The Floods – Better Homes and Gardens

‘Are you dead?’
‘What?’ ‘I said, are you dead?’ asked the vulture. ‘Only we can’t eat you if you’re still alive.’ ‘That’s good to know.’ ‘Yes, because we are carrion eaters and that means dead stuff,’ said the vulture. ‘Not dying or nearly dead, can’t do that. We have to hang around until you’re completely dead, preferably a week or two after when you’re nice and rip and have that lovely sickly sweet smell that us vultures adore.’ ‘I am not dead,’ said Valla. ‘You sure?’ ‘Of course.’ ‘You look dead,’ said the vulture. ‘Well, it’s nice of you to say so, but no, I am not dead.’

Better Homes and Gardens is the eighth and final title in The Floods series from Colin Thompson. The first began in Transylvania Waters and now the reader is brought full circle as Mordonna, Nerlin and their family return home. Homecomings are often both better and worse than expected and so it is here. The old king and his new wife are not popular but have developed a style of leadership which brooks no resistance. The people of Transylvania Waters have been oppressed for so long and weakened by a diet of cabbage have little power to resist. But the appearance of the rightful royals sparks some life back into the population. Slowly life in the remote kingdom begins to change.

There is little that is predictable in this family adventure. It begins with a conversation with a vulture who is sure one of the Floods must be dead (and therefore menu-worthy) and becomes more absurd from there. And very funny…and punny. The text is interspersed with illustrations that extend the humour. Each member of the family has special skills and their moment ‘in the sun’ as they go about the business of reclaiming the throne (sometimes quite literally too as they clear the pollution that has shrouded the kingdom for years). The ‘baddies’ are very bad and the ‘goodies’ are frequently very odd. Footnotes sometimes provide explanations and sometimes are just asides from the author. For a reader, it is as if the author is sitting there reading along with them. Better Homes and Gardens is warm, absurd, punny and ridiculous. Recommended for mid- to upper-primary readers.

The Floods: Better Homes & Gardens, Colin Thompson
Random House 2009
ISBN: 9781741662559


review by Claire Saxby, Children’s Author

Bad News for Milk Bay, by Moya Simons

‘Hey, I run a detective agency. I can be left alone,’ I said.
We were eating breakfast. Mum sprinkled sugar over her cornflakes. ‘Yes,’ she said, ‘you run a detective agency; and yes, you’ve been alone before; and no, you’re not staying home this time’ and yes, you’re going with Dad to the protest rally at the council chambers; and no, don’t look at me that way. It will be a very educational experience.’
‘I get enough education at school. I have plans. I want to update my detective notebook tonight.’
‘Well, bring your notebook along with you. As a detective I think you’ll be very interested,’ Dad said.
I felt a slight prickle of interest, like a flea was drawing blood from my brain.

Milk Bay is a small town where a lot seems to happen. Thank goodness it is home to the Walk Right In Detective Agency where David and his partner Bernice solve mysteries big and small. Sometimes the mysteries find them, sometimes they see mystery others miss. In this fourth instalment of the series, David and Bernice are experiencing a bit of a slump. Business is slow and supplies are low. Little does David expect that being forced to go to a protest rally will not only see he and Bernice on opposite sides as the Mayor talks about the most exciting potential development Milk Bay has ever seen. Half the town seem to be for the development, half against. David’s infallible nose senses ‘there’s mischief afoot’. He’s keen to investigate, but first there’s the matter of Flick’s grandmother’s ring. And paying jobs should come first.

Bad News for Milk Bay is told in mostly in first person, with main character, David’s, detective observations dispersed through the text. It’s almost as if he’s channelling some long-gone gumshoe. His observations are funny, and follow the edict that no detail is too small or trivial to be overlooked. Bad News for Milk Bay opens with pages from David’s note book which detail the highs and lows of the detective business. But although the style is humourous and some of their cases are easily solved, others are more serious. As with previous titles in this series, the main plot explores a big issue. This time it’s development, specifically the plan to turn Horatio Brown’s lovely and loved farm into a whiz-bang, you-beaut tourist precinct. Milk Bay is lucky to have David and Bernice, and dodgy sorts everywhere ought be on alert.

Recommended for middle primary.

Bad News for Milk Bay (Walk Right in Detective Agency)

WRIDA 4 Bad News for Milk Bay, Moya Simons Walker Books 2009
ISBN: 9781921150760

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

Freak Street on Holiday, by Knive and Packer

WARNING!We would like to warn nervous readers that this book contains scenes of a disturbing nature, including:

• A scary sea creature swimming in a toilet bowl.
• A smelly bucket of squid eyes, octopus suckers and prawn tentacles.
• A TV star covered in serpent slobber

The authors apologise for any distress this may cause and would like to add that no sea serpents, big or small, were harmed in the making of this book. (from The Wizardsons on Holiday)

Freak Street is home to your every-day, garden-variety neighbours. There are the magic Wizardsons, the not-so-bright Humansons, the out-of-this-world Aliensons and of course the open-minded (literally) Zombiesons. These four titles are the second offering in the Freak Street series. Each sees a family deciding they need a holiday. With varying levels of democracy, destinations are chosen and bags are packed. The Wizardsons are off to Tropical Paradise Resort complete with Magic Spell Masterclass. The Humansons find their way to Las Baygas…eventually. The Zombiesons (senior) reluctantly and (junior) keenly find adventure in the wilds of Buccaneer Island. The Aliensons discover the joys and pitfalls of a working holiday in the country. Though each adventure is about holidays, the neighbours have very different aspirations, destinations and often hilarious experiences.

The four new Freak Street titles: Aliensons On Holiday, Humansons On Holiday, Wizardsons On Holiday and Zombiesons On Holiday all begin with life at home and its limitations. By the end of Chapter One, each family needs a holiday. And off they go, fast and slow, to their various destinations. Each family has a boy and girl of about the age of the intended readership, two parents and a baby. The action moves forward with nary a falter, propelled variously by the adult and child characters. There is someone for every reader. The illustrations are bright and colourful, giving an almost graphic novel feel to these stories. Cameos by a pair of wise-cracking flies scatter through the pages of all four titles. They are perfect for newly independent readers daunted by full pages of text, and would also suit slightly older reluctant readers. Recommended for middle-primary readers.

Aliensons on Holiday (Freak Street)

Aliensons On Holiday, Knife and Packer Scholastic 2009 ISBN: 9781741692044

Humansons on Holiday (Freak Street) Humansons On Holiday, Knife and Packer Scholastic 2009 ISBN: 9781741692068

Wizardsons on Holiday (Freak Street)

Wizardsons On Holiday, Knife and Packer Scholastic 2009 ISBN: 9781741692051

Zombiesons on Holiday (Freak Street)

Zombiesons On Holiday, Knife and Packer Scholastic 2009 ISBN: 781741692075

These books are available from Fishpond, by clicking on the covers above. Buying through these links supports Aussiereviews.


review by Claire Saxby, Children’s Author

The Shocking Trouble on the Planet of Shobble, by L. M. Moriarty

Nicola Berry had a problem.
She needed to make a long-distance phone call.
An extremely long-distance phone call.
She needed to ring someone who lived on another planet.
Unfortunately, whenever Nicola’s mother opened the phone bill lately, she made a sound like she had a fishbone stuck n her throat. If an intergalactic phone call appeared on the bill she might stop breathing altogether.

Nicola pondered her problem while she sliced a banana to put on top of her breakfast cereal. The house was still and silent. A shaft of summer sunlight was creeping its way across the kitchen floor. It was early Saturday morning and her brother and parents were still sound asleep. they wouldn’t be up for hours, when they would appear rubbing their eyes and saying things like, ‘You’re up already? Why?

Nicola and her fellow Space Brigaders Katie, Tyler, Sean and Greta have just finished saving the world. But time doesn’t stand still and already they have another request. This one is from Enrico, Commander in Chief of Shobble asking for their help with ‘danger of an unusual kind. Nicola is keen for another adventure. And Shobble makes the best chocolate in the universe. Nicola assembles her crew and they head straight to Shobble, stopping only to collect their Globagaskarian friend and final crew member Shimlara. They are a new team and still refining their individual roles but work well together. At least their mission seems simple and straightforward. Shimlara’s mum knows the leader of Shobble, and remembers him as a charming man. What could go wrong?

The Shocking Trouble on the Planet of Shobble is the second in the Space Brigade series, but stands alone quite comfortably. There are references to the first mission sprinkled throughout, enough to tempt a reader to seek it out. Each of the crew has brought along a ‘tool’ and although some of their tools seem unusual, each is necessary for their mission to succeed…just as each character brings their own skills to the team. Nicola is their leader but doesn’t always feel worthy of the role. This is especially the case when she meets another leader but they soon find a way to work together. Ingenuity and an appreciation of the skills of others are necessary in reaching their goal. There are strong themes of cooperation and friendship throughout.

Recommended for mid-upper primary readers.

The Shocking Trouble on the Planet of Shobble

The Shocking Trouble on the Planet of Shobble, L M Moriarty
Pan Macmillan 2009
ISBN: 9780330424707

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

review by Claire Saxby, Children’s Author

The Gimlet Eye, by James Roy

‘If your uncle dies now – if he simply stops breathing – you will assume great power. You’ll be the leader of Quentaris…’
‘I get the feeling that you haven’t finished that sentence,’ Florian said.
‘Indeed. But if you take that power, your grip will be that much stronger. The prophecies are very clear, my friend. If he dies, you simply oversee. But if you act now, you rule!’

When the Archon dies – helped along by his nephew – and the horrid Florian claims the throne, things look grim for Quentaris. The Magicians Guild is broken up and Tab finds herself working at the City Farm – until Quentaris slips through yet another vortex and she and her friends suddenly realise they are the city’s only hope.

The Gimlet Eye is the third story in the second Quentaris series, Quest of the Lost City. Like every story in the series, it is full of intrigue, mystery, plots and betrayals – with a familiar cast of characters (both goodies and baddies). Each instalment in the series is the work of a different Australian author, with this one authored by the award-winning James Roy.

An outstanding addition to an already outstanding series.

The Gimlet Eye (Quentaris - Quest of the Lost City)

The Gimlet Eye, by James Roy
Ford Street, 2009

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

Deep Water, by Peter Corris

We were walking south along King Street when my mobile rang. I listened and broke into a run.

‘What?’ Hank said as he loped along beside me.

I stumbled, fought for balance. ‘Megan. She’s been attacked.’

After his last case saw his partner Lily murdered and his private detective licence cancelled, Cliff Hardy decides to spend some time in the US. But, while he is there, he has a heart attack and a quadruple bypass. While he is recovering he meets Australian nurse Margaret McKinley, whose father has disappeared. Back in Sydney, Hardy gets his old friend Hank Batchelor to take on the case though, in spite of his no longer being licensed, it is Hardy who takes the lead.

Margaret’s father, geologist Henry McKinley’s disappearance seems linked to his research into a possible solution to Sydney’s water crisis. With his disappearance, all details of where and how the massive Sydney basin aquifer could be tapped have been lost, but there are parties who will stop at nothing to unearth that information. Once again Hardy’s life is at risk as he tries to uncover the truth – but this time his daughter Megan’s life is also under threat as she works alongside her father.

Deep Water is the latest in the Cliff Hardy series and, in spite of Hardy’s lack of a PI licence, sees him up to many of his old tricks – getting himself into just as many scrapes in the search for the truth. At the same time, Hardy’s vulnerable side is on show in this instalment, as he deals with his mortality, the death of Lily and his relationship with his daughter.

A satisfying addition to the series.

Deep Water

Deep Water, by Peter Corris
Allen & Unwin, 2009

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

Exchanging Lives, by Kathy Buchanan

This morning when I walked into school for the last time in three whole months, I knew my life would never be the same again.

Just one more day. One more day and I won’t have those three freakazoids annoying me for a whole term.

Annie and Charlie used to be best friends, as their mothers still are. But somewhere in the last twelve months things have changed. Charlie is not sure what happened, but Annie has decided she is ‘school royalty in training’, one of the popular girls. She no longer has any time for the daggy Charlie. Annie and Charlie have been selected to spend three months in USA and both girls are thrilled. Annie is going to New York and plans to enjoy all the fashion and fashionable places. Charlie, a pacifist and animal lover is equally thrilled about her host family who have a farm in Ohio. Their parents have a twist in mind however and reveal it as the two girls are about to board their planes. If they were estranged before, the twist their parents deliver firms their mutual antipathy. Their three months are going to be even more than they bargained for.

Exchanging Lives is about two fourteen year old girls in year eight. Primary school is a memory and the first year of secondary school is behind them. They are trying on personas as well as clothes. Their world tends to be very black and white. Kathy Buchanan gives us insights from each girl with alternating chapters. Different fonts keep the girls’ first person voices separate. Initially, Annie is painted as a bad girl and Charlie, the good girl, although both are determined to dislike their experience. The first person narratives are interspersed with emails to each other, because although they were determined not to like each other or their destination, only the other can really understand their situation. Both girls learn a lot about themselves and each other in the three months away. They also learn to look beyond the surface impressions they have of their host families and school mates. Recommended for upper-primary to early-secondary readers.

Exchanging Lives

Exchanging Lives, Kathy Buchanan
Scholastic 2009

ISBN: 9781741693898

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

review by Claire Saxby, Children’s Author

Star Jumps, by Lorraine Marwood

There is something we don’t understand,
as if the magic has gone out of spring,
as if we were just kids,
grubby in old clothes,
playing in weeds,
with a dog that doesn’t scare strangers
and cows that want to die
of making milk.

For Ruby and her siblings, a shower of rain means the emergence of the marshmallow weed, lush and green and a wonderful place for building tunnels and playing games. But the rain isn’t enough to stave off the drought, which is slowly but surely sapping the life from the family farm. As the marshmallow grows and calves are born, the family struggle to keep the farm going, but soon it becomes obvious that the herd must be reduced to make ends meet.

As the family battle to see a way forward, Ruby’s spirit keeps her searching for a solution. She will make a difference.

Star Jumps is a poignant verse novel about the impact of rural drought, but it is also something more – a story of family togetherness and of bonds which are strengthened by hardship. Whilst the family struggle, they are also able to support each other and to recognise how hardship impacts on each family member. The children look for ways to ease pressure on their parents, and on each other, and the parents, in spite of stress are patient and honest with their children.

Marwood’s verse is perfect for such a tale, with the first person voice of Ruby, the youngest of the family, a choice which enables young readers to experience first hand the impact of drought on rural families.



Star Jumps, by Lorraine Marwood
Walker Books, 2009

Roadside Sisters, by Wendy Harmer

Nina scrambled back into the cabin, slammed the door after her and shouted out the window: ‘Jam your six P’s up your arse, brad! If I’ve broken the TV aerial, I’ll fix it. Like I’ve fixed everything else in the house for years!’
She wrenched the monster motorhome into drive and accelerated. She remembered to release the handbrake. Too late. She clipped the letterbox and hit the bluestone guttering at speed. In the passenger seat Meredith grabbed at the door handle to stop her head banging into the window. In the back Annie’s champagne bottle was flung from the table into the stairwell, its contents gurgling down the steps, under the door and out onto the roadway.
Twenty years ago Nina, Meredith and Annie toured together as part of Sanctified Soul. Now they are back on the road – in a borrowed motorhome – driving from Melbourne to Byron bay for Meredith’s daughter’s wedding.

Meredith is the elegant, newly divorced, owner of a boutique homewares shop. Annie, the youngest of the three, but turning forty, is single and a successful real estate owner. Nina is married to a returned football legend and mother of three teenage sons. They seem to have little in common, but Nina has somehow convinced the other two to take this road trip and along the way they’ll either have fun or successfully ruin their friendship. Right to the end, it is not clear which will happen – but there are plenty of mishaps, soul sharing, romantic encounters and laughter.

Roadside Sisters is a funny but genuine look at female friendship and the search for identity and contentment. Each woman has her own set of problems, but also her own strengths and blessings, and as the trip progresses, each is forced both to confront those problems and count those blessings in equal measure.

Female readers are likely to see themselves in one – if not all – of the characters, and to nod, laugh and, perhaps, even cry. A heartwarming read from the wonderfully insightful Wendy Harmer.

Roadside Sisters

Roadside Sisters, by Wendy Harmer
Allen & Unwin, 2009

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

Big Sky, by Melaina Faranda

I drifted off, worn out from the long day. From the swag close to mine there was a soft, male sigh. My eyes fluttered open. Dan. Then I crashed.

Skye isn’t happy when she finds out it is up to her to lead the annual muster on her family’s Kimberley cattle station. She was supposed to be partying with her friend Aria. But dad has broken his leg, and Mum is overseas on a business trip, so Skye finds herself on a plane home from boarding school and in charge of a group of mostly in experienced station hands.

One of the musterers, however, is experienced – and, to top it off, totally gorgeous. Dan seems interested in her, too, but as leader of the muster, Skye can’t let her attraction – or her hot temper – get the better of her.

Big Sky is part romance, part adventure, in a mix that will appeal to teen readers. Set in the Kimberley region of Western Australia and including dingoes, crocodiles, cattle chases and more, there is much to interest readers who may be unfamiliar with station life, but also plenty to which they can relate, including the problems of teen friendship and first romance.

Part of the Girlfriend Fiction series, Big Sky is a gripping read.

Big Sky (Girlfriend Fiction)

Big Sky, by Melaina Faranda
Allen & Unwin, 2009

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