It has all your favourite things! Adventure, maps… and a sad ending.

The-Girl-of-Ink-and-Stars-by-Kiran-Millwood-HargraveTitle: 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)

 

 

An unusual recipe for a brilliant book

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METHOD:
1. Find a desiccated bat.
2. Mix it with some water.
3. Drink it, and
4. see what the future holds for the offspring of each and every person you come across in the next few weeks.
What could go wrong?
Glory’s present isn’t easy. Her mother has died, and her father doesn’t want to leave his chair, his computer, or the copious amounts of comfort food that seems to provide little consolation for life’s miseries. Glory’s only friend is not so friendly, and she is about to graduate school with no plans for her future. Glory obviously needs the soothsaying bat juice to provide direction for her life!

But it seems that the future is not so bright. The second American Civil War is only decades away, and Glory has a vital role to play…
This is another thought provoking book from the author of Everyone Sees the Ants, Ask the Passengers, and Reality Boy. A.S. King is an extraordinary writer, who successfully twists and morphs genre in such a way so as the reader never loses the sense that every event in the book could happen in real life. This is a book for older readers who enjoy dystopian themes but who are looking for more than a rehashed The Hunger Games.

Wonderful: (ipe) *****
Author: A.S.King
Interest Level: Year 9+

Private school…private struggle

Lucy Lam should feel like the most fortunate of girls. She has won a highly coveted scholarship to an exclusive girls’ school, Laurinda.  It is an opportunity of a lifetime; an opportunity which Lucy and her parents believe will allow her to ultimately improve her life.

As the daughter of Vietnamese immigrants, Lucy struggles to adapt to her new school, and the fact that she is no longer amongst the smartest and most studious in her class. Lucy’s feelings of dislocation are compounded by the hierarchical nature of the school, and the trio of girls known as the Cabinet. They are not your run of the mill clique, but three girls who believe it is their personal mission to control and manipulate the students, staff and administration of the school. Lucy faces her greatest hurdle when the Cabinet decide that she must join their group.

Laurinda  is an entertaining read, which is at times so autobiographical in tone that you may find curiosity driving you to “google” Pung’s biography. The descriptions of Mrs Lam’s life working long hours illegally as a seamstress from her garage are confronting. So too are the demands placed on a fifteen year old Lucy to attend school, study, and run a household all whilst caring for her infant brother. Pung has created a book that is highly critical of patronising programs run by some “elite” schools, but is equally disapproving of the oftentimes onerous expectations that prospective students’ families place on their young people to achieve academic success.

Highly Recommended: ipe

Author: Alice Pung

Interest Level: Year 7 +

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Dead ends or a new start?

Title:  Dead Ends dead ends 2

Author:  Erin Lange

Interest Level: Year 9+

Dane has just about used up all his chances. One more mistake and he will be expelled from his High School.

Billy D has changed schools and needs help avoiding bullies like Dane. What better way for Dane to redeem himself than helping a kid like Billy D? Or at least the principal thinks so…

As reluctant as he is to help, Dane quickly discovers that Billy D needs more than a bodyguard, he needs a friend. Dane isn’t really sure anyone is equipped to be that friend. Billy D is a demanding task master who is not above threatening and manipulating Dane to make him do what Billy wants. And yet, Dane and Billy D have much in common; they both struggle to fit in and both are missing their fathers. Dane has never known his father, whilst Billy D has lost contact with his.  It is this common bond, and the resulting search for their fathers that ultimately brings both boys a little closer to adulthood.

This is Erin Lange’s second book. Her first, Butter, was a stand out for its original and contemporary approach to issues such as obesity and teen suicide. In Dead Ends Lange in her straight forward and uncompromising way, tackles disability, bullying and poverty of opportunity. There are no neat resolutions or happy endings for the characters, however, Dead Ends does leave the reader believing that the boys’ lives are better for their friendship and that there is potential for happier futures.

Recommended (ipe) ***

 

 

 

 

Getting lost isn’t always a bad thing

book coverTitle:  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): ***

Weird but wonderful

Title:  Grasshopper Junglegrasshopper

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): *****

A bird’s eye view can breed friendship

view from 32nd floorTITLE = VIEW FROM THE 32ND FLOOR

AUTHOR = EMMA CAMERON

GENRE = FRIENDSHIP, FAMILIES, RELATIONSHIPS, ROMANCE  

INTEREST LEVEL = YEAR 7

William is a rather different young boy. For example, he chooses a different name each day (and his parents and friends happily go along with this). He lives on the upper floors of an inner city block of flats and loves nothing more than observing life from this vantage point, in particular, the neighbours in the building across from him. First he notices young Rebecca, a girl of about his age, who walks in a special way. He knows something about each of her neighbours: the older man who spends most of his time watching TV, the young man with the wispy pot plants and  the apartment where the curtains are always closed.  As William and Rebecca become friends they gradually put names to the faces of her neighbours and learn a bit more about the loneliness behind their lives.

Living in a city can be an isolating experience and it is hard to feel a sense of community with those around you when you all live behind locked doors. So William and Rebecca decide that this needs to change… and their actions bring about extraordinary events.

This is a sweet and gentle novel about the importance of friendship in our lives and the importance of belonging to a community. Younger readers will enjoy the story and the cast of interesting and very credible characters.

This book was chosen as a Notable book in the Younger Readers section of the CBCA awards (2014).

 Recommended (dma) ****

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) ****  

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) *****