Posted in Young Adult Fiction

Book Review: Gemina (The Illuminae Files_02)

Gemina: The Illuminae Files_02

By Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff (Allen and Unwin)
PB RRP $22.99     ISBN 9781925266573

Reviewed by Daniela Andrews

Drone attacks, double agents, dangerous parasites and damaged wormholes: Gemina is a worthy sequel to the award-winning international bestseller, Illuminae. As per its prequel, the novel is presented as a file comprising communications in various forms – emails, radio messages, tribunal transcripts, instant messages and surveillance footage summaries. (Fans of the flawed artificial intelligence system from Illuminae will be pleased to recognise AIDAN’s input too!)

The Gemina file also contains pages from the private journal of its protagonist, Hanna Donnelly, whose artistic black and white sketches (by bestselling author Marie Lu) grace the pages of the novel throughout. The novel’s creative design truly renders it a work of ‘science fiction meets art’. The text can be mirrored, upside-down, circular … even sideways. There are graphic explosions and artworks comprised of binary numbers. This is a novel that will catch the attention of all your fellow commuters on the train (who will crane their necks, curiously, for a glimpse of the title)!

The Illuminae file explained the atrocities committed by BeiTech on Planet Kerenza. The Gemina file is about BeiTech’s assault on the space station Heimdall and the approaching Hypatia (with Illuminaesurvivor, Kady Grant, onboard). The story commences with the trial of the BeiTech Industries director (and an immediate dawning on the reader’s part of who was behind the attacks). It is very much the story of two new characters, Hanna and Nik, and their attempts to save themselves during the attack on Heimdall. Plus their station crew. And the Hypatia survivors. Oh and, as it turns out, the entire universe. Easy, right?

This fast-paced, 659-page thriller is bound to leave you wanting more. I’d highly recommend reading Illuminae first – not everything is explained in the sequel. It’s also nice to feel an attachment to the report writers, as well as have an appreciation for AIDAN’s eccentricities! Author team, Kaufman and Kristoff, have written another superbly layered novel, calling on us to analyse the reports in our own way … all the while remembering that we’re only being shown what somebody else wants us to see. The amusing banter between the characters is quite enjoyable … as is the moment when the authors kill off a couple of other bestselling YA authors. (Gasp!)

This review was originally published on the Buzz Words website:

Posted in Children's Reference Books

Book Review: 2016-17 Big Bash Book

2016-17 Big Bash Book

By Daniel Lane (Allen and Unwin)
HB RRP $29.99     ISBN 9781760291419

Reviewed by Daniela Andrews

This highly visual sporting reference guide to the upcoming sixth season of the KFC Big Bash League (BBL) should appeal to T20 cricket fans of all ages. It is the second BBL guide in the series – award-winning sports journalist, Daniel Lane, also wrote one for the fifth season.

Lane covered the tournament for Fairfax Media last year and his wealth of knowledge (and passion for the BBL) definitely shines through in this guide. There is a lot to absorb!

It is presented in a full-colour, glossy, magazine-style layout with a great balance between photographs and text. It opens with an introduction to the BBL, including an article on the farewell to Mike Hussey, and a piece by Adam Gilchrist on the popularity of last season’s BBL.

There are informative, double-page spreads on the eight BBL and WBBL (Women’s Big Bash League) teams. Each section includes statistics, a fifth-season performance summary, a sixth-season prediction and the team’s game draw.

Interviews with eight selected players reveal, amongst other things, their personal mottos (such as ‘Life begins at the end of your comfort zone’). There’s also a section showcasing 32 notable players (‘Big Performers’). The book concludes with entertaining ‘Gobsmacking Moments’ from the fifth season. (Yes, the #WatermelonBoy phenomenon is in it!)

A glossary of cricket terms and abbreviations has been included in the back of the book, along with the T20 rules. The inside front and back cover are marked ‘Autographs’, encouraging readers to take the guide along to the games. (The design might make it a little tricky to find information quickly, during a game. It would be great to have an index of players in next season’s edition, perhaps!)

The guide will make a worthy companion in the lead-up to, and during, the sixth-season of the BBL (20th December, 2016 – 28th January, 2017).

The information is separated into habitats, with a selection of 16 animals per spread. The list of habitats is quite extensive and impressive: Deserts, Mangroves, Mallee and Acacia Scrublands, Waterways, Forests and Woodlands, Seashore, Rainforests, Heathlands, Tropical Wetlands, Alpine and Urban. Each habitat is introduced with 1–2 paragraphs describing its unique features, climate conditions and importance to the ecosystem. Each is accompanied with a small map of Australia, colour-coded to show the locations of that habitat.

Each section of the book comprises four pages. The first double page spread (which opens with the habitat information) includes a large look-and-find illustration. The margins feature small pictures of 16 animals that are hiding in the main picture. Each of these animals is described in further detail on the double page spread that follows. The font is on the small size, as a result, but the writing is great – Cronin has focused on lesser known facts about each animal and perfectly summarised these with an entertaining caption beneath each species name. For example, the caption for the spotted cuscus is ‘smelly chest’, and the paragraph beneath explains how smelly oil from the male’s chest is rubbed onto tree branches to mark out a territory.

The illustrations by botanical artist, Marion Westmacott, are in full-colour and look extremely realistic – some almost photographic in quality! The endpapers feature a lovely trail of animals, first wandering into the book and later wandering out. The pages of the book are glossy and white throughout, which really helps lift the illustrations off the paper and bring the detail to life.

The book will appeal to kids who love Australian wildlife, particularly those aged between 6 and 12. It would be a great addition to the classroom shelf, especially beside existing collaborations by the same author and illustrator.

This review was originally published on the Buzz Words website:

Posted in Children's Activity Books

Book Review: Alison Lester’s Wonderful World

Alison Lester’s Wonderful World 

By Alison Lester (Allen and Unwin)
HB RRP $19.99     ISBN 9781760293130

Reviewed by Daniela Andrews

I’ve managed to stay detached from the adult colouring-in craze, but it turns out I just hadn’t met the right colouring book. This breathtaking collection of black and white pictures by Australian Children’s Laureate, Alison Lester, has me rushing out to buy a set of pencils, pronto. Oh, but isn’t it for children, you say? Sure it is – for children aged 4 to 100! Fans of Alison Lester’s work (ahem, yours truly) will delight in the opportunity to — dare I say it — live vicariously, by personally recreating the beautiful spreads we loved in Magic Beach, Kissed by the Moon, Noni the Pony and Imagine.

There are fantastic tips from Alison for budding artists that make this more than just a colouring book. The endpapers are collages of Alison’s works, annotated with suggestions like ‘always leave a little bit of white in eyes to make them sparkle’ or ‘you can colour smoothly or roughly’. There’s also an introductory section, ‘My Drawing Tips’, with some background info on Alison’s love of drawing. She demonstrates the effect of different mediums by illustrating the same bird with a biro, paint brush, wax crayon, charcoal, etc. She encourages readers not to ‘stay inside the lines’, but to add their own drawings in amongst the pages.

Some will open up their favourite Alison Lester book and set it up beside their picture, copying the colours and textures as best they can. Others will completely reinvent the spreads with their own interpretations. Regardless, it is wonderful that she has offered us a chance to do so … and shared some of her artistic secrets too!

This review was originally published on the Buzz Words website:

Posted in Young Adult Fiction

Book Review: The Twelve Days of Dash & Lily

The Twelve Days of Dash & Lily

By Rachel Cohn and David Levithan (Allen and Unwin)
PB RRP $19.99     ISBN 9781760293826

Reviewed by Daniela Andrews

First there was Dash and Lily’s Book of Dares, a romantic tale of how two teenagers met and fell in love via a series of challenges in a Moleskin notebook hidden in a bookshop. Now we have this festive, amusing sequel that checks in on the adorable couple twelve days ahead of Lily’s favourite day – Christmas Day.

Turns out that, one year on, things are not going so well. Lily is sad and withdrawn. Her grandfather’s recovery from a heart attack has been slow. Her brother, Langston, is moving out. Her parents are considering a move to Connecticut. She feels disconnected from her boyfriend, Dash, whom she loves but doesn’t believe the feeling is mutual. She is also indifferent to Christmas itself this year, raising alarm bells with Langston who promptly calls Dash for help. They need to capitalise on her favourite time of year to reach out to her somehow.

Co-writers Rachel Cohn and David Levithan (who brought usNick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist) have a playful, complementary writing style with an unusual technique – their books aren’t planned at all. Each writes a chapter from a particular character’s perspective. Once a chapter is written, it is sent to the other who then picks up where the story left off:

‘What happens along the way is usually a complete surprise to us as writers’. (Cohn)

The result, in this case, is a whimsical, hipster-esque, laugh-out-loud romantic comedy set in New York City at Christmastime. Each chapter is written from the perspective of either Dash or Lily, and is dated to help readers keep track of the flow of events.

The first twelve chapter titles are comically twisted to reflect the true-love offerings in the carol, The Twelve Days of Christmas. There are several references to pop music that will be appreciated by the target audience (15 years and older), including an invented hip-hop track so annoying that it made me groan and roll my eyes whenever it was referred to. (Nowthat’s great writing!) This is an entertaining read with a touch of absurdity … and lots of Christmas fun!

This review was originally published on the Buzz Words website:

Posted in Children's Reference Books

Book Review: Natural World

Natural World
Natural World

By Amanda Wood & Mike Jolley, illustrated by Owen Davey (Murdoch Books)
HB RRP $35.00     ISBN 9781847807519

Reviewed by Daniela Andrews

‘… over millions of years, since life appeared on Earth, each animal and every plant has evolved to look, behave and procreate in the way that gives it its best chance of survival …’

This information book, the first in the ‘Curiositree’ range, provides a compilation of 67 highly visual charts to help readers understand this connection.

The ‘Editor’s Note’ quotes Albert Einstein and Mark Twain, citing natural curiosity as a way for humans to peacefully co-exist with nature. To spark the curiosity of the book’s target audience (7 years and up), it has been compiled in a way that allows the reader to begin at any page they like. The chart margins include arrows propelling readers forward or backward through the book to other charts of relevance. This is great for people who don’t necessarily want to read the book from start to finish, allowing them to forge their own discovery path.

Most of the charts are double-page spreads, rich in text. Each chart is colour-coded with marginal icons. Yellow charts are about natural habitats (eg ‘Life in Tropical Rainforests’). Orange charts are about plant and animal species (eg ‘Butterflies and Moths’). Blue charts are about wildlife adaptations (eg ‘Super Spines’). The hardcover book, with thick matte pages, features three ribbons in corresponding colours to help readers bookmark their journey.

The book includes a comprehensive index, and a helpful introduction with a diagram showing how to use the book’s arrows. There is a contents page listing the chart titles. It might have been helpful for the contents listings to reflect the chart colours, but it is also nice to discover these when flipping through the book.

A lovely feature of this title is the dust jacket – it unfolds into a large, glossy poster (‘Brilliant Birds’) that will look great on the wall!

The illustrations by award-winning Owen Davey have been created digitally, but are surprisingly detailed and textured.

There is lots of information to absorb in this book, both in illustration and in text, making it a great reference for understanding how nature is connected … and indeed for encouraging one’s curiosity!

This review was originally published on the Buzz Words website: