Wednesday, 23 July 2014

That Stranger Next Door

That Stranger Next Door by Goldie Alexander (Clan Destine Press)
PB RRP $18.00 Available also as EBook
ISBN 9780992492434
EBook ISBN 9780992492441
Reviewed by Anastasia Gonis

It’s 1954. The Petrov scandal has made the news and the threat of communism casts shadows everywhere. A stranger moves into the empty flat above the Milk Bar next to Ruth and her family. The secrecy leads Ruth to believe that the woman is Eva Petrov. A strong friendship is formed between the two.

Ruth, highly intelligent and a scholarship student, is struggling to follow her own path in life regardless of the rigid restrictions imposed upon her by her family. Her dream of becoming a doctor is unacceptable to Ruth’s mother who sees it as too costly, and ‘who will want to marry a girl who looks at naked men?’ The idea of any kind of friendship/relationship with anyone of a different culture or religion is also forbidden. This becomes an issue for Ruth when she meets and falls in love with Catholic boy Patrick.

Goldie Alexander has created a riveting story with many layers to it. It is told through two points of view by the main characters. This approach gives a close and intimate look into their thoughts which adds mystery and tension, and keeps the pages turning.

The reader is immediately pulled into the era and setting. Its strong sense of place and time, descriptive historical happenings, social and political climate, class distinctions, and post-war prejudices, are plaited into a Romeo and Juliet romance that threads its way through the pages.

Perhaps Goldie Alexander’s best work yet, this book will appeal to a wide range of readers, between the ages of 14-104, due to the many themes and issues covered.

It should be noted that some scenes contain sexual content.

Tuesday, 22 July 2014

The Obelisk Trap

The Obelisk Trap by Margaret Pearce (Kayelle Press Australia)
PB RRP $11.95 E-book $2.99
ISBN – 978-0-9875657-2-3
Reviewed by Emma Cameron

Told from Charlie’s viewpoint this middle grade reader sees Charlie, his sister Billie and Uncle William sucked through a portal into The Place of No Name, where fruit and vegetables of every kind are in season 365 days a year and nobody dies of disease. Residents can live forever … so long as they do all that’s expected of them by The Traveller. If not, they risk being ‘Disintegrated, unloosed, unbound, liberated, gone to God, or whatever you want to call it.’

The Traveller, who rules the land, is a parasite. He inhabits a host body and after using up every ounce of life it holds he moves to another. The only thing he fears is young girls. The biological make up of their bodies will kill him if he tries to inhabit them. Consequently, young girls sucked into this land are instantly killed. To keep safe till she can return home, Billie must parade as a male.

Being a feisty type, her less than low key attitude often means Charlie must pull her into line to keep her safe. In their efforts to find a way out, the trio learns more about the land, the obelisk that transports people in, and how they may use it to get home. But everything must be done as secretively as possible, because The Traveller has surveillance set up all around. When they are just about to leave he discovers their plan and tries to stop them.

But all is not lost! Billie is ‘sacrificed’ and as The Traveller attempts to take over her body, which he thinks is male, he is destroyed. Before the trio leave they ask if any of the remaining inhabitants wish to leave with them. Without The Traveller around, those who live in The Place with No Name say it’s peaceful and question why anyone would want to return to a place where wars still exist.

The action and dialogue in this story is easy to follow and moves things along quickly. It takes readers into a world that, on the surface, seems different to ours, with simple explanations where needed to ensure clarity. It will, hopefully, encourage readers to reflect on issues of segregation, surveillance, and discrimination.

Happy Birthday, Hugless Douglas

Happy Birthday, Hugless Douglas by David Melling (Hodder/Hachette)
HB RRP $24.99
ISBN: 9781444913262
Reviewed by Hilary Smillie

David Melling's adorable illustrations of Hugless Douglas never fail to appeal. In this fifth story about the brown bear, Douglas finds his birthday party is not all he hoped. His two small and very presumptuous cousins, Felix and Mash, set about ripping it apart, literally. They take over, opening his presents and commencing to play with them, including the biggest - a doctor's trolley. But at last Douglas takes a stand. He is determined to enjoy his birthday. He grabs his new pogo stick and begins to bounce. But after a few bounces the pogo stick breaks, sending him tumbling and hurting his leg.
There are plenty of bandages and instruments to fix him up and his friends swing into action. His two naughty cousins are much kinder and very soon Douglas and his friends are enjoying themselves, eating and playing doctors. Douglas soon announces it is his best birthday party ever.
David Melling has produced lively, colourful double page spreads of the party scenarios and Douglas's cute and varied animal friends. They are full of fun and humour and toddlers will have a great deal to absorb and giggle about.

The text, in large, often highlighted fonts, supports the illustrations and there is only one double page spread where I think the text about Felix and Mash playing with the trolley is misplaced. I loved the zany cake-and-balloon sandwiches floating above the guests, and the concept of everyone playing doctors and covering each other in bandages as a party game is an original touch. Happy Birthday, Hugless Douglas is well worth adding to the collection of picture books about this endearing bear.

Monday, 21 July 2014

Maxx Rumble Soccer Book 2: Shocker!

Maxx Rumble Soccer Book 2: Shocker! by Michael Wagner, drawn by Terry Denton (black dog books)
PB RRP $ 9.95
ISBN 9781922244819
Reviewed by Anastasia Gonis

The second round of the Soccer Knockout Competition begins after the Stone Valley Saints manage to defeat the Kreepy Crawlies. Now they are up against the Outhouse Rodents and need to win this match to get into the Grand Final. The Rodents’ captain, Boofa, is a subversive captain of cheats. But his twin sister Jennifer takes the cake.

Rexx’s tummy is telling him that things are going to happen. He has no idea that they are going to happen to him, as his heart betrays him when he catches sight of Jennifer. Her flattering ways debilitate Rexx and her rocket kick has the Rodents ahead and the game almost won.

Can Maxx shake Rexx out of his love spell before they’re destroyed? How can the Stone Valley Saints catch up, with Boofa and Jennifer wearing them down emotionally? What tactics are left to them with the minutes ticking away?

More laughs, action, and deviousness as the teams battle to get into the Grand Final. The names of the characters in this series are entertainment in themselves. The point-to-point descriptions of play are fantastic, and the language clever. Again Terry Denton has surpassed himself with the characters and their expressions that add humour and mischief to the story. Look out for Book 3 – Grand Final.

Sunday, 20 July 2014

Best of Friends: A Woolly Wombat Story

Best of Friends: A Woolly Wombat Story by Kerry Argent (Scholastic Inc)
PB RRP $6.99
ISBN 978-1-74299-048-4
Reviewed by Jenny Heslop
Woolly Wombat and Bandicoot are best friends. They live together, eat together and have fun together. But sometimes, as most friends do, they also get cross and fight with each other.
Woolly Wombat is an endearing character. He and Bandicoot have a relationship which is just like a sibling relationship. Any child with a brother, sister or close best friend will probably relate strongly to this tale of friendship, fighting, and making up.
While this is a simple concept and story line for beginner readers and young children, the beautiful, expressive illustrations also portray a little more going on. These clever pictures enhance humour in the story and engage the reader further.

This book, like the three other Woolly Wombat stories, is fun and attractive. The slimness of each book, the themes explored and the simplicity and sparseness of the words used make them perfect first readers.

Saturday, 19 July 2014

Maxx Rumble Soccer Book 1: Knockout

Maxx Rumble Soccer Book 1: Knockout by Michael Wagner, drawn by Terry Denton (black dog books)
PB RRP $9.95
ISBN 9781922244802
Reviewed by Anastasia Gonis

Round one of the Soccer Knockout Competition is at hand. It’s Maxx Rumble’s team, the Stone Valley Saints against the Kreepy Crawlies - said by coach Beckham to be geniuses. But these geniuses use crafty ideas and secret weapons like Peli the pelican. He seems to be classed as a part of nature and there’s nothing the Stone Valley Saints can do about it.

Rexx gets the ball in the face right at the start and needs his good luck charm, teddy, which he stuffs up his jumper. Peli scores and the Crawlies are ahead. Can Rexx’s brilliant idea be the game-saver they need? Will teddy be the secret weapon Maxx’s team needs to get into the next round?  

Terry Denton’s drawings are priceless! The language is spot on, and the laughs are endless.

This is a no-holds-barred soccer game full of excitement, devious shots, brilliant brain work and lots of fun. Aimed at boys of the 8+ age group who are interested in physical activity, this chapter book series will crack them up and draw in reluctant readers easily. The first of three books, I advise parents to buy all three together  as they will be digested quickly.

Friday, 18 July 2014

Wimpy Shrimpy

Wimpy Shrimpy by Matt Buckingham (Koala Books)
PB RRP $14.99
ISBN 978-1-74276-102-2
Reviewed by Jenny Heslop

Down at the bottom of the sea lived a little shrimp. And this little shrimp was a bit of a wimp.’

Shrimpy is too scared to play with his friends. He is worried he will get lost in hide-and-seek, worried the ball will squash him during a game of catch or that his legs will get tangled during hopscotch. His friends encourage him to join in but nothing will convince him. Until one day something does happen.

This story identifies the anxieties many young children have. As young children begin to step into the world by themselves, at playgroup or kindergarten, the possibilities of things that can go wrong are endless. The courage it takes for most of them to become involved in social groups is enormous. And this is all explored in a light and humorous way.

The illustrations are bright and playful. I love that some pictures are close up and some further away, encompassing more. Shrimpy’s loneliness and isolation is emphasised so well in this manner.
This is a tale told well. It has a nice structure, with a repeated refrain. Kids will enjoy chanting “Oh, don’t be wimpy, Shrimpy!” over and over again. And when the worst that can happen does, it is unexpected, but perfectly logical.

The story has a satisfying solution which should be a confidence booster for any young children with similar fears to Shrimpy’s. A great read for three to six year olds.