The Last Days of Us

Some stories touch your heart – is that why you like them?

For me, there are so many touchpoints in this novel – identifying with loss of a sibling, road-tripping and typical working out ‘who you are’ as a teenager.

All this comes about as Zoey’s life crashes into oblivion following the tragic death of her brother. Unable to cope, she spirals away from her friends as they try to help her, and away from parents dealing with their own grief. Fortunately, a wakeup call (finding herself passed out at the wheel of her car) and an invitation to join her ex-boyfriend on a road-trip pulls her back into reality – a little.

Her plan is to get back with Finn, her ex, even though Cassie, her best friend is also coming on the trip.

As they travel from Adelaide to Melbourne with Finn’s cousins, Zoey works through memories and actions of the past. This is mainly generated by the questions and taunts of Finn’s super attractive but sullen cousin, Luc – Mr Grumpy she calls him.

Drawn together by the road-trip, it seems they have a little more in common as time progresses and they learn about each other. The trip itself is buoyed along by Luc’s effervescent younger sister, Jolie. It seems no-one else is too bothered to plan, so she guides their itinerary.

Along the way, Zoey begins to see things differently, and events lead to an exploration of friendships and family relationships – her old friends, her new friends and different family dynamics around her. It’s an emotional story (tissues please).

‘Losing a loved one is the hardest thing, and I think it changes a person forever.’ Author ,Beck Nicholas, in Acknowledgements, p.333.

It certainly changed Zoey. Now is she ready to change again?

Will she win Finn back? Can she do that to her best friend, Cass?

And how long can she put up with Luc’s brooding behaviour? Will she just do that to appease her newfound friend, his sister, Jolie?

More importantly, can past mistakes finally be forgiven?

# NOTE: The copy I read was a ‘dyslexic friendly’ book, which I personally found difficult. From what I have read, I can see that the font used could help somewhat. However, why hasn’t the publisher used left alignment for the text?  since justification of text removes prompts required for a dyslexic friendly style.

the Honeyman and the Hunter

With a beautiful but intriguing cover, ‘the Honeyman and the Hunter’ presents a story combining two cultural lives lived out by a teen with both Indian and Australian heritage.

Beginning on the Central Coast of NSW, we see Rudra’s days of summer surfing are scarred by local bullies, and his early mornings are controlled by his father’s demands.

With his friend Maggs, he tries to deal with the bullies, while at home his mother tries to deflect his father’s harsh treatment. Not an idyllic summer break, as he questions his own identity and future. Is he simply destined to be a fisherman alongside his father?

In the past, his mother (once a determined science graduate, now a waitress) has endeavoured to teach him about his Indian heritage. However, it is the sudden arrival of his didima – grandmother – from India that really sparks a chain of events which results in a journey to India and a journey of self-discovery.

Neil Grant has backpacked, bussed and blundered through India, Yugoslavia, the United Kingdom, Israel, Malaysia, Thailand, Sri Lanka. Thus, his travels have provided rich research for his books – and his love of the ocean calls from the pages of the Honeyman. Elements of Indian mythology are woven through the tale also, as Rudra learns about his mother’s heritage through various people as he travels to fulfil Didima’s dying wishes.

As an Aussie Indian, Rudra is ‘caught-between’ and bumbles along, indecisive, at times. Once he has made up his mind to commit to his grandmother’s wishes, however, there is little that can stand in his way. But what are the sad consequences of some of his actions? or are the events actually out of his control? what is his destiny?

The Indian mythology in this story is intriguing; as is the mystery which slowly unravels as Rudra uncovers his family secrets. I do wish there was a glossary of some of the terms and characters used (even though they are mainly explained along the way), just so that I could follow the text more intimately.

‘The Honeyman and the Hunter’ raises many questions about family expectations, the significance of cultural differences and the impact of decisions we make on our journeys in life. A great story for the appreciation of rich cultural diversity you could well find in your Aussie neighbourhood.

Recommended 13+

# Included on the CBCA Notables List for 2020 

Hear me – Being Jazmine

‘Being Jazmine’ is the third book featuring Jazmine Crawford – part of the Invisible series by Cecily Paterson. That said, it was also a good read as a stand-alone title.

This story challenges readers to put ourselves in the shoes of someone else, as Jazmine struggles with the demands of high school. She is finding it increasingly hard and very, very tiring.

Alongside the usual teenage angst, she faces a change to her family life as her mother remarries and they plan to move out of her old family home. Even though it’s been five years since her father died, and even though her mother’s boyfriend is really nice, it’s a hard and unfathomable adjustment for Jazmine.

Even with good support from her school friends, certain school teachers and her grandmother, Jazmine still finds it all a bit too much. Why is she so tired all the time? How is she meant to accept this new phase of her life? With the added complication of being deaf, she feels caught between different worlds and the expectations of family and friends.

This story is one to make you think about the things we often take for granted, and things we don’t really see clearly. It highlights the importance of having understanding adults – parents, teachers and grandparents in particular. A book about belonging (or not), and seeing things from the perspective of others.

Recommended 12+

# Other titles in this series are Invisible and Invincible

Free YA Audiobooks

Have you tried audiobooks yet? With school and local libraries closed for a while, it might be a good time to trial one or two… for free. Here is one option…

SYNC is a free summer audiobook program for teens 13+. Returning April 30th and continuing 13 weeks until July 29, it provides access to a selection of paired YA titles to give you a taster.

Simply register your interest at the SYNC site, set up email alerts and then you can download and listen to any of the titles you choose. And once downloaded, they are yours to keep! (You will need to download the Sora reading app here to whichever device you plan to use for listening.)

You can already browse through the expected titles and listen to a small excerpt to see which ones appeal (clicking through the blue numbered dots on this page ). And you will see there is a range of quite diverse titles, with both new and old authors in the mix (even Shakespeare is there).

A selection of the titles on offer – the range for the first month – more detail at https://www.audiobooksync.com/

Why not give it a whirl? What have you got to lose?

# Note, these are mainly American titles.

Night Country (the Hazel Wood series)

How easy is it to dip into a series where you haven’t read the first book?

That’s what I had to attempt when I began reading ‘Night Country’ by Melissa Albert. Fortunately, there were prompts and explanations about the main characters and settings early in the story which didn’t seem out of place – more like recollections, which helped a lot without seeming out of place.

(Of course, I also had a look at online summaries of ‘the Hazel Wood’ to get a clearer picture of what preceded this tale.)

Thus, Alice’s adventures (no, not that one) and struggles made sense – caught between 2 worlds – Hinterland and the human world. But restless, she feels she doesn’t belong in either world, and has many unanswered questions.

It seems when Alice previously escaped the bleak world of the Hinterland (a world of dark and tragic fairytales in ‘the Hazel Wood’) she also made it possible for many others to escape as ex-Stories. Beacause of this, in the real world, there is an unease.  Murders of Hinterland escapees occur around her.  Macabre murders. With body parts removed. And one of which she is actually blamed.

This leads to Alice’s battle with Hinterland. She tries to unravel what is happening around her; things which are not allowing her to live a normal life in the real world.

It seems she can never escape Hinterland because she IS Hinterland. 

Back in Hinterland, her rescuer and past love interest, Ellery Finch, attempts to get back to her in the real world of New York.  A strange traveller guides him through many shadowy locations as the Hinterland world crumbles. It seems the traveller is interested in the many objects he had saved from the crumbling buildings of Hinterland. Some of these prove valuable to Finch.

I love that Finch communicates with Alice through letters in a book. After all, she occasionally works and refuges in a bookshop. And he is able to use a magical pen to write a love letter to her in the inside cover of ‘I Capture the Castle’ – the only book he’d taken from Hinterland. However, the intricate ways these letters are delivered to Alice are dependent on where she is.

There is a lot of fantastic and supernatural activity that happens in ‘Night Country’. Melissa Albert has not only built many different worlds but has created fantasy characters with their own stories to inhabit them. Creative supernatural inventions, connections, openings and ways to travel between the worlds are scattered throughout this story, along with poetry and grim fairy tales and endings*.

How will Alice and Finch reconnect?

Are they simply implements in a bigger story?

What happens when worlds collide?

Here’s a review of ‘the Hazel Wood’ to give you some details of the first book (which I should have seen before reading ‘Night Country’) which might compel you to read ‘the Hazel Wood’ first:

The Hazel Wood series is a dark modern-day tale with creepy fairytale creatures.

Recommended for lovers of intricate fantasy. 14+

* There is a short story collection set in the same world – eagerly anticipated by Hazel Wood fans – ‘the original stories of Althea Proserpine (Alice’s grandmother) called Tales from the Hinterland – due for publication in 2020/21.

## Some graphic violence & language throughout. 

‘Weeksy Reviews’, reviewed…

A change of look*, a change of thinking – and COVID-19.

As COVID-19 has shut many things down, people have been seeking ways to maintain contact and connection. With local and school libraries closed to public access, the need for reading options increases (we have more time in shut-down, don’t we?).

If you haven’t already checked out piles of books from your school and library shelves for your period of shutdown, now is the time to search for places to access the many books you now have time to read – uninterrupted.

How to buy the physical

Many local and online bookstores are offering free delivery services – too many to list here. Just give them a call, or access online stores if you don’t have a local.

How to gain free access

Local libraries, of course, offer free access to ebooks and audiobooks to members. (Hopefully, you have heeded previous advice to join a local library.)

How to buy ebooks, audiobooks

If you didn’t meet the closedown deadline to join local libraries (for which need you to physically verify your ID and address), then other options for you are:

  • Purchase ebooks online (e.g. via Amazon.com.au, Booktopia and other online bookstores)
  • Trial/join Audible.com.au (or similar) for audiobooks

Some of these may require apps to be downloaded, but in the case of public and school libraries, all the details are usually given.

Kindle, BorrowBox and RBDigital are among the common apps required and easily set up on your computer, iPad or other digital devices.

Don’t let COVID-19 prevent your access to great books! 

Reading suggestions from here…

By the way, if you search ‘ebook‘ or ‘audiobook‘ on this blog or click on these as tags, you will find lots of reading suggestions – which you will be able to access – free or at a small cost from the abovementioned locations, if you don’t have access to the physical book.

Happy reading!

* Changing the look of this blog – perhaps still a work in progress. I welcome any comments!! Do you like it? The change was made to be more mobile-friendly. Click on the post to make a comment.

More on Atticus… (Book 2) – Younger Readers

There was a clear indication at the end of the last book that there would be more adventures for Atticus – are you ready to follow?

In ‘The Map of Half Maps’ Atticus and his motley crew continue their journey in search of treasure – “with a new map and a new plan…” and lots of comradery along the way.

The misfit crew make you wonder how their ship could actually function, but there’s a lot of fun in that too. Let your mind drift away on the high seas as they sail about trying to find their way to treasure.

The dangers they face on the sea are unknown. The perils they may meet are scary – who should they fear most, the Vikings or the crew of Pegasis? What battles will they have to overcome?

Once again, there are many interesting additions to the story. These include inventions such as Atticus’ way to communicate to the crew (his version of morse code), and the illustrative skills of Buttface (which enables the capture of a map – from a deadman…).

Author & illustrator – Source: the inside cover of Book 2

Throughout, the comical illustrations of Stephen Michael King continue to boost the fun in the story – as do the adventures of Stowaway Puppy. (Have you been watching these? will he make an impact in the story?)

Also throughout the story are the developing relationships of the crew, as they come to know and appreciate one another’s talents and foibles. (What’s it like to have a twin sister? Does Wrong Way Warren actually have the right way of looking at things?)

There are also some fun introductions like the Viking group of Bjorn, Benny, Agnes and Anna-Firdi (ring a bell?). Will they be able to continue to sing together if Atticus defeats Bjorn Ironhead? And there are so many other questions to be answered:

  • Will Bjorn ever sing again?
  • What happens when pirates confront one another on the high seas?
  • Will they eventually find the missing treasure map?
  • Will there be another book in this series? (Yes, ‘the Treasure of Treasures’ follows soon!)
  • “How good is pirating”?

Once again, recommended sharing with the family. And readers 9+ (who will want to share with their family).

When the Ground is Hard

Living in Swaziland, Adele’s mother wants a better life for her daughter. Even though her father lives at a distance with his other family, Adele is well-supported and goes to a private school.

However, Adele finds things have changed when she returns to her boarding school after term-break. Her position in the ‘top girl’ group has been taken – by a girl whose father is more wealthy than her own. Worse still, she has been relegated to a room supposedly haunted by a dead student, and one she will share with an impoverished student, below her own social status.

Lottie is a uniquely bold student; either in spite of or because of her poor background. She is at Keziah Christian College as a supported student on a scholarship, and she takes no nonsense from anyone, even challenging teachers at times.

In contrast, Adele likes to keep things on an even keel. That is until her struggle with the top girls becomes heated and she has to choose a new path to get through the school term.

‘When the Ground is Hard’ is told by Malla Nunn, who was born in Swaziland and attended a mixed-race boarding school. The struggles of Adele and Lottie echo her own (and her mother’s) experiences in this #ownvoice story, as they battle to rise above the prejudices of racial segregation.

I wanted to tell a story that honoured the women and girls with whom I grew up – strong, brave, broken, vain, furious – girls who struggled to find their place in a racially segregated world where they, and I, were kept down for no good reason. (From Malla Nunn’s website.)

Adele and Lottie’s friendship is slow-growing but beautifully developed as they reluctantly team together.  Once Adele’s changed status at school opens her eyes to the levels of prejudices and hardships faced by mixed-race girls and women (particularly strong in the 1960s when the novel is set) they begin to bond. Cleverly, this is enhanced as they read Jane Eyre together, and reflect on Jane’s experiences and their own destinies.

A book which touches on many issues. Highly recommended 14+

# Available as ebook.

Are You Watching?

Reality TV meets murder mystery. That’s what Vincent Ralph has created in this tale of mystery and suspense.

In a contemporary English school/home setting, Jessica Simmons decides to apply for a social media program, the Eye, which is to be broadcast live on YouTube. However, her purpose is not for instant fame and fortune, but to track down her mother’s murderer – a man who has become a serial killer since her death 10 years ago, when Jessica was 7.

Much of what happened to her mother was hidden from her by her protective father. Even how he explained her murder was lightly sugar-coated as he explained that the killer was like a magpie, gathering pretty things – hence his label, Magpie Man.

In short, sharp chapters, we learn how Jessica plans to ‘out’ her mother’s killer, as long as she can get enough audience exposure and stay on the Eye. And those short, sharp chapters edge you quickly along…

We see her life, filmed live once a week, then captured into critical vignettes, for viewing by an avid audience. Her desperate acts sometimes seem crazy (just like the heroes in horror movies investigating dark and dank locations), and you will ponder the plausibility of some things that occur; but this is a page-turner, so just let it happen.

There are awkward situations for Jessica and her friends, and twists and turns to confuse your choice of the killer’s identity. Will he be identified before he kills again? Who can she trust? And what will come of the brash challenges Jessica makes to her mother’s murdered? Is he watching?

Recommended 14+

# In this day and age, would it be realistic to bait a killer on social media?

## Do you think your parents would allow you to broadcast your life in this way anyway?

###  Available as ebook and audiobook also.

CBCA Older Readers Shortlist 2020

Today’s online announcement of this year’s shortlist was presented from different locations by a variety of authors and illustrators. (The presenters’ announcements can be viewed from here.)

As stated by Prof. Hillel at today’s ceremony:

“Now, more than ever, our young people need relatable and inspiring characters and stories that uplift and entertain, bring them hope and help them to find a way through issues they face in their daily lives and in the wider world.”

2020 Older Readers Shortlist

So many books to choose from on the Notables list; narrowed to these six on the shortlist for 2020. Time to get reading!

# The shortlist for other categories can also be viewed here on the CBCA website.

## Winners will be announced at noon on Friday, August 21, 2020.