Staff picks – May 2015

May 2015



This historical fiction debut with mystery twists is set in Coney Island, New York, 1895 and will surely appeal to fans of The Night Circus and Museum of Extraordinary Things. Structurally the story is told to us through three damaged narrators (strangers to each other at first) with some voices we haven’t heard before including; a young male night soiler looking after an orphan baby, circus sisters separated after death of their mother, and a lunatic patient who we learn was an escort and now married lady of distinction hated by her mother in law. It is a bit choppy at times but the simmering build up and twists do all tie together in final quarter (with maybe one far fetched coincidence near the end). With vivid writing and richly described atmosphere you can see and smell not just the circus or the soil yards but also the slums, asylums, opium dens, whorehouses, and theatres. It has many issues to think about or discuss in a bookclub – gender identity, homophobia, hysteria, social hierarchies, family dysfunction, drug addiction, abandonment and abuse.  A tale definitely worth trying!



The book opens with flashback to 8 years ago when an orphan boy Kaw is being thrown out a window and saved by crows who he learns to communicate with. Flash forward to the town now where crime is rife and ruled by a dark lord, with lots of orphan kids on the street trying to survive in gangs. As a loner, Kaw meets Lydia and her family and tries to save them disaster and discover the secrets of his past. Kaw reminded me of a likable Dickens’ Oliver in a town similar to Gotham in Batman. The atmosphere is dark and gritty, the writing is funny and easy to visualise and best of all it’s an intriguing mystery story that won’t be for everyone but would strongly appeal to comic and animorph fantasy fans. 12+



Anyone but Ivy Pocket by Caleb Krisp – $19.99 RRP hardback
Kids fiction 10+

With the lead character, Ivy Pocket, blending shades of Mary Poppins and Sherlock Holmes with a rather large helping of the dimwitted Inspector Gadget, this book is an absolute treat for upper primary aged children. Ivy Pocket is a young maid, who is rather brilliant, if she does say so her self. While in Paris she finds herself once again not required, when she is summoned to the rooms of The Duchess of Trinity. The duchess has a VERY important mission. Ivy must deliver the precious Clock Diamond to the young Matilda Butterfield in England on the occasion of her twelfth birthday. The jewel possesses special powers, and Ivy is warned not to be tempted to wear the necklace herself, and not to show anyone. Ivy accepts the mission, and sets off for England. While travelling Ivy encounters the lovely Miss Always, and the two hit is off immediately, but who are these small hooded people that Ivy constantly sees? Once in London, it seems that danger seems to be following Ivy wherever she goes, including to the Butterfield Mansion.
This book had me laughing out loud. Ivy’s attitude and antics are at times absurd, and you do wonder how those around her can stand her at all. She has a good heart, if only she would see what was happening right under her own nose! A classic tale full of magic, murder and mayhem, Ivy Pocket will have you hooked, wondering just how she is going to sort out the latest disaster that she has found herself in.


The Alex Crow by Andrew Smith – $19.95 RRP

Grasshopper Jungle by Andrew Smith was a standout novel in 2014, regardless of its young adult categorisation. With a film in development and Edgar Wright attached as director, it will surely become a cult classic in years to come. Now, in 2015, Andrew Smith brings us The Alex Crow the story of fifteen-year-old Ariel, a Syrian refugee living with the Burgess family in West Virginia. Ariel, along with Max, his adoptive brother, is shuffled off to Camp Merrie-Seymour for Boys, a summer camp where technology is void and interactions are key. Not that Ariel and Max are addicted to technology… but their inventor father is just making the most of the free perk they receive for the research work he has done.
Simultaneous with flashbacks of Ariel’s village under attack to arriving in America, two other narratives come alive: Arctic explorers venture into the unknown aboard a ship called the Alex Crow in the 1800s in one, uncertain of failure or success, while the other details the chronicles of the “melting man”, a schizophrenic character with voices in his head compelling him to commit various violent acts. There’s also mention of Alex, a talking robotic crow, owned by the Burgess’.
Despite the present near-future setting mixed with the historical period of the 1800s, The Alex Crow is a multi-faceted human story. Ultimately, it is about the failure of male-dominated societies and their misguided attempts at success, where compassion is mistaken for control, in navigational and scientific adventures and discoveries. On a thematic level, just like Grasshopper JungleThe Alex Crow makes you think. The US publisher has promoted Smith’s latest novels under the ‘Keep YA Weird’ banner, and they surely are weird and witty and smart.



Gifted by Donald Hounam – $19.99 RRP

A 15 year old forensic sorcerer gets interrupted in the middle of harvesting the organs from a dead cat to check out the crime scene of a decapitated probable-bishop… and it just gets stranger and more complicated from there. The double whammy of the magical gift and a smart mouth means that Frank hasn’t got many people lining up to be his friend. There are a few people lining up to kill him, however. But that’s more to do with the whole sorcerer thing, nothing personal. Probably. But at least he’s got it better than the headless and very dead probable-bishop whose murder he is called in to investigate.  Frank is a humorous narrator – certainly no angel – and always has a sassy opinion to share. His wry outlook steers the reader through the rough waters of murder, prejudice, state secrets, cults and conspiracy.
Gifted mixes the incredible, detailed magical world of an alternate England with a good murder mystery; this kind of police procedural involves determining time of death with pigs’ heads and ritually summoned Presences. If you’re looking for a highly original fantasy novel with incredible world-building, a solid plot to get your cogs whirring and a smart, snarky protagonist, then Gifted is the book for you.


Billie’s Adventures by Sally Rippin $14.95rrp – coloured hardback
Kids Series

Billie and Jack are back! Sally Rippin returns with her newest series of Billie books, this time aimed at younger readers. Rippin teams up with illustrator Alisa Coburn to create a series of richly-illustrated picture books with expressive and inventive text, guaranteed to capture the imaginations of your younger readers. Inspired by Where The Wild Things Are, Billie arrives at kinder each morning and immediately leaps into her imaginary world of the day: underwater wonderlands, sandy deserts, tangled jungles and has to confront whatever scary monster or catastrophe she finds there. Of course she does all this with the self-assured poise of a 5-year-old, always making sure that she gets back in time for lunch.
In the first book of the series, Billie is off on an underwater adventure. But will she be able to save her friends from the great gloopy sea monster?
The first two books in the series are out now, with another four books scheduled to be published in the next twelve months.


Lion Attack! – Oliver Mol  $27.99rrp

Upon first reading Lion Attack! I wasn’t quite sure what to expect. I felt slightly disengaged at the start because I was just reading stories about someone I’d never even heard of. But as the book progressed, I found I could not put it down until I finally finished. Lion Attack! is the biography of writer Oliver Mol, although the layout of the writing suggests otherwise. Mol adds a very personal touch to each story, so much so that it feels like you have some connection with him in the end. You are exposed to his childhood memories in pre 9/11 America and the things he is experiencing currently, as an adult working and living in Melbourne. I really connected with the local setting, as I found I knew many of the places Mol talked about. Lion Attack! finds Mol riffing on everything from sex and love, to work, writing, family and much more. He has delivered to us a truly unique piece of  modern, contemporary writing. His humour and wit are infectious. Due to the sexual themes and language, I wouldn’t recommend this book to anyone under 16.