Granny’s Place by Allison Paterson ill Shane McGrath

Granny and Pa’s farm was the best place in the world.

A home build long ago from mud bricks Pa made himself.

It was brimming with treasures of olden days.

Granny and Pa’s farm was the best place in the world.

A home build long ago from mud bricks Pa made himself.

It was brimming with treasures of olden days.

A child reflects on her time shared at her grandparents’ farm. Initial slightly scary elements become less scary with time, and there are plenty of adventures to be had with the animals. In all it becomes her favourite place. Until things change and she has to figure out what she really loves most. Illustrations depict a rural then urban landscape and include many elements of days gone by.

‘Granny’s Place’ is a farm, and it is full of new experiences for a small urban child. Luckily there are bigger cousins and siblings to help negotiate some of the more confronting experiences. There are plenty of elements here for grandparents to share with grandchildren and to stimulate discussions about how things can change. Recommended for pre- and early school-age.

Granny’s Place, Allison Paterson Shane McGrath
Big Sky Publishing 2016
ISBN: 9781925275636

review by Claire Saxby, Children’s author and bookseller

www.clairesaxby.com

Words in Deep Blue, by Cath Crowley

‘I feel like the universe cheated Cal, and cheated us along with him,’ I say.
Before Cal died, Mum would have explained calmly and logically that the universe is all existing matter and space, ten billion light years in diameter, consisting of galaxies and the solar system, stars and the planets. All of which simply do not have the capacity to cheat a person of anything.
Tonight she lights another cigarette. ‘It did,’ she says, and blows smoke at the stars.

Before Rachel moved away to a seaside town, she and Henry were best friends. But something more than distance came between them. Now Rachel is back in the city, but their relationship is still strained. Rachel is also mourning the terrible loss of her much-loved brother Cal, a loss she doesn’t want to tell anyone about. Henry too is mourning: the break up of a romance, his parents’ separation, and the loss of the family bookstore, which is soon to be sold.

Howling books is unlike other bookstores. As well as selling books, it also hosts a letter library, where readers can read the books, mark pages and leave letters to friends,strangers, even enemies if they wish. As they work side by side in the bookstore, Rachel and Henry look for answers in the books they read, and in each other.

Words in Deep Blue is a beautiful book. Blending a heart wrenching story of loss, with romance, friendship and the magic of the letter library creates a deeply satisfying whole. The bookshop setting is a delight for book lovers.

Words in Deep Blue, by Cath Crowley
Pan Macmillan, 2016
ISBN 9781742612386

The Other Christy, by Oliver Phommavanh

OtherCHristyMy name is Christy but nobody calls me that. I’m in the same class with another girl named Christie, so I’ve become just the other Christy, the spare Christy. Not the popular, loud one everyone likes.

Christy Ung has been on the outer ever since she arrived in Australia. Every year she is put in the same class as Christie Owen, and that makes Christy the other Christy. Christie Owen is loud and popular – but she’s also mean, especially to Christy. Christy, meanwhile, has no friends, and her classmates don’t even seem to notice her. The only people who seem to care are Auntie Mayly and Grandpa, who is really strange, and whose main passion in life is cleaning. With such a strange home life, Christy wonders if she will ever be able to make a friend.

The Other Christy is a humorous but touching story of searching for friendship an fitting in, dealing as well with issues of immigration and bereavement. Christy is being raised by her Grandfather after the death of her mother in Cambodia, and is keenly aware of the differences between her own homelife and those of her classmates. Christy is a likeable protagonist, and the resolution is satisfying.

The Other Christy, by Oliver Phommavanh
Puffin Books, 2016
ISBN9780143505723

Mercy Street, by Tess Evans

https://i.harperapps.com/covers/9781460705674/y648.pngAs 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

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.

Beautiful.

Wildlight, by Robyn Mundy
Picador, 2016
ISBN 9781743537909

Goodbye Sweetheart, by Marion Halligan

Goodbye SweetheartPeople say that a death like this, a quick death, sudden, no warning or portent, really no pain to herald it, such a death is a good death, lucky. There is even sometimes a suggestion that it is a reward, for a life well lived, for goodness, and noble behaviour. She’d said it herself in the past.

When William has a heart attack and dies suddenly, he leaves behind a loving wife, a stunned daughter. Here was a man with much to live for, a good man with a stable life. But the mourners include two former wives and two adult children. Between them they have different versions of the man they all loved and, in the days following death it emerges that there is still much about William that they didn’t know. AN unexpected mistress, who wants to be part of the mourning, pornographic images on his computer, and more. Will they find answers to their new questions?

Goodbye Sweetheart is a story about the aftermath of a death, but it also very much a novel about life, and its mysteries. The writing is superb. Each chapter is almost a short story, moving through the third person viewpoints of William at the time of his death, his various wives and children, his brother, his mistress and an elderly aunt. Readers are given fragments of William and his loved ones’ lives in a way which creates an intriguing whole.

An intimate look at grief, at family complexities and more, Goodbye Sweetheart is a book which haunts well beyond the final page.

Goodbye Sweetheart, by Marion Halligan
Allen & Unwin, 2015
ISBN 9781760111298

Available from good bookstores and online.

Are You Seeing Me? by Darren Groth

This is my nightmare. Sure, there are any number of planks in the rickety suspension bridge of our trip that could give out and send us plummeting – the flight, the road trips to Okanagan Lake and Seattle. Foreign places, foreign people. Foreign everything. And, of course, The Appointment and all of the question marks it entails. But to go wrong here? Here? At the airport? On the list of places you’d want to avoid acting out of the ordinary, the airport would rank number one with a bullet. Or maybe a taser.

Nineteen year old twins Justine and Perry have had a tough few years. Their beloved dad has died after a battle with cancer, and they are on their own. Now, as they plan to part ways for the first time in their lives, they are taking a trip together. But travelling is complicated, because Perry is autistic, and doesn’t always cope well with change. Justine has always looked after him, but there are times when even she finds it hard to get through to Perry. From their arrival at the airport she is faced with challenges, but only she knows that in Canada they are going to face what could be their biggest challenge of all.

Are You Seeing Me? is a beautiful young adult novel, dealing with themes of disability, family, loyalty and change. While it is Perry who seemingly has the hardest time dealing with change, Justine too has lessons to learn about trust and about caring for herself, even about her brother. Their journey is both physical and metaphoric, and readers will enjoy seeing the sights through Perry’s eyes, as his fascination with earthquakes, mythical sea-creatures and Jackie Chan dictate their touring schedule.

Using the alternate viewpoints of Justine and Perry, each with their own unique voice and take on the world, Are You Seeing Me? is funny, sad and touching in equal measure.

 

Are You Seeing Me?

Are You Seeing Me?, by Darren Groth
Woolshed Press, 2014
ISBN 9780857984739

Available from good bookstores and online.

Here in the Garden, by Briony Stewart

The wind is raking through the falling leaves
and I wish that you were here.

The gently lyrical opening lines of this picture book perfectly capture its essence. The narrator – illustrated as a young boy – is missing his pet rabbit. Text and illustrations follow the seasons and show the boy missing his friend with each new season, reflecting on the things they did together at that time of the year – watching clouds, sitting in the shade, listening to crickets and more. The final pages have the narrator conclude that whenever he misses his friend, he can go outside and find him – in his memories, ‘in the garden, in my heart.’

Whilst this a book about grief, it is also a celebration of friendship and of life, with the boy’s memories having a gentle poignancy. Whilst the illustrations show a boy and a rabbit, this is made clear only in the illustrations, meaning readers and adults could equally relate the text to another loss.

The muted watercolour and gouache illustrations are perfect for the mood of the text – not sombre, but gentle, and with a contrast in detail between the illustrations showing the boy alone and those showing him sharing the seasons with his rabbit. In the former, reminders of the rabbit are there in little ways that viewers will enjoy noticing – such as a rabbit shaped shadow under the boy on a swing, and rabbit motifs on a curtain.

This is a treasure of a picture book which touches the heart.

 

Here in the Garden

Here in the Garden, by Briony Stewart
UQP, 2014
ISBN 9780702250101

Available from good bookstores and online.

Intruder, by Christine Bongers

Maybe it was the creak of a worn floorboard that woke me. Or the subtle shift in air pressure as another body invaded my space. I struggled up out of a dream, confused and disoriented, squinting into the darkness.
‘Dad?’ The shadows coalesced into a human form, close enough to touch. ‘Is that you?’
‘Is he here?’ the strange voice – a man’s voice – struck my heart like a hammer.

When Kat awakes to an intruder in her bedroom, she screams, and her neighbour comes running to her aid. But Edwina, the neighbour, is almost as unwelcome in Kat’s life as the prowler, having betrayed Kat’s dying mother in the last days of her life. Now it seems Edwina is going to become a part of her life again, whether Kat likes it or not.

And there’s another unwanted guest in her house – a dog called Hercules, who is supposed to guard her in future. Kat is terrified of dogs, but given the choice between Hercules or sleeping at Edwina’s when her dad is out working, she accepts the dog as the lesser of two evils. When walking Hercules leads to her meeting Al at the dog park, Kat realises he’s not all bad, and when the prowler reveals he isn’t done with her, Kat comes to realise she might need Hercules AND Edwina on her side.

Intruder is a gripping story that takes the reader on a journey from fear, to laughter, to confusion, to angst and well beyond. There are lots of light moments, as well as feel-good ones, but the threat of a stalker-intruder hangs over the book, as do the back story of Kat’s mother’s death and the events for which Kat blames Edwina. The reader wants to know what happened and what will happen in equal measure.

Teen readers will lap this up, with the blend of mystery, suspense, angst, romance and humour satisfyingly executed.

 

Intruder

Intruder, by Chris Bongers
Woolshed Press, 2014
ISBN 9780857983763

Available from good bookstores or online.

The Eye of the Sheep, by Sofie Laguna

‘Whooooeeeeee!’ I screamed as I jumped. ‘Paaaauuuullllllaaaaaa!’ The blades or me, who was the fastest? Nobody knew! Nobody even knew! I jumped again then I ran to the fence, touched it and ran back. Dad swiped at me. Mum came running, rocking like a rowboat on the sea, down the back step and across the gravel path, towards me and the mower and my shouting dad. ‘Wheeeeeeeeee!’ I screamed as I jumped, falling against the handle of the mower, tipping it on its side so its whirring silver blades glinted in the sun. I jumped again. Dad reached for me, but he went too close, too close!

Jimmy Flick is different. He’s too much of everything – too fast, too slow, too unpredictable, and certainly too different. Only his mother, Paula, seems to be able to manage him. His big brother Robby is often absent, and his dad doesn’t know what to do with him. Paula calms him when his thoughts are too fast, and tries to explain the world to him. She also protects him from his father. But there are some things a mother can’t protect her child from and when that happens Jimmy has to find a way for himself.

The Eye of the Sheep is a novel that stuns with its plot, wrenches with its emotions and leaves you satisfied, not because the ending is perfect but because the story has been put together perfectly.

Jimmy’s first person narration takes the reader inside the confused world of a child who sees things differently, which gives some relief from subject matter which could be bleak, even overwhelming. Jimmy’s family is dysfunctional, with alcohol abuse and domestic violence part of his every day world. His take on life is heart-wrenchingly poignant and his honesty and openness to people around him mean that he always seems to have some slim sense of hope.

This is not a feel good story. It is tough and in your face, but in such a way that you’ll be glad you read it.

 

The Eye of the Sheep

The Eye of the Sheep, by Sofie Laguna
Allen & Unwin, 2014
ISBN 9781743319598

Available from good bookstores and online.