Dancing Backwards in High Heels, by Christine Darcas

I startle when he takes me by the hand to lead me to the stereo system. As a wife, I believe I should repossess my fingers, deliberately keep my grip loose. Eight-year-olds hold my hand. My sons. My husband. Before then, boyfriends held my hand, or men who had some kind of interest. The last man who held my hand tried to slip his other up my skirt. When was that? Ten years ago? Fifteen? Back in the days when I had a nanny, a wardrobe full of tailored skirts and high heels and some semblance of a figure to go with them.

When Madeleine Hutchinson arrives in Australia with her husband and sons, she struggles to settle down. Her younger son is hyperactive, her older son is a moody teenager, and her relationship with her husband is strained. She has no family in Melbourne and hasn’t made any friends yet. When she happens upon a dance studio, she wonders if perhaps it has something to offer her.

Soon, Madeleine is taking private dance lessons and starting to feel like someone other than a wife and mother. But Geordie, her husband, isn’t so sure about her new life. Madeleine’s new dance partner is young and attractive, and he seems to find Madeleine attractive, too. Will she risk her marriage on this attraction?

Dancing Backwards in High Heels is an exploration of one woman’s search for identity against the backdrop of being forty-something, a full time mother and wife, and living in a new country. It also examines issues of family and marital relationships, and the impact of infidelity, both real and contemplated. Madeleine is a likeable first person narrator and the problems she is faced with are familiar for many women, and believable.

An insightful exploration of one woman’s complicated life.

Dancing Backwards in High Heels

Dancing Backwards in High Heels, by Christine Darcas
Hachette Livre, 2008

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Media Savvy, by Jim Schembri

It was during her sixteenth year of life that Cobey Myles became convinced that she had the oiliest skin of any person on earth.
The terrain of her face looked clear and smooth for the moment, but Cobey knew – positively knew – that beneath that blotch-free surface raged a thousand microscopic rivers of oil, all bubbling and boiling away like lava, just waiting for their chance to burst forth and ruin her life.

Cobey Miles is a schoolgirl model who’s managed to get work experience with a local television station. Her luck gets even better when the on camera presenter falls and injures herself and Cobey scores the chance to take her place. Life is wonderful. Her career is taking off. She might know more about skin cream than about politics, but the camera loves her. So too does the Minister for Regional Development, in town to open a new childminding centre. Cobey might be naïve but she has a good eye for details and something isn’t quite right. The challenge is to discover just who is telling the truth, and who is telling lies.

Cobey, like many teenagers, is obsessed with her appearance but there’s an extra level of self-absorption required when your livelihood depends on it. If she relaxes her vigilance for a minute, her agent and the photographers and stylists are there to remind her to remain focussed. All this stands her in good stead when she lands the chance to appear on camera. It does however become more difficult to keep her ego in check. The same tight focus helps her to notice when answers are not quite right. The challenge for her then is to know who she can trust. Media Savvy scratches the surface of not just one appearance-obsessed section of our community, but three. Modelling/models, television, and politics all show their seamy underbellies in this mystery about playing with public perceptions. Recommended for 13-16 year olds.

Media Savvy, Jim Schembri
Hachette Livre 2008
ISBN: 9780734410252

Summer Tiger, by Wendy Catran

Amber gasped, heart thudding. Stop it, she told herself. It was only a pop-up picture on the park map. She pushed at it with her hands – yes she could make the tiger’s jaws open and close, open and close. Even turn the page to see the serious, funny little meerkats instead. There was no need to worry about Tiger. She could get rid of him any time she liked. She had complete control.

Amber has been sent to stay with her uncle and twin cousins Kyla and Ben at their New Zealand Wildlife Park while her parents holiday in Europe without her. Angry and resentful, she finds that all is not well with her New Zealand family either. Ben and Kyla’s mother has left, Kyla has an animal activist boyfriend and Ben’s dodgy friend Spike seems to be everywhere. Strange things are happening in the Wildlife Park. Amber is captivated by the meerkats but terrified by the Wildlife Park’s main attraction, a Sumatran Tiger.

There are many themes to be explored in Summer Tiger. Animal conservation is one, and more than one approach is explored. Family is another, as Amber worries about her own family and the family of her cousins. Managing fear is yet another. Summer Tiger weaves all these and more into a believable and action-packed story. Main character Amber grows in understanding and compassion across the novel, learning about herself and her family as she simultaneously begins to overcome her fear of animals, big and small, wild and ‘tame’. Recommended for upper primary readers.

Summer Tiger

Summer Tiger, by Wendy Catran
Hachette Livre Australia 2007