Cairo Jim and the Astragals of Angkor, by Geoffrey McSkimming

The whole train of events was set into motion because of seven marshmallows.
Seven raspberry-flavoured marshmallows, to be exact. Seven raspberry-flavoured marshmallows that were shaped like miniature walruses, to be even more exact. Seven raspberry-flavoured marshmallows shaped like miniature walruses that had been made by the Poshoglian Sweets, Confectionery and Custard Company, Incorporated, if you want to know the minute details.

The Old Relics Society in Cairo has a large underground vault. In it are many treasures, some secret, some almost forgotten by those who put them there. It is here that Cairo Jim discovers six of the seven legendary Astragals of Angkor. Surprised that they truly exist, Cairo Jim is astounded and dismayed that they are in the vaults rather than in the Cambodian temple where they belong. Why is there a trail of plaster dust leading away from the carvings? Further investigations reveal that there is more mystery surrounding the carvings. They also discover they are not the only ones keen to discover the whereabouts of the seventh carving. Cairo Jim is ably assisted in his adventure by Doris, a talking Macaw and Brenda the wonder camel as they race to prevent the unthinkable happening.

Cairo Jim and the Astragals of Angkor: A Tale of Extraordinary Entanglement is the eighteenth adventure for Cairo Jim, as discovered and chronicled by Geoffrey McSkimming. Jim’s passion is archaeology, but his life is filled with mystery and adventure. ‘Cairo Jim and the Astragals of Angkor’ also features Cairo Jim’s other passion – poetry – although some of the other characters seem to wish it didn’t. The point of view is omniscient and allows the reader rich insight into the thoughts of all characters. McSkimming draws the reader into a world full of adventure and excitement. There is a traditional baddy, Neptune Flannelbottom Bone intent on achieving his newest nefarious aims, no matter the consequences. Bone is assisted by his own animal companion, a flea-ridden, unlikeable raven, Desdemona. Cairo Jim’s connections are wide-ranging and his adventures take him all around the world, as he races to stop Bone. A rich, funny adventure, it is sure to appeal to mid-primary to early secondary aged readers.

Cairo Jim and the Astragals of Angkor: A Tale of Extraordinary Entanglement, Geoffrey McSkimming
Hachette Children’s Books 2007
ISBN: 9780733616617

Crime Seen, by Jenny Pausacker

My pocket beeped. I hate it when that happens while I’m on a bus packed with people. When I reached for my mobile, I accidentally elbowed a guy in a business suit, who rolled his eyes and sighed.
I shrugged, bumping again, and checked to see who’d been texting me.
It was my mate Seb, of course. Seb can’t leave his mobile alone for more than two minutes. His message said:
harris U freek rU at wrk? cany ded bods yet?
I scowled. Ever since I told him I was doing my work experience at the Forensics Unit in the city, Seb had been carrying on like I was Hannibal Lector.
That showed how much he knew. I mean, forensic pathologists are the good guys, right?

Fifteen year-old Harris has been interested in forensic pathology for a long time and is very excited to be doing work experience at the city’s Forensics Unit. His supervisor has organised for him to spend time in all the different departments. But when the chief pathologist’s daughter, Tansy, goes missing, and he inadvertently sees a body in the morgue, Harris discovers that plans are not worth much. He is welcomed into the ‘family’ of people who work in this challenging area. Harris gets caught up in the mystery and publicity around the disappearance and a murder. There is speculation that someone in the unit may be involved. Harris develops and discards many theories on who could possibly be responsible before the culprit is ultimately revealed.

Teenagers often develop obsessions and the main character in Crime Seen is no different. But his obsession is a little less common. He’s obsessed with ‘helping the dead’, by working out just how they died. Unexpectedly, he also learns that he enjoys working with those left behind. He’s impatient with his movie-obsessed younger brother, keen to learn, keen to make a good impression, concerned about appearances and prone to jumping to conclusions. In short, he’s delightfully normal despite his less-common interests. Pausacker has planted plenty of clues and red herrings to keep the reader twisting and turning along with Harris as the story unfolds. Set in an Australian city, this crime novel for younger readers is well-paced and rewarding. Recommended for upper-primary and lower-secondary readers.

Crime Seen

Crime Seen, by Jenny Pausacker
Lothian Children’s Books 2007
ISBN: 9870734410016

This book is available for purchase online at Fishpond. Buying through this link supports Aussiereviews.

Harpoon, by Andrew Darby

This much we know. The first Fin whale to be harpooned in the Antarctic for 30 years was a 19-metre long male
It was of a species facing a very high risk of extinction and it was killed to the north of Prydz Bay, eastern Antarctica, in a whale sanctuary.

So begins Harpoon, a detailed exploration of the history of whaling, a book which is both enlightening and disarming. At the same time as it provides an in-depth expose of current and past whaling processes, it shows the problems that anti-whaling protestors are up against.

This is not just a book for those with an interest or passion for whale conservation, although of course the books will be both a useful tool and a motivator for such readers. At the same time, for those who are aware of the whaling conflict, but choose to stay removed from the situation, Harpoon will be a wake-up call, detailing unemotively the facts of whaling practice and the pressures faced by today’s whale numbers.

Author Andrew Darby avoids being didactic or preachy, presenting the information in an ordered, reasoned way and leaving readers to draw their own conclusions. This is perhaps why the book hits home so hard.

An important book.

Harpoon: Into the Heart of Whaling

Harpoon: Into the Heart of Whaling, by Andrew Darby
Allen & Unwin, 2007

This book can be purchased online at Fishpond. Buying through this link helps to support Aussiereviews.

Thomas Trew and the Klint-King's Gold

‘Did you hear what the Professor said?’ whispered Patch, her eyes starting nearly out of her head.
‘About hiding something big in plain sight? Yes!’ said Pinch.
‘I think that –’ Thomas began. But he never finished his sentence, for at that very moment, something hard came down on the back of his neck, and he fell into a roaring blackness, shot through with whizzing red stars.

Thomas is a human child whose destiny has taken him to live in the hidden world, in the marvellous village of Owlchurch. In this, his third adventure, Owlchurch is hosting the Magicians’ and Enchanters’ Convention, and Thomas is thrilled to be witnessing different kinds of magic. But when the valuable prizes for a special competition are stolen, Thomas and his friends Pinch and Patch decide to investigate.

Thomas Trew and the Klint-King’s Gold is an exciting fantasy for middle and upper primary aged readers. It stands alone, though readers will probably enjoy it more if they have read the earlier titles in the series.

Author Sophie Masson weaves a fantasy world which is both intriguing and humorous, with an impressive cast of characters painted in enough depth to satisfy young readers, who will be egaer to read the rest of the series.

Thomas Trew and the Klint-kings Gold

Thomas Trew and the Klint-King’s Gold, by Sophie Masson
Hodder, 2007

This book can be purchased online at Fishpond. Buying through this link supports Aussiereviews.

Tomorrow All Will Be Beautiful, by Brigid Lowry

This is for the girl with the dodgy sense of humour; for the girl who likes sad songs and blue marbles, the one whose dog just got run over by a car, and the one whose cat just had kittens.

Part autobiography, part whimsy and all lovely, this is a collection of short stories and poems from award-winning author Brigid Lowry, a New Zealander who has spent much of there writing life in Australia, but has recently returned to he homeland. Both countries feature heavily in various stories.

Subject matter is wide and varies – from bad hair days to divorce and moving out of home – but the common thread is Lowry’s blend of wisdom with whimsy. Readers may well find themselves floating through the stories in a sort of dream-like state of awareness. Having said this, this adult reviewer had trouble imaging her teenage daughter enjoying the stories as much as she herself did, in spite of the young adult labelling of the book.

Lowry’s writing is easy to read, but never simplistic or patronising. Readers will get out of the stories what they choose to absorb, looking beyond problems such as what to do with one’s hair, to the reality of the problems of self-confidence which are being explored, for example. There are also plenty of opportunities for laughter and head-nodding agreement with Lowry’s take on life.

This is a beautiful collection with much to offer women and girls of any age.

Tomorrow All Will be Beautiful

Tomorrow All Will Be Beautiful, by Brigid Lowry
Allen & Unwin, 2007

This book can be purchased online at Fishpond. Buying through this link supports Aussiereviews.