The fiction writer by Jillian Cantor

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This is a story within a story, about authors and where they get their narrative ideas. Woven together in The Fiction Writer is the story of a fiction writer whose second book, a retelling of Du Maurier’s Rebecca, gets her noticed by very few readers. However, she does get noticed by a very wealthy and desirable man and is given the chance to become a ‘ghost-writer’. He seeks her skills to uncover and write about a family secret involving the theft and plagiarism of the story-line of Rebecca from his own grandmother’s work.  The author at the centre of this book, Olivia Fitzgerald, becomes embroiled in a gothic-style intrigue that drags her from her mundane ‘unsuccessful’ life into a life of wealth on the Malibu Beach. At every turn she seems unable to separate truth from fiction and wonders if she too has become a target in a macabre re-telling of the du Maurier classic novel. 

This book is an absolute joy to read, especially for those who have loved the darkly intense du Maurier classic - Rebecca. At every stage devotees of the original book will be delighted with parallels, but will also be enchanted with the deft way Cantor has created her own gothic-style modern-day mystery. With excerpts from another text woven through the pages, it is clear that something unusual is happening and there are sinister undercurrents through the story. Who can be believed? Surprisingly, there is also a romantic possibility wrapped within the more gothic and intense storyline. But at the heart of the story is the fiction writer and their journey to discover a story that is new, and yet always there is the idea that there are no new stories. This is a book for 16+ /Adult readers, a mature tale and a compelling, atmospheric and anxiety-charged storyline.

Themes Fiction writing, Gothic literature, Daphne du Maurier - Rebecca, Mystery, Plagiarism.

Carolyn Hull


Patina by Jason Reynolds

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Ghost and Lu are on Patina’s running team and they support one another even when things go wrong, like when Ghost makes a false start in the 100 metres. Patina reflects that it is actually a real start at the wrong time. Ghost goes on to win his race but Patina has to deal with second place in the 800 metres, a false finish, not the first place she had expected. The certainty of running success is important to Patina as so many other parts of the 12-year old’s life has been out of her control. After her father’s sudden death six years ago, her birth mother (Ma) was unable to care for them as her legs were amputated due to severe diabetes. Patina and little sister Maddy have had to go and live with their uncle and aunt. Staying strong is what Patina does, she looks after Maddy, making sure her hair is done in cornrows before their weekly visit to Ma, she tries to do her best at her new school, a girls’ school with mostly white rich kids, the ‘hair flippers’ who have no idea what she has been through, and she tries to fit in to the routines of her adoptive family. Running success is important to her, strong legs that carry her beyond a day-to-day life that can be challenging, with teamates who understand her need to win. When the coach tells them they are to train for a relay Patina has to adjust to teamwork where winning or losing is not under her control. This follow up to the very popular Ghost is dedicated 'For those who’ve been passed the baton too young' and Patina’s everyday life is certainly burdened with responsibilities thrust upon her. However, she has a strong support network determined to make things work even if they are not ideal and they help her to face challenges, grow as an individual, and keep learning. This is book 2 in the 4 volume Track series about a running team with kids from very different backgrounds and will appeal to a wide range of readers.

Themes Track running, Friendship, Adoption, Grief.

Sue Speck


Fun in the sun: Jack and Mia at the beach by Dr. Annika Smith. Illus. by Lara Porter

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This book was written by a dermatoligist Dr Annika Smith and is aimed at providing information to young kids about sun safety. The story follows two siblings Jack and Mia, who are going for an outing at the beach. We watch them get ready to go, taking all the necessary steps to be sun safe including hats, sunglasses, long sleeves and of course sunscreen. The story also has a warning for sun burn when they see their poor friends all red and upset on the beach. 

I like the rhyme of the story, which I feel will entice and engage very young children, along with the happy and bright illustrations by Lara Porter. 

Fun in the sun is also a good resource for parents as at the beginning there is a page with melanoma information and statistics (all written quite clearly and without to much heaviness) and at the back there is a simple 5 point list that can be used as a conversation starter with kids or as a tick off style list when going out in the sun. 

This would also be a great book for children who do not like applying sunscreen, as the text is easy to understand and children from about 7 to 8 years of age would be able to read it themselves, hopefully taking in the importance of sun safety.

Themes Beach, Siblings, Sun safety.

Lauren Fountain


Alice-Miranda and the Christmas mystery by Jacqueline Harvey

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The Christmas break is just about to begin, and twelve year old Alice-Miranda has invited her close friends from boarding school to Highton Hall for a pre-Christmas celebration.  The children are varying ages of teens with Alice-Miranda the youngest but seemingly the wisest and most compassionate. Also included at the last minute is Caprice, the ‘mean’ girl, who has been forced to remain at school for the holidays. This will test the boundaries of friendship for Millie, but things fortunately have a way of working themselves out.

The children staying at Highton Hall enjoy a privileged lead up to Christmas with exciting activities organised, cooking Christmas treats, playing in the snow and enjoying Christmas shopping. There are events to attend in the village and an invitation to a grand party. However not all is as it seems, with Alice-Miranda’s family business under a cloud with missing Christmas stock, a young girl persuaded to take part in theft, the disappearance of missing Christmas decorations and a long-time mystery to be solved. Alice-Miranda, Millie and their friends are instrumental in helping solve the mysteries and Christmas Day is a day of celebration.

This is the 21st book in the series and continues to be enjoyed by loyal readers. It is a bonus for readers that Jacqueline Harvey includes a list of characters at the end of the book as there are so many included in the story. The character of Alice-Miranda is that of a thoughtful and caring person who is very aware of her fortunate life but always considers others.

Themes Christmas, Friendship, Theft, Gangs, Mysteries, Problem-solving, Family.

Kathryn Beilby


Riz Chester: The Fingerprint Code by R. A. Stephens. Illus. by Em Hammond

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Riz Chester has highly tuned senses and notices things that most people don't, such as the brand of cheese being changed in the tuckshop lunches, the 10 gram change in the size of the packets of chips, and the differences between identical twins Sabrina and Jenny. She keeps a note of the differences in her Weird Stuff Log because when she mentions them, people look at her funny.

But, by using her observation skills and logical thinking, she was able to detect counterfeit $10 notes in The counterfeit bust, the first in this series for newly independent readers, and in this episode once again she demonstrates the value of planning, thinking logically and recording what you discover in an organised way as she tries to determine who could have stolen a baby grand piano from the school's music room.

This time the forensic focus is fingerprints and there is more information about this at the end of the book, enabling students to understand why they leave unique markers all the time that science is beginning to unravel with greater depth and accuracy every day.

There are lots of series published for this age group, but this one particularly appeals to me because of its emphasis on the need to approach a problem in a clear, methodical way thus bringing into play all those skills of the information literacy process. What has happened? What do we know? What do we need to find out? How can we find that out? What would be the best tools to use? How do we use them? Do I need help using them?

Themes Detectives, Stealing, Fingerprints.

Barbara Braxton


What do scientists do? by Tom Mumbray. Illus by Can Tugrul & Geraldine Sky

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Within the series of books called Jobs People Do, and promoting STEM, What do scientists do?, this brightly coloured and information filled book will satisfy those young inquisitive minds found in primary schools.

Nine chapters offer jobs looking at life on earth, life in space, investigating the universe, combatting illnesses, protecting our universe, developing new technologies, and two chapters showing what scientists do and how to become part of that world.

Each chapter is full of information in the form of small paragraphs of text, diagrams, lists, graphs maps and illustrations. The illustrations show people in the science jobs talked about, giving a hands on image to the reader.

The chapter about working in diseases starts with a startling question, 'Can you imagine finding a cure for cancer?' A list of the scientists involved in this area of research is listed with a little of what they do. Over the page is found information about stopping the spread of COVID and from there the work being done in virus research and the development of vaccines. Clinical trials are done again with specialist scientific jobs and on to being sold by a pharmacist.  It is a timeline of fascination, showing all the scientific jobs so important in this one area. Similarly every area spoken of is dealt with in the same way, extolling the range of expertise needed by scientists. Quicklinks are available from the publisher.

Themes STEM, Science, Scientists, Space, Disease, Geography.

Fran Knight


Blair Moon by Ashleigh Mounser

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Blair Moon - How to be cooler than the moon (Blair Moon) is Australian poetry, film and fiction writer Ashleigh Mounser's first children's book. It is a recent publication of the Ford Street Publishing Company of Abbotsford which is a small, discerning company that publishes only fifteen to twenty titles/year for children and young adults. Ford Street Publishing focuses on books that allow children to read literary works that explore significant social issues of our time in a fresh, multi-layered and entertaining manner. Thus any book published by Ford Street merits some attention. Available on the publisher's site are teacher's notes for Blair Moon, clearly linked to the year 5 and 6 ACARA Literacy strand, consisting of comprehension and discussion questions for each chapter.

The reader sees the world from the first person narrative perspective of the titular chararacter Blair Moon. Blair marches to her own tune. Young readers may be bemused by her and may even find her arrogance and inability to read social cues and the emotions of others annoying. She may be dismissed, as she is by most of the children at school, as a know all, weirdo. At some point, children may pick that she is "on the spectrum" although that is not clearly spelt out in the book. Delicate classroom discussions about difference and social inclusion may be necessary at teachers' discretion or it may be best left alone for children to enjoy Blair alone - with no interpretation or intervention. Blair Moon is like another Pippi Longstocking - bold, adventurous, single-minded and impervious to adult discipline.

Brought up in a nursing home and home schooled, Blair Moon, when she hits school, speaks like a ninety year old. Her vocabulary is amazing! A glossary is included at the end. She has a single ambition and that is to be school president (followed by more lofty ambitions later...) Blair gets into trouble and exasperates her teachers as she attempts to socialise and impress others into voting her in as school president. She learns, amongst other things, not to start rumours and not to take credit for things others do. She learns what it is to be a friend and how it feels to lose a friend. She tries to be cool - which is definitely not her. She becomes more self reflective..."I am thinking about everything I have learned and how I am growing as a person, and becoming a more complete version of myself..." 

Some initial whole class sharing and guidance may be needed for students to settle to identifying and taking the ride with Blair Moon but when they do, they will find her quirky adventures by turn amusing and unsettling. She is a "special" girl. 

Blair Moon - How to be cooler than the moon is a thought and discussion-provoking book that will help children understand, enjoy, include and embrace others who think and act differently in the general, mainstream school and classroom and in life.

Themes Friendship (inter-generational and peer),Autism spectrum disorder, Fitting in, Belonging.

Wendy Jeffrey


How to find a missing girl by Victoria Wlosok

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A year ago, Stella Blackthorn vanished. Iris, her younger sister, started her own investigation, but before she could make any progress, she got in trouble with the police, earning herself a stern warning that if she meddles in police business again, once she turns 18, meddling will mean jail time. But now Heather, Iris's ex-girlfriend, has gone missing, just after releasing a shocking last episode of her true crime podcast about Stella's disappearance. This time, nothing will stop Iris and her amateur sleuthing agency from pursing the truth. But with the original detective keeping a close eye on her, her ex-best-friend back in the picture (and maybe possibly more than friends now?), and only thirty days until she turns eighteen, the pressure is on and it's a race against the clock.

This novel is told from the perspective of Iris, with mix-ins of podcast transcripts throughout the novel, and the occasional text message thread. The language is inclusive with one character going by they/them pronouns, which is smoothly integrated through the whole book. Numerous characters are suspects, allowing the author to explore different relationships and develop different characters. Lots of action helps the book to move quickly and the whole novel is well paced. Readers will find themselves immersed in the mystery, and it is good for fans of the A Good Girl's Guide to Murder series by Holly Jackson and the movie A Simple Favour on Netflix. 

Themes Mystery, Thriller, Suspense, Contemporary, High School, Relationships, LGBTQIA+, Detective, Sleuthing.

Melanie Phillips


Our family dragon by Rebecca Lim and Cai Tse

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This story of the celebration of New Year within the Chinese community around the world, focusses on family and togetherness, and is framed with marvellous vivacious illustrations. Award winning author, Rebecca Lim has teamed with Sydney based artist Cai Tse. Their Chinese heritage is reflected in the celebration of the New Year.

This delightful tale is told from the perspective of the young boy in the family. This time of the year is his favourite and he questions his parents about some of the customs they observe. He cannot wait for the dragon to appear, and works with the family in cleaning the house, getting rid of the bad luck. He watches as the family makes their favourite food for New Year including dumplings, Eight Treasure Rice and ting yuan, spring rolls and dried oysters.

Steamed chicken and sweet sticky rice is left through the house to welcome the dragon and remember those who are no longer there. The family sits around telling stories and singing until New Year’s day comes around. They visit relatives and older people as part of honouring the elderly in the community.

They wear their parade clothes to Chinatown to be part of the celebration as the dragon weaves its way around them all. He hopes that soon he will be one of the dragon team and help weave the dragon through the streets.

Back home he rushes to the door hearing a knock. It is his sister, Jie Jie and she greets him as ‘gold rabbit’, while he in turn greets her as ‘gold dragon’.

Last year was the Year of the Rabbit and this year is the Year of the Dragon, so he wishes his sister a very happy Year of the Dragon, the Zodiac sign of her birth. The dragon has arrived.

This lovely tale full of family and celebrations, is beautifully illustrated with bold images of the family and the dragon.

Dragons fill the pages, reds and yellows splash in front of our eyes. The endpapers with their deep reds show the animals that are celebrated in the Chinese New Year, from rabbit to dragons as shown in this book, to the pigs, monkeys and snakes to name a few that form the Chinese Zodiac. I love the touches of Australian culture with the dragon leaping over the Sydney Harbour Bridge, and the landscape of the house in which they live, along with the clothes hoist in the backyard.

Themes Chinese Zodiac, Chines New Year, Family, Chinatown.

Fran Knight


Wolf girl 10: The race is on by Anh Do

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The Race is On, is the tenth book in the popular Wolf Girl series. Gwen is a competitor in the Championship Games with the goal of winning in order to free the people of Hookville. She has taken Jarrod’s place and is up against five boys, all desperate to win the prize of a granted wish. For Gwen though, she is shocked and devastated to discover the Braxan Commander is her long-lost sister Kate. When Kate discovers Gwen is one of the contestants, she is equally shocked and endeavours to steer Gwen away from the competition as she knows how dangerous it is. However the secret meeting between the sisters does not go well and Gwen is very angry and determined to compete.

The race will be televised live to a huge audience and involves a series of challenging stages across inaccessible terrains where the contestants will be stretched to the limit of their physical abilities. Added to this, there are nasty tricks in play, as all are competing to set loved ones free from the Braxans evil clutches. Gwen is on the receiving end of some unpleasant tactics yet in the end the six all band together to save each other from drowning with some welcome help from Jarrod and Gwen’s pack. Running parallel to this is the imprisonment Jarrod and the pack face but they receive help from an unexpected source. Who will win the contest? Will Kate and Gwen be reunited? Does Kate know if their parents are still alive?

This is an exciting and action-packed story that will continue to captivate fans of the Wolf Girl series. Detailed illustrations by Lachlan Creagh provide a strong visual connection to the text. Book Eleven will be published soon.

Themes Family, Children, Adventure, Survival, Competition, Teamwork, Animals, Danger.

Kathryn Beilby


Mic drop by Sharna Jackson

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Mic Drop follows Sharna Jackson's first adventure/mystery/murder book High Rise Mystery. These two books comprise the first of The High Rise Mystery series which is the result of a smart collaboration between English writer, Sharna Jackson and London based illustrator and muralist Wumzum.  Sharna Jackson aims to...." encourage and increase diverse and disengaged audiences' participation in the arts..."  The High Rise Mystery series, exemplified by Mic Drop, is highly likely to do just that. This book is accessible. The format is immediately highly engaging. 

Wumzum has drawn a map of the Tri Towers apartment building on the opening double spread page. The reader is immersed straightaway into the geography of the place where the murder is set. Norva and Nik, two intrepid, quirky, smart and super-annoying, nosey parker, preteen/ teen detectives are on-the-ground super organised sleuths. The reader is privy to their notes/case records which are methodically updated in tabular form. The story has immediacy because it is told in the first voice of Nik. Action is high paced.

The story is circular. At the start there is a section of italicised text which describes the horrifying death of TrojKat, a south London streaming sensation, who was apparently about to sign a contract with a New York based record label. The story then circles back to TrojKat's arrival at the Towers and the filmcrew, family and neighbours who were part of her final days. Breadcrumbs and red herrings are flung about liberally; some big clues and certainties turn out to be nothing and some subtle, small clues turn out to be vital as in all the best whodunnits.

The sentence structure is snappy, somewhat like a police witness report might be and the reader sees the world through the sassy, smart and inquisitive viewpoint of Nik as the crime scene and clues are sorted. Along the way, the reader is drawn into the family worlds of diverse characters. Particularly heart-warming is the portrayal of Nik and Norva's Pap, who is a single dad. 

The text is interspersed with changing fonts in the form of text messages, song lyrics and even old fashioned newspaper cutting ransom notes and updated case notes which serve as a break for reluctant readers who find continuous text challenging. The dialogue is jargonistic, supercool and hip-full of Afro-English and general London teenage urban slang.

Mic drop allows readers to enter the world of the diverse group of people who live in high rise London, the world of the internet, of online chat and communication, of  popular music and teenage discourse.

In turns, disturbing and reassuring, this fast paced, action packed murder mystery will have you guessing until the end!

Highly recommended.

Themes Mystery/detectives, Friendship, Diverse families, London high-rise living, Internet streaming pop-culture.

Wendy Jeffrey


Madame Badobeldah and the old bones by Sophie Dahl. Illus. by Lauren O'Hara

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This book completely surprised me! I haven't read much of Sophie Dahl's previous work and I guess her last name held certain standards that I felt would be hard to keep up with. Madame Bodobedah and the old bones is nothing like her grandfather's work, but it is wonderful in its own right. 

The story is one of an unlikely friendship between Mabel, a child, and an older woman who lives in her family's hotel. The two of them spend a lot of time together going on adventures at the seaside, tell stories and on Sunday nights they explore a huge 570 drawer cabinet full of exciting things in Madame Badobedah's room. Through Sophie's storytelling, I could feel that they had a real friendship and learnt many things from one another. 

The book is written in a short chapter style, and is accompanied by the most beautiful painted illustrations by Lauren O'Hara. The water colour images really bring the text to life and are wonderful to look at on their own, even without the text. They are however beautiful and I feel complement the book perfectly. 

This book would be great for a child who is becoming independent but still enjoys pictures to help tell the story, or as a night time read by a caregiver in bed, as you could read and explore a chapter per night. Lots of talking points with the book such as female world explorers, dinosaurs and the Natural History Museum to name a few. 

Brilliant read, and would make an excellent gift.

Themes Adventure, Dinosaurs, Friendship.

Lauren Fountain


Peter Rabbit: The Christmas star by Beatrix Potter

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Another in the series of the books with Beatrix Potter’s perennial favourite characters:  Flopsy, Mopsy, Cotton-tail and Peter having an adventure told in a strong board book with lots of colour for the younger child to hold while it is read to them.

Flopsy, Mopsy, Cotton-tail and Peter have an idea. Christmas is coming so to surprise their mother they decide to decorate the tree themselves. All works well as they take all the fittings from the boxes, and put them in the special places on the tree. But when they get to the last box they find the most important piece is missing. Perhaps it has gone back to the sky says a wistful Peter after they have searched the house for the star. They decide that they should make a star themselves.

And this is what happens. But it is not as easy as they thought. All their efforts are rewarded when Mrs Rabbit comes home and is singularly impressed with their undertaking.

This book, easily held by young hands is full of life and colour as the rabbits try their hardest to find the star, then make it themselves. They work together, encouraged by Peter Rabbit who urges them not to give up when the first star breaks.

The warmth of the family setting will appeal to readers as the family prepares for Christmas. Children will love seeing the array of customs shown, showing them that Christmas is on its way.

They will be able to list those things that mean Christmas for them and their family, as well as enjoy the use of Beatrix Potter’s beloved characters.

Themes Christmas, Beatrix Potter, Christmas tree, Christmas customs, Collaboration, Board book.

Fran Knight


Ecology for beginners by Andy Prentice and Lan Cook. Illus. by Anton Hallman

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'Ecology is the study of how animals, plants and other living things interact with their environment and with each other'.

In its typical, direct reader-friendly language, this is the definition of a word that is bandied around a lot these days, along with 'environment' and 'eco-systems' and other scientific terms connected to the protection and preservation of our planet and its species, in this new book from Usborne.

Described as 'the perfect answer to the question 'What is Ecology, and why should I care?', young readers can explore the basics of ecology by following a wide variety of real-world examples about how living things cope in all sorts of environments which is essential if they are to understand the current concerns about climate change and the responsibilities they are being asked to shoulder. Not only do they learn how ecosystems work and their interdependence, but also what happens when the systems are damaged or destroyed, even how and if they can be protected or even repaired. Importantly they learn that there are still many issues that ecologists are trying to find answers to, and while there are loud voices calling for action, the best course of action might not yet be known.

Its graphic-heavy, byte-sized text format is ideal for the curious mind that wants to delve into this topic, and for those who want to explore further there are the usual Quicklinks which offer all sorts of practical suggestions for students to explore their own world in greater depth such as building a bee hotel or making a quadrat to record wildlife in their backyard.

Barbara Braxton


Pepper Masalah and the temple of cats by Rosanne Hawke. Illus. by Jasmine Berry

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This short chapter book by Rosanne Hawke (ShahanaTaj and the Great Camel Trek) is number two in the Pepper Masalah series. The first was Pepper Masalah and the Flying Carpet and a third (Pepper Masalah and the Giant Bird set in Afghanistan) is due to be released in 2024. There is a short recap at the beginning of how the journey began but it doesn't give away the full story and with each book being a new adventure it doesn't matter if they are read out of order. Simple sentence structure and vocabulary as well as large typeface and a smattering of black and white illustrations make this perfect for young readers looking for something outside the usual spy/magic/friendship books aimed at this level of reader. At just 58 pages it is an approachable novel format for younger readers who are just getting used to some pages of full text. Some subject-specific language is included (embalm, mummification) as well as some Egyptian Arabic (and a word list at the back) and snippets of information about Ancient Egypt (speaks of hieroglyphs, cultural practices, etc). There are also some super interesting cat facts listed at the end.

Pepper Masalah is a mini-panther who lives with her human Zamir and his family on an olive farm in Australia. Zam's cultural heritage (it is revealed in the first book that his grandmother is from Kashmir) is hinted at but not explicit. The first book in the series told the story of when she and Zam were carried by magic carpet to the Arabian Peninsula. In this installment, they still haven't made it home yet - they are up on the magic carpet and convinced they will never make it back to the farm. A chance landing in the water reveals they are in Ancient Egypt, where cats are revered and the locals want to mummify Pepper. Can Zam work out a way to save her and get away? 

For kids hungry for books set in places outside of the usual ones we find written in English, those who enjoy adventure stories and a bit of magic and cat lovers this series will be a welcome find.

Themes Adventure Stories, Ancient Egypt, Time Travel.

Nicole Nelson