Little Puggle’s Song by Vikki Conley

Published: 1st September 2019Goodreads badge
Publisher:
New Frontier Press
Illustrator: Helene Magisson
Pages: 32
Format: Picture Book
★   ★   ★   ★   ★  – 5 Stars

Puggle the echidna has just one wish: to sing. But every time he tries to make a sound, nothing comes out.

Can Puggle find his voice in time to join the bush choir?

This is a beautiful story and it is the perfect length that it makes you emotionally invested in this event and magical story. Puggle desperately wants to sing in the bush choir but as Puggle is well aware, echidnas have no song.

Conley introduces us to a host of wonderful native birds and wildlife, a great selection other than the standard Australian animals that are depicted in these types of books. There are Willy Wagtails, Cassowaries, and Blue Wrens, but there are also the iconic kangaroos, cockatoos, and koalas.

Through the story you learn about the different noises and sounds the animals make but Conley keeps it within the narrative. It never becomes comical or mean, the animals are honest and sympathetic about Puggle having no sound but there isn’t much they can do about it. I love Conley’s gentle approach that is filled with heart and is the perfect balance between engaging, sweet, and educational.

Magisson’s illustrations are incredible and so sweet. I love her realistic depictions of the Australian animals but there is also a magical element as well. The colours are bright and detailed, showing off the variety of animals and bushland surroundings. Some pages were filled with gorgeous colours and beautiful scenes, the small details are delightful as well with other animal expressions just some of the evidence where Maggison has gone that little extra mile.

Another thing I loved is that Conley doesn’t change who Puggle is, he is still able to wish and hope and Conley ends it on a beautiful note which is a nice surprise to the reader. I truly loved this book and both times I have read it I became emotional and swept up in this dear little echidna’s story. A true gem of a book that everyone should read.

You can purchase Little Puggle’s Song via the following

QBD | Booktopia

Dymocks | WorderyAngus and Robinson

 Fishpond | Amazon | Amazon Aust

Long Lost Review: After the First Death by Robert Cormier

Long Lost Reviews is a monthly meme created by Ally over at Ally’s Appraisals which is posted on the second Thursday of every month. The aim is to start tackling your review backlog. Whether it’s an in-depth analysis of how it affected your life, one sentence stating that you only remember the ending, or that you have no recollection of reading the book at all. 

Published: 3 December 1998Goodreads badge
Publisher:
Puffin
Pages: 240
Format: Paperback
Genre: Young Adult
★   ★  ★  ★  ★ – 5 Stars

On the outskirts of a small American town, a bus-load of young children is being held hostage. The hijackers are a cold and ruthless group, opposed to the secret government agency Inner Delta.

At the centre of the battle are three teenagers. Miro is the terrorist with no past and no emotions. Kate is the bus driver, caught up in the nightmare, and Ben is the General’s son who must act as a go-between. 

Death may be the only escape.

I found this book in our school library when I was 13 or 14 years old so it would have been 2002 or 2003. I was amazed that this kind of thing could be written in a book. I loved the characters and their story and how they got there. Cormier brought them to life so easily, you understood who they were with only a few words.

I also loved how Cormier didn’t shy away from anything but at the same wrote without being too detailed about what was going on. It was a perfect balance of a sensitive topic alongside very restrained graphic content. I don’t know whether my views have changed after all these years, I may have to reread it and see if it was as simple as all that but it would be a welcome read.

I remember recommending this book to everyone at the time and it was something that stuck with me for years afterwards. There are key scenes which have never left me and it is an amazing story about courage and fear and things you can’t change no matter what. There were no apologies of what was being written and it was realistic but also suitably held back for the intended audience.

What was interesting too was the points of view offered. Not often do we see the inner workings of those who terrorise and have control in these nasty situations, even more so to get their backstories of how and why they do the horrible things they do, but Cormier does, and he does it well. You don’t get sympathetic exactly but it does open your mind. You also get the perspective of those in those situations, as well as those seemingly powerless on the outside. It was a fascinating triangle of seeing the same event from different viewpoints.

It is not for everyone, as I said very touchy topic matter and it isn’t the most innocent story around the children involved, but it still a fantastic read and one that stays with you.

A Lifetime of Impossible Days by Tabitha Bird

Published: 4th June 2019Goodreads badge
Publisher:
Viking
Pages: 395
Format: Paperback
Genre: Fiction
★   ★   ★   ★   ★ – 5 Stars

Meet Willa Waters, aged 8 . . . 33 . . . and 93.

On one impossible day in 1965, eight-year-old Willa receives a mysterious box containing a jar of water and the instruction: ‘One ocean: plant in the backyard.’ So she does – and somehow creates an extraordinary time slip that allows her to visit her future selves.

On one impossible day in 1990, Willa is 33 and a mother-of-two when her childhood self magically appears in her backyard. But she’s also a woman haunted by memories of her dark past – and is on the brink of a decision that will have tragic repercussions . . .

On one impossible day in 2050, Willa is a silver-haired, gumboot-loving 93-year-old whose memory is fading fast. Yet she knows there’s something she has to remember, a warning she must give her past selves about a terrible event in 1990. If only she could recall what it was.

Can the three Willas come together, to heal their past and save their future, before it’s too late?

This is a beautiful story filled with magical realism, love, family, forgiveness, finding yourself. Told over  a few months and across a few decades, Bird explores the fascinating ability to change the past from the present and affect the future from the past. It’s amazing how through a simple action so much can change and I love how Willa knows it works in the future, but she doesn’t understand how it works in the past.

I loved Willa from the very start. I love her at 93 when she is trying to live the wild and quirky life she wants, but she also is struggling with losing her memory and generally being old. From early on Bird gives us a great insight to who she is with her thoughts and language and how she interacts with those around her.

Willa’s forgetfulness weaves into the writing quite well and you have to pay attention because it shifts so suddenly it feels real. One moment knowledge is there, the next it has drifted away. When you see it happening it is quite sad, but that is also what makes this story work, it keeps the reader in the dark for later secrets to come out and it plays into whether Willa is reliable, dreaming, making up stories, or all three. Something which helps understand those around her as well.

I also loved young Willa and middle Willa for their own reasons. Eight year old Willa is strong and fierce, she is a devoted sister and seeing her trying to do her best but be stuck in the body of a child breaks your heart, but it makes you love her more as she takes on the responsibility and burden of saving her family and herself.

As the story progresses you see the changes in each of the Willas; not just because of events that have happened or haven’t happened, but seeing them grow. There is a clear tone difference in how Bird write them which is wonderful. You can clearly see the different ages and life experiences coming through.

There is no chance of confusing the three different life stages as Bird separates each perspective with the date and age of Willa with each alternating chapter. But even when they are together they seamlessly interact and each has a descriptive name which helps identify them. There are also beautiful pen decorations throughout which are not only beautiful, but help keep track of where and when they story takes place. Gorgeous title pages also break up the different months to help understand the events are happening at the same time but over different years and lives.

One this Bird does remarkably well is managing the overlapping nature of the story. The things we’ve seen come back again and the present day is also the past. We’re teased with snippets of information, uncertain memories and information about characters and history that are in the past but also in the future. It was an excellent exercise of the mind because you keep these three people in your head, each their own character, own person with own lives, but they are also one in the same.

I adore the imagination that Bird has explored in this story. It has magic and it has heart and love, but there are also serious issues happening. The way Bird has approached these issue is with restraint but doesn’t shy away from the realities either.

You can purchase A Lifetime of Impossible Days via the following

QBD | Booktopia | Book Depository

Dymocks | Angus and Robinson

 Fishpond | Amazon | Amazon Aust | Audible

The Vanishing Stair (#2) by Maureen Johnson

Published: 22nd January 2019 (print)/22th January 2019 (audio) Goodreads badge
Publisher:
Katherine Tegen Books/Harper Audio
Pages: 384/9 hrs and 13 mins
Narrator: Kate Rudd
Format: Audiobook
Genre: Young Adult / Mystery
★   ★   ★   ★   ★  – 5 Stars

All Stevie Bell wanted was to find the key to the Ellingham mystery, but instead she found her classmate dead. And while she solved that murder, the crimes of the past are still waiting in the dark. Just as Stevie feels she’s on the cusp of putting it together, her parents pull her out of Ellingham academy.

For her own safety they say. She must move past this obsession with crime. Now that Stevie’s away from the school of topiaries and secret tunnels, and her strange and endearing friends, she begins to feel disconnected from the rest of the world. At least she won’t have to see David anymore. David, who she kissed. David, who lied to her about his identity—son of despised politician Edward King. Then King himself arrives at her house to offer a deal: He will bring Stevie back to Ellingham immediately. In return, she must play nice with David. King is in the midst of a campaign and can’t afford his son stirring up trouble. If Stevie’s at school, David will stay put.

The tantalising riddles behind the Ellingham murders are still waiting to be unravelled, and Stevie knows she’s so close. But the path to the truth has more twists and turns than she can imagine—and moving forward involves hurting someone she cares for. In New York Times bestselling author Maureen Johnson’s second novel of the Truly Devious series, nothing is free, and someone will pay for the truth with their life. 

Johnson has done an amazing job with this sequel because it brings all the mystery of the first book and as the clues and evidence unravel it also raises new questions which I totally wasn’t expecting. We may find out the answers to some of the questions in Truly Devious, but the answers to the questions raised in The Vanishing Stair are as equally intriguing and in a way a whole lot more dangerous. The characters we fell in love with in Truly Devious are back, the events of the previous story still there but with a small jump in time. We get to see how the school and students have coped after the events of book one and how Stevie is managing as well.

One of the best things of this story is how Johnson has treated her characters. I love how each person at Ellingham have their uniqueness explored in a respectful and honest way. Stevie’s passion for true crime, as well as her own anxiety and self-care techniques are part of her day to day, and Nate’s introvert nature is accepted, jested about sometimes between friends but is never seen as a problem. The reasons that these students have been accepted into Ellingham is openly welcomed and celebrated and Johnson constantly reminds us that these are gifted kids who have a passion and a talent beyond the norm that they need to be free to explore and develop.

There is drama and mystery, all the things a good crime story should have. Johnson doesn’t hold back from the realities of this kind of story but she also tries not to be too gruesome or detailed. There is a good balance between what Stevie is capable of finding out due to her position, but has all the fun or sneaking out and maybe being in places you should go. The 21st century issue of technology with mysteries is used to the story’s advantage and using these modern conveniences doesn’t essentially make anything easier but it helps when Stevie is confined to a school in the mountains and has no actual job or resources to use beyond her immediate surroundings and her desire to find answers.

Rudd is once again a great narrator. Her voice captures Stevie’s uncertainties and her passion, you can see these characters come to life in your mind and all the teenage awkwardness, uncomfortableness and enthusiasm is all expressed perfectly. Her pace is wonderful and her tone keeps you engaged throughout.

This is a series you must read in order so if you haven’t already, you should check out Truly Devious. There is a third book coming soon so if you become enraptured in this series like I have, you won’t have to wait long.

You can purchase The Vanishing Stair via the following

QBD | Booktopia | Book Depository

Dymocks | WorderyAngus and Robinson

 Fishpond | Amazon | Amazon Aust | Audible

Llama Destroys the World by Jonathan Stutzman

Published: 7th May 2019Goodreads badge
Publisher:
Henry Holt and Co.
Illustrator: Heather Fox
Pages: 40
Format: Picture Book
★   ★   ★   ★   ★  – 5 Stars

What happens when you mix one hungry llama, a big pile of cake and a whole lot of dancing? Get ready to party, because the end of the world is nigh…

This a laugh out loud book which I can attest too as I handed it around at work and watched staff members cover their mouths in an attempt to stifle their unexpected outburst of laughter and not disrupt the entire library. The story is divine, the language is divine, the illustrations are divine. It’s simple, it’s weird, and it’s perfection.

I initially thought this was going to be like The Very Hungry Caterpillar but I was so very wrong. Stutzman has found the sweet spot where humour and story combine and has the right combination of proper narrative, and whatever makes things a hundred times funnier when said with a touch of absurd, surreal nonsense.

The joy of reading this comes from the formatting as well as the story. The tone Stutzman has used as well as the pages containing only one sentence or only a few sentences means you are forced to stop and pause which adds some magnitude. It’s the pace that you read this which makes it quite matter of fact and quite serious, there is a countdown of days as we know what is going to happen (the world ending), we just aren’t sure of how just yet.

The illustrations are fabulous. The expression on Llama’s face, the simple yet telling pictures of cake and world destruction are delightful. There is no need for overly complicated detail or depictions. Fox captures the mood and the disaster, and she does so while embodying Stutzman’s tone. She also beautifully captures the simple, majestic delight that is Llama. I also need to take a moment to thank Fox for immortalising the image of Llama and his groovy butt as he dances in his dancing pants. For that I thank you.

I have already read this book three times and I never tire of it. It’s unexpected, it’s a fairly fast read which works wonderfully for the style Stutzman has gone for in his writing, and the humour is constant. I love Llama and everything he represents.

You can purchase Llama Destroys the World via the following

QBD | Booktopia | Book Depository

Dymocks | WorderyAngus and Robinson

 Fishpond | Amazon | Amazon Aust

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