The Shape of Us, by Lisa Ireland

This time it would work. She would lose the weight in tome for her birthday. And maybe she’d say yes yo that holiday in Thailand Sean was always nagging her about. Tomorrow she would start on the readiness tasks she was supposed to do before Monday when the program kicked off. But tonight she may as well finish off the rest of these chocolates. After all, the first task was to rid the house of any tempting foods.

Four women who have never met in person connect through an online forum. They are all very different: one is a young mother, with a rocky relationship and no family support. Another is happily married and a successful businesswoman, but longs for a child. A third has it all – career, children and a happy marriage. The fourth has moved backwards in her career to be closer to her lover. What connects these very different women is that they are all very overweight, and have joined the forum in a desperate attempt to lose weight. At first online and, later, in person, they  become friends and support each other through times much harder any of them could have imagined.

The Shape of Us is a story  about friendship. Though weight loss (or the desire to lose weight) is what brings the friends together, they connect and support each other in many different ways, and weight becomes almost a background issue.  The use of a blend of third person narrative and blog entries from the perspectives of all four women is an unusual and effective means of getting inside each character’s lives and emotions.

Although weight loss ceases to be the overriding issue of the book, the differing weight loss experiences of the characters, as well as their experiences surrounding being overweight, is an intriguing premise for a book. Issues of family support, body image, infertility, surgical intervention and more are explored.

At heart, though, this is about the bonds which bring women together and the ways they support each other.

The Shape of Us, by Lisa Ireland
Macmillan, 2017
ISBN 9781760550875

Too Many Friends, by Kathryn Apel

I like my friends.
I like to be with ALL of my friends.
But sometimes my friends
aren’t friendly with
each other.

Tahnee has lots of friends, and she likes to do different things with them. But it isn’t easy having so many friends – some of her friends don’t like each other, or like doing different things, so it gets hard to be a good friend to everyone. Luckily, Tahnee has a big heart, and wise, loving support from her parents and her teacher, Miss Darling.

Too Many Friends is a delightful, warm-hearted verse novel about friendship. Like most classrooms, Tahnee’s year two class is populated by kids with a range of interests, problems and personalities. Miss Darling is energetic, enthusiastic and loves her job. Tahnee loves Miss Darling and she loves school, but she finds it hard to know how to keep her friends happy, and still do the things she loves, and when one of her friends stops talking to her, she needs to figure out what to do. Her solution is lovely.

This is Kat Apel’s third verse novel, and shows the same tender touch as her previous work.

Lovely.

Too Many Friends, by Kat Apel
QUP, 2017
ISBN 9780702259760

The Beast of Hushing Wood, by Gabrielle Wang

Water swirls around my body, dragging me down as if I’m a sack filled with rocks.
Weeds hold me, wrap their feathery arms around me. I kick to get free and my legs scrape against sandpaper boulders.
Bubbles fizz, rise, gurgle, bloody like raspberry lemonade.
‘You will soon be mine, Ziggy,’ the river says lovingly.
A huge shadow swims alongside me. Fur like quicksilver. Yellow eyes glinting.
I fight for air, for life.

Ziggy Truegood is worried. Her father and brothers have moved away, her grandfather is losing his memory and everyone in her tiny town is growing angry. Her beloved Hushing Wood is changing, too, growing dark and scary. And every night Ziggy dreams of her death; drowning on her twelfth birthday. then a strange new boy arrives in town. Ziggy is strangely drawn to him, but she can’t be sure if he is there to help her, or if he is the cause of all the troubles.

The Beast of Hushing Wood is a finely woven blend of magical realism and adventure, set in an at once familiar yet fantastical world, much of which is modern, yet is quaintly different. Ziggy, who loves nature, can see and things which the other townspeople can’t, and this is what puts her in danger.

With the added touch of Wang’s fantastical grey-scale illustrations, The Beast of Hushing Wood is beautiful.

The Beast of Hushing Wood, by Gabrielle Wang
Penguin, 2017
ISBN 9780143309178

The Fabulous Flying Mrs Miller, by Carol Baxter

Mrs Keith Miller, internationally known aviatrix, was taken to the county jail here today and held for investigation by State Attorney’s investigators. Jail attendants said they understood she was held in connection with the shooting of an airline pilot.

Jessie Miller, known to those who loved her as Chubbie, has a thirst for adventure. Married far too young, and very unhappy, she holidays in England where she soon manages to sign up for an almost unfathomable quest – as a passenger flying from London to Australia for the first time. Although she and her pilot partner Bill Lancaster are beaten by another plane, Chubbie becomes famous as the first woman to complete the journey. Unable to settle back down to life in suburban Australia, she and Bill travel to America where her various flying feats included flying in the first air race for women with Amelia Earhart. But along with the many highs of a career as a pilot, CHubbie also finds herself facing terrible lows – crash landing in the Flroida Straits, being accused of faking her disappearance for publicity, and finding herself at the centre of a murder trial.

The Fabulous Flying Mrs Miller is an absorbing tale filled with twists and turns. As fiction it would seem almost implausible – but this is a true story, set in England, Australia and the United States in the 1920s and ’30s, the golden age of aviation, where adventurous flyers – and the manufacturers and fledgling airlines behind them – pushed themselves to do what no one else ever had. History buffs, aviation enthusiastis will find this story of a remarkable woman fascinating.

The Fabulous Flying Mrs Miller, by Carol Baxter
Allen & Unwin, 2017
ISBN 9781760290771

The Midsummer Garden, by Kirsty Manning

It was an odd engagement present. Heirloom or not, such gifts were not usually covered in grime and dust. Pip sneezed as she started unpacking four boxes of antique French pots: copper boilers, streaked and mottled with watermarks, so when the soft morning light reflected off the pots and hit the white walls of the tiny worker’s cottage, they rippled with rainbows. Some of the pots were so large Pip had to brace herself to lift them out of the boxes. When she pulled off the lids, their blackened insides were etched and lined with age.

When she moves in to a tiny workers cottage with her fiance, Jack, Pip really doesn’t have room for the set of large copper pots her parents send as an engagement gift, but she is determined to have them on display. They bear memories of her childhood and a deeper connection Pip doesn’t completely understand. but the warmth of the copper pots might not be enough to keep Pip’s plans on track. She wants to get her PhD project finished before she and Jack get married and travel, but Jack is impatient, and wants everything to happen now.

In 1427, Artemisia, the cook at the Chateau de Boschaud also has copper pots. she is busy preparing the dishes, the settings, even the special bathing waters for the Lord and his bride. It is tough work, but it is made easier by Artemisia’s secret. this will be her last day at the chateau: soon she will be free and ready to build a new life.

The stories of Pip and Artemisia are separate, yet there are connections across the many centuries between their lives, and Artemisia’s vast knowledge of herbs cooking are not only reflected in Pip’s interests, but are even shared through treasured finds. Readers will want to trace the adventures of each, o find out whether happiness is possible for either, or for both.

The Midsummer Garden is a satisfying blend of contemporary and historical fiction, with each story compelling and well wrought, and the links between the two intriguing. Themes of happiness, of family lore, relationships and self fulfillment are explored and food lovers will enjoy the culinary detail.

The Midsummer Garden, by Kirsty Manning
Allen & Unwin, 2017
ISBN 9781760294748

Twinkle , Twinkle, Little Star, illustrated by Matt Shanks

Twinkle, twinkle, little star,
How I wonder what you are!

There is no doubting the popularity of classic nursery rhyme brought to life in this book, though probably many readers will be surprised at the number of verses, some of which may be less familiar. But it is the way it is brought to life in the adorable illustrations which make this version so appealing. Olive the owl (named only in the blurb), flies across the darkening landscape, delivering books (each adorned with a star) to her sleepy friends – a flock of sheep, a family of wombats, even a human child – before returning home to read to her three owlets.

The gentle blues and purples of the night skies, together with the expressive, sweet faced animals and the familiar text make this an ideal bedtime or rest time offering.

Lovely.

Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star, illustrated by Matt Shanks
Scholastic, 2017
ISBN 9781760158668

Shearing Time, by Allison Paterson & Shane McGrath

I love sharing time!
It’s the best time of the year.

It’s shearing time, and it’s all hands on deck to get the job done. From mustering sheep, to drafting out the ewes, to the actual shearing, keeping the shed clean, sorting the wool and, of course, keeping everybody fed, there’s a lot to be done.

Shearing Time is both a celebration of this time of year for youngsters who know and loev farming, and an explanation of it for those who may be less familiar. following the events of one day of shearing – with promise of more days to come – from the perspective of a child who helps her parents and the shearers.

With realistic-styled digital and ink illustrations, and back of book notes and glossary, a useful insight into farming life.

Shearing Time, by Allison Paterson & Shane McGrath
Big Sky Publishing, 2017
ISBN 9781925520095

Rock Pool Secrets, by Narelle Oliver

Down on the rocky shore,
waves crash and smash.
Then the tide goes out and the sea is calm.
It’s a good time to explore rock pools.

At first glance, there isn’t much to see in a rock pool, but a closer look reveals lots of interesting creatures, from anemones, to crabs, shrimp, tiny fish and more.

Rock Pool Secrets is a divine non-fiction picturebook, taking youngsters inside the secrets of a beach side rock pool. the text is informative, but also beautifully crafted, enticing readers to keep exploring. the use of large flaps on most spreads is similarly enticing, with left sized text hinting and encouraging readers to look closely at the outside of the flap before opening it to see what new creature is there.

One of the last picture books created by the late Narelle Oliver, Rock Pool Secrets was crafted from beautiful lino cut and watercolour illustrations, with beauty and detail which offer much to explore.

Divine.

Rock Pool Secrets , by Narelle Oliver
Walker Books, 2017
ISBN 9781922179357

The Blue Cat, by Ursula Dubosarsky

A few streets away, a car putting down the twisted hill. It halted outside a block of mulberry-brick flats. A small boy emerged from the back seat, out onto the pavement. He was carrying a suitcase. He stood there, looking upwards. His skin gleamed like snow.
in the middle of the road a sleek cat lay stretched out, absorbing the sunshine.

It is 1942, and Columba (who was named after a nun) is growing up in war time Sydney. A new boy – a refugee from ‘You-rope’ – appears in the neighborhood, at about the same time as a strange blue cat. Columba is intrigued by the new boy, Ellery, though he doesn’t speak English and Columba struggles to understand where he has come from and why he is here. This isn’t the only thing she struggles to understand. Why are the cloaks being put forward for an hour? Why do the adults talk about ‘taking people’s minds off things? And, with Singapore falling, and regular air raid practices, will they be safe here in Sydney?

The Blue Cat is an enchanting piece of writing. Historical fiction with just a tiny twist of magical realism, it is a gentle story of the confusion of a child faced with frightening, not-quite-understood events. With an insight into how the childhood experiences of Australians during the war years, and to harbourside Sydney life, this is an entrancing read.

The Blue Cat, by Ursula Dubosarsky
Allen & Unwin, 2017
ISBN 9781760292294

This is My Song, by Richard Yaxley

When and where is the correct beginning for this retelling? Already I wonder. there are many choices:
I was born in 1929 in the Bavarian town of Bamberg –
Once upon a time there was an Old Man who owned a music shop –
What makes an artist become a tyrant and murderer –
none of these. We must begin with my father.

The son of a Jewish academic who has always loved Germany, Rafael Ullmann’s childhood is confrtable until Hitler’s restrictions start to take effect. When he and his family are sent to a concentration camp, life becomes little more than a battle for survival. As a musician, the boy has something to offer the Germans, though the price is high.

In remote Canada in the 1970s, Annie Ullmann grows up as a sheltered only child. Her parents don’t talk of their past, and Annie never asks, content with her quiet life, until a friendship with a hawk makes her wonder if there is a life further afield.

In contemporary Australia, Joe Hawker doesn’t know what he wants to do with his future. he has a talent for music, but no real passion, until he discovers a song written by his grandfather.

This is My Song is a multi-generational story of the impact of the most terrible war-time events, and of the importance of music as a form of solace and connection. The story of Rafael is particularly heart-wrenching, and the motif of music and song as a connection across the three generations is powerful.

A moving, important story.

This is My Song , by Richard Yaxley
Scholastic, 2017
ISBN 781760276140