The Dog Runner by Bren MacDibble

the dof runner.jpgTitle: The Dog Runner

Author: Bren MacDibble

Genre: Fiction

Publisher: Allen and Unwin

Published: 4th February 2019

Format: Paperback

Pages:

Price:

Synopsis: From the author of the multi-award-winning and bestselling How To Bee comes an intense and thrilling new adventure.

‘We’re gonna starve if we stay here,’ Emery said. ‘If we’re gonna go, best go now.’ 
And he said it like going was something easy. Like all we have to do is walk away.

Ella and her brother Emery are alone in a city that’s starving to death. If they are going to survive, they must get away, upcountry, to find Emery’s mum. But how can two kids travel such big distances across a dry, barren, and dangerous landscape? Well, when you’ve got five big doggos and a dry-land dogsled, the answer is you go mushing. But when Emery is injured, Ella must find a way to navigate them through rough terrain, and even rougher encounters with desperate people…

~*~

Emery and Ella – a brother and sister – have been left by their father and Ella’s mum, alone in their house in the closed off city. Everything has fallen apart since a red fungus swept across the country, and world, and decimated the food supply. Around Australia, people are desperate, and without Ella’s parents around, Emery and Ella set off in search of Emery’s mother – where they hope to find shelter and food with people they can trust. To do so, they must hitch up five big dogs to a dry-land dogsled, and traverse dangerous country, dodging people who would harm them if they had the chance.

As the novel progresses, Emery and Ella face dangers they had hoped not to face and see just how badly affected the country beyond the city they’ve been living in is – and this furthers their quest to find safety and security. Told through Ella’s perspective, The Dog Runner looks at the consequences of climate change, and how a single even can affect the world’s food supply – and what can be done to change things. For Ella and Emery, the world is big and dangerous – and during their journey, they are faced with dangers and obstacles they didn’t think they’d ever see.

Emery’s mother is Aboriginal, and Ella and Emery hope she will be able to use the knowledge of her ancestors to help them, and still have some of the seeds and crops Emery’s grandfather saved to help replenish the land. In a clever and accessible way, the novel looks at the connection to country and landscape, family, and the diversity of Australia and humanity. The climate is affected drastically, and the landscape has been altered so distinctly that it is unrecognisable, yet at the same time, it could be something that happens in the near future and could drastically affect and alter how we live our lives.

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In a world where we take food supply for granted, this takes an interesting look at how the land reacts to a fungus or virus, or even climate change. In doing so, it posits how we might deal with in the world, who might get assistance first, and how older traditions can end up helping revitalise the land – and the revealing of knowledge that some people might not have had previously, as well as the importance of family, whoever they are, whatever colour they are – and the acceptance of family in dire times. In the end, it is family that is important – and the lengths they go to in order to help each other and the world they live in. It is a world we all have to live in, and like Emery and Ella’s family, working together is what will help us survive.

The story gives us an idea of where to look in the future and how we can seek to survive – through communication, shared knowledge and looking to the past to see what others have done, and how the Indigenous people cultivated and took care of the land before 1788. Which is why this was an interesting – because it shows through tragedy, how millennia old techniques can be used to help save the food supply, and the possibilities of bringing new and old together. In a world where climate change is a constant threat, maybe, like Emery and Ella and their family, we need to start looking at alternatives and preparing for a future that might devastate the landscape.


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Enola Holmes Mysteries: The Case of the Peculiar Pink Fan by Nancy Springer

enola holmes 4Title: Enola Holmes Mysteries: The Case of the Peculiar Pink Fan

Author: Nancy Springer

Genre: Historical Fiction/YA

Publisher: Allen and Unwin

Published: 4th February 2019

Format: Paperback

Pages: 185

Price: $14.99

Synopsis: Enola Holmes might be the much younger sister of Sherlock Holmes, but she manages to outsmart him at every turn, solving thrilling mysteries in her very own way…

Enola is thrown into a tailspin when she receives a desperate message from her old friend, Lady Cecily. Enola knows she must help her friend before it’s too late – but she doesn’t know how! This complicated case has Enola hunting down clues all over London until she finally discovers the awful truth: Lady Cecily is being held prisoner! Enola must risk her own freedom and join forces with her brother, the famed Sherlock Holmes, to free Cecily. Can Enola trust her brother, and can they save Cecily in time?

~*~

Four cases in, and Enola Holmes just gets better and better. Here, she is determined to help a young woman – Lady Cecily – from a forced marriage that her family has not agreed to. But Enola’s brothers, Mycroft and Sherlock, are still after her, and Enola must weigh up the risks of revealing herself to enlist Sherlock’s help. At this point, Sherlock has been trying to communicate with Enola, using the code she used with her mother, and he seems to be quite impressed with her – happily, much to Mycroft’s chagrin. The fourth novel in the series sees Sherlock steering further from Mycroft’s goals, and shrugging off his concerns about their sister as she forges her own path and proves she is just as clever and resourceful as Sherlock. Mycroft’s slow loss of control is evident, as Enola and Sherlock have a laugh at his expense – and I hope a bond will form between the two, where they continue to thwart Mycroft at every chance they get.

I started this series, because I liked the idea of a reimagination of a classic, set in the same time period that would lead readers into the originals. When done right, retellings of fairy tales and classics are enjoyable, especially when the execution makes sense with what has come before, or the shadows and ghosts of the original are evident, whilst allowing the new characters to fulfil their purposes. The Enola Holmes Mysteries fulfils these both wonderfully, whilst still allowing Sherlock, Mycroft and Dr Watson to exist in Enola’s world. They have to – they link this to the originals, and give a fresh voice, as the originals are told only from Watson’s perspective, and only the world and cases occupied by Sherlock and John – not many in their peripheral worlds.

Together, and apart, Enola and Sherlock, in this story, are an amazing pair of investigators. They are much more alike than they have thought up until now, and it seems from this novel that Enola may have an ally in Sherlock, but perhaps they will also be in competition with each other – something I feel Sherlock – both in this incarnation and in the originals – would and will find amusing as time goes by. It would be very fun to see if they eventually do join forces and do all they can to flout and drive Mycroft spare – as siblings do – and perhaps finally prove to Mycroft that he shouldn’t be underestimating his sister – she is a great character, and shows a whole new side to the Sherlock Holmes canon.

Enola Holmes Mystery: The Case of The Bizarre Bouquets (Enola Holmes #3) by Nancy Springer

Enola Holmes 3.jpgTitle: Enola Holmes Mystery: The Case of The Bizarre Bouquets (Enola Holmes #3)

Author: Nancy Springer

Genre: Historical Fiction/YA/Crime

Publisher: Allen and Unwin

Published: 4th February 2019

Format: Paperback

Pages: 192

Price: $14.99

Synopsis: Enola Holmes might be the much younger sister of Sherlock Holmes, but she manages to outsmart him at every turn, solving thrilling mysteries in her very own way…

Everyone knows Dr. Watson is Sherlock Holmes’ right-hand man – so when he goes missing, it’s a shock. Even Sherlock hasn’t the slightest clue as to where he could be. Enola is intrigued but wary; she’s still hiding from her older brothers and getting involved could prove to be disastrous. But Enola can’t help but investigate, especially when she learns that a bizarre bouquet – with flowers all symbolizing death – has been delivered to the Watson residence. Enola knows she must act quickly, but can she find Dr. Watson in time?

~*~

Enola Holmes is still hiding from her brothers, using her wits and a variety of disguises to evade them at every turn, and solve cases that the police, and her brother, Sherlock are unable to solve. Still in 1889, it has been six months since she left their care, in search of her mother and a life no predicated by societal norms and expectations. Living in lodgings, she discovers that Sherlock’s colleague, Dr John Watson has gone missing. Undertaking her own investigation, Enola discovers several bouquets delivered to Joh’s wife, Mary – and uses her knowledge of flower meanings to decipher what they mean. In doing so, she finds out that John’s life is in danger – so she sets about following the person who delivers the flowers – and what she discovers will hopefully save John’s life.

Coming back to Enola Holmes was delightful. I love the original Sherlock Holmes stories and novels, as well as the Robert Downey Jr movies. Here, though, Nancy Springer has put a new twist on the stories. Where most retellings position the quirky detective and his long-suffering partner in contemporary settings – Sherlock with Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman in modern London, or Elementary with Johnny Lee Miller and Lucy Liu in modern day New York, this one still sits in the late 1880s, but posits the idea that Sherlock and Mycroft had an unknown sister, someone who society wasn’t aware of, but would soon become aware of.  The original Holmes stories are told from Watson’s perspective – and I have read them all, and the only family member I recall being mentioned is Mycroft, Sherlock’s brother. So, it is plausible to think Sherlock may have had a sister.

Again, Enola manages to evade her brother’s as she investigates John’s disappearance, and those who are linked to what happened. She’s a wonderful character, who despises the expectations of a Victorian girl, yet uses what she has available to her, and the norms of Victorian society to her advantage, as well as her knowledge of flowers and ciphers to form her various identities. These are quick reads, and of course, it is inevitable that Enola will solve the case as the main character. Aimed at children and young adults, these are great books for any age group, and can be appreciated by fans of the original as well as introduce a new audience to Sherlock.

This is turning out to be a very good series, and one that will surely have fans clamouring for the next instalment. I look forward to seeing how Enola continues to evade her brothers, and if, potentially, she ends up working with Sherlock, and both of them driving Mycroft to despair.

Zelda Stitch Term Two: Too Much Witch (Zelda Stitch #2) by Nicki Greenberg

zelda stitch 2Title: Zelda Stitch Term Two: Too Much Witch (Zelda Stitch #2)

Author: Nicki Greenberg

Genre: Fantasy/Children’s

Publisher: Allen and Unwin

Published: 4th February 2019

Format: Paperback

Pages: 272

Price: $14.99

Synopsis: Zelda Stitch is back in the classroom and ready to start Term Two. Will teaching be easier now everyone know she’s a witch? Or will there be more mischief than one witch can manage?

Goals for Term Two:
1. Be the best teacher I can be.
2. Keep my spells to myself.
3. DO NOT UPSET MELODY MARTIN.

What’s a witch to do? Zelda is likely to end up in a truckload of trouble if she can’t even follow the rules she sets herself. Especially when there’s an impressionable young witchling in the class, and the vice principal is on the warpath.

Soon both Zelda and the secret witchling are battling unruly magic, peer pressure and a seriously mean PE teacher. And then there’s the weird smell…

With the school camp coming up fast, Zelda has her work cut out for her. And as usual, Barnaby is only making things worse.

Will Zelda get to have her hero moment – or will she cause everything she cares about to disappear?

More magic, mischief and mayhem from Zelda Stitch, the wayward witch.

~*~

The new school term isn’t off to the best start. Zelda has a broken arm, her magic isn’t working as well as she’d like, and her cat, Barnaby, is being snarkier than ever. He seems to take great pleasure in watching her struggle with magic and everyday things, unlike Melvin, Briony’s cat, who is always kind and helpful. At school, Zelda has to contend with Principal Melody Martin, and her niece, Phoebe. Melody and Phoebe are also witches, and Zelda needs to follow her own rules to ensure the rest of the class doesn’t find out.

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On top of this, she has a snarky PE teacher to deal with, an upcoming school camp and Barnaby doesn’t seem to be making things easier for her – nor does her mother. Can Zelda help Phoebe and keep her own magic under wraps? Or will Zelda’s self-imposed rules shatter under increased pressure to be as normal as possible?

The second book in the Zelda Stitch series follows the same diary style format as the first one – a style that shows the world through Zelda’s eyes, and the story is told just as effectively and as enjoyably as if it were a straight narrative style. It engages the reader, and makes for quick, engrossing reading, as many books in this style do when they are written effectively by the author. Nicki Greenberg has done an excellent job using this style, as she captures Zelda’s voice, humour, observations and those of the other characters wonderfully.

As Zelda goes through her second term teaching, she faces more trials and triumphs while trying to balance teaching and being a witch. As her unpredictable magic seeps out, Zelda must find a way to work out which magic is coming from her, which magic is coming from Phoebe and if any is coming from Melody – before the school camp and before something goes really wrong. I’m really enjoying these books – yes, they are a quick read, especially for me, but they are also filled with fun, and whimsy. Zelda is a very entertaining character, and also very caring. She wants what is best for her class, especially Phoebe, and does whatever she can to follow her own rules and stay out of trouble. The plot follows this struggle very well, and captures the challenges of peer pressure and school – which even if you’re not a witch, can be very tough things to deal with. Showing how children cope with these issues in fiction, and through the lens of a young witchling shows children that it’s oaky to be scared, in an entertaining and accessible way using humour and sensitivity.

This is a great series for anyone who loves a good read or for younger readers who are just starting to branch out and read books on their own, or with a family member. I hope readers out there enjoy it.

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Challenge Check-in: January 2019 

In an effort to keep on top of my check in posts this year, I’m hoping to do monthly wrap ups, and break downs every fifteen books where possible. These Challenge check-ins will allow me to track my progress and determine how many books I read each month to make my end of year posts easier to write.

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#AWW2019 – Australian Women Writers: six books so far

  1. All the Tears in China by Sulari Gentill – Reviewed
  2. Seven Little Australians by Ethel Turner – Reviewed
  3. Vardaesia by Lynette Noni – Reviewed
  4. Saving You by Charlotte Nash – Reviewed
  5. Zelda Stitch Term Two: Too Much Witch by Nikki Greenberg – Reviewed
  6. 99 Percent Mine by Sally Thorne – Reviewed

General challenge: Fourteen books completed.

  1. All the Tears in China by Sulari Gentill
  2. Bella Donna: Coven Road by Ruth Symes
  3. Seven Little Australians by Ethel Turner
  4. Bella Donna: Too Many Spells by Ruth Symes
  5. Dragon Masters: Treasure of the Gold Dragon by Tracey West
  6. Vardaesia by Lynette Noni
  7. Best Foot Forward by Adam Hills
  8. Saving You by Charlotte Nash
  9. Zelda Stitch Term Two: Too Much Witch by Nicki Greenberg
  10. Australia’s Sweetheart by Michael Adams
  11. The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl Volume One: Squirrel Power by Ryan North
  12. 99 Percent Mine by Sally Thorne
  13. Enola Holmes: The Case of the Bizarre Bouquets (Enola Holmes #3) by Nancy Springer
  14. Enola Holmes: The Case of the Peculiar Pink Fan (Enola Holmes #4) by Nancy Springer

#Dymocks52Challenge

#Dymocks52Challenge: Fourteen books read so far.

  1. All the Tears in China by Sulari Gentill
  2. Bella Donna: Coven Road by Ruth Symes
  3. Seven Little Australians by Ethel Turner
  4. Bella Donna: Too Many Spells by Ruth Symes
  5. Dragon Masters: Treasure of the Gold Dragon by Tracey West
  6. Vardaesia by Lynette Noni
  7. Best Foot Forward by Adam Hills
  8. Saving You by Charlotte Nash
  9. Zelda Stitch Term Two: Too Much Witch by Nicki Greenberg
  10. Australia’s Sweetheart by Michael Adams
  11. The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl Volume One: Squirrel Power by Ryan North
  12. 99 Percent Mine by Sally Thorne
  13. Enola Holmes: The Case of the Bizarre Bouquets (Enola Holmes #3) by Nancy Springer
  14. Enola Holmes: The Case of the Peculiar Pink Fan (Enola Holmes #4) by Nancy Springer

 

PopSugar Challenge: Nine categories ticked off so far.

 

A book written by a musician (fiction or nonfiction): Best Foot Forward by Adam Hills

A book with a plant in the title or on the cover: Bella Donna: Coven Road by Ruth Symes

A book with an item of clothing or accessory on the cover: 99 Percent Mine by Sally Thorne

A retelling of a classic: Enola Holmes: The Case of the Bizarre Bouquets (Enola Holmes #3) by Nancy Springer

A book about someone with a superpower: The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl Volume One: Squirrel Power by Ryan North

A book with SALTY, SWEET, BITTER, or SPICY in the title: Australia’s Sweetheart by Michael Adams

A book that’s published in 2019: Vardaesia by Lynette Noni

A book featuring an extinct or imaginary creature: Dragon Masters: Treasure of the Gold Dragon by Tracey West

A book featuring an amateur detective: All the Tears in China by Sulari Gentill

A book with a two-word title: Saving You by Charlotte Nash

Book Bingo: Seven read, and four squares ticked off.

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Beloved Classic: Seven Little Australians by Ethel Turner – AWW2018

Memoir about a non-famous person: Australia’s Sweetheart by Michael Adams

Crime: All the Tears in China by Sulari Gentill – AWW2019

Comedy: Best Foot Forward by Adam Hills

 

January Round Up

Book Author Challenge
All the Tears in China Sulari Gentill #AWW2019, Book Bingo, overall, PopSugar, #Dymocks52Challenge
Bella Donna: Coven Road Ruth Symes PopSugar, general, #Dymocks52Challenge
Seven Little Australians Ethel Turner #AWW2019, Book Bingo, general
Bella Donna: Too Many Spells Ruth Symes general, #Dymocks52Challenge,
Dragon Masters: Treasure of the Gold Dragon Tracey West general, PopSugar, #Dymocks52Challenge
Vardaesia Lynette Noni #AWW2019, general, #Dymocks52Challenge, book bingo, PopSugar
Best Foot Forward Adam Hills Book Bingo, general, PopSugar, #Dymocks52Challenge
Saving You Charlotte Nash #AWW2019, #Dymocks52Challenge, general, Book Bingo, PopSugar
Zelda Stitch Term Two: Too Much Witch Nikki Greenberg general, Book Bingo, #Dymocks52Challenge, #AWW2019,
Australia’s Sweetheart Michael Adams General, Book Bingo, #Dymocks52Challenge, PopSugar
The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl Volume One: Squirrel Power Ryan North General, PopSugar, #Dymocks52Challenge
99 Percent Mine Sally Thorne General, PopSugar, #AWW2019, #Dymocks52Challenge
Enola Holmes: The Case of the Bizarre Bouquets (Enola Holmes #3) Nancy Springer General, PopSugar, #Dymocks52Challenge,
Enola Holmes: The Case of the Peculiar Pink Fan (Enola Holmes #4) Nancy Springer General, #Dymocks52Challenge

Bella Donna: Too Many Spells (Bella Donna #2) by Ruth Symes

bella donna 2.jpgTitle: Bella Donna: Too Many Spells (Bella Donna #2)

Author: Ruth Symes

Genre: Children’s Fiction

Publisher: Piccadilly/Allen and Unwin

Published: 7th January 2018

Format: Paperback

Pages: 192

Price: $14.99

Synopsis: Be who you really are . . . whoever that may be!

Half the time Bella Donna is a regular girl at a regular school with her regular friends – animal-mad Sam, and pink fan Angela. The rest of the time she’s a young witch learning to cast spells and living with her adoptive mum Lilith, and Lilith’s niece Verity. Bella is working very hard at learning her spells, as she’s desperate to win the Spell Casting Contest. But a new teacher at school, Miss Rowan, is making her nervous. Witchlike things are happening in the classroom, and Bella knows it isn’t her.

Beautifully illustrated throughout by winner of the Egmont Best New Talent award, Marion Lindsay.

~*~

The second in the Bella Donna series picks up soon after she has found her Forever Family with Lilith, and new friend at school, Angela. This time, Bella Donna has decided to enter the Spell-Casting Contest, but just as she receives the invitation, strange things begin happening at school. They start with the disappearance of her teacher, Mrs Pearce, and the arrival of Miss Rowan – whom everyone but Sam – Bella’s best friend – seems to like.

As Bella spends her time going to school, and learning spell-casting, as well as working towards winning the Spell-Casting Contest, she begins to notice strange things happening. Animals behaving strangely, and odd spells happening around school. Is Bella Donna responsible for this, or is there another cause?

This was another fun novel in a series that is starting to come out in Australia on the seventh of January. Bella Donna is such a fun character, who is allowed to make mistakes, and be scared. Her coven show understanding and care towards her – she is still a very young witchling who has only recently found out she is a witch. Aimed at children and young adults, I think this is a series that can be enjoyed by anyone who enjoys a fun and quick read, told using language that neither intimidates nor talks down to the reader – it finds that happy medium that works well for a vast majority of readers.

This is a series that shows readers of all types that it is okay to be who you want to be and shows readers that they can achieve their dreams and goals – even if they have to take a different path to other people achieving their goals.

Hopefully I can read the rest of this series, as I really like the characters and want to see where they go.

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Bella Donna: Coven Road by Ruth Symes (Bella Donna #1)

Bella Donna 1.jpgTitle: Bella Donna: Coven Road

Author:  Ruth Symes

Genre: Fantasy

Publisher: Allen and Unwin/Picadilly

Published: 7th January 2019

Format: Paperback

Pages: 180

Price: $14.99

Synopsis: A witch, a cat and a lot of magic!

A witch, a cat and a lot of magic!

Some girls dream of being a princess, but Bella Donna has always longed to be a witch. The only thing she wants more is to find a family to take her out of the children’s home where she lives. But no one seems quite right until she meets Lilith.

With Lilith’s help, will Bella Donna be able to make both of her secret wishes come true?

Beautifully illustrated throughout by winner of the Egmont Best New Talent award, Marion Lindsay.

~*~

Bella Donna is an orphan, living at the Templeton Children’s Home with her friend Sam – the two are inseparable and keen to find their Forever Families – the ones who will accept them for who they are and what they love. For Bella Donna, she has always wanted to be a witch – and wants a family who will accept her for who she is and what she wants to be. When they’re five, they make a pact that they will both wait for their Forever Families – the ones who will accept them for who they are, and with whom they can be themselves. When Lilith adopts Bella Donna, she feels Lilith is the right person for her, but why? What is it about Lilith that makes Bella Donna think this is her Forever Family? What follows is a series of shenanigans as Bella Donna enters Coven Road, and starts her time there pretending to be something she is not, until Lilith helps her reveal her wishes and find her new identity within Coven Road – and from here, Bella Donna find a way to keep secrets, and when things go wrong, can Bella Donna fix things and save her new family?

This is a new series to Australia, by British author Ruth Symes. Told in first person from Bella’s perspective, the first book in the series is funny, charming and touching – a story of family and friendship, and acceptance set in what I imagine is a small, British village – it has that feel to it and all the charm of British children’s literature throughout the years and decades. Bella Donna is not a perfect female character. At nine years old, she makes mistakes, she isn’t quite perfect but at the same time she just wants to fit in: much like any child growing up.

It is her awkwardness and imperfections that make Bella Donna such a great character as she grapples with friendship at school and keeping her secrets back in Coven Road – secrets, that if she reveals, could mean she has to leave Lilith and Coven Road. Bella Donna also has a charming friendship with Sam from the children’s home that remains strong throughout and though she makes new friends, Sam will always be there for her, and she will always be there for him – it is a celebration of friendship between boys and girls, and a celebration of liking things that might not be seen as acceptable or normal – but somehow Bella Donna makes it all work – school, her new home, her new identity and family – and so begins a series that is charming and amusing, and a rather quick read – but very enjoyable for kids, and anyone who likes a good story about magic and witches.

What Bella Donna does is take the scary image of the witch and turn it on its head. Sure, Bella Donna dresses like you’d imagine a witch might, but the magic that resides in Coven Road draws on all aspects of witches and fantasy, and links them all together in a very creative and uplifting way that is charming and reinforces positive friendships and individualism. I look forward to seeing where Bella Donna goes next.

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