500 Minutes of Danger, by Jack Heath

As soon as her foot hit the quicksand, Ella knew she was doomed…
Panic gripped her chest. ‘Help!’ she screamed. ‘Someone help me! Please!’
Insects buzzed. Birds chirped. But there were no voices. No help was coming.

A girl trapped in quicksand, with no chance that anyone will hear or. A boy trapped in what seems to be a coffin. And a girl, searching for a lost heirloom, instead finding  killer crocodiles on the rampage.

The ten stories which make  up 500 Minutes of Danger are high-action, fast paced stories each of which sees a young character engaged in a life and death struggle, with plenty of cliffhanger moments and twists and turns. Each story stands alone and can be read in about half an hour. But, as the book progresses,  readers gradually become aware that the stories are linked and that seemingly unconnected events and characters are all overshadowed – literally – by one big menace.

Perfect for reluctant readers.

500 Minutes of Danger, by Jack Heath
Scholastic, 2017
ISBN 9781743816493

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Scream, by Jack Heath

Scream: The Human Flytrap‘Get them out, get them out -‘
Josh pulled the old woman’s hands off his shoulders. Her skin felt like wet tissue paper.
‘Mum!’ he yelled.
‘What happened to him will happen to you!’ the woman screeched. ‘Go away! Go away!’
She froze, staring over Josh’s shoulder. Josh looked, but saw nothing other than the trees swaying in the breeze.

Strange things are always happening in Axe Falls, but when Josh and his family move into an old, run-down house, they get really creepy. Josh is sure something terrible has happened in the house, and the old lady from next door keeps telling him he must leave, but his family don’t seem to be worried. At school, his best friend’s science experiment comes to life, and Josh starts to wonder if the two things are connected – and whether he will live long enough to find out.

Scream is a new high-action horror series from Australian author Jack Heath. The Human Flytrap introduces Josh and his friends as they deal with human flytraps, while the second instalment, The Spider Army , features an invasion of deadly blue-backspiders.

Each book stands alone, and has plenty of twists and turns to keep readers of all abilities hooked. Spooky covers and page embellishments add to the eerie feel, and The Human Flytrap has a sound chip so that the book screams when opened, which will amuse young readers.

The Human Flytrap , ISBN 9781760152086
The Spider Army , ISBN 9781760152093
Both by Jack Heath
Scholastic Australia, 2015


The Great Zoo of China, by Matthew Reilly

‘Now, I know what you are thinking,’ Hu Tang paused. ‘You are thinking that there are hundreds of zoos, why does the world need another one? Indeed, what can China do with a zoo that has not already been done before? Ladies and gentlemen…this is what we can do.’
At that moment, the speeding bullet train burst out into brilliant sunshine and CJ found herself staring at an awesome sight.

In spite of its massive population and a booming economy, China lags behind its adversary, the United States of America, in a key way: it is not the cultural ruler of the planet. China needs something to compete with the power of Disneyland, the dreamfilled destination which epitomises commercialisation and is known the world over. When it is discovered that the most famous mythical creature of them all is not in fact a myth, and is hiding deep within China, it seems that the answer is clear: a zoo unlike any other, where dragons fly free. People will come from everywhere to see them, and will leave knowing that China really is the world ruler.

CJ Cameron doesn’t know any of this. All she knows is that the Chinese government has requested that she visit its new zoo on behalf of the National Geographic. With her brother Hamish and a party of other influential journalists, she is taken to a secret destination, little knowing what it is she will see there. Soon, though, her amazement at the realisation that the zoo houses dragons, is replaced with horror as she realises the dragons are turning rogue, and that zoo officials will do anything to ensure she doesn’t escape to spread the word of this glitch in the zoo’s operations.

The Great Zoo of China is a fast-moving, often gruesome, action thriller of the kind Matthew Reilly fans have come to expect.  Moving almost as quickly as the bullet rains which appear in parts of the novel, the story unfolds over a very short space of time, but manages to include many deaths and lots of destruction, along with a feisty main character who, with some help, tackles dragons and human foe with ingenuity. If the plot sounds familiar, Reilly admits that it was inspired by his love of the novel Jurassic Park and, although he has worked to make it different, by setting it in China and by using dragons instead of dinosaurs, there are similarities which make his homage obvious. This doesn’t make the book less likely to appeal to lovers of Reilly’s work, or of action novels in general, who will enjoy the premise and the plot.


The Great Zoo of China, by Matthew Reilly
Macmillan, 2014
ISBN 9781743517017

Available from good bookstores and online.


Brotherband: Slaves of Socorro, by John Flanagan

Edvin was on the bowpost lookout. ‘Ship!’ he called, pointing to the south-west.
At first, Hal saw nothing. But as Heron rose onto the crest of a wave, he saw a dark shape, low in the water. Stefan, who had the keenest eyesight, had leapt up onto the starboard rail, steadying himself on one of the thick stays.
‘She’s dismasted!’ he called. ‘She’s in trouble!’

Hal and his friends of the Heron brotherband are bored, so when they are offered the chance to be the Skandian duty ship to the Kingdom of Araluen, they are excited. With Hal’s new dog – Kloof – joining the crew, they set sail for their new post. But even before they arrive, their duties begin. A stricken boat has been attacked by a rogue ship, and its crew is one they know only to well. Soon they are on the trail of their old foe Tursgud, along the way needing to mount a rescue mission for twelve Araluens who he has taken to be sold as slaves.

Slaves of Socorro is the fourth in Flanagan’s Brotherband series, set within the same world as as the successful Ranger’s Apprentice books. Fans of the latter series will be delighted to see Ranger Gill appear in Slaves of Socorro, travelling with the Herons to free the slaves.

As always, there is plenty happening here – action and suspense, along with humour and plenty of luck. Hal’s dog, who attaches itself to him early in the book, is an entertaining addition to the crew and readers with an interest in boats and sailing will find the detail of the boat and its journey fascinating, though it doesn’t overwhelm the story.

Good stuff for young adult readers, and competent primary aged readers too.


Slaves of Socorro (Brotherband)

Slaves of Socorro, by John Flanagan
Random House, 2014
ISBN 9781742759340

Available from good bookstores or online.

The Last Thirteen, by James Phelan

‘I click my fingers,’ the deep scratchy voice says, ‘and everyone around us dies.’

Since his best friend died Sam has had regular nightmares. But the day after a particularly vivid one, a chain of frightening events begins when he’s wide awake. A helicopter lands at his school, and men in camouflage storm the place – looking for Sam. With two other teenagers, Sam is being kidnapped, and it his dreams which have him tagged as something special. Just how special he is, Sam learns in the days which follow. He and his ability to true dream are linked to an ancient prophesy. If he’s to believe what he’s told, he could be the key to saving the whole world.

The Last Thirteen is an action packed new series set in a near-future where mysterious opposing forces battle for control of knowledge and power, and the solution may rest with a group of teens who have never met. There are twists and lots happening, along with a chance to get to know the main character, Sam, and some of the supporting cast who we sense may feature more in future instalments of the series.

Well paced and intriguing, this is a series which will appeal to upper primary and lower secondary aged readers.


The Last Thirteen: Book One, by James Phelan

Scholastic, 2013

ISBN 9781742831848

Available from good bookstores and online.

Catch the Zolt, by Phillip Gwynne

As the van got closer, my brain started whirring, making that noise that a hard disk makes when you dump a load of data on it.
What to do next?
Suddenly, a swoosh sounds, and then blackness. Just like when I’d had my appendix out a few years ago and had been ‘put to sleep’ by the anaesthetist.
When I regained conciousness, I was lying on the footpath.
Out of the corner of my eye I could see the white van disappearing around a corner.

When Dom turns 15 he expects to get a few presents. But what he doesn’t expect is that on the day of his fifteenth birthday he inherits The Debt. An ancestor made a promise to a powerful secret organisation, and because he didn’t fulfil that promise, his descendants must pay. Dom must perform six tasks or lose a pound of flesh.

When he gets his first task, Dom is flummoxed. He must catch the Zolt, a teenage fugitive with a thing for stealing cars, boats, even planes, from rich families. He has a cult following amongst young people, but lots of enemies too. Dom is not even sure he wants to catch him – but he has no choice. The Debt want their first payment – now.

Catch the Zolt is the first instalment in Phillip Gwynne’s new series, The Debt. The action and pacing are good, taking the teen reader along on a fast moving journey with plenty of twists and unforeseen developments. Dom is a chatty first person narrator who allows the reader in to the action and his thought processes, allowing for connection. Readers will care about Dom and look forward to the second instalment.

Catch the Zolt (Debt)

Catch the Zolt (The Debt), by Phillip Gwynne
Allen & Unwin, 2013
ISBN 978174237844

Available from good bookstores or online.

Malice, by Gabrielle Lord

It looked like the top right corner of a very old newspaper. There were four words – two in thick black print, and another two, added like an afterthought, in scrawling handwriting.
As I read them, a chill crept up my spine.
The Drowner 30 days

Malice (Conspiracy 365)

Once, Cal had 365 days to solve a riddle and save his life. Now it’s his friend Winter who is on a countdown – something is going to happen in just 30 days time. But even though she is sure she is being watched, she doesn’t know who could be after them this time. With Cal away at flight school, Winter must try to solve the mystery herself, before time runs out.

Malice is an action packed addition to the Conspiracy 365 series, with favourite characters (and villains) reappearing and some new ones introduced. The change in viewpoint character allows the character of Winter to take centre stage, but the format is unchanged, with events told in first person voice counting down through the days.

Suitable for upper primarya ged readers and older, and of appeal to relcutantr eaders because of its digestible length and language.

Malice (Conspiracy 365), by Gabrielle Lord
Scholastic, 2012
ISBN 9781742833828

Available from good bookstores or online.

Revenge, by Gabrielle Lord

Revenge is a stand alone sequel to the 12 books which initially made up Conspiracy 365. It has the same fast paced action, count down style and first person voice – though this time as well as Cal’s voice, most of the story is told in his mate Boges’ voice.

I knew something was wrong as soon as I saw the envelope.
It was waiting for me on my pillow. A red wax seal marked it like a thick, wet drop of blood.
I ran to the window and looked out, but the front yard was dark and quiet. Cautiously, I pulled the curtains back across and picked up the creamy-coloured envelope.
The front was blank, but the seal on the back was carefully pressed with something feathered. I held it under my lamp.
A chill shuddered through my body.

In Conspiracy 365 Cal Ormond spent a year of his life on the run from a plethora of enemies, all after him for his link to the mysterious Ormond Singularity. With the help of his friends he had to unravel the mystery of the singularity and outwit his enemies, all the while being hunted by the police and the press who believed he was a criminal. Now he is back with his mother, sister and friends, his new inheritance ensuring a comfortable future. Until he finds a note on his pillow and realises someone is still after him.

Now there are just 30 days until something terrible happens – but Cal has no idea what that terrible thing is. And, when he disappears, it is up to his friends to find him and solve the mystery.

Revenge is a stand alone sequel to the 12 books which initially made up Conspiracy 365. It has the same fast paced action, count down style and first person voice – though this time as well as Cal’s voice, most of the story is told in his mate Boges’ voice. There are mysteries to solve and readers will enjoy guessing at these and looking for the clues as they joining the ride which feels somewhat like a junior James Bond, with high-tech devices, larger than life baddies and exciting settings.

Fast paced action for upper primary and lower secondary aged readers.

Revenge (Conspiracy 365)

Revenge (Conspiracy 365), by Gabrielle Lord
Scholastic, 2011
ISBN 9781741699760

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