Wednesday, 29 June 2011

Captain Congo and the Klondike Gold

Captain Congo and the Klondike Gold by Ruth Starke & Greg Holfeld (Working Title Press)
HB RRP $24.95
ISBN 978 1 92150427 3
Reviewed by Jenny Mounfield

Fans of the previous two Congo titles: Captain Congo and the Crocodile King (which made history as the first graphic novel to be shortlisted by the Children’s Book Council of Australia) and Captain Congo and the Maharaja’s Monkey will be more than happy with Congo and Pug’s latest baddie-busting adventure. This time the impeccably mannered Congo and his faithful penguin buddy Pug are off to the north-west Canadian wilds to investigate ghostly goings-on in a gold camp. Could the strange lights and monster sightings be otherworldly, or is there a more earthly explanation? Naturally our intrepid pair will get to the bottom of the mystery—that is if they survive the train ride and the pulverising rapids.

This book—indeed this series—is an interesting mix of Scooby-do meets James Bond, with a dash of Get Smart thrown in for added flavour. The humour is by far the stand out here and it translates perfectly through Holfeld’s illustrations. On which score I simply must mention the last page which contains a full-page illustration with a laugh out loud punch line that is sheer genius. (But don’t be tempted to skip ahead; the joke will mean nothing without having read the story.)

There is, however, one gripe I have concerning this, and the previous two titles and it’s a design issue: the italicised text. Italics are generally harder on the eye than other fonts, even without the poor vision I am afflicted with, and since these books are aimed at reluctant readers, I can’t help but feel a more eye-friendly font would have been preferable.

With a chuckle on every page, Congo and Pug’s latest mission will prove a hit with kids and adults alike. Old-fashioned skulduggery, adventure and wit—there really is nothing like it.

Ruth Starke has authored over 20 titles and has far too many accolades to name. With his roots in animation and cartooning, Grey Holfeld has illustrated a number of picture books. His first, The Perfect, Pet was nominated for a Crchton Award.

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 and also contributes to The Compulsive Reader:  

Tuesday, 28 June 2011

Pirate the Barking Kookaburra

Pirate the Barking Kookaburra by Adrian Plitzco (Bubenberg Audio)
RRP $24.95 (ebook version free)
ISBN 978-0-646-54287-4
Reviewed by Anastasia Gonis

Music and sound effects play a significant role in this artful audio book. It acts as background entertainment but it’s also what gives the story extra sparkle and visibility. The wonderful whistling sequences is anticipation of joy. The saxophone is the kookaburras’ laugh which encourages laughter. The tinkling of the piano keys and the marching drumbeats add rhythm and substance to the superbly narrated story.

Pirate is a baby kookaburra who doesn’t know what he is. Pirate by name, nature and appearance, he was born with a patch over one eye and a black line circling his head. He has a strong sense of adventure, daring and boasts a fun-seeking soul. Found barely alive by a group of animal friends during a thunderstorm, he is warmed and revived by Stelze the dog who becomes his adopted mother.  Buddha the cat claims a place of significance in Pirate’s life after sharing his food to nourish the bird. It is from the dogs that Pirate learns to make his first sounds and they are nothing like a bird’s call or a kookaburra’s laugh.

Buddha and Stelze belong to the farm. Ajax and Hoover are neighbouring dogs. Buddha is convinced all dogs are idiots with limited or no brains. But the animals share a wonderful camaraderie, accepting each others’ strengths and weaknesses. Pirate enters this friendly circle with one shortcoming. He can’t remember anything before the storm.

Their first mission is to try find Pirate’s memory, for to Ajax and Hoover it is a lost thing to be found. These two also have many far-fetched theories about Pirate’s roots. Their airy-fairy imaginings make them lovable and laughable characters.

The search for the lost memory takes the group on a journey. For Pirate, it is all a game. Everything is fun to be had, games to be played; until he meets Tiger, the snake.

But Tiger is not Pirate’s only problem. He is ridiculed and bullied by the kookaburras for his inability to laugh. Painful pictures of his past flash through his mind and interesting metaphors, fleeting but clear, are used to describe the obstruction of Pirate’s memory. His flashbacks reveal why he cannot laugh and the reason for his fears.

There is more to this audio book than a story about a kookaburra. It has themes of childhood trauma, disassociation, identity, bullying, and the value of true friendship.

Monday, 27 June 2011


Passion by Lauren Kate (Random House)
PB RRP $24.95
ISBN 978-0-3856-1808-3  
Reviewed by Oliver Phommavanh

Passion is the third book in the Fallen series for older readers. It works as a semi-prequel and intermission before the final showdown. But hey, it’s still essential reading for fans who want to find out why Daniel and Luce are destined for each other. Is it true love or a curse? Luce is determined to find out as she travels back in time to see her past lives. She wants Daniel to be free, hoping to find a way to break this spell between them.

When Daniel says that their love will never die, he means it. Passion takes you back to various moments in time. Luce will see herself in many other girls but essentially they share the same soul. Being immortal, Daniel’s more like role playing, trying to get close to her by pretending to be different people. Luce is aided by Bill, a gargoyle who lays down the facts for each scenario. It helps Luce and the reader prepare for when she confronts herself and old-school Daniel. Its part historic novel and mystery as Luce learns more about Daniel’s past. But will it also change her future? Daniel chases Luce through time, trying to save her. There’s also other forces at play, both good and evil, urging Luce to spark a war to end all wars.

Luce gets stronger with each book, unwilling to be passive and passionate with Daniel. She wants to know the significance of their love. She also falls back in love again. Kate has fun, mucking around with history and dreaming up different types of Daniel to woo the fans. It doesn’t really propel the main arc forward but still gains momentum. If anything, you’ll be gagging for the thrilling last novel, Rapture.  

Passion is a wonderful side-step for the series and it might just be the catalyst for new readers to discover the Fallen books. It’s not too late before ‘Rapture’ begins! Recommended for ages 14 and up.

Sunday, 26 June 2011

The Boy Without a Soul

The Book of Gabrielle- Part 2: The Boy Without a Soul by Michael Panckridge (black dog books)
PB RRP $16.99
ISBN 978-174203183-5
Reviewed by Anastasia Gonis

Gabrielle is the ‘chosen one’ the Voice in her head tells her; chosen to help others as long as she doesn’t delve too deeply into her past. She can see things others can’t, but she has no memory of anything before waking up in a hospital three months ago. But being fostered out into a loving family and starting at a new school is about to create new experiences in her current life.

Gabrielle meets brothers Michael and Jack. Michael the eldest is always competing with the quiet Jack. They exchange the usual bickering and attention seeking which disguises the real affection they have for one another. Gabrielle immediately notices something in Jack’s behaviour that appears abnormal. Her suspicions are confirmed by his lack of reaction when she confides in him that she can see dead people.

Ms Blackmore, their current school counsellor has inveigled her way into her position on the basis of an illustrious past in the Sciences, and has persuaded the principal to install surveillance cameras throughout their school as protection, but against what is not made clear to the headmaster. For there are sinister activities at hand and Blackmore’s past is not what people have been told. She has been secretly undertaking cloning experiments, and under her new guise of counsellor, has found an endless supply of victims to use in her dark practices.
The three children’s lives get woven together amidst tragic happenings and frightening revelations. But the feisty and persistent Gabrielle is not easily thwarted no matter what the odds. When Jack goes missing, Gabrielle and Michael turn Blackmore’s world back to front and upside down in their attempt to reveal the truth about what’s really going on in the school. Time is against the children and Blackmore is more powerful than two children trying to save a third.

This is a highly enjoyable series for early teenage readers with a fantastic protagonist in Gabrielle, full of fast-paced action, mystery, and twists and turns. The story is surpassed only by the incredibly unhinged imagination of the author who creates new jaw-dropping situations in every chapter for the children to work their way out of.

Saturday, 25 June 2011


Plague Plague by Michael Grant (hardie grant Egmont)
PB RRP $ 22.95
ISBN 9781405256575
Reviewed by Anastasia Gonis

Enter the fourth book of the exceptionally successful Gone series with the fifth, Fear, due in early 2012.

A breeze has begun to blow over Perdido Beach and the FAYZ. It is hair-raising for there hasn’t been a breath of air moving since the barrier came up when all the adults disappeared.  Petrol has almost run out and water is in minimal supply. Albert, a former underdog, has proven to be an astute business man. He has created a food distribution business which has lucrative rewards, but which also keeps all the people of Perdido Beach fed.

Things are extremely tense between Sam and Astrid as Astrid refuses on religious grounds, to consummate their relationship. Quinn, Sam’s best friend, is still head of the fishing crew and has shown that he can step up to the mark when he’s challenged by something that interests him.

But Caine, Sam’s wicked twin brother, and Diana his girlfriend, have been living away from the town in a movie star’s house where luxury, food, videos and fine clothes were there for the taking. It is here that Diana makes the decision to give in to Caine’s coercion, believing that he has changed from the callous murderer to a more compassionate being.

Drake and Brittney now share a body due to the power of the Darkness. Like a split personality, one person merges when the other submerges and this entity is invincible. Drake finally escapes from his basement dungeon, more vengeful and inhuman than ever.

But there is more to fear than Drake now. The Darkness has set its sights on Little Pete, Astrid’s autistic brother. There is something connected to the child’s powers that the gaiaphage desperately wants. When Drake becomes his worshipper, the Darkness sends him on a mission with results more horrifying than before. Parallel to that horror, is the sickness that is claiming children’s lives which began after the breeze started blowing.

But the horror doesn’t end there.  Sam is sent to find water at a new location. He encounters the leader of the Wolf Pack who has something growing out of its body- something grotesque that is extremely contagious. This is followed by monsters hatching out of human bodies at a startling rate. Their size, power and indestructibility appears to herald the beginning of the end for all the inhabitants of Perdido Beach.

Plague is riveting reading but cruel, horrible and violent in places. It comes recommended for mature young adult reading.

Friday, 24 June 2011

Secrets of Carrick: Tantony

Secrets of Carrick: Tantony by Ananda Braxton-Smith (black dog books)
PB RRP $18.99
ISBN 978-174203166-8
Reviewed by Anastasia Gonis

In the note from the author, it states, ‘some of the words in this book are Manx, the talk of the people of the Isle of Man in the Irish Sea. …There are still only one hundred speakers of it in the world’. It is the language that makes this book stylistically unique. The poetic prose is mesmerising and brings into focus significant and relevant themes of identity, loss and grief, making your way in life regardless of what or how others see you as, and finding your way back from dark places.

Boson and Fermion are twins. Nothing and no one could save Boson from the choices he made which brought about his slow death. He could see dead spirits and sought answers which he found by fasting, and communing with nature, mainly with birds in the skybog, for he believed he was one of them. In the community of medieval island of Carrick, there is no tolerance for anyone different, not even their own children. Those unfortunate enough to be born with a physical disability are seen as monsters, ostracized to the opposite island to fend for themselves. They are known as the lost things.

Boson’s death breaks his family. Fermion is left to prepare his burial, attend to the chores and the care of her baby brother. Her comatose mother with her father cradling his jug, have no life left in them. Fermion cannot cope and decides to set out with her dog for the opposite island in search of the lost things. There she believes she will be given answers to why her brother was the way he was. She is frightened and inexperienced, but the voice in her head keeps her going despite her fears.

The difficult and dangerous journey shows her how strong she really is. Her experiences with the lost things on the island change her completely for there are lessons to be learned and a great deal of moving away from the dark places of grief and loss. She discovers more than she bargained for on that far away island, and returns to her parents filled with a wonder and thirst for life that she never dared hope to find again.

The story is full of magical realism, myth and folklore. Having not read  Merrow, the author’s first book, and a CBCA Notable award-winner, I was not prepared for the beauty and scope of this mystical novel.  There is a glossary of Manx words used, and a clarifying Note on Tantony for the reader’s benefit. Prepare to be impressed! This book is suitable for  the 12+ age group. 

Thursday, 23 June 2011

My Life and Other Stuff I Made Up

My Life and Other Stuff I Made Up by Tristan Bancks and illustrated by Gus Gordon (Random House)
PB RRP $15.95
ISBN 978-1-8647-1817-1  
Reviewed by Oliver Phommavanh

My Life and Other Stuff I Made Up is a collection of short stories for younger readers. These bite-sized bursts of fun are inspired by Paul Jennings, Andrew Daddo and Andy Griffiths, the sort of stories that will keep kids enthralled and wondering if it really happened or not.

Tom Weekly is just your normal kid with a wacky life. This collection kicks off with his pet dog that is constantly getting kissed by a weird dog lover. Bancks just keeps upping the zaniness and laughs from there. Tom takes part in a hot dog competition, dared to eat vegemite off his sister’s toe and gets attacked by magpies. Kids will be able to relate to that for sure! In fact, kids will find a part of themselves in Tom, who always finds himself in all sort of weird situations. My personal favourite is to see who has the toughest nan. When his nan and his mate’s nan battle, it reads like a wrestling match.   

Bancks is joined by Gus Gordon, who provides some illustrations to flesh out Bancks’ out-there descriptions. They’re a reliable combination to deliver laughs on each page. The notebook layout will inspire kids to write out their own fantastic tales.

My Life and Other Stuff I Made Up has been tried and tested by Bancks. There are some amusing lists and answers from kids on his school visits. He has tapped into a kid’s curiosity and runaway imagination with these short stories. They’re easy to devour and perfect for reading out loud.      

My Life and Other Stuff I Made Up is highly recommended for ages 9 and up. 

Wednesday, 22 June 2011

Trailblazers: Caroline Chisholm to Quentin Bryce

Trailblazers: Caroline Chisholm to Quentin Bryce by Susanna de Vries (Pirgos Press)
PB RRP $39.95
ISBN 9780980621617
Reviewed by Hazel Edwards

 At a time when gossip-manufactured ‘celebs’ are featured merely for being thin, it’s a relief to read about ‘real’, historic females. ‘Trailblazers’ includes fifteen women from Australia’s past, and a few contemporaries  who achieved significant goals, solved problems for others or tackled challenges as the ‘first’ in their field.

‘Trailblazers’ anthology of chapter biographies includes reasonably well known women such as migration activist Caroline Chisholm, (on the bank note, despite her straitened circumstances late in life) as well as lesser known names. Chisholm’s chapter provided a rounded  insight into her motivations and the financial challenges of balancing family, travel and public life. Politician-parent Dame Enid Lyons also comes across as well organised and compassionate.
However, nursing sister Anne Donnell, pioneer-mother Eliza Hawkins and expeditioner-travel writer  Mary Gaunt were new for me. A resurgence of interest in the unusual oil painting style of Hilda Rix Nicholas  makes her chapter timely.This portrayal  had depth of passion about the challenges Hilda faced in acquiring her skills and an insight into the financial and emotional support of her mother and sister.

Money or lack of it, and husbandly support or lack were significant variables in whether these women could act unconventionally in a society which had strong expectations of female roles. A marketable skill, or at least the charm to convince others to support the project, plus hard work seem to be the common traits.

Filmic interest in translator Madame (Nell) Kerensky has been mentioned, and certainly action-woman (Nell Tritton) was a fast-driver, which was an asset for her Russian ex- Prime Minister husband being sought by assassins . They left the scene fast. But her choice in husbands, especially the non-opera singing , free-loading charmer Husband No. 1 did not indicate shrewd judgement. Her ambition appears to have been to marry a famous man. She married a notorious womaniser, twice.

Several of these women appeared to be in circumstances where interesting things happened, or they travelled because their families paid the bills. The philosophical  dilemma is:  Adventurous risk-taking, ego  or stupidity? This could have been discussed further.

War correspondent Louise Mack worried me.  But maybe that is my bias of wanting admirable traits in historic females. Not just ambitions related to personal fame. Re-entering Antwerp just prior to the German invasion, put others at risk for the sake of Louise Mack filing a story. Is this courage, stupidity or ego?  De Vries extract use of Mack’s diaries was a clever insight into the personality.  De Vries is an experienced historian and especially good at placing her characters in context. The endnotes are well documented and the index works, so this has been a thoughtful study. Interesting photos add to the portrayal of the women’s lives.

I have to admit another bias.  de Vries’ ‘Blue Ribbons and Bitter Bread’ is an earlier  biography about  refugee worker Joice Nankivell Loch which  I’ve recommended a lot. I’m a keen reader of history about significant females motivations and we all need heros.

In ‘Trailblazers’ there are nine chapters, each devoted to a specific woman,  except Chapter 8 tends to bundle all the ‘politicals’ together, but this is also the dilemma of including living and recent  role-changing females. Having the Governor General on the front cover is a statement, especially as she’s called Governor of Queensland in her chapter and the reader gets the impression the latter chapters on Prime Minister Julia Gillard and Quentin Bryce tend to include recent ‘news’ rather than a broader, historical evaluation of their roles. A work in progress is hard to evaluate historically.

I’d recommend  ‘Trailblazers’ but more discussion of the rationale for inclusion would be a bonus. And whether there are any common characteristics?  Or is the subjective elements of what attracted the compiler, a valid  rationale? Was the choice from each major field or from the material available? The section on Quentin Bryce is very personal-author related.  

‘Trailblazers’ is a good resource for those wanting accessible history to inspire younger women ( and men). How about a docu-drama based on ‘Trailblazers’? Maybe there are more ‘anonymous’ females in our history who didn’t have wealthy families nor the time to write diaries of their lives. Heroines without headlines?  But ‘Trailblazers’ is a good start.

Hazel Edwards ( is an Ambassador for the 2012 National Year of Reading and the Victorian Premiers’ Reading Challenge. Author of ‘Writing a Non Boring Family History’ she has also contributed to the Aussie Heroes series with ‘Sir Edward ‘Weary Dunlop’ and ‘Dr Fred Hollows’.

Tuesday, 21 June 2011

The Chosen One

The Chosen One by Carol Lynch Williams (Simon and Schuster)

PB RRP $16.99
ISBN 978-184738938-1
Reviewed by Peta Biggin

Thirteen-year-old Kyra has grown up in an isolated community without ever questioning the fact that her father has three wives and she has twenty brothers and sisters and without ever questioning the strict rules imposed by ‘the Prophet’ who leads them.  But now, Kyra has started keeping secrets: she reads books that are forbidden and sneaks away to meet Joshua.  Kyra cannot accept the Prophet’s decree that she is to become the seventh wife of her sixty-year-old uncle.  She decides that she cannot stay, she must escape.  But saving herself means endangering everyone she has ever cared for.

The Chosen One follows Kyra and her life in the lead up to her escape from a polygamist cult. 

It is a community that is strict and controlling.  They are forbidden to read anything other than the bible; all, but those in power, live in trailers with no luxuries; the Prophet chooses who will be married to whom.  At first only restless at the restrictions imposed upon her, Kyra is heartbroken when she is told she is to marry her uncle. 

Soon she is confronted with the brutality that the Prophet will resort to in order to maintain control.  When Joshua requests that Kyra be allowed to marry him rather than her uncle, they are both beaten and he is evicted from the Compound.  Unable to face her future, Kyra is presented with an agonising decision – she can be married to her overbearing and cruel uncle or she can escape and leave her family forever. 

It is easy to get caught up in the agony of Kyra’s decision.  Her freedom is going to come at a high price – and not just for herself.  She knows that her family will be made to suffer for her betrayal of the Prophet and his teachings.

Kyra’s escape from the compound is difficult, bloody and harrowing.  Ultimately, she gains her freedom and a start at a new life.  The story, however, does not end neatly: we are never told if she sees her family again or what becomes of them; or if Kyra and Joshua find each other in the outside world.  It does end hopefully, though.  Kyra is reassured by the sight of a Russian Olive tree outside the window of the half-way house.  It is the same type of tree she used to retreat to at the Compound.  It reminds her of what she has fought for and what she won, her freedom.

The Chosen One not only provides an insight into cult life and the impact felt by those that leave.  It is a novel that touches on many points: love, friendship, the concept of family, embracing individuality and courage. 

The book was quite confronting in some sections.  Kyra is threatened, emotionally blackmailed, beaten and witnesses a murder.  That, to me, increased the story’s appeal – there is no sugar-coating of the details or false promises of a happily-ever-after.  I thoroughly enjoyed The Chosen One and would happily recommend it. 

Carol Lynch Williams is the author of several books including: Carolina Autumn, My Angelica and Pretty Like Us.  She has a Master of Fine Arts in Writing for Children and Young Adults and helped develop the conference on Writing and Illustrating for young Readers at Brigham Young University.  She lives in Utah with her husband and seven children.

Sunday, 19 June 2011


Silvermay by James Moloney (HarperCollins)

PB RRP $24.99
ISBN 9780732292034
Reviewed by Vicki Stanton

Silvermay is the first in a new trilogy from best-selling and award-winning author James Moloney. Told primarily through the eyes of sixteen-year-old Silvermay Hawker, the tone and feel of the book is lyrical and engaging. I was enthralled from the very first words when Silvermay says, 'Should I tell you of the first time I saw him, when he was still just a figure on the road like so many others ...' 

Silvermay is talking of Tamlyn who enters her village with a woman Nerigold and her baby boy Lucien. Just as Silvermay falls for him, so did I. Tamlyn is, however, wrestling with his very nature.  

Themes of love, trust, betrayal and destiny are all explored in this story. Silvermay's world of Athlane has a familiar feel of historic Europe: villages, healers, kings and lords, horses, hunters. It is inhabited by commonfolk and the Wyrdborn, a handsome magical race who cannot feel empathy, generosity or love. They are selfish and desire power and wealth, believing in a philosophy of each for his own for they cannot share even with their own kind. The Wyrdborn provides a fantastical element which adds to the intricacy and the depth of the story. 

Powerful forces hunt the three travellers and Silvermay becomes caught up in their journey. She joins them as helper and carer for the weakening Nerigold. The most dangerous threat comes from Coyle Strongbow. Lucien is his son but his reasons for the chase reveal even more of Wyrdborn nature.

I thoroughly recommend Silvermay and defy anyone to put it down once they have started reading. I will be lining up for the release of the second book in the series Tamlyn.

Friday, 17 June 2011

Adventures with Ollie the Orangutan

Adventures with Ollie the Orangutan by Jan Latta (True To Life Books)
PB RRP $12.95
ISBN 978-0-9808727-0-5
Reviewed by Anastasia Gonis
There is something extremely exciting about discovering things that are real and interesting. Jan Latta is author, photographer and publisher in this incredible true-to-life series of twelve books which has been created to ‘educate children about endangered species’. She went into the Borneo rainforest to photograph and document the lives of the orang-utans in the wild for this publication.

Ollie the orang-utan is the narrator. He is depicted in his natural habitat and through the amazing photography that shares the page with the text we are invited into his family life. He informs us about his heritage, where he lives, what his name means in the Malay language, and why they are frequently known as the ‘red ape’. He is pictured still and in motion; with his mother as she teaches him to climb and where to find food, and in tender and moving poses that show how similar the apes are to humans. The text is light and entertaining with significant words highlighted in various colours.

Ollie tells us about the orang-utan’s eating habits, height and weight of the male and female, the special names for various parts of their body, how they swing from tree to tree, and where and how they sleep.

The book ends with a double page listing of Orang-utan Facts which include lifespan, numbers remaining, diet, and a list of incredible Did You Know? statistics. Interesting websites are listed along with recommended reading and information on organizations that help the orang-utans. Well priced, these 24 page books are easily accessed and worthwhile. The series is suitable for ages 5+ in the company of an adult to answer questions, for older children as research projects, or simply for pleasure and awareness.

Wednesday, 15 June 2011

Star League: Lights, Camera, Action Hero

Star League: Lights, Camera, Action Hero by H.J Harper and illustrated by Nahum Ziersch (Random House)
PB RRP $8.95
ISBN 978-1-8647-1866-9  
Reviewed by Oliver Phommavanh

Star League is a new series for younger readers. It’s fresh, engaging and filled with little comic illustrations. Lights, Camera, Action Hero focuses on the leader, Jay Casey. He’s a child version of Arnold Schwarzenegger, doing action films since he was in nappies. His only family is his uncle who also doubles up as his agent. But it’s a lonely life for Jay away from the cameras. He doesn’t have any friends, let alone kids to hang out with.

That all changes when he gets to audition for what he thinks is an action movie. It turns out that he’s been invited to lead an awesome superhero group. He’s joined by Connor the werewolf, Asuka the ninja, Roger the zombie, S.A.M the robot and Leigh, someone who can control animals. Why would he be chosen to lead this bunch of freaks? Unfortunately he doesn’t have much time to wonder because the Star League is thrown into its first mission. They have to save Jay’s uncle from the clutches of Professor Pestilence.

The book’s a comic in words with loads of action. The slick illustrations are manga-fused and help propel the story along. Jay’s a natural born leader but he’s also got doubts. Readers will be beside him in every scene. The story is easily accessible for younger kids and will especially appeal to boys looking for something original that is not based on a TV show, not yet anyway! 

The other members of the Star League each get their own book in the series, though this one is a great place to start. Once kids finish this book, they’ll be hungry for more. Star League is recommended for ages 8 and up.      

Monday, 13 June 2011


Votive by Karen Brooks (Random House)
PB RRP $27.95
ISBN 978-1-8647-1943-7  
Reviewed by Oliver Phommavanh

There are 624 pages in this book for older readers. Each and every page matters in this sequel to Tallow, second in the Curse of the Bond Riders series.

Tallow started out as a simple candle maker in the first book. She’s an Estrattore, someone who can extract feelings from people. She can also capture these feelings and insert them into things. Tallow’s distilled candles put her family’s candle shop on the map and that’s where the trouble starts. There are many enemies who will stop at nothing to use her for their selfish gains.

Tallow’s been hidden again, but this time she’s not going to be an ordinary candle maker. With the help of the Maleovellis family, she’s going to be Tarlo, a courtesan. She’s trained to seduce men of power and resurrect the fortunes of the Maleovellis with her candles and stunning beauty. Tarlo’s caught between blackmail and survival here, willing to help the Maleovellis gain ultimate power in La Serenissima. But she struggles with her own feelings of the past and lost love Dante. It’s not long before everybody feels Tarlo’s wrath-but will it come at a cost?

It’s almost essential to read Tallow before diving into this adventure, if anything you’ll further enjoy the story if you do. Brooks’ interchanges between third person and Tarlo’s first person narratives with expertise. You’ll never get too bogged down because Brooks has created some fascinating characters with their own motives for using Tallow. A part of the story takes you further into the Bond Riders, who are act as halfway agents between humans and the afterlife. Tallow’s meant to be part of a prophecy and her Bond Rider friend Katrina is determined to see that through. Sure, it’s simply building things up for the next book, but readers won’t mind at all.

Brooks shines with her descriptions of La Serenissima, especially with the glitz and glamour of high-class society. It’s a world stemmed from 19th century Europe. I love the language of this book, Brooks explains it as a mix between Italian, Venetian and fantasy variations of the two in the glossary. It’s just one aspect that helps you delve deeper into this rich and spectacular world.

Votive manages to triumph over Tallow and that’s saying something. Tallow fans are in for a treat. Bring on the next book! Highly recommended for ages 13 and up.  

Saturday, 11 June 2011

My Country

My Country by Ezekiel Kwaymullina, illustrated by Sally Morgan (Fremantle Press)
HB RRP $24.95
ISBN 9781921696916
Reviewed by Neridah McMullin

This book was inspired by my Nana and Gran, who passed on their love of country to me. When I wrote the book I imagined what it would have been like for them as little girls, playing in their country without a care in the world. At the same time, I wanted to encourage self-esteem in Indigenous youth as I feel Australia is in need of more Indigenous heroes. Because all heroes begin as children with a dream, hopefully books like this one bring them closer to that dream” – Ezekiel Kwaymullina

‘My Country’ is an Australian Aboriginal picture book to be enjoyed and celebrated.
It is a book to be poured over and shared between a parent and a child. Whilst the prose is simple and lyrical, it is perfectly matched with the acclaimed Sally Morgan’s illustrations, which are gorgeous and bright, and vivid and intricate. There are double spread pages full of wonder including a smiling sun, happy lightning clouds and friendly animals. There is such a strong feeling of being connected to the earth and the moon and the stars, it’s truly heartfelt and beautiful.

The little girl is on a journey of discovery and the reader is swept along with her. She feels completely safe with her country and is as ‘one’ with her environment. This is definitely something we should all aspire to and encourage our children to explore.

This is a delightful book for a very young audience, aged 3 – 5 years, and is a wonderful book to encourage the imagination and play discovery finding games, and games such as ‘peekaboo’.  For older readers, it’s the perfect book for ‘outdoor’ reading along with paper and pencils to let the imagination flow.

Sally Morgan is a best selling author and internationally renowned painter. She is the author of ‘My Place’, which has now sold over 600,000 copies nationally. This is her first book in over a decade.

Ezekiel Kwaymullina is from the Palyku people from the Pilbara region of Western Australia and this is Ezekiel’s third children’s picture book.

Neridah McMullin is the author of two books for children. Her next book is an Indigenous folklore story called 'Kick it to me!'. It’s an ‘aussie rules’ story that’s being endorsed by the Australian Football League. Neridah loves family, footy, and doing yoga with her cat Carlos (who also loves footy).

Thursday, 9 June 2011


Coolmind by David Keefe (Exisle Publishing)
PB RRP $12.99
ISBN 9781921497933
Reviewed by Vicki Stanton

This pocket-sized book is perfectly suited to teenagers and addresses issues often experienced by young Australians. It begins with citing examples of situations which would commonly cause stress in a modern teenager's life: exams, competitions, parties, dating.

In easy to understand language and without sounding like he is lecturing, Keefe discusses why everyone needs a cool mind. His strategy to dealing with these everyday stresses is to calm the mind and he provides ten different meditation techniques for the reader. Each has particular focus and Keefe suggests initially trying the practices in order and then choosing the one that suits best. He combats the most common excuses for not giving meditation a go and shows that you only need a minimum of three minutes a day.

In our world of increasing pace and pressures this book is perfect for not only teenagers but all of us.

Tuesday, 7 June 2011

Adventures with Mia the Meerkat

Adventures with Mia the Meerkat by Jan Latta (True To Life Books)
PB RRP $12.95
ISBN 978-0-9756770-7-0
Reviewed by Anastasia Gonis

Jan Latta went to Namibia in 2009 to photograph meerkats in the wild. Unfortunately time was against her and she was forced to produce this book through visits to the Mogo and Taronga zoos. It is the ONLY book in the series which was created from a zoo environment.

Mia the meerkat is the narrator. She introduces us to her family group which is called a gang, and guides us through their daily life and habits. She shows and tells us how and where they live and forage for food, and how and what they eat. (Mia’s favourite food is scorpion, with sting removed of course!)

We learn about their homes; tunnels called burrows that they dig with their front curved claws, and why there are 70 entrances. Then there are the personal details of their grooming habits, the twenty sounds used to communicate with family, and the benefits of their extremely acute senses.

This is an amazing fact book which incorporates a great deal of information. A list of Meerkat Facts at the end includes their scientific names, habitat details, body length, height and weight, birthing, diet and lifestyle, with interesting websites for additional research.

The pages are set out with wonderful life-like photos, lovingly taken, that bring to life the accompanying text. These are a terrific series to teach children 

Sunday, 5 June 2011

Bobo My Superdog

Bobo My Superdog by Michael Salmon (Ford St Publishing)
HB RRP $19.95
ISBN 978-1-921665-40-0
Reviewed by Jenny Mounfield

As its title suggests, this is the story of one extraordinary pooch. Or is it? Although a tad spoilt, Bobo does all the usual doggy things: buries bones (and neighbours’ cats), barks at possums and plays in mucky drains. But as only his child owner knows, Bobo has super powers. Donning mask and beach towel cape, Bobo does everything from fighting dragons to saving the galaxy. And boy, is he pooped! Thankfully Bobo’s efforts won’t go unrewarded.

Bobo’s adventures will prove popular with every child who has ever seen a puppy in a pet store window and wanted to take him home. And what child hasn’t? Bobo My Superdog taps into the essence of childhood: imagination in its purest form. Through dozens of beautifully detailed illustrations, Salmon draws the reader into that limitless place where all things are possible.

Having written and illustrated 162 books and created Alexander Bunyip (ABC TV 1978-88) Salmon is no stranger to imagination. Other strings in his bow include: theatre set and costume design, puppetry and graphics. He has been awarded a YABBA Picture Storybook of the Year award for, The Monster Who Ate Australia and received several short-listings for the Koala Awards. Further information on Salmon’s long list of accomplishments, school visits etc can be found at his interactive website:

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 and also contributes to The Compulsive Reader:

Friday, 3 June 2011

Stunt Bunny: Tour Troubles

Stunt Bunny: Tour Troubles by Tamsyn Murray, illustrated by Lee Wildish (Simon and Schuster)
PB RRP $12.99
ISBN 978-184738728-8
Reviewed by Peta Biggin

Harriet Houdini: Stunt Bunny loves being the star of the “Superpets” TV show.  When she is invited to go on tour with her owner Susie, she can hardly wait.  Staying in posh hotels, meeting adoring fans and performing her famous bunny-backflips in front of live audiences is what Harriet was born to do.  But evil Miranda wants her opera-singing poodle, Doodle, to be the star of the show – whatever it takes.  She will even go so far as to hire The Great Muldini to try and kidnap Harriet for his magic act.  Harriet is going to need all her Stunt Bunny ticks to make sure she remains in the spotlight.

Stunt Bunny: Tour Trouble is the second book featuring Harriet Houdini, the Stunt Bunny.  The story carries on immediately from the first book, Stunt Bunny: Showbiz Sensation, however it can be read in isolation as well.  

This is a fast-paced and funny book told from the perspective of Harriet the bunny with her sometimes slanted view of the world.   She is a lovely character: feisty, fun and constantly thwarting the fumbling, ill-natured adults around her.

With large font and wonderful black and white illustrations by Lee Wildish throughout, the book would be suitable for younger readers aged approximately 6 – 8 years.

Overall, I found Stunt Bunny: Tour Trouble a really enjoyable book and I’m sure it will satisfy any Harriet Houdini fans.

Tamsyn Murray lives in London with her husband, daughter and several pets.   When she isn’t at work or writing, Tamsyn enjoys messing about on stage.  Shows she has starred in include Hello Dolly!, Kiss Me Kate and Anything Goes.  She has also written the teen novels My So Called Afterlife and My So Called Haunting.

Wednesday, 1 June 2011

Pig Boy

Pig Boy by J.C Burke (Random House)
PB RRP $18.95
ISBN 978-1-7416-6312-9  
Reviewed by Oliver Phommavanh

J.C Burke’s impressive track record continues with her new book. It may attract some controversy but it also raises awareness of the issues of bullying and boys.

Pig Boy is the name given to Damon, or better known in his small town as Damoink. He’s a boy on the fringe of society, an outcast at school who prefers to stay cooped up at home and play violent computer games. It’s easy to place Damon into a profile of a psycho maniac who might shoot up the school one day. It’s a rumour that grows stronger when Damon is expelled from school, weeks before his final exams.

Angry, hurt and lonely, Damon conspires to get rid of his enemies. He puts strain on his relationship with Mum, which is already at breaking point. He gets a job with another social outcast, the mysterious Pigman. But it’s not long before the town’s gossip catches up to him and he’s forced to lay everything bare.

Burke doesn’t hold back with Damon’s narrative. It’s hard-hitting, shocking and brutally honest. It’s not the swear words that make the most impact, it’s the descriptions of Damon’s emotions as he struggles to overcome his fears of being bullied. Burke captures the emotions of a victim being pushed to the edge and lets the readers make up their own mind about him. You won’t be forgetting Damon in a while.
Pigman almost steals the book with his gentle humour and gritty revelations about his past. Their relationship is strong male bonding without the clich├ęs, just two confused people itching to spill their secrets but afraid of what will happen if they do. The story pushes towards one conclusion but hangs a hard-right into a twist of its own.

Pig Boy is an intelligent novel that pushes you out of your comfort zone. A riveting book that’s hard to put down. Highly recommended for ages 15 and up.