Total Quack Up Again! Edited by Sally Rippin and Adrian Beck

total quack up again.jpegTitle: Total Quack Up Again!

Author: Sally Rippin and Adrian Beck, Illustrated by Jules Faber

Genre: Fiction

Publisher: Puffin

Published: 15th October 2019

Format: Paperback

Pages: 320

Price: $14.99

Synopsis: It’s the return of the quack! A hilarious new collection of stories from some of Australia’s funniest children’s authors.

Following on from the success of Total Quack Up! authors Sally Rippin and Adrian Beck have gathered together an awesome new 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 Again! features stories from Nat Amoore, Felice Arena, Adam Cece, Jules Faber, Tim Harris, Kim Kane, Belinda Murrell, A.L. Tait, Shelley Ware, Michael Wagner and Nova Weetman, plus a prize-winning story from a child!

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In the second Total Quack Up collection, twelve Australian authors have teamed up again to write a collection of stories to raise money for Dymocks Children’s Charities. This time, Nat Amoore, Felice Arena, A.L. Tait, Belinda Murrell, Michael Wagner and Adrian Beck, Adam Cece, Shelley Ware, Tim Harris, Nova Weetman, Kim Kane and Jules Faber, as well as a story from a child. These stories are filled with lots of things kids love – animals, friends and many, many jokes that kids enjoy. From dads who turn into dogs, to sibling rivalry, aliens and a dog who is naughty for the kids but an angel for a father who would rather not have one, these stories are full of fun for all ages, and can be read alone, out loud or with other people.

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These kinds of stories are the sorts that kids who are already readers and fans of these authors will enjoy, and that will hopefully encourage reluctant readers to explore a world of reading, or new authors that they will go onto read further works from. Each story is unique, but there were two that I absolutely adored.

The first, written by Adam Cece – Stop Reading Right Now, has the animal kingdom, specifically a duck, taking editors, Sally Rippin and Adrian Beck to court, resulting in a hilarious case that looks at the role of animal sayings in literature and writing. The ensuing hilarity of animal-based idioms and sayings coming to life results in one of the most entertaining stories of the anthology, as it referenced the Quack Up series quite cleverly.

The second story I thoroughly enjoyed was by Belinda Murrell, about kids who took a puppy home from the nursery, and spent their time running after it as it wreaked havoc, only to find it curled up, and behaving peacefully when it curled up with the one person who was the most reluctant to have the puppy, but turns out to be the one who loves having the puppy around the most – Dad. Animals are always attracted to the reluctant family members, and I found this story delightful and hilarious. It was definitely my favourite, and I hope others enjoy it as well.

These books are amazing – not only do they promote literacy, but they contribute to charities that help with accessibility to literature in a variety of ways – more information can always be found on the Dymocks Children’s Charity page on the Dymocks website. Aimed at kids, these stories can be read by anyone who wants a good laugh or a good read. Another great selection from Dymocks Children’s Charities and Australian Authors.

The Christmasaurus and the Winter Witch by Tom Fletcher

christmasaurus winter witch.jpgTitle: The Christmasaurus and the Winter Witch

Author: Tom Fletcher

Genre: Fantasy/Christmas

Publisher: Puffin

Published: 15th October 2019

Format: Paperback

Pages: 368

Price: $24.99

Synopsis: The magical new story from bestselling author of The Christmasaurus and The Creakers, Tom Fletcher.

‘She is the best-kept Christmas secret of all,’ whispered Santa Claus. ‘Which is surprising, because Christmas itself would not exist without her. She is older than time itself, yet still as young as tomorrow. She is known only as the Winter Witch.’

One year has passed since William Trundle’s incredible adventure with the most extraordinary dinosaur: the Christmasaurus. Now, William is swept back to the magical North Pole, where he meets the mysterious, icy Winter Witch – whose power to control time allows Santa Claus to make the long journey all around the world every Christmas Eve. And when they learn that the fate of Christmas itself hangs in the balance, William and the Christmasaurus must work with the Winter Witch to protect it . . .

Full of magic and music, humour and heart, and a friendship like no other, The Christmasaurus and the Winter Witch is the most enchanting Christmas read for the whole family.

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Christmas stories are always fun, and I love discovering new ones, and reading them, as well as the classics like A Christmas Carol and The Nutcracker during December if I can to get in the mood for Christmas as we decorate and bake for Christmas, and listen to the music and watch the movies and sometimes, the Christmas episodes of my favourite shows. I’ve not yet read the book that introduces the Christmasaurus, but I have added it to my list, as I feel it would be interesting and fun to read.

This is the second book, and starts when William, his father, Bob, stepmother, Pamela and stepsister, Brenda, are starting their Christmas break, and getting into the Christmas spirit completely – from what they wear, to what they bake and many traditions that Bob and William have enjoyed over the years. What is different this year, is that they are taken up to the North Pole to see Santa and the Christmasaurus.

Here, William is given a special bean and a wish as gifts – and he decides to save them for something special, until he notices the bean has disappeared when they arrive home, after Brenda has to go to her father. What happens next threatens Christmas’ very existence – and it is up to William and Christmasaurus to find a way to save Christmas, with the help of the Winter Witch, and ensure everyone goes on believing.

There are many things I love about this book. First, CHRISTMAS! Christmas stories are delightful, cheery and make readers feel good and bring joy to the holiday and show that there is more to it than what we are led to believe. Each story has its own magic and mythology that imbibes Christmas with its very magic and joy that we should all be able to experience with those we love. Second, the main character is disabled! This may not seem important to some readers, but for wheelchair users or who use mobility devices or are limited in some way due to a disability, this is fantastic! William is able to do things in his wheelchair, his family and Christmasaurus adapt for him so he isn’t left out and most importantly, he’s just disabled. I haven’t read the first book, but I want to so I can see how Will does things in that book as a wheelchair user, and the other challenges he faces, which are not shied away from here, but also, I felt, not dealt with as impossible. Nothing big is made of it, he just is. He’s his own person, not an object of pity, or passively treated character as some disabled characters are. And he is allowed to be disabled. This is fabulous – it shows that disabled kids and adults can be and do things like everyone else. We just have to find a different way to do it.

Third – a new take on Christmas with Christmasaurus. Combining dinosaurs and Christmas is a wonderful idea, and very creative. I loved that William and his father were so welcoming to Brenda and her mother, and that they wanted Brenda to stay for their family Christmas. Mostly, I just like a good story and this one had so many elements that worked for me and was so funny that I just gobbled it up and loved the way it incorporated lines and references from songs sung or played around Christmastime. And the Winter Witch’s role in Christmas – that was a new, and unique take on it and seeing how it all worked was a lot of fun in the end, and I hope kids and other readers find this book entertaining and wonderful as well.

A good book to read in the lead up to Christmas or at Christmas, or even as a Christmas gift from Christmasaurus himself. I recommend this for all ages!

With Love from Miss Lily by Jackie French

with love from miss lily.jpgTitle: With Love from Miss Lily

Author: Jackie French

Genre: Historical Fiction

Publisher: Harper Collins

Published: 20th November 2017

Format: eBook

Pages: 100

Price: Free download from publisher website

Synopsis: From the author of Miss Lily’s Lovely Ladies comes a moving and heart-warming story that is perfect for Christmas – and beyond.

December1918

This first peacetime Christmas should be perfect.

But this is a ceasefire, not peace. Influenza ravages Europe and the hospital supplies. Sophie ordered six months ago have not arrived from Australia.

And the old woman in Ward 3 will not stop knitting.

Yet even in war-torn Europe, Christmas miracles are possible, as a stranger reveals the extraordinary story of how thousands of female resistance workers sent coded messages, including the most important message a woman can send.

And somehow Christmas does arrive, the perfect Christmas, with love from Miss Lily.

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As a fan of the Miss Lily series, it has taken me a while to get around to reading the Christmas eBooks – partly because with much of my time spent as a quiz writer writing and reading on a screen, I enjoy a good break with a nice paperback. However, these are short, and can be read in a sitting, so I am aiming to read them all and review them here on my blog as they give much more to the Miss Lily series than  we read on the pages in the longer books, the third of which I am currently reading, set in the years leading up to Hitler’s grab for power, and I predict, a few books that will delve into the tumultuous 1930s and World War Two – the war that Sophie and her friends are hoping to avoid.

In the first Miss Lily Christmas story, which I will also be trying to read again during December with the rest of my Christmas reads, Sophie is running an influenza hospital at the end of the Great War. As she nurses an elderly woman through the last days of her life, Sophie is asked to pass on a message – and some knitting. An English intelligence officer recognises what the knitting means – and reveals the chain of European spies – La Dame Blanche – who knitted codes into their knitting across Europe during the war, to help defeat Germany.

2019 BadgeI was able to read this in one sitting, as it was short, and it provides a good link between the novels. The time jumps with each book work very well, and pick up just where they need to. What this Christmas story does is show the calm after the war, and the hope that leads into the next twenty years – all whilst ripples of unease filter through. It also shows the hope that the end of the war, and Christmas brings to those still waiting to get home, and the magic of Miss Lily’s kindness through what she sends to the hospital to see them through Christmas.

Miss Lily may not be physically present in this short story, but her spirit is, and her love for her ‘lovely ladies’ like Sophie is. Europe has been ripped apart by war, but the first Christmas of peace – The Christmas after the armistice – holds hope as a special delivery arrives in the snow. As a fan of Miss Lily, Jackie French, and Christmas, I adored this book and am looking forward to reading the other Christmas stories to see what they add to the series.

The Starthorn Tree (The Chronicles of Estelliana  #1) by Kate Forsyth

starthorn treeTitle: The Starthorn Tree (The Chronicles of Estelliana  #1)

Author: Kate Forsyth

Genre: Fantasy

Publisher: Pan MacMillan

Published: 1st May 2002

Format: Paperback

Pages: 500

Price: $16.95

Synopsis:

Under winter’s cold shroud, the son of light lies.

Though the summer sun burns high in the skies.

With the last petal of the starthorn tree

His wandering spirit shall at least slip free…

Nothing can save him from this bitter curse,

But the turning of time itself inverse.

The young Count of Estelliana lies sleeping as still and cold as if he was dead. His mysterious slumber has subjected the people of his land to the harsh rule of Lord Zavion, the cold and ruthless Regent.  But when Durrik, the son of the town’s bell-crier, involuntarily prophesizes the count’s death before the entire starkin court, he catapults himself and his best friend Pedrin into the adventure of their lives.

Pursued by starkin soldiers, they must seek refuge in the Perilous Forest, home to the dangerous and unpredictable wildkin. It is only when they are forced into the company of the spoilt starkin princess, Lisandre and her servant-girl Briony that they begin to realise the meaning of Durrik’s riddle. But if they are to waken the count and save their people, they must survive the hazards of the forest where the sinister Erlrune of Evenlinn awaits them…

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The Starthorn Tree was one of those books I just happened to stumble across at the age of sixteen during a visit to the big three level Dymocks in the city. I was looking for something new to read when my eyes fell on this book in the children’s section. It was the first Kate Forsyth book I picked up, and had an autographed edition sticker on it – my first for both, and as I found out from Kate over the weekend after showing her a picture, it is also a first edition – I will be hanging onto this one!

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The Starthorn Tree begins with Durrik and Pedrin listening to orders from the bell-crier, set forth by the Regent for the coming summer for all boys their age to help build a tower. But during a dinner at the palace, Durrik has a vision of the death of the count, stuck in an everlasting sleep in the palace, unable to be awoken by any remedies. He has been struck down by the same mysterious drink that took the life of his father and several others. Fleeing their home, Durrik and Pedrin soon stumble across Lisandre and Briony – and together, they venture deeper into the Perilous Forest, searching for a way to save Lisandre’s brother, the count. But with Zavion’s spies after them, and danger looming from the wildkin – can the four children – a combination of starkin, wildkin and hearthkin, find a way to work together and save their beloved country?

With each of her novels, Kate Forsyth works fairy tale motifs into them. Towers, those stuck in an enchanted sleep, princesses, and many more to create her stories. Drawing on this rich and diverse fairy tale history, she creates worlds like Estelliana that are captivating and when reading, it feels like no time has passed and as though you are within the story itself, so it felt like the pages just flew by. In this one, she sets everything up well, and the journey is both exciting and filled with peril, creating a fantasy world that has everything from Australia’s master storyteller. The amount of fantasy novels written by Australian authors has boomed since 2002 – but Kate Forsyth’s Starthorn books and her Eileanan books are the first ones I remember seeing, buying and reading – though I am sure there were others. It was these books that were my gateway into Kate Forsyth’s books and works as a whole, and I have a great many on my shelf today.

I could not put this one down and am starting the second one as soon as I am able to over the next few days. This was Kate’s first book for children as well – so many firsts with this book for her and me – which makes it really special. I am keen to see where The Wildkin’s Curse takes us – and how things have changed in Estelliana since Durrik, Briony, Pedrin and Lisandre’s original journey.

The Orange Grove by Kate Murdoch

the orange groveTitle: The Orange Grove

Author: Kate Murdoch

Genre: Historical Fiction

Publisher: Regal House Publishing

Published: 11th October 2019

Format: Paperback

Pages: 250

Price: $22.90

Synopsis: Blois, 1705. The château of Duc Hugo d’Amboise simmers with rivalry and intrigue. Henriette d’Augustin, one of five mistresses of the duc, lives at the château with her daughter. When the duc’s wife, Duchesse Charlotte, maliciously undermines a new mistress, Letitia, Henriette is forced to choose between position and morality. She fights to maintain her status whilst targeted by the duchesse who will do anything to harm her enemies. The arrival of charismatic tarot reader, Romain de Villiers, further escalates tensions as rivals in love and domestic politics strive for supremacy.

In a society where status is a matter of life and death, Henriette must stay true to herself, her daughter, and her heart, all the while hiding a painful secret of her own.

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Set almost nine decades before the French Revolution and the beheading of Louis XVI and his wife, Marie Antoinette, The Orange Grove explores the intricacies and relationships of powerplay at a court like Versailles in 1705, as a duc takes on yet another mistress, as well as his wife, Charlotte. Charlotte, his wife, and his mistresses are aware of each other, and how they can fall in and out of favour with the duc.

When a young mistress falls pregnant, Charlotte, the duc’s wife and the one who is supposed to be producing him legitimate male heirs (but has thus far failed to do so and has her own secrets bubbling along throughout the novel that are cleverly revealed slowly), she asks another mistress, Henriette, to choose her loyalties – Charlotte, or the mistresses?

Soon, Romain de Villiers, a tarot reader arrives, and more tensions and political intrigue enter as he finds himself drawn to Charlotte, and the implications that this, and the whispers of witchcraft bring to the palace and its domestic politics as people try to keep secrets and favour.

Cleverly built around early eighteenth century gender politics, domestic politics and fears of the unknown and keeping up appearances, The Orange Grove looks at life and death, and the importance of status, and how even the slightest indiscretion can flip the narrative for anyone, and alter their lives in ways that they never thought possible, whilst coming to conclusions that were not quite expected.

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Most historical fiction novels focus on a big event, through the eyes of specific characters, yet this one focuses on a very tight, and deeply complicated chateau in France during the years of the ruling aristocracy, and the privileges they enjoyed and could exercise over whomever they wished, tossing people away and punishing them in ways that these days seem a bit extreme, yet made sense in the context and understandings of the world these people inhabited. These characters are all flawed – none are wholly good nor are they wholly evil. They are ruled by human emotions of love, desperation and self-preservation, which makes this a very interesting novel as we get to see how people respond to certain conditions and the lengths they will go to so they can save themselves – sometimes with disastrous consequences.

Pages and Co #2: Tilly and the Lost Fairy Tales by Anna James

tilly 2.jpgTitle: Tilly and the Lost Fairy Tales

Author: Anna James

Genre: Fantasy

Publisher: HarperCollins Australia

Published: 24th September 20189

Format: Hardcover

Pages: 400

Price: $19.99

Synopsis: A magical adventure to delight the imagination. The curl-up-on-the-sofa snuggle of a series from a uniquely talented author.

Tilly Pages is a bookwanderer; she can travel inside books, and even talk to the characters she meets there. But Tilly’s powers are put to the test when fairytales start leaking book magic and causing havoc . . .

On a wintery visit to Paris, Tilly and her best friend Oskar bravely bookwander into the land of fairytales to find that characters are getting lost, stories are all mixed-up, and mysterious plot holes are opening without warning. Can Tilly work out who, or what, is behind the chaos so everyone gets their happily-ever-after?

The second enthralling tale in the bestselling PAGES & CO series.

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Picking up a few weeks after the events of Tilly and the Bookwanderers, where Tilly’s mother returned, after being trapped in the pages of A Little Princess. As Bea adjusts to being back in her daughter’s life, the Underlibrarian, Amelia Whisper, is ousted and a new Underlibrarian, who wishes to create more authoritarian rules in the book wandering world, without thinking about how it will affect anyone, starts imposing his power. So just before Christmas, Tilly and her friend, Oskar, head to Paris to spend a few days with Oskar’s father. While there, Clara, Oskar’s grandmother, takes them to her friend’s bookstore:  The Faery Cabinet, owned by another bookwanderer, Gretchen Stein.

While there, Tilly and Oskar bookwander into a book of fairytales, where they discover a world fracturing and their book magic is leaking, causing havoc in the fictional world. After returning home, they discover an untoward plot to change fairytales and book magic. In an attempt to plug all the plot holes appearing, Tilly and Oskar will do whatever they can to find out who is behind it – but will they make it home for everyone’s happily ever after?

I started reading this series earlier this year and was hooked from the first chapter of the first book. I have loved it since discovering it, and with each book, a new library, and a new facet of literature and books is explored. Tilly’s favourite books are woven in again – especially Anne of Green Gables and The Secret Garden as she reconnects with her mother and her family works to reunite and maintain their love of books.

The magic in these stories are in their simplicity of the themes of family and reading, layered with the complexities of how different people react to books, words and the power of reading and words, and how they affect us or what they mean to us, whether spoken or written, and what each of these books means to each person who reads it.

Tilly and the Lost Fairy Tales delves further into the history and mythology or book wandering, and who can do it and how, and reveals more secrets about Oskar and other characters that were hinted at in the first book, but left to the imagination – now we have our answers to this, but still await explanations about why Tilly can take things out of the books she wanders in, but nobody else can – this is a mystery that will be fun to uncover in the coming books.

Readers of all ages and genders will love this series – and they are the kinds of books that can be devoured or savoured, or both, and one that I will eagerly be anticipating the next release of – seeing as I managed to pick up this one just after it had been placed on the shelf in my local bookstore! Looking forward to more adventures with Tilly and Oskar in the future.

Maternal Instinct by Rebecca Bowyer

Maternal Instinct 750x1200Title: Maternal Instinct

Author: Rebecca Bowyer

Genre: Dystopian/Futuristic Fiction/Speculative Fiction

Publisher: Story Addict Publishing

Published: 7th October 2019

Format: Paperback

Pages: 306

Price: $22.99

Synopsis:Australia 2040. No child lives in poverty and every child is safe. But at what cost?

19-year-old Monica never wanted a baby but the laws require her to give birth twice before she can move on with her life.

Now that her first son, Oscar, has arrived she’s not so sure she wants to hand him over to be raised by professional parents: the Maters and Paters.

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In 2040, a new party is ruling the country – the Equality Party, and they have been since 2020. In this new world, biological parents don’t raise their children – they are raised by professional parents under a program linked to the G.D.S – the Genetic Diversification System. This system also oversees the National Service program – where young men – at eighteen – give their sperm to be matched genetically with girls – who must produce two children as part of their national service for the good of the nation. The girls then spend six months with their babies before the children are handed over to professional parents – Maters and Paters.

Monica has just had her first baby, and her story is at the centre of this. Raised in the system, she hasn’t really questioned it until she gives birth to her son, Oscar. Her mother, Alice, was among the first women to give their children over to the system she works within. Yet following the birth of her grandson, she watches as Monica struggles to come to terms with what she has to do, and from within, watches as the system she has come to trust begins to crumble from within as she notices the flaws, and hears secrets come out that shge never thought were possible.

Set in a not too distant future, knowing this could happen, or something like this could happen with the current political environment, and nations like America stripping back the rights women have fought so hard for, is terrifying. This book shows the flaws in any political system – even democracy and how far a party will take what they stand for to extremes that supposedly help people bit might do more harm than good in the long run. No political party is immune to something like this happening either.

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Even though this has been likened to The Handmaid’s Tale, it is distinctly Australian, and the women are still allowed to have a life and career – as long as they’ve gone through two pregnancies and procedures to ensure they do not have any further unauthorised pregnancies outside of the G.D.S. system. People often say there should be qualifications to become parents, but what would that lead to? A situation like the G.D.S. and the Mater and Pater system that Rebecca has written about is one way it might go, and in a way that is terrifying that this could happen.

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So perhaps this should be a cautionary tale about how not to conduct business or tell people how to raise their families, as well as not forcing people to use their bodies for the good of the state over their own health and well-being. I did enjoy this novel, as it was slightly different from what I usually read. It dealt with the potential for this situation eloquently and sensitively, showing that trying to genetically alter genes, or make sure there is as little sickness and as few variables in health as possible can backfire and come back to bite those who advocate for it on the arse.

A very well written novel, that I hope many people will enjoy and is part of my Australian Women Writer’s Challenge. Thanks to Rebecca for sending me a review copy.