Pippa’s Island: The Beach Shack Cafe

Outside, kids were running, shouting, playing and laughing. If I closed my eyes it sounded just like the playground of my old school back in London. But instead of cool and misty air, the sun shone down bright and hot. The air smelled different too. All sea-salty and spicy. And of course the biggest difference was that almost everyone was a stranger.

Pippa and her family might have moved to an idyllic island town, but that doesn’t make it easy. She has left behind friends she’s known since nursery school in London, and moved across the world to Australia, where everything seems different. On top of that, they are living in a caravan in her grandparents’ garden while Mum puts everything into renovating a run-down boatshed she wants to make into a cafe bookshop. Pippa isn’t sure it will work, but when she makes some new friends, things start looking up.

The Beach Shack Cafe is the first title in a new series following Pippa’s new life on Kira Island. Pippa faces the challenges of a new start with the help of her thoughtful, if slightly distracted, mum, and through trial and occasional error.

Young readers will love the island setting and will look forward to more installments.

Pippa’s Island 1: The Beach Shack Cafe, by Belinda Murrell
Random House Australia, 2017
ISBN 9780143783671

The Sequin Star, by Belinda Murrell

‘What are you doing?’ cried a voice. It was high=pitched with fright. ‘You shouldn’t be here. You could get killed.’
Claire tried to open her eyes. Blinding light. Pain shot through her temple. She touched her head with her fingertips. It felt warm and sticky.
‘I say, are you all right?’ came the voice again, a bit softer this time. It was a girl’s voice. ‘You’re bleeding. Can you hear me?’

When her much loved grandmother is ill in hospital, Claire finds a old brooch among her things. It isn’t like her other, expensive jewellery – instead it is a cheap sequin star. Intrigued, Claire puts the brooch in her pocket and when she is in an accident soon afterwards, finds herself swept back in time to 1932. Claire is stranded in a circus camp, working hard and befriending circus performers Rosina and Jem, as well as a boy called Kit who, Claire realises, is her grandfather as a young man. Rosina and Kit are soon quite taken by each other, but Claire wonders whether a rich boy and a circus girl belong together – and what of her grandmother?

The Sequin Star is an exciting time-slip adventure set amidst the back drop of the Great Depression in the weeks around the opening of the Sydney Harbour Bridge. Claire’s adventures allow young readers to get a first-hand, modern perspective on both the events and on the contrasts between that time period and the contemporary world.

Likely to appeal to middle and upper primary aged readers.


The Sequin Star

The Sequin Star, by Belinda Murrell
Random House, 2014
ISBN 9780857982056

Available from good bookstores or online.

The River Charm, by Belinda Murrell

‘Wh…who are you?’ asked Millie, her mouth dry, her heart thumping. ‘What are you doing here?’
The girl stared at her, quiet and mysterious, her dark eyes shining in the dim moonlight. Behind her, Millie thought she could see a shadowy forest of grey-green gum trees and silvery bark. A glimmering river flowed behind her.
‘Are you a ghost or a dream?’ wondered Millie out loud, hugging herself against the pillows.

Millie loves to paint, but when she paints a picture of a girl who appears to her in a dream, it is something special. When her mother takes her and her sister to visit a long-lost aunt in the country, Millie is amazed. The dream girl appears to her again. Could it be that she is somehow connected to the girl?

The River Charm is the story of Oldbury, a colonial estate, and of the Atkinson family, its original owners. In 1839 Charlotte Atkinson, the ghost girl from Millie’s visions, lives in Oldbury with her mother and siblings. Life is difficult. the children’s father has died, and their mother has remarried. their stepfather is a cruel alcoholic, and the entire estate is at risk. Fortunately for the children their mother is determined to keep them safe.

Charlotte Waring Atkinson was the author of the first children’s book published in Australia. This fictionalised account of part of her life is particularly special because it is the work of her great-great-great-great=granddaughter, author Belinda Murrell, whose historical tale makes use of a time slip motif to contrast past and present, as well as making links between the two time periods. Set in the Australian bush, the story will appeal to readers aged 10-14.


The River Charm

The River Charm, by Belinda Murrell
Random House, 2013
ISBN 9781742757124

Available from good bookstores or here.

You can read more about the writing of this book in Belinda’s blog post here.

The Forgotten Pearl, by Belinda Murrell

Two days later, Poppy was asleep in her room when she was woken by a dreadful wailing. It took her a few moments to realise that the piercing sound was real and not just part of her dream.
Poppy’s heart pounded; her muoth was dry with fear. Her cotton nightdress and sheets stuck to her sweaty skin….
‘Girls,’ Cecilia hissed from the doorway, ‘get up quickly. It’s the air-raid alarm.’

When Chloe has to research the Second World War, she doesn’t think her grandmother will have a lot to share with her. After all, Nanna was in Australia during the war – and the war was fought overseas. Wasn’t it? But Nanna decides it is time to talk about her experiences.

In 1941, Poppy lives comfortably with her parents and sister in Darwin, far removed, they think, from the horrors of the war. But when Japan enters the war, suddenly Australia is at threat – and Darwin, in the north, is a target. Poppy must grow up quickly, as she witnesses firsthand the horrors of war.

The Forgotten Pearl is a wonderful dual narrative, with Chloe talking her to her Nanna in the present, and Poppy (Nanna as a child) experiencing the war in 1941. This allows the reader to see the contrast in times, and to consider the long term impact of the events of war as not just isolated in the past. The attacks on Darwin and other parts of Australia during the Second World War have often been downplayed, but author Murrell explores them in a way which makes them very real for young readers.

Recommended for readers in upper primary and lower secondary.

The Forgotten Pearl

The Forgotten Pearl, by Belinda Murrell
Random House, 2012
ISBN 978174275369

This book is available in good bookstores or online from Fishpond. Buying through this link supports Aussiereviews.

The Ivory Rose, by Belinda Murrell

Jemma pushed the ornate front doorbell nervously. It was the first day of her first job. The bell jangled somewhere deep in the house. Jemma glanced up. the house towered over her, covered in a mass of purple, flowing wisteria, its tall turred roof spotted with lichen. Once it had been a grand house, a mansion really. But now the sandstone was cracked, the paint on the windows and door a dull, flaking grey.
Rosethorne was one of the famous Witches’ Houses of Annandale – a row of creepy old mansions on Johnston Street, built with towers and gargoyles, turrets and crenellations, gables and conical spires. Many of them had been renovated over the years to reflect their former glory, but not Rosethorne. People said that Rosethorne was haunted.

Jemma loves her beautiful, perfect home and her loving if overworking and high-expectation parents. But she’s keen to take the first steps to independence when she lands the job of babysitting seven-year-old Sammy a few afternoons a week. But nothing could have prepared her for the secrets in the big old house, Rosethorne. Jemma falls down the stairs and wakes up in 1895. She has no idea how she got here or how she’ll get home. But here she is, outside Rosethorne, the grand house in its heyday. Jemma finds herself employed in Rosethorne, but although the house is in better condition, there’s something very wrong inside. It seems that Georgiana, the daughter of the house may be being poisoned. The race begins to not only discover a way back to her own time, but to help a friend.

The Ivory Rose is a persuasive time-slip mystery. Jemma discovers that there are many differences in the world of 1895 and many of the things she takes for granted, like caring parents/guardians, a childhood and health are not automatic. She is a practical and intelligent character with the ability to quickly process information and make decisions. She’s also friendly, resourceful and inquisitive. While trying to find her way home, she also discovers unkind and criminal behaviours. With the help of her friends she’s able to impact positively on the environment and the lives around her. Readers are introduced to a tangible 1895 via Jemma’s eyes. Themes include friendship, bravery, trust and family. The Ivory Rose introduces the opportunity to compare then and now as seen through this young teenager’s eyes. Recommended for upper-primary and early-secondary readers.

The Ivory Rose

The Ivory Rose, Belinda Murrell
Random House 2011
ISBN: 9781742750712

review by Claire Saxby, Children’s Author

This book can be purchased in good bookstores or online from Fishpond.

The Ruby Talisman, by Belinda Murrell

Tilly pulled the mesh faceguard down and limbered up her right wrist, circling it nervously, her long, thin fencing foil drawing through the air. She was dressed all in white, with padding to protect her chest and padded gloves on her hands. She jigged up and down, adrenaline surging through her body.
Tilly lifted the foil in front of her face in a formal salute to her opponent on the other side of the narrow mat.
‘En garde.’
The foils flashed forward into the defensive position.’
‘Allez!’ The two fencers leapt forward, foils slashing. Tilly felt her hot, seething thoughts turn cold and hard as steel.

Tilly is struggling to cope with her parents marriage breakdown. She’s angry and bitter and not particularly nice to be near. When her mother takes a weekend break, Tilly stays with her aunt, Kara. Although Tilly loves her aunt, she’s not happy she’s being dumped with her for the weekend. Then Kara shows her a fabulous ruby necklace, first worn by one of their ancestors, Amelie-Mathilde, a young French aristocrat. Kara relates Amelie’s almost miraculous escape from the French court as the French revolution begins. Tilly’s dreams about her ancestor then wakes up next to her. Amelie is wearing the ruby necklace too. In a world very different to her own, with civil war erupting all around them, Tilly must think clearly and quickly if she is to help Amelie and her cousin to survive.

Tilly’s having a tough time and she has no room for the feelings of others around her. Even her friends are finding her too prickly to be any fun. She’s locked in her own world, her own suffering, and blind to the suffering of anyone else. When she is transported to the 18th century, she slowly begins to realise that others have their own problems. Her experience in the past allows her to understand her present and to look forward to the future. The ruby necklace connects past and present allowing two teenage girls to connect and understand their similarities and differences. The Ruby Talisman gently points out that the world is bigger than any one person and it’s helpful to look beyond your own experience if you are to take your place in it. Recommended for mid- secondary readers.

The Ruby Talisman

The Ruby Talisman, Belinda Murrell
Random House Australia 2010
ISBN: 9781864719871

Reviewed by Claire Saxby, Children’s Author www.clairesaxby.com

This book can be purchased in good bookstores or online at Fishpond. Buying through this link supports Aussiereviews.

The Locket of Dreams, by Belinda Murrell

Sophie and Jessica bent over an old photo album looking at faded sepia photographs of bridal veils, orange blossoms, waxed moustaches and babies in christening gowns that swept the floor. Motes of dust danced up from the black pages and floated in the sunlight streaming through the open window.
Jessica wrinkled her nose at the faint smell of aged, dry paper. She brushed her hand over a photo of a young couple laughing up at the camera. The girls’ grandmother, Nonnie, stood beside the antique cedar table pouring tea from a china teapot.

Sophie and her sister, Jessica, are staying with their grandmother, Nonnie, for the school holidays. Their father is out of work and struggling to find another job. Mum’s working more than she wants to and the atmosphere at home has been tense. Nonnie shows them photos of her youth and of their forebears. Charlotte’s story is shrouded in mystery. She came to Australia as a 12 year old, with her sister Nell, apparently cheated of the family wealth in Scotland. Nonnie has inherited a special box with some of Charlotte’s keepsakes, including a heavy gold locket. Sophie is particularly taken with the story and with the gold locket. When she puts it on at night, she seems to slip back in time to 1850’s Scotland, where she hovers over her ancestors and witnesses the changes in their lives.

The Locket of Dreams is set in modern-day Sydney and 1850s Scotland. Sophie is worried about things changing in her world, but nothing could prepare her for the changes experienced by Charlotte and Nell in Scotland. Sophie is drawn into their story, mostly by curiosity about the mystery that surrounds the reasons for their journey to Australia. There are some parallels between the challenges facing the families and Sophie grows in maturity and understanding as she comes to know Charlotte and Nell. Charlotte, as older sister, has to assume responsibility beyond her years, and Sophie grows in admiration for her as she knows more of her story. In the way of time-travelling, Sophie realises that certain events must happen, because she knows them from her life in the present. The Locket of Dreams uses omniscient viewpoint so the reader can ‘hear’ from each of the main characters. Sophie comes to understand the power of family and about what’s really important in life. An engaging read. Recommended for upper-primary readers.

The Locket of Dreams

The Locket of Dreams, Belinda Murrell
Random House 2009
ISBN: 9781741662917

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

review by Claire Saxby, Children’s Author

The Quest for the Sun Gem, by Belinda Murrell

Reviewed by Jess Whiting

Ethan froze in the tree, his heart pounding, his mouth sticky and dry. His stomach heaved with anxiety as he tried to grasp the reality of the terrifying attack below him. The small group of Tiregians, in their brightly coloured ceremonial clothes, were completely surrounded by a surging sea of black armour. They had no hope of fighting back.

Ethan and Lily are a brother and sister who, after their village is attacked and their families and friends captured, will go to extreme lengths to rescue them from the Sedah invaders and reclaim their land.

The Quest for the Sun Gem is a novel filled with excitement as you join Ethan, Lily, Saxon and Princess Roana on a daring quest to find the Sun Gem and restore peace to their world.

This novel for ages ten and up is filled with suspense and will keep the reader guessing. It is filled with action and never has a dull moment as it allows you to enter a magical world filled with strange creatures and fun characters.

A great adventure

The Quest for the Sun Gem, by Belinda Murrell
Random House Australia 2006