Tuesday, 31 August 2010

Zac Power: Spy Camp – Zac Climbs High

Zac Power: Spy Camp – Zac Climbs High by H.I. Harry, illustrated by Cal Bennett and Ron Monnier (hardie grant Egmont)
PB RRP $7.95
ISBN 978-192156477-2
Reviewed by Anastasia Gonis

Zac Power’s code name is Agent Rock Star. At twelve years old he is fully trained and works for GIB (Government Investigation Bureau) in a fight against BIG, an evil spy group. Zac frequently goes to Spy Camp where he fine tunes his existing skills and learns new ones for his missions. His whole family are also spies. Each one has a different role to play for GIB. Communication from the central office comes to Zac through his SpyPad which doubles up with lots of other functions like music player, and computer and is highly confidential.

Today Zac is at the supermarket when his SpyPad beeps. He is directed to a specific lane where a trolley with the GIB symbol stands. He gets in. This activates the shelves and they open for the trolley to move in and travel down a tunnel. This is normal activity for Zac and his undercover work. He is contacted through these discreet and unusual methods when a mission is beginning.

His destination is Spy Camp, a domed building with lots of entertainment facilities. But there is no time for that today as Zac heads straight for the desk for his Info-Disk which he can access through his SpyPad and contains his training information.

The necessary skills Zac will need to learn are dealing with heights. He has to learn to walk the tightrope and go undercover as a circus performer for this mission. His training partner is Agent Ace (real name Celia) whom Zac dislikes as he considers her rude and bossy. The place of learning is the Blue Top Circus. His accessories are shoes called jelly joggers that help the wearer to land safely from heights. Filled with jelly pads that are activated when the heels are clicked together, they are an important and necessary tool.

Celia boasts that she’ll beat Zac on the SpyLadder, a method of point allocation awarded to spies who do well on missions and at Spy Camps. But there is corruption in every area of the Spy system and sabotage is always a threat. When Zac’s spy senses start to tingle, he is alerted to some kind of danger ahead. What is Celia hiding? What dangers await the young spy? Is Zac trained well enough to overcome the threats against him?

This series is filled with excitement, adventure and danger, aimed at early readers, and in extra large print. The black and white illustrations show all the gadgets in detail with every part labelled as in all the Zac books, so the reader always sees what is described in writing. These books allow children to believe that they can become whatever they choose in life, even secret agents. It encourages reading for reluctant readers and leaves the anticipation of what will happen in the next book.

Monday, 30 August 2010


Thai-riffic! by Oliver Phommavanh (Puffin)

PB RRP $16.95
ISBN 9780143304852
Reviewed by Vicki Stanton

Thai-riffic! is an impressive debut novel from Oliver Phommavanh. Oliver’s other lives as a primary school teacher and stand-up comedian shine through in this work with his knack for writing humour and revealing the intricacies of school life and what makes kids tick.

Albert (Lengy) Lengviriyakul is a teenager living in Sydney who feels out of place. While Lengy’s parents and brother enjoy their Thai traditions and the Australian way of life, Lengy has more difficulties. He is embarrassed about his parent’s Thai restaurant, the length of his surname and everything else about himself which he believes makes him stand out as not Australian.

Oliver’s use of first person to explore Lengy’s feelings works perfectly. In a series of hilarious incidents, in which Lengy works to embarrass his parents and deny his heritage, more and more people are drawn to him and Lengy comes to realise that he is as Australian as the next person and that Australia is all the richer for its multicultural flavour.

Secondary characters are well-rounded, in particular, Lengy’s parents and the inspirational teacher Mr Winfree who should be used as a template for anyone with aspirations to educate our children. Black and white comic strip illustrations are sprinkled throughout the text, adding even more humour and an extra dimension to the text. I particularly like the table of contents being formatted as a menu!

I look forward to Oliver’s next book. I’m sure that, like this one, it will be a ripper.

Sunday, 29 August 2010


Monster by Andrew Daddo, illustrated by Bruce Whatley (ABC Books)

HB RRP $24.99
ISBN 9780733322754
Reviewed by Tracey Slater

A little boy cannot go to sleep because of the monster in his bedroom. He calls out to his parents repeatedly and they answer with unsympathetic wisecracks and sarcasm. When the parents eventually order the boy into his bunk bed, both he and the monster drift off to sleep together.

Andrew Daddo has given us an unusual take on the ‘monster story’. The tone is humorous including some very light gross out humour, which is unlikely to offend the preschoolers out there.

Bruce Whatley has made the monster a sweet, timid, gummy creature with an under bite - not exactly a threat to children. The illustrations greatly enhance the text, adding a touch of ambiguity to the tale. The boy and the monster mirror each other throughout, so that in the end one is a little unsure whether the boy is actually the monster, or whether the boy is imagining that his sibling is a monster or whether the little boy is with a real monster- it’s somewhat open to interpretation.

There is a question of whether a preschool or early schoolchild would be comfortable with the ambiguous content, or whether they would ‘get’ the parental sarcasm. These aspects seem to tip the story towards a slightly older readership than probably intended. Overall, Monster is a sweet tale, setting out to prove that not all monsters are scary.

Saturday, 28 August 2010


Submarine by Joe Dunthorne (Penguin)
PB RRP $27.50
ISBN: 978-0-141-03275-7
Reviewed by Kelli Bradicich

Submarine was inconveniently placed on the top shelf of Borders. I stared at its cover forever, walking away a couple of times before strategising a way to get it down without bothering anyone. As it turned out, I was taller than I thought and it was just within my reach. The cover looked like it had been drawn by a teenager for a teenager. The review on the front from The Independent compared it to The Catcher in the Rye. Before I read the first word, I had the sense that the author had mastered a strong, authentic voice. I was not disappointed.

The main character Oliver Tate is fifteen and everything about him feels real. The story starts with all the ways he plays with his parents' minds.

And it finishes with him sharing random facts with them just to impress.

In the pages between, he runs through life trying to make sense of his relationship and trying to help his parents make sense of theirs. Oliver's thoughts are random and unique, and match his solutions to life's dilemmas perfectly.

There are times you want to scream out and tell him to stop, but if he did the book would not have the spice it has. One thing that continues to stick with me is his idea to cure his father of depression. It involves a father son day at a local fair attraction and is far from being a hallmark moment.

It works. It's memorable and I've never read a solution to depression quite like it before.

Joe Dunthorne has written a coming of age story that is quirky and unique, with witty humour punctuating the sad realities of teenage struggles. It is worth a second read.

Friday, 27 August 2010

The Song of the Winns

The Song of the Winns—The Gerander Trilogy book 1 by Frances Watts, illustrations by David Francis (ABC Books)
PB RRP $14.99
ISBN 978 0 7333 2786 5
Reviewed by Jenny Mounfield

Mice Alex, Alice and Alistair have been living with their aunt and uncle since their parents failed to return home from a trip four years ago. Little do they realise this was no ordinary business trip; their parents were, in fact, on a mission to liberate their homeland Gerander, a situation the triplets haven’t a clue about.

When Alistair is snatched from his room one night and finds himself deposited in another country, he is desperate to return home. He meets Tibby Rose, a little ginger mouse just like him. Ginger hair, they will soon learn, is a trait that marks them as Gerandans. It is also a trait that makes them a target of extreme prejudice. And so with lonely Tibby Rose in tow, the two mice embark on a journey that will test each as never before.

Meanwhile back in Smiggins, Alistair’s siblings are about to embark on a journey of their own. Throw into this mix pirates, spies and political skulduggery and what you get is, Stuart Little meets The Wind in the Willows with a splash of George Orwell’s Animal Farm thrown in for good measure.

Given Watts’s editing background, it comes as no surprise that her characterisation and narrative skill are excellent and her plot well-thought out. Francis’s detailed pencil sketches at the beginning of each chapter are the perfect accompaniment, adding just the merest hint of what is to come.

At almost 300 pages, and with language and concepts that lean towards complex, I would recommend this for ambitious readers at the mid to upper end of the 9-14 age range.

Watts is the author of a number of successful titles. Of particular note are her picture books: Kisses for Daddy (illustrations by David Legge), which won a 2006 CBCA Honour Book award and winner of the Eve Powell Award 2008, Parsley Rabbit’s Book About Books (also illustrated by David Legge)

Jenny Mounfield is the author of three novels for kids, her most recent title being: The Ice-cream Man (Ford St). She has been reviewing for Buzz Words since ’06.

Thursday, 26 August 2010

Six Impossible Things

Six Impossible Things by Fiona Wood (Pan Macmillan Australia)
PB RRP $16.99
ISBN 978-0330-42606-0
Reviewed by Kathryn Duncan

Dan Cereill feels like his life is falling apart. His dad left, his mum has no money and her new business is failing, they move house, Dan starts a new school and gets a job that doesn’t pay anything. To make it all so much worse, he has fallen for Estelle, the girl next door - literally - who doesn’t know he exists.

A likeable teenager, Dan has struck a rather large run of bad luck. He discovers a secret opening between his and Estelle’s attics and he is soon breaking all the rules by reading her diary and finding out all that he can about her. This information is useful as he slowly gets to know her, but it is also his potential downfall, not that he needed much help in that area. Dan is ordered by one his teachers to help organise the school social and Dan is thrown into this along with Estelle and school bully, Jayzo. Dan’s growing popularity is destroyed when he accidentally injures the hand of the school band’s guitarist and the band is no longer able to play at the social. Dan has less than 24 hours to come up with an alternative.

Six Impossible Things is an enjoyable story and delves into the complexities of teenage relationships with their friends and families. Jealousy, self-confidence, disobeying parents, bullying and loyalty to friends are all explored in Fiona Wood’s debut novel. The biggest challenge that Dan faces is his relationship with his father. Throughout the novel Dan is torn between wanting things to be the way they were and trying to deal with his father being gay. Six Impossible Things resolves most issues, but not all. This is a good thing for the reader as it leaves them thinking and wondering, just like in real life.

Six Impossible Things is recommended for 13+.

Wednesday, 25 August 2010

The Little Drummer Boy

The Little Drummer Boy by Bruce Whatley (Random House)

HB RRP $24.95
ISBN 978-1-8647-1990-1
Reviewed by Oliver Phommavanh

The Little Drummer Boy is a delightful Christmas tale by Bruce Whatley and a picture book for all ages. The story is about a wooden Christmas ornament, a little drummer boy who is given to a sweet girl named Annie. Annie’s affections for the drummer boy grow over the years and eventually through different generations. It’s a touching tale about Christmas traditions that stand the test of time.

Whatley’s illustrations are warm and inviting. There are some glorious illustrations that bring Christmas to life, with a dazzling Christmas tree being one of the highlights. I loved seeing Annie grow up, and I’m sure that readers will enjoy seeing the little drummer boy change too. Whatley’s humour is littered throughout the story, making it a great story to read aloud, especially leading up to Christmas.

The Little Drummer Boy is a warm tale that breathes new life into an old Christmas tradition. It’s recommended for ages 3 and up.

Tuesday, 24 August 2010

The Spook’s Nightmare

The Spook’s Nightmare by Joseph Delaney (Random House)
HB RRP $29.95
ISBN 978-0-3703-2981-9
Reviewed by Oliver Phommavanh

The Spook’s Nightmare is Joseph Delaney’s latest novel in The Wardstone Chronicles. The series follows Tom Ward, the apprentice of the Spook, protecting the land from dark forces. They are also accompanied by Alice, a half human and witch.

The trio finds refuge on an island Mona, where a deadly shaman is in charge. The wicked witch Bony Lizzie comes to take over Mona with the help of a Buggane, a creature capable of sucking the life-force out of anyone.

At the core of this story is the Spook struggling with his own abilities. His confidence is shattered, leaving Tom to question his master’s powers. This is a turning point in the series that fans will not want to miss.

Delaney delivers another thrilling read that doesn’t stop from start to finish. There are some pretty violent scenes that may scare a few readers but it never goes over the top.

When a book tells you not to read it after dark, you know you’re in for a ghastly read. The Spook’s Nightmare has enough gore and scares to satisfy its growing audience. It’s recommended for ages 10 and up.

Monday, 23 August 2010

Anton Can Do Magic

Anton Can Do Magic written and illustrated by Ole Konnecke (Gecko Press)
PB RRP $14.99
ISBN 9781877467639
Reviewed by Dawn Meredith

This story is wonderfully humorous, as we follow Anton’s attempts to make various objects and people disappear, as if by his own mysterious powers of magic. There is a sub-story, about a little bird, belonging to Anton’s friend Greta, which has gone missing from its cage. Somehow it winds up being the star of Anton’s magic trick, for which he finally receives the accolades he is wanting!

Konnecke has chosen a powerful, orange-yellow background for the cover, with cartoon figures reminiscent of the comic strip ‘Peanuts’. They do have a certain appeal, and stand out as very different from the typical picture book style of illustrations. It’s a cute story and by giving Anton a turban, Konnecke reminds us of “The Great Sorcar, World’s Greatest Magician”, whose picture appears on the title page as a fuzzy, old fashioned poster.

Dawn Meredith writes from the Blue Mountains. You can follow her exploits here: http://www.dawnmeredithauthor.blogspot.com/

Sunday, 22 August 2010

Good Oil

Good Oil Good Oil by Laura Buzo (Allen and Unwin)
PB RRP $18.99
ISBN 9781741759976
Reviewed by Jenny Sharp http://whispersandwhiskers.wordpress.com/

15 year old Amelia is in year ten and thinks boys are brainless beings who shouldn’t exist. Chris is 21, in his final year of university and is recovering from a breakup. For Amelia, the supermarket job is a way of gaining independence; for Chris, it’s a dead end.

Amelia is unlike any girl Chris knows and is always amazed at how her mind works, she makes him question his own thoughts and the way he thinks. They exchange letters of things that they dislike. Amelia thinks her mum has been screwed over by feminism; Chris hates the injustice of people getting everything in life while he struggles at the bottom.

Chris and Amelia discover a passion for the classics which leads to continual chats about literature. Amelia uses this to her advantage; using certain characters’ situations to tell Chris how she is feeling as it can be taken at face value but it also allows her to tell him how she feels if he chooses to read into it. This witty banter throughout the text is entertaining and the story itself is a funny and realistic image of young love.

The story is engaging and the dual narration adds depth to the storyline and has so many subtle details that come together to create this image of what being a young adult is really like, not what people think it’s like.

Good Oil isn’t your typical love story; there isn’t a fairytale ending. It’s honest, bittersweet and insightful with the characters lending you their lives to let you look into your own.

Saturday, 21 August 2010

The David Beckham Academy: Away From Home

The David Beckham Academy: Away From Home by Emily Stead, illustrated by Adam Relf (Egmont)

PB RRP $12.95
ISBN 978-1-4052-5164-8
Reviewed by Anastasia Gonis

This is another title with positive themes in the David Beckham Academy series of books. The story focuses mainly on three children; George, Ben and Stephan. They arrive at the Academy to learn what it means to play in real teams, under real team names, with a cup as the trophy to the winners at the tournament end. They will also get skills training, confidence building, and their self-esteem will be greatly increased by the time they set off for home again.

Stephan is a Polish boy who can’t speak English and for this reason, he is confronted with a great many obstacles. But he can play football (soccer) like a professional and he proves that the spoken language is not the only form of communication available when it comes to playing sport.

Kelly is the coach of Holland, the team in which the three children are allocated. Stephan tries his best to get a grip on what is being said in the skills training, but fails to do so. Luckily Ben is up first and Stephan follows his lead and comes out the best of the group. Ben claims the captaincy and hands out the positions to the rest of the team. When it comes to Stephan, the Polish boy tries miming to explain what he does best and is misunderstood, and is put into defence position instead of striker, which has adverse effects on the team’s performance.

It’s not until Holland have lost several games and become disillusioned, that things take a turn. Stephan is passing a training room when he sees a tactics board with play positions drawn up. He realises he has discovered the way to communicate without words. He calls the team in and calls each person’s name as he points to their position, then his as striker. He draws up the lines of play and defence and the team returns with full force to take the trophy, which is presented to them by David Beckham.

This series comes highly recommended by the reviewer. There are a lot of values and positive themes in these books which aimed at teaching children the important issues of team play, patience and perseverance. Each book has several lessons to be learnt, with each character evolving by some degree fro the better by the end of the book. Ideally suited for children aged 7+, these books will catch the interest of a wide-ranging audience not necessarily only those interested in sport.

Friday, 20 August 2010


Grimsdon by Deborah Abela (Random House)
PB RRP $16.95
ISBN 978-1-7416-6372-3
Reviewed by Oliver Phommavanh

Grimsdon is a thrilling new adventure novel for younger readers that takes place in the not-too-distant future. When a gigantic wave floods Grimsdon, it leaves this majestic city in ruins. While most people were saved and have relocated to higher ground, some have stayed around the disaster zone, forging a new world order.

The story centres on a group of children, led by the bold Isabella Charm and her resourceful best friend, Griffin. They have managed to survive as a mini-family through Griffin’s technology and Isabella’s courage against their enemies. When a stranger named Xavier wants to join them, their lives are turned upside down. The teenager has arrived with a flying machine, something that attracts the attention of Sneddon, a ruthless and ambitious overlord.

Abela does a wonderful job of building her own version of ‘water world.’ She has plenty of light-hearted moments, against a gritty and gloomy setting where kids rule. One of my favourite places is the Haggle, a marketplace where kids barter their things, spitting on their hands to seal the deal.

There are plenty of action scenes that remind me of a dashing pirate story. Isabella is at her fiery best during these frantic scenes. Xavier is also very funny and entertaining, especially when he clashes with Griffin. The friendships in the group are tested throughout the story, but the characters become stronger. The book also deals with some environment issues, as the cause of the floods is revealed by a wacky but gentle scientist.

Grimsdon is an enjoyable and gripping adventure and I recommend it for readers 9 and up.

Oliver Phommavanh is a children’s author. His first book, Thai-riffic! is out now. http://www.oliverwriter.com/

Thursday, 19 August 2010

Can we lick the spoon now?

Can we lick the spoon now? by Carol Goess, illustrated by Tamsin Ainslie (Working Title Press)
HB RRP $24.95
ISBN 978 1 921504 16 7
Reviewed by Jenny Mounfield

WARNING! Reading this book will induce uncontrollable chocolate cravings!

When two bored children (and baby) ask: ‘What can we do now?’ (a question that strikes dread into the hearts of many a weary mother), Mum, in her infinite wisdom, says: “‘Let’s bake a cake!’” And so begins a worthwhile, if not somewhat frantic, endeavour enjoyed by all—even Mum.

“In goes the butter. Beat beat beat.
  In goes the sugar. Whip whip whip.
  ‘Can we lick the spoon now?’
  ‘No, not yet.’”

Finally, of course, everyone gets to lick the spoon. Then while Mum and kids are waiting for the icing to set, a sneaky someone eats the cake! There’s nothing left to do but start over.

There are few activities kids love more than making—and eating—cake. By creating a story around this popular activity, Goess demonstrates the organisation and skill needed to complete such a task. Her use of rhythm and repetition sets the perfect pace for the action, giving the story a sense of rushing towards something. When it’s revealed that something isn’t the expected feast, but the cake’s disappearance, readers are sure to be surprised. But once the story is over and little hands thumb back through the pages, the cake thief’s intention becomes clear.

Ainslie’s illustrations are deceptively simple, yet detailed enough to infuse kids with a sense of familiarity and warmth. While the colours she has chosen are generally muted, splashes of bold red, blue and inky black draw the eye. Other books she has illustrated are: One Sheep, Two Sheep by Patricia Byers (Little Hare), The ABC Book of Lullabies (ABC Books) and Little Dog by Katrina Germein (Scholastic).

As noted at the start of this review, this title really ought to come with a warning sticker. The inclusion then of a chocolate cake recipe on the endpaper is truly inspired. I haven’t yet put this recipe to the test, but can say with confidence that given that the ingredients list includes 200g of melted chocolate, I am certain it will be a hit.

Jenny Mounfield is the author of three novels for kids, her most recent title being: The Ice-cream Man (Ford St). She has been reviewing for Buzz Words since ’06.

Wednesday, 18 August 2010

Conspiracy 365: August

Conspiracy 365: August by Gabrielle Lord (Scholastic Inc.)
PB RRP $14.99
ISBN 9781741693201
Reviewed by Dawn Meredith

As if Cal hasn’t got enough to worry about, being buried alive certainly takes the cake! But his loyal friends, Winter and Boges, manage to get him out by calling Emergency Services anonymously. Cal wakes to find himself in hospital – under armed guard. The detectives believe he is a top notch liar. Cal is horrified to learn that his little sister has been kidnapped, in her comatose state. The cops think Cal has her hidden somewhere and don’t seem to care that he was nearly buried alive. Worst of all, Cal’s Uncle Rafe and mother visit him and Cal is shocked to hear his own mother plead with him to release Gabbi back to them. A damning written statement by the traitorous Enfield Rathbone and Cal’s fresh DNA at the scene of Gabbi’s abduction, seal Cal’s guilt as far as the law and his family are concerned.

Cal is driven crazy by fear about his sister. He has to find her! Escaping through the air ducts of the hospital and out the front door dressed as an orderly, Cal is almost caught by police dogs, when he is rescued by ex-detective Nelson Sharkey, driving a stolen ambulance. Hiding out at Winter’s apartment, Cal tries to piece together the remaining clues. Winter has somehow managed to save some papers and it seems the truce between her and Boges is holding rather well. It becomes obvious that Cal’s twin has been used to collect fresh DNA to plant at the scene of Gabbi’s kidnapping, but who would do such a thing?

Nelson Sharkey comes up with a contact: Ma Little. It’s Cal’s turn to show some initiative and barter with the kidnappers. Ma Little is a shady character and it’s a risk to come out into the daylight to meet with her. Finally Cal is given a lead to Gabbi’s whereabouts. He must talk to the strange and dubiously helpful Dr Leporello. Betrayed by someone he trusted, Cal is almost caught by the police again and finds himself chasing his twin, back to the boy’s house. Here he collects evidence, a photo of the boy, Ryan Spencer, but it is the sight of a white toy dog on a shelf that rocks Cal to the core. It is the same toy dog that has haunted his dreams.

Finally a stroke of luck in the search for Gabbi. Cal spots one of Oriana’s thugs buying intravenous liquids at a pharmacy. He can’t follow on pushbike but at least he now knows who has her. Nelson arranges a handover meeting with Oriana at a deserted bridge. It is here that the worst possible outcome occurs. In her comatose state, Gabbi is thrown, sleeping bag and all, over the side and into the freezing water below. Cal dives in but cannot find his little sister. She has drowned.

I found this development quite shocking, but given the surreal nature of Cal’s life, I was prepared to suspend belief. It will be interesting to see where Gabrielle Lord takes the storyline in Conspiracy 365 September. Don’t forget the fan website at http://www.conspiracy365.com/, with special members section, comment wall, online polls, game and exclusive downloads. This series really has embraced the interactive!

Dawn Meredith writes from the Blue Mountains. You can follow her exploits at http://www.danwmeredithauthor.blogspot.com/

Tuesday, 17 August 2010

Rufus the Numbat

Rufus the Numbat by David Miller (Ford Street Publishing)
HB RRP $24.95
ISBN 978-1-876462-96-3
Reviewed by Jenny Mounfield

When Rufus decides to pass through town on his way to the bush, what follows is mayhem! With the resulting ruckus, it’s hard to imagine Rufus prefers the quiet life.

The cause and effect of the little numbat’s journey is expertly told through Miller’s wonderful 3D paper sculptures. Cyclists, paint tins and Chinese dragons are all upended as Rufus scurries on his way, seeking out the sights and sounds of his favourite habitat. And, of course, with the aid of a skateboard, he finally makes it home none the worse for wear—unlike those left in his wake.

With its sparse text and busy illustrations, this title is ripe for reader interaction. After just a few readings littlies will know the words by heart and will, no doubt, be building on the story by adding their own.

Miller’s first picture book was the hugely successful Boo to a Goose by Mem Fox. He has since gone on to illustrate many more, including CBC short-listed Snap Went Chester (written by Tania Cox), Refugees, and Ford Street’s, Big and Me.

Jenny Mounfield is the author of three novels for kids, her most recent title being: The Ice-cream Man (Ford St). She has been reviewing for Buzz Words since ’06.

Monday, 16 August 2010

Beyond Evie

Beyond Evie by Rebecca Burton (HarperCollins)
PB RRP $17.99
ISBN 9780732291525
Reviewed by Tracey Slater

This is Rebecca Burton’s second YA novel. She is a Varuna and CBC Award winner.

Sixteen-year-old Charlotte is living under the shadow of her father’s suicide. Her mother is emotionally distant. Her older sister is happily in love. Charlotte longs for someone to cure her feelings of loneliness.

She meets the artistic, charmingly manipulative and worldlier Evie. Charlotte falls in love with her, only to have her heart broken by someone who is only playing an emotional and sexual game. The story is in the form of a cathartic letter from Charlotte to Evie.

Although this book features a same-sex love relationship, the feelings around the heartbreak involved when first love turns bad is universal. The author captures these emotions well—Charlotte’s pain and angst are tangible.

It’s a fairly bleak tale but Charlotte is a resilient character and the story concludes in an atmosphere of hope. The story itself is quiet and the pace is slow. However, the strength of this book is the quality of the writing. ‘Beyond Evie’ is crafted with restraint and economy - the author packing much meaning in few words. It is heavily stylised, yet reads naturally. The story also has a slightly psychologically disturbing undertone.

Young adults who like a pacy read will probably not enjoy this book. However, those who enjoy rich, literary, thoughtful prose will have a guaranteed reward from choosing Beyond Evie.

Into the Deep: Life through the Depths of the Ocean

Into the Deep: Life through the Depths of the Ocean by Mark Norman and David Paul (black dog books)
PB RRP$16.99
ISBN 9781742031514
Reviewed by Di Bates

A follow-up title to Poles Apart: Life at the ends of the earth, this 32 page book to suit ages 7 years plus, fits into the primary school curriculum, with teachers’ notes promised by the publisher. The award-winning author is passionate about educating children about the environment, as evident by this and his other books.

The book is beautifully photographed and designed and has immediate impact and appeal. The text begins by stating that most of our planet is covered by oceans and most of these are very deep, particularly the Challenger Deep in the North Pacific Ocean. The pressure in the Deep is ‘the same as about 50 elephants piled up on your head’: such sentences with child-appeal are found throughout the book.

The story of in the Deep starts with general facts, then moves to the more specific, from Hanging at the Top (animals such as bluebottle jellyfish and water striders) which live by clinging to the surface of the water, to animals near the surface (sailfish and dolphins), and then animals which live deeper down. As the child reader explores the levels of the ocean, they are presented with brilliantly coloured photographs of sea dwellers as well as digestible, bite-sized chunks of information. Did you know, for example, that some octopuses spend their whole lives swimming, never touching the seafloor? That a male blanket octopus is so tiny is would fit inside a female blanket octopus’s eye? Then there’s the gruesome aspects of life in the Deep – where creatures such as ugly lizardfish and the scary, pencil-length viperfish have sharp teeth for gobbling up prey.

Every page of this fascinating and easy to read book is a visual feast, plus there’s information which is so interesting that a child will want to immediately repeat it to his mates, his teachers, his parents. In keeping with the sense of darkness in the Deep, most of the pages with their striking photographs are black with white and coloured typeface. There’s also a glossary, an index and a list of further resources. Don’t be surprised if this book wins awards – it will certainly win a lot of young fans!

Sunday, 15 August 2010

Candle Man

Candle Man by Glenn Dakin (Hardie Grant Egmont)
PB RRP 16.95
ISBN 9781405246767
Reviewed by Anastasia Gonis

Theo has had contact with only twelve people in his entire life. His guardian, Dr Saint, the founder of the Society of Good Works, their butler, Mr Nicely, and the deaf housekeeper, Clarice, are the only people he sees. Empire Hall has been his home since he was discovered on the doorstep of one of the Society’s many orphanages, with a note pinned to him stating he was orphaned of both parents.

His entire life and learning are subject to the discretion of Theo’s complex and secretive guardian. He is subjected daily to radiation treatment in the Mercy Tube, ‘a transparent casing with a powerful ray emitter at the top’ for treatment of a rare illness. His diet is warm water, millet and greens. Outdoor excursions are at night to the cemetery near the mansion where Theo is told houses the only worthwhile people he needs to know about.

It is at the cemetery on a gravestone, that Theo finds the snow globe in a box with a miniature Big Ben and the Houses of Parliament trapped inside. But instead of white snow, black flakes stir and settle. With more time on his hands than he can utilise, the boy pieces together the shredded paper that cushions the globe. It requests that he go to the cemetery alone. When Theo sets out for the cemetery he is picked up by a shadowy feathered creature that drops him in a graveyard of the Society of Unrelenting Vigilance. Here he learns many things that have been kept from him for years and he resolves never to return to Empire Hall without learning all there is to know about the world outside his prison. This is the beginning of extraordinary happenings and disclosures that will reveal his real identity, the origin of his condition, and the reasons for his rare ability.

Meanwhile, panic sets in at the mansion. Dr Saint’s true colours are revealed, and Mr Nicely shows his darker side. Dr Saint releases a revolt of a ghoulish and sinister nature on Theo and his accomplices when he resurrects the supposedly extinct creatures that have been lying dormant for years in the underground sewers of London. War is declared between good and evil, and Theo is the one who can save or destroy what awaits him.

The ghouls and other-worldly creatures signify evil incarnate, as do the humans that command them to their will. Fighting against them are the believers of truth and freedom. This book is about the fight and the devious lengths each side will go to, to become the victors. Detailed, descriptive and imaginative, its unique characters draw the reader in further and further into the well-developed storyline. The book ends abruptly, indicating another book pending.

Saturday, 14 August 2010

A Great and Terrible Beauty

A Great and Terrible Beauty by Libba Bray (Simon and Schuster)
PB RRP $19.99
ISBN 978-073181454-1
Reviewed by Peta Biggin

It is 1895 and, after the death of her mother, 16-year-old Gemma Doyle is sent from her life in India to Spence – an English boarding school for young ladies. Lonely and guilt-ridden, she initially struggles to fit in with the privileged girls she is surrounded by. She and her new friends, with the help of an old diary, embark on an exciting and, ultimately, dangerous adventure. As they begin to understand the nature of Gemma’s prophetic visions they are introduced to the mysterious Order and discover a gateway into the spiritual world. And what about the enigmatic young Indian man that seems to be following Gemma? How does he fit into the picture and why is he trying to stop her from developing her powers?

Originally published in 2003, A Great and Terrible Beauty is the first instalment of the gothic Gemma Doyle Trilogy. With strong female characters throughout, and the male characters largely ineffectual or threatening, it is certainly a book that would suit teenage girls. Gemma Doyle is forthright and courageous, whilst still being prone to all the angst and insecurity that comes with being a teenage girl. Similarly, Gemma’s friends, whilst both loyal and fearless in their own right, are fighting their own demons and this does give them additional depth as characters.

Whilst the story is predominantly a supernatural thriller, it also touches on other elements such as social class, sexual awakening and the position of women in Victorian society. It could be read in isolation as it does finish with some measure of closure. It does not, however, have a purely happy ending: Gemma’s feelings for her mysterious stalker remain unrequited and the circle of friends is rocked by the death of one of their own. There is certainly enough left unresolved to warrant diving into the second book of the series.

Overall, I found A Great and Terrible Beauty a great book; easy to read with a good even pace throughout. With historical fiction, supernatural themes and a dash of romance, it is easy to see why this book became a New York Times bestseller.

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 and, according to her website, is related to Davey Crockett! A Great and Terrible Beauty was Libba’s first published novel and had been optioned by Icon to be turned into a movie. Unfortunately, negotiations fell through earlier this year and to date there are no further plans to put Gemma Doyle on the big screen.

Friday, 13 August 2010

Can I Cuddle The Moon?

Can I Cuddle The Moon? by Kerry Brown, illustrated by Lisa Stewart (Scholastic Australia)
HB RRP $24.99
ISBN 9781741695540
Reviewed by Dawn Meredith

I have to say straight up that the most striking thing about this book was the absolutely gorgeous little main character, a fluffy, blue-grey chick. With it’s puffed up, fluffed up baby feathers and pot belly, it really did suck me in from the first page.

The text is written in rhyme and I think suits the story well. The premise seems to be to explore various tactile sensations in the world, such as a fiery dragon, a fragile butterfly, bath bubbles, a crocodile, a wet puddle etc. I find this rather different from most picture books I have read. It’s inventive and slightly quirky.

My favourite illustrations would have to be the final two – where we discover the baby bird is actually an owl. In its search for something to cuddle, the baby finally finds the warmth under its mother’s wing to be the best of all. The unusual way Stewart has depicted the mother owl’s feathers, in autumnal colours and embedded with flowers, I find enchanting.

Dawn Meredith writes from the Blue Mountains. You can follow her exploits here: http://www.dawnmeredithauthor.blogspot.com/

Thursday, 12 August 2010

Goal! How football conquered the world

Goal! How football conquered the world by Catherine Chambers (black dog books)
PB RRP $14.99
ISBN 978-1-74203-157-6
Reviewed by Anke Seib

Catherine Chambers has a wonderful way of blending the history of football with world history, giving readers a fully rounded context in which to view the game of soccer. Did you know that many early matches were more like mob brawls and that some leaders tried to ban them? A vast variety of information and a lively layout means this book presents readers with a treasure trove of spice and fun, including all that lies behind the game, its history and its fans.

Part of bdb’s magnificent Drum Series, this work shows football’s evolution through a variety of ancient ball and field sports to final standardisation of rules, explaining how soccer separated from contact codes like league, union and Aussie Rules. Chronological history is interspersed with player profiles, quirky information panels, quotes from big names and odd historical facts (e.g. in the 1870s a US cigarette manufacturer printed player pictures on cigarette pack ‘stiffeners’, thus creating our first ‘footy cards’.)

While hard to prove exactly who invented soccer, Chambers uses historical facts, archaeological evidence and statistics to build a picture of what is likely to have lead to the game we now know. She also reveals what balls have been made of and called in the past, how many players exist in the world, how many teams form FIFA and the rise of women in the sport. Despite Oscar Wilde being quoted in the 1800s as saying football was fine for girls but hardly suitable for delicate boys, it was not until 1970 that the Deutscher Fussball-Bund allowed these frail creatures to play!

Whether a sports buff or not, there is much to grab a reader’s interest. Certainly this book should be in every library and would be useful for many areas of study. I recommend it for readers ten and over but certainly not just for children. Anyone who enjoys observing human behaviour, widening their knowledge of history, or exploring what brings nations together in peace rather than war, will enjoy the spirit of all that is celebrated in Goal!

Wednesday, 11 August 2010

Stanley and the Magic Lamp

Stanley and the Magic Lamp by Jeff Brown, illustrated by Scott Nash (Egmont)
PB RRP $9.95
ISBN 978-1-4052-0418-7
Reviewed by Anastasia Gonis

Mrs Lambchop is extremely particular about how her two boys Arthur and Stanley behave. They must speak correctly, mind their manners and be honest at all times. She is broad-minded and accepting, and keeps her family in order, including Mr Lambchop, with loving but firm guidance. Stanley, who was flat for some time after his bulletin board fell on him, has overcome his flatness and filled out nicely, much to the Lambchops’ delight.

Arthur resents Stanley’s ability to get attention especially the focus on him while being flat. The truth is that Stanley is quite smart and his view of the world is different to that of his brother, while Arthur appears insecure. But they love each other regardless of any and all things and get on well together.

Stanley found an old green teapot on the beach during summer and has kept it to give to his mother for her birthday. He starts to clean it and a genie appears through three puffs of smoke. It is the first time the genie, Prince Haraz, has been out in a thousand years. He was punished for misbehaving by the genie king and forced to stay inside the teapot for that length of time.

Stanley tells his parents about Haraz but initially they don’t take him seriously but they do invite the prince to share their family day with interesting outcomes. Stanley accidently wishes for an Askit Baskit and peculiar requests are granted.

When the Lambchops realise that Arthur’s genie is real and so are the wishes, Stanley’s mum wishes to be famous, Arthur wants to be the strongest man in the world and to be able to fly, and their life becomes unsettled and surreal.

The family, most of all the boys, learn that ‘there are unexpected consequences when wishes come true’ and that one should be careful of what one wishes for. This is a wonderful warm and entertaining series. The Lambchops are funny yet down-to-earth people who share the unusual aspects of their children’s lives and their adventures, while keeping them grounded and under their guidance.

All of the illustrations are black and white, many full-page, which support the text beautifully, allowing the reader to follow the happenings visually. This series of Stanley and the Lambchops are for the 6+ age group.

Conspiracy 365: May

Conspiracy 365: May by Gabrielle Lord (Scholastic Inc.)
PB RRP $14.99
ISBN 9781741690378
Reviewed by Dawn Meredith

Conspiracy 365: May takes us further on young Callum Ormond’s surreal adventures. Just how much weird and dangerous stuff can happen to a teenager? Well, it’s all down to how bad the bad guys are. Cal is up against a mobster, Sligo, and a tough talking lawyer, Oriana De La Force, also with powerful friends. Both want to get their hands on that precious, illusive Ormond prize.

In this instalment Cal finds himself locked up in a mental home, strapped in a strait jacket, his identity stripped from him. In some ways it’s a relief that no one knows he is the runaway murdering teenager whose face is splashed all over the news, but Cal knows also that as long as he is trapped here, as Ben Galloway, he can’t solve the Ormond Riddle that has plagued his family for generations. Meanwhile, his little sister Gabbi remains in a coma and his mother seems convinced, like everyone else, that Cal is responsible. It just doesn’t add up. Even Cal’s best friend Boges, who provides emotional support, a string of ‘clean’ mobile phones to stay in contact, food and clothing, can’t believe Cal’s family have been so easily manipulated.

Cal’s amazing ability to extricate himself from seemingly impossible situations comes to the fore once again and he manages to escape the asylum, with the help of Boges and Winter Frey, the girl he can’t help but trust. His aim is to find his Great Uncle Bartholomew, who is the only other living relative with information about the Ormond Singularity. Armed with the information he has so far, Cal makes his way north to his uncle.

Bartholomew turns about to be a wonderful ally and for a brief time Cal has a break from being a wanted criminal. He enjoys his uncle’s company and more importantly, finds out a little more information about his family curse and something called The Ormond Jewel. Ticking away in the back of Cal’s mind is the constant idea that the Singularity has something to do twins in his family. His eye falls on a newspaper clipping – “Twin Baby Abduction Nightmare.” His father was a twin, his uncle was a twin and perhaps, just perhaps, that boy Cal has seen occasionally who looks eerily similar to himself is his own twin. But what does it all mean? He now knows about the tenth Earl of Ormond, Black Tom Butler and that the riddle and the jewel must be put together to solve it. Before Cal can truly get to the bottom of things with Uncle Bartholomew, Oriana’s thugs arrive. How are they tracking him? To his horror he finds that a tracking device was embedded under his skin on his right shoulder. His uncle manages to dig it out, but it’s already too late. Whilst Cal is breaking in to the neighbour’s house to collect vital information being kept there about his family, Bartholomew’s home is set alight.

Upon returning, Cal finds his uncle dying and has to make the heart wrenching decision to flee before he is caught. Bartholomew insists Cal leave immediately and take his pride and joy, The Orca, a home made light plane. Distraught, Cal says goodbye to the only relative who seems to believe his story and escapes in the Orca.

Flying is one thing, landing safely is another. Cal runs out of fuel and has to crash land. Now his trouble really begins. Cal is trapped inside the cockpit and the smoke is choking his life out of him.

Dawn Meredith writes from the Blue Mountains. You can follow her exploits here: http://www.dawnmeredithauthor.blogspot.com/  

Tuesday, 10 August 2010

The Emerald Casket

The Emerald Casket by Richard Newsome (Text Publishing)
PB RRP $19.95
ISBN 978-1-921656-45-3
Reviewed by Vicki Stanton

Richard Newsome won the inaugural Text Publishing Prize with his first book in The Billionaire Trilogy, The Billionaire's Curse. The Emerald Casket is the follow-up and takes 13-year-old billionaire Gerald Wilkins and his friends to India in search of an emerald casket which is somehow linked to his mysterious family connections and history. It also brings him once again into the path of the villain of the piece, Sir Mason Green.

Kids will love how Newsome skilfully employs devices to manoeuvre the adults out of the way: work, greedy parents off gallivanting, the odd abduction or arrest. It is up to Gerald, Sam, Ruby and Alisha to find the casket and foil Green.

The job is not easy. The four are constantly confronted by obstructions but through a combination of ingenuity, courage and good luck they achieve their aim. Plot twists and characters popping in and out keep readers on their toes. Yet, the story is not all action. There is sibling rivalry and the slightest touch of teenage romance to contend with as well.

The Emerald Casket is a fun read with some great description thrown in as well. The New Delhi train station is described as ‘a bubbling curry’ and a sleeper carriage on an Indian train as ‘a compressed sausage of life stuffed into a twenty-metre-long metal tube and cooked at forty-three degrees Celsius’.

Upper primary and lower secondary readers will enjoy this ripping yarn and be on the look-out for the final instalment of The Billionaire Trilogy.

Richard Newsome is interviewed in the 15 August 2010 issue of Buzz Words.