Saving Billie, by Peter Corris

When Cliff Hardy does a mate a favour and takes on a gig as a bouncer at a high-society gig, he doesn’t expect it to lead him to his next case. But when he gets journalist Louise Kramer out of a tight situation, Hardy soon finds himself hired by Kramer to locate a missing person. Kramer is working on an expose of a media big-wheel, and one of her sources was Billie Marchant, a junkie and stripper, who has gone missing.

Soon, Hardy has tracked Billie down to the South-West of Sydney, but finding her could be the easy part. Saving her from those who are supposedly looking after her, and keeping her out of trouble could be more than Hardy expects. He needs to negotiate the way through some sinister obstacles – including rival media figures, Billie’s rocky relationship with her sister, and a client who unexpectedly turns up dead. In the end, Hardy has to wonder if saving Billie is really worth the trouble.

Saving Billie is the latest instalment in the 27-title Cliff Hardy series and is a fast-moving detective novel with the wry first-person voice of the hard-boiled detective. Fans of the series will appreciate this offering. Those who haven’t come across Cliff Hardy previously will not find it difficult to get to know the hero or follow his life.

Good stuff.

Saving Billie, by Peter Corris
Allen & Unwin, 2005

Devil's Food, by Kerry Greenwood

He gave me the axe. I let out the breath I had been holding and went upstairs to prepare to face the day, which meant that while I was dressing my coffee would be brewing. You may keep your energy drinks with their strange over-scent of curried grass. I am faithful to the superlative bean. No coffee, no baking. It’s a simple rule.

Corinna Chapman loves food. In fact her life revolves around it. She’s the proprietor of the Earthly Delights bakery and is at her happiest when she is watching customers enjoy her wares,. So, when a strange cult is established in her neighbourhood she is not happy. The cult advocates starvation as a way to God and eats only famine bread which tastes, to Corinna, like sawdust.

As if the cult isn’t upsetting enough, Corinna has a more personal drama to deal with. Her mother, Starshine, is in town, in search of Corinna’s father, Sunlight, who is missing on the streets of Melbourne. Corinna and Daniel, her handsome private eye boyfriend, must find Sunlight, and unravel the sinister happenings which seem to have links with the cult.

Devil’s Food is the third mystery featuring Corinna Chapman. It uses the winning formula of mystery, adventure, food and friendship. Corinna lives in a whimsical apartment block populated by an eclectic mix of residents and numerous cats, all of whom play roles in each mystery and its resolution, so that the reader has a growing sense of knowing these characters. Whilst the mysteries touch on dark and frightening events, they do so through the eyes of a warm and wryly humorous protagonist in Corinna, making them enjoyable and entertaining, and easy to devour.

Very digestible.

Devil’s Food, by Kerry Greenwood
Allen & Unwin, 2006

The Ragwitch, by Garth Nix

Julia turned around – and Paul skidded to a stop in shock. He felt like he’d been winded, struck so hard that he couldn’t breathe at all. For the person in front of him wasn’t Julia at all, but a hideous mixture of girl and doll: half flesh, half cloth, and the eyes and face had nothing of Julia left at all, only the evil features of the doll.

When Paul and Julia find a rag doll hidden in a nest at the beach, Paul wants nothing to do with it. Something about the doll frightens him. But Julia insists it is beautiful, and takes it home. Soon the doll has taken over Julia’s body and become the Ragwitch, an evil being from another world. With Julia’s body she can return to her own world and continue her evil campaign. Paul can only help Julia by following her.

Soon, Julia and Paul are each on their own chilling adventure – Paul, across the magical world, seeking a way to rescue his sister, and Julia inside the Ragwitch’s mind, where she has been trapped. Whilst Paul must overcome his fears and find the strength to battle the evil forces, Julia must block out the horror of living through the witch’s sinister campaign.

The Ragwitch is a powerful fantasy by one of Australia’s foremost masters of the genre. It was Nix’s fist novel-length work, first published in 1990, and fans will find it perhaps less polished and less original than his later works, but is still an excellent read. The focus on two individual fights between good and evil, and on family loyalty and wider responsibility for the common good driving that fight, are ones which fit well into fantasy for this age group.

Suitable for readers aged twelve and over.

The Ragwitch, by Garth Nix
First Published 1990, this edition Allen & Unwin, 2006

4F for Freaks, by Leigh Hobbs

Miss Corker had a creeping feeling that the ‘F’ in 4F stood for…

When the brand-new teacher, Miss Corker, meets her new class, 4F, she quickly realises the children are a little different. With monikers such as Unfriendly Irwin, Feral Beryl and Terribly-tough Timmy, 4F is class of misfits with no desire to learn or to please. But perhaps the Teacher’s Handbook will help Miss Corker in her quest to get them learning.

4F for Freaks is a funny offering from Leigh Hobbs, the author/illustrator creator of Horrible Harriet and Old Tom. It is not politically correct – the word ‘freaks’ may send a shudder down some adult spines – but is really not offensive, either. Hobbs sets out to make readers laugh with the silliness of the story, and does it well. Along the way there’s a message hidden in the depths of the tale about teaching methods and about finding the good in everybody, but the message is not as important as the pure fun of the book.

4F for Freaks is suitable for ages 7-12 and with only a sentence or two per page and plenty of Hobbs’ funny cartoon-style drawings, would be suitable for reluctant readers.

4F for Freaks, by Leigh Hobbs
Allen & Unwin, 2006

Shade's Children, by Garth Nix

Shade’s secret home was a submarine. Soon after the Change it had come away from its mooring and drifted between two old, long, wooden finger wharves…Shade’s children came and went via a torpedo tube in the bow, safely out of sight under the wharf. They could then wade between the piles up to a storm-water tunnel that led into the city’s network of drains.

Fifteen years after a dramatic ‘Change’ the world is populated only by evil creatures and children under the age of fourteen. All the adults have disappeared, vanishing without trace on the morning of the Change, and the children have been herded into dormitories where they are raised until the age of fourteen, when they are taken for body parts. Overlords rule various horrible beasts, crafted from these body parts, which fight in the battles over which the overlords preside. Human beings have no place in the world outside the dormitories.

But living hidden in the city are the few children who have managed to avoid or escape capture. They are Shade’s children, and it is Shade, a computer memory of a man, who looks after them until such time as the change can be reversed. But could Shade be an enemy too?

Shade’s Children is a dark fantasy, set in an unimaginably desperate future where creatures from a parallel world have taken over and where teenagers are the only ones able to resist their dark forces. The central characters are four such teens, two boys and two girls, each with their own special gift, and each coping with the daily horrors of their lives in different ways, yet all also very strong in their desire for a better world.

This is a book which is disturbingly compelling. The young characters are faced with death and violence on a daily basis and must learn to accept it without being so immune that they become inhuman. Young readers must also look past the violence to the positive portrayal of strength and selflessness which sees the young characters working not just for their own survival, but for the restoration of the human race.

An absorbing read.

Shade’s Children, by Garth Nix
First Published in 1997, this edition Allen & Unwin, 2006

Noises at Night, by Beth Raisner Glass and Susan Lubner

When my room is dark and I snuggle in bed,
my eyes should be closed, but they’re open instead.
I hear noises at night, they float through my house –
The bark of a dog and the scratch of a mouse.

When he goes to bed, a little boy is kept awake by the noises of the night. A tap drrrroppp, drrroppps, a truck vrroooomm, vrroooomms outside in the street and thunder booom, boooms. But rather than being frightened, the boy lets his imagination take him on great adventures. The dripping sounds come from his sailing ship, the truck is really the boy’s plane, and the thunder is a drum roll for his trapeze act. Finally, though, all the noises settle down and the boy is able to sleep contentedly.

This gentle rhyming text will make perfect bed time reading, helping children confront night time fears in a fun way. The illustrations are equally delightful, with award-winning illustrator Bruce Whatley using acrylics to contrast the dark of the night with the light of the imagined scenes.

This a lovely hard-cover offering which will find a place in the hearts of youngsters and their parents.

Noises at Night, by Beth Raisner Glass and Susan Lubner, illustrated by Bruce Whatley
Omnibus Books, 2006

Lies I Told About a Girl, by Anson Cameron

Blue Black is in a strange world. He is a scholarship student – the son of a logger – at an exclusive school for the children of the wealthy. When a new student arrives, Blue doesn’t think they will have anything in common. The new student is, after all, Harold Romsey, the heir to the British throne. But the pair do have something in common, it seems. Both struggle to fit in, Blue because of his working class background, and Harold because of the cushioning his positioning gives him. And there’s something else – or rather someone else. Both Blue and Harold have fallen for the same girl – Sas McGovern, the daughter of a politician.

Against a backdrop of the political turmoil of 1975, Blue and Harold face turmoil of their own. Blue is a spectator to Harold and Sas’s blossoming relationship. But when complications arise, the result of a relationship between the British prince and the daughter of a prominent politician, Blue has a bigger role to play than he could have imagined.

Lies I Told About a Girl is told with humour, yet it is not ultimately a humorous novel. It deals with very serious subjects of politics, class, teenage sex and responsibility. The political turmoil created by the sacking of the Whitlam Government in 1975 is mirrored and intertwined with the fictional tale of Sas and Harold’s relationship and the part Blue plays in its aftermath.

Whilst teen readers may not be well versed in the historical component of this novel, they will enjoy the humour of Blue’s tale and his voice. It is this use of humour which makes the story a success.

Lies I Told About a Girl, by Anson Cameron
Pan Macmillan, 2006

Keep the Table Laughing, by Susan Whelan & Meredith Flynn

If you have ever bought, been given or simply browsed a cookbook, you will probably know that the biggest drawback of cookbooks is that they are full of photographs of delicious-looking but impossible to replicate offerings. The second-biggest drawback is that each cookbook seems to be useful for two or three recipes, with the rest either impossible, uninteresting or forgotten once the first few attempts have proven disastrous.

Keep the Table Laughing is a recipe book with a difference. There are no photographs from which to draw unflattering comparisons with ones own efforts, and the recipes, almost without exception, are practical every-day meals and goodies which can be cooked quickly and easily and are likely to be cooked repeatedly.

There are recipes from around the world, recipes for children to make, soups, cakes, roasts and everything in between. There are old favourites – sometimes with a new twist, such as the Yoghurt Pikelets – and others which may be new but are still fairly easy to make. My eight year old and I had a go at the French Jellies (which, the recipe promised, would taste like store-bought jubes) and were delighted with the results. They were yummy!

The other difference about this cookbook is that it is fun. The recipes are interspersed with narration from the two authors. They share their lives and their culinary experiences through anecdotes, jokes and little scripted conversations. Their comments on men in the kitchen caused particular laughter at our house.

This is a cookbook which will be used and enjoyed. Not a bad combination.

Keep the Table Laughing, by Susan Whelan & Meredith Flynn
Temple House, 2005

The Last Thylacine, by Terry Domico

When Matthew Clark sees a thylacine during a research expedition in the Tasmanian forest, he is excited. The thylacine is, after all, supposed to be extinct. But Matthew’s excitement turns to frustration when he is sacked from his job and unable to follow up on his sighting with more research.

Matthew is determined to find another thylacine and is able to put together a team, funded by a private collector who will pay millions for the live capture of one of the animals. But Matthew must decide if his scruples will allow to him to be involved in such a scheme.

The Last Thylacine is an eco-thriller, with the action concentrating on Matthew and his team’s efforts to track and capture a thylacine. There are also explorations of themes of environmental responsibility, relationships and mateship. It is perhaps unfortunate that the absorbing nature of the plot is detracted from by the distraction of some editing problems. Whilst things like the misspelling of the Australian word cuppa as cupper and the overdone use of inverted commas and underlining to emphasise words may seem small, they are very distracting and take away from what is otherwise a story worthy of proper treatment.

The Last Thylacine, by Terry Domico
Turtleback Books, 2005

Dangerous Deception, by Sandy Curtis

He slumped down on the bed as the swirling mists in his brain subsided, dragging air into his lungs in great panting gulps. Gingerly he moved his arms, his legs. Finally he swung his body over the side of the bed and stood, weak and unsteady, fighting to make sense of what had happened.
Slowly he became aware of a great emptiness in his soul. A desolation, a sense of loss so profound his gut clenched with the knowledge of it.
Because now he knew. He understood. But his brain refused to believe.

When Rogan McKay wakens in the middle of the night, his body is racked by intense pain, followed by a sense of loss which can mean only one thing – his identical twin, Liam, must be in trouble. Life-threatening trouble. Rogan feels it may be too late to help Liam, but he has to find out.

Meanwhile, Breanna Montgomery is on the run. Her colleague Professor John Raymond lies paralysed in hospital, but his work prior to his accident is so important that everyone wants to find his research. Breanna doesn’t have the Professor’s notebooks, but those that want them don’t believe her.

When Rogan tracks down Breanna, believing she may know what happened to Liam, the pair become embroiled in a shocking series of events, where their lives are repeatedly in danger as they search for the truth.

Dangerous Deception is a fast-moving thriller about the lengths people will go to, to get hold of research which could impact on human survival. The novel brings together a diverse cast of characters – from a disgraced journalist trying to get her daughter back, to brilliant scientists – and a diverse mix of plot elements, including romance, unexpected twists and turns, and a satisfying ending.

Author Sandy Curtis is obviously devoted to the thriller genre, and she does it justice in everything she writes.

Dangerous Deceptions, by Sandy Curtis
First Published by Macmillan, 2005, this edition Pan, 2006