Review: Real Food Kids Will Love – Great Gift Ideas

There is absolutely no need to panic this Christmas. Books make great gift ideas in case you didn’t already realise because just about every taste is satisfied between the covers of a book. Today’s, non-fiction title is a book that kids and adults alike will find an absolute treat. Cooking is a perennial, not to mention essential favourite pastime. Cookbooks make fine additions to any Christmas gift list with the dual bonus of practical functionality coupled with luscious beauty – I adore pouring over food photos for inspiration. Have a look at my new favourite…

Real Food Kids Will Love by Annabel Karmel

English author, food pioneer and mother of three, Annabel Karmel has added another title to her long list of enticing family-orientated cookery books. This one featuring ‘over 100 simple and delicious recipes for toddlers and up’ is a standout crowd pleaser. I am not normally overly enthused by cookbooks for kids, often finding the recipes too diluted or dumbed down and whilst straightforward enough for little chefs, woefully lacking in imagination and taste.

Real Food Kids Will Love is a truly delectable exception! And it delivers exactly what the title promises.

Continue reading Review: Real Food Kids Will Love – Great Gift Ideas

A Telling Future with Cameron Macintosh

Cameron Macintosh is the author of the exciting fantasy adventure series for future detectives in the making, steadily churning them out with number three being recently released. Having qualifications in Psychology and Professional Writing, and specialising in the educational publishing market for almost two decades, it is no wonder Macintosh knows exactly what makes an engaging and perfectly suited read for the junior to middle grade audience. With over 80 books released for the education field under his name, his break into trade publishing has been both rewarding and well-received.

The three Max Booth Future Sleuth books are a fun trip set 400 years into the future, including uncannily relatable characters (a history-buff youngster Max on the run with his robotic, yet loyal dog Oscar). They have demonstrated their keen interest in all things ‘ancient’ and ‘vintage’; sleuthing out the mysteries of objects from the past like a cassette tape in Tape Escape, photos on a mobile phone in Selfie Search, and an old postage stamp from 2019 in Stamp Safari. Macintosh has carefully weaved in suitable language, plenty of humour and suspenseful quests that will hook any tech-loving, sci-fi and mystery-hunting fans, with a clever enticement to finding out about artefacts and technology from the past. Imaginative, creative, the ability to emotionally connect, and so much relevant and important learning potential – the Max Booth series certainly tick all the boxes.

Big Sky Publishing

Cameron Macintosh is back for yet another amazing interview (here’s the last one) to discuss his books and writing life with us once again. 🙂

Coming from a background in writing for the education market, did you have teaching and learning purposes in mind when you started writing the Max Booth series?

Initially, I was trying to avoid any particular educational purpose beyond just getting kids reading – a major educational objective on its own. I just wanted the stories to be page-turners with lots of laughs along the way. But it didn’t take long before I realised they had their own educational potential – not in a didactic way, but in the possibilities they offered for classroom discussions about technology and sustainability, and a range of other issues. The stories deal with future people looking back at objects from our present day, so I figured pretty quickly that they’d offer teachers some interesting angles to discuss technological development, and the positives and negatives that go along with it.

How did you decide what kinds of technological developments to incorporate into the series?

I always intended the series to be episodic, so that any title could be plucked off a shelf and read without any prior knowledge of the characters or their world. I’m glad I chose this option, but it does mean that a little bit of world-building needs to be done in each book. Because of that, I haven’t pushed the technological changes too far, except for a few very big ones that don’t need too much explanation, including hover-vehicles, floating suburbs, robot companions, and the rarity of a few presently common things such as paper.

Who is the series aimed at?

As far as interest level goes, it’s aimed at readers around 7 to 10 years of age. I’ve tried to make the vocab manageable for less confident readers too, so I especially hope the series can be helpful in encouraging these readers to tackle longer texts. The Max Booth books are all around 12,500 words each.

How did you find the gap to write technology / futuristic-based junior fiction?

Before I fully drafted the first Max story, I did some research to see what future-based books were already out there in the marketplace. Although there was plenty of brilliant futuristic stuff, I couldn’t find anything that used the future as a lens to look back at our present day, so I figured I’d potentially found a bit of niche there.

The Max Booth Future Sleuth series makes a great point for readers to connect past and present technology with the possibilities of the future. What are the most significant aspects you’d like your audience to take away from the series?

I’d love readers to think about what a wondrous time we’re living in, with regards to the staggering pace of technological development. I’d also love them to consider the potential pitfalls of this development, in terms of environmental ramifications, and also in terms of the potential that technology holds to bring humanity closer together, or possibly divide us further.

I also really hope the series will spark lots of interesting discussions about technology between kids and their parents, grandparents and teachers – particularly about the way some items or ways of life have evolved over the last few generations, and others have remained pretty much the same. (Although, I don’t recommend describing pre-internet life to a school-aged person unless you want to feel extremely ancient!)

Do you think that setting stories in the future presents any disadvantages to a storyteller?

There’s always the risk of an emotional disconnect with the reader if you let the technological side of things take too much precedence. I’m constantly getting frustrated by sci-fi movies that are so clever and complicated that I lose any real empathy for the characters. And even though you have a lot of freedom in world-building in sci-fi, readers will still expect the world of the story to be believable, and to have its own logical consistency, so there’s a lot of balancing to be done along the way.

The Max Booth series is brilliantly and shrewdly illustrated by the talented Dave Atze. By Book 3, was there anything in particular you needed to collaborate on or did he basically have it all covered?

Dave’s incredible, isn’t he! We’re so lucky to have him on board – to have an illustrator who amplifies the pathos, action and humour is a massive privilege. It’s always very exciting to see how he interprets the illustration briefs, and to see what fun surprises he adds in. Dave had all of this stuff well and truly nailed in the first book (Tape Escape), so by book 3, it was really just a case of keeping out of his way!

Anything else of excitement you’d like to add? News? Upcoming projects? TBR pile?

Well, the wheels are currently turning to make Max Booth book 4 a reality. I’ve already seen the cover, which is always a big moment in the journey. As expected, it’s rather brilliant – thanks again to Dave, and the incredible team at Big Sky Publishing.

The TBR pile is getting out of hand but it’s not a bad problem to have! At the top of the pile is Ottilie Coulter and the Narroway Hunt by Rhiannon Williams, and Jane Doe and the Cradle of All Worlds by Jeremy Lachlan, and Markus Zusak’s Bridge of Clay (Aussie authors are really knocking it out of the park at the moment). Also, Joyce’s Ulysses has been sitting there for five years daring me to tackle it (I have a feeling it’ll be sitting there at least five more).

Thanks so much for your thoughtful responses, Cameron! It’s been a pleasure! 🙂

It’s been my great pleasure too. Thanks for such an interesting chat!

Cameron Macintosh can be found at his website, and on blog tour here.

#ByAustralianBuyAustralian

YA Books That Feature Brothers

There’s nothing quite like books about brothers who’ll die for each other or kill each other (depends on the day really)! And when it comes to books, I have a very soft place in my heart for stories that focus on sibling relations. Since I’ve done some some posts on YA Sister Books, it’s time to focus on the brotherly side.


INK AND BONE

BUY HERE

This is set an alternate reality where books are illegal and the Great Library rules everything. If knowledge is controlled, then freedom is gone, right?! It also follows a group of book lovers off to try the difficult entrance exams to work for the library…and Jess is joining in as a double-agent. His family are smugglers and although Jess kind of hates them and their cruelty, he’s loyal to his family. Also he freaking loves books. He wants to work at the library with them, even if the library is corrupt and evil. Anyway! He has a very tumultuous relationship with his twin brother Brendan, who is cunning to the core. They are the kind who will die for each other if they don’t murder each other first.

THESE GENTLE WOUNDS

BUY HERE

Here’s one to break your heart! This follows the story of Jordie who is slowly trying to piece his life back together after a horrific childhood that ended with him nearly dead. His anchor and soul is his half-brother Kevin and separated them would just about kill Jordie. And then his real father walks onto the scene and demands his son back. It’s the kind of story that unwinds soft characters and heartbreaking backstories along with the process of healing and learning to build yourself up as a person again. There are plenty of frustrated but loving brotherly moments and your cold dead heart will melt for this one.

 

TYLER JOHNSON WAS HERE

BUY HERE

This is such a powerful and gutwrenching story about two brothers who don’t really get along, but they’re still family. And then Tyler goes missing. It’s a horrible moment when things aren’t quite right in your relationship with a sibling when you should be close and you don’t even know what’s driving you apart. But then they’re gone. It’s an #ownvoices and #blacklivesmatter tale too and features complex characters, soft boys, and a plot that will have you clutching the pages and whispering, “wait wait no“. Also that cover?! It is everything.

 

WHITE CAT

BUY HERE

If you’re looking for double-crossing, backstabby brothers with magical powers and a crime family past? Look no further! This book is literally everything you want in life. Even if you didn’t know it yet, shh. It’s narrated by Cassel who’s at boarding school trying to be “normal” but considering he has a magical crime family, his best friend who he apparently murdered when he was a child, and his mother is in jail?? He’s not doing a great job of remaking himself as a “normal” person. And he’s also about to learn a very dark family secret which is going to screw up everything. Also Holly Black’s characters are just a pure delight. I can’t even explain how much I adore this series! It is beyond perfect!

7 Time Travel Books

Time travel in fiction is nothing new. The Time Machine by H. G. Wells was published in 1895 and has largely been credited for popularising the concept of time travel and coining the term ‘time machine’.

Since then, there have been a swag of time travel novels, including more recently The Time Traveler’s Wife by Audrey Niffenegger and the Outlander series by Diana Gabaldon to name just a few.


My Favourite Time Travel Novel
My favourite time travel novel by far is 11.22.63 by Stephen King.
In 2011, an American teacher named Jake discovers he can travel back in time to 1958. After careful consideration and a few false starts, he sets out to prevent the assassination of JFK in 1963. 11.22.63 is meticulously researched and comfortably straddles the genres of science fiction and historical fiction. The consequences of time travel and changing the future are addressed through the characters and the ending was extremely satisfying.


Time Travel Books on my TBR
Like any reader, I’m always keen to discover a new favourite and I have two time travel novels I’m looking forward to reading.

The Psychology of Time Travel by Kate Mascarenhas
Four female scientists build a time machine in the 1960s however one of the group is banished after being adversely affected by their time travels. 50 years later, the business of time travel is booming and one of the group receives a message from the future. I understand this is a murder mystery featuring strong, intelligent women that examines the toll of time travel which always interests me.

Doomsday Book by Connie Willis 
In 2054, Kivrin is attending Oxford University where students can travel back in time to study a significant period in history. Having prepared for several years, Kivrin travels back to mid 1300s England despite her tutor’s misgivings about being a young woman travelling alone in the period. As luck would have it, she becomes stranded. The reason this is so high on my list is I want to know what happens next. How does she adapt to her circumstances, what does she make of the people, the culture, the lifestyle?


I can begin to imagine Kivrin’s experiences thanks to the brilliant insight available in The Time Traveller’s Guide to Medieval England by Ian Mortimer. A perfect book to read in Non Fiction November, this is ‘A Handbook for Visitors to the Fourteenth Century‘. It contains chapters on: the people, what to wear, what to eat and drink, health and hygiene, where to stay, what to do and more. This is a detailed and comprehensive guide to the period and location and one of my all time favourite reads.

What is your favourite time travel book?

YA Little Mermaid Retellings

If there’s something that never loses its delight, it has to be retellings of old classic stories! It’s quite a YA trend too (one I’m personally very pleased with) and it’s great to see how the old fairy tales can be twisted and reimagined and fit into new settings. Today I want to list some Little Mermaid retellings! It’s a popular tale to redo but the variations are so diverse and exciting. We are living for this.


THE SURFACE BREAKS by Louise O’Neill

BUY HERE

I adore this author’s works for her feminist messages told with beautiful and ethereal writing. Her version of the Little Mermaid follows a more traditional route, keeping to what Hans Christian Anderson invented, but she uses it as a vehicle to talk about the patriarchy and how poisonous it can be too. It follows the story of Gaia who dreams of going to the surface like her mother did before her and finding that boy she saved. There are little differences (her name isn’t Ariel! the boy isn’t a prince!) and it is a society critique, but it’s also a tragic and heartbreaking tale. And let’s face it, that cover is divine.

 

SEA WITCH by Sarah Henning

BUY HERE

Instead of focusing on the “Ariel” character…let’s talk about the “Ursula” character! The SEA WITCH. This version is fascinating because it’s the “backstory” to the Little Mermaid Tale we all know and love, although it doesn’t feature dark antiheroes. It features a kingdom where a fisherman’s daughter is best friends with a prince and their relationship sis getting strained as he need to attend to princely duties and she is crushing on his princely cousin (who’s not very trustworthy) and it’s not “proper” for a prince and a peasant to be close friends anyway. But Evie’s best friend Anna drowns and then, years later, a mermaid who looks just like her appears and needs to win the prince’s heart or she’ll die forever. Evie is desperate to rescue Anna, even if it’s not her old friend, but at what cost?! The twists in this book are epic and mind blowing! Whatever you think will happen…pfft, it’s still going to surprise you.

 

TO KILL A KINGDOM by Alexandra Christo

BUY HERE

This is actually a very vague retelling, more focusing on sirens (who like to eat princes) and princes (who don’t like to sit on thrones but would rather be a pirate). It’s absolutely hilarious and full of quests and sailing. Lira does lose her fins like the original Little Mermaid, but for her its a punishment from her octopi-looking mother until she kills Prince Elian, a notorious siren slayer. This is a much looser retelling but that just makes it more exciting because you have no idea where it’s headed. Lira and Elian are the perfect hate-to-love romance and her viciousness with his kindness makes for such a good read! It balances dark and bloody sirens with the quips and banter of a pirate crew so well, and the pace is just perfect. It’s the kind of book you don’t want to put down and then secretly wish there was a sequel for it.

Unforgettable Children’s Books

With so many memorable children’s books flooding our bookshelves, it’s easy to allow one title to melt imperceptibly into the next. This collection of stories however possesses qualities that make them virtually unforgettable. Embrace these haunting experiences that will linger with you long after the final page.

Parvana: A Graphic Novel by Deborah Ellis

This graphic novel rendition of Ellis’ acclaimed novel, The Breadwinner (US name of Parvana), moved me to tears. Emotionally charged and visually gratifying, this graphic novel ignites a need to know more and venture further.

I have not read The Breadwinner yet but was so enamoured by this portrayal of Parvana’s story that I am now compelled to do so. There is a movie rendition too although I may not have to see it. This sombre tale about a girl who disguises herself as a boy to make a living in the stricken city of Kabul to support her family and reconnect with her imprisoned father is so convincingly expressed through Elllis’ stirring narrative and dramatic artwork (from which this version was adapted) that it leaves nothing wanting apart from a desire for Parvana’s salvation.

The muted colour palette of dusty browns and ominous greys belie the hope that blossoms below the veneer of fear and repression. Orange flowers (the colour of hope) appear in many of the frames featuring Parvana and most strikingly, on the last page where they are seen springing from the crust of the desert. Parvana’s vibrant red blouse, the one she has never worn, representing hope and love, and a desire to be free of fear, is the catalyst for change.

Dramatic, poignant and inexplicably beautiful, like Afghanistan’s people, this story is itself complete and will appeal to many even those (children) who are unaware of the historic atrocities leading up to Parvana’s story. Especially useful for those resistant to learning about history and reading full scale novels.

Allen & Unwin Children’s Books January 2018

Continue reading Unforgettable Children’s Books

Liberty by Nikki McWatters

Thanks for speaking with Boomerang Books Blog, Nikki.

Where are you based and how are you involved in the YA literary community?

Thanks so much for reading Liberty, Joy, and for these wonderful questions … here goes.

I am based in Terrigal, just north of Sydney. I love being a part of the YA writing community and have made some dear friends. Currently a writer friend and I are putting together a Central Coast writers’ group to offer each other support and encouragement. It’s easy to feel isolated as a writer so community is important.

I was swept away by your new novel Liberty (University of Queensland Press). What else have you written?

I’ve written two memoirs and Liberty is the second of a series of three books in a loose trilogy called The Systir Saga. Hexenhaus was first released in 2016 and Liberty will be followed by Saga in 2019. The books can be read in any order or as stand-alone books but work well as companions or ‘sister’ books.

How did you select the three story strands and protagonists in Liberty? Could you give an outline of each?

I chose the historical characters of Betsy Gray and Jeanne Laisne after extensive searching for girls who could fit my agenda. They were chosen because they were strong and courageous, standing up and out in times of conflict and raising their voices for themselves and the women who came after them. History has overlooked women’s stories of valour in favour of ‘hero’ tales and I wanted to lift these girls’ stories from the footnotes and shine a spotlight on them. In Liberty, Frenchwoman Jeanne Laisne leads an army of women against a hostile invading force in the late 1400s; Irish Betsy Gray rides beside her brother and sweetheart in a rebellion against the English; and Fiona McKechnie marches for peace and freedom in the anti-war movement in the late sixties in Brisbane.

Which are based on historical figures?

Betsy and Jeanne were real historical characters while Fiona is a fictional composite of some of the strong women in my own life (grandmothers/mother/aunts).

How have you used romance in the stories?

There is romance in each of the stories but I made sure that none of my girls were defined by the men in their lives. Each broke with the traditions of their time. Arranged marriage was the norm in France at that time but Jeanne wanted to marry for love. Betsy was in no hurry to settle into butter-churning and domestic servitude and Fiona wanted to ‘be’ a lawyer as opposed to her father’s hope that she might ‘marry’ a lawyer.

How do you show female powerlessness and oppression in these tales?

During each of the eras, women faced significant powerlessness and oppression. Women were largely seen as property or ‘helpmates’ to their fathers and husbands. My three characters feel suffocated by this and seek to break those bonds and assert themselves as individuals.

How do you highlight the power and agency of women in the novel?

Power and agency were not on offer to my three girls; they had to wrest it for themselves with great strength and determination. Each took the harder path and refused to let society dictate who they were and what they were capable of. They had to break some old rules to make way for new ones.

Female bloodlines are shown, even leading back to Jeanne d’Arc/Joan of Arc. Why have you included these?

The female bloodline, written in the mysterious Systir Saga book, a matrilineal family tree that spanned many centuries, is the life-force of Liberty and the other books in the trilogy. While there are actual historical female figures in this book, including Joan of Arc, it really is symbolic of the global sisterhood – a force that runs beneath the surface of movements such as #metoo. We have the liberties we do today because of women like Betsy and Jeanne and Fiona who raised their voices, which allowed those that came after to raise theirs.

All three protagonists have missing mothers and none want to disappoint or dishonour their fathers. Why these missing mothers?

My characters have no mothers in their lives. This is interesting because I think being raised by fathers shaped the girls, to a certain extent, but all felt compelled to make their late mothers proud of them and they sought to right the wrongs that had taken their mothers from them too early. In Fiona’s case, she wanted to attend university because that had not been an option for her own mother.

How does Jeanne query the predestination of fate?

Jeanne does question the concept of predestination. Her fate was to be ‘sold off’ and married to a cruel man she did not love because the Captain of her town made decisions about her life and not even her father could prevent that. Jeanne, as a poor peasant girl, felt miserable about not being able to make her own life choices and so she seized her moments when they presented themselves and managed to change her destiny. This is true for all of us. No matter how trapped we feel, we always have choices.

Betsy’s heroine was Mary Ann McCracken. Who is yours?

I love that you ask who my heroine is. I have so many. I actually do a daily visualisation and have an imaginary council of strong women that includes Michelle Obama, Mary Shelley, Emily Brontë, Queen Elizabeth the First, Madonna, Oprah Winfrey and Malala Yousafzai. I know that sounds a bit wacky but it works for me.

Your novel title is ‘Liberty’. What liberty do you hope for?

I have a great desire for true liberty for women in our world. This would mean that women felt safe to walk at night; safe in their workplaces, schools and in their homes. Equal pay would be a reality and women would sit in equal measure in boardrooms, governments and in every walk of life. Women would be valued for themselves and respected for the great human beings they are.

What are you writing next?

I have just finished writing Saga, the third book where I introduce three new heroines. Hexenhaus has three women accused of witchcraft, Liberty has three warrior women and in Saga I have three young women who change the world through words.

Thanks very much Nikki and I greatly look forward to reading Saga.

Thanks Joy. I really loved your questions!

Nik x

The Stranger Beside Her

 

Some books you read because you’re interested in them. Some books you read because your bookclub prescribes them. And some books you read because both elements happily collide.

That was the case with crime writer Ann Rule’s The Stranger Beside Me, the multimillion-copy-selling book about serial killer Ted Bundy.

Truth be told, my knowledge of Bundy was limited—I wasn’t even certain on which continent he committed his crimes—so I embarked on The Stranger Beside Me with a relatively blank and open mind.

The Stranger Beside Me has an eerily unique perspective: author Rule, a cop turned crime writer, used to volunteer alongside Bundy at a suicide prevention line. Despite nearly two decades’ age difference, the two were firm friends—and friends long before Bundy became infamous. Rule had actually obtained a book contract to write about the mysterious serial killer plaguing her hometown who was, then unbeknownst to her, her friend Bundy.

The book sees Rule grapple with her dual roles as objective writer and subjective friend as she tries to determine if the person she knows could be capable of such heinous crimes. Crimes that involved—it was later determined—using guises of broken limbs to lure unsuspecting women into his car so he could rape, strangle, and brutally bash them. Crimes that often involved the victims’ bodies not being found for a very long time—if at all.

Charismatic and apparently caring, Bundy would walk Rule to her car at the end of her helpline shift and urge her to be careful as she headed home. In contrast, her detective friends would joke that they’d call 911 if she got mugged on her way out of the police station she’d visited for a story in the middle of the night.

And so goes Rule’s and Bundy’s relationship and Rule’s book: a nuanced insight into Bundy’s capacity to be both personable and a psychopath, and a reminder that all of us are capable of both great good and great evil.

The crimes detailed in The Stranger Beside Me are shocking and continue to stay with me—including one incident I won’t spoil but that suffice to say makes me afraid to go to the bathroom in the dark in the middle of the night.

And so they should be—Bundy’s crimes shouldn’t be sensationalised or excused.

But Rule also includes a solid amount of levity to give readers brief reprieves from the terrifying crimes. One year, for instance, Rule sent Bundy two birthday cards because, as she notes, Hallmark doesn’t issue cards that say both ‘happy birthday’ and ‘happy arraignment’.

And after Bundy escaped from incarceration just after one of his lawyers finished making arguments for why the death penalty should be off the table for Bundy, that lawyer wryly commented: ‘That’s the poorest show of faith in this argument that I’ve seen yet.’

Still, Rule is sensitive to Bundy’s victims and their families—is conscious that the flip side to his sensational, fascinating crimes are people and families whose lives have been irreparably shattered.

As she writes: ‘Because Ted murdered so many, many women, he did more than rob them of their lives. He robbed them of their specialness too. It is too easy, and too expedient, to present them as a list of names … All those bright, pretty, beloved young women became, of necessity, “Bundy victims”. And only Ted stayed in the spotlight.’

Bundy at one stage refers to himself as having a ‘disposition made of duck feathers’—indeed, the thing that’s striking about Bundy is his Teflon-like characteristics. If this book showed me anything, it’s that it’s astonishing just how little evidence police truly had on him and how few charges actually stuck.

Likewise, that Bundy had an astonishingly misplaced confidence in his own legal knowledge. He had just two years of law school under his belt, but often tried self-representing and, as a minimum, instructing lawyers on what and how they should argue his case. He fired so many lawyers during the various legal proceedings I found it difficult to keep up with who was who.

But when he expressed his frustration at his ‘inept’ representation, the judge commented mildly that all the lawyers had passed law school and the bar exam and that submitting to his instructions might be akin to submitting to surgery at the hands of someone who had just a year and a half of medical school study to their name.

Fortunately, some (however small) good came from Bundy’s crimes, not least the establishment of Violent Criminal Apprehension Program (VI-CAP), a centralised database that ensures law enforcement professionals share information and serial killers like Bundy (and the Golden State Killer I’ve written about previously) aren’t so easily able to operate in anonymity through isolation.

The book’s blurb states that Rule is the world’s number one crime writer, however such a thing is determined. While I can’t confess to have read any of her other books, of which there appear to be many, and while I think her unique relationship to Bundy is what sets this book apart from similar biographies or crime books, I will attest to its veracity: If there’s one Bundy book worth reading, it’s Rule’s.

Sharing the Spirit of Australia Remembers with Allison Paterson

Allison Paterson has always had a deep connection to Australian history and culture, and her writing reflects more than just research or fiction. Her picture books include Granny’s Place and Shearing Time; reminiscent of her childhood memories of growing up on a farm. Allison also immortalises her ancestory with her wartime, award-winning books, Anzac Sons; based on letters written on the Western Front.

Using her teacher-librarian status and forseeing a gap in the market, Allison has gone on to produce a new series for primary school students. The first of the nonfiction titles includes Australia Remembers: Anzac Day, Remembrance Day and War Memorials. This is an absolutely stunning documentation of colourful facts, phenomenal photographs – old and new, illustrative posters, quotes and glossary, all presented like a beautiful magazine with easy-to-digest and visually engaging chunks of information across twelve short chapters. The book covers topics and proposes readers consider commemoration and showing gratitude, what ANZAC and its spirit means, the importance of annual ceremonies and the significance of symbols and traditions. It also includes relevant hands-on learning activities to further deepen the readers’ understandings. Australia Remembers is an important resource that emanates with a sense of engaging the community spirit and extending the legacy of those we ought to always remember. A must-have for Remembrance Day and Anzac Day.

Allison Paterson discusses her writing life and tribute to her ancestors with us today!

How did you come to be a writer? How have you managed the shift from teacher-librarian to author and presenter?

Writing has always been in my life, but the decision to resign from an awesome job as a teacher-librarian to pursue writing as a career came only a couple of years ago. It all began with the publication of Anzac Sons – the story of my ancestors in WWI and a collection of hundreds of letters they wrote from the Western Front. I quite firmly believe that I wouldn’t be a full-time writer today if it had not been for my grandfather and his brothers – they were writers too!

The transition from being a teacher-librarian was not difficult. I’m very comfortable with author talks and workshops in schools. I love inspiring kids to write! Being prepared to diversify and look for opportunities, such as mentoring, editing and writing for magazines all helped the financial shift. The toughest things for me are marketing, and I’m slowly learning how to run a business! I also found that being available and saying ‘Yes!’ opens more doors as well, including doing some casual educational consultancy work with Big Sky Publishing.

You’ve written several non-fiction titles on the Anzac history for children and adults, as well as fictional picture books that tie memories together with a great Aussie flavour! Do you have a style or genre you feel most comfortable with? Why is the Australian culture such a strong influence in your writing?

I spend most of my time lurking around in the past so historical fiction and non-fiction are certainly my favoured writing genres and where I gravitate to in a book shop or library. I’m a very proud Australian. I love the people we have become and our awesome landscape. I feel very connected with the land and when I travel to the place where I grew up it always feels like going home. My place!

Australia Remembers: Anzac Day, Remembrance Day and War Memorials is a valuable resource for primary students to be able to connect with the traditions of Anzac Day and Remembrance Day, in essence, to keep the memories of war and its recipients forever alive and celebrated. What are the most significant points you’d like your readers to take away from this book? What do you hope it will achieve?

I hope that readers develop both an understanding and respect for the role that our armed services have in the development of our wonderful country and the way of life we enjoy today. It is designed to ensure that the next generation shares the history and traditions of our important commemorative occasions. I also hope it encourages children to find out about the experiences of their own ancestors.

There are bountiful resources available for teaching and learning about Australian war history. What are your favourite educational lessons or resources to suggest for parents and educators following the reading of Australia Remembers?

Australia Remembers has inbuilt activities and discussion starters and is supported by extensive teacher notes which are available on my website, or on the Teachers page at Big Sky Publishing. My favourite lessons can be found in the notes, but if there was one I would pick it would be to explore your local memorials. Find out about the service of those in your local community.

The next book in this marvellous series is Australia Remembers: Customs and Traditions of the Australian Defence Force. What can you share about your research for this title? How many more titles in the series have you got planned?

Australia Remembers: Customs and Traditions of the Australian Defence Force is underway and will be released in 2019. It explores the history of the Army, Navy and Air Force in Australia, along with the shared and specific customs and traditions which have developed, sometimes over centuries! It will be a terrific resource for answering the questions which arise around our commemorative services. The whole series plan is a work in progress and we have lots of ideas that we are exploring for future titles.

Anything else of excitement you’d like to add? News? Upcoming projects? TBR pile?

I’m very excited that my first YA novel will be released early in 2019 with Big Sky Publishing. We’ve just finished the edit and the cover is awesome! Follow After Me is about finding a lost part of yourself in the spirit, words and actions of those who came before. Its themes include family, Anzacs, the Australian landscape, rural life and the past! This time though there are two coming-of-age protagonists, one of today and one enduring the events of World War I. It is written in a parallel narrative that converges with the discovery of a collection of WWI letters and a growing sense of connection to place that cannot be ignored. Here’s a snippet from the blurb:

A war to end all wars, a tiny key and a rural Australian property that binds across the generations. Two young women living a century apart discover who they are and where their hearts belong.

Wow! Brilliant! Thanks so much, Allison, for your generous answers to our questions! All the best with your writing! 🙂

Visit Allison Paterson at her website, and on her Australia Remembers book blog tour here.

Big Sky Publishing

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Review: Furthermore by Tahereh Mafi

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Furthermore by Tahereh Mafi was such a spot of delightful whimsy and nonsense! It was so easy to get swept into this magical fantasy land where everyone devotes their life to magic and colour…except for one girl named Alice who was born without the colour that makes their world so special. The story felt like a little ode to Alice in Wonderland while still being it’s own different and exquisitely told tale. It also reminded me a lot of The Phantom Tollbooth which I was obsessed with as a kid, so this was a little throwback down memory lane for me too.

The story begins with Alice Alexis Queensmeadow who is desperately awaiting her twelfth birthday when she’ll receive her life’s quest. She’s had a rough go of it so far: with her dad taking a ruler and disappearing, her mum being exasperated with her all the time, brothers who don’t care about her, and a world who views her as a disappointment already simply because she was born looking like a washed out painting. Alice is also a rule breaker and dreamer, whimsical and stubborn, outspoken and determined. And when everything goes terribly wrong at her ceremony, she decides to strike out to find her father and return him home. But this means going to Furthermore where magic is colour but there are no rules (you could be eaten!) and also work with her mortal enemy: Oliver…who’s own life quest might just tie tightly to Alice’s whether they want it to or not.

There are beautiful themes of self-acceptance in here too! I always love books that champion messages of ” you are worthwhile as you are” and encourage kids to accept themselves and also others, differences and all. Alice really sticks out in her town, but she’s convinced if she covers herself with as much brightly coloured cloth as possible, she’ll fit in. She’s scared her magic is weak (since magic = colour) and she’s very lonely and isolated because of how she looks. The story isn’t about fixing Alice, it’s about changing Alice’s view of herself. I feel this is so important.

The story does have a slow meandering start, but this is crucial to set up Alice’s world. And it’s such a pretty world that you really wouldn’t mind spending forever in it. Then we enter Furthermore, which turns rules on their heads and where stealing magic isn’t taboo. Alice and Oliver stop in a ton of towns and each is more odd and delightful (and a little scary?!) than the last.

The writing felt like a taste of art itself! It’s so beautiful and magical. Everything is talked about in colours and tastes which turns the story into a sensory picnic. When Alice and Oliver are in the nonsense realms, we meet Time (who currently looks like a seven year old boy) and an origami fox and people who charge you for being alive by the minute. The writing weaves us this lush and exquisite scene that you can fall into because it feels so real.

And of course, seeing Alice and Oliver go from enemies-to-friends was lovely! It was a natural and easy progression (even if they started off with Oliver teasing her and Alice smacking him in the guts).

Basically Furthermore is for those of us who are into whimsy and wonder. It’s a starburst of rainbow in your mouth and you’ll enjoy every minute of this adventure with Alice who is complex and boisterous and determined the world will not flatten her for being different.

Kate DiCamillo & ‘Louisiana’s Way Home’

Kate DiCamillo has given us an inspiring legacy of novels for children, beginning with Because of Winn-Dixie in 2009.

I heard her in conversation with popular author Sally Rippin at Melbourne’s Wheeler Centre last year and blogged about it here. She spoke about her 2016 publication Raymie Nightingale, an unforgettable tale about three girls, Raymie, Beverly Tapinski and Louisiana Elefante, who enter a beauty pageant.

Louisiana is, of course, the star of DiCamillo’s new novel, Louisiana’s Way Home (Walker Books/Candlewick Press). Told in first person through Louisiana’s written account of what happened when her Granny whisked her away in the middle of the night, we experience her confusion and angst.

The family story begins when Louisiana’s magician great-grandfather sawed her great-grandmother in half and refused to put her back together again. Louisiana’s Granny believes that the day of reckoning has arrived and they must leave to confront the curse and face their destiny.

Louisiana frets about Archie her cat and doesn’t believe that Granny has left him in good hands. When they run out of gas on the Florida-Georgia state line we learn that Granny not just imposes on people but borrows or steals. Her desperate need of a dentist forces 12-year-old Louisiana to drive the car and find help.

They recuperate at the Good Night, Sleep Tight motel and, even though Granny absconds, Louisiana finds varying degrees of goodness in people’s hearts: in some hearts, many hearts and even most hearts. Bernice, the motel manager, is hostile and suspicious but others such as dental patient Carol Anne, give Louisiana cookies and the boy with the crow, Burke Allen, gets her peanuts from the vending machine and makes her bologna sandwiches. “He was the kind of person who, if you asked him for one of something, gave you two instead”.

Louisiana believes that she must rescue herself. Granny trained her to be resourceful and capitalise on her gifts, such as singing.

The tale of Pinocchio with his nose growing when he lies; the Blue Fairy who appears at the darkest times; and the singing cricket Pinocchio kills at the beginning of the story and who then reappears as a ghost, reflects some of the circumstances and emotions of Louisiana’s journey. This may be a tale of desperation and despair but Louisiana loves stars and sees beauty in the world. Like many of Kate DiCamillo’s works, hope and forgiveness prevail.

Mentors in Writing & Illustration: Liz Anelli & Sheryl Gwyther

Liz Anelli and Sheryl Gwyther will be sharing their knowledge and experience of writing and illustrating with aspiring children’s book creators and other interested people in an event organised by CBCA(NSW) this week, the Aspiring Writers Mentorship Program.

Liz Anelli has been achieving recognition for her distinctive illustrations. Her picture books include Desert Lake, written in Pamela Freeman’s assured text. It’s published as part of the Walker Books ‘Nature Storybook’ series and shows how Kati Thanda-Lake Eyre changes when the floods arrive using texture, pattern and colour. It has been shortlisted for several awards, including the NSW Premier’s Literary Awards and the Educational Publishing Awards.

Ten Pound Pom, written by Carole Wilkinson (Black Dog Books, Walker Books), is another well-designed book from the illustrated ‘Our Stories’ series. It is a Britain-to-Australia immigration story.  Liz Anelli has created authentic detail, even using fabrics from her family to fashion the clothing.

Maddie’s First Day, written by Penny Matthew and also published by Walker Books, looks at the evergreen subject of a child’s first day at school.

Grace and Katie written by Suzanne Merritt (EK Books) is a wonderful vehicle for Liz’s skills as she shows the differences between these twin sisters. One is creative and messy. The other is ordered and tidy. Their map-making is a triumph.

Liz Anneli’s website

Sheryl Gwyther is an incredible support to the Australian children’s literature world. I know Sheryl from my years living in Brisbane and she is a wonderful advocate of children’s book organisations and those who are part of them. She is an active member of SCBWI (Society of Children’s Book Writers & Illustrators), an excellent organisation for children’s book creators.

Sheryl’s work appears in the School Magazine and elsewhere.

Her books include the engrossing Secrets of Eromanga (Lothian Books, Hachette) about Australian dinosaur fossils and Sweet Adversity (HarperCollins), a historical novel set in Australia during the Great Depression with Shakespearian and theatrical touches.

Sheryl Gwyther website

Both Liz Anelli and Sheryl Gwyther will be speaking tomorrow night (Thursday 8th November) at an event for aspiring writers at HarperCollins in Elizabeth St, Sydney. Full details and booking information are in the flyer below or follow the link.

HarperCollins keeps our Australian children’s book heritage alive by continuing to publish and promote the works of May Gibbs and Norman Lindsay.

They recently published Emily Rodda’s The House at Hooper’s Bend, a brilliant book, which has been shortlisted for several awards including the 2018 CBCA Children’s Book Awards and the Qld Literary Awards. It is followed by His Name Was Walter, which I look forward to reading.

My other recent favourite from HarperCollins is Jackie French’s Just a Girl. It’s one of the best books I’ve read this year.

 

 

 

 

 

Stories for the Soul – Picture Books that Tug the Heart – Part 2

Here are a few more stories with heart that encompass the three pillars of great picture books: to enlighten, educate and entertain.

Finn’s Feather by Rachel Noble and Zoey Abbott

It’s wrenching when something or someone you love is lost. No one knows this better than Rachel Noble who was inspired to write Finn’s Feather after the loss of her son, Hamish. However if you think this story is a maudlin narrative on grief and loss, think again.

Finn’s Feather embraces all the love and joy families share for one another. It is a sublime examination of the emotions of heartache, anguish and sorrow expressed through the eyes of a child, which makes it immediately relatable and real. When a parent carries the burden of grief, children often slump along beside them under the same weight but unsure of why they are even there. The way they might experience the loss (of a sibling) understandably has to be different from the despair their parents are experiencing. This is precisely what Finn is going through after he discovers a pristine white feather on his doorstep one morning.

Continue reading Stories for the Soul – Picture Books that Tug the Heart – Part 2

Belinda Murrell, Pippa’s Island & Other Treasures

Belinda Murrell is a much-loved author of children’s series fiction and time-slip and historical novels. Her series include ‘Pippa’s Island’, ‘Lulu Bell’, ‘The Sun Sword’ trilogy and ‘The Timeslip’ series. Her books are warm and rich with appealing characters and captivating storylines.

Thank you for speaking with Boomerang Blog, Belinda.

What is your background and where are you based?

I grew up on the North Shore of Sydney in a rambling old house full of books and animals. I studied media, writing and literature at Macquarie University and worked for many years as a travel journalist and corporate writer, before becoming a children’s author. Now I live with my family in a gorgeous old house, filled with books, overlooking the sea in Manly.

What led to your writing books for children?

About 14 years ago I started writing stories for my own three children, Nick, Emily and Lachlan. Some of these stories became The Sun Sword Trilogy, a fantasy adventure series which was published about 12 years ago. I’ve been writing for children of all ages ever since.

What else do you enjoy doing?

 My favourite things to do include walking my dog along the beach, riding my horse at my brother’s farm, skiing, reading books and travelling the world having lots of adventures with my family.  

What themes or issues appear across some of your books?

Finding your courage, being brave and kind, standing up for what you believe in, accepting people’s differences and the importance of family and friends are all themes which I explore in my books. Another issue which is very important to me is creating strong, inspirational female protagonists which girls can relate to. When my daughter was younger, I was disheartened by the number of children’s books which always had boys as the heroes. “You cannot be what you cannot see” and so I strive to create lots of different, interesting and aspirational female characters.

Could you tell us about your books, particularly your latest series, ‘Pippa’s Island’?

The Lulu Bell series is about Lulu and all her animal adventures, living in a vet hospital, inspired by my own childhood as the daughter of a vet. The 13 books have been hugely popular with younger readers, aged about 6 to 8.

My new series, Pippa’s Island is for readers about 8 to 10 years old, and includes five books about friendship, families and seaside adventures. Pippa and her family move halfway across the world to start a new life on gorgeous Kira Island, where Pippa’s mum has the crazy idea of buying a rundown old boatshed and turning it into a bookshop café. Pippa makes friends with Charlie, Cici and Meg, and they form a secret club, called The Sassy Sisters, which meets after school in the tower above the boatshed. Their motto is “Be Brave. Be Bold. And be full of happy spirit.”

For older readers, aged about 10 to 14, I have written a series of seven historical and time slip novels, such as The Ivory Rose, The Lost Sapphire and The Forgotten Pearleach with a modern-day story woven together with a long-forgotten mystery or family secret from the past.

What is Pippa dealing with in the new ‘Pippa’s Island’?

Pippa’s noisy family have been living crammed into a tiny caravan in her grandparents’ back garden and money has been super tight. Pippa’s can’t wait to move into their new apartment right above the Beach Shack café but the builders are taking forever! Pippa’s feeling frustrated until she comes up with a genius plan to make some pocket money: Pippa’s Perfect Pooch Pampering. With a lot of help from her best friends, Pippa starts her own dog walking business. Soon she has her hands full with adorable but pesky pups. What could possibly go wrong? Puppy Pandemonium!!

Which character has most surprised you in ‘Pippa’s Island’?

I absolutely fell in love with my main characters – Pippa and her best friends Charlie, Cici and Meg, who are all so different yet so caring of each other. Yet I also enjoyed discovering how some of my other characters developed over the series. Pippa’s arch rival is Olivia, who is good at everything, whether it’s winning the class academic prize, gymnastics or dancing. Olivia is popular and a natural leader but can be very competitive. At first, Olivia and Pippa seem like they will be friends, but when Pippa tops the class in a maths quiz, Olivia feels threatened and tries to exclude her. Over the course of the series, the girls have a prickly relationship but gradually they work out their differences and learn to appreciate each other.

The ‘Pippa’s Island’ books are full of delicious cupcakes. What is your favourite flavour?

Initially my favourite was Cici’s lemon cupcakes in book one, but then at a Pippa’s Island book launch, a gorgeous librarian baked dozens of divine strawberry cream cupcakes. They were heavenly, and of course starred in book 2!!

Who are your core readers? Where do you have the opportunity to meet them, and have any of their responses been particularly memorable?

My core readers are girls aged between 6 and 14 and it’s been lovely to see readers growing up reading my books, starting with Lulu Bell, then Pippa’s Island and then the time slip books. One of the greatest joys of being a children’s author is meeting kids who love my books at schools, libraries, bookshops and festivals. They get so excited! Every year I spend about four months visiting schools and book events all over the country. This year I’ll visit schools in Adelaide, Melbourne, Brisbane, Tasmania, all over Sydney as well as many regional areas.

The most memorable and humbling experiences have been hearing from readers, particularly of my time slip novels, who feel that my books have changed their lives. A year 12 student wrote a heartfelt letter to thank me for writing her favourite book, The Ivory Rose, that “she’d held so dear for so long”, that helped her decide what she wanted to do with her life. Another 18-year-old girl wrote to say that the adult she’d become and the values she treasured were inspired by my books that she’d read over and over. These letters are so beautiful and make me cry.

What is the value of series fiction, particularly in comparison with stand-alone works?

Kids love reading a whole series of books because they have the chance to really get to know the characters and see how those characters develop and change. It is also comforting for younger readers to know what to expect in a book – that they will love the setting, the style and the writing, so it’s much easier for them to become lost in the story. A series that you love can be completely addictive, whereas a stand-alone book, even a brilliant one is over too soon!

What have you enjoyed reading recently?

For my book club, I’ve just finished reading Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman, which I’ve been wanting to read for ages. It was fantastic – so funny, witty and moving. I absolutely loved The Peacock Summer by Hannah Richell, set in a crumbling old English mansion, about a modern-day character called Maggie, trying to discover the secrets of her grandmother’s mysterious past. Another historical book which I loved was The Juliet Code by Christine Wells, about Juliet Barnard, a British spy parachuted into France during World War 2, to help the French Resistance in occupied Paris and her turmoil in dealing with these experiences when the war is over.

What are you writing about now or next?

I have two completely different and new projects that I’m very excited about. The first is a middle-grade children’s fantasy novel set in a world inspired by Renaissance Italy. I’m in the early stages of writing the story and am heading to Tuscany in the New Year to explore tiny fortified hill towns, medieval towers and secret tunnels. The other project is very special – a book which I’m writing with my sister Kate Forsyth, to be published by the National Library of Australia. It is a biblio-memoir about growing up in a family of writers and the life of our great-great-great-great grandmother Charlotte Atkinson, who wrote the very first children’s book, published in Australia in 1841.

Thanks Belinda, and all the very best with your books.

Funny Books for Children

Children adore funny stories so thanks to the publishers who are commissioning them and authors who are writing them.

Penguin Random House Australia has recently published the brilliant Oliver Phommavanh’s new novel Natural Born Leader  Loser; Mr Bambuckle’s Remarkables Fight Back by Tim Harris, where the exploits of Mr Bambuckle and his class continue; and Total Quack Up!, an appealing anthology edited by Sally Rippin and Adrian Beck.

Pan Macmillan Australia has extended its popular comedy series with Laugh Your Head Off 4 Ever, illustrated by Andrea Innocent. Highlights here include Felice Arena’s ‘Dad Dancing’ about Hamish’s dad who dances cringeably at the end-of-year formal. Bully, Craig Dickson, films it on his phone until the music changes … Penny Tangey’s ‘Use Your Words’ is about the power of words and could also be used in schools to illustrate this in a fun way.  James Roy’s ‘Evil Genius’ is a clever comeuppance featuring jelly snakes. Lisa Shanahan has an alien tale in ‘Harriet’s Spacey Friend’. And Andy Griffiths’ ‘Runaway Pram’ has been published previously but is a superb slapstick piece. The bright yellow cover with contrasting pink makes this book stand out.

Another anthology is Total Quack Up! It’s edited by Sally Rippin, much-loved writer of ‘Polly and Buster’, ‘Billie B Brown’, ‘Hey Jack!’, awarded picture book The Rainbirds (with David Metzenthen) and stunning middle-grade novel Angel Creek; and Adrian Beck, author of the ‘Champion Charlies’ and ‘Kick it to Nick’ series. It’s illustrated by James Foley of My Dead Bunny fame. Deborah Abela uses the hills hoist to dramatic effect in ‘How to be a Superhero’. Tristan Bancks has a funny take on a football game in ‘The Pigs’. Jacqueline Harvey will scare anyone off pet sitting in ‘Pet Sit Pandemonium: Operation Snowball’. Using a clever play-on-words Sally Rippin shows what could happen to disobedient children in ‘Do Not Open’. The hilarious R.A. Spratt has another funny Nanny Piggins story in ‘Pigerella’. And Matt Stanton has a selfie-inspired cautionary tale in ‘What Hippopotamuses and Sharks Have in Common’. The only story published previously is Paul Jennings’ ‘A Mouthful’. It’s a very funny Dad tale.

Tim Harris’s ‘Mr Bambuckle’ stories (illustrated by James Hart) are incredibly popular. In Mr Bambuckle’s Remarkables Fight Back we meet his class of 15 students again. They get the better of horrible teachers and Scarlett has an original plan to get rid of the dire Miss Frost. Mr Bambuckle inspires creative ideas, such as asking students to think of “a ridiculous use for a cake” and “an imaginative way to enter the classroom”. As a bonus, books with illustrations are championed as a way of managing the terrible behaviour of a kindergarten buddy. It’s followed by Mr Bambuckle’s Remarkables Go Wild.

Raymond in Oliver Phommavanh’s Natural Born Leader  Loser is a memorable character to whom children will relate and cheer on. He is in Year 6 at apathetic Barryjong Primary.  Bullies run rife. New principal, Mr Humble who looks like a retired wrestler, wants to change the culture and selects four prefects: energetic soccer star Zain; forthright, hijab-wearing Randa; artistic Ally and Raymond who believes he’s a nobody. He doesn’t want to be in the spotlight but he does want to make the school better. As he challenges, and dares, himself he starts to make more difference than he could have imagined. The process is agonising at times but also full of fun, wildly creative ideas, jokes and wonderful emerging and changing friendships. I would love to see all children in primary school, including quiet achievers like Raymond, read this book. It could change negative cultures and transform the timid into confident leaders without spoiling their natural personalities.

Review: Satellite by Nick Lake

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Satellite by Nick Lake reads like a quietly soft contemporary…but set in space. I just loved this combination, and how unique it felt. It’s the perfect collision of sci-fi vs contemporary with a little dystopian dashed in as well. You probably have to suspend a bit of disbelief with the technical aspects of raising a baby in 0 gravity (but hey it is in the future!) but as someone who doesn’t know a lot about space anyway, it didn’t bother me. And I was totally entranced by the characters and the conspiracy theories! It’s speculative fiction at its greatest!

The story follows Leo who was born on Moon 2, a space station that orbits the earth every ninety minutes. He’s lived up here forever with twins, Libra and Orion, and they can’t go down to earth until they’re strong enough to endure the change (considering they’ve grown up in 0 gravity all their lives). Chances of surviving the descent are actually dubious since these three teens are living what no one has ever experienced: a life where they’ve never touched earth. But getting down to earth isn’t the only struggle they’ll face, with bodies ill equipped to handle gravity, and some darker secrets about their existence that they never guessed and Leo is finding hard to face.

One things that I really enjoyed was: the unique formatting! It took a bit to get used to, but then I got into the flow and it worked. It has very few capital letters (barring names) and it reads like text-speech, so basically: “i c u spinning around in 0 g in space.” At first I was like “grit teeth and bear this” but it actually leant a very specific voice to the story and makes you feel close to the characters.

Leo is the narrator and he is the softest boy, kind of a genius, and also quiet and intense. I mean, the kid’s grown up in a space shuttle, so he’s definitely different. He’s never never felt gravity. He adores science and he wants to be an astronaut…like his mother and also grandfather. although he has a super strained relationship with his mother. She’s colder than a refrozen ice cube, while his grandfather (an ex-astronaut and now farmer) is loving and can’t wait to meet him for the first time. His relationship with the twins is super sweet too! Orion and Libra are very close and they all function basically as siblings since they’re all each other has ever known — barring the people who’ve raised them and their occasional visits from their parents. (Most people can’t live in 0 gravity for long! So their parents hardly visit.) I also loved the fact that Leo was gay and it was just there. I wish more books would include diversity like this and stop acting like straight is the default! The story actually has very little romance in it though, since Leo was…well…distracted by not dying.

The plot is rife with conspiracy theories and questions. And the chapter ends like to throw you lines like “I thought everything was going to be fine…it wasn’t.” (Paraphrased, ha.) Which is, wow, thank you for that added STRESS. It’s quite a thick book, but you really whip through it fast just to find out the whys and hows of these kids born in space. And though it reads like a contemporary, there are quite a lot of science sections which were intense but very interesting.

Overall? I really enjoyed Satellite! I’d had it on my wishlist forever so finally reading it and having it live up to expectations was amazing! It is all teens and space and conspiracy theories and broken families and lies and secrets and stress! Such an inventive, heart-wrenching, and clever story too!

Leave Taking by Lorraine Marwood

Author-poet Lorraine Marwood won the Prime Minister’s Literary Award for Children’s Fiction in 2010 for Star Jumps. Her new verse novel Leave Taking (University of Qld Press) is just as good. Both are set on a farm and are for primary-aged readers.

Leave Taking refers to both the title and Toby’s experiences as he and his parents pack up their dairy farm and the belongings of Toby’s younger sister, Leah, who recently died from cancer. Of course, such weighty themes are sobering but grief is recognised and faced through the natural rhythms of Australian rural life, Toby’s steps around the property and loving memories of Leah’s tangible and intangible footprints.

The map of the farm on the front endpaper has changed by the end of the book as Toby revisits and labels special places: the machinery shed where both children scratched their initials in the concrete; the old red truck where Leah wrote pretend bus tickets during their last game there; and Memorial Hill where they buried pets and other animals and birds.

Toby camps at significant places on the property but is always close enough to the farmhouse to help with the cows or have a quick check in with his mother. He is also comforted by the company of his dog Trigger.

Leah was a gentle girl who loved stories and taking photos, shared jobs, delighted in April Fools’ jokes and left so many drawings that some will be taken to the new farm and the rest placed in the heart of the bonfire – which would have made her happy.

The writing is often sensory and poetic, beginning with a contrast between the light of the “faint silver of dawn” and the dark shadows outside Toby’s tent. The author sketches the natural world of magpies and native trees and gumnuts with evocative strokes. She uses figurative language to describe the huge milk vat purring “like a big-stomached cat” and personifies the bonfire as a dragon.

There is a supportive, although laid-back, sense of community and hope of new life with the imminent birth of a new baby as Toby maps his goodbye to his home and much-loved sister.

The cover illustrations and line drawings are by Peter Carnavas, who has just won the Griffith University Children’s Book Award in the Queensland Literary Awards. After creating a number of thoughtful picture books, Peter illustrated his first novel, The Elephant, a brilliantly executed study of a family’s grief and path to healing. I will always remember this outstanding novel when I see jacaranda trees in flower.

Setting the Scene with Rachel Nightingale

Rachel Le Rossignol, aka Rachel Nightingale, is the debut novelist of young adult fantasy fiction series, Tales of Tarya, including the first two in the trilogy – Harlequin’s Riddle and Columbine’s Tale. She also happens to be an award-winning playwright, with a musical she wrote set for the stage next year. Rachel has a background in theatre as well, which, when you bring all these creative elements together, you have the perfect blend for a magical series underpinning the gifts of artistry and storytelling and their boundless possibilities. The Tarya Trilogy is about the power of creativity and where it can take you, exploring the states of being within two different realms of another time. Rachel states, ‘it was inspired by a quote by Broadway actor Alan Cumming about that in-between place you discover just before you step onstage and enter a different world – a place where anything is possible…’ 

Rachel is here to discuss her writing journey and the culmination of her passions for the arts and storytelling in her books. Thanks Rachel!

How did you come to be a writer?

Little eight-year-old Rachel decided for me. Sometimes I want to go back in time and talk her out of it and other times I want to pick her up, swing her round and go ‘wheeeee!’. It’s a fun job but it has its tough moments. Of course, it took many years, lots of writing, two creative writing degrees and a lot of persistence to actually get to the point of being published.

Please tell us a bit about your fascinating background in performance, and how you feel this helps with your storytelling abilities.

I did my first theatre show when I was 17. I was in the chorus of Cinderella, and I was hooked. Over the years I’ve done just about everything possible, from acting to lighting, sound, direction and stage management. It all feeds into being about to create the atmosphere and reality of theatre in my books. Working for a number of years on the improvised ‘Murder on the Puffing Billy Express’ show was really important for bringing the players to life on the page, because the Commedia dell’Arte, the travelling players I’m writing about, do improvised shows. Understanding how improv works, and what it feels like to perform something and make it up on the spot, was really important. Plus improv stretches the creativity muscles, which is really helpful.

What kinds of books do you naturally draw inspiration from? Has your series been influenced by any of these titles or their authors?

I love all sorts of books, but if I’m particularly looking for inspiration I go back to Ray Bradbury’s short stories. He is a master of language, he understands the human condition so well, and the ideas in his stories are fascinating. I dream of being able to write like him. I think the book out there that is most like mine is The Night Circus, by Erin Morgenstern, since it’s about performers and magic, with a dash of romance, but Harlequin’s Riddle was written a long time before it was published so it wasn’t a source of inspiration.

Columbine’s Tale follows the gripping first title, Harlequin’s Riddle. What was your process in developing each title and subsequent series? Did you have your plots consciously mapped out beforehand?

The books have changed so much from my original conception, but I think by the time I’d finished Harlequin’s Riddle I was pretty clear on the overall story. After that it was just fine-tuning the details. Aside from Mina’s quest to find her brother, there’s a very strong element of mystery related to the travelling players that Mina has to solve, and to do that properly I needed to be able to put some things in the first book that would only make sense in the third book. So plotting rather than pantsing (flying by the seat of my pants) was definitely the way to go. It means readers can look for clues early on, which is something I always love in a book.

What does the artisan life, costumes and drama mean to you personally?

I would love nothing more than to have a gypsy caravan and travel around, visiting many different places and offering up my stories. I used to pretend I was a gypsy when I was a teenager to make the walk home from school more interesting. I’d picture what I was wearing, and how I would cook over an open fire when I got home. I wish I could spend all my time creating, not doing the shopping or the other mundane tasks of life.

What has your publishing experience with Odyssey Books been like for you? How have they supported you throughout the process?

It’s been a sharp learning curve – being a writer and being an author are two different things. The main difference is learning about marketing and social media. But Odyssey have been great – there are company manuals that are super-helpful for knowing how to approach that side of things. And my publisher has a brilliant strategy, which is that she puts new authors in touch with the Odyssey author community, so you suddenly have an amazingly supportive network who can help you negotiate the whole ‘being published’ thing.

Anything else of excitement you’d like to add? News? Upcoming projects? TBR pile?

I’m pretty excited at the moment that a musical I wrote is going to be debuted in Auckland next year. It’s a re-telling of Aristophane’s classical Greek play, The Birds but with funky Spanish rhythms and a lot of comedy. Bach Musica are going to stage a concert version, with a full orchestra, soloists and forty-person choir. I will be travelling over to New Zealand to see it. I can’t wait, but I’m terrified at the same time – such a public performance of my work!

Thank you so much for your time, Rachel! It’s been a pleasure getting to know more about you and your books.

Rachel and the Tarya Tales can be found at her website, and her book blog tour is taking place here.

#ByAustralianBuyAustralian

Review – Lenny’s Book of Everything

I remember when I was a pre-schooler, the day our World Book Encyclopedia and Childcraft How and Why Library sets arrived. They lived in their own custom-built bookshelf and went with us whenever we moved house. I was contemplating selling them this year to free up space or failing that, surrendering them to the compost heap. Now, after spending time with Lenny and Davey, I’m not so sure. Like their Burrell’s Build-It-At-Home Encyclopedia, each lettered volume holds countless childhood memories anchored in place by facts and figures now hopelessly out of date but somehow still completely valid. How does one discard their former life – a childhood of countless special moments and first-time discoveries – so decidedly?

Moreover, how does one describe Lenny’s story. Wrenching (you will need tissues – preferably 3 ply), soaring (pack your wings), absorbing (allow for a few sleepless nights spent page turning), tragic (get another box of nose-wipes just in case).

Lenny’s Book of Everything is a story with a heart as big as Phar Lap’s and gallops along at a pace that both rips you apart emotionally but is simultaneously restorative and mindful such is Karen Foxlee’s talent for powerful story telling. This story describes the relationship between Lenny, her younger brother who has a rare form of gigantism and their beleaguered mother. Theirs appears a drab ‘moon-rock’ coloured existence yet flashes of brilliance strike everywhere, everyday: their mother’s pink work uniform, the pigeons on their windowsill, Mrs Gaspar’s outrageous beehive, the ubiquitous letters from Martha Brent and of course, her regular dispatch of encyclopedic issues to them. All conspire to create warmth and hope and put the reader at ease while sweeping them ever closer to the inevitable conclusion.

Continue reading Review – Lenny’s Book of Everything

Not So Scary Picture Books for Halloween

Children love a splash of spook, a gash of ghoul and a dash of danger, but only if it’s laced with humour and courage. If you’re looking for some creepy crawlies, menacing monsters and terrifying trolls to give you the shivers this Halloween, then check out these wild picture books… don’t worry, they’re not actually so scary.

A Monster in my House is written by the internationally acclaimed comedians The Umbilical Brothers, so you know you’re in for an amusing feast rather than a nightmarish one. Their undeniably popular wit is clear with their multi-layered twists that pleasingly surprise. The first-person narration warns of the danger associated with having a different monster in each room of the house. However, upon inspecting the images, Berlin artist Johan Potma has done a brilliant job to capture a mix of the classic, old-style horror with a beautiful warmth and humour that just does the opposite of chilling. He neatly infuses newspaper collage with pencil sketching and oil paint in subdued browns, reds and greens with the loopiest of monster characters you’ve ever seen. And take note of the little mouse in each spread… it holds some very important clues! In a charming rhyming text, the suspense is thrilling, leading us to a conclusion that is totally unexpected.

A Monster in my House is a delightfully playful romp abound with some pretty cool characters that will simply warm your soul.

Penguin Random House, October 2018.

With a nod to the legendary We’re Going a Bear Hunt comes this exasperatingly satisfying Beware the Deep Dark Forest by Sue Whiting and Annie White. Sure, there are creepy bits, with carnivorous plants and venomous snakes and all. But that doesn’t stop Rosie from being the heroine in this suspenseful adventure tale. Braving it out through the sublimely detailed and juicy scenes, the young girl sets off to rescue her pup Tinky through terrifying obstacles, including a bristly wolf, a deep ravine, and an enormous hairy-bellied, muddy troll. But rather than shy away and run like the children did with a certain shiny-eyed, wet-nosed Bear in another story, Rosie stands tall and defiant proving her saviour qualities. Then she can squelch back through the deep and dark and muddy forest back home.

Beware the Deep Dark Forest captures just the right amount of creepiness with the rewarding inclusion of excitement and adventure and a strong female character determined to get her hands dirty and tackle the tough stuff. This is how you face your fears for children from age four.

Walker Books, October 2018.

Following the long-lasting success of The Wrong Book, Nick Bland has come out with this latest cracker, The Unscary Book. It follows a boy, Nicholas Ickle, suitably costumed in an alien / skeleton attire, attempting to introduce us to his ‘scary’ book. So, prepare to be frightened! However, each page turn sends readers into fits of giggles rather than a state of alarm. Poor Nicholas is more terrified at the nice-ness and bright-ness of what is revealed behind all his pre-prepared props. ‘But ice-cream isn’t scary, it’s delicious!’, he shouts. ‘I’m trying to scare people, not make them hungry!’. The brilliantly colourful and energetic (non-scary) book continues to amuse our young audience as Nicholas becomes more frustrated with things that are NOT spooky, terrifying, frightening, or horrifying. And just when you think he’s finally won, well, you’ll just have to read it to find out!

The Unscary Book has plenty of animation and visuals to pore over, as well as fantastic language and comprehension elements to explore. Comedic bliss that all went wrong in just the right way. No preschooler will un-love this one!

Scholastic, September 2018.

Not so much scary, but more like stinky! Which is actually helpful for scaring those unwanted pests away. Tohby Riddle has got this story spot-on with his knack for harnessing the powers of philosophy with humour and an understanding of human complexities – although in the form of bugs and critters. Here Comes Stinkbug! is completely captivating with its brilliantly simplistic plot and dry wit about the unpleasantness of a smelly Stinkbug. None of the other crawlies want to be around Stinkbug because, well, he stinks. They try to raise the matter with him, but that makes him worse. Until he tries to charm the others with a lot of effort. However, it seems Stinkbug has attracted the wrong sort… Maybe it’s best to just be yourself.

The aptly hued garden tones and textures combined with a mixture of typed narrative and handwritten speech bubbles elicit a nature that is both endearingly casual and candid. Here Comes Stinkbug! empowers readers to consider embracing who you are, playing to your strengths and being wary of those who might take advantage of you. Children from age four will find this book utterly and proposterously reeking with the sweetest kind of comedy, bugging their parents for more.

Allen and Unwin, September 2018.

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Review: Dry by Neal Shusterman and Jarrod Shusterman

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Dry by Neal Shusterman and Jarrod Shusterman is the kind of apocalyptic tale that will leave your throat dry and heart beating fast. Because it’s literally about what would happen if there was NO water. And I can’t even say how very terrifying that is and how I genuinely felt so thirsty reading this book I drank about a hundred gallons of water. (Bonus points to the authors for encouraging us to stay hydrated.)

Welcome to a world in the not-so-distant future where suddenly the taps stop working. People get worried but this quickly turns to panic, because there’s no way to survive without water. The world is in severe drought and how far would you go and what would you do to get the water you need to so survive? The story starts out on a simple suburban street where Alyssa and her little brother Garret are facing the water crisis, while their neighbours are super Preppers for this kind of thing and have a fortress style kingdom with provisions intact. The neighbours teen son, Kelton, definitely has a crush on Alyssa though, and they team up when the world starts spinning down a dark path. As their parents go missing and they struggle to survive, the end up on a roadtrip and looped in with Jacqui (who’s totally terrifying and carrying a gun) and Henry (who is very snaky and will con everyone out of their wallets) and the five have to get to a safe place and get water…before it’s too late.

I was particularly excited for this book because I adore Neal Shusterman, and knowing he collabed with his son made the book even more special. Their styles worked seamlessly together, although we get the good trademarked Neal plot of: stressful circumstances and terrifying finales.

Trust me, this book is STRESSFUL. I think what makes it even more vivid is the fact that it starts off in a normal ol’ neighbourhood. You could imagine this happening to your street. And the world so quickly dissolves into chaos in the face of having no water. You can only go 3 days without it, after all, and what do you do when there’s literally none to be had? Weapons come out. Friendships are lost. New bonds are forged.

The plot takes us on a whirlwind roadtrip too, as the teens try to reach Kelton’s family’s safehouse. Which, unfortunately, is no amble down the road. So you know they’re in for a rough time! I loved how the plot never lagged and gave us a ton of new situations and interesting people to meet along the way — all dogged by the ticking time-bomb of get water get water get water.

The amount of characters narrating took me by surprise at first, but I appreciate how this showed the entire scope of how the country was suffering. There’s lots of excerpts from strangers while the main chapters are mostly split between Kelton and Alyssa, but gradually adding in Jacqui and Henry.

Alyssa was a really honest and brave sort of person, very dedicated to keeping her little brother safe, but also keen to keep things fair and help others. Kelton was such a dork and doing his best to have some real friends for the first time. His family is obsessed with the apocalypse so he’s kind of the Survival Guy and saves their lives time and again with his knowledge. Jacqui is terrifying, aka the best thing ever, because she yells at things and has a gun and has been living on her own well before this tragedy started. Henry is who they pick up towards the end, and he’s a sly snake who is using the crisis as a way to gain money. His introduction to the group made everything so fraught with tension that it was epic to read!

I definitely recommend DRY if you want to (a) be really really thirsty while you read, and (b) read a knuckle-whitening social commentary on climate change and humans turning into monsters. It is actually super stressful! (In the best way!) And totally captivating!

Stories for the Soul – Picture Books that Tug at the Heart Part 1

There’s a fair chance that issue-based picture books are going to tug your heartstrings and touch your soul purely because they dare to devote themselves to issues that matter to you, the reader. You should never be frightened of feeling, nor should you be wary of exposing your child to feelings. Even if your child has not yet experienced a similar situation, sharing stories with soul is a key way to introduce them to the myriad of emotions and circumstances that make up their world. These next few picture books are prime examples.

Lily’s Balloon by Katrina Roe and Helene Magisson

Lily is disappointed and overwhelmed by a day out at the fair that is until she finds something that makes her feel ‘quiet on the inside’, an ivory coloured balloon. This balloon calms and heartens her but she accidentally lets it out of her grasp at the park. It soars towards the clouds leaving Lily behind.

Tom, fledging photographer, happens upon the balloon as it drifts across the park’s lake and it becomes one of his favourite shots. However, the balloon dances on until it snags in the branches of Amelia’s garden. After she sets it free, her heart soars with it.

Continue reading Stories for the Soul – Picture Books that Tug at the Heart Part 1

YA Books About Shy Introverts!

If you’re a bookworm, there is a very very high chance you also are an introvert. This isn’t always the case, of course, but it seems to be common, right?! And while introvert means being around people drain you, not that you’re always shy, today’s collecting of books are going to focus on the shy introvert types! The awkwardly awesome and quiet world-changers (who also just want a nap).

 


FANGIRL by Rainbow Rowell

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Probably the most commonly recommended book for the shy introvert types! Cath is incredibly reserved and would much rather write fanfic and hide from humanity #relatable.

The story follows her starting college, her sister ditching her, and the terrifying yet tentative forming of new friendships that might just change everything…although she keeps her reserved personality and this I love!

 

WHAT IF IT’S US by Becky Albertalli and Adam Silvera

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One of the newest famous books to hit the YA shelves (it’s also a bestseller now!) this is the super cute story of two boys falling in love in New York.

While Arthur is like an Extrovert Spectacular, let’s take a moment to appreciate Ben: whose idea of a good time is playing Sims and working on his epic fantasy self-insert novel. He has plenty of friends and doesn’t mind going out for a good time, but he is the softest quietest thing and so relatable!

 

LAMENT by Maggie Stiefvater

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While this is quite an old one, it is still most glorious and features faeries! Murder! Disaster! Music! And delightful teen angst as a musical prodigy, Dee, realises the faeries have their hearts set on her…partially because she’s an incredible alluring musician, and also because maaaybe she might threaten the Queen’s place someday. But her assassin falls in love with her. (As you do.) And Dee is a very very quiet person who has terrible performance anxiety and needs SO much recharge time after nearly being murdered by supernatural assassins. (As you do.)

 

BLACK BIRD OF THE GALLOWS by Meg Kassel

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Another tale that is rife with the paranormal: This time featuring Angie Dovage who’s just trying to live a lowkey life after her mother died of an overdose and she’s living with her estranged father. She’s very quiet and reserved at school, but her secret? She’s a very popular and anonymous DJ after hours. This is quite enough on its own, buuuut add in a town where harbingers arrive foretelling death and a supernatural beekeeper turns up to sow madness and discord, and you have an introvert who is in a bit of a panic.

 

THE DANGEROUS ART OF BLENDING IN by Angelo Surmelis

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And lastly a moment for Evan Panos, who is here to break your heart as he’s caught in a horrible environment where his strict Greek mother thinks he’s evil…and he has to do everything he can to hide that he’s gay. He’s an artist and loves being lost in his own mind and imagination as an escape. But sometimes that’s not enough when your own family threatens to tear you apart. There is a way out though, and this story will just totally make your heart beat with hope as well as sadness!

 

Sensational Spring Kids’ Stories

Spring has sprung and with it a prolific explosion of sublimely divine children’s books. Here is the slimmest selection. Do search the bookshelves for more.

The Perfect Leaf by Andrew Plant

Befittingly released on the tail end of our Southern Hemisphere autumn, The Perfect Leaf is a glorious explosion of colour and joy. Smothered in hues of honey-on-warm-toast, this book oozes the golden splendour of autumn on each page, promoting friendship, imagination and creativity in a way adults often forget about but children naturally embrace.

In a world where imperfections are deemed as failures rather than avenues for alternative thought and being, this book serves as an important reminder for us all to rejoice in the small things in life and look for the unique beauties within them. Plant’s multi perspective illustrations saturate each page, providing the perfect backdrop for his syrupy prose. The Perfect Leaf is a lovely vehicle for discussion about nature, seasons, perception, acceptance and friendship. And, while more autumn hued than spring, worthy of treasuring as the days warm.

Ford Street Publishing October 2018

Big Fella Rain by Beryl Webber and Fern Martins

At a time when children are constantly being reminded of the arid nature of this land, Big Fella Rain is a supremely refreshing, soul-quenching look at life in the Top End of Australia.

Continue reading Sensational Spring Kids’ Stories

Review: The Lady’s Guide To Petticoats And Piracy by Mackenzie Lee

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The Lady’s Guide to Petticoats and Piracy by Mackenzie Lee contains such a delightful mixture of feminist rage and pastry appreciation. It’s the compantion novel to The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue (which has to be one of my all time favourite books!) and I’m so glad we get a spin-off focused entirely on Monty’s little sister: Felicity Montague. She is a ferocious and determined want-to-be-doctor and will knock down the doors of the men-centric 1700s to get the chance to study medicine. It features fantastic female friendships, a wild and scattered romp over land and sea, and a good deal of pirates. As one should hope.

The story takes off with Felicity awkwardly bolting from a marriage proposal because what she wants to do is study medicine. She’s so beaten down trying to convince hospitals to train her, though, so when she gets the opportunity to meet her very favourite doctor hero, Alexander Platt, she snatches the opportunity and travels across Europe to hopefully be hired after his wedding. But it just so happens that he’s marrying her old childhood friend, Joanna…and this creates some awkwardness because they had a massive falling out years ago. But Felicity is so desperate for this dream that she teams up with a slightly sketchy girl named Sim (who possibly is a thief?! who can know) and as things turn out to be not what she expected, she gets tossed into a whirlwind journey and adventure of pirates and dragons, heroes and villains, naturalists and famous doctors, thievery and saving.

My very favourite thing was our trio of fantastic leading women. Felicity is all ornery and focused: get to be a doctor. She literally cares about nothing else, and her drive is admirable as well as sad sometimes, because she misses out on a lot of things. Like friendships. Then we have Sim! She’s Muslim and brown skinned and Felicity isn’t quite sure if she’s a thief or not, but the two get bundled together to go on this adventure to find Alexander Platt…which is where Joanna Hoffman comes in! She’s loves parties and lace and frills…and she’s also a naturalist. The dynamics of the trio were thrilling and diverse and complex. Every character felt so incredibly well written, I loved every second getting to know them.

I also liked how it tackled the you’re not like the other girls” trope. Felicity herself was the one perpetuating it, and seeing her called out on it and forced to think about why she scorned women who liked feminine things was so refreshing to read. Felicity thinks being sensible and intelligent means being as far from “girly” as possible and this so isn’t true. I love how she grew and her character arc was amazing.

It has a very travel-centric plot! They romp over a lot of Europe and then end up on the high seas (ooh pirates!). It also focuses a bit on naturalists too…and mapping and exploring. I so could handle a book from Mackenzie Lee about women explorers in history too!

The feministic rants were very therapeutic to read. At times it did feel a bit repetitious and I wanted Felicity to think and feel about more than her single-minded focus to be trained as a doctor and how the arrogant men of the world were blocking her way. It consumed her, which made sense, but it also veered into preachy territory sometimes. But these things were so so topical to talk about, especially today, when women still face horrible sexism as they try to forge new paths and fight for the right to be held equal to men.

Also all the scenes where Monty and Percy came in were perfection. This is the part where we get to crack up and fall into the old banter of Monty and Felicity who love each other…aaand fight all the time.  It was also amazing to have a bit of a “what’s happening to them now” peek at Monty and Percy’s lives. Also their conclusion? So so good.

In fact the book, on the whole, had just such a stunningly winning ending, that I feel very warm and satisfied! Which is a perfect way to finish off reading a fantastic duology about the Montague siblings. The friendships and discussions on being asexual and the pirate adventures and cleverness and huger to learn all made this book an exceptional treat to read.

Meet the Frugalwoods

I set to reading Meet the Frugalwoods: Achieving Financial Independence Through Simple Living for three not-entirely-deep reasons:

  • The title seemed intriguing. I mean, what’s a frugalwood?
  • I’d just finished reading The Barefoot Investor and figured a book about frugality was a good way to continue refining my financial plans and processes.
  • The book was in demand at the library, which is the book-reading equivalent of seeing a long nightclub queue and figuring it that club is the place to be.

So, despite not having known anything about the Meet the Frugalwoods or its author, I was sufficiently intrigued.

While Meet the Frugalwoods didn’t explicitly impart financial advice in the same manner as The Barefoot Investor, it did chart the story of how a couple of 20-somethings had scrimped and saved enough to pay cash for their dream home and be financially independent by their early 30s.

And that’s without hyperbole but with plenty of mistakes. ‘I’m astounded at how many ways there are to waste money, and at how many of them I’ve personally fallen victim to,’ author Elizabeth Willard Thames writes, which is heartening. She wasn’t, like the kinds of people I tend to find write these kinds of books, born impossibly good with money and had been saving since she was seven.

Instead, Willard Thames kicks off the book with explaining that she found herself finishing uni with good grades but little to no experience and struggled to find anyone who would hire her. She eventually landed herself a job in New York that paid just US $10,000 per year and found herself having to live in a pretty dire Brooklyn neighbourhood and develop some extremely good money-conserving skills on the fly just to survive.

It seems like that forcibly lean year set her on the path to ensuring she never had to feel so financially stressed again. As she writes: ‘While I’m pretty sure the phrase “extreme frugality” sounds like penance, it’s actually the exact opposite. It’s deliverance … Frugality opened up my mind to what I can do with my life, as opposed to what I can buy.’

She makes some salient points throughout the book, not least: ‘It’s not about how much you like or dislike your job. It’s about how dependent upon it you are for your paycheck.’ Also: ‘Buying clothes didn’t automatically make me more confident or more beautiful; it just automatically meant I had less money.’

Meet the Frugalwoods centres around the premise that Willard Thames and her husband aimed to have enough money saved up so they could work if they chose (which they do choose), but that they don’t need to work to survive. It’s an aim almost everyone could relate to.

Spoiler alert: The couple achieved that and more, saving more money than I just about thought possible. Willard Thames even went so far as to give up make-up, a crutch she’d used to bolster her self-esteem since she was 14, and the couple used YouTube to teach themselves how to do their own haircuts.

All of which is probably a little extreme for most of us, but which illustrates what’s doable if you’re motivated enough.

But saving money isn’t the only boon. A byproduct of frugality, Willard Thames writes, is that it’s good for the environment because it involves ample use of second-hand items: ‘I’m of the belief that you can’t buy your way green because consumption, by its very action, usually has a negative impact on the environment.’

Not having known what a frugalwood is or what the book was going to be like other than the fact than it seemed to be in demand worked out ok for me. Meet the Frugalwoods was a pleasantly interesting, thought-provoking, and ultimately useful foray into frugalism and a no-nonsense look at achieving financial independence.

While I probably wouldn’t give up haircuts (and frankly couldn’t be trusted to cut my own hair—not now, not ever), there are plenty of other areas where I’m saving money and others this book has inspired me to try.

YA Thrillers: ‘Found’ & ‘After the Lights Go Out’

Fleur Ferris has endorsed Lili Wilkinson’s latest novel After the Lights Go Out (Allen & Unwin) with the words, “A terrifying yet hope-filled story of disaster, deceit, love, sacrifice and survival.” These words could also apply to her new book Found (Penguin Random House Australia). Both Australian YA novels have intriguing titles and are classy examples of thrillers set outside country towns in hidden bunkers. They complement, and could be read alongside, each other.

After the Lights Go Out begins with an absolutely riveting scene where homeschooled Pru and her younger twin sisters Grace and Blythe have to escape from their house on an isolated property on the edge of the desert to a hidden underground bunker. Their father, a mining engineer, built it in secret and named it the Paddock after Winston Churchill’s WWII bunker. We learn quickly that he is paranoid, anticipates secret government conspiracies and that he is a doomsday prepper. This is a training drill.

Later, when the lights go out, the girls know that this is The Big One and they execute their exhaustive training and protocols such as Eat perishables and Exchange worthless currency for supplies. Tension ratchets because Pru is anaphylactic, there has been an explosion at the zinc mine and her father is missing, and the girls aren’t sure whether they should share their supplies with the townspeople of Jubilee.

Bear, Elizabeth’s father in Found is also highly protective and intimidating. He wouldn’t be happy about her kiss with Jonah but he doesn’t witness it – he’s been taken by unknown people in a white van. When her mother realises what has happened she whisks Beth out of town and through a cross-country route along channels across the paddocks to a bunker under a dry dam on their farm. This bunker is made from shipping containers and is as well-equipped as Pru’s. Their flight is also just as original and exciting.

The reason for Beth’s family’s dangerous plight is quickly revealed and the story then steams ahead with help from Jonah (who shares the narration) and Trent, a bad boy who may be trying to reform. The stakes are raised even higher when Beth’s mother is shot.

Both Fleur and Lili describe their very Australian rural settings with authenticity and care. Lili’s diverse characters range from a British Asian church minister to warm-skinned love interest Mateo who has two mums. Found is action-packed and heartbreaking and will be relished by all high school readers who love a fast-paced, filmic read.

Other highly recommended books by these authors include:

Fleur Ferris Risk, Black, Wreck

Lili Wilkinson Green Valentine, The Boundless Sublime, A Pocketful of Eyes

Leaf Stone Beetle

Leaf Stone Beetle is written by Ursula Dubosarsky and illustrated by Gaye Chapman. Its publisher Dirt Lane Press is a ground-breaking new publishing company based in Orange, NSW. They believe in creating quality literature and are publishing books by some of Australia’s best, including Matt Ottley, Ursula Dubosarsky and Gaye Chapman.

http://www.dirtlanepress.com/

 

Leaf Stone Beetle is a deeply-considered, poignant tale telling the interlinked stories of leaf, stone and beetle. The book’s physical small, almost square shape is ideal for small hands and, along with its understated cover and ink and woodcut style illustrations, signals that it belongs outside the usual. Thoughtful, perceptive readers of all ages will find Leaf Stone Beetle resonant.

Little leaf is the smallest and greenest leaf on the tree. When the other leaves change colour and are tussled away by the wind, it stays behind until swept by a gentle breeze to a stream. A stone lies on the bottom of the water and notices the changes in tree, weather and stars without expecting any transformation itself. When a storm moves the stone near the gnarled roots of the tree, it is terrified.

Beetle is different from the other beetles. Without haste she absorbs the minutiae of her world. “She looked at the tiny purple flowers. She looked at a slip of golden pollen that fluttered by in the wind”. The other beetles realise that a storm is coming and scurry away. Beetle then has no one to follow home.

The stories intersect when Beetle is kept safe by leaf and stone in completely natural ways. They are all accepting of their transient safety, recognising their ultimate role in nature’s cycle. With interest and without angst, readers glean that change is an inevitable part of life.

Leaf Stone Beetle is a unique construct of narrative science and story in words and illustrations. It is simple, yet philosophical and profound.

Teacher Notes are available at https://static1.squarespace.com/static/50e75d6de4b0955e45fd2583/t/5b5e56b62b6a28400347ea34/1532909255781/Leaf+Stone+Beetle+Teachers+notes_01.pdf

Other books illustrated by Gaye Chapman include Little Blue, Incredibilia, Precious Little and In the Evening. 

Some books, amongst many, written by Ursula Dubosarsky include Brindabella, The Blue Cat, The Golden Day, The Red Shoe, The Word Spy and The Return of the Word Spy.

Other books published by Dirt Lane Press include The Sorry Tale of Fox & Bear by Margrete Lamond, illustrated by Heather Valence. This wily, nuanced tale was shortlisted for the 2018 NSW Premier’s Literary awards. The Dream Peddler by Irena Kobald and Christopher Nielsen is published this month.

Peace, Love, and Goats of Anarchy

I’ve written before about rescue goat animal sanctuary Goats of Anarchy (GoA), founded by event planner turned goat rescuer Leanne Lauricella. GoA cares for goats in need of a home, which often includes special-needs goats (AKA ‘robogoats’) who require prosthetics and/or carts to help them get about.

Lauricella has previously released children’s picture books about some of GoA’s residents, including Polly and her Duck Costume (a blind goat with a neurological disorder who is becalmed when she is swaddled in a duck onesie) and Angel and her Wonderful Wheels (a tiny black and white fainting goat who’d lost the tips of her ears and toes to frostbite and who’d survived some unnecessary amputation surgery and now gets about with the help of a custom-built cart).

Peace, Love, and Goats of Anarchy: How my Little Goats Taught Me Huge Lessons About Life is Lauricella’s latest book, but this time aimed more as a gift book for adults. Hardcover and petite-sized, the book features stunning images of many of the farm’s residents, including through a collage and some full-page portraits in the book’s initial pages over which I pored for minutes before eventually turning the page to start the book’s text. Also, its cover image is stellar.

Peace, Love, and Goats of Anarchy tells a little more about how Lauricella started rescuing the goats and what she’s learnt from them along the way. The super-short chapters are organised by themes of change, finding purpose, unconditional love, strength, confidence, patience, grief and courage, fight like a goat, and hope.

As with Lauricella’s previous books, the 120-page book’s writing is simple, spare, functional. It’ll never win prizes for the prose, and the advice-giving summaries at the end are a little rah rah and redundant, but it definitely gets the job done.

Especially in the latter sections, which recount some fairly difficult times around some of the goats we fell in love with, not least Lawson and Mellie, who both had terminal heart conditions. Having witnessed their stories via GoA’s Instagram, I cried some ugly tears reliving their stories via this book.

And really, if you do nothing other than skim the chapters and enjoy the images before bouncing off to social media to follow GoA, then Peace, Love, and Goats of Anarchy has done its job.

My three wishes for any future books Lauricella releases is, first, I’d like to put in a request for an Ansell the Destroyer book. AKA a book about an incredibly intelligent, curious, accidentally mischievous, and often misunderstood goat named Ansell who survived a horror of a start to life and has an unrivalled gentleness and zest for life. No hints, or anything.

Second, that Lauricella engages a professional writer to write above book and also to really uncover and convey the deeper stories we know exist about GoA. For example, just how hard it is to do the job she’s doing. The current books are a little superficial when we know there are some significant and significantly compelling stories that warrant telling.

Third, that she discusses how she can manage the farm financially. GoA is a registered charity, yes, but that can’t be the whole story. As someone who adopts ex-battery hens, I know only too well how expensive their medical care can be and really, really want to know how Lauricella is making it all work—is the charity pumping along or is she getting by by the skin of her teeth?

Regardless of these last two quibbles, Peace, Love, and Goats of Anarchy would make a good present for someone interested in animals and animal rescue, and would make an adult companion to the children’s book range Lauricella has published. At the rate she’s going with book releases, her books could comprise the entire range of Christmas presents I’ll be getting for the different people in my family.

Trace Times Two

I wasn’t familiar with Maria James or her 38-year-old murder cold case. The single mother from Thornbury, Melbourne, was stabbed 68 times in her bedroom one weekday morning by a person or persons never definitively identified. Coincidentally or otherwise, she was killed the morning she was going to confront the local priest about molesting her young, disabled son Adam.

What I refer to as ‘Trace times two’ are the astonishingly good podcast and book by the same name about James’ unsolved murder and the people tangentially affected by it—first, and foremost, her patient, polite, generous, trusting sons.

Brought to us by the team at the ABC, led by ABC journalist Rachael Brown, Trace features Ron Iddles—whose name literally condenses to ‘Riddles’—the kind of detective you’d definitely want investigating your or your loved ones’ untimely deaths, should they occur. James’ murder is the first case Iddles encountered as a fresh-faced 25-year-old homicide squad inductee and it’s the one case he hasn’t yet successfully solved.

For Iddles and the many people affected by James’ death and the events that occurred around the time of her death, re-opening investigations into the case is painful and an enormous responsibility—something Brown struggles with: ‘… we’ve been lost down countless rabbit holes. We’ve asked people to relive their nightmares and brought on tears, many of them our own.’ She also writes: ‘… interviewees unwittingly place a great amount faith in us, complete strangers, in handing over their story. It’s like a blind date with potentially far more damaging consequences.’

It’s also a blind date that almost came to nought, with Brown having first to fight to get the podcast picked up and second to ensure it got to see the light of day: ‘This is a story that’s crawled under my skin, stayed there, and is screaming to be told,’ she wrote to her bosses. ‘I set out to find if a priest murdered Maria. If one did, it’ll be a first for Australia’s modern history. Given the current climate of the Royal Commission, it’s a question that must be asked.’

Indeed, the tale is incredibly timely.

While it would be easy to dismiss the podcast and book as just another dip into the true crime wave (there are, admittedly, a lot of true crime podcasts finding their way to iTunes), this one is top-tier quality. Apart from stellar investigative journalism and storytelling, Trace times two breaks new ground of the ilk that Serial and Dirty John have before them, leveraging all available skills and platforms and giving a sense of what could be possible. As Brown writes:

‘It’s an odd synergy, this podcast’s reliance on old-school journalism techniques (federal roll checks, microfiche searches, handwritten letters), alongside the innovative element of interactivity, but that’s where I think its beauty lies …’

Trace the book is a handy companion piece to the podcast (and also works as a standalone text). I’d highly recommend reading it alongside or after listening to the podcast to enrich the podcast-listening experience. Here’s hoping Brown is able to help James’ sons and dogged detective Iddles find the answers they’ve been searching for for almost four decades.

World Mental Health Day | YA Book Book Recs

With World Mental Health Day having come and gone on the 10th of October, I thought this would make a great opportunity to give some mental health YA reading recommendations! Books are both excellent sources of knowledge and can help you be more empathetic to circumstances you might not be familiar with. If there are two things we all need, they are definitely empathy and knowledge.


TURTLES ALL THE WAY DOWN by John Green — featuring OCD and anxiety

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Of course John Green is an extremely common YA name and well deserved! His latest book features Aza Holmes, who struggles with severe OCD (although it’s not labelled on the page, but John Green has confirmed he based Aza’s experiences off his own OCD journey). It’s so incredibly and poignantly well written, and of course features a dash of Green-esque humour and heartbreak.

WORDS ON BATHROOM WALLS by Julia Walton — featuring schizophrenia

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This is a journal from the view of Adam as he starts a trial of new medication to manage his schizophrenia and not only is it absolutely well written, you can’t help but be so caught up in Adam’s world as he fights to have a life he’s proud of and also not be terrified of his own illness. It also features a delicious amount of baking.

STARFISH by Akemi Dawn Bowman — featuring social anxiety

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Hands down, this is one of the best social anxiety books I’ve read! Anxiety is such a complex beast and it’s amazing to find a book that both captures this and also tells a heartwrenching tale of a biracial girl with an abusive mother. Kiko will absolutely break your heart (and mend it a little) as she uses art to escape her terrible home life.

THE GENTLEMAN’S GUIDE TO VICE AND VIRTUE by Mackenzie Lee — featuring depression and PTSD

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This is a historical fiction romp and a half! It is downright hysterically hilarious and you will fall in love with Monty as he tours the continent in the 1700s and breaks his heart over loving a boy his forbidden to have. The themes of depression and PTSD are so well woven through the tale it will do it’s best to reduce you to tears on several occasions. One of my all time favourite books!

THE WICKER KING by K. Ancrum — featuring depression and hallucination disorder

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Ohh if this isn’t a stunningly told story that uses mixed-media to completely captivate your imagination. It’s the story of two boys whose lives are intricately woven together in a co-dependant relationship that is part friendship, part love, as they fall deeper into the dark spirals of a hallucination disorder. Jack is losing himself and August will do anything to hide it so no one takes Jack away.

ANGER IS A GIFT by Mark Oshiro — featuring anxiety

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Just in case you wanted to have your heart punched out of your chest…definitely try this one! It’s a story of a boy with intense anxiety (so well written) who is also battling to be heard in a world that wants him silent…or not existing at all. It’s such a powerful #BlackLivesMatter story from an #ownvoices author and gives a detailed look into what black kids go through in schools who’ve decided they’ll never achieve anything. Perfect book is utterly perfect.

YA Books About Magical Creatures

One thing we bookworms get quite enthusiastic about when it comes to fantasy stories must definitely be: magical creatures. Oh we have our cats in real life, but what could be better than a little pocket dragon or a suitcase full of weird and wonderful monsters? (Looking at you, Newt, from Fantastic Beasts And Where To Find them.)

So! If you are secretly mourning the lack of magical creatures in your life, do allow me to show you a list of books where you can vicariously live your dreams of having a pet who is possibly a shapeshifting kraken. Obviously what everyone wants.


GRIM LOVELIES by Megan Shepherd

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Not only is this a brand new shiny release…it features beasts turned human! You know the old Disney stories where the fairy godmother turns the mice into coachmen? Here we have it! Except the witches are evil and the beasties are her slaves and very very desperate not to turn back into their animals skins. It’s also set in Paris and features Anouk, a demure and quiet servant for her witch overlord…until the witch is murdered and suddenly she has 3 days to figure out how not to turn back into an animal.

 

SHIVER by Maggie Stiefvater

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Might as well thrown in a good oldie too…because werewolves are kind of adorable. Once you look past the part where they might eat you. but if you want a story about THE most sweet and soft werewolves in existence, please meet Grace and Sam. Grace is obsessed with the wolves that live in the woods and then she discovers one is a golden-eyed boy in the summer time. Come winter? He goes back into his wolf skin, but it’s getting hard and harder for him to shift. It is the worst luck that they just met when Sam is running out of time — and their sweet desperate romance drives them to look for a cure. Seriously, you have never read about a wolf who is sweeter than Sam Roth (he folds origami, I mean).

 

TEETH by Hannah Moskowitz

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This is set on a rainy miserable island where Rudy is trapped while his family try to get his little brother cured with the apparently “magical healing fish”. It appears to be doing zlich and Rudy is miserable and lonely…until he meets a boy in the water who is absolutely not just human. He appears to be part fish himself. He’s a tortured and nasty little biting thing, but Rudy can’t help being drawn to him. At night he listens to the fish boy’s screams. In the morning? He plans how to save him. All I’m saying is that if you can’t fall in love with a werewolf, the next option is a cute fish.

 

TESS OF THE ROAD by Rachael Hartman

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Look now we get to the real winner of the day: DRAGONS. If you’re going to take a fantasy roadtrip, you’re doing it wrong if you don’t bring your pet dragon. (Although if you want to be technical, this book features a quigutl, which is a sub-species of dragon and rather small and prone to too many opinions. However it is the best dragon companion. And Tess is a character you so easily feel for, after she escapes an abusive and oppressive life and dresses as a boy and heads off to find her fate on her own. It also deals with the oppression of women and the everyday abuse they suffer making it a very topical book, even with a setting of shapeshifting dragons and swords and very sharp cheese.

Review: The Barefoot Investor

The Barefoot Investor book isn’t new, but it’s one I’ve simultaneously been intrigued by and slightly dismissive of. I thought: Surely it’s a bit gimmicky? But I figured it’s unfair to write off a book before even reading it, so I recently dug in.

Reader, I’ve been wary of it for no good reason.

While Scott Pape’s The Barefoot Investor isn’t the best written book I’ve ever encountered, and I at times found its text and analogies a little cheesy and hyperbolic, I’ll also heartily acknowledge that that’s not its need or design. Rather, the book is functionally and accessibly written serves its purpose well.

That purpose is to make confusing and overwhelming financial issues interesting and understandable to lay readers. And also to offer an alternative to budgeting, which is akin to dieting and destined to fail.

Providing the advice in three parts with the umbrella themes of ‘plant’, ‘grow’, ‘harvest’, under which sit chapters that include information about scheduling a monthly date night to eat good food and make tackling financial talk fun, ‘domino-ing’ (i.e. lining up and knock over in planned succession) your debts, buying your own home, and maximising your super. None of which sound particularly exciting, but each of which are peppered with gems of achievable information that neither require a finance degree nor a tonne of time, and that together provide a cohesive approach to well and truly sorting yourself financially.

For example, I ended up downloading a useful spending tracking app and slightly tweaking my mortgage and superannuation set-ups based on some of the takeaways. I’ll be contacting my bank to renegotiate my mortgage interest rate once they’re open on Monday. (Pape handily even provides a script for such renegotiations.)

Through reading this book, I finally started to understand how not to budget, which has always seemed boring and inflexibly strict, but how to split money among buckets that then ensure there’s always money available at short notice for unexpected expenses while simultaneously building compound interest. For the first ever time in my life, I actually found myself enjoying reading about and figuring out how to finesse my finances. If that isn’t a resounding sign of the success of a book, I don’t know what is.

Hearteningly, Pape’s advice is about long-term financial control and comfort rather than getting rich quick. It’s solid, measured advice that he revisits and revises annually to ensure its information and pop culture references are still current.

So I happily write that I stand reminded that books become bestsellers for a reason. The Barefoot Investor conveys crucial information in ways that suit lay people like me. Which is to say it cuts through the guff few of us understand. It’s definitely worth at least a flick through if not a proper sit-down read.

Review: I’ll Be Gone in the Dark

I’ll Be Gone in the Dark, the book about a serial rapist and killer whose crimes terrorised Californian communities and have long stumped authorities, popped up on my radar the same way it did for many people: because of the tragic story behind it.

Writer Michelle McNamara died unexpectedly in her sleep while partway through writing the book. Her bereaved husband, actor, and fellow writer Patton Oswalt stepped in and, along with McNamara’s researcher and an award-winning author, finalised and published the book. Oswalt also recruited Gillian Flynn, AKA she of Gone Girl writing fame, to write a foreword.

All of which is heart-warming, but that hints that the book might be a bit patchy or uneven. So I’ll be honest that I didn’t know what to expect when I cracked its spine, and that at best my expectations were low.

But McNamara’s astonishingly good writing and storytelling that gets layers down deeper than traditional true crime tales is absolutely gripping. And, as with all quality writing, seems effortlessly so. Oswalt and co. have used editor’s notes to flag where they’ve assembled chapters or segments based on McNamara’s notes. The transparency is to be applauded, but in truth almost not needed—the book hangs together fairly seamlessly.

Essentially, the book documents McNamara’s efforts to uncover the identity of a prolific and bolshy rapist and serial killer variously termed the East Area Rapist, the Original Night Stalker, the Ransacker, and later, by McNamara, as the Golden State Killer (GSK) whose crime spree is as bizarre as it has been seemingly unsolvable. Well, until recently. But more about that later.

While I originally thought the book’s title might have been a reference to McNamara’s death during sleep, but it’s actually a reference to the GSK’s ominous threats to his victims, which took the form of words like: ‘Make one move and you’ll be silent forever and I’ll be gone in the dark.’

Some 50 women were bound, gagged, and brutally raped in their homes during his crime wave, and while it started out being women alone, couples were later targeted, with the men tied up in another room and the GSK taking odd keepsakes from his victims’ homes. Around 10 people were killed, with authorities still attributing other unsolved crimes to the GSK as DNA analysis and cross-jurisdictional co-operation improves.

In fact, as McNamara outlines, it was the lack of sharing of information between police forces that in some ways allowed the GSK to operate as he did. As one rape victim who lived in a southern suburb not thought to be frequented by the GSK told the police when they eventually arrived to rescue her: ‘Well, I guess the East Area Rapist is the South Area Rapist now.’

McNamara wrote: ‘A forensic match between the cases didn’t exist, but a feeling did, a sense that a single mind was at work, someone who didn’t leave many clues or talk or show his face, someone who strolled undetected in the middle-class swarm, an ordinary man with a resting-pulse derangement.’

The GSK disappeared just as suddenly as he appeared, with people postulating theories about what ended his efforts as that he was either incarcerated for another crime or dead. That didn’t stop people working together and individually for decades to solve the mystery, and McNamara features cops and crime scene forensic specialists and Reddit-hosted enthusiasts alike as she tries to identify the GSK.

Without wanting to ruin the ending, there have been some significant developments in the GSK case since the book was published. Which in no way diminishes it. I’d just recommend trying to resist googling the case until you’ve finished McNamara’s book.

Oswalt has written an afterword that talks about the daughter now growing up without McNamara, who asks: ‘“Daddy, why do you and Santa Claus have the same handwriting?” Michelle Eileen McNamara is gone. But she left behind a little detective. And a mystery.’

Posthumously publishing McNamara’s book is perhaps the greatest tribute he could have made. Meanwhile McNamara’s tireless work arguably at least partially contributed to authorities solving the GSK case. Make sure you allow some time after reading I’ll Be Gone in the Dark for some serious GSK googling.

Forever Inspiring; Elizabeth Mary Cummings on The Forever Kid

Children’s author and poet, with a background in education and psychology, Elizabeth Mary Cummings is known for her sensitive attention to difficult topics including mental health and anti-bullying issues. Following titles, such as The Disappearing Sister and Dinner on the Doorstep, Elizabeth has recently released her picture book on grief, The Forever Kid. She has paid careful consideration as to celebrate the life of a family’s son and brother in a joyous way, rather than treat this story as a sorrowful tragedy. Johnny, their forever kid, is beautifully and authentically remembered on his birthday – an event they honour every year, despite his absence. Vince, narrator and younger brother, portrays a host of emotions, including sadness, guilt and joy as the family look both back and forward on life with and without their Johnny. A narrative genuinely thought-through via the child’s perspective. Equally, the illustrations by Cheri Hughes add an extra layer of depth with their angelic, water-wash qualities to represent the softness and tenderness of the emotion and the family’s  tradition of telling ‘cloud stories’, as well as the vivacity that reflects their strong memories of their loved one. The Forever Kid is undoubtedly a book that children from age four will strongly remember and gain solace in knowing there are positive ways to cope in difficult situations.

Big Sky Publishing, October 2018.

Elizabeth is here today to talk with us at Boomerang Books!

Congratulations on the release of your heartfelt picture book.

A powerful and beautiful story such as The Forever Kid would grip the hearts of any audience coping with grief or change. What was your motivation for writing it, and what do you hope is gained by readers?

The story came to me one night when my parents were visiting, I woke at about 2a.m. and the story was there and I wrote it down immediately before I lost it. The trigger was probably talking through family times as well as having at that time just lost a dear friend to cancer. The idea of grief was right at the surface of my emotions I guess and being with my parents had made my mind turn to the story of my father losing his younger brother who was a teenager at the time of his death.

What have you found to be effective strategies in dealing with grief? How does your book show the processing of such sadness and mourning in a positive way?

In dealing with grief there is more of an understanding that this is complex and that does not go away once time passes. For those who have suffered loss and grieving, it is a process but it is also a state in which they live after the initial loss.

In The Forever Kid, Vince and his family celebrate and remember Johnny on the day of his birthday. On talking to many families who have suffered the loss of a child I have found that this is common practice. Although sadness is certainly present this can be the day where there is a reflection on the life of the loved one. This celebration of life in itself becomes the positive coming together and of that opportunity to talk about that loved one.

For children it is vital that they have access to the truth as well as have a chance to be involved in the grieving process both around the time of death and after. It is important that [children] have a safe adult or older sibling or child to talk to about how they feel.

What is your involvement in the community regarding help with family and mental health situations?

I have no official role. I obviously write on the topic and am a great believer in narrative therapy.

Your previous titles (the Verityville and Elephant in the Room series) were all published independently. This time you have gone down the trade publishing route with Big Sky Publishing. How have your experiences differed in terms of support and marketing opportunities?

Well, when publishing independently one has all the control and all of the responsibility. It is a double-edged sword. Traditional publishers have bigger budgets, more control and wider reach. The decision as to how to publish (independently or trade) and who to publish (publisher selection) much be made in the light of what one is writing about and what one’s intention is for the story. As I have been working on my own marketing for almost four years now I understood the publisher’s considerations better than a first time author might. Publishing is no easy task and it takes a team to develop a book all the way through. Even when working independently I am working with others – designers, beta readers, editors and other professional services I may need to contract in to help produce a book as best possible.

Anything else of excitement you’d like to add? News? Upcoming projects? TBR pile?

Some of my new projects include: two poetry collections, a new picture book called The Green Striped Hoodie about bullying and resilience, finding a publisher for a project I have been working on to do with trauma and recovery as well as a couple of environmental projects and some more Verityville stories!

That’s all very exciting! Thanks so much, Elizabeth! It’s been a pleasure!

Elizabeth can be found at her website, and on blog tour here.

#ByAustralianBuyAustralian

Review: The Boneless Mercies by April Genevieve Tucholke

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The Boneless Mercies by April Genevieve Tcholke is an exquisitely atmospheric fantasy tale that’s part Beowulf and part witchy glory. It’s the kind of book that you soak in because the world is so large and sprawls well beyond the page. Everything seemed so carefully crafted, from the delicious food descriptions to the scenery and the culture. It’s about girls who kill out of mercy, and sometimes out of vengeance, and it’s about monsters and witches and gentle magic and saving those who can’t save themselves.

I’d only read Wink Poppy Midnight by this author before (which is a treacherous and enthralling magical realism story) and I was so excited to see what she’d do with epic fantasy!

The story follows four girls who are known as Boneless Mercies: Frey, Ovie, Juniper and Runa. Their trade is death: they do mercy killings for those who are dying or sick, and sometimes they kill to save a vulnerable girl trapped in an abusive situation. But that’s rarer. The girls stick to their code and care their dark, dark burden that men won’t even touch. Frey narrates and as the story begins she’s so tired of this life, of being surrounded and permeated with death. So when there’s news of a monster that no one can kill and whoever conquers it will receive an immeasurable reward? She wants in. But she’ll have to travel through witch clans and dark magic to get there…and she’ll have to convince her close Mercies friends to help her. Because she can’t do it alone. Or will she have to?

The setting is very Norse-inspired and I loved this! There are jarls and snowy viking villages, all mixed with the magic of this new created world. We have witch clans and cut-queens and marshes and far off seas. I could feel the snow and the chill seeping from the pages. It’s easy to get absorbed in the setting, harsh and beautiful as it was.

The concept of Mercy Killers was so interesting too. They literally get hired to do this by people who just can’t keep going on. It’s really sad and very dark, and they often cut throats too, so it’s bloody and messy work. But the girls don’t revel in it. And they might be good at it, but they want another life too. Frey in particularly hates the idea of her life not being big enough.

We also get to meet this tight-knit group of five and travel the snowy worlds iwth them. I usually get a bit nervous by big casts and it took them a while to feel fully like individuals, but I loved them all by the end! Frey is our narrator, and a total selfless girl who wants to save all the things and wants to leap into danger. Then there’s Runa, who’s the feisty snarly one, and dreams of running through the forests with the Quicks (who felt like Robin Hood’s merry men!). Ovie is the solid and quiet one, the backbone of the group. Juniper is the actual sweetest of ever. She’s small and does the prayers and cares for the earth and is also a witch. And lastly we have the groups tagalong: Trigve. He’s the sole boy, who they basically scooped off the side of the road before he died. He follows them around loyally although he can never truly be one of them.

The story feels like a peek through a window into a world you only catch the corners of! It makes you desperate for more books, more sequels, to follow what happens next. And I love it when worlds do that. It also weaves in plenty of very apt storylines about women being dismissed and oppressed and how they’re not going to sit back and take it. It’s an empowering story about girls who save people that don’t even trust them. The Boneless Mercies is a heartfelt and strong and deeply magical tale.

Review: Lost Connections

Sometimes someone writes a book that simultaneously highlights an obvious truth and reveals previously unknown issues. That’s the case with journalist Johann Hari’s Lost Connections: Uncovering the Real Causes of Depression and the Unexpected Solutions, a book that both exposes how many of the things we’ve been told about the causes and cures of depression are not scientifically accurate—and have even been disproven.

My entry to Lost Connections was actually listening to a podcast of Hari speaking on a panel at the Byron Bay Writers Festival. He was so passionate and so knowledgeable and entertaining a speaker, and his subject matter so startling and yet confirming of a nagging feeling I’d had for a while, that I bumped reading his book to the top of my list.

Combining an anthropological look at depression and conveying it in accessible feature article-style chapters, Hari steps the reader through his own decades-long experiences with depression and quest to figure out what what causing it and how on earth he could cure it. Like many others, he had found that despite being told that depression was caused by a dearth of serotonin in the brain that could be rectified by an antidepressant tablet, he was still depressed.

Employing his social research training, he started investigating the subject and met with experts. His book documents the startling but also common sense answers to what’s causing depression. For starters, it’s not a chemical imbalance in the brain or a lack of serotonin, as we’ve long been told. That was a hypothesis put forward by scientists way back that was quickly disproven, but that the pharmaceutical manufacturers picked up and continue to run with.

Frightening and depressing, much?

But while this rigorously researched book (seriously, I can’t quite get over how much peer-reviewed academic research Hari has found and how many experts he interviewed) did cause me moments of despair as it tipped everything I thought I knew about depression on its head, it ultimately comforted me.

Converting dense, dry scientific material into a gripping tale catering to a wide, non-scientific audience along the lines of authors Rutger Bregman and Malcolm Gladwell, Hari finally makes depression make sense. He also continues beyond identifying the issues, documenting the solutions.

Those solutions are perhaps the most interesting part of the book and range from a diverse community coming together to protest social housing evictions to prescribing socially and environmentally meaningful gardening.

I read Lost Connections in short snatches while waiting for meetings or queuing up for public transport, which allowed me to cogitate over its topics and meaning. Suffice to say, I’d recommend the book as both an absorbing read but also a thought-provoker or conversation starter. As Hari notes, with depression rates climbing, current depression treatments clearly aren’t working. Lost Connections does, as a minimum, prompt a rethink.

Review: Strange the Dreamer by Laini Taylor

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It’s hard to find the words to describe how exquisitely special and gorgeous Strange the Dreamer by Laini Taylor truly is. It’s so so well written that a mere review doesn’t seem even nearly able to capture the pure beauty of this tale! The marvellously detailed storytelling and the incredible world building will totally entrance you. It’s all gods and monsters and librarians and the most lush and gorgeous dreamscapes. I got to this point reading it and was just like “I never want this book to end thanks.”

The story begins by following Lazlo Strange, a foundling from an orphanage with no name and no future…until he finds himself working for an incredible library and falling in love with the mystical legends of a lost city named: Weep. Lazlo’s life is dedicated to serving, but also to uncovering the mysteries of this city. And when strangers cross the desert to bring news of not only the city’s true existence, but of a magical problem they need solving to save them — Lazlo would do anything to be picked for the journey. But the “problem” is like nothing he could’ve imagined. It turns out the legends of the gods and monsters aren’t fairy tales. They’re real and, even though they’re slain now, they’ve left behind the terror of their past-reign and something unforgivable: their blue skinned children with powers that could ruin the world. Or save it.

Lazlo is such a sweet and pure narrator that you can’t help but love him from page one. I love how his nose got broken by a fairy tale book and that he’ll walk into a wall because he’s reading so much and how his whole life is about fantastical lost cities and how he dreams the most beautiful and gorgeous dreams the world has ever known. He is the perfect embodiment of a bookworm! The world doesn’t deserve the wholesome preciousness of Lazlo Strange.

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It’s also dual-narrated by Sarai, a blue-skinned goddess from the fallen tyrantical gods who used to rule Weep. She’s hiding from the world that wants her dead because of her horrifically cruel goddess mother. But she is so sweet and pure too. I just want to give her a cake. She hasn’t had a cake in years and wow, after all she’s been through? She deserves that. She’s also surrounded by 4 other godspawn: Feral, Ruby, Sparrow, and the vicious Minya. They’re so amazing and I loved them all, even Minya who is permanently trapped as a 6 year old and so caught up on wanting vengeance for the massacres that she’s bitter and cruel.  But all she wants is to protect her family!

What really caught me is the writing. The flowery prose is absolutely breathtaking. It swallows you and totally tosses you into the story so all you know is Weep and magic and fairytales and impossible dreams. I just couldn’t stop thinking “I want to live in this book.” Every word was so perfectly chosen that I was devoured by the story. I’ve never seen a city so clearly as I see Weep.

This is all about magic and gods and monsters which is utterly my kind of story. Also there is: death and destruction and psychotic little girls who catch ghosts and legends inside legends and great monsters and beasts and cruel pasts and terrified warriors and god slayers and quiet librarian boys and falling girls with flowers in their hair and blue skin and despair.

It’s truly the kind of story that you don’t just read, but you fully experience. I want to read more books with sweet boys and nightmare girls. This is the story tha twill melt your soul with the most fantastically marvellous writing in the world. Strange the Dreamer is a book that inspires you to dream.

Review: Blackbird of the Gallows by Meg Kassel

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Blackbird of the Gallows by Meg Kassel is a riveting and entrancing story about harbingers, beekeepers, DJing and the kind of romance that’s forbidden because one half might possibly be a mystical monster. This was just addictive, entrancing, and utterly beautifully written, which is all I ask for in a book! The characters manage to win your heart while the folklore of these shapeshifting crow harbingers is as fascinating as it is different. Move over typical paranormal vampires and werewolves…we gotcha death predictors and your heroines who are very anxious and also into EDM.

Angie Dovage is a pretty anxious and quiet kind of girl, just getting through highschool and keeping to herself since her mother died…except her new neighbours might also be harbingers of death who appear just before a monumental tragedy is about to occur in a town. This is bad news because: hello, catastrophe. But also Angie is developing feelings for Reece, who not only won’t be staying after the catastrophe, but who is definitely part monster. And as much as he tries not to be drawn to her…it doesn’t work. But he’s surrounded by chaos, including beekeepers who bring havoc with a single sting and could destroy Angie and her friends’ lives, and not to mention whatever is brewing is going to take out a lot of people. But who’s going to listen to Angie when she tries to warn them? And trusting Reece might be the best thing she can do or the absolute worst and she could doom them all.

I was instantly swept into this world of harbingers in a modern highschool setting. Of course it has a ton of the old paranormal tropes: hot mystery guy arrives in town, has a bit of a weird family, is probably immortal, shapeshifts into something feathery, has otherworldly eyes…etc. etc. But this just took them all from a new angle. Reece was respectful and kind of adorable and he feels the burden of his curse. He’s always tired, always carrying the weight of what horrors he’s seen. His harbinger family is dogged by beekeepers who quite literally sew madness and it’s so hard for him to meet people and not have them end up dead. Reece managed to be a sweetie and mysterious which was a combination I quite enjoyed. Not to mention say goodbye to any whingey paperdoll heroines. We have one who’s not only distrustful of random guys, but totally her own unique person.

Hello Angie Dovage! She was so relatable and just the kind of character you can enjoy spending a few hundred pages with. She doesn’t immediately fall into instalust with Reece (although she knows he’s hot; ok she ain’t blind) and she keeps her friends close. I love her epic friendships and how they were totally involved in the plot! Also Angie is a secret DJ and revels in her “other life” where people respect her and her music, while at school she’s the shy and quiet overlooked girl with a dubious past (her mother is dead but also was an addict) and pretty average in most opinions. Also Angie’s relationship with her dad?! SO nice! It’s great to see really wholesome and loving parent-kid relationships in YA and we sorely need more.

Also having the book feature harbingers and murders of crows was not only new to me, it was really interesting! I loved the lore and backstory of Reece’s family and got totally lost in this reshaped myth. The harbingers are immortal beings who turn into crows and follow around death and destruction. They arrive in town —> a tragedy goes down —> they feed off the energy. It’s a curse though and they hate it.

The book also features plenty of tragedy and catastrophe, grief and loss. It has so much heart with dealing with these topics and also paints its “villains” as more morally grey people. Sometimes they’re just propelled by their curse, other times it’s a choice to choose right vs wrong.

Should you read Blackbird of the Gallows?! ABSOLUTELY. Even if you’re tired of paranormal, this one will freshen up your world. And the heartfelt messages and relatable characters made it such a winning story. Not to mention that sidedish of utter death and destruction. What can I say?! This book has it all.

Review: Release by Patrick Ness

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Release by Patrick Ness is a masterpiece and also a gut-wrenching tale that spreads over just one day. It only takes one day to change your life that’s for sure: for the reader and for our protagonist, Adam Thorn. I’m such a fan of Patrick Ness’ works…everything from The Knife Of Never Letting Go, to The Rest Of Us Just Live Here, and his latest book And The Ocean Was Our Sky. His books are always diverse and so unique and varied. Although I have such a soft spot for Release as it has more of a contemporary setting, which is my favourite!

The story is about Adam Thorn’s single Saturday in summer…and how his world just starts crumbling with one massive piece of life changing news after the next. He’s tired of living in this tiny town with an overbearing preacher father, of hiding the fact that he’s gay (this would not be accepted in his house) to the going-away party tonight for his ex-boyfriend (who horribly broken his heart). Everything awful seems to happen in the middle until Adam has no idea where to turn, what he believes, and if he can ever truly be worthy of being loved.

The writing and storyline are truly addictive. And since it’s set over such a short period of time (plus it’s under 300 pages) you kind of just want to keep reading! The characters leapt off the page and I felt for Adam so much.

I was a little confused with the magical realism aspect. There’s a girl who was murdered and her storyline is just a few paragraphs between Adam’s chapters — and it all ties together at the end, but I was never quite sure what was going on for hers. There are fauns and wildness and ghosts in those segments. Definitely didn’t detract from my enjoyment of the story though.

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Adam is TRULY having the worst day. This poor guy. He needs to just go to bed (human version of “let’s just turn it off and then on again”) and start over.

Adam is very lost and he feels like he isn’t loved. Worse: he feels like he doesn’t deserve to be loved. Your heart will definitely break for him. And, no, he doesn’t have the worst life ever, but his religious family won’t truly accept him and they believe he’s inherently sinning from just existing. It’s exhausting trying to please them and also being himself. Add onto that heartbreak with the boy, Enzo, who he always loved the most, Adam is just cracking around the edges even though he keeps trying to deal with it alone.

It does explore religion a bit, and it goes from the angle of how oftentimes the church can be exclusive and hypocritical. I read an author’s note that says he based this story off his own life and strict religious family upbringing while also being gay. You can feel the authenticity of Adam’s emotions because of this.

There’s also an epic friendship between Adam and Angela! And a really adorable newly blossoming romance between Adam and his new boyfriend, Linus. I like how it developed the secondary characters and really truly left us with the message of: you can choose your own family too.

Release is one to make you think and also draw you in with its amazing writing. It’s a raw book and full of vulnerable moments, of relationships breaking and also mending and building. With a message of “yes you deserved to be loved” this book will catch your heart.