Unnatural Habits, by Kerry Greenwood

‘No one cares about bad girls!’ Polly burst out indignantly. ‘They make one mistake and they are shut up in the laundry doing hard work. Their babies are adopted out. they are ruined. We ought to have got beyond that. What use is freedom – they told us that they fought that war for freedom – when the women are still punished and the men go on to seduce another girl?’

Girl Reporter Polly Kettle is on a case. Girls and pregnant women are going missing all over Melbourne, and she’s going to figure out what’s happening to them. Phryne Fisher warns her to be careful but the warning is unheeded and soon Polly vanishes, too. It’s time for Phryne, Dot and her minions, to figure out what is going on. But this is a case which take all of Phryne’s strength – both physical and emotional – as she delves into some truly horrible situations.

Unnatural Habits, the latest Phryne Fisher Mystery and features all the mystery, the raciness and the lushness of previous instalments, with favourite characters including (of course) the daring Phryne Fisher, independently wealthy and sharp private investigator, her companion the straight-laced Dot, her adopted daughters and her Chinese lover, the luscious Lin.

Whilst she has certainly faced dark realities in previous mysteries, Unnatural Habits takes Phryne to some truly terrible places, which confront her as much as they will confront the reader – particularly as she explores both child abuse and the appalling treatment of unwed mothers. However, Greenwood has the knack of entertaining and amusing even whilst not holding back, so that while the horrible realities are not played down, the reader is offered relief in sub plots and character development. New character Tinker is one such bright spot, a teenage boy finding himself resident in a sea of females in Phryne’s house.

Set in 1929 Melbourne, Unnatural Habits is a highly satisfactory addition to the series.

Unnatural Habits

Unnatural Habits, by Kerry Greenwood
Allen & Unwin, 2012
ISBN 9781742372433

Available from good bookstores or online.

Heather Fell in the Water, by Doug MacLeod & Craig Smith

Heather was a little girl…
…who always fell in the water.
She didn’t mean to do it.
She didn’t enjoy it.
But she fell in the water nearly every day,
especially when she was wearing her good clothes.

Poor Heather hates the water – and is sure the water hates her, because it always makes her fall in. Her parents are so worried for her safety that they make her wear water wings all the time. But when her parents take her for swimming lessons Heather discovers that walking into the water can feel nice – and soon she realises that the water makes her fall in because it wants to be with her. She decides that if she learns to swim the water might stop making her fall in. Soon she is a champion swimmer.

Heather Fell in the Water is a gently humorous picture book story about learning to swim, and about conquering fear. Inspired by the true story of author Doug MacLeod’s little sister Heather who hated water yet seemed to always fall in, the tale is gently educational about the pleasures of learning to swim, but is also just plain fun.

Illustrations, by the amazing Craig Smith, populate the pages with comic watercolour images filled with (not surprisingly) water, but also warm and wacky characters and lots of movement and detail. On the spread where Heather decides to make a bargain with the water, a watery face floats on the surface of the pool.

A wonderful offering for the summer swimming-lesson season, Heather Fell in the Water is a delight.

Heather Fell in the Water

Heather Fell in the Water, by Doug MacLeod and Craig Smith
Allen & Unwin, 2012
ISBN 9781742376486

Available from good bookstores and online.

Unforgotten, by Tohby Riddle

Nobody knows where they come from.
But they come.
Impossible birds of the big sky
and the long night …

Unseen, angles come to Earth to watch over, to warm and to mend. But the harshness of the world, and the vastness of the work required proves too much for one of these silent comforters, and it falls to Earth where , sorely in need of comfort itself, he is at risk of not being able to move any more. His plight is seen and acted upon by an unlikely group of rescuers including a clown, children,  even a patched donkey.

Unforgotten is not a story – it’s an experience. And a lyrical, beautiful experience at that. The text is a poem, a line or two to some pages, and no text on others,whisping its way in white font across black backgrounds. The illustrations are an intriguing montage of photographs and drawings, so that the viewer can explore in detail or simply absorb the whole. An initial reading leaves the reader thinking; rereading provides depth and enhances the wonder of the work.

Suitable for readers of all ages.


Unforgotten, by Tohby Riddle
Allen & Unwin, 2012
ISBN 9781742379722

Available from good bookstores and online.

Hannah & Emil, by Belinda Castles

A few things happened within the space of a moment. Rupert reached the end of his introduction, to which I had barely listened, though I did hear for the first time in my life this man’s name: Emil Becker. As though startled by the sound of it, the man looked up to see hat I was comparing our shoes and appeared to do the same…
‘Herr Becker,’ I said, my first words to him, ‘we must find you some shoes, and then supper.’

When he returns home to Germany from fighting in the Great War, Emil is disturbed by the path his country is on. Unemployment and inflation are high, and support for the Nazi cause is growing. As a member of the Resistance, it is eventually unsafe for him to stay with his family, and he flees.

In London, Hannah, a Russian Jew, grows up learning many languages. As a young adult she is determined to do two things – to write, and to make a difference. She travels to Europe where her skill with language makes her useful in dealing with refugees. There she meets Emil and knows instantly that he will be a part of her life.

Back in England the pair make a life together, in spite of Emil missing home and the young son he left behind, but when war strikes once again Emil is sent to Australia to be interned. Left behind, Hannah is determined to follow Emil and bring him home.

Hannah and Emil is a beautiful story of love and courage told through the alternating viewpoints of the two characters, with Hannah speaking in first person and Emil’s perspective in third person. The backgrounds of the two – a German who must eave his country because of his resistance to the Nazis, who nonetheless is interned during the war, and an English Jew – provide a unique perspective of the events up to and during the second world war.

Based on the lives of the author’s grandparents, this is a moving, absorbing tale.

Hannah and Emil

Hannah and Emil, by Belinda Castles
Allen & Unwin, 2012
ISBN 9781741755169

Available from good bookstores or online.

Word Hunters: The Curious Dictionary, by Nick Earls & Terry Whidborne

While stories build from words, it’s true,
The words themselves have stories too.
Who dares to read? Who dares to look?
Who dares to hunt within this book?

When Lexi and Al accidentally find an old dictionary, their lives change dramatically. They are whisked back into history to hunt the origins of words which are in danger of disappearing from our past and our present. Each successful stop in time pegs down a key usage of an evolving word, thus ensuring its survival. And, as the twins discover, it isn’t just the words that are important – it’s their impact on the path of history, which shapes the modern world in many ways. But ensuring the survival of those words could come at a cost. Will they be trapped in the past because they miss the clues? Or will one of the many physical dangers they face prove too much.

The Curious Dictionary is the first in a new series from the team of writer Nick Earls and illustrator Terry Whidborne. The concept is clever – blending time travel with an examination of both the evolution of language and its impact on the world as a whole. The children travel through many time periods and major moments in history, and at times this was so rapid the reader may struggle to grasp what has gone on, or may be left wanting to see more of a particular setting. There are enough questions left unanswered – particularly that of a missing grandfather who was also (unbeknownst to them) a word hunter, and also other missing word hunters – to draw readers back to the next instalment in the series.

A sound start to the series.

The Curious Dictionary (Word Hunters)

The Curious Dictionary (Word Hunters), by Nick Earls & Terry Whidborne
University of Queensland Press, 2012
ISBN 9780702249457

Available from god bookstores or online.

Finding Jasper, by Lynne Leonhardt

The floorboards were hard and uneven as she knelt beside the Saratoga. Squeezing the corroded latch, Gin carefully eased open the lid, trying to predict the treasures inside. The lining was shabby and mottled with mildew, and drifts of mustiness filled the air as she began to unearth the contents from the shrouding dust. Mostly books, she found, a few toys, and a fat-cheeked doll lying naked on top. What had she expected?

When twelve year old Gin is sent to stay with her Aunt on the family farm, she is at first scared and homesick, but her Aunt Attie proves to be a caring, interesting companion. While her mother takes a cruise holiday without her, Gin shares Attie’s quiet, but busy, life on the farm. It is here she also starts to learn about her father, Jasper, who she never met.

Finding Jasper is the tale of four women, from three generations of one family, impacted by the absence of Jasper, a son, brother, husband and father who does not return from fighting in World War II. Each woman must cope in her own way and, although they have each other, at times it seems that the only thing binding them is the absent Jasper.

Central to the story is Gin – Virginia – the baby daughter of Jasper and his English war bride Valerie. Sent to Australia to wait for Jasper’s return, the pair live first on the family farm in the South West and then, when Valerie can stand the country no longer, in Perth. Whilst Valerie moves on and remarries, Gin’s connection with her Aunt Attie, Jasper’s twin sister, provides an anchor in turbulent times. Whilst Gin is often the viewpoint character, the reader is also treated to the perspectives of Attie and Valerie and occasionally, Audrey, Attie and Jasper’s mother, and Gin’s grandmother.

Set in the 1940s, 50s and 60s, the story is not told linearly, with the novel broken into three parts set in 1956, 1945 and 1963 respectively, allowing the reader to re-evaluate what they think they know and to develop a greater understanding of each of the women’s experiences. The journey through the Western Australia of the times is also fascinating, with the South West and the Nedlands area particularly featured.

As a tale of the impact of war on families, Finding Jasper is excellent, but it is also an absorbing portrayal of time and place, and an exploration of four strong, very human, women. This is the kind of story which leaves you wanting to check up on the characters time and again.

Finding Jasper

Finding Jasper, by Lynne Leonhardt
Margaret River Press, 2012
ISBN 9780987218056

Available from good book stores or online.

The Burial, by Courtney Collins

If the dirt could speak, whose story would it tell? Would it favour the ones who have knelt upon it, whose fingers have split turning it over with their hands? Those who, in the evening, would collapse weeping and bleeding into it as if the dirt was their mother? Or would it favour those who seek to be far, far from it, like birds screeching tearless through the sky?

In 1921 a woman runs from a cruel life but, in order to do so so, goes to measures almost unspeakable. Barely clinging to life, she flees towards the mountains she is sure will shelter her. She is just 26 year old but has already had a life time of experiences – as a circus performer, horse thief, convict and battered wife. Soon there will be a bounty on her head that will see her hunted by every man in the valley. Two of those men, though, know her well – one is her former lover, the other a policeman who has crossed paths with her almost a lifetime ago.

The Burial is a moving, often disturbing tale, inspired by the life of Australia’s last bushranger, Jessie Hickman, though not claiming to be a true story. The narrator is, surprisingly, a child who dies in the opening scenes of the story, which allows an omniscience as well as an unconventional perspective. The story itself is at times dark but at others optimistic, allowing the reader to journey along with the main character, Jessie.

Just as the main character journeys through much of the book, The Burial is a wild, but ultimately satisfying, ride for the reader.

The Burial

The Burial, by Courtney Collins
Allen & Unwin, 2012
ISBN 9781743311875

Available from good bookstores or online.

Friday Brown, by Vikki Wakefield

They call me Friday. It has been foretold that on a Saturday I will drown.

Friday Brown is on the run. Her mother has died, and Friday is all alone in the world – unless you count the grandfather she doesn’t know. She heads to the city in search of someone, or something, to make her whole again. She befriends a strange boy called Silence, who deosn’t speak and soon she is part of a new family. Or is she? In a squat controlled by a girl called Arden, Friday learns about life on the street, and about herself.

When Arden takes her group to camp in an outback ghost town, Friday’s time on the road with her mother is useful, though it may also be her undoing.

Friday Brown is a breathtaking young adult read. The pages are populated by fascinating, complex characters – troubled teens each with their own strengths and their own terrible secrets and set against two detailed landscapes – the inner city and a deserted outback town. Partly a thriller, this is so much more, with heartbreaking twists and turns.

Friday Brown

Friday Brown, by Vikki Wakefiled
Text Publishing, 2012
ISBN 9781921922701

Avaialable from good bookstores and online.

In the Company of Strangers, by Liz Byrski

Ruby stares at the letter and wonders why she isn’t crying, why the threat of that first sob has dissipated, why not a single tear is sliding down her cheek. It contains too much, she thinks, too much of her past, too many complex and conflicting emotions; it’s an ending which both robs and liberates.

When Ruby hears that her lifelong friend Cat has died and left her a controlling interest in a lavender farm in Australia, her emotions are mixed. Her relationship with Cat stretches back sixty years when they travelled together as orphans unwillingly sent to Australia. Together they survived the difficult years that followed, but in adulthood they became estranged. Now Ruby knows she has left it too late to visit Cat one more time.

Declan, too, has not spent as much time with Cat as he should have. Her nephew by marriage, he has spent much of his life drifting, but his share of Benson’s Reach brings him back to the place he loved as a child. His friend Alice also needs refuge, so Declan invites her to the farm, too.

Declan and Ruby are just two of the group of relative strangers who find themselves forming a kind of family as they work together to revitalise Benson’s Reach and follow Cat’s dreams. Each has ghosts to confront and must struggle to find peace, but perhaps they have more chance of doing so together than individually.

In the Company of Strangers is a moving tale of friendship old and new, exploring issues of forgiveness and self discovery. Set on a fictional tourist development int he South West of Western Australia, the novel focuses on characters from diverse backgrounds, allowing the reader to get to know each intimately. There are also mysteries and an exploration of the history and impact of the Child Migrant Scheme between the UK and Australia during World War II.

One of Byrski’s strength is in her ability create well rounded and interesting mature female characters, which she does here as well as previously, but the male characters also shine, and every character has layers which are gradually unwrapped as the tale progresses, keeping the reader surprised.

A satisfying tale.

In the Company of Strangers

In the Company of Strangers, by Liz Byrski
ISBN 9781742611297

Available from good bookstores or online.

Dads: A Field Guide, by Justin Ractliffe & Cathie Glassby

There are all kinds of dads…

This handy field guide explores the many different types of dad – from big dads to little dads, smart dads to scruffy dads and nerdy dads to rock n roll dads. But of course the best kind of dad is ‘my’ dad.

This simple picture book explores the great variation there is amongst dads, with the diversity offering humour and interest. The field guide is presented by a bespectacled, lab-coat wearing youngster and his side-kick fluffy dog – with the final page showing his dad in a similar lab-coat and glasses, and an older dog, too, which is a cute touch.

A lovely celebration of dads.

Dads: A Field Guide

Dads: A Field Guide, by Justin Ractliffe & Cathie Glassby
Random House, 2012
ISBN 978174275549

Available from good bookstores or online.