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Jun 01 2020

Eloise and the bucket of stars by Janeen Brian

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Walker Books, 2020. ISBN: 9781760651879.
(Age: 10+) Highly recommended. Eloise Pail lives in a soulless place, the Children of Paradise Orphanage, rivalling Jane Eyre's Lowood Institution for cruelty and privation.
Nearly thirteen she is burdened with many of the tasks to keep the place running by the vindictive head nun, Sister Hortense. A nastier protagonist is hard to find, and readers will squirm seeing the ways Sister Hortense makes Eloise's life miserable. Eloise longs for a family, but knows nothing of her background. Her name has been given her by the institution, her surname Pail from the bucket in which she arrived at the orphanage as a baby in 1807.
She goes to the village each day to fetch water and always stops to talk to the blacksmith's horse. She dreams of what a family might be like while talking to the stars at night, her only friends. But Hortense seems to have a second sense about Eloise's veering from her duties and is quick to punish.
One day in the village Mr Jackson, the smithy gives her a piece of paper to decipher with a drawing of a unicorn on it. Already punished by Sister Hortense for telling the younger orphans a story about unicorns, Eloise keeps the stories to herself, writing them on a scroll she keeps on her person.
When a new girl, Janie Pritchard arrives at the orphanage Eloise takes a long time to trust her. She watches Eloise, asking questions, and Eloise finds that like her, she watches for shooting stars, said to be ridden by unicorns. When a busker snatches the blacksmith's paper from her grasp, Eloise is at a loss to remember what was written, but the dying spinach in the vegetable patch points to the veracity of the words, telling of something happening at the next full moon. And just when the girls are beginning to trust each other and share what they know, Janie is adopted by a family on a distant farm. But the full moon approaches.
Brian has written an engrossing, multi layered story about Eloise, a character all readers will admire and love as she battles with her situation. The cold, loveless background bristles with injustice, and the magical turn of the story will further beguile readers' imaginations. What a cracker of a story. Teacher's notes are available. Themes: Family, Magic, Belonging, Orphanages, Abuse.
Fran Knight


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Jun 01 2020

The friendly games by Kaye Baillie

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Illus. by Fiona Burrows. MidnightSun Publishing, 2020. ISBN: 9781925227642.
(Age: 5+) A motherless boy called John Wing was taken into a welcoming children's home where he had many other children to play with and everyone was invited to each other's birthday party. At eight he was adopted and missed the friends he had at the children's home. New to his school he checked out all the sports he could find, but instead of choosing one to learn, he found out about the Opening Ceremonies at the Olympic Games. He was enthralled, but could not understand why there was no big closing ceremony. He read all he could about the Olympic Games, especially when it happened to be in Melbourne in 1956. He loved watching the bunting and the lights, and loved the way ordinary people joined in, especially when taking in some of the athletes to their homes. John read all he could, even the articles about boycotting and fights between the athletes, and was concerned that this was what people would remember, not the friendliness of the games, which was the aim. So he wrote a letter. He heard nothing back from his letter writing, but at the end of the games he was amazed to see the athletes all together just as he had suggested, celebrating the closing of the Friendly Games.
A wonderful tribute to the power of just one person, The friendly games shows how one boy wrote a letter which made a significant change to the direction of the Olympic Games, and instead of the Melbourne Games being known for the politics which divided some teams, is known forever as the Friendly Games.
An author's note at the end of the story fills out the background on which this picture book is based, and gives more detail about John's life.
This book would be useful when talking about the Olympic Games, but the illustrations of Melbourne and the spirit which surrounded the city at that time may have been better served as photos. There are some apt touches, with John watching TV in a shop front, TV only just getting to Australia in that year, and the images in the streets of Melbourne. Themes: Olympic Games (Melbourne), The Friendly Games, Sport, Migration.
Fran Knight


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May 29 2020

Rules for being a girl by Candace Bushnell & Katie Cotugno

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HarperCollins, 2020. ISBN: 9781529036084. 293pp.
(Age: 15+) Highly Commended. Marin & Chloe are friends who both have crushes on Mr Beckett (Bex), their hip, young English Teacher. Marin's boyfriend, Jacob, is the school Jock but she often stays late after school, working on the school newspaper with Bex. Marin aspires to a career in journalism at Brown University but after accepting a ride home via Bex's house, the plot quickly becomes a cautionary tale. Naively, Marin is certainly not prepared for what happens when Bex crosses the line.
The upside to Bex's unapologetic betrayal of trust, if there is one, is Marin's awakening to the feminist perspective. Marin, already critical of the gender inequities in the school dress code, identifies more gaps in resources and expectations between the two genders. Jacob struggles to support the 'new' Marin, who pens a cathartic editorial about the confusion and double standards experienced by young women, entitled "The Rules for Being a Girl".
"Don't be one of those girls who can't eat pizza. You're getting the milk shake too? Whoa. Have you gained weight? Don't get so skinny your curves disappear. Don't get so curvy you aren't skinny. Don't take up too much space. It's just about your health . . . ." (page 81)
When Marin confides in Chloe, she is jealous rather than supportive. Principal DioGuardi also accepts Bex's account. For much of the story, Marin turns to Gray, a boy who admired her editorial and joined the feminist book club, to navigate the sexist policies the students are subjected to. Despite his temporary triumph, Bex is angry that Marin would seek to harm his career by snitching. He sinks to new lows to hurt Marin for "breaking the rules". A true heroine, Marin overcomes the devastating setback and teaches her own lesson - one that will chasten both Mr Beckett and Principal DioGuardi.
An impressive snapshot of a typical High School culture, Bushnell and Cotugno have created a worthy role model and guide in Marin. Her journey and her pivotal "Rules for Being a Girl" editorial, should be mandatory reading for all teenage girls.
Deborah Robins


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May 29 2020

Peta Lyre's rating normal by Anna Whateley

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Allen & Unwin, 2020. ISBN: 9781760525309. 237p.
(Age: 14+) Highly recommended. Peta & Jeb have been friends since childhood. Now they both attend a Queensland technical college on the wrong side of the tracks. Peta has an Autism Spectrum disorder. Although high functioning, it takes only a few pages for the reader to appreciate the privilege of being inside this narrator's head. After certain events, Peta's thoughts and often the rote "rules to fit in", given to her by her therapist, provide detailed insight into living with invisible disabilities denoted by letters of the alphabet - ASD, ADHD etc.
Although it is the assumption, the students are not the problem. Like every teen, they flounder to work through their respective physical, cognitive, familial or social disadvantages with varied success. Peta lives with an understanding aunt as Jeb deals with an abusive father. Sam is the new girl. Her family is 'normal' but she has 'baggage' too. When the three new friends go on the school trip to the snow fields, sharing the dorms with private school students, the relationship between Peta and Samantha is explored. But Peta is not the only one who has communication problems. The author skates across many of the insecurities and identity forming rituals of adolescence faced by Sam, Jeb and the other students.  
The ski trip opportunity helps Peta and Jeb identify their life pathways but not before Jeb and Sam learn that Peta can take care of herself - that Peta's awkwardness does not make her needy or incapable. Peta proves that she can be more extraordinary without the rules; that her strengths, including her intense focus and honesty, are not deal breakers for everyone but her closest friends.
It may be confronting to witness Peta's reliance on medication and readers will commiserate with Peta's lows. Above all, we are exhilarated for her, when she demonstrates that she can be accomplished not only in spite of, but because of her idiosyncracies. Everyone, particularly teachers would be enriched by her inner story. Teacher's notes, a trailer and interview are available from the publisher.
Deborah Robins


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May 29 2020

Bin chicken by Kate and Jol Temple

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Illus. by Ronojoy Ghosh. Scholastic, 2020. ISBN: 9781743830048.
(Age: 4+) Highly recommended. The term 'bin chicken' is new to me, but looking it up on google, I was amazed at how well grounded the term is. And the urbanisation of the Australian White Ibis is a problem almost Australia wide, beginning in the late 1970's.
As the ibis rummages through the waste we leave behind, a splendid opportunity is offered by the author to point out how much we throw away, and for classes to undertake some work about recycling.
But this book uses humour to tell its readers about the ibis and its strength, pushing aside the bullies and keeping on what she is doing. The verse story shows us the detractors: the sparrow, pigeon, seagull and crow, all picketing the ibis to stop giving birds a bad name. But Ibis carries on doing what she does: diving into trash cans, rummaging through dumpsters, swimming through rubbish, taking home odds and sods to its nest where her chicks are schooled into the life led by an urban iris.
The verse encourages readers to predict the rhyming words, and learn some of the stanzas, enabling them to read it along with the teacher, or read it for themselves. The lists of items found in the trash cans, dumpsters and lying around on the street will be added to by the readers, encouraging them to look out for waste left behind.
The digital illustrations add humour and background to the story and students will laugh at the antics of the other birds as they picket the ibis, call it names and deride its lifestyle. I love the rat, Ibis' only friend, as it supports the efforts of the ibis, keeping close by. Readers will love searching for Rat on each page, and laugh at the array of waste found by Ibis and Rat.
Despite all the rubbish thrown at her by other birds, the bullying by the quartet, Ibis comes out on top, building her nest, caring for her chicks, teaching them to scavenge as she does. They are survivors. Themes: Birds, Ibis, Rubbish, Scavenging, Waste, Verse, Read aloud.
Fran Knight


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May 28 2020

Ribbit, rabbit, robot by Victoria Mackinlay

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Illus. by Sofya Karmazina. Omnibus (Scholastic) 2020. ISBN: 9781743834060.
(Age: 4+) Highly recommended. Three friends, a rabbit, frog and a robot work in an antique store. When the frog pulls a book from a pile of books, a lamp falls on his head. Rub it, say the robot and the rabbit, and rub it, the frog does. Out of the lamp pops a genie with instructions about what to wish for, warning them not to be mean. Both the rabbit and the robot are quick to use their wishes, but the frog takes his magnifying glass to look closely at the fine print. Rabbit has wished for another rabbit while the robot has been given a robotic dog, but both are dissatisfied and want to grab the lamp for themselves. Mayhem follows as the three battle for the lamp, taking them across the sea in a canoe, over the fields in bicycles, then in tractors, until they ascend in hot air balloons. Each page sees another scramble of the words robot, rabbit and ribbit as the author delightfully plays with the readers. Children will laugh out loud at the variations of these words, wondering what will come next. And the luminous illustrations full of movement and detail will add to their enjoyment.
Finally the trio rockets into space with the lamp, until the frog, still intrigued by the words at the end of the scroll, uses a fishing line to grab the lamp from the robot.
His selflessness is rewarded while the selfishness of the rabbit and the robot see their wishes undone.
This is a wonderful play on words which will have children amused and entertained, wondering about the word variations. The illustrations are meant to be pored over, searching through a myriad of detail as the trio cavorts over water, seas, fields and space, while the fabulous antique shop is full of wonders. The strong message of being unselfish will resonate with the readers as they laugh with the mayhem caused by the greed of the rabbit and robot. Themes: Robots, Rabbits, Frogs, Selfishness, Genie, Wishes.
Fran Knight


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May 28 2020

Nali and friends: Bwindi the windy gorilla by Dan Sultan and Rhys Graham

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Illus. by Tali Gal-on. Scholastic, 2020. ISBN: 9781743836378.
(Age: 4+) Recommended. Melbourne performer Dan Sultan has joined Rhys Graham and artist Tali Gal-on to produce a great sing-along book about farts. But watch out it is catching!
Part way through her world-wide adventure, Nali meets Bwindi, a very windy gorilla. Nali and her family have settled for the night in a tree; mum and dad, great grandmother, Nali and her sister all tuck their heads under their wings to sleep but Nali is astonished to hear the loudest of noises. Flying down to the ground to investigate, she finds a baby gorilla, chewing on some leaves.
Nali is concerned and asks him about the noise she has heard. Bwindi reassures her that the noise was him, and when she again asks if his parents are concerned, finds that his parents often keep each other awake with their noises, as they have much larger bottoms than he.
They laugh and talk together until Bwindi comes to miss her family in the tree so flies up to be with them.
Dan Sultan's ARIA award winning album, Nali and friends, has an offshoot with this story of Bwindi, so well suited for classes and children to discuss their bottoms and why they make the noise they make.
Perfect for discussions about health and hygiene, but also about family and friendship. Bwindi the windy gorilla will make friends with all those children who read the book.
And join along with Dan as he sings the song on YouTube. Themes: Animals, Farting.
Fran Knight


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May 26 2020

Aurora burning by Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff

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The Aurora Cycle book 2. Allen & Unwin 2020. ISBN: 9781760295745.
(Age: Teens) Highly recommended. Following Aurora rising Aurora Legion's Squad 312 is back trying the save the galaxy from being overtaken by an ancient hive-like alien. Led by the meticulous Tyler and grieving for Cat, the team is determined to find the black box from the space ship, Hadfield, where Aurora had been asleep for two centuries. Adventures abound as the group evades pursuers and meets Kal's long lost sister, a Syldrathi commander. Aurora is determined to learn how to master her powers and use herself as the Trigger for the weapon that the ancients have left.
Written in alternating chapters from the six team members, Kaufman and Kristoff do a sterling job of describing the feelings and skills of the main characters, who may appear to be stereotypes (Tyler, the buff blond leader, Kaliis, the pointy eared, very tall and handsome elf-like creature) but are people that the reader begins to know very well. Interspersed with some very comic dialogue, especially from Scarlett, the diplomat in the group, the novel bounds along with breathtaking speed and high octane action. There are ship heists, gun fights, space war and fight after fight, with enough clashes and skirmishes to satisfy an adventure junkie.
Short chapters with the name of the character narrating at the beginning of each also help to keep the reader engrossed. Then there is a totally compelling cliff-hanger of an ending that made me search to see if there was another book to come (there is, thankfully).
Kaufman and Kristoff have succeeded in writing a fantastic second book in the series. The Aurora Cycle books are sure to leap off the shelves, and the gorgeous cover on Aurora burning, featuring Kal, is another enticement for readers to pick up the book.
Pat Pledger


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May 26 2020

In the time of foxes by Jo Lennan

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Scribner, 2020. ISBN: 9781760855697.
(Age: 16+) Recommended. Foxes are survivors; they've adapted to the urban environment. They are reknown for being cunning and predatory. In the first story in this collection by Jo Lennan, Nina has a Fox Situation - they have created a 'breeding earth' in a hollowed tree stump at the bottom of her garden and have become a nuisance to her family and neighbours, with the exception of her young son Ronnie who loves to watch their antics through the window. It's a problem that Nina struggles to find a humane solution to, just as at the same time she is coming to terms with her mother's dementia and how best to care for her.
The foxes in the first story are there, wild and free, and persistent. Other stories also tell of some kind of encounter with a fox, but it is not always the animal itself, it may be a charming man with a silver mane of hair, or someone clever and dangerous. Or a person coming to understand the hidden cunning within themselves. All of the stories are insightful about relationships, the struggle between the apparent and the hidden, or the outward and the interior. And, as the publisher's blurb says, each narrative is a compressed novel.
They are very interesting stories; locations vary from London, Sydney, Tokyo, Hong Kong, even a station on Mars. They tell of relationships between parents and children, couples, friends, and childhood companions. And in the background somewhere there is always a fox.
Themes: Nature vs civilisation, Life and death, Friendships, Rivalry, Self-understanding.
Helen Eddy


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May 26 2020

The Van Apfel girls are gone by Felicity McLean

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HarperCollins, 2019. ISBN: 9781460755068.
(Age: Adult - Senior secondary) Highly recommended. Tikka Molloy was 11 when the Van Apfel girls, Hannah, Cordelia and Ruth disappear, the mystery of their disappearance remaining unsolved. Recounted in the voice of the young Tikka, the reader is taken to a hot Australian town set on a smelly river. The three girls disappear during a Showstopper concert held by the school, during a skit that Tikka has made up as a diversion for their running away. But they don't find Tikka's sister Laura who has money for them and nobody knows where they have gone. Weeks of searching does not solve the mystery, even though the girls' father is questioned extensively, as is Cordelia's teacher.
When Tikka comes back as an adult to be with Laura who has cancer, she is still haunted by memories of what happened and still often thinks that she sees Cordie as an adult, striding away, blond hair bobbing. She questions whether she and Laura should have told the police that the girls were planning to run away, and even her father feels that he should have done more to stop the domestic violence that Mr Van Apfel used to dominate his family.
The story brings back all the heat of an Australian summer, the swimming in the backyard pools, the casual jealousy of younger siblings for their older sisters, the smell of the river and the end of term school concert. Tikka's childhood comes alive as she describes in her precocious and innocent voice, what happened that summer. The fear that the girls felt as they watched Mr Van Apfel threaten his daughters and poorly understood sexual undertones pervade the story as rumours circulate about Cordie's teacher, leaving the reader wondering who was responsible for the girls' disappearance. Indeed McLean leaves that mystery open to the reader's own interpretation, rather like the mystery in Picnic at Hanging Rock.
Part mystery and part coming of age story, this is a story to be savoured and discussed. An essay by Felicity Mclean is available here.
Pat Pledger


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May 26 2020

The giant and the sea by Trent Jamieson

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Illus. by Rovina Cai. Hachette, 2020. ISBN: 9780734418876.
(Age: All) Highly recommended. This eye-catching large format picture book will not be left long on the shelves. A giant peers down at the young girl in the bottom right hand corner of the cover, watching what she will do. She is not telling her anything but from her expression, her shaded eyes, the down turned mouth, the plea is there and once opening the book readers will see what her plea is about. The words, 'the sea is rising' are repeated through the book, firstly to make the child aware of the danger which will engulf them all when the sea does rise, and then repeated by the child as she tries to warn others of the dangers the giant has predicted, and again at the end when the words come full circle, the situation no different than before.
A fable for the modern reader, the book promotes discussion about climate change, of standing up for what you believe in, of the possibility of hope.
The giant tells the child that the reason for the seas rising is the machine and tells her to get the people in the city to shut it down. But they are adamant that the machine is of great benefit, and feelings are polarised, so much so that people with banners march on the giant, telling her to go away. When the seas do rise, it is the giant that comes and saves the girl and her family along with some others from the town. They rebuild their town on higher ground and the giant keeps watching the sea until one day she tells a young boy on the shore, 'the sea is rising'.
And so the cycle starts again. Children will come to see that change needs to happen for the seas not to rise, and be aware that strength is needed to overcome the doubters.
The strong illustrative technique of Rovina Cai will excite the readers. The mix of graphite, crayon resist and wash means I wanted to touch each page, feel the child's hair, touch the rising sea, feel the power of the machines undermining the town. The gothic power of her drawings sweep across the pages, taking the eye with them as the water rises, the machines steam and whirr, the people stampede towards the giant, while her sparing use of colour adds texture and passion to her atmospheric pages. Themes: Climate change, Environment, Prediction, Future, Inundation.
Fran Knight


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May 25 2020

The colouring competition by Heath McKenzie

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Scholastic, 2020. ISBN: 9781760158859.
(Age: 4+) Highly recommended. As Oscar walks along the street with his mother, he spies an advertisement for a colouring competition. First prize is a three wheeled bicycle, so Mum gets an entry form and they go to the park to begin colouring. Here colours begin to appear on each page as Oscar colours in the sheet provided, but he is so intent on his work that he fails to notice Henry nearby doing exactly the same thing. Colouring soon becomes a competition between the two boys and colour spreads from their pages onto the trees behind them, Mum sitting on the bench, the pram, the baby, the swans on the lake and the couple sitting nearby. They go next door to the zoo where the crayons are put to good use, colouring the animals and the cages. Onto the street market the crayons are used to colour the vendors and the produce displayed for sale, the shoppers and even the dog. They colour their way along the busy street, and wind their way amongst the buildings, until they find a large church edifice to colour adding motifs usually not related to a building. They meet their friends who are looking a little displeased with their coloured faces and clothes, when a young girl rides past on her brand new three wheeled bicycle. They had forgotten the competition! They retrace their steps to find her winning entry on the shop window but a surprise waits for them on the next shop window - another competition.
McKenzie's quirky sense of humour wins the day as he plays with the idea of competition, showing the boys competing for the prize in the competition. The wonderful pencil illustrations, from the end papers with their intriguing set of terraced houses, to each of the pages between are a treat, ensuring readers will lap up each small detail. I love the range of things in the shop windows, and the humour behind the names of the shops. The Folded Corner tickled my fancy. The colour in the boys' world creeps into everything they see - a wonderful theme for all to aspire to. And for those who do not want the magic to end, McKenzie's website has a marvellous concoction of goodies to explore. Themes: Colours, Colouring, Competition, Friendship, Family.
Fran Knight


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May 25 2020

Ella at Eden: The Secret Journal by Laura Sieveking

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Scholastic Australia, 2020 ISBN: 9781743834947.
(Age: 8-11years) Recommended. In the second book of the Ella at Eden series, the reader finds that Ella is comfortable in her new boarding school surroundings and has established a cohesive and supportive friendship group. She still misses her sister Olivia and the rest of her family but keeps in touch via email. As the Year Seven Junior Journalist, Ella is determined that her next article for the school e-newsletter will be an interesting and exciting read. She suggests that the next newsletter theme be "Past and Present" which ties in perfectly the Alumni Luncheon being held at the school. Many Old Scholars and relatives of the present students will be in attendance. Of course, Ella's nemesis Saskia continually boasts about her connection to the school and the fact that Ella does not have such a connection.
While supporting her friend Grace on a dare, Ella discovers an old journal hidden in the Bell Tower. The journal begins on February 12, 1940 and has been written by a 12 year old student named Elena. Through reading the journal Ella discovers a secret passage, a missing item and becomes aware of a period in history which was brought about by World War Two. She spends time researching the history of Eden School in the school library archives and learns so much about her new learning environment. During this time Ella also has a misunderstanding with her friends Zoe, Grace and Violet and this takes time to resolve itself. The Alumni Luncheon also brings challenges for Ella but the events lead to the solving of a great mystery and making a new connection to the past.
Once again author Laura Sieveking has written a novel which will keep middle primary readers entertained and hopeful of a happy ending. Ella and her friends are in a privileged boarding school but they still have the same friendship worries, school difficulties and successes that young girls throughout Australia experience. Themes: Girls, Friendship, Boarding School, Reporter, Journal, Secrets, History.
Kathryn Beilby


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May 22 2020

Mum & Dad by Joanna Trollope

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Mantle, 2020. ISBN: 9781529003390. 336pp.
(Age: Adolescent - Adult) This is a story that carries a deep-rooted sense of loss when a family is separated by distance, and indeed by tension. When the parents of grown-up children announced one day that they intended to leave England to live in Spain, where they planned to become wine-makers, their grown-up children were taken aback, and indeed somewhat hurt. This tale is embedded in that sense of abandonment in the loss of grandparents living nearby, wanting to be part of their children's lives. What surprised them all was that the older couple experienced a rather resounding success with their venture, their wine being celebrated as award-winning across Europe.
The story begins with an unexpected event, when the grandfather, Gus, is compromised quite significantly after suffering a stroke. Back in England the adult parents, and their children, must decide how to help their ageing parents. This scenario opens some inevitable confrontations amongst the families, who are not all in accord as to how to handle this new state of affairs. Trollope portrays the inevitable confrontations, the tension, and the concern for their own family issues, health and otherwise, as well as the challenge of bringing up adolescent children, with the different family issues and resentments rising to the surface, creating an increasing level of tension.
Delving deeply into the interactions of families, of models of love and kindness, as well as other issues, such as what is a decent response, when resentment and jealousy rise to the surface. Joanna Trollope has created a vibrant narrative that deals with some of the real issues that we face in the world today. Brilliantly, in her description of our understanding of the sense of inadequacy, of the fear of not being successful, or of the difficulty of choosing one's future, Trollope deals with some fundamental issues that are very much part of the modern world. She writes about how we seek to find the choice that is right, considering how we treat each other in ways that are respectful and kind, or otherwise demeaning, balancing this with the reality of our human capacity to forgive, to reconsider one's relationships when necessary, and to learn to love without judgement. It is indeed a most thought-provoking novel that is very much in touch with the modern world and is suitable for adolescent and adult reading. It is suitable for adolescent and adult readers.
Elizabeth Bondar


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May 22 2020

Dark Age by Pierce Brown

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Red Rising Saga. Hachette, 2020. ISBN: 9781473646759.
(Young Adult/Adult). Recommended. Dark Age is the fifth instalment in Pierce Brown's dystopian science fiction Red Rising Saga and the tone of the book is indicated by the title. This a dark, unpredictable and action-packed ride to continue Brown's epic series.
Part space opera, part high political drama, Dark Age resumes the story of Darrow, the Republic he founded and the corrupt Society he has spent more than a decade fighting. Once a successful revolutionary, Darrow is now an outlaw, his children have been abducted or imprisoned and an age of political and social chaos threatens. The story is told from the points of view of five characters; Darrow, his wife and sovereign Virginia, Ephraim the thief, Lysander the heir and Lyria, risen from the dead. As with all of the books in the Red Rising Saga, there are battles, deaths and complex plot lines, all aided by Brown's considerable stylistic strengths and pithy dialogue. However at more than 800 pages, the novel does being to drag. As with many 'middle' books in series, the reader may be forgiven for questioning whether all 800 pages were entirely necessary. Nevertheless, Dark Age does well to pick set the scene for what should be a thrilling conclusion to the series.
Dark Age is not suitable for younger teen audiences and a content warning must be given for murder, graphic assault and violence. However, fans of the Red Rising Saga will be satisfied with the latest instalment in the series and eager to see how Darrow's story concludes. Themes: War, Politics, Revolution, Corruption, Death, Space, Mars.
Rose Tabeni


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May 22 2020

The Flowers of Vashnoi by Lois McMaster Bujold

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An Ekaterin Vorkosigan novella. Subterranean Press, 2019. ISBN: 9781596068926. 73 pages.
(Age: Adult - Senior secondary) Highly recommended. What a thought provoking and stylish novella from Bujold, an award winning author who never fails to deliver a book that lingers in the memory. Ekaterin is beginning to take on the role of Lady Vorkosigan and with her interest in Botany sees the Vashnoi exclusion zone lands that have been devastated by war and still radioactive as something that she may be able to reclaim. Working with scientist Enrique Borgos, the pair experiment with radbugs that could eat the radioactive material in the dead zone and spew out fertilizer.
Not only does Bujold bring to life the horror of atomic devastation but the lingering effects of radioactivity on the surviving population. Writing with compassion and warmth she outlines the dilemmas that Etakerin faces when the radbugs begin to disappear and secrets that have been hidden since the time of her husband, Miles' grandfather, come to light.
In 73 engrossing pages Bujold explores the themes of prejudice against those who have suffered from radioactivity poisoning, the use of bioengineering and reshaping the landscape. Although this highly readable novelette fits into the series of books in the Vorkosigan saga, it can be read as a stand-alone.
Pat Pledger


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