Thursday, December 26, 2013


Now that the craziness of Christmas is behind me I feel that my holidays have well and truly begun.  Three weeks of sleeping in, sunshine and catching up with friends and family.
I am also going to give myself a break from Children's books.  During the year I have do so much reading for work, and I can't cope with the guilt I feel when I think about reading an adult I will indulge in three weeks of guilt free, grown up reading, some of which will be trashy beach reads, but I hope to catch up on some of the good stuff from 2013 as well.

This is what my reading pile looks like at the moment, but as is always the case it will undoubtedly change when something else comes along and takes my fancy.

Happy Holidays everyone. I look forward to catching up again in 2014!

Saturday, November 30, 2013

AusReading Month - Tomorrow, When the War Began by John Marsden

When Ellie and her friends go camping, they have no idea they're leaving their old lives behind forever. Despite a less-than-tragic food shortage and a secret crush or two, everything goes as planned. But a week later, they return home to find their houses empty and their pets starving. Something has gone wrong--horribly wrong. Before long, they realize the country has been invaded, and the entire town has been captured--including their families and all their friends. Ellie and the other survivors face an impossible decision: They can flee for the mountains or surrender. Or they can fight.

It’s hard to believe that this book is 20 years old this year!    I was a little unsure as to whether or not I should even include a 20 year old book old enough to be considered a classic?  So, in true modern style I Googled "How old does a book have to be,  to be considered a classic?" and wiki answers came up with this, which I couldn't have said better myself:

Classic books are like cult movies. They shape new concepts in our society, have something special to offer in an educational way. It is more these aspects of a book that make it a classic.. not how long ago it was published.

Friday, November 29, 2013

AusReadingMonth - Ash Road by Ivan Southall

The blurb:

It's hot, dry and sweaty on Ash Road, where Graham, Harry and Wallace are getting their first taste of independence, camping, just the three of them. When they accidentally light a bushfire no one would have guessed how far it would go. All along Ash Road fathers go off to fight the fires and mothers help in the first aid centres. The children of Prescott are left alone, presumed safe, until it's the fire itself that reaches them. These children are forced to face a major crisis with only each other and the two old men left in their care. The best selling Ash Road is an action-packed adventure story, so evocative of rural Australia you can taste the Eucalyptus.

This was the one book I was most looking forward to re-visiting for AusReading Month.  I can't remember when I first read it, Uni probably, but it's always been there in the back of my mind as a book I loved.  20+ years on, it wasn't quite what I remembered, less action, but more suspenseful story with a real growing sense of dread as the story reaches its climax.

Thursday, November 28, 2013

AusReading Month - Playing Beatie Bow by Ruth Park

I actually didn’t read this book in the technical sense, I listened to the audio book.  I think that reading this book as an adult has given me a slightly different perspective compared to when I would have read it as a teenager.  As a teenager I am sure I could identify with the character of Abigail, with the idea that life isn’t fair, feeling hard done by and NO ONE really understanding her. As an adult, I found the Abigail a little bit annoying and whiney, this may have had something to do with the narration of the audio book, not that the narration was bad, but because it really brought the character of Abigail to life!

This book has a little bit of everything, teenage angst, coming of age, history, time-slip, family drama, romance and a little touch of creepy.  The creepy element again may have had more impact listening to the story as an audio book, but when the children are playing Beatie Bow and ….sees the little furry girl, it is quite creepy.

One of the main aspects of my job is working worth schools and librarians, and the National Curriculum is now a big part of that.  I now find it hard to read any historical Australian novel and not wonder how it would fit into the curriculum.  This book does, and it doesn’t fit the curriculum in my mind.  It does because it is a wonderful insight into everyday life of a family living in Sydney in 1873, it looks at the education, working conditions, lack of plumbing, expectations of females, the food they ate, jobs they had and even what it smelled like.  The reason I don’t think it’s a perfect fit is because that part of the history curriculum is Year 4/5, and the book is probably too old for that age group.  Most of it’s fine, but along with all of the interesting parts of history, there’s also the more seedy side to things, like when Abigail is snatched from the street and taken to a house of ill repute, where she’s told ‘ ‘tisn’t such a bad old life.  Better than starving on slop work in the factories, any old how’ (page 90).  It doesn’t actually spell out what these women are doing for money, but it’s worth noting if you plan to use it in the classroom.

During her 9 months in 1873, Abigail can’t help but think how much better life is in her time.  Strangely though not everyone she meets is that interested or enthusiastic about the changes she describes, in particular Judah, as we can see in this exchange below:

‘I don’t think there are many ships,’ said Abigail.

“things like wool come in trains.’

‘We’ve got steam trains,‘ said Beatie proudly.

‘These would be electric or oil driven, I think, ‘ said Abigail, ‘and then a lot of goods come overland in huge semi-trailers…that’s a kind of horseless carriage, ‘ she added hastily.

Judah listened politely. ‘Seems a sad waste of good money when the sea and wind are free for all,’ he remarked
(From page 140)
In re-reading all of the books for AusReading month, one of the things I have been considering is whether the book works as well today as it did when it was first published. This book is tricky, in that the part of the story set in 1783 absolutely stands up to any historically based novel written today, it's the part of the story set in present day that might not ring true with today’s readers. Present day in this book is 1980, so 33 years on, teenagers act and speak quite differently, so while 1980 might not seem particularly historical to some of us, teenage readers today may considered the whole books a piece of historical fiction!

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

AusReading Month - Picnic at Hanging Rock by Joan Lindsay

The blurb:

In 1900, a class of young women from an exclusive private school go on an excursion to the isolated Hanging Rock, deep in the Australian bush. The excursion ends in tragedy when three girls and a teacher mysteriously vanish after climbing the rock. Only one girl returns, with no memory of what has become of the others ...

Well...  November is nearing its end, and I have yet to publish my posts for AusReading month!  Better late than never, I will get them all in by the end of the month...just by the skin of  my teeth!

This title has been released as an Australian Children’s Classic, but I am not sure I would sell it as a children’s book.  As you can see by the new cover it looks like it’s suitable for younger readers, but I would say it’s more of a teenage/adult title. 

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Carnivores by Aaron Reynolds and illustrated by Dan Santat

The Blurb:'s lonely at the top of the food chain. It's difficult to fit in when plant eaters can be so cruel—just because you ate a relative of theirs that one time! What's a carnivore to do? Aaron Reynolds's roaringly funny text is perfectly paired with Dan Santat's mouthwatering illustrations, creating a toothsome book that's sure to stand out from the herd.

So, here's my favourite picture book of the year.  It is more than a little bit wicked, but then, they are my favourite kind of books.  The humour starts right with the cover, it might not be clear at first glance, but it becomes clearer when you see the back of the book...the animals are packed like meat!

Reminisent of the 'vegetarian sharks' in the animated movie Finding Nemo, the lion, wolf and shark in this picture book are suffering from a bit of guilt.  The trio love meat, but are starting to feel guilty, so they form a support group, and try to forgo their meat eating ways.

My favourite line in the book is from the wolf, when trying his hardest to eat only berries proclaims...
Every single berry bush seemed to have a bunny inside.”

So, it's not going to be everyone's cup of tea, but I dare anyone with a sense of humour not to laugh out loud at some point when reading this one.

Carnivores food pyramid

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

AusReading Month - Taronga by Victor Kelleher

Blurb taken from

A bleak but compelling look at the future beyond the nuclear holocaust. Ben, who has a telepathic ability to control animals, leads a hazardous existence in the bush west of the Blue Mountains. Hopeful of a kinder life in the city, he escapes to Sydney - only to be futher disillusioned. Then, at the heart of the city, he comes upon Taronga Zoo, which has been strangely unaffected by the general chaos. Or has it? Is it an island of safety in the midst of so much danger? Or is it really the most sinister place of all?

I thought I would start my AusReading blog posts with Taronga, as I think it may be the one book out of my 5 that people are the least familiar with, and it just so happens it might be my favourite of the 5!

The novel opens with Ben, in the bush, using his skills to ‘call’ animals.  In this instance Ben is using this skill to lure the animal out, so it can be shot by Greg, an older boy who is using Ben and his skill

It might seem like an amazing skill to have, to get into the mind of an animal and make it do what you want it to, but to Ben it’s a curse.  It’s wrong to force any living thing to somthing against its will.

What happened before, ‘the last days’ is never fully explained, but that’s part of the beauty of this book, and the thing that makes it work as well today as it did 20+ years ago.

The other major character in this story is Raja, the male tiger.  He is the only animal that mentally fights Ben when he tries to get into his head. Throughout the course of this story we see the resistance lessen and both Ben and Raja realise that they are actually the same, both being held prisoner, both being forced against their will.

I hope I don’t put anyone off by saying that I think this book will appeal to readers of the Hunger Games.  It’s not the same storyline by any stretch, but there’s something about the survival instinct and the determination of Ben and his desire to do the right thing that reminds me of Katniss.  There’s also the idea that human life is expendable.

Brona mentioned the questionable cover of this new edition, and I would have to agree with her.  This is at times quite a violent and dark story, but this new cover makes it look like it might be a nice story about a boy and a tiger.  The other thing about this new edition is that it’s a hardback.  A hardback is great for people that want a nice edition of a classic novel, but I’m not sure it’s the right choice for giving this book a new lease of life with teenage readers.  See below for earlier cover images.

1986               1988                      2014

Sunday, November 17, 2013

The Abominables by Eva Ibbotson

Last year I read Eva Ibbotson's last book, One Dog and His Boy, so imagine my surprise and joy to find a NEW Ibboson title released this year.

You can read in full about how this manuscript was uncovered here, but the short version is that Eva's son Toby found the shelves manuscript and it was close to being a final draft.  With the help of Marion Lloyd, Eva's editor, they worked together to bring one more Ibbotson story to life.

The blurb:

A hundred years ago, in the Himalayan peaks of Nanvi Dar, the daughter of an English earl is kidnapped by a huge hairy monster. In a secret valley Agatha Farley is introduced to a family of motherless yetis and devotes her life to their upbringing. She teaches them to speak, tells them stories and insists on polite manners. But as the decades pass, tourists come to the mountains, a hotel is built and yeti-hunters arrive. Agatha knows that there is one place in the world where they would be protected - her ancestral home at Farley Towers. When a boy and his sister stumble upon her hidden valley, she knows she has found the courageous people who will carry out her plan. The excited yetis are smuggled into the bridal suite at the hotel. A freezer lorry is waiting to put them into semi-hibernation on the long trip home. But the baby yak that has fallen in love with the youngest yeti foils the refrigeration plan and they set off on a hugely entertaining road trip half way across the world. In the Sultan of Aslerfan's kingdom the yetis release all the animals from his zoo. In the Alps they rescue a lost child in a blizzard. In Spain, the yak creates chaos at a bullfight. But when they arrive in England, a terrible shock awaits them at Farley Towers...

This is a book of pure enjoyment.  Reading this story, I wanted to believe in the Yeti, and I wanted to believe that it was possible to live for 100 years in their hidden valley.  I think it would make an excellent choice as a book to share in the classroom, because it's fun, but it also has substance.  It has themes of friendship, loyalty, kindness, integrity and a look at what happend when the built world begins to encroach on the natural one.
Like One Dog and His Boy, this story shows all facets of the human condition.  There are those who are kind and selfless, and then there are the greedy and selfish, and it is a nice change to read a story where the good guys might actually win. It's a story where good really does triumph.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Mr Mo supports Movember

The blurb:

Mr Mo is one of the nicest and most helpful residents in all of Dillydale. Then one day, he visits the barber for his regular snip, and falls fast asleep in the chair. When he wakes he discovers his mo is long gone - and so too are his manners. All of Dillydale is thrown off kilter, but as Mr Mo's moustache starts to grow back, the balance is restored.

As I mentioned in my forts post for November, I can't actually participate in Movember in the moustache growing capacity, but that doesn't mean there aren't other ways to support the cause.

Which brings me to Mr Mo, a brand new hardback Mr Men title, released especially to support Movember.  As the blurb states, Mr Mo is the nicest person in town, he has the best manners, and he is kind...he is a gentleman.  These attributes are in part due to the fine moustache Mr Mo sports, and when he accidentally gets it cut off he becomes thoughtless and rude. 
As his moustache grows back, his kindness returns, and he encourages the other men in town to try growing their own Mo's.  The result is noticeable better manners and a lot of marvelous moustaches!


Thursday, October 31, 2013

November...AusReading Month

Due to my lack of a Y chromosome I am unable to participate in Movember, but there is something I WILL be celebrating this month.

I am very excited to be taking part in AusReading Month.  A great idea thought up over at Brona's Books

Brona is doing a great job over on her blog, getting everyone excited about Australian literature and she has kindly asked me to list my five favourite Aussie reads. 

As my reading (at least for this blog) focuses on children's and teen fiction, I am choosing my favourite 5 classic Australian novels for this age group.  It was a hard decision, with so many greats to choose from, but here they are :

Ash Road by Ivan Southall (first published 1966)
Bizarre as it may seem up until a few months ago, this Australian classic was only available from the USA. It's now been re-printed, so there's no excuse not to read it.

Tomorrow when the War Began (first published 1993)
20 Years old this year, I think that makes it a classic, and the fact that is one of the most popular books for young teens, I think it deserves a place here.
Taronga by Victor Kelleher (first published 1986)
This one is a bit of a sleeper, I hope that with a new edition out, everyone gets their hands on this book.  It just shows that dystopian teenage fiction has been around for years!

Playing Beatie Bow by Ruth Park (first published 1980)
Ruth Park is Australian fiction royalty, so no list could be without her. Fiction which features time travel and time slip are extremely popular today, so a visit to 1873 Sydney is bound to fascinate readers of today.

Picnic at Hanging Rock by Joan Lindsay (first published 1967)
Brona has already mentioned this one, but I am happy to include it too.  It is a creepy classic that is guaranteed to give you chills.

I will be re-reading each of these novels during November, and will see how they stand up to children's and teenage fiction of today, so make sure you come back to visit.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

And Then He Kissed Me

Toe-curlingly good (and bad!) kisses, boys next door, spots on date night, first love, unlove, passion, heartbreak... and other unnatural disasters.
A collection of romantic short stories from some of today s bestselling women s and teen fiction writers. Ever fallen in love? Ever fallen out of love? Ever fallen in love with someone you shouldn t have...? Nine authors write about first kisses, love, heartbreak and everything in between in this short story anthology.
    A unique collection combining the work of bestselling women's fiction writers and children's authors.

    Authors include: women's writers Cathy Kelly, Monica McInerney, Adele Parks and Sinead Moriarty; and teen authors Katie Dale, Abby McDonald, Joanna Nadin, Dyan Sheldon and Sarah Webb.
It seems I may be a ‘short story’ convert. I have read more short story collections in the last two years than I have in my entire life.

This particular collection caught my eye because of the authors included, even though it’s a collection for teenagers there are a number of adult writers included. (See complete list of authors above) I must admit that because most of my reading is work related if I ever pick up an adult book to read, it’s usually a light chic lit novel, that I can get through quickly, so when I saw names such as Adele Parks and Monica McInerney I was curious as to what they would bring to the world of YA fiction.

I think the title of this book says it all, from holiday romance kissing, to lunchtime kisses in the library and kisses with the wrong boy to kisses with the right one, this book is all about kissing! The stories in this book showcase both the highs and the lows of first crushes, first love and first kisses.

Even though some of the authors usually write for adults, and the book is about kissing, this book isn’t that graphic, apart from the kissing there’s a mention of roaming hands, but nothing more than that. I wouldn’t be recommending it for a primary school library, but young teenage girls will love it.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Picture Me Gone by Meg Rosoff

For the main part, my job is to sell books to schools, and because of this I always think of the intended audience when I read a book. This book has me a bit stumped. The central character is Mila, she’s 12 and apart from a brief appearance from Jake (15) all of the other characters are adults. When you think about most books written for the teenage market, they rarely include adults, at least as central characters. This book is all about adults and adult issues such as alcoholism, marital problems, depression, and infidelity. There are also themes such as friendship, family and trust, but it all revolves around the adult characters.

While Mila may only be 12, she is very mature; I would have had her pegged as a slightly older teenager if her age hadn’t been mentioned. She is an only child, and her parents had her late in life, when they were in their 40s. Her parents are academic and artistic and seem to have treated her as an equal; this could explain why Mila’s ‘voice’ in this story is not that of an everyday 12 year old girl.

I am a fan of road trip stories, and this story does indeed have a road trip, through upstate New York on the highway heading to the Canadian border. Mila and her Dad Gil are heading to New York in search of Gil’s best friend Matthew. Matthew left the house one day, and no one has heard form him since, he has a wife Suzanne and a baby son Gabrielle. On the road we learn about Gil and Matthew’s friendship, meet Lynda and her son Jake who have their own connection to Matthew and we find out what happened the day when Matthews’ son Owen was killed.

See what I mean? Pretty heavy going for your run of the mill teenage novel. And I guess that’s the thing, this isn’t your run of the mill teenage novel. This book is all about sadness, and there really isn’t much of a resolution to that sadness either, it’s not like everyone works through it and comes out happy at the other end…because they don’t, life doesn’t always work like that.
With all my raving it may seem like I didn’t like this book, but that’s not true, I really liked this book. I read it in one sitting, it’s that kind of book, I’m just not sure who I would recommend it to?

This is one of those stories that I would love to talk about with other people who have read it, so please feel free to leave comments as to what you thought of this book.

Friday, October 18, 2013

Stay: The Last Dog in Antarctica by Jesse Blackadder

Animal stories have become increasingly popular over the last year, but this is an animal story with a difference, because the dog in this book isn't actually real (But don't tell Stay that!)

Stay is a fibreglass guide dog, the kind that has a slot in the top of it's head, designed to raise money for the Royal Guide Dog association. In 1991 Stay was dognapped from outside a supermarket in Hobart, and was taken to Antarctica aboard the Aurora Australis. That is all true, and this book puts together a captivating story that includes many of Stay's real life adventures with some made up ones added in.

This book is indeed an animal story, but for me it's more of a book about Antarctica. Each of the characters in the book take Stay to visit their places of work, and the characters love talking to Stay, so we get to hear all about the different kinds of work that goes on in Antarctica. We meet Chicken Chasers who do penguin research, a diesel mechanic, the captain of the Aurora, weather forecasters, weather observers, the cook and pilots to name a few.  As a place I will most likely never get to visit, this book give an up close and personal glimpse at what life in Antarctica is like, and for that reason I really loved this book.

There are a few other dogs that also feature in this story, the huskies.  Just after Stays' arrival in Antarctica, in 1992, all of the huskies who lived and worked there were returned to Hobart, this was because of new environmental protection legislation.  The old dogs stayed in Tasmania, to retire, and the younger dogs were sent to Minnesota, to continue working.  While Stay, in this book, thinks of herself as a real dog, the Huskies don't agree, and one thing recorded in this story, that really did happen was that one of the Huskies weed on her when they first met!

Stay is still in Antarctica, and while she doesn't come back to Australia, the money she raises does.  I have included some links below so you can see more images of her, and read about some of her 'real life' adventures.

This is the first in what will be a new series by Jesse Black Adder, the next book (see below) is due for release in early 2014, so be sure to look out for that one. It's a tale is inspired by the true story of the Kimberley brumbies and their journey to Dubai.

Monday, October 14, 2013

Pretty Girl by JC Burke

The Blurb:
One girl's dead. One's in hospital. And one has a secret. Paige, Sarah, Jess and Tallulah were best friends at school. Now they've begun university and are living together at college, but it's not turning out like it's meant to. Tallulah's partying too hard, Jess is being secretive, Paige is embarrassing herself with an unrequited crush, and Sarah's struggling to keep up with her wealthier friends. One night, Sarah saves Paige from drowning in the university swimming pool. Paige can't remember why she was there, and Sarah's too afraid to say what she thought she saw. Then Jess's body is found outside the college laundry. It's not until Sarah meets the gorgeous and charming Jonny that she can tell someone her suspicions. But what really did happen that night at the pool? And what connects Paige's accident with Jess's death? As Paige starts to piece together her memories, the most terrifying question becomes clear: could it be happening again?

Here’s another book in the new and popular genre of New Adult. It’s a great psychological thriller, the likes we generally only see in adult fiction. Chapters are broken up between Paige, who’s had an accident, and is recovering from a head injury in a fancy private hospital, and Sarah, who’s dealing with the aftermath of the accident and the death of their other friend Jess. Through Paige’s chapters we piece together what happened before the accident and find out why she started to distance herself from her friends. When Sarah meets Jonny, she also starts to distance herself from her friends, and we begin to see that there may be something sinister going on.
As an adult who quite likes a good mystery and thriller I could pick pretty early on what was happening and could see the links between the characters, but that didn’t take away from my enjoyment of the book. It’s the sort of book you will read in one sitting because the way the story unravels; you need to keep going to put all of the puzzle pieces together.

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

How to Love by Katie Cotugno

As bizarre as it may sound, I have a fondness for ‘teenage pregnancy’ novels. In fact I remember many years ago having a conversation with a librarian where we shared our love of this genre of fiction and the librarian in question (you know who you are, I think you might actually read this!), stopped short and said in a horrified whisper ‘ You didn’t actually HAVE a teenage pregnancy did you?’ The answer is no, I didn’t have a teenage pregnancy, for some reason I just like reading about them!

So, that little insight into my life leads me to today’s book, which is of course about a teenage pregnancy. The story moves from present day where Reena is 18 and a mother to nearly three year old Hannah, and three years previous to when she and Sawyer (Hannah’s father) get together. Sawyer was a typical bad boy, and he moved away before Reena even had a chance to tell him she was pregnant, but now he’s back, and just when she thought she had it all figured out, Reena realises…she doesn’t.

I loved the characters in this book and I loved the fact that I could really feel the intensity of first love when I read it. It made me think about my first love and the fact that when we are young, we tend to only think with our hearts. As we get older we use our heads a lot more, and our heads will most often override our hearts, being all sensible and practical. This is a story that makes you want to go out and think with your heart, take risks and not worry about the reasons things might NOT work out, but focus on the reasons it might.

Friday, October 4, 2013

Do you remember Ant and Bee?

When I first saw this book on the shelves I had a bit of a flashback to my childhood.  I don't actually have a concrete memory of having the books, but I knew that I had read them

These books were originally published in the 1960s and 70s, and they have just been reprinted for a new generation to enjoy.

They are only tiny (h95mm  x  w120mm), and each book introduces a new set of words.  In the first book, Ant and Bee, we have 3 letter words.  In More Ant and Bee there are 4 letter words and 3 letter words.  In More and More Ant and Bee 5 letter words are added to the 3 and 4 words.

They are designed for adults and children to share, the main body of the text is printed in BLACK, and is designed for an adult to read.  The 3, 4 and 5 letter words are printed in RED, for the beginning reader to attempt.  For each RED word there is also an illustration to accompany it.

The truth of the matter is that the stories may not set the world on fire, but the concept is great and I do think that beginning readers will revel in the fact that there is a way for them to read part of the story.

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Ask the Passengers by A.S King

 Imagine living in ‘small town America’, where being different is social suicide.  Imagine you’re a teenage girl who realises she is actually in love with a girl.  This is Astrid’s story. 

The twist in the tale is that Astrid’s best friend Kristin is gay, and Astrid is the only person who knows.  Kristin lives a fake life where she dates the most popular boy at school (he is secretly gay also) is on her way to becoming homecoming queen while really she is dating a girl from a nearby college. 

Friday, September 27, 2013

The Originals by Cat Patrick

Imagine if you could only live one third of your life? This is the case for Lizzie. She has two sisters who look identical to her, but they’re not triplets, they’re clones. The girls are the result of a successful attempt at cloning humans.

The girls spend their younger years as triplets, but as they get older the truth behind their conception comes to light, and for their own safety the three girls must live as one person, Elizabeth.

They literally live one third of a life, one sister (Lizzie)  goes to school in the morning, comes home at lunch time, switches over to another (Ella),  who comes home later afternoon where the last sister (Betsy) takes over for the night shift.  There are some difficulties with this situation, but the girls have always managed to figure out ways to make it work, then a problem rears its ugly head in the form of a boy!  Well two boys to be precise. Sean and David.  Lizzie wants to date Sean Kelly, but Betsy wants to date David Chancellor, but as there is only one Elizabeth, they can only date one boy.

It’s this hiccup that starts the girls thinking about their existence and digging further into the real reason they’re living as one.

I love Cat Patrick and this book like her others, did not disappoint.  I love that Cat Patricks' books make you think and question, but at the same time they are entertaining stories about believable characters.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Silent Saturday by Helen Grant

If you didn't know better you might think this is an adult thriller. It's just the age of the characters that would give you a clue that this was written as book for teens.

The book is set in Flanders, the Flemish community in the northern part of Belgium and the main character is Veerle, 17, who lives with her over protective mother.

The book opens with a 7 year old Veerle climbing to the bell tower of a local church with Kris Verstratens, a boy from a family with a bad reputation.  It's here that she witnesses a man walking down the street carrying the body of a dead child.  10 years later Veerle meets Kris again, the horrors she witnessed on that day have been erased from her memory, but the more time she spends with Kiris, the more she begins to remember.

Kris introduces Veerle to a group, an unusual group where the members rarely meet.  The group is called Koekoeken (Cuckoos)  This group forms a network of people who visit (break in to)  rich people's houses when they are out of town.  They don't do any damage, they simply enjoy it, and often make repairs, improvements when they are able.  Each person in the Koekoeken only knows two other people in the group, and everyone else is known by a pseudonym.

While Veele is being drawn into this world, there is someone on the prowl, De Jager (the Hunter) is murdering people, and as they put the pieces together, Kris and Veerle realise that it's the members of Koekoeken that are being targeted.

Lots of things make this book creepy, the setting for one, and the fact that most of the action takes place sneaking around in the dark of night.  As much as this is a murder mystery, there's also the story of Veerle's mother , whose over protective behaviour becomes extreme, and Veerle feels trapped because she doesn't want to stay in such an oppressed home, but she can't leave her mother either.

The one thing that bugged me, was how the book ended.  I found it abrupt and a bit confusing, but as this is the first book in a trilogy, I am hoping that it will all become clear with book 2.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Bear Adventure by Anthony McGowan

I read the first book in this new series, Leopard Adventure, last year and was surprised by how mich I actually liked it.

The series is a spin off of the Willard Price novels, which were originally published 50 plus years ago. The central characters in the original novels were Hal and Roger Hunt. These new books see a new generation of Hunts, as the main characters are Amazon, Daughter of Roger Hunt, and Frazer, son of Hal Hunt. It’s best not to think too hard about the fact that Hal and Roger would actually be in their 60s or 70s now if the timeline was acurate, and they are certainly not that old in this new series.
This series has so much going for it. There’s the obvious adventurous aspect, as the characters see themselves in many a dangerous situation with dangerous wild animals, and a number of very close calls. There are survival skills, and a lot of information about the various animals threaded through the story. I also like the underlying theme of family. It’s not an obvious aspect of the storyline, but in this book we can see how hard it is for Amazon to be apart from her parents, and while her relationship with her cousin Frazer gets stronger, all she really wants is to see her parents again.

The one stand out for me in this and the earlier title I read, is the chapters told from the animals point of view. In this book we have chapters from the viewpoint of a creature we assume is bear, but we find out at the end of the book, how unique this bear actuallt is.   It is a great way to break up the text and give a very fresh take on what’s going on in the story.

Here's an example from page 144:
The feelings burned like sulphur in the beast’s huge heart.
He had thundered through the forest, driven on by the sounds of the pack.
And so he had come.
There were seven in the pack.  Four had attacked the place where the little white one lay.  The others were spread around the trees guarding the site.  The other animals were there also, the ones who seemed to be helpers.  Or at least seemed not to be harmers.  But if they tried to stop him…well, they could not stop him.  He would take the little one.
But first, the wolves.
See below for the two earlier titles in the series.