Tag Archives: Family relationships

Toffee – Sarah Crossan

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9781526608147

Bloomsbury

June 2019

9781526608147
Bloomsbury YA

RRP $14.99

Exquisitely, compellingly poignant and haunting, I was so happy that I took this to the hairdresser’s yesterday. It meant I could read it one sitting without feeling guilty about neglected house chores!

I am not who I say I am.
Marla isn’t who she thinks she is.


I am a girl trying to forget.
Marla is a woman trying to remember. 

Allison has never known her mother who died within hours of giving birth. She’s been raised by a father with major anger issues and has tiptoed around both his rages and his women all her life. The latest in this parade of women is Kelly-Anne, kind and caring, who took off but did almost beg Allie to go with her.

After years of mental abuse and finally physical battering which culminates in a hot iron smashed across her face, Allie also runs – to find Kelly-Anne but instead runs into problems. She finds herself, taking shelter, in a dingy garden shed but the house to which it belongs is not unoccupied. Marla lives there in a dementia-fog of her own. Marla mistakes Allie for her girlhood friend Toffee and so the two begin a tentative and touching relationship in which both look out for each other, bolster each other and ultimately rescue each other.

That summation does not in any way do justice to the beauty of this verse-novel or its command on the reader.

Allison and Marla become a team. Each in her own way helps the other to overcome their difficulties and insecurities as well as their basic needs for care, companionship and safety.

This is truly a beautiful book which will bring the reader to tears, but also laugh and rage and empathy.

It is more suited to older readers – around 13 years+ – but is so worth promoting to your sensitive and discerning readers. I highly recommend it for students in Lower Secondary and upwards.

The Shelly Bay Ladies Swimming Circle – Sophie Green

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9780733641169

Hachette

JUL 23, 2019 | 9780733641169 | RRP $29.99

 

If you missed The Inaugural Meeting of the Fairvale Ladies Book Club which was a runaway success a couple of years ago you must make certain not to neglect this new novel from Sophie Green!

Once again readers become heavily invested in the lives of the main characters; Marie, Theresa, Elaine and Leanne, as they form a strong bond of supportive friendship. Each of these women are facing their own challenges and when they unexpectedly meet up on Shelly Beach for a dawn swim they gradually and tentatively begin to connect despite their differing ages and circumstances.

Marie still mourns the loss of her husband five years previously and more so since her oldest friend moved away to a retirement village. With her terrier Charlie Brown her only real companion she often finds herself falling into melancholy. But she’s swum every morning almost her whole life and is determined to keep it up.

Then there is Theresa, young mother of two lively children, married to an insensitive, lazy and philandering husband. Despite the support of her Nonna who lives with them, Theresa is struggling to keep her emotions under control as her marriage disintegrates.

Elaine has recently migrated to Shelly Beach with her Australian-born surgeon husband leaving two grown up sons behind in England, as well as her own successful business. Essentially she is grieving for her past life and is resistant to embracing the new one on offer. Her solace becomes habitual and increasing gin and tonics until she reaches a crisis point.

The youngest of the group is quiet reserved Leanne who is hiding a dark secret which has left her emotionally scarred and wary of everyone, particularly men.

Each has their own personal reason for the early morning swim but soon discovers that in numbers, especially a close circle of women friends, is strength. That strength becomes even more important when each of them face significant changes in their lives.

Again this is a marvellous reflection of the impact our own personal circles have on our mental and physical wellbeing. Like its predecessor it is an insightful exploration of the power of friendship, trust and genuine love.

I highly recommend it to you and if you should be looking for a title for a book club this would be a perfect fit.

 

Mercy Point – Anna Snoekstra

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mercy

Harper Collins

June 2019

ISBN: 9781460709887

ISBN 10: 1460709888

RRP: $19.99

For so many the teen years are times of angst, struggling for self-identity and confidence and feeling that one ‘fits in’. For a group of five young people in the Blue Mountains it’s even more fraught as all of them suspect they may be adopted and yet no one is telling them that it’s so.

Bonding anonymously on an online chat page, the group has no idea that in real life they not only know each other but to all intents and purposes dislike individuals in the group.

When they all decide to meet up and investigate their suspicions together, there is a good deal of shock involved when they realise just in whom they have been confiding. But their need for the truth overcomes personal prejudices as each begins to uncover long held secrets and they come together to discover their true origins.

No one would suspect that their small town could hide so much deception: the terrifying truth that awaits them is something that none of them could ever have imagined.

Told turn about by each character the group gradually bond as a team and the mysterious ‘outsider’ Sam begins to reveal more and more to aid them – and shock them

For those of us who know the mountains there are many references to well known places and events which makes the reading all the more accessible. I understand there is already a plan to make this into a tele-movie or series and it really is a highly suitable vehicle for this with its surprise twists and turns.

Despite my habitual resistance to sci fi this is a great read and aside from my knowledge of the area I found it highly engaging and thoroughly engrossing.

Highly recommended for discerning readers from around 13 years upwards.

Check out teaching notes here.

Love Lie Repeat – Catherine Greer

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loveliverepeat

Penguin

9780143791225

March 5, 2019

$19.99

I’ve mentioned before that I have in recent times been somewhat disenchanted with many of the YA novels that have come my way. There have been a few exceptions. This one, debut novel and all, is an absolute corker!

Annie and her ‘island girls’ (the kind you take with you to a desert island), Ashlin and Ruby have been a threesome forever. They are bonded so closely that nothing could ever tear them apart. While their family lives may be complex in one sense with divorces, absent fathers, family secrets they lead privileged lives with money, fashion and solid support.

When Ashlin’s hitherto unknown half-brother, Trip, arrives from Canada, asked to leave his school due to some unexplained arson attacks, the girls’ previously tight bonds of friendship begin to fray in varying degrees. Annie’s burgeoning relationship with Trip seems destined to follow some kind of roller-coaster experience as she repeatedly trusts him, rejects him, reconciles with him. Ashlin’s secret sexual identity begins to reveal itself while Ruby, ignoring Annie’s obvious interest in Trip, starts throwing herself at the boy with little regard for her friend.

Into this mix of emotional angst are the girls’ usual activities of sport, singing, holidays and fashion but all of these seem to be overcast by some sinister atmosphere and more frighteningly, inexplicable random fires.

Greer has put together an intense and gripping narrative with many twists and turns and the ending is not to be missed.

Given its fairly adult themes this is not a book I would recommend for your younger teens but I have no hesitation in promoting it to senior secondary students.

Black Cockatoo – Carl Merrison and Hakea Hustler

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Magabala Books

 

Published: Jul 2018

 

ISBN: 9781925360707

RRP: $11.99

A beautiful novella that explores a coming-of-age experience for a young Aboriginal girl in the remote Kimberley region.

Mia is distressed at the increasing distance her brother is putting between himself and family. The growing turbulence within her family is hard for a 13 year old to contend with but the day she find an injured dirran (black cockatoo), her own totem animal is the start to an acceptance of the situation for her.

As she cares for the bird she begins to comprehend the wisdom of her elders around being true to oneself and one’s culture, resilience and inner strength. When Mia finally is able to release the beautiful bird she realises that she can indeed stand up for herself and weather the storms.

A short but powerful read that I would highly recommend for readers from around 12 years upwards.

Kensy and Max #2: Disappearing Act – Jacqueline Harvey

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kensy

Penguin Random House

9780143780632

September 3, 2018

Random House Australia Children’s

RRP: $16.99

 

Twins Kensy and Max are back in another absolutely cracking adventure, which will delight the readers of this new series. The pair has had some time to adjust themselves to their new life as part of the important Pharos organisation, headed up by their impressive grandmother and is now agents-in-training along with some of their school friends.

Although their parents are still missing they at least now know they are still alive, so the Christmas celebrations at Alexandria, their grandmother’s home and Pharos training centre, are quite something. Their training program has been exciting and both have added many new skills to their already natural talents.

With their manny Fitz also absent and the unexpected arrival of Uncle Rupert, a somewhat dubious character, the twins have much to occupy themselves but their school trip to Italy promises to be a welcome distraction.

But of course, this turns out to be no normal school trip with a missing boy, a den of thieves and Mafioso-like goons threatening all-round chaos. It would seem that the twins will be on their first mission much earlier than could be expected.

Jacqueline Harvey has a real talent for creating very believable characters and scenarios which immediately engage her readership and leaves them begging for more.

While her two hugely popular series are eaten up ferociously by girls for the main part, this new series has equal appeal for both genders and will be, I predict, creating another huge following from the pre-teen crowd.

With neat touches like the coded chapter headings, this will have the problem-solvers competing for first place in deciphering!

 

Highly recommended for your readers from around Year 3 upwards who enjoy everyday stories with a hefty twist of wild adventure, sleuthing and drama.

 

Brontide – Sue McPherson

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Magabala Books

June 2018

ISBN:9781925360929

RRP: $14.99

 

I often think that if a book leaves you feeling slightly unsettled it must have achieved its goal.  This was a quick read so it was done and dusted in one sitting but the reflection afterwards probably took equally as long as the actual reading.

This is the story of some stories. The stories are shared in a recount of interviews of four teenage boys from the same town on the Sunshine Coast. To me it blends bogan and Aboriginal and mainstream culture in ways that are quite complex although simple on the surface. The boys are often rude and disrespectful, prejudiced and intolerant yet they speak with the only honesty they know. Their histories are not pretty and their current lifestyles often not so as well. However, like most teens they think they are invincible and it is this that creates the biggest shock in the climax of the narrative.

Obviously in my work I encounter teenagers on a daily basis and at times I see this disregard for almost everything continually and I find that depressing. Yet at the same time I know there is good in many of them and see them rally to causes, to mates and to their passions in positive ways.

To my mind this will be a powerful book if we can get it into the right hands at the right time. Be aware there is considerable use of offensive language so you would be cautious about where you place it in a collection but that being said it is worth sharing and promoting.

Recommended for mature readers from around fourteen upwards

Found – Fleur Ferris

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Random House Australia Children’s

9780143784326

July 2, 2018

RRP $19.99

With her customary skill Fleur’s new novel launches into full-speed adrenaline-rushing action from the outset.  Had it not been the end of term and my exhaustion levels peaking I would have binge-read it in one sitting!

Seventeen year old Beth Williams has lived all her life in the quiet rural town of Deni. She and her parents have a farm not far from the town and are an integral part of the community. While Beth often wishes her mum and dad were not so over-protective and even strict, she knows that they only want the best for her. She’s aware that a lot of her friends are pretty intimidated by her martial arts instructor father – ‘Bear’ by nickname and  pretty much bear by nature but all in all the biggest worry she has is telling her folks that she has a boyfriend. Jonah is a fellow karate student in her dad’s gym and they are a perfect match.

Just as she is about to broach this delicate topic with her father he literally disappears before her eyes – abducted by some unknown people in a plain white van – and then all hell breaks loose. Beth and her mum Lucy are thrown into frightening but controlled response mode and Beth begins the discovery of her parents’ true identity – as well as her own. Now she realises the real purpose behind the family living on a farm with Beth learning many skills not usual for a teen – driving any kind of vehicle, handling weapons, survival tactics and strategy.

It’s a nightmare from which she is unsure they will emerge unscathed and indeed, it seems they will not – that is, not all.  But if nothing else, she is her father’s daughter – in more ways than one – and she will not cower in the face of danger and threat.

The tension of the narrative is held superbly throughout with the characters well-drawn and arousing empathy despite some deadly past mistakes.

Highly recommended for readers from around 15 years upwards – some language may offend some institutions but is always completely in context in my opinion.

The Mulberry Tree – Allison Rushby

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Walker Booksmulberry

ISBN: 9781760650292
Imprint: Walker Books Australia
Release Date: July 1, 2018
Australian RRP: $17.99
New Zealand RRP: $19.99

 

Immy is not well pleased at moving to England from Sydney. Her mother has a new job which carries some prestige, but her father is floundering – his previous career as a GP slaughtered by a tragedy. Their transition to Cambridgeshire is hindered by a narrow choice of rental properties but Immy decides on a thatched cottage that has a rather dark history and her parents are happy to go along with her choice in deference to her resistance to the entire move.

According to village legend, the huge mulberry tree in the garden of their cottage has already ‘stolen’ two girls on the eve of their eleventh birthday – and as Immy is about to turn eleven there is a hushed fear that the same will happen to her. But Immy is made of stern stuff and even while railing at her parents over the move – and her father’s depression – she refuses to give into fear over the tree’s influence.  Although, the strange ‘chant/song’ she keeps hearing is rather unnerving. Along the way, unexpectedly Immy makes friends of varying ages and discovers special bonuses in living in a new environment.

This is a fabulously ‘spooky’ story – not confronting to the extent that it would totally freak young readers out, but in that deliciously creepy way that demands the reading is page-turning.

It appears this is quite a skill for Allison Rushby. This telling of a story that is somewhat dark and certainly weird but not enough to scare the pants of kids – which is of course a real drawcard.

Boys and girls of around ten years upwards will love this story with its beautifully drawn characters – and in this I include the mulberry tree.

I highly recommend this for upper primary/lower secondary readers and look forward to Allison’s further writing.

Missing – Sue Whiting

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Walker Books Australia

ISBN: 9781760650032
Imprint: Walker Books Australia

March 1, 2018
Australian RRP: $17.99
New Zealand RRP: $19.99
Right from the get-go this novel is full on with its action, mystery and poignancy. Thirteen year old Mackenzie is at a difficult time in her life leaving primary school and off to a private girls’ high school away from friends. A tough time for any young girl but all the more when your mother has gone missing on a scientific expedition and has not been heard of for months.

 

Kenzie’s father has been an absolute mess since the disappearance, her grandmother sad but resigned and Kenzie herself has managed to convince herself that the only explanation that fits is that her mother has been placed in a witness protection programme.

 

Now 116 days after her mother’s disappearance her father has taken Kenzie to Panama in a desperate attempt to find his wife.  Kenzie is just as desperate not to solve the mystery in her conviction that it will bring about a dire result for her mum.

 

Jungles, bats, strange food and customs, dead ends, unhelpful police and a father who behaves like a crazed person – it’s all too much to bear. But circumstances have a way of unfolding at their own pace and when Kenzie’s dad ends up in hospital with typhus she and her new acquaintance Carlo take matters into their own hands following an unexpected lead.

 

This is a completely gripping read – a real page turner with believable characters and emotions. On a personal note, as a Shire girl, it was somehow intriguing to read of Kenzie catching a train from Kogarah or shopping at Westfield Hurstville – my old stomping grounds but it is the fast-paced plot and the slowly unfurling chain of events that keep the reader intrigued right to the very end.

Highly recommended for readers in  Upper Primary/Lower Secondary.