The Vulture of Sommerset, by Stephen M Giles

‘NO!’ It came from the front of the house and stopped them all dead. And then…
The cry seemed to grow like a wave, rolling down the vast corridor and crashing into the kitchen. the voice was unmistakable. Time seemed to float. Fearful looks were exchanged.
‘Aunt Rosemary,’ whispered Adele.
They raced from the kitchen, her scream still ringing in their ears.

Adele, Isabella and Milo are happy living at Sommerset House, which they inherited when their evil, but wealthy, uncle died. But when their beloved Aunt Rosemary disappears mysteriously after a disastrous dinner party , their lives are thrown into chaos. Milo battles demons, and bad dreams, Isabella battles her own vanity and a maid who seems to always get wrong, and Adele battles to hold everything together and solve the mystery of her aunt’s disappearance. It will take all their combined courage and skill to overcome the odds and save Aunt Rosemary before it is too late.

The Vulture of Sommerset is a sequel to Silas and the Winterbottoms and will appeal especially to readers who have read the first title. A blend of mystery, gothic adventure and humour will satisfy upper primary readers.

The Vulture of Sommerset

The Vulture of Sommerset, by Stephen M Giles
Pan Macmillan, 2010

This book can be purchased online from Fishpond. Buying through this link supports Aussiereviews.

Henry Hoey Hobson, by Christine Bongers

She was waiting with a gaggle of mates, blocking the stairs leading back down from our classroom. Golden in the sunlight, with that curious blend of stealth and grace that marked the lion queens of the jungle. I lumbered towards the all-female pride, a wildebeest, hell-bent on his own destruction.
In nature, there were thousands of us, protected by numbers, sacrificing only the occasional member to predators that liked to feed on the weak. But here in the wildlife preserve of Perpetual Suckers, I was the only straggler. The odd one out. The one to be brought down, torn to pieces and consumed.

Henry is starting at yet another new school. And as if starting all over again wasn’t tough enough, he discovers that he is the only boy in his year level. His mother is a young real estate agent and she works long hours trying to make a living to support the two of them. Because it’s always been just the two of them. And sometimes the relationship seems less parent/child than it might be. Henry is weighed down by the challenges in this new start and then things get worse. The new next-door neighbours might just be vampires. They seem friendly enough but when the school bully sees him help carry a coffin into their house, his slim chance of fitting seems certain to vanish.

Henry Hoey Hobson, or TripleH as his mother calls him, is used to life being tough. Mum struggles to support them, he’s unusual looking, and until recently was overweight. But surely it shouldn’t be this tough. And because it’s just the two of them, he feels very responsible for his mother. Henry tells his story in first person and he’s hilarious. He has conversations with himself (who else is likely to listen?), tries to stand up to the bully at school and does tasks for the principal (better than admitting he has no friends). Themes are around trying to fit in, making mistakes, not judging others and about the different shapes families can be. This is great fun to read. Recommended for mid- to upper-primary readers.

Henry Hoey Hobson

Henry Hoey Hobson, Christine Bongers
Woolshed Press 2010
ISBN: 9781864719956

review by Claire Saxby, Children’s Author

This book can be purchased online from Fishpond. Buying through this link supports Aussiereviews.

Fire Lizard, by Sandy Fussell

Reviewed by Liam Murphy (Age 12)

This is a good adventure book about the Samurai kids meeting the Sensei’s teacher, Pak Cho so they can defeat Hyo Moon and send a warning to the governor.

The book is full of excitement and humour. It is a great story about friendship and teamwork.

Once you begin reading it is impossible to put down, as it is unpredictable what will happen next.

Samurai Kids Book 5: Fire Lizard

Samurai Kids Book 5: Fire Lizard, by Sandy Fussell
Walker Books, 2010

This book can be purchased online from Fishpond. Buying through this link supports Aussiereviews.

Where There's Smoke, by John Heffernan

‘A little old bushfire,’ Brian Smith continued. ‘Don’t get your knickers in a knot, mate. She’ll be right. The red steer’s been through here before, plenty of times. We know how to handle it. Don’t we, boys?’
A group of local men agreed loudly.
‘No, she not be right!’ Tiny shouted. ‘Not this time. You got it wrong. Already there is smoke in the air.’ He pointed at the sky. ‘What they say? Where’s there smoke…’

Luke and his Mum have been moving around for as long as Luke can remember, hiding from his violent father. In Edenville, though, Luke finally feels safe, and his mum is starting to build a new life, too. But the summer is hot and the bush is as dry as it’s ever been. Luke’s mate, old Tiny, is sure that disaster is coming, but the locals aren’t worried. They’ve seen fires before. It is up to Tiny and Luke to convince them that this time is different.

Where There’s Smoke examines two important topics – the effects of family violence and breakup, and the devastation that bushfire can wreak. Both are couched within the exploration of the way friendship and community can help both battle through tough times and heal afterwards.

Inspired by the Victorian bushfires of February 2009, Where There’s Smoke is an excellent offering.

Where There's Smoke

Where There’s Smoke, by John Heffernan
Omnibus, 2010

This book can be purchased online from Fishpond. Buying through this link supports Aussiereviews.

Alice Miranda on Holiday, by Jacqueline Harvey

Alice-Miranda Highton-Smith-Kennington-Jones said goodbye to her friends on the steps of Winchesterfield Manor.
‘Please try to be brave, Mrs Smith.’ She wrapped her arms around the cook’s waist.
‘Dear girl.’ Mrs Smith sniffled into her tissue, then fished around in her apron pocket to retrieve a small parcel wrapped in greaseproof paper. ‘Some brownies for the drive.’
‘Oh Mrs Smith, my favourites! You really are the best brownie cook in the whole world. I’ll share them with Mummy and Jacinta. You know, I was thinking you should make them for Kennington’s. I’m sure we’d sell kazillions. Imagine: Mrs Smith’s Scrumptious Melt-in-Your-Mouth Chocolate Brownies”.’ Alice-Miranda underlined the invisible words in the air. ‘Wouldn’t that be amazing – you’d be famous!’

In the first Alice-Miranda story, this tiny girl managed to change her school by the power of her optimism and good will. Alice-Miranda on Holiday begins with Alice-Miranda leaving school after her first term there. The staff are sorry to see her go, even though it’s only for a short while. She and Jacinta are very excited to be going to Highton Hall, Alice-Miranda’s home. But despite their welcome there, Alice-Miranda can see that there are strange things happening. There’s the mysterious bad-tempered boy who throws things at them, an unexplained black car, and a movie star guest. When Jacinta is struck down with the flu, it’s up to Alice-Miranda to work out just what’s going on.

Alice-Miranda is Pollyanna as she would be if she’d been born into a very wealthy family. She sees the good in everyone and if there’s a misunderstanding, her direct approach seems to work a treat in sorting it out. She is adored by all, and even those who don’t initially warm to her are soon brought around. Her family are very loving and supportive. This care is extended to her friend Jacinta, whose own parents are equally wealthy but always busy, always elsewhere. Together and separately, they solve one mystery after another in what is a very busy holiday time. Themes are around family and understanding others. Young readers will love the idea of her home and room, her naughty pony and her friends, young and less young. And as for some of the meals… Recommended for independent readers. Younger children will enjoy being read to.

Alice-Miranda on Holiday, Jacqueline Harvey
Random House 2010
ISBN: 9781864719840

Reviewed by Claire Saxby Children’s book author.

Burned, by Meredith Costain

But I’m wasting my time trying to get a reaction out of them. Any of them. They’re all too caught up in their own little problems. Michi’s freaking out big time because she hasn’t heard from her boyfriend for a whole hour and a half. And Lexi is still stressing over the fact that Alysha would rather spend time with the ‘shiny girls’ than her. And Alysha thinks she’s fat. Fat. Ha!
Hopeless. The lot of them.

It’s the first year of higschool, and everything is changing. Mia has a great group of friends, and she’s always there for them, helping them through tough times. But when it’s her turn for some tough times, it feels like there’s no one there for her in return. Mia’s beloved grandfather is really sick, and seeing him so ill reminds her of another time someone she loved was in hospital. But who would understand that?

Burned is the third title in the Year in Girl Hell series from author Meredith Costain. Tracking the progress of the first year in high school for four friends, this is an absorbing series which tween girls will love. Each book tells one girl’s story, from their first person perspective, letting readers get to know each girl, and exploring a range of issues faced by girls in this age group.

Good stuff.

A Year In Girl Hell #3: Burned

A Year In Girl Hell #3: Burned, by Meredith Costain
Hardie Grant Egmont, 2009

This book can be purchased online from Fishpond. Buying through this link supports Aussiereviews.

Chess Nuts, by Julia Lawrinson

Jackson wanted to come back in, sit down, and blitz them all, but how could he? Everyone knew Jackson was the best athlete in the school, and why would someone like that hang around the chess room? Jackson could imagine what Flash Buckley would think if he saw Jackson with the Chess Nuts.
I’ll show them, Jackson decided.
Just not today.

Jackson is sporty and popular. He wins everything – and people are happy to see him win. But suddenly the thought of winning isn’t as enticing as it used to be.

Anna isn’t good at sport, but she is good at chess. She is the number one player in the A-team. Then Jackson turns up to chess, and Anna is not happy. He is good at everything else – why would he want to muscle in on Anna’s territory? As the chess season continues, however, both children find they have plenty to learn from each other.

Chess Nuts is an absorbing read for middle and upper primary aged readers. The focus on chess will intrigue both chess-mad readers, and those new to the game. It is wonderful to see an unsporty sport profiled, and the use of chess-board layouts to illustrate games or moves throughout the book is a wonderful addition.

Author Lawrinson is perhaps better known for her edgy young adult novels, but when she writes for younger readers she does it well.

Chess Nuts

Chess Nuts, by Julia Lawrinson
Penguin, 2010

This book can be purchased online from Fishpond. Buying through this link supports Aussiereviews.

Plotless Pointless Pathetic, by Joshua Wright

Egads! There’s trouble afoot in the land of Sausagopolis.

Somebody has been writing naughty poetry – poetry sure to corrupt the minds of innocent, straight-laced citizens.

But don’t fear, dear reader, because help is at hand – Sir Glame, knight hero, and his trusty sidekick Bill (actually a talking horse) – are on a quest to stop the evil Saucy McRascal, author of the Big Book of Fun

This is, however, no traditional fantasy-quest story. The title, Plotless Pointless Pathetic gives more than a little hint to the true nature of the story.

Author Joshua Wright fills the book with corny jokes, inexplicable plot twists and plenty of general silliness. Cartoons on every page provide distractions and humour.

As Glame and Bill blunder their way through the quest, they encounter colossally scary monsters, scrap trucks and freaky fuzzies, who talk cute but act mean.

This hilarious book will appeal to children aged 8 to 12, athough older readers will also find some laughs.

Plotless Pointless Pathetic is the first book from Joshua Wright. One suspects it won’t be his last.

Plotless Pointless Pathetic, by Joshua Wright
Allen & Unwin 2002