A Semi-Definitive List of Worst Nightmares, by Krystal Sutherland

Esther Solar had been waiting outside Lilac Hill Nursing and Rehabilitation Center for half an hour when she received word that the curse had struck again.
Rosemary Solar, her mother, explained over the phone that she would no longer, under any circumstances, be able to pick her daughter up. A cat black as night with demon-yellow slits for eyes had been found sitting atop the hood of the family car – an omen dark enough to prevent her from driving.

Esther Solar believes her family is cursed. Ever since her grandfather met Death in Vietnam, every family member has been cursed to suffer from one great fear, and to eventually die because of that fear. Her Grandfather, told her will die from drowning, avoids water, even baths. Esther’s father is an agoraphobic who has lived in the basement for six years, And her twin brother Eugene is terrified of the dark. Esther, though, is determined to avoid the curse, by avoiding everything that might trigger a phobia. She’s made a list of them, a semi-definitive list of worst nightmares. Then she meets Jonah, a would-be film maker with problems of his own, who is determined to make her confront, and dispel every one of her possible phobias.

Funny, sad and satisfyingly weird, A Semi-Definitive List of Worst Nightmares is hard to categorise, which is a good thing. The cast of flawed characters – teens and adults – are intriguing, and the plot equally absorbing. There’s some tough stuff happening, but the story is ultimately fun.

A Semi-Definitive List of Worst Nightmares Penguin, 2017
ISBN 978014357391

Mr Romanov’s Garden in the Sky, by Robert Newton

The red wrapping was secured with a long strap of sticky tape. I dug a nail in under a corner and as i peeled it off, the paper tore down the middle and uncovered my present inside.
‘Is Surfing Paradise, Miss Lexie.’
I lifted the snow dome up for a closer look and saw a mum and dad and a kid making sandcastles in the sand.
‘It’s perfect,’ I said. ‘It’s the best present I ever got.’

Lexie’s dad always promised her that one day they would go to Surfer’s paradise. Now that he’s gone, Lexie dreams of the day she will still get there. But living in the commission with her mostly absent mother, Surfer’s Paradise seems a long way away. Then Lexie witnesses something shocking and finds herself befriending a man everyone calls Creeper. Lexie and her friend Davey help the man they soon learn is called Mr Romanov and together the three set off on a journey that will change their lives.

Mr Romanov’s Garden in the Sky is a moving tale of an unlikely friendship. With some quite shocking scenes and a range of issues, including drug abuse, bereavement and dementia, the story could be overwhelming, but a blend of humour, action and empathy makes for a satisfying blend for younger teens.

Mr Romanov’s Garden in the Sky, by Robert Newton
Penguin Books, 2017
ISBN 9780143309307

Before You Forget by Julia Lawrinson

Someone yelling wakes me up. I have no idea what time it is. I jump out of bed and head for the kitchen. I almost collide with Mum, who’s also coming out of her room.
‘Go back to bed,’ she whispers.
I don’t Dad is standing in the middle of the kitchen. The fluorescent light is on and he’s in his undies. They bag a little around his arse. He’s pointing at the clock.
‘I’ve got to go to work!’ he’s yelling. ‘Why didn’t you wake me up?’
‘Honey,’ Mum says, ‘you don’t need to go to work yet.’
‘Don’t lie to me!’ he roars. ‘I’m supposed to be there!’
‘Honey,’ Mum repeats soothingly. ‘It’s three o’clock in the morning. You go back to bed and it’ll be time to go in another few hours.’
‘Why are you doing this to me?’ he yells. ‘What am I doing here? What is this? Who do you think you are?’

Amelia is in Year 12, trying to impress her art teacher, navigating an increasingly unpredictable home life, and trying to work out what’s going on with her friends, particularly her closest friend, Gemma. Her dad is changing, forgetful, angrier more often. Her mum has her own adjustments to make. To Amelia, it’s as though everything she has ever known is changing. And she’s not quite sure what to do. But the days pass, whether or not she wants them to. In the growing chaos and confusion, Amelia begins to work out who she is.

Everyone says Year 12 is big, but no one could have predicted Amelia’s year. It’s not just the work, or growing up. It’s like someone threw her into a tornado and all she can see is a blur. Relationships are at the heart of ‘Before You Forget’, those with family and with old friends and new. ‘Before You Forget’ becomes the song of change, of evolving, of reality. Amelia’s art practice, her struggle to communicate via canvas is a metaphor for her struggle to navigate and understand her changing world. Recommended for mid- to upper-secondary readers.

Before You Forget, Julia Lawrinson
Penguin 2017
ISVN: 9780143574071

review by Claire Saxby, Children’s author and bookseller

The Fence, by Meredith Jaffe

‘Brandy and I have discussed this at length and to our minds there is only one viable solution.’
Gwen glances up at the house where Eric potters in the garage, oblivious to the unfolding crisis.
‘I mean, the trees will still have to go of course, given they are encroaching on our property there is no way around it. but trees or no trees, the only real solution is to put up a fence.’
Without thinking, Gwen Turns on her heel and races towards the garage, away from this vile woman and her extraordinary ideas.

Gwen and her husband Eric were the first people to live on Green Valley Avenue. They’ve raised their children here, and now their grandchildren love to visit.  Gwen doesn’t plan on ever leaving. But her neighbour and best friend Babs has died, and the house has been sold, and suddenly there’s a new family moving in, with a tribe of little kids and two uncontrolled dogs.

Francesca has brought her family to Green Valley Avenue in the hopes of a new start. Her marriage is in trouble, and starting anew in the suburbs seems the only solution. The only problem is her nosy new neighbour, Gwen, and the lack of a fence between their properties. It isn’t long before the two families are battling over the boundary, even while each woman’s life is facing terrible changes.

The Fence is a tale of fences, neighborhood disputes and much more. Gwen’s husband, Eric, is aging and behaving oddly. Frankie’s house-husband Brandon has been having an affair, and seems increasingly unable, or unwilling, to keep the house running. At times funny, at others moving and even sad, The Fence  is a wonderful debut novel.

The Fence, by Meredith Jaffe
Pan MacMillan, 2016
ISBN 9781743540152




Newspaper Hats, by Phil Cummings & Owen Swan

Newspaper Hats
Georgie walked through the doors that opened like curtains.
‘Will Grandpa remember me today?’ she asked.
Her father squeezed her hand and smiled. ‘Wait and see.’

Georgie loves her Grandpa, and goes with Dad to see him. But Grandpa has trouble remembering things, and sometimes he doesn’t even remember Georgie, even though he remembers things from long ago. Georgie tries to jog Grandpa’s memory with photographs and when they find a photo of Georgie wearing a newspaper hat, Grandpa remembers how much he loves those hats. Soon, Georgie, Grandpa and Dad are busily making paper hats for each other and for the other residents of the nursing home.

Newspaper Hats is a beautiful story of the love between a grandchild and grandparent, and the issues of memory loss and dementia. While the child character is challenged by the fact that her grandfather doesn’t remember her, she is empowered by being the one who finds a way to connect with him, enriching both of their lives.

The illustrations, rendered in watercolour and pencil in gentle pastel tones, are a lovely complement to the text, and touches such as news font on key words, and endpapers featuring headlines and front pages from a wide range of time periods add visual interest and talking points.

A wonderful tool for discussing issues of ageing – and celebrating newspaper hats!

Newspaper Hats, by Phil Cummings & Owen Swan
Scholastic, 2015
ISBN 9781743622544

Available from good bookstores and online.

Celia and Nonna by Victoria Lane, ill Kayleen West

Celia loves sleepovers at Nonna’s house. Nonna roasts and bakes.

The kitchen fills with delicious smells that tickle Celia’s nose.

‘How’s my little angel/” Nonna whispers in Celia’s ear.

Celia tugs open her special cupboard. It is full of secrets.

Jigsaw puzzles, colouring books and felts – all her favourite things.

Celia loves sleepovers at Nonna’s house. Nonna roasts and bakes.

The kitchen fills with delicious smells that tickle Celia’s nose.

‘How’s my little angel/” Nonna whispers in Celia’s ear.

Celia tugs open her special cupboard. It is full of secrets.

Jigsaw puzzles, colouring books and felts – all her favourite things.

Celia loves to visit her grandmother, Nonna. Together they cook and play, draw and share stories. But Nonna is becoming forgetful. Each forgetting is small, but together they mean that it’s not safe for her to live alone anymore. So Nonna is moving to a new home, a single room. There is only just room for Nonna, no space for Celia to stay and very little that is familiar. It doesn’t smell right either, no cooking smells, no smells that belong to Nonna’s house. Celia begins to draw the things she loved about Nonna’s house, beginning with the outside. Picture by picture, Celia adds to the collection for Nonna’s wall. Nonna loves Celia’s pictures and Celia loves that she can still share time with Nonna. Illustrations are full page in warm colours and depict the loving relationship between Celia and her grandmother. The font has been particularly chosen to assist readers with dyslexia.

It can be difficult to understand why life has to change, when a loved grandparent can no longer live in their home. Celia and Nonna suggests that a relationship is more than walls and windows, more than just the place where the memories are set. With help, new memories can be created, memories that build on what was and give meaning to new circumstances. Many young readers will relate to the closeness that a child can share with a grandparent and will rejoice that Celia finds a way to enjoy and decorate Nonna’s new home. It also demonstrates that a child can have an active role in establishing belonging in a new place. Celia and Nonna may also help young children understand changes that they are experiencing in their own family. Recommended for pre- and early-schoolers.


Celia and Nonna, Victoria Lane ill Kayleen West Ford Street Publishing 2014 ISBN: 9781925000603

review by Claire Saxby, Children’s author and bookseller


Looking for Lionel, by Sharon Snir

Dementia peeled away layers of how things should and should not be. It peeled away the surface that was concerned only with appearance. Over time it revealed someone I had never really met. Someone pure and sweet and filled with innocent gratitude. In the end, all that was left of Lily was love. How ironic that dementia gave me the mother I had always wanted.

With a growing number of people in Australia suffering from dementia, there is a good chance that all of us are going to have a family member, a friend or at least an acquaintance who suffers from the disease at some point in or lifetime. It is a diagnosis which cares most people, and an illness which affects everyone in the life of the sufferer.

Looking for Lionel: How I Lost and Found My Mother Through Dementia is both a personal memoir of one family’s journey through dementia and a wonderful aid for the families and carers of other sufferers. With gentle honesty author Sharon Snir tells of the highs and incredible lows of her own family’s experiences, as well as sharing first hand experiences from others who she has spoken with, and offering gentle guidance based on those experiences, for others in similar situations.

This is an important and touching book whose ultimate message is positive.

Looking for Lionel: How I Lost and Found My Mother Through Dementia

Looking for Lionel: How I Lost and Found My Mother Through Dementia, by Sharon Snir
Allen & Unwin, 2010

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

Don't Breathe a Word, by Marianne Musgrove

I, Mackenzie Elizabeth Carew, do solemnly swear never to communicate anything about what happened tonight.’…I closed my eyes and said the sacred words.
‘May my nose fall off and my hair turn blue,
May I fall in a tub full of alpaca poo.’
Tahlia nodded. ‘We have some major thinking to do.’

Mackenzie and Tahlia live with their grandad. He’s almost the only family they have since their parents passed away. But something has happened to Grandpa and suddenly he isn’t the responsible one any more – it is up to the girls to look after him. Tahlia tells Mackenzie that they mustn’t tell anyone – but as Grandpa gets increasingly erratic and Tahlia leaves more and more of the work to Mackenzie keeping the secret gets harder and harder.

Don’t Breathe a Word is a gentle exploration of some difficult subject matter. Grandpa is suffering from dementia, and, for the girls, their fear of being separated from him shapes their attempts to care for him, and their interactions with friends and neighbours, as well as their older half-sister Lydia.

For children who face difficult situations, Don’t Breathe a Word will be a help, and for those children who don’t face such dilemmas it will be intriguing. Musgrove portrays the situation with gentle creativity, and the use of the first person narrator takes us inside Mackenzie’s head as she struggles courageously with the hand life has dealt her.

Beautifully rendered.

Don't Breathe a Word

Don’t Breathe a Word, by Marianne Musgrove
Random House, 2009

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