20 August 2009

Cupid’s Arrow

by Isabelle Merlin

Random House Australia. Australian, Crime, Mystery, Young Adult. Paperback rrp $17.95

Sixteen year-old Fleur travels to France with her mother, Anne, to help catalogue and return to Australia a rare library inherited from world-famous author, Raymond Dulac. Dulac specialised in King Arthur. Anne never met Dulac but dealt with him over the internet selling him books from her small boutique bookstore in Australia. They became good friends over the years and he had occasionally sent both Anne and Fleur small gifts.

As much as Fleur and Anne are saddened by the mysterious murder of Raymond they find much to keep them occupied in the small town of Avallon and Dulac’s home, Bellerive. For Anne it is cataloguing the enormous amount of books, from rare first editions, to historical reference books, through to the spiritual. For Fleur it is Remy. The unusual but beautiful 17 year-old boy who lives in the woods with his hermit mother.

Fleur unwittingly discovers a dream book, seemingly written and illustrated by Dulac. The dreams in it mimic the strange dreams Fleur has been having. Is it a coincidence? Fleur starts investigating her own theories but when a private investigator hired by Dulac is murdered, Fleur looks to Remy for help.

With a romance blossoming the two teenagers set out on a journey of discovery – their own dreams, the dream book, the two murders and King Arthur.

The next murder is more personal and Fleur fears for her own life. What is so important that someone would kill for?

Cupid’s Arrow is the third book by Merlin and like Three Wishes and Pop Princess it has success firmly stamped on the cover. It’s great writing – but I have to say it - the covers are too cute for the stories! There is nothing light about these storylines. All three books are about murder, intrigue, mystery and twists that keep you guessing who the killer is until the end.

Those who have been following my reviews on Merlin will know that my 13 year-old daughter and I are both big fans. We fought over the first two of Merlin’s books but Cupid’s Arrow I quickly hid from her and devoured first. When she caught me reading it her first words were “Does someone die?” … my answer, “In the first 3 pages!” “Cool!”

Now we have to wait until April 2010 for Merlin’s fourth book Bright Angel. Three Wishes and Pop Princess were reviewed in issues 9 and 17 respectively of The Reading Stack.


19 August 2009

Poor Little Dino Spark

by Robert Vescio. Illustrated by Dean Jacobs

Little Steps Publishing. Australian, Picture, Young Reader. Paperback rrp $16.95

The first thing you notice with Poor Little Dino Spark is the cover. Spark’s sad face with its wonderful colours and expressions makes you want to take him home! The illustrations are glorious.

My son somehow managed to coax his father into reading this book with him and then half an hour later managed to get his mother, ME, into reading with him too. That is all the recommendation you need for a book.

Spark is a shy dinosaur who sits alone watching three friends’ play together. They ask him to join them but Spark’s kite is caught in the tree and he is too embarrassed to ask them to help him. Plus he doesn’t want them to laugh at his small size. But Trixie soon helps Spark with his dilemma and as the story says … “three best dino friends became four”.

I found some of the rhymes clumsy and forced. But while they were jarring to adult ears, my youngest son asked for them to be read a second time.

This is a story with an important values lesson about how one child can help another. Being the biggest isn’t always the best and Poor Little Dino Spark can help children realise that “two heads are better than one”.

18 August 2009

Little Bird

by Penni Russon

Allen & Unwin. Australian, Young Adult. Paperback rrp $14.99

Ruby-lee is a teenage girl whose life is going out of control and she doesn’t realise it until it is too late. What Ruby-lee needs is someone to be her friend.

Her sister is only interested in her wedding. Her best friend is only interested in her boyfriend. Her mother doesn’t have time and her father has a new wife and baby.

When Ruby-lee offers to baby sit Maisy, the baby of one of her sister’s friends, life gets even more complicated. Maisy’s absent father Spence reappears. He’s everything Ruby-Lee wants and everything she doesn’t need. And if she can work out which way her heart wants to go, will she end up betraying Maisy and Maisy’s mother?

With everything happening around Ruby-lee, it looks like the real problem is that no-one seems to realise that maybe everything is happening TO Ruby-lee and what she needs is friendship, support and trust.

Little Bird is a book that explores teenage female emotions of love and babies, families and weddings, friendships and loyalties. When a little bird grows their wings are they really ready to fly? This is a book that I would recommend to all teenagers to read. Many will recognise a little bit, or maybe a lot, of themselves in Ruby-lee.

Little Bird is book 13 in the Girlfriend Fiction series.


17 August 2009

Lightning Strikes Series

The Big Dig by Meg McKinley
Dog Squad by Meredith Costain

Walker Books. Australian, Junior. Paperback rrp $12.95

Guest Reviewer Jo Burnell

The Lightning Strikes Series has done it again with their latest two books. Dog Squad and The Big Dig are as funny as Freaky and Haunted were spooky. When confident boys talk in the first person, it’s like seeing inside their brains. Ideas roll on rapidly, while thoughts about consequences lag far behind, with sometimes hilarious results.

The Big Dig
The local pool closes indefinitely and Bayside Leisure Centre is the only alternative. However, with double the entry fee, wall to wall people and endless rules, there has to be a better alternative.

Resolving never to return, the fun begins at home. What would you do in a record-breaking heat wave when there’s no decent pool nearby? Dig your own, of course. This is not a little hole in the garden. Upper Primary school kids have imagination, boundless energy and guts.

Get ready to snort into the pages or laugh out loud before you can stop yourself. The Big Dig will be whipped off my bookshelf many times as summer heat nears each year.

Dog Squad
Accidents will happen, but some have a roll-on effect. A stray ball in backyard cricket leads to triple-headed disaster. The boys’ proposed solutions have more dangerous consequences than the original dilemmas, but it’s all part of the fun. Time is of the essence as the boys race to replace two guinea pigs and a hutch. One thing leads to another and before they know it, the stakes are higher. Much higher.

Meredith Costain and Meg McKinley nail the voices of Upper Primary school boys, from their love of action and adventure to their unshakable belief in their own extreme intelligence. As boys rely on their mates in times of crisis, other irresistible characters come along for the ride. The result (in both books) is fast-paced, fun-filled entertainment, but will the boys live to see another day?

You’ll have to read these mini masterpieces to find out.


13 August 2009

What Does Your Daddy Do?

by Gordon Reece. Illustrated by Vilma Cencic

Hachette Children’s Books. Australian, picture book, young reader. Paperback rrp $16.99 Hardback rrp $28.99

What can you give dad for Father’s Day that will make him feel treasured and special? What Does Your Daddy Do? is THAT perfect gift!

When everyone at school gets up and tells the class what their fathers do, from rock star to judge to a heart surgeon, it seems everyone’s dad does something important. But when Tina gets up and tries to cover up that her father is a garbageman, the rest of the children laugh at her and Tina comes home in tears.

Tina asks her mother why her father doesn’t do anything important. But Tina’s mum reminds Tina just how important her father is to her. And Tina realises that her dad is the best dad in the whole wide world!

Children everywhere can read this book and feel proud of their fathers, no matter what job they do. Cencic’s illustrations featuring Australian animals are colourful and expressive. A cute book that will give any dad the “warm and fuzzies” if they are lucky enough to receive it for Father’s Day.


11 August 2009

The Giggle Gum Tree

by Juliet Williams. Illustrated by Elizabeth Botté

IP Kidz (Interactive Publications). Australian, Picture, Junior, Young Reader. Hardcover rrp $24.95.

I just had to read The Giggle Gum Tree. The illustrations from the front cover right through to the back, took my imagination back to when I was a young child hiding under our local willow tree. And the story was just so wonderful I had to read it aloud to my three children – from kindergarten to teenager!

Sisters Lily and Amanda walk through a park to get to school each day. They are always happy because to and from school the path takes them under a very special tree.

It had long swishy branches and its feathery leaves hung over the path.
When the girls walked under the tree, its swirly branches would tickle their necks and ears and faces.
And it turned them into giggling gerties.

But where the girls could see a sense of playfulness and fun, older community members had other ideas about the tree. Mr Glumper tripped over the roots and Mrs Pritchet would lose her glasses and her balance.

When the decision was made to chop the tree down, the girls grew sad, sulky and naughty. Then they had an idea. Maybe they can save the tree.

The story teaches children about compromise, that solving a problem involves taking into account the needs and opinions of many people, not just themselves. A good book to keep for an uplifting read or just to look at the great illustrations.


10 August 2009

Guinness World Records 2009

Gamer’s Edition

ABC Books. Non fiction, Junior, Young Adult. Hardcover rrp $35.00

If you know a pre-teen or teenage male who doesn’t like to read but loves to play computer or console games, then this is the book you are looking for. Girls and older readers will also find The Guinness Book of World Records, Gamer’s Edition fascinating. I confess I learned many new and interesting facts.

The book follows the popular Guinness Book of Records format, revealing a range of ‘firsts’, ‘longests’, ‘biggests’ and ‘smallests’ with added trivia and mini interviews. Did you know Grand Theft Auto IV is the highest grossing video game over the first 24 hours of sales? It generated $310 million worldwide. And the Legend of Zelda (remember that one?) is the longest-running action adventure-series, first released in1986 and still going. The Top three games of all time – Super Mario Kart, Grand Theft Auto IV and Tetris. The Top 50 console games list, compiled based on initial impact and lasting legacy is certain to generate heated discussion. It did in our house.

Experts can test their knowledge with the quiz questions scattered throughout and compare their scores to the 2009 Twin Galaxies Leaderboard of high scores and fastest times.

This is a book of pages to be flipped and flicked, stopping to read where random facts catch the eye. It is ideally suited to those hard to please male teenagers but lots of fun for everyone.

09 August 2009

Pearl Verses the World

by Sally Murphy. Illustrated by Heather Potter

Walker Books Australia. Junior, Australian. Paperback rrp $14.95

Pearl Verses the World is a wonderful introduction for children who have never encountered a verse novel before. Verse novels are ideally suited for middle to upper primary readers. The reader becomes personally involved in a stream of consciousness conversation with the main character and the story quickly becomes very real.

Pearl feels alone. She doesn’t fit in at school. ‘My class is made up of groups. I am in a group of one.’ At home, her grandmother is very ill and the close family unit of grandmother, mother and daughter is unravelling.

Pearl’s teacher wants her to write poems that rhyme but Pearl hears a different rhythm. When her grandmother dies, she finally finds the words to express how she feels. Her world has changed but she discovers a new place to belong and her group of one is slowly expanding.

I read this story to my primary school son and it opened his eyes in many ways. We talked about death. About belonging. About ‘poem books’. Reading Pearl Verses the World aloud together was a rich, rewarding experience.

This book is special. A beautiful story about coping with grief and loss, expertly written for younger readers. A gentle and uplifting life lesson for all ages.


08 August 2009

What Supegirl Did Next

by Thalia Kalkipsakis

Allen & Unwin. Young Adult, Australia. Paperback rrp $14.99

Jade is a teenage girl who knows exactly what she wants, where she wants to go, and how she is going to get there. But unfortunately for Jade, her dreams of being a great gymnast all crumple when her knee gives way in the middle of a competition that would have taken her all the way to Nationals!

While Jade waits patiently for her injuries to heal she silently watches her best friend Rene, fall for Marco, one of the most popular boys in school. Jade is worried Marco will hurt Rene. When Rene and Marco start dating, Jade must tolerate Marco and his sexist comments if she still wants to be friends with Rene.

While recuperating, Jade starts strengthening exercises in the pool and meets up with Marco’s mate, Levi, who is recovering from football injuries. One comment leads to another and next thing Jade finds she is up against Levi in a swimming race just to prove that girls are just as good as boys!

Jade’s competitive streak is back in full force and she is out to show that girls are not soft. But what Jade learns is that maybe winning isn’t everything.

What Supergirl Did Next is book 14 in the Girlfriend Fiction series and a great book for all teenage girls, but especially the ones who love to win.


07 August 2009


by Alexa Young

Random House. Young Adult. Paperback rrp $17.95

Here is a book for any modern young girl who dreams of the “American” lifestyle of the rich and famous. Avalon and Halley are BFF. They live next door to each other in California in mansions by the sea and they attend Seaview Middle School where there are contemplation ponds, patio chairs and the food comes straight out of a Master Chef Class.

Avalon, a blonde cheerleader, is “developing” in all the right places. Halley is dark haired and likes a bit of rock and roll. Both think they are besties and that their wardrobes are perfect.

But what happens when Halley likes a boy that her other friend, Sofee, has just broken up with? Can she go out with him? Or would that be breaking the best friend code? Avalon comes to the rescue. But is Avalon helping Halley out or does she have ulterior motives?

And when Halley joins the cheerleaders to help Avalon get the Captaincy is it really what Halley wants? Or does Halley also have ulterior motives? Is Halley and Avalon friendship real or is it all just fake?

A great book for young tweens. A great follow-up to Young’s first book in this series, Frenemies, which was reviewed in Issue 19 of The Reading Stack. Now to find out what happens next to the “friends”…. Where is Book 3?


06 August 2009

Don’t Breathe a Word

by Marianne Musgrove
Random House. Australian, Junior. Paperback rrp $16.95

What happens when eleven year old Mackenzie (Kenzie), promises her older sister, Tahlia, that she will never to tell a soul about what happened that night? Lots!

Kenzie and Tahlia live with their grandfather. Their much older half-sister, Lydia, rarely comes to visit but when Grandpa hurts his ankle, Lydia comes to visit constantly and interferes in EVERYTHING. Kenzie and her happy world start to slowly fall apart, little by little and Tahlia is no help!

Kenzie’s school holidays aren’t turning out to be much fun, in fact everything and everyone is making it hard for her to keep that secret! Her best friend Annie is busy hanging out with the twins, Regan and Tegan, and doesn’t see that Kenzie may need help. Mahesh, the boy down the street, tries to help but because Kenzie has to keep the secret he might think she is avoiding him. And nowadays, Tahlia is never home!

Luckily that when Kenzie finally turns to Tahlia for help, her sister has a plan! But who does it really help - Tahlia, Kenzie, or Grandpa? Secrets sometimes need to be broken.

This is a wonderful story that gives a child’s perspective of dementia and the responsibilities that a carer has to face. Without lecturing, it gently teaches through story - awareness, consideration and compassion.

Musgrove’s first novel, The Worry Tree, won the Australian Family Therapists’ Award and was shortlisted for the 2008 Queensland Premier’s Literary Award for Best Children’s Book and the 2007 Australian Children’s Peace Literature Prize.


05 August 2009

Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy

by Sue Whiting. Illustrated by Sarah Davis

New Frontier Publishing. Picture book, Australian. Hardback rrp $27.95.

I was immediately entranced by the cover’s lifelike fairy whose mischievous eyes dared me to open the book. Maybe there was magic inside.

Candymakers Mary and Marcus struggle to meet the greedy king’s ever increasing demand for their sugar plum lollies. When he gets an awful stomach ache from overeating, he expects them to cure it too. Fortunately they have the fairy’s help.

The Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy is a clever combination of classic fairytale storytelling and rich passages full of movement and sound. Young readers will delight in the bubble, slap, slap, thump, swish, swoosh, bang of the candy making process.

There is plenty to giggle about as well. Marcus worries about being ‘strung upside down in the market square so pigeons can poop on us’ and the king is drawn with a ridiculous long nose, perfect for sniffing out tasty treats.

The illustrations are gorgeous. Not normally a word I use but perfect to describe Sarah Davis’ sugar plum fairyland. Davis has been shortlisted for the 2009 CBCA Crichton Award given to an outstanding new illustration talent.

Words and pictures mesh to provide a rich sensory experience but there is also a third dimension. The book is part of a unique concept series introducing young children to classical music and is accompanied by a CD of Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker Suite ballet (which contains The Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy) with Antonia Kidman narrating the story.

This book would make an excellent gift – appreciated by readers (and listeners) young and old. And yes, there is magic inside.

04 August 2009

A Bit of Company

by Margaret Wild. Illustrated by Wayne Harris

Walker Books. Australian, Junior. Paperback RRP $15.95

Guest Reviewer Jo Burnell

Have you ever felt so lonely, you wanted to SCREAM?

Christopher did.

The birth of a baby brother or sister can make life lonely, but when Christopher’s mum has triplets, the world changes dramatically. What does a little boy do when Mum is always busy?

Reaching across boundaries is hard. Fences get in the way. Luckily for Christopher, Molly MacNamara screams. How else can she let the world know that she too, is lonely?

A Bit of Company is a touching tale about loneliness, and a possible cure.

Wayne Harris’ illustrations of backyard suburbia are enlivened by Christopher’s tail-wagging sidekick and Molly MacNamara’s cats.

When chaos builds the answer is simple. Everyone needs A Bit of Company.

This deceptively simple storyline will resonate with anyone who has had to cope with the arrival of younger siblings, or loneliness of any kind.

03 August 2009

Fast Ed’s Dinner in 10

by Ed Halmagyi

Random House Australia. Australian, Adult Other. Paperback rrp $34.95

Here is a cookbook that is well laid out, easily read and simple to use! The only problem is you have to get past those very “master chef” names. I love cookbooks and was eager to try!

I flipped the pages thinking “Yeah – I’m a busy woman who never gets time to whip up a nice dinner – but here is a cookbook that allows me to cook dinner in 10 minutes. If it’s true – it’s just what I need”. And while many of the recipes are ones I will use, readers should beware - it is the actual cooking time that is 10 minutes, preparation time is not included!

Egyptian Beef Kofte sounded just delicious but surely something only a top chef would make? I looked at the recipe with trepidation but found to my surprise the recipe is actually … really easy! And the end result is pretty yummy!

There are other recipes such as the Barbecued Quails with Prosciutto, Pear and Basil Salad that are more advanced and include hard to find ingredients. However, reading through the steps made even this recipe appear easy. I think I might try it next week!

Of course the desserts got me running to the supermarket to get a few more ingredients to stock up and start cooking! YUM YUM YUM. Triple-stacks of Spice Biscuits, Mango and Brandy Custard with Blueberry Salad. See what I mean – big names, mouth watering ingredients and end results you can be proud of.

There are over 100 recipes and I am looking forward to inviting a few guests over for an adult dinner party – something I haven’t thought about doing for years because 1. I am a mother of young children and 2. Time Time Time – or lack there of! Even if it’s not just ten minutes in total, I can certainly fit these recipes in.

Ed Halmagyi is a trained chef and is the cooking presenter on Better Homes and gardens TV & New Idea TV and has hosted his own show Fast Ed’s Fast Food and contributes regularly to the Better Homes and Gardens magazine.

The mouth is watering – sorry - have to go and cook!

02 August 2009

Simpson and His Donkey

by Mark Greenwood. Illustrated by Frané Lessac.

Walker Books. Australian, History, Children's Non-Fiction. Hardcover RRP $27.95.

Guest Reviewer Jo Burnell

This simplified version of Jack Simpson’s life is easily understood by children from Middle Primary School upwards. The reader travels with Jack from England through Australia to Egypt, and finally to the shores of Gallipoli.

Frané Lessac deepens this simple story line with period scenes of England’s summer shores and winter streets, Egypt’s military training camps and the fateful journey by boat to Gallipoli. Strong colours convey conditions in each environment, from the grey of an English Winter to the scorching heat of the Egyptian desert. Blood red waters on the shores of Gallipoli speak of countless lives lost.

Amidst these vibrant pages lies the story of an ordinary man who just wanted to go home. Joining the military took Jack to the killing fields of Gallipoli instead of his hometown in England. Jack saved many lives while losing his own and has touched hearts world-wide over the decades. A poignant circle of life is complete when Jack rescues an old friend from Tyne Dock while doing his rounds in Shrapnel Valley.

The depth to which Jack Simpson’s courage impressed fellow workers is demonstrated by the fact that Indian Gunners risked their lives to pick flowers to place on his grave.

Simpson and His Donkey is meticulously researched, yet masterfully translated into an easy read for children, without ‘dumbing-down’ the facts. This hero could have been someone’s Grandad (if he had lived long enough to marry). Such portrayals of real people, is what has been lacking in our libraries. Let’s hope this is the first of many such treasures.


01 August 2009

They told me I had to write this

by Kim Miller

Ford Street Publishing. Australian, Young Adult. Paperback rrp $17.95

Clem is a teenager who has been told to write a letter to his grandmother. Once Clem starts writing he can’t stop.

Clem is the boy that most parents don’t want to meet or know and most kids try to avoid. In his words he is “toxic”. We get to meet and understand Clem through his letters or notes to his grandmother. Clem is a boy whose problems started when he was born – he was blamed for the death of his mother. Then something bad happened to him when he was younger and his father won’t believe him. Now Clem is in a school for “toxic teenagers”.

The Rev, who is the Principal of the school, is a rev-head and a counsellor as well as a Reverend. Clem has sessions with the Rev each week and through these sessions and his letters to his grandmother, Clem starts to understand his life, his feelings and the feelings of others around him.

Then Clem meets a girl who thinks he is funny and isn’t scared of him. When one of Clem’s toxic mates dies, Clem’s relationship with his father changes and gradually his girlfriend, father and the Rev see Clem’s true self. He isn’t that toxic after all. They told me I had to write this is a story that unfortunately rings true in these current times. This book may help people perceive troubled teenagers differently. Maybe their backgrounds aren’t all sunny and rosy but that doesn’t mean they can’t have a bright future. They just need help.

A great read and a great story.