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

Daisy Runs Wild by Caz Goodwin and Ashley King

DAISY RUNS WILD front cover for on screen_RGBTitle: Daisy Runs Wild

Author: Caz Goodwin and Ashley King

Genre: Humourous Picture Book

Publisher: Little Hare Publishing/Hardie Grant Egmont

Published: 1st March 2020

Format: Hardcover

Pages: 32

Price: $19.99

Synopsis: Daisy has gone bonkers! On her daily walk, she unexpectedly leaps into the air and takes off around the park. Confused and embarrassed, Jasper runs after Daisy – interrupting a yoga class, ruining a game of cricket and accidentally pushing poor posh Mrs Pallot into the pond! Can Jasper get to the bottom of Daisy’s behaviour amidst all of the hullabaloo?

With irresistible rhyme and loveable characters, Daisy and Jasper’s second adventure is even more hilarious than their first.

~*~

When Jasper takes his pet koala – Daisy – out for a walk, all havoc breaks loose, and she leaps from her rolling chair machine, and knocks into people, into games and into food. Jasper is at a loss as to what could be causing it – so he chases her around the park and around the town to help her.

Daisy Runs Wild is the second book in Caz Goodwin’s ‘Lazy Daisy’ series, and is told in a delightful poetic way – every page has two to four lines of rhyming text, which is fun to read, and will be engaging for children to read out loud or to themselves, and listen to as they engage with language, learn new words and understand the rhythms and lyrical nature of language and what it can do.AWW2020

Caz is one of my isolation publicity authors and a SCWBI ARA, and her interview is appearing in the coming weeks. Some authors, like Caz, also requested a review, and it has been some of these interviews that has started my new addiction to beautiful and fun picture books. We have some amazing talent in Australia and illustrated works and picture books are an area where we have some really cool, interesting and amazingly done work. From the text of the story to the wonderfully complementary illustrations – and the Lazy Daisy series by Caz is definitely one to watch.

Most picture books are stand-alone stories, yet with a series like this, kids of all ages can follow and enjoy it, as it will be fun and suitable for all ages. This is a series to watch, with a uniquely Australian voice and story, filled with fun and humour.

As well as teaching children the fun of rhyming and language, it also has a message about caring and not judging someone – especially if they can’t tell you what is wrong. It is a beautiful book, and many thanks to Caz for the lovely signed copy she sent for me to review it.

Isolation Publicity with Kate Forsyth and Lorena Carrington

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.

SnowWhiteCover copy

Kate Forsyth has written over forty books for all ages. Lorena Carrington is an illustrator, who works with photographic mediums and digitally to create her fabulous illustrations for the Lost Fairy Tale series, published by Serenity Press. The third book, Snow White and Rose Red, is published today, the first of May 2020. I decided I wanted this interview to appear on release day, and will be posting my review as close to it as possible. Kate and Lorena, like many authors, had launches, bookstore appearances, art gallery appearances and other events cancelled in the wake of COVID-19. As a result, much of this publicity is moving online at this time. I’ve read Kate and Lorena’s previous books and have a special edition of Lorena’s art – and they are much treasured books.   Kate and Lorena have appeared together for this interview.

Hi Kate and Lorena, and welcome to the Book Muse!

 

  1. First of all, how did you two meet each other and was Vasilisa the Wise the first project you collaborated on?

 

KATE: We first met when I wanted to buy myself a piece of fairy tale art as a present to myself for having completed my doctorate in fairy tales. A writer friend of mine Allison Tait sent me a message on Twitter with a link to Lorena’s website, essentially saying ‘Kate, have you seen this? I think you’d like it’. It was a complete coincidence – Allison didn’t know I was actively looking to buy some art, she just thought I’d like what Lorena creates. And I did! I loved it! I bought one of her pieces at once, and we began to communicate via social media, and just found we had so much in common. After a while, we realised that we were both working on very similar projects, quite independently of each other, and we decided to collaborate. We worked in secret for quite a long time, exchanging stories and images, and slowly Vasilisa the Wise came together.

LORENA: I think our serendipitous meeting is an example of the good that social media can do. At its best, social media create communities in which extraordinary connections can be made. Without that one tweet from Allison to Kate, my work life today would be completely different, and I’m so grateful for it!

 

  1. Snow White and Rose Red comes out at the end of April – did you have any launches or events planned for this book, and if so, what were they?

 

KATE: Lorena and I have done a tour together with every book so far, and we had so much fun planned for this book! A launch, art gallery showings, school visits, and so on. It was heart-breaking that everything had to be cancelled. Apart from anything else, it means we won’t get to see each other! We live so far away from each other, our launch tours were always a lovely excuse to get together, drink champagne, throw around ideas, and talk for hours. Now we shall just have to do it all virtually.

LORENA: I desperately miss the chance to sit on Kate’s balcony with a glass of champagne this year! But that time will come again, and for now we’re having a fabulous time putting together videos and plotting our online book launch on May 1st. There will be champagne involved.

 

  1. Are there any future Lost Fairy Tale anthologies planned for the two of you, and will the series hit the magic fairy tale number of seven?

 

KATE: We are working on Book 4 right now! We chose the stories together, and I have re-written them, and now Lorena is creating the art for them. The book will be called ‘The Gardener’s Son, the Golden Bird & Other Tales of Gentle Young Men.’ And, yes, we like to imagine seven …

LORENA: At least seven! I just started work on The Gardener’s Son this week, and I’m reminded (as I always am) of how much fun it is working with Kate, and with her incredible words.

 

  1. Do you have a favourite tale that you have worked on?

 

KATE: All of them! We don’t retell a story if we don’t love it. Though of course (speaking very quietly) some are more beloved than others. It’s made me very happy to bring the beautiful stories of Mary de Morgan to a wider audience, and I particularly love the Grimm stories ‘The Singing, Springing Lark’, ‘Six Swans’ and ‘Snow White & Rose Red’. ‘Tam Lin’ is one of my favourite stories to retell in an oral performance, while ‘Katie Crackernuts’ is another old Scottish tale I just adore.

LORENA: I’m with Kate. Every story I’m reading or illustrating at the time is my favourite. I do have a soft spot for some too though: ‘The Stolen Child’, ‘A Mother’s Yarn’ and ‘Strawberries in the Snow’… And ‘The Pot Who Went to the Laird’s Castle’ is so much fun to read aloud.

  1. Lorena, when did you start illustrating, and what was the first medium you experimented with?

 

LORENA: Before I moved into illustration, I was a photographer and photographic artist. I began as an absolutely purist to the photographic form: I formulated my own photographic chemistry, printed from large format negatives onto fibre-based paper, and only in black and white of course… This all came crashing down when I had children! I suddenly couldn’t justify locking myself in the darkroom for days at a time. So, I moved slowly into digital, but if I was going to adapt to this new medium, I wanted to take full advantage of it. I began montaging photographs together in Photoshop, and having young children inspired me to start thinking more deeply about fairy tales and the stories we tell them. It. was a natural progression then to move into illustration.

 

  1. When did you decide the photographic layering method you have used in Vasilisa the Wise, The Buried Moon, Wiser than Everything and Snow White and Rose Red was the most effective method for this series of books?

           

LORENA: The layering method works so well because I’m working with a world reflected in but different to our own. Photography captures what is it front of the camera, but with digital montage I can build something new from it. I can create lions and griffins out of sticks and leaves. A girl can sprout a mermaid’s tail, or tight rope walk over a single hair. I can make a forest from blades of grass, and the ocean from a fish tank. It feels magical, even as I sit at my messy desk with a rapidly cooling cup of tea.

 

  1. Of all the illustrations you have created so far, Lorena, which have you had the most fun with?

 

LORENA: The most fun are probably the illustrations where I have to build a creature from scratch. I really enjoyed creating the goblin getting tangled in a fishing line for Snow White and Rose Red. He’s just so delightfully wicked and cranky! I had a fantastic time finding tangles of hair and wigs to make his ridiculous beard.

SWRR3
The goblin Lorena created
  1. Kate, you’ve loved fairy tales for a long time – your whole life. What was it about fairy tales that attracted you to them, and was there one in particular that you loved?

 

KATE: I spent quite a lot of time in hospital when I was a little girl, and so books and stories were enormously important to me, offering me an escape from the physical constraints of being so sick and afraid and alone. My mother bought me a copy of Grimm’s Fairy tales when I was seven, and I read it to absolute tatters. There was something about the darkness in the tales that spoke very powerfully to me. The heroes of fairy tales have to face profound dangers – being turned into toads, being fattened up to be eaten – and that sense of peril resonated with me in a way that most sugary-sweet children’s stories did not. I too was in danger. I too was facing insurmountable odds. Fairy tales gave me hope that I too could triumph, just like the young men and women who defeated the witches and ogres and dragons of their world.

Of all the tales I read, ‘Rapunzel’ was the one that resonated with me most powerfully. This is because my lonely hospital ward was a metaphorical tower, I realise now; and also, because Rapunzel’s tears had magical healing powers, while I was in hospital because I had lost my tear duct in a savage dog attack. I ended up writing a whole novel inspired by ‘Rapunzel’, and a poem, and did my doctorate on the history of the tale, so you can say a great deal of my life has been shaped by seeking to understand this one story’s magnetic pull on my imagination.

 

 

  1. Your love of fairy tales is evident in your novels – whether it is the themes or tropes, or the use of a particular fairy tale infusion to tell a story from history – such as the Singing, Springing Lark in The Beast’s Garden – how do you go about choosing which fairy tales work with which historical events?

 

KATE: That is a very hard question to answer, Ashleigh, because it’s never as mechanical as that. Each book comes to life in my imagination in a different way, and sometimes it’s the fairy tale that inspires the historical events. For example, the idea for The Beast’s Garden came to me in a kind of dream, as I was awakening from sleep. The dream showed me a girl in a golden dress singing to a room full of SS soldiers as she tried to save the man she loved. The setting and the fairy tale were fused together from the start (a golden dress is a key motif in ‘The Singing, Springing Lark’.) I draw upon a number of different fairy tales in The Wild Girl, but all of them were tales told to the Grimm brothers by Dortchen Wild, a real-life woman who was my protagonist in that book. What tales she told, and where and when, became the thematic structure of the book, and revealed to me her story. The Blue Rose is the only book of mine where I went out actively searching for a fairy tale to fit my story, and even then, I stumbled upon it most serendipitously and when I was not actually looking for it.

 

 

  1. Can you tell my readers anything about your next fairy tale infused historical fiction, Kate?

 

KATE: I’m working with an ancient Greek myth this time! The book I am writing is set in Crete, in contemporary times and during the Nazi occupation of 1941-1945, and it draws upon the story of Ariadne and the Minotaur. The novel will be called The Crimson Thread, which is a reference to the ball of red thread that Ariadne gives to Theseus, so that he may find his way out of the labyrinth after he has slaughtered the Minotaur. I’m only in the early stages, but I’m very much loving the writing of it!

 

  1. This is for both of you – do you have a favourite artist or style of art, and why?

 

KATE: I am a passionate lover of art, and artists feature in quite a few of my books. The Venetian artist Titian in Bitter Greens, for example, or the Pre-Raphaelite artists at the heart of Beauty in Thorns. I particularly love figurative art which has a story at its core – which is probably why I love the Pre-Raphaelites so much as they were inspired by myth, poetry and fairy tales, just like me.

LORENA: My early work was inspired a lot by modernist photographers like Imogen Cunningham, Tina Modotti and Edward Western, and I think I still keep a lot of those sensibilities, though it may not be immediately obvious in my work! I think they taught me that so much can be found in a single object, yet you can still hold onto its essence. More obviously, I adore the work of illustrators such as Arthur Rackham, Harry Clarke, Edmund Dulac, and Virginia Frances Sterret. The use of silhouettes and broadly coloured and textured backgrounds in Golden Age fairy tale illustrations were a launching point for my own illustration style.

  1. You both work in the arts sector – with recent events and the cancellation of launches and festivals, and booksellers closing temporarily or changing the way they operate for the next few months, how do you think the arts industry overall might be impacted?

 

KATE: Oh, Ashleigh, this is a terrible time for our creative artists! Our government does not value their work, and does not understand how variable and difficult our income is anyway. The sign of a rich and vibrant culture is always its art, and yet it seems as if we are to live on nothing – creating out of a void. I am so afraid for the young artists, and those that are working outside the norm, and those that come from Indigenous or migrant backgrounds, and those who have staked everything on their creative work. Stories and art are so important! We are not human without them.

 

  1. Supporting the arts, and in this series, Australian authors and illustrators across the board is something I am passionate about. What is the most important thing about the arts for both of you, and how should Australians support the arts and local bookstores in these times?

 

KATE: Thank you, Ashleigh, it’s so heartening to know that there are people like you in the world, working tirelessly to help and support our creative artists. What can I say? We should all read more Australian authors, and listen to home-grown music more, and watch more Australian-made films and dramas and dance and theatre and buy Australian art to make our homes beautiful. I do my best, particularly with Australian authors. I buy them, I read them, I post pictures of their book covers on social media, I review them on my blog and for Booktopia, I began a light-hearted book show on YouTube with one of my best friends, I like and share the posts of as many writers as I can, and when they are overcome with hurt and despair, I try and send them loving support and reassurance. I do all this every single day, because it’s all I can do.

LORENA: I second everything Kate says in the last two questions. We need art and books more than ever, and those who make them it haven’t been properly supported, certainly not in our lifetimes, and far less so in times of crisis like these. Our industry will survive: it’s a many faceted thing, but we need to remember that the industry wouldn’t exist without the many individuals that make it. We can all support the arts: by buying a book, chipping in a few dollars a month to an artist on Patreon, purchasing handmade locally made gifts… and by constantly reminding those with money and power that the society they profit from would not exist without the arts.

 

 

  1. Do you have a favourite local bookseller, and how are they getting books to customers at this time?

 

KATE: My local booksellers are Berkelouw Books at Balgowlah, in Sydney, and they have very sadly closed down for the moment.  However, The Constant Reader at Mosman are struggling on, having click-and-collect services available – no browsing in the shop allowed but they have a great website (and all of my books are available!)

LORENA: We have a fabulous bookshop in Castlemaine (Victoria), Stoneman’s Bookroom. The staff there are extraordinarily supports of local authors and illustrators. They are taking order for pick-up at the moment, and I hope it’s enough to get them through. I can’t answer this question without also giving a massive shout-out to Blarney Books in Port Fairy. Jo is brilliantly engaged with the Australian book and art community, and works passionately to promote their work. She’s extraordinary.

  1. Favourite author, series or genre to read?

 

KATE: My favourites genres are historical fiction, crime, fantasy, memoir and – of course! – fairy tale retellings. I have a page on my website that I call ‘Kate’s Favourite Writers’ – I think there’s more than 110 there! https://kateforsyth.com.au/favourite-writers-adult

 

Lorena: I can’t resist an Australian-written YA or middle grade book. I’m currently reading Alison Croggon’s The Threads of Magic, and loving it. I also have a soft spot for literary fiction by women, classic crime novels, artist memoirs, and historical fiction. I prefer historical novels that deal with the every day, rather than big war adventures. Kate’s Beauty in Thorns and Hannah Kent’s The Good People are two of my favourites from the past couple years.

 

  1. Best writing companion – cat, dog or both?

 

KATE: My beautiful dog spends most of the day curled on a chair in my study. My cat wanders home when it gets dark, eats, then wanders off again!

LORENA: I love this question! Once upon a time I would have said cat (warm lap, comforting purrs) but I’m afraid I’ve been converted into a dog person. And there’s nothing like a dog to remind you to get away from the desk for an hour to walk in the fresh air, which is vital to work like ours!

 

  1. Kate – do you prefer writing by hand, or on the computer, or a combination of both?

 

I write in my diary every morning long-hand – and scribble down ideas and inspirations long-hand – and write poetry long-hand – and sometimes I do writing sprints long-hand. Everything else I write via my computer. Unless I’m stuck. Then I’ll try writing long-hand to see if it unsticks me.

 

  1. Lorena – is there a medium you love when it comes to illustrating that you haven’t used in a long time?

 

LORENA: I still miss the darkroom… And every now and then I like to pick up a pencil and remind my hand how to make marks on a page. Lately I’ve been playing with cyanotypes again and using them to teach illustration workshops. It’s a fantastic way of combining photography, montage and painting. You paint a light sensitive solution onto paper, in any shape you like, lay objects over the top to create a silhouette, and expose it in the sun. You then rinse it to set the solution. It’s (relatively) safe to use, and great fun for students. I’ve even started incorporating it into my work, with a board cover design for a novel coming out through Swan River Press in Ireland, where I combined cyanotype and photography in a digital montage.

  1. What new releases are you both looking forward to in the next six to twelve months?

KATE: Oh my gosh, so many! On my to-be-read shelf I have new releases from Natasha Lester, Kelly Rimmer, Dervla McTiernan, Kayte Nunn, Julia Baird, Alexandra Joel, Melissa Ashley, JoJo Moyes, and Michelle Paver – I want to read them all. So many books, so little time.

LORENA: I recently received a review copy of Shakespeare and the Folktale, edited by Charlotte Artese. I haven’t had the chance to read it yet, but it looks like a fascinating exploration of the tales that inspired some of his plays. I’m also looking forward to Flyaway by Kathleen Jennings, Hollowpox, the third Nevermoor book by Jessica Townsend, A Beautiful Foolish Endeavor by Hank Green, and Vesper Flights by Helen McDonald.

 

 

  1. Finally, are there any stories you’d both like to explore in future works?

 

 

KATE: I’d like to retell ‘Katie Crackernuts’ and the Psyche myth in novel form. And Lorena and I are toying with the idea of doing a collection of transformation tales next, which means I could do the Welsh tale of Blodeuwedd which has long haunted my imagination.

LORENA: I’m very much looking forward to the transformation tales! I also love the idea of exploring some strange and interesting folktales – it would be fun to make some ghosts and monsters.

 

Anything further?

 

 

KATE:  The theme of ‘Snow White, Rose Red & Other Tales of Kind Young Women’ is, of course, kindness. We chose it because we think kindness is the most crucial of all human actions. We are living through dark and difficult times. These stories can help us and inspire us to be more compassionate, more loving, more understanding, more kind. We hope you all read them and are inspired.

 

 

Thank you both for appearing here! I can’t wait to read Snow White and Rose Red!

The Complete Adventures on Nim’s Island by Wendy Orr

NimsIsland_roughsTitle: The Complete Adventures on Nim’s Island

Author: Wendy Orr

Genre: Fiction

Publisher: Allen and Unwin

Published: 28th April 2020

Format: Paperback

Pages: 480

Price: $19.99

Synopsis: All three Nim novels – Nim’s IslandNim at Sea and Rescue on Nim’s Island – collected in one edition to celebrate the 21st Anniversary of the original publication of Nim’s Island.

In a palm tree, on an island, in the middle of the wide blue sea, was a girl.
Nim’s hair was wild, her eyes were bright, and around her neck she wore three cords. One was for a spyglass, one for a whorly, whistling shell, and one for a fat red pocketknife in a sheath.

Nim lives on an island in the middle of the wide blue sea, with her father, Jack, as well as a marine iguana called Fred, a sea lion called Selkie, a turtle called Chica and a satellite dish for her email. No one else lives quite like Nim, and she wouldn’t swap places with anyone.

In Nim’s Island, when Jack disappears in his sailing boat and disaster threatens her home, Nim must be braver than she’s ever been before. And she needs help from her friends old and new. This book was adapted as a major motion picture starring Jodie Foster and Abigail Breslin (Little Miss Sunshine).

In Nim at Sea, Nim’s new friend Alex Rover flies away without saying goodbye, and Selkie the sea lion is captured by villains from a cruise ship. Nim must risk everything to bring them back. A second major motion picture was inspired by this story, and screened as Return to Nim’s Island, starring Bindi Irwin.

In Rescue on Nim’s Island, Nim unearths an amazing fossil, but this discovery puts her island in terrible danger. Nim must choose between saving a natural treasure and saving someone’s life.

~*~

We first meet Nim as she watches the Troppo Tourist boat from her tree on the island she lives on with her father, Jack. Nim’s mother went missing while investigating the stomach of a blue whale when Nim was a baby, and father and daughter have lived on the island for many years. But with Jack missing, Nim reaches out to her favourite novelist, Alex Rover – who is not adventurous at all.

This is a delightful book, filled with fun, and animals and curiosity. Nim is a delightful character, and just as one might imagine her to be. She knows nothing but her life on the island, yet that doesn’t quench her curiosity. This book lovingly introduces readers to the island and the characters. I felt the island was the kind of island that could be found anywhere in the world, and at times, found myself imagining some of the islands off Australia as Nim’s home.

AWW2020When Alex arrives, things get interesting, and the novel cleverly explores Nim, Alex and Jack in simple yet effective ways when the perspective is changed, and this provides a more well-rounded story, though the majority of it belongs to Nim. The light-hearted mystery and search is wonderful for middle grade readers, and should be perfect for children who don’t like scary things. It has a great sense of humour. This is a perfect sequel, and I loved that it wasn’t too scary but had enough worry within the plot to feed the action and the story, and move the plot along at a really good pace.

In the second book, Alex has flown away and Nim finds herself trapped on the Troppo Tourist boat as she searches for Selkie, who has been kidnapped. Nim must band together with her new friends to rescue Selkie, find Alex, and get back to her island. But to do so, Nim must outsmart the Professor. This delightful follow-on from the first book takes place soon after those events, and is a other light-hearted adventure – with a sinister character in it, yet told in a way that much like the first book, is fun and not overly scary for younger readers. The story is full pf hope that Nim will rescue Selkie and find Alex and is an adventure that is lots of fun to go on.

Finally, in Rescue on Nim’s Island, Nim and her new friends must find a way to protect the beauty of the island from evil scientists who have a habit of destroying things and taking credit for the work of others. Can Nim and her new friends save the island? Again, it was paced well, with a few scarier of worrying moments but not enough that it will terrify younger readers. These moments moved the plot along and the characters and readers are allowed to be worried and scared – they do not have to hide it. After all, they are just children. Clever children who know exactly how they can save each other and the island.

Each novel cleverly follows on from each other – and they are tied together not only by characters and story arcs, but by the opening lines, about Nim with her spyglass. These alter slightly in each one after we’re initially introduced to Nim. This gives a sense of connection and familiarity for readers. Each story also follows on from the other yet gives a brief recount of what has come before, so can be read one after the other or individually, though I think it will be lots more fun to read them all as a series. This was my first time reading Nim – and I thoroughly enjoyed it. There is something magical about someone like Nim and her life, and it was such a joy to read this. I have seen the movie with Abigail Breslin – and found out after seeing it that it was a book first – as has happened with several movies. Often the movies change or take things out – yet with this one, the book and movie felt fairly close to each other. I am planning on watching the movie again as well.

The overall narrative arc is mainly Nim’s adventures on the island – with everything else in the plot moving along so she can have her fun and play with her animal friends. It is one that was enjoyable and fun to escape into, and is a really great read for all ages – kids’ books shouldn’t have an age limit! If you’re like me, and enjoy them, go for it and read them! Wendy Orr has created such a fun and creative world – with a light look at what it means to care for the environment and grapples with right and wrong in each of her books, and how people each face challenges very differently.

This is a delightful little series, and I hope Nim finds a new legion of fans through this 21st anniversary edition.

 

 

 

Friday Barnes: No Rules by R.A. Spratt

Friday barnes 4Title: Friday Barnes: No Rules

Author: R.A. Spratt

Genre: Fiction

Publisher: Penguin Random House/Puffin

Published: 7th May 2019

Format: Paperback

Pages:  256

Price: $15.99

Synopsis: What if every clue points in the wrong direction?

Friday Barnes has been deported to Switzerland! With their in-school detective gone, Highcrest Academy has descended into chaos. Someone’s fired all the teachers!

The Headmaster claims it wasn’t him, and suspicion soon turns to Ian Wainscott, but Friday won’t stand by and let her favourite nemesis take the blame. Apart from being innocent (probably), he’s seriously good-looking. There’s also the problem of the new vice principal and his questionable teaching methods. It’s hard to take someone seriously when they wear tie-dyed t-shirts. Can Friday save Ian’s scholarship? Can she find the prankster before they bring down the school? Can she run the cross country? She’s certainly going to try . . . to do the first two, anyway.

~*~

The fourth Friday Barnes book begins with Friday being deported – she was born in Switzerland and her parents forgot to apply for Australian citizenship for her – so her name is Swiss too. It doesn’t take long before she gets home though and is faced with a school in chaos. All the Highcrest teachers have been fired, and VP Pete has introduced new teaching methods that are at odds with the other teachers. But is he hiding something, and what does he have planned for Highcrest? Only Friday Barnes can find out!

Friday and Melly are back at their investigative tricks – trying to find out who would want the teachers fired and why they would frame Ian Wainscott – whom Melanie insists is Friday’s boyfriend.

I love Friday’s attempts to get out of cross country too – and the mystery thickens when the trail causes trouble – can Friday reveal the real culprit and convince the Headmaster he’s wrong about Ian?

With her usual humour and bluntness, Friday interrogates students and investigates side cases for other students, and negotiates payment and her ability to stay at Highcrest with the forever suffering Headmaster, who relies on Friday to investigate what is happening yet at the same time, wishes she’d keep her head down – and on that, they are constantly agreeing. Friday’s one constant parental figure is Uncle Bernie, who is always ready to help Friday in her shenanigans.

 

AWW2020

I’m loving this series – it’s great to see a female character be who she is – awkward, shy and into school and all kinds of subjects from history to science, and is always ready with facts as needed. Characters like Friday expand what we expect from our literary heroes and show that every experience and every type of characters can work effectively and tell a good story. It also shows kids that there are people like them – that the world isn’t divided into popular and unpopular kids. There are so many different types of kids and personalities.

This series brings boarding schools, mystery and so many things together for readers to life and ensures that the journey is never ending – it is a series that definitely needs to be read in order. I look forward to reading the rest of the series.

 

The Besties Make A Splash by Felice Arena and Tom Jellett

the besties make a spalshTitle: The Besties Make A Splash

Author: Felice Arena and Tom Jellett

Genre: Fiction

Publisher: Puffin

Published: 28th April 2020

Format: Paperback

Pages: 80

Price: $19.99

Synopsis: From the author and illustrator of the popular Sporty Kids books comes an exciting new beginner-reader series that celebrates the everyday adventures – at school, at home, in the backyard, even in the living room! A funny, sweet series about kids being kids, where imagination and play rule!

Oliver and Ruby have been besties forever . . .
Oliver and Ruby love going to the beach – swimming in the surf, wading in the rockpools and eating ice-cream! And it gets even better when their funny friend Zac and the coolest girl in school turn up. But what if your bestie is having more fun with someone else?

~*~

Another really great early reader’s book for kids aged five to eight years old, the next book in The Besties series delivers a fun, fast-paced and quirky story for kids. Again, it displays diversity – mainly racial and gender at this stage, to show that friendship can cross many kinds of boundaries.

Oliver and Ruby always have fun together, and in this installment, they head to the beach to swim together in the rock pools when Zac and Isabella show up – Zac splashes with Ruby, and Isabella and Oliver go for a walk. Yet Zac and Isabella soon find that they’re not having that much fun with Ruby and Oliver. Ruby and Oliver don’t enjoy the ways Zac and Isabella have fun. So will they realise that they really do have more fun with each other than other people?

This book is a great story about friendship and trying new things and it also says it is okay to go back to what you like, and what you know if you don’t enjoy the new thing. It is about the power of friendship and what it means to know who your friends are and the sharing of interests that can bring friends together.

It is a fun book, aimed at early readers, and might even be a bit more of a challenge for those seeking a story with a little more to the story, yet still like shorter chapters and simple vocabuluary.

Another great book for early readers to enjoy and learn how to read with.

 

Isolation Publicity with Middle Grade Mavens

 

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.
Some of my first interviews were with authors who have had events cancelled – and if there is more interest, I will be including as many as I can over the next few months, because books are what will get us through. Another artform and piece of media that will get us through is podcasts, and whilst I have written about the ones I listen to before, I’ve never interviewed a podcaster. So, the first podcast I will be interviewing is Middle Grade Mavens. Pamela has answered most of the questions where it doesn’t specify a name with two answers. It’s interesting to see how the book community is adapting and promoting the literary world, and in the midst of this pandemic, are promoting kids’ books for all ages across their social media platforms.

 

It was interesting to see that we enjoy some of the same books and podcasts as well.

middle grade mavens

Hi Julie and Pamela, and welcome to The Book Muse!

1. I started listening to your podcast late last year in 2019 and binged it to catch up. First of all, can you tell my readers what the podcast is about?
Middle Grade Mavens is an Australian book review podcast by myself, Julie Anne Grasso and Pamela Ueckerman. It’s aimed at anyone who loves middle grade books; that is, books aimed for ages 8-12. We provide detailed book reviews on new and not-so-new releases and author interviews. We sometimes create bonus episodes for aspiring authors such as a series we ran over the summer interviewing of children’s book editors.
2. When you began the podcast, as a team and as individuals, what did you hope to achieve with each episode?
Julie: Pamela and I both have an intense love for middle grade books. Sometimes we have intense views about how they should or should not be written, but regardless of our views, we knew we wanted to get the word out about great middle grade books we’ve encountered. To do that, we decided we would just start talking about middle grade books. From there it morphed into interviewing authors, illustrators, editors, publicists, booksellers, and anyone who wants to join us on the journey of promoting and discovering wonderful middle grade books. The world is our oyster really.

3. The connection you have as podcasters is great to listen to – did that develop as you planned out the podcast, through a working relationship, or another relationship, and how long have you been friends for?
Julie: It’s funny, Pamela and I met at Kidlitvic (industry conference) a few years ago and hit it off immediately. We talked about books, our views on the industry and how we hope to be a part of it. When I bounced the idea off Pamela of a podcast about middle-grade books, she jumped at the chance. We didn’t really have any idea how to go about it, so we just wrote up some questions we’d like to ask each other about the books we were reading, and went from there. We use a simple platform called Anchor, which is a mobile phone app. We record on Skype and upload our segments and interviews to the Anchor app, which then distributes our show to 10 platforms, like Apple Podcasts. Pamela is also whizz at websites, so she built one for us. The rest is history!

Pamela: It’s always great to hear that people enjoy our connection. We had already been part of a writing mastermind group for a year or so when Julie suggested a podcast, we knew each other fairly well but it has grown from there with working so closely. We spent a few months planning and preparing before we started recording so I think that also helped. We’re quite different in many ways but similar in our approach to our careers. We take things seriously, but not too seriously, and while we’d love to be perfectionists, we know with children and the limited time we have that perfection is unattainable so we don’t let that stop us.

4. What was the book that made you fall in love with reading, and was it a middle grade book?
Pamela: I’ve always read, I can’t remember a time when I didn’t love books. One of my fond childhood memories is on my 7th birthday, my dad waking me up to give me a beautiful book of nursery rhymes and fairy tales from our next-door neighbour. I still have that book, although it’s not very PC any more. I also have an annual that was my mother’s when she was a girl. One of my favourite books as a child was Roald Dahl’s The Twits and another was The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett. I loved escaping to other worlds, or other versions of our world. I still do!

Julie: I am going to surprise you, but I was not a reader at all as a child. I didn’t get the reading bug until I was well into my late teens when I read, Anne McCaffrey’s The Rowan Series. Those books made me a reader and I still read them today and love them. Plus, I was always a sci-fi nerd, watching Dr Who as a child, so a sci-fi book series is what it took to get me reading.

5. I’ve been studying, reading and following literary circles and trends for a while – and the last few years have been the first time I have heard the term middle grade, at least in Australia. How do you feel the trend in using this term has grown for readers aged around eight to twelve?

Pamela: Middle-grade was a new term for me when I started writing for kids. Until I had my own children, I hadn’t read children’s books in many years and while they were little, I was mostly immersed in picture books. As a kid, I would jump between reading younger books like Enid Blyton’s Magic Faraway Tree, maybe a Babysitter’s Club, classics like Little Women and then adult books like Mills and Boon and a French detective series I discovered at the library. There were books in between, of course, but not like they are today. I love that the focus has grown in this area because it’s such an important developmental growth period for children, especially as they no longer have the freedom to explore the world as they once did. But also, a great middle-grade book can be enjoyed by teenagers and adults as well, without darker themes, violence or heavy language that they might want to avoid. It’s hard for me to tell if the term has trended recently because I’m so immersed in it, but I like to think we are champions for middle-grade books and helping that readership to stand on its own.

6. When we were younger and in the nineties, the terms middle grade and young adult didn’t seem to be around or as visible – the bookshops and libraries were broadly divided into kids, adult and sometimes teen sections – do you think the addition of young adult, and middle grade has helped to address how we present books to readers of all ages?

Pamela: Yes, I think the terms really help the gatekeepers and the readers home in on books that are appropriate for their age level and also help booksellers and publishers to target their marketing. Which isn’t only great for sales but it’s also great for attracting kids to read. If they pick up a book that looks interesting but is too advanced or to dark, they might be put off. Likewise, they might be put off if a book seems too easy or babyish. Having these loose categories really helps everyone involved to know what to expect.

Many years ago, children’s books were seen purely as educational opportunities, very moralistic, so I think a part of carving out this niche is that the books are written with an understanding of the age group, writing from a child’s point-of-view rather than the perspective of an adult trying to teach a child. Story is much more important than moral now, which gives authors more scope and allows them to have more fun.

7. Maven Julie is a librarian (if I have this wrong, I apologise, and please correct when you send this back). In this sphere, have you noticed a change in the way middle grade books are presented and recommended in your library? Has this helped kids and parents find the right books?

Julie: So, I better clarify I am a customer service librarian, not a catalogue Librarian. My focus is to help readers discover, find, and access books, as well as essential services that the library offers. I have definitely seen some great changes in the kind of books coming into the collection, as well as how they are presented on the shelf. Through the podcast, and having access to re-release books, I am also able to make some great recommendation of new release books that have only just hit the shelves, as well as some golden oldies.

8. Maven Pamela – how do you incorporate the many, many middle grade books into your home-schooling?

Pamela: Many, many, yes indeed! We start every home-school day with me reading aloud from a novel to both my boys, who are only two years apart so close enough that I don’t feel the need to do separate books. I try to choose more challenging, literary books than what they choose for themselves – a mixture of classics and newer books. How I select those is fairly random, depending on what we already have and what I think they’re ready for. I have collected quite a few books from second-hand book sales and little free libraries over time so we always have options. Other times I use the library. After the novel read-aloud, I usually read from a non-fiction book or maybe a narrative non-fiction picture book and do this for both world and Australian history and sometimes to tie in with our science nature study. We also have bedtime reading, which is the boys’ choice – they usually each have a novel going as a bedtime read-aloud. And then throughout the day they dip in and out of other books for their own reading – these are usually more light-hearted books, manga, or Pokémon or Minecraft guides.

9. Do you have a current favourite middle grade book or series, and why?

Pamela: My current favourite is Jessica Townsend’s Nevermoor series, it has so much depth to the world, the characters, the setting. You can really lose yourself in Nevermoor, which is what you want from a series.

Julie: My current favourite is Malamander by Thomas Taylor and I am reading Gargantis, soon to be released, which is the second book in the series. It is everything I’ve ever wanted in a book. A middle grade magical realism set in eerie-by the sea, a shanty town with a crumbling hotel and a protagonist with a fruit as a surname. My criteria are eclectic I realise, but I’m owning it 100%!
10. When not reading middle grade books, what is your go to genre?
Pamela: Historical fiction is my go-to but I like good writing in any genre, including non-fiction, which I read quite a bit of.
Julie: I used to love forensic crime, but that was before I adopted sleep deprivation as my eternal friend. Now I like to read all things Mystery and or Who Dunnit!

11. Best reading companion: dogs, cats, or both?
Pamela: I’m a dog person but we don’t have any pets right now. At the moment, I’m lucky to get any peace at all so I’m happy when I do!
Julie: Achoo! Neither, allergies. Can I go with the actual book being the companion?
12. Which Hogwarts house do you think you’d be in, if you’ve read the books?
Pamela: Hmmm, I want to say Gryffindor but probably Ravenclaw.
Julie: Gryffindor, although, if I did one of those tests it would probably be Hufflepuff.
13. Are there any 2020 middle grade releases that you and your munchkins are looking forward too?
Pamela: Hollowpox, the next Nevermoor book, and Remy Lai’s new release, Fly on the Wall, both of which have been postponed, which is disappointing! Mr Nine is looking forward to Allison Tait’s new series, The Fire Star in September; and Mr Seven has a few sequels he’s looking forward including Squidge Dibley Destroys Everything (by Mick Elliot), Real Pigeons Peck Punches (Andrew McDonald and Ben Wood) and Aleesah Darlison’s League of Llamas books.
Julie: Gargantis, by Thomas Taylor, The Mummies Smugglers of Crumblin Castle by Pamela Rushby, Illustrated by Nelle May Pierce.
14. When not borrowing from the library, do you have a favourite bookseller you frequent, and why?
Pamela: I try to spread the love around but in particular I like to support my local indie bookstore, Benn’s Books (Centre Rd, Bentleigh). They have a beautifully curated children’s book section.

Julie: The Younger Sun in Yarraville Vic They have an incredible selection and I have to limit my attendance so not to break the bank.

15. Book podcasts are gaining traction – and what I love about them is I can listen to them whilst doing something else, which is how I binged on your podcast and One More Page. What is it about podcasts that discuss books in particular that you think is something people are seeking out?

Pamela: That’s an interesting question. I guess for each person it depends on what they’re trying to get out of it. Some of our listeners are writers and looking to learn more about the industry and pick up writing tips. Others are teachers or librarians looking for book recommendations. The industry is quite strong (or at least was before COVID-19) and there are so many books, it’s nice to be able to cut right through the noise. I think it’s also a form of connection – when you get to know a podcast and if you enjoy the show’s format or the presenter’s voices, you feel a connection to them and want to hear what they have to say. And if the hosts are reading and discussing the same books as you are, there’s a connection there, a shared experience. As we are finding out the hard way with the pandemic, connection is a hugely important part of life. If you can get that connection on your terms – when, where and how is convenient for you – even better.

16. What book or podcast recommendations can you give readers?
Pamela: As a writer, I love So You Want to Be a Writer, particularly the interviews, they’re fascinating. For kids, my boys love Wow in the World, which is an hilarious science-themed podcast. As for books on writing, I’m currently reading Wired for Story by Lisa Cron, I highly recommend it.

Julie: Same as Pamela, above, as well as our friends at One More Page. I also love The First Time podcast, and another great one for more readers of adult mystery and crime fiction, SheDunnitShow Last but not least, another great one for adult and kids book lovers, Words and Nerds…