BOOK REVIEW: Calypso Summer (Jared Thomas, Magabala)

calypso_summer_cover_hi-resHis name is Kyle, but everyone calls him Calypso. In high school he grew dreadlocks, started listening to reggae and took to the ganja with a vengeance. Calypso isn’t Jamaican though, he’s from the Nukunu people of South Australia—not that he’s seen his mum’s mob in the Flinders Ranges since he was a kid. Now that Calypso is out of school, things are changing. He’s finally scored a job, is sharing a flat with his troubled cousin Run and is losing interest in the smoking. Gary, his new boss at the health food shop, wants to stock some natural remedies from Calypso’s ‘tribe’ and suggests he gets back in touch with them. Then there’s that girl at the hairdresser’s who Calypso can’t stop thinking about. It’s a summer of cricket, family and romance. In Calypso Summer, Jared Thomas has created a strong, likeable character who comes to a greater appreciation of his heritage, his family and his connections. Thomas brings the reader into Calypso’s world, vividly capturing his language and his large and vibrant family. This book contains frequent drug use and strong language, and as such is suitable for older readers. Thomas won a kuril dhagun Indigenous Writing Fellowship as part of the black&write! Indigenous Writing and Editing program for this book.

Heath Graham is a teacher and former bookseller. This review first appeared in Issue 1, 2014 of Books+Publishing magazine. View more pre-publication reviews here.

BOOK REVIEW: Two Wolves (Tristan Bancks, Random House)

two wolvesBen Silver wants to be a detective when he grows up, solving crimes and sending criminals to jail. One day after school the police come to his house looking for his parents. Then his mum and dad arrive home just after the police leave and insist they are taking Ben and his little sister Olive on a holiday. With no time to pack or change out of their school uniforms. As his parents become more evasive, and their actions more inexplicable, Ben realises that something must be seriously wrong. His parents are in trouble. But what have they done? And what will Ben do if he figures it out? Tristan Bancks has crafted an exciting tale of family secrets and misadventure. He deftly captures the sense of betrayal children feel at being deceived by those they trust. Ben is a memorable character. He makes bad decisions sometimes, but he is more resourceful and resilient than he appears at first, and he is constantly torn between family loyalty and doing the right thing. This is a good book for upper-primary and lower-secondary readers.

Heath Graham is a teacher and former bookseller. This review first appeared in Issue 4, 2013 of Books+Publishing magazine. View more pre-publication reviews here.

BOOK REVIEW: The Last Girl (Michael Adams, A&U)

Last GirlEveryone thought Danby was going mad at first, even Danby. It wasn’t possible that she was hearing other people’s thoughts. Except it was, and Danby was just one of the first. An internet-obsessed world was about to discover what ‘connection’ really means. Suddenly, on Christmas Day, everyone can hear everyone else’s thoughts, and all hell breaks loose. Danby discovers she is indeed special, as she can hear others’ thoughts without projecting her own. Soon her entire neighbourhood, and possibly all of the world, descends into chaos, madness, murder and finally catatonia, leaving only Danby conscious. She decides to flee Sydney, carrying her unconscious little brother Evan, striking out for her mother’s house in the Blue Mountains. She crosses the silent, ruined city, past the dead, the dying and the eerie living statues. But is she truly alone? The Last Girl is the first novel of a planned trilogy from Michael Adams, a well-known movie reviewer, whose love of the cinematic shows. The book is gripping and fast-paced, with exciting action scenes. Danby is a strong and resourceful character. This is a dark book with several violent and uncomfortable scenes, and as such is suited for older readers seeking an exciting read.

Heath Graham is a teacher and former bookseller. This review first appeared in the Junior Term 3 supplement of Books+Publishing magazine. View more pre-publication reviews here.

BOOK REVIEW: Fox Swift (David Lawrence with Cyril Rioli, Slattery Media)

Ffox_swiftrancis ‘Fox’ Swift has moved again. His parents’ jobs as social justice lawyers have dragged him away from his beloved Port Pembla Pirates footy team to some country town called Davinal, where they will be working with Sudanese refugees. Fox isn’t even sure that Davinal has a junior footy team for him to join. As it turns out, they have two: the Dragons, well-funded champions, captained by the bully Mace, and the Diggers, a team of no-hopers and rejects. Fox joins the Diggers with his new friends Hugo and Lewis, but even his amazing skills can’t save the team from a string of humiliating losses. Fox isn’t a quitter though, so he resolves to make some changes. He recruits some unexpected new players and a washed-up former local hero as a coach. With a little help from AFL legend Cyril Rioli, can the Diggers turn things around? This is a fun read for upper-primary AFL fans, who will enjoy the underdog story of Fox and his new team. The fast pace, illustrations and humour will also entice reluctant readers. Another real point of difference is the input of real-life AFL star Cyril Rioli, including training drills and even diet tips for young footballers. This is highly recommended for footy fans.

Heath Graham is a teacher and former bookseller. This review first appeared in the Junior Term 2 2013 supplement of Books+Publishing magazine. View more pre-publication reviews here.

BOOK REVIEW: The Cloud Road: The Kingdom of the Lost Book 2 (Isobelle Carmody, Viking)

cloud roadThe Cloud Road is the second book in Isobelle Carmody’s ‘Kingdom of the Lost Book’ fantasy series for younger readers. After the events of The Red Wind, brothers Bily and Zluty are on the run. The mysterious rain of stones destroyed their idyllic home in the valley, and they have decided to flee, carrying what they can. Their friend Redwing flies with them, and Zluty keeps the strange metal egg he found in his pack. At Bily’s insistence, they have also brought the Monster, the wounded creature that Bily is fascinated with and Zluty can’t quite trust. The monster claims to know of a new place they can live, but first they must cross the White Desert and something they’ve never seen: the monster calls them ‘mountains’. On the way they meet new allies, encounter terrifying new enemies and begin to unravel the mysteries of the strange world they live in. Bily and Zluty are brave, curious and intrepid explorers. Carmody’s world-building remains first class, and the many mysteries of this world begin to unravel in this volume, adding a level of intrigue to the adventure. This is recommended for younger fans of fantasy tales.

Heath Graham is a teacher and former bookseller. This review first appeared on the Books+Publishing website in February 2013. View more pre-publication reviews here.

BOOK REVIEW: Bad Grammar (Nathan Luff, Walker Books)

Marcus is a great warrior—a dragonslayer! At least, he is online. Gaming is the one place he feels at home since his only friend Bashir moved to India, a fact his parents just don’t understand. After Marcus’ attempt to buy himself a friend backfires disastrously, his mum and dad decide some more drastic action is needed: they enrol him in a boarding school. Bourkely Boy’s Grammar is a ‘unique school’ for ‘boys who have trouble fitting in’, in the depths of the Outback. Marcus soon discovers the truth about Bourkely: most of the students are bullies and thugs, the school itself is ramshackle and decaying, the teachers wear koala suits to class, the principal is a bearded brute with a vicious pet dingo, the library is haunted by a sabre-toothed nun, and worst of all, there are no computers! Armed with his wits, his new friends Fred and Trent, and his knowledge from The Warrior’s Guide to Everything by R J Bergin, Marcus has to survive at the school they call Bad Grammar. A funny fast-paced book, full of outlandish characters and incidents, and frequent asides from The Warrior’s Guide to Everything, this is a recommended read for young adventurers.

Heath Graham is an educator currently working at the State Library of Victoria. This review first appeared in the October/November issue of Bookseller+Publisher Magazine. View more pre-publication reviews here.

BOOK REVIEW: Ruby Learns to Swim (Phillip Gwynne, illus by Tamsin Ainslie, A&U)

Join Ruby (and her rubber duck) as she learns to swim. Ruby uses goggles, floaties and flippers, learning to float, kick, breathe, and finally, to swim! Phillip Gwynne is best known for his YA novels Deadly Unna? and Nukkin Ya, but he has also written for the Aussie Bites series and a novel for adults, as well as a previous picture book The Queen with the Wobbly Bottom. This book was inspired by his young daughter, also named Ruby. Gwynne’s simple, sing-song text beautifully captures both the sense of routine and the growing confidence that comes with learning to swim. Experienced picture book illustrator Tamsin Ainslie’s gorgeous watercolour and collage illustrations complement the text well. Ruby is depicted as happy, smiling and confidently exploring the water, with several costume changes and her toy rubber duck in each illustration. Ruby’s confidence would serve as a good example for kids who might be fearful of the pool. This is a good read-along story for beginning readers, perhaps especially for those who are reluctant near the water.

Heath Graham is an educator currently working at the State Library of Victoria

BOOK REVIEW: 10 Futures (Michael Pryor, Woolshed Press)

Sam and Tara are best friends. Sam has an artistic bent and loves working with his hands, while Tara is passionate and driven by social justice. Across the 21st century and into the 22nd, these things are the only constants. These 10 short stories explore a range of possible futures, investigating social and technological possibilities ranging from the astonishing to the terrifying. Each future examines the implications of a potential development, from artificial intelligence to genetic engineering, global warming, cloning, financial collapse, life extension and more. Through the eyes of Tara and Sam, we experience 10 different scenarios for the next 100 years. Michael Pryor returns to the field of science-fiction to give us this collection of stories in the best tradition of futuristic speculation. Pryor combines his usual deft touch at characterisation with some well-informed futurism to produce an engaging range of stories. He explores ethical dilemmas that arise in worlds that we would consider utopias as well as much darker futures. The book is supported by an excellent selection of teacher resources aligned with the Australian Curriculum. This is a thought-provoking read for middle secondary students.

Heath Graham is an educator currently working at the State Library of Victoria.  This review first appeared in the Feb/March issue of Bookseller+Publisher Magazine.