Superheros and a magical genius

Wild CardMany books these days are part of a series. And a fair chunk of my recent reading has been made up of such books. My favourite type of book series is one in which each novel is a separate story, as opposed to one long saga broken down into instalments. I like these books to have continuity and story elements that span the series… but having a story with a beginning, middle and end, all in one book, is rather good.

So today, I’m going to tell you about two such books — book two in Steven Lochran’s Vanguard Prime series and book three in Michael Pryor’s The Laws of Magic. Two very different books but both excellent in their own way.

Vanguard Prime is about superheroes. The first book, Goldrush (see: “Vanguard Prime to the rescue“), introduced us to Sam Lee, an ordinary teenager who suddenly finds himself acquiring super powers and joining the ranks of a quasi-military group of superheroes. In the second book, Sam teams up with fellow Vanguard Prime hero, the Knight of Wands, to go on a personal mission against an organisation calling itself The Major Arcana.

Where book one was an introduction to the world of superheros through the eyes of Sam Lee, book two, Wild Card, is an exploration of the Knight of Wands’ past as well as his frame of mind. I found the more personal nature of this second mission very engaging. And I also found myself becoming more accustomed to the perspective-swapping present tense narrative that I found a little distracting with the first book. It was good to get some insight into the history and motivations of one of the other Vanguard Prime members, and the Knight of Wands is certainly the superhero with the darkest and most mysterious past.

Wild Card is a good read. Fast paced and entertaining, but with some depth to what could easily have been cardboard cut-out characters. And as a bit of a pop culture junkie, I loved all the references that Lochran has peppered this story with — from Comic-Con to Star Wars. This book is also an easy read… I think Vanguard Prime is a great series to hook in reluctant readers.

Book three in the Vanguard Prime series, War Zone, is due out in September this year. I’m looking forward to it.

The Laws of Magic, by Michael Pryor, is an older series. The final book came out in 2011… I’m just a little late to jump onto this bandwagon. And what a magnificent bandwagon it is. Pryor has created a superbly detailed alternative Edwardian world, where magic exists alongside science. Into that world he has placed memorable characters, complex plots and a fascinating set of magical laws. The series centres around a gifted young aristocratic magician, Aubrey Fitzwilliam, who, due to over-confidence and a dose of arrogance, has placed himself in a rather tricky situation. I loved the first two books (see “Michael’s Blaze of Glory” and “Pryor’s Gold”), and I can say without any doubt that I loved this third book just as much. I’m looking forward to reading the remaining three.

Word of Honour is as enthralling a read as its predecessors. Pryor’s prose is a joy to read and his created world is a joy to explore. The characters we’ve come to know and love are back, facing a dastardly new plot — but is it the work of Aubrey’s nemesis Dr Tremaine, or is someone else behind it? Well… I’m not going to tell you. Go read the book! You won’t regret it!

Catch ya later,  George

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the-invisible-manCheck out my DVD blog, Viewing Clutter.

Latest Post: The Invisible Man — The Complete Series




Player Profile: Terry Hayes, author of I Am Pilgrim

hayes, terryTerry Hayes, author of I Am Pilgrim

Tell us about your latest creation…

“I Am Pilgrim”. It is an epic book – an international spy thriller which is the story of one of America’s greatest intelligence agents. he retired young – sick of living in the shadows and by-passed by the huge changes the war on terrorism have wrought. He comes out of retirement, tasked with chasing and finding a mysterious man called The Saracen who has brought back to life the world’s most deadly virus. The mission takes Pilgrim back into his past and from England to Germany, Saudi Arabia to Santorini, Bulgaria to Turkey. And a host of countries in-between. It is a harrowing race against time and, full of false leads and shattered hopes. A story that is not resolved until the last paragraphs on the final page.

Where are you from / Where to do you call home?…

I was born in England, migrated to Australia as a five-year-old, was raised in Sydney where I became a journalist and later went to Los Angeles to work in the film industry. Myself, my wife and four children are now residents of Switzerland.

9780593064955When you were a kid, what did you want to become?  An author?

Always a writer. I cannot remember a time when I wanted to be anything else except a writer.

What do you consider to be your best work? Why?

I think my best work is Mad Max 2 and Dead Calm in movies; The Dismissal, Bodyline and Bangkok Hilton on TV; and I Am Pilgrim as a novel. On the movies and TV mini-series I was both a writer and producer.

Describe your writing environment to us – your writing room, desk, etc.; is it ordered or chaotic?

Orderly to me! Chaotic probably to anyone else. Two computers and screens – in case one goes belly-up – lots of notebooks and pads with notes and research, pictures of my kids for inspiration. A few movie posters – Payback, Dead Calm, From Hell – to remind me that I have written stories before and I can do it again.

When you’re not writing, who/what do you like to read?

Newspapers, magazine articles – once a journalist, always a journalist – useless information which often, very surprisingly, proves to be very helpful. The
internet has given instant access to wonderful information and articles from all round the world. Books? Classics and whatever is recommended to me – usually by my wife.

What was the defining book(s) of your childhood/schooling?

Anna Karenina – a classic that moved with all the pace and emotion of a great thriller; Catcher in the Rye; The Great Gatsby; Shogun; anything by Herman Hess – it was eclectic if nothing else!

If you were a literary character, who would you be? 

Pilgrim from I Am Pilgrim. I wrote it as first person account and there is a lot of me in it. Or at least what I would aspire to be – courageous and true, intelligent when it’s needed, self-effacing and modest. My wife, on the other hand, says the character is completely fictitious – so maybe I’m just deluded.

Apart from books, what do you do in your spare time (surprise us!)?

My main occupation is to operate The Paceman cricket bowling machine to a) stop my two young boys from braining themselves with a fast ball and b) attempt to improve their batting skills. I hate to say it – but Australia needs them.

What is your favourite food and favourite drink?

Anything healthy for food – Japanese fits the bill perfectly. I love sushi and tempura. Sake, in the Rocks in Sydney, serves outstanding food in my opinion. And no, they haven’t bought any books in return for that glowing endorsement.

Who is your hero? Why?

In my own life – my wife. She has never faltered in her belief in me and my work. She has encouraged, cajoled and threatened me. I would never have been half the writer I am – whatever that may be – without her. She has also been a terrific mother to the most important thing in my life – the four children. She likes dogs too, which is never a bad thing!

Crystal ball time – what is the biggest challenge for the future of books and reading?

Good stories, however you define that phrase. Storytelling has been with us since men first sat around fires in caves and it will be with us long after we have colonised other planets. It is wound deep into our DNA and that is not going to change any time soon. Delivery systems, technology, public taste are always changing and presenting challenges. If we think the ground is shifting now – imagine what monks copying texts by hand must have thought when they heard about something called the printing press. As long as their are people, there will be  eaders and they will need stories. Books – and book-selling – have succeeded, so far, in adapting to new technology where both the movies and, especially, the music industry have failed. The great thing about books is that personal recommendations mean more than in any other popular art form I know of – for that reason the highly-respected book store, staffed by knowledgeable people, will always play a crucial role in this whole enterprise. On-line stores may have a role to play and present real challenges but they will not replace a good bookstore any more than Wal-Mart replaced great local shopping areas.

Buy I Am Pilgrim by Terry Hayes…

Doodles and Drafts – A Very Jumpy Tour with Tania McCartney

The most spectacular thing about a plain old butter cake is often its layers. Colour them, stack them and then you have a thing of unique beauty and depth. This is exactly what makes a stand out picture book for me: its multiple layers. And today I am honoured to share the latest delectable offering from a children’s author and reviewer who needs no introduction to the readers of Boomerang Blog, Tania McCartney.

Riley the Jumpy Kangaroo cover MEDIUM Riley and the Jumpy Kangaroo: A journey around Canberra, is the fifth in the adventure-laced Riley Aviator series by McCartney and illustrator Kieron Pratt. Its timely release coincides with the Centennial celebrations of our nation’s capital.

There’s been some pretty dubious and extraordinary thumping and going ons in Parliament House of late. I’m not sure if Jumpy Roo is responsible for all of them but on the occasion Riley and his colourful collection of mates from previous sojourns visit Canberra, they discover that Jumpy Roo is crazy mad jumpy about something and spring smartly after her to find out exactly what.

Riley Little AviatorRiley’ little red plane is filling up as he and his faithful league pursue Jumpy Roo all around and in and out of some of Canberra’s most iconic attractions plus some less-well known ones. Until, after a near disastrous caffeine fix, Jumpy finally comes to rest in the resplendent gardens of Commonwealth Park to literally stop and ‘smell the flowers’ and thankfully find what she was so frantically looking for.

The previous Riley journeys whetted my appetite for travel and adventure. This one truly satisfies my hunger for that exquisite multi-layering; of ingenious artwork, clever concepts, humour and subtle sensitivity.

Young readers will hardly be aware that they are absorbing the unique heart of Australia’s Capital city as they are transported through McCartney’s economical yet colourful descriptions of place-names and locations. The pace is fast and furious and thanks to McCartney’s unique sense of style and design, the pages are a vivid three dimensional feast of movement and humour. Black and white images spiked with contrasting colour work seamlessly with Kieron Pratt’s charming, cartoonesque illustrations.

Whether you have ever set foot on the ‘grassy lawns of Parliament House’ before or not, this picture book is packed with enough reasons to entice (another) visit. And enough kid appeal to ensure that youngsters from 3 – 10 at least will not let the Canberra Centennial go unnoticed.

Tania McCartneyTo commemorate the imminent release of Riley and the Jumpy Kangaroo, we’re taking off right now with Tania herself. So grab your goggles and hop on board for a blog tour, that’s sure to be as zany as riding with Riley himself and guaranteed more fun than a Federal election.

Q Tania you have dedicated a great deal of your life to writing for children and practised it in several parts of the world. How long have you called Canberra home? How much do you feel the place you reside and write in influences what and how you write?

We’ve been in Canberra four-and-a-half years, which is one of the longest periods I’ve spent anywhere. Before that, my family and I were in Beijing for four years and before that, I’d moved over sixty times, living in various places from Hobart to Paris. When I met my husband, we moved every 18 months, so this time in Canberra is a record!

The place I call home enormously influences what and how I write. I think travel expands the mind, heart and soul in ways nothing else can, so I do hope my work has evolved and improved as I’ve moved around the globe. Travel is high on our family’s priority list and I love to write it into my books—the Riley the Little Aviator series a case in point!

Q This is the fifth book in the Riley Aviator series of adventures. Why did it take so long to get around to Canberra? Was it your intention to coincide Riley’s 5th adventure with the 100th Anniversary of our nation’s capital?

I had released a Riley book every year, and yes, this fifth book took two years—mainly because I’ve been so busy with other book contracts. The Riley books also take a lot of time and energy, as they comprise photos, illustrations and text, but I also design and layout the books.

I had intended to release the Canberra book at the end of last year, in time for the first Centenary celebrations, but I’m glad it was delayed … it’s nice to bring something new to this glorious year, and the best part is that I get to launch the book at Floriade. I’m very excited about that.

Q When did the original concept for Riley the Aviator take off? Tell us what are you trying to convey with this picture book series?

I was working in Beijing as an expat magazine editor and columnist for several English language magazines and had access to a large audience. I’d been writing children’s picture books for a very long time but had never subbed them; I thought it might be fun to publish my own picture book, as printing is so cheap in China and I’ve always adored book design.

So, I set out on a self-publishing journey—because I could—and it worked out very well for me. The first book was Riley and the Sleeping Dragon: A journey around Beijing, which followed the series’ photographic format, with and a little boy flying around in a little red plane, in this case looking for a sleeping dragon.

It was very much a home-made production. I took photos of a little tin plane I found at Panjiayuan antiques market, sourced an illustrator online and set about creating this book, which was hugely successful in the capital. I was in my third print run by the time we came home in 2009.

Essentially my goal was to take kids on a journey around that amazing city, but also give them subtle clues and reminders about the cultural aspects that comprise the city. The dragon, for example, ends up morphing from the Great Wall, ‘waking up to the world’, and so he was a metaphor for this strong, powerful, ancient country, opening its doors to the world during a momentous time in history (the 2008 Olympic Games).

In my mind, this first book was a personal memento for my own kids—and other expat kids—but it became much more than that, and you can imagine my surprise and delight when the book did well back home. The way this book was embraced was the kick-starter for a series of Riley books.

IMG_6554Q Riley’s journeys allow us to explore a number of fascinating locations with some suitably exotic characters including a splendid dragon and dazzling lion. Was it difficult deciding on the star of your latest book?

It was the easiest yet! Canberra residents enjoy the surreal reality of kangaroos hopping around their urban neighbourhoods—a reality we spend so much time trying to quash in the eyes of the rest of the world! So a kangaroo was, without question, the perfect animal for Riley to trail.

I had SO much fun with this character. She really is a hoot and I love how frantic she becomes while searching for something she’s lost. I also love the poignancy of the story’s ending. In this way, it’s the most emotional Riley book I’ve done.

Kieron PrattQ Did the character choices in Jumpy Kangaroo come first in this instance or the location where Riley’s adventure takes place?

The locations always come first. I do this because I want to choose locations that are famous but also interest children. I then take the character and place them in those locations, and—essentially—the characters are the ones who *show me/tell me what they’ll get up to at each stop. Roo’s reactions were brilliant, and I think kids will really relate to her high energy and kooky nature. (*via Kieron, the illustrator)

Q How important was it (for you) to include as much of Canberra’s sights, attractions and significant monuments in this book? Did you have to leave much out? I noticed there are no petrol stations featured in this tour. I never seem to notice any petrol stations in Canberra! Why is that? (Not a compulsory question)

Oh petrol stations—don’t start me. I only know of two. Thankfully, one is close-by but we’ve had to take diversions to Kingston on many an occasion. I’m guessing that’s because the capital is so teensy (anywhere in 25 minutes or less) so we don’t need to refill our tanks often??

The thing about Canberra, other than its petrol stations, is that it has so very, very much to see and do. I adore the city for that reason. So yes, much was left out of the book. I tried to include the Big Guns—Parliament, War Memorial, Lake Burley Griffin—but also sites that attract kids, like Questacon and the Zoo. I love the aerial shot in the book because that encompasses much that had to be left out!

 Q Amongst a myriad of other scintillating past times, you have a particular talent and penchant for photography. How many of the photographs used in the Riley series are yours? Was satisfying two loves at once, writing and shutter-bugging, a tricky thing to pull off?

I do love photography, and most photos in the Riley series are mine, though I had to source a few for Riley and the Grumpy Wombat because I couldn’t get to Melbourne to flesh out my catalogue of images. The Victorian Tourism Board helped in that regard.

My Handmade Living book was filled with my photography and my next book with the National Library features my photographs of children. I’m also working on some new picture book concepts which include photos. I love it and it’s never a chore!

RQ I love the occasional quirky references you include in the Jumpy Kangaroo along with the imaginative use of language. Confuddled had me chuckling from page one. Is your reference to R U OK ? a deliberate inclusion, subtly reminding us of the importance of checking in with friends and being mindful of their problems or just a lovely play on the vernacular for kids?

The R U OK? part in the book was a conscious addition … Riley is a rampant adventurer but hisunderlying modus operandi is that he really genuinely cares about each animal he seeks. Roo is indeed frantic in this book, and it’s his concern that forces him to trail her and attempt to help her out.

This caring nature is also reflected in the animal characters that come along for the ride (along with lots of quirk and humour). I think modern kids are so gorgeous and so talented but as the world gets smaller and smaller, they become more and more desensitised. I hope my books help them understand how important it is to care.

 T MC with friends Q Finally, if you could jump into Riley’s little red biplane and fly anywhere in the world, where would you go and why?

This changes all the time but right now it would be Boston or Ireland. Hmm … must be experiencing an Irish fetish. Not sure why. Maybe I’ve just spent too much time indoors at this computer and am desperate for a slice of green. I’ve also never visited either place, and I do love experiencing the new.

Q Additional bonus question: Is the blonde lady touting too many shopping bags along City Walk who I think it is?!

Yes! And the kids on the bench are my kids—the Real Riley and my ever-patient daughter Ella. My next series will feature her!

Thank you for sharing Riley, Roo and best of all Canberra with us Tania! Hope your blog tour is as thrilling a journey as the one you’ve given us with Riley and the Jumpy Kangaroo.

But wait, there’s even more!

Jumpy Roo Blog Tour The Jumpy Roo book launch is being held at Floriade this year! Anyone living in or visiting Canberra on 15 September is invited along, but RSVPs are essential if you want a goodie bag and balloon! You can find out more here. Can’t make the launch and want to read more? Then check out all of Tania’s great books available for purchase here.

You can also visit the Riley the Little Aviator website to see updates, learn more about the places Riley visits, and see behind-the-scenes work. There’s also some Fun Activities for kids.

Learn more about Tania at her website.

And don’t forget check out the Blog Tour Schedule for the rest of Riley’s exciting touch downs.

For full Blog Tour Schedule, head here.

Ford Street Publishing, an imprint of Hybrid Publishing August 2013



Review – Lexicon


9781444764666Any reader knows the power words can have. Words transport us. Words connect us. Words educate us. Words inspire us. Words make us laugh and cry, love and hate. Words make us remember. Words have power and influence. But in certain hands they can be weapons. Weapons that can kill. Weapons that can wipe out an entire town. Or city. Or civilisation.

This is an incredible read. It starts at breakneck speed and you have to keep up. No, you WANT to keep up. Max Barry introduces us to a shadow world. A world where a select group of people have honed the power of words. They are “Poets” and they can influence and manipulate people based on their personality type. They recruit those that have a gift with words and they are sent to study at an elite and exclusive school where they study all aspects of language and its power.

But one of these “Poets” has discovered an ancient word. A word that has destroyed different civilisations for thousands of years. The word has wiped out the town of Broken Hill. One single word and three thousand people are dead.

Nothing is alive in there
Just a word

No one escaped and no one can return, except for one man. One man who is seemingly immune to words. This makes him very special and very dangerous, only he can’t remember a thing.

There is so much to love about this book. The world Max Barry creates is intriguing, addictive and uber-clever. I found myself rationing the book because I didn’t want it to end. Barry uses the story’s structure perfectly. Sucking you in at just the right moments before spinning you around and showing you another side to the story. Even when you think you’ve got it figured out he cleverly spins you round again. Barry also combines the history and philosophy of human language with its modern-day applications to create a conspiracy theory that will blow your mind.

If you love reading, if you love the power of words, this is the book for you.

Buy the book here…

Review – I Am Pilgrim

This is a 700+ page thriller that will set its hooks into you from the first page and won’t let go. Hayes combines a mind-blowing detective story, an international cat and mouse game and a seemingly unstoppable plot to destroy America to create a thriller like you’ve never read before.

9780593064955Pilgrim is the code-name of one of the US intelligence community’s best and brightest agents. He doesn’t exist. His past has been expunged. And when he takes an early retirement all he leaves behind is the definitive book on criminal forensics. A book someone has just used to commit the perfect murder.

Meanwhile an equally mysterious man is planning an attack against America. He has been patient, meticulous and thorough. He has worked totally alone to synthesize a virus for which there is no cure or vaccination. By the time US intelligence gets wind of his plan it may already be too late.

Hayes takes us through the murky world of espionage and counterintelligence pre and post 9/11. We learn what it takes to become one of the best agents in their field as well as what it takes to want to tear the whole world down.

I was reminded a lot of Don Winslow’s The Power of the Dog (which I think is the perfect thriller) and while Hayes doesn’t dissect the War on Terror like Winslow dissected the War on Drugs he plays both sides of a smart, complex thriller perfectly. Hayes cinematic background also comes to the fore as he keeps the pace and tension dialed up high the whole time as well as creating some breathtaking action sequences. The end of the novel is a perfect, screaming crescendo that leaves you totally drained and worn out. I pity the next thriller I read because the bar is now very high.

Buy the book here…

Review – Alice and the Airy Fairy

Alice and the Airy FairyThe rapidly expanding Little Rocket Series more than satisfies the insatiable reading appetites of confident readers, dishing up enticing junior fiction that most notably snags the fickle attention spans of boys. Alice and the Airy Fairy, the latest in the series, has a decidedly more girly flavour.

Packed with pretty pink girl appeal, the Airy Fairy is more than a whimsical tale about fairies. It’s a story steeped in sensitivity, family relationships and the power of believing.

Alice’s second cousin, Mary, is coming to stay with them. Mary is a little eccentric and a touch mystical. She plays the flute in the middle of the night and prefers to sleep out in her ‘old blue campervan’. All of which Alice’s Dad sums up as being an ‘airy fairy’.

Alice is entranced by Mary’s presence and being a great believer in fairies herself, tries very hard to get Mary to divulge more of her ‘fairy-ness’. But the deeper she and her best friend Zoe, delve, the more inconsistencies they discover, including the revelation that all is not well in Mary’s world. She is sadder than a fairy ought to be for one; evident in her wrenching paintings, her droopy wings and her pensive music. And she can’t even remember where she left her magic wand.

BlobsAs the lines between fairy-dom and reality become as increasingly blurred and misshapen as one of Mary’s blue blob paintings, Alice and Zoe attempt to get to the bottom of Mary’s malaise and missing wand. The wand is eventually found but no amount of magical incantations issued by them is able to release its magic.

Frustrated but not defeated, Alice convinces her father to transport a selection of Mary’s abstract paintings to the Art Gallery where she was due to exhibit them. Mary is unable to do so herself because of an unplanned visit to the hospital.

In a comical turn of events, Mary’s paintings prove so popular the gallery curator asks for more to sell, which Dad dubiously concedes to. Only the first set of paintings weren’t actually Mary’s. They were the mistakenly delivered, genius brushstrokes of Bonnie, Alice’s baby sister.

But it’s not art that saves the day or even stubborn magic. It’s Alice’s unshakeable belief in Mary that finally enables her to refocus on where her true worth and value lies.

I love how Alice’s naively bejewelled determination is able to cut through diversity and adult opinion to help someone she genuinely believes in.

Margaret ClarkVeteran children’s writer Margaret Clark has created an enchanting story that encourages young readers to question everyday norms. She sprinkles just enough speculation throughout each short, easy to read chapter to ensure Alice and the Airy Fairy is as easy to love as fairy dust but is still one hundred per cent plausible, while sending a gentle reminder for us to be kind to and aware of each other.

Emma Stuart Emma Stuart’s touching illustrations add even more colour and joy to an already joyful read. And in case you are ever in the need of one; there are even instructions on how to make a magic wand. Fantabulous!

Whether you’re into fairies and Kombis (and who isn’t?) or not, Alice and the Airy Fairy is sure to charm the wings off you, especially if you are 7 – 10 years old.

Little Rockets by New Frontier Publishing July 2013


On My Bedside Table – # 2

Bedside table 2Does your bedside table feature nothing more than a sedate, sleek bedside lamp and the latest eReader? Or is an outrageous collection of self-help, kids’ lit, how-to, YA, book club, must-review-reads piled unceremoniously on top of each like mine?

I tried reading one book at a time. Found it just wasn’t for me. I now prefer the heady experience of flitting from one world to another. It’s a little chaotic and bewildering at times I admit. But the crazy excitement of reading so many varying titles simultaneously keeps me entertained and enlightened beyond words. It’s a bit like heading down Edgware Road, atop a London double-decker bus, at night. Boisterous, sublime, sensory saturation. You really should try it sometime.

Here are a few more our brightest and best Aussie authors who have and are…

Angela Sunde ~ Gold Coast based children’s author and illustrator of picture books, short stories and Pond Magic, with a strong penchant for apples.

A Small Free Kiss in the DarkI’m currently reading A Small Free Kiss in the Dark, by Glenda Millard. A beautiful evocative voice which reminds me of Morris Gleitzman’s ‘Then’ series. It could possibly be one of my favourite books.

I am re-reading the Puzzle Ring, by Kate Forsyth, looking carefully at structure this time.

I’m also reading Pen on Fire, by Barbara DeMarco-Barrett – a busy woman’s guide to igniting the writer within.

At the top of my teetering ‘to be read’ pile are: Citadel by Kate Mosse and The Wild Girl by Kate Forsyth.

On my coffee table you will find Advanced Style by Ari Seth Cohen. This is a photo book based on Cohen’s blog, Advanced Style. The images portray fabulous women and men of New York who are all silver-haired individualists. I find it inspiring and also a useful reference for characters.

Also on the coffee table is Australian Voices, edited by Ariana Klepac and John Thompson. It is a collection of extracts from diaries, letters, photos and recollections, ranging from the First Fleet to the Great War. There is a story waiting to be written on every page.

And there are many more….

Kate Forsyth ~ internationally best-selling, award-winning author of adult fiction and children’s literature from picture books to fantasy novels, with a strong penchant for fairy tales.

WonderstruckI’m reading ‘Enchanted April’ by Elisabeth von Arnim at present, and then I have on my bedside table to read:

‘Scarlet in the Snow‘ by Sophie Masson

‘The Ashford Affair’ by Lauren Willig

‘Chalice’ by Robin McKinley

‘The Fault in Our Stars‘ by John Green

Dark Road to Darjeeling‘ by Deanna Raybourne

‘Wonder Struck’ by Brian Selznick

I may not read them in this order.

Tania McCartney ~ acclaimed children’s author, editor, publisher and reviewer, with a strong penchant for photography and raspberries.

Eric Vale, Epic Fail: Super Male by Michael Gerard Bauer (Scholastic). I want to review this . . . if I can prise it out of my son’s monkey grip.

Warp: The Reluctant Assassin by Eoin Colfer (Puffin). I am most embarrassed to admit I’ve never read any of Colfer’s books; am desperate to read Artemis Fowl but I would need another week in my day in order to do this right now. So, until then, I am determined to read and review this first book in the WARP series for Kids’ Book Review.

Riley and the Jumpy Kangaroo: A journey around Canberra by Tania McCartney (Ford Street). My first advance copy. I literally haven’t had time to go through it yet!

1599: A year in the life of William Shakespeare by James Shapiro (Faber + Faber). It’s a very patient book. It’s been sitting on my bedside table unopened for about six months.

Storyteller: The Life of Roald Dahl by Donald Sturrock (Harper Press). Andy Griffiths recommended this to me but don’t tell him I haven’t even started it yet. It’s calling to me . . ..

What's Wrong With the Wobbegong What’s Wrong with the Wobbegong? by Phillip Gwynne, illustrated by Gregory Rogers. It’s not out till June so I can’t review it yet, but I just need to keep Gregory Rogers close right now


Player Profile: Shady Cosgrove, author of What the Ground Can’t Hold

shady_cosgroveShady Cosgrove, author of What the Ground Can’t Hold

Tell us about your latest creation…

What the Ground Can’t Hold is about a group of people stranded in the Andes because of an avalanche. They are from all over the world (Australia, the United States, Germany and Argentina) and each one is grappling with a secret that links them to Argentina’s Dirty War. It’s about the ghosts that won’t stay buried. The novel has involved extensive research and travel, and has taken seven years to write. It’s a tricky thing, writing a novel like this, because I want to do justice to the complexities and atrocities and humanity of the stories I’m telling.

Where are you from / where do you call home?

I was born on a small island off of Seattle in the Pacific Northwest of the United States. It was an alternative community, accessible only by boat, and I grew up with people who had names like Unity, Kwab, Sunshine and Rosebud. I was privileged to have had that kind of wild and artistic upbringing. My mother is a tile artist, and so I grew up around kilns and glazes and mosaics. I went to the local public school until University, where I studied English, Creative Writing and Women’s Studies at Vassar College in New York. I loved the inspiration and intensity of studying there. I remember writing short stories until three in the morning and comparing sentences and paragraphs with my housemate, a fellow writer and night owl. I came to Australia as a Study Abroad student and was initially skeptical of Wollongong; but I felt this inexplicable loyalty to the place anyway – to the ocean and the escarpment, especially – and I’m not surprised that I still live in the Illawarra. Choosing a home so far from my family, I find I’m most grateful for my friendships and the sense of community here. I spent some time in
Canberra, studying for my PhD at the ANU but was drawn back to Wollongong. It’s home now.

What the Ground Cant Hold CVR.inddWhen you were a kid, what did you want to become?  An author?

When I was a kid, I wanted to be a storyteller. I thought this was a valid form of employment in and of itself. At university, I wanted to be novelist but it’s taken many years. The best thing for my writing was to teach writing. I fell into some teaching work at the University of Wollongong and it radically changed the focus of my life. Because I had to articulate writing strategies and conventions, it forced me to really reckon with the material. The amazing thing about teaching is that the sum of us in the classroom – teacher and students – is greater than the parts. As a group, students and I can brainstorm and pick apart writing strategies and workshop pieces and get so much further than we could on our own. I find this collaboration inspiring. I’m lucky because my writing feeds my teaching and my teaching feeds my writing.

What do you consider to be your best work? Why?

What the Ground Can’t Hold – it’s the most ambitious thing I’ve written and has taken the longest to write. It operates on a number of levels and bears up to re-reading (the test of a good book).  And all of the narrative levels are well integrated: it’s driven by both character and plot; the point-of-view is inseparable from the sense of voice and the characters; the structure is dictated by the point-of-view; the setting is intimately connected to the plot. This is a story that couldn’t be told in any other way.

Describe your writing environment to us – your writing room, desk, etc.; is it ordered or chaotic?

I’m a lucky writer because I work in a boxed-in veranda/sun room with a view straight to my neighbours’ front door, and I love those neighbours like family. So when I’m alone in front of the computer, facing into the tough slog of re-drafting, I can have a chat through the window when they’re arriving home with groceries or checking the mail, and it’s not enough to break me away from the task at hand but it alleviates feelings of isolation.

When you’re not writing, who/what do you like to read?

Ann Patchett. Colum McCann. Michael Cunngingham. Richard Ford. Haruki Murakami. Chuck Palahniuk. Jeanette Winterson. Ian McEwan. Jean Rhys. Charlotte Bronte. Langston Hughes. Eduardo Galeano. Alessandro Baricco. Jhumpa Lahiri. Anthony Macris. John Scott. Tim Winton. Julia Leigh. Keri Hulme. Virginia Woolf. Christine Howe. Bernhard Schlink. Yusef Komunyakaa.

What was the defining book(s) of your childhood/schooling?

Madeleine L’Engle’s A Wrinkle in Time. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s ‘The Speckled Band’. Roald Dahl’s ‘The Wonderful Story of Henry Sugar’. CS Lewis’s The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe

If you were a literary character, who would you be?

I’d love to be a heroine from one of Haruki Murakami novels but I don’t know that I’m that cool.

Apart from books, what do you do in your spare time (surprise us!)?

I love to quilt. I love to escape to the bush. I’m not much of a horticulturalist but I’ve just planted 36 blueberry bushes and I take care of them.

What is your favourite food and favourite drink?

Fresh fruit (peaches, blueberries, pineapple, mangos, raspberries, strawberries); Warm bread from the oven; Quality tequila

Who is your hero? Why?

I look up to my mother and older sister. They are both courageous and resilient.

Crystal ball time – what is the biggest challenge for the future of books and reading?

As a culture, we seem to be battling time-poverty – without time, we won’t have readers.

Review – The Fearsome, Frightening, Ferocious Box

The Fearsome Frightening Ferocious BoxDo you remember those Magic Eye (random dot autostereograms) 3D puzzles of the late 80s? The ones where if you stare long and hard enough at them and go into a cross-eyed kind of trance, you’d mysteriously see a world or picture in unimaginable depth and detail? Personally, I loved them and spent a lot of the early 90s staring into pages of pixelated patterns.

David Legge and Frances WattsThe Fearsome, Frightening, Ferocious Box is reminiscent of these puzzles but in a much better, beguiling way. This picture book by the team that brought us Kisses for Daddy and Captain Crabclaw’s Crew, invites you to think deep, look hard and be brave!

It all begins innocently enough. One day an innocuous looking box appears. No one knows where it comes from. No one knows what is inside. And of course not knowing is the spur of all great endeavours; as any child will tell you; curiosity must be sated at all costs and in this case, that means the box must be opened.

Monkey is the first to attempt it but is thwarted when the box begins to moan. A spine chilling couple of stanzas provide clues as to the potential occupant of the box and is followed by a cautionary, ‘open the box if you dare’ warning. This becomes the box’s mantra and pattern of riddles throughout the book.

We are also advised that our eyes may play tricks on us and that in each of the illustrations accompanying the riddle, the occupant could be one of six creatures secreted therein.

This is where the fun starts. Finding all six of the illusive animals artfully hidden within the scenes is harder than you’d imagine. It took the eyes of two adults and one seven year old to locate each of the animals and I’m ashamed to say, in spite of years of Magic Eye practise, I’m still searching for some! The animals are not in random dot stereograms by the way but hidden as craftily.

Frances WattsThe Fearsome, Frightening, Ferocious Box is utterly compelling. While I found alternating use of rhyming verse and animal narrative a little jarring at times, Frances Watts is spot on with her use of descriptive clues and creates the perfect amount of suspense and tension to keep readers guessing and searching. Watts cleverly guides us through a myriad of scenes from the wetlands, arid desert wastelands, woodland forests and even the Arctic ice floes, as we attempt to find the answer.

The fantastically detailed illustrations of David Legge allows us to linger in each scene, exploring the environment of the creatures who lurk and dwell within at least until we discover them. The drawings are bold, expressive and panoramic in their design and feel. I love the textured, stippled effect used throughout the book too, which gives the characters more tactile warmth.

As each riddle emitted from the box is solved, the creature portrayed steps up to be the one brave enough and fearsome enough to open the box. But none of them quite cuts the mustard especially when faced with a warning from the box that it will attack if they dare open it.

It finally dawns on our crew of beasties that they are collectively terrifying in their own right and if they open the box together, they will outmatch whatever is inside.

Now I’m not going to divulge the box’s contents. You’ll have to puzzle that one out for yourself. But if you are a fan of Parsley Rabbit, you are going to adore The Fearsome, Frightening, Ferocious Box and its chuckle out loud ending. My seven year old certainly did.

This is more than a simple picture book. It’s a gripping, enigmatically visual, educational experience. It’s a journey through the diversity of our natural world and the creatures that inhabit it. It’s Deadly 60 meets Graeme Base.

Does curiosity finally kill the cat? Open The Fearsome, Frightening, Ferocious Box and find out for yourself.

Recommended for the very brave of heart and 5 to 50 year olds.

ABC Books, HarperCollins Publishers Australia 2013

And just for fun:

Magic Eye Mental floss

Player Profile: Maggie Scott, co-author of Just Between Us

Maggie Scott, co-author of Just Between Us

Tell us about your latest creation…

Quite literally, my latest creation is my son George, who was born a month ago. My latest literary creation is ‘Just Between Us’, an anthology of short stories and fiction that I co-edited and contributed a short story to. It’s about the difficulties of female friendships, especially when they fall apart.

jsut-between-usWhere are you from / where do you call home?

In the big picture, Melbourne, Australia, the World is my home; in the smaller picture, I call the illustrious suburb of Moonee Ponds home, or the Moo Poo, as insiders fondly refer to it.

When you were a kid, what did you want to become?  An author?

From memory I wanted to be s glamorous roller skating stunt person.

What do you consider to be your best work? Why?

Perhaps my review of ‘The Golden Girls’ 9/15/319/) – because it’s a subject close to my heart and was fun to write. I could write about TV all day every day.

Describe your writing environment to us – your writing room, desk, etc.; is it ordered or chaotic?

At the moment it’s a small laptop wherever I can plug it in – couch, cafe, kitchen or library. I have learned to block out most white noise.

When you’re not writing, who/what do you like to read?

I go through phases. Currently I am in a short attention span phase, so I’m reading bits and pieces from journals I subscribe to; Meanjin, Griffith Review, Kill Your Darlings, Lucky Peach, The Believer. I also read blogs on my phone – in particular for great alternative journalism, The Atlantic for episode re-caps and The Conversation for Aussie news.

What was the defining book(s) of your childhood/schooling?

‘Tom’s Midnight Garden’ by Philippa Pearce. My first real foray into this thing called literature.

If you were a literary character, who would you be?

Once upon a time I would have said Lucy Honeychurch from a ‘Room With a View’ by EM Forster, but I’ve grown up too much since then. Not sure who I would say now.

Apart from books, what do you do in your spare time (surprise us!)?

At this very moment, it’s all baby wrangling. I do things like write a profile for Boomerang Books in my spare time.

What is your favourite food and favourite drink?

Cereal is my favourite food, it’s a comfort thing. Drink – all manner of rose wines, especially that first chilled glass of the summer.

Who is your hero? Why?

Lena Dunham, writer and director of the TV show ‘Girls’. Can’t wait to see what she does next.

Crystal ball time – what is the biggest challenge for the future of books and reading?

The rapid evolution of screen culture and all the devices and waning attention spans through which people read now. It’s exciting for the dissemination of content but very challenging for the good old long, beautifully crafted, slow moving novel at the same time.

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Player Profile: Andrew Mueller, author of It’s Too Late To Die Young Now

muellerandrew01Andrew Mueller, author of It’s Too Late To Die Young Now

Tell us about your latest creation…

It’s called “It’s Too Late To Die Young Now”. It’s a memoir, both bemused and grateful, of my late teens and early twenties, which I got to spend being a rock journalist. It’s also an acknowledgement, roughly equal parts mournful and gloating, that there’s now very little opportunity for people to mis-spend their youths in the same way.

Where are you from / where do you call home?

I was born in Wagga Wagga and grew up in various parts of Australia, and have spent most of my adult life in London or hotels.

When you were a kid, what did you want to become?  An author?

When I was a kid, I wanted to play for Geelong, and would assuredly have done so had my
ambitions not been cruelly thwarted by a complete lack of athletic ability. Writing was very much a fallback option.

too-late-die-youngWhat do you consider to be your best work? Why?

I’m roughly equally partial to all three of my books – the other two, “I Wouldn’t Start From Here” and “Rock & Hard Places”, are available in all good stores, etc. But I’m possibly quietly proudest of the racket I’ve raised with my band, The Blazing Zoos, and of “The North Sea Scrolls”, an album I made last year with Luke Haines and Cathal Coughlan – two of my favourite songwriters.

Describe your writing environment to us – your writing room, desk, etc.; is it ordered or chaotic?

I do most of my writing at the dining table in the sunroom of my house in London – the designated office upstairs has become mostly a repository for unsold copies of The Blazing Zoos’ tremendous debut album, “I’ll Leave Quietly”. So I’ve a pleasant view of the garden, which is somewhat incongruously dominated by a vast wattle tree, and in which woodpeckers, magpies, finches, starlings, frogs, squirrels and foxes caper distractingly.

When you’re not writing, who/what do you like to read?

I generally favour non-fiction. According to my agent, I’m literally the only person in the world who buys anthologies of journalism.

What was the defining book(s) of your childhood/schooling?

Ach, too many. But I think in terms of properly setting me off in the direction I went, I have to acknowledge the journalism of P.J. O’Rourke and the “Flashman” series by George MacDonald Fraser, both of which I first found towards the end of my teens. This book, however, is substantially the story of how my life was changed by reading Melody Maker, the British music weekly I went
on to work for.

If you were a literary character, who would you be?

Flashman, on the strict understanding that there is no Hell.

Apart from books, what do you do in your spare time (surprise us!)?

I play guitar and sing in a country band. Although this won’t surprise you, as I’ve already said so.

What is your favourite food and favourite drink?

Respectively, steak and red wine.

Who is your hero? Why?

I never know what to say to this. There are plenty of people who do stuff I admire, but the uncritical worship of human beings
never works out well, at a micro or macro level, for the reverent or the revered.

Crystal ball time – what is the biggest challenge for the future of books and reading?

The fact that technology has made it possible for people to steal things without retribution. The internet has enabled us to learn a
great deal, but it has taught no lesson more starkly than how many people are willing to shoplift if they think they’ll get away with it.

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Player Profile: Fiona Wood, author of Wildlife

fiona-woodFiona Wood, author of Wildlife

Tell us about your latest creation…

‘Wildlife’ is set in a boarding term at a co-ed school’s outdoor education campus. It’s a story about friendship, first love, jealousy and betrayal. It follows the stories of Sibylla and Lou. Sibylla is in the early days of a new romance. She’s not sure about the whole girlfriend ‘thing’, and doesn’t need the added stress of the boarding school scrutiny. Lou (from ‘Six Impossible Things’) is a new girl, determined to keep to herself. But as Sibylla’s so-called best friend Holly starts acting like a trouble-making Iago, Lou decides to get involved and help Sibylla work out what friendship actually means.

Where are you from / where do you call home?


wildlifeWhen you were a kid, what did you want to become?  An author?

If anyone ever asked I always said I wanted to write and illustrate children’s books. But when I left school, the first thing I did was to study law.

What do you consider to be your best work? Why?

I’ve written TV for a number of years but it is my two novels ‘Six Impossible Things’ and ‘Wildlife’ that are my best work because with them I was free to write whatever I wanted and so their characters and stories and themes are close to my heart.

Describe your writing environment to us – your writing room, desk, etc.; is it ordered or chaotic?

I work in a tiny space about a metre and half wide. It’s quite tidy apart from the piles of books. With my chair in the right place I can see sky.

When you’re not writing, who/what do you like to read?

There is such a big group of writers whose work I love, it’s not possible to make a list without leaving off far too many. But I think William Trevor and Penelope Fitzgerald both write with a thrilling understated brilliance.

What was the defining book(s) of your childhood/schooling?

During school years I came across writers such as Jane Austen, Charlotte Bronte, Emily Bronte, EM Forster, James Joyce and Samuel Beckett for the first time.

If you were a literary character, who would you be?

I still have a secret yearning to climb the Faraway Tree. But the gender stereotyping of those characters doesn’t appeal, so I guess it’s more a literary destination.

Apart from books, what do you do in your spare time (surprise us!)?

I love cooking. And eating. And mooching with family and friends. And parkour! (That’s the surprising bit.)(Also, it’s not true.)(But if you haven’t heard of parkour read Tim Sinclair’s ‘Run’.)

What is your favourite food and favourite drink?

Again – too, too many to name. But right this minute I’m eating a great sandwich from The Woodfrog Bakery in St Kilda – rare roast beef, horseradish, spinach, onion, and beetroot relish on sourdough rye. It’s a party in my mouth. And I like making fizzy water with my SodaStream because it has reusable bottles.

Who is your hero? Why?

There are so many varieties of heroism. Anita Sarkeesian is doing a great job in raising awareness of gender inequities in the media and popular culture and her blog Feminist Frequency is worth visiting.

Crystal ball time – what is the biggest challenge for the future of books and reading?

A healthy industry means as many publishers and as many outlets for buying books as possible. As readers we need to keep buying
books and borrowing books from libraries and talking about the books we read and giving books as gifts because as long as demand is strong good books will keep getting published.

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Player Profile: Robert Schofield, author of Heist

robert-schofieldRobert Schofield, author of Heist

Tell us about your latest creation…

HEIST is the story of Gareth Ford, an engineer working on a remote gold mine in Western Australia.  Left for dead in the desert, framed as the inside man in a bullion robbery at the mine, and fearing that his daughter and ex-wife have been abducted from their home in Perth, Ford has to cross a thousand miles of wilderness to find his family, pursued by crooked cops, murderous bikies, and heavily armed mercenaries.

Where are you from / where do you call home?

I was born, raised and schooled in the suburbs of Manchester, England, and studied at Cambridge before spending some years travelling.  I stopped moving when I got to Perth at the turn of the century, and have been raising a family here ever since.

When you were a kid, what did you want to become?  An author?

I came to writing late in life.  I grew up with a talent for science and mathematics, did a degree in engineering and have been working as a chartered engineer all my life.  Writing was just something I did to keep a restless mind busy, and I never thought it would be anything more than that.

What do you consider to be your best work? Why?

That one’s easy for a debut author:  my current book is my first, and most definitely my best.

heistDescribe your writing environment to us – your writing room, desk, etc.; is it ordered or chaotic?

I tend to write on the run.  I have a full-time engineering job, and three young kids, so I carry a notebook and a laptop and write whenever and wherever I can.  I have a shed at the bottom of the garden where I can  occasionally shut out the world to write, but it is also home to my scooter and is full of bikes and tools, as well as piles of books, so I’d say it was on the chaotic side.

When you’re not writing, who/what do you like to read?

Most of my reading time is taken up with non-fiction research for my next book, but I try to read some fiction too to inspire me.  I am an omnivorous reader, happy to pick up anything, but I read a fair bit of crime fiction, and like the great Americans:  Elmore Leonard, James Crumley, George V. Higgins.

What was the defining book(s) of your childhood/schooling?

I was also a broad reader at school.  I couldn’t pick a defining book or books, but as a teenager I was reading Hesse and Vonnegut, and had a fascination with Zola.

If you were a literary character, who would you be?

My favourite literary character is Tom Ripley, but I’m not sure I would ever want to be a sociopathic murderer.  But then again, he never got caught…

Apart from books, what do you do in your spare time (surprise us!)?

What spare time?  Full-time job, three kids, novels to research and write, I’m lucky if I get to turn on the TV.  But I do have a vintage Vespa scooter, and if I get a spare hour I start her up, put my face to the wind, and ride until my head is clear.

What is your favourite food and favourite drink?

A lamb roast, potatoes and pumpkin and whole roasted garlic on the side, a bottle of Moss Wood cabernet, and a tarte tatin to finish.  Then maybe a nice malt whisky, maybe something from Campbeltown.

Who is your hero? Why?

I have never been one for hero worship.  I believe we are all flawed individuals just doing the best we can.  There are people I love, and there are people who have certain characteristics that I admire, but I’ve never had a hero.

Crystal ball time – what is the biggest challenge for the future of books and reading?

The continual encroachment of the 21st Century:  expanding work hours, TV, internet, social media, smartphones, and all the other inconsequential noise that bombards us, means that we seldom get the space and peace to sit with a book.

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Review – Where Are You, Banana?

Where are you BananaEver had a little buddy you just can’t live without? A certain something or someone that insinuates itself so deeply into your heart that to be without it would be like losing part of yourself? Pets especially imbue a certain sticky charm and no pet wheedles our affection better than the humble dog. This is exactly what, Roddy, the young star of Allen & Unwin’s latest picture book release, Where Are You, Banana? encounters when a pooch named Banana joins his family.

Banana and Roddy share an intimate history together. Banana was Roddy’s first word. He is Roddy’s constant companion, a devoted playmate and supreme guardian. But Banana is not without his shortcomings. One of the slight disadvantages of being so close to something is that it makes letting it go all the more difficult. Banana’s obsessive dependency results in a trail of chewed possessions, one very irate neighbour and the banning of visits to Aunt Celia, whose chooks Banana has an unhealthy predilection for.

The tale tangles when Roddy leaves Banana alone with nothing more than a bone and his own devices one day when they are at Aunt Celia’s. Her new chicks are a short-lived novelty and can’t quite stop Roddy from making mental promises to the dog he feels he has abandoned. He can’t wait to return home and make amends but when the family return, Banana is nowhere to be found.

In spite of everyone’s constant reassurances, Roddy begins to worry, a lot. The house bereft of Banana’s presence, is eerily empty. Roddy is disconsolate. Unable to sleep, he sets out to look for his dog by himself. What follows is a marvellous example of simple ingenuity and heart-warming humanity.

Sofie LagunaWhere Are You, Banana? Is an absorbing little adventure by highly acclaimed, award winning author Sofie Laguna. Laguna’s frank first person narrative weaves a story that is easy to read, easy to like and perfect to share with the whole family.

Craig Smith Craig Smith’s animated watercolour illustrations leave us in no doubt as to how excruciating it can be searching for something you’ve loved and lost. They are just the right mix of whimsy and pull-at-your-heart cute.

If you’ve ever lost a pet, even for a short time, or misplaced a beloved object, then this picture book will strike an emotive chord. Children often feel these kinds of losses in the most dramatic of ways. And indeed, this tale resonates with ‘child-trapped-down-a-well’ drama and appeal. Thankfully, Where Are You, Banana? ends happily, reinforcing the feel-good notion that tenacity and love really do triumph over adversity.

Just right for 3 – 6 year olds.

A lovely addition to this hardcover edition is the QR code inside the book’s cover. Readers can scan the code for a free audio reading, ideal for playtime and bedtime. Or they can click on the Allen & Unwin website.

Craig IllustratingMeet Sofie and watch Craig draw images from this book at the launch for Where Are You, Banana? this Saturday 6th July at Readings St Kilda, Victoria 10.30 am. Check here for details.