Six, by Karen Tayleur

It is a small car. A light-coloured car. Hard to determine exactly what colour it is in the grey of the pre-dawn – maybe white or silver or pale blue. All is quiet save for the ticking of the cooling engine and the bark of a neighbourhood dog.
Soon this will change.

One car. Six teenagers. Five seatbelts. Not a good combination – especially when mixed with an afters party, a hint of alcohol and a wet road. The Prologue of this gripping novel shows the reader a glimpse of the aftermath of a terrible accident, leaving the reader in no doubt how the action which follows will culminate, but what keeps the pages turning is the desire to learn which of the six viewpoint characters – if any – is killed in the accident and which survives, as well as exactly what it is that leads them to be together in the car.

The six characters – three girls and three points – are from a variety of backgrounds. Some are friends, some not. Their respective journeys through year 12 are quite different, but what they do have in common is a seemingly coincidental meeting the previous summer, where they make a shocking discovery which overshadows the months which follow.

Six is a delicious blend of thriller and coming of age story which is sure tot ickle the palate of teen readers who will enjoy unravelling the connections between the six characters and trying to work out what has happened and what will happen. Told chiefly from the first person perspective of one girl, Sarah, there are also chapters from either first or third person perspective of each of the others, to make a satisfying whole.


Six, by Karen Tayleur
Black Dog, 2010

9781742031552 This book is available in good bookstores, or online from Fishpond.

How Do I Love Thee? edited by Valerie Parv

How do I love thee? Let me count the ways. I love thee for thy depth and breadth and height

The above quote comes not from one of the stories in this book, but from the poem, by Elizabeth Barrett Browning which was chosen as the theme for the book. Each author was asked to contribute a short story inspired by the poem, or by part of it. The resultant twelve stories are as diverse as they are entertaining.

From humour to vampires, from contemporary to tales of yesteryear, each contributor has something different to offer, making this a romance-lovers feast. A mix of best-selling, well-known authors and emerging names were invited to contribute their stories to the collection, edited by Valerie Parv, known as Australia’s queen of romance. With twelve tales, this is an offering which can be read cover to cover or dipped into at leisure.

Other contributors include Anna Jacobs, Daphne Clair and Ann Charlton.

How Do I Love Thee?: Stories to Stir the Heart, edited by Valerie Parv
Allen & Unwin, 2009

This book can be purchased online from Fishpond.

Desperate Dwarf, by Ian Irvine

In a sealed cave at the heart of a forgotten mountain, a blind seer sat in the dark between two mirrors that were reflecting the silvery tendrils of times to come.
‘Find the Gate Guardian who calls himself Ike,’ said the watcher who wasn’t there. ‘I see him, my queen,’ said the seer. ‘He’s drawing with the magical pen.’
The watcher rubbed a patch of tarnish on her silvery arm. ‘This pen bothers me. Tell me about it.’
‘Alas, my mirrors can’t see into it,’ replied the seer.
‘Then make his drawing go wrong!’ cried the watcher, vexed.
Taking hold of the time tendrils, the seer wove a new future. ‘It is done.’

Ike and Mellie are trying so hard to do the right thing, but it’s hard to know which ‘right thing’ to do first. Pook says they should rescue the children. Mellie wants to make sure her family are okay. But if they don’t find and retrieve the Book of Grimmery and soon, it might be too late for anything else. The search for the book takes the intrepid pair up mountains, down deeper than they’ve ever been and at every step they are booby-trapped, tricked, deceived and more. And sometimes it seems that they will never find their way. Ike is forever getting things wrong and incurring the wrath of trainee thief, Mellie. Then they meet the Desperate Dwarf. And his name is Con Glomryt.

Desperate Dwarf is the third of four books of the ‘Grim and Grimmer’ saga. Ike is a tortured hero, never sure that he’s making the right decisions. But in true hero style, he keeps going, even when what he’d really like to do is just go home. If he had a home to go to. Mellie is cantankerous and sharp-tongued but does occasionally remember to thank Ike when things do go right. And she’s inventive and has some skill as a thief, even if she doesn’t always think through her actions. This is high-camp fantasy set in a world full of nose-haired dwarfs, evil pink ladies, and some horrid Night Gaunts all with wonderfully inventive names. This series is a delightfully grungy introduction for young readers to the world of fantasy. Recommended for mid- to upper-primary readers, particularly those not ready to leave the bottom jokes behind.

Desperate Dwarf (Grim and Grimmer)

Desperate Dwarf , Ian Irvine
Omnibus Books 2011
ISBN: 9781862918603

review by Claire Saxby, Children’s author

This book can be purchased in good bookstores, or online from Fishpond.

Sir Edward ‘Weary’ Dunlop, by Hazel Edwards

‘Ready, set, go.’ Ernie Dunlop heaved the sack of grain onto his shoulder. His brother, Alan, was just behind him, struggling with a second sack. The two boys ran across the dusty farmyard, staggering under the loads. The hot sun was like needles on their skin.
‘You won again Ernie,’ panted Alan, dropping his sweaty sack on the growing pile. Ernie was taller than Alan who was 20 months older. Both boys had strong shoulders from the farm work. Often they made a competition out of the jobs around the farm, but long-legged Ernie usually won.

Ernie, who became known as Weary while at university, was born 1907. He and his brother grew up on a struggling family farm near Wangaratta. He was an inquisitive, spirited and very active child who knew early on that he wanted to be a doctor. He studied pharmacy then won a scholarship to study Medicine at Melbourne University. While studying, he became a skilful rugby player. When war was declared, Weary joined up, keen to put his surgeon skills to good use. But as well as being a skilled surgeon, he was a good administrator, good at solving problems and negotiating with others. These skills were to become instrumental in his survival and the survival of others when he became a prisoner-of-war of the Japanese.

Weary Dunlop was a big man, both in stature and in ability and in terms of his achievements. Sir Edward “Weary” Dunlop is the second title in a new series from New Frontier Publishing. The first was about Dame Nellie Melba, and there are more titles on the way. Each introduces an iconic Australian and their life both before and after they became well known. Chapter headings outline stages in his life and a timeline gives an ‘at-a-glance’ summary of his life. Most openings feature a colour image. This is an accessible introduction to the life of a fascinating Australian. It covers his childhood, education, marriage, war experience and post-war life. A well-rounded summary of a remarkable man. Recommended for mid-primary readers.

Sir Edward “Weary” Dunlop, Hazel Edwards ill Pat Reynolds
New Frontier Publishing 2011

review by Claire Saxby, Children’s author

Doom Bunny and the Monster Catchers, by Loren Morris

Who knew that monsters lurk in milk cartons in the fridge? Loren Morris did. That’s why you sometimes go to the fridge and there’s no milk…the monsters have taken it. And don’t forget monster-catchers. They’re the ones who trap the monsters in the milk in the first place. And if you should find a milk carton and open it, you may just let all the monsters out. Then you’ll have to find a way to catch them again, before they do damage. The monster-catcher might help you, IF he feels like it, and IF his mega-ego doesn’t get in the way. And you might need the help of some friends too…one you knew would help, and unexpectedly one who is usually otherwise engaged. Images are black-bordered on white pages, almost as if you’re watching the action through the rear view mirror from the inside of a car.

There are some truly awesome monsters in Doom Bunny and the Monster Catchers and Doom Bunny himself is sure he’s a legend. He’s a milk monster, now imprisoned in a bunny puppet – super sweet on the outside, monster on the inside. Timotheus the Monster Catcher is a bit of a bumbler but accepts the help of others in recapturing the escaped monsters. The humour is off-beat and unexpected, often quite absurd and will have readers chuckling out loud. Perfect for reluctant readers struggling with denser texts. It’s a super-adventure without the superheroes. Recommended for mid-primary and beyond.

Doom Bunny and the Monster Catchers

Doom Bunny and the Monster Catchers, Loren Morris
Omnibus Books 2011
ISBN: 9781862918535

review by Claire Saxby, Children’s author

This book can be purchased in good bookstores, or online from Fishpond.

Diamond Spirit, by Karen Wood

‘Hey, Dimey, you’re going on a holiday!’
Jess ran a soft brush over Diamond’s sides, making her gleam. The pony was a picture of health. ‘You and Rocko together, eating yourselves stupid for three whole weeks!’ Jess swapped the brush for a comb and began untangling Diamond’s thick black tail. Speckles and dots blanketed the pony’s Appaloosa rump and three distinct silver diamonds trickled down her hindquarters like falling stars.
Her phone buzzed and rumbled in her jeans’ pocket.
Shara: S^
Jess grinned and looked to the top of the driveway, where Shara stood waiting. she gave the tail a few more quick strokes and then pulled the pony’s lead rope from the fence. Shara was her buddy, her bestie…

Jess and Shara are best buddies, competing as a duo in local pony club events. Then Diamond has a terrible accident and Jess’s whole world starts to fall apart. Shara won’t tell her what happened. In the space of a day, Jess loses her beloved pony and her best friend. Gradually she makes new friends, and realises that it might possible to love another horse. But the pain of Diamond’s accident and Shara’s betrayal don’t fade quickly. There is a mystery around her pony’s death, and Jess is determined to solve it. She needs to understand before she can even think about owning another horse, or riding again.

Diamond Spiritis Book One in a new ‘horsey’ trilogy set in rural Australia. Jess has suffered her first big loss, or really, two losses. Friendships are very important, particularly to young teenage girls like Jess, but they are also very fragile. Karen Wood explores the world of horses and those who work closely with them. She explores themes like hatred, forgiveness, honesty and trust. There is also an exploration of connection with land and the idea that not all things can be explained scientifically. Readers who love horses will immerse themselves in familiar language, in a familiar world. Other readers will enjoy the themes of friendship and adventure. Recommended for upper primary to lower-secondary readers.

Diamond Spirit (Diamond Spirit Trilogy)

Diamond Spirit, Karen Wood
Allen & Unwin 2011
ISBN: 9781742373157

review by Claire Saxby, Children’s author

This book can be purchased in good bookstores, or online from Fishpond.

Can We Lick the Spoon Now? by Carol Goess

Dad and three children are at home sharing an ‘everyday’. Once the washing is hung, the children want to know what they will do next. Dad suggests making a cake. So begins the long wait until the children can lick the spoon. There’s fun to be had first as they mix all the ingredients. The baby sits on the floor and bangs pans, investigates cupboards and generally entertains him/herself. The children regularly chant the refrain that provides the title. Finally, it’s time to lick the spoon, but there’s still waiting to be done before the cake is cool enough and iced and they can eat it. Illustrations are in pencil, gouache and some collage and provide baby with his/her own story, not alluded to in the text. The cover has a very identifiable red-with-white-spots spine and a soft lemon coloured front and back.

The text for Can We Lick the Spoon Now? is simple and the cake-making a gentle activity but many readers will relate to the stages involved before it’s possible to eat the cake. The addition of Baby’s visual story provides a second narrative that may not be seen on first reading, but supports rereading. There is a delightful calmness to the cake-making despite some of the challenges that can come with small children in the kitchen. As well as guiding his three children through the cake-making, Dad is doing the washing, and even a little shopping. There’s a lovely twist at the end that is at once real and surprising. Recommended for pre-school and early-primary aged children. (And anyone who’s ever made a cake with small children!)

Can We Lick the Spoon Now?

Can We Lick the Spoon Now?? Carol Goess, ill Tamsin Ainslie
Working Title Press 2010
ISBN: 9781921504167

review by Claire Saxby, Children’s author

This book can be purchased from good bookstores, or online from Fishpond.

Abacus Aardvark and the Arctic Adventure, by MJ Faranda

Now I well keell the lemmeeng!’
Slamming a perspex box on the demonstration bench, Professor Malonvenski whistled a tuneless ditty and proceeded to adjust the gas taps.
At the sight of the tiny rodent’s pink paws clawing the transparent walls of its cage, Abacus Aardvark wondered, once again, why the school had hired such a terrible man to be their new science teacher…the new science teacher had subjected the class to a series of bizarre experiments. He had tested radio frequencies that burst Billy Gudding’s eardrum, injected something into Ishmael Brimms that caused him to make bleating sounds for a week, and locked Daisy Little inside the walk-in freezer until she had a frostbitten nose.

Abacus Aardvark likes the quiet life. It’s enough that he lives with parents so wrapped up in their individual passions that they hardly notice him, now he has lost the lovely gentle science teacher and instead has to endure the terror induced by the crazy new science teacher. When Abacus is in trouble and his fashion designer mother Zelda, is called in, Abacus is torn between making sure his mother remembers to go to the meeting with Professor Malovenski and hoping that she won’t get him in even more trouble. But unexpectedly, his mother and the Professor get on famously and before he knows it, he’s off to the Arctic with a stowaway lemming, and his father Zachary, who is intent on righting the wrongs imposed by being at the wrong end of the alphabet. With self-absorbed parents, a crazy professor and angry crew, Abacus is soon a long way from the quiet life he craves.

Abacus Aardvark and the Arctic Adventure is a rollicking adventure from the quiet life to the high seas and all the way to the North Pole. Most of the adults in this adventure range from simply useless through to thoroughly wicked. Only when they reach the Arctic does Abacus find help. And even then, the help is not quite what he expected. He has to call on his own resources to keep everyone safe. The pace is relentless, with circumstances constantly worsening. A healthy dose of humour provides a release valve for the reader and keeps the story grounded. There are environmental themes and the cost and single-mindedness of those consumed by greed. Recommended for confident mid- to upper-primary readers. The ending also suggests strongly that there is another Abacus Aardvark adventure in the pipeline.

Abacus Aardvark and the Arctic Adventure, M. J. Faranda
Omnibus Books 2011
ISBN: 9781862918818 review by Claire Saxby, Children’s author

Diva Series, by Sue Lawson

I’m Mickey Farrell, the youngest girl in a family of three. My sisters, Sam and Gemma are Sports-Tragics. You name it and they not only play it, but they win every trophy possible.
They dream of being sporting legends.
I dream of being a singing star.
A month ago I was lying on my bed reading Girlz Stuff, when the Dream Productions advertisement practically jumped off the page. Imagine – the hottest CDs, cool clothes and heaps of fans. It would be a dream come true!

Mickey Farrell is in pursuit of her dream – to be a singer. And the competition gives her an opportunity to spend time with others who think like she does, that singing is the best thing. Along the way, she discovers there are plenty of girls who love singing as much as she does. However, they don’t all approach the competition in quite the same way. Some are so nervous they can hardly perform, and at the other end, there are some who are so sure of victory they feel they don’t have to be nice to anyone. Mickey makes some wonderful friends, and learns that even the most horrid girls sometimes have reasons for their behaviour. She loves the opportunity to work with industry professionals and to improve her singing and the dancing she’s much less confident about.

This is a repackaging of the very successful Diva series first released in 2006. The covers are more sophisticated and shiny too! Each cover is a different colour and features a silhouetted singer/dancer. Mickey, the main character, has a burning ambition to be a successful singer as do most of the other contestants. But the reader is introduced to many other personalities. Most are friendly and keen to participate, not just to win, but there are others who seem to delight in the misfortunes of others. Mickey’s nemesis, Coco, is downright horrid, although Lawson allows the reader peeks into her life which help to explain why she is as she is. It’s like a mini world, with the nice girls, the nervy ones, and the very nasty ones. There are themes of competitiveness, community as well as a view into the world of the reality television franchise. Recommended for mid- to upper-primary readers, particularly girls who fancy a career in television and singing.

It's a Girl Thing (Diva)

Diva series:
It’s a Girl Thing, Sue Lawson
Black Dog Books 2011 ISBN: 9781742031675
Rising Star , Sue Lawson
Black Dog Books 2011 ISBN: 9781742031682
Going Solo , Sue Lawson
Black Dog Books 2011 ISBN: 9781742031699
Finale, Sue Lawson
Black Dog Books 2011 ISBN: 9781742031705

review by Claire Saxby, Children’s author

George and Ghost, by Catriona Hoy & Cassia Thomas

George and Ghost were friends,
but George wasn’t sure he
believed in Ghost any more.

George and Ghost have always been friends, but now George is having doubts about whether or not Ghost is real. And if he’s not real, he will have to go away. Ghost wants him to prove it. So George sets about thinking of ways to discover if his friend is real or not. And by every scientific measure he uses, Ghost is not real. Now it’s up to Ghost to find a way to convince his friend that he is real. Illustrations are full page and warm colour and include many textural elements. George is very expressive and Ghost has delightful rosy cheeks, a little like George’s.

On the surface, George and Ghost is a story about friendship and the important things in life. But there’s another layer, that explores scientific principles and philosophy in a practical child-comprehensible way. In science, hypotheses are tested by experimenting and recording the outcomes. In the same way George tries to prove his friend real by displacing water and capturing images. In philosophy, notions of existence are also tested, if differently. Young children may well not be able to name the principles explored here, but they’ll have fun trying out the experiments that suggest themselves. And the principles may well feed their curiosity about, and enrich their understanding of, their world and just what constitutes ‘real’ and ‘not real’. Recommended for pre-school and early primary children.

George and Ghost

George and Ghost, Catriona Hoy, ill Cassia Thomas
Hodder 2010
ISBN: 9780340988862

review by Claire Saxby, Children’s author

This book can be purchased in good bookstores, or online from Fishpond.