Friday Barnes: Girl Detective by R.A. Spratt

girl-detectiveTitle: Friday Barnes: Girl Detective

Author: R.A. Spratt

Genre: Fiction

Publisher: Penguin Random House

Published: 1st July 2014/7th May 2019

Format: Paperback

Pages: 250

Price: $15.99Synopsis: Imagine if Sherlock Holmes was an eleven-year-old girl!
The eagerly awaited new series from the author of the bestselling Nanny Piggins series.
When girl detective Friday Barnes solves a bank robbery she uses the reward money to send herself to the most exclusive boarding school in the country, Highcrest Academy.

On arrival, Friday is shocked to discover the respectable school is actually a hotbed of crime. She’s soon investigating everything from disappearing homework to the Yeti running around the school swamp. That’s when she’s not dealing with her own problem – Ian Wainscott, the handsomest boy in school, who inexplicably hates Friday and loves nasty pranks.

Can Friday solve Highcrest Academy’s many strange mysteries, including the biggest mystery of all – what’s the point of high school?

~*~

 

Girl detectives and boarding school novels seem to be very popular these days. Most boarding school novels have a bit of a mystery within, but it is not often that boarding schools are combined with a detective character as they are in Friday Barnes: Girl Detective. Friday is the fifth child of Dr Barnes and Dr Barnes – two scientists who had had everything in their lives planned precisely until Friday came along. Left to her own devices for much of her life, Friday is a keen observer, lover of literature and great at science and many other subjects and doesn’t seem to worry that others don’t pay attention to her. She is a far cry from some other characters aimed at girls – a good thing, as we are able to see a shy, awkward girl be who she is unapologetically  herself – and does not allow anyone to question her, so when she manages to solve a crime, she sends herself to boarding school with the reward money – to Highcrest Academy.

Once there, Friday stumbles upon many mysteries, that eventually lead her to a big discovery, and several run ins with the Headmaster and other teachers. At the same time. She gains two friends – Melanie Pelly and Melanie’s brother Binky. As the start of a series, where each character is established, I enjoyed the way R.A. Spratt pulled this off, making each character unique, yet at the same time, as recognisable figures in the lives of readers at school and work.

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Friday is the kind of character we need to see – she’s not perfect, and she doesn’t fit into any gender stereotypes. She’s not strong nor is she sporty. She’s just who she is – and that’s why I loved her. In many ways, she is who I probably was as a kid, and in some ways, that’s still who I am. She lets little girls – and boys – enjoy things that others might see as nerdy or not cool and she makes them cool. She lets girls be interested in whatever they want – but has a nice focus on detective work, academics and not following trends.

I also thought that setting this in an Australian boarding school was a nice touch, and we seem to be getting a few books like that in the past few years. Previously, most boarding school books have been set in the UK – Harry Potter, St Clare’s – things like that. But these days with Alice-Miranda, Friday Barnes and Ella at Eden, which I also reviewed on this blog a few weeks ago, Australian kids and their experiences can be seen and with each of these series, a different aspect of what they experience at the boarding school is explored. It will be interesting to see what else Friday gets up to at school or out of school, and to see how many more of her fellow students she has to investigate throughout the series.

I’ve got the second book ready to go, and then need to read the rest of the series, as each one looks like it ends on a to be continued cliffhanger which is both exciting and frustrating as I find each book and sometimes have to wait to do so. This is the mark of a good series – the reader wanting to come back for more, a fun and relatable character, and humour. Friday Barnes is a character and series that I hope many will love and enjoy reading, and I am definitely going to continue reading the series.

The Soldier’s Curse (The Monsarrat Series Book One) by Meg and Tom Keneally

soldiers curseTitle: The Soldier’s Curse (The Monsarrat Series Book One)

Author: Meg and Tom Keneally

Genre: Historical Fiction, Crime

Publisher: Vintage/Penguin Random House

Published: 27th February 2017

Format: Paperback

Pages: 384

Price: $19.99

Synopsis: A fast-paced, witty and gripping historical crime series from Tom Keneally and his eldest daughter Meg.

In the Port Macquarie penal settlement for second offenders, at the edge of the known world, gentleman convict Hugh Monsarrat hungers for freedom. Originally transported for forging documents passing himself off as a lawyer, he is now the trusted clerk of the settlement’s commandant.

His position has certain advantages, such as being able to spend time in the Government House kitchen, being supplied with outstanding cups of tea by housekeeper Hannah Mulrooney, who, despite being illiterate, is his most intelligent companion.

Not long after the commandant heads off in search of a rumoured river, his beautiful wife, Honora, falls ill with a sickness the doctor is unable to identify. When Honora dies, it becomes clear she has been slowly poisoned.

Monsarrat and Mrs Mulrooney suspect the commandant’s second-in-command, Captain Diamond, a cruel man who shares history with Honora. Then Diamond has Mrs Mulrooney arrested for the murder. Knowing his friend will hang if she is tried, Monsarrat knows he must find the real killer. And so begins The Monsarrat Series, a fast-paced, witty and gripping series from Tom Keneally and his eldest daughter, Meg.

~*~

This is another series that I have had on my shelf for years and have only just started reading. All the books in this series are out, so hopefully I can get through them over the next few weeks or months. The first book introduces us to Hugh Llewellyn Monsarrat, a gentleman convict who is towards the end of his sentence in 1825. He is friendly with a local housekeeper, Hannah Mulrooney, and Hugh now works as the clerk for the commandant of the Port Macquarie settlement in 1825.

It is around this time that the commandant heads off – and his wife, Honora starts getting ill, and eventually dies. When Hannah is accused, Monsarrat sets out to uncover the real killer.

The mystery within The Soldier’s Curse starts out slowly – as an illness that the doctors have several ideas as to what it might be – but poisoning does not cross their minds until it is too late, and this is where it is clever, as once Honora dies, the investigation Hugh conducts ramps up – whereas  before he is an observer, and finds himself reflecting on the events that led him to where he is at the stage of the novel. As a result, there is a lot of backstory and build up, yet I think it helps contribute to the setting and feelings of the characters and mystery. Hugh is determined to prove Hannah Mulrooney is not guilty – the presumption that she is guilty because those in charge of finding out what happens ignore the access that others had to what may have to Honora and her home.

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Whilst Hugh navigates his position between the world of convicts, education and freedom, he also observes how the Indigenous people of the area the settlers named Port Macquarie – the Birpai – interact with the newcomers to their land, and the intersections of these communities in different ways – from those who do not come into contact, to the Birpai returning absconding convicts and to those mentioned who are said to have relationships (though this is not expanded on) with the settlers – of which, knowing history, there would have been negative ones as well as the positive ones hinted at in this book. As these stories are not always told, having them mentioned brings them to light at least, and readers can, from there, explore this area of history further to gain a better understanding of what happened in those early colonial days. It will be interesting to see how this is further explored in future books. There are complexities of relationships between convicts, jailers and free settlers, between the Indigenous people and the Europeans, and indeed, between the men and women, as well as between Englishmen and Irish or Scottish folk dealt with in this novel throughout. It felt as though these were carefully considered through the lens of Hugh, and based on his personality, and ways of understanding the world. Inequality is highlighted in many ways here – as is the hierarchy of everyone there. The way this is navigated throughout is consistently there, even if not mentioned on every page: there is a constant feeling that this is all going on at the time. It reflects a world where nobody quite understands each other and struggles to find a way to collaborate.

As the start of a series, it is very dense in establishing the character and his history,  yet as with any series with a key character, there is always more to come in subsequent books – the little things that have not come to the surface yet, and questions about the character that were not answered in the first book. I have the four that are already out on my shelf and hope to get through them all soon. It is an intriguing read about colonial history, and colonies other than Sydney Cove as well as the various interactions between the original inhabitants and those brought here for punishment, and the attitudes towards those two groups from the people who south to enforce their authority. A great start to a series.

Any Ordinary Day by Leigh Sales

Any Ordinary DayTitle: Any Ordinary Day

Author: Leigh Sales

Genre: Non-fiction

Publisher: Penguin Random House

Published: 19th November 2019

Format: Paperback

Pages: 272

Price: $24.99

Synopsis: The day that turns a life upside down usually starts like any other, but what happens the day after? Dual Walkley Award-winner Leigh Sales investigates how ordinary people endure the unthinkable.

As a journalist, Leigh Sales often encounters people experiencing the worst moments of their lives in the full glare of the media. But one particular string of bad news stories – and a terrifying brush with her own mortality – sent her looking for answers about how vulnerable each of us is to a life-changing event. What are our chances of actually experiencing one? What do we fear most and why? And when the worst does happen, what comes next?

In this wise and layered book, Leigh talks intimately with people who’ve faced the unimaginable, from terrorism to natural disaster to simply being in the wrong place at the wrong time. Expecting broken lives, she instead finds strength, hope, even humour. Leigh brilliantly condenses the cutting-edge research on the way the human brain processes fear and grief, and poses the questions we too often ignore out of awkwardness. Along the way, she offers an unguarded account of her own challenges and what she’s learned about coping with life’s unexpected blows.

Warm, candid and empathetic, this book is about what happens when ordinary people, on ordinary days, are forced to suddenly find the resilience most of us don’t know we have.

~*~

Any Ordinary Day, winner of the 2019 Walkley Book Award, looks at those moments in life, the tragedies, the horrific situations, that happen on days that start like any other – as any ordinary day. A day where we get up and begin our ordinary routine to go about our daily lives. Until something out of the ordinary, like a sudden death, a landslide, an accident – or something like the death of a well-known figure such as Princess Diana, the 9/11 attacks or the Lindt Café Siege – occurs, and the world of the people connected to people involved in such events, and even beyond, is altered forever, and the subsequent grief and other reactions that come from it differ from person to person, and situation to situation. This is what Leigh considers in her book, as well as the role of the media, her career as a journalist and how the beginning of the twenty-four hour a day, seven days a week rolling news cycle altered reporting when it began around the First Gulf War.

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Within this book, as well as the human cost and reaction to events that are life-changing, Leigh examines how the demands of the need to know can impact how a journalist reports – where they need to navigate ethics, time constraints, and pressure not just from the public but by those that employ them. She acknowledges that the new media, the insertion of new technologies that allow people to access, and perhaps wat, news at their fingertips at any time of the day, has and can affect how the media responds to, and reports the news. In one case she talks about throughout the book, the Lindt Café Siege, she talks about one survivor she talked to, who had also been dealt a blow with her health, and how she dealt with the aftermath, and worked her way back to her life and what she was dealt. In some cases, Leigh points out that there were instances where people (specifically, the research she talks about from American institutions where people were asked about why they thought something bad had happened to them) thought it was God’s will, or it was meant to happen and various sentiments along those lines. In contrast, it felt like the Australians she spoke to – Stuart Diver, Hannah Richell and others – found more pragmatic ways to move on, even if it took them some time. Walter Mikac, who lost his wife and daughters in the 1996 Port Arthur Massacre, started the Alannah and Madeleine Foundation to help children touched by violence as a way to help him remember his daughters and find a way to move on. What all of these examples have in common is that everyone will find a different way to cope with tragedy and will find their own ways to move on.

The role of the media in presenting stories can drastically affect how the public views those involved. Leigh illustrates a vulnerability in examining her role in inadvertently hurting people, and taking feedback into future stories, so she knows where she has gone wrong as she’s tried to balance ethics and the public need to know. She tells stories where she has been worried about what to write or report on, and where she has held back, especially early in her career where she was plagued with uncertainties. She also points to how a journalist reporting on a medical student who was missing for about two months, and who ran a story on 60 minutes soon after and how the public response was somewhat against him. It was a story she heard about second hand, and as with all the examples here, researched it.

Leigh also talks about a few times where her own life – her children, and the challenges of one being disabled and a difficult birth, things she has managed to get through with the help of friends, and the overwhelming feelings of gratefulness she felt. By combining her experiences and research, I feel Leigh has given a well-rounded take on how news reports on certain events from her perspective, and how something out of the ordinary can change us – and how events like the death of Princess Diana and 9/11 are the kinds of events where we all remember where we were when we found out. I remember that day in August 1997 – we were in David Jones buying a new computer when it was splashed across the television screens in the electronics department. Watching it unfold there and at home is a clear memory, and perhaps a good example of why the twenty-four seven news cycle doesn’t help anyone – those involved in the stories, the journalists and the viewers – because there will always be facts that cannot be delivered when they need to be or when viewers think they should. Perhaps the only exception to this rule is an event like the catastrophic bushfire situation plaguing the whole of Australia at the moment – where we need to know if we need to evacuate or what the fire fronts are doing. Other stories perhaps, can wait until all the facts are in place, and I felt like this is something Leigh grapples with – and has her whole career as she entered the world of journalism as this sensation was taking off.

Finally, keeping in mind that the role of technology has changed the way reporting happens – and the way it can now beam these tragedies as they happen into our living rooms, there is a further impact – on those who see it that way, and the way we try to cope with it. It is at its heart about dealing with the blows of life that come our way, and how everyone deals with them differently.

Pippa’s Island: Camp Castaway by Belinda Murrell

pippas island 4.jpgTitle: Pippa’s Island: Camp Castaway

Author: Belinda Murrell

Genre: Fiction

Publisher: Penguin Random House

Published: 2nd April 2018

Format: Paperback

Pages: 240

Price: $14.99

Synopsis: Pippa and friends are off to a tiny tropical island for school camp – but what happens when their group are split up?

The students in class 5M are heading off to school camp. Pippa has never been away on camp before, at least not to a deserted tropical island! The Sassy Sisters look forward to five blissful days together exploring Shipwreck Island’s beaches and lagoon. But when the teams get regrouped, Pippa has to learn to cooperate with Olivia and the other girls.

Mrs Marshall promised challenges and adventure, but she forgot to mention the pranks. After one too many of the boys’ tricks, the girls decide to take their revenge.

Will class 5M survive Camp Castaway?

~*~

Pippa is off on her first real camping trip – five days away on a deserted island with her class, and the Sassy Sisters. All seems to be going well until Mrs Marshall and Zoe change the teams around – splitting up the Sassy Sisters and putting Pippa and Meg with Olivia and her friends. They must learn to work together for the next few days – with Meg and Pippa making an effort to include everyone, but Olivia taking charge and thinking everyone should do what she says. All the while, the boys are playing pranks on the girls – and when they get pushed too far, they decide to take revenge, leading to a bonding experience between Pippa and Olivja.

2019 BadgeThe fourth Pippa’s Island book is my one hundredth book by an Australian Women Writer for 2019. This is a delightful series, and I have one book left to read in it before I have read all that is available. These books capture what it is like to be twelve, and to be the new kid, and what it is like trying to fit in and make new friends, but also, trying to understand different people when forced to work together, which is the focus of this book.

I started reading this series a couple of months ago, and now that I am one away from finishing what is out, I am hoping there will be more to come, as they really are lovely stories with universal themes of friendship and feeling like an outsider – things that we have all felt at some point, whatever our age, race, gender, sexuality, and many other aspects, such as having a disability. These stories are universal and diverse in many ways and allow kids to see a bit of themselves in each of the characters.

I’m looking forward to reading the next book in the new year – I really want to see Pippa’s house finished and what happens next for her family – I feel like there are many things that could happen with this series, and it will be one of those key series for girls of a certain age and their friends. Another great Belinda Murrell book, and I am looking forward to reading more from her in the future.

Best books of 2010 to 2019

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In compiling this list, I had to go back to all my reading log lists – which I began in about 2006, and to date have over 1300 on my combined list. But in doing this, I discovered it was quite difficult to narrow things down to just a handful of ten or fifteen like Theresa did. In fact, there was one series that had one book a year from 2010 to 2019 that could have made up my entire list – but instead, it has comprised one entry as a series.

So, in no particular order:

The Matilda Saga (2010 – 2019)

The Matilda Saga began with A Waltz for Matilda in 2010 and ended this year with the ninth and final book, Clancy of the Overflow. It tells history from a different side – the voices often silenced based on race, gender, class or a combination of these, and other factors such as disability, and other experiences that are not always recorded in the history books. From 1894 to the 1980s, the series spans nearly one hundred years of changes in Australian society – from cars to Federation, to war and the social movements of the sixties and seventies. This is a series well-deserving of a place on this list.

Miss Lily series (2017-2019)

Miss Lily begins just before the outbreak of World War One and has taken us so far to the Wall Street crash of 1929, and the beginning of the Great Depression that would lead into Nazi Germany and another war that would see millions killed in concentration camps, and on the battlefield. With book four due out in 2020, this is a series I am watching keenly to see where it takes us and our beloved Sophie. The Miss Lily series also has three e-books set at Christmas, one of which I am yet to read.

Medoran Chronicles (2014-2019)

This has a place as a whole series because this is the series that got my blogging journey started seriously – when the publisher was looking for reviewers for the first book, Akarnae. I said I would, and from there, the blog grew, as did my love for the series, reviewing each subsequent book for Pantera Press over the years until the final one earlier this year, Vardaesia. From wonder to heartbreak, and everything in between, this series has it all, and the way certain aspects are executed are exceptional and done in a way that is heart-warming, heartbreaking, and very, very fitting for the characters.

Rowland Sinclair Mysteries (2010 – 2019)

Ahh, Rowly. I was introduced to Rowland Sinclair by the NSW Writer’s Centre when they were seeking reviewers with book two, and since then, have read the entire series and sent the reviews to Pantera Press. I am looking forward to reading more of these books as they come out. Poor Rowly has been through many beatings and been caught up in investigating many murders, attacks and with politics that are quite the opposite to his brother, Wilfred. Accompanied by sculptress, Edna, fellow artist, Clyde, and communist Jewish poet, Milton, Rowly travels the world and Australia during the turbulent 1930s as Europe hurtles towards yet another war, twenty years after the end of the war to end all wars.

Kensy and Max (2018-2019)

I have read all four available Kensy and Max books, and love them all. They’re fun, and engaging, and filled with danger, wonder, intrigue and friends. As spy kids, Kensy and Max – twins – are training with fellow students at Pharos, whilst trying to keep the kids who aren’t spies at school from discovering what they are up to, and travelling across the world on various missions. From London to Sydney, Rome and Paris, it seems trouble will always find Kensy and Max – but they will always manage to find a way out of it and get back to their family.

2010

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Now by Morris Gleitzman

2011

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One of Our Thursdays is Missing by Jasper Fforde

2012

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Bitter Greens by Kate Forsyth

2013

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The Wild Girl by Kate Forsyth

2014

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The Sequin Star by Belinda Murrell

2015

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The Beast’s Garden by Kate Forsyth

2016

Magpie Murders by Anthony Horowitz

Barbed Wire and Cherry Blossoms by Anita Heiss

2017

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Beauty in Thorns by Kate Forsyth

2018

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Pippa’s Island: Cub Reporters by Belinda Murrell

2019

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488 Rules for Life by Kitty Flanagan

Again, many of these are Australian authors, some with multiple entries but their books just stayed with me and wouldn’t let me rest, for a variety of reasons. Of course, some appeared on my list for this year – as the books for the year, but these are the ones that made deep impacts on me, and the ones I can actually remember being published in these years – some I wanted to include I wasn’t sure but I loved them anyway and may need to write something about other books I have enjoyed at some point when things calm down. As for the ones with entries in both – these were ones that had such impact, it was difficult to choose which book from the series to include.

So rather than one per year, I probably now have closer to up to five for each year, and many are fairly heavy in what they deal with, but some are lighter, and filled with humour. It was very hard to decide – I wanted to include everything possible! Okay, 2016 has two entries – but for very different reasons. Upon reading the reviews you will see why. So there you have it. The books that made the biggest impressions on me for many, many reasons over the past ten years. Some authors get multiple mentions – because they wrote books that had many impacts on me and they created worlds I never want to leave, and worlds I will have to revisit.

 

Best Books of….2019

Readings and Musings on all things books, Aussie authors and everything in between

As the year comes to a close, many in the book blogging and reviewing community, and the book community in general – radio shows, podcasts, authors – have been posting and recording about this. And let me tell you, it is hard, and often, so many good ones are left off, and to me, ranking them is just mean because how can you rank books? Especially all those ones that stayed with you.

I had hoped 2019 might be easier to start with – not only do I have the list with me now, but for 2010-2019 I need to go back into other lists and hope I have those records. Or at least be able to work out what books I read that were published between those dates. 2019 seems to be the easiest place to start – as I have that list easily at hand for now. Out of 196 read so far, I found fourteen I loved – and the majority are by Australian women. Of course, these are in no particular order of favouritism, simply the order I read them throughout the year as that was easier to copy across.

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Vardaesia by Lynette Noni

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The French Photographer by Natasha Lester

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Kensy and Max: Undercover by Jacqueline Harvey

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 Women to the Front: The Extraordinary Australian Women Doctors of the Great War by Heather Sheard and Ruth Lee

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The Blue Rose by Kate Forsyth

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While You Were Reading by Ali Berg and Michelle Klaus

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Kensy and Max: Out of Sight by Jacqueline Harvey

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There Was Still Love by Favel Parrett

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Rebel Women who Changed Australia by Susanna de Vries

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The Glimme by Emily Rodda

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Weapon by Lynette Noni

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Pages and Co #2: Tilly and the Lost Fairy Tales by Anna James

The Lily in the Snow

The Lily in the Snow by Jackie French

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Clancy of the Overflow by Jackie French

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All the Tears in China by Sulari Gentill

Even though we still have two weeks left in December, I’m trying to get as many of these posts ready as possible – with my full wrap up posts appearing at the very end of the month or early in the new year, as well as the start of all my reading challenges in 2020 as well.

Choosing best of lists is always hard – there are often so many good books, but this year I went with the ones that stood out for me. Some that did were published earlier than 2019 and will possibly make it onto the 2010-2019 list – which of course, is bound to be longer and have entire series on there as I simply cannot choose only one from each year. It feels like a betrayal to a whole series to do that!

So there you are – for once I was able to choose fourteen favourites!

 

Mermaid Holidays: The Reef Rescue by Delphine Davis and Adele K Thomas (Illustrator)

mermaid holidays 4.jpgTitle: Mermaid Holidays: The Reef Rescue

Author: Delphine Davis and Adele K Thomas (Illustrator)

Genre: Fantasy

Publisher: Penguin Random House

Published: 3rd December 2019

Format: Paperback

Pages: 128

Price: $9.99

Synopsis: Sign up for Sea Star Reef Summer Camp and join Olivia Ocean, Chloe Coral, Sophia Seashell and Willow Wave for another splashing adventure in MERMAID HOLIDAYS . . .

The mermaids are off on a summer camp adventure. Olivia can’t wait! She loves camping under the waves, eating sea cucumber sizzles and EXPLORING. But when the besties find themselves on the wrong side of the reef things start to go very, very wrong.

Buckle up for a rip-roaring reef rescue!

~*~

In the fourth Mermaid Holidays book, focused on Olivia Ocean, the four friends – Willow, Chloe, Sophia and Olivia are back for the summer holidays, and this time they’re off on a summer camp adventure under the sea, next to a reef. They are determined to have fun and adventures, and to look for a creature called the Dumbo octopus!

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But with an angry camp director leading the explorer activities, Olivia and her friends decide to head off on their own, to explore the reef. When they find themselves in the out of bounds area of the reef, lost, and not sure how to get back to camp, they must work together to get back to camp before anyone can notice they are gone!

This was the fourth, and I believe, final book in this series, and it is just as charming as its predecessors. Each mermaid is unique and the activities they choose at camp reflect what they all enjoy and have enjoyed individually and as a group in the previous three books.

This series celebrates friendship and girls doing what they like and enjoy without relying heavily on gender stereotypes, and can be enjoyed by all ages. It allows each character to be herself but also shows that not everything will always work out  – and working together is sometimes the best outcome for everyone.

A great series for younger readers who are starting to gain confidence reading alone, or to read with children learning to read, and enjoy the stories together.