Key-bottle creekIn this gritty, realistic wilderness adventure, thirteen-year-old Cort is caught in a battle against a Gulf Coast hurricane. Cort’s father is a local expert on hunting and swamp lore in lower Alabama who has been teaching his son everything he knows. But when a deadly Category 3 storm makes landfall, Cort must unexpectedly put his all skills-and bravery-to the test. One catastrophe seems to lead to another, leaving Cort and two neighbor girls to face the storm as best they can. Amid miles of storm-thrashed wetlands filled with dangerous, desperate wild animals, it’s up to Cort to win-or lose-the fight for their lives.

Cort’s parents are separated and his father continually goes to his mother to convince her to come back. On one of these occasions, a hurricane hits and leaves Cort to try to save their houseboat and keep the neighbours safe.

Cort is no stranger to the landscape around their home. His father leads tours on both land and water throughout the area and Cort accompanies him often. When the storm hits,  Cort finds himself swept away along with the neighbours’ girls. They find themselves in a secluded area with hogs, snakes, spiders, alligators and bears who are fleeing the floods. The three try to find safety, but they are outnumbered and  Cort must find help.

The story is very fast paced with constant action. A fun and on the edge-of-your-seat read for Middle Grade/Teen readers. The book also tackles the tough subject of divorce and dealing with emergencies. The writing is well done and really puts you in the southern U.S. Alabama state of mind. I recommend this one for those that enjoy reading stories with family issues or survival stories involving animals and nature. I enjoyed it and think you will to.


I read this book with the help of and I’m so glad I took the chance.

mccarthy-You Were HereThe Goodreads blurb reads…

“On the anniversary of her daredevil brother’s death, Jaycee attempts to break into Jake’s favourite hideout—the petrifying ruins of an insane asylum. Joined by four classmates, each with their own brand of dysfunction, Jaycee discovers a map detailing her brother’s exploration and the unfinished dares he left behind.

As a tribute to Jake, Jaycee vows to complete the dares, no matter how terrifying or dangerous. What she doesn’t bargain on is her eccentric band of friends who challenge her to do the unthinkable: reveal the parts of herself that she buried with her brother.”

This is a book with really dark themes and though the topic is heavy, Cori executes her ideas in a respectful, heart wrenching manner. I loved the combination between using graphic novel, graffiti art, and traditional book formats, depending on which character is narrating at the time. Each voice screaming to be heard and each making you care about their plight.

You’ll find yourself cheering from the sidelines as the story arc rises to its pinnacle, and I promise there’s a roller coaster to make it through to the end.

Well worth the time and money for anyone who thought John Green’s books were a little too tear-inducing, but still want to step outside their comfort zones.

Hardcover, 400 pages

Expected publication: March 1st 2016 by Sourcebooks Fire

ISBN 1492617040 (ISBN13: 9781492617044)


Mandy Wrangles_2_tnMandy’s swooning over this recipe book!




Evans-Not Just Jam by Matthew EvansWarning: giving a balanced review of this little book without any of the oohing and ahhing it prompted upon landing in my hands will be almost impossible. I’ll admit I’m a sucker for a beautifully presented book – whether it be a work of fiction or fact – and Not Just Jam is just that. I’m also a sucker for food preserving (ugh, I hate waste, and it’s a fun way to get the best out of a suburban veggie patch) with a special interest in long-lasting sauces and chutneys. Not only is Not Just Jam a sturdy hardcover with full-page colour photographs for every recipe, but it’s just the right size and weight to hang on to with one hand while you’re stirring a pot of delicious fruit or vegetables, ready to seal into sterilised jars. It’s the type of book that should last the ages (even with the inevitable sticky and stained page-corners) and be passed down to another generation, filled with recipes that evoke memories of ‘home’ and happy times.

Author Matthew Evans is known as Australia’s favourite tree-changer. As a former chef and food critic, he now lives and works in Tasmania as a smallholder, food writer and activist. He’s the star of the SBS TV series ‘Gourmet Farmers’ and has written 11 books including The Dirty Chef, Real Food Companion, Winter on the Farm and Summer on Fat Pig Farm. With credentials like those, obviously Evans knows his stuff. Not Just Jam is his latest offering, and along with the glorious presentation, Evans also proves he can come up with entertaining and super-simple recipes that will work for both those experienced in food preserving as well as absolute beginners.

The book starts out with some general tips on sterilisation and the science of preserving food, without being over-whelming or scary. Lots of books on preserves will recommend a hundred and one different pieces of ‘essential’ equipment, but Evans just gets right down to basics, proving how simple it can be to fill your pantry with jams, relishes and sauces without the need for expensive gear.

The first chapter does cover jam-making, and my favourite recipes have got to be The Quintessential Raspberry Jam (though our home-grown raspberries don’t often last long enough around children to gain the 1kg required) and the Chilli Jam, which is recommended to use with seafood such as mussels and prawns, as well as plain old fried eggs.

Mint Jelly will be the first recipe I’ll give a go, though. Even those with a black gardening thumb can grow wild mint, and we battle with it in our strawberry patch. There are literally four ingredients in this one, and it’s a great way to use up that crazy mint. Blueberry and Balsamic Jelly also sounds intriguing, especially when it’s recommended to swirl through icecream.

So far as actual fruit and veggie preserving goes, I’m looking forward to checking out the Cumquats in Brandy (because we also have a crazy cumquat tree) as well as the Dill Pickled Cucumbers. I’ve tried these a number of times before without much success, but this recipe looks like a winner. The Indian-Style Salted Lime Pickle and Beetroot Relish are more great examples of basic, yet mouth-watering recipes with only a few ingredients and little time needed to devote to something special.

For something a bit swish, try the Five-Spiced Pear Paste (served with cheese and crackers, oh my), or the passionfruit curd, which I wish I knew about six weeks ago when our passionfruit vine was dropping more fruit than we could eat or give away. There’s even recipes here for good old Worcestershire Sauce and a traditional Tomato Passata.

While I’d definitely recommend Not Just Jam for a Mother’s Day or birthday gift, at a RRP of just $35, it’s well-worth purchasing for anyone with even a passing interest in cooking or self-sufficiency. And did I mention it’s gorgeous?


Not Just Jam by Matthew Evans

Hardcover, 208 pages

Published by Murdoch Books

ISBN – 9781743365816


anderson_speakMelinda Sordino is an outcast. No one will talk to her at school. No one will eat with her during lunch breaks. No one will sit with her in class.  It wasn’t always this way. Before she called the cops at a party during the summer, she had friends. Ivy, who now hangs with the artists and thespians; Jessica who moved away; Nicole who hangs out with the Jocks. And Rachel Bruin, Melinda’s best friend, who she thought would stick by her no matter what.

She’s trying to fly under the radar. Has almost completely lost the power of speech. However much it may feel that her life is spiralling out of control, though, she is going to have to find her voice before it is too late.

Speak has been out for almost seventeen years now, and is still a book that crops up on recommendation and best YA reads lists. Mostly because in 2016 Speak is as relevant as it was in 1999. In 2004 the book was adapted to a film of the same name, starring Kristen Stewart.

While Speak has conquered a slew of awards, including the Golden Kite Award and the ALA Best Books for Young Adults since its publication, it is not without its critics. Some have referred to it as ‘soft porn’ and campaigned – sometimes successfully – to have it banned in schools. It’s kind of ironic since the novel is about an issue that girls and women, more often than not, feel silenced about. The fact that the events of this novel are seen as sexual rather than criminal, and that people are campaigning against a novel that might open a dialogue on things that are too often ignored, indicates how important this book and books like it are for young readers.

Rather than a social problem novel, Speak presents as a story about Melinda who is struggling to deal with various problems in her life. Like many teens, she doesn’t have the luxury of a ready support network. Her parents are too busy fighting with each other to notice that she’s not coping. Even when they finally realise that her grades are slipping, they consider it to be due to rebellion or laziness rather than because she’s struggling.

It’s interesting to see how Melinda gains strength as time passes. While she doesn’t have people to turn to, she creates pockets of safety in the world around her. Finding an abandoned janitor’s closet at school, she turns it into a refuge. Art becomes another one. As she finds ways to reclaim herself, she begins to find people that she can trust as well. David Petrakis, the boy who fights for the freedom-to speak as much as Melinda fights to remain silent, is one of them. Her art teacher, Mr Freeman, is another.

The message in Speak is an important one. Not only for the girls this novel is aimed at, but for women too. Without preaching, it explores a world in which a teenage girl needs to find her own source of strength to overcome the obstacles in her life.


Speak – Laurie Halse Anderson

Square Fish (October 22, 1999)

ISBN: 97031267497

Bracken-Passenger coverBel:


I have the audio book, which is a similar cover to the paperback. We see a bottle on the sea. In the reflection is a ship in a bottle, though in the actual bottle there is a view of New York City. The olde-worlde script the title is in, fits the story perfectly.


Even the evil characters have their own valid points for being who they are. I’m sure giving each character their own moral code isn’t an easy task, but it is certainly the key to making them believable, easy to relate to, and complex.


I LOVE Etta. Making the best of every situation and gettin’ it done. Girl has a spine and a mind of her own.

Least Favourite

Hmm… This is difficult. Knowing why evil characters are the way they are makes it really hard to hate them. I think I’ll pick Wren. Buffoon in the extreme.


In present day New York, Etta is prepping for her violin performance, and eavesdrops on her Mum and violin tutor arguing. Nothing goes as planned, and she ends up being accosted by one of the other performers.


She wakes up on a ship in 1776. She’s been kidnapped to complete a task, and with the help of Nicholas Carter, she makes moves to get it done so she can go home to 2015.


There’s another book coming and Bracken is the queen of the cliff hanger.


Travelling through time isn’t a new concept, but this is hardly a wishy-washy half-baked idea. Alexandra has wielded her mastery of well written characters and immersive world building to fling us across the centuries at break neck speed.

Hold onto your hats folks. You’re gonna love the ride.


‘Etta stood at the same moment as Chase; only she was the one close enough to land a slap on the officer’s face. The crack of flesh on flesh stunned Nicholas, who’d leapt up to restrain his friend from lunging across the table.

“And these are the actions of a lady.” Wren sputtered.

“Aye,” Chase said approvingly, “and a damn fine one at that.”’ ~ Awkward dinner conversation.




A glass bottle with New York City in side. Underneath the bottle reflects an 18th century ship. The cover alludes to the very different worlds of both main characters.


Five families in the world are born to travel across time. Etta Spencer belongs to one of the families that has almost died out. Nicholas Carter’s family is the most powerful, controlling all timelines that it has knowledge of.


Both Etta and Nicholas are amazing characters. They work well together. I wouldn’t be able to choose a favourite from them.

Least Favourite

For inconsistency only, Sophia. She starts as such a promising character: someone who is able to read the weaknesses of others and exploit them to her advantage. Unfortunately, that initial ability is never touched on again and, in future situations, she proves incapable of reading anything about the people around her.


Etta is preparing for her debut as a concert soloist. Despite her talent, she is debuting later than many of her peers. On the night of her solo, she witnesses the death of her beloved mentor and is shoved back into 1776.


The formidable Ironwood family is after an artefact, and prepared to kill anyone who thwarts their efforts to find it. The patriarch, Cyrus Ironwood, believes that Etta is the key to finding the object.


Mixed feelings. It increases the possibilities for the next novel, but not necessarily in directions that I like. That said, it’s emotionally satisfying.


I really loved this novel. I’ve recommended it to quite a few people already, and am looking forward to the next book in the series.

The fact that Bracken engages the dark parts of history that people usually avoid is a massive bonus, though I would have liked some more detail on those aspects. Does Nicholas interact with other people of colour? Did his foster father? Where did either of them cultivate the idea that race shouldn’t be a barrier?


The moment her realised he would only ever be a valet to a half brother who would never, ever, not in a thousand years, acknowledge him publicly as such, Nicholas had merely swallowed the bile rising in his throat and finished retying Julian’s cravat the way he preferred it to be styled.



I really enjoyed the imagery on the cover: the opposition of ship vs land, also the bottle. I imagine it represents how she feels trapped (she was kidnapped after all).



Etta for sure. She is very witty and funny, and yet outgoing and vulnerable. Nicholas is a close second though!

Least Favourite

Pretty much anybody proud to claim the name if Ironwood. That family has some issues.


Upon the night of her violin debut, Etta is surprised by a fight between her mother and teacher, and suffers something that at first look seems like a panic attack. She witnesses her teacher murdered, and she is pushed into a worm hole by a unknown girl, who jumps with her.


Etta finds that she has special blood in her genes that allows her to time travel. She has been kidnapped under the order of the Eldest Ironwood family member and finds herself on a pirate ship traveling to New York, where she will ultimately be told what her purpose is and who will die next if she doesn’t fulfil his wishes.


Very much a cliff hanger. We are left not knowing how several storylines end and only small details of choices the characters have left. But, as this is a duology all the answers will be answered eventually.


Like Bel, I also listened to the audio book, which I felt was very good. I have never been a fan of time travel novels, and it’s really rare for me to read one that I would recommend. Unfortunately, I found this one fell onto middle ground; it was ok, but I really didn’t care much for the pacing. However, the characters held my interest in the story, and I will most likely pick up the second book to see what happens with Etta and her mother.

“You cannot fathom the distance I would travel for you.”  – Nicholas to Etta



If you were able to travel to any time and place in history, where would you go, and why?

Audio CD

Published January 5th 2016 by Brilliance Audio

ISBN 151136114X (ISBN13: 9781511361149)


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