Category Archives: YA fiction

Enola Holmes and the Elegant Escapade: Enola Holmes #8 – Nancy Springer

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Allen & Unwin

August 2022

ISBN: 9781761066245

Publisher: A&U Children’s

Imprint: A & U Children

RRP: $16.99

As we all eagerly anticipate the new forthcoming Netflix adaptation, what better way to feed our love of Enola and her adventures than by reading this newest in the series? (In this house we are both fans of not only Enola but definitely Millie Bobby Brown!)

Nancy Springer’s series following the adventures of Sherlock Holme’s ferocious young sister has been a smash hit and created a huge following, mostly among girls from around Year 6 to Year 9. In this latest episode our favourite sleuth is determined to rescue her friend Lady Cecily Alastair, an unfortunate young woman who is being cruelly treated by her nasty and domineering father.

After the success of the initial ‘spring’ from her family home, Enola is relieved that she has secured Cecily’s safety but her relief is short-lived when Cecily disappears from the secret office Enola maintains. For many this would not be such a disaster but Cecily is hampered by her dual personalities – one left-handed, confident and resourceful and one right-handed which has been forced upon her and rendered her meek and helpless. With no money nor resources, no skills or friends to call upon – how can this young woman possibly survive the streets of London?

Of course, Enola’s adventures would not be complete without snarky intervention from older brother Sherlock (who always feels himself to be superior- wrong). The banter between the two is highly entertaining as always but Enola’s superior female intellect is more than a match for Sherlock’s rather more prosaic kind of intelligence.

This series hardly needs any ‘selling’ – suffice to say your kiddos from around Year 6 upwards will just gobble it up and just in time for the new Netflix adaptation!

Dreaming by Starlight – Siobhan Curham

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Walker Books

August 2022

ISBN13:9781529504019

Australia RRP:$16.99

New Zealand RRP:$18.99

I completely fell in love with The Moonlight Dreamers, and the follow-up Tell it to the Moon and have enthusiastically talked them up while pushing them into the hands of my middle secondary girls. Thankfully they agreed! So it’s really exciting to see the newest title which segues from the original group of girls into a very different but just as delightful circle.

Jazz and her parents have just re-located from Sydney to Brighton in the UK and it’s just too much misery as far as Jazz can tell. No surf, no sand just rocks, not even water warm enough to swim in, not to mention a very snobby and cliquey private school. Luckily Jazz’ older cousin Amber, picks up on her unhappiness vibe and takes her under her wing before she heads off to Paris to study. Amber is confident that if Jazz follows the example of the Moonlight Dreamers with some tweaking of her own, she will soon find her tribe.

Even though Jazz is highly sceptical, she figures she has nothing to lose so next thing she is sharing some postcards to invite likeminded girls to join forces. Jazz, Portia, Hope and Allegra are as unlikely a combination as could be, and at first, things are not entirely without drama, but before too long the four girls have become as close a team as is possible, not only helping each other to achieve their dreams but, along the way, finding new purpose for helping others to do the same.

This is another truly heartwarming story which will captivate readers from around 12 years upwards. It is sweet and feel-good and, most of all, it extols that beautiful bond that females of all ages can have and the role they play in building each other up. I defy any reader to leave this one feeling untouched!

Highly recommended for readers from Upper Primary onwards.

A Little Spark – Barry Jonsberg

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Allen & Unwin

August 2022

Imprint:A & U Children

ISBN:9781760526924

RRP: $16.99

Once again Barry Jonsberg has crafted a narrative that will speak volumes to middle grade readers. 13 year old Cate is in her first year of high school and her seventh of being the only child of divorced parents. Neither is too bad really. At school she has her best friend Elise, who is also now going through the whole parents splitting trauma. Outside school, she lives with her teacher mum and her new partner, Sam, who is an incredibly kind and understanding guy. Every fortnight she spends the weekend with her dad, who feeds her imagination with rich role-playing and theatrical wonder. Cate is a gifted writer despite her youth and already on her way to being a published and prize-winning author.

But, as can happen, life throws a curveball. Sam is offered a tantalising and life-changing work opportunity in the UK and Cate’s mum is determined they will all go. Cate is resistant to the whole idea, not least because she knows she will leave her dad with no one, not to mention abandoning Elise in her hour of dire need. And then, in one of their fun-filled adventures, Cate and her dad are involved in a major car crash which almost kills him and leaves her with some serious injuries. Understandably, Cate’s mum is even more determined that Cate will go to the UK. But this is one feisty and clever girl who resents being used as a pawn, so with her father’s assent, a court case begins to establish where Cate will live. But what seems like an almost 50/50 chance falls apart at the last minute and things just go from bad to worse. Without saying any more, or throwing in spoilers, Cate’s life changes for the better in some ways and then for the worse in others. Readers will laugh with her (and Elise) and they will cry in her moments of utter despair.

It is a truly magical story which will capture hearts and minds. I love that Barry has completely nailed authentic voices for both these teen girls (and in a way which will not date). With strong themes of family, domestic conflict, friendships, divorce, grief and self-belief, mature and discerning readers from around 11/12 years old will thoroughly enjoy this one. I absolutely loved it and I think it would make a superb title for a book club for your lower secondary readers.

Highly recommended for Year 6 upwards – there is some low level swearing, so if your school is particular about that, exercise caution. Grab teaching notes here.

The Wearing of the Green – Claire Saxby

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Walker Books

April 2022

ISBN: 9781760653583
Imprint: Walker Books Australia
Australian RRP: $18.99
New Zealand RRP: $21.99

It is certainly no secret that I love historical fiction, and colonial Australian history is a particular favourite of mine. I loved this exciting new narrative from Claire Saxby – whose prowess with picture books is already so well established. Set just two years before my first ancestors arrived in this country, this recounts the importation of young Irish girls to become, essentially, servants and/or wives in a colony that was heavily male dominated. With Ireland in tatters after the Great Famine (also known as the Great Hunger, the Famine or the Potato Famine) and 1 million dead as a result, many young girls ( among others) faced uncertainty without family or home to shelter them. These girls were outfitted with a basic wardrobe and shipped to Australia, among them young Biddy Blackwell whose older brother has been out in the colony for some years.

When Biddy arrives and her brother Ewen is nowhere to be found, she is sent to work on a remote farm with a cruel master, an indifferent and downtrodden wife and finds she is little more than an unpaid slave. Surviving first the conditions in which she finds herself, but then even worse after her master’s first wife dies and he brings home a new one, equally as nasty as himself, Biddy manages a daring escape following the mayhem of a flood, and finds herself back in the city under the protection of the hostel. While she discovers some clues as to Ewen’s possible location, she needs to restrain herself and finds herself working for an eccentric but kind journalist as his ‘eyes and ears’ in the courtrooms of Melbourne.

The prejudices and persecution with which the Irish immigrants are faced is rising fast and when Biddy attends the court sessions and sees one well-known dissenter, Brendan Black, she is elated to find she has finally discovered her missing brother. Naturally, his situation presents some problems but with the help of new friends and supporters, the way is made smoother and Biddy can finally hope for a new start, complete with family.

Claire Saxby’s inspiration for this novel was her own family history and this little known episode in Australia’s history is important to understand as its impact on the rise of concepts such as fair pay and work conditions cannot be under-estimated.

Highly recommended for readers from upper primary to mid-secondary and for students of Australian history, this is certainly a prime candidate for ‘read around your topic’.

Katipo Joe Spycraft – Brian Falkner

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My review of this absolutely fabulous read is now live on Kids Book Review – don’t miss out, especially all of you with those blasé teens who need a good reading rev-up!! I loved this book and now I need to find time to read the earlier ones!

Guest Reviewer: Jessica Finden

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Introducing the lovely Jess, currently teacher-librarian (part-time) at Carmel College, Thornlands. Jess is definitely the glue that holds together the Bayside Secondary T-L Network and works hard always, organising meetings, and our regional Readers Cup competition. In tandem with her Head of English she has transformed the set novel program at Carmel with both flair and success. Her sessions in her library including book groups are, I know, highly valued by both the student participants and her college.

Today she is sharing her thoughts about a recently published novel, gaining a real foothold in libraries.

House of Hollow by Krystal Sutherland

March 2021

ISBN: 9780143796992

Imprint: Penguin

Format: Paperback

Pages: 304

RRP: $19.99.

Recommended for Teens 15+

There are some instances when you pick up a book and you just know that you are going to thoroughly enjoy reading it.  House of Hollow by Krystal Sutherland was exactly this for me.  A dark, modern day fairytale – equal parts tantalizing and horrific, Sutherland’s ability to infuse her writing with the gothic use of the sublime and the uncanny keeps you entertained even as you squirm at the unfolding events.

As children, Iris Hollow and her two sisters disappeared.  A month later, they returned with no memory of what had befallen them.  With a change to their eye colour and hair and a small scar at their throat, their parents knew that something disturbing had happened to them.

17 year old Iris is just trying to live a normal life and finish high school but her older, famous and dazzling sisters are busy living anything but a normal life.  When Iris’ older sister Grey disappears, Iris and her sister Vivi follow a trail of peculiar clues leading them not only to where Grey is but unlocking answers from their past – answers that they may not wish to uncover.

House of Hollow entices you to fall down the rabbit hole into the lives of the Hollow sisters, knowing that you are not going to like what you find at the end.

5 stars

I do have this book on my TBR list – and aside from anything else, just check out that fab cover art! Thank you so much Jess for joining us today!

The PM’s Daughter – Meredith Costain

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Penguin Australia

March 2022

  • ISBN: 9781761046704
  • Imprint: Puffin
  • RRP: $16.99

I’m well aware that many things just pass me by – especially when it comes to TV. To be fair, though The Kid is a teen, she would be way too engrossed with her horror movies to watch a show on the ABC but it appears that this series has been quite the hit.

Inspired by the series, Meredith Costain has brought her considerable talent and experience to crafting a book that will, most certainly, engage your tween/teen readers. This storyline really has something for everyone. Cat (otherwise known as Catalina) is the daughter of Australia’s first single parent/female/foreign-born PM – which, let’s face it is hugely significant in itself (and really, let’s hope prophetic, shall we?). After a tedious and tiring FIFO scenario, Cat and her PM mum, plus great-aunt Tia (who is totes adorable) are re-locating to Canberra from Perth.

The Lodge is not the most hip place to live for sure (and yes, I have seen inside it, so can vouch for that) and Cat is well miffed at leaving behind home, friends, and pets to be faced with protocols, antique furniture, hideous clothes and boring functions. Most of all, she’s full fed up that she is expected to put aside her own values and beliefs around important issues like climate change and the voting age to ‘toe the party line’ for the sake of her mum.

And, of course, it’s not because she doesn’t love her mum but, after all, she’s a teen girl – that’s her prerogative surely? – disagree and battle over everything! (Trust me, I’m on my second time around raising The Kid so I know of which I speak!).

Canberra is, as always, a heaving mass of fomenting discord with agitators – especially the youthful ones – as well as opposition to the new PM’s proposed policies, the threat of WA seceding and the usual hoi polloi of political media circus. And Cat ends up right in the middle of it all as she navigates new situations, tries to make friends whilst dancing around the trust issues and struggles to make her own voice heard.

When her mum is in danger of losing her new post due to blatant sabotaging, it falls to Cat and her new chums to salvage a career – whilst maintaining their own values and beliefs, no easy ask.

This is a tremendously enjoyable read which I think kiddos from around 12/13 will greatly appreciate. It has action, tension, family relationships, friendships, a little romance and a good dash of suspense to keep the discerning reader interested.

I’m definitely going to talk this one up to my year 7s & 8s in particular, and already considering adding it the newly revamped lit circle program I’m creating.

Highly recommended for readers from 12 upwards – and those reluctant readers who can often be tempted by the film tie-in angle.

The Break – Phillip Gwynne

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Penguin Australia

  • September 2021
  • ISBN: 9780143789383
  • Imprint: Penguin
  • RRP: $19.99

I have to say Phillip is soooooo very good at the fast-paced action/adventure genre and, all the while, making it entirely believable. It did take me a while to work through the pile to get to this one but I absolutely gobbled it up when I did. Anyone who has read The Debt series or Deadly Unna, or others of Phillip’s back catalogue, will know how skilled he is with this high-octane coming-of-age narrative, that will always capture your readers – particularly, those hard to reach boys in their teens.

This really has it all. It’s a tightly woven story of Taj, who has grown up with the beaches of Bali and the best of everything, with his entrepreneurial mother who runs a swimwear empire. Downside of his life is that his dad is in an infamous Indonesian jail, on death row for drug smuggling, his case having been one of the most highly-publicised in the past decade. When the turbulent political climate of the country forces Taj into an impossible situation, with his father about to be executed, he takes action the only way he feels he can. He breaks his dad out of jail and they go on the run.

It is, of course, a desperate and dangerous course of action, and Taj is up against near impossible odds. He is far from certain who he can trust or who is hiding secrets but as the wild ride continues, friends appear as do traitors and, certainly, there is not a single dull moment in this narrative.

I was very pleased to arrive in my new library to find this already on the ‘new books’ display as it will be a great title to book-talk – though, for older students as there is a liberal use of swearing and some confronting issues raised – drug use, infidelity and so on.

Highly recommended for your older students from around 15 upwards.

Monster – Walter Dean Myers

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Harper Collins Australia

December 2021

  • ISBN: 9780064407311
  • ISBN 10: 0064407314
  • Imprint: HarperCollins US
  • List Price: 19.99 AUD

I will be perfectly honest. I had not heard of Walter Dean Myers before reading this book but since looking up his bio, see that he was, and is a highly regarded writer of, particularly, young adult fiction in the USA. Sometimes controversial [his1988 novel Fallen Angels is one of the books most frequently challenged in the U.S. because of its adult language and its realistic depiction of the Vietnam War. Wikipedia, February 2022], this particular title is one which has garnered awards and accolades, and has now been adapted by Netflix as major motion picture, ‘All Rise’.

Written in the style of a screen play/script, this narrative follows the trial of Steve Harmon, a teen in juvenile detention and accused of being an accessory to robbery and murder in his neighbourhood. Steve’s interest in film scripts stems from a strong connection with his teacher, and this method of his recording the events in which he finds himself, along with some journal entries, provides a method of presenting himself as somehow detached from the single decision and subsequent events that have created his circumstance.

Walter Dean Myers said: “I would like young people to consider what happened to Steve Harmon, as well as why. There were decisions that Steve made and some he clearly should have made, but didn’t. As the author, I’ll be satisfied if the reader forms his or her own opinion about these decisions and the consequences.”

There is no doubt this is confronting at times, and equally, no doubt, that if you shared this with a class, there would be raging debates on many points. For this reason alone, I am thinking I might share it with my new Year 9 (challenging!) English classes that are part of my new brief. I know I have some reluctant readers, and this is so provocative, that it might just swing some. We have also just acquired the graphic novel edition which would provide a two-pronged assault! *wink*

I will be looking forward to the movie adaptation with great interest, and certainly can highly recommend this for your readers from around 14 upwards. It’s gritty realism but extremely pertinent at this point in history.

You’ll Be the Death of Me – Karen M. McManus

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Penguin Australia

November 2021

ISBN: 9780241473665
Imprint: Penguin
RRP: $17.99

Really, this author and her books need no promo via my humble opinion, although I am more than happy to provide it. In my library and among my reading circle, these are just unstoppable – particularly so since the series exploded onto the small screens. The teen thriller market is just huge right now and looks set to continue blazing across the best-seller lists for some time.


This is one of McManus’ stand-alone novels and centres on three young people who take a day off school on a complete whim, all of them for very different reasons. Ivy, Mateo and Cal were friends in middle school following another spontaneous ‘walkabout’ day but have somewhat drifted apart now they are in senior school. For all three their memory of The Greatest Day Ever, shared in innocent good fun, lingers and with all the various pressures on each, makes the day off idea all the more appealing.

But when they arrive in Boston and start wandering, and arrive at an art studio used by Cal’s mysterious friend, they are confronted with what appears to a murder scene. As if that’s not confronting enough, the victim is a fellow senior, known to them all. Brian “Boney” Mahoney is pretty much a jerk but he’s also a jerk who was just voted in as Senior Class President, over Ivy – even though he only ran as a joke. That does appear to put Ivy in the frame as a potential suspect, especially when the news breaks. But her two comrades also have secrets which impact on the situation. Cal is ‘involved’ with one of their teachers and Mateo’s cousin/sister has got herself tangled up in some kind of criminal activity.

It really is another convoluted and gripping narrative with suspicion falling in one direction after another and it took this reader quite some time to even start to sort out the who’s who in this nefarious plot. Your teens are going to love it and I know it’s going to be in high demand/rotation when we start back at school.

Highly recommended for your readers from around 14 years upwards – some strong language and drug references but nothing too shocking.