BOOK REVIEW: Clariel (Garth Nix, A&U)

clarielThe long-awaited prequel to Garth Nix’s ‘Old Kingdom’ series (Sabriel, Lirael and Abhorsen) is going to make a lot of readers very, very happy. After her mother is promoted to the prestigious position of High Goldsmith, Clariel is forced to move from her forest home to the bustling capital Belisaere. Her mother’s new status means that Clariel is expected to behave herself, but she has no plans to marry well and live quietly—more than anything, she wants to join the Forest Borderers. But politics are treacherous in Belisaere, and when Clariel finds herself in the middle of a plot that brings her world crashing down, she must put her plans aside and draw on her own inner strength to survive. With the rich world Nix created in Sabriel, it’s hardly a surprise that he has returned to the Old Kingdom in Clariel. This is a gripping read that is perfect for lovers of dark fantasy aged 12 and up. It can also be read as a stand-alone novel, so if you need proof of why Nix is one of Australia’s most beloved fantasy authors, Clariel is a good place to start.

Holly Harper is an author and children’s bookseller at Readings Carlton. This review first appeared in the Junior Term 3 supplement of Books+Publishing magazine Issue 3, 2014. View more pre-publication reviews here.

BOOK REVIEW: How to Save the Universe in Ten Easy Steps (Allison Rushby, A&U)

how to save the universeIf Arthur Dent from The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy was a 10-year-old boy with an annoying twin sister, then this might be his story. Connor discovers his grouchy twin sister is actually an alien the day before his 10th birthday party. She has been protecting him for the past 10 years because it’s his role to save the universe. But now, intergalactic bounty hunters have discovered his location and are coming to kill him. Naturally, Connor thinks this is all a big joke and he’s being filmed for reality TV, but when events start getting extremely weird, the alien truth becomes hard to ignore. Despite having no discernible talents, apart from knowing the exact time down to the millisecond, Connor must somehow save the world even though he has absolutely no idea how. Throw in a talking dog, some giant slugs and numerous other aliens, and you’ve got a somewhat complicated but quite hilarious intergalactic adventure. Boys and girls aged eight to 10 who like a bit of fantasy with their humour will enjoy this fun romp through space. Despite much strangeness and absurdity, it has a sweet and satisfying charm that will appeal to young fans of Neil Gaiman and Eoin Colfer.

Angela Crocombe is a children’s book specialist at Readings St Kilda. This review first appeared in the Junior Term 3, 2014 supplement of Books+Publishing magazine. View more pre-publication reviews here.

BOOK REVIEW: One Minute’s Silence (David Metzenthen, illus by Michael Camilleri, A&U)

one minute s silenceThis year marks the centenary of World War I, so we can expect to see a number of new titles commemorating this event from different perspectives. One Minute’s Silence concerns Remembrance Day as it relates to the Anzac soldiers who fought at Gallipoli, but it also asks readers to consider the young Turkish soldiers who fought bravely to defend their land. The title page shows a teacher in front of a blackboard looking up at a clock as the hands reach 11am, and the opening double-page spread shows a class of high school students looking bored. Thereafter, the narrator asks readers to imagine what it was like for the ‘twelve-thousand wild colonial’ boys as they landed on the shores of this strange, hostile land, and then to imagine the Turkish soldiers ‘from distant villages, hearts hammering’ as they stood in trenches ready to fire. Were they so different after all? The text in this book is minimal but searching, and the illustrations are outstanding. This is an ideal book for upper-primary to secondary school students, to discuss a time when people much like themselves faced terrible dilemmas.

Hilary Adams works in a specialist children’s bookshop in Sydney. This review first appeared in the Junior Term 2, 2014 supplement of Books+Publishing magazine. View more pre-publication reviews here.

BOOK REVIEW: The Tea Chest (Josephine Moon, A&U)

tea chestFive unlikely women have to work together to make a boutique tea shop work and flourish. Simone has left her two Australian tea shops, and the plans for another branch in London, to her financial backer and stepsister Judy and to tea designer Kate. Rather than sell out her share to Judy, Kate and her husband decide she should follow her passion and open the first international Tea Chest shop in London. Kate takes along Leila, whom she has rescued from unemployment, and they soon meet Elizabeth and her sister Victoria. The four women work together, battling construction companies run by unscrupulous operators, the 2011 London riots and all manner of personal issues to get the shop up and running. Judy is a kind of shadowy figure, supposedly a helpful associate, but at times seeming almost like an adversary. There is a lot of jumping around in this book: jumping from character to character, as the different women take turns narrating, and jumping between time periods, as the back stories for each of the characters are slowly revealed. This requires a certain amount of concentration, but the rewards are worth it—the story is fascinating and I found it difficult to put the book down. And while the ending seems almost too neat, it’s also lovely to read a book that turns out well. The Tea Chest will appeal to readers of commercial women’s fiction of all ages—especially those who love a good cup of tea!

Jessica Broadbent is a qualified librarian who prefers hot chocolate over tea. This review first appeared in Issue 1, 2014 of Books+Publishing magazine. View more pre-publication reviews here.

BOOK REVIEW: Rivertime (Trace Balla, A&U)

rivertimeThis book is laid out in cartoon strips, which takes a while to get used to if you’re not familiar with reading in this format. But the narrative flows as easily as, well, a slowly moving river. It’s about 10-and-a-half-year-old Clancy, who is taken camping for 10 days by his uncle Egg, who happens to be a birdwatcher. At first Clancy is unimpressed with the mozzies and the lack of TV access on their canoe, but gradually he’s seduced by the wildlife and the various outdoorsy adventures of the bush—such as drinking fresh water from mossy cliffs, snacking on wild raspberries and gazing at the Milky Way without the distraction of city lights. This is Trace Balla’s celebration of the Glenelg River with its manifold attractions. The illustrations are presented in muted earthy tones, and there is plenty of fauna featured—particularly birds, including the lesser-known white-throated gerygone, the brown thornbill and the rufous bristlebird. Rivertime is a reminder for mid-primary school kids—who are quite partial to being hooked up to various electronic devices—that it’s good to move beyond your comfort zone, and that communing with nature has its own rewards.

Thuy On is a Melbourne-based reviewer and the books editor of the Big Issue. This review first appeared in Junior Term 1, 2014 supplement of Books+Publishing magazine. View more pre-publication reviews here.

BOOK REVIEW: Saving Thanehaven (Catherine Jinks, A&U)

Saving ThanehavenSaving Thanehaven has possibly the strangest premise of any recent teen book: the protagonists are characters in computer games. The antagonist is a virus named Rufus, set out to sow seeds of dissent among previously content programs, dragging them into a world where they can make their own decisions. But there is a price to pay for this newfound independence, as Noble, of the game Thanehaven, is discovering. To save Thanehaven and the very computer on which many lives (or programs) depend, Noble will have to rise above his role in the game and the lies he has been fed by Rufus, and begin to make his own way. There is surprising emotional depth to Saving Thanehaven, with Noble’s growth from a being whose existence is dictated by others to a strong-minded and independent hero at its heart. The personification of the inner workings of a computer is a sheer delight to read, and while it takes some suspension of belief to settle into this story, it is certainly worth it for this quirky twist on the classic quest tale. This book is recommended for readers aged 10-14.

Meg Whelan is the children’s buyer at the Hill of Content bookshop in Melbourne. This review first appeared in Junior Term 4 supplement of Books+Publishing magazine. View more pre-publication reviews here.

BOOK REVIEW: Simple Things (Bill Condon, A&U)

simple thingsTen-year-old Stephen is shy. So when his parents take him to stay with Great Aunt Lola in the country, he’s simply dreading it. Things go from bad to worse when he meets his nearly 80-year-old aunt—she’s cold and prickly, and Stephen can’t wait for the next three weeks to end. This is a relatable situation and Bill Condon’s latest novel for junior readers is a delightfully warm and moving story about family, friendship, getting old and growing up. Acknowledging feelings of uncertainty and ambivalence, Condon asks his readers to look beyond what scares them to have empathy for others. It turns out that, despite the age gap, Stephen and Lola aren’t all that different after all. And, after negotiating their way through the initial awkwardness, they discover their unexpected friendship is a means to new beginnings and healing old wounds. Beneath Condon’s simple writing style, and Beth Norling’s supporting line drawings, are deeper themes about death, grief and acceptance. But while these themes hover around the book’s edges, its main focus is on life, living and the simple things we take for granted—the message, beautifully rendered for the age group, is that it’s never too late (or too soon) to open the door to a friend. This book is aimed at readers aged seven to nine.

Meredith Lewin is a reviewer, editor and proofreader. This review first appeared in Junior Term 4 supplement of Books+Publishing magazine. View more pre-publication reviews here.

BOOK REVIEW: Coming of Age: Australian Muslim Stories (ed by Amra Pajalic & Demet Divaroren, A&U)

coming of ageComing of Age is the kind of book that will change how readers look at the world, at others and themselves. This anthology of real-life stories from Australian Muslim authors explores the complexities of growing up Muslim in multicultural Australia—in the 1980s and 1990s but also the post-9/11 landscape, where to be visibly Muslim was suddenly redefined. Pitched at the YA nonfiction market, its strong human interest emphasis will appeal to engaged teenagers and a broader Gen X/Y audience. Aiming to demystify Islam and challenge ‘Islamaphobia’, the contributors succeed brilliantly at highlighting the diversity of Muslim culture and identity. From ‘halal romance’ at Muslim youth camp to female kickboxing, professional football and the Miss World contest, the writers explore how family, friendship, religion, gender, sexuality and culture shaped who they became. Particularly fascinating are pieces by female contributors examining body image, faith, identity and desire that shatter the stereotypes. Together, the stories expose common threads of hope, love, belief and belonging—and the intense alienation and discrimination experienced by the authors. Their individual paths to coming of age, coloured with many shades of humour, warmth, sadness, anger, determination and honesty, will resonate with readers from all backgrounds and beliefs.

Meredith Lewin is a reviewer, editor and proofreader. This review first appeared in Junior Term 4 supplement of Books+Publishing magazine. View more pre-publication reviews here.

BOOK REVIEW: These Broken Stars: The Starbound Trilogy (Amie Kaufman & Meagan Spooner, A&U)

these broken starsSociety princess Lilac LaRoux and war hero from the wrong side of the tracks Tarver Merendsen lock eyes across the room during yet another party aboard the luxury space liner Icarus. Within two days, Lilac has publicly humiliated Tarver. A day later they have crash-landed on an unknown planet, possibly the only survivors of a horrific and suspicious accident. Faced with an unfamiliar environment, slim possibility of rescue and an eerie presence threatening both their sanity and their physical wellbeing, Lilac and Tarver are forced to put aside their differences and make their way across the planet, discovering some frightening truths about the place they’ve been stranded in. With well-developed characters and an excellent narration style, Amie Kaufman and Meagan Spooner have crafted an insightful, shrewd and genuinely moving exploration of life, humanity and the moral obligations neglected in the name of progress. These Broken Stars is a romantic and heartbreaking tale that is complete in its own right while still leaving readers excited for future instalments. Intense, emotional and compelling, it will appeal to readers (aged 12 and up) who like their sci-fi thoughtful and challenging—and just a little bit sexy.

Meg Whelan is the children’s book buyer at the Hill of Content bookshop in Melbourne. This review first appeared in Issue 4 of Books+Publishing magazine. View more pre-publication reviews here.

BOOK REVIEW: Jump: Twinmaker Book 1 (Sean Williams, A&U)

Jump Book CoverThe world has been revolutionised by ‘d-mat’—fabrication technology that can build any object instantly, atom by atom. Clothes, food and even human beings can be faithfully created, replicated and teleported down to their tiniest imperfections and most personal memories. Climate change, famine and pollution are merely history lessons for teens such as Claire and her best friend Libby, who are free to go anywhere and create anything at the press of a button. But when Libby tries to use d-mat to ‘improve’ her own appearance, Claire begins to realise that the system may not be as safe or as secure as everyone believes. Bringing attention to d-mat’s failures is a dangerous game, however, especially when the molecular pattern that makes you ‘you’ can be manipulated by those with power and secrets to protect. Sean Williams is one of Australia’s most accomplished speculative fiction authors, deftly using high-concept sci-fi to ask young-adult readers difficult questions about identity, self-image and popularity in the age of social networking. It’s all expertly weaved into a fast-paced, white-knuckle chase, making it an easy book to recommend to fans of dystopian YA, such as Scott Westerfeld’s ‘Uglies’, Patrick Ness’ ‘Chaos Walking’ and Suzanne Collins’ ‘The Hunger Games’.

Richard Bilkey is the ereading content manager for Samsung Australia. This review first appeared on the Books+Publishing website in July 2013. View more pre-publication reviews here.