Intimidating Books on my Bookshelf

I have a few intimidating books on my bookshelf and I can’t be the only one. Sometimes it can be the size of the tome, the genre, the author or specific concerns about a book or series. Today I thought I’d share the most intimidating books on my TBR pile with you.

An author I’d like to read but have been too intimidated to try: is Haruki Murakami. I just don’t know where to start and whether I’ll understand his magical realism.

A book I haven’t read because I’m worried I won’t enjoy it is: Prince Lestat and the Realms of Atlantis. It’s the latest book in the Vampire Chronicles and while Anne Rice is a favourite author, I’m terrified I won’t enjoy this. I hated the previous book Prince Lestat (find out why here) and I’m worried in case this isn’t much better.

The classic I’m most intimidated to read is: Macbeth by William Shakespeare. It’s intimidating for obvious reasons, it’s a play and it’s Shakespeare!

A book I haven’t read because it’s kind of embarrassing: I have two books in this category. Perv by Jesse Bering and My Secret Garden by Nancy Friday. Less said the better?

The series I’m most intimidated to start is: A Song of Ice and Fire (Game of Thrones) by George R.R. Martin. I love the TV series and I’m worried I won’t be able to keep up with the mammoth cast of characters and complex sub-plots in the books. The series is very long and currently comprises: A Game of Thrones, A Clash of Kings, A Storm of Swords, A Feast for Crows, A Dance with Dragons, The Winds of Winter (forthcoming) and A Dream of Spring (forthcoming).

A series I haven’t finished that haunts me is: The Dark Tower series by Stephen King. Stephen King is one of my favourite authors and I know The Dark Tower series is his ‘Opus’ but I just couldn’t get into it.  I read The Gunslinger (#1) and The Drawing of the Three (#2) but haven’t progressed any further; despite owning the entire series. I’m a completionist so this bothers me quite a bit.

The most intimidating book in my TBR pile is: The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas. I have the Penguin Clothbound Edition and it comes in at more than 1200 pages which is intimidating enough as is. An adventure novel written in the 1840s it’s translated from French and I just haven’t picked it up yet.

What books do you find intimidating? Have you read any of the above? Let me know in the comments below.

Review: To Kill A Kingdom by Alexandra Christo

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To Kill A Kingdom by Alexandra Christo is the swashbuckly and deliciously dark pirate adventure we’ve all been waiting for. It’s got hints of a Little Mermaid retelling, with more nods to the original Hans Christian Anderson tale than Disney ever did. This is full of sirens who eat princes’ hearts and enchantments and runaway royalty and enough snark and banter to have you smirking in your seat.

The story follows two narrators: Lira, a siren who eats princes’ hearts and whose wicked mother is getting between her and the throne. And also Elian, who’s very opposed to his royal heritage and wants to be a pirate, riding the world of the murderous sirens that claim so many innocent lives each year. Their stories entwine when Lira is cursed to wear human legs until she can prove her loyalty to her people…and the perfect way to do that would be to kill Elian. Except Elian is on a quest to find a way to stop the siren queen forever and when he rescues a “mysterious” girl lost at sea — he has no idea who he’s truly making alliances with.

The characters just stole the seawater for this one! The dual narration is perfect balanced, with each character stealing the show as soon as they’re on page. He’s hunting her and she’s hunting him, which is obviously the recipe for a perfect romance. This is enemies-to-lovers at its finest! It wasn’t rushed or awkward. It was seriously such perfect fun to see them go from distrust to distant admiration to snarking at each other to “accidentally” “saving” each other’s lives. Lira’s denial of having feelings for him (hey, she’s a wretched evil siren, remember?!) was completely adorable. I also loved how they both had soft sides, even though they’re warriors here to fight in the seas. Lira is super sweet and protective of her little siren cousin. Elian is quite soft and kind to his crew, despite being a “pirate”. And his sass and banter levels were off the charts.

I also loved how it portrayed the sea! It fully makes you fall in love with it. I mean, yes the sea in this book is full of murderous dangers, like sirens and mermaids and monsters, but the vivid and lust descriptions made me understand why Elian couldn’t leave the sea to claim his birthright of the throne. The lure was there! I could see the gorgeous settings, taste the salty sea, and absolutely lose myself in the world. There’s actually quite a lot of world to explore, and even though the book is small, it takes you a variety of places with excellent world building. There are kingdoms and mountains and palaces with cursed queens. I found the description was perfectly balanced — not info dumps, but enough information to set you up in this diverse and intriguing world.

I particularly appreciated the amount of banter! It kept me smiling the whole time as Elian and Lira sparred words and gradually fell for each other. The secondary characters also had their quips too!

“If the necklace is that precious,” I say, “we should have just killed Tallis to get it.”
“You can’t just kill everyone you don’t like.”
“I know that. Otherwise you’d be dead already.”

To Kill A Kingdom is a lush and vicious book that will lose you in its winsome adventures of death and curses, love and magic. It was perfectly written and exquisitely told, face-paced and entrancing!

Pampered Pooches – Four Inspiring Dog Picture Books

In honour of the new Duchess of Sussex’s affection for all things canine, today we snuggle up with four memorable picture books featuring the pooches we love to pamper. These stories focus on dogs as companions and the glorious relationships we share with them.

Dogasaurus by Lucinda Gifford

Author illustrator Lucinda Gifford’s combination of dogs and dinosaurs was never going to fail – both infatuate kids. Dogasaurus is a high giggle scoring story about Molly who lives ‘on a small, peaceful farm’. Life trickles along merrily until the day Molly ventures into the neighbouring Mysterious Ancient Forest and being a typical adventure inspired child, brings home something she ought not to have. When her newfound treasure hatches into Rex, a cute baby dino, she is delighted to have a pet of her own and dotes on him from morning to night. Only trouble is, Rex soon outgrows the farm and develops a mysterious yearning for the Ancient Forest.

Continue reading Pampered Pooches – Four Inspiring Dog Picture Books

Review: Ace of Shades by Amanda Foody

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Ace of Shades by Amanda Foody was a delightfully twisty tale of murder, magic and mayhem and I couldn’t put it down! I feel like I’ve definitely found a new all-time favourite! This book is an ode to schemes and cons, full of street lords and mysteries and the addictive love of playing a game where the stakes are: win or die. You won’t be able to stop yourself falling in love with these characters or not accidentally toppling into the City of Sin to stay.

It follows the journey of Enne Salta, who’s enter the City of Sin to find her missing mother. She’s a prim girl from a proper finishing school and tumbles head-first into this tumultuous world of casinos and street lords and backalley fights and the kind of magic where you can bet your soul in a card game and play to win or die. She meets a very young street lord named Levi Glaisyer, who’s in deep trouble from a con scheme gone wrong, and together their lives entwine as they look to find Enne’s mother and Levi hopes the reward payout will stop him dying. Except Levi’s enemies are tightening his noose fast, and despite his flashy smile and smooth card skills, they’re not playing around anymore.

It mixes magic and con artists to perfection. I see a lot of comparisons with this to Six of Crows, and yes! It works! But also this isn’t a heist book. It’s about con schemes and card games.

The world building was so detailed and exquisite, utterly flawless. It’s set in city with a 1920s vibe, so it’s all gangsters and casinos and grubby crime kids running around. But with MAGIC. Now it took me a while to get the hang of what the orbs/volts were, but I caught up. But everyone basically has talents, or two, and it’s just super cool how it’s a whole world of magicked people and how they use that. And how it affects everything. It’s impossible not to get caught up in the City of Sin and I couldn’t look away. Plus the writing is so visual and delicious that you can really see the whole thing.

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The characters totally stole the show too, with their fantastic and complex personalities, plus detailed and heart-wrenching character arcs. I’m absolutely smitten with both Levi and Enne. Usually with dual-narrating books I have a favourite: but not this time. They were both a fantastically stunning mix of conniving and softhearted sweethearts. Their stories entwine so beautifully, with them using each other but then needing each other…and then a longing for more sparking between them. The book’s set over 10 days and romance is definitely not the focus, and I really loved how their relationship played out.

Levi was an absolutely precious masterpiece, a crime lord who’s gang is failing because he’s neck-deep in debt for a scheme he didn’t even want to run. He’s cursed to work for one of the biggest crime families, but what does he want? He wants to get to the top of his own game. He’s a card dealer and super smooth…but also absolutely adores his gang and is very loyal and sweet.

Enne Salta was also a fantastic delight, and her character development just swept me off my feet. She starts off as a “proper lady” but quickly develops into someone who’s witty, ruthless, and quite cunning (while still being gloriously polite!) and basically, by a few chapters in, she was an accidental badass.

I also just loved the writing and pacing. The writing just sweeps you up and the pacing of the book was also amazing, always luring you in deeper to the complicated plot that unwinds disasters for our favourite narrators. The plot is full of twists and turns, the foreshadowing is excellent, and it sets the scenes so well: murder card games, con schemes gone wrong, cabarets, magic and mayhem and murder, casinos and card games and gangsta hats and cherries and lush hotels and absolutely disastrous curses.

I can’t recommend Ace of Shades enough! It was everything I wanted and more, plus it included mountains of respectful and lovely diversity rep, and balanced characters you can’t help but fall in love with, plus a plot that will turn you inside out. High stakes. Magic. Wicked city schemes. Villains who never stop. And antiheroes leading the way. A fantastic adventure not to be missed!

Flights of Fantasy – Imaginative Picture Books

Perhaps one of the most fulfilling perks of writing for kids is the time spent flitting around in my imagination. It’s a weird, boundless place, which allows me to harness old memories and reinvigorate them into wondrous dreams-come-true. These next few picture books are glorious examples of tapping into imaginative flights of fantasy and exploring the possibilities.

Young MacDonald by Giuseppe Poli

When I was a kid, I trussed up my trusty bicycle with the dog’s lead so that I had my very own ‘horse’ to ride around the backyard. I jumped my Malvern Star-steed in Gymkhanas, rode for days through dusty paddocks and occasionally found a hut high in the Snowy Mountains to hunker down in and ride out a storm. A remarkable amount of miles covered for a 12-year-old.

Young MacDonald, son of the much loved, Old Mac, is no different. We first meet Young Mac after he gets his own little red bike. To the familiar refrain of this well-known nursery rhyme, Young Mac goes a ting-a-linging everywhere on his bike. Encounters with a variety of vibrant characters on the farm, slowly transform his bike into a bike-digger-pirate-ship-chopper-sub-rocket that fills his day with ‘fantastical adventure’ (albeit no ponies but there you go).

Continue reading Flights of Fantasy – Imaginative Picture Books

Review: Tiffany Sly Lives Here Now by Dana L. Davis

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TIFFANY SLY LIVES HERE NOW by Dana L. Davis is an incredible book that’s absolutely ladened with complex emotions and a story so filled with tension that it’s impossible to put down. This book made me very angry at times, but also I’m intensely impressed with it. I absolutely loved Tiffany like nothing else!! I raged at the bad and cheered for the good.

The story follows Tiffany Sly who’s going to live with her estranged dad after her mum died. She’s never met him in all her 16 years and, worse, didn’t even know he existed. But to complicate things, a man turns up at her front door also claiming to be her dad…and Tiffany is terribly confused. This other guy seems super nice and he definitely was dating her mum at the right time, but she’s on her way to live with the Stones and change is really eating her up inside. She has 7 days before it all collides. And when her new family turns out to be super strict and somewhat awful, she wonders if maybe the option of a different dad is a good thing?

When Tiffany moves in with the Stones, she doesn’t actually know she also has four new sisters. So it’s like, boom, she gets hit with an instant family. Her dad is an absolute jerk though, hiding in this “holier than thou” attitude but he’s controlling and terrible. He makes me so angry! He’s borderline abusive under the guise of being a “good strict parent” and will definitely have you raging. He hasn’t even met Tiffany for 5 minutes before he’s throwing rules at her and Tiffany is so not having this. My levels of frustration were extremely high and I will say trigger warning for abuse to an autistic toddler under the guise of disciplining her. It was pretty awful but just there to underline how poisonous it can be when you don’t listen or care.

However there is intense levels of character development, and I was really impressed with how it was all handled by the end!

Can I say how much I loved Tiffany!? She has anxiety and OCD and I just so felt for her, and also thought the mental health was written excellently and respectfully. There’s so much heart on every page! Tiffany just bursts off the page with her love of rock ‘n’ roll (she also plays guitar) and her cleverness, complexities, and also wants and wishes. She’s grieving but also trying to make it work with this family that horrifies her a lot. But she also kind of likes her new sisters! Wants a nice dad! She doesn’t get crushed and crumpled by the superstrictness, but it definitely torments her the entire time.

It also discusses religion and beliefs very deeply. There’s a lot of discussion about Jehovah’s Witnesses and also the kind of belief system where you are your own god. Books are about expanding your horizons, so it was interesting.

The writing absolutely kept me captivated! Perfect pacing and I never wanted to look away. Plus it just kept the emotional tension up so high. I felt engaged the whole time.

TIFFANY SLY LIVES HERE NOW is definitely the kind of contemporary that’s going to stay with you! It’s an emotional explosion, always interesting, and with characters you want to know more about!

The Adversary

Trigger warning: The book this blog features is contains distressing subject matter, so may not be suitable for all readers.

About two years ago, I had the misfortune to be very, very peripherally affected by the real-life playing out of a most bat-insane story—one that involved a guy I vaguely knew having spent 15 years pretending to study medicine and practise as a doctor.

Without going into details—in part because the story’s so bizarre that I could not do it justice and in part because I don’t think it’s my story to tell—what I will say is that I and everyone else who knows the story has spent the better part of the past two years grappling with the ins and outs of it and basically going: What the hell?

So I was online and ordering The Adversary: A True Story of Monstrous Deception quick sticks after a friend recommended it. The story, which is of a man who spent 18 years pretending to study medicine and practise as a doctor before murdering his wife, their two children, and his parents, as well as attempting to murder his mistress, was notorious in France but largely passed me by in Australia. Until now.

While I don’t for a moment suggest the two tales have much in common other than faking medical careers, I was keen to see if someone else had been able to resolve the questions that remain unresolved (or even unanswered) in my own life: What prompts someone to fake doctory? And how on earth do they manage the logistics?

The how and the why clearly drive the book, as author Emmanuel Carrere parallels aspects of his own life with Jean-Claude Romand’s, at least in part to try to compare and contrast and ultimately understand Romand’s actions. For instance, the book’s opening paragraph reads startlingly matter-of-factly:

On the Saturday morning of January 9, 1993, while Jean-Claude Romand was killing his wife and children, I was with mine in a parent–teacher meeting at the school attended by Gabriel, our eldest son. Then we went to have lunch with my parents, as Jean-Claude Romand did with his, whom he killed after their meal …

Reading this book was more than a little eerie, as what may seem like an objectively interesting tale felt for me like deja vous as Carrere steps readers through the reaction to finding out that nothing about Romand was as it appeared:

Everyone was wondering: How could we have lived beside this man for so long without suspecting a thing? Everyone tried to remember a moment when some suspicion, some moment that might have led to some suspicion, had almost crossed their minds.

Romand’s life was ultimately a house of cards, but it seems no one had had their suspicions raised sufficiently to warrant investigating: Romand claimed he worked at the World Health Organization, but a simple phone call after the murders revealed there was no such person employed there. Romand wasn’t listed on the global list of physicians and had never graduated medical school, and so on, and so on—the details, once finally investigated, didn’t hold up.

While I was hooked enough to look forward to reading snippets of The Adversary before going to bed, I felt rising sadness as I approached its end. Carrere’s short tale is undeniably absorbing—so much so it was named a New York Times ‘Notable Book’)—but ultimately reflects my own frustrating findings: No one can truly know anyone else, and the kind of person who will fake being a doctor for decades is arguably not someone of whom you can make sense.

So while I was disappointed that the book wasn’t able to provide the answers I was after, I did really appreciate that it gave us some. At the very least, I got a sense of the logistics of maintaining and funding such a lie for so long. And I got a fuller sense of a man who could too easily be painted as two-dimensionally evil.

Whether you were or weren’t familiar with the 1993 murders, The Adversary is a fascinating read. At a mere 191 pages of easy-to-digest writing, it’s the kind of book you can quickly finish but that will remain front of mind for some time.

Beautiful Books for the Beauties in Your Life

Mums, Grandmas, Sisters, Aunties or any other special person in your life, all deserve a show of gratitude and love. Mother’s Day is a day to reinforce those bonds, to share memorable moments, or simply just to connect with those who make a difference. Dimity has already covered some ‘marvellous’ picture books here, so I’ll reinforce these beauties, and add more of my own treasures to the list.

The Dream Bird is an absolutely exquisite visual and imaginative treat that takes its readers on a fanciful flight from a state of playful awakening to the cosy slumber of dreamland. Such a memorable and warming story by picture book expert, Aleesah Darlison, mesmerisingly illustrated by talented newcomer, Emma Middleton. I love that it is Gran who, despite the other family members’ efforts, is the comforting soul of this story that helps young George to fall asleep. And the soft shading and infused deep reds and maroons are just the perfect choice to represent a mature and tender sophistication. When Gran begins her tale of the graceful Dream Bird, a snowy scene transports us to a wondrous land of majestic snow leopards, kingdoms made of lollies and treasures hidden amongst magical mermaids. Then a peaceful George conjures his own favourite dream as a loving Gran sings and leaves him with a gentle kiss. The Dream Bird is an idyllic symbol of beauty, warmth, whimsy and unconditional affection that children from age three will need as part of their daily bedtime routine.

Wombat Books, April 2018.

A gorgeous book for wonderful mums is Marvellous Mummy, written and illustrated for the first time together by husband and wife team, Katie and Giuseppe Poli. In this tender and playful story, mummy elephant takes on many personas and behaviours that are highly relatable for young children to recognise with their own mums. From sneaky and quiet to noisy and loud, friendly to grumpy, skilful and brave, caring, snuggly and most importantly, perfect (in her sometimes unperfect way). A joyful book shared between mother and daughter of many adventures and everyday routines, with bright and airy, energetic and gentle illustrations. At the same time, Katie’s short phrasing and regular use of absorbing verbs compel interaction and repeat reads. Marvellous Mummy is a marvellous reminder of just how strong, special and versatile our mummies really are.

New Frontier Publishing, May 2018.

Another absolutely glorious collaborative creation is The Silver Sea by the young people at The Royal Children’s Hospital, their teachers and the masterful and much-loved Alison Lester and Jane Godwin. This book is such a treasure filled with glimmering magic amidst a palette of silky words and images in a sea of spectacularness. The team, together with the unwell children, have created a marvel of colourful ocean pictures with creatures that make the pages come alive. The poetic narrative leads us with two characters – a mother-like figure and her child – into a shimmering world of waves, splashing with dolphins and seals, flying with sharks and leafy sea dragons, further into the deep with a whole underwater aquarium until they reach the pale morning sky. The Silver Sea, curious, imaginative and enriching, developed out of such inspirational foresight, and with profits returning to the RCH it is a must-have to cherish in any home, school or hospital.

Affirm Press, February 2018.

This one’s to share with the wild, spirited granny in your life! You’ll never have to have another ordinary day after you’ve read Grandma Z. Debut picture book author-illustrator Daniel Gray-Barnett brings life to town when Grandma Z rolls in on her motorbike. Albert is celebrating his birthday, except it’s not much of a celebration with his ordinary, boring parents living a life of ho-hum and melancholy blandness. But when his grander-than-life grandmother in her bold, blue coat enters the scene, the pair enjoy a day of adventurous, curious, daring, imaginative and exotic goodness, conjuring up all of Albert’s favourite things. The narrative suitably ties in with the plot with its quirky and unpredictable phrasing. Equally, with a Scribble-flavouring in an Allison Colpoys style, the illustrations make a bold statement with their neon blue and orange and black line tri-colour palette and retro look drawings. Grandma Z encourages a thrilling realisation that life is what you make of it, not only on your birthday, or Mother’s Day, but every day.

Scribble, February 2018.

Another special lady in your life may be your sister. Perhaps you’d like to send her affirmations of appreciation and love for all the things she does for you. In this adorable picture book by Joanna Young, My Sister represents laughter, teamwork, care and the ultimate friendship. Sisters from age two will adore the sweet, heartwarming illustrations in calming watercolour tones and tidy visual appeal dedicating one image to each question of ‘Who…’ ‘Who is the one who sits next to you… grows up with you… and is always on your side?’ The sisters in the story show a story of their own with their cute, amusing and oh-so-sweet little antics. My Sister is a book of pure joy and love, that surely mums with daughters would delight in sharing together this Mother’s Day.

New Frontier Publishing, February 2018.

Happy Mother’s Day!

#ByAustralianBuyAustralian

YA Books With Knives And Swords On The Cover

Now we all know they say “don’t judge a book by its cover”…but honestly, who doesn’t!? Plus covers tend to give us a great idea of what the book is about, which is helpful if you’re looking for a swashbuckling pirate adventure or a cute fluffy romance with, preferably, plenty of ice cream and cuteness. So today we’re going to amiably judge some covers on YA books that feature knives and swords! It’s very popular and honestly makes for a stunning visual. And will these books deliver the tales of adventure and war that we’re longing for?! One must just read them all and find out. (Excellent life plan. Do please go for it.)


YA COVERS FEATURING SWORDS AND KNIVES

The Knife Of Never Letting Gobuy here

This is a fantastic YA staple, really, as it just celebrated it’s 10th anniversary! It’s a sci-fi story starring a boy who can’t kill and a girl not from this planet. It’s one of those heartbreaking ones so the knife is A+ of a visual for how your feels are going to be stabbed. I also love how it features a world where all your thoughts can be heard! Talk about freeeaky.

 

Markswomanbuy here

This is a very brand new book with a southeast Asian setting, featuring Kyra who’s a novice of a religious group who bring justice to the clans. Their knives are actually a bit sentient and tell them things, which is fascinating! Everything goes wrong for Kyra, though, when her leader is murdered, so she steals the knife and takes off to find justice.

 

To Kill A Kingdombuy here

This just came out this May (!) which is super exciting and I can attest to how stunning a book this is! Now I realise the squid thing is holding the sword at this point, but believe me: this contains pirates and princes, sirens and sea witches. It’s a fantastic dark Little Mermaid retelling about a prince who wants to kill a siren and a siren who accidentally falls for him. Hate-to-love at its finest!

 

Furybornbuy here

This is an epic fantasy about murderous angels and vicious queens. It’s told in two parts about two women, a hundred centuries apart, and how their lives not only connect but really rely on each other to tell the tale! A queen and an assassin! With unheard of powers and strengths.

 

Lady Midnightbuy here

Can’t help but mention a Cassandra Clare book in the infamous Shadowhunter world! Her latest series is a whirlwind of adventure and dark magic, featuring Emma who wants to find her parents’ murderer and Julian, sole carer of his younger siblings and desperate to keep them altogether when the Clave wants to rip them apart. As they dig into the murder mystery though, things get out of hand very fast with secrets coming out that no one should ever know. Also features a swoon-worthy forbidden romance!

 

Bring Me Their Heartsbuy here

A purely fantastic tale of a witch’s monster, called a “Heartless”, who has no choice but to serve her mistress. Zera longs for her freedom and will do anything to get it, even when her mistress sends her to kill the crown prince and take his heart, in order to control the upcoming war. Zera, part monster with a hunger for raw organs, has no qualms doing this…until she accidentally might be falling for the prince. It’s a fairy tale gone wrong and deliciously captivating!

Forest for the Trees & Poetic Threads SWF18

I attended two standout sessions at the Sydney Writers’ Festival this year. Forest for the Trees is run by Writing NSW (until recently NSW Writers’ Centre) and Poetic Threads by Red Room Poetry (in conjunction with the Art Gallery of NSW).

‘Forest for the Trees’ is an annual seminar run primarily for writers but valuable for others in the industry. It’s a one-day forum held at the State Library.

Julie Koh

Julie Koh gave an enlightening keynote titled ‘My Path Through the Forest’. Some of her short stories sound like my favourite books – experimental literary fiction with magic realism and speculative elements. She recommends that emerging and other writers attend festivals, courses and literary social events, use social media and subscribe to professional organisations such as Australian Society of Authors. “The longer I’m in the literary world, the more I realise it’s about connections”. She acknowledged that authors are often introverts (who generate energy from being alone) and should balance their time with others and their book publicity with time alone writing and re-energising.

Julie quoted The Sound of Music: “When the Lord closes a door, somewhere he opens a window” as a reminder to “scatter seeds everywhere” to find opportunities to promote work, only ask once and keep trying something new re publicity. Her published books are Portable Curiosities and Capital Misfits. She’s currently writing the libretto for an opera and, with Ryan O’Neill, Jane Rawson and others, is part of the exciting, audacious writing collective Kanganoulipo.

In ‘Staying on the Path’, Charlotte Wood (whose The Natural Way of Things I have written about a number of times on the blog) explained that she must “follow the energy” – have curiosity and interest in the work she’s writing itself; and, to maintain longevity in the industry, have tenacity and perseverance and behave professionally by treating everyone with respect and with humility.

In the session ‘Going Further Afield’, Kirsty Melville from US-based Andrews McMeel Publishing (who publish Rupi Kaur’s Milk and Honey and other books of poetry) told us that poetry is generated by the political environment and “people are looking to the arts to express their creative selves.” She has recently signed three emerging Australian poets, Gemma Troy, Courtney Peppernell and Beau Taplin.

Candy Royalle, Scotty Wings & Mirrah

The highlight of the festival was ‘Poetic Threads’, three poetic performances inspired by ‘The Lady and the Unicorn’ medieval tapestries. It was curated

Mirrah after performing at Poetic Threads

by Red Room Poetry and held at the Art Gallery of NSW. Electrifying, sublime performance by Mirrah, Scotty Wings as Monkey and Candy Royalle took us to a heightened, magical place. Seek out their work.

 

Kim Scott, Bram Presser & winners of 2018 NSW Premier’s Literary Awards

Tamsin Janu – dual shortlisting for ‘Blossom’ & ‘Figgy Takes the City’

It’s an exciting literary week in Sydney, beginning with the announcement of the winners of the prestigious NSW Premier’s Literary Awards at the State Library.

I was honoured to judge overall Book of the Year, as well as the Patricia Wrightson children’s book category.

Taboo by Kim Scott won both the Indigenous Writers’ Prize as well as Book of the Year. This is the third consecutive year that an Aboriginal writer has won Book of the Year, with Leah Purcell winning with her play script, The Drover’s Wife last year and Bruce Pascoe with Dark Emu in 2016.

Taboo (Picador Australia) is an exceptional work: dense, skilfully composed and darkly lyrical with some mystical elements. It traces the reunion of people affected by a horrific past massacre in a Peace Park. Teenager Tilly is the daughter of deceased patriarch Jim. Her backstory is confronting,  intimating she has been treated like a dog. Twins Gerald and Gerrard may be her allies or threats. Multiple characters are introduced effectively and some unlikeable characters are rendered with affection and understanding.

Symbols of the curlew and other birds are powerful and I particularly appreciated the representation of words from the ‘ancient language’. They are alluded to but not shared on the page. Some can even animate objects. As Wilfred says, “Words, see. It’s language brings things properly alive. Got power of their own, words.”

Another multi-awarded title is Bram Presser’s The Book of Dirt (Text Publishing). It won the UTS Glenda Adams Award for New Writing, the Christina Stead Prize for Fiction and the People’s Choice Award. It is a holocaust novel which reads like non-fiction and includes transcripts of the author’s letters and replies with black and white photos. Ideas about the Museum of the Extinct Race, The Story of The Book of Dirt and images of dirt as the clay Golem’s heart will endure.

A clay Golem figure, Riverman, is also a feature of Zana Fraillon’s Ethel Turner Prize Young Adult winning book, The Ones That Disappeared (Hachette Australia). This is a salutary warning about child trafficking and slavery in Australia and elsewhere told in sensory language, with a sometimes-magic realism style. (I reviewed it for the Weekend Australian here.)

The winner of the Kenneth Slessor Prize for Poetry is Argosy by Bella Li (Vagabond Press). This is an exciting combination of words and exquisite, thought-provoking colour collage in evolving styles.

Congratulations to these and the other winners, as well as the creators of the shortlisted titles and thanks to the State Library of NSW, the coordinator of the awards.

Here is the link to the winning books and shortlists.

http://www.sl.nsw.gov.au/about-library-awards/nsw-premiers-literary-awards 

Peter Carnavas shortlisted for ‘The Elephant’

Link to my comments on the two youth shortlists

Review: Anger Is a Gift by Mark Oshiro

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Anger is a Gift by Mark Oshiro is an incredibly powerful and needed book. It’s also so completely applicable for 2018, the kind of book everyone needs to read because these things are happening right now. And I think this book does an excellent job at bringing awareness to #BlackLivesMatter but also encouraging kids who are going through this. It’s also so well written with amazing characters and it just sucks you right in so you’re there, experiencing this horribly unfair and frightening world of police brutality and racism…and also strong friendships and love.

This is Moss’ story, about how his father was murdered by a police officer and Moss has had to live with the anxiety, the grief, and the life-changing fear that comes with that. There was no justice for his father and Moss is just struggling to stay afloat while he battles terrible panic attacks and also a school that’s (quite literally) falling apart around him due to terrible funding. When Moss and his friends decided to do something about their school — starting with a peaceful walk-out protest — things escalate wildly. The kids get hit with unspeakable brutality, like random and rough locker and body searches + a horrible metal detector + and police stalking on campus to intimidate them in the halls. It’s hard enough to get up in the morning let alone fight this, but Moss can’t sit back this time. And even when things turn nightmarish with friends and loved ones getting brutalised, Moss puts his anger to use and fights.

Moss was such an amazing narrator! It’s written from a super personal 3rd person perspective and you really get into Moss’ head for his journey. He starts off this super anxious kid with panic attacks and he shuts down if he sees a cop. He can’t imagine a life where he won’t be ruined like this, but he also has a super supportive mum and friends. He also meets a super-cute-boy on the subway who he might have some serious feelings for. If he can trust himself to express them. But things are spiralling at school and you just ache for Moss as he watches his friends’ brutalised and knows that he could very well be next.

Also just seeing the school falling apart around them was so devastating. These kids just want to learn and do their best, but how do they stand a chance when their textbooks are photocopied and colleges overlook them instantly for submissions. And the police violence on campus was insane and mindblowing.

This book is about horrible things happening to good people and it will make your heart pound with how unfair it is.

I particularly enjoyed the close-knit relationships this book featured! Moss and his mum are so so close! It’s the sweetest thing ever, plus she supports him through his anxiety and has no qualms at all about him being gay. She supports him and Javier immediately (and absolutely teases him too, like good family should when their son catches a cutie’s eye). Moss also has a huge expanse of friends at school, and I loved the diversity of their group. There was representation from nonbinary, immigrant, black and brown kids, and also disabilities and queer kids.

Moss and Javier are also just too cute for words! You’ll absolutely ship them in a matter of seconds. They fit so well together and want to understand each other, not change each other. Plus Javier is a dork and Moss is super anxious and this is the quality kind of couple you want to read about.

It doesn’t hold back from the heartbreak either. Because this book is nothing if not showing you the non-sugar-coated version of parts of the world people often want to overlook. It does balance uplifting hope with devastation and heartbreak, though, but ohhhh if my heart wasn’t in a puddle half the time.

Don’t miss Anger Is A Gift, alright!? It’s an excellently written masterpiece that should sit right alongside books like The Hate U Give and Dear Martin! I’m glad books like this exist and hope it is another spark that will help change the world.

Double Dipping – Middle Grade Novels that Defy Belief

Novelists use the art of suspension of disbelief in an attempt to encourage readers to surrender logic and sacrifice realism for the sake of enjoyment. Children are naturally more susceptible to stories that defy belief purely because their imaginative acceptance is less eroded than ours is. What I admire about these two middle grade novels is their easy ability to captivate the imagination and suspend disbelief, pressuring readers to levels of discomfiture whilst retraining a sense of irrefutable realism. At the end of both, you walk away loving the characters just a little bit more and happily consider risking life, limb and sanity to walk with them all over again.

The Endsister by Penni Russon

Words flow like silken cream from Russon’s pen in this entrancing tale of ghosts, family disintegration and returning to ones roots. Told in alternating points of view from each family member and a couple of resident ghosts, this story heaves readers from the gumtree-clad hills of Australia to the history-rich, leafy suburbs of inner London with mysterious charm and grace.

Continue reading Double Dipping – Middle Grade Novels that Defy Belief

Review: Tyler Johnson Was Here by Jay Coles

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Tyler Johnson Was Here by Jay Coles is such a heart-wrenching (and important) read. It definitely hits hard and it’s such a vital book for everyone to be reading, especially in this day and age, where police brutality and racism are huge topics in the USA. It’s the type of story that needs to be told again and again until the world changes. Possibly stock up on some tissues and chocolate before you start though.

The story follows Marvin Johnson, who’s brother Tyler goes missing after a fateful party that neither of them would usually attend. Marvin is ruined with worry for his brother, who’d been pulling away in the weeks earlier and not sharing everything with his twin like he used to. And when the cops aren’t interested in helping much, Marvin takes the search into his own hands. With police brutality being a terrifying theme in his life, Marvin fears for the worst…and then a video is leaked online showing his brother being murdered by a cop. Tyler isn’t missing: he’s dead. And no one cares about justice unless Marvin fights tooth and nail for it.

The book focuses on police brutality, but it also delves into the “everyday” parts of racism in the USA. I cannot comprehend how it would be to live like these black teens have to live. When Marvin is going to a protest his mother literally says don’t have anything in your pockets, not even a phone, so he can’t be mistaken for being armed. And another time, Marvin and his friends are nearly arrested for buying food at a store, just because they’re black and the clerk thought they might shoplift. Being Australian, this is mind-boggling to me and a good eye-opener for what life is like for other people. I felt the devastation on every page of this book about kids who don’t deserve this blatant racism. You can really feel the author’s heart and emotions in the writing.

It does mix hope with the sadness though. I’m glad that’s in there. I can imagine this book will be so important to so many, and it’s important that it has room to cry and be angry and be encouraged. It also features a boy, Marvin, who is not afraid to cry and will be emotional…and that’s such a good dialogue to open up in YA too!

The story features so many other great things! There’s a cast of interesting and complex characters, including Marvin’s friends and a girl he meets, Faith, who helps him try to find Tyler and sticks with him when things grow dark. Marvin is also trying to get into a good college while all this is happening, and there’s a lot of talk about mental health and grief and learning to move through sadness and not lay down and give up.

Tyler Johnson Was Here is definitely the book that will leave you thinking, which is exactly what books are supposed to do. Start discussions and spark fires in people! This is a book with a tumultuous and heartbreaking journey, told in a raw and emotional voice.

In Harmony with Maura Pierlot

Author and playwright Maura Pierlot is no stranger to success with her most recent awards boosting her literary status beyond expectations. Last year she received high accolations, being announced Winner of the Charlotte Waring Barton Award and the CBCA Aspiring Writers Mentorship Program 2017 with HarperCollins. Maura went on to complete her winning Fellowship for two weeks in March at the Katharine Susannah Prichard Writers’ Centre in WA to develop her script, Leaving into a full length play. And most recently, her debut picture book, The Trouble in Tune Town, (illustrated by Sophie Norsa) received Joint Winner for Best Children’s Illustrated E-Book in the Independent Publishers Awards (IPPY). How thrilling! So today, Maura is here to discuss her writing life and the launch of The Trouble in Tune Town.

What do you enjoy about writing for children as opposed to your young adult and playwright work?

On some level, I find it more challenging to write for children than I do for young adults or for the stage. I have a tendency to overthink things – probably all those years of philosophy training – and writing for children forces me to tell a story simply – just an idea stripped back, pure, presented in a way that engages and excites … preferably in less than 500 words. I think that’s very difficult to do well.

Your picture book, The Trouble in Tune Town, is a lively, colourful and encouraging story with some impulsive music notes and a young girl practising persistence and self-belief whilst practising her instruments. What do you hope for readers to gain from their literary experience with Meg and her musical notes?

​I hope young readers appreciate the magic and wonder of music, seeing it as a source of joy, not one of stress or obligation. I hope they accept the challenge of learning new songs in a balanced way – doing the best they can, knowing that it’s not a race, and remembering to have fun along the way. I hope they learn to dig deep and persevere because sometimes in life it’s just too easy to give up. Rather than strive for perfection, I hope kids are never afraid to try new things, or to make mistakes, and learn to pick themselves back up when things don’t go to plan. That’s where the real growth comes from.

What has the response been like so far from the audience of The Trouble in Tune Town? What kind of public appearances have you made to share your book?

​The response to the book has been overwhelmingly positive. Readers of all ages seem to identify with the story and the message, which is heartening. It’s been a big hit in families with music-playing children, also with grandmothers and aunties who seem to think it’s the perfect gift.

Until now, due to other commitments, I’ve only been able to do a few school visits. The book took a while to produce, particularly the early sketches, because we all saw the potential of the book and wanted to work hard to make sure we did it justice. Unfortunately, when the book was finally released, I had to head overseas for a family illness and, by the time I returned, it was too late to schedule a launch before the Christmas holidays. I have always had my heart set on a launch at the National Library of Australia but there was no availability for several months, hence the 6 May launch date, somewhat ironically during the Canberra International Music Festival.

I’ve sold quite a few books at local markets. And two local businesses have purchased large quantities to include in gift hampers for their clients, so there’s been a nice follow-on effect from that. The book is available for sale online, but I haven’t done a lot of publicity to drive traffic to my websites. I’m a late starter to social media – I think I was Amish in another life – so I need to learn how to use those tools effectively to spread the word.

Last year you were named the winner of the CBCA Aspiring Writers Mentorship Program. Congratulations! What was your process in applying for this and how has the win affected your writing life?

​I’ve been working on my young adult novel, Freefalling, on and off for about four to five years. On the strength of an early draft, I was selected for HARDCOPY, the inaugural (fiction) professional development program run by the ACT Writers’ Centre. The next year I was shortlisted for a Varuna Publisher Introduction Program, then in late 2016 I was named Runner Up for the NSW Writers’ Centre Varuna Fellowship (both for Freefalling). I was pleased with the attention the manuscript was receiving, but slightly frustrated that I hadn’t found an agent or publisher. I did get quite a few ‘nice’ rejection letters. One agent told me she loved the story 95%, but in today’s harsh commercial climate she really had to love it 100%. Virtually all last year, I went on a hunt for the missing 5% and one day, the answer came to me so clearly that I was amazed I hadn’t stumbled upon it sooner.

I was in the process of reworking the manuscript when applications opened for the CBCA Aspiring Writers Mentorship Program so I submitted my current version, which has subsequently undergone further revision. I was thrilled to be named the winner of the AWMP 2017. The award told me I was on the right track, and that message couldn’t have come at a better time. The mentorship involves spending time with HarperCollins staff (in editing, marketing and publishing). I’m currently talking to the publisher about how my mentorship will work, and I’m pleased that there is interest in customising an approach based on what my manuscript needs at this point in time. It’s too early to know the precise mentorship details, or the outcome, but I have no doubt that the process will be worthwhile, and that my manuscript will be much stronger as a result.

Looks promising! Congratulations again, and look forward to all the exciting news coming from your end!

To follow the blog tour and go in the draw to win a hard copy of The Trouble in Tune Town please visit here.

#ByAustralianBuyAustralian

Keep Calm and Embrace Challenges – Picture Book Reviews

For young children, and their parents, keeping calm is an important skill, particularly in noisy, excitable and sometimes stressful situations. Learning new exercises, growing independence and changes in family dynamics are some examples of times where patience and acceptance are absolutely essential. Here are a few picture books that demonstrate the skill in embracing challenges and remaining positive. And this goes for bubs and their mums! These books also highlight the important roles of our engaged, busy, guiding, and patient (!) mums and other special persons. Lovely books to share on Mother’s Day, and everyday to master those routines!

It doesn’t get more relaxing than a yoga session for little bodies and little friends! Yoga Babies by UK’s TV and radio presenter, Fearne Cotton, is a delectably pacifying experience that encourages strong and healthy minds and bodies for all ages. Sheena Dempsey perfectly demonstrates the art of movement, position and vitality when it comes to the illustrations. And the combination of words and pictures beautifully promotes audience participation with their variety of active role modelling guides.

We meet many yoga babies and their diverse families throughout this romping, rhythmic, straightforward text that connect to one another with a series of poses. Each spread is different with a culmination of family-friendly settings and pets, which help to demonstrate the given skill. For example, a dog accompanies Rex as he makes the ‘downward dog’, two mice appear with Tom and Sam’s dormouse pose, and Emily stands tall and straight like a tree in her garden. By having adults feature alongside the babies, the book encourages their initiation for a fun, calming family activity, as written in the forward message.

Colourful, cheeky and soothing, Yoga Babies is a refreshing and engaging delight of a book that children from age two will be pro-’posing’ become an habitual routine.

New Frontier Publishing, February 2018.

“In a little pink house on the edge of the town lived a baby who made some unusual sounds.” This is the opening line of Alison Lester’s rollicking, bumptious story, The Very Noisy Baby. A cacophony of sound effects proceed in this lively narrative with a tiny bub and her enormous voice box!

Coco the zoo keeper is looking for her escaped tiger, and when she hears a GROWL! coming from the little pink house she assumes it’s there. “No”, says the mother. “We just have a very noisy baby.” A hilarious string of animal onomatopoeia follows as more people search for their missing pets, only to discover it is in fact the very noisy baby. The layout of illustrations is perfect with vignettes of the house and the scouting people (Alison, as Frances the farmer, and her dog Bigsy, appear in there, too!) on one side, and a dedicated page to the small baby on the next. Lester then showcases her much-adored watercolour and line artwork as full spreads when all the people come together to find the lost creatures. And there they appear, just as our little noisy baby calls them out one by one.

Brimming with lyrical repetition, animal sounds, active encouragement and plenty of jovial humour, little ones from age two will be giggling throughout and getting carried away with the surprises jumping out at them. The Very Noisy Baby is the perfect read aloud that also reinforces the themes of working together, animals and families in the most eye-pleasing, positive and captivating way.

Affirm Press, November 2017.

Wittingly taken from the popular song / game, ‘Skip to My Lou’, this title is just as naughty and delightfully fun. Skip to the Loo! A Potty Book is a whimsical play on words that rhyme and a learning skill that all toddlers achieve, all in a lively game to the potty. With bouncy text by Sally Lloyd-Jones, and the iconic style of illustrations by Guess How Much I Love You’s Anita Jeram, this little board book couldn’t get much cuter.

A group of forest friends are attending a party, with Bunny in the lead to find his potty. A subsequent line-up of animal attendees join in, each one with a personable character of its own. We’ve got a lonely dodo, a smiling frog on tiptoe, a ballerina elephant, Lord and Lady Huff-Puff, a naughty big fat monster, plus more. Each line ends in a rhyme to ‘loo’, with some gorgeously inventive terms like ‘Wibbly Woo’ and ‘stinkaroo’ to add to the leisure. Their destination expels a highly amusing tone with everyone on their assortment of different shaped and sized potties (’POO! POO! POO!’), and there’s even another little encouraging surprise on the last page.

Skip to the Loo! is the ideal book for toddlers to hold, sit with and read whilst gracing the little throne in comfort and calmness, reassurance and joy. A life-saver for weary mums!

Walker Books UK, Feb 2018.

Monster Baby by Sarah Dyer captures a little piece of a young child’s thoughts and feelings when a new baby enters his or her world. All the trepidation, jealousy and sometimes disappointments that can exist when focused attention and family dynamics change. This young, orange, horned monster has plenty of questions running through his mind as he narrates the story in first person. Dyer cleverly weaves in a child’s perspective as her character attempts to grasp the concepts of Mum’s growing belly, why she rests so much, eats too healthy but doesn’t get any thinner, and can’t pick him up anymore. But there are positive aspects, too, like seeing the baby on the ultrasound and the excited anticipation of its arrival. The confusion continues when monster baby is born, like why the boy needs to be quiet when the newborn can make a lot of noise. Eventually, he adapts and grows to love his baby brother, as most older siblings do.

Dyer’s characters, whilst monsters, are nothing but gentle and friendly creatures, illustrated with uncomplicated line drawings and added textural and collage media for warmth and familiarity.

Highly relatable and witty, Monster Baby is perfect for preschoolers as an encouraging book on being open with their questions and feelings yet seeing the positive side to adapting to change. Perfect also for mums expecting bub number two!

Otter-Barry Books, April 2017.

Happy Mother’s Day!

Mummies are Marvellous – Mother’s Day Picture Book Reviews

Mother. The person who mothers you, nurtures you, Band-Aids your grazed knees and kisses you to sleep at night; the person who is always there to listen to you, has cuddles to spare, and tugs you back in line when things go askew deserves every ounce of recognition and celebration we can muster. These next few picture books do just that and more. Sit down with your mother, child, or grandchild this Mother’s Day with one of these touching picture books.

Marvellous Mummy by Katie Poli and Giuseppe Poli

Discovering the creative picture book chemistry of a new picture book team is akin to embarking on an exciting new adventure for me. When the team is a husband and wife collaboration, the intrigue doubles. Marvellous Mummy is the first creation of Katie and Giuseppe Poli and manages to tick many of my ideal picture book boxes. It’s bright and breezy in appearance, possesses narrative that is succinct and able to endure the rigors of repeated reading and evokes warmth and identifiable situations that even very small children can recognise and love.

The narrator’s mummy, represented as a capable, caring and sometimes feisty she-elephant, is many things, just like real-life mummies. She is silly and fun and goofy at times. She is not beyond being rambunctious and playful, sneaky and knowing and sometimes grumpy and grouchy, either. However, she is always kind and loving and of course, the best mummy of all because she is yours. Katie’s repeating phraseology and use of strong verbs to emphasise this mummy’s characteristics and engagement with her offspring provide the opportunity for little readers to interact and anticipate her qualities. This prompts them to recognise the same qualities in their own mothers, perhaps encouraging them to search for more.

Giuseppe’s illustrations are playfully exuberant. Each page is awash in pretty pastels creating a soft, gentle mood that is both childlike in appearance yet focuses powerfully on mama elephant and her child. Mummies are not perfect every minute of the day nor are they invincible but they are strong and beautiful and capable in every conceivable way in the eyes of their young children. Marvellous Mummy portrays this simple concept well. A delight to share with pre-schoolers and to remind all those mummies out there how special they are.

New Frontier Publishing May 2018

Continue reading Mummies are Marvellous – Mother’s Day Picture Book Reviews

Review: I Have Lost My Way by Gayle Forman

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I Have Lost My Way is the latest book by the famed Gayle Forman and it definitely doesn’t disappoint! It features her typical “set in 1-day” timeline as well as packing an emotional punch full of angst, change and emotion. It’s the kind of book you chew through in one day but keep thinking about it for a long time after.

The book follows 3 narrators: Freya (a singer who’s lost her voice) and Harun (a closeted quiet boy who’s broken his boyfriend’s heart) and Nathaniel (neglected and disillusioned with the disappointing world after an accident). The book follows them as they all meet in New York City, actually…they meet because Freya tumbles off a foot-bridge and lands on Nathaniel’s head, gives him a concussion, and then ropes a nearby Haran into helping them to hospital. Harun recognises the famed-Freya-singer and wonders if hanging around with her will somehow get him his boyfriend (who loves her music) back. And Nathaniel feels all his paths in life have folded to a close…and then he meets these two strangers who help him and stick with him, even when they could’ve left.

I loved Forman’s previous books, If I Stay and Where She Went, so I was super excited for this new one. I Have Lost My Way tugged at those heart strings and also incorporated such a complex and interesting cast and plot into such a small amount of space!

I really liked how the “told over one day” plot was handled. It was short and powerful and I got so so attached to these characters after just seeing them over one day! However the romance in these 1-day stories always does feel a bit rushed…although I liked that Nathaniel and Freya weren’t spouting any “destiny” lines…they just liked each other and were keen to see where it would go. It was instalove but not cliche! And they were so cute!

It’s written so their backstory comes in 1st person chapters, but the bulk of the book (set in the present day) is written in 3rd. I liked this unique formatting and storytelling style and I think it worked well for the book. I thought Harun’s narrative didn’t slot so easily with the others, but he was still such a winning character and I was just as invested in his life.

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A quick glance at the characters?!

  • FREYA: She’s a rising-star singer who suddenly can’t sing. It could be medical?Or nerves? But she just stops being able to sing and she’s contracted by an austere man she can’t disappoint and she’s scared people will forget about her if she never sings again. Fame only lasts if you’re giving to your audience after all. She feels so lost with all of this and the pressure is crushing her.  She’s also biracial/Ethiopian and her culture plays into her music loves a lot.
  • HARUN: He’s very gay and very closeted being from a strict Muslim family that he loves dearly and doesn’t want to disappoint. A lot of his narrative is wrestling with what he knows to be good and true vs what he knows his parents would do if they found out. He has an amazing black boyfriend, James…but who doesn’t want to be Harun’s shameful secret anymore. Then Harun agrees to do something his family wants that is…not good for him. And things with him and James turn sideways really fast. When the book begins he’s just broken his boyfriend’s heart and is totally lost and alone.
  • NATHANIEL: He is the most mysterious of the bunch and grew up really secluded and neglected with a father who was very childish and never took proper care of him. As a kid, Nathaniel found that exciting…as an older teen? He feels overlooked, unwanted, and forgotten. He ends up in New York City after a tragic home event and he feels like his world is collapsing around him. He’s very depressed and finding Freya and Harun kick-starts him out of a downward spiral. He’s also so very soft and kind and also starving so they spend a lot of the book feeding him. As they should.

It’s definitely got the emotional edge I’ve come to expect from Forman books! I was super caught up in the story and just wanted to know if something (or anything!) would work out for these characters who were so lost and also stuck in their own mire of aloneness.

I Have Lost My Way is an amazing story that takes a lot of twists you won’t expect. It deals with grief and loneliness and isolation and how important it is to confide your struggles with people you love and trust.

WIN copies of PERFECT WORLD and BEAST WORLD

Perfect World and Beast World are the first two books in my new series, OTHER WORLDS. Aimed at children eight and up, they are about kids who find mysterious keys that open doorways into other worlds – thrilling adventures follow. For more info, check out my previous blog post. But now, here’s your chance to win a signed copy of one of these books…

How? Simply send an email with “OTHER WORLDS comp” in the subject line to [email protected]

The giveaway closes at 5pm (Melb time) on Friday 27 April 2018, after which I will randomly draw two winners, each of whom will get one signed book.

You must be an Australian resident with an Australian postal address to enter, and you can only enter once.

The winner will be contacted by email, as well as being listed in the comments section of this post. No correspondence on the matter will be entered into. Got that? Good! Now… go and enter.  🙂

And while you’re waiting to win, check out the official OTHER WORLDS website.

Catch ya later, George

Through the doorway to OTHER WORDS

A perfect world full of identical clones. Steampunk London inhabited by well-dressed, talking animals. Robots and humans fighting a war in virtual reality. A seemingly ordinary world threatened by a mysterious darkness. To discover these worlds, all you need is a key to open a doorway. This is the setup for my new series of sci-fi/fantasy books for kids – OTHER WORLDS.

I’ve been a long-time fan of portal fiction – stories that, through the use of a portal, transport ordinary people into extraordinary worlds. These worlds are sometimes similar to our own, with key points of divergence, sometime bizarrely different. Books like CS Lewis’s Narnia series or His Dark Materials by Philip Pullman, and television shows like Sliders, have taken audiences on splendid adventures between worlds. Now, finally, I get the chance to play with portals and other worlds.

The first two books in the OTHER WORLDS series, Perfect World and Beast World, were released in March this year. The next two books, Game World and Dark World, will be published at the end of May. If these four books do well enough, then there is the potential for further books in the series.

So what goes in to writing a kids’ series like this? There is a lot of thought and planning, beyond the actual plot.

The biggest consideration was what actually constitutes a series? The books in my previous series You Choose, were linked by format rather than the story. Each book had a completely different plot, covering a range of different genres, about completely different characters. What made the books a series, is that they were all interactive and written in second person (like the old Choose Your Own Adventure novels and the Pick-a-path books). I enjoyed the freedom of playing with different genres and having individual stories, and I wanted to retain some of this freedom for the new series.

This time around, I wanted a story link… but not too much. Not all kids are going to be interested in reading every book in a series. For this reason, I wanted to give each book the ability to be read on its own and still be understood. I also wanted to give each book an individual feel. So I decided that each one would feature a new set of characters and a completely different world. Perfect World is straight science fiction with a serious message about our own world. Beast World is steampunk fantasy. Game World is adventure sci-fi. Dark World mixes science fiction and fantasy with a dash of horror. But every story begins with a kid finding a key that opens a doorway into another world. So there is a pattern to the books, which gives the sense of being part of a greater whole, but individual stories so that each book can be read on its own.

But I wanted a little more to link the books… to provide some sort of reward for those readers who did read all the books. So in each one there is an epilogue, separate from the main story, to tantalise readers with a mystery that doesn’t get solved until the fourth book.

It was important for me to write a series that would appeal to both girls and boys. In addition to making sure there was a balance of male and female characters in each book, I decided to alternate the gender of the main POV character from book to book; with the secondary character being the opposite gender. So each book has a prominent boy character and a prominent girl character. This also ensured that there were both male and female characters on each cover.

While I was aiming for these books to be thrilling adventure stories, I also wanted some depth. I wanted to touch on subjects that were meaningful to me. The importance of individuality and diversity, and the need to be who you really are, are themes that run through these stories, sometimes in the background, sometimes a little more overtly. There are also themes of co-operation, of not judging others and of the importance of ethics in science.

Most importantly, I wanted these books to be fast-paced and fun, and perhaps a little bit quirky. I’m an odd person. My mind is constantly whirling with bizarre ideas and idiosyncratic images. I like putting these into my books. So… Reject clones living in a massive pile of trash called The Dumping Ground. A vegetarian tiger plotting treason. A robot boy who’s forgotten that he’s a robot. A zombie struggling to learn how to make a good cup of coffee. These are just some of the weird things you’ll find in the OTHER WORLDS books.

And if you happen to be a Doctor Who fan (I happen to be a HUGE fan)… there is a hidden reference in each one of the books. 🙂

I think I’ve put more of my interests, more of my hopes and beliefs, more of myself into this series than anything else I’ve ever written. I’m hoping that readers will enjoy reading them as much as I enjoyed writing them.

Catch ya later, George

PS. Keep an eye on the Boomerang Books Blog for your chance to win signed copies of Perfect World and Beast World.

Neverland by Margot McGovern

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Neverland by Margot McGovern is part homage to the famed Peter Pan tale and part a story of mental illness and learning when to let go and when to hold on. I’m a huge fan of Peter Pan, so I was excited to see the influences swetp through this (although it’s not so much a retelling as just lots of references). Kit calls her childhood-island-home “Neverland” and it’s been converted into a mental illness type hospital for kids at risk. The entire book is about mental health and it can get pretty dark at times, and it’s about facing your monsters.

The story follows Kit Learmonth has had a pretty tumultuous childhood. From parents who didn’t really take care of her, to struggles with health, to an overactive imagination which she often retreats into instead of facing her past. After a suicide attempt at her boarding school, she returns to her childhood island home, nicknamed “Neverland”, where her favourite uncle runs a lowkey psychiatrist hospital for kids who aren’t quite sick enough for a mental institution but who definitely aren’t coping in the real world. The island functions as part school, part hospital, and there’s plenty of chances for the teens to sneak around the laws and enjoy the wonders (and self-invited dangers) of the island. There are some definite illegal nighttime adventures, as well as the more above-board sailing, school, and close friendships. Then Kit meets a new resident: Rohan. He’s very quiet and charming and Kit falls to his friendship…except he might be more sinister than he seems. All the while her suppressed childhood memories are poisoning her inside and out, while she prefers to “play Peter Pan” where life will all turn out okay so long as you keep flying and don’t deal with your problems. That…isn’t going to work out, Kit.

I did so like the setting with the island vibes with a dash of mystery and adventure! Although I didn’t find the island completely believable because it seemed extremely well funded (who could afford to send their kids here?!) but at the same time extremely badly supervised! The amount of times the teens sneaked off to drink and do drugs was downright impressive. Welcome to fairyland as well. But I do think it’s nice to acknowledge that it’d be great of there were places like this for at-risk teens! They definitely needed help and support and the island did provide them with a chance to help themselves…if they chose.

It also explores different types of mental illnesses. I felt it did it quite well. Kit, the narrator, has depression and she severely self harms. Her friend (with benefits) is Alister and he’s a psychopath. Then Gypsy has a severe eating disorder and is recovering from a bad relationship. It doesn’t exactly diagnose Rohan but he had a lot of underlying issues going on. It also portrays therapy in a positive light! We get to read about therapy sessions and some coping mechanisms and some really gritty conversations etc. It definitely attempts to deal with diagnoses instead of just dishing them out.

Kit’s also really big on telling verbal stories too. This is definitely one of her coping mechanisms: tell a story and avoid the real world! Not…healthy, um, Kit. But I did like the magical feel it gave the book, which is definitely a solid contemporary, but with Kit talking about faeries and selkies and Peter Pan, it just added that layer of enchantment to the story.

Kit herself was an interesting character, who definitely spent a lot of the book growing. She makes a sheer bucket-ton of mistakes and a lot of the time she’s downright awful as she battles her own illness and the denial of how serious it is to cut herself. The psychology behind why she did what she did was very clear, even though it was difficult to feel for her when she was so mean to her loving uncle and caring friends. But it’s so important to explore this “unlikeable” part of mental health, because it DOES affect those with it so so much and it’s a topic that needs unpacking.

Neverland is definitely a story that is part fun and whimsy, part darkness and warnings. It’s not a light read by any means, although I think it does show sunshine through the darkness.

YA Books That Take Place Over 1 Day

An exciting thing about books is that they can cover such a variety of lengths of times! Some take place over years. Others weeks. And still, the very special and few others, just a mere days or hours. It takes talent to tell a whole story that fits into a 24 hour period, so today I want to list some Young Adult books that were written about one-day-in-the-life-of their respective protagonists!


I HAVE LOST MY WAY BY GAYLE FORMAN

BUY HERE

This is a brand new Forman book (out just this month!) and it’s set over one day in New York City. It covers 3 protagonists who all feel like their lives are folding in and how they meet and how they support each other. Freya has just lost her voice and this is super bad news for an upcoming rising star singer. Harun is hiding the fact that he’s gay from his conservative Muslim family and he’s just broken his boyfriend’s heart. Nathaniel has been neglected all his life by unfulfilling parents and now he’s taking a last journey into the city to carry out a plan that will change him forever. The three have a fateful meeting (aka Freya falls on top of Nathaniel and knocks him out) and they set out across the city together for one fateful day of change.

 

LONG WAY DOWN BY JASON REYNOLDS

BUY HERE

This one doesn’t just take place in one day, it actually takes place over one elevator ride downstairs! How incredible is that right?! It seems mind-bending that it could actually work, but trust me it really does! The story follows Will whose brother has just been shot and he’s taken his brother’s gun to go get revenge. But as he rides the elevator down, ghosts of his past enter and share their stories. All the people who get on the elevator have been affected by gun violence and the more they talk to Will, the more he realises this hate cycle is absolutely not going to fix anything. This book is in prose and it’s heartwrenching. An absolute must read by an acclaimed author!

 

SAM AND ILSA’S LAST HURRAH

BUY HERE

This story takes place over one evening where Sam and Ilsa host a “last” dinner party to celebrate the finishing of school and how their lives are about to diverge and change forever. They’ve always hosted really interesting dinner parties (inspired by their eclectic grandma) and each invites three people and doesn’t tell the other who’s coming. Adds a lot of spice. However for this fated party, the mix of people soooo do not mesh. Sam’s ex is there as well as his new crush, a random boy he met on the subway. Ilsa’s snarky best friend comes to cause havoc and a boy Ilsa’s planning to set Sam up with…but who turns out to only speak through a sock puppet!? As lasagna fails and there are black outs and bitter secrets leaked…the twins learn a lot about each other and maybe to stop trying to meddle in each other’s wants and dreams. It’s co-written by the famed David Leviathan and also Rachel Cohn, the same duo that brought us Dash and Lily’s Book of Dares!

YA Urban Fantasy: The Sentinels of Eden with Carolyn Denman

Carolyn Denman was a horse-loving child who grew up in the eastern suburbs of Melbourne, inventing all sorts of fantasy worlds in her mind. She completed a Bachelor of Science and worked in finance before realising her love of writing, which very soon became an addiction. 

Carolyn’s debut The Sentinels of Eden speculative fiction series grounds a refreshing blend of Australian and Aboriginal heart with biblical roots in a thrilling and transcendent fantasy allegory, with elements of real life compromise and sacrifice. In Book One: Songlines, the journey to Eden is marked with the discovery of secrets and supernatural powers that begin a changing fate for a cast of complex characters; navigating the prosperity and protection of two sacred, opposing worlds. Denman explores the symbolism of Eden and the realities of adolescence, identity and lust through her fictional fantasy in a sensitive, tasteful way. These engaging page-turners and nail-biter endings will leave their young adult readers wanting more.

Carolyn has generously answered some questions about the series for Boomerang Books readers. 😊

How did you come to be a writer?

Where most writers say that they’ve been writing since the day they could hold a pen, that’s not my story. I wrote one awesome short story in Year 7 that my teacher hated and that was the end of that, at least until that day a few years ago when I told my daughter I’d help her write a story. She got bored after the first couple of chapters. I got addicted. Seriously, I started pulling books from my shelf to remind me when you were supposed to do things like start the next line when writing dialogue. I’ve always been an avid reader, but never taken much notice of technique. Thank God I have some really gentle beta-readers. Some of them are even teachers, which is handy, and they’re nice teachers.

What is the significance of your series’ title; The Sentinels of Eden?

As you’ll see from the third book, the series isn’t just about Lainie. It’s about the long history of the Cherubim who have made sacrifices for Eden. This series is about the ones who stand guard over the land. Who hold it sacred and are born to serve it. Yeah, there’s a metaphor there, but I have no right to tell those stories. I can only try to honour them with my little allegory. That’s what makes the series title significant.

The star of Songlines (Book 1) and Sanguine (Book 2) is young teenager, Lainie. What can you tell us about her? How have you developed her intriguing personality and her special secrets?

Lainie has become a great friend, and I’ve really enjoyed seeing the world through her eyes. She’s really made me explore what it would be like to live in a world with no tears. Sure, paradise sounds great, but what would it really mean for someone who has grown up in our world? Throughout the course of the series, Lainie has grown up and yet in some ways has also become more child-like. The duality of her journey has been a wild ride, and one that everyone should think through. Growing up shouldn’t mean becoming boring. There should always be room for whimsy, and I wish I could be more like her.

All of the Sentinels books in the series deal with navigating adolescence and identity, loss, truth and protecting the environment. What other themes / issues underpin these books?

I feel that there is an underlying exploration of the nature of free will in each story. Some people don’t believe in the concept at all, which is fine, but whether we are the sum of our free choices or the inevitable product of our previous choices, we must still grapple with decisions. Especially when we’re faced with completely unexpected situations. If you want to delve even deeper, I could discuss the concept of shame. That ‘unsolvable problem’ that goes beyond guilt and underpins so many mental health issues (although I’m certainly not implying there’s a simplistic cause for any of those). There is no room for shame in Eden. In fact, it’s the one corruption that the Tree of Life can’t simply heal, which is why ‘tainted’ humans aren’t allowed in. Shame is a complex issue, and I’ve only brushed across the surface of it as a theme, really.

How do each of the covers reveal a snippet of the magic inside the books?

Each of the covers has an image which symbolises an important concept in that story. The Tree of Life, the eagle, the shell – all these hold meaning to the main characters and represent their journeys. The illustrator also gave the covers an opalescent feel. Opals are the perfect mix of earth and hidden fantasy, don’t you think?

You’ve written a short prequel to Songlines, called Barramundi Triangle (read more here). Can you tell us a bit about that?

Barramundi emerged from a throw-away line near the start of Songlines. Lainie mentioned that she’d always been a little bit afraid of the police sergeant, ever since ‘that incident with Noah and the ride-on mower’. I couldn’t help it. I had to find out what insane situation Noah had got them both into that involved a mower and the police.
Also, as a debut author I felt it wasn’t fair to expect people to take a risk on buying my book if they hadn’t read anything I’d written, so I wrote something for them to nibble on first.

Thanks, Carolyn!

To see more from Carolyn Denman and to celebrate her third and most recent book in The Sentinels of Eden series, Sympath, you can join her blog tour here.

Odyssey Books, 2016 – 2018.

#ByAustralianBuyAustralian

Lest We Forget – New Picture Books

The amount of empathetic, engaging titles that surface each year to commemorate ANZAC Day never fails to impress me. Touching, sympathetic stories like those below permit young children to open their hearts and minds to the true essence of courage and sacrifice, allowing them to connect with a history that for the sake of humanity, we should never forget. There is a huge number of praise-worthy picture books to share with your youngsters this ANZAC Day. Here are a few newer titles that are also excellent for classroom inclusive discussion.

Message In A Sock by Kaye Ballie and Narelda Joy

Thousands of care packages were sent to our Aussie Diggers during the Great War of 1914. Dozens upon dozens of hand-knitted socks made up a part of these packs not only providing warmth and comfort for ‘war-weary feet inside heavy boots’ but reminding our troops that their loved ones at home were thinking of them.

Tammy learns how to knit socks to send overseas. She tucks special messages into the toe of each sock for the soldiers to find. One message, written especially for her Daddy serving at the warfront, returns with a reply from Lance Corporal A McDougall who was the recipient of her heartfelt gift. His reply connects her with her father, fills her with pride and instills a hope that someday soon he will return safely to her.

This story highlights the female wartime effort in the most glorious and tender way. Baillie’s narrative is affectionate and informative; addressing younger audiences in a way that is both direct and appealing given that many of them might struggle to understand the concept of caring for others in such an express, person-to-person way. Joy’s collage inspired illustrations are a mosaic of love and charm, layered with texture and colour so persuasive and rich, you’ll want to reach out and stroke each golden strand of Tammy’s hair. It’s this depth of sensory allure that draws you back to this story again and again, making it the perfect book to honour the centenary of the end of WWI. A must share.

MidnightSun Publishing 25 April 2018

Continue reading Lest We Forget – New Picture Books

‘Michael Wagner & Jane Godwin: talented literary partners’

Michael Wagner and Jane Godwin are a talented husband and wife literary couple.

One of the first times I was aware of Jane Godwin’s work was when she was CBCA shortlisted for The True Story of Mary Who Wanted to Stand on Her Head. This and her other books are wonderful, and I particularly love the picture books Today We Have No Plans, Starting School and Go Go and the Silver Shoes and her YA novel Falling from Grace.

I clearly remember meeting Michael Wagner in Brisbane when I was consultant for an Indie bookstore there. Penguin Books were taking him around to talk about his unique series ‘The Undys’. I loved the games that the father and son played in these books and the love, as well as pathos, in their life and relationships in the housing commission apartment where they lived.

Thanks for speaking with Boomerang Books blog, Jane and Michael.

What are your professional roles in the book world?

We’re both full-time authors and part-time publishers. I (Michael) have my own small imprint, Billy Goat Books, which allows me to dabble in publishing by releasing a book or two a year, while Jane freelances for a couple of different publishers.

What have you written together and how do you help each other with your work/writing?

MW: We’ve actually only collaborated once, on the picture book Bear Make Den, the text of which is about 50 words, so much of our effort went into reducing the number of words in the text. It’s funny, you might think that two authors would double the prose, but in that instance, we helped each other create the most economical prose possible.

But we’re also slowly working together on a series of early readers. It’s an idea that I came up with, that would probably work as a series, but which really plays more to Jane’s strengths (i.e. her understanding of very young children), so it makes sense for us to work on it together.

When we’re not working together, we help each other with feedback and encouragement. It’s hard for ‘life-partners’ to be too critical of each other’s work – we’re meant to be our number one supporters, really – but whenever we get stuck, we seek help from each other.

What other literary/illustrative partnerships do you have and what books have these produced?

MW: There are actually too many of these to list, but an author-illustrator partnership I’m particularly enjoying right now is with my friend Wayne Bryant in the creation of the So Wrong series. He and I both love Mad Magazine, and we’ve created something similarly subversive and naughty, but in book format, and aimed more squarely at primary kids. I’m really proud of what we’ve achieved, although I know many would wonder why. J

JG: Anna Walker and I have created 6 picture books together, and we’re working on our seventh.  I am also Anna’s publisher of her books that she writes and illustrates herself, so we are quite connected!  I feel very lucky to have the partnership with Anna.  We have become good friends through working and exploring ideas together, and I think we each have an understanding of how the other works, and sees the world.

I’ve also made 3 books with Andrew Joyner, and we’re working on a couple more at the moment.  I love working with Andy – he is a genius at character and gesture, and he’s also very insightful with text, and gives great advice and feedback about the narrative and story.  He’s interested in the words as well as the visual world of the story.

Alison Lester and I have collaborated in many ways as well.  I’m her publisher, we’re great friends, and we’ve made many books together in Aboriginal communities with the kids and sometimes with the adults, too.  Recently we collaborated in creating a picture book called The Silver Sea, which we made with young patients at the Royal Children’s Hospital, Melbourne.  This was a really wonderful project to be involved in, and all proceeds go to the Education Institute at the RCH.

My friend Davina Bell and I have also collaborated in various ways.  Together we created the Our Australian Girl series when we were both working at Penguin. Davina and I have also co-written two books, and both have been illustrated by Freya Blackwood.  The three of us really enjoy working together, and usually this involves a trip to stay with Freya in Orange, where Davina and I camp in her beautiful studio.

Could you give us examples of your books across age-groups and forms, from picture books to series and novels.

JG: I’ve written picture books, junior novels and also stand-alone novels for middle readers and teenage readers.  I wrote many titles in the Aussie Bites and Aussie Nibbles series, and over the past 10 or so years it has been mainly picture books.  Part of the reason for this is that I adore the picture book genre – it fascinates and inspires me – and the other part is that I had a very busy and demanding job as a publisher so never had the time to write novels.  Now that I’ve left Penguin, I’m working on longer stories as well as picture books.

Which of your books’ longevity in print are you particularly pleased about?

MW: I’m most thrilled about the Maxx Rumble series, which, so far, has been in print for 14 years. It was my first proper attempt at writing for children and remains my most enduring work. I had no idea what I was doing when I wrote it, which I think, is why it’s worked so well. J

JG: I’m pleased that the novel I wrote over 10 years ago now, Falling From Grace, remains in print and is set at Year 8 level in secondary schools.  I still receive letters about that book from readers both here and in the US, so I feel happy that it’s still being enjoyed and hopefully hasn’t dated too much!

When in Brisbane, Michael and I also talked about his being in a band and about Jane’s YA novel Falling from Grace (2006), which I loved and have kept all these years. I still have the post-it note on the cover, which I wrote recommending it to one of my twin sons, who was then 14 years-old. The key character for me, Kip, was also 14 in the book, looked older than his years, played music, had given up swimming even though he was a champion and suffered anxiety – all like my son. He seemed like such a real person.

If I recall correctly, Michael mentioned that Jane had written the character with the help of their son, Wil.

After all these years, Falling from Grace is deservedly still in print and I highly recommend it.

JG: Oh, that’s lovely, Joy – thank you.  Wil didn’t help me with the actual writing, but I was certainly observing him and his world when I was writing that book!

It’s perhaps not surprising that the son of such a creative couple is now the lead singer, lyricist and muso in famous Oz band, The Smith Street Band.

How did you nurture Wil as a writer? Which song of his are you most proud and why?

JG: Wil was always interested in music and rhythm, from a very young age.  He was also always interested in language.  He spoke at a very early age, and also loved reading and books.  I read to him a lot, until he was quite old!  A passion for music is also something that Wil and Michael share.  I’m proud of a lot of his songs, and I have my favourites.  A sentimental favourite is My Little Sinking Ship, which is a song he wrote for his sister, our daughter Lizzie, when they were both teenagers.  I also love Laika, which is a very sad but beautiful song about vulnerability, really, based around the story of the Russian dog that was sent into space.  Lizzie and Wil have actually collaborated on both those songs – Lizzie made a little animation film clip for My Little Sinking Ship when she was in secondary school, and they made a handmade book, illustrated by Lizzie, for Laika.  We printed a limited quantity and they sold it at gigs. Recently, Wil received an email from a teacher at a Melbourne primary school, who said that her grade 5 and 6 students studied the Laika song, and it really inspired them in different ways. I found this very moving.

MW: All I can add to what Jane’s said is that I’ve been semi-obsessed with music since I was in primary school and I think that sort of passion from a parent is often absorbed by his/her children. I was also in a band that almost became famous, so perhaps Wil is living out a part of my life that was never quite fulfilled. I should also say that I never consciously pushed him in that (or any other) direction, we just responded to his interests, whatever they were at the time.

Which literary award has meant the most to you?

JG: I won the QLD Premier’s Award with my first novel, and this probably meant the most because it was very affirming when I was just starting out.

What are you reading and enjoying at the moment or recently?

JG: I’m reading George Saunders’s short story collection The Tenth of December. I recently read Lincoln in the Bardo and loved it, so I’m reading everything else of his now!  (Wil is also reading the same book, btw!)  I recently read Raymie Nightingale by Kate DiCamillo.  I love her writing, and can’t wait for her next book to come out.

MW: I’m almost always reading books about psychology, philosophy or human nature. I guess I’m hoping to become wise some day.

What are you writing now or next?

MW: I’m writing a few different picture books at the moment, but also trying to master a middle-reader series idea I’ve had hanging around for about five years. It has a catchy title and some decent enough plot ideas, but I’ve never been able to find the main character’s voice. Luckily, I think I’ve just started to find it recently. I sure hope so!

JG: I’m writing lots of picture books, and also a novel.

There do seem to be many books rushed through publication at the moment, particularly novels with misprints and with plots, characters and structure that could benefit from more care. This is actually preventing books from being shortlisted for awards. Why is this rushed writing and publication process happening and is it going to improve?

JG: When I remember back in the dark ages when I was working as an editor, we had a lot more time to work on each title.  We could give each book, and each author, the time they needed.  Many publishers and editors still really try to do this now, but the world of publishing and the economics of publishing have changed so much, and books often tend to be rushed through.

What would you both like to be remembered for?

MW: As someone who did his best. And perhaps made the world slightly better – be that through my books, or talks and workshops, or even through our children.

JG: I like Michael’s comment here, so I’ll echo that, I think – as someone who did her best!

Michael Wagner’s website

Jane Godwin’s website

‘White Night’ and interview with Ellie Marney

Ellie Marney’s new YA novel, White Night (Allen & Unwin) has an authentic Australian feel. It is warm-hearted with a welcome edge of rawness. Male protagonist, Bo, is a triumph, with his blend of masculinity, compassion and love.

Where are you based, Ellie, and how do you spend your time?

Ellie Marney

I live near Castlemaine, in north-central Victoria. I usually spend my time writing or reading! But I also have four kids, and a couple of day jobs, so life can get pretty busy.

How are you involved in Australia’s YA community?

In 2015, when the ALIA lists came out and OzYA was barely a a blip on the radar, a group of lit sector professionals – authors, librarians, booksellers, bloggers, publishers – got together to form the #LoveOzYA movement, to advocate for and promote Australian YA, and I was lucky enough to be at that first meeting. I’ve never really stopped flag-waving for OzYA since then!

Oz YA is thriving but why do there seem to be few Australian novels written for males at the moment?

I actually think Australian YA caters pretty well to males! There are plenty of great YA books written by male YA authors, or featuring male protagonists. But I also believe it’s good for boys to broaden their horizons (and maybe learn something new) by reading books with female protagonists, or written by female authors – I certainly encourage my boys to pick up books by authors of all stripes, with a range of protagonists. We don’t seem to worry so much about girls reading books written by men, or focusing on boys – Harry Potter, for instance – which makes me think it’s a bit of a double standard.

Could you tell us about your other books, particularly your very popular ‘Every’ series?

The Every series is based around the question of ‘What would a contemporary teenage Sherlock Holmes be like?’ (or as the tagline says, ‘What if Sherlock Holmes was the boy next door?’) and is my most popular series to date. People liked my take on Young-Sherlock-and Girl-Watson-in-Melbourne so much I wrote a companion novel, No Limits, which I self-published last year – Harris Derwent, one of the secondary characters in the series, had his chance to shine in a darker-edged story about drug crime and high-stakes romance in regional Australia.

Now this year I’m releasing White Night, and in a few more months, Circus Hearts, a 3-book YA romantic crime series set in a circus – the first book, about a teenage trapeze artist and an apprentice strongman on the run from a terrible crime, will (if all goes to plan!) be out in September.

What is the significance of the title of your new novel White Night?

It refers to a a number of things actually – I’m glad you asked! White Night is the name of the lightshow festival that the students in the book want to stage to raise funds for their local skate park; it’s based on the worldwide festival of lights that has taken off so well in Melbourne. But ‘White Night’ also has darker connotations: in the Jonestown Peoples’ Temple cult, the name was a code for the ‘revolutionary suicide’ practise runs that Jim Jones forced all his followers to perform to prove their loyalty.

But also – and this is a little Easter egg for readers! Because my brain is funny like that – there are a lot of references to the Sleeping Beauty story in White Night. The names of the characters (Bo and Rory – in the old legends, it was Prince Beau and Princess Aurora), the idea of a handsome suitor who rescues a damsel from a tower (in this case, an ideological tower) which is surrounded by greenery… So White Night is a play on the old references to a ‘white knight in shining armour’. I liked threading little bits of the story into the book, and flipping the idea too, with a headstrong princess who sort of rescues herself…

Could you tell us about your major characters, Bo and Rory, including their relationships with their parents?

Bo is sixteen, and focused on footy, friends and family – his dad, Aaron, his pregnant mum, Liz and his younger brother, Connor. Bo’s parents are strict but fair, and he feels like he’s cruising along – except for some nagging concerns about what he’s going to do at the end of high school. Rory, on the other hand, has no plans, because her life isn’t lived in a conventional way – she lives in Garden of Eden, an off-the-grid radical environmentalist commune with a very alternative family arrangement. This is her first attempt at real high school and ‘outside’ life, and when she meets Bo, the two of them rub up against each other in curious, life-changing, spark-creating ways.

I think I’d better leave it there – if I give too much away, I’ll be sharing spoilers!

Which of Bo’s school friends would you like to write about further?

Hm, that’s a hard question! Bo’s best mate, Sprog Hamilton, starts out as a total bogan footy bloke and then evolves to have so many layers – Sprog has a wonderful story arc, and I do love Sprog as a character. But Bo’s other friend, Lozzie D’Onofrio, is equally lovely – and maybe has a lot more backstory to explore… I’d happily write about either one of them!

You’ve mentioned the Great Pacific Garbage Patch in White Night. What environmental messages do you want to share?

When I was researching White Night I read an incredible book: The World Without Us by Alan Weismann – it poses the thought experiment of how would nature recover and go on if all the humans in the world just disappeared overnight? That book was mind-blowing and fascinating, and threw out lots of amazing and terrifying facts about the impact of human beings on the planet. I’d love more young people to think hard about the environment and contribute ideas for solutions to some of the problems – it’s their planet too, and I think young people have much to give on this issue, considering they’re so invested in it. We just need to start listening, and acting on their ideas, before things get too urgent.

How have you incorporated the book The Ruins of Gorlan into White Night?

Oh, that book is so great! Every single one of my sons has read The Ruins of Gorlan by John Flanagan, which is the first book in the Ranger’s Apprentice series. That series… It’s so good! And it seems to really appeal to my kids, especially the idea of being a boy (like Will) with an older male mentor (like Halt) and learning all the survival and craft skills necessary for living on the land. I just thought it was a natural fit for Bo and Connor’s story, with echoes of what it’s like being a young boy growing up and searching for male role models.

What have you been reading recently?

I’ve actually been so immersed in writing I haven’t had much reading time – but when I’ve had a break, I’ve been reading Obsidio by Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff (O.M.G. that whole series is so incredible!), LIFEL1K3 by Jay Kristoff (I have an ARC! Yes, it’s just that good, I had to steal it from the Allen & Unwin offices!) and also a few books I’m reading for #LoveOzYAbookclub – Gap Year in Ghost Town by Michael Pryor, and Valentine by Jodi McAlister.

And of course, I often grab a romance read when I’m tired or flat – I love Penny Reid, Sarah Mayberry, Kylie Scott and Sarina Bowen. Those ladies bring all the feels!

Thanks very much, Ellie, and all the best with White Night. It will no doubt find a wide and appreciative readership.

Thanks Joy! I hope people enjoy it, and thank you so much for having me to visit!

Ellie Marney’s website 

See Cait’s great review of White Night on the blog.

Review: White Night by Ellie Marney

BUY HERE

White Night by Ellie Marney is a slowly uncoiling tale of highschool and first-love and lowkey cults and the realisation that growing up is very out of your control. I will always and forever be in love with Marney’s writing, and her Sherlock Holmes retellings, Every Breath, Every Word, and Every Move, are some of my absolute favourite Aussie literature. White Night definitely doesn’t disappoint, with a good serving of Australian outback life and the complications of falling for a girl in a cult.

The story follows Bo Mitchell, who is just a typical boy, although slightly internally warring between wanting to please his dad and be a footie star and…well, he also loves to cook. His life consists of the drudge of highschool and farm chores, amongst a backdrop of his mates who love to mess around, and are currently on a fundraising rampage to save the local skate park. But then life shifts a little as a new girl comes to school: Rory Wild. She’s from a local self-sustained closed community that believes humans are ruining the world and they just want to live in peace in their gardens. Rory tiptoes into school searching for something more and while she’s met with hostile bullying for her wild clothing and weird mannerisms and beliefs, she does find Bo. And Bo falls a little bit in love with her free and unhindered way of living too…until he learns what sinister things are going on under the surface of this supposed “Eden”.

It was definitely a book I couldn’t look away from! The pace at the beginning is rather meandering and quiet (but always interesting) but by the end, you have this sick feeling rising and just keep flipping pages wondering if it’ll end in your worst nightmares.

Bo’s narration is a fantastic collision of contrasts. He’s torn between being super blokey to please his farmer dad, and his slang is very typically your outback Aussie, but he also likes taking care of people and he’s interested in food and organic things. He’s so open minded! And this was really refreshing to read?! WE get this 16-year-old boy who’s realistic and makes mistakes and has messy reactions to family strife…but underneath it all he’s the driving force of his own character development. SUCH good news.

Bo also meets this super nice girl called Rory who’s part of a local self-sustaining hippy community. Rory was homeschooled but she decides to try school and Bo becomes besotted with her. It’s slow and sweet and there’s so many “will they/won’t they” moments and I loved their relationship.

The community is called “Garden Of Eden” and it was really interesting. At first it seems such a harmonious and idealistic place, very calm and nice, and everyone was so welcoming…but the further the book progresses the more you see the cultish undertones. The community grows their own food. Uses solar. Makes pottery and weaves and makes anything they actually need. Rory is fantastic person who’s equal parts whimsical and free-spirited, but also realistic and full of deep and complex feelings. You can’t help but root for her to have a good life…even if that might not be the one she’s living now?

The book isn’t a raucous action/adventure, but I did love the quiet feel. There’s lots of school, pottery making, conversations, frolicking about in gardens, bike rides, etc. etc. Bo had family drama, but it wasn’t life-or-death so I wasn’t too strung up about it. I loved his bogan friends, particularly Sprog, who is presented first as a total clown and potential low-life…but he actually has ambitious and ends up picketing the council for a chance to keep the local teen hang-out of the skate park open. His character development was so good I really wish he got his own novel!

White Night is a fantastic story from a not-to-be-missed Aussie author! The ending is a slow build up of intense excruciating feelings and the writing is just delicious and so engaging.

The Perfect Combo: Star Wars + Little Golden Books

There are arguably few greater kids-book combinations than the Little Golden Books and Star Wars. The Star Wars Little Golden Books six-book boxset is the gift I’ve just purchased for, ostensibly, a small child’s birthday.

The reality is that the books are as much for my brother, a giant Star Wars fan, as for his one-year-old daughter, who is way too young to truly appreciate them. That’s both because she can’t yet read and because her consumption of books largely revolves around eating them.

Still, my hope is that these books will be ones to treasure. And yes, it’s the start of me buying books I’d like to read or that hold sentimental, childhood-throwback value.

The boxset contains six of the iconic Star Wars tales:

  • Attack of the Clones
  • A New Hope
  • Return of the Jedi
  • The Empire Strikes Back
  • The Phantom Menace
  • Revenge of the Sith.

‘The epic Star Wars space saga—finally retold in timeless Little Golden Books! Read them all, you must,’ Yoda tells us on the books’ back covers. And really, is there not a more ingenious way of introducing a new generation of potential fans to Star Wars than through the tried and trusted Little Golden Books? Whoever came up with that combination deserves a marketing medal.

The illustrated books feature the most iconic opening line—A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away—and most of the tales’ iconic scenes. That includes the trash compactor one, the Han Solo freezing one, and the ‘Luke, I am your father’ one—scenes that always terrify me in the films and that I can safely say are similarly accurately conveyed in book.

The Ewoks, tauntauns, and AT-AT walkers feature too. Unfortunately, Jar Jar Binks makes an unavoidable appearance, but it’s thankfully brief and contained to only the elements crucial to progressing the story.

In some ways, these versions give a simplified-but-not-too-simplified overview handy for people not overly familiar with the Star Wars universe and its complexities. Or for people who need a quick refresher. And, at roughly 20-ish pages long each, they offer a self-contained pre-bedtime tale that won’t take hours to read.

The question is: I’ve set the bar high for book present purchases. What do I go to next and how can I possibly top Star Wars? Pig the Pug, Thelma the Unicorn, and Piranhas Don’t Eat Bananas are stashed away as next book cabs off the rank. But beyond that, I’m out of options as The Very Hungry Caterpillar, Clifford the Big Red Dog, Hairy Maclary, and Spot are already well and truly covered.

Book Review: Sunburn by Laura Lippman

I have been a fan of Laura Lippman for ages and have read every book she has written and I can say without a doubt that this is the best novel she has ever written. This book was getting incredible industry buzz in the six months before publication. Those who were lucky enough to have read it early were raving and I must admit to a lot of impatience waiting to get my copy. But it was worth the wait as Sunburn is one of those rare gems where the book is even better than the hype surrounding it.

The “buzz” genre of the past few years has been known as “domestic noir”. Gone Girl, Girl on the Train to name but a few. There has been a myriad of copycats, never of course as good as the original blockbusters. But “domestic noir” is not a new genre. Noir has been around for decades and the best noir has always had a domestic setting. All that has been reinvented in the last few years is the added “domestic” marketing tagline and “girl”, never “woman” in the title. Born out of The Depression in the 1930s and lead by the likes of James M. Cain, Raymond Chandler and Dashiell Hammett these stories have captured both readers and movie audiences ever since and it is probably no surprise the genre is having a revival in the ten years since the GFC.

Laura Lippman is no stranger to noir. Her writing career started with the brilliant Tess Monaghan PI series and the noir tradition is constant through her even better stand alone novels. But with her new book she dials the classic noir up to 11. She isn’t reinventing noir or even modernising noir. In Sunburn she shows how good noir can be and in doing so has written the undoubted thriller of the year.

Sunburn has all the elements of classic noir: a woman on the run from her husband, a rugged PI on her trail, an insurance scam, blackmail and of course murder. Lippman sets this classic concoction in the small town of Belleville where the two protagonists of the story meet and fall for each other hard. But they both have their secrets. Secrets others know. Secrets others might use against them. Secrets they have to protect. As the lies and distrust start to chip away at their new found love it can only lead to one thing: trouble.

While Laura Lippman has all the classic elements of great noir it is her characters that make this book so outstanding. Polly and Adam are so well drawn you are immediately on both their sides and are left second guessing each of them when they start to mistrust one another. The small town setting is also wonderfully evocative as well as equally claustrophobic and the sense of place Lippman creates not only adds to the drama but also stokes it. Inspired by James M. Cain the only thing that could have made this novel more noir would have been chicken and waffles on the town bar’s menu.

Nobody writes suspense thrillers like Laura Lippman and this is the best book she has ever written.

Buy the book here…

Indigo Blue by Jessica Watson

Jessica Watson is well known for sailing non-stop and unassisted around the world as a 16-year-old – the youngest person to achieve this feat. She also captained the youngest crew ever in the Sydney to Hobart yacht race, has been awarded an OAM and was named Young Australian of the Year in 2011.

Her memoir True Spirit (2010) gives further insight into her indomitable character and her latest literary work is a novel, Indigo Blue (Lothian, Hachette Australia). 

Where are you based, Jessica, and how do you spend your time?

These days I’m based in Melbourne, although I consider the entire east coast of Australia to be home. I’ve just finished studying an MBA and love to go sailing on the weekends.

How does writing resemble sailing?

The main way writing resembles sailing is the importance of persistence!

What is the significance of the title of your novel Indigo Blue?

Indigo Blue is the name of the little run-down yacht that the main character Alex buys, and sets about fixing up.

Could you briefly tell us about your major characters, Alex and Sam?

The main character Alex is independent and practical so she’s pretty surprised when she stumbles into an unlikely mystery.

Sam is an apprentice to the local sailmaker, he’s reserved and there’s something a little bit odd about him.

When Alex first starts at her new school in Year Twelve, her experiences are not what she hopes for. Have you had similar experiences and, if so, how did you cope?

Alex’s experiences not feeling very welcome at a new school are partly drawn from my own experience but as I spent so much of my high school years off sailing I did have to lean quite heavily on the experiences of friends and family.

John, who sold Alex her boat, is patronising at first. Has this been part of your own experience?

The character John is based on a lot of experiences I’ve had, as well as my older sister who works on boats. We’ve both come across my older guys like John who just don’t understand how much girls are capable of. But like John and as frustrating as they are, many of these guys aren’t completely terrible just a little narrow minded.

What age-group have you written your novel for?

Indigo Blue is for anyone aged 9 upwards.

Could you describe any significant response from young people when you’ve presented either of your books to them?

The responses that I’ve most enjoyed are those who say that they’ve been inspired to give sailing a go. It’s also been lovely to receive requests for a sequel.

Of all the places you’ve sailed, where would you be least surprised to find a merperson?

It’s so easy to imagine mythical sea creatures when out to sea surrounded in every direction by empty horizons, but whenever I’ve visited Lake Cootharaba I’ve always wondered what might be lurking beneath the mysterious dark tea-tree coloured waters.

As part of solving a mystery, Alex reads Captain Emanuel William Vance’s historical log and comments about him, You should have been a writer rather than a ship’s captain. What do you admire in writing?

I admire beautiful descriptions, but it’s most important to me that writing sparks curiosity and inspires a spirit of adventure.

What have you been reading recently?

Now that I’ve finished study and don’t have a never-ending list of textbooks to read I’m really enjoying having more time for novels again. I like picking up books of all kinds, but at the moment I’m particularly loving stories with a little history that give me a taste for another time and place.

Jessica Watson
(photo Kate Dyer)

Thanks very much, Jessica, and all the best with your future literary and other careers.

No problem, thanks Joy!

Jessica Watson’s website

Review: When My Heart Joins The Thousand by A.J. Steiger

BUY HERE

When My Heart Joins The Thousand by A.J. Steiger was a fantastically heartfelt story of loneliness, love, finding your place alone in the world, and autism. It has a meandering pace, a slow unfolding of Alvie’s life as an emancipated 17-year-old just trying to get through life and not make any waves. She’s haunted by her suppressed past and isolated due to her PTSD and low self-worth. She also has autism and the representation of a girl on the spectrum, with accuracy and respect to her portrayal, was so wonderful! I would definitely recommend this if you want to read a super good book that includes autism.

The story basically begins with Alvie going about her daily routine of working at the zoo, getting through tedious visits with her social worker, and just trying to survive. But barely. She’s deeply unhappy but refuses to admit it. What she doesn’t want, though, is to fail in living independently and risk her temporary freedom being revoked and then being sent to a group-home. She just has to make it to 18 or get early emancipation and then she’s free. Often she feels as trapped as the animals she works with at the zoo, particularly her favourite one-winged-hawk, Chance. But then her evening routine is interrupted by seeing a boy with a cane throw his phone and have a breakdown in the park and she tentatively returns it. Midnight e-chat conversations begin. Alvie’s scared her anxiety and autism will ruin this friendship before it starts, but what if she took the risk and made friends with this boy who’s so fragile and breakable?

I’d definitely consider this one upper-YA as it focuses more on teens out-of-home. Alvie is 17 and Stanely is 19 and in college (when he’s not in hospital because of his disability). I also totally cheer for good disability rep in books because it’s very hard to find.

The plot is a quiet one. We spend a lot of time getting lost in Alvie’s mind and world, and it’s a quiet and introspective one while she sorts through her feelings and wants and figures out how to just survive. She’s very closed off, but she’s been through such a massive trauma, and the book unveils her backstory very slowly.

The book also deals with the sadder side of autism, like the ableist views of society and how autistic individuals (especially girls) are often ignored or misdiagnosed and mistreated. There’s heartbreaking lines where Alvie, only a little girl at the time, gets told by her mother that “I know there’s a real you locked in there somewhere”…which is one of the cruelest thing an autistic individual can hear. Alvie constantly feels rejected and the need to hide her autism…until Stanley. And I just loved Alvie’s depiction of life as a girl on the spectrum! It was accurate, respectful, and full of ups and downs. Alvie is woeful at social interaction (she doesn’t really care though) and an absolute master at caring for animals. Her love and passion and feelings, expressed differently to the average person, were beautiful on every page.

Alvie and Stanley’s relationship was amazing too! They start off rushing into it, but then back off and learn about each other too. Stanley is a messy character, all in pieces just like Alvie is. He has depression because of his disability where his bones break so very easily. He’s often in a wheelchair, and if not, he uses a cane. He’s an absolute sweetheart, but also crushed with so much self-loathing due to his past as well. I love how Alvie and Stanley weren’t here to “fix” each other, but rather build each other back up.

The book also majorly references Watership Down…which I confess I don’t know! But it didn’t hinder my enjoyment!

When My Heart Joins the Thousand is one you definitely don’t want to miss. It’s a fantastic glimpse into the life of an autistic girl set against the backdrop of a quiet plot about growing up and learning to care about people. It’s full of emotional roller-coaster moments, with squishy warm parts and tragic icy devastation. I loved this journey with Alvie and Stanley!

Hippity Hop – Picture Books for Easter

No, you won’t find cute, fluffy chicks or even prettily decorated eggs in these books, but you will find rabbits and some very funny antics! Rather than teaching Easter traditions, we’re going for more of an entertainment-inspired approach to play with your kids over the break. From a pencil playing hide-and-seek to a can-you-guess game of heads and tails, and a hilarious round of Chinese Whispers / Secret Message, these picture books will keep your little ones guessing til the very end.

If you want to see a bunny ‘crack it’ at Easter time then look no further than Rodney Loses It! With Michael Gerard Bauer’s rhyming narrative that enthrals, enlightens and ensnares the emotions, plus Chrissie Krebs’ boisterous cartoons, it’s no wonder this book has made the 2018 CBCA Book of the Year Shortlist for its winning qualities.

A lesson in how NOT to panic, how NOT to dramatically overreact, and certainly how NOT to lose your cool when you’ve lost something precious. This book is a prime example for children around the 4 to 6 year old mark that tantrums, tears and thumping of feet don’t always solve the problem. Rodney and his exacerbated exasperation doesn’t fail to excite and the longer he searches for his beloved pencil the more it makes us laugh. Especially because we know where it is all along!

Colourfully entertaining, full of action, frustration and utter delight, Rodney Loses It! will have its readers begging to relive this bunny’s meltdown time and time again.

Scholastic Australia, September 2017.

Starting off the hunt is the furry-eared, fluffy-tailed rabbit, on a mission to uncover the truth behind its missing other half on the following page. Heads and Tails by John Canty is a beautifully illustrated, interactive game of prior knowledge, prediction and classification that will have its young readers engaged from head to tail!

Each page delivers three colour-coded clues about a certain creature’s characteristics, accompanied by a watercoloured painting of its behind. “I have long furry ears and a small nose. I live in a burrow in the ground. I have a white fluffy tail. I am a…” Then cleverly, upon turning the page, the answer is revealed in bold black text with a more detailed, textured watercolour and black print image showing the front part of its body. Featuring a menagerie of animals, including a tiger, fish, rhinoceros, turtle, crocodile, plus more, the book continues with its repetitive, clues-and-answer format. Not to say there isn’t a little trick or two in there to keep readers on their sharp-witted toes!

Educationally fun, lively to read aloud and play, with a variety of vocabulary and animals to learn, young children will adore Heads and Tails for its spunkiness and rhythm.

Berbay Publishing, May 2017.

Everyone knows that the game Chinese Whispers or Secret Message (Broken Telephone?) usually ends up in a linguistic mess! And this one involves a highly important message about what to bring to a friend’s surprise birthday party. In What the Fluffy Bunny said to the Growly Bear, what DID the fluffy bunny actually say to the growly bear? P. Crumble and Chris Saunders send us along this whacky line of mixed-up messages that keeps us gasping for breath, and squirming with unease at the confusing, amusing calamity that unfolds.

Immediately we are drawn in with Fluffy Bunny’s valiant call for Growly Bear’s attention, and the digitally masterful prominence of the illustrations. But as soon as the characters speak the tone becomes light, and the pictures, airy and sweet, sealing the story’s playful mood and innocence. The bunny’s original instructions were to wear a hat and bring a cake for Zebra’s party. As each animal passes this on, the message becomes more and more woolly with other similar sounding words for ‘hat’ and ‘cake’, such as ‘cat’ and ‘steak’, ‘mat’ and ‘plate’, ‘acrobat’ and ‘snake’, and so on. And when the animals finally come together to deliver their surprise to Zebra, he is not the only one who is surprised…and totally confused!

The illustrations stand out with big, burly characters, just like Growly Bear, accenting a gorgeous backing softness, just like Fluffy Bunny. What the Fluffy Bunny said to the Growly Bear is a gigglicious combination of fun, rhyme, language, short-term memory awareness… and chaos, that will be ‘well-received’ by preschool-aged children these holidays.

Koala Books, Scholastic, March 2018.

Review: Let’s Talk About Love by Claire Kann

BUY HERE

Let’s Talk About Love by Claire Kann is the kind of adorable and cute book you need to brighten your life. I’ll go ahead and call it the CUTEST thing, proved by the fact that the protagonist, Alice, actually rates things on a cute scale! I mean it doesn’t get better than that. (Also it could be accused of being adorkable too.) It’s all about growing up and striking out on your own in those last years of being a teen while  you tackle college. It’s about coming-out and discovery and not being ashamed of who  you are. So wholesome and heart-filling!

The story follows Alice who’s in college and completely unsure what to do with her life. For more than one reason. For starters, she’s asexual and her ex-girlfriend just dumped her with accusations that Alice couldn’t really feel love. (Alice is so enraged at this lie.) And also Alice is under huge pressure from her parents to be a lawyer but…she really doesn’t want that. Then to top off the stress, her best friends are getting married and slowly forgetting about her and she just met this super-cute-boy at the library but how can she tell him her feelings?! After what her ex said, isn’t it better if Alice doesn’t let anyone know she’s asexual and just skips the pain of rejection?

I love how  the book deeply tackled the topic of asexuality, which is hugely underrepresented in media. Alice doesn’t want sex, but she does love romance — the cute and cliche kind too! She wants cuddles and roses and romantic walks and kisses, but she knows for most people that isn’t enough. Her asexuality is something she’s hiding, something she has to own. I think the book did a good job of discussing the fears and complications of coming out and it also dismantled a lot of horrible stereotypes and untruths people have about asexuality meaning you have no interest in romance. For some people that might be true, but it wasn’t for Alice.

The romance is definitely a huge feature in the book! Alice meets Takumi while working at the library and her cute-meter immediately explodes. She’s  scared to take it past friendship though, but these two (!!) you will absolutely root for their slowburn romance. Yes, they start off with insta-attraction and sparks, but the actual growth of their relationship is lovely and slow. Takumi himself is a total gift to this universe with how sweet and kind he is. He’s practically perfect and he fits so well with Alice…except for the part where they don’t tell each other the full truths all the time.

Seeing the world from Alice’s perspective was an adorable cuteness explosion. She is such a real and relatable character. She loves Pinterest and watching TV shows, she says “squee” and mentions tumblr. Her anxiety has her blurt out regrettable things and she believes food will cure all heartache. There is literally ONLY things to love about her.

There’s also a huge emphasis on friendship. I’m all heart eyes for friendship too, and the bond of Alice + her two BFF’s, Feenie and Ryan, will make your heart sing. too. Although  there is strife amongst these three as Feenie and Ryan are preparing to marry and Alice feels pushed out. But when Alice starts spending extra time with Takumi…Feenie and Ryan feel she’s shutting them down. Their friendships are complex and intricately woven and the dynamics just leap off  the page and make you wish you could watch a TV series with them and eat Chinese late at night.

The plot itself is pretty quiet and calm. It’s not a high-racing heart-pounding book…and it’s quite mellow and focuses solely on the characters. I loved reading the day-to-day things and just being truly Alice for 300 pages.

Let’s Talk About Love is the cute-fest you’ve been waiting for. It’s light and fluffy, but still talks about relatable and more serious topics, like pleasing your family, heavy expectations, and being true to yourself.

Turn Back Time – Middle Grade Magic

If you could turn back time, erase your mistakes, remember what you did with your car keys or even better, find those missing precious memories and loved ones, would you? These two middle grade novels explore the premise of losing someone inexplicably and the emotions produced through relentless searching for those missing loved ones.

A Wrinkle In Time by Madeleine L’Engle

The IBBY International Children’s Book Day logo, ‘The small is big in a book’ certainly chimes true for A Wrinkle in Time. That it has stood the test of time is testament to this tale (first published in 1963), which I had never read as a child. If I had, I might not have recognised it as a bewitching hybrid of sci-fi, adventure, fantasy, and dystopia. For those living in another dimension like me or have not seen the movie yet, A Wrinkle in Time is a story of discovery and tenacity. It also (re)defines the power of friendship and love.

Continue reading Turn Back Time – Middle Grade Magic

YA Books About Artists (Part 2)

Being a bookworm, I have a huge appreciation for art. After all, books are definitely a heartfelt kind of art! But I also do enjoy the physical drawing, painting, and textile kind of artistry, which is why books featuring artists are some of my favourites. Also probably because my drawing looks like a drunk chicken scratching lines with a teaspoon. But fine. I will come to books for my art fix.

Last year I did a list of YA books with artists, so welcome to Part 2! You can never have enough of books on your TBR pile after all.


THE DANGEROUS ART OF BLENDING IN BY ANGELO SURMELIS

PURCHASE HERE

This is a recent new favourite of mine and features a closeted Greek boy just trying to make his way in the world and avoid confrontation with his terrible abusive mother. He’s torn between wanting to please her, to be loved, and to be true to himself and not ashamed of being gay.

He uses art as an escape from his torturous life and I loved how his notebooks were so precious to him. They were truly his favourite belongings and if he wanted you to know his heart, he’d let you see his work. Such a beautiful reminder of how an artist is part of their art.

 

IT LOOKS LIKE THIS BY RAFI MITTLEFEHLDT

PURCHASE HERE
PURCHASE HERE

This is also about a closeted boy who’s 14 and only just discovering his attraction to boys. Mike is honestly one of the most soft and sweet people, but his life is about being quiet and not causing waves in his uber-religious family. After a move from his childhood home, he has to fit into a new school…something he dreads until he meets Sean, a basketball star who takes a quiet interest in Mike. They end up working on a French project together and sparks begin. But it definitely doesn’t go down well with either family. Mike also loves to draw and the cover is actually a nod to the sunset he draws as his favourite memory with Sean.

YOU’RE WELCOME UNIVERSE BY WHITNEY GARDNER

PURCHASE HERE

This is a slightly different look at the traditional artist because…hello to graffiti art! The book is about Julia, who’s super passionate about using her voice through graffiti. She’s also deaf and struggling in a new school where people treat her differently because of her disability. Since graffiti is one of her only releases in a stressful situation, she really takes pride in what she does: until someone else starts “fixing” her work. How infuriating can you get?! She has to track down the vandal to her vandalism before it turns into graffiti war.

 

STARFISH BY AKEMI DAWN BOWEN

PURCHASE HERE

This is one of my absolute favourite contemporaries, which deals with abuse and art and heartbreak. Honestly, it’ll make your feels ache for what Kiko has to go through. Her parents have divorced and her dad is off with his “new family” while Kiko is left with two brothers who ignore her and a mother who systematically emotionally abuses her. Kiko is also biracial and Japanese, and her mother is white, and the constant barbs and disgust at Kiko’s Japanese side from her own mother is really detrimental to Kiko’s life. She’s super anxious and constantly feels abandoned. Her art is her pride and joy and all she wants is to get into an amazing art school, escape, and truly live. But then her childhood sweetheart, Jamie, returns home and possibly offers Kiko a way out.

This one is so heartfelt and perfect! The art is on every page and there are snippets of Kiko’s art described before each chapter.

Everyone Belongs – Harmony Day Picture Books

Today, Harmony Day, is a day of celebration, marking the significance of community inclusion, diversity, respect and belonging. As my kids went off to school in their orange attire and stocked with their cultural lunch, they are amongst the nation representing a position of peace, togetherness and harmony. To follow on this auspicious day, we will be reading some inspiring and poignant books, a few of which are listed here.

This hauntingly stunning picture book by Margaret Wild, with stirring illustrations by Freya Blackwood, will have readers gasping with bated breath at its tainted beauty. The Feather, a symbol of redemption and hope, floats with its message of how one object can be so powerful in bringing people together, and also how quickly that faith can be lost. But with that inner light and love, it can not only be restored but also prospered.

Wild’s poetic, visual narrative is as soft, light and silky as the regal feather it represents, conjuring deep reflection and emotion within its harrowingly dark, war-torn setting. Blackwood beautifully does the same with her expert use of light and shade, highlighting the glimmers of hope amongst the grey and ghostly village. And with the strength of two inspiring children as the central characters to help signify the sense of safety, warmth and optimism with the clean feather, overcoming its muddied, spoiled shadow of life, is a brilliant concept that this superb pairing have perfected.

The Feather is a striking reminder of the importance of community and living together in harmony to reach a common goal of peace, happiness and a fighting spirit. Meaningful, majestic and masterful for primary aged children.

Little Hare Books, February 2018.

In association with Amnesty International UK, and a special foreword note by Yoko Ono Lennon, this heart rending rendition of John Lennon’s 1971 hit song, Imagine, feels poignant and powerful, empowering and inspirational. It is a beautiful book to share with every generation every day, and particularly on a day like today’s Harmony Day.

The pigeon, or dove (symbol of peace) in the book takes its readers / listeners on a journey over the waters and across the world, welcoming a colourful and varied array of birds to join him. The lyrics relay the message of living in peace without restrictions of borders, predujices against religions and cultures, or material things. Hence the wording, “Imagine there’s no countries. It isn’t hard to do. Nothing to kill or die for, and no religion too. Imagine all the people living life in peace.”

Jean Jullien is a perfectly suited illustrator for this book with his bold black line and brightly coloured drawings; simple, charismatic and impactful. His images are joyous and energetic and heartwarmingly represent how “the world will live as one.”

Our younger generation of preschool and primary school children will hopefully carry forth this valuable mission of human rights; of equality, safety, belonging and love, in helping to Imagine and ‘make the world a better place.’

Frances Lincoln Children’s Books, September 2017.

Hello!, illustrated by Tony Flowers, is a playful and exotic blend of cultures following twelve children from different backgrounds. We meet kids from Indigenous and Torres Strait Islander communities, to Asian and European heritage. Each section introduces a child and describes some special qualities and traditions like cuisine, clothing, language, recreation and holidays. The book is complete with guides on pronunciation of terms from each language and photographs adopted from various resources.

Flowers casts a wonderful representation of diversity and energy with his detailed pencil and watercolour illustrations.

Hello! is a terrific resource to have in every early childhood and primary school setting. This book certainly acknowledges, represents and celebrates our wide mix of multiculturalism in our country to encourage the value that ‘everyone belongs’.

NLA, April 2016.

Happy Harmony Day!

Understory: A Life with Trees by Inga Simpson

I was fortunate to facilitate a session with Inga Simpson and Tony Birch at the Sydney Writers’ Festival in 2016. I had been following their literary careers by reading their writing as published and have continued to be absorbed by their exemplary work.

Inga Simpson sees the world through trees and hopes to learn the ‘language of trees’. Understory: A Life with Trees (Hachette Australia) is nature writing in the form of a sensory memoir. It traces her life in ten acres of forest in the Sunshine Coast hinterland alone and with N and her two children.

The book is beautifully and aptly structured as parts of the forest. ‘Canopy’ includes chapters on the Cedar, Grey Gum, Rose Gum and Ironbark; ‘Middlestorey’ features Trunk, Limb, She-oak and Wattle; and ‘Understorey’ focuses on Sticks and leaves, Seedlings and Bunya, amongst other natural elements.

Inga Simpson lived in the forest for ten years. As ‘tree women’ and ‘word women’, she and N wanted a ‘writing life’. They referred to themselves as ‘entwives’, a term from Tolkien, and named the writing retreat they established, ‘Olvar Wood’, from Tolkien’s The Simarillion. The retreat was an oasis for writers but, along with financial and other problems, its demise is foreshadowed throughout the memoir. We celebrate and agonise with the author through the refurbishment of her lovely cottage despite ongoing leaks and mould; the acceptance of her debut novel Mr Wigg, the completion of Nest and the winning of the prestigious Eric Rolls prize.

Readers are welcomed into the forest through the author’s words: ‘these small acts of tending … [tell her] story of this place’. Also memorable are the author‘s acts of tending the forest: clearing weeds, cutting timber and replanting. She recognises and absorbs ‘Indigenous concepts of country [which] include a responsibility to care for the land’.

Once her eye becomes attuned, she discovers flame tree seedlings and young cedars that were already in plain view. She learns to take time to look for the ‘details and patterns and signs just waiting for my eye to become sufficiently attuned’. As part of this process the author develops ‘nature sight’, where living creatures such as sea turtles and sea eagles, reveal themselves to her.

Inga Simpson concedes that she may not have achieved her desire to become ‘fluent’ in ‘the language of the forest’ but she has become ‘literate’ and literate enough to share her knowledge and understanding through lyrical, unforgettable words.

Inga Simpson’s website

My review of Tony Birch’s Common People (currently shortlisted for the 2018 NSW Premier’s Literary Awards) is here.

2018 NSW Premier’s Literary Awards – youth shortlists

The 2018 NSW Premier’s Literary Awards shortlists have just been announced. I’m enamoured of literary works across ages but am here featuring the books in the two youth shortlists because I’ve already read them all. And I’ve read them, not just because I chaired the judging panel of the Patricia Wrightson Prize for Children’s Literature with insightful co-judges Robin Morrow and Tohby Riddle, but because these are books worth reading.

Patricia Wrightson Prize for Children’s Literature (follow the link to read the judges’ reports)

The Patchwork Bike by Maxine Beneba Clarke and illustrated by Van T Rudd (Hachette Australia)

The Patchwork Bike is a stunning, ground-breaking picture book; an exuberant fusion of words, colour and texture. It has already won a CBCA Honour book award and I’ve mentioned it several times on the Boomerang Books blog.

 

The Elephant by Peter Carnavas (University of Queensland Press)

The profound theme of a child grieving for a parent is told in finely crafted words and images, with simpatico black and white line drawings.

 

Blossom by Tamsin Janu (Omnibus Books for Scholastic Australia)

Tamsin Janu has been shortlisted twice in the Patricia Wrightson category this year. Blossom is an exciting, original novel set seemingly in the real world but with subtle sci-fi content. It brilliantly alludes to the plight of aliens and refugees.

 

Figgy Takes the City by Tamsin Janu (Omnibus Books for Scholastic Australia)

Even though very young, Tamsin Janu is an old hand at the NSW PLA. Since her first novel Figgy in the World co-won the Patricia Wrightson award a few years ago, her two subsequent Figgy books (all set in Ghana) have also been shortlisted.

Tamsin Janu will be speaking in Strathfield, Sydney, on Saturday 7th April at an IBBY event.

The Sorry Tale of Fox and Bear by Margrete Lamond and illustrated by Heather Vallance (Dirt Lane Press)

 Elegant yet mischievous, this illustrated book is the first publication by Dirt Lane Press. The Sorry Tale of Fox and Bear should become a universal classic.

 

How to Bee by Bren MacDibble (Allen & Unwin)

A timely and thoughtful dystopia set in the near future when bees have become extinct. It is engaging for children as well as being a fine piece of writing. The issue of domestic violence makes it most suitable for older children.

Bren MacDibble is also shortlisted as Cally Black in the Ethel Turner Prize.

 

Ethel Turner Prize for Young People’s Literature  (follow the link to read the judges’ reports)

In the Dark Spaces by Cally Black (Hardie Grant Egmont)

It is fantastic to see sci-fi appear in literature awards that aren’t specifically for spec fiction. In the Dark Places will open your mind and possibly change your views.

Cally Black is shortlisted as Bren MacDibble in the Patricia Wrightson awards also.

 

The Blue Cat by Ursula Dubosarsky (Allen & Unwin)

Ursula Dubosarsky’s creation of atmosphere is always masterful and her portrayal of children warm yet enigmatic. I reviewed The Blue Cat for The Weekend Australian here.

 

The Ones that Disappeared by Zana Fraillon (Hachette Australia)

A consummate thread of magic realism, including a golem creation, runs through this novel to diffuse the horror of the important and harrowing issue of child trafficking. I reviewed it for The Weekend Australian here.

 

A Shadow’s Breath by Nicole Hayes (Penguin Random House Australia)

Lovely writing style by Nicole Hayes unveils a story set in the past and present. I interviewed Nicole for Boomerang Books blog here.

 

Build-Up Season by Megan Jacobson (Penguin Random House Australia)

Megan Jacobson was shortlisted for the 2017 CBCA awards for her impressive debut Yellow. Now she tackles youth domestic violence as the NT ‘build-up’ season ignites.

 

Ballad for a Mad Girl by Vikki Wakefield (Text Publishing)

As always by Vikki Wakefield, this is writing that digs under your skin. The first scene is utterly unforgettable.  I reviewed it for The Weekend Australian here.

 

The winner of each category will be announced on Monday 30th April at the State Library of NSW. I believe tickets may still be available.

Out of This World – Junior Fiction that Take You Places

One of the reasons I always had my head thrust deep into a book as a child was because I just could not get out. Stories take you places. Great stories make you want to stay there. This trio of junior to middle grade novels allows children to slip effortlessly into other worlds to live, dare, survive and marvel at places and people far different from the ones they already know. Enjoy.

The Spectacular Holly-Day by Dave Lowe Illustrated by The Boy Fitz H

Dave Lowe’s relaxed narrative style earns plenty of laughs, guaranteeing it to win the attention of adventure-loving primary schoolers. The Spectacular Holly-Day follows on from The Incredible Dadventure and The Mumbelievable Challenge and is more fun than a barrel of monkeys. Despite the almost travelogue introduction, the story revs up once adventure seeking Holly Day sets out on her own in a strange new country, Malaysia and manages to foil the destruction of a local environmentally rich island by ruthless developers. The comical comic-style illustrations add an atmosphere of fun, yet Holly and the people she meets during her Malay stay feel real and purposeful. Conservation balances easily with themes of friendship, perseverance, habitat destruction and family. Lowe also manages to create a thick air of authenticity with the use of plenty of Malay lingo and food that will appeal to readers from seven years of age and above.

Bonnier September 2017

Continue reading Out of This World – Junior Fiction that Take You Places

YA Psychological Thriller: ‘Neverland’ by Margot McGovern

I hope it is the beginning of a trend but there are a couple of excellent Australian YA psychological thrillers around. It reminds me of former glory days when Victor Kelleher’s inimitable Del Del was published.

Margot McGovern’s Neverland (Penguin Random House Australia) is an invigorating, assured debut which blends fascinating, yet threatening, fantasy tropes; and elements from Peter Pan, into the risk-taking activities of Kit and some of her fellow ‘Lost Ones’.

Thank you for speaking with Boomerang Books Blog, Margot.

My absolute pleasure. Thank you for having me.

Where are you based and what is your background?

I’m from Adelaide and recently moved back after living in Melbourne and Perth for a number of years. I always wanted to be a writer and was accepted into the BCA writing program at Flinders University after finishing school, then continued on to do a creative writing PhD. I moved to Melbourne while finishing my thesis and worked for a (now defunct) cycling magazine. After graduating, I went part-time at the magazine to try my hand at freelancing and start work on Neverland. When my husband’s job then took us to Perth, I switched to writing full-time and also joined the book blogging community (although my blog’s been a tad neglected since my daughter was born last year).

What is the significance of the title Neverland?

My protagonist, Kit, is seeking a way back to the magical childhood of her memory; however, the harder she tries to relive that time, the more distorted and nightmarish her memories become. So with the title, I wanted to evoke the sense of a dream-like place that may or may not be real and remains just beyond reach. The story pays homage to J. M. Barrie’s Peter and Wendy and I was very taken with the way Barrie describes his Never Neverland as a place we forever yearn for but can never return to: ‘On these magic shores children at play are forever beaching their coracles. We too have been there; we can still hear the sound of the surf, though we shall land no more.’

How does the cover hint at the treasures inside?

I’m still pinching myself over the cover! It was designed by Chista Moffitt and the beautiful illustrations are by Eveline Tarunadjaja. Kit’s romanticised childhood memories are based on the stories and myths her dad invented about the island where she grew up and the illustrations represent key symbols in those stories.

Why have you set the story on an island?

There were a few reasons. I wanted to reference to Barrie’s Never Neverland and to give my characters a place where they could take a time out from the wider world. But I also wanted to isolate Kit within a specific geography imprinted with layers of memory and story. And then, because the narrative is about a girl renegotiating her relationship with her past, I wanted a landscape where I could mix in some of my own nostalgia, and being a beach kid, an island seemed a fitting choice.

Could you tell us about Kit, Doc and some of your other characters?

I have a soft spot for so-called ‘unlikeable’ and unreliable narrators, and Kit reflects that; she’s prickly and self-destructive. But she’s also deeply vulnerable—a character in crisis who is trying to figure things out but making mistakes along the way.

Her uncle and guardian, Doc, is almost the opposite. However, he was forced to grow up too quickly and is consequently quite reserved. He and Kit were once very close but there’s been a lot of miscommunication between them and they’re struggling to salvage their relationship.

Doc’s looked after Kit since her parents were drowned in a sailing accident when Kit was ten. He’s also a psychiatrist and has turned their small family island into a boarding school for troubled teens. Among the students at the school are Kit’s two best friends, Alistair and Gypsy, and a new boy named Rohan who shares Kit’s desire for make-believe.

Your main characters are about to leave school. Is this the age group of your intended readers?

The story is very dark in places and and deals with suicide, self-harm, and mental illness, so I was aiming for the upper end of YA.

Neverland has some important underpinning themes and issues. Could you share any of these.

The original idea for the story grew out of a sense of misplaced nostalgia. I was feeling apprehensive about the future and decided to comfort myself by rereading Peter and Wendy, which I’d loved as a kid. However, the book was much darker and more violent than I remembered and I started thinking about how, in times of uncertainty and upheaval, we often yearn for a romanticised version of the past and how this kind of nostalgia can prevent us from finding a way forwards.

I was also interested in the idea of who gets to tell a story, and what is reframed or omitted in the telling—and particularly in the fact that historically, women’s voices have often been silenced or ignored and their roles diminished. So I wanted to write a story where a young woman is forced to question the mythology of her world and her place within it.

How have you paid homage to other authors and literature in your plot, setting or characters? 

In the months before I started working on Neverland and while I was writing, I reread a lot of old favourites—Peter and Wendy, Treasure Island, The Odyssey, The Great Gatsby—and the story, in part, grew out that process of rereading, so it felt important to give those texts a place in the manuscript. They helped inform the story’s key themes, but also gave Kit a library to draw on as she struggles to find her voice and a way to tell her story. Then because nostalgia, and particularly a nostalgia for stories, is such an important part of the narrative, I looked for opportunities to work in little references to other favourites as well.

What have you enjoyed reading recently?

Well, now you’ve opened a can of worms! I’ve been reading some incredible home-grown YA: Tin Heart by Shivaun Plozza, The Centre of My Everything by Allayne Webster, Untidy Towns by Kate O’Donnell and Take Three Girls by Cath Crowley, Simmone Howell and Fiona Wood. Also, The Hazel Wood by Melissa Albert from the US. And for something completely different, I’ve gone back to Daphne du Maurier (an old favourite) to read The House on the Strand and absolutely loved The Radium Girls by Kate Moore, even though I cried most of the way through. 

I can’t wait to get lost in your next work. What are you writing at the moment? Would you write Kit’s dad’s Kingdom by the Sea as a companion piece – perhaps with illustrations?

That’s an interesting idea (especially the illustrations part), but Kit’s world feels closed to me for the time being. That said, I loved working on the thread of magic realism in Neverland, so I’m taking that a giant leap further and currently working on a YA urban fantasy with mythological roots.

Thanks Margot, and all the best with Neverland. Your next books sounds just as fascinating.