An interesting blend of humour, grief and reality TV

loathing lolaTITLE = LOATHING LOLA

AUTHOR = WILLIAM KOSTAKIS

GENRE = FAMILIES, RELATIONSHIPS, GROWING UP 

INTEREST LEVEL = YEARS 9+

15 year old Courtney  Marrow has lost her boyfriend in a car accident and is struggling with her grief. She lives with her Mum and younger brother and has a poor relationship with her father (who recently remarried the dreadful Lola, without warning his children first). On the plus side, Courtney has a great best friend: Tim (they talk together, support each other and he is very loyal towards her). His twin sister (Katie) is another story altogether; having recently decided she will be Courtney’s second best friend …. Is she really on Courtney’s side (or only looking out for herself?)

Courtney has been selected to be the star of a reality TV show based on “a real teen” – however, she is unaware of the plotting going on behind the scenes: by supposed friend and others. Can Courtney survive the reality experience with her reputation and sanity intact??? And what about those burgeoning feelings for a new boy in her life … is it too soon after the death of her previous boyfriend?

Clearly there is a lot on Courtney’s plate and readers will enjoy watching her trying to untangle the complications in her life and her heart.

The authors second novel (The First Third) was announced as an Honour Book (OR) in the CBCA Book of The Year awards. This is his first book and it reveals the same desire to blend laughter and sadness. Although it is perhaps not quite so well handled here, there is still a lot to like about this book.

Recommended (dma) ***  

A moving story for older readers

eleanor and parkTITLE = ELEANOR & PARK

AUTHOR = RAINBOW ROWELL

GENRE = FAMILIES, RELATIONSHIPS, SCHOOL, BULLYING, ROMANCE 

INTEREST LEVEL = YEARS 9+

This is a sad story as flagged from the opening page.

Park is afraid to be open about his feelings, so initially seems a bit angry with Eleanor. Eleanor seems gawky and awkward but as we follow their stories in alternating chapters, we see what hides beneath the veneer that they show the world.

Eleanor comes from a poor and brutal home where her step-father rules. He has only just allowed Eleanor to return home, after kicking her out a year ago. Her mother is afraid to stand up to her partner, so Eleanor and her siblings eat early (before he comes home) and cower whilst he shouts and their mother cries.

Eleanor’s newness and strange attire make her a target for the school bullies so school days are equally difficult for Eleanor; until Park slowly reaches out to her over a shared interest in comics and music. Gradually, their friendship blossoms, giving both of them inner strength. But does their love stand a chance when Eleanor’s brutish step-father is watching her every move… and when put to the test, will Eleanor and Park have the courage to take action .. even at a cost to their relationship?

This is a credible and moving story … although some readers may not like the ending?? Given the themes in the story, it is likely to suit more mature readers.

Recommended (dma) **** 

Mycroft and Watts are at it again!

every wordTITLE = EVERY WORD

AUTHOR = ELLIE MARNEY

GENRE = CRIME, MYSTERY, FAMILY, FRIENDSHIP, RELATIONSHIPS

INTEREST LEVEL = YEARS 10+

An exciting, nail-biting sequel in a brilliant crime series – fans will be delighted and new fans will be won over. The action has moved to London where Mycroft and Watts have a crime to solve but this takes a back seat to battling their demons: Mycroft has plenty of angst in his family history to make him surly and unsure whilst Watts is agonising over their on-again-off-again relationship. Throw in a couple of nasty thugs, a kidnapping, an explosion or two … suddenly the lions they faced in book 1 are looking pretty tame by comparision with their London adventures.

Will Mycroft and Watts survive intact … will their relationship?

Check out the following book trailer for further clues:

(Images by dma or from the Animotot website, Music (Beethoven, Symphony No 5) sourced from thewebsite too.

Read a review of book 1 (Every Breath) here. Fans will be eagerly awaiting the final instalment in this exciting crime series.

Highly Recommended (dma) *****

In a dark future how do you survive?

the sky so heavyTITLE = THE SKY SO HEAVY

AUTHOR = CLAIRE ZORN

GENRE = FUTURE, VIOLENCE, SURVIVAL, FRIENDSHIP 

INTEREST LEVEL = YEARS 9+

This is an exciting story of survival which also gives the reader plenty to think about. The opening line takes us straight into a dramatic situation and awakens a strong sense of peril and fear. And then we go back to find out what brought the narrator, Fin to this urgent situation.

And it all began on what seems like a typical day in the life of teenaged Fin: catching the bus to school, trying to chat with his crush (Lucy), listening to his teachers waffle about the world outside their own Blue Mts. At home, his brother clashes with his father and step-mum, so the boys are left on their own … and that’s when the horrifying adventure really begins.

In an apocalyptic future, Fin and his brother Max must face the danger alone. The power goes almost instantly so any chance of communication with the outside world is immediately restricted. It becomes a daily battle to keep warm and feed themselves, let alone entertain themselves… as they wait for dad to come home …or to be rescued.

Fin is a decent and responsible lad but even he can be pushed to extremes when faced with the mammoth job of keeping his brother alive and safe. Suddenly Fin decides to take action in a morally questionable way … this leads the way for a clever and thought-provoking strand to develop in this novel. For the story gradually raises questions about actions and consequences: does the end always justify the means? Does the fight for survival give one the right to hurt others? How far is too far?

Fin joins forces with Lucy and another boy from their school whose religious leanings provoke some of the moral questioning. Fin is a credibly flawed character who faces great odds and readers will be truly engaged in his story.

Shortlisted for the 2014 CBCA Book of the Year (Older Readers), this book was announced as AN HONOUR BOOK!! CONGRATULATIONS TO CLAIRE ZORN.

Recommended (dma) ****

A sparkling sequel in an original and magical series

Cracks in the Kingdom CVR.pdTITLE = THE COLOURS OF MADELEINE Book 2: THE CRACKS IN THE KINGDOM

AUTHOR = JACLYN MORIARTY

GENRE = FANTASY, FAMILIES, RELATIONSHIPS, ROMANCE, GRIEF, FATHERS, FRIENDSHIP, GROWING UP

INTEREST LEVEL = YEARS 9+

Jaclyn Moriarty has crafted a wonderful sequel in a clever and thoughtful series. Filled with a delicious blend of magic, science, adventure and romance…with credible characters who will draw readers into their stories. Again the book follows the stories of Elliott (in Cello) and Madeleine (in Cambridge, the World) but there is an added strand to the story in the sequel: the story of Princess Ko’s attempts to retrieve her royal family members who have been sent into the World by Hostiles (where they have forgotten their identities and ties to Cello). So there is an added political intrigue behind their new adventures, especially as Elliott is part of the team who have been nominated to help find the royal family … even though this means working with Madeleine to open up the crack between their worlds, despite the risk of death if he is discovered.

This book is about mirrors and cracks: in the world, in families and in individuals: he depths we will go to in order to find and/or protect our loved ones … the grief we will feel at their loss. It is also about politics and looking beneath the surface of people: spies pop up at every turn, allies and friends may have hidden depths of despair … no-one is quite as they seem.

Moriarty balances each strand of the story cleverly, with plenty of new twists and turns in the plot and in the characterisations.  As in the first novel (A Corner of White, read a review here), Jaclyn Moriarty’s writing simply sparkles: it is an absolute joy to read each line. Readers will be left asking for more, and impatiently awaiting the last volume in the series.

Read an interview with Jaclyn Moriarty about writing this series, here.

Highly Recommended (dma) *****

A gothic fairytale in small town America

far far awayTITLE = FAR, FAR AWAY

AUTHOR = TOM MCNEAL

GENRE = FAIRYTALES, GOTHIC HORROR, RELATIONSHIPS, COMMUNITY 

INTEREST LEVEL = YEARS 9+

This is an unusual tale, filled with ghosts and the whisper of grim fairytales, where children go missing and evil lurks around the corner. There is a real sense of other-wordliness about this story partly because the narrator is none other than the ghost of Jacob Grimm (yes, of the Grimm brothers’ fame).

Unable to crossover after his death and meet his beloved brother Wilhelm, Jacob believes his destiny is to look after Jeremy Johnson Johnson and ensure that he doesn’t fall into the clutches of the “Finder of Occasions”. So he whispers in Jeremy’s ear and tells him spooky fairytales.

Jeremy is a quiet boy, with few friends – partly because he hears voices (Jacob’s whispers) and partly because he loves reading fairytales (surprise, surprise). He is a kindly lad who cares for his father, bedridden with grief since his wife left them many years ago. But Jeremy is shunned by the townspeople after an unfortunate prank … is the beguiling Ginger simply leading him astray? Or can she help him find his way to fame and fortune … so that he can save his home from the debt collectors?

Jeremy & Ginger need to stay one step ahead of the “Finder of Occasions” … whoever he may be… for if they are caught they may join the ranks of other missing children. Can Jacob help save them or is he too busy watching the wrong person?

A spooky tale that mesmerises readers into believing in fairytales … and hoping for the best for our young hero, Jeremy and his friend, Ginger. This book has won numerous awards, including the California Book Award Gold Medal (2013), it has been shortlisted for the US National Book Award (2013) and been a finalist in the Edgar Allan Poe Mystery Awards (2013) as well as gaining many, many acclaimed reviews from school libraries. A great choice if you are interested in spooky fairytale-like stories.

Highly Recommended (dma) *****

Two boys with a lot more in common than they believe

bleak boy and hunterTITLE = BLEAKBOY and HUNTER STAND OUT in the RAIN

AUTHOR = STEVEN HERRICK

GENRE = FAMILIES, SCHOOL, BULLYING, ENVIRONMENT 

INTEREST LEVEL = YEAR 7

This book is about 2 boys who think they are very different from each other but in fact have a lot in common. Jesse’s family likes to be self-sufficient: they grow their own food (as much as possible), make (and repair) their own clothes and his folks tell awful jokes. Hunter is Jesse’s worst nightmare: the school bully. Yet when we first meet Hunter he just seems like a boy who cares for his Mum, who is a bit sad and lonely since Hunter’s dad left them. This is the kind side of Hunter which he doesn’t reveal at school; at school he calls people names, does his best to get out of class and is often in trouble.

Hunter assumes that Jesse (whom he calls BleakBoy) is a goody two shoes who would never do anything wrong … yet Jesse has stolen his father’s credit card, is caught smoking at school and has 2 detentions in as many days … what exactly is going on? Has Jesse truly become BadBoy? Meanwhile Hunter has offered to help Jesse and his friend, Kate, help save the whales … has Hunter become GoodBoy?

A story with a lot of heart and a lot of humour … and a very satisfying ending.

Recommended (dma) ****

The sliding doors effect … and how it affects 3 teens

the vanishing momentTITLE = THE VANISHING MOMENT

AUTHOR = MARGARET WILD

GENRE = GRIEF, MENTAL HEALTH, FAMILIES  

INTEREST LEVEL = YEARS 10+

Everyone faces moments in their lives when tough things happen, moments we regret or moments we wish had never happened. Just imagine what it would be like if you could go back and relive those moments  –  remove the heartache and pain … would you take up this chance? Even if it meant another version of yourself had to suffer instead of you?

This is the situation facing 3 young adults. Bob has had a dreadfully unhappy childhood, raised by a bullying step-dad – loneliness and jail seem the likely future.  Arrow  is drifting aimlessly, seemingly unable to cope with the deaths of her childhood friends. And Marika can’t stop crying since her toddler brother went missing, whilst in her care.

All 3 cross paths at a small seaside town …. Will their meeting herald a new and better future?? Or is sadness around the corner for some of them? A book with an interesting ending and with plenty for readers to think about.

A Notable book in the 2014 CBCA awards (Older Readers).

Recommended **** (dma)  

Choices always have consequences … some may be unexpected …

dead dogTITLE = DEAD DOG IN THE STILL OF THE NIGHT

AUTHOR = ARCHIMEDE FUSILLO

GENRE = FAMILY, GROWING UP, VIOLENCE

INTEREST LEVEL = YEARS 10+

This is a dark novel with a sense of brooding violence and anger lingering at the edge of every page. Primo has a lot on his plate: his father is in a nursing home and his girlfriend wants to break up with him. His home-life hasn’t got any easier since his brothers have moved back in, bringing all sorts of problems and pressures with them. How can somebody concentrate on their VCE studies with all this going on?

AS Primo tells his best mate, Tony, smart guys sometimes make dumb decisions … and it seems like Primo is talking about himself … first with his dad’s beloved car and then with the dead dog. What seemed like a good idea at the time may turn out to be a very very bad idea once it has been executed. And trying to fix one bad idea with another bad idea is surely never going to work? But hindsight is all very well – it is not going to help if the thug from work wants revenge, it is not going to help when he has to tell his mother the truth … as Primo learns all too well.

And ultimately that is what becomes important in this book: any one can make mistakes but it is how we deal with these mistakes, how we learn (or if we learn) that can make us grow up to fight another day… in a better way. Will Primo see that before his world comes crumbling down around him …and what will he learn about his family in the process? A book which may be dark but which also shows that strength doesn’t always come from a fist and dignity can be found in unlikely places.

Recommended (dma) ***** 

Of jokes … and grandfathers … and new love

tigers on the beachTITLE = TIGERS ON THE BEACH

AUTHOR = DOUG MacLEOD

GENRE = FAMILIES, RELATIONSHIPS, GROWING UP, GRIEF, GRANDPARENTS

INTEREST LEVEL = YEARS 10+

Jokes are important to Adam. His beloved grandfather has always kept him entertained with jokes so it is only natural that Adam tends to find the humour in life. But suddenly there doesn’t seem a lot for Adam to laugh about: his loving parents seem to be constantly arguing, his grandmother is crankier than ever, his grandfather can no longer send him funny emails and to make matters worse, the girl Adam likes just doesn’t seem to have a sense of humour at all. Can things get any worse…well, when your younger brother is a rather special kid, who is dabbling in explosives, then, yes maybe they can!

This is an entertaining story, set in an Australian seaside town. The title comes from a joke that is sent to Adam by Samantha (the girl he likes) …. Unfortunately he doesn’t “get it”. Can two people with a different sense of humour actually have a friendship, let alone a romantic relationship??

To find out, join Adam and his family in this heart-warming story about love, family, friendship … and humour.

PS. If you have read one of Doug MacLeod’s earlier novels (Siggy and Amber) then look out for their cameo appearance in this book!

Highly Recommended (dma) *****