Henry V111 the heart and the crown by Alison Weir

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Just when you think there couldn't be another book about Henry V111 (possibly the most famous/infamous king of England) there is another book and it's a tome! Readers of Historical Fiction love tomes, expecting abundant historical people, events and details viewed through the lens of authors' imagination and interpretation. Alison Weir's Henry V111 the heart and the crown, true to its title, considers Henry's (Harry's) personal life and kingship. Helpful to the reader, at the back of the book, is a chronology of Harry's life, a family tree and a list of over 400 historical characters who appear in the story and shaped Harry throughout the journey of his life.

Alison Weir is a prolific writer, historian and best selling author of historical fiction that focuses on British royalty, especially of the Tudor period.  She has a particular interest in the lives of royal women and the intricacies of court life. Preceding (2023) Henry V111 the heart and the crown, Weir wrote a book/year focusing on King Henry's wives. Very reasonably she says in her Author's Note..."I have long been saying that it was about time Henry V111 had his say in a novel all to himself..."

Henry V111 the heart and the crown presents Harry's point of view as he navigates personal and political life. Weir calls Henry "Harry" and his first wife "Kate." The machinations of the courtiers, the intricacies of the family dynamics, the fact that Harry is the spare may sound uncomfortably familiar to those who follow the English Royal family of today.

There is no doubt that whether he was a tyrannical, egotistical, paranoid chauvinist or an attractive, charismatic, educated King, the 36 years of Henry's rule (1509-47) encompassed an enormously important period of history. Amongst many other events England broke away from papal rule, the "divine right of kings" was introduced and England was led towards parliamentary democracy. Great houses and castles were built, the navy was established and relationships with other European kingdoms waxed and waned. At all times it seems that Harry was driven by his overriding desire for a strong male heir. This coloured everything for him and led to multiple marriages, executions and intrigues. Whether Harry used his royal perogative to ruthlessly drive events or whether his power was curtailed by his ministers and factions in his court is up to the reader. Was he swayed by manipulators? Did he send the wrong people to their deaths? Was he reasonable or driven by paranoia?

Weir's portrayal of Harry is more nuanced than what readers may have read before. He is not a flat character. One is left wondering. Of course, he lived in a time when values were different, especially in relation to the role of women. For the curious reader, it would be interesting to follow up by reading Weir's previous books that focus on Harry's wives to see where Weir's sympathy truly lies... is it with the women, with Harry or somewhere in between?,

Henry V111 the heart and the crown is an interesting, challenging but accessible take on a very significant historical figure who, although best known for his numerous marriages, also had an extraordinary impact on the institutions, establishments and practices of politics, foreign policy, religion, music, education, architecture and culture that have become the rich inheritance of England today. 


Themes Tudor King Henry V111 kingship and personal life, Renaissance, Reformation.

Wendy Jeffrey


A life song by Jane Godwin and Anna Walker

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A beautifully presented picture book about life’s journey will have everyone, adult and child alike, thinking about the way their life’s journey has gone, and what melodies are sung along the way.

At birth the song is there to be developed. It may not rhyme and is very short, but as life unfolds, other songs are added, revealing the experiences they have become involved with, adding to the accumulation of song. As each year goes by the song gets broader, revealing things observed and leant.

Told in mainly four line verses, sometimes an extra line surprises. Each verse adds new phrases, some are repeated or shadowed, but are always fresh and stimulating.

Walt Whitman in his Song of myself, (1855) pens the often quoted line, 'I contain multitudes', and this text reflects that. The child learns new verses, can change some lines, assimilate other songs, all the while developing their own tune which encompasses the world they have seen and experienced.

Anna Walker’s illustrations using watercolour, pencil and collage, remind me of the atmospheric paintings of Clarice Beckett, revealing the simplicity of life, its detail, the small things that happen. Walker evokes the tranquility and joy of living with the family, stretching and growing as life continues. The family is shown, a strong unit, there to support the growing child, adding to its experiences, supporting it in its endeavours, helping it as it develops its own song of life.

Grandparents comment on how tall the child has grown, life goes on, for some it is the end, some just beginning, but for all it adds experiences, the scaffolding of life.

The illustrations are dreamy and peaceful. Each page includes lots of activities, from playing with the family and friends, meeting the grandparents, walking, camping, playing in the forest, climbing trees, and so on. I love the sweeping images of the child in the tree, the family fleeing a bush fire, the child playing by herself in the room. Each page is intimate and embracing, asking the reader to think about their own experiences.

Themes Journey, Life force, Wellness, Family, Song.

Fran Knight


Alex Neptune series: Dragon Thief by David Owen

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Pirate Hunter. ISBN 9781474999274
Monster Avenger. ISBN 9781474999298

Alex Neptune lives in Haven Bay, a town whose history and currency is intertwined with the sea, and particularly the legends of the Water-Dragon and the pirate, Captain Brineblood, But Alex hates the sea because he is convinced it wants him dead and besides, strange things have happened to it since a mysterious factory was built and it is now so polluted that visitors no longer come to the town, let alone support the family gift store Neptune's Bounty. And what's happening with the long-closed aquarium at the top of the hill which mysteriously glows green at night time?

This is new series for independent readers (best read in order for story continuity) that contains all the elements of relatable quirky characters, sea creatures that can talk and adventure that has been described as perfect "for fans of Percy Jackson and Dragon Realm". With his tech-genius best friend Zoey, legend-lover Anil, and a sharp-shooting octopus, Alex discovers that he actually has power over his nemesis, the ocean, and embarks on a series of escapades that feature the town's two legends, as he tries to save it from whatever is bringing it doom.

Full of action and embedded humour to lighten the mood, this is an entertaining read that has a powerful underlying message of how the ocean is being used by the unscrupulous for their own greed without regard for the consequences. From hating and fearing the ocean, Alex comes to appreciate and value it. An eye-opener...

Barbara Braxton


All you need to know about your body by age 7 by Alice James and Stefano Tognetti

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Children are not very old before they start asking questions about their bodies - what it can do, what makes it work, why it looks the way it does, how it grows and why it changes.

In this new release most of their questions are answered and with a cast of comical bugs to guide readers, activities to try at home, and links to further resources online so they can explore further, it is pitched at just the right level for those asking those initial questions.

Covering topics such as the outside of the boy, the inside, breathing, blood circulation, as well as an emphasis on staying healthy - "Your body belongs to YOU. It's your job to look after it and be kind to it, throughout your life", it will satisfy the normal curiosity of young readers while enabling those with more questions to learn more if they choose. As is usual with Usborne publications, this is another quality resource that has a place in any library - home or school.

Themes Human anatomy, Physiology.

Barbara Braxton


The last devil to die by Richard Osman

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I have read with much enjoyment the first three novels in the Thursday Murder Club series (The Thursday Murder Club, The man who died twice, and The Bullet that missed) so I was thrilled to read The last devil to die, which for me has turned out to be the best in the series. For readers new to the series, it would be best to start with the first book and then continue the series to get to know the characters, setting and events.

In The last devil to die, the members of the Thursday Murder Club are faced with the death of an old friend in the antiques business who has been murdered for a dangerous package. While investigating his death the reader uncovers art fraud and drug dealing, facing danger on the way.

While writing a highly skilled cosy murder mystery with enough twists and turns and intriguing puzzles to solve, Osman’s characters are described with empathy and are easily relatable. He introduces a new member to the retirement village, who is undergoing romance fraud and the club undertake to expose the fraudster while trying to solve the murders that keep happening. Osman also tugs on the reader’s heartstrings with a compassionate look at dementia and end of life decisions, leaving the reader pondering the complexities of life.

Osman is leaving The Thursday Murder Club to author a novel about a father-in-law/daughter-in-law detective duo, but promises to be back with Joyce, Elizabeth, Ron and Ibraham and I for one, am eagerly looking forward to reading anything that is written by this intelligent and empathetic author.

Themes Murder, Art fraud, Romance fraud, Dementia.

Pat Pledger


Starling House by Alix E. Harrow

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Starling House starts with a slow burn.  A classic Gothic horror story that from the beginning evokes feelings of the Overlook Hotel and the House of Usher.  There are so many threads in this book…  There is the predominant theme of “not belonging”.  None of the main characters in this story, even Starling House itself, are part of the tribe and it is their otherness that defines them in their relationships and their actions.  There is the theme of “complicity to conceal” within the community that the story is set in as people choose to believe only what suits their collective narrative.  Finally, there is also the theme of personal growth as the characters question their roles and their own self-limiting beliefs.  A coming-of-age story with a difference.  This book drags you in and before you know it, you are sitting up too late, reading the next chapter and the next.  While Starling House is not a difficult read and is quite compelling, this doesn’t mean that the writing style or language is simple or unsophisticated.  It is descriptive and evocative without being overblown.  The characters have depth and motivations that are believable, even in their otherness.  While a younger YA reader may pick up this book and enjoy it, I think that it is more suited to an older audience to understand the nuances.  There are a couple of sexual references in the book but touched very lightly and as an important part of the story.

Themes Gothic mystery, Horror, Supernatural.

Gaye Howe


Game on: Glitched by Emily Snape

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A series of misdeeds, including covering the neighbour's cat in bright pink paint, has got Max and his brother banned from screens for an entire weekend, something that is devastating for both of them particularly with an online gaming competition in a couple of days. So Max has resorted to practising his moves in his head, at the same time as trying to write a history essay for another competition but is distracted because his mother is going on a date with his history teacher. To distract him from that, he goes to the toilet but because his brain is every-which-way, he forgets to wash his hands - and that's when things start to go wrong...

Because his brother Liam is hiding in the bath playing on a phone he has found suddenly the boys find themselves travelling through time, back to earlier versions of their home town, in the time of the dinosaurs, the Stone Age, and the days of the Romans. And if they are ever to get back to the now, they have to solve riddles while carrying out tasks and dodging dangers... all before the battery runs out or they are discovered by their mum.

A sequel to Shrinkle and written to draw reluctant readers into print stories, the author says, 'Reading should be a pleasure and it was my aim to write books that pull you in and hook you from the start. Hopefully, then you can't help being moved by the characters as they grow and develop. I love comedy in books, but funny books also have to have heart, believable characters, and a great plot that keeps you reading till the very end.'

Using a modern premise of being drawn into a game, with characters not unlike themselves, and the sort of fast-packed, immediate action including countdowns, levels and time limits, this is the sort of story that will pull even reluctant readers away from their screens. They might even like to speculate on what might happen if they (or Liam and Max) were drawn into their own favourite game, a concept which, in itself, might spark story-writing and a group display of possibilities. Some might like to be inspired by the Lego Masters television series and recreate the world of their game, or perhaps investigate the origins and history of their own town.

Themes Time travel, Computer games, Mobile aps.

Barbara Braxton


How it works: Light by Sarah Hull. Illus. by Kaley McKean

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Most of us know that light is the key to life on this planet and that our major light source is the sun. But there are many other facts about this phenomenon that remain a mystery to us, even as adults, and in this new book from Usborne some of the ways that light works that baffle us are explained in a lift-the-flap format with simple text and bright, appealing diagrams.

Budding young scientists (and even those who aren't) can learn how light works, why there is even light at night, how colours are formed and perceived, and a host of other fascinating facts including some simple experiments that can be tried to understand the concepts better. More for the age group that has a basic awareness of science than our youngest readers, this is a book that answers those fundamental questions ranging from rainbows and reflections to lightyears and lasers and then these are backed up by the usual Quicklinks for those who want to know more about particular aspects.

The format could even serve as a model for a class investigation as students pose their own questions and then explore and explain the concept to develop their own answers.

Themes Light.

Barbara Braxton


The space between here & now by Sarah Suk

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This intriguing story focuses on the life of Aimee Roh, a seventeen-year-old Canadian-Korean,  ready to move into the adult world, leaving behind her often silent father and the gaping hole of an absent mother. But first she must deal with her present struggles and her past memories. Her situation is somewhat different to most of her peers because she also deals with a condition that has a sci-fi quality – Sensory Time Warp Syndrome, a condition that propels her back in time into her own memories. Unable to make changes to her past, she simply becomes a spectator in her own life, gaining perspective, but not always the answers she wants. Her ‘disappearances’ from her present life become increasingly problematic and can’t be hidden or ignored. The chance to resolve the mystery of her missing mother, and her father’s reticence to share the detail of her mother’s absence complicate Aimee’s grip on her memories and her present life. A visit to her mother’s home country in Korea seems to bring the search for understanding to a critical point, but it also gives her opportunity to find answers to her queries about her condition. It may even enable a romantic connection to develop and the possibility of the restoration of relationships.

This is an exceptionally clever YA story with a unique ‘time travel’ premise involving specific memory travel.  The development of the characters from a Canadian-Korean background and with Korean language and culture woven through the plot is delightful and wonderfully unique for Australian readers. Understanding loss and moving beyond family secrets is also part of the thread of this story. The concept of a ‘known’ syndrome created for the story, is so seamlessly woven into life that you could almost assume it was a real condition. The gentle friendship relationships that Aimee shares firstly with Nikita, and then later with Junho, are tenderly painted and the start of a romantic connection has a sweetly winsome quality. I loved the cultural journey into Korea and the setting and sensory excursion adds a wonderful warmth to the story. This is a book to recommend to those who are beginning to dabble in Sci-fi, but who also enjoy relationship and family drama or romantic realism, particularly readers aged 14 – 18 years.

Themes Memory, Grief, Time travel, Family, Korea, Canada, Romance, Friendship.

Carolyn Hull


The puppets of Spelhorst by Kate DiCamillo

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Kate DiCamillo, winner of the Newbery Medal and other awards has written another charming fable that will delight fans. An old sea captain has died, leaving behind a chest containing five puppets, a boy, a girl, king, owl and wolf.  The chest is sold and eventually ends up in the home of two sisters, Emma and Martha. They decide to put on a play featuring the puppets, who were waiting for their adventures to begin.

The story is told in three acts, and in alternating voices, and the reader will learn about the unrequited love of Spelhorst, the sea captain, the wishes and adventures of the five puppets, the puppet play organised by Emma, and the desire for change of the maid Martha. These overlaying tales are beautifully brought to life by DiCamillo and lovingly illustrated by Julie Morstad in black and white illustrations that bring to life a Regency life period. The voices of the puppets who could not control their own destinies, were particularly poignant, and I loved the wolf who would like to use her sharp teeth. Award-winning Kate DiCamillo discusses the book here.

Perfect for young independent readers, The puppets of Spelhorst would also make an engrossing and challenging read aloud class novel. As this is the first in a planned series called A Norendy Tale, readers are sure to want to pick up further books, and may like to try other books by DiCamillo like Raymie Nightingale and The Magician’s elephant.

Themes Puppets, Storytelling.

Pat Pledger


Foxlight by Katya Balen

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Fen and Rey are foundlings. Left as babies near The Light House, they grow up with a history of a mother who left them with foxes; a mother who lived in the Wildlands. The two red-headed girls are entwined, with different talents related to the natural world, but always they hanker for their story and identity to be made clear. Their life in The Light House is simple, with a collection of other foundlings and Lissa who is their carer, but always the call of the wild lingers, and the appearance of a fox stirs their desire to escape. Will they be able to discover their identity and find their mother?

This is a story of the ache of children with no real identity, it is full of the melancholy of loss. The girls share stories to make up for the absence of their own story. Consequently, it is almost heart-breaking to hear inside the hearts of those who feel that they do not belong and who need to weave their own make-believe stories to lighten their view of their world. The girls have each other, and their sibling bond is strong, and Fen also has a powerful desire (expressed with the sighting of the fox) to live free in the Wildlands, a place that seems to be attempting to return the land to its natural state. This unexpected environmental thread is understated but is just an expression of being connected to the natural world. Balen’s writing style is spare, and simple, but also very atmospheric. It creates an emotional and heart-rending depth that is unusual in a children’s book. It is not so sad though that children would be distressed as they read. As many children’s authors hide serious issues with other light-hearted threads, this book is different as it is always serious in tone. The girls’ quest does lead to a moving conclusion, but not what might be expected.

Recommended for readers aged 9-11.

Themes Orphans, Foxes, Wilderness, Family, Dreams.

Carolyn Hull


The good wife of Bath by Karen Brooks

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With only the most basic of information about the Wife of Bath in Chaucer’ Canterbury Tales, this story has been teased out to produce not only a great read, but one that remains true to the original character, on her way to Canterbury with other pilgrims in the late fourteenth century. The story reveals the background of the time, when men could beat their wives, where villeins still were part of the farm’s stock, little more than slaves, where the church held sway despite the countless examples of hypocrisy, and when people went on pilgrimages to places held holy because of dubious relics held there, or because they are places of importance in the Christian world.

Eleanor’s early life is a mix of being treated like part of the family which adopted her, but also seen as a servant, until she is caught at 12, about to be deflowered by a priest. She, of course must shoulder the blame, after all she is a woman, and so is given in marriage to a man fifty years her senior. It is this marriage she looks back on with warmth, as he treats her with respect and builds up her skills at the loom. After his death, his son takes over the property and Eleanor is kicked out. This is the way her life continues, a husband, five of them whose death sees her lose everything, forcing her to rebuild her life. Going on a pilgrimage at the end of each marriage gives her time to pause and reflect. But she still makes far reaching errors of judgement, that give her friends caused for alarm.

This is a wonderful retelling, rich in detail, funny, sometimes brutal and bawdy, allowing us a glimpse of the times, particularly focussing on the plight of women, through Eleanor’s inquiring eyes. Geoffrey Chaucer is related rather losely to Eleanor and so has an enduring relationship with her in the form of letter writing and occasional visits. It is he who promotes Eleanor’s first marriage, knowing the old man would treat her well and teach her useful skills.

She goes on creating workshops where women are employed, testing the ideas and teachings of the church and the various forms of government she crosses. It is in London that she meets up with an arm of the Guild, so appalled that she as a woman has set up a business, her house and livelihood are smashed up and her dogs and one of her entourage, slaughtered.

Each time she goes up against aggrieved men who will not allow her to do what she wants, she goes on a pilgrimage. So we are taken to Rome, Canterbury, Jerusalem, and St Martin’s Le Grand, all sparkling in the descriptions given by Brooks, as Eleanor sees all with a critical look.

Karen Brooks has written a fascinating account of the life and times of a character in Chaucer’s classic tale. This story exposes the plight of women in the Middle Ages, although for some, not much has changed.

This is historical fiction at its best, thought provoking, descriptive, wonderful characters and a background that rings with truth.

Themes Historical fiction, Middle Ages, Pigrimages, Role of women, Abuse, Inequality.

Fran Knight


I try by Susie Brooks and Cally Johnson-Isaacs

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One of the common complaints from kindergarten teachers is that new-to-big-school children often demonstrate little resilience - the ability to pick yourself up, dust yourself off and try again, solving the problem through trial and error. And they need to develop special lessons and programs to teach this to compensate for the helicopter parenting where all the child's potential problems have been eliminated in advance by over-zealous adults and thus the child hasn't had the opportunity to learn to cope with setbacks and sadness. So this book would seem to have been written especially for them to aid in those lessons.

Addressed directly to the child reader, it offers ways to encourage them to be adventurous and learn something new; be brave and do something tricky; be strong and don't give up. Using examples from the animal kingdom, this book motivates little ones to try new things, build their confidence and become resilient in all aspects of life. If you're too short to reach, ask someone to help; if something doesn't go as you expected, try again; if you're afraid, take the first step.... The cute and relatable cast of children work together and support each other, showing that there is always help around, especially when venturing into the unknown.

With anxiety levels apparently at an all-time high amongst our children, one of the kindest and most powerful things we can do is help them develop the belief in themselves and the strategies they need to face new situations so these simple suggestions provide an excellent starting point for that.

Barbara Braxton


The terrible event by David Cohen

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This compilation of eight short stories is a masterly example of dry wit, black humour and absurd understatement.

In the title story, the narrator tries to second-guess their Director in the Utopia/Yes Minister-like quest for the perfect memorial to an unnamed terrible event. Cohen takes us into the bureaucratic nightmare of on-line surveys, brainstorming sessions and politically correct keynote speakers and email signatures in a deadpan series of events that is both too real to be comfortable, and laugh-out-loud relatable.

In 'Mr Cheerio', also written in the first-person, two young people take to the streets in support of homeless people, in a series of increasingly bizarre protests. At the same time, the narrator displays an apparent lack of insight into their deteriorating relationship.    

In a longer story, 'Bugs', 46-year-old Mark unearths a much-loved childhood toy, but in a sinister mirroring, the talking bunny starts to lose his catchphrases, as Mark’s mental health begins to spiral. Mark’s surrounds are comfortingly familiar; a handyman neighbour with an impressive tool belt, the ritual of regularly ordering Indian takeaway, middle-aged fathers wearing Pink Floyd t-shirts and a concerned uber driver, however their very ordinariness makes his decline the more poignant.

'Mattress' is a short interior monologue recounting an ill-fated furniture pickup, as the narrator describes how he has to work with his ex-partner’s new boyfriend.

A new employee becomes increasingly fixated on their elusive predecessor in 'Holes', as they try to overcome the tedium of a routine office job by rearranging the desk stationary.

'A History of Walking' tracks an unnamed man’s life through the various ways and places that he walks.

'The Enigma of Keith' ends the collection with another story about a memorial; a roadside marker that starts as a traffic management research project, but takes on a life of its own.

All these stories are set in familiar locations, with unassuming, often naïve characters narrating. They are gentle stories that unmask the restrained disappointments that come with working in bungling bureaucracies and navigating imperfect relationships. They are a delight to read, and Cohen has subtly linked them with recurring characters, objects and themes that tie the individual stories into a thought-provokingly good read that senior students who appreciate the absurd, would enjoy.

Language warning on several of the stories.

Themes Relationships, Bureaucracy.

Margaret Crohn


Cub and Brown by Edwina Wyatt

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In Cub and Brown, whimsical storytelling by Edwina Wyatt (The Secrets of Magnolia Moon) is perfectly complemented by detailed and classic black and white illustrations by Evie Barrow (Horatio Squeak). There are nostalgic nods here to Paddington and Winnie the Pooh, especially in Brown's tendency to take the spoken word very literally (with humorous Amelia Bedelia type results). Cub is a Scout who's come to the woods to camp with his group. Imagine his surprise when he comes across a bear, and an angry one at that. But as Cub quickly finds out, Brown is only grumpy because he is tangled in his own shoelaces and the two quickly become firm friends. 

Separated into twelve short chapters (labelled as Tip #1: Be Prepared, etc), each is a standalone short story about Cub and Brown. In each one Cub uses his Scout prowess to help Brown in some way, from helping him understand the concept of time to stopping him from sucking his thumb. Cub is practical, while Brown is a little impetuous and the dialogue between the two is humorous. Some standout stories are when Brown tries to catch Cub a fish for his birthday and is told by a bird to use his head and his stalling when it is time for Cub to go home is just glorious: 'One last thing,' said Brown. 'Have you got a pocketmouse?'. His efforts to catch the culprit who has been making an almighty mess in his house is also very funny. Fans of gentle books will adore this with its pop of humour and fabulous characters. It would work wonderfully as a class read aloud with lots of areas for discussion, particularly in regards to language use and character development. The illustrations throughout and short chapters that can standalone also make it approachable for newly independent readers and those who may struggle to focus on a longer novel or chapters that follow on from each other. 

Themes Friendship, Emotions, Nature.

Nicole Nelson