Monthly Archives: August 2013

Wentworth Hall – Abby Graham

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Just came across one I wrote last year – had forgotten about it – probably for obvious reasons!

Wentworth Hall – Abby Grahame

Hardcover, 276 pages

Published May 1st 2012 by Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers

 

 

An unabashed devotee of historical fiction, this reader leapt at the chance to review this novel – purportedly a ‘Downtown Abbey’ aimed at the YA market. Hmmm, well, after a very slow start, one started laughing and was surprised as one didn’t expect it to be a spoof. Oops, apparently it’s not meant to be!

For those of a certain age, or those who enjoy revisiting vintage British programs – recall if you can, The Forsyte Saga – yes, that’s right the black-and-white series from the 60s, based on the novels by John Galsworthy. Melodrama, hammy acting, every cliché known to humanity. Now combine that with perhaps The Bold and The Beautiful – histrionics, hokey performances, every banality known to scriptwriting. 

Shallow characters, slight plot (eventually) hanging by a thread, and of course, the usual plethora of family secrets, unpleasant people, illegitimacy, unwanted suitors, star-crossed lovers – you name it, it’s there.

One doesn’t like to disparage a first novel – after all, it has been considered worthy to publish –and apparently, Ms Graham is enamoured of historical fiction, albeit may it be suggested without real in-depth knowledge or research. For example, in the early 20th century when the class system was still very entrenched in England, it would be hard to believe that a very young maid raised by charity within the one stately family home would be able to quote Shakespeare or articulate with a vocabulary that would be more at home with an Oxford scholar.It is not suggested that this shouldn’t be put on the library shelves, but please don’t expect quality literature – essentially, a slight novel of little worth – that may divert a girl looking for a undemanding read.

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Scarlet in the Snow – Sophie Masson

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Scarlet in the Snow – Sophie Masson

Paperback, 336 pages

Published May 1st 2013 by Random House

ISBN

1742758150 (ISBN13: 9781742758152)

RRP $17.95

 

There seems to be a real fashion for updating fairy tales in recent times. Of course, over the years there have been many retellings of traditional tales, but this latest foray seems to be concentrated in presenting new versions in more adult formats vis-à-vis cinematic offerings such as Snow White and the Huntsman or Mirror Mirror or books such as Moonlight & Ashes (also by Sophie Masson).

Sophie Masson presents a new styling of the old Beauty and the Beast traditional tale (La Belle et la Bête), first published in 1740 and gives it a new and engaging twist that will be sure to captivate the  girls looking for something with  rather more substance than the general pulp fiction in the romance genre.

Carefully employing many of the original elements of the story – a once rich family reduced to poverty,  the enchanted forest, a mysterious mansion occupied by an apparently invisible owner, tables laden with magical food, and most importantly a beautiful rose plucked innocently without any malice – Masson weaves a complex but beautiful rendering of the story breathing real life into the characters and their circumstances.

Tragedy, revenge, intrigue and love triumphant are crafted into an unravelling of the story in which Masson has combined selected motifs of the many hundreds of versions of the original tale.

Taking her setting from Russia and drawing most heavily on the version retold in that country, the author has created highly believable and very human characters in Natasha, Ivan and even Old Bony.  There is a definite tone of steampunk in the later settings/incidents in the book which this reader found highly engaging.

With teaching notes available from the publisher this would make a terrific book for lower secondary students engaged in shared reading or book groups.

http://www.randomhouse.com.au/content/teachers/tr_scarletinthesnow.pdf

 

Colour for Curlews

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Colour for Curlews – Renée Treml

Published by Random House Australia Children´s

2 September 2013

RRP $19.95

ISBN 9781742759210

 

This second picture book offering from Renée Treml is a treasure trove for younger readers and teachers of lower school children. 

Two cheeky and curious curlews discover some wonderful paints and decided to adorn themselves – starting a definite fashion trend with a host of other familiar Australian birds. With a wonderful daub of alliteration and a palette of rhyme to enhance the text, young readers are introduced not only to their basic colours but also the principles of colour mixing.

As the bowerbirds, brolgas, Gouldian finches, lorikeets and more try out their flash new colours, along comes One Very Tired Wombat (the previous picture book character from this exciting new author/illustrator) who goes to sleep in a puddle of brown paint. But will he still be brown when he wakes up?

The vibrancy of the colourful illustrations will have the young artists in your class itching to get to the paint pots – I can already visualise a sumptuous mural of native birds as a truly gorgeous display.  The addition of some factual notes at the end of the book provides an engaging balance to this delightfully riotous explosion of colour madness.

Be sure to put this one on your shopping list – it will not disappoint!  This is one that might stay on my shelves rather than go as a gift to a grandchild methinks!

Highly recommended for Early Childhood readers in particular.

 

Review – The Whole of My World – Nicole Hayes

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 A new and challenging job has kept me from even reading, let alone reviewing but now starting to catch up a little – public transport does have advantages!

The Whole of My World – Nicole Hayes

Woolshed Press, an Imprint of Random House Australia

 1 June 2013-08-18

RRP $18.95

ISBN 97817427586602

 

In a highly commended debut novel Nicole Hayes has taken her own personal teenage obsession with footy (AFL) and woven a strong resonating story of Shelley, a Melbourne girl who is struggling to come to terms with the changes in her life.

Aside from the typical complications faced by teenage girls coming to grips with their identity and place in an adult world, Shelley has the additional burden of dealing with a poignant grief having lost her mother and her twin brother in a car accident. The year that has passed since the tragedy has driven both Shelley and her father into a grim place of hollowness – behaving almost as if the two lost ones never existed.

Unable to cope with her old school and her perceptions that everyone now sees her as incomplete, Shelley starts a new school where she is confronted by an unfriendly bunch of cliquey girls who seem to be determined to ostracise from the very start.  Her one salvation is discovering Tara, who is even more a footy tragic than herself.  Through Tara, she is drawn into a crowd of team worshippers and becomes embroiled on a personal level with her heroes of the local footy team, in particular, the new star player on the team, her idol, Mick.

As Shelley becomes more and more involved in the culture of the club, Hayes is able to explore the dichotomy between males and females, boys and girls, within the constraints of society and expectations.  Far from finding her place within the team circle as she had thought she would, Shelley is faced with more and more difficult reflections, secrets and questions as she fights to find her own true sense of belonging.

This is a challenging novel in some ways, and does contain some adult themes and strong language but recommended for young adult readers 14+