A love letter to the western suburbs of Sydney

the incredible here and nowTITLE = THE INCREDIBLE HERE AND NOW

AUTHOR = FELICITY CASTAGNA

GENRE = AUSTRALIAN SUBURBS, FAMILY, GRIEF

INTEREST LEVEL = YEARS 10+

Rather than following a conventional narrative, this book is presented as a series of short snippets from Michael, a young man growing up in the western suburbs of Sydney. He is well aware of the prejudice others have towards his suburb, yet his stories speak only of the pride and affection he has for his neighbourhood. Even though there is sadness etched in between his stories, the sadness that comes with losing a loved one, we watch and hear how Michael and his family live their daily lives and the small pleasures that can be found here: in neighbours, in footy, in the local pool and the Macca’s carpark. His world is filled with likeable characters: Michael’s Poppy, his nephew Sam, his best-mate Shady and his first girlfriend, Mo. These characters become real and vivid as Michael shares their lives with us. Told in simple prose, these are simple short stories, often only a page or two in length yet they are brimming with sadness, humour and warmth. Together they fill out the story of a year in Michael’s life and his willingness to engage in “the incredible here and now” of growing up in Parramatta.

An enjoyable and heart-felt read. It is easy to see why this book was short-listed for the 2014 CBCA Book of the Year awards (Older Readers).

Highly Recommended (dma) ****    

When life is turned upside down….

the yr my life brokeTITLE = THE YEAR MY LIFE BROKE

AUTHOR = JOHN MARSDEN

GENRE = SCHOOL, SPORT, FRIENDSHIP, FAMILY RELATIONSHIPS

INTEREST LEVEL = YEARS 7-8

Josh has always loved sport. At his old school he was a sporting champion and often captained school sides. In fact, he may even have been school captain this year…if he was still at his old school. But life has changed drastically for Josh and his family: his parents’ financial crisis has forced them to move to a crummy house in a crummy town and now Josh is the new kid in a crummy school.

Josh decides to start afresh; rather than be sports mad again, he wants to sample life without his beloved cricket. But this might just put him on the outer with the other boys in his year level and with the PE teacher in particular. How will they react when they discover that Josh has been hiding his talent??

Is there more to life than cricket? And is there more to this town and more to his new school than Josh has been willing to see?

A story about sport, friendship and family with plenty of action and entertainment.

Selected as a Notable book for the 2014 CBCA Book of the Year (Younger Readers)

Recommended (dma) ****

Looking at life in a new way

when mr dog bitesTITLE = when mr dog bites   

AUTHOR = BRIAN CONAGHAN

GENRE = RELATIONSHIPS, TOURETTES SYNDROME, FAMILY, FRIENDSHIP

INTEREST LEVEL = YEARS 10 -12

Dylan Mint is 16 yo and has Tourette’s Syndrome which means he must constantly battle against his tics: especially swearing, growling and howling like a dog. But sometimes, the more he tries to keep these things in, the more they simply want to explode out of him – like a volcano. Stressful situations only make it worse and Dylan feels he has a lot to be stressed about; especially since he overheard the doctor telling his mum that he won’t live past March!!

There is a lot on Dylan’s list to do before March. And as if this isn’t enough, he and his best mate Amir have to deal with the school bully, there is a taxi driver who keeps parking in his Dad’s spot … and his dad is doing another tour of duty. Will Dylan see his dad before March?? With so much going on in his life is it any wonder that his relationship with his Mum seems to be getting worse and Dylan is getting into more trouble than ever at the special school he attends.

Written in the first person, the reader has a unique chance to feel what it is like to walk in Dylan Mint’s shoes. He may not always be able to control what comes out of his mouth but like any teen, Dylan wants to understand the world around him and find his place in this world. He may sometimes speak crudely but beneath this, he is a thoughtful and kind young man, willing to stand up for his friends against bullying and racism.

Often quite amusing and always entertaining this is a wonderful story and Dylan is a very likable character. The language and frank discussions of sex may be confronting for younger readers but older teens are sure to thoroughly enjoy this novel.

Highly Recommended for mature readers (dma) *****

A thoughtful account of gay life

2 boys kissingTITLE = two boys kissing  

AUTHOR = DAVID LEVITHAN

GENRE = RELATIONSHIPS, HOMOSEXUALITY, ROMANCE, LOSS

INTEREST LEVEL = YEARS 10 -12

As the title suggests, this novel is about two boys kissing, quite literally, but at its heart it is really about relationships and love. Craig and Harry are the 2 boys who have pledged to break the Guinness World Record for the longest kiss. Ex-boyfriends, they are making their world record attempt on the front lawn of their high school. Both boys are openly gay but whilst Harry’s parents are supportive, Craig’s parents are unaware their son is gay … until his Mum stumbles upon them in their record breaking attempt!

Against the background of this kiss, we also watch two other teenaged gay couples: Peter and Neil have been together for a year (again, one with his parents’ full knowledge and consent, the other in a more circumspect situation) whilst blue-haired Ryan and pink-haired Avery have only just met. AS these 3 couples navigate the course of their relationships, it becomes apparent that apart from their feelings for each other, their relationships with their parents and families is quite crucial. So the saddest story thread of all, is that of Cooper, the teenager who can barely come out to himself let alone his peers and parents. His world has narrowed to a unsatisfying virtual existence and readers will be following his story with an ever-growing sense of dread.

Whilst this novel is moving and insightful, it may take a few pages for the reader to feel truly at ease. This is because instead of dipping straight into a delightful David Levithan world of teenage characters with smart and perceptive dialogue, the first voice we hear in this novel is one of commentary, much like a Greek chorus: it gradually becomes apparent that this is the voice of gay men past – those many gay men who were lost to the blight of the AIDS epidemic. So the modern day story of the many and varied gay relationships in “two boys kissing” is filtered through this commentary from gay men of the past. And gradually this voice becomes a more natural part of the overall narrative so that it no longer interrupts the modern story but rather adds greater depth and meaning.

It is 10 years since David Levithan wrote the ground-breaking “Boy meets boy” (read a review here) – and this new novel is very much building upon that first delve into the ups and downs of  gay relationships, the highs and lows of love and life. For more info about David and/or this novel, check out his website.

This book has been Longlisted for the 2014 Silver Inky awards.

Highly Highly Recommended (dma) *****

A gripping read

KILLING-WOODS-Final2-196x300TITLE = THE KILLING WOODS

AUTHOR = LUCY CHRISTOPHER

GENRE = CRIME, MYSTERY, ADVENTURE, HORROR  

INTEREST LEVEL = YEARS 10+

This is a clever but quite chilling tale told by 2 key characters: Emily and Damon. Emily is the daughter of a battle-shattered man who has been arrested for the murder of a teenager in the woods behind their house. The doctors and police have decided that her dad’s wounded mind has led him to mistakenly kill the girl whilst in the throes of a flashback. Emily refuses to believe that her dad is guilty of the murder so she wants answers: why was the teenage girl (Ashlee Parker) in the woods on that night anyway? Was her dad simply trying to save the girl as he had saved many woodland creatures in the past?

Damon was Ashlee’s boyfriend. He too wants answers – whilst he firmly believes that Emily’s father is the guilty party, he was actually in the woods with Ashlee on that fateful night  … but a combination of drink and drugs means he cannot clearly remember what happened. He is haunted by the suspicion that he could or should have saved her. Worse still, could he have anything to do with her death?

Can Emily and Damon trust each other enough to find answers for both of them? And what about their own close friends – are they helping or hindering the police investigation … can they be trusted?

A gripping story which is a real page-turner from go to whoa. Like Emily and Damon, the reader will be keen to piece together the events which have led to Ashlee’s death, but will we see the truth before they do?

Why not check out the author’s website to learn more about this gripping novel and her other award winning books?

Highly Recommended (dma) *****

An exciting adventure set in Ancient Roman times

galdiator bk 1TITLE = GLADIATOR: FIGHT FOR FREEDOM

AUTHOR = SIMON SCARROW

GENRE = ADVENTURE, ANCIENT ROME, IDENTITY

INTEREST LEVEL = YEARS 7 – 9

If you like reading adventure stories set in Ancient times, then this book is for you! At the beginning, Marcus is ten years old, growing up on a small farm in Ancient Greece. He adores his father, Titus, who was a centurion before he retired and loves his mother Livia. Life is good. Until the day that the money-lender, Decimus, sends his men to the farm to brutally slay Titus and send his family to be sold as slaves.

Vowing revenge, Marcus is sent to a gladiator school where life is brutal indeed. Apart from trying to survive the gruelling training, Marcus must try and outwit the local bully, Ferax, who hates him with a passion and would like nothing more than to see him dead. Can Marcus survive these threats to his life? And what news does the kitchen slave have for Marcus about his father Titus and the slave hero, Spartacus, whom Titus fought in the slave rebellions 10 years ago? Spartacus may have died in that uprising but his name lives on and he is still revered by slaves throughout the land.

This book is fast paced and Marcus is a brave and clever lad who will win the hearts of most readers. Furthermore, this is the first book in a series, so there is plenty of action still to come. And if readers wish to know more about Ancient Rome as depiced in this story, then there are useful notes at the end of this book. Or why not check out the “Gladiator” website?

Highly Recommended (dma) *****

An exciting horror adventure awaits … if you dare to read….

screaming staircaseTITLE = LOCKWOOD & CO. : The Screaming Staircase (Book 1)

AUTHOR = JONATHAN STROUD

GENRE = GHOSTS, FANTASY, SUPERNATURAL, ADVENTURE, HORROR

INTEREST LEVEL = YEARS 7 – 10

A bit of horror, a bit of humour and a whole lot of adventure … this book has it all. Set in a world where ghosts come out to play at night, and they like to play nasty, scary, life threatening games! Lockwood and Co is a small company of psychic investigators; for a price they will come in and rid your home of those nasty spectres, they will banish the ghosts to eternity.

Well, that is what Lucy has trained for and that is why she has joined forces with the dashing Anthony Lockwood and his side-kick, their researcher, George. The three teenagers hope to make a name for themselves, even though they are working solo, without the usual adult supervisor. However, it is hard to be taken seriously when your exploits have a tendency to go slightly awry. Customers may want the ghosts to disappear but they don’t necessarily want their house to be burnt down in the process!

This is the predicament they find themselves in early in the novel. To avoid going out of business, they must solve a mystery and take on the scariest challenge ever: a challenge that has already taken the lives of many other ghost seekers. Can they survive the night on the renowned “screaming staircase”? Will Lockwood lead his charges safely or will they pay with their lives for his recklessness?

An exciting adventure awaits readers … and the best news is, this is the first in a series of books by Jonathan Stroud – so there are plenty more to come. This book has already been nominated for a number of awards, including the Edgar award (US award for mystery writing).

Check out the website based on the series or read the interactive shortstory featuring Lockwood and his crew, here.

This book has been Longlisted for the 2014 Silver Inky Award.

Highly Recommended (dma) *****

An exciting foray into the gearpunk world

TITLE = THE RITHMATIST

AUTHOR = BRANDON SANDERSON

GENRE = GEARPUNK, ADVENTURE, MAGIC, FANTASY,SERIES

INTEREST LEVEL = YEARS 7-9

Journey into the “Gearpunk” world of “the Rithmatist” for fun, fantasy and adventure. Young Joel is the son of a chalk maker and an enthusiastic devotee of Rithmatists, those who use chalk drawings to wield magic. Using complex mathematical formulae and symbols, Rithmatists can create in chalk elaborate defences and mount attacks against enemies. They can also create chalklings to further extend their powers. But what if these abilities are used against the Rithmatists themselves?? Who can stave off such attacks??

Joel is keen to help: he has an amazing knowledge of the Rithmatist’s lore and would dearly love to be able to wield power as they do; but he missed his opportunity as a youngster. Can he join forces with the professor and the remedial Rithmatist student, Melody, to save the day?? Or will he simply make enemies of those with great power? This is an exciting foray into a new fantasy series – one with engines powered by unusual gears and cogs, one with an odd mix of mathematics and magic, one where courage is needed to face great odds.

An exciting mystery and fantasy set in a gearpunk world created by a famed fantasy writer: Brandon Sanderson. Check out his website and blog here.

Check out the book trailer below, too:

Highly Recommended (dma) *****

If a dinosaur travelled to mediaeval times … oops!

TITLE = DINOSAUR KNIGHTS

AUTHOR = MICHAEL GERARD BAUER

GENRE = TIME TRAVEL, KNIGHTS, ADVENTURE

INTEREST LEVEL = YEARS 7, 8

Take a scientist who believes he can play with time, a dinosaur and some medieval twins and you have the recipe for an unusual adventure. Roland and Oswald have known better times when they grew up in the castle as the twin sons of the esteemed doctor. Since their father has fallen out of favour their lives have been turned upside down and Roland’s dreams of becoming a knight seem hopeless. Or are they? What happens when an unsuspecting dinosaur is transported into their time … and mistaken for a fire-breathing dragon? Will Roland get his chance to face the dragon and save the princess?? Or will he and his brother simply be collateral damage in a scientist’s attempt to play with time??

Michael Gerard Bauer has all the ingredients for an entertaining story which young readers are sure to enjoy.

Recommended (dma) ****

Falling in love can take you out of your comfort zone…

TITLE = LIFE IN OUTER SPACE

AUTHOR = MELISSA KEIL

GENRE = FRIENDSHIP, ROMANCE, FAMILY

INTEREST LEVEL = YEARS 10+

Sam is a self-confessed geek – perfectly at home with computers, WOW and obsessed with horror films. But girls are another matter altogether. He has a well-established core of friends including fellow geeks Mike, Adrian and Allison (who is clearly a friend rather than a girl!). So when the beautiful and popular Camilla comes to his (boring) school, in the most (boring) of suburbs, Sam is not prepared for her to become his friend. This does not fit into his ordered world at all – the popular kids mix with the jocks not the nerds. So what is a boy supposed to do?? Especially when other parts of his life appear to be spinning out of control: are his parents splitting up? Why aren’t he and Mike able to talk anymore and why does he punch his friend in the face?? It truly does seem like Sam has wondered out of his comfort zone and into some alien landscape.

An engaging and credible story in which Sam has to learn a few home truths – including the fact that school smarts don’t always translate into people smarts …. But the latter can be learned .. if given enough time. Humorous and touching with a cast of engaging teens – sure to be a hit with girls but boys should enjoy it too.

No wonder this book was Shortlisted for the 2014 CBCA Book of the Year (Older Readers)

Highly Recommended (dma) *****