Title: The Girl of Ink and Stars
Author: Kiran Millwood Hargrave
Interest Level: Year 7 +
They say the day the Governor arrived, so did the ravens. And the songbirds, in their despair, flew backwards into the sea. That’s why there are no songbirds on Joya.
Isabella loves stories and her father, an explorer and renowned cartographer, is a master storyteller. But since the Governor arrived on their island, there has been no need for map making – exploration is forbidden and no one is allowed to leave the island.
When her best friend Lupe, the Governor’s daughter, goes missing – Isabella is determined to help find her. Armed with only ink, parchment, her knowledge of the stars and the stories of her father, Isabella joins the search party to navigate the island’s forgotten territories. But the monsters in her father’s stories are more real than she could have imagined, Isabella must face her fears to find her friend. The vivid descriptions and stunning rendering of the book itself will draw you into this beautiful tale of courage and wonder. The debut novel of Kiran Millwood Hargrave showcases her flair for poetry and love of short stories, embedded within this fantasy tale.
Highly recommended: **** (ofr)
Title: Let’s Get Lost
Author: Adi Alsaid
Interest level: Year 7 +
This really is a book to get lost in. Leila’s journey across America and Canada to witness the Northern Lights is told from five different characters’ perspectives. As Leila travels North she meets, befriends and ultimately changes for the better the lives of Hudson, Bree, Elliot and Sonia. It is not until the conclusion that we learn that Leila’s journey is one in which she ultimately finds herself.
It is difficult not to be deeply distrustful of publishers who promise that a book is “…for readers of JOHN GREEN…”, yet, this is definitely a book for those of us who have enjoyed stories where adolescents face and meet real life challenges. Whilst there are a couple of situations in this book that are less convincing (Leila’s challenge may be medically “questionable, for example), Let’s Get Lost is still a very good read for people who are looking for happy resolutions. A feel good book of the first order.
Recommended (ipe): ***
Title: Grasshopper Jungle
Author: Andrew Smith
Interest Level: Year 10 +
At the outset it must be said that Andrew Smith is a great story teller, with a gift for straightforward, thought provoking prose. Smith created a protagonist, Austin, who is not just confused about his life and sexuality, but finds himself grappling with the oftentimes strange (and meaningless) coincidences that occur in history. What differentiates this book from other YA fiction is the “genre morphing” that occurs. Initially the reader is so caught up in Austin’s “everyday” story, there is no way they could predict the twist in events (and genre) that lead to Austin and his friend Robby being partly responsible for humanity’s destruction by “Unstoppable Soldiers” (which bare a striking resemblance to 6 feet tall Praying Mantises). That people from his small town, his country and the world may be abandoned to face brutal deaths barely registers on Austin’s radar, except as commentary in his oftentimes myopic family and town history. Austin has his own, more important issues to sort through: is he in love with Shann? is he in love with Robby?…can he experiment and still be straight? Ironically, he and Robby have the knowledge and power to halt the Unstoppable Soldiers, but they must choose to act. Will they?
This book is quite extraordinary, and a must read (with the warning that the themes and language are appropriate for a mature Young Adult audience) (Year 10+). Grasshopper Jungle is certainly worth the challenge, but readers should prepare to suspend disbelief before they venture into the book. I’m not entirely sure if the conclusion is hopeful or hopeless, or in fact, whether Austin is in any way likeable. What do you think?
Recommended (ipe): *****
Title: The Hit
Author: Allen Zadoff
Interest Level: Year 9 +
Benjamin finds himself in a new town, with a new name…and on another mission. The Program has set his mission: to meet and befriend Samara Goldberg and assassinate her father, the Mayor of New York. Benjamin can’t afford to question or compromise; it could mean the difference between life and death. Benjamin’s training doesn’t allow for second guesses or falling in love…
This YA thriller is an enjoyable read even for those who might not always pick up a book in this genre. Told in the first person, author Allen Zadoff successfully situates the new kid Benjamin in an exclusive New York private school, with all its social intrigues and cliques. With his hidden assassin talents, Benjamin ably defends the school nerd, Howard, and as a consequence manages to infiltrate the tightly guarded family of the Mayor. But things go wrong and Benjamin is uncertain whether he can complete his mission.
This book is the first of a series, with the second book, The Mission, also available from the Ballarat High School collection.
Recommended (ipe): ***
TITLE = FLORA’S WAR
AUTHOR = PAMELA RUSHBY
GENRE = WW1, WOMEN IN WAR, ROMANCE, GROWING UP
INTEREST LEVEL = YEARS 7-9
Flora is a young Australian girl accompanying her Father on an archaeological dig in Egypt in 1915. Having travelled to Cairo with her father for many years, she is well used to the heat, the dust and the Egyptian food but this year is different. The war in Europe is encroaching on the sands of Egypt and Flora finds that even for an archaeologist’s daughter this means change: there are fewer parties and pretty dresses and more bandages and cups of tea with young men who are leaving for the war front. More dramatically, when these young men return injured, Flora must deal with the smell, the bloody wounds and the suffering.
For readers interested in the role of women role during war-time, this book will make an interesting read. Certainly, the role of Australian civilians in Egypt is an unusual perspective for a book about ww1 and the description of Egyptian life, and life for a young woman in the early days of the war, will intrigue many.
Some may find the Flora’s romantic entanglements less credible but they are sure to enjoy her bold spirit and determination.
This book was chosen as a Notable book in the Older Readers section of the CBCA awards (2014).
Recommended (dma) ****
TITLE = THE BOOK OF DAYS
AUTHOR = K.A. BARKER
GENRE = FANTASY, FRIENDSHIP, ADVENTURE
INTEREST LEVEL = YEARS 10+
An unusual world is presented in this fantasy story by a brand new author. A world where half the country believes in magic and the Days (the gods of their magical world) while the other half deplore this reliance on magic and will do all they can to eradicate it from daily life.
All 16 year old Tuesday wants to know, though, is who she really is and why she was sent to sleep in “the Unreality House” , the place where people go to be forgotten. Equally important is why has she been awakened NOW by Quintalian and can he be trusted?? He has promised to take her wherever she wishes to go, even on the perilous journey to find the Book of Days and learn the truth about her background.
Along the way Tuesday is ably supported by the skilled warrior woman , Hester and a blind Librarian’s assistant (Riley) and she really does need all the help she can muster when she comes up against the cruel and brutal, Sterling who is relentless in his desire to end Tuesday’s life.
Will she survive to finish her quest? Will her friends stay true when put to the test? And most importantly, can she find the Book of Days or has it gone forever?
Fans of fantasy are sure to enjoy exploring this new world.
Recommended (dma) ****
TITLE = THAT BOY JACK
AUTHOR = JANEEN BRIAN
GENRE = FRIENDSHIP, FAMILIES, RELATIONSHIPS, ROMANCE
INTEREST LEVEL = YEARS
For those interested in Aussie history, this story will be an absolute delight. Set in the 1870’s in the early days of South Australia, the novel is based around the life of a youngster in a tin mining community. Jack and his family live simply in a small cottage built by his father. Mother spends all day baking and cleaning and looking after Jack’s younger brother and sister. And Jack must help out with chores before and after school (such as brining in fire wood, carrying in buckets of water and tending to the goat.
But Jack enjoys life; he loves school and has fun playing in the surrounding bushland with his best mate, Gilbert. The only thing Jack doesn’t really like is the thought of working underground as a miner, like his father. Yet he has promised Gilbert that when school is over he will join him as a miner, assuming that day is well into the future. But when Gilbert’s dad is injured, Gilbert must become the breadwinner of the family and Jack finds an awkward decision looming before him.
Can he back out of a blood promise … and what will his dad think of him if he does?? But if being underground really frightens him… what choice does he have??
Young readers will enjoy learning about the life and times during this period of Australia’s history … it might even make them reflect on how much easier our modern lives are… especially when Jack’s sister becomes dangerously ill …. There are no ambulances to ring..no medical centres to attend. And those children who complain about school might think again when they read about some of Jack’s trials and tribulations during his school life.
Recommended (dma) ****
TITLE = THE HIDDEN SERIES: Ice Breaker (Book 1)
AUTHOR = LIAN TANNER
GENRE = FANTASY, ADVENTURE, STEAMPUNK, FRIENDSHIP, RELATIONSHIPS
INTEREST LEVEL = YEARS 7, 8
As the title suggest, this novel is based around an intriguing world on board an icebreaking ship (Oyster) which inhabits the icy regions of the south. On the Oyster there are 3 tribes: Braid (Oficers); Dufftown (Cooks) and Grease Alley (Engineers) – each with their own uniform, their own set of duties and their own level on the ship. So everyone on board has a designated place …. all except Petrel, who is shunned by all on board the ship: she has no name to the others (“Nothing Girl” they call her) and no rights – she is even hunted down by some… all because of a supposed betrayal by her dead parents about which neither she (nor the reader) knows the details … until they are gradually revealed in this story.
Having grown up in this world, Petrel is understandably used to living on her wits and trusting no-one. But when she helps to rescue a young lad abandoned on the ice, Petrel finds she must trust some on the ship if this young man is to be saved… indeed her own survival may depend upon it. But will her trust in this boy be her own undoing?? And once the truth about him is revealed…. Will anyone on board be safe??
Fast moving, this is an exciting adventure that will suck the reader into this strange new world ….and keep a firm hold of them until the very last page. As the first of a new series, readers who enjoy this book will be pleased to know there is plenty of excitement still to come.
Shortlisted for the 2013 Aurealis Award for Best Children’s Book (Australian fantasy) and selected as a Notable Book for Younger Readers in the 2014 CBCA Book of the Year (Younger Readers).
Highly Recommended (dma) *****
TITLE = WARP (Book 1): The Reluctant Assassin
AUTHOR = EOIN COLFER
GENRE = STEAMPUNK, ADVENTURE, TIME TRAVEL
INTEREST LEVEL = YEARS 7, 8
16 yo Chevie Savano is not particularly happy when she is sent to babysit a strange machine in London. Having been trained as a junior FBI agent, Chevie was expecting a bright future as an agent but an unfortunate incident has meant she must be shipped offshore until the dust has settled.
Babysitting a strange-looking machine seems pretty tedious and boring, especially with her dour supervisor, Felix Smart, but Chevie is in for a surprise: suddenly the machine awakens and life will never be the same again. This odd contraption is actually a time machine, built by Felix Smart’s father who was biding his time in Victorian England … until two would-be assassin’s were sent to kill him. One of these (a young boy, Riley) comes hurtling through the machine screaming about being chased by his partner in crime (and brutal mentor) Albert Garrick.
Will anyone believe him? Can Chevie and Riley trust each other enough to survive the threat to their lives (and the lives of many others)? And if they have to go back to Victorian England … will they be able to return?
Moving swiftly between modern times and Victorian England, Riley and Chevie make credible (and talented) heroes. They stumble from one adventure to another and just as it looks like they may be making headway … another roadblock emerges. Steampunk fans are sure to enjoy the twisting turning plot and the depiction of Victoran times …especially the villainous Battering Rams.
Fast and furious … with clever (and smart-mouthed) heroes, this book is a must read (for steampunk fans in particular).
Highly Recommended ****
TITLE = HOUSE OF SECRETS (Book 1)
AUTHOR = CHRIS COLUMBUS & NED VIZZINI
GENRE = ACTION, ADVENTURE, FANTASY, ROMANCE, FAMILY
INTEREST LEVEL = YEARS 7-8
Action packed from go to whoa, this is a great book with an inventive plot. The Walker family, including three children (Cordelia, Brendan and Eleanor) have just moved into Kristoff House. An amazing old house, it soon becomes apparent that there are powerful forces of magic at work and before long the three children are thrown into a dangerous adventure. They must battle pirates, ogres and a wicked witch before they can find their way home. The Walker children realise that they must work together and use each of their strengths if they are to survive. …. And the hero of the hour may be somewhat unexpected!.
This is a wonderful story about the power of books, the power of words and the power of wishes. There is a lot of humour in the sibling rivalry and bickering and even a touch of romance to add a bit of spice. All in all, a very entertaining first book in what promises to be an exciting series.
Recommended (dma) ****