Total Quack Up by Sally Rippin, Deborah Abela, Jacqueline Harvey, Oliver Phommavanh, R.A. Spratt, Paul Jennings, Alex Miles, Adrian Beck, Tristan  Bancks and Matt Stanton

total quack up.jpgTitle: Total Quack Up

Author: Sally Rippin, Deborah Abela, Jacqueline Harvey, Oliver Phommavanh, R.A. Spratt, Paul Jennings, Alex Miles, Adrian Beck, Tristan  Bancks and Matt Stanton

Genre: Children’s fiction/humour

Publisher:  Penguin Random House/Puffin

Published: 15th October, 2018

Format: Paperback

Pages: 288

Price: 14.99

Synopsis: Authors Sally Rippin and Adrian Beck have gathered together an awesome line-up of writers and their funniest stories. Not only will the stories make you laugh out loud and feel good, royalties from sales of the book go to Dymocks Children’s Charities – so you can feel extra good!

Total Quack Up! features stories from Deborah Abela, Tristan Bancks, Adrian Beck, Jacqueline Harvey, Paul Jennings, Alex Miles, Oliver Phommavanh, Sally Rippin, R.A. Spratt and Matt Stanton, plus a prize-winning story from a child!

~*~

Total Quack Up is a new anthology of short stories aimed at children, and published by Puffin for the Dymocks Children’s Charities, with royalties going towards these charities to help children learn to read and engage with reading. In these stories, there are superheroes, animals and magic, as well as robots and siblings, and practical jokes – all the things that kids find enjoyable and funny, in stories that they will enjoy and engage with, at all levels.

Each story is a quick read, starting with How to Be A Superhero by Deborah Abela – and ending with a story from a schoolkid, Ella Wallace, who won a competition to be included in the anthology. Each story stars a child as the protagonist, navigating life at school, at sport, or as a superhero, and with family, friends and siblings. Written by some of Australia’s most popular male and female authors, this makes my count for the Australian Women Writers Challenge seventy – with another review to write for a quiz book, and many more reviews to come – I hope. This will be included in my next challenge catch up post.

AWW-2018-badge-roseWith a uniqueness to each story, every reader who picks up this book will find a story and character they will enjoy, love and laugh with. From Arabella von Champion, a superhero who sees herself as extraordinary and is quite daring, to the little brother at the end who blocks up the dunny with everything imaginable, and the soccer team with the pig as a mascot – all other animals are banned from the sports field, to everything in between from some of the best-loved Australian authors, and some new voices to discover between these red covers, all aimed at raising money to help with children’s charities in Australia.

The variety of stories shows just how diverse and eclectic Australian authors are, and how different stories and characters will appeal to different children, and what will hook them into reading. This book offers bite-sized pieces of Australian talent for new readers to discover, and for old readers of these authors who have enjoyed their previous works and books over the years, and for the adults who would have read some as children, now able to pass these authors down.

Another great book aimed at kids, and with stories to enjoy and laugh with, I hope all those who get to read this enjoy it.

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The Cat with the Coloured Tail by Gillian Mears, Illustrated by Dinalie Dabarera

the cat with the coloured tail.jpgTitle: The Cat with the Coloured Tail

Author: Gillian Mears, Illustrated by Dinalie Dabarera

Genre: Fantasy

Publisher: Walker Books

Published: 1st September 2015

Format: Hardcover

Pages: 80

Price: $19.99

Synopsis: Mr Hooper and The Cat with the Coloured Tail travel through the countryside in their ice-cream van. They enjoy looking for heart shapes (their favourite game) and making people happy with their delicious moon-creams. But a dark feeling is following the cat. Something is wrong. When the ice-cream van enters the forest, Mr Hooper and the cat realise the heart of the world is in danger. Will they be able to save it? A lyrical fable about love and healing.

  • “Gillian Mears’ distinctive voice is undimmed, and her yearning fable is a sweet and gentle reminder of the two great forces that lie dormant within us – kindness and hope. Her work hasn’t just described life; it’s enhanced it. And we owe her thanks.” Tim Winton
  • Gillian Mears is an acclaimed award-winning author of adult fiction. This is her first book for children and is inspired by personal experience.
  • A tender fable-like tale about love and healing that works on many levels. The story is rich in symbolism and with a subtle yet powerful environmental message but is still able to be enjoyed as a magical story.

~*~

In this charming tale, Mr Hunter travels the countryside with his beloved cat, whose tail changes colour, and who can see hearts in the world. The Cat also knows what kind of moon-cream people need to make them feel better when they are sad. And right now, the whole world is sad. Mr Hunter has stopped seeing hearts, and doesn’t know why – and his beautiful cat, The Cat with the Coloured Tail. is frustrated with him and can feel the sickness seeping into the world. Darkness, and sadness and cruelty – the light seems to be dimming everywhere they go as they approach their holiday. The sick, blackened heart of the world needs to be healed, but can Mr Hooper and his cat do it – and how will they do it?

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Told in a fairy-tale, or fable like manner, Gillian Mears’ heart-warming story can be read by any age group, and touches on the goodness of humanity, and the little things people can do to help those having a bad time, or in need of a bit of fun and a smile. Alongside this, is a message about the world and its destruction, and the healing power of selfless sacrifice to help heal the wounds that have been inflicted upon the world by cruelty.

In this story, it is up to Mr Hooper and The Cat with the Coloured Tail to find out why the heart of the world is sick, and how to fix it, by following the trail of sadness that the cat’s tail can sense. What they find is distressing, yet the find and what follows are so beautifully and magically told, that there is a sense of calm even as the worst begins to happen.

The heart-warming end will bring a smile to your face, and is a perfect read for all readers – to be read to them, or individually, and can be enjoyed by all ages. The Cat with the Coloured Tail is a lovely read, with a message about caring and healing for all.

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What the Woods Keep by Katya de Becerra

what the woods keep.jpgTitle: What the Woods Keep

Author: Katya de Becerra

Genre: Young Adult/Speculative Fiction/Mystery

Publisher: Allen and Unwin

Published: 26th September 2018

Format: Paperback

Pages: 384

Price: $16.99

Synopsis:Katya de Becerra’s stunning debut combines mystery, science fiction, and dark fantasy in a twisty story that will keep you mesmerized right up to the final page.

On her eighteenth birthday, Hayden inherits her childhood home – on the condition that she uncover its dark secrets.

Hayden has tried to put the past behind her, and so far it’s worked. She’s getting ready for college, living in a Brooklyn apartment, and hanging out with her best friend and flatmate, Del. But now it’s all catching up with her: her mother’s mysterious disappearance a decade ago, her father’s outlandish theories about a lost supernatural race, and Hayden’s own dark dreams of strange symbols and rituals in the Colorado woods where she grew up.

As soon as Hayden arrives at her hometown, Del in tow, it begins: neighbours whisper secrets about Hayden’s mother; the boy next door is now all grown-up in a very distracting way; and Hayden feels the trees calling to her. And among them, deep in the woods, Hayden will discover something incredible – something that threatens reality itself.

~*~

What the Woods Kept is the haunting and disturbing, yet intriguing and captivating debut of Katya de Becerra. For ten years, Hayden has lived in Brooklyn with her father, following the disappearance of her mother when she was eight in a town called Promise in Colorado near the woods. But for the past decade, Hayden has been able to put the past behind her, focus on getting into college and hanging out with her flatmate, Del. It all starts on Hayden’s eighteenth birthday, when she inherits an old manor in Promise where she spent her early years. Best friend Del in tow, she ventures into the town – and her past, where she is confronted by her nightmares, and the whispered secrets about Hayden’s mother and many secrets kept by those she thought she could trust. Over the course of a few days, Hayden’s life will go from being completely normal to filled with mysterious myths and legends that hint at a supernatural heritage from her mother that Hayden could never have imagined.

AWW-2018-badge-roseIn a dark fantasy, filled with hints of mythology, science fiction, mystery and magical realism, this is a dark and creepy story for young adults and older readers who enjoy unusual stories, and marks my sixty-eighth book of the year for my Australian Women Writers Challenge and my 134th book overall. It is one that whilst slow to begin with, picks up later on, and using first person perspective, interspersed with reports hinting at Hayden’s troubled past and how events in her childhood were explained. The early reports have a creepy feel about them, where the supernatural ekes in, yet there is also a sense of discomfort, as though there might be a perfectly logical explanation as well that Hayden held back from those writing the reports. It is through these reports, and her trip back to Promise, that Hayden discovers there is no logical explanation, that she’s different in many ways.

This is the crux of the novel – Hayden’s journey to uncovering the truth about her mother, and what happened to her, and Hayden’s own identity and what this means – what her father has been hiding from her all these years. To Hayden, these secrets force to her think about leaving – and ignoring everything in Promise, but something is keeping her and Del there – something that cannot be explained. It is haunting in its plot and execution, with short, sharp chapters that heighten the tension and gives an ebb and flow pace to the story, where, as soon as things seem to calm down, the degree of panic and uncertainty rockets sky high, leaving fates of characters uncertain all the way throughout the novel, and the final revelations are a shock to the reader and characters.

What the Woods Keep it is the first horror-like novel is the first I have read in a while. More mystery, fantasy and speculative fiction than horror, there were elements of several genres woven throughout, but with the primary mystery and mythological connections at the forefront of the novel, and driving the plot and Hayden’s story, to a rather uncertain, and very open conclusion that leaves the reader guessing and stays with you in a haunting way.

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We Three Heroes (Medoran Chronicles) by Lynette Noni

3D-WTH.pngTitle: We Three Heroes (Medoran Chronicles)

Author: Lynette Noni

Genre: Fantasy

Publisher: Pantera Press

Published: 1st September 2018

Format: Paperback

Pages: 372

Price: $19.99

Synopsis: EMBRACE THE WONDER

We all have to do our part if we’re to survive the coming storm.

Alexandra Jennings might be the hero of The Medoran Chronicles, but she would be lost without her three closest friends. They are her heroes, and like all heroes, they each have their own story.

Meet the real D.C. in Crowns and Curses and discover how she becomes the princess Alex once despised but now adores.

Follow Jordan on his healing journey in Scars and Silence as he struggles in the wake of being rescued from his living nightmare.

Walk beside Bear in Hearts and Headstones as he faces an unspeakable trauma while helping his world prepare for the coming war.

D.C., Jordan and Bear are the heroes of their own stories.

It is time for their stories to be told.

~*~

Alex has her story told in Akarnae, Raelia, Draekora, Graevale and next year, it will conclude in Vardaesia. In each book, the presence of her three best friends, Dix (D.C., or Delucia Cavelle, the princess of Medora), Bear and Jordan remain throughout, steadfast and important to her journey, even when she’s had to hold things back from them. Now, it’s their turn for their stories to be told. drawing on events from the previous four books, and Dix’s childhood before she entered the academy to bring their characters into their own stories in their own right, and the recollection of certain events from the first four books from their perspectives. So it’s crucial that if you want to read this one, you must have read the first four books – which are all very good, and filled with brilliant humour and friendship.

AWW-2018-badge-roseThe first novella, Crowns and Curses, is D.C.’s story, starting when she is thirteen years old, and still living at the palace – she’s friendly with Jeera, who is training to be a warden, and knows Kaiden and Declan, but the rest of the children have believed the stories the son of a diplomat, Maxton has told about her. And it is here that we learn why she doesn’t trust people at Medora initially and learn why she has her own room, why Jordan and Bear aren’t her friends, and what she had hoped for when she awoke to Alex in her dorm room in Akarnae, and lastly, how the three became friends. Through the events in this book, and D.C.’s interactions with Maxton and her initial interactions with Jordan and Bear, and the rest of the students, we learn why she has found it hard to make friends – and share her joy in finally finding people she can count on in her life away from the confines of her royal life.

Reading D.C.’s story is powerful and moving, and where once, at the beginning of Akarnae, readers may not have liked her much or been unsure about her, she is a character we have all come to love and appreciate for her fierce loyalty to her friends. Even though parts of Dix’s story are sad, and lonely, the princess that fans have come to love is still there, and there were times pre-Akarnae when all I wanted to do was hug her – this story brings much more to Dix’s character than we first find out about, and I really enjoyed reading this one, because understanding why D.C. acted as she did is important to understanding her and her journey and how bullying and deception has affected her in the past, and how she has no desire to relive that. With Alex, she sees a chance to make a new friend, someone who has no idea who she is and who comes from another world – Freya as our world is called in Medora. When this is shattered, I felt for her deeply and cheered when she finally became friends with Alex, Jordan and Bear. I also appreciated the sneaky little nod to Harry Potter early on in Dix’s story, which has a happy ending, or at least, as happy as these endings will get.

The second novella takes place around the events of Raelia and Draekora, where Jordan is under Aven’s control, and what happens after. Scars and Silence is Jordan’s story of overcoming the control Aven once had over him, and of dealing with the death of his older brother years before the start of Akarnae, and the struggles with his own mental health as a result. But he’s not alone – Dix sits up with him every night, Bear and Alex are always ready to talk, and help will also come from a source Jordan – and I will say me too – never anticipated. This new-found ally and confidante will help Jordan just as much as his friends do. Like many people, Jordan masks his pain, and struggles to reach out – until his friends, and especially Dix, let him know they are there. This is powerful because it lets readers know they are not alone either and that it is okay to ask for help.

Jordan’s story is heartbreaking, and filled with tension as he yearns to separate himself from his family and their rigid expectations that they had for him, and for his brother – expectations that weight heavily on Jordan and led to events that changed Jordan forever that have deeply affected him, and perhaps, give an understanding of why Jordan presented the way he did initially, until he let Bear, Alex and Dix in and trusted them. This is a story that shows again that we are all vulnerable, human but also that we have the strength to overcome hard times, and that whilst the pain may not completely go away and there will always be scars, silence doesn’t always help – I enjoyed gaining more insight into Jordan, because it helped understand the person he was in the first four books, and gave an insight into where he will be going in Vardaesia next year. Jordan’s story gives a little hope that things will be okay, and that whatever happens, he knows Dix and his friends will always have his back, which is an extremely powerful and important message to send.

Finally, there is Bear’s story in Hearts and Headstones – a dark hint at what is to come, though if you’ve been following the series, you’ll know what is to come – those four words – “Graevale is under attack,” – and the subsequent battle and gut-wrenching, heart-destroying finale – except this time, we see it all unfold through Bear’s eyes. Most of the events of Bear’s story are taken from Graevale, and what happened to him during the meetings with the other races and communities of Medora as Alex tries to get them onside before Aven can attack. It is with the arrival of the four words – Graevale is under attack– that the heart-pounding events begin, and even knowing what was to come, who our heroes were going to lose – was shocking.

Ending with the inevitable cliffhanger that will take us into Vardaesia, We Three Heroes is a great addition to the series, exploring the effects of the events on characters other than Alex, but in a way that fits in with her story, and shows the loyalty these four friends have towards each other. Each novella explores a different demon and tragedy for each of Alex’s friends, and this insight into them has been an interesting and emotional journey for both character and reader – despite the shocks and gut punches, it is still one of my favourite series, and I know there will be more but that’s what makes it powerful: knowing bad stuff will happen but also knowing there are heroes willing to go out and stop Aven from achieving his goal. Each story and its inevitable conclusion are like a punch to the guts, reminding us that we are human, as are the characters we love, and that I will come back to again and again. This is the series that got me blogging seriously as a reviewer – I now have lots to catch up on and get many books now – so thank you to Pantera Press and Lynette Noni for getting me into my blog on a bigger scale. This series will always be special to me for that reason. I look forward to the release of Vardaesia next year.

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Archibald, The Naughtiest Elf in the World Goes to the Zoo by Skye Davidson, illustrated by Ágnes Rokiczky

NJ1802-ETP-Archibald-book-1-pdf-1030x824.jpgTitle: Archibald, The Naughtiest Elf in the World Goes to the Zoo

Author: Skye Davidson, illustrated by Ágnes Rokiczky

Genre: Fantasy, Picture Book

Publisher: Elephant Tree Publishing

Published: August 2018

Format: Paperback

Pages: 32

Price: $19.95

Synopsis: Archibald is the naughtiest elf in the whole wide world, who loves nothing more than doing extremely mischievous things, all with very good intentions.

Archibald has decided to visit the Zoo and chat to all the animals. But the Zookeeper is a bit worried – what possible mischief could Archibald get up to?

Come discover new worlds and ideas as you follow Archibald on one of his many exciting adventures.

~*~

Archibald, a very naughty elf (he wants to be good, but he can’t quite help being naughty), is off to the zoo. He wants to visit the animals there, and he promises the zoo keeper who lets him in that he will be very good and not let the animals out of their cages. But Archibald doesn’t like that the animals can’t play together like they did in Africa, and he knows that he has to be good – but he can’t, and when he releases the animals from their cages, chaos reigns and the zoo will never be the same again.

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I was approached via my blog to review this and two other books by Elephant Tree Publishing, and was drawn to them because of their plots, and will be reviewing the other two soon.

Archibald was the first one I read off the stack – it being the shortest, and cutest, I couldn’t resist those naughty eyes and freckles. His cheeky look is inviting and fun, and he gets up to mischief and takes adventures that are magical and fun – where he takes children and adult readers alike to all new places, using magic and his naughty and cheeky self.

In this adventure, he heads to the zoo and meets talking animals, who delightfully, are all the best of friends and want to spend their days together. This is the first book in a new picture book series, and it will be exciting to see where Archibald takes us in his next adventures and with his exquisite charm and brand of magic that creates turmoil and laughter wherever he goes.

I hope readers of this book enjoy it and have a lot of fun with Archibald on his wonderful adventures.

Book Bingo Eighteen – A Book with Themes of Culture

Book bingo take 2

First day of Spring, and another book bingo – number eighteen of the year, and the seventh square of twenty-five marked off on my second card – only eighteen to go! I may have to mark off a couple of squares in one post sometime to fill the card by the end of the year.

Book bingo take 2

This week I am checking off the square – a book with themes of culture. A new release, that has just come out, I used Relic of the Blue Dragon by Rebecca Lim, the first in a series called Children of the Dragon. It has Chinese and Eurasian characters at the forefront, engaging in #OwnVoices and diversity in life and literature – and this was something I really enjoyed seeing – a different cast of characters engaging with a mythology and using it in a way that is unique to some readers, but traditional to others, and entirely engaging.

relic of the blue dragon

Harley Spark’s life is rather ordinary. He lives alone with his mother, whilst his father is apparently in jail. When he discovers an old vase on his way home, he has no way of knowing what he is about to unleash from within – a world of dragon daughters and family fighting  – where he is whisked across the world by his father, who is involved in something much more than just organised crime and robberies. With his father, Qing and his father’s associates, Harley is set forth on a quest to help the Daughters of the Dragon.

This novel opens a series that is going to be full of fantasy, dragons, myth and adventure, and filled to the brim with diversity. I thoroughly enjoyed it – I love dragons and mythology, and this combined these interests. It is engaging and gives voices to characters not often seen in literature. I hope this engages readers of all ages and backgrounds, and takes them on an adventure – it certainly took me on one and I finished it just as I felt I had started reading – meaning, it didn’t take me long to read this and I wanted more immediately after! Such is the dilemma of starting a new series – the waiting!  My full review is here, published on the 25th of July, and I look forward to the next books in the series to see where this takes Harley.

Across:

Row #2 –

A book with themes of culture: Relic of the Blue Dragon (Children of the Dragon #1) by Rebecca Lim – AWW2018

Down:

Row #5

A book with themes of culture: Relic of the Blue Dragon (Children of the Dragon #1) by Rebecca Lim – AWW2018

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Fairytales for Feisty Girls by Susannah McFarlane

fairytales for feisty girls .jpgTitle: Fairytales for Feisty Girls

Author: Susannah McFarlane

Genre: Fairytales, fantasy, children’s fiction, short stories

Publisher: Allen and Unwin

Published: 29th August 2018

Format: Hardcover

Pages: 128

Price: $24.99

Synopsis: Renowned girl hero and feisty author Susannah McFarlane presents an illustrated collection of ’tilted’ fairytales featuring girls with smarts.

Feisty: typically describes one who is relatively small, lively, determined and courageous.

Girls can rescue themselves – just watch Rapunzel, Little Red Riding Hood, Cinderella and Thumbelina create their own happily ever afters in this beautiful and emboldening bedtime book.

A glorious treasury for young girls – and boys – featuring artwork from four leading Australian illustrators: Beth Norling, Claire Robertson, Lucinda Gifford and Sher Rill Ng.

~*~

Fairytales for Feisty Girls is my sixty-second book in the Australian Women Writer’s Challenge. The author, Susannah McFarlane, has taken four well-known fairytales, turned them on their heads, and given the female characters agency and gusto that in the older versions and many sanitised versions, they do not have. Here, we have Rapunzel, Little Red Riding Hood, Cinderella and Thumbelina all acting for themselves, in active and innovative roles. Rapunzel, forever inventing things, works out how to cut off her own hair, and asks a young man to tie one end around a tree so she can come down on a flying fox, Little Red Riding Hood uses her knowledge of plants and tea to trick the wolf, Cinderella makes her own fortunes, and Thumbelina seeks a family of her own.

These girls do not let anyone stop them, they’re bold, brave and where their counterparts wait for someone to save them, it is refreshing and fun to see these girls do it for themselves whilst embracing a form of femininity that works for them, and where they do not give up who they are for their happy ever after, which is still there, but they make their own happy ever after,  and stick to their convictions and beliefs.

Allowing these girls to explore their identities beyond their name, and beyond what people think of them. They are empowered and show all children – all readers of this book, really, that you can be anything and do anything. So instead of passive Cinderella waiting for the prince, she finds a way to up and leave her step-mother and step-sisters, and create a new life for herself, just as Thumbelina journeys alone to find those like her. I am hoping there will be a second volume with different stories to show readers what they can do if they set their minds to it.

AWW-2018-badge-roseFairy-tales and fairy-tale retellings have been a passion of mine for many years. From the oral traditions to Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm, to Disney and all the authors such as Kate Forsyth wo have used fairy tales in their stories, the tradition of the fairy-tale is alive and well. Each retelling reveals something new, a new layer to the story, a new way to see history through the scaffolding of a fairy-tale, or a new way to explore diversity and identity. Each story is empowering and funny, set in a time of magic and wonder, and invention, in a place that is both far away but that could be anywhere.

Each story has been illustrated by a different artist – and yet, they flow seamlessly from one storey to the next in a wonderfully cohesive style that feels as though one person was in charge of the illustrations. They work brilliantly with the short stories that are divided into short chapters, perfect to read with your child or to be read alone.

An excellent book for all ages that defies stereotypes and empowers girls of all ages and backgrounds to be and do what they wish.