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  • Writer's pictureJulianne Negri

March 2020 Reading Roundup


So yes, March was only 31 days even though it seemed like a decade or more and now it is over.

Through all the ups and downs, updates and upheavals, I read these four brilliant books.

I was fortunate to be at the March launch of The Republic of Birds at the Little Bookroom. Doesn't it seem like a world away when we could gather in groups and celebrate? But back in the day when we could, we did! Oh and it was marvelous!

It was fantastic to meet Jessica. I'm a huge fan of her debut book Elizabeth and Zenobia which I pressed into many a child's hands telling them how much they would love it.

Readers are just going to adore The Republic of Birds. It is a sophisticated tale of magic, empowerment and sisterly love set in an intriguing parallel early 20th century Russia where magic is banned and Baba Yagas are alive in the borderlands where un-mapped tracts of land hold mystery and a past war with the birds has dominated the country. When their family are banished to the borderlands, Olga discovers her affinity for cartography could be more powerful than she could ever imagine and when her sister is kidnapped her inner power comes to the fore.

The world Jessica Miller has created is immersive and sprinkled with delightful mystery and mischievous details. The voice of Olga is distinct with a lightness of touch. The characters are so wonderful and funny and original - and I didn't want the adventure to end! This is a wonderfully accomplished book that is sure to delight readers for a many generations. Dare I say an instant classic?

The Jamie Drake Equation is part of Christopher Edge's middle grade series that combine science fiction with contemporary life, beginning with The Many Worlds of Albie Bright - a heart breaking story of gaining acceptance through the physics of parallel lives. Jamie Drake is similar in structure - a boy coming to terms with life changes through an adventure with science. This time the story combines family life changes with aliens and maths. Jamie's dad is famous an astronaut on a space station about to embark on a dangerous spacewalk, his parents are going through a separation and he's accidentally downloaded an alien onto his phone. Edge's writing is wonderful and solid and all the characters are instantly three dimensional and alive in your mind. While for me this one didn't have the depth of Albie Bright, it is still a wonderful sci fi adventure with a big heart.

This book was not what I thought it would be and I was pleasantly surprised, finding I could not put it down. Mackenzie da Lucas mother has disappeared while researching bats in Panama. Her family is unravelling in the wake of this terrible event and now her father is sneaking off in the night to go to South America to find her and is taking Mackenzie with him. Her father is desperate and slightly unhinged and it is up to Mackenzie to navigate a new country and a precarious situation. The structure of chapters juxtaposing past and present, showing how life was and how it has changed and then thrusting the reader into the present search for the mother, is completely compelling, ratcheting up the mystery and pulling the reader to the conclusion. Beautifully written, this is a contemporary thriller for middle grade readers that doesn't shy away from harsh realities.The characters all ring clear and true with tricky family dynamics and school friendships and a powerful premise. I would recommend this for kids who like realistic contemporary stories with mystery.

What a book to read in a pandemic! I picked it up from the library on a whim and here I was reading phrases about 'PPE' 'social distancing' and 'how long does the virus last on surfaces' while this was, in reality, happening in the world all around me. So yeas, this book isn't escapist reading right now!

The story is set in a near future, in a post pandemic world, where immigrants are fleeing the UK for Australia on boats chartered by commercial immigration companies. Told in alternating points of view from Billie the Scottish nurse, Tom the upper class primaty teacher and Cleary, a hearing impaired boy. Billie, resilient and tough, is escaping the horrors of nursing in the death wards of the pandemic, Tom is a drug addict and Cleary is reliant on his mother after losing hearing from the virus, all escaping the past and heading for a new future. On the ship, Cleary witnesses a murder and the murderer knows - and a new virus breaks out. With punchy prose and underpinned by some big themes about immigration politics and the human condition, this is compelling stuff.

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