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+

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): *****

What do you really know about the new guy at school?

FullSizeRenderTitle: 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): ***

Romantic adventures at boarding school in Paris

anna and the french kissTITLE = Anna and the French Kiss
AUTHOR = Stephanie Perkins
GENRE = Romance, Friendship, Relationships
INTEREST LEVEL = years 9-10

Although boarding school in Paris sounds like an incredible experience, Anna is less than thrilled with her father’s plan. It means leaving behind her best friend, her plans for her senior year, and it means leaving a fledgling romance behind. She has no French language skills at all, and how is she supposed to keep up her movie review website when she can’t even buy tickets?

Still, she manages to make friends at her new school, including her next door neighbour Meredith and the handsome Etienne. Smart, charming, beautiful, Etienne has it all…including a girlfriend. But in the City of Light, wishes have a way of coming true. Will a year of romantic near-misses end with a longed-for French kiss?

The first draft of this novel was written as part of Nanowrimo – National Novel Writing Month – and Stephanie Perkins has followed it up with two other novels set in and around the School of America in Paris. The other students at the school are very interesting characters who I’d like to know more about and although we don’t spend too much time seeing what Anna does in class we do get to see her experience Paris (reluctant though she is to try anything new at the start). This is a very sweet novel for romance fans – and proof, for our writers, that you can write a publishable novel in 30 days!

Recommended (emc) ***

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) ****

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) *****

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) *****