Tag Archives: Friendships

No Hearts of Gold – Jackie French

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Harper Collins

December 2021

  • ISBN: 9781460757925
  • ISBN 10: 1460757920
  • Imprint: HarperCollins AU
  • List Price: 29.99 AUD

If you’ve read this blog before no doubt, you have noticed my immense admiration for the talent of Jackie French and, in particular, her outstanding historical fiction. Her seemingly effortless recreation of the past always has the power to transport the reader into the time and place of the narrative, allowing one to be fully immersed in the lives, dramas, despair and fortunes of the characters. I say seemingly effortless but I know the depth and breadth of research, background reading and investigation Jackie undertakes for each of her works and it is that which enriches her exploration and teasing out of hitherto unknown or ignored aspects.

We share a love of colonial history and moreover, a fascination with the untold, forgotten or glossed-over facts of our nation’s, often, troubled past. Readers are well accustomed to the portrayal of white women in our early post-First Contact history and there is no doubt that there were many who deserve our respect and regard. Their resilience, stoicism, ingenuity as well physical and mental strength have earned their place in our canon. But those wives, daughters, and sisters managing a household on small holdings, supporting their menfolk (or possibly managing alone)  or working for others in domestic service can surely not be the only types that deserve recognition.

In this magnificent saga we accompany three very different young women as they leave everything behind and travel to a robust and raw Sydney colony. Each of them so very different to the others in background and temperament and yet the friendship they forge goes deep, providing each other with the truest support and sustenance they all need.

Kat Fizhubert has been raised as the indulged and wealthy daughter of interesting and loving parents but when her father’s bankruptcy and ruin sends him over the edge and he first murders his wife, tries to kill Kat and finally suicides, Kat’s life is in tatters and her spirit in absolute black despair. Her kindly and astute aunt arranges a marriage for her – to a well-respected young landowner in the colony of New South Wales.

Titania Boots has never known real love or even affection, growing up with indifferent parents, married off to an old man who merely wanted an unpaid housekeeper and drudge. However, Titania has brilliant business acumen, and her management of her elderly husband’s affairs provides her with all the knowledge she could need. Widowed and left penniless, she becomes a paid companion on a voyage to the Australian colony.

Lady Viola Montefiore is young, elfin, intensely clever and caring and part of a well-placed noble family.  She is also most noticeably not wholly of the family with her dark skin and Indian appearance. The obvious result of a love affair on the part of her mother means she is kept secluded from society, hidden not only  out of a perceived shame but because of the general response from ‘polite society’. Learning a little of her birth on her mother’s deathbed, Viola is sent away to the colony to be put in charge of a cousin as a ward until she attains her majority. She is wealthy, in a way most of can only dream of, but also compassionate and generous.

On their shared voyage to Australia these young women bond together to comfort each other, share their sad circumstances, and voice their hopes and vow to retain their friendship – though essentially, no vow is necessary as they are now so attached each to the other.

Their ensuing stories as each faces the challenges, good and bad, friends and foes of their new surroundings makes for compelling reading and if, like me, you will find it hard not so say ‘just one more chapter’.  I was completely enthralled and fully engaged, as if a bystander, throughout and read way past my bed time for the past few nights. As always though, when I reached the end I was incredibly sad to leave these wonderful and vibrant book friends behind, so I dare to hope that this could be the first of another of Jackie’s fabulous series.

No recommendation is ever needed for Jackie’s books but naturally I bestow my very highest on this new one. I do believe it has become my new best favourite 😊.

The Magical Bookshop – Katja Frixe. Illustrated by Florentine Prechtel. Translated by Ruth Ahmedzal Kemp.

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Bloomsbury

September 2021

Imprint: OneWorld

ISBN: 9781786075666

RRP: $14.99

Such a sweet and happy book this is! Translated from the German with great dexterity while retaining just the right amount of that quirkiness of expression that European children’s books often have, this is just a delight from start to finish.

Mrs Owl’s bookshop is full of magic and it is Clara’s favourite place to be. She loves her family very much but it can get very noisy in a full house. The bookshop gives Clara a space to just be – curled up in a favourite spot with a favourite book or chatting quietly with Mrs Owl, not to mention Mr King, the mirror, and Gustav, the cat – both of whom also talk! They are the greatest comfort to Clara, especially now when her very best friend forever, Lottie, is moving away. It’s all because Lottie’s father has a new girlfriend and Lottie’s mum does not want to stay in the same town as the new couple.

How can the two girls bear to be separated? It is just not fair. And then there’s Clara’s new teacher who might be pretty but Clara is not convinced of her friendliness. New boy Leo is no substitute for Lottie in the classroom and all in all, things are feeling pretty grim. Then there’s the very worst thing about this new year, is that someone is determined to close down the bookshop with some very nasty tricks and underhanded actions.

It soon becomes apparent that even with Lottie gone, Clara still has friends and those friends need her help badly. Maybe, in doing that, things might just get a little easier to bear in the light of Lottie’s move so far away.

This has such a lovely feel of friendship and community about it and readers from around 7 years upwards will enjoy it for not only the mystery but also the humour and magic.

Highly recommend for independent readers from around Year 2 upwards.

Cato’s Can Can – Juliet Sampson & Katrina Fisher

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Ford St Publishing

August 2021

ISBN: 9781025804751

RRP: $24.95

Juliet’s newest book is just sheer joyfulness on paper! I know she loves her dancing, and so do we in our family – it’s only the current generation who have declined to dance actually *sad face* – so this gorgeous, happy story about Cato the cockatoo who yearns for someone with whom to dance is just perfect. Equally, your kiddos who dance – or even those who just have to move with the music! – will love it as much.

Cato finds plenty of dancers from the local dance school but just as he seems to get close they all disappear. Finally, he is brave enough to go right inside the building and there they all are – the ballet dancers who leap, the rappers who spin and all the rest. All the dancers he has seen in his search, with their actions so like other native birds, welcome him into their class and suddenly – everyone is learning a new dance – the can can!

This is sweet and happy and full of such positive energy, and a lovely affirmation that we can always find kindred spirits if we care to look. I absolutely love Juliet’s comparisons to our various birds and Katrina’s illustrations are just spot on, with the dancing children almost bursting off the pages with their energy.

Highly recommended for your little readers from around Prep upwards – I can well imagine some lively dance sessions both during and after a shared reading. You can also find teaching notes and activities here. [I have in fact, made a similar birdy craft with my kiddos and it’s a huge hit!]

We Were Wolves – Jason Cockcroft

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Walker Books Australia

June 2021

ISBN: 9781839130571
Imprint: Andersen Press
Australian RRP: $26.99
New Zealand RRP: $28.99

There are some seriously fabulous YA books coming out of the UK recently – and I’m not trying to take anything away from our local authors at all – it’s just that every single UK title I’ve read, probably in the last year, has completely blown me away. This is another of them.

Dark and intense, it is the story of one boy’s relationship with his da, set amid the angst and terrible sadness of PTSD. The nameless narrator, referred to as Boy or the boy, relates the events he experiences living with his dad, in a caravan in the woods. Actually, it’s more the events he experiences once his dad is ‘banged up’ and he struggles to work things out on his own. It’s not that he can’t go home to his Mam, but more, the intense loyalty he feels towards his father, with his certainty that he is the only one who can ‘get through’ to his dad in the moments of danger. Boy knows he can manage in the caravan on his own but it’s the dark forces circling, like the Bad Man, Toomey, and the hidden beasts lurking that are his biggest enemy.

His meeting with Sophie is paramount in his struggle to keep a grip on some kind of hope and lifeline to normality but even more than this, has been the arrival of an elderly dog he calls Mol(ly) – both of these become his comfort and bolster in the danger he faces.

This is not an easy read. There are kids who will struggle with it – not because it’s difficult technically, but because it is quite confronting emotionally but those who persist will be well rewarded. There are many teens for whom life is not easy, but the lifeline/s offered by friends, family and others are so important , and equally important, is for us to put such books into the hands of young people.

This is another beautifully presented book I have read in the last week or so – with a striking dust jacket, fabulous end papers and evocative illustrations.

I will be definitely be book talking this one at our first ChocLit meeting when term begins and I highly recommend it for your astute readers from around 14 years upwards.

The Tea Ladies of St Jude’s Hospital – Joanna Nell

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Hachette

September 2021

ISBN: 9780733642906

RRP: $32.99

When it’s the spring school holidays nothing quite beats sitting on the verandah with just enough sunshine and warmth to be pleasantly comfy, with a large cuppa, and a fabulous, fun book to read. Needless to say, Joanna Nell has cracked that again with this new one, again exploring the, sometimes surprising, bonds between women.

Hilary, Joy and Chloe could not, on first impressions, be any more different to each other and yet, as their friendship develops, they discover that each is trying desperately to hide a secret from the wider world.

Hilary has been the manager of St Jude’s cafeteria for years. What started as her token nod to philanthropy has gradually become her passion, and now, as she faces a future bereft of husband, assets and friends, it is the constancy of the café and her role within it that sustains her.

Joy is the recent newcomer volunteer. She is determined to get back into living a full life as well as giving back to the hospital, following her husband Len’s cancer journey. She may be habitually late but with her colorful clothes, hair and eyelashes, she certainly adds a much-needed pop of pizzazz to the Marjorie Marshall Memorial cafeteria. After all, after five decades, the establishment is looking a little frayed around the edges.

Chloe is the 18 year old Duke of Edinburgh student, daughter of two high-flyer surgeons, sister of two doctor brothers and on her way, supposedly, to her own medical career. Her inability to deal with the sight of blood, and needles, would appear to be a handicap to this, and with all her heart, she wishes she could pursue the career in creative arts she yearns for, and excels in.

When traditional St Jude’s undergoes a huge refurbishment, the much-loved café faces complete extinction in the wake of a health-food hipster super chain called ‘Platter’. How can these three set aside their initial differences and work together to create not only a solution but provide the emotional sustenance they each need?

This is another of Joanna’s delightful ‘feel good’ reads that is both a pleasant departure from our own reality but also a reminder of the healing qualities of friendships, the importance of solid values and the persuasive nature of people power. There is a lot of depth to this despite it’s surface appearance of humorous ‘chick lit’ novel and there will be many who can relate to at least one of the main characters, all of whom are extremely likeable – even when they are being a bit odd!

Recommended highly for your leisure reading – put the kettle on, sit back and enjoy!

Worst. Holiday. Ever. – Charlie Higson

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Penguin AustraliaISBN: 9780241414781

May 2021

  • ISBN: 9780241414781

Imprint: Puffin

RRP: $14.99

See, I associate Charlie Higson’s name with Young Bond, thrilling spy adventures, evil villains – you know the sort of thing so this absolutely hilarious book took me completely by surprise.

Stan is the only child of pretty ordinary parents and lives in a pretty ordinary suburban house and, in fact, lives a pretty ordinary life. He’s not what you would call an extrovert – or confident – or actually, not very interesting and certainly not brave, but he is a nice kid. So when he is invited to go with a school friend, Felix and his family on a holiday to Italy, he finds himself packed and at the airport with Felix’ uncle and aunt, whom he’s never met, going to a foreign country to stay with an entire villa full of strangers with only Felix – and a very tenuous friendship to bolster himself.

Stan’s list of things that could go wrong on the holiday is even funnier than the one his mum gives him ‘in case of emergency’ and readers will be continually amused throughout as Stan’s lists are added to – but also subtracted from – as he encounters new experiences from food to girls, from moody or just downright batty adults to haughty Italians.

While he is away Stan’s dad takes ill, which causes him great anxiety, but at the same time, as he observes the interactions of the families in the villa with acute perception, he develops a greater understanding of what he’s always taken to be his father’s dissatisfaction with his only son. As the holiday progresses and Stan’s small steps towards confidence increase, so does his insight into what family means and that sometimes, being anxious is OK and being even just a little brave can take you a long way.

I find it quite difficult at times to find humorous novels that will be enjoyed by lower secondary as much as primary children but I think this one might just fit the bill. I’m certainly going to give it a red-hot go with some of my Year 7s – especially some of the more reluctant readers.

Highly recommended for kiddos from around 10 years upwards – especially those who like a good laugh-out-loud read.

Pax, Journey Home – Sara Pennypacker

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Harper Collins

September 2021

  • ISBN: 9780008470289
  • ISBN 10: 0008470286
  • Imprint: HarperCollins GB
  • List Price: 19.99 AUD
So many readers have been waiting for a sequel to the book that captured thousands of hearts with its tender story of a boy and his orphaned fox. Now a year has gone by since Peter and Pax were separated (oh the tissues required!) and each has followed their own path. Pax has a mate and a new litter of kits to protect as they wander the wasteland to find a safe haven. Peter, now orphaned himself, has been taken in by the warm and generous Vola far away from his home but he cannot settle, despite the sanctuary she offers.

When Peter joins the Water Warriors, a group determined to repair the ravages of the war, his primary intention it to work his way back to his old home, although he knows there is nothing left for him there. He desperately tries to put Pax out of his mind but still there’s a part of him that yearns to know his fox is safe. At the same time as Peter draws nearer to his old house, Pax is trekking across the dangerous landscape with his youngest kit, the feisty the little girl pup, who is becoming weaker and weaker. Despite the fox’s sharp senses he has no way of knowing that the water the little vixen drinks so thirstily is slowly poisoning her. When their paths finally intersect again, the pair’s reunion is bitter-sweet but as they part once more, both have experienced a healing transformation.

Again Sara Pennypacker has crafted a book that is full of exquisite tenderness and real emotions, with no trace of cloying over-sentimentality. The beautiful re-defining of ‘family’ and the transcedent power of pure love will linger with readers well after they turn the last page.

An absolutely magical book which was one-sitting read for me as I once again dipped into the world of Peter and Pax.

My highest recommendation for readers from around 10 years upwards.

What Zola Did on Sunday – Melina Marchetta

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Penguin

  • September 2021
  • ISBN: 9781760895228
  • Imprint: Puffin
  • RRP: $12.99

This series has just been pure joy from the very first word with each new story building on the warmth, friendship and community of Zola’s neighbourhood. Now that we have finished the entire week with Zola I feel quite sad but I’m hopeful that Melina might take Zola and her friends, not to mention her mishaps, on a longer journey for us. I’m going to sit back and wait for What Zola Did in January now *grin*.


The climax of the entire series is the St Odo’s fete where so much that has featured along the way all comes together: the knitting, gardening, pets, music and baking as well as the entire cast of charming characters.

Of course, it was to be expected that Zola would once again be in the middle of a muddle and when she doesn’t quite manage to hold onto Tim Tam the cat in the face of excitable dogs before the Pet Parade starts, there is quite the calamity. But, despite the kerfuffle, the fete still manages to be a huge success and the funds raised by this caring community give everyone much satisfaction – particularly as their efforts will support the homeless, which gives the reader pause for reflection when one thinks about these happy families in their homes. Throughout the entire series, the opportunities for meaningful discussion and action learning have been plentiful, all the while without being ‘preachy’.

I feel sure you must have caught onto these sweet books for your newly independent readers by now – but just in case somehow you have overlooked them, do yourself and your little peeps a big favour and put them on your order list.

Highly recommended for readers from around 6 upwards.

Thursdays at Orange Blossom House – Sophie Green

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Hachette

JUL 28, 2021 | 9780733646126 | RRP $32.99

Sophie Green has once again crafted a beautiful and resonant narrative that will capture the hearts of readers, just as her first two books did, with its exploration of the ‘circle of women’ always so evident in her work and, to my mind, so very important to so many. Indeed, as we all face these uncertain and increasingly anxious circumstances which threaten to engulf us, there are many (and, of course, not just women) who are feeling increasingly isolated and Sophie’s books remind us that making connections, forging bonds and the solidarity of sisterhood are such vital concepts for us all.

There is so much to love about this. First for me, it’s set in Cairns. Ok, so I know that Cairns is not right next door to Redcliffe, but it is Queensland and I have at least been there several times – the first when I was six (all the way from Sydney). Secondly, it’s set in the ’90s and I love the preface to each new episodic time frame with the movie releases, top songs etc – very clever device that instantly takes all of us back to a moment in time.

So, it’s 1993 (which incidentally was the year I started teaching, mature-age graduate, in a little Queensland country town) and Grace Maud (always known by both names) has retired from cane farming and the farm established by her grandfather, having handed over the management to her son and daughter-in-law. She’s 74 and knows that it’s time to take that step back but the move into town and her feeling of isolation and creeping old age has her feeling very down. High school teacher Patricia has resigned herself to being the ‘bunny’ of her siblings, caring for her aging parents particularly her mother with dementia, having given up her dreams of travel and a more exciting life. In her early 40s and reckoned quite beautiful, Patricia has condemned herself to a solitary and resentful existence, alone and unappreciated. Youngest of the three is Dorothy, daughter of German immigrants who feels she has always taken a back seat as she has helped her parents with her profoundly deaf sister. Now she is married to a warm and loving German man and desperate to have a baby and the repeated disappointments and trauma are threatening to completely overwhelm her.

Each by some quirk of fate end up at Orange Blossom House where vivacious and exotic Sandrine teaches yoga each week. This in itself is quite the novelty for the time and place, given that most Cairns residents view yoga as the province of vegetarians and weirdos. But the quirky and lively Sandrine is far from a weirdo and her excellent teaching and, more importantly, her leading each woman to release the negativities they hold is a catalyst for the trio who over time bond with such tenderness and support that it is supremely engaging for the reader.

I have absolutely reveled in each one of Sophie’s books and this was no exception. That I read it over two nights is testament to my complete capitulation to her wonderful character driven narratives and the sense of connectedness I feel each time I read her books. I have already recommended verbally this to so many of my friends but now I’m fully endorsing it here.

Get hold of it!! And give yourself the pleasure for a few hours of an escape to the tropics and some thoroughly enjoyable company.

Eliza Vanda’s Button Box – Emily Rodda

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Harper Collins Australia

May 2021

  • ISBN: 9781460759608
  • ISBN 10: 1460759605
  • Imprint: HarperCollins AU
  • List Price: 22.99 AUD

Buttons three, attend to me!

Take me where I want to be!

Emily Rodda returns with her own special brand of sparkling magic inthis delightful new fantasy adventure. Milly Dynes has been a bit down in the dumps of late. She still loves living in Tidgy Bay, in the holiday park she and her dad have called home for six years but there seem to be problems surrounding her which sometimes make her wish she could escape. Things have been changing at home with Julie and a new baby sister to think of, her friends are all going away for the holidays, high school is looming and grumpy old Mrs Meaney have all been causing Milly some real anxiety.

Then on a cold and wet wintery day, when there is never an expectation of anyone wanting to rent a cabin, along comes Eliza Vanda with her sewing, her small brown mouse friend and assistant, Victor, and her amazing button tin. And just like that Milly also becomes an assistant and helper for Eliza, finding herself whisked away with Victor on some very magical adventures and meeting some very odd characters. This is no overly dramatic on-the-edge-of-your-seat adventure but a gentle and winsome one where small deeds ensure happy results to problems.

Your readers who revel in imaginative and feel-good stories will love this – who wouldn’t want to go on errands to places where unicorns, frog princes and other magical beings abound?

Very highly recommended for readers from middle primary upwards – it’s a delightful and highly enjoyable read.