Showing posts with label Penguin Random House. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Penguin Random House. Show all posts

Saturday, 3 November 2018

The Centre of my Everything


The Centre of my Everything by Allayne Webster (Penguin Random House)
PB RRP $19.99   ISBN 9780143783336

Reviewed by Liz Ledden

The Centre of my Everything is a distinctly Australian, gritty YA novel set in the regional town of Mildura. Told in the alternating points of view of four main characters, Justin, Tara, Corey and Margo, it’s about the intertwining lives of the teens, plus their families, too.

Justin has just returned to town post-rehab and is trying to move on from his drug-addicted past. Corey is a school drop-out struggling with employment, Tara feels unloved by her mother and has a bad girl reputation, while Indigenous character Margo is intelligent and headstrong, with a plan to escape the stifling confines of her small town environment for uni in the city.

The novel opens with Corey extremely hungover, and piecing together the events of the night before – a destructive, drunken high school party, culminating in digging up bones at the local cemetery. This event drives the plot forward and links the characters in a way you never see coming, providing a gripping read.

Often confronting, the story deals with themes including binge drinking, violence and sexual assault, so it’s one for older teens and up. The writing is truly compelling, the plot tightly woven, and the voices of each character feel authentic, raw and real. 

Webster has captured the essence of teen drinking culture in a lower social economic, regional Australian environment, yet manages to infuse heart and hope.

Friday, 19 October 2018

Twelve Angels Weeping


Twelve Angels Weeping by Dave Rudden, illustrated by Alexis Snell (Penguin Random House) HB RRP $29.99 ISBN: 9781405938273

Reviewed by Dannielle Viera

‘Every light casts a shadow. And every story needs a villain.’ During the Doctor’s travels to the limits of time and space in the TARDIS – a time machine that is ‘bright and blue and shining in the grim darkness’ – the renegade Time Lord has encountered a slew of adversaries. From the reptilian Silurians and Ice Warriors to the rhino-like Judoon, each race proudly displays its unique brand of brutality like a badge of honour.

Teen fans of the long-running television show Doctor Who will enjoy sinking their teeth into this collection of twelve thrilling tales. In a refreshing twist, each story focuses on a classic villain (rather than the Doctor) and expertly augments the expanded universe of the franchise. While it is helpful to be aware of the characters and the various guises of the Doctor when reading the stories, it is not essential – sci-fi buffs with no prior knowledge of the show will quickly become engrossed in the futuristic action.

Dave Rudden immerses himself brilliantly into the vast world of Doctor Who, intriguing readers with a Cyberman who sees a ghost girl; the origin of Strax the Sontaran, who later works alongside the Doctor; and a Zygon plan to turn a glorious glass city into shards that will grind ‘into the meat of the universe’. Humour and horror drip from the pages in equal measure, surprisingly tempered with a lot of heart. With a dozen battles between light and dark to savour, this is one book that teenagers won’t want to ‘Exterminate!’

Saturday, 11 August 2018

High Five to the Boys


High Five to the Boys (a Random House book) HB RRP $29.99 ISBN 9780143791782

Reviewed by Dianne Bates

Seventeen men and women on the Random House publishing team volunteered to write the biographies of dozens of Australian men who are featured in this book which follows Shout out to the Girls published earlier this year. All the men depicted – some Anglo, some Aboriginal and some from migrant backgrounds, some deceased, most still living – are honoured for the contribution they have made to our society.

Fifty men, all prominent in their respective fields, are listed in the contents. Many, such as John Curtain, Michael Kirby, Weary Dunlop and Steve Irwin, are household names but others – Eddie Ayres, Troye Sivan, Briggs and Elvis Abrahanowicz to mention just a few – are lesser known. Each of the book’s sections offers a high five (defined in the book as ‘a public salutation to express gratitude or solidarity’) – to sportsmen, politicians, activists, engineers and philanthropists, and more.

One man who intrigues and who deserves a high five is David Walsh (1961-) whose winnings at a casino made him a millionaire; Walsh used his wealth to founded MONA, The Museum of Old and New Art, which has since become one of his home state’s foremost tourist attractions. Another man is Taj Pabari who has educated more than 100,000 children in how computer tablets work and how easy they are to build. Jordan Nguyen has invented a wheelchair which works by mind-control. There are so many fascinating stories in his book!

 Accompanying the story of each of the mean's achievement are coloured portraits by  numerous illustrators employed in the book such as Andrew Joyner, Andrew Weldon, Tohby Riddle and Tom Jellett. Most of the illustrations are cartoons but some, such as that of Harley Windsor (figure skater), John Curtin (politician) and Paul De Gelder (Navy diver) are realistic. 

There are many stories like Walsh’s which give a background to the man’s achievements. Other positive role models depicted in High Five to the Boys are businessman and philanthropist Mei Quong Tart, biomedical engineer Jordan Nguyen, activist and mental health advocate Jason Ball and comedian and environmental campaigner, Craig Reucassell. This list only scrapes the barrel of many fascinating short biographies which are sure to be read avidly by boys and young men interested in not only amazing Australians, but the occupations they are engaged in, such as fashion designing, architect, justice -- and more.

The book is designed in-house by Astred Hicks who has used bright pink fly pages and strong, bright coloured pages to introduce each man. Certainly, the book which has highlighted many lives and was created by many, is sure to find a welcome spot in school and home librarians. Full marks to Random House which is donating all royalties from the sale of the book to The Smith Family.


Monday, 19 February 2018

Shout Out to The Girls: A Celebration of Awesome Australian Women


Shout Out to The Girls: A Celebration of Awesome Australian Women (Penguin Random House). HB RRP $29.99   ISBN 9780143789420

Reviewed by Dianne Bates

If, as Australians, we want role models for our girls to become amazing women, and our boys to respect and honour women, it is incumbent upon us to share the kinds of stories found in this recently published book.

Fifteen women employed by the publisher have written biographies of 50 incredible Australian women, some (like Mary MacKillop, Nancy Wake and Ita Buttrose) who are nationally known, and others (Sia, Aheda Zanetti and Alice Anderson) who are lesser known.  An early, fully-qualified mechanic, Anderson (1897 – 1926), for example, was founder of the Women’s Automobile Club, and opened her own business, Kew Garage, where she employed an all-female staff of mechanics and apprentices.

The women featured in this book are by no means all Anglo (such as motivationalist Turia Pitt, comedian and disability activist Stella Young, artist Nora Heyson); there are, for example, a number of aboriginal women, such as film-maker Rachel Perkins, Sudanese-born mechanical engineer, author and activist Yassmin Abdel-Magied, third generation Chinese Kylie Kwong and author Melina Marchetta of Italian heritage, and many others. Tribute is even paid to transgender Jordan Raskopoulos, an internationally acclaimed comedian.

The chosen women’s sphere of influence is wide-ranging, embracing for instance, fields such as human rights, politics, car racing, social work, film and theatre production and much more. Quite a few women are advocates (including for women’s health, aboriginal rights, brain cancer, the environment, the arts).

Thanks to this book, for the first time this aged feminist reviewer came upon the stories of Felicity Wishart, Ella Havelka, Dharmic Mistry and Daisy Pearce. One of the featured women has won four Academy Awards (Catherine Martin), has led Australia (Julia Gillard), been honoured as Australian of the Year (burns surgeon Fiona Wood), represented Australia internationally (Paralympian skier Jess Gallaher). There’s even young Jade Hemeister (2001 --) who’s explored the Artic!

Each of the one-page biographies is colourfully illustrated by 34 talented women artists, giving art students a great reference for a variety of portraiture.

The women in Shout Out for the Girls must surely show both sexes that women can and do succeed in whatever industry they decide to enter. Highly recommended.


Wednesday, 19 July 2017

Goldie Makes the Grade

Goldie Makes the Grade (Little Paws series) written by Jess Black, illustrations by Gabriel Evans (Penguin Random House Australia) PB RRP $9.95
ISBN 978-0-14-378183-7

Reviewed by Elizabeth Vercoe

Goldie Makes the Grade is one in a series of four short chapter books about the puppies that train to become Guide Dogs and the families who look after them. If I were back in primary school now, I know I would have devoured every one of these! For reviewing purposes I have read just this title in the series.

Author Jess Black has penned all four books, and hopefully illustrator Gabriel Evans has also worked on each. The simple, black and white pencil sketches dotted throughout this story are wonderfully evocative and well-placed to support the narrative. The delightful storyline is engaging and very readable.

Goldie is a fourteen-month old Labrador who is due to leave eight-year-old Abby Agresta and her family soon, to begin her final Guide Dog training.
However, young Abby faces the urgent dilemma of clearing Goldie’s ‘name’ in order to ensure that she will be accepted as a service dog. An unfortunate incident in the Agresta household involving cupcakes, has cast some doubt on Goldie’s ability to control her Labrador eating instincts!

This short chapter book punches well above its weight in terms of providing thoughtful ideas for both individual pondering and further classroom discussion. Without being at all ‘preachy,’ it opens up issues of gender and cultural stereotypes, friendships, loyalty, standing up for what you believe in, self-empowerment and doing the right thing, and, of course, information about looking after a guide dog puppy.

I really enjoyed the fact that although child and dog share a very close bond (Goldie even sleeps on Abby’s bed), the story doesn’t delve into the sadness that the two will feel at the time of separation. It rather focuses on the gifts that will be brought to both Goldie and her future vision-impaired owner.

A section with interesting facts and further information is included at the end of the story. An added bonus is that ‘Buying this book helps me become a Guide Dog!” as claimed by the gorgeous golden Labrador on the front cover.

Both girls and boys of primary school age will enjoy, and be informed by, this book.


Thursday, 22 December 2016

Meet the Flying Doctors

Meet the Flying Doctors by George Ivanoff illustrated by Ben Wood (Penguin Random House Australia) HB RRP $24.99
ISBN 9780143780687

Reviewed by Dianne Bates

For children who might not know, the Royal Flying Doctor provides emergency and primary health care across Australia. This landscape picture book for readers aged 7 to 10 years tells the story of how the life-saving service was created to become an Australian icon. It begins with the man on the $20 bank note – Reverend John Flynn whose story, starting in 1911 is told from the point of view of a young boy whose life he saved.

A stockman fell from his horse while mustering cattle in the Kimberly region of Western Australia: badly injured, he endured a 12 hour trip to Halls Creek where the postmaster knew some first aid. A telegraph to Perth for medical assistance resulted in the postman being told to perform an operation – his only equipment being a razor and a penknife. The operation was not a success, so a doctor took a thirteen day trip to Halls Creek: by then the stockman was dead. Reading this newspaper story, Flynn contacted a World War 1 pilot; between them they worked out how to use planes to reach the outback to help injured and sick patients.

The AMS – or Australian Inland Mission Aerial Medical Services – which was subsequently formed, used a single-engine biplane leased from QANTAS, to run 50 flights and treat 255 patients in its first year. Because of the lack of a radio, flights needed to be made in daylight hours. Happily, over the years new technology helped outback people contact the service. The aerial service was so successful it expanded to other states in 1934, and of course its name was changed.

As well as Flynn, the book also pays tribute to women nurses who worked with the service – Marie Osborn, and Myra Blanch. These days the Royal Doctor Flying Service has a fleet of 66 planes, operating from 23 bases across Australia. All of this information is told throughout the book, and there is a detailed double-page spread at the back of the book with a timeline about the service up until and including 2014 when the RFDS remarkably assisted more than 290,000 people through emergency visits.

Watercolour illustrations with cartoon-style characters and pictures of biplanes, a map of Australia, from-the-air landscapes and more complement the text. This is yet another Random House ‘Meet the…’ book which includes stories about famous Australians such as Weary Dunlop, Mary MacKillop, Nellie Melba and others.



Monday, 19 December 2016

Aliens, Ghosts and Vanishings

Aliens, Ghosts and Vanishings by Stella Tarakson, illustrated by Richard Morden (Penguin Random House) HB RRP $27.99
ISBN 97819252324969

Reviewed by Dianne Bates

This non-fiction book for readers aged 9 to 13 years is subtitled ‘Strange and Possibly True Australian Stories.’ A durable publication on good quality paper, its contents pages list has six sub-headings which read as follows: Mythical Creatures, Mysterious Locations, Haunted Places, UFO Sightings, Bizarre Disappearances and Strange Happenings with seven or eight articles in each. For an Australian child interested in exploring the strange and unusual in his or her country, there are certainly some very weird stories.

Most adults would know about events such as the disappearances of Prime Minister Harold Holt and baby Azaria, the death of Phar Lap and of Lasseter’s Reef. But some of the stories in this book might be unfamiliar. These include the story of the disappearance of the steamship SS Waratah with passengers and cargo between Australia and England in 1909 and the retrieval of ancient African coins on Marchinbar, a remote Australian island, far off Northern Territory’s coastline -- coins over 900 years old. In both stories – and most stories in the book – the author poses theoretical questions which would surely give readers pause to wonder. Is the name ‘Waratah’ a jinx? After all, numerous ships with this name have vanished over the years. Was it Portuguese or Kilwan sailors who brought the coins onto land? Or were the coins washed ashore following a shipwreck? Or, stranger still, can Africans, rather than Europeans or Asians, have been the first non-Indigenous people to visit Australia?

After each of the dozens of stories in Aliens, Ghosts and Vanishings (spontaneous combustion, abductions, UFOs, and more), there are break-out pages which provide extra information. The author has also included the many sources from her research which keen readers can follow up if they wish. There is also a fairly short glossary and credits for images. These images include black and white photos (such as the shower blocks from the supposedly haunted Sydney Quarantine Station, and a camel team sent out to search for Lassiter). The illustrator has also provided green images all throughout the book which appear to be some kind of print, perhaps lino, as well as line drawings, again in green. There is a green border around all of the 280 pages.

Most books of the strange and weird are presented to readers in much more attractive and dramatic and colourful formats. But for the child who has an interest in their country and its strange past, this book provides many hours of fascinating reading.




Wednesday, 13 April 2016

Frankie

Frankie by Shivaun Plozza (Penguin Random House) PB RRP $17.99 ISBN 9780143573166

Reviewed by Dianne Bates

On the front cover, Melina Marchetta describes the book’s protagonist as ‘a gutsy character with a lot of heart.’ Certainly Frankie Vega is gutsy; she’s also full of vitriol, so much so that when the book starts she stands accused of viciously (and inexplicably) attacking a fellow school student and breaking his nose which earns her a suspension. Abandoned by her mother, Juliet, Frankie lives with her aunt Vinnie who runs a kebab shop and who is forever giving her niece a second chance.

As the book starts, a teenage boy turns up claiming to be Frankie’s half-brother. From then on, Xavier comes and goes until it’s obvious that he’s well and truly missing which involves Frankie in a search with him, aided by Nate who has secrets of his own.

This is a fast-paced, action-filled story full of cool (and oppositional) attitude with authentic, snappy dialogue laced with much bad language. Frankie is a character who some teen readers are sure to empathise with, but she’s a difficult girl; adults, such as her aunt, psychiatrist and principal, find almost impossible to deal with. Certainly she’s rude and brutal and honest.


This gripping and dark novel about searching for the truth, finding yourself and falling in love, ends with a bang, certainly not a whimper. Many teenage girls in particular will relate to this debut novel by Australian Shivaun Plozza. 

Sunday, 6 March 2016

Johnny Danger Lie another Day

Johnny Danger Lie another Day by Peter Millett, (Penguin Random House) HB RRP $14.99 ISBN 9780143309055
Reviewed by Jaquelyn Muller 
Combining the class and gadgetry of James Bond and the pun-filled (yet age appropriate) humour of Austin Powers, Johnny Danger explodes in this spy-loving adventure for 8-12 year old children.  Johnny Dangerfield is so desperate to be a spy he creates a fake online spy identity (Johnny Danger) but his plans take a Mach 3 trajectory when M16 recruits Johnny to help them save the world. If anyone finds out he is just a school boy pretending to be a spy, being grounded will be the last of his problems.
This latest Johnny Danger case in Lie another Day from Peter Millett, (Boy Zero Wannabe Hero and the award winning, The ANZAC Puppy) features spy faker Johnny Dangerfield, his stoic partner Penelope Pounds and a cast of conniving criminal appear in a riotous chapter book for middle-grade readers. 
Johnny and his spy partner must thwart a plan to poison the human race that lead them on a submarine mission to the Amazon jungle. Defeating evil no-gooders such as Dr Disastrous, Major Pain and henchmen 2A and 2B, (affectionately known as the number 2s) is not all work for Johnny, as this light-hearted book reflects on the horrors of older (and somewhat vengeful) siblings and unhinged parents that readers in this age group will relate to. 
The story’s school and home references warm readers to Johnny’s character and his constant challenges. Expecting anyone to save the world AND make their bed is surely unreasonable if not downright disrespectful!  


Tuesday, 13 January 2015

A Time to Dance

A Time to Dance by Padma Venkatraman (Penguin Random House) 
                                                                                        
HB RRP US$17.99                                              
ISBN 9780399257100                                                                    

Reviewed by Dianne Bates

With starred reviews in Kirkus, SLJ, Booklist and other literary magazines, this jacketed YA verse novel comes highly recommended by numerous overseas reviewers.  It tells the story of an Indian girl, Veda, a dance prodigy who lives and breathes dance, specifically the Bharatanatyam which is complex and classical. Sadly, an accident leaves her a below-knee amputee, shattering her dreams.  

However, Veda is undeterred and in a first-person story that is believable, inventive and powerful, the reader follows this one-legged girl’s determined journey of major adjustment as she takes beginner classes with young dancers to re-learn the dance with its many different poses and stances.
Then Veda meets a young man who approaches dance as a spiritual pursuit. As their relationship deepens, Veda reconnects with the world around her, and begins to discover who she is and what dance truly means to her.

During the novel, the spiritual and religious meaning of Bharatanatyam is explored, as well as what that means for Veda and her own relationship with Shiva.


A Time to Dance is sure to provide an inspiration to YA readers who aspire to reaching for a dream, even in the face of seemingly insurmountable obstacles. Believing in oneself, perseverance, love and resilience are some of the themes explored in this strong and well-written novel.