10 mini- reviews

Time for another catch-up blog before 2014 ends. I’ve been doing a lot of reading but haven’t had enough time to review each book separately. So here is a bunch of mini-reviews.

 

Great Southern Land9780992338626, edited by Stephen C Ormsby and Carol Bond
This is an eclectic collection of stories, with Australia as the common theme/setting. They range from contemporary to historical, from realistic to fantastical. They’re not all gold (in fact there are a couple of clangers), but there’s enough here to make it a worthwhile read — particularly Sean McMullen’s “Acts of Chivalry” and David McDonald’s “Set Your Face Towards the Darkness”.

 

9780992338688Missing, Presumed Undead by Jeremy Davies
This is a really bizarre, humorous, sci-fi, noir crime thriller. It took me a little while to get into it and, in fact, I almost put it down after the first chapter… but I’m glad I persisted. The style and humour grew on me, and it wasn’t long before I was really enjoying it. The highlight for me was the world that the author has created — so odd and fascinating. And this book is crying out for a sequel.

 

coverwebAlice on Mars by Robert Rankin
This is an illustrated story about the further adventures of Alice (from Lewis Caroll’s classic tales) as she heads to Mars, post HG Wells’s The War of the Worlds. Entertaining, bizarre and very funny!

 

9780553497359Everything I Need to Know About Christmas I Learned From a Little Golden Book by Diane Muldrow
A very cute walk down memory lane. I loved all the old illustrations but there’s nothing special about the accompanying text.

 

9781922179579Shadow Sister (Dragonkeeper: Book Five) by Carole Wilkinson
This is the follow-up to Blood Brothers, which began a new trilogy in the Dragonkeeper series of children’s books. It continues the adventures of Tao, the ex-novice monk, and his dragon Kai in ancient China. A beautifully written book, as you would expect from Carole Wilkinson, full of wonderful historical detail.

 

9780763625290The Tale of Despereaux: being the story of a mouse, a princess, some soup, and a spool of thread by Kate DiCamillo
This is an extraordinary children’s book. So beautifully told. So wonderfully constructed. Full of amazing and odd characters. And it is never quite what you expect it to be. Loved it so very much!

 

9780230759800Goth Girl and the Ghost of a Mouse by Chris Riddell
This is a charming, amusing and unexpected kids’ book. It’s filled with the weirdest array of characters you could ever hope to meet, bizarre situations and an off-kilter sense of humour. I had a permanent smile on my face as I read this book. The text is peppered with some lovely illustrations that add to the charm.

 

9780975074268In Hades by Goldie Alexander
This is a YA verse novel about two dead teenagers and their descent into Hades. Wow! An amazing, daring, different, unique book. Forty separate poems combine to tell the story of Kai and Bilby-G, which at times mirrors Homer’s epic poem The Odyssey. I dare you to read this and not care about these two tragic, damaged, often unlikeable but ultimately redeemable human beings. Loved it!

 

9781925000153Chasing Shadows, written by Corinne Fenton and illustrated by Hannah Sommerville
This is a gorgeous picture book about dealing with depression and finding a reason to continue living. Lovely, heart-felt, poetic words combine with soft welcoming illustrations to tell the story of how a puppy helps a young girl to step out of the shadows.

 

9781925000177The Cuckoo, written by Gary Crew and illustrated by Naomi Turvey
This is a stunning picture book for older readers. Crew’s haunting, meticulously crafted words create a wonderfully dark, yet positive fairytale. And they work so well with Turvey’s illustrations. A limited wash of colour on each of the black and white drawings gives them such a unique and slightly eerie quality. Brilliant!

Well, that it’s it for now. Hope you all have a great New Year. I’ll be back in a few days to ruminate over 2014.

Catch ya later,  George

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A Riveting Novel Based on the True Brutal Murder of Three Teenage Girls

A novel this good is a rare and precious gift for lovers of fiction

A riveting novel about the aftermath of the real life brutal murder of three teenage girls, written in incantatory prose ‘that’s as fine as any being written by an American author today’ (Ben Fountain)

see how small
SCOTT BLACKWOOD

Demy no bleed.inddShortly before midnight on the 6th of December 1991, in Austin, Texas, a patrolling police officer noticed a fire coming from a yoghurt shop and reported it to his dispatcher. Fire fighters were horrified to discover three girls’ bodies stacked on top of one another. All were bound and gagged with their own clothes. Each victim had been shot in the head.

The girls had been seen alive at the shop as late as 10pm – they had planned a sleepover together for that night.

The initial investigation spanned nearly eight years. Two men initially confessed to the murders and were convicted but they were released by 2009 due to lack of evidence. As of 2011 Austin police department has five cold-case detectives working on the case.

Scott Blackwood was living in Austin at the time and he remembered how the media took away the girls identities and because of that Scott wanted to capture their essence that he felt had been lost – via this book.

See How Small is a beautiful book that blends multiple points of view to give the reader the full impact of the ripple effects from the day these young lives were cut short.

Buy the book here…

More Ladies-Doing-Well Lists, Please

WildI’m frustrated that we require ‘women who did well in their respective fields’ articles and blogs, occasionally even allowing myself to wonder how much we still need them or how useful they are any more.

But then our ‘prime minister’ and, worse, ‘minister for women’ (and yes, I’m using those rabbit ears extremely deliberately—I called it at the time and didn’t and wouldn’t ever vote for that turkey) went and said his greatest achievement for women in 2014 was repealing the carbon tax.

Boxing Day or maybe the day after, a report was released that confirmed what we all already knew: Abbott has a woman problem. (In truth, I think he’s got a human problem, but semantics.)

His achievement-for-women idiocy was the first thing I saw when I woke up that day and I’ll not deny I fair nearly combusted. Thankfully, some smart lady or lad came up with #PutYourIronOut, which was the whole farcical insult’s saving grace. Here’s the contribution Randall, one of my adopted ex-battery hens, made to it.

Randall put the iron out. She'd rather you worry about factory farm-exacerbated climate change (and cruelty) than a pithy $550. ‪#‎PutYourIronOut‬ ‪#‎operationchooken‬ ‪#‎chookens‬
Randall put the iron out. She’d rather you worry about factory farm-exacerbated climate change (and cruelty) than a pithy $550. ‪#‎PutYourIronOut‬ ‪#‎operationchooken‬ ‪#‎chookens‬

The other saving grace is that while social media continues to bring me our politicians’ outrageous stupidity (I’m based in Queensland where Campbell Newman and Clive Palmer fight Tony Abbott for the fool limelight), it also brings me heartening, inspiring news.

These include Bustle’s collated list of writers who happen to be women (see what I did there—they’re writers first and foremost) who in 2014 hit it out of the park.

And you know what? Reading Bustle quoting Cheryl Strayed saying female writers had a ‘banner year’, I was dubious. As the stats the article quotes note: as recently as 2013, women both weren’t hugely being hired as reviewers and their books weren’t hugely being reviewed. So to have a bust-out year just 12 months on? Yeesh, that’s a big call.

But scrolling down the list, I saw what they meant. 2014 was, indeed, a decent year for female writers. I was even more chuffed that I’d either read said writers’ 2014 works, or some of their oeuvre, or they were at least on my to-be-read radar.

Amy Poehler: tick. I’ve even blogged about her fabulous book. Donna Tartt: tick. I’ve read her other works and have The Goldfinch on my shelf, even if its content heft is currently intimidating me into not reading it until I have aeons of time.

The Goldfinch(I’m not afraid of long books; I’m only afraid of not having enough time or brain space to read it and instead Game of Thrones-ing it. That is, putting it down and picking it up so many times I’m, like, who is Algernon Whosamawotsie again, and why is he important to the story?). Bonus points for having blogged about it too.

Alison Bechdel is a cartoonist and all-round clever and impressive lady. Her graphic novel/memoir is progressively being bumped up my to-be-read list. I actually remember my friend raving—absolutely raving—about Fun Home back in 2006, and I still haven’t gotten around to reading it. Gah. She was also just, like, named a genius. As in a proper genius, not the term we loosely bandy around.

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie is also on Bustle’s list. She’s one of those writers I keep coming across and whom I keep adding to my list of writers whose books—plural—I really must read. I’ve heard her speak a few times (via the interwebs, but I’d love to hear her in person at a writers’ festival here in Oz) and she’s impressed me inordinately. I can only assume her books will do so too.

So, while I’m sad we have to have the lists at all, I’m all for more ladies-doing-well lists and less ‘ministers for women’ touting his carbon tax fails.

Holidays – the chance to read: short fiction, poetry, YA …

Only the AnimalsThe Christmas holidays are most likely your best chance in the year to read. If your family or close friends aren’t as keen as you, send them off on other pursuits – the Sydney Festival if you’re in NSW (or even if not); bush walks, tennis or whitewater rafting; the beach; the movies, especially moonlit ones … Or better still, join them doing those fun things but make sure they also have a book to read when you just can’t keep yourself out of one for a minute longer.

I am about to read some more short fiction – there are so many great collections around at the moment – starting with Springtime by Michelle de Kretser and then The Assassination of Margaret Thatcher by Hilary Mantel and The Strange Library by Huraki Murakami. I was fortunate to go to a launch of Only the Animals by South-African born, Australian author, Ceridwen Dovey (Hamish Hamilton, Penguin Books) earlier in the year and so have already read this original work which is exceptional across short and long fiction. The conceit of telling each short story from the viewpoint of animal souls and their engagement with important times in history as well as with significant writers, such as Franz Kafka, J.M Coetzee, Virginia Woolf and Julian Barnes, is inspired. And the writing is brilliant. Ceridwen is a star and her book cover is the best of the year.A Rightful Place

In non-fiction, Noel Pearson’s Quarterly Essay, A Rightful Place (Black Inc) is my standout. In fact, it’s essential reading to glean some understanding of our original peoples, written by one of their representatives who understands the problems as well as possible ways forward. Pearson is also revered by a broad cross-section of Australians, particularly after his speech at Gough Whitlam’s funeral. Although divisive, many would regard him as a statesman.

Australian poetry is flourishing. I can only begin to list the 2014 crop but a few include Earth Hour by David Malouf (UQP), Sack by John Kinsella (Fremantle Press) and Poems 1957-2013 by Geoffrey Lehmann (UWAP) – reviewed here.

Cracks in the KingdomMy favourite young adult novels of the year include The Protected by Claire Zorn (UQP), Laurinda by Alice Pung (Black Inc), The Incredible Adventures of Cinnamon Girl by Melissa Keil (Hardie Grant Egmont) and Nona and Me by Clare Atkins (Black Inc). Jackie French in To Love a Sunburnt Country (HarperCollins) has opened my eyes again to an unknown part of Australia’s history. Incidentally, her novel for middle school (upper primary – junior secondary), Refuge recently co-won the children’s category of the Qld Literary Awards with Shaun Tan’s illustrated Rules of Summer.

And The Cracks in the Kingdom by Jaclyn Moriarty, which is the second in the ‘Colours of Madeleine’ trilogy and won the YA category of the Qld Literary Awards, is another of my 2014 Australian favourites.

Springtime

Ebook Data for the Win

The GoldfinchThat ebook data records who does and doesn’t get through books isn’t surprising. That this data’s only just being tabled now is.

The Guardian has just reported that Kobo announced that Donna Tartt’s The Goldfinch—the bestselling book that won that a Pulitzer in 2014—was completed by less than half the people in Britain who bought its electronic iteration.

This information offers us a glimpse into what we buy due to timeliness or hype and with good intentions, but then for whatever reason never quite read. I’d guesstimate we’ve all been there and done that a bunch of times.

The Guardian hypothesises the some 800 pages of The Goldfinch might have had something to do with whatever the electronic equivalent is of putting a book down and never picking it back up. It seems intimidating or time-consuming or both.

I’d say The Guardian hypothesised right. At least, they did in my case. I bought a physical copy of The Goldfinch when it first came out. But I’ve been so time and brain-space poor that when my hand hovers over the books as I try to decide which one to pluck from the pile, those 800 pages ruled—and indefinitely continue to rule—The Goldfinch out.

The thing is, until now, publishers didn’t know this kind of information. My physical The Goldfinch sale would be recorded as just that, a sale, and the publisher would be none the wiser about the thing that’s most important: whether readers actually read the book.

I’m not saying 800-word books shouldn’t be written. Quite the contrary. Especially when it’s at the hands of writers as exquisitely talented as Tartt (The Secret History simultaneously remains one of my all-time favourite books and one so deftly crafted it actually pains me).

I’m saying we should know more about which books are read and how.

The Secret HistoryOf course, in the hands of money-wringing, non-book-loving business minds, this information could be used for evil. I’d like to think, though, that it might mean the books commissioned and written or written and picked up get even better than they already are.

I think it also might level the playing field a little. My guess is that capital ‘L’ Literature titles fall among the least-finished, while the pulp fiction tales, which are traditionally looked down on by the publishing sector, might be grafted a tiny bit more (albeit grudging) respect.

(Interestingly, one of the most-finished books The Guardian/Kobo mention was actually self-published. Even more interestingly, Gone Girl, which was one of bestsellers across all booksellers’ formats and which seemed to be the kind of tale that captivated avid and occasional readers alike, wasn’t among Kobo’s most finished.)

Or it might—gasp—encourage us to think how we deliver content in order to encourage greater audience engagement and, ultimately, satisfaction. The book is a container for content. It always has been and always will be. To suggest its format needs reworking is akin to blasphemy.

I’m not suggesting throwing the book out. More just if we can find additional ways to tell stories. Serial podcast, about which I promised I wouldn’t write and which I’ve now mentioned twice, inspires us to think laterally about storytelling.

At its core, it’s a gripping tale grippingly told across a radio story meted across 12 weeks and via tenterhook-inducing segments. Around it are organic transmedia parts—court transcripts, images, legalese, interviews, blogs, and more—complementing and enhancing the audience experience.

Of course, this doesn’t mean every book needs to include audio and video. It doesn’t mean publishers are going to be able to isolate the elements that will, combined, result in the perfect book-buying and book-reading conditions, and that all writers will be forced to shoehorn their work into that mould.

Gone GirlMy point is that this data represents opportunity, if we choose to interpret it well. For example, it could offer insight into which words were most looked up in an online dictionary or which sections were most whatever the electronic book equivalent is of earmarked.

It could enable us to, if we so chose, see the sections other readers most liked. It could hint at human psychology by showing the books we like to be see to be buying and owning and referencing, but that we actually use the Cliff Notes to. It could do more, much more, than I’m capable of imagining.

And the data will always be necessarily incomplete. Publishers won’t be able to tell, for example, whether you put a book down because you disliked it or because life busy-ness befell you.

Or it’s never going to be able to truly account for anomalies such as me. I’m pro-ebook (pro-any book, really), but terrible at remembering to read them. I inadvertently bought both an electronic and physical copy of The Queen of Katwe because I forgot I had the ebook version. I have, to date, failed to read either.

The issues I foresee include whether publishers are willing to offer us transparency (given that they’ve had this data for a while and only Kobo has released this and only now, the answer is no), as well as how to channel that data into something that improves the storytelling. Goodreads and other socially focused websites that aim to make reading sticky and to enhance audience engagement, for instance, have long tended to fall flat.

While I’m probably being overly optimistic, I’ll be interested to see how this reading data collection pans out. Because I’d like to hope that anything that helps us get more people reading more—which is surely the ultimate aim—is going to end up being win–win.

New Year’s Reading Resolutions

Love & Terror on the Howling Plains to NowhereI’m pretty dismissive of new year-related resolutions—they’re too superficial and too fleetingly discarded. I’m more of the mind that you should set your goals and refresh yourself on them daily. That’s what I do. And yes, I understand if you want to slap me. What a prattish, self-congratulatory thing to say.

But I will admit I am using the impending new year to add a two-part goal to the list—one I’m a bit annoyed and ashamed I even have to add.

And no, it’s not lose a bajillion kilograms and get fit and toned. That’s a perennial. It’s that I need to make time to read (see below for the books I’m thinking I should start with and please feel free to suggest any).

I’ve read very few books for pleasure this past 18 months, which is entirely out of character for me—I’ll hands down always choose a night in with a book over any party.

I’ve been excusing away the not reading by saying I’m swamped with reading for study. That’s partly true. And yet it’s not. These days I spend an inordinate time reading, perusing, generally going into the black hole that is the internet and social media.

The Paying GuestsEven that is for work and study—when I’m not trying to eke out a living as a writer, I work as a social media strategist.

Meanwhile my thesis is exploring how author–activists may use tools such as social media to better tell such issues as climate change. So yes, I need to spend time wading through the quagmire of hyperlinked-to-the-hilt social media.

But I spend too much time doing so. I’m on there even when there’s nothing to read. I’m reading things I really, really don’t need to.

And my attention span has been whittled to a time so short I’m guess it’s around the minute mark, if that. This from someone who used to lose herself to reading without raising her eyes or shifting about for what was probably hours.

I can’t even count how many times I scurried off to check social media in the time it’s taken me to write this article. It was—no exaggeration—probably each time I finished writing a sentence. And that isn’t counting the times I hit the Facebook icon to refresh the feed even when there wasn’t anything to refresh.

I’m not going to say the internet and social media are ruining the world—quite the contrary if they’re used well. I’m just saying I’m not using them well and have instead allowed them to overtake and eat away at me.

I’m particularly worried about what this means for my concentration span in the short term (Think how much of my silly thesis I could have written by now if my attention span wasn’t these days my enemy!), but also my reading long term.

Animal LiberationI used to read at every available opportunity: in a quiet moment, on public transport, and to send myself to sleep—although when it was a particularly gripping book, it often did the opposite of helping me drift off.

But I digress.

Now, I not only don’t carry books with me—not physical ones and not even electronic ones on an iPad, despite the fact that both are readily available—I rarely read them at home. Every ‘spare’ moment is possessed with using social media. I even, I’m ashamed to admit, Pinterest myself to sleep.

While I’m a huge advocate for social media—it offers author–activists, in particular, some fantastic boons in terms of connecting with audiences and getting our socially and environmentally minded messages out—I’m also aware I’m these days not using social media to best effect.

So, my resolution is to spend less—a lot less—time on social media specifically and the internet more broadly this coming year. I don’t mean go away from it altogether. I simply mean being savvy about my usage.

This Changes EverythingWhether that means limiting it to a couple of times a day or only on my phone or using block-out tools such as Freedom or removing the social media apps from my phone or simply turning off the internet at the wall in my home…I don’t yet know.

Either way, I’m putting it in writing so I can be called on it this time next year: I through that in 2015 aim both read more books and to wrestle my attention span back.

Books I’m thinking I should start with including (any suggestions welcome):

Yes Please to Yes Please

Yes PleaseThere are much more eloquent reviews of Amy Poehler’s Yes Please out there, and all of them published upon the book’s release months ago. But I finally got to finish Yes Please (albeit reading it guilt-riddenly surreptitiously when I should have been doing other things), and I think the wisdom she imparts is both comforting and worth revisiting.

We’re a few days post Christmas gluttony and a few days shy of purportedly turning over new leaves as we castigate ourselves for what we have or haven’t done and steel ourselves that next year we will do better. So Poehler’s book, which encourages us to acknowledge and embrace our human flaws and foibles, is just the reading salve many of us need (right now and in perpetuity).

I mean, she warmed the cockles of my heart and beyond with a preface entitled ‘writing is hard’. As someone who’s currently grappling with the hardest writing of her life, and who foresees a good year of that grappling laid out before her before she can even hope to submit her thesis and hope even more to obtain a pass mark, this literally almost made me weep.

You see, despite her on-screen effortlessness, Poehler works—and has to work—for her wins. And she doesn’t mind lifting the veil to make the rest of us feel better about things. Her opening line echoes my own sentiment: ‘I like hard work and I don’t like pretending things are perfect.’

She goes on to say she enjoys writing, but this book has nearly done her in: She found it inordinately difficult to get thoughts on the page, suffered terrible anxiety about the quality of the work she was about to release into the world, and even cried because she lost her laptop at one stage, with some 50 or more pages not backed up.

If that didn’t endear me (someone who has is similar things—hello catastrophic, unbacked-up hard drive failure two weeks before my confirmation document was due) to her, nothing would. Also, she was and is insanely busy, juggling a demanding career and family life. ‘Everyone lies about writing,’ she writes:

No one tells you the truth about writing a book. Authors pretend their stories were always shiny and perfect and just waiting to be written. The truth is, writing is this: hard and boring and occasionally great but usually not.

And: ‘Writing a book is awful. It’s lonely […] During this process I have written my editors emails with subject headings such as “How Dare You” and “This Is Never Going to Work” and “Why Are You Trying to Kill Me?” […] Honestly, I have moments when I don’t even care if anyone reads this book. I just want to finish it.’ And: ‘I wrote it ugly and in pieces.’

But enough of my therapy.

Poehler’s book contains gems for even those of us who aren’t attempting to forge careers as writers and who aren’t undertaking crazy loads of study. It’s wise and self-deprecating and her way of looking at the world and subsequently expressing it is off-the-wall impressive.

Mostly, it just provides fantastic insight into the life of a woman who’s wickedly smart, funny, flawed, and willing to own and discuss it all. I smiled when I read that she was nicknamed ‘Tweety Bird’ by her parents as a baby because she was tiny, had big eyes, and was bald until she was two. She also wasn’t and still isn’t a good sleeper and apparently used to stare rather creepily at her parents from her crib in the dead of the night.

I like that Poehler compares a career to a bad boyfriend—it won’t take care of you, will flirt with others, and will wreck your other relationships. You need to not want it too much in order to make it work for you. Creativity, on the other hand, is the yin to the career yang (or yang to its yin—I always get the two mixed up).

I like that she’s honest about the winding path she’s had to career success (and that she notes that that road never ends—you never reach the summit). I didn’t know, for example, that Parks and Recreation was almost cancelled a bunch of times.

I like her advice that ‘if you can surf your life rather than plant your feet, you will be happier’. I also like her admission slash accusation that her phone—‘a battery-charged rectangle of disappointment and possibility’—(and the interwebs and social media by proxy) does not want her to be productive.

I like that she’s not only written this book, but taken her positive, supportive, it’s-ok-to-be-human message online. I follow Smart Girls only peripherally, but in summary, it’s corner of the interwebs that gives real, practical advice and encouragement for girls growing up in a fakeness-obsessed world.

Maybe I’m feeling sentimental because we’re approaching the end of the year and I’m stressed about deadlines and workload and ever making it through either. Maybe I just really admire Poehler and think the world could do with more strong, sassy, talented, multi-tasking women like her.

Either way, Yes Please is a book I think you could give to just about anyone and they’ll be able to glean life-lesson gold from it. And, even though she found writing this book excruciatingly difficult, would I like to see another book from Poehler at some stage? Yes please.

Our Hopping Mad Sale – Up To 30% Off – Ends New Year’s Eve

Our annual ‘Hopping Mad’ Sale has kicked off and you can enjoy up to 30% off a great range of books right now atBoomerang BooksWe hope that you had a wonderful Christmas and are enjoying a restful Boxing Day.

Besides being a day of recovery, dish-washing, eating ‘leftovers’ and cricket-watching, Boxing Day also signals the commencement of the Boomerang Books End-of-Year ‘Hopping Mad’ Sale.

We’ve got a fantastic range of books that are discounted by up to 30% off the normal retail price.

So, why battle the Boxing Day crowds when you can stay at home and do your post-Christmas book shopping on the web, in the comfort of your own home?

The sale closes at midnight on New Year’s Eve – so get cracking and visit Boomerang Books right now..

Visit Boomerang Books right now…

Into The Woods

Into The WoodsThere are far, far worse ways to spend the steamy Sunday before Christmas than attending the preview of a film due to be released on Boxing Day. For starters, it’s great to see anything before its official release. It’s even better when you do so while simultaneously escaping the crowds and the heat.

Into The Woods is the film adaptation of Stephen Sondheim’s 1986 musical by the same name (and, confusingly, shares a title with—but not subject matter of—Anna Krien’s book about the Tasmanian logging debate, and about which I’ve previously blogged).

The first words we hear, as a voiceover, are ‘Once upon a time’. They signal the fairytale elements and ready us for what’s to follow. Then we’re launched straight into song. If we had any doubts this was a musical, they were immediately quashed. I half expected some musical-hating audience member caught unawares to realise their error and get up and walk out. No one did. Instead, we settled in for the musical ride.

The Into The Woods premise is that the baker’s house has been cursed by the witch who lives next door (the witch is, incidentally, played by the always impressive Meryl Streep who, it turns out, can sing like a songbird). The curse involves keeping the baker and his wife barren.

The witch tells them that to break the curse they must find four ingredients for her to perform the spell to reverse it: a cow as white as milk, a cape as red as blood, hair as yellow as corn, and a shoe as gold as…I missed that last part. And they must find them within three days in order for the spell to coincide with a once-in-one-hundred-years moon.

All of the characters—Cinderella, Red Riding Hood, Jack of the beanstalk fame, and more—have to go into the woods for various reasons, and it’s there their and the bakers’ paths and futures collide. It’s a deftly woven tale, with each character chancing upon another at just the right time, but in ways I couldn’t guess and that kept the narrative chugging along.

The film features a top-tier cast too, with Johnny Depp playing the big bad wolf, Streep (as previously mentioned) playing the witch, Emily Blunt playing the baker’s wife, and Anna Kendrick playing Cinderella.

The film’s been nominated for a number of Golden Globes, the awards precursor and often the inside rail for Oscars. And really, if Streep doesn’t bag at least an award or two, well, I’ll be bowled-over surprised.

Though she pops in and out of the plot, Streep is the narrative’s lynchpin, ramping up tension and propelling the characters in new directions just when it seems they’ve been stumped by their quest.

Romeo and JulietThe film is an adaptation of a stage show, and although I really enjoyed it, I have to admit it looked to me like a stage show plonked on screen. That’s not necessarily a criticism, but more an observation that it doesn’t rework the content in noticeable ways a la Baz Luhrmann’s modern take on Romeo and Juliet. As a side note, if I’d realised they were going to sing or say ‘into the woods’ so much, I’d have started counting from the first instance. If you’re heading along, I dare to try count them all.

The film’s funny. Laugh-out-loud funny. The jokes are well timed and cut through tense moments with perfect lightness. The song lyrics are great too—Sondheim is a veritable genius and I’m certain I’d need another six or more listens to those captivating, memorable songs to glean all the good detail. Without giving too much away, there’s a scene at a waterfall that brings the best of the lyrics and laugh-out-loud humour to the fore.

The only issue I’d take with the film is that it’s reportedly a little Disney-fied compared with the bleaker, darker, more taxing stage original. (I haven’t seen the stage show so can’t offer a true comparison.) Which makes sense to me. Though the film is engaging from start to finish, it feels slightly flat—the lows and highs didn’t feel as emotionally wrenching as you’d expect.

And there were a couple of scenes that were weirdly jarring, including the one where the baker’s wife encounters Prince Charming. By all accounts, the wolf is also much more sexualised in the stage show than he was in this version, and the double entendre-/innuendo-laden lyrics and the occasional leering lunge Depp pulls off, hint at this.

But these are small quibbles when in truth I really enjoyed Into The Woods. I’d definitely recommend adding it to the list of films to be up for consideration for heat- and reality-escape efforts on Boxing Day. And I’d happily, for instance, get my ears on some of those songs again…

Thanks to Shout Communications for the preview tickets.

Review: Emergence by John Birmingham

9781742614045John Birmingham delivers in spades in the first book of his explosive new trilogy.

Dave Hooper is not your typical hero. In fact he is a bit of an arsehole. He works on the oil rigs and blows most of his pay packet on booze, drugs and women much to the ire of his very-soon-to-be ex-wife and two kids. Dave is nursing a particularly nasty hangover on the way to work when all hell literally breaks loose.

Dave’s oil rig has been drilling deeper than anyone ever has before. And they may have just drilled too far. A barrier sealing off our world from another has been broken and creatures that haven’t been seen in millennia have come through and begun feasting on a long-lost delicacy; human meat. And so begins the adventures of Dave Hooper who is inadvertently thrown into this maelstrom and in the process inherits some kind of superpowers to fight these monsters from below. As Dave, the military and the outside world try to come to grips with what is happening more ‘gaps’ in the barrier appear and two worlds who haven’t been in contact for thousands of years will erupt. And an overweight, barely sober, safety engineer appears to be our only hope of survival.

Birmingham mixes up a combination of Middle Earth orcs with a Marvel universe sensibility but with his own trademark humour and insight firmly stamped all over any comparisons. As with Birmingham’s previous books he creeps in a geo-political undertone to the consequences of what he puts in motion which only makes the reading more fun. The next two installments in the trilogy have already been written and will be released throughout 2015. I can hardly wait to see what happens next (especially after the epilogue!!!)

Buy the book here…

Your Last Minute Gift Solution

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Best-Of Book Lists

In Cold BloodI have a love–hate relationship with best-of book lists. I find sometimes people try too hard to seem clever about what they’ve chosen and not hard enough about including honest-to-goodness good reads.

But I am simultaneously unable to abstain from perusing said lists. I feel an innate need to gauge whether or not I think they’re on the money and to measure my own reading habits against theirs.

This year’s lists seem relatively bumper. That impression is arguably skewed by the fact that my recreational reading has been necessarily curtailed due to apparently never ending study. No matter. I for one am poring over this year’s lists and making a list of my own, albeit one entitled: To Read If I Ever Manage To Get Through This Study.

Lists activate our fast thinking. That is, they light up the bits of our brains that skim and cherry pick key information. Of course, books themselves activate our slow thinking—our brains pause when considering books, their titles, their topics, their cover art, and why they have or haven’t made the cut. I’m no expert, but I’d wager the combination of the two factors is why I’m unable to go past best-of book lists, regardless of whether or not I know they’re going to infuriate me.

I’ll not deny either that I’m fairly partial to the more visual lists, something I wouldn’t have expected of text-driven me. The Guardian , for instance, has come up with an infographic of non-fiction books everyone should read. In Cold Blood looms large, centred and in large font.

I’d attribute that to the current frenzy and fever around the Serial podcast, which I swore I wasn’t ever going to write about but seemingly just have (on the off chance you missed it, Serial is a podcast trying to unravel a true crime. In Cold Blood has been one of the books worth revisiting to fill the gaping whole the final episode, which airs this week, will undoubtedly bring).

Silent Spring is pretty big in there too, and I’d highly recommend that one. It’s credited with kicking off the environmental movement, something which, given the state of the environment, I can’t help but think is making a comeback slash ‘kicking ourselves, if only we’d listened in the first place’ kind of thinking.

A Girl Is A Half-Formed ThingBuzzfeed Books has compiled a list of fiction books its employees loved, picturing the covers alongside the authors’ photos, with the cover art the thing that probably most attracts and intrigues me. Book covers are contested spaces, with the tension between art and the ability to sell playing out in their designs.

I’m more a non-fiction reader than a fiction one, but I have to confess I recognised only one book on Buzzfeed’s list: A Girl Is a Half-Formed Thing. Am I the only one? I know the authors David Mitchell and Lev Grossman, but I had no idea they had new books out. Perhaps it’s a case of I’ve spent too much time in a study bunker and not enough timing salivating over forthcoming books lists.

What I will say is that pretty much all of them have magnificent titles and cover art. I wonder how much that had to do with them being expected to be bestsellers and therefore having the publishers invest resources into making them walk of the shelves?

A few lists (including The Atlantic’s), point to The Empathy Exams, a book I’d not heard of until now but which piques my interest. It also points to Goodbye to All That: Writers on Loving and Leaving New York. The book is reportedly a collection of essays based on Joan Didion’s 1967 piece ‘Goodbye to All That’, about her arrival in and eventual disillusionment with New York City. ‘Nuff said.

It also lists Americanah, which I’ve been meaning to get round to reading and yet haven’t (I’ve heard Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie speak and I figure if her writing is anywhere near as articulate and intelligent as her speaking, it’s a worthy read). And That Book About Harvard, which I’m unfamiliar with but could be persuaded to pick up.

The Guardian’s writers list includes recommendations from esteemed writers we all admire, opening up with Margaret Atwood giving the nod to This Changes Everything. With subject matter featuring the last day’s of a writer’s husband suffering from brain tumours, The Iceberg is likely to be absolutely wrenching, but such tearjerking books are also what makes us appreciate life in times when we haven’t got a lot to be happy about (I write this in the aftermath of the Sydney Siege).

The Empathy ExamsQuentin Blake is one I’d love to pick up, keen to know more about the illustrator who so iconically realised some of my favourite childhood tales. Meanwhile The Paying Guests is a book I’ve now heard raved about both in print and on podcasts.

Bustle give the book list a different and enticing spin, by listing 18 Pulitzer award-winning books by female authors we should be reading. These include March, a retelling of Little Women from the father’s perspective (should I admit I’ve read neither Little Women nor March and, yes, I consider it completely remiss of me).

Radio National hosts’ recommendations include Only the Animals and The Ukraine Diaries. As well as Far From The Tree, a book I’d bought but cowered in the face of its enormity (seriously, this book embodies the term ‘doorstop’ if any book did).

NPR’s Book Concierge is, without doubt, a black hole of a book recommendation list. Consider yourself if not forearmed, then at least forewarned. Comprising a visual smorgasbord of enticing book covers you can work your way through or sort courtesy of the filters lining the page’s left-hand side, this app is a kind of electronic bookshelf p%&n. I’d have written this blog sooner had I not spent innumerable hours sorting and re-sorting the list to ensure I hadn’t missed any great reading options.

This Changes EverythingHumbler, but just as worth is The Guardian’s crowdsourced list of readers’ 10 best books of 2014. It includes The Goldfinch, which is reportedly both exquisite and the book most not finished on electronic reading devices (or something—that’s another blog post).

I’m a big fan of The Secret History but had been holding off reading The Goldfinch lest it turn out to be of the ilk of The Little Friend. It seems it’s not and, between that and the billion other books I’ve not got time to read just yet, I’ve got plenty of books to look forward to in just over a year’s time.

 

”A Tapestry of Experiences Folded into Fiction”; Victoria Lane Talks About ‘Celia and Nonna’

author pic jul 14 WEBVictoria Lane has made a successful career from writing; as an award-winning financial journalist for many years, editor and correspondent for many leading media publications, and of course, as a picture and chapter book writer for children. Today, we delve into Victoria’s writerly mind as she shares her inspirations behind her touching picture book, Celia and Nonna.  


Review – Celia and Nonna
There is something so precious about children spending quality time with their grandparents. Every word and every image, beautifully interwoven by author Victoria Lane and illustrator Kayleen West, pour warmth and affection out of this book and into the hearts of its’ readers.

”Celia loves sleepovers at Nonna’s house.” And Nonna just cherishes the moments they spend together; baking cakes and biscotti, cuddling and reading bedtime stories. But one day Nonna begins to forget things, and she moves to an aged care home where she will get the appropriate support. At first Celia struggles to grapple with the new arrangement, but her resilience, sensitivity and love allow her to accept the change, strengthen their bond, and bring joy and ease to Nonna. Gorgeous sentiments in Celia’s drawings help us, the reader, to remember and appreciate that no matter where we are, all we need are the ones we love.

Celia-&-Nonna-Cover-WEBKayleen West’s illustrations are soft, timeless and emotive. I love the meaning attached to the realistic children’s artwork that are significant to both Nonna, and to Victoria Lane. I also love the clever connection between Celia and the swallows who follow Nonna and stick by her on her life journey.

Celia and Nonna; a message of embracing hard realities, finding strength and faith, an uplifting and important tale to share, all packaged perfectly in a delightful picture book. Ford Street Publishing. 

Interview – Victoria Lane
Congratulations, Victoria, on the release of your first picture book, Celia and Nonna! How did you celebrate its’ launch?
Thanks Romi! We had a lovely launch at the Ivanhoe Library filled with friends, as well as some lovely contributions via social media of people’s memories of their grandparents. We brought biscotti and played ”Guess how many borlotti beans in the jar”.  

Have you always wanted to be a writer? What do you love about writing children’s books?
It’s true, I started writing stories when I was a kid, mainly mash-ups of fairytales inspired by my older brother’s satirical Mad magazines. And I’ve been lucky enough to have made a career out of writing and editing, as a journalist and foreign correspondent. It’s only in the past few years that I’ve had the time to devote to writing fiction again and I love it.
What appeals to me the most about writing for children is the need to condense meaning into a picture book of limited word count. It is a challenge and a delight.  

Celia and Nonna is a warm story of togetherness across the generations, and adapting to change. What special message would you like your audience to gain from reading your story?
It’s so important to keep children involved and informed, whatever changes are happening in the family. If a grandparent is in an aged care home, make sure the grandkids still get to visit rather than leaving them at home. Kids are very adaptable and accepting of change; we should give them credit for it. There are many ways to adapt to these changes, and Celia finds her own delightful way to navigate this confusing time. I hope that Celia and Nonna will help to start a conversation with children when a loved one is affected by dementia, old age, Alzheimer’s or Parkinson’s.  

Does Celia and Nonna have a personal significance to you? What was your inspiration behind this story?
It certainly does. This story has two inspirations. The first was when my eldest daughter could no longer enjoy her treasured sleepovers at my Mum’s, due to her own illness. The second part was the experience of visiting my Dad in a nursing home and trying to explain the situation to my daughter. It was a very foreign place. For those few years, I was part of the sandwich generation, with caring responsibilities for both my parents and my children – I had a new baby at the time. It was an incredibly difficult period. So the story really became a tapestry of my experiences, folded into fiction. I felt it was really important to create a positive story with a positive outlook. I also wanted to keep the Italian flavour because it’s so important to show diversity in Australian children’s literature.  

The illustrations by Kayleen West are beautiful, and provide plenty of elements that add to the meaning of the story. What was it like working with Kayleen? How much input did you have in the artistic design?
I think publishers generally like to keep the authors out of the illustrator’s way, and I think that does give the illustrator the freedom to interpret the words as they like. Kayleen’s work is just gorgeous, full of warmth and love, and I think they are perfect for the story.
castle 1 I did get to ask for a few little touches, and one of the pictures that Celia draws is the castle in her Nonna’s home town in Italy. That meant a huge amount to me. It is still so emotional to see the image of the massive 12th Century castle (which was rebuilt after being heavily bombed in the First World War) that is a symbol of my mother’s home town. There is also a strong element of art and creativity in the way Celia responds to the family’s changes, and Kayleen managed that delicate balance in showing a realistic portrayal of a child’s artwork. And the beautiful endpapers are a little inspiration for kids to create their own art for a loved one after reading the story.  

What was the most rewarding part about creating Celia and Nonna?
For me, it has really been seeing the heartfelt response from parents and children. The story really seems to have struck an emotional chord for many readers and that is so thrilling. The response has been fantastic.  

One of the lovely past times the characters enjoy together is baking. Do you have any special traditions with family members that you follow each year during the holidays?
Not really – it’s hard to live up to the sumptuous five-course meals that my Mum used to prepare for any occasion! Her apple strudel was famous in our family, but it takes hours to prepare and it’s very hard to get the pastry right. We tried to write out the recipe together, but it was just ”add a bit of this, a bit more of that”…  

What are you currently working on? What can we look forward to seeing from you in the near future?
I have a few other stories on the go at the moment, and I have also been busy with some junior fiction. I’m writing a series of early chapter books all set a fictional primary school in Melbourne’s north. Some of these are out on submission with publishers, so stay tuned! I would also like to find more time to introduce Celia and Nonna to aged care home and libraries, where it may reach more families.  

Victoria, thank you so much for answering my questions for Boomerang Books! Wishing you and your family a wonderful holiday season!
Thanks for having me, Romi! Same to you and all the readers at Boomerang Books.  

Connect with Victoria Lane:
http://www.victorialanebooks.com
http://www.facebook.com/VictoriaLaneBooks
http://www.twitter.com/vthieberger  

Well, that’s it for the author interviews this year! I hope you have enjoyed meeting them as much as I have!
Thank you all for welcoming me into the Boomerang Books world of blogging, and I look forward to sharing more wonderful news, reviews and author insights with you in 2015!

Have a booktacularly festive holiday, and really treasure those moments with your loved ones!

Happy reading,
Romi Sharp

http://www.romisharp.wordpress.com
http://www.facebook.com/mylittlestorycorner
http://www.twitter.com/mylilstorycrner

Doodles and Drafts – Drawing Boxes with Peter Carnavas

Every once in a while something special sneaks into your life, so unassuming you are barely aware of its presence. However, its ability to change and influence is a forceful undercurrent with powerful impact.Jessica's Box CPA edition

It might be meeting a new friend for the first time. It could be finding a dog to call your own. For me, it’s often the serendipitous joy I gain from opening a picture book. Peter Carnavas’ picture books deliver that exact kind of special.

 Jessica’s Box, first published in 2008 by New Frontier Publishing, is a beautiful example of how such magic endures. Jessica’s first day of school is full of trepidation and new connections; however, her attempts to win friends with offerings from her large brown box repeatedly fall flat. You must read this book to discover that special ‘something moment’ Jessica finds hidden in her box.

What makes this edition so endearing is that it has been embraced and especially commissioned by the Cerebral Palsy Alliance. Retaining all of the original text, Carnavas has redrawn the illustration to show Jessica in a wheelchair. Text and illustrations are subtle and spare and harmoniously integrated keeping the focus on Jessica’s struggle with self-worth rather than her disability.

Peter is here at the doodle table today to shed some more light on this touching picture book.

Welcome back to Boomerang Books Peter!

Peter Carnavas 3Who is Peter Carnavas? Tell us something about yourself we can’t find on a website.

Peter Carnavas is that quiet kid you went to school with, the one always drawing little pictures on his schoolbooks. Whenever he had to speak in front of the class, he would mumble and look down and his teacher would tell him he had to use more expression. Now his job is to draw little pictures and speak in front of schoolchildren (he uses more expression now). Pete starting school

Your published writing career began about six years ago, around the same time Jessica first entered our lives. Describe how this happened.

After teaching for a few years, I was itching to do something creative, as my hobbies were always creative things like drawing and writing and music. I had made some little books for my nieces and nephew, and decided to pursue children’s writing. I completed a picture book course with Virginia Lowe, sent my dummy book to a publisher, then forgot all about it. After I moved house a few times, got married and became a father, I received the news that I was about to get my first book contract.

Was this the first picture book manuscript you had ever produced? What inspired its (original) creation?

The Man Who Carried a BasketYes, Jessica’s Box was the first picture I had prepared to submit for publication. It mainly started from a little book I had made my wife, called The Man Who Carried a Basket, about a man looking for love by showing off possessions (albeit simple possessions), instead of valuing himself. It was autobiographical, I guess. A little while later, I turned the character into a schoolgirl wanting to make friends. It seemed to make sense.

Whose idea was it to re-release this edition of Jessica’s Box?

I have to give all of the credit to my publisher, Peter Whitfield, of New Frontier. Peter and his family have been connected with the Cerebral Palsy Alliance for many years. He simply emailed me with the idea of depicting Jessica in a wheelchair, leaving the text untouched. I thought it was a wonderful idea.

What makes Jessica’s Box CPA edition special in your eyes?

The thing that makes it special is the fact that the disability is not central to the story. The text is completely unchanged from the original, so the point we’re making is that children with disabilities have the same regular concerns and anxieties as all children – wanting to make friends, trying to fit in. You only notice Jessica is in a wheelchair in some of the illustrations.

Sarah's Heavy HeartDo you think Jessica’s Box could lend itself to theatrical interpretation in the way Sarah’s Heavy Heart and One Tree in the City have been via Artslink? On what levels do you feel this could positively influence children?

I definitely think it would work well as a play. I had the pleasure of watching a Year One class from Graceville State School perform it for me a few years ago. It was great, especially the yoga mum character. The book contains such a simple but powerful message, to enjoy being ourselves instead of advertising what we own.

Had you ever considered including a disabled character in your stories before?

I have thought about it a few times. I watched a documentary about children with selective mutism, which fascinated me. I’m usually attracted to characters who are quiet but strong in some way, so this one would suit me well.

Did you ever need a box at school to make friends?

I always managed to have a few friends at school, though I’m not really sure how. Drawing funny pictures probably helped.

A Special edition release of your work is pretty exciting. Name three other things about your job you really love.

I have such a joyful job and I never take anything for granted.

  1. I love getting to meet authors I admire. I try to play it cool but inside I’m doing backflips with excitement when I meet some of these wonderful people.  
  2. Spending time with children in schools is always fun. I always feel like it’s the best bits of teaching – I turn up, read books, draw pictures, inspire kids and make them laugh (hopefully), then ride off into the sunset without any report cards to write.
  3. Drawing pictures in my little studio is probably my favourite part of it all. Pencil in hand, music playing, cup of tea beside me… it’s all I need.

Apart from the sunset, what is on the horizon for Peter Carnavas?

What's in My Lunch Box 1More books are coming out soon. I’ve illustrated Mr Darcy and the Christmas Pudding, the third in the series written by Alex Field. I’ve written a fun book called What’s in My Lunchbox?, beautifully illustrated by Kat Chadwick. Most exciting for me is the chance to spend the next few months at home, illustrating my next book, probably with scissors and glue. That’s right – I’m entering the dangerous world of collage, though I don’t know if I’ll make it out the other side alive.

I’m sure you will. Thanks Pete!

You’re welcome!

While Peter cuts and pastes, many of you will be turning your attention to cutting and pasting of a different-Christmas-paper-wrapping kind, so I’ll take this opportunity to THANK YOU all for reading with me, laughing with me and staying with us this year.

Like our namesake, we’d love to see you return in 2015! There’ll be more books to discover, great people to meet and scintillating literary facts to learn – guaranteed. Till then, have yourselves a very merry little Christmas.

Happy reading, Dimity

 

The Twelve Books of Christmas

You may have noticed, with Christmas fast approaching, that the Boomerang Books bloggers have been writing about the festive season — recommending books for Chrissy presents; sharing festive reads; reminiscing about Christmas-themed books; etc. I was originally planning to recommend some Christmas reads… but then I changed my mind. I thought I’d do something a little different. And so (cue music), may I present for your entertainment and amusement, The Twelve Books of Christmas

 

9780140564976On the first day of Christmas
my true love sent to me:
A kids’ book about a pear tree

The Pear in the Pear Tree by Pamela Allen

 

two-turtle-dovesOn the second day of Christmas
my true love sent to me:
Two Turtle Doves
And a kids’ book about a pear tree

Two Turtle Doves: A Memoir of Making Things by Alex Monroe

 

redhenOn the third day of Christmas
my true love sent to me:
Little Red Hen
Two Turtle Doves
And a kids’ book about a pear tree

The Little Red Hen by Diane Muldrow

 

AngryBirdsOn the fourth day of Christmas
my true love sent to me:
Some Angry birds
Little Red Hen
Two Turtle Doves
And a kids’ book about a pear tree

The World of Angry Birds: Official Guide

 

9780261103207On the fifth day of Christmas
my true love sent to me:
Lord of the Rings
Some Angry birds
Little Red Hen
Two Turtle Doves
And a kids’ book about a pear tree

The Lord of the Rings by JRR Tolkien

 

BestLaidPlansOn the sixth day of Christmas
my true love sent to me:
Some plans a laying
Lord of the Rings
Some Angry birds
Little Red Hen
Two Turtle Doves
And a kids’ book about a pear tree

The Best Laid Plans by Sidney Sheldon

 

On the seventh day of Christmas
my true love sent to me:
Little wombat swimming
Some plans a laying
Lord of the Rings
Some Angry birds
Little Red Hen
Two Turtle Doves
And a kids’ book about a pear tree

Swim, Little Wombat, Swim by Charles Fuge

 

milkOn the eighth day of Christmas
my true love sent to me:
Fortunate milking
Little wombat swimming
Some plans a laying
Lord of the Rings
Some Angry birds
Little Red Hen
Two Turtle Doves
And a kids’ book about a pear tree

Fortunately, the Milk … by Neil Gaiman

 

DeadGirlsDanceOn the ninth day of Christmas
my true love sent to me:
Dead girls a dancing
Fortunate milking
Little wombat swimming
Some plans a laying
Lord of the Rings
Some Angry birds
Little Red Hen
Two Turtle Doves
And a kids’ book about a pear tree

The Dead Girls’ Dance by Rachel Caine

 

leapingOn the tenth day of Christmas
my true love sent to me:
Tom Fletcher’s Leaping
Dead girls a dancing
Fortunate milking
Little wombat swimming
Some plans a laying
Lord of the Rings
Some Angry birds
Little Red Hen
Two Turtle Doves
And a kids’ book about a pear tree

The Leaping by Tom Fletcher

 

holmesOn the eleventh day of Christmas
my true love sent to me:
A smart detective Piping
Tom Fletcher’s Leaping
Dead girls a dancing
Fortunate milking
Little wombat swimming
Some plans a laying
Lord of the Rings
Some Angry birds
Little Red Hen
Two Turtle Doves
And a kids’ book about a pear tree

Sherlock Holmes: The Man Who Never Lived and Will Never Die, edited by Alex Werner

 

drumsOn the twelfth day of Christmas
my true love sent to me:
Some Base-ic drumming
A smart detective Piping
Tom Fletcher’s Leaping
Dead girls a dancing
Fortunate milking
Little wombat swimming
Some plans a laying
Lord of the Rings
Some Angry birds
Little Red Hen
Two Turtle Doves
And a kids’ book about a pear tree

Jungle Drums by Graeme Base

MERRY CHRISTMAS everyone! And Happy Reading!

Catch ya later,  George

PS. Follow me on Twitter

 

halCheck out my DVD blog, Viewing Clutter.

Latest Post: DVD Review  — HAL

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Kylie Westaway Makes a Big Splash with her Debut Picture Book, ‘Whale in the Bath’

Author-pic-in-tree-close-upKylie Westaway is the author of her popular debut picture book, Whale in the Bath. She has literally travelled far and wide, worked in foreign schools, events and in theatre. But there’s one thing that has remained constant in her life; her love of writing. Here, I’ll give you the brief run-down of her captivating tale, Whale in the Bath, then we’ll find out more from Kylie Westaway about how it’s all come together.  

whale-in-the-bath The Review:
Get ready to dive right in to this splashing ‘tail’ of a stubborn whale and a boy with a huge problem. Kylie Westaway and Tom Jellett have brilliantly combined to fill our homes with laughter with the whimsical ”Whale in the Bath”.
Bruno finds himself in a ‘conveniently’ misfortunate situation when he’s sent off to take a bath. A massive whale overfills the tub, and it is using Bruno’s bubble-gum bubble bath, which is not even the whale’s flavour of preference. But his family won’t have a bar of it, and accuse Bruno of lying and purposely avoiding his bath. With several failed attempts to get the whale out of the bath, it finally squirts out a genius plan to help Bruno get clean and smelling, well, fishy!
A very comical story with Tom Jellett’s distinguishable trademark cartoon-style drawings and cool, retro colours, makes ”Whale in the Bath” a most engaging, imaginative and charming read. It aims to encourage preschoolers who just want to be heard, and to simply have a whale of a time!  

The Interview:
Congratulations on your first picture book release, ‘Whale in the Bath’! How did you celebrate its launch?
My family held a surprise launch for me! I turned up, expecting it to be a party for Father’s Day, and all my family and friends were there holding copies of my book. It was really lovely!  

Inspiration-Whale-in-the-BathWhere did the inspiration for this story come from?
It actually came from a drawing I found in a market a few years ago. It was a cartoon-style drawing of a whale in a metal tub, floating on the ocean. The whole story popped into my head at once. I’ve put the original drawing up on my website.  

What was your favourite part of creating ‘Whale in the Bath’?
Definitely seeing the illustrations from Tom Jellett. I’ve been writing stories ever since I can remember, but I’ve never been very good at drawing. Seeing Tom’s amazing images bringing the story to life was an incredible feeling. He did such a spectacular job.  

How did you find the publishing process and working with illustrator, Tom Jellett?
It was fascinating for me, because I hadn’t known quite what to expect, but the whole team I worked with was fantastic. I loved getting updates from Tom, and seeing the drawings progress from sketches to finished pieces. It was a real thrill when the designer started placing the words into the images and playing with different fonts and moving the type around. I feel like the finished book is so much more than I could ever have imagined because I had so many great people pouring their hearts into it.  

whale in the bath whooshI love the final surprise on the last page of the book! How much illustrative detail did you provide, and how much was left to Tom’s imagination?
It was almost all Tom’s imagination. The only illustrative detail I provided was that the whale shot a bath load of water into the air on the page that says “whoosh”, otherwise it was all Tom! That page was actually the most difficult to get right, and from memory we went through about 10 different roughs before Tom hit on the aerial view, and we all agreed that was perfect. One of my favourite illustrative details was Tom’s inclusion of the krill, which snuck into almost every page with the whale on it. In fact, when Tom provided the final page, which happened to be the imprint page with our dedications on it, he had added more krill to the page with a note saying “hope this isn’t overkrill.” He is completely brilliant.  

What has been the best response from a child and/or parent about your book?
Having kids want to read it has been the best response. It is such a thrill everytime someone tells me that their child loves my book and asks for it to be read over and over again. That is indescribably wonderful. Although one child has sent me a card with a picture of a whale in it (my very first fan mail!) and I love that too!  

Do you have plans to write stories on a similar tangent? Will Bruno feature in more books?
I really love Bruno and I definitely think he is going to have more adventures. At this stage I haven’t got anything in works, but he is pottering around in the back of my mind, and I’m sure he will come out again soon!  

You obviously have a good imagination! If you could be any animal, what would you be, and why?
Thank you! That’s a tough question! Probably I would have to be an animal that could fly – maybe an eagle or an albatross. I would love the feeling of being able to soar on big wings. Every now and then I have dreams that I can fly, and they are always incredible.  

Have you always wanted to be a picture book author? What do you like about writing children’s literature?
I’ve always wanted to write books for kids, whether that’s picture books or young adult. I think the problems you face as a child and how you handle them mould you into the type of adult you are going to become. Setting up good morals and codes of behaviour (without being preachy or saint-like!) in books, helps kids know how to handle those sorts of situations when they get into them. For me, Whale in the Bath is a story about telling the truth and not being believed. This is something that happens to kids a lot, and I like that Bruno doesn’t back down and is able to find his own way through it, even though no one believes him. You are often very powerless as a child, and I think that writing stories about people like Bruno is a great way of showing how you can empower children, and that’s something that I think is very important.  

What were your favourite books to read when you were a child?
Goodness, I could go on and on for pages here! For picture books, I loved The Most Scary Ghost and The Monster at the End of This Book. When I was a bit older, I loved Enid Blyton’s Famous Five series! I always wanted to be off having adventures with a dog like Timmy! My all time favourite book is To Kill a Mockingbird, and my first dog was named Scout, but I also love JRR Tolkien, Harry Potter, and Diana Wynne Jones.  

You’ve written a fantastic article about getting a book published (read it here). What is your greatest piece of advice for new and emerging writers?
Get as many people as possible to read your work, don’t spend years on the one story (write lots of stories) and keep submitting to magazines and publishers! That’s three pieces of advice, sorry! I couldn’t decide which was most important.  

I’d like to thank Kylie for her time and brilliant responses, as well as a very Merry Christmas and wonderful New Year!  

Find Kylie Westaway at:
http://www.kyliewestaway.com.au
https://www.facebook.com/kyliewestawayauthor
http://www.twitter.com/kyliewestaway  

Romi Sharp
http://www.romisharp.wordpress.com/whale-in-the-bath-teaching-notes
http://www.facebook.com/mylittlestorycorner
http://www.twitter.com/mylilstorycrner  

whale in the bath krill

What I’m reading this Christmas: Alison Green, Pantera Press

Alison Green Pantera Press
Alison Green, Pantera Press

Thanks to Alison Green from Pantera Press for talking to Boomerang Books today, and sharing your Christmas picks with us. First, let’s find out a little more about you and some of the books you’ve been working on.

You’re the CEO & co-founder of Pantera Press, what does your job entail?
As a boutique publishing house, we have a small dedicated team. We are all extremely passionate, and often it is all hands on deck! On a day-to-day I work closely with our authors as well as the Pantera Press submissions, marketing, publicity, digital, editorial, design, financial and rights, teams and agencies. I also have a strong focus on our strategic development.

But I’d really say that my job is about making dreams come true. The dreams of our readers, storylovers – who love to get swept up into different fictional worlds. The dreams of our authors – our storytellers who live for writing fabulous tales and getting those stories to their fans. And the great philanthropic works we do in and around literacy and the joys of reading.

How did you get this job?
I co-founded the company in 2008. My background was in psychology and business strategy, and I have always been an avid reader. We created Pantera Press as a response to what we felt was a void in the industry – a home that not only welcomes but also actively seeks previously unpublished authors with best-seller writing potential.

What is different/special about Pantera Press?
Many things! Pantera Press introduced an innovative business model into the Australian publishing industry. We explicitly embraced a fresh strategy to be better support to Australia’s storytellers and storylovers, via an innovative, author-friendlier model with a strong curatorial culture. We designed this so that we could take a great, and longer-term risk in backing new authors. From day one, Pantera Press dedicated itself to discovering new, previously unpublished authors. Writers of great stories that are well written and would appeal to a wide audience of dedicated readers. We also have a strong ‘profits for philanthropy’ foundation that we call ‘good books doing good things’, where we invest in programs and projects around Australia that help close the literacy gap and encourage the joy of reading. If that’s not enough, I should mention that our boardroom table is actually a Ping-Pong table. So if you find yourself in the Pantera Press office, you may be up for a battle.

Killing Adonis J.M. Donellan(Brilliant, I love table tennis!) I suspect you love all the books you work on, but could you tell us about some that you are particularly proud of?
Great question. I do LOVE all of the books that we publish, and in part… that is actually a set criteria for any story we consider for publication (seriously). Be it a latest story from one of our existing authors, or a story from a brand new author there are many things we will consider when choosing a story to publish. Our authors are talented writers who we have handpicked, because we think they are absolutely amazing and see big potential for them. One of the many criteria we have is “even if you are not the target audience for this story, did you love it? And did you want to keep reading”. So I do indeed love all of the books we work on.

Killing Adonis by J.M. Donellan is a book I’m particularly proud of. It’s a really quirky ride, and we’ve had an overwhelming amount of media compare this story to the stylings of Wes Anderson (Writer and Director of The Grand Budapest Hotel). Donellan’s story is a tragicomic tale about love, delusion, corporate greed… and the hazards of using pineapple cutters while hallucinating. This story is for people who enjoy complex storylines that verge on the absurd, who love the scrumptious extravagance of Wes Anderson movies, and who marvel at the moral-driven layers of Roald Dahl. On top of being a GREAT story, the cover of the book is very unique and was created to mimic a leather bound book. It has the look and feel, and it’s certainly something special to hold onto, and to display on your bookshelf.

I also have to mention Sulari Gentill’s award-winning Rowland Sinclair Mystery series. Her series has been nominated and shortlisted for several awards, and won the Davitt Award for best crime fiction. Her latest novel in the series, A Murder Unmentioned has topped several Australia bookseller best-seller lists. And it’s a phenomally engaging and charming series that appeals to men and women of all ages. I’m thrilled that we discovered Sulari and have just released her 9th book in 4 years (yes, she is seriously impressive!).Betrothed Wanda Wiltshire

What is your secret reading pleasure?
As much as I might wish for it… I’m clearly no longer a young adult. However, I take secret joy in reading Young Adult fiction and finding myself in strange new worlds. Wanda Wiltshire’s Betrothed series is a favourite. Her writing is beautiful, and the first book in the series (Betrothed) had me dreaming every night about receiving my invitation to the Faery world of Faera. Wanda explores beautiful themes of friendship, self-discovery and finding ones place in the world. As well as romance, darkness… and how to fly!

I’d also love to tell you about a top-secret Pantera Press book (shhh), it is not yet released – but is coming really soon (February 2015). Akarnae by Lynette Noni, the first book in the 5 book Medoran Chronicles. Akarnae is Harry Potter, X-Men and Narnia rolled into one wonderful story. Believable characters, in an unbelievable world: with Akarnae you must embrace the wonder!

What are your must-reads over Christmas? (What’s on your bedside table to read over the holidays?)Funny Thing Happened on the Way to Chemo
There are many. As you can imagine there is a big pile of books, awaiting me for my summer staycation (and I can’t wait). To mention a couple: Tempting Fate by Jane Green (not a relation). Most people seem to assume that my reading list would predominantly contain serious literary fiction, however in high school – fun and romantic stories were what made me the avid reader I am today. I would read 3-4 books a week, easily. And that voracious love of reading is partially what excited me about becoming involved in the book publishing industry. Jane Green was always a favourite. I’ve read every single one of her books at least once, so I’m looking forward to her latest summer read.

A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to Chemo by Luke Ryan. I recently met Luke and heard him speak with one of our own Pantera Press authors, J.M. Donellan, at the National Young Writers’ Festival in Newcastle. He was hilarious, and I’m looking forward to reading his memoir.

John M. Green you are co-founder of Pantera Press with Alison and author of Nowhere Man, The Trusted & Born To Run. What are your must-reads this Christmas?
I want to read Wally Lamb‘s latest novel We are Water over the holidays. He creates characters and relationships, especially difficult ones, so convincingly that I can cry – and often have.We Are Water Wally Lamb

The 100 Year Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared by Jonas Jonasson is also on my list. Not your typical Swedish novel, but a whimsical story my wife keeps putting at the top of my reading pile. If I don’t do what she says, there’s no chance I’ll ever make it to 100 myself.

Marty Green, you’re the Director & Head of Submissions at Pantera Press, what are your must-reads this Christmas?
The Buddha In Your Mirror: Practical Buddhism and the Search for the Self by Hochswender, Martin and Morino. This book came out in 2001 and comes with a foreword by Herbie Hancock. If you’re planning on judging a book by it’s cover, this one has everything. (That’s a little Buddhism joke). I assume that by reading this, I’ll be able to make a lot more jokes.

Here Come The Dogs Omar MusaMoney: Master the Game by Tony Robbins is a plain English book about money and investing that is 700 pages and costs $30 (with all profits going to Feeding America). Here’s my investment advice: read the book and you’ll probably make your $30 back.

Finally, I’ll be reading Here Come the Dogs by Omar Musa over the holidays. Omar is a slam poet from Queanbeyan that did a Ted talk and I met him while he was doing promos for his debut novel and he’s a super cool guy.

Thanks very much for speaking with us, Alison and Merry Christmas!

My Bookish Confession

roadside picnicIt is time for some book confessions and I have got a real strange one to confess. Some people break spines, some read the last page first, mine is completely different. I first really noticed this while reading the Russian sci-fi classic Roadside Picnic by Arkady & Boris Strugatsky. I was half way through the book and I thought ‘this book is amazing’, there are all these interesting ideas about science and technology; then I wanted the book to end.

I did some research in other books I’ve read recently and it seemed to happen with them as well. No matter how much I enjoy the plot and characters, I seem to be contently seeking out the themes within the books. This isn’t really a bad thing, I am trying to train my brain to read critically and analyse the text as I am going along. However I don’t want to lose interest in a book once I find a major theme.

middlemarchI had a think about the books and I realised Middlemarch took me so long because I would find a theme to really sink my teeth into and I would spend so much time thinking about what this novel said about it and forget to continue reading. The problem with this is that Middlemarch is pretty much a social commentary on provincial live and there are so many themes within the book to explore. I had to force myself to go back and continue reading and then I would fixate on another theme for a while and lose interest with the rest of the book again.

Another example would be The Elegance of the Hedgehog by Muriel Barbery where there are so many philosophical ideas that I want to investigate it tends to distract me from the rest of the book. The only problem is that I don’t know that much about philosophy, so I have to spend more time researching ideas than actually enjoying the book. I did however manage to finish The Elegance of the Hedgehog, Roadside Picnic and Middlemarch; I love them all dearly and I think that is because I spent some much time thinking about them. It is just a really weird bookish quirk I have and I am not sure if it is entirely useful.

Hey! Nietzsche!I have spent a lot of time thinking about why I am so weird and why I am constantly searching for themes in books. I do enjoy critical reading and I have a keen interest in literary criticism so if I train myself to actually focus on the book in search of more themes, maybe I will be less likely to lose interest halfway through. I think this quirk started when I first discovered reading; the book was Hey! Nietzsche! Leave Them Kids Alone! by Craig Schuftan. This non-fiction book explores the link between The Romantic Movement and modern rock music and it too me six months to read. Not because I am a slow reader, but because I had to read most of the books and poetry referenced here. It sparked a passion within me, not just of reading but also of learning.

Now it’s your turn to confess; are there any bookish confessions you want to make? Now is your chance to share them.

What I’m reading this Christmas: Anna O’Grady, Simon & Schuster

Anna O'Grady in front of her home library
Anna O’Grady in front of her home library

Thanks to Anna O’Grady for talking to Boomerang Books today, and sharing your Christmas picks with us. First, let’s find out more about you and some of the books you’ve been working on.

You’re the Marketing and Publicity Manager at Simon & Schuster. What does your job entail?
How much time do we have? I like describing it as ‘parenting’ a book and making sure that I find the best possible home for it. It all starts by understanding who would enjoy the particular title, and then the fun part of thinking of the best means of reaching that audience. Nowadays there are so many different ways that this can be achieved.

In the last few months I’ve worked on creating online trailers and ads, organized blog tours, pitched titles to festivals, events and media and talked to our book loving community over various social media channels.

How did you get this job?
I am the third generation working in the book world from a family of booksellers and publishers. For the better part of my life I have been lucky enough to continue our family tradition across six different countries. However, bookselling is rapidly changing and for a few years I have wanted to try my hand in a publishing house. All the stars aligned really well this year and I ended up with the amazing team at Simon & Schuster Australia. I have learnt a tremendous amount but it also has been a lot of fun.The Fly Trap by Fredrik Sjoberg

What is different/special about Simon & Schuster?
One of the things I really like about Simon & Schuster is that it is a small publishing house. There are just over 20 people in the office and that means that there are opportunities to try different things in different areas of the book business. For example, even though my official role is within the marketing and publicity department, I am also part of the acquisition team – so I have a chance to read new manuscripts and contribute to the decision on publishing these.

I also really love the staff’s passion for books we publish within the Simon & Schuster program. A lot of larger houses release so many books that it is physically impossible for everybody to be familiar with all titles. Our publishing program is small enough that almost everybody in-house can read all the books we publish and be able to meet all the authors in person. I really love being in an office where everybody reads and where books are celebrated every day.

I suspect you love all the books you work on, but could you tell us about some that you are particularly proud of?
It has been quite a year for me, and I often feel in awe of the amazing authors that I have been taking care of. I will highlight two – only because they are so completely different. The first one was my campaign for debut author Ellie O’Neill’s book Reluctantly Charmed. Debuts are notoriously difficult to break out, but I felt special pressure on this one because everybody at Simon & Schuster loved this book. In the end we had a great campaign that was embraced by a major sponsor – Tourism Ireland – and also created a lot of buzz in the book blogging community. I am already looking forward to the second book from Ellie coming next year.A Thousand Shards of Glass cover by Michael Katakis

The other campaign that will probably stay in mind for a very long time was A Thousand Shards of Glass by Michael Katakis. Although Michael is a world class photographer, an overseer of the intellectual property of Hemingway and an author of very thought provoking books, he is very little known in Australia. We decided to bring him here for a tour and I had the task of arranging events and media for his tour. This took several months and many, many phone calls and emails to organize. Because Michael is relatively unknown some event organizers took some persuasion and were hesitant to the last moment. In the end the response to Michael’s tour was exceptional and well worth all our efforts. I have never seen such an emotional reader–writer reaction, with many people moved to tears at events, and many readers calling and sending emails – and in one instance hand delivering a letter of thank you to our offices. There is nothing more special than seeing that connection in front of my eyes and knowing that I helped make it happen.This Changes Everything Naomi Klein

What do you see as the way forward in the book industry?
I have been watching the book industry very carefully for at least 20 years now and I find some changes painful, but I also see a lot of great things on the horizon. I think that we might be experiencing a new golden age of storytelling. There are more people reading than ever before, and they access books in many formats and ways. But what is even more exciting is that readers have more to say, and the means to say it, than ever before. The future of the publishing industry is in deepening the connection to readers and embracing new ways of telling and experiencing stories. I have no doubt that great books and storytellers will always find their audience.

What are your must-reads over Christmas?
I have been building my little Christmas stack for a while now – and as usual I am probably overambitious. Here are the titles that are currently sitting in my Christmas pile: The Fly Trap by Fredrik Sjoberg; The Assassination of Margaret Thatcher by Hilary Mantel; In Certain Circles by Elizabeth Harrower; The Book of Strange New Things by Michel Faber; and This Changes Everything by Naomi Klein – but who knows what other gems I might find under my Christmas tree.In Certain Circles by Elizabeth Harrower

What is your secret reading pleasure?
I really enjoy many YA novels, love a good mystery, and have a fascination with horror fiction. For me some of the great horror and crime writers are amongst the best at the craft of writing – although critics often disregard them.

Thanks very much for speaking with us, Anna.
You’re most welcome, it’s been a pleasure.

What I’m reading this Christmas: Galina Marinov, Leading Edge Books

Three StoriesThanks for talking to Boomerang Books, Galina Marinov.

Thanks for having me.

You’re the buyer and marketing manager at Leading Edge Books and you’re going to share your Christmas picks with us. But first let’s find out about you and your work.

Leading Edge Books has a national profile. What does LEB do? 

Leading Edge Books is a marketing and buying group behind more than 170 independent booksellers from all over Australia. We are part of a wider Leading Edge Group – an organisation providing vital services for small independent retailers – from Books, Music and Video stores, to Electronics, Computers, Appliances, to Jewellery shops. Leading Edge Group also operates in Telecommunication and Technology services.

Members of Leading Edge Books have access to improved trading terms with all the major Australian publishers through group buying and variety of backlist and other promotional offers. In addition, bookstores have access to marketing materials in the form of print and online catalogues, newsletters, POS and merchandise services.

We run a dedicated promotional website under the brand of Australian Independent Booksellers (www.indies.com.au) and its associated social media channels, promoting new publications as well as serving as a gateway to member-bookstores own websites.Galina

In addition to buying and marketing services, Leading Edge Books serves as an entity uniting independent booksellers in Australia and provides opportunities to its membership to exchange ideas, expertise and innovation. We work closely with the Australian Bookseller Association and for the past few years have run conjoined conferences – forums packed full of sessions on topics pertinent to Australian book trade and bookselling – from industry-wide developments and challenges, to small business essentials, and opportunities to hear from authors about their new publications.

All our activities and programs are centered on providing support to the booksellers in our group – from offering marketing support and improved profit margins, to ability to share expertise with likeminded people and businesses. We’d like to think of Leading Edge Books as an organisation that contributes to keeping Australian independent booksellers thriving and prospering in changing market conditions.

SpringtimeWhat is different/special about Leading Edge Books? 

Leading Edge booksellers share a strong commitment to maintaining the highest standard in terms of depth of range, customer service and expert advice on the best books for adults, young adults and children.

Independents are well recognised by the publishing community as the biggest supporters of Australian writing and are instrumental in nurturing and promoting new Australian writing. In recognition of this role, in 2008 we established the Indie Book Awards – awards recognising the best in Australian writing in the category of fiction, non-fiction, children’s & YA and debut fiction, as selected by independent booksellers.

Announced early in the year, the Indie Book Awards are now considered the front runner of Australian literary awards. We are proud to have had as our Book of the Year some of the best Australian books of the past few years – Breath by Tim Winton, Jasper Jones by Craig Silvey, The Happiest Refugee by Anh Do, All That I Am by Anna Funder, The Light Between Oceans by L.M. Stedman and The Narrow Road to the Deep North by Richard Flanagan which went on to win this year’s Man Booker Prize.

We are currently in the process of collating the nominations for the 2015 Indie Book Awards and it is heartening to see so many young and debut Australian authors being nominated.

Why  are independent bookshops  so important and what do you see as the way forward in the book industry?A Strange Library

Independent booksellers are renowned for their passion for books. They know their books and their customers and often serve as hubs to their local communities, encouraging love of literature, literacy and education. As such, they are much more than commercial enterprises; they are indispensable to our society cultural institutions.

We are proud to have in our group some of the best independent booksellers in Australia – from Readings in Melbourne, to Boffins in Perth, to Avid Reader and Riverbend Books in Brisbane, to Abbey’s, Gleebooks and Pages & Pages in Sydney.

Far from the “doom and gloom’’ often portrayed in the media when it comes to the current state of the book industry, these booksellers offer brilliant examples of successful businesses which thrive on change and innovation. Maintaining the core independent bookselling ethos of serving and working closely with their local communities, they are also very active on social media, reach wider audience through strong online presence and view new formats such as ebooks as a way of enriching services to their customers rather than as a threat.

You’re the buyer and marketing manager at LEB – what do these roles involve?

We are a very small team of only four staff members working exclusively for the Books group and as such we all work together across the entire range of services we offer to our member stores.

Absolutely Beautiful ThingsMy main responsibilities lie in the areas of group buying – I work closely with representatives from all the major Australian publishers in offering the best titles for independent bookstores at best possible terms – and I also manage the production of marketing materials for the group. I love being able to see what’s being published across all publishers and imprints, and across genres – from fiction, to non-fiction, biographies, illustrated books to children’s and YA. We work 3 to 4 months in advance, so more often than not I read books that will be published in the future. Love of reading and knowledge of authors and publications are essential to this role, in order to being able to offer titles suitable for independent booksellers and to produce marketing materials and promotions of relevance to our bookstores.

How did you get this job?

I’ve been with Leading Edge Books for over six years now. The sum of all my previous experience (and of course love of books) led me to this role.

I was lucky my first job in Australia over twenty years ago was with a library and educational supplier. They were also an agent for a number of overseas publishers. That period of my early career was a crash course on who’s who of Australian publishing and the relationships between publishers, booksellers, libraries and agents.

After finishing a post graduate Diploma in Library and Information Sciences, I could have well gone down the road of Twelve Days of Christmasbecome a reference librarian (my dream at the time) but ended up taking up a position with Doubleday Book Clubs, first as an editorial assistant, then as a product manager within the new member recruitment team and later as a product manager/club director for some of their specialty book clubs. Product selection, buying, creative, marketing, editorial was all part of the job. I met and worked with some incredible people, read widely both fiction and non-fiction, and loved every minute of it. Unfortunately by mid-2000 the book club concept was on the way out and the clubs failed to re-position themselves in the new online selling environment.

I went on to work as a senior product manager for Random House – a role that gave me the opportunity to work within a publishing company. The learning curve was steep but extremely rewarding – I was responsible for the product management of the Random House UK list and for local reprints – and I absolutely loved the idea of working for the publisher of some of my favourite authors, both local (Peter Carey, Matthew Condon and Christopher Koch were all published by Random House at the time) and UK literary giants such as Ian McEwan, Salman Rushdie, Julian Barnes and Louis de Bernieres, just to mention a few.

Then the offer for this job came and I could not resist the opportunity to see it all from the bookseller side of the industry…

The Rosie EffectI enjoy seeing you at writers’ festivals and know how passionate you are about the books you come across, but could you tell us about some that you particularly love.

Like anyone who works in the book industry I read a lot and I buy a lot of books. My library is full of ‘my favourites’ – way too many to list here, and the moment I finish writing this I know there will be dozens more that will come to mind, but here are a few offerings.

Anything Jane Austen – I’m a huge Jane Austen fan – and especially Pride and Prejudice.

Then in no particular order – from modern classics to more recently published, some of my favourite books are:

84 Charing Cross Road by Helene Hanff
Atonement by Ian McEwan
Lovesong by Alex Miller
The Tiger Wife by Thea Obreht
I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith
A Moveable Feast by Ernest Hemingway
Educating Alice by Alice SteinbachMuseum of Innocence
Wanting by Richard Flanagan
Questions of Travel by Michelle de Kretser
The Sense of an Ending by Julian Barnes
People’s Act of Love by James Meak
The Crimson Petal and the White by Michel Faber
Fingersmith by Sarha Waters
The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafon
The Museum of Innocence by Orhan Pamuk
etc, etc

Which authors have you been especially thrilled to meet?

Meeting authors and listening to author talks at writers’ festivals, bookseller and publisher events, is one of the most rewarding aspects of working in the book industry. I’ve met some remarkable writers and again the list would be too long but if I have to choose just a few, I would mention listening for the first time to Alex Miller at the Sydney Writers Festival, Alain de Botton at the Sydney Opera House, Simon Winchester at an event at Pages & Pages, Hilary Mantel in conversation with Michael Cathcart via video link at the SWF, Richard Flanagan’s speech at the Leading Edge conference in Adelaide in 2013. More recently I was absolutely thrilled and star-stuck meeting George R.R. Martin at HarperCollins Publishers and in September this year I went to an event with Salman Rushdie at the Melbourne Writers Festival.

What are some must-reads over Christmas?

There are so many wonderful books being published this Christmas season; there is truly something for everyone.Amnesia

For fiction lovers, there are new books by some of Australia’s most loved writers – Amnesia by Peter Carey is a satirical exploration of the big issues of our time and our recent history. There is the follow up to the bestselling The Rosie ProjectThe Rosie Effect by Graeme Simsion, short stories by Christos Tsiolkas, Merciless Gods, and J.M Coetzee’s Three Stories, a jewel-like novella by Michelle de Kretser, Springtime, to mention a few. And for everyone who hasn’t read it yet, there is the remarkable The Narrow Road to the Deep North by Richard Flanagan.

International fiction offers a wealth of books to choose from – from Colm Toibin’s Nora Webster and Marilynne Robinson’s Lila, to new offerings by Michel Faber (The Book of Strange New Things), Alexander McCall Smith’s latest in the Mma Ramotswe’s adventures The Handsome Man’s Deluxe Cafe and a re-imagining of Emma, Haruki Murakami’s The Strange Library, and short story collections by Hilary Mantel and Margaret Atwood.

I am also looking forward to reading Mr Mac and Me by Esther Freud, Miss Carter’s War by Sheila Hancock and First Impression by Charlie Lovett, which as the title suggests promises to delight all Austen fans.

As usual non-fiction covers a variety of subjects and genres – from biographies on the lives of politicians (My Story by Julia Gillard and The Menzies Era by John Howard) and artists (Bill: The Life of William Dobell by Scott Bevan and John Olsen by Darleen Bungey), remarkable true life stories (Walking Free by Dr Munjed Al Muderis and A Bone of Fact by the creator of Mona in Hobart, David Walsh) to TV and sports personality books.

Once Upon an AlphabetA stand out for me is What Days are For by Robert Dessaix – a small but profound book on what makes a meaningful life.

There are also beautiful illustrated books on offer – from gorgeously produced cookbooks (my pick is A Food Lover’s Pilgrimage to France by Dee Nolan) to books on art, gardening and interior design – a must-have is Absolutely Beautiful Things by Anna Spiros.

And of course, for children there is plenty of fantastic picture books – my favourites are Once Upon an Alphabet by Oliver Jeffers, In My Heart: A Book of Feelings by Jo Witek, illustrated by Christine Roussey and a gorgeous edition of The Twelve Days of Christmas by Alison Jay. Withering-by-Sea by Judith Rossell is my pick in junior fiction and Laurinda by Alice Pung is my choice for teen readers.

What is your secret reading pleasure?

I love historical fiction – from literary masterpieces such as Hilary Mantel’s Wolf Hall, to the genre-busting A Game of Thrones series by George R.R. Martin (which strictly speaking are fantasy books of course), to historical sagas. I’ve been reading one particular series – The Morland Dynasty books by Cynthia Harold-Eagles since the late 1990’s. It follows the life of an English aristocratic family from the Middle Ages until recent days. I’m looking forward to reading the latest volume #35 over the summer holidays.

I also love reading poetry.

… And did I mention, Jane Austen – there is always a different edition of Pride and Prejudice to re-read.

Thanks very much for speaking with us, Galina.Bill

You are very welcome. Thanks for the opportunity!

 

Let’s hear if for the boys! – Chrissy Classics you’ve Read with your Kids

Grinch ChristmasAs we romp ever closer to that special night of the year, don’t forget to take a moment or two to sit with someone small and share some magic. You never know, it may extend into a lifetime of golden memories.

Nick EarlsToday’s classics you’ve read with your kids starts out with multi-talented SE QLD writer, Nick Earls and despite his difficulty connecting with frost-bite and using the oven in 30 C degree plus weather to roast a traditional meal for three days, I believe is definitely on the right track with these all time favourites.

Nick Earls’ sugar plum delights…

Stick ManOkay, Christmas. I have to admit it doesn’t take up a huge part of our library. Maybe I’m more of a Grinch than I realised. Books are big in our house – my son is five – and a dinosaur Christmas book could really get some traction. In lieu of that, I think we’re looking at Polar Express  by Chris Van Allsburg and Stick Man by Julia Donaldson and Axel Scheffer. Perhaps Christmas books aren’t a big feature for us because we don’t connect with the religious side of it, or all the snow and cold-climate traditions?

Pat FlynnNext up, popular kids’ author, mad keen surfer and more than adequate tennis player, Pat Flynn shows us that we need look no further than our own glorious coastline for hilarious and meaningful Christmas inspiration, Aussie-style!

Pat Flynn’s Aussie flavoured Christmas Classics…

The other day my four-year old looked up at me with big, solemn eyes. ‘Dad, is it “Santa” or “Father Christmas?”’

‘Umm, I think you can use both.’

‘Okay.’ She thought for a bit. ‘Do you think Santa and Father Christmas will bring me a pony?’

It’s that time of year again, and what would Christmas be without stories of snow and reindeer during sweltering nights? Fortunately, there are some Aussie Christmas books to reflect our experiences down under, and these tend to be the ones I read to my own children. Here are some favourites.

 

12 Days of Aussie Christmas The 12 Days of Aussie Christmas by Colin Buchanan and Glen Singleton.

With half a dozen snags, five rusty utes and four footy fans, what’s not to love? Comes with a great song. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=C_4IlcGyosw

  The Down Under 12 Days of Christmas by Michael Salmon

There is always plenty of detail in a Michael Salmon boDown under 12 days Christmasok to help enjoy a second or third reading.

 An Aussie Day Before Christmas Kilmeny Niland

and

An Aussie Night before Christmas An Aussie Night Before Christmas Yvonne Morrison and Kilmeny Niland

Any books that link Christmas with fairy bread and lamingtons are all right with me. Frivolous and funny.

Applesauce and the Christmas Miracle Glenda Millard and Stephen Michael King.

Beautifully written and illustrated, this book reminds us that while we’re often battling nature at Christmas time, we’re at our best when we help each other through the tough times.

 856-20141023120845-Cover_Mr-Darcy-and-the-Christmas-Pudding_R Mr Darcy and the Christmas Pudding by Alex Field and Peter Carnavas.

Peter Carnavas is my favourite illustrator (mine too Pat, mine too) and this Mr Darcy Christmas book sees him having a quaking good time drawing Mr Darcy the duck, Lizzy Duck and her sisters.

Well that should keep you well and truly satisfied this Festive Season. As I continue to crank up the silly season spirit in readiness for celebration and cheer-sharing, I want to say to every body who’s ever visited and read these posts, who’s ever ended up trekking down one of the many wonderful stories for kids I’ve tried to share with you over the past year – Thanks! Wishing you all a very very Merry Christmas! Dimity

Santa reading

 

 

Mortal Heart (Book 3 of the Assassin Nuns)

Mortal HeartBook Three of the His Fair Assassins series both aided and abetted my desire to take refuge from my overwhelming work and study load and alleviated and exacerbated my anxiety around ever successfully wrestling those work and study things into line.

But I’m done reading the gripping historical fiction series now, I think, for there are no more books currently available. Surely I can now return to my deadlines with a clear head and laser-like focus. Just as soon as I’ve penned my thoughts about the book in this here blog…

As I predicted/expected it would, Mortal Heart pivots point of view to the third novitiate, Annith. She’s the one who has, much to her frustration and to others’ confusion, never been sent out on assignment despite her incredible mastery of the assassining skills.

Unlike the other novitiates, Annith doesn’t know her birth story, something that pains and aggravates her. She feels empty and wasted and suffocated, especially as she’s told she is to become the convent’s new seeress, a position that will see her forever contained, Rapunzel-like, in the castle. Except less glamorously and without any hope of being rescued.

So she hatches a plan to seize and create her own future, starting with breaking out of the convent. Which is where the adventures and finding the answers to her gnawing, life-long questions really begin.

As with the two previous books, the details Robin LaFevers weaves into Mortal Heart make it inherently rich and interesting. For example, one of the novitiates offers her shoes up in their yearly winter-time sacrifice to Mortain, the god of death they worship. It’s an act that would be more selfless if the other novitiates were not all too aware just how much the novitiate in question hates to wear shoes.

LaFever’s witty dialogue is also bang on and made me marvel at how she continues to come up with this stuff. Also, whether it comes freely or is something she has to work at. (I suspect the former, which both impresses and depresses me.)

‘Don’t you need to sleep?’ Annith at one stage asks a kind of guard. ‘I was sleeping. Until you woke me. And if you’ll stop talking, I will sleep some more.’

Another exchange: ‘What brings Mortain’s own out of her mighty palace?’ is delivered teasingly. ‘I find I miss the smell of wood smoke and grew tired of eating off plates’ is the witty retort.

Yes PleaseYet another: ‘My lord! I am sorry. I did not see you. Normally, you are lurking in the corners or skulking in the shadows, not standing in plain sight.’ His mouth quirks slightly. ‘I never skulk, and lurk only sometimes.’ This is revisited later when he tells her: ‘Quit lurking in the shadows. That is my role, not yours.’

Of course, all this repartee is interspersed with moments so unexpectedly tender they make your throat tighten. This pulling together of these disparate emotion-tugging threads is what makes the books so addictive.

For instance, the deftness with which LaFevers writes scenes around a young, bedridden princess are, though involving the least assassin action, so insightful and heart-of-the-matter true they are some of my favourites. Better yet, in this book Annith’s storylines intersect with Ismae’s and Sybella’s, so we get to more fully enjoy following all three.

Maddeningly, I can’t entirely tell if LaFevers plans to continue the series beyond his third book. The ending is both satisfactorily resolved so characters could be laid to rest, but not so much that they couldn’t be resurrected and sent on new adventures should we or LaFevers’ publisher demand it.

What I do know is that I can no longer stave off my other study and work and must now dig into it bookless and slightly feverish with panic. Unless I read Amy Poehler’s Yes Please, which has just arrived and which must surely hold some answers to life I need to know before attempting to surmount my deadlines …

Mission Accomplished! Renee Price Launches ‘Digby’s Moon Mission’

New and local indie author, Renee Price, has recently released the growingly popular Digby’s Moon Mission, just in time for Christmas. Fostering children’s natural curiosity and their young imaginations are key elements to creating a successful picture book, and ones that Renee elicits in her picture book.

Bza6SorCYAAMLHqDigby Fixit is a curious boy with a keen interest in a ‘banana-thin’ moon. With his dishevelled appearance and abundance of energy, Digby enlists the help of his friends; creating havoc in his poor mum’s kitchen, to embark on a mission to solve the mystery of the slivered moon. It takes a whole week to concoct the clever plan with a delicious array of gourmet meals, which most surprisingly, are catapulted into the vast atmosphere that is space.
Day after night, Digby measures the moon’s illumination, from starving to full to exploding, until it is a perfectly plump ball bursting with light. But it is also bursting with food! How will the moon react?  

Renee Price’s text delightfully integrates a mix of fun, age-appropriate vocabulary and dialogue with whimsical rhyming prose. Illustrations by Anil Tortop are colourful, humorous and expressive; perfectly suiting the action and wit in the storyline. The smoothness and softness of the drawings and colour palette are also a fine fit with the lush feel of the pages. Digby’s Moon Mission is a ‘super-duper’, charming and imaginative story; exploring teamwork, diversity and plenty of teachable concepts. Children from two years old will enjoy this adventure all the way to the moon and back again, and again, and again!  

renee price head shotI’m excited to talk to Renee Price about her journey to publishing her new book.  

Congratulations on the release of your first picture book, Digby’s Moon Mission!
Thank you, Romi! Wow. “The release of your first picture book.” I think it’s still sinking in! J  

Where did you get your inspiration for this story?
My eldest child. He is always enlightening me with his take on the world. One night, we were looking up at the sky and he noticed that the moon was only a “little” moon. We talked about why the moon may appear this way, and his theories had me fascinated. So, I wrote them down and turned them into a book. I have a long list of notes taken from our wonderful conversations.  

Digby’s Moon Mission contains a beautiful mixture of whimsical phrasing and rollicking rhyme. Is this your preferred style of writing?
Well, it certainly is now after hearing you describe it like that. Thank you! I originally wrote the entire story in rhyme. (I’m a huge fan of Dr Seuss and Julia Donaldson). Although the story worked and the characters and themes were great, the rhyme and rhythm wasn’t (kind of ironic, being a musician!). With the help of my awesome editor, it was re-worked to contain both prose and rhyme. I didn’t want to lose the rhyme element completely, so we structured the story in a way that it felt like it has stylistic sections – like verses and a chorus, perhaps!    

What are the main teaching elements and / or message you would like your readers to gain from reading Digby’s Moon Mission?
I’d like readers to be able to take a variety of messages and themes away with them after reading the story. The importance of working together, diversity, and nurturing one’s imagination are big ones for me. Then there’s the food and science (phases of the moon) elements, the days of the week, plus the introduction of rhyming words.  

What was your favourite part of the story to create?
The ending. I’m such a kid at heart, and humour is how I roll so yes, definitely the ending.  

digby-18-19 The illustrations by Anil Tortop are so humorous, and just adorable. How did you find working with Anil? How much input did you have in the design process?
Anil is brilliant! She is also kind, witty, open-minded and incredibly fun to work with. I remember opening the file of her first sketches and crying because she nailed every single illustration. It’s like she’d stepped into my mind and made detailed notes of how I’d envisaged the story to be shown in picture. I had a lot of input into the design process, but I didn’t really need to ‘input’ much. Anil and Ozan (book designer – Tadaa Book) are both so creative, clever and professional, that most of the time, I was just giving the “A-OK!”  

You funded the publication of this book yourself through a crowdfunding campaign. How did you find organising this process and gaining all the support? What were the biggest challenges?
Crowdfunding was such an amazing experience. It was a creation in itself and I enjoyed every part of the process from uploading my campaign video and profile, to promoting my project far and wide. I was (still am!) completely blown away with the support I received. Everyone really rallied for Digby and I am endlessly grateful to everyone that showed their support. The biggest challenge would definitely be marketing the campaign. Not only promoting it, but how it is promoted. I always ensured positivity in my approach and never wanted to come across ‘over-bearing’ or that I was pestering people for pledges (although it felt like it at times!)  

You’ve recently celebrated your first book launch! What did you have planned for your supporters?
I did! It was a wonderful day. The launch was held as part of a local children’s/family market here, in Newcastle, so there were lots of lovely families stopping by to say hello and learn more about Digby. I had my stall set up with a kids’ activity station where children made Digby placemats, there were two book readings throughout the day and signings too, and I held a raffle for book purchasers where the prize was a gorgeous framed illustration from Digby’s Moon Mission, signed by Anil.  

How have you found people’s responses to Digby’s Moon Mission so far? Have you had any funny or memorable reactions from children (or adults)?
The response has been incredible! It is extremely humbling to hear that children are requesting Digby to be read over and over (sorry parents!). I’ve had three mothers tell me their children can recite the story from memory (one young boy ‘read’ the entire story to his grandmother at a family dinner!) Parents have told me that they love the ‘unexpected’ plot and the best physical reaction I’ve seen from children (and adults) is the final page of the book… it gets lots of giggles. I won’t spoil the ending though!  

Have you always wanted to be a children’s picture book author? What do you love about writing stories for children?
I’ve always wanted to write, but the desire to write for children came about when my youngest brother was born. I’m the eldest of five, so when he entered the world, I was in my final year of school and through my involvement with him, the desire to create, educate and foster children’s development grew. After I enrolled at uni to study early childhood teaching, I began writing stories and songs for children with the hope of one day, being a published author (or the next Justine Clarke!). Since becoming a parent, my writing has become my joy and motivator because I’m writing for them. I love that there are no limits to story-writing. Take an idea, and let it soar. Be the child!  

digby-cover01What’s in store for ‘Digby’ fans in 2015? What can we see from author, Renee Price, in the near future?
I have so many plans. Let’s hope some of them shine through! I’m working on the sequel to Digby’s Moon Mission, which is exciting! I have a couple of other non-Digby stories in the works, and I have written a Digby Fixit theme song so, I’ll try and find somewhere for that to fit… TV series, perhaps?  

Besides celebrating your new book, do you have plans for the holiday season?
Yes, I do. I plan for family time, and loads of it!  

Thank you so much for answering my questions for Boomerang Books, Renee! I hope you and your family have a very special Christmas, and Congratulations again!
It is my absolute pleasure. Thank you, Romi! Many happy returns to you and yours, too!

Digby’s Moon Mission is published with Renee’s brand name, Create It Kids, and can be found at:
Website: www.createitkids.com.au
Facebook: www.facebook.com/DigbyFixit 
Email: [email protected]  

Review and interview by Romi Sharp
www.romisharp.wordpress.com
www.facebook.com/mylittlestorycorner
www.twitter.com/mylilstorycrner

Qld Literary Awards vs Prime Minister’s Literary Awards

Coal CreekThe winners of the Qld Literary Awards and the PM Literary Awards are being announced on the same evening – Monday 8th December. You can follow the PM announcements live at ‪#PMLitAwards  or tune into [email protected]_ch648  at 7:15pm ‪http://on.fb.me/1pPELkt .

It is fantastic that both these awards exist. They include outstanding Australian books and their shortlists promote these titles as well as our valuable book industry. Their prize money is very different, with the PM winners receiving $80,000 each and the shortlisted authors receiving $5,000 – the amount the winners of the QLA receive.

These two awards also have some shortlisted books in common (keep in mind that the awards have different eligible voting periods, causing some books to be shortlisted in different years).

The books shortlisted in both awards are:

Fiction

The Narrow Road to the Deep North, Richard Flanagan (Vintage Australia)

Coal Creek, Alex Miller (Allen & Unwin)

Children’s Fiction ROS

Rules of Summer, Shaun Tan (Hachette)

 

Young Adult Fiction

The Incredible Here and Now, Felicity Castagna (Giramondo)

History

Broken Nation: Australians in the Great War, Joan Beaumont (Allen & Unwin)

The Forgotten Rebels of Eureka, Clare Wright (Text Publishing)

There are no overlaps in the non-fiction and poetry categories, with strong, diverse contenders in both.

The Qld Literary Awards has some extra categories:

University of Southern Queensland Australian Short Story Collection – Steele Rudd Award

Letters to George Clooney, Debra Adelaide (Pan Macmillan Australia)

The Promise, Tony Birch (UQP)

An Elegant Young Man, Luke Carman (Giramondo Publishing)

Only the Animals, Ceridwen Dovey (Penguin Australia)

Holiday in Cambodia, Laura Jean McKay (Black Inc. Books)

Letter to George Clooney

Unpublished Indigenous Writer – David Unaipon Award

There is no shortlist for this category; the winner of the award will be announced at the Awards Ceremony on Monday 8 December.

Emerging Queensland Writer – Manuscript Award

3 for a Wedding, Julie Kearney

We Come From Saltwater People, Cathy McLennan

Open Cut, Leanne Nolan

And the People’s Choice Awards …

As a judge of the Griffith University Children’s Book Award, I would like to particularly mention our shortlist

Big Red KangarooRefuge, Jackie French (Harper Collins Publishers)

The Ratcatcher’s Daughter, Pamela Rushby (Harper Collins Publishers)

Nature Storybooks: The Big Red Kangaroo, Claire Saxby and Graham Byrne (Walker Books Australia)

Rules of Summer, Shaun Tan (Hachette Australia)

Smooch and Rose, Samantha Wheeler (UQP)

As it turned out, our top books are a combination of novels and illustrated works; from Qld, national, established and emerging creators; and include a non-fiction book, The Big Red Kangaroo, which is also a work of art.

The YA judges have also produced an excellent list

Griffith University Young Adult Book Award

Zac & Mia, A.J Betts (Text Publishing)

The Incredible Here and Now, Felicity Castagna (Giramondo Publishing)

The Accident, Kate Hendrick (Text Publishing)

Tigerfish, David Metzenthen (Penguin Australia)

The Cracks in the Kingdom, Jaclyn Moriarty (Pan Macmillan Australia)

The 2014 Prime Minister’s Literary Awards shortlists in full are at http://arts.gov.au/shortlists

And I’ve previously written more about the PM awards at http://blog.boomerangbooks.com.au/more-about-the-2014-prime-ministers-literary-awards/2014/10

Staff from the State Library of Queensland (also the venue hub of the BWF)  have taken over the administration of the QLA awards for the first time this year and have done a brilliant job. The awards had been coordinated by an extraordinary committee of volunteers for the past few years since the Qld Premier’s Literary Awards were axed by Campbell Newman’s government. The SLQ has also sponsored the poetry award and some Qld Universities such as the University of Queensland, Griffith University and the University of Southern Queensland, have also stepped in to sponsor awards. Enormous thanks to them all.

Congratulations to all of the shortlisted authors and to the winners of both these awards. We will know the outcome soon!

Incredible Here and Now

Dark Triumph (AKA Book 2 of the Assassin Nuns)

Dark TriumphThe only upside to sustaining significant damage in the frankenstorm that swept Brisbane last week was that two books I was desperately waiting for arrived on the Friday, a day written off by power outages and clean-ups. Unable to face the damage to my apartment from 150 roof tiles being wrecked, and that now will see every single ceiling and every single wall require repainting, I retreated to bed for a bit.

I took with me Book 2 in the His Fair Assassin series, which I prefer to refer to as the ‘assassin nun books’. It was just the salve I needed before getting up to commence the clean-up.

Book 2, Dark Triumph, switches protagonist and focus, positioning Sybella at the fore. She had arrived at the convent under mysterious circumstances in Book 1, then disappeared just as mysteriously. She seemed insane, literally, and it was Ismae’s kindness and reasoning that seemed the only things that convinced her to stay to complete her initial training. She was then sent out on assignments—plural—while Ismae and Annith awaited their first ones.

We don’t know a lot about Sybella, either from Grave Mercy or for most of Dark Triumph. What we do know is that she’s seen and done more than Ismae and Annith, the two other novitiates the books feature and to whom she’s grown close. She’s worldlier, but also far more damaged.

‘If only they had taught me how to watch innocents die as well as they taught me how to kill, I would be far better prepared for this nightmare into which I’ve been thrust’ she rues on page one. We don’t know where she is. Only that things are dire.

It turns out she’s in the evil D’Albret’s company, with the book picking up at, and switching perspectives on, the circumstances around Sybella warning Ismae and co. about D’Albret’s ambush (one of the major plot moments in Book 1). It’s a fantastic pivot that throws us right into the action and sends questions about how and why and who she is and where it her actions will lead zinging around our brains.

Without giving too much away, including some integral plot twists, Dark Triumph continues Robin Lafevers’ strong historically based storytelling and was just the salve I needed.

Mortal HeartFor example, the banter is, again, great. ‘How is it you are still alive?’ Sybella wonders of a scarred, injured man she needs to try to save early in the tale. ‘I am nearly impossible to kill,’ he tells her, to which she replies: ‘That is good to know. Now I need not worry quite so much while I tend to your wounds.’

Shortly after: ‘You never said how you know so much about treating injuries,’ he says. She looks up at him, annoyed. ‘Why have you not yet passed out from the pain?’

Another time he—or rather, his horse under his instruction—steps on and snaps a tree branch to give their location away so they may be ‘forced’ to come to the aid of farmers being bailed up. It’s an action and storyline tangent that’s endearing and impressive and comedic all in one.

I’m cracking Book 3’s spine now, almost tingly with gratitude that it’s just been released and that I don’t have to wait years to hear the next instalment of this tale. Presumably it again switches protagonists, with Annith the obvious choice. We’ll surely find out why she of the three hasn’t yet been sent out on assignment.

I wrote in my previous blog about Grave Mercy that I wasn’t sure whether this was a trilogy or a series. I’ll let you know as soon as I get to the end of Mortal Heart. Either way, I know I’m going to be unhappy. If it’s a trilogy, it’ll mean it’s the end of the road. If it’s a series, I’ll be waiting a long, long time for Book 4…

Christmas for Literature Lovers

AmnesiaThere are so many great books published each year. Here are my favourite 2014 literary novels. They’re the best I’ve read, with the exception of The Book of Strange New Things by Michel Faber – which I’ll write about soon. You will have other selections (and we’d love to hear them) but these are my Christmas picks.

(I’ve mentioned some picture books and novels for children in previous posts

http://blog.boomerangbooks.com.au/christmas-collectibles/2014/11;

http://blog.boomerangbooks.com.au/gothic-tales-for-christmas/2014/11)

Peter Carey is in scintillating form with Amnesia (Hamish Hamilton/Penguin). Amnesia breaks into brilliant new directions, ingenious and daring like Carey’s exceptional, My Life as a FakeJournalist Felix Moore is writing a book about Gaby Baillieux, who graduated from hacking to cyber-activism and possible terrorism against America. Carey takes us between Melbourne, Sydney, the Hawkesbury River and the 1942 Battle of Brisbane – where Australians fought the Americans in the streets.  His knowledge and insight penetrates and interprets recent Australian history around the White Australia Policy, Pine Gap, politicians Jim Cairns and Gough Whitlam and The Dismissal, as well as America’s ‘murder’ of Australian democracy. Carey crafts this into a fascinating work and even throws in asides about steampunk and artist Sidney Nolan.

The Bone Clocks by David Mitchell (Sceptre) is structured in the adventurous style that Mitchell used in Cloud Atlas, a roam Bone Clocksthrough a wide period of time, including into the future. The fantastical elements are seeded brilliantly throughout the early chapters of The Bone Clocks. The character of Holly Sykes links the parts, although they may not be told in her voice and she is quite a peripheral character in some sections. There are some Australian characters and some parts are set here: Rottnest Light is compared with the reappearing hill in Through the Looking Glass, for example.

One of my favourite sections profiles the fading writer, Crispin Hershey, a famous and respected literary writer, whose world is imploding because his writing quality and output has dropped. He takes revenge on a critic who pans his latest book with dire results. In one scene someone tells him about his plan to set Richard Flanagan’s The Narrow Road to the Deep North to music. Holly is feted as an author in this part of the book.

I love novels about writers.

Blazing WorldI also love novels about art and The Blazing World by Siri Hustvedt (Sceptre) is the best I’ve read this year. Under-recognised artist, New Yorker, Harriet Burden decides to test whether art created by males is valued more highly than art by women so she undertakes an audacious experiment. Over time, she collaborates with three male artists but the resulting works are shown in the males’ names. Recognition seems to be far greater for these works than for her own, even though her artistic stamp is visible. The characterisation, ideas about identity and descriptions of the artworks are phenomenal.

Other ‘types’ of novels that I love are about Japan. David Mitchell wrote a stunner several years ago, The Thousand Autumns of Jacob De Zoet and I reviewed Mark Henshaw’s  2014 The Snow Kimono (Text) here http://blog.boomerangbooks.com.au/the-snow-kimono/2014/09

Snow Kimono

I was a little ambivalent about reading The Children Act by Ian McEwan (Jonathan Cape) because the marketing and reviews rightly focused on the plot of High Court judge Fiona Maye’s case about ‘almost-man’ (Adam is almost eighteen) from a Jehovah’s Witness background who refuses a blood transfusion to stabilise his rare leukaemia. This certainly is the hub of the novel and McEwan skilfully brings it to life without sentiment but the novel’s elegant writing and insight into Fiona’s life is the exquisite packaging around this important issue, which makes it a fine literary work. It also revolves around music – the other type of novel I love.

Children Act

Michael’s Merry Christmas List

Christmas is almost here and like all book nerds, now is the time to think about the books to buy and give to our loved ones. I secretly try to find books that will turn my friends and family into bibliophiles, it is all about matching the right book with the right person. Here are some suggestions that I am thinking about getting for my loved ones that might help others with books that you might not have thought of before.

The Book with no PicturesThe Book With No Pictures by B.J. Novak

Nothing will bring more pleasure than giving a friend with small kids a book with ridiculous words. The kids will enjoy making their mother or father act a little childish. The premise of this book is great; it is mixed with humour as well as teaching children about the joys of reading. B.J. Novak is best known for his role as Ryan Howard on The Office but he is certainly a writer to watch.

yes pleaseYes Please by Amy Poehler

Amy Poehler is a comedian and improv actor currently playing Lesley Knope on the hit sitcom Parks and Recreation. This is fun and quirky collection of essays about Amy Poehler’s life and passions. Yes Please follows in the same footsteps as fellow SNL actor Tina Fey, whose memoir Bossypants, took the literary world by storm a few years ago. If you are a fan of Parks and Recreation I would also recommend Paddle Your Own Canoe: One Man’s Fundamentals for Delicious Living by Nick Offerman (Ron Swanson). Yes Please also makes a great audiobook.

Choose Your Own AutobiographyChoose Your Own Autobiography by Neil Patrick Harris

Neil Patrick Harris played Barney Stinson in How I Met Your Mother, he is a Tony award winner and now he has released a memoir with a unique perspective. Mixing the nostalgia of the old Choose You Own Adventure novels with a memoir about pop culture is sure to be a winner for anyone lucky enough to receive this as a gift. Neil Patrick Harris is an incredibly gifted performer who recently transitioned to the big screen with a role in Gone Girl.

station 11Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel

Station Eleven has received plenty of hype lately; it is a dark and stylistic post-apocalyptic novel. The book tells the story of a group of thespians who travel around America performing Shakespeare. While the premise of the book sounds a little boring, this book has been doing really well with critics and book lovers around the world. I think it is one of the best post-apocalyptic novels I have read in a long time. For fans of books like The Road by Cormac McCarthy and The Passage by Justin Cronin.

The Secret History of Wonder WomanThe Secret History of Wonder Woman by Jill Lepore

I am sure everyone knows someone that is a fan of comic books and let’s face it, Wonder Woman is always going to be one of the greatest superheroes. This book tells the history of not just this iconic superhero but also her creator, William Moulton Marston. This book follows not just the creation of Wonder Woman in 1941 but also the struggle for women’s rights throughout the 20th century. A fascinating book of pop-culture and feminism; this book has plenty to offer.

Merciless GodsMerciless Gods by Christos Tsiolkas

This is a risky pick and is definitely not for everyone but a collection of short stories from the Australian author of The Slap and Barracuda can make for a great present. This is a collection that deals with Love, sex, death, family, friendship, betrayal, tenderness, sacrifice and revelation so you will need to be very selective about who you give this book to. However Tsiolkas is a great author that is always ready to challenge his readers and that is something I respect.

Foxglove SummerFoxglove Summer by Ben Aaronovitch

If you know people that love fantasy novels then Ben Aaronovitch might be the perfect choose for them. Be warned this is book five in the Peter Grant series but they work well as stand-alone novels too. Peter Grant is a London cop that is part of a small task force that deals with supernatural crimes. Urban fantasy is a great genre that normally mixes fantasy and crime into an urban setting. Think The Dresden Files (or the TV show Supernatural) with a sense of humour. These books are quirky, a little nerdy, but always a lot of fun.

What We See When We ReadWhat We See When We Read by Peter Mendelsund

This book is a must for all book lovers; it explores the phenomenology of reading itself. From the visual to the images our mind paints while reading, What We See When We Read is just the perfect book to have on the bookshelf. It is a stunning piece of art and literary criticism and will leave all readers pondering the art of reading for a long time. Peter Mendelsund designs book covers and has spent a lot of time working out the philosophy and psychology behind reading. I highly recommend this book.

All That Is Solid Melts into Air by Darragh McKeon

As book lovers we always look for ways to put our favourite books into the hands of everyone. All That Is Solid Melts into Air is my favourite for 2014 and if you are a fan of A Constellation of Vital Phenomena by Anthony Marra, then go out and get this book. This novel follows a group of people as they try to live their lives in the Soviet Union, but then the Chernobyl nuclear disaster happens and everything changes. This is a beautiful and haunting novel that deals with the social and political issues of the cold war era.

As you can see, for the most part I have picked books that will easily bridge the gap between TV and movies to books. Most of my friends and family are pop-culture nerds and view TV as the ultimate source of entertainment. This is the main reason why I went for books that will help them transition (hopefully) into a love of reading. Happy Holidays everyone and let me know what books you plan to buy for your loved ones in the comments below.

Tell us your favourite book of 2014 and WIN!

97803565025642014 is drawing to a close and what another fantastic year of books and reading it has been. To celebrate we are giving away 8 copies of one of our favourite books of 2014; The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August by Claire North (you can read our review here). All you have to do is tell your favourite book of 2014.

To Win:

1) Like this Post on Facebook, Favourite on Twitter or +1 on Google+

2) Share this Post on Facebook, Retweet or share on Google+

3) Be an active member of Boomerang Books (sign up here and get a $5 credit)

4) Tell us your favourite book of 2014

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9780356504582And if you’ve already read The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August look out for her new novel, Touch, due out in March 2015.

My Top 5 Reads of 2014

What another outstanding year of great books. My book of the year was a real stand-out but there was a very close second. Sorting out the rest was nearly impossible. My biggest discovery was David Mitchell. I devoured all his books and loved them all and could have include all them in my top 10 but instead I just chose The Bone Clocks which just missed my Top 5.  So here it is my top 5 reads of 2014 (plus 5 more).

97808578642391. Redeployment by Phil Klay

Every story packs an emotional intensity not only rare in short stories but rare in longer fiction too. Imagine the emotional wallop of The Yellow Birds with the frank and brutal insight of Matterhorn distilled into a short story and you get close to the impact each of these stories makes on their own. Put together as a collection and you have something very special that will be read (and should be read) by many long into the future. Read more…

97804340227862. Fourth of July Creek by Smith Henderson

From the subject matter, to the structure, the characters and the language this is an astonishing debut. Smith Henderson manages to combine the raw intensity and emotion of Philipp Meyer with the haunting descriptions and beautiful language of Kevin Powers while delving into the dark shadows of society in a deeply personal and confrontingly honest way like Jenni Fagan. Read more…

 

97800919561343. The Martian by Andy Weir

This was of the funnest books I can remember reading in a long time. Gripping, funny and told in a totally original and authentic voice you can’t help but be hooked in by this part-Apollo 13, part-Castaway survival story. Read more…

 

4. The Girl With All The Gifts by M.R. Carey

9780356502847The book opens with 10-year-old Melanie. She is sitting in a cell waiting for the Sergeant who is going to strap her to a wheelchair and take her, under guard, to her classroom where she will learn about the world with the other children. Something has happen to the outside world and Melanie and her classmates might be humanity’s only hope. Read more…

 

5. The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August by Claire North

9780356502564This book draws immediate comparisons to Kate Atkinson’s Life After Life. But where Life After Life was about a character who kept reliving their life over and over without knowing they were doing so, this is about a character who keeps reliving their life over and over and remembers everything. And this difference changes everything. Read more…

Honourable mentions go to The Bone Clocks by David Mitchell (all his books a truly amazing and this really just missed my Top 5), We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves by Karen Joy Fowler (reminded me so much of one of all-time favourite novels Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides), The Magician’s Land by Lev Grossman (seriously this trilogy is Harry Potter for grown ups), Fives and Twenty-Fives by Michael Pitre (if it wasn’t for Redeployment this would have been Top 5 easily) and Fallout by Sadie Jones (a return to form for one of my favourite writers).

 

A Celebration of an Icon

A Christmas gift packed with retro style and vintage charm!

my-dream-kombiThe Kombi, the iconic Volkswagen van that first rolled off the production line on 12 Nov 1949, ceased production at the end of 2013. A van for the people, nearly everyone has a Kombi story: Peter Falconio vanished from one in the outback, in Men At Work’s Down Under, they travel in a ‘fried-out Kombi’ and generations of young Australians and New Zealanders have relied on Kombis to take them on surfing safaris and to travel meccas.

My Dream Kombi is celebration of this retro icon, with cool photos and fabulous stories of Kombi adventures past and present, as well as tales of stylish makeovers and re-purposing. From the Kombi your hippy parents set off for Byron Bay in back in the 1960s to contemporary refurbs and down ‘n’ dirty Ratties, this book is packed with retro Kombi charm from Australia, New Zealand and other Kombi hotspots.

Buy the Book here…

Christmas Classics You’ve Read to your Kids – Gabrielle Wang

Gabrielle WangNot everyone may have kids, but all of us unavoidably were kids, once. A fair chunk of my childhood centered around books; reading them and collecting them. Certain stories only ever experienced one reading over 30 years ago, but for reasons inexplicable, remain unforgettably potent and as vivid to me as if I’d read them yesterday. They may not be defined as classics but they remain with me, stuck on my classic-memories-bookshelf for all time and that makes them special. Romancing stories and treasuring them is a habit that started long before I had children of my own, and one, amongst many other multi-cultural traits, I share with shockingly talented children’s author, Gabrielle Wang. The Wish Bird

Today we invite Gabrielle to revisit her bookshelf memories as she unveils some of her ‘classic’ favourites. Perhaps you know some already. Visit Gabrielle’s tremendous selection of books here. There is something beautiful for every child in your life or child still in your heart. Picture books, early readers, YA; it’s cornucopia for the literary soul.

A moment with Gabrielle

I began collecting picture books in my early twenties well before my children were born. I was a graphic designer then and bought the books for their beautiful illustrations. I’m glad I did as many of the titles later became my children’s favourites.

Paddy Porks Holiday Shrewbettina’s Birthday and Paddy Pork’s Holiday by John S Goodall. These wordless picture books with their lovely old-fashioned illustrations were much loved by my daughter when she was learning to speak. They are perfect for that age. In fact they are perfect for any age.

IMG_3209 There’s a Dinosaur in the Park by Rodney Martin, illustrated by John Siow is a picture book about a boy with a big imagination. The illustrations are glorious and it’s a great read-aloud book with very simple text.

Harry the Dirty Dog Harry the Dirty Dog by Gene Zion, illustrated by Margaret Bloy Graham is a classic and one of my children’s all time favourites. Who can resist the loveable Harry series?

Pig Tale by Helen Oxenbury is a picture book written in verse about Bertha and Briggs who are two bored little pigs. One day they dig up treasure, leaving the peace of the countryside to head to the big city.

World Tales World Tales subtitled The Extraordinary Coincidence of Stories Told in All Times, in All Places is a book of 65 folk tales collected by Idries Shah from around the world. The collection shows how different cultures had remarkably similar folk stories. For example the Algonquin Native American Indian Cinderella story.

The Bunyip of Berkeley's Creek The Bunyip of Berkeley’s Creek by Jenny Wagner, illustrated by Ron Brooks is another timeless picture book. Ron Brooks is an illustrator who always surprises me with his art by pushing the boundaries. After each read my children would sing out, ‘What am I? What am I? What do I look like?’ And I would call back, ‘You look just like me.’

Because deep down we all do… Thanks Gabrielle!

Stay tuned for more Christmas Classics, from the boys next time.