Book Reviews, Lists, Discussions, and Displays

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Book Review: The Whaler’s Daughter

The Whaler’s Daughter – Jerry Mikorenda – Fitzroy Books – Published 24 July 2021

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Synopsis

In 1910, twelve-year-old Savannah lives with her widowed father on a whaling station in New South Wales, Australia. For generations, the Dawson family has carried on a very unusual way of life there. They use orcas to help them hunt whales. But Savannah believes the orcas hunted something else—her older brothers, who died mysteriously while fishing. Haunted by their deaths, Savannah wants to become a whaler to prove to her father that she’s good enough to carry on the family legacy and avenge her slain brothers. Meeting an aboriginal boy, Figgie, changes that. Figgie helps Savannah to hone her whaling skills and teaches her about the Law of the Bay. When she is finally able to join the crew, Savannah learns just how dangerous the whole business is. A whale destroys her boat and Savannah sinks into the shark-infested waters. That’s when the mysterious spirit orca Jungay returns to rescue her, and she vows to protect the creatures. That vow tests her mettle when the rapacious owner of a fishing fleet captures the orca pod and plans to slaughter them

My thoughts

The Whaler’s Daughter caught my attention, despite the dull cover, as I knew it was similar to true historical events and I wanted to see how the author would combine history with fiction.

A message of environmental protection, the author does a great job of conveying the historic events and perspectives from an approach that it is relevant for modern readers.

Few might know the story of Eden and the orca’s that worked with whalers in Australia. This story, I hope, will bring that story into the light. While much of the story in The Whaler’s Daughter differs from what is recounted of the events in Eden, there is enough to align the stories.

Along with themes of protecting the environment, caring for and working with animals, The Whaler’s Daughter also raises themes around the roles of women. Savannah is a strong and headstrong character. She knows exactly what she wants and that is to ride in the whaling boats along with her father’s crew. As she fights for her place, she has more encounters with the orcas. She initially fears and hates them, holding them accountable for the death of her family members. But as she gets to know them more, learns of the plans of the nearby towns leaders and gets her first encounter on a whaling boat, Sav must change everything she thought she knew.

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Book Review: When We Were Strangers

When We Were Strangers – Alex Richards – Bloomsbury YA – Published 27 July 2021

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Synopsis

Seventeen-year-old Evie Parker is devastated in the wake of her father’s sudden death. But she knows something her mother doesn’t: the day of his heart attack, her dad was planning to move out. After finding his packed bags, an impulsive Evie puts everything away, desperate to spare her mom more heartache.

To make matters worse, Evie soon learns the reason her father was going to leave: he had been dating his twenty-two-year-old receptionist, Bree, who is now six months pregnant. Desperate to distract herself, Evie signs up for a summer photography class where she meets a motley crew of students, including quirky and adorable Declan. Still, Evie can’t stop thinking about her father’s mistress. Armed with a telephoto lens, she caves to her curiosity, and what starts as a little bit of spying on Bree quickly becomes full-blown stalking. And when an emergency forces Evie to help Bree, she learns there’s more to the story than she ever knew…

My thoughts

I am a massive fan of Accidental, so I was eager to pick up the author’s latest novel, When We Are Strangers. Again, Alex Richards delivers a novel that is full of emotional tension.

Evie Parker is distraught to learn of her father’s death. But when she finds his bags packed, ready to leave her and her mum for his pregnant mistress, Evie decides to unpack them and hide the truth from her mother. As she carries the weight of both the secret and her grief, Evie finds herself turned towards photography and entered into a photography course by her uncle. The course and her eclectic classmates give Evie the outlet she needs, but when she happens upon her father’s mistress and begins to capture images of her, Evie learns there is so much she didn’t know and so much she has still to learn.

When We Were Strangers is both gut-wrenching but also uplifting. For all the grief and emotional baggage Evie is carrying, there are moments of light, humour and human connection. I very much enjoyed Evie’s voice. She narrates the story and her teenage-ness just shines through so authentically and uniquely. She is sad, lonely and grieving and that comes through in her words and thoughts. At times she seems whiney or sulky, but that is so perfectly real. She has the right to be snarky and she uses that to the best effect.

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Book Review: The Heart’s Charge

The Heart’s Charge – Karen Witemeyer – Hanger’s Horsemen #2 – Bethany House Publishers – Published 1 June 2021

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Synopsis

Members of Hanger’s Horsemen, Mark Wallace and Jonah Brooks arrive in Llano County, Texas, to deliver a steed, never expecting they’d deliver a baby as well. Left with an infant to care for, they head to a nearby foundling home, where Mark encounters the woman he’d nearly married a decade ago.

After failing at love, Katherine Palmer dedicated her life to caring for children, teaming up with Eliza Southerland to start Harmony House. From mixed ancestry, illegitimate, and female, Eliza understands the pain of not fitting society’s mold. Yet those are the very attributes that lead her to minister to outcast children. The taciturn Jonah intrigues her with his courage and kindness, but there are secrets behind his eyes–ghosts from wars past and others still being waged.

However, when a handful of urchin children from the area go missing, a pair of Horsemen are exactly what the women need. Working together to find the children, will these two couples find love as well?

My thoughts

It is impossible to resist Karen Witemeyer’s writing. Once again she absorbed me into this story of adventure, romance, strong female characters and the men of integrity who love them.

The Heart’s Charge provides us two stories in one. We readers first met the Hanger’s Horsemen in the first book in the series and in this second book we join up with two members of the group, Mark and Jonah. Together, Mark and Jonah stumble upon a pregnant woman in labour. They, reluctantly, assist in the birth and find themselves responsible for the care of the young infant. This then leads them to Harmony House, a place where children of any race or background can find a home. A surprise awaits them both. Mark finds the woman he once wanted to marry and who broke his heart. Jonah finds a strong and resilient Eliza who might just be the one woman who can work her way past his tough exterior.

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Book Review: This Time Around

This Time Around – Denise Hunter, Melissa Ferguson and Kathleen Fuller – Thomas Nelson – Published 13 July 2021

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Synopsis

Three romance novellas. A Summer Detour by Denise Hunter, Pining for You by Melissa Ferguson and He Love Me; Me Loves Me Not by Kathleen Fuller.

My thoughts

This Time Around is a collection of three novellas that feature second chance romances. From best friends to old flames, Denise Hunter, Melissa Ferguson and Kathleen Fuller give their characters a second shot at love. Notes, despite the Christian publisher and authors, these novellas do not reference faith, God or Christianity.

A Summer Detour is the first and my favourite in the collection. Probably not surprising as it’s by Denise Hunter and I love her writing style. In A Summer Detour Allie begs her family for a chance to prove herself and is tasked with driving her grandparents’ beloved restored Chevy to their anniversary party. The only problem is that she can’t drive manual. Luke Fletcher is the only one she can think of who might be able to help – her parents’ neighbour and the man who broke her heart years ago. She’s kept her distance since then but hours in the car, a hail storm, detour, dog with digestion problems and other mishaps later, maybe she and Luke can sort through the hurt and find a way to a future together. This novella is light and funny, yet I really felt for the way Allie believes her parents don’t trust her or see her as capable. Luke has always seen Allie’s worth and this road trip is the perfect opportunity for him to redeem himself in Allie’s eyes and prove he’ll always be there for her.

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Book Review: Daughter of Sparta

Daughter of Sparta – Claire M. Andrews – Daughter of Sparta #1 – Jimmy Patterson Books – Published 8 June 2021

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Synopsis

Seventeen-year-old Daphne has spent her entire life honing her body and mind into that of a warrior, hoping to be accepted by the unyielding people of ancient Sparta. But an unexpected encounter with the goddess Artemis—who holds Daphne’s brother’s fate in her hands—upends the life she’s worked so hard to build. Nine mysterious items have been stolen from Mount Olympus and if Daphne cannot find them, the gods’ waning powers will fade away, the mortal world will descend into chaos, and her brother’s life will be forfeit.

Guided by Artemis’s twin-the handsome and entirely-too-self-assured god Apollo-Daphne’s journey will take her from the labyrinth of the Minotaur to the riddle-spinning Sphinx of Thebes, team her up with mythological legends such as Theseus and Hippolyta of the Amazons, and pit her against the gods themselves.

My thoughts

For every reader who loved Percy Jackson or Greek Mythology, Daughter of Sparta is the book for you. I get so many requests in my school library for books that feature mythology, especially Greek mythology. Daughter of Sparta is a thrilling adventure. It is fresh yet fans of the mythological legends will recognise some familiar characters and quests.

There is so much in this story. The author could have used just one legend to inspire the story but we have multiple, with multiple gods, creatures and challenges that Daphne must face. It makes this book endlessly engaging and there is never a dull moment. I did find it a little confusing to keep track of all the characters, but having the familiar Greek gods and characters was helpful.

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Book Review: Ace of Spades

Ace of Spades – Faridah Abike-Iyimide – Feiwel Friends – Published 1 June 2021

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Synopsis

When two Niveus Private Academy students, Devon Richards and Chiamaka Adebayo, are selected to be part of the elite school’s senior class prefects, it looks like their year is off to an amazing start. After all, not only does it look great on college applications, but it officially puts each of them in the running for valedictorian, too.

Shortly after the announcement is made, though, someone who goes by Aces begins using anonymous text messages to reveal secrets about the two of them that turn their lives upside down and threaten every aspect of their carefully planned futures.

As Aces shows no sign of stopping, what seemed like a sick prank quickly turns into a dangerous game, with all the cards stacked against them. Can Devon and Chiamaka stop Aces before things become incredibly deadly?

My thoughts

Ace of Spades is heartbreakingly devastatingly yet as I was reading I knew that this is the reality for so many people and young people. It is thrilling, twisty and kept me guess right up until the last page. My main concern was how on earth the author could give me a satisfactory ending that was still realistic and boy, did Faridah deliver. Absolutely superb.

I was on the edge of my seat while reading this and often had my head in my hands and heart in my mouth. All the emotions and all the feels. Honestly, it wasn’t an easy book to read but oh my gosh it is such a powerful and reflective book of our current political and social landscapes.

Ace of Spades is a thriller, a mystery and realistic novel all in one. It’s #Diverse #OwnVoices #ReadWoke and every other on trend hashtag you could want. It’s gut punching and shows just how much resilience and strength it requires for people to survive in a society that seeks to destroy them. Ace of Spades is a debut novel and my gosh it is impressive.

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Book Review: Kind of Sort of Fine

Kind of Sort of Fine – Spencer Hall – Atheneum Books for Young Readers – Published 22 June 2021

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Synopsis

Senior year of high school is full of changes.

For Hayley Mills, these changes aren’t exactly welcome. All she wants is for everyone to forget about her very public breakdown and remember her as the overachiever she once was—and who she’s determined to be again. But it’s difficult to be seen as a go-getter when she’s forced into TV Production class with all the slackers like Lewis Holbrook.

For Lewis, though, this is going to be his year. After a summer spent binging 80s movies, he’s ready to upgrade from the role of self-described fat, funny sidekick to leading man of his own life—including getting the girl. The only thing standing in his way is, well, himself.

When the two are partnered up in class, neither is particularly thrilled. But then they start making mini documentaries about their classmates’ hidden talents, and suddenly Hayley is getting attention for something other than her breakdown, and Lewis isn’t just a background character anymore. It seems like they’re both finally getting what they want—except what happens when who you’ve become isn’t who you really are?

My thoughts

A story about surviving high school, with humour, honesty and a delightful freshness.

High school is tough – especially when you had a meltdown in front of the entire school and district. For Hayley, returning to school after she had a public breakdown in the school driveway is hard enough. When her parents and teachers decide that she is working too hard, she has to make a choice – drop tennis or drop her advanced placement courses. She drops tennis and is forced into TV production. She thinks it will be a joke. Instead, she is surprised to find herself having fun. She is teamed up with Lewis. For Lewis, senior year is the year he is finally senior producer at the school’s TV production class. It’s also going to be the year he recasts himself. No longer just the fat guy, Lewis has big plans.

When Hayley and Lewis are teamed up in TV production class, they seem like two opposites. Instead, they work really well together and they start to film documentaries that showcase the secret lives of their fellow students. It’s a bit of a journey of discovery for them both. Not only do they learn more about their classmates then they ever would have imagined, they also pushed themselves in new ways – physically and mentally and learnt more about themselves.

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Book Review: Three Quick Non Fiction Reviews

North and South: A Tale of Two Hemispheres – Sandra Morris – Walker Books Australia – Published 17 February 2021

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Synopsis

In the Northern and Southern Hemispheres, animals deal with changing seasons in various ways. Whichever hemisphere they live in, they need to be able to read the sign of the changing seasons to survive. This beautiful nonfiction picture book tells the tale of life for some of the planets most-loved animals and what they’re up to throughout the year. Each spread contrasts, month-by-month, some of the world’s most-loved Northern and Southern Hemisphere animals. North and South marks a beautiful and engaging introduction to the natural world and conservation for young readers, with in-depth facts throughout and a full index and glossary adding interest for older readers.

My thoughts

Beautifully illustrated, North & South introduces the concept of hemispheres and how this dictates our seasons. The book then displays a page for every month, one side for the Northern Hemisphere season and the other side of the page for the Southern Hemisphere. Each month features two animals, again one for the Northern Hemisphere and the other for the Southern Hemisphere. The book shares the similarities and the differences between the two animals that live across the world from each other. Conservation status, maps that show their locations and beautiful illustrations and endpapers bring these facts to life for young readers as they learn about the amazing creatures of the world.

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Book Review: The Passing Playbook

The Passing Playbook – Isaac Fitzsimons – Dial – Published 1 June 2021

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Synopsis

Fifteen-year-old Spencer Harris is a proud nerd, an awesome big brother and a Messi-in-training. He’s also transgender. After transitioning at his old school leads to a year of bullying, Spencer gets a fresh start at Oakley, the most liberal private school in Ohio.

At Oakley, Spencer seems to have it all: more accepting classmates, a decent shot at a starting position on the boy’s soccer team, great new friends, and maybe even something more than friendship with one of his teammates. The problem is, no one at Oakley knows Spencer is trans – he’s passing.

So when a discriminatory law forces Spencer’s coach to bench him after he discovers the ‘F’ on Spencer’s birth certificate, Spencer has to make a choice: cheer his team on from the sidelines or publicly fight for his right to play, even if it means coming out to everyone – including the guy he’s falling for.

My thoughts

A story about sport, friendship, romance and becoming comfortable with sharing who you are. The Passing Playbook is a trans coming out story but also about belonging and accepting yourself

Spencer is starting at a new school. It’s a fresh start and one he wants to control. He decides to keep secret the fact that he is trans. When he is recruited for the boy’s soccer team, Spencer knows he walks a fine line between passing and being revealed as trans. When the league’s discriminatory policy benches Spencer he has to decide how much he trusts his team mates and how much he is willing to risk to fight the decision.

Sports stories offer such a great backdrop for relationship and character development. It seems to bring out the best and worst in people. As Spencer starts to settle into his new school and tries out for the soccer team he has to decide how much he will risk to protect his new friendships and place on the team. He loves soccer, always has, so he relishes the chance to play on the boys team – something he has always wanted to do.

While Spencer’s school is meant to be pretty liberal and progressive, he is still uncertain how, if or when he wants to come out as trans to his classmates. As he starts to get to know Justice and develops a friendship (and something) with him, he starts to learn more about the risks Justice faces if he were to ever reveal his own true identity.

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Book Review: Harmony

Harmony – Richard Yaxley – Omnibus Book – Published 1 March 2021

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Synopsis

In 1914, Tom Stott falls in love with Gracie O’Donnell, but their love is thwarted by circumstance and war. Tom finds himself part of the blood-soaked landings at Gallipoli, while Gracie marries another. A deception, born in a place and time on the brink of war, traverses the world as successive generations seek freedom in a century of change. It isn’t until American teen Noah Clifford joins his mother Deborah, his grandfather Will and his great-grandmother Gracie in Australia that the secrets of the past are revealed, secrets that will take them back to the beaches of Gallipoli…

My thoughts

Harmony is a unique novel than spans multiple generations. Rich with a variety of character voices and a writing style that makes you pay attention to every single line, Harmony is a novel that compels the reader as much as it disorientates.

I don’t usually read historical YA fiction. I’m even less likely to pick up a war novel. And while Harmony could easily be believed to fit easily in either of these genres, it is not so easily categorised. Harmony does begin with a tale of heroism and a young boy heading off to war. Our first in a line of characters is Tom Stott. Farm boy, brother, son. Also the sweetheart to Gracie O’Donnell. However, when Tom answers the call to arms he leaves behind a pregnant Gracie who must marry another man.

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