Elementals: Battle Born by Amie Kaufman

Battle BornTitle: Elementals: Battle Born
Author: Amie Kaufman
Genre: Fantasy
Publisher: HarperCollins Australia
Published: 1st June 2020
Format: Paperback
Pages: 320
Price: $17.99
Synopsis: The much-anticipated finale to Amie Kaufman’s epic middle-grade trilogy
Though Anders and his friends have delayed a war between the ice wolves and scorch dragons, their mission isn’t over. With adults on both sides looking for them, they’ve sought refuge in Cloudhaven, a forbidden stronghold created by the first dragonsmiths. The ancient text covering Cloudhaven’s walls could be the key to saving their home – if only the young elementals could decipher it.
To make matters worse, Holbard is in ruins and its citizens are reeling. Many have been forced into bleak camps outside the city, and food is running short.
To rebuild Vallen, Anders, Rayna, and their allies must find a way to unite humans, ice wolves, and scorch dragons before they lose their last chance.
In the final book of international bestselling author Amie Kaufman’s sensational adventure series, Anders and Rayna must put everything on the line – and the price of peace may hit closer to home than they could’ve ever imagined.

~*~

Anders and Rayna – twins with ice wolf and dragon blood, and raised with humans – and their friends have thus far delayed a war between the elementals and humans. But they are all hunted, and seek refuge in Cloudhaven, where they hope they can convince each faction, each side, to prevent a war, and rebuild their home, Vallen after uniting wolves, dragons and humans.

This is their last chance – can it be done?

I was sent this to review by HarperCollins – and was worried I wouldn’t be able to engage without having read the first two, but enough was hinted at and revealed that I could follow the story – but perhaps reading it in order is a better way to do so, and that is something I might go back and do eventually.

What I did read, though, was thoroughly enjoyable for readers – it captures the sense of war and rebellion and diversity – from appearance to hidden characteristics. This shows that diversity comes in all forms – and all of it – what we see, what we don’t, and everything in between – is what makes our worlds – real and imagined – richer and more enjoyable and relatable for a wide variety of readers. It shows that the world is diverse – much more diverse than some literature shows. Anyone can relate to these characters – there are aspects about each character that someone might see themselves in and I think Amie did it very well and set it in a world that is both fantastical and has echoes of what has happened and what is going on in our world today. Themes of racism and discrimination are woven throughout how people treat the wolves and dragons, and how they treat each other. A message like this, especially in these trying times when the world has been turned upside down in so many ways.

 

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It is a story about prejudice – what it is, rethinking it and facing it – and forcing change to make a better world for everyone. When the characters in the Elementals series find out what they believed is not true, they must face up to these and change their way of thinking. It is a powerful book and conclusion to the series that can be read by all those who enjoy the series, middle grade fiction and who want a good read as well. It is aimed at ages eight and over, but teenage and adult readers will still fund messages in this book that they can take on board.

The story is engaging and has a good pace – not too fast, and not too slow, allowing the plot and characters to evolve and develop as it heads towards its conclusion. I thought this book was well-written as well. It draws the reader into the story, and as you head along the journey with Anders, Rayna and their friends, you feel the tension, worry and fear, as well as the hope and all the emotions in between. There is a sense that things might not work out, and hints at what has come before that has led to where the characters are now.

Overall, it is a great conclusion to the trilogy, and one that I hope many readers will enjoy.

May 2020 Round Up

In May, we seemed to settle into a lockdown routine, so I got a bit more reading done. This month, I read 20 books – the vast majority of those – seventeen – were by Australian women writers – some for review, some my own reads and one or two that I read alongside Isolation Publicity interviews. Below is a breakdown of my current numbers, and a table with each read and the challenge they worked for. Some categories are easier to fill, as always, and some have multiple entries. I’ve got plenty to read – the books keep coming so I’m trying to keep on top of everything as best I can.

The Modern Mrs Darcy 11/12
AWW2020 -53/25
Book Bingo – 11/12
The Nerd Daily Challenge 45/52
Dymocks Reading Challenge 22/25
Books and Bites Bingo 15/25
STFU Reading Challenge: 10/12
General Goal –89/165

May – 20

Book Author Challenge
The Monstrous Devices Damien Love Reading Challenge, STFU Reading Challenge, AWW2020
An Alice Girl Tanya Heaslip Reading Challenge, AWW2020
Daisy Runs Wild Caz Goodwin and Ashley King Reading Challenge, AWW2020
Peta Lyre’s Rating Normal Anna Whateley Reading Challenge, AWW2020
Her Perilous Mansion Sean Williams Reading Challenge
What Zola did on Monday

 

Melina Marchetta and illustrated by Deb Hudson Reading Challenge, AWW2020, The Nerd Daily Challenge
Henrie’s Hero Hunt (House of Heroes)

 

Petra Hunt Reading Challenge, AWW2020,
The Power of Positive Pranking Nat Amoore Reading Challenge, Dymocks Reading Challenge, AWW2020
Edie’s Experiments: How to Make Friends Charlotte Barkla Reading Challenge, AWW2020
Alice-Miranda at School Jacqueline Harvey Reading Challenge, The Nerd Daily, AWW2020
Alice-Miranda in the Outback Jacqueline Harvey Reading Challenge, AWW2020
The Giant and the Sea Trent Jamieson, Rovina Cai Reading Challenge, Book Bingo, STFU Reading Challenge
Shoestring: The Boy Who Walks on Air by

 

Julie Hunt and Dale Newman Reading Challenge, AWW2020
Orla and the Serpent’s Curse C.J. Halsam Reading Challenge
Elephant Me Giles Andreae and Guy Parker-Rees Reading Challenge, Dymocks Reading Challenge, The Nerd Daily Challenge
A Treacherous Country K.M. Kruimink Reading Challenge, AWW2020
Eloise and the Bucket of Stars Janine Brian Reading Challenge, AWW2020
Snow White and Rose Red: And Other Tales of Kind Young Women  Kate Forsyth and Lorena Carrington Reading Challenge, Dymocks Reading Challenge, AWW2020, Books and Bites Book Bingo
Tashi: 25th Anniversary Edition

 

Anna Fienberg, Barbara Fienberg and Kim Gamble Reading Challenge, AWW2020
On A Barbarous Coast Craig Cormick and Harold Ludwick Reading Challenge, STFU Reading Challenge, Dymocks Reading Challenge

 

In June I am hoping to read more and get further on top of all my reviews – look for more great books by Australians and especially kids and young adult books to come in the next few weeks.

Peta Lyre

Isolation Publicity with Nat Amoore – author and co-host of the most wonderful One More Page.

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Due to recent events, many Australian authors have had to cancel book launches and festival appearances. For some, this means new novels, series continuations and debut novels are heading into this scary, strange world without much publicity or attention. The good news is, you can still buy books – online or get your local bookstore to deliver if they’re offering that service. Buying these books, talking about them, sharing them, reading them, reviewing them – are all ways that for the next six months at least, we can ensure that these books don’t fall by the wayside.

Over the next few months, a lot of us will be consuming some form of art – entertainment, movies, TV, radio, music, books – the list goes on. It is something we will be turning to take our minds off things and to occupy vast swathes of free time. One of the things I will be doing to support the arts, and specifically, Australian Authors, will be reading and reviewing as many books as possible, conducting interviews like this where possible, and participating in virtual book tours for authors.

Nat is a kid’s author. She has written Secrets of a Schoolyard Millionaire, and her latest book, out today, is The Power of Positive Pranking. Nat also runs one of my favourite podcasts, One More Page with Liz Ledden and Kate Simpson, which focuses on Aussie kids books and is a fantastic place to go when looking for your next read or your kid’s next read. Like many authors, Nat had all kinds of awesome events planned around the release of her new book, and visits to bookstores – including my favourite. It would have been really cool to meet Nat – we’ll save that for when we can both get to the best bookstore ever! This is one of my most enthusiastic and fun interviews – they all have been but something about Nat’s books made this loads of fun and hopefully it is filled with laughter for my readers. This was one I wanted to share early, but we both agreed to tee it up with the book release! So enjoy!

Hi Nat and welcome to The Book Muse!

  1. I recently read and reviewed Secrets of a Schoolyard Millionaire – to begin, where did that idea come from, and how did Tess form in your mind?

The idea originally came from a tiny little newspaper article about a 10-year-old girl in the US who got busted with twenty grand in her school locker. There was no explanation as to how it got there and I just couldn’t stop thinking about it. As far as Tess goes, I think anyone who knows me will tell you that there is quite a bit of me in Tess. I was always scheming and scamming when I was a kid and always had (and still do have) a new project on the boil every day.

  1. Your second book, The Power of Positive Pranking has just come out – what exactly is positive pranking?

 

Positive Pranking brings together a few ideas. Firstly, the grey area between right and wrong. I love playing with this as a concept. The idea of doing the wrong thing for the right reasons. So using the power of being an awesome prankster for positive reasons/effects. Also, it plays with the idea that there is a ‘right’ and ‘wrong’ way to bring about change. When kids were missing school to participate in climate change rallies, there were a lot of adults saying ‘they should be in school’ or ‘this is not the way to bring about change’ but I think it’s very arrogant to suggest that there is a ‘right’ way to change the world. Effecting change is difficult and it’s hard to know how it should be done. But we have to try.

  1. Have you ever played any positive pranks on anyone, and what were they?

Oh dear, plenty! Some of the pranks in this book are based on VERY personal experiences but to protect the innocent (and more importantly, the guilty) I cannot admit which ones.

  1. Prior to these novels, have you had anything else published?

No. Secrets of a Schoolyard Millionaire was my first publication. Well, that’s not quite true, I had a poem published in a poetry anthology when I was in high school, but other than that…no. The Power of Positive Pranking will be book number two and I have signed two more contracts with Penguin Random House for upcoming books.

  1. Are there any noteworthy awards under your belt?

I had a pretty amazing year at the CYA conference in 2018 where I placed 1st & 2nd in the Picture Book category and 2nd in the Chapter Book for Younger Readers. That same year I was also a recipient of the Maurice Saxby Creative Development Program. It’s also the year I signed my first book contract. 2018 was a big year for me! I also just found out the Secrets Of A Schoolyard Millionaire was Australia’s #1 best-selling debut Aussie Children’s Fiction in 2019 and it’s been sold into three other territories. So that’s pretty awesome!

  1. I absolutely love your podcast with Kate and Liz, One More Page. Where did the idea for the podcast come from, and how do you go about choosing your books for each episode?

Kate, Liz and I wanted to share our love of kids’ books and provide a platform for Australian kidlit authors to really shine. It was before any of us were published but we were deeply involved in the kidlit community and just wanted a way to share the love. We were fans of podcasts and so thought it would be a great medium. At that stage, no one else was really doing a podcast that was specifically about Australian kids’ books (that we knew of) and so we thought it would work well. We get sent many, many, MANY books and review requests from publishers and authors and we choose them like we might in a book shop…whatever grabs us. We read heaps of books and then review the ones we really love.

  1. If you had a million dollars like Tess and Toby, what would you do with it?

I honestly think I would probably do ‘a Tess’. Splurge in the beginning – throw parties, hire jumping castles, eat way too many lollies – and then settle down and work out what good I could do with the money.

  1. Serious question now: Most authors have had launches, and various literary events or conferences cancelled due to the pandemic – what have you had to cancel or reschedule, and which were you most looking forward to?

Aw it hurts a bit to answer this. I had a really incredible couple of months lined up, and it’s all been cancelled unfortunately. I had an awesome book launch planned. I’d hired a whole hall and was going to deck it out in blue and yellow with custom printed fart cushions for all the kids and a ‘safe snack table’ and a ‘prank snack table’ for those who were game. I was then meant to head off on a national book tour including Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane, Perth and Adelaide, including TV appearances, school visits, book signings and a whole lot of crazy Nat-shenanigans. But a really big one that hurt, was I had been invited to host the Primary School Days Program at the Sydney Writer’s Festival. If you’ve never been to one before it’s like a massive book rock concert in front of HUNDREDS of kids. They completely FILL Town Hall and other venues. It was already sold out. I was SO looking forward to getting crazy with all those kids, spreading the absolute joy of reading and meeting kidlit superstars like Raina Telgemeier (I would have been a TOTAL fan girl). I was also lined up to host one of the Family Program days. Amelia Lush had put together SUCH an amazing program for the 2020 festival and I am so gutted it’s been cancelled. We just have to rally together when this is all over and whole-heartedly support festivals like this when they make a come-back because the writing world would be a MUCH sadder place without them.

  1. I remember you told me you had an event booked at my local indie, BookFace Erina – is this the kind of event you think will be rescheduled, and have you ever been to BookFace?

I haven’t YET. But I am VERY much looking forward to a visit and I’m sure it will happen as soon as the world returns to normal-ish. I think I was a Central-Coastian in a past life. I just love it up there. My mentor and close friend Cathie Tasker lives up there and so I go up to visit quite often. Even if the event isn’t rescheduled, next time I’m allowed to visit Cathie, I’m DEFINITELY dropping in to BookFace…so keep your eye out!

  1. What made you decide to do your book-inspired dance videos during isolation?

 

Honestly? I looked at all the amazing things authors were doing and I really wanted to contribute but I was also going a bit bananas in isolation. Being stuck inside is pretty hard on me and with school visits cancelled, I don’t have the same avenues to burn my energy…and there’s a LOT of it! I used to be a dance fitness instructor and so I just decided to combine my two loves – books and dance – and create Book’N’Boogie! It’s as much for me as anyone who’s watching! I really need to shake it out every couple of days. But I’ve been getting sent heaps of videos of kids dancing along with me and it just makes my heart burst!

  1. Your Gif game on Twitter is really cool – what is it about this medium that you enjoy, and do you enjoy Gif wars?

The discovery of GIFs changed my life. I’m such a visual and expression-using person (is that even a word?) and I love how GIFs capture an entire feeling in just a moment. And when you get JUST the right one, it’s like nailing a joke – it just feels so perfect! I taught my dad how to GIF and now we barely use words when we text – just GIF after GIF after GIF. I also wrote a complete story with illustrator James Foley on Twitter DM once using only GIFs, and I still go back and look at it when I need a giggle.

  1. If you could meet any kid’s author, who would it be, and why?

Paul Jennings. Although technically I did meet him when I was about 10 AND I got to interview him in 2017 for the podcast (although it was online not face to face). But I still think it would be him again. Or maybe Jon Klassen. I feel like I would enjoy his sense of humour.

  1. What kids’ books should everyone read, regardless of their age?

Oh there are SO many. Sentimentally, I would say Uncanny by Paul Jennings and Skymaze by Gillian Rubenstein because I think both those books played a huge role in my desire to become a writer. But I believe heavily in supporting current authors, so I think you MUST read A Cardboard Palace by Allayne Webster and Vincent and the Grandest Hotel On Earth by Lisa Nicol. They are both brilliant and shouldn’t be missed.

  1. Which Hogwarts house do you think you belong in, and who would your Hogwarts crew have been?

Okay, so I wasn’t actually sure of the answer for this one so I just did an online quiz and it told me Gryffindor. That sounds about right to me. I reckon my crew would include Ron, Hagrid, Luna, Dobby (personal fav!), Sirius and probably Nymphadora Tonks. And then any of those other cool magic creatures that wanna hang with us – a hippogriff pet would totally rock!

  1. If you weren’t a kid’s author, what would your dream job be and why?

I would love to be either a Kid’s TV Show host, preferably a show where there was a lot of slime involved OR a homicide investigator. I know they don’t seem to go hand in hand but two of my biggest loves are slime and true crime – AND THEY RHYME!

  1. What are your go-to movies or television shows when not reading and writing?

I ALWAYS go back to the 80s. The Goonies, The Princess Bride, The Never Ending Story, The Labyrinth, The Dark Crystal, The Blues Brothers, Stand By Me, Willow, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, Beetlejuice…I can be lost for hours in the 80s. I’ll watch these movies over and over and NEVER get sick of them.

 

  1. Favourite music, band or song, and why?

Favourite bands are The Lucksmiths (not together anymore but still a fav) because of their awesome lyrics, super dance-y tunes and because they were the soundtrack to my high school years and some of the best times of my life were to tune of The Lucksmiths. Also Cat Empire because I cannot not dance when I hear them. All-time favourite song is hard but might be ‘What I Like About You’ by The Romantics because, well just listen to it and tell me it’s not THE BEST!

  1. Cats or dogs?

Dogs. But actually monkeys, if that was an option.

  1. Favourite writing snack, and what happens when you run out of it?

Coffee. I don’t really snack while I write but I devour coffee! I don’t run out of it. Ever! It’s not an option. I wouldn’t operate. I’m getting anxious just thinking about it. I better have a coffee.

  1. What’s next in terms of books?

Well, obviously trying to get The Power Of Positive Pranking out into the world. It’s going to take some creative approaches because I usually love the face to face contact with kids and booksellers to get my books out there in the world. In Corona-time, I’m gonna to have to get creative. I’ll miss meeting people, but hopefully it won’t be too long till I’m back out there in schools and shops and libraries, causing trouble. Then I have two more books currently set for 2021. One which is already written and is a stand-alone, not related to my previous books. And one which is not written (eeeekkkk!) and is planned to be the third in the ‘Watterson World’ – so connected to my first two books. Then I will have fulfilled all current contracts and I can really have a good think about what it is next. The world is my sea slug! That’s the saying right?

Any further comments?

You rock! And thanks so much for supporting kids’ authors in these tough times. We sooooooooo appreciate you!

 

Thanks Nat!

 

Shoestring: The Boy Who Walks on Air by Julie Hunt, Dale Newman

ShoestringTitle: Shoestring: The Boy Who Walks on Air
Author: Julie Hunt, Dale Newman
Genre: Fantasy, Magical Realism
Publisher: Allen and Unwin
Published: 2nd June 2020
Format: Hardcover
Pages: 368
Price: $19.99
Synopsis: A gripping illustrated adventure about a travelling circus troupe, a future-telling macaw and a cursed pair of gloves that Shoestring must conquer once and for all. A companion to the award-winning KidGlovz.
‘Shoestring loved the sudden intake of breath when he stepped onto the rope. The upturned faces of the audience made him think of coins scattered at his feet, more coins than he had ever taken when he was a pickpocket.’

Twelve-year-old Shoestring is leaving behind his life of crime and starting a new career with the Troupe of Marvels. Their lead performer, he has an invisible tightrope and an act to die for. But trouble is brewing – the magical gloves that caused so much turmoil for KidGlovz are back.

When he’s wearing the gloves, the world is at Shoestring’s fingertips. It’s so easy to help himself to whatever he likes – even other people’s hopes and dreams. But when he steals his best friend’s mind, he’s at risk of losing all he values most.

A thrilling, heart-in-the-mouth adventure of ambition, friendship and the threads that bind from the award-winning creators of KidGlovz.

~*~

In a fantastical world, there is a young thief called Shoestring, who lives with the woman who raised him. Until now, he has been a thief for most of his twelve years. When the Troupe of Marvels finds out about his talent – walking on an invisible tightrope. Yet a troublesome pair of gloves that once caused mayhem are back, and taking control of Shoestring, making him steal unthinkable things – not just items, but pieces of people – the troupe sets out to help him and destroy the gloves, and get Shoestring back to the young boy they know.

With Shoestring able to take whatever he wants – even things that someone can’t see, trouble starts to brew as the gloves start to control Shoestring and convince him to do things he’d never think about doing. Things start to go wrong when he sets out to find Metropolis, May’s old parrot who has been kidnapped, and falls into the hands of Marm – this is where the mystery begins and where we find out more about what is behind the stories of Shoestring, Marm, May, Metropolis and the gloves begins and the action picks up as the narrative moves between Metropolis telling the story – these parts are in bold, whilst the rest of the story is told in prose, as a third person perspective tells the story. And evokes a sense of everyone telling their part of the story around the campfire.

AWW2020This technique is coupled with some illustrations with speech bubbles – the same style used in graphic novels, and all the illustrations by Dale Hunt make the world Shoestring and his troupe live in really come to life as you read. It is not one that can be dipped in and out of, nor read in one sitting. This is one of those books that must be savoured and enjoyed. It is one that needs to be savoured – that needs to be read over time, and where every page has a new clue as to what might happen but is also filled with twists and turns as Shoestring fights with the gloves and the control they have over him.

Magical, transient gloves that have a mind of their own is a worrying, curious and troublesome – what do these gloves want, and why are they targeting Shoestring and the troupe. It weaves the history of the characters and the world they inhabit throughout the narrative seamlessly, telling an evocative story of ambition and friendship, and the lengths people will go to so they can help those they care about. And how will they help Shoestring fix things? This is a story of loyalty and friendship, and family – and the sacrifices we make to help those we love and care about. It is a lovely book – one that will be loved by all readers over the age of eight and will enthral and enchant readers as they enter this fantastical world and have them on the edge of their seats as they go on the journey with Shoestring and the rest of the troupe.

It does refer back to a previous book by the same author and illustrator team, but enough information is given that they can be read separately, but also, together. It is a beautiful story, and one that will be loved and treasured.

What Zola did on Monday by Melina Marchetta, illustrated by Deb Hudson

Monday ZolaTitle: What Zola did on Monday

Author: Melina Marchetta, illustrated by Deb Hudson

Genre: Fiction

Publisher: Puffin

Published: 2nd June 2020

Format: Paperback

Pages: 96

Price: $12.99

Synopsis: From the author of Looking for Alibrandi comes this gorgeous series to engage and entertain newly independent young readers.

Zola loves living on Boomerang Street with her mum and her Nonna. Every day of the week is an adventure. But Zola has a problem. No matter how much she tries, she can’t keep out of trouble!
Seven stories in the series – one for every day of the week.

~*~

Zola loves to have fun, and at school, she is learning about gardens. At home, she spends time in the garden with her Nonna while her mum is at work. One day Nonna Rosa shows Zola special tomato seeds from Nonno, who is no longer with them – and Zola promises to be careful – can she keep out of trouble and save her Nonna’s special tomatoes?

Melina Marchetta, best known for her young adult books, in particular Looking for Alibrandi, and several others. Here, she has created a series for younger readers, about a little girl named Zola, with one book planned for each day of the week, to be released across the next year or so. This first book introduces readers to Zola and her family, and delightfully sets up Zola’s world on Boomerang Street. It is written in easy to understand and accessible language and looks at the inner world of Zola and children her age.

AWW2020Zola cleverly teaches children about friendship, family and problem solving through the fun and engaging story and Deb Hudson’s lovely illustrations that give an extra oomph and zing of life to Zola’s world and story. The language used is simple yet complex – early readers will be able to engage and learn how to read and grow their vocabulary and confidence with stories. It might seem simple on the surface, but it is layered in many ways, and can be read differently at each level and for each reader. Confident readers will be able to read the lines, and all readers will find something and someone in the book they identify with. As the beginning of a series, What Zola Did on Monday is filled with diversity and ideas about identity and what kids like to do.

This series would be perfect for kids in their first few years of school, and even beyond, for readers who might want something fun to read in between everything else. It is aimed at six to eight-year olds primarily, and I hope this readership enjoys these books in whichever way they read and connect with them. I look forward to seeing what other adventures Zola gets up to on the other days of the week. A charm,ing series that will enchant all who read it

Alice-Miranda in the Outback by Jacqueline Harvey

Alice Miranda OutbackTitle: Alice-Miranda in the Outback

Author: Jacqueline Harvey

Genre: Fiction

Publisher: Puffin

Published: 2nd June 2020

Format: Paperback

Pages: 384

Price: $16.99

Synopsis: A dusty desert adventure beckons!

Alice-Miranda and her friends are off to the Australian Outback! They’re going to help an old family friend who’s found himself short staffed during cattle mustering season. The landscape is like nothing else – wide open and dusty red as far as the eye can see. It’s also full of quirky characters, like eccentric opal miner Sprocket McGinty and the enigmatic Taipan Dan.

As the gang settles in at Hope Springs Station, mysteries start piling up. A strange map is discovered indicating treasure beneath the paddocks, a young girl is missing and there are unexplained water shortages. Can Alice-Miranda get to the bottom of this desert dilemma?

~*~

Alice-Miranda is back! Across the series, Alice-Miranda has grown up whilst at boarding school at Winchesterfield-Downsfordvale, and in the most recent books, is now ten, almost eleven. In her latest adventure, she is off to the outback with her father, her uncle, her cousins, and her friends, Millie and Jacinta to visit Hope Springs. It’s a new adventure for everyone, and along the way, they’ll meet characters like Sprocket McGinty and Taipan Dan, and uncover secrets and mysteries that have been buried for years, search for a missing child and follow a treasure map to something fantastic. In true Alice-Miranda style, she takes the lead, and works with her friends and cousins to find out what is going on around them.

I’m fairly new to Alice-Miranda – but the beauty of this series is that I can read them in order or out of order and still know what is going on, and who is who – having read the first book helped with this and Jacqueline puts a cast of characters for each book in the back as well, which readers can refer to every now and then whilst reading. Having read the first and most recent books – where Alice-Miranda is seven and one quarter and ten respectively, I am keen to see how she grows up.

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Her latest adventure, in the outback, is uniquely Australian with the characters, setting and Australian slang peppered throughout. Some of the characters are Indigenous, and Jacqueline explains why they’re away at the start of the book in a respectful and simple way that readers who might not know much about Indigenous culture can understand, and then from there, go and research it for themselves and does so without speaking for the Indigenous characters. Hugh, Alice-Miranda’s father, explains things using his knowledge from the past. This forms one small part of the story – but seeing it acknowledged is important.

Characters and events that seem unrelated are – and Jacqueline knows when to drop hints, when to hold back and when to bring things to light in a way that is engaging, plot driven and makes the whole book work as a whole – and combined with her clever characters like Alice-Miranda, no fact is too small or insignificant to exclude. Everything piece of the puzzle eventually comes together, and astute readers will pick up on the clues. Whether you are able to do this, or everything comes together as a surprise for you at the end, it doesn’t matter – whichever way you read and pick these things up, you follow the same clues and path to the same conclusion, making this a fun read for all fans of Jacqueline Harvey and her books.

I loved the moment the kids had to choose a movie to watch – and the two choices referenced the Alice-Miranda series and Kensy and Max – this was lovely for readers of both series, as it shows that it is possible for each of these characters to exist in the other’s world, and from there, I wondered what would happen if Alice-Miranda were to meet Kensy and Max.

This book perfectly balanced the kids being alone and having adult supervision across the story. The kids were allowed to do their thing yet were responsible enough to follow instructions and keep adults informed. It shows that these kids are resourceful and responsible – but still kids and at times, they still need help from the adults in their lives. Jacqueline gets the balance for this right too.

I loved this one – and I’m planning to read the rest and see what else Alice-Miranda has been up to over the past ten years. This is a delightful series for middle grade readers of all ages and genders and I hope people love Alice-Miranda as much as I do.

Isolation Publicity with James Foley, Author and Illustrator

Due to recent events, many Australian authors have had to cancel book launches and festival appearances. For some, this means new novels, series continuations and debut novels are heading into this scary, strange world without much publicity or attention. The good news is, you can still buy books – online or get your local bookstore to deliver if they’re offering that service. Buying these books, talking about them, sharing them, reading them, reviewing them – are all ways that for the next six months at least, we can ensure that these books don’t fall by the wayside.

Over the next few months, a lot of us will be consuming some form of art – entertainment, movies, TV, radio, music, books – the list goes on. It is something we will be turning to take our minds off things and to occupy vast swathes of free time. One of the things I will be doing to support the arts, and specifically, Australian Authors, will be reading and reviewing as many books as possible, conducting interviews like this where possible, and participating in virtual book tours for authors.

James Foley is a children’s author and illustrator, who has illustrated anthologies, written for anthologies and published several of his own books, including the current series, Toffle Towers, which was written by Tim Harris. So far, James hasn’t had to cancel or postpone any events yet. Yet getting the perspective of author-illustrators was something that interested me, and I wanted to expand this series to other authors as well if they were interested. It’s always interesting to hear the different stories behind the books and creations.

Hi James, and welcome to the Book Muse!

  1. You’re a writer and an illustrator – what came first – writing books, or illustrating?

When I was a kid I was always doing both. I was making little short stories, picture books and comics; they were two sides of the coin for me.

 

  1. Your new series is Toffle Towers – of which I have just ordered the first two. What is Toffle Towers about, and where did the idea come from?

Toffle Towers is about a 10yo boy called Chegwin Toffle who inherits a hotel. As the new manager, he has to find a way to bring in new customers or the hotel will close down and all the staff will lose their jobs. It’s written by Tim Harris and illustrated by me; I’m not exactly sure where Tim got the idea, but I know that the British comedy Fawlty Towers was an inspiration.

 

  1. Toffle Towers is aimed at middle grade readers – are all your books and series aimed at this age group, and if not, which ones are for younger or even older readers?

Some of my books are aimed at middle grade – definitely Toffle Towers, as well as my graphic novels series S.Tinker Inc. There are three books in that series so far: Brobot, Dungzilla and Gastronauts; the fourth is called Chickensaurus and is out this October. The series stars Sally Tinker, the world’s foremost inventor under the age of twelve, and follows her adventures in invention.

I’ve also done picture books for younger readers – The Last Viking, The Last Viking Returns, In The Lion – and a picture book for older readers called My Dead Bunny. The sequel to that, There’s Something About Lena, is out this October.

 

  1. You write graphic novels as well – is this more of a challenge than novels?

I wouldn’t know – I’ve never written a novel. A novel would be a bigger challenge for me because I’ve never written anything that long that was predominantly words. A graphic novel has its own challenges; there are just so many pictures to draw.

  1. Do you do your own illustrations in your work, or do you work with other illustrators, or both?

I’ve mostly worked as an illustrator for other authors. When I’ve been the author, I’ve always done my own illustrations.

  1. Toffle Towers 2 has just come out – did you have any events or launches planned around the release, or any events and appearances in general?

I know Tim did. Most of my gigs are booked for later in the year, and they’re mostly still booked (for now – fingers crossed).

 

  1. As a children’s author, I imagine school visits are important. Did you have to cancel any, and secondly, what do you enjoy about these visits?

I haven’t had to cancel any yet, but it might still happen- it depends if the social distancing restrictions are lifted by August. I enjoy being able to meet my audience, to encourage them to make their own stories, and to make up stories together – it’s so much fun.

 

  1. Many middle grade books now have illustrations – I think this is a really interesting trend, and not something I remember after I reached a certain age in my books – what do you think has driven this trend, and where did you first notice it?

I’ve no idea. It’s been a thing for a while now. I don’t have anything interesting to say on this question, haha

 

  1. Have you ever contributed to any anthologies, and what have these been?

Yes, I contributed to Total Quack Up in 2019, a fundraiser for Dymocks Children’s Charities; also Funny Bones in 2020, a fundraiser for War Child Australia.

funny bones

  1. Have any of your books ever won any awards?

They’ve been nominated for a bunch; the Children’s Book Council of Australia’s Book of the Year awards, the children’s choice awards, the Aurealis awards; I’ve had a book selected for the International Youth Library’s White Ravens List.

  1. Are there any literacy related charities you support, and what made you choose these ones?

 

I support Room To Read and Books In Homes Australia. Both aim to get books into the hands of kids who might not otherwise have access to them.

  1. You’ve worked with Disability in the Arts/Disadvantage in the Arts Australia (WA) – what was this experience like for you, and has working with places like this and Indigenous organisations informed your writing in any way?

It taught me that art is a great leveller; lots of people like to draw and paint when given the chance. It’s taught me to be grateful for my skills and to try to share them as much as possible.

  1. Apart from creating your awesome stories of course, what is your favourite thing about being a kid’s author?

Hearing from kids who really enjoyed your stories.

  1. Favourite illustration medium and method to work with?

I’m mostly working digitally these days – I use a Wacom cintiq digital display and Adobe Photoshop software. But if I’m working traditionally, I love some big sheets of paper and charcoal, and I also love pen and ink and watercolour.

  1. Favourite way of writing – pen and paper or tapping away at a keyboard?

Pen and paper first to get down ideas, then the keyboard to edit and finalise.

 

  1. What has SCWBI done to help you in your career?

 

Heaps. It’s been my support network, it got me my first gig, it helped me meet editors and publishers across Australia. It’s been absolutely vital.

 

  1. What has been your favourite writer’s festival?

They’ve all been great but a few have been extra special. I did Brisbane Writer’s Festival a few years ago and spoke to some massive crowds; I did the Whitsunday Voices Youth Literature Festival and spoke to some big crowds there too. I’ve done some great regional festivals in WA as well, including one in Geraldton – that included a little plane ride and an overnight stay at the Abrolhos Islands. And there was a little festival on Bruny Island in Tasmania – that was spectacular.

  1. Working in the arts, what has been something you have noticed about the importance of the arts for all ages, and the way people interact with the arts?

I’ve noticed that lots of adults say they can’t draw, ‘they can’t even draw a stick figure’. They can draw, they just need to learn how. I’ve noticed too that most primary school kids LOVE to draw, and when you can take them through a drawing step by step, they feel really proud. I think most people see drawing as some kind of magic skill, but when you teach people how to do it, you demystify it, and it gives them a great sense of achievement to be able to do it.

 

  1. You illustrated the Total Quack Up books – how did Adrian and Sally decide your style worked best for the stories?

I don’t know why they chose me – I’m glad they did though. It was a lot of fun and it led to me working on the Toffle Towers series.

 

  1. Finally, what have you been doing to help kids with isolation in terms of reading, literacy, fun and homeschooling?

I’ve been working with Littlescribe to provide some free online creative writing lessons. They’re on the Littlescribe facebook page and youtube channel. You can check those out here:

I’ve also done a session with my local indie bookshop, Paper Bird Children’s Books and Arts; it’s available on their youtube channel.

Any further comments?

Thank you James, and good luck with Toffle Towers!

Books and Bites Bingo Book to movie: Nim’s Island by Wendy Orr

books and bites game card
My next square is the one for book to movie. For this option, there were many, many options from Harry Potter to Jane Austen, The Book Thief and Northern Lights (The Golden Compass), which is now a television show and will be marking off my book to television category later this year in another challenge.

As luck would have it, I received the new bind-up edition of Nim’s Island, celebrating twenty-one years since it was first published, and I have seen the movie, so this worked for this challenge and another that had a book to movie adaptation choice.

NimsIsland_roughs

I chose this because it was a fun read as well, and I’m trying to see how many review books work for my reading challenges, and how many they crossover into as well – in doing so, across the first few months of the year, I have managed to knock off quite a few categories and squares. Some books have filled in more than others.

I need to watch Nim’s Island again sometime but for now, I’m trying to focus on the reading. Before I used this book, I had The Book Thief earmarked for this category. It’s one of those categories that is open and can change – and those are the ones I am aiming to mark off first, as some are more specific, sometimes down to the author or the book, and some specific to a month – so I have to wait until then to fill them in.

One category that comes up in two challenges I might have trouble with is the book you haven’t finished or that you have said you’ve read but haven’t – as I finish the books I commit to. So those could be a challenge, but I might find some way to tweak and stretch them so it works for my means.

Her Perilous Mansion by Sean Williams

her perilous mansionTitle: Her Perilous Mansion

Author: Sean Williams

Genre: Fantasy/Magical Realism

Publisher: Allen and Unwin

Published: 28th April 2020

Format: Paperback

Pages: 336

Price: $16.99

Synopsis: Perfectly pitched standalone middle grade fantasy – exciting, intriguing and thoroughly satisfying.

In a strange mansion miles from anywhere, an orphan named Almanac and a twelfth daughter named Etta find themselves working – and bickering – side by side in the largely deserted rooms. But soon they realise that the house and its inhabitants are not quite what they seem, and there’s more at stake than just their jobs. Can they solve the puzzle of Her Perilous Mansion before it’s too late?

Almanac is an orphaned boy who can’t forget; Etta is the youngest of twelve unwanted daughters. Invited to work at a mysterious mansion mile from anywhere, they discover the inhabitants are a little…odd. Lady Simone never gets out of bed. Lord Nigel is always locked in his office, and Olive lives in a hidden boiler room and communicates only by code. Etta and Almanac soon realise that the mansion and its residents have secrets they are reluctant to give up, and there’s more at stake than just their jobs. In a world where the line between magic and the written word is often dangerous, can they solve the puzzle of Her Perilous Mansion before its too late?

~*~

Imagine being drawn and mysteriously invited to a mansion in the middle of nowhere. This is the fate that awaits Etta and Almanac. Etta is the youngest of twelve unwanted daughters, and Almanac is an orphan. When they arrive, each sees a different name on the plaque out the front – and here is where their bickering begins. Yet once in, they both receive mysterious messages from those they are meant to serve – yet nobody is around. Etta and Almanac stumble across a mysterious spell linked to the house and those who dwell in the house.

When they realise where they are and those they connect with are not quite what they seem, Etta and Almanac are thrust on a journey to solve a puzzle, and free those who seem to be trapped there.

Wow. This is a fantastic read. It is filled with mystery, magic, fantasy, ghosts, all in what feels like a very Victorian England setting – filled with playful characters, a fairy tale-esque feel of an orphan needing to break a spell. One might say Almanac is the diamond in the rough much like Aladdin was. Chosen, so to speak, or at least destined, to uncover the puzzle of the mansion.

Hints at this puzzle are dropped on every page cleverly, like a cipher, almost. What is it about this house that has everyone trapped in specific places, why do Almanac and Etta never see anyone else, and who is behind these mysterious notes that tell them what they should be doing? Yet there are things that those Etta and Almanac know are there cannot say, cannot warn them about. The spell needs to be broken; they need to find the sorcerer who cast it. And this forms part of the puzzle and mystery. This puzzle is imbued and present on every page, filling the story with just the right amount of intrigue. Sean Williams knows when to deliver information and when to hold back, leaving gaps for the reader to try and solve the puzzle, or look at how it might work.

Each page is thrilling, and filled to the brim with worry, friendship and a desire to solve an ongoing mystery that nobody before them has managed to. It is a delightfully exciting adventure, filled with mystery and magic that weaves in and out of every sentence, and pulls the reader into its wide web of power. Truly one of the most intriguing aspects of the mansion is just who the owner is and who the her is –  it is a fantastic middle grade book that combines fantasy and magical realism to create a world that is equally mysterious and fantastical, far enough away for it to be within a fairy tale world, but at the same time, feels as though it could really exist in a Victorian England setting.

Middle grade readers who enjoy fantasy will love this book, and  be swept up by its magic and fun as they go on a perilous adventure to u cover secrets that have been buried for decades.

April 2020 Round Up

In April, we found ourselves amidst a pandemic – and I found myself with an influx of review books, some quite long, and some not so long. As I usually do, I aim to read ahead in my review stack, to get things cleared, and posted or scheduled to save time. I’m still a bit behind, reading some books that should be on this list on the day of writing and posting. However, this is the case due to the fact that the books may have arrived after or a day before publication date due to the current overload of deliveries due to the COVID-19 crisis we’re facing.

I’ve also been doing an Isolation Publicity series with Australian authors – which by the looks of things will take me into mid – late August at this stage, a month short of the planned lockdown. Some of these interviews are really exciting and make me wish I could share them now, but the schedule means everyone gets a special day for their interview. Many authors have had launches cancelled, festivals and appearance cancelled or moved online – which has meant a loss of income and has been detrimental to the arts sector. These authors need the love and publicity the book blogging community can give them so their work can get into the hands of readers.

I read 19 books this month, and all except The Austen Girls and The Unadoptables have a live review at this stage. The Austen Girls will be appearing around the 19th of May with several other reviews and posts. The latter is appearing in June. I also ticked off a few challenge categories – not as many as I had hoped, however, I am getting there and should hopefully have filled them all in by the end of the year.

April – 19

Book Author Challenge
The Deceptions Suzanne Leal AWW2020, Reading Challenge
Puppy Diary: The Great Toy Rescue Yvette Poshoglian AWW2020, Reading Challenge, Dymocks Reading Challenge
The Octopus and I Erin Hortle AWW2020, Reading Challenge
Friday Barnes: Big Trouble R.A. Spratt AWW2020, Reading Challenge, The Modern Mrs Darcy
The Strangeworlds Travel Agency

 

L.D. Lapinski Reading Challenge, Books and Bites Bingo
Inheritance of Secrets Sonya Bates Reading Challenge, AWW2020
Secrets of a Schoolyard Millionaire Nat Amoore Reading Challenge, AWW2020
Jane in Love Rachel Givney Reading Challenge, AWW2020, Dymocks Reading Challenge, The Nerd Daily
Persuasion Jane Austen Reading Challenge, Books and Bites Bingo
The Austen Girls Lucy Worsley Reading Challenge
The Unadoptables Hana Tooke Reading Challenge
Friday Barnes: No Rules R.A. Spratt Reading Challenge, AWW2020
Anzac Girl: The War Diaries of Alice Ross-King Kate Simpson and Hess Racklyeft Reading Challenge, AWW2020
Sherlock Bones and the Natural History Mystery Renée Treml Reading Challenge, AWW2020, The Modern Mrs Darcy (Nominated for the 2020 Readings Children’s Prize)
Shortlisted Readings Children’s Book Prize 2020 AU; Shortlisted Speech Pathology Award, Eight to Ten Years 2019 AU 
Nim’s Island Wendy Orr AWW2020, Reading Challenge, STFU Reading Challenge
Ribbit Rabbit Robot Victoria MacKinlay and Sofya Karmazina AWW2020, Reading Challenge
Nim at Sea Wendy Orr AWW2020, Reading Challenge
Rescue on Nim’s Island Wendy Orr AWW2020, Reading Challenge
The Complete Adventures on Nim’s Island Wendy Orr AWW2020, Reading Challenge, STFU Reading Challenge