The Crystal Code, by Richard Newsome

Reviewed by Dale Harcombe

The Crystal Code

No doubt those who have been following the Billionaires series have been eagerly awaiting the newest adventure, The Crystal Code (Billionaire Series). Readers will not be disappointed. It has all the action, humour twists and turns of the other novels.

Gerald Wilkins, the world’s youngest billionaire, is all set for a great snowboarding holiday with his friends. But as we would expect, that is not quite what happens, when evil enters the scene in the guise of Sir Mason Green who has escaped from prison.

In this novel Newsome has introduced some new characters including Felicity, Gerald’s new girlfriend and a situation that does not sit well with Ruby.  And then there is Tycho Brahe, how does he fit into the picture?

It seems wherever Gerald goes danger follows. This is good, escapist fun and adventure with a snowmobile chase, fights, kidnapping, secrecy, an empty grave and a mystery as well as inventive ways Gerald and his friends have of getting out of scrapes. Unbelievable at times, yes, almost like a James Bond for pre teens, but that’s half the fun.

It has humour that is just off centre enough to appeal to children as well as a few pearls of wisdom thrown into the mix. Fans of the series will lap it up and those who haven’t read the earlier books will no doubt want to g back and read the rest. Good fun that could equally be enjoyed by anyone young at heart.


The Crystal Code

Book 4 of the Billionaire Series

By Richard Newsome

Text Publishing, 2012


RRP $16.99

ISBN  9781922079039

Hey Baby! by Corinne Fenton

Reviewed by Dale Harcombe

Hey Baby!

Occasionally a picture book comes along that is charming from start to finish. From the cute raccoons on the cover, through to the opening page with a wistful looking kitten and through the rest of the animals with their babies, this book is a delight.  The photos are gorgeous and the faces of the various creatures so expressive. You will find everything from spider monkeys and chameleons to a new born duckling, a smiling dolphin, a grinning monkey and lastly two very special pictures.

As the photographs pass though a wide array of animals, the lyrical text is simple yet conveys a lot of meaning, showing how special  and unique each baby is.  This is definitely a book to share with a precious new baby in the family.

At $18.95 this would make an inexpressive yet treasured gift for any parents of a newborn. Given the theme and text with few words this makes it suitable especially for the 0+ age range.  Highly recommended.


Hey Baby! By Corrine Fenton

Black dog Books

An imprint of Walker Books

Hardcover Picture book

RRP $18.95

ISBN 9781742032498

Bushland Lullaby, by Sally Odgers and Lisa Stewart

Reviewed by Dale Harcombe

Bushland Lullaby

Publishers often say they don’t want rhyming picture books but when they are done well as this one is, they are a delight to read. Sally Odgers has been writing books for a long time and she knows exactly what she is doing and it shows.

The language of Bushland Lullaby is rich and lyrical. Children will be introduced to some words with which they may not be familiar and that’s a good thing. Some of the verse is so picturesque. I loved the description of the creek where eddies dance with winking sun and the hushing waters by the river’s smile, where little crocodile sleeps, not to be woken and down in the bush where gum trees thrive, Where the lazy breeze brings scents alive, you’ll find baby koala. Equally as effective a description is that of the baby wombat, Burrowed into an earthy mound, In the summer day when the sun bakes down. The text takes the reader through the day in the wild red desert where the sun’s alight or the sky flings stars in a winter’s night to the ancient calm where little dingo is safe from harm and into the night of sparkling skies.

The rhyme and rhythm works perfectly. It has a gentle lilting feel while each double spread introduces Australian animals and birds. Some like the koala and wombat are well known while others not so much and that’s good.

The illustrations in their muted colours blend perfectly with the text. I liked all the illustrations but particularly the baby platypus lying on its back, the crocodiles, the penguin page, the koalas curled in the fork of the tree, and the fruit bats .The second last page is simply a gem as is the last page, yet they are both very different.

This is a delightful picture book which will no doubt please children and their adult readers. It deserves a place in many homes and libraries.

Bushland Lullaby, by Sally Odgers and Lisa Stewart
Scholastic, 2012
ISBN 9781742831770

Available from good bookstores and online.

Horizons, edited by Janette Fernando

Reviewed by Dale Harcombe

One again Poetic Christi Press has come up with an anthology that represents a cross section of poets and poetry. The striking photograph the front cover beautifully illustrates the theme of the 2010 Poetica Christi poetry contest from which these poems have been selected.

From the personal and poignant picture presented in the winning poem Earthly Ending with its subtle internal rhymes to Miriam, which gives another insight into the story of Moses found by the Pharaoh’s daughter, there is much to like about this book.  It is one I found myself dipping into again and again.

I liked the profound simplicity of To See Further, which was a highly commended entry as was City’s Edge, another highly commended poem. Backyard Horizon: Arundel Street focuses on the small and seemingly insignificant aspects of creation often overlooked. The photograph on the same page compliments it perfectly.

Like any anthology there is a little unevenness in the quality of the poems chosen, but there are still a majority of accomplished poems that resonate with the reader. Some others I particularly like were Horizons. I loved the idea of the sun and the way the poet sees it soak the city salmon pink at sundown. The wonder of a young child’s view is evident in Z in the Sky, a commended poem. But it’s not just the winning and commended poems which are worth reading. You could almost feel the rhythm of the water in Floodtide. Rained-in and But the Sun is a Stone, and The Road to the Coast were others among many favourites. However on further readings I’m sure I’ll find other favourites.


Edited by Janette Fernando

Published by Poetica Christi Press


RRP $20

A Year with Marmalade, by Alison Reynolds & Heath McKenzie

Reviewed by Dale Harcombe

A Year with Marmalade

This is a delightful picture book about friendship. Two girls Ella and Maddy are best friends. That is until Maddy has to go away for a year and asks Ella to take care of Marmalade, her cat. Both Marmalade, the cutest orange cat you could ever wish to see, and Ella are sad at the parting.

Anyone who has ever had a best friend who went away will be able to associate with the feelings conveyed. It made me think of a best friend who went away when I was young and I’m sure it will evoke similar memories in readers young and old.

Through the changing seasons which are beautifully depicted in text and illustrations, we see Ella’s feelings about the loss but then something starts to change. I’m not going to give the ending away by saying what that is, but let me say it is a satisfactory ending.

The text is simple and flows well with a great deal of expression and the illustrations compliment it perfectly. With its limited colour scheme the illustrations manage to convey so much and Marmalade is one of the most expressive cats I have ever seen (this from someone who is not a cat person. But Marmalade almost convinced me. )

Given the reasonable price for a charming hard cover picture book this is sure to find its way into many homes and schools and so it should.

A Year With Marmalade
Text by Alison Reynolds
Illustrations by Heath Mc Kenzie
Published by Five Mile Press
ISBN 9781742488806
Hardcover picture book $14.95

Available from good bookstores or online.

Truly Tan, by Jen Storer

Reviewed by Dale Harcombe

There seems to be a trend these days for spunky female characters with a slightly acerbic wit. Tan is such a character. She and her three sisters, all named after colours, her parents and an assortment of animals move to the country. A house with an attic, it sounds like a great place for keeping an eye on the neighbourhood and for Tan setting up her world headquarters with her telescope. That is if she can find anything more interesting to watch than cows.

Then Tan, Amber, Emerald and Rose meet up with Ted, hear of the dead fox curse and are welcomed into the Purple Haunt. Suddenly Tan thinks life here might get better after all, especially when Rose develops photos which Amber claims show a ghost.

Tan’s attitude and humour comes through, in the way she speaks about her sisters and toward Amber’s dog, Doodad, who wear a bow with sequins. ‘Things with sequins belong on people not dogs. You cannot respect a dog wearing sequins.’ Anyone who ever owned a Box Brownie will smile at the comments about this now antiquated item.
Truly Tan

The occasional black and white illustrations add to the humorous text. This book is sure to be a winner with girls around the 9 year old age group. A lot of fun to read.

Truly Tan, by Jen Storer, illustrated by Claire Robertson
ABC Books, 2012
ISBN 9780733331213

Available from good bookstores or online.

The Billionaire’s Curse and The Emerald Casket, by Richard Newsome

Reviewed by Dale Harcombe

The Billionaire's Curse (Billionaire Series)

In 2008 The Billionaire’s Curse was the winner of the Inaugural text prize for children’s and young adult fiction. It’s easy to see why. It is very readable with a plot that I’m sure would appeal to most young people.

What would you do if your suddenly became a billionaire? When his great aunt dies and leaves all her wealth to 13 year old Gerald, she also leaves a letter asking him to find whoever it was who murdered her. Now that he is her heir, Gerald’s life is also in danger. But he is not alone thanks to the new friends meets at the museum.

Together Gerald, Sam and Ruby set out to try and discover who stole the world’s most valuable diamond, as well as who murdered Gerald’s great aunt and is now seeking to get rid of him. The trouble for Gerald is to know who he can trust, especially among the adults.

This is a story with plenty of action, drama and suspense the humour and characters like Constable Lethbridge who scratches his bottom with a plastic fork, will have children laughing as they turn the pages.

The Emerald Casket (Billionaire Series)

The second book in this trilogy The Emerald Casket has already been published. It takes Gerald Sam and Ruby on holiday to India. There they have to save another friend Alisha, from a deadly cult. As well they hope to find the emerald casket. But of course there are those like Sir Mason Green who stand in their way.

Each of the books is very readable and action packed. Children from 8-12 years old  will lap them up.

The Billionaire’s Curse
ISBN 9781921922756
The Emerald Casket
ISBN 9781921922763
By Richard Newsome
The Text Publishing Company
Paperback RRP $19.95

Bethlehem’s Warrior Baby, by Ray Hawkins

Reviewed by Dale Harcombe

This book of 31 devotions is a little gem. It would be ideal advent project in the lead up to Christmas. Each devotion has a short bible passage or two, a meditation on the text, a prayer and a gift (read – suggestion of how it could be applied.)

There are some great ideas and images in this short book. In the  one titled someone is coming I liked the comparison  of  the coming of the Promised One coming at Christmas to a jigsaw needing all the interlocking pieces and also the idea of Christmas being God’s ‘invasion strategy’ to take back what was lost by fall in Genesis 3.

Just as interesting was the concept that ‘God can be unsettling.’ In other words God doesn’t always behave as we night ask or expect. He has His own plans and they are far better and more long- reaching than ours. It was good to have a fresh take on Abraham’s call and ‘tenacious faith’ despite his ‘high profile mistakes’.

I liked the way Ray Hawkins separated the sentimental traditions regarding Christmas, which sees nativity sets with the magi at the manger, from the few biblical facts about these mystery men.

It would be a great book to read as a family in the lead up to Christmas and could bring up lots of interesting questions or just as an individual devotional. Well worth reading at any time.


Bethlehem’s Warrior Baby

Ray Hawkins

Even before Publishing

When Louise discovers the wild brumbies roaming the mountain parklands are regularly mustered for the sales yards and many turned into pet food, she is keen to save them.

Reviewed by Hilary Smillie

Paula Boer’s first book in the Brumbies series is a gem. Her two young protagonists, Louise, recently moved to the Snowy Mountains area from town, and Ben, a local farm boy, have struck up a friendship with their common love of horses. When Louise discovers the wild brumbies roaming the mountain parklands are regularly mustered for the sales yards and many turned into pet food, she is keen to save them. The teenagers come across part of a herd and two particularly attractive brumbies capture their hearts. Louise who borrows Ben’s horses to ride, loves a buckskin mare, and dreams of owning her. Ben has his eye on a colt. They decide to hold their own muster.

Thus begins a remarkable adventure for the pair and any horselover will be enthralled by the storyline. What elevates Brumbies above the usual pony read is that not only is it set in wild mountain country with all its tough challenges, but Paula has described every detail of what riding, mustering and wild horse-taming is all about. Her experience as a horsewoman, mustering on remote cattle stations and capturing and breaking in brumbies to name a few of her talents, shines through with gripping authenticity.

Readers with little knowledge of horses will be delightfully educated and this story is bound to be a hit in schools as well as in the wider readership. Paula describes the birdlife and fauna of the Australian bush with great enthusiasm. A Glossary is included for added information.

Rowena Evans’  engaging black and white illustrations throughout the book complement the story. The cover, with its pen and wash depiction of a herd of brumbies on a background of vivid green, is very attractive.  Brumbies is a tremendous story for all ages and may even become an Aussie icon.


Brumbies by Paula Boer Illus by Rowena Evans
(IFWG Publishing) ISBN -978-0-646-56641-2 RRP $16.99
Published 2011

Allsorts: Poetry Tricks and Treats, by Andrew Lansdown

This book is aptly named as it contains all sorts of sweet delights. If you are a teacher feeling a bit lost about teaching poetry in class, or just someone who wants to learn more about the craft of poetry, you will find this book an invaluable tool.

Reviewed by Dale Harcombe

This book is aptly named as it contains all sorts of sweet delights. If you are a teacher feeling a bit lost about teaching poetry in class, or just someone who wants to learn more about the craft of poetry, you will find this book an invaluable tool.

Not only is Andrew Lansdown one of Australia’s best imagist poets, but included in the book are some personal observations about poetry, the best way to write a limerick, where ideas come from and ideas for writing poems as well as outlining different ways of writing e.g. quatrain, haiku, rhymed poem, sonnet or tanka.

Andrew explains techniques such as assonant rhyme, couplets, and alternating rhyme just to name a few and talks about ways of creating sound effects in poems using devices like onomatopoeia or rhyming tercets, and examples of using assonance, imagery or metaphor. To make it even easier for teachers and students of poetry, he has included an index which highlights each poem’s form and poetic techniques. So if you are looking for a ballad, a syllabic poem, a rhyming quatrain, sestet, or a villanelle, it points you in the right direction of examples. The index also highlights specific topics e.g. poems concerning animals, home, imagination, ocean or birds, which Andrew Lansdown is particularly fond of writing about.

Poems are arranged according to colour- the colours of liquorice allsorts. Colours are red, yellow, white, green, orange and black. Some of the poems in this collection are humorous and whimsical, like The Snaffle and There was an African Lion or The Elephant who Lost His Tail. Others are delicate snapshots.  Among my favourites are Fuchsia Wrens, Summer, The Japanese Gardener, Dressed to Kill, Genesis, Christmas Tree and Ball of Gold.

Andrew Lansdown has the knack of showing us that a poem can be about any subject even pesky mosquitoes. He provides plenty of examples to make you think differently about things or to make you laugh or smile. Wombat Books and Studio Journal are to be congratulated for collaborating to produce such a great collection of poems for children and adults to enjoy.

Allsorts: Lightt Hearted Poems for Light Hearted People

Allsorts: Poetry Tricks and Treats, by Andrew Lansdown

Wombat Books

RRP $24.95
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