Book reviews for Aussie teachers and their students.

Archive for the ‘Mystery’ Category

“Taya Bayliss: Dog Sitter” by E.J.Gore, E.J.Gore (2012)

Taya BaylissHaving spent the best part of my childhood with Nancy Drew, Trixie Belden and the Scooby bunch, you might be mistaken for thinking that I am a bit of a mystery buff.  I’m not.  In fact I tend to avoid them nowadays.  However, my memories of mystery (Trixie Belden in particular), is of familiar characters in domestic settings with a dash of sleuthing thrown in for good measure.  I don’t recall it being the mystery that I liked; rather the relationship I developed with the characters (and the fact that there were so many adventures to companion them on).  My impression is that this is what E.J. Gore has hoped to achieve with her Taya Bayliss series, and on this account she is successful.

Taya Bayliss is an eleven-year-old girl, who along with her friend Chris and loyal hound Minette, can’t help but investigate the recent robberies at the local nursing home and surrounding shops.  Engaging typical snooping tactics and a little harmless deception, they manage to follow the clues and catch the crook singlehandedly.  I don’t usually reveal the endings of stories in my reviews, although in this instance I will, since as a mystery no one would expect otherwise.

As a Middle Grade chapter book Taya Bayliss: Dog Sitter, is appropriate for the middle years of primary school (grades 2-4).  It is cleanly written and edited carefully, making it accessible to all students.  However, for me its language lacked sparkle; something that I feel is mandatory for any story I share with a class.  As a text to be read independently, perhaps as part of a reading program, Gore’s story (and series) fits the job.  My greatest concern is that it will be overlooked by students who will be deterred by its 1970’s style cover in preference for something a little savvier.  Taya Bayliss: Dog Sitter, is a little clichéd and a little too predictable for my liking; but then again it is simply being exactly what it purports to be, a mystery following in the tradition of children’s mysteries.

Reviewed by Tanya Grech Welden

**The author provided me a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.  I have otherwise not been paid for reviewing this book and my opinions reflect my own unbiased opinion.**

***Purchase this title and other books in the Taya Bayliss series here.***

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“The One and Only Jack Chant” by Rosie Borella, Allen & Unwin (2014)

jackchant

Sixteen-year-old Amber never expected to find romance while working in an old-people’s home. . .but then Jack Chant is not what she expected either.  He’s young, exciting and enigmatic – and deeply troubled by something that happened in the past, something that he can’t quite remember.  Gradually Amber suspects that Jack’s past might be a whole lot further back in time than he realises.  Is he solid flesh and blood, or just some kind of dreamy fantasy?

A sweetly romantic coming-of-age story in which Amber learns more than most teens about getting old, falling in love and letting go.

Rosie Borella’s novel tells the story of Amber, a sixteen-year-old girl, who, undecided about her future, secures a position as a Carer working in a nursing home. Initially, I was somewhat sceptical about the appeal of a book that chooses to stray so far from the subject matter found in many Young Adult books today; and yet it is this perspective which provides a fresh uniqueness to what is otherwise a  classic ‘coming of age’ story.

Amber has a fractured relationship with her parents. She is too young to be respected as the adult she is evolving into, yet old enough to shoulder the responsibilities of babysitting and child care. Her lack of self-belief, coupled with an uncertainty about her future give her character broad appeal with a teenage audience. When she meets Jack Chant, a mysterious young man with an almost Edward Cullen-like appeal; I couldn’t help but be drawn into Borella’s web.  Perfect for each other, I needed them to end up together.

“The One and Only Jack Chant,” deals with a range of themes including the joys and sorrows of growing older, reconciling with ones’ past, the tragedy of loss,  and the sweetness of first love.  This text would be most appropriate for students in the latter years of high school and should work quite well as a shared text (years 10-12) although it would be well suited for independent study.  It would easily pair with other Australian rural coming of age stories; specifically Steven Herrick’s “Black Painted Fingernails” or Margaret Wild’s “The Vanishing Moment”(refer to earlier reviews).  As a whole, Borella’s narrative is beautiful in its pristine simplicity.  Occasionally, particularly during the long dream-type sequences, I found myself a little distracted, yearning to go back to the ‘real world’ of the nursing home where Borella’s subtle humour shines through at its brightest.

Borella’s story, while starting out as a Contemporary Romance, reaches into the realm of Mystery and the Paranormal.  Is Jack Chant real flesh and blood, is he a convincing spectre or is he simply the product of Amber’s active imagination? An achingly beautiful romance that will have you guessing until its dramatic conclusion.

Reviewed by Tanya Grech Welden

**Allen & Unwin provided me with a free review copy of this book. I have otherwise not been paid or rewarded for any review or endorsement of this book and the above opinions reflect my own unbiased view.**

“The Vanishing Moment” by Margaret Wild, Allen & Unwin (2013)

vanishing moment

A moment.  That’s all it takes. 

A moment when everything changes.

Arrow is still haunted by a childhood tragedy that shattered her safe, happy world.

Marika is caught up in a nightmare from which there is no escape.

Two girls, dislocated, looking for answers.  When they encounter a ‘magician’, they are tempted by the possibility of a way out . . .

Margaret Wild is no stranger to the Australian literary community, having written prolifically for children and adults for many years now.  She is widely respected for contributions that have won a number of awards and has consistently produced stories of quality with prose that is sensitive and sparse.  “The Vanishing Moment” is her most recent offering, a short novel of only 184 pages; targeted towards the older adolescent audience but also crossing over into the mainstream adult fiction market.  My first impression, upon reading the blurb was that Wild was promising here a paranormal mystery. As I discovered, but not to my disappointment (although some readers may find it so), what was delivered is a contemporary novel with a dash of mystery and a drop of the paranormal.

I enjoyed Wild’s revolving, snaphot style of narration with the lives of the characters told parallel to each other until they inevitably intersect.  When I reflected upon the story afterwards I realised that this structure almost seemed to echo the idea that Wild puts forward, of life being a series of doors that we may or may not choose to open.  The narrative moved forward in a predictable way and surrendered just enough snippets to keep me reading the story in only a couple of large sittings.

A major strength of the book is the characters.  Wild has drawn the two female protagonists, Arrow and Marika vividly.  I found them likeable, but more importantly, relatable.  I was drawn into their suffering, and at times, wished I could leap into the story to rescue them.  I didn’t ‘get’ the character Bob at all.  He is a magician, ageless; child, adult and old man. To me he was an enigma. A man with mysterious past and a blurried present that seemed to stay that way even once I turned the final page.

Wild’s story was captivating, even though I found the ending a little too tidy for my personal liking.  Without wishing to ruin the surprise, I would have almost preferred the omission of the final chapter.  Chapter 32 operates as a kind of epilogue.  It sated my inquisitiveness but perhaps it would have been better to allow the reader’s imagination to ponder the possible outcomes alone.   However, I thoroughly enjoyed what Wild was exploring here.  She seems to engage with the question of alternate realities, without falling into the trap of needing to provide a Hollywoodesque explanation.  This is no Sliding Doors, or heaven forbid Freaky Friday, it is something more powerful than that.   Wild’s novel contemplates the scars of human suffering, loss and isolation and the natural inclination to seek refuge from it.

Reviewed by Tanya Grech Welden

“Night Vision” by Ella West, Allen & Unwin (2014)

West

Viola was born with a genetic condition that makes sunlight deadly.

In the dark of night, when most teenagers are tucked up in bed, Viola has the run of her parent’s farm and the surrounding forest.  She is used to seeing hidden things through her night-vision goggles, but one night she sees something that could get her into a whole lot of trouble…

This is an odd little book.  When I say odd I mean this earnestly and in a good way.  From the outset we have a straightforward YA Contemporary with some strong mystery elements, yet somewhat ironically, the whole book feels a little “out there”.   The story revolves around Viola, a teenage girl stricken with XP, a rare genetic condition that confines her inside during daylight hours, only allowing her to venture outside at night when she explores her rural surroundings wearing her night vision goggles.  As one might expect, Viola is different.  She plays the viola with a skill well beyond her years, has never visited an art gallery, a public swimming pool or even McDonald’s.  Her only friends are those she meets online (other kids with XP) and the animals she encounters on her nightly wanderings.  She doesn’t seem overtly conflicted by this; after all she doesn’t expect to live long anyway.

In many ways its straightforward approach to storytelling lends this book to use with a younger, child audience.  However, the darker elements of the story allow for deeper analysis best undertaken by older readers in the secondary years.  The story should work well as an independent study, especially when paired with other books exploring the topic of young people facing mortality.   I imagine it could work well with the likes of John Green’s “The Fault in our Stars”.  Similarly, students will find rich comparisons between this and other stories with strong agricultural or earthy elements.

Despite being a mystery, I did feel that this was a weaker element of the story and one that was unsatisfactorily resolved (somewhat abruptly).  That said I feel that many students will readily appreciate an analysis of the book purely in terms of the evocative atmosphere that West has crafted with her considerable skill.

Told simply in a style of writing that is sparse and consistently honest, West has created a narrative that manages to weave a hypnotic spell around the reader. I couldn’t help but be intrigued by West’s cold little story.  Perhaps this shouldn’t be too surprising considering its protagonist is in itself a compelling curiosity.

Reviewed by Tanya Grech Welden

**Allen & Unwin provided me with a free review copy of this book. I have otherwise not been paid or rewarded for any review or endorsement of this book and the above opinions reflect my own unbiased view.**

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