Saturday, 30 October 2010

Luka and the Fire of Life

Luka And The Fire Of Life by Salman Rushdie (Random House)
PB RRP $29.95
ISBN 978-0-2240-9021-6
Reviewed by Oliver Phommavanh

Luka and the Fire of Life is a novel for younger readers and a companion to Haroun and the Sea of Stories. This time, it’s Luka who’s going on an adventure, to save his storytelling father by recovering the Fire of Life in Magic World.

Aided by his friends, Bear the dog and Dog the bear (don’t worry, it’s not too confusing), Luka is forced to go into the Magic World after his father falls under a curse of eternal sleep. His father’s spirit is slowly being transported to the afterlife via a ghost nicknamed Nodaddy. Nodaddy acts as a guide into the Magic World, though Luka doesn’t trust him. It’s an uneasy alliance that is the least of Luka’s problems.

Rushdie’s brilliant wordplay and colourful language is engaging throughout the story. His rich and lush description of the inhabitants of Magic World is ripe for reading out loud. Rushdie’s roots in traditional folk stories will sweep up readers along for the ride, with loads of suspense and humour. It’s a gentle, old-school narrative that works wonders.  

I love Rushdie’s homage to video games in the story. Magic World is broken up into levels and there are save points. Luka has multiple lives up his sleeve so he can retry tricky areas. Kids will get a thrill out of these features and it’s something that can borrow for their own stories.   

Luka and the Fire of Life is essential reading for fantasy lovers and anyone who enjoys an old-fashioned story. It’s recommended for ages 10 and up.

Friday, 29 October 2010


Six by Karen Tayleur (black dog books)
PB RRP $18.95
ISBN 9781742031552
Reviewed by Vicki Stanton 

Karen Tayleur and black dog books continue to produce high quality YA fiction with this latest release, Six. 

Six follows the story of six very different HSC students linked by the discovery of a body in The Woods. In signature black dog style, the story is told from multiple view points, some in first person, others in third person. Six covers the normal, albeit often tumultuous issues, of young adults - burgeoning romances, career and study expectations, socialising, alcohol and gaining licences. The main protagonist is Sarah, an academic girl who struggles with her family's expectations of her becoming a doctor. Sarah, and all Tayleur's characters, have a clearly young adult voice, and each are drawn distinctly.

Suspense is deftly maintained throughout the story. The book begins with a car accident but it is not revealed who has died and who has survived. As I read and got to know and like (or dislike) each character I was continually wondering, 'do you die?'.

The undercurrent of their gruesome discovery is maintained throughout as the story hurtles towards the inevitable disaster and it is not until the very end, and with an extra final twist, that all is revealed.

Thursday, 28 October 2010

Musical Mayhem: The Fabulous Diary of Persephone Pinchgut

Musical Mayhem: The Fabulous Diary of Persephone Pinchgut by Aleesah Darlison, illustrated by Serena Geddes (New Frontier Publishing)
PB RRP $14.95
ISBN 9781921042348
Reviewed by Vicki Stanton  

Musical Mayhem is the first in the Totally Twins series for younger readers by new author Aleesah Darlison. Twins Persephone and Portia Pinchgut are friends as well as sisters. However, Portia is the one who is good at everything (except being tidy) and Perse often feels inferior. This is heightened when the girls' teacher insists EVERYONE must audition for the school musical and Perse's singing is 'R.O.T.T.T.E.N.' Perse must find a way to not totally embarrass herself and still be included in the musical.The way Perse solves this dilemma is ingenious and the sisters resolve their differences to go back to being 'totally together twins'.

The writing is light-hearted and humorous and written straight from the head of a ten-year-old. Mum is kooky and Portia is annoying and exasperating as only sisters can. Perse has predilection for lists and I especially loved the 'Top Five Totally Trying Twin Questions People Ask'. It gave me a whole new insight into 'twin-ness'.

Serena Geddes' black-and white illustrations are sprinkled throughout and appear on nearly every page, breaking up the text and adding to the quirkiness of the book. The purple cover scattered with flowers and a picture of the twins provides instant appeal.

Musical Mayhem is a reminder about believing in yourself and your own abilities and not being too eager to compare yourself to others, even those whom you love.

Wednesday, 27 October 2010

I Don’t Believe in Dragons

I Don’t Believe in Dragons written and illustrated by Anna Walker (Scholastic Press) 
HB RRP $24.99 
ISBN 9781741693423
Recommended for 1+ years
Reviewed by Dawn Meredith

Anna Walker captures the essence of childhood fantasy in this lovely book, where all the children are happy to believe there is a dragon at preschool, except for one little boy called Jack. “There’s no such thing as dragons!” says Jack. In a classic mise en scène, the dragon sits blithely playing in the sandpit with bucket and spade, while the children say, “I wonder where the dragon is?” and make a cardboard dragon with their teacher.

Ever the voice of reason and adult perspective, Jack states categorically that the feather Ned found belongs to a bird, not a dragon, that dragons do not fly. Meanwhile, the dragon is making tea in the kitchen and sharing a cupcake with teddy. Ben wonders if dragons snore, but Jack asserts that the snoring sound at naptime is coming from Emma, not a dragon. He can’t see the large orange spotted dragon snoozing in the corner on a pile of cushions. Back outside Sally insists she has found a dragon’s footprint, to which Jack derisively replies, “I don’t believe in dragons.” Finally the winged dragon appears to Jack in the playground, arms folded neatly, waiting for him to play football. Jack is speechless. On the final page Emma says, “I love dragons,” and Jack replies, “Me too,” as the dragon flies above them, clutching teddy.

I love the softness of Walker’s illustrations and the way she neatly infuses humour into each scene. The storyline is well thought out, paced and the ending is perfect. This story has a wistful, nostalgic feel to it and I’m sure adults reading it to their young children will smile and remember how they used to believe in magic flying dragons too.

Dawn Meredith writes from the Blue Mountains and was awarded a May Gibbs Fellowship in 2010,

Tuesday, 26 October 2010

The Legends of the Owls of Ga’Hoole

The Legends of the Owls of Ga’Hoole by Kathryn Lasky (Scholastic Inc) 
PB RRP $29.99 
Recommended for 8+ years.
ISBN 9780545281959
Reviewed by Dawn Meredith

Come, fly on a starlit, velvet night sky with Barn Owl Soren, his best friend and Elf Owl, Gylfie and their band of orphaned owls. Sour above hardship and betrayal on the winds of friendship and loyalty with these brave youngsters as they escape the sinister Saint Aegolius Academy for orphaned owls and battle their way to the sacred Ga’Hoole tree known only to them in legend.

In book one, The Capture, Soren finds himself ripped away from his parents and little sister when his jealous elder brother kicks him out of the nest, high in a fir tree. Dumped unceremoniously in the craggy, windswept crevices of ‘Saint Aggie’s’ Academy, Soren soon realises that an evil force controls the swarms of young owlets taken from their families, brainwashing them through a process known as Moon Blinking, for purposes yet unknown. Soren and Gylfie figure a way to bypass the process and eventually escape the academy, not knowing whether their families know their fate or if they shall ever see them again. Soren and Gylfie meet two more orphaned friends on their way to the great tree of Ga’Hoole, Digger, a Burrowing Owl, Twilight, a Great Grey Owl. In a wonderful turn of luck, Soren is reunited with Mrs Plithiver, a blind ‘nest maid’ snake who attended his family in the old days.

In book two, The Journey, Soren and Gylfie travel with their companions to the great Tree of Ga’Hoole, on a tiny island in the Sea of Hoolemere. After battling murderous crows (excuse the pun!), killing a vicious bobcat, and witnessing the dying moments of a blacksmith Barred Owl in a cave, they come upon The Mirror Lakes, where they are enchanted and transfixed, where time slows and all is happiness and eternal summer. Breaking free of this influence, Soren leads his band of followers to the Ice Narrows, where a family of puffins take them in, just before an ice storm hits. The warm thermals arrive and Soren and company continue their journey to The Great Tree of Ga’Hoole, where they are treated to a warm reception. Disappointed that their parents are not at the Great Tree, the group begin their training as guardians of Ga’Hoole in the various chaws or groups such as weather, search and rescue, fire and Ga’Hoolology. Soren dreams of beng reunited with his little sister, Eglantine, but when she is brought in, with many other distraught owlets, she is not the same owl he remembers.

In book three, The Rescue, Soren and the gang continue their training and are sent on missions. Their favourite teacher, or ryb, as they are called, goes missing and Soren is convinced evil lurks behind the disappearance. Secretly leaving the Great Tree, the group set out to find Ezylryb and find themselves in the scariest place of all, The Spirit Woods. Here Soren speaks to the spirits of his parents, called scrooms and discovers he has much to learn yet about what happened to his family. Finally, Soren comes face to face with his evil nemesis, Metal Beak, the disfigured Tyto owl, who has become a Hitler-like tyrant, only to discover it is his brother, Kludd,

Being obsessed with owls, their various species and habits, Kathryn Lasky has invented a whole new world to immerse the reader, where first light becomes first black and goodnight becomes goodlight; where feelings and intuition are processed through the gizzard; where owls go to battle wearing metal claws; where each owl has their unique skills and abilities and where other birds who do not yarp up pellets of compacted fur and bones are called ‘wet poopers’. It’s an intriguing world, which makes it difficult to put these books down. In all Lasky wrote fifteen books in the series, first published by Scholastic in 2003, the last being published in 2008. The first three books have been condensed into a film version, currently screening.
Dawn Meredith writes from the Blue Mountains and was awarded a May Gibbs Fellowship in 2010.  www.dawnmeredithauthor,

Monday, 25 October 2010

Surf for your life

Surf for your life by Mick Fanning and Tom Baker (Random House)
HB RRP $19.95
ISBN 978-1-8647-1923-2
Reviewed by Oliver Phommavanh

Surf for your life is a wonderful autobiography of two-time world champion Mick Fanning. It also doubles as a guide for young surfers (aka grommets). Fanning takes you into his world of surfing, reflecting on his extraordinary career from when he was a keen beginner, all the way up to the intense world circuit.

The book is broken into chapters, with surfing hints and tips lodged in between. There are hints and tips for beginners, intermediate and advanced surfers, accompanied with excellent photos. There are some great step by step photos, making the guide easy to follow.

Surfing fans will lap up Fanning’s entertaining stories about his surfing life. Readers will ride the ups and downs with him. He doesn’t shy away from giving readers the real lowdown about being a famous surfer. I think this is a wonderful insight for readers who want to take surfing seriously. There is a nice supplement for surfing girls, written by Stephanie Gilmore. It’s a neat addition for any girls who might be daunted with the surfing scene.

Surf for your life is a comprehensive bible that surfers will love. Other readers will find an interesting tale about a sporting champion who’s making waves. It’s recommended for ages 9 and up.   

Sunday, 24 October 2010

The Wings of Leo Spencer

The Wings of Leo Spencer by Jerome Parisse (Sid Harta)
PB RRP $24.99
ISBN 1-921642-14-9
Reviewed by Anke Seib

Fourteen year old Leo, diagnosed with a fatal illness at age twelve, has lived a relatively normal existence, surfing with his best friend Peter and longing to travel the world so he can photograph birds and share his work with others. His parents never told him the truth about his illness and he first hears it mentioned when, having just passed away, his dad phones his grandmother to say that what was expected has happened.

When Leo enters heaven, the Council of Angels assesses and declares him ‘apt’ for the role of guardian angel as he has lived his past four lives in a worthy manner, meeting previous life contracts successfully. In his last life he ‘was a good son, gentle brother, faithful friend, who suffered illness without complaining.’ He is to be guardian to Peter, allowing him to return to Earth, which turns out to be a lucky thing because his family needs him.

Heaven is a place where one can have everything and anything they desire. Leo’s great desire to photograph birds is now possible but does not satisfy as it is of his own mind’s making. He makes friends quickly and easily though not with everyone. The Father of All Lies has worked with an insider to amend life contracts so that Leo’s family will die in a house fire. Leo’s attempts to resolve the situation will allow the Father of All Lies illegal entry to heaven.

Angels on Earth cannot physically touch humans but harnessing his love for his friend allows Leo to fight two men attempting to attack Peter. Helping his family does not prove that easy though. When Leo’s family is surrounded by fire Leo manages to contact Peter, urging him to call the fire brigade. As the family climbs down to safety, their house collapses around them and all seems saved.

Not so, for the Father of All Lies is really angry now, and he and Leo come face to face in battle. It is when Peter and another of Leo’s friends from heaven come to help him that the three can fight strongly enough for good to conquer evil. Although he has broken some rules the Council of Angels forgives Leo as he did it for the right reasons. He happily returns to heaven to photograph birds.

Saturday, 23 October 2010

The FitzOsbournes in Exile

The FitzOsbournes in Exile by Michelle Cooper (Random House)
PB RRP $18.95
ISBN 978-1-7416-6374-7
Reviewed by Oliver Phommavanh

The FitzOsbournes is Book Two of the Montmaray Journals. It follows the life of Sophie FitzOsbourne and her ruling family of their island home. Sophie has escaped to England and is being looked after by her strict aunt Charlotte. Montmaray has been invaded and Sophie’s determined to go back and reclaim her rightful home. However, the glamour of high society clashes with her mission and she becomes preoccupied with the city life. Sophie and her sister Veronica are making their debuts. They use their opportunities to raise a voice of concern for Montmaray but it’s a dangerous time for politics when Europe is on the brink of another world war.  
There are so many wonderful aspects to this historical novel. Montmaray may be fictitious but because it’s placed in the real world, you’ll get a real sense for the society in the late 1930s. Cooper has done a tremendous job in her research and it all feels authentic.   

The FitzOsbournes are defiant in this classy world, with each member making an impact in the English society. Readers will be entertained with Veronica’s antics when she ruffles up some feathers at various parties. There’s also lots of humour through Sophie’s witty entries and her family’s constant rebellion. There’s also a personal insight into someone who’s not only lost their home, but also their sense of belonging.   

The FitzOsbournes in Exile is an enjoyable novel that will win new fans and keep the old ones hanging for the final book in the trilogy. It’s recommended for ages 13 and up.    

Friday, 22 October 2010

Many-Coloured Realm

Many-Coloured Realm by Anne Hamilton (Wombat Books)
PB RRP $19.95
ISBN 978-1-921633-06-5 
Reviewed by Aleesah Darlison

Robby is a teenage girl fascinated yet repulsed by her grubby classmate Neil, who claims to come from ‘the other side of yesterday’. When she chases him in search of a missing friend, she ends up in the Many-Coloured Realm, a parallel world to Earth. Vast layers of storytelling, spiritualism and symbolism abound in this complex, engaging fantasy story. Among the huge cast of characters, Artemys, the penguin, is a quirky and endearing standout. The novel is written in numerical literary style, the numbers chosen to give special meaning. Themes of faith and believing in yourself send a positive message. 

Thursday, 21 October 2010

The Blue-Eyed Aborigine

The Blue-Eyed Aborigine by Rosemary Hayes (Frances Lincoln Children’s Books)
PB RRP $16.95
ISBN 978-84780-078-7
Reviewed by Heather Zubek

There was almost a sniff of indignation when I learned that not only was the writer of this book not a Western Australian but not even an Australian. Indeed! After reading the book though all is forgiven. The Blue-Eyed Aborigine is based on the diaries of the Commander of the ship Batavia. Those who are unaware of the story are not prejudiced when reading the book. The background story is cleverly and subtlety revealed.

Rosemary Hayes, from Cambridgeshire, UK, recaptures some of maritime history’s most horrific moments through both factual and imagined events. These events are viewed through the eyes of young Dutch sailors Jan Pelgrom and briefly through Wouter Looes.

Those interested in Australian history will be fascinated by the story and the theory that some of today’s Aboriginals in Western Australia are descendants of the survivors of the Batavia. At the time of going to press initial DNA tests confirm that some of these Aboriginals carry Western European blood raising the question about the legacy of the shipwreck survivors. Rosemary Hayes fills in the missing years intuitively and sensitively. We follow the fate of young Jan as he takes to the way of life of the Aboriginals effortlessly and wholeheartedly. The reader begins to feel sorry for the sailor and views his actions during the mutiny as ones borne of survival rather than of a dark heart. 

After reading The Blue-Eyed Aborigine I read a story about the Batavia describing Jan Pelgrom as murderous and cruel. I felt an injustice had been done describing him in this way. It seemed as though they were describing someone else. One will never know I guess. I would like to think that Jan did survive on the shores of Western Australia and become part of the Aboriginal culture. I enjoyed the way the writer concluded the story with visions of blue-eyed Aboriginals coming home from the hunt. It was a fitting end to a rather gruesome tale.

Note: The publishers suggest a reading age of 13+ but I feel that parents should be aware of the adult themes contained in the book.

Wednesday, 20 October 2010

Lolli's Apple

Lolli's Apple by Tomas Fleischmann (A.K.A. Publishing)
PB RRP $19.95
ISBN 978-0-984530-3-4
Reviewed by Vicki Stanton

Lolli’s Apple is an autographical account of Tomas Fleischmann’s experience of the Holocaust and, following the Second World War, his emigration to Australia. I always find autobiographical accounts of the Holocaust somewhat easier to read because at least I am safe in the knowledge that the author survived though at times I wondered how. He and his brother (who was born in Terezin Concentration Camp) were two of only 123 out of 16 000 children who went through the camp.

Tomas was born into the privileged lifestyle of the landed gentry in central Europe. Everyone in their district knew they were Jewish but it wasn’t until August 1944, when Nazi persecutions intensified, that the family went into hiding. Many of Tomas’s extended family were hidden by villagers (and survived). However, possibly because of his parents’ fears of the difficulty of hiding a young boy or the fact that his mother Lolli was pregnant, Tomas’s family headed for the Slovakian capital of Bratislava where they were shortly discovered.

Fleischmann details the brutality, fear and bravery of life in the camps. He writes in an easily accessible manner which does not overwhelm the reader with the horrors of his experience but neither does it shirk this aspect. Powerful images of a train load of Jews left to wander deliriously on the platform as they starve and freeze to death; stark statements such as ‘They don’t build playgrounds in concentration camps’; and explanations of Tomas and other boys walking on the dead in pits as they scatter lime over bodies all encompass a reality that we should never forget occurred in recent history.

Despite all of this, this book is a story of hope and the most memorable image is the one referred to in the title. Following the birth of her baby boy in the camp hospital, Lolli splits a precious apple in two and throws half to Tomas waiting outside.

This book can and should be read by children. Undoubtedly, adults should be ready to give guidance and understanding of the historical events but knowledge of such events is vital if our world, and our children’s world of the future, is to avoid repeating such atrocities. To further that aim, Tomas Fleischmann is a regular speaker for Courage to Care, an education program which promotes respect, harmony and acceptance for all people and has reached out to over 200 000 Australians throughout our community. The program is targeted particularly at school children. 

Tuesday, 19 October 2010


Linger by Maggie Stiefvater, jacket design by Chris Stengel (Scholastic Inc) 
HB RRP $29.99 
ISBN 9780545123280
Recommended for 12+ years
Reviewed by Dawn Meredith

In this stunning sequel to Shiver, the plot crackles, with lives shifting from human to wolf and back again.

While Sam readjusts to his future as a full-time human, Grace struggles to ignore the wild instinct inside her, growing more insistent each day. Then there’s Cole, who would rather live the uncomplicated life of a wolf than deal with the pressures of his rockstar existence. He yearns for the onset of winter, when he transforms into what he considers his better half, his true self.

All the main characters seem to be running away from something – Grace from her parents, Sam from his tragic past, where his parents tried to kill him as he transformed, Cole from his wild, soulless existence as lead singer of Narkotika and Isobel from her grief at the loss of her brother.

Again, parents have hardly any role or input and seem rather superfluous, with the exception of Grace’s father, who roars into life in the latter part of the book when he discovers his ‘perfect’ daughter has been ‘corrupted’ by Sam. Perhaps this is a reflection of how teens see their parents, in which case Stiefvater has it down pat.

The reader’s sympathies are deftly held with Sam and Grace throughout as we follow their mismatched destinies. There is a sense of growing doom that the roles will be reversed and that it is Grace who will answer the call of the wild, so it is no surprise that at the point of bleeding to death, she is saved by the unworthy Cole, who exonerates his selfishness by helping her to transform before her life slips away completely.

It is an interesting book. Characters you care about, and believe in, struggle with their own reality. Somehow Stiefvater weaves truisms of life into this story, which adults can relate to. Sam and Grace have a maturity uncommon to the teens we are shown in movies and TV. They have an urgency to cling to every tiny moment of their life together; every movement, every sound, every chaste kiss, every cuddle. Although their celibacy seems unlikely, I buy into it. I want to. There is an innocence that lies neatly beside the exploration of the link between the softness and emotionality of human existence and the raw, instinctive wolf social order. Stiefvater concludes we are not dissimilar to these primeval hunters – loyal to the pack, linked in non-verbal communication. It’s as though they are our distant cousins, who have retained the essence of the clan fastness we once had. Linger encourages us to find our better selves by learning from the snow white wolf with amber eyes, watching from the edge of the woods.

I look forward to seeing how Stiefvater handles the storyline she has created when the third book is released.

Dawn Meredith writes from the Blue Mountains NSW. You can see photos of her recent writing workshops for kids here:  

Monday, 18 October 2010

Mr Gum and the Cherry Tree

Mr Gum and the Cherry Tree by Andy Stanton, illustrated by David Tazzyman (Egmont)
PB RRP $12.95
ISBN 978-1-4052-5218-8
Reviewed by Anastasia Gonis

It is Spring and ‘the ground just lay there and let everyone walk all over it’. In the town of Lamonic Bibber, Old Granny spoke between sips of sherry. ‘The Old Ways are back from before the days of Science’.

This is the unconventional and whacky things you’ll read in the books of Mr Gum. The characters are way out there and the happenings are unbelievable. There are liberties taken with the language that any linguist would cringe at. The titles appear to be the closest to relevance in the whole story in some disconnected way.

But, there is always a but. The pages are filled with entertainment and ridiculous comedy. Laughter is the intention of the author and he succeeds in giving the reader a belly laugh often. The word play is clever and imaginative and the incredible characters whose likeness is presented by the illustrator are perfectly matched to the images formed in the reader’s mind – crazy and unorthodox.

Mr Gum is evil and tries with mischievous and underhanded planning to create self-serving situations for himself at the expense of the simple population of Lamonic Bibber. Nine year old Polly seems the only one with a brain, yet it is revealed that each resident of the town has some special gift in one way or another.

Old Granny is a sort of matriarch who the townsfolk follow ‘into adventures unknown’ which always result in Mr Gum being the centre of it all somewhere in the background.

Is the cherry tree really Runtus, the King of the Woodland Spirits that the townsfolk are worshipping, or something more sinister?  Polly tries to open their eyes to the truth but what sort of power has been cast over them? Whoever it is, their free will has been taken away and they are hypnotised into each bringing their most precious belonging to the Cherry Tree as an offering. The school children have been turned into goblins and Old Granny appears to have been transformed as well. Polly and the school teacher Alan Taylor are the only ones with a will left. They must find proof of the truth to bring the townsfolk back to their senses, but how?

This is highly addictive reading for children in the nine year old age group that love the unusual in the extreme sense. It will also appeal to older readers that can understand the clever turns of phrase that will certainly be used in the exchange of conversation with their peers. 

Sunday, 17 October 2010

Shrieking Violet

Shrieking Violet written and illustrated by Emma Quay (Scholastic Press)
HB RRP $26.99
ISBN 9781741695687
Recommended for 3+ years.
Reviewed by Dawn Meredith.

I love, love, love this book! Emma is a keen observer of children, capturing beautifully the dysfunctional relationship between two sisters -the naughty, pesky, attention-seeking younger toddler, Violet and her elder, tolerant sister who remains unnamed, (despite insisting the book is actually about her) and who just wants to share something with the reader. The immediacy and intimacy of the telling is striking. Quay’s use of language, in first person, keeps us with the elder sister (I wish we knew her name! Argh!) as she describes a typical day at home with Mum. Violet is shown in various poses, notably flinging herself on the floor when she isn’t the centre of attention. “Oh, and that’s Violet,” explains Big Sister.

The tension builds nicely until even Violet’s tolerant sister blows up, shouting, “VIOLET ALWAYS RUINS EVERYTHING!” At this point we begin to feel something of Violet’s frustration at being little, non-verbal and incapable of everything her elder sister can do. Of course Quay gently lets us down again as Violet wordlessly extends a gift to her sister – a bunch of tissues she has collected after strewing them all over the floor. Poor Violet! Then Big Sister comes up with an idea for Violet to play a tree, which she does brilliantly.

I love Quay’s use of colour and the patterned backgrounds, in complimentary purples and soft yellows, do not detract from the action. There is plenty of movement through the pages as we follow along, waiting to see what mischief Violet will get up to next. My favourite would have to be the painting scene, where Big Sister has made a cat out of a paper bag and Violet has made an impression of her bottom, in violet paint, on a sheet of paper on the floor.

I can see this book becoming a favourite of children and bringing a smile to the faces of their parents.

Dawn Meredith writes from the Blue Mountains and is a recipient of a May Gibbs Fellowship for 2010. You can see photos from her recent writing workshops for kids:

Saturday, 16 October 2010

Mustang Mountain: Fire Horse

Mustang Mountain: Fire Horse by Sharon Siamon (Egmont)
PB RRP $12.95
ISBN 978-1-4052-4307-0
Reviewed by Anastasia Gonis

                   This exciting series is about horses and the people who love and work with them. It is set in the Rocky Mountains of Alberta on Mustang Mountain. The main characters are cousins Becky and Alison, and their friend Meg, a horse lover, who has been invited to spend the summer at their ranch.

                   The plane carrying the girls along with a horse named Silver is forced to land close to the ranch. Meg helps the terrified animal from the plane and a bond is formed between the two, for they have something in common. They are both out of place in their surroundings. But a badly injured tendon in Silver’s foreleg puts his hopes of becoming a champion jumper in jeopardy. Meg is given an opportunity by the owner to heal the mare before a decision is made about her future. A generous offer of free treatment and feed from Laurie, Becky’s mother and a farrier, comes as temporary relief to Meg who is determined to keep the horse from becoming dog food.
                   A shoeing accident threatens Laurie’s life and Becky’s old fear and resentment of horses is reborn. Far from everything in a place where cars and trucks are forbidden, and where the only exit is by horse or helicopter, the three girls are left alone to care for the horses. But when Alison leaves the corral gate open and Silver and Laurie’s horse Windy escape, the girls set out to retrieve them. They meet with unexpected opposition in the form of a wild red mustang that has called the two mares to join his ever-growing band of runaways.

                   Then reports come in of a cougar sighting. This puts everyone on alert but ends in tragedy. Added are the wild fires and Meg’s fears for Silver and his damaged leg. Can Becky get her mother’s horse back from the mustang’s herd? There are many challenges that the three must face, along with the problems involving the other primary characters that weave through the background. These challenges free the girls from many preconceptions, fears and vanities that have disabled their true potential up to that point.

The greatest test comes when they are forced to trust the wild mustang to lead them out of the bushfire that threatens all their lives.

                   A well-written adventure story set in a location that juxtaposes the power of the elements and the characters of the humans which mature and evolve by the end of the story. It presents a view of the communication possible between animals and people, and the respect necessary for the environment.

Friday, 15 October 2010


Torment by Lauren Kate (Random House)
HB RRP $29.95
ISBN 978-0-3856-1809-0
Reviewed by Oliver Phommavanh

Torment is a novel for older readers who have moved on from vampires to angels. While the angel books have flocked to the bookshelves, there hasn’t been one series that has ruled the skies just yet. The Fallen books are trying its best to be the Twilight of the genre. Torment is the sequel to Fallen.

Luce is a girl who’s in love with Daniel, a fallen angel. This forbidden romance has disrupted heaven and has drawn the battle lines between angels, demons and mysterious outcasts. Luce is whisked away to Shoreline, a school for Nephilim, the offspring for fallen angels and humans. Daniel sends her there for protection as he organises a truce between the angels and demons, so they can team up to defeat the outcasts.

As Luce learns about this new world, she discovers that her past lives have also been touched by Daniel. Luce becomes determined to find out why her romance with Daniel is the catalyst for the end times.

Torment improves on the prequel, with a quicker pace. Luce’s awareness of the angels and demons world means that there’s more information about the significance of her relationship. Luce is much more bubbly and bolder. She’s not willing to go with the flow and be content with an angel boyfriend. Torment is at its best when she delves deeper into this paranormal world. Luce’s friends steal all the best lines with some amusing dialogue throughout the story. However, things get hazy towards the end. Readers may forgive the messy ending and forced cliff hanger, knowing that there are more instalments on the way.

Torment is a pulsating thriller with streaks of passionate romance. It’s recommended for ages 13 and up.      

Thursday, 14 October 2010

Thomas & Friends: Thomas, Emily and the Special Coaches

Thomas & Friends: Thomas, Emily and the Special Coaches The Thomas TV Series, based on The Railway Series by the Rev. W. Awdry (Egmont) no reference to the illustrations/pictures
HC RRP $4.95
ISBN 978-0-6035-6521-2
Reviewed by Anastasia Gonis

It is summer on the island of Sodor. Gordon has set a new record for pulling the Express. The Fat Controller announces a special ceremony to commend his achievements. Emily is sent to bring back two coaches that have been painted to celebrate the occasion.

When Emily stops to take on water, she sees Diesel and tells him of Gordon’s achievement and the coaches. Diesel gets angry, for Gordon is not the only one that has done something special. But Emily rudely cuts him off and hurries away.

Emily arrives at the Yard, but there are no coaches there. Diesel has already collected them. Can she find the coaches and get back in time for the presentation? She races across the island until she sees Diesel coupled to Gordon’s coaches, waiting at a signal. She wants to know why he’s taken the coaches but again, doesn’t allow Diesel to explain. This time Diesel speeds away, angrier at Emily for not listening to him.

Emily goes after him. It is getting later and later. She begs him to stop, but he refuses because she won’t listen to him.

On Emily’s return to Maithwaite Station, the Fat Controller is waiting. After hearing the story, he gets into Emily’s cab and they set out to find the angry engine.

Diesel slows down. He isn’t feeling well. He hides the coaches in a siding but he is found out. While black smoke pours from Diesel’s engine, he accuses Emily of not listening to him. He tells her that he too, has set a record- for ‘shunting more trucks in one day than any other diesel’.

Emily realises that she’s done a great injustice to Diesel by not listening to what he had to say. Later at the presentation, Emily surprises Diesel with a new diesel motor and an apology. She acknowledges two special engines and their efforts.

This story is a wonderful example of how important listening and hearing is to everyone, regardless of age or position in life.

This book is the size of a regular paperback, with a hard cover for easier handling. The glossy pictures share the space with the text on brightly coloured pages of orange, red, blue, yellow and green. Thomas and Emily are on the front cover, smiling as they travel down the tracks together. 

Wednesday, 13 October 2010

Big River Little Fish

Big River Little Fish by Belinda Jeffrey (UQP)
PB RRP $19.95
ISBN 9780702238444
Reviewed by Jo Burnell

Big River Little Fish fills me with foreboding from the first line. Something is terribly wrong. Knowledge of the coming record 1956 floods does not help. My feelings were in a tangle as the story panned out. A cruel teacher leaves her scars, but the loss of a kind one hurts even more.

Big River Little Fish is Tom’s story. He feels everything in his world is backwards. He came out backwards at birth on edge of the Murray River and lost of his mother in the same moment. Things have continued that way ever since. Letters and words don’t cooperate when he tries to read or write them and school is like torture. Tom’s ability to listen to cars idling and tell what ails them does not impress his step mother.  

Tom’s best friend calls him MOT, a name as backwards as he feels, but all is not as it seems. When Tom’s biological father appears after years of silent absence, even what was backwards turns upside down and inside out.

Can the world be more mixed up than this? Even though Tom feels he will burst from the tension, all of this drama is nothing compared to what will happen when the Big Murray River bursts its banks.

Full of action, yet seething with the undercurrent of subtext, Big River Little Fish will have you riveted to the page. I couldn’t stand the suspense and broke a cardinal rule. I flicked to the end to see what was coming. Don’t bother. It doesn’t help. It’s better to hang in there and read every detail, so that this complex tale can come out right in the end.
Jo Burnell is passionate about hooking reluctant and struggling readers into the world of books. Her current project for teenagers looks at Juveniles in the Old Melbourne Gaol in the 1850s. Facts, Fictional Play Scripts and Faction recreate gaol life in early Melbourne in short easy read chapters. 

Tuesday, 12 October 2010

Mr Gum and the Power Crystals

Mr Gum and the Power Crystals by Andy Stanton, illustrated by David Tazzyman (Egmont)
PB RRP $12.95
ISBN 978-1-4052-2817-6
Reviewed by Anastasia Gonis

The Mr Gum books have received rave reviews from readers, book awards, and countless short listings. They are strange and spooky tales, with strange characters and even stranger happenings. The central character is Mr Gum, an evil, conniving person who invents ways of manipulating the townsfolk for his own interests. The freaky illustrations of some of the townsfolk of Lamonic Bibber are found just before the introduction and other illustrations are interspersed throughout the text. Mr Gum is on the cover of every title.

It appears that nine year-old Polly is not immune to the incredible happenings that seem to be common in Lamonic Bibber. Jakey her dog digs up a bag marked with the date, 1559. It contains two luminous stones in pink and white. Polly locks them away at home, and dreams that the stones speak to her, telling her to take them to the windmill. Their strange spell envelopes her and she is forced to do their bidding.

The pulsing light from the Power Crystals leads Polly to a place she’s never been before then on to a windmill she didn’t know existed, although she is very familiar with the area. She sees Mr Gum’s face reflected in the moon and then at the window at the top of the windmill. This is a bad sign.

On awakening, she sees her feet are dirty, the stones are in her hand and she’s wearing a T-shirt that boasts of her visit to the windmill. But she will get to the bottom of it all!

Polly visits Old Granny, the wise old matriarch of the town that everyone turns to for advice. But the crystals keep leading her to the windmill again and again. Mr Gum, her nemesis is there; repulsive as always and as determined as ever to win her over. The Power Crystals tempt Polly by giving her visions of what she could be. Will the child succumb to temptation? Will Gum get his way?

Normal doesn’t exist here, so for readers looking for a fluid, coherent storyline, these books will not suit. But for the 9+ age group who want the unusual wrapped in comical and outrageous happenings with lots of laughter, Mr Gum books are a clever creation. With a constant play on words which is highly entertaining in a mixed-up, crazy way that children love, they can become highly addictive reading. 

Monday, 11 October 2010

Monster High

Monster High by Lisi Harrison (Atom/Little, Brown/Hachette)

PB RRP $16.99
ISBN 978-1-90741-063-5
Reviewed by Hilary Smillie

Monster High is the first in a humorous, clever series written by New York Times best selling author, Lisi Harrison. The author has teamed with the brand giant, Mattel, who will release Monster High merchandise in April 2011 to coincide with the next instalment.

The story revolves around two teenagers, Frankie Stein, whose grandmother was the Bride of Frankenstein, and Melody Carver. Frankie is the creation of her scientific parents, monsters Victor and Viveka, complete with green skin, batteries, bolts and seams. In a matter of days, Victor will fill her brain to the point where she will act and think as a fifteen-year old girl.

Melody Carver is moving with her family to Salem, Oregon, where she will attend Merston High. Melody’s looks have been enhanced by her plastic surgeon father, primarily to change her very large nose and reduce breathing problems as she suffers from asthma. It was asthma which had stolen her one amazing attribute – the voice of an angel.  Her hopes that the operation will enable her to sing again do not eventuate, but she has a new and very pretty face, and has lost weight. She hates how everyone treats her differently now that she is attractive, and downplays her looks in every way.  

About to attend high school after being schooled at home, Frankie is also determined to be accepted as she is, green skin and all. Her parents warn her she will have to cover her skin with thick makeup (Fierce and Flawless) as they do, to be accepted into normal society, otherwise she will freak out the normies and there would be dire consequences for all monsters or RADS – Regular Attribute Dodgers.  After a disastrous tryout at another school, Frankie quickly discovers her parents are right.

Merston High is where the normies and RADS connect – especially at the Monster Dance. The normies are determined to show they are not afraid of the rumour that monsters are abroad. Once again, Frankie and her RAD friends attempt to bridge the gap between the two groups. It is a spectacular failure. Furthermore, Frankie and Melody find themselves competing for the affections of Jackson, a RAD with Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde personas. Nevertheless, they are equally determined to fight on in the battle for love and universal acceptance.

Lisi Harrison’s fresh twist on romance, teenage angst and the challenge of fitting in has produced a highly entertaining and imaginative, if freaky, read.  It has the hallmark of success.

Sunday, 10 October 2010

Book of Firsts

Book of Firsts edited by James Buckley Jr (Scholastic Australia)
PB RRP $12.99
ISBN 978-1-74169-682-0
Reviewed by Vicki Stanton 

Book of Firsts is a book everyone will love - children, parents, grandparents. It is full of facts organised into 11 different categories from Air and Space, to Medicine, and Exploration. Firsts from around the world are included but there are plenty of Australian firsts such as Australia's first dinosaur fossil and a list of Australia's female political pioneers. There's even some wacky firsts such as 'First Place to Use Gigantic Stone Disks for Money'.

Pick up the book and flip it open to any page and start reading. Well presented with quality paper and a layout utilising text boxes and large font, this book is perfect for reluctant readers. Trivia nuts will also welcome the opportunity to brush up on their knowledge. One for all the family and great value.

Saturday, 9 October 2010

The Sweet Far Thing

The Sweet Far Thing by Libba Bray (Simon and Schuster)
PB RRP $19.99
ISBN 978-073181456-5
Reviewed by Peta Biggin

It has been a year since Gemma Doyle first arrived at Spence Academy.  Having discovered the powers that dwell within her she has defeated her nemesis, Circe, and bound the magic of the Realms to herself.  Now she must face her greatest challenge as the battle for control of the magic flares up around her and she must decide her fate.  Chaos is guaranteed should she make the wrong choice.  How can Gemma decide where she really belongs?  Is she strong enough to survive the trials that confront her?

Originally published in 2007, The Sweet Far Thing is the final instalment of the gothic Gemma Doyle Trilogy. 

This has been a great trilogy that I have enjoyed reading immensely.  The familiar themes of social class, sexual awakening and the position of women on Victoria society are all present and further built upon in this novel.  To my mind, there was greater focus on the roles of women in this novel than in the others.  In particular how wealth, class and family connections inflicted sever restrictions on their futures. 

Our three main characters must all deal with this in different ways:  Gemma because she is unable to adhere to social conventions; Anne as she is condemned to a life of servitude because of her lowly station; and Felicity because she is unwilling to submit to marriage as she faces up to her own homosexuality.  The series concludes with each of them forging their own path contrary to what Victorian society dictated for them.

One thing that I did like in particular is that Libba Bray was not tempted to finish the series too neatly – for example, the flourishing romance between Gemma and Karthik does not end happily. 

At over eight hundred pages, this is not a quick read and there were patches that where I felt the pace of the story did wane.  Overall, however, it was a great conclusion to the series and I would certainly recommend it.   

Libba Bray is an American YA novelist whose other titles include Vacations from Hell and Going Bovine, amongst several others.  She currently lives in New York with her family.  Anyone wishing to learn more can visit Libba’s website: