Bleakboy and Hunter Stand Out in the Rain, by Steven Herrick

My name is Jesse James Jones. Call me Jesse. Don’t call me triple j. I’m not a radio station, I’m an eleven-year-old boy.
Trevor looks down on me with understanding eyes. It’s pretty tough going through life with a name that people make fun of. ‘ven though I walk through the valley of the shadow -‘
‘Mum! Jesse’s talking to himself again!’ yells my sister Beth, from the next room.
‘Jesse.’ Mum’s voice is reproachful, as though I’ve been caught doing something sinful.

Fitting in to a new school is rarely easy, and when there’s a school bully with you firmly in his sights, it’s definitely going to be difficult. Lucky for Jesse there’s also a girl called Kate who has curly black hair and a beautiful smile. While Jesse’s helping her to save the whales, he’s also trying to save starving orphans in Africa, and his family from financial ruin.

Bleakboy and Hunter Stand out in the Rain is a funny story about standing up for beliefs, friendship and fitting in. Told from the first point viewpoint of Jesse, interspersed with a third person look at Hunter’s perspective, the reader is thus able to see the complexities of the boys’ interaction as well as what is happening in each boy’s life. This adds a depth which a single viewpoint would lack.

Young readers will enjoy the silliness of scenes including Jesse’s interaction with a poster of Jesus (who he calls Trevor to appease his atheist parents) and Hunter’s ability to find sponsorship for the Save the Whales cause , whilst appreciating the poignancy of the tougher moments of the story.

Herrick is a powerful storyteller. Bleakboy and Hunter Stand out in the Rain will not disappoint.

 

Bleakboy and Hunter Stand out in the Rain, by Steven Herrick
UQP, 2014
ISBN 9780702250163

You can read an interview with Steven Herrick here.

This book is available from good bookstores or online.

The Lost Girls, by Wendy James

I am fourty-four years old. A happily married woman. I shouldn’t be with this virtual stranger, letting him run his hand down and then up my thigh. You see, in my head this is all about the past. It’s about Angie, about Rob and about Mick, too. But what if I’m wrong? What if it’s just about me? About my life now? What then?

In 1978 fourteen year old Angie goes missing, while staying with her cousins in Sydney. When she’s found, dead, police investigate and, when a second girl is murdered weeks later, it seems there’s a serial killer in action. Thirty years later a journalist turns up asking to interview the surviving members of Angie’s family, to find out how the murder impacted on the family. For Jane, who was Angie’s younger cousin, this comes at a time when her life is changing. Confronting the vents of the past is initially uncomfortable, until Jane realises it is  liberating to open up and to let go. But facing the events surrounding Angie’s death may force her to question everything she thought she believed.

The Lost Girls is a powerful exploration of confronting the past, the present and the truth. As the mystery of Angie’s death slowly unravels, the people closest to her are pushed to grow and adapt. While this isn’t always a comfortable experience, for the reader it is intriguing.

Thrilling, thought provoking and satisfying.

 

The Lost Girls

The Lost Girls, by Wendy James
Penguin, 2014
ISBN 9781921901058

Available from good bookstores and online.

Annie's Snails, by Dianne Wolfer

Annie giggles. Her pets shiver and slip back into their shells. She lines them up on her legs, sits very still and waits. The snails peep out. They stretch, then race each other to Annie’s ankles. It’s a very slow race.

Annie loves snails, so after it rains she collects six of them and keeps them as pets. She races them, she plays with them, she even gives them names. She is very happy with her pet snails. The problem is, it seems they might not be happy with her.

Annie’s Snails is a delightful story of pets, family and care for the natural world. Part of Walker Books’ ‘Walker Stories’ imprint, the book is broken into three stories, though together they make up one longer story that traces Annie’s adventures in first capturing then caring for the snails before finally deciding to release them.

Suitable for newly independent readers making the transition to books with chapters, there is illustrative support on every page in the form of gray-scale pictures by talented new-comer Gabriel Evans.

A fun offering.

Annie’s Snails , by Dianne Wolfer, illustrated by Gabriel Evans
Walker Books, 2014
ISBN 9781921720635

Available from good bookstores and online .

Grace's Table, by Sally Piper

Families were like sand dunes, Grace decided. They shifted shape and position with even the gentlest of forces. Even a tiny puff – a shrug – could bring about change, move a handful of thoughts to a new understanding, a new authority. A gale, like today’s, and whole dunes – lives and futures – were relocated, reimagined.

Grace is turning 70 and, rather than a party or a trip to a restaurant, has chosen to cook for her family and friends in her own home. It’s been a long time since she had twelve people at her table, but she’s sure she is up to the culinary challenge. She is perhaps less prepared for the play out of personalities and the memories which surface as she navigates the day. As she confronts a terrible event from her past, she comes to realise how others have been affected, and to reach new  understandings.

Grace’s Table is a heart-filled tale of growing older, confronting the past and moving forward. As Grace celebrates her milestone birthday she also examines the lives of four generations of women – her mother, herself, her adult daughter and her two granddaughters, as well as the female friends who have played a large part in her life. Food too plays a central role in the novel, with traditional dishes such as roast lamb and mint sauce and more exotic delicacies.

In parts gentle, humorous and confrontational, Grace’s Table is a finely baked story.

Grace's Table

Grace’s Table, by Sally Piper
UQP, 2014
ISBN 9780702250040

Available from good bookstores or online.

 

Ava Anne Appleton: Accidental Adventurer, by Wendy Harmer

Every now and then Ava thought about taking Angus away on a great adventure. Maybe to cross the vast, roasting African deserts in a camel train; travel the frigid Arctic Circle in a sled; or to see the wide prairies of America where the buffalo roam.
But it would be just too dangerous, she decided.

Ava Anne Appleton lives with her parents Anne and Alan, and her dog Angus, in Australia Avenue. Everything in her life is A_OK and that suits her just fine. She likes everything to be neat, orderly and predictable. Then her father surprises her by turning up in a motorhome and announcing that the family will spend a whole year living in it and travelling wherever fancy takes them. Ava is horrified. What will happen to her orderly way of doing things?

Accidental Adventurer is the first in a new series from author and comedian Wendy Harmer. Easy to read, but with plenty happening, the book will suit junior primary readers who are becoming acquainted with the novel format. Each chapter is complemented by one or two grey scale illustrations and the design of the book is visually appealing. Most importantly, though, the story is fun and engaging, leaving readers eager to see where Ava’s adventures will take her in future instalments.

 

Accidental Adventurer, by Wendy Harmer
Scholastic, 2013
ISBN 9781742838755

Available from good bookstores or online.

Davy and the Duckling, by Margaret Wild & Julie Vivas

When the baby duck hatched, the first thing it saw was Davy.
It fluffed its feathers – and started following Davy everywhere.
Around the farmyard,
under the apple trees
and all the way home.

When Dad tells Davy that the duckling thinks he’s its mother, Davy decides that’s just what he’ll be. He makes a nest for it, takes it for its first swim and cares for it. Davy and the duck are together throughout their lives.

Davy and the Duckling is a gentle, moving tale about the love between a child and his unlikely pet. As Davy grows, so too does the duck, there for all the highs and lows of Davy’s life, from losing a friend, to finishing highschool, and even to marrying . The duck ages and becomes fragile, but their friendship remains strong, and the bond is strengthened when Davy becomes a father, and the duck appears to think it is Molly’s mother.

A beautiful cycle of life story, Davy and the Duckling is brought to life with the gentle but lively illustrative work of Julie Vivas.

Delightful.

 

Book Cover:  Davy and the Duckling

Davy and the Duckling, by Margaret Wild & Julie Vivas
Penguin, 2013
ISBN 9780670075614

Available from good bookstores and online.

The First Third, by Will Kostakis

Life is made up of three parts: in THE FIRST THIRD you’re embarrassed by your family; in the second, you make a family of your own; and in the end, you just embarrass the family you’ve made.

Yiayia, Billy’s Grandmother, is ill, and she’s decided it’s time to fulfill her bucket list. But she’s stuck in hospital, so it’s up to Billy to do the things she’s asked. He has to fix his little brother – which would be easier of his brother would even speak to him. Then he needs to find his older brother a girlfriend in Sydney – which would be easier if that brother wasn’t gay and happy living in Brisbane. Lastly, he needs to find his mother a new husband – which would be easier if – well, no, it wouldn’t be easy. For whatever reason, it’s Billy’s job to glue his family back together and fulfil Yiayia’s wishes. The first third of his life has to end sometime, whether he likes it or not.

The First Third is a witty yet wise tale of a Greek-Australian family which has plenty of heartache, but is held together by Yiayia, in the last third of life intent on embarrassing everyone as much as she can while she feeds, cossets and loves. The story is a finely balanced blend of humour and heart which will have readers laughing, cheering and crying along with Billy and his family.

Excellent contemporary young adult fiction.

Book Cover: The First Third

The First Third, by Will Kostakis
Penguin, 2013
ISBN 9780143568179

Available from good bookstores or online.

Shallow Breath, by Sara Foster

WHAT WOULD YOU CHANGE?
The question begins to circle her as she hangs in the freezing dark water. The surface is only a few metres above, and she kicks her fins hard. Nothing happens. She is still trapped. Alone.

Desi Priest is coming home – but it’s not a joy filled homecoming. Two years ago she made a terrible mistake which shattered the lives of her family and that of her best friend, Rebecca. Some people are happy to see her – especially her good friend, Pete, who has been there for her for years. Others, like her daughter Maya have mixed feelings. It’s hard to forgive a mother who ahs missed so man important milestones. And others Desi is sure will not be happy to see her.

One person, though, Desi doesn’t expect to be waiting for her. There is a woman she has never met who shares a bond with Desi and with Maya. She has come seeking Desi’s help. If Desi helps her, she is risking her life and her already fragile future. If she doesn’t she may be turning her back on her beliefs, and placing Maya at risk. As she struggles with both her past and the present, Desi and her family come to grips with what has happened and face some uncomfortable truths.

Shallow Breath could easily have been an overcomplicated novel – there are seven or eight viewpoint characters, settings in five continents, and a slew of issues being addressed. But Foster draws them all together beautifully, and the switches are part of the layering of understanding which takes the reader on a journey towards understanding what has gone on and what is happening now. Several of the ke characters are animal lovers, keen to rescue or help animals including dolphins, whale sharks, elephants and kangaroos, and this is linked too to issues of domestic abuse and violence, ensuring that the various subplots link. Foster also has a keen sense of place, and West Australian readers will love the setting of Yanchep and Atlantis Marine Park both during its years of operation and now, abandoned as it is.

Shallow Breath invites breathless anticipation, building towards a shocking climax. It is a really satisfying read.

Shallow Breath

Shallow Breath, by Sara Foster
Bantam, 2013
ISBN 9781742753997

Available from good bookstores and online.

Anzac Biscuits, by Phil Cummings and Owen Swan

The fire crackled and Rachel was warm.
‘Let’s make some biscuits for Dad,’ her mother said.
‘Yes, let’s!’ Rachel cried.

Rachel and her mother are at home on the family farm in Australia. Far away (presumably, though this isn’t stated, in Europe), her father, a soldier, battles the cold, the mud and the horrors of war. As Rachel and Mum bake Anzac biscuits, they are unknowingly linked to Dad. When the biscuits are baked, they will be sent to Dad, making that link real.

Anzac Biscuits is a beautiful story of love and connection, particularly in times of war. In alternate spreads we see Rachel and her mother making the biscuits, then Dad cold and afraid on the battlefield. The actions are subtly linked – when Mother dons a flower-patterned apron, and Rachel accidentally drops a pan, Dad lies low from the banging of rifle shots in a flower-strewn field; when Rachel licks her sticky treacle fingers, Dad’s feet are sticky with mud.

Text and illustration are both simple and touching. The war scenes are are depicted in greys whilst the home scenes are warm creamy sepias and blues. The images of war focus on the harshness of the conditions and the emotions of the lonely soldiers rather than on more startling battlefield images, making the story accessible to young children.

A lovely tale, and a beautiful way of introducing both the subject of war and the history of Anzac biscuits. And, if you’re like me, you may find yourself inspired to whip up a batch of biscuits after reading.

Anzac Biscuits

Anzac Biscuits, by Phil Cummings & Owen Swan
Scholastic, 2013
ISBN 9781742833460

Available from good bookstores and online.

Finding Jasper, by Lynne Leonhardt

The floorboards were hard and uneven as she knelt beside the Saratoga. Squeezing the corroded latch, Gin carefully eased open the lid, trying to predict the treasures inside. The lining was shabby and mottled with mildew, and drifts of mustiness filled the air as she began to unearth the contents from the shrouding dust. Mostly books, she found, a few toys, and a fat-cheeked doll lying naked on top. What had she expected?

When twelve year old Gin is sent to stay with her Aunt on the family farm, she is at first scared and homesick, but her Aunt Attie proves to be a caring, interesting companion. While her mother takes a cruise holiday without her, Gin shares Attie’s quiet, but busy, life on the farm. It is here she also starts to learn about her father, Jasper, who she never met.

Finding Jasper is the tale of four women, from three generations of one family, impacted by the absence of Jasper, a son, brother, husband and father who does not return from fighting in World War II. Each woman must cope in her own way and, although they have each other, at times it seems that the only thing binding them is the absent Jasper.

Central to the story is Gin – Virginia – the baby daughter of Jasper and his English war bride Valerie. Sent to Australia to wait for Jasper’s return, the pair live first on the family farm in the South West and then, when Valerie can stand the country no longer, in Perth. Whilst Valerie moves on and remarries, Gin’s connection with her Aunt Attie, Jasper’s twin sister, provides an anchor in turbulent times. Whilst Gin is often the viewpoint character, the reader is also treated to the perspectives of Attie and Valerie and occasionally, Audrey, Attie and Jasper’s mother, and Gin’s grandmother.

Set in the 1940s, 50s and 60s, the story is not told linearly, with the novel broken into three parts set in 1956, 1945 and 1963 respectively, allowing the reader to re-evaluate what they think they know and to develop a greater understanding of each of the women’s experiences. The journey through the Western Australia of the times is also fascinating, with the South West and the Nedlands area particularly featured.

As a tale of the impact of war on families, Finding Jasper is excellent, but it is also an absorbing portrayal of time and place, and an exploration of four strong, very human, women. This is the kind of story which leaves you wanting to check up on the characters time and again.

Finding Jasper

Finding Jasper, by Lynne Leonhardt
Margaret River Press, 2012
ISBN 9780987218056

Available from good book stores or online.