Wednesday, 5 August 2020

Aussie Kids: Meet Mia by the Jetty

Aussie Kids: Meet Mia by the Jetty by Janeen Brian, illustrated by Danny Snell (Puffin Books) PB RRP $16.99 ISBN 978 1 760893668

Reviewed by Dianne Bates

This is one of eight books in the Aussie Kids series about children from different states of Australia, telling of their lives and adventures. 

In this book, Mia, who lives in Victor Harbour, South Australia, with her parents and older sister Alice, awaits the weekend visit of Jim. She decides to take her new friend to nearby Granite Island with Alice and to be a super tour guide: she even makes and wears a guide badge. At Encounter Bay the three children have a sandcastle competition before boarding a horse-drawn tram which takes them across the jetty to the island. Lastly, they are fortunate enough to see a whale in the ocean.

This chapter book manages to showcase places in South Australia while introducing sisters who bicker in a good-natured way. Each page has a black and blue wash illustration which adds to the book’s appeal. At the end of the book there is a page of fun facts about penguins, including Fairy Penguins. Following this is a double-page spread with pictures of and information about the author and illustrator.

Meet Mia by the Jetty is ideal for readers aged 6 years and up who enjoy reading gentle, well-written stories.

Monday, 3 August 2020

The Verindon Alliance

The Verindon Alliance by Lynne Stringer (Rhiza Edge) PB RRP $19.99 ISBN: 9781925563993

Reviewed by Dannielle Viera

For centuries, the Vendel and the Verindal have fought for supremacy on their shared planet, Verindon. Although they are similar species, the Vendel have a unique ability to transform into beings with enhanced awareness, speed and accuracy, while the Verindal are masters of cutting-edge technology. When a spate of surprise attacks decimates people on both sides, each race is quick to blame the other.

Only Vashta, fifth princess of the Vendel, and Brandonin, heir to the Verindal throne, see the truth: a devastating enemy from beyond the stars seeks to destroy them all. Can the two royals overcome a history plagued by hostility to join forces and defeat the Arctals, bringing lasting peace to their planet in the process?

Teenage sci-fi lovers will enjoy The Verindon Alliance, as Lynne Stringer takes them to a beautiful new world with a rainbow sky and drops them right in the middle of a breathtaking battle zone. From the acute mental conflicts, as each Verindonian race struggles to trust the other, to the powerful physical skirmishes between the aliens and the planet’s citizens – not to mention the wrestling of emotions, as Vashta and Brandonin come to terms with their evolving feelings for each other – Lynne keeps her readers on the edge of their seat, waiting for the next thrilling twist in the tale.

Lynne makes excellent use of language in her world building, with fresh terms for time periods, animals and technology adding to the unearthly feel. Readers may be a little confused in the early chapters of the book by the similarity between the words ‘Vendel’, ‘Verindal’ and ‘Verindon’, but this difficulty eases as the story unfolds and it becomes clear that the chapters alternate between Vashta’s point of view and that of Brandonin.

With clever dialogue, credible character growth and cracking action sequences, The Verindon Alliance is a must-read for YA devotees. Lynne completes the story arc with a blissful bonding ceremony between Vashta and Brandonin, but intriguingly leaves the door open for a sequel.

Sunday, 2 August 2020


 by James Foley (Freemantle Press) ISBN 9781925815788 RRP $14.99 (PB)

Reviewed by Nean McKenzie

Chickensaurus, the newest installment in a graphic novel series, that includes Brobot, Dungzilla and Gastronauts, is a story about a crazy and unpredictable invention. Sally Tinker (the twelve-year-old inventor S.Tinker inc), her friend Charli and younger brother Joe go to Maelstrom Manor, the home of Sally’s nemesis Dexter Maelstrom. Dexter reveals his new invention, a de-evolving ray gun that turns an animal into its prehistoric ancestor and to demonstrate he transforms a chicken into a dinosaur. The competitive Dexter is determined to outwit Sally but things don’t go as planned. Through its humorous black and white illustrations, the story is a fast-paced adventure, involving dinosaurs much larger than chickens, control collars linked to wifi and a mystery hacker.

When Sally and her friends arrive at Maelstrom manor, they’re taken for a tour where they meet the mistreated butler and maid and are shown paintings of a long, long line of successful Maelstrom men. In fact the family motto is ‘Only men may lead.’ Dexter’s sister Lyssa doesn’t seem to mind this, or does she? As they continue, it’s clear Lyssa is far cleverer than her brother, so it is no surprise to find out she’s the brilliant hacker. But then things get out of control, Dexter is turned into some kind of primitive ape and it’s up to Sally with all her courage and ingenuity to grapple with the giant dinosaur chicken and save the day.

Illustrations of dinosaur/chicken combinations both large and small (but all violent) are accompanied by suitable sound effects such as ‘Thoom’, ‘Skrawk’ and ‘Ba-Gawk’ to name a few. The mischievous little brother provides an ending that suggests more adventures ahead, especially since Lyssa, the evil genius, has flown away on a Pteryducktyl. Sally’s nemesis Dexter gets what he deserves and it seems (after his poo-throwing session) that he’ll be a better ape for it.

For middle-grade readers who like a lot of humorous action, this is their book. After all, the looks on the faces of the children on the cover say it all. What would you do if faced with a Chickensaurus?

Saturday, 1 August 2020

Derek Dool Supercool 2: Going Viral

Derek Dool Supercool 2: Going Viral by Adrian Beck, illustrated by Scott Edgar (Puffin Books) PB RRP $14.99 ISBN9781760892968
In the vein of Diary of a Wimpy Kid and Weirdo, Derek Dilbert Dool returns in another supercool adventure! Thankfully, so do his friends Booger and Big Denise. The first chapter begins with the words, ‘Not many people turned up to Derek’s funeral.’ Derek is inside a coffin in the funeral parlour his dad owns, preparing to burst out, wearing vampire teeth, his face smothered in zinc cream to look deathly pale. His prank surprises his classmates and teacher Mr Mustard who are present.
Derek’s escapades later sees him exposing his bright purple undies on video. After accidentally going viral, Derek is then on a mission to deliberately go viral! After all, what is more supercool than being an internet hit? The only problem is, none of his ideas are quite working out as he expected. But Derek's not the type to give up. No way! He is determined to achieve viral victory – even if it's the last thing he ever does.
Children aged 7 to 10 years are likely to find lots to laugh about in this fast-paced, fun-packed series which is full of bravado with its themes of hobbies, friendship, family, self-confidence and staying true to yourself. The book features breakout chapters, many jokes and numerous black and white cartoon illustrations.

Thursday, 30 July 2020

Lola in the Middle

Lola in the Middle by Cecily Anne Paterson (Wombat Books) ISBN: 9781925563900 PB RRP $16.99

Reviewed by Nean McKenzie

The title of this story is particularly apt – the main character Lola is in the middle of many things. She plays centre on the netball court. She is in between her friends Indi and Tasha, who always fight. And Lola’s parents don’t agree on many things, leaving Lola in the middle again. Along with her netball skills, Lola is very skilled at diplomacy and compromise. But when she develops health issues, Lola learns the hard way that sometimes she needs to look after herself. Maybe the way to deal with things is not always about making people happy.

Lola is in grade 6 and relatively new to the small Kangaroo Valley public school. She is friends with Indi and with Tasha, but when the three of them are together, Indi and Tasha really don’t get along. Lola’s dad is away a lot working on a ship and her mum, who is under pressure with work, is not happy about this. Lola’s relief from all of these dramas is netball, which she is pretty good at. The school team is heading for state finals for the first time, if they can learn to work together as a team. But then Lola finds out she has diabetes, which changes everything.

Lola is a relatable character who thinks about others and worries a fair bit. Her difficulties accepting her lifestyle changes, after her diabetes diagnosis, are quite believable for someone her age. It is convenient that her teacher also has diabetes and can give Lola good advice. Lola’s friends are quite frustrating and this builds up until Lola is forced to tell them the truth. And even though they didn’t win the netball final and Lola couldn’t play the whole game, the team still felt like they’d succeeded, which was a good ending.

This book joins How Not to be Popular and Smart Girls Don’t Wear Mascara, also by Cecily Ann Paterson. These novels are set in Kangaroo Valley public school as well, but about different characters. Lola in the Middle is suitable for mid to late primary school readers. 

Tuesday, 28 July 2020

Queen of Coin and Whispers

Queen of Coin and Whispers by Helen Corcoran (The O’Brien Press Ltd) PB RRP $21.95 ISBN: 9781788491181

Reviewed by Nikki M Heath

How would a 19-year-old newly crowned queen and her 18-year-old female spymaster navigate political nemeses, foreign interference, class disparity and mutual romantic attraction? This is the question driving Queen of Coin and Whispers, as Helen Corcoran plunges us into a medieval fantasy universe and the internal lives of conflicted Queen Aurelia (Lia) and fiesty spy Xania as they work to seize control over their unstable country.

Being a fantasy tragic, this book hooked me from the first line (‘The sheep were undeniably dead.’) and barely let me put it down until the final words. From the intriguing premise to the layered plot points, there is an element of suspense that keeps the pages turning. Gradually accelerating tension is punctuated by moments of introspection from the two protagonists, who take turns in the point-of-view spotlight.

The book offers a lot to think about for the modern-minded young adult reader. The plot plays out in a society which actively accepts the full range of sexual preference, gender, and race, yet binds its citizens in a rigid class system. Being a non-magical universe, the story should appeal to those who like the idea of a fantasy novel but are turned off by the supernatural. A warning, though, for anyone who may be distressed by descriptions of violence or torture.

The story trots out a lot of tropes that will be familiar to fantasy afficionados, but the entertainment value is undeniable. The book does suffer from unexplained and hard-to-follow time-jumps and a substantial amount of off-screen action that at times leaves the reader perplexed. With its rushed climax, it almost feels like a trilogy condensed - to its detriment - into a standalone. A strong ability to suspend disbelief is also required when it comes to Lia and Xania’s well-beyond-their-years skills and experience.

While superficially this book has relevance for the female and LGBTQI+ demographics, it is at heart a binge able fantasy spy thriller for anyone over the age of 15 and in the market for escapism.

Sunday, 26 July 2020

By the Billabong

By the Billabong by Maura Finn and Cate James (Affirm) ISBN 9781925972474
RRP $24.99 (HB)

Reviewed by Nean McKenzie

This thoroughly Australian picture book uses rhyme and repetition to describe what is seen from a child’s perspective while on a walk beside a billabong. ‘I went for a walk by the billabong to see what I could see …’ Matt illustrations show bush scenes and a collection of animals: wombats, spiders, possums, dingoes, emus and finally crocs. The young person, who could be a girl or boy, wears a sun-smart hat and cleverly keeps out of sight of the creatures encountered. Fun use of collective nouns is followed by ‘That’s what I could see. But none of them saw me.’ This all changes with the sighting of ‘glaring crocodiles.’ The run home collects all the other animals on the way, with a very suitable finish, ‘And they all came home with me!’ (Apart from the crocodiles, that is!)

Reminiscent of Hairy Maclary, the rhyming is engaging and works. The animals (and spiders) are doing unexpected things like the dingoes are sowing seeds and the emus are dancing ballet. A wisdom of wombats is one of my favourite collective nouns and it’s good to see it included in a story. Illustrations are full page and in natural colours, like the khaki of eucalyptus and realistic sand and rock hues. There is also a textured look to the pictures, which is very effective. A strong page-turning sense about the writing draws readers through the story to see what happens next.

Author, New Zealand-born Maura Finn and illustrator, Scottish-born Cate James seem to get the Australian aesthetic perfectly. By the Billabong is a fun book to read aloud with beautiful illustrations. It is suitable for reading to young children or for early primary school readers.