Thursday 11 April 2024

Shadows of Truth by Astrid Schotle. Allen & Unwin 2024. YA Fantasy, paperback, RRP $22.99. ISBN 9781761068898

Reviewed by Debra Williams

Shadows of Truth is the sequel to the YA fantasy, League of Liars. It follows the story of several characters (Cayder, Narena, Leta, Jey, Elenora,) after Cayder and his friends stage a dramatic escape from Vardean prison in the world of Telene. Telene is surrounded by a veil and the friends find themselves on the other side, in another world that exists beyond that veil.  

Telene and the other world are dangerously close to being destroyed. This group of friends must work together to prevent an apocalyptic ending, and it relies on the assistance of their enemy, Dr Beuter, who appears to have disappeared. Through determination, grit and dogged persistence, despite severe life-threatening injury to some, they are to push through if they want to return home and save their world. There is betrayal, treachery, lies, misunderstanding and confusion throughout the different relationships, making the solution difficult to resolve. Add to the mix several mysteries which also must be solved, and you have an intriguing tale.

Along the way, they need to overcome the all-powerful wiles of the evil Shadow Queen, who seeks to dominate Telene with her creatures of destruction.

The story is complicated in parts, with the involvement of edem (extra dimension magic), as the chapters alternate from each character’s POV. It is full of dramatic twists and turns, ensuring that the reader is engaged in the plot and characters alike. Even if the reader has not had the benefit of having read League of Liars, the author has woven enough information through the book to inform the reader of the background events leading up to the current story.

This adventure will be enjoyed by those aged 15+ years.

Tuesday 9 April 2024

Smoke and Mirrors

Smoke and Mirrors by Barry Jonsberg (Allen & Unwin) ISBN: 9781761180750 RRP $19.99

Reviewed by Melissa Wray

Unlike most teenagers, Grace only cares about two things, and they don’t include social media and friends. Grace lives for magic tricks and her grandmother. A repertoire of magic tricks she can master, but her cantankerous yet charming grandmother is a whole other act.

Grace lives with her alcoholic mother and avoids any kind of relationship with her at all costs. Instead, she visits her grandmother whose unpleasant and forthright attitude is almost as predictable to Grace as it is startling. Gran’s character is a ripper! There are many laugh out loud moments with Gran’s quick retorts and embellished truths. Jonsberg has created such a fabulous portrayal of this feisty, rude but loveable woman that this reader would happily visit and enjoy a cup of tea with a wagon wheel with Gran anytime.

Grace’s magician career begins to take off with the help of a patient and purely platonic friend called Simon. He invests in Grace’s career and stands by her even when she repeatedly lets him down. Grace’s career of performing magic tricks begins to disappear as she grapples with the terminal illness diagnosis given to Gran. However, she is saving the best trick for last.

This book deals with terminal illness and tough conversations in a manner that is considered, open, heartfelt and at times, light-hearted- “May you be in heaven half an hour before the devil knows you’re dead.” It also addresses family trauma through the tragic loss of Grace’s father many years before. A driving force for Grace’s self-imposed isolation and trust issues.

This book is such an entertaining read. The hardest part will be putting it down once you begin. Smoke and Mirrors is suitable for a 14+ readership.


Sunday 7 April 2024

Circles of Life

Circles of Life by Gregg Dreise (Penguin Random House Australia) HB RRP$24.99 ISBN 9781761340550

Aboriginal creator Gregg Dreise explores his cultural tradition of painting in this picture book for readers aged 5 to 7 years. With ochre from Mother Earth, two young girls are guided by Uncle to paint each layer of the Thank Your Circles as a celebration of the different elements of our world. When the dots are placed together, they form circles of life.

Circles of Life explores themes such as First Nation traditions and storytelling, art, creativity, and the environment. The story encourages children to create their own artworks and reflect on the meaning behind each stroke and dot.

This book is a companion to Dreise’s previous picture books, Hello and Welcome and My Culture and Me.

Friday 5 April 2024

Some Families Change

Some Families Change by Jess Galatola, illustrated by Jenni Barrand. EK Books 2024. Hardback PB. ISBN 9781922539670. RRP $24.99

Reviewed by Debra Williams

Everybody’s family looks different. And over time, situations can change for many families. These changes can bring an emotional toll on children, with a range of difficult feelings to navigate. The family unit may not always be as it was: the author covers single-parent families, those with two mothers or fathers, split families, families that merge and other situations.

This book, beautifully illustrated, covers the wide range of emotions that children can experience during alterations in the family structure. They need to understand that it is okay to feel worried, upset, confused or uncertain about the changes, and adjustment to different circumstances can only happen with time. The author has done a great job of covering and explaining these various situations and emotions, assuring children that no matter what happens within their family structure, they are loved and cared about. She helps them to understand about the shift in circumstances and navigate their big feelings, to find their own place in the world, with the diverse ways that can mean being a family. There is reassurance for the child/ren that whatever has occurred, it is not their fault, and encouragement to share their feelings with somebody to begin the healing process.

Jess wrote this book after her own family unit changed in 2020, to help her sons understand and adjust to the changes that the situation brought.

This book is recommended and suitable for children aged 4 -8 years. 

Wednesday 3 April 2024

Baboon In a Balloon

Baboon In a Balloon by Patrick Guest, illustrated by Katie Abey. Scholastic Australia 2024. Hardcover PB. ISBN 9781761204975 RRP $18.99

Reviewed by Debra Williams

Poor old Baboon! His day is off to a wonderfully adventurous start in his hot-air balloon. However, when things begin to go wrong, he finds himself in all sorts of places and situations, but not the way he planned! Up on the moon, shot out of a cannon, or driving a car: where will he end up?  He is assisted by The Badger of Boo and The Yeti of Yay, who either cheer him on or express upset when things go awry. There’s a good ending, but where is his hat?

This is a fun rhyming story for young children, colourfully illustrated throughout. The illustrations are a little odd at times with Baboon’s colourful bottom sitting on the top of his right thigh, next to his tail, but in others it is in the correct place. Suitable for children 3+ years of age.

Monday 1 April 2024

Spider Wars

A new children’s book has hit the shelves that’s sure to raise both a few goosebumps and a few delights. Spider Wars is a picture book for primary school aged children released by Melbourne’s Wilkinson Publishing.

Spider Wars was a close collaboration between award-winning author, Dr Gina Newton and the highly talented illustrator, Nandina Vines. Together they have created a humorous, action-packed tale with a twist, followed by a brightly designed and fact-filled information section. As with its breath-taking cover, the book is filled with fun and intriguing illustrations—you’ll spot something new every time you read through it.

The story of Spider Wars pays homage to that classical musical West Side Story and the age-old conundrum of “the grass is always greener….”. A point of difference for today’s market however, is that the main characters are… you guessed it—spiders!

Australia’s tiny dancing and brightly coloured Peacock Spiders make up one gang, with the hairy common garden Wolf spiders making up the other gang. The Peacock and Wolf spiders live on different sides of the Paddock and they’re forever fighting over Middle Ground Hill to get to the other side.

But that all changes when a dazzling little Peacock Spider falls for an oh-so-pretty Wolf Spider. Banned from seeing each other, brave Sparklemuffin risks everything to rescue Wolf Mother. In the process, the sweethearts discover that life on the other side of the Paddock might not be so good after all.

Author Dr Gina Newton is a zoologist and science communicator, and is keen to engage children with Australia’s unique biodiversity. Peacock Spiders are a perfect example. They were not seen for 130 years until their rediscovery in 2005 by Australia’s resident ‘Peacock Spider Man’, J├╝rgen Otto.  So far, around 100 different species have been found (catch some amazing pics and dancing on

By contrast, Wolf Spiders are rather plain, being brown on brown—but they are not boring, and have their own interesting behaviour. Wolf Spider mothers’ ‘balloon’ their young from their backs. Wolf Spiders also have the most dramatic ‘eyeshine’—just shine a torch through the grass at night and you’ll see hordes of sparking diamonds staring back at you.

Spiders often have a negative reputation. But don’t be fooled—the world needs spiders! They play a vital ecological role in the environment and like their close cousins, the insects, they are facing a declining trend globally. Spiders need more understanding and appreciation—hopefully, Spider Wars may help to lift their reputation, even if just a little!

Dr Gina Newton: M: 0413010752; w:

Nandina Vines: w:

Wilkinson Publishing: w:

Sue-Ann Miller: Email Mb 0407 509 140 | d Tue, Wed, Thu                                      Jane Wilkinson: Email:  W: 03 9654 5446; M: 0420 304 690;

Sunday 31 March 2024

Tayta’s Secret Ingredient

Tayta’s Secret Ingredient by Amal Abu-Eid (MidnightSun Publishing), RRP $29.99 Picture Book ISBN 9-781922-858122

Reviewed by Susan Hancy

Billy’s class at school will be celebrating diverse cultures and traditions on Harmony Day and Billy is keen to bring a traditional Lebanese treat to share. His tayta (grandmother) is happy to make a type of sweet biscuit called kaak for him to take and she plans to use her secret ingredient. Billy knows she had ingredients in her pantry that he’s unfamiliar with, but can’t work out what the secret one could be. He can’t look at a recipe to discover what it is because Tayta bakes by memory and uses feel, sight and smell to get it right. Even when Billy helps her prepare the dough, he can’t see the special thing that she’s added. Eventually Tayta tells him her secret. How should Billy respond when his teacher thinks the kaak is so delicious that she asks him to share the recipe?


This is a sweet story for children aged 4 to 7 from an author keen to see her Lebanese Australian culture represented in picture books. Through the story and illustrations by Cara King, we learn about traditional Lebanese dress and baking. This story got my own kids chatting about their favourite treats that we’ve baked together and I asked them to guess what the secret ingredient was going to be. They had a question at the end, though: now that we’re privy to Tayta’s secret ingredient, could Billy please share the recipe? This would have been a great inclusion as an appendix.