Thursday, 30 October 2014

The Last Thirteen : Book 7

The Last Thirteen : Book 7 by James Phelan (Scholastic Australia)
PB RRP $14.99
ISBN 978-1-74283-190-9
Reviewed by Jenny Heslop

13 books. 13 nightmares. 1 destiny.
Sam's search for the Thirteen Dreamers leads him next to the Grand Canyon and to Cody, Dreamer number seven. But as the stakes grow more desperate, so does the enemy. And it is getting harder for Sam and his fellow dreamers to tell friend from foe.
This 7th instalment of the fast paced series is a scramble across America to once again be ahead in the race for the Dreamer’s Gate. Alex has been given his first mission and comes up against Stella's offsider, Matrix. Sam is following his newest nightmare, racing to get to Cody and the next gear while Lora and Eva are racing to save Sam after Eva's dream that he and Cody are walking into a trap.
This group of Dreamers need their dreams and nightmares to guide them, to lead them to the next destination. But dreams are not always reliable, their interpretation not always obvious, they can mean so many different things. And, as Sam and his friends have discovered, expected outcomes can be changed by situations in real time being altered.
Will the Dreamers feel more in control, or more scared for the fate of the world when they uncover what Stella and Matrix are really up to?
This book sits right at the midway point of the series. It is impossible to read at a leisurely pace. Pages packed with dialogue and action, and chapters with changing viewpoints, ending in cliff hangers, all accentuate the sense of urgency. The ambiguity of the dreams and their meanings, along with the swing of allegiances of some of the players, make this an addictive series.
The physical package is attractive as well. Each volume is slim, a different colour and has subtle clues on the cover as to what lies within the pages. The spines, lined up together on a bookshelf, announce the countdown.

Wednesday, 29 October 2014

The 39 Clues Cahill vs Vespers Book 6: Day of Doom

The 39 Clues Cahill vs Vespers Book 6: Day of Doom by David Baldacci (Scholastic Inc)
HB RRP $17.99
ISBN 978-0-54529844-5
Reviewed by Jenny Heslop

Thirteen year old Dan Cahill and his older sister Amy are running out of time. This will be their last chance to save their friends, family and ultimately thousands of people from Vesper One's horrific plot. In a desperate race from Washington DC to deep in the Cascade Mountains, the siblings need to decide who they can trust to keep them safe whilst following the twists and turns - led by fate and Isabel Kabra.
Each book in this popular 39 Clues series is written by a different author, giving each instalment a slightly different feel and this title does feel a little younger than the previous few. This is probably mostly due to the dramatic writing tone and atmosphere that Baldacci brings to Day of Doom, the final instalment in the Cahill's vs. Vespers series. David Baldacci is a writer well known in the adult action/thriller genre and he certainly keeps the action pumped and the reader wound tightly right up to the final denouement.
Another aspect of the writing I enjoyed is the way the recap of characters and events is woven into the beginning of the story. Baldacci has cleverly reminded the readers who is being held hostage, who is on the Cahill's side and how the plot has been progressing, without retelling or going over previous ground. And this recap is needed. By the beginning of this book there are many characters, some of which have switched sides and allegiances countless times.
This is an action packed finale which will keep readers on their toes, unwilling to put the book down.
Day of Doom comes with six clue cards which can help intrepid readers become part of the adventure on line at
After the pages close on this final Cahill vs. Vespers adventure, a new one starts immediately with Nowhere to Run, the first book in Unstoppable, the third series in The 39 Clues.

Tuesday, 28 October 2014

Puppy Playtime 1,2,3

Puppy Playtime 1,2,3 by Celeste Walters and Adele Jaunn (Little Hare Books)
ISBN 978-1-742977-16-4
PB RRP $14.95 
Reviewed by Nean McKenzie

On the surface, this picture book by author Celeste Walters and illustrator Adele Jaunn simply rhymes its way up to ten and back, accompanied by cute illustrations of puppies playing. However, that isn't all there is, not by a long way. There's also an element of mystery, education about different dog breeds and a huge variety of verbs. Then (although this reader wasn't observant enough to notice it on the first read through) there's also a 'spot the bone' activity. This is a book with a lot of things to keep young children busy!

Billy the Bitzer has hidden his bone and is worried the other puppies are going to find it. First one puppy comes racing and chasing, then two romping and stomping, up to ten, when Billy the Bitzer is feeling unhappy and snappy. No wonder. So he decides to get rid of the puppies, one by one. First he starts grunting and growling, then hooting and howling, until there's one little puppy, sneaking and peeking … who finds the bone. And it's been in view the whole time.

The different breeds of puppy are depicted beautifully by Adele Jaunn, who also illustrated Baby Bilby's Question by Sally Morgan. A poodle, a collie, a samoyed, a great dane and others. All have joyful, inquisitive expressions on their furry faces. Each page is covered with happy little dogs, always on the move, as puppies are. In fact the illustrations convey movement extremely well and this is a real strength of the book.

Celeste Walters has written several books for young adults and children, including A Certain Music. Puppy Playtime 1,2,3 uses repetition with skill and clever rhyming. Lots of fun for adults and kids to enjoy together, this is a book can that can be re-read, with something different to notice each time.

Monday, 27 October 2014

Little Red Riding Hood

Little Red Riding Hood : Pictures by Anna Pignataro, story by Charles Perrault, Retold by Margrete Lamond (Little Hare)
ISBN 9 781921 894879
HB $12.95 RRP
Reviewed by Nean McKenzie

Once Upon a Timeless Tale is a series of beautifully presented hardback editions re-telling classic stories including Jack and the Beanstalk, The Ugly Duckling and Goldilocks and the Three Bears. Little Red Riding Hood starts with …' in the days when wolves could talk and should have known better …' The familiar story, told with a humorous slant, is accompanied on each page by illustrations, full of colour and character. With a red spine decorated with pictures of delicate dandelion seeds, the book feels nice as well as looking it, inviting the reader inside.

In this series, the illustrators are showcased, with only their name on the front page. Anna Pignataro, Melbourne based illustrator and creator of over fifty children's books, has provided  pictures which deserve this attention. Rosy cheeked Riding Hood skips through colourful pages filled with interesting details that will definitely appeal to young readers and listeners. There's even an illustration of the inside of the wolf's stomach containing poor Grandma and Riding Hood and later on, when the woodcutter has replaced them with stones.

This is the traditional story, with no sugar coating at the end, when it comes to the wolf. Little Red Riding Hood is a bit precocious, but in a good way. The best line in the book comes right at the end.
        "'That should teach you,' said the grandmother,' not to talk to wolves.'
        'That should teach the wolf,' said Red Riding Hood,' not to talk to little girls.'"
        And you can't argue with that logic!

This is a great book to introduce a new generation to a story that will never get old. Recommended for children aged five and above.

Sunday, 26 October 2014

War Horse

War Horse by Michael Morpurgo (Egmont UK)
ISBN 978-1-4052-7188-2
PB $14.95 RRP
Reviewed by Nean McKenzie

First published in 1982, this special edition of War Horse has been reprinted for the centenary of World War one, with a new introduction by the author. The book was already well known, being the basis of the 2011 Stephen Spielberg movie (nominated for several Oscars and BAFTAs) and a highly acclaimed international stage show. War Horse is a story for children aged 10+ about a horse who goes to war, told from the unique perspective of the horse.  

The story starts off on a farm in Devon where a young horse is bought home to fifteen year old Albert, by his drunken father. There is an immediate bond between Albert and Joey, as he calls the horse, which develops into an unbreakable  friendship. However when war breaks out, Albert's father sells Joey to the army and he is shipped off to the trenches in France. Albert is broken hearted but vows to find his horse again when he is old enough to enlist.

In France, Joey sees battle, injury, death and finds friends on both sides of the trenches. He pulls carts of wounded soldiers and ends up in No Man's Land, where the soldiers stop fighting so he can be rescued. Being a horse, Joey has the ability to understand people no matter whether they are English, French or German, so transcends language barriers. Although in parts a very sad story, eventually Joey is reunited with Albert and the book does have a heart-warming ending.

Through the very effective character of Joey, the concepts and hard truths of war are explored in an adventure type story. The writing has some denser passages and longer words, which may not suit all young readers, but this style fits in with the historical tone. A highlight of this war story is that it is told from such a neutral perspective, which could be an important reason for its continued popularity.  Over a million copies of War Horse have sold since 2007. 

Saturday, 25 October 2014

The Incredible Adventures of Cinnamon Girl

The Incredible Adventures of Cinnamon Girl by Melissa Keil (Hardie Grant Egmont)
ISBN 978-1-7429-7830-7
PB $18.95 RRP
Reviewed by Nean McKenzie

The comic book cover draws the reader into the world in which the main character, Sarah Albany (known as Alba) is firmly entrenched. Pencil in her hand, her mind wanders between reality and the fiction she draws in her cartoon frames. As the book starts, Alba and her quirky bunch of friends have all just finished secondary school in a town called Eden Valley and face the decision, what next? But the story is not just about this interesting and transient time of young adulthood. It's also about the end of the world, where Eden Valley has been named as the only place to be spared.

Alba lives with her mum in a bakery. Her father is dead and she has grown up with her friend Grady, a boy she is extraordinarily close to, but there is now one big problem between them. Grady is keen to become a lawyer and wants to go to the city to study. Alba doesn't want to make a decision to stay or go, quite happy if time could stand still. Then Ned Zebadiah ('prognosticator, seer and diviner of ancient mysteries') makes a prediction on the internet and it goes viral. Hippies stream into Eden Valley to escape the end of the world and the countdown begins. With the influx of outsiders comes Daniel, a former school mate of Alba's and now soapie star, who looks rather good with his shirt off.  

Written in first person, Alba's voice is strong, distinctive and funny. She gets off the track a bit sometimes, finds it a bit hard to focus on what is going on in front of her, but then cleverly gets back in time to move the story along. The camaraderie between the friends who have grown up together is well described and their reaction to the strangers that flock into their formerly sleepy town. Particularly skillful are the descriptions of Alba's drawing. 'I draw Cinnamon Girl close up and in profile here, her waves of hair billowing behind her and bleeding over the edges of the frames,' and 'I spend some time pencilling her solid legs, one foot in front of the other, resolutely marching through her unfilled frame.' Cinnamon Girl has a mind of her own, and is a good mirror for what Alba is going through in her life.

Melissa Keil's first novel, Life in Outer Space recently was awarded the Ena Noel award and was shortlisted for several other awards including a CBCA book of the year. The Incredible Adventures of Cinnamon Girl is Melissa's second young adult book and she has produced another humorous, warm-hearted novel. The story flows well and has characters the reader can be fond of as they struggle with coming of age problems. A bit of a love triangle and a ride on a motor bike and there's a resolution that is both apt and satisfying.

Friday, 24 October 2014

Heap House

Heap House by Edward Carey (Hot Key Books)
PB RRP $16.95
ISBN 978-1-4714-0157-2
Reviewed by Jacque Duffy

Set in an alternate Dickensian London Heap House is a quirky and dark read. Definitely, not everyone’s cup of tea.

I was attracted to this book because it reminded me of Edward Gorey’s characteristic dark pen and ink comics. I struggled at first with the Dickensian language, and managed to muddle up the characters, finding it difficult to get my head around the story. Once I settled though and found my way, I enjoyed it. The creepiness of the story combined with the language made me forget that it's meant to be a middle grade book. In fact I counted a few swear words in there. I do think you'd have to have a real book lover on your hands for the intended audience to get to grips with this story. It is for a patient reader.

Carey has created a strange Gothic world. Heap House and its inhabitants are isolated from the city. The Iremongers find treasure in the rubbish (heap) that keeps growing. The heap acts as an ocean and sweeps people and things out to oblivion when a storm blows in. Clod, the main character, isn’t quite like the rest of his family, he hears objects whisper and recently they’ve not just been saying names. Every Iremonger has a 'birth object': an everyday household object that they must keep with them at all times, or else they will die. Clod has an unusual talent: he can hear birth objects speak names. His own birth object, a universal bath plug, says "James Henry Hayward". Clod is seen as strange for this talent and has therefore grown up to be rather unpopular. One day he meets Lucy Pennant, an orphan who has been brought to Heap House to be a servant. When she arrives, strange things begin to happen and Lucy is blamed for them. She and Clod must find out what is happening in order to clear her name and save her from bloodthirsty Iremongers who hate all outsiders.

If you like Howl’s Moving Castle, Lemony Snicket’s Unfortunate Events and Neil Gaiman’s Coraline, then this book could be for you.

Jacque Duffy is the author and illustrator of picture book The Bear Said Please and the series ‘That’s not a …” learn to read books used in all Queensland State Primary Schools and one local history coffee table book.