Mr Romanov’s Garden in the Sky, by Robert Newton

The red wrapping was secured with a long strap of sticky tape. I dug a nail in under a corner and as i peeled it off, the paper tore down the middle and uncovered my present inside.
‘Is Surfing Paradise, Miss Lexie.’
I lifted the snow dome up for a closer look and saw a mum and dad and a kid making sandcastles in the sand.
‘It’s perfect,’ I said. ‘It’s the best present I ever got.’

Lexie’s dad always promised her that one day they would go to Surfer’s paradise. Now that he’s gone, Lexie dreams of the day she will still get there. But living in the commission with her mostly absent mother, Surfer’s Paradise seems a long way away. Then Lexie witnesses something shocking and finds herself befriending a man everyone calls Creeper. Lexie and her friend Davey help the man they soon learn is called Mr Romanov and together the three set off on a journey that will change their lives.

Mr Romanov’s Garden in the Sky is a moving tale of an unlikely friendship. With some quite shocking scenes and a range of issues, including drug abuse, bereavement and dementia, the story could be overwhelming, but a blend of humour, action and empathy makes for a satisfying blend for younger teens.

Mr Romanov’s Garden in the Sky, by Robert Newton
Penguin Books, 2017
ISBN 9780143309307

Daughter of Mine, by Fiona Lowe

It was a family to be proud of, and throughout the one hundred and seventy-five years since the Mannering brothers had crossed the Moorabool River, there’d always been at least one branch of the family living in Billaware. It gave Harriet a reassuring sense of tradition and a great deal of family pride.

Harriet Chirnwell’s life is perfect – which is how she always planned it to be. Descended from the Mannering family, who pioneered the farming district,  with a successful career as a surgeon, an equally successful husband and a daughter who will follow in her footsteps, life could hardly be better. Her sister Xara  has a more chaotic life, married to a farmer, and with a severely disabled daughter and twin sons. A third sister, Georgie, lives in Melbourne, where her busy teaching job leaves her little time to mourn the loss of her still born baby.

But life for all three gets a whole lot more complicated when their mother, a year after their father’s sudden death, turns up to a birthday party with a strange man on her arm. Edwina has always been reserved and very very proper. Now she is glowing with happiness, and happy to cause scandal. But soon, her scandal is overshadowed by an even bigger one.  the lives of the Chirnwell sisters are thrown into turmoil as revelation after revelation shakes their lives.

Daughter of Mine  is a story of family secrets, mothers, daughters and sisters set in rural Victoria and crossing generations.  With complex issues explored, there are many highs and lows, but ultimately this a moving story of the bonds between sisters.

Daughter of Mine , by Fiona Lowe
Harlequin, 2017
ISBN 9781489220349

Before You Forget by Julia Lawrinson

Someone yelling wakes me up. I have no idea what time it is. I jump out of bed and head for the kitchen. I almost collide with Mum, who’s also coming out of her room.
‘Go back to bed,’ she whispers.
I don’t Dad is standing in the middle of the kitchen. The fluorescent light is on and he’s in his undies. They bag a little around his arse. He’s pointing at the clock.
‘I’ve got to go to work!’ he’s yelling. ‘Why didn’t you wake me up?’
‘Honey,’ Mum says, ‘you don’t need to go to work yet.’
‘Don’t lie to me!’ he roars. ‘I’m supposed to be there!’
‘Honey,’ Mum repeats soothingly. ‘It’s three o’clock in the morning. You go back to bed and it’ll be time to go in another few hours.’
‘Why are you doing this to me?’ he yells. ‘What am I doing here? What is this? Who do you think you are?’

Amelia is in Year 12, trying to impress her art teacher, navigating an increasingly unpredictable home life, and trying to work out what’s going on with her friends, particularly her closest friend, Gemma. Her dad is changing, forgetful, angrier more often. Her mum has her own adjustments to make. To Amelia, it’s as though everything she has ever known is changing. And she’s not quite sure what to do. But the days pass, whether or not she wants them to. In the growing chaos and confusion, Amelia begins to work out who she is.

Everyone says Year 12 is big, but no one could have predicted Amelia’s year. It’s not just the work, or growing up. It’s like someone threw her into a tornado and all she can see is a blur. Relationships are at the heart of ‘Before You Forget’, those with family and with old friends and new. ‘Before You Forget’ becomes the song of change, of evolving, of reality. Amelia’s art practice, her struggle to communicate via canvas is a metaphor for her struggle to navigate and understand her changing world. Recommended for mid- to upper-secondary readers.

Before You Forget, Julia Lawrinson
Penguin 2017
ISVN: 9780143574071

review by Claire Saxby, Children’s author and bookseller
www.clairesaxby.com

Looking for Rose Patterson by Jennifer Gall

Who was Rose Paterson?
Most readers will be introduced to Rose Paterson by reading the poems and stories written by her son, Barty, better known to the world as Andrew Barton ‘Banjo’ Paterson. But so subtle are the references that readers may not realise they have made her acquaintance. She is there in Banjo’s turn of phrase, his sense of humour, his resilient spirit and in some rare direct references to her as she was in his childhood. But Rose Paterson, in a series of little-known letters written to her younger sister, Nora, provided her own account of her life.

Meet Rose Paterson, mother of A B ‘Banjo’ Paterson. ‘Looking for Rose Paterson’ chronicles Rose’s life as daughter, sister, wife and mother. It also examines the life of a farmer’s wife in a time very different to now. Rose’s letters to her younger sister reveal a world of challenge, from the regular and protracted absences of her husband, to the isolation and inadequacies of her home. Yet she managed to retain a sense of humour, raise and educate her children. She also kept in touch with her family and friends, even when poverty dictated that she cross-write her letters. ‘Looking for Rose Paterson’ includes photos, letters, posters and extracts from Paterson’s poetry.

Looking for Rose Paterson’ is much more than a story of an individual life, though it is that too. It’s a rich portrait of a colonial world, with a focus on the often invisible women who helped shape it. In addition, it chronicles the world that nurtured Banjo Paterson and set the foundations for his writing. Rose’s letters offer an intimate peek into matters personal and domestic, while other elements reflect on childbirth, education, women’s rights and more. ‘Looking for Rose Paterson’ is a fascinating read, a chocolate box of delights for anyone interested in Rose herself and in learning about the lives of colonial women. Highly recommended.

Looking for Rose Paterson, Jennifer Gall
NLA Publishing 2017
ISBN: 9780642278920

review by Claire Saxby, Children’s author and bookseller
www.clairesaxby.com

Tarin of the Mammoths: The Exile, by Jo Sandhu

‘Weakling child,’ Maija said. ‘He will never be the man Kalle is.’
Tarin clenched his teeth. All his life he had heard people mutter and wonder aloud: How coudl Kalle and Aila, the two strong leaders of Mammoth clan, have such a weak, sickly son? It must be the bad Spirits…

Tarin’s father is the clan leader and Tarin longs to be a brave hunter, just like him. But Tarin is sickly and has a deformed leg, and people either fear him or pity him. So, when he is responsible for scaring the mammoths away, leaving the clan with no food for the winter, Tarin volunteers to carry an offering to the Earth Mother so that she may change their fortunes.Soon he is travelling alone across wild, unknown lands, facing his fears and pushing his body and mind to their limits.

Kaija and Luuka are travelling too, forced to flee when illness ravages their clan and they and their healer mother are at risk of being blamed. When their new clan grows to include two wolf cubs, and both twins are seriously injured, Tarin must reach inside himself for answers and strength to continue on.

The Exile is the first in a brilliant new fantasy trilogy for younger readers, set in an imaginary Scandinavian land thirty million years ago. Readers will enjoy this look into prehistoric lives, societies and animals, and the adventures of Tarin and his friends and will be left eagerly awaiting the next installment.

Tarin of the Mammoths: The Exile , by Jo Sandhu
Puffin Books, 2017
ISBN 9780143309376

Jinny & Cooper: My Teacher’s Big Bad Secret and Revenge of the Stone Witch, by Tania Ingram

‘Eat the carrot, Fuzzy.’
The scruffy ball of fur gave a little cough as though clearing his throat. then he looked directly at Tyrone and in a clear voice said, ‘My name is NOT Fuzzy, it’s Cooper. I don’t like carrots and if you keep poking one in my face I may be forced to do something that you will regret!’
Tyrone fell off the bed with a scream.

Jinny has always dreamt of owning a beautiful, golden guinea pig. But the pet shop owner has a deal Jinny’s mum can’t resist, and now Jinny owns the scruffiest, messiest guinea pig ever. Still, at least she has a guinea pg. But Fuzzy has a secret. He can talk – and the first thing he makes clear is that his name isn’t Fuzzy. Jinny and her brother Tyrone decide to keep Cooper’s skills a secret, but it isn’t easy when cooper’s other skills – such as invisibility – become apparent. And Cooper doesn’t always do what he’s told.Still, Jinny soon finds that having Cooper around can be very helpful when trouble turns up.

In My Teacher’s Big Bad Secret, it is Cooper who realises Jinny’s seemingly kind old teacher, Miss Bunney is actually a witch, and in Revenge of the Stone Witch, Jinny and Cooper combine to figure out what is causing the strange goings on in their neighbourhood. Both books blend fantasy, humour and action for an entertaining blend perfectly suited for middle primary aged readers.

The premise of a talking, magical guinea pig with connections to the fantastical world will leave readers eager for more adventures from Jinny and Cooper.

Jinny & Cooper: My Teacher’s Big Bad Secret
Jinny & Cooper: Revenge of the Stone Witch
both by Tania Ingram
Puffin Books, 2016

Love, Ghosts & Nose Hair and A Place Like This, by Steven Herrick

I’m a normal guy.
An average sixteen-year-old.
I think about sex, sport and nose hair.
Sex mostly.
How to do it,
how to get someone to do it with me,
who I should ask for advice.

Jack is a pretty average sixteen year old boy. He worries about sport and nose hair, and how to get a girl. But not just any girl: Annabel. He also talks to a ghost: the ghost of his mother, who died seven years ago. As he gets closer to Annabel, he wonders whether it’s time to let his mother go.

First published in 1996, Love, Ghosts & Nose Hair is a classic verse novel for young adult readers. Exploring themes of first love, bereavement and family, as well as teens coming of age, in the honest verse form for which Herrick is known. With Jack as the main viewpoint character, there are also poems from the point of view of his father, his sister Desiree and his girlfriend Annabel, just one of the facets which makes the verse novel form special. Readers are taken inside the head of these different characters with an intimacy which the verse novel form especially facilitates.

This intimacy is also seen in A Place Like This, first published in 1998 and picking up on the story of Jack and Annabel two years later. Having finished school and both successfully got places at university, the pair instead decide to take a year off to work and travel. But, closer to home than they had planned, they find themselves picking apples on a farm where another teen, Emma, is struggling with a pregnancy and her uncertain future.

This classic pair of verse novels from Australia’s finest verse novelist for young adults has been republished  by UQP,  meaning they are now easily available for a new audience, and for teens who have grown up with some of Herrick’s work for younger readers.

Love, Ghosts & Nose Hair, ISBN 9780702228780
A Place like This ISBN 9780702229848
Both by Steven Herrick
UQP, 2017

Line of Fire, by Ian Townsend

On the afternoon of Monday 18 May 1942, Richard Manson, Dickie to his family, sat in the back of an uncovered utility truck belonging to the Japanese Navy and watched the river of dust swirl and tumble away behind him.
He might have imagined, as 11-year-old boys sometimes do, that the road was moving and he was not, and that if he jumped it would carry him away to the mountains, where no-one would find him.
Last chance, then for this story to end differently.
His mother, Marjorie, took his hand and wouldn’t let go

In 1942, in the midst of world War 2, five Australian civilians were captured by Japanese soldiers and later driven to a pit at the base of a volcano and executed as spies. The civilians included a woman, her brother, husband and friend – and her 11 year old son. How did a child end up in such a situation? And why did even his family not know the full story?

Line of Fire traces the stories of the five civilians, with particular focus on the stories of Marjorie Manson and her son Dickie, detailing the events that lead to them being in Rabaul and, ultimately, executed. Using a combination of documents research, visits to Rabaul, interviews of the few people still alive with memories of the events, and some guesswork, the story is pieced together in a a work that will both appall and fascinate history buffs.

Compelling reading.

Line of Fire, by Ian Townsend
Fourth Estate, 2017
ISBN 9781460750926

Police at the Station and They Don’t Look Friendly, by Adrian Mckinty

The wood is an ancient one, a relic of the vast Holocene forest that once covered all of Ireland but which now has almost completely gone. Huge oaks half a millennium old; tangled, many-limbed  hawthorns; red-barked horse chestnuts.
“i don’t like it,” the man behind the man with the gun says.
“Just put up with it, my feet are getting wet too,” the man with the gun replies.
“It’s not just that. It’s those bloody trees. I can hardly see any-thing. i don’t like it. It’s spooky,
so it is.”
“Ach, ya great girl ya, pull yourself together.”

It’s 1988 and Belfast is besieged by troubles. So on one is surprised when a drug dealer is murdered, and once the initial interest has passed, no one would be surprised if it was never solved. But Detective Inspector Sean Duffy isn’t one to give up. There is something about this case that means he just can’t let it go – even when he finds his career, his marriage and, finally, his life threatened.

Police at the Station and They Don’t Look Friendly is the seventh title featuring Sean Duffy, a stubborn detective who works hard, but also drinks before lunchtime, smokes at every opportunity, and isn’t afraid to break the rules in the quest for right. The setting of the stories – in a Belfast in the midst of ‘the troubles‘ – is both interesting and increases the drama, with physical threat an ever-present reality for a policeman, especially a Catholic one such as Duffy.

Acton packed, with a touch of humour.

Police at the Station and They Don’t Look Friendly, by Adrian McKinty
Serpent’s Tail, 2017
ISBN 9781781256923

The Mother’s Promise, by Sally Hepworth

If she’d felt a jolt earlier, this was a canon, blowing a giant hole right through her. Cancer. Had they used that word earlier? She didn’t remember it.
Apparently appeased by her expression – finally the reaction they’d been waiting for – the doctor began to explain it all again, a third or maybe fourth time. Once again, Alice zoned out. because she couldn’t have cancer. She was barely forty, she ate well, exercised occasionally. More importantly, she couldn’t have cancer. She had Zoe.

Since Zoe was born, it has always been just her and Alice. And that’s the way they have both preferred it. Alice has never shared the story of Zoe’s conception, sure that she is enough for Zoe. And for Zoe, who lives with crippling social anxiety, Alice is enough for her. So, when Alice is told she has cancer, her first thought is for Zoe. Who will be there for her daughter? With her parents both dead, and her only remaining relative, her brother, a hopeless alcoholic, Alice reaches out to women newly in her life – her oncology nurse, Kate, and her social worker, Sonja. the three women have more in common than they could ever realise.

The Mother’s Promise is a moving story of strength, friendship and love. While Alice deals with her own battle, each of her two unlikely new friends also has her own private battle to face. At the same time her daughter, Zoe, must deal both with her mother’s illness and with her anxiety and its consequences.

Though the subject matter could make this grim, the story is both warmly and compellingly told.

The Mother’s Promise, by Sally Hepworth
Pan Macmillan, 2017
ISBN 9781925479959