Mermaid Holidays #3: The Bake Off by Delphine Davis and Adele K Thomas (Illustrator)

mermaid holidays 3.jpgTitle: Mermaid Holidays #3: The Bake Off

Author: Delphine Davis

Genre: Children’s Fiction/Fantasy

Publisher: Penguin/Puffin

Published: 2nd September 2019

Format: Paperback

Pages: 128

Price: $9.99

Synopsis: Grab your favourite booth at the Turtleville Tearooms and join Chloe Coral, Sophia Seashell, Willow Wave and Olivia Ocean for another splashing adventure in MERMAID HOLIDAYS . . .

Chloe’s holidays have started with a BANG – and not a good one! With the Tearooms closed for the holidays and an unexpected rival back in town, the besties need a MERMAZING PLAN to save the day.

Prepare for a underwater bake-off like no other!

~*~

The third book in the Mermaid Holidays series sees Chloe, Sophia, Willow and Olivia back at Turtleville for the school holidays. While they are making plans for their time together before they go off to their separate schools again, they meet Chloe at her grandmother’s cafe, the Turtleville Tearooms. However, their plans are set aside when the kitchen of the Tearooms is destroyed when the oven explodes.

With her grandmother faced with closing it or paying lots of money to fix it, Chloe and her friends plan to raise money to save the tearooms – all while trying to outwit an old rival of Grandmer Carol who is determined to get her hands on the tearooms, and turn it into one of her own cafés.

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So the friends set to work, raising the money through a bake-off, so they can save their favourite hang-out from the clutches of Barbara Barnacle.  Can the girls save the day?

In their third outing, told from Chloe’s perspective this time, it is about friends uniting for a good cause, and displaying teamwork. This is an engaging, and fun to read series for early readers, and I am enjoying seeing what is on offer for kids these days, who have a myriad of Australian authors to choose from, which is exciting, and I love exploring these stories – not only because I love reading, and Australian fiction, but because it is so refreshing to see so many Australian authors around these days competing with international authors. Australian authors are getting much more attention these days, so Australians get to read their stories in a variety of ways.

I am looking forward to see how this series ends later in the year with the final book in the series.

Matters of the Heart by Fiona Palmer

matters of the heart.jpgTitle: Matters of the Heart

Author: Fiona Palmer

Genre: Fiction/Jane Austen retelling

Publisher: Hachette Australia

Published: 27th August 2019

Format: Paperback

Pages: 330

Price: $29.99

Synopsis: A classic love story about manners, men and modern romance retold by bestselling Australian author, Fiona Palmer

Western Australia, 2019: The Bennets are a farming family struggling to make ends meet. Lizzy, passionate about working the land, is determined to save the farm. Spirited and independent, she has little patience for her mother’s focus on finding a suitable man for each of her five daughters.

When the dashing Charles Bingley, looking to expand his farm holdings, buys the neighbouring property of Netherfield Park, Mrs Bennet and the entire district of Coodardy are atwitter with gossip and speculation. Will he attend the local dance and is he single? These questions are soon answered when he and Lizzy’s sister Jane form an instant connection on the night. But it is Charlie’s best friend, farming magnate Will Darcy, who leaves a lasting impression when he slights Lizzy, setting her against him.

Can Lizzy and Will put judgements and pride aside to each see the other for who they really are? Or in an age where appearance and social media rule, will prejudice prevail?

Australia’s bestselling storyteller Fiona Palmer reimagines Jane Austen’s beloved classic tale of manners and marriage, transporting an enduring love story in this very twenty-first century novel about family, female empowerment and matters of the heart.

~*~

Over the years, many myths, fairy tales and classic works have been retold in many ways in books, for the stage, and for the screen. Jane Austen is no exception, and perhaps one of the stories that has been retold the most is Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice.Most retellings or adaptations of Pride and Prejudicetake place during the Regency period, but every so often, something new comes along, whether that is the time period or the country or culture the story is set in. Pride and Prejudice is one of those stories where you can take the general idea and characters, and it will translate extremely well into a myriad of settings with the necessary tweaks.

2019 BadgeMatters of the Heart is one such retelling, and it is set in Australia in 2019. In Coodardy, Western Australia, Longbourn is a struggling farm. Lizzy Bennet returns home from an early morning walk with her dog, Pippa, to hear the gossip about Charlie Bingley, who has bought the neighbouring farm, Netherfield. Lizzy’s mother, Margaret, is determined to meet Charlie, a very eligible bachelor that Kitty and Lydia know more about than Lizzy as a match for Jane. From here, Matters of the Heartfollows the basic premise of Pride and Prejudice, where the romance is a result of the arguing over manners and expectations.

Mrs Bennet – Margaret – still wants her daughters, especially Jane and Lizzy – to make a good match in this one, yet she is also a woman who has a complex role as well, who encourages her daughters’ passions, but much like the Bennet matriarch of the original, is overly concerned about money and how people see her, and unfortunately, as in the original, the way Mrs Bennet acts and speaks starts to  impact how the Bingleys and Will Darcy start to see and understand Jane and Lizzy as being just like their mother, whilst Lizzy judges Will because he is reserved and seemingly cold – until she sees him come to life on the farm and hears him talk about his sister.

Not only did this retelling and the original have a touch of romance in it, but the main premise is the idea of manners and what happens when we prejudge people based on minimal interaction or gossip. Also, many of the events are similar, just with a twenty-first century flavour, and a uniquely Australian flavour that makes it exciting and enjoyable to read. It also deals with modern ideas of the roles of men and women in a country town, and preconceived  notions of who makes a good farmer or not, and all the surprises along the way that make the story ebb and flow to the pattern and timeline of the original Pride and Prejudice. Placed in the twenty-first century, the climax happens quite differently, and is effectively done so that it works within the original base narrative and the new setting.

Like Jane Austen’s original characters, these ones are flawed and complex, and not entirely perfect, though some seem to think they are. Lizzy and Jane are my favourites, because they are true to their modern selves, but also their origins from the 1800s. As the main focus of the novel, they get the most attention with sisters Mary, Kitty and Lydia popping in and out as they are needed in the story. It has a bit of everything – humour, romance and most importantly, the strength of women and their ability to stand on their own two feet, even in the face of people thinking they are unable to do certain things – old prejudices that in some areas have not gone away.

Overall, this was a very interesting take on an older story, and one that I would recommend it to fans of Fiona Palmer, and fans of Jane Austen.

The Secret Dragon by Ed Clarke

the secret dragon.jpgTitle: The Secret Dragon

Author: Ed Clarke

Genre: Fantasy

Publisher: Puffin

Published: 6th August 2019

Format: Paperback

Pages: 256

Price: $16.99

Synopsis: ‘So if you’re not an animal that’s alive today, and you’re not an animal that’s extinct either, what on earth are you?’

Mari Jones is desperate to be a real scientist, even though she’s only eleven. So when she discovers a tiny dragon while fossil hunting on the beach, she’s sure she can find a good scientific explanation – as long as she can keep it hidden enough to study it.

Unfortunately for Mari, this is one secret that doesn’t want to be kept. And as she starts to form a deeper bond with the mischievous dragon, she might have to admit that, when it comes to friendship, science might not have all the answers.

~*~

Since her father died when she was five, Mari has kept mostly to herself, in a world of fossils and dead things, rather than the world of living animals and the farm she lives on with her mother, Rhian. Mari longs to become a scientist, like her father, and leave the farm life behind. While looking for fossils one day, as she dreams of becoming like Mary Anning, she discovers a baby dragon. After meeting the new boy at school, Dylan, she agrees to let him help her study the dragon and keep it a secret.

Bu the little dragon has other ideas, constantly trying to escape to get back to the beach where Mari found it, not caring who sees it or finds out about it. Mari is determined to keep things strictly scientific, yet as she gets to know the dragon and Dylan she discovers that sometimes, friendship is more important than science, and friendship can’t be measured by science either.

The first in a new series set in Wales, The Secret Dragon by Ed Clarke brings together the real world and fantasy, in a small Welsh town where dragons exist. It explores themes of friendship through Dylan and Mari, and families as the two kids fight to save Gweeb, the dragon and keep her safe from those who want to harm her, like Ffion and Dr Griff. At its heart is the mystery of Mari’s father as well, and her desire to find something – fossils, science, naming the dragon species and sharing an interest with Dylan. Though at first, they come at it from separate perspectives, they begin to build a friendship that is charming and delightful.

Reading the first book in a new series is interesting, and delightful, because you get to meet the characters as they are, and watch them grow through the book and series, heading off on their adventures with Gweeb. I loved this story, set in the wilds of Wales with a dragon, and new discoveries that start out as science, but become much more.

I also loved it because it’s about friends, with a female lead who wants to follow her passions and makes friends along the way. This is important to show because it shows all kids that their abilities and passions are important, whoever they are, and that they can be friends with whomever they want to be friends with. Also, the presence of dragons makes everything fun and chaotic, a chaos which is balanced nicely with the rest of the novel and the calmer moments, exploring the strained relationship between Mari and her mother at the start of the book.

I am looking forward to seeing where Ed takes Mari, Gweeb and Dylan in the rest of the series.

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.

The Shelly Bay Ladies Swimming Circle by Sophie Green

shelly bay.jpgTitle: The Shelly Bay Ladies Swimming Circle

Author: Sophie Green

Genre: Fiction

Publisher: Hachette

Published: 23rd July 2019

Format: Paperback

Pages: 430

Price: $29.99

Synopsis: The author of treasured Australian bestseller, THE INAUGURAL MEETING OF THE FAIRVALE LADIES BOOK CLUB, returns with a new novel perfect for your book club

It’s the summer of 1982. THE MAN FROM SNOWY RIVER is a box office hit and Paul Hogan is on the TV.

In a seaside suburb of NSW, housewife Theresa Howard takes up swimming. She wants to get fit; she also wants a few precious minutes to herself. So at sunrise each day she strikes out past the waves.

From the same beach, the widowed Marie swims. With her husband gone, bathing is the one constant in her new life.

After finding herself in a desperate situation, 25-year-old Leanne only has herself to rely on. She became a nurse to help others, even as she resists help herself.

Elaine has recently moved from England. Far from home without her adult sons, her closest friend is a gin bottle.

In the waters of Shelly Bay, these four women find each other. They will survive shark sightings, bluebottle stings and heartbreak; they will laugh so hard they swallow water, and they will plunge their tears into the ocean’s salt. They will find solace and companionship in their friendship circle and learn that love takes many forms.

~*~

When Theresa, Marie, Elaine and Leanne meet on the beach, or through volunteering and work, they form a social group for swimming that meets every morning before they have to look after children, go to work or maintain their homes, and engage in the other activities that make up their lives. Much like her previous book, The Fairvale Ladies Book Club, Sophie Green uses a hobby to help her characters form bonds of friendship, and along the way, they grow and adapt to their new lives, and become like family, willing to do anything to help each other – and eventually, they will, when something terrible happens to one of them.

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Each woman has her own past, and secrets that they need to grapple with – at first alone, but slowly, with the help of the others. Theresa struggles with a husband who demands so much of her at home yet doesn’t like that his needs aren’t always met before anyone else. He doesn’t improve much throughout the novel – but Theresa does, and her growth is key here. Whilst Andrew is pretty much a jerk, compared to Elaine’s husband James, who is always there for her, listens to her and helps her. He is supportive, much like the male characters who enter Marie and Leanne’s lives later. Each are individual though.

James and Andrew are shown as they are to illustrate the differences in how people react to family situations and pressures placed on their wives, and the strain various aspects of a married life can have. Overall though, the male characters play a background role to the story, whether it is supporting their spouse or partner, or not as it was in Andrew’s case. Instead, the focus on female friendship is front of the narrative, and this makes it a novel that can be enjoyed by many readers.

The friendship is formed through their shared interest in swimming, and their desires to form connections outside of their everyday lives, to have something just for them. The novel also reflects the generational differences in dealing with marriage, death and family. For Marie, who is widowed, she dedicates her time to her daughter, but also to Theresa’s children when Theresa needs help. it shows Leanne working and independent, an independence that grows over the novel, and finally, Elaine, whose life has been turned upside down when she had to move to Australia from England, leave her family and sell her business, and the dilemma of loving her husband but missing her sons, but her determination to make it work for her husband, James. James is someone who is there for his wife, though, and tries to help her and understand what she is going through, which makes the moments he is present refreshing and enjoyable, when compared with the moments Andrew is around, and I could feel Theresa’s anger at him.

The chapters alternate between each woman as it moves throughout the mid-eighties, when people had different expectations of how things would go, but in third person. We see the world through each woman’s eyes and how the past and present affect them and lead them to making certain decisions that ultimately have a variety of consequences – this enriches the narrative and keeps it engaging.

This was a very touching story about friendship and family, and what friendship means for Theresa, Elaine, Marie and Leanne, and how their connections help them through tough times in their lives, something different for each of them, and how these struggles bring them together in ways they never imagined. An enjoyable read for many, and something that emphasises female friendship is always a good thing.

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.

Mermaid Holidays: The Magic Pearl by Delphine Davis and Adele K Thomas (Illustrator)

the magic pearlTitle: Mermaid Holidays: The Magic Pearl

Author: Delphine Davis and Adele K Thomas (Illustrator)

Genre: Children’s fantasy

Publisher: Puffin

Published: 2nd July 2019

Format: Paperback

Pages: 128

Price: $9.99

Synopsis: Willow decides to celebrate the first day of the holidays by throwing a MERMAZING slumber party! The besties are so excited. But when Willow discovers a beautiful shimmering pearl, some very strange things start to happen that none of the mermaids are prepared for.

Could this pearl have magical powers?

~*~

Mermaid Holidays continues in the latest addition to the new series by Delphine Davis This time, the story is told from Willow Wave’s perspective as she hosts a sleepover for her friends, where they make necklaces. Willow makes a pearl necklace, and afterwards, her octopus companion, Frida, tells them the story of a magical pearl and the creation of their home, Turtleton by Tobias Turtleton. When Sophia works out that her pearl is the magical pearl of the story, she makes a wish that could see the end of their home forever.

Willow meets the merhag of the old story of the pearl appears and tells her she needs to find a way to fix things, Willow sets about setting things right for the whole of Turtleton.

2019 BadgeThis is the second in this series that started this year, with the third due in September. Aimed at the same audience as the first book, for both new and returning readers, we get to see Turtleton and the adventures the four friends have through Willow’s perspective. Willow’s book is blue, and her tail is shown as blue in the illustrations to show she is the primary mermaid in this book, with her octopus companion, Frida. It is yet another story of friendship and working together. Yet at the same time, learning and growing as an individual to find a solution to a problem that Willow inadvertently causes.

This was another fun kids’ book, and a great addition to the series. It’s fun to see how the author has created the characters and stories to be fun yet at the same time, teach young kids about responsibility in a fun and subtle way.