Margaret Wild Changes Lives – Picture Book Reviews

margaret -wild-300x0Margaret Wild is a much-loved, award-winning author with over 70 titles to her name, having great success with acclaimed books including Fox, The Very Best of Friends, Harry and Hopper, Lucy Goosey, Davy and the Duckling, and The Treasure Box. Her books extend to a wide range of themes, and are characteristically known for their exploration of identity, hardship and loss. The two current titles outlined in this article differ in their exposition and intended audience, but they comparably focus on the central themes of change, finding oneself and having a positive outlook on life.  

9781742978185The Stone Lion, illustrated by Ritva Voutila. Little Hare Books, 2014.


Shortlisted for the 2015 Children’s Book Council of Australia Picture Book of the Year Awards, The Stone Lion is undoubtedly a stand out. From the magestic, embossed front cover to the delicate, subdued pastel drawings and equally sensitive plot, this is a profound and powerful story to warm the heart.

Set to be a classic, this story tells of a fierce-looking stone lion with the desire to become a breathing creature, able to sense emotion like the human visitors outside his library pedestal. The need for freedom, even if only for a short while, grows immensely, and it is upon the devastating collapse of a cold and hungry homeless girl with her baby brother in the frosty winter that the lion feels his first flicker of emotion – pity. As fervent as his appearance, so is his desire to save the poor children, and with flexed claws, stretched legs and a beat in his heart, the now powerful lion carries the baby basket, and then drags the little girl inside the library. The flexibility of his muscles may not remain permanent, but the warmth, contentment and spirit in his heart does, as does the gratitude and love that Sara and her little brother share for the lion for years to follow.

Stone Lion 1Wild‘s sophisticated and elegant use of language, beautifully complemented with Voutila‘s Depression-era, breathtaking imagery, literally sends chills up your spine and sparks a fire in your heart both at the same time.

The Stone Lion will be treasured for its undeniable beauty and depth, with themes of kindness, compassion, optimism and sense of self at its core. It is an inspirational story for primary-aged children to be empowered to change others’ lives, whether it be a mighty, or mini gesture.

1431011577357Bogtrotter, illustrated by Judith Rossell. Walker Books, 2015.

Targeted at a younger audience, preschoolers will be immediately drawn to the adorable lime-coloured creature that graces the cover of Bogtrotter. Whilst soft and muted greys and browns suit the subdued mood in The Stone Lion, more vivid greens and splashes of watercolours wash over the bog in this lively, yet sensitive story of an energetic Bogtrotter.

Imagine living in a world of monotony, without ever taking the time to stop and appreciate the beauty that surrounds you, without realising there is a world out there full of opportunities. This certainly is reality for Bogtrotter, who spends his days awaking from his gloomy cave only to run across, up, down and around his bog, for days and years on end. But sometimes he feels bored and lonely without understanding why and how to change it. A small, lateral-thinking frog probes Bogtrotter, empowering him to alter his dull existence, even if it is as minor as picking a flower. And in that instant, the world becomes his oyster, and the possibilities are endless.
With hope and motivation in his heart, Bogtrotter replays his usual daily jog, but with a difference. He befriends a family of muskrats, swings from a tree, and makes a pink daisy chain. Delightfully, he doesn’t stop there. However, there’s still one thing missing. It is his discerning amphibian friend that leaves him with another thought to ponder, and Bogtrotter takes the biggest risk of his life. What he discovers is nothing more than remarkable.

Bogtrotter book imageWith Margaret Wild‘s simple yet multi-layered, philosophical tale and loveable characters in their mentor-student-like roles, paired with Judith Rossell‘s enticing illustrations, Bogtrotter opens up a world of new and exciting challenges for all its readers. I love the beautifully painted scene of this endearing character pining for more as he gazes into the starry night sky. This powerful moment literally shows us that the sky’s the limit.

There will definately be plenty of “Ah” moments upon exploration of this inspirational, enchanting story of self-discovery, courage and change. And perhaps adults will be more inclined to delve further into the answers to their preschooler’s favourite question – “Why?”  

Review: Stealing People by Robert Wilson

9781409148203Charlie Boxer returns in one of Robert Wilson’s best novels to date.

Two years after the events of You Will Never Find Me Charlie Boxer’s life is nearing some normalcy. Normal for a kidnap consultant whose services offer a little bit extra revenge on the side. His relationships with his ex-wife Mercy and daughter Amy are back on track and his relationship with Isabel is blossoming. However things are about to get very complicated, very fast.

The children of six billionaires have all been kidnapped within the space of 24 hours across London by a highly organized group. No ransom is asked for, only money to cover “expenses”. Mercy leads the investigation into the kidnappings but also finds that she has been personally compromised by the kidnappers and the only person she can turn to for help is Charlie.  As Mercy and Charlie come at events from their different sides of the fence they soon realize there is more at stake that just the hostages especially with certain intelligence agencies seemingly pulling all the strings.

There are so many fantastic elements to this story. Big business, politics, war and how they are each  inseparable from the other.  Robert Wilson brings all his talent as a supreme thriller writer to bear in the tightly-plotted, fast paced, addictive page-turner. After setting the first two Charlie Boxer novels back-to-back we get to see more of Charlie’s character develop. Wilson gives us an emotional side that is much more complex that the one we think from the first two books in the series. At the same time Wilson keeps us guessing all the way to climatic end and then some.

Charlie Boxer is fast becoming one of my favourite characters and one of my favourite crime series. I couldn’t put this down and I can’t wait to see where the series goes next.

Buy the book here…

The Best of Australian YA

I’m an avid chewer of books but, surprisingly, I don’t read a lot of literature from my own country. Oh horror! Gasp with me! It’s an abominable shame. The reason for this is, a) I read mostly YA, b) most famous YA books are by American authors, and c) it seems much easier to get one’s clammy paws on American books than Australian ones.

But I do love some good local literature. So if, like me, you are always hungry to find more Aussie authors — I’ve got you covered.


Bowe_GirlSavesBoy81. STEPH BOWE16111373

Steph Bowe is rather an authorly hero of mine, considering she published two (!) books while still a teen. Plus they’re heartwarmingly fantastic reads. While I loved Girl Saves Boy, I’m particularly fond of All This Could End because it features a family of bank robbers. The family that robs together, stays together. How wonderful.


Life in Outer Space

2. MELISSA KEIL19403811

I absolutely fell in love with Melissa Keil’s works after I swallowed Life in Outer Space. Awkward teenager who dreams of being a writer?! SIGN ME UP. I didn’t think things could get better until I met The Incredible Adventures of Cinnamon Girl. On the verge of leaving high school? Life collapsing? The apocolypse coming? So many delicious cupcakes? This book shot up to my favourites shelf in a matter of seconds.

3. JESSICA SHIRVINGTON 9781492601777

Although she’s a prolific writer of wonderful sounding books, I’ve only read Disruption and Corruption so far. I admit! I was dubious of the premises (everyone has technology that allows them to find true love easily? Bah) but it’s so much more than a love story. It has fighting, adventure, espionage, martial arts, guns, and a really greasy burrito.


97819218889534. DIANNEE TOUCHELLA Small Madness | FRONT COVER (10 September 2014)

Even though A Small Madness is only a few months old (published in just February, 2015) it’s entirely sad and beautifully written. It’s a gritty, realistic look at teenage pregnancy with heartbreaking outcomes. I haven’t read Creepy and Maud yet, but with a title like that, it’s on my to-do list.


97819221472575. A.J. BETTS9431702

And we can’t forget the tear-jerker of Zac and Mia. I hesitate to pitch it as the “Australian The Fault in Our Stars!” but…it kind of is. The characters may be a little more bitter in this one, but still entirely managed to win my heart with their struggles with cancer. You won’t find any prettiness here, though, I WARN YOU. Only sadness, swollen faces, ice cream, and sheep. I haven’t read Wavelengths yet, mostly because I didn’t know it existed until now. SO! I will read it one day!

97807022501946. CLAIRE ZORN9780702249761

I only discovered Zorn’s books this year — and proceeded to eat two in rapid succession. The Protected is a heartbreaking contemporary about a girl coming to terms with the death of her older sister — but the HOWS and WHYS are mysterious and I kept flipping pages long into the night to get answers. The Sky So Heavy is an apocalyptic story. Mostly snow and unwashed bodies. I’d easily call it “The Next Tomorrow When The War Began”. (Dare I say it’s better?!) You need both these books in your life, ASAP.


[All links take you to find more information and prices of these fantastic books! Click! Click, I say!]

Review – Fly-In Fly-Out Dad

A year ago, I made a rare flight to Rockhampton. It was a mid-week, evening departure on one of those regional planes no bigger than a Lego model. What struck me most about the flight however as I waited in the boarding lounge, was the sheer number of men and women arriving into Brisbane that night from various regional centres, all still attired in their high-vis work shirts and dusty boots and smelling ‘like diesel and machines’ – the FIFO workforce.

Fly in Fly Out Dad Fly-In Fly-Out Dad is a picture book by Sally Murphy and Janine Dawson that addresses this regular migration of parents (and non-parents) to occupations in remote centres, often for weeks at a time. What is the norm for an increasing number of families is unknown by many children and seldom seen in books. Representations like this picture book and Jo Emery’s My Dad is a FIFO Dad and My FIFO Daddy by Aimee O’Brien, both published late last year, are therefore gold when it comes to surviving this somewhat specialised way of family life.

The FIFO/DIDO employment system exists because the benefits of assisted commuting of employees to mining destinations for example outweighs the costs of relocating families and establishing new communities at the site of employment. This has many benefits for the families involved but several drawbacks too namely the anxieties it can generate within the younger members of a family, most notably, according to studies, in boys.

In Fly-In Fly-Out Dad, our little boy hero loves his dad and seems to accept the idiosyncrasies associated with his job, his funny smells and long absences. Nevertheless, he lives in eternal hope that maybe, one day, Dad will stay and not leave them for weeks on end.

The boy’s family life is a stable, comfortable haven for him, mum, and his baby sister. Having dad at home cements this feeling of security. With Dad around, completeness buoys the boy but also reinforces his desire to have dad around permanently. It’s a simmering anxiety that never fully dissipates.

Through his father’s animated anecdotes and descriptions of life working the mines, he assumes super human qualities in the eyes of his son, which in turn allows the boy to gain a clearer picture of his father. In return, the boy shares ‘all the living’ he has done since he last saw his father.

Anyone who has had a loved one work away for extended periods, be their relationship one of parent and child or as a couple will immediately appreciate how intense this period of initial reunion can be. There is so much want and need to share, to compensate for lost time together that the exchanges don’t always go smoothly.

Sally MurphyThankfully, our little lad’s dad relishes his time at home, dividing it generously between fatherly obligations, his pregnant wife, and adventures with his eldest son. No moment is wasted.

Murphy’s award winning way with words ensures this narrative is relevant and light-hearted yet intrinsically sensitive to the FIFO dynamic. The measured repetition of certain key phrases adds weight and emotion whilst also providing clear expectations within a cyclical time frame. The boy is still deeply dismayed that his father has to leave again but bravely shows stoicism in front of his parents. Dad reminds him to embark on more adventures while he’s away so that his departure ends on a note that rings loudly of resilience and acceptance.

Janine Dawson Dawson’s water coloured depicted family possess a real sense of charm and individuality. I love her portrayal of Super-Dad both in his home environment and in the dongas surrounded by burly workers dining on dainty chocolate brownies and vanilla slices. (The canteen scene is a standout favourite). This clever use of visual comedy illustrates the gender diversity of these careers as well.

More than just a staid explanation of what a work away parent does, Fly-In Fly-Out Dad is a beautiful picture book celebrating the super-hero in every father and an entertaining assurance that the temporary absence of a parent need not make a family any less loving or united.

A brilliant kindergarten to early primary classroom catalyst for discussion about this very real family dynamic.

The Five Mile Press July 2015

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

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

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Fiction Books

Go Set A Watchman by Harper Lee

Set during the mid-1950s, Go Set a Watchman features many of the characters from To Kill a Mockingbird some twenty years later. Scout has returned to Maycomb from New York to visit her father Atticus. She is forced to grapple with issues both personal and political as she tries to understand both her father’s attitude toward society, and her own feelings about the place where she was born and spent her childhood. An instant classic.

The Other Side of the World by Stephanie Bishop

What is home? What is our idea of homesickness? This a novel that takes us from England to Australia to India. It is not just about the places but the people in them and the expectations on them about the idea of home. Charlotte loves the cold of England, her husband, raised in India wants some warmth. They decide to emigrate to Australia with their young children. Charlotte is a character that will lead you on a journey towards her idea of home. The fascinating part of the novel is that all the time the characters are at home they are looking out. A really satisfying novel that will keep you reading and thinking. Chris

The Dust That Falls From Dreams by Louis de Berniéres

Set in the golden years of King Edward VII’s reign, Rosie McCosh and her three sisters are growing up in an idyllic and eccentric household in Kent, with their ‘pals’ the Pitt boys on one side of the fence and the Pendennis boys on the other. But their days of childhood innocence and adventure are destined to be followed by the apocalypse that will overwhelm their world as they come to adulthood. How do they cope and what happens after the war? De Berniere puts us right there in the middle of all that devastation and change. Chris

The Song Collector by Natasha Solomons

Another great read from the author of Mr Rosenblum’s List. Love and music and like Mr Rosenblum another great character in Harry. The novel has a feel of Downton Abbey about it, a time of transition and learning to live in a new world. Humour threads it’s way through this compassionate story of families, especially the handling of the talented young musician! Chris

A Year of Marvellous Ways by Sarah Winman

Two people meet, one an old woman who is waiting for something that she cannot quite explain and the other a young man home from the war broken and waiting to regain his life. He delivers a letter to a man in Cornwall from his dead son and meets Marvellous. Just like When God Was A Rabbit Winman has written another magical, quirky novel. Chris

Motherland by Jo McMillan

Midlands, England in the 1970’s and Jess is helping her mother sell communism to the working class of Tamworth. Jess is twelve years old. Her mother is a delight, a woman who has ideals, a sense of humour and just loves people. She wants them to be happy and above all peaceful. After a few visits to  East Germany she begins to feel a little crushed by all the rules. I laughed out loud a few times at the almost Monty Python humour. If you like your fiction about real events with humour you will love this. Chris

I Saw A Man by Owen Sheers

Three people, three stories all connected by loss and guilt. Owen Sheers builds the tension between these three people like a good thriller. Michael, the writer walks into what he thinks is the empty house of a neighbour. Daniel is an American pilot responsible for ordering drone attacks in various parts of the world. He has written to Michael about his guilt. Josh, a banker and his wife Samanatha and their two children are caught in the middle. So very very good.  Chris

Crime Fiction Books

The Cartel by Don Winslow

Ten years ago Don Winslow wrote the thriller of the decade. The Power of the Dog was an epic thriller that detailed America’s thirty year war on drugs on both sides of the U.S.-Mexican border. Ten years later he has done it again. Winslow blows The Power of the Dog away detailing the next ten years of the so-called “war” on drugs taking everything that was groundbreaking, epic and mind-blowing to a whole new level. A thriller that is impossible to put down and impossible to forget. Jon

Stealing People by Robert Wilson

Charlie Boxer returns in one of Robert Wilson’s best novels to date.There are so many fantastic elements to this story. Big business, politics, war and how they are each inseparable from the other.  Robert Wilson brings all his talent as a supreme thriller writer to bear in the tightly-plotted, fast paced, addictive page-turner. Jon

Those We Left Behind by Stuart Neville

Stuart Neville takes his writing up another notch in his latest thought-provoking and tragic crime novel. This isn’t a crime novel where a mystery needs to be solved or a vicious killer is stalking victims, although you are kept guessing at different times. This is a crime novel about what happens afterwards, after a crime has been committed and punishment has been handed out and served. It is about what happens to those who were involved and how they deal with the consequences. Jon

The English Spy by Daniel Silva

Daniel Silva delivers another stunning thriller in his latest action-packed tale of high stakes international intrigue featuring the inimitable Gabriel Allon, the world’s favourite art restorer, assassin and spy. Daniel Silva returns with another powerhouse of a novel – one that showcases his outstanding skill and brilliant imagination.

The Dying Season by Martin Walker

The Dordogne town of St Denis may be picturesque and sleepy, but it has more than its fair share of mysteries, as Bruno, chef de police, knows all too well. But when Bruno is invited to the 90th birthday of a powerful local patriarch – a war hero with high-level political connections in France, Russia and Israel – he encounters a family with more secrets than even he had imagined. When one of the other guests is found dead the next morning and the family try to cover it up, Bruno knows it’s his duty to prevent the victim from becoming just another skeleton in their closet.

Childrens’ Picture Books

Grandad’s Islind by Benji Davies

Benji Davies, author of Storm Whale has quickly become one of our favourite illustrators and authors. In this new book she tackles with great subtlety and care the subject of death and a small boys struggle to come to terms with the loss of grandfather. Ian

The Night World by Mordecai Gerstein

Everyone in the house is asleep, but a little boy sneaks out into the garden to discover the world of the night is alive with movement and adventure. As the moon wains and the sun rises he gets to experience the joy of a new day. This book is worth buying for the wonderful artwork alone! Ian

Books for First Readers

Izzy Folau: Chance of a Lifetime by Israel Folau

Fans of David Warner’s The Kaboom Kid will love Chance of a Lifetime, which unites two young boys from very different backgrounds when they’re offered the chance to be coached by Australian Rugby star Izzy Folau. As much a story of friendship as it is about rugby! Simon

The Bad Guys by Aaron Blabey

This is Aaron’s first foray into chapter books and he has done it with the wit and humour that we have come to expect from the author of Pig the Pug. The Bad Guys have an image problem they look like BAD guys, they even smell like BAD guys but that is all about to change.  They Bad Guys are planning to break out 200 dogs form the maximum security pound. Can they pull it off? Can they really become the Good Guys ? Ian

Books for Young Readers

The Land of Stories: A Grimm Warning by Chris Colfer

The Bailey twins are back in there eagerly awaited third adventure. Alex is still training to become the next Fairygodmother and Conner is off on a mission in Europe. But there is a creeping evil that threatens the Land of Stories that will bring Alex and Conner back together to face their biggest challenge yet. Jan

Soon by Morris Gleitzman

Soon continues the incredibly moving story of Felix, a Jewish boy still struggling to survive in the wake of the liberation of Poland after the end of World War Two.

Books for Young Adults

Risk by Fleur Ferris

Taylor and Sierra are best friends who both fall for the same gorgeous guy they have met on the internet. Sierra goes to meet Jacob whilst her friends cover for her. But Sierra doesn’t turn up when expected and Taylor and the rest of their friends are thrown into a scary, dark world they know nothing about. Can Sierra be found in time? I couldn’t stop reading this, scary and confronting. Jan

The Sacred Lies of Minnow Bly by Stephanie Oakes

Minnow has been with the cult since she was five years old. They have taken everything from her but when she rebels they take away her hands. When the Prophet is killed and the camp set on fire the FBI know she is aware of what happened. A truly amazing debut novel. Jan


Review: Those We Left Behind by Stuart Neville

9781846556975Stuart Neville takes his writing up another notch in his latest thought-provoking and tragic crime novel.

This isn’t a crime novel where a mystery needs to be solved or a vicious killer is stalking victims, although you are kept guessing at different times. This is a crime novel about what happens afterwards, after a crime has been committed and punishment has been handed out and served. It is about what happens to those who were involved and how they deal with the consequences.

Ciaran and Thomas Devine were convicted of the murder of their foster-father seven years ago. Ciaran, 12-years-old at the time, confessed to the murder and his older brother Thomas was convicted of being an accessory. They have both done their time. Thomas was released two years ago and 19-year-old Ciaran has just been granted parole.

Ciaran’s release causes shock waves. The son of the victim is outraged and can barely control his rage at their release. Accusations were levelled by the brothers which have caused him great distress in the years since the murder.  The detective who took Ciaran’s confession is also concerned. She had doubts about Ciaran’s confession and believes he confessed to ensure Thomas received a lighter sentence. She knows his older brother holds enormous power over the him. Caught in the middle is Ciaran’s probation officer who must help Ciaran adjust to society on the outside. Ciaran went away as a child and although he is now grown up he is still every bit the scared little boy from seven years ago. On his release he immediately gravitates towards Thomas, who was released earlier, and trouble is not far behind the two brothers.

Stuart Neville has constructed a very original crime thriller that skillfully demonstrates that a crime story doesn’t ever end. The effects are always long-lasting and neither truth nor justice can ever provide the closure required by those left behind.

Buy the Book here…

Boomerang Book Bites: The Cartel by Don Winslow

Ten years ago Don Winslow wrote the thriller of the decade. The Power of the Dog was an epic thriller that detailed America’s thirty year war on drugs on both sides of the U.S.-Mexican border. Ten years later he has done it again. Winslow blows The Power of the Dog away detailing the next ten years of the so-called “war” on drugs taking everything that was groundbreaking, epic and mind-blowing to a whole new level.
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Review: The Cartel by Don Winslow

9780434023554Ten years ago Don Winslow wrote the thriller of the decade. The Power of the Dog was an epic thriller that detailed America’s thirty year war on drugs on both sides of the U.S.-Mexican border. Ten years later he has done it again. Winslow blows The Power of the Dog away detailing the next ten years of the so-called “war” on drugs taking everything that was groundbreaking, epic and mind-blowing to a whole new level.

Art Keller and Adán Barrera square off again, only this time the stakes are much higher. There is a price on both their heads and Adán’s time in prison created a power vacuum in Mexico which has filled by a number of new drug cartels. Art is determined to track Adán down and won’t make the same mistake as last time. Art has learned the hard way that justice can only be delivered in person as corruption’s taint stretches far and wide, and across borders.

Adán meanwhile is slowly, and at times reluctantly, rebuilding his empire. But the drug trade has changed in Mexico. All the rules there supposedly were are being eroded, body by body. The cartels fighting for territory and power have militarised. They have also become media savvy which takes the violence and terror to unimaginable levels. Levels that are too sadly real as Winslow once again rips his story straight from the awful truth.

Like with The Power of the Dog Winslow slowly builds up the characters of the novel focusing solely on Art and Adán for much of the first half of the book. Not that there is anything slow about the cat and mouse game Art and Adán are playing. Characters are slowly brought in from the periphery. We are introduced to The Zetas – a force in the drug trade that is truly terrifying, we meet Crazy Eddie Ruiz aka Narco Polo and Jesus the Kid – whose nightmares will give you nightmares. When a series of betrayals occur the war on drugs becomes a true war and Mexico is literally and tragically torn apart. All the while it is business across the border, where the actual drugs are sold, used and abused.

Winslow dedicates the novel to all the journalists killed in Mexico in the last ten years. The dedication page is two full pages of names. We are introduced to the journalists in Mexico who cover the drug war through the battle of the Juarez Valley, the most heartbreaking point of the novel. We have already seen how law enforcement in Mexico at every level  is corrupted by the drug cartels now we witness how they systematically destroy the media and a population. And the violence goes up another awful level.

Bloody, brutal and at times barbaric Don Winslow shines a harsh light on the true war on drugs. A war that the west has ignored and has been complicit in. A war where tens of thousand of people have died, where hundreds of thousands have been displaced, all for the sale of a product into another country where nothing is down to address or curtail the soaring demand for a product that has torn another country to shreds. We have seen what drugs and the war on drugs has done to western cities and politics through brilliant shows like The Wire but we have no comprehension of the true horror being reaped in getting those drugs into western cities. (Both Winslow’s books should be made in to TV series rather than movies)

Don Winslow has again written a thriller that is impossible to put down and impossible to forget.

Buy the book here…

Review: Flashpoints

FlashpointsGeorge Friedman (AKA New York Times bestselling author of The Next 100 Years) asks three questions in his latest book, Flashpoints:

  • How did Europe achieve global domination, politically, militarily, economically, and intellectually?
  • What was the flaw in Europe that caused it to throw away this domination between 1914 and 1945?
  • Is the period of peace that following 1945 what the future of Europe will look like?

The latter question is the one Friedman ultimately aimed to answer, with the initial two marking the entry points and background to facilitate answering it. He wants to know if Europe’s current peace is permanent or merely an interlude.

In the years spanning 1914 and 1945, approximately 100 million Europeans died from political causes that included war, genocide, and planned starvation. So Friedman tells us in the opening line of Flashpoints.

He and his family experienced some of this first hand and their stories form the throughline to the book, contextualising and punctuating some pivotal historical events. Friedman was born in Hungary in 1949; his parents were born in 1912 and 1914 respectively.

The family, through a harrowing journey, eventually escaped to the US, which is where Friedman has spent most of his life. But his life abroad has, if anything, drawn his European heritage and the what-ifs surrounding his family’s survival into sharp focus. He aims to make sense of the world through his own life experiences.

The European Union was created to ensure ‘peace and prosperity’, he notes, asking what would happen if prosperity were to disappear in some or all European states. ‘If Europe has transcended its history of bloodshed, that is important news,’ he writes. ‘If it has not, that is even more important news.’

And so Friedman explores this notion and attempts to answer his three questions through analysing historical events and border tensions. His argument is that the issues have been stitched over, but remain, simmering below the surface.

Friedman’s father believed Europe hadn’t—and would never—change. It would simply act as if nothing had happened. Until tensions reach their peak, that is, and old rivalries and disputes resurface.

Part memoir, part history lesson and thesis, Flashpoints uses the carefully analysed past to predict the future. Only time will reveal how accurate Friedman’s predictions are. In the interim, his hypotheses make for thought-provoking reading.

Review – How Big is Too Small? by Jane Godwin and Andrew Joyner

9780670070756How Big is Too Small?, Jane Godwin (author), Andrew Joyner (illus.), Penguin, 2015.  

Can size hold you back? Can size determine your value? Everyone and everything, from the miniscule to the enormous, has a place in this world. We all have important jobs to do. But Sam wonders – “How big is too small?”

It’s all relative, really. A big brother is tall, but not compared to his father. An ant’s a small creature, but not as small as a flea. Individual leaves are small, but each one contributes to a bigger picture – they make up a tree. And a tree has to start somewhere – as small as a seed.

From the philosophical brilliance of award-winning author, Jane Godwin, with the perfectly matched pairing of the superlative, Andrew Joyner, ‘How Big is Too Small?’ is a book of monumental wisdom and charm.

How big is too small book imageSam, the narrator, is told by his older brother that he is too small to play ball games with the big boys. With a heavy heart, he returns to his room, and he begins to ponder this line of reasoning. Soon, he is making insightful observations, first within his room, then outside his window. It started with a ball and an ant and a flea, then the leaf and the clouds roll onto his radar. As his idea grows, so does his confidence, and when he is needed to rescue the ball atop the roof, Sam makes another incredible discovery… A new friend. They form a bond, and are able to watch over the whole city from their own lookout construction. And with a fresh outlook on the world, and on his big (small) brother, who (or what) is too small now?

How big is too small book image1Godwin’s rhyming text is riveting, rollicking and masterful, reminiscent of Suess’s language. She has created this simple story about fitting in, being included and growing up, but with added depth and clarity that give readers the autonomy to question the big (and small) nuances of the world. Andrew Joyner has cultivated the seed, so to speak, effectively including loads of visual details about Sam’s philosophical interests to facilitate further discussion and hours of perusal by the book’s audience. His characteristically bold, energetic cartoon illustrations, with some collage features, simply take the story to another level – they bring about a sense of familiarity, are naturally captivating, thought-raising and eye-catching. From close-up shots of falling leaves, to sketches of buildings, scaled diagrams and handmade telescopes, there are plenty of references to perspective and proportion that can be explored.

‘How Big is Too Small’ is an intriguing read-aloud picture book that encourages reflection and creative thinking, and self-acceptance, delightfully fitting for any sized person from age four.

Review – Teacup

TeacupI want to frame this picture book and hang it on my wall. To label Teacup as having bucket-loads of appeal for audiences familiar with and sympathetic to displacement, migration, social disruption and family change strips away the myriad of other sophisticated, elegant qualities this book deserves to be described by. It is simply sublime.

Teacup by Rebecca Young and Matt Ottley is a timeless story of a boy fleeing his home to ‘find another’. We know not where from nor why but immediately warm to his story after learning that amongst the meagre possessions he takes with him is a teacup which holds some earth from where he used to play.

Teacup illo spreadUnlike any other creature on earth, the need to retain ones past in order to make ones way better into the future is strongest in we mere humans, especially in times of dramatic change. Therefore, the boy sets off across seas sometimes kind and friendly, other times wild and testing. Along the way he has time to contemplate all that he has left behind; his home, his sense of place, his beloved family and the naivety of childhood. The clouds that swirl above him may not be permanent but his memories remain secure as does his hope, until one day that hope takes root in the form of a sapling apple tree.

This symbolic tree of life sustains him until the day his is able to build his life anew; older, wiser, a better receptacle for change, just like his teacup.

RY-001The beauty of this story is its incredible scope. It could be describing loss or the dislocation of refugees. Others will interpret it as a story of a search for love and belonging. Whatever journey Teacup takes you on, Young’s eloquent use of words and symbolic imagery massage your emotions to the point of quiet reverence. The narrative bobs gently upon these thematic eddies, always moving forward, into the unknown.

Matt OttleyEven more arresting than the text are Ottley’s illustrations. More like a collection of fine art, they are jaw-drop beautiful, each a breathtaking portrait of the boy’s journey. Dense in texture and meaning, Ottley’s illustrations reflect sky and sea, at once both soothing and uplifting.

Teacup is a picture book to treasure for its undiluted beauty and the subtle way it transcends moralising on human rights and condition, thus making it an important and exquisite reading experience for youngsters aged four and above.

Potential award winner.

Scholastic Press April 2014

Review: When You Leave by Monica Ropal

22928890Okay, wow, this book took me by surprise. It did look delicious, of course (I’m notorious for picking up books based on extreme cover love) and the promise of muuuurder (I’m normal, I swear) added an extra hook. But the first 30% was so much teen angst, cheating relationships, lying, and general meanness all round that I was about to throw up my hands and run away. I’m SO glad I didn’t. When You Leave by Monica Ropal developed into a mind whirling whodunnit mystery.

I’m definitely a fan of murder mysteries. And this book’s ending is EXTRAORDINARY.

It’s narrated by Cass. She’s a snarky skater and goes to a private school where she doesn’t really “belong”. She’s built walls to stop herself being hurt because her BFF, Mattie, nearly died of throat cancer when they were kids. She still has her tight-knit group of skater friends, but is an absolute snob to the rich kids at her school. Cass was pretty unlikeable, but she’s supposed to be that way. This is a story of her growing. I really liked the end result and her character development was well written.

SO. MURDER? Someone kills a kid, Cooper, at Cass’ school. BUT WHO DID IT?! I couldn’t figure it out! I suspected EVERYONE. One of Cass’ skater friends is the police’s suspect, but what if it was one of Cooper’s jock friends? WHAT IF IT WAS MATTIE?!! I loved Mattie. He was a sweetie, and also mute, but as he and Cass grew apart through the stress in the story…I worried about him being a suspect too. I literally couldn’t put the book down after 60%!

There is romance, since Cooper (pre-death; there are no zombies in this book unfortunately) and Cass were a secret couple. But it really isn’t the focus, which is refreshing in YA since everything usually seems so romance focused. Mattie and Cass have an awesome friendship that was purely platonic. I found it quite refreshing!

I have  a few negatives, mainly that:

  • The beginning was a bit sleepy. Still intriguing though! Just make sure you push past that to get to the scary, juicy parts.
  • I worried about Mattie, who is mute, having zero forms of communication!! (This isn’t really a negative on the storytelling, though.) The book says he speaks solely through his “eyes”, but how is that logical? Let me snort. No one can go through life communicating JUST like that, yet, even in his final years of high school he didn’t appear to be learning sign language. So I questioned the realism, but that’s really only a tiny issue.

I definitely enjoyed this one! The mystery was so well done and literally EVERYONE was a liar at some point and it was so so suspicious. I loved Cass by the end and totally recommend this to fans of contemporaries and mysteries and lovers of books like We Were Liars.

“I’m afraid…that when the next person leaves with a piece of my heart..there won’t be anything left.” ~ When You Leave



Review: The End of Plenty

The End of PlentyNational Geographic writer Joel K Bourne Jr studied something MEGO—short for ‘my eyes glaze over—at university. For agronomy, a combination of soil and plant science, doesn’t exactly inspire intrigue.

Or even understanding of what it is for that matter. (I’ll confess I had no idea what an agronomist was prior to reading this book—I’d have hazily guessed it was something agriculture-related.)

But it’s also proved one of those areas of research whose time has come. With climate change and its effects on food production snowballing, an in-depth understanding of how food is produced and the effects of various chemicals, soil types, and more have on it, is invaluable.

Especially when combined with the ability to convey that information to others. Bourne, who marries his agronomy knowledge with writing prowess, has written The End of Plenty to explore and convey complex issues in engaging, accessible terms.

At its crux, the issue is that we’re fast approaching a point where, through a combination of factors such as climate change and skyrocketing population growth, we won’t be able to produce plentiful enough food to feed everybody.

A four-degree temperature increase, which is highly possible and even likely, would render half the world’s farmland unfarmable. Which means dire things for humanity. (Bourne cites one of his university lecturers’ favourite sayings: there can be no culture without agriculture.)

Currently, farmers produce enough calories to feed nine billion people nutritious, 2700-calorie vegetarian meals. But most of that food is concentrated in first-world nations and doesn’t make it to the people who most need it. That gap is only likely to widen as climate change effects exacerbate.

Agricultural researcher Norman Borlaug famously said (and Bourne quotes him on page 55) that: ‘If you desire peace, cultivate justice, but at the same time cultivate the fields to produce more bread; otherwise there will be no peace.’

The world is far from a good place now; it’s almost unimaginable how terrible it will be once food shortages kick in vehemently. Which is why The End of Plenty is timely read and one that’s attempting to get us to head off the issues before they come to pass.

This book contains much I hadn’t known. There are, for example, some 50,000 edible plants in the world, but just three—corn, wheat, and rice—directly or indirectly (through livestock feed) make up 90 per cent of the calories we consume. And who’d have guessed Egyptian people ingest more wheat per capita than any other people in the world?

We’re also feeding most of the grain we produce to livestock—a kind of double handling, if you’d like. For it actually takes five times more grain to get the equivalent amount of calories from pork as it does from eating the grain itself. Lots of grain grown also goes not to food but to (the misleadingly named) biofuel production in the form of ethanol.

Frighteningly, a 2013 of 27,000 UK primary children survey showed one in three thought cheese was a vegetable and one in five thought pasta came from animals. Australian students weren’t exempt: a quarter of Year 6 students thought yoghurt grew on trees.

All of which makes me think: blergh, depressing stuff.

Embedded among these facts are some meaty discussions of some of the theories around these issues, the most famous being that of Thomas Malthus. Though his theories of population growth being ruthlessly reigned in by food scarcity are contested by some theorists for various reasons, Malthus outlined a plan that includes the following remarkably common sense steps:

  • cease farmland expansion (especially into rainforests)
  • shift diets away from meat consumption
  • wean cars off biofuels
  • reduce the amount of food wastage.

As in the kind of steps we really should be taking if we want to have any hope of keeping global temperature increases to the wishful two degrees.

We all tend to switch off when it comes to wicked problems—they’re too vast, too overwhelming, and we feel too helpless to have any hope of tackling them. But understanding them and arming ourselves with some key guidance is a first step. Bourne’s The End of Plenty gives us this, and in very readable, digestible terms. Something tells me agronomy is no longer—or soon won’t be—MEGO.

The Mayne Inheritance and other Australian Gothic Classics

I’ve been immersed in gothic tales lately – doing a spot of research for a story I’m working on. And it was after several friends insisted I read Rosamond Siemon’s 1997 non-fiction work, The Mayne Inheritance, that I finally picked it up.

I couldn’t put it down.

The Mayne InheritanceSiemon delves into the lives of the Maynes – a wealthy Brisbane family who donated 270 acres of riverside land to the University of Queensland to build a new campus in 1926. It might sound like a worthy story of philanthropy. But it’s actually a gripping tale of murder, madness and social exclusion. It sheds light on the murky origins of the family’s wealth and explores the stigma that still surrounds the family today.

Siemon also paints a vivid picture of Brisbane’s early history – from the mid nineteenth century, when it was a lonely colonial outpost, prone to floods and fires, through to the early twentieth century when Brisbane developed into a flourishing river city.

Ever since finishing the book I’ve looked at my hometown with fresh eyes – inspecting the streets for markers of the era that Siemon describes.

For the Term of His Natural LifeIt might come as a surprise that Brisbane has much of a past to explore. As a teenager I recall heritage buildings being torn down in the dead of night by dodgy demolition crews. But enough fragments of old Brisbane remain, as a reminder of the people and events that shaped the city.

There is certainly a great deal of the Mayne’s legacy left. The University of Queensland remains on the sprawling St Lucia site, donated by surgeon and philanthropist Dr James Mayne. And income from the quietly elegant Brisbane Arcade, which was built on the site of the family’s butcher shop, still supports the University’s Medical School. The Mayne’s grand home, Moorlands, is preserved in the grounds of the Wesley Hospital.

In true gothic fashion, their legacy includes a ghost. The spirit of Mrs Mayne, dressed in black, is said to bustle along the upper floor of the Brisbane Arcade – drifting through shop windows and rattling display cabinets in the quiet of the afternoon.

Picnic at Hanging RockAlthough Australia might seem like an unlikely place for gothic literature – what with the dearth of draughty castles, foggy lanes and sinister gargoyles, there’s actually a strong tradition in our novels. Marcus Clarke’s classic, For the Term of his Natural Life, Joan Lindsay’s Picnic at Hanging Rock and Rosa Praed’s many novels of colonial isolation all pit ill-prepared settlers against the foreboding bush.

Sonya Hartnett’s terrifying Wolf Creek and Kenneth Cook’s Wake in Fright continue the tradition, with the outback taking on a sinister personae, where no one is safe.

Plenty of research material for me to be getting on with, but I might leave the last two until after I’ve finished exploring the Australian outback!

Julie Fison writes for children and young adults. Her books include the Hazard River adventure series for young readers, Choose Your Own Ever After, a pick-a-path series that lets the reader decide how the story goes, and Counterfeit Love for young adults.

Boomerang Book Bites: Hush Hush by Laura Lippman

This novel is everything Laura Lippman has been doing so well in her standalone novels but this time with Tess Monaghan. Lippman takes a confronting but tragically all too familiar crime and explores the fallout, years later, for all those involved. Combined with the ups and downs of parenthood this is not only a page-turning addictive mystery but an exploration of motherhood and the lengths, good and bad, mothers will go to for their children.
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Review – Teddy Took the Train

Teddy Took the TrainLoss is a natural part of life. Nearly all of us have experienced it, losing a pet, a loved one, a favourite piece of antique china, mental sanity. As adults, we are equipped with strategies and understanding enough to assist us to the next station in life, to get over it. However, when a child is faced with the sudden loss of say, a beloved toy, feelings of desperation and grief amplify because of their less refined fields of reference.

This new picture book, Teddy Took the Train by Nicki Greenberg mirrors an identical incident my Miss experienced several years ago (cue Pinkie, the Rabbit) and is one I’m positive many a distracted parent has had to contend with.

Teddy and DotDot loves days out in the city with her mum. They enjoy many child-cherishable moments together like shopping at the markets and munching on buns for morning tea. Teddy is Dot’s silent companion and experienced commuter. He and Dot take in the world together through the rain-splattered windows of the train home, oblivious to the crushing crowds surrounding them because after all, for a child the window seat is everything.

Distractions spring up everywhere but when mum cries to follow her at their stop, Dot has to make a hasty exit completely forgetting about Teddy. Her best mate’s absence goes unnoticed at first. Splashing in storm puddles creates too much here and now pleasure that is impossible to ignore. When the crushing reality that Teddy is missing hits, Dot is plunged into despair.

But wait, did the train take Teddy or did he take the Train? Dot suspects this is exactly what Teddy had in mind all along and is using this opportunity to get to the picnic he’s been invited to at Bear Bend; crafty old bear.

Nevertheless, he is taking an awfully long time to get back home. Concerns creep into Dot’s curly-haired head as she counts the hours of his disappearance and is torn between hope and dismay. Thankfully, Dot is made of sturdy stoic stuff and gives our roving ted all the credit he deserves.

Nicki GreenbergGreenberg portrays this familiar tale with visceral warmth and verve. Her use of causal rhyme moves Dot and Teddy’s day along at a comfortable pace that allows young readers to becoming fully absorbed in Ted’s adventure.

The illustrations, executed in a variety of mediums including scanned objects and digital collages provide plenty of stop and seek moments and create an authentic inner-city-storm-day mood.

I’m not going to tell you if Dot and Teddy are ever reunited. It’s the kind of anxious desperation many of us (as kids) have lived through and that future generations who insist on taking their toys everywhere with them, will have to endure. Needless to say, Pinkie, the Rabbit never made it back after his trip around the Brisbane train network, but we like to think he found a new little girl (or boy) to roam the rails with, and is seeing the world in the way only a stuffie can.

Experience Teddy’s amazing adventures for yourself and with children 3 to 5 years old, here.

Allen & Unwin April 2015

Review: Me And Earl and the Dying Girl by Jesse Andrews

12700353I’m the kind of bookworm that subscribes to “READ THE BOOK FIRST” when it comes to movie adaptions. Do I love movie adaptions? Oh definitely yes. But the original is first priority. So I had to read Me And Earl, and the Dying Girl by Jesse Andrews before the movie hit cinemas (which, actually, was just yesterday).

The thing you most need to know is: THIS BOOK IS EPICALLY HILARIOUSI couldn’t stop laughing. This is the close-your-eyes-because-you’re-giggling-so-hard kind of read. Although the humour does nosedive into crude jokes very often, so do be aware of that.

From watching the trailer though, I have a feeling it’s going to deviate from the storyline a lot. Which is hilarious and ironic because Me and Earl and the Dying Girl is about a kid who makes horrific homemade films in the back yard. AND, there’s this golden quote in the book:

When you convert a good book to a film, stupid things happen.

Let’s just laugh, shall we? And sincerely hope the movie does the book justice! (The author did the screenplay, which is comforting!) You can check out the trailer here.




  •  Like I said: HILARIOUS. I’m just so amazed that I was snickering so much. Greg is really self-deprecating, but brutally honest. He has the funniest way of summing things up and he has such an odd little brain.
  • It breaks the 4th wall spectacularly. A lot of books do this these days…just popping out of narration to talk directly to the reader. But this? This does it perfectly. The entire book is filled with quips and jokes and instructions directly to the reader. It’s like a diary, with lists and bullet points and scripts. Greg is also so mortally ashamed of his stupidity at times he makes a lot of comments like this:

If after reading this book you come to my home and brutally murder me, I do not blame you.

Let me laugh, Greg. You’re adorable.

  • Also, yes, Greg is incredibly realistic. And relatable! He’s the most average of averagest guys. He describes himself as “chubby” and totally lets his mouth get away on him. He’s not stupid, but he doesn’t particularly apply himself in school. He doesn’t have friends, but he’s friendly to everyone. He appears to have Anxiety. I say “appears” because the book doesn’t delve into the topic (I feel like it’s brushed over as “just being a teen”) but his reactions to a lot of circumstances actually make me think he has anxiety. But I digress! I loved Greg for his realism even though he often acts like an idiot. But come now. He is a teenage boy.
  • It’s about cancer, but it’s not. It’s about GREG. So, yes it’s a “cancer book”, but I wouldn’t say it’s an average one. (Definitely not comparable to The Fault In Our Stars.) Greg says right up front that it’s not an inspiring book about “finding peace through trials”. He spoke truth. This is the story of a boy’s senior year in high school, about friendship and growing up and moving on and facing difficult truths.


There were a few things I’m not the world’s biggest fan of. Like the fact that Rachel, the “Dying Girl” part of the title, didn’t have a very vibrant personality. Also Greg’s apathy bothered me, but that could be his coping mechanism. The humour does also get sexist sometimes, which I do not stand for!

But ultimately? I had a great time reading this! It’s definitely one I recommend (come now! You need to read it before the movie comes out!) for any age. You don’t need to be a teen to be cracking up over this. The voice is just so good and the whole thing is wonderfully quotable. I couldn’t put it down!



Player Profile: Martin McKenna, author of The Boy Who Talked To Dogs


Me and 2 of my rescue dogs copyMartin McKenna, author of The Boy Who Talked To Dogs

Tell us about your latest creation:

Hi, I’m Martin McKenna, otherwise known as The Dreadlock Dog Man. I’m Australia’s best-known dog communicator and give out a lot of free advice to dog lovers all over Australia. I particularly like helping rescue dogs. The Boy Who Talked To Dogs is my new international memoir. It’s about how I first learned the language and customs of dogs as a boy – and in a very unusual way.

9781510702806I was an Irish street kid and lived rough with a pack of six dogs for three years. I lived in Garryowen, a small countryside suburb nailed to the outskirts of Limerick City. I was thirteen was when I ran away. It was a hard age for me. I was severely hyperactive. So illiterate I couldn’t even read and write my own name properly and teachers bullied me for being unable to learn. I felt like a freak because I was one of identical triplets. My beloved mother was German, so it didn’t take long before my brothers and I were jeeringly called ‘Hitler’s little experiments’. I’m from a large family of ten and my mother Sigrid was an amazing, lovely woman – but our charming Irish father could drink for Ireland and often became violent. One night I decided I’d had enough of complicated humans. I climbed out my bedroom window, shimmied down the drainpipe and started running down the road, heading to where the stray dogs of Garryowen hung out.

If you read The Boy Who Talked To Dogs you’ll find out about the six extraordinary dogs I hooked up with. They became my best friends, family and even my teachers – showing me during the three years I lived rough with them the incredible ways of the Dog World. It’s this knowledge and wisdom I share out in two funny cartoons every evening on my Facebook and Twitter pages. They’re developing quite a following!

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

I grew up in Garryowen, which is a small suburb nailed to the edge of Limerick City in Ireland. When I was old enough, I joined the exodus of young Irish people looking for work and ended up traveling around the world. When I arrived in Australia, I met and fell head over heels in love with my future wife Lee. We have four amazing children together and live on a small farm in Nimbin in northern NSW with a pack of six rescue strays. I’ve now lived longer in Australia than I have in Ireland but am always proud to call myself Celtic Irish.

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

As a kid I might have experienced a lot of fun adventure and freedom, but my main goal was to stay alive. Not many people thought I’d be still standing here today – but I am – alive and kicking!

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

This is my fourth book and definitely my best. My last three books are about dog language and what life lessons dogs can teach us – but this book is very special and I’m incredibly proud of it. It’s my personal story of how six ordinary stray dogs saved my life and soul. Writing it brought back a lot of powerful memories and reminded me how much I owe to dogs for bringing me true friendship when I needed it most. Thirteen is also the age of real adventure if you have a rebel spirit!

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

Writing for me is all done outside on my farmhouse verandah. I have a great old carved chair and matching carved round table, all chewed around the edges from the hundreds of rescue dogs I’ve had stay over the years. My wild garden is what I look out on to. Dogs laze around, birds take shortcuts past my ears, lizards run across my bare feet, the occasional python winds past the roof beams looking for a better sunning spot. I scribble – very messily – in exercise books and am always, always looking for a pen.

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

When I’m not writing – and I write hours of poetry a day – I listen to ABC radio, the BBC and NPR to feed my mind. However, I keep flicking through my battered copy of the Tain, which is a translation of a very famous epic ancient poem from Ireland. It features the most famous Irish hero Cuchulainn. It’s still so fresh and contemporary sounding. Celtic women were feisty and could be warriors and power brokers. The ancient Celts were articulate, courageous and exciting. Look them up and enjoy a feast of a new world if you’re not familiar with them – especially the poems in true translated form. If you’re a poet they’re a must to read!

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

I couldn’t even read or write my own name properly in school, but I knew and loved the old Celtic mythical stories from hearing people talk about them.

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

Huckleberry Finn grabs my imagination. He inspires me to lie back and sometimes let life wash over me. I don’t think I’ll ever be able to give up my freedom either!

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

I strip off my shirt and plant my feet on the edge of the verandah and roar out my lyrics so they echo around the hillsides. I’ve made up a new style of punk music called RAW. No instruments – just my voice and a hell of a lot of energy! I live in the country so I can really let rip.

What is your favourite food and favourite drink?:

I love a big cooked Irish breakfast at any hour of the day or night – and drink tea by the bucketful. I put a chunk of fresh ginger in my mug – and it’s amazing – try it.

Who is your hero? Why?:

Cuchulainn of ancient Irish myth. He liked women, dogs, horses, poetry, battles and had good friends and bad enemies. He was courageous and superstitious. He was incredibly hyperactive like me – and no one had a problem with it. Sometimes I think I was born in the wrong century. I was born to be an ancient Celtic warrior.

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

I think books are about to enter a new Renaissance because the authors are finally going to step forward and become glamorous celebrities. People will recognize their faces. Know their backgrounds. Legends will grow up around them. Humans are addicted to great stories – and always will be – so I think storytellers are about to step out of the shadows and take center stage again. If you’re an author, it’s going to be quite intrusive sharing so much of your private time being on social media – but that’s going to be the new game – adapt or go do a normal job. The good thing about social media is if you kind of fall into it willingly – it’s rather like being invited to the world’s biggest and most interesting cocktail party. You can wander around introducing yourself and chatting to the most unusual people around the world. People holding guns in Arkansas or a nun holding a baby in downtown Delhi or a rainforest head clan man on a laptop computer in Brazil. Fascinating!

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Boomerang Book Bites: Ardennes 1944 by Antony Beevor

Antony Beevor’s latest book completes his histories of the Eastern and Western Fronts of the Second World War. Beginning with the award winning Stalingrad then Berlin and concluding with D-Day and now Ardennes, Beevor takes his comprehensive eye for detail to Hitler’s last ditch gamble of the war in what became known as The Battle of the Bulge.
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Do you read more in winter or in summer?

Winter is a popular time for book lovers, the season where many of us enjoy staying in, rugging up and delving into a good book. But do we read more in the winter months or in summer?

Summer brings to mind images of sunny days, cool drinks and reading a book on the deck or under the shade of a tree. Many of us take our holidays in summer, reading in airports, on buses and at caravan parks. In summer we seem to be out and about more, enjoying the sunshine and daylight savings, BBQs and day trips, festivals and markets; but do we have more time for reading?

The only time I read during the day is when I’m stuck waiting. It might be waiting at the Doctor’s office, waiting at a cafe for a friend or waiting for a plane. None of these daytime waiting and reading opportunities are at all weather dependent. In fact, when it’s terribly hot and I’m heading out and about, I’m more likely to slip a bottle of water into my handbag in place of a book. For me, summer is a time for travelling light and keeping out of the sun.

I don’t know about you, but I do most of my reading at night and in bed. I find reading before sleep is the best way for me to unwind from the day, tell my body it’s time for rest, and occupy my mind on a single task to minimise the internal chatter.

It’s a fact that in winter we sleep for longer, and when it’s time to get up in the morning we find ourselves reluctant to venture out into the frosty morning. There’s actually a scientific reason for this. In winter there is less daylight, and as a result the pineal gland produces more melatonin, which makes us feel sleepy. When we wake up it’s still dark outside and the pineal gland has yet to shut down, hence our reluctance to get up in the morning.

I’m a city dweller, and in the summertime, hot nights are often filled with the sounds of music, BBQs and parties finishing long into the night. In winter, people are keen to get home and don’t seem to venture much outside (except to get from A to B), meaning the city is much quieter. Quiet time is a great time for reading.

Taking all of this into consideration, I think I’ve decided that I do read more in winter than in summer. There are less social gatherings to attend, and it’s nice and cosy in bed with the electric blanket on and a good book in my hands.

What about you? What are your reading habits and do you read more in winter or in summer?

Image courtesy of
Image courtesy of Incourage

Tania McCartney’s Passionate Spirit Shines

imageAs we grow up and experience a variety of things that life has to offer, we become attuned to our own identity and sense of self. We develop tastes, interests, abilities, likes and dislikes, individual quirks, and future aspirations. We are all unique and special in our own little ways. One such individual who is truly one of a kind is the multi-talented, all-round exceptional lady; author, illustrator, editor, presenter and Kids’ Book Review founder, Tania McCartney. It has been an absolute pleasure learning more about her writerly life, exciting upcoming events and inspiration behind her latest striking release, Peas in a Pod (see review).    

Congratulations on your most recent release ‘Peas in a Pod’! How did you celebrate its launch?  
I was actually in Singapore for the Asian Festival of Children’s Content, and well … when in Singapore, launch a book! We celebrated the launch during a morning tea break at the festival. I presented on the creation of the book, talked about Tina Snerling’s amazing illustrations, and then had a book signing. It was lots of fun.
See Tania’s write up of her launch experience in Singapore here:

What was the inspiration behind this story? 
I tend to write my books intuitively, without overt inspiration. Characters pop onto my head and a story quickly follows; I just write it down! But if I think about it, the Peas story is perhaps a subconscious desire to promote diversity which is a hot topic in PBs worldwide at the moment. The movement was initiated in the United States, perhaps as a counterpoint to the myriad PBs that tell kids ‘we are all the same! everyone is equal! you’re all winners!’ The thing is, Real Life is not same-same and is certainly not equal. We need to teach kids they will sometimes win and sometimes lose and that being ourselves or standing out in any way as an individual is a fine thing indeed. I’m a strong advocate for teaching kids to never compromise their uniqueness … and to let no one dull their shine.  

‘Peas in a Pod’ is a wonderful celebration of individuality, accepting each others’ unique qualities, and realising one’s dreams. We’ve seen these themes in some of your other books, including ‘This is Captain Cook’, ‘Tottie and Dot’ and ‘An Aussie Year’. Was this your intention when writing these books?
Not consciously. I was at a talk recently where some famous author was quoted as saying that all books are in some way autobiographical, ie: there’s a little part of us in everything we write. I’ve never been a conformist or someone who needs to belong to a group. I’m all for quirks and points of difference and the stretching (or obliteration) of stereotypes. So my little Peas in a Pod, and many of my other characters just seem to morph into people with a solid sense of self. I believe one of the greatest gifts we can teach children is to honour their own sense of self—and to trust it.  

What message do you hope for readers to gain from reading ‘Peas in a Pod’?
First and foremost, I want them to find the story entertaining. Entertain first. Educate second (preferably imperceptibly when it comes to fictional picture books). I want it to charm them mentally and then resonate with them emotionally, even if they don’t know why. Beyond that, I hope they come away from the story knowing that yes, while we all eat, drink, breathe (suck our thumbs, in the cased of the Peas!) and have the same coloured blood, we are, each and every one of us, different to the point of kooky.  

imageWhat is your favourite part of the story? Why? 
My favourite part is the page with the girls on the swings. It’s just so poignant. It’s at a point in the story where the ‘sameness’ has clearly broken their spirits, and the image is so emotional for me. Swings are meant to be swung on, with little legs high in the air, but here, they are stationary. It’s a perfect image in terms of visual literacy. My other favourite part is the last page, but I can’t say what happens there because it will spoil the story!  

What’s your most unique quality? 
I love your questions! Probably my ability to ‘see’ words when I write. It’s hard to explain but I’m a visual writer in a literal sense—I see colours and shapes and characters and tones and patterns and themes that help shape the words that emerge. I’ll often storyboard or layout books I’m writing so I can ‘see’ how things are unfolding. This has made it a lot easier to transition into illustrating, too, which I’m doing for the first time this year.  

‘Peas in a Pod’ is written in a simple, whimsical sense with that gorgeous repetition that keeps readers engaged. How do you decide which writing style best suits your stories? Does this decision come naturally or it is a conscious effort to strive for perfection? Do you have a preferred style of writing?
Again, I think it’s intuitive. I know my audience for each book, so I write with that audience in mind, using appropriate language and word usage. Having said that, I don’t believe in patronizing the reader, and will still use relatively sophisticated text whenever I can. Context and association is powerful, even at a very young age. That’s how kids learn delicious words!  

My favourite style of writing, you’ve already mentioned—whimsical. I adore magical realism. I love rhyme (but it has to be infallible) and although picture books are my obsession, the books I enjoy writing the most are junior fiction because they allow me so much more wordage (I have three WIP junior fiction novels).  

I think repetition should be used achingly sparingly, and should only be used for the very young. It has to be rhythmic and succinct and it has to stop soon after it starts. A book with endless repetition is my idea of hell. The only person in the world who’s ever done it right is Dr Seuss, and even then, enough is enough!  

I’m also a strong believer in minimal text picture books, as I feel the images should do most of the talking. That’s why they’re ‘picture’ books.  

imageYou’ve had tremendous success working with illustrator, Tina Snerling, including collaborations on the award-winning ‘An Aussie Year’, and ‘Tottie and Dot’. Her pictures in ‘Peas in a Pod’ perfectly compliment the sweet, colourful nature of the story. What do you like about her artistic style? How much illustrative detail do you normally provide, and how much is left to her imagination?
I love that she blends stylish modern with heartfelt whimsy so seamlessly. Her sense of colour is unparalleled, and beautiful colour is HUGE for me. I love that her artistic repertoire is vast—she can switch from fine art to cartoon in a nanosecond. And I love her penchant for detail. She never fails to astound me with the tiny little bits and pieces that make any picture book great.  

The more books we do together, the more creative license Tina has because she understands what I write. Along the way, I might make comment on something tiny that would better support text, but other than that, she comes up with all the characters on her own (I always love them) and also adds ‘extra’ ideas and elements that enhance my words.  

Tina and I are really lucky to work closely on our books—not something all creators enjoy. This brings the books that extra ‘something’ that can only come from open collaboration. The end result is more seamless, more cohesive, more plump with meaning.  

You are an inspirational literacy advocate and supporter of children’s book creators with your many roles; author, illustrator, editor, speaker, reviewer and founder of the reputable ‘Kids’ Book Review’ literature site and the 52-Week Illustration Challenge. How is your working life managed? Which of these roles do you feel most established? Is there a particular one you wish you had more time for? 
It’s interesting because as my career has developed, I’ve found a much greater need for focus, which means dropping a few of those roles, particularly in the last six months. I actually found I was no longer managing to ‘do it all’—at least not without compromising my health and sanity.  

I genuinely love helping others, promoting other works and sharing all I’ve learned—and of course, I’ll never stop beating children over the head with books books books! But I’ve had to take a big step back of late, to focus on my own journey, which is undergoing a lot of change. After a 25+ year hiatus, I’m re-entering the world of illustration with my first author/illustrator contract, so it’s been interesting watching that side of myself develop.  

I‘ve been writing professionally for 27 years now, in varying genres, so that side of my career is well-established, as is my speaking and presenting. Illustration, while it’s always been a part of my life, is brand new in a professional/career sense. So that’s what I’ll be dedicating more time to these coming years. Notice I said ‘dedicating’ and not ‘wishing’. We all need to stop wishing and just dedicate. It’s so important.  

What do you love about writing children’s books? 
Everything. The initial concept, the research and development, the illustration process, the editing, design, layout—everything. Then there’s the reaction from kids. That’s just the best. To see kids resonate with or learn from you work … to see them scurry into a corner and sit with my books and devour every page. It’s insanely rewarding.  

Which books did you enjoy reading as a child? Have any of these influenced your writing style?
Like anyone born from the ‘50s to the ‘70s, I adored Enid Blyton, Roald Dahl, Eric Carle and Dr Seuss. Yes, I think they have influenced both my style and content—magical realism and wonder. I remember being particularly struck by James and the Giant Peach. It blew my mind. CS Lewis and the Chronicles of Narnia similarly reconfigured my internal world, and I do think this has affected the way I write as an adult.  

imageWith all your knowledge and experience gained over the past 25+ years in mind, what piece of advice could you share with aspiring writers in the children’s literature industry?
Never stop learning and growing your skillset. Watch The Gap by Ira Glass (search for it on YouTube) and be really self-effacing with what you’re producing. I’ve lost count of the people who’ve said to me ‘I’ve decided I want to write children’s books. How do I get published?’ My response? ‘Dedicate the next ten years to daily writing. Then ask me that same question.’  

The best writers and illustrators know they can always improve, and do not take offence when critiqued or rejected. They just keep honing their craft, and keep themselves current.  

Also, write from the heart and write what you love. I don’t agree that we should write for kids or publishers. I think we should write what WE want, what WE love, and do it in a voice that will appeal to our target market. Or better yet, just write it and then assess the target market at the end! We need to love what we write. We need to be overcome with passion and adoration for the stories tumbling onto our blank pages. THAT is how we end up with contracts.  

imageWhat’s next for Tania McCartney? What can we look forward to seeing from you in the near future?
September 2015 sees the release of a new book for the National Library, illustrated by the superlative Andrew Joyner—Australian Kids Through the Years. At the same time, two follow-up books to An Aussie Year will be released in the UK (with a small print run here)—An English Year and A Scottish Year. These will be followed in 2016 by two more international titles in the series. So excited about these, but you’ll have to wait and see where they’ll be set!  
In 2016, I have a picture book—Smile Cry—coming out, illustrated by Jess Racklyeft who I met through my 52-Week Illustration Challenge. It’s really different and I can’t wait to see the response to it. Jess’s illustrations are so gorgeous.  

imageIn either 2016 or 2017, my next National Library book will be out—a follow-on to This is Captain Cook, with my dear friend Christina Booth. It’s about one of my favourite historical figures of all time—and book three is on another favourite (this time a woman).  
But the most exciting news of all is my first author/illustrator contract. It’s going to be a high-page-count book and will take me nearly a year to complete. It’s a little overwhelming making this career transition, and a little scary, but our industry is so inclusive and warm—I know I’ll have some supportive hands holding me up!

Thank you so much for answering my questions, Tania!
I LOVE THEM! Thank you SO much, Romi. xxx  

Find more information about Tania, her books, and initiatives at the following links:
52-Week Illustration Challenge: 

To purchase her invaluable ebook resource for writers and illustrators; The Fantastical Flying Creator, please follow this link:

Around The World With YA Books

One of my favourite things about reading is that you can literally see the world…and yet not move from your comfy reading nook. Well, okay, it doesn’t replace the “real thing”, but if one doesn’t have the ability to jet over the world trying Hungarian Goulash and Sushi, then reading books is a good replacement.


If you’re suppressing a secret wanderlust, like me, and want to read books that’ll take you to different countries? BE CALM. I have a list of books for you.

** Note: I won’t list every country here! Because that’d be mildly ridiculous. So some countries I’ll go into more detail, and others just have a brief overview. **




  • ANNA AND THE FRENCH KISS: Boarding school in Paris? YES PLEASE. I totally love this one! [PURCHASE]
  • JUST ONE DAY: A gallivant around Europe after high school ends. [PURCHASE]
  • DIE FOR ME: This is apparently about death and Paris. [PURCHASE]


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  • HEIST SOCIETY: They totally traipse all over Europe in this one, but the main heist is in London. [PURCHASE]
  • MISS PEREGRINE’S HOME FOR PECULIAR CHILDREN: Grab your raincoat, we’re heading to Wales. [PURCHASE]
  • APPLE AND RAIN: Features wet and foggy London. Also copious amounts of hot chips. [PURCHASE]
  • BEFORE THE FIRE: I’m not this book’s biggest fan, but it’s set in 2011 about the London fire and riots. [PURCHASE]




  • SKULDUGGERY PLEASANT: One of the best urban fantasy series ever, also Irish. I mean, what is not to love? [PURCHASE]
  • SHIVER THE WHOLE NIGHT THROUGH: It’s a mildly lousy story, but at least it’s set in Ireland and all the names are gorgeous and unpronounceable. [PURCHASE]
  • CARRIER OF THE MARK: An American moves to Ireland. I assume she gets caught up in blue smoke. [PURCHASE]




  • AS WHITE AS SNOW: This is only a whippet of a teeny tiny book, but it’s set in summer in Prague. Apparently it’s hot there. [PURCHASE]
  • DAUGHTER OF SMOKE AND BONE: And for a little variety, this is winter in Prague. Apparently it’s freaking freezing. [PURCHASE]




  • WISH YOU WERE ITALIAN: I haven’t read this one but I get a strong vibe it is, in fact, Italian. [PURCHASE]
  • FLIRTING IN ITALIAN: Apparently scooters are popular in Italy? [PURCHASE]
  • ARE WE THERE YET: The famous author, David Leviathan, takes us on a brotherly Italian roadtrip. [PURCHASE]
  • LOVE LUCY: Omg, what is it with the moped/scooters?!! Anyway. American teen, holidaying in Italy, you know the drill. [PURCHASE]




  • NOBODY’S GIRL: I think her father is French, but she ends up in Spain because WHY NOT? [PURCHASE]
  • SMALL DAMAGES: I believe she got shipped off to Spain after getting pregnant. It’s also possible that oranges feature as a healthy snack. [PURCHASE]




  • ROSE UNDER FIRE: This is one of the most feels-destroying books in the history of the universe. Set in WWII in a Nazi concentration camp. [PURCHASE]
  • I AM DAVID: I love this book! (The movie is also wonderful.) And he runs around all over Europe, so I don’t even know, peoples. I’ll stick him in Germany but I think it’s Denmark or Poland? [PURCHASE]
  • BECAUSE YOU’LL NEVER MEET ME: This is a book about letters from two boys, o ne in America and one in Germany! [PRE-ORDER]




  • SEKRET: I haven’t read this one, but it promises spies and Communist Russia. [PURCHASE]
  • EGG AND SPOON: Tsarist Russia, with a sprinkling of witches and talking cats. [PURCHASE]
  • THE ENDLESS STEPPE: It’s set in Siberia, in WWII. It’s awesome. [PURCHASE]
  • ANGEL ON THE SQUARE: Set in the early 1900s, where the main character is a friend of Princess Anastasia, until, you know, SHE TRAGICALLY DIES. Not a spoiler: This is history we’re talking about! [PURCHASE]




  • EVERY BREATH: This has all the Australian slang of the ‘burbs, peoples. Also it’s perfect. [PURCHASE]
  •  STOLEN: Desert life? We gotcha covered. [PURCHASE]
  • THIRST: Two foster kids? Alone in the Aussie desert? Living off bush tucker and skewering lizards? What could possibly go wrong? [PURCHASE]




  • THE TYRANT’S DAUGHTER: I believe it’s partially set in an “unidentified” Middle Eastern country. Or else I have a sucky memory. Either is possible. [PURCHASE]
  • BROKEN BRIDGE: This book is amazing and also set in Israel and gives a bit insight to culture. [PURCHASE]
  • THE ALEX CROW: This book is partially set in the middle east and then merges into America. [PURCHASE]



9780141304878 9781402292187 9780440407591

  • CHINESE CINDERELLA: This is a heartbreaking memoir of what it was like to be an unwanted daughter in China. Totally will puncture your feels. [PURCHASE]
  • THE GIRL FROM THE WELL: While it starts off in America, they merge into Japan and ghosts eat them. Well KIND OF. It’s excellent and creepy, though. [PURCHASE]
  • THE YEAR OF IMPOSSIBLE GOODBYES: This is a heartbreaking historical-fiction set in Korea. Be prepared for tears. [PURCHASE]



9781405271363 9780007263509

  • BLACK DOVE WHITE RAVEN: Bestselling author, Elizabeth Wein, can basically do no wrong. [PURCHASE]
  • JOURNEY TO JO’BURG: A pretty heart moving (and teeny tiny) book set in South Africa. Totally appropriate for younger audiences too. [PURCHASE]


Have fun travelling, bookworms!


One of the Best Thrillers of All-Time: The Power Of The Dog by Don Winslow

9780099464983I remember first reading this book and it absolutely blew me away. With the sequel, The Cartel, due at the end of June I thought it was time I revisited the book.

The Power of The Dog still rates as one of the best thrillers ever written. It has everything you could possibly want; love, power, betrayal and revenge set over twenty-five brutal years. It details America’s war on drugs and the complete farce it is on all levels. It portrays the devastating human cost of this “war” and the human indifference to this suffering by both sides and the never-ending tide of destruction that is cultivated and managed not by just by the drug cartels but by governments and their agents.

While The Power of the Dog is truly epic, ranging from Mexican Drug cartels to DEA officers, New York mobsters to CIA operatives in South America, the heart of the story is the slow deconstruction of Art Keller and his journey from crusader to eventual war lord. Art is the good guy who does bad things and the more bad things he tries to atone for the worse the bad things he does. We meet Art at the beginning of his DEA career, post Vietnam War, in Mexico in 1976  and his introduction to the drug world and the events put in motion that will eventually destroy him.

One of the things I love about Don Winslow is his style of writing, the way he paces his words with the story but with The Power Of The Dog he really underplays it. Savages, The Winter of Frankie Machine, The Dawn Patrol all ooze style. But here Winslow dials it back and let’s the story carry you along. The violence is absolutely brutal, nothing is held back including a shocking scene on a bridge in Colombia which I’m told is based in actual events.

I was also much more aware of the structure this time around. The 15 chapters of the book are surprisingly self-contained with a much more episodic feel than I remember. I always thought The Power of the Dog should be a 12-part HBO series because of the epic nature of the story being too long for a movie but after re-reading it I am even more convinced that a True Detective-style series would be amazing. You could easily have different episodes featuring Callan (his New York story and South American story), Adan and Nora’s stories with Art’s story the common thread tying everything together. The journey of each of the characters over the twenty-five years would be amazing to see over 10 hours.

There is not another thriller out there that comes close to The Power of the Dog. It is the anti-war novel of the “War on Drugs”. Just like a great war novel the absurdity of the war is laid bare for all to see and the reasons for the war are exposed for the hypocrisy and falsehoods that they are. And like all war there is no victor just never-ending victims of a vicious cycle of greed and power. But unlike others wars this one continues unabated, with no end in sight.

I can’t wait to see where Don Winslow takes the story in part two. I know it isn’t going to be pretty. But it is going to be insightful, meaningful and another damning indictment on the never-ending, morally corruptible war on drugs.

Buy the book here…

Pre-Order The Cartel


Review – Peas in a Pod by Tania McCartney and Tina Snerling

Peas in a Pod, Tania McCartney (author), Tina Snerling (illus.), EK Books, June 2015.  

COVER Peas in a Pod absolute finalThe theme of individuality and self-expression is popular amongst children’s books, and one that has been brilliantly characterised by the award-winning duo, Tania McCartney and Tina Snerling in their latest picture book, ‘Peas in a Pod’. This author / illustrator pairing have already brought us rich stories acknowledging the importance of honouring our own and others’ unique and distinct qualities in ‘An Aussie Year’ and ‘Tottie and Dot’. So it is no surprise that this new release is equally as delicious. It’s contemporary, fun and totally lovable.  

Pippa, Pia, Poppy, Polly and Peg are born five little peas in a pod. They live in a uniform world; a world of sameness. Amongst backdrops of hot pinks, reds, blues and greens, the quintuplets harmoniously cry, potty, eat, sleep and sit all together, all the time. They are completely identical, from the expressions on their faces, down to their adorable thumb-sucking and tushy-pushing mannerisms.
All is calm and amicable, until one fine day the girls begin to develop their own interests. And a burst of colourful chaos soon explodes in a once peaceful household. But mum and dad won’t have a bar of it and quickly put things back to ‘normal’. With already having tasted a small slice of heavenly, multi-coloured pie, these growing peas no longer fit into their parents’ mould, and once again take control of their own lives.  
Dishevelled rooms, shoe boxes piled up high, delightful pastimes and not-so delightful attitudes, looking through rose-coloured glasses, and ambitious dreams. Pippa, Pia, Poppy, Polly and Peg are finally gloriously happy to be able to express their unique differences… Except for maybe one thing that remains the same!  

IMG_8946Tania McCartney‘s delicately written story, with a touch of humour and a punch of energy, is the perfect anchor for the fine detail, spirit and vibrancy of Tina Snerling‘s pictures that almost literally bounce off the page. Her modern, fashionista-style cartoons and pops of vivid colours beautifully support the text with warmth and effervescence.  

‘Peas in a Pod’ is a refreshing, enchanting story of celebrating individuality and allowing personalities to shine. Children from age three will take great pleasure in duplicating their experience with these mischievous sisters and stunning illustrations again and again and again… Some things are just meant to be the same!

Teaching notes are available at:

Stay in touch for a captivating interview with talented author, Tania McCartney. Coming soon!

Boomerang Book Bites: Preparation For The Next Life by Atticus Lish

This 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.

Get FREE shipping when you use the promo code bookbites at checkout.

BOOK NEWS: E L James Announces New Book

11330545_764415793657178_268538240_nJune 2 2015 – London – On social media late last night bestselling author E L James announced that she will shortly release a new version of her worldwide bestselling novel Fifty Shades of Grey — this time written from Christian Grey’s point of view. The new book, titled Grey, will be published on June 18th –a date that devotees may remember as Christian’s birthday.

Since the publication of Fifty Shades of Grey in 2011, thousands of readers have written to James requesting Christian’s point of view. On the opening page of Grey: Fifty Shades of Grey as Told By Christian, James writes, “This book is dedicated to those readers who asked…and asked… and asked… and asked for this.” In the new work, she will offer her fans the opportunity to see the world of Fifty Shades anew through the eyes of its intriguing and enigmatic protagonist.

“Christian is a complex character,” said James, “and readers have always been fascinated by his desires and motivations, and his troubled past. Also, as anyone who has ever been in a relationship knows, there are two sides to every story. It’s been a great pleasure to return to my happy place – writing, being with Christian and Ana in their universe, and working with the fantastic publishing teams in the US andthe UK.”

Readers know Christian as someone who exercises control in all aspects of his life. His world is neat, disciplined and empty – until the moment that Anastasia Steele stumbles into his office. What is it about her that captivates him? Why can’t he forget her? He is swept up in a storm of emotion he cannot comprehend and cannot resist.

‘Fifty Shades of Grey is a love story that has captivated a readership like no other book’ says Selina Walker, Arrow publisher and E L James’ UK editor. ‘I was absolutely thrilled when we heard that Erika wanted to write Christian’s side of the story. Grey is just as addictive as the trilogy, and I know that thisis what the fans have been waiting for.’

‘Planning for publication on June 18th in all our territories has been challenging – but what a fabulous challenge to have! Thanks to superb teamwork and meticulous planning, I know that fans around the world will be able to help mark Christian’s birthday by reading his side of the story.’ says Susan Sandon, Managing Director of Cornerstone.

The Fifty Shades trilogy – Fifty Shades of Grey, Fifty Shades Darker and Fifty Shades Freed – has reached worldwide sales of more than 125 million copies, and become one of the most successful publications in the history of book publishing. Like the earlier books in James’s trilogy, Grey will be published in paperback original format and as an ebook by Arrow Books, an imprint of Cornerstone Publishing, a division of Penguin Random House.

GREY will be published simultaneously by Penguin Random House US on June 18th.

Pre-order the book now and get FREE shipping!

Review: Ardennes 1944 by Antony Beevor

9780670918645Antony Beevor’s latest book completes his histories of the Eastern and Western Fronts of the Second World War. Beginning with the award winning Stalingrad then Berlin and concluding with D-Day and now Ardennes, Beevor takes his comprehensive eye for detail to Hitler’s last ditch gamble of the war in what became known as The Battle of the Bulge.

I was really interested to read Beevor’s take of this battle having previously only read American accounts of specific engagements of the conflict, most notably Bastogne in Band of Brothers and The Hurtgen Forest, which directly preceded the German offensive. Beevor begins with Hurtgen Forest where American troops literally marched from the streets of Paris into what became know as “the meat-grinder” as a combination of over-the-top optimism about finishing the war before Christmas and new “green” troops resulted in massive casualties as the Allies met German forces on home soil for the first time. (If you are a fan of Band of Brothers then the HBO film When Trumpets Fade, which preceded it by three years, is worth seeing). Troops from The Hurtgen Forest were then redeployed  to the “quieter” area of The Ardennes just as Hitler launched his last offensive of the war.

Antony Beevor shows how the Allies were literally taken by surprise, not just by the offensive but also it size and scope. This was Hitler’s last throw of the dice and his plan was dependent on surprise but also a slow Allied reaction. Beevor shows, through extensive research, how the Allies’ ability to react quickly to the offensive was what won the battle. And although the Germans made great advances, inflicted massive casualties and cause wide spread panic, through infiltrations behind American lines, the quick response from Allied High Command meant reinforcements were deployed in time, supplies withdrawn before the Germans were able to capture them and key cross road towns defended in spite of encirclement. Even without air superiority, thanks to terrible winter conditions, the Allies were able to hold the Offensive back in time for supplies to be brought in and for support to breakthrough from the south.

As with Beevor’s previous books he also shows the full cost to the civilian population inside the battle zones. He also shows how the Battle of the Bulge was the closest the Allies came to the ferocity of the Eastern Front as they came up against veterans of those harsh campaigns. A series of prisoner atrocities on both sides also led to some of the most vicious fighting of the Western Front. Then there was the battle of the egos as Generals Eisenhower, Patton, Bradley and Montgomery (promoted to Field Marshall) all fought for control and press coverage, almost jeopardising the campaign in some instances. But nothing on the scale of what occurred on the German side as Hitler’s fully delusional command tried for one last push to salvage Germany from inevitable and total defeat.

Antony Beevor delivers a fascinating account of the decisive battle of the Western Front.

Buy the book here…

Reconciliation Week Reviews

Narragunnawali’ – peace, alive, wellbeing and coming together. A word that lies at the heart of Reconciliation in Schools and Early Learning and aims to ‘increase respect; reduce prejudice and strengthen relationships between the wider Australian community and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.’ With National Reconciliation Week in full swing (27 May to 3 June), it’s high time we celebrate the wealth of gifted indigenous artists that go to great pains to share their histories and cultures. Here is but a smattering of titles that embrace imagination and time honoured fable telling.Stories for Simon # 2

Although not of indigenous background, debut picture book team, Lisa Miranda Sarzin and Lauren Briggs have united to produce Stories for Simon, ‘a story of a shared dream and bright future’.

Simon is your typical Sydney nine-year-old boy who one day, through his show and tell presentation, stumbles upon the moment in history when an apology to the Stolen Generation was finally voiced. As this sparks discussion and learning in Simon’s classroom, so too will this sensitive narrative encourage interest and understanding in school children as it outlines what the Stolen Generation is and why saying sorry is just the start of the journey towards ‘peace and coming together’. Filled with tangible emotion and magic, Stories for Simon reveals tragedies and fosters empathy in a brave, provocative coming together of two cultures.

This picture book provides another crucial element in the quest to procure and sustain reconciliation amongst our future generations and thus is an excellent introduction to it.

Random House for Children May 2015

Kookoo Kookaburra Gregg Dreise’s Kookoo Kookaburra and Sally Morgan’s and Ezekiel Kwaymullina’s Magpie Learns a Lesson, are two new picture books, which focus on Dreamtime aphorisms and fables. The message in both is to be kind and respect the feelings of others.

Kookoo Kookaburra, an ace storyteller, falls out of grace with his bushland friends when his good-natured storytelling deteriorates to hurtful personal ridiculing. He must learn to listen and observe more and speak less, whilst distributing kindness more genuinely, because we all know, that is the surest way to have kindness returned.

Magpie learns a lessonMagpie is another wily winged character who discovers that empathy and kindness strengthen friendships far better than teasing and jokes do. Fortunately for him, his best mate, Brown Falcon is wise and patient enough to standby him when disaster strikes.

Both the illustrations of Dreise and those of Tania Erzinger, have a textual fascination that enriches these beautiful Going Bush with Grandpatales. Well suited to lower and mid primary.

Magabala Books May 2015

Omnibus Books February 2015

 Sally Morgan teams once again with her son, Ezekiel Kwaymullina on a series of early chapter books, aimed at developing readers. Each has a cast of indigenous characters who star in family orientated stories (there is usually a grandpa or grandma involved somehow).

 Going Bush with Grandpa was the first. I liked One Rule for Jack. Flying High is number four in the series. Bright, breezy narratives with twerky little endings all One Rule for Jackgenerously illustrated by the iconic Craig Smith will keep smiles on faces for a long, long time.

Omnibus Books Feb 2014 – April 2015

Being at one and living in peace and synchronicity with nature are fundamental in indigenous culture. Animals are intrinsically linked to totems and dreamiDuelgumng stories, which when passed down through generations, ensures continued appreciation and understanding of one’s sense of place. Uncle Joe Kirk and Sandi Harrold, offer retellings of indigenous stories with a desire to educate and preserve.

Duelgum – The story of the mother eel, is a captivating travelog of the journey of the mysterious eel that instils a powerful sense of belonging, underpinning the sanctity of home as a place one can always return.

budinge Budinge and the Min Min Lights, draws kids into Budinge’s world as his imagination threatens to keep him hiding under the bedcovers forever. Full of joy and spirited illustration, this is a lovely example of how we sometimes allow situations to get the better of us.

Scholastic Australia January 2015

The Toast TreeImagine a tree that grows the best tasting toast in the world. The Toast Tree by Corina Martin and Fern Martins is a very special book about a very special tree.

Two young girls anticipate their grandpa’s daily return with rapture because he always brings them the sweetest, creamiest slices of golden-brown toast. Apparently produced on a magic tree that grows deep amongst the sand dunes, only he knows its location and only he can harvest its bounty, otherwise the magic will stop. Like all young people, the desire to discover this magic is intense so, heedless of their uncle’s warning, Mia and Ella search for the toast tree every day, but never find it.

I applaud the subtle duality of this tale; balancing the power of imagination and willingness to believe with the desire to instil magic and parent with love.

Martins’ illustrations are a step sideways from the sometimes-sombre tones of indigenous illustrations too. Colours zing and vibrate with liveliness reflective of the girls’ enthusiasm and convince you that you actually taste the tang of the sea wind as it races across the dunes and tickles your cheeks.

A delicious addition to your picture book collection and gorgeous example of talent coupled with passion.

Magabala Books April 2015

Keep an eye out for more posts on books with indigenous flavour and verve, coming soon. Meantime take a moment to reflect on the milestones and meanings of National Reconciliation Week and what they mean to us all as a Nation.



YA Reading Matters

NonaI’m just back from Melbourne for the second time in a month. Despite busy May in the book world, this was my long-awaited chance to attend ‘Reading Matters’ conference, which is organised by the Centre for Youth Literature (CYL) and focuses on YA literature and storytelling. Presenters aimed their content at librarians and teacher librarians; and aspiring or other authors would also have benefited from the program. The overall theme of diversity is hot on the heels of a US movement.

Before the conference began, delegates were invited to the Text Publishing party where the winner of the 2015 Text Prize for Young Adult and Children’s Writing was awarded to Kimberley Starr, author of The Book of Whispers. Her book sounds like an original historical fantasy set during the Crusades in a world of demons. I wonder if it will be a cross between Catherine Jinks’s Pagan stories and Jonathan Stroud’s Bartimaeus trilogy?

This is ShynessThe Text party was one of the weekend’s highlights, particularly because I met one of the Text Prize’s former winners, Leanne Hall. Her first YA novel, This is Shyness, is one of my all-time top three YA books. I can’t wait for her novel for younger readers, to be published in 2016.

The Reading Matters conference started with a panel of three teen readers, overtly selected for their physical diversity. Male rep, Chris, began by praising The Sky So Heavy, which was fantastic because author Claire Zorn had been incognito in the audience until then. He also clarified that ‘YA lit’ is a category, not a genre. There are genres such as speculative fiction and historical fiction within YA. The three panellists agreed that upcoming books should cut the romance – they’re over love triangles and insta-love/lust (instant attraction) and forget the suicide books. They simply don’t want to read them.

Authors on other panels didn’t necessarily agree about the teens’ views on romance although Will Kostakis was instructed by his editor of The First Third to write a big kiss scene. Will told us that he writes ‘awkwardness’ and ‘embarrassing’ well so that is where he took his scene. Will also wants his readers to experience the emotional side, rather than just the mechanics, of relationships.First Third

Along with other panellists, Will made some good points in a panel called ‘Hashtag Teen: Engaging teens and YA advocacy’. He turned a reluctant writing class around by running a whole lesson on Twitter. He also recommended  PTA (Penguin Teen Australia) where there’s a weekly chat. Authors such as Amie Kaufman (The Starbound trilogy) even drop in.

These Broken Stars

Hip-hop, today’s spoken poetry, raised its head unexpectedly and powerfully twice. Year 12 student, Jayden Pinn from Creative Rebellion Youth performed two lyrical, metaphorical, hard-hitting pieces. And founder of CRY, formerly illiterate Sudanese refugee and now awarded performance poet, Abe Nouk encouraged us to feel, not always think; say a prayer; deliver a service – smile; use a comma, not a full stop (don’t end, keep going); be kind and gracious; invest in people; and do not be afraid to reveal your insecurities to your pen. Abe credited hip-hop with changing his life.

Tom Taylor, Australian creator of the current Iron Man and other international comics urged us to recognise comics. His comic for young readers, The Deep, deserves a wide readership.

Clare Atkins made some important points in her sessions, particularly about consulting with someone from a different background or group you are writing about. She did this with an Aboriginal friend in Nona and Me . (See my review here.) Authors shouldn’t avoid writing about other ethnic groups if they consult respectfully.

On a Small Island‘Literary Landscapes’ was another of my favourite sessions because it took an interesting perspective by exploring the landscape behind books by Clare Atkins (Arnhem Land), Sean Williams and Kyle Hughes-Odgers.

Jaclyn Moriarty and Sean Williams’s debate on ‘Science Vs Magic’ was fresh, articulate and intelligent. Jaclyn challenged Sean with two wands but he retaliated with a laser. Jaclyn Moriarty is a lyrical speaker and delegates later mentioned that they ‘could listen to her all day’ – exactly what I was thinking. She and Sean had a feisty, ultimately gracious, battle.

Keynote international authors, Laurie Halse Anderson (The Impossible Knife of Memory) and Sally Gardner (I, Coriander; The Door That Led to Where) both had horrible childhoods. Laurie told us that she writes ‘Resilience Literature’ and explained that good stories teach you about the world; about falling down and how to get up.I Coriander

One of the most exciting parts of the conference was discovering authors hidden in the audience such as Melissa Keil (The Incredible Adventures of Cinnamon Girl), Claire Zorn (The Protected), Margo Lanagan (Red Spikes) and Karen Tayleur (Six).

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

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

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Fiction Books

Girl at War by Sara Nović

Set in Zagreb, 1991. A city 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. 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. In the beautiful tradition of The Tiger’s Wife and A Constellation of Vital Phenomena. Jon

The Blue Between SKy and Water by Susan Abulhawa

A novel set in Gaza, a novel which gives us another side of the story. Heartbreaking, passionate, magical, all these words and more create a truly inspiring novel. By the author of Mornings in Jenin which has been an international success.  Chris

The Harder They Come by T.C. Boyle

T C Boyle is a favourite author of mine, he uses a large landscape to write about one family. He slowly drip feeds us about violence in America through the damaged son and his friendship with a woman equally unstable. The tension builds and builds until it erupts with no easy ending. Part thriller, part social commetary this is a book that you will love to hate. Chris

Tightrope by Simon Mawer

I love a good spy novel. Marion Sutro, a British spy was captured by the Gestapo in 1943. She was interrogated and ended up in Ravensbruck concentration camp for a while. When she escaped and returned to England she was revered as a heroine of the resistance. She is broken and begins to doubt her role in the war. During her return to health she starts to miss the adventure and intrigue of her previous life. Still the idealist she turns to peace and her answer she thinks is with communism. Simon Mawer reminds me of William Boyd so quite a treat. Chris

Flood of Fire by Amitav Ghosh

An historical novel set in China and India during the Opuim Wars. A novel which will want you to learn more about that time and the East India Company. Full of characters whose paths cross between Bengal and mainland China. Lots of detail about the times. If you like your historical novels epic and sweeping this will carry you away. Chris

The Truth According to Us by Annie Barrows

Scandals abound in this engaging new work from the author of the Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Society. When the inquisitive young Willa Romeyn, beautifully reminiscent of Harper Lee’s Scout, encounters the sophisticated Miss Layla Beck, her litany of questions are answered. Recently arrived in Macedonia, West Virginia, for the Federal Writers Project, Miss Beck is tasked with unearthing the town’s history, but not everyone in Macedonia wants the truth to be heard, including some of Willa’s nearest and dearest. A wonderfully immersive story about secrets and their significance. Sally

Forever Young by Steven Carroll

Set against the tumultuous period of change and uncertainty that was Australia in 1977. Whitlam is about to lose the federal election, and things will never be the same again. The times they are a’changing. Radicals have become conservatives, idealism is giving way to realism, relationships are falling apart. A powerfully moving work.

Non-Fiction Books

Ardennes 1944 by Antony Beevor

On 16 December, 1944, Hitler launched his ‘last gamble’ in the snow-covered forests and gorges of the Ardennes. He believed he could split the Allies by driving all the way to Antwerp, then force the Canadians and the British out of the war. The Ardennes offensive, with more than a million men involved, became the greatest battle of the war in Western Europe. 

Elon Musk by Ashlee Vance

South African born Elon Musk is the renowned entrepreneur and innovator behind PayPal, SpaceX, Tesla, and SolarCity. Musk wants to save our planet; he wants to send citizens into space, to form a colony on Mars; he wants to make money while doing these things; and he wants us all to know about it.

The Simple Act of Reading by Debra Adelaide

A collection of essays and memoir pieces on the topic of reading, in particular what it means for writers to be readers and how that has shaped their life. The Simple Act of Reading will support Sydney Story Factory by emphasising the importance of reading in shaping an individual’s future.

Gittins by Ross Gittins

With four decades of printers’ ink in his veins, he dissects the newspaper game, remembers the great editors and journalists who have sharpened our minds and his, and lays down some hard facts about a hard future…Honest, robust and intelligent, Gittins is as insightful and entertaining as the man himself.

My Paris Dream by Kate Betts

Former editor-in-chief of Harper’s Bazaar recalls her time in Paris – falling in love, finding herself, and beign initiated into the world of high fashion. Rife with insider information about restaurants, shopping, travel, and food, Betts’s memoir brings the enchantment of France to life — from the nightclubs of Paris where she learned to dance Le Rock, to the lavender fields of Provence and the forests of le Bretagne — in an unforgettable memoir of coming-of-age…

How The French Won Waterloo (Or Think They Did) by Stephen Clarke

Two centuries after the Battle of Waterloo, the French are still in denial. If Napoleon lost on 18 June 1815 (and that’s a big ‘if’), then whoever rules the universe got it wrong. As soon as the cannons stopped firing, French historians began re-writing history. Stephen Clarke has studied the French version of Waterloo, as told by battle veterans, novelists, historians – right up to today’s politicians, and he has uncovered a story of pain, patriotism and sheer perversion.

Musing from the Inner Duck by Michael Leunig

Michael Leunig’s poignantly hilarious new cartoon collection, ranges from Curly Flat to the global positioning sausage, accompanied by the direction-finding duck. This collection of 138 cartoons tilts towards the whimsical, the wise and the sublimely misaligned; it’s less heavily political than previous collections, although the political system cops a serve here and there.

Childrens’ Picture Books

There’s A Bear On My Chair by Ross Collins

Bear settles into poor Mouse’s chair! Mouse tries all the ideas he can think of to get him to move – the chair is not big enough to share. Mouse gives up and decides to leave but who does Bear find when he gets home. Is there a Mouse in Bear’s house? Such fantastic illustrations with a great story to share. Jan

Line Up, Please! by Tomoko Ohmura

Standing in line can be fun when you are with a giraffe, skunk, pig, monkey and many more animals. A cleverly illustrated picture book written with humour and clues as to where the line is going. Jan

Books for Young Readers

The Milkshake Detectives by Heather Butler

Charlie and Julia are certain that the sleepy village of Peddle-Worth must contain some mysteries for their brand new agency – The Milkshake Detectives – to solve. All they need to do is find them! All they need to do is find them! So when somebody called ‘The Bear’ starts leaving strange clues, they can’t wait to put their spy skills to use. The only problem? Everyone else wants to join in the bear hunt too!

Phyllis Wong and the Waking of the Wizard by Geoffrey McSkimming

We are all very excited about the third instalment of this very popular Australian series. Phyllis is part brilliant magician and part sleuth. This is her hardest mystery to solve yet! Can she uncover the truth about one of magic’s most mysterious figures and at the same time save the world form the ‘Great Whimpering” doom that threatens us all. Read it and find out!

Books for Young Adults

The Traitor by Allen Zadoff

The Boy Nobody trilogy comes to an adrenaline-fueled conclusion in Traitor, which sees the Program’s elite soldier now their number one target. Packed with the series’ trademark action and suspense, this series is perfect for readers who’ve outgrown Alex Rider and CHERUB. Simon

Pieces of Sky by Trinity Doyle

Lucy’s life has turned upside down after the death of her brother. She was state backstroke champion, had  friends, had a life but now all she feels is lost. A great debut novel dealing with isolation, communication, community and love. Jan


SWF After Party

HMay was packed full of exciting book events, a number linked to the Sydney Writers’ Festival. My SWF week began with the evening announcement of the NSW Premier’s Literary Awards at the Mitchell Library. It was a great opportunity to catch up with people and meet new authors.

The other awards evening I attended was the Australian Book Industry Awards (ABIA). This was a glittering event, particularly this year when we were asked to wear a splash of ruby red to celebrate the 15th awards dinner.

We were spoiled by having Casey Bennetto (creator of Keating the Musical) again as MC. He does an amazing job writing songs about those who present the awards and delivers these as mini-performances. Award presenters included international guests David Mitchell (The Bone Clocks), Michael Connolly (American writer of crime fiction and detective novels, best know for those featuring LAPD Detective Hieronymus “Harry” Bosch), Anthony Horowitz (Sherlock Holmes and James Bond original novels, the Alex Rider teen series, Foyle’s War and Midsummer Murders) and Helen Macdonald (H is for Hawk), who also gave the closing address of the SWF.


2014 Miles Franklin winner, Evie Wyld (All the Birds, Singing) also had her own song and Casey Bennetto wished that he had written one for Marcus Zusak (The Book Thief). He ad-libbed something on the spot, incorporating ‘John Cusack’ to rhyme with ‘Zusak’. Zusak presented his former editor, Celia Jellett from Omnibus Books, Scholastic, with the Pixie O’Harris Award for service to Australian children’s books.

Foreign SoilIt was lovely to meet Josephine Moon (The Tea Chest) and Maxine Beneba Clark, who won the Literary Fiction Book of the Year for Foreign Soil, and I spied legends, Sonya Hartnett (Golden Boys) and Morris Gleitzman (Loyal Creatures) at the next table.

Some other award winners were Judith Rossell, who is snapping up awards, including the Indies, for Withering-by-Sea; Tim Low for Where Song Began: Australia’s Birds and How They Changed the World (Tim was so surprised, he was dumb-struck); and Jane Jolly and Robert Ingpen for Tea and Sugar Christmas. Boomerang Books was shortlisted for Online Retailer of the Year.


Andy Griffiths and Terry Denton won ‘Book of the Year: Younger Children’ for The 52-Storey Treehouse and this also won overall ‘Book of the Year’, selected from the winners of each category. Another well-deserved scoop for children’s books.

Andy Griffiths was also a star at the SWF, signing books at the head of an enormous queue for, essentially, a whole day.

Because we are big fans of the Canadian TV series Orphan Black, we went to a screenwriters’ panel at the SWF, where Orphan Black writer, Lynne Coady, was speaking. She looks quite like the multi-role playing star of the show, Tatiana Maslany. Lynne got the conversation to a deeper level by confiding her fear of working as part of a screen-writing team. As an introvert who had been writing literary fiction alone in her basement she was worried how her voice would be heard in a group of, presumably, loud voices. Her vulnerability lit a spark in the panel’s discussion.

Waiting for the PastAnother highlight was hearing three eminent poets, David Malouf, Les Murray (Waiting for the Past) and Ben Okri read and speak about poetry. Moderator, poet/singer-songwriter Kate Fagan enhanced the session.

Another enthusiastic moderator was Davina Bell (The Underwater Fancy-Dress Parade see my interview here) who chaired four YA authors in ‘Keeping it Real: Realistic Issues in Teen Fiction’. Authors included international Laurie Halse Anderson (The Impossible Knife of Memory), who intrigued the audience by knitting throughout the session, and Australian Melina Marchetta (Looking for Alibrandi, On the Jellicoe Road), to whom homage was deservedly paid.

Jellicoe Road