A new fantasy author brings a fresh approach to the Quest story

book of daysTITLE = 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) ****  

The highs and lows of life for youngsters in the 1870’s

that boy jackTITLE = 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) ****

An exciting icy adventure

ice breakerTITLE = 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) *****

When grief threatens to overwhelm life …

as stras fallTITLE = as stars fall

AUTHOR = CHRISTIE NEIMAN

GENRE = FRIENDSHIP, FAMILIES, RELATIONSHIPS

INTEREST LEVEL = YEARS 10+

Robin’s happy farm life has been replaced by a rather lonely city existence. On the night of a threatening fire, her parent’s marriage has been shattered and the fallout for Robin has been equally heart-breaking: a new tiny house in a new strange city, a new school and the need to make new friends…. One of whom could be Delia ….but….

Delia’s life has also been shattered, on the same night and by the same fire. The loss of her mother has caused Delia to withdraw, her older brother (Seth) has turned to drugs and her father has turned to alcohol.

The common link between the two girls (unbeknownst to them) is not only the fire but also a strange and rare bird. Can this bird draw the two girls together … before it is too late for them … and for Seth??

This is a beautifully written book which brings alive the countryside of Australia, in all its terrible beauty. The characters are credible and their dilemmas are heartfelt whilst allowing different characters to take turns in telling the story from their point of view, is both clever and magical (when the narrator happens to be the bird).

A wonderful blend of warmth, sadness, beauty and complexity; mature readers will love this book.

Highly Recommended (dma) *****  

An fast-paced steampunk adventure

warp book 1TITLE = 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 ****

An entertaining Aussie rom com

cinnamon girlTITLE = THE INCREDIBLE ADVENTURES OF CINNAMON GIRL

AUTHOR = MELISSA KEIL

GENRE = FRIENDSHIP, FAMILIES, RELATIONSHIPS, ROMANCE  

INTEREST LEVEL = YEARS 10+

Sarah Jane (otherwise known as Alba) has lived in the small country town of Eden Valley all her life. With a small but close group of friends, she has just completed Year 12 and is facing the next stage of her life…with some trepidation. AS a comic book lover and artist, she may have created a fantabulous character in Cinnamon Girl but can she find the courage to set her off on new adventures?? Just as her comic creation has stalled, life for Alba has turned on its head. There are still the old traditions (that she has created) like Monday morning brekkie on the lawns of her mum’s bakery, and Monday night TV & drinks and Christmas Eve picnic tea…. But this maintenance of the old is being fast swamped by new events with which Alba is struggling to cope. First there is the invasion of her town by doomsdayers who believe that the world will end on New Year’s Eve – all except for Eden Valley … then there is the strange behaviour of Grady her longtime best friend, who alternates between yelling at her and disappearing altogether…. and the return of one of their childhood friends, Daniel, only adds to the complications.  Why can’t Alba think through the fog in her head… and why can’t she see what everyone else can see…about her future and her love life?? Most importantly, will she sort it all out before it is too late??

Fans of Melissa Keil’s first novel (“Life in Outer Space“) will enjoy her new book and if you love a warm-hearted romcom or if you love comic books you are sure to delight in Alba’s incredible adventures … it is a wild and comical ride with a fanciful and talented young heroine.

And the cover is to die for!

HIghly Recommended (dma) *****

A very different story from Claire Zorn

the-protected-cover-aw-copyTITLE: The Protected

AUTHOR: Claire Zorn

GENRE: Family, Grief, Bullying, School

INTEREST LEVEL: Year 8, 9, 10

After her sister, Katie, dies in a car accident, Hannah’s life is more stressful than ever. She isn’t getting bullied at school anymore, but her mother hasn’t left the house since then, and her injured father is going to court in six weeks because he was driving the car when Katie died.

Hannah can’t remember the accident.

It’s almost a year later, and Hannah is talking to the school counsellor about what happened. And to Josh, sometimes – the new kid who always seems to be around. The book unfolds with lists about Katie, flashbacks to Hannah’s life before the accident, and her interactions now – conversations with the school counsellor, with her parents, with the students that used to bully her. Occasionally it’s a little hard to tell when a flashback has started – until Katie shows up. Everyone in Hannah’s life is trying to help, but some people are more successful than others.

The author, Claire Zorn, wrote The Sky So Heavy which was shortlisted for the CBCA Older Readers book of the year; this story however is quite different. Set in a town in the Blue Mountains, it’s a story that could, tragically, easily be any teenager’s story – not like The Sky So Heavy’s apocalypse. Read it if you are interested in all the ways people try to deal with death, and what you do when someone you love dies.

Recommended (emc) ****

A suspenseful summer story

liarsTITLE: We Were Liars

AUTHOR: E Lockhart

GENRE: Family, Suspense, Relationships

INTEREST LEVEL: Year 9+

Every summer, the Sinclairs spend the summer on their island. It’s a beautiful island, and the Sinclairs have four beautiful houses to live in every summer. The Sinclairs, you see, are terribly rich.

Our narrator, Cadence, and her cousins are called the Liars. The three cousins, and one friend, have grown up together, swimming and boating and getting into trouble: holidays. But now it’s summer seventeen and everything is different – Cady missed summer sixteeen when her dad took her to Europe. What happened during summer fifteen? Why can’t Cady remember?

Each tiny little section – some less than a page long – gives you some information about summer seventeen, or the accident, or the Liars’ lives growing up. This structure makes it even harder to put the book down. Occasional retellings of parts of King Lear, rewritten to suit Cady’s life at that point of the novel, show the reader more links in the stories of different generations of the Sinclairs.

We were Liars is a suspenseful story about family, love, and the truth. If anyone asks you how it ends, lie.

Highly recommended (emc) ***** Also, have a look at the tumblr created for the book.

Mateship between soldiers and their horses

loyal creaturesTITLE = LOYAL CREATURES

AUTHOR = MORRIS GLEITZMAN

GENRE = WAR, ANIMALS, WW1 

INTEREST LEVEL = YEARS 7-9

Frank is a hothead. He is also very close to his father, with whom he works on farms in his close-knit community, tending to water supplies. So when his father is sent a white feather during the early days of the war, Frank is keen for them to join up together: in the Light Horse brigade, of course, so they can take their beloved horses with them.

Frank assumes war will be one big adventure but the reality turns out to be rather different: it is tough, dirty, dusty and disappointingly mundane. Keen to be on the frontline in the midst of the action, Frank is frustrated when his father is sent to Gallipoli and he must stay behind in the heat and dust of northern Africa, organising water supplies for the Aussie troops who are training there. And when his hotheadedness comes to the fore, Frank finds himself in real trouble.

Frank’s hotheadedness may get him into strife but he also shows great courage when put to the test – boys and girls are sure to enjoy reading about his adventures (and misadventures) just as much as they will enjoy reading about his beloved horse, Daisy.

This book is short and easy to read and demonstrates the special bond between the soldiers and their horses in the Light Horse Brigade during WW1. The loyal horses were well trained and would lead their soldiers into the fray of battle. Unfortunately, this loyalty was not always rewarded by the Army itself. Morris Gleitzman is normally better known for lol comedy but If you are an animal lover, you may find it handy to have some tissues at hand as you read the closing pages of the novel .

And if you enjoy reading this book why not have a look at the award-winning graphic novel:  “The Light Horse Boy” (reviewed here) on a similar theme.

Highly Recommended (dma) *****

A ghost story with plenty of twists and turns

doll bonesTITLE = DOLL BONES

AUTHOR = HOLLY BLACK

GENRE = HORROR, QUEST, RELATIONSHIPS, GROWING UP 

INTEREST LEVEL = YEARS 7-9    

Poppy, Zach and Alice have been friends for ages and have had great fun playing a special game filled with imagination and adventure. They use action figures, puppets and dolls to act out their stories, collaborating and decorating their storytelling.

But what happens when one of them is challenged to stop being childish … the ripple effect on their friendship and their storytelling game quickly stirs into action, especially when Poppy realises that the doll in her cabinet at home has a mysterious curse that can only be lifted by a road trip … by bus, at night ….

Can 3 young teens really work together on this quest without destroying their friendship? Does the doll really need help or is it just playing games with them? Can they in fact finish their quest … or will fear, anger or disappointment get in the way?

This is a clever story with plenty of mystery, adventure and friendship problems to be resolved. If you liked The Spiderwick Chronicles you are sure to enjoy this novel for younger readers from Holly Black

Recipient of a Newbery Honor Award

Recommended (dma) ****