Starry Nights

Jess was happy living at Avalon, their old home by the bay, but now they’ve moved and something is wrong with their new house. Since they’ve moved, her sister Vida is wild and furious and believes in strange magic. Her brother Clem hasn’t even got around to unpacking and their mum doesn’t get out of bed – instead lying sick and silent in her bedroom upstairs.

Soon Jess realises something even more disconcerting. Someone is following her – running after her don the street, waiting out in the garden in night. But whoever this someone is, they seem to be invisible – Jess hears them more than sees them, catching only glimpses of a blue hem and a pair of legs.

But who can Jess turn to for help? Her father is busy working and caring for her mother, Clem doesn’t seem to be around and she daren’t tell Vida. Vida is already worried enough about all sorts of things, dragging Jess to seances and begging her to part in elaborate rituals to solve her problems. Of course her mother can’t help, lying cocooned in her bed. Jess may have to solve this mystery herself.

Starry Nights, by Judith Clarke, is a haunting mystery of a family caught in a twilight zone. Teenage readers will find themselves unable to put the book down and will find the ending satisfying. Judith Clarke has a long history of producing quality novels for young adult readers, including Friend of My Heart, Night Train and Wolf on the Fold, Winner of the 2001 Children’s Book of the Year for Older Readers.

Starry Nights, by Judith Clarke
Allen & Unwin, 2001.

A Taste

These last few months, Vida had started believing in all kinds of strange things she’d have laughed about when they lived back at Avalon. She’d tried every spell she could find in the dusty old books she brought home from op shops and garage sales; none of them ever worked and it was awful watching her try. Last Friday night when the moon was full Vida had run out into the garden, right down to the place where the big fir tree grew. From the window Jess had watched her sister walking around it backwards …

The Artist is a Thief

Jean-Loup’s task seems simple. A Melbourne-based financial advisor, he has been sent by ATSIC to Mission Hole Community to conduct an audit of its art centre. But Jean-Loup soon realises that nothing in this community is as simple as it appears.

The community’s most noted artist is Margaret Thatcher Gandarrway, whose works have achieved international recognition and attracted high prices. But something disturbing has happened. At the unveiling of her latest painting, the picture was found slashed and with the words “the artist is a thief” scrawled across it. The shock of this act and the implications of the message has sent shock waves around the art community. Is Margaret Thatcher Gandarrway a thief? And what exactly is it she has stolen?

When Jean-Loup Wild arrives at the community to investigate the running of the arts centre and to try to reinstate its credibility following these events, he meets with unexpected obstacles and opposition. On his first night in the community he comes across the murdered corpse of the person most likely to help in his investigation. No one else in the community even wants to talk to him, let alone help him.

Not only is the investigation proving difficult, but Jean-Loup has to face personal conflicts as well. he has a personal link to the community – his mysterious older sister Duchess whose history he would like to trace and who is partially the reason for his accepting this job. He also finds himself increasingly attracted to Petra, the beautiful Aboriginal woman who helps him in his investigations.

As he confronts his past, Jean-Loup must also confront the present. He must try to unravel the mystery of the murder, the elusive Margaret Thatcher Gandarrway, and the message on the painting, whilst working on a playing field where everyone but him seems to know the rules. Whilst piecing together the puzzle he gets to know himself and the society in which he live son a more intimate level than ever before.

The Artist is a Thief, winner of the The Australian/Vogel Literary Award, is a philosophical detective novel with a difference, sure to provoke thought as it entertains.

The Artist is a Thief, by Stephen Gray
Allen & Unwin, 2001.

Writing From Start to Finish

Writing should be an easy process – pick up a pen, come up with something to write about – and write. Unfortunately, it isn’t always that easy. If you find yourself regularly staring at a blank page wondering just what it is you should be writing, then Writing From Start to Finish is for you.

Award winning write Kate Grenville shares her method for dealing with writing tasks – the Six-Step Method. Through the use of exercises, examples and explanations, she guides readers through the application of the six steps for both imaginative writing assignments and essay assignments.

The book would make an excellent text for high school or university English and writing classes but would also be an excellent personal resource for any writer’s home library.

Kate Grenville is one of Australia’s best known writers, having published six novels, and winning the Orange Prize for Fiction for The Idea of Perfection. Her other book for writers, the Writing Book, is an outstanding resource for both novice and professional writers.

Writing From Start to Finish, by Kate Grenville
Allen & Unwin, 2001

Boys' Stuff

Being a boy is not always easy. Understanding boys can also be difficult – for parents, for teachers and for girls. In Boys’ Stuff, Wayne Martino and Maria Pallotta-Chiarolli explore some of the complex aspects of boys’ lives – sex, drugs, expectations, relationships, family, school and more.

Rather than telling us about boys’ experiences, the book shows them, with quotes contributed by boys from around Australia. With the ages of contributors ranging from pre-teen to adult, and with widely differing backgrounds, a vast range of attitudes and experiences are explored on subjects ranging from physical appearances, to succeeding at school, drugs and smoking and emotions.

As well as first person commentary, contributions include outstanding poetry, short stories, photographs and drawings. Whilst editorial commentary is kept to a minimum, readers are asked to stop and consider their own stance at appropriate junctures with questions for discussion and/or reflection.

Boys’ Stuff provides excellent class study material for both boys and girls but is also an excellent source of insight for parents and educators of teenage boys.

Boys’ Stuff, by Wayne Martino and Maria Pallotta-Chiarolli (eds)
Allen and Unwin, 2001

The Water Underneath, by Kate Lyons

When a young woman and her baby go missing, gossip abounds in the small mining town where she lives. Twenty years later, the local lake yields human bones. The woman’s daughter, Ruth, returns to the town of her birth, ostensibly to see her dying Uncle Frank. He has carried secrets through those two decades which have rendered him a shadow of the man he once was.

The Water Underneath, by Kate Lyons, is a superb piece of literature. Its style, coupled with its water and journeying motifs, lend it satisfactory tones of Margaret Atwood’s Surfacing. The gripping mystery of the disappearance and the family’s history is seen through the eyes of three women of different generations who, while not close, share the common bond of their love for Frank, the man at the head of the family.

The Water Underneath, Lyons’ first novel, was a deserving runner-up in the 1999 The Australian/Vogel Literary Award. It paints a vivid picture of the town and countryside in which it is set – both the physical surrounds and the social backdrop to the tale – at the same time exploring some of the issues which have divided Australian society.

This is a story which will grip you with its mystery and its believability from start to finish.

The Water Underneath, by Kate Lyons
Published by Allen & Unwin, 2001

Man Bites Dog, by Adam Ford

When Steven crosses the imaginary line between university and the real world, he decides he’d better get a job. He winds up as a postie, which he figures is just as good as anything else. When he’s not delivering mail, he drinks with his mates, goes to see his new friend Wayne presenting performance poetry and draws comic strips for his friend Gina’s zine. Together he and Gina go undercover to get rid of bad punctuation and to locate the guy who puts cool red stckers all over the city.

Complications enter Steven’s life in two forms – a doberman he calls Satan and a girl called Emma. Satan torments him as he tries to complete his mail deliveries, until he dies suddenly and mysteriously. Emma torments him other ways. She is Stevene’s first older woman and also the first girl he’s had to chase.

It also seems Emma’s getting in the way of Steven’s friendship with Gina. Will he have to choose between friendship and sex?

Man Bites Dog is a comic and quirky urban detective novel about life, love and responsibility. It seems especially likely to appeal to young twenty somethings living in Melbourne, who may well recognise themselves in some of the vast range of characters.

Quirky.

Man Bites Dog, by Adam Ford
Allen & Unwin, 2003