Tag Archives: Sydney

The Ghost of Howler’s Beach (The Butter O’Bryan Mysteries #1)  – Jackie French

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y648 (6)

Harper Collins Australia

February 2020

ISBN: 9781460757727

ISBN 10: 1460757726

List Price: 16.99 AUD

 

To most folks Butter O’Bryan would seem a lucky boy.  In a time when many people are destitute and homeless he lives in a large and comfortable house, known as the Very Small Castle, he has three eccentric but loving aunts –  known as Elephant, Peculiar and Cake – and a well-regarded and clever doctor father who has offices in Sydney’s Macquarie St. He goes to a good school where he has chums and at home there is always a veritable cornucopia of good food prepared by Cooky. But the truth is that Butter often feels lonely and sad, particularly in the school holidays with no school or mates to distract him. He misses his mother who died a year ago dreadfully and even though the aunts are so very good to him, the emotional distance between him and his father makes him even sadder.

When he wanders down to Howler’s Beach just below the Very Small Castle one morning and discovers three raggedy thin children playing a game of cricket, he’s a little hopeful of joining in the game – even though he suspects they may be from the nearby susso camp and he’s not supposed to go near to those inhabitants. This edict is not from a snobbery point of view but a health precaution imposed by his father and aunts. No fear of that though as he is resoundingly rejected by the kids who disappear as soon as his attention is diverted by their dog digging furiously in the sand.

All thoughts of disappointment and loneliness vanish as quickly as the kids when the scruffy little dog disinters a human skull from the sand! Butter quickly wraps up the skull and takes it home in a great state of agitation and with his imagination running wild. And thus begins a curious mystery/adventure that young readers will find compelling as the history of three ragged kids, a strange and pathetic old man who dies unexpectedly on the door step of the Very Small Castle, a three-legged dog and a secret cove unravels. Along the way the empathy and innate goodness of the O’Bryan family is an inspiration for all readers –  a valuable lesson in our current global situation.

So, on the surface a really well-thought out and engaging tale that will totally hook readers from mid-primary upwards. But of course, there’s more 😊 . Jackie’s setting is the Depression in the Sydney area and readers will absorb so much historical information about this period of time in our country and the impact it had on the vast majority of ordinary people. The aftermath of the Great War has already made itself felt in a multitude of ways and now unemployment, poverty, homelessness and sickness are wreaking havoc on an already disenfranchised sector of society. There are references to significant events and topics such as the polio epidemic, the susso, wireless sets, the building of the Harbour Bridge and the cricket – including the great Bradman. And just to add even more value to this, Jackie has concluded with informational pieces about many of these as well as some typical 1930s recipes even including Bread and Duck under the Table – such a well-known and still used idiom in Australia.

Once again, I cannot recommend this highly enough. I think any reader from around ten years upwards will enjoy it very much on all levels.

The Long Distance  Playlist – Tara Eglington

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y648 (2)

Harper Collins Australia

January 2020

ISBN: 9781460755211

ISBN 10: 1460755219

Imprint: HarperCollins – AU

RRP: $19.99

Well if you told me I would absolutely fall in love with a YA (primarily) romantic novel I would no doubt have scoffed loudly. However, this is just delightful and so so much more than just romance. Eglington explores contemporary culture, family relationships, aspirations, dreams and music with such a deft and ‘spot on’ ability that this will be a sure-fire hit with your teen readers.

It’s an immediately engaging format told for the greater part through Instagram messages, Skype, email and texts, accompanied by playlists (readers will love these!) which bounce with growing rapidity between Isolde in Sydney and Taylor in Queenstown. This young pair has been best friends all their lives, with a quirky but cool family connection, until a big bust-up when each speaks their mind and a rift of Cold War proportions extends over eighteen months.

In that space of time momentous things have happened to both. Taylor, who had been a rising snowboarding champion, lost his lower leg in a car accident which has effectively rendered him gloomy and despondent. Isolde has studied  – actually lived and breathed – ballet her entire life and has her sights set on the National Ballet company but within a year she has muffed her first audition badly and also been terribly hurt in her first romantic relationship and feels similarly.

However the two do reconnect and forgive each other and over a space of almost a year their online conversations become deeper and more meaningful and are headed, for both, towards feelings that run much deeper than childhood friendship. The growing warmth between them is not without hiccups though as (don’t we all know it?) the medium of cyber conversations can lead to missteps and misunderstandings. Happily though there is a completely satisfying resolution – though the ending does lend itself to a continuation at some point down the track.

It is charming, refreshing, often humorous but also sobering at times with serious family issues with which both teens are faced. The trans-Tasman relationship will most certainly be of appeal to a wide readership and the insight into both settings, not to mention both passionate pursuits,  is fascinating.

Unlike others in this genre there is nothing which might preclude readers who may be younger or more ‘sheltered’. Even swear words are not explicit which will mightily please many who would want to include it in their collections but otherwise might have to pass it up.

Highly recommended for readers from around 12 years upwards. Loved it!

Holier than Thou – Laura Buzo

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Before I started this blog, I wrote this review of Laura Buzo’s second novel. I am reposting here as I’m about to review another of this terrific author’s books. Stay posted!

holierthanthou

Allen and Unwin, 2012. ISBN 9781741759983.
Recommended for Year 11/12 students. Wonderfully funny, heartbreakingly poignant, undeniably bursting with life, Laura Buzo’s second novel Holier than Thou is contemporary fiction that crackles with emotion and energy.
Holly Yarkov is 24, a social worker in the toughest neighbourhood of the city. The tragic death of her beloved father during her high school years propels Holly not only towards her chosen, and difficult, career but also to a rollercoaster ride of relationships – with friends, family and lovers.
Set in a gritty but very vibrant area of Sydney, well known to this reader, Buzo’s true-to-life portrait of the Inner West captures its very essence.
With an intuitive insight into the different ways the human psyche deals with the tremendous impact of grief and the ensuing, and often enduring, emotions it engenders, Buzo peels back layers of Holly’s struggle to hold fast to a status quo which relentlessly continues to slide out of her grasp and strikes a resounding chord with the reader. The irony of her Woman-of-Steel nickname, bestowed upon her by her peers, coupled with her drive for perfection and her ‘compulsive volunteer[ing]’ cannot fail to move even the most cynical audience.
It is impossible to follow Holly’s journey without a true empathy and involvement with her compassionate character. This novel comes recommended highly by this reader, but with caution, as suitable for mature young adult readers – there is a very liberal application of strong language, drug references and sexual situations. The completely authentic voice of this outstanding novel is no doubt, directly attributable to Buzo’s own intimate knowledge and experiences as a real-life social worker in Sydney. This reader freely confesses a habitual antipathy towards this genre but can honestly say without hesitation this is a cracker of a novel. Loved it!

Racing the Moon – Michelle Morgan

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racingmoon

http://www.michellejmorgan.com.au/

ISBN: 9781743316351
Australian Pub.: January 2014
Publisher: Allen & Unwin
Imprint: A & U Children
Subject: Children’s fiction
Suitable for ages: 12-14

RRP $12.99

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I received this in a pile of books from Allen & Unwin later in the year and picked it up last week when doing the X-mas reshuffle thing. It’s been a really enjoyable read and one I think would appeal to students both boys and girls in Middle School.

Set in a memorable year: the Sydney Harbour Bridge finally ‘met’ in the middle, Phar Lap wins the Melbourne Cup and Bradman scores 334 runs in the Test, the novel follows the trials and tribulations of young Joe Riley for a year of his sometimes tumultuous life.

Joe and his family live in the Glebe of the Depression, a ‘rough and tumble’ sort of neighbourhood (still is, last time I saw it!) and luckily, they make ends meet through various means. Dad runs an illegal betting shop, Mum takes in sewing and Joe sells fresh eggs from his uncle’s farm, has a paper round and is not averse to using some of Dad’s knowledge to rig the gambling on the local billy cart derby.   He has a younger brother Kit and an older sister Noni and in general, apart from when Dad is on the grog and he cops a belting, life isn’t as dreadful as it is for others.  Until, his parents decide after several brushes with authority, that they have saved enough money for Joe to go to boarding school.

Despite his protests, Joe is packed off across the harbour to St Bart’s, which turns out to be a pretty nasty place all round and when a predatory priest makes one wrong move too many towards Joe, he finds himself with a bloody broken nose and Joe is shipped off again, this time to the Farm, a reform school on the South Coast.  At this point I was expecting more nastiness for Joe, but as it turned out, the Farm wasn’t that bad at all. In fact, Joe learns a lot about himself, new skills, working as a team and the satisfaction of physical labour.  However, in the scheme of things this almost came as an anticlimax, but does prove his rite of passage. Joe returns home with a good report and will go to school locally after all.

The plot is not necessarily the strongest but it would keep, particularly boys, reading. I am thinking about using this in literature circles in Middle School this coming year – partnering it with The Sequin Star – Belinda Murrell. Both set in exactly the same period of time, with a great deal of historical information to absorb but one with the boy protagonist and one with the girl. My co-ed groups might like this approach I hope.

One thing I have to say is that I do NOT like the cover at all – it looks like a book for much younger readers and for this type of novel, I would have expected a much grittier design to engage the readers.  I can’t see any of the teenage boys I know picking  it up based on the jacket!

Allen & Unwin do have a link to teaching notes on the webpage but it wouldn’t work for me – but visit their website and try it out here