The Midnighters – Hana Tooke

Illustrations – Ayesha L. Rubio

Born at midnight on the twelfth day of the twelfth month, Ema is the twelfth born child in her family. Unsurprisingly, twelves tend to follow Ema through her life.

‘There is something very troubling about the number twelve’

At twelve years old, Ema has yet to find her place in her scientific family. Màma is a meteorologist who can predict the weather with incredible accuracy. Her older siblings are skilled in various fields, including archaeology, anthropology and zoology. Ema absorbs all of the knowledge her siblings teach her but she doesn’t have her own socially acceptable scientific passion.

The great enigma of her life had presented itself: how was she ever supposed to understand a world that didn’t understand her?

What she does have is the ability to constantly surprise people with her presence, an acute awareness of shadows and a semi-regular sense of impending doom. And fears. Ema has her fair share of fears.

When her parents join one of her sisters on a research expedition, Ema is sent to stay with Josef, an uncle she’s never met, in the home where her “unmentionable grandmother had lived.” It is there that she meets Silvie. Silvie helps Ema confront her fears and introduces her to the wonders of nineteenth century Prague at midnight.

‘We will banish these fears of yours, but we will also banish the idea that normal is something worth striving for. I will make you proudly peculiar.’

Along the way, there’s a murder mystery to solve, secrets to uncover and an adorable bat to fall in love with.

I really liked Ema and her family but the standout character for me was Silvie. Silvie’s unbridled optimism was the perfect compliment to Ema’s “apocalyptic pessimism”. Her enthusiasm was contagious, her sense of adventure inspired me and she stole my heart. She also reintroduced me to ‘splendiferously’, which the people around me are going to ask me to stop saying any day now.

The Midnight Guild intrigued me and I desperately need to visit the Moonlight Garden.

I need a sequel for many reasons, the most pressing of which are to find out what’s next for Ema and Silvie, and to learn more about ‘Polter-granny’.

‘So, let’s go murderer-hunting, shall we?’

Thank you so much to NetGalley and Puffin, an imprint of Penguin Random House Children’s UK, for the opportunity to read this book.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

From the bestselling author of The Unadoptables, comes a stunning new story about a missing friend, a gothic city, and a secret society full of wonder, invention and maybe a hint of magic…

Find the courage to be extraordinary…

Ema Vašková has always felt different. In a family of famous scientists, there’s not much room for superstition or omens – but they seem to follow Ema wherever she goes. It doesn’t help that she appears to predict events before they happen, and has a peculiar fear of shadows…

When Ema is sent to stay with her eccentric uncle in Prague, she fears she’ll lose the chance to ever fit in. But then she meets Silvie – a girl who finally sees Ema for the extraordinary person that she is. Soon the girls are meeting for secret midnight adventures, and facing Ema’s fears together.

But then disaster strikes. Silvie goes missing – and it’s up to Ema to find her. Now she must gather the courage to hunt the city, find her friend, and uncover the secrets of the one clue Silvie left as to where she might be – inside the mysterious Midnight Guild…

Friday Barnes #10: Undercover – R.A. Spratt

We catch up with Friday Barnes exactly where we left her at the end of No Escape, pondering a job offer that would allow her to work alongside Ian, her “super-hot, brilliant, emotionally unstable boyfriend”. It’s a big decision but first Friday needs to solve some mysteries. Besides, they’re a good cover story for running away. 

‘There’s nothing wrong with running away,’ said Melanie. ‘Not if you’re being chased by a bear or a chainsaw-wielding psychopath.’ 

Melanie’s brother, Binky, is in Norway. His girlfriend is a princess and the only way to make her father semi okay with their relationship was for Binky to sign up to serve two years in the Norwegian army. The only problem is, he might be getting kicked out of the army and if that happens, it’s goodbye Ingrid. 

What mystery does this involve? Dereliction of duty. See, Binky was on guard duty and it appeared he fell asleep on the job but he wasn’t actually asleep. He was knocked unconscious by a polar bear and no one will believe him. Friday thinks the polar bear was framed.

Friday is also busy solving the case of the missing clothes and the case of the missing artwork. 

‘I need you to do that thing where you crawl along the floor sniffing things, then stand up and patronise everyone for five minutes before revealing who did it.’ 

That doesn’t mean there’s no time for playing dress up and dancing. Luckily for Friday, she has an awkward-social-situation ejector button. It works sometimes.

Melanie still managed to snag her fair share of the best lines; when she was awake, that is. Binky just gets more and more adorable every time I see him. 

My favourite character in this book, though, was Arthur. Anyone who hides behind a curtain reading a book because there’s a social gathering going on is my kind of human being. 

‘You are a very strange boy,’ said Friday.
‘I know,’ said Arthur. ‘I try to hide it, but everyone sees right through me.’ 

Ten books in and I’m still loving this series. I can’t wait for the next one!

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

Friday is not running away. Yes, she did get on a train to Norway without telling anyone where she was going – but she had to help Binky. He may or may not have been attacked by a polar bear. Now he’s facing court martial for dereliction of duty. Obviously, Friday had to drop everything and travel 3000 kilometres to solve the case.

The fact that it’s easier to handle her feelings for Ian Wainscott if there’s a continent between them is just a coincidence. When Friday arrives in Oslo, there are so many mysteries to solve. Is someone trying to keep Binky and Princess Ingrid apart? How can a painting leave a museum when all the doors are sealed? And will Melanie persuade Friday to go to the royal ball without wearing a brown cardigan?

If Friday survives her trip to the remote Global Seed Vault, we may find out.

Clara Voyant – Rachelle Delaney

Clara can’t wait to write some groundbreaking investigative journalism pieces for her school newspaper, the Kensington Middle School Gazette. When she’s given the job of writing the paper’s horoscope column instead, Clara is devastated. She doesn’t even believe in horoscopes or anything else she considers “Woo!”

She’s hoping to only have to write the column once to pay her dues and then move on to more interesting articles, like the mystery of the missing school mascot, but the horoscopes Clara has written are coming true. All of a sudden everyone around her thinks she’s clairvoyant, despite her protests that she is most definitely not.

I liked Clara’s mother, who practices herbalism, has a group of new friends that Clara disapproves of and paints her home in colours Clara finds the outrageous, like Ripe Tomato and Mango Tango. Clara’s mother’s friends were a fun, eccentric bunch.

“Seriously?” Was there no end to these people’s weirdness?

I also liked Clara’s best friend, Maeve, who’s enthusiastic, loves crime dramas and wants to star in the school play.

Clara, though? I didn’t like her much at all. I understand that she’s missing her old home and her grandmother, who’s recently moved away, but her enthusiasm for most things was underwhelming at best and her attitude needed a serious realignment for the majority of the book. I didn’t like the way she judged everything she didn’t personally believe in and the people who did believe in those things.

“You can’t predict the future,” she told herself aloud. Could she?

I would have loved to have explored the Mystic Mart, which is like “Walmart, but with voodoo dolls.” Although we do solve the mystery of who stole the school mascot, we never learn the identity of the Counterfeit Kid.

Thank you so much to NetGalley and Puffin, an imprint of Penguin Random House Canada Young Readers, for the opportunity to read this book.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

Clara can’t believe her no-nonsense grandmother has just up and moved to Florida, leaving Clara and her mother on their own for the first time. This means her mother can finally “follow her bliss,” which involves moving to a tiny apartment in Kensington Market, working at a herbal remedy shop and trying to develop her so-called mystical powers. Clara tries to make the best of a bad situation by joining the newspaper staff at her new middle school, where she can sharpen her investigative journalistic skills and tell the kind of hard-news stories her grandmother appreciated. But the editor relegates her to boring news stories and worse … the horoscopes.

Worse yet, her horoscopes come true, and soon everyone at school is talking about Clara Voyant, the talented fortune-teller. Clara is horrified – horoscopes and clairvoyance aren’t real, she insists, just like her grandmother always told her. But when a mystery unfolds at school, she finds herself in a strange situation: having an opportunity to prove herself as an investigative journalist … with the help of her own mystical powers. 

Playing Beatie Bow – Ruth Park

Spoilers Ahead! (marked in purple)

‘It’s Beatie Bow,’ shrieked Mudda in a voice of horror, ‘risen from the dead!’

If you’re an Australian of a certain age it’s practically a given that this book was one of your early high school English class assigned readings. You probably spent so much time second guessing what the author meant, trawling through the text for themes and writing essay after essay about characters, plot and location that even the sight of this book may make your heart sink.

You may even even remember watching the 1986 movie in your classroom on one of those combined TV and VHS contraptions; your teacher would have rolled it into your room on a metal trolley. My takeaway from the movie was that the girl who played Beatie Bow was someone I knew from Home and Away (it’s an Australian thing).

I liked this book in spite of myself in high school, even though my English teacher did everything in their power to make me hate it, what with their dreaded essays and overanalysing almost every single aspect of it. When my library ordered a new copy of it I wondered whether it would stand the test of time. It turns out it both does and doesn’t.

‘But I didna mean to bring you here, I didna know it could be done, heaven’s truth.’

The story, with Abigail accidentally following Beatie Bow back in time to 1873, is still quite interesting. As a kid I had no interest in history but I found the details of The Rocks in both Abigail’s present and Beatie’s fascinating in this reread. I was less interested in the prophecy that saw Abigail cast as the Stranger when I was a kid. Now I want to know more about how the Gift works. I’ve decided I don’t like Abigail or Beatie; I’m pretty sure I liked both of them when I was a kid. I was never a fan of the insta-love.

In my English class there was no discussion about the age gap between Abigail and Judah, no mention of Uncle Samuel’s mental health and no analysis of the sentences that made me cringe during this reread, those featuring racism, ableism and body shaming. Then there’s the fact that Abigail is kidnapped and almost forced into prostitution. I have no memory of my English teacher mentioning that at all.

This reread has made me wonder what I’d think of other English class reads as an adult. I may need to revisit some more.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

The game is called Beatie Bow and the children play it for the thrill of scaring themselves.

But when Abigail is drawn in, the game is quickly transformed into an extraordinary, sometimes horrifying, adventure as she finds herself transported to a place that is foreign yet strangely familiar …

Let’s Go, Little Roo – Renée Treml

Little Roo wants to play with the other joeys and she would love to have a friend but she’s scared. It’s all new to her and she’s shy.

But Little Roo wanted to stay hidden even more.

With her mother’s encouragement she is brave enough to peek outside of the pouch. It’s then that she realises she’s not the only one who’s afraid of new things.

This is such a sweet picture book, with Little Roo discovering that when she is brave enough to try new things, they’re not as scary as she first thought.

The illustrations are beautiful and Little Roo is very expressive (when she’s not hiding in her mother’s pouch). The grayscale of the animals set against the soft pastels of the backgrounds makes the book itself feel non-threatening.

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I can easily imagine other shy joeys borrowing some of Little Roo’s courage and taking the leap into some fun new experiences.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

‘Come along, Little Roo!’ called Mummy. ‘It’s time to go.’

Deep down, Little Roo wants to play, but everything here is new and different … and a little bit scary. With Mummy by her side, will Little Roo be brave enough to venture out?

Favourite Australian picture book creator Renée Treml is back with this gentle, comforting story of a shy kangaroo joey.

There’s an Alien in Your Book – Tom Fletcher

Illustrations – Greg Abbott

It’s time for another Who’s in Your Book? book. This book’s Who is an adorable little alien whose spaceship has crashed through its pages.

I managed to find an excerpt at Penguin UK so prepare yourself for image overload!

The interaction begins almost straight away because we need to find out just Who has invaded our book.

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No! Don’t be mean to our potential intergalactic friend. What would Mulder think if he saw you being anything less than welcoming?

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See what you did? Poor little guy.

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I’ll help! May I come with you, happy Alien friend?

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Oh, no. Our travel plans have been delayed. [I will not make a comment about 2020. I will not make a comment about 2020.]

It’s now up to you, dear reader, to keep following the instructions to help Alien. Along the way we’re reminded that diversity is wonderful, with a message of inclusion. And there’s a bonus cameo from Monster so I’m a pretty happy camper.

I really enjoy how interactive this series is. As usual, Greg Abbott’s illustrations bring our new little Who to life, with all of their emotions clearly depicted, and the colours are as vibrant and fun as I’ve come to expect.

I just hope there’s room on the spaceship for me.

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

Tom Fletcher and Greg Abbott have created a new interactive adventure, this time featuring an adorable alien who has crash-landed in YOUR book!

You’ll have to help Alien back up into space, because aliens don’t belong on Earth … do they?

This sequel to bestsellers There’s a Monster in Your Book and There’s a Dragon in Your Book is packed full of interactive fun, with a gentle message about openness, acceptance and inclusion that will speak to the very youngest readers.

There’s a Superhero in Your Book – Tom Fletcher

Illustrations – Greg Abbott

Superhero is trying to save this book from their nemesis, The Scribbler, who is “scribbling all over your book with her crayons!”

But Superhero can’t do it alone.

Readers can help Superhero by completing various activities, including tapping and lifting the book.

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Fans of this series will find some familiar faces along the way, all of whom need help from the reader. Kids will love the interaction and parents will love the message, because the strongest superpower isn’t strength or speed; it’s something we can all do.

I love Greg Abbott’s illustrations. They’re colourful, the expressions are easy to read and there’s something so cute about a superhero sticking out their tongue to help them concentrate.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

Whoosh! A superhero has landed in your book! A new interactive adventure from the team that brought you There’s a Monster in Your Book and its companions.

Use the power of your imagination to unlock Superhero’s superpowers. But you’d better act fast before The Scribbler ruins your book completely! Readers will enjoy interactively tapping, stretching, and whizzing this book around as they help Superhero defeat the villain and save the day! As he did in all of the companion books, Tom Fletcher invites interactive fun while delivering a satisfying twist that celebrates the power of kindness and the true meaning of being a hero and a friend.

Atticus Van Tasticus – Andrew Daddo

Illustrations – Stephen Michael King

“Together we’re goin’ piratin’.”

Ahoy, me hearties! It be Talk Like a Pirate Day and I be watchin’ o’er Atticus and his crew from the crows nest of The Grandnan.

Ye see, when Van Tasticus lads and lassies reach their tenth birthday they get to plunder one piece o’ treasure from Grandnan Van Tasticus’ giant shed. They be needin’ to choose their bounty wisely as that be the only loot they get.

When it be Atticus’ birthday his landlubbing days be o’er as he be choosin’ a ship. Blimey!

Atticus and his crew set sail, seekin’ treasure and adventure. There be walkin’ the plank, a stowaway and some surprises.

This be the first in a new series. There be smiles for ye scallywags and details in the pictures that ye ol’ seadogs will appreciate, from well known paintings in Grandnan’s shed to Muscles and Mullet channelin’ their inner Rose and Jack on the bow of The Grandnan.

If ye be worryin’ about what yet scallywag be readin’, thar be a crew member that be sayin’ “crap”.

I plundered me a signed copy of this book. If ye be putting yer mark on a pirate book, this be how ye do it right! Aaarrr!

I be givin’ this treasure four Jolly Rogers. 🏴‍☠️🏴‍☠️🏴‍☠️🏴‍☠️

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

A ten-year-old pirate captain? Absurd? Not in the world of Atticus Van Tasticus, a fabulously funny new illustrated junior fiction series from the brilliant and whacky creative minds of Andrew Daddo and Stephen Michael King.

1750, when times were tough and teeth were rotten …

As part of an ancient family tradition, young Atticus Van Tasticus narrowly escapes a life down the coal mines – or worse, going to school – when he gets to choose the gift of a pirate ship from his Grandnan’s treasure pile. 

It’s a choice that will change the course of history – well, OK, his story, at least. Atticus pulls together a rag-tag bunch misfits – AHEM – a tough, brilliant crew, and sets out to wreak havoc – I mean – live a piratin’ life. 

With little else to his name, Atticus has a taste for adventure, beauty and danger – where any minute might be your last, and your next minute could be your best ( … if only they could get off the dock).

The Truth About Keeping Secrets – Savannah Brown

When you live in a fishbowl, everything seems bigger, magnified, and no one was safe. People said that, in Pleasant Hills, everyone got their scandal. Fifteen minutes of infamy. I was to get more.

Sydney’s father, the only therapist in Pleasant Hills, has died. Sydney isn’t convinced her dad’s car accident was accidental. After all, he knew all of his clients’ secrets and maybe one of those secrets got him killed. And why was June Copeland, golden girl of Pleasant Hills, at his funeral?

The November of my junior year became permanently etched into my mind as the first month of June.

Told in a strangely beautiful way, this is a story about a grief that’s so pervasive it feels like it could eat you alive, fear so tangible it may choke you if you don’t find a way to escape or confront it, and obsession disguised as love.

Abstract is scarier than physical. Unknown is scarier than known – not because of what it is, but because of all the things it could be.

With the heightened drama of adolescence and undercurrents of potential danger and ongoing mystery, I found myself hooked from the first page and wished on more than one occasion that it was socially acceptable to highlight my library book.

June convinced me that we were all open books if only we found the right person to read us.

I was caught up in Sydney’s grief and loneliness from the beginning and liked her, even when she was being a crappy friend, because she was so relatable. I could easily imagine someone thinking and feeling the way she did, and I respected that her grief wasn’t pretty and contained. Her strengths and quirks felt authentic.

I adored Leo and wish I could have gotten to know him better. For a while it seemed like he would get the page time he deserved but gradually he began to feel like he was only there to provide Sydney with a specific skill set.

I enjoyed the mystery surrounding June and liked her complexity but one thing she did that annoyed the hell out of me was, like, how often she, like, said, “like”, like that. I found her character fascinating but, honestly, each time she said “like” I wanted to claw her eyes out. I did have some nostalgic “dude” moments with her though, offset by ‘wow, is “dude” back?’

I did pick up on a few clues early on that gave away some of the spoilery bits but that may be my life experience showing rather than an indication that this book was predictable.

I can’t believe a 22 year old wrote this! I didn’t even know who I was at 22 and here this woman is, writing a book that made me want to keep digging deeper into the lives of book friends I only met a few days ago. I’m definitely going to be looking out for this author’s next novel.

Content warnings include death of a parent, forced outing, bullying, self harm, homophobia, gaslighting, sexual assault, physical abuse, emotional abuse, suicide and mental health. I absolutely love it when an author has the sensitivity to provide content warnings for their novels. Savannah’s warnings can be found here.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

Sydney’s dad is the only psychiatrist for miles around their small Ohio town.

He is also unexpectedly dead.

Is Sydney crazy, or is it kind of weird that her dad-a guy whose entire job revolved around other peoples’ secrets-crashed alone, with no explanation?

And why is June Copeland, homecoming queen and the town’s golden child, at his funeral?

As the two girls grow closer in the wake of the accident, it’s clear that not everyone is happy about their new friendship.

But what is picture perfect June still hiding? And does Sydney even want to know? 

Super Sidekicks #1: No Adults Allowed – Gavin Aung Than

Junior Justice (JJ) is sick of being the sidekick of the most famous superhero in the world so he decides to form his own team. Together with Flygirl, Dinomite and Goo, these heroes are ready to prove to the adults that they’re capable of doing more than laundry.

JJ is the world’s greatest martial artist, a master in multiple disciplines including Mongolian tickle fighting. Flygirl is the world’s most acrobatic flyer. Dinomite has a degree in quantum mechanics and can speak 47 languages but all anyone wants him to do is transform into different dinosaurs. Goo is, well, pink goo. When Goo is kidnapped by evil Dr Enok it’s up to his new friends to rescue him.

This graphic novel had some great messages for young readers, including looking out for your friends and working together as a team. I found Goo adorable and couldn’t wait for his friends to save him from his creator, Dr Enok, who delighted in abusing and torturing my pink gooey friend.

The illustrations are a lot of fun. I love that this new superhero team is based on Sydney; the Opera House and Sydney Harbour Bridge are featured in several images. I particularly enjoyed the expressions shown on the chapter pages; each chapter number is covered in Goo and they show how he’s feeling in that chapter.

I would have devoured this graphic novel as a kid and am looking forward to the Super Sidekicks’ next adventure, Ocean’s Revenge.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

Superheroes have it easy. They don’t have to clean their secret headquarters, wash the alien bloodstains out of their costumes or be responsible for taking Super Mutt out for a walk. No, they leave all that for their sidekicks like me, while they get all the credit! 

I’m Junior Justice, but you can call me JJ, and I think it’s time we made our own team. 

The Super Sidekicks!

Are you with me? 

Being a superhero sidekick isn’t as fun as you think. You do all the work, beat the bad guys and save the planet, only for your grown-up partner to get all the credit. Junior Justice is sick of it, so he and his sidekick pals, Flygirl, Dinomite and Goo, have decided to form their own super team. 

But before they can start saving the world they’ll have to prove to the adult heroes that they’re more than just sidekicks. And once the evil Dr Enok discovers his favourite pet Goo has left him to join a super team, the world might need saving sooner rather than later!