The Fence, by Meredith Jaffe

‘Brandy and I have discussed this at length and to our minds there is only one viable solution.’
Gwen glances up at the house where Eric potters in the garage, oblivious to the unfolding crisis.
‘I mean, the trees will still have to go of course, given they are encroaching on our property there is no way around it. but trees or no trees, the only real solution is to put up a fence.’
Without thinking, Gwen Turns on her heel and races towards the garage, away from this vile woman and her extraordinary ideas.

Gwen and her husband Eric were the first people to live on Green Valley Avenue. They’ve raised their children here, and now their grandchildren love to visit.  Gwen doesn’t plan on ever leaving. But her neighbour and best friend Babs has died, and the house has been sold, and suddenly there’s a new family moving in, with a tribe of little kids and two uncontrolled dogs.

Francesca has brought her family to Green Valley Avenue in the hopes of a new start. Her marriage is in trouble, and starting anew in the suburbs seems the only solution. The only problem is her nosy new neighbour, Gwen, and the lack of a fence between their properties. It isn’t long before the two families are battling over the boundary, even while each woman’s life is facing terrible changes.

The Fence is a tale of fences, neighborhood disputes and much more. Gwen’s husband, Eric, is aging and behaving oddly. Frankie’s house-husband Brandon has been having an affair, and seems increasingly unable, or unwilling, to keep the house running. At times funny, at others moving and even sad, The Fence  is a wonderful debut novel.

The Fence, by Meredith Jaffe
Pan MacMillan, 2016
ISBN 9781743540152

 

 

 

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 Game of Their Lives, by Nick Richardson

While the match was, at one level, an exhibition for the Diggers and the curious onlookers, for the players it was something else – a chance to run around in the open air, to play the game they loved and test themselves in the way that they knew, body on body, running, jumping and kicking. It was a wonderful antidote to the dull routine of training and the anxiety of anticipation about what was ahead.

Australian Rules Football has a long history here at home, but has often been an enigma to people in other countries. For one day in 1916, though, football took centre stage when two teams of Australian soldiers played an exhibition match in London. The teams, drawn from soldiers waiting to be called to the Western Front, comprised men who had played football in teams across Australia, some of them big name players. In the weeks leading up to the match they trained hard and, on the day, for just a few hours, they could play the game they loved almost as if they were back home in Australia.

The Game of Their Lives tells the story of the game, and of the men who played in it. Starting before the war, and tracing through to the years following, readers are introduced to the players, umpires and officials as well as to men who made the game possible, including General Monash and YMCA man, and Australian swimmer, Frank Beaurepair. There is also close exploration of the impact of the war on sport at home in Australia, particularly the pressure for sportsmen to enlist, and the conscription debate.

For anyone with a love of football or war history.

The Game of Their Lives , by Nick Richardson
Pan Macmillan, 2016
ISBN 9781743536667

When Michael Met Mina, by Randa Abdel-Fattah

Then I see her.
Her eyes. I’ve never seen eyes like hers before. What colour are they? Hazel and green and flecks of autumn and bits of emerald and I’m standing holding my sign and there she is, standing steps away, near the cop, holding hers (It’s Not Illegal to Seek Asylum), and all I can think about is how the hell I’m going to take my eyes off her.

Michael’s parents are the founders of Aussie Values, an organisation dedicated to stopping the boats and preserving the Australian way of life. They worry about Muslims and terrorists taking over the country. Mina is a Muslim and a refugee, too. She and her family represent what Michael’s family is fighting against. When they meet, Mina is sure Michael is racist and unpleasant, but Michael finds himself intrigued, and wanting to get to know her better. In order to do this, he’s going to have to adjust his thinking and find out if what his parents seem to know is actually true.

When Michael Met Mina is a story about values, justice and friendship. Although there is a gentle romance element, the story line deals with the struggles and joys of Mina’s family, and the broader issues of refugees and Muslim Australians, as well as the dynamics of Michael’s family, especially the issue of a teenager holding different political and moral views than his family. Issues of disability, difference, families and more are explored, but the story isn’t crowded out by these issues – rather being enriched by them

Tol through the alternating first person perspectives of the two main characters, When Michael Met Mina is an important, absorbing, read.

When Michael Met Mina, by Randa Abdel-Fattah
Pan Macmillan, 2016
ISBN 9781743534977

A Tangle of Gold by Jaclyn Moriarty

When Elliot Baranski came to Cambridge, England, he only stayed for just over two weeks.

Which was preposterous.

He was from the Kingdom of Cello, he had stumbled into the World when he fell into a ravine and landed in a BP petrol station, he’d walked from this petrol station to Cambridge, so as to find his friend Madeline Tully but, unexpectedly – a real bonus – the first person he’d run into was Abel Baranski, who was only Elliot’s long-lost dad.

All of which was perfectly reasonable.

Brilliant, even.

But this! Leaving after just over two weeks!

Well, it was preposterous. It was so preposterous it was making Madeleine’s nose bleed.

A Tangle of Gold: The Colours of Madeleine 3When Elliot Baranski came to Cambridge, England, he only stayed for just over two weeks.

Which was preposterous.

He was from the Kingdom of Cello, he had stumbled into the World when he fell into a ravine and landed in a BP petrol station, he’d walked from this petrol station to Cambridge, so as to find his friend Madeline Tully but, unexpectedly – a real bonus –  the first person he’d run into was Abel Baranski, who was only Elliot’s long-lost dad.

All of which was perfectly reasonable.

Brilliant, even.

But this! Leaving after just over two weeks!

Well, it was preposterous. It was so preposterous it was making Madeleine’s nose bleed.

Things are not going well in the Kingdom of Cello. There’s a bit of chaos in the World as well. Madeleine is trying to make sense of it, but there seems there is little sense to be found. Not that Madeleine knows much about what’s happening in Cello. All she knows is that she’s in the World and Elliot is back in Cello and they may never speak to each other again. Their worlds are no longer connected. Until they are. Madeleine, Elliot and their friends are whirled into the troubles of the Kingdom, into the wild and ever-increasing colour attacks, the dangers and the mysteries. The trick is to work out what’s going on, who is who they say they are, who they are working for.

A Tangle of Gold is the third and final instalment in ‘The Colours of Madeline’ trilogy, the first two being ‘A Corner of White’ and ‘The Cracks in the Kingdom’. The series explores the connections between the World and the Kingdom of Cello. In A Tangle of Gold tensions between the Royalists and other groups have escalated until war seems inevitable. Cello, a nation of diverse provinces, needs to sort out its internal problems to prevent war with the neighbouring country of Aldhibah. Tangle is right – everything is a mess! As with the first two novels, A Tangle of Gold is full of twisting, turning challenges which test the mettle of the main characters, forcing them to put aside their personal issues and find ways to save their world. It is full of danger, wonder and doses of humour. Poetry, physics, arts and science tangle in this rich and rewarding series set across two worlds. Highly recommended for upper-primary and early-secondary readers.

A Tangle of Gold: The Colours of Madeleine 3, Jaclyn Moriarty

Pan Macmillan 2016 ISBN: 9781743533239

review by Claire Saxby, Children’s author and bookseller

www.clairesaxby.com

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

The Great Zoo of China, by Matthew Reilly

‘Now, I know what you are thinking,’ Hu Tang paused. ‘You are thinking that there are hundreds of zoos, why does the world need another one? Indeed, what can China do with a zoo that has not already been done before? Ladies and gentlemen…this is what we can do.’
At that moment, the speeding bullet train burst out into brilliant sunshine and CJ found herself staring at an awesome sight.

In spite of its massive population and a booming economy, China lags behind its adversary, the United States of America, in a key way: it is not the cultural ruler of the planet. China needs something to compete with the power of Disneyland, the dreamfilled destination which epitomises commercialisation and is known the world over. When it is discovered that the most famous mythical creature of them all is not in fact a myth, and is hiding deep within China, it seems that the answer is clear: a zoo unlike any other, where dragons fly free. People will come from everywhere to see them, and will leave knowing that China really is the world ruler.

CJ Cameron doesn’t know any of this. All she knows is that the Chinese government has requested that she visit its new zoo on behalf of the National Geographic. With her brother Hamish and a party of other influential journalists, she is taken to a secret destination, little knowing what it is she will see there. Soon, though, her amazement at the realisation that the zoo houses dragons, is replaced with horror as she realises the dragons are turning rogue, and that zoo officials will do anything to ensure she doesn’t escape to spread the word of this glitch in the zoo’s operations.

The Great Zoo of China is a fast-moving, often gruesome, action thriller of the kind Matthew Reilly fans have come to expect.  Moving almost as quickly as the bullet rains which appear in parts of the novel, the story unfolds over a very short space of time, but manages to include many deaths and lots of destruction, along with a feisty main character who, with some help, tackles dragons and human foe with ingenuity. If the plot sounds familiar, Reilly admits that it was inspired by his love of the novel Jurassic Park and, although he has worked to make it different, by setting it in China and by using dragons instead of dinosaurs, there are similarities which make his homage obvious. This doesn’t make the book less likely to appeal to lovers of Reilly’s work, or of action novels in general, who will enjoy the premise and the plot.

 

The Great Zoo of China, by Matthew Reilly
Macmillan, 2014
ISBN 9781743517017

Available from good bookstores and online.

 

South of Darkness, by John Marsden

Having been asked by the Revd Mr Johnson to jot down a few notes about my upbringing and the manner of my arrival in the colony, I will attempt to do so, but I should say at the outset that I have little of interest to relate. I have not contributed much of worth to the world, as will no doubt become obvious in the pages that follow, and indeed I sometimes wonder that I even survived the trials and tribulations of my earliest years.

So begins the story of Barnaby Fletch, a young convict recounting the tale of his childhood and early years in the colony of New South Wales. As would be expected, his protestations belie the absorbing story which follows. Fletch has been on his own on the streets of London for as along as he can rememberer, with no knowledge of his family. He relies on what he finds, or can steal, and shelters wherever he can, although his favourite place is within the walls of St Martin’s church.

A chance encounter with a returned convict makes Barnaby wonder whether transportation to the strange new land of which the stranger tells might provide an opportunity for a better life, so he decides to do what he can to get himself caught and transported. Eventually, though not without some difficulty, he finds himself bound for Botany Bay, and whatever that may hold.

South of Darkness is John Marsden’s first foray into writing for adults, though young adults readers may also enjoy this tale of hardship, survival and adventure set against the backdrop of colonial Australia and England and with a distinctly Dickensian feel. Fletch is an endearing narrator – surprisingly literate for his lack of formal education – and, while he does not give his age as narrator, the events of his childhood are told largely through the lens of childhood naivety, leaving readers to interpret and react.

There is the hint of a sequel in the final lines, and it is to be hoped that it will come, because readers are left wanting to know what is next in store for young Barnaby.

South of Darkness

South of Darkness, by John Marsden
Pan Macmillan, 2014
ISBN 9781743531563

Available from good bookstores and online.

As Stars Fall by Christie Nieman

‘Robin? Robin Roberts?’

This is what I imagined was happening in my form room at that moment. I imagined some old-time bespectacled schoolmistress reading my name out over and over from her roll, and in the silence after each call the crickets chirping, the tumbleweed tumbling. I had to imagine it because I wasn’t there. I was lost.

‘Robin Roberts’

Yes, that really is my name. You’d think that two parents with the surname Roberts would think twice before calling their only daughter Robin, wouldn’t you? You’d reckon. And when you heard that those two parents were Rodney Roberts and Roberta Roberts, you’d think they were just mean – like, if they’d had to suffer all those Rs, then they’d make their kids suffer too. But if you actually knew my parents, you’d get that giving me a Rolls-Royce name was just their cute way of including me in their club: the R&R club. Well, that was their thinking anyway.

‘Robin? Robin Roberts?’

This is what I imagined was happening in my form room at that moment. I imagined some old-time bespectacled schoolmistress reading my name out over and over from her roll, and in the silence after each call the crickets chirping, the tumbleweed tumbling. I had to imagine it because I wasn’t there. I was lost.

‘Robin Roberts’

Yes, that really is my name. You’d think that two parents with the surname Roberts would think twice before calling their only daughter Robin, wouldn’t you? You’d reckon. And when you heard that those two parents were Rodney Roberts and Roberta Roberts, you’d think they were just mean – like, if they’d had to suffer all those Rs, then they’d make their kids suffer too. But if you actually knew my parents, you’d get that giving me a Rolls-Royce name was just their cute way of including me in their club: the R&R club. Well, that was their thinking anyway.

A terrible fire sweeps through north-eastern Victoria. In its aftermath, Robin’s parents split up and Robin and her mother move to the city. In her first day at her new school, Robin meets Delia. Delia befriends Robin, although Robin sometimes struggles to understand why. Delia and her brother are also reeling from the effects of the fire, although they are not as able – or perhaps ready – to articulate their loss. A Bush Stone-curlew appears in the local park, far from its natural habitat and connects Robin, Delia and Seth. Life is challenging for each of the teenagers, but it may prove deadly for the out-of-place bird.

As Stars Fall is a gritty, real novel, with hints of magic realism. Three teenagers respond to major trauma in their lives caused by catastrophic fires. Their grief defines every aspect of their behaviour and their responses to those around them. The out-of-place curlew links them and forces them to think beyond themselves and their individual loss. Robin is the main character and her story is told in first person, with Delia and Seth’s stories in third person. Their stories progress, the novel progresses as fast and as intensely as any fire, sweeping all before it and building to an inevitable crescendo. Readers will be swept along too, holding their breath to see who survives. Recommended for mid- to upper-secondary readers.

As Stars Fall, Christie Nieman Pan Macmillan 2014 ISBN: 9781743517697

review by Claire Saxby, Children’s author and bookseller

www.clairesaxby.com

Once Upon a Slime by Andy Griffiths ill Terry Denton

1.Bad Mummy & Daddy cartoons

Some of my favourite characters in all of the books that Terry and I have created are Bad Mummy, Bad Daddy and the kid who always asks permission to do something really stupid and/or dangerous. Most normal parents would say no, but I wanted to play with the idea of parents who do the opposite, that is, say yes when they should say no. They then surprise us again when, instead of being upset at what happens to their child as a result of their bad parenting, they simply shrug and say, ‘Oops!’

1.Bad Mummy & Daddy cartoons

Some of my favourite characters in all of the books that Terry and I have created are Bad Mummy, Bad Daddy and the kid who always asks permission to do something really stupid and/or dangerous. Most normal parents would say no, but I wanted to play with the idea of parents who do the opposite, that is, say yes when they should say no. They then surprise us again when, instead of being upset at what happens to their child as a result of their bad parenting, they simply shrug and say, ‘Oops!
Once Upon a Slime offers 45 ways to get writing … FAST! Griffiths uses the same conversational style as in his myriad titles to inspire young readers to become young writers. With illustrator, Terry Denton, he offers wild and wacky ways to write based on their work. Beginning with cartoons and ending with a Random Idea Generator, each chapter offers insight into how Griffith begins and continues his stories, then offers suggestions for writing activities. There’s Dos and Don’ts lists, free writing exercises with prompts, jar labels, How to Create a Monster and many, more. There are info boxes, cartoons, and illustrations on each page.

Once Upon a Slime is simply brilliant. Even the most reluctant writer will be drawn in and their imagination revealed via these writing prompts. For young writers, there’s an exercise for all their moods and inclinations. For teachers and parents, there’s support to get young writers over ‘white page fever’ that besets many. For writers for children, there’s a reminder to be child-like in creating work for young readers. And if you’re not in any of the aforementioned categories, there’s something for you too: a reminder of childhood, an insight into the minds of a very talented pair of creators. Aimed at middle primary readers, ‘Once Upon a Slime’ will be a hit with many more. Recommended for anyone who likes to mix crazy with their learning/teaching.

Once Upon a Slime

Once Upon a Slime, Andy Griffiths ill Terry Denton
Pan Macmillan 2013 ISBN: 9781742612096

review by Claire Saxby, Children’s Author

www.clairesaxby.com