The Kings of Clonmel, by John Flanagan

While the village might appear small and unimportant at first glance, a closer scrutiny told a different story…it was a prosperous community – and probably had been for years on end.
And that, of course, explained the presence of the Outsiders here.

When the annual Ranger Gathering comes around, Will looks forward to seeing his mentor, Blade – but Blade is not there. Instead, he is off investigating mysterious happenings in the west, where a religious cult known as The Outsiders is causing havoc. Already, The Outsiders have undermined five of the six Hibernian Kingdoms, and now they are making inroads in the sixth, Clonmel. Soon, Will joins Halt and their friend Horace, on a mission to drive the Outsiders out of Clonmel. First, though, they have to convince the King of Clonmel that he needs their help.

The Kings of Clonmel is the eight title in the successful Ranger’s Apprentice Series and sees Will and his friends embark on plenty of adventures. Whilst Will uses all of his Ranger skills to infiltrate The Outsiders, Horace is called to battle and Halt must face his past. Together, though, will they prove enough to defeat the wily and strong Outsiders?

This series offers plenty for fantasy fans, as well as for any reader who simply enjoys action and adventure. The Rangers rely on a blend of courage, subterfuge and honour to confront their enemies and keep their kingdom safe. They face a mix of formidable opponents, and appreciative and unappreciative recipients of their good deeds.

A great blend for teen readers.

Ranger’s Apprentice: The Kings of Clonmel, by John Flanagan
Random House, 2008

Freaky, by Sue Whiting

On close inspection there was nothing really extraordinary about it. It had a hick coat of thorny barbs and the branches snaked out from the trunk sideways before turning to the sun.
But it gave me the heebie-jeebies. There was something about it. Its branches seemed alive somehow – ready to grab. It had an aura – a dark, sinister aura.
Get a grip, I told myself. You’re losing it! It’s a C-A-C-T-U-S.

When Jayden is sent to stay with his rellies that he hardly knows, he thinks things can’t get any worse. But he’s wrong. The rellies live in the country, in a town with no skate park. What’s worse, they are cactus freaks, with a yard full of spiky plants. Then, when Aunty Nina and Uncle Trev buy a new cactus, things get really freaky. The cactus seems to be coming alive.

Freaky is a fun, but scary, tale based on an urban legend which sounds frighteningly true involving spiders and cacti. Jayden’s adventure is fast-paced and short enough to entice the most reluctant reader.

Part of the wonderful Lightning Strikes series from Walker Books, Freaky is a great offering for primary aged readers.

Freaky, by Sue Whiting
Walker Books, 2009

Shadow Queen, by Deborah Kalin

I put out a hand to steady myself as the vision took me. The parquetry floor washed to black…As if sparked by the hard glare, a fire burst and waged through the room, the flames hot enough to crisp bones and raise the smell of marrow burning to cinders. And me in the middle, wrapped in the black shroud of the dead.

Matilde has been groomed to take over as Queen of the Turasi, but two years past her coming of age, she is still waiting for her grandmother to hand over the reins. Now, though, a threat to her future – the return of her long-exiled Aunt Helena – whose sudden return hints at a plot to overthrow. When Matilde has a vision of impending doom, she feels powerless to stop it from happening, and when the court is attacked, is thrown into a struggle for life, and to reclaim the throne she knows should be hers.

Shadow Queen is a brilliant fantasy novel from a first time author. Matilde is at times feisty, at others extremely vulnerable and even naive, and is supported by a range of characters both opponents and allies, though at times it is difficult to tell which are which. The reader is drawn into her battle and cares what happens to her and her friends, willing her to win against seemingly insurmountable odds. The first instalment in new series The Binding, Shadow Queen will have readers eagerly awaiting the next instalment.

Shadow Queen (Binding)

Shadow Queen, by Deborah Kalin
Allen & Unwin, 2009

This book can be purchased online at Fishpond. Buying through this link supports Aussiereviews.

Allergy Safe Family Food, by Suzanna Paxton

Reviewed by Dale Harcombe

Food allergies, particularly in children can present a nightmare for parents. Given what seems to be an increasing number of children and adults that have allergies these days, it is good to see a book that has recipes clearly labelled for people with allergies that is easy to use.

The book is divided into Starters, Soups and Salads, then Main Meal. Deserts, Cakes and Treats follow before going on to Snacks and Lunchbox Ideas, Allergy Management, Shopping Guide etc. An important feature of the book is that ingredients are readily available at supermarkets, so it doesn’t require special trips to health food shops which can be more expensive.

In the shopping list I did wonder though how Kellogg’s cornflake crumbs are listed as WF and GF (wheat and gluten free) when Kellogg’s Cornflakes are not listed among the Cereals. Readers will find this a useful guide though Suzanna Paxton does stress to always check the labels as ingredients change. I found this. When the packaging of cranberry, raspberry and strawberry tea changed, so did the ingredients. What had previously been wheat free, suddenly included wheat which meant it went off my shopping list.

This book is also useful in that it has quick dishes to prepare like Honey Baked Chicken as well as those like Lamb and Cauliflower Stew which require minimal washing up – always a plus.

I thought it was a shame Suzanna didn’t give a recipe for Tabouli that was wheat and gluten free which is what I make myself, rather than using a packet mix that contains wheat and gluten. Also I would have expected it should have been stated in the Baba Ghanoush recipe that the eggplants need to have slits cut in them so they do not explode. But possibly spraying oil on the skin alleviates this danger. I admit I haven’t tried it.

I liked the suggestion of using golden syrup in Crunchy Fruit bars for those who are allergic to honey. I loved the way she included child friendly recipes like Chocolate Fudge Slice with Chocolate Icing. And Quick Fizzy Scones, which kids can easily make with a parent. Maybe even this klutz could make decent scones. I couldn’t help but wonder whether it would work as well using gluten free self raising flour rather than that suggested. Perhaps I’ll try it one day.

Parents of children and other family members with allergies will find a good range of recipes in this book that is so easy to use.

Allergy Safe Family Food, by Suzanna Paxton
HarperCollinsPublishers, 2009
$19.99

This book can be purchased online from Fishpond. Buying through this link supports Aussiereviews.

Reviewed by Dale Harcombe.
Dale is a NSW writer and reviewer. You can visit her blog here.

This book can be purchased online from Fishpond. Buying through this link supports Aussiereviews.

A Small free Kiss in the Dark, by Glenda Millard

Reviewed by Dale Harcombe

If you read one children’s book this year, make it this one – the story of 12 year old Skip who in a time of war meets an odd assortment of friends. After a succession of foster homes and a life of abuse, the artistic Skip meets up with the old crippled Billy, a younger boy, Max and the dancer Tia with her baby Sixpence. These survivors of the war take refuge together in a fun fair.

This book has enough action to keep any young reader turning the pages. It also is a good story with a lyrical quality to the writing. The voice of Skip who tells the story is authentic, as he fends for himself and his assortment of friends. Skip is an enterprising, thoughtful, ingenious and complex young person caught between harsh reality and the make-believe world he invents for Max.

His interest in art, his drawings and references to specific paintings add to his character. As he narrates the story, he makes some interesting observations about life – ‘sometimes the truest things are the hardest to believe.’

There is no time frame given or explanation for what caused the war. Readers just accept that this is the state of affairs. While realistic in its portrayal of the situation, there is still an otherworldly quality as well. Although this is about war and homelessness, it is not a bleak book. Ultimately it is a book of hope.

Before I started to read this book, I had picked up and put down several novels after the first few pages. But this one captivated me from the beginning. It’s a book that will make you think about people, about sacrifice and love and about what is important in life.

This is the first Glenda Millard book I have read and I will not be the last. It is a gem. I wish I’d written it. I predict this will feature this year on the CBCA book awards.

A Small Free Kiss in the Dark by Glenda Millard
Allen & Unwin, 2009
$16.95

Reviewed by Dale Harcombe.
Dale is a NSW writer and reviewer. You can visit her blog here.

This book can be purchased online from Fishpond. Buying through this link supports Aussiereviews.

The Cloudchasers, by Steven Hunt & David Richardson

Alice’s mind raced. The true horror of the Banker’s crime struck her with brutal force: he had STOLEN everyone’s imagination! Stolen it, so they’d be easier to control and enslave. She thought of her mother and her poor, broken father – even Thomas…Suddenly everything was clear.

Growing up in Bankertown is easy – if you conform. But Alice can’t conform. She sees beasts in the clouds, and likes to draw pictures. Now she’s been suspended from school and it is threatened that she’ll be sent to the Institute of Creative Conformity to be reformed. Instead, Alice escapes in a hot air balloon flown by her new friend Spinner, and accompanied by her unwilling brother Thomas, a model citizen of Bankertown.

In the land beyond the clouds Alice learns the terrible truth – that the Banker has stolen everyone’s imagination. Alice is determined to fix things, and restore imagination and freedom to her town, but first she must find the Banker’s father, and avoid recapture by the Banker’s henchman, the Catcher.

The Cloudchasers is an exciting picture story book, aimed at readers aged 9 and over. The story is dark, set in a world inspired by the Victorian-era, with factories and work houses, larger than life evil masters, and much drudgery. The story twists and turns, with fantastical creatures, goodies and baddies of equal strangeness, and surprises galore. Illustrated in dark colours using digital and 3D techniques.

Readers of all abilities will be drawn in to The Cloudchasers. For reluctant or less able readers, the illustrations and layout will add to accessibility, whilst more able readers will be delighted by the fantastical story. The only downside will be that they will be find themselves left hanging at the end, awaiting the conclusion to the story which will be released in October.

A visual and narrative delight.

The Cloudchasers

The Cloudchasers, by Steven Hunt and David Richardson
ABC Books, 2008

This book can be purchased online at Fishpond. Buying through this link supports Aussiereviews.