Book Review: We See the Stars, by Kate Van Hooft

Available in bookshops nationwide.

cv_we_see_the_stars.jpgSimon is an eleven-year-old boy who lives in a world of silence, lists and numbers. He hasn’t spoken for years and at times lives in a fantasy world.

We See The Stars is set in rural Victoria where Simon lives with his Dad and younger brother Davey, and also his Grandma, who spends much of her day at the hospital with Granddad.

School is not easy for Simon as the other kids think he is weird and at times he feels his only friends are Davey and Superman who is always there when he needs him. Simon is often bullied and he has a variety of coping mechanisms when he begins to feel overwhelmed.

‘I tried to go invisible. I tried to turn into air. I stood right where I was, right there on the spot, while it all just kind of played out around me, and I felt heavy in my tummy when the noise came up over the top of me and broke over my head’.

One day Simon shares his Vita-Weats with Cassie, a girl from his class with a physical disability who has also faced ridicule, and a friendship starts to form. Their new teacher Ms Hilcombe also takes a special interest in him, and it is while he is at her house he begins to talk again.

‘I like your class’ I said, but quietly.
‘Oh Simon!’ she said, and her voice came out all in a rush of air. ‘Did you just….?’

This book is listed in the Mystery/Crime category but the author takes the reader on a fantasy journey with Simon as he searches for Ms Hilcombe when she goes missing, while at the same time Simon seems to be the only person in his household who visits his mother in her bedroom.

Kate van Hooft was born and raised in Melbourne and lives there with her husband Paul Carter, also a writer. She is currently working as a disability advisor at Swinburne while finishing a Master of Social Work. She has worked for more than ten years in student wellbeing and disability support in tertiary education and is passionate about youth mental health. We See the Stars is her first novel and will appeal to a wide age range of people especially those working in the disability field.

The novel is a beautifully written, gentle, compelling read and drew me in from the beginning, Simon’s thoughts giving the book a haunting appeal which kept me turning the pages. Mystery and fantasy combine as the story progresses into escapism keeping the reader guessing right to the end and beyond.

Reviewed by Lesley McIntosh

We See the Stars
by Kate Van Hooft
Published by Allen & Unwin
ISBN 9781760632526

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Book Review: The Mulberry Tree, By Allison Rushby

Available in bookshops nationwide. 

cv_the_mulberry _tree.jpg‘Do naught wrong by the mulberry tree, or she’ll take your daughters . . . one, two, three.

In the dead of night, spirited away, never to see an eleventh birthday . . .’

Ten-year-old Immy has been forced to move halfway across the world – from her friend-filled, vibrant life in Sydney, Australia to the pin-drop quiet of a tiny village in Cambridgeshire, England. With only three girls in her class – none of whom will talk to her – Immy is alone and feeling lonely in this strange new place. The one upside is the beautiful medieval ‘doll’s house’ cottage her parents find to rent, but it too has a secret – a gigantic, black mulberry tree in the back garden which drenches the house in darkness.

According to village legend, the mulberry tree is murderous: two girls, Bridget in the 1700s and Elizabeth in 1945, disappeared from the same house on the eve of their eleventh birthday, with a bulging knot appearing in the mulberry tree the day after their disappearance. Every person in the village believes the mulberry tree took the girls – so much so that they cross the road to avoid walking past the tree, they refuse to talk to Immy or her parents when they decide to rent the house, and children who sing the rhyme do naught wrong by the mulberry tree are roundly told off out of superstitious fear.

Immy doesn’t believe in the rumours: she was raised by two doctors who believe in scientific truth above all. One day, however, she hears a strange song in her head . . .
With mounting pressure to unravel the mystery of the mulberry tree before her eleventh birthday, The Mulberry Tree is a spooky tale which will appeal to those aged eight upwards. A modern fable by prolific Australian author Allison Rushby, The Mulberry Tree interlaces broad topics such as the difficulties of starting somewhere new, the dangers of black-and-white thinking, and how to help someone you love who is suffering from a mental illness.

With beautifully drawn characters, The Mulberry Tree is infused with heightened tension. A strong, stubborn and compassionate protagonist, Immy takes charge of solving the mulberry mystery – as well as saving injured hedgehogs. As she rides the anxiety and angst that come with change and growing up, her innate empathy for others allows her to not only befriend kids in her class, but the lonely tree in her garden.

A tale about forgiveness, the moral of The Mulberry Tree is bluntly spelled out rather than gently entwined. If the ending is slightly too convenient, Rushby has still successfully managed to balance the telling of a compelling but not-too-creepy tale, which will ensure both upper primary and lower secondary school readers will love this page-turning mystery.

Reviewed by Rosalie Elliffe

The Mulberry Tree
by Allison Rushby
Published by Walker Books
ISBN 9781760650292

Book Review: Giants, Trolls, Witches, Beasts – Ten Tales from the Deep, Dark Woods, by Craig Phillips

Available in bookshops nationwide. 

cv_giants_trolls_witches_beasts.jpgWhat a great book this is.  It blew my socks off with its originality and uniqueness.

If you love stories about giants, trolls, witches and beasts who are up to no good you will love this. It includes stories from all around the world, some of them traditional oral tales.  Craig Philips uses his own words to tell these stories, and brings them to life using his stunning illustrations. Some seem familiar while others are not. Vasilsa the Brave, from Russia is a great story that bought to mind the story of Cinderella. A wicked stepmother and horrid stepsisters – and of course a happy ending.

One of my favourite stories was Thor and the Frost Giants, a story from Scandinavia. A story that starts with “once upon a time”. Thor was bored but being only ten years old he had to do as he was told by his parent. A birthday lunch for Aegir the Sea King’s and his annoying daughters. The only pot large enough to brew mead for all the gods of Asgard is owned by the frost giant Hymir, but no one was brave enough to venture to Hymir’s castle to borrow it – except Thor and his friend Tyr,  Hymir’s son. Thor’s father forbids it as he feels his son at ten years old is far too young.  Thor decides to ignore his father’s wishes, wanting to prove to him that he was more then old enough to accomplish the task.

This book bought to mind my copy of Grimm’s Fairy Tales from when I was a child and now being enjoyed by my grandchildren. Giants, Troll’s Witches, Beasts is a much more exciting book with fabulous graphics which I can see becoming a classic.

I read some of these stories to my seven-year-old granddaughter Abby.  She loved these stories and asked if she could take it home so Mummy could read it to her again.  Of course, I relented.

Reviewed by Christine Frayling

Giants, Trolls, Witches, Beasts:  Ten Tales from the Deep, Dark Woods
by Craig Phillips
Published by Allen & Unwin Children’s
ISBN 9781760113261

 

Book Review: This is it! It’s your life. Live it, by Amanda Mortimer

Available in bookshops nationwide.

cv_this_is_it.jpegAs a great procrastinator, I thought Amanda Mortimer’s book This is it! It’s your life. Live it. may set me on the path to changing the things about my life that I’m not happy with. As bad habits don’t disappear overnight, I can’t report any amazing changes yet – although my treadmill did get used again and I have finally gone for a walk along the beach – two things I’ve been saying I’m too busy for.

Queenstown-based coach Amanda Mortimer is an internationally accredited and board approved Neuro Linguistic Programming (NLP) coach who wrote this book to help people reach their full potential by making serious lifestyle changes.

The book is split into 11 chapters and starts by asking if you’re living the life you want – if not, are you ready to change it for the better. Instead of a series of transformational stories about people changing their lives, Mortimer shares her story, which in many ways will be familiar to some readers. While her goal at first seemed impossible, she had a goal and knew how she was going to achieve it.

There are self-evaluation exercises to assess your current life satisfaction, including career, finances, fitness, health, relationships and more. Readers are encouraged to read and participate in the written exercises, and also go online to accompanying video and audio resources.

I watched some of the videos and tried listening to the audio resources but the one I had been most looking forward to, a 30-minute relaxation recording you’re advised to listen to three times a week, wouldn’t play. It was the final step in the process of making the changes stick, so to speak, so that was disappointing. It will be interesting to see if the changes I told myself I’d make and the first steps I set in motion are still with me in three months.

I did all but one of the exercises outlined in the book, and think I gave it my best shot. Towards the end Mortimer advises she isn’t including a full belief change exercise in the book because she feels that is best done in a session with an experienced coach – and I think NLP therapy may also need to be done in person for it to work effectively.

If you’re into self-help books, this is an interesting read, but it’s pretty much the old story of no pain, no gain. You have to want to make those changes and be prepared to put in the hard work to achieve your goal or it won’t happen.

Reviewed by Faye Lougher

This is it! It’s your life. Live it.
by Amanda Mortimer
Published by Amanda Mortimer
ISBN 9780473246563

Book Review: Arnhem: The Battle for the Bridges, by Anthony Beevor

Available in bookshops nationwide.

arnhem_battle_for_the_bridges.jpgEven those with the slightest knowledge of the major events of the Second World War, would have heard of the September 1944 battle for Arnhem,  in the Netherlands on the lower reaches of the Rhine.

Under Field Marshall Montgomery, airborne and ground British, American and Polish forces, attempted to push into Germany across the lower Rhine and head for Berlin. A key bridge was at Arnhem, and it proved to be a disastrous defeat of the British-led forces, which gave rise to a metaphor for achieving failure by being too ambitious – “a bridge too far”, originating from the film of that name.

The film was dramatic enough, but superficial. By contrast, Anthony Beevor’s book, Arnhem, is another example of this author’s famous mastery of detail in-depth and  wide context.

Beevor studies the lead up to the battle following the successes of the battle of Falaise Gap in Normandy and the ragged retreat of German forces across northern France, Belgium and into Holland which raised considerable expectation that victory was close. And Montgomery wanted to claim victory in Germany before the Americans – he was jealous of US General Paton’s success in the south. Thus he did not listen to good council, even managing to have the final planning meeting at a time when General Eisenhower, the overall Allied commander, was sick. Montgomery pushed his plan through even against RAF advice.

‘In fact,’ Beevor writes ‘the fundamental concept of Operation Market Garden defied military logic, because it made no allowance for anything to go wrong or for the enemy’s likely reactions’.  A lot did go wrong and the Germans were in much greater strength in the area – in itself a failure of intelligence. Too few troops were landed initially and battalions lost contact with each other, sometimes because radios didn’t work properly – some even with the wrong crystal sets. Other troops, particularly the Polish were critically delayed in flying to the battle by bad weather.

The basic idea was for the airborne troops to capture the bridges at Arnhem and Nijmegen and hold it until British and American ground troops could reach them. After many delays much bitter fighting the land column reached Nijmegen, but stopped.  The situation had become hopeless at Arnhem, the Germans were winning and would be able to move against the land column.  There is much dispute about the halting of the ground column and there are probably still many unanswered questions.

However, Beevor penetrates much of the fog of war with access to post war records of all the armies and the Dutch involved, but also by using personal accounts from all ranks.

Aside from the skilful narrative describing the battle, Beevor also opens the curtains on the terrible suffering of the Dutch civilian population. Dutch resistance groups joined the allied troops which later lead to savage reprisals against the civilian population. The city of Arnhem was more or less razed to the ground and 250,000 were evacuated. Many civilians were shot because they had sheltered British wounded. The town was a haven for ghosts when Canadian soldiers finally liberated it in April 1945. But between September 1944 and final Liberation in 1945, the Dutch were treated even more cruelly than they had before the battle of the Bridges, with thousands starving to death. Beevor exposes the tragedy.

Market Garden was not a total failure: part of the southern Holland was freed and some bridges were held. But the price was high. There were more than four thousand one hundred military and civilian casualties. German retribution against Dutch railway workers who went on strike to aid the assault led to a famine that killed over 20,000.

This book recalls a few days of the Second World War that had a major impact on the total history of the war which is still debated today. There are many tragic moments recounted in the book and interestingly, not all the atrocities were perpetuated by the Nazis.

Reviewed by Lincoln Gould

Arnhem: The Battle for the Bridges
by Anthony Beevor
Penguin Viking
ISBN: 9780241326763

Book Review: The Kitchen Science Cookbook, by Nanogirl Dr Michelle Dickinson

Available in bookshops nationwide. 

cv_the_kitchen_science_cookbook.jpgI was absolutely delighted to receive a copy of this beautifully designed book by Dr Michelle Dickinson. As soon as I tweeted about it though, I had a school librarian wondering if it was designed for kids – understandable, as it is Nanogirl herself on the cover, with no sign of kids.

The contents of the book itself though, are superb. There are 49 experiments, utilising science concepts from transpiration, to capillary action; thrust, to solar energy, to chemical reaction. Each experiment is laid out with a cute title, a list of equipment and ingredients, detailed instructions, then ‘the science behind’, then an explore further segment. There is a brief explanation of which principle it is proving at the top right corner, and at the bottom left there are icons giving you more information on what type of experiment you are undertaking.

The initial information is very thorough and provides a good grounding for what is to come, though the audience for this section a bit muddy – I think it is assumed that an adult will be involved for this part of the reading. That is fair!

I did a few of the experiments with my kids, and the Static Powered Dancing Ghost worked beautifully. One thing I felt was missing was – and perhaps this could be in a link to online – tricks for fixing experiments that haven’t quite worked. While there are leading questions about them on each segment, I would have liked to know what the most likely causes of failure were. My 7yo was put off the book entirely by the semi-failure of two experiments. (TBH with his current feeling towards failure, he’s probably not going to be a scientist!)

I would very much like to have seen a larger font size used throughout, and less emphasis on the big photos used throughout the book. It’s very beautiful, but the font size and light grey colour is not friendly for either kids who are only just learning to read well or parents with poor eyesight.

The photos are great though, with lots of kids from all types of cultural backgrounds having fun with experiments with their parents. I look forward to trying some more of these experiments as my kids get less afraid of failure.

Reviewed by Sarah Forster

The Kitchen Science Cookbook
by Dr Michelle Dickinson
nanogirl labs
ISBN 978473425975