Hungry Ghosts, by Sally Heinrich

We sat in silence while she finished the cake…
‘Well, I’ve given you food now. I guess there’s no need to haunt me any more.’
She gave me a strange piercing look.
‘I see you again.’ Then she was gone.
And the cake that I’d watched her devour was still on the plate…

Sarah isn’t happy about moving to Australia.. She’s had to leave behind her friends, her home and her school in Singapore and start all over in a country where even the English spoken is different. Now Dad is trying to turn her into a dinkum Aussie – complete with Vegemite sandwiches in her lunchbox – and Mum is clinging to Chinese traditions. Then, on the Festival of the Hungry Ghosts, Sarah realises someone is talking to her – someone who seems to be a ghost.

As Sarah tries to figure out how to help her new difficult friend, Pei, she has to also deal with being bullied at school, parents who have troubles of their own, the arrival of a Great Grandmother who needs to share her bedroom, and a crush on a boy.

Hungry Ghosts is a beautiful novel about issues including displacement, family roles, belonging and more. Sarah deals with these issues herself but also witnesses their impact on others around her, including the ghost Pei, and her family and friends. The story also provides an insight into Chinese settlement in Australia, a topic which many readers would know little about.

Suitable for readers aged 12 and over.

Hungry Ghosts

Hungry Ghosts, by Sally Heinrich
Lothian, 2007

This title can be purchased online from Fishpond.

The Cursed, by Michael Panckridge

Lewis stood rigid, frozen in fear. Lightning flashed for several seconds. Lewis could see his surroundings reflected in the mirror above his bed. Strangely, though, he could not see himself.

Lewis Watt is an ordinary schoolboy, living at the boarding school where his mother works as school nurse. But when his mother disappears, she leaves Lewis a letter which changes his life forever. Both Lewis and his mother, it seems, are connected with a mysterious African Tribe which has the secret of invisibility. Could it be that Lewis will develop the power to vanish?

Meanwhile the secret order known as the Light Crusaders wants to uncover the secret of invisibility. Dedicated to freeing the world of evil – by whatever means possible – the Crusaders believe that the power of invisibility will allow them to infiltrate crime gangs and stop all sorts of crimes. If Lewis and his friends are sacrificed in the quest for the secret, it is a price the Crusaders are willing to pay.

The Cursed is a high-action thriller for 10 to 14 year old readers with a touch of fantasy, plenty of intrigue and lots of twists and turns. With letters, historical documents, emails and newspaper articles sprinkled throughout, the novel has a feel of old meets new, and even a sense of timelessness.

An absorbing adventure.

The Cursed, by Michael Pankridge
Black Dog Books, 2007

Danny da Vinci – The giant Horse of Milan, by Bruce Whatley & Rosie Smith

Danny da Vinci always said he was born with a pencil in his hand. His mum thought it felt more like a broom!
From the moment Danny was born he drew pictures. Everywhere. Of all kinds of things. Not only with his right hand but with his left hand too.

Danny and his best friend Mick Angelo are apprentices, working in an art studio run by Danny’s Uncle Leo. Danny likes to draw and paint, Mick likes to carve and Danny’s dog, Picasso, likes eating paint, and slobbering on canvases in his sleep.

When Uncle Leo is asked to make a statue of the Duke of Milan, he calls on Danny and Mick for some help. The boys are excited to be given the opportunity but when a series of accidents befalls the statue, they wonder if it will be ready for the big unveiling.

Danny da Vinci: The Giant Horse of Milan is a fun new graphic novel for primary aged children, taking a humorous look at the life and times of Leonardo da Vinci. Using a combination of comic-style text boxes , colour images and da Vinci-style sketches, the story is a fictionalised, humorous account of the making of the Sforza Monument. Whilst history buffs will enjoy the plays on words and twisting of events, those without a knowledge of the great artist will also enjoy the story and the humour.

Lots of fun.

Danny da Vinci: The Giant Horse of Milan, by Bruce Whatley & Rosie Smith
ABC Books, 2007

Chasing Boys, by Karen Tayleur

He gave me a smile that warmed me down to my feet and then he was gone. The entire female population of the class sighed. Possibly not only the females.
And that’s when I knew – you know – that it was him. He was the reason I was going to get out of bed each morning.

Ariel (El) Marini is not happy when she has to change schools, but on her first day she meets Eric Callahan and decides life is worth living. Next she meets Margot and Desi and they become her best friends. So with a boy to love and friend to hang out with, why is El still not happy?

When a new boy starts at the school, El is not impressed. Gaston is different and draws incredible pictures for El, but he’s really not her type. But Gaston’s arrival signals changes for El and her friends. Suddenly everyone around her seems to be moving on, while EL is standing still.

Chasing Boys is a poignant yet funny story about teenage angst, friendship and family. El is dealing with normal teen problems of crushes and friendships, whilst also up against much bigger issues, including a mysteriously absent father, and the financial problems which have led to the family downsizing their house and El having to leave her last school. Told in a fresh first person voice, Chasing Boys is fun but definitely not light and fluffy.

Chasing Boys, by Karen Tayleur
Black Dog Books, 2007

Just Desserts, by Simon Haynes

Clunk jogged down the Volante’s cargo ramp, his mind in turmoil. Had he really threatened to walk out on Mr Spacejock? He went cold at the thought. What other human would give him a home, would rely on his advice and help daily? All right, so Mr Spacejock didn’t so much rely on advice as completely ignore it…Regardless, Clunk needed a roof over his head and a socket to charge by, and the Volante was all he had.

Hal Spacejock and his (t)rusty sidekick robot, Clunk, have arrived on planet Cathua to collect a load of cargo. It’s not a high-profit job, but when they’re offered an outrageous sum to add one sealed crate to their load, the sums look better. The trouble is, they can’t leave until the ship’s new equipment is fixed. Whilst they are busy getting sidetracked in their efforts to get the right parts, their ship is stolen by an amnesic secret-agent robot and two mercenaries. Hal and Clunk’s only chance of getting their ship back is a hot pursuit in a rusting hulk. Their chances of surviving long enough to recover the Volante are slim.

Just Desserts is the third title in the Hal Spacejock series. The silliness of the first two titles continues, with plenty of clichés, one liners from a zany cast of characters, and more twists and turns than a packet of Twisties. Author Simon Haynes has found a formula that works, yet manages to make each new instalment sufficiently different to avoid it becoming predictable.

Roll on instalment four.

Hal Spacejock: Just Desserts, by Simon Haynes
FACP, 2007

Cherry Pie, by Leigh Redhead

I reached for the torch and had just closed my fingers round the handle when it was kicked out of my grasp and flew down the lane, plastic cracking. The light was extinguished and all I could make out was a shape looming above me, amorphous and shifting like something not quite human, and then the shadow lengthened and there was a rush of air and an incredible cracking pain on my forehead, and after a brief flash of light it was darker than ever.

All that Simone Kirsch wants is to be a private detective. She’s setting up her own agency – just as soon as she has the money to do so. In the meantime she’s moonlighting as a stripper to build up some cash.

When Andi Fowler approaches her for help, Simone isn’t so sure. Andi is a childhood friend who is working a big new story – but she won’t give Simone the details, and she’s low on cash to pay Simone for her services. But when Andi disappears, Simone feels obliged to take the case.

Cherry Pie is the third title in the Simone Kirsch series, and , like its predecessors is high on action and tension whilst also humorous and earthy. Simone’s life is chaotic – and that’s when she’s not on a case. When she is it’s tumultuous. She makes mistakes, puts herself and others in danger, and doesn’t know when to give up. But she’s likeable and her wry take on life is as endearing as it is entertaining. She is well supported by a wide cast of characters.

Readers will be clamouring for more.

Cherry Pie (Simone Kirsch)
Cherry Pie, by Leigh Redhead
Allen & Unwin, 2007

This title is available online at Fishpond.

Elephant Dance, by Sue Whiting

Nervously, Hugo’s trunk began to sway.
His middle jiggled.
Then he bobbed…
and bounced…
and sang out loud!

Hugo and Millie, two young elephants, are the best of friends. They do everything together, and when they first hear music, they dance together. But Millie gets sick of dancing, and Hugo wants to do nothing else. They argue and separate. But when Hugo finds himself in trouble, Millie uses music to help him out.

Elephant Dance is a beautiful picture book about friendship and compromise. The repeated refrain of ‘boom-boompa-chee’ will delight youngsters who will echo it during and after the story – when I read it to a class of year one students they wanted to boom-boompa-chee around the school for the rest of the day.

The illustrations, by Nina Rycroft, are in beautiful pastels with the browns and greys of the elephants offset by rich orange and blue skies and green grasses. The music weaves through the illustrations on coloured ribbons, symbolising the way it drifts through the air and carrying the tune from page to page and across spreads.

This is a beautiful picture book offering.

Elephant Dance, by Sue Whiting and Nina Rycroft
Koala Books, 2007

Living Hell, by Catherine Jinks

The smell was the first thing we noticed. It was a terrible smell that made us all cough; a smell of burning meat, with another stench overlaying it. Then we saw Firminus standing by the door.
He pointed.
’Something’s trying to get in,’ he rasped.

Seventeen year old Cheney has lived his whole life in peace and safety – aboard a space ship housing possibly the last humans alive, on a search for a new planet. But that peaceful existence is decimated when the ship collides with something that makes the ship come to life. Suddenly the humans are no longer travelling in a space ship – now they are inside a living being, which looks set to digest them unless they can outwit it. Under attack from machines that have now become cells and antibodies of the ship, Cheney and his friends have no where to hide and no hope of survival – unless they can outwit the ship’s massive system.

Living Hell is a thrilling young adult novel set in the distant future. It takes a familiar concept – that of a ship carrying the last remnants of the human race on a quest for a new planet – and gives it a chilling twist which is both original and well delivered. Readers will be kept guessing right till the last page and will be drawn into the character’s dilemma.

Great stuff from one of Australia’s most versatile authors.

Living Hell, by Catherine Jinks
Allen & Unwin, 2007

Summer Psychic, by Jessica Adams

I am interviewing an English psychic named Luke Gabriel when he stops the tape recorder and tells me we will be married by winter.
He is peering into an old bucket full of sea water when he gives me the good news. Apparently this is how Nostradamus saw visions of the future too – though obviously not in a cleaner’s bucket.

When Jo Delaney meets psychic Luke Gabriel she has no intention of marrying him – or anyone else. And within six months? It can’t be possible. But when Luke’s other predictions start coming true, she has to wonder. But Jo doesn’t want to marry Luke – she’s still recovering from the death of her fiancé, Andrew, and has just met Gram Nixon, a rock musician she has always fancied from afar.

But, as Jessica discovers, you can’t always control the way your life is heading, and maybe Luke’s proposal is the least of her worries, anyway. She has to contend with a tenuous employment situation, a witch who has it in for her, and her memories of Andrew.

Summer Psychic is a n engrossing, funny read, with twists and turns, some poignant moments and lots of humour. Aimed squarely at the chick-lit market it will be adored by those who’ve enjoyed Adams’ previous work, and send those new to her writing scurrying for her back list.

Highly readable.

The Summer Psychic

Summer Psychic, by Jessica Adams
Allen & Unwin, 2007

You can buy this title online at Fishpond.

A Little Election, by Danny Katz and Mitch Vane

Rory wanted to be the Prime Minister.
He thought it would be really cool because then he could do anything he wanted. So one day at lunchtime, Rory decided to become Prime Minister – even though he was just a kid.

From the author and illustrator team that created the popular Little Lunch series, comes this delightfully irreverent and very clever picture book which takes a look at the election process through the eyes of children.

When Rory decides he wants to be the Prime Minister, his wise teacher, Mrs Gonsha, explains that he needs to be elected. Debra-Jo Woo decides she wants to be the Prime Minister, too, and soon the class are having an election, complete with campaigning, media interviews and outrageous promises.

Whilst this is highly entertaining, it is also a useful exploration of the election process in terms which children can understand and would be a helpful classroom tool during the forthcoming federal election. Danny Katz uses deceptively simple language which is accessible to kids, and Mitch Vane’s ink line drawings, with splashes of colour, are filled with humour.

Top votes.

A Little Election, by Danny Katz and Mitch Vane
Black Dog Books, 2007