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 love letter to the western suburbs of Melbourne

tigerfishTITLE = TIGERFISH

AUTHOR = DAVID METZENTHEN

GENRE = AUSTRALIAN SUBURBS, FAMILY, GRIEF, VIOLENCE

INTEREST LEVEL = YEARS 10 +

This is a brilliant and compelling novel. If “The Incredible Here and Now” is a love letter to the Western suburbs of Sydney, then this novel is an ode to the Western suburbs of Melbourne. It is an ode tinged with rawness and simmering violence, but also with loyalty and kindness.

Ryan is well aware that there is a bleak harshness about his suburb. There is fear lurking in the wasteland on the edge of his suburb: fear due to past violence and recent reports of a prowler on the loose. Even Ryan doesn’t want to be out in this bare wasteland at night. Yet despite this fear and darkness, Ryan clearly loves his neighbourhood and there is a lot to be loved – in the strong sense of community spirit and in Ryan himself.

Slate (Ryan’s brother) is stuck in a dead-end factory job by day and a bouncer’s job at night; simmering with anger about the consequences of past decisions.  Ariel, the new love of Ryan’s life, is trapped by her sad family history. School colleagues, Eden and Elmore are trapped by guilt. And caught between all these characters is Ryan himself; uncertain of his own future yet willing to reach out to others, however uncomfortable he may sometimes feel.

Loyalty is important to Ryan as is team work – and he uses his love of footy to guide his actions; moving forward, sidestepping where necessary, not always winning but willing to come back next week and give it a go. This is a compelling novel. Ryan’s voice is authentic and, at times, dryly funny. He sees the bleakness around him but he also sees the beauty in his community. What he perhaps doesn’t see, but what the reader will see, is how Ryan is a part of this beauty.

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

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) ****    

A sad yet uplifting story

stay well soonTITLE = STAY WELL SOON

AUTHOR = PENNY TANGEY

GENRE = GRIEF, DEATH, FRIENDSHIP, FAMILY 

INTEREST LEVEL = YEARS 7+

Make sure you have the tissue box handy … this is a great read bit it is also rather sad at times. Young Stevie hasn’t exactly got things easy: her mum can’t afford for her to go on school camp, let alone buy her a horse! Her best friend seems to have dropped her (so school days are lonely) and now her brother is sick(which means lots of time in his hospital. Even her friendship with the new girl, Morgan, gets prickly sometimes – Morgan asks too many questions in Stevie’s mind… and she doesn’t always want to answer .. or maybe she just doesn’t have the answers?

The one bright spot comes from Lara, the friend Stevie makes when chilling out in the Kidz Space at her brother’s hospital. Despite the fact that Lara is 14 and Stevie is only 11, they have a lot in common: they both love horses and they both love to draw. But Lara is sick too. How does an 11 yo make sense of her world when so much keeps shifting and there seems so much to lose?

This is a lovely story about family, friendship and coping with grief…and a young girl’s obsession with horses! Girls in particular are sure to enjoy this book, especially Stevie’s numerous drawings and sketches. But be warned… tissues may be needed at certain points in the story!

Selected as a Notable book in the 2014 Book of the Year Awards (Younger Readers)

Highly Recommended (dma) ****

Facing life in the wilds of school camp

wildlifeTITLE = WILDLIFE

AUTHOR = FIONA WOOD

GENRE = FRIENDSHIP, GRIEF, GROWING UP, FAMILY, ROMANCE

INTEREST LEVEL = YEARS 10+

Sybilla and Lou take turns to tell this story. Both are in yr 10 and heading off to their school’s compulsory term in the “wild” – or at least in the bush, miles away from the city in which they have grown up. Sybilla is a smart and friendly girl, inclined to be a bit on the passive side and decidedly naïve on the boyfriend stakes. Her oldest friend is Michael: a self-confessed nerd with a rather unusual view of the world; a bit of a loner amongst the rest of the yr 10s. Her best friend is the rather unpleasant, Holly. And Sybilla’s eye is on the most popular boy in the school, Ben.

Lou on the other hand, is a quiet girl, new to the school and harbouring a secret grief. For her boyfriend, Fred, was killed in a bicycle accident some months ago. Struggling to cope with her grief and struggling to find her way out of depression, Lou has changed schools, in the hope that a fresh start will help. She has a rather cynical view of the world but unlike Sybilla she has quite a sharp tongue and is the only girl in their cabin who is impervious to Holly’s bullying.

The 2 girls seem worlds apart at the beginning of this book and their stories seem to be very different; one seems light and frothy one much darker; gradually their stories begin to merge as does their friendship. This is an engaging story with very credible characters who explore quite realistically, friendship, sexual awakening and grief. A wonderful mix.

Sidenote: if you have read Fiona Wood’s previous YA novel (Six Impossible Things) you may recall Lou and Fred as minor characters.

This book has been named on the Short List for the 2014 CBCA Book of the Year (Older Readers), and then was announced as  THE WINNER!! CONGRATULATIONS TO FIONA WOOD.

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

A road trip …. and missing dads

the pull of gravity TITLE = THE PULL OF GRAVITY

AUTHOR = GAE POLISNER

GENRE = FRIENDSHIP, FAMILY, ROAD TRIP, GRIEF

INTEREST LEVEL = YEARS 9+

Nick’s best friend (Scoot) has an aging disease. He might be 16 yo but his body thinks he is a small, old man. Whilst most teens are thinking about their first date, Scoot has to battle heart failure and weak limbs. He is all too aware that he is dying.

So when Scoot’s other best friend, Jaycee, decides to fulfil Scoot’s dying wish (to find his father) how can Nick refuse to help her?? Even if it means a road trip with a girl he barely knows and doesn’t really understand. And while they look for Scoot’s dad, what about Nick’s own dad who has taken off own his own road trip to NY.

Absent fathers and friendship are at the heart of this book. Nick not only learns a lot about Jaycee, he also learns a lot about himself and how to deal with tough times and unplanned events. This book is gently paced, with credible and interesting characters. For those readers with a literary bent, references to Steinbeck’s classic “Of Mice and  Men” will be of interest while others might revel in the frequent mention of Star Wars movies and Yoda’s quotes.

Highly 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) *****

Sleeping beauty wakes up in 2128

when we wake coverTITLE = WHEN WE WAKE

AUTHOR = KAREN HEALEY

GENRE = SCIENCE FICTION

INTEREST LEVEL = YEARS 8, 9

Tegan Oglietti is having the best day of her life, in Melbourne, in 2027, a few years in our future. But the next thing she knows, she wakes up in a hospital – in 2128, having been asleep for over 100 years. She is the first patient who has ever woken up from stasis, and immediately becomes a celebrity, followed at the supermarket and at school. She manages to make some friends (and introduce her music class to the Beatles) but as she discovers more about the world she has woken in, she finds out that not all the changes between the Melbourne she grew up in and this new Melbourne are good, or for good reasons.

This adventure shows us what our future might be; how our decisions can change the world, even if we are sixteen year old girls who have been asleep for a century.

The author, Karen Healey, is from New Zealand but lived in Melbourne for a few years. On her website she has some extras for When We Wake: you can have a look at what the characters are wearing, listen to the book’s soundtrack, or read her essays on the Sleeping Beauty archetype that inspired the story!

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

Highly recommended (emc) *****

More drama and fun for Sadie (the blue haired hairdresser)

scissors sistersTITLE = SCISSORS, SISTERS & MANIC PANICS 

AUTHOR = ELLIE PHILLIPS

GENRE = FRIENDSHIP, RELATIONSHIPS, FAMILY

INTEREST LEVEL = YEARS 7- 9

A sequel to “Dads, Geeks, and Blue-haired freaks”, the story picks up about 6 months later: Sadie is still obsessed with hair and with becoming a hairdresser only now she has a part-time job and is attending Hairdressing college once a week. She and Tony are still going out together .. so life should be just rosy for Sadie, now shouldn’t it???

Unfortunately, when Sadie loses her job her chances of entering (let alone winning) a famous  hairdressing competition seem to have gone down the drain.  But in true Sadie fashion … she is not going to let that small mishap stop her … not if she has anything to do with it. However, could her obsession with the competition put her relationship with others at risk – especially with her boyfriend Tony? And what exactly is going on with her cousin, Billy … they used to be so close but now…

And as if life couldn’t get any more complicated… how would Sadie feel about finding out about a new sister??

Once more, the emotional turmoil of Sadie’s life seems to be set on high as she tries to attain her hair-dressing dreams and survive her family intact. More fun, more drama, more mayhem.

Even if you haven’t read the first book in this series you are sure to enjoy this new excursion into Sadie Nathanson’s tumultuous and hair-obsessed life. (Alternatively, go and read book 1 first and then pick up this one – read a blogpost here)

A thoroughly enjoyable romp!

Highly 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) *****