he Pocket Dogs Go On Holiday, by Margaret Wild & Stephen Michael King

“Home time,” said Mr Pockets, so they went back down the beach to collect Mr Pocket’s coat.
But while they’d been on the rocks, the tide had come in. The kennel castle was gone – and so was Mr Pocket’s very big coat!

Biff and Buff have always loved being Mr Pockets’ very own pocket dogs. When Mr Pockets takes them on a holiday by the sea, they love travelling in his pockets. But when Mr Pockets takes the coat off to play on the beach, something dreadful happens and the coat disappears. Mr Pockets says they will buy a new coat – but there isn’t a coat with the right style and pockets. Biff and Buff wonder if they’ll ever be pocket dogs again – until they remember that sometimes things washed out to sea can be washed back in again.

The Pocket Dogs Go on Holiday marks the delightful return of the much loved little dogs to the picture book scene. Just as in The Pocket Dogs there is whimsy, adventure and a gentle story line. Stephen Michael King’s beautiful water colour with black ink outlined illustrations are gorgeous and bring to life the adventures and imaginings of the little dog, capturing the gentle tone of the story perfectly.

A perfect picture book.

The Pocket Dogs Go on Holiday

The Pocket Dogs Go On Holiday, by Margaret Wild and Stephen Michael King
Omnibus, 2008

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

Von Gobstopper's Arcade, by Alexandra Adornetto

he reached out bravely to stroke the waving mechanical hand. They had not, after all, been instructed not to touch. Immediately the clockwork toy’s hand snapped shut around her wrist. Milli tried to shake her hand free but Boi Toi’s grip was as strong as a vice. The class gasped as his shiny face bore down on her. Milli saw Boi Toi’s eyes flash at her, so lifelike now they sent shivers up her spine, and he bared his teeth.

Life in Drabville is returning to normal. Since Milli and Ernest rescued the rest of the children from the Conjuror’s realm, all they want is a quiet life, free of adventures. But when philanthropist and master toymaker, Gustav Von Gobstopper hears of their bravery, he wants to give the children of Drabville a special gift: a Toy Arcade. When the arcade opens Milli and Ernest quickly realise that something strange is going on. Is their old foe, Lord Aldor back?

Von Gobstopper’s Arcade is the third and final instalment in the delightful Strangest Adventures series from young writer Alexandra Adornetto. With the same charming use of language as the earlier instalments, this new offering takes readers –and the two heroes – on an adventure filled with unusual characters. Aided by talking, living toys, the children work to prevent Lord Aldor from ruining Christmas and wreaking revenge on Drabsville.

Another wonderfilled offering aimed at 9 to 12 year old readers.

Von Gobstopper's Arcade (Strangest Adventures)

Von Gobstopper’s Arcade, by Alexandra Adornetto
Angus & Robertson, 2009

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

Girl Next Door, by Alyssa Brugman

See, what happened was, our lives were going really well. My mum got a promotion. I enrolled in an A-list school, and then my Dad had this great idea to start an empire. But now he’s ‘gone to the country’. What does that mean? Is it the same place they take old, sick dogs? Has he joined a cult? It’s been two months now, and I still don’t know what it means.
Declan, the boy next door, says that my dad’s in hospital, but everyone’s dying as far as Declan is concerned. Now there are strange people living in our spare rooms, and all my stuff is on the lawn. I’ve tried to raise it with my mum, but she talks to me as if I am a four-year-old – when she talks to me at all, which is less and less lately. Hello! Can somebody tells me what’s going on?

Jenna-belle’s life used to be wonderful. Her parents had plenty of money, they’d moved into a big house and Jenna and her brother were enrolled in A list schools. Then things started to change. First her mother announced she was pregnant, then her dad disappeared from their lives – gone to the country, so Mum says. With no money to keep up with the mortgage and the school fees, everything is gradually being sold, and the spare rooms are being rented by strangers.

Jenna-belle’s only friends are Declan, the boy next door ( who is convinced that he’s dying), and the new boarder, Bryce Cole, a chronic gambler. But even they can’t help when Jenna-belle is kicked out of school for non payment of fees, threatened by debt collectors looking for Bryce, and eventually left homeless when the family is evicted from their home. Jenna-belle knows her life is spiralling out of control, but doesn’t know where to turn for help. Dad is absent and Mum seems unable to face reality. Bryce Cole offers support – but only when he’s not gambling. When Jenna-Belle and her family find themselves on the street, it seems there is no hope for a turnaround.

Girl Next Door is a timely novel, given the increasing pressure many families find themselves under in 2009. More than a million Australians are believed to be under mortgage stress, and this novel examines the issue through exploring its destructive impact on one family. There are other issues here – family breakdown, infidelity, gambling addiction and teen illness included – but the overriding one is what happens when a family can no longer afford the lifestyle they are used to. Author Brugman manages to explore these weighty issues with a voice which is also able to be humorous, as Jenna-belle manages to see the wryly funny aspects of her train-wreck life. Teen readers will be drawn in by this voice and become increasingly engaged with a character who develops and grows through the course of the novel.

A gripping, brilliant read for teens.

Girl Next Door

Girl Next Door, by Alyssa Brugman
Random House, 2009

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

Where the Heart Leads, by Stephanie Laurens

Penelope raised her eyes and locked them on Barnaby Adair’s face. And tried her damndest not to see. When she’d determined to call on him, she hadn’t imagined he – his appearance – would have the slightest effect on her. Why would she? No man had ever made her feel breathless, so why should he? It was distinctly annoying.

Penelope Ashforth is not a typical ton miss. Although she lives a life of privilege, she is determined to work hard and to make a difference for those less fortunate than herself. She runs an institution which looks after orphans, preparing them for successful lives. She has no time for men, and certainly no intention of every marrying. But when five of her intended charges mysteriously disappear, she has to turn to a man – Barnaby Adair.

Adair is a man of the ton, and similarly determined to make a difference. His contribution is to solve crimes as an investigator. He, too, is not keen on the idea of marriage – though he is not without an interest in women. When the pair meet, neither expects their mutual desire to find the missing boys will be matched by another mutual desire – one which consumes their every waking moment.

Where the Heart Leads is a sensuous regency romance novel. Against the backdrop of the mystery of the disappearing boys, and a murder, the complicated relationship between the two main characters develops, with passionate scenes aplenty. For fans of author Stephanie Laurens there are some familiar names and characters, with Adair having featured in Laurens’ earlier books about the Cynster clan, and Penelope the younger sister of Portia Cynster. But those who have not read the earlier books will not be at a loss – this is a stand alone title and also marks the first in a new series, From the Casebook of Barnaby Adair.

Where the Heart Leads: From the Casebook of Barnaby Adair

Where the Heart Leads, by Stephanie Laurens
Avon Books, 2009

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

A Beginner's Guide to Living, by Lia Hills

She looks good for a corpse. Except she never wore green eye shadow, was never this still. Her ribcage has been cracked open-you can’t see anything, it’s all been cleaned up, but I can imagine them beneath her dress, the tracks of stitches that will never heal. Some doctor thrust his hand inside her chest, reached in and touched her heart. It must affect your view of love. It didn’t work, of course – her heart refused to obey his hands. Bit gung ho, my dad reckoned, breaking her open when there was no longer a chance. But, it’s worth it, isn’t it?

When Will’s mother dies suddenly, Will’s life is in turmoil. He’s seventeen and in his final year of high school. His final exams are looming, but he can’t focus on study when he’s busy trying to make meaning out of life. Nor does the fact that he fell in love at his mum’s wake help the situation. Taryn is supportive of his problems, but the complications of sex and love add to the confusion.

The Beginner’s Guide to Living is a finely tuned exploration of grief, family breakdown, first love, and a quest for meaning. Told in Will’s first person voice, and punctuated with texts and messages between Will and Taryn, as well as photographs, and quotes from philosophers and poets, the reader travels with Will as he grieves for his mother and tries to find a reason for living. We also witness the differing grieving styles of his father, who is drifting, and his older brother, who is in denial.

Author Lia Hills is a poet, and this is much in evidence in her beautiful prose. Like a verse novel, there is focus only on important scenes, with transitions marked by breaks or changes to the messaging format. In other places chapter endings and transitions are marked with Will’s questions, which he writes in his notebook.

This is an outstanding novel for teens and deserves to be read.

The Beginner's Guide to Living

The Beginner’s Guide to Living, by Lia Hills
Text Publishing, 2009

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Connie and the Pigeons, by Mabel Kaplan

Reviewed by Sally Odgers

Connie and the Pigeonsis a small, handy-sized picturebook illustrated in soft tones of blue-grey, sepia, and muted browns. It has accents of bright colour here and there which “lift” the drawings. I am reminded of a long-ago favourite picturebook of my son’s, with similarly soft drawings. The illustrations repay examination, as children will love looking for the peripatetic lizard character that appears from time to time.

Connie is considerably longer than most picturebook texts. In many ways, it is more like a short, chapterless children’s novel. This length and style of story was popular when I was young, and I have always liked it. The extra word count gives a more relaxed feeling to the telling.

The Connie of the story is the first Qantas plane to take Australian passengers to the UK. Connie loves her work, and is unhappy when she is retired and sent to an aeroplane graveyard for possible recycling. Her lonely days improve when some pigeons set up housekeeping in her interior. The friendly pigeons are indirectly responsible for Connie’s second chance at life.

Connie is a sweet character, and her story is told in a friendly and readable manner. Connie is a “person”, but remains a plane in capabilities. She cannot move unless assisted by a human pilot. The text is simply written, but, like the illustrations, is brightened with touches of verbal and adjectival colour. I can heartily recommend Connie’s story for children (and adults) with a love of planes, aviation history, museums, and stories of renewal and triumph.

Connie and the Pigeons, by Mabel Jean Kaplan, illustrated by Kelli Hainke
Stories for the Telling, 2007

To read Mabel’s account of how she came to write Connie and the Pigeons, visit her guest-blogger appearance at Spinning Pearls .

Connie and the Pigeons is available through Westbooks in Victoria Park WA (08) 9361 4211 Email: orders@westbooks.com.au; online through http://www.justlocal.com.au/clients/book/mabel-kaplan/ or direct from the publisher Stories for the Telling 54 Hudson Avenue Girrawheen WA 6064 Tel. (08) 9342 7150 Email: mabelka@hotmail.com
cnr Airport and Boomerang Roads
Albion Park Rails, New South Wales 2527
Qantas Founder Outback Museum
PO Box 737
Longreach Qld 4730

This review was first published at Read and reviewed. It is reprinted here with permission.

The Schumann Frequency, by Christopher Ride

On the rooftop, a time traveller lay pale and motionless. White smoke hovered above him in the still morning air. Suddenly, spiderwebs of electricity rippled across his lifeless body, causing his eyes to dart from side to side under his eyelids. His left hand twitched, then the right. With a mighty heave of his chest, he gasped and opened his eyes.
Wilson Dowling had successfully made a leap of almost seventy years backwards in time.

In the year 2081, law student Wilson Dowling is at university in Australia, working towards finishing his studies. He little expects to be told that he has the perfect genetic makeup to become the world’s first time traveller. In the year 2012, Helena Capriarty has been troubled by strange dreams and visions. Even when she’s awake, she is disturbed by visions of troubling events happening to someone else but being seen through her eyes. She doesn’t understand what is happening, but she does know that she has to find the man these things are happening to.

Wilson’s mission in 2012 will save the world, if he can carry it out – and Helena is going to do everything she can to help him do it. But there is one man determined to stop Wilson – and if Helena gets in the way, he’ll stop her, too.

The Schumann Frequency is an intriguing science fiction tale combining the possibility of time travel with an action packed mission to save the world, with a little romance and humour thrown into the mix. Coming in at a massive 518 pages in length, it is an absorbing read which will satisfy both sci-fi and action-adventure fans.

First self published in 2007, the novel has been picked up by Random House, who will also publish the sequel in October this year.

The Schumann Frequency

The Schumann Frequency, by Christopher Ride
Random House, 2009

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

Zoltan the Magnificent, by Bob Graham

Jack never saw much of his Dad, who left early for work and got back late at night. Sometimes Jack got up to see his Dad.
‘Never enough time,’ said Dad, and was gone.
Just a cold teabag left behind in the kitchen sink.

Jack doesn’t see much of Dad – and when he does, Dad seems to be impatient and not much fun. So, when the family goes on holiday, Jack think it’s Mum who will be the most fun. But as Dad unwinds, Jack sees an unexpected side of Dad. Perhaps Dad can be fun, after all. Dad, too, learns from Jack and the rest of the family, and learns to take life a little less seriously.

Zoltan the Magnificent is a lovely tale of family togetherness and rediscovery. The events of the family holiday are told in detail, with tricks played, adventures had and lessons learnt all featuring – from peas rolling across the floor of a restaurant, to walks on the beach and family entertainment – with the reader privileged to observe these scenes, through Bob Graham’s delightful word-pictures and his whimsical illustrations. First published in 2004, Zoltan the Magnificent has been reprinted to be available to a new young audience.

Zoltan the Magnificent

Zoltan the Magnificent, by Bob Graham
Lothian, this edition 2008, first published in 1994

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

Wombat and Fox – Thrillseekers, by Terry Denton

Wombat sat at the table writing in his book.
‘Are you writing about me?’ asked Fox.
No, Foxy, why would I do that?’
‘No reason.’
‘I am sick of boring birthdays, so I’m making a list of WILD and DANGEROUS deeds to do between now and my next birthday.’

It is Wombat’s birthday and he is keen to do something dangerous and exciting, but most of the things he wants to do are too dangerous for Fox. But eventually, Wombat convinces Fox to try scootering down Bandicoot’s Hill. Fox isn’t too sure, but together the duo proves to be a good team.

Wombat and Fox: Thrillseekers is the third in Terry Denton’s popular and funny Wombat and Fox series. With three self contained adventures, and lots of Denton’s trademark silly illustrations, Thrillseekers will appeal to readers of a wide age and ability range.

Good stuff.

Wombat and Fox Thrillseekers

Wombat and Fox: Thrillseekers, by Terry Denton
Allen & Unwin, 2009

This book can be purchased online at Fishpond. Buying through this link supports Aussiereviews.Also in the Series

Wombat and Fox: Summer in the City

Lucy Springer Gets Even, by Lisa Heidke

Last night my husband, Max, looked at me over his half-eaten Pad Thai and in calm, measured tones, said, ‘I’ve had enough.’
I was preoccupied thinking about our two children, who’d left on a school camp that afternoon, so didn’t pay much attention as he pushed his plate away, stood up and disappeared out the kitchen door.

Lucy Springer’s life is in chaos. Her husband has left her, her house is in pieces, the result of a never-ending renovation, and her acting career has descended into an abyss of auditions for dog poo commercials. After a few days in a Grange Hermitage-induced fugue, Lucy decides she needs to get on with her life. First she needs to get the builders under control. Three months behind schedule is more than enough. Then she needs to sort out her image so she’ll land those new roles. Lastly, a trip to Bail to sort out her husband and his nineteen year old girlfriend is on the agenda. But will any of these things work, or will Lucy’s life continue to spiral out of control?

Lucy Springer Gets Even is a funny, fast paced read about life, love, and settling the score. Lucy is a self-deprecating first person narrator who recognises her imperfections (well, some of them, anyway) and finds strength in the curveballs life seems intent on throwing at her. Her husband’s departure with the babysitter is the wakeup call that she needs to take charge of her own life, and she sets about doing that – with mixed results, initially.

At times sad, at others wise, this is mostly a humorous feel good book about one woman’s triumph over adversity.

Lucy Springer Gets Even, by Lisa Heidke
Allen & Unwin, 2009