Castle of Dreams, by Elise McCune

‘Robert. His name was Captain Robert Shine.’
She handed me the photograph. I noticed the sharpenss of the soldier’s dark eyes, the strong jawline and the firm tilt of his head, and most of all the startling intimacy between subject and photographer.
‘Oh, Nan…he;s a handsome guy. Who took the photo?’I saw a wary reaction flare in Nan’s watery eyes.
‘A girl I once knew. She liked to take photos.’ Nan closed her lips firmly.

When Stella returns home to spend Christmas with her parents and her much loved grandmother, she senses that the tension between her mother, Linda and her grandmother, Rose, hasn’t lessened since last time she was here. She has never understood how her Nan, so loving to her, is so harsh towards her own daughter. When she accidentally finds an old photograph in her Nan’s bedroom, she starts to investigate.

Over sixty years earlier, Rose and her sister Vivienne share an idyllic childhood living in a Spanish-style castle in northern Queensland. Nothing, it seems, can come between them. But when Rose leaves home and meets a handsome American soldier, this relationship will test the bond between sisters.

Castle of Dreams is an engaging story of three generations, and the secrets that can shape family relationships long after they are kept. As Stella unravels her Nan’s past, she also learns more about her mother and a mysterious aunt she never knew she had.

Set in World War 2 and in contemporary times, this is an absorbing story of love and betrayal.

Castle of Dreams, by Elise McCune
Allen & Unwin, 2016
ISBN 9781760291846

The Beekeeper's Secret, by Josephine Moon

Maria knew about guilt. It was a stubborn, pervasive and toxic emotion, and incredibly difficult to shake. Especially if really, deep down, you didn’t think you deserved to let it go.

Maria Lindsay lives a quiet, but productive life, and that is how she likes it. She lives simply, managing a retreat and raising funds for an orphanage, largely through the products she makes from honey and beeswax, gifts from the bees she tends. But when she receives two letters, her peaceful, orderly existence is threatened. One letter is from a niece she has never met, who wants to reestablish connection between Maria and the family she left behind many years ago. The other is from an investigator, looking into events which Maria has tried to put behind her.

Tansy Butterfield is Maria’s niece. She has long known about her aunt, but has only just tracked her down, and is delighted that she lives so close. But as Tansy’s fledgling relationship with her aunt grows, the rest of her life seems ind anger of falling apart. Her mother has arrived on her doorstep, having ‘a break’ from her previously rock-solid marriage, her husband has been asked to relocate to Canada for work, and Tansy’s agreement not to have children is weighing heavily on her.

The Beekeeper’s Secret explores the complexities of extended families, and the relationships which can span generations. Tansy and Maria form a strong bond, in spite of Maria’s long estrangement from Tansy’s mother, and Maria passes her learning on to Tansy and her stepson, Leo. Their family includes Tansy’s devout Catholic parents, her sister Rose who has four children, her hippy Aunt and Uncle, and her cousin and his wife, as well as Tansy’s husband Dougal and his adult son Leo. Each family member is navigating change as well as looking back at promises and mistakes of the past.

From the author of the much loved The Tea Chest and The Chocolate Promise, The Beekeeper’s Secret continues the strong, warm tradition, although also dealing with some uncomfortable (yet important) topics including the effects of child abuse.

The Beekeeper’s Secret, by Josephine Moon
Allen & Unwin, 2016
ISBN 9781925266139

Sing a Rebel Song, by Pamela Rushby

The men seemed to be having a vote. They raised their hands. Dad came back to Mr Callan. ‘Every man here is a member of the Shearers Union,’ he said. ‘We have agreed that we can only shear under the verbal agreement of our union. If we sign your Shearing Agreement we will not be upholding the union. We’ll be blacklegs.’
The men muttered angrily among themselves. ‘We won’t sign!’ someone shouted.

Its 1891, and Maggie McAllister, whose dad is a shearer, gets a firsthand experience of one Australia’s most dramatic events: the Shearer’s Strike, where shearers fought for better pay and conditions and the pastoralists in turn tried to get them to work for less. While Maggie’s Dad and his fellow workers strike, march and protest, Maggie and her mother help to report on events and distribute notices.

But Maggie’s friends don’t all agree with the strike – or with her actions. Her friend Clara is the daughter of a wealthy farmer, and her other friend Tom needs work to help support his family. It seems that friendship doesn’t always survive. And for Maggie, witnessing the events of the strike make her aware that both sides have some valid viewpoints – and some questionable tactics.

Sing a Rebel Song is an exciting, moving account of the strike, and of the part one fictional character plays in it. It also provides an insight into Australian life in the late nineteenth century, and the birth of the union movement through an accessible story.

Rushby has a knack of making history come alive for young readers.

Sing a Rebel Song, by Pamela Rushby
Omnibus Books, 2015
ISBN 9781742991344

Mister Cassowary by Samantha Wheeler

I’d never been to Grandad Barney’s farm, even when he was alive. He’d grown bananas in the middle of woop woop, at a place in north Queensland.

‘Look, Dad! That sign says Mission Beach. We’re nearly there!’

We’d been driving for two days, travelling nearly 1,600 kilometres from Brisbane, and it felt like we were almost at the tip of Australia. I thought Dad would be happy we were getting close, but his face was growing darker with every passing kilometre.

I’d never been to Grandad Barney’s farm, even when he was alive. He’d grown bananas in the middle of woop woop, at a place in north Queensland.

‘Look, Dad! That sign says Mission Beach. We’re nearly there!’

We’d been driving for two days, travelling nearly 1,600 kilometres from Brisbane, and it felt like we were almost at the tip of Australia. I thought Dad would be happy we were getting close, but his face was growing darker with every passing kilometre.

Flynn and his dad travel to Flynn’s grandfather’s banana farm to prepare it for sale. Flynn has never met his grandfather, never been to his farm. No one will tell him why. Mum, left behind in Brisbane, asks Flynn to go easy on Dad. Flynn’s dad seems to get angrier every day, and no matter how many times Flynn asks, he won’t say why. This is cassowary country and their trip begins with a close encounter with a very tall cassowary. Flynn meets Abby, whose grandfather runs the local cassowary shelter. Day by day, he learns more about these endangered giant birds, his grandfather, and his father. But nothing comes easily. It’s hot and steamy and Flynn is about to explode with frustration.

Book Cover:  Mister CassowaryMister Cassowary is a junior novel set in tropical north Queensland. The title refers to the name of a particularly large cassowary that is legendary around Mission Beach. Flynn struggles to reconnect with his father, who works away at a mine and only comes home now and then. Travelling to the home where his father grew up seems to make things worse, rather than better. Dad is taciturn and full of rules that Flynn doesn’t understand. He doesn’t want Flynn to explore and he won’t tell him why. No matter what Flynn does, it seems to be wrong. But gradually, with the help (and hindrance) of Abby and her grandfather, and despite Dad’s silence, Flynn begins to fill in the spaces in his family history. ‘Mr Cassowary’ explores notions of family and conservation. Recommended for mid-primary readers.

Mister Cassowary, Samantha Wheeler
UQP 2015 ISBN: 9780702253881

review by Claire Saxby, Children’s author and bookseller

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, by Chris Bongers
Woolshed Press, 2014
ISBN 9780857983763

Available from good bookstores or online.

Watching the Climbers on the Mountain, by Alex Miller

His beauty and aloofness disturbed the equilibrium of the Rankin family…The stockman for a long time offered a resistance to the members of the family to involve him in their lives. He moved about in their familiar world, observing it with unfamiliar eyes; and quietly, industriously he slowly rearranged it

On a remote Queensland station a stockman fresh from England lives side by side with the station owner and his family, but remains apart. He works hard to clear up projects left unfinished by Ward Rankin, the owner, but resists efforts by Rankin to form a closer bond. Rankin is a disappointed man, forced into the role of station owner by the death of his father. He sees in the stockman Robert a possible friend. His wife, Ida, is also disappointed. Married to an older man out of convenience rather than any real connection, she sees in Robert a possible soulmate, and hope for a release from her discontent. Their daughter Janet also wants something from Robert. Only their son Alistair wants nothing. He sees in the stockman a threat, and watches and waits.

Robert Crofts wants nothing from this family. He goes about his work, seemingly unaware of the tension around him, until a growing attraction between him and Ida sets in chain a sequence of events which will change all of their lives.

Watching the Climbers on the Mountain is a tale of passion and reinvention. Set in the steamy height of summer, the oppressiveness of the weather reflects the building tension amongst the characters. The characters are not likable, each flawed in their own way, but they are intriguing, and the reader is drawn to keep wondering where all of this tension will lead.

First published in 1988, Watching the Climbers on the Mountain has been re-released, inviting fresh discovery.

Watching the Climbers on the Mountain

Watching the Climbers on the Mountain, by Alex Miller
Allen & Unwin, 2012
ISBN 9781743311097

Available from good bookstores or online from Fishpond. Buying through this link supports Aussiereviews.