Showing posts with label YA novel. Show all posts
Showing posts with label YA novel. Show all posts

Saturday, 13 October 2018

Just Flesh and Blood


Just Flesh and Blood by Jane Caro (UQP) PB RRP $19.95 ISBN 978 0702260018

Reviewed by Dianne Bates

Australian Jane Caro has won many national and international awards for her creative endeavours and has written numerous books including the prequels to this, her latest YA title in the Elizabeth 1 trilogy (Just a Girl and Just a Queen), both UQP titles.

In Just Flesh and Blood, she continues the life of Elizabeth, who endured a perilous childhood to take the throne as Queen of England. Now, four decades later, having withstood political upheavals, wars and plots against her life, she contemplates her successes and failures and ponders all she has relinquished – love, marriage and family – for power. 
As she is dying, Elizabeth recalls her first love, Robin Dudley, 1st Earl of Leicester who was her playmate and became her master of horse on her accession. (Many consider he was her one true love.) There are many more memories which makes this a slow-moving book, not one bristling with action: it is, after all, Elizabeth’s final chapter.

As with all books which are well-researched, the book contains a bibliography for those who want to read more about the great queen’s life and accomplishments. Also very helpful at the end of the book is its Cast of Characters, with, in order of appearance, the names and birth and death dates as well as a short potted history of those who appear in the book which begins with the death of Elizabeth’s mother, Anne Boleyn, second wife of Henry V11, who was executed by him for treason and adultery.

Friday, 28 September 2018

Heaven Sent


Heaven Sent by S.J. Morgan, (Midnight Sun Publishing) PB RRP $19.99 ISBN: 9781925227451

Reviewed by Pauline Hosking

The cover and title of Heaven Sent are misleading. They give the impression that this is another YA novel in which angels (or demons) arrive on earth and have a relationship with a human girl. Evie, the protagonist, is almost convinced this is the case when gorgeous Gabe smashes his car through her bedroom wall.
He says he has come to make sure she is happy.

At this stage Evie is wearing a body brace because she has scoliosis, her parents have divorced and her mother is living with Seb who grows marijuana for a living. Miraculously things start to improve after Gabe appears. Evie stops growing and is able to discard the brace. Her father is located by Gabe and reconnects, and her mother gains the strength to leave Seb. There’s also the entrance into Evie’s life of blonde Year 12 student, Isak.

But nothing is as it seems. Gabe’s behaviour becomes more and more erratic. Instead of being a guardian angel, Evie (and the reader) gradually realise Gabe has serious emotional and mental problems. One of the nicest things about the book is that, even after Gabe has a Christmas meltdown, Evie remains a true friend, committed to helping him any way she can.

Like Gabe, many of the characters in Heaven Sent defy the reader’s initial expectations. This is especially true of Paige, Evie’s best friend. Evie herself changes from someone who is happiest being invisible, to someone confident and resilient - although she does sometimes appear much older than sixteen.

This is S.J. Morgan’s first YA novel. It’s a solid debut. The Australian setting is a definite plus and the author gradually reveals Gabe’s true situation with the skill of a good mystery writer.  


Wednesday, 5 September 2018

Inside the Tiger

Inside the Tiger by Hayley Lawrence (Penguin Random Australia) PB RRP  $19.99  ISBN 9780143788959

Reviewed by Dianne Bates

Bel Anderson is the daughter of a politician who is living in a boarding school when a Legal Studies assignment sees her writing to Micah, a 19-year-old on Death Row in Thailand. Of course, Micah responds and thus sets a train of communications between the two which results in Bel flying to Thailand to visit her pen-pal, notwithstanding the fact she does not know why he is incarcerated. Meeting him, Bel falls for him which eventually results in her destroying them both.

Lawrence says her own experience writing to and visiting a death row prisoner in Thailand was the inspiration for this story. A captivating and raw read, this is a story of hope, determination and personal sacrifice and deals with many issues which have not been addressed in YA novels before, such as Death Row, conditions in prison and the murder of Bel’s mother. It is likely to appeal to teenagers (and shock) with a romanticised view of prison life and life between an inmate and a visitor.


This debut novel about love, life and the redemptive power of love was shortlisted for the Vogel Award in 2017 and won a Litlink Residency in 2016 and a PIP Fellowship in 2017 at Varuna, the Writers' Centre.by Hayley Lawrence (Penguin Random Australia) PB RRP  $19.99  ISBN 9780143788959





Monday, 3 September 2018

Water Hole



Water Hole By Fiona Bell (UQP) RRP $24.99   ISBN 9780702259999

Reviewed by Claire Stuckey

Sunny is grieving for her mum recently killed in a car crash and blaming her stepdad. As the story opens she prepares to leave school to return the farm for school holidays. Sunny and Kevin do not communicate but ague, both grief- stricken in their own ways. Confused by "sightings" of her mother and the real sense that she feels her mother's presence, Sunny shies away from sharing her thoughts and feelings.

Motivated to help find a lost boy, she joins other searches in the bush land near the Waterhole. Many have died in the strong currents and this is where she sees her mother beckoning her. Falling hard, Sunny wakes in hospital but finds the concussion makes her more unsteady and venerable. She resolves to find the missing boy or his body, believing that he is already dead. Incidents and evidence lead the community to believe her stepfather Kevin was responsible, and Sunny agrees. Seeking answers to many questions including the identity of her natural father, she spends more time at the waterhole where she meets teenage Matt whom she finds attractive and interesting. 

When she tries to leave town, even more secrets are revealed. Sunny is isolated and confused, her relationship with Matt strained.  Returning to the waterhole, she faces a tragic and confronting encounter. 

This book explores the dynamics of grief. Rural life and small-town relationships serve as a backdrop to Sunny's struggle without a mother and with a stepfather she does not really know. 

The story also keeps you focused on the crime that we think has been committed. The supernatural element ties the story together keeping one guessing and ensures the reader empathises with the central character. This is a great young adult novel set in an Austrian country town. Back ground characters developed make relevant but not overdrawn players in this dramatic but very readable plot for ages 13 and up.

Tuesday, 28 August 2018

The Darkest Legacy


The Darkest Legacy by Alexandra Bracken (HarperCollins Publishers) PB RRP $17.99 ISBN: 9781460756362

Reviewed by Dannielle Viera

For 17-year-old Suzume ‘Zu’ Kimura, it was as if ‘the past suddenly grew teeth’. The fragile acceptance of Psi kids like her that she had worked so hard to maintain had literally blown up in her face. Falsely accused of causing the deadly explosion – and on the run with two cagey Psi, who have their own agenda – Zu must wade through the mire of misery, mistrust and misinformation to discover the horrifying truth hidden in the shadows.

Aimed at teens 13 years and up, The Darkest Legacy follows on from Alexandra Bracken’s bestselling The Darkest Minds trilogy. Those who have read the original YA series will enjoy a deeper connection to the latest book, as they comprehend more completely the references to people, places and events from the series. However, the heart-pounding immediacy that Alexandra weaves throughout the action in The Darkest Legacy ensures that readers who are new to the world of the Psi – and their powerful mental abilities – will be carried along on the physical and emotional journey taken by Zu and her companions.

Evocative phrases pepper the text like bullets, drawing readers in to the ‘audible fire’ of the story. We feel every spine tingle and pulse thrum along with Zu, quickly becoming invested in the outcome of her odyssey. Meaningful memories successfully entwine with edge-of-your-seat exploits, and Alexandra uses clever dialogue to both define her characters and create dramatic tension. The ending is surprisingly satisfying, while also leaving the literary door ajar for the next instalment in this mesmerising series.

Tuesday, 21 August 2018

Found


Found by Fleur Ferris (Random House Australia) PB RRP $19.99 ISBN 9780143784326

Reviewed by Kylie Buckley

Elizabeth Miller (Beth) is a seventeen-year-old school girl who lives in a small rural town in New South Wales. She has been brought up in a safe and loving environment by her parents, is well-liked and has lots of friends. She has recently got a boyfriend, Jonah, whom she goes to school and has fallen in love with. Beth has a great relationship with her parents; however, they are somewhat strict and a little overprotective, especially her father. So, for the past six weeks she’s put off telling them about her relationship with Jonah.

Beth is anxious about telling her father her secret, yet she is looking forward to the relief it will bring when it’s finally out in the open. Little does she know that her secret will pale in comparison to the one that is about to be revealed. On the afternoon that Beth finally works up the courage to tell her father about Jonah, her safe little world comes crashing down. Unfortunately for Beth, a seventeen-year-old family secret is exposed, and the fallout is enormous.

Found is a fiction novel suitable for young adults. It is a captivating story from start to finish and is highly recommended for those who enjoy drama, mystery and suspense. The book is written from two points of view – both Beth’s and Jonah’s in alternating chapters. Interestingly, Beth’s point of view is written in first person and Jonah’s point of view is told in the third person. This is the fourth young adult book by Fleur Ferris. If you like this novel, you may also enjoy her previous books - Risk, Black and Wreck.

Thursday, 14 June 2018

The Things We Can’t Undo


The Things We Can’t Undo by Gabrielle Reid, (Ford St. 2018) 346 pp, ISBN 9781925736045   PB RRP $19.95

Reviewed by Pauline Hosking

This appealing, fast-pace novel covers tricky subjects like consent, mental illness, suicide and the negative aspects of social media. It doesn’t pull any punches but is never gratuitous.

Year 10 students Samantha Jun Chen and Dylan West are in love. They’ve been together for nearly a year, so it’s no surprise when they leave Saturday night’s party to go into a quiet bedroom. What happens next will have a profound effect on both.
Did Dylan rape Samantha? He doesn’t think so. He’s totally pumped because he’s finally had sex with his wonderful girlfriend. Samantha has a different take on the experience. She wanted to say no, but she is a quiet girl not used to speaking her mind. Afterwards, she wishes she had spoken up. Samantha’s best friend Tayla is sure it was rape and sets about naming and blaming Dylan.

Samantha is a very average student who has to work twice as hard as everyone else because her parents expect her to be academically brilliant. They also believe ‘Boyfriends can wait until university’, so she’s had to keep her relationship with Dylan a secret. This means she has no one at home she can talk to honestly about what happened.   

The pressure from parents and friends, combined with her loss of trust in Dylan, has a horrific outcome. Over-stressed Samantha must find a way out. She chooses suicide.
The Things We Can’t Undo is Gabrielle Reid’s debut novel and it’s a gutsy read. None of the characters are totally black or white. As the book progresses both Tayla and Dylan develop and mature. The final pages describe Dylan carefully entering a new relationship.

Much of the story is written from Dylan’s point of view. Samantha’s feelings are recorded in the letters she writes but will never send. Tayla’s campaign to brand Dylan a rapist develops via online chats. The use of these various formats will appeal to its target audience.

If promoted sensitively, The Things We Can’t Undo should be a winner with readers from Year 9 upwards.

Wednesday, 11 October 2017

The Chronicles of Jack McCool: The Amulet of Athlone

The Chronicles of Jack McCool: The Amulet of Athlone (Book 1) by R.E Devine (Bauer Media) PB RRP $14.95   ISBN 9781742459202

Reviewed by Kylie Buckley

Jack was an ordinary teenager with a regular life until one night, hiding from his brother in the attic, it all changed. Jack is transported back in time to find that he is the Prince of Tara. Not only does this regular school boy have to wrap his head around news of his elite status, he also comes to learn that the Fianna clansmen are relying on him to rid them of the evil High King’s reign.

The amulet that Jack finds in an old wooden trunk in the attic is pivotal to the story, hence the title. (Amulet, noun: 1. a small object worn to ward off evil, harm or illness or to bring good fortune; protecting charm). This gold bracelet permanently attaches itself to Jack’s wrist. Unfortunately, it is missing the six precious gemstones, ‘cut from the mines of the magical city of Athlone’, imperative for its magical powers. Jack soon discovers that all the gems must be replaced for an ancient curse to be broken – and it’s his job to find them! In his quest to seek the valuable gems Jack teams up with warrior Finn McCool, ‘the hero of the book of Irish folk tales he’d loved to listen to his mother read when he was younger’. Jack must find the strength and courage to do things he’s never attempted before and overcome many obstacles including one of the King’s evil and deceitful banshees.

The Amulet of Athlone is suitable for middle grade readers who enjoy tales of adventure and fantasy. This novel is the first in an upcoming six book series to be released over the next six months. An enticing first chapter of Book 2: The Tomb of the Emerald Scarab is included at the end of this book. For further information and exclusive news visit
www.jackmccool.com


Monday, 18 September 2017


In Hades by Goldie Alexander (Celapene Press) PBK RRP $16.95   ISBN 978-0-9750742-6-8
E-book ISBN 978-0-9750742-5-1

Reviewed by David Campbell

Homer’s Odyssey might seem an odd choice as the basis for a story written for young adults, but if that classic poem were to be described as the original ‘road movie’ then what Goldie Alexander has achieved with her verse novel In Hades suddenly begins to make a lot of sense. Over the years there have been many famous road movies, from our own Mad Max and The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert, to the likes of Hollywood’s Easy Rider, Thelma and Louise, Rain Man, and Little Miss Sunshine.

That’s a fairly mixed bag, but the common thread throughout is the journey undertaken by the central characters, a journey of discovery and self-revelation. Alexander has explored the complex notion of redemption though the adventures of Kai, a 17-year-old boy who, in a daring plot-twist, dies at the very beginning of the story when he crashes a stolen car. Kai’s younger brother Rod, who is autistic, is also killed in the crash, and it is Kai’s search for Rod in Hades that leads him to encounter all manner of monsters and physical challenges that have to be overcome.

But In Hades is not just a gripping adventure tale, it’s also a love story, for Kai meets up with the anorexic Bilby-G, and their journey together becomes one of mutual self-discovery.

This is an ambitious project, and one of the keys to its success is the poetry, for Alexander has effectively managed the difficult feat of marrying the action (and the romance) to the rhythms and cadences of the verse. The book is not one poem, but 49 of them, each with its own distinctive structure and voice. So we begin with the dramatically brief opening (The Accident), which scatters words on the page as we might imagine the shattered wreckage of the car strewn across the road, and then moves to the more tightly structured, yet still confused, second poem (After!), in which Kai comes to the realisation that he is dead.

Bilby-G arrives on the scene in poem 15 (Meeting Bilby-G), but before then we have learnt something of Kai’s troubled background, most of his problems arising after his step-father walks out (he doesn’t know his biological father) and takes up with another woman who rejects the two boys. Kai’s experiences during this time will resonate with quite a few young people and provide a useful basis for discussion, the poem titles alone striking a chord…for example Sleeping Out, Street Kids, and No Fixed Address.

The rest of the book follows Kai and Bilby-G as they are, in a sense, reborn, rediscovering the people they were before their lives went downhill. We learn what brought Bilby-G to this point, and begin to see the degree of guilt that haunts both of them and the truth that has to be faced, best summed up by an old man they meet along the way who tells them that they must seek forgiveness and then forgive themselves if they are to find peace. The physical challenges they encounter, which include a dangerous sea voyage involving whirlpools, sea nymphs (shades of Ulysses and the Sirens) and, finally, a one-eyed monster, provide the means to this end.

The book operates on several levels. Firstly, there’s the “What happens next?” element of the story itself, finding out who (and what) Kai and Bilby-G meet, and how they react. Then there’s the background, the events that led up to their deaths and the sort of people they were…there’s ample material for debate in the way they interacted with their families and the understanding they eventually come to about that. And finally there’s the poetry itself, with the multitude of formats providing the stimulus for discussion about the use of language and poetic structure to enhance the ancient art of story-telling.

This last, for me, is the most interesting, but that won’t be the case for everyone. Responses to poetry are, naturally, very subjective, and the challenge for those unfamiliar with the genre will be to come to some understanding of what the writer is trying to do. That doesn’t mean universal agreement, of course, and there are certainly some sections that I would have tackled differently, but that is where verse can add an extra dimension to the tale being told. There is considerable value, and much to be learned, in teasing out the various techniques employed and looking at possible alternatives. This not only enhances appreciation, but prompts readers to take an interest in having a go for themselves.

The inventive use of language is a powerful instrument, and I recommend In Hades as something out of the ordinary that should provide an excellent source of stimulating material for a variety of young adult readers.


You can purchase this book through www.celapenepress.com.au www.celapenepress.com.au

In Hades


In Hades by Goldie Alexander (Celapene Press) PBK RRP $16.95   ISBN 978-0-9750742-6-8
E-book ISBN 978-0-9750742-5-1

Reviewed by David Campbell

Homer’s Odyssey might seem an odd choice as the basis for a story written for young adults, but if that classic poem were to be described as the original ‘road movie’ then what Goldie Alexander has achieved with her verse novel In Hades suddenly begins to make a lot of sense. Over the years there have been many famous road movies, from our own Mad Max and The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert, to the likes of Hollywood’s Easy Rider, Thelma and Louise, Rain Man, and Little Miss Sunshine.

That’s a fairly mixed bag, but the common thread throughout is the journey undertaken by the central characters, a journey of discovery and self-revelation. Alexander has explored the complex notion of redemption though the adventures of Kai, a 17-year-old boy who, in a daring plot-twist, dies at the very beginning of the story when he crashes a stolen car. Kai’s younger brother Rod, who is autistic, is also killed in the crash, and it is Kai’s search for Rod in Hades that leads him to encounter all manner of monsters and physical challenges that have to be overcome.

But In Hades is not just a gripping adventure tale, it’s also a love story, for Kai meets up with the anorexic Bilby-G, and their journey together becomes one of mutual self-discovery.

This is an ambitious project, and one of the keys to its success is the poetry, for Alexander has effectively managed the difficult feat of marrying the action (and the romance) to the rhythms and cadences of the verse. The book is not one poem, but 49 of them, each with its own distinctive structure and voice. So we begin with the dramatically brief opening (The Accident), which scatters words on the page as we might imagine the shattered wreckage of the car strewn across the road, and then moves to the more tightly structured, yet still confused, second poem (After!), in which Kai comes to the realisation that he is dead.

Bilby-G arrives on the scene in poem 15 (Meeting Bilby-G), but before then we have learnt something of Kai’s troubled background, most of his problems arising after his step-father walks out (he doesn’t know his biological father) and takes up with another woman who rejects the two boys. Kai’s experiences during this time will resonate with quite a few young people and provide a useful basis for discussion, the poem titles alone striking a chord…for example Sleeping Out, Street Kids, and No Fixed Address.

The rest of the book follows Kai and Bilby-G as they are, in a sense, reborn, rediscovering the people they were before their lives went downhill. We learn what brought Bilby-G to this point, and begin to see the degree of guilt that haunts both of them and the truth that has to be faced, best summed up by an old man they meet along the way who tells them that they must seek forgiveness and then forgive themselves if they are to find peace. The physical challenges they encounter, which include a dangerous sea voyage involving whirlpools, sea nymphs (shades of Ulysses and the Sirens) and, finally, a one-eyed monster, provide the means to this end.

The book operates on several levels. Firstly, there’s the “What happens next?” element of the story itself, finding out who (and what) Kai and Bilby-G meet, and how they react. Then there’s the background, the events that led up to their deaths and the sort of people they were…there’s ample material for debate in the way they interacted with their families and the understanding they eventually come to about that. And finally there’s the poetry itself, with the multitude of formats providing the stimulus for discussion about the use of language and poetic structure to enhance the ancient art of story-telling.

This last, for me, is the most interesting, but that won’t be the case for everyone. Responses to poetry are, naturally, very subjective, and the challenge for those unfamiliar with the genre will be to come to some understanding of what the writer is trying to do. That doesn’t mean universal agreement, of course, and there are certainly some sections that I would have tackled differently, but that is where verse can add an extra dimension to the tale being told. There is considerable value, and much to be learned, in teasing out the various techniques employed and looking at possible alternatives. This not only enhances appreciation, but prompts readers to take an interest in having a go for themselves.

The inventive use of language is a powerful instrument, and I recommend In Hades as something out of the ordinary that should provide an excellent source of stimulating material for a variety of young adult readers.


You can purchase this book through www.celapenepress.com.au www.celapenepress.com.au

Monday, 12 June 2017

Spellslinger

Spellslinger by Sebastien De Castell (Allen and Unwin) PB RRP $19.99
ISBN 9781471406119

Reviewed by Daniela Andrews

Kellen is almost sixteen years old and rapidly approaching his magical trials. Will he become a mage of Jan’Tep, like his powerful father Ke’heops? Or will he instead be declared an unmagical ‘Sha’Tep weakling’, destined only to serve a mage? The pressure is on. His younger sister, Shalla, has already sparked magical bands in multiple disciplines, but Kellen has none.

Desperate to avoid the shame of being declared Sha’Tep, Kellen passes his first trial by tricking his opponent into believing he is performing a spell against him. (‘Magic is a con game.’) Shalla pronounces him a cheat and then casts her own spell against him, hoping he’ll find some magic within to shield it. He doesn’t – and she nearly kills him. Fortunately, a mysterious stranger (Ferius Parfax) saves his life.

Ferius, whom the townspeople suspect to be a Daroman spy, empathises with Kellen and continues to look out for him. When Kellen discovers the shameful truth about the Jan’Tep people, and becomes a victim of their cruelty, he turns to Ferius – and a smart-mouthed squirrel cat, Reichis – to help him escape and find his own destiny instead. But who exactly is Ferius, and why is she so keen to help Kellen?

Spellslinger is the first YA fantasy novel in a new set of six books by Sebastien De Castell, author of the Greatcoats series. He describes the book as being set in the same universe as his Greatcoats series, but on a different continent – one ‘more akin to the American frontier’. The dark, western feel makes it quite a unique, magical story! The novel is fast-paced, told in first-person perspective, and broken up into four parts representing Kellen’s magical trials.

Essentially, it’s the story of a teenager trying to find himself. It’s about how he stands up to those who shame him, and finds his own direction in life. Kellen stops striving to become a Jan’Tep after he learns that ‘there’s no amount of magic in the world that’s worth the price of a man’s conscience’. With the support of Ferius and Reichis, he is ready to assume his place as the ‘Spellslinger’; a role that Ferius predicts ‘might just change the world’. Kellen leaves behind a trail of allies and enemies that will no doubt make the forthcoming books rather action-packed!


Sunday, 21 May 2017

The Secret Science of Magic

The Secret Science of Magic by Melissa Keil (Hardie Grant Egmont)
PB RRP $19.99   ISBN 9781760127763

Reviewed by Liz Ledden

The Secret Science of Magic is Melissa Keil’s third YA novel. A contemporary love story with an over-arching nerdy feel (in the best possible way), it is about Sophia, a maths genius with an eidetic memory, and Joshua, a magic-trick loving, self-confessed slacker. Told via both points of view (see the handy silhouettes at the top of each chapter), we are soon immersed in their inner-most thoughts and fears.

Sophia applies maths and science to all aspects of her life – there’s a theory for everything. However, when it comes to feelings, and magic, it becomes apparent that logic and order can’t figure everything out. Joshua feels a little aimless as the end of high school is rapidly approaching, but one thing is for sure – his feelings for Sophia. Both characters are complex, intelligent and endearing in their own ways, though I did find myself with a softer spot for Josh.

A strength of the story is the dialogue – snappy, sarcastic, funny and super smart, and peppered with pop culture references. The sibling relationships felt very real, as did Sophia’s friendship journey with BFF Elsie. Joshua’s little sister Gillian, sassy and wise beyond her years, was particularly hilarious.

This is a fabulous, engaging YA novel with unique characters, much heart and a love story you really hope happens, despite Joshua’s reiteration that in life, and in magic, timing is everything.


Thursday, 18 May 2017

The Things We Promise

The Things We Promise by J.C. Burke (Allen and Unwin)
PB RRP $19.99  ISBN 9781760290405

Reviewed by Daniela Andrews

‘Mum reckoned I was born a pessimist. “Polly Pessimistic” she called me … But it’s true, I can feel it. Sometimes I sense it early. Sometimes it’s not till it’s almost on top of me.’

The school formal is months away but Gemma and her best friend, Andrea, are super excited. Gemma’s talented and semi-famous brother, Billy, has promised he’ll come home from New York to do their hair and make-up. The girls can’t wait … they’re choosing hairstyles, arguing over dress lengths, and counting down the weeks. Gemma is hoping to get the attention of the boy she likes, Ralph.

Enter Polly Pessimistic. Gemma can’t help feeling that something is wrong at home. Her mother won’t admit that she’s stressed out about something … and she flips out when Gemma wants to ring Billy. There’s that niggling comment made by Vanessa, a girl at her school who knows Billy via her modelling work. (What does Vanessa know about Billy’s personal life that she doesn’t?) Then she discovers the death notice for Matt Leong, Billy’s old boyfriend, who died at the age of 25 from ‘a short illness’ … and watches, in disbelief, as her mother crumbles at the news.

In the early 1990s, teenagers wore midriff tops. They watched ‘Video Hits’ and ‘Degrassi High’. They knew who Bob Hawke was. They made phone calls from public phone boxes. And they probably heard the terms ‘AIDS’ and ‘HIV’ a lot. Award-winning writer, J.C. Burke, aptly set her novel in this era to raise awareness of AIDS and the fears, attitudes and ignorance of people during that time. Gemma perfectly summarises the author’s intent when she says, of AIDS: ‘… It’s the way it spreads everywhere. It’s like it’s infected my life. It’s infected me, the way I see people, the way I see the world.’

This stark, powerful novel for young adults is beautifully written and will appeal to a broad range of readers, including adults who grew up in the 80s and 90s. The author, an oncology nurse, writes insightfully about hospital procedures, infection control and home management. The novel will deeply resonate with teenage readers who know what it’s like to preserve a ‘normal’ school life while watching a loved one battle a terminal illness at home.






Wednesday, 19 April 2017

The Seven Signs, Book 1: Skyfire


 The Seven Signs, Book 1: Skyfire by Michael Adams (Scholastic Australia) PB RRP $7.99   ISBN 978-1-74362-801-0

Reviewed by Jenny Heslop

The Seven Signs is a new explosive and action packed series for middle grade readers by Australian author Michael Adams. Skyfire kicks the series off with the seven winners of the mysterious DARE competition all meeting for the first time and receiving amazing prizes. But this group of 15 year old geniuses are about to discover that there is something sinister lurking beneath the glitter, wealth and prestige of the award. That something will not only put their own lives in peril, but also the lives of those close to them. Will their combined intelligence be enough to solve the cryptic ‘signs’ being texted to them? And is there a connection between these signs and the shocking public attacks which are throwing whole countries into chaos?

By combining thrilling adventures, edge-of-your-seat action, exotic locations and unshakable friendship bonds, this series promises to deliver the same satisfying ‘teens save the world’ experience as The Last Thirteen series. The seven central characters are all likeable, not perfect and quirky enough to be interesting. Once you suspend your disbelief enough to allow for the post apocalyptic world which includes Space Skimmer ultra fast-jets, driverless taxis and other futuristic advances, it is not a big leap to fifteen year-olds who can save the world. And within this context, they do act in a believable way.

Jumping from character to character and location to location, keeps the action tight and constant. This is a book to speed-read cover to cover, with cliff hangers making it hard to put down. Skyfire is a thrilling read, perfect for adrenaline junkies and lovers of mystery, good versus evil plots and epic races to save the world.



Tuesday, 4 April 2017

Frogkisser!

Frogkisser! by Garth Nix (Allen and Unwin) PB RRP $19.99
ISBN 9781760293512

Reviewed by Daniela Andrews

True love’s kiss can break a spell, right? That’s what the fairytales say. But what if true love’s kiss isn’t available? What if, say, a fickle queen-to-be (whose suitor has been converted to a frog by her evil step-stepfather) is too disgusted at the thought of kissing an amphibian?

Enter Princess Anya … the younger, practical, responsible sister, who really just wants to put an end to her sister’s wailing and get back to her reading. Anya promises to find Prince Denholm and reconvert him. She is helped by the palace librarian, Gotfried, who offers two remedies: a spell for finding the frog, and a ‘Transmogrification Reversal Lip Balm’ that can be applied in the absence of true love. It should be simple, but of course it isn’t. First, the frog she catches and kisses isn’t Denholm. Second, she’s out of lip balm.

Award-winning fantasy author, Garth Nix, slowly builds on Anya’s basic quest to kiss a frog and turns it into a humorous fairytale adventure of epic proportions. As her step-stepfather, Duke Rikard, grows stronger in power and attempts to steal the throne, Anya realises she needs to save her sister. And the kingdom. Other kingdoms, too. Plus restore the ‘All-Encompassing Bill of Rights and Wrongs’. Find allies. Build an army. Source obscure ingredients for more lip balm. Kiss lots of frogs. Oh, and possibly reassess her entire life vision.

Garth Nix has once again created a brave, admirable heroine, with traits reminiscent of Lirael and Sabriel. His writing is fresh and playful, with a hint of the absurd, all the while remaining vivid in description and intensity. I was delightfully taken aback at the amusing moments sprinkled within moments of action.  (For example, an awestruck Anya quietly observes a tree spirit … and her royal canine sidekick, Ardent, explains why dogs like trees. Amidst the Duke’s list of serious crimes is a charge for ‘improper cackling’, and there’s a Shakespearean-like character – ‘Gerald-the-Herald’ – who randomly enters a scene and obnoxiously shouts out headlines.)

Frogkisser! targets readers aged 13–16 years and will be made into an animated musical film by FOX Animation and Blue Sky Studios (creators of Ice Age). It is a stand-a-lone novel, but Nix has cleverly left behind some unexplained mysteries that would allow him to expand the story if he chooses.


Thursday, 9 March 2017

The Book of Whispers

The Book of Whispers by Kimberley Starr (Text Publishing)
PB RRP $19.99   ISBN 9 781925 3555 12

Reviewed by Wendy Fitzgerald

Australian author, Kimberley Starr has an MA in medieval literature and teaches English in Melbourne. Her latest book, The Book of Whispers won the 2015 Text Prize for best manuscript written for young adults and children. It was published in October 2016.

The Book of Whispers is a captivating medieval adventure story set back in the 11th century at the time of the first crusade. It starts in the Falconi estate in San Gimignano, Tuscany back in the Year 1096AD.  We follow young Luca on his quest from Italy, through Turkey and Syria to Jerusalem to help free Jerusalem from the Saracens.

Luca can see evil demons but he must hide this gift. On the way Luca meets Suzan and they form a special bond. It is Suzan who helps Luca unravel the mysteries of the ancient ‘Book of Whispers.’

With the rest of the army, Luca and Suzan face bloody battles, starvation, thirst and sickness. They must defeat the demons, Luca’s step brother and the evil priest, Ramberti in order to save Jerusalem. 

I quote- ‘I wanted to tell a story that made history as interesting as I’ve always found it by telling it in a way that had characters kids could relate to with a compelling narrative that made them keep asking what happens next.’ (Kimberley Starr)

I really like the combination of brilliantly researched history, fantasy (the demons and the magic book), action, suspense and romance. I connected strongly with the characters and I like the use of duel narrative where Starr moves cleverly from Luca to Suzan.

‘My story came from my interest in travel and fascination with how historical events connect to modern life,’ Starr said.

Kimberley has definitely achieved this by addressing contemporary issues such as faith, racism, war, displacement and colonisation. 

I loved this book and highly recommend The Book of Whispers to readers from 14 years old and older.




Sunday, 5 March 2017

The Book of Whispers

The Book of Whispers by Kimberley Starr (Text Publishing) PB RRP $19.99   ISBN 9 781925 3555 12

Reviewed by Wendy Fitzgerald

Australian author, Kimberley Starr has an MA in medieval literature and teaches English in Melbourne. Her latest book, The Book of Whispers won the 2015 Text Prize for best manuscript written for young adults and children. It was published in October 2016.

The Book of Whispers is a captivating medieval adventure story set back in the 11th century at the time of the first crusade. It starts in the Falconi estate in San Gimignano, Tuscany back in the Year 1096AD.  We follow young Luca on his quest from Italy, through Turkey and Syria to Jerusalem to help free Jerusalem from the Saracens.

Luca can see evil demons but he must hide this gift. On the way Luca meets Suzan and they form a special bond. It is Suzan who helps Luca unravel the mysteries of the ancient ‘Book of Whispers.’

With the rest of the army, Luca and Suzan face bloody battles, starvation, thirst and sickness. They must defeat the demons, Luca’s step brother and the evil priest, Ramberti in order to save Jerusalem. 

I quote- ‘I wanted to tell a story that made history as interesting as I’ve always found it by telling it in a way that had characters kids could relate to with a compelling narrative that made them keep asking what happens next.’ (Kimberley Starr)

I really like the combination of brilliantly researched history, fantasy (the demons and the magic book), action, suspense and romance. I connected strongly with the characters and I like the use of duel narrative where Starr moves cleverly from Luca to Suzan.

‘My story came from my interest in travel and fascination with how historical events connect to modern life,’ Starr said.

Kimberley has definitely achieved this by addressing contemporary issues such as faith, racism, war, displacement and colonisation. 

I loved this book and highly recommend The Book of Whispers to readers from 14 years old and older.




Wednesday, 1 March 2017

The One Memory of Flora Banks

The One Memory of Flora Banks by Emily Barr (Penguin Random House UK) PB
RRP $19.99 ISBN 9780 141368511

Reviewed by Dianne Bates

This YA novel which sold in 16 languages before publication and was acquired after a multi-publisher auction is original and at most times frustrating in the extreme. The problem is the nature of affliction which the book’s protagonist, Flora Banks, suffers from. She has anterograde amnesia which she has been told is the result of an operation to remove a tumour on her brain when she was ten years old. From then on, the now seventeen-year-old, Flora retains those memories she has up until she was ten, but after that she can’t remember anything day-to-day.

The whole story, told from Flora’s perspective, means that she constantly repeats facts: thus the reader gets inside her brain and her fragmented memory. Sentences are short and simple so that the text is written in a jerky fashion, like post-notes that are aidememoires. But always the next day – often only hours later – those memories have vanished. Flora relies on post-notes, messages written on her hands and arms, and photos she takes on her i-phone to remind herself of what is happening in her life. She also has a tattoo to remind her of her name and the fact that she is brave. ‘I am Flora, I am brave.’

When her parents head off to France to be with her older brother Jacob who is seriously ill in hospital, Flora decides she wants to see if she can exist by herself: ‘I want to be allowed to live inside my memory.’ She has recently sacrificed her friendship with Paige, her best friend since kindergarten when she kisses Paige’s boyfriend Drake who is heading off to the Arctic to a place called Svalbard. Paige, who has been a constant and very caring friend until what she sees as Flora’s betrayal, is supposed to be with Flora when her parents go away. But, wounded, Paige is not around.

While living alone, Flora receives a text message from Drake who says he is missing her. Many emails pass between them before Flora’s parents are due to return. But when they fail to do so – feeling that Jacob needs them more than Flora does, and confident that Paige is caring for Flora – the headstrong and in-love teenager decides to fly to Svalbard to be with Drake. Naively, she believes that her mind will work when they are again reunited.

Imagine how difficult it must be for Flora to do anything at all! And yet, despite constant confusion, miscommunication, misunderstandings and the always loss of memory with facts, people and places continually melting in her brain, Flora, now obsessed by Drake, manages, with the help of her aide-memoires and the kindness of strangers, to reach her destination

The second half of the book is easier to read than the first half. Perhaps the reader has managed by then to accept the fact of memory loss and the need for constant repetition. But, too, the second half has more interesting people and places in it, and more physical action. Eventually Flora – and the reader -- comes to realise that her whole being and her experiences are built on lies. Even her obsession with Drake turns out to be built on a lie: the one memory – that she kissed Drake and they are both in love – is false as well.

This is a highly unusual book which is very cleverly written. It certainly makes one thankful for a mind that is constant and not subject to fragmentation and loss. The characters in it – Flora, her parents, Jacob, Paige and the others who people the story – are all real and believable. Teen readers who are challenged by books which are ‘different’ and difficult to read will certainly enjoy Flora’s story.



Saturday, 25 February 2017

Before You Forget

Before You Forget by Julia Lawrinson (Penguin House) PB RRP $19.99
ISBN 9780143574071

Reviewed by Dianne Bates

There is a lot that 17 year old Amelia wishes she could forget in as she attempts to negotiate difficulties in her life as she works towards her final year 12 in high school. Central to her studies is her passion for practical art where she works under the watchful and critical eye of teacher Ms M. Amelia attempts a self-portrait, made more difficult by problems which escalate in her life.

In no particular order is the disintegration of her friendship with long-time bestie Gemma who slips into such a poor state of anorexia that she is hospitalised. Then there is the deterioration of Amelia’s much loved Dad, Simon, who is clearly not coping. In fact, Dad is acting irrationally, constantly muttering to himself, speaking repetitively, driving dangerously, drinking too much, even urinating in a corner of the lounge-room: before long he is diagnosed with early onset Alzheimer’s. Mum finds it difficult to manage him as she works full-time, so much of the caring for Dad falls on Amelia’s shoulders.

Amelia’s recurring thoughts of the helplessness of people trying to escape the damage caused by planes crashing into the twin towers of the World Trade Centre reflect her attempts to negotiate the constantly changing troubles in her own life. With Gemma mostly non-communicative, Amelia turns to friendship with popular and talented artist Poppy who seems to have her act all together. But Poppy, too, comes from a dysfunctional family: her hippy mother reads tarot cards. Happily, she gives Amelia hope with the cards that her future might be more promising than the present. ‘Potential doesn’t mean anything without application,’ she says, which might well sum up Amelia’s future both in art and in relationships.

Australian Julia Lawrinson writes clearly and well. The characters she portrays, even minor ones such as Dad’s dog Hecta, and his eventual carer Rosetta, are all three-dimensional and interesting. The reader comes to really care about Amelia and the problems in her life. She is a strong character who does the best she can under difficult circumstances. And then there’s the cute boy next door – Will, who offers friendship – and the possibility of a romance.

Ultimately this is an ultimately uplifting story which, like life for all of us, and especially for teenagers, is constantly changing as are our family and friendships and circumstances. As the book concludes, Amelia observes that it’s like watching
the tide go out: ‘the waves lose their strength… and the water recedes into the ocean… before you know it… you can swim in the flat water.’ One day her father might not recognise her. And she is able to come to terms with that.

This is a brave book exploring many themes and certainly worthy of attention. Perhaps it will win awards.



Tuesday, 14 February 2017

Saving Jazz

Saving Jazz by Kate McCaffrey (Fremantle Press) PB RRP $19.99
ISBN 9781925163582

Reviewed by Teena Raffa-Mulligan

Award-winning YA author Kate McCaffrey explores cyber bullying from a new perspective in her latest release that should be essential reading for every young person in this age of widespread social media use.

Saving Jazz is a powerful story about the devastating consequences of a group of teens’ drunken behaviour at a house party. When it goes viral no one’s life will ever be the same.

Told through a series of blog confessions by Jasmine - Jazz - Lovely, I found it at times confronting and disturbing but so compelling I couldn’t put it down.
For Jazz, the choices she and her friends make one night will change the direction of their future. As she writes in her first blog post, ‘The worst thing about regret is there is no way to undo it. No way to go back in time and make better choices.’

The admission at the start of Post 1 sets the scene for a gripping read: ‘I am a rapist.’  From there, Jazz reveals with raw honesty the lead-up to and aftermath of a shocking incident that leads to consequences Jazz and her friends Annie and Jack could never have imagined.

McCaffrey has a gift for capturing an authentic teen voice. Her previous titles -Destroying Avalon, In Ecstasy, Crashing Down and Beautiful Monster - have all garnered awards. Saving Jazz is the follow-up title to Destroying Avalon.

It should have a place on every high school English reading list. Teaching notes are available from the publisher.