Showing posts with label Oliver Phommavanh. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Oliver Phommavanh. Show all posts

Wednesday, 9 January 2019

A Lot of Stuff Happens

A Lot of Stuff Happens by Adrian Beck, Oliver Phommavanh, Will Kostakis and Andrew Daddo (Penguin Random House) PB RRP $19.99 ISBN9780143794752

Reviewed by Dianne Bates

Here is a collection of four books in one from some of Australia’s best-known contemporary males writing for children. The book is divided into four sections titled, ‘Dale’, ‘Ned’, ‘Sean’ and ‘Ethan’. Dale, for example, is written by TV producer Adrian Beck and begins with the words, ‘Press-studs are evil’. When you read the sentence below which contains the words ‘I once had a pair of pants with an unreliable press-stud fly’, you know to prepare for something humorous to happen.
Each of the four boys attend Monvale Primary where everyday stuff happens, such as friendships, ghost stories, the school play, disappearing hamburgers, new teachers, singing monkeys and lions, the first day at school, flags made of underwear, living up to older brothers and sisters, warring dinosaurs. Stuff that happens all the time!
The stories are related in first-person and are written in easy-to-access, informal language that demonstrates lots of wit and good humour. There’s action a-plenty in this fast-paced book which is sure to be a hit with readers aged 8 to 11 years.

Thursday, 19 July 2012

Book Launch: Trust Me Too

Ford Street Publishing invites you to the launch of its latest book, Trust Me Too. Edited by Paul Collins with an introduction by Judith Ridge, Trust Me Too has never-before-published stories and illustrations from 57 contributors including Shaun Tan, Leigh Hobbs, Oliver Phommavanh, James Roy, Michael Gerard Bauer, Gary Crew, David Miller, Michael Pryor and many others.

Ford Street will be launching Trust Me Too in both Victoria and NSW.

Launch 1: NSW residents -- come along to the launch at Parramatta High School (Great Western Freeway) on Friday 20th of July. It'll start at 9:15. Wendy Orr (who will read from her story), Susanne Gervay, Meredith Costain, Oliver Phommavanh, Judith Ridge and others will be there. RSVP by July 14 to Terrie: [email protected].

Launch 2: VIC residents – You’re invited to: Princes Hill Secondary College (Arnold Street, Carlton North) on July 27 at 6 pm. A STACK of children's authors and illustrators will be there, including Isobelle Carmody, Kirsty Murray, Meredith Costain, Marc McBride, Leigh Hobbs, Sean McMullen, Corinne King, Adam Wallace, David Miller, Janeen Brian, Gabrielle Wang, Sue Bursztynski and many others. It'll be a hoot! RSVP July 23 to Terrie: [email protected].

Buzz Words loves Trust Me Too. This review was posted at BWB on 3 July:

Trust Me TooTrust Me Too edited by Paul Collins (Ford Street Publishing)   
PB RRP $24.95
ISBN 978-1921665585
Reviewed by Francine Sculli

Trust Me Too is a wildly diverse collection of short stories and poems, edited by Paul Collins, that is jam packed with intoxicating tales written by an all-star line up of Australian writers. In her introduction, Judith Ridge sums the collection up perfectly: “If reading is something you do to find your way into the lives of other people, whatever kind of world they live in, you will find something to enjoy and ponder on within.”

And there is definitely no shortage of worlds and lives to explore in this collection; nor a shortage of themes, motifs and genres that will perfectly engage the middle-readers audience, but the one thing that truly binds this anthology is the thrilling sense of adventure and strong themes. From the very first story, Kerry Greenwood’s ‘The Calabar Crystal’, readers are thrown right into the very heart of a historical otherworldliness through the daring adventures and discoveries of best friends, Red and Liam, who unearth Liam’s eccentric great-aunt’s secrets from Zimbabwe.

There is no turning back from the benchmark of Greenwood, and the ripping pace continues as readers travel from world to world meeting strong characters of both old and young who encounter everything from a lone child raised by dingoes, scavenger hunts with prized ashes, sci-fi detective deaths inspired by plagues of rats, failed rock star fathers, cartoon farmers plagued by Zombies and so very much more. The big draw card of the Obernewtyn novelette ‘The Journey’ by Isobelle Carmody, is well worth its weight in gold. Carmody outdoes herself, once again, with a brilliant sci-fi story of Hannah, her telepathic powers and groundbreaking research. Hannah, drawn to the corporate city in search of people like her and a research internship that could change her life, finds herself attacked by a nunazi ganger and rescued by Jake Obernewtyn who shares his wisdom and creates a new path for Hannah.

The Obernewtyn novelette, however, does not outweigh the brilliance of this anthology as a whole. Each and every story, poem and illustration is well crafted and stands impressively on its own. This collection really does present the best of the best and there is so much to chew on that it is almost impossible to even select a stand-out. 

Saturday, 12 November 2011

The Witch Hunter Chronicles 2: The Army of The Undead

The Witch Hunter Chronicles 2: The Army of The Undead by Stuart Daly (Random House)
PB RRP $17.95
ISBN 978-1-7427-5052-2
Reviewed by Oliver Phommavanh

If Jakob thought his first mission was tough, he ain’t seen nothing yet. Jakob and the Hexanjager tackle the ruthless Watchers in the second book of the Witch Hunter Chronicles series.

The Watchers are fallen angels, able to resurrect anyone, including a prophet who has hidden the Tablet of Breaking, capable of starting Armageddon. It’s a race to see who can recover the Tablet first. Jakob is joined by many new characters, including the feisty Francesca who has attracted the eye of Jakob’s ally, Armand. There are some great scenes where the two are sparring with their words.

Daly develops the relationship between Jakob and Armand really well. Jakob looks up to him and they share many battles. They stand out in a large cast. Jakob is growing as a character too. He’s got a knack of getting out of trouble that will keep readers on the edge. Jakob also shows off his mental strength too.

Everything in this sequel is bigger and better. The relentless zombies are led by the creepy Watchers who are hard to kill. Daly takes us everywhere from Greece to a booby trapped mausoleum under the Dead Sea. There are shades of Matthew Reilly as Daly allows the action to roll on continuously.  

You can tell Daly’s a history teacher. This is a rich world that features many weapons and locations from the real world. It’s no historical fiction, more like historical thriller. Daly’s included some notes at the end of the book.

The Army of the Undead piles on the action, giving fans a reason to look forward to next pulsing adventure. Recommended for ages 10 and up.  

Wednesday, 19 October 2011

The Shadow Girl

The Shadow Girl by John Larkin (Random House)
PB RRP $18.95
ISBN 978-1-8647-1875-1
Reviewed by Oliver Phommavanh

The Shadow Girl is a novel for older readers but it’s back story may overshadow the actual book. John Larkin met a homeless girl during a school visit and started a dialogue that became the crux of the story. Shadow girl tells her story of how she became homeless and survived life on the streets. In between chapters are transcripts of recorded conversations with Larkin.

Shadow girl’s anonymity means that this story never holds back. It might echo with some readers when she escapes her abusive uncle and auntie. That fear of home not being safe is powerful. Her first few days on the streets are a real page turner. It’s a mix of tense moments that will stay with the reader. Shadow girl’s determination grows with a handful of allies who help her in key moments. Her fight to stay in school and to keep learning is truly inspiring. Her faith is tested but she finds resolve.

But the gripping fear for Shadow girl and the reader never goes away until the very end. I really enjoyed Larkin’s input in this story, it’s distant enough to let Shadow girl tell her story but he also asks questions that readers would be dying to know about.

The Shadow Girl contains some coarse language and glimpses of violence. It’s a raw and honest story that needed to be told. Larkin captures her essence effortlessly. Readers may not know her name but they’ll know her inside out. Highly recommended for ages 15 and up.     

Thursday, 13 October 2011

Blood Song

Blood Song by Rhiannon Hart (Random House)
HB RRP $18.95
ISBN 978-1-7427-5097-2
Reviewed by Oliver Phommavanh

Blood Song is a debut novel for older readers and the start of the Lharmell series. It all begins with Princess Zeraphina who harbours a secret of blood lust. She’s aware that she’s different from her mother and older sister Lilith who are busy with marriage proposals and saving their kingdom. When Lilith accepts an offer from the Northern region of Pergamia, something stirs inside Zeraphina. No one notices her animal urges for blood except for the suspicious king’s advisor, Rodden. The two spur each other on, Zeraphina desperate for answers and Rodden eager to send her away.

The sparks that fly between the two drives this entertaining yarn. It’s anything but romantic, they hammer each other with wit and snappy comebacks. Hart does a great job in drip feeding her information about Zeraphina’s past. Of course, Zeraphina’s different, but nothing is fully revealed until the thrilling finale.
Zeraphina is proactive and feisty, there’s some great humour as she dissects the formalities of kingdom life. Hart has built up a gothic and creepy world that will be explored further in the series. If you like a paranormal story that doesn’t overdo the gushing romance, then Blood Song will be music to your ears. Recommended for ages 13 and up.    

Monday, 19 September 2011

Rangers Apprentice: The Lost Stories

Rangers Apprentice: The Lost Stories by John Flanagan (Random House)
PB RRP $17.95
ISBN 978-1-8647-1818-8
Reviewed by Oliver Phommavanh

Rangers Apprentice has been a phenomenon with no signs of slowing down. Flanagan has received many letters from fans around the world and he’s responded with a different kind of book. The Lost Stories is a collection of tales that go back and forth in Halt and Will’s lives.

Flanagan explains how Will really met Halt and the event behind Halt’s decision to join the rangers. There are also a few stories that follow after Book 10 such as the long awaited wedding between Cassandra and Horace.
It’s nice to see the supporting cast get their own little stories. Gilan and Jenny have some amusing adventures. My favourite story is about Will and his relationship with Tug, his loyal horse. The inspiration behind the story was a fan that raised a very interesting point. Flanagan admits that there are a few gaps in his Rangers’ universe that slip through the cracks. I’m glad that he has the chance to settle the score on a few matters.

The short story format is a refreshing change. Each story is broken up into mini chapters just like in the other Rangers’ books. Flanagan shows his trademark narrative, full of action and suspense. The Ranger’s aura is as legendary as ever, I love seeing others react to Rangers, friends and enemies alike. As always, the animals get their fair share of jokes when they share banter with their owners.

Fans will get the most of this book and it’s a nice pit stop before the next thrilling instalment. The Lost Stories is recommended for ages 10 and up.  

Tuesday, 6 September 2011

Sounds Spooky

Sounds Spooky by Christopher Cheng and illustrated by Sarah Davis (Random House)
HB RRP $19.95
ISBN 978-1-8647-1879-9
Reviewed by Oliver Phommavanh

Sounds Spooky is a creepy picture book that will delight and scare kids at the same time. It revolves around a haunted house with a chirpy girly ghost who gets some unexpected visitors. It’s hard to say who’s scared more, her or the intruding kids!

Cheng delivers a wonderful prose that’s perfect for reading aloud, acting and performing. There’s a neat rhythm with the rhyme, action words and alliteration. It builds the tension as the ghost girl and kids edge closer to meeting each other.  

Davis is simply brilliant with her illustrations. She has created her pictures from the ground up. She’s made miniature models of the characters and settings. Its Claymation meets Paper Mache. The unique illustrations set the perfect tone for the book. There’s an awesome ‘behind the scenes’ video on the book’s website, (

Kids and adults alike will love this picture book. It’s perfect for Halloween and scary nights when you want a little fright. Highly recommended for ages 5 and up.

Sunday, 4 September 2011


Mammon by J.B. Thomas (Random House)
HB RRP $18.95
ISBN 978-1-7427-5074-3
Reviewed by Oliver Phommavanh

Mammon is the debut novel from J.B. Thomas, the first in a series for older readers. Mammon kicks off the Ferryman Chronicles. A brother and sister discover that they’re ‘Sarsareh’-demon hunters. When their parents get killed by a deadly demon, they vow revenge and train up for battle with a group of mercenaries. This is where they have to gain respect and skills. 

Joe is a headstrong boy who holds a trump card. He’s a ferryman who can create a rift to send demons straight to hell. It’s a rare ability is sort after by both sides of the war. Mammon is a high-level demon who wants Joe for his own ambitious plans. 

Grace tries to keep her brother in order. She’s a telepath who wants to prove that mind over firepower works against demons. Both main characters get equal footing in this novel. There’s also a massive cast that come and go. Politics plague the group of mercenaries who are mostly in their teens. Sometimes there’s more action in the words than against the demons themselves.

Thomas sets up a contemporary and supernatural setting that is ripe for action and suspense. A world where demons hide themselves among humans is pretty cool. Joe and Grace learn the ropes of demon hunting and guide the reader through all the nuts and bolts of this dangerous war. There are some gruesome scenes here that make you want to read more in the Ferryman Chronicles. Mammon is a promising novel that will attract readers who love their supernatural thrillers. Recommended for ages 13 and up. 

Sunday, 21 August 2011


Barry by Colin Thompson, (Random House)
HB RRP $24.95
ISBN 978-1-8647-1883-6
Reviewed by Oliver Phommavanh

Move over Wall-E, Barry the robot’s come to melt people’s hearts. Barry is Colin Thompson’s latest picture book for younger readers.

Barry’s a tiny robot that looks like he’s made out of scrap metal, with clamps and an air vent for his tummy. He’s been sent to save Earth but he becomes stuck at the back of someone’s sofa.
Barry’s a powerful robot who can control Earth, everything from the weather to unexplainable phenomenon like reality TV. Over time, Barry gets found by a human who tries to fix him up. This results in even more freaky changes in the weather. When Barry realises what he’s done, he sets out to undo the damage.

Thompson continues to deliver quirky stories that are backed up with some crazy illustrations. Each page has a mixture of realistic photos and stark drawings. Readers will be kept busy pointing out all the details. Thompson has created a very friendly robot with a bubbly personality. There’s an underlying environmental theme that can lead to further discussion.

Thompson’s tongue in cheek humour is splattered all over this lovely picture book. Barry is a delight to read and adore. Recommended for ages 5 and up.

Wednesday, 17 August 2011

The Koala Bounces Back

The Koala Bounces Back by Jimmy Thomson and illustrated by Eric Lobbecke (Random House)
HB RRP $19.95
ISBN 978-1-7427-5007-1
Reviewed by Oliver Phommavanh

The Koala Bounces Back is the cheerful sequel to The Koala Who Bounced. Karri the bouncing koala is settling into his new home when he’s disturbed by a gang of moggies. They’re dumped domestic cats creating havoc with the native wildlife. Karri tries to convince them to go but the cats challenge him and his bush friends to a soccer match. If the cats win, they stay.

Karri stars in another funny story with a distinct Australian favour. Karri finds the cats a new home and it’s ripe for discussion about feral and stray cats in the wild. Lobbecke nails each animal, giving them human features that make them stand out. His experience as a cartoonist shines throughout. The gang of moggies look like bikies and the bush animals in their soccer gear is a hoot. But Karri’s expressions steal the book. Readers will love this crazy koala.

The narrative is playful and the pictures capture the quirky tone of the book. The Koala Bounces Back is a delight to read aloud, again and again. Bring on the next Karri adventure! Recommended for ages 5 and up.    

Tuesday, 2 August 2011

Alice-Miranda at Sea

Alice-Miranda at Sea by Jacqueline Harvey (Random House)
PB RRP $15.95
ISBN 978-1-8647-1848-5
Reviewed by Oliver Phommavanh

Alice-Miranda goes abroad in her latest adventure for younger readers. This sweet girl who always looks on the bright side of life is on a luxury yacht with her family and friends. She’ll get to witness the wedding of her Aunt Charlotte and movie star Lawrence Ridley. It’s a star studded celebration attracts unwanted attention from many fronts. There’s plenty of mystery with a stowaway named Neville, a short-tempered cook who looks very familiar to Alice-Miranda and a possible thief on board.

Alice-Miranda tries to melt the staff’s hearts, which is a little tricky when they’re not used to kids. It’s another chance for Alice-Miranda to show what she’s made of and save her aunt’s wedding from being a disaster.

Harvey turns her attention to luxury cruises and comes up with luscious descriptions of the yacht. It almost reads like a brochure because it’s so enticing. I’m sure readers will continue to daydream about her glamorous life. Long-time fans of Alice-Miranda will be delighted to see some characters from previous novels returning. Jacinta finally gets to see her mother again but it’s not the reunion that she hopes for.

Alice-Miranda overcomes challenges in her positive and charming style. She’s a great role model for girls of all ages. Alice-Miranda’s friends also have their own moments, with plenty of gentle humour between them. Alice-Miranda At Sea is another exciting addition to the series and there’s more to come. Recommended for ages 8 and up.     

Monday, 1 August 2011

In the Sea there are Crocodiles

In the Sea there are Crocodiles by Fabio Geda and Enaiatollah Akbari (Random House)
HB RRP $24.95
ISBN 978-1-4464-0072-2
Reviewed by Oliver Phommavanh

In the Sea there are Crocodiles is the true story of Enaiatollah Akbari melded into a gentle narrative by Fabio Geda. It tells the tale of how Enaiatollah, an Afghan kid travelled from Afghanistan to Italy over five years.

This is a book is proof that it’s not the destination, it’s the ride. And Enaiatollah goes one amazing journey. One day, he finds that his mother has gone. He’s looking for a place to belong. His travels to Europe take him to Iran, Turkey and Greece. He’s trying to earn enough to survive and push onwards to the next place.

Enaiatollah deals with people-traffickers, corrupt police officers and harsh labourers, working undercover in many building sites. He builds friendships with other asylum seeking kid but never feels settled for long. Readers will admire his courage to move and go on life-threatening trips, inspired by nothing but hope.

Geda makes sure that Enaiatollah’s story is honest without being brutally descriptive. Like Enaiatollah says in his many interviews that break up the story, he doesn’t remember much of the finer details. It’s the people and their actions that stand out.
There are countless moments where Enaiatollah gets into some truly dangerous situations. But he never gives up. This book offers a moving insight to what an asylum seeker will go through to find a better life. There are enough tender scenes to stir your heart. The flashback storytelling with some reflective commentary works quite well.

In the Sea there are Crocodiles is a great book about refugees for kids. It’s also for anyone who wants to go on a thrilling adventure. The fact that’s it’s a true story only makes it more exciting and remarkable. It’s recommended for ages 12 and up.       

Monday, 18 July 2011

Nanny Piggins and the Rival Ringmaster

Nanny Piggins and The Rival Ringmaster by R.A. Spratt (Random House)
PB RRP $15.95
ISBN 978-1-8647-1815-7
Reviewed by Oliver Phommavanh

Nanny Piggins is back for fifths in this latest book for younger readers. She’s taken care of the Green children for some time now and they expect food and fun when she’s around. The short stories work like sitcom episodes but like previous books, there’s an arc that carries through until the end. This time, the evil ringmaster is in jail and the circus falls apart. It’s up to Piggins to save the ringmaster’s bacon, putting grudges aside.

Spratt continues to push the boundaries of her crazy world and the satire is still razor sharp, poking fun at weddings and celebrities. In the ‘double episode/season finale’ story, Nanny Piggins is up against a rival ringmaster from Cirque De Soul, ‘one of those awful artistic circuses where they play classical music and impossibly thin acrobats hang by their teeth from the ceiling for ages while the audience is meant to contemplate their own insignificance.’

Other notable stories are the ones where Piggins herself is the victim. I really enjoyed Ghosts of Easter where Nanny Piggins is taught a lesson by the Green children. There’s also a clever story where everybody’s been invited to a host a murder party and Piggins is convinced that it’s a real murder; its classic stuff.

Nanny Piggins and the Rival Ringmaster is another solid collection of stories that are full of hearty laughs and will make readers salivate from all those descriptions of chocolate.  

Thursday, 14 July 2011

The Witch Hunter Chronicles: The Scourge of Jericho

The Witch Hunter Chronicles: The Scourge of Jericho by Stuart Daly (Random House)
PB RRP $17.95
ISBN 978-1-7427-5052-1
Reviewed by Oliver Phommavanh

The Scourge of Jericho is the first book in an enthralling series for younger readers, in the same rein as Rangers Apprentice and Spooks Apprentice. I suppose Jakob is sort of like an apprentice too. The sixteen year old has run off to join the Hexanjager, an elite squad of witch hunters.

Daly takes the historic significance and facts of 1666 and throws in a few twists, adding real witches who can really do magic. Jakob’s first mission with the Hexanjager sees him trying to recover a mysterious relic. The four members vary in hostility towards Jakob. He’ll have to earn their trust and respect, starting with the fearless leader Blodklutt.

Jakob’s a novice who quickly earns his stripes and scars. This is a non-stop mission with witches, demons and traitors in their path. There are hardly any quiet moments. Action buffs will get a kick out of the gruesome descriptions of the witches and their spells. Readers will enjoy the ride through Jakob. He’s a likeable lead who has his fair share of doubts about himself. But it’s his courage that shines through. I like how his elders praise him for his efforts, every step of the way.  
Daly has taken a few playful liberties with the weapons and battle tactics. You get the best of both worlds; fantasy and loose historical fiction in one. I really enjoy the descriptions of the blades used in the story. It may trigger readers into further research about these dangerous and tense times. 

The Witch Hunters Chronicles has started off with a bang in The Scourge of Jericho. Readers who crave action and adventure will eat this up and it’s recommended for ages 10 and over.

Friday, 1 July 2011

The Ivory Rose

The Ivory Rose by Belinda Murrell (Random House)
PB RRP $18.95
ISBN 978-1-7427-5071-2  
Reviewed by Oliver Phommavanh

The Ivory Rose is a novel for middle school readers and its Murrell’s third time slip story. Following her other novels, Locket of Dreams and the Ruby Talisman, it involves an object that sends the character back in time.
This time, it’s Gemma’s turn to be thrown back into the past. Gemma’s babysitting Sammy who lives in Rosethorne, one of the famous Witches Houses in Sydney. Sammy reckons she can see a ghost girl named Georgie. Gemma thinks it’s just an imaginary friend until she meets Georgina in the flesh…back in 1895 when she touches a rose charm made of ivory.

Gemma discovers that sweet Georgina was murdered and it’s up to her to solve this mystery. She becomes an apprentice maidservant at the Rosethorne house, making new friends and discovering how much has changed since her present time. 

Murrell has picked another fascinating time, offering lots of information about the days of Old Sydney Town. Gemma finds out what kids do for fun, as well some of the added responsibilities that they had back then. It really puts her life in perspective. Murrell has done some great research to capture the language and feel of 1895. Plus the mystery of Georgina keeps ticking on until the end.

Fans of Murrell’s previous books will devour this thrilling ghost story and adventure. It’s a sweet and tender novel for ages 10 and up.    

Thursday, 23 June 2011

My Life and Other Stuff I Made Up

My Life and Other Stuff I Made Up by Tristan Bancks and illustrated by Gus Gordon (Random House)
PB RRP $15.95
ISBN 978-1-8647-1817-1  
Reviewed by Oliver Phommavanh

My Life and Other Stuff I Made Up is a collection of short stories for younger readers. These bite-sized bursts of fun are inspired by Paul Jennings, Andrew Daddo and Andy Griffiths, the sort of stories that will keep kids enthralled and wondering if it really happened or not.

Tom Weekly is just your normal kid with a wacky life. This collection kicks off with his pet dog that is constantly getting kissed by a weird dog lover. Bancks just keeps upping the zaniness and laughs from there. Tom takes part in a hot dog competition, dared to eat vegemite off his sister’s toe and gets attacked by magpies. Kids will be able to relate to that for sure! In fact, kids will find a part of themselves in Tom, who always finds himself in all sort of weird situations. My personal favourite is to see who has the toughest nan. When his nan and his mate’s nan battle, it reads like a wrestling match.   

Bancks is joined by Gus Gordon, who provides some illustrations to flesh out Bancks’ out-there descriptions. They’re a reliable combination to deliver laughs on each page. The notebook layout will inspire kids to write out their own fantastic tales.

My Life and Other Stuff I Made Up has been tried and tested by Bancks. There are some amusing lists and answers from kids on his school visits. He has tapped into a kid’s curiosity and runaway imagination with these short stories. They’re easy to devour and perfect for reading out loud.      

My Life and Other Stuff I Made Up is highly recommended for ages 9 and up. 

Wednesday, 15 June 2011

Star League: Lights, Camera, Action Hero

Star League: Lights, Camera, Action Hero by H.J Harper and illustrated by Nahum Ziersch (Random House)
PB RRP $8.95
ISBN 978-1-8647-1866-9  
Reviewed by Oliver Phommavanh

Star League is a new series for younger readers. It’s fresh, engaging and filled with little comic illustrations. Lights, Camera, Action Hero focuses on the leader, Jay Casey. He’s a child version of Arnold Schwarzenegger, doing action films since he was in nappies. His only family is his uncle who also doubles up as his agent. But it’s a lonely life for Jay away from the cameras. He doesn’t have any friends, let alone kids to hang out with.

That all changes when he gets to audition for what he thinks is an action movie. It turns out that he’s been invited to lead an awesome superhero group. He’s joined by Connor the werewolf, Asuka the ninja, Roger the zombie, S.A.M the robot and Leigh, someone who can control animals. Why would he be chosen to lead this bunch of freaks? Unfortunately he doesn’t have much time to wonder because the Star League is thrown into its first mission. They have to save Jay’s uncle from the clutches of Professor Pestilence.

The book’s a comic in words with loads of action. The slick illustrations are manga-fused and help propel the story along. Jay’s a natural born leader but he’s also got doubts. Readers will be beside him in every scene. The story is easily accessible for younger kids and will especially appeal to boys looking for something original that is not based on a TV show, not yet anyway! 

The other members of the Star League each get their own book in the series, though this one is a great place to start. Once kids finish this book, they’ll be hungry for more. Star League is recommended for ages 8 and up.      

Monday, 13 June 2011


Votive by Karen Brooks (Random House)
PB RRP $27.95
ISBN 978-1-8647-1943-7  
Reviewed by Oliver Phommavanh

There are 624 pages in this book for older readers. Each and every page matters in this sequel to Tallow, second in the Curse of the Bond Riders series.

Tallow started out as a simple candle maker in the first book. She’s an Estrattore, someone who can extract feelings from people. She can also capture these feelings and insert them into things. Tallow’s distilled candles put her family’s candle shop on the map and that’s where the trouble starts. There are many enemies who will stop at nothing to use her for their selfish gains.

Tallow’s been hidden again, but this time she’s not going to be an ordinary candle maker. With the help of the Maleovellis family, she’s going to be Tarlo, a courtesan. She’s trained to seduce men of power and resurrect the fortunes of the Maleovellis with her candles and stunning beauty. Tarlo’s caught between blackmail and survival here, willing to help the Maleovellis gain ultimate power in La Serenissima. But she struggles with her own feelings of the past and lost love Dante. It’s not long before everybody feels Tarlo’s wrath-but will it come at a cost?

It’s almost essential to read Tallow before diving into this adventure, if anything you’ll further enjoy the story if you do. Brooks’ interchanges between third person and Tarlo’s first person narratives with expertise. You’ll never get too bogged down because Brooks has created some fascinating characters with their own motives for using Tallow. A part of the story takes you further into the Bond Riders, who are act as halfway agents between humans and the afterlife. Tallow’s meant to be part of a prophecy and her Bond Rider friend Katrina is determined to see that through. Sure, it’s simply building things up for the next book, but readers won’t mind at all.

Brooks shines with her descriptions of La Serenissima, especially with the glitz and glamour of high-class society. It’s a world stemmed from 19th century Europe. I love the language of this book, Brooks explains it as a mix between Italian, Venetian and fantasy variations of the two in the glossary. It’s just one aspect that helps you delve deeper into this rich and spectacular world.

Votive manages to triumph over Tallow and that’s saying something. Tallow fans are in for a treat. Bring on the next book! Highly recommended for ages 13 and up.  

Wednesday, 1 June 2011

Pig Boy

Pig Boy by J.C Burke (Random House)
PB RRP $18.95
ISBN 978-1-7416-6312-9  
Reviewed by Oliver Phommavanh

J.C Burke’s impressive track record continues with her new book. It may attract some controversy but it also raises awareness of the issues of bullying and boys.

Pig Boy is the name given to Damon, or better known in his small town as Damoink. He’s a boy on the fringe of society, an outcast at school who prefers to stay cooped up at home and play violent computer games. It’s easy to place Damon into a profile of a psycho maniac who might shoot up the school one day. It’s a rumour that grows stronger when Damon is expelled from school, weeks before his final exams.

Angry, hurt and lonely, Damon conspires to get rid of his enemies. He puts strain on his relationship with Mum, which is already at breaking point. He gets a job with another social outcast, the mysterious Pigman. But it’s not long before the town’s gossip catches up to him and he’s forced to lay everything bare.

Burke doesn’t hold back with Damon’s narrative. It’s hard-hitting, shocking and brutally honest. It’s not the swear words that make the most impact, it’s the descriptions of Damon’s emotions as he struggles to overcome his fears of being bullied. Burke captures the emotions of a victim being pushed to the edge and lets the readers make up their own mind about him. You won’t be forgetting Damon in a while.
Pigman almost steals the book with his gentle humour and gritty revelations about his past. Their relationship is strong male bonding without the clich├ęs, just two confused people itching to spill their secrets but afraid of what will happen if they do. The story pushes towards one conclusion but hangs a hard-right into a twist of its own.

Pig Boy is an intelligent novel that pushes you out of your comfort zone. A riveting book that’s hard to put down. Highly recommended for ages 15 and up.      

Tuesday, 24 May 2011

Cat in the Hat Knows A Lot About That: Show Me the Honey

Cat in the Hat Knows A Lot About That: Show Me the Honey by Tish Rabe and illustrated by Christopher Moroney (Random House)
PB RRP $8.95
ISBN 978-0-8575-1042-6  
Reviewed by Oliver Phommavanh

Show Me the Honey is a book for younger early readers with a well-loved character. The Cat in the Hat continues to engage fresh fans with his new TV series. Each episode has the Cat going on adventures and explaining how various things work. These books are based on this neat format, offering facts disguised as clever rhymes.

Show Me the Honey takes the reader on a journey on how honey is made. Nick and Sally are kids who’ve just run out of honey. Luckily the Cat in the Hat has an invitation to Queen Bee Priscilla’s Buzzoo, a party that’s just for bees. With a little help from Things One and Two, the kids and the Cat become honourable bees for the day.

Fans of Dr Suess’ original books will be pleased to know that the trademark humour and rhythm remains intact here. The fun of words is contagious and will carry early readers along nicely. The illustrations have been kept old-school, with simple and classic drawings.

Kids will adore these books. There are many more in the series. Adults who grew up on Dr Suess may want to read with their kids too. Recommended for ages 6 and up.