Thursday, 26 May 2022

The Agathas

The Agathas by Kathleen Glasgow and Liz Lawson (Harper Collins) ISBN 978 1460 762455 RRP $19.99 PB

Reviewed by Nean McKenzie

This is a young adult murder mystery, set in an American town called Castle Cove. Rich student Alice Ogilvie finds herself no longer popular when she returns to school after faking her disappearance the summer before. Poor student Iris Adams accepts the school counsellor’s offer to tutor Alice for money. They are two opposites and don’t hit it off. However, when another student disappears for real, Alice and Iris get caught up in their investigation of her murder. Using the Agatha Christie novels Alice loves and Iris’s common sense and nerdy friends, the two girls piece things together to find the culprit, with some twists and wrong turns along the way.

Author Agatha Christie disappeared in real life for five days, after being betrayed by her husband and though she returned, she never explained the mystery of where she had been. Alice had tried to do a similar thing over the summer, after her best friend Brooke and her ex-boyfriend Steve got together, but it has backfired somewhat and now everyone at school hates her. The day after Halloween, Brooke disappears and it’s not long before her body is found, and Steve is arrested for her murder. Alice and Iris are not convinced Steve is guilty and want the police to investigate Brooke’s suspiciously acting stepfather. They are forced to take matters into their own hands and face some danger, to find out for themselves.   

Chapters are short with the point of view pretty much alternating between Alice and Iris. There are also text message conversations between other characters, social media feeds and news reports, adding extra points of view. Iris has a backstory of domestic abuse and a ‘where to get help’ page is at the end of the book for any readers in a similar situation. Quotes from some of Agatha Christie’s sixty-six novels are included at the start of many chapters along with a dedication to Agatha Christie ending in the words ‘Also, one bad bitch’.

The Agathas is written by Kathleen Glasgow and Liz Lawson who, according to the acknowledgements, cowrote it remotely during the Covid pandemic on different sides of the US. It is a fast-paced mystery novel which introduces Agatha Christie to high school students.

Tuesday, 24 May 2022

Joy's Journey

When she hears about a magical paradise where wishes come true, Joy sets off to find it…

Joy's Journey by Jacinta Farragher, a beautifully illustrated, rhyming picture book, follows Joy as she travels through beaches, forests and mountains over four seasons, meets an assortment of animal friends, and discovers her own bravery, strength and resourcefulness… ultimately learning that the joy is in the journey, and the most precious thing you can find is yourself!

“Joy’s Journey is a delightful tale from start to finish”

- Norah Colvin, Readilearn

“Joy’s Journey is an uplifting story of adventure and discovery, both literally and figuratively as well as the empowering realisation that the ability to achieve your dreams is within you”

- Elise Ellerman, Reading Opens Doors

“Joy’s Journey is a story of self-discovery and gratitude with an ability to capture the hearts, minds and souls of readers of all ages. Recommended for adventurers of the outside world and the one within. What a treasure!”

- Romi Sharp, Just Write for Kids

Joy’s Journey is available to purchase from online and physical bookstores, and at www.jacintafarragher.com

Teachers’ notes and activities are available at www.jacintafarragher.com/teachers-notes/ and www.justkidslit.com/life-lessons-for-joys-journey/



Monday, 23 May 2022

Inside Story: The Wonderful World of Writing, Illustrating and Publishing Children’s Books compiled by Sophie Masson, Kathy Creamer, Beattie Alvarez, and Peter Creamer, edited by Jen Scanlan and Sharnee Rawson (United Publishers of Armidale) PB RRP $29.99 ISBN9780648815457

Reviewed by Dianne Bates

Here is an invaluable resource and reference book for aspiring writers, illustrators, editors and designers or anyone interested in Australian children’s books. It is the first publication by the newly formed UPA, a collaboration between two independent publishing houses: Christmas Press and Little Pink Dogs, in association with the New England Writers’ Centre. And what a comprehensive and beautifully designed and presented book it is! Designed by Rae Ainsworth, the book covers all aspects of writing, illustrating, and publishing children’s books. It includes a section on what happens in the publishing process, how to pitch to publishers, alternative publishing models, useful organisations, and resources.

On each page there are coloured photographs and graphics, break-out boxes, and information (and advice) from a wide range of industry workers. Colourful double-page spreads introduce each topic, and there are also numerous lists of children’s books under headings such as picture books, illustrated storybooks, fiction anthologies, graphic novels, and more. Any inspiring author would benefit from the advice and tips offered by authors, agents, editors, publishers, and illustrators such as Stephen Axelson, Pippa Masson, Ian Irvine, Jenny Blackford, and dozens more.

There is, as one would suspect, a clear bias towards books published by Christmas Press and Little Pink Dogs, but other publishers shine in the book, too. It’s gratifying to see that the compilers have included poetry collections and anthologies, with advice from editors and compilers. Ursula Dubosarsky, Richard Tulloch and Duncan Ball share information and tips for writing plays, with Ball sharing his discoveries as former editor of The School Magazine.

In the tail end of this very engaging book is a list of useful organisations and resources for everyone, including editors, designers, and publishers. Numerous publishers have granted permission to use images from their titles, and there is a page of acknowledgements to the many people who have contributed material (and crowdfunding income). Interestingly, there’s a double page spread at the end of the book with photographs and biographies of the compilers, editors, and book designers.

There are many hours of interesting reading in this comprehensive book. Highly recommended!


Sunday, 22 May 2022

Miimi Marraal, Mother Earth

Miimi Marraal, Mother Earth written and illustrated by Melissa Greenwood (HarperCollins) HB RRP $24.99 ISBN 9780733341632

Reviewed by Kylie Buckley

Talented Aboriginal author and artist Melissa Greenwood has created a visually stunning picture book for mothers to share with their babies or toddlers. The gorgeous front cover is reason enough to give this book a prominent position on the shelf. The title ‘Miimi Marraal’ means ‘Mother Earth’ in Greenwood’s native Gumbaynggirr language.

Written in the second person, a mother speaks to her precious baby and tells her of the deep connection they have with each other and to the land, trees, animals and seas. She gently explains that Miimi Marraal has created everything they see and if they take care of the earth, she will take care of them. It promotes the important message to only take from the earth what is needed.

The beautiful contemporary artwork has been created using colours and patterns inspired by the land. Greenwood is the co-founder of the art and design label Miimi & Jiinda which creates fabulous artwork, clothing, accessories, and homewares. For more information go to miimiandjiinda.com.

Friday, 20 May 2022

The Blood Traitor (The Prison Healer: Book 3)

The Blood Traitor (The Prison Healer: Book 3) by Lynette Noni (Penguin Books) PB RRP $24.99 ISBN 9781760897543

Reviewed by Kylie Buckley

The final instalment of The Prison Healer trilogy has arrived and fans of the first two books won’t be disappointed. It is a captivating mix of magic, adventure, new alliances, deadly battles, deception and a hint of romance.

Kiva finds herself back in Zalindov prison physically and emotionally defeated. She is tormented by her past mistakes, lies and betrayals and sees no future. Meanwhile, the Vallentis royals are reeling from Zuleeka’s takeover of Evalon and must do whatever it takes to save their kingdom and reclaim what they’ve lost. To add to their woes, they discover that King Navok of Mirraven is hell-bent on conquering not just Evalon, but all the kingdoms in Wenderall.

The Blood Traitor is a young adult fantasy novel highly recommended for an audience 15 years and older. 

Wednesday, 18 May 2022

Family: All that You Dream it to Be

Family: All that You Dream it to Be by Byll and Beth Stephen, illustrated by Simone Howe (ABC Books) HB RRP $19.99

Reviewed by Kathleen Grace

The co-authors of this picture book are sisters who are the writers behind the ABC TV musical sensations Teeny Tiny Stevies. This book is a reimaging of their much-loved song, 'Family' ('Love is Los'). The concept of family is shown in words and illustrations as being highly flexible, from families where both parents are same-sexed, where there is a single mother (or father), where there are same-sex parents, and so on. There are also families of colour with the front cover of the book, for instance, showing white, black, brown, and Asian family members.

Each double-page highlights a family: for example, on page one at 29 Adelong there’s a girl and her mum on bikes who ride the neighbourhood chatting to house-dwellers on the way. There are numerous houses featured, such as at 118 Karingal Street where a mum and a dad ‘and three kids under three. Once a year their half-sister flies out, from Mexico on her school holidays.’ The final page ends with a mixed-colour family -- and pet dog -- at the dinner table (one member of which is in a wheelchair), with accompanying text that reads, ‘You just love who you love, and you build a great team, because family’s all that you dream it to be.’

The sentences are written to be read aloud, with the use of full and half-rhyming lines that make for a strong rhythm. The illustrations are clear and colourful and ideal for poring over.

This book would be ideal for an adult – such as a teacher – to discuss with readers aged 5 years and up what makes a family. And what families do for entertainment and fun.

Tuesday, 17 May 2022

The Cult of Romance

The Cult of Romance by Sarah Ayoub (Harper Collins) ISBN 9781460758946 RRP $19.99 PB

Reviewed by Nean McKenzie

This young-adult story is about Natalie, who is blindsided when her best friend Janet returns from a trip to Lebanon, engaged to a guy she met there. Natalie has long been sceptical about marriage and love (views she thought her friend shared). She is thrown into the job of bridesmaid, travelling to Lebanon to help organise a wedding she disapproves of. Will she be able to keep her friendship if she tells Janet how she really feels about the wedding? The good-looking best man George, who has a tendency to mansplain, and Natalie’s grandmother, who constantly tells her to behave like a ‘good Lebanese girl’, only make things more complicated.

As we read on, we discover Natalie’s reasons for being so against the idea of love. Her mother left when she was young for uncertain reasons. A university student, Natalie is determined to make her own way in life, and she wants that for her friend as well. Natalie finds it confronting to go to Lebanon, when she has never been there before, but so much of the culture is part of her. She doesn’t really know where she belongs. Natalie’s friends Mark, with an Iraqi background and Thi, with a Vietnamese background, also have their own issues with identity and sexuality, which are explored in the story

The dialogue between the friends is quite believable and the slow-developing romance between Natalie and George works well. The descriptions of locations in Lebanon, in Beirut and the surrounding countryside are great, along with the cultural traditions for weddings and delicious-sounding food. The backstory about Natalie’s mother and what happens when she finally meets her, also adds another dimension to the book.

The Cult of Romance is a romantic comedy with diverse characters and plenty of wedding drama. It’s suitable for older YA readers.