Spaces

SpacesThere are some nights when it’s bitterly chilly, assignments are looking even less appealing than usual, and all you want to do is curl up with an inspiring book to dream about fabulous spaces in which you’d be completely inspired to write.

Clearly this is one of those chilly, assignment-avoiding nights.

Naturally I’ve gravitated towards Frankie’s two volumes of Spaces—two hefty, larger-than-A4-but-I-don’t-think-quite-A3 (I should know what that measurement is, but obviously don’t) books that double as coffee table centrepieces.

The books feature the illustrious spaces occupied by creative types. You know the kind of spaces styled by the effortlessly and successfully arty people we all aspire to be and the eclectic, gorgeous spaces we aspire work in while creating said art. Because clearly such great spaces attract visits from the elusive creative muse and subsequently help artists bring forth fully formed, polished, genius works of art.

Images lead these books, which are essentially part inspiration, part porn. The stories behind the pictures are interesting too, although it’s times like this flicking through the images magazine-like will suffice.

The featured spaces include those Chris and Kara of AHD Paper Co.—an art deco house that doubles as the space in which the couple creates incredible cards and wrapping paper through collaborations with artists.

The spaces include a house formerly owned and occupied by an artist’s grandmother now turned home and art space. This is a house that gives new meaning to collecting habits, with the walls covered and decorated with vintage crockery and paintings and cross stitch and more.

The spaces also include a house made of reclaimed materials that started off as a cubby for baker Lili’s daughter, but became a space for them both. Nestled on Lili’s parents’ property in improbably lush Tasmania, it’s given her opportunity and freedom to pursue her own interests while just next door to her close-knit family members who offer plenty of support.

There’s also the Daylesford cottagey space that offers the best of both worlds—it’s a home turned (and shared by) business.

All of which have convinced me that if I can set up the perfect workspace, my assignments will write themselves. I suspect this home makeover bent is the ultimate in procrastination—far, far worse than that ‘I just need to wash these dishes, do this load of washing, clean my room…’ that usually plagues me.

Still, inspiring stuff and a reminder that there are some very eclectically cute cottages, homes, cubbies, and workspaces around we’re now privy to peeking inside.

Review: Girl of Fire and Thorns by Rae Carson

10429092I am absolutely in love with Girl Of Fire And Thorns by Rae Carson. I’ve been gnawing at fantasies like a fiend lately and finally found this one which is a) unique, and b) feministic, and c) incredibly adorable and charming and heart warming. WELL. Apart from the moments when my heart was breaking. This author does NOT spare her characters.

It’s an incredible rich fantasy world, which was gorgeous to experience. My single complaint was that it was a bit hard to keep up with the multitude of countries and who-was-at-war-with-who. Seriously, the world is BIG. And I think it was Italian-inspired?! Whatever it was it wasn’t Britain so that twist was refreshing too.

But we have to talk about characters. Basically the protagonist: Elisa. If nothing else, read this book for the incredibleness that is Elisa. Her character development is marvellous. I’m reeling! I am! She starts as an unconfident child and develops into this clever queen. She also has an eating disorder, which you don’t often come across in epic-fantasy. Her struggles were so relatable and sensitively written. I really admired Elisa. She definitely goes down as one of the BEST characters I’ve ever read.

Other Characters Include:

  • Alejandro: Totally a weak sap head. I mean, who marries a girl and then proceeds to pretend you didn’t?!! WHAT IS WRONG WITH HIM.
  • Xemina: Freaky, but awesome. She killed a dude with a hairpin. Also a bodyguard/nurse.
  • Cosme: She was a pleasant surprise! I thought she was just going to be a snooty maid, but noooo she turned out incredibly multi-layered. I was rooting for Cosme!
  • Rosario: He’s the little 6-year-old prince and an absolute brat but yet adorable.
  • Hector: OH HECTOR. He didn’t have a massive role, but I think he would’ve been a good match with Elisa.
  • Humberto: He was a hesitant love interest, but more importantly part of the rebel army.

Basically I LOVED the incredible writing of these characters. (Although their names? Um, confusing much?!)

The writing? 9780575099159It’s wonderful. Maybe it’s on the wordy side and the beginning isn’t fast  (actually, the whole book isn’t astronomically fast), but Elisa has such a winning voice.

I was a little puzzled about Elisa’s “godstone”, though. It’s this magical stone in her stomach, put there by the gods. And while it made her uber special, it didn’t actually do much (it got hot and cold depending on when trouble was hear, but that’s about it) and I wished more about the godstone had been revealed. Maybe that comes in later books?

And whatever you do, MAKE SURE YOU READ THE AUTHOR’S NOTE! Oh wow. It’s definitely one of the highlights of the novel for me. It was about sexism in the workplace and what inspired the author to delve into eating disorders in her epic fantasy. She talked about her fears that her intentions with Elisa’s weight gain/loss could be misconstrued. It was a really honest and open note and I’m pretty sure this author has a heart of gold. Also, I’m very passionate about feminism and I loved that this book tackled it head on. Elisa learnt about confidence and self-image AND fought a war and got married off against her will and was immersed in a world of magic — the combination was poignant and fresh.

This is a book where I definitely need the sequel. ASAP.

 

PURCHASE THE BOOK HERE

Boomerang Book Bites: Girl At War by Sara Novic

Sara Novic’s writing is incredible and she completely shattered me a quarter of the way into the book. She also structures her story perfectly jumping backward and forward from the war in 1991 to ten years later and its lasting aftereffects. This is a coming-of-age story which happens far too early. It is about how history defines us and haunts us. It is about trying to make sense of an unexplainable conflict and how in war innocence is so easily lost.
http://www.boomerangbooks.com.au/Girl-At-War/Sara-Novic/book_9781408706558.htm
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Review: Paper Towns by John Green

paper-towns-john-greenWith the infamous John Green’s Paper Towns movie releasing so soon (July 16th! So close! Cue ecstatic excitement!), how about we take a small peek at the book?! I read The Fault in Our Stars first and fell completely in love with the way John Green mashes humour and angst together. Relatable? I think yes. And, pfft, you don’t even need to be a teen to enjoy his Young Adult books.

One of my favourite things about John Green’s books is how he always write about intelligent characters. One of my gargantuan pet peeves is when characters call each other “shallow”. Especially in highschool books. If the book is by the POV of the “nerd” or “freak” or whatnot, they always refer to the bullies and Queen Bee’s as “shallow”. PEOPLE ARE NEVER SHALLOW. No one has one defining characteristic! No one has a complete void in their skull!  ALL people are all complex humanoids with wants and wishes and secrets. Everyone in Paper Towns was refreshingly dimensional and that’s what I loved about it most of all. Let’s crush some stereotypes!

I did cast a slightly suspicious eye on Margo and Quentin, however. Don’t get me wrong, I loved their quirks and weirdness and eccentricities…buuut, I felt like I’d read them before. They felt like reprints of Alaska and Miles in Looking for Alaska. The recycling had my eyeball twitching just a little. But if this is your first John Green feast then that won’t worry you at all. Apart from this, though, as characters, Margo and Quentin (well, Q is how he’s known) were amazingly written! They felt so fantastically real, you know? Sure they get to run around having adventures and thinking huge thoughts and having mini existential crises, but they also have to get their homework done, and communicate (loose interpretation of the word) with their parents, and also hang around and chill. They do normal teen stuff. But don’t worry! It’s not boring, not even for a second, because it’s written so quirkily and interestingly.

PaperTowns2009_6AYes, I’m basically just raving about it’s goodness. And Paper Towns totally deserves it! I don’t think it’s Green’s strongest novel (what with the character recycling) but it’s about mysteries and discovering who you are. That is an incredible message and never loses it’s poignancy. Margo has disappeared and Q (with his unrequited crush on her) is off to solve this mystery on a roadtrip in a mini van with an unlikely gaggle of teens and a whole lot of snacks. They might hit a cow or two along the way. What’s an adventure without nearly dying, right? And the result is so not what you think it’ll be (which I find thrilling! Bring on finale surprises!). I couldn’t put it down! People kept calling me to do menial things like socialise and cook dinner, which was super frustrating. I just wanted to know where Margo was. Everyone leave me alone.

The universe is never sugar-coated in John Green’s books. You don’t get rainbow cake and pretzels. A massive relief, I say. I don’t want fluff! I want substance! Paper Towns definitely kept my attention and I’m super excited to see how it transfers to the screen. Also, by this point, I’m pretty sure John Green needs to be on your auto-buy list. Can he do no wrong with his incredible books?!

 

PURCHASE PAPER TOWNS HERE

Review: Girl At War by Sara Nović

9781408706558This book has been compared to two of my favourite novels of recent years; The Tiger’s Wife by Téa Obreht and A Constellation of Vital Phenomena by Anthony Marra, so I had to read it straight away.

Firstly the comparison is completely justified while at the same time telling a completely different kind of story to those two wonderful books. The book opens in 1991 in Zagreb. A city that was once part of Yugoslavia which is about to become the capital of Croatia as civil war erupts. Ana Jurić is ten years-old and the story is told through her eyes as the collapse of communism soon turns to a confusing and violent war.

Ana is like any ten year-old. She wants to play with her best friend Luka and the effects of the war are more intriguing than dangerous. The sandbags and other equipment are new areas to explore and play and the constant air raids are exciting. But when Ana’s baby sister gets sick the effects of the war and the new borders it has created become all too apparent. Ana has to grow up fast. Faster than she wants. Faster than anyone should have to.

Sara Nović’s writing is incredible and she completely shattered me a quarter of the way into the book. She also structures her story perfectly jumping backward and forward from the war in 1991 to ten years later and its lasting aftereffects. This is a coming-of-age story which happens far too early. It is about how history defines us and haunts us. It is about trying to make sense of an unexplainable conflict and how in war innocence is so easily lost.

Buy the book here…

Meet Kathryn Apel, author of On Track

Kathryn ApelMeet Kathryn Apel, author of On Track (UQP)

Thanks for talking to Boomerang Books, Kathryn. Where are you based?

I’m based in Queensland – most often in the Gladstone/Bundaberg Region.

What’s your background in books?

I haven’t always been a writer – but I’ve always been a reader!

As a teacher, books have always been an integral part of rich classroom units. Everything is linked to a book! This then carried over to my parenting – sharing that love of literature and literacy with my kids, and learning so much from their interpretations and engagement.

I thought the title of your new book, On Track, very clever. What does it refer to?On Track

Thank-you! I always think of the title as the ultimate short story. Ideally, it captures the reader’s attention, but also encapsulates the story in a nutshell.

A major theme of the story is the boys’ sporting pursuits, both on track and in the field. Both boys also struggle with self-worth and identity – as sibling rivalry clouds their perceptions of self. So they’re getting on track in pursuit of their sporting goals and in their interactions with each other.

How did you make brothers, Toby and Shaun’s voices distinct from each other?

Initially it helped to model their voices off kids I have known, who shared similar personalities. That way I got the right inflection of confidence/uncertainty. Before long, Toby and Shaun started to speak for themselves, because I know them so well. (Especially after 6 years of ‘writing’ (or not) the story.)

What sort of children would you like to see reading this book?

Because of the dual narratives – and the two very different perspectives – I think the story actually speaks to different people in different ways. And I like that – because it’s very much about empathy and understanding differences.

The verse novel structure also tends to reach two completely opposite ends of the reading spectrum. It engages/enables struggling readers, because the whitespace and alignment removes clutter from the read. But also extends/enriches able readers, because of the literary devices employed.

Of course, being a sporty book, I’m hoping that sporty kids will also enjoy the read!

Your adult characters are very supportive. How did you craft them?

I’ve been blessed by knowing some very beautiful people; who value kids, and invest time and heart into helping them achieve their best – at their individual levels. I hope that’s come through in the book. They’ve inspired many of the characters.

Sometimes I think, being a parent and a teacher, you encounter/experience both sides. That doesn’t mean you always agree with everything – but you have an insight into why some decisions (and mistakes) happen.

 Why have you used the verse novel form?

Bully on the Bus This is actually the first verse novel I started to write, after falling in love with the verse novel format. (Bully on the Bus just snuck in … and out … in the middle.)

To be honest, I actively set out to write a verse novel, to play with the form and see if I could do it. I chased down an idea that I thought would fit the format, and the story developed from there. I hadn’t realised the theme (training/sports) would grow to encompass so much (self-worth/sibling rivalry/acceptance) – or that the story would grow so long!

The beauty of verse novels is that, because they’re mostly written in first person, and because they’re almost distilled words and emotions, you step right into the characters’ shoes. Their heartaches become your tears, their insecurities become your introspections, and their achievements become your joy.

The first verse novel I read was an epiphany. The more I read them … the more I write them … the more I talk about them … the more I love them!

What else have you written?This is the Mud

What I’ve had published is;

a verse novel (Bully on the Bus).

a rhyming picture book (This is the Mud)

a chapter book (Fencing with Fear)

I’ve also written a squillion other picture books – and have two other verse novels that are works-in-progress.

All the best with your book and thanks very much, Kathryn.

Great questions, Joy. Thanks so much for inviting me onto the blog.

And here’s a link to the book trailer http://youtu.be/rkJsFSCT1Ec

Fencing with Fear

Musical Book Beats for Little Ones

Music and books have many benefits in common for a baby’s long-term development. Learning about patterns and sequencing, counting, memory, expressing language and emotions are all powerful advantages to being exposed to these experiences. And when combined, this makes for a most engaging, dynamic and instrumental union. Here we explore a few upbeat and rhythmic books for toddlers and preschoolers that are sure to have them bopping away to their little hearts’ delights.  

Fish jamFish Jam, Kylie Howarth (author, illus.), The Five Mile Press, 2015.  

Who doesn’t love a scit-scatting-dooba-diddling jazzy sea-minor fish? Unfortunately, all the creatures in the sea. Toot the fish beep-bops his way around the ocean, only to be shooshed by grumpy seals, lobsters, penguins and killer whales. He is just too noisy. But one day he comes across a most unexpected surprise that changes his solo singing days forever!
‘Fish Jam’ is such a fun way to explore music through the instrument of your voice. Author / illustrator, Kylie Howarth has produced a bubbly and entertaining story through her minimal text and vivacious cartoon-style pictures.
Preschoolers will be ‘o-fish-ally’ overjoyed to chant along with Toot for plenty of pipe sessions, no matter who’s listening!  

Children's+Book+Review,+B+is+for+BedtimeB is for Bedtime, Margaret Hamilton (author), Anna Pignataro (illus.), Little Hare Books, 2014.  

Here we have a beautiful lyrical lullaby that sings us through an alphabetical routine from awake time to catching zzz’s. A little girl and her puppy dog settle for bed with the help of their loving family. A Book read by dad and a ticking Clock on the wall, “Dd is my Dog, who’s not sleepy at all.” Gran gives a Hug and mum gives a Kiss. The Moon shines on her Nose. Eventually she is Quiet and as she goes to Sleep, she cuddles her Teddy Under the covers, Yawns and hushes until morning.
Anna Pignataro’s illustrations are as sweet and harmonious as the gentle tempo of the words. I love the fluidity of the watercolours and gouache and the patterns of the collage.
‘B is for Bedtime’ is perfectly paced to soothe young ones into a cosy slumber, to be enjoyed each and every night.
CBCA 2015 Early Childhood Notable Book.  

Baby BeatsBaby Beats, Karen Blair (author, illus.), Walker Books, 2014.  

Toddlers will love joining in to the rhythm and beat with this group of young children playing on their instruments. ‘Baby Beats’ immediately sets the musical tone, inviting the readers to make sound with their hands and feet. We explore beats and booms on the drums, bangs and clashes on the cymbals, tapping sticks and the chick, chick, chick of the shakers. All the strumming and singing eventually exhausts these tiny superstars as they lay down to rest.
Gorgeous, soft crayon and watercolour paintings set against white backgrounds effectively gives focus to the performances of the characters. The little details in the pictures like the funny actions of the cat, and the additional ‘home-made’ instruments also lend themselves to further enjoyment and ideas on creating your own music at home.
‘Baby Beats’, with its inclusive onomatopoeia, is a perfect book of sounds and rhythm and the introduction to a range of musical instruments.
CBCA 2015 Early Childhood Notable Book.  

51wdwNe+JBL._SX258_BO1,204,203,200_Chooky-doodle-doo, Jan Whiten (author), Sinéad Hanley (illus.), Walker Books, 2014.  

This one’s not musical as such, but is ideal as a preliminary to finger games and songs about numbers. ‘Chooky-doodle-doo’ is a whimsical counting story with some rhyming elements to keep little ones joining in all the way through. One chick finds what it thinks is a worm and gives it a good tug. Enlisting the help of another chooky chick, the pair huff and puff, struggling to get this worm free. The story continues with subsequent numbers of chookies pulling on a continually elongating worm. Five chicks and a rooster cannot shift the stubborn squirmer, and with a final flop and a chooky sprawl, they discover that the worm is not actually a worm afterall!
Adorable, funny and interactive. With colourful handcrafted and digital illustrations, young preschoolers will love the humour and playfulness of these cheeky chooks.
CBCA 2015 Early Childhood Notable Book.

DINO-MITE! Dinosaur picture books with bite

If dinosaurs had any inkling as to how popular they’d end up, I’m sure they would have stuck around longer to enjoy their fame and fortune. Here are a few more new titles to add to your prehistoric, dino-inspired picture book collection, some serious, some silly. All fun.

dino-daddy Dino-Daddy by Mark Sperring and Sam Lloyd is a gentle, non-taxing dino analogy highlighting the worth and value of dads. Dino-dad is sometimes over-worked, not ultra-vigilant, but always super caring and fun! Pre-schoolers will think it fun too. One to save for Father’s Day.

Bloomsbury May 2015

 I wanna by a Great Big Dinosaur (who doesn’t) by author illustrator, Heath McKenzie takes up where I wanna be a Pretty Princess left off. This time, there’s not a scrap of pink in sight, which is great news for McKenzie’s boy fan base and all those little girls who prefer scales, teeth, and claws to tiaras and tea parties.

I wanna be a great big dinosaur McKenzie follows a familiar formula however the perfect pouting princess tutor is replaced with with a meat-loving, liberal minded T-Rex who eventually succumbs to the selfless friendship of his little boy. Be sure to study the end pages, which reveal more of McKenzie’s easy to digest humour.

Scholastic Press May 2015

Ten Tricky DinosaursCounting picture books never lose their flavour. However, keeping them bright and engaging requires imagination, a good dash of silliness, and a sharp eye for detail. Amanda Tarlau and Karen Mounsey-Smith display all these in Ten Tricky Dinosaurs. Simple, kid friendly statements set up each numerical situation providing pre-schoolers with pages of visual exploration and rapture. It’s the illustrative details and visual challenges that I enjoy most about these books; ‘spot the ladybugs’ for instance. Makes you wonder if this really was how the countdown of the dinos’ great demise occurred.

Koala Books May 2015

Jurassic FartsPerhaps my favourite of the pickings today is Jurassic Farts A spotter’s guide. (Please, no judgement) For the dinosaur enthusiast, this is the penultimate, non-fiction (and I use that term loosely) guide book to complete their paleontological board book collection.

P. U. Rippley, the ‘author’ of this unique and oddly informative text, invites young palentologists on a tour of the Ordovician, Jurassic and Cretaceous periods, stopping along the way to spend time with ten intriguing prehistoric reptiles and sea creatures. Some are instantly familiar, others require a second look. However, one thing is for sure, not one of us would be able to recognise these creatures from their farts…until now.

Jurassic Farts illo spreadThanks to Rippley’s short and sassy explanations and Evan Palmer’s wind assisted illustrations PLUS an easy to use, number referenced audio recording of each dinosaur discussed, now everyone can appreciate the deadly long-range stink of the Mamenchisaurus.

Sublime, silly slapstick humour with enough fact and fart sounds to hold the interest of 3 – 6 year-olds and perhaps their fathers for hours.

And the best part? You can change the batteries in the sound device. Unlike the common bottom burp, this promises to be a gift that lingers on and on and on…

Scholastic Australia May 2015

Review: Preparation For The Next Life by Atticus Lish

9781780747774This is one of those books that immediately after you start reading you know you are in the hands of a wonderful writer. Atticus Lish has delivered a delicately savage critique on post-9/11 America and the so-called American Dream in a beautiful love story of an illegal immigrant and an American soldier recently returned from Iraq.

Zou Lei is a Chinese-Muslim who has escaped from northwest China and the wars in neighbouring Afghanistan. Alone, with barely any possessions or clothes Zou Lei is quickly set to work for long hours and small pay but is ostracized within the Chinese migrant community because of her Uighur-Chinese background. Despite this she embraces the small freedoms she now has and is determined to carve out a new life for herself despite the hardships.

Skinner is an army veteran of three tours in Iraq. Recently discharged he arrives in New York looking for a good time. Looking to find ways to forget. Skinner was “stop lost” as a soldier. Administratively lost in the system and sent back for two more tours of Iraq. When he does finally leave the Army, America itself “stop losses” him. Damaged and scarred, mentally and physically, from his service Skinner is abandoned by the country he has just served to find his own way, find himself and try to survive in the country he has returned to. Lost, confused, alone and haunted by what he has experienced the portrayal of Skinner is one of the best I have read in terms of PTSD, its effects on the individual and its affects on those around them.

Skinner and Zou Lei find each other and their relationship is unsentimental. Theirs is not a love story of passion nor is it one of forgiveness. It is certainly one of circumstance but they endure more than their situation. Skinner and Zou Lei both find in each other a glimmer of hope for a future. That together they might be able to overcome the situation they each find themselves in. Together maybe they can survive. They have found each other so therefore they might no longer be lost. But they must not lose each other or they could lose what little they have left.

Atticus Lish’s writing is sharp, exact and deliberate carrying you through the lives of these two tragic figures. You are absorbed into Skinner’s and Zou Lei’s lives and their surroundings and the sense of being lost and abandoned is beautifully evoked through disconnected dialogue and the divide that exists between both Skinner and Zou Lei’s relationship and the world around them. This is a novel that permeates through you, long after you finish it and is a truly exception debut.

Buy the book here…

The uplifting, funny and feel good story of one boy’s incredible survival against the odds.

9780732299842Abdi was a happy-go-lucky, soccer-playing fifteen year old when Somalia’s vicious civil war hit Mogadishu and his world fell apart.  Effectively an orphan, he fled with some sixty others, heading to Kenya.  The journey was perilous, as they faced violence, death squads and starvation. After three months, they arrived at a refugee camp in Kenya. Of the group Abdi had set out with, only a handful had made it to safety.

But as soon as he arrived at the camp, Abdi knew that the only refuge it could provide was death. Abandoned by the UNHCR because the area was too Abdi Aden - high resdangerous, the camp ‘housed’ thousands of sick and starving people waiting to die.  All alone in the world and desperate to find his family, Abdi turned around and undertook the dangerous journey back to Mogadishu. But the search was fruitless, and eventually he made his way – alone, with no money in his pockets, completely dependent on his quick wits and the kindness of strangers – to Romania, then to Germany.  Abdi was just seventeen when he arrived in Melbourne with no English, no family or friends, no money, no home.

Against all odds, this boy not only survived but thrived. Abdi went on to attend high school and later university. He became a youth worker, was acknowledged with the 2007 Victorian Refugee Recognition Award and was featured in the SBS second series of Go Back to Where You Came From.

Abdi’s story is one of hardship and struggle, but also of courage, resilience and heart-warming optimism. Shining is a feel good memoir that will move you to tears, exhilarate you, and at times, against the odds, make you laugh out loud. Abdi, the boy who never lost hope, offers the gift of his tale to readers who want to believe that miracles still happen.

Buy the book here…

Stephen Michael King’s Triumphant Trio

29cde5eWhat is it about Stephen Michael King‘s illustrations that make his picture books so sublime? How can his drawings make us want to delve into those stories over and over again? Well, that’s just it! It’s the artwork that adds another dimension to those already meaningful stories, allowing us to dive right in with those characters; feeling what they feel – emotionally and sensorially. With a multitude of divine books under his wing, the extremely talented Stephen Michael King has three that are currently soaring to the top with their prize winning prowess, being shortlisted in the CBCA’s 2015 Early Childhood and Picture Book of the Year Awards and nominated in the 2015 NSW Premier’s Literary Awards.  

snail-and-turtle-are-friends-293x300Snail and Turtle are Friends, Scholastic, 2014.
CBCA Early Childhood Shortlisted Book.

Stephen Michael King’s distinctive style of sweet faces, with a combination of little dot eyes and large round ones, always seem to perfectly suit the mood of the story and personalities of the characters. In the case of ‘Snail and Turtle are Friends’, these two gentle animals emanate a feeling of peace and calm about them, but not forgetting a wonderfully whimsical touch of cheekiness. Even at their craziest moments, when Turtle sings in the rain and dives in the water, or Snail boldly chomps leaves and paints swirls, the vibrant colours, eclectic patterns and varying shapes fit together beautifully harmoniously.  
Just like Snail and Turtle, the illustrations display an eye-catching array of techniques to reflect aspects in common and those that are unique from one another. I love ‘Snail and Turtle are Friends’ for its ability to capture a sense of adventure, playfulness and its underlying message in friendship and accepting differences.  

9781921504631Scary Night, Working Title Press, 2014.
CBCA Early Childhood Shortlisted Book.

On a more dramatic note, but no less animated, is ‘Scary Night’, written by Lesley Gibbes. With his usual, striking use of pen, ink, brush and digital compilations, Stephen Michael King manages to tick all the boxes once again when it comes to creating just the right mood. The story, set in darkness as the characters journey through treacherous fields with only the glow of the pale moonlight to guide them on their way, is far from gloomy. Its upbeat rhythm, rollicking text and leading suspense are perfectly captured in King’s drawings. When the characters sneakily tip-toe through dark woods and crocodile-infested terrain, it is their wide, terrified eyes and the scenes’ cool, moody hues that keep the thrill-seekers in us entertained. When we turn the page to be blasted with a shock of bright orange and large ‘roaring’ font, it is not just the characters getting the most wonderfully horrifying fright of their lives.
The playfulness, facial expressions, effective use of colours and gorgeous Suess-like sketches are a real treat that will ensure young children want to journey on this most mysterious, spooktacular experience again and again.  

Duck and DarklingsThe Duck and the Darklings, Allen & Unwin, 2014.
CBCA Picture Book of the Year Shortlisted Book.
NSW Premier’s Literary Award Nominated Book.

In similarity to ‘Scary Night’, ‘The Duck and the Darklings’ is disposed to the darkness, with just a glint of a glimmer that so significantly paves the way to a brighter future. With more of a complex storyline than the previous two books, ‘The Duck and the Darklings’, is written creatively and almost poetically by Glenda Millard. Its message is strong with the metaphor of dark versus light to represent ‘disremembered’ yesterdays versus the glow of forbidden fondness (happy memories). With this theme, Stephen Michael King’s illustrations are spellbinding. He has created depth, texture and warmth amongst the darkness. His characteristically adorable characters are hand-drawn as outlines and set against the silhouettes of black and white; shadow and light, past, present and future, that hit Millard’s intention so brillliantly.
‘The Duck and the Darklings’ is a heartwarming story of family, friendship and optimism that is beautifully captured in its words and pictures. Primary school children will definately hold a candle to this shining star. Stunning.  

More information about Stephen Michael King and his books can be found at:
http://www.stephenmichaelking.com

Teaching notes for ‘Scary Night’ and ‘The Duck and the Darklings’ can be found at:
http://www.romisharp.wordpress.com/teaching-notes

Boomerang Book Bites: A God In Ruins by Kate Atkinson

Kate Atkinson has written an extraordinary companion novel to her previous masterpiece returning us to the world of the Todd family and Fox Corner. This time to tell us Ursula’s brother Teddy’s story.
http://www.boomerangbooks.com.au/God-in-Ruins/Kate-Atkinson/book_9780385618717.htm
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Introducing Boomerang Book Bites

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Welcome to Boomerang Book Bites. A weekly review of books we think are awesome.

One of the major differences between a physical bookshop and an online bookshop is that online you don’t have a person to tell you about the fantastic books available. But with Boomerang Books we are backed by one of Australia’s leading independent bookshops so you can get the best of both worlds! Each week I’ll share a quick book review on a book I’m really passionate about. We know you’ll love it and we’ll even throw in free shipping if you use the promo code bookbites.

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Awarded Children’s Information Books

EmuThis year’s Children’s Book Council of Australia (CBCA) Eve Pownall Award for Information Books forms an impressive list. Four of the six titles focus on an aspect of Australian history.

Emu (one of the ‘Nature Storybooks’ series from Walker Books) is natural history, however, and upholds the quality of last year’s Crichton and Queensland Literary awarded Big Red Kangaroo. It is written by Claire Saxby, illustrated by Graham Byrne and combines literary and factual texts in an engaging package for young readers.

Coming of Age

The other title that isn’t historical is for the opposite end of the age spectrum – mature secondary, although chapters could be used for younger readers in high school. Coming of Age: Growing Up Muslim in Australia is edited by Amra Pajalic & Demet Divaroren (Allen & Unwin) and a number of its contributors have appeared on ABC TV’s Q&A. The contributors write about their experiences growing up as a Muslim. An important feature is the diversity within Muslim groups, also based on the country the writers or their parents are from.

Randa Abdel-Fattah (Does My Head Look Big in This?) writes about body image; Hazem El Masri, former rugby league star,  among other things, explains a core difference between Islam and Christianity – Muslims don’t believe Jesus was the son of God, died on the cross or was raised from death; Hazem’s wife changed some of her school’s culture by lobbying for the opportunity for Muslims to pray; and former Miss World Australia, Sabrina Houssami, laments that white Australian girls wouldn’t be her friend.

Tea and SugarTea and Sugar Christmas by Jane Jolly and Robert Ingpen (National Library of Australia) is a sumptuous volume, and is also a notable CBCA picture book this year. Robert Ingpen is the only Australian illustrator to have won the prestigious Hans Christian Andersen Medal. All of his books are stunning. This one showcases the train that serviced the settlements along the Nullabor Plains from Port Augusta to Kalgoorlie. Aboriginal and Afghan people helped build and maintain the 1050 km of rail. The book starts as an appealing literary narrative about young Kathleen who is waiting for the first Thursday in December when Father Christmas travels with gifts. This story is followed by information in non-fiction form.Mary's Australia

 

Mary Mackillop was a girl when Victoria became a state and she was twelve during the Eureka Stockade. Pamela Freeman juxtaposes Mary’s life and time caring for the poor and educating children with the years when Australia became a nation in Mary’s Australia: How Mary Mackillop Changed Australia (Black Dog Books, Walker Books).

Audacity

 

Audacity: Stories of Heroic Australians in Wartime by Carlie Walker and illustrated by Brett Hatherly, is another excellent publication from the Department of Veterans’ Affairs. The title comes from a stained-glass window at the Australian War Memorial. Each chapter features a person, including women, and the war they were involved in and also highlights their outstanding attributes, such as courage or leadership.

 

The A-Z of Convicts in Van Diemen’s Land by Simon Barnard (Text Publishing) is coffee-table size and is set between 1803 and 1853. The research and illustrative processes are intricate and include cut-away pictures of buildings. This book is full of fascinating and gory facts which will intrigue older readers. A-Z

Review – Fire by Jackie French and Bruce Whatley

Fire, Jackie French (author), Bruce Whatley (illus.), Scholastic Press, 2014.  

fireHarsh weather conditions are terrifying enough at the best of times, but what about when Mother Nature plays a hand in the wild and extreme that gamble with actual lives?
Award-winning author and Australian Laureate, Jackie French, together with the unequivocally talented illustrator, Bruce Whatley, have joined forces in producing a gripping and stunningly haunting book of adversity; ‘Fire’. Just like their previous book, ‘Flood’; depicting the horrendous Queensland floods in 2011, ‘Fire’ is another efficacious story of courage and strength in the face of a natural disaster.

Throughout the book are amazing, succinct verses that take your breath away with every word. The story begins with a serene outback set amongst golden hills and limp gum tree leaves. Upon turning the page, we are faced with the sudden impact of ferocious orange flames and black smoke, sending a once peaceful cockatoo fleeing for its life. Ramifications advance, affecting the people who live amongst the burning trees as the fire engulfs the land in a thunderous, cackling roar. Pretty soon, whole page spreads bleed with blood-red paint across the atmosphere, and thick grey ash that forces inhabitants to quickly escape the “gulping smoke and singed debris.”
Fire book imageNext, a gut-wrenching image of the oven swallowing houses, trees, the land. What about the aftermath? Loss, grief, disbelief. But the bravery of the firefighters and the safety of loved ones is what is appreciated most. From pain comes the strength of the Australian spirit, as we see the CFA tending to sick animals, and read of those friends who give love and help rebuild a world burnt bare. And eventually, the Earth is reborn once again.  

The final page details Jackie French‘s personal experiences with fighting bushfires and its effects on the land, and how best to manage its dangers. Bruce Whatley also gives appreciation for the courage of those dealing with these terrors, and his account of his illustration process. It is fascinating that he felt the erratic nature of the fire was the hardest thing to capture, because looking at his daubs, flicks, bleeding outlines, reds and yellows amongst their surrounding darks certainly creates intensely evocative and impactful imagery in my eyes.  

‘Fire’ is a powerful, poignant and moving story of real life truths; a devastingly beautiful, poetic rendition of a tough facet of nature. It is a book about life, love, friendship, hope and the human spirit that is so brilliantly captured in its words and images. ‘Fire’ is suited to primary school children, and is deservingly shortlisted in the CBCA’s 2015 Picture Book of the Year awards. Just phenomenal.

Interesting background information on Jackie French and Bruce Whatley, as well as fantastic teaching ideas based on the book, ‘Fire’, can be downloaded from Scholastic here:
http://resource.scholastic.com.au/resourceFiles/8219103_8176.doc

NSW Premier’s Literary Awards Winners

Earth HourThe NSW Premier’s Literary Awards, held at the Mitchell Library last night, was an opportunity to recognise some of our literary greats, as well as newcomers to the winners’ stage.

Eminent author/poet, David Malouf, won the Kenneth Slessor Prize for Poetry for Earth Hour (UQP), another award to honour the exquisite writing of this distinguished, generous man.

Jaclyn Moriarty deservedly added to her cache of awards for the second in her ‘Colours of Madeleine’ trilogy, The Cracks in the Kingdom (PanMacmillan) This stunning original fantasy has already won the Queensland Literary YA Award and the Aurealis YA Award, and last night won the Ethel Turner Prize for Young People’s Literature. My review in The Weekend Australian is here. Jaclyn was one of the most engaging speakers on the night; sharing poignant and funny words from her readers that highlighted the importance of books in the lives of young people.Cracks in the Kingdom

The Patricia Wrightson Prize for Children’s Literature was shared by Tamsin Janu’s debut novel, Figgy in the World and Catherine Norton’s, Crossing. Figgy in the World is set in Ghana and relays the tale of eight-year-old Figgy who tries to get to the ‘United Stilts of America’ to buy medicine for her grandmother. Ghana and its people are brought to life in this novel. It is my favourite of the CBCA Book of the Year shortlist for Younger Readers.

Figgy in the World

Both these books are published by the recently defunct Omnibus Books imprint from Scholastic Australia. Omnibus has published books that have become contemporary children’s classics over the years, so their closure is extremely disappointing.

Some other shortlisted children’s authors/illustrators were in attendance, including the sublimely gifted Stephen Michael King for The Duck and the Darklings (Allen & Unwin), written by Glenda Millard. This is my favourite of this year’s CBCA shortlisted picture books. Trace Balla’s debut picture book, Rivertime (Allen & Unwin) has created an awards buzz, shortlisted here, as well as for the CBCA and Crighton awards. It was interesting to hear some of the inside story of this book. Trace and her partner actually made the ten-day canoe trip that was the catalyst for the book and it seems as though Trace had as much trouble climbing onto jetties as did her child protagonist, Clancy, in the book.Duck and Darklings

Other highlights of the evening were awards for translation, the Multicultural NSW Award to Black and Proud: The Story of an Iconic AFL Photo by Matthew Klugman and Gary Osmond (NewSouth Books), the Nick Enright Prize for Playwriting to Black Diggers by Tom Wright (Playlab/QTC), Betty Roland Prize for Scriptwriting to The Babadook by Jennifer Kent (Causeway Films) and the UTS Glenda Adams Award for New Writing to Luke Carman’s An Elegant Young Man (Giramondo). Mark Henshaw won the Christina Stead Prize for fiction with his stunning The Snow Kimono (Text) – read my review here – and Don Watson’s The Bush (Hamish Hamilton) emulated his Indies Awards honours by winning both the Douglas Stewart Prize for Non-Fiction and overall Best Book of the Year. He was so flabbergasted by the second award that he confessed to finally being humbled.

Bush

David Williamson was deservedly presented with a special award for his distinguished body of work. He generously donated his prize money to an upcoming winning playwright of a competition run by the Ensemble Theatre.

So many choices

I may have mentioned a few times on this blog that I’ve been writing a series of interactive kids books called You Choose. As I’ve been working on them, I’ve been reading other interactive books, to get a feel for what’s out there. Old ones and news ones. Adventurous ones and romantic ones. Good ones and… not so good ones.

The interactive book was made popular in the 1980s by the Choose Your Own Adventure series. These books put the reader into the stories and give choices along the way. I read heaps of them as a teenager. But there were so many, that there were also lots that I missed out on. So I’ve been seeking out old copies on eBay. I recently read these three…

ufoChoose Your Own Adventure 12: Inside UFO 54-40 by Edward Packard, 1982
This is a much-discussed classic of the style. I never read it as a teen, and I’d been trying to track down a copy for quite a while. I finally got my hands on a reasonably priced second-hand one. It’s an intriguing read. The reader is kidnapped by aliens and kept prisoner aboard a UFO, from which s/he must try to escape. Written by Edward Packard, the originator of the series, it is typical of his books in the series, in that it is action/adventure based and meticulously plotted with lots of unexpected deviations. What makes this book stand out, is that the only way to reach the ultimate goal of finding Planet Ultima, is to cheat. There is a page on which you reach the planet — but no other page leads to it. The only way to get to it, it to flip through the book page-by-page until you find it (or I could just tell you that it’s… SPOILER ALERT… page 101). I imagine it would have been somewhat mind-blowing for young readers when it was first released!

alienChoose Your Own Adventure 101: Alien, Go Home by Seddon Johnson, 1990
A Soviet space shuttle crashes in the Yukon and you go out to investigate. Why has it crashed? Are there aliens on board? It’s an entertaining enough read, but the plotting isn’t as good as with Packard’s books. What’s interesting is Johnson’s attempts to inject some humour and character variation into the story. Unfortunately, it’s the unintentional humour that’s funnier — especially when you search for the Glory Hole gold mine.

dinoChoose Your Own Adventure for Younger Readers 46: A Day With the Dinosaurs by Edward Packard, 1988
As you and a group of students search for dinosaur fossils, you discover a hole that sends you back in time to meet some live dinosaurs. This book is part of a series of Choose Your Own Adventure books for younger readers. The story is quite short and simple and, despite being written by Packard, has a rather simplistically structure, with not all that many choices along the way. In fact, there are only 6 choices, with all the other sections simply pointing you to another one.

Then there are the other interactive books I’ve recently read…

dandeePick-a-path: The Dandee Diamond Mystery by Jane O’Connor and Joyse Milton, 1982
Oh dear. Perhaps the poorest example of an interactive book I’ve ever read. The worst thing about it is that it includes a story cheat. In the story, you are searching for the Dandee Diamond. There is only one… but depending on the choices you make, you will find it in different locations. NOT FAIR! Your choices have not affected how the story progresses… your choices have simply led you to a different story in which the diamond is hidden in a different location. I really dislike this sort of structure. On the plus side, the illustrations by Daryl Cagle was quite engaging.

coolCool School: You Make It Happen, John Marsden, 1995
Australian author John Marsden wrote a couple of You Make It Happen adventures in the 90s. In this one, it’s your first day at a new school, where you have to face bullies, secrets and potential romance. This is an interesting one. The attempts at romance are handled by giving a non-gender specific name to the object of your crush — Sam. A valiant attempt, but it struck me as being rather contrived. The other interesting thing is the types of choices you are given. Many of them are outside the context of the story — something I don’t care for, as I find it takes me out of the moment. At one point, as you are confronted by the bully, someone comes up behind you… and you are asked to choose if it’s a teacher or a student. Given that the reader is a character in the story, I prefer choices to be within the context of that story.

rioChoose Your Own Ever After: How to Get to Rio, by Julie Fison, 2014
Aimed at tween girls, Choose Your Own Ever After is a romance series. Not usually the sort of genre I read, but I’ve got to say that it’s well-wriiten, peopled with engaging characters, and gives the readers some good moral dilemmas. I liked it a lot. It’s interesting in that unlike most interactive books, this one isn’t written in second person and doesn’t put the reader into the story. The reader is making choices on behalf of the main character, in this case teenage schoolgirl Kitty MacLean. It works surprisingly well. The sections are a lot longer than the standard 1-4 pages before you’re given a choice. It’s usually a few chapters before you have to make a choice in this book. All up it’s a pretty good read. My only problem with it, is that all the resolutions are happy.

neilChoose Your Own Autobiography by Neil Patrick Harris, 2014
This is really bizarre. Actor Neil Patrick Harris has written his memoires in the interactive style of the Choose Your Own Adventure books. It’s in second person… and the reader is Neil. It’s a weird and wonderful way to read non-fiction as you work your way through the reality and the made-up bits, as well as the recipes, cocktails, magic tricks (yes, there are actually magic card tricks in this book) and even some guest chapters from the likes of Steven Bochco (creator of Dougie Howser, MD), actress Whoopi Goldberg and a few others. Uber cool, very entertaining, but ultimately, as a biography, it’s a bit unsatisfying. With a non-linear path through Harris’s life, where you are he, weaving through fiction as well as non-fiction, you don’t really get a good sense of him. There are moments of empathy, where you feel like you’re connecting, but they are quickly whisked away.

So there you have it, some of the interactive books I’ve been reading. Of course, I’ve also been writing them. Two new books in my You Choose series got released earlier this month: Night of the Creepy Carnival and Alien Invaders From Beyond the Stars. These are both adventure stories, each in a different genre — one B-grade sci-fi, the other a creepy kids’ horror — and I try to inject a good dose of humour into them as well. I’ve got another two coming out in August.

yc05_sm  yc06_sm

Catch ya later,  George

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Review – Nightmares!

NightmaresNothing beats the morbid delight begot from a good old-fashioned bad dream. It’s the stuff memorable horror movies are made of. There’s no denying, being tantalised and terrified go hand in hand. But what about those bad dreams that leave you thrashing in a bed of sweat-soaked sheets and screaming for salvation? Nightmares can plague a kid’s sleep and wreck their waking world. Fortunately, there is a thrilling new series available to primary aged kids to help keep the bedtime beJason Segelasts at bay.

Nightmares!, by writing partners, Jason Segel and Kirsten Miller is the substantial first book in a new series, which dares you to go to sleep. Good luck with that. There’s way too much skittish action, adventure and horror to bore even the most critical mid-grade reader.Kirsten Miller

Eleven-year-old Charlie Laird is in the middle of his own real-life nightmare. Still dealing with the loss of his mother three years ago, he now also has to contend with living in a purple house that he is not keen on with a step mum he believes is a witch and a father he feels has forgotten him. Feeling alone and vulnerable, Charlie goes to extreme measures every night to stay awake. He is terrified of falling into slumber because each time he does, he enters the Netherworld, a place where his most terrifying nightmares torture him with sadistic regularity.

Living in constNightmares Charlie illo spreadant fear jeopardises Charlie’s schoolwork, blurs his logic, and transforms him into a person that scares even him. Then one afternoon, an opportunity to discover more about his dubious step monster leads to a nail-biting adventure in the Netherworld, one Charlie is not sure he’ll ever be able to emerge from.

Nightmares is thrilling on every level. I was curious to see how well comedic actor and star of films like Despicable Me, Gulliver’s Travels, and The Muppets Movie could write. I was far from disappointed. Segel executes his penmanship (along with Kirsten Miller) with exquisite strength and accuracy, slicing through the mundane to reveal a voice of tremendous depth and humour and expose worlds that readers are instantly familiar, if not one hundred per cent comfortable with.

Nightmares Charlotte illo spreadTheir characters, including those who frequent the Netherworld, possess a mixture of Chucky-style surreal horror and emphatic warmth, which keeps readers engaged whilst never quite certain of who to trust. It’s spellbinding stuff.

Nightmares propels us into those creepy, fearful places we are always relieved to wake from but simultaneously suggests to young readers that in order to truly surrender your fears and leave them behind once and for all, we must face them. If we can be as brave as Charlie can, we may just be able to learn that nightmares are really just the stuff of dreams.

I love the slightly psychotic sense of satire, the horror, and the comedic parody in Nightmares. The notion that ‘what can’t kill us and what we fear can make us stronger’ is just one of the many reasons to read this story. I can’t wait for the next nightmare to begin – due out in August 2015!

Meanwhile give yourself a delicious fright with Nightmares, available here.

Random House Children’s

First published by Corgi Children’s September 2014

 

Superlegumes

SuperlegumesYou need a solidly designed cover to sell legumes, and that’s exactly what Chrissy Freer’s Superlegumes part cookbook, part guide has. With vividly displayed and shot legumes, it’s the kind of cover worthy of more enticing ingredients that would not only inspire you to pluck the book from the shelves but even buy it.

For, frankly, legumes aren’t a particularly gastroporn-worthy topic. The perception (mine included) is that legumes are bland and take copious amounts of time to prepare. The whole ‘I forgot to soak the legumes overnight’ thing is what most often stops me from attempting to prepare them. Well, that and the fact that I hate cooking. It’s a relatively lethal combination.

I’m vegan, and I’d have thought I’d know more than the average person about legumes, yet this book still taught me plenty, such as the legume family includes green peas and beans, soy beans, and peanuts.

Also that legumes are whole foods (they’re as close to their natural state as possible) and one of nature’s super foods, high in protein, carbohydrates, and fibre, as well as iron, calcium, zinc, and magnesium. They’re gluten-free and low GI too and are much cheaper than other food sources that contain similarly important nutrients.

Crucially, legumes are also incredibly environmentally friendly and sustainable—they help remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and also fix nitrogen in soils, improving their quality, preparing the soils for subsequent crops, and doing away with the need for environmentally damaging chemicals to achieve the same effect.

Refreshingly, Superlegumes is actually written by someone with some know how. I hadn’t realised cookbook authorship was such a hot-button issue for me until I read the author’s bio on page one. Freer is a nutritionist and writer—not, say, a celebrity chef who thought it a good idea to throw together an ill-informed paleo book for babies—and Superlegumes is her second book (note to self: seek our her first one, Supergrains: Eat Your Way to Great Health).

Freer’s also the nutrition editor for www.taste.com.au, and freelances for Australian Healthy Food Guide, Belle, Prevention, and Weight Watchers. So she, you know, writes for publications that fundamentally promote health and healthy, sustainable approaches to eating.

SupergrainsSuperlegumes showed me recipes for legumes far more interesting than my usual efforts (including two tables showing how to soak and/or cook each legume type and for how long).

For that’s perhaps the beauty of this book: it encourages a rethink of an invaluable protein and fibre source that’s also good for the environment while simultaneously making it appetising and unscary to attempt to cook with. I’m not sure I would have believed anyone if they said they could make legumes appealing, both aesthetically and tastily, but Freer’s managed it.

Some of the recipes that leapt out at me as must-trys were Chickpea, lemon and silverbeet soup, Oat pancakes with berries, Best baked beans, Quinoa bean burgers with fresh beetroot slaw, Cauliflower crust pizza with white beans, pumpkin and cherry tomatoes.

The book does include some meat-related recipes, and I have to say I’m a bit disappointed about that, especially as Freer herself acknowledges the crazypants amounts of leafy matter required to feed livestock that’s ethically and environmentally inefficient. But I also acknowledge that Freer’s goal is likely to introduce legumes to as wide an audience as possible and its primary target audience isn’t vegans, but omnivores.

Either way, Superlegumes is both a solid resource and a beautifully presented inspiration for a range of audiences—even almost-non-cooking vegan ones such as me. First up for roadtesting now I’m inspired and the weather’s turned wintery: Chickpea, lemon and silverbeet soup.

Thanks to Murdoch Books for the review opportunity.

Release of Beauty’s Kingdom by A.N. Roquelaure (Anne Rice)

Long before the Fifty Shades of Grey phenomenon, Anne Rice was writing a raunchy series of erotic novels in the 1980s under the pseudonym A.N. Roquelaure. The Sleeping Beauty series contained the following three novels: The Claiming of Sleeping BeautyBeauty’s Punishment and Beauty’s Release. The trilogy has been very successful for Anne Rice, and in the 1990s, she revealed her identity as the author behind the pen name A.N. Roquelaure.Beauty's Kingdom A.N. Roquelaure

The latest and most exciting news is that a new book has just been released, and Beauty’s Kingdom is the fourth in the series and the first in 30 years. Before I tell you about the latest release, let me give you a brief overview (or reminder) of the series in case you haven’t come across it before. And if the erotica genre is not for you, then click here for some art therapy to cleanse your mind, and I’ll bid you farewell.

The Claiming of Sleeping Beauty is certainly not your typical fairytale, nor is it appropriate for children. Beauty is woken from her 100 year sleep, not with a kiss from a handsome prince, but with copulation. The prince takes her to his kingdom and in gratitude for waking her from her spell, Beauty is trained to become a plaything and sex slave. Don’t worry though, Beauty enjoys her encounters and falls passionately in love with a male slave. The sex is submissive and features elements of BDSM and pony play.

In Beauty’s Punishment, Beauty is punished for her affair with a fellow slave and is sold at auction. She is purchased by an innkeeper and captures the attention of the Captain of the Guard, who takes over her ‘education in love, cruelty, dominance, submission and tenderness.’ At the end of the book, Beauty and several other slaves are kidnapped and sent to serve in the palace of the Sultan.

In Beauty’s Release, Beauty finds herself in a new realm and a prisoner within a harem belonging to an Eastern Sultan. As the title suggests, she does escape her predicament and marry, but to tell you any more would be a spoiler. As the blurb says: ‘Anne Rice makes the forbidden side of passion a doorway into the hidden regions of the psyche and the heart in this final volume of the classic Sleeping Beauty trilogy,’ and I couldn’t have said it better myself.

Throughout the Sleeping Beauty series, themes of desire, discipline, pleasure, pain and surrender are all explored, and the writing is evocative and erotic.

Beauty’s Kingdom is the latest release, and is set 20 years after the events at the end of Beauty’s Release. Other than that, I don’t know much more, but I can’t wait to read it.

Review: World Gone By by Dennis Lehane

world-gone-byI have to admit I was a little thrown by Dennis Lehane’s last book in the Coughlin series, Live By Night. The Given Day is Lehane’s best book and when he wrote it  he said it was the first in a series which would follow multi-generations of a police family through Boston in the 20th century. Live By Night took a u-turn and instead followed one of the Coughlin clan as he became an outlaw, a bootlegger and eventually a gangster. It was a great read and Lehane ended up becoming a consultant on Boardwalk Empire because of it…but it wasn’t the book I was expecting.

This time around I was ready for gangster territory, this time post-Prohibition and the world at war (a great fit now Boardwalk Empire has finished). Joe Coughlin, at the ripe old age of 37, is now the elder statesmen of the Tampa mob. Following the events at the end of Live By Night he no longer runs the show. He has many legitimate businesses and keeps the odd toe in a few illegitimate ones. But his soul focus is now his son. He knows he can never escape the life he has built but he canshelter his son from it. Or at least try. But there is no retiring from Joe’s business and there are always others waiting in the wings, even when there is a war on. When Joe gets word somebody wants him out of the way he can’t for the life of himself figure out why. Out of the way of what?

Lehane brings 1940s Florida to vivid and sweltering life. Boston maybe his literary stomping ground but he shows he can bring all those same skills to wherever he wants. He also returns to the themes he started in The Given Day; fathers and sons. As always with Lehane this is tightly plotted that builds to a blockbuster ending. And you know we haven’t finished with Coughlin Clan yet. And we may even be back onto the original track…

Buy the book here…

Review – Pig the Fibber by Aaron Blabey

pig-the-fibberPig the Fibber, Aaron Blabey (author, illus.), Scholastic, May 2015.  

Okay, Pig fans! He’s back! And he’s up to a whole lot of mischief…again!  

aaron blabeyAward-winning author / illustrator, Aaron Blabey, is renowned for his ability to create books with clear morals, but particularly his distinguishable style of outlandish characters in farcical situations…mostly self-inflicted! You may notice this theme in such books as ‘The Brothers Quibble’, ‘The Dreadful Fluff’ (reviews here), ‘Thelma the Unicorn’ (Dimity’s review), and our beloved (or maybe not-so) ‘Pig the Pug’.  

We first got to meet Pig as a most greedy and selfish little Pug, refusing to share with his sausage dog flatmate Trevor, and even going as far as spitting and name calling. Once again, in ‘Pig the Fibber’, Pig is just as maniacal with his protruding eyeballs and lunatic behaviour! This time, he has learned something, and it’s not a valuable lesson. It’s how to lie… big, fat lies!  

pig the fibber spreadLiterally marking his territory; that is, this book, the naughty little canine has set the tone from the outset. Pig loves to get his own way, and he’s perfectly comfortable hand-balling the blame onto his trusty victim – Trevor. He attacks pillows and smears dog food on the living room mat in a wild stupor. He breaks delicate household items in a crazed hula romp. He even tears up a wedding dress…just for fun. But Pig confesses – it was all Trevor. With absolute disregard for his flatmate’s feelings, Pig ‘lets off’ the biggest lie to be able to sneak into the cupboard to steal more food. Luckily, one dog is rewarded with the treats he deserves…and it ain’t Pig. Who knew a hard knock would see Pig wrapped up in his own head of truths?  

Again, just like in the first book, brilliantly hysterical and energetic illustrations that are so characteristically Blabey are expressed in ‘Pig the Fibber’. Be aware of facial expressions to sympathise with Trevor, as the text is so focused on Pig’s actions. The animated rhyming text seems to roll off the tongue. Perhaps it’s slightly easier to read than ‘Pig the Pug’, and it’s equally enjoyable but a hint more crude.  

We thought that Pig had changed his insolent ways last time, and he has since proved us wrong. Will he taunt us for a third time with more disturbing antics? Let’s hope so!

With another clear moral in being truthful and honest (or lack thereof), ‘Pig the Fibber’ is an inexorably amusing and crowd-pleasing book for children of all ages.  

Scholastic, May 2015.

The Warlock’s Child giveaway

 

wc03A couple of days ago I blogged about The Warlock’s Child, a great new kids’ fantasy series from authors Paul Collins and Sean McMullen (read post). Now I’m giving you the chance to win a copy of one of the books. Interested? Read on…

The Iron Claw is book 3 in The Warlock’s Child series. It hits bookshop shelves next month. But you’ve a chance to get your hands on a copy RIGHT NOW!

How? Simply send an email with WARLOCK’S CHILD in the subject line to givanoff@optusnet.com.au

The giveaway closes at 5pm (Melb time) on Monday 18 May 2015, after which I will draw the winner.

You must be an Australian resident with an Australian postal address to enter, and you can only enter once.

The winner will be contacted by email, as well as being listed in the comments section of this post. No correspondence on the matter will be entered into. Got that? Good! Now… go and enter.

And while you’re waiting to win a copy of Book 3, why not buy a copy of book 1, The Burning Sea, and book 2, Dragonfall Mountain.

wc01 wc02

Catch ya later,  George

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Double Dipping – Blue Cats and Purple Elephants

Don't Think about Purple ElephantsRecently I looked at picture books where bedtime procrastination prevails. However what about the times when your child is desperate for sleep but harbours worries too numerous to overcome? Their efforts meet with repeated defeat. New concerns infest their sleep-deprived psyches until they convince themselves they are unable to sleep no matter what.

This perpetuating cycle of anxiety is not only detrimental for children but distressing for parents as well. Here are two new picture books that deal with this dilemma with bright originality.

In Susan Whelan’s and Gwynneth Jones’ debut picture book, Don’t Think About Purple Elephants, Sophie is a bit of a worrier. Her worries don’t intrude much on her life during the day. She draws, plays, and day dreams like most seven-something year-olds. But at night, ‘when everything is quiet and still…Sophie starts to Susan Whelan and Gynneth Jonesworry’. Oh, I hear you, Sophie!

Of course, most of these worries are merely over exaggerated unreasonable ‘what if’ thoughts but if faced with just brussels sprouts for dinner, you’d be rather toey too, I expect.

Caught in an awful tangle of tortuous thoughts, Sophie is losing sleep and hope faster than she can count to ten sheep. Then, one night before lights out, Mum calmly advises Sophie to NOT think about purple elephants.

Purple Elephants illo spreadPerplexed, Sophie tries to follow her mum’s suggestion and fails, spectacularly. The result is the best night’s sleep Sophie has had in ages. Could this be the start of a coloured animal invasion?

Not thinking about Purple Elephants is an approach to insomnia that I am definitely trying and a picture book I highly recommend for its touching narrative and sumptuous, whimsy-kissed illustrations.

EK Books April 2015

Wendy and the Wallpaper Cat Wendy and the Wallpaper Cat by Jason Hook and Ilaria Demonti, is another equally captivating bedtime tale for pre and primary schoolers that just might tip the scales on bedtime tension.

Wendy is a young girl who has explored nearly every avenue to reach slumber including chucking cartwheels on her bed! Frustratingly, nothing works so mum and dad pack her off to Grandpa Walter’s, a place she has never been before. It’s a house of many rooms decorated with the most wondrous wallpapers Wendy’s ever seen. She and teddy are enchanted by their new surroundings. As if by magic, the rose patterned wallpaper smells of…you guessed it, roses and she can handpick oranges from the orchard-decorated room. But it’s when Wendy steps into the room papered with her favourite nursery rhyme charterers that the real fun begins.

She chooses this room as her temporary nocturnal chamber, wondering just how she’ll fit sleep in with so many marvellous distractions on the walls. It’s the fiddle-welding blue cat that leads her on a merry cavort through each landscape and garden and ultimately, into blissful slumber. Jason Hooks’ delightful circular narrative includes enough repeating phrases and quirky character idiosyncrasies to hook young readers and those reading with them.

Wendy and the Wallpaper Cat illoLavishly illustrated by Milan based illustrator, Ilaria Demonti, the wallpapers in Grandpa’s house are from real wallpapers, all designed by English artist, Walter Crane (1845 – 1915). Crane’s designs often included pictures from fairy tales and nursery rhymes and featured on many a child’s nursery walls in the 1870’s including those of Mark Twain’s children’s. You can still see these at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London, who published this book.

If a trip to the UK is not on your imminent horizon, pick up Wendy and the Wallpaper Cat, here. It’ll cure your insomnia whilst exacerbating your appreciation of fine art.

V & A Publishing May 2015

 

 

The Warlock’s Child

wc01The Warlock’s Child is a new series of six children’s fantasy books co-authored by Paul Collins and Sean McMullen. Each of these authors has a sterling reputation in children’s and genre literature. But the two of them together… well… was there any doubt that these books would be anything short of brilliant?

I went along to the launch of the series in April, and picked up the first three books (two before they were officially released… one of the perks of going along to a launch). I started reading the first on the following day. By the end of the week I had finished all three. And now I am counting the days until the release of the next (July).

In Book 1, The Burning Sea, we meet Dantar and his sister Velza, both children of the Dravinian Battle Warlock. They are on board a ship, part of a Dravinian fleet on its way to invade the Kingdom of Savaria. Things don’t go to plan.

In Book 2, Dragonfall Mountain, Dantar and Velza find themselves stranded in Savaria. A dragon dies and the Battle Warlock’s loyalties and motivations are called into question.

In Book 3, The Iron Claw, the plot thickens. Motivations and affiliations are muddied and we’re left hanging… until the next instalment.

Oh, did I mention there are dragons? Great, BIG, dangerous dragons… with magic! So cool!

Collins and McMullen give readers a set of likeable leads — characters that have already grown over the course of the first three books. While the story at first appears simple, complexities soon become layered over the top of each other. Action and humour abound. And did I mention the dragons? An all round, excellent read.

The Warlock’s Child actually reads like one long novel that’s been broken up into parts, albeit rather skilfully. Each book ends at just the right moment… concluding the relevant part of the story while leaving questions unanswered and setting things up for the next part. For me, this is a little bit frustrating in that I want the rest of the story NOW! But I can see the benefits. Shorter, less-threatening books are likely to pull in the reluctant readers. Plus, having six books coming out one a month is a great way to build excitement and anticipation. A bit like a television series, really.

And, of course, six books means we get six eye-catching covers from artist Marc McBride. He’s the guy who created all those amazing covers for Emily Rodda’s Deltora Quest series. And dragons are his speciality. Did I mention these books have really cool dragons?

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Can you tell that I’m rather enamoured by these books? No? Okay, one more comment then… they’re a fab read! Go out and buy them. [Yes, yes I know… that was two more comments.]

The Warlock’s Child release schedule…

Catch ya later,  George

PS. Follow me on Twitter

mockingjay01Check out my DVD/Blu-ray blog, Viewing Clutter.

Latest Post: Blu-ray Review  — The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1

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WIN a Kobo Aura H2O Ereader

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Kobo Aura H2O is the first premium eReader to have a waterproof* and dustproof design that allows you to take it worry-free from the beach, to the bath, to your bed. Plus, with up to 2 months of battery life, you have the freedom to keep reading, wherever you go. So if you drop it in the bath or accidentally spill a drink on it, your Kobo Aura H2O will still work like new. Just use the included drying cloth to dry the screen, so you can get back to reading**.

(*IP67 Certified. Waterproof for up to 30 minutes in 1M of water with port cover closed.)

(**For the best reading experience, dry the screen if wet.)

To Win a Kobo Aura H2O, valued at $229.99, sign up to Kobo via Boomerang Books before May 30 to go into the draw.

Enter here

Guess who came to dinner: James Patterson in Australia

Rafe's Aussie AdventureThere is a media and reader buzz about James Patterson, the world’s biggest selling author, who is in Australia at the moment.

It was announced on Tuesday that Patterson is giving grants of $500 to $5000 to independent bookshops in Australia and New Zealand, to a total of $100,000. This is an extremely generous gift from this philanthropic author and is part of Patterson’s mission to stimulate children’s reading. The bookshops that receive the grants must have a designated children’s section. There is a simple application form to complete by 5pm Tuesday, 30th June at .

Patterson said, ‘Bookshops guard against a future in which far too many children are illiterate. So many bookstores are already making a difference in their communities and I’m looking to help bookstores who want to do more… This initiative shines a light on literacy. It prompts us to ask: what do we want our future to be and how do we get there?’

Indie bookshops in the US and UK who have received grants  have created a Hogwart’s Hut, a scary children’s book club, a story-telling tent and have carpeted the children’s section of a store in a different colour. Patterson is keen to get the word out about his Australian and NZ grants. He genuinely wants to make a difference to children and teens’ reading.

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I was very fortunate to have lunch with James Patterson in Melbourne yesterday. On my way there I passed bookshops overflowing with his titles. James is on a mission to get and keep kids reading. He believes that reading is the key to literacy and that kids who get to secondary school with low literacy will have trouble surviving. James was also at a cocktail party in Sydney on Tuesday night and the stunning harbour views from the roof of the Museum of Contemporary Art of the Sydney Harbour Bridge and Opera House were straight out of his just released children’s book Middle School: Rafe’s Aussie Adventure, co-authored by Martin Chatterton.

This Middle School series is packed full of fast paced adventure, humour and illustrations. Each story also has an element of depth through characterisation and issues such as bullying.

Maximum RideMy favourite of his series is Maximum Ride, which begins with The Angel Experiment. The young characters have wings and are advocates of good over evil. When I asked James if he wanted to fly when he was a boy and if he had tried it, his eyes glinted and he told me the story of trying to fly off the second-storey of his barn. He was obviously unsuccessful because he doesn’t remember anything about what happened so it seems he may have had a rather hard landing (or was just too young to remember). His mother had to tell him about it later.

Some of his other series are Middle School: Treasure HuntersI Funny and House of Robots.

James Patterson will be speaking tomorrow night, Friday 8th May, at 8pm as part of the SWF at Sydney Town Hall Swf.org.au/jamespatterson.

Sincere thanks to Random House Australia for giving me the opportunity to meet James. It was a lunch I will always remember.

House of Robots

 

Doodles and Drafts – Getting silly with Gregg Dreise

As one strolls about this wondrous planet, one encounters a variety of individuals who may astound, influence, enrich, or even, deplete you. Not everyone we meet ends up a friend. Life is often an ongoing cycle of trials and consequences. How we survive and interpret the progression of life builds character and shapes us as individuals. Some like Maliyan, the Eagle look, listen, and learn. Others like Wagun, the wombah thigaraa, a silly bird disdain the words of the wise often to their ultimate detriment.

Silly Birds Silly Birds by author illustrator Gregg Dreise, is an indigenous new picture book that focuses on the oft heard yet frequently ignored adage that it is ‘hard to soar like an eagle when you are surrounded by turkeys’. At once dramatic and charming, this light-hearted yet meaningful narrative fostered from family yarns and a love of sharing (Dreamtime) morals reminds young readers that respect for each other, the environment in which they dwell and above all else, themselves is the true measure of power. Beautifully illustrated by Gregg, Silly Birds evokes the vivid spirit of the Dreamtime, depicting both the soaring majesty of Maliyan and the Elders and the reckless scorn of poor misguided Wagun, the silly turkey, with understated sensitivity.

Gregg Dreise is one of those individuals who fills the room the moment he cracks a smile. Recently, I had the immense pleasure of meeting and learning more about the impassioned creator and educator behind Silly Birds and today share his incredible art and deep respect and admiration for family at the Draft Table.

Gregg DreiseWho is Gregg Dreise? Describe your writerly / illustrating self. Which role describes you best?

I am proud. I am proud of my family, of where they have come from and where they are heading too. I am proud of my father Rod, a mechanic (I follow in his footprints building old cars all pre 1940s). He taught me that you can do anything that you put your mind too – if you give it a go and practice. I am proud of my mother Lyla, she has always had the gift of storytelling (especially through ballads). I am proud of my relatives; our families have ongoing stories of talented family musicians, artists, dancers, and athletes. I am proud of my brothers, sisters, and brother/sister in-laws. Almost all of us have worked hard to finish university (some even with Masters Degrees and Doctorates). I am proud of my children; they know to listen, learn lots and try their hardest. They are showing great signs of keeping family traditions alive with storytelling and art. They usually help open my book launches with traditional dance. I am proud to be a part of my dad’s family tree originating in Germany. And my mum’s family tree, originating from the Gamilaroi (Grandad / Knox) and Yuwalayaay (Grandma / Simpson) people. I am a proud cancer survivor. I am proud to be a teacher, I love to educate and entertain at the same time.  I am an entertainer. Writing, oral storytelling, painting, playing musical instruments…. they all take me (and hopefully my audience) to the days before television and computers. I love to take an opportunity to captivate and teach morals at the same time.

Is Silly Birds your first picture book? How does it make you feel seeing it out on the shelves? What is it that pleases you most about it?

Silly Birds is my first published book. I sent a manuscript off almost ten years prior, it was accepted, and then I got cancer inside my spinal cord. (The diagnosis was 6 months to live, luckily, the recovery was years.) Sadly, that manuscript/contract/and the lady who worked for Scholastic no longer works there. So that book never made it to the shelves.  It is so exciting when you see the first ones in shops. I don’t think that excitement has ever wavered. I love the morals. I think my artwork is very unique too.

The inspiration for this story came from your Uncle, Reg Knox. What appealed to you about his story and made you want to celebrate it?

Definitely the morals. When I was younger, I used to listen to and later did a couple of murals and school talks with Uncle Reg. He has always known how to tell a yarn. Sadly, age is catching up to him. Gladly, he has done so much. He is an inspiration. He has artwork in The Vatican, and an award from the Queen. National NAIDOC Elder of the Year, and more. He doesn’t brag about these things, but someone should share this with the world to celebrate. He has an exhibition (Muliyan-Go Reg Knox Retrospective) at the Logan Gallery in November. I hope this helps to bring back great memories that he has lost.

Silly Birds broaches the topics of family relationships, cultural differences, unlikely friendships, and social imbalance. What is the main idea you are trying to share with young readers?

Silly birds IlloChoose your friends wisely. Friends should be fun, but they shouldn’t change you into someone you never wanted to be. If other friends and family are reaching out trying to help you see what you are missing – look, listen and respect their guidance.

Maliyan endures a rite of passage and a fair bit of internal conflict before he emerges stronger and wiser. He regains the respect of his Elders and the younger, formerly ‘silly birds’ but his friendship with Wagun cannot be saved. Why is it important to show this eventual division of loyalties? Is this a key aspect of Dreamtime stories, to show the differences between right and wrong?

It is definitely an aspect of Dreamtime stories; they don’t ‘all’ live happily ever after. It is an analogy of life; that we don’t always remain friends with all of the people from the past. Sometimes we grow and move on. Wagun only creates the division with his stubbornness. Silliness can develop into maturity, however stubbornness can develop into loneliness.

I love your illustrated traditional line and dot paintings accompanying this story. How do you think this style enhances the integrity of your tale? What sort of symbolism did you infuse?

Silly birds Maliyan illoI really wanted the paintings to have texture to them. Like old paintings. I love it when I see people rub their hands over the cover – like they are going to feel the blobs of paint. (My Miss 9 actually did! Dimity) I knew that the artwork couldn’t be totally traditional. Too much symbolism would confuse my target audience (young children). Therefore, skies and horizons were added, but I kept the earth connected to spirits. Even some smart children have noticed that the Rainbow Spirit in the earth leaves when the billabong is being disrespected.

Had you considered a less traditional style of illustration for this book? Would you ever incorporate other illustrative styles and techniques into subsequent Dreamtime tellings?

The one definite thing I know about these stories is that if I can’t illustrate them, then someone from my tribe should. I wouldn’t publish Dreamtime morality tales with less tradition. I am currently writing a chapter book for upper Primary students, and the illustrations for the edges of the pages are designed like comic books. Keep an eye out for “The Adventures of Captain Wombah” coming out in hopefully the not so distant future. I am also writing an inspirational picture book, about being proud of my culture. I have been working with my niece (an art student) to illustrate that. She does beautiful portraits of young indigenous faces.

We are all surrounded by turkeys from time to time. Are you ever tempted to be one yourself? Do you think Wagun and turkeys like him could ever change, eventually?

Like lots of authors, there are bits of your characters in you. I was once a teenage boy. I was loud, tried to be funny, and looked for an audience. Yes, there are bits of Wagun in me. My next book Kookoo Kookaburra, is all about a story teller that took things too far. I am sure in my attempts to entertain as a teenager, I crossed the line and was very much a turkey. Luckily, I have always tried surround myself with motivated and proud people. As they say “no-one is perfect”. Support, guidance and honesty, can go a long way. I do act wombah (crazy) every time I do a live show!

What’s on the storyboard for Gregg Dreise?

Kookoo Kookaburra Silly Birds is a part of hopefully a bird trilogy. Silly Birds 2014; Kookoo Kookaburra 2015; Mad Magpie 2016??? The Adventures of Captain Wombah is almost ready to send to the publishers. I have finished two other picture books that I am in the process of sending off, “Dreamtime Dance” and “My Culture, My Spirit & Me. Plus there is a top secret chapter book for adult fiction slowly coming to life. I am about to record the song/animation for Kookoo Kookaburra – Look out for it on Youtube soon. I would love to find the time to record an album of my own soft rock music. A friend and I are looking to form a band (we both lack time), it has been years since I was out and about gigging. Sometimes I wish there were more hours in the day.

Just for fun question. If you were given a chance to go back and reinvent yourself, what would you change and why?

I would change something that a lot of my family doesn’t have. We have talent, but we don’t have self-promotion. Over the years, I have seen talented people who can’t sell or promote themselves – their talent goes sadly unnoticed. I have also met ‘very’ driven people (with less talent) make it. Please support new talent. Go to a young local art exhibition – Don’t wait for a big name tour. Go see an up and coming band for $10 over a famous one for $500+

When you find a great one – tell everyone you know about it. It just might start a career for someone, before they give up on their dreams.

Thanks Gregg!

Discover the delightful, Silly Birds, here.

Kookoo Kookaburra is just released and available, here.

Magabala Books June 2014

 

Courtyard Kitchen

Courtyard KitchenIncreasing numbers of Australians are living in apartments and fewer and fewer of us have yards in which to grow vegies or herbs. Worse, most of us have lost or never known produce-growing know-how.

I comprehensively count myself in the latter group. I never learnt the basics of growing things—soil prep, climate suitability, seasonal produce stuff, and more—and I make growing anything far, far harder than it should be. I also realise buying things like herbs, which can be grown in small spaces, is a giant waste of money.

Released on 1 May (just in time for Mother’s Day), Courtyard Kitchen contains growing tips for herbs and potted fruits, then segue into recipes to use that produce. That is, the kind of fundamentals for people like me.

Written by photographer Natalie Boog, whose experience spans working for various Fairfax publications such as Sunday Life and Spectrum and Pacific Magazines publications including New Idea and Better Homes & Gardens, Courtyard Kitchen of course contains beautiful images.

That’s both beautiful as in the shots but also their styling. They’re the kind of pics that encourage even the blackest thumbs of us to give growing herbs one more go and inspire us to whip up some delicious meals once those herbs have grown.

Containing tips about such things as preparing soil, planting, watering, managing pests and disease, which pots to plant in, and how to go about sterilising bottles and jars for things like pestos, the book contains plenty of information that, while practical and basic, is perfect for those of us needing to start from scratch. (The also layout comes complete with super-cute callout circles with handy hints inside them.)

Primarily a cookbook with some herb-growing tips at the start, Courtyard Kitchen caters mostly to omnivores, but offers a number of vegie options. The recipes are grouped by the herb they most feature. For example, Chocolate Basil Cake and Basil Pizza fall, as the titles suggest, under the Basil section; Rosemary Potato Wedges fall under Rosemary.

The recipes range also from Chili Vegie Tagine to Thyme Dumplings to Celeriac & Potato Soup and Parsley, Chilli & Lemon Spaghetti. All tasty options to experiment with and from which to derive a sense of ‘I grew this, I cooked this’ satisfaction. Not-so-green thumbs up.

Thanks to Murdoch Books for the review opportunity.

The Greatest Gatsby

Greatest GatsbyLiterary editors of both The Australian and Sydney Morning Herald newspapers commented about words and grammar in their columns this weekend.

The Greatest Gatsby: A Visual Book of Grammar (Viking, Penguin) is a very clever way to help everyone understand words and grammar. Tobhy Riddle is one of Australia’s notable picture book illustrators, with works such as Nobody Owns the Moon, My Uncle’s Donkey, Irving the Magician, Unforgotten, The Singing Hat and The Great Escape from City Zoo.

He uses his highly developed and creative design skills to explain English grammar in a motivating and comprehensible way. He believes the old adage that ‘a picture tells a thousand words’ and uses an inspired combination of his own illustrations, late nineteenth century photographs and other artwork in an uncluttered format with plenty of white space.

I particularly like the ‘English Words Network’, which sets out the parts of speech, such as nouns and conjunctions, like an urban railway line map. Riddle then spends time looking at each of these.

The title, ‘The Greatest Gatsby’ comes from a section on comparing adjectives. ‘The Great Gatsby’ is a descriptive adjective, ‘The Greater Gatsby’ is a comparative adjective and ‘The Greatest Gatsby’ is the superlative. The illustrated Gatsbys (debonair men in suits) are shown in increasing height to match their descriptions. ‘Gatsbys’ are also used to demonstrate ‘articles’ such as ‘the great Gatsby’ and ‘a great Gatsby’.

My Uncle's Donkey

The section, ‘Word classes in action’ culminates in an intriguing picture of an old man sleeping. Each word in the accompanying sentence is analysed visually and with the words seen here in brackets: ‘The (definite article) old (descriptive adjective) man (common noun) slept (past tense verb) soundly (how adverb) outside (preposition) his (possessive pronoun) home (common noun)’.

Riddle tackles the tricky and often misused ‘me or I’, ‘it’s or its’, ‘lie or lay’, ‘that or which’, the active and passive voice, and showcases the clever spelling of ‘fish’ as ‘ghoti’.

Affixes are shown visually to make it clear how words are built up. An example is the word ‘help’. It is shown at the top of a page representing the carriage of a train. Underneath is the word ‘helpful’, with the suffix, ‘-ful’, as another carriage. Under that is ‘unhelpful’, with the prefix and suffix each filling a carriage. The bottom row shows the word ‘unhelpfully’ filling four carriages.

Word SpyThis book is an excellent resource for a wide range of people, including schools and adult English classes. It could be used in conjunction with Tohby Riddle and Ursula Dubosarsky’s awarded The Word Spy and The Return of the Word Spy.

Review: A God In Ruins by Kate Akinson

9780385618717My first impulse after starting this book was that I had to go back and read Life After Life again. Kate Atkinson has written an extraordinary companion novel to her previous masterpiece returning us to the world of the Todd family and Fox Corner. This time to tell us Ursula’s brother Teddy’s story.

Life After Life detailed the multiple lives of Ursula Todd before, during and after the Second World War. It was dazzling original, wildly imaginative and brilliantly inventive and was an absolute masterpiece of storytelling and writing. I was in awe of the book and am in greater awe as she takes her writing to another level in telling the companion story.

Unlike with Ursula this time Kate Atkinson tells us one life. One rich, long, detailed life. But that does not mean it is any less original, imaginative or inventive as its previous companion. The narrative is far from linear bouncing from Teddy’s experiences as a bomber pilot, to his life as an old man, to before the war and everything in between. We meet Teddy’s daughter and grandchildren long before we learn of his life and relationship with their mother. And with each piece of Teddy’s life that we gather we slowly form his whole, how events have shaped him and how he has shaped events including the choices he makes, the mistakes and the consequences.

In telling Teddy’s story in the order she does Atkinson again fleshes her characters out in a unique and inventive manner which challenges our initial judgements and forces us to make corrections. She has also written a brilliant war novel that not only vividly captures what it was like to fly on bombing raid after bombing raid over Germany in the Second World War but explores the aftereffects of war that stretches well into a new century through two more generations.

Kate Atkinson has written a novel that fits perfectly with her previous one. Each novel can be enjoyed on their own or together and read in any order. I can’t wait to go back and revisit Ursula’s lives with this new layer to enrich it. I was in awe of Kate Atkinson after Life After Life and am further dazzled by the follow-up. A writer truly at the height of her powers and what a pleasure it is to enjoy.

Buy the book here…