Stuff, Vessel, Witness

It took me about five lessons to realise Hebrew language studies were not for me. The lecturer finally asked a question I could answer. It had to do with the first seven words of Genesis:

bereshit bara Elokim et hashamaim v’et haarets

He asked what the fourth word signified.

At last! Something I actually knew. I stuck up my hand.

The two-letter combination alef-tav in Genesis 1:1 is invariably untranslated. It occurs often throughout Scripture without any remark but nevertheless it has a profound meaning. The word is comprised of the first letter of the Hebrew alphabet, alef, and the last, tav. It’s the equivalent to the Greek combination of alpha and omega.

However, in Hebrew it’s more than ‘the first and the last’: alef-tav encompasses all 20 letters between these two and every combination of letter. In other words: every word that has ever existed or could possibly exist.

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DM Cornish

The lightning-wielding fulgar, Europe—the Branden Rose and Duchess-in-waiting of Naimes—threw caution to the winds at the end of Book 2, Lamplighter, to rescue Rossamünd from the hands of the black habilist, Grotius Swill.

Although Rossamünd was accused of being a monster—even his name gave away his origin as a rossamünderling, a manikin, a creature born of mud from the dark fens who has all the appearance of a human child—Europe has taken him into her service as her personal factotum. Europe is a terrifying teratologist—a monster-hunter—so it is with considerable anxiety Rossamünd awaits the results of a cruorpunxis, a monster-blood tattoo, stamped on the arm of Fransitart, his old master from the foundlingery.

Will the mark come up after a fortnight? What will it reveal? Is he man or monster?

While waiting back in the city of Brandenbrass, Rossamünd comes to the attention of Pater Maupin, the owner of a gambling den and fighting pit where dogs and monsters duel to the death. Pitying the more kindly-natured creatures trapped there, Rossamünd creates a diversion that helps them escape. Spotted, he is pursued and almost killed; he is saved only by the intervention of the Lapinduce, the Duke of Rabbits, an eons-old monster who lives in a quiet wood in the very heart of the depraved city.

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Rosanne Hawke

Windy Hollow Books

Illustrated by Elizabeth Stanley

On the stair-steppe far away in Pakistan lives a girl of the Kalasha people who yearns for a snow leopard. Shazia’s dream comes true when she finds a lost cub in the forest. She names it Yardil, friend of my heart. But the villagers are troubled. Will their goats be safe when Yardil grows up?

Shazia’s father defends her. The leopard, he says, has been sent for a special purpose. It’s not long before the villagers discover what that purpose is.

Elizabeth Stanley’s charcoal illustrations with their occasional splashes of bright colour deftly evoke the harshness of mountain life on the northern frontier of Pakistan. The slate grey colouring brings out the silence of the steppe and the wild isolation of the mountain beyond the walnut grove.

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Boyz ‘r’ us


Scott Monk

Random House Australia

Mitch is surprised, playing truant from school, to find himself alone in the takeaway where the Thunderjets usually hang out. He’s even more surprised to find that the reason he’s alone is that the gang is down the park, eager for a fight he hasn’t been told about—a challenge for his leadership of the Thunderjets.

Brutal and ambitious, Barry Wheeler is stunned when Mitch turns up and refuses to fight. Mitch may not want to be involved with the gang anymore but Wheeler wants two things: revenge and respect. He can’t get either if Mitch simply hands him the leadership and walks away, intent on getting his life back on track. With ruthless cunning, Wheeler indulges in a spree of violence, blackmail and bribery to try to coerce Mitch back into the twilight underworld where fear rules. The more Mitch tries to distance himself from the drugs, fighting and drinking, the further he is drawn back into a world he starts to realise is about lonely, insecure kids yearning for power.

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Where Arrows Fly

WHERE ARROWS FLY: The Barn Chronicles II

Rosie Boom

HSM Publishing

The ordinary wraps itself in shimmering enchantment on the Boom’s farm in the far north of New Zealand. This real-life story is alight with a captivating glow. The land of Narnia seems to have mysteriously broken through from another dimension and, like one of the Celtic otherworldly ‘thin places’, touched the Boom’s fields and home with a bright, majestic dreaming.

In Where Lions Roar at Night, the first book in the Barn Chronicles, Milly comes to live in a ninety-year old barn with her parents, brothers and sisters. In the middle of the night, savage roars echo over the hill. So begins a time of settling into a farm where adventures are just waiting to happen.

A pervasive effervescent delight bubbles through both books, creating an atmosphere where simple pleasures become learning adventures and where accidents and disappointments are dealt with so sensitively that they have an air of mere light and momentary troubles.

Where Lions Roar at Night and Where Arrows Fly have been compared to Laura Ingalls Wilder’s classic Little House on the Prairie but that is to underestimate their sparkle, vivacity and contemporary relevance.

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With My Knife


Andrew Lansdown


The day before his birthday, Colyn finds a knife in a potato patch. The blade is black and the handle has a design of a circle with a tapering triangle inside.  His dad remembers losing it when he was a boy. But it looks as if it has been regularly polished. And the cutting edge—well, there’s something mysterious about it. Why do potatoes turn to stone as Colyn finishes peeling them? And did the piece of wood he whittled really bark when he threw his failed carving of a dog into the fire?

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BORDERLAND ~ A Trilogy: Re–entry —  Jihad —  Cameleer

Rosanne Hawke

Lothian Books

The thread stitching these three stories together is the character of Jaime Richards, an Australian girl brought up in Pakistan. In Re-entry, she experiences an unexpected homesickness for her adopted country and a deep sense of dislocation as her family relocate back to Australia. Everything is strange and she feels both confusion and loss as the awkwardness of adolescence vies with the awkwardness that comes from cultural ignorance.

To express her feelings, Jaime begins to write a journal but it soon becomes a flight of romantic fancy. Her teacher astutely identifies the mysterious stranger in it as an idealised personification of Pakistan itself.

As she slowly begins to unravel the mysterious language cues of her own culture, real friendships start to develop. Danny and Blake both come from a background of colliding cultures and are able to help her come to terms with her mixture of feelings.

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Potato Music


Christina Booth

Omnibus Books

Illustrated by Pete Groves

Luminous, lyrical, soul-warming, heart-gladdening.

The colour of music dances from the piano keys to Mama’s fingers and twirls out into the front room. ‘It helps keep our dreams and hopes alive,’ says Pa, as he dances me off to bed on his shoes.

War comes but the music doesn’t cease. Pa dances ever more slowly, however. Food grows scarce. The music goes on, covering the scream of planes overhead. Boots tramp by outside. Ma and Pa skip meals as food becomes an increasing rarity. Pa’s dance is slower still.

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Red Alert


Dale Harcombe  

Wendy Pye Publishing

Illustrated by Jennifer Cooper


Cassandra just loves camping.  Her mum doesn’t.  

Cassandra just loves challenges.  Her mum doesn’t.  

Cassandra’s just dying to go on the mother-daughter three-day camp.  Her mother isn’t.  

A-tishoo! Red Alert is a truly delightful tickle of a story about a reluctant mum willing to put up with all the things she hates for her daughter’s sake. A-tishoo! It’s the story of a girl with spunk and a raring-to-go attitude. A-tishoo! But mainly it’s the story of a girl whose mum can’t stop sneezing or reaching for the tissues. A-tishoo! A-tishoo!

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How Sweet the Sound


Meredith Resce

Golden Grain Publishing

Parable, fantasy, romance, allegory: How Sweet the Sound defies categorisation into any tidy or specific box. It is light without being frothy, tender without being syrupy, otherworldly without being unnatural, symbolic without being incomprehensible. Its footprints touch the ground nimbly in a number of genres without planting themselves firmly in any of them.

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David H. Webb

Anomalos Publishing House

This is a ‘boy-book’.

David Webb makes no apology for it, merely pointing out in the preface the enormous influence of Jane Austen’s Emma on his choice of subject matter. As a teenager in his last year at an all-boys school he had been compelled to make a study of a spoilt heiress who spends four hundred and sixty pages trying—unsuccessfully—to marry off a young friend. Fortunately, no lasting trauma seems to have been resulted.

However, there are moments when I wondered what the book might have been like, had things been otherwise.

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Rosanne Hawke
Lothian Books

Light and delicate, the echo of bells kerlink kerlink followed me through the day long after I’d finished Mustara. Robert Ingpen’s sandy-toned watercolours evoke the starkness and hazy mirages of a desert landscape, hinting too at the sepia-tinted era of eighteenth century exploration.

Mustara is a young camel. Taj hopes he will be chosen for the expedition of Ernest Giles to Central Australia. But Mustara is too young. Everything changes when Taj and Emmeline are caught in a sandstorm. This beautifully-illustrated book highlights the largely unknown contribution of Afghan cameleers to the pioneering of Australia’s interior.

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