The Boy in the Book

9780755365692Choose Your Own Adventure. Remember those books? Interactive novels written in the second person, where you get to make choices that take the story in different directions. They were enormously successful in the 1980s and there have been many other books in a similar interactive vein (including my own series, You Choose). Writer/performer Nathan Penlington certainly remembers them. And they set him off on a real-life adventure documented in his book, The Boy in the Book.

At this point, dear reader, you may…

A: Go and buy the book I am reviewing
B: Continue reading my review…

cyoa001-cave-of-timeOne day, Nathan Penlington decides to buy a set of Choose Your Own Adventure books on eBay. It turns out that all 106 books were originally owned by the same person — a boy in the 1980s named Terence Prendergast. And it also turns out that Terence wrote in the books — just a few scribbled notes about his life. Inside the pages of one particular book, The Cave of Time, are four pages of a diary. In those four pages Terence writes about bullying, the things he wants to improve in his life, running away from home and suicide. Finding this diary sets Nathan Penlington off on an obsessive search — to find Terence and get answers to the questions posed by the notes and diary entries. Did Terence overcome the bullying? Did he actually run away from home? What sort of person is he now? Is he even still alive? Or did he kill himself?

I can’t tell you whether or not he finds Terence as I don’t want to spoil the book — you’ll need to read it if you want to find out. But I can tell you that he meets a number of other interesting people in his search, including a child psychologist, a historian working on a collection of diaries, a Graphologist (someone who analyses hand writing) and even Choose Your Own Adventure author Edward Packard. There is a fascinating bunch of people wandering in and out of the pages of this book.

Time for you to make another choice. Would you like to…

A: Check out Edward Packard’s website
B: Continue reading my review…

The Boy in the Book is a twisting, turning narrative that is full of surprises, never progressing in quite the way one would expect. Although it is the story of Penlington’s search for Terance Predergast, it is also very much his own story of obsession, something that is, perhaps, more fascinating than the search itself. It is a riveting, revealing read — a journey into Penlington’s past, a study of his obsessions and an examination of his thought-processes. A unique book, indeed.

I will admit to feeling a little cheated upon reading the Afterword where Penlington reveals:

“Everything you have just read is true, but almost a lie.”

It seems that this book is based on a documentary film/live experience called Choose Your Own Documentary. So, although the events of the book are true, they didn’t always happen in quite the way the book depicts. Those meetings and interviews, personal and intimate in the book, actually took place in front of a documentary film crew. Finding this out, for me, tarnished the magic just a little. But that doesn’t make the book any less interesting or any less worth reading. It is still an excellent book and you should all read it.

Finally, you get to choose what to do now that my review is complete…

A: Find out about Choose Your Own Documentary
B: Buy a copy of The Boy in the Book
C: Read another one of my blog posts

Catch ya later,  George

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CatReturnsCheck out my DVD blog, Viewing Clutter.

Latest Post: Blu-ray Review  — The Cat Returns



Review – The Final Silence by Stuart Neville

9781846556951Jack Lennon returns in Stuart Neville’s relentless new thriller.

It has been a while between drinks for Jack Lennon. We last caught up him in Stolen Souls and we left him a lot worse for wear. The intervening period though has not been kind. Suspended from the police pending multiple reviews of his health and performance Jack has developed some extra bad habits to the ones he already carried, mainly involving painkillers and alcohol. His relationships are in free fall including, sadly, the one with his estranged daughter who his is the only family he has left.

Just when Jack thinks things couldn’t get any worse an ex-girlfriend contacts him. She has just inherited a house from her uncle. An uncle she never met who lost contact with her family years ago. She has contacted Jack because she has found something in a locked room. A journal detailing murders going back two decades and it appears there are links to her father, a prominent Belfast politician. She can’t trust him and she can’t go to the police so instead she has turned to Jack, who can’t even help himself at this point.

I really love what Neville has done with the Jack Lennon character. He was only a few mentions in The Twelve before assuming the lead in the next two books. He is not your typical flawed detective, flawed is too nice a term for Jack, yet he still manages to keep your loyalty.

Stuart Neville doesn’t take his foot off the pedal once in this gripping thriller and once again demonstrates why he is the crime writer everybody is and should be talking about at the moment.

Get a book gift wrapped in August and we will donate the money to the Indigenous Literacy Foundation

fdayilfFather’s Day is fast approaching and we have heaps of books to choose from for your Dad. We also have a fantastic gift wrapping service to take all the hassle out of buying a gift for Fathers Day. We can even ship it directly to your Dad wherever he is in Australia or the world.

Boomerang Books offers colourful gift wrapping for $3.50 per book in a single order, as well as the opportunity to send a personal message with your gift.

For the month of August Boomerang Books will donate the $3.50 from all gift wrapping to The Indigenous Literacy Foundation.

The Indigenous Literacy Foundation provides books and literacy resources for Indigenous kids and families in remote communities.

So this Fathers Day grab Dad a book, get it gift wrapped and not only will your Dad get a great book to read but you will also help someone else develop a lifelong love of reading.

To use gift wrapping, select the drop down box on the payment page, choose your desired wrapping pattern and type your personal message.

Boomerang Books will then donate all the money spent on gift wrapping in August  to The Indigenous Literacy Foundation on Indigenous Literacy Day – Wednesday September 3.

And if you purchase The Rosie Project and get it gift wrapped author Graeme Simsion will match the $3.50 we donate!

Review: The Magician King by Lev Grossman

9780434020805I think I loved this even more than The Magicians (which if you haven’t read beware spoilers ahead). The first half of The Magicians was like an adult Harry Potter and full of the wonder of discovering magic was real. The second half was an exploration of what happens to people who discover a new power. It was much darker, which I really liked, and you really got to know the negative sides of the books characters which is not something many books of this genre do.

The Magician King picks up where The Magicians ended. Quentin, Elliot, Janet and Julia are now the Kings and Queens of Fillory but Quentin is growing restless. He wants a purpose, a quest, an adventure and he will do anything to find or create one. Interspersed with Quentin’s story are flashbacks to Julia who went down a very different (and much darker) path to gain her magical knowledge. And as before there a dues to be paid for gaining this power.

Grossman again finely balances a story that doesn’t take itself too seriously, referencing other familiar stories, while slowly turning what seems to be an innocuous and manufactured quest into something far more important. We explore more of Fillory and the expanded universe and (much to some characters’ shock and horror) revisit Earth and the ‘real’ world. I also felt I reconnected to the characters after becoming detached from them after some of the questionable decisions they made in the first book.  Loose ends from the first book are also nicely tied up and the ending is both highly satisfying as a reader and nicely sets up the third and final book in the series.

This truly is a brilliant series and while I’m late to the party in discovering it I get the advantage of reading all three books in the trilogy close together with the final book, The Magician’s Land due out next month. And I will be reading that one straight away!

Buy the book here…

The Stupid Country

Destroy the JointI was fortunate enough to attend a literacy forum yesterday at which Jane Caro was the keynote speaker. I’ve long admired her from afar (mostly through my TV as she appeared on The Gruen Transfer and through the recently released Destroy the Joint: Why Women have to Change the World book she steered to great success).

Caro is, as I was discussing with my colleague at morning tea, the kind of woman I’d love to grow up to be. That is, incisively intelligent, pragmatic, and cutting a firm but fair line between warm and fuzzy and necessarily angry (an extreme too many of us are at either end of, rather than combining the two for best effect). Oh, and she’s funny. Just when we were deep into theory, Caro lightened the mood and drove her point home with some brilliantly timed humour.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. Caro was there to discuss literacy and, in a wide-ranging speech, managed to blow our metaphorical socks off. I’m still grappling with getting my ahead around much of it, but here were my favourite parts and takeaways:

  • ‘a life live literately leads to a well-stocked mind’ (this may be Caro’s quote or someone else’s, but either way I like it)
  • equity and wellbeing are key to ensuring literacy. Put another way, before children can perform well in school, they need to feel a sense of wellbeing
  • our current system sees children as ‘vases you stuff with information’; the one who regurgitates it best wins. Caro advocates subversion rather than compliance will see people succeed in the long run
  • a ‘user pays’ society is more aptly expressed as ‘youse pays’
  • literacy acts as the ‘keys to the kingdom’ in an increasingly information-led society
  • Australia is the third-lowest funder of public schools (only Chile and Belgium are behind—and Chile’s working to change that now)
  • we’ve created a ‘publicly funded arms race’ whereby private schools must do ever-increasing peacocking to attract desirable parents and students. It doesn’t equate to better education
  • it’s important to know the business you’re in. Her message to the largely librarian audience was that they weren’t in the business of loaning books, but one of providing ideas, imagination, information, learning, and inspiration. She also showed us this brilliant, brilliant ad by The Guardian, a newspaper that understands it’s not in the business of selling newspapers, but instead providing the whole story, information, analysis, and more.

The Stupid CountryThat list doesn’t do her eloquence and inspiration justice, and I’d recommend seeking her out to hear her speak on this topic and, frankly, any other. I’m not sure how soon that will come about again for me, but I am inspired to pick up a bunch of her books and devour them, stat.

That includes the aforementioned Destroy the Joint: Why Women have to Change the World and fresh-off-the-printing-press The Stupid Country: How Australia is Dismantling Public Education. Two light reads they won’t be, but invaluable ones that strike the right balance between outraged and incisively witty they will be, I’m sure.

Review – Life Or Death by Michael Robotham

9780751552898The advanced reading copy bills this as “the best novel yet from Michael Robotham” which is a big call considering his previous nine novels. While I’m not a fan of the Joe O’Loughlin novels that has nothing to do with Robotham’s writing just the fact I don’t like psychological thrillers. But what all Robotham’s books have in common is precision plotting. Robotham knows exactly how to unfurl a story, keeping you interested and guessing in equal measure. My favourite Robothom was Lost (aka The Drowning Man) which demonstrates this perfectly. But I have a new favourite Robotham now because this is beyond doubt the best novel yet from Michael Robotham.

The idea for this novel came to Robotham over twenty years ago, well before he’d written his first book. But Robotham didn’t know if or how he could pull the story off. Nine best-selling novels later he knew how he was going to do it and it was worth the wait.

Audie Palmer has spent the last ten years in prison for an armed robbery that netted 7 million dollars. Money that has never been recovered. Everybody wants to know where the money is; other prisoners, guards and various law enforcement. Audie has survived beatings, stabbings and other assaults and is finally due to be released from prison tomorrow. Except he has just escaped. And so begins an epic thriller. Nobody knows why Audie has escaped but they think it has to do with the money. As Audie’s plan unfolds we learn that there are stronger motivations than money. Motivations that people will kill for, motivations people will live for.

This is far and away the thriller of the year. It will keep you glued to end of your reading chair, it will keep you guessing until the very end and, best of all, it will break your heart.

Buy the book here…

All the Birds, Singing

Evie’s Wyld’s brooding novel, All the Birds, Singing is hard to let go of. A damp menace clings to the story from the very first line and draws the reader in as the main character Jake Whyte attempts to discover who or what is mutilating her sheep. At the same time we are sucked backwards to the Australian outback, to uncover Jake’s past and understand why she is living on an isolated British island – her only companion: a dog named Dog.

All the birds singingWyld’s book recently won the Miles Franklin award, beating Tim Winton’s Eyrie, Richard Flanagan’s The Narrow Road to the Deep North, and others, with its evocative prose. “Spare, but pitch perfect,” was how the judging panel described Wyld’s writing – “visceral and powerfully measured in tone.” But it’s the structure of All the Birds, Singing that also has me intrigued.

Wyld uses alternating chapters to move the story forwards on the windswept farm and backwards through the outback. The tense of the writing also alternates, with Wyld using the present tense for the flashbacks and the past tense for the rest of the story. The book leaves great gaps in the narrative, but compels the reader to find the source of Jake’s damaged emotional and physical state as well as the identity of the sheep killer.

Wyld apparently had intended to keep the narrative simple when she started this story, but found barriers were thrown up by her choice of writing in first person. She had to find a way to solve them. After writing 50,000 words she decided that reversing the chronology of Jake’s past was a better was of telling the story.

“I was quite reluctant to do it,” she says in an interview with the BBC. “It ended up being a maths problem. I had to make endless charts and work out where I was. I did confuse myself a lot, writing it.”

Wyld builds tension with the flashbacks that take us deeper into Jake’s past, and ultimately to the decision that changed everything. We are fed uncensored snapshots of an ugly side of Australia – in outback towns, on a fly-blown sheep property and above a greasy take-away shop, meeting a cast of troubled characters along the way. These scenes are contrasted with the boggy sheep farm where Jake has gone to escape her past. But even here she’s haunted by some kind of beast.

A maths problem has never been so darkly engaging.

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What Were Girls Like?

I am JulietThree recent YA historical fiction novels by Australian women (all published by HarperCollins/ABC Books) inhabit times when girls had to bend to the influence of men and were comparatively powerless.

The Raven’s Wing is Frances Watts’s first novel for teens. It is set in Ancient Rome where fifteen year-old Claudia is strategically offered in marriage several times. Making an alliance which can best help her family is paramount. Primarily a romance, the book addresses Claudia’s growing awareness of human rights (here through the fate of slaves) which interferes with her sense of duty and makes her a much more interesting character than the docile cipher she is expected to be.

I am Juliet by Australian Children’s Laureate, Jackie French, is based on Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet. French’s Juliet is a fleshed-out focal character. Superficially she shares some of Claudia’s privileged lifestyle features: attended by maids who wash and dress her and apply her makeup; elaborate meals; and protection behind high walls. Medicinal and other herbs and plants are a feature of their times; and Juliet and Claudia both face imminent arranged marriage, but are aware of a dark man in shadows. Their stories, also, contain a story within a story.

Jackie French has reinterpreted Shakespeare previously – in her excellent Macbeth and Son which grapples with the nature of truth. She has also addressed the role of women in history, perhaps most notably in A Rose for the ANZAC Boys

Ratcatcher's Daughter Issy, the thirteen-year-old protagonist of Pamela Rushby’s The Ratcatcher’s Daughter, doesn’t share Claudia and Juliet’s privileged backgrounds. Set in a well-drawn Brisbane of 1900, Issy’s father is a ratcatcher during the bubonic plague. Issy is offered a scholarship to become a teacher but her family refuse it due to lack of money. The issue of the poor’s inability to take up opportunities that the rich assume is reiterated throughout the novel.

The Ratcatcher’s Daughter and I am Juliet include background notes about the historical period and other points of interest.

 These three books unite in their exploration of girls who are prepared to defy tradition to control their own lives, where possible, in spite of general lack of female empowerment. I hope that this really was possible and is not just a revisionist interpretation.

It is interesting that this crop of YA historical novels has appeared now. Are these authors finding a story-niche or reflecting current concern? Although surely girls today, particularly in a country such as Australia, are more fortunate in their freedom and choice. The Raven's Wing


Player Profile: Michael Robotham, author of Life Or Death

bytonymott_545Michael Robotham, author of Life Or Death

Tell us about your latest creation:

 LIFE OR DEATH is a love story and a thriller and a story of redemption. It’s a standalone novel that introduces Audie Palmer, a man who has spent a decade in prison for armed robbery, but escapes the day before he’s due to be released. For ten years Audie  has been beaten, stabbed, throttled and threatened by prison guards, inmates and criminal gangs, who all want the answer to the same question – what happened to the money? But Audie isn’t running from trouble. Instead he’s trying to save a life more important than his own.

9780751552898Where are you from / where do you call home?:

My books might not be set in Australia, but I’m a home-grown boy. I was born in Casino, on northern NSW and grew up in Gundagai, where the dog sits on the tuckerbox. After living overseas for many years, home is now on Sydney’s northern beaches, where I write in what my daughter’s call, ‘Dad’s Cabana of Cruelty’.

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

 I wanted to be an author from the age of 12, when I discovered Ray Bradbury and wrote him a letter via his New York publishers. Three months later, I came home from school and found a package on the kitchen table. It contained the four or five Bradbury titles that weren’t available in Australia, along with a letter from the great man
himself, saying how pleased he was to have a young reader on the far side of the world.

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

That’s like asking me which is my favourite daughter! All my books are special to me, but the one that changed my life was the first one: THE SUSPECT, which caused a bidding war at the London Book Fair and allowed me to fulfil my dreams. The latest book LIFE OR DEATH is a story I’ve wanted to tell for twenty years, but didn’t think I had the skills until now.

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

 As mentioned earlier – I write in the Cabana of Cruelty, a lovely outside space with wrap-around windows and a shingle roof, overlooking tropical gardens and a swimming pool. It is sometimes hard to conjure up the means streets when I’m looking at paradise.

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

 I read very widely. Mainly fiction. Although I have my favourites like James Lee Burke, Daniel Woodrell and Dennis Lehane, I tend not to read much crime fiction, but I do have about a four books on the go at the one time, in different rooms of the house, as well as an audio book on my iPod.

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

 The Illustrated Man by Ray Bradbury opened my imagination and transported me and frightened my pants off. Lord of the Rings was also special. I borrowed it so often from my school library the librarian banned me from taking it out again. So I took to hiding it in the library. She found out, but instead of punishing me, she gave me the book. It is battered, broken and taped together, but still has pride of place on my shelves because it is the first book that I ever truly ‘earned’.

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

Nick Carraway in The Great Gatsby. Nick calls himself ‘one of the few honest people that I have ever known’ and he prides himself on maintaining his standards in a corrupt, fast-moving world. He is a wonderful observer of people and events. He can see their flaws and foibles, but refuses to be overly critical. If I were Nick, maybe I could save Jay Gatsby from himself.

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

I’m so boring. When I’m not writing I’m reading. When I’m not reading I’m walking. And even when I’m walking I’m listening to a book. Peter Corris tells the story of bumping into David Malouf at a function and asking if he was writing just then,        ‘What else is there to do?’ he answered. That’s what it’s like for me…breathing.

What is your favourite food and favourite drink?:

 I love a gin & tonic at the end of the writing day and a glass of wine with dinner. As for food, it has to be spicy whether it’s a curry, stir fry and homemade pizza.

Who is your hero? Why?:

 My heroes are those people who we never hear about. The parents who look after disabled children and the wives who escape from violent husbands and the teachers, nurses and volunteers who give back more to their communities than they ever receive

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

 I think the biggest challenge for the future of books and reading is for publishers, authors and booksellers to find a business model that works for everyone.  Heavy discounting by online sellers and self-published authors, is  suffocating bricks and mortar stores and prompting more and more readers who think a book should only
cost 99c or $2.99. On top of this we have the spectre of piracy and illegal file sharing that is becoming more widespread with digitalisation.

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Doodles and Drafts – Roses are Blue Blog Tour with Sally Murphy

Roses are BlueI promised myself I wouldn’t cry. Well, maybe a few tears towards the end might be acceptable, but of course, I was dealing with another verse novel by Sally Murphy, so dry eyes were definitely no guarantee.

Sally Murphy with gabriel evans croppedIt’s not just the subject matter of Roses are Blue that tugs at ones heartstrings. Murphy is simply master at massaging sensitive issues into refined, understated yet terrifically moving poetic verse. Her words whisper across the pages with the soft intensity of a mountain breeze. They are beautiful and arresting; a joy to read.

There are no chapters in this novel. The story ebbs and flows organically in a pleasing natural rhythm. Gabriel Evans’ tender ink and painted illustrations cushion the gravity of the story even more allowing the reader to connect with Amber and her world visually as well as emotionally. Youngsters cultivating their reading confidence will appreciate this generous visual reinforcement on nearly every page.

Amber Rose’s world is turned upside down when tragedy strikes her family leaving her mother devastatingly ‘different’. Overnight, everything is altered: there’s a new school, new friends, new home, new secrets and perhaps hardest of all, a new mum to get used to. Amber vacillates between wanting to fit in and appear normal, aching for how things ‘used to be’ and trying to reconnect with her damaged mum.

As Amber’s mother struggles to free herself from her new entrapment, so too does Amber fight to hang onto to their special shared love until, like springtime roses, hope eventually blooms. Roses are Blue addresses the complex issues of normality, family ties, friendships and maternal bonds with gentle emphasis on how all these relationships can span any ethnicity or physical situation.

To celebrate Amber’s story, Sally Murphy joins me at the draft table with a box of tissues and a few more fascinating insights on Roses are Blue. Welcome Sally!

Q. Who is Sally Murphy? Please describe your writerly self.

My writely self? I try hard to think of myself as writerly – but often fail miserably because I think of other writers as amazingly productive, clever , creative people, and myself as someone slightly manic who manages to snatch time to write and is always surprised when it’s good enough to get published.

But seriously, I suppose what I am is someone who writes because it’s my passion and I can’t not do it. I’ve been writing all my life, pretty much always for children, and my first book was published about 18 years ago. Since then I’ve written picture books, chapter books, reading books, educational resource books and, of course, poetry and verse novels.

Q. I find verse novels profoundly powerful. How different are they to write compared to writing in prose? Do you find them more or less difficult to develop?

I think they’re very powerful too. It was the power of the first ones I read (by Margaret Wild) that made me fall in love with the form. But it’s this very power that can make them hard to get right – you have to tap into core emotions and get them on the page whilst still developing a story arc, characters, setting, dialogue and so on.

Are they more or less difficult? I’m not sure. For me I’ve been more successful with verse novels than with prose novels, so maybe they’re easier for me. But it is difficult to write a verse novel that a publisher will publish – because they can be difficult to sell.

Q. How do you think verse novels enhance the appeal and impact of a story for younger readers?

I think they work wonderfully with young readers for a few reasons, which makes them a wonderful classroom tool. The fact that they are poetry gives them white space and also, room for illustration and even sometimes text adornments.

What this means is that for a struggling reader or even a reluctant reader, the verse novel can draw them in because it looks easier, and gives them cues as to where to pause when reading, where the emphasis might be and so on. They will also feel that a verse novel is less challenging because it is shorter – there are less words on the same number of pages because of that white space.

But the verse novel can also attract more advanced readers who recognise it as poetry and thus expect to be challenged, and who can also see the layers of meaning, the poetic techniques and so on. Of course, once they’ve started reading it, the reluctant and struggling reader will also see those things, meaning there is a wonderful opportunity for all the class to feel involved and connected when it’s a class novel, or for peers of different abilities to appreciate a book they share.

Sally & Pearl & TopplingQ. Judging by some of your previous verse titles, Pearl Verses the World and Toppling, you are not afraid to tackle the heftier and occasionally heartbreaking issues children encounter. What compels you to write about these topics and why do so in verse? Do you think a verse novel can convey emotion more convincingly than prose alone?

Afraid? Hah – I laugh in the face of danger! (Sorry, couldn’t help myself). But seriously no, I’m not afraid, because I think these are issues kids want to read about. All kids experience tough times – sometimes it’s the loss of a loved one, or illness, or a tragedy like Mum being sick/injured/absent. Other times it’s a beloved pet dying, or a best friend who suddenly doesn’t want to be friends. Either way, these tough times can feel like the end of the world. I think when children read about tough topics they connect with empathy or sympathy, and thus have the opportunity to experience vicariously something which they may not have. And if they have been through those really tragic tough times, or they do in the future, I hope they’re getting the message that life can be tough but you can get through it. Terrible things happen in the world – but good things do too. It’s really important to me that my stories have happy times too, and even laughs.

For me the verse novel form enables me to convey that emotion, but I don’t think it’s the only way it can be done. If you look at the Kingdom of Silk books by Glenda Millard, for example, you’ll see how brilliantly prose can be used to explore emotional situations.

Q. Many verse novels I have read are in first person. Is this a crucial element of ensuring stories in verse work well or is it something that you fall into naturally?

Off the top of my head I can’t think of any verse novels written solely in third person. There’s no rule that they have to be in first, but I do feel they work best that way for me, although I’m looking forward to experimenting with point of view in a verse novel I’m planning. I think first works so well because it creates an intimacy which the poetic form enhances.

Q. I particularly loved your reference to the Bobby Vinton 1962 hit, Roses are Red. What inspired you to use these lines in Amber’s story?

It’s actually a bit of a nod to Pearl, from Pearl Verses the World, who writes a roses are red poem about her nemesis Prue – but surprisingly no one has asked me about the connection before. I was looking for something for Mum to sing, and there it was. Of course the fact that Mum loves to garden, and their surname is rose means it all ties together nicely.

Gabriel EvansQ. Gabriel Evans’ illustrations are very endearing. How important do you think it is for illustrations to accompany verse stories?

For younger readers, some visual element is essential, and I am delighted with the way Gabriel has interpreted the story. Who couldn’t love his work? Again, the illustrations can help struggling readers connect with the story, but they are also important for all levels of reading ability. Some people are much more visual learners and thinkers than others, and seeing the story really enhances the experience. And gosh, they’re so gorgeous!

Q. What’s on the draft table for Sally Murphy?

A few things. I’m working on a historical novel (prose), several picture books and lots of poetry. I’m also in the early stages of a PhD project in Creative Writing and, as part of this, plan to produce three new works, all poetry of some form, as well as writing about why/how poetry is important.

Just for fun Question, (there is always one!): If you were named after a gem or colour like Amber and her friends, which would you choose and why?

I can choose a name for myself? That IS fun. I was nearly called Imelda when I was born, and (with apologies to the Imeldas of the world) have been forever grateful that my parents changed their minds. Sorry, that doesn’t answer your question. I think if I could name myself after a colour I’d be silly about it and say Aquamarine, because surely then no one else would ever have the same name as me. It’s also a lovely colour, so maybe some of that loveliness would rub off on me and make me lovely too.

Thanks so much for having me visit, Dimity. It’s been fun, and you’ve kept me on my toes!

An absolute pleasure Sally (aka Aquamarine!)

Be sure to discover the magic behind Roses are Blue, available  here now.

Walker Books Australia July 2014

Stick around for the rest of Sally’s beautiful blog tour. Here are some places you can visit.

Tuesday, July 22nd Karen Tyrrell
Wednesday, July 23 Alphabet Soup
Thursday, July 24 Kids’ Book Review
Friday, July 25 Write and read with Dale
Saturday, July 26 Diva Booknerd
Sunday, July 27 Children’s Books Daily
Monday, July 28 Boomerang Books Blog
Tuesday, July 29 Australian Children’s Poetry
Wednesday, July 30 Sally Murphy




The Book Brief: The Very Best New Release Books in August

Each month we bring you the best new release books in our Book Brief


Fiction Books

Life or Death by Michael Robotham

Audie Palmer has spent the last ten years in prison for an armed robbery that netted 7 million dollars. Money that has never been recovered. Everybody wants to know where the money is; other prisoners, guards and various law enforcement. Audie has survived beatings, stabbings and other assaults and is finally due to be released from prison tomorrow. Except he has just escaped. And so begins an epic thriller. Jon

The Heist by Daniel Silva

Legendary spy and art restorer Gabriel Allon is in Venice repairing an altarpiece by Veronese when he receives an urgent summons from the Italian police. The eccentric London art dealer Julian Isherwood has stumbled upon a chilling murder scene in Lake Como, and is being held as a suspect. To save his friend, Gabriel must track down the real killers and then perform one simple task: find the most famous missing painting in the world.

Fives and Twenty-Fives by Michael Pitre

A remarkable piece of fiction following proudly in the footsteps of the The Yellow Birds. Wars never truly end for everyone involved and this is the territory Michael Pitre explores in his impressive debut novel. On the eve on the Arab Spring in Tunisia three men are grappling with their futures now that their war has supposedly finished. Each is scarred and tainted by what they have witnessed and the decisions they have made. They are changed men returning to a changing world not sure if they achieved what they were fighting for. And if they possibly did whether it was worth the price. Jon

The Sun Is God by Adrian McKinty

This is a seemingly dramatic departure from Adrian McKinty’s usual books but he pulls it off marvelously. Based on a true story McKinty heads to the South Pacific circa 1906 to tell a tale of mad Germans, sun worship and possible murder. There is a real 19th century flare to McKinty’s writing and characters in this novel and he has had obvious fun writing it. This may not appeal to all the Adrian McKinty fans but I think it is going to win him a few new ones. Jon

The Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage by Huraki Murakami

Tsukuru Tazaki had four best friends at school. By chance all of their names contained a colour. The two boys were called Akamatsu, meaning ‘red pine’, and Oumi, ‘blue sea’, while the girls’ names were Shirane, ‘white root’, and Kurono, ‘black field’. Tazaki was the only last name with no colour in it. One day Tsukuru Tazaki’s friends announced that they didn’t want to see him, or talk to him, ever again. Since that day Tsukuru has been floating through life, unable to form intimate connections with anyone. But then he meets Sara, who tells him that the time has come to find out what happened all those years ago.

The Golden Age by Joan London

Frank, a young boy is learning to walk again after contracting polio. His family have just arrived in Perth, survivors of Nazi -occupied Hungary.  The family struggle with settling in Australia while mourning who and what they have lost in Budapest. Polio is another cross for them to bear. An amazing novel of people looking for connection and finding it eventually and in unexpected ways.  I loved the way Joan London evoked a time gone by but made it so relevant to today. The writing takes your breath away. Chris

The Final Silence by Stuart Neville

Just when Jack Lennon thinks things couldn’t get any worse an ex-girlfriend contacts him. She has just inherited a house from her uncle and has found a journal detailing murders going back two decades. It appears there are links to her father, a prominent Belfast politician so she has turned to Jack for help, who can’t even help himself at this point. Stuart Neville doesn’t take his foot off the pedal once in this gripping thriller and once again demonstrates why he is the crime writer everybody is and should be talking about at the moment. Jon

Big Little Lies by Lianne Moriarty

Pirriwee Public’s annual school Trivia Night has ended in a shocking riot. A parent is dead. Liane Moriarty’s new novel is funny and heartbreaking, challenging and compassionate. The No. 1 New York Times bestselling author turns her unique gaze on parenting and playground politics, showing us what really goes on behind closed suburban doors.

Non-Fiction Books

The Climb by Geraldine Doogue

Iconic journalist and television presenter Geraldine Doogue turns her attention to an issue central to our times. How are we, as women, represented at the top levels of power in Australia? In candid and personal conversations with fourteen women leading the way in fields as wide-ranging as business, politics, religion, education and the armed forces, Doogue gets to the heart of what it means to be a woman in power in Australia.

Hey, True Blue by John Williamson

The long-awaited life story of John Williamson: an Australian icon, a much-loved veteran of the music industry and man of the land. Williamson takes us through his life, from growing up on the land in the Mallee and Moree in a family of five boys, to being the voice of Australia.

Favourites by Gary Mehigan

This book is the result of Gary’s ongoing food obsession: a collection of his most favourite recipes garnered from thirty years in the industry. It includes treasured treats from his childhood in England, diverse dishes inspired by MasterChef Australia, as well as the comforting family meals he cooks for his wife and daughter at home.

Hell-Bent by Douglas Newton

Most histories of Australia’s Great War rush their readers into the trenches. This history is very different. For the first time, it examines events closely, even hour-by-hour, in both Britain and Australia during the last days of peace in July–August 1914.

He Who Must Be Obeid by Kate McClymont & Linton Besser

This is the story of how Eddie Obeid controlled (and then brought down) the NSW Labor party. It seems if there has been something on the nose in NSW, Eddie Obeid probably had at least a finger in it. Uncovering new stories daily, this will be up-to-the-minute and mind-boggling. Written by two of the country’s most prominent, respected and award-winning journalists, this story will make your hair curl.

The Fights of My Life by Greg Combet

Greg Combet has been central to some of the biggest public struggles of our time on the waterfront, the collapse of an airline, compensation for asbestos victims, the campaign against unfair workplace laws and then climate change. His latest target is the labour movement, arguing that the Labor Party and the trade unions must democratise to engage the next generation of activists to fight the good fight: to achieve a more fair and just Australia.

Childrens’ Picture Books

The Skunk With No Funk by Rebecca Young

Woody is not what his family expected. He is a skunk with NO funk. A failure. A flop. An odourless plop. Poor Woody! What is he going to do? A funny read that the whole family will love! Jan & Danica

Lucky by David Mackintosh

Mum announces that there will be a surprise at dinner tonight, but what could it be? Two brothers spend the whole day at school in anticipation, creating more and more elaborate guesses, until they’re convinced it is the best surprise of all time! A book about what family really means and how lucky we are to have each other. Danica & Jan

Books for First Readers

Wild Moose Chase by Siobhan Rowden

Twins Burt and Camilla are in competition with each other about everything. So they jump at the chance when they hear about the ultimate competition that will guarantee just one person eternal glory. The Queen wants moose cheese. Moose cheese is scrumptiously delicious, worth an absolute fortune and  near-impossible to make. It’ll require a dangerous world-wide adventure to collect the ingredients for the Queen – but nothing will stop the twins.

Ciao EJ! by Susannah McFarlane

Strange things are happening in some of Italy’s most famous cities. What is evil agency SHADOW up to? Team Leader Agent EJ12 and the SHINE STARS split up to find the clues. But will EJ12 be able to piece them all together in time to stop SHADOW?

Books for Young Readers

Plenty by Amanda Braxton-Smith

Maddy’s home has always been in Jermyn Street, ALWAYS.  Now her Mum and Dad are doing the unthinkable – making her move from the city to a place called Plenty. Nobody understands how she feels, how can she survive without everything and everyone she knows. Then she meets the mysterious classmate, Grace Wek, the girl from the refugee camp. Maybe Grace will understand! Jan

Emperor Pickletine Rides The Bus by Tom Angleberger

Make sure you don’t miss the last of the Origami series! The gang is off to Washington DC for a school trip, but horror of horrors, Principal Rabbski decrees the field trip an “origami-free zone.” Dwight secretly folds a Yoda from a Fruit Roll-Up, but will Fruitigami Yoda be up to scratch?! Ian

Books for Young Adults

Razorhurst by Justine Larbalestier

Surry Hills in 1932 was not a pretty place to be, and no one knew this better than Kelpie and Dymphna. These two very unlikely friends share a most extraordinary day hiding from the coppers, rival mob bosses, and the danger that awaits them around every street corner. Will they both make it out alive? Have a read and find out. Danica

We Were Liars by E. Lockhart

A beautiful family. A private island. Summer after summer spent …  It is not long before the cracks start to appear, and nothing is what it seems. This book will keep you guessing until the very end! Jan & Danica

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Aussie New Releases To Look Forward To

There are several books by Australian authors being published in the last six months of the year that I’m really looking forward to, so I thought I’d share them with you.

The first is already out, and it’s Kate Forsyth‘s Dancing With Knives.  Set on a farm outside Narooma in NSW, Dancing With Knives is a rural murder mystery and a story about love and family secrets.

Rebecca James (author of Beautiful Malice and Sweet Damage) is gearing up for the launch of Cooper Bartholomew is Dead in early October.  Cooper Bartholomew is Dead is a psychological thriller centred around the death of Cooper Bartholomew, and his group of friends, one of which is keeping a dangerous secret.

Kate Morton (author of The Forgotten Garden and The Secret Keeper) is releasing her fifth novel in October this year and I’m so excited about it.  Untitled and simply called Book 5 for now, we don’t know what’s it’s about yet, but given she’s one of my favourite Australian authors, I’m sure it’s going to be a delicious page-turner.Matthew Reilly book cover The Great Zoo of China

Matthew Reilly is releasing a block-buster action monster-movie of a novel (his words) called The Great Zoo of China on 10 November.  China has discovered a new species of animal and is preparing to unveil their amazing find in the form of the largest zoo in human history.  The Chinese re-assure a media contingent invited to tour the zoo that it’s perfectly safe; however if Matthew Reilly is involved, you know that nothing’s ever safe.  You can click here to watch a short video of Matthew Reilly telling us about The Great Zoo of China, or pre-order it now and receive 30% off.

Candice Fox (author of Hades) featured here on the blog in January this year, and her latest book in the Bennett/Archer series Eden, is due out later this year.  Click here to read the Player Profile with Candice conducted by Jon Page.

Australian music personality Molly Meldrum has written a memoir called The Never Ever Ending Story, and is said to contain plenty of stories about some of the many rock and pop stars he interviewed throughout his career.  The Never Ever Ending Story is due to be released in November.

Another iconic member of the Australian music industry has to be John Williamson.  In the aptly named Hey, True Blue, John Williamson takes readers through his life story and his success as a singer.

So, that’s it from me, but what new Australian books are you looking forward to?

I Shall Not Hate

I Shall Not HateIt’s admittedly sh%tty that it takes a horrific and ongoing event in a region to make me finally pick up a book about it. But the ever-escalating Israel–Palestine conflict finally made me move Izzeldin Abuelaish’s I Shall Not Hate from the black hole that is the to-be-read-at-some-stage list to the I-need-to-read-this-right-now one.

Like Desert Flower, which I blogged about a few weeks ago and which was also plucked from a similar almost-never-read fate, I Shall Not Hate both gripped me from its opening paragraphs and had me rueing that I had taken so long to get round to reading it.

Izzeldin (I think this is his first name, but I’m breaking with convention to follow the book’s style and refer to him that way—methinks it was a deliberate decision to humanise him and I have to confess I like it) is a Palestinian doctor who works to help patients of all backgrounds and creeds. He for a long time worked in an Israeli hospital, making time-consuming, humiliating daily and weekly trips to travel from his home in Gaza to his workplace.

He is the first Palestinian to have accomplished such things, with even his residency requiring special permission for him to cross the border to do his research. It also meant someone had to cover for him if he was prevented from crossing the border for some arbitrary security reason.

A pragmatic optimist who believes medicine can bridge the seemingly insurmountable divide between Israelis and Palestinians, his thesis is that healthcare is one of the few things that transcend ideological differences and fighting.

By treating Jewish patients as a Palestinian Arab, he’s simply showing care and concern for human beings. This, despite experiencing a horror at the hands of the Israeli Defence Force (IDF) that would make it understandable that he could hate Jewish people: Three of his daughters and his niece were killed by an IDF bomb aimed directly at their family home.

The IDF apparently has pinpoint-accurate technology that presumably enables them to, well, not make bombing target mistakes. So it remains unclear how—and no one’s accepted responsibility for—the house of a Palestinian doctor widely known to be working to help both Jewish and Palestinian people, came to be blown up. What’s clear is that Izzeldin lost three daughters and a niece without warning and for no valid reason, and just months after the family had lost their mother, Izzeldin’s wife, to leukaemia.

His words on the matter are gracious and humbling: ‘If I could know that my daughters were the last sacrifice on the road to peace between Palestinians and Israelis, then I could accept it.’ I can’t help but wonder how he must be feeling during this latest round of fighting.

My understanding of the region’s contentious history is hazy at best, and I worry I’ve used wrong titles and terminology in this blog post (apologies if I have, and please feel free to let me know), but I feel that Izzeldin affords me insight into a deeply troubling experience.

Izzeldin has a way of expressing the issues that is both matter of fact and beautiful: ‘Gaza is a human time bomb in the process of imploding,’ he writes. And later:

The primitive and cheap Qassam is actually the most expensive rocket in the world when you consider the consequences—the life-altering repercussions it has created on both sides of the divide and on the Palestinians in particular.

Of the region’s sabra plant he says:

It’s a cactuslike succulent that has been used for thousands of years as a hedge to mark the borders of Palestinian farmlands. The prickly exterior hides a sweet fruit; the rubbery leaves are beautiful in their way, each one unique, with protrusions like stubby toes. For sixty years the land has been bulldozed, reassigned, and developed as if to scrub out any vestige of the Palestinians who lived, worked, and thrived here. But the enduring sabra plant remains like an invincible sentry, silently sending the message ‘We are here, and there, and down by the river and over near those woods and across that field. This land is where we were.’

David Ben-Gurion, Israel’s founder, once said of how Palestinians would cope with the loss of their land that ‘the old will die and the new generations will forget’. That’s a ruthlessly naïve and stupid thing to say, and it clearly hasn’t happened. Izzeldin advocates not forgetting or glossing over the past, but instead trying to forge a future that has both sides working together. His overriding belief is that, extremist leaders on both sides aside, people at the grassroots on both sides simply want to live in peace. He writes:

We know that military ways are futile, for both sides. We say that words are stronger than bullets, but the bullets continue to find their targets. My philosophy is simple, it’s the advice parents give to children: stop quarrelling with your brother and make friends—you’ll both be better off.

It’s difficult not to be incensed by the circumstances and occurrences Izzeldin describes in the book, including how then leader Ariel Sharon was concerned roads weren’t wide enough for his tanks, so he bulldozed people’s homes to obtain that room. Or the numerous examples he outlines of power-abusing tedium to stall and deny him and other Palestinians travel, both into Israel and overseas.

There’s also the time he accidentally left his briefcase behind at a border crossing and the guards, despite knowing him and seeing him cross the border weekly for work, blew the briefcase up. They saw him as a potential terrorist. He justifiably felt they should have seen him as a man who simply forgot his suitcase.

New York columnist Mona Elthaway wrote of him: ‘He seems to be the only person left in this small slice of the Middle East with its supersized servings of “us” and “them” who refuses to hate’. I consider that an incredibly, insightfully apt description.

There are no winners in the current conflict. Reading or watching anything and everything about the region—or the world more broadly, right now—makes my chest tight with despair. Yet Izzeldin’s book—and the man and his approach to life—offer me small hopes and enormous admiration and gratitude. I’m not imploring you to pick the book up at this moment in time, because that would be timely-ly sh%tty. But at the same time, I am.

Player Profile: Alafair Burke, author of All Day And A Night

author photo centerAlafair Burke, author of All Day And A Night

Tell us about your latest creation:


A murder case with ties to a convicted serial killer leads a young defense lawyer and an NYPD homicide detective into parallel investigations with explosive and deadly results in this superb mystery from “one of the finest young crime writers working today” (Dennis Lehane).

        The latest story dominating New York tabloids—the murder of Park Slope psychotherapist Helen Brunswick—couldn’t be further from Carrie Blank’s world handling federal appeals at one of Manhattan’s most elite law firms. But then a hardcharging celebrity trial lawyer calls Carrie with a case she can’t refuse. Anthony Amaro, a serial killer convicted twenty years earlier, has received an anonymous letter containing a chilling detail about Brunswick’s murder: the victim’s bones were broken after she was killed, the same signature used in the murders attributed to Amaro. Now Amaro is asking to be released from prison.

        Carrie has a reason to be interested. Her older sister, Donna, was one of Amaro’s victims. Determined to force the government to catch Donna’s real killer, Carrie joins Amaro’s wrongful conviction team with her own agenda. On the other side of Amaro’s case is NYPD Detective Ellie Hatcher, who, along with her partner, J.J. Rogan, is tapped as the “fresh look” team to reassess the investigation that led to Amaro’s conviction. The case is personal for them, too: Ellie wonders whether they got the assignment because of her relationship with the lead prosecutor, and Rogan has his own reasons to distrust Amaro’s defense team.

        As the NYPD and Amaro’s lawyers search for certainty among conflicting evidence, their investigations take them back to Carrie’s hometown, where secrets buried long ago lead to a brutal attack—one that makes it terrifyingly clear that someone has gotten too close to the truth.

resized_9780571302314_224_297_FitSquareWhere are you from / where do you call home?:

New York City

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

Some days I wanted to be a writer, but I also wanted to be an actress, pop star, hairdresser, and an eavesdropping switchboard operator (I watched a lot of old movies).  Turns out, I became a lawyer, working as a prosecutor for several years.  It was through my work as a prosecutor that I got an idea for a book.  That idea became my first novel, JUDGMENT CALLS (2003).

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

I really like my new book, ALL DAY AND A NIGHT.  It bends genres, combining a police procedural, legal drama, and a psychological thriller into one novel.  It also allows two very strong female characters to share the canvas.

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

I can write just about anywhere.  I have a studio apartment that I use as a full-time office.  I get it nice and tidy once a year right after I finish a book and find some downtown.  Then it becomes increasingly cluttered until the next overhaul, but I always know where everything is.

My secondary office is a Mario Batali wine bar down the street called Otto. I find a quiet corner and write in the middle of the day.

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

I read a ton of crime fiction.

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

It’s hard to pick only one but I’ll say THE MIXED UP FILES OF MRS. BASIL E. FRANKWEILER by E.L. Konisburg.  Before Harry Potter ever heard of Hogwarts, Claudia and Jamie lived secretly in the Metropolitan Museum of Art.  To this day, I can’t go to that amazing museum (where coincidentally my husband works) without nursing fantasies of sneaking in overnight.  I was also a big Encyclopedia Brown fan.  Oh, and Amelia Bedelia.  Mysteries and bad puns were the ultimate entertainment –
not much has changed for me thirty-five years later.

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

Nancy Drew.  I love to solve a mystery.

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

 I’m crazy about my dogs and golf.  If only my dogs could play golf, that would be the perfect day.

What is your favourite food and favourite drink?:

A good margarita with fresh lime juice, on the rocks with salt, is hard to beat.  I eat anything, but have a special compartment in my stomach for raw clams and oysters.

Who is your hero? Why?:

My husband.  He’s a good person in every way.

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

Making sure that people have access to a diverse selection of reading materials

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Review – Once a Creepy Crocodile

Once a Creepy CrocodilePicture books featuring native Australian flora and fauna aren’t new. Picture books including natty little extras like accompanying CDs aren’t exactly ground breaking either. However, picture books told with the kind of original verve and swagger like Once a Creepy Crocodile is will have you and the kids laughing and applauding with fresh wild abandon.

Once a Creepy Crocodile is the debut picture book for Queensland author Peter Taylor, a gifted calligrapher and just as skilful picture book creator. His partnership with illustrator Nina Rycroft Peter Taylorhas produced a corker of a picture book teaming with exuberant Australiana and bouncing rhyme. It is set to the rhyming metre of the well-loved song, Waltzing Matilda and once you recognise this, it is virtually impossible not to read it (aloud) along to the melody.

It all starts one dreamy afternoon by the riverbank, as creepy old Croc approaches baby Brolga with an invitation to join him for afternoon tea. Brolga, being prone to a bit of a party, is very tempted but is repeatedly dissuaded by his bushland buddies who fear Crocodile’s intentions are deceptively malign.

Croc persists with a seduction of scrumptious sweeties and sly smiles. Once again, Brolga’s friends intervene until Spotty Snake slithers in with an offer of his own. Will Brolga ever learn?

Croc eventually hosts his magnificent afternoon tea but you will have to sing your way through this yourself to find out just who survived to enjoy it with him.

Once a Creepy Crocodile is an entertaining Aussie mash-up of The Gruffalo meets the best of billabong bush lore. Taylor’s attention to metre makes each verse a cinch to read even if you are not ‘singing’ the tune, although I prefer the latter. He also gives plenty of airplay to some of the less well-known bush critters including the boo book owl and blossom bat, creating a large but colourful and endearing cast of characters.

Nina Rycroft Nina Rycroft’s full page, smack-in-you-in-the-face illustrations are a pure joy to behold. They trace the insidious attempts of both Creepy Croc and Spotty Snake to lure in naïve Brolga with bright, bold abandon, which younger readers will swoon over. Teabags splish and cupcakes hurtle across placid watercolour backdrops, which feature vivid pops of accentuating colour; the bright green bumps of Croc, the indigo waters of the creek, and Spotty’s deep amethyst coils for example.

Once a Creepy Crocodile is a feast for the eyes and a treat for your soul and above all, plain good old fashioned fun.

Creepy Croc illoI have just returned from the National Conference of The Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI) 2014 in Sydney where Peter Taylor launched his new book. Like all fine things, the project was a long labour of love, taking him many moons to perfect. Thankfully, it won’t take you as long to read, but once you do reach the end, you will want to read it again and again and again. A book with sustained readability that sounds good and has lots of Aussie heart. What more could you ask for. Tea anyone?

The Five Mile Press Out now and available here now!

What will win YA Book of the Year?


Sky so HeavyThe CBCA (Children’s Book Council of Australia) winning and honour books will be announced on Friday 15th August. One of the most eagerly awaited categories (especially for bloggers) is the Book of the Year: Older Readers. 

A surprise outcome in the OR category of this year’s shortlist is the appearance of FOUR debut novelists. The future of YA Australian writing seems very safe with this number of debut heavy-hitters.

The majority of the Older Readers’ shortlist is from the genre of contemporary realism, with two from speculative fiction.

Five of the six shortlisted authors are female. Bloggers who monitor the number of awarded female authors must be cheering. (It should be remembered, however, that the CBCA shortlist is judged on literary merit, not the gender of the authors or protagonists. The judges only have a two-year term so it’s hard to accept there may have been a gender prejudice in the recent past.)

Gay best friends or brothers are also punching above their weight in this category.

And a couple of the novels are very place-specific to Sydney and its surrounds.

Life in Outer Space by Melissa Keil (HGE) was one of my top three YA novels for 2013 as outed in the Weekend Australian

Life in Outer SpaceSo I’m obviously thrilled it has been shortlisted. It won the inaugural Hardie Grant Egmont Ampersand award and is contemporary realism, not sci-fi as implied by the title. Sam is an adorkable hero. He cannot believe that popular Camilla could like him. If you can’t wait for Melissa’s next book, The Incredible Adventures of Cinnamon Girl (Sept), read Dash and Lily’s Book of Dares by Rachel Cohn and David Levithan.


Another brilliant novel is Fiona Wood’s Wildlife (PanMacmillan). Sybilla is a complex – introverted yet easy-going – character who discovers much about herself and her peers on her extended school camp.

WildlifeFelicity Castagna continues the realism in The Incredible Here and Now (Giramondo). It is of enormous appeal for anyone who knows Sydney’s west and for teen boys in particular.

Will Kostakis adds humour to the mix in The First Third (Penguin), a contemporary Greek tragi-comedy.

Claire Zorn seamlessly incorporates human rights issues into The Sky so Heavy (UQP). This is a fast-paced post-apocalyptic story which begins in the Blue Mountains. Her new novel, The Protected is even better.

Fairytales for Wilde GirlsAnd Allyse Near creates her own sub-genre in Fairytales for Wilde Girls (Random), which co-won the Aurealis award.

Everyone is disappointed when YA books they love aren’t shortlisted. Surprise omissions for me this year are Simmone Howell’s edgy Girl Defective (Pan Macmillan), Amanda Betts’ luminous Zac and Mia (Text) and Jackie French’s Refuge (HarperCollins).

Which Book of the Year: Older Readers do you think should win?

Author Interview with Wanda Wiltshire and giveaway of Betrothed and Allegiance

Please welcome Australian author Wanda Wiltshire to Boomerang Books. Thanks so much for joining us Wanda.

Congratulations on the launch of your YA novel Allegiance, the second in the Betrothed series. For those who haven’t read Betrothed, can you tell us a little bit about this fantasy series?
Thanks Tracey, it’s a pretty exciting time! The Betrothed series tells the story of Amy Smith, a 17 year old girl with serious health issues, school bullies and a strong feeling that she doesn’t belong. In the first instalment of the series Amy discovers her suspicions are true when she meets the drop-dead gorgeous Leif in what she believes are dreams. After telling Amy she is betrothed to him, Leif urges her to seek her true identity. Soon Amy learns that not only is her birth name Marla but that she is a faery – exiled from her homeland, Faera. Amy – who begins to think of herself as Marla – is swept up in the thrill of her discovery and comes to believe that the only hurdle to happiness is overcoming Leif’s father, the cold and callous King Telophy. She is soon to learn there is so much more to her new reality.

photoWhat’s your inspiration for the land of Faera?
Betrothed was the answer to a prayer and Faera came to me as part of that. It’s the kind of world I long to live in with aspects of it continually being revealed to me. Faera is not like any particular place I’ve seen, but I do occasionally catches glimpses of it in the real world – a shaft of sunlight falling through a lush forest, a beautiful display of colour as the sun goes down or an exquisite flower growing wild. It is a place of old forests, glittering rivers and majestic mountains. The Fae create their homes amongst this beauty but would no more destroy a tree to do so than tear off one of their own wings. Faera is not a perfect world, as Marla soon discovers, but one where the Fae share the resources, do what they love and work together.

Betrothed has been receiving fantastic reviews both in Australia and overseas, have you been surprised by how well it’s doing?
What truly surprises me is that I wrote Betrothed. In the beginning I never actually believed I could finish it, so writing ‘the end’ on the manuscript was one of the highlights of my life. To celebrate I had a tiny book made for my charm bracelet. Sometimes I twirl that little gold book in my fingers and have to pinch myself! What I’ve found with Betrothed is that the people who love it, really really love it. I can’t say I’m surprised about that because I feel exactly the same way. I’m not very surprised either that lovers of Betrothed are looking forward to finding out what happens next. Betrothed did end at a crucial moment, and I know if I were a reader I’d want to know.

Is Allegiance a stand-alone book or should readers seek to read Betrothed first?
Allegiance is the second in the Betrothed series and while I think it could be enjoyed on its own, readers will get much more out of it if they have read Betrothed first. Not only to be up to date with the story, but – love them or hate them – it’s through Betrothed we come to know the characters. We also see changes in Marla between the two books. In Betrothed she is completely dazzled by both Leif and Faera – to the point where she thinks of little else. In Allegiance the illusion of perfection is shattered. She discovers that all is not as it seems in the magical land of her birth. Nor is being betrothed to the Prince the fairy tale she imagined. Rather, she is faced with a series of challenges and obligations in her new life completely unknown in her former one. It remains to be seen how she will deal with them.

You’ve created a handmade bookmark to give to the winner of the giveaway below, can you tell us how this started? How did you start making bookmarks for fans of your books?
I love interacting with Betrothed’s fans. They give me such wonderful encouragement and feedback on all aspects of my writing – from my style to the characters, to the story itself. Making the bookmarks is a kind of connecting experience and a way I can show my appreciation for the support my readers give me – mostly through my author page on Facebook. And it’s a lot of fun too! I can see myself making bookmarks for each of the books in the series.

Are you still planning to write six books in this series?  What can you tell us about the next one?
Right from the start, I knew the beginning and the end of Betrothed. That hasn’t changed. However, as I’ve written Marla’s story, more and more details have been revealed to me. In that way the series has grown. When I started writing and realized her story wouldn’t fit into one book, I thought her adventures might fill two. Two very quickly became three, then four. Five and six came to me sometime later. Honestly, I can’t see the series growing any bigger than that. The seventh book will be a prequel and occurred to me when I started to get images of how the land of Faera and its first inhabitants came to be. As for the third book, I can tell you the title is Confused. I will also say that as different to Betrothed as Allegiance is, so too will be Confused to each of the books that came before it. Sound confusing? Stay tuned.

Anything else you’d like to share with Boomerang Books readers?
Only thanks for having me, Tracey. I hope readers of Marla’s story fall in love with it. If so, come and join me and other Betrothed lovers on my Facebook page. I think it’s a friendly place to be.

Giveaway Details

Prize: Wanda is giving away a copy of Betrothed, a copy of Allegiance and a handmade bookmark.

Eligibility: you must be an existing Boomerang Books member to be eligible for this giveaway.  (Not a member? Click here to join; it’s free and easy to create an online account).

To enter:  comment below and tell us what cause you would pledge your allegiance to.

Entries close: midnight, Thursday 31 July 2014

Winner announced: Wanda Wiltshire will help me to choose the winner which will be announced here on the blog.

Read a FREE extract of Betrothed, here, and click here to buy the book.

Read a FREE extract of Allegiance here, and click here to buy the book.

Review – Fives and Twenty-Fives by Michael Pitre

9781408854457 (1)A remarkable piece of fiction following proudly in the footsteps of Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime WalkThe Yellow Birds and Redeployment. Wars never truly end for everyone involved and this is the territory Michael Pitre explores in his impressive debut novel.

On the eve on the Arab Spring in Tunisia three men are grappling with their futures now that their war has supposedly finished. Each is scarred and tainted by what they have witnessed and the decisions they have made. They are changed men returning to a changing world not sure if they achieved what they were fighting for. And if they possibly did whether it was worth the price.

Lieutenant Pete Donovan led a Marine platoon in charge of repairing potholes outside of Baghdad. What sounds like an innocuous responsibility is in fact extremely dangerous work as every pothole Donovan’s platoon must repair contains an IED. Every time.

The novel is told in flashbacks. Donovan has resigned his commission as an officer in the Marine Corps and is studying for his MBA in New Orleans. He is removed and detached from his class mates as well as the men and women with whom he served.

Lester ‘Doc’ Pleasant was the corpsman in Donovan’s platoon. His war ended with a dishonourable discharge. All the doors that Donovan’s service opened for him are closed for Lester who became isolated and detached from the rest of the platoon well before their deployment finished.

The third man is known only as Dodge. He was the platoon’s Iraqi-born interpreter. Through Dodge we see what the war means for Iraqis. The damage it has caused not just physically on the towns, cities and countryside but that damage it has caused to families, friendships and individuals.

Dodge’s story is the most powerful and insightful of the novel. While the lives of Donovan’s platoon are directly in his hands, Dodge’s own life and the people around him are a day-to-day juggling act where loyalties are won and lost, tested and betrayed.

Each man must try to make sense of the senseless violence they have lived and breathed and work out if they can possibly resurrect a new life from the aftermath.

War is never one-sided. It is all-encompassing and personally harrowing. Pitre has captured this aspect of war with compassion, complexity and clarity. It maybe a cliche to say that this is an important book about war that we should all read but it is only a cliche because it is true. We can’t understand a war until we have seen all its sides and Michael Pitre’s powerful debut novel is the first to explorer the pain and destruction wreaked on both sides of this long and different war.

Buy the book here…

Review: The Fever by Megan Abbott

9781447235910I have been meaning to ready Megan Abbott for ages. I’ve only heard good things, in particular her latest books, so thought I’d begin with her brand new novel. Abbott’s last few novels have all been set in the world of teenage girls, a world she has been exploring because ‘Noir suits a 13-year-old girl’s mind’

Not only is The Fever a fantastic noir crime novel but it is a great exploration of the secrets and lies of teenage life and the hysteria that can so easily get whipped up now in a world of social media, Google and 24 hour news.

One morning in class Deenie’s best friend Lise is struck down by what seems to be a seizure, she is later rushed to hospital and put on life support. Nobody knows what caused the seizure. When other girls are struck down with similar symptoms confusion quickly turns to hysteria as parents and authorities scramble for answers. Are the recent student vaccinations to blame? Or is it environmental? And what steps are authorities taking to protect other children?

Abbott tells the story from one family’s point of view alternating between Tom, a teacher at the school, his son Eli, who is the object of a lot of girls’ affections and younger daughter Deenie, whose best friend Lise is the first girl struck down with this mysterious ailment. Each point of view is almost a different world giving not only a different perspective to the story but a different emotional intensity and sense of urgency.

The secrets and lies of teenage lives coupled with the paranoid and hysterical nature of parenting in the 21st century make for a truly feverish and wickedly noir-ish read.

The Books Of Orange Is The New Black

Orange Is The New BlackFictionalised women’s prison series Orange is the New Black (OTNB) has become a firm favourite for many of us. The first season was a breakout success, with the second, recently released season topping the first and cementing the show as one that simply must be binge-watched on the day of its Netflix release. Which means the anticipation and then long wait for the next release is nigh on interminable.

Thankfully, BuzzFeed is keeping my appetite slightly sated by having collated one of OTNB’s subtleties of which I was vaguely aware: the books the inmates are reading and their related references to the show.

At least five things are immediately apparent from scanning BuzzFeed’s list, including that:

  • there is a bunch of subtle and rich information contained within the show that both enhances it but could easily be missed (methinks this warrants a second viewing)
  • as much as I read, there are always going to be books I never get to (I noted and appreciated a lot of the references, but there were some that went, and continue to go, over my head)
  • even when you’re watching television, books can and do make an important appearance
  • OTNB is a brilliantly, brilliantly, sophisticatedly well-written show
  • BuzzFeed is the master at such lists (how good are the GIFs?!).

Gone GirlThe list is organised by character and accompanied by some related, explanatory static images or GIFs. Lead character Piper, for instance, is reading Gillian Flynn’s runaway bestseller thriller Gone Girl on her bed, the book no doubt acting as a timely reference to a dysfunctional couple and difficulties they encounter with each other, their families, and the law.

Tastee, Piper, and more refer to Fifty Shades of Grey, a book banned by the prison library, but that seems to be doing decent contraband trade. Meanwhile Black Cindy makes the obligatory ‘expand your horizons’ joke about 1,000 Places To See Before You Die, a book that would both likely simultaneously be inspiring and depressing for inmates.

It’s perhaps the Robert Frost ‘road less taken’ meaning rectification and some of the Shakespeare and Pablo Neruda references that demonstrate the show’s literary references and writing sophistication (even if I have to admit they kind of go over my head—if you’d like to explain any of them to me, I’m all ears).

My favourite, though, would have to be Tastee’s Harry Potter and Ulysses switch, where she asks a fellow inmate checking out tome-sized The Goblet of Fire: ‘Wait, shortie, you want a book to read, or a step stool? ‘Cause I tell you right now, you ain’t steppin’ on The Goblet of Fire…’

I’m looking forward to the books that make cameos in the forever-away third season. By then, I might have just about worked out the high-end literary references. In the interim, I’ve got some reading material to be catching up on, including the books the inmates are reading that I’ve not yet read as well as the Piper Kerman book that originally inspired the OTNB series itself.

The Complete Low-FODMAP Diet

The Complete Low-FODMAP DietTwo months ago you’d have drawn a blank look from me if you mentioned a FODMAP. Or rather, the FODMAP acronym. Today, it seems to be integral to my eating life.

After some seven years of turning up to various doctors complaining of an assortment of annoying but arguably not life-threatening symptoms, it looks like we’ve finally worked out what’s causing my issues: fructose.

That’s essentially a sugar that’s contained in a bunch of foods that make up the FODMAP grouping, or Fermentable Oligosaccharides, Disaccarides, Monosaccharides, And Polyols.

High-FODMAP foods have been linked to a bunch of food intolerances, including Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) and Crohn’s and Coeliac diseases. Low-FODMAP foods, on the other hand, seem to make those of us whose bodies flair up when we encounter high-FODMAP foods very happy.

As someone who studiously steers clear of anything involving the word ‘diet’, I was dubious about The Complete Low-FODMAP Diet‘s ability to convince me to start and stay with it. So it’s testament to the strong communication and communication design of this book that I consider it a worthy purchase and read.

Research-rich, it delivers a trove of detailed information in largely lay terms, which means it’s not overwhelming and people like me can have a red-hot crack at adopting the diet. I’m impressed, especially so as the book has whole sections and a sample weekly menu plan for vegetarians and vegans (they also have ones for coeliacs and so on).

This means I’m not cobbling together information and coming up with my own approximations of how the diet would apply to me. Which is pretty much par for the course with any other diet or recipe I’ve ever attempted.

That’s not to say that the diet isn’t confusing, because it kind of is. With foods anywhere from onion and garlic to apples on the do-not-eat or eat-minimally lists, there’s nothing hugely intuitive about which foods are high- or low-FODMAP. That may be why the diet took so long to really take off.

But, having been loosely following the low-FODMAP diet for a month or so, I can testify that this diet is already improving my allergies/intolerances. And doing so in a way that doesn’t compromise my overall long-term nutrition. Which means I should probably fully commit to it and stop faffing about.

The avoiding onion and garlic thing is, I have to say, indescribably difficult, with those two tasty vegetables forming the basis of just about every cooked food and every cooked winter food I’d currently like to consume.

I have also joked that, as a vegan on the low-FODMAP diet, I’m pretty much the most nightmarish dinner party guest ever. I’ll forever need to be turning up to people’s places armed with my own food in tupperware so as not to send them (or me) into what-on-earth-is-safe-to-eat meltdown.

But that’s a small adjustment to make in light of the more exciting healthfulness I’m feeling. Plus, there are some tasty-looking low-FODMAP recipes at the back of the book that warrant some road testing…

The Secret Life of Bees

The Secret Life of BeesDuring my intervals as a bookseller, there were a few books whose covers really stuck in my mind. The books were consistent sellers with memorable covers, but that I for some reason never quite got round to reading.

Sue Monk Kidd’s The Secret Life of Bees was one such title. Pale yellow—an arguably unusual colour for a book cover in and of itself—with a mix of clearly story-related images, gold-embossed bees, and a title that gave a distinct hint of mystery, it was a book I wanted to if not read, then to know what it was about.

I recalled it during my recent beekeeping courses and subsequent research. Though fiction, I figured it might give me insight into the world of bees and their complex, fascinating, super-organism ways. There were, after all, bees depicted on the cover and mentioned in the title.

The Secret Life of Bees features a young girl named Lily from America’s south who, after an accident as a young child that left her without a mother and with racial tensions coming to the fore when she’s a teenager, finds herself living with three beekeeping sisters.

From Augustine, June, and May (all of whom have month-long celebrations during the months of their namesakes) she learns that the whole world is a bee yard. She also discovers the principle of ‘bee yard etiquette’, including that you should: not be afraid, as no life-loving bee wants to sting you; not swat; wear appropriate, long-sleeved, long-panted clothing; and that if you feel angry, whistle, as anger agitates bees, but whistling calms them.

Monk Kidd (or Kidd—I’m never sure how to shorten tri-part names) has a beautiful way of viewing and expressing the world. She writes of how the bee suit veil softens the world, and how ‘knowing can be a curse on a person’s life. I’d traded a pack of lies for a pack of truth, and I didn’t know which one was heavier’.

The book’s about bees and nature, about truth and lies, about love and sorrow, and race and rights. Each chapter commences with a quote from a non-fiction beekeeping book such as:

If the queen were smarter, she would probably be hopelessly neurotic. As is, she is shy and skittish, possibly because she never leaves the hive, but spends her days confined in darkness, a kind of eternal night, perpetually in labor…He true role is less that of a queen than mother of the hive, a title often accorded to her. And yet, there this is something of a mockery because of her lack of maternal instincts or the ability to care for her young.

The book also weaves in bee history and trivia, such as how beekeepers used to drape material over their hives when there was a death in the family. It was to prevent the bees leaving, as having bees around was supposed to ensure a dead person would live again. The accompanying adage is : ‘When a bee flies, a soul will rise’. Interestingly, honey is a preservative—people used to use it to embalm bodies.

The Secret Life of Bees doesn’t include as much bee information as I’d hoped, but the story itself drew me in after an initial slow start. Each time I thought I should put the book aside for a more fact-based read, I found myself wondering what would happen to Lily and the sisters she encounters, what happened with her mother all those years ago, and whether there’d be a happy ending with her first love.

Now that I know the story, the cover befits the tale and was worth finally cracking the spine. It also inspires me to revisit a few of the other titles that caught my attention during my bookselling stints.

What is the Eve Pownall Award?

Meet Capt CookThe CBCA (Children’s Book Council of Australia) shortlist is Australia’s most important award for children’s and YA literature. These books are celebrated in Book Week.

The CBCA shortlist generates most sales of awarded books – for children’s books, although perhaps not for YA books – in Australia. The shortlist is used as a buying guide for parents, grandparents and community members. Schools (especially primary schools) use it extensively for the build-up and culmination of Book Week.

These awards are unusual because there is such a long lead-time between the announcement of the 30 shortlisted books (around April) and the announcement of the winning and honour books in Book Week in August – this year on August 15th. The shortlist is possibly even more important than the winners.

There are five categories of shortlisted books, each with six books. Four of the categories are fiction and judged by a panel of 8 judges, 1 from each state and territory, who have a two-year judging term. The fiction books are judged on literary merit.

So, what is the Eve Pownall Award? This is not the place to look into the background of the award but its purpose is to judge non-fiction – Information Books. A panel of judges from the one state, as distinct from the fiction judging panel, selects the Eve Pownall shortlist.

The 2014 shortlist is generally aimed at primary age children and has a focus on our Indigenous people:


Jandamarra is in picture book form. It is written by Mark Greenwood and illustrated by Terry Denton (Allen & Unwin) and looks at the conflicted Aboriginal hero or villain, Jandamarra. Welcome to My Country is written by Laklak Burrarrwanga and family (A&U) and is aimed at upper primary and secondary students. We are given an insight into NE Arnhem Land, particularly into ‘Yothu Yindi’ – the relationship between mother and child, people and land, land and land… Meet … Captain Cook by Rae Murdie, illustrated by Chris Nixon (Random House) naturally touches on Australia’s first people. It is an outstanding book in this series for younger readers. The design and stylised illustrations are excellent and the writing is understated and enhanced with humour.


Jeremywritten by Christopher Faille, illustrated by Danny Snell (Working Title Press) is for the youngest readers here. In picture book format it shows what could happen to a baby kookaburra. Ice, Wind, Rock by Peter Gouldthorpe (Lothian) is an evocative picture book about our Antarctica hero, Douglas Mawson. And finally, Yoko’s Diary: The Life of a Young Girl in Hiroshima, edited by Paul Ham (ABC Books) is a heart-breaking first-hand account of Japan in WWII by a twelve-year-old girl.

Which Information Book do you think will win the Eve Pownall award on 15th August?

Ice, Wind, Rock

Hong Kong for beginners

From the outside Hong Kong is a shimmering enclave of mirrored high-rise towers, a former British outpost and a gateway to China – the ultimate fusion of East and West. But beyond the swanky shopping malls and five-star hotels, the city is a heady mix of contradictions – of urban cacophony and tranquil country parks, of staggering wealth and grinding poverty, a city that worships money but still respects tradition, an exotic place that has been inspiring writers for decades.

Countefeit Love by Julie FisonAmong the many books to put Hong Kong at centre stage are James Clavell’s Asian sagas: Tai-Pan and Noble House and John le Carré’s thriller The Honourable Schoolboy. Travel writer Jan Morris explored the city’s complex past and future in Hong Kong, a manual for Hong Kong newbies. Other celebrated novels set in the city include Han Suyin’s post-war love story – A Many-Splendoured Thing, John Lancaster’s epic, Fragrant Harbour, and Janice Y K Lee’s sumptuous historical novel, The Piano Teacher.

My new title for young adults is one of the latest novels to use Hong Kong’s vibrant skyline as its backdrop. Counterfeit Love is a thoroughly contemporary tale of a young television reporter who is trying to make a name for herself in Hong Kong. Lucy Yang’s skills and character are tested as she tries to get to the bottom of a big story. And when the gorgeous, but mysterious, Byron Lloyd starts turning up in unexpected places, she wonders if her perfect man is a sinister part of the story she’s chasing.

Counterfeit Love is a cocktail of ambition, intrigue and romance, and was inspired by my years as a news reporter with a Hong Kong television station. The story is definitely not autobiographical, but in writing it, I drew on my knowledge of Hong Kong, my experience in a newsroom and my memories of starting out in a city that was totally alien to me.

Noble HouseI spent five crazy years in Hong Kong and still vividly recall so much about it – the chaotic newsroom, the crowded MTR, the smell of frying garlic and the pong of fermented bean curd, the white-knuckle ride into the old Kai Tak airport, junk trips to the outlying islands and the sampan ride home at the end of a long night in the office. In my neighbourhood, old Hakka ladies shelled prawns in the sun, while young professionals belted out love songs on their karaoke machines. I had a colleague who often rode home from a night club on the roof of a taxi, just because he could, and a British friend who circled the Hongkong Bank anti clockwise twice every morning before going to work – on the advice of a feng shui master. He still endured his share of bad luck, but was never game to change the habit in case his fortune worsened.

Hong Kong was many things to me, but it was never boring!

Thanks for joining me for my first Boomerang Books Blog post. I will be returning regularly with more bookish news. In the meantime you can visit my website here or you can follow me on Twitter and Facebook.


Happy reading,


Continuum X post-con report

In June this year I excitedly went off to attend Continuum X, the 10th in a series of Melbourne-based science fiction and pop culture conventions. But this year was special. This year, Continuum doubled as the 53rd Australian National Science Fiction Convention.

International Guest of Honour was Jim C Hines, author of, amongst other books, Goblin Quest, Libriomancer and Codex Born. He is also known for a series of photographs in which he attempted to place himself into the ridiculous poses that female characters are often put in on genre book covers. Check it out. Australian Guest of Honour was Ambelin Kwaymullina, author of the The Tribe series of novels (The Interrogation of Ashala Wolf and The Disappearance of Ember Crow).

Lib     Ashala

Both guests were friendly, eloquent and well worth the price of admission. And they both delivered extraordinary Guest of Honour speeches — you can check out Jim’s here and Ambelin’s here.

But there was lots more to Continuum X. There were panel discussions on an amazing range of topics, from early science fiction cinema to The Big Bang Theory; from technology for writers to religion in science fiction. Perhaps the most extraordinary of these was “We Do This Stuff… Gets Personal”. The programme description was as follows: “Based loosely on the “living library” idea, this is a chance for people to talk about their experiences of being an othered gender, sexuality, race, physical, mental or sensory disability or otherwise other, with questions from the audience. Open to writers who want to write better characters and anyone who just wants a better understanding of what it’s like in someone else’s head.” Not only did this panel provide the opportunity for writers to learn, it promoted understanding, which is a starting point for a more inclusive community.

There were readings and signings from an array of authors including Alan Baxter, Sue Bursztynski, Michael Pryor and Trudi Canavan, to name but a few. There were numerous book launches including:

  • Guardian by Jo Anderton
  • Trucksong by Andrew Macrae
  • Secret Lives of Books by Rosaleen Love
  • Perfections by Kirstyn McDermott
  • Use Only As Directed
  • Death at the Blue Elephant by Janeen Webb
  • Kisses by Clockwork edited by Liz Grzyb
  • Nil By Mouth by LynC
  • The Stars Like Sand: Australian Speculative Poetry edited by Tim Jones and PS Cottier

9780992460129I was particularly excited about Nil By Mouth, which I had the great pleasure of launching myself. I was also honoured to co-host the Continuum X awards night with fellow-author Narrelle M Harris. Awards presented that evening included the Ditmars (for excellence in Australian science fiction, fantasy and horror), the Chronos Awards (for excellence in Victorian science fiction, fantasy and horror), as well as a number of special awards.

Fragments of a Broken Land: Valarl Undead by Robert Hood, picked up the Best Novel Ditmar.

“The Home for Broken Dolls” by Kirstyn McDermott, in Caution: Contains Small Parts, picked up the Ditmar for Best Novella or Novelette.

The Bride Price by Cat Sparks got two Ditmars — one for Best Collected Work and one for Best Short Story for “Scarp”.

9780734410672Rules of Summer by Shaun Tan got both the Ditmar and the Chronos for Best Artwork.

And my own Gamers’ Rebellion got the Chronos for Best Long Fiction. 🙂

You can check out a complete list of nominees and winners on the Continuum website.

All up Continuum X was a great experience for genre book fans — so many authors, editors and publishers just wandering around, as well as speaking on panels, reading from their works and taking part in question and answer sessions. I picked up a bunch of books to add to my ever-growing to-be-read mountain, as well as adding to my really, really long list of books I must purchaser in the near future. 🙂

A HUGE thank you to the organisers, panellists and attendees for making this such an enjoyable event. I’m already looking forward to next year’s Continuum.

Catch ya later,  George

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mrsmuir01Check out my DVD blog, Viewing Clutter.

Latest Post: DVD Review  — The Ghost & Mrs Muir: Season 1



Review: The Sun is God by Adrian McKinty

9781846689833This is a seemingly dramatic departure from Adrian McKinty’s usual books but he pulls it off marvelously. Based on a true story McKinty heads to the South Pacific circa 1906 to tell a tale of mad Germans, sun worship and possible murder.

Will Prior, is an ex-English lieutenant who finds himself in German New Guinea after the horrors of the Boer War. As an ex-military policeman he is asked by local authorities to investigate the strange death of a man from a neighbouring island where a new, cultish society is trying to establish itself. Calling themselves ‘cocovores’ they believe that sun worship and a diet of coconuts will lead to immortality. Will’s investigation is quickly stonewalled by a group under the influence of more than just the sun and tropical fruit and he must tread carefully if he wishes to ever leave the island in one piece.

McKinty has obvious fun telling this story. Coming off the brilliant Sean Duffy series was always going to be a challenge and going outside his usual zone is a stroke of brilliance. There is a real 19th century flare to McKinty’s writing and characters in this novel and the atmosphere he creates on the island of Kabakon, which the ‘cocovores’ inhabit, bubbles away nicely with a sinister air never too far away. The combinations of malarial fever and heroin induced dreams also means the lines between sanity and insanity intertwine until the truth of what really happened on Kabakon is possibly indeterminable.

This may not appeal to all the Adrian McKinty fans but I think it is going to win him a few new ones.

Buy the book here…

Backyard Bees: A Guide for the Beginner Beekeeper

Backyard BeesAnyone who follows my social media feeds (or this blog, as I’ve written about it here) would be aware I’ve been learning beekeeping. It’s an admittedly strange thing for a vegan to be doing, but my reasons are not honey-related, but purely environmental—I’m deeply concerned about bees’ and the environment’s health and feel we’re not doing nearly enough to care for either.

My experience to date has, however, involved not finding a lot of accessibly designed and delivered information. At risk of typecasting all beekeepers and offending roughly most of them, I’ve found beekeeping to be the realm of wily 60-year-old men whose tacit knowledge is exceptional, but whose books (read: mostly pamphlets) about the matter are either non-existent or leave plenty to be desired.

And the beekeepers and their publications are commercially focused, honey-obtaining obsessed, and predicated on you having a lot of hives on a lot of land in rural areas. I’ve located little in the way of good resources for environmental-concerns-driven urban beekeepers, much less for women (of which I happen to be one). And certainly not in an Australian setting (the best I’ve found so far has been New York urban beekeeper Megan Paska’s The Rooftop Beekeeper, which features beekeeping in an urban environment and is by a woman).

Clearly, then, I was enthusiastically excited when Murdoch books sent me advance notice of (and an opportunity to review) a forthcoming bee-themed title.

Backyard Bees a guide for the beginner beekeeper brings together Murdoch’s strong aesthetics and communication design with the no-nonsense practical beekeeping explanations of a modern urban beekeeper.

With stellar images of the ilk we’ve come to know and love from Murdoch’s cookbooks meet coffee table porn married with author and ‘beevangelist’ Doug Purdie’s pragmatic, written-from-experience instructions, the handily sized Backyard Bees is timely and solid.

Purdie, who co-operates urban beekeeping business The Urban Beehive, got interested in bees for similar reasons to me: He became aware of how integral they are to the world, and was alarmed at how greatly they were in trouble and how little we were doing to ensure their (and our own) survival.

He too found his local beekeepers to be wise older gentlemen, but that the beekeeping secrets seemed in danger of being lost on future generations. So he got involved, both by writing this book, but also starting his own urban beekeeping business and the Sydney City branch of the NSW Amateur Beekeeping Association. That is, both operating in the city and catering for inner-city dwellers such as me, who are keen to do as much as they can, but who have small-yard and close-neighbour considerations.

Purdie delivers a trove of useful facts, including that despite some people’s fears, penicillin is a higher cause of death than are bee stings, and that in Greek mythology, a swarm landing somewhere was considered not a threat, but a great blessing.

Purdie and Murdoch (props to the editor and designer involved) lay out the book and the information you need to get started in concise, chronological order. They complement them with rich images that make you want to race out, don a bee suit, and get ‘keeping.

Perhaps my favourite part, though, is that Purdie features a bunch of beekeepers of varying backgrounds, including women (one of my greatest frustrations has been trying to find other women beekeepers; one of my greatest fears is that I won’t physically be able to manage the hives, which can get rather heavy once they’re full of bees and honey).

The Rooftop BeekeeperThere’s Mat and Vanessa, from Melbourne City Rooftop Honey (AKA the guys who kind of pioneered modern urban beekeeping in Australia, or at least popularised it).

There’s horticulturalist Elke, who found it took a few attempts to get the bees to accept her (I’m nervous about my beginner-ness and how steep my learning and succeeding curve will be, so it’s fantastic to know not everyone immediately takes to beekeeping like metaphorical ducks to water).

There’s Katrina and Jonathan, who keep their hive in their chicken pen, as chickens are bees live in great symbiosis. Chickens are disinterested in eating bees, but extremely interested in gobbling up the beetles that like to invade hives (if you follow my social media, you’ll know I adopt former battery hens under the long-running Operation Chooken campaign, so this is of significant interest and relevance to me).

And there’s George and Charis, Swiss husband and wife and beekeeping veterans, who make beekeeping (and life) look like a fantastically fun adventure.

Helpfully rounding out the book is a glossary of terms, an index, and a bunch of honey-themed recipes replete with salivation-inspiring images.

Backyard Bees will be released in August, just in time for people to read the book, seek out beekeeping courses, and prep to commence beekeeping in early spring. I’d recommend it for a touch of inspiration combined with practical advice—I know I’ll be referring to it regularly when my bees arrive in September and I attempt to put beekeeping theory into practice.

Desert Flower

Desert FlowerThere’s a certain fate books face when they make it to your bookshelf rather than immediately being read upon purchase: that of being relegated to the dust-gathering, guilt-inducing, probably-never-going-be-read pile.

Waris Dirie’s Desert Flower fell into that category for me. Bought on a whim among a pile of books (as any bibliophile will attest, you can never just buy one book), it was put aside immediately for the most pressing, must-read purchases and then again later for the abundance of new titles that came upon my radar.

That’s probably in part because I’m not interested in the fashion industry or models (Dirie is a supermodel from the Naomi Campbell era), and because her backstory is relatively harrowing (Dirie is originally from Somalia, has suffered female genital mutilation (FGM), and is now a United Nations (UN) ambassador speaking out about the practice).

I don’t know whether I thought the book would be frivolous or distressing or both, but either way it featured high on the too-hard pile. I even passed over it on Saturday when, having just started to see the other side of a debilitating bout of gastro, I decided I wanted nothing more than to continue recuperating by losing myself in a good book.

My hand paused over The Twelve (the follow-up to The Passage), I Confess, and I Shall Not Hate, but all fell into the too-long or too-harrowing categories themselves. For some reason I finally plucked Dirie’s book from its dust-gathering location, and subsequently devoured it in a three-hour sitting. Why it took me so long to read it I’ll now never know.

The book opens climactically, with Dirie deliriously dehydrated, near starvation, and almost falling prey to a lion. She’s all of about 13 and has run away from home with literally nothing but the clothes she is wearing—not even shoes, because the family was too poor for her to ever have owned some—to avoid an arranged marriage to a 60-year-old man. Her family are Somalian nomads, and her father would be paid five camels for Dirie’s dowry. Her father considers that a good deal; Dirie not so much.

From there Dirie somehow manages to make it to the country’s capital, Mogadishu, and then, through a combination of chutzpah and naiveté, on to London as a housemaid for an uncle who’s based there as an ambassador. It sounds a charmed life, but she’s relegated to the role of cleaner and denied the education and opportunities of her cousins.

Desperate to stay in London when the ambassadorship ends, but lacking formal education, English language skills, and money, Dirie manages through a series of incredible tenacity to make it work. One element of that involves her being discovered as a model, with one of her first ever assignments alongside a then similarly naïve newbie, Naomi Campbell.

The modelling gig perhaps makes Dirie’s story one more fairytale than hard graft it really has been. She continues to experience debilitating ongoing health issues related to the FGM she suffered without anaesthetic in the bush at the hands of a rusty razor-wielding gypsy woman as a child. She endured countless visa issues that saw her resorting to desperate measures not to be deported. Dirie’s is an experience I’m not sure I would have survived. And certainly not with so much grace and humour intact.

I Shall Not HateDirie’s is an incredibly pragmatic, accessible storytelling style—you can imagine her holding rapt court at a dinner party, telling stories from the various chapters. It explains why I could absolutely devour the book in short sitting, but also why elements of it continue to remain with me.

Which is just as well, because the statistics on FGM about which she’s trying to raise awareness and stamp out are sobering—and escalating. The UN estimates some 130 million girls and women have experienced FGM and another two million—or 6000 a day—are at risk each year of the same fate.

The laundry list of infections and illnesses that accompany this practice are chilling, not least complications from shock, tetanus, septicaemia, HIV, Hepatitis B, recurring pelvic and urinary tract infections, dysmenorrhea (excruciatingly painful menstruation), depression, and death.

The British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) made a documentary about Dirie, and her book has reportedly been made into a film. Which is all to say that if you’re like me and haven’t gotten around to reading it, you have other options. That written, the book is surprisingly easy and quick to read, so I’d recommend opting for that first. But the documentary/film are likely an equally good way to discover Dirie’s story and the wider FGM issue she now works to combat.

What Is It? Genre Part II

Hopefully you enjoyed What Is It? Genre Part I, it’s now time to delve a little deeper.

Let’s take a look at the differences between: biography, autobiography and memoir? Often confusing, are they all the same?

A biography is the life story of a person written by someone else.

An autobiography is the life story of a person written by themselves.

A memoir is a collection of memories from a person’s life, told in the first person. It’s different from an autobiography, because it does not tell the entire life story.

Now that we’ve got that straight, what is the difference between an authorised or unauthorised biography?  An authorised biography is a biography written about a person with the subject or family’s permission.

An unauthorised biography is just that.  A biography that has no approval from the subject, which naturally means the subject has not contributed information or personal material to the biography.  A well known unauthorised biography is Oprah: A Biography by Kitty Kelley.

Just when you thought that was the end, I bring you fictional autobiography.  Essentially, it’s when an author creates a fictional character and writes a book as if it were a first person autobiography.  Sound confusing? A popular example of a fictional autobiography is Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte. This also brings us to the controversy of autobiographical fiction.  This is when an author will write a book and claim it is their autobiography, although it contains falsehoods and may not be true at all.  A great example of this is A Million Little Pieces by James Frey, originally sold as a memoir but later found to contain much fiction.

Many readers will suspend disbelief in order to enjoy a good fantasy or fairytale, but if an autobiography is found to contain false claims or fiction, is it any less enjoyable?  I like to know what I’m reading beforehand and resent it if I find out later that a book was not all I thought it was.  What about you?

Let’s look at a few more genres before I close off this What Is It? article on genre.

The Hunter by Julia Leigh is an example of Tasmanian gothic literature

Gothic literature is very popular and includes such novels as Dracula by Bram Stoker and Frankenstein by Mary Shelley.  Gothic novels contain some of the following elements: horror, secrets, romance, madness, death, ghosts, supernatural and gothic architecture including haunted houses and castles.  Characters in a gothic novel will often include: women in distress, tyrannical males, maniacs, heroes, magicians, angels, ghosts and much more.

Gothic horror or gothic literature is a great genre, but what about Tasmanian gothic literature?  Yes, you read right, there are a number of novels now classified as Tasmanian gothic literature and if this tickles your fancy, you may want to check some of them out: The Roving Party by Rohan WilsonThe Hunter by Julia Leigh and Gould’s Book of Fish by Richard Flanagan.

Whatever your reading tastes may be, you are bound to enjoy some genres more than others and at some point in your reading life, continue to read from your favourites.  Just remember to keep exploring and venturing into new reading territories because you never know what you’ll find.

Meet Suzy Zail, author of Alexander Altmann A10567

Thanks for speaking to Boomerang Books, Suzy.

Alexander Altmann

Your second novel for young adults, Alexander Altmann A10567 Black Dog Books (Walker Books)  is a candid account of a Hungarian boy’s experience in the concentration camps of Auschwitz-Birkenau. In spite of the horrific events, you have crafted a story of human indomitability and hope. Was this a deliberate strategy?

Yes.   There’s no episode more grim than the Holocaust. Alexander Altmann A10567 doesn’t shy away from the fact that the world can be a bleak and crushing place, but I also wanted to remind readers that we’re capable of great things, that we can help – in big and small ways – and that our capacity for friendship can powerful.

 Why are you interested in the holocaust?

My father inspired me to write the book. I was a litigation lawyer when he was diagnosed with a terminal illness in 1998. My father had survived Auschwitz as a thirteen-year-old, but had never talked about his experiences. Once he was diagnosed he wanted to tell us everything. He didn’t want us to be victims or victimise others.

I left the law and spent the next 5 years writing his story, promising him, on the day he died, that I’d get it published. Writing The Wrong Boy and Alexander Altmann allowed me to remember him and pass on his warning never to forget.

Alexander Altmann was inspired by the true experiences of Fred Steiner, who worked in the elite horse commando at Auschwitz. What was the most disturbing thing he told you? The most hopeful?

The most disturbing episode was when he was forced to throw his baby cousin over a barbed wire fence hoping his aunt would catch him. (She did and that cousin is now living in San Francisco in her 60s.) The most hopeful was when Fred was severely whipped by the Commander but his wife called him by name and fed him cake.

How has the 2013 CBCA short-listing of The Wrong Boy changed your writing life?

wrong boy

 I came to writing fiction through non-fiction. It was a steep learning curve: from interviewing people to imagining them into existence. The short-listing allowed me to believe that my writing could touch people and I could master the craft of storytelling.

Why are you writing YA?

I didn’t pick YA. My stories did. Young adults are the next generation of leaders. They’re our future and the perfect audience for a story set in Auschwitz. The only way to prevent something like the Holocaust recurring is by trying to understand it and the best way to help kids do that is giving them a character to care about. Not millions of Jews – just one – a girl or boy their age with the same fears, dreams and insecurities.

I knew teenagers would relate to the stories because their lives, like Hanna and Alexander’s, can also involve betrayal, abandonment, loneliness and shame. They’re also discovering their identity, so a book that encourages them to examine intolerance and question how they want to live is powerful.



Review – The Magicians by Lev Grossman

9780099534440I have been meaning to get round to this book for a while (thanks mainly to the Bookrageous podcast) and with the final book in the trilogy due out in August I thought it was about time I got started. My first impression of the book was that this was Harry Potter for adults. Instead of a 12-year-old boy going off to school to learn magic and wizardry this is about a 17-year-old boy going off the college, in upstate New York, to learn magic and become a magician.

There are some similarities with Hogwarts, the Harry Potter novels and other fantasy classics like The Chronicles of Narnia but Lev Grossman acknowledges all these sources in clever and often humorous ways so you never get a sense of them being ripped off in any way. Grossman has also constructed his own unique and vivid world(s) so you know you are definitely in a different type of story.

One of the other big differences is the main character, Quentin Coldwater. He is not your like-at-all-costs hero. He is a flawed character which isn’t apparent at first but manifests itself as the book goes on. He is struggling to find himself and has an almost superiority complex which is only fed more by learning to become a magician. Grossman packs all of the years of magic college into the first half of the book. This is not one book for every year of college and it is college life warts and all (pardon the pun). And when Quentin and the friends he makes finish college they don’t set out on a big adventure or quest but instead waste their new-found knowledge and skills on drinking, drugs and sex. (This strand of the story reminded me a bit of The Secret History by Donna Tartt.)

The major difference though is the tone of Grossman’s novel. Often books of this type have a sense of earnestness. The heroes of the story are the chosen ones with a strong sense of their purpose and what is right. Grossman flips this on its head. Instead of earnestness there is a layer of cynicism and the characters purposefulness alludes them (for different reasons each).  Instead a sense of entitlement clouds their judgements, destabilizes their relationships with each other and ultimately leads to tragic consequences.

While this does make everything sound dark and broody everything is tempered with an epic, adventurous narrative that moves along at an addictive pace. It was refreshing to have a main character who was not perfect, was guilty at times of being selfish and struggling to find his own identity. I also really enjoyed the way other worlds weren’t the escape people hoped them to be, especially if what you are trying to escape is yourself.

I can’t wait to see where Grossman takes the story next.

Buy the book here…

Bancks and Bongers

Two authors from the creative arc which encompasses northern NSW and SE Qld have had YA novels published recently.

two wolves

Tristan Bancks’ Two Wolves (Random House Australia) and Christine Bongers’ Intruder (Woolshed Press, Random House) both look at teens who have family problems and are struggling because of their parents and yet are able to work through these issues and strengthen their own characters.

Thirteen-year-old Ben Silver in Two Wolves has parents who are culpable. They have allowed him to grow up spending hours watching screens and to eat so poorly he is overweight. Their business dealings are suspect and the novel begins with Ben and his seven-year-old sister Olive being thrust into their car and on a ‘holiday’. Ben wants to be a detective and he is dubious about what’s going on, especially when he finds a bag of money in the cabin where they are staying.

While keeping the narrative exciting and fast-paced, Bancks poses moral dilemmas and choices which increase the depth and literary worth of the novel. Should Ben be a detective or thief? Should he warn his family when they are at risk? Should he run or surrender? Should he capitulate to the bad wolf of pride, jealousy and greed or follow the good wolf of kindness, hope and truth?


Set in a Queenslander (Qld’s quintessential timber house) in Brisbane, Intruder explores a difficult situation where Kat’s musician father must leave her alone at night so that he can work. Her mother has died from cancer and neighbour, Edwina (who Kat seems to despise) looks out for her. Like Two Wolves, Intruder opens with a bang – Kat is awakened by an intruder. Whilst remaining in the same geographical location, this novel embarks on a literary journey as Kat makes friends at the dog-park and untangles and resolves the secrets of her past.

Both books refer to other literature: Kat has her selection of Roald Dahl books Matilda, The BFG and James and the Giant Peach. The protagonists in these books seem to resemble Kat because their parents are either not present or uncaring. Ben’s adventures remind him of Sam Gribley, the protagonist of Jean Craighead-George’s My Side of the Mountainbut he feels inadequate about his survival skills, especially when compared with Sam’s achievements.

In spite of traumatic situations, Ben and Kat make good decisions which will place them positively for the future. They are flawed, realistic but positive role-models for their teen readers.

Historical Fiction with Goldie Alexander

9780992492434Writing historical fiction requires more than just authorly talent and an interest in the past. It requires a love of research and, even more importantly, the ability to turn that research into a story that will be relevant to current readers. It’s not an easy task, but there are writers out there who do it remarkably well.

One such author is Goldie Alexander, whose latest young adult novel, That Stranger Next Door, is another in a long line of historical novels for young people. Today, Goldie has stopped by with an account of how she approaches the genre. Take it away Goldie…

Fictionalising History
By Goldie Alexander

Over the years I have had 6 historical fictions published for young readers. The challenge was to create convincing settings, characters and dialogue, and the all-important story line to keep my readers involved. This narrative develops from the problems my characters encounter — their aims, wishes and fears. All fictions based on history start with the premise ‘what if you were there at the time’. Though they are based on carefully researched facts, this research must never show. The story must be seamless.

In Mavis Road Medley my two contemporary youngsters find themselves in Princes Hill Melbourne at the end of the Great Depression. In My Australian Story: Surviving Sydney Cove a thirteen-year-old girl convict lives in the Sydney of 1790, when the First Fleet felt cut off from the rest of the world. Body and Soul: Lilbet’s Romance describes a disabled girl’s life just before the outbreak of World War Two. In Gallipoli Medals Great Uncle Jack is a soldier in WW1.

9781741304954The Youngest Cameleer is viewed from the perspective of a fourteen-year-old Moslem. This lesser known exploration into the interior led by William Gosse in 1873 included both Europeans and Afghans, and is based on Gosse’s own journal. This expedition was the first non-indigenous group to stumble across Uluru, and without the use of cameleers they might never have survived the harsh desert conditions.

My most recent historical fiction That Stranger Next Door is set in 1954 at the height of the ‘Cold War’. In the United States, Senator McCarthy was using anti-communist laws to force academics, film-makers and other intellectuals to a senate hearing to ask if they ever belonged to the Communist Party and to name anyone who had gone to their meetings. Many people lost their jobs and their families. Some even committed suicide.

We think of this time in Australia as a time when Prime Minister Menzies ruled, the Queen visited us wearing pearls, England was Home, there was the Korean War, migrants being shunted into camps, the Snowy Mountain Scheme, the six o’clock swill, nuclear families, housewifery for women, and the coming of television. Politically, there was the Communist Referendum, the split in the Labour Party into ALP and DLP, and the infamous Petrov Affair.

When an insignificant Russian diplomat called Vladimir Petrov defected to Australia, promising to provide information about a Russian spy-ring, he ‘forgot’ to mention this to his wife. As Evdokia was pulled onto a plane in Darwin, she was rescued at the last minute by ASIO and hidden in a ‘safe house’. At the time PM Menzies was also trying to bring in similar anti-communist legislation to the US, and thankfully, in this he was unsuccessful.

In That Stranger Next Door, fifteen-year-old Ruth, her Jewish mother, father, four-year-old brother Leon and her grandfather (Zieda) live above the family milk-bar in Melbourne’s Elwood. Because Ruth’s father once belonged to the Communist Party, the family fear that the ‘Petrov Affair’ will help bring in anti-Communist legislation that will produce another wave of anti-Semitism.

The story opens with Eva moving in next-door and Ruth meeting Catholic Patrick O’Sullivan. (Patrick’s father is about to work for Bob Santamaria and the emerging DLP party). Patrick offers to teach Ruth to ride a bike at a time when some Jewish girls were actively discouraged from riding bikes, never allowed to mix with gentile boys, and kept sexually ignorant. Eva agrees to provide Ruth with an alibi for meeting Patrick, but only with the proviso that her presence also be kept secret. As Ruth rails against her mother’s authority, she is fascinated by Patrick’s totally different background. Between Ruth’s account of her first love, Eva fills in her own story. All this takes place during the height of the Cold War when the world seemed on the knife edge of nuclear annihilation.

Australians are sometimes chastised for dwelling on immediate present, as if only 21st Century problems are relevant. Nevertheless I agree with those who argue that ‘those who are ignorant of history are destined to repeat it’.

George’s bit at the end

My thanks to Goldie for sharing her approach to writing this kind of fiction. I am amazed by the amount of historical knowledge demonstrated in just this short article. Imagine what her books might be like! Well, guess what? You don’t have to imagine. Go read one. 🙂

Catch ya later,  George

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mrsmuir01Check out my DVD blog, Viewing Clutter.

Latest Post: DVD Review  — The Ghost & Mrs Muir: Season 1



A Journey into Graphic Novels

secondsI consider myself a big nerd and comics seem to go hand in hand with the social status. I never really got into comics (or graphic novels) and when I did attempt I never knew where to start. There are millions of reboots and story arcs for the thousands of different superheroes out there but which ones are good and where do I start? It was Scott Pilgrim that started my journey into graphic novels and with Bryan Lee O’Malley’s Seconds recent release, I thought now would be a perfect time to talk about the graphic novels I love.

As an easy way to distinguish between comics and graphic novels, I call single issues (30-40 pages) a comic and a graphic novel is the anthology that contains a full story arc (normally 4-5 single issues). What I find really interesting about a graphic novel is that it is simply a new way to tell a story. It is not always about the superhero, graphic novels can explore high concepts in a whole new way.Maus

Take the only graphic novel to win a Pulitzer Prize, Maus by Art Spiegelman. In this story we read about Vladek Spiegelman and his wife, it is biography of living and surviving Hitler’s Europe. The graphic novel not only addresses the holocaust and life in a war torn country it does it in a unique way. Exploring the reality and fears of surviving in a visual way, the Jews are depicted as mice and the Nazi’s hunting them as cats.

persepolisThere is also the autobiographic story of Marjane Satrapi  in Persepolis, a coming of age story of a girl living in Tehran during the Islamic Revolution. The whole concept of cultural change works really well in this graphical depiction. There is even an animated adaptation which is worth checking out (even if it is exactly the same). If you prefer a more quasi-autobiographical story maybe try Ghost World by Daniel Clowes or even something by Chris Ware like Jimmy Corrigan or Building Stories.

sex criminalsFinally, if you prefer your graphic novels to be about superheros or people coming to terms with their new found powers, I have some suggestions for you as well. Hawkeye: My Life as a Weapon by Matt Fraction is the first story arc in this new Hawkeye series and explores a life of a superhero outside fighting crime and saving the world. Also by Matt Fraction, with the help of Chip Zdarsky is the weird and wonderfully dirty Sex Criminals. This is a story of a woman that discovers that time freezes after an orgasm and the shenanigans she can get up to with so much quiet time. This graphic novel will not be for everyone; if you want something very different that is full of dirty visual puns then I would recommend it.

I would love to recommend more comics but some of my suggestions are not yet released as a complete story arc yet. If you are interested in more graphic novel suggests let me know in the comments below. I hope this will give you some suggestions if you have never tried a graphic novel before. I’m also happy to take more recommendations in the comments below. Happy reading.

Player Profile: Stav Sherez, author of Eleven Days

stav-sherezStav Sherez, author of Eleven Days

Tell us about your latest creation:

Eleven Days – 11 Days before Christmas and a small convent in West London is burning. When the detectives get there they find ten dead nuns and one unexplained body. The case stretches back to South American and the upsurge of Liberation Theology in the 1970s. I always wanted to write a locked room mystery and this was my attempt to do so. It’s also the closest to a cosy I’ve written (or am likely to write) 🙂

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

London / London.

9780571290536When you were a kid, what did you want to become?  An author?:

Always an author. Since the age of ten or so. I always loved books and read all the time. There never was any other possibility!

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

I like all my books for different reasons. Eleven Days is the one where I’m most happy with the writing.

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

I have an office room which is quite bare. I face the wall not the window to avoid distractions. I keep it quite ordered otherwise the chaos clutters up my brain.

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

Crime fiction, of course. American literary fiction. Poetry.

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

I read a lot of the geopolitical thrillers that were very popular in the 1970s – Alistair Maclean, Frederick Forsyth, Wilbur Smith as well as Stephen King.

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

Always impossible to answer this as all my favourite literary characters have awful lives.

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

Mainly listen to music! Not that surprising, I know but it’s the only thing that allows my brain to switch off from narrative discourse.

What is your favourite food and favourite drink?:

Burgers and Coke.

Who is your hero? Why?:

William Burroughs – for showing that anything is permissible in the novel.

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

The many electronic distractions of our lives.



A Snapshot of Australian YA and Fiction in the USA

The Book ThiefI’ve just returned from visiting some major cities in the USA. It was illuminating to see which Australian literature is stocked in their (mostly) indie bookstores. This is anecdotal but shows which Australian books browsers are seeing, raising the profile of our literature.

Marcus Zusak’s The Book Thief was the most prominent Australian book. I didn’t go to one shop where it wasn’t stocked.

The ABIA (Australian Book Industry) 2014 overall award winner, The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion was also popular. And a close third was Shaun Tan’s inimical Rules of Summer, which has recently won a prestigious Boston Globe-Horn Book picture book honour award. Some stores had copies in stacks.

I noticed a few other Tans shelved in ‘graphic novels’, including his seminal work, The Arrival – which is newly available in paperback.

All the birds singing

One large store had an Oceania section, where Eleanor Catton’s Man-Booker winner, The Luminaries rubbed shoulders with an up-to-date selection of Australian novels. These included hot-off-the-press Miles Franklin winner All the Birds, Singing by Evie Wyld and Hannah Kent’s Burial Rites, plus expected big-names – Tim Winton with Eyrie, Richard Flanagan’s The Narrow Road to the Deep North and works by Thomas Keneally and David Malouf. Less expected but very welcome was Patrick Holland.I chaired a session with Patrick at the Brisbane Writers’ Festival a few years ago and particularly like his short stories Riding the Trains in Japan.

Australian literary fiction I found in other stores included Kirsten Tranter’s A Common Loss, Patrick White’s The Hanging Garden and some Peter Carey.

One NY children’s/YA specialist was particularly enthusiastic about Australian writers. Her store had hosted Gus Gordon to promote his picture book, Herman and Rosie, a CBCA honour book, which is set in New York City. They also stocked Melina Marchetta’s Looking for Alibrandi and Saving Francesca, John Marsden, David McRobbie’s Wayne series (also a TV series), Catherine Jinks’ Genius Squad (How to Catch a Bogle was available elsewhere) and some of Jaclyn Moriarty’s YA. One of my three top YA books for 2013, The Midnight Dress by Karen Foxlee was available in HB with a stunning cover and Foxlee’s children’s novel Ophelia and the Marvellous Boy was promoted as part of the Summer Holidays Reading Guide.

The children of the king

Elsewhere I spied Margo Lanagan’s The Brides of Rollrock Island, published as Sea Hearts here (the Australian edition has the best cover); Lian Tanner’s Keepers trilogy; John Flanagan’s Ranger’s Apprentice and Sonya Hartnett’s The Children of the King. These are excellent books that we are proud to claim as Australian.

Player Profile: Alan Baxter, author of Bound

alan-kirkAlan Baxter, author of Bound

Tell us about your latest creation:

Bound (The Alex Caine Series, Book 1)

Alex Caine, a fighter by trade, is drawn into a world he never knew existed— a world he wishes he’d never found.

Alex Caine is a martial artist fighting in illegal cage matches. His powerful secret weapon is an unnatural vision that allows him to see his opponents’ moves before they know their intentions themselves.

An enigmatic Englishman, Patrick Welby, approaches Alex after a fight andreveals, ‘I know your secret.’ Welby shows Alex how to unleash a breathtaking realm of magic and power, drawing him into a mind-bending adventure beyond his control. And control is something Alex values above all else.

A cursed grimoire binds Alex to Uthentia, a chaotic Fey godling, who leads him towards destruction and murder, an urge Alex finds harder and harder to resist. Befriended by Silhouette, a monstrous Kin beauty, Alex sets out to recover the only things that will free him – the shards of the Darak. But that powerful stone also has the potential to unleash a catastrophe which could mean the end of the world as we know it.

9780732299101Where are you from / where do you call home?:

 I was born and raised in Britain, then travelled the world, met a lovely Australian girl and we got married. Now I live on the beautiful south coast of New South Wales, about half an hour south of Wollongong.

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

 I’ve always wanted to be a writer. I also wanted to be a marine biologist and a martial arts instructor. Two out of three ain’t bad (I’m not a marine biologist.)

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

 I would like to think my best work is yet to come. How’s that for an evasive answer?

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

 I have a home office that also doubles as the spare bedroom and it’s a study in ordered chaos. Honestly, I know where everything is. Almost. I think.

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

 Everything. I’m a voracious reader. I love novels and short stories in all genres, but I tend to favour the dark fantasy and horror stuff the most, which is also mostly what I write.

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

 It’s hard to say, but there is no question that Clive Barker’s “Cabal”, Neil Gaiman’s “Sandman” books and the “Hellblazer” comic series (particularly the Jamie Delano and Garth Ennis runs) were massively influential on me

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

Batman. As if you need to know why.

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

 I teach kung fu (which is a job, rather than “spare time”, but also a lifelong passion), I play video games, walk the dog, look after my infant son and pay tribute in the form of sacrifice to the Dark Lord of the Western Nethers, upon whose whim the universe turns.

What is your favourite food and favourite drink?:

 I love a good roast beef dinner, and I can’t ignore a good single malt scotch.

Who is your hero? Why?:

 I have many heroes, for many reasons. In truth, anyone who is true to themselves, just and fair, and follows their dreams with passion is a hero to me.

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

 It sounds trite, but a single bloody ebook format would be good. ePub is almost ubiquitous, but Amazon do insist on mobi. Pushing to a single DRM-free format is something that needs to happen, but I don’t know if it will any time soon.

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Doodles and Drafts – On a Quest with Rosanne Hawke

9780702253317Tales of aid working in disaster-ravaged lands may not be the first thing young readers reach for. However, Rosanne Hawke’s junior novel, Kelsey and the Quest of the Porcelain Doll is a captivating mixture of enchantment and adventure with the added bonus of being rich in cultural awareness and humanity, attributes Hawke is well known for.

Almost nine year-old Kelsey is plucked from her comfortable Australian existence and ‘stuck in Pakistan’ after her parents decide to help the flood victims there. She misses her friends and her Nanna Rose, and regards her temporary confinement within a remote country village as something of a jail-sentence.

Fortunately, first-world modern conventionality co-exists comfortably alongside third world simplicity and Kelsey is able to keep in touch with Nanna Rose through Skype and emails. Through these media, the two of them conjure up a whimsical tale about a beguiling porcelain doll called, Amy Jo who is searching for love and a place to call home. Amy Jo’s quest takes her through jungles, over waterways, and in and out of many hearts and hands until she finally discovers her true destiny and becomes intrinsically entwined with Kelsey’s own fate.

Rosanne HawkeFinding ones sense of place and belonging and feeling loved and appreciated are emotions every child will have little difficulty identifying with. Just how Rosanne Hawke manages to do that through the eyes of a doll is about to be revealed. Today, I welcome her to the draft table.

Q Who is Rosanne Hawke? Describe your writerly self.

I read a lot, think about things and love to write. If I don’t write I can become downhearted. I journal in order to work out who the characters are and what they are like. My research often goes in to the journal as well. Images help me with ideas and so I like to cut and paste (Always have since I could use scissors). Sometimes I draw (not very well). I like to go to a place which will be the setting of my story as it’s the fine detail like a flower or a certain animal that lives there which can bring a genuineness to the story, and it’s easier for me to visualise as I write. It isn’t always possible – I couldn’t go to Afghanistan when I wrote the Borderland series but I met many Afghans in Pakistan and poured over National Geographic issues and spoke to people who had been there.

Q You’ve written a varied collection of stories for children. Name some of your favourites. Why do you regard them as standouts?

Kelsey and the Quest of the Porcelain Doll as it is my youngest novel in print and gives young readers a taste of culture and adventure with a link to Australia. Also Zenna Dare for YA as it explores reconciliation on many levels and is set in Kapunda. There is so much of my family and myself in the book as is in The Messenger Bird, which is actually set in my house.

Q You were partly inspired to write about Kelsey by stories about lost things and being found like, The Lost Coin, The Velveteen Rabbit and The Tin Soldier. How strongly did Amy Jo want to be heard and have her tale written about? What makes her story special?

Amy Jo plaitsAmy Jo was lost and wanted to find someone to love her even while she was lost herself. What makes her story particularly special is that my daughter’s real doll is named after a person called Amy Jo who was my daughter’s friend. Years later Amy Jo died in childbirth and my daughter said how nice it would be to write the doll stories that I told her about Amy Jo when she was nine and to dedicate the book to the memory of the real Amy Jo.

Q I particularly enjoyed the way you dedicated different chapters to different characters depending on which part of Amy Jo’s adventure or Kelsey’s story we were in and who was telling it. How important was it for Amy Jo to have her own voice? Do you think this makes her quest more believable?

Yes, I think readers would want to know what Amy Jo was thinking and doing, so I put the storytelling in different chapters. Also I thought this may be less confusing for younger readers than having it all together in one chapter.

Q Your stories are often set in distant lands, introduce young readers to peoples and places, and food and customs they may not have encountered before or fully understand. How important is that for you as a storyteller? Why?

Firstly I loved stories set in diverse places when I was a child; secondly, because I lived in the Middle East I miss it and so tend to write about it. Also since I am interested in it I may hear or read of a topic like trafficking or a forced marriage and want to write to give a voice to children in the world who don’t seem to have one at the moment. In setting a story outside Australia I hope readers will be able to ‘see’ the characters and experience where they live, and discover that although the setting and problems are different the characters are not so different from themselves. In this way children may discover that knowledge dispels fear. I also write books set in Australia, especially with Cornish themes, as I am a fourth generation Cornish-Australian descendant.

Q Kelsey is an appealing character for 8 – 12 year-olds. Would you like to see her mature through further adventures or do you prefer to write stand-alone stories?

MustaraThank you, I usually write stand alone stories and because so much goes into them, they usually feel finished to me. When I wrote The Keeper I knew there was still unfinished business so when readers asked for a sequel I did so. There are three books now in The Keeper series. I had this same feeling about Mustara. The end papers show Taj and the explorers setting off which is a new beginning, so that’s why I wrote the novel: Taj and the Great Camel Trek.

Q What’s on the draft table for Rosanne?

I am finishing a children’s novel about an immigrant girl from Cornwall set in 1911 who comes with her family to farm in the South Australian Mallee. It’s a huge difference from Cornwall and she doesn’t like it. For YA I’m working on a novel about a high school girl in Pakistan who is accused of something dreadful.

Just for fun question: Have you ever encountered the Headless Nun whilst wondering around Kapunda?

No, I haven’t, but Kapunda has a ghostly reputation because of the mines and tunnels under the town. I live in a house with underground rooms too but so far it’s just us here.

Sounds thrilling nonetheless, thanks Rosanne!

Read a full review for Kelsey and the Quest for the Porcelain Doll here.

UQP June 2014


Player Profile: Nicholas J. Johnson, author of Chasing the Ace

Nick-JohnsonjpgNicholas J. Johnson, author of Chasing the Ace

Tell us about your latest creation:

Joel Fitch has watched every twist-happy movie there is about con men, and he thinks he knows it all. He thinks he is going to be a master con artist.

Richard Mordecai is a real-life swindler. But, at the end of a long career of lies and betrayal, Richard is tired and jaded. He’s ready to retire.

Until he meets Joel.

They form an uneasy partnership and Joel soon finds himself thrust into a world of bottom dealers and fraudsters.

And when the pair accidentally scam the wrong mark, they have to draw on every last trick to get themselves free and walk away with the money … and hopefully their dignity.

9781925030181Where are you from / where do you call home?:

Originally from Canberra (the natural home of all good Australian con artists) I moved to Melbourne in 2007.

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

When I was a child I wanted, more than anything else, to be a dog. My parents did not support my dream but were very encouraging of my goal to become a professional magician.

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

Chasing The Ace is my first novel and, by default, my best. I hope to top it soon with the sequel, Fast & Loose.

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

 I love writing in cafes. There is just enough distraction to stop me going insane and steady source of good food and
quality caffeine to keep me focused.

There are half a dozen Melbourne cafes that see me as a ‘regular’. If only they knew how I cheated on them.

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

I read a lot of older books. I love Lawrence Block, particularly his early work. I also have a large library of books on
con artists, card cheats and swindlers. If you want to commit fraud, I’m the guy to see.

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

What A Mess. The adventures of that mutt made me realise it is ok to be messy, disorganised and scatterbrained. Even when everyone else around has got it together.

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

 I wouldn’t be a literary character. Their lives are at the whims of authors who are, as well all know, terrible people.

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

 Magic. I love magic. Card tricks, mentalism, kid’s magic. I love it all. Pick a card, any card…

What is your favourite food and favourite drink?:

BBQ Chicken, avocado, cheese and lettuce on a toasted pide with a lemonade.

Who is your hero? Why?:

I’m not one for heroes. I’m fair too cynical.

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

The biggest challenge is decline in quality. More and more people can write and get their work out there thanks to self-publishing and the internet. However, that also means that we now have poorly edited books selling thousands of copies filled with clunky writing, bad speling and grammar incorrectly.

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What Is It? Genre, Part I

In this What Is It? article we’re going to take a look at genre.  Identifying a genre of books you love can be exciting and rewarding, but readers can become lost in the terminology; so let’s look at the very basics of genre.

Fiction & Non Fiction
All books can be separated into either fiction or non fiction.  Fiction books contain stories that are ‘made up’ whereas non fiction books contain information that is factual.  A novel is the same as a book, but not all books are novels, so what’s the difference?  A novel contains ‘fictitious prose’ which means a non fiction book will never be a novel (because it’s not fictitious).

From there, there are literally thousands of genres that fall under the headings of fiction or non fiction.  An easy way to think of genre is by considering the categories of shelves (or sections) in a bookshop.

Fiction shelves in a bookshop will house crime, romance and fantasy novels.  Each of these categories is a genre.

Non Fiction shelves will usually include: travel, art and history books, and each of these is a genre.

Let’s take a closer look at some of the fiction genres that may be new to you.  Most readers will recognise science fiction, horror, YA (Young Adult), classic and short story genres, but what about these:

Cozy mystery: a murder mystery without violence, usually featuring an amateur sleuth.

Farm lit & rural romance: romance novels that take place in the outback or towns in rural areas.  (Australian authors of note in this genre include: Nicole Alexander, Loretta HillRachael Johns, Fiona McCallum and Rachael Treasure).

Historical fiction: a story that takes place in an historical setting and which can include fictional accounts of famous people from history.  Popular historical fiction books from Australian authors include: The Secret River by Kate Grenville, Maralinga by Judy Nunn and Cloudstreet by Tim Winton.

Urban fantasy: a book with supernatural themes (such as magic, werewolves, witches, vampires) that take place in a real-world setting, hence ‘urban.’  In other words, the setting is not a make-believe world.WordItOut-word-cloud-441198

Let’s take a closer look at some of the genres within non fiction that you may not have explored.

For Dummies: the yellow and black instructional manuals tackle every topic under the sun in an easy-to-read and understand format.

Literary criticism: essentially the study of literature, or other books. Authors and works are subtly and overtly analysed and interpreted resulting in positive and negative criticism of existing works.  If you are reading (or have read) a great classic and want to know more about it, then the literary criticism genre is a great resource.

Survival: books detailing the survival of individuals from tragedy, natural disaster or crime can be inspirational and informative.  An Australian survival book that comes to mind is Everything To Live For by Turia Pitt.  An international bestseller is I Am Malala by Malala Yousafzai.

Travelogue or travel writing: the author informs the reader about their travel experiences.  Travel writing (and TV shows) continue to increase in popularity and give the reader the opportunity to experience travel and adventure from the safety of their armchair.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this introduction to genre.  Stay tuned for the next instalment in the series, What Is It? Genre Part II.  In the meantime, please leave a comment below and let us know what genre is your favourite.  Mine is historical fiction.