The Singing Bones, by Shaun Tan

9781760111038.jpg’These little figures of slay, with their simplified features, their single attributes, are perfect realisations of the strangeness of the characters they represent.’ PHILLIP PULLMAN

If you are expecting smiling princesses or Disneyfied beasts in this collection of images interpreting Grimms’ fairytales, then you are probably unfamiliar with the work of its creator Shaun Tan. But if you love Tan’s work, then you will adore this amazing offering.

Tan created sculpture images to accompany a collection of Grimms’ fairy tales edited by Phillip Pullman, and The Singing Bones presents these images plus more, each accompanied by a short extract from the relevant fairytale. The sculptures, created with paper-mache and clay and coloured with acrylics, oxidised metal powder, wax and shoe-polish and could well be the relics from an archaeological dig, an effect Tan was hoping to create. Some are whimsical, others are frightening, but all are breathtaking. Readers who may be unfamiliar with the tales will probably be keen to go and find them for themselves, but in the meantime , a back-of-book index gives a precis of each tale.

A wonderful collectors’ item suitable for all ages.

The Singing Bones, by Shaun Tan with a foreword by Philip Pullman
Allen & Unwin, 2015
ISBN 9781760111038

The Lake House, by Kate Morton

9781742376516.jpgThere. It was done.
It crossed her mind that she should say something before she left this lonely place. Something about the death of innocence, the deep remorse that would follow her always; but she didn’t. The inclination made her feel ashamed.

It is 1933 and sixteen year old Alice Edevane is blissfully happy. She has just finished writing her first mystery novel, and she is secretly in love. As her family prepares for their annual Midsummer-Eve party, Alice prepares to offer both the manuscript and herself to Tom, the object of her affections. But not only are her hopes dashed, but something far bigger, far more terrible, will befall the family before the night it out.

Seventy years later, Detective Sadie Sparrow finds herself taking enforced leave after getting too involved with a case. Staying with her much-loved grandfather in Cornwall helps to fill the time. When she stumbles across an abandoned house in the woods, she uncovers the mystery of a baby boy who disappeared without a trace in 1933. Her interest aroused, she becomes determined to solve the mystery.

When Alice Edevane, now elderly and a successful author of detective novels, learns of Sadie’s interest in the case, she it first resistant to having the case reopened. But perhaps together they can uncover the truth and bring closure to the past.

The Lake House is a well-woven story of mystery, heartache and love. While the mystery creates a link across the seventy years, so too do themes of motherhood, loss, and dealing with trauma. Alice’s father is, unbeknownst to his children, suffering from his time at World War 1, and Sadie is haunted by having given a baby up for adoption at the age of sixteen. Other characters, too, have traumas of their own – including Sadie’s grandfather, who has recently lost his wife, and the Edevane’s family friend Mr Llewellyn who gave up practicing medicine and suffered a breakdown.

The narrative unfolds through the viewpoints of Sadie, Alice and Alice’s mother, Eleanor, with dates at the beginning of each chapter helping the reader to keep track and to gradually build a picture of both the events of the baby’s disappearance as well as those that lead up to it . These three female leads are complemented with a broad support cast, including Bertie, Sadie’s grandfather, Alice’s sister Deborah, the mysterious Ben Munro and Alice’s assistant, Peter.

At 591 pages, this is a big volume, but the length is justified by the beautiful writing and the complexity of the plot.

The Lake House, by Kate Morton
Allen & Unwin, 2015
ISBN 9781742376516

George the Bilby Chef and the Raspberry Muffin Surprise, by Jedda Robaard

George was so happy that he started to sing one of his made up songs:
‘Raspberry, raspberry, red and sweet,
How very lovely you are to eat!’

George the Bilby loves to cook, so when his friend Betty Echidna’s birthday arrives, George wants to make her something special: Raspberry Muffins. But he needs some help from his friends to find the raspberries, pick them and get them home. Finally he can bake the muffins ready for the party.

George the Bilby Chef and the Raspberry Muffin Surprise is the first in a new series from author-illustrator Jedda Robaard. With a cast of Aussie animals rendered in sweet pastel tones, and a collectible recipe card for the muffins which George bakes in the book, as well as gentle message about cooperation and sharing, this hard cover offering will be loved kids and parents.

George the Bilby Chef and the Raspberry Muffin Surprise, by Jedda Robaard
Five Mile Press, 2016
ISBN 9781760067113

The Pocket Dogs and the Lost Kitten, by Margaret Wild & Stephen Michael King

But one day they noticed that Mr Pockets was spending a lot of time playing with the kitten.
He laughed when she sat on his head.
He laughed when she scampered away with his ball of wool.
He laughed when she tip-toed around the bath.
And he looked contented when she fell asleep on his chest.

Biff and Buff love living with Mr Pockets – and riding in the pockets of his very big coat. But when a lost kitten arrives on their doorstep, they are at first concerned and help to look after the kitten. Until they notice how much Mr Pockets loves the kitten, and start to worry that Mr Pockets might neglect them. When clever Mr Pockets realises this, he reassures them, but in the meantime the kitten has run away, and it’s up to the Pocket Dogs to get her to come back.

ThePocket Dogs and the Lost Kitten is the third wonderful story featuring the wise and whimsical Mr Pockets and his two adorable canine companions. It is a tale about companionship, and friendship and, of course, the idea that there is no limit on how many people (or animals) a person can love. It could also be used as preparation for the arrival of a new sibling. Mostly, though, it is a joyous book about a man and his animal companions.

With the whimsy and quirky detail of the previous books, the illustrations, in ink and pencil, are divine.

The Pocket Dogs and the Lost Kitten, by Margaret Wild & Stephen Michael King
Scholastic, 2016
ISBN 9781742991054

Wildlight, by Robyn Mundy

Wildlight - Robyn MundyBelow, a limp windsock gave way to a clearing in the bush that looked too small for a landing pad. The blue nose of a vehicle peeked through the trees. The helicopter hovered, swayed its hips. They inched lower, the pilot peering through the side window. He manoeuvred the throttle as lightly as a computer mouse. They were even with the treetops, now they were below them. Steph read a painted sign: MAATSUYKER ISLAND. A soft thud, a bounce, the kiss of solid earth, an exhalation as the rotors lowered pitch. They were down, they were safe.

Steph is not thrilled to be coming to Maatsuyker Island. She’s sixteen and supposed to be in her last year of school. Instead her parents have brought her to this remote outpost off the coast of Tasmania to act as caretakers of the island and its lighthouse. They hope that their time there, largely cut off from the outside world, will help the family to heal from the tragic loss of Steph’s twin brother.

Angry and resentful at being on the island, Steph drifts, her studies losing importance and her plan to become a doctor seeming unlikely. Meeting Tom Forrest, a deckhand on a cray fishing boat which visits the island, provides a welcome distraction. 19 year old Tom has problems of his own. He doesn’t want to be deckhand all his life, but his manipulative brother isn’t keen to let him leave. In the meantime, he’s fishing illegally, making Tom party to his behaviour. As the teens grow close, they dream of a life back on the mainland. When Tom goes missing, Steph is devastated.

Wildlight is a haunting, beautiful coming of age tale about first love, set amongst the wilderness in a way that makes the setting almost a character. With most of the book set in 1999, the use of a prologue and concluding chapters set in 2015 shows the impact the teen year events have on the adult lives of the characters.

Mundy’s poetic style and well-developed characters take the reader on an emotion-filled journey.


Wildlight, by Robyn Mundy
Picador, 2016
ISBN 9781743537909

Zeroes, by Scott Westerfield, Margo Lanagan and Deborah Biancotti

9781925266955.jpg‘You part of that scene?’ The Craig hooked a thumb over his shoulder, back at Ivy Street.
Than answered for himself, without the voice. ‘Me? Not really. Too loud.’
‘Yeah, I hate doof-doof music.’ Craig drummed on the steering wheel, hissing like a techno high hat. ‘No wonder they all have to get high. Well, the Craig is here to help with that.’
Ethan didn’t answer, just glanced over his shoulder at the duffel bag in the backseat. The Ford’s windows were open, letting in lashes of wind that set the green vinyl of the bag shimmering.
‘Relax, kid,’ the Craig said. ‘The stuff stays in the club. We just move the profits.’

Ethan has a super power: when he wants something, a voice comes from inside him and says all the right things to make it happen. This is how, when he needs a lift home, he finds himself in a car couriering the proceeds of drug deals. When he realises the situation he’s in, he panics, and ends up stealing the car along with the cash. Soon he’s in a whole lot more trouble.

Ethan (his friends call him Scam) is not the only teen with a super power. There are five other teens, each with a different power. From being so forgettable he may as well be invisible (Anonymous), to being able to get a crowd onside (Mob) and being able to see through other people’s eyes in spite of being blind (Flicker), what the six have in common is that they were all born in the year 2000. They call themselves the Zeroes, an ironic take on Heroes, because they’re not super-heroes, in spite of their extraordinary powers. They are fairly ordinary teens who have found each other because of their powers, and try to work together, when they can get along, to figure out what they can do with those powers. When Ethan’s theft starts a big chain of events even his sweet-talking can’t fix, the six must combine their efforts to help him, and others who are affected.

Zeroes is a fast-moving, fascinating new take on the notion of super powers, with a focus on their limitations and the difficulties of being ‘blessed’ with a special ability. A joint effort of three authors, the story is told through the third person viewpoint of the characters, with shifts from one to another dependent on the action. This allows each character to be well defined and adds to the interest.

Lots of action, twists and turns.

Zeroes, by Scott Westerfield, Margo Lanagan and Deborah Biancotti
Allen & Unwin, 2015
ISBN 9781925266955

Theophilus Grey and the Demon Thief, by Catherine Jinks

9781760113605.jpg‘The parish searcher!’ Mr Paxton exclaimed. He sat back on his heels, squinting at Philo with a quizzical look. ‘May I remind you, Master Grey, that the parish searcher is charged with identifying cause of death, for the bills of mortality?’
‘Aye.’ Philo knew that well enough.
‘Our unfortunate friend is not dead,’ the surgeon pointed out, ‘and therefore has no need of a parish searcher.’ Jumping to his feet, he added, ‘We must take him to the workhouse infirmary. Come. ‘Tis close enough.’

As Theophilus (Philo) Grey guides a new client, Mr Paxton, home, they come across the unconscious form of Jemmy Jukes. Paxton, a doctor, insists on getting help for the man, in spite of Philo’s misgivings. In the days that follow more thieves and rogues start dropping without any sign of injury or illness, and Philo and others suspect some kind of faery demon is at work. With the help of his friends – a team of fellow linkboys – and Mr Paxton, Philo is determined to uncover the truth.

Theophilus Grey and the Demon Thief is an intriguing tale set in the back streets and alleyways of Georgian London. Theo is a linkboy – making his living from guiding people home with a lit torch – and heads a team of boys who do the same, under the control of a shady, house-bound master, who uses them both to raise money and to collect information for him. The mystery of what is causing the mysterious collapse of men like Jemmy Jukes, as well as a sudden swell of crime are what drives the story, but there is additional interest from the workings and interactions of the team.

A back of book glossary and a map of old London on the inside cover will help young readers to access this gripping story.

Theophilus Grey and the Demon Thief , by Catherine Jinks
Allen & Unwin, 2015
ISBN 9781760113605

The Natural Way of Things, by Charlotte Wood

9781760111236.jpgShe hears her own thick voice deep inside her ears when she says, ‘I need to know where I am.’ The man stands there, tall and narrow, hand still on the doorknob, surprised. He says, almost in sympathy, ‘Oh, sweetie. You need to know what you are.’

Verla and Yolanda are among ten young women who wake up from a drugged sleep not knowing where they are or why they are there. But as the day unfolds, so too does their terrible situation become clearer. They are in a prison unlike no other: in abandoned buildings on an unknown remote piece of land, surrounded by electrified fences. There is no escape, and their jailers are two men with no compassion and not much idea what they are doing. Their heads shaved, their clothes taken away and replaced with ugly, itchy uniforms, the women are to perform hard labour in a regime which is supposedly intended to reform them. Their crime? Each woman has been part of a sexual scandal with a powerful man – though these relationships were, for the most, not consensual.

The Natural Way of Things is an uncomfortable book, dealing with often shocking events playing out as part of a terrible, unfathomable injustice. But it is this discomfort which makes the book so brilliant. The readers is taken on an emotional journey through a raft of emotions including despair, denial, anger, hope and more. The characters, particularly Verla and Yolanda, are intriguing, and their developing relationships fascinating.

Exploring misogyny, corporate control, this dystopian novel is a must read for women and for men.

The Natural Way of Things
Allen & Unwin, 2015
ISBN 9781760111236

Sing a Rebel Song, by Pamela Rushby

The men seemed to be having a vote. They raised their hands. Dad came back to Mr Callan. ‘Every man here is a member of the Shearers Union,’ he said. ‘We have agreed that we can only shear under the verbal agreement of our union. If we sign your Shearing Agreement we will not be upholding the union. We’ll be blacklegs.’
The men muttered angrily among themselves. ‘We won’t sign!’ someone shouted.

Its 1891, and Maggie McAllister, whose dad is a shearer, gets a firsthand experience of one Australia’s most dramatic events: the Shearer’s Strike, where shearers fought for better pay and conditions and the pastoralists in turn tried to get them to work for less. While Maggie’s Dad and his fellow workers strike, march and protest, Maggie and her mother help to report on events and distribute notices.

But Maggie’s friends don’t all agree with the strike – or with her actions. Her friend Clara is the daughter of a wealthy farmer, and her other friend Tom needs work to help support his family. It seems that friendship doesn’t always survive. And for Maggie, witnessing the events of the strike make her aware that both sides have some valid viewpoints – and some questionable tactics.

Sing a Rebel Song is an exciting, moving account of the strike, and of the part one fictional character plays in it. It also provides an insight into Australian life in the late nineteenth century, and the birth of the union movement through an accessible story.

Rushby has a knack of making history come alive for young readers.

Sing a Rebel Song, by Pamela Rushby
Omnibus Books, 2015
ISBN 9781742991344

Mister Cassowary, by Samantha Wheeler

Mister CassowarySuddenly something big stepped out from the bushes on the road up ahead. It looked like a giant emu but with jet black feathers and a long blue neck. It’s sclay legs reminded me of a dinosaur’s.
But Dad was looking in the rear vision mirror at the jetty.
The creature ran out onto the bitumen.

Flynn has never visited his Grandad Barney’s banana plantation, and he doesn’t understand why. But now Grandad has died, and Flynn and Dad are on their way to clean it up, ready for sale. On the way, Flynn’s first encounter with a cassowary is when one runs out in front of their car, but it isn’t long before he discovers that his grandfather was passionate about protecting the big birds. His dad, on the other hand, hates them – and seems to be scared of them. As Flynn tries to find out what happened to Grandad Barney and what this has to do with Dad’s fear, he discovers two orphaned baby cassowaries and becomes their secret protector.
Mister Cassowary is a moving adventure story. Flynn and his dad’s relationship is good, but because Dad works away, they don’t know each other as well as either would like. This adds to the story, with tension between them as Flynn tries to convince his dad not to be overprotective and to be honest with him about the past.
Readers will enjoy learning about cassowaries through the story and through back of book facts about this unusual bird.
Mister Cassowary, by Samantha Wheeler
UQP, 2015
ISBN 9780702253881