T-Bird and the Island of the Lost Cats, by Tonia Stagherlin

T-bird and her cat Soot are staying with her auntie for the holidays. They meet Rexie and discover the local cats are disappearing one by one. Add some strange neighbours, a touch of magic, a forbidden island and the mystery begins. Together, T-bird, Soot and Rexie work to solve the mystery of the missing cats.

This in an interesting story with some unusual twists. It begins slowly but builds pace in later chapters. There are a lot of characters and some distracting point of view slips. This book is described as being for 7-12 year old readers but would probably suit the older end of this range.

T-Bird and the Island of the Lost Cats by Tonia Stagherlin
www.t-bird.com.au ISBN: 1411666976

Half the Battle, by Don Henderson

‘Being hit in the goolies is probably number one on the list of things that are real funny when they happen to someone else and real not funny when they happen to you.’

Life used to be good for Sean Watson. Then his family lost their farm. Sean and his dad move to the city and Sean goes to Port Road High. When the school enters a team in the local football competition no one, least of all Sean, expects them to do well. Their coach is a lunatic and they can only scrape together fifteen players. Can they find a way to work together and make a team?

This novel, told through the eyes of the main character Sean, is fast moving and funny. Characters are well-drawn and convincing. As the football season progresses and the players begin to work as a team, Sean learns how to manage some of the challenges in his own life. Never heavy-handed, Half the Battle touches on many issues relevant to the target readership. Recommended for upper primary and early secondary readers.

Half the Battle, by Don Henderson
Omnibus Books (Scholastic), 2006
ISBN: 1862916772

Secret Mothers' Business, by Joanne Fedler

What happens when eight women get together for a sleepover with no husbands, no kids, a sumptuous feast and an awfully large tub of frozen daiquiris?

When writer and mother Joanne Fedler had a sleepover with a group of her friends, she did so as a welcome break from the daily grind of being a mother and wife, not as the opportunity to gather material for her next book. However, out of that night came the beginnings of a book which every mother will both relate to and enjoy.

This is a fictionalised account of an evening which brought together eight very different women. Some are working mothers, some not. One is divorced, the others married – though some more happily than others. A couple are financially comfortable, others struggle to provide for their families. What they have in common is their children – their friendship began when their children attended the same kindergarten.

In one night of feasting and drinking, the women lay themselves bare – talking about all aspects of motherhood, from breastfeeding and toilet training, to previously unspeakable thoughts of violence. There is also talk of sex, of body image and more.

This is an account which is at times funny, at others heart-wrenching, but at all times thought-provoking. Every mother who reads this book will find herself confronted with aspects of herself, perhaps even ones that she had previously not recognised.

This is an excellent read.

Secret Mothers’ Business, by Joanne Fedler
Allen & Unwin, 2006

It’s True! Everest Kills by Kim Wilson. Pictures by Andrew Plant

Here are some ways Everest can kill you: Avalanche; mountain illness; falling; freezing.

Despite the dangers, the hunger to reach the summit of Mt Everest continues unabated. This non-fiction title charts the history of man’s quest to reach the highest point on earth. Wilson assembles a fascinating collection of facts and anecdotes for this new offering in the ‘It’s True!’ collection. Fact boxes and often humourous cartoons by Andrew Plant enhance the reading experience.

It’s True! Everest Kills tells how to breathe where there is no oxygen and how to dress for success. It includes many tips for the aspiring climber. This book is light-handed but never underrates the challenges faced by those who would conquer the mighty mountain. Upper-primary readers will enjoy this book

It’s True! Everest Kills by Kim Wilson
Allen & Unwin 2006
ISBN: 1741144140

Flight of the Falcon by Susan Geason

Sybilla, daughter of a knight, has spent the past three years living in the Duke of Normandy’s castle. Here she and her cousin learn the skills required of a noblewoman. Their settled life is disrupted when war threatens and Sybilla is sent home to her mother. She sets off on her journey, little prepared for the challenges she will face.

Susan Geason takes a detailed look at history, bringing political and domestic details to life through the eyes of an adolescent girl. This story is appealing and fast moving. It will appeal to upper-primary readers. One small quibble is that the girl on the front cover looked thoroughly modern despite the internal descriptions of the restrictive veils that were worn in public.

Flight of the Falcon by Susan Geason
Little Hare 2006 isbn:1921049367

Living Next to Lulah, by Nette Hilton

Reviewed by Dale Harcombe

As the seventh born of the seventh born, Ari Greimshaw believes she has the gift of second sight- a gift she doesn’t want. When her friend’s annoying little brother Colin Bucket, better known as Fungus, dies Ari blames herself. In a few short sentences on the first page, the reader is drawn in to the situation Ari finds herself in.

From there, the story switches between the present and the past with the past being written in italics so readers are clear about what is happening and when.

If it’s not bad enough that she blames herself for Colin’s death, Ari finds the relationship between Lulah, who has been her next door neighbour and best friend for almost as long as she can remember, deteriorating day by day.

This novel gives a good picture of what can happen when misunderstandings, jealousy, and boyfriends enter the picture. Girls in particular, will relate to this story about growing up and the way ideas and even close friendships change over time especially as suspicions grow.

Nette Hilton has been teaching and writing for many years, and it shows in the way she uses language eg the ‘black car that must have arrived on cushioned wheels’ or the sky ‘dark and tight with promise.’ She is also expert at withholding information till the appropriate time in the story. The result is a tale of suspense and secrets that will keep the reader turning the pages to find out what happens.

Living Next to Lulah, by Nette Hilton
Angus&Robertson an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers, 2006
RRP $16.99AUD

Octavius O’Malley and the Mystery of the Exploding Cheese, by Alan Sunderland

Reviewed by Dale Harcombe

If Living Next to Lulah (by Nette Hilton, also newly released by Harper Collins) appeals mostly to girls, I have no doubt boys will gobble up this quirky tale of Octavius O’Malley and the Mystery of the Exploding Cheese.Octavius is a senior investigator of the police force who is trying to track down a criminal gang. Nothing so unusual about that perhaps, except that Octavius (Ocko to his friends) is a rat. A furry rat that hates cheese but loves doughnuts. He is trying to get a lead to capture the notorious River Road Mouse Gang.

This book is big on slapstick humour. The scene on page 6 is very funny. There are others, interspersed with jokes and puns like that of Kurt Remarque the biggest property owner in Rodent City.

Something about the case of the exploding cheese factory concerns Ocko but he is unprepared for what he discovers. In the process of solving the crime and stopping an even worse crime, that of poisoning all the rats and mice in Rodent City, Ocko is forced into some strange liaisons.

Filled with action, humour and amusing black and white illustrations throughout that add to the text, this book is sure to be a hit with primary aged children, in particular boys. I believe teachers and librarians will find this disappearing from classroom and library shelves as soon as it is returned. The novel is not all humour and action though. In the hands of a skilful educator, the way the monkey people (translate humans) look down on rats and the rats have a similar attitude to and oppress mice, could lead into an interesting discussion about society and the way one group of people oppresses another.

This is the first in a series of adventures featuring Octavius O’Malley.

Octavius O’Malley and the Mystery of the Exploding Cheese, by Alan Sunderland
Angus&Robertson an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers, 2006. ARP $14.99AUD

The Freewheelers – Unleashed!by J.A. Mawter

Reviewed by Dale Harcombe

This book is the first of a new series and reminiscent of the Secret Seven and Famous Five books many of us remember from childhood. The difference is this is a group of smart, multicultural kids from varied family situations in Australia. In the four friends, who make up the Freewheelers, two are male, two female and two are twins. They hang out together, spending a lot of their time doing tricks on their bicycles or just hanging out at their hideout.

When the group consisting of Bryce, Mio, Clem and Darcy, see a beagle being mistreated they attempt to rescue it but the beagle disappears. Then other dogs go missing. What is going on? The Freewheelers are determined to find out.

These high spirited twins and their friends come across as real, believable children in an urban setting. They are children who love mystery, games and adventure. Each character is distinctly drawn with interesting characteristics, like Bryce who has a song to fit every occasion. The writing is full of action and excitement that will quickly draw readers in not only to this book but will have readers around the 9-12 age group waiting eagerly for others in the series to come out. A great read.

The Freewheelers – Unleashed!by J.A. Mawter
HarperCollins, 2006 Paperback RRP $14.95

Tobruk, by Peter Fitzsimons

Reviewed by Dale Harcombe

Tobrukis a story of fighting against the odds. It details the story of The Australian Infantry’s Defence of this strategic place. But what FitzSimons has done in this story of Tobruk is not only give the story behind the story but given human faces to those involved.

He starts by introducing his cast of characters who will play a major part in this narrative. FitzSimons not only tells the reader about the men who fought but gives a picture of the families left at home.

The reader meets the young John Hurst Edmondson, known as Jack, and comes to understand the family background from which he came. Jack, the only child of Will and Elizabeth Edmondson went on to become the first AIF recipient of the Victoria Cross. Fitzsimons also introduces the reader to Leslie Morshead, the ex schoolmaster, who also had an instrumental part to play in the defence of Tobruk. His character comes out in his actions and his letters home to his wife Myrtle. And then there is the story of Josie and John Johnson and the motivation initially for enlisting. Part of the Johnson’s story is the poignant recounting of the loss of the Dumbo book- the last book given by John to his son. These insights into the personal lives of those involved ensure that this is more than just a story above war, strategy and battles.

Through the use of diaries and letters, FitzSimons gives glimpses into the character and attitudes of those who shaped this episode of Australia’s history. The incidents of Australian humour and mateship that surfaced even in the face of danger are evident too. As one Australian wrote to his mother while in Tobruk, ‘I’m proud to be an Aussie. The Hun fights with grim determination, the Tommies fight by number, but the Aussies tear about like kids at a picnic, swearing and laughing the whole time.’ It was this attitude that confounded the enemy.

Even when Lord Haw Haw, the radio broadcaster intending to discourage the Australians at Tobruk announced that; ‘living like rats, they’ll die like rats,’ his derogatory comment had the opposite effect to what he intended. The comment provoked laughter among the Diggers and they delightedly adopted the title of ‘Rats of Tobruk.’

However Fitzsimons does not content himself with portraying the character and motivation of the Australians but also manages to give a picture of Hitler’s early life and what propelled him into popularity as well as the rise of Rommel and the role he played. Extracts of letters from Rommel to his wife Lu, show another side to this man who played such a major part in the Tobruk campaign.

Fitzsimons demonstrates some of the anomalies that happen during war. One such event was the intervention of the German officer who came forward to protect Father Tom Gard and the Australian men from certain destruction by a minefield as they sought to rescue their wounded. For a time it was as though the war didn’t exist as German and Australian men worked side by side to help each other gather those who had fallen. In the words of one Australian soldier, who took part in it, ‘it was as though two armoured combatants had paused to raise their visors and for one moment had glimpsed human faces behind the steel.’

This comment perhaps sums up the tenor of the book. Throughout, FitzSimons presents the human face of those involved in the long, drawn out defence of Tobruk. An interesting and informative read.

Tobruk, by Peter Fitzsimons
HarperCollins, 2006 Hardcover RRP $49.95
ISBN 0732276454

The Stone Angel, by Katherine Scholes

She stood still, staring ahead over open heathland. The sea lay spread before her – a wide expanse of heaving grey, faintly flecked with white. The leaden hue was mirrored so closely by the sky that the horizon could barely be seen. Sky and sea were one – a vast, cold realm. She felt a slow shiver travel up her spine.

Stella Boyd grew up in a small Tasmanian village, but she hasn’t been back since she was a teenager. Now she is a successful journalist travelling the world and reporting from dangerous locations. But when she receives word that her fisherman father is missing at sea she knows that she must return to Halfmoon Bay and face the demons of her past.

Back at home Stella must deal with the events of 1975 and face Zeph, the young man she met in an isolated bay near her house. Only when she deals with the emotional events of her teenage years can she begin to build a future for herself and her mother.

The Stone Angel is a beautiful, heart wrenching novel, set in a quiet fishing village in Tasmania. It is a tale of family secrets, and of life dreams, as well as of fate, and draws the reader into an emotionally fraught journey over the main character’s sixteenth summer, and the period following her father’s death sixteen years later, with glimpses at the intervening years.

A beautiful book.

The Stone Angel, by Katherine Scholes
Macmillan, 2006