Horse Mad Summer, by Kathy Helidoniotis

Reviewed by Dale Harcombe

I have to admit to being like Jenna in this novel, and not overly fussed on horses. However from talking to girls in the 8-12 age group, I realise I am in the minority. This book will certainly appeal to those with a passion for horses. But even those who do not share this obsession will relate to the problems that arise in friendships.

Ashleigh is desperate for her city friend Jenna, to meet her new best friend Becky. But as often happens with a threesome, Becky and Jenna view each other as rivals. This aspect of the story took me back to my own childhood and a similar event at about the same age. Tension builds between the girls. Ashleigh finds loyalty to one friend could well cost her friendship with the other. Any girl who’s ever tried to get friends from different worlds together will relate to Ashleigh’s experience of feeling ‘like the ham in the sandwich.’ The behaviour of Carly and the Creepketeers who make Ashleigh’s and Becky’s time at Shady Creek Riding club difficult, is also well portrayed.

Perhaps the ending was a little too neat but I doubt most readers will have a problem with that.

Girls from 8-11 will enjoy this story. They won’t have to have read the first in the series to be able to read this one.

Sure to find a receptive audience.

Horse Mad Summer, by Kathy Helidoniotis
HarperCollins ARP $14.99
Age guide 8+ exciting read.

Wheels, by Delwyne Stephens

Reviewed by Jackie Hosking

Without testing the water how can we know what is shallow and what is deep?

Fifteen year old Shane Jamieson is put to the ultimate test when he loses the use of his legs in a motocross accident. He soon learns that many aspects of his life are surprisingly shallow; his girlfriend, his father’s obsession with winning and his own insecurity.

Delwyne Stephens tells an amazing story about Shane as she sits us in his wheelchair and shows us that frailty and strength are not the opposites that they may first appear to be.

Wheels is a courageous story that leaves the reader feeling blessed no matter what their life circumstances. It is about faith and hope but mostly Wheels is about life and not being afraid to live it authentically with dignity and with grace.

Well done Delwyne. Your debut novel is terrific!

Wheels , by Delwyne Stephens
Published by Futuretrack, 2006

The Little Crooked House, by Margaret Wild & Jonathan Bentley

You know the rhyme. There was a crooked man…He bought a crooked cat, which found a crooked mouse. And they all lived together in a little crooked house.But the crooked house is too close to a train line and every time a train goes by, the whole house shakes. So the crooked man and the crooked cat and the crooked mouse and even the crooked house all move to a better place – a desert where there are no trains. But the desert isn’t the right place for them either, and soon they are on the move again.

This reworking of a traditional rhyme is full of the humour and joy that can be expected from author Margaret Wild. The whimsy of the storyline is perfectly complemented by that of the watercolour illustrations by artist Jonathan Bentley.

Youngsters will love the silliness of a house which can move from place to place, the detail of the illustrations and the repeated refrain of “Yippee-yi-yay!” which they’ll be joining in with by the end of the first reading.

Lots of fun.

The Little Crooked House, by Margaret Wild and Jonathan Bentley
ABC Books, 2005

The Assistant, by JD Forbes

Reviewed by Fiona Matthews

Beyond the lights, Byron could just make out a human figure against the louvres.
‘Miss Lucia?’ Byron squinted, trying to discern what he hoped was his editorial contact from Milan.
‘Lucia Vega.’ The voice came out of the dark. When the body from which it emanated now stepped into the light, it caused Byron’s jaw to noticeably drop. He had been around some of the most beautiful models in the world in the past few years but this figure dressed in the jungle green camouflage with the “Punta Gorda” logo, was stunning beyond belief.

In The Assistant, Byron Clarke, Sydney born assistant photographer and Dee Why surfer accepts a “small assignment” from ASIO for a ludicrously large amount of money and meets the stunningly beautiful C.I.A. agent Lucia Vega. Under her spell he becomes trainee and assistant in a very different world – a covert world of espionage, danger and murder.

Gold Coast author JD. Forbes takes Byron and the reader on a fast moving adventure from Sydney to the jungles of Central American Belize and Key West Miami. Byron is a fast learner and together he and Lucia make a formidable team. There is an echo of Ian Fleming characters about their adversary, Colonel Leandro Ramirez but as ever, good triumphs over evil and a new Aussie hero emerges.

The Assistant, by JD. Forbes
S.G.Publishing, 2005
Author web site

Mira Falling, by Maria Arena

For me, the headland was a place where I could cut loose and have some fun; where I could play my little games (like the one I invented on my twelfth birthday) and not stress about the consequences. It was a place where I could be a bit daring, maybe, a bit reckless – a place to do anything that would relieve the boredom that was a permanent part of living in a small town like Harvest Bay.

Mira (her name means ‘The Amazing One’ or ‘The Wonder Star’) lives in a small seaside town, Harvest Bay. She dreams of becoming a star and escaping the dreariness of the small town and the shadow of her brother Jack, a gifted runner and email prankster. But Mira has little acting experience and appears doomed to work her days in the family pharmacy. Then the wealthy Holborn family move in across the road. In Sebastian, gorgeous twin of the less friendly Lily, Mira sees her salvation, her way out of town. Finally she will be a star.

Mira Falling appears to have taken its premise from real life, including as it does two quotes from teenaged killers. Mira is a self-absorbed main character, who seems to care little for those around her. The story begins when Mira is twelve and continues into her late teens. Arena keeps the reader guessing throughout this first person narrative. Is Mira really responsible for the things that happen around her? This story is mostly compelling if not always comfortable to read. This is Mira’s story and she holds her secrets close.

Recommended for mature YA readers.

Mira Falling by Maria Arena
Lothian Books 2006
ISBN: 0734408668

Making the Grade, by Bernadette Kelly

Now she has a horse, all Annie has to do is learn how to ride.

Moving from the city was hard. Leaving all her friends behind, the only good thing about Ridgeview was that their new house had enough room for Annie to have a pony. Annie loves Bobby, but she is beginning to realise that riding isn’t as easy as it looks. Everyone else seems to understand the language of riding. Everyone else seems to know how to ride. As Annie spends more time at the stables she realises that not everyone is as confident as they seem. Perhaps they are still learning too. When the call goes out for grading, Annie rashly puts her name on the list.

This second instalment in the Riding High series explores the challenges in learning to ride. Annie is game for anything, but the more she learns, the more she realises she doesn’t know. Through a mix of practice and some bravado Annie improves her riding skills and finds herself a job to offset the costs of riding. Bernadette Kelly has interspersed the story with plenty of technical details which illustrate what it takes to care for a horse. Recommended for middle to upper-primary aged readers, especially horse-lovers.

Making the Grade, by Bernadette Kelly
black dog books 2006
ISBN: 1921167033

Shirtfront – a short and amazing history of Aussie Rules, by Paula Hunt

‘In 1886 one train trip from Geelong nearly ended in tragedy when team rivalries got completely out of hand.’ ‘Outside Newport someone dislodged sections of the (train) track in an attempt to crash the trains. Luckily it was discovered in time.’

In 1858, a cricketer called Tom Wills, suggested that Melbourne develop its own football code, as a way of keeping cricketers fit over the winter. The first football game, between Scotch College and Melbourne Grammar, comprised 40 players per side and a ground which included gum trees and rocks.

From these humble beginnings grew what is now called Aussie Rules Football. The game grew with Melbourne, feeling with its people the effects of depression and world wars, to become a national competition. Along the way, it spawned tall tales and true, grew into an industry and inspired many children to become players or passionate followers. Many players achieved legend status, their names and deeds living on in conversations and more. Like many sports, Aussie Rules has enriched the English language with terms like ‘collywobbles’, ‘screamer/speckie’, ‘banana kick’ and ‘the G’.

Shirtfront is jam-packed full of statistics and stories about the history of Aussie Rules football and the characters who made it the game it is today. The history of the game is interwoven with the history of Melbourne. It explores state rivalries as well as the particular characteristics which have shaped individual teams. Paula Hunt has gathered a rich collection for the footy fan. Recommended for anyone interested in understanding and learning more about Aussie Rules football. Recommended for upper primary readers and beyond.

Shirtfront, by Paula Hunt
black dog books, 2005
ISBN 1876372664

If Wishes Were Horses, by Bernadette Kelly

Annie loved horses. Any size, any breed. A story for every girl who ever wanted her own horse.

Annie and her parents move from the city to the country town of Ridgeview. For Annie, the only good thing about the move is the possibility of getting a horse. But then Dad tells her he’s ordered some sheep and there’s no way there’s room for a horse as well. Disappointed, Annie spends some time getting to know the area around her new home. Things go from bad to worse when she lets her dog, Jonesy, off his leash and he frightens a neighbour Reesa and her horse. After a rocky start, Annie and Reesa stumble along the path to friendship. Annie also makes friends with a horse in a paddock not far from home and begins to dream again.

If Wishes Were Horses is the first of a new series pitched firmly at mid- to upper-primary aged girls who love horses. Annie is a likeable main character, outgoing and independent. Bernadette Kelly introduces the reader to the world of horses and pony clubs, painting colourful pictures of the personalities to be found there. She also makes clear the challenges and responsibilities that are part of owning and riding a horse.

This is the first of at least four books in the Riding High series. Recommended for mid- to upper-primary readers.

If Wishes Were Horses, by Bernadette Kelly
black dog books 2006
ISBN: 1921167033

The Star Locket, by Natalie Jane Prior

Reviewed by Dale Harcombe


The story revolves around one star-shaped locket split into two halves in an attempt to foil the plans of the evil Casimirites. Two identical girls each have a half of the locket. But only one of the girls is real. The other has been created by magic. But which one?

The two girls were separated and raised in different parts of the worlds, but then Sally Taverner comes to Starberg where she sees Estee Merton. It is like looking into a mirror. But how can this be?

Each of the girls is left with same question : Who is this stranger who looks like her?

When Estee and Sally finally meet, they discover the truth about themselves.

‘She is you and you are her….You are the one person who has been magically split in two,’ Anna von Homrigh, leader of the group who opposes Richard Greitz and his occult arts, tells them.

From Anna the girls learn that if the halves of the star shaped locket are joined back together, one of them will cease to exist. But no-one knows which one.

This novel is filled with action, mystery and raises a lot of questions about good and evil, what makes a person human, choices, and how one person’s choice can have far reaching consequences.

‘There is always a choice’ Anna says.

In the end, Estee and Sally make a choice. A choice that will not please everyone, especially Stephen Melhuish, nephew of the British Prime Minister.

Although this is a companion novel to Fireworks and Darkness, readers do not have to have read the first book to appreciate the second.

This is an inventive and thought-provoking fantasy that will appeal to readers aged 11-14.

The Star Locket by Natalie Jane Prior Angus &Robertson, An imprint of HarperCollins Publishers, 2006

Paperback $15.99

Spirit of the Deep, by Margaret Beames

I know they say that twins have this mysterious bond. One breaks a leg and the other a hundred miles away does the same, but I always thought it was a myth.

Jess and her twin sister Andy fall out over a boy. Then Mum gets a call to say her operation is scheduled and the girls are to fly to Sydney to stay with Dad. When there’s a problem with air flights, Jess takes the opportunity to be apart from her twin and books a bus to go and stay with her grandmother. Easy, except that Jess has never met her grandmother. Her mother left the small seaside town at eighteen and never went back. Jess discovers that there are many secrets behind the fight that precipitated her mother’s departure all those years ago. Will she make the same mistakes her mother did?

Jess, in her mid-teens, is a gutsy and likeable main character, not unlike the grandmother she goes to meet. Spirit of the Deep examines a family and its pecadillos, unravelling their stories one by one. The narrative is all from Jess’ point of view except for the first page of Chapter 9, where the voice is Gran’s. This is disconcerting but only briefly so. Beames weaves the story threads to a dramatic and satisfying conclusion without tying it up too neatly. Recommended for readers 13 and up.

Spirit of the Deep, by Margaret Beames
Lothian Books 2006
ISBN: 0734408579