Small Spaces, by Sarah Epstein


We don’t pick and choose what to be afraid of. Our fears pick us.

When she was eight Tash Carmody witnessed her secret friend Sparrow abduct a child, Mallory Fisher. But nobody believed Tash, because no one else had ever met Sparrow and, over the years since, Tash has come to accept that Sparrow wasn’t real and that some trauma  caused her to create her version of events. Mallory has been mute since the week that she went missing, and, after years of counselling and being sheltered by her increasingly frustrated mother, Tash is determined to put events behind her. But Mallory and her family are back in town and old memories are resurfacing. Tash becomes increasingly isolated from her few friends as she starts to wonder if Sparrow really does exist – or whether she herself is the dangerous one.

Small Spaces is a gripping psychological thriller for young adult readers. The mystery of what happened to Tash, and Tash’s involvement, will keep readers guessing. Tash’s first person narration is interspersed with scripts of recordings of her counselling sessions over the intervening years, allowing readers insight into Tash’s version of events at the time, and what has happened in the intervening years.

Creepy, gripping and unputdownable.

Small Spaces, by Sarah Epstein
Walker Books, 2018
ISBN 9781921977381

White Gum Creek, by Nicole Hurley-Moore

For an instant as he approached the counter, there was a warm, tingly flare erupting somewhere in her core. She told her friends – she even told herself – that all she wanted to do was reach out and help this guy. She didn’t exactly know how she was going to go about it but he needed to be around people again.

When his wife died in a tragic accident, Nick Langtree became a recluse, living alone in a caravan on his farm, punishing himself for Sophie’s death. But it’s been six years and his friends think it’s time he forgave himself and allowed himself some happiness. Tash Duroz, in particular, wants to reach out to him. But deep down she knows she’s kidding herself that she just wants to be friends with Nick. What she feels is something else.

Nick is hardly aware of Tash, though he appreciates her friendliness when she serves him at the bakery. he is, though, willing to start getting his life back on track. If only strange things didn’t keep happening around the farm. It’s almost as if Sophie is haunting him – but maybe there is someone who has a grudge against him.

White Gum Creek is a story about dealing with heartache and grief and forging new beginnings, as well as friendship and self-forgiveness. With an element of mystery to keep the story moving forward, it is a satisfying, engaging read.

White Gum Creek, by Nicole Hurley-Moore
Allen & Unwin, 2018
ISBN 9781760631109

48 Hours: The Vanishing by Gabrielle Lord

‘Thank you, Chief,’Jazmine murmured to herself as she walked along a tree-lined street on her way to school. She tucked a stray lock of thick blonde hair behind her ear.
‘Earth to Jazmine, hello?’
‘Huh?’ Jazmine snapped out of her daydream and turned to find her friend Mackenzie glaring at her through narrowed dark eyes.
‘Aside from that mumbling, you haven’t said a word since we started walking to Anika’s!’ Mackenzie fumed, flinging her loose, long black hair over her shoulder in a huff. ‘Jazz, it’s bad enough with Anika going on about that old journal she found, and now you won’t even talk to me because you’re busy solving crimes in your head. Plus you nearly walked into that tree!’

Jazz’s best friend has disappeared, kidnapped. Phoenix has been suspended from school. Jazz and Phoenix are most definitely NOT friends. Even though Jazz loves to solve crimes and mysteries, and Phoenix knows heaps about forensics. But if they are going to find Anika in the next 48 hours – and they both know this is crucial – then they are going to have to find a way to work together. So begins an uneasy alliance as they race the clock to find Jazz’s friend.

‘48 Hours’ is the first in a new series from Gabrielle Lord, with two further titles currently underway. Jazz and Phoenix are the crime-solving duo with complementary skills, though at first they struggle to work cohesively. As well as chasing clues, they must evade parents who are 1. worried about them, 2. cross with them for hacking 3. distressed because their daughter is missing. This is a fast-paced action thriller for crime aficionados in mid- to upper-primary years.
48 Hours: The Vanishing, Gabrielle Lord Scholastic Australia 2017 ISBN:9781743629758

review by Claire Saxby, Children’s author and bookseller
www.clairesaxby.com

Kizmet and the Case of the Pirate Treasure by Frank Woodley

From the outside the IMPACT headquarters looked like any boring office building.
But inside was a hive of activity. Detectives rushed from room to room, carrying documents. A scientist peered into a glass cabinet full of large hairy spiders, while in the back ground her colleague tested the strength of a cable made from synthetic spider silk. All this was going on around us as we sat in the meeting area of the Central Command Hub.
When I say ‘we’ I mean me and Kismet, and her dad, Spencer Papancillo. We work together solving mysteries.

Kismet and the Case of the Pirate Treasure’ is Kismet’s third adventure. All are told from the perspective of Gretchen, her Currawong. The mystery-solving trio of Kismet, her hapless dad and Gretchen are early to a meeting and catching up with friends at IMPACT when the roof explodes and their friend is kidnapped. Kismet finds a clue, Chief Wodjet gets a phone call and the trio are off on a world-wide hunt for Gita, and a solution to a 300-year-old mystery. High drama ensues. Each chapter, and many openings include black and white illustrations.

Kizmet and the Case of the Pirate Treasure’ is high camp drama, no surprise really when the viewpoint character is a currawong. Fortunately, the decisions are mostly made by Kizmet, who is much calmer and more clear-headed than her pet or her father. There are plenty of chuckles to be had as disasters and mis-steps beset the ‘goodies’ along the pathway to solving their mystery. Suited to independent readers who enjoy a mystery and still like  an illustration or two to break up the text.

Kizmet and the Case of the Pirate Treasure, Frank Woodley, Puffin Books 2017 ISBN: 9780143783282

review by Claire Saxby, Children’s author and bookseller
www.clairesaxby.com

Gap year in Ghost Town, by Michael Pryor

Let’s get this straight – ghosts are everywhere. And they’re dangerous. This is why my family has hunted them for thousands of years.

Anton is a reluctant ghost hunter. He and his father are a two-man team, carrying out their family legacy. But his dad doesn’t have the sight, which means it’s Anton who has to do theg host hunting. He’d rather be at university, but his father has talked him in to giving it a try during his gap year. And it doesn’t seem to be going too badly until Anton meets a Rogue – a freakish, almost-solid kind of ghost that can do a lot of harm. A lot. Coupled with the appearance in his life of Rani, a fellow ghost hunter, recently arrived from England, and Anton suddenly as a lot on his hands.

Gap Year in Ghost Town is a high-action spec-fic novel set in contemporary Melbourne. This setting is a departure for author Michael Pryor, whose previous work has been set in the past or in steam-punk versions of it, or fictional places. The novelty of a ghost story set in the contemporary world is appealing, and Melbourne, for those who know it, is an apt choice, with the ghosts inhabiting both well known landmarks and lesser known buildings.

Anton is a likable, believable narrator, who is self-deprecating but also self-aware, knowing his strengths and sharing his fears. The ghosts and the plot that surrounds them are intirguing, and readers will left hoping that there are further adventures to come.

Gap Year in Ghost Town, by Michael Pryor
Allen & Unwin, 2017
ISBN 9781760292768

Sage Cookson’s Christmas Ghost by Sally Murphy

‘You stay safe,’ my friend Lucy instructs me. and have a wonderful Christmas. I’ll miss you!’
‘I’ll miss you too!’ I say. Have the best Christmas ever.’
Lucy climbs into her dad’s waiting car, clutching the Christmas present I’ve given her.
‘And no pressie-poking!’ I call.
‘Same to you,’ she says, grinning as I hold up the gift that she has given me. ‘Bye Sage!’

It’s Christmas time and Sage and her TV chef family are flying to Western Australia to film a world record attempt at making the largest ever pavlova. The film crew are already there, now it’s time for Mum, Dad and Sage to meet Myra, who will be making the pavlova record-attempt at an old brickwork factory. There are rumours of a ghost at the brickworks, and when things start to go wrong, Sage begins to wonder if the rumours might be true. There’s nothing Sage likes more than a mystery. Since everyone else is busy, she’ll just have to investigate by herself.

Sage has an exciting life accompanying her parents and their crew around Australia. This year has been particularly exciting with several dramatic episodes. Her parents are busy setting up the event and Sage has time to notice things that others may not. Her sleuthing always ends well, though there are often some tense moments. She doesn’t always get things right but she keeps trying. Sage’s adventures are always exciting as she visits different regions of Australia. Recommended for newly independent readers.

Sage Cookson’s Christmas Ghost, Sally Murphy
New Frontier Publishing 2017
ISBN: 9781925594058

review by Claire Saxby, Children’s author and bookseller
www.clairesaxby.com

Sage Cookson 4: Singapore Sensation by Sally Murphy

‘Come on Sage! We’ll miss the plane.’
As if! My parents are used to travelling. So am I, because I always go with them. They knew exactly what they need to do to get to the airport, check in and be on board in time.
Çoming!’I call, quickly finishing the text message to my best friend.
Off to the airport now. See you next week.
I press send, put my phone in my pocket, and grab my backpack and suitcase.

Sage and her parents are off to Singapore, now their work on the new cookbook is just about done. They have just one tiny segment to film, but the rest of their week is pure holiday. They are thrilled to see an article in the inflight magazine about the new book. Everything is going well. Things start going wrong as soon as they land. And it must have something to do with the pink-haired lady who seems to turn up everywhere they go.

Ten-year-old Sage has a life many would envy: she travels around Australia and beyond with her television chef parents. Somehow, wherever they are, there are mysteries. Luckily Sage is observant and quick-thinking and is good at solving them. Sage stays in touch with her friend, Lucy, by text and that means that her friend sometimes becomes part of the mystery-solving. Sage’s parents try to make her life as normal as possible, including giving her a phone to keep in touch with her best friend. This is a fun, realistic adventure mystery series sure to make many newly independent readers wish they were Sage!

Sage Cookson 4: Singapore Sensation, Sally Murphy
New Frontier Publishing 2017
ISBN: 9781925059960

review by Claire Saxby, Children’s author and bookseller
www.clairesaxby.com

Sapphire Falls, by Fleur McDonald

Fiona Forrest sat next to her dead husband’s coffin, staring at it dully. Music played softly in the background and she could smell the roses that filled two urns on stands nearby.
The church felt exactly like she did. Cold and empty.

Fiona and her husband Charlie were really happy: working side by side on their farm, and looking forward to a long future. But when Charlie is involved in a terrible shooting accident that eaves his mate Eddie dead, he struggles to cope. When he commits suicide, Fiona is devastated, but she is determined to keep the farm going. If only the rumours that she is selling the farm would stop.

Detective Dave Burrows has been on enforced leave. When he returns he finds that the case of Eddie’s death was not properly dealt with. When he starts to investigate he realises something doesn’t add up. The deeper he digs, the more he realises that something sinister is going on – and perhaps it is linked both to Charlie’s suicide and to the series of problems that seem to be plaguing Fiona’s farm.

Sapphire Falls continues bestselling author Fleur McDonald’s trend of blending rural Australian settings with strong female characters facing adversity and elements of mystery, for a unique form of crime fiction. Readers are kept guessing  along with the characters, and the mystery works well alongside the development of characters and interwoven subplots.

Good stuff.

Sapphire Falls, by Fleur McDonald
Allen & Unwin, 2016
ISBN 9781760112646

Skyfire, by Michael Adams

The girl knew she was going to die. Her heart thumped. Mouth dry, throat tight, she could barely breathe. She looked at the madman with the gun, who’d trapped her, on top of a train hurtling through the night. There was no way she could get out of this alive.

When a mysterious sponsor calls for entries from young people worldwide to have the chance to see their ambitions realised, entries come from everywhere. But there can only be seven winners – and Yasmin, Isabel, Andy, Dylan, J.J., Zander and Mila are all delighted to be the winners of the DARE awards. Each is from a different continent, and each has a very different dream, but together they will find out just what it means to be a DARE winner.

But none of them is prepare for what happens when they start receiving strange texts. None of them know what the symbols they receive mean, but it soon becomes apparent that they are being targeted to try to unravel a mystery which, if they can’t solve it, will have catastrophic consequences – not just for them, but for the whole world.

Skyfire is the first in the new series for young readers.Filled with action and mystery, there is lots to love, though the need to set up the cast and premise slows it down a little.

Set in a near-future world, adventure fans will eagerly await the next installment.

Skyfire, by Michael Adams
Scholastic, 2016
ISBN 9781743628010

Sage Cookson’s Ring of Truth by Sally Murphy

‘Lucy! Your mum’s here,’ my mum calls up the stairs.

‘Already?’ Lucy pulls a face. ‘I was hoping she’d be late.’

I glance at the clock and smile. ‘She is!’

We’d been having so much fun together that we didn’t notice how late it was. We’d been talking, and listening to music and surfing the net, and laughing and doing all the things we don’t get to do together when I’m away.

‘Lucy! Your mum’s here,’ my mum calls up the stairs.

‘Already?’ Lucy pulls a face. ‘I was hoping she’d be late.’

I glance at the clock and smile. ‘She is!’

We’d been having so much fun together that we didn’t notice how late it was. We’d been talking, and listening to music and surfing the net, and laughing and doing all the things we don’t get to do together when I’m away.

Sage Cookson travels a lot. Her parents are television cooks and she goes where they go. She loves the adventure and the travel but sometimes misses her friend Lucy. In this second Sage Cookson adventure, Sage travels with her parents to Harmon Island, an island off the coast of Tasmania. There, they will film an episode about the bakery and their amazing pies. But Bettina, one of the bakery’s owners loses a ring and thinks Sage has something to do with it. Sage has to work quickly to solve the mystery before others also begin to believe she is responsible.

‘Ring of Truth’ is the second instalment in this new series from New Frontier for independent readers. Sage is a normal, sometimes messy, child who would rather be solving mysteries than doing her homework. She enjoys her travels with her family and their tv crew, but also misses time with her friends, especially Lucy. In each book, there is a mystery to be solved, and Sage is the girl for the job. She is observant, quick-thinking, caring. And there is food. Good food. Great fun: interesting settings and some sleuthing. Recommended for independent readers.

Sage Cookson’s Ring of Truth, Sally Murphy New Frontier Publishing 2016 ISBN: 9781925059748

review by Claire Saxby, Children’s author and bookseller

www.clairesaxby.com