Wednesday, 24 September 2014

The Astrologer’s Daughter

The Astrologer’s Daughter by Rebecca Lim (Text Publishing)
PB RRP $19.99
ISBN 9781922182005
Reviewed by Wendy Fitzgerald 

Melbourne based lawyer Rebecca Lim is the author of 14 books for kids and Young Adults. Her Mercy series involves the main character as an angel. Her Total Girl books are for younger readers about fashion and friends. This book, The Astrologer’s Daughter came out in July 2014. It follows a theme of astrology in a tangle of genres- mystery, thriller, adventure and love.

Lim cleverly drops us into the streets of China Town in inner city Melbourne - into the life of young Avicenna Crowe who is alone in a tiny apartment after her mother, Joanne mysteriously vanishes. We learn that Avicenna and her mother have moved around a lot and that Joanne had been stalked in the past. One side of Avicenna’s face is scarred from a house fire. Her father died in that fire. 

Just like her mother, Avicenna has the gift of reading the past, present and future. They are not really fortune tellers and they are not strictly psychics. They use astrology- a method that’s based on plotting a client’s birth information on a circular chart a bit like a clock face. 

‘Twelve houses, two-hour intervals with midnight at the cusp of the fourth house, noon at the cusp of the tenth…. Fill the interior with a map of the heavens as it was at the exact time, date and place of birth…’

I found the explanations of this process interesting but, to be honest, beyond my understanding. The police investigating Joanne’s disappearance are also sceptical of this gift and suspect foul play leaving young Avicenna desperate to find her own answers.

She decides to read the charts for her mother’s clients and conduct her own investigation. Her search takes her into dangerous territory- some unsavoury people and desperate clients all linked to the violent unsolved murder of a young girl.

Throw in a love triangle between Avicenna, her school friend Simon Thorn and a rich, handsome client and you have a compelling story with a thrilling, action packed plot. You will need to read the book to find how Lim expertly weaves all these elements together.  I would recommend it to kids 14 years and over.

Tuesday, 23 September 2014


Spark by Rachel Craw (Walker Books)
PB RRP $19.95
ISBN 9781922179623
Reviewed by Anastasia Gonis

Evie’s mother has recently died. She now lives with her aunt Miriam, her mother’s twin. She has so much to contend with: her grief, the incredible change in body and mind that she doesn’t understand, and her feelings for her best friend Kitty’s twin brother Jamie, that have resurged with his return.

Priming, Spark, Kinetic Memory Transference, Harvest, and Stray, is language that belongs to the Affinity Project. Evie has to learn about all this and what it means. Her altered DNA from an inherited synthetic gene has kicked in and the strange feelings that overwhelm her can now be explained. She has become a Shield, and the protector of her best friend Kitty from the unknown Stray that has threatened her life.

As Evie must fight her fears and doubts about this new person she has become, and the responsibility that goes with it, while countless scenarios unfold around her. Secrets about her family come to light in rapid sequence. Life becomes an emotional battleground as she seeks to uncover the Spark’s identity, and unravel her tangled feelings.

Mystery, suspense, romance and intrigue fill the pages. Spark is the first of a riveting trilogy. It contains all the elements of a perfect mystery thriller, spiced with a sizzling attraction between the two main characters that zaps like an electrical charge on the pages. The fantastic characters and their individual lives and dilemmas create a page-turning frenzy. You’ll love the bad characters as much as the good. I can’t wait for Book 2: Stray and Book 3: Shield, which are coming soon.

Monday, 22 September 2014

Frances Dean Who Loved to Dance and Dance

Frances Dean Who Loved to Dance and Dance by Birgitta Sif (Walker Books)
HC RRP $24.95
ISBN 9781406337983
Reviewed by Anastasia Gonis

Author/illustrator Birgitta Sif earned my lifelong interest in her work with her exceptional debut picture book, Oliver. Now, with its theme of freedom and natural ability verses self consciousness, this delightful story has increased my devotion.

Frances Dean dances all the time; to the sound of the wind, to the birds singing and to the music in her head and heart. It’s when other people are around that she forgets how to dance. This causes her great sadness. It’s when she sees another girl in the park singing along with her radio regardless of all those around her, that she ‘is reminded in her heart how much she loved to dance and dance’. Can she find a way to share with others what dancing means to her?

Sif has used the natural world, in particular birds and creatures of the woods and parks, to support her theme. The delicate and highly detailed illustrations carry additional stories separate to the one being told through the text. Each page is an adventure into the drawings; a journey of discovery for children to translate in their own way. 

Sunday, 21 September 2014

Billy Slater: Try Time

Billy Slater: Try Time by Patrick Loughlin, illustrated by Nahum Ziersch (Random House Australia)
PB RRP $12.99
ISBN 9780857982469
Also available as an ebook ISBN 9780857982476
Reviewed by Marian McGuinness

This is the first book in a new series for boys 7+ who not only love footy but who play any team sport. At the core of each book is the guidance of legendary Billy Slater, fullback for the Melbourne Storm, Queensland Maroons and Australian Kangaroos.

Each short-chapter book tells the story of one of the players of the Under 11s team, the Ravens. This time it’s Josh’s story. His dad’s away, his mum is busy with the new baby and his greatest supporter, his grandad, is embarrassingly over-the-top when it comes to cheering from the sideline.

Josh is so nervous about his first footy game that he dreams he’s forgotten to wear his uniform. He’s running for the line with the ball in his Superman undies.

Every boy who has ever had to get ready for footy will be excited by the descriptions of the pre-game preparations: footy boots, shoulder pads, mouthguard – check! And they will recognise the ‘herd of elephant-sized butterflies’ stampeding in their stomachs.

Josh is on the small side and he’s constantly worried that he will let the team down. In the first game of the season he ‘felt the hard yellow hide slide into his grasp as he dived for the line.’ He lost the ball. ‘Then came the sound that would haunt him for days: a single loud, long BOOOOOOO!’

Enter Billy Slater, friend of Coach Steve and footy hero to the boys. At their footy practices Billy homes in on what each boy needs. He takes Josh aside and says, ‘the yips are when you worry so much about not being able to do something that your body forgets how to do it.’ This is not a didactic series but blends the reality of playing football with the wisdom of those who have done it all before.

With its plethora of footy action, quick pace and short-burst sentences, the climax is exciting indeed. The black and white drawings create a visual connection for the reader. There is added value in the players’ profiles at the back of the book as well as handy footy tips on tackling and catching a pass.

Try Time is about having fun, working as a team and self-belief regardless of ability or background. It’s the whole footy package. 

Saturday, 20 September 2014

My dog doesn’t like me

My dog doesn’t like me by Elizabeth Fensham (University of Queensland Press)
PB RRP $14.95
ISBN 978 0 7022 5017 0
Reviewed by Jo Antareau

Poor Eric! All his life he’s wanted a dog of his own. And now that he has one – Ugly – it seems that the dog just doesn’t like him. Ugly won’t obey him, especially when they’re out on walks together. Ugly doesn’t follow him or play with him or even pay him much attention. Ugly likes everybody in the family more than Eric, which is particularly depressing considering his obnoxious older sister scores higher than Eric in Ugly’s esteem.

Eric just wants to know what’s wrong with his dog. And so do his family, who threaten to remove Ugly unless Eric learns to control him. But help is at hand. With his grandfather’s and friends’ assistance, Eric gradually discovers that much of the problem lies in an entirely unexpected place – with him.

As the narrative unfolds, Eric learns to take responsibility for his dog, which means doing unpleasant things when he doesn’t feel like it, and to persist with them. Eric slowly starts to reconnect with Ugly and realises that relationships take time and effort, but the rewards are great!

A charming story for children over 7. It clearly illustrates a boy’s learning journey; that the most valuable things in life are those you earn.

Friday, 19 September 2014

Snugglepot and Cuddlepie’s Underwater Adventure

Snugglepot and Cuddlepies Underwater Adventure by May Gibbs (Scholastic Australia)
HB RRP $19.99
ISBN 978-1-74283-928-8
Reviewed by Jenny Heslop

On a hot summer's day Snugglepot and Cuddlepie visit the beach for the first time. The sand is very hot under their feet and they seek shade in an empty shell, not knowing it is the home of Mr Hermit. Mr Hermit very kindly helps them to the water’s edge and from there Snugglepot and Cuddlepie embark on a wonderful underwater adventure were they befriend the Fish Folk and meet the beautiful Princess Obelia.

Snugglepot and Cuddlepie’s Underwater Adventure is another of the sweet, safe adventures of May Gibbs’ endearing gumnut babies. Here it is repackaged into picture book form, bringing this classic Australian story and its characters to the next generation.   

Thursday, 18 September 2014


Gigantosaurus by Jonny Duddle (Koala Books)
PB RRP $14.99
ISBN 978-1-74276-101-5
Reviewed by Jenny Heslop

When young dinosaurs go out to play they need to keep an eye out for danger, especially the hungry Gigantosaurus.
     His feet go STOMP!
      His jaws go CRUNCH!
      In the blink of an eye
     you'd be his lunch!

But what happens when the dinosaur on lookout, a mischievous Bonehead, decides to play a prehistoric version of the boy who cried wolf?
This is a noisy book in the best of ways. It has a rollicking rhythm, beautiful rhyme and is full of thuds, stomps, burps and other fabulously loud sounds. It exudes energy and humour and has the feel of The Three Little Pigs about it. From the first page it just begs to be read aloud.
When Bonehead calls out that the predator is on its way the young dinosaurs run to hide.
     They ran!
     They hid!
     They shook with fear!
     The Gigantosaurus was coming near!
And when, after many false sightings, Gigantosaurus really does appear, the page folds upwards to become double the height to accommodate the truly huge and awe inspiring meat eater.
Some of the dialogue is in speech bubbles (which still carry the wonderful rhythm and rhyme) and these bubbles become part of the playful illustrations. The picture on the front cover conveys the characters of the dinosaurs and hints at the role each one will play in the story. These characteristics remain consistent throughout the illustrations.
At the end of the book are two pages with pictures and factual explanations of the dinosaurs throughout the story. This is written in the same tone as the story and will keep dinosaur mad pre-schoolers who want to learn a little about these prehistoric animals happy.

This is such a fun book. It is fantastic to read and there is so much detail in the illustration to keep kids and their adult readers coming back again and again.