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

total quack up.jpgTitle: Total Quack Up

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

Genre: Children’s fiction/humour

Publisher:  Penguin Random House/Puffin

Published: 15th October, 2018

Format: Paperback

Pages: 288

Price: 14.99

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

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

~*~

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Author: Gillian Mears, Illustrated by Dinalie Dabarera

Genre: Fantasy

Publisher: Walker Books

Published: 1st September 2015

Format: Hardcover

Pages: 80

Price: $19.99

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

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

~*~

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

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

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

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

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What the Woods Keep by Katya de Becerra

what the woods keep.jpgTitle: What the Woods Keep

Author: Katya de Becerra

Genre: Young Adult/Speculative Fiction/Mystery

Publisher: Allen and Unwin

Published: 26th September 2018

Format: Paperback

Pages: 384

Price: $16.99

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

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

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

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

~*~

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

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

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

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

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The Case of the Left-Handed Lady (Enola Holmes #2) by Nancy Springer

enola holmes 2.jpgTitle: The Case of the Left-Handed Lady (Enola Holmes #2)

Author: Nancy Springer

Genre: Crime/Mystery, Historical Fiction

Publisher: Allen and Unwin

Published: 26th September 2018

Format: Paperback

Pages: 256

Price: $14.99

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

Sherlock Holmes’s sister, Enola, is back on another case! Enola Holmes is being hunted by the world’s most famous detective – her own brother, Sherlock Holmes. But while she is on the run in the world’s biggest, darkest, dirtiest city, she discovers a hidden cache of charcoal drawings and feels as if she is a soul mate to the girl who drew them. But that girl, Lady Cecily, has disappeared without a trace. Braving the midnight streets, Enola must unravel the clues to find this left-handed lady, but in order to save her, Enola risks revealing more than she should. Will she be able to keep her identity a secret and find Lady Cecily, or will the one thing she is trying to save – her freedom – be lost forever?

Author bio:

Nancy Springer has published forty novels for adults, young adults and children. In a career beginning shortly after she graduated from Gettysburg College in 1970, Springer wrote for ten years in the imaginary realms of mythological fantasy, then ventured on to contemporary fantasy, magical realism, and women’s fiction and suspense before turning her attention to children’s literature. Her novels and stories for middle-grade and young adults range from contemporary realism, mystery/crime, and fantasy to her critically acclaimed novels based on the Arthurian mythos, I Am Mordred: A Tale of Camelot and I Am Morgan Le Fay. Springer’s children’s books have won her two Edgar Allan Poe awards, a Carolyn W. Field award, various Children’s Choice honours and numerous ALA Best Book listings. Her most recent series include the Tales of Rowan Hood, featuring Robin Hood’s daughter, and the Enola Holmes mysteries, starring the much younger sister of Sherlock Holmes.

~*~

The Case of the Left-Handed Lady is the second in the Enola Holmes series, picking up shortly after the end of the first novel, where Enola has managed to evade Sherlock and Mycroft, and the boarding school they wish to send her to. During her escapades as Ivy Meshle, and under other identities she has crafted for herself using the ciphers her mother left her, Enola, along with her new friend, Joddy, as she hides in London, quite under the nose of Sherlock, and uses tricks he knows against him.

Whilst hiding, she discovers a cache of charcoal drawings, that lead her to a new case – a missing girl named Lady Cecily whom she feels a connection with – but what is that connection? Is it merely the art that connects them, or is there more? As Enola investigates Lady Cecily’s disappearance, clues as to who Lady Cecily is are beginning to fall into place, and Enola discovers that Lady Cecily is left-handed – and begins to ponder the lady’s mysterious disappearance as she wanders the streets in disguise. To find the missing Lady Cecily though, Enola risks revealing who she is, and where she is to her brothers.

In the second instalment of this series, the mystery is just as intriguing, and engaging as the first. I enjoyed that the thread of Enola evading her brothers was continued through, and it would be very fun and interesting to see Enola and Sherlock working together. For now, their mental sparring will have to suffice, with ciphers and codes and games to draw each other out and into the open as Enola works to solve cases on her own, in a world where it is not expected that she should, would or even could do so.  Enola is smart, determined and sneaky – everything you’d expect a sister of Sherlock Holmes to be, in a world where other things were expected of her, yet she flouted them.

These books are exciting because they reveal insight into the Victorian world, and its class and gender divisions specifically, with the backdrop of the dark streets of London traversed by Jack the Ripper, and other nefarious people. They explore the expectations of gender and through Enola, turn these around and become a heroine that girls can aspire to be and look up to. She is a remarkable character with guts and a willingness to do whatever it takes to solve the cases.

I look forward to the next books in the series.

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Enola Holmes: The Case of the Missing Marquess (Enola Holmes #1) by Nancy Springer

Enola Holmes 1.jpgTitle: Enola Holmes: The Case of the Missing Marquess (Enola Holmes #1)

Author: Nancy Springer

Genre: Mystery/Crime, Historical Fiction

Publisher: Allen and Unwin

Published: 26th September 2018

Format: Paperback

Pages:240

Price: $14.99

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

When Enola Holmes, sister to the detective Sherlock Holmes, discovers her mother has disappeared, she quickly embarks on a journey to London in search of her. But nothing can prepare her for what awaits. Because when she arrives, she finds herself involved in the kidnapping of a young marquess, fleeing murderous villains, and trying to elude her shrewd older brothers-all while attempting to piece together clues to her mother’s strange disappearance. Amid all the mayhem, will Enola be able to decode the necessary clues and find her mother?

~*~

When Enola Holmes, the much younger sister of legendary detective, Sherlock Holmes, awakens on her fourteenth birthday to find herself quite alone – her mother has up and left, leaving no clues as to her whereabouts, apart from a book of ciphers that Enola must follow to uncover the truth. In the days following her mother’s disappearance, Enola’s much older brothers, Mycroft and Sherlock arrive to make proper arrangements for their sister in London in light of the situation they find her in, where her education befitting a proper lady has been woeful, and the money sent to assist has been spent elsewhere. So, whilst Mycroft prepares his sister for boarding school, and Sherlock returns to his mysterious ways in London, Enola sneaks off and soon finds herself embroiled in disguises, a search for her mother and knowledge of a kidnapped marquess, whom she is determined to track down. At the same time, she must dodge her brothers, so they cannot find her, hide from her murderous villains and help the marquess get home. With all this chaos going on, can Enola maintain her cover and make sure she is undetected?

The Enola Holmes series takes a new look at Sherlock Holmes and his family, and inserts a what if – what if Sherlock and Mycroft had a sister – what would she be like? In this reimagining, she takes more after Sherlock, the detective, than Mycroft, who is the more responsible of the two.   Written in a style akin to the original Holmes stories, but with a feminine twist, the Enola Holmes mysteries looks to be an intriguing series, with books one and two published by Allen and Unwin out today.

Enola is very much like her brother, Sherlock, taking advantage of disguises she picks up along the way and puts together with the clothes Mycroft orders for her to attend boarding school. She is good with ciphers, and manages to elude those pursuing her, and is a master of escapes. Using her skill with ciphers to create new identities for herself, Enola is about to embark on a series of quests and mysteries that will hopefully lead her to her mother, whilst her brother, Sherlock, is hot on her heels – it will be interesting to see whether they eventually team up to defy Mycroft in future books.

What I enjoyed about this book was not only the female lead, but the very different take on the Sherlock Holmes stories and the detective story trope, set in Victorian London with the underlying theme of Jack the Ripper, and other nefarious people weaving in and out of the shadows Enola keeps to, yet fears as she tries to find her mother and solve the mysteries that she stumbles upon along her way.

An excellent start to the series, and my review of book two will be following this one.

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We Three Heroes (Medoran Chronicles) by Lynette Noni

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

Author: Lynette Noni

Genre: Fantasy

Publisher: Pantera Press

Published: 1st September 2018

Format: Paperback

Pages: 372

Price: $19.99

Synopsis: EMBRACE THE WONDER

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

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

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

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

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

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

It is time for their stories to be told.

~*~

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Australian Women Writer’s Challenge check in two – books sixteen to thirty.

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Marking off the half way point for my first sixty books as it stands on the 11th of August, is my second post, with the next fifteen books up to thirty. These range from books for kids, to choose your own adventure to historical fiction, and nearly everything in between. This post, there is much more diversity in the authors read – including some short stories, surprise arrivals and a fairy tale retelling. There were a few World War Two based books – this was around the time I read many Holocaust influenced stories from authors from around the world, one of them a true story – The Tattooist of Auschwitz – and after reading this one and going onto other Holocaust stories, it made me wonder -how many people from those stories did Lale tattoo, how many did he see – the faces that were clear as characters and historical figures in the novels would have been just numbers once he had tattooed them.

This next allotment also marks, with book sixteen, the beginning of my quiz writing job, and at times I have reviewed some of the books I have been sent, but not all. Not many are picture books on my list here, but a couple have pictures – be they photos related to the true story a novel is based on, or pictures that accompany and complement the text for younger readers, such as in Grandpa, Me and Poetry.

Sixteen to thirty:

  1. Grandpa, Me and Poetry by Sally Morgan
  2. The Paris Seamstress by Natasha Lester
  3. The Freedom Finders Series: Touch the Sun by Emily Conolan
  4. The Book of Answers: The Ateban Cipher Book 2 by A.L. Tait
  5. Little Gods by Jenny Ackland
  6. I am Sasha by Anita Selzer
  7. Thunderwith by Libby Hathorn
  8. The Tattooist of Auschwitz by Heather Morris
  9. Lovesome by Sally Seltmann
  10. Egyptian Enigma by L.J.M. Owen
  11. The Beast’s Heart by Leife Shallcross
  12. Eleanor’s Secret by Caroline Beecham
  13. Australia Day by Melanie Cheng
  14. The Most Marvellous Spelling Bee Mystery by Deborah Abela
  15. Miles Franklin: A Short Biography by Jill Roe

My next list will be thirty-one to forty-five. The vast array and mix of books I have read this year is interesting and has definitely been fun to read. Once the posts for the first sixty are up, upon the completion of the next fifteen, another post will go up – whether this is monthly or less frequently, these will act as little capsules of books to show what I have been reading in short bursts.