Summer Skin, by Kirsty Eagar

9781925266924.jpgJess froze. There was a guy. Watching her. Well, technically, he was watching her arse – of all the times to be wearing cut-offs. Worse, the guy in question was probably that guy. She didn’t know what to do, so she did nothing, just stayed in position, her heart racing like a mad thing. Absurdly, she identified LOLO BX playing on the radio and was glad they were getting airplay.
But then he said, ‘Can I help you there?’
Jess turned to look at the speaker, feeling woozy as the blood drained from her head. It was Blondie, all right…

Jess and her friends hate the jocks from Knights College, especially the ones who shamed Jess’s best friend. This year she is out for revenge, and she has a plan. But her target – Blondie, also known as Mitch – might be a little more than she’s bargained for. He’s gorgeous, but he’s arrogant, cold, and has some pretty big chips on his rugby-playing shoulders.

As sworn enemies, Jess and Mitch should have nothing in coming – but they’re both vulnerable, and they’re both searching for something, even though they know that thing does not involve a relationship. So, if they agree to some occasional get togethers with no strings attached, nobody’s going to get hurt. Or are they?

Set in the world of university residential colleges, Summer Skin is, in part, a romance, but it’s anything but typical. Jess is a clever, resourceful girl with a strong group of friends, who knows what she wants in mo0st areas of her life. Mitch is, on the surface, a sexist pig, but it doesn’t take long to realise that he’s hurting and flawed. Both have plenty to learn about the opposite sex, and about relationships, but, perhaps mostly, about themselves.

An outstanding new adult read.

Summer Skin, by Kirsty Eager
Allen & Unwin, 2016
ISBN 9781925266924

Mercy Street, by Tess Evans he steps out under the dome of stars, he finds a prayer on his lips – not a prayer to a distant god, but a prayer wholly domestic, wholly earthbound.
Don’t let them take her away…I couldn’t bear it.

After a long and happy marriage, George’s life has changed since his wife Penny’s death three years ago. Now he lives alone, and his only friends are his old mate Redgum and his sister Shirl, who pops in regularly to check on him. He misses Pen, but he doesn’t want more friends or company. He’d rather be alone.

So when he meets single mum Angie and her daughter Rory he doesn’t want to get too close. But Angie unexpectedly saves his life, so George feels he owes her something. And Angie, who isn’t used to people being nice to her, makes the most of it. Gradually, George’s reluctant involvement blossoms into something rich and fulfilling but when he faces losing Rory, the girl he comes to love like a granddaughter, he finds himself on the wrong side of the law.

Mercy Street is a warm hearted story of an unlikely hero, dealing with themes of family, security and cross generational friendships. With a host of moving moments, there are also laughs and a wonderful depth to both the setting and the cast of the novel.

A beautiful book.

Mercy Street, by Tess Evans
Fourth Estate, an imprint of Harper Collins, 2016
ISBN 9781460751046

Echidna Jim Went for a Swim, by Phil Cummings & Laura Wood

The animals floated on the waves.
They were having a wonderful time.
Echidna Jim went for a swim.

It’s a very hot day, but the animals don’t mind. Dingo has fixed the old blue bus that used to sit in the creek – and he’s taking everyone to the beach for a swim. At the beach everyone blows up their inflatable toys and swim rings, and has a lot of fun – until Echidna Jim joins in. His spikes wreak havoc, popping the inflatables – which could be a disaster, but instead, adds to the fun as the animals whoosh around.

Echidna Jim Went for a Swim is a humorous picture book story featuring lots of favourite Australian animals, including the echidna, the wombat, a platypus, an emu, a kangaroo and more, as well as all the fun of a bus ride and a trip to the beach. With lots of golden sand and watery aquas and blues, as well as the colourful inflatables and the browns and greys of the animals themselves, the illustrations fill the pages with movement and fun.

Echidna Jim Went for a Swim, by Phil Cummings & Laura Wood
Scholastic, 2016
ISBN 9781760152994

Tiny Timmy: Soccer Superstar! by Tim Cahill

A word of advice, lad,’ Coach Roach said. ‘Practise until you can practise any more. Work on your game. You may not get any bigger, but you’ll definitely get better. Then who knows, it might not matter how big you are.’

Tiny Timmy desperately wants to make the school soccer team. He tries hard to show the coach what he can do – but he keeps getting tackled, tripped and bumped. When the team sheet goes up, Timmy is on orange duty. Coach tells him that his problem is his size – but encourages him to keep practising. So Timmy plays soccer and practises his skills at every opportunity. He also tries to figure out ways to get taller. But it is when he discovers that he has a special skill nobody knew about, that he finds a way into the team.

Soccer Superstar is the first in in the Tiny Timmy series written by Socceroos legend Tim Cahill. For young soccer fans, or anyone who loves humour and action, the story blends funny moments with sport and personal discovery. The text is accessible with good sized font and embellishments, and complemented by comic style illustrations by Heath McKenzie.

A strong start to the series.

Soccer Superstar , by Tim Cahill
Scholastic, 2015
ISBN 9781760158880

The Reluctant Jillaroo, by Kaz Delaney

9781925266061.jpgThe side of my head stung and I winced silently. But even if I’d cried out it would have been drowned out in the sea of cheers that flooded the little bus. We’d arrived, and it seemed everybody but me was delirious with excitement.
I would have sighed, but that would have meant talking a big gulp of the stale air: the way my stomach was churning, there was no way I could risk that. I needed every bit of inner calm I could muster. I was about to give the performance of my life.
And this from the kid who’d never, ever been picked for any school play.

Harper and Heidi might be identical twins but their interests are very different: Heidi loves sun, skating and surfing, while Harper is into horses and all things agricultural. But, when Heidi causes the accident that leaves Harper unable to attend jillaroo camp, the sisters decide the best course of action is for Heidi to go in her place. It’s up to Heidi to pretend to be Harper, and impress the teachers enough that Harper can win a place at her dream school.

While Harper recovers at home Heidi readies herself for ten days or horse riding, fencing, and handling cattle. And ten days of pretending not to be herself. She doesn’t count on meeting the handsome Chaz, or on one of the campers being Trent Weston – who knows the real Harper. Keeping her secret is not going to be easy.

The Reluctant Jillaroo uses the idea of a twin-swap as the premise for a satisfying blend of romance, mystery and adventure, set in rural Australia. Heidi’s attempts to fit into farm life lend lots of humour, and the growing relationship with the affable Chaz adds interest, as does a mystery about a series of mishaps and missing items.

With horses, romance and mystery, The Reluctant Jillaroo is likely to appeal to teen readers.

The Reluctant Jillaroo, by Kaz Delaney
Allen & Unwin, 2016
ISBN 9781925266061

Heather and Heath, by Sally Odgers

‘Here it is, lassie!’ he cried jubilantly. ‘The blaze – a bit o’ bark sliced awa’ wi’ a dirk!’
‘What’s to do wi’ that?’ asked Ness, cold and tired.
‘Lassie – ‘ Hector loomed out of the night and caught her out of the wagon in a giant’s hug. He gave her a smacking kiss and swung her in a circle until the stars wheeled and the world contracted about her. ‘Lassie, it means we’re home!’

When Ness McCleod arrives in Sydney Town in 1837, she is alone and penniless. An orphan, she had departed Scotland with a travelling companion to seek employment and adventure., but the death of her companion en route to Sydney has left her alone and unsure of what she should do. On the docks, she meets Hector Campbell, some years her senior, and a fellow Scot. Believing she has no other option, she hastily weds Campbell and accompanies him to Launceston and on to their new property – Glen Heather. It is there that Ness falls in love – with this beautiful property, if not with her husband.

Heather and Heath follows the trials and triumphs of three generations of women and their love for the property. Each must fight to stay there and to keep it running, and all find both joy and heartbreak. The question is, how far will each woman go to hold on to what is theirs?

Each of the three viewpoint characters – Ness (1837-39), her daughter in law Isobel (1860-1885) and Isobel’s granddaughter Alice (1913-1920) – is strong in her own way, yet distinct from the others. Readers will enjoy getting to know each woman and the Tasmanian landscape on which Glen Heather is built.

Heather and Heath, by Sally Odgers
Satalyte Publishing, 2015
ISBN 9780992558093

Monty & Me, by Louisa Bennet place a wee-mail above Legless’s ancient message. No need to sign it because every dog has a unique aroma. It’s the same wee-mail I’ve left whenever I’ve had the chance to pee. It conveys my shame. I ask one question: who killed Professor Patrick Salt? I hang my head and tuck in my tail as I plod after Rose. She’s investigating his murder, but little does she know, so am I. I failed Paddy in life and I have vowed I will not fail him in his death.

Monty the dog has just arrived at his new home. His new owner, Rose, is very caring, and Duckdown Cottage seems a nice place to live. But Monty can’t be happy here until he finds out who killed his former owner, Professor Salt. Monty was there when it happened and, even though he was injured trying to protect his owner, he still feels responsible for not doing more. He’s going to track down the killer.

Rose, meanwhile, wants to find the killer, too. She is a trainee detective, involved with the police investigation into Salt’s murder. But she has accidentally mucked up another investigation and now she’s in trouble at work. Perhaps if she can solve the Salt case, she can redeem her reputation.

Monty and Me is a mystery story with a difference: the narrator is a dog. Monty can’t speak to Rose (or other humans) but he can understand them, and read, too, and he finds ways to get his message across to Rose. He is helped by a rat, a magpie, and a lady beetle, among other animal accomplices, as well as by Rose, who comes to realise that Monty is pretty special.

Although a story from the dog’s perspective may sound like a children’s book, and the cover will certainly appeal to young readers, Monty and Me is intended for adult readers, and will most appeal to those who can suspend disbelief and enjoy the novelty.

Monty and Me, by Louisa Bennet
Avon, Harper Collins, 2015
ISBN 9780008124045

Cyclone, by Jackie French & Bruce Whatley

Outside, a giant
groans and growls.
A wind that
and howls.
A crack,
A lurch,
our house
is torn
to paper
by the storm.

On Christmas Eve in 1974, Cyclone Tracy destroyed most of the city of Darwin, with houses ripped apart and families fighting for their lives as they sought shelter. Christmas Day revealed the extent of the damage and, in the days that followed, families were separated as most were evacuated until it was safe to return. While other cyclones and storms have hit Australia before and since, the scale of Cyclone Tracy and the damage she wrought, nothing has matched the scale of that storm – with 71 people killed, 41 000 left homeless and 80 percent of the homes destroyed.

Cyclone tells the story of that night from the perspective of a child who, initially, is sure that nothing is going to spoil Christmas, until s/he is woken in the night by Dad, who ushers his family out of their disintegrating house to hide under their brick barbecue. The rhyming text gathers the momentum of the storm – starting and finishing calmly but with pace and fury in the middle, and the chaos reflected by short line breaks.
The illustrations too, match the text with brooding skies in the early spreads, lightening slightly to illuminate the chaos of the storm, then brighter in the pages that follow. The use of muted tones and washes reflects both the tone of events and the photography of the 1970s which was used as reference material.

From the team who previously produced Fire and Flood, Cyclone is another outstanding offering.

Cyclone, by Jackie French and Bruce Whatley
Scholastic, 2016
ISBN 9781743623596

Harry's Secret, by Anita Heiss

Harry takes a seat, all alone, and in one quick second, grabs a palm-sized sketchpad he’s got wedged between his jeans and stomach, and pulls a small HB pencil from behind his ear. He starts to draw quickly, nervously checking that he’s not being watched. Harry knows everyone thinks skating is cool, but he also knows that his best friends think drawing isn’t.

Harry loves hanging out with his mates – skateboarding, or camping, or swimming at the pool. But he has a secret – he also loves to draw, and is pretty good at it, too. The problem is, his mate Gav thinks art is dumb, and Harry really wants to be cool. So he draws in secret, and doesn’t tell anyone what he’s doing– until he sees an advertisement for the local art competition and knows that he has to enter it.

Harry’s Secret is an upbeat novel for junior readers. Harry and his friends are funny, warm-hearted and energetic, always on the go and looking out for each other. Harry’s dilemma is one many kids will relate to – whether it’s an artistic talent or some other hobby or ability that they fear being teased for.

Good stuff.

Harry’s Secret, by Anita Heiss
Scholastic, 2015
ISBN 9781760152024

Danny Best: Full On, by Jen Storer & Mitch Vane (ill.) creep across the grass like a MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE Secret Agent. I am silent. I leave no trail.
I pick up a stone and hurl it at the chook shed. The stone hits the tin rook with a CLANG and the chooks SQUAWK.
That’ll trick Fab.

Danny Best and his best mate Fab are playing cops and robbers. Danny is the robber, and his job is to get away from Fab for long enough to steal the treasure. But hiding under the house is a bit tricky, and policeman Fab has got back-up in the form of their other friends.

“Cops and Robbers” is one of five short stories featuring Danny and his friends in Danny Best: Full on, the first book in a new series. Danny doesn’t just think he’s the best – he knows it. And most of his adventures feature races or competitions of some sort, including obstacle courses and child-built race circuits.

Danny is a little bit full of himself (aren’t most 8 and three quarter year olds?) but is able to laugh at himself when things go wrong, and his friends have his measure. The stories are fast paced and humorous and feature cartoon-style illustrations, maps and more, including humorous quizzes after each story.

Lots to like here for primary aged readers.

Danny Best: Full on, by Jen Storer, illustrated by Mitch Vane
ABC Books, 2015
ISBN 9780733333330