Wednesday, 21 August 2019


Kaye Baillie and Narelda Joy’s (ill) picture book, Message in a Sock (MidnightSun 2018) has been shortlisted in the NSW Premier’s History Awards in the ‘Young People’s History Prize ($15,000) section.

Tuesday, 20 August 2019

The Last Balfour

The Last Balfour by Cait Duggan, (HarperCollins Australia), 2019, Pb  
RRP 19.99  ISBN: 9781460757017 Ebook 9781460710791

Reviewed by Pauline Hosking
Here’s a tale of witchcraft set in Scotland in 1597. The story begins when Iona Balfour’s aunt Grizel is about to be executed for being a witch. Before she dies, Grizel tells Iona she must flee from their village and deliver the mysterious family heirloom, a bloodstone, to someone called Ancroft in Edinburgh.

Like many Balfours, Iona knows some magic and this helps her complete the quest. Along the way, though, there are plenty of tears and much blood. The trials of Iona are described in detail:  her hounding by the witchfinder Finster, the betrayal by her childhood sweetheart Dalziel, and her brave attempt to help a village racked by plague. Luckily Iona meets Cal, one of the shape shifters from the forest, who becomes a stalwart friend. When they are captured by the witchfinder, Cal escapes by turning into a raven. Iona is convicted of witchcraft but saved from the flames by the Edinburgh witches led by Ancroft, who turns out to be her long-lost father. The ‘mystery’ of the bloodstone is revealed and the book ends with the possibility of more adventures for Iona and Cal.

The story is action-packed and moves quickly from one dramatic incident to the next. This is Cait Duggan’s first novel. She has done a monumental amount of research, even adapting traditional Scottish spells and incantations to fit her tale. The places and characters described have a completely believable historical reality. Some of the minor characters are particularly interesting and well written, especially Dalziel and Ishbel. Dalziel is deeply conflicted. He works for Finster but cares about Iona and is horrified by what happens. Iona’s sister, Ishbel, is a sympathetic creation who has a miserably sad ending.  

The Last Balfour is best suited to a YA readership as some of the events described are quite harrowing.  

Monday, 19 August 2019

My Name is NOT Peaseblossom

My Name is NOT Peaseblossom by Jackie French, (Angus & Robertson), 2019, Pb RRP  $14.50 ISBN: 9781460754788 Ebook 9781460709177

Reviewed by Pauline Hosking

This is the last in Jackie French’s Shakespeare series which comprises I am Juliet, Ophelia: Queen of Denmark and Third Witch.

Peaseblossom is an enterprising male fairy attendant of Titania, Queen of the Fairies. His wedding has been arranged to one of the tooth fairies, Floss. On midsummer’s eve Peaseblossom and Floss will drink the magic love potion and live happily ever after. 
That’s what’s supposed to happen. Peaseblossom (‘I prefer to be called Pete’) is a bit of a rebel. He’s adept at using TAP (time and place manipulation) and frequently jumps thousands of years into the future. He’s developed a taste for pizzas rather than dandelion salad and candied violets, especially the pizzas from the Leaning Tower of Pizza made by the mysteriously attractive Gaela.

The introduction of vampires adds a dramatic twist to Pete’s dilemma.

Pete is a likeable, subversive, hero who has the courage to deny the love potion and choose instead real love with all its ups and downs and uncertainties.
The theme of the book is free will, or the lack of it. Scattered among Pete’s adventures is a retelling of A Midsummer Night’s Dream. In the play, the only characters who can do what they want are the royals: Theseus, the Amazon Queen, Oberon and Titania. 

Everyone else has to do what they are told and love who is chosen for them. Poor Hermia must marry the man her father prefers rather than the one she loves.
Students from Grade 6 upwards will enjoy such a light, rollicking tale. There are lots of giggle moments. The ageing fairy Puck is the source of much amusement.
It isn’t necessary to know the play well, although this will add to a reader’s enjoyment. Direct quotes are cunningly placed throughout in the text.


Sunday, 18 August 2019


Marian McGuinness is thrilled to have her story, Collarenebri Cowboy, published in the July issue of Countdown in The School Magazine. Thanks to Aśka for her fab illustrations.

Saturday, 17 August 2019

Six Sleepy Mice

Six Sleepy Mice by Heidi Cooper Smith (Little Pink Dog Books) HB RRP $24.95 ISBN: 9780648256359

Reviewed by Dannielle Viera

A tumble of hungry mice noses its way into an enticing pantry. ‘A store of treats, oh what a find! Six feast together, tails entwined.’ Filled to their whiskers, the mice search for the perfect place to curl up together and sleep. But it’s easier said than done! Chased from a cosy egg carton, a comfy clump of clothes and a fluffy bed of teddies, the furry friends are swiftly swept outside. When they land on a feathery drift of foliage, they are finally free to ‘burrow deep… Rest their heads and fall asleep.’

Heidi Cooper Smith has taken on the mammoth task of both writing and illustrating this picture book aimed at children aged three to eight. The story scampers along at a brisk pace, punctuated by chipper couplets that bring a smile to your face. With a natural rhythm that rolls off the tongue, this is an ideal book for reading aloud.

Dripping with delicious details, Heidi’s illustrations draw readers into the dramatic world of the mice. From the paw prints scurrying past tasty titbits on the end papers to the heart-warming reds and yellows of the autumn leaves, the visual aspects add layers of meaning and merriment to the text. Perhaps the most endearing element in the book is Heidi’s characterisation of the mice – the sweet faces run the gamut of childhood emotions before their eyes finally close in serene slumber.

Six Sleepy Mice is an action-packed story that keeps young readers eagerly turning the pages. Dynamic illustrations dance with lively rhymes across the spreads, the caper only slowing with the delightfully drowsy denouement.

Friday, 16 August 2019

Max Booth Future Sleuth – Film Flip

Max Booth Future Sleuth – Film Flip by Cameron Macintosh and Dave Atze
(Big Sky Publishing) RRP $12.99 PB ISBN: 9781922265104

Reviewed by Jeffery E Doherty

Set in the year 2424, Max Booth and his sleepwalking robo-dog Oscar have escaped from the Skyburb 7 Home for Unclaimed Urchins and found a home in a crate in the storeroom of the Bluggsville City Museum. Luckily, Jessie, the supervisor of the storeroom lets them live there. On occasions she even gets Max and Oscar to use their sleuthing powers to help find and identify rare historical treasures.

In this story, Max, Oscar and Jessie investigate a strange cylindrical object that turns out to be a 400-year-old film canister from the time before digital cameras. If there are images on the film, they would be rare, and valuable. Unfortunately, there are others who will stop at nothing to get the film. Max must outsmart the secretive members of the Bluggsville East Photographic Society, as well as Captain Selby and his goons from the Unclaimed Urchin Recapture Squad. 
This is a fun and exciting book for young readers of adventure stories. The story is fast, quirky and although written for children, adults who read it would find the story nostalgic. The book is full of cool black and white illustrations by Dave Atze that help the reader imagine the characters.

Film Flip is the fourth book in the Max Booth Future Sleuth series, but it can be read as a stand-alone novel. Other titles in the series have Max investigating even stranger things like audio cassette tapes, postage stamps and even the concept of selfies.

This is a great concept for a children’s book series full of fun characters and interesting topics. I would highly recommend this book to young readers and adults who want to reminisce about the good old days.


Wednesday, 14 August 2019

Song Bird – Great Barrier Reef Rescue

Song Bird – Great Barrier Reef Rescue by Karen Tyrrell
(Digital Future Press) RRP $14:95     ISBN: 9780648161745

Reviewed by Jeffery E Doherty

Something bad is happening on Green Turtle Island. Marine creatures are dying, and Rosie’s aka Song Bird superhero’s friends are disappearing. Can Song Bird find her friends and rescue the Great Barrier Reef before it is too late?

After winning a free vacation; Rosie, her parents, sister Raven and friends Ben and Amy fly to Green Turtle Island. Unfortunately, someone has sabotaged their helicopter and Rosie must use her Song Bird superpowers to save them. That is the first clue that something is wrong. A resort with no other guests, cancelled activities, missing turtles and tropical fish washing up on the beach make it clear that her nemesis, Destructo is up to his old tricks again.

Rosie and her friends must travel through a time portal to a magical aquatic land to find a way to save the reef in her own time. To foil Destructo’s evil plot, Song Bird must overcome her fears, face mechanical sharks and discover which of her friends is betraying her.  

This is a book for young readers who love a strong female hero. It is a fantastical adventure into an underwater wonderland. The story highlights the current plight of the Great Barrier Reef, one of our wonders of the natural world.  It is fast paced, and the characters are diverse and interesting. An appendix at the back of the book has some thought-provoking information and links to sites about the Great Barrier Reef.

This is the fourth book in the Song Bird series but it can be read as a stand-alone novel. I would recommend this book to 8-12-year-old readers.