An intriguing, and at times wry, set of gaslamp short stories

TITLE = WILFUL IMPROPRIETY

EDITOR = EKATERINA SEDIA

GENRE = VICTORIAN AGE, MAGIC, GASLAMP FICTION

INTEREST LEVEL = YEARS 10+

As Scott Westerfeld explains in his foreword, the Victorian era was an intriguing mix of decorum and chaos; decorum was evident in the strict social mores of the time whilst the development of the steam engine meant that the social barriers of the times were constantly being threatened. This wonderful collection of stories plays on this contrast. Many of the characters take a leaf from Shakespeare’s plays and have their heroes/heroines use cross-dressing camouflage  to explore the times (“At Will by Leanne Renee Hieber and “Resurrection” by Tiffany Trent are two fine examples). Popular NZ author, Karen Healey,   introduces a touch of magic to spice up the romance in “Mrs Beeton’s Book of Magikal Management”. Whilst others explore the romance and propriety of the Social Season in “The Language of Flowers” (Caroline Stevermer) and “”The Dancing Master” (Genevieve Valentine). This is a book to be dipped into with great pleasure to see how other young folk rebelled against the strictures of their times … to follow their hearts or simply to survive a Season.

Highly Recommended (dma) *****  

An unusual look at life

TITLE = EVERY DAY

AUTHOR = DAVID LEVITHAN

GENRE = FANTASY, RELATIONSHIPS, IDENTITY

INTEREST LEVEL = YEARS 10-12

A fascinating and intriguing story with quite an original premise: that a central character inhabits the body and life of a different person each day of his/her life. The amazing thing is that this character (eventually described as “A”) has been “living” life in this way for all 16 years of his/her life and quite satisfied until he falls in love.

Suddenly there is a desire to be in the same place for more than a day and to present the inner being rather than the façade of others. But can this be done? Is there indeed a inner person (as distinct from the many parts that have been played) and is A asking too much of the bject of his affections? Especialy when she is already in a relationship (with Justin, the character who A inhabited in the opening chapter)

Whilst partly about this romantic entanglement, on a broader level this novel asks the reader to ponder the different lives of others. If A can inhabit both males and females with equanimity, what does this say abot the supposed difference between the two genders? Or has As life experience simply cfreated enviable tolerance?

Cleary this story is an opportunity for David Levithan to offer snippets of stories about different types of people: those suffereing depression, those who are determinedly nasty, those in gay relationships, those in staright relationships. Levithan’s craft is that he offers these stoies without slipping into stereotypes or becoming overly didactic (although he skims danegerously close at times). But so often we care about these cahracters and their lives and we gorw to care about A – cos of the way he repsonds to the chaarcaters whom he inhabits – generally caring. But he is not flawless – as in his attitude to Justin – may be justifiable but J not as bad as he expected and caoul rightly feel cheated by A.

What really elevates this story is the quality of the writing,. Levithan is able to capture moods and emotions with a breathtakingly simple yet original line eg Sound beomes a word, lonliless of the person left behind when a door slams. Such writing truly delights the reader.

Also, the positive message that permeates the book about the affirmation of kindness and compassion. As A says at the end of the novel – univers won’t be kind to us so we have to be.

An ode to the breadth of humanity yet the simplicity at the core of our existence.

Highly Highly Recommended (dma) *****

Surviving the ups and downs of life … with a grin

TITLE = A MONTH WITH APRIL-MAY

AUTHOR = EDYTH BULBRING

GENRE = HUMOUR, FAMILIES, FRIENDSHIP, GROWING UP

INTEREST LEVEL = YEARS 7-9

Poor April-May February (yes that is her name!) seems to have it all going against her. Her mum and dad have recently divorced (despite her best efforts to put a stop to their separation) and her first day at her new school is a disaster. Having made an enemy of her teacher, Mrs Ho, April-May thinks she can sort things out with a bit of mischief and behind the scenes hi-jinks … but things don’t always go to plan for April-May and she may just have dug an even deeper hole for herself.

For an intelligent girl (she is a scholarship student, after all) she doesn’t always seem to think things through very clearly. But whilst many of April-May’s misadventures may seem quite funny, what if they put people’s lives at risk?? And will she jeopardise her scholarship and her friendship with Melanie, for a boy??

This is a clever and funny book. Although it is set in South Africa, so some of the words may seem a bit different, the school-based story is easy to follow and quick to read. A glossary of South African terms can be found at the end of the book (but most readers will probably pick up on the meanings via the context of the story).

It is refreshing to read a new author and to learn that schoolgirl troubles in South Africa are not so different from what we might find here in Australia.

Highly Recommended (dma) *****

Loyalty and horses in a time of war

TITLE = THE HORSES DIDN’T COME HOME

AUTHOR = PAMELA RUSHBY

GENRE = ACTION, ADVENTURE, BOY STUFF, FAMILY RELATIONSHIPS, FRIENDSHIP, GROWING UP, IDENTITY, HISTORICAL FICTION

INTEREST LEVEL = YEARS 7 – 9

This is a beautiful coming of age story, of 16-year old Harry’s growth to manhood during World War I, and of his 12-year old sister Laura back home in Queensland.  It is the story full of loyalty and courage, of the incredible bond between the Australian Light Horse soldiers and their horses which culminated in the victorious cavalry charge at Beersheba in the Sinai Desert in 1917, the last great cavalry charge and a striking contrast to the horrific events at Gallipoli and the Western Front.  The story begins when Harry and his friend Jack, underage and just home from boarding school in Brisbane, sign up for the Light Horse regiment which has bought almost all their horses for the war.  Harry’s sister Laura makes a huge sacrifice and offers her beloved horse and best friend ‘Bunty’ to Harry for him to ride to war.  The story is told through both Harry and Laura’s eyes, in a combination of letters, first persona and third person narrative which works well to capture the emotions and voices of Harry, Laura, Jack and their families and friends in a dramatic yet very human way.  Harry, who appreciates the great sacrifice Laura has made for him by giving him her precious ‘Bunty’, writes letters from ‘Bunty’ to Laura, which give an alternate perspective to Harry’s ‘official’ letters to his parents and help to strengthen his friendship with his younger sister.  The book’s title, while appearing to give away the story’s ending, in fact gives very little away.  It is up to us as readers to take the journey with Harry, Jack, Bunty and Laura to truly understand this unique period in history and the very real changes that it wrought upon the Australian people. This is a 2013 CBCA Notable Book for Younger Readers.

Highly recommended (mrsk) *****

Why not check out the book trailer below:

Images either sourced from the Animoto website or photos taken by mrsk.  Music “All or nothing” by Derby (sourced from the Animoto website).

Firebirds and fear, bluebirds and love

TITLE = THE TENDER MOMENTS OF SAFFRON SILK

AUTHOR = GLENDA MILLARD

ILLUSTRATOR = STEPHEN MICHAEL KING

GENRE = FAMILY, FRIENDSHIP, PARENTS, GROWING UP, MENTAL HEALTH, IDENTITY

INTEREST LEVEL = YEARS 7 – 9

This is the sixth book in the Kingdom of Silk series, which began with The Naming of Tishkin Silk, however The Tender Moments of Saffron Silk can be read on its own quite happily.  In the Silk family everyone has a naming ceremony and a naming book, and at Saffron’s ceremony it is hoped that the pages of her book will be filled with tiny tender moments “those that make the soul tipsy with ordinary happiness.”  However, Saffron begins to see ‘firebirds’ and experience severe head pain until one day she collapses in the middle of baking pies with her family.  This is a story of fear and pain; Saffron’s fear of what the firebirds and pain in her head may mean, and also the fear and pain of her family and friends around her, who see her suffering but initially, know neither its cause nor its cure.  It is also a story of discovery and love, for when Saffron is sent to the city to see a specialist she discovers the quality and depth of her family’s love for her and her treasured place within her small rural community.  This is a 2013 CBCA Short-listed Book for Younger Readers.

Recommended (mrsk) ****

The journey continues for a brave young girl

TITLE = PARVANA’S JOURNEY

AUTHOR = DEBORAH ELLIS

GENRE = REFUGEES, WAR, POLITICS, CHILDHOOD, GROWING UP

INTEREST LEVEL = YEARS 7-9

 In some ways, this book is even tougher to read than the first story about Parvana, because now Paravana is on her own or without adults, for most of her journey. She does have other children with her: Hassan (a baby who demands her attention), crippled Asif (with whom she bickers) and friendly Leila. Unfortunately, the adults that Parvana meets on her travels seem to simply let her down: they either withdraw from the horror of their daily lives (like Leila’s grandmother) or they are unkind and selfish. Life is tough and the children must be brave and resilient and resourceful to survive; as we would expect from reading book 1, Parvana certainly rises to the occasion.

One of the refreshing things in this story is that although these kids must be brave and adult-like on a daily basis, they are clearly still kids: Parvana gets annoyed easily and in angry outbursts she can behave badly (as you would expect, under the circumstances). The humorous banter between Asif and Parvana (where he pretends to do exactly the opposite of what she wants) also provide one of the few glimpses of lightness and humour in the book.

This is a worthy sequel to Parvana and readers who loved the first book are sure to be thoroughly engaged in reading more about her adventures.

Read a review of Parvana here.

What would you do?

TITLE = OTHER BROTHER

AUTHOR = SIMON FRENCH

GENRE = BULLYING, GROWING UP, IDENTITY, FAMILY, PARENTS,

INTEREST LEVEL = YEARS 7 – 9

Kieran’s view of himself and his world is forced to change when his cousin Bon and a new girl, Julia, arrive at his school.  Kieran wants to fit in, but Bon doesn’t know anything about fitting in—he looks different, he wears the wrong clothes, he says weird things—and Julia doesn’t care about fitting in, establishing her own style and following with seeming ease.  Bon’s arrival doesn’t just threaten to upset Kieran’s relationship with the cool kids at school, but also his relationship with his parents, his sister, his Nan and his budding relationship with the elusive Julia.  This is a story about families and relationships, about bullying and fitting in, about discovering where your values lie and that the world is more complex than you think. This is a 2013 CBCA Short-listed Book for Younger Readers.

Recommended (mrsk) ****

Wrestling with words

TITLE = LOUIS BESIDE HIMSELF

AUTHOR = ANNA FIENBERG

GENRE = FAMILY, FRIENDSHIP, PARENTS, GROWING UP, IDENTITY

INTEREST LEVEL = YEARS 7 – 9

Louis is not your typical hero but he finds himself in a situation where courage and loyalty are needed, and where he must make some important decisions and take   action.  Louis loves words and would much rather read, take notes and add to his ‘Word Bank’ than join his mates Singo, Hassan and Elena skateboarding or playing basketball.  However, Louis’ father comes from a long line of wrestlers and tries constantly to share moves and arm-wrestles with him, despite his own doubtful skill. When a burglar breaks in one night, Louis fails to use his wrestling moves but instead uses his own special skill—words—with unexpected results.  The intruder is Cordelia, an older girl who has run away from family problems and whom Louis and his mates decide to hide.  This is a humorous yet thoughtful book with great characters. Through Louis, the author celebrates the richness of language and suggests that there is a hero in all of us, and that if we are true to ourselves we can be true to others.  This book is a 2013 CBCA Notable Book for Younger Readers.

Recommended (mrsk) ****

Not what the title suggests

TITLE = POOKIE ALEERA IS NOT MY BOYFRIEND

AUTHOR = STEVEN HERRICK

GENRE = SCHOOL LIFE, GROWING UP, IDENTITY, FRIENDSHIP, FAMILY

INTEREST LEVEL = YEARS 7 – 9

This is a humorous and insightful verse novel about the lives of the students in a small country school.  There is the usual mix of characters–outgoing, shy, sporty,  academic, sad, silly and thoughtful and each has a story to tell about themselves and those around them.  The verses are simple and yet clearly capture the emotions and view point of the different narrators.  I particularly enjoyed a series of running jokes that threaded through the stories but was also moved by the subtler dramas which highlighted the importance of friendship, belonging and the value of leading by example, and with compassion.  This novel will appeal most to readers who enjoy stories that focus on people and their thoughts and feelings.  And the story behind the unusual title?  Well, you’ll just have to read the book to find out.  This is a 2013 CBCA Short-listed Book for Younger Readers.

Recommended (mrsk) ****

Family drama

TITLE = FATHER’S DAY

AUTHOR = ANNE BROOKSBANK

GENRE = FAMILY, PARENTS, GROWING UP

INTEREST LEVEL = YEARS 7-9

Sam has always felt like the odd one out in his family – he has a close relationship with his mother but things have always been tougher with his dad. Often he has felt that his dad has come down harder on him than on his other siblings. Suddenly he finds out that there may be a reason for this … and this knowledge quite literally turns his life and his family upside down.

Uncertain about his place in his family, uncertain about whom to call dad .. Sam flees on his beloved boat, for time away and time to think. But alone in the wild things could go horribly wrong. Who can he turn to in his hour of need and is it too late to repair the damage with his parents… whoever they may be??

Another sensitive account of family difficulties faced by teens through no fault of their own – just as Sam’s friend Molly faced problems in Anne Brooksbank’s earlier novel, “Mother’s Day“. This new book can be enjoyed even if you haven’t read Mother’s Day but the similarities in circumstances faced by the main characters will give readers something to think about.

The dialogue in Fathers Day may be less credible than in the earlier novel but the emotional turmoil faced by Sam is vividly conveyed. Should be enjoyed by both girls and boys.

And look out for “Big Thursday” Anne Brooksbank’s latest novel – which features another male character (Sam’s friend, Nat) thrown into the deep end when his dad’s business fails.

Recommended (dma) ****