While You Were Reading by Ali Klaus and Michelle Berg

while-you-were-reading-9781925750560_lg.jpgTitle: While You Were Reading

Author: Ali Klaus and Michelle Berg

Genre: Fiction

Publisher: Simon and Schuster

Published: July 2019

Format: Paperback

Pages: 384

Price: $24.99

Synopsis: Words are messy. Love is messier.
A hilarious, insightful new novel from the creators of Books on the Rail

Meet Beatrix Babbage – 29-year-old dog-earer of books and accidental destroyer of weddings.

After ruining her best friend’s nuptials, Bea relocates to the other side of the country in search of a fresh start, including meeting new people, living life to the fullest and finally pulling off balayage.

But after a few months, life is more stagnant than ever. Bea’s job is dead-end. Her romantic life? Non-existent. And her only friends are her books, her barista and her cleaning lady.

​Then Bea stumbles across a second-hand novel, inscribed with notes. Besotted with the poetic inscriptions, Bea is determined to find the author … and along the way, she finds herself entangled in one hell of a love quadrangle.

Funny, poignant and insightful, While You Were Reading reveals that there’s no such thing as perfection, the value of true friendship and, most importantly, the power of not living in fiction, but still reading it … Often.

A love story for book lovers that celebrates much more than romance.

~*~

Another offering from Book Ninjas, Ali and Michelle, While You Were Reading is another love letter to readers, books and the friendships forged through a love of reading. Beatrix Babbage is at her best friend’s wedding when everything in her life falls apart. She inadvertently ruins the wedding and is cut off from her friends. So, she moves to Melbourne to start over, and gets a job with a marketing agency, and befriends a poet-barista called Dino, his business partner, Sunday, and Mystery Writer, whose inscriptions in a book called Meeting Oliver Bennett guide her through her time in Melbourne. Yet her life stagnates, and her only regular contact is with Dino, her books, and her cleaner, Ramona, and the girls at the bookstore at the centre of Ali and Michelle’s previous book, The Book Ninja (there’s no need to read them in order, as they are both stand alones – more on this later.)

As the book moves on, Bea takes herself on a journey to discover who the Mystery Writer is, charting this online as Frankie did in The Book Ninja, and some of our favourite commenters pop up in her mentions, providing another delightful link back to The Book Ninja. Yet a chance meeting with Zach, another with Ruth and her unfolding friendship with Sunday, see her embroiled in a love quadrangle – with various people and books, as well as her constant attempts to reach out to her friend from Perth, Cassandra with disastrous results at one of her Next Chapter nights.

With Next Chapter – speed dating for books – Bea hopes to find Mystery Writer and connect with other readers – but her sister, Lizzie, an ex-Bachelor contestant, has other ideas that involve dating, romance and things Bea would rather not conflate her idea with.

The journey Bea takes has its ups and downs with people, work and books – leading to a fantastic result towards the end that gives her an amazing drive, and gives her much more to search for than romance. Instead, she makes friends with a group of people she least expected – of these, I think Mia was my favourite. followed closely by Sunday, because she followed her passions.

While You Were Reading is a cleverly written rom- com – the kind that is as much an ode to romantic love as it is an ode to friendship, knowing and loving yourself, and most importantly, for me, a love of books and the written word. It is driven by the marginalia of Meeting Oliver Bennett, leading to an author and connection that came as a complete surprise to me – and even though this is a well-used trope, the way it is executed is original and ensures the mystery is kept up to the final pages.

2019 BadgeIt is filled with bookish and popular culture references that I appreciated, and I love that the title refers to a certain movie starring Sandra Bullock from the nineties. Having a book where I can relate to the character, and where many of the references are at my fingertips, is wonderful, and I loved that the list of books mentioned is given at the back – many of which I have read and have on my shelves.

I adored that it referred back to The Book Ninja, and in a way, follows on several months after the end of that book. However, as it is a passing mention, it is not necessary to read that one first, but it is fun to be able to pick up on the references and nods to that book, and the way both books use narrative (mainly) interspersed with blog or Instagram posts and messages, and notes. Because these are interspersed with the prose, they enrich the story and are given context and cues to help the reader navigate the story.

Books about books are something I love – most books with a hobby or something people enjoy tend to be about sport – so for book lovers like me, this is refreshing because it allows us to see what we enjoy celebrated, and I look forward to more from these authors.

Love Your Bookshop Day 2019

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Every year, around the second Saturday in August, bookshops and booklovers around Australia celebrate Love Your Bookshop Day buy visiting their local bookstore that may have author visits, or other activities, and staff who dress up – as they do at my local bookstore, Book Face.

This year, I saw Cat in the Hat, Frida Khalo, a witch from a kid’s book, and Mary Poppins – who is always there, each year. In fact, I was served by Mary Poppins, which was exciting, and the bookstore was buzzing with activity, with people buying books, meeting the authors in the store, and listening to the live music just outside the store. Of my purchases, Rebel Women Who Shaped Australia by Susanna De Vries is what I want to read first, and it will tick off my final book bingo category for the year.

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This is always a fun day, where the store is packed and buzzing, which makes the atmosphere so lovely, and enticing. This is quite a short post, but I am looking forward to next year, to see what characters appear and what activities are on – hopefully something very cool.

Pages and Co #1: Tilly and the Bookwanderers by Anna James

Pages and Co 1.jpgTitle: Pages and Co #1: Tilly and the Bookwanderers

Author: Anna James

Genre: Fantasy

Publisher: Harper Collins

Published: 17th June 2019

Format: Hardcover

Pages: 400

Price: $14.99

Synopsis: A magical adventure to delight the imagination. Eleven-year-old Tilly has lived above her grandparents’ bookshop ever since her other disappeared shortly after she was born. Like the rest of her family, Tilly loves nothing more than to escape into the pages of her favourite stories. One day Tilly realises that classic children’s characters are appearing in the shop through the magic of ‘book wandering’ – crossing over from the page into real life. With the help of Anne of Green Gables and Alice in Wonderland, Tilly is determined to solve the mystery of what happened to her mother all those years ago, so she bravely steps into the unknown, unsure of what adventure lies ahead and what dangers she may face.
~*~

Lately, I’ve been reading a lot of books that take place in bookshops or libraries, or both – aimed at all age groups and as a book lover and weekly visitor to my local bookstore, I am loving these books and feel right at home in them. Tilly and the Bookwanderers is exactly this kind of book.

Tilly has lived with her grandparents her whole life, ever since her mother, Beatrice, disappeared shortly after she was born. All she has left is a necklace with a bee, and a few stories. While on mid-term break, she discovers a box of her mother’s old books while helping her friend, Oskar, find a book for their school holiday reading. One day she bumps into Alice from Alice in Wonderland and Anne of Green Gables in Pages and Co. Bookshop, and soon she is drawn into their books and others, and the mystery of her mother’s disappearance all those years ago, unsure of what is to come.

Living above a bookstore is an ideal scenario for any reader, and Tilly always surrounded by books, which is where the mystery starts. Throughout the book, she encounters characters from many classic works, including Lizzy from Pride and Prejudice and Sherlock Holmes. There were many things I loved about this book, from the setting, in a uniquely delightful bookstore that I would love to be able to visit beyond the page, the magic of reading, and the Underlibrary, and the ability to meet characters in the books I read.

In a way, we all wander through the books we read, disappearing into their worlds for hours on end, and often feeling like we are part of that world. While in the real world, we often feel like everything melts away as we read and we enter the worlds of Hogwarts, or Lyra’s Oxford, or many of the fictional worlds and settings we visit – real or imagined (and sometimes a combination), Tilly is able to draw herself into these worlds.

Perhaps it seems a bit much to have bookstores and libraries featuring so prominently in books, but for me, there is definitely something enjoyable about this – it allows people who adore these kinds of books to see a world they inhabit daily but in a fantastical and relatable way. The bookshop and books become more than  just the setting – they become characters that enrich the book and narrative, and make the reader want to dive into the worlds of the books in the novel, as well as the novel itself. It was a feeling I had, and it is definitely one that permeates my reading, and makes Tilly’s adventures magical and wonderfully written, and I am very keen to read the second book when it comes out.

What is lovely about this book and its idea of book wandering is that one does not lose the ability when they become an adult or hit puberty – people of all ages can book wander, and all in this series have to deal with Enoch Chalk, who I am sure will appear in future books as he creates havoc in his quest against Tilly and her family. Another great start to a new series I am sure will be  savoured and loved.

The Book Ninja by Ali Berg and Michelle Klaus

the-book-ninja-9781925640298_lgTitle: The Book Ninja

Author: Ali Berg and Michelle Klaus

Genre: Literary Fiction

Publisher: Simon and Schuster Australia

Published: June 2018

Format: Paperback

Pages: 352

Price: $29.99

Synopsis: Sometimes love means having to broaden your literary horizons.

Frankie Rose is desperate for love. Or a relationship. Or just a date with a semi-normal person will do.

It’s not that she hasn’t tried. She’s the queen of dating. But enough is enough. Inspired by her job at The Little Brunswick Street Bookshop, Frankie decides to take fate into her own hands and embarks on the ultimate love experiment.

Her plan? Plant her favourite books on trains inscribed with her contact details in a bid to lure the sophisticated, charming and well-read man of her dreams.

Enter Sunny, and one spontaneous kiss later, Frankie begins to fall for him. But there’s just one problem – Frankie is strictly a classics kind of gal, and Sunny is really into Young Adult. Like really.

A quirky and uplifting love letter to books, friendship and soulmates.

~*~

I bought The Book Ninja ages ago – the blurb on the back about a book lover using her favourite books to find dates was something different that no other romantic comedy in books or movies has ever done before. This month, I finally got to it after getting on top of all my review books, and I must say, Frankie Rose is one of my favourite millennial characters.

In her late twenties or early thirties like me, Frankie Rose works in a bookstore with her best friend, Cat, and Cat’s husband, Claud, and high school student Seb. They play a game – which I absolutely loved – where they’d guess what books a customer read when they entered the store. It made me wonder if other people working in bookstores do this during the day.

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Frankie is also a writer, and when she decides to release her favourite books into the wild in the hopes of meeting someone, Cat convinces her to blog about it. As a result, the authors use a combination of prose, blog posts and texts – which combined, are effective and tell a well-rounded story, and give insight into the characters.

During her experiment, Frankie meets Sunny in the bookstore – he loves Young Adult, a genre Frankie does not enjoy. At the same time, she continues with her experiment. And this is what I loved about the book – the little quirks that made Frankie who she was, and the fact that no character was perfect – they had flaws, they made mistakes and were allowed to make those mistakes.

Also, the characters are very well developed. Frankie is more than just the romance heroine – she has a love of books, writing and she’s also not ashamed to be herself, and is embarrassed by her mother – yet another quirk that makes this book relatable because Frankie is human, not some stunning twentysomething in love with the broody, handsome man. And Sunny – Sunny was equally amazing. I loved that we actually got to know him as more than just the attractive boyfriend. And all of these things is what made the story so rich – it combined everything I love about books and writing with characters I could relate to and want to be friends with, and the stumbling blocks they faced were real, not contrived or out of the blue like some romance stories – they made sense with what was happening, and the characters were allowed to deal with them organically.

An enjoyable read that I hope to revisit one day.

As Happy as Here by Jane Godwin

as happy as here .jpgTitle: As Happy as Here

Author: Jane Godwin

Genre: Fiction

Publisher: Lothian Children’s Books/Hachette

Published: 23rd July 2019

Format: Paperback

Pages: 275

Price: $16.99

Synopsis: A beautiful coming-of-age story about three teenage girls from very different backgrounds who find themselves sharing a hospital ward, for fans of Kate DiCamillo and Fiona Wood

Three teenage girls from very different backgrounds find themselves sharing a hospital ward. When they witness a crime in the park below their window, they bond over trying to solve the crime and each one undergoes a profound change.

A beautiful coming-of-age story about identity, expectation, class, justice, society, fairness, and, above all, kindness.

Evie would never have met Lucy and Jemma if the accident hadn’t happened. But here they are, sharing a hospital ward. When the three girls witness a crime in the park below their window, it sets off a chain of events that will change each of them forever, and force Evie to confront what it means to grow up, and how to live truly, with courage, as yourself.

~*~

2019 BadgeAfter Evie is injured on the way home from running training, she ends up in hospital with injuries to both legs that are going to take a long time to heal. She ends up sharing a ward with Lucy, recovering from pneumonia and Jemma, who has been rushed in to have her appendix taken out. Aged between twelve and fourteen, the three girls are recovering when they witness strange goings below their hospital window. At the same time, Lucy notices some of her things go missing, and Jemma, despite being on a strict post-surgery diet, is constantly heading down to the hospital kiosk to buy food and drink she isn’t allowed – but where is the money coming from?

As they watch the comings and goings of people burying and digging things up close to the hospital, they begin their own investigation. Lucy and Jemma each check out the buried items, while Evie watches in between school times and physio sessions, and overbearing parents who come across as more worried about her getting back to running as soon as possible than the implications of Evie pushing herself during recovery and physio. This is more of a side story, but still important because it helps Evie grow and work out what she wants, separate from what her parents want as she works on her physio sessions, and forms a friendship with Lucy that is the kind of friendship readers of all ages need to be able to experience. With Jemma, things were a bit more complicated – whilst Evie and Lucy tried to be her friend and understand her, she did make it hard for them – but that was what worked about this book. Each character was individual and unique, and relatable on many levels to all readers, for many different reasons.

The events lead to something that the three girls never thought would happen and that will change them forever – they each grow throughout the novel in many ways, especially Evie, who realises that she might only be running to please her parents, and not herself – a realisation she comes to as the mystery below the window and the mystery of Jemma that slowly comes out as Evie coaxes it out of her, despite Jemma’s lies that she uses to cause friction in the room when she wants attention. It is a touching story of friendship, and a mystery – a soft mystery that could have unforeseen consequences for all three girls.

I really enjoyed this story. It defines friendship as a crucial element of life, and the hospital setting was dealt with well – not over done, and nicely balanced with everything else that was happening in the story. It is uplifting in some ways, but it still represents the realism of life and the differences we all face and how they can define us, but also, how they sometimes don’t. In reflecting the various differences in life, it shows that it is sometimes these differences that can bring us together.

The Dragon in the Library by Louie Stowell

the dragon in the library.jpgTitle: The Dragon in the Library

Author: Louie Stowell

Genre: Fantasy

Publisher: Nosy Crow/Allen and Unwin

Published: 25th July 2018

Format: Paperback

Pages: 224

Price: $12.99

Synopsis: Save the library, save the world!

Kit can’t stand reading. She’d much rather be outside, playing games and getting muddy, than stuck inside being quiet with a book. But when she’s dragged along to the local library at the start of the school holiday by her two best friends, she makes an incredible discovery: the local library is run by wizards … and she’s one too! The youngest wizard ever, in fact.

But someone is threatening to tear down the library and disturb the powerful magical forces living beneath it. And now it’s up to Kit and her friends to save the library… and the world.

The first book in a fantastically exciting, imaginative and brilliantly funny new series.

~*~

It’s the first day of the summer holidays, and Kit can’t wait to go out and climb trees and get muddy. But her best friends, Alita and Josh, want to go to the new library and check out the latest book in a series they love, Danny Fandango. While they are there, they meet the new librarian, Faith. Alita and Josh head off to scour the shelves, leaving Kit alone to explore the library. When she finds herself pulled into a book of dangerous animals, and has to be rescued by Faith, Kit learns that she is a wizard – the youngest wizard in the world in fact. Showing her powers earlier than usually expected, Kit has to keep the secret from her family – but Alita and Josh overhear, and the three friends and Faith are soon pulled into a quest to save the library from a horrible man called Hadrian Salt – a developer who wishes to take the new library and build a shopping centre. So Kit, Faith, Josh and Alita set out to save the library – and uncover a much more sinister plot, involving the secret hidden beneath the library.

Kit is the third of five children – and at the start of the novel, feels quite left out between her perfect older sister, her rebellious big brother and the youngest children, a toddler and a baby. So when she discovers she is a wizard, she finally has something that makes her special – but like in most stories about wizards, she cannot let anyone know, and her newfound powers are unpredictable.

Louie Stowell combines wizards, dragons, and libraries with a diverse and adorable cast of characters, whose passions for magic and the written word were my favourite aspects of this book, and everyone who reads this book will be able to see various aspects of themselves in all the characters in the book, whether it is what they look like, or what they love or their personality, which is really delightful and fabulous.

Their fight against Hadrian Salt is only just beginning – his quest to buy the library is more sinister than imagined, and it will be up to Faith, Kit, Alita and Josh to save the library – but of course, as the first in the series, there will be much more to come, and I think we will see much more of Salt in subsequent books.

With a reluctant reader as the main character, supported by a diverse cast – Alita, Josh and Faith – Kit is the a wonderful and fun character, and hopefully this book will appeal to eager readers who will see themselves in Alita, Josh and Faith, reluctant readers like Kit, and readers of all ages, genders and races, who will find something about each character to relate to, which I find really nice, and Louie Stowell has pulled this off in a brilliant way to show aspects of the real world alongside magic and fantasy elements.

As the first in a series, it does a fantastic job of setting up the plot and the characters and the challenges they will be facing in subsequent books. I love the idea of a dragon living below the library, and I can’t wait to see what happens next.

The Shifting Sands (Deltora Quest #4) by Emily Rodda

the shifting san ds.jpgTitle: The Shifting Sands (Deltora Quest #4)

Author: Emily Rodda

Genre: Fantasy

Publisher: Scholastic

Published: 1st July 2001

Format: Paperback

Pages: 132

Price: $14.99

Synopsis: When the seven gems of the magic Belt of Deltora were stolen, the evil Shadow Lord invaded the kingdom and enslaved its people.

Determined to rid their land of the tyrant, Lief, Barda and Jasmine are on a perilous quest to find the lost gems, which are hidden in fearsome places throughout the kingdom.

They have found three gems. Now they must seek the fourth, hidden in a shimmering, barren waste, kept jealously by an unknown guardian.

Separation, confusion and strange, terrible enemies await them in the ordeal of the Shifting Sands.

~*~

Lief, Barda and Jasmine are seeking the fourth gem – the lapis lazuli as they continue their journey through Del to help defeat the Shadow Lord and end the awful reign Del has been under for sixteen years. To do so, they have to venture into the dangerous shifting sands, and face yet more dangers and obstacles.

One of their obstacles – The Riftwere Games – takes up much of the book, shifting from the adventure of the rest. I think this worked very well – it was a different kind of challenge they had to face to get to the fourth stone, and it suited the story well, giving a small rest from adventure yet still engaging the reader and keeping the characters on their toes as they complete their quest.

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I’ve now read five of the eight books in the first Deltora Quest series – I had hoped to be finished it by now but have been busy with many other books and work and am working on getting to the end of this series and completing it for my challenges. Lief, Barda and Jasmine are a great team, and they work well together. To get to the Shifting Sands where they will find the lapis lazuli, they must compete in these games, and there is still an element of adventure in the games, it is just a bit more subtle than in the previous books. As they face each Guardian, a new challenge is posed and this is what makes the books interesting and interconnected as they move through the land of Del.

This was another great instalment in the series, and each book moves the characters and journey forward. They are quick reads, perfect for ages nine and up, and are engaging and fun to read.