One of the most fascinating and brutal social experiments in human history

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Review – Iron Curtain by Anne Applebaum

I am a big reader on The Second World War but my reading has never taken me past 1945. Earlier this year I finally read Anna Funder’s Stasiland and was fascinated by what life was like in East Germany so when I saw this book I jumped at the opportunity to read about Eastern Europe in the direct aftermath of World War Two.

Most Cold War histories contend that the Iron Curtain was a reaction to the Marshall Plan of 1947 however Applebaum shows that Soviet plans for an Eastern Bloc were instigated the moment they swept through Eastern Europe in 1944, before the Second Wold War had ended.

Iron Curtain focuses on three Eastern European countries; East Germany, Poland and Hungary. It details their transition from the end of the war to becoming part of the so-called Soviet Bloc. Anne Applebaum has chosen these countries as they each had different experiences and roles in the Second World War which influenced their transition to Communism and in particular Stalinsim.

The transition to Soviet Communism was swift and total. Applebaum details how the Soviet Union literally took over and dominated absolutely every part of society from youth groups to the media, political parties to schools and universities and even art and architecture. The Soviets were systematic and relentless. They initially thought they could win power via elections but when their propaganda and rhetoric failed to capture a majority of votes they turned to vote rigging and the literal crushing of any opposition.

It is hard to believe, almost 70 years later, how the people of Eastern Europe in some cases supported, in others tolerated, the Stalinization of their countries. But Applebaum also explains in depth people’s different reactions to this process. There was much misplaced optimism and hope that a better, utopian Europe could be built from the rubble and ashes of the Second World War. In some cases there was a strident need and desire to position themselves as far from the Nazis as possible. In other cases there was simply exhaustion from being at war for 6 years. Capitalism was also seen as having given rise to Nazism so an alternative was sort. And though opposition was quickly stamped out, people found ways to protest which included wearing particular shirts and ties and even colourful, striped socks.

However following Stalin’s death in 1953 a spell seemed to be lifted and Eastern European countries began to try and exert some autonomy over themselves and to develop their own form of communism. Again this varied from country to country and culminated in the uprising in Hungary which was brutally crushed. Despite appearances that the citizenry of Eastern Europe had fallen into lockstep with Soviet communism and the assumption that the totalitarian regimes had stamped out all opposing views these uprisings showed that the human spirit and its desire for freedom and individual identity can never be completely crushed. Unfortunately The West stood idly by and it would be more than 40 years before another mass movement of resistance to Societ control bubbled to the surface.

This is a highly readable history of a time that has been mythologized by both sides of the Cold War. Applebaum sets the record straight as well as explores one of the most fascinating and brutal social experiments in human history.

Buy the book here…

Player Profile: Steve Bisley, author of Stillways

BisleySteveSteve Bisley, author of Stillways

Tell us about your latest creation:

I have just had my first book launched on August the first. It is an early memoir of my life growing up on a small farm on the central coast of N.S.W. Its is called “Stillways”

Where are you from / where do you call home?:

I grew up on the farm but have lived in Sydney for most of my working life.

9780732297848When you were a kid, what did you want to become?  An author?:

As a kid I wanted to do everything. I loved reading and story telling which I attribute to my mothers influence. she was a writer,poet and a teacher.

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

I have worked for 35 years as an Actor but consider “Stillways” to be my latest best work. I am now writing my first novel.

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

My writing environment is ordered and quiet. I write long hand and then edit on a word processor.

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

I read everything, currently Jonathen Franzen.

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

The Jungle Book was an early favourite, then Dickens and Shakespeare

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

I was and would be the central character in my memoir “Stillways”

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

In my spare time I hang out with any or all of my 6 children

What is your favourite food and favourite drink?:

I cook a spanish duck recipe which has chocolate and almond stirred through the stock.I have a love of bold red wine.

Who is your hero? Why?:

We dont need another hero. we are all hero’s and need to learn to love ourselves.

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

Get rid of mobile phones and other needless distractions and start talking to each other rather than seeing life through the filter of a screen.

Conveys the immensity and horror of a truly total world war

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Review – The Second World War by Antony Beevor

There have been so many books written about the Second World War, as whole and it its parts. For a war that finished almost 70 years ago there is not a lot of new material to be found or analysis to give. Andrew Roberts did it in The Storm of War and Antony Beevor has managed to do it in his books on specific battles of the war (CreteStalingradBerlin and D-Day). So I was very interested see how Beevor wrote about the whole war and what new material and perspectives he brought. I was also looking forward to Beevor’s perspectives on the Pacific War.

When I first became interested in the Second World War Stalingrad was one of the first books I discovered and read. The things I have really loved about all his books, and in particular Stalingrad, have been how he has taken a single battle and shown all its contexts. Beevor has written about an entire war before, The Spanish Civil War (twice in fact) but the scale of the Second World War is immense to say the least. There was no way an 800+ page book was going to cover the whole war in the detail we’ve come to expect from Antony Beevor so there was always going to be parts of the war either not covered or expanded upon as much as some readers would like. For example Kokoda doesn’t even rate a mention and the Papua New Guinea Campaign only gets a paragraph. But while Kokoda and Papua New Guinea are important to Australia’s context of the Second World War it is not as important to the whole war’s context.

However Beevor does heavily favour the European theatre, in particular the Eastern Front, which is understandable because that is where he has done most of his research and it is also where most the death and destruction occurred in the Second Wold War. But he also looks at the Allies in the west which he has only looked at previously with D-Day and Crete. You can almost see a new book by Beevor on the Desert War and I am pretty sure he has said the The Battle of the Bulge is his next book. He covers both in depth but also gives you the impression he could have expanded greatly upon both these battles.

While I felt that the Pacific War didn’t get the coverage I wanted he does cover China during the war in great detail. Previously I had only read about China in the context of the Japanese invasion pre-1939 but Beevor covers China all the way through the war which I found fascinating.

I also found the political manoeuvrings of Churchill, Roosevelt and Stalin immensely intriguing. Long before the tide started to turn in the war these three were already trying to out fox one another to get what they wanted post-War. Both Churchill and Roosevelt thought they had Stalin’s measure but he played them both off against each other both subtlety and crudely.

Writing about the whole of The Second World War is an ambitious task for any writer or historian. Beevor uses all of his skill to convey the immensity and horror of a truly total world war. Beevor fans will be well satisified and I think this is a great book for those who haven’t read him before to cut their teeth. And judging from the research that has gone into this book I can see at least three new books coming down the line.

Buy the book here…

Player Profile: Hannah Richell, author of The Shadow Year

art-353-Richell1-200x0Hannah Richell, author of The Shadow Year

Tell us about your latest creation:

The Shadow Year is the story of a group of friends who stumble upon an abandoned cottage and decide to drop out for a year and attempt to live self-sufficiently. What begins as a fun experiment soon spirals into darkness and tragedy. Thirty years later, a young woman arrives at the same cottage and begins to uncover the secrets of what happened there all those years ago. It’s a dark and twisty drama with a thread of suspense running through it.

9780733631948Where are you from / where do you call home?:

I am originally from the UK, but I’ve called Sydney home since 2006 and became an Australian citizen in 2010.

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

I was a pretty dreamy child. My ambitions were always changing: vet … marine biologist … archaeologist … but always in the background was the desire
to write.

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

I’m proud of both my novels but I hope my best work is still to come.

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

My working environment is a computer, a desk, a window. That’s all I need, although sometimes I pin up pictures or surround myself with books that inspire me. Sometimes I play a little quiet music. I used to write at the kitchen table but I’m now renting a studio room near my house. It’s great to have my own space away from the family, with a door that locks and no little fingers prying through everything.

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

I read pretty widely – anything that takes my fancy from commercial to literary fiction. I feel very out of sorts if I don’t have a good book on the go.

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

I had a huge appetite for fairy tales, Enid Blyton and Roald Dahl books as a young child. As I grew, I had a particular fondness for stories with a twist of darkness at their heart, such as The Secret Garden, The Wolves of Willoughby Chase, Goodnight Mister Tom and the ‘Dark is Rising’ fantasy series by Susan Cooper. My grandmother introduced me to the Greek Myths at an early age and they have stayed with me throughout my life and helped to inspire my first novel, Secrets of the Tides.

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

It goes with the territory that most literary characters don’t have a particularly easy ride, but I’d probably be Laura Ingalls Wilder because I loved her Little House on the Prairie books and always had a secret yearning for that back-to-basics frontier lifestyle.

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

I am a very unsuccessful gardener and can spend an inordinate amount of time gassing with my sister on the telephone.

What is your favourite food and favourite drink?:

My husband’s roast beef with a really good glass of red wine.

Who is your hero? Why?:

I’m not sure I have a hero. I think it’s a little dangerous to put people on pedestals … we’re all human, after all. Having said that, I think my family, my husband and my kids are pretty awesome.

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

I think one of the biggest challenges to the future of books and reading is the perceived value of the written word.

I see a big shift in peoples’ expectations that content and entertainment be made available to them at little or no cost. When you consider this in light of the digital age, it’s a big problem for the survival of writers, publishers and booksellers.

Blog URL: http://hannahrichell.wordpress.com
Facebook Page URL: https://www.facebook.com/hannahrichellauthor
Twitter URL: @hannahrichell

A true book to digest, discuss and deliberate upon by a writer like no other.

9780091953799Review – Night Film

Marisha Pessl burst onto the literary scene in 2006 with the unforgettably titled Special Topics In Calamity Physics. Comparisons to Donna Tartt abounded and unlike many others Pessl lived up to the comparisons but also carved out her own wonderfully distinct style. I adored the book and it was a very pleasant surprise to find her new novel suddenly pop up on the release schedule.

I don’t want to give any of the plot away in this review because a huge part of this book is experiencing it. Pessl immerses you in a world where fact and fiction blur, the magical and the explained co-exist and the truth is not necessarily the answer to the questions asked.

Central to the story is the Cordova family. The patriarch of the family is a reclusive and revered film maker whose life and art is shrouded in mystery, most of which he has created himself. His films have created their own mythology that he uses to hide behind. Journalist Scott McGrath believes something more sinister lies beneath this veneer but has been unable to dig up anything concrete without his own reputation being severely burned.

Night Film is a wild ride of a novel and I was amazed by the interactivity built into the story. Apparently there is also an app coming that enables the reader to engage even more, all of which only immerses you as a reader into a world that already blurs fact and fiction and is dotted with clues hidden and dangled in front of your eyes.

Pessl deftly takes you on a journey that ebbs and flows from the rational and analytical to the disbelieving and magical until eventually breaking down your walls of resistance which only helps shroud everything in a more deeper mystery. Pessl confirms the deep talent she has and delivers a novel that you will first debate with yourself before engaging others to see what they thought. A true book to digest, discuss and deliberate upon by a writer like no other.

Buy the book here…

Doodles and Drafts – Getting silly with Candice Lemon-Scott

Silver the Silly Sorcerer Book CoverThat instantaneous feeling of satisfaction and inability to stop reading that occurs when breezing over the first few pages of a new book is often a sign of good things to come. Kids are even more decisive, deducing from line one, what is going to work for them and what is not. That’s why the Little Rocket Series excels from the get go. With edgy compelling reads like Candice Lemon-Scott’s latest release, Silver the Silly Sorcerer.

Just when you thought you’d read all there was to read about wizardry and witchcraft and applauded the 700th Harry Potter look-a-like off the Book Week Parade stage, along comes Silver; struggling child sorcerer who simply seeks to be as sensational a sorcerer as his idol, Merlin.

Sadly Silver is less than spectacular as sorcerers go. He continuously fudges his spells and lives in the shadow of his much brighter sister, Star. After failing his Eggs test, Silver is sent to work as a magician with a travelling circus.

Cirus tentCircus life is harder and more humiliating than Silver ever anticipated. He yearns for home and dreads having to perform magic for the has-been, hard to please Ringmaster. Without the companionship and street smarts of his slick talking pet snake, Slither, Silver’s circus days would be even bleaker than the busted lights of the main-ring.

Miraculously, his clumsy magical failures become the talk of the Big Top. Silver’s silly tricks and slip ups transform him into the star of the circus until he realises he has to truly master the art of transformation and magic if he is to rescue his teacher, escape the circus and rise to Tadpole level. Will he and Slither endure the extremes of showbiz?

Humming with hysterical originality and Lemon-Scott’s hilarious imaginative wordplay, Silver the Silly Sorcerer is a sure fire bet to impress readers 7 years and above plus anyone who is thrilled by bunnies bursting from magic hats like I am. Short, captivating chapters are teeming with Janet Wolf’s full colour illustrations, so vibrant, you can almost smell the popcorn and sawdust. Top marks!

Candice Lemon-And to mark the magical appearance of this marvellous new Little Rockets title, Candice Lemon-Scott joins me at the draft table. Welcome Candice. Please, park your broom* and take a seat…

Q When did you first discover the urge to write for children? What motivates you to continue writing?

I lived in Sydney for a short while. When I first moved I didn’t know anyone (besides my husband) and I had yet to find a job. It was at that time that a children’s story idea just popped into my head one day and I started to spend a couple of hours each day writing it until I found work. It wasn’t anywhere near publishable but it inspired me to keep writing. Finding the motivation to write is easy – I love writing and it’s the best feeling to create an imaginary world where anything you want to happen does.

Q You’ve written a number of chapter books for children and this is your second title in the Little Rocket Series. What appeals to you most about this series of books? What makes them special?

I really love the Little Rockets Series because they’re perfect for kids starting to learn to read independently. They have beautiful brightly coloured illustrations which makes them a fantastic transition from picture book to chapter book. I also love the style of the series because it suits the type of story I like to write – action-packed and humorous and written for the 7 plus age group. There are also some fun things attached like the book-based activities on the Little Rockets website.

Q I am a sucker for magic tricks. How did you conjure up the idea for Silver the Silly Sorcerer? Were you magically inspired?

There was a little bit of magic involved. It began with a case of the dreaded writer’s block. Then one day I found this old story writing computer program. In the program you could mix up three parts of a sentence that were computer generated to create an opening line. I chose, ‘the sorcerer was stuck in a pile of muddy muck.’ It all went from there with the writer’s block magically disappearing as the story evolved.

Q What is your favourite magic trick, most memorable illusion or circus act?

I loved all magic when I was a kid. I remember I was so excited when I was given a magic box as a present. My favourite trick was the one where the seemingly never-ending magical scarf was pulled out of the magician’s hat – simple but fun. That’s probably why the scarf trick makes an appearance in my story.

Q Kids love quirky characters. What inspired your character choice in this book?

From my opening line I figured that this sorcerer must be pretty silly to end up stuck in the mud, which is really how Silver came to life. When I was thinking about how he could get out of the mud Slither the Snake just magically appeared to save the day.

Q Slither, Silver’s pet snake, is a useful and faithful companion. Is he based on any previous pets you had as a kid or perhaps any that you now have?

Gosh, no, I had really regular pets growing up– dogs, cats, birds, rabbits, but there was never a moment in my childhood where I was without one, which shows what an important role pets have played in my life. My eldest daughter is also crazy about reptiles, and now has her own pet blue-tongue lizard, so I’ve learned a great deal about snakes (but not the magical kind).

Q I found Silver a real hoot to read. Was it as much fun to write? Does writing humorously come naturally to you or is it a conscious thing you have work on to include in your writing?

Thanks! It was heaps of fun to write. I guess that’s probably why my kids’ stories have humour injected into them – it’s enjoyable to write it. I think the humour just comes as I write – I certainly don’t plan it out by thinking, ‘Is this funny?’ or ‘How could I make kids laugh in this scene?’ That said, I think the subject matter has to lend itself to humour for it to work.

Candice's books

Q Last year you released your first adult novel, Unloched. How does writing for primary aged children differ from other adult-aged genres you’ve published? Which do you feel more comfortable writing and why?

Technically, it’s totally different in terms of language, themes, structure, writing style etc. But to me writing for kids is no different to writing for adults in that it’s always about getting in the head of the character who the story is about. So, in this way, I don’t find one more comfortable than the other to write. If I’m writing about a ten year old boy then I’m in the head of a kid of that age but if I’m writing about a young woman then I’m thinking the way she would think. It’s a bit like role-playing for me – I’m imagining myself in someone else’s shoes, or in someone else’s cloak in the case of Silver.

Q A great kids’ story can be read faster than it takes to pull a rabbit out of a hat (unless you are Silver of course). How long does it take you to write them? Does it vary from book to book?

Usually it takes me a few months to write a chapter book. It’s more in coming up with the story idea that varies in the time it takes to create a story. Some ideas come to me in minutes – and I can see in my mind straight away what could happen in the story. Others start with a bit of a thought but can take months or longer for me to find out what the story is.

Q Tell us what fills your days apart from writing.

I have a book exchange where I sell new and second-hand books and where people can swap over the books they no longer read for something new or different. So, my life is completely about books, books and more books. I love it – I get to talk about books when I’m not writing and put any reading down to ‘work.’ Oh, and being a mum keeps me happily busy as well.

Q What’s on the draft table for Candice?

I’m currently writing a series of futuristic space adventure stories for kids aged 8 and up, the first of which will also be put out with New Frontier next year. The stories follow a group of kids (and a cyborg) who end up solving all kinds of spacey mysteries.

Q Just for fun question: If you were a better sorceress than Silver, what one magic trick would you like to perform and why?

I would like to master the art of escape, like Houdini. His tricks always fascinated me as a child – I would love to be able to get myself out of any situation like he could. That would be a pretty clever trick to perform, I think.

Thanks Candice! 

*Note Candice does not actually own a flying broom stick but should the opportunity arise to operate one, I’m sure she would park it sensibly.

Silly the Silver Sorcerer is part of the New Frontier Publishing’s Little Rocket Series.

Released this month, you can purchase the book here.

 

 

 

 

 

Player Profile: Jacqueline Harvey, author of Alice-Miranda Shines Bright

harvey, jacquelineJacqueline Harvey, author of Alice-Miranda Shines Bright

Tell us about your latest creation:

Alice-Miranda Shines Bright (#8 in the series).  Alice-Miranda and Millie make an accidental but dazzling discovery in the woods near school but it seems they are not the only ones looking.  Throw in a missing villager, a ruthless property developer and a hapless Mayor and there is another adventure in the offing.  The Alice-Miranda Diary for 2014 is a gorgeous diary full of fun activities, recipes, places to write secret thoughts and events; Clementine Rose and the Farm Fiasco (#4 in the series) sees Clementine and her friends on their first school excursion to a farm.  When her great Aunt Violet stands in for her mother as a parent helper, fireworks will be sure to fly with Clemmie’s teacher Mrs Bottomley. There’s a cranky goose and a crazy ram for good measure.

Alice-Miranda Shines Brigh Hi ResWhere are you from / where do you call home?:

I grew up in Ingleburn and Camden and now call the Upper North Shore of Sydney home.

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

I wanted to be a primary school teacher from the age of 9. I’ve worked in schools for all of my career until the end of last year when I took the giant step to become a full time writer.  I still get to visit schools all the time which I love.

Alice-Miranda Diary 2014What do you consider to be your best work? Why?:

It’s still to come!  As a writer you’re always wanting to improve.

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

Ordered.  I can’t stand when things get out of control – that tends to happen to my desk sometimes and I find that I can’t work until it’s back to being neat and tidy.

Clementine Rose and the Farm Fiasco Hi Res 1When you’re not writing, who/what do you like to read?:

I love Kate Morton, Tim Winton, Ian McEwan and Markus Zusak; I adore Belinda Murrell’s time slip adventures, historical fiction and newspapers – from all over the place.

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

As a small child I loved Richard Scarry and Dr Seuss, then graduated to Paddington Bear, Heidi, Black Beauty and anything by Enid Blyton.  As a teen I adored To Kill a Mockingbird and The Great Gatsby as well as Pastures of the Blue Crane by Hesba Brinsmead.

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

Miss Honey from Matilda.  I love her patience, bravery and kindness.  Having spent a large part of my adult life as a teacher, you hope that there are some children out there for whom you were their own version of Miss Honey.

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

Not really surprising here.  I love to eat out, travel, read and play golf.

What is your favourite food and favourite drink?:

In the everyday world, I am more than happy with lamb chops, mashed potato, carrots, zucchini and green beans with gravy, and a chilled glass of diet lime cordial; on special occasions I love soft cheeses, smoked salmon, Maggie Beer Pheasant Farm pate and French Champagne. Weekends are frequently considered special occasions in our house.

Who is your hero? Why?:

Booksellers, librarians, teachers, authors, illustrators, parents, aunts, uncles, grandparents and anyone who encourages children to read and fall in love with books and stories.

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

Competing with everything else that there is out there to entertain children and adults.  I think though that stories will be part of humanity forever; we just need to stay on top of the best way that people want to receive them.

Website URL: www.jacquelineharvey.com.au
Blog URL: http://jacquelineharvey.blogspot.com
Facebook Page URL:
https://www.facebook.com/pages/Jacqueline-Harvey/186316834766392?ref=hl
Twitter URL: https://twitter.com/JacquelineHarve

Meet INTREPID Agent Alex Morgan

9781743341377

Review – Defender

I’m not a big fan of the action/thriller genre. They’re always a bit hyper-real for me; the story, the action, the characters. I like a good gritty story without too much make-believe. Even in film it is not my favourite genre but there are always good ones the can cut through, especially if you’re in the right mood.

INTREPID is a group inside Interpol whose members are part-cop, part-spy, part-soldier. They’re the strong (and secret) arm of the International Criminal Police Organization. After seizing a shipment of illegal arms INTREPID Agent Alex Morgan is sent into Malfajiri, a small fictional country in West Africa. A rebel coup is brewing and two British Agents have gone missing from a mining operation in the country. Morgan quickly discovers that the coup is a piece in a more complex puzzle being orchestrated by a group that may have ties inside the British Government.

The action is intense and the story very well plotted. There are no make-believe gadgets or over-the-top villains, the story is grounded in the real world, but there is a love interest, of course. Chris Allen keeps you guessing while also showing you what is happening on both sides. I loved the Australian element to the story and Chris Allen’s past in the military brings a real authenticity to the action. The climatic showdown in Sydney entered the hyper-real but by then I was already invested. I may not be a convert to the genre but I will definitely be reading book 2, Hunter, to find out what happens next.

Buy the book here…

I feel I have met a character who I will never forget

Review – The Panopticon

Pa`nop�ti`con ( noun). A circular prison with cells so constructed that the prisoners can be observed at all times. [Greek panoptos ‘seen by all’]

9780099558644Gillian Flynn recently named the five books she thinks everyone should read this summer (well, winter down here). I had just finished Visitation Street which was on her list and because I also thoroughly enjoyed Gillian Flynn’s books I thought I’d give the rest of the list a go.

I started with The Panopticon purely because it was first in my download queue. I didn’t read the blurb and had no idea what the book was going to be about. Most of the list is crime/thriller related but the cover and title of The Panopticon gave me the impression that this might be something a bit paranormal/magical. Boy was I surprised and blown away.

The book is written with a Scottish vernacular but not like Irvine Welsh. You don’t even notice it after a while as you fall into the rhythm of the writing. In fact it helps you get into the rhythm of the words even more easily.

The story is told by Anais Hendricks, a 15 year-old girl. We are right inside Anais’ head but we’re not talking stream of consciousness. She is a troubled young woman who believes she is going mad and that her whole life is part of an experiment. When we first meet her she is handcuffed in the back of a police car. She is accused of bashing a police woman, putting her into a coma. Anais can’t remember the incident but she is pretty sure she didn’t do it despite there being a lot of antagonism between the two of them.

Anais has a history of drugs, violence, theft and destruction. She has been in and out of foster homes since her adopted mother was murdered. But this might be the final straw. The police want Anais sent to secure care, juvenile detention. While the police gather evidence and examine blood found on Anais, she is sent to The Panopticon; a foster care facility that’s more prison than home but where some freedoms still exist. For now.

As Anais settles into her new environment we begin to learn about her troubled past and the trouble she has gotten into an why. We learn about the people who still see her potential and the people who have given up on her. She begins to form strong friendships with the other ‘in mates’ but a series of tragedies and betrayals threatens to tip Anais completely over the edge.

This is a raw and heartbreaking story by a writer whose talents are breathtaking. I feel like I’ve spent the last week inside Anais’ head, an experience both confronting and amazing, and I feel I have met a character who I will never forget.

Buy the book here…

Player Profile – Anthony Marra, author of A Constellation Of Vital Phenomena

Anthony_MarraAnthony Marra, author of A Constellation Of Vital Phenomena

Tell us about your latest creation:

My first novel, A Constellation of Vital Phenomena, is set in Chechnya from 1994-2004. It follows a cast of ordinary civilians who attempt to transcend the wreckage of war as they search for, flee from, collide with, and find one another.

9781781090060Where are you from / where do you call home?:

I was born in Washington D.C., grew up there and in Maryland, went to college in Los Angeles and grad school in Iowa, and now live in Oakland.

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

What I was a kid I wanted to become a scientist of some sort. Paleontologist, marine biologist, molecular biologist, and astrophysicist were professions I aspired to from roughly ages 6-16. Unfortunately, you first have to pass calculus, which pretty much ended any ambitions for a future in the sciences.

When I was 16 or 17, I began writing short stories and quickly became hooked. That’s what I’ve been doing ever since.

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

Having only published one book, my choices are limited. But A Constellation of Vital Phenomena is a novel that I’m proud of. For the years that I worked on it, the novel was the focal point of my life. It took me to a part of the world few foreigners have seen. Its characters constantly surprised me. I did my best to tell their stories.

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

I write at a desk in the corner of my bedroom. In order of size, it’s currently occupied by a cat, five books, an Oakland A’s hat, around a hundred pages of story drafts, a couple picture frame, a soap dish filled with loose change, various pens, and a few dozen post-it notes.

I tend to use post-it notes rather than a note book for jotting down ideas and my desk and walls are cluttered with them. The dimensional limitations of a single post-it note means I can’t write more than a sentence or two, so whatever idea I jot down remains mysterious until I sit down to the keyboard. Taking a glance at the post-it notes now, it looks like every one begins with “Maybe” and ends in a question mark. The fiction, hopefully, becomes the response.

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

I’m always reading a novel and usually have a nonfiction book going as an audiobook. Right now I’m in the middle of The Tin Drum. Highlights of my summer reading so far have been A Heart So White by Javier Marias, Beautiful Ruins by Jess Walter, The Dream of the Celt by Mario Vargas Llosa, Cain by Jose Saramago, and Stoner by John Williams.

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

Different books defined me differently at different ages, I suppose. When I was in elementary school, the Goosebumps, Redwall, Boxcar Children series, and the novels by John Bellairs, all introduced me to the transporting magic of fiction. When I was in high school, airport thrillers by Michael Crichton, John Grisham, and Tom Clancy were gateway books that led me to more literary fare.

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

Hobbes from Calvin and Hobbes, who embodies the kind of serene  ontentedness most of us would probably like to have. Day-to-day, however, I usually feel more like Calvin.

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

Chances are pretty good that I’ll be overly involved in the emotional lives of my girlfriend’s two cats. I’ve never particularly liked cats before, but ever since we moved in together two years ago, I’ve become a convert. What is your  favourite food and favourite drink?: Indian food and chocolate milkshakes. I’ve never found a restaurant that serves both. Somehow I carry on.

Who is your hero? Why?:

I don’t think I have a hero, or at least not in the sense of one person whose life I model my own on. I look up to various people for various things, most of whom are friends or family. Maybe your heroes are simply the people you love.

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

You know, I bet 15th-century cultural commentators were asking Gutenberg that same question. Maybe I’m naive, but people have been reading and telling stories since the dawn of history, it’s baked into our cultural DNA, and as addictive as Angry Birds can be, it will take more than smart phone technology to displace the role of literature.

That said, I think the decline of brick-and-mortar bookstores combined with shrinking book review space makes it increasingly difficult for non-blockbuster novels to find an audience.

Website URL: anthonymarra.net
Facebook Page URL: https://www.facebook.com/AnthonyMarraAuthor
Twitter URL: @anthonyfmarra

Five Faves (Picture Books) for Book Week

Here are 5 fantastic favourites you should reach out and grab onto with both hands – FAST!

Silver Buttons Silver Buttons by Bob Graham, Walker Books UK August 2013

Jodie draws a duck just as her baby brother, Jonathon, takes his first steps. An exquisite and poetic glimpse at a speck in time overflowing with life; beginnings and farewells, dramas and insignificances. Brimming with Bob Graham magic.

Banjo and Ruby Red Banjo and Ruby Red by Libby Gleeson and Freya Blackwood, Little Hero Books, August 2013 Antagonistic Ruby the chook is teasing, taunting, stubborn and disregarding. Old Border Collie, Banjo, is determined, loyal and equally as strong-willed. A sometimes smiling, sometimes heart faltering look at the love and friendship that ties two seemingly opposites together.

Omar the Strongman Omar the Strongman, by Gregory Rogers, Scholastic Australia, July 2013 A tender tale of a big man with an even bigger heart who eventually finds his perfect sense of place and value in the circus of all places. Sensitively and sublimely depicted as only Gregory Rogers can.

Davy and the Duckling Davy and the Duckling, Margaret Wild and Julie Vivas, Penguin/Viking Australia, July 2013 Perfectly orchestrated story of a duckling who imprints on a boy who becomes his everything even after the boy becomes an actual human father years later. A gorgeous cyclical life tale of enduring relationships and the power of the bond of love.

The Nelly Gang The Nelly Gang, The Adventures of Nelly Nolan, by Stephen Axelsen, Walker Books Australia, August 2013 Rousing adventure yarn presented as graphic picture book, set in the 1850’s and chock full of bushrangers, gold, and unlikely heroes.

Why are these books all worth a look? Because they are supremely strong tales, gently told by phenomenal story tellers and harmoniously illustrated by renowned illustrators.

There is something for every taste. View and buy any of these picture books simply by clicking on the title.

Happy Reading!

 

 

Coming of Age and Art Theft

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Review – Cairo by Chris Womersley

Coming of age novels often deal with the journey from adolescence to adulthood but the journey through adulthood, especially in those first few years, is just a treacherous. These are the waters Chris Womersley, author of the brilliant Bereft, explores in his new novel, Cairo. A book not about Egypt but instead an old apartment building in Melbourne in the 1980s.

Tom Button is a seventeen year old country boy who has moved to the city to attend university. Through the death of his Aunt he ends up moving into Cairo. Tom has never left home before or his small town of Dunley and moving to Melbourne to live on his own is a journey through many new doors.

Cairo’s tenants are an eclectic bunch and Tom soon falls in with a bohemian couple and their friends. This group of artists and musicians captivate Tom. Spellbound by the group’s centre, Max Cheever and falling hopelessly in love with Max’s wife Sally, Tom is convinced to ditch his plans for formal education and instead let the world be his guide. Tom quickly adapts to this new lifestyle of parties and art shows and is eager to be part of the group’s dream to leave Australia behind and settle in France and write novels, compose music and make art together.

Womersley sets all this against the real life theft of Picasso’s Weeping Woman from the National Gallery of Victoria. A theft that remains a mystery today despite the painting being returned. Womersley uses this advantage to create his own version of events. Events Tom is all to easily caught up in, blinded to the consequences, deceptions and betrayals.

At first glance I wasn’t drawn to the storyline of this novel but Womersley’s writing quickly drew me in just as it did in Bereft. Tom’s naivety and innocence is deftly drawn and exploited, especially when it comes to love. The way Tom is enchanted by the older, seemingly more wise, group is a trap most of us have been guilty of at one point or more in our lives and blended with a real life art heist makes for addictive reading.

Buy the book here…

Player Profile: David Whish-Wilson, author of Zero At The Bone

David Whish-Wilson

David Whish-Wilson, author of Zero At The Bone

Zero_at_the_Bone_Cover_ImageTell us about your latest creation:

Zero at the Bone is my most recent novel, a follow-on from my 2010 crime novel Line of Sight. It’s set in 1979 Perth, and looks at some of the mining scams of the period before WA really started booming – linked to some of the nascent political dodginess and cowboy capitalism that really came to the fore in the WA Inc period of the 1980’s.

Where are you from / where do you call home?:

I had an army brat upbringing which saw us move around a lot – 21 times before I was ten years old. I lived overseas from my late teens for a decade or so, but since my return in the early 90’s I call Fremantle home. What do I love about Fremantle? Pretty much everything. It probably doesn’t hurt that I share a fibro house in South Fremantle with my fictional character Frank Swann, and his family (three kids also), and that we drink at the same pubs and walk the same streets and follow the same footy team…

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

I recently discovered a short story I wrote aged eight. It was hidden in some old papers in a box in my back shed. It’s called ‘Grizzly – eighteen feet of gut-crunching terror!!!’. I clearly did my best to make the 15 pages of the short story resemble a book, with a graphic cover design of a bear holding up it’s latest victim, and a picture of a bear’s bloody severed head. Down the bottom I’ve written ‘Illustrated by David Whish-Wilson. Written by David Whish-Wilson and made up by his own brain and pictures by this well-known artist as well.’ My main character was Sam Kekovich, one of my favourite footy players of the time. Sam gets the rogue bear and saves the town. My grade four teacher marked it as a 9/10, although added the qualification that it was a bit ‘bloodthirsty.’ So you can see, the fantasy of being a crime writer was pretty much there from the beginning…

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

Writing is a craft with a long apprenticeship and although I’ve been doing it a long time I hope that I’m still learning and therefore getting better. Each book has its own pleasures and challenges. I enjoy writing crime fiction for a number of reasons, although I’ve just finished writing the Perth book for New South Press, part of their city series. This book required a different style and a different structure, but I enjoyed writing it all the same, and hope some of that joy is communicated to readers.

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

I have a little slot in an old Fremantle building that houses artist studios. Too small for artists, the room is perfect for a writer – it’s quiet and the rent is cheap. The room has a desk, a computer and a couch – all that I need.

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

I’m pretty much interested in everything and so will read just about anything. Saying that, I take a lot of creative nourishment from reading other crime writers. When I find one I like, I read everything they’ve ever written (I like to inhabit not just a writer’s story but an entire fictional world, where possible.) Of late, I’ve been reading more and more Australian crime – beside my bed I have Angela Savage and Alan Carter’s latest novels.

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

The first book given to me by my mother was the Illustrated Book of Australian Bushrangers, when I was about seven or eight. I loved that book – its pictures and stories of men and women on the run. Clearly, you didn’t have to fit in or conform. You could be an outsider, do things your own way, even if that meant paying a price. That book was a gift in more ways than one. Another book that made a big impression on me was Catch-22, which is my father’s favourite book, and which I prised off his bookshelf in my teens. Hilarious and tragic and absurd, just like life.

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

Yossarian from Catch-22, I suppose. Or Saul Bellow’s Herzog. Despite the neuroses, the daily humiliations and pressures and disappointments, the limited self-awareness, the madness of modern life – there’s humour and poetry there aplenty…they don’t give up.

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

To relax, I box, which is kind of paradoxical I suppose. But it’s a Fremantle boxing gym and pretty typical of the demographic – artists, musicians, writers and tough local kids all mixed in together. The gym is owned by Joromi Mondlane, who was not only a significant African boxer but is also
the singer in a reggae band.

What is your favourite food and favourite drink?:

I was brought up on South-East Asian food, which was unusual for seventies Perth (my mother learnt to cook in Singapore while my father was in Vietnam.) I still subsist, when I have the choice, on Asian broths, especially this time of year. My favourite meal of all-time however is a Catalonian fish soup – Zarzuela de Mariscos. My favourite drink? That’s pretty easy – I drink
Guinness unless its summer and good whisky/whiskey when I can afford it.

Who is your hero? Why?:

I lived for a fair while in East Africa during my late teens and early twenties, at a time when the South African apartheid government was still doing targeted assassinations and blowing up ANC offices in surrounding countries. Nelson Mandela was my hero then, and still is.

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

I’m pretty optimistic. In a media-rich world, my three kids still read alot. There’s a special kind of pleasure in books that you don’t get gaming, or watching a movie, that is going to endure. Saying that, there are obvious challenges. I worry that becuase publishers’ margins are so tight that they’re less able to see a writer through those early books that might not sell particularly well, or curate a career if you like, before he/she really starts to hit their stride as a writer.

Website URL: http://www.davidwhish-wilson.com
Facebook Page URL: https://www.facebook.com/davewhishwilson
Twitter URL: @davewhishwilson

Part Southern Gothic, Part Epic Odyssey, Part Clash of Worlds

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Review – Southern Cross The Dog

This novel captured my imagination and attention from the first words. Set in the American South after the great Mississippi Flood of 1927 the story is part southern gothic, part epic odyssey, part clash of worlds. At the same time it is a tender story about the endurance of the human heart and the lengths it can go to survive. Bill Cheng explores a world deeply rooted in the past that is crashing headlong into the future and resisting with all its might despite the people caught in between.

The story begins with a flood that washes away people’s homes and lives. The poor and down trodden are left to fend for themselves and the imagery of Hurricane Katrina almost 90 years later echoes through your mind. A young boy will first lose his home then his friends and finally his family. First in the flood, then in the aftermath. And so a journey begins. An odyssey of sorts through flood and fire, decay and renewal, past and present. A boy becomes a man and must choose whether or not to stick with the past or run into the future.

The comparisons to Cormac McCarthy abound but I think they’re off the mark. McCarthy’s writing is often sparse and direct while Cheng’s is more poetic and profound. His style and the structure of the story is more reminiscent of Column McCann but Cheng’s own distinct voice shines through. Cheng brings vividly to life a physical world of decay and renewal, hope and despair and echoes these sentiments through his characters. Hauntingly sad this is an epic journey that tests and strains the limits of human endurance both physically and of the heart.

Buy the book here…

Review – To Get To Me

To Get to MeI love going places and reading often takes me more places than mere physical effort alone. Imagination and desire help too. Not to mention having the odd pen-friend (remember those?) in far flung exotic locations. To Get To Me is Random House’s newest picture book encapsulating the essence of getting there via planes, trains and automobiles.

Sydney-sider Peter is going to the zoo and who better to share a day amongst the animals with, than his best buddy Ahmed. Never mind Ahmed lives in far North Africa, half a world away. Friendship knows no boundaries, nor crazy distances.

Peter carefully gives Ahmed directions over the phone, detailing each method of transport he’ll have to take for each leg of the journey.

Eleanor Kerr Eleanor Kerr skilfully explores nearly every mode of transport barring hot air balloon. Even the humble camel is depicted clomp clomp clomping through the sand dunes of Ahmed’s immediate environ. Her crisp, undemanding text is simple enough for budding readers to enjoy themselves yet fused with enough action-based onomatopoeia to ensure a fun and energetic read aloud experience for the younger audience. Camels clomp, buses vroom, ferries splish splosh. Sounds ingenuous, but To Get To Me is anything but pedestrian and coupled with Judith Rossell’s ebullient illustrations, easily convinces readers that Ahmed really will be able to make the journey.

Judith RossellRossell combines collage, real photos and pencil drawings to perfectly capture the heat of a Moroccan desert, the bustle of inner-city Sydney and the serenity of Sydney Harbour.

Look closely to appreciate how both we and Ahmed, are transported seamlessly from a world of Arabic influenced dialects to a more familiar western English speaking society through the use of written Arabic and cut out newspaper text. There are even a few stock exchange listings carefully insinuated as CBD buildings.

The concept of making a small world even smaller is strengthened by Peter waiting for Ahmed at the Zoo surrounded by a delightful cultural mix of African and Aussie animals. Thanks to Peter’s conviction in his clear instructions, we and Ahmed are left in a positive state of happy anticipation; ‘see you soon!’

To Get To Me provides a warm fuzzy, hands-around-the-world experience while at the same time is suitably chock-a-block full of mobility, machines, cultural glimpses, and even Kombis! Enough to satisfy young boys in particular and geography nuts like me.

You can view and purchase this book here.

Random House July 2013

 

Player Profile: Natasha Walker (aka John Purcell), author of The Secret Lives Of Emma Trilogy

Natasha Walker (aka John Purcell), author of The Secret Lives Of Emma Trilogy

574488-erotic-book-authorTell us about your latest creation:

The Secret Lives of Emma: Unmasked is the final book in The Secret Lives of Emma trilogy. After getting herself into trouble Emma breaks free and heads off to reclaim herself and live the life she always meant to live. Leaving her husband David facing a challenge – accept her for who she is or lose her forever.

9780857980434Where are you from / where do you call home?:

I was born in Sydney and now call the northern suburb of Davidson home.

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

When I was a kid I wanted to be involved in politics or be David Bowie.

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

The Secret Lives of Emma: Unmasked is my best work. I really enjoyed letting Emma be as wild as she liked.

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

I write in a tiny room I call the library. It’s a room which is too big to be a cupboard and too small to be a spare bedroom. I lined the walls with bookcases, filled them with books and plonked a desk in the middle. A perfect little writing room.

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

At the moment I am reading outside my comfort zone. My job requires me to keep up with the latest trends, prize winners and blockbusters. Unobserved I retreat to my true love, the classics.

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

The book which I consider to be the catalyst for my reading life is Catch-22. If a friend hadn’t handed it to me I don’t think I would be the reader or writer I am today.

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

Zorba. Because he is everything I am not.

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

I am a homebody. When I am not reading or writing I am building bookcases, or painting the deck, or fixing something (probably something I broke). I love to paint pictures, too. But I haven’t found the time recently.

What is your favourite food and favourite drink?:

My wife’s Toad in the Hole (look it up) and beer.

Who is your hero? Why?:

I don’t have one hero. I suppose my heros and heroines are scientists, great writers, philosophers, politicians and lawmakers.

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

Big data. Algorithms which mine our use of the internet to predict what we shall want to buy next. Eg: If you read this you’ll like this. I see such a service as reductive. We should never be our own teachers. I think it was Constable who said, A self-taught individual has a very ignorant teacher.

Blog URL: http://secretlivesofem.tumblr.com/
Facebook Page URL: https://www.facebook.com/thesecretlivesofemma
Twitter URL: https://twitter.com/NatashaWalkerAu

The Girl in the Basement

The Girl in the BasementThe Girl in the Basement is the latest novel from award-winning author Dianne Bates. Dianne is visiting the Boomerang Books blog today to tell us a little about the writing process behind this new novel. Take it away Dianne…

The Girl in the Basement, the Writer in the Garret
By Dianne Bates

No fiction is created in a vacuum; at the core of all writers is a jumble of thoughts, experiences, beliefs, emotions and lots of odds and ends, all waiting to be tapped and then assembled to form story. Every one of my novels, whether it’s a humorous children’s story about a truck-driving grandmother or a burping bushranger, has resulted from mining snippets of my subconscious and then deliberately shaping them.

My latest novel, The Girl in the Basement, is about a teenager abducted on her sixteenth birthday by a psychopathic serial killer who wants to create a family. Thank heavens I’m not a psychopath, but at times in my life I have experienced feelings of rage and of revenge, emotions which I explored to create Psycho Man. And too, I still remember how it felt to be a teenager: it was much easier to mine those memories to create Libby Bramble. Both Libby and Psycho Man demanded to be heard, so I wrote the book using multiple viewpoints: Libby tells her story in first person while the kidnapper’s story is told in third person. I wanted to show Libby always living in the moment whereas the kidnapper, being more elusive and anonymous, needed to be presented in a cloak of mystery. The use of present tense throughout the novel means there is more immediacy to the story as events unfold.

The Girl in the Basement is based on the real-life discovery in 1987 of a Polaroid photograph picked up by a shopper in a Florida (US) car park. It showed a teenage girl, and a boy about ten who were both bound and gagged and who appeared to be in the back of a van. Disturbed by the photo, the finder took it to police.  Hundreds of stories with the picture were run in national media, including a TV program, Missing People. This resulted in the parents of both children contacting police. The boy was said to be Michael Henley, who had gone missing from a camping trip 17 months earlier. The girl, identified as Tara Calico, had disappeared 75 miles away a year earlier while out cycling. Both Michael and Tara were from New Mexico but were unrelated. For their parents, it was the first inkling of what had happened to them.

I was distressed by the story and often wondered if either of the victims were ever found. As it turned out, there were numerous unconfirmed sightings of Tara in 1988 and 1989, mostly in the southern half of the United States. However, she has never been found, alive or dead. Remains found in the Zuni Mountains in June 1990 were eventually identified as Michael’s. It is believed he died of natural causes. Thus the identity of the boy in the photo is still unknown.

In developing a storyline for the novel, I needed to ask and answer many questions. What if a demented man is lonely and wants a family? What if he stalks young girls looking for one who is ‘ideal’? What does he consider ‘ideal’? Where would he keep her and for how long? What if he also wants a ‘son’? How does he capture his victims? What if the children he imprisons are resistant to his efforts to charm them?

A long time spent thinking and making notes and linking answers to one another resulted in a storyline beginning to develop. Next, I needed to consider where to begin the story. I needed to know, too, whether the kidnapped teenage girl and the younger boy ever escaped, and if they did, how? What might happen during the time of imprisonment? I needed, too, to think about and to map out background stories for my main characters – their present and past relationships, where they lived, what motivated them in life. And, too, I needed to plan settings, especially the house where Psycho Man takes his captives. How might he treat them there? What freedoms, if any, might he allow them? How does he keep them alive? Importantly, does he allow them to live?

The Girl in the Basement sets a scenario of how the combination of being a teenage girl, over-indulging in alcohol, being alone, being in the wrong place and being very unlucky can predicate abduction. More than any demographic, young women are likely to be victims of crime, especially kidnapping, so it’s not surprising that teenage girls would have a fear of being abducted by a stranger. Wikipedia reports dozens of cases of kidnapped victims over the past century; some have been found alive, but many were murdered. I was helped in my understanding of the psychology of a captive by reading about the experiences of young females such as Jaycee Lee Dugard, Natascha Kaumpsch and Sabine Dardenne, who were held by different psychopaths at different times in different countries. Dardenne’s book I Choose to Live, about her 80 days in captivity, gave me a real insight into the experience and mindset of being kidnapped.

The Girl in the Basement offers readers an insight in how it is possible to survive one of the hardest curveballs that life can throw, so I needed to present Libby, the hero of the story, as a young woman who is resilient, resourceful, independent, caring, and brave. And I needed the reader to understand what it must be like to be unhinged, as Psycho Man doubtless is. I needed to show how he functions in ‘normal’ society, just as Ariel Castro, the abductor of three young women in Cleveland, Ohio, fooled many people by appearing to be ‘normal’. Reading many real-life crime books and crime novels helped me enormously in preparing to write and to actually write and craft my psychological thriller.

The writing of The Girl in the Basement (which underwent numerous draft titles) took about five years. Before submitting it to a publisher, I not only underwent weekly copy-editing workshops with my husband, award-winning YA author Bill Condon and a group of three other published authors, but I also paid for the finished draft to be assessed by a professional, in-house editor. She made many suggestions, all of which I followed in order to finish with a manuscript I finally decided was publishable.

My experience with major publishers is that they invariably spend up to (and sometimes longer than) 12 months sitting on their manuscript slush piles. As I wasn’t prepared to wait this long, I took a gamble on a relatively new publisher, Morris Publishing Australia, based in Brisbane. Luckily I received a reply before too long and it was positive.

George’s bit at the end

And the rest, as they say, is history.

Thank you, Dianne, for sharing your behind the book story.

Dianne is the author of many books, including Crossing The Line, Nobody’s Boy and The Hold-up Heroes. To find out more about Dianne and her writing, check out her blog.

  

Catch ya later,  George

PS. Follow me on Twitter

 

Green DeathCheck out my DVD blog, Viewing Clutter.

Latest Post: DVD Review: Doctor Who: The Green Death, Special Edition

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Review – Visitation Street

Visitation Street is urban opera writ large. Gritty and magical, filled with mystery, poetry and pain, Ivy Pochoda’s voice recalls Richard Price, Junot Diaz, and even Alice Sebold, yet it’s indelibly her own.” – Dennis Lehane

9781444778250This quote on the back of the book drew me straight in to this book and I was not disappointed. This is a brilliantly written mystery set in and around the Brooklyn neighbourhood of Red Hook. Two girls take a raft out one summer evening but only one returns. What happened? The events will echo through the tightly divided neighbourhood.

We follow the surviving girl Valerie as she tries to cope with what has happened to her best friend June. We follow Cree, a young African-American man from the projects who was the last to see the girls together. We follow Jonathan, the local music teacher who found Valerie but also has his own demons to contend with. And we follow Fadi who owns the local bodega which, through a lot of his own hard work, is the hub of the Red Hook community. And through these characters we meet the mysterious Ren who has his own secrets to keep and tell.

This is what good crime fiction is all about. The story, the people, the place is all real and living on the page. There are no quirky cops, in fact there are barely any cops at all. There is no vicious or deranged killer. There are no plot twists. It is just life where people are trying to survive; with each other, with the world, with their past. There are only a handful of writers who can write crime like this; George Pelecanos, Richard Price, David Simon and Laura Lippman. Ivy Pochoda joins them and I can’t wait to read more from her.

Buy the book here…

Player Profile – Adrian McKinty, author of In The Morning I’ll Be Gone

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Adrian McKinty, author of I Hear The Sirens In The Streets

Tell us about your latest creation:

In The Morning I’ll Be Gone: a locked room mystery set in Northern Ireland in 1985 featuring Detective Inspector Sean Duffy.

9781846688201Where are you from / where do you call home?:

I’m from Belfast and I live in St Kilda.

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

Always wanted to be a writer.

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

The Cold Cold Ground: a generally unbiased and accurate account of what Northern Ireland was like in the apocalyptic year of 1981.

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

Coffee shops mostly and St Kilda library. Sometimes a pub called The Local Taphouse.

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

I read everything. I have read everything.

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

Probably The Lord of the Rings when I was about 10.

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

Stephen Maturin from the Patrick O’Brian books because he’s such a bad ass.

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

White collar crime.

What is your favourite food and favourite drink?:

Illegal Pete’s Big Fish Burrito, Boulder Colorado. Russian River Pliny The Elder IPA.

Who is your hero? Why?:

Winston Churchill because he saved the world drunk off his ass half the time. And he was a hell of a writer too.

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

Reading books will increasingly become a niche cult activity but its our job to make it a cool niche cult activity.

Blog URL: adrianmckinty.blogspot.com
Twitter URL: @adrianmckinty

Review – The Twenty-Year Death

9780857689184As a lover of crime fiction I was literally in awe of this book. It is a crime lover’s dream come true. It is an epic story told in three novels, each in the style of the masters of noir fiction: Georges Simenon, Raymond Chandler & Jim Thompson. Each novel stands out on its own and would be worth of a separate purchase and read but together make a crime story that is almost magical.

I have to confess here that I haven’t read any of the three authors Ariel Winter pays tribute to, which is something I am going to rectify in the next 12 months. Georges Simenon was probably the least familiar to me where as Raymond Chandler and Jim Thompson were more familiar as it obvious they are the inspiration for so many crime writers today, particularly the darker stuff that I am drawn to.

The first novel, Malniveau Prison, is inspired by Georges Simenon and is set in the small French town of Verargent in 1931. During at torrential rain storm a body is found in the gutter outside the town baker’s house. The man has been stabbed multiple times. Verargent’s small police force is not used to conducting a murder investigation however Chief Inspector Pelleter, from Paris, is in town to visit a prisoner and the nearby prison. Pelleter, who is famous for closing some famous cases, assumes control of the investigation. The murdered man turns out to be a prisoner from the local jail but he hasn’t been reported missing.

The opening story is superbly paced. Like the chief inspector you sense the mystery is bigger that first appearances and the eccentricities of the small town and its inhabitants further compound this sense. As Pelleter digs at the edges of the case and tugs each loose thread the truth is slowly loosened but justice may still prove elusive. Central to the mystery is the murdered man’s young and beautiful daughter and her over-protective husband, a famous American novelist.

The second novel, The Falling Star, is inspired by Raymond Chandler and is set a decade later in Hollywood. Dennis Foster is an ex-cop, turned private eye. He is hired to keep an eye on a movie star who is convinced she is being followed. But Foster is not comfortable in the bodyguard role and following a hunch begins to tail the movie star’s philandering husband, a now famous Hollywood writer. Instead of protecting the movie star he instead implicates her in the murder of her husband’s girlfriend. Foster is quickly fired and shut out of the murder investigation. But he can’t let the case go. He must not only clear the movie star’s name and find the real killer he also must watch his back.

The middle story is full of atmosphere. You can almost see the movie in black & white. Winter channels Chandler with consummate ease and you feel like you are reading a crime classic. Foster cuts a path through the power and influence of Hollywood and down into the darker and seedier parts of Tinsel Town to not only find the truth but also save a woman, not only from those that could do her harm, but from herself too.

The third novel, Police At The Funeral, is inspired by Jim Thompson and is classic noir fiction. The writer we have met in the previous two stories takes the lead. It has been twenty years since we first met him in a small French town. He is now a struggling alcoholic, up to his ears in debt. His first wife has recently passed away and he is in town to find out what, if anything, he stands to get from her estate. Instead his estranged son inherits the entire $2 million estate. After a heavy night’s drinking he confronts his son in an effort to try and reconcile their differences, instead the ensuing argument gets out of control.

The final story is a classic perspective story. Winter puts us right in the head of the struggling writer and we witness first hand hand his desires, motivations and regrets. In doing so we see the form of a killer take shape. We are convinced that the son’s death was an accident but the lengths the writer has to go to cover it up means that there is no coming back.

This book is a true masterpiece of crime writing and for it to be the author’s debut is a remarkable accomplishment. It shows the depth and breadth of what is possible within the crime genre and is a hugely satisfying read. And it has inspired me to visit some of the classics of the crime genre.

Buy the book here…

Player Profile – Michael Robotham, author of Watching You

mr-press2-lgeMichael Robotham, author of Watching You

Tell us about your latest creation:

WATCHING YOU is a psychological thriller featuring some family characters – psychologist Joe O’Loughlin and former detective Vincent Ruiz. It also introduces someone new – Marnie Logan, a mother of two, whose husband has been missing for more than a year. Suffering from blackouts and increasingly desperate, Marnie has always had a sense that she’s being watched – ever since she was a young girl – but now she’s suffering from blackouts and gaps in her memory. Enter psychologist Joe O’Loughlin who offers to help, but the closer he looks at Marnie, the more he begins to doubt her story. Is she being haunted by some past tragedy – or is there someone very real and dangerous watching her?

9781847445278Where are you from / where do you call home?:

I was born in Casino in northern NSW and grew up in country towns like Gundagai and Coffs Harbour. Now I live on Sydney’s northern beaches.

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

I wanted to be a writer from the age of about 12 when I discovered the writings of Ray Bradbury, who is best known for Fahrenheit 451. I wrote a letter to Bradbury and he wrote back, sending me several books that weren’t available in Australia. It was that generosity that made me want to become a writer. What do you consider to be your best work? Why?: Asking a writer to nominate his or her best work is like asking a parent, ‘Which is your favourite child?’

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

My children call my office ‘Dad’s Cabana of Cruelty’. It’s a lovely place for writing such dark stories.

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

I read very widely – not just crime writers, although I have my favourites. I’m a big fan of James Lee Burke, Michael Connelly, Gillian Flynn, Peter Temple and Laura Lippman.

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

Lord of the Rings was a defining book for me. It was the first book I ever felt I ‘earned’. I re-read it so often that Mrs Fitzpatrick, my school librarian, forbade me taking it out again. I took to hiding it in the library. She caught me one recess and instead of punishing me, she gifted me the book. I still have it today.

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

Homer Wells – the orphan that nobody wanted in John Irving’s Cider House Rules. His was a life  full of tragedy, but he also great love. He is a true prince of Maine and King of New England.

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

This is really boring. I have no hobbies. Writing is my passion, my hobby, my career. It’s what I do. And when I’m not writing, I’m reading.

What is your favourite food and favourite drink?:

Writers and alcohol have always had a close relationship. For me it’s a reward for a day at my desk. A glass of white wine. A gin & tonic. A Bloody Mary….don’t get me started.

Who is your hero? Why?:

I admire the unsung heroes, those people who care for our sick, elderly and disabled, who earn low pay and are constantly told the coffers are empty whenever they ask for more. Why is that  CEOs never make the same sacrifices?

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

The biggest challenge facing books will partly come from the technology but also from changing public perceptions. Piracy looms, but perhaps a greater threat is the tsunami of cheap self-published titles flooding the marketplace – creating a new generation of readers who think a book is only worth 99c.

Website URL: www.michaelrobotham.com
Facebook Page URL: https://www.facebook.com/MichaelRobothamAU
Twitter URL: https://twitter.com/michaelrobotham

Media tie-in books

Tied InMedia tie-in books are those that are in some way associated with a film, television series or game. I’m interested in these types of books both as a reader and a writer. I recently read a book about tie-in writing — Tied In: The Business, History and Craft of Media Tie-in Writing. So tie-in writing is the subject of today’s post.

Official tie-in writing, licensed by the owners of the property, can be divided into three areas — novelisations, original fiction and non-fiction. Novelisations are straight adaptations of existing films or television episodes. Many major films will have these and so will some tv shows. Original fiction tie-ins are, as the name suggests, new stories about the characters and world of a television series, film or game. And non-fiction is… well… stuff written about a tv show, film or game. Of course, there’s also the unofficial tie-in writing. In terms of fiction, this means fan fic, published on the Internet or in fanzines at no profit. In terms of non-fiction, this means professional books and magazines of critique/reviews, as well as fan commentary.

My first encounter with tie-in writing, as a reader, was with the Doctor Who novelisations. Target Books published well over a hundred of these back in the 1970s and 80s. Next, there was the novelisation of E.T.: The Extra Terrestrial and the sequel novel E.T.: The Book of the Green Planet, both by William Kotzwinkle. Since then I’ve gone on to read lots of novelisations, original fiction and non-fiction based on things like Doctor Who, Star Wars, Star Trek and Battlestar Galactica.

As you can see from the above, my tie-in leanings are towards science fiction. But there’s tie-in fiction for all sorts of films and tv shows. The novelisations of the Dance Academy series have been particularly popular in recent times. And I’m sure I’ve seen Home and Away books in many a discount bin. 🙂

My experience as a reader has shown me there is a great deal of variation in quality. There are some pretty awful tie-in books out there… but there’s also some real gold. For many years there was a great deal of stigma attached to writing tie-in material. It was seem by many as the domain of hacks and writers incapable of getting original material published. Nothing could be further from the truth. Just take a look at the Doctor Who and Star Wars books of recent years. Names such as Michael Moorcock, Sean Williams and Stephen Baxter jump out. So don’t be too quick to judge a tie-in book!

 

I’m particularly excited that my friend Trudi Canavan, author of The Black Magician Trilogy and many other great books, is writing a Doctor Who novella for a series of BBC eBooks (see her blog post “Time Tripping with Doctor Who”). Her experience has been fun for me, as I’ve gotten to wade through my DVD collection, choosing appropriate episodes to lend her for research; and I’ve been a pseudo-consultant, answering some nerdy fanboy Doctor Who questions for her. Now, I can’t wait to read her story.

As a writer, tie-in material holds a great deal of fascination for me, particularly as I’m a bit of a pop culture junkie. So I’ve actively pursued it. I wrote for the Behind the News magazine and I wrote one of the tie-in books. I was also lucky enough to write a Doctor Who story for the anthology Short Trips: Defining Patterns. And I’ve done a few essays for some unlicensed books about Doctor Who. It’s something that I’ve enjoyed a great deal and would love to do more of. (See my blog posts: “I Love Doctor Who” and “Writing about Doctor Who“)

Which brings me back to Tied In: The Business, History and Craft of Media Tie-in Writing, edited by Lee Goldberg and published by The International Association of Media Tie-In Writers. Aside from a few  typos, this book is a great read. To any writers out there who are keen on getting into the tie-in market, this book is an excellent resource. It gives you the facts of working in the industry and a run down of what you can expect from working in that area. To readers of tie-in material, this book is a wonderful history of and insight into the industry. Highly recommended!

Catch ya later,  George

PS. Follow me on Twitter

 

Green DeathCheck out my DVD blog, Viewing Clutter.

Latest Post: DVD Review: Doctor Who: The Green Death, Special Edition

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Review – The Cold, Cold Ground & I Hear The Sirens In The Street

9781846688232The Cold, Cold Ground

I have been a fan of Adrian McKinty ever since I picked up DEAD I WELL MAY BE. I knew he had me hooked the moment Michael Forsythe began listening to Nirvana’s Nevermind on a New York Subway Train. I’ve always had a soft spot for Irish writers but that book took my breath away and I’ve eagerly awaited every book since. His new book begins with a reference to my favourite novel, THE THIN RED LINE by James Jones, and I knew straight away he had me. And no exaggeration, this is one of the best crime novels I have ever read. McKinty’s last books, FALLING GLASS, was superb but THE COLD, COLD GROUND blew me utterly away. It is easily his best book to date and is also the start of a new trilogy. I cannot wait to see where he takes it.

Set in Belfast, 1981 McKinty immerses you completely in the time and place. Right from the opening pages you are put smack in the middle of the riots and the hunger strikes. Belfast is a war zone where law and order aren’t worth the bricks they’re graffiti’d on. Sean Duffy is a Catholic detective in the Protestant Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC). This and his ‘charm’ make him a magnet for trouble and he is posted to relatively quite Carrickfergus (relative to Belfast not anywhere else).

Through Duffy, McKinty explores the absurdity of ‘The Troubles’, the hypocrisy on both sides, the ignorant hatred and the politics of self-interest from Irish and British alike.

In the midst of all this a killer on the loose targeting homosexuals. The media isn’t focused on the murders and in a country where homosexuality is illegal and the paramilitaries on both sides have a zero-tolerance attitude there is nothing but apathy to the case. Except of course from Sean Duffy.

This all sounds very bleak but the novel is littered with brilliant humour. Duffy is a real smart-arse particularly when he shouldn’t be and the banter amongst the cops and between the various paramilitary groups is highly entertaining and stops you falling into a well of despair. The ending, as always with McKinty, is an absolute cracker with a wee taste of things to come.

This book is what crime writing is all about. A mystery to keep you guessing, plotted to make you turn the pages as fast as you can but the heart of the story is the place the characters inhabit and the complicated mess in which they must exist and by the end you’re not concerned with who did it or if justice is done because your mind has been opened up to a much bigger picture which can never be black and white. Bravo Adrian McKinty.

Buy the book here…

9781846688188I Hear The Sirens In The Street

The second installment of the Sean Duffy trilogy is set a year later in 1982. The Hunger Strikes maybe over but Belfast is still well and truly deep in The Troubles. When Britain goes to war with Argentina over the Falklands the tensions and dangers only increase. Sean Duffy’s nose for trouble is still acute but if he can’t find trouble he can certainly stir it up. The novel opens with Duffy doing just that which leads him to finding a torso in a suitcase. Being Northern Ireland there are a myriad of possibilities and Duffy won’t leave any stone unturned no matter whose toes he tramples on.

McKinty again drops you smack bang into Belfast with all the sights and sounds of 1982 as well as what was effectively a war zone. The brilliantly plotted crime mystery is infused with wickedly black humour and the politics of Northern Ireland has the added complexity of Britain being distracted and America taking an unofficial interest. The book also centers around the DeLorean Factory (the car from Back To The Future) and the economics of a war torn city.

I’ve loved all Adrian McKinty’s books but there is something special about this trilogy he is creating. This trilogy will go down as one of the absolute classics of the crime genre and I’m already dying to see how the trilogy ends especially after reading the small preview you’re given at then end of this book. These books are why I love the crime genre. It goes places other fiction rarely dares and it takes you there from different perspectives while thoroughly entertaining you at the same time.

Buy the book here…

Double Dipping – Two ‘Small but Special’ Reviews

This month’s double whammy review is courtesy of UQP. From their impressive collection for younger readers comes two new titles certain to cause a stir for primary aged girls in particular; Smooch and Rose by Queensland author Samantha Wheeler and Chook Chook Little and Lo in the City by Wai Chim.

Smooch and RoseA rose by any other name would smell as sweet as…strawberries.

Like many other SE Queenslanders, I live in a fairly koala sensitive area. Over the last decade or so, the bushland the koalas call home has been more and more frequently indiscriminately removed to accommodate our urban sprawl; a subject you can’t help but be a part of. We all desire to live in this beautiful part of the world as much as they, the koalas, need to.

Smooch and Rose is the tale of one girl’s courageous and staunch attempt to stand up to the big guns of development in hope of keeping at least part of the koalas’ habitat intact.

Orphaned school girl, Rose, may be awkward and less than dazzling at school but in the presence of animals, she shines. Being a wildlife carer is her greatest desire and after rescuing a baby koala and accepting the guidance of wildlife carer, Carol, Rose inches one step closer to her dream.

KoalaSmooch, the baby koala so named because he loves to snuggle, soon invades everyone’s affections. Even after he is released back into the bushland fringing Rose and her Gran’s strawberry farm, he continues to supply Rose with friendship and happiness.

However her contentment is shattered by the news from her real estate uncle, Malcolm, that she and Gran must sell their beloved farm. Sadly, no amount of delays and setbacks can stem the tide of progress and Rose is devastated to hear that it’s not only her home at stake but Smooch’s as well.

The bulldozers soon move in heightening Rose’s desperation and resolve. It becomes a tense fight against time and the developers for Rose but she perseveres in her pursuit to save everything she loves.

Samantha Wheeler Samantha Wheeler has a natural, fluid narrative style, used effectively to weave a tale rich in inspiration, hope, drama and, strawberries. Animal lovers, conservationists and plucky eight year olds alike will adore this feel good, do good story with its gentle but firm undercurrents about the virtues of tenacity especially in matters concerning the future of our environments. Generously endorsed by Deborah Tabart OAM, CEO Australian Koala Foundation and including thoughtful guidelines and useful websites for helping koalas and native animals, Smooch and Rose should be compulsory reading for 7 + year olds and featured on all classroom bookshelves.

Chook alert!

Chook Chook Little and Lo in the CityAddressing the same age group but set in a vastly different land and culture is the second instalment to Chook Chook Mei’s Secret Pets, Chook Chook Little and Lo in the City. This time Mei’s two beloved chooks, sweet hen, Little and larrikin cockerel, Lo, accompany young Mei to the city of Guangzhou, China, in the wake of her older brother, Guo’s departure from their village farm.

Mei’s sense of stability is challenged when her widowed mother decides to marry the one-eyed butcher. The reality of a new Dad, brother and their accompanying menagerie of pets is too much for Mei, who flees with her chooks in search of Guo.

Mei’s unfamiliarity with the big city soon sours her plans of independence and reunion. By chance, she teams up with a young runaway named Cap. Together they navigate their way around Guangzhou’s questionable characters and complicated metro system until finally, Guo is located in the University at which he studies.

Wai ChimBut travelling with chooks and someone you hardly know is not as easy as Mei imagined. Can Mei salvage Guo’s grades, Cap’s sense of security and her own diminishing inner peace from this tumultuous experience? Fortunately, Wai Chim manages to find a miracle for Mei and her feathered friends. Chim’s astute use of cultural authenticities, drawn from her own Chinese-American background, gives the Chook Chook books a pleasing depth and sincerity. Heart strings are genuinely pulled when Mei struggles against mounting odds and with her brother’s love. Funny bones are seriously tickled by the incredulous antics of Little and Lo.

I love chooks and am very partial to noodle soup with barbequed pork, so it was not hard for me to enjoy Chook Chook. Feed your curiosity and enjoy it too.

Both books ideal for confident 7 + year old readers.

Available for purchase here – Rose / Chook

UQP out now.

 

Player Profile: Jenn J McLeod, author of House For All Seasons

Jenn J McLeodJenn J McLeod, author of House For All Seasons

Tell us about your latest creation:

My “come home to the country” women’s fiction story collection started with House for all Seasons (March 2013 and to lovely 5-star reviews). BLURB: Bequeathed a century-old house, four estranged friends return to their hometown, Calingarry Crossing, where each must stay for a season at the Dandelion House to fulfil the wishes of their benefactor, Gypsy. Surrounded by the past, the women discover something about themselves and a secret that ties all four to each other and to the house – forever.

9781922052049Where are you from / where do you call home?:

A city girl (Sydney)for a long time, I “came home to the country” in 2004 to focus on my writing. I run a B&B for people w/ pets in a small rural hamlet in the Coffs hinterland

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

I was supposed to be a multi-disciplined musician (like my Dad), study at The Conservatorium (like my Aunt), be a famous opera singer (like my cousin – whose sons – Ben and Alexander Lewis – are now making their own musical mark internationally).

I chose to write — the computer my keyboard of choice — leaving the old upright piano to languish in the living room and the daddy longlegs to weave their web around the piano’s soundboard and strings while I weave my stories.

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

The reveiws and feedback on my debut (House for all Seasons) has been overwhelming, but as a writer grows and gets a feel for what their readers want, I think the best is always ‘yet to come’. I’m going with that! I have four books planned in my Seasons Collection. (The Simmering Season in March 2014 and two more after that – all going to plan!)

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

When not mopping floors and making beds in the B&B, I write everyday (and half the night) from my humble, homemade desk tucked in the corner of the living room, and find my muse in Strawberry and Daiquiri (two fluffy white mutts – little heartbeats always asleep at my feet – that’s when they’re not impatiently nosing the dinner bowl or sleeping on the leather lounge).

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

I am always writing, but I was once told, “to be a great writer, one must be a great reader”. So I do try to read. I read new releases by author I know. I read the occasional ‘hype’ book to work out why it’s hyped! I read a classic when I can, but with such a huge author network, my TBR pile of books is toppling.

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

I started reading late in life. My early ‘reading’ (inspiring my love of stories and words) were more likely song lyrics, stage productions and musicals. (I used to write poetry and lyrics.) I still love seeing all the Disney production with those wonderful musical numbers that tell stories. Fairytales from my childhood with music! Bliss!

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

I’m not sure who I’d want to BE, but I LOVED Loretta Boskovic in P.A. O’Reilly’s The Fine Colour of Rust. I’d love her “I don’t give a …” attitude! A modern day heroine for sure!

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

Make beds and mop floors – and garden. SURPRISE! :)It’s a very special part of the world where I live and my property requires time and effort to tame the flora (and fauna)!

What is your favourite food and favourite drink?:

There is not enough space to answer this question. What DON’T I love! When I first left the city, I bought a small cafe in a small country town. (Not that I’d ever run a cafe before. I’d drunk lots of coffee so how hard could it be? Hard!) But that’s how much I love food and coffee!

Who is your hero? Why?:

My Dad, because he tolerated everything I put him through as a brat! (But why does this question say say hero? What about heroines? 😉 We need more heroines in our lives, which is why I write the women’s fiction characters I do.)

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

Keeping up! There are so many books coming out these days. We need to read by osmosis or something. (Download a brain chip, or like Google Glasses have a book in front of our eyes 24/7.) Maybe then I can get through my TBR pile.

Website URL: www.jennjmcleod.com
Blog URL: www.jennjmcleod.com/blog
Facebook Page URL: www.facebook.com/JennJMcLeod.Books
Twitter URL: www.twitter.com/jennjmcleod

Book Review – Skinner

9781409124375You’ve never read an espionage thriller like this before. It is complex and twisted and there are no easy answers. Huston challenges you as a reader, which I totally love, to not only keep up but also decipher what is happening both on the surface and below it. Taking a world of unmanned drones, wikileaks and social media Huston has constructed a complex and nuanced spy story that will blow your mind.

Skinner works for a company called Kestrel, a private offshoot, so to speak, of the CIA. His job is to protects assets and do whatever that takes. He has a fearsome reputation built on his own maxim where if someone tries to take, hurt or kill an asset in his protection he will seek revenge against anyone and everyone involved in the threat. But when his employer seemingly sets him up, he breaks from his maxim and goes to ground.

Seven years later a serious cyber attack has taken place on a power station in the US. Jae, a brilliant robotics expert and data analyst, is called in by Kestrel to find what Kestrel’s analysts have been unable to spot. She is a valuable asset and they need Skinner to protect her. Skinner is coaxed out of hiding but he can’t trust Kestrel and Kestrel can’t trust Skinner. Everyone knows what he is capable of, what they don’t know is what Skinner will actually do.

It took me a while to get into the book, to get my head around Kestrel and in particular Skinner, whose backstory is something that needs to be digested. But once the strands of the story started to form together the book just absorbs you. There is something manic to the writing, which is reflective of the book’s characters. It builds in sentences and then calms but there’s always the threat that it will all boil over. But once you get the rhythm, of the characters, you are in all the way.

Huston’s last book, Sleepless, elevated his writing to a new level, Skinner takes it even further. Huston is amongst the best when it comes to action but he builds those scenes around cutting-edge, thought-provoking storylines. In Skinner he taps into issues of poverty, anarchy, terror and despair. He explores the inhumanity of warfare, on the battlefield and behind closed doors, and the power of information in a socially networked world. It will reverberate inside your head for days after you finish reading it.

But the book here…

Player Profile: Banafsheh Serov, author of The Russian Tapestry

 

Banafsheh SerovBanafsheh Serov, author of The Russian Tapestry

Tell us about your latest creation:

The Russian Tapestry is a tale of love and turmoil based on the true story of my husband’s grandparents, a romance that spans the years of the Great War and the Russian revolution, and is set in the ballrooms of St Petersburg, the streets of the rioting city, and the POW camps.

9780733629860At the start of the war, Alexis Serov is a commander in the Tsar’s Army and Marie Kulbas, the daughter of a wealthy merchant, is a Law student in Petrograd. Their story and eventual love affair is a tapestry of family and Russian history, a weaving of truth and imagination, fact and fiction.
I first became interested in the story of Marie and Alexei when I was dating my now husband. Visiting his house, I saw a painting of Alexei in his dress uniform, wearing a breast full of medals. As a long-time lover of Russian literature,  I started imagining the glittering world they inhabited, their first meeting and love affair.

Where are you from / where do you call home?:

I was born in London and spent my childhood years in Teheran. My family fled Iran in ’82 in the midst of Iran/Iraq war to Turkey, where we were caught and spent time in a detention centre while our refugee status was decided. We later immigrated to Australia that same year, arriving in Sydney in August ’82 where we’ve been living ever since.

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

Growing up I had grand notions of joining the corporate world after graduating from Uni. I loved marketing and economics (still do) and saw myself climbing the executive ladder. It was only whilst doing a post-grad degree at Macquarie Uni did it dawn on me that I’m not suited to working in a corporation. The thought of writing did not come to me until much later in life.

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

I think I’m still growing into my craft and wouldn’t want to think that my best is already behind me. Hopefully I’ll continue to improve with every book.

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

We have a small house with no spare room/ space that I can turn into a office. I write on my dining table (I have a picture of it on my Facebook). Thankfully its a fairly long table which allows me to easily spread my papers and books. Everything is cleared off in the evenings and filed away in special baskets slotted into my bookshelf.

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

I read a variety of books, but I have a particular soft spot for Australian authors. I’ve just finished Burial Rites by Hannah Kent and have started reading The Asylum by John Harwood.

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

The first book I remember reading on my own was The Adventures of Tom Sawyer. I stayed up all night to finish it. I still remember the thrill of wanting to know what’s going to happen next and not being able to fall sleep until I find
out.

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

I quite like Scarlett O’Hara from Gone With The Wind. She is sassy, resourceful and brave. I wouldn’t however waste my breath on Ashley, instead I’d be gunning for Rhett Butler from the very beginning.

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

I run, practice Yoga, and do a bit of belly dancing, but not professionally. What is your favourite food and favourite drink?: I love Persian Cuisine. If you haven’t tried it already, do yourself a favour and do so. As for drinks, after a particularly hard day, nothing beats vodka with freshly squeezed lime juice.

Who is your hero? Why?:

I adore Geraldine Brooks. Year of Wonders literally took my breath away and since then, I’ve read all her books. I love her skill in seamlessly weaving history (often choosing real life characters) into her fiction. Vikram Seth is another one of my heroes as is Tolstoy and Hugo for their sheer ability to write epic novels.

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

I’m not particularly worried about books disappearing. Book lovers (and I include myself amongst them) love owning physical books. From the weight of it in our hands, to the smell of the ink on the page, it adds to the overall experience and enjoyment of reading a book. Smart phones and tablets are probably the biggest challenge to people’s reading habits. With entertainment, social media and games readily available at their fingertips, it’s easy to get distracted and neglect time spent reading.

Website URL: banafshehserov.com
Facebook Page URL: facebook.com/BanafshehSerov
Twitter URL: @B_Serov

Book Review – A Constellation of Vital Phenomena

“Life: a constellation of vital phenomena—organization, irritability, movement, growth, reproduction, adaptation.” – definition of life in a Russian medical dictionary

9781781090060If you ever doubted the power of fiction then this is the novel to reaffirm your belief. If you already know how powerful fiction can be, prepared to be blown away. In the tradition of The Kite Runner, Anthony Marra tells a story of love and war, horror and humour, the absurd and the profound that will make you laugh out loud and feel grief in the pit of your stomach.

One of the things (apart from the fantastic storytelling) that made The Kite Runner such a huge success was that it opened readers in The West’s eyes to a country that we had all ignored for decades but in the wake of 9/11 now had to confront. Khaled Hosseini gave us a story of a father and son, forced to flee their country after it was invaded and what it was like to return home decades later after the Taliban had taken control. He followed this up with A Thousand Splendid Suns which gave us the story of an Afghan woman who didn’t leave and we live through the horrors of life under the Taliban. Anthony Marra does something equally as powerful with the wars in Chechnya between 1994 and 2004. And after recent events in Boston this already powerful and poignant story takes on much more meaning and significance

Like Afghanistan my knowledge of Chechnya was sorely lacking. I was completely ignorant. I knew there had been a brutal war for independence from Russia there in the 1990s. I knew that there had been terrorist attacks in Russia by Chechen militants.I didn’t know there had been two separate wars, I thought it had been one long war. I did know Chechens were largely Muslim and that Russia had used the same rhetoric the US had to invade Iraq and Afghanistan to justify increasing their military campaign. But this was just stuff I’d gleaned from snippets on television news and short snippets in newspapers. I had no real understanding, no comprehension, no humanity. This novel changes all that.

The novel centres on a small Chechen village and four of its residents as well as a doctor at a nearby hospital. They have all lost something in the wars. They are all clinging to something else. A piece of hope, real and imagined. They are all trying to find a way to survive. They are not innocent but nor are they guilty. They are just trying to live a life cruelly interrupted by bombs, mortars and landmines. Where friends, colleagues, family members can simply disappear overnight. As you learn more about each character the depth of the tragedy of war is exposed; piece by piece, brick by brick, scar by scar.

I was completely immersed in this novel and its characters and literally balled my eyes out at the end. Anthony Marra’s novel does more than just put a human face on a human tragedy, he puts the tragedy inside you. You fell the pain and misery deep inside your bones but also the underlying power humanity. It’s uncrushable joy and hope and determination.

I never thought I could read a book that could surpass the absurdity of war captured by David Benioff’s City Of Thieves. Or the power of story and family captured by Téa Obreht’s The Tiger’s Wife. Or the humanity captured by Khaled Hosseini’s The Kite Runner. But that is exactly what A Constellation of Vital Phenomena does. This is a book I will never forget.

Buy the book here…

Player Profile: Duncan Lay, author of Valley of Shields

 

Duncan LayDuncan Lay, author of Valley of Shields

Tell us about your latest creation:

My latest trilogy is Empire Of Bones, beginning with the bestseller Bridge Of Swords. Valley Of Shields came out in April and went into reprint after 17 days. Wall Of Spears, the third book, is out in February 2014. It’s the story of a warrior on the run. He’s discovered the answer to a 300-year-old mystery. he’s being hunted by his own people, trying desperately to get back to his children and just when he thinks it can’t get any worse, he runs into a young couple who want him to be their hero in their land’s fight for freedom – a bard who has learned a terrible secret about an evil King and a young dancer who has a hidden power that’s about to change everything.

9780732294199Where are you from / where do you call home?:

I live on the sunny Central Coast of NSW, midway between Newcastle and Sydney.

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

I wanted to write from the moment I saw Star Wars on the big screen, aged six. It sent my imagination soaring and from that day I’ve been writing stories. I’m just lucky enough that HarperCollins wants to publish them!

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

That’s a really tough question. Ultimately it’s not up to me to judge a work but my favourite has to be book two of The Dragon Sword Histories, The Risen Queen. It was the first thing I’d written KNOWING it was going to get published and it was an incredible experience.

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

I write on the train, to and from work in Sydney. I have a laptop balanced on my knees, an iPod to keep the gibberers at bay and like to sit on the aisle side so my left elbow has more room to power through the typing!

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

Mainly crime nobvels, the grittier the better. The Rebus series by Ian Rankin is great and, for darkness, they don’t get bleaker than Andrew Vachss’ Burke series.

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

Legend, by David Gemmell. I read it as a 15-year-old and it opened my eyes to the fact fantasy doesn’t have to have a full cast of singing elves and dancing dwarves. It can be human and gritty – just the way I like to write it!

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

Bit of a stretch to call him literary but I’d be Tony Stark. What’s not to like about a genius playboy smartarse with the Iron Man suit!

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

Very little spare time, unfortunately, but I used to love touch football, hockey and a bit of amateur dramatics. Only acting, no singing though. I couldn’t carry a tune in a bucket.

What is your favourite food and favourite drink?:

I love Thai food and a freshly-made espresso. Just not at the same time.

Who is your hero? Why?:

Tony Stark – for reasons outline above!

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

Persuading people that a traditional book or professionally-produced eBook is worth paying $10-$30 for, when you can fill an eReader with thousands of free or 99c books.

Blog URL: http://duncanlay.blogspot.com.au/
Facebook Page URL: https://www.facebook.com/#!/duncan.lay
Twitter URL: https://twitter.com/DuncanLay

 

Player Profile: Richard Beasley, author of Me and Rory MacBeath

6994290Richard Beasley, author of Me and Rory MacBeath

Tell us about your latest creation:

“Me and Rory Macbeath” is a novel set in the 1970’s about the friendship between two boys (Jake and Rory) who meet at the start of the summer when they are both twelve. They have the kind of fun together that kids did in summer back in the 70’s. Rory has a very violent father though, and the childhood of both boys is ended abruptly by a terrible event that happens as a result of that violence. In the trial that follows, the female defence barrister is the kind of person I would like to be a member of my chambers now, although we would probably have to up the wine budget.

Me and Rory MacBeathWhere are you from / where do you call home?:

I was born in Sydney, grew up in Adelaide, and have lived in Sydney most of my adult life, or at least the part of my adult life that has involved being a lawyer/barrister.  I have never lived more than 1 kilometre from Randwick Racecourse. My bank manager and my trustee can tell you why

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

When I was a kid I wanted to be a test cricketer. That was in the 1970’s. I still want to be a test cricketer. It looks like I still have a chance. The Dream lives on.

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

Me and Rory Macbeath. It’s a better story than my first two books. And it has much less swearing.

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

I wrote my first novel when I was a “baby-barrister”. I had a ‘readers room’ on my floor, which was literally an old broom closet, about 1metre x 1 metre. It’s famous now for having had “Hell has Harbour Views” written in it, and for having the child of one of our floor members conceived in it. My second novel I wrote in my current room in chambers. It is a windowless room, with 1960’s wood panelling. It’s the sort of room that requires even my clients to take 3 Prozac tablets before walking inside. It’s not a creative space. I wrote “Me and Rory Macbeath” at home, in our study, with our dog at my feet. That was much nicer. She’s much better company than other barristers too, and gave me more incisive feedback on my first draft than they or my previous publisher did.

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

I love reading Carl Hiassen. He’s the funniest writer ever, and I really like crime books that don’t have police in them. For more serious reading, I’ve loved everything by Cormac McCarthy I’ve read over the last few years, and Hilary Mantel’s Cromwell books.

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

“The Catcher in the Rye”. My Year 10 English teacher recommended it. He started calling me “Holden” shortly afterwards. My mother still calls me Holden. And “The Great Gatsby”. It’s very hard for me not to order a custom made shirt every time I think about that book, which is daily.

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

A male barrister who doesn’t want to be Atticus Finch hasn’t read “To Kill a Mockingbird”. I’d kind of like to be Winston Smith from 1984, because the world, its governments, and big corporations all make me feel like him sometimes. Obviously I want a different ending, with Winston leading some kind of overthrow of Big Brother.

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

I cook a lot. I am really good. I’ve watched all the celebrity chefs on TV. I am as good as them all, and tidier. I would win Masterchef easily if I went on it, but I don’t like “dorm” accomodation, and would miss my family.

What is your favourite food and favourite drink?:

Red meat. Red wine.

Who is your hero? Why?:

In Politics: Gough Whitlam. I like the huge size of his vision. I was only 11 when he was dismissed, but I thought it was dodgy even then. As someone who now has legal expertise, I now think it was illegal. I want Gough reinstated.

In Books: F Scott Fitzgerald. I learntThe Great Gatsby off by heart when I was 17. There will never be another book like that for me. I bored dozens of girls reciting it from when I was 18 until I was about 25. They all married men who strongly resemble Tom Buchanan for some reason.

Music: John Lennon. I just love his songs. I love his playfulness with words. I liked his attitude. I even like Yoko.

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

The survival of good bookshops is a key. That is one part of retail that I hope survives the online revolution and finds a way to thrive. I’m kind of optimistic though. My kids read a HELL of a lot more books than I did when I was in Primary School. So do their friends and classmates. So that make me hopeful.

Website URL: You don’t want a lawyer
Twitter URL: @richardcbeasley

Review – Me and Rory MacBeath

Me and Rory MacBeathI fell instantly in love with this book. There are echoes of Jasper Jones, Tim Winton’s Breath and Past The Shallows but this novel stands on it’s own two feet. It is truly something special. It is a combination of so many wonderful parts. Part coming-of-age story, part reminiscence of summers lost. It is, at it’s heart, a story about friendship and family and the bonds they form that either make us stronger or drag us down.

The story centres on Rose Avenue in the suburbs of Adelaide in the summer of 1977. A seemingly idyllic street where everybody knows each other, sometimes a bit too much. This street is the centre of Jake Taylor’s universe where he lives with his Mum, Harry, a successful barrister. Jake is 13 and about to start high school. But before that the whole of summer is ahead of him filled with swimming, cricket and fishing as well as a new neighbour and friend, Rory MacBeath. Jake’s not sure about Rory, he’s from Glasgow and can’t swim, bowl or bat but he can fish. By summer’s end their bond of friendship is rock solid. But as the MacBeath’s settle into Rose Avenue Jake begins to learn that all is not well in their household.

As Jake enters High School his world begins to change. Friendships are tested and strained as Jake’s world, and his friends’, branch out from Rose Avenue. As Jake tries to navigate this new world, with its new troubles and problems, the troubles on Rose Avenue boil over with tragic consequences and the enigmatic and irrepressible Harry is the only one who can do anything to help. But it may be too late to fix anything at all.

Harry Taylor is the soul of the book and one of those rare characters you meet in fiction that you hope and wish are really out there in the world. She’s the only constant in Jake’s life and is always ready to fight the good fight, in the courtroom or in the front yard, even when that good fight is stacked against her.

This is a book that hits every note in the emotional spectrum; I laughed, I cried, I cheered, I booed, I dared to hope, I shook my fist at the world. It is a story about growing up and how that changes us deep inside. It is also about how we learn who we are and what we’re made of, the lessons learned and ignored, and the friendships forged and broken and that we have to stand up for these things one way or another. But the way we stand up for these things is as important as what we stand up for and the courage to do that can be hard to find.

Buy the book here…

Review – Marlo Can Fly

As we approach the beginning of the breeding season of the Australian Magpie, it feels fitting that my next review is all about one of my favourite Aussie song birds.

Marlo Can FlyHot on the heels of No Matter Who We’re With, is Robert Vescio’s newest picture book, Marlo Can Fly. But the question is; can she really?

From the moment we meet wilful magpie fledging, Marlo, we witness her in a number of situations none of them however, involving her taking to the wing. And why? Because Marlo ‘wanted to be different’.

As Marlo watches her bird friends soar and swoop, she steadfastly refuses to become airborne. Time and time again she defends her position; she doesn’t need or want to fly, reinforcing her belief that flying does not a magpie make.

Her stubborn determination to stand out from the flock is admirable if not slightly bemusing for her forest friends. Unable to convince her that as a bird, she should embrace flying, they resort to jesting and jeering each time she attempts to emphasise her difference.

Marlo wetTo prove her point, Marlo gives slithering, jumping, swimming and even crawling a go, all of which end in calamity and ridicule.

It isn’t until Marlo meets little Kev Koala, distressed and unable to locate his mother, that we suspect Marlo’s resolve to show there is more to her than just flying, is perhaps a ruse to hide the fact that she can’t fly or is too scared to fly. Suppositions Marlo has erstwhile denied but could be true…

Whatever the case, she finally casts all aspersions and doubts aside to help her friend in need. The bush creatures rejoice in Marlo’s newfound abilities and acceptance of herself, as does Marlo.

Robert Vesico Robert Vescio’s uncomplicated narrative style allows room for plenty of alliteration and action-orientated onomatopoeia. Kerthumping kangaroos, slithering snakes and cackling kookaburras give Marlo Can Fly an easy read aloud musicality sure to entertain under-fives.

Sandra Temple Sandra Temple’s modest yet striking combinations of pastels and coloured-pencil illustrations give each bushland creature a brilliant life-like appearance. They are simply beautiful to behold and lead us effortlessly to the heart-warming conclusion of a delightful Australian themed picture story.

Marlo’s triumph is finding delight in her sense of self. Yours could be not running a mile the next time one of these glorious birds loops and soars over the tree tops.

Recommended for 3 – 5 year olds and those who cherish the magnificent carolling of a magpie at dawn.

Wombat Books 2013

View or purchase any of Robert Vescio’s books here.

 

Player Profile: Angela Savage, author of The Dying Beach

Angela Savage, author of The Dying Beach

Author shot_Paul X Stoney_smallTell us about your latest creation:

The Dying Beach, set in the exquisite southern Thai province of Krabi, finds expatriate PI Jayne Keeney investigating the death of a young tour guide, a case that takes her into the murky world of corruption and environmental destruction.

Where are you from / where do you call home?:

9781921922497I was born in Melbourne and call it home, but my heart is divided between Australia and Southeast Asia. When you were a kid, what did you want to become? An author?: I’ve wanted to be an author for as long as I can remember. I still have a book of bad poetry that I made as a ten-year-old, complete with ‘About the Author’ blurb on the back cover.

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

I believe writing is a craft and you get better with practice. My best work is still to come. Describe your writing environment to us – your writing room, desk, etc.; is it ordered or chaotic?: I share a study with my partner, also a crime writer. His desk is ordered. Mine is chaotic. Thus the world balances itself.

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

I love good writing. I love books that reveal something new about the world and make me feel transported. I read mostly crime fiction and non-genre fiction, as well as at least one classic and one non-fiction book each year. Among contemporary Australian crime writers whose work I admire are Honey Brown, Robert Gott, Wendy James, David Whish-Wilson and Leigh Redhead. Two of my favourite books of all time are The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver and The English Patient by Michael Ondaatje.

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

The Tale of Jemima Puddleduck by Beatrix Potter stands out from a childhood rich in books as my first thriller. The tale of a naïve duck who accepts the offer of a sandy-whiskered gentleman to incubate her eggs in his feather filled wood-shed still gave me chills more than 30 years later when I read it to my daughter. Jemima Puddle-Duck introduced me the power of literature that unsettles, frightens, arouses, and introduced me to the perennial literary theme of inappropriate relationships.

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

I would be an outsider drawn to Asia, like the unnamed narrator in Ruth Prawer Jhabvala’s Heat and Dust, or journalist Guy Hamilton in Christopher Koch’s The Year of Living Dangerously.

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

Spare time? I work four days a week, write books, try to maintain an ‘online presence’ and a functioning household with a partner and young child… I sometimes get to knit in front of DVDs. I also enjoy singing along to 80s pop music. Loudly.

What is your favourite food and favourite drink?:

I love Lao, Thai, Malaysian, Indian and good Italian food, French cheese and Belgian chocolate. I like New Zealand sauvignon blanc in summer, Australian shiraz in winter and Irish whiskey all year round.

Who is your hero? Why?:

I’m not really one for hero worship, but I have enormous admiration for the people I’ve had the privilege of working with on HIV/AIDS prevention in Southeast Asia over the years. I reserve particular admiration for the bravery and resilience of the Cambodians I worked with.

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

A friend suggested recently that we are headed for another Dark Ages, with the digitisation of so many of our cultural products. I think the biggest challenge is ultimately how we protect and preserve books for future generations.
Website URL: www.angelasavage.wordpress.com
Blog URL: www.angelasavage.wordpress.com
Facebook Page URL: a.savage.925
Twitter URL: https://twitter.com/angsavage

Player Profile: Kate Forsyth, author of The Wild Girl

Kate H-S smlKate Forsyth, author of The Wild Girl

Tell us about your latest creation:

THE WILD GIRL tells the story of star-crossed lovers Wilhelm Grimm and Dortchen Wild, the young woman who told him many of the world’s most famous fairy tales. Set during the turbulent years of the Napoleonic Wars, THE WILD GIRL is a tale of love, desire, heartbreak and the redemptive power of storytelling.

9781741668490Where are you from / where do you call home?:

Sydney, Australia

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

I’ve always wanted to be an author, I’ve never wanted to be anything else. I wrote my first book at the age of seven.

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

I’m very proud of THE WILD GIRL, which is the most difficult and challenging book I’ve ever written. I poured everything I have into it, and I’m so glad that so many people are
loving it so much.

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

I write in a book-lined study with a view across my garden to the ocean.

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

I read a wide range of different books, though my favourite genre is historical fiction.

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

I loved authors such as C.S. Lewis, L.M. Montgomery, Elizabeth Goudge, Joan Aiken, Geoffrey Trease and Rosemary Sutcliff.

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

I’d want to be a literary character that made their living writing books, travelling the world telling stories, and was madly in love with their life … but as I can’t think of a single book with such a character, I guess I’ll just have to stay being me.

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

I love my garden and I love to cook. I love music and theatre and the ballet. Most of all, I love to travel and have adventure and tell stories.

What is your favourite food and favourite drink?:

A fine sparkling wine will always make me happy, especially if taken with a little smoked salmon and caviar.

Who is your hero? Why?:

I love all the women writers whose books are being read all around the world.

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

Being heard above the clamour of voices all shouting their stories to the world.

Website URL: www.kateforsyth.com.au
Blog URL: http://www.kateforsyth.com.au/kates-blog
Facebook Page URL: https://www.facebook.com/kateforsythauthor

Player Profile: Hugh Howey, author of Wool

Hugh Howey Hugh Howey, author of Wool

Tell us about your latest creation:

My newest release is DUST. It wraps up the Silo Saga that began with WOOL and continued with SHIFT. As I write this, it’s been two years to the day that I released WOOL, which changed my life forever. Putting the final touches on this series has been extremely rewarding.

Where are you from / where do you call home?:

9780099580485I grew up on a farm outside of Charlotte, North Carolina. After a career as a yacht captain, I eventually settled here in Jupiter, Florida. I live with my wife and our spoiled rotten dog.

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

I’ve always wanted to be a writer. I’ve dreamed of doing this since I was twelve. I never thought it would be possible, and I took a circuitous route to get here, but I’m now savoring every moment.

9781780891224What do you consider to be your best work? Why?:

I, ZOMBIE. It was my most risky project, the one that touches on the most traumatic experiences of my life, and a work that was approached for purely cathartic purposes. It’s the least appealing to readers and the least commercial, and I enjoy that about it as well.
Describe your writing environment to us – your writing room, desk, etc.; is
it ordered or chaotic?:

I can write anywhere. I do all my writing on a laptop. I usually have my dog snuggled up against me, making it difficult to type or get comfortable.

COMING SOON
COMING SOON

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

I almost exclusively read non-fiction. History books, like Rick Atkinson’s latest trilogy or psychology works from Steven Pinker. I am a sponge for facts and knowledge.

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

ENDER’S GAME, by Orson Scott Card. Here was a book about young people saving the universe, and it was written by a guy from my home state. It made me believe I could be anything. Do anything.

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

I’d be one of Shakespeare’s fools, acting dumb but often saying something with a sliver of insight and wit.

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

I collect seashells. I take pictures.

What is your favourite food and favourite drink?:

Pizza and beer. I could eat this every day (if only my wife would allow it).

Who is your hero? Why?:

My parents, both of them. My mother for the way she raised the three of us while working several jobs. My father for his kind heart and work ethics.

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

Competing with various free forms of entertainment. Facebook, Twitter, blogs, social media games . . . these are the things books will compete against. To thrive, they’ll have to continue to offer a brand of entertainment found nowhere else, and that is the building of vivid worlds in silent imagination.

Website URL: http://www.hughhowey.com/
Blog URL: http://www.hughhowey.com/
Facebook Page URL: https://www.facebook.com/hughhowey
Twitter URL: @hughhowey

Review – Wool and Shift

9780099580485Wool

“Is seeing always believing?”

There are so many things to love about this book. It shares nothing in common with The Hungers Games, The Passage or The Matrix ( the first film not the dodgy sequels) but if you liked those stories you will go absolutely nuts for this book like I did.

“You’ve felt it, right? That we could be anywhere, living a lie?”

Originally self published as a short story that grew into five eBooks it is now available as one eBook together and will be published in December in paperback. I read an advanced print copy that had each part as a separate volume and I wish they were publishing the print book this way because having five distinct parts I think is essential to the overall reading experience of this extremely impressive novel.

“Something had happened. A great and powerful thing had fallen out of alignment.”

Part One is only 48 pages but it is more than enough to blow your mind. We meet Holston who is a Sheriff and is waiting in a holding cell to die. Holston lives in a gigantic underground silo which is over 130 stories deep. The outside world is full of toxic air and wastelands. The silo is organized and supplied so that people do not need to go outside. They have food and water and the population is kept in check. A couple cannot have a child until someone else dies and a lottery is held. There is a Mayor, a Sheriff and the laws of The Pact. If a law is broken the punishment is ‘The Cleaning’. ‘The Cleaning’ involves going outside in a specially designed suit and cleaning a gigantic lens which allows the inhabitants to view the outside world. It also involves certain death. Holston is waiting in a holding cell to do ‘The Cleaning’. A task he has volunteered for.

“A project to pull the wool back from everyone’s eyes. A favour to the next fool who slipped up or dared to hope aloud”

Holston is the catalyst. His actions set everything in motion. A new Sheriff must be found. As the next four parts unfold we learn more about life in the silo and how each level is divided up in order for everybody to survive. You also begin to piece together a bigger picture and a more complex world that will astonish you and leave you gasping for air as you read. What at first seems to be a great lie is in fact something else all together and discovering the truth is more dangerous that anyone can possibly imagine.

“This is how the uprising begins”

This is a story bursting with imagination and ideas. Thought-provoking seems an understatement. Howey does what all great speculative fiction should, he creates a world seemingly removed from our own, in an apocalyptic future, and slowly peels the differences away. There is a lot of hype around this book. This is one of those rare occasions where not only does the book live up to the hype, it exceeds it.

“It is not beyond us to kill to keep secrets.”

Buy the book here…

9781780891224Shift

Like Wool, which was originally published as five eBooks, Shift was originally published as three eBooks and is now available in one volume. Shift is the follow-up to Wool but it is actually the prequel. Set in Silo 1 it tells the story of how the silos came into being and why. The book is split into three shifts, each spaced decades apart, as we follow the work of Silo 1 monitoring the other silos as well as managing their own silo population.

Shift is as mind-blowing as Wool, maybe more so. I am totally amazed that the world Howey has created, which is so confined within a Silo, can have so many stories and is bursting with so many ideas. Howey slowly marries up the stories of Wool and Shift perfectly and leaves you itching to read the conclusion, Dust. The wool is well and truly lifted from our eyes but what this means for the survivors in the Silos is far from clear and I cannot wait to find out.

Buy the book here…