February 26

Falling from Grace by Jane Godwin

Lost in a storm. How many adventure stories, or horror stories have that setting? Countless. Jane Godwin has used the violent storms that can lash Point Nepean in Victoria to create the suspense for this novel.

Two sisters are bushwalking around the end of Point Nepean. Their father is following behind, tracking them using the clues they leave for him. But the youngest sister finds a little penguin in distress and insists on leaving their chosen path to rescue it. A sudden storm moves in just as the tide is turning and suddenly the two sisters are cut off. The older sister makes it safely to shore and climbs to safety, but the younger sister loses her nerve and disappears.

Another visitor to the park is hurrying home before the storm and catches sight of the sisters in trouble. He tries to help and manages to rescue the bag holding the penguin, now dead. A search is organised for the missing girl, the police are involved, and very quickly the boy finds himself under suspicion. Circumstances, and bad decisions only make him look more and more guilty as the book progesses.

I enjoyed the book, but much of my enjoyment was familiarity with the environment. I have crawled through the disused tunnels that permeate the old fortifications. I have stood at the bottom of the cliff, or at the top as the tide changes and the rip comes to life. I am not sure if a stranger to the area would find the book as entertaining. Or perhaps they would find it more easier to get caught up in the suspense than I did.

February 26

Boyznbikes by Vince Ford

This book is unashamedly for the boys. It is all about motorcycles, motorcycle racing, and motorcycle riding. If there happens to be a short story about a half sister, or a mother in trouble, the purpose of the distraction is to give Callum and his father an excuse to ride a little further or a little faster.

That doesn’t mean it’s a bad read. Callum’s antics at school are truly funny as well as getting him suspended so he can go with his Dad on his annual trek. And Maddy is tough enough to hold her own place in the story. Mum’s disappearance is handled lightly enough to be plausible and not purely a transparent plot device.

But the book is all about the bikes!

February 24

In the Lair of the Mountain Beast by James Moloney

And this comment will clearly demonstrate how far behind my reading list is! I just purchased volume 5 of this series last week, and I am only now getting around to commenting about book 4.

I have been reading James Moloney for years. His early books focussed on adolescent relationships and the importance of families. But a couple years ago he wrote his first fantasy novel, The Book of Lies, and I loved it.

Soon after The Book of Lies, Moloney commenced a scifi adventure series for upper primary/lower secondary, The Doomsday Rats. Each book is short, full of excitement, complete within itself, but leaves you wanting the next installment now!

As with many scifi novels, a summary sounds trite and unappealing, but here goes anyway. The idea of the series is that an evil genius has drugged the adult population and manipulated them to his will. This tyrant has an army of genetically modified beasts who act as enforcers. However, the good guys are a group of kids who live underground in the sewers, fighting evil whenever and wherever they can. As the children grow, they can no longer fit into the sewers and must take their chances above ground.

In this installment of the story, some of the children discover there is an antidote to the drug in a hidden valley in the mountains. So they leave the security of the sewers and head for the hills. Along the way they encounter some adults who also exist outside Malig Tumora’s control. And naturally they are followed to the secret hiding place.

To say any more would spoil the story, so find the series for yourself and enjoy them all.

February 24

Little Fur revisited

I am willing to admit it when I make a mistake. This week I handed Little Fur and A Fox Called Sorrow to a young friend who instantly fell in love with them both. She commented on Crow’s use of language and Little Fur’s committment to a cause.

So maybe it is a better publication than I thought.

February 24

Superglued by Neville Barnard

I didn’t like this book when I started. It seemed just too simplistic even silly. But I persevered and by the end it wasn’t too bad.

Robert Stoner is a young boy who is having difficulty handling his parent’s divorce. Robert is sent to boarding school because his parent’s can’t agree about who should have him when. Life has settled into a routine of alternate weekends with each parent, and weekdays at school scheming up ways to get rid of Mum’s new boyfriend and get the parents back together. One scheme is the idea that if Robert can repair the bride and groom figurine from the wedding cake, the magic will return to their relationship. And that is Robert’s excuse for his unending supply of superglue.

When superglue was first released on the marketplace there were all kinds of urban myths about skin getting stuck together, zips and locks stuck, and hundreds of other comic situations. They are all in this book. Robert and his superglue are a nightmare!

Barnard loves puns. I love the name for the principal of Robert’s school, Ms Take. And the questioning of Jon Ho, Robert’s best friend, adds to the gentle humour of the novel.

I think this will be a popular book for upper primary, and some lower secondary students.

February 3

A Fox Called Sorrow by Isobelle Carmody

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I think I problably said all there was to say about this series when I reviewed Little Fur a few weeks ago. The second volume in the series is longer, and admittedly has more adventure, the publication problems are still there. The book is still far more attractive to adults than to kids.

In the second volume Little Fur, our hero, is sent on a mission to spy on the king of the trolls. Without spoiling the story at all I think I can say that the mission is completed. But this time there is an added layer of complexity in that one of the band of travellers (fellowship?) is an ally of the trolls. And Little Fur is half troll, so her trollish nature is awakened while she is travelling underground.

Maybe the third volume, if it manages to complicate the story a little more will actually hold the interest of the upper primary students that the publishers are targeting.

February 3

Kestrel by Mark Svendsen, Steven Woolman and Laura Peterson

A simple picture book, and three authors credited. This is usually a guarantee of disaster. However, this book was partially completed when Steven Woolman died leaving only pencil sketches. Laura Peterson took up the challenge of finishing Woolman’s work and the result is stunning.

The story is simple. A father has refused to allow a young boy to have his own rowboat, claiming that it is too dangerous. The boy’s grandfather invites the young boy to help him build a boat for another boy. Together the two build what will become a generous gift.

As it has always been with Steven Woolman’s books, the artwork enhances the story adding layers of complexity to the tale. This time there seems to be a poignant beauty as well, perhaps because as a reader we know that we will never see illustrations like this again.

This is a lovely publication, and I would fork out the money to get the hardcover edition. The print quality is usually much better.