Star, by Catherine Bateson

‘You’re hurting me,’ she said, and her voice sounded lonely and sad. ‘This attitude you have, Star. Where does it come from? Those kids are going through a rough time. You know that. How would you feel if you suddenly weren’t living with your dad?’
I glared at her. ‘I’m not,’ I said. ‘Remember, he’s dead.’


After Dad died, it was just Star and her mum, and, together, they managed. But Mum’s old friend Charlie has come to live with them and life has changed. Sometimes Charlie can be fun – suggesting walks on the beach, or teaching Star how to write Haiku – but other times he lies on his fold up bed unmoving, or says mean things to Star and Mum. But what Star hates most is when his pesky kids come to visit. There isn’t much going right in Star’s life, but it seems Mum hasn’t got the time or patience to listen.

Star is the story of a girl struggling to be heard in a household where there’s lots going on. Not only are she and her mother still trying to cope with the loss of her dad, but Charlie is coping with the end of his marriage, and his children with the changes this has wrought. Star is ofent asked to keep an eye on the younger children, and her unhappiness with all these changes, and with her isolation at school, is overlooked by both adults, or regarded as selfishness on her part. Adult readers will find this a little confronting, but probably quite realistic. Thankfully, as the story progresses the adults redeem themselves and, even when they are at their least likable, Star is supported by Mum’s friend Cara and a wise librarian at school.

Star is an endearing first person narrator who will have the reader cheering for good things to happen to her. At times she is, as her mother accuses, self centred, but this adds to the sense of realism. She is, after all, a little girl with a lot going on and must look out for herself when it seems no one else is. She also cares about those around her.

Ultimately, Star is a feel good novel about being given a chance to shine.


Star, by Catherine Bateson
Scholastic, 2012
ISBN 9781862919815

Available from good bookstores and online.

Banjo Bounces Back, by Lachie Hume

Banjo was a star.
But one day Banjo flew too high…
and took a terrible tumble.

Banjo Bounces Back

Banjo the horse loves hoofball. He practices every day with his friend Bella, and they play together every Saturday wit their team, the Whinnies. But when Banjo has a fall, the doctor orders him not to play for six weeks. Bedridden, Banjo plays on his Haystation and eats molasses. When he is finally allowed to play hoofball again, he is overweight and unfit, and nothing feels right. Discouraged, he gives up the game – until something happens to Bella that makes him realise how much his friends, his team, and hoofball all mean to him. He realises that if he wants to keep playing he needs to get fit again.

Banjo Bounces Back is a humorous new picture book from the creator of Clancy the Courageous Cow, with messages about health and fitness, being part of a team, self belief and friendship. The horse characters, brought to life in a deceptively simple watercolour illustrations, and the equine lingo (Haystation and horspital are just two examples) will appeal to young readers.

Lots of fun.
Banjo Bounces Back, by Lachie Hume
Omnibus, 2012
ISBN 9781862918467

Available from good bookstores or online.

Mr Chen’s Emporium by Deborah O’Brien

Then – 1872

Amy Duncan was only halfway through her journey and already she was longing for Sydney and its cool harbour breezes. As she waited at the coach stop outside Granthurst railway station, her new straw bonnet, tilted forward in the latest fashion, could do nothing to protect her face from the midday sun. If only she could board the next train back to Redfern terminal, she would be in her aunt’s house by suppertime. But that was the wishful thinking of a selfish girl who cared only to lead her own life. And that life she must forget for the foreseeable future. Her father had written saying her mother was ill –not dangerously so, but serious enough to need help with the chores. It was Amy’s duty to join her family.

Then – 1872

Amy Duncan was only halfway through her journey and already she was longing for Sydney and its cool harbour breezes. As she waited at the coach stop outside Granthurst railway station, her new straw bonnet, tilted forward in the latest fashion, could do nothing to protect her face from the midday sun. If only she could board the next train back to Redfern terminal, she would be in her aunt’s house by suppertime. But that was the wishful thinking of a selfish girl who cared only to lead her own life. And that life she must forget for the foreseeable future. Her father had written saying her mother was ill –not  dangerously so, but serious enough to need help with the chores. It was Amy’s duty to join her family.


Tears streaming down her face, Angie Wallace sat on the hardwood floor of the sitting room, hemmed in by a circle of cardboard packing boxes, most of them still unopened. She should have known better. It was the photos that had set her off – they always did. Just when she had passed a full day without a single tear. Just when she’d started to imagine little scenes from a possible future, instead of playing the past like a movie channel in her head, month after month.

Mr Chen's Emporium

Amy and Angie live 140 years apart. What links them is Millbrooke, a gold mining town in rural New South Wales. Amy, a young idealistic 17-year-old travels there to join her family who moved there earlier, while she remained in Sydney to finish her education. Angie, a recent widow with two independent sons, is dragged there by her well-meaning friends for a weekend away. They are trying to break into the grief that has consumed Angie since her husband’s death. Neither Amy or Angie can have imagined the effect Millbrooke would have on them. And neither could have imagined the link that would connect them through the years. The emporium of the title fascinates Amy, as does its owner, Mr Chen. He is a man who embraces both his birth culture and his adopted Australian home. Not an easy thing to do in a goldmining town that is quite hostile to some of his countrymen. Amy, educated in the city cannot see why anyone should be treated differently just because of his culture. In the present, Angie struggles with similar issues of prejudice, this time over the potential establishment of a new mine, as well as showing her own prejudices about her landlord.

Mr Chen’s Emporium is a story of beginnings and endings, of love and loss. It is a story of prejudice and open-mindedness too, set in a country town at times of change. At the beginning, Amy is a young character full of the wonder and joy of life, and the certainty of youth. Angie, on the other hand, is mired in her loss and unable to find a way forward. They find judgement and support in likely and unlikely places and must make their own decisions in the face of strong advice from those around them. Mr Chen’s Emporium swaps between Amy’s and Angie’s story from autumn, through a year to the following autumn. Each season section is headed by a quote from Galland’s Aladdin and his Magic Lamp, translated from French. An entertaining read about rural life historically and now.

Mr Chen’s Emporium, Deborah O’Brien
Random House 2012 ISBN: 9781742755540

review by Claire Saxby, Children’s Author

Available from good bookstores or online.

Metro Winds, by Isobelle Carmody

So there was a girl. Young but not too young. A face as unformed as an egg, so that one could not tell if she would turn out to be fair or astonishingly ugly. She was to be sent to a city in another land by a mother and father in the midst of a divorce. The one thing they could agree upon was that the girl should not be exposed to the violence they meant to commit on their life. There was a quality in her that made it impossible to do the ravening that the end of love required.

Metro Winds

Nobody who has read any of Isobelle Camody’s work can doubt her ability as a story teller, and this new collection of six stories serves only to cement that certainty. Metro Winds, a collection of six stories, is an eminently satisfying offering, diverse yet each connected by its quality and by the movement through the real world to fantastical, alternate worlds. Some have links to popular fairy tales, including the Princess and the Pea, whilst all have settings which will be familiar – Australia, Paris, Venice – and themes and premises which are at once recognisable yet somehow unfamiliar.

With subject matter including broken homes, marital strain and loss, couched in fantastical scenarios such as a wolf prince who abandons his wife and child because of a curse and a sister who mourns the disappearance of her younger sister but must relinquish her in order to safe a world, these are stories which grip the reader and keep the pages turning, staying with you long after the final page.

Metro Winds, by Isobelle Carmody
Allen & Unwin, 2012
ISBN 9781865084442

Available from good bookstores or online.

The Very Hungry Bear, by Nick Bland

Bear was in a GRUMPY mood,
he hadn’t eaten any food,
and he couldn’t catch a single fish to cook.

The Very Hungry Bear

First he was cranky, then he was itchy, now Bear is back and he’s Very Hungry. He’s been fishing all day without catching anything. When he does eventually catch something it isn’t one fish – but a polar bear with a whole armful of them. Polar Bear says he will gladly give Bear all of the fish if Bear will help him find somewhere to stay. Bear is happy to do this, and takes his new friend home to his cave. But the cave is too warm, and Bear is soon busy seeking out possible homes for his new friends. It takes a while, but eventually they find a place that is just right. Everybody is happy – but Bear –  ho has given his fish to prospective housemates for the white bear – is still hungry.

The Very Hungry Bear is a new installment in the series which began with The Very Cranky Bear and, like its predecessors is both heartwarming and funny. Bear  – and his friends, including the Polar Bear, are larger than life, with lovable and expressive features. The rhyming text flows well and the story has humorous twists which will delight young readers.

Very cute.

The Very Hungry Bear, by Nick Bland
Scholastic, 2012

Available from good bookstores or online.

Heart of Stone, by Michael Chamberlain

It was obvious to us, and our fellow campers, that Azaria had been taken by a dingo. Aboriginal trackers confirmed this, as did the finding of the Coroner Denis Barritt at the inquest. How then did my wife Lindy come to be convicted of murder and to be sentenced to life imprisonment at a trial in Darwin two years later? And why did it take another six years for that verdict to be quashed by a Federal Royal Commission and a Federal Appeals Court?

Heart of Stone: Justice for Azaria

As the author says in his preface, few adult Australians would not have heard of the Azaria Chamberlain case. In August 1980, nine week old Azaria disappeared from the tent where she slept at Ayers Rock (now known by its traditional name, Uluru). Azaria’s mother, Lindy, saw a dingo near the tent before discovering her absence and campers, trackers and searchers all saw evidence of dingo footprints and drag marks. Yet Lindy Chamberlain was eventually charged, found guilty and imprisoned for the alleged murder of her daughter, and Michael Chamberlain, her husband, was found guilty of being an accessory to this fact. The evidence used to convict them was both flimsy and flawed, seemingly based more on people’s liking of dingoes and misunderstanding of the Chamberlain’s Seventh Day Adventist religion, than on any scientific fact. Misreporting and manipulation by the media aided the swell of public opinion against the Chamberlains, and mishandling by investigators and the legal system meant that this was a case which even 32 years later is still both raw and incomplete.

In Heart of Stone Michael Chamberlain shares his heartbreaking and courageous journey from proud new father, to grieving father, to victim and on to a strong campaigner for justice. He gives an intimate insight into his life and that of his family and supporters through the troubled years since Azaria’s death, and explains both how and why he sought – and continues to seek – justice.

It is doubtful that any other legal case has ever or will ever, arouse as much public interest and speculation as this case did and Heart of Stone provides readers with a chance to explore the case intimately, as well as to question how and why the Chamberlain family became victims of a terrible miscarriage of justice as well as of a powerful groundswell of public judgement. For those who remember the case and perhaps formed their own judgements at the time, Heart of Stone may also cause a rethink.

Heart of Stone: Justice for Azaria , by Michael Chamberlain
New Holland, 2012
ISBN 9781742572895

Avaialble from good bookstores or online

The Perfect Flower Girl, by Taghred Chandab & Binny Talib

‘Oh, Tayta,’ said Amani. ‘I can’t wait for the wedding! I’m going to have a special dress and wear make-up-‘
‘And throw rose petals,’ added Mariam.
‘You will be the most adorable flower girls, and Sarah will be the most beautiful bride.’

The Perfect Flower Girl

Amani is going to be a flower girl, and she is going to do it perfectly. She practices stepping exactly one, two, three, and makes sure that her dress is just perfect. With her little sister Mariam, also a flower girl, she counts down the dasy to the wedding. But when the time comes to walk into the room full of guests, she feels suddenly shy. With some loving encouragement from Aunty Sarah, Amani is the perfect flower girl.

The Perfect Flower Girl is a wonderful celebration of flower girls and of weddings, especially Lebanese Muslim weddings. At the same time, it is about the specialness of playing an important role in a special event – and the challenges that may pose for a young child, including shyness, worry and even excitement.

For those who may not have experienced Muslim practices, the book offers a glimpse into the rites and traditions of a Lebanese Muslim family, making it a useful learning tool, especially showing the family in their home situation, celebrating, having fun and nurturing each other. For Muslim children, The Perfect Flower Girl is a lovely opportunity to see familiar situations brought to life in book form. And, whatever cultural background they come from, who can’t resist a pretty pink wedding story with sparkly stars on the cover?

The Perfect Flower Girl is perfectly lovely.

The Perfect Flower Girl, by Taghred Chandab & Binny Talib
Allen & Uniwn, 2012
ISBN 9781742375731

Available from good bookstores or online.

All My Enemies, by Barry Maitland

Within the snug, still house, a womb of Axminster and Liberty against an uncertain world, something awful had exploded in just this one room…
“My God!” Kathy muttered under her breath, and moved forward towards the remains of Angela Hannaford.

Kathy Kolla is delighted to finally be starting her dream job, working alongside DCI Brock in the Serious Crime Division at New Scotland Yard. Her first case, though, is a perplexing one. A young woman has been brutally slain, with no apparent motive and few clues. When Kathy finds a tenuous link yo a local amateur dramatic group, she follows it, finding herself drawn into their rank. But as the date of their next performance draws closer, finding the killer in time to stop another murder is difficult, with a complex web of secrets concealing the truth.

All My Enemies is one of the earlier titles from the popular Brock and Kolla series, newly re-released in Australia. For those who have read later titles, this one provides some background insight into characters and relationships, whilst also presenting a gripping mystery. Like all the titles in the series, this one stands alone, but is likely to entice lovers of crime fiction to seek out others.

All My Enemies

All My Enemies, by Barry Maitland
Allen & Unwin, 2012
ISBN 9781742376547

Available from good bookstores or online.

A Youth Not Wasted, by Ian Parkes

How can mere red dirt and stones and scrubby trees and shrubs and rises and fall sin the land and haze and a vast blue sky be so potent? Such was its power, even in intense heat, even at night, sometimes, especially at night, the landscape seized you.

A Youth Not Wasted: A Memoir

Ian Parkes grew up listening to – and loving – his grandfather’s stories about the bush, so when it came time for him to enter the workforce he was keen to experience life in the outback for himself. From his first job on a remote property he fell in love with the land, forging a lifelong connection with the love that continued long after he settled back in the city to pursue a career in advertising.

A Youth Not Wasted recounts Parkes’ time working on rural properties in the 1950s, from his working alone fencing and mustering, to living alongside fellow workers, days at the races and more. Painting a picture of a time which may have passed, in a setting which in some cases remains unchanged, A Youth Not Wasted will appeal both to those who may have had similar experiences as well as those who may just be intrigued by the difference to their own experiences.

An absorbing memoir.

A Youth Not Wasted, by Ian Parkes
Fourth Estate, an imprint of Harper Collins, 2012
ISBN 9780732295349

Available from good bookstores or online.

The Pros & Cons of Being a Frog, by Sue deGennaro

Finding the right animal wasn’t easy.
It was Camille who gave me the idea of being a frog.

The Pros and Cons of Being a Frog

The narrator of this whimsical picture book and his friend Camille are quite different. Camille is a numbers person – she loves them so much that sometimes she speaks only in numbers. The narrator is a little more creative and,w hen they meet, dresses in a cat costume. But being a cat is causing problems with a local dog, so Camille comes up with a solution, and helps the narrator to choose a new animal – the frog. This works fine until he asks Camille to be a frog, too.

The Pros and Cons of Being a Frog is a whimsical story of friendship and difference. Both Camille and her friend are a little odd – one wearing a costume every day, the other being obsessed by numbers. But each learns not just to accept the other’s difference, but to value it, because it is because of these differences that they complement each other.

The messages about uniqueness and about friendship are apparent, but the whimsy of the story is what drives it, making both laugh out loud funny and heartwarmingly touching. The illustrations, using collage, pencil and ink are similarly whimsical, with neither the practicality of the numbers or the creativity overwhelming – instead uniting to make a delightful whole. The cover, with its embossed numbers and image of the two characters considering the title, is perfect.

The Pros and Cons of Being a Frog, by Sue deGennaro
Scholastic, 2012
ISBN 978174283063

Available from good bookstores or online.