Future Girl – Asphyxia

Rating: 5 out of 5.
Future Girl by Asphyxia
Publisher: Allen & Unwin

What a fantastic finale to my reading for 2020!

Reading this book is a sensory experience – a wonderful story packaged as a gloriously illustrated personal diary.

Written in the first person (narrative, not diary entries). Piper recounts a 6 month period of her life when she transforms from a needy and dependent deaf teenager to a strong, independent young woman and social and environmental activist.

Set in Melbourne in the near future and under the guise of a supposedly independent prime minister, natural resources are scarce, including fuel, power and food, as a mega bio food corporation dictates policy for profit. Piper’s mother is the scientific face of the company but loses her job when the artificial food is making people sick. On the hunt for bike to use as transport, Piper meets Marley, a young man with a deaf mother who signs fluently and her life and destiny change.

The book celebrates diversity in multiple layers. Deafness is presented as normal for those who are hearing impaired. There are mixed and same sex couples, affluent and poor families, all coming together in the struggle to grow food to survive and in doing so, becoming communities rather than isolated individuals living in the same street.

On reaching the end of this immersive story you will come away with a deeper understanding of what it is like to be deaf and marginalised, independent home food production from soil enrichment to planting, and a little bit of animal husbandry. And hopefully, you will also take note of the world we live in and how rapidly we are heading toward a society much like Piper’s, where we are commercially driven and compelled to be consumers of packaged, reconstituted and artificial food, destroy nature, reduce access to public spaces and monitor communications.

Piper, a girl of the future, gets caught up in a movement and I hope that Future Girl becomes a movement too.

The author, Asphyxia, has an amazing website to explore and delve into her passions, learn more about Auslan and view her beginner courses and learn to sign; explore amazing art work and get a glimpse of a companion book on how to make your own journal.

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A Clue for Clara – Lian Tanner

Rating: 5 out of 5.
A Clue for Clara by Lian Tanner
Published by Allen & Unwin, 2020

This is one of the most entertaining and cleverest books targeting primary age students that I have read in a very long time. Clara is the downtrodden chook in the barnyard – picked on by all the other hens and bullied by head chook Grandmother Polly and boss of the coop Rufus the rooster.

Clara, is determined to be a detective and has learnt a bevy of detecting skills watching detective dramas on TV with Digby (the Boss’s son). She has taught herself to write (badly), morse code and is currently mastering semaphore using her wings. When, through circumstance (hiding from the bullying chooks), she ends up in the back of a police car with the policeman’s daughter Olive she takes Olive on as her sidekick. She just needs to a) make Olive understand this and b) find a crime to solve.

And there is a crime, right under her beak, if she could only see it, with stock being stolen off the local farms. Clara of course, thinks stock is soup, so can’t work out why there is such a fuss of over stolen soup. The plot thickens, the chicken puns mount up and, with Clara’s help, not only does Constable Dad save the day but he and Olive are starting to come out of the fug of despair resulting from the death of their wife and mother.

The wit and humour – through the play on words, ideas, puns, misunderstandings and the totally convincing portrayal of chooks makes this a fantastic read. Lian Tanner’s website gives no hint that she keeps chooks (she does have a cat – a fat cat!) but there must be some chook history in her past to have so perfectly captured the personality of Clara and her barnyard family. The reader gets drawn into viewing the world through a chook’s eye perspective and Tanner maintains this flawlessly throughout – it will crack you up (egg yolk / joke). A cracking crime, whimsical sketch illustrations by Cheryl Orsini, some illustrated text for emphasis and a combination of the Clara’s story and Olive’s secret letter writing to her keep connected to her mum, make a wonderful and highly entertaining combination. I leave you with the rules of the chook yard which Clara devoutly follows every day – and the witticisms just keep coming from that point on.

#1. Get Up Early So You Don’t Miss Out.
#2. Keep A clean House So As Not To Attract Rats
#3. A Varied Diet Is A Healthy Diet (p. 14)

and the day’s schedule starts with…

Pre-dawn, also known as First Squawk
Proper Dawn, a.k.a Worm Hunt… (p. 26)

There is so much potential to play with language when reading this book to kids – but don’t overdo it and ruin a great adventure – enjoy the escapade and cross your fingers and hope that Clara comes back with another crime to solve.

Thanks Lian, your recent blog post, From Brizzlehounds to Chooks, inspired me to race to the chook / book store and get hold of Clara, and it certainly did not disappoint. This is just the sort of fun, light-hearted entertainment that kids need at the moment.

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Day Zero – Kelly Devos

Rating: 5 out of 5.

The story is set during the New Depression and opens in the aftermath of a bitter political struggle between The Opposition and The Spark where the The Opposition, under the he leadership of the charismatic Ammon Carver, unexpectedly wins the election. Jinx’s Dad, Dr Maxwell Marshall but sees he is turning into a power hungry despot, had always been close to Carver. Jinx’s new family favour The Sparks. A series of terrorist attacks across the country bring down 5 major banks (owned by Carver) and the witch hunt for her dad begins, but also, inexplicably, her step father whose computer has mysterious code on it – the code that triggered Day Zero.

An action packed and fast paced thriller set in the near future in the United States. Main protagonist, 17 year old Susan “Jinx” Marshall is a coder and expert hacker, who just wants to have fun gaming. Her family is complex, with a young brother Charles with diabetes, her parents divorced, mother remarried, half sister McKenna and her older brother Toby all part of the mix and all with significant roles to play as they fight, merge forces and fight again. Her computer whizz dad, a survivalist who has trained is family to deal with worst case scenarios, is on the run.

The plot twists and turns with new characters coming into play as it soon becomes clear that there is no one you can trust or rely on. The economic devastation of the banks’ destruction includes the loss of data, and suddenly the country is thrown into economic crisis as people lose their savings and money is no longer available.

This is a great read for older teens – say 14 or 15 upwards – complex, brutal, at times violent, but a strong sense of doing what’s best for family threaded throughout. It would also be an excellent supporting text for a senior class investigating politics and democracy or for a study on economics and the impact of financial disasters on society.

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Raúl Colón – Wordless story teller

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Imagine by Raúl Colón

This wordless picture book is visually stunning with an imaginative interplay between the protagonist, a boy if indeterminate age, and the art works he views in the Museum of Modern Art. Riding on his skateboard through an empty cityscape of New York, he arrives a the museum where he views several famous paintings that take his interest. Then the paintings come to life, stepping out of their frames to engage with the boy where they traverse New York City and share some significant local experiences together – climbing the Statue of Liberty, travelling on the subway, riding the Cyclone roller coaster, eating hotdogs, jamming in Central Park and then catching a yellow cab back to the museum. The figures return to their paintings and the boy skateboards home – but on the way he creates a mural on a blank suburban wall and immortalises his day’s experiences. Colon provides an author’s note at the end, detailing his inspiration, his joy and appreciation of museums and some insights into the artworks that feature in the text. These include Pablo Picasso’s ‘Three Magicians’, Henry Rousseau’s ‘The Sleeping Gypsy’, and Henri Mattise’s ‘Icarus’.

As a wordless picture book, Colon successfully tells a powerful and emotional story that enthralls the reader. He creates texture through lines and a softening effect by using dots and the combination of several techniques and tools – pencils, lithographs and watercolour – so that his illustrations glow with warmth and light, with subtle inclusions embedded into seemingly plain spaces – e.g. revisit the cover after viewing the book to discover key characters.

A beautiful, stunning and inspirational book suitable for primary, secondary (and adult readers).

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Equally impressive art work is evident in Colón’s earlier wordless picture book Draw!

A book that celebrates the imagination, creativity and joy in the act of illustrating. Stunning illustrations cleverly shift from the real world to the imaginary one as a boy sits in his bedroom and begins to draw. His first picture is of an African elephant and this become his transport as he explores and illustrates a number of African animals. The story itself is rather bland, lacking tension, with no pressing sense of danger or adventure. However as a stimulus for artistic endeavours it could be useful in the primary classroom. The design and transitions to shift between reality and fantasy are excellent.

There are some internal images on the Morgan Gaynn site.

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The Mummy Smugglers of Crumblin Castle – Pamela Rushby

Rating: 5 out of 5.

For a wonderful read, follow the adventures of Hattie – or Hatshepsut – who was found abandoned as a baby outside of Hatshepsut’s Mortuary Temple in Egypt when her Egyptologist parents disappeared never to be seen again. Shipped off to England to live at Howling Hall with an Uncle Heracles who hunted game and had not time for young nieces the story starts in 1873 at Miss Fractious’ Boarding Establishment for Young Ladies. Hattie hears of her uncles demise (death by crocodile) and she is bundled off to live in the fens around Ely with her great uncle Sisyphus and great aunt Iphigenia and the sleek black cat Sekhmet and a bundle of troublesome kittens. All are obsessed with ancient Egypt – Sisyphus translates ancient texts and Iphigenia runs mummy unwrapping parties – both bringing in money to curtail the crumbling state of Crumblin Castle. With the dark and brooding Raven brother and sister organising the parties and the finances, Hattie gets caught up in the flurry of parties, dressing as an Egyptian princess to add colour to the events but a growing affinity and concern for the souls of the long dead bodies within their shrouds. Then the sinister and secretive behaviour of the Ravens raises her suspicions.

A law forbidding the export of Egyptian artifacts and not a mummy to be found in London results in everyone (except the cats) heading to Egypt where mummies are sought, friendships made and history eloquently explored.

Packed full of fascinating historical information, minute and graphic details on the mummification process, mythological connections brought to life in the 1870s along with a determined and perceptive young girl, villains, adventure, a quest and a crime to unravel this book will resonate with readers around 10 to 13. Highly entertaining on many levels and creatively supported with black and white illustrations by Nelle May Pierce.

Highly recommended – history, eccentric family, criminal activity and a mystery all packaged together. Pamela Rushby’s notes at the end add extra detail, historical context and explains some time frame slip ups to improve the read.

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Slinging spells with Kellen

Cover image for SpellslingerSebastien de Castell has written a fantastic series of books – six of them in all – that kept me entertained throughout the previous summer. Available in print, ebook and audio formats, I listened to the first four (exceptional performances) and read the final two in print so that I could get a feel for the actual presentation of the story in a traditional format and enjoy the added illustrations in situ. The finale includes a stunning map of Eldrasia – hopefully included in all titles when they come up for a reprint.

What’s the series about?

Cover image for ShadowblackThe Spellslinger books are pretty much a coming of age story set in the fantasy world of Eldrasia and focusing on magic, or the lack of it, with most of the accepted norms turned on their head – expect lots of contradictions from start to finish. In the land of the Jan’Tep, powerful mages have the ability to draw on the seven magics and pass a series of four trials to become a mage. However, Kellen, despite being the son of one of the most formidable mages in the clan, has no magical ability whatsoever. As an alternative he develops skills in playing magic tricks, with just a hint of magic and mostly clever manipulations, illusions and misdirections and this is the inspiration for the series title – he becomes a spell slinger – like a gun slinger – but with cards, speed and a good aim, rather than a gun and bullets. By the last book he has become an adept in his own unique field of magic.

CharmcasterKellen also tends to make poor choices – to make bad situations worse – and he is the despair of his young (and extremely talented and magical) sister Shalla. Kellen becomes an outcast because of his lack of magical ability, and as the series progresses, his affliction – the Shadowblack. These black markings that weave around his face make him a fugitive and a threat to his people and therefore on every mage’s hit list for assassination.

Cover image for SoulbinderEach book sees Kellen in a new realm with different people, customs and problems and in each he and his travelling buddies, who he accumulates in deadly and dreadful circumstances, are faced with danger, treachery and a dire situation to resolve. As such, each book stands alone in regard to a complete adventure, but each is also a slice of a far grander scheme. Characters and events interweave until a final direction and purpose becomes clear and the individual stories are superbly intertwined in the culminating adventure. The saga unfolds over three years and Kellan grows up from a gangling just 16 year old to a 19 year old trickster read to face the world and forge his own destiny. As Kellen matures, so does the content with some romantic and not so romantic encounters and some quite brutal encounters. However, these are not overly explicit or frequent and in keeping with an eye-ball eating main character.

Spellslinger 5: QueenslayerThe titles each present a complete adventure within an overall saga as Kellan grows up from a 16 year old failing in magic to a 19 year old trickster forging his own destiny. As such, the content does mature in keeping with Kellen, so there are some romantic, and not so romantic moments and definitely some grim and brutal encounters – but these are never excessively explicit and in keeping with a book where one of the key players plucks eye balls from its victims!

Make friends with some amazing characters

Spellslinger 6: CrownbreakerThe main supporting cast, Reichis and Ferius,  – perhaps sidekicks is a more accurate description – guide Kellen in surviving and making sound, or not so sound, decisions. Each of these become an integral part of Kellen’s personal journey in terms of growing up and “becoming the man he is meant to be”. They also provide opportunities for philosophical, political and religious debate delivered with bucket loads of humour – some slapstick and some more subtle.

Rescued from banding (to restrict all magic) by his father,  Ferius Parfax, an Argosi wanderer, becomes Kellen’s unofficial mentor and through trial, and usually painful error, teaches Kellen the way of the Argosi with deep philosophical, and oft amusing,  commentary spattered throughout. She challenges him to act in accordance with his conscience, and to look at the hypocrisy of his society. “Here endeth the lesson”  as his mentor would say – frequently! Ferius plays hard, fights hard and drinks harder and it is through her guidance that Kellen masters card playing but also card slinging, which inspires his self-taught ability of spellslinging using explosive powders to propel his card weapons. The Argosi travel to places where they think people or events that have the potential to change the world occur, usually alone, so as  solo traveller and gambler, Ferius’s ongoing presence is an indication that Kellen has an important role to play in the future of Eldrasia.

Reichis is a squirrel cat – imagine a vicious feline squirrel with skin between its front and back legs (like a flying possum) [click here if you can’t imagine!] . He has a foul temper, acid tongue (he can communicate with Kellen and the very occasional other) and a penchant for eye balls – preferably fresh – but has been known to dig up corpses for eye ball sustenance. Reichis is a no nonsense, straight down the line companion with much wisdom, unfortunately this is often negated by his violent and unforgiving nature.

Award winning author Sebastien De Castell talks Soulbinder #4 in the  Spellslinger series,
and a bit about himself and his writing career.

To read, or to listen?

I loved the audio versions. Joe Jameson is a superb performer and successfully presented a full cast with different voices, expressions and accents. Humour, tension and meaningful moments ooze from the script with Jameson’s talents – dry and witty, tense and dangerous, deep and meaningful – he does them all amazingly well. Have a listen to the start of Book 1: Spellsinger and hear Kellen before his life goes seriously pear shaped. Visit Audible to listen to a sample of each title.

The audio versions are highly engaging and de Castell provides some of the print version illustrations on his website – some on the main pages and more if you sign up for updates and bonus content. The art work is excellent and important but not critical to understanding the story lines. If you can access both print and audio together it will add to the reading experience. The individual sections within each book are illustrated with a playing card – with a top and bottom – depicting positive and negative possibilities and connecting with the card sharp skills of Kellen.

It’s a wrap

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Illuminae Series – Performance Masterpiece

What a team! The writing partnership between Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff is flawless in the Illuminae Files – a science fiction series aimed at YAs but certainly engaging a much wider audience.

I have listened to all three books in the series and browsed the print editions. Both formats provide memorable, original and totally engaging versions with unique qualities making them separate yet complimentary entities.

This snapshot of Illuminae #1 provides some glimpses of the stunningly original presentation of the print version of the first book and summary of the plot. It is worth accessing these print versions to enrich the listening experience as you engage and read the various transcripts — not always an easy task as you can see. Penguin Random House provide further insights on the design of Gemina.

Hailey in Bookland. (2015, December 30). Illuminae by Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff: Spoiler free review [blog post]. Retrieved from https://youtu.be/6KjBC4I5Luc

Now a look at the audio performances in the Illuminae Files.


Listening Library draws on a full cast, harnessing multiple narrators to represent the main and major secondary characters with clear distinctions between each person, the reading of different written formats including manuscripts, court transcripts and emails, along with the memorable, mechanical, yet increasingly humanised voice of AIDEN – the Artificial Intelligence Defense Analytics Network.

The productions go well beyond ‘retelling the story’ as each volume is supported and enriched with orchestral support  along with mind blowing sound effects to capture the personalities, events, tensions and climactic moments across the series. Imagine the soundtracks of 2001: A Space Odyssey, Battle Star Galactica and Star Wars for background, and at times front-line, audio immersion. I am sure I ducked a flying bullet or dodged a spaceship in some of the battle scenes! Adding further to the musical accompaniments, there are the sound effects – sirens and alarms, blasters, explosions, collisions and gunfire, gasping breaths in a failing envirosuit and the haunting and terrifying cries of the the afflicted soles rampaging through the ship.

The Illuminea files present a record of violent and deadly events with strong language (edited but recognisable) from the ‘edited transcripts’ that provide the storylines. There are a number of gruesome scenes and sexually inferred encounters. However; strength of character, responsibility, survival, ethical choices and a driving desire to see justice done dominate throughout. The audio versions offer a unique and immersive listening experience that is quite different from reading and engaging with the multifaceted print texts – both are worth a read!

If this has caught your interest, Amie has also teamed up with Meagan Spooner in crafting the Starbound trilogy. Watch an overview of the series and look out for the audio versions of these gripping stories as well. With three narrators to represent the different lead characters, accompanied by appropriate sound effects to capture the action, environment and otherworldly anomalies, you will be taken on a voyage of discovery and adventure.

Between Chapters. (2017, March 24). Starbound trilogy: Spoiler free series review [Blog post]. Retrieved from https://youtu.be/mc3AYtpVPF4

aurora rising

And recently released, Aurora Rising, #1 in The Aurora Cycle is also available in audio – another one for my ‘to listen’ pile!

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Raising Readers – Megan Daley

raising readersRaising Readers: How to Nurture a Child’s Love of Books has been written by Australian teacher librarian Megan Daley. Daley brings years of professional and personal experience to this engaging and highly readable book. She successfully addresses multiple audiences – parents, teachers and teacher librarians – through a mix of anecdotal stories, professional experience, informed research and guest narrators. These include well-known Australians and experts who speak with authority on a range of topics and add breadth and variety to the coverage.

Her intent is clearly stated in the title and the book’s structure and organisation takes the reader through strategies and approaches from birth through to the teenage years in an exuberant and lively manner. To get a feel for Megan’s style, dip into an extract from Chapter 2: Reading and school – When it all comes together.

Sections are clearly structured and the detailed subheadings also support dipping into areas of particular interest. Specific topics in the first part of the book include the early years, reading and school, the school library, spaces to encourage reading and building reading stamina. Later chapters explore ways to make reading fun, an embedded part of daily life (at home and at school), with a great coverage of different formats and genres. There are also many tips along the way that embellish the discussion with practical examples and strategies to engage with the text and explore its features. The section on reading the visuals encapsulates many of the advantages of keeping picture books in the reading diet throughout primary and secondary years and also provides succinct coverage of visual techniques that illustrators employ that many teachers will find particularly useful to address English outcomes. Megan’s passion for children’s literature shines throughout the book, and there is a fantastic and highly practical “How-to” guide at the end. Check out the book party themes and book week costumes for some instant inspiration then head to Megan’s website, the Children’s Book Daily and explore the blog categories and get some visual party ideas.

This is a highly readable and engaging book to guide, inspire and support parents, teachers and teacher librarians to engage children and teenagers with literature. Megan Daley draws on personal experience as a mother, teacher, teacher librarian and awards judge to provide a fascinating narrative comprising of personal experience, professional expertise and research in the field. The added inserts from experts in the various fields she covers add alternative perspectives and suggestions to support home and school reading engagements. Chapters deal with different age groups at home and in school, the significant role of the school library, reading spaces, stamina, competitions and social engagements between young readers, balancing the reading diet, multimodal and digital reading and the power of visual stories. It would be easy to compartmentalise this as a book for early years and primary aged students but it is much more than this. Sage advice transfers into the realm of the teenage reader. Sections are supported with interesting and varied book lists of Daley’s favourites rather than just the better known titles and the latter sections provide lists of practical advice on all things bookish. Highly recommended for every parent’s bookshelf and all school and public libraries. Grab a copy today and enjoy the read and the insights.

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The Silhouette and the Sacrifice – Boone Shepard’s encore!

A truly satisfying conclusion to Boone Shephards’ misadventures left me feeling sated and satisfied. Thanks Gabriel Bergmoser for this masterful tale that ties the many threads of the first two books into a complex tapestry in The Silhouette and the Sacrifice. I have been captivated by the droll humour of the lead characters, the unexpected, unpredictable and dastardly twists within, without and beyond what one could possibly expect and the robust ending of these adventures. And if you are in any doubt that this is the end just read the blurb:
My name is Boone Shephard. This is the end of my story.”

Predominantly set in 1967, with time travel to old haunts included, Boone and Promethia are on a 48 hour deadline to stop a killer – someone who is killing journalists. Is Boone to be the next? What dastardly secret is driving this killer? Be surprised as Boone and Promethia revisit previous settings in different times, meet past friends, grapple with old enemies and face a new and far more dangerous threat – to themselves, London, . . . the world. As can only be expected, our heroes leap from one life threatening event to the next on a roller coaster of madcap, daredevil deeds to right wrongs, learn from past tragedies and save mankind. What more could you ask for between the covers of a book.

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Boone Shepard’s American Adventure

PictureSome time ago I had the pleasure of being introduced to Boone Shepard in  his first slapdash and madcap adventure as he travelled across time, and sung the book’s praises on this blog. I missed the release of the second saga: Boone Shepard’s  American Adventure and have just had the pleasure of reading it this summer. Gabriel Bergmoser presents a masterful adventure that transports Boone, and the far too clever and feisty Promethia Peters, out of the English proverbial pan (with a death sentence on  his head), into an 1884 wild west fire where the duo are roped into rescuing the residents of a small Texan town.

Watch the trailer for an insight into this great read, and a taste of Bergmoser’s tongue in cheek, humorous and intriguing writing style.

What I love about Bergmoser’s writing is that it is good fun, entertaining, complex but also carefully executed and memorable. The many threads of past adventures are deftly woven into a new tapestry with new and old villains and some famous characters thrown into the mix. Oscar Wilde in his fluff pink dressing gown and “the King’  who steps in to save the day. . . ” Well, it seems to me they made a deal with the devil in disguise to get you into the heartbreak hotel, but they didn’t count the King to kick on his blue suede shoes and stop you from being caught in a trap” (p. 100) Can you guess who?

Boone and Promethia show both strengths and weaknesses as they battle against evil, try and all too frequently fail, to do good and demonstrate that it is OK to be human and make mistakes – presented so eloquently within the lighter more humorous prose. “Making mistakes doesn’t define us Jessie. Making mistakes is the most normal thing in the world. What defines us is how we choose to deal with those mistakes” (p. 97).

With an abundance of serious contemporary young adult fiction and dark themes in the dystopian arena flooding the market, it is wonderful to sit back and have a romp with two wise cracking and engaging characters. Grab a copy and sit back and enjoy the ride. Picture

P.S. I have the final adventure on the top of my “to read” pile – keep an eye out for a post on the third adventure: Boone Shepard: The Silhouette and the Sacrifice.

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