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Review: Against All Odds: Young Readers' Edition

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I recall the grim news reports back in winter 2018 of a group of boys trapped in a complex cave system somewhere in Thailand with the same shocked yet useless curiosity that so many other harrowing headlines elicit. We are moved for an instant yet our attention is inexorably pushed onto the next plight until it’s time to serve dinner. Distance, a deficit of understanding, edited media content and an inability to do anything meaningful in response can cause a wane in empathy, which I confess, I am not immune to. So, when I received a copy of Craig Challen and Richard Harris’, Against All Odds – young readers’ edition , I pounced on the opportunity to learn more. Against All Odds sits beside a small slew of titles covering this subject along with a couple of stirring motion pictures and Netflix series, but this edition, especially edited for younger readers, is by the two Aussies who helped make a significant difference to the outcome of this drama involving: Twelve boys. One coac

Review: A Detective's Guide to Marvellous Mysteries

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Of the many literary lures to entice kids to page turn into the wee hours of the night, the thrill of a mystery is one of the strongest. Give them great characters with plenty of purpose and pacy plotlines that they can adventure with more than once and well, you might not see said kids for weeks or months. My 34 copies of the Trixie Beldon mystery series are testimony to the power of a good series and Nicki Greenberg’s latest middle grade literary escapades harness that power in the most appealing way. Meshing the past with adventure, Greenberg takes primary readers on an exhilarating tour from London, across the Atlantic and through one of America’s most bedazzling cities. Mystery and a slapdash of mayhem are never too far away. The cast of tween teen characters is led by robustly intelligent 13-year-old Pepper Stark whose heart tugging family backstory is neatly woven through each book. The extravagances in Pepper’s life are extreme and jaw dropping yet she exudes a down-to-eart

Review: Stardiving

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One would think illustrating and describing a seemingly lifeless world cloaked in ink would be an exercise in futility. Unless of course you are an inhabitant of the fathomless depths. Or Andrew Plant. Plant’s latest author illustrated title, Stardiving is more than a clever oxymoron. It is a foray into the unknown. A daring and sublime exploration of a world visited by but a few, all rendered in a rigorously limited yet serenely darkened colour palette. The front cover endpapers of this inspired picture book begin with a stunning visual and expository breakdown of the great sperm whale. Don’t be tempted to skip this read through. We are introduced to terminology and several unique attributes of this mighty mammal before moving through an ocean of blues and teals to young Fluke’s story and thanks to this brief exposition, it feels as though we are already better acquainted with Fluke’s beguiling ways. Plant gives you a moment to ponder that which you’ve just learnt with a wordless sp

Review: Cop & Robber

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Fans of Tristan Bancks’ pacy action-orientated middle grade novels will be lunging for his latest serving of thrills and spills, Cop & Robber . The incongruous grouping of nouns as a title was enough to whet my appetite but the opening paragraph literally haunted me for days in a ‘this feels so real, must keep reading’ kinda way. Bancks is master at creating authentic suspense with a mere sprinkling of words, teasing the reader in like an experienced fly fisherman. And chapter one certainly hooks. Nash witnesses his dad, commit a robbery from the local Broken Ridge service station. It’s not the smoothest of criminal operations and yields very little if you don’t count the mounting dread and colossal sense of shame that chokes Nash. He knows his dad, Lyle is a decent sort of bloke deep down, the type who models himself on historic bushrangers with a will to stand up for the little guy. Dad is an ex-boxing champ with no other bankable skills other than an urge to rob banks to make

Review: Boogie Woogie Bird

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Aside from the groovy sounding title, the thing that strikes you first about debut author, Alison Stegert’s Boogie Woogie Bird , is the jaw dropping detail of Sandra Severgnini’s illustrations. I have known and lived with curlews, notably, the Bush stone aka the Thick-knee curlew for some time and am gobsmacked by the level of exactness both of these creators have imbued within their adorable character, Curlew. Curlew cries his plaintive call, alone and forlorn, night after night. He needs a friend, more than a friend in fact. A mate. Someone to share his random pile of leaves with. But his yearning cries aren’t cutting it, at least not for Fairywren who insists that fancy dancing is what he needs to win someone’s heart. In a priceless, side-splitting promenade of boogie woogie moves, tangled legs and knocked knees, Curlew finally concedes that curlews can’t dance in spite of the detailed instructions bestowed upon him by some of the best ‘dancing’ birds in the business aka Aussie bus

Review: No Words

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From the author who gave us the heart-jolting ,  Exit Through The Gift Shop , comes another show-stopping middle grade drama.  No Words  pulls no punches telling the story of 12-year-old refugee, Aria and moves with the same tumultuous pace as  Master’s  former novel. Don’t equate the tempo of this narrative with a rushed outcome however because Aria’s tale is told with measured sensitivity and precision. It just happens to be in the same voice as your typical upper primary school kid with as much energetic beat and bounce. Which is ironic when the story centres around Aria’s distinct  lack  of voice. Aria hails from old Iran, Persia having fled his country with his older brother and father. There was no time for goodbyes. No time to mourn the loss of his beloved mother. No time to digest the horror of their situation. We learn through the broken recall of Aria that his mother was persecuted for her liberated feminist beliefs. But that is not the main thrust of this story. Hero and her

Review: Challenger Deep

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Challenger Deep might not be your typical resort pool-side read but this mind-splitting psychological YA fiction had me from the first glimpse of its ambiguous cover art (of the Australian edition) and the first improbable, incongruous lines: There are two things you know. One: You were there. Two: You couldn’t have been there. Plus, Neal Shusterman, so … this is what accompanied me to the sunbeds. Deep, mysterious, soul crushing, Neal Schusterman oscillates fifteen-year-old Caden Bosch between reality and madness with unnerving accuracy in an intensely immersive narrative about mental illness. I’m not sure why it took me until now to dip into this one but if stories have a way of finding you at the exact time you need them, then Challenger Deep hit its mark with me. Life often resembles a rollercoaster ride. In recent times, mine’s been more of a washing machine of anguish and tortured emotions. At least you can open your eyes on a rollercoaster. Let out a scream now and then. Perh

Review: Love Stories

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I’m known to spend my brief lunch breaks pouring over my latest read, gingerly page turning with one hand. Shoving food down with the other. There are usually accidents thus there is always a sheet of paper towelling or a servette present, as well. Let me tell you; if Love Stories by Trent Dalton is your current lunch date, you’ll need a few extra rolls of paper towelling. Not because the stories within ignite a voracious appetite but because they unbottle a sea of emotions that by the very last pages even the most robust 3 ply paper towel could not possibily absorb. Love Stories is not a wanton sob fest however. It’s more of a two-armed hug. It’s warm and intimate. Compassionate and global. It cleaves your heart open then carefully welds it back together, better than it was before even if you’re a bit like me; someone who has never succumbed to the pull of Valentine’s Day, who regards romance as improbable as a lottery win. Someone who has craved love since she could toddle after

How to Build a Community through Social Media - Podcast Alert!

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I've been a tad quiet on the reviewing front of late - choking on that old chestnut of life. So the irony of participating in a panel of motivated and moving Kids' Lit advocators and creators is not lost on this little black duck. Despite possibly having  the lowest of social media engagement of this astounding panel line up, Ken, chief taco maker from the equally astounding podcast, Reading With a Chance of Tacos , still found reason to invite me along. And I'm glad I did! Chatting alongside the incorrigible Rory H. Mather , the savvy Vikki Conley and the social media phenomenon that is kids' book author, Scott Stuart was not only illuminating and insightful but a bagful of fun besides. Tackling social media, creating (and maintaining) a meaningful presence while actually getting on with the business of writing are just some of the tasty morsels we ruminate over in this episode: How To Build a Community through Social Media . For me, it's all about a bunch of Es:

Review: The Bravest Word

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Have you ever left a book on the shelf for months and months, eager to read it but not quite in the right mood to do so? Other titles assume a kind of procrastinate preference over your erstwhile looked-forward-to folio until suddenly, it beckons, loud and unrelenting. Read me, read me now! I love the synchronicity of reading the right book at the right time. This is how I experienced, Kate Foster’s latest novel, The Bravest Word, at time when life needed a little more explaining and the soul a little extra massaging. Without getting over personal or dwelling on the genesis of this story or Foster’s motivation for writing this book, The Bravest Word , is honest and raw and incredibly uncomplicated in its complexity. Matt is an only child with the world at his eleven-year-old feet. He is on the cusp of football legendary-stardom and the start of secondary school. He has loving parents and buddies who always have his back yet for reasons unknown to him, mystifying and confusing, h

Review: A Mother Is A House

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God love our mums. I know, I know; it’s no longer Mother’s Day. But that’s not quite true is it? Each and every day is a testament, or should be, to the stoic, tireless, selfless, fatigue-hazed, love-filled actions of mothers – everywhere. They walk with their hearts exposed, vulnerable, fierce, at times, uncertain. Always there, which is the crux of this unique picture book on motherhood, A Mother Is a House . Rather like a kangaroo nursing her joey in her pouch, safe, contained and snug, I cherished pregnancy, mourning the day when bub would eventually want out. But how does a baby perceive this perplexing first coming of age? What do they make of their mother? Sustainer of life. Guardian. Advisor. Mountain. House? A Mother Is a House affords readers a baby’s fascinating view point of this relationship from moments before their birth to their first tentative steps some 12 months later. Brief descriptive declarations carry reader and baby through the day to day activities baby’

Time Flies Like An Arrow - Fruit Flies Like Bananas: A Timely Update

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Author in the Wild For those who believe authors working from home maintain a lifestyle of bottomless coffees, frequent contemplative sojourns to the garden to bath in soft sunshine and commune with one’s muse and enjoy uninterrupted hours of serene creative satisfaction, think again. Ridiculously full weekends mean my garden, like many of my manuscripts, is sorely in need of a hard prune-back. My muse is trapped in the untamed growth. There’s a saying Border collie owners like myself live by: silence is golden unless you own a border collie, then silence is stomach ulcer-forming. I have three – dogs – who knows how many ulcers. I have not experienced true serenity for nearly 20 years. My coffee mugs all have bottoms and I have to fill them myself.   That said it’s a short commute to work so I’m not complaining. In fact, I have had zero time to think in a straight line let alone whinge about the kinks. Here’s why. February: lull before the perfect storm, thought I might actually ge

Book Bite: Hippity Hoppity Easter Treats

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To coincide with an effort to dramatically cut down on the amount of chocolate consumed this Easter season, I am sharing just a few Easter picture books this year. All guaranteed to assuage your Easter spirit in terms of humour and hankering for family fun time. For more, consider these past offerings from Dim’s Easter Goodie Basket . Or visit your local bricks and mortar bookshop for a sky-full of meaningful Easter reads. Little Wombat’s Easter Surprise Those familiar with, Charles Fuge’s , Little Wombat picture book series will already adore Little Wombat’s goofy allure and his woodland friends – yes he is globally connected on the animal friend circuit.   In this gorgeous Easter edition he is busy hunting for Easter eggs when a familiar looking stranger bounds past. He assumes it’s his buddy, Rabbit and is amazed to find it is actually, Bilby, an unrelated but similar looking cutie. Surprise number one. Rabbit and Bilby share multiple similarities and delight in their newfoun