Player Profile: Peter FitzSimons, author of Ned Kelly

fitzsimons, peterPeter FitzSimons, author of Ned Kelly

Tell us about your latest creation:

Ned Kelly. It is written in the form of a novel, but – with 2000 footnotes – is all true. I want readers to not only read the story, but actually feel like they are IN the story. It is a staggering tale that has fascinated Australians for over 130 years, and I wanted to do it in an entirely different fashion.

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

A writer, a Test cricketer, a Wimbledon winner, Prime Minister and even astronaut.


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

My book on the shipwreck of the Batavia is probably the book I would put on my tombstone. It is the best yarn in the history of the world – but Ned Kelly runs it close!

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

I am nomadic. Sometimes in the study, often on the coach, always on long-haul flights and if being driven for long distances.

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

Frankly, I am mostly writing. And when reading, I tend to read extensively on the subject I am writing about. Beyond that, however, I love Dickens, Hunter S and sometimes Beevor.

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

Great Expectations. It took my breath away that writing could be so real. If you were a literary character, who would you be?: Pip, from Great Expectations. But I would go harder trying to get Estella to love me.

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

I play a lot of tennis, a lot of touch football, a lot of basketball. I go to our farm and muck around with our kids.

What is your favourite food and favourite drink?:

Steak and too much white wine.

Who is your hero? Why?:

Muhammad Al. Because of his physical and moral courage.

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

Getting the younger generation to put down their iPads and iPhones and take up a book.

Twitter URL: @Peter_Fitz

If you are a Neil Gaiman fan, give this one a go

9781409128052Review – Bellman & Black by Diane Setterfield

I loved Diane Setterfield’s debut novel The Thirteenth Tale, a cross between Kate Morton and The Shadow in the Wind. I had no idea what to expect from her next book but a ghost story was not on my list of possibilities. Not that his is a ‘ghost’ story. Yes there is a tad of the supernatural but more in the subtle, mythological way Neil Gaiman does so well.

As a boy William Bellman kills a rook with a stone. Years later William has built a successful life. Business is good but tragedy snatches away his family. Bellman makes a strange pact with a mysterious man in black and all seems to be right again but some things can never be forgotten or forgiven.

Setterfield intersperses the text with myths, legends and facts about rooks; black birds often mistaken as ravens or crows which only adds to the mystery. Bellman isn’t haunted or stalked by the mysterious Mr Black. In fact it is the opposite. Bellman’s problem is he doesn’t remember. As each tragedy in his life gets more personal he throws himself more into his work. Distracting himself. Making himself forget. Until he almost forgets about life at all. The only thing that can help him remember is Death itself. But death is not only the cause of Bellman’s tragic moments in life it is also part of his business success and his wealth is built upon it.

Diane Setterfield reaffirms her immense gift as a classic storyteller and while I think labelling this a ghost story is a bit misleading  it might also lead a few more people to discover how good this author is. If you are a Neil Gaiman fan, give this one a go.

Buy the book here…

Packed full of the humour and adventure we’ve come to expect from this fantastic series

9781444913989Review – How To Betray a Dragon’s Hero by Cressida Cowell

Having read the first ten books in this series with my daughter over the past three years I was tragically left out when it came to book eleven. In the year between book ten and eleven my daughter’s reading meant she no longer needed to be read aloud and she devoured this book on her own without me (very proud!). Having invested in the first ten books there was no way I was going to miss out so read this book all on my own.

This is the second last book in the series and we are definitely coming to the pointy end of the story. It is now a race between Hiccup and Alvin The Treacherous to get to the island of Tomorrow with the Lost Things (that Hiccup found and Alvin stole) and claim the throne of the King of the WIlderwest. Hiccup and his trusted friends have been in hiding from both Alvin and the dragon Furious, who is hell-bent on ridding the world of humans starting with Hiccup! However Hiccup is brought of hiding to save the life of his cousin (and turncoat) Snotlout. Snotlout’s rescue presents Hiccup with a chance to get the Lost Things back but can he trust his former bully and tormentor? Whose side is Snotlout really on? And who is going to betray our Hero?

Packed full of the humour and adventure we’ve come to expect from this fantastic series Hiccup must learn what it really takes to be a hero and a king…before it’s too late!

Buy the book here…

Ah Arkady Renko, its good to have you back.

9781849838115Review – Tatiana by Martin Cruz Smith

Ah Arkady Renko, its good to have you back. Still cantankerous and stubborn and able to not only sniff out trouble but completely ensconce yourself in it. One of the most endearing characters in crime fiction returns in the best Arkady Renko novel since Wolves Eat Dogs.

We first met Arkady Renko in 1981 and as we have followed his journey we have followed that of Russia and the former Soviet Union. The latest novel takes place in a Russia where corruption is not only in full swing, it is par for the course. Tatiana Petrovna is an investigative journalist who, like our hero, won’t just let the status quo stand without questioning. However modern-day Russia has no tolerance for journalists and Tatiana soon meets a nasty end.

Her death is ruled suicide but Arkady senses that the truth isn’t being told. However he doesn’t have a case until Tatiana’s body goes missing from the morgue. His digging leads him through various crime syndicates to the forgotten port of Kaliningrad. Once the German city Konigsberg, then a city with no name during the Cold War and home to lucrative Amber mine. They key to everything is a translator’s notebook, written in a code only one person knows, whose body has also recently turned up.

Fans of Arkady Renko will be well pleased. I have no idea how old the weathered and beaten old detective is but there is plenty of life in him yet and plenty of trouble for him to find and stir up.

Buy the book here…

Moonshine, Murder and the Great Mississippi Floods

9780230769007Review – The Tilted World by Tom Franklin and Beth Ann Fennelly

I loved Tom Franklin’s award winning Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter but it was with a bit of hesitation that I picked up his latest book. Not because the story didn’t appeal to me (it did) but because he has teamed up with his wife to write this book and I am not sure about co-authored books.

I can’t remember reading a dual authored book before and for some reason felt a reluctance to do so. I’m not even sure how the process works. Do co-authors alternate chapters or write different parts? Or do they write different characters’ points of view and meld everything together. There are probably a myriad of different ways it is done and with The Titled World it is impossible to tell as it is written and reads seamlessly.

Franklin and Fennelly tap into the world of bootlegging which seems to be making a comeback in crime fiction at the moment on the back of Boardwalk Empire. Set in the fictional town of Hobnob on the banks of the Mississippi during the great floods of 1927. Bootlegging has been rife in the community and when two revenue agents go missing aspiring Presidential candidate Herbert Hoover sends his two most trusted agents in to investigate. Posing as engineers they soon get caught up in the efforts to save the town from the flood waters. The town’s levees are threatening to break, either through the huge build up of water or at the hands of saboteurs down river.

The story is told from the one of the revenue agents’ point of view, Teddy Ingersoll, and that of bootlegging, house wife Dixie Clay (this maybe where the authors alternate but I couldn’t detect any changes in style or tone). Their lives and fates become entangled over an orphaned baby and when the levee eventually breaks their worlds are literally and figuratively turned upside down.

While The Tilted World doesn’t reach the heights or trawl the depths that Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter did I still thoroughly enjoyed the novel. I’m not sure it has cured me of my reluctance to read co-authored books but I will be a little more willing in the future.

Buy the book here…

This tapped into emotions no other book has done with me before.

9781408704950Review – The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt

Donna Tartt is a true enigma. She is a phenomenal bestseller with a cult following. There isn’t very much known about her but you wouldn’t call her a reclusive author either. The Goldfinch is her third novel in twenty years, a decade gap between each book. All of them worth the wait.

I can distinctly remember first discovering Donna Tartt. When I first started doing the buying 11 years ago there was a lot of fuss about a novel called The Little Friend because it was the author’s first book since The Secret History. I had no idea who the author was or why, after ten years, there was such excitement and anticipation for her second novel. My rep, who was selling the book in at the time, told me to read The Secret History. Which of course I did and was totally blown away.

It was unlike anything I had read before (or since). I am not big on classics, ancient or modern, but the world Tartt created in The Secret History sucked me straight in (just like the book’s protagonist Richard). She is one of the few writers whose writing is truly mesmerizing. I was straight on the bandwagon after that, dying for a copy of The Little Friend. Which I also loved.

A lot of Donna Tartt fans were disappointed with The Little Friend but I was not one of them. I think people were expecting another The Secret History which was always going to be impossible and Tartt gave us something completely different. The Little Friend is a bit of a modern-day To Kill A Mockingbird without the anchor of a parent and where the outside world is full of much more menace. 12-year-old Harriet, bright and bookish, believes she can solve the mysterious death of her younger brother 12 years ago. The death fractured her family and Harriet is determined to set things right. Again Tartt’s writing is captivating and I can still vividly remember a scene involving Harriet’s best friend Hely and some snakes. I later found out that Harriet was inspired by Mattie Ross in True Grit by Charles Portis, one of Donna Tartt’s favourite books growing up,which also has another unforgettable scene involving snakes.

In many ways The Goldfinch is a combination of elements of her first two novels but the only thing familiar is the once again mesmerizing writing that draws you into her world immediately. When I first started The Goldfinch it felt like I was holding my breath and when I came up for air the first thing I wanted to do was re-read The Secret History and The Little Friend. I’d forgotten the power of Tartt’s writing and wanted to re-immerse myself in as much of it as I could find. And then I plunged back into The Goldfinch.

The central character of the novel is Theo Decker and a painting called The Goldfinch. Through traumatic circumstances the painting comes into his possession and becomes a talisman throughout his life. I am not into art or paintings but Tartt has this ability to draw you into any subject, in very detailed and extraordinarily intriguing ways (including antique furniture and its restoration!). The book is almost 800 pages, every one of which is totally absorbing, compelling and majestic. Unlike Tartt’s previous two novels this story is also wide-ranging, from New York to Las Vegas and Amsterdam. The Secret History and The Little Friend were very localized stories where as The Goldfinch is much more spread out while still hauntingly focused. It is also very philosophical and tapped into emotions no other book has done with me before.

I hope we do not have to wait another ten years before getting to read Donna Tartt again but then again she can take as long as she wants. In the meantime I am going to revisit her first two books something I should have done before now but that’s the magic and the joy of great books. They are always there to be enjoyed again and again, even when you forget!

Buy the book here…

Review – A Swim in the Sea

My first foray into the sea was a moment in time I remember as vividly as a blistering Aussie summer sky. It was in the surf off Magnetic Island in a sea a mere metre high but to a person of toddler stature, the waves were mountainous. It was a character building exercise my mother seemed intent on, not relinquishing her grip on my wrist for a minute. As she dragged me further in, my apprehension escalated and I begged her not to let go.

A Swim in the SeaHowever high expectations can assuage fear and doubt and in A Swim in the Sea, Bruno experiences all these sensations. Bruno has never been to the beach before. He can’t wait for Mum and Dad to have breakfast and pack the car. He is simply busting to get there and searches excitedly for his first glimpse of ‘the big blue sea’.

At first it is every bit as exhilarating as he anticipated; all ‘sizzling sand’ and ‘salty breezes’. But Bruno’s enthusiasm soon ebbs as he is confronted by his first wave and alas, like me, is slightly overwhelmed and terrified by the huge, ‘white foamy wave monster’.

All that sparkled minutes before becomes dark and threatening for Bruno and no amount of exotic sea-creatures or rock pool treasure can entice Bruno out from his dread until his sister, Tessa, enlists him to help build the wall for the family sand castle.

Perhaps Bruno is feeling a little sheepish after his encounter with the big blue sea. Maybe it’s the sensuous feeling of the sand as he digs that lures him out of hiding. Or it might just be being part of a team that helps Bruno finally regain his sense of purpose and fun because soon the castle is enclosed with a magnificent wall, strong enough and high enough to withstand any rougue wave…almost.

This pic attributed to The Illawarra Mercury
This pic attributed to The Illawarra Mercury


A Swim in the Sea is as enjoyable to read as licking a cone-full of gelato. Sue Whiting neatly avoids the usual beachside unmentionables such as sea lice, sunburn, stingers and sand in your togs in favour of the less tangible emotions of excitement and anxiety. The naivety Bruno possesses not only fuels his expectations but also foments his apprehensions into something almost too gigantic for him to deal with; as gigantic as the ocean itself. Just as Bruno has us teetering on the edge of fear, Whiting draws us back with reassuring images of backyard paddle pools and ‘sparkly blue jelly’, images that any kid, even those who’ve never breathed in the briny scent of the sea before, can relate to.

The beguiling acrylic paintings used by Meredith Thomas to illustrate Bruno’s adventure swirl and surge across the pages providing bucket-loads of textural depth and fluidity.A swim in the Sea Jelly spread

I especially love Bruno’s faithful little unnamed brown dog who mirrors every moment of Bruno’s pleasure and pain, and ultimately relishes his swim in the sea as much as Bruno.

A Swim in the Sea is a superb little slice of summertime fun and perfect to read with pre-schoolers, beach lovers and those still slightly wary of the surf like me.

Because overcoming your fear and enjoying the moment is often just a matter of letting go, which thankfully my mother didn’t.

Check out more of Sue Whiting’s books and buy A Swim in the Sea here.

Walker Books October 2013


How To Train Your Dragon Series – like Asterix goes to Hogwarts.


Review – How To Train Your Dragon Series

I began reading the HOW TO TRAIN YOUR DRAGON series to my six-year-old daughter two years ago after watching the Dreamworks’ DVD. Apart from character names the books bear little resemblance to the movie but that hasn’t stopped us reading all the books in the series so far. We read them together up until book ten last year. This year having recently turned eight she read book eleven by herself (I read it after her!).

The series follows the adventures of Hiccup Horrendous Haddock the Third who we meet as an 11-year-old (and who is 13 in book 11). Hiccup is learning how to be a Viking, which he is not very good at. His training involves having a dragon as your obedient companion which he must train for hunting and other essential Viking activities such as being a pirate. Hiccup also has to deal with the fact that he is the heir to the Hooligan Tribe as his father, Stoick the Vast, is the chief which puts considerably pressure on Hiccup to be the best possible Viking.

The adventures Hiccup has are truly fantastic and a deeper, larger mystery slowly emerges over the course of the books as bits and pieces Hiccup picks up along the way slowly come together. Cowell combines well-balanced humour (silly and clever) with truly great original stories that even I am addicted to. Hiccup must overcome the odds in a number of different ways usually with the help of his two best friends; Fishlegs, an even more unlikely Viking and Camicazi, a girl from a neighbouring tribe who is the best burglar in the archipelago in which the Vikings inhabit. The best way I can think of to describe the series is that it is like Asterix goes to Hogwarts.

The books are great for reading aloud for a 5-7 year old and suitable for an 8-12 year old reader, boy or girl. And despite the movie baring no resemblance to the books it is pretty good too!

The series in order:

  1. How to Train Your Dragon
  2. How to Be a Pirate
  3. How to Speak Dragonese
  4. How to Cheat a Dragon’s Curse
  5. How to Twist a Dragon’s Tale
  6. A Hero’s Guide to Deadly Dragons
  7. How to Ride a Dragon’s Storm
  8. How to Break a Dragon’s Heart
  9. How to Steal a Dragon’s Sword
  10. How to Seize a Dragon’s Jewel
  11. How to Betray a Dragon’s Hero

This might just be George Pelecanos’s best work to date.

9781409114604Review – The Double by George Pelecanos

This might just be Pelecanos’s best work to date. Which when I look back at his books that is a big call but one I am more than willing to make because George Pelecanos is carving out something pretty special with Spero Lucas.

We first met Spero in 2011’s The Cut; a returned serviceman who is looking to make up for lost time as well as recapture some of the experiences he had overseas. Spero is also adopted. He’s been raised by Greek-American parents and Pelecanos is deliberately vague about his race.  But race isn’t a dominating issue in either of the novels, not to say it isn’t there, it is set in modern-day America, but the colour of Spero’s skin doesn’t define him as character. The decisions he makes, the influence and bearing his friends and family have on him, the experiences he has lived through make Spero who he is and is why one of the reasons this series is such an accomplishment,

Another reason The Double is so good is that it works so well as conventional crime thriller. The plot is constantly moving, there is plenty of action and tension, both physically and emotionally. And the good guy and the bad guy are clearly defined but there is plenty of grey to smudge them up too.

Spero is still running his one-man, private investigation business. He takes casework from a defense attorney and cash jobs on the side. The balance of each suits Spero giving him flexible hours and spending money. One of these cash jobs is the retrieval of a stolen painting. A woman has been scammed and robbed in a very callous fashion and hires Spero to get her property back. But the manner in which Spero pursues the job will lead him down a very dark path, one he may not be able to walk back from.

But there is also so much more going on beneath this storyline. Like The Cut Pelecanos again examines the lives of America’s most recent military veterans, how they are adapting to life back home and how home is adapting to them. Pelecanos’s most regular character, the city of Washington DC, as always plays an important role. This time one of change and renewal and a sense of loss that it can bring. But the moral, emotional and physical crossroad that Spero finds himself in is the core of this gripping narrative and again demonstrates that pigeonholing George Pelecanos as just a crime writer is a huge mistake.

Buy the book here…

Dispels the myths of how the world went to war

9781864711424Review – 1914 The Year The World Ended by Paul Ham

I am not big on First World War history. The war it is not as captivating to me as the Second World War probably because of the static, stalemate nature of the war and the utter senselessness, not only of why the world went to war, but how long outdated tactics were used and the number of lives wasted. The First World War was also what I studied at school (until I dropped history) and the way it was presented, dates after dates, without any personal stories, meant I never could really relate to the conflict. It wasn’t until I read Pat Barker’s phenomenal Regeneration Trilogy and learnt about the likes of Siegfried Sassoon that I started to have any interest at all. Unlike the Second World War which still fascinates me greatly..

As I’ve written about numerous times I rank Paul Ham as one of the best Australian historians writing at the moment so I had no hesitations about reading his take on the First World War. Not that this book is a book about the war. Instead Paul Ham tells the story of how the world went to war and dispels many of the myths that have been perpetuated (particularly by high school history teachers!)

The popular version of the origins of the First World War is that the assassination of Franz Ferdinand triggered a number of treaties that led to Germany invading France and the world going to war. Paul Ham shows us that the assassination, rather than being the spark that ignited the war,  was an event exploited by a small few in power who wanted war. Who chose war. Who would have found another reason, another event, to trigger the whole catastrophe. In doing so Ham also dispels the myth that Europe slept walked to war in August 1914.

Ham follows the ebb and flow of diplomacy in Europe in the years leading up to The Great War.  He demonstrates that the huge divisions that seemed to cause the war were not always in evidence and that even as late as early 1914 problems between the powers of Europe were not insurmountable. However a feeling of war’s inevitability, going back a decade, seemed to cloud everyone’s judgement. This led to an escalation in high stakes diplomacy (and in other cases a complete lack of diplomacy) which coupled together with miscommunication and misunderstanding brought about a devastating war that could have been prevented. Instead those in power chose war and the world as it was known until 1914 ended.

1914 was a pivotal year in human history. It led to the Russian Revolution and The Cold War and was the seed that allowed Nazism and the horror of the Second World War to grow. It changed societies and countries around the globe. It was the beginning of the end of empires and monarchies as the world had known them. Paul Ham deftly and expertly guides us through all the pivotal events that led to this cataclysm and in doing so shows us that lessons can still be learnt one hundred years on.

Buy the book here…

Review – The Boy on the Page

A children’s book reviewer’s recent proclamation to ‘only review good books from now on’ got me wondering. What constitutes a good children’s book?

Is it something that causes your mouth to twitch into happy crescent-moon-shapes with each page turn? Is it a bubble bath for your heart, leaving you awash with warm joy? Or does it seize hold of your senses so tightly you forget to breathe? Perhaps it alters your understanding in some inexplicably magic way so that you feel you are living in a world infinitely more meaningful than the one you were in before you opened it?

The Boy on the PageEnter The Boy on the Page and discover a book that does all this and more.

This is an exceptionally good picture book. Employing flawless intent with exquisite subtlety, author illustrator, Peter Carnavas, ushers us along one small boy’s life journey as he attempts to fathom that most ponderous of human dilemmas: the meaning of life. It’s a rather weighty concept for young readers but Carnavas’ signature, sparse narrative style allows the reader to drift across the pages with minimal effort and maximum reward. I find the text as alluring and intense as the scent of summer jasmine. It is pure pleasure to inhale this boy’s story.

The boy, whom my seven year old declared to be Peter himself, lands one day on a page, previously unadorned and bereft of colour and life. Gradually, ‘things start to grow…’ and so does the boy. He experiences a myriad of miraculous life moments. He plants trees, rides horse, even plays the accordion. He climbs mountains, saves lives and puts out fires.

He finds love and repeatedly encounters the enormity of the world around him in the most unassuming of places. Yet one thought plagues him; why he landed on the page in the first place. In order to find the answer, he makes a dramatic decision; to try something he’s never tried before. How far he leaps, where he lands and what he discovers is all part of the spellbinding magic of this beautiful tale.

Peter Carnavas Peter Carnavas’ adroit use of white space and heart-melting water colour illustrations convey compassion and humility in a way young readers can easily comprehend and love and dare we hope, emulate. Gentle suggestions bubble to life through all that surrounds the boy; all those he ever loved and cared for. Is it pure whimsy or for higher purpose that we exist? What does happens next? Or are we simply here because, as assured to me by Miss 7, ‘we were made and that’s it.’

She may be right. Joyfully, like most young of mind and of heart, the Boy on the Page is dripping with sincerity without undue sentimentality and is utterly enchanting to experience. Share it with someone you love to read with or simply savour this ‘good read’ on your own.

Suitable for readers 5 – 10 years and those seeking transcendent meanings in life… Oh and we love little pig’s presence too!

View more of Peter Carnavas’ work here.

Queenslanders will have a first-hand opportunity to meet Peter Carnavas when he launches The Boy on the Page this weekend at the Avid Reader Book shop, Brisbane. Sunday 20th October at 10.00 am.The Boy on the Page launch Avid Reader

New Frontier Publishing September 2013


Reading Sherlock

9781904919698Many years ago, while at university, I read Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes. It was a set text, along with some Agatha Christie, Edgar Allen Poe, Raymond Chandler and assorted others, for a detective fiction unit I was doing. I don’t remember much detail from that reading (my memory becoming more akin to Swiss cheese with every passing year), but I do remember enjoying it a great deal. And I had always meant to read more of Holmes’s adventures.

Over the last few years there seems to have been a resurgence of interest in Mr Sherlock Holmes on both the small and large screens. The Robert Downey Jr films (see my review) and the two contemporised television versions, Sherlock from the Brits ( see my review) and Elementary from the Yanks, have renewed interest in the world’s greatest fictional detective. By no means immune, I’ve been watching these adaptations… And they have made me yearn for the original source material.

9781904919728So, I purchased a lovely boxed set of all the original Conan Doyle Holmes books. I’ve now read the first two novels and I though it worth the effort to tell you about them.

Individually, A Study in Scarlet and The Sign of the Four, are cracking great adventures. The first is particularly interesting for its structure. About two thirds of the way in, the story changes dramatically, from Dr Watson’s account of a mystery to a seemingly unrelated third person narrative set in the past. It is quite some time before its relevance becomes apparent. It’s quite jarring and confusing at first — a mystery within a mystery story — and I enjoyed it because of this. It’s not often that you come across something this unexpected in a novel.

The Sign of the Four was originally published three years after the first story, in 1890. And it seems that Sir Arthur had changed his mind about things (or perhaps neglected to check what he had written in the previous adventure) since the last outing of the great Sherlock Holmes. There are a number of inconsistencies. Dr Watson’s war wound changes location from shoulder to leg, for instance.

Most interesting is the change in the basic character of Holmes. He is a more flawed, albeit peculiar person in the first book. His knowledge is very specialised towards the science of criminology and detection, with huge gaps in routine general knowledge. In fact, the author goes to great pains to list all the things that Sherlock does not know. In the intervening years, Holmes seems to have acquired a great deal of knowledge, becoming an expert in practically everything. And this is the character that most contemporary readers/viewers are familiar with — the great intellect with an almost encyclopaedic knowledge. I’m told by one Holmes fan that I have even more inconsistencies to look forward to. 🙂

The language is a joy to read, although occasionally rather unintentionally amusing because of the dated turns of phrase… Dr Watson, for instance, ejaculates an awful lot during conversations. 🙂 Some of the views are also rather dated. There are some offhand racist comments in The Sign of the Four (yes, I know they’re in historical context, but they still jarred with me), and there is Holmes’s advice to Watson…

“Women are never to be entirely trusted — not the best of them.”

Despite the inconsistencies and dated views, I loved reading these adventures. I’m looking forward to reading more.

Catch ya later,  George

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The twists and turns come as thick and fast as the action and keep you guessing right up to the last page.

9780099552581Review – Ratlines by Stuart Neville

I love a good World War Two thriller and am a sucker for Irish crime so to get both in one was something I was never expecting. Ireland’s role in the Second World War is rarely mentioned in history books. Ireland officially remained neutral during what they called ‘The Emergency’ but there was a high amount of anti-British feeling amongst stout republicans. This meant that there was even a pro-German sentiment during the war which led to Ireland being a place of refuge for Nazis and Axis collaborators after the war. One Nazi that settled in Ireland was Otto Skorzeny, an SS Colonel who famously rescued Mussolini in 1943. Stuart Neville takes these facts and weaves an impressive historical thriller.

Set in 1963, John F. Kennedy’s historical visit of Ireland is only weeks away. Ireland’s politicians are determined that his visit will be without incident. So when three foreign nationals with shady pasts are found murdered the mess needs to be cleaned up as quickly as possible. Lieutenant Albert Ryan, who fought for the British during the Second World War and has been shunned for doing so, is tasked with protecting Otto Skorzeny who has been singled out as the next target.

Ryan must choose between his country, which has treated him poorly, and his own moral code as he must protect a man whose ideals he fought against in the war. At the same time as dealing with this internal struggle Ryan must discover who is targeting ex-Nazis and why. He also needs to workout who he can really trust because everyone has their own motives and are prepared to do whatever it takes to get what they want.

This is a superb read. The twists and turns come as thick and fast as the action and keep you guessing right up to the last page. I found the historical stuff as fascinating and gripping as the fiction in between and hope we see more of Lieutenant Albert Ryan in the future.

Buy the book here…

DC Green goes to Monster School

Monster SchoolDC Green, author of the Erasmus James series, has a new book. Monster School hit the shelves on 1 October and DC is out and about doing a monstrous blog tour. Today, he’s visiting us here at Boomerang Books. Take it away, DC…

Writing Monstrous Characters
By DC Green

Monsters rule! The hardest thing about writing Monster School was deciding which terrifying creatures to leave out of the main narrative. There are so many cool monsters – some popular, some rare and many unknown. Yet I knew for my story to work, I’d have to focus on a small(ish) group of monster types. Better to get to know a few well-developed characters than to have dozens of ill-defined or stereotypical creatures overloading the poor readers’ brains.

So, reluctantly, Monster School features zero werewolves, sasquatches, leprechauns, hydras or Terminators. (Though there are two more books in the City of Monsters series to remedy that situation!)

Conflict conflict conflict 

Cramming four million monsters into a single city seemed a perfect way to brew conflict. I loved the idea of different monsters clashing for a range of reasons – opposing cultures and values, ancient rivalries, and of course, simple hunger. Logically, many monster species would have their own schools in their own quarters, such as the famed Ogre Bodyguard College. But Castle Mount, at the heart of Monstro City, contains a mix of adult monsters from every quarter. It makes sense their monstrous offspring would attend a nearby, very mixed, school: Monstro Central.

To multiply this potential conflict, I wanted the core ‘gang’ who attend class 10A at Monster School to be diverse. That, presumably, meant each of my main monsters would hail from minority species, which would add to the outsider dynamic I wanted to establish.

The most populous monster species in Monstro City is the plains goblin. The three main goblin clans tally over a third of Monstro City’s population. They are the deal-makers, politicians, bureaucrats and bankers; in short, the new humans. So the school is dominated by young mafia goblins.

I named my outsider group the Dead Gang, because I liked the name and it was accurate. Yes, the majority of the Dead Gang are not technically alive. I couldn’t help myself: there are just so many cool dead monsters!

So I came up with the three core Deads: Stoker the mohawked vampire; Scarab the kindly mummy, and Zorg the rat-chewing, socially-challenged zombie (who has a thing for Scarab). The gang also needed some monsters from other quarters, so I brought in two Mythics: Tessa the garbage-collecting troll (actually, garbage-digesting is more accurate) and Bruce, the joker giant spider.

On the first day we visit Monstro Central School, two new and important characters arrive: the narrator, Swamp Boy, a scaredy and naïve swamp monster; and Greta, a surly and sarcastic forest goblin, rumoured to have magical powers.

That ended up being a lot more monsters than I planned to include, but they all proved to be so much fun to write, all had such distinct voices and brought so much to the story table. Together, they formed a virtually a super-powered team, capable of so much more collectively than individually.

Bruce the giant spider

BruceBruce is my favourite monster. My novels always include a character with this name, but never has a Bruce been so much fun to write.

First, this Bruce is fun to physically describe. The giant spider has 128 eyes and is huge, so he can’t fit through normal-sized doorways. He has eight legs with pincers instead of fingers, two chellica (mini-arms) enclosing his mouth and one exoskeleton. Despite his fearsome appearance, he’s a loyal gang-member and friend. When scared, he vibrates.

Bruce is a prankster, always quick with a one-liner or an insult. From the moment he jabs a hairy pincer into Swamp Boy’s ribs, his dialogue is distinctive. ‘Yo, Swampy. I’m your friendly neighbourhood eight-legged killing machine! But you can call me Bruce.’

As with all my characters, I asked dozens of questions of Bruce before I even began the story proper. That way, I got to know my monsters intimately, from their voices to the way they react in different scenarios. I also like to weigh my characters with some type of personality flaw, as well as at least one secret. Other questions I ask range from the mundane (what is their favourite food?) to the profound (what is their philosophy of life?).

Creating monster characters is no different to creating interesting humans. Both require careful planning and questioning; though not many humans can shoot webs from their claws and their backside spinnerets!

George’s bit at the end

My thanks to DC for sharing his monstrous creative process with us. Cool stuff!

To find out more about DC Green, his book and his Monster School blog tour, check out his blog.

Catch ya later,  George

PS. Follow me on Twitter


DW_ShalkaCheck out my DVD blog, Viewing Clutter.

Latest Post: DVD Giveaway — Doctor Who: Scream of the Shalka




Player Profile: Tony Davis, author of The Big Dry

IMG_0622-sepia copyTony Davis, author of The Big Dry

Tell us about your latest creation:

The Big Dry is a “tween” adventure story, set in a modern city where it hasn’t rained for seven years. Order has broken down and massive dust storms regularly blast across the increasingly dilapidated metropolis. Against this backdrop, two abandoned children are trying to survive: George, who has just turned thirteen, and his six-year-old brother “Beeper”. They have a fortified house but supplies of food and fresh water are dwindling. When it seems things can’t get much worse, the mysterious Emily breaks into their house and their lives and refuses to leave. It is aimed at the tween market – upper primary and lower high school – which is a really interesting and quite challenging age to write for.

9780732297633Where are you from / where do you call home?:

Sydney, Australia.

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

Always a writer, the only question was what type of writer.

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

Always the latest … that’s one advantage of being a writer ahead of an athlete. You should get better with age.

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

It’s packed but pretty organised. I need a good chair and good music (with no words)to write well. And lots of tea.

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

Everything: kids and general titles, fiction and non. About to start Paul Barry’s new Murdoch family book – as soon as i finish this rather large Russian novel (Life and Fate by Vasily Grossman; it is extraordinary).

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

Animal Farm by George Orwell. So clever on so many levels, even if I didn’t understand most of them at nine or ten.

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

Many of the characters I really admire … well, things don’t necessarily end very well for them. I think I’ll stick with being me.

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

Knocking around with my three school-age sons. Listening to music. Cycling. OK, no big surprises there. Sorry. I also test fast cars for a newspaper, but that’s kind of work.

What is your favourite food and favourite drink?:

Rocquefort cheese and coffee.

Who is your hero? Why?:

George Orwell. Fearless in print, fearless in life.

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

Keeping young people engaged in a world with so many tempting alternatives.

Website URL:

Re-Reading Donna Tartt’s The Secret History


Review – The Secret History by Donna Tartt

With Donna Tartt’s highly anticipated The Goldfinch due for release on October 23  (don’t miss out on our special pre-order offer) and remembering how brilliant Donna Tartt is I decided it was time to re-read The Secret History. I don’t normally have time to reread books because there are just so many books, new and old, that I haven’t read but Donna Tartt is so amazing I wanted to revisit her.

The first time I read The Secret History I can distinctly remember being blown away. Just like the book’s 9780141037691main character Richard I was sucked into the world of Hampden College and the tight-knit group studying Ancient Greek. Having originally read the book 10-11 years ago my memory was very fuzzy and I remember the book being about Richard falling in with this elite group who thought themselves above everybody else, so much so, that they believed they could get away with murder. But they couldn’t get away from the guilt and the secrets after the fact.

Reading it the second time (and being 10+ years older) changed the whole perspective of the book for me. I was around the same age as Richard the first time around so I guess I was susceptible to the charms of both the college and its inhabitants. Second time around I was much more aware of the subtle manipulation of Richard. This was probably in part to having already read the book but also part being older (and hopefully a little wiser). Instead of being charmed, like Richard,  by Henry, Francis and the twins I found them completely pretentious and detached from the real world. Their money, their attitude, their cleverness hid their naivety and I think on my first reading I (again like Richard) was the more naive one.

What I found really interesting was I pretty much remembered most of the book up to Bunny’s murder but not a thing afterwards. The whole unwinding of each member of the group and the group itself felt completely new to me. I knew it happened but Bunny’s funeral and the eventual ending had completely escaped me. The first time I read the book I felt the murder changed everyone involved. The weight of guilt and having to keep a secret ate away at everyone until everything disintegrated. This time I don’t think the murder changed anyone, with maybe the exception of Richard. I think the murder just highlighted who each character really was and they eventually turned on one another as they had turned on Bunny.

Despite reading The Secret History with this new perspective (or more likely because of it) I thoroughly enjoyed the book second time around. Donna Tartt is an immense talent and is well worth reading again and again.

Buy the book here…

Pre-order The Goldfinch here…


A joy to read. Pure reading heaven. I miss it already!


Review – The Luminaries by Eleanor Catton

This was such a joy to read. It is pure reading heaven. It is richly detailed yet highly readable and features a large cast of characters who are each flawed in all the many ways people can be. It is also an intricate mystery, a puzzle that each character (and you the reader) are trying to get to the bottom of.

The Luminaries is a monster of a book. The size of the book may put you off but don’t be! I stupidly let this sit on my shelf for months. I didn’t want to commit to a book so big. However, literally after the first page, I was so glad that this was a huge book because I just wanted to read and read. You honestly don’t want this book to end. When I did finish I instantly began to miss it and all it’s characters.

Eleanor Catton loses you in the story and, like the characters of the novel, sucks you in to the puzzle. Catton’s style and talent defy her years. Each chapter begins with a brilliantly penned synopsis, which I must admit I’d read at the end of the previous chapter like a ‘next time on The Luminaries‘. These synopses brilliant capture the mood and tone of the story and are just one of many hooks.

The story is set in the New Zealand Goldfields and involves a murder, an attempted suicide, a missing man and a pile of gold whose ownership is far from clear. The mystery unfolds from the perspective of 13 men who are each involved in the story in different ways. Each of these men piece together their stories but the truth is hiding behind miscommunication, misinterpretation and each person’s own intentions and stake in the events.

The Luminaries is totally absorbing, utterly original and a must for The Booker Prize! I am going to have an absolute nightmare putting together my top 10 of the year now (a good nightmare). Eleanor Catton is such an amazing writer (I already have The Rehearsal sitting in my ‘to read’ pile). Even without The Booker this is a book that deserves to be read, enjoyed, celebrated and read again.

Buy the book here…

Road Tested: Save With Jamie by Jamie Oliver


Review – Save With Jamie by Jamie Oliver

Jamie’s last two cookbooks have both been about finding smarter ways to cook quickly. His new book is about finding smarter ways to cook and save money. I loved 30 Minute Meals and still cook from it regularly but felt that 15 Minute Meals did compromise on taste in places and it hasn’t kept it’s place in my regular recipe line up. For me Jamie’s Ministry of Food is still the pinnacle of his cookbooks and I still cook from it at least once, if not twice, a week.

The best thing about the new book is there is no time limit! I must confess to feeling the pressure of the clock with 30 Minute Meals and 15 Minute Meals and cooking much more of a pleasure without racing the clock or having 3 things going at once, all in a particular order.

Save With Jamie is split into Vegetarian, Chicken, Beef, Lamb, Pork and Seafood and contains lots of other money saving tips along the way. The meat sections all begin with a “Mothership” recipe, a large roast with an affordable cut of meat designed to give you leftovers. Half the chapter then has recipes using these leftovers (although it would have been good to include an alternative to the leftovers). Jamie has included a great range of different recipes from stir fries to curries to pasta, pizzas and burgers. I’ve road tested 3 recipes so far and will add more as I cook ‘em:

Sicilian squash & chickpea stew:


easy prep, big flavour, 7/10

Singapore Noodles


really easy prep, big flavour, better than the shops YUM 9/10 (I used a BBQ chicken instead of leftovers)

Penne Peperonata


yummy pasta sauce, dead easy, no jar 7/10

We would love to hear how you gone with the cookbook and which recipes you have enjoyed. Let us know in the comments!

Buy the book here…