Monday, 30 June 2014

West of the Moon

West of the Moon by Margi Preus (Thames and Hudson)
HC RRP $19.95
ISBN 9781419708961
Reviewed by Anastasia Gonis

Thirteen year old Astri and her little sister Greta are left with their aunt when father goes to America from Norway to establish a new life. But the unwanted Astri is sold to a goatman who takes her away to his hovel. This serves the aunt’s purpose well. But how well is not revealed until much later.

Astri’s one consuming thought is to escape, get Greta, and set out for America to be reunited their father. This one thought motivates her life; the thing that powers her every thought and breath every moment of every day.

She discovers a mute girl that spins wool while locked away in the goatman’s storage shed. Who is this girl? How did she come to be there and what is her story?

Astri’s power of storytelling fuels her belief that all will be well. It is these stories that nurture hers and Greta’s, and the spinning girl’s strength, courage and determination.

Her adventure morphs into a journey of discovery. Secrets that would otherwise have never been uncovered but for the journey she embarked on, are revealed and truth brings reality to her stories and restores her faith in life once more. She proves to be a heroine of great proportions.

This enchanted story is inspired by ‘a passage from the diary’ that the author’s ‘great-great-grandmother kept when she migrated from Norway to America in the nineteenth century.’ It is a magical tale drawing on Norwegian folklore, beautifully told in an amazing prose structure and a delicate, yet powerful narrative voice.


Sunday, 29 June 2014

Bring on the Birds

Bring on the Birds written and illustrated by Susan Stockdale (Working Title Press)
HB RRP $24.99
ISBN 9781921504594
Reviewed by Vicki Thornton

Swooping birds,
whooping birds,
birds with puffy chests.
Dancing birds,
diving birds,
birds with fluffy crests.
  
Author and illustrator of Fabulous Fishes, Susan Stockdale delivers another colourful and fun book, this time focusing on our feathered friends.

This is a good introduction for young children into the world of birds, showcasing their different sizes and shapes, different colours and habits. Written in simply rhyming text the book is a joy to read out loud.  But what makes it more exciting is the bright visuals. Created with acrylic paint, the illustrations are crisp and clean, very simple and relatable for small children.

The majority of birds will be new to Australian children (such as the woodpecker and roadrunner), but there will be some that they can readily identify. In fact my own grand daughter loved the double page spread of the peacock.

The back pages also contain snippets of information on the birds in the book. Making it a jumping off point if children want to learn more about a particular bird.


Ideal for preschool and younger readers. 

Saturday, 28 June 2014

Violet Mackerel’s Helpful Suggestion

Violet Mackerel’s Helpful Suggestion by Anna Branford, illustrated by Sarah Davis (Walker Books)
HC RRP $ 19.95
ISBN 9781922244369
Reviewed by Anastasia Gonis

I’m always thrilled at the appearance of another Violet Mackerel book. She’s one of my favourite characters and I love the warm narrative voice that carries the story.

Rose has news. Her dad is going to Japan on a business trip and is taking the family with him. She has made a series of flash cards to help her learn Japanese words that will come in handy. For Violet, this means no more notes through the secret hole in the fence, and lonely days without her best friend.

Vincent has news too. He’s finally found a job - selling nuts and beans. It’s very hard trying to learn all the names and prices before his try-out period begins. As usual, Violet comes up with a wonderful and helpful suggestion that calms her mind about Rose’s pending absence, and helps Vincent with his dilemma.


The gorgeous black and white illustrations by Sarah Davis make everything so real. The reader is made to feel that they are an extension of Violet’s family. It is a warm, loving circle; a bit different at times, but always ready to adapt to their changing circumstances.  Violet’s optimism is infectious, and her problem-solving skills say to children, never let things get you down, as there is always a solution to every problem.

Friday, 27 June 2014

Boy vs Beast #11: Storm Mutant

Boy vs Beast #11: Storm Mutant by Mac Park (Scholastic Australia)
PB RRP $7.99
ISBN 978-1-92193-170-3
Reviewed by Jenny Heslop

It is a Sunday and Border Guard Kai Masters is hanging out in his games room, (a skate park at the moment), practising moves which may be useful when he uses hover board transportation. His orbix beeps alerting him to a dust storm in wind land. Fearing it will be another mutant beast and an epic battle, Kai wastes no time, taking the slide to the battle room, collecting BC, his bionic dog, on the way.
After choosing his battle gear and mashing up the features he thinks he may need to defeat this new beast, he and BC go to the transport room. Here Kai makes a few changes to the SC2-bot, adding wind battling gear to it and they are off to the take-off pad on the top of the lighthouse.
Once in wind land, Kai and BC must overcome a massive red dust storm, pests in the form of rock birds hurling fiery weapons and the baby Beast Stormasurix before finally facing the fully grown version of the mutant beast - a mix of rock and wind beasts with three horrible heads and toxic breath.
As is the custom in the Boy vs Beast stories, the final battle is in comic form, giving a visual perspective of the battle instead of just text. This, along with the fun gadgets, fantastical lighthouse home base, futuristic transportation and ever changing beasts to battle, make this series popular with young boys. Action packed, but short and simple with a computer game structure it is the sort of book which will entice boys who may not be eager to practise their reading skills.
Storm Mutant is the eleventh in a series which has already reached 30 titles so there are plenty for eager young fans to read.


Thursday, 26 June 2014

Aristotle

Aristotle by Dick King-Smith, illustrated by Bob Graham (Walker Books)
PB RRP $11.95
ISBN 9781406354362
Reviewed by Anastasia Gonis

Aristotle is a witch’s cat, born with nine lives that slowly decrease because of his mischievous nature and inability to follow advice; a natural thing for the young. It is when he has been through a few near misses that he comes to understand danger.

Aristotle symbolises the very young and their thirst to discover the world. Curious and questioning, fearless and adventurous, they set out to explore the world beyond their safe patch, unable to understand the concept of danger.

This is a wonderful chapter book for junior readers that can be used as a point of discussion between teacher and student, parent and child. There is so much in this little book to talk about.


The priceless illustrations in black and white by Bob Graham, add to the strong sense of innocence and reality that the story portrays.

Wednesday, 25 June 2014

Boy vs Beast #10: Air Mutant

Boy vs Beast #10: Air Mutant by Mac Park (Scholastic Australia)
PB RRP $7.99
ISBN 978-1-92193-169-7
Reviewed by Jenny Heslop

Kai Masters is in his test room developing a new battle weapon which fires balls of ice as well as wind when a new alert warns him of trouble in wind land. With his dogbot BC, he takes the bullet train back to base to prepare for battle with another mutant beast. This battle may be harder than the last one.
Boy vs Beast is popular among young boys. With all the gadgets and futuristic transportation, pictures to illustrate the choices Kai makes when choosing battle gear and the entertaining pests (like the flying jellyfish which hurl toxic balls), it's no wonder young boys love this series. It feels Ike an action cartoon series with the levels, land layout, weapons and fighting strategies of a computer game.
In Air Mutant, Kai and BC battle new beast Flamatoraq. If the beast wins, it gains more powers, gets bigger and stronger. If Kai wins, new rooms at base may be unlocked, his battle gear upgraded and with the beast safely transported to the Outlands, Earth will be safe once more.
Short chapters, large clear writing, lots of pictures and many more titles makes this series great for young boys and beginner readers, six years and older.


Tuesday, 24 June 2014

A Feast for Wombat

Feast for Wombat by Sally Morgan, illustrated by Tania Erzinger (Omnibus Books)
HB RRP $24.99
ISBN 978-1-74299-018-7
Reviewed by Jenny Heslop

When Wombat ventures outside from his warm, snug burrow he meets his friends who are having lots of fun. He would like to join in but is not sure that he has any special talents. Goanna is a fast climber, Magpie can sing beautifully and Dingo is the cleverest dancer around. They all try to teach Wombat, but he needs to find his own special skill.
This is a lovely story about the strength of friendship, about giving time to friends and about the importance of finding your place amongst them.
Feast For Wombat is beautifully written and conjures up lovely images. Wombat thinks Dingo dances 'like the clouds', and Magpie sings like 'a beautiful bubbling stream'. The story has a structured rhythm, repeating similar actions for each animal.
The gentle nature of the story is echoed in the illustrations. They have a soft dreamy quality to them. Using the muted, earthy colours of the Australian landscape, Erzinger depicts these four friends as being very much at home within their environment. Their facial expressions, especially Wombat’s, are wonderful.  And following along, if you look carefully, is a little hopping mouse (not mentioned in the text) who gets involved in the action.
Sally Morgan is an Australian Aboriginal author who has written many stories for all ages and is widely known for her first children's book My Place.

Tania Erzinger is an artist who loves to draw, paint and do collage. Feast for Wombat is her first picture book.

Monday, 23 June 2014

Boy vs Beast #9: Rock Mutant

Boy vs Beast #9: Rock Mutant by Mac Park (Scholastic Australia)
PB RRP $7.99
ISBN 978-1-92193-168-0
Reviewed by Jenny Heslop

Kai Masters is a Border Guard. He and his dog BC help keep Earth safe from Beasts by defending the border wall between Earth and Beastium. While working on new battle gear in his new test room, Kai gets an alert saying there is a problem in rock land. Somehow water is getting in and if the lands mix, it will cause many problems including the possibility of mutant beasts, as yet unknown to the Border Guards. He needs to get in there and sort the problem before it gets out of hand.
Boy vs Beast is popular among young boys, especially those who love computer games. The series has a gaming feel to it with its structure, the levels Border Guards aim for and the achievements systems awarded for battles which open new rooms back at base.
Rock Mutant introduces is the first of the mutant beasts, caused by the accidental overlapping of the lands. The concept of Kai's gear mash-up is also a first for the series and now Kai has the ability to combine two of his battle gear devices to produce an even more effective one to battle the mixed up beasts.
Weird and wonderful battle gear, flash transport, a robotic dog and lots of action provide an exciting ride for young readers to lose themselves in a superhero tale of saving the world from horrible beasts... Over and over again.

This short chapter book (it's under seventy pages) with plenty of graphics and the battle in comic format, is suitable for six years and up and will particularly suit boys beginning to read.

Sunday, 22 June 2014

Herbert Peabody and his Extraordinary Vegetable Patch

Herbert Peabody and his Extraordinary Vegetable Patch by Bianca C. Ross, illustrated by Tabitha Emma Bray (Farinet Pty Ltd, distributed by Pan Macmillan)
HC RRP $18.95
ISBN 9780987595508
Reviewed by Anastasia Gonis

There are countless children that think their milk, fruit and vegetables come from a supermarket. They’re in for a shock for the National Curriculum has added sustainability to their list; a subject that will be of great value and benefit to children and their future. It will change their relationship to food forever. With very few books on the market of this kind, Bianca C. Ross has come up with a winner. This delightfully created and beautifully produced book addresses sustainability, and environmental productivity amongst other issues. It is the first in a five-book series.

Herbert Peabody is a farmer that supplies his farm grown vegetables and fruit to the local bakery. When Herbert’s niece Clementine and nephew Digby come to stay over at the farm, Herbert is faced with a challenge. Digby is only interested in his electronic games and Clementine in watching TV. Herbert is determined to teach the two city children how and where their vegetables and fruit come from.Theo Knead-a-lot’s bakery is under threat due to the lack of produce in the area. Can Herbert’s plan save the delicious products that the whole town enjoys? Will the outcome end in something magical for Theo, the children, and the whole community?

The characters have been ideally portrayed and the story focuses on getting children interested in the vegetables and fruit they eat, how it is grown and the benefits of growing your own produce. It also touches on creative gardening in small areas, the cycle of food, and how many people in the chain depend on farmers’ produce. Ideal for the 4-8 age group, it will instil in children an interest in the earth and environment, sustainability, and awaken in them the immense pleasure that can be derived from sowing a seed and watching it grow into the food we eat.


Saturday, 21 June 2014

The Book of You: Jodie

The Book of You: Jodie by Randa Abdel-Fattah (Omnibus Books)
PB RRP $16.99
ISBN 978-1-74299-010-1
Reviewed by Jenny Heslop

When clearing some boxes in the school library, three friends come across an old book, The Book of You. It seems to be a diary belonging to a girl Betsy Galt in 1878, but all the pages are blank. At least, they are at first.

Jodie is starting year six with her best friends Raina and Deyana and nothing much has changed. She is still being teased by Charlotte and her group, still getting called a giant and a nerd, and her parents are still separated. And things get worse when her Dad decides to propose to his girlfriend. Jodie will be gaining a step-sister Samantha and this does not sit well with either girl.
While Raina and Deyana are very supportive about most things, they don't seem too enthusiastic about Jodie's plans to make her dad and Carla split up. It is a perfect time for a little bit of magic to enter Jodie's life. Maybe the advice which magically appears on the blank pages of the mysterious diary can help Jodie make sense of her world.
The Book of You is a story which touches on plenty of the worries girls approaching their teens can struggle with. Relationships, loyalty issues, split families, fitting in, cyber-bullying, mixed messages and conflicting advice. These themes are explored within the story in an easy way making it entertaining and readable. The girls are likeable characters, with flaws and specialties like any twelve year old.
Jodie is the first book in a four-book series (they will each feature one of the girls) and the mystery of Betsy Galt, who she is and her history, will continue throughout. This series, with its strong characters, touches of intrigue and supernatural twist, will hold great appeal for girls between 10 and 14. 

Friday, 20 June 2014

Cavemice: Watch Your Tail!

Cavemice: Watch Your Tail! by Geronimo Stilton (Scholastic Inc)
PB RRP $12.99
ISBN 978-0-545-44775-1
Reviewed by Jenny Heslop

When Old Mouse City is struck down by a mysterious illness it is up to a (reluctantly) brave mouse, Geronimo Stiltonoot, to save the day. This brave mouse is the prehistoric ancestor of Geronimo Stilton who many readers know today through his heroic exploits.

Stiltonoot and his sidekick Trap, dodge meteorites, volcanoes and were-bats, as they try to follow Sharman Bluster's map and hurry to complete their dangerous mission. But what are the shady Club Brother's up to and how did they get to the Cave of Memories so quickly? Is there a short cut?

Geronimo Stilton books are very popular among the mid primary school readers. Full of humour, word play, fabulous pictures and plots and schemes galore, the scaredy-mouse usually ends up in some very precarious positions before saving the day and emerging a hero. There are always great maps, and this book a couple of wonderful ones tracing Stiltonoot's journey and showing the interior of the Cave of Memories (along the lines of the interior of pyramids with all the different chambers).

Both illustrations and text are very funny and Watch Your Tail! is an entertaining, absorbing and quick read which will be enjoyed by many.

Watch Your Tail! is the second title in Geronimo’s spin off Cavemice series. It offers a whole new array of disaster possibilities for his ancient ancestor, a fellow scaredy mouse, to encounter.


Thursday, 19 June 2014

To See the World

To See the World by Elaine Forrestal (National Library of Australia)
PB RRP $17.99
ISBN 9780642278494
Reviewed by Anastasia Gonis

To See the World is highly acclaimed author Elaine Forrestal’s new book. A fictional account of Rose de Freycinet’s voyage on the Uranie (1817-1820), it is based on Rose’s journal kept in the National Library of Australia.

The story is narrated by Jose, an illiterate mulatto, who dreamed of being a famous sea captain and encounters with pirates and cannibals. A real person, Jose begins his journey as a cabin boy, knowing nothing but how to be free and wild. He ends it literate in more than letters; with experiences that would have killed a weaker spirit. This is a wonderful adventure of courage and determination whichever way you look at it.

With women prohibited on state ships, Rose de Freycinet dressed as a man and boarded the vessel to be close to her husband, Louis, Commander of the Uranie. He had a passion for terrestrial magnetism, astronomy and meteorology, and meticulously charted every detail of his research and discoveries.  

Rose’s life is a magnificently recorded document. She spent the entire journey educating Jose, recording everything she heard, saw, and experienced. Rose became the ‘first European woman to write an account of her circumnavigation of the world’. The Uranie was shipwrecked on the Falkland Islands on its return voyage in February, 1820.

Elaine Forrestal has recreated a breathtaking vision of this real event. From the beginning of this love story amidst a great historical event, she has filled each page with excitement, courage and resilience. The book ends in two pages of references and a Glossary. More on this extraordinary voyage can be found in the NLA archives. 

Wednesday, 18 June 2014

Silver People – A Tale from the Panama Canal

Silver People – A Tale from the Panama Canal by Margarita Engle (University of Queensland Press)
PB/HB RRP $16.95
ISBN 978 0 702 253294
Reviewed by Jo Antareau

Imagine being a teenager and having to move alone to a far-away country just to find work. Then finding the work is back-breaking, extremely dangerous and poorly paid. Yet within the squalid conditions, you find camaraderie, even love.

This is the story of two young men, Mateo and Henry. Although they didn’t even share a language, they forged a bond when they endured landslides, diseases and other adversities in the Panama jungle in the early 1900s as they and thousands of other itinerant workers toiled to demolish a path through a mountain range to connect two oceans. The Panama Canal is considered to be a feat of engineering. But the human cost was very high, as more than 5600 lives were lost during construction.

Silver People tells the story of Engle’s ancestors who were amongst the thousands who suffered the harsh conditions. Told in verse from multiple points of view, it also recounts the growing relationship between the sensitive Mateo and the indigenous herb seller, Anita. The narrative is also interspersed with the indignant voices of the howler monkeys, jaguars and other animals who lost their niches as the jungle was sacrificed. It also includes snippets from official documents of the leaders, confirming that they simply did not care how many lives were lost, as long as the project was completed.

The story gets its title from the two-tiered wage system; white people were paid in gold, dark skinned in silver. Overall, this is a story of love and endurance of the human spirit, and ultimately an uplifting read.


Tuesday, 17 June 2014

Knowing Joey Field

Knowing Joey Field by Pauline Luke (Brolga Publishing available through Pan Macmillan)
PB RRP $16.99
ISBN 9781922175403
Reviewed by Anastasia Gonis

With a superbly constructed storyline and characters that stand out like beacons in a dark night, Knowing Joey Field is a stunning book on youth, bulling and friendships.

Being the new kids at school should’ve been something that siblings Stephie and Matt were used to. They’d moved around enough. But here they were again, trying to fit in and make new friends with all the same old problems, but now in Moody Bay.

Stephie is befriended by Rose, the sister of the school bully Damian Connor. Matt hooks up with Joey, who is held in awe by many due to his psychic powers and the mysterious something more of himself that he keeps locked away.

Damian is a calculating, manipulative rich boy whose followers do his bidding to stay out of his attack radar. A con artist extraordinaire, his character depicts the evil side of bullies and their bullying tactics. I felt the victim’s fear and their submission to him, and was there in every scene throughout the book.

Pauline Luke has built a powerful story about bullying and its harmful and often tragic outcomes on people’s lives. This confronting theme is perfectly woven into a background of family life, conflicting friendships, tales of sunken treasure, and a series of mysterious break-ins.

Pauline Luke received a twelve months residency at Billilla in Brighton, Melbourne, to complete this book. She has also been the recipient of a May Gibbs and Varuna residency.


Monday, 16 June 2014

Dragonkeeper: Book Five - Shadow Sister

Dragonkeeper: Book Five - Shadow Sister by Carole Wilkinson (Walker Books)
HC RRP $ 24.95
ISBN 9781922179579
Reviewed by Anastasia Gonis

No longer a monk but retaining the precepts of his Buddhist beliefs, Tao is adapting to a different life style. He is now on the road with the dragon Kai, learning to be a dragonkeeper, and embarking on a yet unknown quest. The two fled the monastery just as the evil monk Fo Tu Deng was about to move into the abbot’s shoes. Tao still hasn’t identified with his qi – his spiritual energy that was passed onto him by his brother Wei just before his death.

There is a war raging inside Tao between his brain and heart. He battles one thing after another, always with the thought of saving lives, holding on to his strong sense of right and wrong. He has as much compassion for the dead spirits that find no peace and that haunt him relentlessly, as for the living beings that he seeks to help.

Tao knows he needs to let go of many things. Early on, he encounters a wild blue dragon with a violent history, that he later befriends and names Sunila. This new companion proves to be a valuable ally when he runs into Fo Tu Deng. He also meets up with Pema again. She has a secret life now; one which Tao becomes a part of and is again tested. He must enter into a physical and emotional battle to save her, and what he stands for. Here he exemplifies the choices he makes, and the outcomes they affect.

By the end of the book, Tao has found his qi and is transformed in many ways by his experiences. So is Kai. Having found purpose, meaning and direction together, they set out for the dragon haven.

This is definitely not the last book, as loose strings left hanging need to be tied up. Blending fantasy with fiction, this outstanding series is a continuous inspiring adventure, constructed with subtle philosophical and thought-provoking messages on accountability, strength, courage and compassion.

Sunday, 15 June 2014

Alberta

Alberta by Tania Cox, illustrated by Janine Dawson (Working Title Press)
RRP PB $14.99
ISBN 9781921504037
Reviewed by Vicki Thornton

Who can’t help but love Alberta? Nothing she does is small. From snowballs to fish, everything is big, especially her personality. So when her parents tell her that she soon will be a big sister, she is very excited. She waits, impatiently…. only to be quite disappointed when the eggs arrive. They are not big…they are not even large…. they are… little.

When Alberta is left in charge of the eggs, she soon discovers that being a BIG sister is a very important job. ‘Yipppeeeeeee!’ she cheers knowing the eggs are safe after tricking a hungry egg thief.  

When the eggs do hatch, Alberta can’t help but notice that the babies are rather, well, little.

So very, very little that Alberta suddenly felt like a very, very BIG sister!
Her heart skipped two tiny beats.
Then Alberta opened her flippers wide…
and hugged her little sisters...in a very Alberta way.

With delicate and soft pen and ink and watercolour illustrations this lovely story is a great way for parents to introduce a child into the idea of having a baby brother or sister.



Saturday, 14 June 2014

The Last Thirteen Book 6: 8

The Last Thirteen Book 6: 8 by James Phelan (Scholastic Australia)
PB RRP $14.99
ISBN 978-1-74283-189-3
Reviewed by Jenny Heslop

Sam’s dreams are getting more unpredictable. But with this rise in instability comes the ability for him to manipulate them more and change the outcomes of real life occurrences. His latest nightmare leads him to a marina in Cuba where he is taking shelter from a storm with Tobias, Xavier and Rapha. And also to Maria, the 8th Dreamer.

The next piece of the Da Vinci machine lies deep beneath the ocean surface somewhere within an ancient shipwreck and this time they are not only trying to avoid Hans and Stella, but also Scarface, a very angry shark. Along with the treasure, they must also find Maria’s father.

After the slower pace of the last instalment, this book is non-stop adrenalin from jumping off the cliff in the jungle to the cliff hanging ending in Florida. Alongside Sam’s mission in Cuba there are two more fast-paced storylines running. 

Eva and Lora have been kidnapped by Mac, a rogue member of the Dreamers Council, who is trying to convince Eva to join forces with him and Solaris. He seems to think that Eva is more important than they currently know and may even be the most important of the Thirteen Dreamers.

Meanwhile, the Agency/Enterprise alliance have tracked Stella down to an abandoned bunker in Canada and Alex, with his mother Phoebe and a back-up team of Guardians have travelled there to investigate what Stella may be interested in.

With very short chapters jumping in-between these three concurrently running stories, there is barely time to draw breath and this ramps up the action even further. Every time the focus leaves a character, the reader is left anxious about the heroes’ predicament. This encourages even faster reading.

The deeper into the series I get, the more invested I am in the characters and the more complex and interesting the plot becomes. I really like that the lines between good and bad are not always as clear cut as they would first seem and although a high level of suspension of disbelief needs to be maintained, once hooked, it is a wild ride.

This series has a serialised single storyline which will continue at the rate of one book a month until the conclusion is reached in the thirteenth book. Also check out www.thelast13.com, an online companion page with VIP Access. There are 13 prizes to be won with each book release, e-newsletters, access code breakers and many more features.


James Phelan is an Australian author who has written adult thrillers as well as the Lachlan Fox series and the Alone trilogy for older teenagers.

Friday, 13 June 2014

The Last Thirteen Book 5: 9

The Last Thirteen Book 5: 9 by James Phelan (Scholastic Australia)
PB RRP $14.99
ISBN 978-1-74283-188-6
Reviewed by Jenny Heslop

After the destruction of the Academy’s campus in the Swiss Alps and Enterprise’s headquarters in the Silicon Valley, both agencies need time to regather and get themselves up and running again. And with the ever increasing amount of enemies, it seems a good idea for them to begin to work together.

While the Agencies are rebuilding however, the race does not stop. Sam must follow his next dream to the heart of the Amazon jungle to find the next Dreamer and another piece for the Da Vinci machine which will lead them to the Dreamer’s Gate. And Sam must work fast. As well as the usual dangers which lurk deep in the jungle, Sam and Rapha must also contend with Stella, Hans and their armies of guardians.

This fifth instalment of The Last Thirteen series has a much slower pace than the previous ones. It is one where factions regroup, the story line is strengthened and relationships are explored a bit deeper. After the full-on action it is a nice change - a breather really - to slow down and have some of the fragmented ideas about the Dreamers and their role in the world generally (and the Race specifically), explained more fully. The roles of the Agencies, Enterprise and the Academy are also fleshed out more here.

Then, in the last third of the book, Sam’s adventure in Brazil begins and the action steps up. Deep in the heart of the Amazonian Jungle, Sam and Rapha have an Indiana Jones-like experience looking for a lost city high on the mountain peaks which clouds and mist forever shroud. They need to be mentally sharp to overcome the booby traps the deserted city throws up before them.

This series has a serialised single storyline which will continue at the rate of one book a month until the conclusion is reached in the thirteenth book. Also check out www.thelast13.com, an online companion page with VIP Access. There are 13 prizes to be won with each book release, e-newsletters, access code breakers and many more features.


James Phelan is an Australian author who has written adult thrillers as well as the Lachlan Fox series and the Alone trilogy for older teenagers.

Thursday, 12 June 2014

Dead Dog in the Still of the Night

Dead Dog in the Still of the Night by Archimede Fusillo (Ford Street Publishing)
PB RRP $18.95
ISBN 978-1925000344
Reviewed by Francine Sculli

Dead Dog in the Still of the Night is Archimede Fusillo’s fifth novel for the young adult readership. Like his other novels, this story takes us on a very real and relatable journey through the turbulent life of Primo.

Primo is trying to finish his VCE, but things at home aren’t making it easy. His Italian father, riddled with paranoia and delusions from the onset of dementia, is an ailing womaniser now in a home. His Irish mother is exhausted and depleted, not only from looking after his father, but also from years of forgiving her husband’s infidelities that have torn the family apart. Primo’s brother, Adrian, has followed in his father’s footsteps and has moved back home after his wife caught him cheating with another woman, Crystal, who is now making things even more difficult for Adrian. If that weren’t enough, Primo’s own relationship with his girlfriend Maddie is on unsteady ground. 

Primo is angry at his father and brother for their actions, disappointed that his mother kept forgiving his father and confused at how his life became such a mess. Buckling under the pressure of it all, Primo makes the wrong decision to take his father’s dust collecting, prized Fiat 500 classic red car – Bambino – out for a drive to see Maddie. But the car far from impresses Maddie and after an argument about a broken promise, Primo reels the car out of control and crashes the passenger door. Desperate to fix it before anyone in the family finds out, Primo asks his best mate, Tones, for help. The crash leads Primo and Tones down an unredeemable path that isn’t so easy to turn back. A series of events – a dead dog, a mindless scare, the bashing of his brother Adrian, confrontations with Crystal’s brother and the unravelling of the family – force Primo to make some hard decisions about the type of life he wants.


This story races through uneasy terrain, shedding light on and raising questions about family, trust, friendship, promises, betrayal, forgiveness, strength, consequences, finding oneself and the choices we make. Fusillo does this with a touch of heart-warming grace. The characters in Dead Dog in the Still of the Night fly off the page and dialogue is colloquial and fast-paced. His turn of phrase, written in such a hard hitting and artful manner, takes readers right into the heart of this story and keeps them there. 

Wednesday, 11 June 2014

To the Goldfields

To the Goldfields by Rachel Tonkin (Walker Books)
PB RRP $16.95
ISBN 9781922179883
Reviewed by Anastasia Gonis

This time the incredibly talented Rachel Tonkin takes us back to1852 to the goldfields. The full page intricately detailed illustrations that are her trademark, draw us back in time once more. You can smell the eucalypt trees; hear the wind rustle the leaves, and the cart rolling. You almost choke on the dust lifted by the wooden wheels. That’s how deeply these illustrations awaken all the senses.

Then at the goldfields you can imagine the echoes of children’s excited voces as they run across the dusty ground, while the family settles into their new life after joining father at the digs. The leaky tent that is the school, the sly grog shop, the panning for gold and the bustle of everyday living is like a slideshow come to life.

The characters’ faces are always full of expression. The clothing, houses, environment, the notices and signs; everything is a true depiction of life on the goldfields. You learn of the births and deaths, and sicknesses that robbed the early diggers and their families – mostly the children, of their life. And about the dangerous mine shafts, flooding rains, bushrangers, Eureka Stockade and other happenings and mishaps.

History retold can be boring. This retelling is full of excitement and adventure that will educate while entertaining young readers (and older ones). There is so much to look for, discover, discuss, absorb and question on every page.



Tuesday, 10 June 2014

Finnley’s Great Escape

Finnley’s Great Escape (Condamine Alliance)
PB RRP $15.00
ISBN 9780992432409
Also available as an ebook at Amazon

Finnley lives in a beautiful home where the water is clean, the trees are shady and there is plenty of food for everyone. But one day, Finnley and his friends are swept away to a smelly, muddy, toxic shallow far from their home. Soon they realise they are not alone and must find a way to escape what lurks in the murky water. 

Who will save them? And will they ever return to their beautiful home again?

Finnley’s Great Escape is a story about an Australian smelt called Finnley and his native fish friends. One day they are swept away from their beautiful, clean home to a toxic shallow that is infested with one of the world’s worst pest fish, tilapia.

The book has been a collaboration between natural resource management group Condamine Alliance, the Murray-Darling Basin Authority and 13 young people who helped write and illustrate the book. The book’s beautiful hand painted illustrations and clever storyline carry an important message about the threat of tilapia to the Murray-Darling Basin.

It was produced as part of the Northern Basin Tilapia Exclusion Strategy which is funded by the Murray-Darling Basin Authority and has been officially endorsed by Jackie French, the Australian National Children’s Laureate for 2014-15 and author of popular children’s book The Diary of a Wombat.


Written and illustrated by Alli Purtill, Corey Lenton, Jessica Larkin, Josiah Richards, Kelsey Francis, Kirrily Pauli, Paige Joyce, Peter Von Stieglitz, Rani Deane, Rebecca Sherrie, Rhianna Conaghan, Samantha Lenton and William Butler under the direction of Emma Mactaggart.

The Bear Said Please

The Bear Said Please by Jacque Duffy (Wombat Books)
HB RRP $18.99
ISBN 978-1-921632-94-5
Reviewed by Peta Biggin

A hungry bear wakes with a rumbling tummy. After looking everywhere for some food, he jumps in his car and goes in search of a hive.  Happily, he finds one but there are also bees and they aren’t going to allow him to just take their honey. Pretty soon, the hungry bear learns that it’s better to ask nicely than take what isn’t yours.

The Bear Said Please is a lovely book that teaches the importance of good manners with gentleness and humour.  Written in rhyme, there is a good rhythm that helps the story bounce along and makes this a great read-out-aloud book. 

         “Hmmmm,” said the bear.
         “I need a hive.”
         He hopped in his car,
         And went for a drive.

         He went into the forest…
         Into the trees.
         There he found
         Some busy bees

Visually, I found the book really charming.  The illustrations are beautiful - simple and engaging – and I personally love Jacque Duffy’s particular artistic style.  The layout and placement of the text also contributes to the visual appeal this book: sometimes going up, diagonally or in circles.

Overall, I really enjoyed The Bear Said Please and would recommend it to anyone with a young person that needs to learn some manners (or learn what not to do around bees).

Jacque Duffy is the creator of the That’s Not A… series of children’s books.  She is an active member of various writing and illustrating organisations in Australia and Internationally. Her artwork has won many major awards and is in galleries and private collections around the world.  She lives in Far North Queensland with her husband and sons.  She can be found online at: http://www.jacquesartandbooks.com/


Monday, 9 June 2014

Little Meerkat

Little Meerkat by Aleesah Darlison, illustrated by Shannon Melville (Wombat Books)
HB RRP $24.99
ISBN 978-1-921632-82-2
Reviewed by Peta Biggin

Little Meerkat is only tiny but not in his mind.  He sees himself as the most heroic hunter, the stealthiest scout, the most fearless warrior and certainly not someone that needs to be protected by his family.  Until one day when he finds himself confronted by a hungry snake.  Then he learns the importance of a loving and watchful family.

Little Meerkat is a playful and lively book about a young meerkat who refuses to believe he is anything less than what he imagines himself to be.  His daydreams and misadventures bring humour to the story and will appeal to any young person desperate to grow up.  The constant message throughout the book is that Little Meerkat needs to understand and accept that he is not capable of everything he imagines he is, yet.  He must accept that at this stage of his life, he needs the guidance and protection of his family.

         Little Meerkat did not like holding paws.
‘Holding paws is for babies.  I am not a baby.  I am a silent, stealthy scout.’
‘One day you may be a silent, stealthy scout,’ Aunty said.  ‘For now, you are a baby and you must stay with an adult.’

Little Meerkat learns this lesson when he is confronted by a snake who wants to eat him.  The quick response of his family not only saves his life but also teaches him that maybe he’s not quite ready to be without his family.

Shannon Melville’s illustrations bring a richness to the book.  They are big and colourful, bringing to life the world of Little Meerkat.  There is a certain amount of realism in Shannon’s style but, at the same time, the fun and personality of Little Meerkat and his imaginings are also well presented.

Little Meerkat would be an excellent read-aloud book for pre-school or early primary children.  However, with such beautiful illustrations it would also be the sort of book a young child would enjoy leafing through on their own.

Aleesah Darlison has published several chapter books, picture books and novels for children.  Her titles include: Bearly There, Puggle’s Problem, Fangs and Totally Twins.  She also works as a book reviewer for The Sun Herald.  When she isn’t working on her next book, Aleesah is usually chasing after her three energetic children and her two dogs.  She can be found online at:  http://www.aleesahdarlison.com/


Shannon Melville is an illustrator and artist based in Perth. Some of the titles she has illustrated are My Arms Your Legs, Matilda’s Morning Adventures and Little Good Wolf.  When she is not working, Shannon likes going for walks with her husband and family.  She can be found online at:  http://shannonmelville.com.au/

Sunday, 8 June 2014

Billy is a Dragon: Werewolves Beware

Billy is a Dragon: Werewolves Beware by Nick Falk, illustrated by Tony Flowers (Random House Australia Children’s)
PB RRP $12.99
ISBN 9780857983077
Also available as an ebook
ISBN 9780857983084
Reviewed by Marian McGuinness

Billy is at it again. In the first book of the series Billy finds out he is a were-dragon, meaning he can shape-shift from a nine-year-old boy into a green, scaly dragon. It’s a very handy talent, especially when confronted by Bludger, who bullies anyone ‘smaller’ than him.

One morning Billy wakes up feeling weird. He’s just found out that his mortal enemy, a werewolf, is chasing him. Billy’s a pretty useless ‘shifter’ and worse still, the soccer trials are on and Bludger the bully is the try-out captain.

Bertha the bulldog and Polly the parrot watch as Billy practises shapeshifting. Polly constantly interrupts his concentration by blurting out ‘Big Blue Bottom’ and ‘Bogie Brain.’ Then, with a ‘RRRRRIP …’ Billy’s tail shoots through the back of his underpants and out the bedroom window.

Billy calls on his best friend Jeannie to help him as his big sister thinks something’s very fishy. Billy and Jeannie escape from his house incognito – dressed in vegetable costumes. Hilarious situations arise when they get to school.

There’s a huge problem for Billy. When he most needs to shape-shift, he goes ‘squiffy.’ He’s so filled with anxiety that his nerves get the better of him. I really like Falk’s ideas here. There are lots of kids who are affected by nerves. Falk doesn’t underplay this fear. He treats it as normal and then injects the situation with humour. Billy ends up enlisting the help of Benny (the pet shop owner and were-hamster) who gives him a crash course in shapeshifting.

Falk is great at charging the plot with ‘what-ifs’. It works hilariously and takes you by surprise. The twist at the end comes from left field. I won’t spoil it for you other than saying the werewolf wasn’t after Billy.

Nick Falk and internationally acclaimed illustrator and artist, Tony Flowers, are a great team. The black and white illustrations add extra dollops of visual humour and perfectly complement the written narrative. A rollicking read for 6+.


There’s nothing ordinary about Falk’s writing style – it’s Falk-less. I’m ready for Book Number 3.

Saturday, 7 June 2014

Black Warrior

Black Warrior by Tiffiny Hall (HarperCollins)
PB RRP $14.99
ISBN 9780732294557
Reviewed by Sharon McGuinness

Author Tiffiny Hall believes that the greatest superpower you can ever possess is confidence and self belief. 

Inspired to write the Roxy Ran series because many of her taekwondo students experienced bullying, ‘Black Warrior’ is the third and final in the series, which is aimed at upper primary and early high school students. Author Hall writes with authority as she holds a black belt in Taekwondo.

Black Warrior follows on from ‘White Warrior’ and ‘Red Samurai’ and having read both books will help as background to the series final. We are thrown into the story from the beginning, learning that  Roxy Ran and her sister Elektra must live together without killing each other – literally, as Roxy is a ninja and Elektra has just come out as a samurai, a sworn enemy of the Ninja clan. Hero, the school bully is being bullied himself and we identify that the school is divided into Gate One and Gate Two students.  Roxy has some unanswered questions about her father whom she has not met and her mother refuses to discuss with her, other than branding him as ‘poison’.

Trouble is near as there is a fire and crater in front of the school, then unrest increases as many citizens of the town Lanternwood disappear. A tiger dragon with blazing eyes threatens Roxy, then her friend Cinnamon disappears. When she eventually returns, however, she has changed. The Ninja and Samurai need to unite in order to save the town, leading Roxy to finally meet her father, who is intent on revenge. Just when Roxy needs her powers most, they are lost and she is a mere mortal. In the exciting climax, Roxy must face her fears and find the power within herself and lift the curse over her father. Only then are her powers restored.

Finally, issues from the previous books are resolved – we find out why Hero is often referred to as a mummy’s boy and Jackson  opens up about the illness of his brother Morgan. The symbols of difference and discrimination, represented by Gate One and Gate Two are finally destroyed.


“There are no bullies or victims, no samurai versus ninja, no cool and uncool – just kids.” 

Friday, 6 June 2014

Midnight Burial

Midnight Burial by Pauline Deeves (National Library of Australia)
PB RRP $ 14.99
ISBN 9780642278500
Reviewed by Anastasia Gonis

Pauline Deeves has built a wonderful story around the mysterious and sudden death of Lizzie, one of four daughters of a wealthy sheep farmer, in the Australia of 1868. Lizzie’s death is the central stone around which all the rich history of that era is constructed. The narrative is comprised of diary entries and letters from and between the female characters presenting varying points of view. There are dramatic descriptions of life and living, employment, men’s attitudes, and social norms. Beautiful scenes incorporating the natural surroundings add a newsreel effect to the prose.

Ten year old Florence and her sisters live subject to the harsh commands of their father. His authoritarian rule diminishes their dreams and silences any opinions they have. But the three older girls are strong-willed and strong-minded.

When Florence is told that Lizzie has died suddenly due to the fever, she refuses to believe her healthy sister could die so suddenly. The burial takes place late at night without a doctor or a minister attending. All her clothes are burnt, except her fur coat that is nowhere to be found. Jane the second eldest descends into silence.

Florence’s schooling is taken up by Lizzie’s best friend, Susannah, a liberal thinker who allows the child freedom to flourish.

Father is a keeper of secrets. When he is attacked by bushrangers and almost dies, he undergoes a complete change of character. Secrets are revealed. So is the truth about Lizzie’s death. Jane is also transformed by her new found freedom, leadership qualities and her determination to prove herself.

The story accents the role of women in society and at home, and showcases strong, independent female characters whose courageous spirit and liberal ideas influenced the course of history. It further depicts the discrimination that convicts and their descendents experienced. This outstanding book was inspired by a true story discovered within the collection of the National Library of Australia.