The Monster Who Wasn’t by T.C. Shelley

the monster who wasn't.jpgTitle: The Monster Who Wasn’t

Author: T.C. Shelley

Genre: Fantasy

Publisher: Bloomsbury Australia

Published: 8th August 2019

Format: Paperback

Pages: 288

Price: $14.99

Synopsis:A brilliantly rich and strange fantasy adventure that will make us all believe in monsters  be they good, bad or somewhere in between.

It is a well-known fact that fairies are born from a baby’s first laugh. What is not as well documented is how monsters come into being 

This is the story of a creature who is both strange and unique. When he hatches down in the vast underground lair where monsters dwell, he looks just like a human boy – much to the disgust of everyone watching. Even the grumpy gargoyles who adopt him and nickname him ‘Imp’ only want him to steal chocolate for them from the nearby shops. He’s a child with feet in both worlds, and he doesn’t know where he fits.

But little does Imp realise that Thunderguts, king of the ogres, has a great and dangerous destiny in mind for him, and he’ll stop at nothing to see it come to pass …

~*~

We all know where fairies come from. J.M. Barrie taught us this in Peter Pan – that the laugh of the first baby broke into a thousand pieces, and that was where fairies started. Each new baby laugh is a fairy. Yet little is known of the world of monsters, and where they come from. Using a mix of traditions, myths, fairy and folk tales, though concentrated on the European or Anglo-Celtic traditions, T.C. Shelley explores this in her debut novel, The Monster Who Wasn’t.

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In The Monster Who Wasn’t, it is established that a monster is born of a last sigh of someone, a stark contrast to the birth of a fairy. But what happens when a first laugh and last sigh come together? This is the premise for the main character, Imp, who later becomes known as Sam. He was born in the monster world but has all the features of a human: belly button, gender, heart. But does he have a soul, and where does he truly fit? In the human world, where the gargoyles who adopt him send him to find chocolate.

It is here he finds out he bears a remarkable resemblance to the Kavanaugh family, who take him in, yet when the ogre, Thunderguts finds out his plan for Imp could be thwarted, he will take drastic measures. Throughout the story, told through Imp’s eyes, the collision of worlds feels inevitable as you read on.

It is engaging and fun, seeing how Imp finds his way in the human world and how the gargoyles, grumpy as they are, will do anything to help him, as will an angel, Daniel. The gargoyles are monsters who are neither good nor evil, rather they are a kind of chaotic, neutral force who have a sense of what family is and help Imp in the final chapters of the story.

A fun and engaging fantasy novel for all ages, and that brings together fairy tales and modern fantasy in a fun and exciting way to appeal to readers of all ages. It is one that is delightful as a standalone yet could also potentially become a series. Whichever way T.C. Shelley goes, I very much enjoyed this novel.

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.

Firewatcher Chronicles #1: Brimstone by Kelly Gardiner

Fire watcher BrimstoneTitle: Firewatcher Chronicles #1: Brimstone

Author: Kelly Gardiner

Genre: Historical Fiction/Time slip

Publisher: Scholastic Australia

Published: 1st September 2018

Format: Paperback

Pages: 240

Price: $14.99

Synopsis: December 1940, London: Christopher Larkham finds an ancient Roman ring inscribed with a phoenix on the banks of the Thames. As he takes shelter from the firestorm of the Blitz, the ring glows, and pushing open a door, he finds himself in 1666 and facing the Great Fire of London. Fire-and-brimstone preacher, Brother Blowbladder, and his men of the Righteous Temple have prayed for the ancient gods of fire to bring flames down upon London, a city of sin. Could Christopher be their messenger? Or was it the strange girl on the quay who drew him back in time? Why do the Righteous men wear the same phoenix symbol as the engraving on Christopher’s ring?

The Firewatchertrilogy blends time-travel, history, mystery and action into adventure as Christopher and his new friends race to untangle the truth of the phoenix ring, and face the greatest fires in the city’s history.

~*~

In 1940, Britain is in the grip of World War Two, and the Blitz has started to hound London day and night. Everyone has gas marks, is always ready to rush into the bomb shelters, and those serving on the home front spend their nights as fire watchers, watching the night skies for German bombers coming to destroy the city of London. One afternoon, Christopher discovers an old Roman ring whilst exploring the docks with his friend, Ginger.

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One night. whilst hiding out in the neighbourhood bomb shelter, Christopher opens a door into a world engulfed by fire. Watching London burning, Christopher thinks that at first, Hitler has won, and London is finished – yet a few differences to the skyline, and his meeting with Molly at the quay, make him realise he has fallen almost three hundred years into the past, into the year of the Great Fire of London – 1666. As he finds himself going back and forth 1940 and 1666, Christopher finds himself facing the threat of two evil leaders: Hitler in 1940, and Brother Halleluiah Blowbladder and his cult-like followers in 1666, who believe that fire is the only way to purge the city of sin. But why has Christopher been brought back? Well, like me, you’ll have to read the book to find out.

I love a good historical fiction and time travel story, especially one that is the start of a very engrossing trilogy from a renowned Australian publisher and a fabulous author I have recently discovered, and now want to read more by Kelly Gardiner, as well as find out what happens to Christopher in the next two books. The fire burns through each page, crackling and smoking as you read, and feel the fear and uncertainty of both events, even though today, in 2019, we know the outcomes of each event.

For Christopher, living through the Blitz and witnessing the Great Fire of London, the two events could start to bleed together, as he travels back and forth, and has to check where he is each time. Christopher is a great character – he’s smart, and not wholly perfect – which is what makes it all work so well, as does seeing two of the most terrifying events in London’s history through the eyes of children and the realities that they had to face. In an exciting new trilogy, history and time travel collide with mystery as Christopher is pulled into a mystery involving Brother Blowbladder.

Book Bingo Fifteen – Written by an Australian Man

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Welcome back to Book Bingo with Theresa and Amanda. We’re now up to post fifteen for the year, with about fifteen to go. With any luck, what I have will take me to the end of the year – I am not sure if I have any double bingos left but will be making changes if I need to fit it all in and get my bingos done.

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So far, I have only included my bingo graphic when a row is completed – that is, filled in and the post has gone live. You may have noticed my text rows saying bingo – but if the book has an asterix, then it hasn’t been included in a post or been published yet. So this week, I have featured my category for a book by an Australian man, The Honeyman and The Hunter by Neil Grant.

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Neil Grant is a Central Coast local, so when I read this book, I was pleased to recognise several of the places and place names Rudra and his friends visited. Rudra is caught between cultures and countries when his grandmother visits from India, and an old ghost story about a tiger skull starts to haunt him, leading him back to India to set a curse right. It is a coming of age story that crosses cultural boundaries and understandings, and grapples with issues of racism within families and what this means for someone like Rudra.

BINGO!

I have read a book for each category in Row Five Across – a couple of these posts are yet to go live but this post and the bingo week posts for these books will reflect gaining a bingo.

Row Five: Bingo

Written by an Australian Man: The Honeyman and the Hunter by Neil Grant

Written by an Australian Woman:Zelda Stitch Term Two: Too Much Witch by Nicki Greenberg – AWW2019

Written by an author under the age of 35: Archibald, The Naughtiest Elf in the World Causes Trouble with the Easter Bunny by Skye Davidson – #AWW2019*

Written by an author over the age of 65: Miss Franklin: How Miles Franklin’s Brilliant Career began by Libby Hathorn – #AWW2019*

Row One:  –

A book with a red cover: Children of the Dragon: Race for the Red Dragon by Rebecca Lim – #AWW2019*

Book by an author with the same initials as you:

Themes of science fiction: The Lost Magician by Piers Torday*

Book with a place in the title: The French Photographer by Natasha Lester -AWW2019

Written by an Australian man: The Honeyman and the Hunter by Neil Grant

Literary: Zebra and Other Stories by Debra Adelaide – AWW2019

Half way there! Come back next time for book bingo sixteen! We’re getting there!

Alexander Altmann A10567 by Suzy Zail

Alexabder altmann A10567Title: Alexander Altmann A10567

Author: Suzy Zail

Genre: Historical Fiction

Publisher: Black Dog Books

Published: 1st May 2014

Format: Paperback

Pages: 290

Price: $18.99

Synopsis: The story of a young Jewish boy who must learn to trust others to survive. Based on a true story.

Fourteen-year-old Alexander Altmann doesn’t need to look at the number tattooed on his arm. A10567: he knows it by heart. He also knows that to survive Auschwitz, he has to toughen up. When he is given the job of breaking in the commander’s new horse, their survival becomes intertwined. Alexander knows the animal is scared and damaged, but he must win its trust. If he fails, they will both be killed.

  • Notable Book, Older Readers, Children’s Book Council of Australia Book of the Year Awards, 2015
  • “A confronting but gripping novel … a powerful story of hope, adversity and redemption.” Junior Books+Publishing
  • Suzy’s first book for young people, The Wrong Boy, was short-listed for the 2013 CBCA Book of the Year awards and the 2013 Adelaide Festival Award for Literature.

~*~

In the years towards the end of the war, more and more prisoners – Jews, homosexuals, the clergy and many other groups the Nazis wanted to imprison and get rid of were sent to the many concentration camps the Germans set up across Europe and the Third Reich throughout the war. In this story, though, a Jewish boy at Auschwitz-Birkenau has his story told.

Alexander Altmann has been at Auschwitz for several weeks towards the end of the war. During roll call one day, he volunteers to join the Horse Command, where he is recruited to train the commandant’s new horse, Midnight. But Midnight is a troubled horse, and Alexander knows it will take time to gain his trust – much more than the kapo and Commandant have given him. Yet he also knows that to survive, he must train Midnight to the standard the commandant wishes.

2019 BadgeAlexander sees much brutality at the camp and survives it all with the help of his friend, Isidor, and training Midnight. But as the camp starts to disintegrate as the war pulls to a close, Alexander faces a new fight for survival.

Based on a true story Suzy heard at the Holocaust Centre in Melbourne, Alexander Altmann A10567 takes a topic that is dark, and depressing, and tells a story that younger readers can access, and understand though the eyes of a child. It takes the backdrop of war, and shows what people had to do to survive in those conditions, and how they were so conditioned into not knowing their names, that an act of kindness from someone in the group responsible for their fate meant the world to them. It also shows that small things like a horse, could bring some semblance of humanity back for them.

The Holocaust and World War Two is a touch subject and time in history to read about. Suzy Zail has managed to capture the horrors in a way that is both dark and realistic, and shows that is was truly traumatic, but at the same time, there is a sense of humanity in the characters and this ensures that the voices of the young are heard. There are true horrors in this book. Yet it is written in a way that these horrors are deftly communicated to younger readers to introduce them to the Holocaust, or complement learning about it and give it context and a human face to those who suffered. Kike Morris Gleitzman and Jackie French, she shows the realism of history through the eyes of a child, who still has hope and holds onto that hope through dark times.

Somewhere Around the Corner by Jackie French

Somewhere around the corner.jpgTitle: Somewhere Around the Corner

Author: Jackie French

Genre: Historical Fiction/Timeslip

Publisher: Harper Collins

Published: 2nd March 1994

Format: Paperback

Pages: $16.99

Price: 288

Synopsis:Just shut your eyes and picture yourself walking around the corner. that’s what my friend told me. Somewhere around the corner and you’ll be safe. the demonstration was wild, out of control. Barbara was scared. She saw the policeman running towards her. She needed to escape. She closed her eyes and did precisely that: she walked somewhere around the corner – to another demonstration – to another time. Barbara was lucky she met young Jim who took her out of this strange, frightening city to his home. It was 1932, when Australia was in the grip of the depression, and Jim lived in a shantytown. But Barbara found a true friend and a true home – somewhere safe around the corner.

Notes from Jackie French: Some notes on the book

Awards: 1995 CBC Honor Book for Younger Readers; shortlisted 1995 WA Children’s Book of the Year; shortlisted 1995 ACT COOL Award; shortlisted 1995 NSW Family Therapist’s Award

~*~

Barbara is alone at a demonstration in Sydney, in 1994. She bumps into an old man, who tells her about a girl who once told him to just walk around the corner to find safety. When she dopes, she feels herself being pulled and called into another world – another time. When she opens her eyes, she’s in another demonstration, this time in Sydney during 1932 and the Great Depression. She’s rescued by Young Jim, who takes her back to his home in a shanty town called Poverty Gully, where she meets Ma, Dad, Thellie, Elaine, Joey and Harry, as well as Gully Jack, the Hendersons, Dulcie at the dairy farm and the local police officer, Sergeant Ryan. Here, though times are hard, Barbara finds a family, and a safe place and friends. She’s welcomed into the O’Reilly family wholly and adored by all, and cared for carefully by everyone in the O’Reilly circle as she finds a way to adapt to this strange new life in a valley filled with hope, love and family during a time in history when many were unemployed and homeless, and trying to make do with what they had, and get whatever work they could get – struggles that lasted until the outbreak of war, when those who could entered the army, others entered industries that helped the war effort and economies across the world were rebuilt slowly.

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This was the first Jackie French book I read – back in year seven English, with Mrs Cohen. I have read Jackie French and historical fiction since then, sometimes on and off depending on what I could find, and what was available in the library, as well as all my other reading, and I still have all my Jackie French novels – including my copy of this one from year seven. It was also one of my earliest introductions to events like the Depression, and it made the events of 1932 accessible to a younger audience in a truthful and reflective way, without shying away from the truth, but at the same time, without being too overwhelming – a lot of her books do this and they are filled with such great emotion and spirit, I am currently trying to read or re-read all the ones by Jackie that I have.

Her books are often inspired by real people she knew or knows, coupled with the untold stories in history, the voices ignored such as the poor, women, disabled, and many other groups often left out of the discourses. This is why they are so powerful, and why Somewhere Around the Corner which has been out for twenty-five years this year, based on the publication information I found, and in my yes, has not only stood the test of time, but reflects society then and what many experienced, and what some people face today – job and housing insecurity. It holds up because these experiences, and the experiences of Barbara and the O’Reillys, are and can be universal.

Living in 1932 with the knowledge of what is to come, the O’Reilly’s see the things Barbara tells them as wild stories, and fantasies at times, though Young Jim and Thellie believe her. What I loved about this story, and all of Jackie’s stories, is the equal prominence she gives to plot, history and characters, neatly bringing them all together to create eloquent and insightful stories, often set during times of hardship or times of social change and upheaval, and seen through the eyes of those often not heard in the history books – making these stories powerful for all to read and learn from.

I am glad I finally read this again after finding my copy – as my first introduction to Jackie French, and time slip, young adult and historical fiction novels, it is very special to me, and I hope it will be read and enjoyed by others as well.

Return to Del (Deltora Quest #8) by Emily Rodda

return to del.jpgTitle: Return to Del (Deltora Quest #8)

Author: Emily Rodda

Genre: Fantasy Adventure

Publisher: Scholastic Australia

Published: 1st November 2001

Format: Paperback

Pages: 132

Price: $14.99

Synopsis:Lief, Barda, and Jasmine have finally retrieved all the gems of the Belt of Deltora and now, in their final step towards overthrowing the Shadow Lord, they must find the true heir to the kingdom’s throne.

~*~

With all the gems of the Belt of Deltora intact, Lief, Barda and Jasmine set out back to Del, where they hope to defeat the Shadow Lord and find the true heir to the throne after the debacle with Dain. On their journey, they are plagued by those who work for the Shadow Lord and want to see them fail. But with protection from members of the seven tribes of Deltora to help escort them home, they hope to make it back and uncover the secrets they have been seeking for so long.

2019 BadgeIn the final epic adventure, Lief, Barda and Jasmine face more dangers from the Shadow Lord on their way home who are determined to prevent the trio from succeeding and restoring the heir, and order to the throne of Deltora. Through several more ups and downs, Lief, Barda and Jasmine arrive home safely – discovering more secrets upon their return about the true heir than they were expecting, resulting in a finale that is satisfying and enjoyable.

Finally, Lief is able to begin his journey home, after reuniting the gems with the belt. His journey home is a little easier than his journey to find the gems but is not without its challenges either. In this one, the threats coming after him are determined, but also, it seems, desperate to stop him.

Reading this series through to its end was a wonderful joy. It is a wonderful example of Australian fantasy for kids, and one that I have thoroughly enjoyed reading over the past few months. Following Lief’s journey has been fun, and enjoyable, and one that I hope to revisit and also read the further books in the subsequent series. It concludes the series nicely and neatly, with a good lead in to the next set of books, that will continue the adventures of Lief, Jasmine and Barda, that I am looking forward to reading.

Pulling together seven books worth of story succinctly, and all the clues that have been dropped throughout the previous seven books, Emily Rodda has connected each element together in a really good way, and intriguing way for readers of all ages. A good read, and a good conclusion to the series.