Hal Spacejock, by Simon Haynes

The groundcar tore across the field at full speed, leaving whirling eddies of pollen in its wake. The sun’s last rays threw the car’s shadow across the field, pointing directly at the billowing clouds of white smoke that enveloped the Black Gull.
Hal was hunched over the controls, eyes narrowed against the tearing wind. The car’s screaming engine hammered his ears and the wind howled through the open vehicle, threatening to tear him from his seat. Still Hal pushed harder on the stick, until the warm metal felt like it was bending in his grip.

Hal Spacejock is in quite a bit of trouble. He is the owner of an ageing spaceship which has seen much, much better days, he owes money all around the galaxy and the debt collectors are at his door. When he is offered a job shifting a load of robot parts, he knows it sounds dodgy, but he can’t afford to turn down the work.

Soon, Hal and his new shipmate, an aging robot called Clunk, are dodging a vast range of enemies – from the debt collector and his evil sidekick, to armed forces on manoeuvre, to a rival robot manufacturer who wants to steal his cargo. All are better equipped and smarter than Hal and Clunk, but through a mix of cunning, teamwork and plain good luck, they usually manage to stay one step ahead. But will it be enough to get the load delivered and Hal’s debts paid off?

Hal Spacejock is a funny science fiction parody. The image of a bumbling pilot with a robot sidekick is not new. Neither is that of the pilot playing chess and verbally jousting with his onboard computer, or the backdrop of an ageing spaceship with mounting bills. But that’s the point here – author Simon Haynes uses the familiar with comic effect and then makes the story his own. There is plenty of action, twists and turns aplenty and loads of laughs. Fans of the genre will find plenty to like here.

Funny stuff.

Hal Spacejock, by Simon Haynes
Fremantle Arts Centre Press, 2005

Kiss, Kiss! by Margaret Wild (Small-Format Edition)

When Baby Hippo wakes up he hurries off to play, without stopping to give his mother a kiss. Leaving his disappointed mum behind, he waddles through the mud, around the bumpy rocks, up the mossy bank and under the leafy trees.

Everywhere he goes, Baby Hippo hears the same sound – ‘Kiss, kiss!’ – as the other baby animals kiss their parents good morning. When he remembers that he’s forgotten to do the same, he hurries home. But where is his mother?

Kiss, Kiss! is a delightful offering from acclaimed author Margaret Wild. The text is simple and rhythmic, with youngsters able to predict the ‘Kiss, kiss,” repeated throughout the story. The illustrations of Bridget Strevens-Mazro are a perfect complement, with the gentle colours of nature and an endearing Baby Hippo.

First released in 2003, the book has been re-released as a small format hardcover, promoted as a gift for mothers. Mums will love it – and so will their young charges.

Kiss, Kiss! by Margaret Wild, illustrated by Bridget Strevens-Mazro First Published Little Hare, 2003, new small format edition, 2006

Odd Socks, by Ilsa Evans

‘Mum – help, help!!!’
A sudden surge of panic catapults me out of bed and I gasp as the icy chill of the mid-July night slaps me vigorously, causing goose-bumps to break out across the length and breadth of my naked body.

When Terry Diamond is woken from a glorious dream by the sounds of her daughter screaming, she doesn’t immediately realise that her life is about to be turned upside down. But when she finds her daughter, Bronte, giving birth on her pristine lounge room carpet, she gets some hint of the changes her life is facing.

Terry has always prided herself on her organisational abilities, but in the week that follows these are put severely to the test. First, she has to deliver the baby. Then, there are trips to the hospital with a seemingly never-ending round of family and friends in attendance. She find herself avoiding her boyfriend, a pink-overall wearing handyman, without really knowing why. When she meets a stranger and falls helplessly in love, she really knows she’s lost it. Can she turn her life around?

Odd Socks is a laugh-aloud funny look at a week in the life of a forty-something woman as she discovers there are some things you just can’t plan. Whilst it is light and entertaining, it is also an insightful look into the workings of family relationships, friendships and romance. Terry and her friends have dramas aplenty as they claw their way through the daily chaos of their lives, but for every hardship there is an equal dose of humour.

A great read.

Odd Socks, by Ilsa Evans
First Published by Macmillan, 2005, this edition Pan, 2006.

Summer's End, by Luke C. Jackson

Suddenly Amy is holding a hand to the side of her face, her breath hitching as the hallway reverberates with the echo of flesh striking flesh.
Lila had slapped her.

Kristy has been away from Summer’s End and her school, the Owens Academy, for more than a year, after an extended stay in hospital. What she finds is a town and school much different than the place she left behind.

The school principal has gone missing and Nicci, the best friend that Kristy treated badly, is hanging out with the cool group. Kristy becomes increasingly aware that there is something dark lurking beneath the surface, but she has no idea what it is. Will she figure it out before it’s too late?

Summer’s End is a creepy thriller aimed at young teens. The action is well paced and readers are kept guessing right until the end, with twists and turns aplenty. Part of the English Alive series from Jacaranda, it is suitable for classroom use, but engaging enough to be enjoyed for private reading.

Summer’s End, by Luke C Jackson
Jacaranda, 2005