to read for young people. I recommend it for 15 years and older.

Found, by Harlan Coben. PB from Orion and Hachette. RRP $29.99

This is the third story which features Mickey Bolitar as the hero and leader of the group which is searching for answers to a few issues–the death of his father, disappearance of Ema’s apparent missing boyfriend, and the future, if there is one, of the secret shelter the group of friends had established to help homeless kids. Mickey’s mum is in rehab after the accident which killed her husband, and Mickey is now living with his uncle. When the casket of Mickey’s father is exhumed at Mickey’s insistence, it is to find that there is an urn of apparent ashes inside, not the body of his father. The mystery deepens as some unusual events affect members of the basketball team. Mickey is asked to help Troy, with whom Mickey has never been friendly—can the leopard really change his spots? It is an interesting and unpredictable mystery story, with a fine twist to the end. For readers of 14 years and older, probably mainly boys and a good lead in for these teenagers, to adult thrillers.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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