2015 March, New books for children and teenagers: reviewer-Janet Croft

The more stars the better….

2015 March: New books for children and teenagers reviewed by Janet Croft.

Picture Books.

Non-fiction

Digger, by Mark Wilson. HB from Lothian and Hachette. RRP $24.99

When Australian troops sailed to the Middle East at the start of World War 1, one dog was smuggled on to the boat as well. This story is based on this dog, and how he helped his owner and other troops during the war. Matthew is a stretcher-bearer and Digger helps him rescue the wounded. Later, when Matthew tries to rescue Digger during a gas attack, it doesn’t work out and Matthew dies, while Digger survives and is looked after by others. This part of the story is quite sad. It is an interesting, factually based story, suitable for 6-8 year olds.

**My Hiroshima, by Junko Morimoto. PB from Lothian and Hachette. RRP $15.99

This is a reprint of a book first published in 1987, and which has been part of most school libraries ever since because it tells the story of the atomic explosion over Hiroshima from the viewpoint of a child. It is a simple story, but poignant in the extreme as Junko describes what happened to her and her family at the time, and later. There is a page of historical details, (perhaps suitable more for the adults) about the bombing, and its later medical consequences. Recommended reading for all children of 7-12 years.

Knockabout Cricket, by Neridah McMullin, illustrated by Ainsley Walters. HB from One Hill and Scholastic. RRP $24.99

Two stories in one in this book—there is the fiction tale about James and his mates when they played cricket while home on the farm in Western Victoria from boarding school in the mid nineteenth century; the other is the factual account about farm life, and the ways in which the kids all played together, and the cricket teams included local indigenous men who worked on the station. One of these men, known as Johnny Muggah—after the station where he lived and worked– was a superb cricketer, and eventually toured England with the first Indigenous cricket team and experienced a totally different way of life from that to which he was accustomed. This is an interesting story, and as social history, as well as for cricket fans. For   9-13 year olds.

Fiction

*Magpie Learns a Lesson, by Sally Morgan and Ezekiel Kwaymullina. HB from Scholastic RRP $24.99

Magpie and Brown Falcon were supposed to be friends, but Magpie played mean tricks on Brown Falcon. She put a pile of dead bugs where Brown Falcon would see them, but then flicked them into the creek before her friend could reach them. Fortunately Brown Falcon did not bear a grudge against Magpie, and later rescued Magpie from a net, so Magpie was forced to acknowledge that she had been unfair and mean. A story with a moral, and with big bright drawings to appeal to about 4-7 year olds.

***Thelma the Unicorn, by Aaron Blabey. HB from Scholastic RRP $16.99

This is an amusing story about a pony that wishes to be a unicorn. Together with her carrot nose, which by accident was painted with silver glitter paint Thelma was a star. Thelma enjoys the spotlight for a while, but then realises that not everyone is kind, and that she is lonely, so she is pleased to revert to her own self and paddock. The story is in rhyme, and it is good fun, with the illustrations adding to the story, because there is so much to talk about in them. For 3 -6 years.

Tom Gates Absolutely Brilliant Big Book, by L.Pichon. HB from Scholastic. RRP $14.99

A fun activity book, with loads of different challenges, from mazes to dot to dots, to ‘how to doodle’ and a bit of reading as well. An excellent gift for boys who like art of 8-11 years.

*Good enough for a Sheep Station, by David Cox. HB from Allen and Unwin. RRP $24.99

I always enjoy the stories from this author about life in an earlier time in Australia—partly because the author must be about the same age as me, because so much is familiar to me, but also because of the excellence of his illustrations, which bring the stories to life, and are such fun to talk about with children. This volume continues his life story of the time when his father was the manager of a large sheep station. It tells of David’s early schooling by correspondence and then his teenage years when he heard stories from his father of what farm life was like in still earlier times he, (David) was learning horsemanship, and at the same time, the skills of a stockman. Because of the isolation of the station David eventually went to boarding school. The ending tells of the sadness at the death of his father, but also of the way in which David was given a gift of great sentimental value when he had left school, and was travelling to his new job. An excellent story for readers of 9-12 years.

Circle, Square, Moose, by Kelly Bingham. PB from Random House. RRP $16.99

A fun way for kids to learn about the basic geometric shapes as Moose, who loves shapes, gets in a mess when he becomes caught up in varieties of ribbons, strings and ropes, only to be rescued by Zebra. It is a delightful way to introduce children of 3-6 years to shapes. Good for early years at school too!

**One Thousand Things, by Anna Kovecses. HB from Allen and Unwin. RRP $24.99

This book is designed for very young children, but it will be invaluable for their parents, as it shows really clearly what vocabulary and knowledge young children need to acquire–the earlier the better! Some of the categories of words which are given here include: first things to learn (colours, numbers, shapes, opposites and so on), then things to do, things around the world, and so on. It is a book which will generate huge amounts of discussion as it is read from cover-to-cover, or browsed in bits. There is also a lovely small mouse to find on every page. Whilst some of the pictures and words relate to European usage, this is still highly recommended as a gift for any family with a new baby, and for children from the ages of about 2-6 years.

***The complete Guide to a Dog’s Best friend, by Felicity Gardner and David West. PB from Lothian and Hachette. RRP in PB $14.99, in HB $24.95

A happy, positive, but tongue in cheek look at owning a pet—from the point of view of the pet—in this case, the dog. Fun pictures and simple, large print text about how to greet your friend when they have been away—how to amuse, or comfort them, how to help around the house and garden—just a few examples of how the book will prepare a family or child for a pet, and also teach him how to look after the dog. A good book for a laugh, but with a serious message about looking after pets.   Suitable for children of 2-6 years.

Budinge, and the Min Min Lights, and Duelgum, the Story of the Mother Eel. Both by Uncle Joe Kirk, with Greer Casey and Sandi Harrld. PBs from Scholastic. RRP $15.99 each.

These two stories are retold here by Uncle Joe Kirk, who lives in Brisbane and is an elder of the Wakka Wakka. Budinge is scared of the so-called Min Min lights until he learns what they are—it is a story about cultural heritage, and about life. Duelgum is a story of the eels, their life cycle, and about the value of belonging and being part of the group. Both of these stories are simple, but appealing in themselves, and the illustrations, in indigenous styles, are also attractive. For readers of about 4 -6 years.

Square Eyes, by Craig Smith. PB from Scholastic, with CD included, $16.99

This is a cautionary tale about the limitations of being glued to the TV set. The message urges children to exercise, and get outside to have more fun.   The song is jolly, and the rhythms great. Suitable for families with young children who spend too much time in front of the TV…maybe to be played in the car? Ages 3-6 years.

The Farmer in the Dell, song from the Topp Twins with illustrations by Jenny Cooper. CD, with accompanying   PB from Scholastic. RRP $16.99.

This is a more appealing song and book—mainly because the song is a classic- and parents will not get sick of it—nor will the kids. I also like the simplicity of the pictures in the book –kids of 3-6 years will soon learn to follow the words in the book as the CD is played too. Good value.

*Itsy Bitsy Teenie Weenie Yellow Polka Dot Bikini, performed on CD by Deborah Mailman: book written by Paul Vance and Lee Pockriss, and illustrated by Kerry Argent. HB from Scholastic, RRP $19.99

Another fun production—both a catchy song—again, well known to most parents—and an amusing accompanying book with the very simple text—amusing because the wearer of the bikini is a hippo! For families again, and children of 3-7 years.

 

For Primary aged children

Fiction

*Through My eyes, Zafir, by Prue Mason. PB from Allen and Unwin. RRP $15.99

This book is evidently to be the final volume in the series which has introduced Australian children to the lives of children living in contemporary war zones. I have read almost all of these books, and have found them to be interesting, moving, and sometimes desperately sad stories from which we in western culture can learn compassion, lots about hardship, getting by with little, and the stoicism in children faced by issues and events which would defeat many adults. It is partly because of our own extensive travel experiences in many of these countries, but also these books, that I am so strongly opposed to the present Australian policy of the forced detention of children on Nauru and Manus Island. Zafir is the story of Syria, its present civil and guerrilla war, and its impact on children there. Zafir’s father is a doctor, and Zafir has had a comfortable life, not too dissimilar from that of middle class children in Australia—until his father is arrested after he helped someone who was supporting the revolution against the legal government. Zafir is forced to leave school, and move from Homs to a rural village to live with his grandmother. When her house is bombed, Zafir moves back to Homs to live with his uncle, who is himself in danger. It is a torrid, heart wrenching story, but excellent reading for capable readers of 10-13 years.

The True Meaning of SmekDay, and Smek For President, both by Adam Rex, and in PB from Bloomsbury. RRP $14.99 each.

These are the books which inspired the animated film “Home”. Earth is to be invaded by the Boovs, led by Captain Smek. When one of the Boovs, a really cuddly and cute one called J.Lo becomes friends with Gratuity, who is usually called Tip, the plans of the Smek invasion are thrown into disarray and life on earth continues, although hugely influenced by the Boovs. In the sequel, the question is whether Earth will accept Captain Smek for President. These are comic—i.e. funny–sci-fi adventures for kids of 9-12 years—there are some sections in cartoon style, and bits of the text I found quite funny, but I think the film will be the more popular way to follow the stories, for one reason only—the books are produced in small, fine dense font which was off-putting to this reader, and may also be to young readers.

Frankie Fox, Girl Spy: Ready Set, Spy, by Yvette Poshoglian. PB from Hachette. RRP $12.99

This is an interesting short story for girls who are capable readers, and who like solving puzzles—Frankie, aged 11, loves solving codes and puzzles—her dad gives her a handbook called the Spy’s Handbook and she finds it engrossing. When her father goes missing, Frankie realises that he has been kidnapped, by the unpleasant Alliance, Frankie and her new, but strangely familiar looking neighbour JJ, row their kayaks, headlong in to the mystery. The story is quite plausible, but the puzzles are a major interest. There will be other stories in this series, and the mystery of why Frankie’s long missing mother works for the Alliance may be solved too. Best for girls of 9-13 years.

The Impossible Quest: Wolves of the Witchwood and Beast of Blackmoor Bog, by Kate Forsyth are in PB from Scholastic. RRP $14.99

Wolves of the Witchwood is second in the series about Tom, Quinn, Eleanor and Sebastian who flee the unpleasant Lord Mortlake, but need to gather their resources, and some magical ingredients to be able to rescue their mother and the rest of the prisoners at Wolfhaven Castle. There is quite a Welsh flavour to the story, as the children are helped by a unicorn, and a Griffin, named Rex…..it is easy reading, and hangs together well, without too many characters. For 10-12 year olds. There is a web tie in of course….

Beast of Blackmoor Bog is the third of the series—there are to be five in all—as the four kids continue their journey to save their families, they have to confront the hideous beast of the moors and the other hazards, including this time, not Lord, but Lady Mortlake (who is a witch). They do however make a friend of Jack, nominally in Lady Mortlake’s employ, but he too is not as he seems.

This is proving to be a very readable series—the lay out is spacious, and the reading is not difficult—it is interesting reading– a bit in the style of some of Emily Rodda’s works– and just as good to read.

Wheelnuts 2. Spooky Smackdown, by Knife and Packer. PB from Scholastic. RRP $12.99

These stories are not plausible in any way whatever, except for the fact that there are guys and cars. The story has little literary merit, and the action follows a similar sequence from the first in the series.   There is colour everywhere, and lots of variety of presentation—plus lots of teched-up talk. Again, there is a web page link. I don’t find these stories appealing at all, but then I am not a 9-year-old boy who is fascinated by cars and gadgets…

Weirdo 3, Extra Weird, by Anh Do. PB from Scholastic. RRP $14.99

The incidents described in these books are amusing, and yes, they do appeal to boys of 8-10 years. Here Weir Do describes what happens when his dad tries out for the local Talent Quest, and Weir is keen to be part of the school soccer team. Very little text, lots of illustrations which help with the reading, and a happy ending—it’s good for kids who don’t like reading much, or are not yet good enough to tackle bigger books with more text.

*My Life and other massive Mistakes, by Tristan Bancks. PB from Random House. RRP $15.99

This is another tongue in cheek story about life with trouble prone Tom Weekly. From stories about how to spread nits throughout the entire school, to a snippet about the dangers of fracking, to bribery and corruption among kids, where Brent offers to buy the boys a massive packet of chips provided that they dip one in his sore—and it is an awful sore when the boys think it will be nothing—there are lots of borderline antisocial activities in Tom’s life. Boys of about 8-10 years will enjoy the stories, and dream on perhaps themselves of being antisocial –but they will realise that it is all dreaming! Even the title of the first chapter—“Nitplan”, seems to me to be a play on the dreaded and overemphasised “Naplan”…. A well set out book for easy reading.

**Friday Barnes; Under Suspicion by R.A.Spratt. PB from Random House. RRP about $14

I enjoyed this story—it has some substance to the tongue -in -cheek plot, as Friday Barnes, now at boarding school, is in trouble with the Principal because the police believe she had something to do with the robbery of a valuable necklace from a house in town. There is one boy, Ian, who pays Friday a lot of attention, but now he has a rival in the new boy Christopher, who also seeks Friday’s attention —plus, there is the apparent vagrant whom Friday meets at the local police station, and who owes Friday a favour because she is able to prove to the police that he had not stolen the missing necklace either. This is easy, fun reading, mainly for capable girls of 9- 12 years I think.

The Kaboom Kid, Hit for Six and Keep It Down, both by David Warner, with J.V.McGee. PBs from Simon and Schuster. RRP $14.99 each.

I’m not sure how much of the writing of these books is by David Warner, but it is not important—the hero of the books is the apparent young Davey Warner, and he has to help his team along—the cricketer’s larrikin character is apparent when his alter ego is always in trouble at school, and in danger of missing an important match with detention or failing to hand in homework assignments. There is a wager at hand, about hitting sixes, and in Keep It Down Tay Tui is found to be a superb wicket keeper, but she will not stop singing, and Davey is in strife at school again. They are simple stories, print is large, text colloquial and not difficult, and the action flows well. The   link with Australia’s most charismatic cricketer has considerable appeal for boys of 8–10 years

*****Stella by Starlight, by Sharon Draper. HB from Simon and Schuster, RRP, $19.99

Similar in themes to To Kill A Mockingbird, this book is designed for a younger audience. Set in North Carolina in the 1930s the story centres around Stella aged 11, and her family. North Carolina still practises racial segregation, and has vigilante Ku Klux Clan groups who target Negro families who try to stretch the racial segregation boundaries. Stella loves her teacher and their school, but she is what we would today call dyslexic, and doesn’t like writing stories—she often gets up at night because she finds it easier to do such hard exercises when she is by herself. Stella’s father is literate, and reads the newspapers. He also wants to register for the Presidential vote. Early in the book Stella and her brother Jo Jo are unexpected observers of a midnight Ku Klux Clan meeting, and the anxiety of the threat of activity by this group quickly spreads through the community. How Stella and her family, and the village handle the issues which arise, and how Stella comes to terms with her own educational issues make for gripping, involved reading. What a joy to have such an exciting book to read so early in the year! This is a “must read” for capable readers of 10-14 years, but I feel that the book will appeal more to girls.

*****Listen to the Moon, by Michael Morpugo. PB from Harper Collins. RRP about $25

What an extraordinary story! I am going to include this review on my page of adult book reviews as well, because although it is a book for kids of 12-15 years….

It is a biography of the author’s grandmother—told in her own words, and from the point of view of those who knew her. At the time when she was found in mid 1914, at the age of about 12 years, weak, injured and close to death on an isolated Scilly island close to Britain, the girl was called Lucy Lost, because Lucy was the only word she was able to say at that time. Lucy was taken in, and treated lovingly, and positively by the Wheatcroft family of Mary, Jim and Alfie, who was about the same age as Lucy. Gradually the family realised that Lucy was intelligent, that she loved music, that she was a competent pianist, and that she was a competent with horses—but she could still not speak to fill in all the gaps.   After several months, the wonderful island doctor, Dr Crow, suggested that Lucy should be taken back to where she had been found, in the hope that this might stimulate her memory and ability to speak. The other problem was that there was a suspicion that Lucy may have been German, and this was wartime. I have loved this story—how it unfolds, the brilliance of Morpugo’s style, the passion and love with which the story is told, and the ways in which the war, as it affected Lucy, the Wheatcrofts, and the islands are presented. Recognition of the folly of war is understated, but clear to the reader as we are touched by Lucy’s treatment at the hands to the German submariners. How their generosity helped Lucy, and how the islanders later reciprocated their actions, with kindness toward the Germans is also touching. This is a brilliant book for 12 years and over, and for interested adults.

 

****The Last of the Spirits, by Chris Priestley. HB from Bloomsbury, RRP $21.99

It is fine to read this book as a one off, about Sam and his sister Lizzie, and how they are battling to stay alive when they are homeless, and starving in the cold of a bitter London winter. Sam is really bitter with an old man named Ebenezer Scrooge, because he refuses to help them, and Sam decides to kill him. That night, the children wonder if they are really alive when a ghost leads them out of the graveyard where they have been sheltering, and shows them scenes from their past, the harsh reality of their present, and what the future holds if Sam kills Scrooge and continues to feel so bitter about their lot. Sam is shaken by what the ghost has shown him, and determines to change his outlook…this story is however even more telling and impressive if the reader has already read the Dickens classic, A Christmas Carol. The Last of the Spirits then becomes almost a continuation of the earlier classic, and a really strong story. This is a fine novel, and well worth reading, particularly by capable and widely read children and families. It will be a good book to read aloud. For readers of 10-adult.

****Minton Goes!: The complete Adventures of Minton and Turtle, by Anna Fienberg and Kim Gamble. PB from Allen and Unwin. RRP $19.99

This is a wonderful compilation of some of the authors’ most popular works. The first story is the Hottest Boy who ever lived. (Hector lives where the temperatures are really hot, so he has no friends to talk with except his pet salamander Minton, until Gilda, an adventurer from a very cold climate comes to visit and ends up taking them both with her to the cold climate, where Hector feels both needed and admired). The other stories involve Minton and his adventures when he decides to leave Gilda and Hector in the cold place, and travel back to his own climate. He meets Turtle and together they have lots of adventures, most of which involve different modes of transport. These stories are delightful—funny, interesting and gentle. The layout is attractive and spacious, and the fonts used are large and clear and easy to read. The tales appeal hugely to children of 4-about 7 years, and are extra good as read alouds for the younger kids, although 7-8 years olds may well prefer to read them to themselves. Another excellent book.

*Anders and the Comet, by Gregory MacKay. PB from Allen and Unwin. RRP about $14

Anders is an indeterminate animal—drawn in the cartoon strips he looks like a cross between a dog and a cat. On his first day back at school, Anders meets the small elephant Bernie, and discovers that they live near each other. When the two of them plus Ander’s other friend Eden, meet the Green Grabber, they are in for wild adventures and visit far off places, plus space. When they meet Skip, they know that they have made another excellent friend. Simple stories, with lower case cartoon bubbles make these stories easy to follow and to reader. Fun for kids of 5-8 years.

Diary of a Golf Pro, by Shamini Flint. PB from Allen and Unwin. RRP about $12

Marcus is nine years old. His dad has tried to interest him in lots of sports, and there have been books which describe how Marcus managed with each of these sports. Now it is the turn of golf. The author is a golf lover, but Marcus is not—and keeps misunderstanding what his father means. When Dad talks about ‘tee’ Marcus thinks he means a drink. When Dad says ‘chip’ Marcus thinks food. Lots of fun plays on words and amusing pictures which show that Marcus will not become a good golfer. For fans of golf, probably between the ages of 6 and 9.

Apocalypse Bow Wow, by James Proimos. PB from Bloomsbury. RRP $14.99

With so many books for kids about the end of the world as we know it, it was only time before someone came up with the idea of vanishing all the people, and just leaving the animals—and here it is! Initially, after their people disappeared, Brownie and Apollo thought that they were the only creatures left, then they find the mice, then the rats, then a variety of other animals and, in particular– a cat. Armed with the advice to strike at what is weak and unexpected, not what is strong, our pair persist, and eventually can relax in their home, apparently safe. It’s an amusing story with just a bit of reading, and all in lower case—perfect for early reading, and for those who find reading tough—age appropriate from say 7-10 years.

Atticus Claw Learns to Draw, by Jennifer Gray. PB from Allen and Unwin. RRP $12.99

Atticus Claw used to be a cat burglar, but now gives a hand to the local police when his talents are needed because the children’s father is Inspector Cheddar. When Atticus wins a pickle drawing competition and a visit to the pickling factory, it is Inspector Cheddar who seems to be the target of the billionaire picklemaker and his pet pig Pork. Who is stealing the most famous artworks in the world? This is a fanciful story, with an intricate plot and a lot of pickles and vinegar. For readers of 7-10 years if it appeals.

Tombquest, book 1. Book of the Dead, by Michael Northrop. PB from Scholastic. RRP $7.99

Alex Sennefer has an illness which could kill him at any time. His mother Maggie works in a large museum, and is convinced that a book of spells from ancient Egypthas the power to cure him. The trouble is that once Maggie invokes the spells, she also releases five mummies are brought back to life as Death Walkers. This is the first of a series of stories, so do not expect to solve all the mysteries in this book—it reads well, and for someone who is so gravely ill, Alex seems to handle all the stresses really well. For 9-12 years—probably mainly boys.

*The Honest Truth, by Dan Gemeinhart. PB from Scholastic. RRP $15.99

This is another story about a sick boy—in this case, Mark has cancer. Mark has decided that he has had enough of hospitals, so he plans his move carefully, runs away from home with his dog Beau hidden in a kit bag, and manages to elude his family, police and other searchers because he has set himself the challenge of climbing to the top of mount Rainier before he gives in to his illness and accepts his death. It is a heart wrenching story, but also endearing because Mark meets some lovely people who help him, and at home, his best friend Jess keeps his secret, and hopes he makes it.   Beau sticks with him as the weather deteriorates and they keep climbing . What happens, and how Beau deserves the title of hero, you will have to read for yourself. It is an engrossing read, and the ending is satisfying, even if still sad. For readers of 10 years and older.

Derek ‘Danger’ Dale, The Case of the Really REALLY Scary things, by Michael Gerard Bauer. PB from Scholastic. RRP $12.99

There is a scary theme to this cartoon-cum-text story about the famous secret agent and the need to defeat Dr Evil McEvilness as he tries to use people’s nightmares against them. Each room of horrors that Dale enters is scarier than the last. Can he handle his own fears? I didn’t find the story interesting, and it is quite repetitive, only varying in degrees of pressure and horrors. For boys of 7-10 years if it appeals.

Ella Diaries, Double Dare you and Ballet Back Flip, by Meredith Costain and Danielle McDonald. PBs from Scholastic RRP $$6.99 each

Good value these two books, for young girls of 6-9 years, if you are into, or do not mind, stereotypes of female behaviours -heaps of girls do like and learn ballet! In Double Dare you, Ella’s worst enemy is to sit next to her as school starts for the year. In Ballet Backflip Ella has to decide whether to stick with ballet, or to switch to gymnastics. The stories are simple, but the writing is grammatically sound, and the font is easy to read.

*Ella and Olivia, Beach Holiday by Susannah McFarlane. PB from Scholastic. RRP $7.99

Another simple story, produced in very large font, and with mostly simple vocabulary, about the sisters, and their adventurous trip to holiday at the beach. Good reading for girls of 5-7 years, who want to try to read a book by themselves.

EJ Spy School, Speedy Spy, by Yvette Poshlogian. PB from Scholastic. RRP $7.99

Another in a simple by popular series for girls this is the latest adventure of EJ10 when she was just a trainee spy. EJ needs to move quickly, and sometimes even super skates are not as quick as flying.   Overly simplistic story, but easy –peasy to read for girls of 6-8 years.

The Yeti files, Meet the Bigfeet, by Kevin Sherry. HB from Scholastic. RRP about $10

Blizz Richards is a yeti—that is a cryptid, or a creature whose existence has not yet been proven. George Vanquist is the bad guy who caused Blizz’s cousin to reveal his existence—the battle then was to gather all the troops together to destroy the credibility of this so-called cryptozoologist. As a graphic novel-and there is a lot to look at in the pictures-it is OK, but if the story is supposed to be simple to read, then some of the vocabulary should be modified. OK for readers of 7-9 years, if it appeals.

Australia’s Great War,1915 by Sally Murphy. PB from Scholastic. RRP $16.99

Designed for young readers the book is presented as the story of Stan Moore who was a teacher before he signed up to go to war. He is sent to Gallipoli, and we read of his time there, mainly in the letters he writes, and those he receives from his family. It is easy to read, and quite interesting, but nothing I have not read in other books. The publisher suggests the book is suitable for nine year olds and older.   I do not think that readers of nine, or even twelve years are going to read this for pleasure—maybe best talked about and used in HSIE in school.

Spirit Animals, Book 6 Rise and Fall. PB from Scholastic. RRP $12.99

Some young readers love these series, and look it all up on the Internet, and feel part of the sequences. For me, At Book 6, this is enough—there is yet another journey, with the group travelling at night, and sleeping by day—which Connor finds difficult, because he is used to being up at crack of dawn. Abeke is forced to leave her friends when she fails to make it as the ship pulls out, but before the end of the story, as the friends battle to defeat Cabaro, the Great Beast, the four are reunited. Success of course. It is OK, but I feel that 6 books in a series are enough. For readers of 9-13 years.
***A New Australian, Bridget, by James Moloney. PB from Scholastic. RRP $15.99

I enjoyed this book—it is fiction, but the historical background of Ireland in the mid nineteenth century is vividly drawn. The family is turned out of their house following the death of Bridget’s father during the potato famine, and in desperation Bridget and her sister are sent to the new colony in New South Wales, with the plan to earn enough money in order to help their mother and the r rest of the family to emigrate. The two girls at times are feisty, and impatient with some of the tasks they are given as maids, and the laziness of their employer in Sydney, so Bridget and her sister are sent to the young settlement at Moreton Bay. Bridget is left to fend for herself after her sister marries and moves to an apparent farm with her new husband. Bridget battles to follow her, only to discover that the farm is exceedingly primitive. I gave this book to a capable year 6 girl to read a week or so ago—she did not enjoy it—said that there was too much history in it. I was disappointed with this; maybe the target age for the story should be 12-14 rather than for younger readers.

Pegasus and the Rise of the Titans, by Kate O’Hearn. PB from Hodder Children’s Books. RRP about $15

This is a mix of modern adventure, with fantasy set in the time of the ancient Greeks. The author has imagined what might have happened in the myth about Bellerophon rode Pegasus for the first time, to slay the chimera. So there are modern characters, in particular Emily, who lives in New York, but has the ability to travel back in time to ancient Greece, where she feeds the flame of Olympus, and has amazing adventures with Riza, Diana, and of course Pegasus. It is easy to read; girls of 9-12 years who enjoy fantasy are the most likely readers.

Teenage Books

Fiction

*Blue Lily, Lily Blue, by Maggie Stiefvater. HB from Scholastic. RRP $24.99

This is Book 3 of the Raven Cycle. There is not much point in reading this volume unless you have read The Raven Boys and The Dream thieves, but if so, then you will pick up the main thread of the story, which is to sort out the identity of the three sleepers—one to wake, one not to wake and one in between. Adam is not sure what his role is to be, nor is Blue, and Piper and Morris have a harrowing time as well. The story is set in America in the modern world, but there are lots of links with the ancient world–and especially the underworld. This is a good story to read, but there are lots of complex sub plots to sort out. For readers of 13 years and older.

 

**Moon at Nine by Deborah Ellis. PB from Allen and Unwin. RRP $16.99

This is another splendid book from this award winning author—this time she takes real life events in Iran about ten years after the exile of the Shah, and gives us the story of fifteen year old Farrin, and her life after she meets a new girl, Sadira at school, and falls in love with her. Because it is against the law to be gay in Iran, the growing relationship is fraught with problems, and eventually they are arrested. Farrin has always felt removed from her mother in particular but her last hope of survival will be if she is saved by her family’s intervention to rescue her. A gripping, poignant, and at times desperately sad story. Made sadder because life in Iran for gay people remains highly dangerous. For mature readers of 15 and over.

Eat the Sky, Drink the Ocean, edited by Kirsty Murray, Payar Dhar and Anita Roy. PB from Allen and Unwin. RRP $16.99

This is an interesting anthology of stories which were written collaboratively by pairs of women, all notable authors, mostly either in Australia or the sub-continent. The idea arose after the death of a young woman in India who was raped multiple items and murdered on her way home. The brutal injustice of such crimes has been the focus of much attention in the media, as similar events continue, and so the idea was born to create fictional stories about the past, present and a future where similar crimes will not occur. A major theme of all the works—mainly dystopian short stories, but also a couple of graphic stories and one short play script—is the victory over traditional role boundaries, for both boys and girls, but with the theme of female worth and the problems they face in the male dominated world of India very much to the fore. It is a book to browse over a period, not read in one go—I found the heavy black of   the illustrations in a couple of the graphic woks quite off putting. For mature readers of 14 years and over.

The Last Thirteen, by James Phelan. Books 1 and 2. PBs from Scholastic. RRP $14.90 each.

As I have written before in these reviews, I wearied of such a long series, but—the last book, Book 1, is worth reading because it brings together so many themes– the searches for the gears, and the need to outwit Solaris and defeat, and finally the identity of this character is finally revealed. The evil of Dr Dark, and the reasons for his erratic behaviour also become clear. So—a long series—too long for me, and lots of others, but a good read to bring it all together. For readers of 12 -14 years, but remember—read book 13 first and work backwards.

***The Here and Now, by Ann Brashares. PB from Hachette. RRP $15.99

I read and reviewed this book, in hardback last year. My review is probably still on my WordPress archive! So—briefly, it is an excellent book. Prenna and her mother travelled back in time –still on Earth, but because of a dreadful mosquito plague a hundred or so years ahead, the only escape was to travel back in time, and live again—but, to live by a set of severe rules imposed by the oversight committee so they did not have ay meaningful contact with the so-called ‘time natives”. Prenna rebels against these limitations, and is encouraged in her rebellion by two people, one a ‘time native named Ethan, who had actually seen Prenna at the time when she materialised in present time, the other, an old apparently homeless man who seemed to know a lot about Prenna, but encouraged her to throw away the so called vitamin pills and special glasses which the committee said that everyone had to wear…..this is an ingenious, mostly plausible and fascinating plot, with a touch of romance thrown in as Ethan helps Prenna understand her past and present, and break away from the limitations of the committee. Highly recommended for both boys and girls of 12 years and older.

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

This is the second book about Rachel Watts and James Mycroft. Most of the first book, Every Breath was set in London where Mycroft, followed by Rachel, had gone to solve the mystery surrounding his parents death. The pair found themselves in the middle of a serious string of crimes but did work out how James’ parents death had been arranged and carried out. This book is set in Australia, in Melbourne, and western Victoria. James has been unable to leave the issue, and wants to know what it was that his father had worked out, which meant that he had to be killed. A crooked, but fanatical collector of antiques who calls himself Wild believes James has a valuable old Greek coin which was stolen from Wild, and Wild organised two murders and a terror campaign for Rachel and James in order to flush them out. The third person in the triangle here is Harris, who lives in the country where Rachel used to live, and would really like to be her boyfriend, rather than have James at the forefront of Rachel’s’ affections. The story is intense, at times gruesome, but overall just seems a bit too pressured and speedy. The two heroes are still at school, and it all just seemed a bit improbable. It is good reading for 14 years and over, but just a bit too busy to hold my interest!

***The Vanishing Game, by Kate Kae Myers. PB from Bloomsbury. RRP $15.99

Twins Jocelyn and Jack had a tough upbringing, including an unpleasant time in a large foster home. It appears now that Jack is dead, until Jocelyn receives messages that he is alive, and clues to a puzzle which seems to be involved with his employment. The third member of the foster home trio, Noah—who became Jack’s best friend, is the only person to whom Jocelyn can turn for help. This is a complicated hunt, and the questions are always there about why Jack has set up such a complicated hunt for them to locate him, or what he needs to give to the authorities. Certainly Jocelyn and Noah are threatened and injured by attacks to take them out, so there was something to hide. The conclusion of the story is unexpected, and is an extension of the ESP which often exists between twins… gripping reading for 14 years and over.

The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks, by E Lockhart. PB from Allen and Unwin. RRP $17.99

Frankie is at boarding school in America—it is an expensive school, but one where the boys reign supreme and the girls are supposed to toe the line. Because Frankie rebels at this, she finds herself in strife with both staff and the boys. When one of the most popular boys, Matthew Livingston seems to be favouring Frankie, she at first is honoured and really happy, but then the novelty fades and she realises he is leading her on. She needs to use her brain, and to outwit all those who are not playing the games honestly. The book has a strong American flavour, and did not appeal to me. Suitable for 14 year old girls and older if it appeals.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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