August 30

Mystery in the making

red notebookIf you lost your bag – handbag, schoolbag or backpack, what would it tell others about you? Without your ID (driver’s licence, school ID, etc.), could you be traced? identified? found?

If you found a bag (mentioned above), what would you do?

In ‘the Red Notebook’, bookseller Laurent Letellier feels compelled, when he comes across an abandoned mauve leather handbag, to find the owner. With little identification in the bag, the mystery begins, and Laurent calls on suggestions from others, and in so doing becomes quite involved.

Following hints given by journal jottings, receipts and personal items in the bag, Laurent works to find the mystery owner. Along the way, he works through testing relationships, and surprising events while he searches.

‘The Red Notebook’ is a short romantic tale, translated from French, which makes you wonder about connections and connecting, our actions and taking time to know people, and how interwoven our lives could be in this busy world if we took the time. Laurent could have simply passed the handbag on to police after he discovered it in the street, but was the journey that followed instead worth it?

Antoine Laurain paints a description of a relaxed Parisian lifestyle, though marked by a mugging early in the tale, and peppered with the literary references you would expect from an authentic bookseller, Laurent Letellier. As a reluctant hero, he follows through his plan to reunite the handbag and its owner, with some interesting results along the way.

While not a YA novel, the emotions, decisions and cultural setting are worth discovery. Considering how people’s paths may cross in life, and the result of choices made, are some of the ideas generated in ‘the Red Notebook’.

How does he do it?  does it really make a difference in the long run? will he be able to solve the puzzle with so few clues? how does it then impact on his everyday life?

October 17

What’s your reality? ‘We Were Liars’

imageSummers for Cadence were idyllic – spent on her family’s island with her cousins, aunts and grandparents. Then, when she is 15, (Summer 15) Gat arrives at the island sparking a bit of interest, kindlings of love… and a bit of tension, as he doesn’t quite meet the ‘Family’s’ standards.

“Wait a minute”, you say – “The ‘Family’ owns an island?”

Yes, the Sinclair Family is somewhat well-off – and well-respected because of this, it seems. But inside the family, things are not so perfect.

However, Cady’s memories of ‘Summer 15’ are vague – and there is mystery behind tragic happenings at this time. Things Cady would rather forget, it seems – or things her mind and body won’t let her remember; even though her mother has explained it to her numerous times. Now, the doctors say, it is better if Cady remembers in her own time…

After a summer away from the island, Cady returns in search of answers and explanations:

  • What really happened to her?
  • Why can’t she remember anything?
  • Why are her friends/cousins so distant?
  • Does she still have any chance of romance with Gat?
  • Why isn’t ANYONE telling her ANYTHING?

For a taste of ‘We Were Liars’, you can view the author, E. Lockhart, reading the opening here:

‘We Were Liars’ is intriguing – and has you guessing all along the way – but still has surprise in store. Can you anticipate the ending?

(N.B. the video requires Flash.)

April 30

Circus Star! the Sequin Star

sequinEver wanted to run away to join a circus? Or just wanted for a time to run away from your daily life? Is life perhaps more glamorous somewhere/ anywhere else?

As Claire ponders her chances of being chosen for the next ballet concert, she is also starting to ache for a bit more freedom to just ‘hang out with friends’. Some of her friends’ parents seem to be less controlling; according to Amy, her mum “let’s me do pretty much whatever I want”, while Claire has to fall in with her mother’s plans and wishes.

However, Claire’s life is turned upside down when firstly her dear grandmother has a fall at the ballet, and then Claire herself is knocked out in an accident. When she returns to a conscious state, none of her surroundings make sense – especially the monkey peering down at her!

Befriended by two young circus performers, Rosina and Jem, she is slowly introduced to a different world in a different time – far removed from the leafy northern suburbs of Sydney she has known. As her displacement slowly dawns on her, Claire has to adjust to not having everything at her fingertips. Things like her mobile phone, her modern wardrobe and a regular family meal just don’t appear in her new environment – that of a travelling circus.

Gradually, Claire gets a sense of place and time as she takes in the colours, activities and odours of circus life in 1932. Learning more about her new friends, she is also exposed to a lifestyle far removed from her own.

Author Belinda Murrell paints an interesting picture of life of the Great Depression, when many families struggled to survive in tight circumstances. Often, when the travelling circus arrived, it would transport families to a world away from their daily cares and worries, if only for a short but grand time.

For some like Jem, it provides an income to share with his large but destitute family; and for others like Rosina, it provides her family. And for Claire it provides an intriguing link to her past.

Within the circus confines, Murrell weaves an exciting and entertaining story about circus performers. Outside of the circus, she alsoBelindaMurrell adds in some notes of history, including celebrations for the opening of the Sydney Harbour Bridge and political intrigue of the times. Mixed in with this are questions about class differences and how we often unfairly judge people. All of which make the Sequin Star a great adventure story, inspired by the stories of young women who grew up performing in Australian circuses. (Published: May 1, 2014)

I have always been fascinated by circuses. One of my earliest memories is visiting The Great Moscow Circus with my father and being entranced by the performing bears. (As a vet, Dad was called out to treat one of the Russian bears when the circus first came to Australia.) I remember as a teenager trying to teach myself bareback circus tricks on my pony and getting thrown off multiple times. Over the years I managed to break several bones attempting fancy tricks on horseback. (A comment from Belinda Murrell, in notes available from Random House)

Were you surprised by the actions of any particular character in this story?

Would you like to run away to join a circus?

## For more details about the other (20 or so) books written by Belinda Murrell, check out her website: http://www.belindamurrell.com.au/

Image source: http://www.randomhouse.com.au/

June 16

10 Little Insects – Davide Cali

When I first heard of ’10 Little Insects’ at a recent CBCA conference in Adelaide, I thought it would be fun to read. I didn’t expect to be sitting and giggling as I moved through the pages – much to the mirth of my family, on a glum Saturday afternoon.

From the first pages of this new graphic novel, to the very end (which I almost missed…) there was a lot to keep you laughing and musing about along the way. In this whodunnit mystery, we follow the trails of 10 insects invited to Tortoise Island for a variety of curious reasons. Each ‘guest’ has come along with a different expectation of a weekend at an exclusive, but mysterious mansion on a secluded island.

Unfortunately, one by one, they meet an untimely death – reminiscent of Agatha Christie’s ‘And Then There Were None’ (or ‘Ten Little Indians’ as it was released in the US). Of course they attempt to solve the mystery of individual deaths along the way, but as in any good Agatha Christie novel, the crimes aren’t solved completely till the very end; in an extremely humorous way.

’10 Little Insects’ was launched in Australia by Nicki Greenberg, a very clever Australian writer and illustrator, with an affinity for graphic novels. You can read her comments from the launch, and thus understand why she was the ideal candidate to launch the book in Australia. Read her comments carefully, especially when she implores:

“…try, if you possibly can, to slow down just a tiny bit. Linger a little in the wonderful lush landscapes of the island and the fabulous interiors of the mansion. Enjoy the clever use of space in the page layouts, the colours and textures, and the complex blocking required to portray so many characters’ interlocking conversations.”  (Nicki Greenberg,  http://wilkinsfarago.wordpress.com/2012/05/23/guest-post-nicki-greenberg-on-10-little-insects/)

And since Nicki spoke so eloquently and effusively about this book, there is little more I can say – except to recommend your read this, whenever you get the chance… then read it again to pick up what you missed (either in the clever illustrations of Vincent Pianina, Davide Cali’s punctuating text) the first time.

Do you enjoy graphic novels? or are they something new you are yet to explore?  are you like me, and would like to compare them with the original (if they are an adaptation)? or would you just prefer to take them at face value?



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June 13

Book launch – ‘Jac of Hearts’ by Jenny Mahoney

It was a great pleasure to be at a book launch for a past teacher of our school recently, when Jenny Mahoney launched her first Young Adult book, Jac of Hearts. It is always inspiring to hear how and why a particular author writes, and this time was no exception.

Jac is a strong-minded, feisty young girl who wakes in hospital confused and disoriented after an accident.

Her heart refuses to believe her father is dead, in spite of what she has been told, and she isn’t very happy about living with a long-lost aunt, when she is released from hospital. Add to that, the confusing messages she gets from her step-cousin, Tom, who lives with Aunt Penelope, and the evasive Nat, who taunts her, and there is a lot Jac has to sort out.

Jenny wrote this book in response to weaknesses she saw in Twilight characters. Jac is a girl in control (most of the time); not a whining, like Bella. She doesn’t simper outside the action; in this mystery/ romance story she fully takes part!

Responses from girls who have read Jac of Hearts include: “Jac is real!”, “Being in her head was an enjoyable experience.”, “Jac is not a cookie-cutter kind of girl.”, “I love that Jac has had to deal with changes in her life (like me) and that she wrestles with her faith.”

So if you want realistic characters with romance and a bit of mystery and suspense thrown in, ‘Jac of Hearts’ is for you.

May 22

Who am I? ‘Red’ by Libby Gleeson

She rouses herself, caked in mud, covered in debris. Where is she? what has happened? Better still, who is she?

In a daze, her eyes finally focus on a boy ‘sitting on a kitchen table in a muddy pool’. As she babbles incoherently, he slaps her hard across the face – not a very auspicious beginning to a friendship. However, they do becomes friends, as Peri is a person she has to rely on, while the girl struggles to remember who she is and how she got there.

‘Red’ is set in Sydney, following the events created when a cyclone devastates the eastern suburbs. In survival mode, Red and Peri team up. Glimpses of memory return as they move about finding food and shelter amongst the devastation. Red, though she cannot remember, is sure she has a family who could be searching for her, and so they skirt around the shelters set up to help those impacted by the cyclone’s destruction.

Peri was a street kid before the disaster, and so his skills protect them. They want to avoid the authorities taking charge of them – a decision which comes mainly from Peri, though his reasons are unclear. Red accepts this, and together they move about in survival mode, until a discovery makes their anonymity even more important.

Libby Gleeson has successfully created a mystery which unravels slowly as ‘Red’ recovers her memory, bit by bit. A friend from the past fills some gaps, though lost contact between Jazz and Red leave an absent period in Red’s life. Objects and places they encounter jog her memory also – but only to suggest to her that she is in great danger.

There are some interesting devices in Libby Gleeson’s story:

1. I love that a safe haven for Red and Peri is the school library

2. Red carries a picture book from that library with her – the story of which brings hope and colour into her thoughts. (#Trying to guess which one – think this may be similar to a recent publication?)

3. The disaster hits Sydney with an impact that recalls our shock about the Queensland floods, while we were still able to carry on our daily lives here in NSW – in the story life carries on in the suburb of Burwood, and areas outside of the eastern suburbs seaboard.

There are also others that I won’t mention, as they may be spoilers, but needless to say, Libby Gleeson has created a tale which reflects the chaos caused by natural disasters and the inner resilience of people, woven into a thriller which has you guessing ‘what next?’.

As an extremely successful author, an advocate for quality children’s literature and a passionate teacher of her art, Libby’s talents provide another great read for enthusiasts from senior primary to lower secondary school – certainly one to promote interest and discussion.

Here’s a book trailer, released by to introduce ‘Red’ and a link to Libby’s website for more great writing:

May 15

Whodunit? What I saw and how I lied – Judy Blundell

As I began reading this story, I felt that I was in an old style of detective story – where someone hires the cheap inexperienced detective in smoke-filled rooms. With that tone, the tale of Evie and her family picking up the pieces in the post-war era began, reflecting a bit of shadyness, a mystery to be solved.

Evie is a young girl, struggling with the normal angst of teenage girls – is she pretty enough? why isn’t she beautiful like her mother? where does she fit into the family? how real are her friendships? Then one day, her stepfather comes home to announce that they are taking off on a spontaneous trip to Palm Beach, Florida. Their initial excitement wanes as the discomfort of their road trip from New York increases, and then when they arrive in Palm Beach, it appears holiday season is over.

In spite of this, Joe remains cheerful about their arrival, and they soon get into the holiday mode. They also meet up with some interesting characters, though some may not be quite who they pretend to be. As you read, lots of questions form in your mind – why do they stay in Palm Beach when it’s clearly not the normal tourist season? what does Joe have to hide? who is Peter interested in, and why? and, shouldn’t they take cover as hurricane season approaches?

Elements of the book were predictable, which is sometimes satisfying for the reader. But it wasn’t totally predictable, and even at the end, who did what and why, is not 100% clear. What is clear, is the strength of family relations, and the way our perceptions might be flawed at times by what we want to see…

An “elegant, detail-driven tales (that) smoothly segues into a whodunit page-turner.” quote from the blurb (Chicago Tribune).

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