How to Draw a Chooken

How To Draw A ChickenAnyone who knows me even peripherally knows I’m a little bit obsessed with ‘chookens’. Specifically the former battery hens I’ve adopted so they could have a happy retirement (if you’re not familiar, you can follow along via the hashtags #operationchooken and #chookens).

And anyone who’s ever seen me attempt to draw a chooken, which I have the tendency to do when I’m daydreaming in meetings, knows it’s a skill I’ve yet to master—I can only draw stick chookens and, bizarrely, only stick chookens facing left.

Suffice to say, I was pretty stoked when a friend messaged me a picture of a book she spotted: Jean-Vincent Senac’s How to Draw A Chicken. It seemed a sign from the chooken gods: I’d maybe master drawing front- and right-facing chookens after all.

Ordering the book sight unseen and without further research was perhaps a rookie mistake (my friend hadn’t looked inside it either, so couldn’t give me a summary), and my anticipation was arguably unfairly high.

But Senac’s book turns out less to be a how-to guide than a book of whimsy. Or, as Kirkus Reviews aptly expresses it: ‘This book might as well be titled How Not to Draw a Chicken’.

The simply and sparsely illustrated book, with hand-drawn black outlines on white paper, seemingly commences with instructions for drawing chookens. It tells us we’ll need a pen, a penholder, and a good pair of eyes. The next page instructs us to draw a triangle. Then a vertical line.

From there, though, Senac departs from logical instructions, encouraging us to add legs to a beak before realising that the legs and beak will need to be separated in order to add a body. Not wanting to be separated, the legs and beak run away.

We continue on in a muddle-headed fashion, drawing the body on its own, adding an egg, and then adding legs to the egg…you get the picture, so I’m sure I don’t need to go on.

The Meditating CatHow to Draw a Chicken is undeniably cute and surprising in the oddest of ways. It is part of a suite of Senac’s adorably oddball books (including The Meditating Cat: A Zen Colouring Book; no, I’m not sure if it’s actually a colouring book, but I’d hazard a guess not).

Which on the one hand heartens me: Someone both had such off-the-wall idea(s) as How to Draw a Chicken, which does something entirely different from what its title suggests, but also saw them come through to fruition and commercial legitimacy.

It’s seen Senac create such things as flipbooks, albums, notebooks, and online games. And his website, though in French and therefore incomprehensible to someone as non-existently fluent in the language as me, equally impressively whimsical. There’s even an animated man walking across the screen with a butterfly catcher.

So, although I haven’t yet through Senac’s books mastered the art of drawing chookens, his work has piqued my interest. I’d recommend flipping through them (as I didn’t) before purchasing any, but even if you don’t, whatever you find contained within them will likely provide some decently quirky food for thought.

Quitting I Quit Sugar

I Quit Sugar For LifeI should also probably preface this blog with the acknowledgement I’m not sure I want to be reviewing a book I consider to be a little misinformed. However, I am trying to assess it objectively and fairly on its merits.

But first, some background.

For five years I’ve been turning up to doctors at various intervals reporting vague, flu-like symptoms that develop shortly after eating. For five years, no doctor has been able to entirely get to the bottom of it.

More recently, one or two have conceded it sounds like an allergic reaction of sorts, but to what no one is sure—I can’t isolate it to one food or one instant.

As a healthy-eating, active-living vegan, my diet’s pretty decent. And with negative results to the likes of coeliac disease and gluten intolerance and more, there’s little for me to pinpoint much less remove from my diet.

But the symptoms get so bad they affect my ability to work, concentrate, and sleep. Suffice to say, I’ve been casting around the interwebs for solutions, as you do.

Enter a recent suggestion I could be allergic to fructose, a form of naturally and unnaturally occurring sugar less friendly to our bodies than glucose, and one with which modern diets are positively packed.

My symptoms don’t match the most common fructose intolerance symptoms, namely those of gut-related, irritable bowel ilk. But, without continuing to bore you with medical details, let’s just say I’m desperate to fix this. So I bought a book about quitting sugar written by a TV personality turned self-proclaimed health and lifestyle guru.

Sarah Wilson now has two sugar-quitting books out, and I skipped straight to I Quit Sugar For Life, the sequel to I Quit Sugar.

Forget the semantics that if you’ve quit something, you’ve presumably quit it permanently and therefore shouldn’t require a follow-up book with the addendum ‘for life’. I figured anything I could glean might be handy.

And, to be fair, there are some handy bits to glean: I Quit Sugar For Life is prettily laid out. The designer charged with its layout and the editor who oversaw it clearly understand communication design.

Call-out text meets infographics meets tables and visually arresting images, texture, and colour make this book one you happily want to pick up and flick through. It’s kind of magazine meets coffee table book in its approach—something you can flick through and pore over in equal measure.

Wilson is also skilled at delivering information in accessible, memorable terms. For instance, she cites a friend who likens fat to being a long-burning log thrown on a fire, and sugar being a fast-burning paper or kerosene. Use the former, the axiom implies, and you will happily chug away for a while. Use the latter and you’ll constantly be looking for things to throw on that fire.

Wilson breaks down how to read labels too—something that’s trickier than it seems and that we all could and should be doing more of. There are also some recipes that look tasty. Case in point, the Carrot Cake Porridge Whip. The green smoothie and grated salad options look good too.

The underlying premise and overall takeaway from Wilson’s book is that it’s undeniable we’re eating too much sugar and it’s not affecting us well. Researchers have drawn links to heart disease, obesity, and cancer to name just a few ills.

So far so good.

I Quit SugarBut where Wilson’s book confused and troubled me? The following, which was put under the heading ‘Veganism’:

Can I be frank here? My research has led me to conclude that a meat-inclusive diet is more ethical, more environmentally sustainable and more nutritious per calorie intake than a grain- and legume-based one. In Australia, 22 times more animals are killed to produce the latter, through destruction of habitat to make room for agriculture.

What the?!

I realise she’s talking about her personal choice, but such vague statements as ‘my research’ don’t show what she researched and how. It’s also so vague it could easily be viewed as: ‘It doesn’t suit me, so I’ve decided that…’.

Without sounding rude, I beg to differ. And so do such international, authoritative sources such as the United Nations (UN), which produced a seminal report back in 2006 outlining the devastating climate change-related effects cast by ‘livestock’s long shadow’.

Essentially, livestock production and other forms of meat slash factory farming are an inefficient, resource-gobbling production model. A number of reports have suggested people starving and malnourished in developing nations could actually be properly fed if the world stopped growing grain for meat and instead distributed that grain more efficiently and equitably straight up.

There are related issues with monoculture and pesticides used in said farming practices that are vastly affecting bee populations, AKA the lynchpins of food production. There are issues with land degradation, deforestation, and biodiversity decline.

There are issues with the amount of water it takes to produce meat. There are issues with the use of antibiotics to help fatten up animals that are now leading scientists and doctors to prepare themselves for the very real and fast-approaching reality of a post-antibiotic world (that’s aside from the fact that the fattening elements that affect livestock are now being linked with the fattening of the people who consume said livestock).

There are issues with pollution, with livestock slash factory farming considered one of the largest contributors to climate change through methane and more emissions (one estimate is 18%, but some reports put it higher).

There are issues with the reliance these industries have on fossil fuels, trucking food and animals about. And that’s before you starting talking issues of inhumane farming practices that see animals confined in horrifically cramped cages and small spaces without any quality of life…

But I’m ranting, so I’ll instead direct you to this more articulate Slate article, which asks the question: What would happen if everyone in the world stopped eating meat? It links through to a bunch of research and reports that show a meat-based diet to be the antithesis sustainable, for starters.

I’m not sure where Wilson got: ‘In Australia, 22 times more animals are killed to produce the latter, through destruction of habitat to make room for agriculture’. My guess is that making room for agriculture is related to making room for agriculture to grow crops to be fed to animals planned for dinner plates.

Regardless of where Wilson’s pulling figures from, to be blunt, I Quit Sugar For Life is a first-world book. And we’re living in an increasingly climate change-affected world where it’s no longer (if it ever was) ok to think only of developed nations.

It’s why the UN and various other health organisations that look at world-wide issues rather than first-world ones have been flagging the notions of ‘peak meat’ and encouraging people to rethink their meat consumption and choose meat alternatives.

It’s why environmental advocates such as Al Gore, who’ve dedicated their lives to looking into this stuff, have quietly gone about reducing—and sometimes eliminating—meat from their diets.

I realise this is a little ranty, and I understand Wilson’s well-meaning—I really, truly do. But I worry what kind of message Wilson’s book is sending.

There are elements of her book that will help people (maybe me included). But I find the above stance concerning and the vague ‘research’ she uses to endorse it one I can’t stomach.

I’m not yet sure if I’m allergic to fructose, but sadly Wilson’s book has made me determined find ways to determine that and reduce my sugar consumption on my own.

Player Profile: Geoffrey McSkimming, author of Phyllis Wong and the Return of the Conjuror

1_McSkimmingGeoffrey1Geoffrey McSkimming, author of Phyllis Wong and the Return of the Conjuror

Tell us about your latest creation:

Phyllis Wong and the Return of the Conjuror

This is the second Phyllis Wong mystery and in it, Phyllis Wong, that brilliant young magician and clever sleuth, discovers a crime that dates back to the time of Shakespeare and is seeping into the 21st century. As Phyllis herself says, ‘Fasten your seatbelts, ladies and gentlemen, the ride will get bumpy!’

9781743318379Where are you from / where do you call home?:

 I divide my time between Sydney, Australia, and Cawdor, Scotland.

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

 I wanted to be a ventriloquist, then a puppeteer, then a magician, then an actor, then a writer. I tried a few of the former, then found out that writing was for me!

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

That is such a hard question. I’m happy with all the books I’ve had published. Phyllis Wong and the Return of the Conjuror is a personal favourite, though; Phyllis is such a clever girl and I loved transporting her (and me) back to Shakespeare’s time.

9781742378213[1]Describe your writing environment to us – your writing room, desk, etc.; is it ordered or chaotic?:

I write sitting on an old, art deco lounge which once upon a time belonged to my grandmother. It’s a big, comfortable sofa and I can surround myself with cushions, my manuscript and notebooks, cups of coffee, pens and other things I need when I’m writing.

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

 I love reading old crime novels. I have a lot in our home library, some dating back to the 1920s. At the moment I’m finishing reading all the detective novels by Nicholas Blake (Cecil Day Lewis, the Poet Laureate and father of Daniel Day Lewis).

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

 The Illustrated Man by Ray Bradbury; Something Wicked This Way Comes by Ray Bradbury; The Three Investigators series of novels; The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe by C S Lewis; Travels with a Gherkin by Justine van Orgling.

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

 Cairo Jim. Because after writing 19 books in which he appears I have come to know him very well.

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

 Dream up plots for stories … and watch my favourite magician doing magic ..

What is your favourite food and favourite drink?:

 Anything red.

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

 I think it’s the same challenge that’s always been there: to keep producing great quality books and stories. It doesn’t matter what format people will be reading them on — whether it’s paper or electronic versions — if the quality and the pleasure is not there for the reader, the reader won’t be there for the story

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Poignantly perfect picture books Part Two – The Stone Lion

The Stone LionWhen picture books have the ability to make your heart beat a little faster, fill your eyes with tears and send your spirits soaring. When they effortlessly harness thoughts and project feelings with poignant clarity; to say they are exceptional seems woefully insufficient. Rare are the picture books that can fit this bill, yet Margaret Wild has little trouble doing so.

The Stone Lion is her newest picture book with Ritva Voutila (mums with school aged kids may recognise her unique art from the dozens of Storylands Early Readers). The austere cover and title leave little Margaret Wilddoubt as to the subject matter but the subtle beauty of the regal, maned lion crouching upon his engraved stone pedestal (you can really feel it), spur the need to know more about him.

Wild cleverly chisels out a tale of unlikely heroes (the stone lion) and unseemly characters (homeless youths, librarians and gargoyles). There is also the subtle persuasion that hope is determined by the passing of time as shown by the illustrations of swirling leaves, fleeing birds and umbrellas adrift.The Stone Lion umbrella illo

The magnificent stone lion statue stationed outside the library dreams of a life more animated if only so he can ‘pounce and prowl and leap’. But one fateful snowy night, he is forced to re-evaluate his own desires when a baby is abandoned at his paws.

Ritva Voutilda’s beautiful, muted pastel illustrations mirror both the stone lion’s cold forlorn heart and the kernel of hope that Ritva Voutilabeats within us all. Miracles are easy to believe when they result in great change as The Stone Lion so ably demonstrates.

Using unadorned yet intensely sensitive language, Wild makes us feel something real for something which is unable to feel yet wants to in an incredible allegory about wanting more, accepting less and understanding the power of benevolence.

This is not a picture book brimming with rainbows and lollypops, and sunshine and happiness. But it does sing with a clear purity of heart that kindness is indeed its own reward. The Stone Lion is a picture book older readers will enjoy for its touching and profound celebration of humility.The Stone Lion library

It is truly exceptional.

Little Hare Books a Hardie Grant Egmont imprint April 2014

Return of the Slow Cooker

Winter is almost upon us, and as the days grow darker and the nights become cooler, my mind turns to comfort food from my slow cooker.  Anyone with me? It’s time to pull out your slow cooker from the back of the cupboard, box or garage and begin to look forward to some delicious meals.  Slow cookers are a fabulous time-saving appliance, and there’s nothing better than coming home from a busy day out to a delicious concoction cooking away on your bench top.

Now, if you’re anything like me you’ll have your tried and true favourites (lamb shanks, beef hot pot) but I’ve pulled together a collection of Australian books for you to spice up your repertoire.  The best thing about this collection is that each of these books have been selected from the Boomerang Books list of Australia’s Top 1000 Bestselling Books, which means you can enjoy an additional 20% off the RRP.

250 Must Have Slow Cooked RecipesFirst, I bring you the 250 Must-Have Slow Cooker Recipes (pictured left), which contains recipes for time-strapped cooks and busy households, including breakfasts and desserts.  Recipes include cooking with meat, poultry, seafood, vegetables, pulses, rice or pasta to create soul-warming dishes.  Yum!

If 250 recipes isn’t enough, try the The 1000 Recipe Collection – Slow Cooking, which has (as the title suggests) an astonishing 1000 recipes to choose from.  Getting hungry?

The Complete Slow Cooker By Sally Wise is a combination of two of her previous slow cooker books and is appropriately jam packed full of great recipes.  If you’re looking for ideas for delicious and nutritious meals from an experienced cook, you can’t go past The Complete Slow Cooker by Sally Wise.  According to the publisher, Sally Wise is the: “best known, best loved and the biggest selling author of books on slow cooking,” so you really can’t go wrong with this one.Women's Weekly Cook It Slow

Finally, a collection of Australian cook books wouldn’t be complete without including an Australian Women’s Weekly edition, and so I give you Cook it Slow by Australian Women’s Weekly.  Cook it Slow contains almost 500 pages of recipes and also includes other methods of cooking slow including oven and stove top recipes; making this book perfect for those without a slow cooker at home.

Let me know if you’re a slow cooker devotee, and if you have a favourite recipe you’d like to share with us.

If you’re still hungry for more, check out Slow Cooking By Hinkler Books.

Vader’s Little Princess

Vader's Little PrincessJeffrey Brown has cemented himself as a firm favourite of mine for a bunch of reasons, not least:

  • his genius in coming up with an idea for some clever books and seeing them through to fruition
  • because he’s gotten me out of many a gift-giving bind (especially for friends with children, as being a child-friendly but child-free person, I’m not overly familiar with what appeals to kids these days)
  • his books manage the holy-grail feat of impressing both adults and kids.

I’m writing, of course, about Brown’s Vader series. The first, entitled Darth Vader and Son ( I have to say I think Vader and Son would have been a stronger title), I’ve blogged about previously. It’s based on the premise that instead of not encountering Luke until he was an adult, Vader instead raised him on the Death Star.

The follow-up, Vader’s Little Princess, is the daughter-themed equivalent, with Vader experiencing all the love and enduring all the quirks that come with that gig.

The scenarios are recognisable to parents and non-parents alike, but given a peculiarly fantastic Star Wars-themed twist. Let’s be honest, these books are pretty much the best thing nerds and nerds who’ve become parents could ask for (and that’s not even including how much these books appeal to kids).

Some favourite Vader’s Little Princess moments include:

  • when Vader embarrassingly insists on dropping Leia right to the front door of school in an At At Walker rather than, as she requests, around the corner
  • a dad-and-new-boyfriend ‘bonding’ moment when Vader introduces Han Solo to a carbon freezing chamber
  • when Vader lectures Leia, dressed in the barely there outfit famous from the Jabba the Hutt scene, that she’s ‘not going out dressed like that’
  • when Leia pours her heart out about (and implores Vader to help dissect the meaning of) saying ‘I love you’ to Han Solo and all he said back was ‘I know’
  • and when Leia takes Vader to the ballet featuring—wait for it—Jar Jar Binks (it wouldn’t be a Star Wars spoof without a Jar Jar Binks joke).

Vader and SonI don’t find Vader’s Little Princess quite as entertaining as I do Vader and Son, although whether that’s because Brown understandably used up his best material in the first book or because the element of how-cool-is-this surprise was gone the second time around.

But I do find it great enough to warrant reading occasionally and recommending and gifting to friends more often than that.

I’m not sure if there’s room for a third book in the series—maybe a Vader as grandparent title?—but I truly hope so. In the interim, these two are going to remain my parents-and-kids gift-giving staple.

Review – Perfectly Poignant Picture Books Part One – Here in the Garden

Grief by any measure can be overwhelming. The grief one experiences after the loss of a family member never more so, even if that member happens to have whiskers and furry ears.Here in the Garden

Who knew I’d still be grieving the loss of my dog so intensely four months on? That the thinnest memory of him could unveil a mountain of yearning and loss and cause small avalanches of tears – again and again.

Then one of those inexplicably perfectly timed encounters in life happens; I read Briony Stewart’s picture book, Here in the Garden.

Briony with WinstonPenned after the loss of her beloved pet rabbit, Winston, Here in the Garden is more than an inspired cathartic exercise. It is an exquisitely crafted passage-of-time tale that allows ‘anyone who reads it (a) way back to a loved one through (their) heart and (their) memories’.

A young boy loses his special friend, a pet rabbit and wishes fervently that they were still together in his garden. Seasons slide by with the passing of time yet his yearning never diminishes. The boy’s present day feelings are sensitively juxtaposed with each new season and the past memories they reawaken of his days shared in the garden with bunny.

Briony Stewart Stewart’s heart-felt narrative is poetic and poignant and at times a little tear-inducing. The evolution of the seasons is beautifully measured by her splendid illustrations; most notably, the stirring string of pencilled line drawings at the end leading us and the boy beautifully from grief to resignation to jubilation of better days. By the end of story and the passing of a year, the boy comes to realise that whilst not everything we hold precious and dear in life can remain with us physically, memories are forever.

Here in the Garden is ultimately a moving yet magnificent and uplifting testimony to life and that wondrous salve of all hurts, time. Older readers will need tissues. Younger ones will cherish the joy and hope hidden within just as easily as they will locate the leaf-shaped bunnies drifting throughout this book.

Highly recommended for healing and hope-seeking.

UQP April 2014 Available here, now.

Don’t put those tissues away yet! Stick around for Part Two of Poignant Picture books when we cast a look at The Stone Lion.




Review – Darkness, Darkness by John Harvey

9780434022939John Harvey has written a superb final case for the enduring and never weary (ok, just a little weary) detective Charlie Resnick. It has been a while between drinks and the way Cold In Hand finished a few years ago had me thinking that might have been the last we’d seen of Resnick. However John Harvey had other ideas and gives Resnick one last hurrah.

Now retired Charlie Resnick is still involved with the job he loves, and can’t get away from, assisting with witness statements and other administrative work. However when a body from thirty years ago is unearthed during some excavation work Charlie is asked to lend his expertise.

Thirty years before and at the height of the miners’ strikes Jenny Hardwick disappeared. Jenny was heavily involved in the strike movement however her husband refused to stop work in the local mine. Rumour had it she had run off with another man. Her disappearance only raised small suspicions and a limited investigation. Until now, thirty years later.

Resnick was heavily involved with the police action at the time, police action which is now under the microscope. Command wants the case cleared up as quickly and as quietly as possible. However with the trail of evidence and witnesses buried in the past questions are only going to open old wounds.

John Harvey’s mastery is on full display as he crafts together not only an intricate and intriguing murder mystery but also a look back at the social powder keg that the miners’ strike was. Not only on a national scale but for a small town and within a marriage.

Charlie Resnick gets the farewell he and his fans deserve and if you haven’t encountered him before I implore you to go back and read one of the best crime series ever written by an author who continues to get better and better.

Buy the book here…

A God In Every Stone by Kamila Shamsie – Giveaway


9781408847213We love A God In Every Stone by Kamila Shamsie so much we want to give copies of the book away.

1914 and a soldier is returning from Ypres to his home in Pakistan. His loyalty to Britain is about to be challenged. Also in 1914 a young English woman is following an interest in archaeology and travelling in Peshawar. She too is about to have her views challenged, Both of these people, in their own way question the very different societies they live in. Where do your loyalties lie? To your own country rather than another? To your family? To God? To yourself?

The first 15 people who purchase a copy of Kamila Shamsie’s A God In Every Stone we will get a 2nd copy for free to give to a friend, family member, neighbour or whoever they want!

We know you are going to love this book just as much as we did and we want you to help us share the joy of such a great read.

Buy the book here…

Review: One Boy Missing by Stephen Orr

9781922147271This is one of the best crime books I have read in a while. Totally absorbing, emotionally gripping it is one of those books that sinks its teeth into you and doesn’t let go. Set in the South Australian town of Guilderton the book not only explores life in a small rural town but the bonds between fathers and sons.

The book begins with a nine-year-old boy being taken. There is only one witness but other than that nothing else to go on. No child has been reported missing. Was this an abduction? Is there a crime?

Detective Bart Moy, recently returned to Guilderton to look after his father, begins his investigation that quickly leads nowhere. Moy’s search takes him through the heart and the outskirts of the small town and its inhabitants as well as his own inner turmoil. Moy is haunted by the loss of his own son and is determined not to let the this case go. But at the same time wonders if he can make any difference.

Stephen Orr plots this novel brilliantly. He has your doubting and questioning events in tandem with Moy who is struggling at being a decent cop (and he knows it) yet needs to solve this case. You get glimpses of the man he was before he returned to Guilderton but at the same time knows it is impossible for that part of him to return.

Harrowing yet hopeful this is a reflective a crime novel where finding the case is as important as solving it.

Buy the book here…

Green Is The New Red

Green Is The New RedI reviewed Will Potter’s Green Is The New Red—a book not about fashion, but perceived terrorism as the new communism kind of fear-inducing threat—for an environmental publication around 12 months ago.

At the time, although the Queensland government was reaping horrors, the federal changeover was yet to happen.

The dystopian American society Potter describes in his book in which activists rather than factory farmers perpetrating stomach-churning cruelty were punished was, though increasingly something I could almost imagine, wasn’t something I could entirely grasp.

Fast forward a year and with a federal government happily condemning the Barrier Reef and the Tasmanian national heritage old-growth forests and just about everything in between to certain death and, well, let’s just say that dystopian near-reality has become an uncanny, terrifyingly realistic one to which I can relate.

Potter was just in Australia courtesy of Voiceless, giving talks about the terrifying US-proposed ag-gag laws his book documents (hence the re-piquing of my interest in his book). Those laws essentially prosecute not those who perpetrate shocking cruelty on animals in factory farm or abattoir settings, but those who expose it. Say, for example, if you or I were to film someone beating a dog to death in a puppy farm, we—rather than the puppy farm—could see ourselves up on charges.

It would be easy to mistake Green Is The New Red for a conspiracy-theory manifesto (as I did) or fashion bible (as my friend did), but that’s to do it a disservice. Though left leaning, former Chicago Tribune reporter Potter is far from off-the-grid radical, and he approaches the book with investigative objectivity and vigour.

Potter is reportedly being monitored by the US Counter-Terrorism unit and is, simultaneously (and somewhat cognitive dissonancely), a 2014 TED Fellow. It’s that tension and head-scratching puzzlement that makes him and his book intriguing.

Potter’s motivation is getting to the fact-based heart of a matter. It just happens that the facts don’t show agriculturalists, their governing bodies, and those who make and implement policies to be behaving in a particularly ethical, conscionable way.

We enter Green Is The New Red mid-story, on the eve of environmental activist Daniel McGowan’s sentencing for ‘eco-terrorist’ crimes (and yes, I use those inverted commas deliberately). Potter then outlines his own brush with the law, having been paid a threat-filled visit and been added to a watch list by the FBI for—wait for it—handing out leaflets.

Charlotte's WebGreen Is The New Red’s truths beggar belief—Charlotte’s Web and Hoot can, it seems, be considered ‘soft core eco-terrorism for kids’—but Potter’s approach is compelling.

His thesis is laws are being wrangled for not good (ag-gag laws, anyone?) and largely non-violent activists are being rebranded and sullied through language use as ‘militants’, ‘extremists’, and ‘domestic terrorists’. Switch ‘terrorist’ for ‘communist’, ‘Green Scare’ for ‘Red Scare’, he writes, and you have post-9/11 terrorism laws being applied liberally and aggressively to silence environmental and animal activists.

The temptation with the things Potter outlines is to dismiss them as being only in America. The issue is they’re fast also in Australia—one of our own politicians said environmental activists were ‘akin to terrorists’. While the world despairs and expresses its dismay (and B Corporation Ben & Jerry’s takes one of its most popular, aquatic-themed ice creams off the shelf in protest), Queensland Premier Campbell Newman essentially signed the Barrier Reef’s death warrant by greenlighting destructive mining projects and declaring Queensland ‘open for [coal] business’.

Green Is The New Red contains contentious subject matter, yes, but it’s delivered in means that are straightforwardly readable and not without some gallows humour about smuggling files into prison via vegan cinnamon buns. During his Voiceless talk, Potter also showed a flawed anti-activist ad the opposition came up with that depicts an animal rights activists wearing a, er, leather jacket.

Potter’s dystopian present and its attendant legislative horrors might be a little much to take in—I know it was for me then and somewhat continues to be now—but it at the very least warrants further research.

He wrapped up his presentation with a quote I’m paraphrasing here but that has continued to stick with me: ‘The reason activists are a threat isn’t because they’re breaking windows. It’s because they’re creating them.’ With the Australian federal government handing down a big-business-wins-no-one-else-does budget last night, something tells me that quote will continue to come the fore.

Choose your own interactive adventure

YouChoose_cover01Interactive books! Remember reading them as a kid? Choose Your Own Adventure and Pick-a-Path are the two series I remember best. But there were lots of others, including Fighting Fantasy and Twistaplot. Although they’ve never completely gone out of vogue, they seem to be having a bit of a resurgence at the moment with series such as Lost in…, Choose Your Own Ever After and my own series, You Choose.

Interactive books (or game books, or branching path books) are often referred to as Choose Your Own Adventure books (or CYOA books). But Choose Your Own Adventure is actually the trade-marked name of the series which popularised this style of storytelling. Contrary to popular belief, these books did not invent the concept. It was predated by a series called The Adventures of You, and there are other earlier examples of individual stories playing around with this format.

The basic concept is that the story branches at various key points, where the reader gets to decide which path to follow. The other defining feature of this style of storytelling, is that they are written as second person narrative, placing the reader into the story.

I read the Choose Your Own Adventure series rather obsessively back in the 1980s. I loved the fact that decisions I made influenced the outcome of the story. As a kid, it gave me a sense of control and power that ordinary books did not provide. It was exciting! And I got to re-read the books… but with a different outcome each time. I got very good at marking pages with my fingers as I read — often reaching the end of a path with every available finger wedged between the pages — so that I could backtrack and rethink my decisions. A little awkward, but oh so much fun!

9781742977744Over the years, nothing has rivalled the popularly of the Choose Your Own Adventure series. But new books have continued to pop up every now and then, from interactive versions of RL Stine’s Goosebumps (Give Yourself Goosebumps), to those set in the Doctor Who universe (Doctor Who: Decide Your Destiny), from a history education series, to a couple of books written by John Marsden in the 1990s (Cool School and Creep Street).

Now, all of a sudden, there seems to be a resurgence of interest in the format. In the UK, Bloomsbury have released the first two books in a new series with a survival twist — Lost in… the Desert of Dread and Lost in… the Jungle of Doom. Meanwhile here in Australia, Hardie Grant have released a romance themed series called Choose Your Own Ever After.

And then there’s my new series — You Choose. 🙂

The first two books were released on 1 May — The Treasure of Dead Man’s Cove and Mayhem at Magic School. The next two will be released on 1 July — Maze of Doom and The Haunting of Spook House.

YouChoose_cover02   YouChoose_book3   YouChoose_book4

My writing of this series has pretty much been an excuse for me to relive my childhood. And I cannot express just how much fun it has been plotting out all the different story paths for each of the books. I write each plot point onto a card, then stick it up onto a white board — lots of arrows and shifting around ensues, until things finally make sense. Here’s what the final plan of The Treasure of Dead Man’s Cove looks like…


The You Choose series is being marketed for middle to upper primary… but I reckon they’re fun for ‘kids’ of all ages. 😉 I’ve spoken to many parents who grew up reading the Choose Your Own Adventure books, and who are now excited about having a new interactive series to read to their kids. And that’s pretty cool!

Catch ya later,  George

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Review: The Complete Western Stories of Elmore Leonard

9780061242922Elmore Leonard is known for his fantastic crime novels and his cool, crisp dialogue but he started out writing westerns way back in the 1950s. This collections showcases his western short stories and his immense talent as a writer.

I think it is easy to pass Elmore Leonard off as a writer of crime novels that have been turned into countless films and television adaptations but you would only do that at your own peril. Yes Elmore Leonard has become known for a few of his own tropes; brilliant dialogue, idiotic crooks, plots involving schemes that unravel and precise prose but these tropes fit the crime genre perfectly. Reading Leonard in another genre shows a completely different side to his writing and I think in many ways it is even better.

The Western genre is of course the precursor to the modern American crime novel. The lines between right and wrong are blurred by lawlessness and greed but there are still heroes and villains, both of which are not easily decipherable which makes for very interesting characters. The landscape has more significance and there is a minefield of politics to explore; post-Civil War, race, slavery, Native Americans, immigration, government, Mexico. Issues still alive and kicking today.

In many ways Elmore Leonard’s crime novels are more Westerns than mysteries. His favourite hero/protagonist is often a US Marshall and that is directly born from his western stories. What I found most interesting about Leonard’s western writing was that he explored more themes. His western stories are much more political than his crime novels. Dialogue also takes a back seat, or more correctly his dialogue becomes more prominent in his later writing. This maybe because he was still learning his craft but I suspect it is more reflective of the understated nature of the western genre. Leonard is also much more descriptive in his western writing and again I think this is because there is more significance on the landscape in the genre. Which only proves, even in his early days, Leonard was a master writer who knew his craft like few other writers.

Buy the book here…

Blankety Books


Play Blankety Books and WIN Books!

5pm every Friday on Twitter

Follow @boomerangbooks and #blanketybooks to be part of the action!

How do you play?

We will post on twitter a book title and author with all the letters missing.


_ _ _ _ _ _ / _ _ _ _ _ by _ _ _ _ _ _ / _ _ _ _

Guess a letter by tweeting at us using the #blanketybooks hashtag


“ @boomerangbooks I guess the letter A #blanketybooks ”

We will slowly reveal the book title and author as more letters are guessed (you can guess as many times as you like but only one letter per tweet)


_ _ _ _ A _ / _ _ _ _ _ by _ A _ _ A _ / _ _ _ _ #blanketybooks

_ _ _ _ A _ / _ _ _ _ _ by H A _ _ A H / _ _ _ _ #blanketybooks

B _ _ _ A _ / _ _ _ _ _ by H A _ _ A H / _ _ _ _ #blanketybooks

B _ _ I A _ / _ I _ _ _ by H A _ _ A H / _ _ _ _ #blanketybooks

First correct answer wins the book!

eg BURIAL RITES by HANNAH KENT #blanketybooks

We will contact the winner to post out the prize!

(Australian residents only)

Reviews – Ripping Mid-Grade Reads Two Wolves & Little Chef, BIG Curse

Mid-grade readers, tween fiction, early YA; call themLittle Chef Big Curse what you will, but books for 8 -13 year-olds must satisfy vital criteria. They require substance, humour be it belly-busting or cloaked as parody, and a completely honest rendering of imagination, no matter how fantastical the premise. Little Chef, BIG Curse and Two Wolves fulfil on all counts. Both are heftier reads for mid to upper primary aged kids (in excess of 200 pages). And ones I could have gleefully gobbled up again immediately I reached the end.

 Little Chef, BIG Curse is the debut work of Tilney Cotton and possibly one of the most exuberant reads I’ve enjoyed in ages. I’m not sure if it’s because of the foodie in me or the zealous, ribaldry with which Cotton writes but Little Chef, BIG Curse is utterly delectable and insanely moreish.

It’s an off-beat taTilney Cottonle about hapless 11 year-old, Matty Swink who dreams of being a famous chef. He is practically enslaved by the foul-tempered, mean-spirited Fenella as her live-in dishwasher. With no means, family or support, Matty’s future seems confined to sleeping under the sink in Fenella’s diner. But dreams as big as Matty’s cannot be suppressed forever and when the King of Yurp announces a grand Cook-Off and the chance to break a 500 year-old curse on his only daughter, Matty finally forges his way to fame and freedom.

This is a zinger of a tale tickling with intrigue, bubbling with soul and simmering with an underlying sinisterness that kids will find electrifying. Cotton’s brilliant mix of colourful characterisation and original one-liners like, ‘roll with pumpkins’ produces a story that is full of punch, flavour and fun. Peppered with a generous helping of comical metaphors (‘breath like dog poo’ is a favourite), sprinkled with danger and seasoned with revenge, Little Chef, BIG Curse has all the humorous and gross ingredients of a Morris Gleitzman adventure and some. Top notch nosh! That gets 10 out of 10 from me.Tristan Bancks RH

Scholastic Press February 2014

Tristan Bancks’ junior adventure books including the My Life, Nit Boy, Mac Slater Cool Hunter and the Galactic Adventures series rival those of Paul Jennings, Morris Gleitzman and Michael Gerard Bauer. Like kids 8 – 13 years-old, I can’t get enough of his quirky, comedy-loaded, layback style. Two Wolves however is a decisive departure from previous offerings aimed at the slightly older reader, demonstrating more drama, stronger conflicts and more thought-provoking themes. It blew my breath away.

Using the Cherokee Indian allegory that we all have good and bad (wolves) dwelling within us as the catalyst for conflict, Two Wolves explores moral dilemmas, innocence versus experience and family blood being thicker than water. Which wolf ultimately wins the internal battle depends on which one we feed, as thirteen year-old Ben Silver discovers.

Ben aspires to be a detective but naively lives in a world of limited resources and shaky real-life experience. He re-lives much of his life through the lens of an internal camera, ‘playing on the cinema screen at the back of his eyelids’.

This movie-making processing of events allows him to deal reflectively and safely with some pretty confronting issues, the most recent being the inexplicable, unplanned retreat into wildness with his parents.

Life on the run with them and his young sister, Olive, soon deteriorates into a painful battle of survival and family ethics. Ben is desperate to figure out what his parents are fleeing from and why but is uncertain of what to do with the truths he may uncover.

Ben’s most daunting concerns, apart from remaining alive with Olive, are the choices he is confronted with; right vs. wrong, family loyalty vs. honourable action. How Ben decides to end his movie makes for a gripping novel heaving with adventure and mystery.

Bancks’ delivery of Two Wolves is tight and crisp. Fragmented internal thought and observation are favoured over rambling descriptive narrative which keeps the reader firmly in Ben’s moments of extreme agitation. Ben is a believable hero. His naïve, almost tongue-in-cheek humour works beautifully against the darker aspects of this story resulting in a novel tweens can and will relate to even if they have never been in Ben’s situation.

Can money buy happiness? What scruples do you possess when it comes to family, or having to confess to a crime? Does deceit ever pay dividends? Two Wolves is destined to keep kids pondering over questions like these for months. Sensational stuff.

Random House Australia March 2014


Review – The Poor Boy’s Game by Dennis Tafoya

9781250019530Dennis Tafoya is one the best kept secrets in crime fiction. Which is a shame because he deserves to be heralded in the same breath as George Pelecanos and Dennis Lehane. And his new novel only confirms this, in spades.

Frannie Mullen is a US Marshall. After a bungled operation she takes full responsibility for any mistakes that were made and quits her job. As she tries to sort out her life and help her sister recover from another round of rehab, the father she thought was long out of her life returns. Her father, Patrick Mullen, was a thug and enforcer for a local trade union whose violent job was also part of a violent life at home. Now on the run from prison Patrick cuts a violent path toward his two daughters. Looking for revenge, but revenge for what and for whom is a very long list.

Tafoya’s action scenes are simply sublime, in particular the opening scene of the novel. But what really sets Tafoya apart from the pack is the heart he brings to his stories and his characters which he does once again here. Emotion is what drives people and that is what is at the core of this brilliant novel. The emotions that drive us and the damage they do along the way. Tafoya captures this brilliantly in a fast-moving, intense page-turner that will keep you totally gripped and double guessing right until the final pages.

Buy the book here…

Magical Moments for Mum – Mother’s Day Reviews

Dear Mums, whether you begin it with burnt offerings and flowers in bed or embark on a 24 respite from the usual onslaught of bickering and demands, you are celebrating Mothers’ Day because you are part of one of the most magical clubs in the world. The following assortment of picture books, all out now, encapsulates that magic. They are in equal parts cute, absorbing, whimsical and funny.


How I love youYoung children under five are well catered for. How I Love You by Anna Pignataro (Scholastic Press, March 2014) oozes tenderness and charm. What it lacks in narrative depth is more than compensated for by the understated beauty of Pignataro’s glorious illustrations. Children will enjoy mimicking the high-lighted prose as they visit a diverse collection of Aussie animals at bedtime, each revealing by their actions just how they love their mummies. Sweet and perfect for bedtime togetherness.
Mummy You're Special to MeSimilar in design and content is Laine Mitchell’s and Kim Fleming’s, Mummy, You’re Special To Me. (Scholastic Australia, April 2014). Again this is less of a story and more of an exploration of the divine diversity and uniqueness of mummies all over the planet.
Little Giraffe thinks his mummy is super special because she’s ‘kind’ and ‘strong as a knight’. As he navigates through life, he discovers a universe of other mummies each with their own special qualities. My favourite encounter was sipping tea with Little Camel’s hip and groovy Gran.
Some of Mitchell’s rhyming verse felt a little off key at times but Fleming’s adorable, multi-technique illustrations were special enough to send me right back to the beginning to enjoy it all over again.

Hootie the CutieHootie the Cutie (New Frontier Publishing, April 2014) by Michelle Worthington and fresh newcomer to the children’s book scene, illustrator Giuseppe Poli, could as easily be enjoyed by dads and grandparents but deserves special mention here, because what mum does not welcome a little dragon magic in her day?
Worthington weaves a winsome, whimsical woodland tale about an owl, small in stature but large in heart and spirit, and brave beyond all measure as it turns out. Poli completes the very pleasing tapestry with illustrations that will enchant the pants off you.
Hootie the Cutie reminds us that sometimes loving (our children) is about allowing for growth and letting go while simultaneously showing pre-primary aged children that independent thought and actions are qualities that can shape and strengthen who you really are. Highly commendable.
Jam for NanaNanas are high-profiling a lot these days and little wonder when grandparents make up the highest proportion of informal childcare in Australia according to (AIFS)* statistics; so Deborah Kelly’s and Lisa Stewart’s, Jam for Nana (Random House Australia, April 2014) is destined to be a generational crowd pleaser.

This picture book delights on many levels; from its dustcover-covered, recipe-book shape and size to its comforting unrushed rhythm and wholesome narrative. It is a book you’ll want to treasure, or at least share with your little one and their significant grandparent. Told from a little girl’s point of view, it highlights the special bond between her and her grandmother and centres on her desire to recreate ‘real jam’ for her nana.
It reminded me of a time in my childhood when backyard apricots tasted like ‘the warmth of a hundred summers’ too and life was full of substance so pure and thick and wonderful, you could ‘hold it upside down and shake it’. Stewart’s divine illustrations and Kelly’s shared pancake ritual make this one very special picture book.
Nurturing and snuggling are all well and good but bringing a smile to mum’s face is perhaps the best thing you can give her. My Mum says the Strangest Things, (Black Dog Books, April 2014), is guaranteed to have her LOL in no time flat. In fact, I can barely get through it (with my Miss 8) without crippling waves of laughter washing over me.
ThMy Says the Strangest Thingse Katrina Germein and Tom Jellet team that gave us My Dad Thinks he’s Funny and My Dad Still Thinks he’s Funny, train their humorous cross-hairs on mum’s idiosyncratic refrains this time, with deadly accuracy. For adult readers, the sweet irony of mum’s idiomatic expressions is difficult to ignore and impossible not to relate to: ‘when mum’s tired she says everyone needs an early night.’ Love, love, love it! There is something here for every member of the family. Older primary aged kids will be rolling their eyes and trying not to laugh. You’ll be taking stock of the next ‘strange thing’ that falls out of your mouth.


So, however you end up spending Mothers’ Day, make sure you take a moment or two to share it with the little people who gave you the reason to read picture books again in the first place (and linger longer in bed for at least one day of the year). Happy Mothers’ Day!

* viewed Feb 2014.


Review: Veronica Mars The Thousand Dollar Tan Line by Rob Thomas and Jennifer Graham

9780804170703Ten years after the TV series was heartbreakingly axed Veronica Mars is making a comeback. First there was the much-anticipated, kickstarter funded, movie and now there is a series of novels that continue the Neptune universe.

A TV/Movie spin-off book is not usually on my radar and I don’t think I would have read this but when I found out Kristen Bell was reading the audio book I was in. (Plus the movie was sooo good!)

(SPOILER ALERT: you must see the film before reading the book and the rest of my review will talk about the movie’s ending)

At the end of the movie Veronica has returned to Neptune and is in the PI business again. The book takes off right from there with Veronica taking on her first big case. The storyline is like a good, solid double episode from the show. Now older and wiser things get a better darker and more dangerous for Veronica than her school/college PI days. It is spring break in Neptune and a teenage girl has gone missing. Fearing the negative press coverage Neptune’s Chamber of Commerce hires Veronica to look into the case which is being handled with the ineptitude and laziness we have come to expect from the Sheriff’s department. When a second girl goes missing Veronica must quickly re-find her PI shoes before it is too late.

All our favourite characters make an appearance with a surprise thrown in. My only grumble was that the story is told in the third person, which still works but I was really looking forward to being inside Veronica’s head more (like the TV show) especially with Bell narrating the audio book. Otherwise it was a really fun story and it is really great to see the story being kept alive, whatever the format and I will definitely be reading the next book in the series.

Buy the book here…